Tag Archives: mindfulness

Share your strengths


Of all the places to find inspiration for a post, the tag on a teabag was one of the last places I’d think to look!  For some time (actually, since I went caffeine free for August last year) I’ve been drinking all sorts of different teas.  I’m not too keen on black tea, and there’s caffeine in that anyway, so I’ve been going through a couple of brands here in the UK, Pukka and Yogi.  The tea bags from both are individually wrapped and they have little tags on them: the Yogi teas have some kind of “thought for the day” or mindfulness quote on the tag.  

Share your strengths, not your weaknesses

– Harbhajan Singh Yogi

Today’s tag was Share your strengths, not your weaknesses, and I thought that was a really good way to look at life. I know that Bing Crosby sang about something similar back in the ’40s or ’50s with the release of Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive, but it strikes me that this is a really sensible approach to the stresses and rigours of life these days.  

I had been unhappy at my previous employer for several years before I finally plucked up the courage to leave.  One of the main problems I had was that I was really good at finding reasons why someone else wouldn’t employ me (I had a limited skill set, I had no marketable skills, that sort of thing) and I was really bad at finding reasons why they should.  I had talked it through a number of times with Dee and eventually sat down to draw up a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) chart, a bit like the one below. 


It was hard going, but I managed to come up with a number of things which I thought I was good at, and then set about targeting roles which allowed me to capitalise on them. It also helped me figure out what sort of role I wanted, what sort of working environment and conditions I wanted, etc. I found what I was looking for and have gone from (pardon the pun) strength to strength.  It turns out that the blend of skills I had was exactly what my new company was looking for too, and I’m really please I made the move.  I try to play to my strengths all the time, but in the background I’m also working on my weaknesses, so that I’ll be able to develop them into positives too. 

How many of us get bogged down in negative thoughts and poor self esteem?  When talking to people, do we talk about the good things or the bad things we’ve experienced?  For example, mention to someone that you’re going in to hospital for an operation, and the chances are you’ll get a horror story back from them about someone they know who went in for the same thing and who had the worst experience imaginable?  What about if someone is waiting for a book deal, or about to take their driving test? There are endless examples which I’m sure you can come up with.  
Why do you think that is?  Why do you think there’s a tendency among many to focus on the negatives, on the pessimistic outcomes?  

Here’s a thought.  Next time you hear a conversation that’s going down a negative route, why not look on the positive side, give a helpful example where everything worked out ok?  Try it, and see how the people you’re talking to react.  See how you feel after sharing a story with a positive outcome.  Is it better, or worse, than when you’ve done the opposite?  

For the record, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences from my two stays in hospital since I turned 16.  

This sort of positive approach is allied (in my opinion) to the view that “before you say anything, ask yourself if it is true, if it kind or if it is helpful: if the answer is no, then don’t say it”. In this case it becomes “if you can’t say anything positive about something (a person, event, activity, place etc) then don’t say anything”.  I think the world would be a much happier (and dare I say, quieter) place if we could all do this.    

When not Writing I…

…spend a lot of my time writing!

image

My work means that I spend a lot of time on a keyboard, whether it’s in answering emails, writing documentation, reviewing someone else’s documents or other things like that.  I’m not a full time Writer, and what I do on this blog is entirely for my pleasure. I find it a way of managing my thoughts, of making order out of the myriad of things going on in my head, and in some cases even making sense of the world around me.  I don’t believe I’ll ever be a published author (because I don’t think I’ll ever try), and I’m never sure how many people actually read my blog anyway.

So, when I’m not writing for work, or Writing for pleasure, how do I fill the time and why?  Family takes up a lot of time, and I love spending my days and nights with them.  We like to go on day trips, road trips, afternoons out, to all sorts of places and for a number of different activities.  Dee and I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in bookshops, and are continually seeking out interesting volumes on a wide range of topics, though rarely fiction.  That’s because one of our other favourite pastimes is reading: we’ve always got several books on the go at once.

Other than those, my main distraction is generally music, whether listening to it or playing bass. That and walking I find helps clear my mind, to simply be, and they help me to return to every day life refreshed and full of new ideas.

If I had extra time, would I write more?  I don’t think so.  I enjoy the time I spend writing my blog articles, and I enjoy reading other people’s blogs, but I think if I had more time I’d find other ways of spending it.  My diverse ideas are finite and I wouldn’t want to get to the end of them too soon!  I’d like to spend that extra time becoming more adept at mindful meditation, and practicing mindfulness.  I’d like to be more thoughtful – or at least, less thoughtless. I’d probably try to complete a Tai Chi course we’ve been signed up for for ages, and I’d like to try yoga, though as a tall 50 year old slightly overweight bloke with very little flexibility, I think it would take me years even to be able to touch my toes without bending my knees!

Do you mind? Image #57

Today has seen the end of my first course at evening class in many a year, and I have to say that I think I’ll miss it.  Every Friday for eight weeks Dee and I have gone along for a couple of hours to learn about and to practice Mindful Meditation, and tonight marked the end of the Beginner’s class.  It was taught by a bona fide Buddhist monk, and as he said we were getting the real deal!

 

image

Most people think it would involve sitting cross legged, chanting, with hands on your knees, thumb and middle finger touching: they couldn’t be more wrong.  On the course we learned how to meditate when sitting or walking, though standing and lying down are also “postures” which can be used.  You don’t necessarily clear your mind either: if you’re doing noticing meditation you let your mind go and just notice where it goes.

I’ve learned a huge amount from these classes. Not least is that, with regular practice (20 minutes a day), I can sleep soundly and wake refreshed every day.  I’m generally calmer, more rational, more chilled out.  Being aware of the moment, the now, and knowing that at that point in time that’s all there is, is liberating and refreshing.

I’d go as far as to say it’s been a life changing experience, and we will both be doing our best to continue the practice.  At some point we will definitely do the Advanced course, but that takes 6 months and requires sitting still for 4 hours at a time, so we’ll need to work up to that.

There’s a dinosaur in my… Image #29!

Picture the scene. It’s Friday night, the end of a long hard week. You’ve just spent an hour or so in a large church hall, being instructed in Mindful Meditation by a bona fide Buddhist monk who is wearing a wireless mic and whose mobile phone case matches his robes. Taking advantage of a comfort break, you go to wash your hands, and there’s a dinosaur on the sink!

image

There was a weird contradiction with Buddhist practices being taught in a Christian venue, and a monk using modern technology seems a little odd too, but plastic dinosaurs? Really? Just weird!

Incidentally, the monk has a wicked sense of humour, and we’ve noticed that he likes to start the second half of each session with a joke. and his jokes aren’t bad!

Got time for a quick rant for Image #28?

Driving through town the other day, we happened to be heading past one of the retail parks on the outskirts. On one side there are lots of different stores from toys, shoes, sports and clothes, and on the other side of the road there are a couple of DIY stores and a food hall.

On both sides of the road there was a coffee place from a well known chain, and on one side there are some fast food restaurants.  And here’s the crux of today’s post.

It's spelled "Through"!
It’s spelled “Through”!

Why do they all have Drive Through lanes? (Oh, and sorry, but I can’t bring myself to spell it the way it appears in the image!) Not only does it appear that we don’t have time in our lives now to sit and enjoy a coffee without having to be somewhere else, but we can’t even be bothered to use three extra letters!

Maybe it’s because I’m doing a Mindful Meditation course, which teaches that being in the present moment is everything, or maybe I’m just getting (more) cynical and irritable as I approach 50, but come on people, really? You can’t stop, go into the cafe, and sit down for 10 minutes with your coffee? You can hardly drink it on the move can you? I wonder how many accidents are caused by hot liquid seeping out of the top of a coffee cup while driving? What’s so important in life that you can’t sit back, try to unwind and just be?

Take the time, breathe and relax. Give yourself a break, for your own sake!

I think I must be part Boov

I have to admit that I’ve taken the phrase in the title image from the file “Home”, where an alien race called the Boov invade Earth.  One of the Boov is called Oh (that’s what everyone says when he appears) and he utters the phrase I’ve “borrowed”.

In many respects I feel that I “fit out”, in terms of what family, friends and  society may expect of me.  Admittedly I also “fit in” or conform to a lot of the norms, such as holding down a job, having a house and mortgage, paying my taxes and bills etc.  But am I “normal”?

That’s a difficult question to answer.  What is “normal”, and who decides what it is?  I don’t have the wife and 2,4 children that Western society expects – though since divorcing my ex I have a new partner and am stepdad to 2 children, so I guess that’s pretty close to conforming?

In the last year I’ve embraced spirituality, and have particularly found peace and purpose in Buddhism.  I’ve started mindful meditation and am trying to practice that every day, along with mindfulness in general. I burn incense every day at home, and can’t seem to pass a shop selling the stuff without buying some.  I guess that the upshot of all that is that I’m trying to slow down, to get off the rollercoaster of life and to enjoy every moment. It strikes me that this is not a “normal” thing to do and that it’s perhaps one way in which I fit out.

I’m also looking to spend some of my spare time volunteering or helping others in some way.  I’ve read somewhere that there are over 20 million volunteers in the UK – that’s about 1 in 7 of the population, so maybe that’s more like fitting in, but in the circles I’ve moved in in the past it’s definitely fitting out.  It’s all a bit daunting, but I’m looking forward to it too.

Again, in the circles I used to move in, with the friends I had with my ex, alcohol played quite a significant part.  Not only have a I cut down drastically on my intake over the last year, I’ve signed up to give up alcohol completely for all of January.  This is definitely not “normal” in my experience, and the last time I had two alcohol free weeks was when climbing Kilimanjaro several years ago.  (It’s going well though, thanks for asking.)

At the ripe old age of nearly 50 I’ve joined a band playing music from the 50s-70s, rock and roll as it should be.  This is a bit of a departure from playing in an originals heavy rock band (which was probably more fitting out than the new band) but it’s still a bit of an odd thing to do for someone my age I think.  Too old to be trendy but too young to be vintage!

Then there’s the type of music I listen to.  I’m still going to see my favourite punk bands from when I was a teenager (I’m so glad they’re still going / still alive) and there’s a real feeling of togetherness at those gigs.  The rest of the crowd are like me, of a similar age (generally) and I’m guessing all enjoying the gig for the same reasons as me.  But when I was in my teens, that style of music was not mainstream, and we were definitely on the outside looking in.

Do you know what though? I like my new life, I like being me, and I like fitting out.  And I’m not the only one.  Check this out on my partner Dee’s site, Helping You Sparkle.  This is what inspired me to write this post.