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

creativity haiku

But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint of clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career. Madeleine L’Engle

Many is the time I’ve heard someone say ‘I’m not the least bit creative’. My response is ‘Bunkum!’ Folk may not care to admit it to themselves but everybody is creative to some degree or another. We can’t all be Mailer, Michelangelo or Mozart, however we can decide that we are going to let our own unique creative force find expression, whether that be through cooking, dancing, singing, gardening… Any activity, performed in the right spirit, can be carried out creatively.

The idea flow from the human spirit is absolutely unlimited. All you have to do is tap into that well. I don’t like to use the word efficiency. It’s creativity. It’s a belief that every person counts. Jack Welch. And there’s the rub – believing that you matter.

Of course you count; without your presence the world is missing a thread of its tapestry. You are unique, a one-off, never to be repeated; your life is an ongoing creation. Your life is a story – be that a soap-opera style melodrama, full of histrionics and repetitive cycles, or a heroic tale of growth, following a narrative arc that leads to fulfilment of potential. Are you creating your life from your constricted, uninspired ego, or from your expansive, imaginative essence?

Beatrix Potter said that she was glad she wasn’t sent to school as it would have robbed her of some of her originality. If you have never watched young children at play, Channel 4’s series, The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds, shows how resourceful and inventive children can be; they create spontaneously and joyfully. How different, I wonder, could the future be if, as well as being instructed in the three ‘Rs’ and tested to the limits of their endurance, children’s fertile imaginations were nourished and they were encouraged to develop their creativity all the way through school?

Would an individual whose creative impulses have been nurtured grow up needing to use their energy to destroy? Does a person whose essence is smothered inside an ego entangled in barbed wire believe that they count?

Our power can be used to both creative and destructive ends; think of some of the experiences you have had in your life – would you say they came about as a result of productive or malign influences?

The perpetrator of violence against me was clearly motivated by an impulse to cause devastation. The paradox is that his annihilation of my existence as I knew it (ego) brought about the conditions for me to shape my life anew (start living from my essence). In this way it could be said that the seemingly negative experiences we have foster creativity in our lives; making mistakes, then, incites us to innovate.

Osho says that to be creative it is necessary to reverse our conditioning; In order to build my new and improved life I certainly had to abandon the beliefs that made me an easy target for a dangerous, abusive man.

Somewhere on my personal and spiritual development odyssey I came across this saying: Creation heals destruction. Engaging in creative pursuits has been instrumental in my recovery from trauma – from creative writing to collaging to cooking – and more besides. I strive to embody creativity in everything I do, proving Deepak Chopra’s adage: What keeps life fascinating is the constant creativity of the soul.

Are you delighted by life? You can be, if that’s what you desire.

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

consciousness haiku

The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness. Lao Tzu

Consciousness, says Wikipedia, is the state or quality [my italics] of awareness, or, of being aware of an external object or something within oneself.

Consciousness of our physical environment is often restricted by the distractions of 21st century living; cognitive distortions have an impact on our minds and emotions that falsify our perception of the world.

I believe we are at a fork in the road where we have to make a choice between what human rights activist Natan Sharansky calls ‘fear society’ and ‘free society’, each built on opposing qualities of consciousness. Describing her understanding of these states of consciousness, Naomi Wolf suggests that:

  • The consciousness derived of oppression is despairing, fatalistic, and fearful of inquiry. It is mistrustful of the self and forced to trust external authority. It is premised on a dearth of self-respect. It is cramped.
  • In contrast, the consciousness of freedom is one of expansiveness, trust of the self, and hope. It is a consciousness of limitless inquiry. It builds up in a citizen a wealth of self-respect.

Which of the two definitions above would you say best fits the society you live in?

Consider the headlines and lead stories in the mainstream media; do they promote fear or hope? Clearly there are situations in the world that give grave cause for concern, however, accusations have been made that these are presented in a way designed to browbeat the masses. Information circulates on the internet that calls into question the motive and integrity of the moguls who profit from broadcasting alarming stories that, for example, result in fear for some of travelling on public transport with Muslims.

Jung said that:

There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.   

It occurs to me that the more of us that seek enlightenment and bring peace into our beings, the better the chance of bringing peace into the world.

It took a life-shattering event for me to ‘face my own soul’; from what I have heard this is a common occurrence. When you have faced your mortality because of life-threatening illness, or when you’ve endured such extreme trauma that life as you knew it no longer exists, you have nothing to lose; you are prepared to do whatever is necessary  to make sense of your experience, to find meaning (if you want to not just survive but thrive). You have to go inwards; in this way, abnormal experiences can facilitate the elevation of your consciousness.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term ‘flow; being in the zone’, says that control of consciousness determines the quality of life. I can attest to that because pre-involvement with a paranoid schizophrenic with psychotic tendencies my consciousness was, arguably, constricted. I only discovered this, however, as a result of the post-traumatic growth that has definitely seen it expand.

I can’t say that my quest has been undemanding; however it has been ultimately satisfying. I’d even go so far as to challenge Jung’s assertion that bringing your shadow into the light is unpleasant (although the neurotic/wounded/inflated aspects of your ego like to make you squirm!); I’ve had to navigate tricky terrain at times but the consciousness of freedom I have attained, and its attendant self-trust and contentment, has been worth every strenuous step.

Hegel said that the history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom. How our history will be written is in our own hands; it’s up to us to ensure that our essence rather than our ego determines what our legacy will be.

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

compassion haiku

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These… are your greatest treasures. Lao Tzu

Compassion is, indeed, a treasure and a great number of people practice it; but too few, as far as I’m concerned. What would happen, I wonder, if the majority of the seven billion human beings who inhabit this planet were truly compassionate? Is it possible that much of the unnecessary suffering that exists could be eradicated? So much of the horror our fellow human beings endure is as a result of the actions of other humans, so yes, there is plenty that could be done to make the world a better place for many.

Compassion, as with many Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, starts with the self – if you haven’t got self-compassion then how can you have genuine compassion for others? As Gautama Buddha said, If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.

To practice essential compassion, you have to embody the behaviour, not simply hold it as an ideal in your head.

Related to self-acceptance, compassion for yourself can only be found in acknowledgement of and self-forgiveness for the mistakes you have made. It is easier to do this if you are prepared to learn the lessons those mistakes would teach you, in the process aiding the transformation of your neurotic/wounded/inflated ego.

There’s a big difference between self-acceptance or self-compassion, say, and self-absorption. Sometimes it may be necessary to become a little self-absorbed in order to clear out the psychological junk that’s blocking you from living your essential life, and that’s okay; have compassion for yourself while you do this!

To heal from PTSD I had to cultivate compassion for myself; trust me, it was tough. Self-compassion requires vulnerability, and when you’re traumatised, constantly on edge and fearful, allowing yourself to become even the tiniest bit vulnerable takes enormous strength and courage. I was fortunate to have an amazing therapist who showed immense compassion towards me and helped me to open my heart to release the pain I’d resisted admitting to.

Telling Sarah about my experience visibly upset her; her response to my story showed me that it was okay to be angry, to grieve the abuse and torment I’d endured, and to reframe my perception of my experience. Without the process Sarah led me, oh so gently, through, I’d still be in a very sorry state, caught up in a vicious, ceaseless cycle of self-recrimination and guilt.

Conditioning has a lot to do with whether or not you can be compassionate with yourself; my early role models, the females in my family, were, of course, products of their upbringing. I know that both my paternal and maternal grandmothers endured tough times – they lived through a World War, after all – and this undoubtedly hardened their edges. That, coupled with Great British Stoicism, otherwise known as Bottling Everything Up, meant that my own mum was brought up with a need to protect her as-fine-as-bone-china ego in a vault made of carbon steel alloy.

My grandmothers and mum love(d) me; that is unquestionable. Their love, however, was shot through with fear; this manifested, in part, in a desperate need to keep up appearances. Anything that threatened the illusion of the perfect family they wanted the world to see also threatened their sense of identity. This way of being is not compatible with heartfelt compassion and their interactions with their family always lacked any deep nurturing.

I know my family isn’t the only one that operates in this way; I’ve met many women who have experienced domestic abuse and I’ve yet to encounter one who doesn’t have a controlling (fearful) mum. When you consider the impact all of this collective fear has in the wider world, doesn’t it make sense to set an intention to bring more compassion into your life?

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. Dalai Lama

That’s an arresting statement by the Dalai Lama; I think he has a point.

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

breath haiku

Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. Thich Nhat Hanh

How often do you stop to think about your breath, about the function it serves? Typing that sentence makes me take a deep breath!

It’s worth giving some attention to this vital function as the breath can be utilised to improve your life; conscious breathing benefits us on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. Awareness of breath is powerful and can be transformational.

On a physical level, conscious breathing ensures that sufficient oxygen is delivered to all of the cells in your body, helping to optimise its performance. Breath is also the key to relaxation as it is an effective way to quiet the mind; focusing on the breath creates space, allowing you be present in the moment and letting worries drift away. This, in turn, soothes the emotions; healthier and cheaper than any tranquilliser!

On a spiritual level, breath is life-force itself. Let that truth sink in.

Rushing around, getting stressed out and anxious about daily chores can lead to shallow breathing which is detrimental to wellbeing. Turn off your auto-pilot and take a moment now to notice your breathing; is it short and shallow, reaching only as far as your upper chest? Or is it slow and deep, reaching all the way down into your belly?

Something in us is telling us we’re moving too fast, at a pace dictated to by machines rather than by anything human, and that unless we take conscious measures, we’ll permanently be out of breath. Do Pico Iyer’s words ring true for you?

Try breathing slowly and deeply, without trying to force anything. Relax your diaphragm, allowing the air to reach the very bottom of your lungs, using them to their fullest capacity. Noticing the sound and rhythm of each breath, focus on each one moving in and out of your body. Follow the passage of the air through your nose, down your throat and into your belly, filling up your lungs from the belly upwards. Hold the breath for a second, then release from the top of the chest, slowly letting out the air, gently squeezing in your stomach to expel the entire breath. Relax into your breath; with practice it becomes soothing, calming and also revitalising.

Be with your breath, which, as Amit Ray points out is the finest gift of nature. Be grateful for this wonderful gift.

When I was in the clutches of PTSD (although I wasn’t aware I was suffering from it at the time), I’d feel an urge to be still, to just breathe. Writing in my journal, I’d find myself taking deep, sighing breaths which I now understand were my body’s way of letting go of stress. My body knew what it needed to heal.

Years of strain left me exhausted and in chronic pain; furthermore, once I’d had sufficient CBT to release myself from the stranglehold of post-traumatic stress I was left with a legacy of deep-rooted and debilitating anxiety. Breath again came to my rescue – committing to mindfulness practice, and checking regularly throughout the day on my breathing, eventually decreased the constant pain I was in and enabled me to rid myself of the anxiety symptoms, rather than being at their mercy.

Breath is truly remarkable. Consider:

All things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man… the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. Chief Seattle

Breathing is our participation with the cosmic dance. When our breath is in harmony, cosmos nourishes us in every sense. Amit Ray

I don’t know about you but I find both of those ideas amazing, although I also sense their inherent truth.

Make time for your breath and let it gently restore balance to your being, reconnecting you with your essence and promoting a more peaceful, harmonious life.

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

belief haiku

One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying. Joan of Arc

Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, would beg to differ with St Joan’s assertion that you only live once; Plato and Socrates were also said to believe in the reincarnation of an immortal soul. I’m not here to debate the veracity of those beliefs (although I have participated in two past-life regressions, both of which were illuminating. The Roman Catholic nuns who taught me at the Hollies Convent FCJ Grammar in the early seventies would have me branded a heretic!); what I’d like to consider here is how and why we form our beliefs, and what that means to how we live.

There’s no doubt that we all hold beliefs, more often than not inherited from our families, our culture, our societies; we maintain those beliefs to fit in, to belong. Many of our beliefs are so ingrained in us that we feel they are part of who we are; we’re not aware that unconscious, limiting beliefs are directing our lives, often to our detriment. These unhelpful beliefs can be exhumed, exposed for the falsehoods they really are, then extinguished to make space for beneficial beliefs that will support our evolution.

Staying with the topic of religious belief, although it is a complex subject which can’t be adequately examined within the confines of a blog post, I asked my son what he thought about belief, and his immediate response was that it is ‘dangerous’. When I asked him to explain, he gave me the example of ISIL and their perversion of Islam for their own purposes. He could have equally referred to Bible Belt fundamentalist ‘Christians’. Both sets of extremists are intolerant of anyone who opposes their rigid viewpoints; that they inflict violence in the name of what is supposedly holy (‘morally and spiritually excellent and to be revered […] consecrated, sacred’ The Oxford Dictionary of Current English) is considered abhorrent by those who don’t subscribe to either sect’s dogma.

Fervent religious belief comes about, I’d suggest, through indoctrination, which is employed, in my experience, to control rather than to edify. Take, as an example, the Roman Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation: Confession. I can’t have been any older than seven when I was made to prepare for my First Confession; I recall with clarity my confusion at being schooled to disclose my ‘sins’ to the parish priest. I was a bookish, well-behaved child; I hadn’t committed any sins, so I made one up (ironically committing a sin for which I did not seek forgiveness). I went into the confessional and admitted to stealing sweets from a local shop, then dutifully recited the Our Fathers and Hail Marys that would save my soul from the eternal fires of hell. Is it any wonder that I grew up with conflicting attitudes about myself that for so many years left me disempowered, directionless and depressed?

I have no idea what is taught in Catholic schools these days, but I sincerely hope that the approach has progressed since the sixties; why would anyone want to convince a child (or an adult, for that matter) that they are inherently ‘bad’? I long ago abandoned my Catholic conditioning, opening myself to diverse learning that I could assimilate and use to enhance the formation of my own opinions. These days I prefer to define my beliefs, spiritual or otherwise, on what I know to be true based on my own experience and intuition, rather than blindly agreeing with what I am instructed to submit to.

There’s the saying: Don’t believe everything you read in the papers. Despite that, so many people do. Daily I encounter information on the internet that highlights how deceiving the mainstream media can be. Fox News, by all accounts, is a perfect example of ‘yellow’ journalism, its unflinching ignorance providing ample material for satirists in both the U.S. and the U.K.; there are also publications/sources that tell the truth about unimportant matters, then when a significant event needs to be reported they can authoritatively mislead the public. There was a time when the B.B.C. was considered an honourable institution; Operation Yewtree has brought the Beeb’s reputation into disrepute, it can no longer be held up as a paragon of unbiased comment.

A perfect example of the power of belief to accomplish your desires can be found in Bailey Matthews, an eight-year old Yorkshire lad who didn’t let cerebral palsy stop him from completing a triathlon. Bailey’s achievement earned him, deservedly so, a Pride of Britain award and the Helen Rollason Award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony.

To identify your limiting beliefs, try the following:

  • In the present tense, state an outcome you would like to create, for example: I write and publish a novel.
  • Write a list headed ‘Why I can’t achieve my desire’; don’t stop writing until you have emptied your mind of the reasons why you can’t have what you want.
  • Read your negative beliefs; how does your body respond to each one? Is there a strong gut reaction, or does the doubt seem insubstantial now that it’s out of your head and on paper?
  • Question each of those beliefs; how do you know for sure that they are true?
  • Ask yourself, ‘What would I have to believe in order for [your desire] to happen? List some creative beliefs.
  • Take action based on your supportive beliefs. Start as small as you like, just commit to at least one action per day and gradually build momentum.

Formulate beliefs that align with your essence, and create for yourself a more meaningful and fulfilling life. Acting in accordance with enlightened, heartfelt beliefs, rather than destructive, debilitating ones, uplifts your spirit and gives rise to a magical reality.

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

balance haiku

The ingredients of both darkness and light are equally present in all of us,…The madness of this planet is largely a result of the human being’s difficulty in coming to virtuous balance with himself. Elizabeth Gilbert  

We’re often advised to ensure work-life balance. This thought-provoking post by Jacquie Garton-Smith addresses that very subject and contains useful suggestions to help you juggle your priorities in an ever-demanding world.

Outer balance is of less concern to me here, though, than inner balance, which for me is essential, not least because I believe in the maxim As Within, So Without. If our outer world is truly a reflection of our inner world, then it stands to reason that a balanced psyche contributes to a balanced perspective. Maybe it has to be experienced to be believed, but how you are on the inside can definitely affect what you perceive on the outside, as I’ve discovered to both my cost and my benefit.

Ani DiFranco has said: Patriarchy is a fundamental imbalance underlying society. And it’s one we rarely address because it’s so universal. But as I get older, I see that peace is a product of balance.

I can see her point. Women are still grossly under-represented in the political and decision-making spheres; however patriarchy isn’t the only cause of inequality in 21st Century civilisation.

What if the injustices, disparities and prejudices we witness daily all over the world – homelessness, poverty, war etc. – are a reflection of imbalances repressed within the collective unconscious of humanity?

What if, rather than pointing fingers of blame at specific groups who we consider responsible for all that we perceive as wrong in the world, we all turn our attention towards our own thoughts, beliefs and feelings, becoming aware of what we need to attend to within ourselves in order to create a more harmonious existence for everyone?

To achieve this we need also to practice acceptance of the polarities existing within our own psyches, to make peace with what Jung described as our shadow – those unconscious parts of our personality that our neurotic/wounded/inflated egos are reluctant to own because, say, we don’t wish to appear weak in the eyes of ourselves or others.

An example: in one episode of Desperate Fishwives… , Dawn, was at Ampika’s birthday party, a masked ball. (Their relationship epitomises the saying: With friends like these who needs enemies?) Ampika gave all of her ‘friends’ masks which she claimed reflected their personalities; to Dawn she handed a grotesque-looking devil mask and Dawn was distinctly under-impressed. In a scene later on in the programme, Dawn fought back the tears as she said to her husband something along the lines of, ‘I don’t want to appear weak. I’m not weak.’

Dawn is a self-professed ‘control freak’ which explains her need to appear strong. However, sadness is a natural response to what amounted to an attempt by Ampika to humiliate her; Dawn’s wellbeing would have been better served had she vented her sadness and simply cried. Tears shed as a result of painful emotions have been found to contain toxins. If we suppress those tears, we’re holding on to those toxins, which are then presumably deposited in the body; that can’t be healthy. I can’t be the only one who’s felt better after ‘a good cry’.

Does Dawn have to feel in control, I wonder, because she’s psychologically out of balance, albeit subliminally? I’m no stranger myself to that state of being; trauma can do that to the human psyche. Trying to address an unconscious imbalance by attempting to exert power over others, or outer circumstances that are beyond our jurisdiction is like trying to eat soup with a fork.

A wise, respected teacher of mine said: Nobody’s all good, and nobody’s all bad. We all contain both light and dark; insisting otherwise is suggestive of an ego that needs to evolve. Doing the work that helps you to reconcile your inner conflict, to integrate the traits you reject in yourself, is empowering and brings you to a state of harmony.

Committing to Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas can gradually restore your equilibrium and equip you with resilience to rebalance yourself quickly whenever you find yourself overwhelmed by the events of your life.

If sufficient numbers of people attain inner peace, isn’t it possible that it could ripple out to the wider environment? It has to be worth a try.

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

awareness haiku

I’m challenging everybody on every side of every divide to be more who they are, to cultivate their capacity for awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn

I’ve heard it said that awareness is the first rung on the ladder of growth and positive change. Why bother with growth and positive change, you might ask. The answer is that change is unavoidable in life and to welcome it is the path of least resistance. Learning from your experiences helps you to live from your essence. Not only that, reluctance to developing awareness means that you remain in ignorance, in denial; this might seem like a comfortable place to be, but in reality ignorance is not always bliss, it is suffocating.

Let’s put it this way – I’ve never met an unaware person who I could describe as contented. One person who comes to mind, and who claims to live a perfect life, heads for the pub every day after work. Every day. Then spends all day Saturday and Sunday vegetating in front of the television, just staring at the screen, before he showers and heads for … you’ve guessed it – the pub. The same pub. Every day. If that’s his idea of meaningful and fulfilling then fair play to him, but there’s an underlying heaviness to his demeanour that belies his words.

The fitness industry is thriving, and rightly so; you’d have to be living on Uranus to be ignorant of the benefits of keeping physically fit. Yet how many gym-bunnies, I wonder, would run a mile from the awareness that highlights a need for an inner workout? Ditto those who are first in line for the latest iPhone, yet whose eyes would glaze over in bewilderment if you suggested they try an upgrade on a psychological level.

There’s a difference, then, between conscious (inner) and unconscious (outer) awareness, in that conscious awareness is a state that can only be attained by making a certain amount of effort, whereas unconscious awareness tells us that it’s raining outside, or that dinner’s on the table.

Fear can stop an individual from cultivating their capacity for conscious awareness. Fear of what they might find if they scrutinise their life with a view to deepening their understanding of themselves. Socrates is believed to have said that the unexamined life is not worth living; I’m not sure I’d go that far, but to develop conscious awareness it’s necessary to pay attention to what life might be trying to tell you.

An encounter with a paranoid schizophrenic with psychotic tendencies got my attention, that’s for sure. I could have tried to carry on as though nothing had happened when I eventually freed myself from his (physical) clutches. But I instinctively knew that things could never be quite the same again, and so embarked on a psychological odyssey that would lead to transformation on a deep and satisfying level. I moved through various layers of awareness – from a reluctant acknowledgement of what had happened, spinning through the stages of grief; from denial, to anger, back to denial, through depression, to anger, to denial, to bargaining, depression, anger… you get the picture, until, finally, I was able to settle into acceptance.

Through openness combined with a commitment to personal and spiritual development practices; an educational programme run by my local women’s refuge; then counselling, followed by CBT, I gradually scaled (or is it descended?) levels of awareness concerning the reality of my life experiences until I landed not far short of Abraham Maslow’s ‘self actualisation’ pinnacle; I’m not sure you can ever say you’ve reached the summit. Or maybe you can, but if that’s when it’s time to leap from the peak into another plane of existence then I’m not ready to ‘arrive’ any time soon.

What I can say about being willing to go through any temporary discomfort and develop my awareness is that it has empowered me to become more than I ever previously believed possible. And if I can do it, you can, too.

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

attitude haiku

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. Winston Churchill

It’s been said that attitude is everything; which may or may not be true. However, attitude is a choice and it has a lot of impact not only on how you feel about your life, but also about how life will unfold for you.

What is your overall attitude towards life? That it’s something to be endured, struggled through, or that it is a glorious mystery to revel in? Perhaps you alternate between the two; if so, which is your most prevalent reality?

It’s worth taking time to examine your basic attitudes to determine whether or not they are serving you. Nobody expects you to be laughing like a Buddha 100% of the time – we all have off days. The attainment of a Stepford-Wife-meets-Pollyanna-positive-persona is not the aim here. A world full of superficially cheerful human beings is what dystopian nightmares are made of. It’s because we are human that we’re subject to caprice, to experiencing the full range of emotions, to coming up against challenges.

How many of us, I wonder, are trapped inside attitudes that we formed to fit in with our families or peers? I see posts on Facebook that I’m not convinced are true reflections of the attitudes of the people who’ve shared them. It’s as though those people want to be seen in a certain way, which is suggestive of a less-than positive attitude towards themselves.

A predominantly bad attitude, for example an antagonistic, or a patronising, outlook on life, suggests that the person exhibiting it is tangled up in (delete as appropriate) unhealthy/neurotic/inflated/wounded ego-consciousness. This is excusable if you’re a toddler or a teenager, but far from flattering if you’re, say, twenty-five or more.

Although I know what a Kardashian is, I’ve never actually watched Keeping Up with…, from what I’ve seen in the media I think I’d rather lag behind. I confess I’m no stranger to ‘reality’ TV, however, and my guilty pleasure has included watching one or two of the Real Housewives series. As a Brit I was particularly interested in the recent Real Housewives of Cheshire spin-off, but as the series progressed I couldn’t help but refer to it in my mind as the Desperate Fishwives of Cheshire. The two-faced, back-stabbing, egoistic characters have to be witnessed to be believed; forty-plus year-old women displaying attitudes that would embarrass a two year-old, and behaving like delinquents in a reform-school playground. Materially they have everything, and more, you could possibly desire; emotionally and spiritually they’re deprived, verging, even, on the depraved. Are they content with their lot? Their actions scream ‘NOT’; I’d challenge a claim to heartfelt happiness made by any one of them.

Clinging to a bad attitude, I reckon, sets you up for misery, with added misery for good measure. Then you get a sprinkling of extra misery just to keep you stuck in a glutinous, soul-sucking rut. And in case you’re thinking that I’m judging these TV personalities, or anyone else with an attitude problem, let me reassure you that I’m not. I was more than capable of acting up until I was well into my forties. Furthermore, my ‘buttons’ can be pushed now, no matter how much intensive personal and spiritual development I’ve engaged with. What’s different these days is that I recognise when I’ve been ‘triggered’ and can choose my response to whatever situation I find myself in.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. 

You have the inner resources you need to cultivate a supportive attitude, one that’s aligned with your essence and which will enhance your life.

If a prisoner in Auschwitz can demonstrate an admirable attitude, then what’s stopping you?

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

attention haiku

Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager. Susan Sontag

Cultivating attention is an Essential Practice and Panacea as it enables you to fully engage with life:

Picture an audience at a gig; many audience members are entranced – watching, listening and dancing to their favourite band. Others are busy recording the gig on their phones. Who do you think has the more enjoyable experience? Jon Kabat Zinn suggests that the best way to capture moments is to pay attention and I’m inclined to agree with him.

Imagine a parent and child together; the child is immobile, fixated by the colours and sounds emitted by the television (s)he’s watching, while the parent is equally engrossed by whichever social media site (s)he’s logged on to. Or the parent and child are on the floor, playing a game together, each delighting in the others’ company. Whose is the more fulfilling encounter?

Attention is an important ingredient if effective communication is to occur. I can recall many times, as a child, asking my mum questions to which I only got vague, distracted responses. I was aware that she wasn’t really paying me attention, and as an adult I understand that she had problems of her own, not least of which that she was hooked on Valium. The message I got at the time, however, was that I wasn’t worth listening to.

If you want to show anyone, but especially your loved ones, that you care, try giving them your undivided attention. You might be surprised by the satisfaction you get from connecting with that person on a more than superficial level. Not only that, genuine interest in another person is said to make you more attractive. Note – genuine interest! You can’t fake it.

Makia, one of the seven principles of life according to the Hawaiian Huna tradition, states that ‘energy flows where attention goes’. This means, essentially, that what you focus on the most is what you get in life. It makes sense that if you concentrate on making the best of your life then you stand a better chance of accomplishing that.

Is your attention directed towards what’s important, that is, to what you do want, or are you side-tracked by the media and the unrealistic expectations it promotes? This can lead to a focus of attention on what you don’t really want, and/or what isn’t in your best interest.

Sometimes it’s necessary to carry out tasks that don’t particularly interest us (washing up – no, I don’t possess a dishwasher – and ironing are tedious undertakings in my book), but we can learn to pay attention no matter what we’re doing, especially if the chore can be carried out in short bursts of activity. Try this exercise to help you keep your attention where it needs to be.

It’s beneficial to learn to pay attention to what life itself is trying to tell you; you can even ask for a sign. A billboard, an overheard snippet of conversation, a song coming on the radio; these are all examples of how life can give you the right message at the right time. The more you practice this, the more reliable it seems to become.

I wrote a memoir last year and couldn’t help wondering if I should attempt to write a novel. Just before Christmas I asked for a sign to show me whether or not my intuition should be acted on. The same day, seemingly randomly, I came across an article on the internet that gave me my answer. It was an interview with Mitch Albom about pursuing a career in writing. A particular question asked by the interviewer stood out for me:

How do we know when a story is worth telling, or when we’re on to a compelling narrative?

As did Mitch’s reply:

…if it’s a passion to you then it will be for someone else.

That was enough to convince me to ‘follow my bliss’ and my novel is now a work-in-progress.

Where you do – or don’t – place your attention can tell you a lot about yourself and your priorities. Keeping your senses open can lead you down exciting paths that might otherwise remain hidden.

Paying attention, I’d argue, helps you to live from your essence and contributes to a fulfilled and purposeful life.

What grabs your attention?

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


acceptance haiku

I’ve already written about why acceptance is essential, but the subject bears deeper exploration because acceptance is not only an essential principle, but also an essential practice AND panacea.

I want to consider self-acceptance in particular, because that, for me, has to be the foundation upon which all other forms of acceptance rest.

Can you say that you wholeheartedly accept who you are (including your thoughts and feelings)?

Sit for a few moments and contemplate that question. What thoughts invade your mind?

Affirm: I completely accept myself and all of my experiences.

Do you feel at ease with that affirmation? Does it bring a sigh of contentment, or does it make you feel uncomfortable, tense?

‘Who wants to feel sad, angry or afraid?’ you might ask, and you’d be right. But sadness, anger and fear are part of the deal we shake on when we’re born upon this earth. Shoving our emotions where we think they won’t bother us doesn’t work; in fact it has the opposite effect. Repressed feelings and emotions can fester like an infected wound, oozing pus into your psyche. And that’s neither pleasant nor healthy.

Wellbeing is better served by taking a mindful approach and allowing your feelings all that they require – expression. Take sadness, for example; your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you, or someone you love dies. Naturally, you’re upset. If you don’t acknowledge this, you’ll sweep your pain into a corner of your heart expecting it to stay out of your way. But your pain will not be ignored, so it will mope and do whatever it can to get your attention. The best you can hope for is recurring misery, the worst… well, there’s a school of thought that says physical illness starts on an emotional level, and I’m not going to argue with that.

Lung cancer killed my dad. In Your Body Speaks Your Mind, Deb Shapiro suggests that ‘the lungs are […] a place of sadness, of unexpressed grief and tears, often accumulated over a long period of time’. My dad was heartbroken when he and my mum divorced, especially when my mum moved us all 200 miles away. He never processed his grief; I’m convinced that it played a part in him developing cancer.

My mum left my dad for my step-dad, himself a married man with two adored sons. Sadly, their relationships all but broke down because the sons, like my dad, were left behind when we departed from Manchester. Bailey succumbed to cancer of the blood a few years after my dad died. In You Can Heal Your Life Louise Hay claims that ‘our blood represents joy’; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a man who denied what clearly brought him joy paid a hefty price for that.

Repressed sadness can also lead to anger, and we’re all aware of how destructive anger can be. This is not to say that anger shouldn’t be given appropriate expression. I once met a woman whose mantra was ‘anger is bad’; she would not allow herself to admit to feeling any anger whatsoever. Surely, depending on what causes the anger, it’s a permissible emotion? In certain circumstances, for example those involving injustice and abuse, anger is, in my book, an acceptable response, as long as it is vented in a non-violent way. I can’t help wondering about the health of my acquaintance who bottled up her anger; she was already miserable when I knew her.

Many books have been written on how to accept our emotions: Beating Anger, by Mike Fisher and Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, by Susan Jeffers, are two I can recommend. I dealt with my own fear only when I decided to welcome its existence rather than keep pushing it away and refusing to fully acknowledge it. Over a period of time, and after a lot of mindfulness practice, I came to realise that being with fear, leaning right into it, dispels it.

The trick is to be gentle with yourself; don’t try to force the issue. Have the willingness, as Abraham Maslow suggests, to let whatever is be. It’s all just part of the human condition, and if we’re not here to experience being human, then what are we here for?

In Tarot in the Spirit of Zen: The Game of Life, Osho says:

Accept yourself, allow your unconscious to be revealed to you. This is how each human being is. By knowing it, you become a different kind of human being. By accepting it, cherishing it, you bring a revolution to your life.

Melody Beattie, in The Language of Letting Go, refers to the practice of acceptance as miraculous and magic. Why? Because it is liberating to be able to fully acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses. I should know – fear used to rule my life in the form of a debilitating anxiety disorder. By embracing it and letting it be I have proved to myself that acceptance is transformational. But you don’t have to take my word for it – try it for yourself, and see!