The Chelsea Flower Show was recently held in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital in London. Possibly the most famous flower show in the world, it attracts exhibitors and visitors from all over the world. Crazily intricate show gardens are constructed from nowhere and dismantled after just a few days from elaborate gardens in Main Avenue to smaller, more intimate gardens that can inspire, challenge and delight.
I have visited Chelsea on several occasions although I prefer its slightly less celebrated cousin Hampton Court. I may not have the greenest of fingers and my garden may be a triumph of optimism over horticultural knowledge but my own little piece of Chelsea inspires, challenges and delights me every bit as much as a show garden and at a fraction of the price.
Whilst small my garden is also a haven for wildlife; birds, bees and butterflies are regular and welcome visitors. As an organic gardener, the bugs are a challenge but I appreciate they all have their place in the grand scheme of things and we each of us go about our business leaving the other pretty much alone. This spring I even had a hedgehog in the garden (I think he or she may have been hibernating in the compost heap or behind the shed).
A gardening expert would probably tut and shake their heads at some of my planting combinations. Certainly, I would not win any medals but my garden is not about showing off. It is about relaxation and calm, colour and inspiration. We all need a little beauty to feed our souls and each day, in different ways, my garden provides that. I think that is better than any medal.
I was either going to crash and burn and that was not going to be pretty or I was going to pull back and find a better way to live my life. As you will be aware if you have read my earlier blogs on meditation this was something I wanted to do but had yet to perfect how to do it.
Taking lessons from my less than stellar beginning, I decided the sofa in the sitting room would be a better location. I also decided twenty minutes of guided meditation first thing in the morning while the tea was brewing would be a good starting point for the day.
I also found a better guided meditation. There are hundreds to choose from. It is all a question of what suits you best. I found some talked too much – it is hard to concentrate on your breathing and still your mind when you have someone yabbering away incessantly in your ear. It is also crucial to find a voice that does not get on your nerves – hard to relax if the way they speak is grating on you. All this takes a little experimentation. Eventually I found the perfect meditation for me. A soothing voice, helpful instructions and crucially long periods of quiet when nothing is said at all. Perfect.
For two weeks I began my day with the same guided meditation session. Did I notice a difference? I had been prepared for a slow burn, signs of improvement but gradually probably over weeks if not months. The change, however, was much more immediate than that. I began sleeping right through the night, every night – not waking up at 2.00 a.m. and struggling to get back to sleep, my mind teeming. Because I was sleeping better, I was also waking up better, refreshed and ready to get up instead of clinging to the duvet. I also noticed that I was so chilled after my morning session that I went about my routine without any stress or rushing about. I lost the habit of checking the clock and yet when I was ready to leave the house and I did glance at the clock I was early. Life seemed so much easier than it had before.
Like any new habit you need to stick with it long enough that it becomes second nature. That is my next challenge but when the benefits have been so positive, it’s a challenge worth taking on.
If you are any doubt whether meditation is for you give it a go but make sure you give it a go over a long enough period that you have chance to experience the benefits. Twenty minutes a day for two weeks was ideal for me and even the busiest of us can squeeze in an extra twenty minutes can’t we?
As I recounted in Adventures in Meditation – Who Has The Time?! (see below) I knew the tangible benefits of meditation and that they could specifically help me. Mind buzzing all the time? Finding it hard to let go? Want to concentrate on something more important than a Facebook post? Yes please!
So now that I had made the decision to give it a go, how did I actually begin? Before I got into the heavy stuff of scheduling where and when on a daily or even weekly basis I thought it would be a good idea to have a trial run.
For my first session, I chose a sunny Sunday morning when I was fairly sure I would not be interrupted by the outside world. I had already got a load of washing underway in the machine and I had taken my dog Willow for a long walk.
First dilemma – where should the meditation take place? Chair? Bed? Floor? I have tried practicing meditation on the bed in the past – I would usually fall asleep and then wake up cold so I discounted that idea. I decided to compromise and lay down on the sofa in the conservatory which was toasty warm from the early summer sun. This I thought also had the added benefit of the birdsong coming in through the open back door and the gentle fluttering of the blinds in the breeze. All an aid to relaxation, surely?
The next question was how was I actually going to do it. I decided twenty minutes was long enough to give it a good go but not so long that I would start panicking about my to do list. That length of time also seemed doable on a daily basis which was my ultimate goal.
Should I set the timer on my phone and go it alone or should I choose one of the many guided meditations that are available on the internet which, helpfully, have their timings included and a little about what the guided meditation will entail.
I thought as a novice I should accept a little help – a bit like a kid with stabilisers on their bicycle. I choose a guided meditation that did not look too worthy or daunting. I plugged my headphones into my iPad and settled down.
Except I could not hear a thing. I fiddled with the iPad but could not figure out how to increase the volume on the app. I abandoned the iPad and reached for the iPhone. Searched for the same guided meditation, plugged in my headphones and settled down. Again. This time I had sound. Hurrah!
It all started well enough. With a little squirming around and the re-arranging of cushions I managed to get comfortable, retrieved the earbud that fell out in the process and settled down. Again. I started to concentrate on my breathing. I let the voice soothe me. I began to relax. And then…the dog started barking. I remembered I had left the back door open thinking the birdsong would help. I got up, brought the dog in, closed the door.
I settled down, put the earbuds back in and picked up where I had left off. I got a little further with the relaxation exercise. I could feel it starting to work when my washing machine when into its spin cycle and sounded as though it was readying itself for liftoff. I made the effort to block it out.
Now my whole body was relaxed and it was time to start counting backwards from 10 and go to my ‘special place’. I hadn’t been warned I needed a ‘special place’. I quickly cobbled something together in my mind and began to descend. I had just arrived when Willow, my dog, decided to jump on my chest and settle down for a spot of meditation of her own. I was back in the present with a bang, one earbud forlornly dangling and my special place ripped away without any count back. I was just debating whether to start over when the washing machine beeped to indicate it had finished. I took it as a sign and went to hang out the washing.
My first attempt at meditation had not been a complete disaster. I had learnt a lot. Mostly what not to do but at least I would be better prepared for next time and I was determined there would be a next time….
I have flirted with meditation in the past. I bought a book about it once. I even read it. I know it is a positive and worthwhile endeavour. I know the benefits to my general health and wellbeing are potentially immense. But when I am already stressed because I have so much to do how can I find time in my overcrowded day to sit and do nothing? Chance would be a fine thing!
Then a few weeks ago two things happened to me. Firstly, I began to realise I was suffering with burnout. The second thing that happened was that I went to a friend’s house to join a new group she had started – likeminded individuals who wanted to talk about their spiritual and life experiences without judgment or dogma. We began the meeting with a guided meditation session.
I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the experience of letting go, even if only for a short time, to concentrate on my breathing and nothing else.
During the meeting, we talked about the serendipitous nature of coincidences and how we had all got our friend’s email at a time in our lives when what she was proposing really chimed with us.
I left the meeting feeling as though I had made a group of new friends [I did not know any of the other people who attended apart from my friend] and with a lightness in my step.
Walking home, I realised that time to practice meditation or anything else for that matter was not going to magically materialise. I had to carve the time out. There was no point, however, sitting down to meditate with one eye on the clock, muscles tense thinking about all the other things I should be doing instead. Meditation in those circumstances would be impossible not to mention counter productive. I was either going to do it and do it properly or not at all. I resolved to make the effort and see where it led me.
In the next instalment of Adventures in Meditation I will let you know how I got on.
That blog spoke about the need to let go of anger and bitterness because nursing old hurts and grievances reverberates negatively within us and ultimately hurts us far more than the original hurt perpetrated against us.
This week I want to talk about forgiveness again but this time a different aspect – forgiving yourself.
We all have instances in our lives where we wish we had said or done something at a particular time but, for whatever reason, we did not. The guilt associated with missed opportunities particularly involving loved ones who are no longer here can be sharp. We know if they were here they would tell us not to worry about it and yet we still beat ourselves up.
I am not a person who generally holds grudges or nurses bad feelings. I am quick to forgive and yet I do not tend to offer myself the same compassion for my own misdemeanours and transgressions.
This is because I hold myself to impossibly high standards. I always expect to excel and should I fall short, I berate myself about it:- I’m not good enough, I didn’t work hard enough etc.,
The trouble is I always reach for the stars and because I am only human, I am consequently setting myself up to fail more often than not. Why is it I always think I can cram so many things into a limited number of hours and wind up feeling tired and dispirited when I haven’t ticked everything off my stuff to do list for instance? Sound familiar?
So I have decided to make a concerted effort not to be so hard on myself in the future, to be a little bit more compassionate and kind to myself as well as to others. We all fail and make mistakes. It’s how we learn to become better people.
Forgiving myself for such mistakes is a small step but an important one.
We have all been in situations were people have treated us harshly. Sometimes we deserved it. Sometimes we didn’t. It is only natural that we are going to react defensively when we perceive someone is attacking us, even if it is only with words. Our heart rate increases, our blood pressure goes up and anger kicks in.
But this is not a state of mind or body we should hang on to. Holding on to old hurts, nursing those grievances for weeks, months or even years, is always going to hurt us more than it will ever hurt the perpetrators of the original hurt.
We cannot all exhibit saintliness and constantly react well to bad situations but the art of moving on quickly is the key to our own health and happiness. Nurturing anger, jealousy or hate will only reverberate negatively within us. Make peace with your anger and let it go. Try to understand that the person or people who have done you wrong were probably hurting themselves, lashing out at whatever was in front of them, weighed down by their own troubles. Few people in the world are truly evil. Most have simply had the odds stacked against them since birth and are overburdened by the memories of traumas we could not imagine unless we walked in their shoes.
Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.
At the moment, in my part of the UK, we are being blessed with wonderful weather. Anyone who knows the British weather will know this situation is unlikely to last and we will all probably be shivering into our thermals within days. But, right now, it is lovely.
As is usually the case, I woke up today with twenty-one hundred things to do but when a nice day comes along it is important to seize it and make the most of it. So beyond writing this blog, my stuff to do list is on hold for a day.
My puppy, Willow, and I have been on a long walk across the fields near our home – blissful peace and quiet, rolling countryside bright with sunshine and the only sounds were the very distant whisper of traffic, the occasional dog bark and loudest of all beautiful birdsong.
Now back, a long afternoon and evening stretches ahead of us in which we will both spend time pottering in the garden which is a mass of spring colours. Later we will relax, either outdoors or on the comfy sofa in the sun lounge, me reading a good book, Willow, nearby having a snooze. ! daresay a glass of something chilled may also be consumed. By me not her!