Learning to listen

Are you a good listener? I am sure most people would answer yes to this question but then upon reflection, if they were honest, might consider otherwise. Listening is a skill and one which, like all other skills, can be learned.

I haven’t always been a good listener. In fact years ago, when I was younger, I was one of those people who listened to speak or perhaps didn’t even listen before I spoke. Just jumping in whenever a thought popped into my head. It stings a little to say that, but if I am being true to myself, it is most definitely the case. It wasn’t that I didn’t care what other people had to say, it was just an instinctual thing that I had something to say, add or that must be heard and so interrupted, constantly. I do have a character trait of being in my own bubble and not always having that filter of thinking before I speak, but my listening skills have most definitely improved over time.

Not too many years ago, however, I had a session with this guy, who I guess for want of a better word was a coach. His approach was slightly random in that you walked outside for your sessions. Interesting concept and one which definitely created an environment that was conducive to growth.

He observed me in a meeting before our first session and then when we met up for our ‘walk’, he told me exactly what he thought of me in terms of how I show up. I was so incredibly offended. Partially because there was some truth in what he was saying, but also because really I felt he wasn’t actually seeing all facets of me, just one of them. He hadn’t taken the time to listen to me. After I got over the initial feeling of being wounded by his words, I faced up to them and thought that I seriously needed to work on my listening skills.

Listening skills are something I have worked on for years and although, as I said, I have got much better at it, I still have a long way to go. I think if we can be forever a humble student there is always, always more to learn.

Recently, I’ve noticed with much profoundness, the number of people I’ve come into contact with who do not listen, at all, nor have any seeming desire to hear anything other than their own voice and what they have to say. Perhaps I could look at this from the angle of, I am simply listening more and so hearing more. Although to be honest most of these people, when I do try to speak, really don’t listen at all, or when I have said something, they immediately turn the conversation once again to, I, and begin to go on again about themselves…

Deep sigh…I am finding this terribly frustrating, which usually means there is much to be learned. Being mindful in these circumstances helps because it brings your attention not only to the person who is speaking but to what comes up within you, giving you the opportunity to choose how you respond.

Perhaps we merely need to listen and smile, wish the person well and move on…everyone has a perspective, some have the ability to only see one; their own, whereas others have the ability to see many and want to hear with interest what others say….

Being present enables you to decide where you are in this scenario…when we are quiet we can hear…we cannot listen if we do not cease our own chatter first and create the space to listen to others.

Try it…

[This image is of my friend, Tori, who, when I thought about a photograph to show good listening, popped straight into my mind. Tori is a great listener!]

The New Year Sale

I’ve been pondering recently on an exercise suggested as an alternative to setting New Year resolutions.

I am not a fan of New Year resolutions. I don’t make them. I can resolve to changing something at any time during the year. New Year resolutions for most people don’t stick. Most often people make them because they feel they have to, rather than wanting to, which makes it meaningful and more likely to last. If this is the case, chances are they won’t last much beyond February. Another reason why you find the gym you go to so jam packed during January only to quieten down again and return to normal in February.

Instead, I like to reflect on the year that has passed and think about what I’d like to see happening for the coming year. I avoid setting goals at the beginning of January and just ease myself back in and then start thinking about it towards the end of the month.

So an alternative New Year exercise is to review your entire calendar for the year just gone by. Take a notepad and draw a line down the middle of the page, heading ‘negative’ on one side and ‘positive’ on the other. Review the calendar week by week, writing down the name of each person you’ve interacted with in one of the columns based on the impact they’ve had upon you?

Easy right? Not so, there is more to this than one would first think…

By the way, if you have an iphone it will have a default setting that erases your calendar as you go along. No idea why it thinks this would be helpful. You can restore all your diary by going into calendar settings and choosing to ‘sync’ all events. It adds everything back in almost instantly. I can’t speak for other devices but for ical this works. If you don’t note or write who you meet in your calendar, you could simply make a list of all the people you have interacted with through the year. To be honest I found I did a bit of both because I don’t always schedule personal meet ups in my calendar, so I wrote down a list of all the people in my life and who I have met with in the last year.

Once you have your list of people, write them on the naughty or nice list.

The idea is that at the end of the exercise you can choose to have less or no interaction with those on the negative or naughty list.

For me it wasn’t quite that black and white. What I found was, that there were many people who had both a positive and a negative impact on me. Not surprisingly some of these were family members, but also people I work with too.

There were so many benefits to doing this. It gave me the opportunity to see who I spend most of my time with – am sure you have heard of the saying that we are the sum of the 5 people we surround ourselves with. It gives you the opportunity to appraise who those people are.

I realised that at some points we all (some more than others) impact both negatively and positively on others. Even if we aren’t intending to it is the perception of others that decides the impact we have upon them. So in that vein I came to the conclusion that really it is my response that makes it positive or negative. After all that’s all I am in control of. I can’t change the way another person behaves. I can only change the way in which I respond, and, as the purpose of the exercise, decide whether or not to keep people in my life.

Gives a whole new meaning to a New Year sale.

Random Act of Kindness Challenge

One of the practices I incorporate into my day is random acts of kindness. I’ve been doing a 30 day Random Acts of Kindness Challenge that I think I was introduced to on a Tim Ferriss blog. I started this in November and loved it so much, both in the sense of making me feel good and of course extending acts of kindness to others, that I decided to embark on another month.

The challenge is simply to do one random act of kindness each day. It doesn’t have to be some gargantuan gesture. It might be letting someone go in front of you at the checkout line, smiling at someone or donating to a cause that comes your way during that day.

During the first month I found I would forget. That isn’t to say I am not kind outside of these RAOK (we’ll go with that acronym for short) but I didn’t want it to become a box ticking exercise. It is more around increasing my contribution to others, which is something that I believe to be so central to living a more fulfilled life.

I keep a list in the notes on my phone so that I can see how I am doing and over the month look at the bigger picture.

The second month, however, I found I rarely missed a day. Here are some examples of my RAOK during the past couple of months:

  • Gave my Auntie ¬£20 so that she could stay in the guest room of my grandmother’s care home.
  • Picked up a little girl’s balloon that had blown away and gave it back to her.
  • Bought my daughter a bear when she was feeling poorly.
  • Donated money to a dog charity on top of my bill at the pet shop.
  • Gave my gifts to someone at an event because there weren’t enough to go round.
  • Treated my nephew to a football game ticket.
  • Read the bible to my Grandma.

These are perhaps things you would ordinarily do. However, the fact you are consciously embarking on the challenge is a daily reminder. I’ve found the more random acts of kindness you do, the more opportunities come your way to give them. There are days when there are many and then days when perhaps I have been home for most of it I have to remind myself to give. It isn’t about right or wrong, good or bad, just more of creating this as a daily ritual to practice kindness and contribute to others.

I remember watching a Friends episode where Phoebe tried to find a selfless good deed..it was impossible. Even if you think you aren’t gaining, you are left feeling good, so technically you are benefitting. It makes me smile when I am faced with something during the day and it pops into my mind that it’s another opportunity for a RAOK. The purpose of this is obviously not to receive, but it adds to the joy of your day when your random act of kindness has helped someone, made a difference or impacted positively on another person’s day.

Try it for yourself and let me know how you get on!

The Crazy Chimp

Hello December ūüôā hope you are all enjoying some peace and calm in the run up to the Christmas holidays. What a perfect time to talk about the crazy chimp…

I am reading a book someone recommended me to called, The Chimp Paradox, by Prof Steve Peters, an English psychiatrist who works in elite sport. I am probably only 10% in, but the premise of the book is that our minds are basically operated by two key drivers. Our human and logical self and then an emotional chimp. That in itself sounds crazy, however, it is a simplistic and brilliant way in helping us to understand and manage the way our minds work. 

It is one of those books that you relate to so much that you find yourself nodding or saying out loud how much you agree with it. So relatable and so relevant to our every day thinking and behaviour.

In my meditation recently I have been reminded of the sense of self and the fact that we all interact and experience through our own perceptions. Through the practice of meditation it can become possible to see yourself separately, so that you are almost getting a birds eye view a situation to see that your own perception is often skewed. When you can detach from a situation in this way on a day to day basis, you become much more able to see the perceptions of others in the same way. It isn’t that one person is necessarily wrong or right over another, it is just their perceptions are different. We each come from our own place of thinking, feeling and experiences.¬† However, understanding this and considering the theory that Steve Peters outlines in his book about the chimp and the way that ‘it’ operates, means you can begin to interact with others in a totally different way. You begin to think and, therefore, act, more on, ‘what is’, rather than what you ‘think’, is. Two very different things; the latter coming from your own skewed perception of what is, which you learn is controlled by the crazy emotional chimp.¬†

Meditation breathes space, not just into the moments you are practising, but throughout your day. Allowing for pause where you would ordinarily respond and enabling you to consider how to respond to someone or perceive a particular situation. Your perception becomes based on fact, rather than fiction – which is created by our chimp running the show.

When we are present we are not acting on emotion (which is truly what the chimp controls) and causing a REaction. Being present allows us to respond instead or sometimes just choosing not to respond at all, indeed, there is great power in silence. 

Having the choice is the key. We do have control over our perceptions and the way in which we interact with others and experience our world, once we realise how our minds work and our thoughts and perceptions are formed. It doesn’t matter what our understanding is now, or even if we never reach a point of understanding, simply meditating will unravel an inner understanding all of it’s own…we just have to begin and I quote my sister who said, ‘be where your feet are planted.’ The only place that can be is here and now, in the present moment.¬†

[I’ve had this image for years…bought for a website project I was doing at the time. It depicts being free…when you walk through the door that meditation opens, freedom awaits you on the other side…]

noticing the transition

If you meditate regularly you’ll most likely sit and practice for a set period of time each day. This might be just a few minutes, half an hour¬† or maybe more. We see this as our ‘meditation practice’ and a specific time when we sit to do that.

I was reminded recently about the transition from meditation practice and into daily life.

When I talk to other people about practising mindfulness during their day, it’s simply about bringing your awareness to the present moment and noticing. Noticing the sights, sensations and sounds around you as they are happening.

This morning, as I finished meditating, I noticed the transition. The point at which I stopped meditating and opened my eyes. There is a moment, a split second of transition; from sitting in silence to jumping into life and starting my day. I’m up and moving. I make the bed, go into the bathroom, brush my teeth, take a shower and on it goes.

What if there is no transition. What if I don’t ‘finish’ meditating and instead, open my eyes and continue on in my day being mindful – as if performing a moving meditation.

Now I know it is impossible to meditate continually while going about your day, and I am not suggesting this at all, unless of course you are Dynamo…[hmm, now there is a thought]…What I am suggesting though is to take the awareness and mindfulness into the rest of the day as much as possible. Erase the transition.

So as you are brushing your teeth, taking a shower, making coffee, walking the dog, driving the car, interacting with others, working and so on, you are mindful. Mindfulness takes some serious practice at the best of times and often means having a cue or reminder to bring your awareness to the present moment. However, if there is no transition then are you still meditating?

Perhaps it is that simple…I like to think so and am going to try that tomorrow…

[Image was taken in Tomales Bay, California on a hazy, warm October afternoon ….the stillness reminds me of meditation practice and then when you start your day you create simply ripples in the water.]

We are all connected…

No, I’m not going to talk about aliens on another planet. I’m talking about you, me and the 7 billion or so others on our planet.

Being connected to one another has come up strongly twice in the same week, so feel somewhat nudged to write about it.

I went along to a mind, body and spirit wellbeing event (don’t ask but yes there was the odd weird thing going on and a lot of falafel). I also attended a talk there by Dr. David Hamilton on the placebo effect. I didn’t really think, ‘oh, that’s interesting, I want to go to that.’ My friend is a huge fan of his, wanted to go and invited me along. I’ve read one of his books, ‘I Heart Me’ and liked it, so thought I’d most likely enjoy it. I wasn’t totally sold on the talk topic because it isn’t something I’ve really needed to practice in my life. I believe it whole heartedly, but I’ve just never really needed it.

I was totally surprised because although the topic was indeed, the placebo effect, it focused more on quantum field healing. Not only that, but actually the idea of bringing situations, circumstances and things you want into your life by applying the techniques of quantum field manifestation. Absolutely fascinating and we took part in a guided visualisation which totally transported you literally into the quantum field. I hadn’t had any mushroom tea beforehand by the way!

Years ago (12 to be exact) when I first began learning about conscious creation and transforming your life, I was introduced to quantum physics. It wasn’t that I couldn’t believe without seeing, it was just the path I followed began with that science. So for me, quantum physics isn’t a new subject.

I realised, however, that I’ve not thought about it for a very long time. Listening to the talk reintroduced the basics and the fact that everything – literally everything, from the chair I am sitting on, to the keyboard I am typing on (my fingers too!) is made up of nothing more than waves of energy.

On the face of it we see objects all around us. We see trees, roads, cars, mountains, furniture and masses and masses of people. Break that down, however, until you reach atoms, and within that space you’ll find nothing more than waves of energy. Quantum mechanics explains that through this field of energy we are all connected. It is of course where we understand that like attracts like and thought, being nothing more than energy, when aligned and fuelled with action, creates manifestation, and the process of conscious creation. Entirely a topic for another blog post.

This talk reminded me of our interconnectedness and a desire for the world to be a kinder place where people aren’t cruel and unkind to others. Rose coloured spectacles? Perhaps, but if there was a global movement towards this viewpoint it would have a pretty staggering impact, positively on our planet and those within it.

I’m not just talking about people harming each other (although in of itself that’s quite enough). I’m talking about our entire planet and the future of the human race. Our constant need for more to the detriment of our oceans and forests, our animal planet and our resources.

If the importance of interconnectedness were a fundamental teaching, we could literally transform our world.

I’ve always had an ability to think, ‘bigger picture’. I believe we all have a responsibility as a human being to contribute as much as we can to our fellow human beings and our beautiful planet. When you think about our actions at the smallest, quantum level, you can see how those waves of energy ripple and interact with others. Take a massive group, community, army, nation or country of people or actions and you can see how much power that energy builds and impacts on people and our planet. Thats the good and the bad – energy doesn’t differentiate, it just is.

Fast forward several days and I listened to a podcast today by A. J. Jacobs, who did a stand in for Tim Ferriss on his show podcast. Very funny guy and never heard of him before today. He has just written a new book about gratitude called, ‘Thanks a Thousand, A Gratitude Journey.’ Very interesting story about how he travelled around the world to thank every single person who played a part in his morning coffee. There were a thousand of them! From the guy who chose the coffee beans and the farmers who grew them, to the truck driver who transported them and the guy who put lines on the road to keep the truck going! Brilliant and can’t wait to read it. Aside from the obvious reminder to continually practice gratitude – which I do but not to that level often. Well if I did it would become my job and so for now I try my best at being grateful as much as possible. Ok so aside from that, it smacked me in the face once again how totally connected everything and everyone is.

On a side note, I laughed out loud when he talked about his previous book, ‘The Year of Living Biblically’ because he literally lived for an entire year according to the laws and rules set out in the bible. Throwing pebbles rather than stones at adulterers so as to avoid being arrested!

He talked about connectedness more. How if you pull a thread on your sweater it unravels half the hem (seriously why we pull those things I never know). There’s a group of scientists and researchers who are building a family tree of all the people in the world – yes all. They aren’t done yet – but they have around 100 million people connected and you can use DNA and other information to see how you are connected. Wondering at this point if publicising that too much might result in a storming of the Buckingham Palace gated as floods of people claim relation to the Queen!

I loved this little story he gave that really sums up being connected and gives real pause for thought…

‘Years ago, John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA and he met a janitor sweeping in the hallway. He stopped and shook the man’s hand. “What do you do?”, he asked.

“Well, Mr President, I’m contributing to putting a man on the moon,” the janitor replied…’

Interconnectedness. If you really give a little time to pondering this, the level it impacts our lives every single moment of every day is phenomenal. From what we think and do, to how we behave, communicate and interact with others. It goes on; consider the decisions we make and the actions we take every day that impact others, our environment and our planet.

People often say, it doesn’t matter. One person doing something can’t make a difference, but when you truly understand the significance of interconnectedness, it does matter (love the pun).

The irony is, in a world that is so inextricably and inexorably connected, with a constant need to develop more technology to give more ways to connect, we were and have always been intrinsically connected, on a level that is so vast it encompasses our entire planet and human race.

Interconnectedness is available to each of us, at any time, without WIFI, logging in, or connecting via USB…

Gratitude

The practice of gratitude is, I feel, one of the most important practices you can add [easily] to your day.

Feeling grateful for what you already have not only brings more into your life, but helps you become unstuck and creates a natural flow and restores a smooth rhythm. Being grateful benefits you and those around you.

Rather than focusing on what is missing or what you want or need, focus on what you already have, right now, in this moment, today. From the fresh food in your fridge, to your home [no matter what it currently is] and the clothes you wear, the air you breathe and for all that you have around you. Be grateful for things, people, situations and environment separately. When you are truly grateful your feelings create the energy that puts your gratitude into motion, and it is those feelings associated with your gratitude that create all that comes back around to you.

To explain this further, you could simply say to yourself, ‘I am grateful for my car,’ yet not truly¬†feel grateful. To really¬†practise gratitude, we must feel it. If this is not something you do often it might seem a bit odd, awkward or contrived. That’s perfectly normal and OK. After all it isn’t a habit and it isn’t something we are necessarily accustomed to. The society we live in functions on wanting more. We aren’t used to be happy with what we have. Gratitude will change that. If you think about it, to bring more into your life, you really have to be grateful and happy with what you already have.

The banged up car you have, the few pennies in your bank account or your falling down house. Doesn’t matter. Feel grateful you have a beat up car or a few pennies. It is truly amazing how the practice of gratitude transforms your life. You realise that you don’t actually need all the things you think you do to make you feel happy. Being grateful for what you already have makes you realise you are ok just as you are. That isn’t to say you can’t bring more into your life, with gratitude, that happens naturally and often faster, but be ok with what you have now.

By being grateful for what you have, you begin to see that you have enough and in that realisation it can translate to¬†‘I am enough‘. The most common self limiting belief is the feeling of, ‘I am not good enough‘, which weaves its way throughout our whole lives and works its way into a constant, ‘not enough‘ which in one word is fundamentally, ‘need‘. When you feel you are not good enough you will find that you don’t have enough and are in a constant state of need. You don’t have enough money,¬† you need more money. Your life mirrors your underlying feeling of not good enough by delivering poor, small and narrow.

It doesn’t matter what your current situation is. No matter how poor, dire or not enough it may seem, anything, or should I say, everything, is possible and you can turn it around. Your current situation is just a reflection of your thoughts, feelings and actions to this point. That’s ok. Start today and practice gratitude for all you have and then some. Be grateful for every detail of your life, including all those people who impact on what you have; from the person at the grocery store to the postman delivering your mail. From the penny you find on the floor to the bills you pay out.

Talking of which, have you ever noticed how much people complain about paying bills? Why not be grateful for paying the bills that put a roof over your head or food on the table every day. The money that enables you to drive a car and turn on a light switch when you walk into a room. When you practice gratitude for what you receive – and importantly, for paying for that privilege, you will find your experience transforms.

To cultivate a practice of gratitude takes time. Choose a regular time during the day when you can practise gratitude. Sometimes this can work when you are having a shower or I know someone who practises gratitude while she is driving to work. By choosing a regular time each day you are more likely to create a habit. You will notice after a short time that gratitude weaves its way into other parts of your day. After all, like attracts like. The more you are grateful, the more you will have to be grateful for.

‘Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.’ – Oprah Winfrey