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.]

Learning to listen

Are you a good listener? I am sure most people would answer yes to this question but then upon reflection, if they were honest, might consider otherwise. Listening is a skill and one which, like all other skills, can be learned.

I haven’t always been a good listener. In fact years ago, when I was younger, I was one of those people who listened to speak or perhaps didn’t even listen before I spoke. Just jumping in whenever a thought popped into my head. It stings a little to say that, but if I am being true to myself, it is most definitely the case. It wasn’t that I didn’t care what other people had to say, it was just an instinctual thing that I had something to say, add or that must be heard and so interrupted, constantly. I do have a character trait of being in my own bubble and not always having that filter of thinking before I speak, but my listening skills have most definitely improved over time.

Not too many years ago, however, I had a session with this guy, who I guess for want of a better word was a coach. His approach was slightly random in that you walked outside for your sessions. Interesting concept and one which definitely created an environment that was conducive to growth.

He observed me in a meeting before our first session and then when we met up for our ‘walk’, he told me exactly what he thought of me in terms of how I show up. I was so incredibly offended. Partially because there was some truth in what he was saying, but also because really I felt he wasn’t actually seeing all facets of me, just one of them. He hadn’t taken the time to listen to me. After I got over the initial feeling of being wounded by his words, I faced up to them and thought that I seriously needed to work on my listening skills.

Listening skills are something I have worked on for years and although, as I said, I have got much better at it, I still have a long way to go. I think if we can be forever a humble student there is always, always more to learn.

Recently, I’ve noticed with much profoundness, the number of people I’ve come into contact with who do not listen, at all, nor have any seeming desire to hear anything other than their own voice and what they have to say. Perhaps I could look at this from the angle of, I am simply listening more and so hearing more. Although to be honest most of these people, when I do try to speak, really don’t listen at all, or when I have said something, they immediately turn the conversation once again to, I, and begin to go on again about themselves…

Deep sigh…I am finding this terribly frustrating, which usually means there is much to be learned. Being mindful in these circumstances helps because it brings your attention not only to the person who is speaking but to what comes up within you, giving you the opportunity to choose how you respond.

Perhaps we merely need to listen and smile, wish the person well and move on…everyone has a perspective, some have the ability to only see one; their own, whereas others have the ability to see many and want to hear with interest what others say….

Being present enables you to decide where you are in this scenario…when we are quiet we can hear…we cannot listen if we do not cease our own chatter first and create the space to listen to others.

Try it…

[This image is of my friend, Tori, who, when I thought about a photograph to show good listening, popped straight into my mind. Tori is a great listener!]

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.]

The Cycle of Self Sabotage

A friend of mine suggested revisiting a limiting beliefs exercise. While completing it and journalling around it I arrived at some profound realisations about self sabotage and drew The Self Sabotage Cycle. This is experiential for me and wanted to share here in the hope that it would help others who experience self sabotage and/or are not aware of it.

What is self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage is an extremely powerful and destructive behaviour that is almost always created during early childhood. By the age of 10 we begin to apply meaning to our experiences and thus create beliefs about ourselves which then begin to shape and create our lives. The complexity of this process means, that the fears we hold at the core of these beliefs, then force us to create rules and excuses that become ingrained within us and form our ‘innate’ character. By thinking, behaving and acting based on these beliefs, over and over again, we condition ourselves until the responses become automatic – and we live on autopilot.

We aren’t consciously aware that the actions we are taking and decisions we are making come from a completely dysfunctional perspective, simply because of the meaning we placed on our early childhood experiences.

How do we create self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage is created as a way of ‘protecting’ ourselves during traumatic or negative childhood experiences. As an example, and this will vary from person to person depending on individual experience, an immobilising fear of; making mistakes, being ridiculed, being rejected, being physically or emotionally abused, being disliked and being unloved, is the catalyst for a child to develop a need to create a response that, in their mind, will keep them safe. In this example, that response is to ensure one remains small and goes as unnoticed as possible. The fear the child has is very real; in response to the behaviour and actions of someone close to them and/or to the environment in which they live, but as an adult, although the threat no longer exists, the fear and the need to protect oneself remains as strong as ever.

The child may experience difficulties with interpersonal relationships, but largely; going unnoticed, keeping quiet, not laughing or having fun and playing the victim, does the child little harm. It simply serves the purpose (although on a subconscious, ‘unconscious’ level) i.e. if I act this way I am less likely to; be ridiculed, be noticed, be hit, be rejected, and so on. As the child grows up, however, and inevitably becomes an adult, self-sabotage wreaks havoc on every element of life; from work and finances to all interpersonal relationships, especially intimate ones where trust and commitment is required, health and lifestyle.

What are the effects of self-sabotage?

Where a child’s needs are not met, it can be the case where the adult also experiences addiction. Although driven by a need that can never be met to fill a hole that can never be filled, addiction becomes merely another form of self-sabotage and a useful and wicked resource from which ‘it’ can draw from. Adult life can become tumultuous, chaotic and very painful.

Sabotaging jobs, relationships, finances, health and so on are all common place when self-sabotage is at play. It goes undetected because of a lack of self-awareness and simply not realising where the behaviour stems from and that it is responsible for the life you are living.

How can I be free of self-sabotage?

Not everyone becomes aware of the self-sabotage at work in their lives. However, fortunately, due to the nature of the destruction it can cause and the associated feelings of being stuck (which truly are beliefs and excuses we create) it can lead to seeking a better life and a desire to become free.

Self-sabotage requires mindfulness, patience and loving kindness towards oneself. Bravely delving into the limiting beliefs held about yourself and uncovering the fear that lies at the root of them. The fears are rarely real. The only frightening realisation is that something you were afraid of 30 or 40 years ago is now ruling and ruining your life – keeping you from living the life you desire and truly deserve.

When anything is brought into the light it is never as frightening as it seems. When you can identify the beliefs, rules and excuses, and importantly the fear beneath them, it brings a level of awareness that enables you to notice your actions. Over time it becomes easier to realise the thoughts and behaviours driving the actions that no longer serve you. There will come a point when you are able to see clearly the points at which you are sabotaging something you want to bring into your life; whether that be around work, purpose, money, health or relationships.

Naturally, the most powerful limiting beliefs you hold about yourself are the areas in which you sabotage the most.

By living ‘mindfully’ you are able to choose differently. When your choices are no longer based on fear and fuelled by beliefs that are simply not true, you will find you begin to manifest more of what you want in your life, rather than getting in your own way and receiving more of what you don’t want. The only thing keeping you stuck where you are, is you. Be courageous and make your goal and intention to become free from the cycle of self-sabotage.

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

– Grace Murray Hopper

The Self-Sabotage Cycle

Practising mindfulness brings self-awareness. You will notice a pattern emerging around your self-sabotage behaviour; a cycle – the series of actions that you regularly repeat in the same order.

The diagram below shows the Self-Sabotage Cycle at the point that most people become aware that self-sabotage is ruling (and ruining!) their lives.

Before this time, you will have probably gone through the cycle countless times over many years and most likely, experienced it throughout your adult life to date. The sabotage will often kick in before you have even taken any action. You might get an idea or want to do something or bring about a change in your life, only to ruin it before it even starts. You won’t have even been aware you were ruining it, you were just doing what you do. Life is chaotic, and you constantly change your mind, second guess your decisions and generally run amok with yourself. Self-sabotage is cruel, relentless and plays out in a myriad of destructive ways.

As time goes on the cycle might continue to where you experience some progress and even success, but no matter how far around the cycle you get, you will inevitably at some point sabotage your happiness and eradicate the possibility of getting what it is that you desire.

The stages of the Self-Sabotage Cycle

In any area of your life you may set yourself a goal or intention. You act and find you are making progress. This inspires you and you feel excited to take more action towards achieving what it is you want. You may even achieve some success, and this gives you confidence to work on achieving and realising your goal. It is at this point that you will sabotage yourself. Whether that is convincing yourself it wasn’t for you, distracting yourself to do something else or out and out destroying something or putting an obstacle in your path to ensure you don’t achieve your goal, no matter how big or small it is.

The diagram clearly shows that at the point which you sabotage yourself and thus prevent yourself from achieving your goal and manifesting your intention, the circle is broken. It is symbolic in reflecting the incompleteness and ‘stuck feeling’ it creates within you and your life. The Self-Sabotage Cycle is one where the prize, glory, happiness or whatever you see it as, is missing. In the Self-Sabotage Cycle, once you have sabotaged your goal or intention, you simply start over again with something new. Constantly repeating this cycle can become intense, turbulent and incredibly confusing.

Breaking the Cycle 

With mindfulness comes awareness and clarity. At the point which you would ordinarily sabotage your goal and intention (ultimately your happiness!) you simply choose to continue. Often the one thing we need to do is not a gargantuan task or mountainous climb, it is a simple act and, in this case, choosing to take another step forward, another action and believing you can be successful, you are good enough, loveable, deserving and so on. It is in this final quarter of the cycle you have faith and trust you will achieve what you desire.

This completes the circle and by doing this you have become unstuck. You have created a flow in your life. On a subtler level, over time, when sabotage no longer exists in your life cycle, just as the circle denotes, you feel complete, whole and what was missing is now fulfilled. There is no gaping hole to fill and with more confidence in your own ability to create the life you desire, you will become free, to live a happy, healthy, fulfilled life.

SELF SABOTAGE

 

 

[The beautiful featured image in this post was taken through a Monterey Cypress tree overlooking Carmel beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.]