Setting yourself free

I listened to a podcast last week that included a quote that has had a profound effect on me, and that I thought I would share…

If you are experiencing any negative emotion; doubt, fear, anger, frustration, it is almost always a sign to redirect your attention, either to the task at hand or to others. – Adam Robinson.

If you think about how many times you take things personally, or feel any of these emotions when you are at work, with your partner, while shopping, driving, with family, friends and so on, I am sure those times will be too many to mention.

In every single situation, you could always redirect your attention to the task at hand or to others.

Imagine you are at work and dealing with a particularly difficult client or customer. Rather than focusing on how they are making you feel – which by the way is absolutely normal human behaviour, focus on the task you are helping them with. This redirects the attention from you onto that. Or, as the quote suggests, focus on them. Work on helping them.

Mindfulness is a powerful tool here. By bringing your attention of awareness to the present moment you can be more conscious of the person you are dealing with and what they are saying, what their issues are and how you could help them. If you think about it, being mindful is the key. because to redirect your attention, you have to become present.

It is usually when we are on autopilot, with our subconscious mind running the show, that we react to emotions that arise within us. The way in which we respond to situations is usually based on years and years of the same patterns of behaviour playing out. So when a particular situation arises, we will usually respond in the same way. By being mindful, we can become aware of that and actually choose a different reaction. We can choose to notice the emotion arising within us, but instead, to redirect our attention to focus on what we are actually doing – the task at hand – or to the person we are interacting with, to others, rather than ourselves.

This is very liberating. It does set you free from being wrapped up in ourselves and getting caught up in our emotions and allowing them to run away with us. Think about the number of times something becomes about you, when really it has just escalated because you reacted in a certain way. The emotion would have come up within you and then without thinking you would have responded. This is when situations can get out of control.

Being mindful, being present and focusing on what you are doing and who you are doing it with removes the sense of self from the picture. That isn’t to say you aren’t there, of course you are, but you are not coming from a place of it being about you or letting your ego get in the way.

Putting your attention onto something else or others in any given situation where emotions arise will set you free…try it.

If you wanted to listen to the podcast I listened to, it was on Tim Ferriss’ new podcast series, Tribe of Mentors and the guest was Adam Robinson. Click here to jump to that.

[This beautiful image was taken at low tide, sunset on Newgale Beach, Pembrokeshire]

 

 

 

 

Story of a Face in the Crowd

I was drawn to this week’s photography challenge because I love portrait photography – what I love about it most is capturing the emotion in the face, an experience or glimpse of the soul reflected from the eyes…but this was really a challenge, because without the face, what is the image portraying – what am I capturing?

It really did become a challenge. Most of the opportunities I saw were while driving. My camera was with me but to avoid a collision or causing one, I kept driving, unable to stop. In instants, as I passed by in my car, I framed images; a glimpse of someone through thorny bushes walking their dog in the park, a man cycling with a helmet and glasses, dappled shadows covering two people walking their dog, street signs giving me a partial view of a woman about to cross the road, a figureless head walking the other side of a wall…

I put my camera back in the bag, drove home, picked up the dog and went out to the local dog park. I slung my camera across my shoulder because, well, you just never know.

Just before the path through the park leads into woodland, this girl appeared, her back to me. I didn’t catch her face at all because she was already heading in the opposite direction, but without seeing her face I’d already decided she was a teenager. Was that her hoody or her hair that told me that? Maybe that only teenagers would come out in near freezing temperatures without a coat. Does that resonate because I am a parent to teenagers or would it be obvious regardless? She seems relaxed, her shoulders are dropped. I thought her parents had bought her the dog one Christmas. It looks so cute and cuddly, like the type of dog you’d buy for your daughter. I bet they spoil her. I wondered if she was happy and with her dogs tail up, I figured she was.

Someone else might look at this photograph and see something completely different, perceive a different picture and portray a different story…and I realised that emotion captured in a portrait can be unmistakeable, but remove that and there can be many stories and different perceptions of one subject. In this image, I created a story of a teenager who is relaxed and happy, walking in the cold afternoon sunshine with her beloved dog she was given by her doting parents for Christmas. Someone else could look at this and…well, that will be another story…

 

THANK YOU FOR THE INSPIRATION

How to meditate

In my book, Maldives for the Mind, there is a whole section on how to meditate….which I hope you will read when it is published. For now, I thought I would write a post on that, because after all, it’s one of the most fundamental questions people ask.

Some time ago (2008 to be exact) I went to visit a Buddhist monk a couple of times at his beautiful Japanese garden. Pure Land is just outside of Nottingham, but when you enter the walls, it is as though you’ve gone through the gate to a secret garden and transported somewhere else. Over years and years he has cultivated the garden, working on it every day. It reminded me of meditation practice – the garden representing your mind, where the practice cultivates it every day. Instead of creating plants and trees, you clear space instead and your mind expands and grows.

After walking around the garden, we went into the house and around to the meditation room. Buddha Maitreya teaches a simple mantra; ‘just sit, just be.’ He elongates the word, just, so he will chant…’juuuuuuust sit, juuuuuust be’, in such a soft and rhythmic voice that it is as though you have been hypnotised. Sometimes when I meditate I say that silently to myself.

Meditation is not difficult, but the act of doing it often is. We are not used to sitting and doing nothing. We always have something to gain, an expectation to arrive at or a desire to fulfil. Simply sitting with no expectation does not come easy. Sitting and relaxing does not come easy and as human beings, we tend to gravitate towards what is easy and not what is difficult or uncomfortable.

For this reason I always say, just sit for a minute or two. Otherwise you will find the practice becomes a chore before you have given it time to begin.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. What we do with them is of our own making. You will come up with lots of excuses why you can’t meditate and not having time will most likely be top of your list. Make the time. This is time for you and time to be at peace before the madness of your day begins.

I meditate each morning after my yoga practice (and after a cup of tea in between too). Morning and evening are the best times to meditate because it is when our mind is more open and receptive. It is a time when it is usually quieter too. It doesn’t matter what time of day you meditate, but if you can make time for morning or evening, you will find the practice easier to form a habit.

Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Don’t feel you have to sit in lotus position or cross legged at all. Sit in a position that feels comfortable for you – even if that is in a chair with your feet on the floor. If you need to support your back to be straight for a few minutes, that’s ok too. Sit and settle in for a moment or two. Wriggle around and do whatever you need to do to just be sitting comfortably.

You will most likely find that you are tense or your shoulders sitting far too close to your ears. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose and when you let the breath out through your mouth, allow your shoulders to drop and your body to relax. Do this for several breaths until you feel more relaxed. On a side note this is a good exercise to do if you feel stressed – just breathing in through your nose, breathing out through your mouth and relaxing your body, letting go of tension.

Once you have relaxed a bit, allow your breath to just fall into its natural, even rhythm and start to follow your breath. I don’t mean get up and run after it, I mean just notice it as you breathe in and as you breathe out. Your mouth should be closed and you are just breathing normally in through your nose and out through your nose. Indian sages say your nose is for breathing and your mouth is for eating. This is also how you breathe in yoga too.

You can close your eyes or open them, whatever feels comfortable. I do both. If you open them, have them half open and let your gaze settle to the floor a few feet in front of you.

If you struggle to follow your breath, just count 1 as you breathe in, 2 as your breathe out, up to the count of 10 and start again. You could also say silently to yourself, ‘SO’ on the in breath and, ‘HUM’ on the out breath, or as Buddha Maitreya suggests, ‘juuuuust sit, juuuuust be.’ Something will just resonate with you. Try the counting first and see how you get on. Over time you won’t need the counting, but to begin with, it helps.

One of the biggest myths about meditating is that you are meant to be clearing your mind of thoughts. Let me tell you now, that’s impossible! In Buddhism we refer to the mind as the mad monkey, because it jumps around from one thought to the next.We all think around 64,000 thoughts a day and most often when you begin meditation you will find you have more thoughts than you usually do, or at least you notice more of them. The practice of meditation is to bring your focus back to your breath. If that is literally every other second then so be it.

You will be counting as you breathe and you might get to 2 before a thought pops into your head. Simply notice the thought but take your attention back to your breath – counting again as you breathe in and out, or saying your mantra, ‘so – hum’. There will be times when before you realise it you have been sitting for a few minutes thinking about something that had popped into your head. That’s ok too. Thoughts will lead you off on a rabbit trail. Just notice them and always return your focus to your breath. Again, it is the practice of meditation to bring your thoughts back to the breath – the bringing back is the practice.

People often ask what happens during meditation, when you are focused on your breath. I don’t have a definitive answer for this because it is different for everyone. Let whatever comes up, just be and return your focus to the breath.

If you always remain a beginner you will find you always have something new to learn and meditation will become a great teacher. Be where you are in the moment, just sit, just be, focusing on your breath. Start there.

Buddha Maitreya wrote a little yellow booklet called Poems for Peace and here is a paragraph from one …

SITTING

everything is sitting…

tree is sitting

mountain is sitting

flower is sitting

Meditation is flower

is mountain

is tree

You can find out more about the Pure Land Meditation Centre & Japanese Garden…and Buddha Maitreya at the Pure Land website

[Image copyright Pure Land]

Sweet Wednesday

I love photography and I love baking… Sweet Wednesday photo challenge, therefore, jumped out at me, along with the scrumptious looking Spanish churros and chocolate.

My photograph is of the sweet strawberries and cream angel food cake I baked. Seems perfect for Valetines too.

Baking is a perfect opportunity to be mindful.  I always say to my kids that the baking always turns out and tastes so good because of the secret ingredient added….love ❤

Happy Valentines this sweet Wednesday 

 

Mindful of Others

A little background before I begin the story to this post…

I freelance as a brand and marketing consultant, which involves a myriad of different work situations from writing and creating artwork to branding and managing social media. I work for a variety of companies, some regular and some just on a project basis.

Yesterday, I was at a marketing meeting for a business where I’ve managed their brand and marketing provision for the past 3 years.  I enjoy being freelance because I can work from home and manage my own time, but obviously providing regular provision for clients means that I also dip into scenarios where, for all intents and purposes, I am seemingly an employee. I get involved in day to day operations and that includes meetings.

I don’t consider myself conventional in many areas and this lends itself well to being able to work different to most people. I am flexible and can adapt to changing environments and workloads. I like the variety and of having a different ‘head’ on depending who I am working for.

Someone new joined this particular company and although there is great benefit to the business in this person’s role, there is also, in the process, as there often is, a lot of toes being trodden on. Egos are bruised, emotions are high and the meeting became rather fraught. As a parent, it reminded me of when my kids were younger and I would go pick them up from nursery. In this tiny space there would be all these kids jostling for the slide or arguing over who had something first.

Having been through a journey of self development for over 10 years I have come to realise that as we grow into adults, unless we become aware and address our dysfunctions that form from our childhood experiences, they will continue to play out and actually become stronger the older we get.

What better way for them to appear than in the workplace.

I meditate daily, I practice yoga every morning before the birds wake up, I eat a healthy diet, I don’t drink and I have worked on my issues more than I can myself comprehend at times, but this does not make me super human, in fact I would say it makes me more human. It makes me more sensitive and certainly more aware. During the meeting, I too felt a surge of emotions come to the surface around my own role and the benefit of that within the organisation.

I am a constant work in progress and so naturally when I drove home and later mulled over in my mind the events of yesterday, I realised how attached we truly are to things that really, in the grand scheme of things, do not matter.

I don’t say this in the sense of not caring about your job or that the work you do doesn’t matter, I say it in the sense of the way we allow our egos to steer the ship. For when it does, we are allowing our emotions to take control and run away with us. This is what happened yesterday for me and I believe most definitely, for a couple of other people in the room too.

Not only was the meeting difficult, but in jest my beliefs were also questioned. My Buddhist path and the core of what I believe and that which I choose to guide my life with. Together with my role in the business, I not only took these things to heart, but actually questioned them to a degree that resulted in me feeling stressed.

Is it bad to question yourself? Not at all. Tony Robbins always says, ‘quality questions create a quality life.’ I try to avoid good and bad but it came to me in meditation that questioning myself wasn’t the issue. That was just part for the course I was on. The problem was in that I allowed myself to respond unconsciously. I wasn’t present or being mindful at the time. I had slipped into autopilot and the old patterns that had previously for most of my adult life ran the show, were once again in control. You could think of this as your child like self acting out and as I said earlier, jostling for position to keep on the slide or hold the toy. The common saying is known as, throwing our toys out of the pram!

When I am mindful I have empathy for others. I see that often people act out (much like children) their dysfunctions and let their egos run the show. They respond to each emotion as they arise. If you have ever watched children in a playground before, you’ll know the behaviour I am talking about. Adults in a meeting are at times no different.

When we are mindful we are present and aware of our responses. We notice emotions within us, but because we are present we can choose how to respond. We can remain silent, we can ponder on a question or a comment before we say it.

The outcome of being mindful in a situation like I was in yesterday, is vastly different from one where you are on autopilot.

I would not ordinarily question my core beliefs, because over the years I have chosen for them to be there. They are part of who I am and how I choose to live my life. I would not question my value because I have come to know my value and I would not question my behaviour because I always try to be the best I can be and to help others.

However, when you are on autopilot you are not clear and when the ego and emotions run the show there is confusion, doubt and fear.

I left the meeting yesterday feeling all of those things and they plagued me as I went to sleep and during my yoga practice this morning.

Meditation of course brings clarity and during my practice it came to me, that of course I am human (people often need to remind me of that fact), and I can only do my best. To keep on giving, whenever there is opportunity to, to remain humble and keep learning as if a beginner, to continue working on my own personal development so that I can help others, but most importantly to be mindful. Mindful in every moment I can be, because ultimately that enables me to be mindful of others.

When we are mindful of others we can smile and let things go, because we see the humanisms in others that are also present in ourselves. Everyone has their own set of dysfunctions that they play out on a daily basis, everyone is doing the best they can with what they have and who they are. When you are mindful, you are in a place of forgiveness and acceptance of that.

Being mindful of others means you do not need to be right, instead you can choose kindness.

Namasté (I honour that which is in you that is also present within me).

[This beautiful ink and letters image is from Geli. You can visit her blog and read and see more of her work at http://hellogelibee.blogspot.co.uk/ Thank You Geli!]

Noticing Joy

Joy is all around you if you notice it.

I had not experienced joy too much in my life. It was one of those fleeting emotions that came and went, but not often and I can’t think I ever really noticed it. It is difficult to experience joy when you are unhappy most of the time. My kids of course have brought me joy and continue to do so every time I am with them. Aside from them, however, joy was always very fleeting.

When I first started yoga, I remember leaving a class and feeling what I can only describe as being in a bubble of joy. For no reason, other than how the class had left me feeling. I was floating, elated and uplifted. It was so overwhelming that I could hardly contain the feelings and wanted to burst.

Over the years I have come to notice joy more and recently as my meditation seems to have supersized, joy is everywhere. It’s in the sky as I drive along and then when I notice that, I find I turn a corner only to see the sky again from a different perspective and yet more joy. It’s in the kid waiting at the crossing with his mum, doing a funny dance, or the lady hoisting up her dress at the cash machine (ATM) because it got stuck in her underwear (the dress, not the ATM). It’s in the flowers being sold off in the shop because they are dying, but then I get them home and they look like they were picked fresh yesterday. It’s in my garden, as tired, cold and worn out as it looks, hibernating in this freezing cold weather. It’s hearing the son my son is playing on his keyboard or hearing my daughter singing in the shower. It’s the smell of fresh air when I walk out of the house, the stars in a clear sky when I look up to let the dog out at night. Joy is literally everywhere and the more you notice it, the more joy there seems to be to notice. I smile at things throughout the day that before I would never have even noticed. I laugh out loud at things that before I would never have been in a place to laugh about.

Why is this?

The act of noticing something truly enables you to notice more of it, but it is more than that. It is being mindful to notice in the first place. Meditation breathes life into your day and what flutters along with that is joy.

Tomorrow, be mindful. Expect joy….notice joy and experience joy.

 

[Today’s image is my talented nephew, Cory (aka San Francisco hip hop artist, Rezyl Azzir ]

Challenge: What Does Silence Look Like

Silence is a harmony of environment; stillness, calm and peacefulness.

Nature evokes majestic silence in all its elements. Water, the ocean, lakes, mountains, the beach, trees and the sky all breathe ripples of silence. When we are in those environments everything slows down and silence envelops us, takes our breath away, soothes our soul and nurtures peace within.

This photograph was taken on a camping trip along the California highway one coastal route. We began at Santa Cruz and after a day there, drove towards Monterey and  stopped to camp overnight at the Laguna Seca Raceway. Waking up before dawn this was the view as the mist rose from the valley below.

Beautiful silence.