How to make meditation easier

One of my new year’s resolutions is to meditate every day. This is a habit that I know has a very beneficial effect on me, yet it’s one I always find myself postponing until it just doesn’t happen. I think this has partly to do with my perfectionism: when I do it, I want to meditate long and get it right. So I set myself a rigorous (to my untrained and sometimes lazy mind) schedule: do meditation for 30 minutes two times a day.

But when the time comes, I inwardly balk at having to sit down and confront my feelings. I’d rather do anything else. Yet when I do sit down and take the time to notice how I’m feeling, I instantly feel better, less lonely and more loved. It’s a proof to myself that I’m worthy of my own attention, care and love and that’s something very powerful and transforming.

So in order to be able to keep up my meditation practice, I’m experimenting with ways to make it more appealing and less like a chore. This requires first letting go of my perfectionism and instead to listen to what feels right for me.
This is what I’ve come up with so far:

1) Know why you are doing this. Make a list of your reasons for taking this time for yourself. Describe how you feel afterwards. Read inspiring articles such as this one to motivate you. (etc.)

2) Make sure you are comfortable.  Choose a cosy spot, perhaps light a candle, make a cup of tea beforehand or take your favourite flowers with you. If your legs start hurting, pause, choose a different position or simply lie down.

3) Write down things that feel really urgent to your mind.
It’s the surest way of giving yourself some peace and quiet. If you just try to (as I have done many times) ‘let it go’ and focus on your breathing again, your mind will indignantly slap you around the head and remind you constantly why this very thought needs to be addressed RIGHT NOW or you’ll forget. Write it down so you know you’ll remember.

4) Start small. Sitting still with yourself and relinquishing all defences between you and your thoughts and feelings is one of the bravest things you will ever do. Don’t expect to endure it for long in the beginning or your mind will start to associate meditation with torture and run for the hills. Start small and carve out 10 to 15 minutes. If you manage to focus even a few seconds on your breathing and the present moment, give yourself a pat on the back. Then return to your breathing whenever you get distracted.

5) Be gentle with yourself. Most of us are not trained at all to be present with ourselves. Don’t beat yourself up if you get distracted by your thoughts (which will inevitably happen). Instead, thank your mind for coming up with valuable insights and working so diligently for you, even in your downtime. Like I said before, write down the things that seem important to remember and then focus on your breathing again and how you are feeling right now. When you get distracted, gently bring yourself back by saying ‘thinking, my friend‘ or ‘thinking, sweetheart‘ so you realise what happened. (This is an idea I got from the great buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön.)

I hope this was helpful. Happy meditating. :)

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My New Year’s Resolutions

amazing yearI’m always rather perfectionistic and idealistic when it comes to setting resolutions to do better, whether it’s for the new year or the next day. I want to do a thousand things all at once, and then I get disappointed when I start slacking (which I inevitably will) and in the end, I just want to crawl under my blankets and abandon everything.

A friend recently told me that people overestimate what they can achieve in a day and underestimate what they can achieve in a month. With this in mind, I’m going to try to not overburden myself and instead do a little each day, to achieve bigger results in the long run.

It’s also common knowledge by now that it takes about 3 weeks to form a new habit and that it’s better to focus on creating one good habit at a time. So I’m going to create a “build-up” plan, taking one habit at a time and adding a new one after a month has passed. Hopefully this will prevent me from feeling overwhelmed.

So without further ado, I’d like to share with you my “bare-minimum” resolutions (i.e. what I’m going to do each day without exception and which shouldn’t be too challenging to keep up) and the good habits I’d like to integrate as the year progresses.

1. Bare-minimum resolutions
– 15 min of meditation: sitting somewhere quiet, gently letting go of my thoughts, breathing into my body, focussing on how I’m feeling and putting my hands on my heart and belly.
To ease my restless mind, I’d also take the time to note down any ideas or thoughts that seem really urgent, instead of fighting them.

– Carving out two hours of my day to do deep work on my thesis (i.e. with total focus)

– Jotting down at least one thing that went well for me each day and depositing it in my “Happiness Jar” (thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert for the idea).

2. Good habits waiting to be mastered by me
– Exercising 3 times a week (mix of running and Pilates) because I want a stronger, more healthy body

– Journalling at least 3 times a week

– Cooking more frequently and learning new recipes.

– Improving my French and Arabic, because they are beautiful languages and it would help me greatly in my search after a wonderful job after I’m graduated

– Meditating 30 minutes a day

– Keeping my bedroom tidy, because I deserve a space where I feel peaceful, relaxed and which reflects me completely.

– Studying for my theoretical exam so I can start practising to drive a car and get my driver’s license (I’ve been putting this off for years because ugh). I want to get my driver’s license so I can be more independent.

– Spending at least 20 minutes a day on writing poetry or fiction, because it makes me happy and fulfilled.

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Happy new year to you, dear reader. I wish you all the best for 2016 and may you find the courage and energy to stick to your resolutions and create a better life for yourself. May you also find infinite tenderness towards yourself when things didn’t go quite as planned. :)

sunchaser

Can You Protect Your Heart From Bitterness?

heart and stonesIt’s so easy to become bitter and frustrated with the world. It’s easy to see the negative and to become cynical. Indeed, our society seems to wholly support people becoming cynical and pessimistic. When do you ever see positive, heart-warming news (outside of the holiday season) on TV? The puppy that has finally found a new, loving home is not going to appear as ‘breaking news’. That’s not sensational enough. And it’s not enough that we hear once a day about everything that’s going wrong in the world, no, it’s important that we hear about it every hour, so that we thoroughly realise that to feel safe in the world is an illusion. It’s all going to the dogs anyway, so why bother?

It’s harder to retain your childlike wonder about all the beauty and magnificence that this world has to offer. We see images of children drowning, but not of children being saved by loving, good people or by their own will to remain hopeful and to believe in a positive outcome for them. Of course, we shouldn’t go too far in the opposite direction and ignore the evil that human greediness and selfishness causes. But, there has to be some kind of balance! We need to address and feel our suffering (which is actually a powerful tool against becoming bitter and frustrated, which is all due to stagnated emotion that has nowhere to go). But we also need to learn to open our eyes to the incredible beauty around us. There is goodness in this world, there is hope and positive outcomes. Can we feed our starving soul by deliberately seeking beauty in literature, music, art, other people, spirituality and tales of happy endings, hope and empowerment?

not a mistake

– Nayyirah Waheed

This is equally necessary to be a responsible citizen in this world: to believe that our green earth can be saved and that efforts toward creating a better world are worthwhile. To recognise that this childlike hope we naturally feel when we are little is being stamped out of us on a daily basis and labeled as ‘naive’, creating a sick and pessimistic society that is bringing our planet nearer and nearer to disastrous calamity. To resist this force-feeding of fear and lack and to cultivate what Elizabeth Gilbert calls ‘stubborn gladness’. It’s easy to give up and to curse the darkness. It’s much harder to light one small candle and to keep that candle lit no matter what comes on your way.

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My wish for this new year that awaits us is that we may all start our day with the intention of seeing goodness, love, beauty, kindness and hope wherever we go. That we may bravely face the darkness ahead, not by running away from it and burying our heads in the sand, but by feeling it and realising that it hasn’t killed us, that we are more than the lack, disillusionment and fear we feel, that there is always reason to hope and that we may protect this glimmer of hope fiercely, realising it’s our most valuable possession.

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Dear reader

breathe

 

When your eyes hoover over this piece of text, can you take this as a sign to remember your breath?

Can you let go for a moment of your story, of all the reasons why your life isn’t as it should be and just lean in to the present moment?

You are safe and held here. Can you feel that? Can you feel how your breath relaxes and deepens when you remember that you are here, that your worries are mere castles of air in the sky and that they dissolve once you tune into your breath and put a gentle stop to the treadmill of your ever-recycling thoughts?

Please take a moment to contemplate the miracle that your body is. You are alive, you are breathing, your heart is beating and this all happens for you, naturally. Life wants you here, wants you to survive and to thrive, wants to give you your best shot at a happy and healthy life.

When you think nobody loves or cares for you, remember your ever-faithful body, who fights for you every single second of the day, without pause. Can you take a moment to feel how much your body loves you and perhaps offer a few words of tenderness? Even if you are ill or in pain, can you consider the possibility that your body is doing the best it can and needs your attention, care and love now more than ever?

As Anne Frank said, could you take a moment to look at all the beauty still left around you and be content with that, for now, in this moment?

May your life be filled with blessing, radiant health and wholeness, wherever you go.

Revisiting ‘Love Actually’

a4790cdc65cc66522a024c2eddabf6e0Love Actually is the kind of movie I loved as a teenager: romantic, lots of handsome guys (hello Colin Firth and his warm puppy gazes), comedy and light-heartedness. I love feel-good movies, because I hate seeing people go through drama and pain, even if the people in question are fictional. That’s why my favourite movie is Pride & Prejudice: beautiful nature, beautiful music, beautiful dialogues, romantic Mr. Darcy who is smitten with Elizabeth, emotional growth of both characters, beautiful dresses and a happy ending!

Anyway, I digress. So on Christmas Eve, Love Actually was on and with crips and a christmas tree nearby, it seemed like the perfect thing to watch. I knew that I loved it when it first came out and was confident I would still love it. So, full of expectation and with a smile on my face, I let the story unfold.

Except… I didn’t like it! When the credits rolled, I was left with an empty and slightly annoyed feeling. I admit that there were scenes in the movie that didn’t seem entirely unbelievable and thoroughly moved me:

1) Karen just found out her husband had an affair and was listening to Joni Mitchell and crying. She only gave herself a few moments before she forced herself to stop crying and pretend everything is okay.
2) Sarah and her love for her brother
3) The funeral of Daniel’s wife. However, this story line was kind of ruined for me when Daniel met a new woman (Claudia Schiffer…because only models deserve love in this movie) only two or three weeks later and this was seen as healthy and entirely natural. Perhaps it’s part of a light-hearted movie that the trauma which happens to people is treated as a mere passing black cloud and people are back on their feet in no time. But it annoys the hell out of me.

So what bothered me so much about this movie that it left me feeling anything except good?

1) The persistent fat-shaming: hahaha, you’re fat. Hahaha, of course you’re unworthy of love and alone on Christmas. Hahaha, you’re pathetic and it’s so much fun to crack jokes about how fat you are. Hahaha, of course Colin Firth is horrified when Aurelia’s father thinks that he wants to marry her fat sister. Because, as we already established, she’s fat and doesn’t look like a bloody model and therefore she’s unworthy of love, single and her dad seems to hate her. Who cares about her personality, her dreams or what she does in life? Also, she seems entirely too wilful in contrast to the other demure and beautiful women who only live to please men.
Same with the ‘fat’ manager of Billy Mack. Hey, if I was twenty years older, I’d date him because he’s the most likeable man in this entire movie. He has a heart of gold. But no, because he doesn’t ‘look’ right, he’s treated as a loser who has no friends and is consistently referred to as ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’. Tell me again how any of this is funny?

2) The totally unbelievable love stories: I guess if you want to make a movie about so many people at once, you don’t really have time to develop a thoroughly believable bond between two people. Jamie has just been cheated on by his girlfriend and his own brother, runs off to France and finds love with his cleaning lady Aurelia, who is beautiful and doesn’t speak a word of English. But good communication doesn’t matter and he has seen enough of her during those few weeks to decide that he wants to marry her. I remember finding this incredibly romantic as a 13-year-old but now it left me completely untouched.
Same with Natalie and the prime minister. She looks good, they don’t have too many conversations and she, too, has a job serving him and those qualities seem irresistible to the men in this movie. Who needs feminism in this day and age?

3) Single = pathetic: Good-looking, worthy men and women don’t stay single for long. It doesn’t matter if they have been cheated on or their wife just died or they have been in an abusive relationship, they will find love again with other beautiful people. Someone will be there to ‘save’ them so they don’t have to think about what happened to them or take the time to process their emotions and grow. None of that silly-williness.
I admit, it might be because I’m single myself that I find this message so irksome.

4) Only models are worthy of love: I know, I know. I’ve already mentioned this point several times. And yes, it’s probably the hall-mark of romantic comedies and most movies for that matter that the leading characters (especially the women) are pretty. But it never has bugged me so much as now, when the movie begins and ends with shots of normal people embracing each other on the airport and when the movie deliberately makes a contrast between ‘good-looking’ people and those who don’t fit that rigid ideal. I find it insidious, like all the light-heartedness is just a glittery, superficial cover for something very disturbing that leaves a bad aftertaste for the ‘normal’ viewer. We have been so blinded by all the sick norms in society that we find it entertaining when a man or woman who’s not considered beautiful is made fun of. Never mind how the viewers who identify with that man or woman feel. Never mind your personality or values. Actually, maybe you should feel bad for looking like that. Maybe actually, you are deserving of insults and a life without love. Hahaha. How funny and light-hearted and cosy this movie is.

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The Importance of Touch

touch1One of the things that I miss most about being in a relationship is being held and hugged when I need it. I don’t think we ever outgrow our need for physical touch, yet it’s seen as one of the quirks of being in a romantic relationship, only for those who manage to make another person fall in love with them.

I’m not saying we should go out and be held by strangers, because that can understandably feel uncomfortable, but as a single woman I’ve been exploring self-touch. Whenever I feel anxious or afraid, I put my hands on my chest and belly, or wherever the feeling is located in my body and soothe myself with loving words, such as I love you, you are safe, everything is okay. I also hug myself and caress my shoulders and arms when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. This might seem weird or cheesy to some (it does seem that way to the more critical and judging part of me as I’m writing this), but if you’ve never learned as a child how to soothe your overwhelmed nervous system, the practice of self-touch can be a very healing and even life-saving process.

So maybe next time you feel lonely, sad, afraid, or you’re experiencing any sensation that makes you wish for the presence of another, you might like to try this practice of closing your eyes, feeling where in your body the emotion resides and touching that part with loving caresses. It’s important to learn how to mother ourselves, so we no longer require a partner to do this for us. That way we not only can learn to be happy alone, but we also create the opportunity for more healthy, honest and loving relationships when the time comes. :)

Have a beautiful day!

self-love

Morning Inspiration: Power of Presence

Being present is everything. Be the gentle sun that encourages a blooming flower to open, to yourself and others. :)

“Listening to someone with only cursory attention can do more harm than good. It unconsciously communicates your disinterest and so you won’t be surprised when a distance, a forgetting, develops between you.

What really makes someone feel seen and loved, is when you listen with the fullness of your presence. Presence is a kind of silent vow to our inseparability. And at some future point, when you hand back the other’s pieces, which you have been carrying as your own, to say, ‘I remember this,’ then the tenderness of your intimacy grows.”

Toko Pa

friendship

Stars (Jeff Foster)

You are tired, friend.
Your body aches to rest.

Give in.
You have wanted to fall apart for so long.

To let go of your defences.
To be transparent and authentic.

Your cynicism has protected you.
Your fear has served you well.

Your dreams of enlightenment were beautiful dreams.
But there is no need to hold your ‘self’ together any longer.

Surrender.
Or simply stop pretending that you don’t know ‘how’.

Fail.
Fall.
The vastness will hold you.
Only illusions can disappear.

The deeper the heart breaks
The more love it can hold.

Don’t tell me you are not worthy.
Don’t tell me you are not made of stars.

Jeff Foster

stardust

Belle du Seigneur

French novel by Albert Cohen 

belle du seigneur

There is beautiful romance between them, but I don’t find their relationship in itself ‘romantic’. Like Albert Cohen says, ‘they are actors and they are playing a role’. It’s sad to see how much mental separation there is between them. Why don’t they address each other’s worries? Why can’t he ask her ‘Would you still love me if I lost all my teeth and was no longer handsome? What do you truly love and admire about me?’ And why can’t she ask him ‘Would you still love me if I didn’t look perfect? If I sneezed in front of you? If you knew how insecure and scared I felt about falling off the pedestal you have placed me on and displeasing you? What do you truly love and admire about me?’

Maybe because asking those questions would feel like dying on the inside, like handing a knife to your beloved and leaving it up to them to decide what to do with it. What if they say or show you ‘No, don’t show your true self to me. Be perfect. Don’t fail.’?

The tension is unbearable and therefore, the theatre of pretend feels safer, more contained. Never having to truly risk your heart, secure yet miserably unhappy in your assumptions about the other person.
I was planning on writing a whole treatise on what ‘real love’ is supposed to look like, but in the end, what do I know about love? What does anyone know about love? How would I react in a similar situation? Perhaps exactly the same. We all want to be known, yet are terrified of letting someone else in. We all think we want to be vulnerable in love, yet bolt out of the door when it’s required of us. That is the human condition. And therefore, I love this book for telling the story of an imperfect love, of two people terribly drawn to each other, yet terrified of failing in the other person’s eyes. Terrified of being known.

Let us stop chasing phantoms

Dear One,

Let’s stop this frantic, desperate search for Love.
Let us stop chasing phantoms.
You are here,
home.
You are held in God’s loving embrace.

Let us stop trying to impress others,
you are a miracle and Life itself.
What can others offer you
that you do not already possess? 

They are only mirrors
for your radiance and pain.
As within, so without.

So where in your precious body
are you refusing to look and spend time?

Let us give up on running away,
begging others to love us.
Let us rest and whisper our own name.
I love you. I love you. I love you.
In sickness and in health.
Through joy and bliss and agony.
Even if you never find the ‘One’,
I have already found you
and you are wonderful
and magnificent. 

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