Woman surrounded by Christmas lights

By Yourself at Christmas

This post is for all the people who are going to be by themselves at Christmas and want to make the most of it. I hope one or more of these suggestions is useful, let me know how you get on!

Plan Some Fun

Being by yourself means that you get to decide exactly what you want to do and when, so I recommend planning out some really fun things that you enjoy. That might include:

  • pampering/ spa
  • sight-seeing, museums
  • restaurants (take a book?)
  • movies
  • shows
  • shopping
  • zorbing/ zip lining (or anything else fun and available in winter in your area)

It can also be something you’ve always wanted to try and never found the time. You could book these ahead of time so you have things to look forward to throughout your holidays. If you wanted, you could even plan a holiday with single people around your age, so you get to see somewhere new – a great option for people who hate to eat at restaurants and explore alone.

Meet Some Likeminded People

If you are in the mood to be social, you can find other people in the same mood using sites like meetup.com or social media. You could look for groups of people you have shared interests with, which will make it easy to find something to talk about, or find an expat or out-of-towner group if you happen to be away from home.

Make the Most of Your Free Time

If you do decide to hang out alone you can also take the opportunity to teach yourself something you have been wanting to learn, such as:

  • photography
  • piano
  • a language Spanish for example),
  • ikebana/ flower arranging
  • pottery/ painting
  • computer programming/ webdesign

See how far you can progress before the holidays end.

Alternatively, if learning feels too much like hard work, how about working your way through all the classic movies you have always meant to make time to see? One of my favourites is Dune (for the Sci-fi nerds out there), but I also recommend Amelie, Stranger than Fiction, Lost in Translation, About Time and slightly older action/ adventure movies like Die Hard, Romancing the stone, Indiana jones – there’s actually too many great films to list. I’m excited for you at this point. Oh yes, and gaming – that’s a thing lots of people love too.

Create Something

Along similar lines as above, but a little more ambitious – take this free time to create something. Try and make it something you feel like doing, are excited about and will feel good for having finished. Things like:

  • a short story
  • a book outline
  • a poem
  • a painting/ drawing
  • a photography project
  • a short movie
  • a coffee table
  • a Raspberry Pi or similar
  • an idea for a video game
  • a photo book

The possibilities are limitless, but try and confine yourself to something you actually enjoy and care about. You have some time to research and experiment now, playing around with ideas and trying things – enjoy it!


Whatever you choose to do, being alone can be a wonderful gift as long as you value it and have the right attitude. Whatever you do, be intentional and do not allow feelings of FOMO to dominate. All over the world people who celebrate Christmas, Hannukah or other, will be with their loved ones, and it is guaranteed that at least one of those people is incredibly annoying, so enjoy the luxury of doing what you want, when you want and having your own space and time. 

Taking Stock of Your 2019

A personal annual review can help you reflect on the challenges and successes of the past year and help you to prepare for a great 2020.

Last year I started taking part in the tradition of doing an annual year-end review and based on how it went I made some pointers to help you do the same. Before we get started on the how, let’s have a quick look at what a personal review is and why we would do it.

The Why

Why would you do this in the first place? Well this is a busy time of year when we can get swept up in parties, shopping, travel and family drama and it is easy to drift into the new year still in a partial food coma possibly faintly smelling of Brussel sprouts and Ferrero rocher (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!). But, as always, it is easier to see where you’re going and how to get there when you clearly know where you’ve been. In this case, it will be easier to start the new year with 2020 vision if we take the time to reflect on the year coming to a close (excuse the pun). 

The What

A personal annual review is just that – personal – so yours may be very different to someone else’s. But just to give you a general idea; it is an opportunity to reflect on what you have achieved in the past year, the challenges you have faced and how you did that, what disappointments and breakthroughs you’ve experienced, what you have learned and what you would like to do or have more of in the future. It might take an hour for some people, others may set aside a day or even week. 

The How

Here are my tips for doing your own great review. I recommend you have a read through and then make this exercise your own by doing it your own way, so it makes sense and feels right for you. And at the end of this article I will give you some ideas of things you can look at more specifically.Set aside time.

1. Set Aside Time

It helps to plan in advance because if you are a super-busy person you may find yourself doing this last minute or squeezing it in because you feel like you should, but then you will not really be in the right state of mind to reflect. So whether it is for an hour or two, or you decide to schedule times every day for one week, I strongly recommend you specifically set aside time in your diary. 

2. Prepare

You do not need to do extensive prep for your review, but if you have a general think about things you want to consider before hand it will give your subconscious mind a chance to start working on it, and it also gives you a chance to gather any facts or data you need. For example, if reflecting on your work is part of your review and that will involve sales figures – get the rough data together before hand so that your time is not consumed by this. Or if you want to plan a big trip in 2020, you can do a little research on different options ahead of time – not choosing the trip, just gathering information. Getting the more mundane but necessary part of the way first will help you to relax into a more reflective and maybe intuitive state for your actual review.

3. Create the Space

If you are not used to doing this kind of exercise it can feel a little silly and if others are not used to you doing it you may find it hard to be left alone. Consider your best chances for some peaceful alone time, where you will have the time and space to reflect. Sometimes taking yourself out of your normal environment can help give you more perspective, while others may want the sense of connection to their life that a familiar place gives them. There is no right or wrong as long as you feel comfortable, engaged and relaxed. You can also create your mental space for doing this work by setting aside worries and other habits (smartphone/ browsing the internet randomly), allowing yourself to step outside of the day-to-day so that you can reflect on how you have been over the last year, how your work has gone, how the year has affected you etc. 

4. Decide What to Look At

You may want to look at every aspect of your life, or just a couple that are most important for you right now. Personally, I like to get a general overview and I have included a few different aspects below, which are more about your self-development than practical concerns. However, you can look at anything you want; finances, friendships, athletic ability, travel, cooking skills. I strongly suggest you pick the topics that feel meaningful to you, which will make a difference in your life, and also at least one area that you know is not your strongest and would prefer to avoid looking at. 

5. Be Kind 

Of course, this review is meant to help you bring the old year to a close and move into the new year feeling strong, hopeful and centred. Therefore, it is not an exercise in being very self-critical or other forms of self-flagellation. Of course, we have to acknowledge mistakes but the main thing is that we understand why they happened and how we would like to act in the future, not get caught up in guilt or shame. So be kind to yourself as you do this review – even if you have had an absolutely terrible year (especially if you have!) – because this review is a way of taking care of yourself. 

Some things to consider

Many of the points below are related to self-development more than practicalities (although I have popped a couple of those in as well), so feel free to add anything else you are interested in – this is just to get you started. You could pick 4-8 aspects of your life to consider in your review, whatever you feel is right for you. 

  • Physical health
  • Connection to, and appreciation of, my body
  • Amount of fun I have
  • General levels of joy
  • Amount of spontaneity/ adventure in my life
  • Ability to take risks when it feels right (did I play it safe and regret it at all? Did I take too many risks?)
  • Mental wellbeing
  • Self-compassion in my attitude and actions
  • Ability to think clearly
  • Amount of time I feel inspired/ lifted up
  • Amount of time I spend in a flow state
  • Sense of connection to others
  • Deepening my relationships, putting the time and effort in
  • Taking care of others in a healthy way
  • Having great boundaries
  • Self-love and self-appreciation
  • Acknowledging my emotions and listening to them
  • Taking care of my emotional and physical needs in a healthy way
  • Finances
  • Career progress and successes
  • Learning from opportunities
  • Creating an authentic and strong network for study or work
  • Ongoing study to build on current knowledge/ expertise
  • Having all my ducks in a row at important times
  • Setting myself up for success (did I self-sabotage at all? If so, how and why?)
  • Charitable/ pro bono work, giving back to the community
  • Considering my impact on the world, the change I would like to make even if small
  • My relationship with the environment, lessening my impact, helping nature
  • The influence I have on other people (children, students, coworkers, partner, friends and others)

As you can see there are so many things we could consider! You may be wondering why there are so many things that look at our impact on others, considering this is self-development. Well we’re all in the planet together and although it may feel comforting to think we are an island, on some level we know this is not true. So I recommend including some aspect of your impact on the world or people around you in your evaluation also. Contributing to something greater than ourselves is also the way that we find meaning, and I think this is a great way to bring the year to a close and to move towards 2020 with a sense of who we are, how we are doing, our place in the world and the impact we would like to have on it. 

Happy personal annual reviewing! 

Image by picjumbo, Pixabay

Sneak Preview of My New Book Cover

I am super excited to show you the cover to my new book, eta October 2019 [updated eta is April 2020 – I hope you don’t mind waiting a little longer]!

It has been a bit of an epic journey writing the book, and so it is wonderful to have a cover that reflects all the work and passion I put into it. Really looking forward to sharing this work with you.

If you want to stay updated on the book release just sign up to the form below.

The Art of Coming Home by Suzanne Wylde

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# 6 Hanging Out With Our Inner Child

Our inner child is the part of us who didn’t grow up, stop playing, dreaming or exploring. He or she is still in there, hoping we will come out and play, listen to them and comfort them. This is one of the exercises from the book, which I really enjoy – I hope you do too.

Speaking to our Inner Child

It can be funny when we start to do this kind of work, imagining a child within us, but then for many of us the memory of how we were as a child returns quite clearly. The clothes we liked, our hairstyle, the way we stood and acted. In the exercise below we are going to call to mind our inner child so that we can speak to him or her and it can be really nice to see them again.

On some days you may connect with yourself at 5 years old, on others at 9 or 16; allow whatever age wants to talk to you to come up. Also, take this exercise at your own pace and above all have the attitude of kindness to yourself and your inner child.

Exercise: Speaking to our Inner Child

a) Start by sitting comfortably, closing your eyes and breathing in a relaxed way.

b) Picture yourself as a child – whichever age comes to mind is fine. Notice their clothes and hair, facial expression and how they are standing.

c) In your mind’s eye say hello to them and then ask them if there is anything they want. Wait for the answer patiently, try not to have any expectations about what you think they “should” say.

d) If they do not want anything, ask if there is anything they would like to say. Again, wait for the response with an open mind. If they did ask for something, you can imagine giving them what they ask for (such as a hug) or even plan to do something in real life with them, if it is practical. 

e) You can talk to your inner child as much as you feel is the right amount, always allowing them as much time to respond to questions as they need, and giving them the opportunity to ask questions.

f) When you feel you have finished it is nice to imagine giving them a warm hug and telling them you appreciate and love them.

How do you feel now you have done that? If they asked to something, you can do it and imagine them there with you. If it is something a little less convenient, you can imagine a substitute that will help them to feel the same way. So, for example, if they wanted to go skydiving you can go on the swings or a rollercoaster, to feel free and excited.

Whether it is colouring, cartoons or exploring, enjoy spending this time with your inner child! After all life is too short to be a grown-up all the time 😉

Personal Year Review

Although my book deadline is fast approaching and I probably should be writing, I felt like I wanted to write a quick post on the ritual of intentionally looking back on our year. This week before Christmas feels different to the others, as if a natural lull is descending. Over the holidays many of us take time out of our normal routines and with this natural interruption in the day-to-day comes a great opportunity to reflect on the year just passed.

This isn’t to critically judge our performance in 2018, but rather to take the time to acknowledge our successes as well as the hard times and see how we have grown. There is not a lot of ritual left in modern society, but it is still a deep-seated need that we have – the act of taking a moment to witness ourselves and our lives is very powerful.

So, although it is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the holidays, and the dynamics of family, why not take a little downtime for yourself to check in with how things have been for you, how you have been, what you have achieved and where you want to go next. Hopefully we will be able to begin the new year with clear hearts and minds (if not bodies!!).

1. Looking Back

In this exercise we are going to look at the bigger things that have happened, but you might want to look at your calendar to make sure you get all the key ones. Also when doing this is best to be as open and honest as you can and not engage in stories around events (he did this/ she did that because…).

a) Write down the major events of the past year, if you like tables you can draw one like the example below. It does not have to be major in other people’s eyes; just important to you, and it can be good, bad or neutral.

b) Next to each event I would like you to write out all the emotions you experienced around that event (before, during and after as a result of it).

c) Try and identify any main challenges that you faced, whether internal or external, be as detailed as you like.

d) Now write out what you learned from that situation, and how you have grown as a result.

e) In the final column, write how you were successful. We are using this word in the context of doing something that was good for you, which may not seem like success as defined by society’s standards.

My theme:

2. How we did in different areas of lifeIt can be a good idea to look at how happy we have been with different aspects of ourselves and our lives over the last year, so that we can work on improving these in the new year.

Out of 10 mark your level of satisfaction with each of the following (10 being the best). Please note that if you are not travelling much, but are satisfied then it can still be a 10/10 as this is not about anyone else.

Health
Fitness
Eating nutritious food
New experiences
Personal Growth
Friendships
Intimate relationships
Family relationships
Co-worker relationships
Creative expression
Self-expression
Making needed changes
Learning new things
Improving skill or knowledge at work
Making useful connections for work
Doing Exciting things
Having a stable home life
Travel
Taking healthy chances
Examining beliefs and values
Living according to own values

This is not to feel bad about ourselves at all, in fact we should celebrate the areas where we are doing really well, but it is useful to know where we might like to put some more energy next year.

3. Major Successes from last year

Above we looked at events that happened to us, but here we are going to make as complete a list as possible of all the things we are proud of (or should be proud of) from this year. Include even small things if they are significant to you. Sometimes we forget to celebrate what we have done well and move right on to the next problem, but it is important to acknowledge how much we have achieved so we can build on a feeling of satisfaction and success.

Getting that balance between kindness to ourselves and accountability is important for most self development work. But this is easy once we understand that being kind is not letting ourselves off the hook if we know we self-sabotaged or did not try very hard, and remembering that being accountable is not looking for reasons to criticise ourselves, but just taking responsibility for our behaviour and actions (or inaction).

List of successes:

So, I hope you enjoyed doing your personal review. I have found it a great way to think about how I have been, what I have done, what I have avoided doing and what I would like to do in the future. And although this is not about making new years resolutions that may only make it to the second week of January, if you would like to you can set a couple of goals for the next year. Making them quite specific is a good idea, and then you will know if you are achieving them or not and I highly making them realistic. You can look over all the things you have reflected on from the past year, and think about what you would like your next year to look like in general, or maybe what you would like to be writing about this time next year in your personal review.

My goals for next year: 

I hope you found your review useful. Have a great Christmas, Hannukkah, Pancha Ganapati, New Year and Solstice!

Superageing

This term has rocketed to popularity since neurologists have found that we can greatly influence how fast we age mentally. Or rather – how fast we decline  (I do not think the word age should be used interchangeably with words like decline or wane – growing old does not have to mean growing feeble physically or mentally).

How we live has a huge impact on how we can continue to live. And more than use it or lose it, which says if we do not continue doing a thing, we won’t be able to do it – it appears that it is crucial to keep trying new things.

I believe that this should be a theme throughout our lives, not just for our 70s or 80s. By continuing to put ourselves outside of our comfort zones we learn how to learn – how to be bad at something and be OK with that, how to go through the initial stages of trying and failing, learning by experience, building motor skills or mental ones. And gaining the confidence of a new skill, as well as new insight into ourselves. Over time our idea of ourselves can grow staid or rigid. Challenging this with new experiences, situations and friends can keep our relationship with ourselves fresh and real.

And it is not just learning – exercise is a really important part of staying youthful, which makes sense because there’s nothing like a workout to blow the cobwebs away! It has to be fairly high intensity to get the benefits, so I’d choose cardio or strength work over a gentle stroll if that is possible for you.

So, embrace your superpower – superageing! Of course, how perfect is it that the key to staying young is to see the world like a child – a sea of new opportunities and possibility. Enjoy! And remember – with great power comes great responsibility 😉

Check out this article for more information if you are interested: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-aging/what-does-it-take-to-be-a-super-ager

Time in Nature

There is nothing quite so healing, quite so fundamental to our human nature (no pun intended) as spending time in the great outdoors. We were not designed to sit immobile staring at screens for hours on end, we are born explorers and wanderers. Yet there seems to be a variety of obstacles keeping us from running wild outside, and I’d like to take a moment to talk about them as well as ways around them.

If we could be running around breathing fresh air, nature bathing or squirrel-watching, why would we choose to stay inside a box? Here are some of the most common nature-blockers:

1. Rain

Coming from Britain, this is a fairly common occurrence (but not all the time like in the movies). It is not that fun to walk around in wet clothes, unable to warm up and dry off for a long time – especially if we are not used to it. Alfred Wainwright (an inveterate walker) said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” OK, but maybe you don’t want to invest in all the latest hiking gear, or look like a birdwatcher (sorry twitchers!). Here’s what I recommend instead:

–  Walk close to home so it doesn’t matter

–   Take spare clothes wrapped up in a plastic bag to keep them dry

–   Go for a run – you’ll get sweaty anyway, the rain won’t make a big difference

–   And most of all: enjoy the rain! There is nothing like being out in a storm (but stay safe of course) or a gentle misting of rain. And it is a lot quieter as loads of other people stay indoors!

If you’re going to be wet for a long time in a colder country the thing you’ll probably want most is waterproof shoes, to keep your tootsies warm and dry. From there you can build up a supply of outdoor gear if you want to – but don’t let a lack of gear keep you indoors! There is a playground out there waiting for you.

2. It is Uncomfortable

What do a tree log and a comfy sofa have in common? Not a lot. It is undeniable that the great indoors is a lot more comfortable than out-of-doors, and our soft bottoms have grown accustomed to soft seating. But how uplifted do you feel looking around your house? Even if you have some great art, there is nothing like a sunrise or sunset, birds flying, or trees blowing in the wind to change your state of mind.

There is a different kind of comfort than that of your bottom – the comfort of your mental and emotional state after reconnecting with nature. Expand your spirit, unburden your mind and absorb the goodness around you, by disconnecting from your devices, unplugging bum from sofa and rediscovering your inborn affinity with the natural world. Playing in nature and natural movement are good for the soul.

3. It is Boring

It is true – nature is no amusing cat video! What happens in nature is not usually a 30 second clip, followed by another 30 second clip. It takes time, it unfolds at a pace many of us are unfamiliar with – a realistic, real pace. And slowing down to this pace lets us rediscover our humanity a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with not much happening – in fact it is normal. Things constantly happening give us the adrenals of a 90-year-old.

They say only boring people are bored, take your time – look around, watch some ants. Let your mind heal itself from the barrage of rubbish we take on board every day, by looking at something real unfolding in real time. While that is happening, good things will be working away inside you – restoration, rearranging, maybe some repair work.

4. It is not Addictive

I know, and it removes us from many of our addictions (unless we take them with us). It is not a bar, a TV, a shop, social media, refined carbs etc – it’s the worst! Time we spend in nature is mainly healthy and not giving us the endorphin rushes we are used to. So why bother?

It is nice to rediscover some real gratification – for example, we are rewarded with natural beauty if we put in the physical effort of getting ourselves there. A real effort, rewarded with something we alone (or only a few others) can see. Not millions of people on social media or TV – a real experience you have put in the effort to achieve. Nature is not addictive in the instantaneous, convenient way of many addictions – but is definitely moreish when you get into it! And better for your body and mind.

5. It is Out of The Way

True – we have built over a lot of it, and then put our houses in these built-up bits. Not many of us are living in treehouses these days. So it does take a bit of effort getting to it, more so for some than others. Yet I bet you will find bits of nature like some forgotten outposts, scattered around, silently waiting for a person to come and enjoy them. Looking at a satellite view of a map is an easy way to find these. Incorporating them into your journey to work can change your whole day. Taking your kids to areas like these or even somewhere further away can give you an experience for your family to share and enjoy in real time, away from devices and distractions. Some people even camp out for the night on what Alistair Humphreys calls “Microadventures”. If nature is not right at your doorstep, making the extra effort to seek it out can add a whole other dimension to your life.

6. It is Dirty and Unpredictable and Not Always Friendly

True, true, true – you’ve got me there! You might get muddy, come across creepy crawlies and things that bite. Remember when you were a little kid and the world was your crazy laboratory though? You probably used to be interested in such things, as well as getting as dirty as feasibly possible. I recommend investing in a good quality laundry detergent, a spread-out newspaper at the front door and a renewed sense of enthusiasm for watching bugs. After all, we are walking out in their home too – we are as much in their space as they are in ours, even though we may be very unused to them. If you do live somewhere with dangerous snakes and spiders you might want to familiarise yourself with where they typically hang out and your closest hospital, but for the rest of us, being OK with being outside of a homogenised environment makes us more resilient, more interesting, more balanced. And getting a bit muddy every now and then is really good for us, as well as lots of fun.

7. No time!

I only believe you if you are not watching TV or playing on your devices for hours. If so I veto this reason. If you have no time in daylight hours, head torches and a couple of friends will solve this for you. Nature at night is pretty cool too, as long as you are safe – i.e. don’t run off a cliff.

Well, this is the end of my little attempt to break down any barriers to nature you may have. I sincerely hope you have some fresh air, trees, wild animals and muddy/ dusty shoes in your future!

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”

― George Gordon Byron

“Spring is nature’s way of saying, Let’s party!”

― Robin Williams

#6 Processing our Emotions

(an abridged excerpt from the book)

In psychology the term Emotional Processing refers to people working through very difficult emotions, but in this section I am referring to anyone’s ability to feel an emotion, accept it, allow it to be there, listen to what it has to say and to let it change or leave as it wants to. It means letting an emotion complete itself and move through us.

This is a brilliant life skill, which can help us live a colourful, balanced and authentic life, in harmony with our feelings. On the other hand, repressed emotions can play havoc with our emotional, mental and physical health.

Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”

– Sigmund Freud

Of course, emotion is not the only cause of tension or ill-health in people, but it is a whopper. There is significant evidence which shows that not expressing emotion in a healthy way can lead to higher levels of inflammation in the body (Honkalampi, 2011) as well as higher cancer mortality (Chapman et al., 2013). This is obviously a highly controversial area, but if true it does not mean that people with cancer are to blame. However, it does mean that expressing our emotions should be high up on our priority list.

Not processing and expressing emotions has also been shown to damage our relationships; Goleman (1988) says that people who habitually repress difficult emotions have a much harder time with intimate relationships because they find it harder to engage emotionally.

All of these effects show that processing emotions is not indulgent or a luxury, but essential to our health and wellbeing.

How Emotions Resolve Themselves

When I say resolve, I do not mean that emotions are problems, just that we are allowing them to move through us in a natural way. A major part of this is the ability to recognise what the emotion is, accept it, allow it to be present and maybe listen to it (although some are just fleeting and do not have a lot to say).

Most emotions left to their own devices resolve themselves naturally, all we have to do is:

  • Let ourselves be with the feeling.
  • Recognise what we are feeling
  • Give the emotion permission to be
  • Let it tell us anything it needs to
  • Take action if needed and
  • Continuing to breathe freely and naturally.

A child can feel, breathe and express like a master, but it takes the sophistication and education of an adult’s brain to understand the finer points of what an emotion is trying to tell us and the discipline of an adult to take responsibility for clean emotional expression. So we can learn from each other!

Processing Our Emotions

The next small sections look at ways we can help our emotions along on their journey. If you feel overwhelmed at any point, stop, and if you feel that you need to seek help please do so. Let’s start with an exercise for getting in touch with our feelings through our physical sensations.

Exercise: Processing our Feelings Through Physical Sensation and a Chat

Try to stay open-minded during this exercise, as the goal is to let the feeling speak for itself, not let our mind tell us.

a) Sitting somewhere quiet and comfortable, just breathe and relax your body.

b) Let the tension drop away with every out breath

c) Now notice if there are any sensations in your body that are more in the foreground, more obvious.

d) What is that feeling like, is it; warm, cool, light, heavy, a ball, spread out, tense, relaxed, for example?

e) Keep noticing the feeling in your body and with an open mind notice whether it has a shape, or a colour?

f) Now that you are feeling it quite clearly, say “hello” to it in your mind, and ask it if it wants to say anything. Wait with an open mind for its answer.

g) If it does say something, you can have a conversation with it, find out a little more information.

h) You can also ask if it needs anything, wait with an open mind for the answer.

g) If it does, you can converse with it a little, to find out more, or find out how you can satisfy those needs, some may even be able to be taken care of with visualization, such as imagining giving that part of you a hug, attention, or letting it run around pretending to be an aeroplane – anything it is asking for.

There are no wrong answers – feelings do not always make sense. Also our feelings may not be able to be resolved completely in one sitting, especially if we have been carrying them for a long time, it is fine to revisit the exercise later, once or several times.

Accepting Our Feelings

When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.”

—Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

How often do we actually let our emotions be as they are, without trying to frame them or alter them in some way? This open acknowledgment of our feelings is essential to being able to process them.

Exercise: Accepting our Feelings

There is no single way to accept all feelings, because our barrier to acceptance can be different for different emotions.

For this simple exercise, I would like you just to recall an emotion that you had recently that you found difficult to accept. Write down what the emotion was and the circumstances, and then write how you felt.

Use as much detail as you like and write until you feel you have completely acknowledged the feeling. How do you feel now that you have done that? Do not worry if you feel worse, because it is better to be conscious of how you feel. If you like, you can use the exercise above to help process it more. Or continue onto the next section.

The next time you notice yourself pushing a feeling away, try thinking to yourself “it is OK, I accept feeling this” and notice how it feels.

Breathing into Our Feelings

Emotions and breath are very intertwined and have a huge impact on each other. Can you stay excited when you purposefully slow your breathing, or can you feel calm when intentionally hyperventilating? Your emotions change your breath and your breathing affects your emotions. One study even proved that breathing in a specific way could elicit a specific emotional state (Philippot, P. et al. 2002). In the exercise below we use that connection to help us relate to an emotion and help it to move and resolve itself.

Exercise: Breathing into the Feeling

For this freeform exercise, I would like you to keep an open mind. We are going to “breath into” the emotion, by which I mean be very aware of it, and then use breath to help process it. Don’t worry I will explain as we go!

a) Sitting somewhere quiet and comfortable, just breathe and relax into your body.

b) Let the tension go with every out breath and let yourself feel heavy and calm.

c) Notice any more obvious sensations in your body.

d) Now notice what it feels like, is it; warm, cool, light, heavy, a ball, spread out, tense, relaxed, for example?

e) Now, without preconceptions, I would like you to breathe in the way that makes you feel the same as that feeling, the way that makes you feel in tune, or in harmony with it. I know that is a bit abstract, follow your intuition. It is fine to try a couple of different ways, when you hit on the right one you may feel yourself merging with it.

f) The object is not to get worked up into a state, or overcome by any emotion, but to allow it to be there fully. With this intention know that you are solid, and calm, as well as experiencing this feeling. If you start feeling overwhelmed or lost in the emotion, feel the sensation of your feet on the ground and slow and deepen your breath.

g) As you continue to breathe “into” and with the emotion, notice how it changes, where it moves, how the emotion changes, if at all. And keep breathing with it.

h) If at any point you want to ask your feeling what it wants or needs, as before, you can. But the main focus is the breath

i) Now open your eyes and keep them open as you ask your feeling how it would like you to breathe in order to process it. It’s also fine to move your body, open your jaw wide or make noises if you need to.

j) Stop when you feel you have done enough and notice how you feel physically and emotionally. Do you find that you are breathing differently than before?

Moving to Express Emotion

Another great way to move our emotions and let them express themselves is movement, as we touched on above. Many emotions exist in a place inside us that can be hard to reach with words and is more easily expressed through non-verbal mediums. It is also a great opportunity to scare your neighbours, if you wanted one (or draw your curtains if not).

You can do this exercise with or without music. The benefit of music is that it makes it easier to dance, but if your feelings beyond the mood of the music I suggest you switch songs.

a) Stand in a private place with enough space to move.

b) If you want to play music, use your intuition to select the right type of music or even specific song.

c) Now as you are standing relaxed, tune into your physical sensations and your feelings. Without forcing anything, let them guide you in the movement.

d) As before there are no wrong movements, as long as they are safe and you are not controlling them all with your mind. As long as you are expressing your feelings it does not matter if you are doing a moon walk or hopping like a bunny, it is all good.

e) Continue until you feel that it is complete, or that you need a rest. You can always come back to it later.

You may be surprised by the force of your movements as stronger emotions see their chance to escape, again as long as it is not hurting you or unsafe it is fine. Or you may make incredibly beautiful or very silly movements, just go with whatever happens and see how your feelings emerge and express themselves.

How do you feel now? If you need a quick nap that is a good idea, even 5 minutes may help. I also recommend that you do not think too much right now, just stay with how you feel now and be present.

Well done for giving this a try! Do not worry if you found one or more of the exercises difficult, as I said before, you may need a little more practice, but stick with it. There is nothing quite like working through your feelings for clearing your mind and feeling grounded and integrated.

No amount of work can move us forward in our self development if we are not processing our feelings – they will always be in the background, affecting our minds and bodies. But by processing them fully we can create more of a clear slate to work with, living in the moment with light bodies and clear minds. Enjoy!

References

Chapman, B. P. et al. (2013) ‘Emotion Suppression and Mortality Risk Over a 12-Year Follow-up’, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 75(4), pp. 381–385 [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939772/ (Accessed: 19th June 2018).

Gilbert, E. (2007) Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything, London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.

Goleman, D. (1988) Health; New Studies Report Health Dangers Of Repressing Emotional TurmoilThe New York Times, 3rdMarch. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1988/03/03/us/health-new-studies-report-health-dangers-of-repressing-emotional-turmoil.html (Accessed 19th June 2018).

Honkalampi, K. et al. (2011) ‘Alexithymia and Tissue Inflammation’, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 80, pp. 359–364 [Online]. Available at: https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/327583 (Accessed: 19th June 2018).

Philippot, P. et al. (2002) ‘Respiratory feedback in the generation of emotion’, Cognition and Emotion, 16(5), pp. 605-627 [Online]. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232965660_Respiratory_feedback_in_the_generation_of_emotion(Accessed: 1st August 2018)

 

 

#5 Acceptance – Part 3 (Accepting Other People And Situations)

(an abridged excerpt from the book)

Although we need to make judgments to navigate the world, excessive judgement can put up walls between ourselves and others, and inhibit natural and authentic interactions. If we temper judgment with acceptance we stand a much better chance of being able to think and act appropriately and compassionately.

I have met people who fall too much on one side than the other and both can cause problems. Too much judgment and too little acceptance can make our standards unattainably high or lead to us alienating others. Too much acceptance and too little judgment can lead to getting taken advantage of, or finding ourselves in difficult situations. So we need to get the balance right. As I mentioned before, having real acceptance doesn’t mean we can’t be discerning.

Accepting People

One quality that always helps in our acceptance of other people and things is compassion. The exercise below is very simple as I would like you to just read through some statements and mull them over.

Exercise: Reading Through Statements of Acceptance

I am in no better position to judge others than they are to judge me

Other people are not trying to be the person I want to be, or live life the way I want to live it.

Every adult is responsible for their own lives and happiness

Every person has the right to be free to be themselves, whether I approve of their choices or not

It would be too much responsibility to make great choices for myself, as well as evaluating other peoples’

The situation is as it is, if I can accept that I may find the best way to move forward.

It is very hard to fight other people, weather, events and life. It is best to find a way to go with the flow and use whatever is happening to my advantage.

Some people are a bit crazy, but why judge them for it; it is not like they chose to be crazy.

Some people are idiots. Luckily it is possible to judge them and accept them at the same time, also accepting your judgment of them.

Are any of the above difficult for you? Maybe one seems to make sense, but you feel some resistance to it? Just notice your feelings. No need to do anything about it right now except try to notice when something comes up in the future that is relevant to the statement and watch your reaction.

Accepting Situations

Sometimes a situation will come up that we just cannot stomach – it feels irreconcilably wrong or unfair, perhaps. Our reaction to it and any anger is designed to give us the impetus to act, and many are worried that feeling acceptance will diminish the power we have to do this.

However, if we can cultivate the ability to feel acceptance of what is going on, whilst simultaneously harnessing the power of the anger or dismay we feel we have a much better chance of acting wisely.

I suggest that instead of thinking of acceptance as passivity, we step back and see that it can encompass all the ways of being and feelings. We can accept that the situation is happening, accept our feelings, accept our anger, and make a plan.

To sum up; being controlled by our reactions puts us in a weak position and having acceptance and being conscious puts us in a strong position.

Embracing the Challenge

Depending on the situation, one tactic we could try is embracing the challenge that the situation presents, knowing that each difficult situation presents us with an opportunity for learning and growth.

Exercise: Embracing the Challenge

For this exercise you will need one difficult situation and a pen and paper.

  1. Firstly write out the whole situation, including any details you think are important and also how you feel about it. If you want to do something more creative, you can even draw it.
  2. Now when you have written or drawn everything you want to, try and step back and see the situation as a whole. If it helps, you can imagine being far above it. Write down the first things you notice.
  3. Then wonder to yourself if there is one thing that might make it better, what would this be (whether it is realistic or not)?
  4. Now picture yourself above the situation as if you were an eagle flying overhead. It might be easier if you use the third person (he/she) when thinking about this as using the word “I” can draw you right back into the situation. When you are seeing the whole situation calmly, ask yourself (with an open mind) what opportunities there are to learn from this situation, or how you might grow.
  5. Now, with a really open mind – whimsical even – wonder what would a really wise person do in this situation?

Take your time with this exercise – it is not always easy to work on things that are emotionally charged. Hopefully you will learn how to derive some benefit from a difficult time and use it to grow.

Acceptance is an important life skill and although it seems really simple, it can be one of the hardest things in practice. So don’t give yourself a hard time if it takes work – just try to accept how you are doing and keep going!

# 5 Acceptance – Part 2 (Accepting our Feelings)

Depending on what culture and family we are raised in, we will have had different emotions marketed differently to us. Happiness, success, generosity and humour may have been given out in colourful, glossy brochures, brought out and shared around and generally celebrated. But anger, rage, bitterness or grief may have been scribbled on a used bit of paper, screwed up and thrown at people or hidden away like a guilty secret, never to be spoken of.

From an early age we learn to be proud of, and show-off, some emotions, but to feel shame or worry about others. Unfortunately, because we are so young it makes it really hard to question what we are learning. We just take it all on board like little sponges.

By the time we are old enough to be autonomous and out in the world on our own many of us have a set repertoire of emotions we accept, those we aim for, some we reject and some we hide. This can limit our whole experience of the world. How happy and excited do you let yourself get? Or how angry, bitter, jealous, excited, aspirational? This section is about learning to accept all of our emotions, which may help us to experience more range in our lives.

Rumi, a wonderful 13thCentury Sufi poet wrote this poem about accepting our feelings:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks [1]

None of us can truly know ourselves without being able to tolerate fluctuations in mood and the sometimes painful awareness of our darker feelings and impulses. This gives us a true picture of who we are; flawed, human, not always on top of the world. And from this acceptance we give ourselves permission to be human, to fail, to dislike people, to be irritated, to be joyful. Acceptance and permission are two sides of the same coin.

And as Rumi said, there is often a message in our feelings. Why are we feeling that way? What side of our personality is trying to express itself and what is it trying to say?

For this section we will focus on creating a feeling of space and welcome. Then, when you do feel an emotion you would normally resist or suppress, you will have a tool to help you let it be, let it express itself and let it go or evolve naturally.

Accepting All Feelings

In the universe, there is room for everything. Nothing can actually start to exist without the space for it to come into. And there is matter and its opposite; anti-matter. In Chinese philosophy there is yin and yang, in everyone’s vision there is dark and light, and in time there is night and day. There are a lot of connected opposites floating about. But we have a tendency to judge one thing as “bad” and its opposite as “good” – instead of both of them as both good and bad.

We may take a sensible judgment like “anger is not useful in this situation” and then make it into a rule: “anger is not useful in all situations”, ignoring the fact that it can be a force for good. So we do not make room for everything within us; we make space for only the emotions we are comfortable with. The rest get pent up, become physical tension or pain or affect us in other ways because they cannot express themselves or help us in the way they are meant to. So for the exercise below we will be practicing creating an open space for any feeling that wants to come into and through us.

Exercise: Spacious Welcome

  1. Sitting or standing where you are, I would like you to be aware of the inside of your torso. Sense its state, and whether there is any tension or pain. Just breathe and accept those sensations.
  2. Now imagine a sense of having a spacious room in your whole torso, full of light. It has a lovely breeze blowing through open windows, filling the room with fresh air. Keep that sense of spaciousness and try to have a feeling of accepting the way you feel right now; body and mind. Just let everything you feel be there, with a sense of welcoming and space.
  3. If you have an urge to struggle or resist, just keep breathing and accept that urge – let it be there. Do not try to fight it but have the sense of saying “welcome” to it and continue breathing and visualizing. If any emotions come up, let them be there also, without trying to change them – just accepting them.

It can take a lot of courage to feel an emotion we think of as negative (and even some positive ones) without trying to change it. I recommend you stay with it for a while, letting it be, so that you can really get to know it and see it in its entirety.

This is something we need to practice day-to-day and will most likely be a work in progress.

I want to stress again that accepting a feeling does not mean accepting a situation that is wrong or a boundary that is crossed. On the other extreme, it also does not mean feeling entitled to act out or vent our emotions recklessly onto others.

It means accepting the feeling enough that we can understand it and let it fully develop and express itself. Only acceptance gives an emotion the space it needs to communicate what it has to say, and we often find that when we have understood and possibly expressed it fully, it is completely resolved and leaves us feeling clearer and lighter.

I hope you enjoy feeling your feelings!

 

  1. A Network for Grateful Living 2018