Calm Inspiration

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A few weeks ago I was listening to one of my favourite radio programmes, Radcliffe and Maconie on BBC 6 Music and heard an interview with Haemin Sunim, and immediately placed an order for his book.

I have quite a few books on Buddhism and meditation and was intrigued to see how Haemin would approach the subject differently.  As it has been primarily inspired by his Twitter account, in which he gives advice on a number of topics, the book has similarly been divided up in to the following sections; rest, mindfulness, passion, relationships, love, life, the future and spirituality.  It’s written in a very accessible, conversational style, and you could either read all the way through, or just dip in and out of it.

However, what really impressed me were the beautiful illustrations which accompany the words and elevate this above many others in this field and making it a joy to hold and read.

Stop, look and listen … to yourself

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Recent minor surgery has resulted in much anxiety and forced ‘doing very little’ on me.  Prior to the operation I was becoming increasingly apprehensive and had to find a way to calm myself.  The answer came in the form of a free app; Headspace, which has ten introductory meditation sessions and encourages you to set a daily reminder to find the time and space to reconnect with yourself.  As a former yoga teacher you might think I wouldn’t need to an app to remind me to meditate, but you’d be wrong; even those trained in meditation sometimes need a little shove in the direction of ten minutes of peace each day.  Especially, if like me, you were not very good at sitting and doing nothing in the first place, and much preferred the physical asana practice of yoga.

It is also very beneficial to go back to the beginning sometimes and remind yourself of what you already know but may have forgotten, and possibly approaching it in a different way in the process.  I have almost completed the ten free sessions and have found them very useful during what has been a very challenging time for me.  As yet, I haven’t decided if I will sign up for further access to Headspace but it did lead me to consider re-reading some of my meditation books and I thought I would write a post about them as potential inspiration for some of you.

The little ‘Sit like a Buddha’ book is a simple, straightforward guide to meditation, written with humour, and is a realistic approach to the practice.  It’s also a quick read, so you can get straight on with your meditation!  One aspect of the book which I found useful was the chapter entitled ‘know your why’, which was something I had never thought about before.  I guess I just thought ‘I should meditate’ but never asked myself why I was doing so; it was just something I felt I ought to do.  Yes, I know all the benefits (and they are many) but what was the particular reason for sitting on any given day to practice?  That I had not previously questioned; and so my reason these last few weeks has clearly been dealing with anxiety over my surgery, and the ongoing recovery from it.  Once I had established my why, I felt a greater sense of purpose to practice and found it easier to make the time to do so.

‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ is a classic of the genre from Thich Nhat Hanh; my copy is quite old; it was published in 1991!  That goes to show how good it is because I do not horde, I have regular and quite ruthless clear-outs of everything, books included.  The fact that this one (and others by TNH) has escaped my eager de-cluttering is testament to it being an essential read for anyone interested in meditation.  I love the relevant examples used to allow beginners in to the practice, such as ‘washing the dishes, wash the dishes’ and the importance of being fully present in every moment, regardless of how you might feel at the time.  This is something which I have often used when anxiety comes calling and I consciously re-direct my focus to what is happening in the here and now, as opposed to what I fear may happen.  This is a must purchase!  As are any books by Thich Nhat Hanh.

‘The Meditator’s Handbook’ is one of the first books on the subject I ever bought and takes a more psychological approach to the practice.  It details varies styles of mediation from different belief systems, both eastern and western alike, in addition to perspectives from Tai Chi and yoga.  It is a very thorough and therefore, a more academic guide, with plenty of opportunities to put what you have read about into practice.  I would say this is for those who are more serious about their practice and would like to know something about the various meditation traditions around the world.

‘Mindfulness’ by Williams and Penman is one of the more recent publications on meditation and takes a modern approach by focusing primarily on the practice of mindfulness and how it can help with anxiety and depression.  It includes an 8-week programme with accompanying CD, and is clear, practical and extremely helpful; especially at a time when mental health is (rightly so) being given increasing importance in society.  As someone who is currently not 100%, I am aware that my recovery will be as much mental as physical, and if I can remain positive I will get better much quicker.

Regardless of whether you are a proficient practitioner or a beginner, I hope this post has inspired you, and I would love to hear of your books, apps or any other meditation tips you have.

Happy meditating!

 

 

 

 

 

This month I’m reading

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As a self-confessed book worm I often have two or more books on the go at once.  In fact, technically speaking, I am currently reading four books; one second-hand copy of How to Eat by Nigella Lawson, a Lonely Planet guide to France (started last year, or was it the year before?), The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, and I am about to start The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, one of my favourite authors.

I came across a somewhat battewp-1486922279324.jpgred copy of How to Eat in a charity shop a few weeks ago and looking for some foodie inspiration I bought it and have been slowly working my way through it, often when I’m eating dinner.  A lot of the recipes are not for me as they contain meat, which I don’t eat but what I do love is the way Nigella talks about food, with such passion but also a lack of pretentiousness or preachiness.  She just enjoys cooking and eating and believes in the importance of good, honest, unfussy food, something I can certainly go along with!

I’ve also been dipping in and out of the Lonely Planet guide to France for quite some time now.  I pick it up when I have the odd half an hour and a cuppa in hand and don’t want to spend it flicking through social media.  As a Francophile, I am using it as inspiration for future visits; it’s working rather well!

The Selfish Gene is the second book in my current popular science phase I’m going through.  I recently finished A Brief History of Time by Professor Stephen Hawking, which was a challenge for a non-scientist but then that’s why I bought it, I wanted to educate myself and step out of familiar reading territory.  I’m not at all ashamed to admit I didn’t understand all of it; he lost me when talking about quarks, but I was able to follow most of it.  Now I’ve moved on to The Selfish Gene and am finding that a much more accessible read and a thoroughly interesting one too.

I haven’t read any fiction in a while and am therefore really looking forward to starting The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak in the next two weeks.  I have read The Architect’s Apprentice and The Bastard of Istanbul by the same author and love the beautifully descriptive prose she uses and the complexity of her characters.

What is interesting is that I think my book reading habits reflect my mind quite well; constantly flitting from one thing to another, rarely able to stay focused and do one thing at a time.  That is something of a disadvantage when it comes to getting things done.  I’m writing this when I should be working on an assignment for my MA but I just couldn’t find the inspiration today.  I wrote a little for it earlier but I felt it was mostly drivel, so I stopped and started writing something else instead.  Maybe having done so I’ll be able to go back to my studies.  Or maybe I’ll read …

What are you reading at the moment?  Do you have several books on the go at once, or work through them one at a time?  Share your recommendations for a good read, fiction or non-fiction, in the comments section.  Thank you.

 

The call of my own world

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I haven’t posted anything in a while for several reasons; lack of inspiration is one, but also, and more importantly, I have started to write a novel, I think … I hope.

It’s over ten years since I began writing regularly, and I’ve tried lots of methods to get me to do so on a consistent basis; writing courses and groups, ‘how to’ books, and setting whole days aside to write, yet suddenly finding a lot of other stuff to do. Reading is my worst vice and primary means of procrastination.

I managed to write about 17,000 words of a very personal story many years ago, but looking back at it now, it’s incredibly naively written and on reflection, not something I want to publish. So continuing to develop that wasn’t an option.  Over the years I have had more success with short stories, often for courses, but none of them held my attention or imagination for long; all except one.  A short piece I created during a writing course, which I had spent hours on and felt would surely be well received.  However, the very low mark it was given devastated me.  I couldn’t understand.  I had put so much into it.  How could it have been so bad?  I have recently gone back to the tutor’s comments and realised they were not wrong in their assessment of my work.  I hadn’t fulfilled the brief, which was to write a short story.  Instead, I had written the prologue to a much larger world, and that was why I had received a low score.

Reading through the story again, I began to feel inspiration returning. What if I could develop this?  So for the last few weeks I have been trying to write every evening, Monday to Friday for at least half an hour, without editing or reading back through my work.  I’m only about 2,000 words in, so have an extremely long way to go and am already fighting thoughts of giving up.  I am very good at starting projects, but also equally poor at finishing them; losing interest as another new plan enters my head.  The current piece I am trying to develop is something I have written small strands of over many years since that first one, so I am hopeful it will sustain my flirtatious mind until the end.  If I can just get the first draft out, then at least I will have something to work on and improve.  Every time I sit down to write, I have to ignore the inner critic bemoaning my lack of talent, and also the usual tactics used to avoid writing.

I have therefore decided not to read any fiction until I am finished. I don’t want to be distracted by the call of someone else’s world.  I only want to hear mine calling to me; and I am happy being there all by myself until hopefully one day, others can join me.

I have also chosen not to discuss the content of the story with anyone. Many books and articles I have read over the years have given this advice, but only now am I putting it into practice.  However well-meaning a comment from a family member or friend may be, it can derail you.  It’s better to tell them to wait until it’s finished and you can hand them a copy of the book itself.

So my posts may be a little sparse for some time. However, I’ll definitely blog if I go for any inspiring walks, or visit somewhere of interest.  I’ll try and get a few photos up too, and may up date you all on my novel writing progress.

 

 

Social Media Holiday

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Last night’s WWF Earth Hour gave me a dilemma; do I watch a film or meditate by candle light for the no-lights hour?  I opted for the latter in the end, and gave myself some much needed Reiki healing too, after a tough week at work.  Yet my decision was also based on the need to have some time away from a screen.  Although I love films, I just wanted a break from watching or looking at a screen.  Increasingly lately I have been making a conscious effort to have an evening of ‘no-screen’ to listen to music, read, write and generally potter about.  It’s incredibly freeing and I feel much happier for it.  To retreat from the pull of the stimulus is a relief, where I can just be for a while.  So, with that in mind I’ve decided to take a holiday from social media for a month, and see how much more I get done, and what I do instead of scrolling through a news feed.  I’ll report back each week on my progress and see what the effects are of reconnecting with other activities and people in my life more, and disconnecting from the distractions.