Being vulnerable is OK…

I’m realising, as I reach my 46th year, that showing one’s vulnerability is OK. In fact, I think it’s necessary!

Having had a lifetime of being told what to do by others, (‘oh you mustn’t cry’, ‘be a man’ etc.) I finally observe that all of this diatribe aimed at what I can and can’t do has had a profound influence on my health, my mind and my conditioning. It has made me who I am. Initially, it made me a depressed, anxious human being. I had in the past even been suicidal, not seeing beyond my disturbed thoughts at that time.

It’s only in recent years, through the practice of mindfulness, that I’m beginning to tease these edges and understand my old subconscious patterns, and choosing to let go of them.

I now have gratitude (rather than grudges) for all the paths I’ve trod to reach here. All the people, jobs, events and influences in my life have pushed me onto the thread of mindfulness, which is now my true lifeline in this life. It’s a rope to safety, a cord that I hang on to whenever I can. With the ever increasing ‘threats’ of our world’s sustainability, politics, environment and fear-mongering among media, it has kept me sane and kept me from becoming angry at the state of the world.

I’m currently taking part in a workshop called ‘Active Hope’, which looks at the ‘crazy’ of the world and how we can deal with it as a species. It has three stories of this world: the business as usual model, the great unravelling, and the great turning. Business as usual is more of the same: more money, more profit, more work, more doing, doing, doing and not caring where are resources come from. This is no longer sustainable. We are already seeing much of the great unravelling, the breakdown in society and the fear that we’re all living in…the threat of climate change and war always prominent: just how do we cope? Then there’s the great turning, something organisations and people are doing already, a way forward, even if it’s just buying local food or watching where our fuel comes from, or using less plastic packaging.

The trick with the great turning is to start talking about this vulnerable world, and that includes our own fears and despairs. Only when we see our pain can we honour it and do something different. Only when we share our vulnerability can we learn compassion for others. This is the essence of mindfulness, and I believe in it so strongly I’m writing a book about it. I believe so strongly that I’m writing this blog to let you all know that there have been times I’ve NOT had it together.

By looking clearly at ourselves, and all our anguish, only then will an insight come to show us the way. I’m taking great steps to let go of watching the news, consuming that which I believe to be the ‘right’ thing to consume, and working on myself so I can become more resilient in the years ahead. If I can work with my own vulnerabilities and anxieties, then I am well served as one of the members of ‘the great turning’. We can all do this, if we choose to look and practice on ourselves.

I have been transformed by the practices I’m now doing, and I’m being much more hopeful and active – in fact, I’m enjoying life! I have more self-compassion and kindness for myself, and I have eternal thanks for everyone who’s supported me (which includes you, as you’re reading this).

So, yes, I’ve been vulnerable. I’m still vulnerable at times, but I smile and know that I can get through it, and I know I can trust in each moment to unfold as it should. I know this suffering has provided me the compassion to see the pain in others, and to be able to offer kindness when I can.

So, keep smiling, keep breathing, and let’s work together to make this world, our home, be at peace.

Mindful Walk – Kirkcaldy to Kinghorn Coastal Path – Sunday 24th February 2019

Our first mindful walk of 2019. Starting from Seafield beach car park (behind Morrisons), we will walk along the coastal path, past Seafield tower and along to Kinghorn. From Kinghorn there will be an option to either return the same way back to your car, or getting a bus. Craig will guide you to be mindful of your surroundings and to just being. The walk is approx 2 miles long (4 miles if returning by foot), and will last approx 2 hours. Cost is £10 per person. If you would like to book on this event, please contact Craig directly, either through a private message to this page, e-mail: info@craig-gilbert.com or text mobile: 07846 399594.

Runs from 1pm – 3pm on Sunday 24th February 2019.

Seafield Tower, Kirkcaldy

An hour of concentrated mindfulness

Lines on Kirkcaldy beach
Lines on Kirkcaldy Beach

This week I took it upon myself to do a solid hour of mindful walking along Kirkcaldy Esplanade.

A mile long, normally the walk takes about 15 minutes. I made a point of taking a whole hour. I decided to really focus on the movement of my walking, noticing every time I lifted my foot and placing it back on the ground. I walked slowly, feeling the movement of my body’s muscles as each part of my foot connected with the ground – slightly leaning forward at toe, slightly leaning back at heel. I visualised my muscles and tendons of my legs moving as I walked, imagining them getting stronger, fitter, healthier with each step.

Every so often I would stop, and gaze across at the sea, watching the waves hitting the beach, white froth moving along the edge of the sand. I listened to the seabirds, and watched the seagulls swooping. I felt the wind on my face.

As it was dusk, and descending into night at the time I walked, I began to notice the stars appearing in the evening sky. Across the water, lights shone from the coastline opposite, and twinkling lights of boats and lighthouses became clear. I also spotted the lights of planes crossing over to Edinburgh airport in the distance.

Every time my mind wandered to another topic, or thought, or ‘thing to do’, I brought it back to my breath, concentrating on that, breathing in and out as I walked, coming back to the Esplanade – to the here and now.

A full hour of mindfulness does not need to be sitting on a cushion doing meditation. After the hour I felt refreshed, nourished, and fitter. My mind felt calmer. I had arrived, back once again with my body, in the present moment.

The walk gave me an idea to run events on an ‘hour of concentrated mindfulness’. It’s good practice, and will form part of a series of ‘deepening’ events this year.

In the right circles

This has been a year in three distinct parts for me.

The right circles

The first part, up until May, was business as usual – going to work, paying the bills, practicing mindfulness and running my groups part-time, yet from a visit to the Isle of Bute in May I received a message saying I just had to let go of this routine and become a full-time mindfulness practitioner. I also needed to regroup on my writing projects and change my approach, which was haphazard at best and not regular enough for the creativity spark that runs through me. However, “not regular enough” was obviously a story-line (see later).

The period from June to August was making this transition happen: handing in my notice, striving to write every Monday to continue my book projects and devising my plans to be able to survive through being self-employed. I realised by the end of August that the universe had provided some surprising means for me to be able to survive and seemed to guide me through. My heart’s intentions had been seen and honoured. I am filled with gratitude for all the ways things have happened.

September to December has been a curious state of affairs – seeing how “the plan” has played out, and again I’ve come to another insight: striving does not work (or only in part)!

My future plans had to change, something that has occurred more “in the moment” than on paper and in response to differing circumstances from month to month. I smile from this lesson, because one of the mindfulness attitudes is all about “non-striving”, not trying to force change by ‘needing to be over there in the future’, but by doing what is in front of me in the present. Once I harnessed my energy into focusing on the here and now, I realised I could cope with what came up, and often new ways came clear that I couldn’t have planned or foreseen. The future basically takes care of itself. Taking the pedal off slightly; removing that ‘need’ for change, actually created all the change I wanted anyway.

So, I end 2018 in a kind of blissed out awareness of the present moment, more and more as I dip into it through mindfulness, and always try to “deal with what’s going on now”. I am treading in the right circles! I have had plenty of eureka moments and ideas for deepening mindful practices next year, which I’ve jotted down: yet all of these will happen naturally when the time is ready for them. Also, with writing, I write more when I’m in the mood, rather than forcing it out every Monday. This approach is working well and I’m writing more regardless of that former rigidity. It is interesting to me that this approach had failed to work before (as mentioned at the start of this blog), but I believe my thoughts got in the way (thoughts lead to procrastination after all). Just write to write, I keep saying to myself. Enjoy the art of writing. What comes up, well, is what comes up!

I wish everyone a happy Christmas and peaceful New Year. I’ll see you soon.

Space to breathe

20181108_110543Everyone needs a space to breathe. My place is very simple; just a couple of large cushions, resting on a storage heater, with a frame above and a piece of fabric to the left.  It doesn’t need to be ostentatious. I’m only breathing, after all.

But, aren’t we breathing all the time? Yes, we are, but are we focusing on it? Are we giving ourselves that space, that permission, to just sit and focus on our breath? Even just a few minutes of doing this can be calming. We begin to notice our difficulty in doing nothing, or rather, just being – just breathing, and knowing we’re breathing.

We want to be anywhere but in the breathing space. We fidget, we sigh, we get bored, we want action…and yet, that’s the point. By practicing on the breathing like this, we begin to expand our calm self, our calm mind, and thus our body becomes calmer. We can sit for longer periods, even begin to enjoy the sitting, with nothing else to do but to breathe.

The benefits of this are forever reaching, and I’ve still not tapped into the huge mystery of it. I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’m noticing my thoughts, distracting myself from my breath. I’m noticing aches and pains in my body, or emotions and feelings coming up that are lurking inside, somewhere. I’m just accepting all of these, not getting rid of them, just observing them in my awareness, and then I’m gently coming back to my breathing.

The longer I do this, the more I sink into a deeper sense of being. This is invaluable training for when I’m out and about in real life; I begin to notice my thoughts, my emotions, my feelings and my body in a much more tuned in way. So, when I notice an irritation, I can relax into it there and then, in the moment, by just returning to my breath. This is the practice.

I’m now using my breathing space to sit, especially when I feel something – like anxiety, or sadness, or something that’s not comfortable in my life, and I breathe with the emotion. I accept I’ve got it, I welcome it in, and I breathe. I breathe without trying to breathe deeply, or change my breath in any way, I just focus on the breath. That’s it.

What I’ve discovered is a wealth of calmness, a huge bottomless pit of serenity, a deep well of peace that can be brought forth whenever life decides to throw a curve ball at me.

Welcome to mindfulness.  Welcome to your breathing space.

I think we all need a breathing space.  Just setting aside a few minutes, to interrupt the flow of the rush of the day, the constant stream of thoughts, of doing this and doing that. Just be. Just breathe. I find as a result I’m a lot calmer, able to react better, and more consciously, than before. The breathing space is particularly useful when we’re judging all the time, blaming something (or someone) for our troubles. Let go of the judgment, focus on the breath. This continued practice always brings the solution to all my problems, and most of the time, I find the problems are made up in my head from past experiences anyway.

So, try it, see what you think (literally). You might be surprised at what concentrating on your breath can do for you.

Mindful Walk – November 25th, Birnie & Gaddon Loch, near Collessie, Fife

BirnieLochA mindful walk around the nature reserve at Birnie & Gaddon Loch. We will walk around both lochs (approx 1 mile) and take time to enjoy the scenery with our mindful awareness. There will be an option afterward to visit cafe Africa, just next door to the Lochs, for refreshments. Cost is £10 for the 2 hours per person. Booking is essential. Please contact Craig via a message sent to the Zen Life Fife page, text 07846 399594 or e-mail info@craig-gilbert.com to book your place. Maximum 10 people.

Transformative Mindfulness

18102016340Change is coming.

Not only is it autumn, and the trees shed their leaves, changing their form in time for winter; not only is it getting darker at night, the day shorter and cooler; not only did I just end one life path and start another (as a self-employed mindfulness practitioner), change is coming, everywhere.

I see it in people I meet. I see it in the world. I see it in the way we act with one another. There’s a deep rooted fear in society, that, through my practice of mindfulness, I’m seeing so much more clearly. Perhaps it’s always been there, but it does feel like an abyss of despair at this point in time.  Yet there is hope – we can pause before we plunge.

People are frightened of their own lives. I’m noticing the anxiety in so many people, and it’s their thoughts that’s causing the anxiety. Worse, they’re not seeing these thoughts, but descending further into the ‘what if’s, how do I fit in, what should I do, why me’ process. So many of my friends on social media and in life, shut themselves out, or complain about how this world is affecting them, or worry endlessly about this, and that.  It’s getting worse. Things are imagined, or made to look dramatic, when the reality is there is absolutely nothing going on – it’s just what’s in our heads – so we believe it.

Awareness is the only truth: what we see, hear, smell, touch, taste, and feel.  It’s this moment, or nothing else. It’s why I’m so passionate about mindfulness. It’s the truth, it highlights what is really there, not what we think is there.

That’s why I consider mindfulness transformative.  If we look deeply at ourselves, and really take that courageous step to do so, we will begin to see the patterns we’re in. We begin to see the habits and destructive thoughts we wage on ourselves. We wake up, and we can choose a different path.

I have totally transformed my life with the miracle that is mindfulness. It’s why I kinda dig it, you know? It’s interesting to me that a lot of people run from the very thought of mindfulness. It’s scary to some. Well, it’s brave to look deeply at ourselves, isn’t it? We know the truth of it, deep down, and why we’re running, but we continue in the distraction nonetheless.  Sometimes, it’s easier to do that, and I can see why we do. I’m hugely compassionate to people because I’ve experienced the same fears, the same distractions.

But, there is a way.  Pause before you plunge – pause before you dive into that realm of despair (all based on your thinking).  Pause, breathe, and come back to what is actually happening – the facts. The awareness. At this moment, I’m sitting here typing this article. My hands feel slightly cold. I notice I’m a little bit hungry. I feel full of determination. There is nothing else that I’m aware of  at this moment. If I’m worried about what people will think of this article, I might not finish it. This kind of thinking is fear; this is the imagination of a subconscious thought program – nothing more. When I breathe, when I really come back to this moment, all is well.

So if you feel anxious, pause. If you feel upset, pause. If you feel sadness, pause. If you feel jealousy, pause. And so on. Breathe. Come back to the moment. Observe the facts. Transform yourself to doing something different.

That’s why there is always hope. That’s why the future IS mindfulness, because if we don’t embrace it, don’t learn about it, we’ll end up going round in circles of defeat and despair in our heads, and we’ll be lost.

Ghost in the mist

Ghost In The Mist

I am a ghost in the mist,
I descend, hidden, to this…
A world lost in flimsy dreams.

I’m the space between your thoughts,
The secret behind your sight,
That fire which could set you alight,
A yearning, a longing desperate to escape,
To unleash furious patterns of atoms,
To dance, to swirl, to become whirls,
Eddies of neutrons exploding in your mind,
This is the way I seek to become.

I am a ghost in the mist,
I descend, hidden, to this…
A world echoed in past woes.

I’m the journey between your space,
The place beyond your fears,
That majesty, that depth of wonder,
A spiral, an intense beauty delighting,
To unwrap, to live, to reach potential,
To fury, to anger, to surge energy,
Fusions of sparkling matter, wisps of storms,
This is the way I seek to become.

I am a ghost in the mist,
I descend, hidden, to this…
A world reacting to an unknown future.

I’m the wisdom between your conscience,
The knowledge deep in your soul,
That courage of life, unfettered, whole,
To spin galaxies onto their side,
To create gravity, to ground us, to nurture,
Circles of worlds, colliding incandescence,
This is the way I seek to become.

I am a ghost in the mist,
I reveal myself, sometimes, to this…
A world of calm, serene presence.

I’m the purpose between your dramas,
The quiet singing in your heart,
That intention of all that exists,
To flow with this great universe,
To inspire awe, to send us to the stars,
Dream of these moments, expand them,
This is the way I seek to become.

(c) Craig Gilbert 2018

Life is bute-iful

Bute_poolI’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to the Isle of Bute. I spent just under a week immersing myself in the landscape, scenery and ‘just being’.  I’ve returned feeling rejuvenated, more mindful of myself and more in tune with the present. Practice, practice, practice!

I also spent some time researching areas of Bute for my forthcoming novel, ‘The White Fox’, and picked up some gems along the way (one of them this pool, pictured, that will feature in the book).

Viewing the landscape reminds me of the need to create space in our lives; to just be and watch the scenery, the wildlife, hear the sounds of the sea, the sounds of nature…just to fully embrace everything around us. There’s an expansiveness about that; a sense that things aren’t just about ‘me’, they’re about the cosmic unfurling of the universe.

I see things these days with fresh eyes, less frightened, less anxious, less needing to change things. It is an inner joy bubbling away within me, a brewing of spirit, of something wonderful constantly emerging.

There is such emergence everywhere. I see transformation happening all around me. Is it co-incidence that people I know are wanting to change jobs? That people are wanting to move, to find something better in their lives? Is it co-incidence that communities are beginning to come together, to talk to one another, to heal old wounds? Is it co-incidence that scientists are discovering more about our world, including us, and how we work? Is it co-incidence that the last movie I watched was Avengers: Infinity War, and it’s all about re-balancing the universe?

Seeing synchronicity in life, like this, is becoming a daily habit. I’ve always enjoyed synchronicity, and often feel there are no co-incidences when we’re in the cosmic flow. Acceptance of things just lets us keep in that flow, and journey with life rather than fighting against it. I’d spent my first 40 years of life fighting, now I’m learning to accept – and the change that acceptance gives is extraordinary. How ironic that acceptance incites change? It’s a paradox, but it’s true. I just go with the river. Whatever comes, comes. What bends in the river ahead of me I don’t know, but I accept going down the river anyway. It’s trust. It’s faith. Can we learn to just flow with the river, or do we want to divert it, make it go a certain way, a way that looks brighter?

I’m encouraged by my continuing happiness by ‘just being’. I’m not striving for happiness. It’s just there. Only now, I can see it, because I’m in this cosmic flow – I’m seeing everything, and I’m not really thinking about ‘me’ all that much.

Thank you, Isle of Bute, for reminding me of this fact; for your birds and seascapes, for your embrace and for letting go.

 

Do peaceful minds go to war?

einstein So, the UK has decided to send military action once again, this time to Syria.

As a Mindfulness practitioner, this highlights to me the lack of understanding in the world and why we’re all continually suffering with one another.

At a basic level, if someone says something rude to us, our first (subconscious, survival instinct) is to say something rude back. It happens all the time in our lives. Our mind thinks we have been wronged: “they shouldn’t have said that to me” or “I can’t believe that just happened, I’m going to really ignore that person from now on” and so on.  This is how arguments begin, how anger can manifest within us, how grudges start. We’ve been wronged, or so we think, and so we need to justify ourselves, defend our position, fight back!

This is not mindful. With Mindfulness, we observe what is going on in the world without judgment – a very difficult thing to do for our ego mind. However, with our practice, the more we do this, we more we gain insight and understanding on what is really going on.

If someone says something rude to you, instead of getting annoyed with them or wanting to punch them, or plot your revenge (or, hey, let’s make it really big – start a war with them!) why not seek to try and understand them first? What made that person want to be rude to you? What insecurity/fear do they possess that caused them to do such a thing? Curiosity is our friend in these cases, it stops us thinking about ourselves and our ‘justifiable righteousness’ to defend our position. Maybe the rude person was just tired, having had a difficult day themselves, and blurted something out without thinking. Maybe the rude person was actually wanting to inflict a wound, but that too is cause for pondering why. Each act like this is actually a cry for help. It’s saying “I’m not happy and I want you to know about it”. It’s someone, in their mindless state, leaking out their suffering…something that they’ve had all their lives, something that’s not resolved within them because either they don’t see it, or they are stuck in a conditioned habit. Mindful people do not seek out pain and suffering. They do not choose to be rude, or be angry. As humans, we are fundamentally born with love, not with this hate, this fear that can so inflict so much damage. Whatever happens in our lives brings in the fear, the threats, and the rub is that the vast majority of these threats are actually just thoughts in our head: the mind is very good at making things up that aren’t real.

So, the UK government is frightened, and it’s doing what it thinks is right ‘for the protection and security of Britain’. However, one cannot fight war with war. It just creates more war. What is needed is a deeper understanding of what is going on in Syria, why some people there feel the need to inflict suffering on others through chemical weapons. Those people must be in deep pain to want to do such things. Our retaliation will just ensure they have more fear, and are more likely to re-use their weapons from that fear. That’s why we keep having wars and conflict.

Fear needs to be looked at, to be met head on, to be understood. When understanding comes, fear lessens, and our real humanity emerges: a deep compassion for all life.

Peaceful minds do not go to war. Peaceful, mindful minds observe what is going on in the moment, accept it, and move on. They do not dwell on anything, they do not complain about being ‘right’ or ‘feeling wronged’. They do not fight.  What exists simply exists. Our minds are pools of compassion and kindness.

I will sit, and practice my mindfulness, with an intention to ‘not harm or judge anyone or anything’. If I do this, I will notice the times when I’ve not managed it, when I’ve got annoyed at something, or judged someone, and I will return to my breath and to my practice. Each time I do this, my mindfulness will become stronger, so that I’m less annoyed, less judgmental.  I will be heading towards a more quieter, peaceful mind. That way, I will never choose war as an option. I will seek understanding, with curiosity, and compassion for myself and for others. With that insight, peace may one day come.