Why we can all benefit from regular Loving-Kindness meditations.

 

Loving-Kindness Meditation

I’m currently reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living” , which was recommended to me as the best place to begin my mindfulness journey.

I’ve been reading it for months, a few pages at a time, as I gradually integrate mindfulness into my life. My progress is intentionally slow, as I stroll along smelling the flowers and enjoying the scenery, rather than racing to the finish line.

To begin with, I felt a self-imposed pressure to finish the book, but the more time goes by, the more it feels like an integral part of the growth process, and less like an item on the to do list. I no longer feel guilty picking up a novel knowing that I’m not even halfway through Full Catastrophe Living. Instead I’m enjoying making it last.

I’ve noticed that since expanding my mindfulness practice, my overall awareness of self-imposed pressures like this has increased. I hear that little voice in my head more clearly, and question it more quickly. This isn’t what I expected mindfulness to give me, but I’m not complaining!

However, heightened awareness isn’t all about peace, harmony and relaxation, as I discovered when I recently came to the section on Loving-Kindness Meditations.

The Loving-Kindness Mediation, also called a ‘Metta’, is about cultivating unconditional love with wisdom; a softening of the mind and heart to experience friendship, concern and warmth, regardless of whether we think or feel that someone is deserving.

I embarked on this mediation expecting to encounter resistance to wishing good things on those who have hurt me the most, but that wasn’t what happened.

The mediation began with the request that I repeat silently to myself:

May I be well,

May I be happy,

May I be peaceful,

May I be loved.

I stumbled over these phrases, and experienced an incredible rush of sadness and loss, as well as a powerful resistance.

Overwhelmed by the strength of my reaction, I delved into the internet to find out more about the origin of this meditation, and came across this quote:

The practice always begins with developing a loving acceptance of yourself. If resistance is experienced then it indicates that feelings of unworthiness are present…. there is work to be done.

Buddha Dharma Education Association

It doesn’t matter which phrase I resisted, or why, or which you would find the most challenging, if any. Maybe you’d struggle more with wishing ‘May you be happy’ to someone who has recently hurt you. We all have our own challenges to face. You either acknowledge them or you don’t. I have revisited the Loving-Kindness Mediation many times since that first encounter, and it’s getting easier. Easier, but not easy.

Being kind to those who have hurt us the most can be an uphill struggle, if we even bother to try, but so can being kind to ourselves. The Loving-Kindness Meditation is the perfect companion on this path, when you’re ready to take it.

Here is an example of a guided Loving-Kindness Mediation for you to try at home.

May you be well

May you be happy

May you be peaceful

May you be loved.

I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else.

 

 

 

 

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Why disappointment can be a powerful teacher

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I baked bread last night; ciabatta (if you’re interested). I was testing a different recipe, to see if the result would produce bread that was even better than the one I’ve made before. I was disappointed.

What has left this situation lingering in my mind however, is not the disappointing outcome itself, but the fact that it wasn’t a surprise. I saw it coming. I didn’t use the right mixer and probably hadn’t mixed the dough long, or thoroughly enough. Consequently the batter didn’t bubble up as expected, and then didn’t rise the way it should. I knew what was coming. It wasn’t the recipe, it was me.

Yes I know, it was ciabatta, it’s hardly life or death, but it made me think about a few other areas of my life that have left me feeling disappointed recently and whether I could or should have seen those disappointments coming too.

One of the areas I’ve really struggled with, is how I feel about writing. I had a perfectly good recipe for success when I was writing for myself. It was unpublished and deeply personal. I wrote what I thought, my feelings, my opinions and my dreams.

Pressing a ‘publish’ button was like changing the recipe. I got nervous about and critical of everything that fell onto the page. Rather than sharing my experiences in their rawest form, in the hope that they might help others move on in a positive way, I’ve become caught up in word count, structure, followers and likes. It became less about what I have to say and more about what you might say about me.

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“When you are up to your ass in alligators, it’s easy to forget you came to drain the swamp.”

Time for a ‘swamp review’ in various parts of my life. Disappointment can be a powerful teacher, when we’re ready to learn.

 

3 reasons all managers should bake

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I love to eat. I love to bake. I call that ‘hobby-harmony’.

Today, whilst kneading bread, I was reflecting on my latest clear up exercise and all the management training information I discovered in the cupboard.

I must have spent at least 3 months of my life in rooms with current or potential managers, doing exercise after exercise to reflect on and improve our collective management skills. I’ve also read (well, skimmed in many cases) 100s of books on the subject. Type ‘management’ into Amazon and 100s of 1000s of books pop up; enough to light a bonfire that could blast an enormous hole in the ozone. And yet, I’ve never seen one that told me what managers could learn from baking. 

Why not?

As today’s bread required a ten minute knead, I had plenty of time to think about the link between baking and management. By the time the dough was stretchy, I’d formed my opinion on what a management book based on lessons taken from baking would cover.

I believe it would cover:

Lesson 1: Wait to get a rise

Treat dough right and it will rise beautifully. The kneading initiates a growth process, but you need (no pun intended) to back off and let nature do its part too. In the same way, management is about putting solid effort in whilst giving people space and time to digest the learning and put it into action.

Some things just can’t be rushed. Battering the life out of dough for 1 minute won’t necessarily make it rise any faster or higher, and some half-hearted sporadic prodding over a few hours won’t do the job either. If the bread requires 2 ten minute kneads with a few hours of rising time in-between then that’s your best approach. There are fast-track breads that require less kneading or rising time than others, (just like some people) but don’t assume that all breads and people are the same. Either give the time and energy required or be prepared to accept the consequences.

There are people who can help you work out what you’re dealing with, me included. If you’re not sure what to do, just ask. 

Lesson 2: The mix makes it

New and diverse ingredients can make an average bread special. That doesn’t mean you need to spend over the odds to get the best flour that money can buy to make good bread. You do however need ingredients that are in date and full of flavour. Those ingredients can be white, rye, granary or any other origin.

Yes, you don’t need equality legislation to tell you that you can get amazing results from a variety of different team members. Think of knowledge, skills, attitude and personality in a team as ingredients. Some real magic can happen when you mix things up a bit. I’m thinking artisan cranberry, apricot and muesli loaf! Yum. 

Go on, you know you want the wow factor in your team, not just in your diet.

Lesson 3: There is no shame in using a recipe

You are not the first person ever to bake a team… I mean bread… so there is no shame in acknowledging that some lessons have already been learnt or that there can be too much to memorise. That doesn’t mean that you can just pick up any recipe you come across on the internet and produce a masterpiece. If you are new to baking it’s best to start with a recipe that’s tried and tested or at least from a reputable source. With a good recipe, the right equipment, working conditions as well as some helpful tips, tricks and feedback you’ll soon be proud of the results.

You might be the best manager since sliced bread, (sorry, had to get that in) but even you need systems, processes and feedback.

If that hasn’t made you hungry for a piece of freshly baked bread or a baking related team building day, maybe this will help?

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How to choose an apple over chocolate

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I’m sitting in a room surrounded by mess.

An hour ago, the room looked tidy. But it wasn’t. Behind the cupboard doors, there was chaos. The mess was out of sight but not out of mind. I opened the door, and now I’m dealing with the consequences.

I’m not generally a messy person. I like a place to look lived-in, but not cluttered. However, even with the best of intentions, things can build up. The problem with ‘stuff’ building up over time is that it results in you having to invest significantly more effort to put it right later on. ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ as they say, whoever ‘they’ are.

And yet, even though this requires effort, and the messy in-between stage can be unsettling, there is something oddly therapeutic about de-cluttering and reorganising; identifying what is worth keeping and what is just ‘baggage’. It clears my head. I’ve read that we make healthier choices when our surroundings are de-cluttered. (Something about participants in a study choosing an apple over chocolate – that’s powerful stuff!) 

People Voodoo is all about taking good care of yourself and others, so I‘m all for making healthy choices easy. If de-cluttering is good for you, let’s get stuck in. Here are a few ideas for you to have a go at.

Idea 1 – Weed the garden

This is the easiest place to start (assuming you have a garden). A weed is a weed and you’re unlikely to feel any emotional attachment to something that popped up uninvited, unless your tortoise will suffer dandelion withdrawal problems. You get all the de-clutter benefits without any tough decisions.

Idea 2 – Discipline your desktop

If you’re more into computers than compost and clippings, then this might be the one for you. Filing isn’t just for paperwork you know. If you can’t count the icons on your desktop out loud without taking a breath, it’s worth a review. Anything you don’t open at least once a week could be filed away.

If that feels a bit too ruthless to begin with, try setting up a folder called ‘do I really need this’ and put everything in there. Anything you take back out in the next 2 weeks can stay out, the rest you need to find a new home for.

Idea 3 – Wade into the wardrobe

This may cause a sharp intake of breath for many of you. Depending on the size of your wardrobe, this could be quite a big job. If you think you’ll struggle due to scale or emotional attachment, I suggest you start with something small, like socks.

Divide everything into 3 piles:

  1. Love & wear as often as possible
  2. Can’t remember when I last wore and/or not sure I like this anyway
  3. What was I thinking!

Pile 3: This pile is about to leave your life. If everything you own has moved to pile 3, slow down. What will you wear? Maybe try pile 2 for a few items.

Pile 2: If pile 2 is substantial, either because you can’t bring yourself to move things to pile 3 (come on, you can do it!) or because you’ve been overzealous and it all just came over from pile 3, shove it all into bags and store it all somewhere out of sight. Set a calendar reminder for 1 years’ time (I like to allow for seasonality), and anything you haven’t gone looking for before then belongs in pile 3.

Pile 1: If it’s all in pile 1 and the pile is taller than you, enlist help!

Oh and before you start, just remember that it might get worse before it gets better, but it’s in a good cause and you’ll thank yourself for the mental and physical space you’re created in your life.

So, Can I offer you an apple or some chocolate?

Did you hear that?

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I just closed my eyes for a few minutes – and listened.

I expected silence. Instead, I heard tweeting, rustling, banging, scraping, voices, humming and clinking.

I recognised the sounds: birds singing; the rustling of the wind through the tree outside; the banging of a drawer; the scraping of a chair; my toddler babbling; the humming of the bathroom fan and a motor in the distance; and the clinking of cutlery.

I consciously chose to hear ‘rustling’ rather than ‘the wind in the trees’ because I’m being mindful. I’m hearing and experiencing sounds without labelling or judgment. It’s part of my wider mindfulness practice which I’ve been gradually building into my life since the beginning of the year.

I love mindful listening because I can do it in 5-minute bursts; in the car before a meeting, in bed, or sitting on a bench outdoors. Although I find other mindfulness activities easier and equally powerful, I started to sit still and listen because I want to be a better listener. I’m not judging myself as a poor listener, I’m acknowledging that I focus more on what I see, rather than on what I hear.

It didn’t take many sessions before I started to notice, even with my eyes open, just how much sound there is around me. It was a bit like watching a film I’d seen 100 times and finally hearing the soundtrack as well as the dialogue.

Apart from enjoying an increased awareness of how many different birds sing in the trees around my home, I’ve also found some really practical benefits. I am now more alert to gravel announcing a visitor and seem to be better at hearing the sounds of officials over my team mates when playing sport.

The best part of this exercise is that although it heightens my awareness, it also teaches me to let things pass rather than feeling that every sound requires interpretation or immediate action. I’m now less easily distracted.

It’s unfortunately not a quick fix for everything. I do still get rattled by the sound of loud chewing, nails on a chalkboard and fingers being dragged across the surface of a balloon. Why do that? Maybe with time I’ll be able to let those wash over me too. Watch this space.

If you’d like to benefit from any of this, why not have a go?

To get started, you need to get comfortable sitting or lying down somewhere safe (you’ll be closing your eyes). You need to be both alert and relaxed.

Set an alarm for 5 minutes and gently close your eyes.

As a sound reaches you, try to hear it rather than naming it. This takes practice. It’s normal to hear a thud and interpret it, so don’t be surprised if you need to stop at the thud.

When you notice a thought, whether it’s a description of a sound, something to add to the shopping list or how silly you must look on this bench with your eyes closed, just notice it. Then give it a polite mental nod and let it go by, turning your attention back to hearing.

Sometimes I spend 4 of my 5 minutes taking myself mentally by the hand and leading myself back to the purpose of hearing. On other occasions, time flies by without much distraction. Both, are normal.

When the time is up, you might find that you’re calmer and more aware of, and in tune with your surroundings. If that isn’t reward enough, you just gave yourself 5 minutes or quality time!

Lucky you.

 

 

 

 

 

Wind in your hair

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This week I went for a run. I was up early, before the rest of my house woke up. The world was peaceful and beautiful. I felt the wind in my hair and watched the clouds drift by and the waves lap against the beach. It was perfect.

Going for a run might not be a big deal for many of you, but it was for me. It was my first run in 1 and a half years. I was medically advised almost 4 years ago to stop running regularly, ideally altogether.

It might not seem in line with the People Voodoo approach that you’ve become accustomed to, to defy medical advice and do something I knew could end in pain, but I assure you that it was in the spirit of compassion. For those 30 glorious minutes, before the pain started, (which is when I stopped running and walked home) I felt GREAT.

Although I knew it was kinder to my aching hip to give up regular running, I resented it, partly because I don’t like being told what to do, but mostly because running was ‘me’ time; time to think, to clear my head. I felt robbed. I sulked for some time before strapping on some roller skates, falling in love with roller derby and leaving running behind. But it’s during challenging times that I miss it the most. 

It will be five months this week that my son arrived. Only, on paper my son is not my son. The adoption process is long and emotionally challenging, and in our case, after 2 years, still ongoing. I know others wait longer, but for me the process has already overstayed its welcome. It’s been wearing me down. I needed to feel the wind in my hair in a way that a hairdryer just doesn’t deliver!

For this coming week my advice is short. Spend some time doing something that makes you feel GREAT even if just for 10 minutes. You owe it to yourself.

The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.

Richard Bach

When performance is a performance

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How many times have you seen someone desperately trying to be something they’re not, whilst running themselves into the ground? Are you guilty of this?

Although pretending to be someone or something you’re not, as a creative pursuit, (think theatre), can be both challenging and good fun, it doesn’t always win you awards off stage.

As the great anonymous Vood-arian once said;

The greatest advantage of speaking the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you said.

The belief that you should ‘fake it until you make it’, is alive and well for plenty of people. If your behaviour is a constant performance, it could get exhausting. When you then revert to type it could also land you with some trust issues.

So why do we do it?

There are so many reasons that we put on a performance; trying to protect ourselves or others from hurt for example, or believing it is necessary to get ahead. As none of us are perfect, there’s also our ‘dark side’ that might need to be kept in check. (Anyone denying it?)

This week I am encouraging you to review your own level of performance when performing the various roles in your life to make sure you’re getting the balance right between ‘mask’ and ‘me’.

Question 1 – When do I perform?

Honestly and without judgement, can you think of any situations recently where you put on a bit of a performance?

Maybe you were exaggerating a bit, or consciously choosing to play down your opinion or play up your skills? Perhaps you tried to look enthusiastic when you felt the opposite or suppressed your true feelings?

Question 2 – Would it win a People Voodoo award? 

There may be times when a performance is the most humane approach. A hurt child needs reassurance. Blatantly ‘faking’ that everything is OK might be just what they need until they get patched up and calm down.

Putting on the same kind of show for your boss when asked for a project update could get messy.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to assess when it’s best to drop the mask, or at least lift it up a bit.

  • Do I know when I’m doing it?
  • Why am I performing?
  • Is that a good enough reason?
  • Is everyone in this situation being treated with dignity and respect?
  • Is anyone, including me, going to get hurt now or in the future because of it?
  • If I had to sustain this kind of performance longer term, could I keep it up without exhausting myself?
  • Is this a skill I am working on that will feel less like a performance when I get better at it?
  • Does it feel dishonest?
  • Would those whose opinion I value, see it as dishonest?
  • What would happen if this came to light?
  • Is there another way to get the same result without performing?

As so often in my blogs, this exercise is all about self-awareness. Once you have the awareness, when and how much you perform is entirely up to you of course.

3 Steps to top up your gratitude levels

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Gratitude is good for you. There’s evidence!

As People Voodoo is all about looking after ourselves, I started 2016 (not a typo, it was a while ago) with the intention of collating a Happy Jar to top up my own gratitude.

I wanted to become more conscious of, and grateful for, the good things in my life. This jar was all about recording funny moments, achievements, memories to treasure, surprise compliments, activities I enjoyed, etc. You name it, I was going to record it, and with every day that went by, it was going to make me happier and more grateful!

It didn’t last long.

Why? Because I am not a ‘do something every day’ person. Who was I kidding? I can’t even eat the same thing for breakfast 6 days in the row without it feeling repetitive. Motivating myself to write on a piece of paper every day for 365 days was pure torture. It also felt a bit shallow.

I am, however, very grateful for my Happy Jar revelations! Every cloud has a silver lining and mine is that I find it easy to be grateful for lessons I’ve learnt. Since then, I’ve been in search of another way to top up my gratitude levels. Something that’s both satisfying and sustainable. Interested?

I now write a gratitude journal. But before I encourage you to start a journal of your own, you need to be willing to make 2 very important commitments.

Commitment 1 – ‘Decisive’ over ‘daily’

It’s important to keep this activity guilt free. You need to commit to writing when the mood takes you. If that’s every 2nd Thursday or when your team plays a home game, then so be it. There can be no forced daily ritual – just a clear decision to top up your gratitude. Of course if you want to do it daily, that’s OK too.

Commitment 2 – No listing, but lots of learning

Anyone can throw together a list of positive things. This journal is not about list-writing the obvious, it’s about digging deep and challenging yourself to be grateful for the tough stuff and the fire of experience, as well as the shiny, sparkly bits of life.

If you’re willing to make these 2 commitments, then here’s what to do.

Step 1 – Reflect (Thanks to Anna Kane for the 3 points of reflection)

Start off by taking a few minutes to think about things that have happened to you since you last wrote. These do not need to be life-changing events, but you do need one for each of the following three categories.

  1. something positive

  2. something challenging

  3. something interesting

Step 2 – Look for things to be grateful for in this situation or experience

If, for example, your ‘challenging situation’ was an argument with your partner about whose family to spend the weekend with, then ‘things to be grateful for’ might include:

I’m grateful…

  • that we both have a family we love,

  • that I have a partner I care about,

  • that I feel secure enough in my relationship to express my true feelings,

  • that s/he feels secure to do that with me,

  • that we don’t have bigger things to argue about,

  • that we don’t argue often,

  • that we are both generally willing to compromise,

  • that the children weren’t home to hear it,

  • that we both get weekends off work together,

  • etc.

Keep going until you run out of things to be grateful for in each of the 3 situations. Properly run out, not just when you’ve done a few.

Step 3 – Review the lessons

Now that you are in a more grateful place, consider the impact of what you’ve uncovered and actions you might take as a result.

  • What have you learnt from this scenario?

  • Have you changed your attitude or perspective on anything following this reflection?

  • What are you drawn to doing as a result of your learning?

Have a play with it and do let me know if it works for you.

Happy journalling xx

A frog by any other name

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I’ve not posted for a while. To be honest, I’ve been struggling to find the words.

So much has changed in my life. I feel a bit like I fell under a spell and woke up a frog. (No disrespect to frogs!) I don’t expect a fairy tale kiss to return me to normal, so after a few months away I’m embracing that ‘frog’ is my new normal and it’s time to hop back into action and put some text into my blog.

As demonstrated by my recent absence, life events really can give you an identity shake-up, regardless of whether the event was long planned and hoped for or catches you square in the ribs when you least expect it. If your experience of this is anything like mine, then you’ll remember times in your life when you just brushed yourself down and carried on and other times when you knew you’d have managed better with a few months in a remote cabin.

With that at the forefront of my mind and spring now properly ‘sprung’ outdoors, it feels instinctively right to spend some time identity spring cleaning. In People Voodoo terms that means dumping the judgement, ripping out the dead and decaying beliefs that no longer serve you and making space for the stuff that really matters and deserves some space to breathe.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Activity 1 – Who am I?

This exercise is very simple. It’s one of those, ‘you get out what you put in’ situations.

Just take a few minutes to quickly and instinctively finish the phrase below a minimum of 10 times. If you’re tempted to stop at 8, do 12, some of the most interesting stuff happens after we hit resistance!

I am …

Now reflect on what came up for you.

Was it about…

  • gender?
  • race?
  • religion?
  • nationality?
  • colour?
  • ethnicity?
  • sexual orientation?
  • age?
  • marital status?

Or was it about…

  • personality traits?
  • physical features?
  • health status?
  • hobbies?
  • political beliefs?
  • achievements?
  • talents?
  • your job?

How we describe ourselves can tell us a lot about our priorities, our state of mind, or even the messages and priorities from those influential in our past or present.

Is that really you? Are you happy with that description? If not, then why are you giving that trait, feature, or ‘box’ so much power? Now is as good a time as any to refresh what matters most in your life. Get your ‘self ‘in order. Literally!  Yes, it’s your job but if it’s not your life purpose and the most important thing in your life, then why is it at the top? It’s your list, you decide what matters right now. It’s not for life, it’s for now. Life will give you reasons to reshuffle soon enough.

Activity 2 – What do “I “really think?

Social media alone throws 100’s of messages your way every day. How often do you comment or react to something on instinct? Do you ever give your view without having any idea why you hold that view or where it came from?

‘It’s what I think!’ I hear  you cry.

Yes, but why? and not every opinon is for life either. Let’s tidy up a bit.

  • Do you really, honestly, believe that?
  • Where does that belief/opinion come from?
  • What does holding that view say about you?
  • Is that who you want to be?

Pick some opinions you hold and give them a good brush down to check if their for keeps or for the bin.

Activity 3 – Go on Go on Go on (best said in an Irish accent)

We are, mostly, creatures of habit.

If you know you don’t like getting your feet wet you’re unlikely to take your shoes off and jump in a puddle. The only problem is, when did you last check to see if it’s still true?

When is the last time you actually ran barefoot across the grass in the rain?

Yes, you may be a closet barefoot puddle jumper!

This week, test yourself on some foods, some conversation topics, some shops you don’t normally go into. Maybe even some puddles. (You too may have some frog in you.)

Oh and if you disagree with anything here, please tell me about it. I’m spring cleaning my views of the world too.