Category Archives: Meditative

On meditating & feeling connected

Adventures in Outer Space

P1060521 low resAgainst my better judgement, I’ve become addicted to the sci-fi TV series Battlestar Galactica.

I say “against my better judgement”, because I don’t normally watch much TV – much less sci-fi (I still think StarTrek = idiots in pyjamas), so this took me rather by surprise.

The show’s premise is this: sometime in a distant future (no pyjamas), humans are at war with robots they created. The robots look convincingly human, so nobody knows who is who.  In episode 1, all human planets are destroyed in a nuclear holocaust; the only survivors are 50,000 poor sods who were travelling in outer space while it happened. These 50,000 become responsible for the survival of the entire human civilisation (no pressure) on a dozen spaceships. Unbeknownst to anybody, there are human-looking robots onboard the human fleet.

So far, so sci-fi.

What makes it compelling of course, are the stories of the people we follow – the fighter pilots who go out everyday to protect others, the admiral who keep things together when everyone else is freaking out, the civilians who have lost all they had with no hope of return, and the robots who, despite being robots, fall desperately in love with humans (and reciprocally).

Kudos to the cast and writing team, some of these stories are among the most deeply touching you can imagine – stories of courage and impossible love, of loss, hope, faith, and finding soul where there is only chaos. Beyond the sci-fi flick, it’s a story about being human – what makes us human, what makes our individual destinies, and what legacy we may have as a species.

It’s also a story about heroes, and how we are all, in our small everyday ways, appealed to be heroes.

I’ve learnt a great deal from observing life onboard Galactica for 80-odd episodes:

  • Nothing is for ever and nothing can be taken for granted. Just like the humans in the story have lost their old homes and families, life as we know it may come to an end at any time, through no fault of our own. The people and things we love one day may be no more, and life will go on regardless. And that’s okay.
  • Humans will do stupid things. You’d think with only a few survivors in the universe people would try to get on. Of course not – they still hurt each other out of fear or greed, of cowardice or pride. In the face of difficult choices, even those who love each other often don’t realise or act on it until it’s too late. As a viewer you want to shout at them “go on, life’s too short for this!”. A bit like real life then.
  • We all have a role to play. Destiny is one of the series’ strong themes. The main characters (humans and robots alike) all have a strong sense of a mission they need to accomplish, although they usually don’t know how or why. As the story develops, all their separate missions come together for Humanity to be saved – salvation is only possible because each single person played their role, as pointless or insignificant as it might have seemed at the time.
  • Our calling may take us by surprise.  Human-looking robots don’t usually know they’re robots. They go about living a normal human life, until one day a programme is activated in their brain that will reveal their true nature. Did this ever happen to you in real life, suddenly feel the urge to do something out of character, learn a new skill, meet new people, visit a new country? Following those hunches might just lead you to your true nature too.
  • We may need to go a little mad. In the process of following our callings, others might call us mad. As we starting seeing or doing things differently, we might even wonder about our own sanity. When the Battlestar’s best fighter pilot disappears in mission and reappears 2 months later with no recollection of what happened to her, the others assume she’s a robot, and she starts doubting herself – she’s no longer sure who or what she is. But out of this confusion emerges a new, clearer sense of purpose. A nice metaphor of how we sometimes need to let go of our old lives to find meaning.
  • We should allow ourselves to be driven by love. Even the most level-headed, rational characters will risk everything for their one true love – trecking alone through the entire universe to rescue a parent or a lover. That’s because even though it makes no rational sense, they know life wouldn’t be worth living if they lost those they love most. That’s pretty cool.
  • We can choose everyday to do good or bad. We all have a part to play and it’s up to us to honour or ignore it. The things that are worth doing are often pretty damn scary, and we can choose to go for our dreams or to do nothing and keep going. Every small choice adds up to what we do with our lives. It’s all up to us, really.
  • Heroes never give up. For the one day of glory when they will save Humanity, the heroes have had a thousand so-so days when things didn’t go to plan. They had to turn up to work everyday (even if “work” was flying a fighter jet); their bosses got on their nerves, they were bored out of their minds, or hungover from the night before. They were sometimes betrayed by the people who should have had their backs; often the mission seemed impossible. They had plenty of opportunity to doubt themselves and give up. But they didn’t. And that’s what made them heroes.

And that, my friends, is what I learnt from my stay in outer space. As well as having a jolly good time.

Highly recommended.

 

Books that will change your life: “This Will Never Happen Again”, by David Cain

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To say this e-book is by a “fellow blogger” would be a massive overstatement – the author, Canadian-engineer-turned-full time writer David Cain, has tens of thousands of followers on his blog Raptitude, and on the Thought Catalog website. He’s a bit of a legend in the blogosphere and definitely a hero of mine…

The book

“This will never happen again” is a collection of previously published posts (so you could read them online, although I think the book versions have been slightly edited).

The Raptitude blog takes “a street-level look at the human experience” – it’s about how to become a better human. The book focuses on something more precise in the human experience: the mindfulness of everyday life; how we can learn to not take things for granted, and make sure we appreciate the magic in every single moment.

The big idea

Life is as it says in the title: this will never happen again. Today, this very moment, the special set of circumstances that are happening right now, have happened and will never be repeated. Even if you are in the same spot doing the same thing with the same people tomorrow, it will not be the exact same. External elements may be different; you may be in a different mood; you will have learnt something from the previous day. You will never be as young as you are today.

In our everyday lives we take far too much for granted. We may know we are lucky to have a good job, friends, family, but do we feel it? How often do we complain about petty things instead of appreciating all that we have? How often do we pause to feel the wonder of life itself – of waking up everyday, of having a roof over our heads or other basic things we couldn’t live without,

We owe it to yourselves to be fully conscious of this to enjoy a truly special “human experience”.

Why it will change your life

The great thing about this book is that it doesn’t lecture you – it’s written in a simple, down-to-earth style, and the author comes up with small techniques you can use to find blissful experiences in small, mundane things.

For example, how you can use boring downtimes such as walking from your car to the supermarket to awaken a sense of wonder. Or how to practice gratitude by imagining that tomorrow you will wake up without anything – you will open your eyes in the morning to find that you are in a forest, naked and alone. Or how you can “die on purpose” by imagining your surroundings – the room you sit in, the people in it – as they would be if you weren’t there.

And so it the book manages to capture the uncapturable – the tiny moments of bliss that add up to a deeply happy existence.

Reading it left me with a true sense of magic and a distinct feeling that I was walking on clouds… so it comes highly recommended.

If you would like a taste of it first, here are a couple of really amazing chapters:

How to walk across a parking lot

A day in the future

Enjoy!

To the annoying people in my life

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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

In transition

P1060009 low resHi friends, I’ve been absent for a while and I’ve missed you. I’ve had a bit of a rough patch in the last few weeks – few months in fact – and so lately I just haven’t blogged as much as I wanted to.

Do you ever have times in your life when things feel a bit empty, when you go through your usual routines – at work, at home, with your friends – but nothing seems to make sense anymore? Things don’t feel as fun as they used to be, like you’re floating around, not really there? Well, that’s what I felt like. Exhausted physically as well as mentally. Vacant. Burnt out.

Thanks to speaking to wise friends (if you’re reading: you know who you are) and with the help of a brilliant book (“Transitions” by William Bridges), I’ve managed to make sense of the situation, a little bit. I’ve made some adjustments – went down to part time at work, set aside more time to look after myself. I let myself off the hook with my usual to-do list and indulged in more restful activities.

As I spent more time in this void – this neutral zone between the old me who was fine and happy, and the future me, who’s not found a new way to be quite fine yet, I’ve learnt to let go. I’ve tried to enjoy the experience and not worry too much about what things might bring.

As for blogging, I realised I’d become so worried about doing stuff bloggers are “supposed” to do – gain readers, share posts on facebook, build an email list – that I was spending more time on that than on the writing itself. Don’t get me wrong, I like to share. But I like to write more.

I feel like a different person now, but I’m in a way more me. I’ve rediscovered old joys I hadn’t experienced in years. I want to do stuff I like and find out what I’m truly good at. It feels like going back in time, but also like moving on.

I’m finally growing into myself, and I wonder what took me so bloody long.

I still want to write. I don’t know if I still feel like bloggin regularly though. I’ll have to take it a day at a time and see.

Meanwhile if any of you out there are feeling out of sorts and a little bit lost – I’m right with you. And we’ll be fine.

 

Lazy is good

P1030517 low resWhen I was little, perhaps seven or eight, I used to get told off for eating too much.

I couldn’t figure out why, seeing that well, delicious food is all around and it would be a shame not to taste it all. (And it might have helped that the French word for “greedy” is “gourmand”, which evoked a more gourmet glutton.)

As an adult, I sort of see my parents’ point – it is more ladylike to show hum, some restraint. But nevertheless, I still prefer the company of people who love their food.

The same goes with being lazy. Laziness wasn’t particularly encouraged at home, and if you ask me that’s a bit of a shame. My hyperactive Dad used to always ask whether we fancied “doing something”, while we were in the middle of say, having a cup of tea, playing with the dog, or reading a novel. As if we weren’t already doing something.

As you might have guessed from reading previous posts, I’m a big advocate of slow, restorative activities. Especially those that appear as though you’re not really doing anything useful.

First because I don’t believe life is always about being useful.

Second, because I am sure day-dreaming, navel-gazing time is essential to imagination and creativity… not to mention your mental health.

When your mind is empty, you create space for more. When you let go of the ongoing chatter in your head and allow yourself to just be, you open up endless possibility for new ideas.

Some of the greatest advances to science were made by people while they were in the bath (Archimedes), or snoozing under a tree (Newton). Coincidence?

Downtime is never wasted time. I’ve heard people say that the busier you are, the more time you should spend in meditation, because you will be able to achieve more in your everyday life. (The Dalai-Lama, who we can only assume i a little busy being a world leader, is said to do four hours a day).

Your head will be clearer. Your problems will seem smaller. Solutions to dilemnas might come to you out of the blue.

We all lead busy lives, so next time you find yourself overloaded with commitments at work or at home, why not try taking just a few minutes to be lazy and daydream?

Perhaps you can just pause to notice the delicious smells rising as you cook dinner. Or sing along to your favourite song. Give your dog a good belly rub, or pause to admire the flowers on your windowsill. Sip tea. Cloud gaze. Whatever makes your heart sing.

Be present. Contemplate. Let your thoughts wander. Watch your problems disappear.

Cherish this quiet time, as soon enough you will be called back to your life’s busy-ness.

You may want to bring a notebook for when you start getting genius ideas…

 

READ ON Other similar posts you might enjoy:
Living life at your own pace
Everyday meditations: A cup of green tea
The things that only you see

“You’re okay, really”: what it feels like to love yourself

P1050662 low resI’ve always wondered what self-acceptance feels like. That great big love for yourself you always hear about in women’s magazines, and in the interviews of successful people who seem to have everything you wish for… and will never attain.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to wake up in the morning feeling overwhelmed by self-love. I might wake up feeling love for my partner, my cat, or the world at large. But for myself…

“Love your neighbour as yourself”, Jesus said in what seemed simple enough instructions. Yet, many people, myself included, go through life treating themselves like their least favourite friend, not showing much patience or kindness and occasionally calling themselves names.

So a few days ago, as I was washing my face and pondering a difficult decision (to quit or not to quit my job), I was surprised to hear a gentle interior voice say to me: “you’re okay, really“.

This may seem like nothing to you, but it reminded me of something. I once had a boyfriend who was the coolest thing in the universe, with a cheeky smile and a punkrocker’s attitude to everything. Whenever he’d come across something great, not wanting to lose his cool by showing enthusiasm, he’d say “that’s okay, really”.

Just like him now, I’m not going for full-blown enthusiasm. My inner critic may not be going all BFF on me just yet, but at least we’re finally rooting for the same team. Of course it lasted only a few minutes. But it felt wonderful.

Now let me tell you something. If this happened to me, for no reason while I wasn’t even trying, it can happen to anybody. You better be prepared.

Some day, out of the blue…

You might look back upon your life so far and think you haven’t done too badly, overall.

You might be happy knowing you have done your best.

You might look into the mirror and no longer see the extra pounds or wrinkles (yes, the ones other people swear never existed but you just know are there).

You might see someone beautiful in their own, unique way.

You might look at the work you do and think, perhaps you’re doing enough.

You might no longer feel like a fraud, and let go of the fear of being found out.

IT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND

You will shed the illusion of your own criticism like you take off a heavy winter coat.

You will feel lighter.

There will be a new breeze on your skin, which you never knew was there because of the big coat

You will feel so alive that you will wonder how to contain so much joy.

You will no longer feel the need to be or act different.

You will be at home in your own skin.

Even if the doubts return after a moment, you and I both will know that it IS possible be our own best friends.

And once we’ve done it once, there must be a way we can do it again.

 

READ ON Other similar posts you might like:
Should I stay or should I go? 
Living life at your own pace
Everyday meditations: A cup of green tea

 

Moving on: New life in an old country

P1100155 low resA good friend of mine is moving back to the continent after almost 10 years in London, and I find myself strangely affected.

Not only because I will miss her – she’s one of those rare friends who never seems to find my crazy plans crazy – but also because of the possibilities the thought of going home opens up in my own life.

In the last 12 years I have lived away from France in various countries, I have found that being an expat is a bit like having two lives – there’s the cosmopolitan, stressed-out urban me, who works for a celebrity and does stuff like blogging and yoga. And the small town French me, a daughter/ grand-daughter of several generation of small-towners, who still enjoys spending days in the countryside in the middle of nowhere and the slow pace of everything.

I suspect we all feel a similar divide between where we came from and where we are now, whether we live far away from our families, or whether they are on the other side of town. But living in another country, albeit a neighbouring one, only makes it more obvious.

Just as we compare ourselves to others (even though we know we shouldn’t), it is also tempting to compare ourselves to our “other me”.

What if I had studied nearer my parents and settled to live locally? Would I still have been the same person? Would I have settled sooner, have had children earlier? Would I have somewhat become a copy of my parents?

What if I went back now ? Would I be going forwards, or going back in time?

This is what my friend and I pondered during our last dinner together. We both came to London years ago and embraced the city life as if our lives depended on it. Would we be somehow “giving up” the dream by going back home? Would we be judged as failures, or more importantly, would we see ourselves to have failed? Would we be settling down happily, or just settling?

As I think about it now, it strikes me that this is all part of growing up- letting go of the many roads we might have taken, and learning to embrace the one we are on. Realising that the different “me” are all me. There is no “other me”. Or rather, “other me” is still me.

It strikes me that learning to embrace the paradox is the way to live fully. It’s okay to love the excitement city life, and still dream of the calm countryside. To have a modern life and yet honour tradition. We can break the mould and still love the families we grew up in.

We all, as they say, have both roots and wings. 

And as I watch my friend go, it occurs to me that happiness is knowing just that. Whichever country we might go to, we will still be ourselves. Fully, and beautifully.

 

READ ON Other similar posts you might like:
Time travelling at no cost
Going round in circles
“Finding our own North Star” by Martha Beck

We are one

P1050280 low resPerhaps like other Westerners who are drawn to buddhist meditation for non-religious purposes (wellbeing, stress-busting, generally coping with modern life), I have a bit of a dilemna. Not being a buddhist myself, I feel there is only so much I can take in from the otherwise excellent meditation classes I have attended. The techniques themselves are great – much is focused on breathing, visualising, and feelings of kindness which are common to all human beings. The teachers are welcoming, patient and non-judgemental. But some of the concepts I just don’t get. Apart from the fact that I feel a bit of a fraud chanting in Sanskrit (which some of the classes include) without understanding a word, there are things that don’t make sense to my rational, European brain.

While some of the precepts are fairly universal (non-harming, loving-kindness), I particularly struggle with the idea that we are one, that no-one and nothing in the universe exists in separation from anything else. To me it sounds like saying “me” or “you” or any other living thing/ dead thing/ object are intimately related, and I cannot really say I get it. I wouldn’t argue whether it right or wrong as a concept – I just can’t work my head around it. In my mind, “I” am not “you”, and neither of us are the same as this chair, be it as it may that we are made of the same energy/ atoms/ elements, and however much I like both of you.

And still. If we look around us, the world is full of chances to see that everything is connected, in a way that even I can understand. As I sit at home writing this article and eating a delicious slice of chocolate cake I bough on the market, I try to think of everyone and everything that existed before this moment that made it possible for me to eat this cake. The Portuguese baker who runs the market stall. The ingredients and their provenance. The chocolate, the eggs, the milk. The cocoa beans, the cocoa tree and the people who planted them. The chicken, the cows, the farmers who tend to them. The grass the cows feed on. The rain that makes it grow, the clouds. The plate the cake is on, the spoon I eat it with, the people who designed and made them both. Our ancestors who invented eating from plates and spoons (somebody had to). The person who first had the idea to eat a cocoa bean. The person who first had the idea to bake it.

I begin to feel dizzy with the million connections and people and days and amounts of knowledge that enabled me to sit here and eat this cake. I realise this is not only true of this cake, but the computer I use, the chair I sit on, the clothes I wear. Everything in the house and outside of the house. Everything that comes from nature and everything that is man made. Everything I can see and everything I cannot see. Everything that is in your life, and everyone else’s. Everything connected to our parents, and their parents before them.

I feel grateful to everyone who put in so much effort. I feel humbled and small, and in awe of a world that provides us with so much. The milk, the grass, the cocoa beans. The people.

I feel grateful and I feel connected. I feel the energy of such a perfect system and I feel blessed to be part of it.

I begin to feel with my heart what my head won’t understand. Without the shadow of a doubt, we are one.