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….

Happy Imbolc!

Imbolc is a Celtic festival which heralds the beginning of Spring, and falls halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  The word actually comes from ‘Imbolg’ which means “in the belly” (source goddessandgreenman.co.uk) and marked the start of the lambing season.  Imbolc this year falls on Feb 2nd.  At this time, plant the seeds of your aspirations and watch them grow; make cleaner, greener choices; and choose to cherish all life.

3 Easy Acts of Kindness from Home

Published in Best Self Magazine 26 Jan ’17 as ‘4-simple-acts-of-kindness’ Article

Estimated Reading time:  5 mins. 

It’s not that difficult to be kind and put others first before our needs and wants.  We just get wound up in the story of our ego and its “what’s in it for me?” attitude to life.  Don’t beat yourself up over this, but instead commit to being kinder this year.  It does take effort at the beginning to retrain your mind to show kindness and compassion, but it’s worth it! Now, for some people who have to spend the majority of their time at home—for one reason or another (ill-health, carer responsibilities, homeworkers and so on)—the idea of spreading kindness can seem pretty daunting.  What if you hardly see anyone during the course of a week?  What if you have a mental or physical disability and can’t get out and about as much as you’d like?  What if you are so painfully shy that interaction with others is terrifying? 

Acts of Kindness appear often in the media.  They can range from an individual starting a campaign to raise funds for someone in need, to whole communities coming together to protect their local shop etc.  These acts of kindness are amazing in themselves and can bring about almost immediate change for the better.   Never underestimate the power of the small acts of kindness however, for these too can have hugely positive effects on the world around us.  Every one of us—regardless of any limitations we may have—is capable of many small acts of kindness every day.  Here are 3 things you can do today from home:

1. Send a message to someone via social media (text, email, facebook, skype etc).
One of my favourite messages is to write about what has made you smile that day and then ask the same question: “What’s made you smile today?”  The replies you receive will also make you smile and it has the added benefit that the recipient will feel that someone cares. If you’re not able to connect with others via social media, then why not start a Happiness Journal at home, listing in it anything that has made you smile on a particular day.  You could record this orally if you have difficulties with writing. This is a brilliant act of kindness to yourself as you will then be able to use this resource to cheer yourself up on a day when you are feeling low.  When you read through some of the entries, you will be reminded that life is mostly good and happy and fun and that today—this low mood—will pass.

2. Do a media audit.  By this I mean asking yourself if the programmes you watch or the news that you read are bringing you joy.  If the answer is No, then stop watching/reading them and replace your media with something else more positive.  This act of kindness will have a dramatic effect on your mental and emotional health, and this will filter through to your relationships with others.  You will be more positive, more understanding, kinder.  Think about a small child who is repeatedly told: “You’re a waste of space.  You’re hopeless. You’ll never amount to anything!”  That child is going to grow up with a pessimistic opinion of him/herself.   S/he will believe these repetitive statements to be the truth.  Why not immerse yourself in positive media instead.  It’s not burying your head in the sand.  It’s simply choosing to focus on the positive.

3. Greet any visitor to your home by looking them in the eyes.  The eyes are the windows to the soul.  The eyes are just as involved in smiling as the mouth is!  We have become so used to going about our business, not interacting with others and certainly not looking them in the eye!  When did this happen?  It reinforces this feeling we have of ‘separateness’ from others.  Yet, we are not separate – we are all interconnected on Earth.  Once we realise this, and that everything we do impacts on others, then life becomes simpler, kinder, more compassionate to others needs.

Extracted from ‘Acts of Kindness from your Armchair’ by Anita Neilson, to be published Nov 2017.

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A Mother’s Lament

Estimated Reading time:   5 mins.
The following poem was inspired by a BBC television programme about life on the remote Scottish island of Fair Isle (famous for knitwear!).  As the island is so tiny, pupils are only taught up to the age of 11, after which time they then have to attend boarding school on the neighbouring island of Shetland.  The torment I witnessed on the faces of the parents was heartbreaking: having to be separated from their children at such an early age for weeks at a time.  These lines try to convey the torment of the mother, whose inner child eventually cries out to her Father (God) to ease her pain.  Hope you enjoy the poem.  Share it on your fb page only if you do.

A Mother’s Lament

The boat to the isles
ferries you away from me
churning up foam in a carefree goodbye.
Unlike I. Here I stand
naked to the core
half-drowning in emotions
swelling up inside me.
Jack-knifed by opposing currents
of longing and letting go
of holding on and setting free.

How will you be on your return?
will you race to my embrace
all open-arms and giddiness?
Still the child I recognise.
Or will the weeks apart
have steadied your heart?
Given you sea legs to walk
your own path.

The foam-tossed waters
sail you away from me.
their precious cargo now
hidden from view.

I turn and return to my life left in stasis –
chickens to feed, ewes to shear,
land to tend, hours to spend
casting wistful glances at clocks fairislesheep Hoping that time will somehow zoom
into fast-forward,
bringing you safely back to me.

Rasping shallow breaths come:
I’m panicking.
“I can’t do this. It’s too difficult.
It’s too soon.”
The separation so intense,
I’m breaking.
Disintegrating into disparate shards
then buffering endlessly,
somnambulant,
unable to reconfigure
this new life today.

I wrap both arms around my shattered core
and murmur tenderly, fairisleharbour “One minute, one hour, one day at a time.”
The child in me screams a plaintiff cry
to be gathered up in comforting arms
nestled snugly against Your chest
alive to Your heartbeat
soothing my breath.
Tomorrow will be a better day.

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This Time Around

I didn’t have children in this lifetime and spent many lost years mourning and regretting this loss. It ate away at me on the inside like a cancerous cell, infecting neighbouring cells with its self-destruct button.   It affected my relationships, imbuing them with a whole range of negative emotions like spite, jealousy and apathy. It affected my health, contributing to anxiety, depression and physical pain. But once I started meditating and doing spiritual reading and practice, the certainty of reincarnation washed the stain of this sorrow from my heart and I felt free and healed. I was certain that I had been a parent in many lifetimes but that I had chosen a different set of challenges this time around! I still have a deep longing to give and nurture life, and I do this in many ways: caring for our two dogs, caring for the birds in our garden, tending plants and flowers, harvesting fruit from our fruit trees, passing on fruit and vegetables to neighbours, supporting dogs charities and so on and so on…. A wonderful way to help others live a fuller life is through donating my organs when I have no further need of them.  I know that I have taken from others throughout my life (emotionally, financially, physically etc.), so I want to give a second chance of life to another when I am finished with this body.   If this is of interest to you, do some research, have the conversation with your loved ones and sign up for organ donation today. I hope the poem speaks to your heart! Much love.

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This Time Around
I didn’t give birth to new life this time around
I had other challenges to face.
But know that when I discard this earthly shell
I shall give life aplenty in my passing.
If these eyes may give sight to another, then take them.
If this heart may beat in another, so have it.
If these kidneys may revitalise another, why wouldn’t I?
For I have no need for these things now.
I’m going home…to the wonderful realm of thought.
I’m going home…to the kaleidoscopic eternal bliss.
I’m going home…to awaken from the sleep state of earthly life.
So don’t grieve for this body.
Look in the eyes of another – I am there.
Feel the beating heart of another – I am there.
See the vitality spring forth in another – I am there.
Be happy and share in my joy
For I did give birth to new life this time around.

*****

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