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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The King and his sons

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“When you find peace within yourself, you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others”. Peace Pilgrim

I want to share the story of a king who had 3 sons. The first was handsome and very popular. When he was 21, his father built a palace in the city for him. The second son was intelligent and also very popular. When he became 21, his father built a palace in the city for him as well. The third son, neither handsome nor intelligent, was unfriendly and unpopular. When he was 21 the king’s counselors said: “there is no further room in the city. Have a palace built outside the city for your son. You can have it built so it will be strong. You can send some of your guards to prevent it being attacked by the ruffians who live outside the city walls”. So the king built such a palace and sent some of his soldiers to protect it.

A year later, the son sent a message to his father. “I cannot live here. The ruffians are too strong”. So the counsellors said, “build another palace bigger and stronger and 20 miles away from the city and the ruffians. With more soldiers, it will easily be able to withstand attacks from the nomadic tribes that pass that way”. So the king built such a palace and sent 100 of his soldiers to protect it.

A year later, a message came from the son: “I cannot live here the tribes are too strong”. So the counsellors said “Build a castle, a large castle 100 miles away. It will be big enough to house 500 soldiers and strong enough to withstand attacks from the people who live over the border”. So the king built such a castle and sent 500 of his soldiers to protect it.

A year later the son sent another message to the king. “Father the attacks of the neighbouring people are too strong. They have attacked twice and if they attack a third time I fear for my life and the lives of your soldiers”.

And the King said to his counsellors “let him come home and he can live in the palace with me. For it is better that I learn to live my son than spend all the energy and resources of my kingdom keeping him at a distance”.

I love this story. We expel so much energy sometimes fighting against things that aren’t exactly as we think they should be causing us huge amounts of physical and emotional stress. Learning the art of acceptance and allowing brings a sense of freedom, improving our health and well-being. After all ‘what we resist, persists’. The easiest way to learn to let go of the idea that things need to be different, to stop wanting to fix,change and improve things is through meditation. Are you ready to let this moment be enough?


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What meditation isn’t

 

“Meditation is the tongue of the soul and the language of our spirit”. Jeremy Taylor

As a meditation teacher I often find people have preconceived ideas of meditation. There are many great article around on what meditation is and it’s benefits so I thought I would write one on what meditation isn’t to try to dispel some of the more common misconceptions I have come across.

 

Meditation is purely a relaxation technique

I hear “but there are other things I do that relax me, I don’t need to meditate” a lot. It’s certainly true that relaxation is a byproduct of a regular meditation practice but it’s so much more. You can consciously choose to live being perfectly present and fully experiencing life right now, freeing yourself of the limiting negative mental chatter that can sometimes feel relentless. We can do this through reconnecting with the still, silent space inside of us, rather than seeking temporary periods of true happiness through external measures.

Meditation is a religious practice

You don’t need to shave your head, join a monastery or give away all your money. You are making a commitment to love and honor the real you by reconnecting with the peace and love that resides inside that has been slowly consumed through years of modern day living.

Meditation makes you an emotionless robot

Meditation does not remove emotions but it makes you more attuned to emotional changes. I used to worry all the time, believing the commentator in my head to be very true, which caused me lots of energy and stress. (“Wow, could that really happen – that would be terrible”). Lots of the emotions I had were very fear based surrounding the future. Meditation has increased my clarity allowing me to think more logically rather than emotionally. Living in the present moment helped me to disengage from my unhealthy emotional states but I still feel things very deeply.

Meditation is too hard

It’s a complete alien concept to many to just sit and be. No distractions, no entertainment, no planning the future. Meditation is not hard but it is helpful to have someone guide you when you start practicing.

Meditation takes years to work

It is called meditation practice for a reason. It takes time to cultivate the habit of directing our attention inward. It’s not an instant fix but changes will be gentle and consistent. Gradually you will break free from the cycle of thinking too much and you will reconnect to your natural state of peace and love. The longer you put off starting your practice the longer you will remain in disharmony.

Meditation takes too much time

Spare time is a luxury that many of us do not have in excess of with the demands of modern day living, but everyone can create a few minutes in their day (I have periods where I switch my smartphone off so I can’t keep checking it to free up time). People who say they don’t have the time to meditate are usually the ones that really need to. Try just 10 minutes a day for 6 weeks, it’s enough to see a difference.

To meditate you need to stop having thoughts

I have been meditating for years, and my mentors even longer, and I honestly don’t know of anyone who doesn’t have any thoughts. We are human beings with human nervous systems and will probably remain having thoughts for the rest of our lives. Meditation offers you the freedom to chose which thoughts you engage with.

Meditation is an escape from reality

Personally my reality pre meditation was full of fear and panic and generally full of angst. I am now free from remorsefully thinking about the past or anxiously trying to foresee the future. You can’t get much more real than the present moment.

Meditation doesn’t work for everyone

There are many types of meditation all with the ultimate aim of enabling you to be present. There is something for everyone. I believe the majority of people give up as they feel they are ‘bad’ at it due to the amount of thoughts they have when they try. Never judge a meditation on the time you spend meditating but rather on the after effects. i.e. do you sleep better, have improved clarity, less worry etc.?

Meditation is selfish

I struggled initially with taking time out of my day to meditate that could have been spent with my children or a million other things. It felt extremely self indulgent and uncomfortable. However my practice has made me calmer, happier and generally a lot nicer to be around. Those surrounding you will reap the benefits almost as much as you do.

Meditation is the answer to all

Life is subject to flux and we will all have times where our circumstances become more difficult. Unfortunately meditation does not guarantee you a problem free existence. What it does do though is give you the tools you need to navigate your way through with a calmness and clarity and a knowing that this too shall pass.

To attend a meditation workshop or receive one to one coaching and support (also available via Skype) contact me


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Meditation, why bother?

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”  Thich Nhat Hanh

I was speaking to a friend last week about meditation. “I can’t be bothered”, she said. “There are so many other, more enjoyable things to do”. Continuing the conversation it became clear that she filled her spare time mainly with tv and reading.  I wouldn’t criticise anyones lifestyle choices, if you have something that makes you happy then great.

I find though we sometimes use many of our activities as a temporary distraction technique, trying to focus on something, anything, to keep our thoughts at bay. This works to an extent but awareness always creeps in when we least expect or want it. That stomach churning feeling that randomly occurs halfway through our favourite tv programme, when we start thinking about what we have to do the next day, or out enjoying time with friends when we inexplicably start worrying about the bills. That nagging, gnawing feeling that something’s missing, just won’t go away, no matter how much we try to feed it with material possessions or divert our attention away from it.

We all experience life’s highs and lows and it is natural to want to chase the highs. We may embark on a new relationship, change job and for a while feel all is well. We either relax and enjoy that feeling or experience an undercurrent of “this won’t last”, “I don’t deserve this”. Then when the temporary feeling of euphoria does gradually fade away becoming a memory, what next?

We can find ourselves back on the periphery of happiness waiting until things are fixed, changed or improved to get better again. We get caught in the cycle of “when ………. happens I will be happy”. Always waiting, life becomes a perpetual struggle.

We are not born with these feelings of dissatisfaction. They build up bit by bit gradually consuming us and disconnecting us from our conscious awareness, the inner peace that’s always present that we have forgotten we have. Rumi said “we wander from room to room searching for the diamond necklace that is already around your neck”. Call off the search; we are what we seek.

Over time we have constructed a set of conditioned responses we call upon in every situation. When an event happens we label good we fruitlessly try to hang on to that feeling. When a situation we deem bad arises we resist and try to push it away causing us untold stress. We impossibly only want the good. The truth is we are human beings not human doings and we have gotten so busy doing that many of us forget to just Be.

Life is subject to flux. It’s beautifully wild, uncontrollable and ever changing. Recognising that the only thing we can realistically control in the long term is where we focus our attention is the first step on the peace path.

Through a regular meditation practice  it is possible to change your relationship with your mind, dispelling the negativity enabling you to reconnect to the ever loving, still, silent space within.

Try the following simple meditation: –

  1. Be comfortable, ideally sitting upright on the floor or a chair with your spine as straight as possible. If you have a health condition that makes this posture uncomfortable find a position that works for you.
  2. Allow your attention to focus on your breath. This could be the air coming in and out of your nostrils or your chest or abdomen gently rising and falling.
  3. Feel each in breath and out breath whilst breathing naturally – you do not need to consciously slow down your breathing.
  4. When you notice you have been off thinking (which you will, this is perfectly natural) gently return your focus to the breath without judgement. (It is important to understand that everyone has thoughts when they meditate, it doesn’t make you ‘bad’ at meditating or mean it isn’t working for you).
  5. Repeat this cycle for at least 10 minutes every day. Each time you meditate it will be different so start each session with no pre-conceived expectations.

So why bother? Well for me it has really cleansed my thought process. Any fear, jealousy and anxiety has been replaced by a sustainable feeling of completeness. I feel an inner serenity that’s always with me. Ultimately the only way you can find out is by giving it a go yourself.

To attend a meditation workshop or receive one to one coaching and support (also available via Skype) contact me. Next workshop date 13th July, Northamptonshire.


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Ahoy there Comfort Zone

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“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. Neale Donald Walsch

Earlier this year I decided to train as meditation teacher with Sandy Newbigging who Yoga Magazine hails as “one of the best meditation teachers around’.

I am passionate about meditation, and having trained with Sandy a couple of years previously in the Mind Detox Method I knew that Mind Calm Meditation would fit beautifully into my practice. Both use astonishingly simple but life changing techniques that I have benefited from on a personal level and was eager to be able to share these.

I have spent the early part of the year completing the coursework, case studies and exam and then came the attendance week. (Pause for dramatic effect). Dum, dum, dummm.

Knowing that this course is aimed at people wanting to teach groups I knew that it would entail vast amounts of public speaking. I had previously believed that I would rather gauge my eyeballs out than stand up and talk to a group and, with a week of doing just this in the pipeline I had deliberated long and hard about whether to attend.

My desire to spread the love and have others join me on the peace path outweighed my sheer terror and with trepidation I packed up, hugged my children like I might never see them again and headed off with a heavy heart.

When I got to the course venue I realised I was so far out of my comfort zone I couldn’t even see it. But you know what? Contrary to the voices in my head informing me of a million possible outcomes I didn’t faint, vomit or indeed die.

In terms of personal growth this course was invaluable. In stepping out of my comfort zone I have expanded into a place of quiet confidence. Have I conquered my biggest fear? Who knows? I have three public talks booked in the next few weeks and I will use the techniques I have learnt through this course to enable me to detach completely from the voices in my head telling me I can’t. Umm I think I have just proved that I can thank you.

I am optimistic that I will rise to each challenge as it presents itself and slowly the unknown and frightening will transmute into exciting and exhilarating before settling into the familiar.

For me, as always, it’s the knowing. The reassuring knowing that I have a choice. I could have chosen not to do this and that would have been ok. But I did do it and that was ok too. I am now happy to remain on the periphery of my comfort zone while I wait for the next challenge to show itself, to which I will say “Bring it on” and jump in feet first.

To find out more about Mind Detox, Mind Calm or to book a coaching session with me (also available via Skype), contact me.


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How to deal with a negative person

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“Judge nothing, you will be happy. Forgive everything, you will be happier. Love everything, you will be happiest.” (Sri Chinmoy)

In the ideal world (that resides inside my head) everyone is lovely. There is no aggression or nastiness; everyone is fair and kind and love is the driving force propelling us into an awesome future.

Unfortunately the world (outside of my head), can be very different.

There is one particular person in my circle who is quite unpleasant. Circumstances dictate that this person remains, for the foreseeable future, integrated into my life. It has taken me a long time not to take the regular outpouring of venomous words so freaking personally.

This is how I did it: –

Breathe – quite an obvious statement but when I am feeling energetically attacked (and whilst replaying the memory afterwards) my breathing becomes shallower or I hold my breathe altogether. This in itself is enough to induce feelings of anxiety. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. It sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Heart rate and blood pressure falls and a sense of relaxation will automatically take over.

Meditate – Yes it always come in somewhere but that’s because there is no better way to keep you in the now, stop foreseeing future problems and replaying past events.

Don’t judge – if you are met with hostility it can be easy to judge the other person as nasty but we rarely know what’s going on in someone’s life to make them feel hostile. Everyone is dealing with their own story.

Forgive and let go – holding on to resentment hurts you more than the other person. Imagine you are holding on to the back of a moving car; being dragged around and getting hurt. Is it the car that’s hurting you? No it’s you actually holding on to the car that’s allowing you to get hurt. Letting go is freeing.

Understand it’s only their perception of reality – It’s hard when you are being criticised and judged but understanding this is the other person’s perception of reality was a huge leap forward for me. Their version would be completely different to my version but that’s ok. I am true to myself and other people’s opinions of me are really none of my business.

Love them exactly as they are – this was a tricky one but whenever I saw this person I would forget anything that had gone on before and accept them exactly as they are without preconceived ideas or wishing they would change.

Don’t try to mind read – I know I had a stage that even if this persons name was mentioned I would assume they had been bad mouthing and thinking negative thoughts about me and I would start to feel anxious. By guessing what I thought they were thinking my mind went into overdrive creating a story. I am sure I put more energy into them than they ever did into me. Unless I hear something directly now I don’t assume.

Practice Gratitude – Don’t let one bad incident make you feel you have had a bad day, a bad week or even a bad life! For every one negative person I encounter I have a million more things to be thankful for and I make sure I journal a list every day so the good always outweighs the bad.


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10 reasons you should be K-I-S-S-I-N-G

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1. Kissing increases the body’s level of ocytocin (a natural calming chemical) which reduces anxiety.

2. Kissing can equate to a surgery free face lift tightening 30 muscles each time you lock lips.

3. Kissing can burn off 2-6 calories a minute; not much? Depends how long you smooch for.

4. Kissing makes us feel desirable thus increasing our self-esteem.

5. Kissing can boost immunity, the bugs swapped from mouth to mouth makes our immune systems more resilient.

6. Kissing increases endorphins which fight pain, along with making you feel happy.

7. Kissing relieves stress by lowering your body’s stress hormone (cortisol).

8. Kissing creates adrenaline which causes your heart to pump more blood around your body making it great for cardiovascular health.

9. Kissing for thirty minutes of reduces levels of IgE (an allergy antibody) increasing your body’s resistance.

10. Kissing, as all the best things in life, is free 🙂