Archive

Monthly Archives: July 2018

First, we make the beast beautiful – a review and a tale

Anxiety is not a word I've ever used to describe how I'm feeling. Nervous before presenting at a conference, perhaps. Stressed before exams. Shy at big gatherings and networking events. But not anxious.

Sarah Wilson's (affiliate) First, we make the beast beautiful is a memoir of Sarah's experience of anxiety amongst a seemingly isolated childhood and autoimmune conditions. I was expecting to feel immersed in her story, but her storytelling wove quickly between her experiences, scientific studies related to anxiety, and strategies she has tried. Her voice - both in writing and speaking - has a pragmatic tone and while engrossing it spoke more to my mind than my heart.

This is likely to be largely due to my lack of identification with anxiety. But I found myself expanding in understanding of the experiences of those I care about who live with this every day. And even those of us who experience anxiety in isolated events can benefit from understanding these experiences more, and knowing we are not alone in them. 

During the course of reading the book, I was told a story of a devastating event involving a baby. My fear came up so strongly, that it was clear my vigilance as a mother exists just under the level of anxiety. People have quite rightly commented that I'm a "relaxed" mother - but I'm a mother also who understands the fear of the words "What if...?" Having this experience gave me the realisation of here anxiety exists under the radar in my life, and I felt greater awareness of my emotions in general in listening to the experiences of others.

My favourite ideas from the book

We can all benefit from living more comfortably with our emotional states. The idea I wish we all knew is this - what if, regardless of any diagnosis or issue we may have - we saw ourselves as not needing "fixing". Rather, applying understanding and compassion to ourselves and finding ways to live with ourself.

Sarah describes a lesson from one of her supports, Eugene Veshner, a hypnotist. He says we can't get rid of habits, we build new ones instead. I am a firm believer in this. Eugene explained to Sarah that as we develop a habit it creates a neural pathway. A new habit must be repeated many times to form a new pathway, which will eventually be stronger than the previous habit we are trying to replace. This is an idea I have found to be true when it comes to creating new core beliefs. Sometimes in life we make the alarming discovery that we have been living according to a harmful belief. Instead of trying to just nor believe that thing, I find it useful instead to build up repetition of a healthier belief while allowing ourselves to hold the old belief more loosely.

As well as this gem, here are the other strategies I love and find useful from the book:

  • meditation and mindfulness, and time out from life
  • setting boundaries and manage expectations whether about emailing or social participation or general availability.
  • simplify, own less, have a uniform and set morning routine and meal plans to reduce the anxiety of decisions

So I'd like to hear from you - is anxiety something you experience? Which strategies do you find the most useful? And which ones will you try?

A simple gratitude practice

Ever tried writing a gratitude journal? It's a beautiful idea - every day, take a few minutes to write down 3 things you're grateful for. After all, it is not happiness which necessarily makes us grateful; but rather gratitude which makes us happy.

The struggle I have with this practice is that I am a person who lives very much in my mind. For much of my life it has seemed that my body is barely attached to my awareness at all, and my emotions rise to my conscious noticing from time to time before receding beyond my thoughts again. This means that I sit there writing the things I think I must be grateful for, rather than the things I feel grateful for. I fill reams with these lists, while remaining unmoved myself.

If you find that this familiar gratitude practice is enough for you to increase your mindfulness and happiness, then that is wonderful. Stick to it. But if journalling feels like a chore or writing lists keeps you stuck in your mind, then consider this simple variation on gratitude.

  • as you lie in bed before sleep, turn your mind to reflect on the people and events you are grateful for from that day and more broadly
  • expand on the details of the reasons for your gratitude until you fall asleep
  • during the day, focus on the people  you feel grateful towards 
  • cog
    pick one specific person and find a way to communicate your gratitude to them - a text, email or card expressing what they mean to you is guaranteed to make their day and expand your happiness, and takes no longer than writing a gratitude list

This practice of not just identifying our gratitude but also expanding and expressing it ensures that you get out of your head and into the emotion of gratitude. The side effect? You get to make someone else's day too.

Let me know in the comments - how will you express your gratitude today?

Are you feeling unsupported?

When my unborn child's heart stopped beating I remember a scream echoing through the clinic. Vaguely I was aware that it was my scream, but all I knew was that I had to get home. Get to my room. Crawl into bed. 

I stayed there for ages. Maybe it was two weeks - I have no idea. Sometimes there was a gap in the silence where I raged, and had to trust my husband to keep us both safe. Mostly, it was silent. 

A few people came over. I am not even sure if I said anything that made sense, but I was deeply grateful and it was a relief to feel gratitude amongst waves of anger, bitterness and grief. Many people didn't come over. For a long time this seemed as horrifying as anything else.

But then something else happened. The space and quiet led me to a deep place of meditation, prayer and connection that I've carried with me since. New insights about my life and new dreams began to emerge. When we're not spreading ourselves too far, we have the chance to dig deeper.

Sometimes you may find yourself in the midst of the unthinkable, and feeling alone. It can feel like trying to remember which way to swim while being thrown by a massive wave. We would do anything for something to hold onto until the waves subside enough to swim again.

If this is you, my heart is full of love for you. And know that there will be something to hold on to. We can't always rely on people knowing how to be there for us, or having the emotional bandwidth for it. Since my experience I've seen many people comment that they "declutter" friends who don't show up for them. I think there is room for a different approach.

Take care of your self

When we are suffering or struggling, people will often say to us "Take care of your self". But what does that even mean? Here are the ways I offer you to provide yourself the care you need:

  • Allow yourself to retreat and nurse your wounds. Cry. Curl up in bed and sleep. Surround yourself with soft pillows and warm blankets. 
  • Feed yourself nutritious comfort foods. Try to avoid eating rubbish - because that's how it makes you feel. But don't punish yourself if you do. Be gentle and kind like you would to a precious friend. If it's too overwhelming to contemplate shopping and cooking, order a supermarket delivery of ready made casseroles and soups and the healthiest least processed things you can find. Or get a meal delivery service. If you know someone who loves cooking, ask if they'd make a large pot of soup for you. Many people would love to know something constructive they can do to support you. Stock up on gentle soothing herbal teas.
  • Express what's on your heart. If your friends aren't showing up for talking things through, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or similar services where you live, or book in to talk to a psychologist or counsellor. But one way or another, find someone to talk to. And pick up a pen - journalling is another way to express your thoughts and feelings. Don't censor yourself, just pour your soul onto the page. If you want to, burn the pages later to symbolise releasing the emotions.
  • heart-o
    Be comforted through touch. Instinctively we want someone we love to hug us or hold our hand when we struggle. If you are not with people you love, wrap your arms around yourself, wrap up in soft warm clothes, have a magnesium salt bath, get a massage.
  • heart-o
    When you can, make a list of what else you're needing and find ways to have these needs met.
  • heart-o
    Allow silence and aloneness to be a time to look within, practice mindfulness meditation, gentle yoga asanas, prayer and journalling. When you are ready, begin a gratitude practice.
  • heart-o
    Hold space for yourself. If you are feeling alone and fragile, sit and begin nurturing yourself. Place one hand over your heart, and the other over your belly. See this as a symbol for giving yourself kindness. Sit this way and allow your breathing to calm and deepen. Notice the movement over your chest and your belly as you breath. Sit giving yourself this kindness until a sense of calm is present within.

Hold your friendships lightly

It's easy to feel disillusioned if you thought your friends would turn up in the tough times and they don't. And when you reflect on some of these friendships you may see that it was unhealthy or one-way. But don't assume your friends don't care about you. Keep in mind that people show their love in different ways, and some don't know how to give you the support you need. 

  • Make a list of your friends, in writing if you can, or just in your mind. As you consider each friend, consider what is actually on offer. Rather than feeling disappointed that your best friend isn't visiting with casseroles, or your mum isn't ringing you up to ask how you feel, ask yourself if this is the kind of thing they do anyway. What do they offer in your friendship? If your best friend is great for a laugh and for watching old movies together, ask that from her. And if your mum is better at hugs than heart to hearts, accept her hug
  • Provide your closest friends with a bit of education and honesty about what you're going through. Don't make them guess. And although it feels infuriating that people don't automatically turn up, on the days when you have the capacity, tell them what would help. 
  • Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. Just because someone didn't visit, didn't mean they didn't care. Notice the ways people DO show love, even if it's not the way you really wanted. Live in the grace of letting people show love and letting yourself receive it, in many forms.
  • heart-o
    Find your new tribe - the people who have been through the same thing and get it. Whether it's a local support group or a Facebook group, there are people out there that will help you feel part of a community again. Allow yourself to open up as it feels safe to, and find the understanding you crave. Hold the awareness of the risk of some communities remaining stuck in this one event, and find those that feel like healthy supports.
  • heart-o
    Remember that even if your friends haven't been through the same event as you, they have had many of the same feelings. You may feel no one understands your experience, but be assured someone will understand anger, grief, loneliness, sadness, fatigue or apathy.

I hope you find something on this page to hold on to. Let me know in the comments below which strategy you'll be trying, or perhaps a new way you might show up for a friend. 

How multitasking can decrease stress

Back in the day multi tasking was the way we were all going to become efficient goal achievers. Only problem was, we got burnt out, and multitasking was in the bad books.

Then, single tasking became the way we were all going to live in a state of mindfulness and flow. 

Only - have you ever noticed how days seem to be getting busier? And it's hard to fit in work, family, personal transformation, fitness, nutritious meal preparation, connecting with loved ones, maintaining a home, financial paperwork... aaargh. Who manages juggling all this and approaches eahc task with flow?

I used to have perfectionist standards when it came to my own personal growth. I tried to work out how to fit in journalling three pages each morning with an hour of meditation per day, an hour of yoga and reading inspirational works. I'm sure I could have managed it, if only I'd given up my studies, job and friends. My approach to mindfulness was burning me out.

Now I see things differently. I see one minute of meditation as a triumph, that you meditated. I see yoga while listening to a business training as inspiring. When I fell into the habit of taking my daughter driving to get her to sleep (I am very forgiving of my shortcomings as a mama - my methods are imperfect but my love is perfect is my mantra) I listened to audiobooks at the same time.

So there's a benefit of multitasking - when we do it mindfully, for optimum benefit not out of a frenetic attempt to do more, more, more. Sometimes doing things small means we get to do them, when waiting for perfection means they don't happen at all. And sometimes fitting the personal growth, fitness and spiritual practice into our day means we live from a place of inspiration rather than frustration.

Here's how I use multitasking mindfully:

  • 1
    Pair up a task that can be done on autopilot, with one that stimulates the mind or soul. This might be listening to a lecture or audiobook while driving, meditating while commuting to work by train, or saying your affirmations while taking a shower.
  • 2
    See the worth in practicing a new healthy habit in tiny increments. Jog on the spot while you wait for the kettle to boil. Recite a mantra for the duration of a commercial break. 
  • 3
    Lying in bed waiting for sleep is a great time to meditate. Sure, people preach that you should try not to sleep while meditating but the way I see it, any meditation is great, and if it helps you sleep even better.
  • 4
    If you finding yourself waiting for a friend, or in a queue or waiting room for an appointment, have a book, notebook for sketching or mind mapping, meal planner or knitting at the ready to feel like the time has been well used. If you find yourself without something to do, consider it an opportunity to practice mindful breathing and grounding visualisation rather than sitting there tapping your foot in frustration.

The difference with multi tasking this time round is it's not about cramming in as much as possible to get as far as possible. This time, consider the goal fitting in things that matter and making slow schedule adjustments until you find your sense of balance and flow.

I'd like to hear from you - do you have practices you haven't found time to do perfectly so they haven't happened at all? And how could you fit in something nourishing in a small increment or a multitask?

If you want to create shifts in your life and the cookie-cutter strategies haven't been working for you - try a personal transformation package, tailor-made just for you.

Make your own sugar scrub

The basics of sugar scrub

Sugar scrub is the easiest thing in the world. And the cheapest. It also leaves skin silky smooth and moisturised.

The principles of making a sugar scrub is just to combine oil and sugar in equal proportions. Adjust to preferred consistency. And if you want to get fancy, natural spices or essential oils - provided they're safe to use directly on the skin - add extra benefits and a great fragrance without the hormone disruption of the artificial stuff.

My Sugar and Spice Scrub

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup macadamia oil

1 cup coconut sugar

1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (warming and cleansing)

Combine the oil and sugar in a bowl. Adjust the sugar: oil ratio to your preference.

Add the vanilla and cinammon.

Place scrub into clean glass jar. 

To use: apply and scrub over body before shower or bath. Please note: this scrub is messy so use IN shower or bath! Also, it makes surfaces slippery so take care.

Wash as normal. Enjoy your glowing skin!

Tiny Beautiful Things

They say when our heart is broken, it either expands, or contracts.

When I lost three pregnancies, one after the other, against a backdrop of work stress and certain other disillusionments... my heart contracted.

It is okay, despite what they say, to have a contracted heart. It feels safer, when we withdraw into ourselves. This is the only thing that matters for a while, when it feels as if your skin has been peeled away, and the world is made of broken glass.

But it's a way of being geared towards surviving, not thriving. There comes a time when Life asks us to slowly nurse our own wounds rather than using them as armour. Eventually, we have an emotional skin again. Slowly, the edges retreat and the world gets a little bit softer. Not totally. Maybe never again. But a little, and it's enough.

Later, it's possible to feel joy again. In my case, joy is my normal state these days (knocks on wood). My heart softened and expanded almost without my noticing. 

Just the other week, my little one, Ava Grace, defied her afternoon nap. This is not unusual. Also common - I snuggled her into her car seat, cranked an audiobook, and we began to drive.

I have the great joy and fortune of living beside a beautiful forest. I drive, and listen to something inspiring, until Ava sleeps. Then I park and soak in the beauty, and sometimes write or work or meditate.

On this day, I listened to Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed. A collection of letters written to her when she was the agony aunt, Dear Sugar. It was read by her, which made it even better. As I drove amongst giants of trees softened by ferns and a magical winter's mist, I became aware of my own gratitude, compassion... my own heart.

I listened to the story of Johnny, afraid to tell a woman he loved her. And I listened to Cheryl - or Sugar, as she was known - reply with the story of how her mother's last word to her was "love"... and how her mother died alone, later that night. My heart cracked wide, and the light shone through. And when the next letter was written by a woman stuck in the numbness of her own grief after losing her baby girl when she was 6 months pregnant, my heart shattered and all the commonality of our humanity hit me in the space it left behind.

You see I realised that when we feel our own pain, we feel alone. But when we can bear witness to somebody else's, we know how connected we truly are. It didn't matter that one story was of fear of love, one the numbness of grief, another the shame of a more covert fantasy life, and another still of the hurt of rejection by family for identifying as gay. Because beneath the details, they were all the same. People wanting to be loved, reassured and witnessed. Like all of us.

Cheryl met each with her own rawness and softness and grit, her own love and pain. And it tapped into old memories, but more still it tapped into the compassi0n that unites us. Listening to her fully witness each person, let me feel seen and simultaneously helped me to see them too. It's not often a book moves me to tears. On this day I didn't so much cry as crack open, and the tears that flowed in that misty forest were at once mine, and Cheryl's, and yours.

So remember, we are all in this thing we call Life together, and allow your heart to crack open as you reach out with your rawness, broken pieces and above all, with your Light.

And if you do read or listen to (affiliate) Tiny Beautiful Things, please drop me a comment and tell me what struck a chord with you.