I constantly hear that we shouldn’t dwell on the past or fret about the future and I think that’s brilliant advice. I totally agree that mindfulness and living in the present is the answer to a lot of our problems in the modern world. However, I also think that remembering the good times and thinking about nice things that could be happening in the future can be really soothing when nerves are frayed.
I don’t know about you but I have lots of memories of times that weren’t even that great, but the moment itself, made me feel so alive, and those are the moments that I like to reflect on when I’m struggling in the present.
One memory that keeps bubbling up at the moment dates from 2012 when I was training for my first English Channel swim. Every weekend I would drive down to Dover and go and train with the other crazy swimmers for six hours a day. We would just swim up and down the length of the harbour, whatever the weather. It was monotonous and cold and miserable but I knew that I had to do it if I was going to swim to France.
However, there was this one day that I remember more vividly than all of the others, when we had been going for about three hours when the heavens opened. It poured down so heavily that I couldn’t see the beach or any of the other swimmers. I could probably only see a couple of feet ahead of me and it was just a little bit scary.
But I kept paddling with my head up, the rain pelting my face so hard that it actually hurt. I was glad that I had goggles on to protect my eyes. And just as I was starting to feel a bit anxious about the fact that the coastline had completely disappeared from view, one of the other swimmer let out an enormous shout.
It wasn’t a shout of fear or pain though. It was more of a war cry; a whoop. I instantly went from fearful to full of… life. In that moment I realised that I wasn’t alone, bobbing around in the ocean; I was surrounded with wonderful people who were all experiencing something quite breathtaking with me. Just because I couldn’t see anybody else, it didn’t mean that I wasn’t sharing the journey.
As the rain eased and I got my head back down for the remaining three hours, I reminded myself that I should not let go of moments like that. I should remember them and cherish them. Those moments when life is so raw and so human and I am so very much at the mercy of mother nature. They are the moments we should dwell on when we struggle.
I’ve always struggled with anxiety. Before we had the internet and I even knew what ‘anxiety’ was, I would literally be vomiting with nerves whenever I was doing a swimming gala. I didn’t know what was wrong with me but I knew that something wasn’t right. Back then I was just told that I needed to learn to control my nerves; like I could just give myself a good telling off and everything would be fine.
But now that we live in a world where mental health is talked about much more openly, I know that I was suffering from quite severe anxiety. And I now know that there are lots of ways to help me feel a bit better.
These techniques don’t take away all of my worries, but they do ease the stress that I can sometimes feel. And mindfulness is one of the best practices that I have come across.
The most successful forms of mindfulness take me out into nature where I feel most at ease. There is something so soothing about being away from bright office strip lights and the buzz of computers.
And Autumn is my favourite time to be out in nature. There is something about the colours and the chill in the air that just makes everything feel so perfect. If I’m ever going to get my camera out, it’ll be at this time of year to take pictures of the trees.
So, when I saw the picture of this Gingko tree in China I absolutely fell in love. It is possibly one of the most beautiful things that I’ve ever seen. I think that it’s the fact that it stands out so much in its surroundings that makes me love it so much.
Whenever I see something that looks so incongruously beautiful, I am convinced that it must be a gift from God and I’ve really learned to savour it. Whether it be a pretty leaf or a whole field of poppies, I often find my breath is taken away.
I urge you to get out this autumn and have a look at the colours. If you have any Forestry Commission areas near you then you would do well to go for a walk there and just appreciate how lucky you are.
We may have had a bit of a crappy year but we have so much around us to be grateful for and I think that nature is one of the few things that can remind us of this.
I have struggled with the practice of mindfulness even though I know how good it is for us as humans. We live in a fast paced world that could cause even the most stable of people to feel a little wobbly every now and then. So taking some time to live in the moment and forget what has been and what is to come really makes sense to me.
However, this is so much easier said than done. I am such a worrier and sometimes I really just need to remember that at this time I have my health and I have a roof over my head and food in my cupboards. If it all falls to pieces tomorrow, I can worry about it then, but it’s not worth spoiling some really beautiful moments because there’s a possibility something bad might happen in the future. Likewise, I can’t change the past, so why waste energy worrying about what’s happened?
I have found that for me the best way to live in the moment is to really ground myself in experiences using the senses. Recently, I ate a chocolate brownie and it did just the trick. For the few minutes that I was eating it, I thought of nothing else because I just enjoyed the taste. I don’t recommend bingeing on brownies all day but if you can find something to give you a few moments then go for it. Perhaps it is putting some headphones on and listening to ASMR, or getting a massage or going for a run. Whatever it is make sure that you look after yourself and just bring it back to the moment when you are going into panic mode.
I recently went to a concert at the O2 Arena in London and I literally had the best time ever. The artist I went to see wasn’t even someone that I was a big fan of, but the excitement of being in the arena and having the music pulsing through my body made me fall in love with everything that I was watching. For almost two hours of my existence, I sang and danced and soaked up every second of the experience. The lights and the staging were amazing and it was thrilling to be within a few metres of an international star.
But there was one thing that I noticed that was different about my experience and that of about 90% of the rest of the audience; and that was that my phone was in my bag for the entire show. At no point did I pull it out to start filming what was going on in front of me. Instead, having spent a small fortune on tickets and travel, I decided that I would prefer to actually watch the performance.
As one of the slower songs began to play I did take a look across the arena at my fellow audience members to see a forest of phones being held up and the owners of the phones spending a great deal of time and effort trying to get a good shot of the action on stage. The friend that I went to the concert with reached into her bag for her phone so that she too could do some amateur filming at a moment when there was an epic key change. This triggered an astonishing display of indoor pyrotechnics and she missed them all as she foraged around in her bag.
As we left the arena at the end of the concert I couldn’t help but wonder how many hours worth of performance was collectively missed as other people delved into their bags or peered at the action through tiny screens. And for what purpose?
It was the question of purpose that was most disturbing when I sat down and really thought about it. These people were not very likely to watch their shitty little video that couldn’t possibly have picked up the pop star on stage clearly. So why were they missing the live action to try and film it? Because they wanted to post it on social media; that’s why! And will their friends watch the shitty little video with poor sound quality? No, because they really don’t care.. And if they do watch the grainy images then all they’ll feel is either complete indifference or jealousy. And it’s the jealousy that we are aiming for when we use our phones like this.
I wasn’t filming at the concert but I’ve certainly done this before; not living in the moment because I want a good photo that I can put on Facebook. But it was on that evening that I really understood how much the world has changed over the last decade and what the effects must be on our general happiness. It feels like we are paying for concert tickets so that we can brag rather than really enjoy these special moments in life.
But how do we change it and will changing it make us any happier? I’m no psychologist but I have lived a life prior to social media and I would say that we need to have more intrinsic drives rather than extrinsic ones. Social media conditions us to show off and get rewarded with likes. However, if you don’t get the likes you are left feeling a little flat and deflated. If we can go back to the old way, where we get more of a buzz from enjoying things because WE like them rather than hoping THEY like it, then surely we have more control over that buzz?
I may be completely wrong but I have a feeling that this control over our own feeling and a lack of fucks given over what others think would probably improve our mental health exponentially. This could extend to so many areas of our life. For example, do the low paid job that you enjoy rather than the high paid one that your family expect. Or don’t buy the branded trainers that you hope will make you look cool. Instead you could put the money towards going out for a nice meal or a couple of trips to the cinema; anything that you really enjoy and that gives you warm and fuzzy feelings.
So next time you’re tempted to do something just because you think your friends and family will appreciate it, ask yourself whether it’s really what you want too. If you find yourself missing things so you can post on Instagram maybe it’s time to put down the phone and start living in the real world where it’s much more fun!
I wanted this to be the friendliest place on the interweb so let’s start this post by fangirling over Emma Stone. She is pretty much one of the coolest people out there and beautiful and talented. Is there anything that she cannot do? I could probably write the whole post about why I love her so much but I’m only here to talk about the new series that she narrates on Netflix called, The Mind.
The Mind is a five part series that delves into how our minds work and some of the problems that we can encounter with memory and mental illness. Now I love the sciencey stuff on brains and space because I think that they are so bloody infinite. There is no end point in what we can learn about them and I find that fascinating. So, of course, this series was a must-watch for me.
I’m a Christian girl so I believe that there is a God that has designed us and I feel like science is an exploration of what God has created so the two things actually sit together quite nicely, contrary to popular belief. He designed us to be curious so it makes sense that we should want to learn more about the way we work.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way let’s delve into the good stuff. All five parts were bloody brilliant but the last two were the ones that really piqued my interest because they could be linked to two of the things that I like to discuss on this blog: kindness and addiction.
One of these episodes was about mindfulness and one of them was about psychedelics. The first of these focused on Buddhist training and they told the story of the fox and the tortoise. The tortoise was scared of the fox and rather than fighting him or running away from him (the natural responses that we are all very familiar with), the tortoise tucked himself away in his shell and waited until the fox got bored. It wasn’t that the tortoise was hiding from his problem, rather he was making friends with the idea of it. This was such a revelation to me because feelings have always been something to be feared and combated with either drugs or withdrawing from a situation. Actually sitting with the feeling and making peace with it is so alien to so many of us.
What struck me most was that having mastered this the Buddhists didn’t use it to forge ahead with careers that would make them money or sporting feats that would earn them fame. Instead, they focused on using it to improve relationships. Without fear or hate eating away at us we are free to love others much more freely which is such a wonderful thing. We all know that love is the key to being happy and according to the Beatles, all you need is love.
And in being a good Christian you need to try your very best to live like Christ and he displayed perfect love. Jesus never pursued a cut throat career or spilled the tea on his disciples. He didn’t show hate towards the people who were viewed as the scummiest of society. He must have had o put aside his feelings of disgust and hate so many times and in its place there was love.
I remember a song from when I was young that went something like “Love is like a magic penny. Hold it tight and you won’t get any. Lend it, spend it and you’ll get so many. They’ll all roll over the floor.” So perhaps mindfulness and meditation can free up some space on our internal hard drives so that we can lend and spend some love. It sounds pretty good to me.
The episode on psychedelics also mentioned love. It showed studies that looked at what people felt when they had a trip and nearly all of them felt like there was a breaking down of the self and an awareness of an interconnection between us all. Again, it was love that seemed to hold us all together and it was a trip that was needed for these subjects to step out of themselves and see this. I’m not suggesting that we all go out and start smoking mushrooms but it makes you think that while we carry on with our daily lives down here in the physical world, there is something much stronger than money and politics that is keeping us together and making the world grind onwards.
It would be really nice if we could all experience that love without having to take drugs but perhaps meditation is the stepping stone. Interestingly, the LSD trips helped with smoking and drinking cessation if the participant had the intention of achieving that when they went into the trip. It just goes to show what we are capable of if we can tap into that higher state of consciousness that we just can’t reach down here.
I pretty much dream of a time when we are all just connected by love and friendship. I know that it can’t really happen here because society would fall to bits but I hope that at least here I can have that friendly interaction that doesn’t seem to be available in many parts of the internet. What do you think?
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