Luminescent Earth

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

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

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

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

Another magical moment of mindfulness…

 

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

…and then suddenly, it came to me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What can you feel?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

via Daily Prompt: Suddenly

 

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

When the mind has gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘It was very expensive,’ she said.

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

‘£2’ she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Do you live here? she asked me.

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

Grandma nodded.

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

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

‘I don’t live here either,’ she said.

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

‘Really?’ Barb said looking quite puzzled.

The lady next to her nodded.

‘Oh,’ Barb said bemused.

We sat in silence for a few minutes.

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

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

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

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

‘Really?’ Barb said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the mind has gone where does it go?

Setting yourself free

I listened to a podcast last week that included a quote that has had a profound effect on me, and that I thought I would share…

If you are experiencing any negative emotion; doubt, fear, anger, frustration, it is almost always a sign to redirect your attention, either to the task at hand or to others. – Adam Robinson.

If you think about how many times you take things personally, or feel any of these emotions when you are at work, with your partner, while shopping, driving, with family, friends and so on, I am sure those times will be too many to mention.

In every single situation, you could always redirect your attention to the task at hand or to others.

Imagine you are at work and dealing with a particularly difficult client or customer. Rather than focusing on how they are making you feel – which by the way is absolutely normal human behaviour, focus on the task you are helping them with. This redirects the attention from you onto that. Or, as the quote suggests, focus on them. Work on helping them.

Mindfulness is a powerful tool here. By bringing your attention of awareness to the present moment you can be more conscious of the person you are dealing with and what they are saying, what their issues are and how you could help them. If you think about it, being mindful is the key. because to redirect your attention, you have to become present.

It is usually when we are on autopilot, with our subconscious mind running the show, that we react to emotions that arise within us. The way in which we respond to situations is usually based on years and years of the same patterns of behaviour playing out. So when a particular situation arises, we will usually respond in the same way. By being mindful, we can become aware of that and actually choose a different reaction. We can choose to notice the emotion arising within us, but instead, to redirect our attention to focus on what we are actually doing – the task at hand – or to the person we are interacting with, to others, rather than ourselves.

This is very liberating. It does set you free from being wrapped up in ourselves and getting caught up in our emotions and allowing them to run away with us. Think about the number of times something becomes about you, when really it has just escalated because you reacted in a certain way. The emotion would have come up within you and then without thinking you would have responded. This is when situations can get out of control.

Being mindful, being present and focusing on what you are doing and who you are doing it with removes the sense of self from the picture. That isn’t to say you aren’t there, of course you are, but you are not coming from a place of it being about you or letting your ego get in the way.

Putting your attention onto something else or others in any given situation where emotions arise will set you free…try it.

If you wanted to listen to the podcast I listened to, it was on Tim Ferriss’ new podcast series, Tribe of Mentors and the guest was Adam Robinson. Click here to jump to that.

[This beautiful image was taken at low tide, sunset on Newgale Beach, Pembrokeshire]

 

 

 

 

Story of a Face in the Crowd

I was drawn to this week’s photography challenge because I love portrait photography – what I love about it most is capturing the emotion in the face, an experience or glimpse of the soul reflected from the eyes…but this was really a challenge, because without the face, what is the image portraying – what am I capturing?

It really did become a challenge. Most of the opportunities I saw were while driving. My camera was with me but to avoid a collision or causing one, I kept driving, unable to stop. In instants, as I passed by in my car, I framed images; a glimpse of someone through thorny bushes walking their dog in the park, a man cycling with a helmet and glasses, dappled shadows covering two people walking their dog, street signs giving me a partial view of a woman about to cross the road, a figureless head walking the other side of a wall…

I put my camera back in the bag, drove home, picked up the dog and went out to the local dog park. I slung my camera across my shoulder because, well, you just never know.

Just before the path through the park leads into woodland, this girl appeared, her back to me. I didn’t catch her face at all because she was already heading in the opposite direction, but without seeing her face I’d already decided she was a teenager. Was that her hoody or her hair that told me that? Maybe that only teenagers would come out in near freezing temperatures without a coat. Does that resonate because I am a parent to teenagers or would it be obvious regardless? She seems relaxed, her shoulders are dropped. I thought her parents had bought her the dog one Christmas. It looks so cute and cuddly, like the type of dog you’d buy for your daughter. I bet they spoil her. I wondered if she was happy and with her dogs tail up, I figured she was.

Someone else might look at this photograph and see something completely different, perceive a different picture and portray a different story…and I realised that emotion captured in a portrait can be unmistakeable, but remove that and there can be many stories and different perceptions of one subject. In this image, I created a story of a teenager who is relaxed and happy, walking in the cold afternoon sunshine with her beloved dog she was given by her doting parents for Christmas. Someone else could look at this and…well, that will be another story…

 

THANK YOU FOR THE INSPIRATION

How to meditate

In my book, Maldives for the Mind, there is a whole section on how to meditate….which I hope you will read when it is published. For now, I thought I would write a post on that, because after all, it’s one of the most fundamental questions people ask.

Some time ago (2008 to be exact) I went to visit a Buddhist monk a couple of times at his beautiful Japanese garden. Pure Land is just outside of Nottingham, but when you enter the walls, it is as though you’ve gone through the gate to a secret garden and transported somewhere else. Over years and years he has cultivated the garden, working on it every day. It reminded me of meditation practice – the garden representing your mind, where the practice cultivates it every day. Instead of creating plants and trees, you clear space instead and your mind expands and grows.

After walking around the garden, we went into the house and around to the meditation room. Buddha Maitreya teaches a simple mantra; ‘just sit, just be.’ He elongates the word, just, so he will chant…’juuuuuuust sit, juuuuuust be’, in such a soft and rhythmic voice that it is as though you have been hypnotised. Sometimes when I meditate I say that silently to myself.

Meditation is not difficult, but the act of doing it often is. We are not used to sitting and doing nothing. We always have something to gain, an expectation to arrive at or a desire to fulfil. Simply sitting with no expectation does not come easy. Sitting and relaxing does not come easy and as human beings, we tend to gravitate towards what is easy and not what is difficult or uncomfortable.

For this reason I always say, just sit for a minute or two. Otherwise you will find the practice becomes a chore before you have given it time to begin.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. What we do with them is of our own making. You will come up with lots of excuses why you can’t meditate and not having time will most likely be top of your list. Make the time. This is time for you and time to be at peace before the madness of your day begins.

I meditate each morning after my yoga practice (and after a cup of tea in between too). Morning and evening are the best times to meditate because it is when our mind is more open and receptive. It is a time when it is usually quieter too. It doesn’t matter what time of day you meditate, but if you can make time for morning or evening, you will find the practice easier to form a habit.

Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Don’t feel you have to sit in lotus position or cross legged at all. Sit in a position that feels comfortable for you – even if that is in a chair with your feet on the floor. If you need to support your back to be straight for a few minutes, that’s ok too. Sit and settle in for a moment or two. Wriggle around and do whatever you need to do to just be sitting comfortably.

You will most likely find that you are tense or your shoulders sitting far too close to your ears. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose and when you let the breath out through your mouth, allow your shoulders to drop and your body to relax. Do this for several breaths until you feel more relaxed. On a side note this is a good exercise to do if you feel stressed – just breathing in through your nose, breathing out through your mouth and relaxing your body, letting go of tension.

Once you have relaxed a bit, allow your breath to just fall into its natural, even rhythm and start to follow your breath. I don’t mean get up and run after it, I mean just notice it as you breathe in and as you breathe out. Your mouth should be closed and you are just breathing normally in through your nose and out through your nose. Indian sages say your nose is for breathing and your mouth is for eating. This is also how you breathe in yoga too.

You can close your eyes or open them, whatever feels comfortable. I do both. If you open them, have them half open and let your gaze settle to the floor a few feet in front of you.

If you struggle to follow your breath, just count 1 as you breathe in, 2 as your breathe out, up to the count of 10 and start again. You could also say silently to yourself, ‘SO’ on the in breath and, ‘HUM’ on the out breath, or as Buddha Maitreya suggests, ‘juuuuust sit, juuuuust be.’ Something will just resonate with you. Try the counting first and see how you get on. Over time you won’t need the counting, but to begin with, it helps.

One of the biggest myths about meditating is that you are meant to be clearing your mind of thoughts. Let me tell you now, that’s impossible! In Buddhism we refer to the mind as the mad monkey, because it jumps around from one thought to the next.We all think around 64,000 thoughts a day and most often when you begin meditation you will find you have more thoughts than you usually do, or at least you notice more of them. The practice of meditation is to bring your focus back to your breath. If that is literally every other second then so be it.

You will be counting as you breathe and you might get to 2 before a thought pops into your head. Simply notice the thought but take your attention back to your breath – counting again as you breathe in and out, or saying your mantra, ‘so – hum’. There will be times when before you realise it you have been sitting for a few minutes thinking about something that had popped into your head. That’s ok too. Thoughts will lead you off on a rabbit trail. Just notice them and always return your focus to your breath. Again, it is the practice of meditation to bring your thoughts back to the breath – the bringing back is the practice.

People often ask what happens during meditation, when you are focused on your breath. I don’t have a definitive answer for this because it is different for everyone. Let whatever comes up, just be and return your focus to the breath.

If you always remain a beginner you will find you always have something new to learn and meditation will become a great teacher. Be where you are in the moment, just sit, just be, focusing on your breath. Start there.

Buddha Maitreya wrote a little yellow booklet called Poems for Peace and here is a paragraph from one …

SITTING

everything is sitting…

tree is sitting

mountain is sitting

flower is sitting

Meditation is flower

is mountain

is tree

You can find out more about the Pure Land Meditation Centre & Japanese Garden…and Buddha Maitreya at the Pure Land website

[Image copyright Pure Land]

Sweet Wednesday

I love photography and I love baking… Sweet Wednesday photo challenge, therefore, jumped out at me, along with the scrumptious looking Spanish churros and chocolate.

My photograph is of the sweet strawberries and cream angel food cake I baked. Seems perfect for Valetines too.

Baking is a perfect opportunity to be mindful.  I always say to my kids that the baking always turns out and tastes so good because of the secret ingredient added….love ❤

Happy Valentines this sweet Wednesday