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Accepting Difficulty

Some of your greatest challenges will be in accepting situations that are difficult, situations when the world is not how you would like it to be and there’s a ‘Why Me?’ screaming in your head. I thought it might be helpful for you if I shared my current experience (which in turn will help me) in the hope that it will provide you with a way to accept your own difficulty.

Over the last year my breathing condition has changed. Generally I am OK and live a full and interesting life. However, my best breathing condition has worsened slightly. As a consequence this means that my worst breathing condition has also worsened. So when I overdo it, falling into old behaviour patterns that stretch me a little, I face difficulty.

I struggle on for a while, but eventually succumb to an essential short course of steroids to open my throat and remind my body how it can be. This then remains stable until I next stumble into my old behaviour. And so the cycle continues.

The current challenge is that this is not sustainable and this is the first stage of moving towards acceptance of difficulty. Recognising how things really are, rather than how you would like them to be.

Recognising how things are

I would like my baseline breathing to be better than it is. I know that over a year ago I was able to do more gentle exercise (even a little bit of 5 a side footie) than I am now. I know that I am having to take short courses of steroids more often that recommended and more often than over a year ago. I know that I need to make some difficult decisions.

I didn’t come to this recognition quickly or easily. Now, reflecting back on the last six months, I realise have known this truth for some time. However that knowing has been hidden behind wishful thinking. I have imagined that each time I take a course of steroids that my breathing will return to how it was 2 years ago. It does not. This was a delusion, a common way that we all deal with the world when it is not as we would like it to be.

So how could I have accessed this knowing earlier? How can you recognise how things really are?

I believe that at the root of accessing this knowing is an honest attuning to our body and mind. This requires quiet: time when you are not doing anything. This could be meditation, or it could be just lying in the bath, or sat in your lounge with no other stimulation. No radio. No TV. No phone. No book. No chat. This contemplative time gives your mind time to roam. It will shoot about. But your opportunity is to watch this and to note what thoughts emerge.

The practice is not to follow the thoughts, but just to note what they are. Then return to where you are. Feel your body held where it is. Notice your belly moving with your breath. You are here now. The more you provide the space for this to happen and the more you practice not following, but observing the thoughts, the more you will learn.

Recognising the thoughts and feelings

As you provide quiet time for yourself and practice you will develop a greater attention. Some of your thoughts, and particularly your feelings maybe uncomfortable. It is quite likely that at their root there is fear.

My initial thoughts are about the physical difficulty. The struggling to draw breath. This carries with it its own fear. But I have become so used to this that I almost don’t notice the fear of not getting enough oxygen, but the background hum of disliking how it is and general tiredness pervades.

Beyond this initial influx of thoughts and feelings is a deeper fear. The fear of future consequences. These include more minor operations or a more serious life changing operation. The fears that surround these thoughts include feelings of helplessness, of loss of voice, of limitations to my social interactions, of judgement and many more.

Deep seated fears, often linked to loss, death or major change, are usually unacknowledged. They sit heavily obscured by busyness, by doing, by habitual behaviours. Only when you slow down and get quiet to they begin to rise in your consciousness. Space and practice is the key to accessing your deep knowing, for only then can you make wise choices.

Making wise choices

Ultimately acceptance of difficulty, of how things really are only occurs after time and this kind of practice. Only after you return again and again to the practice, to the quiet, do you begin to know, to understand how things really are. Then you are in a position to make wise choices.

Making a wise choice for me is a combination of rational consideration of the situation and the options available, combined with access to the deep knowing. That which you may call your gut instinct, or the wiser part of you.

In ‘Blink’ by Malcom Gladwell the English born canadian journalist explains how the human unconscious interprets events or cues and how past experiences can lead people to make informed decisions very rapidly. He argues that the more complicated the situation, the quicker we should make the decision, so as to access this deep knowing.

I would concur. But my present experience would seem to be a combination of working through the reality of how it is, before I will believe this deep knowing. Then I realise that I knew the choice I had to make all the time. It was just obscured by not liking how it was, by deluding myself, by avoiding thinking about how it was. Once I settled, got quiet and attuned I began to see my truth, how it really was. Then I was able to access the instinct, that which I always knew.

My wise decision has been to re-contact the London medical team who helped me 2 years ago, to begin the process of investigating how it really is. This is likely to result in surgery, either minor or serious, but I have to begin. I have to trust that this will lead to the best possible outcome, even if the fear thrums in my belly.

Accepting difficulty is never easy. However the vulnerability and strength in leaning into the difficulty, rather then running away from it, has the potential to lead you to equanimity and happiness, amongst all of the discomfort and messiness of life.

Barcelona

After a three day visit to Barcelona with my sister I am in recovery! Overdid it a bit and my breathing is a little shabby. The trip itself was great fun (mainly – more later) and we got to see lots.

Cheap flights and Airbnb all make travel to European cities easy and accessible. We stayed in the El Ravel area about a 5 minute walk from La Rambla. The accommodation was a great find clean, comfortable and well located.

First morning we had a late breakfast, a little mooch around the big market, Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria and then met up with a local for a guided walking tour. That was a great start, got our bearings (well, I got mine, not one of Kim’s strengths!) and gave us some great ideas of where to visit, eat and drink. This was all organised through With Locals.

We then headed for a little culture at MACBA (contemporary art) to get confused. Though I do believe that the art inspired my abstract images around the building, seen below.

Later on that day we stopped for a cuppa, after walking 8 miles! I placed my camera next to me, under my coat. The nearest person was a table away, somehow he still stole it. After the shock, anger and frustration of the fruitless police reporting I resigned myself to the loss, hoping that my camera insurance covered it.

The highlights of the trip all happened on the second day. Sagrada Familia is astounding, even though it is still 8 years from completion. A ‘Wow’ escaped my lips as we first walked in. The photos here barely do it justice, taken as all these photos are on my smartphone and edited using Snapseed.

Later we walked down to the marina and sat in the warm winter sun with a comforting bottle of Cava and tapas. Nice. Later in the evening more bars and the 4 Gats (cats to you – an old haunt of Picasso) for more lovely tapas. We finished off in a cocktail bar, Dr Stravinsky’s, as suggested by our guide.

It’s a fabulous city, but keep your valuables very close.

 

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Mindfulness and Creativity

“Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.” Dorothy Parker

You are creative. It is in your DNA. It is in your soul. Every day you create. You may have a bright idea. You may invent a witty one liner. You may put together a fabulous meal from the meagre ingredients in your kitchen. You may just create a photograph. What is certain is that your capacity to make something from the moments or elements of something else is your birthright.

The problem with this is that you might not agree. You may equate creativity with art and you would not be wrong. Art is a creative practice, it is creativity as self expression, as invention, as entertainment, as solace, as celebration and as escapism. But because you equate creativity with art, and you were told in school that you were rubbish at drawing (or painting, or pottery, or sculpture….) you now believe that you are not creative, and that you are not an artist. Wrong, you are bursting with creativity, but it may be trapped behind a door. A door of disbelief, of doubt. Never fear I have the key and I am going to share it with you.

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” Pablo Picasso

The Key

The key to unlocking your creativity is mindfulness. The quieter you become, the closer you move to your essence. The more centered and grounded you become the more present you become in your life. The more present you are the more access you have to your untapped well of creativity. It really is very simple! Simple to explain, if not quite so simple to achieve. Let’s start with mindfulness.

What really is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, to this moment without judgement. That is all fine and dandy but what is really going on?

Mindfulness is a 2500 year old suggestion. A suggestion that if you pay attention to your life, your sensations, your thoughts and your feelings you will have taken the first step towards relieving your suffering. Stay with me here! You suffer. I suffer. We all suffer because we believe that life should be a certain way and quite often it is not. Our most common critical judgement of our life is, ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘I hate this’. Then we suffer.

Mindfulness provides a huge challenge. I asks you to be with how things are, not how you would like them to be. That doesn’t mean that you don’t make changes or decisions that would improve your circumstances, but that where you don’t have those options you work towards accepting how things really are. I asks you to be aware of the glory, the grime, the liking, the disliking and to notice your thoughts. Particularly those judgmental ones that often involve the words good and bad.

Mindfulness asks you to notice how you react to how the world is. To notice the behaviours, the habits, to notice your way of being. All without judgement. See, simple to explain, but anything but simple to live.

You mind is often all over the place. Thoughts run amok (it’s probably happening now as you read this) Feelings fire off across your consciousness with no direction from you. All mindfulness suggests is that you become aware That you pay attention to what your mind is doing. For in the paying attention there is the possibility of noticing how you are, of being totally present with your experience and therefore of responding skillfully (and of accessing your creativity) rather than reacting habitually. So how do you do this?

How do you pay attention?

Training. Your mind, being used to your busy life, is very active. It is unfettered, running amok amongst your memories, your hopes and fears. It is a feral beast and it needs training. Meditation is the training. Other mindful practices are the training. Every activity conducted mindfully (yoga, tai chi, photography, walking, eating chocolate cake – yes even that could be a mindful practice, see its not all dull!) requires concentration.

Concentration is the backbone of meditation and other mindful activities. When meditating you may start by focusing on your breath, feeling its movement in your body at your nose or in your belly. Each breath in receives a count. 1 in, then 1 out. 2 in, then 2 out. Up to 10. Then you start again

As you practice you may notice your mind, all on its own shoot about, generating thoughts as if from nowhere. You notice and you return to the breath, to the count. This takes ongoing concentration. It’s very easy to get lost in a thought and to loose the count. All that is required is to start again…….and again…..and again…..

The Practice

Meditation is a practice. Mindfulness is a practice. A regular commitment to meditation and other mindful practices bears fruit in other areas of your life. Almost unnoticed your ability to be present and aware deepens in your everyday moments. This is because your practice has burned new neural pathways in your mind. By meditating you are re-wiring your mind and it is going to change your world – slowly, eventually!

What happens is that imperceptibly over many years your ability to concentrate, and then to be present deepens. At some point you do not need to count. At some point you become the breath. At some point you totally inhabit the moment. You are part of the moment, part of the universe, part of everything. Of course you always were, you just forget, wrapped up in your own world.

In the moment that you become part of the whole you know that your creativity is limitless. You know that you can create, that you are creation. All you have to do is to be quiet, to be aware, to be. Mindfulness is the key to creativity.

“The painter has the Universe in his mind and hands.” Leonardo da Vinci

Does growth exist?

Does growth exist? Beyond the physical development of our youth, is ongoing personal development a possibility or is everything we already can be present and we only have to realise its presence?

This latter point of view was raised by a friend of mine in a discussion about personal growth. He argued that we were already everything we could be, and that that which we call growth (in the west) is actually just a realisation of something we always were. He went on to say that all that we are is present at birth and that we just had to discover its presence for this truth to emerge.

My immediate reaction to this was, ‘That’s ridiculous’. We experience personal development and growth in response to challenging circumstances, new experiences, formal and informal learning and the assimilation of a number of these thing together over a period of years. Some call this wisdom.

I believe his viewpoint was that whatever we believed the cause was that the ‘development’ was always part of us. The event, circumstances or learning was merely the doorway to that part of ourselves.

Do you know what? I don’t think it really matters how we interpret this aspect of life. Perhaps those two viewpoints are just different ways of describing the same thing and the most important aspect of living is that we pay attention to the opportunities, happenings and make wise choices. What emerges from those choices is what it is.

Planning and Life’s Events

At this time of year the idea of growth (both nature’s and our own personal development) is often on our minds. The idea that we are starting a New Year provides the possibility that we could re-evaluate some of our usual choices, make some wiser decisions and maybe some degree of personal growth will emerge.

I do believe that a regular reflection upon how you are living and what choices you could make to be an even better version of who you are (or open more of those doorways) is a positive strategy for living well. Some commit to New Year’s resolutions. Others plan their year ahead. I have in previous years followed the latter path and have committed to a thorough review of the previous year before anticipating the year to come and developing a loose plan for the achievement of all that I desire!

This year I started the same process (it would have been the 5th year in a row) but it just did not feel right. Instead I sat and reflected upon this feeling, waiting for some wisdom to emerge. Somehow a conclusion suggested itself; distill this planning to a list of priorities. Priorities that I could use whenever I was unclear of the way forward or had a decision to make. I could then look at the list and ask myself what decision, action or choice would best support the achievement of one of these priorities.

I had started to do something similar towards the end of 2017. I know that it seems to support me, but I also recognise that regular evaluation of both the priorities and how I am living is an essential part of the process. Will it result in personal growth? Who knows? Check back here next year!

The Photos

The photos are all favourites I created whilst I was dog sitting three enormous Labradoodles in Lee-on-the-Solent in between Christmas and New Year. My decision to go there was almost entirely based upon the name of the town!

They exhibit my usual style and sense of humour, but also remind me that professional development in photography is also still desirable. Currently that possibility is in exploring the potential of multiple exposures, all created in camera.

 

New Year reflection

Welcome to the New Year. How are those resolutions going? What do you mean, you didn’t make any? Me neither. However, I do see this time of year as an opportunity to reflect upon the recent past and plan a little for the future.

As much as I like to live in the moment, living mindfully does include tuning in to how you are living. This includes reflecting upon the past without judgement, but noticing the thoughts and feelings that pass through. Maybe you consider how your choices could be made more skillfully next time something similar occurs.

Then it is also time to consider what is coming up in your life for the next few months. Can you organise your world so as to maintain balance and harmony. Oh, I know it won’t always be like that but I do like to start with a plan that supports the possibility of it happening! And yes, I know, “Life is what happens to you whilst you are busy making other plans” (John Lennon) but mindful planning and reflection can help.

Mindfulness supports your intention to respond skillfully, rather than react from habit. In that intention you then are more connected to how you are physically, emotionally and holistically. This then supports your ability to respond with an engaged mind and heart, making choices that sustain and support yourself and those that you love.

What’s not to like in that intention? I wish you a New Year that rises to meet your expectations, keeps you engaged with the joy of life and leads you to continue to grow holistically as a human being.