We’ve all done it – set out a plan in our heads of how we would like life to work out. I don’t mean once our lottery numbers come up when our world will consist of azure seas, large, airy houses and fabulous cars or is that just me? I mean the day to day, life plan, of how we get from here to there.
It’s all in the planning
When it comes to life, it’s good to have a plan. It gives you a roadmap for when things get bumpy. It helps keep you on the straight and narrow when circumstances can knock you off course. I’m a fan of planning.
What I’m not a fan of, however, is having a plan so rigid there is no room for manoeuvre. If you think there is only one way to get from A to B you risk closing your mind to the possibilities that might occur if you travelled down a different road.
I am reminded of an old joke.
A man is sitting on a roof after a terrible flood. He watches the waters rise and thinks ‘God will save me.’ An hour or so later, a man comes along in a boat and offers to take him to safety. ‘No need,’ says the man on the roof. ‘God will save me.’
The waters continue to rise. A few hours later a helicopter hovers overhead and a man offers to winch him up and fly him to safety. ‘No need,’ says the man again. ‘God will save me.’
Later that night the waters close over the man’s head. When he meets St. Peter he says ‘What am I doing here? I thought God would save me.’ And St. Peter says, ‘We sent a boat and a helicopter. What more do you want?!’
Don’t Stay on the Roof
The moral of the story is that we have to be ready for the unexpected. When opportunities present themselves we shouldn’t ignore them because they don’t fit within our carefully constructed plan. They could be a valid way to get from A to B that we’ve never thought of before or they could take us in an entirely new direction and deliver us to a whole new destination that we could never have envisaged.
In this fast paced world, we have to be adaptable and less rigid in our thinking. Having a flexible life plan enables you to do that.
So don’t stay on the roof, refusing to budge, because it isn’t part of your plan. Be prepared to jump in the boat if one comes along and see where it takes you.
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.
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.
I am sure we all have morning routines. Part of my routine is to have a local radio station playing in the background when I’m getting ready in the morning. I don’t want the intrusive babble of overbright voices too early on in my day – I covert that initial quiet time when most of the world is still asleep. But it is handy to catch up on the news and local travel.
But here’s the thing – I don’t particularly like the DJ. I find him borderline annoying and the music they play is pretty safe, middle of the road stuff. I ought to change the station and tune in to someone new but the other local radio station is even worse. They have a couple of morning DJs, a man and a woman, and the woman sets my teeth on edge so that’s a no go. There are, of course, plenty of other stations to choose from but it’s the effort, it’s the time. I have a pretty tight timetable in the morning so I stick with it, take the good stuff, try to ignore the annoying stuff, hold on to my routine and get on with my day.
Earlier this week the station or the transmitter suffered a meltdown. Suddenly there was nothing coming out of my radio. I stared quizzically at my old battered radio in case it had had the radio equivalent of a cardiac arrest but on moving closer I could hear the static so I knew the radio wasn’t to blame. I have been told that a DJ’s worst nightmare is what they describe as “dead air”. Well there was plenty of that.
If I wanted music, news and noise I now had no choice but to spin the dial and find another station. With a sigh of impatience I did just that. After a few detours into classical music (perfect for chilled out evenings with a glass of wine but not frantic mornings) and hard edged rock (perfect for driving or doing the housework) I found a substitute. And what a substitute. The DJ made me laugh within two sentences and even the music was more my style – rockier (but not headbanging).
I now have a new accompaniment to my morning routine and it is better than the one I had before.
There is an analogy there for other parts of my life and probably yours too. All too often we stick with what we know even if we are unhappy about it because it is easier, less hassle or because that’s just the way it’s always been. But why not make the effort and challenge the status quo? You may, like me, be glad you did.
I bet you’re like me, there are jobs to be done, there is even time to do them in and yet somehow they always slip down the list of priorities and languish at the bottom while new, more exciting tasks sail in ahead of them.
I am a procrastinator. I don’t want to be. I’d like to train myself not to be but it is a difficult path to tread as the habit is a long held one and tough to break.
The really annoying thing about being a procrastinator is the fact that the whole time I am steadfastly ignoring the tasks I can never really succeed in forgetting about them. They are always there, catching my attention and reminding me of my inability to get jobs done. A constant, low level, niggle at the back of my mind. So, procrastinating does not make me feel better. It actually makes me feel worse. And yet, I still do it!
Of equal annoyance is the fact that when, finally, I do get around to dealing with the things I have been putting off, most of the time I find they are not that time consuming, nor difficult nor troublesome which leaves me wondering why it was such a struggle for me to get on with them in the first place. And oh the blessed relief I feel when I can tick that irksome job off my stuff to do list. Now that is a good feeling.
We all live such busy lives. We are all overburdened with duties and chores. It’s all too easy to eschew the boring and routine and concentrate instead on the more interesting aspects of our lives but unless we’re wealthy enough to employ others to do our bidding, we are all going to have to tackle those dull tasks some time.
I am going to try to make a concerted effort not to put things off for any longer than absolutely necessary. I am going to start small and work up to the big stuff. I am determined this is the year I am going to GET STUFF DONE. Wish me luck. I will try to let you know how I get on – assuming I get around to writing that particular blog, of course 😉
Everywhere you look there are people telling you to be thinner, fitter, happier and healthier. They are promising you quick fixes to difficult problems. All you have to do is buy into their message and all will be well. For them, maybe. Financially. Call me a cynic but I don’t think we need any of these so called experts to show us the way. Most of what they peddle is common sense dressed up in fancy new clothes. If we stopped to think we’d probably know a lot of this stuff already and we could certainly use our intelligence to fill in any gaps.
We have all succumbed to the marketing skills of the New Year salesmen and women at one time or another. None of us is immune. They tap into the need within all of us to mark the start of a new year in a positive way. We are all keen to begin again. Whatever mistakes we made last year, the new year is a clean slate. We haven’t made any bad calls yet. We haven’t exercised any questionable judgement. We will, you know. It’s just a question of when but for the moment our slate is still shiny and untarnished.
So if we have the ability within ourselves to tackle our own problems why do we, year after year, invest in the merry go round of New Year promises the gurus make on our behalves? I think it comes down to belief. We have the knowledge, we have the ability. What we want is to put our faith in someone other than ourselves because we know ourselves only too well, right? We want to believe in the New Year Salesperson’s spiel because if we follow what they say to the letter we won’t fail this time. We won’t be the person we were before, the one who tripped and fell, the vulnerable one, the one who started with the best of intentions but faltered when things got hard. This time we’ll be a better version of ourselves, a new version.
If you want to be thinner, fitter, happier and healthier in 2017 I wish you all the best. They are worthy goals. But I think the best gift you can yourselves for the New Year is to promise yourself you will try to be fearless. I don’t mean reckless. I mean fearless.