CLEARING OUT

My mum used to always do a spring clean of the house. She emptied and cleaned cupboards and drawers, re-arranged things, threw stuff away that was no longer serviceable or needed, cleaned behind and under furniture which was not usually moved, and generally had a good clear-out and re-sort. We would all be pressed into service, helping her, and deciding on which toys etc. could now be thrown or given away.

It was a good tradition that she was following, which gave us a new start each time, and she did it with gusto, obviously pleased by the effect. So what was that tradition really about?

It is a great way to sort, not just your external environment, but also your internal ‘clutter’. You see, the environment we create around us is an external reflection of who we are, and that is something which is constantly developing. If we don’t have regular clear-outs, it’s a bit like gradually collecting a fridge full of left-overs: we are being reminded to be who we used to be, rather than who we are now and who we want to be. It’s not that we need to throw away all our past – some of those leftovers are still useful and integral to us – but we do benefit from consciously choosing what still fits with who we are now. And as we make those choices, we also choose to lessen our attachment to old, no longer useful, habits of thinking and behaving.

For example, have you still got the folders of stuff you studied? What do they create in your thoughts when you look at them? If it’s a sense of achievement, keep a symbolic piece of it, and put it somewhere you’ll see it often. If you genuinely use any of it for reference and reminders, put those parts somewhere you can easily access it. But if those folders make you feel that you still haven’t ‘got’ whatever it was you studied, or that you really ‘should’ look at them again, or keep them, put them in the recycling – you’ve got whatever you could from it at the time, and your future learning will be from a different source. And if they’re no longer relevant to you as you are now, what are they there for?!

A simplified version of this checking that I use all the time now is just to look at each item and ask myself: ‘Does this make my heart sing?’ If it doesn’t, then I assume that it no longer fits with who I have become and it’s time for it to go. This works with clothes, ornaments, furnishings, books, cd’s, all the paraphernalia of everyday life. I want my environment to encourage me to be happy and feel good, don’t you!

Nowadays it’s even easier than it was in my mum’s time. If she had something she no longer really wanted, but that was in good condition, she tended to keep it, because it was wasteful to throw it away. We have hundreds of charity shops, recycling of plastic and paper, and free-cycle or E-bay (if you don’t know of free-cycle, look it up. It’s a locally based way of offering things you don’t want to someone who does).

Now, I prefaced all this with the idea of spring-cleaning as a tradition. It is no longer something that most people do – and it is daunting to tackle a whole houseful of stuff. So make it easy – do a little bit at a time. Just set yourself to clear one cupboard, shelf, drawer, corner of a room, preferably starting with those you see most often, as they have the most impact on your mood and attitude. This is a great project for winter, each week clearing a little bit more out. You’ll be surprised how quickly the areas you’ve done mount up.

And notice how it makes you feel: pleased with yourself, clearer internally as well as externally, freed in some way.

And you may decide to replace some stuff with things that are more ‘you’, the you you are now: a new piece of clothing, a new cushion cover, a new photo in the frame – anything which makes your heart sing, that reflects who you are now, or who you want to be.

Be warned: this can become an addictive activity! I’ve come to love clearing out and sorting out. Every time I do a bit more, I feel as if I am allowing myself to be me a little bit more as well, and freeing myself from past stories that no longer serve me. We are influenced unconsciously by what we have around us, so let’s make that a positive, and useful influence – we have that choice in our homes and personal possessions.

The steps to clearing out

  1. Identify a small space to start your clearing out – one which you spend a lot of your time in.
  2. Pick up each thing in that space and ask yourself if it makes your heart sing.
  3. If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t recycle it or throw it away.
  4. Give the space a good clean.
  5. Re-arrange the space with just those things you have kept.
  6. If you feel you want to, get something new which really fits with who you are now, or who you want to be, to put in that space.
4

HAVE YOU BEEN SHOULD-ING YOURSELF AGAIN?!!

You know what I mean! We all get really good at telling ourselves about all the things we should do, or should have done. Sometimes we disguise it by using a different expression, and, in the English language, we have lots of alternatives: ought to, have to, got to, must, need to – I think we have more ways of obliging ourselves than any other language!

And that is one of the reasons for challenging our tendency to ‘should’ ourselves: these words all imply an obligation or duty. In Meta we call them language devils, because they trigger an unconscious resistance to whatever they are attached to that makes it even harder to do it well.

What do I mean by this? Well, as a small child, you look at the world as a place where you can do and have what you want, and where you use your own intuition and perception to know what will make life feel good for you. This sounds selfish, and in some ways it is, but small children are also warm-hearted, giving, and generally quite happy! Then they begin to learn all the social rules: be quiet, sit still, finish your dinner, do your homework first, tidy your bedroom – the list just goes on and on…

They also observe how adults behave, and begin to notice that the majority seem to be driven by their extensive and complex list of should’s and ought’s: housework, visits to relatives, ways of dressing appropriately, and of course, the biggest one, their work life. Not only do they observe this, they notice the effect it has on adults: bad-tempered, tired, fed up, stressed – not exactly attractive is it!!

We talk about the stage of child development, 2 or 3 years old, when they have tantrums and refuse to obey the rules – is it any wonder? Then they give in, because they are wise enough to know that they need these adults to care for and protect them, so they fit in, more or less, and become accustomed to the rules.

When children become adolescents, they have another period of rebellion, questioning the custom and practice, the norms, and seeing how far they can stretch the limitations. But they have already absorbed the ‘fact’ that adults accept and take on most of the rules – they have observed it from birth – so most of us eventually give in and become the constrained, rule-driven adult that we know is inevitable.

For me, this happened after university. I knew that I now had to fit in more, take on the responsibilities of adulthood. I got the responsible job, I made sure I did all the acceptable things, and I became more and more stressed and miserable! How I was being just didn’t fit with my innate nature at all, so I was in a constant battle with myself – an exhausting way to live!

I was lucky enough to have a teacher/mentor who challenged this way of being. He pointed out that I wasn’t in control of my own destiny. My whole life seemed to be a set of duties and obligations, driven by something external to me – ought’s and should’s ran my life! And he asked me to experiment with ignoring some of them and following my own heart, and see what happened. I only dared to try it out on one thing – my whole life might fall apart if I wasn’t careful!!

So I started with washing up – a job I hated. My normal approach was to wash up after every meal, and to always volunteer to do it if I visited someone else – my mum had trained me well! I did always do it, bad-temperedly, often breaking pots in the process, but I got it done, and that was what mattered.

So I left it and just piled the dishes in the kitchen. After a day, something strange happened: I began to think that I would like to clear my kitchen up, that it would please me to have the washing up done and the place looking tidy again. So I did the washing up, with a goodwill, and was very pleased with myself – (by the way, those of you who know me will know that I still do my washing up less frequently than most people!)

I had learnt the first stages of the lesson:

  • If you don’t do what you ought to, your world doesn’t fall apart
  • If you wait until you decide you want to do it, it is easier, less stressful, and quite satisfying!

I continued to experiment from then on, gradually reducing the should’s in my life. With some I realised that they really were unnecessary and I could drop them altogether. With others, I found that if I made a choice to do them, I did them with more willingness and less hassle. It also helped if I decided when I would do them, so that I felt in control of what was going on. I also began to notice that when I choose to do things, as opposed to doing them when I should, I tend to do them in a more effective way, and get better results. After all I am no longer using some of my energy to battle my own reluctance – the rebellious teenager within – and to force myself into action, so I can focus that energy where it is more useful.

So what can we do to help ourselves to stop ‘should-ing’ so much:

  1. Experiment as I did with one of your habitual ‘should’s’ – make it something that’s not too important to begin with – and just leave it till you actually want to do it, or have it done.
  2. Start to leave ‘should’ out of your vocabulary. Experiment with ‘I want to..’ or ‘I’m choosing to…’ or ‘I want to have xxx done’ or simply ‘I will..’ Notice that ‘I want to..’ is not always convincing – I never really want to do the washing up! – but I will decide to do it, or want to have the kitchen cleared, and those statements both make me feel in charge, rather than being forced to by some external rule.
  3. If you realise that you are should-ing yourself, stop for a moment, and give yourself a little treat as a reward for realising you’d forgotten again. Then ask yourself how you could deal with this in an easier way.
  4. If you really can’t get past the ‘should’, at least allow yourself to choose when you do it – sometimes just saying, ‘I should do such and such, and I will do it in half an hour’ gives you back the control, and makes it feel less driven.

Please do experiment with should-ing yourself less – it really can make a big difference to how you feel in your everyday life…

2

DAYDREAMING

Did you ever get told off for daydreaming in school? You know, those times when you were staring out the window and just got lost in some other place and time, and the teacher called your name two or three times before it got through to you and brought you harshly back into the room! As you can probably guess, it happened to me a lot!

Babies do it all the time – they stare unfocussed into space, in a world of their own, quite quiet and content. Yet we learn not to do it gradually, or at least to only do it in private, so no-one can pull us back, or ask us what we’re thinking about – often an impossible question to answer!

I am writing this on Maui, a place where it is easy to daydream, in the warmth of the sun, with a gentle breeze, and the sea’s rhythmic sound to lull you into that state. And as I have allowed myself those daydreaming times, I have come to realise just how valuable they are.

I believe daydreaming has several purposes and that it is important for our mental well-being. It is a natural way for us to take a break from the hurly burly of our everyday reality, to have a rest from our minds and their constant busyness. We stare at something – a leaf on a tree, raindrops on a window – and drift off into a quiet calm state, no longer really seeing the pattern that caught our attention in the first place. In some cultures this is called meditating!

Sometimes we come directly back into our normal state of attention from here, having had that few moments of rest. Other times we go from there to a different kind of thinking from our normal busy mind. We gently move through thoughts which are related, but not in a linear way. An example might be: leaf pattern; a tree in the garden when I was a child; my brother; family relationships; how humans behave with each other; etc., etc.

This type of relational thinking may just play itself out, and again we return to our normal thinking. And sometimes it will lead us naturally into creative thinking, where we see unusual or different relationships between apparently disparate thoughts. This is how Einstein first came up with the theory of relativity; it is the place of innovation, of development, of different and new solutions, and of art and music.

And all this is a natural process for us – our minds will just go there if we let them! So don’t miss out on something enjoyable and easy for your mind.

1. Let yourself daydream sometimes, to have a break from the busyness of life.

2. Occasionally, let it move into that flow of relational thinking and just notice how interesting that is.

3. When you have become used to allowing yourself to daydream, you may like to ‘programme’ the topic beforehand: take something which is bothering you or floating around your mind, and tell yourself that you would like to have a creative way of dealing with it, after you have daydreamed for a while. Then consciously take yourself into stage one of daydreaming, and allow yourself to stay until you naturally move to stage two – relational thinking – and then stage three – creative thinking. You’ll be surprised by how easily you find different solutions with no conscious effort on your part.

And above all, free yourself from any guilt about daydreaming – it’s such a health-giving thing to do!!

1

BEING KIND TO OTHERS

When we have learnt how to be kinder to ourselves, we can begin exploring what it really means to be kind to others.

I used to believe that being kind was doing something thoughtful for someone else, required some effort on our part – the ‘I’ve made you your favourite meal’ syndrome. And of course this is a form of kindness, yet it has a sting in its tail – it expects some appreciation of your kindness. Have you ever made this sort of effort, and had a lack of appreciation? I know that my reaction tends to be: ‘I don’t know why I bothered!’

Slowly I began to realise that this effortful kindness is actually driven by a desire to be liked, appreciated, valued – the payback is part of the deal. And that’s a recipe for disappointment!

The Dalai Lama was the first person who gave me a different point of view on kindness. He describes it as a state of mind, rather than an act. He also makes it clear that it is a health-giving state of mind, that is good for us. To me, this makes more sense: if it is a state of mind, then we apply it to ourselves first, then others and the world around us.

I would now describe kindness as being open to the possibility of the good aspects of ourselves, of other people, of our world. So how does this work in practice? We see another person and give them a chance to be lovely, rather than making a snap judgement. If they aren’t lovely, we wonder what might be stopping them from showing that part of themselves, and feel a sympathy for them. Out of these reactions may arise spontaneously a kind act, but it is not a requirement.

We all know this at some level don’t we? When you’re feeling a bit ‘off’, sometimes the best thing that happens is a stranger’s gentle smile as they catch your eye for a moment – it soothes the soul a little, and the world seems a better place. You don’t have to be grateful or show appreciation; you just receive that brief gift of kindness.

This form of kindness is innate for us – babies give these gifts to us all the time – the bright eyes, the shy smile, the chuckle, making us melt for a moment and forget our cares. And then we learn to discriminate and to make judgements about others, based on all sorts of cultural norms. We also learn that, whilst being kind is a good thing, it does need to be applied in that rather effortful way, and not to just any old person!!

So we need ways to remember our natural kindness, and allow it to become more of a habit again. So here are a few suggestions:

1. Notice how you feel when someone offers you a kind smile, a warm greeting, a thank you.

2. When we are spontaneously kind towards another – a smile, a cheerful hello, a sympathetic look at the young mum struggling with a crying baby – notice how that feels too, to give kindness without any need for reciprocity.

3. When you look at strangers, just imagine they are a friend of yours.

4. Allow yourself to think and act kindly in this way, when you’re in the mood. Don’t force it – it is no longer genuine if you do.

And of course, you will sometimes be judgemental – it’s OK, don’t then judge yourself for it as well: that would be two unkind acts instead of one!

And sometimes you will do something kind and be disappointed that it wasn’t appreciated – that’s OK too!

By gradually cultivating a kind way of being in the world, you will begin to notice that you feel better for it, and that there are a lot of other kind people in the world!

3

BEING KIND TO YOURSELF

Most people I know are kind people. They are considerate of others, thoughtful about what might make someone else feel good, and forgiving when others get something wrong. I would put myself in this category as well and have always thought it was a good way to be.

And of course, it is!! Being kind is a lovely way to be in the world, and it is good for us as well. It enhances the health-giving chemicals in our body as much as it does for those we are being kind to. However there is a caveat: are we also remembering to be kind to ourselves? I know that I used to put others first all the time, and run myself out of energy because I didn’t give myself enough time to recover and re-energise. Worse than that, I would then beat myself up for not being able to maintain the level of kindness that I expected from myself.

When we do this, the good effects of our kindness start to diminish, not just for us, but also for those on the receiving end. The effort we make to maintain being kind offsets any benefits we derive biologically from being kind: the stress hormones are released and outweigh the health-giving hormones. And even though our intention to be kind is still the same, there is a little bit of us that feels somewhat resentful of giving of ourselves when we’re running out of energy, and others will get some vague sense of this, despite our best intentions: they are left feeling as if they owe us somehow.

On top of all this, we then criticise ourselves for not being good enough, and make ourselves feel even worse! This is very mean of us!! We would never treat a friend as badly as we often treat ourselves!

Now I wouldn’t claim to have cracked this one completely. I still find myself over-stretching in order to be kind to others, and I often find that I am beating myself up for not being considerate enough of others. Nonetheless, I am getting much better at remembering that neither of these old habits is useful for me, or my ability to be kind.

So what helps us to remember to be kind to ourselves as well?

Notice when you have over-stretched. If you are having to ‘gear yourself up’ to be kind, you’ve gone past your limits. If you feel really drained after even a brief interaction with someone, you’ve gone past your limits. If you find yourself wishing the particular interaction were finished now, you’ve gone past your limits.

Notice when you’re criticising yourself for not being considerate enough of others. You will begin to notice that the effects of being over-stretched are often followed by a second dose of thoughts that make us feel even worse.

When we begin to notice these negative effects on ourselves consciously, we are more likely to do something about it. Then we move to the next stage: being consciously kind to ourselves.

As a kind person, decide what kind thing you will do for yourself each day. Do this in the morning when you first wake up, so it becomes built in as part of your day. You may allow yourself to stay in bed a little longer, or let yourself off that task you set yourself, but don’t really need to do today. You may buy yourself a little treat at lunchtime, or have a conversation with a friend and talk about your ‘stuff’ rather than theirs.

By getting onto the habit of being kind to ourselves in some way each day, we are both re-energising ourselves and practising kindness as much as if it were for another, thus enhancing the level to which we are a kind person.

When you realise you are being critical of yourself, ask yourself what you would say to your best friend about this, if they had done it or thought it. We are all much harder on ourselves than we are on others, and that’s just not fair!

Limit your kindness with others. This is a hard one for a kind person! But you know that sometimes your kindness doesn’t seem to be appreciated, and you also know that sometimes your kindness to others is detrimental to you.

Give yourself a better chance of sustaining your kindness, and feeling good about it. Give your kindness when you’re in the mood, to those who appreciate it. And if you are in the mood, sometimes give kindness where it doesn’t feel appreciated – it’s fun then, feels good if you have no expectations.

When we apply kindness to ourselves first, we don’t become less kind to others. The reverse is true in my experience: we have more heartfelt kindness to give away. It’s like stocking up our reserve of kindness so we can be even more generous with it.

Experiment with these ideas and see what happens, to you and with others. And let me know how it goes!

The steps to being kind to ourselves

  1.  Notice when you have over-stretched.
  2. Notice when you’re criticising yourself for not being considerate enough of others.
  3. As a kind person, decide what kind thing you will do for yourself each day.
  4. When you realise you are being critical of yourself, ask yourself what you would say to your best friend about this, if they had done it or thought it.
  5. Limit your kindness with others

 

1

STOPPING

Are you one of the millions of people who think they are closet lazy devils? You may well recognise the thought: ‘If I allow myself to stop when I feel like it, I may never get anything done, because I’m naturally a lazy person.’ It is amazing how powerfully this message has been inserted into our consciousness!

So where does this thought come from? My belief is that it is built into western culture as part of maintaining what is called the Protestant work ethic. Remember those little children we once were? Not only did we have too much energy some of the time, we also inconveniently wanted to just stop and rest or sleep sometimes. Whilst this is accepted as part of being a baby, we work hard to train children into only sleeping at night-time, and being active physically and/or mentally when it suits. We teach them how to counteract their natural tendency to balance activity with rest, and fit in with the way things work: school, workplaces, family life.

Now children, who are still aware of their natural tendency, are likely to object to the training, which is when they learn that those who don’t fit in are called ‘lazy’ and this is a bad thing, and no child likes to be classified as something unacceptable, so we adopt the habits we see around us.

I know that I lived with the fear of being a closet lazy person for many years, and still find it reappears sometimes.  Yet a part of me felt that it was a false message. If I really were lazy, why did I find it boring after a while when I had enforced ‘laziness’, like being ill in bed? And I began to notice the evidence that suggested we aren’t lazy creatures at all.

When you step back from it for a moment, you begin to realise that it makes no sense. No child is born lazy – in fact we frequently complain that they have more energy than we can handle! So it is not an inherent part of our nature. And when we do allow ourselves to stop for long enough – maybe only if we take a holiday! – we discover that there comes a point when we are ready and wanting to do something. So as a grown-up, maybe it’s time to remember that we are actually designed biologically to ebb and flow, to have energy and to have time to rebuild that energy. If we want to be at our best, then we need to cater for our natural design and stop forcing ourselves past it.

This is radical, but doesn’t have to be dramatic: we can start gently. I remember I began to experiment when my son was young and I was working full-time. The normal routine was: busy at work, dash to the child-minder’s, pick him up, take him home, and immediately launch into tea, homework, getting things ready for the next day. I knew I wasn’t the most pleasant of mums, but I dutifully got everything done! I asked Jo if it was OK with him if we experimented for a week with me having 15 minutes to myself when we got home – time for a coffee and a cigarette and a sit-down – before starting on everything else. He agreed somewhat reluctantly, and I felt guilty, but decided to try it anyway. At the end of the week, I felt better – less exhausted, less snappy – but I still felt guilty about making him wait his turn for my attention, so I thanked him for letting me do it, and said we could revert to normal now. His response surprised me: he suggested I took 5 minutes longer from now on! When I asked him why, he pointed out that I was much nicer during that week, and he preferred that, so maybe 5 minutes more would make me nicer still!

Since that time, I have gradually got better at finding ways to stop for a while, and allow myself to recover my energy. In the process, I have gathered more and more evidence that it is not only a more natural way for us to live our lives, but also a more effective one. It is astonishing how a little stopping now and then allows us to be more pleasant, more creative, less exhausted and generally more our real selves.

So how do you introduce stopping into your life more often?

Breathspaces: begin simply! Remember to take a breathspace, before you respond to someone, send that email, get into the car, answer the phone. Just a breathspace can make a difference.

Five minutes: take five minutes before you launch into your day, start on those home duties when you get back from work, start the next task.

Fifteen minutes: allow yourself 4 or 5 fifteen-minute gaps in your busy week. Call them admin time and write them in your diary as part of your schedule. And do nothing: stare out of the window, go for a stroll, relax into a comfy chair.

When these become habitual, you can start to expand on your experiment with stopping. A half-hour or hour at the weekend that is just for you, an evening where you just read a good book or watch a good movie and leave the chores until the next day, a whole day with no list of things you have to do.

And notice how, after a while, your energy starts to lift again and, if you relax into it enough, you start having thoughts like:’ Oh, I know what I can do about that thing that’s been bugging me,’ or ‘I haven’t seen so-and-so for ages – it would be fun to catch up with her,’ – the healthy and positive thoughts that often aren’t allowed in because our minds are so full of what we have to do next.

You’re not lazy, you’re just over-stretched! Don’t worry: if you stopped for days on end, you would come to a point where you said to yourself: ‘ I want to do ….. now.’ What an improvement that would be over: ‘I’d better get on with  …..’ – wouldn’t it!

It’s a simple change I’m suggesting in our thinking process. It replaces: ‘I’ll just do …. and then I’ll stop’ with ‘ I’ll just have a little rest and then I’ll do ….’. It seemed like common sense when you were a little child – maybe it will again now!

 

 

1

STARTING YOUR DAY

How did you start your day today? I have recently been reminded of how many people start their day in a way that gives them a disadvantage from the start – it goes something like this…

I wake when the alarm goes off and go, ‘Oh shit!’, because I am still tired and wish I didn’t have to get up yet. Then I throw myself out of bed, with my mind already thinking about all the things I have to do today. I have a shower, using up the shampoo/shower gel that no-one else is using up, put on some clothes that will do for today, and go downstairs. I switch on the news, just to depress myself a little more, and eat/drink something – I don’t actually know what it is unless I look at it, as I am not tasting it, just shoving it down while my mind carries on with its busyness! And then I pick up my things, and go to the car to face the awful traffic at this time in the morning.

If you took a snapshot of me as I leave the house, you would realise that I already have a frown on my face, my shoulders are hunched, and I look miserable. And then I have to drive to work, where I am of course going to have a great day!!!

Is this too extreme, or do you recognise it? If you start your day like this, it is a miracle if you ever have a good day! You have not connected with your body or the world around you at all, you have already predicted your day with your thoughts, and you have treated yourself very badly – would you welcome a baby back into the world in the morning like that?

So what is the alternative? Well, it requires that you take allow an extra five minutes in your morning as a minimum, but the pay-off is enormous. It goes like this…

I wake up when the alarm goes off and allow myself one more minute in bed, snuggling into its comfort. I then get out of bed gently, allowing my body to properly wake up, and take a breathspace to smile at the lovely colours in my duvet, or the picture I have on the wall – (most of us have something in our bedroom we chose because we like the look of it – and if you haven’t, get something!). I have a shower, using something I love the smell of, a favourite shower gel and shampoo. And I use my best perfume or after-shave – who told us we were supposed to save favourites for best? No child would do that with anything that was a favourite! Now I get dressed, choosing to wear something that will make me feel good: I may need a bright colour or something that feels nice against my skin, or just something that is really comfortable – and if there are rules about what I can wear for work, I can always wear something underneath that makes me feel good – no-one will know but me!

Notice that so far, I have been thinking about the comfort of being in bed, the look of things around me, the smells in the bathroom and the sensation of the shower, and the feel and look of my clothes – I haven’t gone into the future yet.

I go downstairs and put on some music that will make me feel good – sometimes something soothing, sometimes something lively or that just makes me want to dance or smile. After all, people will always talk about it if there is anything important happening in the news – I will find out soon enough. Now I am going to have breakfast – notice that the word means breaking my fast – I haven’t eaten or drunk anything for quite a while, so I make sure it is something I like, and savour that first taste.

In total, my extra activities have probably taken me about 2 of my extra five minutes – 1 minute in bed and some seconds appreciating the sensations I have – so now I have the luxury of something else to make me feel good before I go to work – 3 minutes is ages! I could have a second coffee, stroke the cat, do a couple of crossword clues in the paper, look at the flowers in my garden – I might even say something pleasant to someone else in the household!! Perhaps most importantly, I can consider how I am going to make the rest of my day work well, to keep up the good mood.

This time, if you took a snapshot as I leave the house, I would have a smile on my face, be more relaxed in my body, and probably have a favourite cd in my hand, to play while I sit in traffic! Maybe this time I really will have a good day at work!

We all tend to underestimate our own power to choose how our life is and how we are. We assume that things just happen to be the way they are, and forget to notice that we tend to have the sort of day we are expecting – which suggests that we play an active part in creating the tone of the day.

When we first wake, we are setting ourselves up for the rest of the day. We are showing ourselves how we are going to be and what the day is going to be like. If we treat ourselves kindly, and put ourselves in a good mood, if we notice the things that make us feel good and pay them attention, if we choose to think about how we can make our day work as well as possible, then we have set a different tone to our day. It might not be perfect, but it is far more likely to work well for us than if we start the day by making ourselves feel like crap!!

Come on, give yourself a chance – you wouldn’t treat your best friend or your child as badly as you do yourself! And even if you don’t feel you can do it for your own benefit, just think of the pay-off for others – you will be so much easier to be around!

The morning ritual

  1. Enjoy the comfort of your bed for a moment
  2. Notice the lovely colours in your bedroom
  3. Use your favourite smells in the bathroom
  4. Wear something that makes you feel good
  5. Listen to some favourite music that sets the right mood
  6. Have something you love the taste of for breakfast, and savour the taste
  7. Do one more thing to make yourself feel in a good mood

 

3

REMEMBERING TO USE YOUR BODY’S INTELLIGENCE – PART TWO

Last time I wrote about ways to notice the body signals that tell us that we need to take more care of ourselves physically. Once we get better at listening to the simple basic needs of our bodies, we can move to the next level of awareness of our body’s intelligence.

The body has a direct physical reaction to every thought action or behaviour we have. Each of these is ‘assessed’ by the body as either maintaining/enhancing our ‘ecology’ – the optimal balance of the system – or throwing it off balance. By the way, if you were in consistent static balance, you’d be bored to tears! The balance I am describing is not static, it is dynamic.

There are times when I need to be off-balance for a while, in order to move to the next level of balance as a system. For example, if I am learning a new skill, I may feel uncomfortable until I have integrated it into the way I do things. So the assessments by the body are constantly taking into account the specific circumstances, rather than having a single ‘right answer’ – part of what demonstrates its intelligence!

If we can use this element of the body’s intelligence, we can make our lives so much easier! I know that, for me, I used to persist in situations and cycles of thought which made me feel anxious or irritable, because I thought I had to. I would be with someone whose conversation offended my values, I would continue to worry at the miserable thoughts I was having, like a dog with a bone, I would agree to do things that I thought I should do, even though I didn’t want to – and I still do all these things sometimes!!

However I was lucky enough to be taught a way to help myself to tell the difference between something that made me feel a little uncomfortable because it was unfamiliar, and something which my body’s intelligence assessed as uncomfortable because it detracted from my balance, my ecology.

Notice I only use the words comfortable or uncomfortable: they are good generic words which don’t label the reaction specifically and pin it down.

So what is the ‘trick’ to this distinction? Your body has two clear signals it gives to you: one tells you that whatever it is is wrong for you, and the other tells you that whatever it is is right for you.

‘Wrong’ signals may be things like: your breath becoming shallower; your foot fidgeting; your shoulders hunching a little; your arm feeling itchy; that sinking feeling in your stomach.

‘Right’ signals may be things like: your breathing becoming deeper; your chest feeling expanded; your shoulders relaxing; your jaw loosening; finding you are humming a little tune to yourself.

To discover your signals, just remember a time when, you realise with hindsight, it was just right for you. When you think of how your body was reacting, what’s the first things you are aware of? And now do the same with a time when you know it was wrong for you.

Once we are aware of our signals, we can use them to help us. Let’s start with the ‘right’ signal. Just begin to notice the thoughts and situations that switch it on. And then consciously consider ways you could bring more of those kinds of thoughts and situations into your life. By the way, don’t make this hard! If your answers are like: ‘when I am with my friend whom I only see about every 3 months’ or ‘when I’m on holiday’, then it can seem impossible to have more. So what is it about these situations that feels right? Maybe such things as being with people whom I can just be myself with, or allowing myself to do just what I feel like, which are both situations you could expand into other, more everyday parts of your life.

Now what about the ‘wrong’ signal? Again begin to notice the thoughts and situations that switch it on. Now ask yourself: ‘How can I reduce the number of these thoughts and situations I have to deal with?’ I am a great believer in beginning by applying the Snoopy axiom: if you don’t like it, avoid it whenever possible!! Where it isn’t possible to avoid, then ask yourself: ‘What could I do differently in the future to make this more comfortable?’ Our innate wisdom usually gives us some useful things to experiment with, such as limit the time spent on it, or distract yourself by doing something else, or take a step back from the situation and let them get on with it.

Most of us put up with a lot of discomfort we aren’t obliged to, because we don’t see any alternative. In fact, a lot of the time we don’t even see it as discomfort, we just think it’s normal! Yet we have a means of helping ourselves to increase the time we spend feeling good, and reduce the time we spend feeling bad – our bodies encompass great aids for our well being, in every sense. They are a live, dynamic and intelligent system, designed to help us to be at our best. So let’s use that help to make our lives easier!

Questions to ask yourself

  1. Remember a time when, you realise with hindsight, it was just right for you. When you think of how your body was reacting, what are the first things you are aware of?
  2. What sort of thoughts/situations switch these signals on for you? And how could you bring more of them into your life?
  3. Remember a time when, you realise with hindsight, it was not right for you. When you think of how your body was reacting, what are the first things you are aware of?
  4. How can you reduce the number of these thoughts and situations you have to deal with? And if you can’t avoid those situations, what could you do differently in the future to make them more comfortable for you and reduce their negative impact?
1

REMEMBERING TO USE YOUR BODY’S INTELLIGENCE

Our bodies are a marvellous network of awareness that can help us to be healthy and happy. They are designed as a complex inter-related system, which passes messages from one part to another, to maintain and build itself to be the best it can possibly be. So why don’t we use its intelligence more?

When we were little, and didn’t know any other way, we listened to and responded to our bodies’ messages. In the first place these are simple: I’m hungry, thirsty; I need to move or rest; I need a cuddle or to be on my own. Quite quickly, we learn to ignore these messages, because we are reliant on others to a large extent to fulfil the need, and others are not reliable!

Then, as we are more able to fulfil our own needs, we realise that ‘the world doesn’t work like that’. We are expected to eat, drink at certain times, stay still in classrooms and offices, keep working until it is time to stop, and not ask for cuddles any more! We get so good at ignoring our bodies that we forget to listen to their messages at all, until they are shouting at us so loudly that we have to take some notice – usually through illness or complete exhaustion.

Like most of us, I learnt these lessons well, and became very skilful at ignoring my body until it broke down. It was when my doctor told me that the reason I couldn’t move without pain was that I had refused to stop for too long and my body was rebelling and forcing me to stop that I registered that this was not very useful!

So I began to re-learn how to listen – and at first it was quite shocking! I realised how often my body was uncomfortable – aching, palpitating, tired, stiff, ‘butterflies in the stomach’ etc.

I had more complex messages from my body than when I was a baby: there were not only the simple physical needs; there were also the emotional reactions to deal with. What all the physical signs told me was that I was very out of balance as a system a lot of the time.

Do you recognise any of these body messages? Just do a quick scan right now and notice what your body feels like…

It is one thing to become aware again, and quite another to do something about it. So how do we remember to listen to our body’s intelligence, and then act on it?

Firstly, let’s gently learn to listen again – we have to retrain ourselves, so you need to go gently – otherwise it becomes onerous. Start by checking in, maybe twice or three times a day. What do you notice when you stop and pay attention to your body? Is it hungry or thirsty? Does it need to move or rest? Is it uncomfortable or comfortable? And if you can make it feel more comfortable by responding to these basic needs, do so. So often I will say to myself: ‘ Oh, I need a piece of fruit, or something to drink, or to sit down for a few minutes’, and wonder how I could have been so unaware of it!

When we begin to pay this attention to the needs our bodies are expressing, it becomes more habitual, and we start to notice the messages more often. Then we can take it a step further, so that we are not just responding to needs, but are beginning to actually nurture our bodies.

Firstly, you start by not just doing something to satisfy the need, but rather asking: what sort? ‘What sort of food do I want?’ what sort of movement do I want?’

Then, to enrich it further, give your body some treats! What makes your body feel really good? Is it a cycle ride, a slow hot bath, a good curry, a nap in the afternoon, a massage? You will have your own favourites. So, at least once a week, preferably more often, do something that makes your body feel good – after all, it works hard for you, it deserves some treats!

By gradually remembering more and more to listen to our bodies, we enhance our well-being, and reduce the need for our bodies to ‘shout’ at us with illness and exhaustion. It has to be worth it!

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

2 or 3 times a day: What do you notice when you stop and pay attention to your body? Is it hungry or thirsty? Does it need to move or rest? Is it uncomfortable or comfortable? And if you can make it feel more comfortable by responding to these basic needs, do so.

What sort of food/drink/movement/rest would work best for my body right now?

Treats – at least once a week: what would make my body feel really good today?

0

IS THIS USEFUL?

I’m starting with a fundamental: the judgements we make about ourselves, about others, about what we do, about how we are.

I was reminded of this in a conversation with a friend recently: we were discussing what we had been up to since we last met, and both assessing ourselves as ‘failing’. It struck me that she had made some real progress, and then I realised that I had as well. Why didn’t our conversation reflect that?

We are taught from an early age to assess everything as good or bad, right or wrong, and every time we do, we are using a set of criteria with judgement built in, and a tendency towards failure or lack. Notice these criteria are very black and white – if it is not 100% good it goes into the ‘bad’ camp, not 100% right it goes into the ‘wrong’ camp. And we rarely hit 100%!

The reason that the judgements tend to be negative is cultural. We are not innately negative – no small child walks around condemning themselves and others, until they learn to, from the comments of others. Thank goodness! If they did, they would stunt their own development, giving up on learning because they didn’t get it ‘right’ quickly enough.

And now we are grown-ups, maybe we need to free ourselves of the shackles of judgement and allow ourselves to continue to learn and develop. After all, it is what we are biologically designed to do: to continually evolve and grow.

So how do we release these shackles?

There is a very simple change of language that helps a lot. Instead of judging things, events, behaviour, thoughts, as being good or bad, right or wrong, we start to ask ourselves if they are useful to us. This takes out the externally driven judgement, and asks us to assess on a personal basis.

For example, if someone is irritating you with their behaviour, is it useful to you to react with annoyance? How is it paying off for you, now and in the longer term? This makes you think about what you really want to achieve with them, and whether it is worth it to perpetuate or increase the negativity between you. Or, if you are thinking about what a bad day you are having, is this useful to you? You may decide it would be more useful to notice what is working in the day, or what would make it feel like a better day. And of course, in both instances, you may decide that it is useful to you to continue as you were, and that’s OK too!

I find that if I remind myself to ask whether my thought or behaviour is useful rather than right or wrong, good or bad, then it automatically makes me more likely to allow myself to make my life work better.

And by the way, next time you feel good about what you have done, remember to appreciate your own brilliance: as a small child, this attitude is what enabled you to develop – it could be useful now!

So why not experiment with it?

Next time you are criticising yourself, ask yourself:

  • Is this useful to me?
  • How is this paying off for me now or in the longer term?
  • Would a different approach be more useful to me?
  • What would that be?

And next time you feel good about what you have done, appreciate your own brilliance and give yourself a treat!

3