Figuring it out vs. just doing it

There is something to be said for just taking action. Truly to achieve anything in life you have to take action. This is what separates those who just dream and those who actually achieve their dreams…which are you?

I have always been a deep thinker and as I meandered through the path of self discovery and personal development, I realised that I figure things out before I do something about it. Sometimes I think I have actually got far too stuck in the figuring out phase that I have then had to remind myself that unless I actually do something, nothing is going to happen.

In my experience, figuring out why you do something or where a particular trait, behaviour or dysfunction comes from enables you to process through and move beyond it.

There is another perspective on this, and that is to just do it. Not to get stuck in where or why things happen or are the way they are, but just to do what you need to in moving past them. Act out what you want, rather than sit yourself in the past and figure out why something is that way or where it came from.

Which camp do you sit in and what do you usually do?

Taking action will result in some consequence, whatever that may be and arguably it is better to do something than nothing. Although I believe wholeheartedly that getting stuck in the past isn’t good for you – after all there is nothing you can do to change it, understanding how you reached this point is quite freeing. When you realise something about yourself that just makes everything fall into place and make sense, it suddenly allows you to move forward. To me this process frees you, it allows those suppressed and hidden fears/emotions to become unstuck. It heals the wound and enables you to take the action without being triggered to relive it, over again…

So by figuring it out you are breaking the cycle…I have found the easiest way to do this is through meditation. Problems arise for a reason and when you are able to use meditation to solve them, you’ll find the process flows more and over time, becomes easier. Accepting what is and trusting the process is important. Simply meditate on what you are figuring out and then let go. The answers to these sorts of problems don’t always come at once, but they do come. Sometimes in subsequent meditations and often times through synchronicity – those things that seemingly just randomly come your way. When you realise that what are being guided to read is the solution to your earlier questions during meditation….

Be patient….the solution can always be found in the problem.

[Image copyright, thank you, Ben White, Instagram @benwhitephotography]

Is everyone good at something they love?

You hear it so often – ‘do something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’.

Read any self development book, listen to a podcast or read an article on finding your purpose and you’ll be guided to figuring out what you love doing. What you’re passionate about. What you’re good at.

The million dollar question is then, is everyone good at something they love? Does that one thing jump out at you? Is there something you would happily do for free?

In my experience it’s not that straight forward. For some people, their natural talent definitely shines through. For others it doesn’t.

I’d be interested to know about you – do you feel there’s something you love? Are you good at something? Is there that one thing you’re always drawn toward?

Do tell…

[image copyright thank you Kyle Peyton Instagram @kylepyt]

This is life…

Buddhism teaches us that life is suffering and sets out a path we can choose to follow that eases the suffering, somewhat. One of the fundamental teachings is simply; it is what it is. That isn’t to mean we become passive and accept whatever comes our way without any emotion – we are human and truly that’s what causes the suffering. What it means is that life is what it is – we can’t control everything that comes into our lives day by day. We are surrounded by billions of other humans and on a daily basis, hundreds and thousands of others who come and go around us. Each with their own thoughts, feelings, behaviours and actions. In addition, nature does its thing and in every second billions of tiny things happen. It would be an absolute impossibility to even comprehend how we could control all of that. Not to mention exhausting!

What we can control is our response to it. Buddhism teaches us to remain centred whatever the weather, so to speak. For a long time I always thought of this more in times of trouble – so when there’s a storm and life is flinging you about and blowing you this way and that. What I’ve come to realise, experientially, is that being centred is just as important when life is up as it is when it is down.

Life doesn’t differentiate between good and bad. It is the meaning we place upon things that make it so – that make our experience what it is. If we are always striving for the highs, the lows become unwanted and harder to manage. That isn’t to say we can’t be happy or content – it is more about accepting that life is not intended to be that way all of the time. When you can truly accept that deep within, you begin to see that when bumps in the road occur – or back to my weather analogy, when we get blown about a little or experience full on storms, they’re easier to deal with. They’ll come and they’ll go.

This week I was quite hard on myself about something I did – not involving anyone else, just an experience I had that I deemed not good for me. A friend said to me that a couple of days before I was on a high and just to remember that. Suddenly it was as though I was transported somewhere high above and given a different perspective. One where I could see my experience on both occasions – both what I had deemed high and then low were simply experiences – they were not good or bad, they just were. My perspective or the meaning I had placed to each experience is what made it so – what made it good or bad to me.

I’ve got several situations going on in my life right now that are challenging – as we all have at points in our lives. This is life and if we can remain centred – whatever that is for each of us, we can weather the storms without immense suffering. Experiencing emotions is normal – but being overcome and dragged along by them daily is what creates suffering. There are varying degrees to suffering – losing someone and grieving is suffering we often must endure and go through. However, suffering to life’s ups and downs is a choice. For example, worrying creates suffering that is most often totally unnecessary. We worry about things don’t even happen, yet in our minds the worries have become very real. There are times when this incessant worrying actually brings about what we are most worried about!

So what is being centred?

It isn’t so much about being in the middle because what is your middle may be different to mine or the next persons. It is about finding that ‘centre’ within, that place of peace or knowing, belonging where you feel centred. In my experience most people have to practice at this because to know that place is to know yourself. Finding time to be quiet, still and look within.

Meditation and mindfulness is a tool you can use for raising your level of self awareness, allowing you to create space to see the way you think, behave and act in a way that is objective. Meditation connects you with your ‘true self’ that can only be found within and truly the place of centredness. Seek and you will find – start a regular daily meditation practice. Over time as your self awareness grows and you create space, being able to bring yourself back to centre becomes something you do naturally.  It becomes a sanctuary and a place of peace where you can rest and restore from whatever life brings your way.

[Thank you for this beautiful image…Photo by Juan Gomez on Unsplash]

Where do I start?

One of the most commonly asked questions when talking about mindfulness is, “where do I start?” The answer is simple; start where you are. If you have no understanding of mindfulness (although that in itself is a paradox in terms) then there’s this lovely little story I heard that explains it perfectly…

A Buddhist master is walking with his student in the mountains one day.

” Master, I want to practice mindfulness as you do, but although I have been practising for 6 years, I don’t know where to start.”

“Can you hear that stream?” the master replied.

The student couldn’t and stopped for a moment to listen.

“Yes,” he said, “I can hear that now.”

“Then start there.” said the Buddhist master matter of factly.

They continued to walk and a little further on the student turned again to the master.

“Master, might I just ask, what would you have said if I had said I couldn’t hear the stream?”

The master simply smiled and said to the student, “start here.”

Mindfulness is nothing more than immersing yourself in the present moment and each moment as they happen. Through your senses, taking in everything you hear, see, smell and feel in any moment. Often we can’t grasp it because of the simplicity. We need to see something to understand it or we need an explanation to grasp something.

There is nothing to see, nothing to grasp, just being with what is. When you attempt to describe the ‘is-ness’ you have lost it because it is nameless, without form and indescribable. We use words because that’s how we communicate and if I were to publish a blank page everyone would assume I had done so by mistake.

So to begin to meditate or to practise mindfulness, start here. Where you are at, in this moment…and the next, and the next. There is only ever one moment.

[This mountain stream photo is by Annie Spratt on Unsplash]

7 daily practices to change your life

It doesn’t matter the area of your life, if you strip things back to basics you will find that life just becomes easier. When I was thinking about writing this article, I thought about skincare and how going back to basics always works. I thought about diet and healthy eating; keeping things simple gets results. Exercise and keeping it simple means you can sustain a regime that works. Clothing is another example I thought of and the notion of, essentials. Keeping things simple, stripping back to basics and working on essentials gets results. When we over complicate things, start adding in too much our lives become chaotic. The mind, therefore, is no different and I started to think about the basic practices I apply to my daily life that makes a difference…

What I have learnt over the years on my own journey of self development is that consistency in any area of your life is the key to success. That and being persistent. So doing the same thing but doing it regularly. That isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t change something if it isn’t working, but to truly get results you have to keep practising.

Creating healthy habits don’t just apply to diet and exercise, they apply to the mind too. Ultimately, everything comes from mind because it dominates our being and drives our body, so to speak. Cultivating a healthy mind is, therefore, paramount if we are to live a happy and peaceful life.

Here are my basic, essential and simple 7 daily practices that if practiced consistently, every day, will change your life. They are in no particular order and so it isn’t that you have to do them in the order in which they appear. I do have times of day when I prefer to do some practices and have outlined those and why that is below, but truly find what works for you and remember, they are intended to be basic and so keep it simple.

1. Yoga

Although at first this may be perceived as just an exercise, yoga goes way above and beyond any conventional form of exercise. Indeed, the physical practice does have its benefits, truly it is a spiritual practice; a moving meditation and a daily practice or discipline if you like, where you are unifying your mind, body and spirit with universal consciousness. Even if your intention is just around the physical, you will benefit on all other levels regardless.

For me, yoga is a self discipline and one that sets the tone for the day. It cleanses and detoxes the body from the inside out and leaves my body feeling lighter, stronger and energised. My mind is calmer and overall I feel balanced. The physical practice of yoga (hatha) is traditionally the foundation for meditation (raja) and so naturally once I have practised yoga I move into my daily meditation practice.

It doesn’t matter really what time of day you practice yoga. I practice at 5 am simply because that is I have found the most beneficial time. Traditionally yoga is practiced in this way and really does set you up for the day. If your schedule doesn’t allow it, then practice at a time that suits you. It took me years to be able to get up at 5 am and just roll out of bed onto my yoga mat. There are days when I don’t want to do that and days when my body feels like lead, but this is the practice. Getting to the mat regardless of how I feel and taking myself, warts and all as the saying goes, to the mat. Yoga is a practice of self development and a great teacher.

Yoga has become so intrinsically woven into my life that if I have days where I rest from practice it is my body that calls for me to return. I am a better person when I practice yoga. My body feels better and my mind is clearer. Yoga is breath and breath is after all life. Yoga is life.

2. Meditation

By the absence of grasping one is set free. – Buddha

If we can surrender to the present moment we will experience freedom. Meditation allows that space where we can be ourselves, surrender to the present moment and let go of our attachments. In that space we are free and over time the practice spills into our lives in such a way that things just aren’t the same again. Meditation is the foundation to live each day mindfully. It is like turbo boosting your ability to be mindful throughout the day.

It can take time to learn to meditate but simply if you can breathe in and out you can meditate. Once again, we often overthink it so much that it becomes impossible. Truly all we are doing is allowing ourselves to just sit and just be. Focusing on the in breath and focusing on the out breath.

Meditation is the focused awareness of something so that we become at one with it. Truly this becomes consciousness itself but in the beginning it is a case of just sitting and focusing on ones breath. Noticing the thoughts that come and go, sounds and other ‘distractions’ around us and returning focus to the breath. The practice itself is the constant returning to the breath. There is no need to force thoughts away or be carried off with them. We are simply a silent watcher, focusing on our breath and noticing what comes and what goes. Witnessing the arising and falling of whatever comes into consciousness in each moment.

3. Mindfulness

There is no difference between meditation and mindfulness. The two terms are used interchangeably. It is often easy to differentiate them by thinking of meditation as a sitting practice and mindfulness as a daily practice; being mindful of each moment as it happens.

We live most of our lives unconsciously. This is not to mean we are KO’d on the floor, but it does mean we spend most of our time on autopilot. It is our past, conditioned responses that drive how we think and act. This is our ego. We spend most of our time either ruminating over past or dreaming about the future. We rarely spend time in the only time there actually is, and that is now. Be in the now. Be present, fully, in each moment. When you are present to each moment as it is happening you undergo an awakening. You are free from ego. You experience life with a much deeper connection and from a much richer perspective.

This way of being, of living mindfully, takes time. We are not used to being conscious, of being in the present moment. When you spend time in the here and now you are experiencing consciousness as it happens. You are the creator of your own life. You are experiencing each moment and making decisions based on the now, ultimately consciously creating your own life.

To do this, be present as much and as fully as you can throughout the day and your waking life. Bring your attention to the present moment. Experience each moment as it happens.What can you hear, what can you smell, see, touch, taste? When you open yourself up to the present moment you feel alive and your senses revel in what they are being flooded with. The more you become present, the more you will experience and your life becomes fuller and richer from it.

You will begin to notice your thoughts and behaviours and over time change these. You will begin to feel compassion and empathy towards others. You will notice when your emotions shift and you experience anger or other negative emotions. Again, over time being mindful enables you to start to choose how you interact and respond to those around you. Truly there is tremendous power in the now. This is where you always want to aim to be.

4. Gratitude

Gratitude is not something we say with a, thank you. It is something we feel. Gratitude is a daily practice that on its own will change your life. When you are grateful for all that you have now, you are opening yourself up to receiving more. When you spend your life complaining about what you have, or don’t have, what is missing and what you need more of, you create more of the same. When you truly feel grateful for all that you have now, you invite more into your life naturally. The more gratitude you can practice, the more you will have to be grateful for.

This again is a practice you need to do daily. I sometimes write my list of gratitudes down and sometimes I play it through my mind. Either way I am feeling grateful. For all that I have and throughout my day as I experience each moment.

Even when we experience something seemingly negative or ‘bad’ we can practise gratitude. There are always lessons in everything sent our way. Find the gratitude in every experience, good and bad. Be grateful for everything that comes through your life, whatever it is. In this way you will find over time you become less rocked by the good and bad, simply accepting the ‘isness’ of everything. When you have this acceptance of what is and being grateful for that you will begin to experience more joy in your life too.

5. Loving Kindness

In Buddhism loving kindness is the expression of the true nature of Buddha and called ‘metta’. I was first introduced to the idea of practising loving kindness by Chade Meng Tan who is a brilliant thought leader and author of the book, Joy on Demand. He used to be a software engineer and motivator at Google.

Practising loving kindness literally takes seconds and I would encourage you to do this as often as possible. Sometimes at night before I go to bed I practice loving kindness for longer but really it just needs you to bring your attention to the present moment and think about someone to send loving kindness to. In his book, Meng relayed the story of a woman who took his course at Google and who agreed to take part in his loving kindness exercise. He asked everyone to simply wish someone well every hour. It could be anyone and in the case of this woman she simply noticed whoever was passing her at the time and wished them well. She said that at the end of the day it was the best day she had experienced for 7 years!

Often times the best way of getting out of our own head and moving away from your own problems is to wish someone else well. Transferring our attention onto someone else is a sure fire way to make us feel better. I absolutely guarantee that if you practice loving kindness every day for a month you will notice a massive difference in your life. Try it.

6. Contribution/Service

Oprah Winfrey says that service + significance = success. We are born to serve. We are here to help our fellow humans with whatever talents, gifts and skills have had bestowed upon us. You may not know your purpose, but whatever you do, every day, ask yourself, what you can do to serve today? What can you do to contribute to others today? Truly the meaning of a happy and fulfilled life is to serve others and as with loving kindness, serving and helping others makes us feel better.

Contributing to something greater than yourself is your purpose, whatever that might be. Asking this each day will open up opportunities every day for you to serve and help others. Ways that you can contribute for the good of humanity. These might not be gargantuan things, but unless you are open to them you won’t see them. If you are being mindful throughout your day you will notice far more than you did before. In this way, ask this question and be present enough to notice what comes up.

You might not choose to take up everything that comes your way to help others, but there will be opportunities that align with your soul and you just feel moved to do. Service to others will make a massive difference to how you feel and what comes into your life. Take the spotlight off yourself and put it out to the world. Ask yourself, how can I serve or be used to help others today and do it every day…

7. Compassion

Compassion is something I have felt I don’t struggle with towards others, but enormously towards myself. However, over time I realised that you cannot be compassionate truly to others unless you first show compassion to yourself. This daily practice then is as much to you as it is to be practised outwards to others.

Compassion is showing kindness to others. If it is not a daily practice for you now, try incorporating it into your day. To be giving to others is a form of compassion and so coupled with your daily desire to serve and contribute to others will naturally cultivate your compassion practice.

With all of these practices it is about including them in your day in a way that isn’t contrived. Although there is an element of faking it until you make it when it comes to believing in yourself, especially when you start out and are new to self development practices, you can’t fake true kindness or compassion. You can’t fake helping someone or being giving of your time to someone, otherwise it is not true giving.

As with any practice, the more you do something, the better you become at doing it. Over time these practices will become your natural habits – how joyful to have such positive habits! Be patient and simply practice…

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.]

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]