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August 31, 2016

9 Spiritual Secrets I Learned in Bali

A few days ago my husband and I arrived at the peaceful east coast of Bali. Far away from tourism and commercial interactions, I have felt endlessly blessed talking with 3 wise teachers and observing life as a curious outsider. Soaking up the wild beauty of our ocean and volcano views and the gentle spirit of local customs, I offer you these 9 offerings:

1. A complaining mind is the biggest barrier to purification

Somehow it seemed an excellent idea on a hot and cloudless day to climb a 1,175m high mountain with 1700 roughly hewn steps to reach ​the ancient Lempuyung Temple in the east of Bali. We reached the beautiful first temple at the start of the ascent where our young and graceful guide sprinkled water on our heads to bless us. She told me to ask for purification for the exertion of the climb ahead, as the steps are steep and those with a complaining mind or heavy heart may not reach the top. 

There is something to be said for consciously​ choosing to stop complaining, even and especially in the privacy of one's own mind. And while it is natural to feel heavy hearted following some of life's challenges the adage "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional", attributed to Haruki Murakami, is brought to mind. Yes, Life may break our heart open. But we have a choice - albeit a difficult one - to keep it light.

2. Offer first a clean slate, then offer gratitude, then ask for blessings

In Western culture I suspect there is​ an unconscious tendency to ask first, give thanks perhaps when Life woks in our favour, and as for cleaning the slate of our mind.....! In truth, growth of the mind and spirit functions by beginning with a foundation of a peaceful mind, establishing a viewpoint of gratitude for our current blessings, and from this powerful and sweet place asking for the desires from our heart.

To practice this, consider observing your mind as you go about you day. When you find yourself in a negative thought spiral, choose to challenge your perspective with a new thought that is constructive and believable. Gratitude can be practiced every day with a simple journal to write in 3 blessings in your life each day, or by playing The Gratitude Game. And when you wish for blessings, ensure you have practiced these two steps first, and that your asking comes from your heart.​

3. The 3 most important relationships we must cultivate: to God (as we understand), to people and to nature.

I grew up in a Christian family, and so am well used to witnessing people making the sign of the Cross as they enter church. Interestingly, as we sat in the shade of the uppermost of the 7 Lempuyang Temples at the top of the mountain, our guide made the same exact sign out of respect. She explained to me she was making the sign of the swastika  - before you panic, please know that before the Nazis appropriated this symbol it had a history of thousands of years as the Hindu sign for peace. We were told when we touch our forehead, we are acknowledging our relationship with​ the God of our understanding, when we touch each side of our face we acknowledge our relationships to others, and when we touch our heart we bring to mind our relationship to nature. Each of these relationships require balance and health in our lives, and each can be nurtured with right actions.

4. When someone harms us, that is their karma. When we respond, that is ours.

In the shade of sacred water-giving bamboo I am taught that the words and actions of others towards us is never personal to us - it is personal to them.​ I have heard this many times from a great variety of teachers around the world... perhaps it is time I paid attention. In the past I have resisted this so strongly, and remember many years ago when breaking up with a partner almost shouting at the messenger "How can a break up not be personal?!". In truth only our thoughts, our feelings, our words and our actions are personal. And even these are universal! If someone syas or does something to us that we perceive to be unkind, it is not because we deserve unkindness, it is because the other person is expressing unkindness. It is about them. 

We have 2 opportunities here​. First, to depersonalise what we receive from others by reminding ourselves to keep our attention on our own inner self. This hugely takes the sting out when you let it, trust me! Second, we choose our words and actions in life not from reaction of the ego (karma alert!), but response of the spirit. Don't beat yourself up when your ego gets a word in first... we're all human! Just notice, regroup and choose to respond differently.

5. Not just our sacred sites can be blessed - blessings can occur everywhere

One of the things I get the hugest buzz from here in Bali is that flowers are everywhere. I don't mean just where they grow.. they are selectively placed everywhere, as an expression of love and gratitude. Ketut, a lovely man who manages the villa where we are staying, explains that offerings must contain certain aspects. Something green, like a leaf, to symbolise a peaceful heart. Flowers, to express love and gratitude. Food, to show thanks to God for what we receive. Water is sprinkled and incense brings fire. The colour of the flowers invokes different aspects of life that the offering gives thanks for.

The beautiful thing though is not only are these official offerings placed throughout the village and in temples; but as a welcome to guests, flowers adorn the most unlikely of places. Every day in our villa, flowers are scattered in the shower, placed on a toilet roll, arranged amongst our food and drinks. I love the idea of ​everywhere being a form of altar, a place worthy of love and gratitude. Where in your home can you show more love and gratitude? When I return to my home I will look for these little opportunities of everyday adornment.

6. Karmaphala: what we give out we get back

​Long familiar with the idea of karma, I'd never heard the full phrase. The lotus is an example of karmapharda... the seed of the flower is the karma or cause, while the flower in full bloom is the phala or effect. While often interpreted as a very literal or fundamental teaching, with effect on random life events or reincarnation, I like to consider karmaphala in the here and now. Regardless of what may happen after I die, I can be certain that when I am practicing good karma the immediate transformation in my heart and peace of mind can be viewed as phala. 

On the steep descent down Mount Lempuyang, drenched from the exertion and gingerly scrambling down steps in the heat on my jelly legs, our guide wandered peacefully carrying a large bag to gather rubbish on her way down. "I cannot live without Nature" she explained, "so looking after Nature is good​ karmaphala". Feeling quite physically exerted but spiritually renewed I conducted a small inner experiment. While it would be impossible sadly to collect all the rubbish on my route I decided to closely observe how my state of mind changed when I picked up a piece of rubbish - which took every bit of remaining energy! - compared with walking past which obviously conserved my physical energy for the descent. Interestingly, each time I bent down in the heat to collect some trash left behind in the dirt I felt at peace. When I left something to be someone else's problem, less so. The lesson here is not that every piece of trash I see in my life is my responsibility. There will be times when we all must choose not to take on a particular battle. But it is clear that we can give from a place of karmaphala and receive the peace such actions bring.

7. Life is balance

​Throughout Bali we have seen two-toned flags fluttering in the gentle breeze in temples or other sacred landmarks. Sometimes, the flags are yellow and white, to signify the balance between masculine and feminine. Others are black and white, for the balance of good and evil. I asked if it was not more desirable to just eradicate evil and focus on good only. The response is that darkness exists and must only be understood and balanced with light. The word evil was really lost in translation, as it more about shadow and light, yin and yang, night and day.

​In our own lives we can correct the balance of the stresses and worries we get consumed by with good actions, gratitude, correcting our thoughts and maintaining a practice that restores our mind, heart and spirit.

8. Show gratitude

​Gratitude can be a flower placed with loving intent. It may be picking up discarded bottles on the road to a temple. It may be journalling the blessings you received that day.

In any form, gratitude takes us gently to a state of mind that is open to receiving life's sweetness. Without gratitude, any amount of good fortune we have in life can not truly be felt. With gratitude, any of our lives is rich and abundant.

A few years ago I felt that life as I'd known it had fallen apart. It was easy to complain and feel hard done by, and hard to see the good in anything.​ I gave up on gratitude. I gave up on seeing the good. I gave up on balance. And I truly learnt the hard way that pain is inevitable and suffering is optional. I opted to suffer, because it maintained my position of being wronged. But it was not a healthy choice, and over time I chose again, this time from the heart, and I chose gratitude. Gratitude slowly healed the wounds that ego had only managed to deepen. I invite everyone reading this: even if life is difficult.... especially if life is difficult... practice gratitude. If you don't know where to start, start here.

9. Love is inside us​

When you feel unsupported, begin by giving yourself the support you most need. When you feel unnoticed and unacknowledged, take notice and provide yourself with validation. And when you feel unloved, know that you re, in Truth, Love itself.

There are many forms for finding love within. You may choose a gratitude practice. You may meditate. Maybe you pray. It could be something you find in movement, or when you're still. It is there when you create, when you smile, and when you cry. It is there at all times. Because Love is who you are.

I'd love to hear from you - let me know in the comments below your secrets of the spirit, and how you find Love inside.​ I offer you my blessings.

August 22, 2016

Why your diet didn’t work… and what to do instead

OK confession time... this post is just as much about why no diet ever worked for me. The funny thing about diets is that in every other area of our lives we see ourselves as individuals - we don't all apply for the same career, we don't all read the same books and we don't all try to look good in the same outfit. But somehow, whenever a new "diet" is popular, many of us attempt to make it fit.

The last time I dieted was before my wedding. I dished out a fair bit to join a popular program, and then discovered (in hindsight, not surprisingly) that the food didn't even closely resemble how I need to eat to feel well, and I couldn't stand the exercise program.Since studying naturopathy, the penny has dropped. Rather than trying to make ME fit a generic diet, I need to make my nutrition and exercise fit me. It's like I got a PhD in Rocket Science! The thing is, there's so many aspects of us as complex humans that determines what we're likely to eat. The trick is to examine these keys and understand how to use them to unlock better health.

Fit within your lifestyle

Have you ever tried to follow an eating plan that just doesn't fit your lifestyle? It pretty quickly becomes ridiculous. If you're someone who eats out often due to a busy work schedule or as part of your social life, a meal plan that includes hours in the kitchen or weird processed meals delivered to your door, may not be sustainable. I've learnt to choose from what's around me and prepare ahead when I know I'll be on the road.

Eat to your taste

One of the reasons that last diet failed me was it was designed for someone who eats meat and wheat. I am vegetarian by beliefs and wheat-free by necessity, so it just was unworkable. Instead, I now choose the healthiest options from the foods I love - healthy Indian curries and wholesome soups and salads.

Address the issue

Diet programs tell us what to eat, but usually we fall down for reasons other than lack of knowledge. When I eat chocolate it's not because I think it's healthy, it's because I'm tired or upset or feel I need nurturing. When I eat crisps it's not part of a plan, it's a response to stress and overwhelm. No amount of instructions help, but having a strategy for stress and upset makes a huge difference.

Differentiate between food triggers

Not all food triggers are created equal. It's entirely feasible for me to eat a small slice of cake, or none at all. But if you open a bag of vinegary crisps near me, I will not rest until they are eaten. I can be moderate in drinking wine, but when I used to drink caffeinated soft drinks it was a choice between daily or never. So for me, I can plan my nutrition to include these foods and be extra healthy elsewhere, or avoid them entirely. I chose to keep chocolate and ditch soft drink. It comes down to knowing ourselves. If you struggle to cut back on a particular food, consider that you have an addictive relationship to it, and handle the situation from that perspective.

Identify the influences

We know that understanding healthy nutritional options is only part of why we choose a food - it helps to bring awareness to some of the others. We are influenced by our environment. If your home is filled with a certain food, it is likely that will be the food you eat. If the shops near your work sell junk, you'll need to be prepared with better options. And your environment is social too.. what are your friends, family and partner eating? Where are the situations that will be challenging to make wise nutritional choices? I know that keeping junk food out of my house reduces my intake by about half, and if I don't have healthy snacks with me in the office, my 3pm munchies will drive me to the box of fundraiser chocolate. Like all these points: know yourself, and plan ahead.

Are we even making conscious choices?

Some of my food choices make no sense in my current life. Vinegar crisps?? What am I, 15 and my parents have left me alone for a weekend? What kind of a food choice is this for a naturopathy student? Our food choices are about our history, our stories, the advertisements we see, ingrained habits. I try to stay away from advertising in all its forms and keep awareness of myself. We may not always be conscious of what drives our behaviour, but we can play with our patterns. If you can't skip chocolate, at least only eat it when you're full from a healthy meal first.

Stop the crazy talk

Ever noticed the crazy way we talk to ourselves? Here's an example, "Oh now I've eaten a piece of pie, I might as well give up and eat the whole lot". Ummm....no. Just no. I mean, can you imagine saying that to a child whose health was in your care? "Yes Jimmy, sweets are bad for you and now you've had 1 you might as well eat the whole bag!". Didn't think so.

Play the long game

What goes up, must come down. If we go on a diet, we must go off it. Most diets aren't going to fit into our life long term. Which is why so many people lose a few kilos only to put it back on when they resume normal life. Give up the diet and look at your real life for opportunities to take good care of yourself instead.Form new habits and a new way of living in the world that sustains and nurtures your body.

All you need is love

In the past, all my attempts at diets came from a place of dieting to be good enough. Talk about setting myself up to fail. Here's the better way... decide from now on that you love yourself and your body; your food choices will fall into place when you are deciding what to eat based on how you want to feel and how you want to take care of yourself.If you would like a free journal page to explore how to apply these ideas to your diet and self care, sign up below.Now I'd like to here from you.. which idea will you be implementing to love your body with better nutrition today?