…it looks delicious in an advertisement, but when we actually have it, it is not as good as we imagined.
If you envy someone’s life, remember the pizza in the ad.
It always looks better than it is.”Haemin Sunim, The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down
I have heard of Wim Hof before. However, I hadn’t realised there was any specific method or that it involved more than cold showers. I found it fascinating at the time of hearing about it, that this guy could immerse himself in extreme cold, ice water to be exact, for long periods of time and be free of the usual effects. Like many things you read or hear about, you move on and don’t think about it again unless it comes up and you recall having heard about it!
Wim Hof did come up again, recently, when my brother said he’d started doing something that has literally changed his life. He then passed on a link to a Tom Bilyeu (Impact Theory) interview with Wim Hof and a few instructional videos and told me to take a look because he thinks it is definitely something for me.
We can’t take everything on board someone suggests for us and integrate it into our lives. However, there are always opportunities presenting themselves and those times when something just resonates with you and sticks around. This was one of those times.
I watched the video and was in absolute amazement at what was being said. For someone who already has a daily yoga and meditation practice, integrating the breathing techniques is an easy thing to do. As for the showers, it is just changing the temperature at the end of my usual shower. How these two simple techniques can make such a difference is quite unbelievable. I am only three days in and already noticing differences…
I won’t go through the techniques step by step because my suggestion at the end of this post is going to be to watch the interview and decide for yourself if it is something you wish to do. However, I will say, that for such a small amount of time, with the potential for massive changes and benefits, surely it is worth a go?
The biggest impact for me, just 3 days in, has been the effects of the cold shower. Wim says in his videos that the cold is your teacher. I didn’t really understand what he meant until the realisation struck me yesterday and again this morning.
I am fair weathered. No fan of cold weather at all. I live in a cold country, but much prefer California sunshine and warmer weather. Yoga practice is always better in hot weather and generally I feel better in warmer weather.
It wasn’t, therefore, appealing to me to turn the shower to cold and especially because we are in sub zero temperatures outside at the moment; hovering around -5!
The first day I did as instructed and showered and washed in usual hot water. I then turned the dial to cold…sharp intake of breath, literally the shock taking my breath away so that I could barely stand it. I remembered Wim saying to focus on the breath, which helped. I could take the cold water on my front but could hardly stand turning around so that it cascaded down my back. I didn’t stay in it for longer than 30 seconds. Certainly nowhere near the recommended 2 minutes to reap the benefits.
The feeling when I got out of the shower, however, was surprising. It was like something had switched on within me. Meditation and mindfulness bring focus, but there was such a sharpness to my awareness that it was noticeable. I felt empowered and strong – was it in my mind? Maybe, but I could feel it coursing through my entire being as I dried myself off with the towel. I felt like every movement was purposeful and I was so present that I could only focus with such clarity on what I was doing. Nothing amazing, just drying myself off in the bathroom, but the brilliance I experienced in the few moments after getting out of the shower were a direct result of my body being subjected to the cold.
The second day, I went for an early morning swim and when I rinsed myself off after coming out of the pool, turned the shower to cold. I couldn’t stand it. I decided to wait until I got home. It was at this point that it occured to me that perhaps the cold was a teacher. Why was I so afraid of a little cold water? Being the, ‘deeper than a puddle’, kind of thinker that I am, I concluded that my fear of cold water was far greater than just the cold water itself. No, it was my fear generally I was facing. It didn’t make total sense to me and still doesn’t, but I know that there is more to come.
When I got to my usual shower, I decided to take a different approach to immersing myself in the cold water. Rather than turning the shower from hot to cold, I decided to do it gradually. I had washed my hair so knew that my immersion was going to be stronger than the previous day, in terms of my head being in the flow of cold water as well. After showering as usual and washing my hair (leaving the conditioner to be rinsed out with the cold water, therefore, having no excuse not to get my head in!), I decreased the temperature slowly. Each time allowing my body to adjust to the cold. Again, because our temperature outside at the moment is sub zero, it didn’t take long before it felt cold, even though there was still a little hot water trickling through. I continued for a few more seconds and then decreased again, until the dial was on cold. There is a point on my shower where the dial is in the total opposite position to what it was. I’d gone completely cold, and let me just tell you, it FELT cold. However, I knew there was just a tiny bit more where the dial goes back on itself and where it can turn no more. I remained where I was, focusing on my breathing and standing under the torrent of cold water. What’s funny (well maybe not) is that naturally when you decrease the temperature of the shower water, the water flow increases. As the water got colder, the amount of water hitting my body grew, which of course just completely drenched me in a forceful flow of very cold water. I rinsed my hair and remained for a good couple of minutes before deciding to turn the dial that one more inch until it could go no more.
Freezing. That describes that last inch. I didn’t allow it to take my breath away, although my breath was on the way in and I just caught it to balance it out again. I stayed for just a few more seconds before switching off.
The effects when I stepped out the shower were the same as the day before, but magnified to such a degree that it was as though my whole body were vibrating. Everything seemed so intensely sharp that I could do nothing but just stop in amazement at the feelings within my body and mind. It reminds me of looking through the viewfinder of my camera – when you first look into it, the numbers on the screen are blurred. There is a little dial on the right hand side that you turn until the numbers in the viewfinder come into crystal clear focus. It’s an adjustment you make to your camera that is personal to you. Coming out of the shower was like that, as if adjusting the dial so that my conscious awareness is so sharp that everything is just beautifully crystal clear. Really nothing was any different, but the cold shower had made my perception, my awareness of what is, radically different.
On the third day, today, I did the same method for reducing the temperature. However, I remained in the final freezing water for a little longer. Something really bothered me yesterday to where I have felt emotionally a little off balance. Practising mindfulness around relationships is enormously helpful in restoring equilibrium, but it takes practice and can be difficult. As soon as I stepped out of the shower it was as though this emotional angst had been waiting for this moment and I felt like it was directly in front of me, and all around me. Facing me. I felt instinctively what to do – to let it go and as cliche as it sounds, it is as though the cold literally washed it away. The unimportance of my angst became so apparent and so clear that it was almost bordering on ridiculous to hang onto it.
All that from a cold shower? I hear you ask. I cannot give you the science, although in the video you get a good explanation of that, I can only convey my experience and say, try it. You can watch the interview by clicking the link below and the visit www.wimhofmethod.com to sign up for the free mini class that introduces the three videos that include instructions to the breathing techniques and cold shower.
[This image is copyright Wim Hof Method – screenshot from the app on my phone!]
Some people spend their whole lives searching for that something they feel is missing from their lives; that thing that will make everything ok, make sense and complete life.
I spent most of my life this way too. Always feeling less than, knowing that if I could just find what was missing, I’d figure it all out. If I knew that missing thing and understood it I could get past being stuck and live a happier life.
For years we might seek to find what is missing externally. If I am perfect at this and that, achieve this goal or that job. If I get to have that house or go on those holidays. The never ending need to add things to life to make ourselves feel happy and all in an attempt to fill that missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle and all will be well.
I’ve come to realise that it’s a myth, this missing something.
There are a myriad of reasons we feel something is missing. Usually totally falsely created during childhood when we don’t feel good enough or up to what is expected of us. We begin, although certainly not consciously, to feel something must be missing from us. We must not be smart enough, loveable or likeable enough, good enough. As we grow, this belief simply attracts more of the same situations to further affirm this belief until it becomes truth. By the time we reach adulthood we aren’t aware of its origin, we simply feel something is missing. In a cruel way it becomes an excuse. We cannot achieve this or that because of what is missing. We are stuck on a never ending treadmill. Truly we are the cause of our problem and yet continue to search for what is missing regardless. We cannot see the wood for the trees.
When you seek you find and with mindfulness, through the process of cultivating self awareness, there will come a time when you realise, so profoundly, there is actually nothing missing. You are already complete. Everything you seek is already within you and you are perfect as you are. There is nothing to be gained, nothing that needs to be added to complete that jigsaw puzzle. For me this began when I sought yet another therapist to help me discover what was missing, what was wrong. She said to me, “has it ever occurred to you that nothing is wrong, that nothing is missing?” It sounds so simple yet it was so profound and it led me to unravel truly where this belief had come from and to realise I was ok. Nothing was missing. It isn’t as night and day as; one day you feel something is missing and you are stuck and the next you are not, but the realisation is the first step to thinking and ultimately taking actions that are different; leading to a different outcome and a happier, more fulfilled life.
These childhood experiences create a separation within; a discord from who you truly are, to who you think you are. Your whole or the completeness of who you really are becomes fragmented. To give an analogy, it’s as though you’ve taken a hammer and broken up a complete block of toffee…the pieces are fragmented and separated, broken. You spend your life searching for the missing pieces but because of the separation and discord within, you don’t see they are already there. Seeking inside yourself enables you to be in the space between the pieces and realise they are all there and perfectly fit together. Through the power of mindfulness your heightened self awareness can look ‘outside in’ as if viewing your broken pieces from above and to see how they fit perfectly back together.
This allows us to let go of the false beliefs we hold in our mind and that we’ve held about ourselves for so many years. It enables us to see ourselves truly as we are; when you feel that completeness from an inner knowing of its existence, you can love yourself, value yourself, and in turn, this becomes I am loveable, I am likeable, I am…
[I took this image while on a flight from England to California, over Greenland. Beneath us the ice that was once a solid mass was fragmented but from above you could see it fit perfectly together.]
I was driving home yesterday and my son was with me in the car. He is 15. Recently we have been going through somewhat of a tumultuous journey as he wades through the middle of his teenage years; juggling exams, surging testosterone, bad habits and the need to assert more independence.
At times it feels like he is a grown man and others too immature to handle all that the world is throwing at him. My little surfer looking dude with his smooth tanned skin, long blonde hair, blue eyes and cute little lisp due to his missing front teeth is no more. He has been replaced with a 6ft 1, seriously spotty (because getting him to use face wash is akin to herding wild boar) shaved headed (well the gradient stops three quarters of the way up but still, where have his beautiful locks gone!?) man boy. The little boy whose constant stream of hugs, kisses and I love you so much mummy, has melded into a moody and at times downright disrespectful and rude young man who has recently started smoking and thinks all teenagers are meant to be drinking!
I exaggerate to say the sweetness has all gone, it hasn’t and it isn’t all ‘bad’. That sweet natured soul with a heart the size of Texas is still in there. His incredibly funny and charming, sociable personality shines through. In the midst of the madness he still makes me laugh until I cry and his ever evolving stream of expressions never cease to amazed me. People have always commented on what a beautiful soul he is. That remains but is often overshadowed by his moods. Although masked by the teenage T-Rex, he still hugs me before school, says, I love you mum, kisses me goodnight and phones when he has gone AWOL, which unless he is on lock down, is generally every day.
His dad and I are like chalk and cheese. So far removed from one another that the only middle ground is our son. We separated shortly after he was born but have (which I have to say in the early years required tremendous amounts of energy and effort) a good relationship and always work together in raising our son and make everything, pretty much, about him.
This means for want of a better analogy my son has as much chalk as he does cheese. Who am I to say what is right and what is wrong, that the way I live is good and the way his dad lives is, well, not so good. We both love him the same and really that’s all that matters. I cannot control anything, other than my own thoughts (debatable as they have a will of their own) behaviour and actions.
There are times when I see things in my son that are present in his dad; personality traits that I wish were not there. I have come to accept them and almost smile when I see them appear. Although at times some of the things my son says hurt my heart for how he is perceiving the world, I realise that these are things he has learnt. I know that there are things present in him that I have passed on from my life before. Before I changed my life and before I know what I know now.
My favourite saying, to which both of my children will often roll their eyes, is the famous Buddhist saying, ‘it is what it is.’ We can only be who we are and do what we do from the place we are at. When you work at being the best you can be, you are doing the best you can, but ultimately, even if you are blissfully unaware in terms of self awareness, you are still really just doing the best you can.
Fortunately, thank goodness for that (!) for most of my son’s life I have been living a good life, in the sense of being on my own personal development journey. He has, therefore, constantly been drip fed golden nuggets of information about living an ‘enlightened’ life. Recently, however, some of his behaviour makes me wonder whether it has ever actually even made its way in!
So back to our drive home which, by the way, was to buy a Father’s Day card for his dad. We have been working on him not smoking. One of the things I am grateful for is his honesty. He always tells the truth. This wasn’t always easy for him and it took time and patience to get him to realise that lying gets you nowhere and ultimately the truth comes out in the end anyway so you are better just telling it how it is in the first place. He will sometimes come up with elaborate stories about why something happened or why he did what he did. Maybe it is because my heart is his heart or just plainly that you know when your children are lying to you. I just instinctively know and he knows I know too. After his story telling, he will smile and say, you know anyway so I will tell you the truth.
The previous night to our drive he had been particularly disrespectful towards me. He is on another ‘lock down’ while we help him stop smoking and he was walking to see his dad. My daughter and I were walking the dog but he didn’t want to join us and forged ahead. ‘Go straight to your dad’s house, do not pass go and do not collect £200,’ I joked, knowing that usually him leaving the house meant he would disappear for half the night. He grumbled something under his breath, pulled his hoodie further over his head and stomped off.
We bumped into him again part way around our walk and he was going in a different direction to that of his dad’s house. Not surprised, I asked him where he was going. He stumbled over his words to say he was going to a friends before rolling his eyes and saying, ‘ok then, I am going for a cigarette’. I tried to talk him out of it and he justified that he had gone from 5 to 1 in a day and hadn’t had any of it. I took a deep breath, told him to go to his dad’s house as soon as he could and left with my daughter in the opposite direction to finish our walk, reminding myself that I cannot control the actions of others. I realise he is my son and is still technically a child, but still I am trying to guide him into making better choices for himself.
On our car journey we were talking about this and he was once again grumbling away about what I was trying to say about better choices. Having been through the very same thing (and far worse) myself, I told him, I do understand.
My son does this thing (often and more so in the last year) where he will intentionally do things because he knows I don’t like it. He will talk about something he knows go against my views on something, or are the opposite extreme to something I believe in. He is of course just trying to push my buttons. I know this and am mindful of it. I try to ignore it, smile and let him get it out of his system. He was, I realised, in one of those moods.
He switched the music over in the car to some absolutely awful rapper (apologies for the judgement but the song lyrics nearly killed me off) who was articulating in great detail what he was doing with a woman while my son laughed his head off at the shocking lyrics. It isn’t that there is anything shameful about them but we don’t need to hear that, not in a song. I once again reminded myself I can only but guide and not control, took a deep breath, dropped my shoulders and let it go. He changed the song.
He chose the Father’s Day card and I stopped in the petrol (gas) station on the way home. I returned to the car.
As we drove off he said quite seriously, ‘I have really started to notice the parts of me that are from you and the parts of me that are from dad.’
I asked him what he meant.
‘Well, there are times when I am about to think something about someone and I know what I am thinking is the way dad thinks. Sometimes he isn’t nice to people. There was a man coming out of the petrol station and I caught myself thinking something not so nice about him, but then it was like the part of me that is you took over.’
He continued on.
‘You have a good heart and soul. You always try to be kind to people. I know that is also within me because I feel that way about people, like the man coming out of the petrol station. So just as I was thinking something not nice, the part of me that is you jumped in and thought, he’s just a man doing the best he can.’
I was totally dumbfounded by what he said. I know he has a good heart and is generous and loving beyond measure, but it touched me by how night and day he saw his thinking. It made me feel sad he thought the bad thoughts were from his dad and the good from me. His dad is a good man. His thinking might be very off at times but he has a good heart.
We talked on the way home about encouraging more kindness and compassion and he said that he was going to be more mindful of his thoughts and his judgements about people.
It occurred to me that with little effort he was already being mindful – he noticed the pause and in that brief millisecond had been mindful of thinking something bad about someone and instead brought forth a kind thought about them.
Change happens when you notice the pause…
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)
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.
[This image was taken at the top of a mountain trail in California]
Today I practised ‘gone’ in my mediation. I read about meditation masters who practice this.
Simple, yet powerful.
Gone is always something I have struggled with for most of my life. When I was 7, I got home from school one day to find that my older two brothers and sister had gone. I had no idea where they were or why they had left.
Growing up my family dynamics were complicated. At the time of course I was just a child and had two older brothers, an older sister and a younger brother.
The reality of the matter was, however, that when my dad met my mum he already had three children. One from a marriage that was for convenience (that he had entered into to keep him from being put into prison) and his wife abandoned their baby (my eldest brother) when he was just 9 days old in the back of a van. And two children from another mother, who he didn’t marry. Unbeknown to me there was another mother and child in between that, but I didn’t know about her until I was 25, so she never really featured in our brother and sister clan.
The first child, my eldest brother, thought that the mother of the second two children (my older brother and sister) was his mother. He was never told otherwise and he didn’t learn of this until he was 15. Inevitably my dad separated from this second mother and my eldest brother, although remaining with her, spent most of his time with my dad, living at my dad’s sister’s house. He then met my mum and because he wasn’t a man to be reckoned with and extremely possessive, was granted custody of the other two children. All three children lived with my mum and dad for the three years before I was born, which at that time would have made them 5, 7 and 9. So for 7 years we lived as brothers and sisters.
If you think about the events leading up to my birth, there was a lot of gone featured for my brothers and sisters too. Almost like something we all shared, even before I was born.
Back to the day I got home from school. There was never an explanation as to where they had gone and my memory was of sitting on our wooden stairs in the house with my younger brother crying and hugging each other. We were totally bewildered. Later on I discovered that they had gone to live with the second mother again. This came from the experience of going to see them there, not from being told or explained to about what or why this had happened. From that point on, all five of us would come and go. There were another two children who arrived later, but by that point gone wasn’t significant for them. Just something that seemed to exist for the five of us.
Gone has figured heavily in my life, because from that day forward, I actually engineered things to go out of my life before I became attached to them. At the time I was of course blissfully unaware of this dysfunction. This manifested itself into everything from friendships to school work and later to relationships and my career. Coupled with other behaviour such as rushing through everything at breakneck speed… born from living with an abusive father and living in fear of the unknown and what would happen next, being bad and so on, this just became my chaotic and destructive normal. Apart from the strong bonds to my brothers and sisters, especially my younger brother who had remained with me when the other three had gone, nothing stuck and I ended everything, usually abruptly only to then start something else before finishing it. Gone, gone, gone.
The pace at which this gone occurred became more frantic the older I became. Although now many, many (I could say many several more times but you get the gist) years later I have a good understanding of all of this situation and have forgiven, accepted and moved beyond the emotional trauma of it all, I notice at times, I am still somewhat drawn to gone.
You will sense my elation then that I learnt in meditation, gone is actually synonymous with joy and meditating on, ‘gone’ brings joy. It’s uplifting to me that the idea of ‘gone’, which previously dominated my life to such a debilitating degree, now brings joy.
Highlighting Buddhist philosophy, meditating on, ‘gone’ reflects the impermanence of life and of the suffering attachment to things brings. Everything ends and an acceptance of this brings peace, which in turn breeds joy.
To meditation on ‘gone’, simply sit and notice the end of the out breath, where the breath is gone and the point at which it has gone. Notice that moment. I realised there is gone at the end of the in breath too, for a tiny moment as your breath whispers in and up, as though floating in your meditation. There is a tiny moment of gone, before the exhale returns your breath out again. Notice the gone.
This spills into your mindfulness practice during the day. Notice the moments of gone in every day life. The sound of the wind stopping, a bird you are watching flying from a tree. Bigger things in your life like your loved ones, material things such as your home, car or money, nothing is permanent – everything ends and is gone at some point. There is something magical about gone – it signifies the end, but that marks a beginning. Impermanence as much as it brings suffering can bring joy and meditating on, ‘gone’ brings an acceptance of this and sheds a whole new light on your life…try it.
[this photo was taken in the late seventies of me and my closest brother; two peas in a pod…and the car is a Vauxhall Viva!]