Monthly Archives: January 2014

Vegan January: Expect the unexpected

P1060420 low resIn the first days of January I, rather unoriginally, needed to lose  weight. So when my boyfriend (who’s vegetarian) mentioned going vegan for 30 days, I jumped at the opportunity, thinking we’d both shed a few pounds easily.

Here I am on 31 Jan, still enjoying my veg, but…

 

The plan:

I’m really into eating “clean” foods and cooking from scratch – in really think that eating simple fresh produce is the key to both a healthy body and a balanced mind.In the past I’ve been on a “macrobiotic” diet for two years and felt (and looked) my best by a mile. Plus, I’ve always been curious about veganism as a compassionate, “eco-friendly” lifestyle so was looking forward to trying it out.

So I honestly thought the vegan thing would be easy peasy. Plus 30 days isn’t that long so I figured if I got bored, it’d soon be over.

What actually happened:

Of course, nothing went according to plan. Although I felt more energetic for a few days, I’m embarrassed to say I quickly started fantasising about eating dairy products: yogurt, eggs, cappuccinos. After about a week I’d already had 2 or 3 “cheat” snacks.

I kept to vegan meals anyway, and towards the middle of the month I started feeling unwell – tired and tearful and slightly disoriented. My boyfriend kindly suggested I should go back to eating normally; I didn’t want to, but was forced to admit I felt much better, like by magic, almost immediately after eating eggs.

After that, it seemed obvious that the vegan thing wasn’t really right for me – I’ve not managed to keep it up, I’ve not felt very good, and I haven’t lost any weight (let’s face it: I’m going to have to exercise!).

Still, it’s been a valuable experience and I’d encourage anyone to try it:

What I’ve learnt:

If proof was needed that you can learn a lot even when you fail (I need to keep reminding myself), I’ve actually learnt quite a lot this month:

  • Brilliant new recipes: I’ve had to go out of my ways to come up with new meal ideas; I tried exciting new ingredients (with more or less success), and it’s been really refreshing. Some of them have already become firm favourites and we’ll still cook them in the future.
  • Mindfulness about what I eat: this month I’ve had to think carefully about what I put into my mouth, and it made me realise I do eat a lot of unnecessary snacks, in a really mindless way, especially at work or while watching TV. Sometimes out of stress or tiredness or boredom, but mostly out of habit. Having to remove all the snacks that weren’t vegan has really helped me much less.
    Although I eat 90% vegetarian (the other 10% being when I visit family in France, or when there’s no other healthy option), I also realised how much animal products I do eat out of habit, even though some of them can be easily swapped by healthy, lighter plant-based alternatives (vanilla soya milk, anyone?), at least some of the time.
  • How our everyday choices impact the planet: I’ve also thought a lot about the men and women who make veganism a permanent life choice. While I’m by no means saying they are more saintly than anyone else, I truly admire their commitment to living a lifestyle which is kinder to animals and the planet. It’s something I don’t think I could ever do, if only for the love of cheese (I remain French, after all).
  • The importance of listening to our bodies: However much I like the idea of a plant-based diet, I was reminded that there’s no point doing something that doesn’t feel right in our body. Just like there’s no point trying to be a size 0 when your natural weight is more towards size 12, there comes a time where we just have to accept that’s what our body is like, and love it just the way is.
    Plus, this experiment has reminded me that our body is pretty good at telling us what it needs, even though we often choose not to listen (because yes we’d rather eat a whole box of chocolates). So if we can learn to tune in to its subtle messages, I guess we’ll all be if not healthier, at least happier.

Top tip for those who might give it a go:

Even though I was disappointed it didn’t work for me, I’m happy to report my boyfriend has lost over a stone, and feels mega energetic, so I’d still encourage anyone to try going vegan, if only for a few days – it might do wonders for you, not only physically but also in terms of understanding a more compassionate lifestyle.

My best tip would be, don’t be too hard on yourself. Even though I failed to do a 100% vegan month, I’d say that being even 80% vegan has been beneficial and inspiring  in terms of general wellbeing,

So if you do end up cheating a little mid-way, keep going : you’re worth it.

The Office Yogi

P1020537 low resI read somewhere that there is no point practicing yoga until you can do headstand while chanting Sanskrit and tossing salad with your toes, if you’re still going to get angry in traffic jams.*

Quite.

I’ve been doing yoga (on and off) for years, and it’s always struck me how easy it is, after a blissful session, to get annoyed by petty grievances as soon as you step into the “real” world.

Yet in my view the whole point of yoga – or meditation, or any transformative practice – is to be approached holistically.  If you don’t try to extend the calm and balance you learn from your practice in other areas of your life, you’re missing out big time on opportunities for change (unless you’re just after a hobby, and that’s cool too).

People refer to yoga as their “path” to enlightenment, or awakening, of self-improvement. Others also refer to their marriages, or their businesses, in the same way. They chose to bring mindfulness to these particular areas of their lives, and gain an opportunity to grow, to become kinder, more open – to be their “higher” selves.

It ocurred to me that our 9-to-5 jobs, whether we like them or not, can be a pretty good path to transformation too.

Our day jobs are the place where we spend most of our time, yet also where we are most likely to experience frustration and disempowerment. Even if we like what we do, we still have to face stressful deadlines, people or situations.

Yet can’t we use all the hours the spend there – the fact that we turn up every day, now matter what, even if we don’t want to – to a higher end than paying our bills, or building our CVs?

Rather than thinking of our jobs as separate from our intimate, personal or spiritual lives, we could see them as way to learn a little every day about…

  • Patience and Perseverence – When things are so slow they seem to go backwards, when the task is so huge we never seem make a dent, when we’re up against everything and everyone, we learn how to keep at it.

  • Calm and Balance – If our jobs are really stressful, we are forced to look after our own wellbeing so that we can remain efficient and not burnout (I learnt that the hard way last year, when I did burn out). We can learn what relaxes us and what keeps us going, without going crazy.
  • Kindness and Compassion – A smile doesn’t cost us anything, and when we come to the office with a positive attitude we can not only brighten our day, but create a nice atmosphere for others too. It makes for a nicer all-round life to treat people like people, not commodities.

  • Humility and Service – Because we can’t always have things our way and we sometimes have to admit that others might know better. And because ultimately we’re in our jobs to serve, not just look after our own interests.
  • Boldness and the Courage to take risks – our jobs can teach us to push ourselves further, accept more responsibilities, get out of our comfort zones. They make us face our errors, but also teach us to stand for ourselves and speak up when we have to.
  • Love and Respect – It’s easy to get lost in daily complaints, but you first picked that job for a reason. Did you love the industry, follow your calling, feel part of something bigger? Do you look up to your bosses, your team, or the people you serve? Was it a first step to your big dream? When the going gets tough it’s easy to forget about the love – remind yourself often.
  • Humour and laughing at ourselves – taking ourselves too seriously doesn’t get us anywhere; and sometimes when things go wrong, the only thing to do is laugh about it.

Most of all, our 9 to 5 challenges us to be ourselves – Our job tells us what we’re good at, and not so good at. It gives us opportunities to shine. It challenges us to not only be open and fair to others, but also to become our own best supporter.

Our job helps us find out what we want from life – even if what we want is to get the hell out of there.

There will always be people (I used to be one of them) who job-hop from one “hellish” job to the next, only to find more of the same, or worse – the way others always end up with the wrong boyfriends. 

Yet if we open ourselves to be taught, even when it feels like hell, we can discover so much about our expectations, our limitations, our fears, the way we interact with others, and the ways we can shine.

If we have the courage to face what we don’t like, and act on it, we have a powerful tool for growth. And we can learn where to go from there.

And if the time comes for us to move on from that job, we know that we’ve not wasted the time we spent there.

We learnt all that we could.

We have grown.

 

* In Tosha Silver Outrageous Openness, the chapter about ‘The Zen of traffic’ (don’t let the dodgy cover put you off, the content’s quite nice)

To the annoying people in my life

P1060414 low res

They say holding anger is like drinking poison and expecting another person to die from it, and if you remember the last time you were truly angry, you might remember it didn’t feel very nice. 

I’m not a particularly angry person – some might call me a pushover – but there’s a handful of peeps that have aggravated me so much over the years that I still cordially detest them long after having much contact with them. 

Or at least I did, until I recently decided to shed that baggage (quest for enlightenment and all that), and attempted to let it go.

Let’s be honest, it took a while. ‘Forgive and forget’ didn’t work (I ruined entire meditations trying to extend loving-kindess to their direction, only to find myself fuming on my cushion).
‘Just forget’ was not an option either, as they never seemed to completely go away.

Eventually I had a heart-to-heart with myself, to try and understand where the problem was.

Supposedly the people you find most annoying are the ones who can teach you  most about yourself – by highlighting your own shortcomings (which you’d rather ignore),  or trespassing your boundaries (which you didn’t know you had), or by flaunting their success in your jealous face (thus teaching you what you truly want from life).

So what to make of my old boss, the one who took me for granted and always gave me the projects no one else wanted? I don’t take people for granted, so she can’t be highlighting that fault… unless, hang on… have I not been taking MYSELF for granted by accepting those sh*t projects? I could (should) have walked out, but instead I chose to suck it up and harbour quiet rage.

What about that old friend who patronises and talks down at everyone in an infuriating manner? Aren’t they just doing it it because  they’re so insecure, they make themselves feel superior by making other people feel bad? Are they not pushing my buttons precisely because I’ve got insecurities of my own?

Or that school friend I’ve been calling stupid since she married in her early 20s and now has 3 gorgeous kids and a lovely husband and doesn’t need to work for a living. I MIGHT have been a bit jealous…

Having shed new light on these old grudges, I feel rather deflated. Where I used to feel a slow burning fire of self-righteous anger, there seems to be a tiny warm fuzzy of compassion.

I can see all these people’s points and how they never did anything wrong. Yes, they were bloody annoying, but only a bit more so than your average human. 

So, to the annoying people in my life, I want to say: 

THANK YOU. You’ve taught me a great deal.

And also, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I didn’t value you as a person. I’m sorry if I was rude and made you feel shit right back. You were nice enough people, really.

Finally, if I happen to meet you soon, please be reassured I shan’t try to punch you in the nose. I’ve moved on…

 

Behind every blade of grass

tiny grass“Behind every blade of grass, there is an angel whispering: Grow, grow” – The Talmud

I’m not much of a Talmud reader (my loss, perhaps I should start now), but how I LOVE this one quote!

Firstly, because it tells us that if there is an angel behind lives so small and so humble as tiny blades of grass, there is almost certainly one rooting for us as well. One behind you, and one behind me, whispering to us through tough times and cheering our every success. This, in itself, is very comforting.

But I also love that in that one sentence, we can almost feel the excitement of the angel, attentively and tirelessly whispering encouragement to this tiny life – for what in the world could be more exciting that encouraging life to grow?

This might be a bit rich from someone like me who is A/ not a parent and B/ a lousy gardener.  But it always struck me that, given the right conditions people will grow into themselves, like beautiful colourful plants.

Last year I was lucky enough to witness friends and relatives finally coming into their own, finding their missions in life and a sense of purpose and joy that was previously missing in their lives. Which was not only heartwarming but hugely inspiring.

I’ve also been blessed with incredible encouragement at work and in my writing projects, and that made me realise how a little encouragement can go a really long way in giving us strength and energy, especially when we feel vulnerable.

This made me simultaneously realise that, through laziness or lack of thoughtfulness, or sometimes even a bit of jealousy, I’ve perhaps failed to encourage my loved ones as best as I could in their projects. I might have judged them too hastily or made comments that weren’t helpful at times they already felt insecure. Which really sucks.

So, since 2014 is a Year of Living with an Open Heart, I’m going to try teaming with the angels (if they’ll let me), and give a little more encouragement those around me to grow into their own beautiful selves.

Care to join me? We could grow a whole garden.

With love,
Cecile

2014 – A Year of Living with an Open Heart

P1020734 low resThis January, as we receive wishes for health and happiness from our nearest and dearest, we will be encouraged to wonder what 2014 might have in store for us – what events, challenges or successes will greet us as part of the journey?

As we look at a new year ahead, it is also a perfect time to decide what WE want to bring to 2014.

Some of us may have made resolutions to improve our lives in various small or large ways (my boyfriend decided to actually have a lunch break every workday, which seems very small but think what he could do with an extra 5 hours a week? I’m excited!). 

I’m a big fan of setting new goals for a new year – after all, what better time to reset the counter and start afresh than when we contemplate a new full set of 365 days?

Of course, it’s always easy to let our good intentions slip after a few weeks, so I have found one powerful way to sustain change and action throughout the year, which is popular with life coaches, is to decide on an INTENTION, or one word that represents what you want to do this year. It should encapsulate everything you want to feel or be or achieve this year, and more importantly it should make you feel super-excited about it.

For example a friend of mine has just completed a Year of Magic and is now starting a Year of SunshineSounds more exciting than saying ‘I will eat less carbs’, non?

2013 was my Year of Creativity, which meant that I would try and keep a creative practice and dare to share things – this is how I started this blog; I also did a creative writing course, took lots of photos and wrote poetry. Creativity also represented an intention to do things my way, rather than follow instructions. And I loved it.

2014 builds on what I learnt last year and will be dedicated to Living with an Open Heart. For me it means various things like daring to say what I think, doing more of what I like and less of what I don’t like, taking a bit more risks, being more kind and patient with those around me and generally living in openness and positivity.

Cheesy for sure, but as a French woman I would argue that you can’t have too much cheese! I’m excited at this new intention that will hopefully sustain me throughout the year.

One of my first projects will be to “tweet from the heart” and find my voice on social media. Second is to spend less time worrying about work, when I am not at work.

What will your year be?

If you need inspiration you might want to try Selina Barker’s “Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014” free PDF. For more detailed planning, I’ll be buying Leonie Dawson’s “Create your amazing year 2014”.

Wishing you a wonderful 2014 full of beautiful intentions – and of course health and happiness and all that…

With love,
Cecile