Soul to Speak

Have you ever read something and you’re suddenly filled with peace or feel relaxed and at ease where previously you felt tension or angst?

I love poetry and particularly love Rumi. It’s usually the case that what you need at a certain time, will appear and other times you don’t know you need something until it does appear.

Yesterday, while on Facebook, I happened to see this image quote…

‘I know you’re tired but come, this is the way.” – Rumi

Just ten words, but the effect they had was so profound that it made me think about it for a while afterwards. It wasn’t so much that I even thought I needed to feel peace at that moment or indeed yesterday, but when I looked at that image and read those words, I was overcome with an enormous sense of peace. It settled slowly all around me until I was completely filled with the feeling. Being a photographer I think images have the power to bring about peace like that and loving trees so much I wondered if maybe it was that, coupled with that lovely Rumi quote. Perhaps…

With meditation and mindfulness to try to understand it too much, is to miss it. It is such a paradox. As humans we sometimes struggle with things we cannot see. In his brilliant book, ‘You’ll see it when you believe it’, Wayne Dyer talked about having to believe (faith) in a power and way of thinking and being before you actually begin to see things happen in your life. Meditation and mindfulness is like that. You can read about it, but truly it requires a leap of faith; to simply accept that some things just cannot be explained or understood fully, and that’s ok, to just practice and trust the flow.

This morning the quote popped up in my head again and I was filled with the same sense of peace as I read it again. There is a place within all of us that is pure peace, love and where we are the very best version of ourselves, the place of our highest good and where we are connected with a higher power and with one another. To try to understand that place is to miss it. You can’t see it. If you took apart your body you wouldn’t find it, but it is stronger than all the power you can imagine and to understand how that could be, is to miss it. Through the avenue of the breath and the present moment, meditation and mindfulness can connect us with that place within and at times if we notice, small things might stop by during our day and remind us of that too…just like this quote did yesterday.

I know you’re tired, but come, this is the way…

 

This image quote is from the Facebook page of Tao & Zen (@TaoZen2012) 

The actions of others

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” Dr Seuss

When it comes to emotional mastery one of the most difficult skills to learn is in dealing with the actions, behaviour and intentions of others. The short and sweet of it is, as you are probably already aware, in understanding and more importantly, accepting, that we cannot control the intentions of others. We can only control our response and affect our own intentions. The complexity begins when you put that into practice.

Think of times during your day when the actions, behaviour or intentions of others affect you. Quite a lot I imagine. From your kids, spouse and friends, to your work colleagues and total strangers you come into contact with. There are days when maybe you don’t really interact with many people and days when you no doubt interact with lots. Consider the times when someone does something that really irritates or annoys you. Perhaps strong emotion surges within you before you’ve had time to think. There are so many variables to this. You could be feeling super happy one day and the person who cuts in front of you driving doesn’t affect you, but the next day it might – and that’s a simple example!

When you have a regular meditation practice and you practise mindfulness, you will begin to notice space. I’m not talking physical space here, although it can feel that way, but more space, silence if you like, around your own actions and your interactions with others. It’s as though there is extra time just slotted in here and there. The reality is of course, it was there all along, you just didn’t notice it. This space allows you to stop, just for a moment, and consider your own actions and to think for just a second. When this happens and you are feeling strong emotion towards what someone has said or done, it enables you to see that you are not in control of that. You can only control your response to it. That isn’t to say that it hasn’t made you feel upset, angry or whatever emotion has surged within you, but truly, to ask yourself, what is the benefit in displaying that emotion towards them.

When you experience this often, you will also begin to see that not everyone is self aware. Now this isn’t to say that those who are self aware are enlightened humans who can rise above any such trivia and let everything go. What it is saying is that if you do not have a level of self awareness you will be blissfully UNAWARE of your actions, behaviour or intentions on others. Is this selfish, ignorant? You might think so. I say it is neither good or bad, it just is.

Most people live ‘unconsciously’ and operate on autopilot; simply playing out the same patterns of behaviour, responding to situations in the same way they always have. These people can only perhaps see life from their own perspective. As you increase your level of self awareness you begin to see that everyone has their own perspective and when you truly realise this, you can feel more empathy towards others. You can see that if their actions aren’t kind or particularly thoughtful, that’s not necessarily because they are intentionally trying to upset others; they are just coming from their own perspective, their own place. This dulls the effect they have on you and enables acceptance, which leads you to decide (in that space) how you respond, or not. I mean often the best thing is simply to smile and be silent.

It’s like a light being switched on. Suddenly you can see clearly that lots of people you interact with on a daily basis are unaware of the impact of their actions, behaviour and intentions on people around them. With meditation and mindfulness you can work on increasing self awareness that enables you to dodge these situations in as much as not being affected by them. Often I find that situations are more diffused because you have not responded to them. On a work front the interaction be in emails, which have to be one of the biggest forms of miscommunication we deal with everyday. It is so easy to fire that email back when truly, did we really understand what the other person meant, or even if they meant what we think they meant, do we really need to respond to that in a way that just fuels fire with fire?

As human beings one of our biggest flaws is that we think everything is about us. So when someone says or does something that you take complete offence to, just think about their perspective too. They may indeed be completely ‘wrong’ with their facts or perception, but they might also just have found out some awful news or be having a massively bad day. Who knows why people act the way they act. You can’t possibly know everything, right? You can, however, (thank goodness!) control your own actions, your own behaviour and intentions. When you strive to live your life in this way, you will show kindness and compassion to others. You don’t need to be a push over or be walked all over. You can just choose to step out of the way and let the situation go by you without event. You can choose not to let the rising emotion take over your body causing you to react in a way that you will later regret. You might choose to respond but it will be in a more mindful way and one that is thoughtful of the other person’s perception or standpoint.

So when you are next faced, later today, tomorrow or the next day, with someone who is evoking negative emotion within you, look out for that space and allow yourself just a moment to consider your response. When you observe something, what you are observing will change. There will be a shift. In his beautiful book, ‘The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down’, Haemin Sunim said,

“People say hurtful things because they themselves have been hurt. When you encounter someone prickly or malicious, think about what kind of miserable situation he must be in. If he is too much, and you don’t have time, just whisper, ‘bless you’ and move on.”

You can choose kindness and if I know one thing to be true. It is always better to be kind than it is to be right.

 

The lovely insightful image today is from best selling author Karen Salmansohn’s site Not  Salmon, self help for people who would not be caught dead doing self help.

The power of faith and trusting what is

A long time ago, when I was became interested in Buddhism, it took me some time to fully grasp the concept of letting go and acceptance. For a while it meant being walked all over or not having a voice, about shirking all responsibility, but over the years I have learnt the true meaning of letting go and acceptance.

Letting go actually allows more to come into your life and as the Buddha said,

by the absence of grasping, one is set free

When you can begin to accept the impermanence of life, that we can only ever truly control our own thoughts, behaviours and actions and not those of others, life begins to open up a whole world of new possibilities and opportunities.

Letting go and acceptance also mean the allowing of something else too.

Trust.

Not everyone finds it easy to trust. Not just in trusting others but in trusting yourself and trusting what is.

When you have faith, let go and accept what is, you will find that you start to ‘see’ and trust what comes your way is meant to be. When you live your life consciously, i.e. practising mindfulness and living in the present moment, you will notice that you trust more in what comes your way. That isn’t to say that every situation, person or scenario you experience will lead you to something positive, but what it does mean is that you trust that whatever you are faced with is meant to be there. Whether it be a hard lesson or something more enjoyable.

There is power in trusting what is – you lose expectations and you become less focused on outcomes, spending more time simply enjoying the journey. When you  trust in what is, you live your life more in flow. What used to feel difficult will become easier, what used to feel ‘stuck’ will become unstuck. Your life will meander along much more smoothly than it did before.

I use faith and trust interchangeably and indeed, one is a synonym for the other, but they actually mean different things. Faith is what you hold within you and having the ability to believe in something you don’t have proof or evidence of, whereas trust is more certain and says it IS so.

So you are having faith, that when you let go and practice acceptance everything will be ok. The more you do that, the more you trust what is, because you are experiencing it for real. When your live your life based on these simple principles you will find your life experience is elevated to a whole different level. One where your unshakeable faith and trust create true power, fuelling your ability to change your life and achieve more of what your heart desires than ever before…

 

 

[This photograph of a beautiful Buddha statue was taken along the serene Land of Medicine Buddha Hike in Santa Cruz, California.]

Perspective

I was listening to a podcast yesterday with Tim Ferriss interviewing Gabor Mate (very interesting guy if you haven’t heard of him) and towards the end of the podcast Gabor talked about his favourite quote, relating to perspective. I often talk about how having empathy for others and being mindful of the perspective of others, but this really made me see the enormity of perspective and its incredible impact on our daily lives…

Think about a time recently when something upset you and then think about how you responded.

During the interview I listened to, Tim said that there were a bunch of things that needed fixing around his home and while he was away, he had agreed with someone to come and do the work for him.

When he returned home the work wasn’t done.

Gabor asked him how that made him feel. What were the emotions he felt.

He said he felt upset and the emotions were anger and frustration.

Gabor asked him to think about why he felt angry and frustrated.

Tim responded, because I felt like the guy did not care about me or respect me.

Gabor pointed out that there could be a million and one reasons for the guy not doing the work; he could have taken ill, had a relative become ill, called out of town and so on.

He said,

We don’t respond to what happens, we respond to our perception of what happens; our interpretation.

He stated three key points:

  1. We choose the worse scenario/outcome
  2. We don’t choose, we jump to the worst conclusion automatically
  3. We don’t respond to the present moment, we respond to the past

Responding in this way usually goes back to childhood and the patterns of behaviour and ways in which we respond just play out over and over throughout our lives.

The more mindful you become, the more self aware you become. Being mindful is being present and so cultivating mindfulness in your life will enable you to notice your responses and gain insight into your perspective.

Think about situations in your own life where you are faced with a situation where you respond without really knowing any facts about a situation or the person you are responding to.

Our perceptions are our reality, but it doesn’t make them true.

Mindfulness gives you a fresh perspective. A perspective where you can see things as they really are and because you are present, you cannot be on autopilot at the same time, – meaning you are less likely to jump to a conclusion, based on an automatic response that comes from past. You cannot be in the past if you are present.

This doesn’t happen with the flip of a switch. Mindfulness is a practice and as such needs practising daily.

If you wanted to listen to Tim Ferriss’ interview with Gabor Mate, you can find it here on the Tim Ferriss Podcast.

 

 

[The image is one I took in San Francisco, where my sister lives. I visit often and have taken so many photographs of the Golden Gate Bridge, but each time I seem to find a new perspective and the photographs always seem different…]

 

Luminescent Earth

Along with writing, I love photography and am fascinated by the sky. Never a good move when driving of course, but am often distracted by the colour of the sky. I could literally take a photograph of the sky twice in as many minutes and it would appear differently.

I find in photography I am often drawn more to colour than to subject or composition. Some of my favourite photographs are simply because I am in love with the mix of colours and the sky never seems to disappoint.

I love the piercing azure blue sunny skies of California, the magical deep midnight blue sky on a clear night, milky indigo on a dewy morning and the lure of a sparkling aquamarine Maldives ocean. No sunrise or sunset is ever the same. Flying above Greenland the sky can be the most beautiful shade of pink, orange and red, like giant pillows of candy floss against the vast expanse of white below.

While travelling on a night flight recently back from San Francisco I was mesmerised by the horizon appearing luminescent as though the earth was glowing.

Another magical moment of mindfulness…

 

Daily Post: Word Prompt/Luminescent https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/luminescent/

…and then suddenly, it came to me

It isn’t called a mindful practice for nothing. Being mindful takes practice every day, especially the practice of practising to be mindful! Over time I have found that it becomes the norm and the default way of being, just like not being mindful did once too. Although there are days when you might find yourself on complete auto pilot or having somehow sunk into a little pool of negativity at ‘lostville’, it is a joyful feeling to know that mindfulness is only a moment away to bring you back to present and where you can experience joy…even in the not so joyful moments. It is almost as though the practice itself nudges you back to it when you have ‘been away’ for a day or two.

This week I’ve had two separate conversations that have led to the same thing. At the time what came to me didn’t seem surprising and when I tell you about it you might think it is not mind blowing, but what it does, is…here’s what happened.

I am a meditation and mindfulness ambassador. I avoid preaching. There isn’t a meditation and mindfulness bible that I go bashing over people’s heads, but there seem to be more and more occasions when I am given an opportunity to share the benefits and become the stepping stone for someone to find their own meditation and mindfulness practice. At times it isn’t even that; it’s just a little something in the midst of the day where I am given a chance to pass on a little meditation or mindfulness sparkle.

The first conversation was around addiction. Sometimes I don’t like to put my own experiences of addiction across because I don’t want it to seem like I am negating the other person’s experience. At times, however, if I say, I understand, I can truly mean that and relay why I understand. The thing is, not everything works for everyone and so what helped me break the cycle of addiction might not help someone else.

Our conversation continued on and she explained to me that when the thoughts came she couldn’t break them. It became impossible to go against what the thoughts in her head were guiding her to do. It doesn’t matter what you are addicted to, the cycle of addiction is usually the same.

I said that when you are thinking in that way you are not present. She didn’t understand what I meant. I continued that, to be in your head means you are not in your body. You cannot be in both at the same time. If you can get out of your head and into your body you can be present. She is literal in her thinking and so the subtlety of what I was saying was missed.

I paused for a minute and allowed myself to be fully present focusing on how to explain in literal terms how to get out of your head, to break the thinking cycle, and into your body, to become present….and suddenly, it came to me.

I asked her, while showing her, to give her a visual explanation as well, to dig her nails gently into the palm of her hands.

“What can you feel?” I asked.

“My nails digging into the palm of my hands.” she replied.

“The only thing you can think about in this moment is that.” I said.

She smiled as though a light bulb just went on, “I get it.”

I explained that it doesn’t matter what it is, she could click her fingers, rub two fingers together on one hand or gently pinch her arm. The point was to bring herself to being present. When she is then present, to focus with awareness on other sensations in her body and what is going on around her. It would be enough to break the cycle of thinking. This of course is a practice in itself, but by practising mindfulness in this way, over time, she could begin to break the cycle of thinking. With the benefits that mindfulness brings she may start to make better choices and ultimately change her thinking and over time, break the addictive cycle. This is a simplistic explanation. Addiction is not something that is easy to overcome, but mindfulness helps and works. The literal explanation to get out of the head and into the body, however, is powerful.

Fast forward a few days and I was once again, today, faced with a similar situation, talking to someone about their anxiety…and suddenly it came to me.

via Daily Prompt: Suddenly

 

[This image was taken at the top of a mountain trail in California]

When the mind has gone

My Grandma has recently been diagnosed with Dementia. I thought I had a good understanding of it because many years ago, I worked for a team of doctors whose specialism was psychogeriatrics. My Great Grandmother (on my Grandma’s side) had dementia and my Grandad had a rarer form called Dementia with Lewy Bodies. I was only 21 when my Great Grandmother died and I didn’t really know her and I wasn’t particularly close to my Grandad either, nor was I around him very much when he was ill. I’ve realised very recently that although I may have once had some knowledge of what Dementia is, I have never really experienced it.

I’m very close to my Grandma. When she was younger she wasn’t that great to be around. She wasn’t the type of Grandma who was particularly warm and affectionate, although she did have cakes that she would give out freely from her pantry, so she wasn’t that bad. She wasn’t unkind either, she was just very stern and matronly. There have been a couple of occasions in my life when I have lived with her for a while and as I got older I just visited her more. Over many years we became closer and more like friends. My parents immigrated to America in 2007 and she became my surrogate mum. My kids were still young and I only worked part time. We would spend a lot of time with her and we’d go to different places or just go over and hang out for a while.

My parents returned but I still continued to visit my Grandma weekly. Over the last few years it has been every few weeks and monthly sometimes, but we remain close. Recently it has gone back to weekly again because she lives close-by. For the last few years she has struggled getting about and has this odd thing where if she hits her foot in a certain way she ends up falling. She is also very unsafe on one of those whizzing scooters you see old people on, that really shouldn’t be on because they go far too fast.

She’s never really been happy but she would reminisce about days gone by and what she used to do. She’d tell me all about her childhood and her sisters. She’d find joy in some things and we would often laugh about insignificant things that just seemed amusing at the time. I got her to do her first selfie a few years ago too. I don’t think she really understood what a selfie was but was happy to smile all the same. She is a born again Christian and so she has always found happiness with the Lord and talking about that. She went to church every week and had joined in Bible classes and various things that go on in the church. In the past couple of years though things have changed somewhat. It started with small things. She started to forget names and stopped being able to write. She’d always write letters to everyone and whenever she got a bill that wasn’t right or a letter from something official she would always hand write back.

She stopped going to Bible classes because she couldn’t articulate what she wanted to say and although she loved singing she would often forget the words. She was still Grandma though and still going strong beyond 85 and I have often thought she’s doing pretty well really. After too many falls and near misses on her scooter, forgetting too many things and everyone being worried about her being alone, she moved into an assisted living home. She still has her own self contained flat but it’s just set within a bigger home where there’s a communal lounge and a restaurant for her to have dinner, a shop and other places everyone can get together. There is 24 hour assistance and more people milling around for her to chat and hang out with.

Since moving she seems to have deteriorated ten fold. My mum finally took her to the doctor and she has been diagnosed with Dementia.

It wasn’t a shock. We all knew really and it just seems like one of those things that comes with old age to some people.  She is 88 in May.

My mum told me that Grandma had stopped going to church. I was totally bewildered because she loves church. Loves the pastor, the people and everything about Sunday mornings. She is devoted to it. I said I’d speak to her when I went to see her.

She said that she can’t go anymore because they’ve changed it, that the service is totally different and not how it usually is. The pastors have now been trained in a new way of doing things and that from now on it is going to be different. I have been to the church service with her so I tried to understand what was different. She couldn’t tell me but just got more and more cross with me the more I asked. We even went through each stage of the church service so that I could pinpoint which part had changed. She told me that after the children go out of the main church service to Sunday school the rest isn’t the same. I asked if the pastor was still preaching from the Bible and she said of course she is but it isn’t the same. They are doing it all differently and she doesn’t understand it.

She then said that the pastor won’t tell her about it and explain either. She had asked her friend there who picks her up and brings her home again but she said that the pastor won’t tell her. I was so shocked and totally confused about it that I rang the pastor on my way home.

I was actually surprised to learn that none of it was true. The service remains as it always has been. Grandma has been becoming increasingly agitated at church and with people who go to church. She has been ringing people and getting upset. She has been upset at church and not sure where she is or how she is getting home and on the day I had gone, that morning, the lady had gone to pick her up for church and Grandma had told her that it had been arranged she was not going and to go away.

What struck me is how believable she was. She was just Grandma talking about a problem at church. I didn’t even realise when she was getting cross, because she does get cross sometimes if you keep asking her things she can’t explain. That was always quite normal even when she didn’t have dementia! She always says something and follows the sentence with, ‘and such like’, because ‘and such like’ just explains everything.

I did a bit more research on dementia and spoke to a few people who have had relatives with dementia and concluded that I would just agree because I didn’t want to upset her or agitate her by asking questions when things just didn’t make sense.

I knew I needed to accept that the dementia meant that Grandma was now different but she was still Grandma and so for me it felt difficult to be any other way with her than we had always been. She didn’t chat as much as she used to and we couldn’t go out like we did, but I didn’t want her to not be Grandma or for her not to understand me.

I went to visit her yesterday and bumped into her as I walked down the corridor. She’d missed the buzzer so came out to see who was there. Her hair was so short! She usually wears it short but I realised, trying not to stare, that it was completely cut short to her head. Not only that it had been totally hacked. The sides had different layers that were just chopped lines and the front was all different lengths, but it was just cropped short, close to her head.

‘Have you been to the hairdressers?’ I asked. There is a hair salon in the home.

‘Yes, dear’, she replied. ‘She did it a lot fancier than I have it now, she did it up a bit here and there and she went to so much trouble with it, it looked lovely. When I woke up the next morning though it had gone flat and I couldn’t do it well myself so I just flattened it down.’

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘well it looks lovely’. I could hardly tell her otherwise but was secretly a little bit annoyed that a hairdresser had made such a bodged job of her lovely white hair.

‘She told me to do these wispy bits at the front spikey, like this,’ she said fluffing the different wispy lengths that barely grazed her forehead. ‘Then she told me to just smooth this bit down’, she said patting the sides.

‘Right’, I said smiling as we got to the lift.

‘It was very expensive,’ she said.

‘Really?’ I asked feeling annoyed again that not only had the hairdresser made a complete mess of it but that she had charged her a small fortune too.

‘£2’ she said.

‘£2?’ I asked, smiling. Now I did know she often got mixed up with numbers and especially money.

She screwed her face up and said, ‘not £2 but you know a lot of money and such like.’

We went down in the lift and walked through to the lounge for some tea.

While Grandma was settling herself into the chair I quickly text my mum to say that the bloody hairdresser had made an absolute mess of Grandma’s lovely hair.

There is a lady there called Barb. She is usually sitting with someone. I think there are a few women who probably look out for her because she doesn’t know anything, even where or who she is. Each time I go Grandma will tell me that Barb has lost her mind.

We sat down and I could feel Barb staring at me. I smiled.

‘Do you live here? she asked me.

‘No, but Grandma does don’t you Grandma?’ I replied.

Grandma nodded.

‘Where do you live then?’ Barb asked me.

‘I live in a village nearby,’ I replied.

‘I don’t live here either,’ she said.

‘Yes, you do,’ the woman next to her sighed.

‘Really?’ Barb said looking quite puzzled.

The lady next to her nodded.

‘Oh,’ Barb said bemused.

We sat in silence for a few minutes.

‘Well I’ll be off anyway this evening,’ Barb said and smiled.

‘Are you getting picked up then to go out?’ the lady next to her said.

‘No, I’m going home’, Barb replied assuredly.

‘You live here Barb,’ the lady said firmly.

‘Really?’ Barb said.

I smiled and became mindful as I did, really fully present as I looked at Barb. It was clear she was not present at all. The conversation was oddly funny to listen to, but my smile waned and in that moment I felt incredibly sad.

We sat for a short while longer before Grandma and I headed out of the lounge.

‘She’s lost her mind,’ Grandma said as we left the room.

‘Yes, I can tell that,’ I replied as we walked down the corridor to walk for a bit to give Grandma some exercise.

When I left it had started to rain. The double doors whizzed open and I turned to wave at Grandma as she shuffled along with her walker back down the corridor. The air felt cool and I lifted my head to feel the rain falling across my face. Such a contrast to the heat inside, but it wasn’t just the heat that felt stifling, it was as though they were all just trapped in there. I know they aren’t of course, they are free to come and go, but they actually don’t. They just come and go from their rooms back and forth to the lounge where they have similar conversations over and over again.

I took a breath in and headed towards the car to ring my mum.

‘Shelley!’ she exclaimed as she answered the phone. ‘She cut her hair herself.’

‘What?’ I cried, not believing what I was hearing.

‘I went to see her the other day. I meant to tell you before you went today but forgot. She said she’d woke up one morning and her hair was sticking up all over the place so she’d cut it to tidy it up.’

‘But…’ I stammered, recalling the elaborate story and detail Grandma had gone into about the hairdresser and how she had told her how to have her hair and what she had done to it. I couldn’t believe it.

It had happened again. I couldn’t and haven’t figured out whether Grandma told me the story about the hairdresser because she didn’t want me to worry about her cutting her hair or whether she had truly believed what she was telling me. I know deep down the latter. She believed what she was telling me herself. She even pointed to the hair salon as we passed it walking out of the lift to show me where she had gone.

There have been other stories weaved in and out of those; about the TV being different, the staff, the laundry facilities and I wonder which are true and which aren’t. It doesn’t really matter because I just believe what Grandma tells me. She is my Grandma.

It struck me today about mindfulness. In that moment when I was in the lounge and became fully present. It was so noticeable that Barb wasn’t present at all, but I wondered if maybe she could become present, would that help? If I could get Grandma to be more present, would that help, or would her present be somewhere different to where we were?

I thought about what Grandma says about Barb, ‘she’s lost her mind…’ not realising that she has perhaps lost her own too.

I have wondered how you can be mindful if you have lost your mind. I thought I might try that with Grandma and just like I felt with Barb, perhaps then I would know when she is present and when she isn’t….the times when her mind has gone.

When the mind has gone where does it go?