The Happy Starfish

Living Mindfully & Celebrating Health, Happiness & Peaceful Living


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Ditch the New Year pressure

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We’re only a few days into January and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked what my New Year’s Resolutions are.

The cashier at the supermarket this morning looked baffled when I said I don’t have any.

‘I’ve put on weight over Christmas,’ she blurted out, ‘And I’m going to join a gym.’

Why do we do it? Heap unnecessary pressure on top of our often frantic lives, only to face crushing disappointment when we can’t achieve the impossibly high standards we set ourselves.

I have goals, dreams, aspirations. Everybody should but I strive every day to be better than I was yesterday, to always be kind, compassionate, grateful and mindful, no matter what day or month it is. To be the best version of myself I can be; to pay it forward whenever I can, and love. You can never have enough love. And that’s the only resolution I need.

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Mindfulness – Responding not reacting

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It’s been a strange few weeks for me. I’ve been betrayed by someone I once considered a friend which has cost me both financially and personally. I’ve been left feeling hurt and bewildered, unable to quite understand what has happened or why.

Pre-Mindfulness I would have reacted to this situation instantaneously, from the heart, without taking time or space to consider my options. As it is, I have been able to wait, think things through rationally and calmly. Reacting automatically is an understandable human response but it can make situations worse. I’m sure everyone has responded, from a place of heightened emotion, to an email, text, or comment and then had that stomach churning ‘why did I do that?’ feeling later on.

In today’s instant world it’s so easy, with 24/7 access to text, social networking and email, to mindlessly fire off a message within seconds and then wish there was a retract button.

Being kind is a choice. 

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Mindfulness has taught me patience, compassion and self-respect.  It’s been an invaluable tool. I don’t know where I’d be without it.

Find out more about Mindfulness, here.

 

 


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Zen tale – The Scorpion

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The Scorpion (author unknown)

A zen master was bathing in the river when he noticed a scorpion almost drowning.

He lifted out the scorpion and placed it on a nearby rock to dry. Just was he was withdrawing his hand the scorpion bit him.

The people sitting by the river observed this and they said to him ‘What have you achieved? You have saved him, only to get yourself bitten.’

The zen master replied ‘I did what I had to do according to my nature. The scorpion did what he had to do according to his. I can not change him just as he cannot change me.’


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Grieving mindfully

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I have had a quiet few months. A bereavement before Christmas left me reeling, numb to life and questioning everything. I took a step back, I stopped teaching classes and blogging.

Loss is something we all experience within our lifetime, it is impossible to live, to love, without it; but I have found grief to be oddly isolating. There are no two people who experience grief in the same way and despite being reassured by people who have also experienced a loss ‘I know exactly how you feel,’ they don’t. No one can.

I turned to Mindfulness originally after acquiring a chronic health condition as a way to manage both my physical pain and my emotional distress without medication. Suffice to say it is, again, my practice that is allowing me to explore my feelings, to practice self-compassion and to let my experience be exactly what it is without judgement. By that I mean that I have allowed myself the time and space I feel I need without self-criticism. I knew that I would return to work when, and only when, I felt ready and I feel that time is now.

I return to teaching tomorrow. We have five fully booked classes scheduled in the next four days and I am curious to see how my teaching style has changed. I am not the same person I was, my self compassion has increased tenfold and I feel this will influence the teachings I pass on.

I will continue to grieve mindfully, to explore my feelings however uncomfortable they may be.

I will continue to live.


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A good day out and a dollop of judgement

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‘What other people think of me is none of my business.’

I had a lovely day out this weekend with friend. Although we have known each other for years we generally socialise at one another’s houses, where my mobility restrictions are not an issue.

We drove up to the venue we were visiting and asked for directions to disabled parking. The attendant replied ‘it’s for people who are disabled’. Umm yes, that would be me, with my badge clearly on display on my dashboard which I showed him. He then tried to stick his head through the open window and aggresively enquired where my wheelchair was. After pointing out my crutches he reluctantly let us through the gate.

At the other end was a gentleman directing cars into spaces. I politely asked if we could park on the space at the end or on the row near the entrance. No, we were (impolitely) told to drive to the other side of the field when there were nearer spaces.

My friend, by now, was quite upset. ‘Why is everyone so rude to you?’ 

It’s because many people make instant judgements. I don’t look like they think a ‘disabled’ person should look. I am not old (enough), physically deformed, there is nothing glaringly obviously wrong with me when you look at me. I make people uncomfortable. They don’t understand what they can’t see and therefore make snap decisions, there is nothing wrong with me, I am probably just lazy wanting to park nearer. How dare I?

When we got out of the car and headed towards the entrance the same attendant was totally different. He became really friendly and apologetic. Is this because he could see my crutches then, my obvious discomfort, something tangible he could understand?

It was interesting to witness the reaction of my friend in various situations throughout the day. I don’t generally notice the judgements of others any more. I am not sure whether it is through my mindfulness practice enabling to consciously see the judgements of others and not attach to them or whether I have had so many years now of peoples reactions I am just immune to them. I no longer let the actions of others dictate how my day goes. I can’t choose what others think or say but I can choose the way I react and feel, and this with compassion, both towards them and myself.

We all, often subconsciously, make judgements, an event happens, a person acts and we immediately label it as good, bad, right, wrong, better or worse. My challenge to you is to try to notice your judgements over the next 24 hours and see if you can suspend them. Let things be exactly as they are without the need for labels. I would love to hear how you get on.


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Mindfulness for Chronic Pain and Compassion

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I have been tootling along these past few years, adapting to my new world with a disability. Teaching mindfulness to those with pain, depression and anxiety and sharing my experiences has enriched my life dramatically.

Life was constant for the first few months of this year, with no dramatic flareups. I relaxed into living without the flux a chronic health condition can bring. Then the lesson appears again ‘the only thing you can rely on in life is change’ and, for the last 3 weeks I have experienced (note not suffered) a decrease in my already limited mobility and a rise in my daily pain levels.

Today, I could not stand comfortably long enough to make a cup of tea. Now in the past, this would have led to many tears, my critical self to jump in with negative comments ‘you are never going to get better,’ ‘you are worthless, pointless (insert any other derogatory label here)’. My emotional pain would have exacerbated my physical pain, and the more physical pain I felt the more emotionally distressed I would have become.

So, what’s different now from when I first started my mindfulness practice?

The automatic fear reaction instantly kicked in. I would love to say it doesn’t, that after years of established practice fear is completely, and permanently, eradicated, but I wouldn’t be authentic if I claimed that for myself. (I don’t compare my experience of mindfulness to anyone else’s, we are all very different with different circumstances and challenges).

What I am able to claim however, is that I recognised the fear straight away and knew what steps I needed to put in place to ensure I stay fully present and not let automatic patterns or ruminative thinking take control. I am no longer defined by my pain. I am fully (re) connected to my consciousness, my true self, that is aware of the pain, and I am able to step back and observe non-judgementally.

The difference I am most excited about however, and wanted to share today, is the compassion I feel towards myself. Self-love is something I have never had in abundance anyway, and, which virtually disappeared as my health declined. I feel a kindness towards myself and my circumstances I could never have dreamt possible a few years ago.

I did manage to take my children swimming today. It is important to me that I spend quality time with them during the school holidays. I watched their faces, full of joy in the water, and I was totally engaged in the present moment. Not letting my fears and anxieties cloud the Now. I have had a lovely afternoon and despite everything, feel a contentedness with my life. I will have lots to put in my Gratitude Journal tonight.


I am not a super hero

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Last night I attended, what I thought was a talk on publishing by a creative writing group. Being brand new to fiction writing I was curious about the process.

On arrival we were given a word and then timed for 10 minutes while we wrote a piece relating to our prompt. Eek. No pressure then! After 2 minutes of staring blankly at the page I thankfully managed to cobble together a perfectly acceptable little story.

Phew. And breathe.

Umm, not quite. We then were invited to read out our pieces with me going first.

By this time I was so far out of my comfort zone I couldn’t even see it. With sweaty palms and a shaky voice accompanying my trepidation I somehow managed to get the words out.

Pre mindfulness I would have had a lot of negative things to say to myself about the anxiety I felt during this experience.

What mindfulness has taught me is compassion and self kindness. Yes it would have been great to have been able to have read my piece, with no anxiety, and enjoyed it but I was able to accept the moment exactly as it was without any judgement,

It is perfectly natural to have times we feel nervous, and I do. Mindfulness hasn’t given me super human powers and the ability to choose exactly how to feel all of the time but it has allowed me to give myself a virtual pat on the back and say “you know what? You did ok”. For that I am grateful.