Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Love

love haiku

I have known friendship love, parental love, romantic love, family love and unrequited love in my life time, but the only love that made a difference was self-love. You don’t need confirmation from the world or another person that you matter. You simply do matter. When you finally believe that truth and live it then you can do amazing things with your life! Shannon L. Adler

Love; has there been a more talked, written, sung, danced, painted or drawn about subject in the history of mankind? Love is the most celebrated emotion of all. But what is love? In 2012, that question was the most popular search on Google; the Guardian article attempts to answer it by offering viewpoints from the fields of science, psychotherapy, philosophy, literature and religion. Love consists of all of those perspectives, combined, and, I suspect, a whole lot more besides.

C.S. Lewis identified four categories of love; in The Four Loves he writes about how three of them, Affection, Friendship and Eros all materialise easily in human beings. Charity, the fourth, was, for Lewis, divine, and he believed it is necessary for us to cultivate Charity in order to temper the other three loves and prevent them from becoming warped and even harmful.

The necessity for, and existence of, women’s refuges worldwide (not forgetting that men are also victims of domestic abuse) suggests that Lewis was right to highlight the need to expand our capacity to love. He wrote about the difference between ‘need’ love and ‘gift’ love; it’s hard to describe the type of relationship which results in one partner being on the receiving end of violence as bountiful. Indeed, Lewis states: Need-love says of a woman ‘I cannot live without her’; Gift-love longs to give her happiness, comfort, protection – if possible, wealth.

A Course in Miracles says that what isn’t love is always fear; in other words, at any given time, we are either expressing love, or crying out for healing and help. If you look closely at all situations you will find that to be true. For example, when an abusive partner behaves aggressively, dig deep beneath the bullying and you will find that fear is at its root. Of course, this doesn’t excuse or even justify cruel behaviour; it does, however, explain it. To quote Rainer Maria Rilke: Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

What might transpire, I wonder, if when we were confronted by fear-fuelled expressions we were able to respond with love and compassion? This doesn’t mean we allow people to mistreat us, rather we pause before reacting impulsively when our ‘buttons’ are pushed; after all, we only snap when faced with opposition if our own fragile egos are prodded.

Psychotherapist Philippa Perry, who features in the Guardian article mentioned above, says that: in order to care for others you need to be able to care about yourself. She refers to the Ancient Greek concept of Philautia, or self-love, which is the opposite of selfishness. Philippa’s claim that we can’t truly love another before we can love ourselves has been disputed; what is beyond doubt, however, is that there can never be too much heartfelt love awarded to both ourselves and our fellow human beings.

Reflecting on the fact that I put up with a string of increasingly abusive relationships eventually made it abundantly clear to me that, for whatever reason, self-love was lacking in my life. The consequences of this were so destructive I count myself lucky that I’m here to tell the tale. I can relate to Brene Brown’s statement: I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.

What it comes down to is this: we all deserve to be here and to have the best. Our essence is love; it’s what we are at our core. But when you’re as low as it’s possible for a human being to go, how do you find a way to keep going? My love for my son gave me the will to persevere; I’m not sure if I’d have had the strength to carry on if it wasn’t for him. I’ve called him my saviour on many occasions. And now I know that I was worthy of love all along, for my own sake, not just my son’s, I’m keen to encourage the downtrodden to bounce back.

Have you ever granted yourself the love that you’ve desired from (or given to) someone else?

Try following Amy Leigh Mercree’s advice: Being present to yourself in love and with kindness is the ultimate gift… Celebrate who you are in your deepest heart. Love yourself and the world will love you.

If we could all love ourselves the world would be transformed; how amazing would that be?

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Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Lifelong Learning

lifelong learning haiku

There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning. Jiddu Krishnamurti

I’m a big fan of lifelong learning, and not just because I have a PGCE in the sector. I’m convinced that a desire to learn has contributed to me overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges and developing as a person; lifelong learning has considerably enriched my life.

Jeff Cobb has outlined 5 key benefits of lifelong learning:

  1. Economic: the saying is that the more you learn, the more you earn.
  2. Intellectual: not exclusively academic; for example, creativity is nourished.
  3. Cognitive: keeping the brain stimulated is said to ward off senility.
  4. Social: brings us into contact with others; social connections have been shown to increase not only our happiness, but also our lifespan.
  5. Spiritual: as in nurturing the spirit, increasing zest for life.

I’ve discovered Jeff’s findings to be true. Willingness to learn has opened my mind to the extent that I am inexhaustibly curious about our world and its inhabitants, attesting to Philo of Alexandria’s axiom that: Learning is by nature curiosity. I can honestly say that I’m never bored.

Where are you on the disinterested – engaged with life spectrum?

Henry Ford said that: Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. It could be argued I’m living proof that; people tell me I don’t look my age, and I’m sure it’s as much to do with an interest in the world as it is good genes. Fascination with life keeps my spirits up and my outlook cheerful.

Is your attitude to life one of apathy or playfulness?

I have to acknowledge that I have learned the most from my mistakes; I could be said to embody Richard Bach’s assertion that: There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go. Would I have undergone the essential personal transformation I have were it not for my gargantuan mistake? I doubt it would have happened in the way it did; there was only one way to make sense of my experience, and that was to learn – fast.

What have you learned from your slip-ups?

Walt Whitman asked: Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you and disputed passage with you? I can’t deny that the person whose actions led to my steepest, and most influential, learning curve was the perpetrator of violence against me. Having said that, there have been caring human beings without whose teaching I would not be in the position I am today.

Who have you learned the most from?

A hunger for learning, including learning what I am passionate about, has enabled me to make the most of my abilities. I sometimes wonder how my life would have turned out had I not blundered in the ways I have; would I still be trapped in the thorny, ensnaring briar of the immature ego? I’m not entirely sure I’d choose to endure such heartbreak to attain my hard-won wisdom, although I wouldn’t be anyone other than who I now am.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross sums it up well: Learning lessons is a little like reaching maturity. You’re not suddenly more happy, wealthy, or powerful, but you understand the world around you better, and you’re at peace with yourself. Learning life’s lessons is not about making your life perfect, but about seeing life as it was meant to be

Learning from my experiences has given me insight and helped me to find meaning in my life. It has made me resilient; I’m able to remain calm in a crisis and face life head on, no matter what.

Lifelong learning has improved the quality of my life and my life satisfaction.

I concur with Louise Hay’s opinion that: The gateways to wisdom and learning are always open, and more and more I am choosing to walk through them. Barriers, blocks, obstacles, and problems are personal teachers giving me the opportunity to move out of the past and into the Totality of Possibilities.

When I do this, possibilities do appear unlimited; it’s a fortunate place to be. Care to join me?

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Letting Go

letting go haiku

Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it. Ann Landers

One of the biggest misconceptions we live under is that we are in charge; realistically, the only things in life we have control over are our own standards, habits and behaviour. This is why it is necessary to be able to allow life to be as it is, responding to it as necessary.

In The Language of Letting Go, Melody Beatty says: Yes, it’s important to acknowledge and accept what we want to happen. But it’s equally important to follow through by letting go. What Melody is saying is that if there’s something we truly desire, like a new job, for example, we do what we can to secure the position; complete the application to the best of our ability, prepare as well as we can for an interview, but then leave it at that. What is the point in stressing over the rest of the process, which you can do nothing to influence?

Letting go as it relates to other Essential Principles… includes the following:

  • If you wish to let go of insecurity and create balance in your psyche, then it’s advisable to practice acceptance, which means letting go of denial and resistance. Self-acceptance means that you can let go of others’ opinions of you.
  • Eliminating distractions leads to increased attention on what really matters.
  • Changing your attitude can remove you from the drama triangle that keeps you stuck in lies, shame and unhealthy secrecy.
  • Deciding you want to kiss goodbye to ignorance promotes greater awareness.
  • Washing your hands of limiting, unhelpful beliefs is a must if you want to get anywhere near fulfilling your potential.
  • Each exhalation of breath is a form of letting go in itself.
  • By practicing compassion you let go of criticism and judgement, including self-criticism and self-judgement.
  • Consciousness evolves when you can recognise and discard cognitive distortions, replacing fear-based consciousness with freedom-based consciousness.
  • To encourage creativity and imagination it is necessary to banish preconceptions and open yourself to the wonder of life.
  • Cultivating curiosity helps us to expel disinterest, boredom, even.
  • Practicing detachment gives us less to let go of; it’s the difference between going through life with pockets full of boulders, ankle weights and over-filled rucksacks on our backs, or being unencumbered by unnecessary burdens.
  • Using divination tools is inspiring; taking action on the wisdom they provide enables us to rid ourselves of limitations.
  • Developing emotional intelligence helps us to let go of the neurotic ego. When the ego is no longer running the show, we are empowered .
  • If you want to evolve it is necessary to outlaw perfectionism and arrogance.
  • Dropping bitterness and resentment helps us to achieve forgiveness.
  • When we let go of who we are based on who we think others expect us to be, we gain freedom.
  • Kicking a sense of entitlement into touch fosters gratitude.
  • We develop honesty when we are able to let go of denial and artifice.
  • Humour is achieved by waving goodbye to heaviness and self-righteousness.
  • Intuition flowers when we shoo away rigidity and limited thinking.
  • Journalling, done in the right way, is letting go.
  • When we let go of blame and self-reproach we allow joy and kindness to find expression in our being.
  • If you want to know know yourself, it is necessary to ditch the conditioning that was inflicted on you when you were at your most impressionable.

In all of these instances, there’s no loss as a result of letting go, there’s only gain. Attachment – to people, to things, to outcomes – is, as Buddhist thought observes, a recipe for suffering. Clinging doesn’t make things better; it just makes your arms, hands and fingers ache.

The biggest obstacle to letting go is the neurotic/unhealthy/fragile ego, which wants to be in total control. This is because the ego finds it difficult to trust. Engaging with Essential Principles… and doing the inner work necessary to heal the wounded ego makes it easier to let go of that which you have no say over.

You might just find that if you learn how to let go and trust that life will bring you exactly what you need, and circumstances will work out in your favour.

Mary Manin Morrissey tells us: Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brakes. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear. Refuse to entertain your old pain. The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life. What is it you would let go of today?

I’m letting go of anything that doesn’t serve me. How about you?

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Know Yourself

know yourself haiku

I found power in accepting the truth of who I am. It may not be a truth that others can accept, but I cannot live any other way. Alison Goodman

Why know yourself?

Because wouldn’t you rather be your own best friend than your own worst enemy? Not only that, the healthier your relationship with yourself, the healthier your relationships with others.

When I think of the people I know whose lives are more melodramatic than a soap opera, it’s safe to assume that they’re missing an inner connection. For example, I know of a guy who goes from one failed relationship to another, always being taken for a ride; he constantly bemoans the fact that women take advantage of him. Never does he stop to consider that he’s the common denominator in this repetitive cycle.

Then there’s a colleague’s (adult) daughter who complains about everybody she comes into contact with. Can it be that everyone in this young woman’s life has a problem, or does she need to look in the mirror?

I don’t know either of these people very well, but what I do know is that their inability to form and maintain good relationships tells me they could benefit from doing some personal development work.

If you can’t acknowledge yourself in your entirety, the good as well as the supposedly bad, then you project what you reject in yourself onto others; it stands to reason that these relationships are then going to suffer. Or as Steve Maraboli suggests: A lot of the conflict you have in your life exists simply because you’re not living in alignment; you’re not being true to yourself.

It’s empowering to know and accept your whole self. When you know who and what you are, you can make decisions based on what is right for you, rather than letting external influences dictate your life.

There are memes currently circulating social media, pictures of Audrey Hepburn or Princess Diana, bearing the caption: In a world full of Kardashians, be an Audrey/Diana. A relative of mine posted one on Facebook and I had to comment: Better still, why not be yourself?

In The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, Debbie Ford discusses how we cover our inner treasure with masks that protect us as we face the people who challenge us daily. Wanting to appear a certain way, perhaps because we fear being judged, we deny our true self; in the process creating a false self that we believe is a better representation of us. That false self is the fragile ego, described by Sogyal Rinpoche in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying as:

…our false and ignorantly assumed identity. So ego, then, is the absence of true knowledge of who we really are, together with its result: a doomed clutching on, at all costs, to a cobbled together and makeshift image of ourselves, an inevitably chameleon charlatan self that that keeps changing and has to, to keep alive the fiction of its existence.

In The Book of Life, Jiddu Krishnamurti points out how self-knowledge can transform the self and, in turn, transform the world. This transformation can only occur, however, if we agree to see ourselves as we are, rather than who we would prefer to be. This means acknowledging and integrating our ‘shadow’ sides (aka the fragile ego), which isn’t as difficult as it sounds (if I can do it, anyone can).

One way of developing self-knowledge is to look at the stories you tell about yourself. Taking responsibility for the story of your life enables you to be the writer, director and star in your own life story. It can be hard work, but it can also be fun and is ultimately satisfying.

C. Joybell C. suggests examining what you’re afraid of: to know yourself, look at your fears. Fear in itself is not important, but fear stands there and points you in the direction of things that are important. Don’t be afraid of your fears, they’re not there to scare you; they’re there to let you know that something is worth it.

One way of examining your fears is to journal about them.

And an exercise to consider is this: think about someone who irritates you. What, specifically, is it about that person that gets up your nose? Say, for example, you can’t stand your mother-in-law’s gossiping; could it be that you, too, like to talk about other people, or are you over-identified with being the strong, silent type? Or does the fact that your brother is a notorious womaniser push your buttons? Is it because you secretly wish you could be as desirable to the opposite (or same) sex, or are you over-identified with being ‘good’?

Where do you think your judgements come from? Can you recall hearing a parent, or other significant adult in your upbringing, criticise the behaviours you find abhorrent?

In facing my own shadow, I discovered that who I am is okay. Along with C. Joybell C., I now find that: I don’t fit into any stereotypes. And I like myself that way.

Can you say the same?

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Kindness

kindness haiku

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind. Henry James

Kindness costs nothing – how often do we hear that? That’s because it’s true. So there’s no reason to be stingy with it; on the contrary, we could try doing all we can to create a lot more kindness in the world.

Plato said: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle. Does considering others’ lives from that perspective make you feel more kindly disposed towards them?

Could it be that kindness starts with you? I’m not sure; I know people who are quite self-critical yet who are capable of showing the utmost kindness to others.

Is it about feeling deserving of kindness, then? And if you don’t believe that you deserve kindness, can you wholeheartedly believe that anyone else does?

Are you kind to yourself? Or do you berate yourself for all of your shortcomings? How is that working out for you?

I wasn’t kind to myself after making a mistake that had catastrophic consequences; I mentally and emotionally beat myself up until I became physically ill. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that being hard on myself (understatement) for years, for what boiled down to fallible human behaviour, caused my immune system to start attacking the healthy tissue in my body.

It was counsellor number three who told me I had to start cutting myself some slack, but although intellectually I understood what she meant, emotionally I was unable to practice what she preached. The self-hatred continued, with debilitating consequences. It took another couple of years and a CBT therapist’s intervention to get me to even begin to consider stopping punishing myself for having been misled by a psychopath. And I still had a lot of resistance; the idea of affording myself compassion made me squirm.

(N.B. You don’t have to be suffering from PTSD to struggle with self-care and kindness; it’s more common than you’d think)

An exercise (devised by psychologist Deborah A. Lee) given to me by my therapist involved creating my ‘perfect nurturer’. A perfect nurturer can be an actual person or an invented character; the important thing is that they accept you, flaws and all, and can be called upon whenever needed to soothe and support you. The details of your perfect nurturer are less important than their ability to make you feel cared for – nurtured.

I eventually managed to dream up a suitable character – a fairy godmother based loosely on Daphne Fowler from the BBC2 quiz programme, Eggheads. My ‘Daphne’ ‘had my back’, and I gradually internalised that sense of having a nurturing relationship which enabled me to treat myself with kindness rather than hostility. Only then was I able to address the reality that I’d gone to extreme lengths to isolate myself.

The human race is interdependent; in The Compassionate Mind, Paul Gilbert reminds us that:

…we have to recognise something very fundamental about ourselves – we are a species that has evolved to thrive on kindness and compassion. The challenge here is to recognise the importance of kindness and affection and place them at the centre of our relationship with ourselves, with others and with the world. So ask yourself: Have you really put warmth, gentleness, kindness, support and compassion at the centre of how you relate to yourself and the way in which you try to help yourself through life’s tragedies? Have you put those qualities at the centre of your relationships with others, even people you don’t like very much?

Another way to foster compassion for self and others is to learn the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness, the essence of which is:

Even as a mother protects with her life.

Her child, her only child.

So with a boundless heart.

Should one cherish all living beings.

Radiating kindness over the entire world:

Spreading upwards to the skies,

And downwards to the depths.

An article on mindful.org suggests 18 science-based reasons to practice loving-kindness and includes a short loving-kindness meditation. If you are unable to wish the best for your adversaries, then it is possible that there is something in your psyche that needs to heal.

There seems to be a trend to promote kindness worldwide. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation wants to make 2016 the year of kindness; there is also Kindspring, a global movement for kindness. Both of these websites contain stories of kind acts carried out by people all over the earth, as well as ideas about how you can spread more kindness in the world.

Seneca said: Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.

What are you waiting for?

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Joy

joy haiku ii

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers. Rabindranath Tagore

How often do you experience joy? I’m talking here about profound delight at the sheer bliss of just being alive; it originates at your very core, in your essence, rising gleefully throughout your being and cascading around you like the Angel Falls.

Joy has obvious links to gratitude and humour; an ungrateful heart can’t possibly know joy. And if you never feel joy you’re missing out. No artificial high can match it, and yes, I do know what I’m talking about. It is also impossible to feel joy if you’ve blocked other emotions; unless you’re prepared to experience sadness, you’re not going to be able to feel joy. Consider Rumi’s poetic words:

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.

There’s so much doom and gloom in the world and it’s depressing to see headlines every day warning of terrorist attacks, killer viruses and Donald Trump’s political success. It seems to me that much of what we see in the media focuses on the negative aspects of life and a constant diet of desolation is enough to get you down. I know of people who watch and listen to the news repeatedly throughout the day; they’re continually absorbing pessimism then wonder why they’re weary of life.

Sorrow can’t prepare you for joy unless it is fully accepted and borne. So rather than distract yourself with all of the suffering in the world around you, try addressing your own causes of unhappiness, lessening your burdens in the process.

In End the Struggle and Dance with Life: How to Build Yourself Up When the World Gets You Down, Susan Jeffers devotes an entire chapter to lightening up with laughter and joy. She refers to what Jungian analyst Robert Johnson calls Dionysian energy… the power of life that flows through all of us and unites us with heaven and earth; this life-force energy is the essence of who we are, and can thus be experienced by us all.

Johnson has suggested that when our inherent joy is blocked, we seek to fill the resulting emptiness with addictive behaviours. Our society certainly has a problem with over-consumption; what if a connection with our intrinsic capacity for joy is all we need to rid ourselves of any compulsion to fill our inner void by incessantly purchasing material goods? This wouldn’t just be good for us as human beings; it would also benefit the planet that sustains us.

Susan’s suggestions for lightening up and opening the way for joy to flow include, unsurprisingly, smiling as often as possible and learning how to develop a full belly laugh. Both of these can be faked until they become real – try it and see if you can give credence to Thich Nhat Hahn’s assertion that Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.

Susan also advises celebrating our successes in life, big or small, whatever they may be, rather than unthinkingly rushing from one life event to the next. We can choose to feel joyous, according to Susan, and I’ve found this to be true. Joy can be found in the most mundane activities; being fully engaged in whatever you’re doing can make cooking a meal, or even washing the dishes afterwards, a joyous undertaking.

In Freeing the Spirit, Steve Nobel states that:

…joy needs to be cultivated, for it grows in the fertile soil of trust, self-love and a sense of freedom. Joy comes from choices that support such a state no matter what choices other people are making in their lives… Opening to and expressing inner potential leads to joy… Growing with joy means that life can become an exciting adventure rather than a daily slog. Doesn’t that sound more appealing?

It does to me; how about you?

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Journalling

journalling haiku

Journal writing is a voyage to the interior. Christina Baldwin

I’ve written about journalling, specifically about how I started with ‘morning pages’ as advocated by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, in a previous post on self-care; it is one of the most self-caring practices I do, and I don’t envisage myself ever stopping. I seldom start my morning pages in a low mood these days, but I used to, and, nine times out of ten, by the time I’d finished my three sides of uncensored longhand writing I felt much brighter.

I wish I’d started journalling years ago; so many forgotten memories I could have recorded. The journals I started thirteen years ago, however, have proved invaluable in writing my first memoir; I look forward to mining subsequent chronicles for parts two and three of my Transforming Trauma to Tranquillity trilogy (now there’s a bit of a tongue-twister!). I’ve documented my odyssey from quivering, traumatised wreck to resilient, spirited wise-woman.

In the years since I began this most fulfilling practice, I’ve moved from venting my frustrations at the injustices I endured, through trying to make sense of the bizarre circumstances of my life, to discovering who I am by going on an inner exploration. Ultimately, journalling has helped me to heal, to grow, and to integrate the ‘shadow’ parts of myself that waged war within my psyche and stopped me from not just living my best life, but from living, period.

What has made journalling such a transformative practice for me, I believe, has been a desire to transcend my limitations and achieve the growth potential, available to all human beings, as proposed by Abraham Maslow and, later, Carl Rogers. Without this desire, I suspect my practice may have crumpled into the kind of rumination that inhibits rather than liberates.

Using prompts enhances journalling practice, helping you to travel deeper into your psyche and ensure that what needs to be brought to light isn’t left behind. Anything can be used as a journal prompt; including:

  • Questions; for example, what is it that I really, really want from my life? Write your question at the top of the page then answer it using stream-of-consciousness writing until you’ve said all you have to say.
  • Divination; using Tarot, I-Ching or Runes, examining the interpretations in depth to glean what you can from them. I have also used bibliomancy in this way, opening a suitable book arbitrarily, analysing what is presented to me. I’ve even randomly opened a dictionary, stabbing with my finger, eyes closed, choosing a word to contemplate, usually with serendipitous results.
  • Third-person journalling; this can be used to good effect to gain an alternative perspective on a given situation (as, no doubt, does writing in the second-person, which I haven’t tried but will now I’ve reminded myself of it).

Is it obvious that I get enormous pleasure from journalling?  It can, by turns, be fun, revitalising, soothing, confidence-boosting and motivating – sometimes all at the same time. The potential gains available through keeping a journal are myriad; a Google search brings up hundreds of thousands of pages on the benefits. You can find 100 reasons to start journalling right here.

My favourite journalling website belongs to Amber Lea Starfire; it contains a wealth of information, including many prompts that I have used for clarification and enlightenment, confirming for myself Pat Conroy’s assertion that: writing is the only way I have to explain my own life to myself.

Journalling doesn’t have to be a written activity – you can sketch, doodle or collage if writing isn’t your thing. Or you can try creative journalling – using combinations of any or all of these methods.

As with all of my Essential Principles… you really don’t have to take my word for it. A good quality, A4 notepad can be cheaply purchased, as can a biro. Then all you need to do is set aside forty-five minutes and let rip (some people prefer to use technology to journal; if that appeals to you then go for it). If you get a sixteenth of the satisfaction I get from journalling you’ll be more than happy. You have nothing to lose but negativity and stress. What you have to gain can be summed up by Robin Sharma:

Writing in a journal reminds you of your goals and of your learning in life. It offers a place where you can hold a deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself… The starting point of discovering who you are, your gifts, your talents, your dreams, is being comfortable with yourself. Spend time alone. Write in a journal.

Write on!

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Intuition.

intuition haiku

Intuition is an essential part of the whole experience of living. Although it will not help predict the future or how people will behave, using intuition as a guide makes life more rewarding. It helps you follow what seems to be the right path, even when social convention or common sense appears to tell differently. Sylvia Clare

I’ve written previously about the importance of intuition. Sadly, our natural intuitive capacity is usually ‘educated’ out of us. Learning to open up to your intuition facilitates personal and spiritual development, creating the ability to tap into an infinite supply of wisdom. Your intuition can guide you to your highest potential; it is a direct line to your essence.

In order to access your intuition it is necessary to tune into your body; intuition is not located in your head, no matter how sophisticated a computer the brain is. Over-thinking smothers your intuition; it’s possible to be too much ‘in your head’, caught up in runaway thoughts that are driving you to distraction.

There are various methods of ensuring that energy is flowing freely around the head and the body – dancing, walking and having a massage are three. One of my favourite ways, however, to reconnect my mind and senses is to listen to this (free) Yoga Nidra audio which promotes deep relaxation. Regularly taking time to link body and mind supports the development of intuitive capability, as I have found to my benefit.

My intuition has become a trusted ally; it often appears as an unmistakable drive to take action. For example, after a recommendation on Facebook (thanks, Jen Andersson!), I knew I had to take part in the Sark e Media 30 Day Blogging Challenge, even though I hadn’t posted on my blog since April 2015 (and I struggled to post once a week when I started it, let alone once a day). It has turned out to be a fortuitous decision for a number of reasons, not least that I’ve surpassed my expectations about whether or not I would meet the challenge.

You have to practice patience when fine-tuning your intuitive capacity. It takes time for intuition to become clear if you’re not accustomed to paying it attention, especially when you have a strong inner critic, aka the neurotic ego, shouting it down. It’s best to start small – trusting your gut feeling on less important matters, such as the route to take on a particular journey (I’ve avoided traffic jams through listening to my intuition and ended up in them when I haven’t! Don’t ask me how it works, I can’t tell you. I just know that it does). Then, when you’re accustomed to how your intuition shows up for you, you can try using it to help you make more significant decisions.

A meditation to help you tune into your intuition is this: sitting or lying down in a comfortable position, close your eyes. Breathe slowly and deeply for a few moments, until you start to feel relaxed. Feel your body releasing tension with each exhale. Then, with each inhale, let your awareness travel deep inside your body. Imagine your awareness moving ever deeper until it comes to rest in a place just behind your navel. Know that you have come to a place where you can connect with your own infallible truth and understanding. Spend some time breathing into this area, familiarising yourself with the tranquillity there.

As you relax, notice any sensations, thoughts, feelings or images that come to you, either in general or in response to a specific question you might have. Just notice what appears, without trying to interpret anything. Don’t fret if not much happens for the first few times you practice this meditation; regular use will improve your communication with your intuition. It also helps to check-in with yourself frequently throughout the day to hone your ability to hear what your intuition wants you to know.

Acting step-by-step on intuitive prompts, I’ve found, leads to feelings of greater vitality and accomplishment. I couldn’t agree more with with Sylvia Clare’s assertion:

Intuition means exactly what it sounds like, in-tuition! An inner tutor, or teaching and learning mechanism, that takes us forward daily. It is a resource that, where recognised, has infinite potential… Open your thoughts to the probability that you are more intuitive than you realise.

How far do you want to go?

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Imagination

imagination haiku

I believe in intuition and inspiration. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. Albert Einstein

In 2012 I entered the Reader’s Digest/Chambers: Britain’s Best Loved Word Competition, winning a runner-up prize for my piece on the word ‘imagine’; this is an edited version of my entry:

‘Imagine’. Is there a richer, more creative word in the English language? Look inside it and discover an infinite realm, where any and all possibilities exist in every dimension; limitless potential that enables humans to exercise their capacity to conceive awe-inspiring works of art, or make astounding scientific breakthroughs. Imagination encompasses both reality and fantasy; it has facilitated the achievement of incredible feats. Einstein was inspired, and gained insights, not from logical thinking, but from his intuition and imagination.

‘Imagine’, however, has its downside; its misapplication has caused certain individuals to perform unspeakable acts of cruelty.

 Imagination is a power available to everyone on earth; nourished appropriately, it is a force for good.

We all use our imagination, not always to best effect. I’ve known people who summoned pictures of their worst-case scenario when, for example, a loved one has been late home.

On other occasions, I have had individuals say to me ‘I’m hopeless at imagining’. My response is along the lines of ‘Think of a busy High Street on a Saturday morning. What do you see?’ Anyone can conjure up an idea or a mental picture; that’s imagination in action.

Try this: sit in a comfortable position and get quiet. Breathe gently for a few moments and let your mind settle. Imagine you’re a place – what do you picture in your mind’s eye? When I first tried this exercise I imagined a vibrant, landscaped garden full of amazing plants and trees. Then it occurred to me that I’d rather be somewhere a little wilder – a remote, unspoilt, windswept beach of golden sand, backed by cliffs and mysterious caves, washed over by sparkling, effervescent waves.

In imagination, we have an incredible power at our disposal. Image streaming is a technique that helps to develop creative thinking; it can be used to access the unconscious, where there are answers to questions we didn’t even know we had.

When we image-stream, we bring myriad sensory projections into our consciousness; we can reflect on these projections, which are often symbolic, to decipher their meaning for us. Don’t discount any sensations or images that come to mind during the process; the smallest detail could be significant in providing a solution to a problem.

Maria Montessori said that: Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create. Those who use their vision to hurt, to destroy, then, can’t be said to possess a great imagination. It’s fair to assume that anyone using their imaginative faculty for malignant purposes is under the influence of a neurotic/wounded/fragile ego, that is, they’re motivated by fear.

At its best, imagination allows your essence full expression.

Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions. Einstein, here, could be describing the process of creative visualisation. I’m not going to tell you that you can simply imagine material things into being. But you can take the time to picture your ideal life, in as much detail as you can envisage, and write down your vision.

What can you see in your picture? Who is with you? What are you doing, and where are you doing it? Make sure you include how you feel, what you can taste and smell. Contemplate this image of your desired life, really imagine inhabiting it; sense how that feels. Bring this evocation frequently into your awareness.

After you complete this exercise, pay particular attention to any hunches you get, or actions you’re prompted to take – not just immediately but in the days following. Can you put them into practice? Small, consistent actions over time create momentum and results; in this way you are working towards creating your ideal life. For as J.K. Rowling suggests:

We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

Imagine that!

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Humour

humour haiku

I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person. Audrey Hepburn

When was the last time you laughed – I mean really laughed, until your ribcage and cheeks hurt?

To paraphrase the stickers/plaques found in many a workplace; it’s not essential to have a sense of humour to enjoy life… actually, it is. I agree with Roger Moore: If you don’t have humour, then you may as well nail the coffin lid down now.

I’ve always enjoyed a good chortle – who doesn’t? The day my son first smiled (properly) at me, I resolved to make him laugh every day, a custom I’ve more or less kept going for twenty-one years. It has made our relationship all the more special (even if he thinks I’m ever so slightly eccentric).

Laughter is the best medicine – I know that it helped me to recover from trauma. Looking for humour wherever I could find it, be that in books, on television, being daft with family and friends, I was able to bear the fallout that followed the most hideous ordeal of my life.

Even during the six weeks that I was a missing person, unsure whether or not I would ever see my family, or another day, again, there were the occasional lighter moments (relatively speaking), proving Jorge Garcia’s claim that: Mixing humour and harsh reality is a very human behaviour, it’s the way people stay sane in their daily lives. Or does it exemplify a line from Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch: We who think we’re about to die will laugh at anything?

It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that a number of health benefits are associated with having a good laugh:

  • Physical: boosting your immune system; decreasing stress hormones; reducing pain; relaxing muscles; staving off heart disease.
  • Mental: relieving anxiety and fear; reducing stress; improving resilience; lightening mood; cultivating vitality.
  • Social: making us more attractive; helping to dissolve conflict; improving relationships; supporting teamwork and group bonding.

Looking back over my life, the people I recall with the most fondness are the ones who always brought a smile to my face.

The physical act of smiling, even when you haven’t got anything in particular to smile about, has the psychological effect of lifting your spirits – try it and see.

There was a verse in the window of the reception area of my son’s primary school which I’ve never forgotten:

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I always smile back if someone smiles at me. Although I have to say that smiling isn’t as infectious as the verse insists; on a number of occasions I’ve smiled at strangers in the street and received a blank stare in response. Some people have no sense of humour! Or should that be some people have an ego problem? If you can’t laugh at yourself then your ego is more than likely a little over-sensitive, if not downright neurotic. The remedy for this is to undertake the work necessary to heal your psyche.

I don’t find the kind of humour that makes fun of people particularly amusing. To me that’s a sign of the comedian’s own ego problem; needing to get a laugh at someone’s expense. It can be cruel and it’s certainly unnecessary. A comic like Peter Kay is an example of an entertainer who is essentially, inherently, funny. His brilliant observations playfully highlight people’s idiosyncrasies, as well as the absurdities of life itself; there’s no attempt to humiliate anyone.

Being able to find the humour in situations helps you to keep a balanced perspective. I’m not sure I’d be where I am now if it weren’t for my sense of humour. Rufus Wainwright has said: There’s no life without humour. It can make the wonderful moments of life truly glorious, and it can make tragic moments bearable.

Can you see the funny side?