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!

How to cultivate fearlessness in our lives.

What’s the big deal with our emotions?

So many emotions rush in and out of our lives on a daily basis: anxiety, joy, sadness, boredom, surprise and despair are just a few. Yet if we trace these emotions back to their origin, they either come from love or fear.  Take anxiety for example.  We may feel anxious about how others view us or about the result of an action we have taken or are about to take.  These negative thoughts and feelings are often irrational and not based on facts.  They are manifestations of fear, and we all have them from time to time.  Negative emotions make the body contract, the stomach knot and the mind worry.    When we experience a positive emotion like joy, the physiological effects are quite different: we may feel a pleasant warmth in our body, as well as relaxed muscles and little awareness of time passing.

Many psychologists and self-help teachers tell us that a state of emotional equilibrium is best for our mental health.  This means not allowing ourselves to be buffeted by high and low swings of emotions but rather to remain more ‘even-minded’ and therefore less affected.

Fearlessness

Fearlessness is having faith in yourself—or a greater power—that everything will turn out for the best in the end.  Nowadays when I am fearful I hand it over to God and trust in Him.

Release control!

Many of us have issues with control, and I count myself among them.  I can trace this need for control right back to childhood: trying to organise the games we played and manipulating others with bad moods in order to have my own way.

Now I realise that we can control very little about events occurring in our lives and in those of others around us, and that what do have influence over does not even bring lasting contentment.  We can control our thoughts and emotions however, and thoughts are extremely powerful.  Thoughts often become words, words often become acts, and acts repeated over and over become habits (good and bad).  So it’s vital to trace and then change the thoughts and resulting emotions if we want to rid ourselves of bad habits, including living in fear.

Try these simple ideas to help cultivate fearlessness and change your life for the better:

  • throw away the lists, or at least adopt more flexibility towards them, enabling you to change when you do things or if you do them at all;
  • start meditating (even short periods of quiet time enable us to look within and be at peace);
  • keep this question in mind when faced with challenges: “What’s the worst that can happen?”. This reminder should help you to be more courageous and determined in what you do; and
  • sail your own course through life, regardless of what other people think or say. Dare to have the courage to be you!

It’s over to you

The tight grip of fear may have felt like trailing lead balloons behind you through life, dragging you down and holding you back, and yet you are the one who attached them to yourself!  You can let them go now.  Hand them over to a higher power, breathe a long sigh of relief and start down the path of a new, positive you, filled with fearlessness and love for yourself and others around you.  !

 

 

How to have a junk-free June

Wouldn’t you like to ‘junk the junk for June’?  No biscuits (cookies) or cakes, or added sugars.  A lot of people have a sweet-tooth.  I know, for me, ever since childhood, sweets were a weekly treat and I associated them with a reward for being ‘a good girl’.  But I’m 52 now, so why do sweet foods still feel like a cuddle from a parent for being good?  This is such a strongly-ingrained habit which has taken many years to cultivate, so trying to overcome it isn’t going to happen overnight (or in the space of one month)!  But, concentrating on eating healthily during June is a good starting point.

Take a moment:  to analyze your own sweet-tooth craving!  What’s behind it?  Childhood reward? Habit? Sadness? Boredom? Food often goes hand in hand with an emotional response or need.

Why ditch sugar?
There is a certain bliss in ignorance, you know.  I hadn’t realised that excessive sugar consumption was becoming a major health concern.  So much so that the World Health Organization has recommended that we only consume 25 grams per day (six teaspoons) largely due to the explosion of Type II diabetes worldwide perpetuated by excessive sugar consumption.  Our bodies don’t like this artificial sugar.  We experience an initial, welcome burst of energy after eating something sugary, but this doesn’t last and many of us can then have a sudden and severe drop in blood sugar levels soon after. The symptoms of low blood sugar are really unpleasant: shakiness, trembling, sweating, anxiety and panic can all set in and you feel compelled to eat more of the same type of food to immediately recoup your energy. So then we find ourselves on a blood-sugar roller-coaster, swinging from one extreme to the other, and—as with everything in life—we know intuitively that moderation is best, don’t we?!

How to reduce sugar intake:
If you want to ‘junk the junk for June’, start by taking a look at the back of packets to see how many grams of sugar are in the food you are about to eat!  Remember, the recommended daily intake of 25 grams!  It’s not that much.  Have some fruit instead, as this natural sugar is better for you than refined sugars.  Do some research and inform yourself of the many different guises (names) of sugar so that you will recognise them on labels.  Stock up on fruits that you like, such as clementines, dates, grapes, apples and melon; make sure to include protein at every meal and snack.  This makes you feel fuller for longer, so reducing snack attack moments!


Sugary drinks are another no-no, even the sugar-free ones which have artificial sweeteners in.  Avoid them altogether.  Some alternatives to fizzy drinks would be to put fruit slices in a jug of water and place this in the ‘fridge; make fruit smoothies in a blender (there are plenty of recipes online); and drink water!

The spiritual aspect:
Giving up a bad habit, especially one in which the craving is particularly strong (such as eating sugary foods) takes a lot more spiritual effort than say giving up alcohol when you only drink 2 or 3 units per week anyway.  This will take determination and focus.  You have to will yourself to keep going.  Have a mantra or affirmation to hand that you can repeat when temptation strikes, such as “I will keep my body temple clean.”

Over to you:
Take the first step this June to gradually reduce your sugar intake and keep your body temple clean.  I’ve done a sugar-free month before and it’s tough, especially the first fortnight when your body craves sugar.  It gets easier thereafter, to the extent that you don’t miss it at all. Use distraction techniques, and follow the advice above.  Keep good company and don’t give in to peer pressure.  By that I mean, do not allow your friends to ‘persuade’ you to have cake (“Just one won’t hurt!”). Good luck.  Your body will thank you.  What a wonderful act of kindness to do for yourself. Let me know how you get on.  Remember, I’m no nutrition expert; I just want to share what has worked for me. Anita.

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Jeu décisif (the decider game)

It’s amazing what inspiration comes to you when you’re watching a game of tennis!  This fortnight is the French Tennis Open (Roland Garros) and I have been struck by the determination, fearlessness and tenacity of the players.  This is especially so in the Tie-break (jeu décisif): the decider game.

Determination:

You know I’ve realised that determination is such an important quality in all aspects of life.  The attitude of “keep on keeping on”.  I’m trying to nurture this quality in myself: in my daily life, in meditation, in my relationships and so on.  It would be so much easier, and yet much less spiritually valuable, to take the easy way, to drop the raquet and say “I give up.  This is too difficult”.  But it’s through all the trials in life when I’ve needed to dig deep and be resolutely determined to overcome these challenges, that I’ve seen massive growth spiritually and emotionally! So let’s use this gift of determination wisely and to do good in life.

Fearlessness:

Courage, trust in oneself, but also trust in God.  I received some great advice the other day:  even if we don’t know what’s going on in our lives, God does, so trust in Him that everything will be okay.  We can’t see the big picture; we’re only a tiny spark of reflected Divine light, a single thread in the tapestry of all life.  We can only see our little part of the tapestry!  From now on, I’m going to be fearless in my trust in Him, handing over any doubts and all the attempts I make to control life around me (that’s a biggie)!

Tenacity:

I’ve just looked up the meaning of tenacity and it says “the quality of being able to grip something firmly”.  That’s very apt when talking about a game of tennis or even a limpet clinging to a rock! But what about me (and you)?  Are we going to be tenacious in all aspects of life, including conquering negative, bad habits and establishing new, positive ones? Is this life on Earth going to be our ‘jeu décisif’ when we conquer accumulated karma, or will our tenacity weaken and we will need to return to play another game?

Inner Stillness: the joyful soul dance.

Estimated reading time:  5 mins.

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….