✨💛Meditation: Developing Loving-Kindness Week 1💛✨

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As the submission date for my thesis approaches, I decided to take up a new hobby that would keep me grounded and focused, MEDITATION. I searched the internet for the most appropriate and inexpensive course I could find and came across a ‘Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation’ five week course every Wednesday morning from 10:30-12:45 at the Dublin Buddhist Centre. For under 25’s the course costs just €55. BARGAIN!  and for everyone else see the price list below:

€170 for waged
€135 low-waged
€95 for unwaged, students or OAPs.

Who better teach me how to meditate than the Buddhist Community! The early mornings suited me because I do a lot of night duty so it meant I could just go straight from work.

Week 1:

  • Introduction to meditationPosture workshop
  •  Body Scan

Mindfulness and the Mindfulness of Breathing meditation practice

Week 2:

  •  Exploring aspects of mindfulness
  • The four foundations of mindfulness

Week 3:

  •  Exploring friendliness
  • The Metta Bhavana meditation practice

Week 4:

  • Working with the mind: distraction and absorption

Week 5:

  • Taking meditation into the world
  • Keeping your practice going after the course

I’m going to write about what each week entailed and give a little personal reflection on how I found the class and how I got on with the homework on and off ‘the pillow’.

Week 1:

 This week introduced us to meditation, its origins and what meditation is not. I have just written down the notes they gave us on these topics below to give you an understanding on what we learned.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is a means of transforming and changing our minds for the better. It helps us change the way we relate to ourselves and the world around us. If we experience difficulties, meditation can help us to work creatively with those difficulties. If life is already good for us, meditation can deepen our enjoyment and appreciation of life.
Buddhist meditation techniques offer a way of encouraging and developing positive states of mind. We can use it to cultivate calmness, clarity and awareness, and also can help us to develop emotional positivity. It can help us let go of ways of being that limit us, and allow us to go beyond a limited sense of ourselves. It can even help us to see more deeply the true nature of things.

The main thing we learn when we meditate is that we have a choice about what we think and feel. We tend to think of our personality as being fixed. We tend to think that the thoughts and emotions we have are somehow inevitable, and outside of our control. But actually our emotions and thoughts are much more fluid and ever- changing than this. And even though much is beyond our control in life, we can always take responsibility for our own states of mind and choose to change them for the better. Meditation empowers us to make this choice.

Buddhist Meditation

Over thousands of years Buddhist meditation techniques have developed to help people work with their minds. The foundation of all these techniques is the cultivation of a calm and positive state of mind.

The meditation practices we teach cultivate this calm and positive state of mind. They consist of two simple but effective practices drawn from the Buddhist tradition, originally taught by the Buddha himself over 2,500 years ago. The pair complement each other and can be learned by anyone.

The first practice is the Mindfulness of Breathing, which cultivates clarity, awareness and calmness. The second practice is the Metta Bhavana, or Development of Loving Kindness practice, where we develop friendliness and loving-kindness for ourselves and others. (We also do sessions of body awareness, which we call the Body Scan.)

Both practices are Buddhist in origin, but one does not have to be a Buddhist to benefit from them. After all, you don’t have to be German to drive a BMW! That said, if you’re interested in Buddhism, learning these two meditation practices is a great starting point.
Through learning these meditations, we may not find the meaning of life, but we can certainly find ways of living a life with more meaning. They are called foundation practices, but you can go a long way with them! They can profoundly transform your life for the better.

What meditation is not

It is worth saying what meditation is not. It isn’t escapism: if you want to escape try watching lots of reality TV, getting drunk, doing drugs etc. They are more effective ways to escape your experience! When you sit down to meditate what you get is your experience, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes not, but always very ‘real’.

Neither is meditation about controlling your experience; it is about becoming aware of your experience and encouraging it in positive directions. In any case, you can’t control your experience; you can only choose how you respond to it.

Finally it isn’t about your mind going blank, or going into some trance! When you sit down to meditate, you get yourself, just as you are.

Meditation posture 

It also showed us the best postures to hold whilst we meditate. I chose the seiza position which entailed sitting on the floor with a mediation pillow and two blocks under my ‘sit bones’ (basically take your two hands and move the two sides of your bum cheeks to either side) and wrapped myself in a blanket where I could rest my hands. For those who find this one uncomfortable the chair was recommended. The lotus position is my goal. Very majestic 😂

Why is the position in which we meditate  important?

The position in which we meditate is very important to keep the spin in alignment with the pelvis. Usually when we are in a seated position of any kind our pelvis and spine are curved which eventually leads to slumping and becoming uncomfortable. In order to remain comfy and cause no strain or discomfort to our backs during meditation, our spine needs to remain straight. When our pelvis is in a straight position, the spine follows it. The pelvis is considered the anchor of the spine. When we move the flesh to either side of our ‘sit bones’, we allow the pelvis to become aligned with the spine creating an upright comfortable posture. You literally just take your two hands and pull each bum cheek to the side and sit. This means that the top rim of the pelvis is neither rocked backward nor forward.

In order to enjoy meditation and sit satisfactorily in chairs, we must also pay attention to the position of the thighs. One of the problems with most chairs is that they force us to sit with our thighs in a horizontal position, or worse yet, with our knees higher than our hip sockets. As soon as we raise the knees to the same level or higher than the hip sockets, the pelvis tilts backward, and the lower back rounds. This position causes strain on the muscles and discs in the back causing pain. It was recommended that you place a block or two under your sit bones and sit on the edge of the blocks to help direct your thighs downwards allowing them to be placed below your hips. As you become a regular meditator this position will become easier and the muscles will begin to stretch leading to your knees automatically falling below your hips. This can take a long time so don’t beat yourself up for needing like three blocks and a blanket. Everyone has to start somewhere. There are loads of hip opening exercises you can do to help you with this position. We do a lot in yoga class but I won’t get into details on this post. The position of your ankles and feet whilst in a cross legged position is also important. I always thought you literally sat on your ankles and feet when crossing your legs but I was informed this would just cause pain and discomfort. Which it did. Again the correct position for sitting cross legged takes time.


Your head is obviously attached to your spine and therefore it’s position is essential. Position the head so that you are looking straight ahead, then slightly drop the skull so that the eyes fall about three feet in front of you on the floor. Some meditation systems teach you to keep your eyes open, others keep the eyes closed. Whichever you choose, this position of the head will be comfortable. We were taught to close our eyes and imagine a hook is pulling our head towards the ceiling. I had just finished night duty this day so I was advised to slightly open my eyes and stare at the ground if I felt I was falling asleep. It is not ideal to fall asleep during meditation as your brain and concentration becomes lazy and impacts on the benefits and purpose of the practice.

The position of the arms and hands are another one. Tie a blanket around your hips and place your hands inside the front and there will be less weight pulling through the arms and straining the shoulders and neck. You can also place your hands on your knees or thighs with the palms facing up or place your hands in a mudra position.

The first half then finished with a body scan which they encouraged us to do before beginning of every meditation as it helps us to become aware of our inner and outer worlds.

Reflection

It was difficult to get comfortable at first and my feet are pretty stiff so I moved around a lot trying to find the best position. There was complete silence which was I have always liked a guided body scan as it keeps me focused and engaged as I find it hard to concentrate and stay focused during without Guidance. We reflected together as a group and then had some tea and chats at the break. Our teacher encouraged me to try and figure out why I find it harder to sit with myself without guidance. Something I will figure out as the course goes on I thought?

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In the second half of the class we were taught about mindfulness and were introduced to a simple ‘mindfulness of breathing’ meditation. We practiced this for 20 minutes and again reflected on our experience as a group.

Mindfulness

Central to meditation is the practice of mindfulness. When we are mindful, we are aware; we notice what is going on around us and inside us.

Mindfulness is something we can practice when we’re on the bus, when we’re waiting in the queue at the shop, while we’re eating. It’s not abstract or esoteric – it’s simply about paying attention to what’s there with an attitude of interest and exploration.

Through being mindful, we learn that small things can have a big effect. Becoming aware of our bodies, our emotional life, our communication with others, helps us to live a life that flows into a rich tapestry of awareness, imbued with beauty and appreciation.

From a Buddhist perspective, mindfulness even includes an awareness of ‘how things really are’ – an awareness of the true nature of things. By being mindful, the Buddha says, we become more wise and more free. It’s because of this that he said that ‘mindfulness is the direct path to freedom’.

The Mindfulness of Breathing Meditation Practice
In this meditation practice, we are, quite simply, mindful of the breath, aware of the breath. We bring more and
more of our energies to bear on our experience of sitting here breathing.

Why meditate on the breath?

• It’s always with us, it’s free, and it’s beautifully simple.
• It’s internal, so we’re less and less dependent on external stimulation.
• The breath offers way into our state of mind. Awareness of it takes us deeper into ourselves and how we
are feeling.
• The breath can be a refined, pleasurable experience, which can be very enjoyable.
• The breath offers a meditation on life. It has a poetic quality: to be alive is to breathe.

We breathe from our birth continuously until our death, when we ‘draw our last breath’. By focusing on the breath, we become aware of the mind’s tendency to jump from one thing to another. The simple discipline of concentration brings us back to the present moment and all the richness of experience that it contains.

But also, by being aware of the breath, our energies will gather around the breath and our deeper energies will unlock and integrate, rather than remain scattered. By practicing the Mindfulness of Breathing regularly, we can experience ourselves becoming more free, at deeper and deeper levels of ourselves.

How do we practice?

We do this practice by being aware of the body breathing, being aware of the breath in the body. In other words, we bring this quality of mindfulness to our breathing.
We’re not thinking about breathing, but rather feeling it. We’re exploring the breath, being curious about the breath, being interested in the breath. It’s not an idea about the breath, but an experience of the breath itself.

The breath is an organic process, so we don’t force it or try to control it. Instead we simply be aware of it, and let it happen in its own way, without trying to change it.

Stages of the practice

To help us be aware of the breath, and to encourage a deepening and refinement of our awareness of the breath, the practice is in stages.

Stage 1

Mindful of the breath, with a subtle count after the out-going breath

Stage 2

Mindful of the breath, with a subtle count before the in-coming breath

 Stage 3

Mindful of the breath

 Stage 4

As you breathe in and out, mindful of the sensations at the point where you first feel the breath enter the body

The count in the first two stages is a gentle guide to help you stay with the breath – the practice is not mindfulness of counting! In each of these two stages, we count the breaths, up to ten, and then start the count again at one. This also helps us to notice if our minds wander off.

If the mind does wander off, don’t worry. This is quite normal! Given our busy lives, it’s not surprising that this happens. The main thing here is not to give yourself a hard time, and instead respond with kindness. Accept with kindness that you have wandered off, and then simply return to the breath in the body and resume the practice again. In a way, you should really celebrate when you notice you’ve wandered off, as you’ve just moved from unawareness to awareness!

Reflection

I found this much more difficult as it was not guided and my mind wandered a lot more than in the first one. I did notice I was a lot more comfortable in my posture though as I realized having my feet slightly hanging off the pillow I was knelt on was much nicer. If you’re doing this meditation at home and find your feet are a bit ‘stiff’ you can easily fold up socks and slip them just under your feet near your toes or even a small blanket? Same applies if you have trouble with your knees. When I’m at home I use a giant cushion from my couch to kneel on so my feet can hang off the back. I sit on two blocks and one pillow and use my dressing gown to keep me warm whilst placing my hands in the pockets to keep my posture intact. My mind usually wanders off so I started to label them as they come about. I imagined a conveyor belt with my thoughts going by on it ‘WORK’, ‘HOLIDAYS’, ‘PHONE BILL’. Others like visualizing their mind as a sky with their thoughts as the clouds constantly changing and moving through your mind. Whichever works for you!

HOMEWORK

Homework for week 1 was to practice the body scan and mindfulness of breathing meditation every day. I managed to do it for 4 days. I didn’t set a time for it and always felt I was ‘too busy’ to fit it in. I found it hard to concentrate on my own and not with a group. The support from meditating in a group is amazing. You’re not afraid of someone in your house walking in on you sitting on a pillow meditating thinking you’ve lost your mind. Although, people in my house wouldn’t even bat an eyelid because they’re used to me doing random ‘hippy’ things as they would call it. So big things this week were definitely not giving myself the time and space and not setting a time for it every day. Some days I forgot to meditate and felt guilty then going to bed without doing it. You shouldn’t ever feel bad for not meditating because that is just counterproductive! I was also working nights for half the week then off work for the remaining half. I always find when I have no routine I am extremely under productive so that would explain the lack of consistency and laziness towards the end of the week. Leaving my ‘meditation station’ set up was a big help. I didn’t have to put in any effort to prepare the area, I just sat straight down. I found meditating before sitting down to do my assignment extremely beneficial. I felt I had more energy and did not get all ‘FML this thesis will be the death of me’, I remained calm and focused. That’s like the main aim of meditation, being calm and focused HURRAH!

J x

🌬A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 16🌬

Creating a Space

By taking a Breathing Space we pause and take a moment to acknowledge what is happening in that moment.


 This exercise helps bring us into the present moment by noticing and acknowledging how things really are. Being honest with ourselves and not thinking about how we would like them to be. Following this we decide what to do next- if anything at all.

 It recommended becoming familiar with The Breathing Space exercise that I have attached below. Try schedule this into your daily routine. Set an alarm or write it into your diary. I usually set my alarm titled what my intentions are for that day. For example: ‘Breath’, ‘Thoughts become things’, ‘Gratitude’, ‘Forgiveness’. The book recommends attaching this breathing practice to meal times. We always have to eat so by making it part of this daily activity we are more likely to remember it. Over time it will become part of your regular day. They say it takes 30 days to break a habit. I also believe it takes 30 days to pick up a new habit. I gave myself the challenge of setting my alarm with the word ‘Breath’ during breakfast, dinner and tea time. Obviously my meal breaks vary from day to day so sometimes my alarm was too early and I completely forgot to do it when meal time came around. You will also forget and that’s o.k but don’t beat yourself up over it. The more you realise you have forgotten the more you will remember the next time. Each time you remember that you have forgot to do it, DO IT THEN. Do it as soon as you remember!

 When doing ‘The Breathing Space’ exercise it is important to be self aware that if you have negative feelings or thoughts or whatever come about, your automatic response will be to try and fix them to make yourself feel better. Sometimes this happens when I meditate. I notice my t shirt is a little bit uncomfortable around my neck and I try to fix it. It has taken me months to be able to sit with these discomforts or negative emotions and not react to them. Practice makes perfect and all that jazz! I have learned to acknowledge these feelings etc. and let them go. Literally with an out breath, let them go.

 

 Once you have experience watching the breath, you can expand this to mindfulness of the entire body. Personally I find it difficult to do this on my own and prefer guided meditations or sometimes I attend a mindfulness yoga and meditation class. It all depends on how I am feeling. The more anxious or stressed I am I usually prefer to book into a class as I tend to think “I don’t have the time to be mindful”. By booking into a class and paying in advance it means you kind of have to go. That’s how my brain works anyway. The following exercise requires a dedicated 10 minutes or longer to complete. I think setting your alarm 10 minutes earlier in the morning is the best time to do it. Start your day as you mean to go on! Usually as the day progresses you are more tired and not a***d.

 Mindfulness of the body allows us to change our relationship with discomforts or pain. As I have spoke about in previous posts, we notice narratives we create around pain and discomforts, we can feed into these feelings and we can learn to let it go. By doing this the discomfort is reduced. We learn how to live with things that are not how we would like them to be. As I was saying up above usually when I meditate I find it hard to not react to a tight fitting t shirt or an itchy nose. By pausing before reacting to these feelings and sensations we allow ourselves time to react differently. My yoga teacher always tells us to breath into the discomfort or pain. Literally visualise your breath inhaling and exhaling through the area of discomfort. It took me a long time to be able to do this. Our automatic responses are built into us. As children our parents ran straight to us when we fell and rubbed the area that was painful to relieve the discomfort. It takes time to change these automatic responses. Practice pausing before reacting every time you remember. Set a reminder on your phone titled ‘Pause’. Eventually it will become a habit like everything else and you will naturally react this way. Give yourself 30 days!

 Through this practice we learn to be with physical sensations. We practice tuning into our bodies and noticing what is arising within them. Those who experience periods of great sadness (depression) due to chronic pain will use things such as avoidance to cope and deal with their discomforts. This approach is the complete opposite. Through using this mindfulness technique we are zoning in on the pain and being with it as opposed to avoiding it.

 J x

💪🏼The Strength of Forgiveness💪🏼

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“You will begin to heal when you let go of past hurts, forgive those who have wronged you and learn to forgive yourself for your mistakes”.

“You have to learn to select your thoughts the way you select your clothes every day. That’s a power you can cultivate. You wanna come here and control your life so bad, work on the mind. That’s the only thing you should control. If you can’t master your thoughts, you’re in trouble … stop trying. Surrender”. – Richard from Texas

What is forgiveness?

The first step to forgiveness is admitting that we have blamed someone or ourselves for something.  We are filled with anger, resentment, blame, hatred. Forgiveness is about letting go of these feelings we have been carrying around. Releasing yourself of these heavy thoughts of revenge or bitterness. We do not even have to come in to contact with the person we are trying to forgive. We do not have to tell them we forgive them or tell anyone at that matter. It is for your sanity and happiness that you need to forgive. The more we talk about how people have done us wrong and hurt us, the more negative thoughts and emotions we bring about in ourselves. Of course let off some steam and vent to your best friend about it when it is fresh and new and reflect. That is also a part of healing. But then forgive. Let the space be filled with love. Let it go.

Forgive and Forget?

Forgiveness doesn’t come easily for everyone, but the kind of forgiveness that really matters is the forgiveness that resides in your own heart. Self-compassion is what will enable you to learn and grow and become the best version of yourself. I will dedicate another post for self-compassion SOON. Forgiving someone does not mean you approve of the wrong they have done. It can mean different things to different people. For me, it means I forgive those who were not in a good head space at the time or had portrayed their inner demons through their behaviour. Sometimes I might view it as the person not being on the same emotional maturity as I am but that sometimes can come across as a bit arrogant. It is not that you feel sorry for the person either. It is about building awareness that peoples behaviours are usually a reflection of their inner selves. The same way if any of us have a bad day they might snap at the next person who asks them a question. If you are feeling sh**t about yourself you might criticise others just to make yourself feel better. Kind of like those bullies in school. More than likely they had a lot of stuff going on for them, either in their head or at home. Forgiveness is not about sympathising with people but about empathising with them.

sympathy: feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.

empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

I also understand that some people commit horrible crimes and do outrageous things to people that cannot be empathised with. Some people might blame themselves for things others have done to them and might feel the horrible abuse or mistrust was deserving. In this case the person to forgive is yourself.

FORGIVE YOURSELF FIRST

Forgive yourself for believing you could have stopped what had happened. Forgive yourself for  believing you are not worthy. Forgive yourself for believing you were deserving of what happened. Forgive yourself for being in this negative mindset. Forgiveness is a journey. It is something that needs to be practised daily. You don’t just wake up one day and have forgiven and healed yourself and everyone around you.

I watched a movie recently called ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’ There was a scene where Julia Roberts (Liz Gilbert) was speaking about how upset she was that she had left her husband and she felt he would never forgive her. This was something that was bothering her throughout the majority of the movie until she met this nice man (Richard from Texas) at a retreat in India who thought her she did not have to come in contact with her husband or hear him say he forgave her. She simply had to forgive herself.

 Liz Gilbert: I’m waiting for him to forgive me, to release me.
Richard from Texas: Waiting for him to forgive you is a damn waste of time. Forgive yourself.

“We all want things to stay the same, David … settle for living in misery, because we’re afraid of change, of things crumbling to ruins. Then I looked around in this place, at the chaos it’s endured, the way it’s been adapted, burned, pillaged … then found a way to build itself back up again, and I was reassured. Ruin is a gift, ruin is the road to transformation”. – Liz Gilbert

Self Reflection

I have learned to forgive friends who chose boyfriends over our friendship. I have learned to forgive my Dad for making decisions I felt were wrong when it came to family and marriage. Work colleagues who had outbursts of rage towards me. But most importantly I have learned to forgive myself for making ill decisions in the past, for not taking responsibility for my own happiness sooner, for thinking I needed a boyfriend before I could find happiness and contentment. By letting go of all these negative feelings and thoughts I had towards these people and myself, I have become the happiest I have ever been. That, alongside mindfulness and other self healing practices. Happiness is not a destination, it is a journey. You too will have your own journey.

As Kylie Jenner said ‘2016 is about realising stuff’. And I certainly have realised A LOT this past year!

 

J x

Tis’ the season to be Kind and Grateful

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The Law of Attraction

 Most people have heard of ‘The Secret’, a book that was written about The Law of Attraction. What is The Law of Attraction? Do good things to others and good things will come to you. Visualize what you want in life, let it manifest and it will be attracted to you. Basically, like attracts like. Think or do negative things and you will attract more negative things. Think or do positive things and you will attract positive things. There is one flaw though. If something tragic happens to you like a death or major life event, you could feel like you are responsible for it and you have attracted it to you. This is still one concept of the law I am a bit iffy about.

 The Law of Attraction teaches you how to take control of your future. It consists of many different exercises to help you do this. As Christmas is just around the corner, I have decided to focus this post on two of the laws exercises,kindness and gratitude. It is a time for giving presents, love, hope, joy and being grateful for what we already have. Christmas presents are piling up and we are all busy trying to finish our last bit of shopping, wondering if you have bought the kids enough gifts and forgetting the real meaning behind Christmas. Christmas is a time were friends and family gather together to give thanks for the year that has past and wish hope and love for the future. I understand Christmas has a different meaning for everyone If you want to experience a truly magical Christmas, you must start with the basics. Kindness and gratitude should be on your daily to do lists but sadly some people just leave them until Christmas when they are forced by tradition to buy presents for people and say thanks.

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Kindness-the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. A kind act.

 Kindness is certainly something we are good at at this time of year. We give presents and cards to those whom we love and care about. But what if there was other less expensive ways to show kindness and bring a little more magic into your Christmas? Here are some suggestions of some random acts of kindness you could do this Christmas:

  • Visit someone you have not seen in a long time. Surprise them.
  • Visit old neighbours. See if they need help with shopping or chores around the house or maybe just a bit of company.
  • Buy someone a thank you card. Tell them how much you appreciate them.
  • Buy a small present and give it to the next homeless person you see.
  • Do a little extra around the house to help out your Mam or your partner or roommates whatever.
  • Say “I love you” to someone you love.
  • Say “please” and “thank you”—and really mean it. Don’t just open a card or present and not look the person in the eye when saying thank you. Or throw the card to one side and scan read it.
  • Forgive. Forgive those who have done you wrong. Forgiveness is a difficult thing to do but the sense of relief from letting go of those negative grudges is worth it.
  • SMILE- Smiling will radiate positive energy from you and pass it on to the next person.
  • Pay for the persons behind you in the queue’s coffee.
  • Give back to those less fortunate than you. Volunteer with the elderly people around your area or the homeless.
  • Make someone a cup of tea without them having to ask you first.
  • Throw someone a text or give someone a ring you have not spoke to in a while.
  • Make time for friends and family. Try be a bit selfless this time of year. It will attract better things for you.

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Gratitude-the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

 There is a key step in the Law of Attraction that people often forget to use. They get so wrapped up in making lists and visualization that they forget one of the most important and easiest parts of the Law of Attraction. Even when they do remember it, they don’t use it correctly. This important step is gratitude.

 Gratitude is a powerful Law of Attraction exercise. It raises your vibration and brings you into harmony with the energy of the Universe. Gratitude can immediately transform all areas of your life.

 Every day you see people whose lives are wonderful and those whose lives could be better. The ones who could have a better life have one thing in common – they lack gratitude for what they already have. They can’t gain more so long as they fail to appreciate what they already have. Their lack of gratitude closes them off from receiving more and they aren’t grateful for what they’ve already received.

 No matter how bad someone’s life may be, there is always something to be grateful for. As soon as they find it, their life will improve.

 Complaining is focusing on what the mind perceives to be a problem. The Universe knows there are no problems. Everything was created by you and you can change everything you have created – for better or worse.

 If you want to lose all the wonderful, amazing things in your life…if you want your days to be harder…if you want to struggle to pay your bills…if you want to feel unloved or lose relationships…all you have to do is COMPLAIN.

 If you want your life to get better in every possible way…if you want more than enough money…if you want incredible, loving relationships…if you want to be happy and fulfilled…all you have to do is be GRATEFUL.

 In a world dominated by technology, the simple act of saying thank you, showing that you appreciate what has been done for you or given to you by someone, is being left behind. We can simply hit a “like” and “favourite” button and not have to think about saying “thank you” in real life. Christmas is not the only time of year we should show gratitude but here are some suggestions:

  • Write someone a note or card to tell them how much they are appreciated. My brother and I leave sticky notes on each others bedroom doors on random mornings.
  • Listen and show interest. This can make people feel heard and understood. It may seem small but it can have a positive impact on someone. Let people know you are there for them if they need to talk.
  • Like kindness, gratitude is about saying thank you also.
  • Take the time to appreciate the small things- be mindful when drinking your cup of tea or eating your mince pie. Take it all the flavours and thoroughly experience it.
  • Be enthusiastic about your work colleagues and family members. If they complete a task, show them how much you appreciate it being done. Send a kind email saying thank you.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. All it requires is noting one or more things you are grateful for on a daily basis. No fancy notebook, no computer program required.
  • One activity involves writing a gratitude letter to someone who had an impact on you whom you’ve never properly thanked.
  • Share the day’s grateful moments around the Christmas dinner table this year. The conversations that follow may give you even more reasons to give thanks.
  • If you identify something or someone with a negative trait (the cold conference room), switch it in your mind to a positive trait (the conference room with a great view).
  • When you find yourself in a bad situation ask: What can I learn? When I look back on this, without emotion, what will I be grateful for?
  • Vow to not complain, criticize, or gossip this Christmas. If you slip, keep going. Notice how much energy you were spending on negative thoughts.
  • Sound genuinely happy to hear from the people who call you on the phone. Whether they respond with surprise or delight, they’ll feel valued.
  • Be genuine. False praise is easy to spot, and it undermines your trustworthiness.
  • DON’T brush off a compliment given to you. It’s like returning a gift.
  • Start a gratitude jar and write one thing you are grateful for each day. Open it on New Years Eve to read about all the things you were grateful for throughout the year.

 

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 I hope this post has brought an extra bit of sparkle into your Christmas. It’s nice to be important, but its important to be nice!

 

J x

 

A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 13

EXPERIENCING THE UNPLEASANT

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This weeks small exercise was about paying attention to experiences we don’t like. Noticing when there is a sense of resistance, of “not wanting”, “not liking”. Also noticing any thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations that come alongside this.

It recommended keeping a diary of these experiences. Write down what you noticed, what you experienced and reflect.

Would you normally have noticed any of this?

  • WHAT IS IT?
  • WHAT THOUGHTS ARE ARISING?
  • CAN YOU NAME ANY EMOTION?
  • WHAT ARE YOU NOTICING IN THE BODY? (BE SPECIFIC)

When something unpleasant happens, can you identify where you usually feel it in your body? How did this exercise compare with becoming aware of pleasant experiences?

I decided to reflect on an unpleasant experience of feeling ‘fed up’ in work one morning.

WHAT IS IT?

 I was feeling fed up in work. I did not want to be there anymore. I felt a resistance to wanting to move my body never mind do actual work.

WHAT THOUGHTS ARE ARISING?

 I hate this place. When will I move on? I don’t feel challenged. I need to move. I am bored. I really do not want to do anything today.

CAN YOU NAME ANY EMOTION?

 Sad. Frustration. Dread.

WHAT ARE YOU NOTICING IN THE BODY?

 A feeling of heaviness in my chest. I feel drained.  Slowed down. Stiffness. My body did not want to move. My face felt long and weighed down.

 Again, this exercise highlights the whole connection between thoughts, feelings, behaviours and bodily sensations. Another self awareness exercise. By zoning in and noticing these experiences we can start to control them more and more.

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J x

A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 12

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Appreciating the Good

They say we can ‘redress’ our natural bias towards negativity by focusing on the pleasant and positive experiences. Because there is no survival benefit to enjoying pleasant experiences, they usually happen momentarily and are gone. 

Mindfulness is all about being able to bring that small experience into awareness for as little as 60 seconds in order to save it in our long term memory. (Have we all seen ‘Inside Out’ the children’s movie?). These small pleasant experiences are usually appreciated and made more aware of by the young. In the movie ‘Inside Out’ they explain how aware children are of small happy moments and how such small things can impact on a child’s development. These happy moments are stored in their long term memory until bigger emotions take their place. This could be as simplistic as when the first time their Mother made them laugh or the first time they tried to eat jelly. The feeling of happiness children experience usually sits with them a lot longer than in adults.  As we grow older these experiences go unnoticed because adults are usually  preoccupied with more ‘important’ things in life like how they are going to pay the bills or who’s turn it is to take the bins out. The minute happiness occurs in an adult they have already jumped onto a new feeling or a new thought. Children are the most mindful of us all.

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BANKING THE GOOD

Sometimes people are surprised at they way a seemingly insignificant experience creates a strong sense of pleasure, which they experience again when they reflect on it- an added bonus. Our natural negative bias means we usually forget a transitory pleasant experience- the warm sun on our face, the scent of a flower, the smile that lights up a child’s face when they see us- but if we pay attention to the experience, noticing its different elements, we “bank” it in our long-term memory and life starts to feel richer and more fulfilling. 

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This weeks exercise wanted us to make an intention to be more aware of those fleeting moments of pleasure. Do it every day for a week (or more). At the end of the week reflect on any new discoveries or insights.

What was the experience?

What thoughts occurred to you?

What felt sensations did you notice in the body?

What emotions were you aware of?

What are you experiencing now as you answer these questions?

This week I reflected on several positive experiences, one of which was particularly positive. Now its not every day or week I do this but as its coming close to Christmas I felt a bit emotional and giving. During the week I was shopping in Marks and Spencer’s and when you spend over 75 euro you get a free gift (a box with wine, Christmas pudding, biscuits, sweets etc.). I was delighted and immediately imagined myself and my best friend sitting on the couch having a nibble and a glass of wine. I was bombarded with shopping bags that day. I walked by sooooo many homeless people sat on the cold ground looking miserable. I decided F**k this I have enough treats at home, I’ll give this gift box to the next homeless person I see. So that’s what I done. And Wow. I have never seen someones eyes light up as much as this man’s did. “Thank you so much, you don’t realize how much I appreciate this. Seriously, Thank you”. My god I certainly would not have appreciated it as much as he did. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude (I had a little cry, as usual. I am an emotional being). I felt so happy that I had made someone look and feel the way he did. His happiness with the gift lasted a lot longer than mine would have. He sat there staring at it with joy, whereas I would have had the whole thing eaten at that stage. I reflected on how much I take for granted in life and how I need to start appreciating the little things more. It was a positive experience that will certainly be entering my long-term memory. Even reflecting back again writing this, all the same emotions I felt that day come flowing back. I received great happiness and pleasure from this small act of kindness. I also reflected on other small moments of pleasure throughout the week but this was one that stuck out for me.

What small moments of pleasure can you remember from the week past? 

J x

A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 11

What Attitudes are you Feeding?

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 Usually when we feel a particular emotion it leads us to having thoughts about the feeling and sometimes finding evidence to support it. We may also describe it with language like ‘what a nightmare’. It can be hard to figure out which came first. Did the thought come first? The emotion? The feeling? 

 When we catastrophe an experience, we allow the emotion to build up like an angry fire. The emotion then becomes out of control and we experience an unconscious mind/body chain reaction leading to us to feel even worse.

 This exercise speaks about how we have the potential to control our emotions. Now obviously we can only control our emotions to an extent. But as I always say, self awareness is key! By bringing thoughts or emotions into our awareness, we can watch our thoughts span out, become aware of the physical effects they have on our body and how overwhelming they can be. The first step is becoming self aware. We cannot change or do anything differently without becoming aware of it. Makes sense really. By acknowledging that a particular emotion is present, it allows us to react differently and puts a halt on the negative reaction  you would usually take. This whole exercise reminded me of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. We become aware of how our thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours are interlinked. By changing one part of the chain, we cause a domino effect thus changing the automated response. For example, when I am feeling sad I listen to sad music thus making me feel even sadder. I then start to think negative thoughts and might even have a good cry. This negative cycle has become a built in automated response. I am basically feeding into my feeling of ‘sadness’. To break this negative cycle, I might listen to happier music when I feel sad in order to help lift my mood.

 Mindfulness teaches us how to tune into our experiences on a regular basis, enabling us to tune into negative behaviours as they arise. We become aware of thoughts, emotions, feelings or behaviours and explore them. The book recommended using a gentle breathing exercise to bring ourselves back into the present moment. Again refer back to my post on Breathing or simply use my ‘Breathing through the feet on the floor’ (my fav). Obviously when you are feeling a bit angry, the last thing you are thinking of is doing a quick breathing exercise. But if we refer back to my post on changing automated responses, you will see how we easy it is to start a negative response but just as easy to start a positive response. Practice makes perfect. For something to become an automated response, it must be practiced. It must become part of your routine. It will take time and it will not happen over night.

 How about thinking of what you like to do when you are feeling sad? Now have a think about those actions. Do they make you feel better or worse? For example, I might have a glass of wine if I feel a bit down or stressed. The wine will usually make me feel even shittier and the next day I am even worse with a hangover. What was so positive about that? That is most defiantly a feeder behaviour. What could I do differently that might help me more? I could watch a comedy. I could go visit a friend. Things that could actually lift my mood as opposed to bringing it further down? Makes sense doesn’t it?

Practicing Patience

Be patient and remind yourself that to begin with you may notice only after the event and wish you could have responded differently. This is perfectly normal; just continue practicing and noticing the emotions that you feed. 

J x

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Tai Chi: An early morning I spent pretending I was a bird🐥

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 Recently I attended a free introduction to Tai Chi session in The Dublin Holistic Centre . I was recommended by a friend to try it out as it was “calming” and “right up my street”.I YouTubed it and instantly I was attracted to it. Like minded people, standing in a small group, slow moving, in a deep relaxed state. I HAD TO TRY IT!

So what is Tai Chi? 

 Tai Chi is known as a mind art which combats stress, tiredness, sadness, anxiety and addictions. It focuses on posture, breathing, awareness and powerful whole body movements. It’s basically an internal Chinese martial art that is practiced for both defense training and its health benefits. You may have seen it in movies such as Jackie Chan or the Karate Kid. It is comprised of 37-postures, or movement patterns, which are repeated to the left or right to create the 108-movement sequence.

 Supposedly, it came about when a crane (a type of bird) and a snake came into contact with each other. The snake 🐍 attempted to attack the crane. The crane remained still and gently moved away from each attack the snake made. Eventually the crane wore the snake out and he was able to kill the snake. The aim of Tai Chi is to become the crane. 

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 So off I went at the crack of dawn, one cold Wednesday morning, to see how I could become a Crane. Beforehand I had pictured myself in slow-mo dancing around a room with old men in white clothing and long white beards becoming at Awe with the universe. When I arrived, I was greeted by a very pleasant man man dressed in navy and no beard. He explained the benefits of Tai Chi and what exactly the introductory class would entail. There were four people in attendance. The room was smallish but cozy and appropriate for its use.

 We started off by doing some meditation exercises to relax our minds and bodies. This included slow hand movements and breathing exercises with our eyes closed. Once we had all become grounded and calm, we began the Tai Chi exercises.The more relaxed your body and mind are, the more abundantly your energy can circulate. This is the first stage, known as Regulating the Body. Eventually, if you are interested in following the traditional path, you can progress through the stages of Regulating the Breath, the Mind, the Qi (the energy), and the Spirit. It can take up to three years to achieve full energy enhancements and full health benefits (a very long time).

 I was informed that it would take around 6 weeks to learn one movement but today he would explain a few different movements to give me a taster. SIX WEEKS TO LEARN ONE MOVEMENT. The thoughts of this was off putting. We started off with slow arm movements and different movements to shift our energies. He played relaxation music in the background which is fav! Eventually after 1 hour and 30 minutes, we had completed one complete move. One move contained several different movements. Each of these movements would take up to 6 weeks to conquer. Good posture is the main component of Tai Chi. If you are aware of the 7 Chakras (the wheels of energies in our bodies), you will know how important it is to have your spine straight and in line with your pelvis and head. Energies are transferred (Qigong – energy work) from the Crown Chakra (crown of your head) to the Root Chakra (base of your spine).

I will dedicate a future post to Chakra’s alone but in the meantime here is a brief overview of what each Chakra represents, its location and the emotional issues they bring about:

1. Root Chakra — Represents our foundation and feeling of being grounded.

  • Location: Base of spine in tailbone area.
  • Emotional issues: Survival issues such as financial independence, money and food.

2. Sacral Chakra — Our connection and ability to accept others and new experiences.

  • Location: Lower abdomen, about two inches below the navel and two inches in.
  • Emotional issues: Sense of abundance, well-being, pleasure and sexuality.

3. Solar Plexus Chakra — Our ability to be confident and in control of our lives.

  • Location: Upper abdomen in the stomach area.
  • Emotional issues: Self-worth, self-confidence and self-esteem.

4. Heart Chakra — Our ability to love.

  • Location: Center of chest just above the heart.
  • Emotional issues: Love, joy and inner peace.

5. Throat Chakra — Our ability to communicate.

  • Location: Throat.
  • Emotional issues: Communication, self-expression of feelings and the truth.

6. Third Eye Chakra — Our ability to focus on and see the big picture.

  • Location: Forehead between the eyes (also called the Brow Chakra).
  • Emotional issues: Intuition, imagination, wisdom and the ability to think and make decisions.

7. Crown Chakra — The highest chakra represents our ability to be fully connected spiritually.

  • Location: The very top of the head.
  • Emotional issues: Inner and outer beauty, our connection to spirituality and pure bliss

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 Tai Chi is all about the movement of energies in order to remove negative energy and increase positive energies. This energy in our bodies is derived from the food we eat and the fat we burn, combined with the air we breathe through the metabolic process. In addition, with every breath you are inhaling air, which is a gas, which is made of molecules, which are made of atoms, which are made of energy. You inhale positive or negative ions all day long. We also receive some percentage of our body’s energy from the sun and moon, and our body’s energy is influenced by the radiation of our surroundings, both natural and manmade. In fact, the human body is a living bioelectromagnetic field.

The next bit I have just copied and pasted off a website that explained how energies move within our bodies. I tried to rewrite it in my own words but I found it very difficult to explain.

When you want to move your body, your mind generates an electrical impulse through the spine to the muscles, and suddenly you are Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail. Your intention to move first creates a brainwave – this is an electrical frequency usually between 1 – 20Hz.  The impulse then transmits instantaneously throughout the body in a complex process that utilizes your body’s energy to facilitate movement. A typical modern way of measuring your energy is with an EEG (Electroencephalogram), which distinguishes brainwaves by measuring the speed with which neurons (nerve cells) fire in cycles per second. Alpha brain waves range between 7 – 12 Hz, which relates to deep relaxation. The Alpha range is also the base frequency of the Schumann Resonance, which is the vibrational frequency of the earth’s electromagnetic field. When you are deeply relaxed, your Alpha brainwaves resonate in sympathy with the earth’s EMF, producing “constructive interference” which amplifies the vibration.

Qi circulation
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Whether you view the body’s energetic activity from a chemical, spiritual, or purely mechanical viewpoint, understand that this energy within the body is the Qi we are referring to; Qi is not some special “other” kind of energy. This subject has been widely misunderstood, sometimes because of the limited understanding by students of these concepts since Tai Chi came to the West, and largely due to cultural and language barriers.

Don’t keep searching for your energy when you practice. Realize that you are energy.

You are not a human body experiencing a spirit. You are a spirit experiencing a human body.

Thus, when you understand a Tai Chi posture clearly, your will mind generate the correct intention, and you will energize your body all the way to the fingers and toes more efficiently. This will gradually improve your circulation to the extremities, and help to permeate your body with healthy circulation of blood, energy, and nutrients.

 The class ended with a guided meditation exercise following with a closing of our energies. We basically inhaled positive energy and moved it into our bodies with arm movements then we closed ourselves up again.

Tai Chi Tips

  • Practice out in nature and get some fresh air, preferably near mountains, forests, or water for an increase of negative ions.
  • Close your mouth loosely, and touch the tongue to the roof of the mouth gently.
  • Breathe naturally. Don’t worry about your breathing until later in your practice.
  • Tai Chi is whole body exercise. Movement is initiated in the legs, directed by the waist, and manifested in the hands.
  • Upper body is light, the middle body is flexible, and the lower body is solid and heavy.
  • Energy follows consciousness, or as its put in qigong study, “The Yi Leads the Qi.”
  • Stay relaxed and don’t frown from concentrating too hard. Tai Chi is fun!

Overall thoughts:

 I found Tai Chi was not for me. It was waaaaay too slow. I love meditation and yoga but this was completely different all together. Maybe I need to slow myself down a bit more? Maybe I should not have went before college as I had a lot on my mind that day? Small groups do sometimes make me a bit anxious. I had to repeat some postures a few times as I was not doing them correctly so this also put me off. Another thing may have been that I attended with my friend. BIG MISTAKE. Awkward silences led to me and him looking at each other and giggling. He would stand in front of me and we would have to move at the same pace with our eyes closed by bonding our energies together without looking. I opened my eyes a few times and seen him doing the postures and found it hilarious. We would glance at each other the odd time both thinking ‘WTF are we doing here?’. Overall I don’t think I will be going back. Yoga and light meditation is as far as my inner ZEN will be going.

J x

🐥🎸A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 9 🎻🐝

SOUNDS 

Sounds are like thoughts: we can’t control them, they come and go, some are stronger than others, and some can have a strong physical and emotional impact on us. 

Certain sounds can create negative or positive reactions within us, particularly if we are stressed or feeling a bit down. When I’m studying or trying to plan out something at last minute, loud noises or crowds of people speaking can really stress me when out and cause me to become anxious. To avoid this I usually put earphones in with relaxation music on really low to block out any negative noises. 

This weeks exercise teaches us how to be with sounds and thus provides training for being with our thoughts. It asked for us to pay attention to all sounds. How our body reacts to sounds. How our bodies pick up sounds like a radar. How the sound can manifest throughout the body in physical sensations. (Heart beats faster, your body jumps). How we judge a sound. The story we create when we hear a sound. (Oh that sounds like the neighbours are arguing nextdoor). Pay attention to your mood following each sound and how this affects your interpretation and thus your thoughts. A good example of this is when you are lying in bed before you fall asleep. You hear a noise and your thoughts jump to a conclusion that someone may be coming up the stairs. You begin to panick. Your heart beats faster. You feel frightened. This exercise asks to acknowledge the story brought about by the sound and let it go by bringing your attention back to receiving the sound as a collection of notes at a particular pitch. 

We can also use music or sounds to lift our moods and bring about happy or sad memories. I have certain playlists on my phone that I listen to depending on what mood I want to be in or what mood I am in already. I’m the worst for playing sad songs  when I’m in a depressed mood. Bring on tears and make myself even more depressed. This exercise asks you to nip that in the bud the second you notice it and change the tune!!

Pay attention to the small sounds that are easily missed like the birds or the neighbours cutting their grass. This is all part of being mindful. Building our awareness to everything in the world, step by step. 

WHAT DO WE DO WITH NOISE THAT IS DRIVING US MAD?

When the sounds you hear are unbearable and you find it hard to tune in to them, what do you do then? The instruction remains the same. Acknowledge the story the sound creates, the emotions it brings about, the thoughts that arise, how it manifests throughout the body. Use your breath here to anchor yourself when your thoughts and story tries to bring you away. The ‘breathing through your feet on the floor’ exercise works perfectly here! Always bring yourself back to your breath and any felt sensations throughout the body. The noise you are hearing is not personal. It is just a collection of notes and vibrations passing through the ear. 

By resisting the negative noise we create negative reactions which become automated responses. With this exercise we want to simply explore a different way of relating to a noise. Build awareness. Let go of resisting the noise and instead embrace it and move towards it. 

Self awareness is key! 
J X 

🗣How to speak to your inner selves🗣

Voice Dialogue

Recently, I attended a 2 day workshop on Voice Dialogue with Rufus May and Elizabeth Svanholmer in the Wellness Centre in Dublin City University. It was Before attending I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in to. I thought it would just teach us how to speak to client’s voices or teach the client themselves how to hold conversation with them. To my surprise, it taught me a whole lot about myself too. There were also a lot of grounding exercises thrown in and the whole vibe of the workshop was very relaxed and meditative. It taught me how to build my own self-awareness and how to facilitate others to build upon their own. A lot of emotions came about throughout the workshop and with each emotion completely different energies were felt. Personally, it gave me a whole new outlook on mental health and those who come into difficulties and times of distress. I think its an amazing approach and helped me understand myself and others more easily. I know its not an approach for everyone and there are people out there who are very medical and scientific based but if you’re a bit more free spirited and open-minded than those then you’ll love it!

 I wont go into too much detail on this new approach but I’ll give you a  synopsis and then leave some links below that you can click if you want to learn more.

So what is Voice Dialogue?

  • It is a psycho-spiritual approach to consciousness which was founded by Dr Hal Stone and Dr Sidra Stone in 1972.
  • It believes ‘we are not one but many’. It teaches us how to contact, learn about and work with our many selves that make up each of us.These different selves can determine how we see the world, how we interpret different situations, how we cope and how we communicate.
  • Different people we meet along the way will bring out different parts of ourselves either hidden or obvious.
  • The relationships we are part of can be shaped by these selves. This approach helps highlight problems in these relationships and teaches us how to use the problems to gain more control over our lives.
  • It is also believed we are all made up of different energies and different people we encounter can drain us of these energies.
  • Our dreams are trying to communicate and guide us from within. Our dreams teach us a lot about our selves and we can learn great wisdom from them. This approach teaches us how to interpret our dreams in a different way.

So basically the exercise we done was as follows:

  1. We learned about the theory.
  2. We identified our primary selves by mapping them out. I chose DREAMER, PASSION, JOY. These are selves that are prominent in our lives.
  3. We identified our hidden selves. These are selves which have been pushed to the back of our subconscious because people or events have not deemed them acceptable. One of the hidden selves I chose was ANGER. As a child we’re told to refrain from being angry. It’s socially acceptable to hide this part of ourselves.
  4. We then chose one self we wanted to hold dialogue with. We were given a piece of paper and a pen and told to ask this self the following questions: How are you? What do you want for ____? What would ______’s life be like without you there? How does ______relate to you? How long have you been in ____’s life? Would you like anything to change in your relationship with _____? Do you have any advice for ____? Thank you.
  5. Reflect on the answers the self has given.

It was nice to zone in on different parts of ourselves, recognising they’re still there, acknowledging their purpose, and understanding that each part has a meaning and purpose in our lives. It may all sound like a load of hippie crap again, but each approach won’t suit everyone. Each to their own and all that jazz.

I have attached some useful links below if you are interested and want to learn more:

Voice Dialogue International