The joy of friendship!

What do we really need to be happy in life? What are the things that truly matter in the long run? You know what I’m going to say, don’t you, and it isn’t career, material wealth or possessions. Sure, these things are good in life as long as we don’t become too attached to them and make them our whole raison d’etre. For me though, (and I’ve come late to this realisation) what’s really important is who and how we love.

TODAY: If you’re a competitive person like me, remember that everything we have (looks, personality, possessions, skills and so on) is on loan to us for this lifetime. We can’t take any of it with us when our time comes to leave the earth. Are these things really so much more important than allowing love into your heart?  Here’s my poem on the joy of friendship. It’s called, I am Complete:

I am complete

I am replete

I open the door on this life

and gifts in abundance

come tumbling out:

🌿

love for living

joy in giving

health and well-being

bounty beyond all my needs.

🎈

But friendship holds me high

with encouragement to fly

“Look at me!” I squeal

as I soar in the sky

like a kite on a blustery day

vulnerable yet full of joy

🌿

free to be me

supported by the filaments

of companionable love.

 The above is an extract from my new book, Soul Murmurs, published end July 2019.  I’d love to hear your views. Anita😁

Fibromyalgia…..it’s a pain! – 10 things I do better now.

September is Fibromyalgia Awareness raising month in the UK.  I want to share with you the 10 things I do better now that I have fibro!  If you don’t know what fibromyalgia is, it’s an illness categorized by constant pain in muscles, joints, nerves as well as overwhelming fatigue at the slightest activity.  I have had fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (M.E.) for around 9 years.  I’ve run the gamut of emotions in that time, but now I make it my intention to focus on the positive every day (and some days that can be so difficult, but we know, don’t we, that we have to ride the storm of bad days in the knowledge that the following day will be better for sure!).   In this spirit of positivity, here’s a chart tabling what I can no longer do and what I do in its place. I’d be interested in your feedback!  I hope it’s helpful.

What I can no longer do: Here’s what I do instead:
1.      Swim I take a few moments to visualize swimming and immersing myself in the peace that it can still bring me in my imagination.  I wrote a lovely post about just this: Inner-stillness-the-joyful-soul-dance
2.      Go for long walks Go for short walks! We go to our local park in the evening and walk along the tree-shaded riverbank for a few minutes.  It’s so relaxing. We stop and chat to other dog walkers; we take in gulps of the freshest of air; we peer through the trees to catch sight of the deer.  We delight in nature for the short time that we are out in it.  Start small and build up a little more each time.  I sit out in the garden for a few minutes each day too to bathe my bones with rays of healing sunshine.
3.      Hold down a full-time job Request a job-share or go part-time, although firstly take a really hard look at your finances to see if you can afford to cut your working hours.  If you can, be so grateful that you can and make the right choice for your health.  There are plenty of opportunities for volunteering to help others, and I have found that when we are engrossed in helping others, we forget about our pain for a while.
4.      Heavy housework I was unable to do any housework at the beginning of my illness (not so much of a hardship!).  Now I am able to do light housework such as 10 mins of dusting or tidying up.  Hubby does the heavy work like vacuuming and emptying bins.  If you live alone, ask for help from your neighbours or friends.  Employ a cleaner once a week if you can.  This is also good company for you, especially if you are mostly housebound like me.  If you really miss housework (!), you could always spend a few quiet moments visualizing how wonderful it was.  Lol!
5.      Concentrate in the afternoons I do any writing in the mornings because I know this is the time I am most alert.  For others, it may be the afternoons.  Do any paperwork or anything when you need to concentrate (such as make telephone calls) at the optimum time for you and REST at your worst times.
6.      Go shopping I really don’t miss shopping.  The shopping mall, that cathedral to commercialism.  It all seems so unpleasant now.  I buy clothes online, making sure I check the size guides before purchasing.  If you need to make a return, in the UK it’s so easy now to have packages uplifted from home or from local stores.
7.      Holidays/Travelling I can’t do airports (too much stress, light, noise, people, extremes of temperature; just too much of everything, sensory overload); I can’t travel in the car more than an hour at a time and when I arrive at our destination, I’m exhausted and have to sleep!  So we tend to go away for day trips to the beach, to seaside towns or to a Farmer’s Market, and I always write nice reviews for any places we have visited as an act of kindness.  You can make future memories in the small things.  You remember the weather, the time for you and your partner to talk, the nice food and good service you had for lunch, the photographs you took and so on. I’ve visited many places in my earlier life; nowadays I enjoy watching television programmes about travel to beautiful places.  The brain doesn’t distinguish between imagining doing something and actually doing something, did you know that?  Fascinating.
8.      Knitting I used to love knitting, but it belongs to the past and to the perfectionist personality that I was (and which still lurks in waiting in the background!).  There was a lot of ego involved in knitting, that sense of “Oh look what I’ve created.  Aren’t I clever!” I was looking for praise from other people and that was all tied up in my lack of self-esteem.  Now I know I no longer need others’ approval.  I can appreciate my niece’s knitting achievements for example ToryaWintersDesigns, but don’t feel the need to take up the needles again.
9.      Socialising I can no longer drink alcohol, but you know, I don’t miss it.  I realised that I relied on alcohol to relax me and I thought I couldn’t have a ‘good night out’ without it.  Not a bit of it!  I can now go out for a short meal in the evening, although I find it very tiring and have to sleep a lot the following day.  But it’s wonderful to feel connected again with family and friends.  If you can’t get out, why not invite people to your home, which is what we did for the past 8 years.  By doing this, I was able to sit and relax on a comfortable chair at home while everyone else organised the meal around me!  People are so happy to come and spend time with you, they don’t mind if you ask them to heat up some food or make tea. If you’ve explained your condition, they’re happy to help.
10.   Driving I used to love to drive.  The freedom that it gives you.  I rely on other people to drive me now, although we have recently bought an automatic car which I can drive for a few minutes at a time, but it does cause pain in my arms and I daren’t go out at all in the afternoons when concentration is poor.  I just wouldn’t put others at risk.  The thing about driving is, it encapsulates the big thing about having a chronic illness:  having to rely on other people.  My goodness, how I fought this for years, so determined was I to stand on my own two feet.  But it’s such a relief when you finally say, “Yes, would you help me with this…”  You can still do many things for yourself, but everyone needs a little help with something in their lives. Your pride stands in the way; let it go and you will be happier.

 

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….

Joy

I woke up this morning feeling blessed with joy and I decided that the simple things are those which bring most joy, and everlasting joy.  Hope you enjoy the poem.

The breathless dawn
Of an ever-new morn
The effortless grace
of an eagle in flight
Cold bones warmed in the sun
Purpose. Freedom. Love.

A sun-kissed hare
Punching the air
A pure white feather
Found on the path
The inner silence
The universal Aum.
Friendship. Laughter. Peace.

These are the things
Which bring joy
Everlasting
Hastening my soul
To take flight.

Over to you:  what brings you joy everlasting?  Start the conversation and comment below!

Maha Shivaratri

February 24th is the annual Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratri, meaning Great Night of Shiva.  Shiva is one of the triumvirate of Hindu Gods.  His role is the destroyer God, responsible for the dissolution of life in order that it may be re-created.  The other two Gods in the triumvirate are Brahma (the creator God) and Vishnu (the preserver of life).  This festival celebrates the belief of the ever-renewing life-cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution and of overcoming darkness and ignorance in life.  If you like, each moment of our lives on Earth is one of continuous life and death cycles: each time we breathe in and out; each thought we have which then fades; each day that begins and ends; each season of growth and decay, and so on.  It can bring comfort to many people to view death in this way as part of the unending circle of life.

Maha Shivaratri is a solemn night vigil festival of fasting and making offerings to the God Shiva.  It’s a time to look within and see what evil needs to be eradicated and which virtues need to be encouraged.  I could certainly benefit from this practice and will be meditating strongly on handing over my bad habits to God and making resolute efforts to replace these with positive acts of kindness.  Blessings to all but especially to our Hindu friends at this special time!

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