Tag Archives: joy

Why mums can’t do everything…

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newborn-1506248_1280Mums do so much. So, so much. Yet they always think they can do even more. They feel guilty if they stop, even for a few minutes.  Sitting down, in the day….NO! Going to bed when they’re exhausted….NO WAY, there’s still more chores to do!

But here’s why us mums need to take care of ourselves. (That’s us mums of whatever age, with one, two or more children, babies, toddlers, or teens). We can only give our best when we feel at our best. And we frequently feel way less than our best. Sometimes, we forget what our best even felt like.

When we become tired, exhausted, and depleted, we lose something of ourselves. Mums frequently say they can barely remember who they were before they had children. Becoming a mother is certainly a life-changing event, a momentous thing for any woman. We grow very quickly, learning our baby’s, and then our older child’s needs. We very quickly learn to put their needs before our own. There’s probably nobody more selfless than  mothers. And that’s the way it has to be.

But when we get tired and neglect our own needs for too long (and we all know it can be VERY long!), we start to lose ourselves, that glimmer and sparkle that makes us who we ARE. We may lose our sense of humour, we may lose our vitality, we may even start to lose that vital empathy and ability to see things from our child’s point of view. Those things that bother them can start to feel so small compared with our own mountainous fatigue. We may become impatient, irritable, or depressed. We may stop enjoying and savouring this time with our children as much as we feel we should (oops, there’s that guilt again!) The sheer wonder of being a parent can start to pass us by, and it can feel like an endless uphill struggle.

So – we need to take time out. It isn’t selfish to look after ourselves from time to time. Who are we kidding if we tell ourselves we can be awake for 20 hours a day, every day, and still be supermum?! Yes, the house might be tidy, but the children crying again will feel like the last straw. Someone else can wash up for a change, someone else can bring in the washing and fold it away. Take those few  minutes for yourself, have a sit down with a good book, your favourite music, do some exercise, have a lovely warm bath – whatever you need to replenish your energy levels and bring back some of that lovely sparkle that makes you YOU!

What are your favourite ways to relax and recharge? Leave your comments below!

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Alison x

 

 

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What is happiness?

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jumpforjoyI’ve  been pondering this question a lot over the past few weeks.  We all wish each other a happy new year, we all wish happiness for our friends, our family and ourselves. So, what do we mean by that?

Do we want ourselves, and others, to be jumping for joy?  Is that really what we want, all the time?  Is joy a sustainable emotion? Or is it followed soon enough, for most of us, by the inevitable not-so-wonderful experiences of our lives?  If moments of pure joy are really to be fully appreciated, they need to be just that – moments.  High points of happiness, in which we are bubbling over with pleasure, excitement, exuberance.  Which are all the better for the humdrum nature of much of our lives. And which are unsustainable in the long-term.

So, what is happiness?  Is it merely the absence of sadness? Can we define it only by what is missing?

For me, happiness is a calmer emotion than joy.  There’s a bit less excitement, a bit less disruption to my equilibrium!  It can be quiet and still, calm and peaceful, brought on by the simplest things – spending time with loved ones, cooking, reading, walking by the sea or in the countryside. By laughter. By yoga and meditation.  By being alone, and by being with others. It’s less fleeting than pleasure, which is ‘only the shadow of happiness’, according to a Hindu proverb.

Happiness, it is true, can be lost.  But happiness can also be found. It can be cultivated quite deliberately. Happiness takes practice, but can become a habit. It’s a skill that can be learnt, and relearnt. Even when you think it’s gone forever, it can creep up on you and surprise you.

As Matthieu Ricard says in his book Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill:

‘..achieving durable happiness as a way of being is a skill.  It requires sustained effort in training the mind and developing a set of human qualities, such as inner peace, mindfulness and altruistic love’

So whilst some of us have a more naturally sunny disposition than others, happiness can be created, fostered, tended to. It can grow. In his book, ‘Buddha’s Brain’, Rick  Hanson talks about ‘taking in the good’, really noticing and savouring the good times we experience.  If things aren’t great right now, we can recall a time we felt truly happy and bask in the memory. And don’t let the good moments pass by without noticing. Notice what being happy feels like, right in the moment. Pause for a moment, and truly experience the sensations of happiness. Truly, madly, deeply feel that moment. And at the end of the day, recall those sensations, those feelings of wellbeing before going to sleep. Write about them if you keep a journal, express gratitude for all the good in your life. Deliberately, patiently and tenderly foster good feelings.  So that when things aren’t so great, your basic sense of wellbeing, your basic ground of happiness, isn’t rocked so violently as it might otherwise have been. So that you have resilience when things – inevitably – don’t go all your own way.

There will be days when nothing goes right.  There may be weeks, months or even years that are more difficult than others.  That’s life.  As Jon Kabat-Zinn says in Full Catastrophe Living, Revised Edition: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation, life is the:

‘…full catastrophe….the poignant enormity of our life experience. It includes crisis and disaster, the unthinkable and the unacceptable, but is also includes all the little things that go wrong and that add up….life is always in flux’.

And we won’t always feel happy.  Not by any stretch of the imagination. Unless we have reached enlightenment! But with mental health such a huge concern, we can work to improve our underlying happiness.  We can build our happiness muscle as if we’re working out at the gym, being grateful for all the good in our lives. We can make time for things we enjoy, we can look after ourselves emotionally as well as physically. We can make sure we get enough rest, sufficient exercise and good nutrition. We can practise being happy.

Entering the heart space

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You may have heard of the ‘heart space’.  If you’re lucky, you may have encountered your own heart space during meditation.  It’s that space in the chest, around the heart chakra, anahata, which feels supremely still and peaceful, and which – on a good day – we may find in our meditation practice.

But it’s not really just in the chest.  There is such a sense of spaciousness that it cannot be contained within our physical body.  It is a space which transcends the physical heart, in which we feel boundless joy, peace, equanimity, love and compassion.  It is, like all our experiences of meditation, hard to describe fully, as it is beyond mere words.  But my own experiences of the heart chakra in meditation, and my reflection upon these experiences, has led me to some interesting realisations and insights into the Safety Energy Locks (SELs) located around the heart and chest area, and which I use when treating with Jin Shin Jyutsu.

The only way in which we enter the heart space, and attain an experience of our heart centre, is by letting go of our attachments to the way things should be.  By gaining an acceptance of what is.  By letting go of our overwhelming emotions that live in our lower chakras.  And so it’s interesting that SEL 9 is located at the lower end of the shoulder blades, within the heart area, and is associated with ‘the end of one cycle, and the beginning of the new’.  Whenever we feel ‘stuck’ in our lives, trapped by familiar patterns of behaviour and reactions, we are trapped in the lower energy centres and are resisting the natural flow of energy in our lives, and in our physical bodies.  At these times, we are less likely to experience the peace of our heart space!  But when we let go of our resistance, and move through whatever is blocking our peace we step into this vast space.  So it’s really interesting that the next SEL, half way up the shoulder blades, is SEL 10, known as the ‘warehouse of abundance’.  If we are not feeling abundant in our lives, we  need to let go at SEL 9, and step into the peace and joy which is waiting for us at the heart.  We learn to recognise that:

‘The little space within the heart is as great as this vast universe’

~Chandogya Upanishad

Another Safety Energy Lock situated in the region of the heart chakra, at the level of the third rib, is SEL13, which teaches us to ‘love our enemies’.  To develop unconditional love and compassion- maitri – for others and for ourselves.  To see ourselves and others clearly, with all our faults, and love ourselves anyway.  To embrace the lessons others present us with, rather than pushing them away,  and to see the blessings within all the events of our lives,  without labelling them ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’.

When starting out in meditation, it can be hard to rise above the churning of emotions at our lower centres, but once we find the stillness and the joy of the heart, we are encouraged along the way.  If you have a lot of emotional issues surrounding the heart centre, it can take time and perseverance to step into the peace of the heart, but rest assured that it is there, just waiting for you to let go, and to step into your warehouse of abundance.

 

 

Moving slowly…

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Sometimes we just need to take life more slowly, and enjoy the moment we’re in. In a world where everything seems to be about not having time, we need to really take our time – at least occasionally.  In yoga, we vary our pace, moving dynamically at times, and at others we move slowly and carefully. We certainly can’t rush meditation – it just takes the time it takes.  An antidote to the rat-race. But how do we bring this quality into the rest of our lives?

Instead of driving somewhere that’s just around the corner, maybe we could walk, cycle or jog there.  It will take longer, but how much better it can make you feel!  Instead of microwaving a ready meal, or opening a jar of sauce, perhaps – now and then – we could cook the whole meal from scratch.  Instead of the car wash, could we find half an hour to wash the car ourselves, and burn off some calories too?!  I recently read an article by a gardener, advocating the use of hand tools.  More time-consuming, but really getting down to the ground, really seeing the garden at grass-roots level – literally.  More eco-friendly than weedkillers, that’s for sure.

When we rush through our lives, we build up more and more stress about how little time we have, about where we should have been 5 minutes ago, and we miss the joy inherent in the moment.

When we take our time to do things slowly, we can truly enhance our lives.  Recently, I prepared some semi-dried tomatoes for a special meal – two hours roasting in a low oven, with fresh herbs, to add to a wonderful Ottolenghi salad (my favourite cookbook of the moment!).  OK, you can buy sun-dried tomatoes in a jar, but these really were so much better, and the smell as they cooked filled my whole home, whetting my appetite for the meal ahead.  The task wasn’t difficult or arduous, but a total pleasure. I’ve also just started experimenting with making my own sourdough bread – making the starter and ‘feeding’ it every day.  Definitely a ‘slow-food’ procedure.  But again, not difficult, not particularly time-consuming, and working towards – hopefully! – a quality loaf in the end…..

So it’s not always just about the end result, but about the whole process.  Not rushing to the finish line, but enjoying the whole event.

What are the ways you slow down and take your time? Leave your comments below….

Non-attachment

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When people think about non-attachment, they may worry that the closer they manage to get to it, the less interesting they might become.  After all, isn’t it our views, our opinions, our likes and dislikes, that make us who we are?  Who are we, if we take all that away, and are simply ourselves?  Instead of vibrant, multi-coloured beings, would we become sort of grey and wishy-washy?  Without our emotional outbursts would be less than we are with them?

I like to think that non-attachment is just a way of holding on less tightly to our beliefs, our opinions, our goods and bads, our rights and our wrongs.  It doesn’t mean that we can’t still love strawberries and cream, or sunny days.  Of course we’ll still love our families, our children and our friends.  If we’re lucky, we may also love our work and our homes.  We don’t need to get greyed out by a developing spirituality.  Instead, we can still live our lives to the full.  If we want to wear bright colours and really enjoy them, so be it.  If we truly savour a huge piece of chocolate cake, why not?  We are being mindful in our appreciation of the flavour and texture!  If you’ve ever met someone you would describe as deeply spiritual, would you also describe them as boring?  Most of the inspirational teachers, healers and yogis I’ve met have an infectious zest for life, a joy and humour which engages everyone they meet.  The trick is to hold onto life less tightly and discover the joy inherent in more and more of life.  Becoming more present in day to day living, and finding less time to stress over the yesterdays and tomorrows.  Being human, we will always have likes and dislikes, but instead of the huge troughs and peaks of our lives, perhaps the ground can become a little more even, our path a little easier, simply by releasing our strong hold on the way we want things to be.

When we first learn to meditate, just the sitting and being still can be so hard.  We very slowly become more comfortable with this, until we can lengthen the stillness, and gently start to quieten the mind.  After many such practices, we may eventually have a more profound experience; we may genuinely experience a deep inner peace.  We will want to recover that same sense of peace the next time we sit quietly.  We may not find it.  It may take many more practices before we find it again.  And here we find the challenge – we are to practise non-attachment even here. When we meditate, we learn to let go of the outcome.  Some days, it will be wonderful, we will feel wonderful.  Other days, it will be hard – our mind will refuse to quieten down, our body will be aching and desperate to move.  And we still practice, regardless of whether it is easy or hard, wonderful or terrible.  And in continuing to practice anyway, we are learning a steadiness of purpose, a steadfastness which we can use in our lives.  We learn to let go of the outcome in all our pursuits.  We don’t let go of what makes us ourselves, but we do let go of the tightly-held beliefs with which we attempt to make ourselves right, and others wrong.  We find the unity between us and those around us, instead of the differences.  Not boring, not dull, but actually quite spectacular.

The gift of the present

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How many times during the day are you truly in the present moment? How many times are you mindful of your actions, your breath, your body, your thought processes?

For many of us, it is very few.  We may move through our day on auto-pilot, dwelling on something from earlier, the day before, or last week.  We may be busily planning into the future – what we are going to do when we finish work, at the weekend, or when our holidays arrive.  Sometimes, we need to process earlier events, and sometimes we need to plan future events in order to move our lives forwards, but all the time??

To be in the moment is to be fully in the present, and this is a true gift.  The present moment is the moment in which we can change everything;  it is the time when we yoke together our body and our mind.  All else is the mind moving forwards and back in time, being coloured by our attitudes, our beliefs, our hopes and our fears.  If we rush through life towards the next goal, we are missing so much of the joy of life.  We are not noticing the good things in every day – yes, every day.  We may be missing the miracle of our breathing, of our ability to move and stretch our body, the fact that we have clothing, a home, loving family and friends – and we have all this right now. On our darkest days, these are the things that might bring a smile to our faces, and give us the courage to carry on.  On our best days, these are the things that embody us, and keep our feet on the ground as our spirit soars.

On my first Jin Shin Jyutsu training, led by an inspirational teacher and healer, we were asked one morning how many conscious breaths we had taken since waking.  Life can be such a rush, particularly when attending an intensive training course, that many of us had woken up, got ready and rushed to class.  We then remedied that with a group practice of the 36 breaths – closing the eyes and focusing completely on each of 36 breaths.  This is a practice I often repeat when I need to bring myself back to the present, and one which you can adapt if you find 36 too much to begin with.  9 breaths repeated 4 times through the day, or even just one set of 9 breaths in the morning, or whenever you need to bring yourself back to the moment, can make a big difference.

If you practise yoga, you will be used to tuning in to your body in asana practice, feeling the sensations that arise and the stillness within as you move into each posture.  If you practise other exercises, you may find that they also help you to focus on your body, and to calm your mind.  Any exercise or activity can be practised with more awareness, more mindfully, to bring you into the present.  Whether you are walking, cooking, gardening, washing up, or cleaning the house, you can bring this attention to your actions and to your senses, bringing you fully into the moment, and helping you to become aware of the pleasure inherent in even mundane activities.  And bringing you into the gift of the present.