Are you distracted by sounds during meditation?

I doubt there is a single person who isn’t distracted by sound during meditation. Recently, however, I started a meditation course with Sam Harris, which you can find on your app store by searching for Waking Up with Sam Harris.

Even meditating early in the morning you will find you are subject to sounds, whether it be dogs barking, distant traffic or birds singing. I have often meditated on birds singing which I find quite peaceful but add a barking dog or someone leaving their house in a car and I find myself distracted. I’ll bring my focus back to the breath and resume.

Sam Harris teaches that rather than be distracted by sounds, no matter what their origin, to simply focus upon them. Just in the same way that you would the breath.

I was actually surprised at how easy this was and the difference it made. Rather than being distracted by sounds, they simply become a focus of the meditation itself.

Previously I deemed birds chirping to be pleasant, whereas dogs barking to be distracting. Now it doesn’t matter what the sound.

“If you can’t meditate in a boiler room, you can’t meditate.” – Alan Watts

The sound simply permeates consciousness just in the same way breath does. And sound comes and goes, just like the breath does.

So the next time you meditate and hear the kids shouting, dogs barking, cars starting or neighbours chatting, simply focus on whatever sounds come into your awareness and follow them until they disappear.

This totally changes your meditation. Try it.

 

[This image was taken (clearly on the roof of a car!) close to Point Reyes, California – if you can meditate on the top of a car you can meditate anywhere, right?]

The Myth of Missing

Some people spend their whole lives searching for that something they feel is missing from their lives; that thing that will make everything ok, make sense and complete life.

I spent most of my life this way too. Always feeling less than, knowing that if I could just find what was missing, I’d figure it all out. If I knew that missing thing and understood it I could get past being stuck and live a happier life.

For years we might seek to find what is missing externally. If I am perfect at this and that, achieve this goal or that job. If I get to have that house or go on those holidays. The never ending need to add things to life to make ourselves feel happy and all in an attempt to fill that missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle and all will be well.

I’ve come to realise that it’s a myth, this missing something.

There are a myriad of reasons we feel something is missing. Usually totally falsely created during childhood when we don’t feel good enough or up to what is expected of us. We begin, although certainly not consciously, to feel something must be missing from us. We must not be smart enough, loveable or likeable enough, good enough. As we grow, this belief simply attracts more of the same situations to further affirm this belief until it becomes truth. By the time we reach adulthood we aren’t aware of its origin, we simply feel something is missing. In a cruel way it becomes an excuse. We cannot achieve this or that because of what is missing. We are stuck on a never ending treadmill. Truly we are the cause of our problem and yet continue to search for what is missing regardless. We cannot see the wood for the trees.

When you seek you find and with mindfulness,  through the process of cultivating self awareness, there will come a time when you realise, so profoundly, there is actually nothing missing. You are already complete. Everything you seek is already within you and you are perfect as you are. There is nothing to be gained, nothing that needs to be added to complete that jigsaw puzzle. For me this began when I sought yet another therapist to help me discover what was missing, what was wrong. She said to me, “has it ever occurred to you that nothing is wrong, that nothing is missing?” It sounds so simple yet it was so profound and it led me to unravel truly where this belief had come from and to realise I was ok. Nothing was missing. It isn’t as night and day as; one day you feel something is missing and you are stuck and the next you are not, but the realisation is the first step to thinking and ultimately taking actions that are different; leading to a different outcome and a happier, more fulfilled life.

These childhood experiences create a separation within; a discord from who you truly are, to who you think you are. Your whole or the completeness of who you really are becomes fragmented.  To give an analogy, it’s as though you’ve taken a hammer and broken up a complete block of toffee…the pieces are fragmented and separated, broken. You spend your life searching for the missing pieces but because of the separation and discord within, you don’t see they are already there. Seeking inside yourself enables you to be in the space between the pieces and realise they are all there and perfectly fit together. Through the power of mindfulness your heightened self awareness can look ‘outside in’ as if viewing your broken pieces from above and to see how they fit perfectly back together.

This allows us to let go of the false beliefs we hold in our mind and that we’ve held about ourselves for so many years. It enables us to see ourselves truly as we are; when you feel that completeness from an inner knowing of its existence, you can love yourself, value yourself, and in turn, this becomes I am loveable, I am likeable, I am…

 

 

[I took this image while on a flight from England to California, over Greenland. Beneath us the ice that was once a solid mass was fragmented but from above you could see it fit perfectly together.]

 

 

 

The Cycle of Self Sabotage

A friend of mine suggested revisiting a limiting beliefs exercise. While completing it and journalling around it I arrived at some profound realisations about self sabotage and drew The Self Sabotage Cycle. This is experiential for me and wanted to share here in the hope that it would help others who experience self sabotage and/or are not aware of it.

What is self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage is an extremely powerful and destructive behaviour that is almost always created during early childhood. By the age of 10 we begin to apply meaning to our experiences and thus create beliefs about ourselves which then begin to shape and create our lives. The complexity of this process means, that the fears we hold at the core of these beliefs, then force us to create rules and excuses that become ingrained within us and form our ‘innate’ character. By thinking, behaving and acting based on these beliefs, over and over again, we condition ourselves until the responses become automatic – and we live on autopilot.

We aren’t consciously aware that the actions we are taking and decisions we are making come from a completely dysfunctional perspective, simply because of the meaning we placed on our early childhood experiences.

How do we create self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage is created as a way of ‘protecting’ ourselves during traumatic or negative childhood experiences. As an example, and this will vary from person to person depending on individual experience, an immobilising fear of; making mistakes, being ridiculed, being rejected, being physically or emotionally abused, being disliked and being unloved, is the catalyst for a child to develop a need to create a response that, in their mind, will keep them safe. In this example, that response is to ensure one remains small and goes as unnoticed as possible. The fear the child has is very real; in response to the behaviour and actions of someone close to them and/or to the environment in which they live, but as an adult, although the threat no longer exists, the fear and the need to protect oneself remains as strong as ever.

The child may experience difficulties with interpersonal relationships, but largely; going unnoticed, keeping quiet, not laughing or having fun and playing the victim, does the child little harm. It simply serves the purpose (although on a subconscious, ‘unconscious’ level) i.e. if I act this way I am less likely to; be ridiculed, be noticed, be hit, be rejected, and so on. As the child grows up, however, and inevitably becomes an adult, self-sabotage wreaks havoc on every element of life; from work and finances to all interpersonal relationships, especially intimate ones where trust and commitment is required, health and lifestyle.

What are the effects of self-sabotage?

Where a child’s needs are not met, it can be the case where the adult also experiences addiction. Although driven by a need that can never be met to fill a hole that can never be filled, addiction becomes merely another form of self-sabotage and a useful and wicked resource from which ‘it’ can draw from. Adult life can become tumultuous, chaotic and very painful.

Sabotaging jobs, relationships, finances, health and so on are all common place when self-sabotage is at play. It goes undetected because of a lack of self-awareness and simply not realising where the behaviour stems from and that it is responsible for the life you are living.

How can I be free of self-sabotage?

Not everyone becomes aware of the self-sabotage at work in their lives. However, fortunately, due to the nature of the destruction it can cause and the associated feelings of being stuck (which truly are beliefs and excuses we create) it can lead to seeking a better life and a desire to become free.

Self-sabotage requires mindfulness, patience and loving kindness towards oneself. Bravely delving into the limiting beliefs held about yourself and uncovering the fear that lies at the root of them. The fears are rarely real. The only frightening realisation is that something you were afraid of 30 or 40 years ago is now ruling and ruining your life – keeping you from living the life you desire and truly deserve.

When anything is brought into the light it is never as frightening as it seems. When you can identify the beliefs, rules and excuses, and importantly the fear beneath them, it brings a level of awareness that enables you to notice your actions. Over time it becomes easier to realise the thoughts and behaviours driving the actions that no longer serve you. There will come a point when you are able to see clearly the points at which you are sabotaging something you want to bring into your life; whether that be around work, purpose, money, health or relationships.

Naturally, the most powerful limiting beliefs you hold about yourself are the areas in which you sabotage the most.

By living ‘mindfully’ you are able to choose differently. When your choices are no longer based on fear and fuelled by beliefs that are simply not true, you will find you begin to manifest more of what you want in your life, rather than getting in your own way and receiving more of what you don’t want. The only thing keeping you stuck where you are, is you. Be courageous and make your goal and intention to become free from the cycle of self-sabotage.

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

– Grace Murray Hopper

The Self-Sabotage Cycle

Practising mindfulness brings self-awareness. You will notice a pattern emerging around your self-sabotage behaviour; a cycle – the series of actions that you regularly repeat in the same order.

The diagram below shows the Self-Sabotage Cycle at the point that most people become aware that self-sabotage is ruling (and ruining!) their lives.

Before this time, you will have probably gone through the cycle countless times over many years and most likely, experienced it throughout your adult life to date. The sabotage will often kick in before you have even taken any action. You might get an idea or want to do something or bring about a change in your life, only to ruin it before it even starts. You won’t have even been aware you were ruining it, you were just doing what you do. Life is chaotic, and you constantly change your mind, second guess your decisions and generally run amok with yourself. Self-sabotage is cruel, relentless and plays out in a myriad of destructive ways.

As time goes on the cycle might continue to where you experience some progress and even success, but no matter how far around the cycle you get, you will inevitably at some point sabotage your happiness and eradicate the possibility of getting what it is that you desire.

The stages of the Self-Sabotage Cycle

In any area of your life you may set yourself a goal or intention. You act and find you are making progress. This inspires you and you feel excited to take more action towards achieving what it is you want. You may even achieve some success, and this gives you confidence to work on achieving and realising your goal. It is at this point that you will sabotage yourself. Whether that is convincing yourself it wasn’t for you, distracting yourself to do something else or out and out destroying something or putting an obstacle in your path to ensure you don’t achieve your goal, no matter how big or small it is.

The diagram clearly shows that at the point which you sabotage yourself and thus prevent yourself from achieving your goal and manifesting your intention, the circle is broken. It is symbolic in reflecting the incompleteness and ‘stuck feeling’ it creates within you and your life. The Self-Sabotage Cycle is one where the prize, glory, happiness or whatever you see it as, is missing. In the Self-Sabotage Cycle, once you have sabotaged your goal or intention, you simply start over again with something new. Constantly repeating this cycle can become intense, turbulent and incredibly confusing.

Breaking the Cycle 

With mindfulness comes awareness and clarity. At the point which you would ordinarily sabotage your goal and intention (ultimately your happiness!) you simply choose to continue. Often the one thing we need to do is not a gargantuan task or mountainous climb, it is a simple act and, in this case, choosing to take another step forward, another action and believing you can be successful, you are good enough, loveable, deserving and so on. It is in this final quarter of the cycle you have faith and trust you will achieve what you desire.

This completes the circle and by doing this you have become unstuck. You have created a flow in your life. On a subtler level, over time, when sabotage no longer exists in your life cycle, just as the circle denotes, you feel complete, whole and what was missing is now fulfilled. There is no gaping hole to fill and with more confidence in your own ability to create the life you desire, you will become free, to live a happy, healthy, fulfilled life.

SELF SABOTAGE

 

 

[The beautiful featured image in this post was taken through a Monterey Cypress tree overlooking Carmel beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.]

Calm vs crazy in a crisis

I realised today that it has been a while since my last confession – just kidding, but it has been a while since my last post. In between now and then I have been to California and just returned from a lovely weekend in Pembrokeshire…which is what has sparked my post today.

Are you calm or crazy in a crisis?

I have been both and to be honest I think people veer towards the latter. What’s even more interesting is that if you communicate your crisis people automatically go straight to the negative – ‘OMG I am so sorry to hear this.’ ‘What a nightmare for you.’ ‘Oh no what a disaster.’ ‘Oh how awful.’ ‘Totally dreadful for you.’

That isn’t to say those people aren’t being kind – truly they are being empathetic and showing concern for your welfare.

I love an adventure but usually it is always organised by someone else. Mainly one of my brothers. It isn’t that I can’t organise an adventure, just that I have never done it. I am always on holiday or away with some adventuring kind of person. My brothers are all that way and so generally I just leave them to it and tag along.

I’ve always struggled with fun. I know that sounds a bit silly, but as children we were told off for having fun. If we laughed too loud we were told off and to be honest I was told off so much I don’t think I really dared have fun. I was quite sad as a child and so really for various reasons, I just grew up not really knowing how to have fun.

I’ve learned over the years, however, that I love the outdoors. I love a good hike, climb (so long as I am climbing uphill with my feet on the ground and not hanging off some precipice), being by the ocean or in mountains and generally just ‘wanging’ around in nature. Don’t mind getting muddy and now own some pretty decent walking boots. It has taken a few years to ditch white trainers while camping, but am getting there.

One of my brothers introduced me to Pembrokeshire a couple of years ago and my kids and I love it. The coast is rugged, there’s some crazy hiking and climbing up and down the coastal path to secret beaches and in some ways it reminds me of California. The sky gets that same kind of blue as it hits the ocean and I am transported 5,000 miles across it.

We’ve now been a few times and this past weekend I took my two kids – hardly kids at 19 and 15 but there you go. We had planned a last minute trip and I’d decided I was going to be the adventure planner. My older brother has a book called ‘Wild Wales’ which basically breaks Wales up into regions and maps out some pretty spectacular wild old places to visit. They are well off the beaten track, not really for the average tourist but reward you with some spectacular adventures…if you can find them. I bought the book and was excited to start organising adventures…I mean how hard could it be?

I voiced a slight concern to one of my brothers about planning the adventures and he assured me that I had all the skills and attributes to being a great adventure organiser, I’d just never done it before.

I spent some time the week before mapping out our adventures. We were only going for 3 days and 2 nights, so I wanted to get as much in as possible. I figured if we stopped somewhere along the way it would give us our first adventure and break up the four and a half hour drive to Pembrokeshire. After looking at a map I figured Brecon Beacons was a good stop. Wasn’t sure what was there but Wild Wales had some ideas. Chartists Cave looked interesting to me. A great long cavern in a hillside that dropped down 30 metres into a cave below. It looked pretty impressive and the little paragraph gave a nearby postcode and a few directions. I disregarded the ordinance survey map codes as wasn’t too sure what they meant anyway.

Our adventures began in the car with tunes and tantrums…I tried to get the kids to stop along the way at a couple of castles but they were having none of it. After a couple of hours we started to head towards the village where the postcode given by the Wild Wales man was. We arrived at that destination and followed the directions. We were soon surrounded by nothing but massive barren Welsh mountains either side of us. It was like we were on another planet. We were travelling on a deserted road and went back on ourselves and headed further up the mountain. The track ended with a quarry and we had no idea where we were or where the cave was. How hard can it be to find it, I thought, I mean it is in the book, right? We followed the directions and figured it must be up over the ‘peak’ that the book talked about. Trouble is one peak turns into another, and another and we just kept climbing. We said we must be in the wrong spot and my daughter tried to navigate with her phone, which was useless because no-one really knows where Chartists Cave is anyway, certainly not Google!

We came back down towards the quarry fence and found a few cottages nearby. Two old Welshmen were outside one of the cottages, repairing windows. We asked them about Chartists Cave, ‘ooh yes Chartists Cave,’ one exclaimed, ‘just back up that peak and about a mile or so in front of you, you can’t miss it.’

‘Chartists Cave?’ the other asked. We nodded. ‘Yes, yes,’ he said, ‘up just over the peak like maybe a mile or maybe two but you can’t miss it.’

After walking for so long we were elated at the thought of finding the cave and we headed up over the peak with zeal in our stride. The peak turned into another peak and every few rocks on the horizon looked like the top of the cave. However, each turned out to be just another crater in the ground. We found live sheep, dead sheep and met wild horses and bones in the craters.

Soon the blue skies disappeared and the sun went in. The sky darkened and the rain came sideways. It was as though we just left August and found November. We kept telling ourselves we would just go to the next peak, but it just looked like a peak and when we reached it, it was just another dip in the landscape only to be met by what looked like another peak. We started questioning what a peak was – a mountain, a hill, or just a slope? The soft grass turned into marsh and we found ourselves sinking into water. We stopped and tried to get our bearings, but realised when we turned around that we were completely surrounded by moorland – we were lost.

We didn’t realise how long we had walked for but we were totally disorientated. We had foolishly left the car with no food and no water. We thought the cave would be a short walk from the car. The directions were not specific about how far away it was at all and we just figured it would be on top of a peak. [If I never hear the word peak again it will be too soon.]

We had to turn back. We were wearing trainers and we were soaking wet and cold. We had not drank for hours and we began losing it. We argued over the direction to take, whose silly idea it was to walk that far and finally agreed we did not give a damn about the cave. My son declared the cave a complete myth!

After a 3 hour round trip we saw the car – never have I been so happy to see my car.

It turns out (according to an experienced orienteer in his article about Chartists Cave) that it is actually 6 miles from where our car was to reach the cave and it should not be attempted by anyone inexperienced and certainly not without a map, compass and hiking gear. To be fair to Mr Wild Wales it did say take a map and I just figured we had found the location, the phone would do the rest if need be. It was not, however, like we were trying to find a petrol station, Google does not know the exact location of Chartists Cave nor can it give you walking directions to it.

We learnt some lessons. Never underestimate the weather in Wales. Never leave the car without water and food. Always take walking boots to Wales and wear them. Never believe what old Welshmen tell you. Never assume anything. Learn how to use a map and compass and take them with you!

Despite being slightly crazy in that crisis we put the whole thing down to our weekend adventures and decided to see the funny and positive side of it. We got off the moors and were in good shape. My son’s dad later told us that they do army training in the Brecon Beacons because of how harsh it is. I’m sure the cadets don’t wear trainers either.

We arrived into Pembrokeshire in good spirits and excited about our weekend ahead. We found our beautiful pink converted mill cottage located in remote countryside about 7 miles away from Newport Beach.

Our first night was lovely. We drove into Newport and ate dinner at a lovely pub who welcomed our dog, Lenny, like he was a little king. We caught the sunset on the beach and returned to the cottage happy.

I lit the wood burner in the living room and didn’t realise you had to open the vents. I closed the doors and the fire went out. I lit the fire again and left the doors open. The cottage filled with smoke and the smoke detectors went off. They continued to do so every 10 minutes, despite opening the doors and windows. I remained calm but ignoring it was not an option. Shortly after midnight the cottage owners came and disarmed the smoke alarms, well removed them actually. Rather than thinking how awful it was I decided to see it as part of the adventure. Weary I finally went to sleep.

The following day we had some great adventures from hiking across from Whitesands Beach to visiting our favourite spot, Blue Lagoon and finding the Strumblehead Lighthouse and a secret beach in Aberfforest. A few of these places were through figuring out some directions from the Wild Wales book! Adventure organiser, check!

Shortly after dinner that second night, however, our adventures took a slightly different turn. As we drove back to our cottage, with about 6 miles to go, warning lights flashed on the dashboard telling me to stop the car safely. I figured I would get back to the cottage and call for assistance then. The stop safely notice turned into stop the car immediately and I slowed down trying to call for assistance. There was no phone service and my daughter started freaking out. I knew that the car wouldn’t blow up but I was concerned something might happen.

This time, I stayed totally calm. Unfortunately, it did not calm my daughter who, after I took a wrong turn, jumped out of the car as I stopped to turn around. She ran off and said she would find her own way back. I still remained calm as I drove a mile down the lane in front of us and pulled over. I finally go through to the car ‘assist’ company (associated with my lease car), who told me to switch the car off immediately. We were stranded on a grass verge in the middle of nowhere on a single lane road. My daughter was god knows where and my son had decided to keep getting out of the car and roaming in the middle of the road on his mobile phone. The dog was keeping his head down but was clearly a bit wobbly.

The ‘assist’ company operative told me I had to stay with the vehicle while they sent for it to be recovered. We were losing light, had less than 20% battery on my phone and my son said he’d spoken to my daughter who was 3.5 miles away from the cottage following phone directions with a phone battery that was dying and at 15%.  We had no idea of our location because we were simply too far away from anything.

I remained calm and at the direction of the lady on the phone rang 101 for help. They weren’t too helpful and said just to Google my location. I did and so ended up with our latitude and longitude. The lady on the end of the phone found that helpful and finally agreed to have the recovery driver pick me up from our cottage and come back to the car with me, rather than us having to wait for the car.

My son and I, with dog in tow, headed on foot with Google maps to find the cottage. I realised I still had the phone number of the lady who owned the cottage and called her for help. She said she would find my daughter and come pick us up. My daughter had made it back to the cottage and after we had walked almost 2 miles they found us too.

The recovery man made it (have no idea how he got the truck down the lanes) a couple of hours later and took my car off to a storage facility.

You could not have put so many ‘unfortunate’ factors together. We were four and a half hours from home. The lease company policy is only to recover your vehicle to a dealership within 50 miles of your location. You then have to get the car back yourself if and when it is repaired. Due to the fact it was going to be Sunday the following day and then a bank holiday Monday, the car would not be taken to the dealership until Tuesday. You have a hire car until Thursday but because of the remoteness of the location and the bank holiday weekend the closest car hire branch with a vehicle was 96 miles away and they could not deliver it until 3 pm on Sunday. The cottage owner needed us to be out by 10 am so she could clean the cottage for the next family and leave by 1 pm to take her motor home to meet her husband. Seriously.

Back to Saturday night, I realised that at this point the situation seemed a little dire (first world problems and all but still) but I made a conscious decision that I would view it as part of our adventure and see the funny side of it and find the silver linings. I remained calm, had a cup of tea and went to bed.

The following morning I spent a couple of hours on and off with the car hire and assist companies trying to figure out how we were going to get home. The lady who owned the cottage said we must stay put and she would clean around us, although I finally managed to get her to agree to let me help by vacuuming and mopping floors….it is part of the adventure I told her. She also suggested giving us a lift to the service station on the M4 where she was meeting her husband and we could get the car hire company guys to meet us there as it was an hour closer to Cardiff, making it easier for them to get the car to us.

I reflected that had all this turn of events not happened the way it did we would not have met the couple who owned the cottage and got to hear about their amazing unconventional and interesting life on the two hour drive from the cottage to the service station on the M4. Did you know that you can do a motor home swap with people all over the world? No, I didn’t either. We would not have learnt the lessons we did being lost on the moor in the Brecon Beacons and I don’t think we would have appreciated our adventures as much as we did. I realised I don’t have as much faith in myself as I deserve to and I say sorry for things that are out of my control and, therefore, not my fault. I also got to drive a brand new Mini Countryman all the way home.

We made it home Sunday evening and although tired and weary, I realised how much of a difference it made being calm in a crisis. That really it didn’t seem like a crisis at all, but just another adventure.

Buddhism talks about finding the middle path…it is of course a metaphor and truly means being centered, finding your centre or peace within whatever is going on around you.  I have contemplated that no matter what life throws at you, see it as an adventure. When you see something just as it is, rather than good or bad (dreadful, awful or otherwise) you find the lessons in it, you see the funny side and are given a silver lining.

So when the boat starts rocking or totally overturns, remain calm…

 

[This image is taken just at the outskirts of the Brecon Beacons]

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]