A playful interaction with my friend involving my favorite Facebook Messenger sticker Tuzki recently led to me commenting how I could do with a bit of toning before “shaking my booty” in quite the same way.
My friend, in the way friends do, reminded me that we all have our own mojo and that “joy creates extraordinary sexiness in any body.”
Sending her another favorite Tuzki sticker – Tuzki blowing a kiss – I responded, “That’s so true, isn’t it! I’m actually really thankful my body is a beautiful shape. (Don’t tell too many people I said that!!).”
What I find interesting in all of this is the aside in brackets. As if I have to keep it a secret that, God forbid, I might actually like my body.
I mean really, what’s so wrong with that?
The sad fact is that to say we like our bodies has become somewhat a revolutionary statement, particularly for us women.
We are taught to be at war with our bodies; most of us absorbing this message from the influences around us in childhood. Young and too credulous to question if the information being given us is accurate or not, we unwittingly take on the beliefs of the women around us and society at large. Before we know it, the body that was supposed to be our best friend has become our worst enemy and we censure it relentlessly for being too this, not enough that; trouncing it with our thoughts and slamming it with our self-talk time and time again.
As women it is ingrained in us that if our body doesn’t live up to the perfect ideal then we are somehow intrinsically not enough.
I know because I (subconsciously) believed in this hogswallop for years.
In spite of being a sensitive, intelligent and independent-minded woman; despite the fact that l (and every other woman) am so much more than just my body – I am the consciousness, the intelligence, the love, the compassion, the determination, the vision, the passion, the humor, the gentleness, the fear, the joy, the life that pulse through me and the totality of all the experiences I’ve lived through – I was letting this reductive notion of who I am and whether that was “good enough” determine my worth; measuring myself against media images of perfection and incessantly finding myself lacking.
For years and years I hated the way I looked.
When I was young I thought my nose was too long and that my acne rendered me repulsive and repellent. I can laugh about it now, but I literally remember times when I wished I didn’t have to go out without being able to hide my face under a paper bag.
Not content with making my face the source of all my problems, I soon got to work on my body. I spent the first half of my teenage years on and off the scales, skipping breakfast and lunch as often as I could in my pursuit of the kind of weightlessness that could only be achieved in Space. That may come as a shock to a few because it’s the first time I’ve openly admitted it, but it was by no means an uncommon problem amongst us young women then and neither is it now. Eating disorders are rife in our society and it has more than a little to do with the unattainable images of perfection we are bombarded with day in day out, everywhere we turn.
A brief honeymoon period in my mid-twenties when the acne (finally!) cleared up was followed by the shock of discovering my first gray hairs, and – the after-effect of too many years of walking my dog without a hat or suncream – my new tormentor: sun-ravaged skin. All before I was even thirty.
I became obsessive – covering my forearms with long gloves and my face with a mask or bandana in my endeavors to “protect myself” from the sun; as if the sun was my enemy too, not the life-giving source of energy.
Throughout it all every time my body failed to live up to my ideal of perfection, I made it “wrong.”
I disowned and disclaimed it; cursed the DNA my ancestors gave me.
Longed for it to be something else.
Denied it (and me) the joy and pleasure of it simply being what it was.
It has taken me well into my thirties to even begin the monumental process of turning this around.
Now I am in the process of reclaiming my body. Staking my right to define my own relationship with my body, rather than having it determined by the status quo.
I am here for this lifetime in this body. Why would I want to turn against the very thing that affords me the opportunity to experience life in all its splendor?
At long last I am learning to love myself, body and all.
That despite the wobbly bits; the cellulite; the plethora of stretch marks; the broken veins that traverse my face, that I still – if I let myself – see as marring my skin.
This is pivotal: I now refuse to let myself go there 99% of the time.
Instead I am accepting and honoring my body, inundating it with gratitude for its beauty and perfection and all it allows me to do and be and experience.
Far from it being shameful for me to love my body, it dishonors not only my body but the totality of my being and the Source consciousness that breathes life into everything every time I don’t.
So I am dedicating the rest of this blog post to singing the praises of my body and my physicality, and the myriad ways in which I love this most intimate part of me.
I love the gentle curve of my waist and the swell of my hips. I love my slender but strong wrists and ankles, and my long and capable limbs. I love the gracefulness of my neck and the way my hair cascades around my face. I love both the softness and the hardness of my belly, and the strength and power in my back muscles.
I love the way I can stretch my arms high up in the air and place my feet firmly on the Earth and feel how good it feels to be here now in a physical body.
I love the way this allows the power of Universal energy to course through me, so I know my strength and vigor.
I love the way I can consciously drain all the tension out of my body and give it to Mother Earth, allowing myself to feel the joy and ease of being in that ultra-relaxed place where I inhabit my body without tension.
I love the way I can stretch and expand the limits of my body and it rejoices in the challenge – the way it can climb steep hills and small mountains walking through the burn in my thighs and the fire in my lungs. The way it can open up into greater flexibility through gentle stretching working with the breath, and attune itself to hold balance poses for extended periods of time. I love the way my fingers rise to the challenge of dancing over the holes of my tin whistle faster and more fluently, and my body’s capacity to learn to do new things like snowshoeing, belly dance and making pots on the wheel at will.
I love my body’s tenacity and fidelity.
It is my staunchest supporter – it has seen me through everything. Wherever I’ve been; however much I’ve abused it or allowed others to, it has never spurned me. It has faithfully kept doing its thing, supporting me as I engage in the world.
I love its honesty, the way it tells me when I’ve been pushing myself too hard; neglecting or abandoning myself in some way. I love the way it can never lie, and is an honest reflection of my state of being if only I am attentive enough and aware enough to read its communications in this way.
I love my body’s capacity for restoring itself through sleep and rest; reenergizing itself for the following day. The way it’s always faithfully there when I wake, eager to walk into another day and its adventure with me.
I love the tangibility of my physical presence; the way it can soothe an anguished or frightened child; reassure my aging dog that I am there and she is safe.
I love the way my body is the vessel for me to experience joy and pleasure, delight in the sensory experience of the world.
The warm feeling of the sun on my back, the grass prickling my bare arms. The cool breeze by the river gently caressing my face and tangling with my hair. The feel of soft clothes or warm blankets against my skin. The first drops of rain on my face. The feeling of another’s arms around me, their tongue dancing with mine. The pleasure of touching and being touched.
The joy and fulfillment my tastebuds feel as they revel in the first sip of a Vienna coffee; or their delight in a berry dessert, the bitterness of wild mountain vegetables or the rich creaminess of a gratin or Quattro Formaggio pizza.
The fragrant scent of roses and lavender borne on the wind; the flood of feeling they evoke as I think of my mum’s rose garden out back of our house, and remember my granddad and his garden. The smell of a ripe peach or freshly baked bread beckoning to be eaten. The scent of rain in the air before a summer thunderstorm, and the rich scent of the Earth that has drunk deeply of it after it has passed.
The pleasure of music and the way it speaks to our soul. The joy of waking to bird song, and walking my dog or creating pots to the accompaniment of summer cicadas. The humming of bees as I walk the mountain roads or work in my garden. The orchestra of crickets rubbing their wings in harmony as I gaze up at the star-studded sky, and wonder what I did to deserve to live in a place of such rich abundance.
The marvel and beauty of the world that my eyes are witness to each and every day. The rich and vibrant red of poppies dancing on the river bank; the diamonds of light shimmering and dancing on the river herself. The ageless grace and beauty of the mountains rising up out of the foothills. The gossamer beauty of dragonfly wings as they flit and hover over the paddy fields. Nature unfolding herself before me in exquisite and unceasing beauty, each season holding a magic of its own.
I love the way my eyes are a gateway to my soul and when people look into them they can see the pure essence of me reflecting back their own pure essence, the opening to real and authentic connection.
I love my body’s capability and its capacity for self-expression. The wonder of creative expression through dance, and the marvel of my hands creating exquisite pots in harmony with the revolutions of the wheel. The joy of voicing and creating who I am through my words, and expressing my pleasure through song.
I love the amazing functionality of my body. The way my heart beats and my lungs draw in life-giving oxygen without me having to do a thing. The way my stomach digests my food, and waste matter is disposed of; and nutrients, minerals and vitamins are sent exactly where they are needed. I love the way my brain creates new neurons and neural pathways, and my body’s amazing capacity to heal.
I love and honor my physical body for helping me to heal on another level; for having been the repository for my pain all these years, storing my emotional pain in its depths.
I am grateful to it for this service; it deserves to be honored. And I am amazed by its capacity to release this pain and the memories of it from my cells as I work on myself and clear more and more from my energy field.
I love my body’s capacity to change – to renew itself and create itself anew, all the time coming into perfect alignment with my vision of who I am and reflecting this back to me.
I love the fact that in my body flows the blood of my ancestors; that I am connected to them and the love that has brought me forth through our shared DNA; that the gifts I have are the ones they have given to me.
I love the sacredness of my womb and the miracle of its nurturing and life-giving force; its potential to bring things full circle again.
I love the fact that the cells in my body are powerhouses of energy, that they store all the information that is needed for me to be the greatest and highest version of myself; that they are relentless in their pursuit of this highest ideal.
I love and honor my physical body in its totality for its sacred gift of life and its intimate connection to all that is and the life-giving Earth.
I love the miracle of life that I am.
I love the miracle of life that is in me and is me; that is embodied in me.
And when I walk the Earth loving my body, each step is a sacred one bringing me home to the joy and divinity that I am.
I’ve been thinking about what it means to be in “vibrational alignment.“
It’s often spoken about in terms of being an energetic match for your desires, but at it’s simplest I think it comes down to feeling good.
As Wayne Dyer said,
“The Law of Attraction is this:
You don’t attract what you want, you attract what you are.”
What we give out (vibrationally) is what comes back to us.
If we want to create a joyful and fulfilling life, rather than focusing on the details, we need to make sure that the vibration we are putting out into the Universe – simply expressed the emotions in our energetic field – is predominantly one of fulfilment and joy.
Well, at times, it’s easier said than done.
In any one day, in any one life, there’s a beautiful medley of things the mind labels “good” coexisting side-by-side with things the mind labels “bad.”
That’s true for everyone; no matter how enchanted and trouble-free their life may seem on the surface.
One of the only things that is guaranteed in life is that we’re all going to face challenges.
So with challenges the great equaliser of the human experience, it becomes a question of how we respond.
When we allow our circumstances to dictate our reactions we become an out of control yo-yo on an emotional roller coaster; subject to every which way the wind blows, governed by the whims of life.
We might feel joy and fulfilment one moment; be mired in despair and despondency the next.
This way of being doesn’t necessarily present a particular problem when the going is essentially good.
But it certainly doesn’t make the grade when we find ourselves face to face with real and deep-rooted challenges that don’t just “go away” however much we wish they would.
While it’s true that part of our purpose in incarnating here on Earth is to experience the full spectrum of human emotions, none of us likes feeling “bad.”
Over and above this, feeling bad takes us out of vibrational alignment with the truth of who we are and what we came here to discover and experience – the joy and peace that live at the centre of our being.
And – as like attracts like – the more we focus on the negative, the more of it we see in our lives.
So, how do we get ourselves out of this loop?
I first want to be very clear that I’m in no way talking about shunning or denying our negative thoughts, experiences and feelings.
Real healing and a sense of reconnection with our wholeness can only take place when we find the courage to explore all of ourself – the shadow as well as the light.
It is in the excavation of the darkest recesses of our being that we start to become more of ourself; to embody, authentically, all that we are.
But it’s not healthy for us to linger in the the shadows too long.
They key is to examine with fearless honesty our negative thoughts, experiences and feelings; to bring healing to them, and then let them go.
Fill the space that is left in their absence with love, light and joy; things that are in vibrational agreement with the truth of who we are; the joy and beauty that are our essence.
And it is only when we become the the conscious creator of our experience instead of letting our experiences control and have mastery over us, that we are able to lift our vibration into this kind of alignment.
So, how do we consciously create our experience?
It’ s a matter of mindfulness, and what we choose to put our focus on.
The more we focus on the good, the more of it we see in our lives.
As John Lubbock said,
“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.”
Or, as many before me have said, what we focus on expands.
Diving into this a little deeper, the way I see it focus hinges on three things:
Being in vibrational alignment means that each of these must reflect the reality we want to see in our life:
we need to be thinking, saying and doing the things that make us feel good.
It’s as simple as that…
and as difficult.
It requires great mindfulness and commitment.
It requires knowing who we are, what our soul longs to experience, and honoring that.
Although there are some similarities in what we long to experience the specifics will be different for each one of us for we all have our own unique soul blueprint; a “joy code” written only for us.
Being in vibrational alignment means bringing awareness to the thoughts, words and actions we’re choosing to activate in our life – focusing on the positive and uplifting, the ways we’re abundantly blessed, the things we want to bring more of into our life; releasing and letting go over and over again on deeper and deeper levels anything else.
In the domain of thoughts,
it means giving up our victimhood. Ceasing to feel sorry for ourself; withholding our tendency to wallow in the past reliving regrets about things we did and didn’t do and holding onto resentments about misdeeds committed against us.
It means invoking the gift of forgiveness.
Forgiving both ourself and others – not to condone what they (or we) did or make it okay, but for our own peace of mind and growth.
It’s an active commitment to transcend our past, give ourself permission to move on.
It means giving up our addiction to anxiety, worry and fear for the future. Releasing the habit of tying ourself up in knots over things we have no control over.
Learning to trust in something greater than ourself; accepting that everything is working out for our greatest and highest good, knowing we are always supported.
Learning to trust ourself. We’ve navigated our way this far through life; we have every reason to believe we can make it through whatever comes our way.
It means that when difficult circumstances arise we lovingly support ourself through them, being patient with ourself and giving ourself the time we need.
When situations that trigger one of our patterns enter our life, we interact with them mindfully. We look for the gift of love, compassion or self-knowledge they hold. We ask what they are here to teach us, instead of looking for someone or something to blame.
It means giving up our negative self-talk – our habit of comparing ourselves to others or some unattainable standard of perfection and finding ourself lacking. Of putting ourself down and making ourself wrong.
Relinquishing the inner bully and choosing instead to speak to ourself with words of love, understanding, acceptance and compassion.
It means learning to embrace our mistakes and celebrate the courageous self who makes them.
Realizing our mistakes are testimony to the fact that we’re putting ourselves out there, trying new things, expanding and growing, exploring the potential we’ve been given.
It means learning to live with our fear without letting it control us or hold us back from reaching out for connection or doing what we love.
It means that every time we notice a self-defeating thought coming up in our heads we refuse to believe it. We turn it around and tell ourself the reverse; replace it with something that nourishes us and enriches our experience instead.
It means that in any and all situations we focus on what we are (I am a uniquely beautiful being), what we have (I have a heart that sees beauty all around), what we can do (I can connect with others with ease and grace), what we can give (I uplift others with words of support and encouragement); instead of all the places in which we are in lack.
It means training our minds to look for the positive and joyful, the ways we’re being constantly blessed and supported. Training our attention to linger on the good, not the bad:
The things we’re grateful for.
The beauty in our lives and all around us.
The things we enjoy.
The things we succeed at – in the sense of improving on our one-time self.
The loving things others do for us.
The loving things we do for others.
We can actively train our mind to notice and appreciate these things if we get into the habit of listing them up at the end of the day – 5 things we’re grateful for; 5 moments of beauty; 5 things we enjoyed; 5 things we did well; 5 loving things others did for us; 5 loving things we did for others.
It means learning to reside in the Now.
Being able to pull your mind up short when it starts to spiral into the unresolved past or its fear of the unknown future. Noticing the serenity and peace of being fully present in the Now moment, breathing in that.
It means reclaiming your right to marvel; to delight and thrill in the world we live in with a child’s sense of joy and wonder.
Looking at the world with fresh eyes and a heart that is open to see the everyday miracles; the abundance that is all around.
In the domain of words,
it means actively refraining from using our words in ways that detract from ourself and others -gossip, complaining, criticism, judgements; anything that tears down, instead of building up.
It means having the intention of upholding and serving the greatest and highest good of both ourself and the other person/people present when we speak.
It means infusing our words with love and compassion; giving voice to that which uplifts and empowers; being gracious in our gift of words to others.
Not forgetting that sometimes fierce honesty with ourself and/or others is the most compassionate and empowering gift we can give, whether it’s seen that way or not.
It means not just going along with what’s being said when it’s negatively charged or brings your energy down.
When it’s not appropriate to voice disagreement out loud, simply say to yourself: “Cancel. That’s not for me. That’s not the reality I’m choosing to have in my life.”
It means learning the art of respectfully changing the subject; politely excusing yourself when conversations are stuck in a low vibrational frequency and don’t serve the highest good of anyone involved.
It means noticing the people with who this seems to happen with time and time again, and paring down the time you spend with them.
It means doing away with the need to talk just to fill the silence, consciously choosing our words instead.
Engaging in authentic conversations which feel good because they honor the truth of who we are, opening us up to real connection with others.
It means undertaking not to speak falsehoods, for how can we feel good when we compromise our integrity?
It means becoming aware of the kind of things we talk about that bring our vibration down – our problems, heartaches, illnesses, worries, lack and fears.
Learning to sidestep the need to explain these things to others, for the more energy we give what is “wrong” in our lives, the more it persists; the less energy we have to focus on what is “right” in our lives and makes us feel good.
When we cannot resist the urge to talk about our problems, it serves us best to stay conscious and do it in an empowering way.
Not “my problem” – for that leads us to take ownership; instead, “the (life) lesson that’s playing out in my life now.”
Not, “I hate my boss and my job sucks.” But something more along the lines of, “I’m learning a lot about what I don’t want in a job, which can only help me to make better choices in the future.”
When the people we’re with talk about their problems a lot we can help to empower them by refusing to be consumed by the story and the drama.
Instead, speak to their Higher Self, encouraging them to take responsibility for their experience.
Shift the focus from the appropriation of blame to how the experience makes them feel, what is it that they’re doing that allows or perpetuates that, how they could do something differently in the future to create a different and better quality of experience. All the time holding a space of love and acceptance so they can express themself and their feelings authentically without feeling judged.
It means asking them (in advance) to do the same for us when we get bogged down in “our” problems. And when they comply with our request, having the courage and integrity to open our hearts and engage with the experience from a genuine desire to know what it’s there to teach us.
It means not reliving things from the past that caused us stress or unhappiness in the stories we tell unless it serves the greatest and highest good of us or someone else in the Now moment which we share.
Prying ourselves away from the love of drama, sympathy and our need to justify ourself that are so often inherent in this; choosing instead to recollect things that make us feel loved; worthy; happy; joyful; filled with love and enthusiasm for who we are and our journey.
It means being conscious enough not to create connection with others on the basis of shared victimhood and negativity; building connections instead that celebrate mutual growth, the journey into ever greater self-empowerment, the expansion into more and more of our innate potential, the joy and wonder of being alive.
It means not being afraid to own our talents or the vision of greatness that we’d like to grow into.
Not falling victim to self-doubt or false humility, saying things that undervalue ourselves; taking us out of alignment with our vision.
Instead, speaking the language of conviction and unwavering belief in ourself and others that supports us in fulfilling our dreams and embodying our vision of our highest self.
It means refraining from our need to prove ourself right. Eschewing our efforts to convince others of our point of view – with all the ensuing arguments and conflict that arise when we try to force someone to conform to and live our version of the truth instead of accepting theirs.
Instead, interacting in ways which show we honor the other for who they are, the light at the center of their being, whether we’re in accord with them on everything or not.
Exhibiting our respect for them as a sovereign being endowed with the right to make their own choices, plot the course of their life.
Coming from a space of sharing, not one of conversational warfare.
A space in which the focus is on having hearts and minds that are wide open. Willing to accept each other in all our glorious diversity; to be open to what we can learn from the experience instead of trying to bring the other round to our point of view.
It means making a conscious decision to be aware of what we choose to talk about and the way we choose to talk about it.
Expressing ourselves and building communicative acts with others in ways that make us feel good.
Ways that foster authenticity, genuine connection; forge mutual trust and appreciation.
Ways of interacting that permit us to drop all our masks and be vulnerable and real.
Ways of interacting that celebrate us (and the other) for who we are; granting us the freedom to be ourself.
Consciously choosing speech acts that empower us. Affirming our inner strength and capability; the power of choice that is ours.
Speech acts that affirm our sovereignty; the freedom this gives us to live our life in whatever way we choose without having to answer to or justify our choices to anyone else.
Speech acts that augment our confidence; expressing belief and trust in ourself and our abilities, highlight our unlimited capacity to learn and grow.
Choosing our words carefully to make sure they’re in vibrational alignment. Not, “I can’t” or “I don’t know how;” but “I know I can and I will learn how.”
Speech acts that make us “right” not “wrong.” Using words that acknowledge how far we have come; speak the language of self-love and self-acceptance. Words that affirm the magnificent wonder of who we are; attest to our strength and capacity to expand into the full expression of our potential.
Speech acts that joyfully celebrate the Life that we are and the life that we are choosing to create for ourself. Rejoicing in the things that are beautiful and aligned and going well in our lives; the ones that bring us fulfilment and happiness.
Talking about our joys; our inspirations; our passions; the people we love and admire; our creative ideas and projects; fun/uplifting/transformative experiences we’ve had; areas of growth and expansion we’re experiencing and the insights and wisdom they’ve revealed.
Speech acts through which the love that is our essence flows into the world around us, touching the lives of everyone we meet: expressing our appreciation for others; honoring their truth with words of love and kindness; uplifting, inspiring and empowering them with speech acts which celebrate who they are and affirm the invaluable contribution they’re making in the world.
Speech acts which remind them of the truth of who they are; (re)connect them with their power; (re)align them with the centered self that lies within; (re)unite them with the expansiveness of their being.
When we consciously give our words as gifts to others, we elevate not only their vibration but also our own. Love and light pour into both our lives, and the high vibrational energy is magnified.
It also serves us well to remember that each word has a particular vibrational value, in much the same way as different musical notes belong to different octaves.
Some of the highest vibrational things we can say are, “Thank you” and “I love you.”
We can also consciously incorporate high vibrational words like “gratitude;” “beauty;” “abundance;” “pleasure;” “joy;” “delight;” “freedom;” “choice;” “peace;” “serenity;” “generosity;” “creativity;” “kindness;” “compassion;” “wisdom;” “strength;” “integrity;” “value;” “aligned;” “whole;” “complete;” “one with all that is…” and so on – any word that evokes a response of joy and lightness within.
Commit to making high vibrational words your signature in your speech acts to both yourself and others, and watch your joy expand.
In the domain of action,
it means saying “No” to living for others, and “Yes” to living for yourself.
Getting honest with yourself and others about what you like to do and what you don’t.
Doing less of the things you don’t like, and more of the things you love.
If necessary, taking the time out to rediscover what that is for you.
It means bringing to light all the things you do out of a sense of obligation or a desire to “people please,” putting other people’s happiness before your own. Choosing instead to make your own joy and well-being your highest priority.
Toning down the “shoulds” and “have tos;” asking yourself instead: “What is that I want to do right now?” “What would make me feel good?”
It means training yourself to listen to the whisperings of your soul, and having the commitment-to-self and courage to follow through no matter what.
Having the integrity to be true to yourself. Not getting caught up in what everybody else wants you to be or do.
Understanding that being true to yourself is the best way you can add value and make a contribution in the world.
Understanding that some people will like it and some people won’t. Understanding that that’s okay.
It means bowing out of society’s illusion that in order to feel good you need to be and have more.
Locating your worth in your sense of your innate self; instead of in your titles, achievements or possessions.
Enriching your life with people and experiences; rather than getting caught up in the accumulation of more and more things.
It means practicing self-love and self-acceptance so thoroughly that you know – absolutely – that you are already and always enough, with or without a list of achievements.
It means immersing yourself in the spiritual practices that remind you of this time and time again; for this is a lifetime journey and there are no quick fixes or easy shortcuts.
It means giving up our obsession with perpetual busyness; whether that be at work, at home, or our personal life.
We have to be fully present with our experiences to enjoy them on their deepest level and excavate the riches they hold. That is so much more difficult to do when our life is always moving ahead at lightning speed, and we’re constantly sprinting from one deadline/task/engagement to the next.
It means consciously integrating pauses into our life.
Pockets of time-space in which our only goal is to take the all-important time we need for ourself.
Pockets of time-space in which we can unwind and relax; give ourselves over to rest, pleasure and fun, sustenance for the soul, with wild abandon.
Dangling our bare feet over the edge of life, as we breathe in the sweet fragrance and feel the caress of the gentle breeze…
It means accepting our own dispensability.
So often the reason we’re afraid to slow down or to incorporate the changes that living true to ourself would necessitate is a false assumption that the world – or our little piece of it – will stop turning if we’re not there to balance it like a spinning disc on our finger, ensuring everything is in its “proper” place and functioning smoothly.
Do you really have so little trust in the people around you that you think everything will collapse into chaos if you step away for a while, take some time for yourself?
It means refusing to be a slave to perfectionism, and letting go of our fixation with “destination” which turns all our endeavours into a race towards end product and results. Allowing ourself to put our focus on creative exploration, expansion, self-expression and enjoyment of the process instead.
it means dispensing with our habit of delaying our happiness until some elusive condition is filled. Waiting for such and such to happen before we allow ourself to begin living the way we want to or permit ourself to feel happy and fulfilled.
Life is lived Now.
If you want to experience more joy and happiness, start now.
Now is the only moment that is ever available to us.
And now is the pocket of space-time in which we choose the thought or word or action which leads us to experience a greater lightness of being, a deeper peace in our heart, an increased sense of joy and fulfilment.
One choice at a time. One day at a time.
Step by step by step.
It means taking the responsibility for our happiness off other people’s shoulders; putting it firmly on our own.
Seeing our happiness (or lack of it) as a sum of our own choices; not defined by someone or something else.
It means accepting our responsibility for the way we live our life and the experiences we create within that.
It means looking at the things you habitually do that make you feel bad – take my chronic lateness for a start. Proactively deciding to find a way to change it, or deciding, for now, to let your attachment to it go.
It means upholding our commitments; doing the things we say we will – including our commitments and promises to ourself.
How much easier is it to feel good about ourselves when we’re living in integrity, embodying our Higher Self?
All of the high vibrational words listed above are qualities of the Higher Self. Why not explore how you can activate them in your life, asking:
“What would it look like to be “compassion” now?”
“How can I embody “generosity?””
It means giving of yourself generously and doing things that add value to the lives of others.
At our core we are a deep wellspring of love. When we pour this love in to the world through acts of service that are aligned with our soul, we are filled with a sense of well-being – the joy that comes upon knowing we’re making a valuable contribution in the world.
It means using your emotions as a lodestar to guide you.
Does it evoke peace, serenity, joy, lightness of being, excitement, passion? Does it inspire, uphold, nourish, sustain, support, uplift?
If your answer is “Yes” to any of the above, find a way to do it more often.
Let the rest go, as far as you can.
Uncover your unique joy signature and pen your life with that.
Saying no to conformity, and yes to being yourself.
Give up trying to please everybody else.
See what happens when you turn your focus around and put it on doing things that nourish your soul, and make you feel good.
See how much more love and light you can bring into the world from this space of joy and personal power.
Some final thoughts on alignment: thoughts, words or actions it’s all about choosing the ones that make you feel good.
When we feel good, it’s a sign that we’re living in harmony with our soul.
Feeling good = alignment with the highest part of ourself.
Alignment with our truth.
Alignment with Source.
Alignment with our soul blueprint and all that we came here for.
Honor your feelings; let them be your guide.
“Do I feel good?”
“Yes” – Great, I’m in alignment.
“No” – Okay, how can I change my thoughts/words/actions? What would make me feel more joy and/or peace in this moment, bringing me back into harmony with my soul?
Can it really be that simple? you may ask.
Well, yes, it can.
Simple, but by no means always easy.
Which is why I’m halfway up the mountain, albeit with my gaze on the rarefied air at the top.
Although I must confess that I know very little about the Chinese New Year, that we have recently -on February 8th, the second New Moon after the Winter Solstice – entered the “Year of the Red Fire Monkey” hasn’t escaped even my attention.
This is the Chinese year whose focus is about letting go, shaking things up a bit and transformation. It bodes of possible chaos, tumultuous turn arounds and the need to go with the flow more than anything else. I suspect for many of us we’re thinking, “Wasn’t that the last five years?”
In my case, more like three years than five perhaps, but otherwise: Yes.
But the Red Fire Monkey has already started to reveal some of its tumultuous turn arounds and sound its clamorous call to chaos as, less than two weeks into the Chinese New Year, I turn my life upside down and inside out; disrupting the flow of my life and others’ with what I can only describe as the single biggest act of self-sabotage I have ever enacted.
I’m leaving the finer details for other posts when I’ve had more time to absorb and process the loose and hanging threads.
Suffice it to say that my initial (fear-based) reaction left me nauseous, clammy, cold and physically shaken for a good couple of days.
Self-love is actually what my journey these past three years has been all about. Unlearning my outmoded ways of thinking that don’t serve and support me and my greatest and highest good; swapping them out for ones that do.
To be honest, I’m still not sure if the incident in question was more an act of self-sabotage or the Universe shaking me up, giving me a chance to look deeply into what is it that I really want.
Whichever way the ensuing fallout was tumultuous to say the least – real Red Fire Monkey stuff. Throughout the entire experience of upheaval, discomfort and distress it was the things I’ve learned through my self-love practice that upheld me; giving me the courage to confront the situation head on.
Ultimately, to walk through the combat zone with far more grace, presence of mind, more compassion for myself and the “mistake” I’d made than I ever would have managed to summon before my journey into self-love.
This translated directly into action that honoured both myself and the other person involved; the result being that however the situation pans out – and it’s still not quite clear – I am proud of myself and the way I interacted with my experience.
There is gold to be found there. I know that I have interacted with the situation with integrity and done my best to integrate the lessons it has brought into my life.
And I am at peace with that.
The timing of it was perfect in some ways, for to my great good fortune I was able to use the exercises in Reba’s Imagine Self-Love book to help me move through the experience.
Reba’s book is a treasure trove of ideas for people new to the practice of self-love and self-confessed self-love aficionados alike. My experiences this past week have, however, reiterated for me that however much work on ourselves we may have done, there are always new practices we can integrate to help us as we expand and evolve into more and more of our potential.
I’d like to take a few moments to mention a couple of the activities from the book – it’s a very practical book and you work on yourself as you work through it, doing journaling and taking self-love action steps – that supported me the most; literally helping me to navigate my experience in more self-sustaining ways.
First, a journal prompt that encouraged me to “look at the themes presenting themselves in (my) current experience… (and) … unravel the illusions and arrive at a core of truth.” The journal prompt being, “My life is asking me to notice…”
Well, as is likely the case when we are experiencing some kind of conflict, my life was asking me to notice quite a lot!
Journaling around this really helped me to get clear on my own feelings about the situation and my motives, as well as empowering me to uncover some deeply rooted patterns of interaction that had been influencing my relationships with others without me even being aware of it. Talk about a good journal prompt!
Now that the light of awareness has revealed these patterns it’s up to me to mindfully – and with great compassion for myself – find ways to interact in ways that don’t repeat the pattern. But you can only begin to do that once you’ve become aware that such a pattern exists. In that sense, this journaling prompt was invaluable in supporting me over the weekend, and it’s one that I’m definitely going to continue to work with.
Second, the action step of taking a mini-vacation “in the midst of your busy life.” I have to admit that I did this one rather unintentionally, only realising halfway through that that was what I was actually doing.
Some customers of a cafe where I display my pottery had asked if they could meet the artist, so, despite the rather climactic nature of my weekend, Sunday morning saw me setting off with some pots carefully loaded in my car and ascending the mountain to reach the cafe at the top.
It was a beautiful day with more than a hint of spring in the air, (for those of you who read my last blog post – again!), and they were the sweetest and loveliest couple. As I talked to them I felt my heart space expand and relax. I decided to stay and have lunch there, and as I ate the delicious and nourishing food and gazed out on the mountains I felt my calm return.
This space I took for myself in the midst of all my turmoil allowed me to return to center. It was a much needed space of self-nurturing and upheld me to such an extent that that night I was able to focus on and finish a work project that had also been looming on the horizon all weekend.
Third, the action step of consciously changing your perspective so that you view your challenges through the lens of “not(ing) your progress; prais(ing) yourself for learning; applaud(ing) your growth; remember(ing) that you are mastering life’s lessons.”
Well, I have literally been doing this all week; celebrating myself for showing up; for being brave enough to acknowledge my shadow side and dive into its depths; for being open enough to learn the lessons it has for me – or the ones I’m ready for at least.
It’s largely thanks to the practical application of this action step that I’m now able to say that although this has been an extremely painful week in many ways, it’s also been an incredibly important one. This entire experience has allowed me to see where I’m still being controlled by my past, and heal and release. I’m glad for this experience now, for it has given me the opportunity to evolve on so many levels.
Hurray for simple, supportive and effective actions steps!
Fourth, another action step – this time about consciously choosing to manifest opportunity in your life. I loved this one, which asks you to recognise yourself as deserving and actively ask the Universe for what it is you would like to see show up in your life in a written message. I had actually written my request to the Universe and put it on my bedside table before all the “drama” showed up in my life. But I promptly forgot all about it in my absorption in my pain body.
Well, my note happened to catch my eye the next morning. I decided to rewrite my request in the light of the events that had since shown up in my life. “Today I find the opportunity to experience clear and true guidance, and awe and wonder at just how much I’m being supported by the Universe all the time,” I wrote. I read it back to myself and put it in my pyjama pocket, and promptly forgot about it all over again as I got sucked back into the drama…
I didn’t even remember it until the next morning when, back in my pyjamas, I put my cold hands in my pockets again and found the folded square of paper there. Taking it out and unfolding it, I was absolutely amazed at what I saw.
I may have forgotten all about my request, but the Universe certainly hadn’t neglected to do its part.
The preceding day, true to my request, I had received clear and true guidance from both a kind of spiritual mentorand an older friend who has lived and learned and grown and evolved from her mistakes, and is always willing to generously share her wisdom with me.
As if that wasn’t enough, at the end of our time together she said to me, “Julia, do you have any rice? My neighbours gave me some I’ll share with you.”
Only a couple of days before I’d been thinking about how I need some more rice…
What an awesome demonstration of how the Universe loves and supports us in just the way we need. As I’m sure you can imagine, this action step is another one I’ll definitely be using again!
Imagine Self-Love: A Journal is 80 pages absolutely jam-packed with journaling prompts and practical exercises that nudge you towards a deeper understanding of what it means to practice self-love.
Reba has also been kind enough to put together a self-paced e-course “9 Self-Love Keys to Change Your Life,” which is currently being offered through the Daily OM on a pay what you wish basis. If it speaks to you, check it out here.
I highly recommend both the book and the course, and can personally testify to Reba’s generosity and commitment to helping people experience for themselves what it really means to engage in self-love.
However you decide to do so, I hope this inspires you to consciously embody more self-love in your life.
Do so, and you’ll watch the miracles start to unfold.
At the start of this year I boldly made this quote by Neil Gaiman my Facebook cover photo. This, I decided, was the banner I was going to live under in 2015.
I know in my head the value of mistakes. I know, as they say, that “Success is 99% failure,” that every single person who has done something great in the world has encountered as many failures along the way as they have successes. I know that almost all success is built on the bedrock of failure.
And still I’d spent a lifetime being afraid; afraid of making mistakes.
Afraid of what? That I’d say the wrong thing; make a bad decision; not be able to do something “right;” not be able to do it as well as everybody else; not be able to do it in a way that would garner approval…
Afraid of the illusion of failure – a phantom created by my own mind – and the ghosts of other people’s opinions.
Afraid, always, that I wouldn’t be good enough.
Or, more to the point, that I wouldn’t be good enough for someone else.
The place that this had played out most recently was in my pottery. In previous years I’d found a personal style that I liked and had also been well received by others. Now I found myself divided between wanting to explore new things, step out into new artistic territory; and the fear that whatever I did next wouldn’t live up to what I’d already done; wouldn’t be good enough or as well received.
Afraid that I didn’t have what it takes.
Afraid, also, that cowardice in the face of my ego-driven doubts and distrust of self would petrify and fossilise my work , immobilising me and curtailing the growth of my artistic expression.
So this quote of Neil Gaiman’s I stumbled upon felt gloriously freedom-filled and full of space.
It was a declaration on my part to engage with my art and life boldly and with courage; to be open to the creative force of life and to let it flow through me unhindered, unleashing the fullness of its power in whichever way it chose.
Even when I – or at least the ego-driven self-criticising fault-finding part of me – wasn’t sure it was right.
Heck, especially when I wasn’t sure it was right.
In fact I decided, returning to my pottery, that when it came to artistic exploration there is no “right” or “wrong.”
There are standards, certainly – though even these are inevitably subjective – but if art is primarily about self-expression can it ever be “wrong?”
Bad? Yes. (In an individual’s or group of individuals’ – which may or may not include the artist’s – opinion).
But wrong? No, I don’t think so.
In particular artistic exploration – the initial stages of experimentation with the germ of a new idea, taking a creative concept and tentatively putting it into physical form – while essential to any artistic process can only take place when we give ourselves permission and licence to make mistakes.
The germ of a new idea is a seed of latent potential from which great art may, or may not, be born. But we will never know if we trample on it and stamp it underfoot before it’s had time to take root.
So with Neil’s words to bolster me I decided that I would no longer allow myself to buy into my ego’s stories about there being a “right way” and a “wrong way” to do art. Nor its nagging insistence that my way of doing it was – of course – remember this is the ego self we’re talking about – the “wrong way.”
Indeed I would forget about “art” – along with its exclusivity, its judgements and the notion that there’s a bar to reach – altogether; choosing instead to focus on creative self-expression and my desire to let the beauty that is born of my soul flow though me and give rise to work that embodies the purest essence of myself and reflects the life and the light within.
Discarding preconceived ideas of “rightness” I would do what felt right to me, focusing on creative exploration and enjoyment of the medium and process rather than on the finished piece and how I thought it would be received.
Having said all of this of course I still wanted to create good pots. Forget that, I wanted to create great pots – great pots that were both uniquely mine and serenaded my soul with their beauty. But the part of me that was itching to expand my creative vision realised that the only way I would be able to do that was if I allowed myself to make mistakes.
Any creative endeavour (whether in art or in life) needs this freedom. It is imperative to allow ourselves the space to make mistakes in order for our creativity to be unleashed.
Creativity is not supposed to be perfect, and when we put unrealistic expectations on it we hold ourselves back from the fullness of our creative expression for fear that we may “fail” – inadvertently crushing the seed and choking its growth, rendering the creative process barren.
The dictionary definition of creative is:
“Relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something.” (Emphasis mine).
To be creative means to explore something new, something that has never been seen in quite this form before and that, inherently, implies risk.
The risk of getting it “wrong.”
It is impossible for the act of creativity to take place in our “safe zones.” It has nothing to do with familiar territory and feeling comfortable and everything to do with courageously leaping over hurdles, fearlessly pushing back boundaries – our own as well as those of our art.
Great pots cannot be made without mistakes.
Great pots cannot be made without creativity, vision, courage, commitment, persistence, perseverance and a deep and abiding belief in oneself and the germ of an idea that has been given to you to bring forth into the world.
And just as art is a mirror for life…
great people, great moments and great lives cannot be made without mistakes.
(Only with life you don’t get that forgiving “test tile” stage).
It goes without saying that great people/moments/lives… great anything can only be made with creativity, vision, courage, commitment, persistence, perseverance and a deep and abiding belief in oneself and the germ of the idea that has been given to you to bring forth into the world.
So I’ll choose to focus, instead, on the bit about mistakes – though it’s far less glamorous than the rest; far less appealing to our egos; far more liable to kindle our resistance…
But greatness in “art, or love, or work or family or life” cannot be either aspired to or attained without a generous helping of mistakes along the way.
We need to make mistakes if we want to actualise our potential and expand into more of our own unique magnificence. Because if we’re not making mistakes it means, quite simply, that we’re not trying anything new. The hands of time might be turning but we remain static, locked in position, doing and being more of the same.
A mistake turned around in the kaleidoscope of our minds, seen from a new frame of perspective, is an affirmation. One that says:
“I’m in motion. I’m giving expression to the life force that flows through me. I’m getting out there and doing my thing.”
Or, to use Neil Gaiman’s words again:
“(I’m) making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing (my)self, changing (my)self, changing (my) world. (I’m) doing things (I)’ve never done before, and more importantly, (I’m) Doing Something.”
That “Doing Something” counts for a lot, never mind the rest. We all deserve to be recognised for whatever our “something” is. And who do we need this recognition from the most? Our self.
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of knowing that we are on our own side; that we believe in who we are so much that it doesn’t matter whether anybody else does or not. Not in an arrogant “know it all” kind of way; but in a “knowing-that-you’re-not-perfect-and-will-make-mistakes-and-yet-still-having-the-faith-that-you-can-and-will-come-through-on-your-commitments-to-yourself” kind of way.
So next time you make a mistake instead of criticising yourself and calling yourself something unflattering and/or unkind, why don’t you congratulate yourself – celebrate your awesomeness, your courage, your dauntlessness? Your boldness in showing up, living, learning, expanding; your willingness to get out there and do your thing.
Celebrate your mistake and everything that brought you to this place for it is nothing less than proof that you are in motion; that you are taking the challenge that life throws down in front of us each and every day; that you are getting out there and doing something.
And it is only in doing something that we open up the possibility of doing something great.
Coming full circle back to the subject of my pottery, did my new championing of mistakes and boldness of approach produce “great pots?”
Well, both yes and no, (another subjective opinion of course).
My experimentations with form towards the end of the year yielded a uniquely shaped bowl reminiscent of Ancient Rome or Greece that spoke to me so much of beauty that I kept it for myself.
My experimentations with surface didn’t immediately yield quite the same degree of success. A design of circles and arches that looked great on the flat and one-dimensional test piece didn’t translate so well when transferred to three-dimensional pots. It isn’t “bad” as such but it doesn’t quite speak to my soul, fill my heart with joy.
Another experiment with surface does, I think, contain that elusive spark of freshness and a big dash of daring that – if they harmonise in just the right way – could grow into an exhilarating new way for me to interact with the surfaces of pots. But it still needs a lot of work: the combination of slips and glazes was excessive, marring the attractiveness of the surface with extensive pinholing.
I’m sure that there’s a seed of great potential there, but I’ve had to reconcile myself to the fact that it’s still in its embryonic stage. It will be up to me next year to create the right conditions for the seed to grow; a process of continuous tweaking through repeated experiments until, with luck, I get the balance just right.
And this is another thing that my year of embracing mistakes has taught me; an important part of the whole process has been learning what to do with all the mistakes I’ve made. (And the ones I’ve mentioned barely begin to scrape the surface of mistakes made practicing pottery, never mind the mistakes I’ve made in life at large).
Instead of lamenting what has gone “wrong,” creating a field of negativity around the mistake and blowing it up so big in my mind it obscures everything else – including all those things I’ve been getting “right” and could/should be celebrating; I’ve become much better at accepting the mistake for what it is, seeing it as just another experience – neither good nor bad, recognising it as a source of valuable information, absorbing the lesson it has for me, moving on.
I’m finally starting to comprehend that my “mistakes” are as important as my “successes.” That, in fact, it’s all a success; every last bit of it. What enables me to say this? The kaleidoscope of my mind has shifted allowing me to see how both my mistakes and my successesadd unimaginable value to my life. The “successes” build my confidence, motivate and inspire me to be the best me I can. The “failures/mistakes” give me invaluable insights about where I am in relation to where I want to be and, more often than not, also help to ground a deeper and more complete understanding of whatever it is I’m currently working on. It all comes together in one messy but unified whole to propel me forward in the direction I want to go. And with success being defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose,” what can be more “successful” than that?
When we fully integrate the stance that mistakes are a kind of confirmation; proof that we’re “making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing (our)self, changing (our)self, changing (our) world… doing things (we)’ve never done before, and more importantly… Doing Something,” we start to shift our perception. We sense that a life lived with too few mistakes will invite more regrets than a life lived with too many; and this is a large part of what gives us the courage to step up and embrace the fullness of life – mistakes and all.
The cusp of the year is always a time rich with meaning and ripe for self-introspection. A good question to ask ourselves is: Where am I holding myself back – whether that be in “art, or love, or work or family or life” – frozen on the precipice of change/motion for fear of making a mistake?
The answer will come in the quiet space of your heart, the space where the soul speaks to us. As you peer into yourself acknowledging where you are holding yourself in check, you are likely to be met with a harsh lash of retaliation from your Ego as it tries, with everything its got, to resist the change that it senses you’re about to make. (To our Ego the familiar equals safe and anything else is seen as a challenge to its dominance, threatening to topple it from its throne and putting its rule in peril).
Feel your fear; know it intimately; make it your friend. For your fear is doing you a beautiful kindness, giving you valuable information about just how much this thing, whatever it is, means to you – if you didn’t care about it on a deep level it wouldn’t hold such a charge for you. You wouldn’t be so afraid to step out. Your fear of making a mistake is doing you the service of showing you just how important it is to you.
So feel your fear and know, by way of it, how much of you is invested in whatever this thing is; it’s intricately woven together with your longing to get it “right.”
Know, too, that in your beautiful messy jumble of humanity you’re still going to get bits of it “wrong.” After all, one of the few certainties in life is that we all make umpteen mistakes along the way.
Feel your fear fully, and then… Do Whatever It Is Anyway.
As Neil enjoins: “Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect… Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.”
We didn’t come here to be perfect; we came here to grow and expand.
And the only way we can do that is by embracing and learning from our mistakes.
So as we go forth into another new year let’s commit to making more and more “glorious, amazing mistakes.” Let’s celebrate them; let’s celebrate what they tell us about ourselves.
Let’s garner the information they hold and discover what works for us. Create the conditions that stimulate the seed of creative potential within to germinate, allowing us to bring forth and make manifest in tangible form the germs of ideas we have been given.
Let’s celebrate the self who’s bold enough to do this; the self who in her perfect imperfection dares to make mistakes – for that is who we came here to be.
Let’s celebrate this self who loves and lives and follows the heart’s longings.
The self who dares to let go of limitation and boldly dance with life itself.
I am reminded again these past few weeks how our ego is liable to take even our most cherished dreams and turn them into one of the tools in its multifarious toolbox of trickery and illusion; how with sleight of hand almost imperceivable it can use even the things which are in alignment with our goals and the highest vision of ourselves imaginable to keep us in separation from our essential nature as love, peace, calmness and tranquility if we forget our vigilance, neglect to keep the beady eye of a hawk on its machinations for even a second.
I think it’s fair to say that over the last couple of years I’ve become more adroit at spotting what it’s up to, my eyes wider open to its games than in the past, and yet… my ego has had some great fun playing its games with me this fall.
Fun for my ego maybe; but not for me!
To begin, well, at the beginning…
I’m not sure how many of you know, but as well as writing and teaching English I like to fill my time with pottery. Making pottery started off as a hobby and a way for me to explore the creative side of myself, but somewhere along the way I decided I was going to get good – good enough to show and sell my work. Having decided this I began to nurture the dream of someday sharing my pottery at a popular event held in the area where I live called “Azumino Style.” When I first determined that this was the standard I was aiming for it was a seemingly unreachable goal – it took me so long to master the art of the wheel that my teacher advised me somewhere along the way that maybe pottery wasn’t the thing for me. But I have always been persistent, so persevere I did – through successes and failures and more than a handful of tears – and finally, just two years ago, my dream became reality when a local potter whose work I had long admired became a friend and offered me the chance to share her gallery space during the event. I could hardly believe the ease with which this milestone event was unfolding in my life and set about making pots for the event several months in advance – on fire with enthusiasm at this chance to take part and to show my work publicly, overjoyed that my dream was coming true at last.
The feeling of joy and euphoria, however, didn’t last for long.
I (mistakenly, grievously…) decided that I “had to” make X number of pots for the event, fulfill this arbitrary quota that only I had stipulated – 100 pots to be precise. Although this would be no more than a day’s or, at most, a week’s work for a professional potter, for me – still relatively slow and potting around my day job – in time it became a burden that felt heavy for me to bear and took on the nature of a straitjacket; ironically one that I had forced on myself. Before I knew it some of the joy of creation was lost to what felt like a churning out of pots as I worked harder and harder to try and keep up with my self-imposed goal.
I was being brought face to face with the potential our ego has to take our dreams and overlay them with ambition, stipulations, shoulds and have tos and all the other vast and varied tricks of its trade; taking something that was once beautiful and unadulterated and distorting it behind the mask of Ego, twisting it until it becomes unrecognisable in nature, something antithetical to what it was at its conception; in my case what my dream was fast becoming was a relentless and demanding slave driver.
The Azumino Style event is held once a year, and lasts for four or five days. In order to fulfill my (self-imposed) quota the entire pottery making season – from April to November, the months when it is warm enough to make pots without them freezing and cracking as they dry – became taken up with this race to make enough.
The first year I took part in the event I (unintentionally) discovered that the better I become at something the more pressure to perform well – in terms of both quantity and quality- I’m liable to put on myself and how, in turning my attention from process to ‘product’ and ‘productivity’ in this way, I inadvertently diminish my joy.
It was no longer enough for me just to enjoy making pots; they now had to be good enough to sell – while at first I took great pleasure in the fact that I was at last able to make pots worthy of sale and the exploration of forms and designs that this inspired, over time my joy not only morphed into a race to the finish line but also became tainted by fear – the fear that my “creative flair” would wane; leaving me bereft of inspiration, no longer able to yield what I (or others) would see as “worthy” work.
Almost overnight this activity that I had loved so much, poured so much of myself was losing some of its spontaneity and fun as my ego continued to tighten the bindings of the straitjacket and its hold over me. I could see it happening, was even aware of why… but not aware enough to know that I was the one making the choice to interact with my experience in this way.
The second year I took part in the event I was reading Eckhart Tolle and other masters for the first time. It was a period of deep upheaval, change and awakening in my life. For the first time I came across the idea that we have a choice about which thoughts we allow to take residence in our minds, that each and every one of our thoughts is either our friend or our foe.
I cannot begin to explain how revelatory this was.
For most of us our thoughts are far more often our foes than our friends – at their worst bullying and self-critical, telling us everything wrong about ourselves and all the reasons why we can’t do the things we dream of; all the reasons we’re not worthy or deserving; all the reasons we aren’t enough.
I had my fair share of these kinds of thoughts as well; but over time I started to see how even a seemingly benign thought process – like putting the expectation of making one hundred pots on myself – was far more akin to “foe” than “friend.”
This might not always be the case – I can see that in some circumstances having a clear and quantifiable goal could serve to galvanize one into inspired action; but in my case it was making me feel guilty when I took an afternoon off or failed to meet my (self-imposed) quotas of pots for the week; turning what should have been fun, a celebration of my creativity and how far I had come, into something of a dead weight around my neck; generating an inordinate amount of stress and tension.
No, definitely not a “friend.”
If all of our thoughts can be neatly divided into “friends” and “foes” it follows that until we take steps to make them our friends instead of our foes we are unwittingly pitting ourselves against them; putting ourselves at the mercy of our minds as we allow (albeit as a result of our unknowingness that there is another way) our feelings, moods and behaviour to be dictated by our habitual – and more often than not unsupportive – thought patterns.
As I started to apply the wisdom of the masters I was reading and listening to to my own life it became apparent that I was my own greatest tormentor – it was my own thoughts creating my suffering. Needing no slave driver, I was doing a great job of cracking my own whip, telling myself I needed to do more; do better; be faster…; all the time making where I was right now never enough.
There is a world of suffering in that phrase “not (…) enough.” And yet it is a phrase that we repeat to ourselves over and over, unconsciously making it the lynchpin of our internal dialogue – a dialogue that is all the more injurious because it is so much a part of us that we fail to notice it’s even there. And after years and years of berating myself and making myself never enough I finally got it: the sense of tension, pressure and stress I was feeling had nothing whatsoever to do with anything outside of myself – far from it, my suffering and hardship arose as a direct result of my internal dialogue.
Well, hallelujah! – for this put the onus clearly back on me. Now that I had recognised and accepted that it was my thoughts about my situation that were creating the stress I was feeling, not the actual situation itself, the question became what was I going to do about it?
Once again the answer came from the wisdom of the masters.
That we have the power to put ourselves back in the driving seat and end this dominion of our thoughts; that, as our thoughts create our perception of reality, that means that we ultimately have the power to change our reality, is one of the single most empowering things I had/have ever heard.
I find it hard to put into words how mind-blowing, how life-changing, how deal-breaking this simple truth is; how mind-blowing and life-changing the application of it in my life has been. Our lives are not completely governed by forces beyond our control. The power to change our reality does not lie outside of us. It is within. And it is therefore accessible. To each and every one of us, any time we choose.
And there is the very slight rub; we have to make that choice. It is only in doing so that we can give the power back to ourselves.
For once we are armed with the knowledge that there is another way, opting to be passive and not do anything to change our circumstances or our way of perceiving them is also a choice – a choice in the direction of more of the same.
The only way we are going to be able to experience something different in our lives is by choosing to perceive and/or do something differently.
So taking hold of the helm I decided to change the habits of a lifetime – one of mine being to work hard, and then harder, and then harder still to meet whatever benchmark it is I’m currently aiming for. Sacrificing just about everything else, including my own health and well-being, in the process.
I’ve done this for most of my life – I think it’s part of what being a perfectionist is all about; and it comes about as a result of one of the most common ego traps of all – my (until recently) unquestioned practice of locating my value and worth in my success and my accomplishments, rather than recognising the intrinsic value I have as a person. With or without my list of achievements.
As action springs from thought it’s impossible to change our behaviour without first changing the thought that produces the behaviour. It was the thought seed “I have to do … (fill in the blank) well in order to be accepted, to be loved – to be worthy of acceptance and love” – that was driving me to crack the whip so harshly, ravaging my enjoyment of my pottery in the process.
I want to make it clear at this point that I’m not saying that my ability to work hard in my endeavour to excel at something is a fault in and of itself. Thus far it has served me exceptionally well. This capacity to push on through discomfort and keep my eye on my goal is part of the reason I was successful in my studies at school; able to reach a certain degree of fluency in spoken Japanese; and finally finally able to attain a level of craftsmanship on the wheel. I’m sure it’s served me in other ways too countless to tell, many of which I’m not even aware of.
But that this way of being has served me well enough so far does not mean that there isn’t an even better way of being – one that will allow me to be successful in my endeavours and do it in a way that is more self-nurturing; one that allows me to take care of myself at the same time as taking care of the things I’m bringing forth into the world.
And that is the direction in which I’m steering, navigating a new path as I go. Setting my course by my observations of the way my thoughts and behaviours make me feel. Making my thoughts – and therefore the behaviours that spring from them – more my friends, and less my foes.
I like the simplicity of this navigation process – if it makes me feel happy, enthusiastic, positive, uplifted, inspired and joyful and awakens a sense of peace and well-being then it’s “on course.”
If it makes me feel tense, stressed, negative, under pressure, harried, tired, worn out, exhausted, disconnected from my self and the peace that lies at my center, then it’s not and I know I need to stop and re-examine the “coordinates” – the thoughts I’m choosing to have; the things I’m choosing to do; and how the combination of these is making me feel. Then, based on my observations, plot another course – one more conducive to my well-being.
And “all” I have to do to be successful in this way of navigating through my life is to step outside of myself long enough to observe my feelings, examining whether they’re “on course” or not.
I put the “all” in inverted commas because, as everyone who has ever tried it knows, this is far from an easy thing to do; especially when you get caught up in a downward spiral of stress or negativity that sucks you in, obliterating any distance you might have put in place.
Mindfulness has been my mainstay; when I remember to be mindful I can detach from my emotions enough to be able to watch myself like a third person observer and spot the tell-tale signs that I’m “off course” – the feeling of pressure, that there isn’t enough time; the build up of tension in my shoulders; the loss of spontaneity, joy and pleasure in process to a sense of obligation.
I don’t usually spot it in the moment. But, unlike our egos, our bodies and emotions are always our friends even when they seem to be working against us; they will keep telling us – through our pain, our distress, our discomfort – that something is wrong, something is “off course” in our lives – over and over and over until they manage to hammer it through our hard heads; until, at last, we sit up and take heed.
Once the emotional or physical discomfort has got my attention and I’m able to somewhat detach from it and step outside the situation I examine why it’s there; what has caused it to come up for me at this time.
Inevitably it’s because I’m getting caught up in the story my ego is telling me – swallowing the line that I have to do more and do better in order to be “okay.” (Read “worthy of love and acceptance).”
“Using it all” (as one of my mentors puts it) in this way has become a great strategy that helps me return to my center and steer myself back on course; the negative feelings and emotions and the tension in my body that come up when I’m out of alignment with my greatest and highest good act as signposts, showing me that I’m off course. Once I’ve attained sufficient mindfulness and presence to be aware of them I can take the necessary action to recalibrate my route, putting myself back on course again.
And it all begins with a single thought!
It works something like this…
I start to feel the pressure of all the pots I think I should be making but am not accomplishing. My shoulders hunch and I walk through my day with a clenched jaw, stooped back, tight shoulders and a head full of all the things that “need” to be done. I may still notice the beauty that’s around me as I move through my day but don’t really take the time to fully absorb it, encased in my self-made microcosm of quotas and deadlines.
At some point the saving grace of awareness crosses my path and I observe that I am mired in musts, have tos, tension and heaviness yet again: it is at this juncture that I have a choice.
Am I going to continue to think the same thoughts, perpetuating the stress, tension and dead weight that I’m feeling? Or am I going to choose a different thought – one that is more supportive of my well-being, makes me feel lighter, more joy-full, more centered, more alive?
Without the guiding light of awareness we automatically do the thing we know best and, on a kind of auto-pilot, think more of the same. We are not even responding to the situation; simply caught up in its mindless perpetuation, lost in an eddy far out at sea.
It is mindfulness that gives us awareness and awareness that gives us the choice. And if you knew you had a choice, who wouldn’t take the second option – to choose a different thought – every time?
Mindfulness is the life buoy that enables me to pull myself back out of the depths, consciously introducing a new monologue into my head – one that builds me up, supports and sustains me; overwriting the prescribed thought-seeds in my head; introducing a new and lighter way of being.
The new discourse I introduce into my head is like a dispatch from my higher self to me; helping me to see myself from the perspective of the Universe, not from the perspective of Ego.
In the case of my pottery, it might remind me that it’s not and never has been about the results, that it’s only my ego that places my valuation of myself in how much I manage to produce or achieve.
Enlightenment is said to be like a re-membering of who we are; well, this voice of my higher self encourages me to to remember the intrinsic worth and value in who I am – that I was already enough before I even breathed my first breath, and that nothing I do or don’t do can change that fundamental worth and value that are mine by sheer dint of being born.
It prompts me to remember that I’m not here to build up a list of achievements, but to enjoy – the world; the gift of life; the ever more joyful, ever more expansive, unfolding of my being.
And it reassures me that everything in my life’s path, including my art, is naturally unfolding in the most perfect way – the way that serves my greatest and highest good and my soul’s greatest and highest evolution.
And if that’s the case, what my ego has to say really doesn’t matter.
Holding onto this new script to anchor me I surrender to the greater and higher wisdom of the universal consciousness and my higher self – letting the stories of my ego fall by the wayside, empty husks that no longer have the power to control me.
Or at least not as much as before.
And, as action springs forth from thought, as my new internal dialogue started to permeate my consciousness, building new neural pathways in my brain, so my behaviour – engaged in its unceasing game of follow the leader – also began to transform.
I started to observe myself from the watchtower of my mind, taking note of my thoughts and feelings, and gave myself permission to only do pottery when I felt the creative spark fire within me, drawn to my makeshift studio by a force larger than myself.
I shifted my focus from output back to process – honing in on the feeling of peace the act of creation instilled and enjoying the creative exploration and expression of myself through art – rather than thinking about how my work would be received by others.
I no longer gave my ego the upper hand, refusing to believe in its stories of perceived lack and berate myself for what I hadn’t managed to do, and instead trusted that wherever I was at in both my art and my life was not only enough, but the most perfect place imaginable for me right now.
I realise now that during this time, (and all the countless other times since that I’ve “drifted” only to find my way back “on course”) that I’ve been making the shift from ego to Spirit. From ambition, unreasonable demands placed on self, comparisons in which I’ll always come up lacking, self-judgement, fear and a constant need to be better – all hallmarks of a consciousness in the straitjacket of Ego; to love of self – demonstrated in choices that nurture me and my well-being, self-acceptance – approval of myself where I’m at, recognition of my inherent worth, prioritising joy over results, and trust – in both myself and in something greater than myself; trust that everything is working out for my greatest and highest good and that the Universe is a guiding force leading me in the direction I am here to go.
As the above hints at, this shift from Ego to Spirit is not something that happens all at once; but is a conscious shift that I have had to make – still have to make – over and over again.
This year marks the third year I have taken part in the Azumino Style event. I have done well this year in reclaiming the sacredness of my art; in choosing to engage with my pottery making in a way that is conducive to my well-being and enables me to experience joy in the act of creation again.
Or should I say I had been doing well…
Until the first week of October that is. The deadline for pots for the final bisque firing was coming up fast and my old nemesis was back like it’d never been gone, telling me that what I’d done wasn’t enough, cracking the old familiar whip again.
I was starting to feel seriously frazzled as I heaped the pressure and stress on my self, unwittingly letting my ego become my slave driver again. The tension was building up in my body and my shoulders had been aching for days – not from spending too much time at the wheel, but from telling myself that I should be spending more, that what I was doing wasn’t enough.
My time-tried habit of focusing entirely on my goal to the exclusion of everything else kicked back in, or tried to, as I kept the whole of the last weekend before the bisque firing free, set aside for making all those things I’d been planning to but hadn’t got round to yet… But my equally ingrained habit – an unfortunate inability to say no as often as I want to – ensured that that didn’t happen. First there was a phone call calling me away from home to an impromptu meeting with the other people sharing the gallery space, and then an unplanned visit from one of my students. Both of these things, in the mind of my ego, were intrusions eating away at my weekend – my set-aside pottery time – and I couldn’t help but think of all the things I wasn’t getting done. Caught up in an ego-trap of my own making the stress was mounting, tying me up in manacles; turning my weekend into alternate revolutions of shoulds/have tos and self-recriminations; my energy had shifted from thriving to striving and I’d somehow managed to lose the fun in it all again.
And then all of a sudden – in a flash of inspiration brought on by the sight of reeds being buffeted in the wind, blown here and there but standing firm, rooted into the ground, surrendering gracefully to whatever gusts of wind may come their way, their very yieldingness giving them their strength – I saw it all for what it was: just another ego-driven game.
Saw in that moment that it was only my expectations of myself and my resistance to what is that were causing my stress; realised that my ego was having its way with me again.
And in that moment my ego lost its power over me as I stopped believing in my thoughts.
“I’m using it all,” I thought as, with that helpful kick on the rear end from the Universe, I was able to subvert the power of my ego, using its tell-tale signs of stress like a siren alerting me to the fact that something was out of balance in my life; the ego tricks themselves helping me to escape them.
“We’re only ever one new thought away from a completely different experience of being alive,” said Michael Neill.
“You are only one thought away from changing your life,” said Rita Schiano.
I chose to have another thought, to interact with my experience in a different and lighter way.
To make the shift from Ego back to Spirit.
To rewrite the script of my internal dialogue in another way; a way that was more sustaining and joyful for me.
To celebrate all the pots I had made instead of lamenting those I hadn’t; to come back into the moment and enjoy the reeds blowing in the wind instead of listening to the stories my ego was attempting to fill my head up with.
In a moment my mood shifted and my world had changed.
Such power in a single thought.
Such power in a moment.
Such power that only resides within.
Such power that is mine and yours to choose; to keep on choosing, each and every day.
I was walking my dog by the river when a white egret that had stood motionless perched on a rock launched itself into the air with a flap of its wings. As my gaze followed the magnificent bird’s trajectory across the vast expanse of blue sky a sudden gust of wind came from nowhere buffeting the egret mid-flight, sending it into a momentary flutter of wings and feet as it fought to recover its momentum and remain airborne.
I was taken with how quickly and gracefully this beautiful bird managed to come back to center and right its course – if I had but blinked or shifted my gaze for a moment its flight path would have seemed an unbroken line across the sky.
Back on course with a minimum of fuss, the egret continued on its way. The path it traced was purposeful and full of conviction – it knew its destination and was headed straight for it. There was no way it was going to let a ‘little thing’ like an adverse air current knock it off course, let alone distract it from its goal.
I admired its purposeful determination all the more because it’s something that can, at times, seem lacking in my own life.
It’s not that I don’t have a overriding ’flight plan.’ Embracing the idea of myself as conscious creator of my own life I have decided that this year, besides teaching, my focuses are to write, to pot, and to continue to expand and evolve.
So the trajectory of my path, in my mind at least, is clearly mapped out and defined.
And yet… I often find myself knocked off centre and blown off course, going in directions that are so far from being connected to my flight plan that they don’t even show up on the map.
And what does it take to knock me so far off course? A simple ‘gust of wind.”
I’m not even talking about the big ones like doctor’s diagnoses, unemployment notices, relationship breakups, deaths of loved ones and other such unpredictable events that blow into our lives to change their course.
Ninety-nine per cent of the time the ‘gusts’ of wind that pull me off centre are nothing more than the paraphernalia of daily life – meals that need to be cooked; phone calls that need to be made; classes that take too long to be prepared; an unexpected encounter with a neighbour while walking my dog that turns a ‘short walk’ into a two hour break from my day. Lunches with friends; a trip to the post office; a function here and there; obligations that feel like they need to be met. Conversations I let linger a little too long; mails and short mails waiting for me to respond; a ‘quick look’ on Facebook that takes up the best part of an hour; the myriad host of other unanticipated things that creep into my day…
I know that these things, although they can feel like interruptions – especially when too many of them come at once – are the things that make up a life.
I know that they are part and parcel of my trajectory even though they aren’t written into my flight plan – are, in fact, ‘my path.’
I know that I want to be fully present with the people and situations around me; and that at times that will mean putting aside my own flight plan so that I can give my full attention to what is happening right here, right now.
But sometimes it feels like the ‘distractions’ take over the day. I find myself spending more time on them than on the things I have decided are important to me; committed to put my focus on.
And once I’ve been distracted away from my flight plan I find it hard to get back on course. Before I know it yet another day has gotten away from me… with zero time spent at the pottery wheel or weaving threads of thought into meaningful sentences.
As to the third element of my year’s flight plan – my desire to expand and evolve – I’m of the opinion that these are things that will occur anyway, regardless of whether I try to make them happen or not. Doesn’t everything we encounter in our life present us with the opportunity to grow, evolve and expand; including the daily paraphernalia? So with regards to this destination at least, I’m content to set my intention to expand and evolve in the ways that are for my greatest and highest good and leave it in the hands of my higher self to guide the process.
But the pottery and the writing are a bit different. They are not an inevitable part of life that will naturally occur whether I put my attention on them or not.
The only way they are going to happen is if I make them happen.
And in order to do that I need to stop being quite so flimsily moored, letting myself being carried hither and thither on whatever air currents happen to be blowing my way.
Instead of letting the day and the situations that arise in it control me and my use of time, I’d like to be able to stamp my mark on the day so that I can successfully carve my own flight path through it – one that feels true to me and is in alignment with my destination.
I wonder if this is part of the problem – could it be that I don’t have a detailed enough picture in my mind of my destination? That I don’t quite believe enough in my ability to get there? And that without this ‘homing device’ it is harder for me to bring my words and actions into alignment with it?
It’s also true that although I have a relatively good idea of my overall flight path, I haven’t really been mapping out the points along the way. I’m not in the habit of setting myself concrete goals for each day. It’s more like I decide that tomorrow I’m going to take the day and focus on pottery, and of course I have an idea in mind of what it is I want to make. But as to how many of those I’m going to have made and by what time, that I leave up to fate…
And of course when you don’t have clear coordinates for your day, it’s far easier for the things that come up to take over and distract you from your purpose.
The creative part of myself protests at the idea of strict scheduling and goals, along the lines of a blog post written by lunch time and five cups made before afternoon classes. It knows that creative projects take the time they do and you can’t rush them, you need to allow them the time they take. (All the more so when you’re still very much in the process of learning, as I happen to be).
But it feels like there is a need for me to have greater self-discipline and to consistently carve out the time in the day for me to do these things I have committed to put my focus on.
(While at the same time being mindful to watch for the ego playing its tricks and mind games… trying to tell me that these are things I have to do, to turn them from a joy into a chore…).
It feels like it’s a case of turning off the computer and phone when I sit down to pot or write. Limiting distractions outside of myself; refusing to give them the power to control and dictate my time by not letting them into my sacred space. And, in so doing, taking back my sovereignty over my day.
Not to mention the need to get the better of my self-sabotage tactics – learning to see through the distractions I create for myself and mastering them, instead of letting them master me…
Another part of it is learning how to say no graciously to the things that I know in my heart aren’t in alignment with what I really want to be doing – the things that feel like they’re pulling me away from my mapped out route, delaying my arrival at my destination.
And even this idea of there being a destination that I need to get to, when I get too caught up in that that doesn’t serve me either. It makes me separate from where I want to be, and bleeds the joy out of the doing in its focus on outcome not process.
I believe what the sages say – that the key to happiness and fulfillment is found in our state of being, not in our achievements, or even in the things that we spend our days doing.
When I succeed in protecting my time in this way and use it in alignment with my goals, that in and of itself feels good. It’s a joyful quality of being that arises because I’m being true to myself. When I’m in that place the joy is in the process, and how much I manage to quantitatively achieve takes on less importance.
As long as I am making my promise to myself my priority, I am content to accept that sometimes the words and the pots will flow, and at other times they will stumble over themselves and slow to a trickle – I am content to let them take the time they will.
What matters is that I’m honouring my commitment to myself, using my time in the way I have promised myself I will.
When I do this, I’m in alignment with my deepest, most sacred self.
And it is this that feels good.
It is when we don’t do the things we have promised ourselves we will – letting ourselves be knocked off centre and pulled off course – that we fall out of alignment with our truth, and the feelings of being disjointed and separated from self arise.
So as I watched the egret counteract the wind and right its course in a moment, I knew that this is how I want to be in the world. To model myself on this beautiful white bird, bringing myself back to centre quickly and easily whatever gusts of wind may blow themselves into my day; with a clear picture of my destination in mind, so that my footprints trace a trajectory straight for it; streamlined and focused, offering no resistance – external or internal – to my chosen route.
When I can do this I’m at peace, embodying the grace and the conviction of this magnificent white bird, as the silence within the depths of my being tells me I’m right on course.