The overdue post: Accepting reality by being mindful
From Singapore to London to the whole of South East Asia and back to London. It is ready!
I am actually posting this!
I started this post when I returned to London in June 2015 and planned to finish it that month. Evidently this did not happen. This post has been with me for nearly a whole year! Some may think of this as a complete failure yet I see it as a symbol of the journey I have completed. I tried working on it when in Indonesia, on the beach in Cambodia (yes, don’t ask me). I tried finishing it on the island of Dondet in Laos. I sat in my hostel in Myanmar trying to finish it off and edited it while ill with a cold in the Philippines. It is only now I am back in London I am finally ready to share it.
So “wow” is accurate to how I feel about this moment and I really wanted to emphasise how big this is for me as it has been DIFFICULT. I owe this post to my friends in Singapore, myself and whoever needs to hear these words about struggle and the struggle of being mindful.
Usually I give a brief update on our previous meet up (which was Exercise) but I shall leave that till the end. This is not like the usual Happiness Club posts I have written as it is more personal to me. I am letting this post take its own form.
When I think of being mindful there is a huge element to it that involves being as authentic as I can be. Therefore it has been important to me to be just that, authentic, when writing this post.
This topic is dear to me and something that has been ingrained within my entire being since I was a young child. My dad has dedicated much of what he has communicated to me about being ‘conscious’ or ‘conscientious’ which in essence is, being present and developing awareness of oneself. I believe it is in line with the message I try to communicate to myself and others. It is a practise that, although hard, I personally think is essential on the road to being more happy and more true to who we are which as a result creates a better life for everyone around us.
I couldn’t define Mindfulness any better than the Zen Master, Thich Naht Hanh.
“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”
Thich Naht Hanh
Although we can be ‘aware’ or ‘mindful’ the human needs and habits we have can be overpowering and to reach a place where we are "filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love" in experiences that are good or bad takes hard work. The art of getting to the “peace” part of it all is something we have to train ourselves to do and comes with time and practise.
Being mindful frightened me!
How can you enjoy being mindful if, for instance you are living a life that is not good for you?
Although the practise of being mindful was something I initially was excited to meet with the girls and write about, I actually felt a little frightened at the time. I was not ready to practise mindfulness with others because I was not ready to acknowledge what was happening in my life. I could not be as honest as I had hoped with the group as this would mean I would have to magnify and share the problems I was dealing with at the time. I knew in order to write about mindfulness I would need to be just that, mindful and with that comes a level of being open to the truth and being fine with sharing it. It is difficult when confronted with a reality that we find hard to accept. A reality we would rather pretend or disregard. The art of me being mindful was definitely not within my grasp as I could not accept what was going on.
In truth at that stage in my life I felt like a failure. I failed at making the right decisions for myself with the relationship I was in. As a consequence I felt I had failed at being a good role model to others as a coach. I let myself down and I knew I was not living a life I loved. I was unappreciated, disrespected and I allowed this to happen. I had sacrificed my work, my family and friends purely for my own need to prove something. It was my choice to be in the wrong life and I gave myself a hard time about this decision.
I am writing this down as an acknowledgement and respect for the feelings I had. That even me, a woman who chooses to speak about loving yourself, moving forward, letting go and focusing on your purpose, had somehow found herself looking in the mirror and not recognising what she was seeing. We should never give others that kind of power over us and we should never allow ourselves to do this to others. Forgetting or not recognising each others brilliance creates a sad, mean world.
I knew I could do better, I did do better, much better in fact and I realised many things when I made the decision to drag myself down the road to really practise mindfulness. I knew that after being aware of it all it would be time to do something to make it all better. This isn’t new to me as I am sure it is not for you. We have all had our struggles yet somehow this time I had let it get too far. In time, this action to move back on to my path and move forward became easier. Soon I was walking around with no heavy thoughts in my mind, observing the ones I did have, being completely still at times and not judging my tears (which turned in to just that, tears that needed to be shed as opposed to tears with the depressive thoughts they use to bring).
When life becomes a struggle being in the present moment can stir up some difficult emotions because a bad reality is a hard pill to swallow. Being mindful of the present, of our life, feelings, emotions, of who we are and want to be about are not things to take lightly yet this is a practise that will truly benefit us all in the long term.
“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
Mindfulness Breathing exercise
How do we observe our thoughts and feelings without judgement? Have you had such an experience? Can you remember what state you were in when you were able to do this, to be mindful?
When the group met we practised the timer exercise which was to close our eyes and sit in silence for two minutes. At first we were aware that we were in public and it made some of us feel uneasy. This is probably not the best place when you first do this, but can be a good challenge when you are strengthening these exercises and getting use to being mindful in busy places. Some of us were very aware of our surroundings and focused on the song that was playing. Realising we were all doing this together made us feel an appreciation for the moment we were having together in silence. Some of us linked it to yoga breathing and meditation which helped us to focus. The idea that we could do this regularly and in different environments seemed appealing and something we felt we could develop in to a really good habit to have! Who would’t want to be able to be all Zen like and see the bigger picture when on a packed train, at a party we would rather not attend, in a busy shopping centre or in the midst of a heated exchange? That would be a great skill to acquire! How cool would it be to just acknowledge our annoyance, anger, happiness, feelings of love without judging ourselves and in doing so feel a great sense of peace.
We spoke about how hard it is to be mindful when we regularly find our thoughts being louder than the peaceful space between them. Like a pack of sardines there is sometimes no space for anything else. At times we are so overwhelmed by life it feels almost impossible to stop our minds taking over. Thoughts which popped into some of our heads during our breathing exercise included questions such as, what is home? when will I start a family? will I start a family? where will I settle down to have a family? what is my purpose? why can’t I sit still? Others felt transported by the music that was playing. One of the girls said it reminded her of her culture and had a strong sense of her heritage which made her feel emotional.
It seemed as if we were attaching ourselves to something that was either connected to the past, present or future. I wondered afterwards: Is it attachment to life and our thoughts that hinders us from practising mindfulness? Does mindfulness require a certain level of detachment? If so, will we be able to be mindful once we practise detachment? Or perhaps detachment to situations come from practising mindfulness? How attached or detached should we be to create the balance we want? If we practise detachment does that mean we do not care about anyone or anything?
So many questions to contemplate on or just let them be.
Allowing yourself to ‘be’
When I returned to London I sent regular quotes and reminders of mindfulness to the girls. Then I went travelling! I have given myself a lot of time and space through travelling and it has been a great healer bringing me closer to who I am and the life I think of as ‘ideal’. At the beginning, I told myself it was okay to be depressed and to not feel particularly ‘happy’. I told myself it was okay that I would be behind with posting anything on the happiness club and I tried to practise mindfulness making peace with the stage I was in. This is something I feel we do not allow ourselves or others to do. We rush things along, try and distract ourselves from pain, fearful of time passing us by, instead of learning to accept the presence of uncertainty. Personally I have enjoyed the uncertainty of my future. It made me feel liberated because it naturally made me live in the moment, something that suits my personality. I made a pact with myself that I was just going to put one foot in front of the other. I gave myself permission to prioritise what was important in that moment. It was me. My wellbeing. My hopes and dreams. Today. Not tomorrow. Not next week, month or when I have a holiday. It was now or never. I knew no one else could heal my wounds but myself and I knew that the only way I could do that was to live the life I wanted without worrying about anything else. I assure you this is exactly what happened and yes, I do want to stand on a mountain top and share that with the world!
Some mindfulness habits we felt we could create at the time included:
2. Being mindful when communicating with others
3. Actively listening to others
4. Using the suggested 2 minute mindfulness technique
5. Yoga or gentle movement to find that space in our minds to just be still
And just because I do not want to leave it out….
The Exercise update
I use to start with the update at the beginning of the post but because of the nature of this post it made sense to add a little on our Exercise topic here. Our focus on exercise (which as you have gathered was a year ago now) inspired some of us to buy Groupon vouchers and others like me, went to the gym for free with friends which gave me a chance to do other kinds of exercise other than swimming. It was great not only because I was moving my body but it gave me a shock. I found myself feeling really weak. It made me realise that we can not afford to take our body for granted. As I regrettably have done many times I was reminded that it was just as important to maintain if not build on our physical strength.
As a group although we had not done anything drastic to change our exercise habits we were being more aware about what we were eating and actively making small changes within our routines such as walking up stairs and escalators to feel our gluts! Fast forward to months that have past and my friends have maintained their healthy lifestyle and I have to say they really do look well. It could be that or just a good dose of Singapore sun.
I, on the other hand took myself travelling around South East Asia which explains the well overdue post. I have been thinking I may start calling it, ‘My badass modern day pilgrimage’. It was seven months of greatness that has included many treks, swimming, doing some (still not enough) Yoga, dancing and it has gotten me using my body in more ways then I use to when I was working in London or living in Singapore. I lost a lot of weight when travelling and although it is a nice new look and I feel somewhat more confident wearing tighter clothes I would not say this is the healthiest I have felt because I know I was not able to find the right foods to maintain my good health (being a vegetarian in SEA is a challenge). So, although it has been great to be more active, it has been equally important to make sure I eat well. It made me appreciate the need for good nutritious food!
After some encouragement from my friends and family I have started a new blog of my travels in order to highlight the beauty and insights I gained. It has been an amazing experience and one that got me seeing the 10 keys to Happiness being proven as keys that work. I will try to touch on them in www.happylighttraveller.com.