The Happy Starfish

Living Mindfully & Celebrating Health, Happiness & Peaceful Living


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Museum of Happiness

10959649_1581154305434716_5474220634923512723_nThere’s nothing quite like the first hot day of the year. There’s something about the sun beating down that makes strangers smile and nod as they pass, as though part of some great conspiracy, as they scurry to the park to eat their sandwiches. Sleeves rolled up, ties loosened, tights removed.

Despite the icy weather, it was the same atmosphere this weekend at the UK’s first pop-up Museum of Happiness. Spitalfields Market in London may have had sub-zero temperatures but the fuzzy warmth radiating from the cluster of gazebos could heat the chilliest of hearts.

My Mindfulness teacher, Shamash Alidina, co-created this event so I couldn’t resist visiting, not quite sure what to expect, but knowing it would be awesome – and it was. Small, but fabulously organised, it was well worth the trip. Where else can you dance at a silent disco, meditate on a beach via virtual reality, try origami, practice gratitude and get creative at the arts table.

When the sound of laughter drowns out the thrum of shoppers you know it’s been a success. Open until Monday 18th January – pop along if you can.

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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 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.


What I learned from Meerkats

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“The moment is always Now”.

Nothing makes me happier than spending time with my family and experiencing new things in life so I was more than a teensy bit excited yesterday to get to hang out with the (allegedly) tamest  meerkats in Britain.

I was preempting my gratitude journal that evening would be full of family, love and laughter (which it was) but I had to add an entry to the meerkats for a great reminder on how to approach life with complete wonder.

My youngest son had velcro trainers on and the curious animals spent huge amounts of time investigating how this worked, undoing them, doing them back up and moving aside to let others have a go. The joy as they played together and jumped onto our laps for cuddles was contagious. When their food came they stopped what they were doing and totally absorbed themselves in the task of mindfully eating, savouring every mouthful. No chance of them automatically consuming their food, not really noticing the flavours while multi tasking as humans often do.

I went to bed last night thankful for the chance to observe these cute creatures living in the moment. It is something I will never forget.

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Why I am glad my air conditioning broke

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“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude”.

Gilbert K. Chesterton

Last year the air-con in my car broke. It was the end of the summer anyway so it kept getting moved to the bottom of my to-do list until, eventually, it was left off all together.

Enter this summer’s heat wave.

I am not great in the heat to be fair. You are more likely to find me in the shade sipping a cool drink than stretched out soaking up the rays. Therefore the first trip in my mobile sauna of a car almost caused me to faint.

Arriving home I fell through our front door, hot, sticky and an alarming shade of purple. My partner agreed to take it to be fixed at the weekend.

The next day I opened all the windows, slid open the sunroof and vowed to make the best of my journey without complaining. Driving along I started thinking about how cars had progressed since I first passed my test. Back then we had to manually wind down the windows and virtually nobody had a sunroof. If you had a cassette tape player you thought yourself lucky.

As years passed air conditioning, electric windows and CD players were introduced as optional extras that only the wealthy could afford. Now these come as standard in the majority of cars.

Driving along I started to feel grateful. Grateful I had a car. Grateful that things are being introduced all the time for our comfort. Grateful I was alive to see all the wild and wacky things this beautiful world of ours has to offer. Inventions that were once the seeds of thought in someone’s mind come to creation.

Subsequent journeys that week triggered thoughts as to what else I, despite regularly practicing gratitude, take for granted. Electric, water, gas. I envisaged a life without these and the hardships it would entail.

This has also prompted conversations with my children when they first travelled in the sweat box on wheels and complained about the heat. What did they take for granted? The answers have been enlightening to say the least.

So despite the fact I gratitude journal regularly, living without something I was very used to has really made to offer up a prayer of thanks for all I do have.

The garage appointment was cancelled. I like my daily reminder to be thankful just as it is.


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Treasure your friends

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“A friend is one who knows you and loves you just the same”. Elbert Hubbard

I recently started playing an online game with an old friend from my teenage years. Although we have always intermittently been in touch, as the years have passed contact has been sketchy.

We were talking how enjoyable it was to catch up. It can be comfortable to fall back into an old friendship with someone who has known you for so long where you have complete confidence to be yourself, secure that you won’t be judged.

When I expressed this they agreed. “Good people in your life are always the good people no matter how long it’s been” they said, “true friends are islands in the sea of life”.

This statement really struck a chord with me. I believe people come into our lives for many reasons. It’s only natural that as we progress and develop there are those we grow apart from and new friendships are formed which suit our mutual needs.

But there are however, those precious friends, those ‘can call with a crisis at 3am’ friends, who are unwavering in their love and support whether it’s been six hours or six years since you last spoke to them. As Oprah famously said “there are plenty of people who want to ride in the Limo with you but what you really need is someone who will ride the bus with you when the limo breaks down”.

If you have someone like this in your life and it has been a while why not give them a call? It really can make someones day to know they have been thought of.

Share this with your friends 🙂