Life is Unfolding

The concept that life is unfolding as opposed to feeling we have to control its course, offers a refreshing and liberating perspective. We can actively become so caught up in mental narrative by thinking we have to contemplate life’s decisions that we create unnecessary stress in our lives.

Naturally, it’s logical to think that if we make the decision, then complete the action that we must therefore need to engage in the reasoning process to arrive at this point. But what if life is just happening and it’s the mental narrative that interferes?

Interestingly, a scientific study documented in various journals and explained in National Geographic, actually supports the idea that our decisions are actually made, as much as 10 seconds, before we are consciously aware of making them.

Whilst I can’t qualify this in scientific terms, I have personally experienced how putting the problem out of my ‘mind’ and consciously opting out of the deliberation process seems to make it more seamless and no less effective.

If there is something that I need to do which I am not sure how to approach – by switching my focus to another activity, maybe going for a run, doing chores, gardening, shopping or whatever the unrelated action might be, there is a subconscious process that plays out and ‘ping’, the idea, the inspiration, or decision comes in. It can enter my conscious field in a split second when I’m least expecting it. It’s a refreshing contrast to the feeling of bearing the burden of responsibility in decision making at least.

That’s not to say there is no free will. I think we have to actively engage in the process of surrendering to what is. When mind gets out of the way there is less resistance, and the best possible outcome to events can play out. When the little ‘I’, ‘the mind’, tries to solve everything the unfolding process meets with resistance and events do not play out smoothly.

I came across a passage in the Tao Te Ching, which encapsulates this beautifully:

29

Do you think you could take over the world
and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.
~
Everything under heaven is a sacred vessel
and cannot be controlled.
To tamper with it is to spoil it.
To grasp it is to lose it.
~
Allow your life to unfold naturally.
Know that it too is a vessel of perfection.
~
Just as you breathe in and breathe out,
there is a time for being ahead
and a time for being behind;
a time for strain
and a time for ease;
a time to be up
and a time to be down;
a time to grow in strength
and a time to decay.
~
The Sage accepts things as they are,
seeing all of life as a movement toward perfection.
She avoids extravagance, excess and extremes.

Another Life Coach?

 

I read an article this morning entitled ‘You don’t need a life coach. You just need a life.’ It resonated because it seems there have been a multitude of life coaches appearing over recent years. Just like yoga teachers and healers, suddenly they’re everywhere.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m neither discrediting the fact that there are a wealth of people doing great work in these fields, nor undermining those who have devoted their time to studying in serious depth what they do. But in addition to these authentic paths, there are also providers issuing certificates like there’s no tomorrow and quite clearly training alone is not what makes you truly qualified to do this kind of work.

Quite often also, there is also the feeling of it being yet another money spinner. Who gives these bodies authority in the first place anyway? Providers are less regulated than people might care to think.

To be perfectly honest, even the term ‘life coach’ or ‘healer’ can feel a bit nauseating. I think it’s the idea of someone holding onto some personal notion of themselves as some exalted being, teaching others how to live or feeling they possess some personal power which heals which is a trigger. Life force is universal and it’s for free.

Of course I get it, the idea is to improve the quality of life that someone leads. And where the role of a life coach can really work is when it is to  support and empower the client to live their potential and access their own inner well of wisdom, not teach co-dependency and encourage them to think the answers lie outside of them.

The same article voiced the preference of having a ‘licensed’ therapist over a life coach. Of course, to an extent, I’m compelled to agree. Someone who has a relevant PHD or who has spent years studying psychology and theories of mind and human behaviour could well be in a better position to address trauma or provide insight to life patterns that may be repeating.

It’s just that in the same way that I have experienced holistic practitioners spouting naivety, I’m equally aware of the same misfortune of having highly trained professionals wasting time, providing little, if anything of any value. Often spouting textbook theories, whether it be, Gestalt, CBT, PCT, Existential or Psychodynamic Therapy, and applying what may be valuable knowledge, but with little life experience and subsequently a lack of experiential authority.

Professionals in many holistic fields can also spin just one disc, whether it’s the nutritionists who think that all life’s answers lie in a healthy diet, or the acupuncturist who thinks acupuncture solves every ailment, the EFT practitioner who believes they can tap life’s problems away, or the tarot reader who relies on readings for guidance.

To an extent I find this naive, because whilst these might well all be valuable tools, that’s it – they’re just tools among many, through which the infinite can work. Advice, given within a limited remit, bothers me when it’s presented as the one truth because it imposes limitations; it just doesn’t equate with life wisdom. I’m not denying that these practices might work, but a holistic vision is more empowering.

I reject the idea of a licensed therapist being, by virtue of their qualifications, superior to a life coach. In fact, co-dependency can equally be inherent in the relationship between many so called ‘licensed’ therapist and their clients. Whilst there are of course therapists doing incredible work out there and liberating people from past traumas; there are equally some awesome and inspiring life coaches out there who have made and indeed are making a radical difference in peoples’ lives.

I would say, it’s down to the individual themselves and not the role they are presenting in. I’m not denying the value of specialist knowledge in a particular field, it’s just that life wisdom, which we acquire experientially, is key and it can’t be studied. Without doubt, it does pay off to be discerning when evaluating whether someone is equipped to work with you; it’s just that for me, qualifications are not the defining factor.

Ultimately, it’s unhealthy to think that someone else holds the key to your happiness, but equally at times, there is a role for receiving pointers  support & guidance in order to help evolve you on your individual life-path. If, as eastern traditions teach, there is only one universal life force playing out in individual forms – it is all ultimately a process of self-healing anyway.

Seeking Validation

Do you let the anticipated or perceived criticism from others affect you? Do you seek approval, recognition or praise for your achievements, perhaps through social media or at work? Seeking validation comes in many guises. However it presents, what it essentially comes down to is attaching too much importance to what other people think of us. Of course it’s human nature to want to be accepted, but it’s how much attention we give to it that determines whether it’s healthy or not. It’s when we operate from a restrictive place, fearing our non-acceptance, that it has the potential to be destructive, affect how we experience life and ultimately limit our happiness. 

It’s really not our business what other people think of us, and we shouldn’t let the judgment or disapproval of others affect our sense of well-being. The all important factor is how we perceive ourselves. Essentially, it boils down to self-acceptance and being able to stand in our true power with all of our colours and perfect imperfections. Own them. Nobody is perfect, so the sooner we practice self-acceptance the better. When we cultivate our own self esteem and our self worth is in tact, we will see that other people judging us is largely their own projection. Generally, it comes from a need to assert their own sense of power. This simple shift in perception, recognising it is about them and not about us can set us on the path to emotional freedom. Nobody can take away your sense of self worth, but you can relinquish it. 

In fact, standing in your power can push buttons, especially the buttons of those who are not standing in theirs. Expect recriminations along the way and accept that not everybody is going to like you. Just like people have varied tastes in music, literature and art, we as multi faceted individuals will find aspects of ourselves resonate more with some than others. Take a moment to think of some of the most successful or happiest people you know and more likely than not, you will find that they are not only not favoured by everyone, but they don’t spend time worrying about how other people perceive them and seeking their validation from them.

Even exceptionally talented person are held back from reaching their true potential by what can turn into an obsessive search for others to recognise their genius. Seeking recognition or accolade for our achievements generally stems from a place of insecurity and a lack of confidence in ourselves. Once we stop seeking external validation and approach life with the altered mind set of being enough as we are, generally we meet with less resistance and more success in our endeavours anyway. Do it for the joy. Be prepared to make mistakes along the way and for other people not to like you or what you do at times.

The good news is that all it really takes is a shift in perception, a simple decision not to give our power away by concerning ourselves with what other people may or may not think about us. Not only is it a waste of energy fuelled by imaginings but a waste of the life you have to live. When you catch yourself engaging in this kind of internal dialogue, first see the pattern, and then refuse to let the way you see yourself change according to how you feel others see you. Your identity and value are not dependent on people’s impressions of you, if they were then everybody would perceive you the same way. Living life on your own terms means embracing the things and people that bring you the greatest joy and separating from those that don’t. Keep in sight the wider spectrum of your life, honour your uniqueness and embrace yourself exactly where you are right now.

A truly strong person does not need the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep. (Vernon Howard)

Seeking Praise is not Praiseworthy

Proud PeacockI came across this saying this morning whilst reading an excerpt from the Tao Te Ching and it struck a chord. Sometimes it can feel that someone is sharing their efforts with us, be it artistic, musical, a business endeavour or any nature, in order to get an accolade.

It has a different feel to someone who is looking for constructive feedback. It’s as though you’re being asked to bathe in their self glorification. Proud peacock syndrome. Or maybe more aptly, you’re being asked to re-enforce their self image.

Occasionally too, seeking praise might come form a different place, such as when someone is feeling a sense of desperation and is seeking recognition in order to regain their sense of self worth. That too can feel loaded. Probably because there’s really only one response that they’re seeking.

It’s subtle though, because there is obviously the situation where someone genuinely doesn’t believe in themselves and lacks confidence in their endeavours. On these occasions it feels natural to want to boost their confidence and give encouragement – but that’s the point, it feels natural, you don’t feel coerced into giving an pre-anticipated, expected and acceptable response.

I feel myself physically recoil in these situations. I have felt bad for it too and have questioned myself and whether it reflects a lack of kindness. Reflecting on this expression today helped me realise that actually it’s a response to being asked to feed someone’s ego and not being prompted to communicate from an authentic place. Giving praise and recognition should come naturally and from the heart. Then it’s a joy.

Exposing Ego

Exposng the EgoThere can often be a tendency among people and especially those on a conscious path to awakening to deny minor irritations and annoyances. Knowing it isn’t aligned with the higher self we seek to be aligned with, we can fall into the virtue trap of denying any trace of a disturbance of the mind. Or maybe, applying the law of attraction style of reasoning, we figure that if we look at it, we’ll fuel it. Whilst there is undeniably truth to that, I still feel we’re missing out a major step in the process of being able to stand In our true power. Exposing a grievance is not the same as believing it.

There are a myriad of paths or belief systems which might cause us to deny egoic thoughts and feelings without fully exposing them. Regardless of what belief system we subscribe to, we all generally abide by a moral code which might cause us to be inclined to disown annoyances, irritations and such like.

The danger of denying egoic thoughts and trying to be spiritually virtuous in this way is that not only do we compromise our authenticity we also risk simply equipping ego with an invisibility cloak and allowing these grievances to lurk in the shadows and have an unacknowledged power over us. As a result, we can remain victim to the same thought patterns, feelings and emotions. Whilst various modalities can do wonders in helping to release emotions held in the body, fully acknowledging and exposing these triggers is intrinsic to the deeper healing process.

Instead of pushing these grievances back down as sacrilegious, right there in that singular moment is when we need to get authentic. We’re here in human form and are subject to human reactions, whether we consciously choose to have them or not. In the moment that the grievance surfaces, before turning our attention away, lies the opportunity to fully expose it by shining the light of awareness on it and allow it simply to be, without judging it.

This is an entirely different process of release, as opposed to the one of playing the role of the victim, or the one wronged and becoming stuck in the narrative by reliving or re-telling our experiences in hope of having our grievance justified and in turn re-enforced. Only, after fully acknowledging the grievance and exposing the ego, can it be fully released.

Developing a Meditation Practice

Beginning meditation and integrating a practice in your life is a personal journey with many different paths to choose from, but all leading you to the same eventual goal of reaching the ultimate state of resting in union with the present moment; the state described as ‘Samadhi’ in Sanskrit. There is no one size fits all approach, like every practice it evolves once you begin and make the space for it in your life. Below, I describe techniques I have used on my journey and share a few pointers.

Overcoming resistance: Quite often, I hear clients claiming to be unable to meditate due to an overactive mind. This is to be expected, your mind will invariably wander, the key is to be accepting of this fact and at the point where you recognise this has occurred, simply note you were distracted by thought and come back to the practice itself without judgment. In fact, the goal of meditation is not to silence thoughts but to shift our attention from them; very often they will continue to play out in the background.

You might feel a busy schedule doesn’t permit time for meditation, but even one minute can be enough to bring yourself into present moment awareness and bring about a notable shift in mood. Anyone can make space for a 1 minute practice. More important than how long you sit for, is to what extent you are able to become present. Just focusing on a singular point for a few moments can quieten your mind sufficiently to bring about tangible benefits.

Others might feel that meditation conflicts with their personal beliefs, e.g. thinking it’s necessary to have spiritual beliefs or even feel that it’s not compatible with their religious beliefs. You don’t have to be remotely spiritual to practice meditation and equally no religion opposes you coming into present moment awareness.

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How long to sit for: Let your intuition guide you, if 30, 20 or 15 minutes feels like too long, then sit for 10, or 5. And if that still feels challenging – go for one minute, or just whatever works for you. If you’re in the mindset of feeling that you’re forcing yourself to do something, then you’re going to create resistance which is counterproductive. Start small and build up as you feel guided.

Where to sit: Don’t be misled into thinking you have to be sitting on the floor crosslegged on a cushion or even seated at all. Posture is secondary, the main goal is to cultivate a state of present awareness. That said, generally I prefer to sit on the floor with a straight spine as I find I’m more focussed, but it’s more a case of whatever facilitates you best being able to practice and not be distracted. There’s nothing to stop you from trying out meditation sitting in a chair, in bed or even standing, at home, at work, or even on public transport. Evidently, the quieter the place the less distractions. Personally speaking, I embrace noise and distractions around me since they are all part of the present moment.

When to meditate: Sit whenever you feel guided and there is likely to be less resistance. Personally speaking, I prefer meditating first thing in the morning, when I’m fresh out of sleep and before any thought narrative has really had the chance to set in, but this can vary. Practice should be fluid – once you impose routine and rigidity you’ve lost the essence of what you’re seeking to make space for. You might prefer to find time to sit during the day or at night before you go to sleep; it’s just about finding whatever works for you.

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Meditation Practice: Although there are so many different ways to meditate, they all have the end goal of helping you to reach a place of stillness and attain a more peaceful state of mind. Some techniques are outlined below, but for whichever technique you choose it’s helpful to start by checking in with yourself and just observing what’s going for you. In fact, the following pointers form a short practice by themselves and ultimately point to a state of mindfulness (simply being very present) that we can look to cultivate throughout the day as we go about our daily lives.

      • Physical sensations: First, take a moment to check in with your body and take note of any tight muscles, pain or tension you might be holding.
      • Emotions: Pause to acknowledge any emotions you might be experiencing in the present moment – just feeling the feeling is helpful as opposed to labelling it.
      • Thoughts: What thoughts are present? Again, this is likely to feel obvious, but simply taking mental note of whatever is occupying your mind at the time is a really effective way of bringing yourself back into a state of awareness.
      • Visual: Look around and take note of your surroundings – it’s amazing what we don’t notice when we’re caught up in our heads. Instead of labelling what’s around you, take note of shapes, colours and textures.
      • Sounds: Next, notice the sounds around you, those further away from you and those nearest to you.

Meditation Techniques: Once you’ve become present and acknowledged your present state you can begin your meditation. Whichever technique you choose, when thoughts arise in the mind, shift your attention from then and return to the focus of the meditation. Resist getting caught up in any mental dialogue about your observations or feeling that you need to change anything; even where tension or pain is present. The act of meditation is about accepting fully where you’re at. Choose only one technique for the duration of your practice. The techniques I have personally found most effective are Anapana, Vipassana  and Self Enquiry.

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Anapana Meditation (Focusing on breath) – Notice the sensation of breath entering and leaving the body. Are you breathing through your nose or your mouth? How long are your breaths? Feel the warmth of the breath as you draw it in. How far does it reach? How does your body expand as you draw your breath in? Observe your breath as it is, without feeling you need to change it. Feel yourself being breathed.

Mantra meditation – A mantra is a sacred word or phrase that is repeated during meditation. It can be chanted, whispered or repeated mentally. The purpose of mantra meditation is to clean the mind and is particularly effective when you are experiencing anxiety or any form of negative thought dialogue. Popular mantras include the Hindu chant, ‘Om Namah Shivayah’ which loosely translates as, ‘I bow to (Shiva) the divine,’ and the Buddhist mantra, ‘Om Mani Padre Hum,’ which translates as, ‘the jewel is in the lotus.’. You can take time to research their deeper meaning more fully or other popular mantras. Alternatively, you can choose a favourite word or phrase, or a fragment from a prayer, song or poem that resonates with you. Mala beads can be used to help you focus by counting each bead as you repeat your mantra.

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Self Enquiry – This is essentially the practice of asking, ‘Who am I?’ To carry out this practice, it’s essential to first drop any pre-conceived notions of identity related to the body before focusing on the feeling of ‘being’ associated with ‘I’. Then, move on to really exploring the environment of this ‘I’ feeling while focusing on the ‘who’ aspect of this practice. Self enquiry meditation is a form or intellectual enquiry where the mind is engaged in observing itself. It is a powerful practice which can bring about a profound shift in perception. This is the form of meditation which Sri Ramana Maharshi bought to the west and is taught today by Mooji and other non dualist teachers.

Focusing on an object – For this technique, simply choose an object to gaze directly at. All focus should be on observing the object itself. Notice its contours, colours and its texture. Try looking a the object as though seeing it for the first time, in the way an infant might see it before the attachment of mental constructs. Avoid commenting on the object, it is almost as though you are feeling it.

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Vipassana – This is believed to be the form of meditation taught by Buddha himself and is the basis of all traditions of buddhist meditation. The word translates as ‘insight’ meaning ‘seeing things as they are’. It can vary but typically, Vipassana practice involves awareness of bodily sensations. During practice, you pass your awareness from head to toe and back again scanning the body for whatever sensations arise: pressure, temperature, throbbing, pain, itching, tingling or even numbness. Not only does the practice cultivate an awareness of the impermanency of all things phenomenal but also develops equanimity; neutral observation with a steadfast mind.

Focusing on sound – This is generally an organised group meditation, typically where gongs, Tibetan singing bowls or crystal singing bowls are used. If you get an opportunity to attend a sound bath I highly recommend it as in addition to the beautiful sounds you can also feel the physical vibration in your body, in particular where the giant gongs are used making it a powerful way to lose yourself in practice. Alternatively, you can use sound at home, by selecting one particular continuous sound which is present in your environment to focus on – this might be the birds singing or even the sound of an air conditioning system humming. An altogether different experience to a sound bath meditation but no less effective all the same.

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Movement meditation – Another form of mindfulness meditation, this meditation is good when you feel restless or unable to sit or even when exercising or completing an activity. Traditional yoga practices, Tai chi and other martial arts all cultivate mindfulness of body movement. During this type of meditation, the focus is of awareness is on the movement itself using the breath to guide the movement.

Third eye meditation – This practice involves simply bringing your focus, with your eyes closed, to the sixth chakra, the centre point of your forehead where your eyebrows come together. It might help to visualise the indigo colour associated with this chakra point. This chakra is associated with intuition, wisdom and insight. To intensify your focus send the breath here and imagine the inhale and exhale coming from this energy centre.

Heart meditation – This practice involves bringing your attention to the heart centre and is about focusing on feeling. As you breathe imagine the breath flowing into the heart. If memories, fears, dreams or emotions are evoked concentrate on just observing the feeling instead of engaging with any narrative.

Reflexology – Foot Facts

Did you know these 12 interesting facts about feet?

  • Your body eliminates waste through your feet. You have around 250 000 sweat glands on your feet – each foot can lose up to 1/2 a pint a day!
  • Your feet have over 7,000 nerve endings in your feet sending sensory messages to the brain.
  • The human foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons.
  • Typically in a person’s 30-40’s, the natural fat pads on the bottoms of the feet made from collagen & elastin gradually thin out, causing foot pain by the end of the day unless properly cushioned footwear is worn.
  • It takes at least 5-6 months to grow an entirely new toenail.
  • Fingernails and toenails grow faster during hot weather, pregnancy, and teenage years.
  • 25% of all the bones in the human body are down in your feet. When these bones are out of alignment, so is the rest of your body.
  • It’s rare that two feet are exactly the same; one of them is often larger than the other.
  • Conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, nerve and circulatory disorders can show their initial symptoms in the feet – so foot ailments can be your first sign of more serious medical problems.
  • Your feet get larger throughout the day so the afternoon is the optimum time to shop for shoes because the feet tend to be more swollen then.
  • During the first year of a child’s life, their feet grow rapidly, reaching almost half their adult size. By 12, a child’s foot is about 90% of its adult length.
  • Walking is the best exercise for your feet. It contributes to your general health by improving circulation and weight control.