Today I got an email from one of my tenants giving notice to terminate his contract. Nothing special about that, except that this forty year old man has been battling cancer for the last couple of years. Last month he was taken into hospital again but this time it was different, this time he was given the news that he was terminal. But inspite of this, he continued to pay his rent and say he was coming home. Until yesterday, finally given the news that he had two weeks to live, he has resigned himself to a peaceful ending. Sounds strange to be talking about this in the context of being happy right?
“It’s not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not” – Thich Nhat Han
It made me sad to think of this young man sitting in a hospital waiting for his life to end. However at the same time I felt an overwhelming gratitude for my own life. And in that instant I decided to just walk, go out into the fresh air, to smell the tree’s damp in the autumn climate, stand under the bright sun and soak it in and listen to the bird life right on my doorstep.
What’s the One Thing That Will Make You Happy in an Instant?
And in that instant I started to feel a little sorry for the people who can not see the miracle that is life, the privilege to be living and breathing. I felt sad for people who live in the darkness of their negative thinking. The one’s that chase more, more money, a bigger car, a bigger house, more, more stuff and all the while missing the essence of life. To be happy does not require any stuff, it requires a clear understanding that life is precious, this moment is precious and if we can just soak in the seriousness of this we are instantly happy.
It got me reflect on what maybe going through this young man’s mind right now, as he waits for his final hour. So I sat on the damp log in the middle of the local park, listened to the noises and tried to imagine what he may be going through right now. It takes great strength to come to terms with the ending, even though it is the one thing we are certain of. I took this video while I was sitting in the park, nature and peace through my eyes I guess. This is life.
And I made a promise to all those who are battling with illness, who lost their lives too soon and who are no longer with us:
I will live my life in respect for them, in respect for the moments they never got. I will live my life in honour of those that lost their lives too soon because that is the only way to live. When we do not take our life serious, when we do not love every moment we live, when we squander our life on meaningless things, we do not respect those who did not get the chance.
I apologise to those that find talking about death difficult but I guess for me it is vital to understand that death is what makes life so precious. To be happy we must savour every moment we are here to live.
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Recently someone asked me the question “is it better to love or to loved?” . I don’t think I ever really gave this much thought before. Then it got me thinking about what would I feel more regret about when I reflect on my life sometime in the future? And I came to the conclusion that for me it is far more meaningful to give real deep love than it is to receive it. I would feel a real sense of emptiness if I never experienced what it is to feel deeply for someone else. At the same time I came to the conclusion that this does not have to be one “special” person or even someone you make a commitment to be with for the rest of your life.
How to Measure Love
I guess measuring love is a little bit difficult but for me the words that come to mind are, needing, wanting, expectations, warmth, attachment, connection and pain.
To really know what it is to feel a deep sense of love for someone you must be able to continue loving them even if they do not meet your expectations. The more the expectations, the more volatile the relationship becomes. So if say you would rather be loved than to love, then there it is already an expectation in place. There is nothing wrong with wanting a special person to share your life with, what causes the problems are the preconceived notions that you take into this relationship.
For me I guess the only love I can see that can be selfless and unshakable is that of a mother towards her child.
A Mother’s Love
I am fortunate enough to be a mother, three times over. To me being a mother is the deepest relationship I have in my life. It is giving without needing or wanting anything in return. There are no expectations, it is the only real selfless love. I’m not saying it is always the case, of course there are plenty of women who’s role as a mother is not loving.
I’m also privileged to be a grandmother, another level of mothering love but without the daily responsibilities that can add a little stress to the mother child relationship. Being a grandmother is a true gift.
Of course not everyone has the chance to experience being a parent or grandparent, not everyone wants to. It’s a personal choice and often not even a choice. I am only using my own experience here.
I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble about this notion of “romantic love” with the one and only but I have to say that this is probably the least fulfilling loving relationship. I’ll take a step back here and try to elaborate without me coming across as a non believer. Of course finding romantic love in life, that special person you can connect with, get close to and share “special” moments with is absolutely fundamental in life.
To go through life never experiencing this type of connection is sad. What is sadder however is watching people lose themselves in these romantic love relationships. Watching people searching with a sense of desperation for that “special one” And then watching people tear each other apart in dysfunctional relationships that long lost their magic and romance. This sense of clinging and attachment is clearly at the heart of so much pain in our lives, yet it is so much easier for some to just let it become their life than it is to let it go and move on.
And the proof for me that romantic love is less fulfilling than other types of love is that it all rests on what we get from it and the other person fulfilling our expectations. This is what makes it so difficult to maintain, we change, our needs change and our expectations change. How can one person be the giver of all that?
Is Romantic Love Dead?
It may sound like I’m saying there’s not such thing as romantic love. Actually I am saying the opposite. I’m saying it does exist but like most things in life it doesn’t last forever.
We have to be willing to see that love comes and goes. You find it in the most unexpected places, it can last days, weeks, months and years but it will change and it will end. Let’s not confuse real deep romantic, intimate love with long lasting relationships, they are rarely based on the love that perhaps was there at the beginning. These long lasting relationships are about evolving as a couple. Something for another discussion.
The Two Most Powerful Love’s
In order to live a life based on love, to give without an expectation of receiving anything in return is to realise that self love and love for humanity are the two most purest forms of love, yet we struggle with them the most.
Don’t forget to fall in love with yourself first
Going back to the original question “is it better to love or to be loved?” and looking at it in the way I’ve been discussing here, it is clear that finding a way to share your love is far more rewarding,than searching for someone to give you what you need.
In order to give pure love without expectations you must first love yourself
And this is where the problem lies. We struggle to give ourselves the love we expect from others. Instead we search for that special person to give us what we think we do not deserve to give ourselves.
And finally we must find love for humanity. We must feel compassion for the human race, for the other living beings that share this planet with us and we must find peace for this planet we live on. We can not restrict our love to one special person and neglect this amazing universe we live in. It is a fruitless pursuit this search for one person to share our love with when there is a whole world that needs our complete devotion.
It’s a real privilege to help people going through difficult and challenging times in their lives. I am humbled by the cancer patients I work with, they teach me the importance of living life now. However I see that even with such a life threatening disease they still don’t grasp the need to just live. In a recent session I asked the group “What are you waiting for?”
“I’m waiting for my children to grow up”
“I’m waiting to earn more”
“I’m waiting until ????”
What Are You Waiting For – When the Only Moment is Now?
Perhaps people have become so desensitised to the present moment that they can’t even recognise it? Perhaps we have become so accustomed to always doing, always looking forward or analyzing the past that we are never present in the moment?
Waiting for Permission
During our discussion it was evident that so many of us hold ourselves back, put things of and mostly ignore our own needs for others. We don’t want to upset others, we don’t want to let then down so we put others before ourselves. But surely self neglect is a serious matter? After all isn’t our main responsibility to make the most of this one precious life we have been given?
Society unfortunately has us believe that to look after ourselves we must be selfish. To put ourselves first is selfish but the that is the absolute opposite of the truth. We owe it to our loved ones to put ourselves first, so we are happy and healthy. Isn’t that what you would want for your loved ones, to be happy and healthy?
Or perhaps we are just good at making excuses to live a life less than amazing, maybe we’ve given up on the idea that life is more than what we experience it as?
I took the risk to ask the ladies at the cancer workshop if life would be better if we lived forever? Would we really be happier if we didn’t die? And all of them said no because the truth is that we do expire, it’s exactly knowing that life will end that should make us all realise the preciousness of life, every minute of it.
Next time you find yourself running into the past or the future, feeling a disconnect with life or looking for something better then try this:
STOP – BREATHE – SMELL THE AIR – AND JUST BE
Grasp that moment because the next breathe is a new moment which you never get back
In this video Sam Harris talks about living in the now as he says “we only have now and now and now”
I’m usually a very self motivated person, I do what needs to be done and much more. I’ve been accused of being too passionate about life, I’ve been asked when is it enough (meaning what I’m not sure?) and yes I do like to kick life in the butt, even at my age. So feeling down is not supposed to happen to me, right?
But I do get days when I just can’t be bothered, I’d rather just do nothing, veg out. And yes I’ll admit it, even I sometimes feel like giving up on what some may see as a ridicules view of life. However I don’t stay in that story for long because I’ve learnt to recognise the signs.
Tiredness – Feel it, Acknowledge it and Rest
Don’t stop because you’re tired, keep going because you’re almost there
If you are anything like me then even feeling tired is not an option. Instead of just admitting I’m tired, I usually just have another coffee. Yes not a great solution because of the come down after but that’s the only vice I have. But seriously tired is tired, it happens to us all. I’ve learnt to listen when I’m feeling tired, so I’ll have an evening off and just do something pointless.
Exercise – Really Does Make You Feel Better
Oh you don’t have to tell me how much motivation is needed to get your butt moving. I do try to walk everyday if not go for a run and I’ve invested in a personal trainer to make sure I do some real exercise twice a week. I’m not into gyms, prefer the outdoors and that way I get fresh air too.
Meditation – To Bring You Into Awareness
Of course I could not get myself going without practicing some form of meditation every day. Be it formally sitting in meditation or just using a daily task to focus on. For example if I don’t feel like sitting in meditation I’ll do something like wash the dishes or clean my flat in complete silence, really immerse myself and focus on that task. What this does is bring me into the present, connecting with whatever maybe going on for me at that time.
Feeling down is often an emotion from something going on that we may not easily see. It could be tiredness, it could be boredom but it could also be something deeper than that. Meditation helps you connect with yourself and in that silence comes answers. Try it and see what happens.
Mindfulness – How I Live
And although I would never call myself a mindfulness expert, I am a mindfulness practitioner. That means I practice every day, every moment to stay in touch with myself and with whatever is going on for me in that moment. Because of my practice I am able to feel what I feel without trying to make it better or change it.
In life we must learn to live with the down times and the up times. Anything else just causes us to get stuck in fighting life, trying to make it the way we want it, only wanting what makes us feel good.
True happiness includes being comfortable with the down times. After all life is always up and down.
Fear of Success
Yes it’s very true, some of us are fearful of success. Why? I think it’s because when you can see your dreams, your plans becoming reality, it suddenly hits you. “What now?”“What next?
Then there’s the high you’ve been riding to get your dreams going. Always thinking about what you want to achieve, planning, seeing the vision and the adrenaline you get from that. Then you see it coming true, your plans are now real. Your business is taking shape and there’s a sudden low from that.
It’s about re-adjusting to the new phase of your life, even success needs time to fit into your life.
When you’ve been creating your dream for a while, it takes time to step into it.
If you have down days, down times give yourself a break, allow whatever is there to be there and use the time to just be down.
It’s not the down days that cause the problem, it’s how you relate to them that does the damage
From my experience and from talking to people I work with, it’s clear how many of us find it hard to let go of the past. Our memories become our world, they keep us stuck, constantly going back to what if’s. Learning to let go of the past is an important part of moving forward in life. That doesn’t mean we don’t ever think of the past, or that we pretend something never happened. It simply means we don’t live in the past.
You maybe thinking but how? How do I let go of the past?
If you keep clinging to the past it will continue to cause you pain. So for your own sake it’s time to make a real effort to let go of the past, it really is only alive while you keep it alive.
Change How You Relate to the Past
See it for what it really was
You can make a difference to your life by changing how you relate to your past. If you start to be objective, without the added dramas, emotions and often unrealistic stories you tell, then your connection to the past starts to change too.
What you start to do is to be real, to not romanticise what was probably not so romantic. It takes courage to strip away the stories you have been telling yourself and start to see it for what it really was. You may have to accept the things you put up with and made excuses for just to keep everything together.
But it’s time to get real, see it for what it was. Then you can start to change how you relate to your past.
Let things be – If you can’t change it why waste time?
The truth is that it’s difficult to let go of the past, it is part of your life. All you really can do is begin to accept it and leave it be. You don’t have to live in the past, you can recognise when you get lost in the past and make sure you guide yourself back into the present.
In meditation we practice being the observer of our thoughts and as such we learn to just watch our thoughts pass by. That is a skill that takes time to learn, watching your thoughts, catching yourself when you get involved and moving your focus away from these thoughts. The more you practice, the easier it gets.
You don’t have to practice whilst sitting in meditation, you can practice during your day. When you notice that you have got lost in thoughts of the past, then stop for a few minutes. Catch yourself, adjust your thinking, bring yourself into the present and carry on with your day.
Learn to watch your thoughts, not be your thoughts.
For more on Letting go of the past, read the following post:
Christmas is just around the corner, ready to spring on us with all it that it brings with it. Of course it’s a special time for many of us. We have time to spend with our friends and family. Nothing more rewarding than spending quality time with loved one’s.
Christmas can also be a stressful time. There’s the run up to Christmas, the presents, the shopping, the crowded shops and all the preparation for the special day. For some it can cause money worries, how to afford to buy the presents, to host the dinner and all the extra expense.
All of this can make us irritable and emotional. Throw in a difficult person and tensions can get high. We all have one or two of these people in our lives. In normal situations we deal with them in a healthy way, sometimes we may just choose to ignore their behaviour but when we are feeling stressed, it’s not always possible to be as calm.
Before I continue, let me just remind you that if you do react out of character be kind to yourself, don’t beat yourself up and just let it be.
Catch Our Emotions Before They Catch Us
I guess the most important thing we can do is to catch our emotions before they catch us. As a Mindfulness Practitioner this is where being totally aware of your own thoughts, feelings and emotions comes in. With all the fussing, noise and running around we can lose sight of what is going on in our own minds, then we let our emotions run the show.
If you feel that you are getting lost in your emotions perhaps you could find a space to practice the 3 step breathing space. Or simply take yourself away from the situation for a few minutes, breathe and take stock of your own mind.
In reality people only appear difficult to us because they don’t meet our expectations. We expect them to act in a certain way, to say things we would like them to say and when they don’t we are let down. But how realistic are these expectations?
Perhaps we should realign our expectations. It would be even better to try to completely remove any expectations we have of others. Sounds impossible? Maybe it is, but the less we expect from others the more chance we have of not being let down.
Being Aware of Our Ego
And here is the big one, our ego. We need to be right, recognised or listened to. Whatever it is that is eating at us is often what causes us to react in certain ways towards others.
That doesn’t mean that other people are not difficult or challenging. What it does mean is that we can only be in charge of our own reaction to others, we can not control their behaviour only our own.
We can let anger take over and create negative energy, causing the situation to be worse. Or we can try to show compassion towards the other person, try to see what is causing them to act in that way. This creates a much more positive energy for everyone.
During one of my classes last week a lady in the group opened up and said that as she got older she felt invisible. She said that it was like she had no purpose anymore and that her very existence was insignificant. If she died tomorrow it would mean nothing.
She did not say it with anger or even particular sadness, just as a matter of fact. That got us all thinking about that feeling of being invisible. Personally I thought it was more to do with age, especially when you are living alone and suddenly without a partner.
Then another younger lady said she felt the same, her reasons were that she had suffered great loss in her life. Things had not turned out the way she had dreamed as a young girl. She never had her own children and somehow that made her feel less of a woman, at least she felt judged by others because of that.
Why Do We Feel “Invisible”?
I understand how you can start to feel invisible, I’ve felt that myself in the last couple of years. I was a mother and wife for so many years that when my main role changed I felt I had to recreate a whole new identity. This time based only on me, hard to do after so many years but absolutely necessary for my survival.
And I guess that’s what it is. We identify ourselves with a role and usually that role has something to do with others. Perhaps it’s our role in our family, relationship, society or work. It’s how you perceive yourself and how others see you. It’s your purpose in life and when you lose sight of that, suddenly you start to lose sight of who you are.
It’s like you don’t matter to anyone anymore and that can make you feel very insecure. As a mature woman I find it can also be about how others see you and your role in society. Dare I say it but in many people’s eyes you are passed it, a has-been as they say.
How to Start Feeling “Visible” Again.
The interesting point about feeling invisible is that most of us feel that way, at some point in our life. The first thing we can do is to accept that this feeling of insignificance and invisibility is just in our heads, it’s not real and so perhaps we can just let it be. We are all equal, status, appearance and whatever we measure ourselves against is all just man made.
Becoming aware of where this feeling stems from can help us to put it into context. To me it seems to come from the need to be validated by others. We want others to see us, approve of us so that we can make sure we don’t just disappear. But what if we just removed that need?
What would happen if we just let go of having to live through the eyes of others? That’s not to say we should live in isolation, without friends and family. But our relationship with others should not have to make us feel more than we are, we should feel whole, significant and beautiful without anyone else having to tell us that or make us feel it.
Easy to say I know. But if we can practice this everyday then we will feel whole and perhaps our relationship with ourselves and with others will be much healthier.
Nothing ever stays the same, things are continuously changing, people around us change and over time we change.
When something ends in our life we tend to resist trying to keep everything as they’ve always been because we are afraid of losing the people or things we have become used to.
In reality we have no control in our lives, however much we try and however much we think we can, nothing is ever permanent in life. The very fact that our life will end at some point should be enough for us to understand and grasp the importance of not expecting things to stay the same.
When a relationship ends, it is a new beginning
At the time, when we are going through the hurt of our relationship falling apart, we don’t see the opportunity to embrace a new beginning. But when we get through the turmoil and when we learn to let go of the pain, then we allow all the wonderful things that new beginnings can bring to us.
Buddhism talks about how we hold on to pain, turning it into suffering because we either don’t want to let go of it or because we don’t know how. When someone disappoints us or lets us down we can easily be drawn into blaming and focusing on getting some relief from our pain by projecting it outwards, usually to the person that hurt us.
But the work has to start within, only we can heal ourselves. The most important thing about letting go of the anger and relishing in this new beginning is that it’s such an opportunity to grow as a person. The sooner we can see this the faster the healing can begin and the new beginning can start.
The following are some of the things that I’ve most treasured about my ending and new beginning:
The time I get to spend on myself, on my health and on doing what I enjoy.
Not having to compromise anymore because I only have to think about what I want.
The opportunity to rediscover myself, to find out what I love, what gives me joy and happiness.
Not having to please others, how uplifting not having to think every minute of the day how to make a significant other happy?
Eat when I want, sleep when I want and go out when I want – that’s liberating.
Making new friends that I connect with.
Travel – I can travel where I want and when I want.
Working life- again I’m making choices based on the lifestyle I want without the pressure of thinking about how it impacts on anyone else.
We have all had our share of pain over the years and I’m sure all been hurt in one way or another. Unfortunately that’s life. After all if life had no pain, it would be perfect, right?
That thought in it self is one reason we feel so much pain and get hurt so often. By hoping for a without pain we are strive for something that is impossible to achieve. The more we battle with life in order to avoid pain, the more we feel pain when something we didn’t want to happen actually happens. Then we are hurt because our expectations are not met. And so it goes, on and on.
Can we avoid pain so we never hurt again?
Obviously NOT, sorry to let you down. I bet you were hoping that I had found some kind of miracle?
You can’t avoid pain, even if you shut down all your feelings to self protect. By shutting yourself down you are in constant pain, avoidance is just avoidance, it doesn’t remove pain nor stop you from getting hurt.
When my marriage broke down I could have chosen to put up walls so I was no longer vulnerable, become negative about life and in particular about men but I knew that the only one that would get hurt by doing that would be me. So I made a very conscious decision to open myself up to the world, take it step by step knowing that I had the strength to get through whatever challenges presented themselves without killing my spirit and love for life.
People around me comment about the way I have been able to turn my life around. On the outside it may actually appear to have been very easy. I can assure you it was not easy and I still struggle at times, less and less now but I am human and do have my “down” days.
So I wanted to share some of the strategies I have used to help me through, how I deal with the hurt and pain.
For me the time I spent learning the Buddhist teachings helped tremendously. I am not a Buddhist, I haven’t explored this enough to be able to go down that path. But the teachings are powerful if incorporated into life.
Of course Mindfulness has been extremely important to me through my journey. It has taught me to focus only on myself, to not look outside for blame, solutions and remedies. All the work has been done inside and continues to be.
And because of these fundamental foundations, I have learnt to let go. I don’t hang onto very much in my life anymore.
Self Compassion – learning to let yourself of the hook, to fully accept and love yourself so important.
Compassion for others – try to put yourself in the place of the other person, even the ones that hurt you. Hard but so powerful.
And of course, the less you expect from others the less you can be hurt.