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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Interview with Robert Holden

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“When the student is ready, the teacher appears” to quote one of the first lines from Be Happy, the book based on Robert Holden’s 8 week happiness programme, I read several years ago. I was living with chronic pain and immobility with little hope of improvement and I didn’t feel ready for anything but I guess if anybody needed help locating happiness it was me. I wasn’t chasing happiness, I had given up on it completely.  Happiness shines out from each page of this, and Robert’s other books, which are all written with warmth and humour.  I realised for the sake of my family I couldn’t keep waiting for a change to my health to be happy, this moment, after all, should be our focus.  Living in the Now and appreciating what I still had were big lessons I knew, but learning how to do this under such difficult circumstances, well, I guess I did need a teacher.  I methodically worked my way through the thought provoking exercises in the book and, although some made me cry thinking of things that made me happy in the past that I could no longer do, this book, more importantly made me appreciate what I had left and rediscover the joy in life.  Robert has subsequently become one of my idols and I was thrilled therefore to interview him on behalf of The Happy Starfish.

Robert, you have had such a positive impact on my state of mind following my accident, who or what has inspired you?

I have been a student of A Course of Miracles for 18 years.  A Course in Miracles is a complete self-study spiritual thought system. As a three-volume curriculum consisting of a “Text”, “Workbook for Students”, and “Manual for Teachers”, it teaches the way to universal love and peace through forgiving others. 

My mentor is Tom Carpenter, author of “The Miracle of Real Forgiveness”.  The Miracle of Real Forgiveness is about letting go of our misperceptions of who we are and what the world appears to be, and opening our mind to a difference experience we cannot now imagine. While separateness is still our dominant belief, we are actually now in the process of changing that perception. The understanding of a harmony and unity beyond all forms inspires the practice of many levels of forgiveness, leading ultimately to the recognition within each of us a unity that has never changed, but has been hidden behind our present belief.

Wow, that sounds amazing.  It must be such a privilege to have helped so many people around the world.  What are the most common blocks to happiness you have found?

The search for happiness is the biggest block to happiness.  There is a world of difference between searching for happiness and following your joy.

Indeed, I discovered you at a point I was doing neither but your teachings have helped me enormously. You have been working in this field a long time now, does it still bring you as much joy?  What is the best part about what you do?

I love the work of The Happiness Project because I know that when people understand true happiness they also spread that happiness to others.

Paying it forward?  Hmm I like that idea.  

Robert, thank you so much for your time. You can check out Robert’s website here.


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Exploring Acceptance

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“The moment that judgement stops through acceptance of what it is, you are free of the mind. You have made room for love, for joy, for peace.” Eckhart Tolle

Yesterday evening we arrived at the lovely venue we work from to teach week 5 of our latest 8 week Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Course.

Walking into our teaching area we realised there was an unknown lady already there talking to couple. We politely enquired how long she would be and realised there was a huge time overlap. We explained that we were about to set up for our weekly meditation group and asked her if she would please mind using a different room as the building was empty but this was the only room large enough to house our group. She refused to move ‘as she was there first, and had paid to be there.’ We had to call the manager who talked to her over the phone and explained that she was supposed to be in a room upstairs. The lady still, very unpleasantly, refused to move leaving my group now waiting in the corridor, and the manager feeling bad that something, totally beyond her control had happened in her extremely well run clinic.

We were left with the option of cancelling or squeezing into a small room. The room was hot and there was no space to lie down but the group remained upbeat and helped moving chairs etc around. When everyone was seated I was asked what the weekly theme was and we had to laugh when I told them it was acceptance of difficult situations and people. What could have marred the evening was actually a great starting point for a discussion.

There was a time when a situation like this would really have upset me, the lady’s attitude would instantly have cultivated automatic ruminative thoughts such as ‘Why is she being horrible to me? What have I done? How can I fix it?’

The truth is, in situations such as these, rarely are other people’s words or actions meant to hurt us personally. Many people have a default automatic reaction they call upon whenever they are feeling wronged or stressed. (Road rage is another good example of this).

We can never control the way other people react or treat us but what we can control is the way we feel about it. Do we dwell on unpleasant events going over them again and again, possibly envisaging different outcomes. ‘I wish I had of said/done………….’.

Through Mindfulness I have learned to change my negative, self limiting thought patterns. George Orwell once said “Happiness can exist only in acceptance”. I choose to be happy.


What you believe you achieve

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My young son made a profound decision last night as we watched The Voice, the singing show.

“When I grow up”, he decided “I am going to be a judge on The Voice because they look like they have so much fun”.

Ok, possibly a tad unrealistic or is it? The fact is none of us know what opportunities are going to arise for us on our journey through life. The truth is that many of us, as adults, close the door on them. We have this long internal list of why things shouldn’t work, couldn’t work, won’t happen. We think we don’t deserve it, couldn’t achieve it, wouldn’t be able to sustain it and out of fear we turn away with a “it wouldn’t have worked out anyway” shrug.

I love having a young child in the house. It’s a great reminder every day to live in the moment. They believe good things will happen to them every day and you know what? They usually do.


THE greatest gift EVER

 

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I received the greatest gift ever yesterday for Mother’s Day from my children. It surpassed anything that could be found on my amazon wish list.

If you are ever stuck for a gift idea I highly recommend you give this to your loved ones.

The gift is time.

I don’t know whether it’s getting older or having a well established mindfulness practice but I appreciate every second of life in a way that I never used to. It is cliched to say “life is short, make the most of it”, but developing a chronic health condition in my 30’s really bought this home to me. Things that I used to take for granted I now look upon with awe and wonder.

Human beings are amazingly resilient as we navigate our way though our wonderfully unpredictable lives. It is phenomenal what we can achieve with positive thinking and gratitude.

I hope I have instilled in my children to cherish life and to never put off the things they want to do for a later date. Seeing their mum become a wheelchair user bought it home to them there is not always a later.

Happiness is a choice, and one I consciously choose every day. We had much laughter yesterday and created some special memories. Now you can’t gift wrap that.

I share the poem below from J.R.R. Tolkien. Time, make the most of it, when it’s gone you can never get it back.

“I sit beside the fire and think

Of all that I have seen

Of meadow flowers and butterflies

In summers that have been

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
In autumns that there were
With morning mist and silver sun
And wind upon my hair

I sit beside the fire and think
Of how the world will be
When winter comes without a spring
That I shall ever see

For still there are so many things
That I have never seen
In every wood in every spring
There is a different green

I sit beside the fire and think
Of people long ago
And people that will see a world
That I shall never know

But all the while I sit and think
Of times there were before
I listen for returning feet
And voices at the door.”

 


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Why I ditched the weighing scales.

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“Since love grows within you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul”. Saint Augustine

I met a friend for dinner who commented on how well I looked. There was a period, in the seconds it took the words to register in my mind, they would have been translated into “Louise you look fat”.

I recognised that for the first time, well, ever if I am being totally honest I have only a vague idea of what I currently weigh.

When I was younger, that ‘weighing yourself once a week in the same conditions’ scenario would never have satisfied my curiosity. I was on and off the scales so often I am sure I heard them sigh whenever I approached.

Ridiculously the magic figure would then govern my entire day from what I wore, to what I ate, and, particularly, my mood.

It has only really been since my health circumstances changed so drastically I see what a beautiful gift the human body is. If I have a day I feel strong enough to stand and cook a nutritious meal for my family without too much pain I am grateful for my extraordinary skeleton. I am thankful for all I can do, none of which is dependent on my dress size or the figure on the scale.

Aside from the physical, when I got ill I realised the human body is just a place we inhabit in this lifetime. It doesn’t actually define who we are. I call the body the ‘little me’. Me, the actual ‘big me’, is something beautifully whole, intangible and perfect.

Unless your weight, is affecting your health, whether you be too light or too heavy, it is really not important whether you gain or lose a few pounds. Practice gratitude daily for all the incredible things your body does and self-love will naturally follow.

I am amazing, but you know what? So are you.