PLAYTIME AND THE ART OF HAPPINESS

I’m reading the Dalai Lama’s book (written with Howard C Cutler) at the moment called “The Art of Happiness”.  It’s been on my list of books to read for a long time and it’s a classic guide to a fundamental tenet of Tibetan Buddhism.

His Holiness is quoted in the book as saying:  “ I believe that the very purpose of life is to seek happiness.  That is clear……. whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we are all seeking something better in life.  So I think, the very motion of our life is towards happiness…..”.

There are those of us who might respond to that statement by saying that seeking happiness is self-indulgent and self-centred, but surprisingly, the massive amount of research that has been conducted over the last twenty or more years on happiness has shown that in fact it’s  the unhappy people who are most self-focussed and/or self-obsessed..  They are also sometimes socially withdrawn and antagonistic.  Conversely, happy people are generally found to be more sociable, flexible and creative. Furthermore, studies have shown that they weather life’s challenges better than unhappy people. Most of all, they’ve been found to be more loving and forgiving.

One of the core principles of Tibetan Buddhism is that there’s an inextricable link between one’s personal happiness and showing kindness, compassion and caring for others. Interestingly, quite apart from the two and a half thousand years of practice and experience by the Buddhists in this respect, the link  has now been borne out by many studies and experiments conducted in the West.

Kindness has been found to be a big factor in feeling happier as it releases a powerful energy which helps to build up relationships and fosters positive feelings for yourself and those around you. Kindness is about being friendly and open and being able to listen and help where you can.  It’s more than just being “nice”.  Nice people are often motivated by a need for approval whereas genuinely kind people have no ulterior motives.

Compassion is defined as being ‘sympathetic pity and concern for the suffering or misfortunes of others.’  It’s a quality that can be improved with practice by being mindful of the feelings and situations of others in a concerned and kindly way.  Self-compassion is important for happiness also.  This is about treating yourself just as you would treat your friends and loved ones – even when they might be screwing up! Self-compassion can help us towards greater self-esteem and self-worth as it comes from judging oneself positively.  This in turn can enhance motivation and resilience.

Wayne Dyer famously said:  “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”, and it’ so true. Your state of mind is governed by how you think, which informs how you approach and manage all the things you have to contend with in your relationships, the families you were born into, the jobs you do, and the myriad experiences that life brings you.  Happy people know that happiness comes from within. They’ve developed certain habits and attitudes which create a sense of peace in their lives and an equanimity to everything that comes their way. Even when facing challenges or ill-health, they still manage to be happy!

Focusing on beliefs that you’re hard done by, misunderstood, or that generally luck, abundance and good times don’t seem to happen for you, will inevitably damage your confidence, drag your spirits down and lead towards low-self-esteem, feeling sad, unappreciated and very possibly, depressed.

There is a whole field of psychology which is devoted to studying the science of happiness. It’s called Positive Psychology and it was developed by the American Psychologist, Martin Seligman.  (You’ll find plenty of information on Seligman, his books and his courses online if you want to know more.)

A study of the habits of happy people by the Pursuit of Happiness Inc. in 2016 suggests that certain aspects of life are key areas which should be explored in order to learn how to lead a happier life.  They are:

‘Co-Operate in activities and share your personal feelings with a friend or relative. Expressing genuine interest in what people say, and responding in encouraging ways is a powerful way to enrich relationships and cultivate positive emotions.

‘Cultivate kindness.  People who volunteer or simply care for others on a consistent basis seem to be happier and less depressed.  This can be as simple s reaching out to a colleague or classmate who looks lonely or is struggling with an issue.

‘Keep moving and eat well.  Regular exercise has been associated with improved mental well-being and a lower incidence of depression

‘Find your flow.  If we are deeply involved in trying to reach a goal, or an activity that is challenging but well-suited to our skills, we experience a joyful state called “flow”. Many kinds of experiences like sports, playing an instrument, or teaching can produce an experience of flow.   It can also be attained through artistic and creative expression. Most simply, it’s achieved from doing an activity which brings you pleasure.

‘Discover and use your strengths. Studies have shown that the happiest people have discovered their unique strengths (such as persistence and critical thinking) and virtues (such as humanity) and use those strengths and virtues for a purpose that is greater than their own personal goals.

‘Cultivate gratitude, mindfulness and hope.   Grateful people have been shown to have greater positive emotion, a greater sense of belonging and a lower incidence of depression and stress.’

I would personally add one more thing to this list – and it’s this:

Re-find your ability to PLAY!  This is an activity we all did when we were children and we did it so easily and beautifully.  Remember?  We could happily play on our own or with other children at any time and it was effortless! Sadly, as we got older, we lost the ability to play and life got too serious.  But we can get it back!!  Playtime doesn’t have to cost anything – think shuffling through the leaves, skimming stones on the sea, flying kites, football in the park, reading, painting, stroking the cat, walking with the dog, etc. etc. Many of these are what I would describe as “Boxing Day” pursuits. In other words, for some people, the day after Christmas Day is possibly the only day in the year when they’ll allow themselves the time to engage in such activities.

But why wait till Boxing Day? Why not make a commitment to allowing yourself the time and space to PLAY more  – on a regular basis – NOW! – and just see what a difference that can make to your lifel!!!

Enjoy!!!

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INNER SPACE

Two television programmes have taken my interest lately: one is “Retreat: Meditations from a Monastery” (BBC4, Tuesday), and the other is Sue Perkins’ most excellent documentary series about her journey down the great Ganges river in India (BBC1 on Thursdays).

Each programme is divided into three parts and although they’re quite different from each other, they both have a very spiritual aspect to them. “Retreat” (first shown last Tuesday)  gives the viewer a peep into monastic life which  sensitively steers away from a spoken documentary, and instead gives the audience  details of the monks together with their contemplative existence by putting type-written information on the screen. This way, one can share the silence of the monks as they go about their daily routines in a quiet and mindful way, rather like doing a meditation.

“The Ganges with Sue Perkins” is full of the spectacle of India and is an insightful and probing look at life along the banks of the Ganges River which plays such a key role in the spiritual lives of all Hindus.  Sue Perkins shares her thoughts and experiences throughout and shows a heart-warming honesty and openness about herself and the powerful effect that India is having upon her. In the second episode, shown this week, she was exploring Varanasi, India’s holiest city.

This took me back immediately to my own visit to Varanasi in 2004.  I remember stepping off the plane and instantly receiving a palpable hit from the incredibly powerful vibrations that pervaded the atmosphere. Later, as I began walking around the city, I felt almost overwhelmed by the sheer mass of humanity that swarmed around me for Varanasi was more of an assault upon the senses than any other part of India I had visited previously.  Wherever we went, the smell of incense hung on the air which did little to obliterate the other more offending smells of ordure (both animal and human).  A mass of hot sweating humanity seethed endlessly through the narrow streets.  Here one had to navigate between the inevitable cows which wandered freely everywhere, cope with urchins who grabbed your hand or your clothing to beg for money, and try to dodge the regular funeral processions on their way to the burning ghats for a cremation. (For Hindus, to die in Varanasi is considered a great blessing, for it guarantees smooth passage into the after life and less time on the wheel of re-birth.) On top of all this, there is the incessant noise of rickshaws, motor bikes, cars, horns honking, conches being blown to summon the faithful to some sacred ceremony, and people shouting and hawking their wares.

I found the noise and bustle everywhere made me long for silence and solitude and pushed me inwards. Thus I discovered it was a great inducement to meditation –  as many others have  realised before me! This is part and parcel of the powerful spiritual atmosphere of the city which paradoxically, though outwardly an onslaught to the mind and senses, can ultimately lead you to a space of deep calm and silence within.

We stayed in a tiny ex-palace set right beside the river, which had the hardest beds in the world and served the best and most delicious Indian vegetarian food I’d ever had in any hotel on the sub-continent. I was thankful that up on the rooftop terrace of our little hotel, one could find much needed peace and quiet. There, surrounded by pots of  multi-coloured flowers,  one could enjoy a cup of chai (Indian spiced tea) or a nimbu pani (lime water) in blessed quiet  and gaze upon the mighty river flowing past below. Somehow, the noise and hubbub was miraculously muffled up there which allowed for conversation, or sitting and writing, or simply contemplating the view.  For me, it was a welcome opportunity to close my eyes, retreat into my inner space and meditate.

Musing upon these memories made me think that inside us all is a sort of Varanasi which is also noisy and chaotic. A well-known analogy about the restlessness of mind is that it behaves like a monkey, (there’s plenty of those in Varanasi by the way!), jumping and swinging from one place to another. The monkey mind is agile, often agitated and always on the go. Above all, it’s endlessly inventive, building thought upon thought and is highly adept at creating mountains out of molehills and making a drama into a crisis.

Another analogy comes from Jack Kornfield, the best-selling American author, Buddhist practitioner and meditation teacher, who likens the mind to a puppy which has to be housetrained. This analogy accurately conjures up the mind’s ability to charge around out of control, or to seize upon something and chew it to bits!

So here we all are, living inside our heads with our individual variations of chaos. Which, when you think of is mad because, with such generally untamed thoughts, the last thing we need is a relentlessly manic undercurrent humming through our environment as well! But that’s what life is like for most of us for we all live in a very speedy and pressured culture. Within this frantic pace, the media bombards us daily with an endless stream of information and images, and technology adds to the pressure by providing instant accessibility from anyone anywhere with mobile phones, emails, and social media.  On top of that we are fed non-stop information via the internet, and through news coverage.  Most of us are goaded into fast forwarding though life, never feeling we have enough time and frequently wondering where each day has gone.

Sadly, this doesn’t tend to create in us a need to pause and retreat.  Instead, we mostly allow this tsunami of pressure and speed to sweep us up and forever onward. We get so used to it we think  it’s “normal life”, but there’s nothing normal or natural about it.  It’s bad for our health and we can end up like hampsters running on a treadmill, if we’re not careful! Unlike the colourful commotion and spectacle of Varanasi, it doesn’t inspire spiritual reflection and contemplation. Generally speaking, all it does is to cause an enormous amount of nervous tension. Hardly surprising therefore that medical research has found over 90% of all illness and disease is caused by stress.

But there is a very effective antidote we could all use to help ourselves with this endemic problem – and it’s meditation.  Interestingly, studies conducted into its beneficial effects  have produced literally thousands of scientific papers about how it can help our health and well being. Experiments have shown that setting aside a short period for meditation each day can have favourable effects on stress-related problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems, poor immune system function, depression and general anxiety and that it has proved effective  in lowering cholesterol and reducing chronic pain.  Additionally, recent research has shown that regular meditation can increase the length of telomeres in the brain (telomeres are the DNA and protein caps that protect the end of each chromosome during cell division).  A study published in 2013 on newbies to meditation found that just 15minutes of contemplation per day was enough to affect the expression of many genes in the body including increasing the activity of a gene that makes telomeres. This has led to speculation that meditation can help promote longevity and may prevent the loss of brain tissue which usually comes with ageing.

So, if you’ve been wishing you could find a way to press the ‘pause’ button and give yourself a little oasis of tranquillity from the madness all around you, then meditation can help you. It’s a wonderful antidote to the roller-coaster effects of stress in our lives and I very much urge you to give it a try.

If you’re interested in beginning, or resuscitating a previous meditation practise, do look out for the many meditation classes which are held all over the country and try joining a class. It’s always helpful to work within a group for guidance, support and trouble shooting.

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INNER SPACE

Two television programmes have taken my interest lately: one is “Retreat: Meditations from a Monastery” (BBC4, Tuesday), and the other is Sue Perkins’ most excellent documentary series about her journey down the great Ganges river in India (BBC1 on Thursdays).

Each programme is divided into three parts and although they’re quite different from each other, they both have a very spiritual aspect to them. “Retreat” (first shown last Tuesday)  gives the viewer a peep into monastic life which  sensitively steers away from a spoken documentary, and instead gives the audience  details of the monks together with their contemplative existence by putting type-written information on the screen. This way, one can share the silence of the monks as they go about their daily routines in a quiet and mindful way, rather like doing a meditation.

“The Ganges with Sue Perkins” is full of the spectacle of India and is an insightful and probing look at life along the banks of the Ganges River which plays such a key role in the spiritual lives of all Hindus.  Sue Perkins shares her thoughts and experiences throughout and shows a heart-warming honesty and openness about herself and the powerful effect that India is having upon her. In the second episode, shown this week, she was exploring Varanasi, India’s holiest city.

This took me back immediately to my own visit to Varanasi in 2004.  I remember stepping off the plane and instantly receiving a palpable hit from the incredibly powerful vibrations that pervaded the atmosphere. Later, as I began walking around the city, I felt almost overwhelmed by the sheer mass of humanity that swarmed around me for Varanasi was more of an assault upon the senses than any other part of India I had visited previously.  Wherever we went, the smell of incense hung on the air which did little to obliterate the other more offending smells of ordure (both animal and human).  A mass of hot sweating humanity seethed endlessly through the narrow streets.  Here one had to navigate between the inevitable cows which wandered freely everywhere, cope with urchins who grabbed your hand or your clothing to beg for money, and try to dodge the regular funeral processions on their way to the burning ghats for a cremation. (For Hindus, to die in Varanasi is considered a great blessing, for it guarantees smooth passage into the after life and less time on the wheel of re-birth.) On top of all this, there is the incessant noise of rickshaws, motor bikes, cars, horns honking, conches being blown to summon the faithful to some sacred ceremony, and people shouting and hawking their wares.

I found the noise and bustle everywhere made me long for silence and solitude and pushed me inwards. Thus I discovered it was a great inducement to meditation –  as many others have  realised before me! This is part and parcel of the powerful spiritual atmosphere of the city which paradoxically, though outwardly an onslaught to the mind and senses, can ultimately lead you to a space of deep calm and silence within.

We stayed in a tiny ex-palace set right beside the river, which had the hardest beds in the world and served the best and most delicious Indian vegetarian food I’d ever had in any hotel on the sub-continent. I was thankful that up on the rooftop terrace of our little hotel, one could find much needed peace and quiet. There, surrounded by pots of  multi-coloured flowers,  one could enjoy a cup of chai (Indian spiced tea) or a nimbu pani (lime water) in blessed quiet  and gaze upon the mighty river flowing past below. Somehow, the noise and hubbub was miraculously muffled up there which allowed for conversation, or sitting and writing, or simply contemplating the view.  For me, it was a welcome opportunity to close my eyes, retreat into my inner space and meditate.

Musing upon these memories made me think that inside us all is a sort of Varanasi which is also noisy and chaotic. A well-known analogy about the restlessness of mind is that it behaves like a monkey, (there’s plenty of those in Varanasi by the way!), jumping and swinging from one place to another. The monkey mind is agile, often agitated and always on the go. Above all, it’s endlessly inventive, building thought upon thought and is highly adept at creating mountains out of molehills and making a drama into a crisis.

Another analogy comes from Jack Kornfield, the best-selling American author, Buddhist practitioner and meditation teacher, who likens the mind to a puppy which has to be housetrained. This analogy accurately conjures up the mind’s ability to charge around out of control, or to seize upon something and chew it to bits!

So here we all are, living inside our heads with our individual variations of chaos. Which, when you think of is mad because, with such generally untamed thoughts, the last thing we need is a relentlessly manic undercurrent humming through our environment as well! But that’s what life is like for most of us for we all live in a very speedy and pressured culture. Within this frantic pace, the media bombards us daily with an endless stream of information and images, and technology adds to the pressure by providing instant accessibility from anyone anywhere with mobile phones, emails, and social media.  On top of that we are fed non-stop information via the internet, and through news coverage.  Most of us are goaded into fast forwarding though life, never feeling we have enough time and frequently wondering where each day has gone.

Sadly, this doesn’t tend to create in us a need to pause and retreat.  Instead, we mostly allow this tsunami of pressure and speed to sweep us up and forever onward. We get so used to it we think  it’s “normal life”, but there’s nothing normal or natural about it.  It’s bad for our health and we can end up like hampsters running on a treadmill, if we’re not careful! Unlike the colourful commotion and spectacle of Varanasi, it doesn’t inspire spiritual reflection and contemplation. Generally speaking, all it does is to cause an enormous amount of nervous tension. Hardly surprising therefore that medical research has found over 90% of all illness and disease is caused by stress.

But there is a very effective antidote we could all use to help ourselves with this endemic problem – and it’s meditation.  Interestingly, studies conducted into its beneficial effects  have produced literally thousands of scientific papers about how it can help our health and well being. Experiments have shown that setting aside a short period for meditation each day can have favourable effects on stress-related problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems, poor immune system function, depression and general anxiety and that it has proved effective  in lowering cholesterol and reducing chronic pain.  Additionally, recent research has shown that regular meditation can increase the length of telomeres in the brain (telomeres are the DNA and protein caps that protect the end of each chromosome during cell division).  A study published in 2013 on newbies to meditation found that just 15minutes of contemplation per day was enough to affect the expression of many genes in the body including increasing the activity of a gene that makes telomeres. This has led to speculation that meditation can help promote longevity and may prevent the loss of brain tissue which usually comes with ageing.

So, if you’ve been wishing you could find a way to press the ‘pause’ button and give yourself a little oasis of tranquillity from the madness all around you, then meditation can help you. It’s a wonderful antidote to the roller-coaster effects of stress in our lives and I very much urge you to give it a try.

If you’re interested in beginning, or resuscitating a previous meditation practise, do look out for the many meditation classes which are held all over the country and try joining a class. It’s always helpful to work within a group for guidance, support and trouble shooting.

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AUTUMN IS A SECOND SPRING

September 22nd was the Autumnal Equinox which heralds a time when the lengths of day and night have become more or less equal. We have left behind the long summer evenings and are moving towards the lengthy winter nights, which means that right now, we’re in a time of transition.

The moving from one state to another can often feel uncomfortable, and there’s no denying that apart from anything which may have been happening in your personal lives of late, Nature has been giving us a rough ride recently what with all the terrible hurricanes and recent earthquakes. It’s almost as if that last solar eclipse in August stirred things up and unsettled the natural harmony of our planet, for certain areas in the world have been savagely wrecked and there have been plenty of disasters to unsettle us and cause trauma in people’s lives. On top of that, we’ve also witnessed the plight of the Rohinja people, the ongoing wars and the continuing danger signals radiating from North Korea.

And as if that wasn’t enough, there have been some solar flares emanating from the sun which are known to provoke feelings of anxiety and general discomfort in sensitive people, so if any of you have been suffering from unaccountable feelings of overwhelm, anxiety or negativity recently, it may well be related to these occurrences.

Last month I wrote about change which is well and truly exemplified by Autumn – the season into which we have now undoubtedly plunged. Leaves, flowers and plants are dying back, and the familiar greens and bright shades of summer are changing to red, brown, yellow and orange. It’s a time of gathering the harvest and shoring up the dykes against the onset of winter before a proportion of foliage fades and falls leaving us instead with a vista of bare branches against the winter sky.  In the olden days, our ancestors saw the drawing in of autumnal nights to be a reminder of the forces of darkness and the evils of men.  This caused them to focus more on Light as an antidote and a reminder that good can triumph over evil. And in these uncertain times, I think it’s good for us in this day and age, to focus more on the Light, and not dwell  too much on its opposite..

There are many things which can help you prepare for autumn and here are two I’ve always found to be very helpful :

  • Clearing out clutter entails letting go of stuff you don’t need on an outer level which then encourages the same process on an inner one
  • Doing some Space Clearing: For those of you unfamiliar with this technique it’s basically the art of cleansing and consecrating spaces. Certain rituals can be easily performed which are usually a synthesis of native rituals for clearing negative forces from your environment, and also using Feng Shui principles to lift the positive energy (known as Chi) in your home. (You’ll find masses of information about Feng Shui online if you want to discover more about this fascinating subject.)

Both clutter clearing and space clearing echo traditions regarding preparing to bring in the energies of Spring, (hence the title of this piece from a quote by Albert Camus), but the difference is that in Spring, we’re clearing out old stuff to make way for new growth, whereas in the Autumn, we’re letting go of old stuff in order to make space in ourselves for some inner personal reflection which chimes so well with Nature drawing in her energies for the winter. At this time of year, we can very much benefit from giving ourselves the time to pause and contemplate the past year so we can begin to see what changes we could try to implement in ourselves in order to help improve our lives and general well-being.

A very simple way of seeing areas in your life which need changing, is by drawing what’s known as a “Life Pie”.  This is what you do :

Take a clean piece of paper and on it draw a circle of about 2-3 inches in diameter.  This is your “pie”. Then look at the following headings which are the main areas of focus and activity for the average person:

*Work         *Family        *Play         *Romance         *Exercise         *Adventure (i.e. new activities)    

*Friends/Social Life        *Spirituality

Using these headings, allocate a segment of your pie to each of them, but draw each segment proportional to the amount of focus you give to each area.  You’ll almost certainly discover that your “pie portions” will be of varying sizes.  For example, “work” might be a very large portion and “play” very small.

This gives you a graphic overview of which areas of your life are taking up most space and where you may need to find ways of balancing things up.

Use this exercise to consider what you might do to let go of particular things that are causing an imbalance in your life and start thinking of ways you can change them with a real view to taking action and trying to make a beneficial difference in your life.

Gratitude lists are also a useful practice at this time of year.  We can always do with reminding ourselves of the things for which we can be grateful. Appreciating the good things in our lives, however small, makes it easier to change pessimistic attitudes towards challenges and setbacks. This is what you do:

Before you go to sleep each night, try to recall anything that’s happened during the day for which you feel gratitude.  Always include the simple things (as well as anything major for which you are grateful) e.g. enjoying some sunshine in your lunchbreak, a welcome phone call or email from a friend, or delighting in the sight of some pretty flowers in somebody’s front garden.  Remember, the more you begin to think in terms of gratitude, abundance of every kind is drawn towards you.

And finally, as we creep towards the end of 2017, do all you can to help yourself relax and de-stress using NATURAL aids like massage, meditation and giving yourself as much “me-time” as possible. Give yourself lots of Reiki if you’ve learnt it or treat yourself to a session or two with a professional practitioner to help re-balance your energies. Likewise, if there are difficult issues which are holding you back in life, consider seeing a practitioner of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or Energy Tapping as many people call it now, to help you let go of  any intensity around your personal challenges and/or emotional problems. Now is the time for laying the ground for making positive adjustments to your life and really making a difference to your well-being.

Above all, remember to be compassionate towards yourself and others and work at letting go of judgement and criticism. Make a commitment to learn to love your life, love who you are, and love those around you, for the power of love is the most potent healing force in the world.

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ALL THINGS MUST PASS

They say that change is the only constant in life for all things must pass.  But many of us don’t find the idea of change something to relish. Instead, we often prefer to maintain the status quo rather than undergo alterations to life-style and places which are new and perhaps, alien.  Periods of big change can be challenging and daunting, and on the whole, the majority of people prefer not to be pulled out of their comfort zones if they can avoid it, especially when they know they’ll have to find their way through the shadowy world of uncertainty and the unknown.

That being said, we need to acknowledge the fact that life itself is always full of uncertainties, packed as it is, with challenges, twists and turns. All of our existence on this planet is about change because nothing ever stays the same.  We’re born, we live and we die.  All living things go through this cycle.  Even the mountains and rocks are subject to change for they, too, grow, erode and decay.  Mini-cycles of birthing and dying are happening all the time within each of our lives.  We see this in the ending of relationships and other attachments, in things that manifest into our lives only to disappear once again and in the way that the physical body changes over time.

Nothing grows, nothing develops, and nothing matures without going through change.

Changes come in many guises.  Sometimes it may feel as though the Universe has thrown us a curve ball which arrives out of the blue and knocks us sideways. Sometimes it comes because we actively want to make alterations to an aspect of our lives because we believe that if we can do that, a particular situation will look and feel different, and we will feel happier, easier, and  more at one with ourselves.

However change appears in your life, generally speaking, it often feels uncomfortable, although it has to be said that sometimes a transformation can feel graceful and easy. If we’re seeking to alter a situation and are able to hold a firm vision of what we want to manifest, this can facilitate a much more relaxed transition from one state to another.

Any desire to bring about change usually also involves letting something go. We can make things much harder for ourselves if we harbour any resistance to altering how things are as this can prevent us from making any adjustments to the issue in hand. Very often we have anxieties around making the changes in the first place. Sometimes we need support and aid in moving through these concerns, and there is absolutely no shame in that. Better to reach out for help and overcome disquiet and unease than let that fear remain inside you, preventing you from moving forward in your life.

Our experiences with change mould us into who we are, inform our beliefs and become the foundation of the road we ultimately travel.  We never know when we set out in life exactly where we might end up, even though we may be aiming for a particular goal or destination.  Paradoxically, it’s actually all right to feel uncertainty, because when you don’t know about something, it means you have an open mind!  And if you have an open mind, then this gives you a greater ability to be flexible and a desire to be curious, both of which can spur you on in your quest for change. It can also give you the opportunity to let go of judgement which then enables you to develop greater understanding and compassion.

Coping with change and uncertainty becomes easier if you can practise ways of staying in the present without a jumble of thoughts about past or future running through that stream of consciousness which is your mind. Change also becomes less challenging when we allow things to unfold and learn not to have rigid attachments to outcomes (which is an area where many of us cause ourselves even more problems and difficulties!)  As Deepak Chopra, doctor and spiritual teacher says: “… (when we develop) a willingness to step into the unknown, the field of all possibilities, we surrender ourselves to the creative mind which orchestrates the dance of the Universe.”

Ultimately, change is the gateway to all our opportunities, and potential.  By learning to trust the process of change, we find, amazingly, that all kinds of things can start falling into place.  When we step into that field of opportunity, we can discover the possibility of having the freedom to create whatever we want.

As it says in the book “A Course of Miracles “:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Begin it now

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THE CAUSES OF HAPPINESS

I’ve just come back from a few days in Scotland, and one of the highlights of my trip was a visit to the Tibetan Monastery and Buddhist Centre of Samye Ling (pr. Samee Ling).

Samye Ling is a little piece of Tibet set against the hills of the Scottish Borders and nestling amongst the pine forests, heather and wildflowers.  I could feel its vibrations stretching out towards me even before I began to walk the path that leads towards the main complex. The entire architecture is Tibetan with long oblong buildings and roofs that curve upwards towards the sky. Along the entrance path, two tall arches rise up painted in the traditional Tibetan red and gold and embellished with intricate paintings and designs. In the main complex can be found tranquil pools and waterfalls and wonderful huge statues of golden Buddhas, and the whole place is very, very peaceful.

The Shrine Room building has a wide flight of stone steps leading up to it from a large courtyard.  Inside, the eye is greeted by magnificent Tibetan ornamentation and decoration and the great Golden Buddha which is the centrepiece of the room. Here I found the vibrations so incredibly powerful that after a short while, I had to sit down on one of the chairs arranged against the back wall. Once seated, peace descended upon me like a cloak being gently laid upon my shoulders. Within moments, I was in a place of utter stillness inside and I sank into an effortlessly deep meditation which lasted for about twenty minutes (ah, would that it were always thus!!).  I emerged strongly grounded and centred, totally peaceful, and with an immense feeling of contentment. It was a wonderful experience.

As we drove back to Edinburgh where I was staying, I was reminded of a line from the Tibetan Buddhist prayer which begins: “ May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness ……” and I found myself thinking how one cannot help but feel content when the mind is still. This led to my musing upon the importance of finding happiness in oneself, not only as a way of peace and fulfilment but also as a wonderful way of self-healing.  For in just the same way that one cannot be negative when one is relaxed, one cannot be unhappy if one is serene, for it is in that place of equanimity that the turbulence of the emotions is stilled. This is why truly happy people tend to be not so concerned with material riches. Nor do they angst over finding the perfect relationship. Somehow, even when facing challenges or ill-health, they still manage to be happy.

So how do they do it?

It’s long been accepted that there’s a direct connection between the body and mind and that our thoughts affect our bodies.  Our bodies respond to the environment, and they react to the ways we think about ourselves.  Limiting beliefs, negativity or any toxic mental patterns are going to cause cortisol to be pumped around our systems most of the time which can lead to illness, disease and to generally undermining our health.  So it makes sense to think about pleasurable things as much as possible to provide the antidote to this!

The good news is that you can be happy right now by changing your thinking and your attitude.  You can choose to be happy – and generally speaking, the only person who’s going to stop you from doing this is you! So here’s a few suggestions to help you along the way:

Begin by thinking of all your problems as challenges.  Instead of focussing on how difficult something is, start looking at it as an opportunity for you to change and make your life better.  Every challenge is a lesson to learn and a chance to grow and become all the stronger for it. There’s usually an upside to any issue if you’re prepared to look for it – so make a point of focussing on that instead, and practice eliminating the word “problem” from your vocabulary!

Try not to sweat the small stuff. Remember that whatever little thing is irritating you right now will be irrelevant in a year, a month or even a day, so why wind yourself up? Tell yourself: “I’m just going to put this on one side for now,” and then get on with the other things in your life.  It’s easier than you think to do this.

Resolve to let go of grudges and be kind to yourself and others. Research has shown that this is a big factor in feeling happier. Kindness releases a powerful energy which helps to build relationships and fosters positive feelings for yourself and those around you.

Choose to spend time with friends who are positive because that way you’ll be buoyed up by their positive energy. Notice how frequently you make comparisons between yourself and others (whether you think you’re better or worse than them!), and consciously switch off your critical thoughts.  Everyone is a unique individual and being judgemental in any respect is detrimental to your happiness.  Also, don’t talk about plans, dreams and ideas to people who are negative because they’re likely to pull you down and generally be unsupportive. If you want an opinion, ask a positive person, and wean yourself off the need for approval from others.

You are what you eat, so make an effort to eat healthily.  Processed junk foods will leave you feeling sluggish and prone to health problems. So avoid the pizzas, burgers and chips and go for more fresh vegetables and fruits and try to buy organic produce whenever possible.  Also remember that exercise produces endorphins (these are those happy hormones which are so healing for your body). Even walking for 30 minutes a day can enhance your state of mind, reduce stress, help to keep down your weight and make you feel happier.

If you’re not already doing it, learn to meditate.  Research has shown that it calms the nerves, is good for your health and supports inner peace. And if you can commit yourself to trying to practice more awareness of living in the NOW instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, that will provide much grist for the mill.

Being able to express gratitude or appreciation for the things that you have (rather than the things you have not),  has been found to help with stress, foster happier moods, more optimism and bring better health.  Gratitude causes beneficial shifts in the body’s biochemistry, reminds you of the positive things in your life, and can turn bad things into good things.  It can remind you of what’s important in life and crucially, remind you to remember to thank others for their gifts, kindness and help.  Simple acts of kindness cost nothing and are very healing for both the giver and the recipient.

It’s a good idea to start a “gratitude journal” and write down all the things you’ve encountered each day for which you’re thankful. As an alternative, you could also spend a short while each night before you go to sleep making a mental list of things for which you’ve felt grateful during the day. In this way, you can start training your mind to think in a more appreciative fashion.

And finally, remember nothing in life is ever going to be perfect.  Happy people are able to accept what can’t be changed and instead put their energy into the things that they can control and are able to improve.  So, when change enters your life, resolve to accept it and see it as something really positive.  And when you can’t change something, practice acceptance of that, too.

I hope these ideas are helpful for those of you who would like to find ways of feeling happier and are useful reminders to those of you who are already working on themselves in this way.

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LIFTING THE HEART

The other evening I was sitting outside in my courtyard enjoying the gentle breeze that was playing through the plants, lifting the fronds of the passion flower and virginia creeper and causing the geraniums to nod their heads a little. It was a relief to feel the cool soft air after the relentless heat we’ve been experiencing and instead, enjoy the long ‘silk-coloured evenings’ (to quote Philip Larkin) of summer. So peaceful and quiet was the day at that moment, my shoulders relaxed and my spirit lifted as I soaked in the serenity of the approaching evening. My mind stilled without effort and a sweet calm pervaded my body and mind. Ah! How good it was to be cool and still!

The weather this month has mirrored the fierce temperatures of anger, grief and unrest in the world of late, and in particular, what has been happening in our own small piece of the planet, and without a doubt, we have all absorbed elements of it to one degree or another. Living amidst such vibrations and not being affected by them in any way, shape or form is hard to avoid, if not impossible, so it’s really important to find some antidote within ourselves in order to help us counteract the heaviness it can cause to body, soul and mind.

More than ever before, it’s important to practise ways of lifting the heart, for in lightening any burdens we feel, we are automatically raising the spirits of those around us and our environment. The wonderful HeartMath Institute is currently involved with researching  the effect of human emotions upon the Earth’s subtle electromagnetic field and has found, amazingly, that ‘when large numbers of people create heart-centred states of loving care and compassion, it results in a more coherent electro-magnetic field around the earth that benefits everyone – plants, animals, and the planet itself……..Every single person affects this global field because we are all interconnected with and affected by the magnetic fields generate by the sun and the earth……. And every cell in our bodies is bathed in both an external and internal environment of fluctuating invisible magnetic forces’ . From “Making Life Easy” by Dr Christane Northrup.    

Bearing in mind this research, I’m sure you’ll appreciate why we need to incorporate techniques which make our hearts feel light on a daily basis so we can benefit from  the way we are fortified and supported by such emotions.  All of you will have tried and tested  mechanisms you already  use to do this from time to time, whether it’s by sitting quietly (as I was doing) enjoying the cool of the evening, or gazing upon a beautiful view.  You can lift your heart by listening to your favourite music. You can do it by singing (yes, singing lifts the spirit very effectively which is why all religions since time immemorial have used singing and chanting as a fundamental aspect of their worship).  Lifting the heart can be achieved by being with loved ones, through laughter,  by tuning into the joy of children playing, by stroking your cat, walking your dog, feeding the ducks and swans, or reading an inspirational book or piece of poetry. It’s there for you when you walk in the countryside or beside the sea, or beside a river or stream. Did you know that being out in nature automatically encourages your aura to open and expand which will, in and of itself, elevate your mood? Also were you aware that every time you are close to running or moving water, your aura is cleansed? This is why a shower is so invigorating and a walk beside the sea is so refreshing!

There are many more ways of connecting to a lightness of heart simply and easily.  You can achieve it by  participating in an activity which brings you joy (running, swimming, driving, skiing, painting or some other creative interest, etc., etc.), or meditating, praying, or just sitting for a while in a temple, church, cathedral or mosque and absorbing the powerfully peaceful vibrations of such places. All of these things are freely available to each and every one of us, and no doubt you can come up with other ideas of your own.

Practising being able to lift up our hearts and spirits in these times of unease and difficulty can only be beneficial and healing.  Remember that even though the world at the moment isn’t a peaceful place, we won’t make it any better by dwelling upon catastrophes and violence.  I’m not suggesting we turn away from the iniquities and tragedies around us and pretend they’re not happening. No.  But what I encourage you to do is to make it a priority in your life to find ways to offset the de-stabilising effect such troubles and unrest can have upon you so that you can build a greater ability to  maintain a state of balance and well-being  within yourselves which in turn will help others.

The power to change is within us always, as the following poem illustrates:

I prayed for change, so I changed my mind.

I prayed for guidance and learned to trust myself.

I prayed for happiness and realised I am not my ego.

I prayed for peace and learned to accept others unconditionally.

I prayed for abundance and realised my doubt kept it out.

I prayed for wealth and realised it is my health.

I prayed for a miracle and realised I am the miracle.

I prayed for a soul mate and realised I am the One.

I prayed for love and realised it’s always knocking, but I have to allow it in.

Jackson Kiddard

 

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