Tag Archives: Mindfulness

Sadness matters. How to embrace your tears.

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Sadness. The “blue creature” that’s inside your head and makes you notice gloomy things. Something that makes you emotional, nostalgic and down. Shoulder-length hair, round glasses, a sweater… here we go. That’s Sadness character in the Pixar’s movie “Inside Out”, speaking (and crying) with the voice of Phyllis Smith. I love how fairy tales can simplify and depict complex concepts in a way that is amusing, fun to watch and has a grain (or two) of truth.

Sometimes we think sadness is not welcome. It takes our power away and makes us feel miserable… It can take away our pleasures and cause us to be lonely… It can make us cry instead of enjoying our day. But should we really distrust sadness, hide it and treat it as a guest who comes uninvited and stays for too long? Do we really (as numerous self-help books suggest) need to strive for joy and think positively most of the time? I am not so sure.

Sadness can mess up many things, right? We are bombarded with pictures of happy people everywhere. Celebrities with perfect smiles (and lives, seemingly); success stories to hold onto (when we’ve just seen end results of someone’s achievements); pictures on Facebook that show only the best moments of someone’s life; self-help sections in book stores that lead you to believe that you must feel upbeat all the time to achieve fulfilment of personal and professional goals; job offers that accentuate traits such as being outgoing and bubbly… because you need to emanate happiness in order to attract customers to a brand, right? Well, that sounds a bit unreal to me.

We all experience all kinds of emotions. Sometimes at the same time. It may be easy to think that to keep up with all our obligations, commitments and activities, we need loads of positive energy all the time. However, life is not as sweet as a movie. Why struggle to be happy all the time?

Sadness has many benefits. Our tears are cleansing both our emotions and our eyes.

Forcing yourself to stay constantly “upbeat and positive” in your job can lead to frustration or even a breakdown, because it is an unattainable ideal. Everyone has bad days at some point, so why not feel them instead of trying to hide them? People actually connect with you when you are having a bad day. Sometimes even more than when you are emanating with happiness… Practiced. People like to show compassion to other human beings.

Feeling down always tells us something. Like pain. Physical pain is an indication that something is not going right in our organism. If you kill the pain, you kill the symptoms. The causes of it might still be there. Same with sadness. If we try to hide it under a fake smile, under “I’m alright” or under tons of work/entertainment, it will not automatically disappear. Well, it may, for a short time. But it may still be there when you check next time. There is a Zen practice of “looking deeply” that helps recognise the exact emotions we are feeling and what they point at. It is a really useful practice.

Sadness can sometimes bring fear, but running away from it doesn’t help. Fear is an elaborated fantasy of what may go wrong. Only embracing your sadness and trying to understand it can help shine light on what is really going on inside. This can bring marvellous results. Otherwise this unexplored emotional terrain might be scary.

Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels. (Goya)

 

Goya – The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (picture from Wikipedia)

Featured image photo credit: Sadness via photopin (license)

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“Sometimes”. About the dream we keep holding on to, in spite of the rain.

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Sometimes clarity just doesn’t come. It’s obscured by clouds, by dreams, by fantasies. Obscured by magical thinking of “that something” which will wake us up from a dream and make us feel special… Whereas all we want is to make peace with ourselves and feel “our own creative spark” that we didn’t feel before. Sometimes that’s all.

Sometimes life brings you flowers. And sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s not the reason to not wake up every day happy. It’s not the reason to stay down. A flower is waiting for you right where you are. If you just manage to discover it.

Sometimes even compassion is not enough. You can get angry by not understanding something and nothing will help. Getting angry is healthy if you channel it the right way. It can cleanse your fears.

Where am I going with all this? To the point of nowhere. To stir you up a little bit, to make you find out where your own “sometimes” lies, that you’ve forgotten about, that you aspire to… Where is your magic “tomorrow” where everything’s gonna be alright and the spell will last? There is no such place. Yet we do this all the time. We create the whole worlds of illusions to dive into, like a swimming pool on a fairy island. You can have one too. But it’s good to know that you’re in a tale, a cartoon. And when this episode ends, you will remain right where you were, in the greyish shape of your reality. Grey is beautiful though. It’s a neutral state that allows you to notice all other colours; it’s a perfect background to all emotions. It’s the world that will last.

I guess you know now what your fantasy world is, but please be assured that the world of “normality” is so much more gratifying in the end. Fantasies are amazing but they are exactly as they are – fantasies. If only we could notice them sooner.

That’s where Zen comes in. It helps us recognize the “mind chatter” from the presence of our being that is available to us all the time no matter what storms are raging or what creations we are led to believe. It’s sustainable. It’s connected to your breath. It takes you on a journey that is real. Mind can trick you and bring you to a lot of unusual places. But at the end of the day the place is one – Here and Now.

I might end up with a flashy conclusion or a catchy phrase, but no. I’ll end up with a space. A space for your thoughts. Here you can write your own “sometimes”. If you dare to listen to your fantasy. It can tell you the truth of what you’re missing.

 

MY FANTASY: ________________________

 

Good luck,

Anna

 

 

photo credit: Mystischer Koloss via photopin (license)

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5 Books After Which Nothing Will Be The Same. Ever.

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There are some books that we love. There are some books that are recommended to us or highly rated. There are some books that are classics, or that we think we should read. But there are also some books, after reading which, nothing will ever look the same. Ever. Again. Here are some of them (this choice is entirely subjective and doesn’t pretend to be any ultimate to-read list; however, these are some books with high impact, that you might like too…).

Here goes the list:

1) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This. Is. Amazing. I don’t even know where to start. Sometimes silence is so much better than analysis… So I’ll just give some quotes:

- “People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.”

- “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

- “People where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…

Any more words are unnecessary. Try for yourself.

2) The Way of Non-Attachment: The Practice of Insight Meditation by Dhiravamsa

This is a guide to a very useful technique of loosening the grip on what you think needs to happen, and understanding yourself. After practicing for some time, “Clarity gradually comes, suffering is gradually understood, and freedom begins to appear.” (a quote from the book).

This can help tremendously, whatever you’re going through. Especially if you’re going through some hard times. It is easy to get lost in your thoughts, and feed your pain, but there is a simple way out, based on your breathing and looking deeply into your feelings. All the answers are already in you and you may see what happens when you try to uncover them… Firstly, you may find that clinging to something, whatever it is, has harmful effects and can suck. We can only be free if we let go. Then you can take the next steps. It can be very healing and it can bring you deep peace.

3) The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh

A lot can be said about mindfulness. This book says a lot more. The way we communicate with our loved ones (and not-so-loved ones) has a huge impact on our relationships and on our state of mind. If we cultivate inner peace and choose words wisely, we can transform even the hardest argument into something constructive. Things that have seemed difficult start to be achievable, as Thay (that’s the Vietnamese word for ‘Teacher’) explains to us the ways in which we can approach conflict and difficult emotions, to create peace and harmony. It is a really useful read for couples, families, individuals, friends, and anyone else who wishes to transform their relationships, and also better understand their own emotions and reactions. Some of the steps are quite simple. They can be practiced by anyone.

Communication is key. And this book is a key to communication.

4) The Secret Life of Salvador Dali by Salvador Dali

An autobiography of the famous surrealist, embracing his late thirties. That’s the craziest book I’ve ever read! It was very hard to hide it under the table during my uni classes, and the fact that I couldn’t stop laughing while reading some passages probably gave it all away… The lecturer must have been very patient with me. This book is HILARIOUS. It also gives you an insight into a mind of an exceptional man, who is extremely creative, and extremely forgetful sometimes. He once opened his door dressed quickly in a bath-robe tied with a cable, at the end of which, accidentally, was a lamp. The kind of stuff you do every day, right?

Apart from peculiar anecdotes and a lot of unpredictability, you will find a lot of creative inspiration here. And a massive amount of food for thought.

5) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

If your mind has ever been wandering somewhere far, far away, exploring ideas that you cannot stop thinking about, and you also like travelling (even if just with your mind), this book is for you. A journey through several American states, on motorbikes, over many days, can bring A LOT of self-reflection. Nature plus space plus time, and a companion that unwillingly forces you to reflect on things, is a very philosophical combination. And that’s one side of this book. It cannot be defined in a couple of sentences, it has to be read. Written in the 1970s, it has become a classic. It was quite disturbing at some points. I won’t tell you which ones. It was also very fascinating, engaging and had a high impact. Not something easily forgotten. Oh, and it was non-fiction.

You may choose one of these books this weekend. Or you might remain in your sweet indifference to them, as if this article never happened (which is OK too). If you read some of them, tell me what you think. Whatever you choose to do… Have a great weekend!

 

photo credit: In Awe via photopin (license)

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Scared of Making a Wrong Choice? How to Make a Choice Among Endless Possibilities

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Have you ever had enough and thought something like ‘If only making this choice was easier?’ This article might shed some light on how to make right choices when you’re overwhelmed by data and possibilities. Here are some of the ways (among loads) of how to deal with the influx of information from here and there and everywhere, and this, and that… Stop that! 

There is a lot to choose from. Everywhere. Literally. Instead of reading this post you could choose a million different things (online), or another few thousand offline (the numbers do not correspond to reality ;). I know that feeling. Having some time to spare and scratching your head over all these things you could possibly do. And that’s just a decision of how to spend your evening.

How about making bigger decisions? Where to live, who to hang out with regularly, what interests to pursue, what career decisions to make, not to mention romance-related decisions… If only it was easier, right?

Not exactly.

It’s not easy, and it’s not difficult either. It’s what you make of it. You can spend the whole evening thinking what to do and eventually spending the evening thinking… (yeah, it’s happened to me, I confess…) or, you can choose something randomly, ask a friend, throw a coin into the air… Maybe there is some better way of making decisions during this constant influx of information, possibilities, options, things to do, read & think about. It’s called Informational Age, but I guess that means what it means – instead of overwhelming you with choice, it’s supposed to give you all the information you need to make the right choice. At least in theory.

We are sometimes confused if we have too much choice. There is a book called ‘The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less’ by Barry Schwartz, a psychologist, saying that the more choice we have (as consumers), the more anxious we are…And it’s true that if we have loads of choice, we might not know what to do and end up not choosing what we want. Or even if we do, there is this fear of not making the best choice… Have you ever had it? I have.

My options of how not to get lost in the abundance of possible (and impossible) choices are the following:

- mindfulness. I hope you don’t get impatient by me using this word quite often. I do it only because… it works. As a busy skeptic in her head all the time (before I started practicing mindfulness), I can say it brings gigantic results in the long run if practiced regularly. So if you don’t know what to choose, start breathing. In… and out. At your own pace. NOT thinking about the choice you’re making. Just allow your body to rest and relax into whatever comes to you. You might discover many different things while doing this. I’m not gonna tell you what they would be – only you can find out. Everybody has their own means to do it. For me, it clarifies my choices in a significant way. You can find out more about it here. I hope it helps you too.

- go for a walk instead. It works for me in terms of shopping. If I’m undecided about buying something, that means I’m not 100% sure (because when you know you need /want something, you know it). In this case, walking (especially in nature) helps. I would suggest a park or a quiet street. It may help you make the decision and, maybe even you would find that you don’t need to buy anything after all. It happened to me many times. There is so much consumerism anyways and sometimes we get influenced by adverts and juicy displays. We do that. They know it. And it’s ok as long as you’re conscious of it.

- doing one thing at a time. Multitasking is overrated. So if you want to do many things at the same time (to avoid making the wrong choice), please try to focus on just one thing. Sometimes even a random choice of one activity/thing to do helps your attention to not drift but stick to it and eventually you can enjoy it more than if you were doing several things at once.

- this one is a ‘freak’ option, and it works sometimes :) If you’re stuck between choices, how about choosing neither of them, but something completely different? You’re going against your ego then, that is trying to win your internal battle with itself by making the best choice possible. By circumventing its ways, you may choose  something new. And you might like it.

The above mentioned ways apply mainly to small choices that wouldn’t make a life-changing difference, however, you can use some of them for big decisions. I wouldn’t suggest flipping a coin when deciding whether or not to marry someone, for instance, but I would definitely suggest mindfulness in making a decision concerning your career. After all, your ‘inner self’ knows already what you want to be doing, so if you could only listen to it beneath all these distractions… It would be different, right? So… why not do it? Like, …now? :) (after reading this article)?

Making a choice doesn’t have to be scary. And even if your choice isn’t perfect, you can change it by making another choice. There is always a way to thrive in the abundance of information coming from all directions. If you trust your internal compass (intuition), you are likely to feel more secure while doing it. And it’s likely to pay off in the long run.

 
photo credit: Sweet One via photopin cc

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10 Simple Steps of How to be Mindful in a busy digital world of Internet and smartphones

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10 simple to do steps in order to stay mindful in the digital world. The endless flow of information, deadlines, distractions and things to do can easily make you rush all the time, but there are things you can do to help yourself feel better and be more relaxed, whatever you do.

The world of screens, pixels and deadlines can be debilitating to us sometimes, not to mention our eyes. There is a difference between working calmly on a task (not multitasking) and rushing in a queue of never-ending projects and things to do next. Next, next, next… If I only finish this… When I do that, then… I’ve got 15 minutes, I can’t talk right now… Stop. Stop and breathe. This might be the only mindful moment within your day. Learn to appreciate it.

Yes, modern pace of living requires a lot of attention, dedication and time. Yet there is only a limited number of hours in a day. Unless you want to work at night overtime, but then you need to sleep sometimes… It’s very easy to fall into a vortex of doing, without really being. But what if we stop for a moment and really get our attention back to the present? Only then can we fully live. There are simple steps to do that and here they are:

1. One of the most basic things to do when you work on your computer a lot is to take regular breaks. And by regular I mean – really regular, let’s say every 45 minutes. This is for your eyes to rest (you still want to be able to see the number of a bus when you’re 65, right?), but it’s also to rest your mind. In order to do this, you can set up an alarm clock, to make sure you really do this. It’s so easy to get caught on the Internet, because there are millions of things that are really, truly interesting.

2. Take time for yourself. Schedule time off. This is pretty self explanatory, but it’s also too easy to catch yourself surfing the net on your day off, without going anywhere. We’ve all been there. Off time means what it means – you switch the off button. Only from time to time. The world will still be alright when you turn it on again (let’s hope so).

3. When you receive a message, it’s tempting to reply immediately, hit the button and then it’s gone. Sometimes we might have cringe-worthy moments, or a little guilt lurking from a shadow: ‘did I really say that?’ Once it’s posted, it’s there and there’s nothing you can do about it. Sometimes you can delete it, sometimes not. Even if you delete it, someone might have already seen it. Instead, take 2-3 deep breaths before replying, concentrating on the sound and feeling of your breathing. This will help you a lot in formulating a meaningful, mindful answer. Something you really want to say. Not just something on the spur of the moment.

4. When you have a long to-do list, instead of worrying about deadlines and the plan of your day, how about coming back to your feelings to assess whether what you are doing right now is important, useful, your priority? We know very well how to spend way too much time on something we didn’t really want to do. This link, that link… Even when all of them are interesting, it’s good to ask yourself: is this nourishing me? You will then be able to choose wisely, as (not to state the obvious) your time is limited.

5. I cannot stress how important it is to properly rest. Remembering to sleep enough number of hours and having some quiet time from time to time can do wonders. It really can.

6. Walks in nature. :) Oh yes. These are my favourite ones. It’s really good. The smell of fresh air, the look of the trees, the touch of the grass on your feet (you can walk barefoot in summer, yay!)… It all relaxes your body, leaving your mind in a pleasant state of calm. This is not the time to worry or plan things. This is just the time to walk. And looking at green relaxes your eyes, which is an additional bonus if you spend a long time in front of a computer.

7. Do nothing. Really. From time to time. No pressure, no plan, no ideas. Just be.

8. In order to not become completely digitalised, or a cyborg, I would advise you to find some non-digital hobby. So that you don’t stare at the screen in your free time. Something that involves other people (can be group games, hitchhiking, a local knitting group, gardening, or anything else that would make you feel good and be fun for you to do). Additionally, manual activities take the pressure off your mind and induce a more relaxed state, in which your subconscious may bring you ideas you were scratching your head over before, just like that – out of the blue. While you are making a bracelet, water your flowers or make a plane model, your brain is actively processing what happened earlier and preparing answers for you – just like you need them. Useful, huh?

9. Meet people. Instead of chatting on Facebook. I have nothing against Facebook, in fact, it can be a great way of connecting with people. I mean, instead of feeling lazy and chatting, make an effort sometimes to meet that person in real life and exchange your ideas live. You will feel the difference. Especially if you don’t see each other that often. You might see that person from a completely new perspective. Because, there is a limit to what we share online…

10. Last but not least… Have a pet :) My friend’s guinea pig always de-stresses her after a busy day at work. You cannot not smile when looking at a small cute creature who adores you and is waiting to be fed and cuddled. It’s so rewarding. And you can have a pretty good contact with an animal. It’s healing too. You can also tell it a secret and it won’t tell anyone… At least not in your language… ;) It’s really invigorating to have a little friend at home.

This list is obviously not exhaustive. If you come up with other ways of staying mindful in an increasingly fast, digitally-based life, let me know in the comments!

Breathe in, breathe out… Stay calm.

And have a nice morning/evening/day. :)

 

photo credit: lipemesquita via photopin cc

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A Short Guide to Mindful Eating

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Mindful eating is a practice of savouring every bite of your meal, in the same way you cherish every day if you live by the carpe diem maxim.

In an era when there are so many overweight people, it might be a good idea to focus on what you are eating, instead of watching TV or reading at the same time. Because we think we are multitasking, whereas in practice we dissolve our energy and do not even notice what we are eating, which can lead us to actually eat more than our body needs. If we practice this for a prolonged time, that can lead to some additional kilograms… Why put so much stress on ourselves? Wouldn’t cherishing every bite in silence bring us better results? After all, it would be nice to have a break in our tight schedule, to enjoy the moment and slow down for a minute.

As Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn puts it,

When we can slow down and really enjoy our food, our life and our health, we take on a much deeper quality.

So, I suggest you do the following next time you have lunch, dinner, or any other meal. It can also apply for snacks, fruit, and tea:

- find a comfortable place to eat

- place your food in front of you and look at it for a couple of seconds, enjoying its texture, colour, shape, temperature,   vapour over a hot tea, or anything else you find special about what you are consuming. Settle into this moment

- breathe in and out

- slow down your thinking and focus on your breath

- take the first bite/sip. Focus on the texture of it in your mouth, on the flavour and on the feeling of eating/drinking. This is the only thing that interests you now. Feel the sensation of swallowing each piece/sip and how it makes you warm inside

- keep eating/drinking like this. If you get distracted by other thoughts, that’s ok. In this case, come back to your flavour and cherish it once more

- when you’re done, take a few deep breaths and acknowledge the experience, how relaxing it was

- you can now come back to your duties and enjoy the day :)

I hope that helps. It’s a lovely practice of being here and now. I am mindfully eating pieces of Green & Black’s Organic chocolate while resting my eyes from the screen, and it is a truly pleasant experience. You can do it too.

If you would like to get to know more about it, there is a book called Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Living by Thich Nhat Hahn.

Love,

Anna

photo credit: Jiuck via photopin cc

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Peace & mindfulness quote

If we live our present moment mindfully, we will know what to do and what not to do, and we will try to do things in the direction of peace.

- Thich Nhat Hahn, Peace Is Every Step

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Meditation is easy, really.

Meditation is not a difficult task. It is a way to lead you to your long-lost home.
- Soen Shaku

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5 Tangible Benefits of Mindfulness in Every Day Life (even 10 seconds a day)

Hello and welcome to my brand new, fresh, aromatic, blog, just off the press (WordPress, that is). But first of all… close your eyes for 10 seconds and take three breaths. Not very deep ones, just normal ones. So that you know you are breathing and nothing else is more important in that moment. Okay? When you’re done, open your eyes and… you’ve guessed, keep reading :)

Today’s topic is mindfulness. What you’ve just done is being mindful for 10 seconds. Well done, huh, because many people don’t even manage to do that. They just run from one thing to another in their minds, as if life was some kind of a marathon. However, allowing even ten seconds of mindfulness a day can add a lot of quality to your already busy life. Here are the main benefits of mindfulness:

1. You become more yourself. You realise what is really important to you etc., and you gain clarity in topics that have been nurturing you.

2. You are more peaceful. Stresses of your job, heartbreak issues or just plain irritation at anything slowly dissolves and you smile to yourself.

3. You exercise your brain! It has been scientifically proven that regular meditation affects your prefrontal cortex (just above your eyes) and your brain becomes more intensely wired! Dr David Hamilton says something about it here.

4. Your problem-solving skills improve. Whether at work, in family life, or when returning an unwanted item in a shop, you are more likely to resolve problematic situations in a more relaxed and assertive way, even if they’re not easy.

5. You can get some brilliant ideas when you’re not forcing your brain to think about your problems! A few moments of simply focusing on your breathing (even in an elevator, on a bus stop, wherever you like) can make the difference and open you up to new ideas that are within you. Your unconscious is just waiting to give you straight-to-the-point, intuitive insights, if you only listen to it!

So, here are five tangible benefits of mindfulness, that I’ve heard of and experienced in my life. There is obviously much more than that to be gained from being mindful and this list is totally subjective. You can experience even better things for yourself. I totally recommend it. If you want to improve your life, be more relaxed and at ease with yourself, improve your attention and intuition, you know what to do :)

Enjoy yourself in the process.

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