When you notice the pause

I was driving home yesterday and my son was with me in the car. He is 15. Recently we have been going through somewhat of a tumultuous journey as he wades through the middle of his teenage years; juggling exams, surging testosterone, bad habits and the need to assert more independence.

At times it feels like he is a grown man and others too immature to handle all that the world is throwing at him. My little surfer looking dude with his smooth tanned skin, long blonde hair, blue eyes and cute little lisp due to his missing front teeth is no more. He has been replaced with a 6ft 1, seriously spotty (because getting him to use face wash is akin to herding wild boar) shaved headed (well the gradient stops three quarters of the way up but still, where have his beautiful locks gone!?) man boy. The little boy whose constant stream of hugs, kisses and I love you so much mummy, has melded into a moody and at times downright disrespectful and rude young man who has recently started smoking and thinks all teenagers are meant to be drinking!

I exaggerate to say the sweetness has all gone, it hasn’t and it isn’t all ‘bad’. That sweet natured soul with a heart the size of Texas is still in there. His incredibly funny and charming, sociable personality shines through. In the midst of the madness he still makes me laugh until I cry and his ever evolving stream of expressions never cease to amazed me. People have always commented on what a beautiful soul he is. That remains but is often overshadowed by his moods. Although masked by the teenage T-Rex, he still hugs me before school, says, I love you mum, kisses me goodnight and phones when he has gone AWOL, which unless he is on lock down, is generally every day.

His dad and I are like chalk and cheese. So far removed from one another that the only middle ground is our son. We separated shortly after he was born but have (which I have to say in the early years required tremendous amounts of energy and effort) a good relationship and always work together in raising our son and make everything, pretty much, about him.

This means for want of a better analogy my son has as much chalk as he does cheese. Who am I to say what is right and what is wrong, that the way I live is good and the way his dad lives is, well, not so good. We both love him the same and really that’s all that matters. I cannot control anything, other than my own thoughts (debatable as they have a will of their own) behaviour and actions.

There are times when I see things in my son that are present in his dad; personality traits that I wish were not there. I have come to accept them and almost smile when I see them appear. Although at times some of the things my son says hurt my heart for how he is perceiving the world, I realise that these are things he has learnt. I know that there are things present in him that I have passed on from my life before. Before I changed my life and before I know what I know now.

My favourite saying, to which both of my children will often roll their eyes, is the famous Buddhist saying, ‘it is what it is.’ We can only be who we are and do what we do from the place we are at. When you work at being the best you can be, you are doing the best you can, but ultimately, even if you are blissfully unaware in terms of self awareness, you are still really just doing the best you can.

Fortunately, thank goodness for that (!) for most of my son’s life I have been living a good life, in the sense of being on my own personal development journey. He has, therefore, constantly been drip fed golden nuggets of information about living an ‘enlightened’ life. Recently, however, some of his behaviour makes me wonder whether it has ever actually even made its way in!

So back to our drive home which, by the way, was to buy a Father’s Day card for his dad. We have been working on him not smoking. One of the things I am grateful for is his honesty. He always tells the truth. This wasn’t always easy for him and it took time and patience to get him to realise that lying gets you nowhere and ultimately the truth comes out in the end anyway so you are better just telling it how it is in the first place. He will sometimes come up with elaborate stories about why something happened or why he did what he did. Maybe it is because my heart is his heart or just plainly that you know when your children are lying to you. I just instinctively know and he knows I know too. After his story telling, he will smile and say, you know anyway so I will tell you the truth.

The previous night to our drive he had been particularly disrespectful towards me. He is on another ‘lock down’ while we help him stop smoking and he was walking to see his dad. My daughter and I were walking the dog but he didn’t want to join us and forged ahead. ‘Go straight to your dad’s house, do not pass go and do not collect £200,’ I joked, knowing that usually him leaving the house meant he would disappear for half the night. He grumbled something under his breath, pulled his hoodie further over his head and stomped off.

We bumped into him again part way around our walk and he was going in a different direction to that of his dad’s house. Not surprised, I asked him where he was going. He stumbled over his words to say he was going to a friends before rolling his eyes and saying, ‘ok then, I am going for a cigarette’. I tried to talk him out of it and he justified that he had gone from 5 to 1 in a day and hadn’t had any of it. I took a deep breath, told him to go to his dad’s house as soon as he could and left with my daughter in the opposite direction to finish our walk, reminding myself that I cannot control the actions of others. I realise he is my son and is still technically a child, but still I am trying to guide him into making better choices for himself.

On our car journey we were talking about this and he was once again grumbling away about what I was trying to say about better choices. Having been through the very same thing (and far worse) myself, I told him, I do understand.

My son does this thing (often and more so in the last year) where he will intentionally do things because he knows I don’t like it. He will talk about something he knows go against my views on something, or are the opposite extreme to something I believe in. He is of course just trying to push my buttons. I know this and am mindful of it. I try to ignore it, smile and let him get it out of his system.  He was, I realised, in one of those moods.

He switched the music over in the car to some absolutely awful rapper (apologies for the judgement but the song lyrics nearly killed me off) who was articulating in great detail what he was doing with a woman while my son laughed his head off at the shocking lyrics. It isn’t that there is anything shameful about them but we don’t need to hear that, not in a song. I once again reminded myself I can only but guide and not control, took a deep breath, dropped my shoulders and let it go. He changed the song.

He chose the Father’s Day card and I stopped in the petrol (gas) station on the way home. I returned to the car.

As we drove off he said quite seriously, ‘I have really started to notice the parts of me that are from you and the parts of me that are from dad.’

I asked him what he meant.

‘Well, there are times when I am about to think something about someone and I know what I am thinking is the way dad thinks. Sometimes he isn’t nice to people. There was a man coming out of the petrol station and I caught myself thinking something not so nice about him, but then it was like the part of me that is you took over.’

He continued on.

‘You have a good heart and soul. You always try to be kind to people. I know that is also within me because I feel that way about people, like the man coming out of the petrol station. So just as I was thinking something not nice, the part of me that is you jumped in and thought, he’s just a man doing the best he can.’

I was totally dumbfounded by what he said. I know he has a good heart and is generous and loving beyond measure, but it touched me by how night and day he saw his thinking. It made me feel sad he thought the bad thoughts were from his dad and the good from me. His dad is a good man. His thinking might be very off at times but he has a good heart.

We talked on the way home about encouraging more kindness and compassion and he said that he was going to be more mindful of his thoughts and his judgements about people.

It occurred to me that with little effort he was already being mindful – he noticed the pause and in that brief millisecond had been mindful of thinking something bad about someone and instead brought forth a kind thought about them.

Change happens when you notice the pause…

Where is this middle path?

The middle has always seemed to resonate with me in some way and when I discovered Buddhism 11 years ago it was as though I had found my way home.

Buddhist philosophy teaches us the Eightfold Path, which is described as the ‘middle way’ and explains why it is often termed the ‘middle path’. It is a way of living in moderation; between the extremes of self gratification on one hand and self mortification on the other. In a subtler sense it reflects the paradox of the universe and can be thought of as finding a way of finding balance between spirituality and materialism.

Following the middle path can help your life whatever your struggles. For me I always tended to live in opposite extremes. When things in my life were bad, they were extremely bad and when I finally turned my life around things went to the other end of the scale and I lived like a saint. Although the latter was very necessary, it wasn’t sustainable. To be in the world but not of the world is the middle way.

When you truly understand the enormity of the middle path and you begin to embody it into your life, you can find inner peace and balance. The middle path becomes a place to rest between the opposites life throws our way. It helps decision making and it becomes a guide like an illuminated path before you.

A few years ago my daughter became very ill and the conventional method of therapy offered was one that required a parent, child hierarchy. We soon realised that it did not exist within our family unit. Due to my own family dynamics, I had raised my children rather unconventionally and when I tried to apply the kind of parenting that was required for the methodology to work, it failed. In finding a solution I naturally sought the answers in Buddhism. I explained to the doctors and therapists the notion of the middle path. In applying ancient Buddhist principles we were able to develop our own way of working, that whilst harnessed the basics of the therapy they knew to work with her particular disease, largely centred around finding the middle way.

Balance is about finding the point in the centre of something where you are equal on both sides. There is a completeness to this and when you find that point within, it brings about rest and peace. Having said that, in my experience following the middle path doesn’t always mean being physically exactly in the middle, but it reflects the point where you feel the balance. How do you know where that is? You will feel it – you will feel the peace within, the resting place.

When you practise this,  you will come to know that place well. It is this middle path that you return to when you sit to meditate. The place you connect with when you are mindful throughout your day. It is the path you seek when you need rest and solace. It is the place of truth, joy and happiness. The middle path is the way, you just have to seek, to find and to follow it.

I love Jack Kornfield’s explanation of finding the middle way that you might like to read.

[This image is of beautiful Buddhist prayer flags that can be found along the Land of Medicine Buddha Hike, within the quiet redwood forest in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains.]

Do affirmations really work?

The simple answer is a resounding, YES!

I was first introduced to affirmations about 10 years ago when I read Shakti Gawain’s book, ‘Creative Visualisation’.  An affirmation is simply a sentence that outlines a goal you would like to realise. Over the years I have tried many different affirmation techniques, from repeating them in the mirror while I look at myself, to having post it notes all over the house. If you are ambling along your own self development journey you will know that fundamentally you have to unearth your self limiting beliefs and work on those, as well as a myriad of other facets of your being, to enable you to begin peeling back the layers of the onion, so to speak.

However, affirmations, even if you aren’t self aware, can work and you could think of as being based loosely on the ‘fake it until you make it’ model. The key, as with most things in life, is of course persistency and consistency. Doing them every now and then and switching up what affirmations you do at a rate of knots won’t get you anywhere.

The most powerful and successful affirmation technique I have ever come across, I learned while listening to one of my very first Tim Ferriss podcasts. Tim was interviewing Scott Adams, the creator of the famous Dilbert cartoon. During the interview, Scott divulged that he had began doing this affirmation technique and said that it was what was responsible for making his dream to become a cartoonist come true and what ultimately led to Dilbert becoming a reality. Wow!

The technique is quite simple, but prescriptive and remember, you must persist and be consistent. Do it daily and keep the affirmation the same until it has been realised.

Most people have many goals, or things they wish to bring about in their lives, but there will be one that really stands out for you. That’s the one you choose to start with. Simply write your affirmation down in a sentence. This is the actual one that Scott Adams used:

“I Scott Adams will become a syndicated cartoonist.”

You write that down 15 times each day. That’s it. A little bit like writing lines for being naughty at school, but in this case the outcome is a much greater one! You can see that if your goal is 3 sentences long you will be writing for some time. I have a notebook I keep just for affirmations and 15 lines fills half the page. Just write your affirmation out each day. The way that this works is somewhat of a phenomenon and definitely one of those situations where you just have faith and trust the flow. The magic just happens and before you know it, synchronicities occur and things start to happen in the way you want them to. At first you might not even realise it, but at some point it will dawn on you that your affirmations are working. It is quite unbelievable how it can happen.

There are lots of theories as to why this works. My view is that writing it down brings it to reality and while you are writing, you begin to imagine it and thus you create the feeling to generate the energy and action for conscious creation to work. You can read what Scott Adams himself has to say about it here.

I have tried and tested lots of different ways to do affirmations and this is by far the best – I mean it is the best, because it works!

The Tim Ferriss interview with Scott Adams is podcast 106 on Tim’s blog, which you can find here.

In addition to this, I will sometimes recite affirmations to myself while swimming. I am mindful during swimming, being in the present moment, but at the same time reciting my affirmations. It is such a great time to do it because that 30 minutes would otherwise be spent thinking about something that had happened yesterday or figuring something else out that has not happened yet. I am always aiming to be mindful of course, but my mind wanders. By reciting affirmations, I am almost performing a moving meditation, with the affirmation as my mantra. I will swim a length and repeat my affirmation to myself – in my head of course because otherwise I would be taking on water – then I might swim back and recite my Buddhist mantra (OM MANI PADME HUM) and then the next lap practise loving kindness. If you have read my other blog posts, you will know that I am a huge advocate of loving kindness meditation and practise it as much as I can. These to me are all affirmations and during exercise is the perfect time to repeat them. Try it yourself.

 

Remember, be sure to write your affirmation down each day 15 times and expect great things…

 

[This photo was taken under a beautiful blue early morning San Francisco sky, at the top of Lyon Street steps]

 

 

Is age really just a number?

I used to say that often; age is just a number. Even into my early forties, when people would stress over putting on weight, finding wrinkles and everything heading south, permanently and not just for winter, I’d maintain my stance on it.  I have never felt my age and certainly never looked it either. I was going to be one of the lucky ones I thought. I am not sure who I was kidding. Whether I actually believed I was going to continue to look 35 until I reached 70 or not, honestly, that was my belief, age is definitely just a number.

That was until I started reaching mid forties. I am just about to head over the middle hill, but I would say about a year ago I really started noticing changes that made me realise that age may indeed just be a number but that it most definitely affects what is going on in your body, no matter what you do about it.  That may seem obvious, but I don’t think until you begin to experience it, you truly understand it. The dilemma you have then is whether to go against it or to work with it. I chose the latter.

What is Healthy?

I wasn’t always this healthy, and I do still enjoy chocolate, champagne from time to time and other things that you wouldn’t deem necessarily healthy. The difference is I just do the healthy stuff most of the time.

I practise Ashtanga yoga 5-6 times a week and swim 3-4. I walk for 40 minutes each morning and have a strict vegetarian, healthy diet. I try to keep drinking to a minimum and go through long phases of not drinking. If you saw my life before 12 years ago you would understand why, but even with all that you cannot defy your age – well not unless you take matters into surgical hands and even then I don’t think the outcome is necessarily that you make yourself look younger.

In my experience there are 5 keys to looking and feeling healthy:

  1. Diet
  2. Exercise
  3. Water
  4. Sleep
  5. Lifestyle

I try to apply the 80/20 rule to my life. I would say some of the time I am at 90/10, but if I can maintain 80/20 it’s a good balance. Alcohol, which falls under lifestyle, plays a massive part in that 80/20 and affects the other areas. When you drink alcohol you are less likely to exercise, more likely to make unhealthy food choices and your sleep suffers. Overall you will look and feel far less healthy than if you hadn’t drank. Alcohol affects people in different ways but as you get older your ability to bounce back from a night out drinking is far less than it was when you were in your early thirties. Your body’s ability to deal with the alcohol in terms of the effects on other parts of your system, like your skin for example, is much slower than when you were younger too.

So if you can apply the 80/20 rule to your life you are giving yourself a good chance of looking and feeling your best most of the time.

Ageing

Despite this, most people, particularly women, will begin to look their age by their mid forties. For me it hasn’t so much happened in my body as it has my face. The plumpness of your skin plays such a huge part in your appearance. As you age the degeneration of collagen in your skin, which is responsible for its fullness and plumpness, means a decline in the elasticity of your skin. Wrinkles appear! In addition the fatty layer beneath the skin thins and this loss of volume causes the skin to sag.

We are all different and everyone will experience their own ageing issues, whether it be to the face, body or both. Inevitably, it will gradually take place all over, but where you notice it at first and what bothers you, will differ from one person to the next.

Meditation & Mindfulness for Ageing

Practising yoga in itself is an antidote because the practice of yoga is about self enquiry, self awareness and self acceptance. Ultimately, I believe practising meditation and mindfulness will go a long way in helping self acceptance of the ageing process and truly restoring or instilling the belief that age is just a number. When you are happy with what is, it doesn’t matter how old you are!

Buddhism teaches us that life is suffering. As humans we just enjoy suffering. We suffer because don’t have something and when we do, we suffer because it doesn’t remain. Life is in a constant state of flux and that obviously also applies to us. It doesn’t matter that age is just a natural part of life, when you are experiencing it, living that truth isn’t always easy and inevitably we can suffer. Buddhism does, however, teach us (thankfully) the path through and out of suffering, or at the very least teaches us how to ease suffering.

Meditation and mindfulness is that path. Self acceptance comes from loving and liking ourselves and from being at peace with who we are and importantly, what is, which includes the changes due to ageing that are going on within our body.

I don’t buy into hormones. I know that is a ridiculous statement and my sister laughs at me all the time for saying it. I know for a fact, scientifically speaking, my body goes through hormonal changes each month and that at my age (I wish that WordPress would allow me to insert the rolling eyes emoji here) there are other hormonal changes taking place at a frenetic rate. I can feel them often and my emotions are sometimes affected. Yet still I refuse to believe it. I know it, I cannot argue my way out of it, but I am not having any of it. I don’t buy into hormones and I just don’t take any notice of them.

I mention hormones because despite my irrational view, and my refusal to take them into any account, they may play as big a part of ageing for you as your face and body appearance changing.

The practice of meditation and mindfulness enables you to simply notice what you feel, see or think.  Rather than acting on it, you are noticing it as if a silent watcher removed from who you are. Instead of being carried along with your thoughts and feelings you are noticing them and just as you breathe in and out, you are simply letting them come and letting them go. Over time this mindfulness practice enables you to realise – from within, that age is a natural process, that what is going on within your body is going to happen whether you are agreeable and happy about it or not. Logically we would not choose to suffer, but (as my hormone theory attests) we aren’t always logical. We aren’t thinking about the natural ageing process when our eyelids look droopy or our face has more wrinkles that simply aren’t facial expressions anymore!

Through the practice of mindfulness we begin to see the ‘is-ness’ of it all and once that occurs, we can grow to accept ourselves. We can like and love ourselves despite ageing and in fact we can like and ourselves because of it!  The more you like yourself as a person the more accepting you will be. There is no hard and fast rule as to how long this process takes. Meditation and mindfulness have no time schedule. Practice consistently and the results will just come, quite subtly at first. As a caveat it is also a fact that when you are happy it appears on your face.  When you are worried and stressed your face tells the tale. So not only will you feel happiness and peace from within, but you will be wearing it too. Happiness is better than any wrinkle cream out there!

Something else I have found to carry within it great power, is the act of focusing on others, rather than yourself. Ageing is one of those things that you can easily become obsessed about. If you take your focus away yourself and wish others well, you will notice it comes back around ten fold. Try the loving kindness meditation for a month and see the difference – it is quite staggering what this does to your life.

When you live in the moment there is no room for worrying over what you cannot control, of what is. Age is just a number.

 

 

[This fabulous image is a ZintenZ postcard available to purchase from Things That Make you Feel Good]

He loves me, he loves me not

I wasn’t sure what to call this post and the title of the game, where one person seeks to find out if someone loves them or not by picking the petals of a flower; taking it in turns between he (or indeed she) loves me, he loves me not, seems apt. The line that goes with the last petal picked is the true answer. Oh if life were that simple!

How many times have you wondered whether someone likes you? Not just in a romantic way, but anyone you know. It might be a friend, work colleague, sibling, parent or yes, partner. Are you cursed with the dreaded self limiting belief that people don’t like or love you? This most likely stems from feeling not good enough, but the belief that you aren’t loveable or likeable is one that can completely mar your every day life.

This topic has come up in conversations I’ve had with three different people during the past week and so thought perhaps it was worthy of a little prose.

Just because we believe something to be so, doesn’t make it true. In the case of not being liked, most of the time we are completely wrong in our estimations. However, because we believe it, so to do we think it, which means we feel it and we begin to behave in such a way that we attract it! This cycle of conscious creation is what makes the world go round. The universe does not differentiate between good and bad, it simply is, and so the cycle works just as well for the negative as it does for the positive. What we think we become.

‘What you think you become.

What you feel you attract.

What you imagine, you create.’

– Buddha

Ultimately, this means we end up attracting into our life the very thing we are most afraid of – people not liking us! The problem is that when you grip something too tightly you don’t allow it to flow and often we try too hard. We believe someone doesn’t like us and so we try hard to make them, which only pushes them further away.

I have found in life that the solution is always to be found in the problem and in this case it is simply to let go. It is quite freeing and just in using that word it sounds so light and breezy and easy to do. I realise, however, that the reality of it is very different and many people find it incredibly difficult. The reason? They worry and worrying is what gets in the way and certainly what gets in the way of letting go of the need to be liked or feeling that you are disliked or unloved.

Worry begets worry. The more you worry, the more you will worry.

Practising mindfulness can help, both in terms of breaking the worry cycle and letting go of the belief you are not liked or loved.

Establishing a regular meditation practice is always the foundation of mindfulness practice because it sets you off on the right footing and starts your day in the direction of being more mindful. Even if this starts out as just a few minutes each morning, the benefits are greater than not meditating at all.

To get into the habit of being mindful throughout the day I always suggest cues. My watch reminds me to breathe often, not that I stop breathing of course, but I use these lovely prompts as a reminder to be mindful. It might be on the hour each hour, when your next client arrives or in the case of the problem we are discussing here, I suggest you use your worrying as the cue to be mindful. In this way you are not only practising mindfulness, but you are actually interrupting your worry cycle and over time, with persistent and consistent practice, you will break the habit of worrying. The cue will form a habit and your reward will be breaking that worry cycle and becoming present.

You cannot ruminate over the past or worry about the future if you are present.

Remember, to be present is simply to bring yourself back to now – the moment you are in. Engage all your senses in each moment; what can you smell, hear and feel? The more you practice mindfulness the more you begin to notice and the more your senses heighten.

This doesn’t have to apply to just worrying about whether people like you or not, it can relate to any worry.

Through meditation and mindfulness practice we begin to see things as they truly are, not how we see them. We begin to see that much of our belief about not being liked isn’t true and if it indeed is true, we can choose to move away from that situation or simply not respond.

Truly it comes down to liking and loving yourself first. When you do, the same rules apply. You cannot like yourself and not begin to attract that in others; it’s simply how the universe works – like attracts like after all.

There is a humorous twist on the, ‘love me, love me not’ game, that is, ‘he loves me, he loves me lots’ – let that be your mantra.