“Don’t wait for someone to bring you flowers; plant your own garden and decorate your own soul”

17 Feb

“Don’t wait for someone to bring you flowers; plant your own garden and decorate your own soul” (unknown)

This is another way of saying “If you don’t toot your own horn, don’t complain that there’s no music.”
(― Guy Kawasaki, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions)

 

Both of these statements share a very strong message. They are urging us to take responsibility; responsibility for our own happiness.

A good way to test whether this message applies to you, is to ask yourself how much do you rely on another person to bring you happiness? That could be just one other person, or a group or simply everyone else in general!

“Happiness” is a word that people use as a measure of their own well-being, yet we regularly mean how happy we are in our interactions with other people. We might blame others for making us unhappy and make excuses for not being able to change that – in which case, we are not taking ownership of our own well-being. There can be many causes and practical reasons why we feel unable to change those circumstances, but we can improve our state of mind (and therefore, our well-being), starting with little things and building up to great big ones. It’s all about observation and awareness.

Quite often when we are feeling low, we turn inside and go into our own little head-space where we grumble to ourselves about this and that, this person or that person, things we haven’t got or cannot do, etc. None of us like to think that the expression “wallowing in your own self-pity” applies to us, and in no way am I making light of serious depression, which often requires medical help. What I’m addressing here, is how we allow others to influence our mood, and how we react to that.

One of the ways Mindfulness can help us in this situation is by helping us to look outside instead of looking inwardly. This might seem like a contradiction at first, as it is when we turn inwardly that we can we can analyse the influence our own mind and others can have on our well-being! However, when I refer to looking outside, I don’t mean turning to other people – I mean turning to life, and the bigger picture. Instead of focussing on our feelings and emotions and the stories in our minds that are making us feel negative, then waiting for someone else to come along and cheer us up, we can start exploring what it is we can do for ourselves. This is exactly the message of the two quotes above. They’re not suggesting that we learn to play a musical instrument, or to take up gardening (though both of those things are good for the soul!) but they are urging us to act instead of expecting to be entertained in order to be happy: to make your own happiness instead of looking to others to make you happy.

It sounds very grand, doesn’t it – to become mindful of “life and the bigger picture”! But one way to approach this is to begin to “look for a little light in the darkness.” By “light” we’re not referring to money or food or luxuries but to take the examples from our quotes above, for instance – music, nature, kindness. The more you raise your awareness of what is outside your mind, the more you can become aware of what affects your moods. I’m not suggesting you look only for what could be termed “positive” things and blot out things that could be percieved as “negative”, but it most definitely helps you put things in balance if you look for the little light in the darkness.

The more you become aware of the little lights, the more you will notice them all around you.  This is one way of becoming re-enchanted with life – you will become aware, in time, of which of these little lights are able to turn around a dark mood. Begin perhaps with what is termed “mindful walking”, preferably in nature, but it could really be anywhere, and don’t miss those little lights that you can choose to decorate your own soul with.

light

image: Adam Diston

Cutting a sunbeam, England, 1886

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Is your mind like a monkey that leaps from branch to branch?

1 Jan

 

baccarini-domenico1

 

The expression to “Fall Awake” is one I have often come across when reading studies about awareness. Becoming re-enchanted with your self, your life and the world around you is very much an act of awareness, of raising your consciousness. Mindfulness falls nicely into this category of “falling awake”, which is on a par with “falling asleep” in that it is easier some times than at others!

“Mindfulness exercises help centre the mind and restore balance to our lives, tempering that “monkey mind” that persistently leaps from branch to branch. Rather than being led by thoughts and feelings, often influenced by past experiences and fears of future occurrences, we are able to live with full attention and purpose in the moment.” – Alfred James.

Mindfulness teacher Alfred James has suggested a great, short, mindfulness exercise that helps us to “re-claim” our minds, and that can be done even in the middle of a busy day.

“All you have to do is notice five things in your day that usually go unnoticed and unappreciated. These could be things you hear, smell, feel or see.

For example, might see the walls of your front room, hear the birds in the tree outside in the morning, feel your clothes on your skin as you walk to work, or smell the flowers in the park, but are you truly aware of these things and the connections they have with the world?

– Are you aware of how these things really benefit your life and the lives of others?

– Do you really know what these look and sound like?

– Have you ever noticed their finer, more intricate details?

– Have you thought about what life might be without these things?

– Have you thought about how amazing these things are?

Let your creative mind explore the wonder, impact and possibilities these usually unnoticed things have on your life. Allow yourself to fall awake into the world and fully experience the environment.” – Alfred James

See more suggestions from Alfred James here: http://www.pocketmindfulness.com/6-mindfulness-exercises-you-can-try-today/

We’ve all heard of the Occupy Movement, so think of this as a way to Occupy Your Own Mind, instead of allowing your own mind to Occupy you! Enjoy your environment to the fullest with this little exercise, and may it re-enchant you – good luck! – Jaq

[image: Baccarini]

 

 

 

 

 

Disconnected from Nature means disconnected from ourselves: Jaq White

1 May

Disconnected from Nature means disconnected from ourselves.

Matthew Pillsbury

image: Matthew Pillsbury

As time has progressed, things that inititally terrified humankind have become less and less intimidating. In the days when motor cars first appeared, or trains, people deemed them to be dangerous and were either enthralled and excited by them or feared them – or both – deeming that to travel at such velocity (early cars reached a top speed of about 6 mph!) was not normal and “unnatural”. Nowadays, anyone who doesn’t drive or own a car is perceived as not being normal.

Likewise, with nature. In the wild, we appreciate that we can’t simply walk among lions, tigers, bears and expect to be completely safe. So if we come across such animals behind bars, we still have some sense of awe, knowing what these creatures would be capable of if they were in their own environment and not screened from us. That environment is really our own environment, but we mostly only have access to these “wild” creatures nowadays in our own “safe” environment. Apart from zoos or patrolled wildlife parks we usually only come across them on tv or the internet, or in books, from the safety of our homes. We have become accustomed to seeing wild animals and not feeling so afraid at the sight of them. People are more likely to say “I want one” when referring to a wolf or panther or bear.

In times past, the woods and forests and countryside were not seen as places of beauty, places we head to for relaxation and unwinding; they were places to be feared, full of danger and the habitat of bears, wolves, boar, and murderous thieves. Nowadays for the most of us, creatures that could be considered dangerous are seldom or never encountered on our recreational stroll in the woods. On our adventures and journeys we largely expect to be comfortable and safe; we live in this protected environment, an environment without threat, protected from nature.

We can view so much of this as progress, and appreciate the advances we have made for humanity. However, in protecting ourselves from nature and danger, what have we lost?

Let’s consider the roles these creatures, wild places and forests have played in our beliefs, stories and mythology. It is thought that tales like Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and The Three Bears, Babes in the Wood and so on, were told to children to alert them and warn them of the real dangers that existed in the world beyond the safety of their homes. We can still tell these stories to our children but they don’t hold the same sense of warning and terror as they would have done if their grandmother could really potentially have been attacked by a wolf.

But on another level, the story still works. Beyond simply being some kind of entertainment or bedtime reading “quality time” bonding exercise between the adult and the child, it still introduces and helps prepare children for the unfamilar, by making them aware of the world beyond the walls of their home and the little world with which they are becoming familar. It describes a different environment than one of safety and trust, but because these stories now have no real relevance to the world outside their front door, (with the exception of those who live in the parts of the world where such wild animals are still encountered!) we might feel the stories no longer have any direct “practical” purpose.

However, the memory of times past when we were taking our lives in our own hands when setting out into the woods is still a part of our human nature – it is there in our consciousness. It is part of our genetic make up to be instinctively afraid of the dark, even though we may have no realistic reason to be fearful when tucked up in bed with the light turned off.

It is this same instinct that kicks in when we take off on our excursions and adventures into nature and the wilderness – even if that happens to be only a small nature reserve, a canal towpath running through a large city, or a park or woodland in the midst of an urban development. We feel a sense of freedom, or release, or of “coming alive”. When there is no genuine need for us to be fearful, we may still feel an instinctive sense of danger, and it is this instinct that makes us feel “alive”. A forgotten inner switch has been flicked on, and we have become attuned to the surroundings, naturally. And the curious thing is that it thrills us to feel “alive” in this way, because we have learned that we should avoid danger, so we don’t associate this thrilling feeling with danger, yet we wonder why we feel so “at home” when out in the wilderness, why this feeling of release is so profound, and why we feel such a sense of inner peace.

A major reason for this peaceful feeling, is because that inner switch is really attuning us to the natural world and to our place in it. It restores our sense of belonging – belonging to something other than a human, social world. We have re-connected with the natural world, and in doing so, we have re-connected with our real self. Our wild self. And by discovering and re-connecting with this wild self, this real self, we can begin our real journey to understanding what makes us feel “well-balanced” and to finding a genuine, prolonged inner peace.

Your past is just a story: what does it mean to “Live in the Now?” by Jaq White

30 Apr

“Your past is just a story.

And once you realize this, it has no power over you.”

–Chuck Palahniuk

books

How do I “live in the present”? What does it mean to “Live in the Now”?

There are a number of online motivational images and posters with a slogan or quote about the benefits of living in the present, or the moment, or the now. People share them with friends on sites like Facebook, and lots of people “like” the message, but often comments go unanswered, such as people asking “How do I learn to live in the Now?” or saying “I’ve tried but I find it too hard”.

Here’s an example I saw recently

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Like most things that are worthwhile, it isn’t easy! It requires effort, but with some useful tips, it can be made easier.

We sometimes hear people saying so-and-so “lives in the past” or spends too much time dreaming of a better future. All of us do to some extent. We might benefit if we realise that this actually means we are living in our mind. Your mind is like a big storybook, full of different chapters made up from memories, and from the emotions that we have attached to those memories. We also make up new stories that haven’t been written yet, about what might happen in the future.

To start learning to live in the present, it helps to think of your mind as a big library. It is full of books and stories, and each story has different chapters. You are not actually in any of those books, stories or chapters right now; you are looking at the shelves. Try to imagine all those shelves. On one shelf you might store your childhood memories and stories. Another shelf is for your relationships – family, friends, romances. Just as in a book shop or public library, there might be shelves for interests, travels, health, Beliefs and so on.

The important difference between public libraries and the library in your mind is that the stories in your mind are yours alone, and even if they involve other people, their version of the story would be very different to your version, because their version is very personal to them, and they will attach their own emotions to situations, memories – or indeed to thoughts of future possibilities – which may of course be VERY different to yours. They have their own personal mind-library.

Stories in books tend to be made up of facts and situations that cannot be changed, but readers will often interpret the story quite differently, or will have a different favourite character, or would have preferred different types of endings. The same applies to the stories that we have created in our mind. Facts and situations we create for each story can’t be changed if it has been written by the mind, and cast on that shelf. Sometimes the thoughts and memories may be pleasant, or funny even, and others will be sad, or full of a sense of regret of what we feel we “should” or “shouldn’t” have done. But we have to try to remember that these are just stories that our mind has written; none of this is happening right now, and in reality, the only things we can act upon are those things that are happening right now.

When we go over old memories in our mind, or thoughts about current situations or the future, the emotions that we feel are a very important factor. We have attached certain feelings to them, and in order to “live in the present”, we need to be able to disassociate the feeling from the memory or thought. Think of this as a piece of string that is attached to that book , wrapped around it even while it is on that shelf in the library of your mind, and the other end of this piece of string is attached to your heart. In other words, that thought/memory can “pull at your heartstrings” – it has a certain power and has influence over you and how you feel and behave. This stops you from being aware of what is happening right now. Do you want that thought/memory to have control of your mind; to influence how you feel and behave?

Until you “cut” that string that binds your heart to it, it will keep jumping off the shelf in your mind, into your lap, demanding your attention, and gaining more power each time it presents itself. If, however, you are able to sit and allow your mind to really delve into why that thought is so important, or how it is affacting your behaviour nowadays (and you can learn to do this gently, through Mindfulness Meditation) you can “disempower” the thought/memory; you can put that chapter of your story back on the shelf but you will have cut the “heartstring” so that if the story is ever mentioned, or comes into your conscious awareness, you no longer have to feel any pull or associated overpowering emotion about it. This can happen with all different kinds of thoughts and memories; good as well as bad or painful situations, and the reason this is important is that it can help us to stop wishing we could have something good back again just as much as it can help stop us feeling afraid, nervous, anxious or sad.

“Reacting is instinctual.  Responding is a conscious choice.  When something happens, our body is going to react automatically regardless.  The trick is to become aware of this initial reaction, resist doing anything, involve your higher intelligence by considering options, possible ramifications, who you want to be, and what is going to be in your best interest, and, then, choose how to respond.” – Debbie Hampton

In the article, Responding vs. Reacting, J. Loeks writes:

The act of responding requires one to look at the circumstance, identify the problem or situation, hear what is happening and reflect. That reflection can be for a moment, five seconds, one hour, two days or longer. The time frame doesn’t matter. What matters is that you stopped and put an effort to think and suspended judgment. It is a conscious act and shows that you are willing to listen or observe. This ‘gap’ between the circumstance and your behaviour is what contributes to gaining a sense of control in your life. Once a person can identify that in responding they actually have a choice in the manner, he/she will start to realise that they are able to make better decisions. The key is that pause. If the situation requires an immediate action, then just take a deep breath first. This alone can help one gain a semblance of control and make one choose an alternative statement or action that can make a big difference in an outcome of a situation.

This also applies to how we respond to a memory or to a thought about a current situation, or a thought about the future.

The way we can do this is by:

  • Not reacting to inner experience (e.g., be aware of feelings and emotions without having to react to them);
  • Acting with awareness, not being on automatic pilot, concentrating (e.g., breaking or spilling things because of carelessness, not paying attention, or thinking of something else);
  • Noticing sensations, perceptions, thoughts, feelings (e.g., remaining present with sensations and feelings even when they are unpleasant or painful);

Mindfulness meditation can help us to find a space within ourselves where we can conduct that reflection, that pause. We can find a space for “non-doing”; meaning – we don’t have to act or react to any thought immediately. Once we get a real taste of this space for reflection and for how it can help our wellbeing and peace of mind, with practice, we can allow ourselves to acknowledge or “think” that thought in our own time, when we are prepared to allow it into our consciousness with our mind in a state of peace and strength. We learn how to allow as little or as much of that thought to enter our consciousness, and to address it, whilst feeling safe from the effects of thinking it. This pause can make a big difference in helping us to gain control back from those thoughts that can affect us so deeply, and that prevent us from being fully aware in the present. And being fully aware is never about holding on; it’s always about knowing you have a choice in how you respond, acting consciously, and being open to discovery.

In a future post I will show how Mindfulness Meditation can help us on a journey of Becoming Re-enchanted with ourselves and with our lives.

Jaq White

When the Land Spoke: Begin to Hear Again

29 Apr

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image: Masao Yamamoto

I came here to understand the primal drive of the modern hunter and to find a people who, when the land spoke, could interpret its language. I also came in search of silence so I could begin to hear again.

Erika Larsen speaking of her long term photographic project ‘Sami: The People Who Walk With Reindeer’

Maintaining connection to the Wild

29 Apr

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“The way to maintain one’s connection to the wild is to ask yourself what it is that you want. This is the sorting of the seed from the dirt. One of the most important discriminations we can make in this matter is the difference between things that beckon to us and things that call from our souls.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

image Wales 1937. © getty images

 

Fill the silence

29 Jun

“To deliver oneself up, hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hill, or sea, or desert: to sit still while the sun comes up over the land and fills its silences with light. To pray and work in the morning and to labour in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars.

This is a true and special vocation. There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence.”

—Thomas Merton

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