The Magic of Meditation

I have long been an advocate of making conscious choices about we put into and on our bodies. I see this as a way of creating wellness not only for ourselves but also for our planet. But I came to a point a number of years ago when I realised that this wasn’t the whole picture – that despite my best efforts to eat a mostly organic diet, to use the best certified organic products on my body, to lead an active life I was not feeling all that well, I was actually feeling disillusioned, and starting to doubt my ability to really experience the vitality and enjoyment I was seeking in life. What I discovered was that I was not also to paying attention the most important part of my body……my mind.

The mind, the most important part of the body? In my experience this is true – without care and attention to looking after the mind, all our other efforts can only get us so far. Until I began to get to know my mind, to observe my thoughts and responses I didn’t realise just how counter-productive they were to my health and wellbeing. Yes from the outside looking in I was doing all the “right” things, even surrounding myself with the right words in inspiring books and quotes, but on the inside my unexamined mind was slowly but surely stealing my vitality, joy and peace.

This is when I came to the life-changing practice of meditation, in particular the practice of awareness meditation. As I started to learn to quiet my mind, as I started to observe my habitual thoughts and responses I started to get to know and understand myself better, and very importantly I started to realise that I have a choice about how I want to experience life!!

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The benefits of meditation are becoming widely known and discussed. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, enhance immunity, decrease blood pressure, people who meditate are reported to be happier, have greater clarity, focus and resilience. For me two of the most wonderful benefits of meditation are connection with myself and others and a clarity that leads to inspired action.

What about you?

Is your mind constantly racing, do you find it hard to keep up? Are you too busy to meditate?

Yes? Then now is the perfect time to start! We live in a society that seems to value busy-ness, thinking, planning, and doing. Unfortunately in our society getting to know and nurture our minds is still one of the last things people attend to, often it is easier and more convenient to attend to the needs of the body, changing our diets, choosing better products, embracing exercise, buying the latest self-help book. But what are the costs of this? Stress related illness is on the increase and indicators of happiness and quality of life are decreasing.

How do you want to experience life?

Rushed? Stressed? Feeling burnt out? Feeling angry, impatient and insensitive towards your partner, children and colleagues? Or

Calm, clear and decisive with the capacity and joy to support and inspire others to be great?

It has been humbling and also very liberating for me to see how my mind was not only eroding my sense of joy and peace but that it was having a detrimental impact on my relationships. I now know that I am responsible for how I respond, for how I impact others and that I alone can choose what kind of life I experience. It doesn’t get much more empowering than that!

Getting Started with Meditation

I see that meditation, is a “practice”. I find this idea helps people to understand that it is not just a one off activity, it is something we need to work on, it is for most of us a new way of living and relating that we must learn, it is a new habit we create in the brain. There are many techniques for meditation but one of the most important factors when you begin to meditate (like any new endeavour) is to have a vision for your practice – to know why you are doing this and to come back to this reason on a regular basis, it will really help you stay with your practice and reap the benefits.

I recommend you simply start with the breath – it is always with you, just spending 5-10 minutes each day sitting quietly, eyes closed and paying attention to your breathing is a wonderful way to begin meditating. Simply feel the breath coming in and going out of the body, that’s it. You can do this anywhere, at anytime but it is helpful when you begin to find a quiet place without distractions. For most people first thing in the morning or in the evening before bed are ideal times to practice. Yes the mind will wander, yes you may experience boredom, this is normal, all you need to do is remind yourself of why you are doing this and keep coming back to the breath.

If you can practice like this each day for 30 days you will definitely begin to

understand the magic of meditation.

For me, meditation is an essential in my self-care tool kit, I wholeheartedly encourage you to make it one in yours too.

What is your experience with meditation? What are your questions? Please leave your comments in the space below.

I wish you well with your practice, may you experience greater calm, clarity and connection in your life.

Namaste,

Bianca

Is the practice of Awareness self-absorbed?

I facilitate a regular online reflection and meditation session and recently participants were questioning the practice of awareness. One particular question arose that we considered further –

Is the practice of awareness self-absorbed?

If you have read the post What is Awareness you will know that from my perspective the practice of awareness is to simply see; to observe something as it is, for what it is; to pay conscious attention to your thoughts and experiences. However, awareness doesn’t happen magically, it is something we need to cultivate, it is a new habit we need to create, it is a process and it can take time to learn.

I love when participants ask questions, when they are willing to inquire into their own experience and share their thoughts and insights. Questioning helps us to learn, to see new possibilities and to make informed and empowered choices in our lives. Many of us have not been encouraged to question our ideals, values, expectations, perceptions or those of the society we live in, and it is often to our detriment. This is something I love about the approach taken by the One World Academy – we are encouraged by passionate teachers to question, to look within and to not just accept something because it was given to us by someone who appears “wise”.

So what do you think?

Is it selfish and self-absorbed to cultivate awareness, to look within?

Does it take time that is better spent doing other things??

A good friend who participated in an Awareness and Love program recently reminded me that what we do for ourselves, we also do for our families…..If we are nurturing fear, anger, resentment…..then we bring this to our interactions with our family and all of our other relationships and interactions…..similarly if we are nurturing love, joy, connection and peace then this is what we bring to our family.

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Does this resonate with you? Is this true of your own experience?

Recently this same friend shared an insightful experience where she gives a beautiful example of just how the practice of awareness can help others. In this example she was able to bring awareness to an angry response she gave to her husband, she was able to observe her thought process and to see the impact it was having on those around her and take responsibility for this. This can be a profoundly healing experience in our relationships.

For me too, it has been my personal experience that the practice of awareness is helping me to be less self-absorbed and to experience greater connection with others. The more I understand myself, the more I am able to understand and empathise with others instead of judge and blame them, the more I am able to take responsibility for being happy and sharing this happiness with others…..and for me rather than being a self-absorbed pursuit I see that this is having wide reaching impacts on others and on my capacity to connect and contribute to our world.

A simple example from my own life goes something like this…… I was assisting my husband with the dishes, and I was amazed at how little attention I was paying to the task since my mind was thinking ahead to a Monday Meditations session coming up – I was worried I wasn’t prepared enough, what if we have technological issues?

Consistently when we do the dishes my husband asks me to wipe up big dishes at the back of the stack first, so that there is room for others and his organised system can flow smoothly, yet I usually find him having to remind me several times to keep with this. As I was observing myself on this particular occasion I saw just how habitual my response was – I went for the cutlery first (small things and up the front), my mind wandering elsewhere. I did this 3 times before I realised what was happening!! My husband and I laughed that I was about to facilitate a session about awareness!!

It got me thinking though – how many other things in life do I do on autopilot, not paying attention, mind engaged in some story??

It also made me think if I paid more attention not only would my experience of any task deepen (you know that washing and wiping the dishes can be joyful don’t you?) but that I am able to pay attention to and respect the requests of others – I don’t consciously mean to thwart my husband’s dish washing system…..but in unawareness what do I communicate to him? That I don’t care what he has asked of me? That I am not willing to cooperate?

The act of paying attention, of being aware of myself…..enables me to see clearly, to show greater respect and care to those around me.

Is this a self-absorbed outcome?

What is your experience of looking within or embracing a self-care practice?

Here is a short reflection and meditation session to support your inquiry.

As you begin or you are contemplating the practice and cultivation of awareness it is helpful to remember these words:

“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t have to tend my crops. If I want a bountiful harvest, everyday I must tend to their needs and nurture them. After the harvest the cycle continuous and will do so until hang it all up. I would like to think I am my most important crop. Daily I must tend to myself, my state of being, my state of mind. Only then a continuous harvest of great bounty will continue to emerge. A harvest that produces the realization that my life, my joy, my well being is infinitely connected to all other factors – My family, friends, teachers, community, the land, sky, this cosmic capsule we call Earth along with all it’s inhabitants.” (OWA)

 

 

 

Misconceptions about Awareness

My teachers often say “to have an understanding of awareness you need to know what awareness is not”.  So as a follow on from my previous post What is Awareness? let’s look at what awareness is not. In my experience there seem to be a number of common misconceptions about awareness and for me it has been helpful to learn that:

  • Awareness does not just magically happen
  • Awareness is not swapping one thought for another
  • Awareness is not a permanent state

Awareness does not just magically happen

A number of years ago I became interested in experiencing greater calm, peace and purpose in my life. I began to meditate, I began to immerse myself in age old teachings, I began to surround myself with inspiring and positive messages. But I soon became disillusioned that my life was not changing, that I was not changing, that in some ways I felt I was moving further away from the calm, peace and purpose that I was seeking.

What I have come to realise is that no matter what your external circumstances, no matter how many personal development or spiritual retreats you attend, no matter how many insights you collect, how many positive or inspiring books or quotes you have read – your experience of life will not transform unless you attend to your inner experience, unless you look within.

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At most the insight of another can act as a signpost, can give us direction – but each of us need to be willing to question, to reflect, to test these insights, and to see for ourselves what is true. And we need to be willing to see awareness as a process – one that we practice and apply in our daily life. Collecting insights or worshiping the words and experience of others (as I have done) will not make you wise, it will not magically transform your life – only a vision to live an extraordinary quality of life and a commitment to look within and grow in awareness will create a fundamental transformation in your thinking and your experience of life.

Awareness is not swapping one thought for another

One of the ways I thought I could change my life was by immersing myself in positive affirmations and teach these to others as a way to foster self-care and self-love. I would adopt affirmations from a variety of sources (always from others, not my own) and take them on, but would become disillusioned that the same old insecurities and judgements would persist.

I clearly remember during my first Freedom in Living retreat applying some cream to my legs one morning and thinking about an affirmation I had often used “I nurture my body with love and care”, I was surprised to observe that reality for me in that moment did not match this affirmation, in fact I came to realise that my reality was quite different to this affirmation. I observed my thoughts as I was applying the cream – I saw judgement, I saw self-reproach, I saw discomfort  and non-acceptance of the way things were in that moment, I saw that I was applying the cream in a rushed and rough way.

My thoughts included “if only my legs looked better”, “if only you were more committed to looking after yourself”, “my veins look horrible, what if they continue to get worse, what will others think?”, “I’d be so much happier if I didn’t have to worry about them”.

This was a very interesting and empowering realisation for me.

I realised in that moment that no matter how many affirmations I collect and recite, if I am unware of my internal thought process, of what is driving my actions, I am merely pushing my thoughts aside, swapping one thought for another! And I asked myself the question how often was I doing this in my daily life, here was but one example.

After seeing this I paused, I smiled at myself, I slowed down, I felt a softness towards myself as I would feel towards my child. I saw that self-love does not come from merely reciting affirmations, I saw that self-love comes from awareness, from acceptance of myself in that moment, from feeling compassion towards myself.

This was a beautiful awakening to the power of awareness and an understanding of self-love which continues to grow for me today.

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Awareness is not a permanent state

We are surrounded by spiritual traditions and pervasive marketing of products that promise salvation, enlightenment, happiness in a bottle, a quick and lasting fix to all our ills. And as a result we tend to look outside of ourselves to find the answers to the challenges we face; we tend to miss the beautiful moments of our life as we are looking elsewhere; we become attached to a particular experience or way of seeing and we become stuck, struggling to grow and let go of some of the heavy baggage we end up carrying around.

Is the practice of awareness a magic formula?

Is the practice of awareness a permanent state you reach where you will be happy for evermore?

For me the answer to this is no………and you may ask well WHY would you bother practicing it?

When we practice awareness it can be enticing to feel satisfied with a big AHA moment or a profound insight that you have had. It has been my experience that if we become attached to the idea of awareness as a permanent state or we begin to worship an insight we had last week or last year then we are likely to revert back to our old habits of relating to a person or a situation based on our perceptions, based on our past experiences. And when we do revert back to habitual ways there is often a tendency to judge ourselves harshly, to feel like we have somehow failed to reach “destination awareness” and we may be tempted to say “this doesn’t work for me”. This is how I felt when I thought that awareness was a permanent state I would reach, rather than understanding that awareness is a process to practice and apply in daily life.

Awareness is to bring fresh eyes to each moment of our lives and in knowing ourselves we are better able to let go of some of the veils of perception, hurt and suffering that we tend to view life through. Awareness helps us to see the truth of who we are, the truth of our life as it is and therein lies the profound power and possibility of its practice. As we see the truth of ourselves we arrive at a place of choice and for me this is one of the answers to the question of why do I practice awareness.

To see that I have choice to continue my habitual responses and the impacts they create or that I can choose to nurture new habits, new ways of responding and relating is a very empowering place to arrive at.

In my next post I will explore more about the WHY…..why the practice and cultivation of awareness is beneficial, not only for ourselves but also for our world.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to take time to reflect on your concept and experience of awareness.

What is Awareness?

Awareness is my anchor, vision is my guide,

Awareness is the compass, directing where I ride.

Awareness is something that only I can bring,

Awareness is my gift to every living thing.

Awareness is a process, not a one off feat,

Awareness is a way through any challenge that I meet.

You may have noticed that the concept of awareness keeps popping up in my posts.

Looking within is a profound practice and it really is helping me to live a beautiful life.

I spend a lot of time talking to others about awareness, and this is a major theme in the Awareness and Love program I share in Australia, but it seems many people are confused about awareness and how to apply it in their lives. I thought I would write a series of posts with the intention of sharing what awareness is to me and how it is helping in my life.

I will begin by saying that the perspective I have on awareness and its cultivation has been inspired by the teachings and support I have received from the One World Academy.

What is awareness?

The practice of awareness is to simply see, to observe something as it is, for what it is, to pay attention to what is.

Sounds simple doesn’t it?

And the actual practice and application of awareness IS simple, however it is our conditioned minds and habits deeply wired in the brain that make this a little more complicated. We are all capable of observation, but we have developed a tendency over the years to go beyond observation. We see something, we hear something, we feel something and then there is most often an immediate move to label, to judge and to analyse this experience and now we are no longer being aware of what we were observing, we have become embroiled in our thoughts, our perceptions, in the stories of the mind.

Does this sound familiar to you?

Observation of oneself, of the breath, of the body is at the heart of the age-old practice of meditation.  Meditation is a valuable tool to assist us in cultivating awareness.

One of the beautiful benefits of meditation is that we learn to pay attention, we learn to calm the mental chatter, we are better able to observe our thoughts and reflect on our experiences.

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I see that cultivating awareness, just like meditation, is a “practice”. I find this idea helps people to understand that it is not just a one off activity, it is something we need to work on, it is a new way of living and relating that we must learn, it is a new habit we create in the brain.

What are the benefits of awareness?

To know oneself, ones thought processes and our habitual responses is very empowering. For me the practice of awareness has given me the opportunity to see my relationships, my life situations and perceptions with fresh eyes. For years my thinking has been ruled by ideals and unchecked assumptions – practicing awareness is to inquire and become aware of your thinking. This for me has been a very insightful process and liberating in the sense that I can now see it is me who has a choice in my responses and actions – that I cannot blame others, nor am I a “victim” of external circumstances. As I have shared in recent posts such as Ten Things Learnt from Ten Years of Marriage and Love Grows in Awareness, the practice of awareness is slowly but surely enriching my life and relationships, especially with my partner and children. And this I am very grateful for.

For me

But how do you it, how do you “practice” awareness?

One of the simplest ways is to begin by observing your breathing for a few minutes each day – just observe, feel the sensations of the breath in the body, keep bringing your attention back to the breath rather than your thoughts.

What do you notice?

Here is a link to a short awareness meditation session if you are ready for a little more.

In the next post in this series on Awareness I will challenge a few common misconceptions about awareness.

I’d be delighted if you would share your thoughts and experiences about awareness along the way.

May the light of awareness shine in your life and into our world.

 

 

Love Grows in Awareness

In the recent post Ten Things learnt from Ten Years of Marriage I mentioned that I have not always been clear about my vision for my relationship with my husband – I think in many ways I thought the love between us would just take care of itself.

Over the past few years I have undertaken more of an inner journey and have been delighted at the benefits this has yielded for my experience of life, love and marriage. It has been an interesting process to observe my thinking, to see the reality of my situation and how it often differed from my perceptions of a situation and it has been humbling to realise that in unawareness I have not always acted in a loving and generous way to people close to me, particularly my husband.

I was shocked to realise how much blame I had been directing towards my husband for a whole range of things, many of which he knew nothing about, most of which were not his responsibility but the feelings of blame and growing resentment were certainly impacting the quality of our relationship and my interactions with him.

If you had have asked me what is driving our relationship I would have told you that of course it is love and connection and respect – I wanted to believe that this was the case, that’s what holds a marriage together isn’t it?

But it was deeply troubling me that on many occasions I wasn’t feeling connected, I didn’t feel loving. In the past it was easy to make my husband wrong, to blame him for the way I felt, to feel that things would be better when he changed.

In awareness I have seen that it has been my concept of love that needs changing, not my husband, I have seen that the driving forces in our relationship were not exactly as I’d hoped.

Let me share a little story with you……

Quite some months ago while we were travelling, my husband hurt his back and we needed to take a few extra rest days. This had happened before, but his back took a little longer than usual to heal. I found myself becoming grumpy and short with him over those few days, to be honest I wanted to jump on a plane and fly anywhere but stay there and watch him struggle with his back. I felt deeply conflicted – why I couldn’t just accept the situation, just love him for better or worse, be supportive while he found his own way. I became embroiled in my thoughts and felt more and more disconnected from him.

I began to take some time each day to simply quieten my mind and observe my thoughts. I saw that I was feeling resentful and judging him, I was comparing him to others, I was thinking “if only he would take my advice; if only he had been more pro-active up to now this wouldn’t have happened, we wouldn’t be stuck here; if only he would pursue an alternative path, if only he would take his healing seriously, why can’t he be more aware of his body and what it needs for wellbeing??”

Is it any wonder I wasn’t feeling connected and loving towards him?!

A few days later I had an interesting and very liberating insight – as I saw my husband walking back towards our camp in his wetsuit after being out diving for abalone I was struck at how attractive I found him in that moment, in that particular physical state and role, how much I appreciated him. A few days prior I did not feel attracted or connected to him, it was difficult to feel compassion as he experienced pain. I smiled at myself as I remembered telling him as he was stretching his back how attractive he looks doing yoga, how I love to see him caring for himself in these ways…….AHA!

In unawareness I was confusing this for love, instead they were the images of him that I had idealised.

I realised it was not possible to relate to him from this viewpoint – my concept of love was conditional and my happiness dependent on what he does or does not do. I was reminded of the words of Thomas Merton….

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” 

Does this story resonate with you?

Do you value relationships and nurturing happiness?

Here are some questions that may be helpful in reflecting on your own experiences. Please ask yourself:

What is my idea of the perfect relationship, the perfect partner?

Is it possible for me or my partner to always live up to this ideal?

What is my concept of love? What is my personal experience of love?

Do I have a preconceived expectation of what a relationship should be and do I judge and compare my relationships and partner based on this?

Do I hold my partner (or others) responsible for the discomfort I feel when their action is inconsistent with my expectations?

What is the consequence of this blaming? Does it contribute to growing and happy relationships?

For me, by paying attention to my thoughts I have been able to recognise the driving forces in my marriage and other relationships. And from this recognition I have been able to see that I have a choice to respond and act from a state of inner conflict or I can choose to nurture a more aware and loving state of being.

Over time I will be sharing some other examples of how the practice of awareness is helping me to experience a greater quality and depth of love, connection and joy in my relationships. It is my hope by sharing my experiences that others may be inspired to ask questions, reflect on their own experiences and to nurture beautiful relationships.

I gratefully acknowledge the beautiful teachings and support from my mentors at the One World Academy in inspiring my journey and this article.

The world needs more loving, conscious relationships and what greater gift can we give to our children than for them to see the adults around them living and relating to each other with honesty, compassion, gratitude, kindness and experiencing deep connection and joy?

Ten Things Learnt from Ten Years of Marriage

My husband and I recently celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. For me it was the celebration of an important yet unexpected milestone – I feel like I am now truly ready to commit to cultivating a beautiful marriage. Until recently I had not been wearing my wedding ring very often (I even left it packed in a box in storage as we travelled around Australia!), I often found it easy to give excuses why it didn’t suit me to wear it.

Our marriage started well, but despite the fact we wrote our own vows for our wedding ceremony (interestingly, I don’t remember mine and a copy is nowhere to be found), I never took the time to create a vision for our relationship. Perhaps I felt that the love we felt was enough to weather the storms, perhaps I didn’t anticipate the kind of storms I would experience. Often when we think about marriage we are familiar with the concept of for better or worse, till death do us part……but what happens when the challenges that arise don’t quite fit into this?

It was bewildering for me to discover after being married for a number of years that our “love” was not enough. Instead of our love and relationship growing it often felt like a chasm was widening. From the outside looking in people would comment how lucky I was to have such a wonderful, supportive husband, two beautiful children and an adventurous lifestyle. But on the inside I was experiencing a growing sense of disillusionment.

Have you ever felt a chasm in a relationship?

Do you know the feeling of being next to someone and yet feeling totally disconnected from them, like they could be on the other side of the world?

I didn’t want this to be my experience of marriage, I wanted my children to see a happy and thriving marriage and I wanted to reconnect to my husband. I struggled to find ways to foster our relationship, I tried to encourage my husband to communicate more openly, to embrace the latest relationship book I was reading, to work on himself, I even suggested (albeit flippantly) that we attend marriage counselling. I felt a sense of desperation of wanting to find a way forward, a way to bridge that chasm that I felt so painfully.

Years later I look back and see that none of this was followed through, and in hindsight know that none of it really matters.

For me the catalyst for a beautiful reconnection and new beginning in my relationship was to look within. With some skilful prompting from my mentors at the One World Academy I finally realised that if something needed to change then it needed to start with me.

In the spirit of Share, Grow and Heal, I offer you ten things I have learnt from ten years of marriage, in the hope it may inspire others to cultivate and experience beautiful relationships and so that our children will be surrounded by relationships that embody connection, joy and honesty.

1. My husband is not responsible for my happiness, but I am.

What a relief this has been to see, I don’t need to wait for him change so that I can be happy, he doesn’t even need to change for me to be happy. I have found it very helpful to reflect upon the idea that happiness does not come from anyone or anything outside of ourselves and I wholeheartedly encourage you to ponder this too.

2. Marriage is a “we” not a “me” endeavour.

Sounds obvious right? But I was surprised to find that when I began to inquire into my thoughts, when I observed what was driving my emotions, responses and actions there was very little “we” focus. Instead much of my thinking was consumed with self-centric thinking, it all about “me” – I was often fearful about how I would be perceived by others, I needed to be right, when my husband wouldn’t take my advice I would feel defensive and threatened and then blame him if something went wrong, I felt if only I was a better teacher, a better example he would want to change. In seeing this I came to see just how much of the chasm I had created in my own mind.

3. Marriage is an act of acceptance that begins with an understanding and acceptance of yourself.

No-one is perfect but we are all perfectly ourselves. The more we compare ourselves to other, the more we compare our relationship to that of others the more we distance ourselves from the truth of who we are and the truth of our relationships. For me growing self-acceptance has been key to accepting my husband and our relationship for what they are, for all that they are.

4. Marriage is like crossing the “sodden Loddens”.

Not long after we got married my husband and I embarked on a couple of hiking adventures in Tasmania. Our hike to Frenchmans Peak involved crossing the Lodden Plains which we nicknamed the “sodden Loddens” for the often knee deep mud that we were sinking into for hours on end. This was the most challenging aspect of the walk for us, and each of us at different times would sink down, shout with frustration and refuse to get up again. It has also become one of our most fond memories of the walk and a beautiful reminder in times of challenge – we remember that what got us through was the patience, support and encouragement that we gave to each other. When one went down, the other was there to uplift. In looking back over these last 10 years, I see countless examples where we have continued to do this for each other and also for our children.

5. Gratitude is Great.

In a recent post  I shared one of my favourite mantras to help heal an ailing relationship “I am because you are”. To look at another and reflect upon these words is a powerful practice, for me it has helped me to see that I am only here today because of all the people and experiences in my life, not in spite of them. When we choose to see life through the eyes of gratitude we make a choice to focus on all that we have, all the beautiful moments we have shared with others, all the patience, support and encouragement that we have been given and life indeed becomes a very rich and fulfilling experience.

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6. Marriage  is more important than being right.

It has been humbling to see just how much the chasm that I felt in my relationship with my husband came from wanting to be right, from wanting to win and from finding it easy to blame him when things didn’t go my way. I realised I needed to make a choice, to decide what was more important – being right? winning? judging and blaming others? or being loving? showing patience and kindness? not taking everything so personally? or simply being happy?

7. Focusing on your differences drives you apart, seeing sameness bridges the chasm.

I will never forget the night I realised this, the night where I finally found a way to bridge the chasm that I felt kept me from my husband. By reflecting on a moment of anger and overreaction I was able to see that despite the fact that my husband and I do things differently, that we are more alike than we are different. I was able to see that my husband experiences anger, just like I do, my husband sometimes feels frustrated, yep me too, my husband wants to be a good parent, same as me, my husband wants to be loved and feel like he is valued and doing a good job and so do I. I cannot tell you how liberating it felt to see all of these things, as if for the first time and to experience the sense of softness, openness and reconnection that emerged.

8. Being surrounded by family and friends who value relationships is a great support.

In saying this I don’t mean people who just stay in a relationship that is not growing or joyful, I don’t mean people who just grin and bear it. We have been blessed by examples of people who are willing to hold a greater vision for their relationship and commit to cultivating a beautiful experience. I have only recently realised how much my husband’s family through honest and open communication about relationships has provided an important background to the unfolding we are enjoying in our marriage today, I am deeply grateful for this.

9. A happy and fulfilling marriage doesn’t just “happen” and it certainly does not come from wishing and waiting for the other to change.

Marriage like love is a verb, it needs patient, persistent and courageous tending. If you want a loving relationship you need to be loving, if you want more open honest communication you need to be honest and open, if you want a growing relationship you need to be willing to grow yourself. Ghandi was right, we need to be the change we want to see.

10. Having a vision for your life and your relationships is essential.

When it comes to creating a vision here are some questions that I have found very helpful to reflect upon –

How do I want to feel in life? How do I want to interact with the other? What legacy do I want to leave? When challenges arise, how will I respond? What is more important to me being right, or being loving? What example do I want to show to my children?

As you may have gathered the practice of awareness has been key in arriving at this point. For me self-awareness has been a saving grace in my life and in my experience of relationships. It has been a joyful discovery that in understanding and knowing myself better that I can see my husband more clearly, for the beautiful person he is….instead of through the lens of my perceptions and ideas of what he should be.

It feels wonderful to be wearing my wedding ring again, to have found meaning in its symbolism. It’s not really about the ring, but I like the change I feel and see, I like the reminders wearing it gives me and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to begin the next 10 years of marriage seeing with fresh eyes and an open heart.

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Gratitude – more than just a value

I was recently invited to participate in a Facebook gratitude challenge by a dear friend of mine. I must admit whilst the practice of gratitude is transforming my experience of life, I did feel some resistance to participating. Wasn’t I already expressing enough gratitude in my daily life and even on Facebook? I see life through the eyes of gratitude so much more than I ever did, my family now sits together at the dinner table most nights and we share what we are grateful for that day. But I embraced the opportunity nonetheless with the intention that I would wholeheartedly participate and use my expression of gratitude as a way of inspiring others and creating greater ripples of gratitude in cyberspace. I enjoyed this experience much more than I thought, the more I focused on this challenge the more I found that seeing with the eyes of gratitude became my focus for the day and the wider my smile grew.

Gratitude and its benefits are becoming quite well known and we are surrounded by gratitude journals, cards, calendars, quotes, and people telling us that we should be grateful for what we have. Is it this simple? Or is there more to gratitude?

My work as an instructor with the One World Academy gives me many opportunities to reflect on gratitude in my own life and to learn from others. What I have noticed is this – gratitude doesn’t just happen, gratitude doesn’t seem to come naturally for most people, gratitude is about more than just saying thank you, more than buying a gift or sending a card when someone does something for you. Please don’t get me wrong I am not saying these things are not worth doing but gratitude is more than a value, gratitude is a way of living and seeing the world. Gratitude truly does have the power to transform your experience of life but it needs to be a choice, to be understood and cultivated.

When I ask people to begin reflecting upon gratitude I ask them this question (which was asked of me by one of my teachers) – is there ever any one moment in life where we are completely independent, alone or where no other factor is involved?

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If the answer for you is yes – I would love to hear about this moment/s, but for most of us the answer will be no. If you are still questioning this I encourage you to think of a tree and consider whether life is possible without trees in the world. This is where we begin to develop a deeper understanding of gratitude and how it can be of benefit in our lives.

Gratitude – an antidote to loneliness?

Many people in our families and communities feel lonely and isolated – sometimes we may not even realise they feel like this, sometimes we feel like this ourselves. Sometimes we may experience loneliness in the midst of a crowd or when spending time with family and friends. It sounds strange doesn’t it? Lonely, in a crowd? Most of us have had this experience, sometimes it seems more common in the cooler months where the days are shorter and darker, but unfortunately many people live with this feeling every day.

So what can we do about feelings of loneliness and isolation?

The good news is there is a lovely antidote to loneliness, it won’t cost you anything, and it is the perfect “tonic” for any season. I am of course talking about gratitude.

How can gratitude help to overcome loneliness and isolation?

Let’s come back to the question I posed earlier – if we agree that we are never truly independent in our lives, then perhaps we can start to see that loneliness and isolation is not actually possible, instead it has more to do with how we think about and perceive our life situation.

Please take a few moments now to reflect on what you can be grateful for today.

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Everyone – no matter what your life circumstances – can find at least one thing to be grateful for.

Did you consider the many people that were involved in growing, harvesting and transporting the food that has nourished your body?

Did you consider the people who assisted your learning so that you are able to read this article?

Did you consider your parents who gave you the opportunity to live?

Did you consider the many people who have helped to create and manufacture technological equipment so that we can connect and communicate with others?

The list goes on and on. In my own experience this has opened my eyes to so many things I had previously taken for granted. For me, this includes the obvious things like seeing that I am only here today experiencing life because of my parents, not in spite of all the things I had complained I didn’t have. An understanding of gratitude has created a sense of richness in my life.

The thing with gratitude however, is that is doesn’t always come naturally. Gratitude needs to be cultivated and practiced, you need to see a value for it in your life and make a choice to focus on what you have, rather than what you don’t have. Gratitude is about seeing the multitude of factors at play in our lives, every moment, every day. This is how gratitude becomes an important antidote to loneliness and isolation.

When gratitude is cultivated on a daily basis we start to see that there really is a web of life, there is interdependence between people, animals, plants, and the ecosystem that nourishes and sustains us. We start to see how important it is for us to care for ourselves and the world around us. We start to see how each day we can make a difference. We start to feel hopeful and know there are many people supporting our life, we feel a part of something, rather than lonely, isolated and despondent about the state of the world.

Can you imagine the impact living in this way could have on your life and the lives of your family and your community?

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Can gratitude heal relationships?

Many people ask how they can heal a relationship that has become distant, how they can connect to the other – the gift of gratitude is a beautiful start. Begin with reflecting on the relationship and some of the beautiful moments you have shared with the other.

What did you experience in these beautiful moments?

What has the other brought into your life?

Have you ever expressed your gratitude for these beautiful moments?

In my own life these questions have had a huge impact in my experience of connection with my husband and my parents and one of my favourite sayings to reflect upon is “I am, because you are”.

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Take a gratitude challenge

As I mentioned before, everyone – no matter what your life circumstances – can find at least one thing to be grateful for and that’s all it takes to begin. Start with that one thing, then challenge yourself each day, for one month to find one more thing each day to be grateful for – at the end of the month you can smile at the 30 things you have acknowledged. Don’t feel you have to limit yourself to this suggested time frame or number – most people find that the more you cultivate gratitude, the more you find to be grateful for and life becomes more rich and beautiful each day.

In ordinary life we hardly recognise that we recive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

If you are having trouble finding something to be grateful for or are feeling lonely, I invite you to think about the air you breathe, the food you eat, the clothes you are wearing – there are so many people and factors working to support your existence.

In this recording I share with you one of my favourite meditations to nurture gratitude. For a longer practice I highly recommend this beautiful meditation by Ananda Giriji one of the senior faculty at the One World Academy.

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I am grateful that you have taken the time to read this article, I am grateful for the gift of literacy given to me by many teachers, I am grateful to our home Mother Earth for nourishing and sustaining my life, I am grateful to my family who love and support me every day and I gratefully acknowledge the support and teachings of the One World Academy in inspiring this article.

The world needs our gratitude, the earth deserves our gratitude, our friends, family, teachers and all of humanity need our gratitude. Gratitude is more than a value, it is a way of being in and seeing the world. The more you look for things to be grateful for…..the more you find.

The real work is to be done by you and I wish you a beautiful journey into a more grateful way of living.