Sunday, 7 October 2018

A Discipline of Self-Kindness

I used to be very good at discipline. Probably the best I have ever been was back when I judged myself as being a mess. It seems that the more of a mess I was the more disciplined I was. 

For the ten years before I learned how to meditate I did a two hour yoga practice every other night without fail. I did my yoga hungover, between studying for exams, after nights out, watching movies, with friends waiting in the other room, with friends drinking wine beside me chatting...

When I look back I can honestly say that at the root of all this discipline was a pure love and care for myself. I wasn't interested in perfecting my body, I was only interested in sanity. Yoga calmed my mind and made my every tomorrow more bearable. This discipline was fuelled by self care. Yet somewhere along the way I began remembering it as me being a 'mess' and needing to be 'fixed'.

In the early years of my meditation training I meditated for at least five hours every day without fail. I woke up before 5am and sat up in the bed. It was a very cold house so I often slept with a few jumpers on. I refilled my hot water bottle and meditated in the bed until the light came up. I never questioned this and it was never ever a chore. My heart dictated the discipline and I followed it.  

As I healed the childhood trauma from which my pain originated everything got easier and it became clear that my discipline would need to change. This necessitated moving away from the tradition I had learned meditation in, which advocated the boot-camp mentality of 'if you just try hard enough you will sort everything out'. 

I knew deep in my heart that if I kept on using the tools of force that had created the bodymind tensions in the first place (back when I was a child) I would only succeed in creating brand new tensions inside myself. I realised that it was surrender that was now called for and not will.

So my new discipline, still centred on kindness, was asking me to sleep longer and more deeply, to relax and smell the flowers, to sometimes not wash the dishes before bed, to let the dog hair lie a little longer on the floor before hoovering, to play and create... This new soft discipline was just as difficult as the rigid discipline, but it didn't look like hard work from the outside and I mourned the loss of kudos from others I had enjoyed before. 

In a culture that congratulates people for working themselves into the ground, for exerting a personal will over life's ups and downs, softness is seen as weakness and the easy option. But letting go, softening and trusting really isn't easy. It's often excruciating.

Walking into my first jiving class late, with everyone already partnered up. Standing alone on the edges, taller than everyone else, single, clueless about dancing... give me a ten day silent retreat any day over that!

It has taken me years to untangle the rigidity of those early years of healing and relax the belief that there is always something wrong that I need to fix. 

They say that a bit of the poison that has harmed you will heal you. I know that I needed that rigidity  to heal back then, and I would not encourage anyone to be soft when what is needed is to be firm. But what is always needed is to be kind.

What I continue to learn is that softness from a place of fear, and rigidity from a place of dominance are not helpful, but softness from love and firmness from care are both deeply kind. These are the disciplines that propel us very quickly towards experiencing the joy and unshakeability we all want.

I recently began another new dance form and it is just as strange and uncomfortable as the jiving was to begin with, but I continue to go because I know that it is the next loving thing to do. It is the next thing to expand my comfort zone and provide more space around me.

My heart will lead me to the next thing after that, and the next... and I will continue my daily meditation and yoga practice as I have done for years, sometimes missing a session here and there. And that's OK. A discipline of kindness is constantly reminding us that Everything is always OK.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Freeing the word God

When I first moved to Donegal I couldn't drive. I had chosen a very rural location right by the roaring Atlantic because I wanted to be as far away from the disappointing Masters degree I had left and the chaos of the city as possible.

Being so rural limited my transportation options considerably, yet a few times a day the Lough Swilly bus passed by my door enabling me to either go to Falcarragh or Dungloe and back again.

I got the bus once a week to do my shopping. It was old and cold, and quite fumey. Inside were the smells of the older people who rode along with me - germolene, sudocreme and tcp. These people were warm and full of craic, and I loved how every single time we passed especially beautiful scenes they would point and say, 'Galanta'. Beautiful.

One phrase I noticed over and over was 'Oh mo Dhia', which I guessed meant Oh my God. I listened and delighted at how many times this was said, my limited Irish language skills keeping exact details of the stories inaccessible. OMG became a wee anchor in a sea of indecipherable chatter.

The tone of how Oh mo Dhia was said was always the same - full of soft compassion and clarity. It actually felt like an invocation, and a relationship with an actual God. It really struck me how healing and genuine it was, and I remember so wanting some of that connection.

Those years of retreat by the sea healed me enormously, and prepared me for the years of intensive meditation retreat that followed. The bus trips have flooded back into my memory recently as I have been exploring my own relationship with the word 'God', and getting more clarity on who or what my God actually is. So much damage has been done to it, and it feels so tainted at times I just want to forget all about it. Yet, it comes back, wanting to be healed, wanting to not produce a reaction in me when I hear 'that' word.

I experienced a very science-based education, in Catholic convent schools, living in a violently divided Christian Protestant/Catholic society. Is it any wonder I have been confused?

The scientific, religious and societal education was as reductionist and divisive as it gets - limiting everything to right and wrong, good or bad, liberation and damnation, smart and stupid.

On the one hand God was a white man with a lightning bolt who punished us for our sins, and the best we could hope for was to eventually 'get it' by being saved. Then He and all the other saved ones would be our best friends and we would be safe.

On the other hand the whole concept of God was a ludicrous fiction created by human machines who were basically just stupid and hadn't 'got it' yet that everything is just a giant machine and essentially meaningless. When we figured all that out intellectually we would have access to a gang of superior smarties to hang out with and then we would be safe.

Add to that the parent I lived with was a communist, who believed that God was actually the devil, and a tool of the rich to oppress the poor and righteous people...

Yes, things were weird. And no one seemed particularly happy.

So here I am today. I meditate and practice yoga every day, and have done for many years. I dedicate myself to compassion and awareness. I want my life to be helpful, and I know that what has helped me heal from all the violence I experienced in childhood is my ability to surrender to a higher intelligence, whatever that may be. 

For a long time it has been unnecessary to name my God, and part of me does still feel that it isn't helpful. What has been clearly helpful though is to release the web of inherited beliefs and opinions that are standing in the way of the only thing that has ever really helped me.

As I release what God is not, everything that's left behind is My God, and I do hope that one day I can reclaim the word as completely as many of my favourite spiritual teachers have.

Right now my God is manifest in my ability to Love my experience, myself and others whether what is happening is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

My God is Heaven and Earth - when I am clear and my head is high above the water, and when I am deeply grounded and moving through change.

My God is alive and active all the time, whether I am aware of it or not, and sometimes remembering that brings me back to God... 

My God is Love. My God loves me as I am, and doesn't need me to be saved. I am already perfect. There's just some stuff standing in the way, that I can, through time, remove.

My God is in science, in my biology, and is the function of my calming, insight and healing.

In mindfulness terms, my God is the part of me saying 'everything is ok'. It is when I come out of the fight/flight/freeze mode and into the rest and digest mode. 

My God is the motivation in me to respond compassionately and set myself and any difficult others in my life free from condemnation.

Yes, this is my God. My God takes the words sinner, stupid and evil  into itself and transforms them into beauty, light and wholeness. My God is a force of nature, and therefore genderless - calling my God he or even she limits and reduces the vastness of it all.

My God wants me to be happy, delighted, safe and successful. And by stating all this I am feeling better about the word 'God' already...

I am here, breathing... and here, breathing... and...

Even though I practice and teach meditation all the time, I still at least once a day have the dawning realisation that focusing on my breath is really quite miraculous. This recurring eureka moment, every time I experience it, expands me that little bit more, and I think, 'wow, how lucky am I to know this simple, life-changing thing.'

Sometimes I have a really big eureka moment about the breath, and two weeks ago was one of those times. I had spent the few days after my Easter retreat/workshop feeding and following more and more thoughts about the workshop itself, about my future, about the possibility of moving to Findhorn, about this and about that - and I was getting very thinky about the whole thing.

This went on until I felt so awful that I knew it was time to call in the big guns, which for me is to make a commitment to spend a full day focusing on my breath. Within 5 minutes I was back to normal, and instead of spending the whole day focusing on my breath I have been gently and determinedly inclining my attention there ever since. Of course my mind wanders, but every time I realise it has gone I very simply stay with my breath once again.

There is something very necessary about this back and forth between awareness and unconsciousness, between the light and shadow, between being lost and found. The poet Rumi says that in order to remove dirt from our skin we introduce a new dirt we call 'soap', allow it to mingle with our own dirt and then both get washed away leaving us clean.

Realising we are lost is the dirt that brings about the cleansing which brings us back to ourselves and wholeness.

We focus on our breath then wander off, refocus then wander off, then refocus... and it is the wandering off that reminds us of the value of what we temporarily lost.

The murkiness is just as important as the clarity.

Carl Jung puts it this way... 'Life itself flows from springs both clear and muddy. Hence all excessive 'purity' lacks vitality. A constant striving for clarity and differentiation means a proportionate loss of vital intensity precisely because the muddy elements are excluded. Every renewal of life needs the muddy as well as the clear.'

So, the important thing in our mindfulness of breath meditation is not to be perfectly clear, but to be growing kindness with whatever is happening.

Whether we are as clear as a Himalayan wind chime, or as chaotic as a soap opera, the intention is to be compassionate and equanimous, remembering that everything is changing and that our true identity already is perfect.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Relax Away... Distraction, Laziness and Stress

I had a lovely surprise last week. I won two  free tickets to a retreat in Findhorn, Scotland, the Eco-Spiritual Centre that inspired me to start teaching meditation eight years ago.

I had just spent the previous week snowed in and participating in the World Tapping Summit, during which I released masses of tension and tears around a core belief that: I cannot relax, it is not OK to relax, I will never be able to relax, and relaxation is just not for people like me...

It felt like winning the competition was a prize for all the hard work I had done. Life was saying to me, 'Well done, Aoife, now here is your reward for relaxing...'.

Of course I am a much more relaxed person than I was ten or twenty years ago, but for the past few years the calm, unshakeable feeling strong in my first years of meditation had been rapidly giving way to persistent stress. 

I lost my ability to relax deeply because the people and institutions I looked to for guidance and support when I began teaching meditation were stuck in codependent dynamics. On the one hand I knew they were bad for me, and on the other I just felt so lonely and isolated in my new role...

Eventually I reached rock bottom and found a worldwide community committed to serenity and freedom from codependency. My relaxation is now supported and encouraged, as I do the work I want to do. There are elders in this community way ahead of me, and I so enjoy learning from them.

As relaxation grows and fear subsides I am observing how much of the modern world is run by people who are unable to relax, and how this hovering, unsettledness manifests in everything - even spiritual and healing practices.

Words are powerful. How we phrase things means so much. There is something about the word RELAX that is very threatening to modern conditioning. It brings up all the FEAR we have inside to meet it. 

Relax = Fear. If I relax I will have to meet all that fear. If I don't ever fully relax then I can put it off.

This is where distraction, laziness and stress come in. If I keep myself numbed by under or over eating, eating processed foods, by under or over exercising, by regularly taking drugs and alcohol, by focusing on things that have nothing to do with me; if I never challenge things by following my inner guidance, or keep pumping up dramas in my personal and work life... Basically if I maintain a cloudy web of unresolved noise around and inside me, if I remain comfortably numb, I will never have to face the fact that life really is actually very simple...

Relax into fear and it will go away, and then - and this is the bit that people are avoiding at all costs - I will have to change.

When you relax, and fear falls away, you will be moved to change yourself, your habits, and most importantly of all - your relationships with all the people in your life. You will set boundaries, say no when you mean it, only say yes when you mean it, you will do things you want to do and stop doing things you don't want to do. You will potentially piss off a lot of people, especially if you've been maintaining a disempowering status quo for a long long time.

All of this is terrifying to codependent people. They would rather get sick, stay in hopeless relationships or work environments, and keep swirling around in distraction, laziness and stress, than stand up for themselves and risk the backlash.

Yet the truth is that the only thing to do is to go there... to relax, face fear, and become a whole adult person.

It is possible to set boundaries and still love people. It is possible to live a healthy lifestyle fuelled only by self-compassion.

It is not only possible that you will succeed if you go there, it is probable. There has never before been so much support available for this kind of personal freedom.

If you are stuck in the merry-go-round of stress, I urge you to meet it with relaxation. Meditate and Tap deeply into those very real feelings of fear. Let them rise up and release. Let yourself become who you are meant to be, and give up the crusty old conditioning that keeps you suffering.

Who knows what prizes await you...

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Relief of 'I Don't Know'

A feeling I am coming to experience and appreciate more and more these days is relief. The shoulder melting, jaw easing and eye softening kind of relief of knowing what I know and can do, and what I don't know and therefore need to give way to. 

When we've been on a path of awareness for a while old thought-patterns of over-knowing, of fear and control, can morph into spiritual speak - what the Buddhists call the 'near enemies'. This is when a quality looks like something healthy but is actually the exact opposite. Compassion is actually pity, detachment is coldness, and love codependency. These qualities appear the same but the feeling tone is not life enhancing; it drains rather than gives energy, and disconnects rather than connects.

We can label anything as spiritual, healing or liberating. That's how sneaky and baffling fear is. Fear shape shifts and takes us over, and we're just so used to it that we keep on moving without really knowing what is propelling us forward. Because most institutions of the modern world are still fuelled by and promote fear it's quite difficult to remain immune to it.

This is where 'I don't know' becomes your best friend, and a torch to bring light to the shadowy corners of the fear-created crazy. When we respond to fear in a non-threatening way it disappears and healing occurs. I don't know is one of the most disarming statements there are.

I've been meditating every day for many years now, and the bulk of my meditation practice is to feel deeply into my body in a peaceful way, easing away the imbalances that manifest as pain, tension and dis-ease. I am used to facing old habits of fear, and welcome the opportunity to empty it out of my bodymind. I teach this is my classes and retreats; it's what occupies every day of my life. What I have realised recently though, is that a tiny little subtle over-knowing had crept in and was keeping me stuck.

I experienced extreme physical violence throughout childhood. My body has been through a lot, and much of these past decades has been devoted to recovery from this. As I've been meditating into the current layers of pain and tension in my lower back I've been delighted to remember the power that an attitude of 'I don't know what is going to happen next' brings to my body scanning meditations. It's like a magic spell that creates instant ease.

When we think we know what's going to happen next, when we think we've got it all figured out, either within the framework of our own bodies, in relationship, or work situations, we are vastly limiting the creative power of the present moment to bring inspiration, ease and healing. This over-knowing is a form of fear-fuelled control.

My subtle little 'been here, done this before' was keeping pain trapped in my body. It was binding me to the past. As soon as I shifted my attitude to 'I simply do not know what this is, or what is going to happen now, but I am choosing to relax into it and feel it fully', I got what I wanted: relief, and a feeling of expansion and joy.

Life presents us with moments such as this every single day. Let's meet them all with I don't know and see what happens next...

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Who are you when you're not thinking?

Who are you when you're not thinking?

What does it feel like to really, consistently, know the difference between stress-thoughts and inspiration?

When we learn how to regularly relax into present moment experience without resistance or control, a whole new world opens up... a world of intuition, ease, purpose and friendliness. A world of knowing who you are, what you're meant to be doing, when to wait, when to take action, and when to lie back and smell the flowers.

This world is the place where all systems of the body operate optimally - the nervous, hormonal, and digestive systems are in rest and restore / healing mode. In this world the mind is open, fresh and curious... creativity is awake and problems are resolved easily.

The problem is not that we don't know this world. We've all had moments, and even long periods, of such enlightenment. The problem is that we are so conditioned to let stress override our experience of it and so surrounded by others doing the same, that it is very difficult to maintain. 

We may glimpse the light then check Facebook and it's gone; we may find the groove then chat with someone who subtly knocks us out of it. We are in the zone then all of a sudden we are not.

So, what can we do? How is it possible to remain mindful in such a mindlessly driven world?

I spent quite a few years studying and going on silent retreats in the Buddhist tradition. Although as a religion it is as imperfect as all the others, there are some very helpful concepts that I find myself understanding and valuing more deeply as the years go by. 

Buddhists 'take refuge' in something called the Three Jewels or the Triple Gem:
The Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

Put simply this means devoting oneself to:
The Buddha - the possibility of becoming free from all suffering, i.e. enlightened.
The Dhamma - the spiritual teachings passed on by the Buddha, including meditations and a personal code of conduct.
The Sangha - the other people devoted to awakening in the same way, including monastic orders and lay people. 

For years this was my daily focus. I meditated, read and listened to talks. I was 100% devoted to freeing myself from the traumas of the past, and was friends with people who were focused in the same way.

Eventually though, as I became disillusioned with Buddhism, I let the idea of Sangha go. I settled back into 'normal' life.

I continued to meditate every day. I continued to read and listen to spiritual teachers. But the third leg of the stool - the Sangha - was gone.

And so I began to wobble. My two-legged stool couldn't support me. I lost my focus, my zone, and bliss. All those years of hard spiritual  work got covered up by my culture's film of hazy, grey, making-do-ness.

This making-do-ness is the primary problem of our western world. Call it auto-pilot, unconsciousness, or living in the shadow, it is an old foggy getting-by that people put up with while waiting for something to happen that will save them... waiting to meet 'the one', waiting to win the lottery, waiting for that inheritance, for retirement, that better job, bigger house, fitter body, shinier car or more positive personality... even waiting to be more spiritual.

We wait and wait and wait... distract, force, get busy, zone out... Lost in the fog we forget that we're not our thoughts and that it is actually those thoughts that stand in the way of what we truly yearn for.

I realised that who I relax with is who I will become. Us human beings really are that socially sensitive. I had begun waiting just like everyone else... putting off happiness until I got my new house so I could run silent retreats from it, waiting for sufficient income to expand my business, waiting for my new man who would make everything alright...

I understand now why the Buddhists call them jewels. These days I have a Sangha again and am more often in bliss than not. This is because I look inside for everything, and can be consistent in doing so because I'm supported by and aligned with people who are doing the same.

I am not my thoughts, and neither are you. If you want to live a life of ease and growth then find your version of the Triple Jewel... Find a daily spiritual practice that grounds you in the present moment. Find teachings or a teacher that really speaks to you and align with them. And finally choose to spend quality time with people who are devoted in the same way, limiting time spent with people who pull you back into unconsciousness.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Why Soul Care?

Why Soul Care?

Anyone who has been following me for a while will have noticed a few branding shifts over the past three years.

I went from Inner Haven, to Mindfulness with Aoife, to Wee Owl Soul Care, to just Soul Care with Aoife, which feels most comfortable and seems to have stuck.

I knew that the word 'soul' would be a challenge to some, but it felt like the only word that fully describes what I am doing in my work.

Mindfulness is the main thing I offer, and it is such a buzz word and a draw, but it has been so diluted to fit into our busy-shallow culture I often feel quite disconnected from it.

Real mindfulness to me is incredibly deep and life altering. It isn't just about noticing a few things here and there, it's about sustaining attention, and seeing so clearly that we actively shift our lives to something better.

It's about change and building resilience, long-term, and in doing so helping create a more stable and loving world.

It's powerful stuff.

Underneath all our busyness, stress and complaining, sits our life purpose - what we're meant to be doing, and how we're meant to be living our lives. When I use the word soul, I refer to that inner knowing, that alive and awake presence in all of us that could be guiding our lives with ease and grace, if we just got out of the way and let it.

This mindful, soulful presence is the opposite of living life as a perpetual emergency and drama. To inhabit this presence swims against the tide of modern culture, yet it is also the natural way to be, so has all the forces of nature supporting it.

So many problems we face worldwide find their root in panicked, unhappy minds. The only sane response to such a situation is to meditate daily; to take responsibility for our own minds and thereby become able to contribute something helpful. My own personal daily practice is to stick with my own soul, as best I can, one day at a time.

I know from many years of intensive silent meditation retreat just what is possible in terms of joy and delight in each day. It is this joy that keeps me meditating, and it is my compassion for others that motivates me to teach what I have learned.

So, when you come to me for individual support, a meditation class, or a retreat, I will help you care for and connect with your own soul. When I do my drawings it is my soul that creates and wants to speak with your soul.

This is what soul care means to me.

Monday, 28 August 2017

A Life Free of Shoulds

At the end of last year I felt confused and overwhelmed. For a long time I had been trying to make things work that had been feeling past their sell-by-date. I knew that I needed a shift. 

I also knew that if I didn't shift myself then Life would initiate the shift for me with a wake-up-call, like getting sick, having an accident, or some other kick in the butt move.

On my Christmas retreat the clouds parted and the direction became clear. I needed to create space. It was time to stop teaching meditation altogether. I had become completely consumed by the teaching to the point where it was my identity.

It was time to develop other parts of myself, and both focus on birthing the artwork that had been buried since I went to art college, and craft the healing memoir that had been forming in the back of mind for over a decade.

I needed to pull all my focus within and tend to my self.

I dutifully followed direction, and the art flowed forth, and then the book. Part of me couldn't believe it. After all those years I had broken through the creative block. My shoulders were loose in a way I had never felt before, and I hardly knew what to do with myself. It was a rocky road emotionally, that called for self-care every step of the way.

The more self-care I mustered, the more I began recognising all the hidden ways I had been harming myself with hurtful thinking and action. As this harm was dismantled, I noticed that my old beliefs and habits had the word 'should' in them. 

I should get up at 6am; I should save the world; I should help people find peace; I should ignore my own needs to help others; I should get over it; I should be over it by now; I shouldn't feel like this; I should be grateful....

It has been said that 'should' is one of the most violent words we use every day. It is a word loaded with judgement, lacking any softness or love.

I've known how destructive should is for a long time. Should I have known better than to get caught up in it? Well, no, because I am a human being, not a robot. I forget things - sometimes old hurts come up and temporarily blind me, sometimes old should-habits come up and it takes me a while to release my identification with them, and most powerful of all - I too get caught up in the pull of our stress-culture's craziness.

The hardest thing for people who are still playing by the rules of a culture centred in fear/stress to grasp, is that it is the overarching thinking of our lives that is the problem, not just one or two fixable components of it.

It is the energy with which we do every thing, it is the shoulds and the have-tos, that really cause harm. We turn life into a battle, instead of letting it be the adventure it really is.

A new should that came along for me this Summer, as I began to get invitations to do group-work again, was that I should stick to my plan of focussing on my art and learning dressmaking, even though I really wanted to teach again.

That should was trying to bring stress to something that was meant to be fun and free. When I felt into it, it was just a pile of fear - a fear of harming myself and a fear of doing something wrong... We really can turn anything, even self-care, into a nightmare.

I've been enjoying working with groups again, not because I should do it, but because I genuinely want to. And I am noticing just how much easier my teaching experience is. I feel so much softer and more relaxed. It is a privilege to do the work I do. I feel that, and am so grateful.

I can honour the teaching, artwork, and dressmaking now, because I have purposefully created a structure around me that supports it all. It is a fluid structure that allows for growth and change, for new things coming in and old ones going out. It is a structure of self-care that contains daily meditation, energy harmonising, yoga and nature connection, Al-Anon 12-step work, monthly coaching and therapy, reaching out more, and expecting good things to come my way.

I want to live a life filled with love, rooted in self-love, and not because it should be that way, but because I simply want it to be, moment by moment, one step at a time.

My new Mindfulness Meditation Drop-in Class in Aura Leisure Centre, Letterkenny, begins Monday September 4th 7pm. Doors close at 705pm so be early or on time! This course will run until Christmas, and maybe even beyond...

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Love and Hate ~ Personal and Global

If we are learning anything amid the current global upheaval it is the sheer amount of hatred existing within the heart of humanity. All the problems we face today have their root in this hatred, and this hatred's roots lie in individual people refusing to take responsibility for cleaning up their own side of the fence.

I made the decision to leave my personal facebook page in December because I couldn't bear to witness any more of the name-calling and circular complaining. It was clear to me that all those seemingly enlightened people 'in the right' were fuelling instability with their insistent focus on the other side 'being wrong'. They were behaving like the very thing they purported to hate, and thereby fuelling a more hostile world

And now here we are. It's like the war that I grew up with in 80s and 90s Northern Ireland has seeped into every part of the world. The poison of unresolved hatred inside us all is now out in the open and we really have no choice but to heal it.

So how do we heal hatred?

The first thing is to recognise that hatred exists, within us. We need to own our own capacity for hatred and learn how to transform its energy into something life enhancing.

On numerous occasions over the years I have found myself teaching loving-kindness meditation to an individual or group who winced at the mention of the word 'hatred'. People often say, 'Well I wouldn't say I ever feel hatred - it's more like dislike or irritation. I don't actually hate anyone'.

While it is socially acceptable to pretend to not have the capacity for hatred, it is actually a disservice to our own personal power to try to cover up what is a normal human experience. Hatred is so close to love because it implies that we actually care about something, we're not numb to it.

In any given moment, scratch a little bit beneath a minor irritation in yourself and you will find a burning furnace of unowned hatreds; hatreds that can teach you huge amounts about the world, and liberate you from all your personal bodymind issues.

The second thing to know is that no external person, view, or situation, is the cause of my hatred. My hatred is my responsibility. It is my reaction to something outside of myself, and that thing in and of itself is neutral. When I am bound up in it, the reaction defines this neutral thing for me and I lose touch with my power to initiate positive change.

Hatred tells us that we do not agree with what is happening. It is essential for the overall harmony of the world that we all speak out when we see something unhelpful is happening, but when we do it from hate nothing can properly change. Change only comes with love; love that is sometimes soft and light and sometimes hard and mountainous.

So, how does this process translate into our everyday lives?

For the past four years I have had an issue in my left hip that flared up about once a year. It really annoyed me each time because I put a lot of energy into being active and healthy. I went to a well known physio who very unhelpfully told me it was only going to get worse and that I should give up my yoga practice. (Being an avid HayHouse listener I challenged his view and sent him some information on how our beliefs create our biology.)

At the time of the first flare up I had a new person in my life who was pushing all my buttons. This man had the exact opposite 'wrong' views to me on everything yet I was so drawn to him. It surprised me just how much love and hatred existed simultaneously. I noted in my daily meditation practice that the hip pain got worse the more I judged him and then myself for being a 'bad person' for feeling all the hatred. Eventually I gave up on this relationship and the pain went away.

Then, each year the hip pain returned with a new person or situation that pushed my buttons and helped me empty out the old hatred stored in my body. I got better at being kind to myself and the pain got lesser and lesser each time.

Recently it flared up again, very mildly this time. I had so much more love for myself and the new person that I could let go into it fully and uncover the very root of  the pain.

In my body-scan mindfulness meditation I felt in to years of toxic hatred for my parents. I had hated their lack of care, their cruelty, selfishness, recklessness, and insanity... The list was very long, and I judged myself for non of it. All that hatred was a perfectly understandable reaction to how I had been treated. It had taught me how I wanted to be in the world, but now it was time to let it go. If I held on to it any longer I knew I would become the very things I hated.

The pain was deeply embedded in the left hip, and as it released it travelled to the right hip where it was as hard as concrete. In there was the pure cold hatred of  a lonely little girl who had been surrounded by humans who were less than perfect, a girl who desperately wanted to live in a world full of love. I felt the pain in my bodymind, I cried out the tears, and acknowledged all the judgements of these people who didn't know how to love me.

As the pain released all that was left behind was ease. No more pain, no more hatred, just love. As the days unfolded I noticed that this release had changed all my relationships - suddenly I felt no reaction to minor irritants, so much so that I felt ready to join facebook again.

There is no difference between the global and personal. The wider world is simply a merging together of all the tiny decisions we individual people make each day to either project our darkness onto one another, or to heed the natural healing calls of bodymind to turn that gaze inward and face our own shadows in meditation, to transform all our hatreds into love, and ultimately to create heaven here on earth.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Stepping into Love

From my new book 'A Peaceful Life is Possible'


To love is to truly see. When we behold an other, in all their beauty and shadow, without grasping or recoiling, love has matured beyond the limits of infatuation.

All we can ever hope to do is remove what stands in the way of the flow of love, so that it can move more freely through us, and out into the world.

Love dries up in an atmosphere of control and expectation. When we take things personally, even good things, love is overshadowed. When we judge, even positively, we cover love with a heavy weight and it can't breathe. We can only ever love others in their own beingness, and love ourselves in our own beingness - nothing to fix, nothing to sort out.

When we say that we have 'fallen in love' we have opened up to the full vibrancy of love, and that means accepting the side-effects that come along with that opening. Love will throw a light upon everything that it is not, everything that stands in its way. This includes all our habits of projection, judgement and taking things that aren't really personal personally.

When we fall in love everything we usually try to hide is exposed to the world in technicolour. This provides a wonderful opportunity to notice blocks inside us to love and allow them to release. It can be a valuable growth process that brings us closer to, and more deeply knowing of, what love actually means.

There is a magic to beholding the presence of someone you love and feeling that feeling of merging into the wholeness of life, where everything is connected and nothing divided. It is a deeply restful experience.

This restful awareness is where mindfulness lives. Mindfulness helps us to fall in love with our own lives, and in doing so we find that we can lovingly behold whatever comes along, be it animal, mineral or vegetable. We become love.

As the blocks to love are removed, one by one, we merge with the flow of everything else in this interconnected life. We see our unique presence as it is woven into life's rich tapestry, and we become a vital part of how life is meant to be right now.

This sense of belonging, of all being well, is our birth right. We are born into the human family, the mammal family, the animal family, the earth family and the universe family beyond. We are part of this moment right now, and this moment is always full of possibility.

When we are separated from this belonging, life feels cynical, cold, hard, and unyielding. Life becomes a difficult problem we need to solve, and there is no time to relax because we have to always be doing something.

Love says breathe. Simply breathe. Shift your attention and open yourself to the perfection of this moment, with all its noisy thoughts, busy feelings, pains and tensions. Open yourself to that which holds it all; that which binds it all together.

When we open to this moment we begin to feel our own mindfulness, feel our own love permeating every pain and every thought. As we allow the light of awareness to shine upon everything, thoughts settle, emotions harmonise and tensions soon soften and fade.

All relationships are the same. Whether it is the relationship with ourselves, a lover, a friend, a child, pet or family member - find the love and the answer about what to do, what to say, or what not do or say, will come naturally.

Strategies, manipulation and second-guessing are all ways that we make things more difficult than they need to be. Our inner guidance is always singing away, down in our belly, just waiting for us to become still enough to listen to its advice.

So get quiet, slow down and listen for the next best step. Then step into love.