Something old, something new…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how things come to a natural end, and how this isn’t necessarily a bad or sad thing as it inevitably makes way for something new.

I spend a good deal of time standing at the bus stop, under a canopy of trees. This gives me the time to stop and really notice the trees, how they’re changing througout the year, regardless of what is happening in our lives or the world around them. Winter comes, they shed their leaves, safe in the knowledge that spring will follow soon.

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These trees got me to thinking about how I don’t need to worry about what might or might not be around the corner. I need to enjoy the here and now, safe in the knowledge that what will happen will happen. When I was at my most anxious, I feared every coming second, but it passed, as it always does. I need to remember this for next time, it will pass.

And who knows, change might bring something better. If I hadn’t had such a terrible summer, I wouldn’t have started Silver Linings and met so many amazing people. I wouldn’t have realised I’m not alone, that there is a whole world out there that I am finding the courage to explore, that I have friends who “get” me, that I hardly knew before.

Talking of change – today Mr Silver Linings’ niece is in labour with her first child. We are all so excited for her, and this marks a new era in the family, the first of a new generation. While I was thinking about this, and checking for messages on the bus, a funeral car went past. Someone else is experiencing a loss today. As one life ends a new one begins. There will be tears of sorrow and joy today, but tomorrow will carry on regardless, and I find some comfort in that, in the bigger picture.

Which brings me on to fate, and chance encounters. I was browsing the Mindfulness books in Waterstones yesterday (other good bookshops are available…), and noticed a guy who was clearly browsing a little aimlessly. After a while I plucked up the courage to ask him if was new to Mindfulness, and if I could recommened him a book. Now, some of you will know that my favourite book in the world is Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, so I had to recommend it to him as a starting point. He said a big thank you, and I left feeling ever so slightly embarrassed. But I couldn’t help wondering if he bought the book, and if it will change his life like it has mine. Why was he looking at minfulness? Was it a chance encounter that we met, or fate? Was I meant to be there to help him? Who knows….

Image from www.pinterest.com

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Starry moments: day 17

Today was a HUGE starry moment in my relatively small world.

For most of you, the next bit will probably sound odd, as in, what’s the big deal? But for anyone with social anxiety – get this – I went for drinks and food with people I don’t usually socialise with, in a pub I’d never been too. I’m so chuffed with myself.

This weekend I’m going to write how I did it, as a reminder to me and hopefully some help to others.

Switching mind to manual

Day 10: #reverb13

Living life on auto-pilot can feel disorienting and dull. How did you cultivate a life worth loving during 2013?

How can you turn off your auto-pilot button in 2014?

I was so pleased when I saw this challenge. Switching off the autopilot has been the “thing” that I’ve focussed on most this year. I have been learning the principles and practices of mindfulness, learning to live in the moment, not distracted by past regrets or future “what ifs”. I’ve been learning to turn off the constant stream of negative thoughts and self doubts. So refreshing!

Instead of battling to suppress negative thoughts I’ve been learning to spot them, and give them the attention and credit they deserve – none. This is still a work in progress, perhaps it always will be, but I’m getting there, moment by moment.

Turning off the autopilot frees up the mind to notice all the beautiful things around us. For me, I try to cultivate this habit by taking photos on my phone, photos of the little things that go unnoticed on autopilot. 2014 will hopefully see lots more mindful photography,with a focus not on technique but on spotting and capturing the moments.

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Memories are made of this

#reverb13 challenge

“True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.”— E.S. Bouton

There are so many “precious things” that are presented to us each day; discoveries and treasures found in simple moments, memories we wish to store in our hearts and keep with us forever.

What precious things have you gathered in 2013?

Which memories from this year do you wish to keep with you always?

This year I’ve realised that every day is about creating memories, not waiting for something to happen, or waiting for the big events in life. Learning mindfulness has led me to pick up my cameraphone and go out looking for moments.

I take photos everywhere, and I’m learning to be less self-conscious in the process. A few weeks ago I spotted a squirrel at the bus stop and I crouched down to take some photos. The next thing I knew, two very quiet school children were crouched down with me – we shared a lovely moment as we watched this little creature go about his day. Perhaps my random photo taking will encourage a bemused onlooker to notice something new in their day? squirrel I put photos on Instagram, photos that I keep just for me, photos that I do as part of an online challenge that gets shared on Facebook and Pinterest. Photos photos everywhere!

The best bit? Looking back at the end of each month and revisiting all my wonderful memories, big and small. Somehow a simple photo stops all the days fading into each other. Now I can look back on November and think “that was a great month”, because each day I captured something meaningful. My photos might be blurry, out of focus, overexposed, but so is life, and I’m learning that it doesn’t matter, it is what it is.

Cromer

A post shared by Silver Linings Project (@silverliningsproject) on

Listen to your heart

Excerpt from Kat McNally’s #reverb challenge:

Today, I want to share with you a life-changing practice I discovered with the help of Rachael Maddox during her gorgeous Do It Meaningfully challenge. Each day for 31 days, I sat quietly for a few moments with my eyes closed and my hand on my heart and asked, “Heart: what do you need?” And then I listened. Sometimes the answer cam in the form of a word. Sometimes an image. Sometimes a sensation.

Try this today. What does your heart have to tell you?

Give it a try

So here I am, keyboard on lap, trying to think what to write for today’s challenge. Nothing is coming to me. I re-read the question. “I sat quietly for a few moments with my eyes closed“. And that is where I’d been doing it wrong – trying to answer with my head, not my heart. Such a revelation, so true of so many moments in life.

So here I am, keyboard on lap, asking my heart for the answer. A quiet revelation…

My heart says thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for learning to stop battling against your thoughts and yourself, and learning to be gentle, be forgiving, and be kind. My heart says I’m on the right path.

Nourishing the soul

I’m taking part in Kat McNally’s December challenge

Today’s question: What made your soul feel most nourished this year?

Ooh, what a question. I love questions that I don’t have an instant answer for, questions that really make me think.

Putting on a smile
Putting on a smile

2013 has been quite a year for me, for better and for worse. My anxiety hit an all time high (or low?) this summer, and the fear (and the fear of fear) was so intense that I was forced into acknowledging that something fundamental had to change. All my battles and attempts to change over the previous decade had got me absolutely nowhere.

My changes:

  • Discovering mindfulness
  • Finding a great counsellor
  • Telling everyone that I was struggling
  • Starting the Silver Linings Project.

Each of these changes, or actions, have nourished my soul. Perhaps “action” is the important word here, reading all the self-help books in the world won’t make a difference, I realised that in order to change how we think and feel, we have to change how we act. Perhaps even more importantly, we have to keep it up.

  • Discovering mindfulness – I listen to my mindfulness cd daily, and I practice mindful thinking everyday. For me this includes noticing my surroundings, and noticing my feelings and thoughts – without criticism. I think this has nourished my soul the most – I find myself enjoying the sensation of being rained on (well, for a few seconds), noticing when I’m getting anxious, and noticing that it just a series of thoughts that will pass. I don’t need to get caught up in the spiral of thinking that would take me back to where I started, I have a choice.
  • Finding a great counsellor – I struck gold with Penny, she listens and she questions, all very gently. Through talking to Penny I have come to realise that my thinking was very black and white, pass or fail. Now I know that I do this, I can spot it and question it, and try to spot the 50 shades of grey in between!
  • Telling everyone I was struggling – up until this point only a select few knew how bad my anxiety was, but being signed off prompted me to come clean. I knew I couldn’t keep covering up what was going on, and I didn’t want to keep telling white lies, or living a lie by pretending everything was ok. The result? It was amazing. Without exception everyone was supportive, and I have made closer friends as a result, I think honesty does that for you. I was also overwhelmed by people who told me that they struggle too, people who I envied for being so cool, calm and collected!
  • Starting Silver Linings Project on Facebook – I knew that I needed to keep the momentum going with my new positive outlook on life, something I’ve been particularly bad at in the past. Through the Facebook page, and this blog, I am meeting so many wonderful people, people who nourish my soul every day. Thank you x

Mindfulness: week two

This post refers to the 8 week mindfulness course in Mindfulness, a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic work. The book also has a website and blog: Frantic world

If you haven’t read them already, you may like to read these two posts first:

Week two: “Keeping the body in mind”

Me, enjoying the sensations of being barefoot

This chapter is all about tuning into the body with the help of the guided meditations on the cd. We often ignore or push aside feelings such as tiredness, stress and unhappiness in order to get through the long list of things we need to get done. However, in the long run this isn’t helpful and actually slows us down. If we can learn to tune in to our bodies, we can pick up when we need to take time out, time to relax, time to stretch, time to look after our bodies instead of our to-do list.

The chapter also explains the connection between the physical sensations that we are learning to tune in to, and our thoughts:

The body often detects our thoughts almost before we’ve consciously registered them ourselves and frequently reacts as if they are solid or real, whether they accurately reflect the world or not. (p.92)

It is during the week two meditation, the body scan, that we learn to focus on different sections of the body. This is where I tend to spot the different parts of me that hold tension, particularly in and around my shoulders. The meditation doesn’t ask you to change anything, just to notice, to be aware. These meditations differ from others that I’ve tried because there is an emphasis on “not being wrong”, which is very reassuring for someone as self-critical as me. For example, if you notice your mind wander, this is good because it means you are aware of your thoughts and can use this as a prompt to bring your attention back to your breath. All these years I’ve thought that you were meant to try and stop your thoughts, blank them out, how wrong I was!

Lightbulb moment:

This week’s lightbulb moment is that all the years that I’ve been putting my mind into “Doing mode” (p.28) in order to solve my problems, I have been doing exactly the opposite of what my mind and body have needed.

When in Doing mode we are trying to analyse what is wrong with us, how can we get from where we are to where we want to be, how we can narrow the gap. Doing mode is about focusing on the gap, focusing on what is missing, and so results in us feeling more down, even further from where we want to be. Instead we need to learn to step outside of Doing mode into a more curious mode, noticing thoughts, not judging them, looking at them as an impartial observer. When in this mode we are less critical, and can see thoughts as just thoughts. As a chronic over thinker, someone who felt that if I just tried that bit harder I could make everything right, this was a huge revelation. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf”. This discovery was such an eye opener for me that I decided to make the picture below, I hope you like it.

waves

Next week, week 3: the mouse in the maze…

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