Is age really just a number?

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

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

What is Healthy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ageing

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

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

Meditation & Mindfulness for Ageing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

He loves me, he loves me not

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

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

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

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

‘What you think you become.

What you feel you attract.

What you imagine, you create.’

– Buddha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Learning to stay [in meditation]

I have found that when you need meditation the most it is the hardest time to practice. Those times when you feel frustrated, stuck, down, off balance, irritated, displaced, angry or sad. It is easy to meditate when life is on the up swing. When you’ve got a spring in your step, feeling balanced, well and healthy, but when your life has taken a downturn and you are feeling generally out of sorts, it can be difficult to sit, even for a minute or two. What to do during these times?

I once listened to a podcast with Tara Brach and she talked about working with people who were extremely challenged when it came to being able to sit and meditate. People who, for a myriad of reasons find it nigh on impossible to be present. She talked about ‘staying’. The moment when you sit and meditate but want to get up again or leave the present moment. Silently repeating ‘stay’ in each moment can help. Even if you are sitting in the present moment for just a minute or two, it is better than not sitting at all.

The key is being present, no matter what you’re feelings. Accepting them in each moment and being present with them, not forcing them away or inviting them in, simply noticing in each moment what you are feeling within your body. Practising kindness toward yourself (which again during these moments can be incredibly difficult) will also help.

‘The wound is the place where the light enters you.’ – Rumi

Tara Brach has a Learning to Stay meditation that I particularly enjoyed. It is only a few minutes long. During this, notice how you feel when you rest your hand on your heart. Notice how your feelings soften toward yourself and how that feels. You might want to move your hand away, but ‘stay’ with it.

Visit the guided ‘Learning to Stay’ meditation on Tara Brach’s website

 

[This image was taken walking on the Conwy Suspension Bridge, once the gateway to Conwy, and the Toll-Keeper’s House, heading into Conwy Castle, Wales.]

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) 

Slow it down

When I think of liquid I think of water.

I love water and am drawn to a paradox. Water has so many;

It can be calm, peaceful and serene, yet turbulent and chaotic.

It is pure, clean and refreshing, yet can be contaminated, dirty and stagnant.

It can be delicate and light, yet heavy and oppressive.

Water gives life, yet can also take it away.

It is clear, yet appears blue, grey, white and green.

We drink it, we swim and sail in it, shower, bathe and wash just about everything in it. It makes up 70% of our body and covers just over 70% of our planet. Water keeps us and our planet alive and is truly a life force akin to our breath.

Without water, our earth and us along with it, would die. Be mindful of the impact your footprint, no matter how small, has on the sustainability of this liquid life force. We think our one little footprint doesn’t matter – that the way we impact our environment doesn’t matter, but it does. If only a tiny portion, which you and I are one, of the over 7.5 billion footprints are mindful that makes a difference.

I love water. I took this photograph on a hike into the hills around Lake Folsom trails in California. The rocks at the side of the river where the perfect natural tripod to slow it down.

via Photo Challenge: Liquid

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.

Unlikely that…

I love these photo challenges….but when I read the amazing experience of the cheetah in the back of the truck, I was perplexed at what could be as unlikely as that.

On a side note, it made me think about being more mindful of ‘unlikely’ when out with my camera, but then I guess it wouldn’t be unlikely if I was being mindful of it, and so a whole paradox in terms.

We visited the Blue Lagoon in Abereiddi, Pembrokeshire, where the annual Red Bull cliff diving world series takes place. The lagoon is a former slate quarry and so there is a high slate wall beneath the much higher cliffs behind. It is still frighteningly high, but my fearless daughter, who scuba dives, was keen to jump from the top. I wasn’t so keen, but just as she was climbing up, some divers returned from the sea into the lagoon and convened in the water beneath her, just in case. It gave me a little reassurance, but not all that much.

She did the jump a few times. When I looked at the photos afterwards, I realised it was unlikely to catch her in such a position that it looked like she was standing on a ledge half way down.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/unlikely/