Category Archives for "Mindfulness"
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.
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:
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?
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
There was a time a few years ago when I felt like I was ricocheting from one emotional stress to another. It was tie to dig into my arsenal of tools and apply them to myself. One of those tools was affirmations.
For those who missed the affirmations memos floating round the web, affirmations are positive statements we write or say to help us feel more positive, stay on track for our goals or even attract what we want.
I started with some big dreams. "I have paid off my mortgage" and "I am happy in every way", that kind of thing.
Only thing was, I didn't feel inspired and motivated. I felt deflated. I didn't believe what I was affirming - in fact, they just highlighted the abyss between where my life was and the life I actually wanted.
And this is the problem. If we can't even begin to believe what we're affirming, how can it elevate our mood? If we don't believe our goal, how will we stay on track for it?
So here's when affirmations are a problem:
You'd think I'm all "Bah, humbug" about affirmations then. But I'm not. I love them. I use them myself consistently. Since those efforts a few years ago, I studied lots of different styles for using affirmations and applied my mental health experience to understand how to use them in a way that eventually created the shifts I was looking for.
So here's what I did differently:
Those dark days seem like another lifetime now. The sting has gone from the memories. Affirmations weren't my only guide back to happiness, but they are a favourite. Have you tried affirmations? And how did you go? Let me know in the comments below.
There are certain types of grief our society handles well. And certain needs for support that we are good at recognising. That doesn't make these types of life events less painful. But a good part of our ability to be resilient is how supported we feel, so it's incredibly important.
And some life events are not recognised as times of immense pain or grief. Those with "hidden" illness or disability are met with judgement and impatience at times when they deserve and need the compassion and gentleness we are better at showing someone with cancer, or someone who has a visible paralysis. And those who experience a loss not acknowledged by their community sometimes deal with isolation in addition to their grief.
All of these societal factors affect how we cope with our burdens, and how we feel we are able to let go of the person we were before the spiritual forest fire struck.
A few years ago, I experienced three miscarriages in a row. The second one in particular was horrific to me. It dragged on for months, required two separate surgeries, and emotionally I was devastated. Some people visited. Some told me to medicate my grief. Others told me to get over it. And some seemed to disappear for a while (or forever). Someone told me that when we go through grief of any kind, we are always surprised by who is there for us, and who is not.
The one thing that is clear - I am not the person I was before these events. Before I was someone with a healthier body, an assumption that the people in my life would completely buffer any difficulty that ever came my way, and the cheerful belief that motherhood would happen easily. All of that has gone. I am a mother now, but the sacredness of my daughter within my heart reminds me that there is never again an assumption of how motherhood will be. For a few years I was bitter about the loss of all these expectations towards others and the "why me" force was strong within me! Now I've softened again, but this time with discernment. And a bit more resilience. And I get "it" in a way I didn't before.
So when I was cocooned away with my little mother on a holiday in the Sunshine Coast, and I stumbled on the book (affiliate) Letting Go of the Person You Used To Be by Lama Surya Das, I had to buy it. And then I hid it away and "forgot" to read it for a few years. You know.
But recent times have been healing and whole and happy, and I've been reading this book at last. Here are my thoughts and what I'm learning:
I would suggest this book to someone who has gone through their own personal spiritual forest fire, and has reached the point where they would like to make sense of their experiences, name and process their losses, and practice mindfulness to begin a new part of their lives. You can buy the book through my affiliate links at Amazon or Book Depository. If you are still raw or traumatised from experiences, perhaps do what I did and hide the book away for a while. Be ever so gentle with yourself. And this book, and the rest of your life, will be waiting for you when you're ready.
If you would like support in processing past events of your life and establishing new ways of living in the world and constructive thoughts and practices to channel your lived experience, I'd warmly encourage you to consider my transformational mentoring packages.
Now I'd love to hear from you - what has been essential in healing from loss and letting go of the person you used to be? Let me know in the comments. And know that love is within you.
It can be daunting to consider beginning a mindfulness practice. We are struck with images of people sitting diligently in lotus position, presumably completely at peace in themselves. It feels unreachable and perhaps even a tad boring.
This image is misleading though. Mindfulness is less about a specific activity and more about the state of mind we rest in as we go about our days. You see, if we sit for an hour in meditation and then return to a life where we work ourselves into a tizz, have a short fuse or dwell on the past then our mindfulness is not yet filtering into our lives. Meditation is still fantastic, but is a means to an end and not the end itself.
Rather, begin a mindfulness practice which flows throughout all the aspects of your life. This is where transformation happens. Here are my top ways to start:
I'd like to hear from you - which of these ways of practicing mindfulness calls to you? How will you implement a mindful moment into your day?
My childhood summers were carefree ones. I stayed with my best friend at her beach house, and we spent our days running barefoot to the beach, taping (yep, it was that long ago!) songs from the radio and learning to bodyboard.
It took some practice. The waves were big enough to dump us, leaving us disorientated and not knowing which way was up. We had to learn to anticipate the wave as it came, to know when to jump on, and to paddle hard enough to stay afloat.
Overwhelm can feel like this. It's certainly a powerful enough experience to completely disorientate us, to leave us gasping and not sure how we might get through to the other side. But like a wave, we can learn to ride it. I've been dumped by the waves of overwhelm before, and know that enough waves one after the other can lead to longer term stress, anxiety and burnout. Learning to ride overwhelm is pivotal to staying afloat in our lives.
First, we need to become better at seeing it coming. For me, it creeps in by stealth through coping strategies like escapist TV/ social media, craving junk foods or feeling tired at the thought of what I feel I need to do. I now know these are my warning signs, and use them as a cue to cut back on projects and expectations, prioritise sleep and keep life simple.
Next, we learn our limits. I used to say that I had only 2 states at work - boredom or overwhelm. I always wanted more projects, more working parties and more clients to stay engaged and excited. But it was the finest line between engagement and becoming stressed and counter-productive. Too many projects and this adrenaline-junkie approach to life is intertwined with stress. The answer is not boredom! It lies in engaging more deeply rather than more broadly. Instead of flitting over 100 projects, deeply connect to a handful. Be present and practice mindfulness to draw fulfilment from life, rather than the pursuit of shiny objects.
We practice managing the expectations of others. I used to assume that those in both my personal and professional life expected me to bend over backwards for them, the way I expected this from myself. So imagine my surprise after a period of grief and burnout, when I set new limits in all my key relationships and no one battered an eyelid. Try it for yourself, you'll be amazed how the world keeps turning as before.
And finally, I surgically removed the word "should" from my vernacular. True, it tends to grow back from time to time, but I just cut it out more vigorously than before. If you take nothing else, try at least this. A large part of overwhelm lies within our own thoughts. When we remove the "shoulds" from our thinking, we allow ourselves room to fall short, to breathe, to be gentle to ourselves.
When we do these things, we see the wave becomes smaller and more manageable as it rolls towards us. We find strength to paddle, and may even enjoy the ride.
If you'd like to reclaim your time and learn to surf the overwhelm, I have a great 3 day video program, completely free for you below. And I'd love to hear from you - which of these strategies will you be using to surf the overwhelm? Let me know below! xo