Weather the storm with gratitude

(published in Fibromyalgia Magazine, Oct 2017) Estimated reading time: 5 mins.

You know, I’m not an expert in psychology.  Neither do I have all the answers in dealing with pain and fatigue brought on by Chronic Fatigue syndrome and Fibromyalgia from which I’ve suffered for nearly ten years.   But, like many of you, I’ve been at my lowest point many times over these years and have increasingly found that gratitude and kindness help me weather the storm until it passes.  So I wanted to share some suggestions from my book, ‘Acts of Kindness from your Armchair’ on self-kindness and gratitude in the hope that these may help you too.

A little self-analysis:

Are you a glass half-empty or a glass half-full person?  I admit to being the former in the past.   Youth brings for some a tremendous sense of entitlement and when things don’t go according to our plan, we blame others or make excuses.  We rarely think that our negative attitudes may be contributing to our failures.  Many psychologists believe that we have an inbuilt tendency to notice the bad things in life, the possible threats as we see them.  Perhaps this can be traced back to our Stone-Age predecessors whose very survival hinged upon their ability to notice threats on the horizon.  It does help to explain why many of us hold a negative view of life:  the glass half-empty standpoint.  At the extremis, those in this group rationalise that because they will never be successful, there is no point in trying.

However, I have seen that for every negative act, every act of disappointment or despair, there are thousands of acts of kindness and love throughout the world.  If our focus is solely on the negative aspects – as we perceive them – of life, our vision may become blurred to the good things around the periphery.  That’s why it’s important to give gratitude every day for the blessings in our life.  Remember also that when we focus on things which we perceive as a threat, this often triggers the stress response, (the “fight or flight” response) which can be incredibly harmful to our bodies.   It produces noradrenaline which floods our system; increases heart rate and pulse; induces feelings of nausea; and causes muscles to tremble and shake in preparation to “fight or flight”.  This is a useful inbuilt genetic program which kicks in in times of extreme danger.  However, our stressors/dangers are other people in cars, screaming children, barking dogs, all sorts of things which invoke this hitherto ‘emergency’ response time and again.  If this physiological response is allowed to continue over time, it may detrimentally damage your health.

It’s certainly easier to look on the negative side of life if we have an inbuilt propensity to view the world in this way.  It takes a lot more effort on our part to counteract this tendency and focus on the positives, all the blessings in our life.  We have to retrain our minds not to take our blessings for granted but to be grateful for them.   The following gratitude practice has proved to be very beneficial to my mental health, allowing me to climb out of the well of depression where I saw no glimmer of hope, to sit calmly in the warmth and light of positivity and optimism.

Practice 4:  Daily gratitude

Make a note of five things which you are grateful for every morning.  If you prefer, say them in your head, but I believe it’s beneficial even for a couple of weeks to write them down.  This allows you to look back and gain an overview of your thoughts and words.  Some people prefer to record their daily gratitude journal onto a tablet computer using the microphone keyboard icon.   Do this every morning before rising, at morning coffee break or some other time to suit you.  Be sure to say why you’re grateful for the blessing and what difference this makes to your life.

Here are some of the things I am grateful for and why:

  • I am grateful for the fact that I work from home and can keep my own hours, as this flexibility is really important to me and gives me a sense of control.
  • I am grateful for my dogs, as they get on well together, and are good company for me.
  • I am grateful for electricity because it provides an abundance of energy for cooking and heating. In this way I can wake up in a nice warm environment which helps my pain with a lovely hot cup of tea which soothes my soul.
  • I am so thankful for my sense of hearing, so that I can listen to the birds at the feeder in the morning. This makes my heart sing.
  • I am grateful for my friends as they make me laugh and keep me positive.
  • I am thankful for the family into which I was born. My parents instilled diligence and perseverance in me which allowed me to prosper in life and my siblings are a constant source of friendship for me.

Make your own gratitude list.  It may be tempting to allow your ego to intervene in this process, noting down things which it thinks you should be writing down to make your life appear more exciting.  But no-one else needs to read this list.  No-one will judge you.  Simply write down what you’re grateful for this day.

If you’re thankful for your husband’s patience as he cares for you, because this makes your life so much easier, write this.  If you’re grateful that you live in the middle of a city because you love all the buzz and the noise, write that.  List the ones which resonate with you.  Everyone’s list will be different.

Practice 5:  How did I show love and kindness today?

The second practice in this chapter is to note how you showed love and kindness.  I do this at the end of the day, lying in bed. Reviewing your day, remembering what you did, and more especially, in what ways you were loving and kind is an act of kindness to yourself.  It focuses the mind, enabling you to analyse events and how you made someone else’s life better that day.  Break this practice up into three sections:  kindness to the self; kindness to other people; and kindness to the natural world and the environment.   To help you get started, here are some things which you could include:

  • I showed kindness to myself by eating healthy food because I know it helps to keep me strong;
  • I showed love and kindness by watching something other than the news. In this way I was more positive which I know is good for me;
  • I showed kindness to myself by meditating on one of my poor behaviour choices from the past and handing it over to God;
  • I showed kindness to myself by sitting out in the garden for a while, just being with nature. It is so good for the soul: the birds singing, the flowers showing off, the warmth of the sun on my bones, the smell and sounds of grass being mown.
  • I smiled at the grocery delivery man and engaged him in a conversation. He showed me a photo of his dog on his phone.  That made us both smile!
  • I showed kindness to the birds by making sure their feeder was topped up. Otherwise they waste vital energy flying in only to find there is no food and I do love to watch them.
  • I showed kindness to others by joining in a remote meditation, sending love and positivity to world leaders as they met to discuss a peace plan for a Middle Eastern country which has been ravaged by war for years.

It’s over to you now:

Being thankful is a major way to show love and kindness to ourselves.  It also has the added side-effect that our renewed positivity will affect those around us.  Even if we don’t say anything, they will perceive by our demeanour and outlook that we are much more positive and thankful.  So, be kind to yourself.  Change negativity, sarcasm, pessimism, lack of motivation, glass half-empty attitude, to positivity, optimism, compassion, determination, glass always half-full!  You will become a better, kinder person if you effect these changes in your life.

 About the Author:

Anita Neilson is an Author, Spiritual Poet and Kindness Blogger.  A secondary school teacher until ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia struck in 2008, she now spends her time writing for many mind, body, spirit publications; walking her dogs and meditating.  You can connect with Anita at: http://anitaneilson.com, on Facebook @AnitaNeilsonAuthor and Instagram @anitaneilson61.

Her book, ‘Acts of Kindness from your Armchair’, is out November 24th 2017, available from your preferred online book retailer.

 

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A special Thank You!

A special Thank You! to Heather Grace Bond (MacKenzie), Author of ‘Awakening Child: a journey of inner transformation….’, for her lovely review of my upcoming book (publication date Nov 24, ’17).  See what she’s written about it on Goodreads:

 Lovely review of ‘Acts of Kindness from your Armchair’!!

 

Why not also take a look at her website www.heathergrace.co.uk which is fabulous!  It’s a wonderful act of kindness to support each other in our endeavours. Please like and share!  Have a great week.  Anita.

Jeu décisif (the decider game)

(published in Kindred Spirit website June 9th 2017. Jeu décisif Kindred Spirit)

It’s amazing what inspiration comes to you when you’re watching a game of tennis!  The first fortnight in June hosts the French Tennis Open (Roland Garros) and I have been struck by the determination, fearlessness and tenacity of the players as I watch their interaction during play.  This is especially so in the Tie-break (jeu décisif): the decider game. These qualities of determination, fearlessness and tenacity are also sought-after spiritual qualities, the acquisition of which will hasten our soul’s growth, and so it is in all our interests to nurture these qualities in our life.  How can we follow the examples set by athletes and sportsmen and women to integrate these spiritual qualities into our daily lives?  Here are a few pointers to help you do this:

Determination:

Determination is such an important quality in all aspects of life:  the attitude of “keep on keeping on”.  It’s important to try and nurture this quality in ourselves: in the routines of daily life, in meditation, in relationships and so on.  It would be so much easier, and yet much less spiritually valuable, to take the easy way, to drop the racquet and say “I give up.  This is too difficult”.  But it’s through all the trials in life—when we need to dig deep and be resolutely determined to overcome these challenges—that we see massive growth spiritually and emotionally!  We can all use this gift of determination wisely, and especially, to do good in life.

Remember to never give up trying, even when the odds seem stacked against you! If you are continually coming up against a brick wall, try sitting in quiet and asking for inner guidance.  Perhaps what you are trying to do or achieve is not the best course of action for you and that is why obstacles constantly arise.  Perhaps your motivations are ego-led: selfish as opposed to selfless.  Living solely for the self can give temporary moments of happiness absolutely—but not long-term joy. Many of us discover this lesson very late in life. So, think through problems logically, analyze your motivations, reason possible solutions and try these one at a time. When you have discovered the right course of action for you and for the good of others, things will flow easily.

Fearlessness:

Courage to trust in oneself, but also to trust in a higher power.  Those who have faith in such an overarching power often appear calmer and less afraid to take action.  Even if we don’t always know what’s going on in our lives and how what we think, say or do will affect others, God does. The essence of the message in this quotation is to trust in Him (whatever name you give Him: God, Source, Allah, Jehovah etc.) that everything will be okay.  This can be a frightening thing to consider and do: relinquishing control to something unseen and unknown.  However, ask yourself if you are happy with the status quo: continually spinning plates trying to control each aspect of your life, usually out of fear that something bad may happen if you stop running.  Is living in fear helping you to grow emotionally and spiritually or is it stifling your life-energy?

“It is I who remain seated in the heart of all creatures as

the inner controller of all.” (Bhagavad Gita XV:15)

Whatever your beliefs, it is certainly true that none of us can see the whole ‘big picture’ in life; we’re only a tiny spark of light in the vast cosmos, a single thread in the tapestry of all life. Therefore, we can only see our little part of the tapestry!  How freeing it is to fearlessly put our trust in a higher power and hand over any doubts and attempts we make to control life around us! It is at this point that we are able to act without fear of any results of our actions.  If God is the umpire of this terrestrial match of life, we are the players on court, and we need only do our best at the end of the day. This is what really matters: how we play the game, the lessons we learn from each challenge and how we learn to love others.

Tenacity:

If we search for the meaning of tenacity in a dictionary, one interpretation will say: “the quality of being able to grip something firmly”.  This is an apt description when talking about a game of tennis or even a limpet clinging to a rock! But what about you and I?  How do we stand firm in the face of, for example, peer pressure to ‘fit in’ or change?  Well, firstly we have the courage to be who we are and not what we think others want us to be; we affirm our self-worth daily to ourselves and to other people; we stand firm when criticized or ridiculed for our beliefs or selfless actions; we constantly battle our bad habits and work just as hard to establish new, positive habits of thinking and doing.  We strive at every turn to be the best player we can be in this game of life. These are the qualities of tenacity which can be nurtured in all of us in order for our soul to prosper.

Our jeu décisif:

Are we going to be tenacious in all aspects of life?  Is this life on Earth going to be our ‘jeu décisif’ in which we conquer accumulated karma with no further need to reincarnate?  Or will our tenacity weaken, hastening our return to play another game? The ball is in your court!

Sharing our light with others: “Give and it shall be given unto you.” (Luke 6:38)

Published in Bellésprit Magazine online, June 2nd, 2017.

Est. reading time: 10 mins.

Solstice Light

Lush green grass
Spun by nature’s wheel
Trembles in dawn’s eager light.
Solstice embers
Of days remembered
Fizzle out under dew’s
Watchful gaze.
The Sun God Ra flexes his limbs
Coursing rays of love
All over this land;
And like flowers releasing
Their night-borne scent,
The shadows of my heart
Unveil themselves,
Dispersing into ether
To be transmuted into light.

Everything is light:

The above poem came to me one bright, sunny day in late May as I sat on my favourite bench in the garden.  The sun’s gentle rays seemed to permeate all life there as my senses delighted in the birdsong and flitting of wings, in the ethereal delicacy of the butterfly in flight and the drowsy drone of the bee, drunk on nectar and too heavy to fly.  There was a definite scent in the air of summer approaching and I looked forward to days entranced by shimmering heat hazes blurring the edges of earth and sky.

I got to thinking about light and how it is the basis of everything on Earth. All the great Masters knew this.  Jesus was often quoted in the Gospels as saying:  “If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” (Matthew 6: 22-23), referring to the practice of focusing on the spiritual eye in the forehead during meditation.  Similarly, in the Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna tells spiritual seeker Arjuna: “Out of compassion for them, I, who dwell within their hearts, destroy the darkness born of ignorance, with the luminous lamp of knowledge.” (Chapter 10: verse 11).

Sharing our light with others:

The sun is our greatest source of light in the universe.  It provides energy to allow plants to photosynthesise and grow; its heat and light ripen fruits and vegetables, providing us with endless food; we open our curtains to flood our homes with light each morning; we talk about being “enlightened” when we gain spiritual knowledge and practice.  Light is detected in the pineal gland deep in the brain, which then controls our body clocks.  Light also comes into our body through the eyes— the two physical eyes and the spiritual eye at the point between the brows.

In ancient times, the importance of the sun to all aspects of life was reflected in its deification in the form of the sun god Ra.  As Ra shares his universal light with us this summer, let’s follow his example and share our individualised light (our gifts, love, time and so on) with others.

Summer is the perfect time to do this.  It’s a time of plenty when the natural world offers infinite bounty: there are fruits ripening, vegetables ready to be harvested, warm sunshine raising our spirits.  As we delight in this bounty, let’s remember the words of Christ and Krishna above, who showed us how to lead a better, kinder and more spiritual life, to bring us closer to God.  We can all do this by giving of ourselves to help others.   Let’s share our inner light under the following 3 categories—physically, emotionally and spiritually.

What is this inner light?

We each possess a vast amount of inherent Divine light which can be readily augmented by tapping into our inner silence.  As we do this, we strengthen our link with its Source.  For me, this happens best when I connect with God during meditation.  Once we rediscover this light through the process of awakening, we can then share it with others.

Putting others first:

The benefits of putting others first, of selfless service with no thought of reward (ie. sharing our light) are bountiful. All the great ascended Masters and descended Avatars who have come to Earth to provide guidance on how to live a life pleasing to God—all of them—dedicated their time on this planet to serving others, in sharing their light: Jesus, Buddha, Mahavatar Babaji, and so on.  When we serve in this way, not only are we awakening God’s light in others, we are also enhancing our own light:  “Give and it shall be given unto you.”

Simple ways you can share your light with others:

1.Physically:

Do you ever wonder why you have some gifts and not others?  Why are some people good at maths while others excel in languages? Why are some painfully shy and others ebullient and outgoing? Many of us carry gifts and attributes from previous incarnations into this life in order to learn a life lesson from them.  Some are conditioned by family and environment. Some are attained in this life.  Regardless of their origin, I believe it is our responsibility to use these gifts for the benefit of ourselves and others.

Try these five suggestions:

Use your gifts and give some of your time to local ‘skills-swap’ groups.  There are many online sites (eg. www.swapaskill.com) where you simply list the skill(s) you can offer and the skills/jobs you require). This could be anything from friendship, cleaning, pet care, translation, gardening, and so on.

Volunteer work (eg. singing at a retirement home or teaching others how to fix appliances at a ‘skills cafe’ in your local community.)

Give a sincere compliment to someone (for a service they have done, or simply to give them a boost). This is sharing your love (your light) with another.  By looking them directly in the eyes as you do this, you will amplify the effect.  Imagine light streaming from your spiritual eye to theirs.  It’s easy to share our love and light with family and friends, but it takes far more spiritual effort to share it with others from whom we feel ‘separate’ or different.  Persevere though, as it will get easier and will bring you great benefits.

Share the warmth in your heart with others.  A sincere smile to another, or holding a door open for them, are simple acts of love which can have a huge impact on their day.

Remember the power contained in our words: speak respectfully to and of other people, and remind others to do this as well.

B. Emotionally:

This first suggestion may appear childish in its simplicity: I share light each time we have a sunny day in Scotland by drawing a sun on the calendar and colouring it in yellow. This gives me—and others who see it—a psychological boost.  It reminds us to stop and appreciate the gifts given to us. You could share a photograph of a sunny day on your social media page and add an uplifting message. Everyone has worries and this simple gesture can make a huge difference to their state of mind that day!

Alternatively, if you, or someone you know, suffer from low mood, draw a smiley face on the calendar for each day that you (or they) feel positive and happy.  This is a useful feedback tool to look back on during days of low mood.  In this way, we can remind ourselves that the good days far outweigh the bad. Try it and see!

Secondly, practice listening without interrupting or nodding your head constantly thinking: ‘When can I interject and say what I want?’ Is that a conversation or a competition? Is giving our opinion more important than listening to the other person’s viewpoint?  If so, perhaps this is an aspect of the little self (ego) that warrants exploration with a view to changing it to a more positive way of relating to others.

Try this instead: Sometimes all that is required is to listen without offering words of advice.  The act of listening is an important act of kindness.  By listening, we are giving our love, attention and time to another. This is especially important in this digital age when connecting with a person face-to-face is so beneficial to mental and emotional well-being.

However, do guard against allowing yourself to be an emotional dumping ground for others, as this will diminish your own inner light.  Protect yourself before and after such a conversation; before, by erecting a sphere of protection around your auric field (I call on Archangel Michael to oblige); and afterwards by sweeping down each arm with the hands, physically ‘wiping away’ any negative emotional residue from shoulder to wrist, then flicking it away through the ends of the fingers.  Do this 2 or 3 times on each arm, repeating out loud ‘I release this negative energy from others’.

3. Spiritually:

For many years I dismissed prayer and God, choosing instead the materialist path to life, thinking that this was the sure way to happiness.  In retrospect, I can see that for me this was a selfish and lonely existence—filling each moment with activity, acquiring new possessions, seeking wealth above all else with no thought for others.  There is a better way to be: we don’t always have to be human ‘doings’—human ‘beings’ is just fine! Try these ways to share your light spiritually with others:

Actively think of ways to be kind to everyone you meet (face-to-face, online or telephone). It may be easier to begin by not being negative or unkind.  For example, change your learned behaviour of being bad-tempered with someone who is just doing their job (I’m thinking here of sales people).  Instead, try being pleasant but firm; another example would be to give a few moments of your time to complete a customer feedback questionnaire.  For small firms in particular, this can be especially important.

By doing these simple acts of kindness, you are sharing your love and light.  You are giving freely of yourself.  There are many who trust in the Law of Attraction which echoes the quote from Luke’s Gospel (“Give and it will be given unto you”).  They believe that what you give out into the world by way of your thoughts, words and acts will be reciprocated in the way others treat you.

Start to pray for others. If you meditate, include it in your meditation. I ask God to heal “according to Thy will” the person I am praying for.  I ask that they be given strength and courage to deal with life’s challenges.  I pray for myself also and ask “How may I serve?”. When we pray, we are asking a question of God, and so we then have to be ready to listen out for the answer!  This usually comes by way of intuition, or inner wisdom, a ‘feeling’ that a course of action is right for us; repetitive signals are also not to be ignored.

It’s over to you:

I hope this article has given you plenty of ideas on how to share your light with others—physically, emotionally and spiritually.  As you do so, keep the image in your mind’s eye of the sun God Ra who “flexes his limbs coursing rays of love all over this land”, for this is what we do when we share our light with others.  When we give our gifts, time and love, with no thought of reward, the shadows of our heart will unveil themselves and be transmuted into light.  We are on Earth to learn from life’s challenges and enable our Soul to grow. We are here to rediscover that we are all interconnected, we are all One. So, use your gifts and skills not solely for material gain but for the good of others; nourish your inner compassion and use it to help those in need; choose to be kind at every moment; and re-establish your connection with the Creator in meditation and prayer.

Sharing our light is a wonderful way of being! Putting others first above ourselves takes a lot of practice, but persevere, as it will become second nature (or rather ‘true’ nature, for we are rediscovering our true selves in the process). So throw open the curtains on your heart, let in the light and start sharing it today!

Inner Stillness: the joyful soul dance.

Estimated reading time:  5 mins. (See this Article on Thrive Global!)

What is inner stillness?

Both feet schlep across the wet floor tiles as I pad my way towards the swimming pool’s edge.  The familiar smell of chlorine rises up to my nostrils—a sharp frisson of anticipation for the joy to come. Calm waters, barely a ripple disturbing their pristine surface, invite me to join them and my skin displays goose bumps in response.

A sudden liquid cold rushes from feet to chest at the first surrender of the body to the water, then automation takes over, as stroke after stroke I carve a blissful path, counting the lengths, maintaining a relaxed, even speed all the while.  It’s like a homecoming: body and mind engrossed in the task; and my soul sighs with joy.  At one with the water, nothing else matters in this time and motion bliss.

This is my time of inner stillness, when I allow my soul to dance with joy.

Mind over matter:

It’s been 9 years since I have swum.  Yet nowadays, hampered by ill-health and unable to swim with the physical body, I can still reconnect to those feelings; recreate the experience; be in its every moment in my mind’s eye.  I swear I can even smell the faint scent of chlorine, so immersed am I in the ‘virtual’ act of swimming!

This is not as unusual as you may think. Many sports people use ‘mental rehearsal’ visualization before competing, and scientific research has shown the effective power which visualization has on the brain. They have found that the brain does not distinguish between actually doing something and imagining doing it. A 2004 scientific study in Cleveland reported on the increase in muscle power (by as much as 35%) gained after 12 weeks of mentally visualizing muscle contractions!

Inner Stillness—the soul connection:

For many people, their time of inner stillness is also when they connect with the Creator. I’m reminded of a lovely quote from Saint Teresa of Avila:

“You need not go to heaven to see God; nor need you speak loud, as if God were far away; nor need you cry for wings like a dove to fly to Him; Only be in silence, and you will come upon God within yourself.” Saint Teresa of Avila.

Personally, I find my inner stillness by reliving this happy memory of being in the swimming pool. This is an example of mindfulness meditation, a time when we allow ourselves to be in the present moment. You don’t have to be a spiritual person to do mindfulness meditation; you don’t have to want to connect with God.  Even if you practice this simple (or similar) meditation exercise solely to reduce stress during a busy, rushed day, then your body-mind will thank you.

The power of mindfulness meditation:

Research has shown that regular mindfulness meditation changes the way the mind reacts to previous and future stressors.  I’m referencing here an article in Psychology today (May 2013):

This is your brain on meditation by Dr Rebecca Gladding gives as an example of her findings: “your ability to ignore sensations of anxiety is enhanced as you begin to break that connection between the unhelpful parts of the Me Center of the brain and the bodily sensation/fear centers.”  The findings go on to say (paraphrased) that regular meditation also helps to form stronger connections between other parts of the brain, meaning that when you experience bodily sensations—such as pain—you can view them more rationally, from a less anxious, more detached viewpoint, and just let them drift away.   This is a very interesting article which I urge you to read as I have heavily redacted it!  Suffice to say, mindfulness is not some mumbo-jumbo, new-age, alternative hippy-culture thing (does anyone still think like that?).  It is a scientifically-proven technique which is so important to our overall well-being (mental, physical, emotional and spiritual)!

Over to you:

The key is to do your joyful soul dance often; imprint it as a new, positive habit in your mind.  Remember you can choose any calming, repetitive activity—painting, running, walking your favourite forest trail, making pancakes and so on—that you can easily recreate in your mind’s eye, using the senses to recall all the details. This will help to bring you to a state of inner peace.

I wrote this poem to sum up how good it feels to be in the moment of inner stillness:

Glide

Kicking off against the side
I glide; arms outstretched
No need to breathe
Just glide, in liquid silk
Sweet harmony of body and mind.
Where do I end and it begin,
This miracle skin?
This mingling of atoms:
A reaching within.
Ripples become waves
Then dissipate again.
I am present in the water
Yet I leave no lasting stain.
And so I glide, unhurried,
Through life, as in the water.
Untroubled by waves
I simply watch them subside
And I glide….