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]

What defines you?

I was struck today by how much we are defined by external conditions, which the led me to thinking about what really defines us.

For me, the thought of what defines me came to me this morning when my 16 year old son pointed out that my current situation around money does not define my worth or how I should or shouldn’t view myself. Sometimes we are all in that situation of not being able to see the wood for the trees.

I’ve been dealing with some very challenging circumstances over the past few months around my work and finances. Although I have some semblance of a plan, every now and then I question what I’m doing and completely lose myself in the conditions I am presently faced with.

My son pointed out quite simply that far too many people base their whole self worth around what they do or do not have in their bank account.

‘It is just paper’, he pointed out, ‘it does not make you one thing or the other, it has nothing to do with who you are.’

I love synchronicity – when you are seeking something or an answer, a solution; how the universe just sends you whatever you need. The trick of course is being open to noticing it when it comes your way.

The second synchronicity (there have been a few today) was a video of a guy who asked specifically what defines us. Some people say their job title, being a mother, father and so on. He told a story about his father who in the end said he is defined by love and when stripped back said, ‘I am love.’

I’ve pondered over this all day and realised that at the moment, I am choosing to allow my external circumstances – the life situation I am currently in, to define me. In following the Buddhist path you live in a way that keeps you centred – this is why it is often termed, the middle path – where no matter what life throws you way, you return to your calm centre where you can choose how to respond (or not sometimes) rather than react. This isn’t literal in the physical or location sense – there is no middle or centre, it simply means returning to the heart of you or the core of your being where there is a river of peace and where everything is just as it is and you are ok, strong and sure of who you are. Truly you are love and in a wider sense you are everything and everyone because you are a finite part of an infinite universe.

So today, ask yourself this question, what defines you?

[Image copyright Kah Lok Leong Unsplash]

What happens when you be yourself?

I am listening to a book that was originally published over 70 years ago… by Dale Carnegie. You may have heard of it; How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Most self development teachings of today mirror the principles of this book and others like it. What I love about books written so long ago is that the teachings are often simpler and more straight forward.

This morning I listened to a story in the book about a singer. She was blessed with an amazing voice but felt she lacked in the looks department because her front teeth protruded so much. For her first appearance on stage she was crippled with fear that if people saw her teeth they would laugh at her and ‘boo’ her off stage. So much so that when she did finally begin to sing she did in such a way to keep her top lip firmly covering her teeth, which of course affected her singing. Not only did it affect her voice but it also made her look somewhat ridiculous because it was incredibly difficult to keep her top lip curled over her teeth while singing!

A man in the audience, who happened to be in the music industry, saw something in her and realised what she was doing. Afterwards he spoke to her and explained that by disliking her teeth so much she was not only affecting her voice, but her confidence and the way she came across on stage. By trying to hide her teeth, she was actually bringing about the circumstances she most feared. He encouraged her to look at her teeth differently, to accept them and to embrace them as something unique to her. He said that rather than curling her lip over the top of them she should instead open her mouth wide to let her singing voice shine through. Own the fact she had protruding teeth – who is to say that isn’t attractive? In stopping trying to hide what she was most embarrassed about and trying to be who she thought others wanted her to be, she became – free to be herself. This changed her into a singing sensation almost overnight and totally changed the way she felt about herself and the way she looked.

This story is the perfect example of the simplicity of this book, yet you could think about your own life, today, and I would bet that you too hide parts of yourself you dislike or are embarrassed about. Do you act differently or try to be someone else around others because that’s who you think they feel you should be? If we are honest, most of us could say we do this.

“When you stop trying to hide the things you feel embarrassed or dislike about yourself and striving to be who you think others want you to be, you become free…to be yourself.”

Maldives for the Mind

When you stop hiding parts of yourself either through being embarrassed about them or disliking, even hating them, you are faced with the truth. Simply that you are who you are. Why spend your life trying to be someone you are not. Be yourself and love every aspect of that. When you do this, you ‘own it’ and although you begin to see that it truly does not matter what others think of you, because you are exuding so much self confidence, people feel the difference and they see you as you see yourself.

[Image copyright, thank you, Nitish Meena Unsplash Instagram @nitishm]

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]

Be kind, be humble…

I have always tried to remain a student – this could apply to literally everything in life from yoga to parenting. I am qualified to teach yoga for example, but I remain a humble student, practising under my own teachers when I can. I work as a brand expert and yet I am continually learning from clients, colleagues and others around me. I can teach others how to meditate and practise mindfulness and yet I aim to remain in my own practice as if I am sitting for the first time. I have worked hard to be a good mum and yet I am constantly faced with new parenting challenges, even though now one of my children is actually an adult and the other is almost there.

Everything and I mean everything is in a constant state of flux and so even when you do feel you know or understand something, it changes. Seeing things with fresh eyes as if for the first time then often enables you to gain a completely new understanding or perspective.

There is a spiritual teacher who I hold in extremely high regard. He has a wonderful sense of humour and adds a lovely chuckle to his speaking when amused. However, after listening to him on a recent retreat he talked to the audience a lot about how those who are ‘unconscious’ go about their lives. The way they perceive this and that, behave and think about themselves and others, fixate on problems and spend their lives stuck in patterns of dysfunctional behaviour. Although I could totally see the point he was making and the examples to which he referred, the fact that he was joking about it in a mocking way and the audience laughing in response, made it seem rather derogatory. It felt very much a ‘them’ and ‘us’ – a ridiculing for the masses of ‘unawakened beings’.

I am aware of course this is my perception and perhaps hitting a trigger within me to bring up those feelings. Nevertheless, it was present while I listened and I was struck by a sudden feeling of sadness for those who aren’t fully ‘aware’ or ‘conscious’. Not so much, ‘poor them’, but just in that, it is what it is. You can only know what you know, right?

I recently experienced what I have since learnt to be ‘innocent perception’, the fourth and final stage of mindfulness, which in of itself is incredibly difficult to articulate because it is completely experiential. For several days afterwards I was struck with a surreal perception that was something akin to the movie, Matrix, where you are wandering around and everyone else is completely unaware of what is going on. After a short time I accepted what had happened and slowly resumed some level of normalcy in my day to day life, without feeling completely separated from myself and everyone else around me. However, it left me with a huge sense of empathy and compassion for other people. People can only be who they are and act and behave upon their own experiences, thoughts and feelings. Until something triggers in your own life to where you embark on a different path, you continue as you are, simply because you don’t know any different.

The point of my post today, and there is a point – just getting there – is that no matter where you are on your own journey of self development and spiritual fulfilment, keep it real….don’t ridicule or judge others. This is not to say that you do, but enlightenment is not entitlement. Be present but know from where you came and the journey that bought you here. Obviously keep yourself out of harm’s way, but accept that people can only be who they are and act accordingly….

I was once completely unconscious, oblivious of my thoughts and actions and the effect they were having on myself, my family and the world at large…it isn’t good or bad, it simply is, it was the way it was for most of my life. Just because I am now ‘awakened’ does not mean I am any better than anyone else and my recent experience of listening to the spiritual teacher talking about those who are ‘unawakened’ brought up within me a much stronger sense of compassion for others who are not spiritually awakened. It has grounded me and I continue to aim to practice kindness above all else and remain a humble student…

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash I love this photograph – I see kindness and humility.

Jumping to conclusions

I was driving with my daughter in the car the other day and we drove past a church. We both laughed at the sign on the side of the building, not only was it quite funny but incredibly true…

“Sometimes the only exercise people get is jumping to conclusions.”

Obviously it went on to say that God is good and can save you from doing that. No doubt!

Although I am always an advocate for exercise, in this case avoid jumping to conclusions…and the good news is that you can save yourself from doing it.

Do you jump to conclusions? Do you assume something to be a certain way based on your perception of that something? Assume that someone meant this or that but really not know fully or at all what they meant? Is it possible that all the conclusions you make are just based on your own perceptions?

I am sure that most of them are the latter. As humans beings we enjoy suffering, just the way we roll and one way to ease that suffering is to stop jumping to conclusions. This is easier said than done. When you really start to become aware of your thoughts, feelings and behaviours you begin to realise that a lot of what you think about others and the world at large is based on your own reality and not actual reality. The way you perceive the world, rather than what it or a situation/person etc actually is.

For a week, try noticing the conclusions you jump to. The assumptions you make about others and what they say or do towards you. Notice everything you perceive about anything. That absolutely includes what you think about yourself. The conclusions or judgements you make about yourself.

In a short space of time, if you are honest with yourself, and let’s face it if you aren’t then you are really only lying to yourself, you will notice that most of what you think is not based on fact at all.

Once you become present, you bring conscious awareness to your thoughts, feelings and actions. Be gentle and just go with the flow. It isn’t possible to be present all the time. When we have lived most of our lives on autopilot, ruminating over the past or speculating the future, we skip the most important time – NOW. So it takes a little time to start to learn to become present. When you do, however, you will begin to notice, with super sensitivity, what you think about yourself and those around you. When you are faced with a conclusion or assumption ask yourself if that is true? Could it possibly be based on your own skewed perspectives? Most likely.

The trick is to drop those conclusions and assumptions. This shifts your perspective to one that seeks out truth and that begins to base your own thoughts and behaviours on what actually is – you begin to RESPOND, rather than REACT. When we draw conclusions or assumptions that are not based on realty we are constantly reacting. He or she must have meant this or that….and so on it goes.

Something else happens. You drop the need to be so judgemental of yourself and others too. When you can accept others more for how they are, you will find that you no longer jump to conclusions about them or make assumptions. Why do you need to?

Try it…

[Brilliant Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash]

Goals anyone?

I have a mentor who often sends me 30, 60 and 90 goal sheets. We are having a conversation and she will often say that I need to set realistic and achievable short term goals.

I have always been a bigger picture kind of person. When I was little I would often sit on my bed, by the window, staring out into the night sky wondering what was beyond the stars. I would think about it so much that it actually became overwhelming; the thought that there was more space and more beyond that. My mind couldn’t comprehend that much space, or where it ended. I now realise it doesn’t end. Who knows what is a bazillion light years beyond that galaxy and the next and so on…

So when you look at things like that, short term seems irrelevant.

I have always gone from where I am to the destination in the fastest time possible. My driving has slowed down to speed limit and I think I am guilty at times of driving slower than it. I have worked hard on my persistent need to hurry up. I have stopped rushing when I write and have spent years working on being patient – thank God for yoga. I am getting there and owe much of it to the power of mindfulness and a regular meditation practice.

You get the picture, back to goal setting. Although I have set myself intentions and achieved them over the years, they have always been quite lofty goals and again fuelled by getting to them as fast as possible. The list is long, but to name a few; become a yoga teacher (seriously injured my adductor muscle with that quest), a life coach, writer, meditation teacher, web designer, internet marketer, author, shop at Waitrose (yes that was a goal and OK not too lofty, but nevertheless at one point it seemed like an impossibility)…consultant, photographer and so the list goes on.

After much retrospection I can see that to achieve all those things I had to take the steps necessary to get there, but it wasn’t really a conscious thing, not the earlier intentions anyway. I haven’t always been the mindful soul that I am now. I just set the intention and somehow managed to get myself there, and of course, in the fastest way possible. Sometimes that worked out fine and others I am sure the fastest way meant sacrificing something along the way – like the aforementioned adductor muscle. My second book read like it was galloping towards the finish line someone said…and really they were right, it was.

I have learnt to slow down and enjoy the ride, so to speak, although still have the ability to go at 100 mph. I just don’t sacrifice the quality over the quantity anymore.

It makes sense then that along with that experiential wisdom came the ability to figure out these 30 day goals. 60 and 90 follow naturally if you can get your head around the 30 days. It actually, not surprisingly, came to me through mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness teaches you that there is only one moment you need to concern yourself with, and that is of course, the moment you are in now….and now…and now. We cannot affect the past and the only way you can ever shape your future is by the thoughts, behaviours and actions you have in each moment. Sounds simple right? When you truly understand this concept you realise that you have the power to create anything you want, right here in this moment. Every moment is an opportunity and every moment matters.

I work on 4 main life objectives. These 4 pillars (as my friend Jules likes to call them) are my overarching life goals. Parts of them I am living and parts of them I am working towards. Whatever decisions I make in life I make with these things in mind. Making short term goals then becomes easier because they usually fit into one of those objectives. If they don’t that’s ok, because I will have gone through that thought process as to why, and if I am changing direction.

So I simply set my 30 day goals based on that. The 30 day goals might be standalone or fit into a bigger 60, 90 or longer term goal. The point is they are realistic and achievable….with action! The latter is important.

It took me a long time to realise that a goal without a plan is simply a dream and to turn the dreams into plans and can’t’s into can’s, you need action. Action is the motion that fuels everything, the energy required to make things happen….and what starts that is thought. Thought is energy….the thought becomes behaviour and behaviour becomes action.

So when you set a 30 day goal (I set 3 each month) you work on each of those daily. Daily becomes hourly, hours become minutes and minutes become seconds. I am not saying that every single second you have to think, behave or act on one of those goals, but we all have 24 hours in a day…what you choose to do with them is of your own making. So when you think, behave and act in alignment with your goals, during moments, over hours and days, you’ll find when you reach 30 days you have achieved them.

Although The Secret paves the way to convincing people that all you need do is write an intention down, make a paper aeroplane out of it, chuck it out of the window and wait for the universe to sprinkle its magic and deliver it back to you with a red bow on top, it requires a little more than that. Conscious creation (the process outlined in The Secret) does indeed require us to set an intention. To think (energy) as if that had already manifested itself in our lives, but it is that energy being fuelled by motion…the action that is required. We must take action. Thought may indeed bring about circumstances (synchronicity) and opportunities in line with what we are wanting to achieve, but we must act to make them happen.

Set some life goals….really give thought to what you would like your life to look like and simply work backwards to where you stand now. Set yourself some realistic 30, 60 and 90 day goals in line with that and then be mindful. Be mindful every moment you can be…notice opportunities presenting themselves to you, make the right decisions, think the thoughts in line with your goals, behave in accordance with them and act upon them…this is of course meant to flow more than the process I am writing it to be….and it will…enjoy the process and be mindful to act…

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” –

Amelia Earheart

[This photo is of fitness star, Claire, during an urban photo shoot I did with her in the area around a board (skate) room.]