photo of blue and orange abstract painting

Uplifting Words for the People Who Make Things +/ Make Things Better

Recently I did an interview with Authority Magazine on optimising mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. Although it was not really about motivation for creativity, as part of it I mentioned one of my favourite quotes:

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”

– Thoreau

I went on to say: “I have found that following a whole project or idea through to completion helps me to develop my muscles of endurance and resilience. This has enabled me to cope with the difficult feelings that often arise when working on a project, such as hating what I’m working on at times or feeling unmotivated“. 

I think this is something that is important for people to understand because I meet a lot of people who have difficulty finishing projects, or in some cases even starting them in the first place. And I understand – it can be scary. I am an author but I grew up reading Austen, Dickens, Frank Herbert, Nabokov. I am not comparing myself to mediocre authors! And I already know I am not in the same league as them, but I am kind of OK with that because I know I have some information that can help people. I don’t have to be the best writer in order to write.

We all have unique gifts and talents which may go unexpressed for years or even forever if we do not commit to both finishing them and to bringing them out in the world in the right way. Finishing a project might mean taking enough time, asking for help, backtracking to fix an error and generally slogging through the murky middle to get to the end. Bringing them into the world in the right way for us might include collaborating with the people and companies that both resonate with us and have similar goals (not just people or companies that look good on paper or which have worked well for other people), setting it in front of the right audience, identifying and overcoming our self-sabotage habits or marketing that fits with our values, for example.

In some instances people can create something beautiful, useful or important and then fail to market it well so it does not take off, and in some instances this can be a form of self-defence against criticism or even the discomfort of success. We get to think “I tried my best, but people did not want it/ appreciate it” and go back to our normal lives.

I just want to say that all of these feelings are normal. Creating something, putting it out into the world, inevitably ruffling some feathers (bearing in mind some feathers are bored or lonely and are just hoping to be ruffled!), being criticised, being admired – a lot of it can be hard! But if you know you have something to offer the world, something that could make the world a better place – surely that is worth it?

So, I recommend that if you find yourself feeling unmotivated or like you’ll never get to the end, just focus on what you can do today. Something achievable, small perhaps, but useful. And with every forward step take the time to feel good about that small win. It may also help you to regularly connect with your vision and the “why” of it. 

For example, I need motivation for creativity right now because I’m currently working on an inclusive self-help picture book for kids. I want lots of different children from different walks of life to be able to use it to feel better about themselves and hopefully to see a child who looks like them also. While it only took me about 3 hours to write the text, it has taken me about 8 months of working on the illustrations and they’re not finished yet! On top of that I have no idea if it will help a hundred children, thousands or five! But when it gets a bit hard I remember that I’m doing it because I love kids, I want them to feel happy in their own bodies and selves, and I want to teach them some basic skills for self-love and self-acceptance. The feeling of solidity and warmth I have when I contemplate my goal lets me know how I want the reader to feel and it connects me to a natural source of motivation that makes effort easier.

A picture of a girl astronaut in space remembering she is surrounded by love, from Perfect picture book.

It also reminds me that books and other projects are more than just things, they are an expression of someone’s love, intellect or unique gifts and when I think about that I realise how many people in the world genuinely want to make it a better place. And that’s good to remember because the people behind those things are often not the ones shouting the loudest on social media. I think it is can be healing to turn down the volume on that and focus instead on all the goodness we are already surrounded by. 

So question for you: what is your eye (or mind) drawn to first when you wonder what someone has made from a place of goodness? And why do you think that is the first thing you thought of or noticed? What meaning does it have for you? And if it is relevant – how do you want to bring that quality into the world in the way that is authentic for you?

Happy making and creating!

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

#5 Acceptance – Part 1 (Self Acceptance)

(an abridged excerpt from the book)

Acceptance at its most basic level could be defined as seeing something for what it is and not needing to fight it. This does not mean giving up or letting people walk all over us but accepting a situation, person or feeling as they are (or we could say allowing ourselves to see them for what they really are). Then if we need to take action we can, but with a clear view of what we are dealing with.

I have broken this discussion up into 3 articles:

  1. Self Acceptance
  2. Accepting our Feelings
  3. Accepting Other People And Situations

Because it ended up being a bit too long to fit into one! This article deals with self acceptance, but free to skip to whichever sections you think are most relevant for you. As always if you are already feeling vulnerable seek professional help instead, and if you start feeling overwhelmed at any point stop straight away.

  1. Self-Acceptance

Are you happy with all the different parts of yourself as they are? Or are there parts of you that you judge, try to distance yourself from, hide or suppress? It is a rare person who loves every part of themselves, but it is a wonderful goal.

To some this may sound arrogant or egocentric, but best relationship we can have with ourselves is built on a foundation of self-love and acceptance.

Years ago I went to see the Dalai Lama talk and it was such a wonderful experience. I felt the peacefulness and love radiating throughout the room and several times looked up to see him looking at me. I felt a deep and strong connection when I looked into his eyes. And I never once got the feeling he was paranoid about his bingo wings. You could do much worse that have him as an example of self-acceptance. And I assume that for him, as with everyone else, it takes effort to maintain, but it is well-worth it.

 Self Acceptance Meditation

In this section I will take you through a very simple visualization you can use for helping to boost self-acceptance. As it is very short you can use it when standing in a queue or on public transport (but not whilst driving or using machinery of course).

Exercise: Self Acceptance Meditation

  1. Sit (or stand) comfortably.
  2. Breathe in a natural and relaxed way
  3. As much as possible let tension drop away from your body
  4. Visualise a bright, shimmering point of light in front of you. Without knowing why, you are certain that it is absolutely perfect. It can be whichever colour and shape you like.
  5. Feel the harmony in contemplating something that is perfect.
  6. Visualise it moving towards you, this perfection. At a certain point you realize that it is you – you are perfect.
  7. The light enters your chest and creates a field all around you, a field of your own perfection.
  8. Give yourself permission to feel perfect in this moment by saying to yourself “I am perfect in this moment, right now. I am more than enough”. Feel a warmth spread out through your body as you think that and let yourself feel the love that accompanies it.
  9. Keep feeling this for as long as you like and when you want to stop, just softly open your eyes.                    

You can do this exercise whenever you like, several times a day even. Doing this exercise does not mean that we do not have flaws, or that we have to ignore them. Rather, we accept ourselves as we are, right now. There is no human in the world without flaws; but accepting them means we can work with them, instead of alienating a part of ourselves through self-criticism and punishment.

A Peaceful Warrior – about Morihei Ueshiba

I recently discovered this man by stumbling across him during random internet research. Morihei Ueshiba 植芝盛平  was the founder of Aikido, but before he did this he had studied various martial arts, fought in the Russo- Japanese war and joined a sect called Ōmoto-kyō (thought to have been an off shoot of Shinto)1. One of their main principles was working towards world peace, so in spite of being the head of a school of fighting, one of his main teachings was cultivating a peaceful life.

Some of his sayings that have lived on after his passing are very beautiful, here are some that may interest you:

The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood. It is not a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek to compete and better one another are making a terrible mistake. To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst thing a human being can do. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent such slaughter – it is the Art of Peace, the power of love”.

The Art of Peace is medicine for a sick world. There is evil and disorder in the world, because people have forgotten that all things emanate from one source. Return to that source and leave behind all self-centered thoughts, petty desires, and anger. Those who are possessed by nothing possess everything”.

True victory does not come from defeating an enemy, true victory comes from giving love and changing an enemies heart”.

Nonresistance is one of the principles of aikido. Because there is no resistance, you have won before even starting. People whose minds are evil or who enjoy fighting are defeated without a fight”.

As soon as you concern yourself with the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ of your fellows, you create an opening in your heart for maliciousness to enter. Testing, competing with, and criticizing others weaken and defeat you”.

In this youtube video he talks about his approach to his own aikido practice and to life. Even if you do not practice aikido (I don’t either) you may find his philosophical views interesting.

I like his story partly because it exemplifies one of the main principles that comes up again and again in self-development; paradox. Things we perceive as opposites often go hand in hand, are complimentary even. In this case – the man most likely to be able to whoop your ass is the person who least wants or needs to.

One of Ueshiba’s sayings was Masakatsu Agatsu. The combination of Masakatsu (true victory) and Agatsu (the victory one achieves over oneself) makes up the meaning of the phrase: “The true victory of self-mastery.2” If nothing else, this should sum up the core of what self-development work really means. We are taking responsibility for ourselves.

I’ll leave you with just one more quote:

One does not need buildings, money, power, or status to practice the Art of Peace. Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train”.

 

Morihei Ueshiba

1883-1969

 

References

1. Morihei Ueshiba – Wikipedia article

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morihei_Ueshiba

2. Aikido Vocabulary by Erik Sotnak

https://www.aikiweb.com/language/vocab.html

3. Morihei Ueshiba talks philosophically about Aikido

#4 Being Kind to Ourselves

(an abridged excerpt from the book)

There are so many aspects to this seemingly simple concept that I have chosen to pick out just a couple from the book: self-love and self-esteem.

We are going to look at what they are, why they matter and a couple of ways of working on them.

What is the Difference between Self-love and Self-Esteem?

These two concepts are really interconnected, but there are key differences that make it important for us to work on them separately at least some of the time.

Self-love is unconditional; we love ourselves as we would a baby. Not many adults can run around naked, weeing and pooing everywhere and still be loved, but a baby can, and that is what self-love is. It comes with truckloads of acceptance and no need to prove anything or even have bladder control.

Self-esteem is about us thinking that we are good and valuable, so it does have an element of evaluation in it. With healthy self-esteem we may feel we are attractive, competent, interesting, worthwhile, amongst other qualities. We know we are valuable and look at things in a way that confirms that (rather than confirmation of the opposite as with low self-esteem).

Why We Need Good Levels of Self-Love and Self-Esteem

It is essential for our health and happiness. Narcissism is on the rise, and although this may seem an extreme display of self-love, it actually reflects a deep uncertainty of our worth. If you have good levels of self-love and self-esteem, you don’t go fishing for that on social media, using the perfect selfie as bait.

Self-love and self-esteem are also essential for:

  • self-care
  • healthy relationships
  • accepting ourselves no matter how we act or what we are doing
  • loving ourselves even if we do not fit society’s idea of perfection or manage to rise to unattainable standards of wealth or beauty.

If we have low self esteem we may even get ill (sick), in fact low self-esteem has been linked to immune- and cardiological-disorders. No pressure!

Working on Self-Love and Self-Esteem

A cursory look around self-help books and online articles will show a lot of people value external and practical ways of boosting self-love and self-esteem. Although I think that there is a lot of value in improving the external aspects of our lives, for this section I really want to focus on internal work.

This is because the roots of our attitudes to ourselves are within us, and improvements in self-esteem may not last if they depend on keeping up certain habits or changes in our environment. Self-care is hugely important, but knowing that we deserve it vastly more so.

In the two sections below I have included one exercise each from the book, I hope you enjoy them!

Working on Self-Love

Just think: “wow, I am amazing” and now notice your reaction. Is it internal laughter, discomfort, complete agreement? With self-love there is nothing to prove, nothing you could possibly do to get more love. You are just enough as you are. An advertiser’s nightmare. A tiny baby’s reality. OK, let’s have a go at the first exercise.

Exercise: Calling in a Self-Love Mentor

You know how little children can have invisible friends? We are going to intentionally create one for ourselves. This friend is going to be our self-love mentor; both a teacher and a mirror reflecting our own love back to us whenever we think of them throughout the day.

It can be a unicorn, an angel, a 6ft teddy bear, a purple monster. On a more mundane level we could call it a tool for focusing our attention in a specific way. But this mentor is far from mundane, they are brilliant. You can have them look like and be literally anything. Glitter explosions may go off every time they move, they may be a superhero with special powers; whatever feels right to you. If you have no clue what they should look like, I would go with a capybara.

Please close your eyes, take your time and visualize the perfect self-love mentor for you, in as much detail as possible. You can try imagining them in the room with you. Throughout the day, as often as you feel like, you can tune in to them and see how they are responding to how you are acting or how you are feeling about yourself. Their job is to send you love and accept you unconditionally, seeing you as the best version of yourself. They are all for you.

Visualise them looking at you with complete love, acceptance and appreciation for the entirety of who you are. Then let yourself see them through your eyes and bask in that perspective.

I want you to regularly visualize this mentor standing near you, maybe once a day. Send love from your heart to them and the instant it reaches them feel it reflect back to you, strengthened and doubled in volume. Even though your first few steps towards self-love maybe tentative this mentor believes in you and is there to model the perfect way to give yourself love.

You can change the image of this mentor if you choose, but at the end of the day what you pick is not too important, so do not worry. The most important thing is your sense of their way of being, which is perfect self-love and self-acceptance. Deep within us all is the knowledge of how to have self-love, our mentor is simply with us to remind us and help us to get to that state.

In the future when you feel ready you can simply send all of that love to yourself, feel it within yourself, without the aid of a mentor. But until you are ready to accept love for your own sake, you can work with your invisible friend to help fill you up and to teach you how it is that we can have nearly perfect self-love.

If you want to, you can draw your mentor or describe them. You can also journal about your progress, including details of what comes up for you when you feel love, any blocks or emotions that are triggered, and if there are any areas of yourself that you feel are hard to love. For fun you can write a message or even a letter to yourself from your mentor, giving you feedback, and you can write a letter of appreciation to them. Getting in touch with an invisible friend gives us a way to access a part of ourselves we don’t know that well, so get to know them as much as you like! It’s all you at the end of the day.

Working on Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem may be seen as the route of many of our issues in society today, even contributing to mental and physical health issues. You would think that growing up relatively privileged in the West, safe, educated and with a bright future we would all be full of self-respect and esteem. Unfortunately the opposite seems to be true.

Do not be hard on yourself if you have realized your self-esteem is low. Maybe it is hard to believe that we deserve all these resources when so much of the rest of the world is poor. Maybe it is the way we were raised, or the social norms that surround us. Whatever the reason, working to improve it as it will have a great effect on our quality of life.

Exercise 1: Inner Child Work for Self-Esteem

Because our self-esteem levels have their roots in our childhood experience, it makes sense to do some work with our inner child. We may say horrible things to ourselves, that we would never say to a friend or a child, so working on boosting the self esteem of our inner child also helps us to bypass that negative self-talk.

1. Sit or stand somewhere you are comfortable, where it is quiet so you can do the visualization in this exercise. Picture yourself as a child in your mind’s eye. Whichever age feels right is good, but if you are not sure, then pick 4 or 5 years old. Visualise your clothes, your chubby little hands, your round face, your mannerisms.

2. Now say hello to this child in your mind. They may come up to you and want a hug or to sit on your lap, or they may be content to stand or play where they are. I would like you to imagine sending them love, from your heart. This love surrounds them, as with a warm blanket and you can actually feel them accepting this love.

3. Now I would like you to tell your inner child what you really like about them. If you want to, you could write out a list of statements and then one by one say them to the child. With each statement really see the child’s reaction. You might see them swell with pride, or feel warm, feel secure. They won’t be about achievements (such as you won that award), but things you like about their personality and maybe even appearance. The statements might look like any of these:

You are really funny

You have a wonderful sense of imagination

You are very clever

You are very brave

I like your hair

Just to name a few.

4. And now that you have done that, sense the child’s state, how they are feeling. Now repeat the exercise, but every time you say one of the statements to the child have them repeat it back to you, and try to really take it in. Imagine that if you cannot accept the compliment, the child will not be able to believe it, as you are the same person. So really try and let that positive statement in. After each statement that you give to and receive from your inner child, repeat it from both of you as a “we __” statement.

For example, you say to your inner child “you’re very brave”, she says the same back to you, you bask in that for a moment together and then you visualize both of you saying “we are very brave”.

5. You may find that when you are doing this exercise you feel some kind of block. Maybe it is hard to visualize yourself as a child, or it is hard to remember yourself happy, or you find it hard to find compliments or accept them. Wherever your block is, the first step is to accepting that it is there and to accept the emotions around it. Send a feeling of love to this block or blocked feeling. If you cannot work around it right now, try and accept that too.

I highly recommend that you journal about this exercise. You can include the phrases you told your inner child and yourself and what reactions you felt. You can then repeat this exercise in the future and compare the results.

Motivation for Increasing Self-Esteem

Here are a couple of thoughts that may help motivate you to do this work:

  • We can be role models for others, especially the younger generation and inspire others to be kind to themselves.
  • We can build our lives, careers and relationships on a solid foundation of kindness and respect. For example; a friendship between two people with good self-esteem is a meeting of the minds and sharing enjoyment, but low self-esteem can lead to over-attachment based on fear, competitiveness, rivalry and/ or a need to keep the other person down at our level.
  • It helps us to have great intimate relationships. Rather than expecting our partner to fill us up, we feel we have permission to take care of ourselves.
  • We can ask for what we want and need and really believe that we deserve it.

So I hope you have learned a couple of useful things about why and how to be kind to yourself and I really hope you put it into practice. Kindness starts at home, and then ripples out to everyone else. This is genuine love and kindness and you will really feel a difference when your giving and receiving comes from a place of satisfaction and grace.