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Why blogging? Why now?

Having been a language teacher most of my life, it will come as no surprise that words have always been a passion for me. I love reading and have the habit of noting down any striking sentence or paragraph that resonates with me. Usually the quotes are about life and relationships. So could I perhaps come up with cleverly phrased thoughts and reflections which might perhaps inspire someone else? Or just plain words that describe an experience that some reader may relate to and empathise with? So writing could create connections, a sharing of ideas which may also at times be different perspectives and thus all the more thought-provoking.

Then the act of writing is said to be cathartic, healing. Not only that but it can help make sense of events and shed new light. In looking back, it can reflect and mark growth and moving on. Or just clarify what is going on in one’s head and putting pen to paper (or should I say key to monitor)  kind of makes the impression permanent.

Then again my reflections are my take on what I have gleaned from my own life situations as well as snippets from stories or other media. Having read, for many years, not only literary and popular fiction works but also a good number of self-development books, lately I find myself actively examining events and reviewing either what I learnt from them or how I could have responded differently or how I put or could have put some age old principles into practice. Plus I am fascinated when other people relate their life stories and experiences and I have drawn from them (with their permission where necessary)

           Life can only be understood backwards          But it must be lived forwards

Moving forwards, there is this emerging desire to live life even more fully. To finally do the things that got pushed to the back burner. But there is a more profound side to life than just doing. Over time I have also been mulling over the concept of ‘just being’ as opposed to ‘doing’ Perhaps I have more time now to implement the theory but honestly speaking, it is never too early to start. So watch this space for my serialized version of the A-Z of Just Being whereby I take a letter of the alphabet to contemplate and imbibe a quality that I would like to possess or strengthen in myself, for example, being Compassionate and share with you what that actually means and entails to me.

Thus, my blog is about how I am learning to practise what I have read about living a full life, and how I am finding my own answers to so many questions and how even more questions are surfacing. Maybe, just maybe, you might find an answer or two in my sharing my on-going journey with you and if more questions come up for you or if you can share a different idea, all the better. So follow me and leave a comment either way.

Busting Beliefs

In the preamble to the A-Z of Just Being, I first introduced the importance and relevance of Just Being, then covered the Bane of Being Busy which illustrated how busyness affects our lives and does not allow us to pause and actually be. Next, the Bliss in our Breath highlighted some ways to use our breath to help us sit in silence, quieten the mind to go within where we can access our true being. Before we finally get into the A-Z itself, I would like to shine a torch on our limiting beliefs because we first have to be aware of them and then get past them to be able to move forward.

Till the age of six to seven, children are sponges. They learn and absorb the attitudes and behaviours from the people closest to them. And the startling truth is that they become so programmed by those beliefs and habits that in their adult lives they run on auto-pilot, living by the conditioning of the sub-conscious mind for more than 90% of the time, downloading copies of other people’s behaviours. 70% of these programmes are disempowering and self-sabotaging and very often they are not even aware that they are doing that.

Furthermore, even if they want to consciously change their habit or behaviour, it is not that simple because the subconscious programming always has the upper hand. Thus, the importance of connecting with our sub-conscious through meditation and other practices, which also help us in becoming aware of our habitual patterns that stem from acquired beliefs before we can work on changing the belief itself.

Beliefs are a form of hypnosis and they are not necessarily true. Perhaps the mother of all limiting beliefs is “I am not good enough”. This belief comes in different guises: I am not smart enough, not young enough, not rich enough etc. And people’s habits, views and behaviours are conditioned by these beliefs. So to change the outer we have to get to the inner.

We are so much more than our limited mind and our object is to change our view of the world and ourselves. We see life through the filter of our beliefs, get stuck in freeze mode and even look for evidence that our beliefs are true. The irony is that we experience what we believe. What is reality? Is what I think true? Question your existing thought patterns: Are my beliefs true for me today? Are they serving me in the right way? ((Because beliefs always serve in some way, say for protection, which you may no longer need.)

A very simplistic example: I grew up believing I was hopeless at maths. So for most of my life my mind would go blank at the mention of numbers. But thinking about it, I realise that nothing extra was done at that point in time to address my poor performance. So now I keep my mind open and give it a go at least. And going back to “I am not good enough”, that goes totally against the grain of our true essence. We are all whole beings, loved unconditionally by a Supreme Being. We are totally worthy and do not need anyone to validate us. Just that over time, acquiring various labels and roles, being shrouded by limiting beliefs we have shrunk, hidden and ignored our inherent magnificent identity.

So healing and growth start with self-love and acceptance. Growth means becoming more of who we are; not trying to change per se but growing. In order to be whole we must accept all of ourselves, warts and all The first relationship then, is really with yourself.

“The paradox of personal growth is that it begins with self-acceptance.” Carl Rogers

Three exercises/tools I have found to be useful are:

1/ The first exercise is in two parts.

a/ Become a witness to your thoughts, feelings, emotions and perceptions. Learn how to witness your inner world. Make a list of your beliefs around yourself, relationships, health, work, money. Examine them one by one, honestly asking why you hold the beliefs that you do and how relevant or true they are today. See if you can make a shift. Do you think you have to work hard to make a living? Why is there evidence now that when you are in flow, work can be easy and abundance follows?

b/ Reframe that negative belief into something that feels true to you. Change “I am not good enough” to “I am Ok” Even if you cannot go as far as “I am more than enough”. But take a leap of faith. The ideal would be to be independent of this conditioning so that you can go and experience a deeper part of yourself which is a field of pure potential. The key word here is “to experience”. If you go within on a consistent basis you will discover experientially that you are whole and more than enough.

2/ Make an appreciation list of who you are now. I found this difficult to start with but slowly the more I dwelled on it the more positive qualities I came up with and it transported me to a better place. You can even ask close family and friends to tell you what your strong points are. Why wait for a eulogy which you will never hear, I say? (And as an aside, keep pointing out what you appreciate about the same people closest to you because what you give out comes back to you.)

“As you think thoughts that feel good to you, you will be in harmony with who you really are.” Abraham Hicks

3/ The third is actually a tool I discovered some 15 years ago and recently I have become a student practitioner of EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or tapping. I find tapping very soothing because it reduces stress and anxiety levels very quickly and as it involves tapping on several meridian points, it shifts blocked energy more easily than talking or thinking things through. You can actually tap on your limiting beliefs to try and shift them and you can also tap on enhancing self-love and self-acceptance. Many You Tube videos are out there for you to give it a try. (For deeper issues working with a qualified practitioner is always advisable)

Connecting with your true self and having a loving relationship with yourself is an on-going process. It takes time, patience and commitment. “When you work on your inner sense of worthiness and value, your energy levels go up. your insights, creativity and your belief in yourself all increase” David Hamilton PhD. That is perhaps when we can take our personal growth to the next level. Enter A-Z.

The Bliss In Our Breath

I do believe that the one vital thing we really take for granted is our breath. Perhaps in the last year we have come to treasure it more with the increasing incidences of Covid and being under lockdown for so long. This one story being circulated recently drives the point home. It was about a man somewhere who had contracted the virus and had to pay for a ventilator. It brought tears to his eyes and the doctors presumed that he could not afford the fee. Whereas he answered that he was crying because when his breath was free he did not cherish it and now it had come to him having to pay for it.

It is a sad truth that we often only appreciate something or someone when it or s/he have been taken from us. Our breath actually keeps us alive yet on a daily basis we are so oblivious to it and moreover, we only use 10-15 per cent of our lung capacity at any given moment.

Yet it has often been cited that the best medicine of all is the breath. The in-breath heals you, filling your lungs with oxygen to support cell respiration and energy metabolism. (Did you know that the human body is about two-thirds oxygen?) The out-breath rids the body of toxins and calms the nervous system, instantly releasing any tension held in the body.

There is more and more evidence as to how breathing practices like the yogic pranayamas or mindful breathing are beneficial to combat stress in our busy lives as well as having a host of other benefits to our well-being. The same goes for meditation. And many of you must already already have some sort of daily ritual of your own. Plus there are also a lot of guided practices that can accessed on the media for anyone who wants to start. My personal favourite is Insight Timer on which the right meditation for me always presents itself when I need it.

What I would like to share with you though, is how mindful breathing and mediation as well as prayers have helped me personally on my journey in Just Being, being a little more of myself each day.

Once upon a time, constantly beset by racing thoughts, overwhelmed by unmanageable negative emotions, breathlessly spinning on the hamster wheel, that was my life before I experienced the bliss of my breath. They grew to such a crescendo during a period of personal trauma, that I felt my internal mindless chatter and my overpowering emotions had swallowed me whole.

I had to get off the wheel. So what did I do? Over the years I have experimented with a repertoire of practices but what I still find the most useful when I am under pressure of any sort, is simply to take time out and breathe. As simple as that. Sometimes I find counting the inhales and exhales focuses my mind but just removing myself to a quiet corner and breathing slowly and more deeply almost immediately unties the knots in my stomach and lifts the fog in my brain. According to Tchich Nhat Hahn , this basic mindful breathing, concentrating on the in-breath and out-breath consciously synchronizes body and mind in the present moment and it is “your appointment with life”.

Therefore, for those who say they do not have time for meditation, this pause can be the first baby step to just being with your breath, using it consciously.

The next step I sometimes incorporate is going further within, in silence, and repeating a suitable declaration or intention for that specific time, say “I AM peace”, remembering to breathe deeply at the same time. First of all, as I wrote earlier, peace is your natural and inherent state, It is already there inside you. As also Love, Joy, Wisdom etc. They are just overshadowed by a turbulent mind. So it is important to realize that you are not the mind. If you observe the mind with detachment, and become the witness, the observer, you will remember the truth of who you really are and grow to become more of who you are with practice.

“If we still ourselves we can mirror the Divine perfectly” Sarah Blondin

Secondly, the words I AM are incredibly powerful. They precede the subconscious limiting beliefs you have been programmed with and literally instruct you how to feel in your body and mind. They also command the Greater Mind-the Universe- to create an outer reality to match whatever you choose to say after the words I AM. Thus the use of these words can be applied not only to your true nature if you want to connect with that (I AM Love), but also to any other attribute you might want to acquire or enhance (I AM Bold) as we will explore later in the series.

“Think the thought until you believe it. Once you believe it, it is.” Abraham Hicks

I would like to add it is not about ignoring your emotions or your present reality. They have to be acknowledged and honoured to allow for transformation. And also one has to choose wisely what one says after I AM. If you say things like “I am an angry person” that is what will continue to manifest itself.

Finally, the game changer for me was that in silence, with my breath, in the moment, I, the patient had become my own counsellor. That is quoted as being one of the results of meditation. As a child, I had been shy and a total introvert. I would never share my thoughts and feelings with anyone and managed my emotions by stuffing them down. But during my testing times, all of a sudden, I felt the need to pour out all my hurt and anger and confusion. Luckily I found some listening ears. Yet I had never felt quite comfortable being so open as it went against the grain of what I used to be. I will admit, though, that making myself vulnerable by opening up and asking for help, allowed me to develop some strong friendships. But as I also developed the habit of going inwards I slowly began to experience the fact that I had all the answers myself within. Without fail, in prayer or in an aha moment, the solution I need always pops up out of the blue and brings a smile to my face every time.

“In quietness are all things answered.”

So I am ever grateful for my breath. It reminds me to appreciate the fact that I am alive and well. It guides me to be aware of my thoughts and feeling at all times so that I can change my energy if that is what is required and it awakens me to live my truth.

Just Being

In this blog, I thought I would re-cap one of my previous blog posts which was an introduction to the idea of Just Being.

In my very first blog (Why Blogging? Why now?), I mentioned wanting to write a mini-series on the A-Z of Just Being. What better time to start than the New Year, when many are making resolutions? About one third of Britons make New Year resolutions, generally health-based, but the NHS reckons that only one in ten will be successful.

My reservation with resolutions is that usually they are about doing things…, diet or eating healthier losing weight, exercising, saving. These were the top 5 in one survey for 2021. Wanting to be physically healthy is definitely a goal worth pursuing but it overlooks a critical component of our being: our mind and spirit. Though this year during the pandemic there has been a surge in the use of meditation apps which suggests that many are also going inwards.

In fact the Covid crisis which has imprisoned us for well nigh a year now, must have made a lot of people take stock. Ways of doing things have changed. Productivity, which is a result of doing, has decreased in many sectors but surely people have become more creative in their search for answers. And many people have risen to the challenge in also being different…more compassionate, generous, tolerant. Though we cannot ignore the negative side of ‘being’ also prevalent with the increase in domestic violence due to the current situation.

The point is we are human beings. The ‘human’ part encompasses our physical body and revolves around doing, getting and having. In the race for better and best, one forgets ‘just being’. It is important to understand that stress is not natural. Our inherent nature is of peace. Even the frenzy around gyming and exercising is sometimes more about ‘having’ a beautiful body, and not so much about being healthy. And beautiful in whose eyes? Very often an externally imposed ideal glamourized by the media and advertising. We are so busy doing. Are we actually living life to the full?

To live fully, mind, body and soul have to be nurtured together and in my view, if the soul or spirit or consciousness (whichever term you are comfortable with) is prioritised, the rest is taken care of more easily because that is where real transformation happens. The world is a reflection of our own consciousness. Spiritual and mental health goals will impact health, relationships, finances/career. So if you want to be happy, you have to access that happiness in yourself, rather than look for it outside. That is another reason why ‘just being’ is so important. All everyone wants at the end of the day is to feel good, to feel happy, to feel at peace. The problem is that we look for all these feelings outside of ourselves, in achievements, in possession, in relationships with others and these are not only temporary but also once we reach our goal we jump on to the next. The point of life is not to get anywhere. It is to enjoy the journey and to create who and what we are and experience that doing is being. It’s the person you become in pursuit of your goals that really matters.

“The way to use life is to do nothing through acting. The way to use life is to do everything through being.” Lao Tzu (6th C BC)

We identify with our roles and we put on so many masks that we have forgotten who we really are. Another reason to ‘just be’. It is not about learning but about remembering your innate nature of love, peace, joy, wisdom, truth. As the Course in Miracles puts it: “You need to hear the truth about yourself as frequently as possible because your mind is so preoccupied with false images.”

It is also not about thinking that something is wrong with you, that you need to fix yourself. Self-actualization does not involve perfection, or holding yourself to impossible standards or things always going smoothly. It is a process; not an end game. You grow and evolve as you go through life and try to be “the best version of yourself.”

So two questions come to mind: 1/ Who are you inherently? and 2/ Who do you want to be?

Your vision becomes clear when you look inside your heart.. The power’s on the inside. The heart of the “being” is meant to be silent. If you take the time to sit quietly with yourself (and that is where meditation, prayers and other mindfulness practices come into play), you will re-discover the gems of love, peace, joy, truth which are your birth-right. At our core, we are like new-born babies with all these innate qualities but we have forgotten that with our doing mentality and our attachment to our roles. Be more. Do less. Listen to your inner wisdom to live a life of truth. Infuse your doing with the scent of your true self. Losing awareness of this consciousness, makes your behaviour reactive. Whereas if you operate from that higher consciousness, your energies are elevated and that is reflected in your response to life. Soul-consciousness reinforces the dignity of the human being. Moreover, “In quietness are all things answered.” Allow yourself to gain many in-sights between the spaces of your thoughts.

Thus the first relationship is always with yourself. Only when you value yourself and are free from insecurities, not ‘wanting’ anything from the other because you are whole on your own, can any other relationship be strong. It does not happen overnight. It takes work and commitment. But “no amount of self-improvement can make up for any lack of self-acceptance.” Robert Holden PhD

The first journey, therefore, is inwards to recognise the truth about yourself.

What can be added is the second question: Who do you want to be? In recent years, universities and employers are asking candidates this question about themselves. They also put greater emphasis on EQ (Emotional Quotient) rather than IQ, intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, use and manage your own emotions in positive ways so that you can respond better in relationships and challenges. Personality profiling is also being done for employees to help them see their strengths as well as areas for improvement.

My point then is “just being” is relevant to both youngsters and more mature people as well. Young people, busy in making a living, climbing up the ladder, maybe raising a family can be heard to say they have no time for sitting around and going within. They will take up spirituality when they retire…maybe! Yet more and more people are experiencing burnout and when they hit rock bottom there is nowhere else to go. So instead of taking on stressors and working on autopilot, stop, because:

“The unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates (5th C BC)

Join me on my journey as I explore some positive attributes from A-Z that I admire and want to emulate. I too am a work in progress; my art is by no means complete. For as long as I AM, I know I am peace and love but still have to stay with that inner power on a daily basis. It takes practice and more practice. I falter and fall and pick myself up again. And I also want to think about what I AM means to me and how I can aspire to be a better version of myself. Maybe more Courageous? Maybe Playful? It may not be the same for everyone. But we can have a think about it together and have some fun at the same time.

The Bane Of Being Busy

Have you ever wondered what people must be doing when they put on their What’s app status: Busy or Can’t talk or Urgent calls only?

Being busy has become a fashion statement. It is equated with success and worthiness and being in demand . John Hopkins researchers call this ‘the cult of busy’. But with no pause button to reset the mind and body, stress and burnout have been on the increase. In fact, stress is the leading cause of many of the physical, mental and relational issues that come from the constant state of busy-ness. Stress, has been defined as pressure (that is the situation) over resilience or inner strength. Today, with the pressure of both work and home life, the denominator (resilience) is very often ignored. In our busy-ness we live outside-in, rather than inside-out, which is the ultimate way to create the strength to tackle pressure.

Work, both in the workplace and in the house can consume our lives if we let it. On the one hand, it is both necessary and healthy. It allows us to be productive… and pays the bills. On the other hand, when we forget the work-life balance, things go awry. We have 24 hours in a day. In the schedule of a 9-5 work-day, people work 8 hours, should have 8 hours for family, play, recreation, and 8 hours for sleep. Are you mad? Who has that luxury today?

Partly it boils down to unsound prioritization and to poor time management skills and maybe also to the fact that success is very often determined by externals like making it to the top or acquisition of one’s dream house. We have confused our roles and professions with our ultimate purpose in life which is related to our ‘being’, to experience our inherent qualities of peace and joy. That is a constant, whereas goals are forever changing. We are always in search of a new destination, forgetting to enjoy the journey in the process, waiting for happiness when we have attained a certain goal, then latching on to the next, never quite content on the way, not understanding that if the being is healthy, the doing will automatically follow.

Being too busy is also very often used as an excuse to get out of doing things, like doing exercise or meditation, or even meeting people. It can be a form of distraction, an escape from not facing issues in your life. Sometimes it is a form of procrastination when you submerge yourself in not very significant work, avoiding the very thing that needs the most attention.

But for many busy-ness has become an addiction and addiction supresses the conscious mind. We are rarely in the moment, in the now, tossing between the past and the future, unable to smell the roses. Sometimes we aren’t present, even when we are physically present, because even our minds are consumed by busy-ness.

Therein lies the crux of the matter. Running on a frantic and relentless timetable all day, constantly on adrenaline, not only are we depleting the body but also the mind. Even our leisure time is very often regimented. The irony is that, out of idle reflection comes inspiration. Remember how Archimedes had his Eureka moment in the bath! Creativity and wise decision-making is only possible with clarity. But most of the time our minds are blurred and out of focus, (like the photograph below), as we zoom from one activity and thought to another. Stress is created by repetitive fearful thoughts. We are beset with worries and this leads to over-thinking which in turn reduces soul power. When you are faced with hurdles you need energy to jump and negative thoughts deplete energy. Resting the mind creates peace and silence is intuitive power. That is the antidote to busy-ness.

This busy syndrome is unfortunately, also passed on to children. Most unwittingly, ‘tiger mums’ who push their children towards being the best at everything, taxiing them in their 4x4s from one activity to another, are laying down the roots for another generation who will believe that you are only good enough when you are doing something and when you have achieved excellence.

Moreover, there is another irony. Some people can be busy doing nothing. Then there are others…and these are the really successful ones… can be doing a lot yet always have time for one thing more. It is a mind-set. If the auto-response of my mind is standard: ” I am busy. I don’t have time.”, this starts making me unavailable to myself as well as to those around me. I confess to once having a favourite auto-response myself: “I am tired”. Till I learnt that each time I used those words I was creating and reinforcing that same reality. So why not use a positive mantra instead? Sister Shivani of the Brahma Kumaris, inspired by her mentor, suggests using the words “I am easy” instead of “I am busy“. Just changing our vocabulary can have an effect on our consciousness and thus our experience of life. “I am busy” can create clutter in the mind and blockages in the body whereas “I am easy” can shift the energy and create lightness. Try it for yourself (and leave a comment to share how you get on).

Peace

I have been writing about how peace is our inherent nature and how we can remember and access it in different ways but just recently I came across a saying by Mother Theresa which shows us the very simplest and most direct route and I’d like to share that with you today.

Isn’t that just a no-brainer?

Then there were two other quotes that I found which were similar and also very succinct and thought-provoking.

What do you think? Feel free to comment.

Peace and Qi Gong

I have written in several blogs especially in the one on Peace, that one of our inherent states of being is Peace, which we have lost sight of in today’s stressful world. Many practices help us rediscover this part of ourselves and realign us back to our natural state. I have found prayers helpful as well as yoga especially the breathing techniques, meditation, mindfulness, gratitude journaling and being in nature. Being a Gemini, I think I need varied practices because I get bored easily and fall back on the ones that speak to me for the day. That’s just me. Some may argue that one sustained and consistent practice is best. But whatever works for you, right?

So I was quite pleased when recently I re-discovered Qi Gong. I mean I have dabbled in it in the past and always wondered what the difference was between yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi. But it was grand master Chunyi Lin, who clarified it for me it quite succinctly in a video: that yoga has its origins in yogis wanting to strengthen their muscles to stay in meditation longer; that Tai Chi originated as a form of self-defence and is most helpful with balance; and Qi Gong is best for healing and longevity. I’m not sure if this is too simplistic as I believe there is an overlap because all three forms have healing as well as other benefits. But having established a routine of Qi Gong, I definitely experienced a sense of peace while moving with the flow.

In fact, one of the most common reasons people practice Qi Gong is to cultivate inner peace and be in harmony with oneself and the environment. Qi Gong is an ancient Chinese healthcare system that integrates physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention to open blockages in the body on the meridian system. It is no wonder that it has been called a moving meditation in which the mind and body are led to a state of balance and equilibrium and interestingly, a Harvard medical publication, has coined it a “moving medication”. When the body is in a state of balance, all the systems work better. The advantage of peace that comes from the moving, flowing meditative aspect is equally significant. In the routine that I follow, we are also asked to focus on feelings of joy and contentment during the various flows, which also enhance the relaxed response.

What practices do you follow? Do you have one or several? What works best for you? Feel free to share and leave a comment.

Empowerment

For a long time I have understood “empowerment” to mean standing up for the rights of a group…..freedom from oppression and slavery, the emancipation of women, the advocacy for gay people and most recently, the LGBT movement. But of late, I have become aware of the idea of personal empowerment…the inherent right and necessity for every individual to be himself and more importantly to carve her own destiny. Empowerment simply means ‘being powerful’. Any transformation begins with awareness and as I reflect back on some years of my life, I can see that I many a times did not live from a place of power.. Since it is a new awakening for me and I am only just getting my head around it, E is for Empowerment, Self-Empowerment.

As children we are dependent on our parents or care-givers and if you have had a conventional upbringing, like me, where children do not really have a voice and acquiesce to a great extent to the needs and desires of their authority figures, without being able to question them, it is likely that you will carry this passive behaviour into adulthood.

Then as adults, sometimes we tend to shift our dependency on someone else and continue to hand over our power to the person closest to us, be it a friend, a partner, a spouse or even children. This I think is especially true of women who see themselves first as daughters, then wives and mothers, rather than who they really are: an individual in their own right, with their own thoughts and feelings and desires. So they end up burying their emotions and giving up their wants.

I would not say that my parents were overbearing. But I grew up with a sense of respect for them so strong that I was not always able to challenge them or just be totally open with them. In fact there was a joke in the family that I was indeed so smart that I would never say ‘no’ to any task but would just walk away and eventually not do what was asked. For as long as I can remember this taunt used to hurt me maybe because I was in denial. Till one day I accepted that truth about myself…that I did not know how or could not say ‘no’. Then followed a whole string of related traits that gradually surfaced to consciousness: that I avoided confrontations at all costs; that I would rather go along with the crowd than give my opinion or have my way.

In short, that I did not know how to keep boundaries and as a result found decision-making difficult, which in turn made it impossible for me to take action and go for what I wanted—all signs that I was not really in control of my life, that I was allowing others to make decisions for me or lead the way, that I just let life happen rather than create what I wanted. It felt like a row of dominoes being knocked down. Does any of this resonate with you?

This self-awareness was a process in itself. It did not happen in a day but over quite a long period of time and it definitely wasn’t so simplistic and linear. But for me it has all kind of fallen into place. And with this awareness I can move on and choose a different way of being. I can say YES to myself now and shape my own world. I can be the girl Coco Chanel talks of: “A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.

Taking back my power does not mean blaming anyone. Of that I am very clear. It is about taking responsibility. Firstly, taking responsibility for making my own choices…even when you think you have not chosen, that in itself is a choice. Like, for example, when one has a lot of ‘shoulds’, it seems one has to do something. But standing in your power means doing what you want, not what you should do. Even if it is something kind like helping a friend, instead of saying that I should do it, I actually ask myself if I want to do it and then change the word from ‘should’ to ‘choose’: I choose to do it. That shifts me from victim mode to a place of power. In the same way I am re-evaluating other limiting beliefs which might be holding me back.

So what Empowerment means to me now is to be conscious of the fact that I am powerful and that I can choose to write my own script, paint my own picture, create my own music and who knows, maybe fly my own plane!

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Nelson Mandela

The Leak

The gaping hole seemed to be gawking back at me derisively and the shiny, white connector winked at me as if saying, “What were you so stressed about? It all got sorted in the end, didn’t it? And do you think this hole comes even close to the massive craters carved out by bombs or earthquakes or other catastrophic disasters?”

Yet you catastrophized all of last week. What if the leak was not at the point where the water was seeping out but somewhere much further away? What if more and more water started to flood out? What if they don’t manage to find the source of the leak? What if we had to dig up more than one or two tiles? What if….

Stop, I said. Let’s take it one step, one day at a time. All that mental disruption simply reflected an overbearing impatience to get to the bottom of it all in an instant.

“One step at a time is enough for me. Impatience is simply a way of beating myself up.” (from Kammy Haynes) Susan Jeffers

First day, being a Sunday and not having a plumber at hand, we just shut off all the water at the mains. So we were without any water for a day, except for the few containers we filled up. And we learnt to brush our teeth and wash our hands with just a few drops. The bare minimum and it was okay….just like during lockdown how many of us lived in jammies and fleeces and hardly used any of what was hanging in our wardrobes, less was enough.

When the plumber arrived, he tried isolating various pipes, so a few days we had only cold water and a couple of other days only hot water. We coped with that as well and considered it a blessing that so far only the tiled kitchen had been affected. We also realised, of course, how we take our everyday amenities for granted, how we get both hot and cold water from a tap without having to trek miles for it as in some places. Yet we were still pretty freaked out as we were nowhere near to finding the source. Thus the catastrophizing.

The term ‘catastrophizing’ or ‘awfulizing’ was coined by a psychologist Albert Ellis, to describe a “cognitive distortion that prompts people to jump to the worst possible conclusion usually with very limited information or objective reason to despair”. It is a mental disorder that can lead to anxiety and depression but one can also engage in catastrophizing without having a diagnosable disorder.

In our case, hopefully it was the latter, even though at times it did seem we were going out of our minds. In fact, we even took catastrophizing to the extreme by imagining the worst case scenario (actually a coping strategy) and asking ourselves if we would be able to handle having to rip the whole kitchen floor apart…and even beyond. The answer was a weak yes…with a lot of tension and hassle and expense involved… but we would survive.

It was when we put a brake on all our narratives of doom and gloom that we quietly slipped into a space of mindfulness from whence came calm and clarity. Studies have suggested that mindfulness (see my last blog) can help you recognise which thoughts are irrational and help you control them.

So eventually, it never came to any of that…as it very often doesn’t. “Things are never as bad as they seem” may be a literary cliche. (Miss Maudie had said to Jem in To Kill a Mocking Bird) But it is worth remembering in the throes of a crisis.

Mindfulness

Now how did that happen? Totally immersed in the mobile and not seeing the caution sign? Or more specifically not paying attention, being distracted, and simply not being mindful?

You see, having to be mindful comes into play in our lives so much of the time that I think the importance of mindfulness can be highlighted on two levels. That is the way I see it. (Leave a comment after the post, if you agree and even if you do not). Thus M is for Mindfulness.

If you look up the word ‘mindfulness’ in a dictionary, you will find two meanings:

mindfulness [ˈmʌɪn(d)f(ʊ)lnəs] NOUN

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.

2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

I dare say that the first definition is something all of us must have been reminded of as children and actually taught….mind your Ps and Qs…which once again according to a dictionary definition is not only about minding your language (how you speak and what you say), but also minding your manners (how you behave) and what you do. In today’s world, language has gone out of the window with ‘f…’ this and ‘f…’ that and so has behaviour to a great extent with all the violence around us. Thus perhaps all the more reason for people to think about being mindful im just the everyday sense.

So in everyday life, I’m sure you will agree that we need to be conscious of what we say and do in our interactions and how we respond. I can go further today and say we even need to be fully aware of what we say to ourselves too because our perpetual negative mental chatter can be most toxic. But do we always come from that state of being conscious and aware? Are we mindful?

I think that is where the second definition of mindfulness comes in. Modern day living has hijacked mindfulness. We are constantly bombarded with so much information, our heads are either in the air or in the sand because we are overwhelmed. Our minds are in constant flux, not being centred and grounded. Moreover, with the fast pace of our stressed lives, we have become habituated to living on autopilot, reacting to our environment rather than responding consciously with awareness.

In 1979 it was Jon Kabat-Zinn who developed an eight-week program to help terminally ill people to reduce their stress and anxiety. This programme is now widely known as MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction). As the name suggests, mindfulness is at its core.  Since then, substantial research has mounted demonstrating how mindfulness-based interventions improve mental and physical health—comparably so to other psychological interventions. And thus mindfulness has become a practice, together with meditation, breathing and other modalities which focus on the present moment to help relieve stress and remain centred. Kabat-Zinn’s own definition of mindfulness is obviously helpful and overlaps the dictionary definition:

Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. I then sometimes add, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

What is key in both definitions is that it is an awareness that we actively have to focus on and achieve ‘on purpose‘. It is not random. It is a ‘therapeutic technique’. That the focus should be on the present moment (and not flitting between past events and future plans), in ‘our bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings….non-judgementally and accepting. Kabat-Zinn elaborates further that it promotes ‘self-understanding and wisdom’ which can be seen as a benefit in itself besides stress reduction.

Perhaps the definitions sound complicating but it is very simple. It is just observing as a detached witness what is happening around you.

My own introduction to mindfulness as a technique came about when I was asked to eat a piece of chocolate as slowly as possible, being aware of all the sensations, how it looked and felt first in my hands, how it tasted at various stages, how it smelt, what other sensations. It was the most difficult thing for me to do as usually I would gobble a piece in seconds. But it was also an unbelievable experience because chocolate never tasted as good. Mindful Eating is one form of mindfulness.

What I find easiest though is Mindful Breathing, just observing your in-breath and out-breath and letting your thoughts go without judging them. I find it relaxes me instantly.

The key to awareness is to formally integrate moments of mindfulness in your day. There is a study in which a group of people who did their everyday washing-up mindfully, really paying attention and engaging all their senses, felt much more positive.

I also believe that being mindful of one’s blessings, being part of one’s gratitude practice, is also very calming and gratifying. (Gratitude is also one of the nine core attitudes according to Kabat-Zinn needed to cultivate mindfulness). Even in dire straits, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”. Kabat-Zinn (click to watch his short video on attitudes)

To finish off on a sombre note, one crucial aspect of life to be mindful of is our mortality. In the words of Sadhguru:

“Life is a brief happening. We live thinking we are immortal. But if you remember your mortality everyday and wake up feeling grateful for another day, you will be more spiritual”.

I think this applies to all adults, even the young. Maybe especially the young because in our youth we keep so many things on hold that we might want to do for a later date but in the end sometimes it is too late. Thinking of our mortality everyday then is perhaps the secret to living in the moment and really appreciating life.

Is it really your problem?

Think of what stresses you out. How much of it is really necessary? Have you thought about it?

Let’s take a couple of everyday scenarios.

It is time for the school run. You are struggling to get your 7-year-old out on time. Your mum cap still on before you take it off to exchange it for your professional cap, you are firing habitual questions in frustration : Are you sure you have done your homework? Have you packed your PE kit? What about your lunch box? I don’t want to be called again to bring your lunch in. Do you understand?

All that stress. Is all of that really your problem? As a devoted mother, you might answer, if I do not supervise my child in this way, I am not fulfilling my responsibility. But your role is also to allow your child to make mistakes and learn from them. By the age of seven, a child can be given certain tasks that he has to take responsibility for and packing his school bag is one example. If he forgets something once and gets told off in school, it is very likely he will be extra careful next time round.

I am talking from experience. My son had forgotten his PE kit once, and being very keen on sports, he had managed to phone me to bring his kit in for him. I had obliged like a dutiful mother first time round. Second time round within the span of a term, I decided to hold him accountable and soon reaped the rewards of him packing his own bag….no more stress on that count. He never forgot his kit, or anything else for that matter, again.

Another case in point. Say you live with someone who is obsessed about being environment friendly or just has a pet peeve of lights being kept on unnecessarily. So every time you walk out of a room and maybe leave the lights on, you get to hear a earful. Of course, you counter with something like: “I was just going to go back in”, or “Why do you have to make such a big thing out of it? Just switch it off”. It happens over and over again and of course the exchanges can get more frustrating on both sides. The agitated energy drains both parties unnecessarily. So whose problem is it anyway?

I would venture to say the onus lies on the person who has the obsession in the first place. In his book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (in Love), Richard Carlson, describes how this similar scenario was a bone of contention with his wife. All it took to resolve it was for the person with the compulsion, to simply switch off the light without referring to it. Simple.

Do you have other examples you could share? Leave it in my comments below.