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.

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.

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.


Going on retreat…a tale of The White Fox and About Zen: Mindfulness

Kilchattan Bay So…how are you good people? First blog post of 2018, and we’re in March…having stepped through most of Winter, I am beginning to emerge on what promises to be a spell-binding year.

As people who are in the know, I am now teaching Mindfulness to groups on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the journey continues for me, the shifts keep coming and the Mindfulness in my own practice becomes ever more apparent. There is no end, only shifts; practice, practice, over and over. Enlightenment is never reached, or if I think it does, I’m firmly reminded by the universe that ‘no, no it hasn’t’.

I was amused to see a note on a website (from the International Futures Forum) talking of a Second Enlightenment. The aim, I’m realising, is not to strive for anything like enlightenment, or to sit on a mountain top with inner peace exuding from oneself; the aim is simply to continually observe what is in the here and now, as a way of life. This includes all the difficult stuff. Why? Because then I’m not making stuff up about my life, especially in thought form. It’s all about the experience, not the loss of the present into a realm of illusory thoughts, made up suffering and what if’s. We’re all suffering enough as it is. Mindfulness is all about not adding to the suffering, and by increasing one’s awareness to the here and now we do tend to suffer less as a result, and when we’re suffering less, other people around us also suffer less. That’s why, for me, it’s the most important thing I can do in life.

My guided mindful walks begin in earnest in just over a week away, and I’ve got 8 planned this year up until October. Not only that, with my continued 1 to 1 zen life coaching services, I’m immersing myself in the basic principle of ‘living in the present moment’ and sharing this with others, should they request the need. This has already been a four year journey. So, what’s next?

Continued practice…and a book on the subject.

About Zen: Mindfulness is underway. I take every Monday after my group to sit somewhere and write about the topic held in the group on that day. Whether it’s about gratitude, or about the ego, or about suffering, or about the flow of the universe, it’s all getting jotted down. My hope is that the book will reach many people, and will be an invitation for the reader to share in the practice of Mindfulness.

To deepen my own practice this year, I’m planning a solitary retreat, beginning on the Isle of Bute in May. I shall blog about it afterward. This will also culminate in writing more of The White Fox (my sequel to The Black Tree) of which much of the story for that book will be based on the Isle of Bute, so it’ll be great for me to research the area and add my descriptions to the book while I’m there. Yet the retreat will be much more a case of meditation, of walking the landscape in silence, and of exploring my own limits and connecting with the spacious, abundance of nature.  Silence and space are two great ways of being in the moment. In silence, we notice our need to speak. In space, we notice our need to fill it with distractions.

So the journey continues to unfold. It’s a pleasure to share it with all those who read this blog.

Hopefully I will catch up with one or two of you on my mindful walks.



A fragment of the 2017 journey

spirit-worldNovember. The UK gears up for the next celebration: Christmas. I walked past a Christmas tree in Morrisons only yesterday. My initial thought was ‘goodness gracious, that’s early!’ then I gave myself a chuckle and let the thought pass by. Why should I get annoyed over a tree?

I think I can sum up my 2017 journey with similar stories. Stories about thinking. Stories about awareness of thinking.

This has been my journey, practicing the art of becoming more aware. The more aware I am, the more conscious I am, and the more present I am for myself and for others I come into contact with. The result? Better relationships. Better quality of life. Noticing when I’m feeling despondent and snapping out of it. Noticing when I’m enjoying myself and savouring it. This is the basic truth of mindfulness.

With this practice, my life has opened up considerably. Two weeks ago I gave my first mindful talk to a group of about 30 people. I look back and smile, and realise that only a year or two ago this fact would have filled me with huge anxiety. How could I give a talk to 30 people! It’s inconceivable. Now, it’s happened. My smile grows broader.

I now stand on the edge of something new, again. I’m being invited by the universe to step into new challenges, to practice more, to overcome more fears, to become…well…even more conscious. That is so true, so much of my purpose now. This is my life, my story, and I’m moving into another new chapter. Once again, I’m reminded of the ever changing flow of the universe: nothing ever stays the same.

My life is my meditation, my practice. Everything being thrown at me raises a question (if I’m being aware). I cannot put into words how awe-inspiring I feel from this practice, from this way of being.

I have nothing but gratitude for this journey, my path, this flow. I am immensely honoured to be in the position I’m in, a place I had never thought possible.

So, 2017 has been amazing to me. Every day is amazing. So many good things have happened, and the bad? Well, now I’m judging good and bad, so I will refrain from that. Every moment is a teaching, and I am grateful for each and every moment that I’m still here, breathing, living, accepting and enjoying the fragments of this life.

2018? There is a palpable sense of something shifting, something stirring, something wonderful. I believe our world is set for huge changes, for awakenings and for awareness to reach many more of us – we will have come home, and the world will respond. Once again my optimism for the future shines through.

Once again, I smile broadly, realise I’m thinking about the future, and come back to the moment, chuckling at my ever chatting mind.


Mapping the path with enthusiasm

enthusiasmI love this Roald Dahl quote, and the more I look at it, the more I also begin to realize how important enthusiasm is for my life.

It’s a sign that what I’m doing is still worth something to me. It’s a sign that I’m following my heart more than my head; a sign that I’m fully immersing myself in what I’m doing. So, it’s beginning to make me reflect on some of the things in my life where I’m NOT enthusiastic, and asking myself the important question: is it time to change my habits?

If I look at my writing output over the past few years, it’s been little, hesitant, reluctant. Confidence has ebbed in my own ability, which hasn’t changed itself, only my mind thinks thoughts that give me the self-doubt. So my enthusiasm wavers, and I wonder what is the point of writing, of posting blogs like this one, of finishing off my book projects (about 12 at last count!) and of doing something different.

Then I look further into the cause of enthusiasm, and it’s an emotion of joy, of passion and it’s completely of the moment. It fits in with my mindful life-style these days, a love based emotion, not constrained by thoughts of doubt, or what other people think, or want me to do. This is my life, my enthusiasm, my passion.

So I come to a better place with my writing, all of a sudden. I come to a place where I just write, because I enjoy it, because I like telling stories, because I’m enthusiastic about creating something. It matters not one jot what other people think, or what people want me to write about, or that people think I’m good, or bad, or that I think I’m good, or bad, it just IS. It’s just writing for the sake of writing.

Now there’s a well of ideas bubbling underneath my surface, just waiting to be unleashed. Twelve book projects suddenly seems quite achievable, and not the end. I’m pondering over old maps, and thinking about adding more imagery to my books, and really making the places in my novels come alive. My writing is clambering up the slope, ready to emerge. I’m going to hug it, love it and become passionate about it.  I feel my enthusiasm will bubble over so that other people will become enthused by it too – so that’s an exciting bonus!

Beyond the writing is that rich tapestry that I call my life, and I sense great changes coming for me. I’m going to use enthusiasm as a roadmap, to plan my path. It’ll mean the end of some things in my life, but that’s all to the good. Things come and go all the time. So long as I remain enthused about things, I will not falter, or succumb to my own fears. I can map and change my own life. So now’s the time (there isn’t any other time after all).



The art of selflessness

selflessness Headache? Fed up with the world? Annoyed at something? Chances are you’re thinking about yourself.

It’s hard to be selfless. In a world filled with fear, we’re always trying to protect ourselves. I must lock my door, I must make sure people like me, I must do this so that person will like me more, I must make sure I’m safe, I must look after myself, because who else is going to? If I do this I’ll be happier. If I do that I’ll be better.

These thoughts are based on a fear of some sort. Fear of rejection. Fear of insecurity. Fear of something. There’s no acceptance of our current situation. We lose our real selves, beings of love, through fear, and fear is everywhere. It consumes us in the media, it consumes us in our lives. We’re always insecure, lacking in confidence,  constantly worried about something.

Yet, a transformation can occur every day. It’s a simple solution. It’s all about not thinking about oneself. Cultivating a generous nature of spirit, a path to loving-kindness for others, reaches a part of us that’s always there, it’s just shrouded by all our fear. The real nature of meditation isn’t a selfish pursuit, it is a discipline so we can calm our minds, calm our spirit, so we stop thinking about the self and look out, building our resilience in the world and reducing our fear. Without fear, our natural love emerges, our natural tendency to want to help those who are suffering.

The ironic thing is that if we were more selfless, people would be more likely to help us, more likely to like us, more likely to look after us. By being selfless, we’re actually helping ourselves. So why don’t we do it more? Well, we are creatures of habit, after all.

A kind word, a helping hand, a community of spirit to look after others, that’s all we need in this life. It’ll stop our ego from being the biggest thing in our heads. This life isn’t all about us, and how we feel, and the drama of it all – it’s about helping others, of really looking outward at more than just our own being. Our purpose is rekindled, our point of living rebuilt. There’s no place then for depression, of feeling got at, of feeling wounded/victimised, or judgment for this ‘accursed’ world. The art of selflessness is all about waking up in the morning and saying, ‘how do I serve? How do I perform the best I can perform today? Who can I help? Who can I send a nice message to, or a kind word? What can I change for the benefit of the world?’

By doing so, we’re not doing it out of a self-righteous expression to assuage our own guilt (also a fear). We’re doing it for the sake of doing it, because by helping others we transform our miracle of life into something greater: a combined, community of souls, striving to assist one another on the great journey we’re all on. We’re all beings of love, just wanting to reach out and share everything.

It’s an art, no doubt about it. But just remember, when you’re feeling down, ponder whether you’re thinking about yourself, and if you are, you have an opportunity to change your mindset. Let go of that ego, come back to the community: the community of humanity. We can all help ease suffering, if we decide it within ourselves.


Hollow world? Well, if you think so…

Hollow tree Stumbling across this hollow tree the other day has inspired me to write a new blog post. It was an amazing find, with a huge gouge out the centre of it.

For many people, this is what their lives are like: hollow, empty, depressed…do you know the feeling?

For many of us, we get up like zombies, go to work (in a job we don’t really enjoy, but it pays the bills, right?), Mon-Fri, 7 plus hours a day…for what? So we can get our small token of rest at weekends, which we spend agonising over the fact that Monday is just around the corner.  Sound familiar?

Maybe there’s a different way. I’ve managed to do it (hurrah!) I work part-time, the rest of the time I devote to being. Yes, a human being, not a human doing…and this brings me neatly onto something I’ve learned. It’s actually really abundant to just ‘be’.

Most of us do work so we can have more money to buy more things so we can be happier – but this approach doesn’t work (I’ve tried it, believe me). Happiness is not a goal or a destination, it’s a mind concept.

I suspect this tree is probably quite happy, despite the huge hollow hole in the middle of it. There were plenty of leaves on it, the sunshine was pouring on it, birds were nestling in the branches. It was an idyllic scene. It accepts the fact it has a hole. It can’t change the fact, nor can it fight it, so the only choice open to it is to ‘carry on’. I have no idea if trees have feelings or think, but I do know we as humans ‘think’ all the time. If we dropped all that thought, what would we be left with? We’d be like a tree – alive, existing, in the present moment (there’s no concept of time for trees), and just, well, being.

So, if you find yourself doing far too much, stop and just be for a while. Stop trying so hard. Stop trying to attain, attain, attain! It sounds a bit like a dalek. Let everything just be, let everything just flow around you, and see then how you feel. We have all the time in the world…




Sitting with that old friend, anxiety

CookieMomentI found the image to the left rather funny, so I hope I’m forgiven for stealing it for my blog post.

The last month or so, I’ve been really thinking about anxiety. There is no surprise that anxiety and I have had an enduring relationship, although lately it has lost its control over me, and despite the odd niggly feeling in my stomach (which I welcome like an old friend) it subsides a lot quicker than it previously did.

One of my ‘students’ in my mindfulness group asked me how to deal with anxiety, and it’s a topic that comes up over and over. Everyone at some point in their lives gets anxious. My response, and my ongoing practice, is to sit with the anxiety in me.

What on earth does that mean, I hear you cry! Well, don’t we tend to ignore our pain, our suffering, and reach for something to distract us from it? A stiff drink? A puff on a cigarette? A walk outdoors, perhaps, or watching a movie on the TV? Ah, that’s better, I’m not focusing on my anxiety anymore, I feel great…at least for a little while.

These things are all well and good, but afterward, we still feel anxious. It’s still there, tugging at our nerves. It’s still clinging on, desperate for you to observe it. Your body’s trying to tell you something. You’re nervous! You’re scared. You’re worrying about the future.

So, I sit with it. I take some time (even only 5 minutes, if that’s all I can manage), to sit somewhere comfy (my body doesn’t do cross-legged for too long, so I’m not a Yoga guru just yet!) so I tend to choose a comfortable armchair, or I do go outside and sit somewhere pleasant. I breathe deeply, and really focus on my breathing. I then scan my body, and see what’s going on: what’s it trying to tell me? Ah, there you are anxiety, nestling in my stomach. Welcome. What have you got for me this time?

By tuning in to the feeling of anxiety, not the perceived cause of it, all of a sudden there’s a different relationship with it. It’s just you and the feeling. There’s no drama attached to this; it’s just a feeling, like joy, or anger, or any emotion…it too shall pass through you given some time. It’ll pass through you much quicker if you just focus on it, and don’t add any more to it with your thoughts – making it a huge anxiety ridden monster. Worrying about your anxiety is no good! Worrying about what might happen to you is no good! Sitting, breathing, just feeling the anxiety within, that’s the key. It’ll unlock your body’s reactions, and it’ll ebb from you. Everything changes, including how you feel.

Each time you do this, (your anxiety will return – this isn’t an overnight thing, you know), it’ll be less.  It’s all about accepting your anxiety as part of you. It takes a lot of energy to fight it, to try and come up with solutions for it. It’s there and it’s giving you a signal – this is actually very helpful and could be useful in certain circumstances. By being mindful of it within you, you’re using it as a tool, not as an enemy; it’s no longer frightening.

Therefore, anxiety can become an opportunity to learn. We can all learn from our suffering.

So, the next time it happens for you, welcome it in. Serve it tea and cake. Sit with your old friend, and just let it be.