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happiness

Humility Can Be The Path To A Meaningful Life

As a yoga teacher, humility is one of my core values, indeed it is a value that can guide us through life.

A lack of humility can lead to a wanting and yearning for more, more money, more power, more style, more cars, more food. This craving comes from our survival instinct, the desire for self preservation and the need to protect and provide for those we love. There does however, come a time when we have enough and any yearning is for more than we need (see here for recent gratitude blog on having enough).

It is ok to want more, to want to be comfortable and to indulge ourselves, I am not speaking of abstinence or a life of stoicism but we must understand why we want something. Is it for the right reasons? Are we seeking treasures to adorn ourselves with from a standpoint of competitive behaviour, to take someone else down a level?

This is where we need to check ourselves and get in touch with humility.

“Work for a cause, not for applause.”

Think on the violent history of our race, the most recent wars in history. Where did they stem from? Did Hitler invade Europe for the betterment of his people? Yes, but from a self serving point of view.

Compare leaders of the world and famous figures – Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Mahatma Ghandi, Conor McGregor. What are their qualities and how do they serve themselves, and in turn serve the world? Do you see humility in them?

Who do you root for? The underdog or the one who talks himself up all the time?

A lack of humility leads to violence. Take the caste system in India, the civil rights movement in the US, slavery, the expansion of the British Empire. All of the above has lead to strife, pain and hardship in the name of one group being perceived as being better than the other. Perception is the key word here and that is where humility comes into play. The most humble of us will not, by definition, think herself greater than others nor will she strive to be greater.

“Never look down on somebody unless you’re helping him up.”

Putting ourselves first is important, indeed I have written about it before (link here) but when we put ourselves first and surpass others by wanting what is beyond our needs, that is where the ego and greed come into play. Humility can teach us the value of both having enough and being enough. There is plenty to go around, we do not need all of the accessories to place ourselves above others in the pecking order.

That does not mean a humble person will not strive for greatness, do not mistake humility for a lack of ambition. It means that the humble person will not look down on others, will not seek to oppress others and will not seek to take from others for their own betterment.

Nor am I saying that competition is not good. It is part of our nature and without it we would roll over and die, never defending ourselves and never standing up for what is right. We can keep our competitive streak and remain humble, the two are not exclusive.

Humility can cure the wanting and craving in our hearts and in turn quash the over indulgence that is suffocating our planet and tame the aggressive nature of the beast that resides within us as we mature as a race.

Let us look inside our selves and search for that humility. Can we give everybody a chance and not judge. Question our motives. Why do we want something, is it for the right reasons? When we strive to better ourselves, is it at the expense of others and to what end? Do we push to get ahead or to contribute to a greater good? What path are we on?

If we stop and think and really consider our motives and our state of mind we can start looking at things from a more humble perspective.

“Be like the bamboo, the higher you grow, the deeper you bow.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gratitude Turns What We Have Into Enough

As I sit to breakfast every morning, Theresa asks me “what are you grateful for?” We each list three things, whether superficial or deep, we start our day with gratitude. Gratitude can be a way of life. It is more than saying thank you, though this is part of it. It is really soaking up what we have in our lives that we are thankful for.

Gratitude is feeling the air fill our lungs and being thankful for it. Gratitude is reaching our hand out to open the door and being thankful for the power of movement.

We can bring gratitude into our lives by becoming aware of everything we have. We can begin to notice these things by listing them every morning, but list them mindfully. Let it sink in even if it is as simple as being thankful for the food in front of you. Let that fact sink in before you taste it. Sit with the words.

It is true that life presents challenges, life gives and life takes away. Through these challenges it is still possible to be grateful. We cannot experience the highs of happiness without the lows of pain and sadness. It is part of life and part of what makes us who we are.

But wherever we are in life, whether it be the the troughs or the peaks, we can still find time to be grateful. Even the worst things that happen, Brother David Steindl Rast tells us in Oprah Winfreys podcast turn out to be life giving.

The hardest part of my life to date was the death of my mother. Having left Ireland for Canada (9 years ago now) I missed out on the last 5 years of her life. I saw her in that time but it was painfully short. I still found gratitude in her death. Acceptance and gratitude that I had a week with her at the end. There is light in everything. We just have to find it.

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”

Buddha

Happy people are grateful. Or are they? Yes, I imagine they are but Brother David counters in his TEDtalk that is grateful people who are happy.

Gratitude is the gateway to happiness. Brother David recommends that we stop, look and go – just like crossing the road.

How often in life do we really stop and look? Ask yourself, when was the last time you stopped to take in your situation and surroundings? If it was recently, I applaud you and encourage you to do it again right now. When we stop and look, we can use this as an opportunity to find something to be grateful for. We can, according to Brother David, use this as an opportunity to take action towards something we can be grateful for.

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”

Epictetus

We can appreciate what we have. Grateful living is so accessible. Today is not just another day. Stop reading for a second and look out the window. You will never, ever see that same cloud formation again. You will never see that sky again. You will never see the light hit the leaves or the concrete outside in that exact pattern ever again. Each moment and each day is something we can be grateful for and it can so easily sneak past us unnoticed.

I have written before about looking up. Too often our eyes are downcast and we cannot see what we really have.

“Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.”

Doris Day

When we live a life of gratitude, we are rich. We often fear not having enough. This fear can create a longing, a craving, which ultimately leads to violence.

It takes time, effort and practise and it takes a lot more than listing three things every morning which we are grateful, but…..it’s a great place to start.

I still struggle with anger and negativity and may do so for the rest of my life but just like yoga, meditation and exercise, gratitude is a practise and a journey. A journey where we must stay on the path for the rest of our lives.

Each one of us may be just a drop, but together we make an ocean and together we can make an ocean of gratitude. Imagine what that would be like.

Gratitude can be our future. Brother David imagines a future, not with a top down pyramid power structure but as a flat network where we are willing to share. The grateful person will act out of a sense of enough.

“Gratitude for the present moment and the fullness of life now is the true prosperity.”

Eckhart Tolle

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this blog it would help us so much if you shared it,

Peace,

George

 

Links:

Gratitude | Louie Schwartzberg | TEDxSF

Want to be happy? Be grateful | David Steindl-Rast

Oprah – Super Soul

 

 

 

 

How I Overcame My Anger Issues

When I was a small boy I was always considered to be a little bit irritable. I was particular and meticulous and very detailed orientated. Maybe this played a part in the tendency toward annoyance or lack of tolerance towards things not working out.

As I grew older I was more interested in books and small toys than soccer or being outside. It’s funny now, though I still love to read and I still love toys I live for the outdoors. The outdoors changed me.

I’m not sure when my bad temper developed, maybe it was always there but it grew more intense. I was never unhappy child, nothing in my life contributed towards it, I think that some people need to work on their reactions more than others.

I have never been in a fist fight in my entire life, I am not a violent man but there is a destructive nature inside me. As I write this I try to remember when I first noticed it or when it first became a problem. The earliest I can remember breaking something through anger was probably when I was in my twenties.

I am sure that an immature disrespect for other peoples property played a part also but it followed through my twenties and into my mid thirties until I finally realized I had to do something about it.

The anger I felt never interfered with my life or my relationships but I know now through research the effect that intense anger has on both the body and the brain.

The emotions I felt were not simply anger or irritation but rage. A rage which would build up to an uncontrollable level where I could not hold my reaction. It was blind and uncontrollable, like a drug in my veins.

It took a long trail of little broken items before I realized it was effecting my mental health through the stress it laid on me.

It is difficult to describe the hold the rage took on me. From my perspective I went from zero to ten (on an anger scale) immediately with no warning. In all reality it was building and I was too distracted to see it. The pressure built until it could no longer be contained and I reacted physically by breaking something.

There is a misled idea out there that it is macho to lose ones temper and that someone who smashes things is someone you don’t mess with. If you met me you would realize this is not the case but on a serious note, we cannot associate losing control with strength. It is a weakness, in fact it is probably one of the weakest acts one can commit.

In my angry outbursts I put my fist through several windows, doors, laptop screens, smart phones, I once cracked a car windshield. I mention these because I want to be honest. It will seem funny to some people and pathetic to others but the simple fact is that losing control is and act of weakness brought on by lack of awareness and mismanagement of my emotions.

It wasn’t just the outburst or having to buy a new phone or laptop screen or door or whatever it happened to be this time, it was the low I would feel afterwards. What comes up must come down. The low was every bit as extreme as the high of the intense rage. A great sadness that would swallow me up.

It was maybe four or five years ago when I went to see a professional about my anger issues. It wasn’t a particularly difficult step for me and to be honest I don’t think I took it seriously, but never the less I went through my own choice without suggestion or coercion.

The funny thing is that, for me the answer was so much simpler. The professional I spoke to encouraged me to make the visits a part of my ongoing lifestyle but I did not keep it up.

I believe every situation is unique and I am writing about my own experience only. My opinions on my own therapy sessions do not bear any weight on the experience in general or the importance of seeking help.

In my own particular case I eventually realized that the solution was there all along, within my grasp, ready for me to take hold of. I just couldn’t see it.

I do not remember exactly where and when I put the following practises in place, I believe it was a gradual process but the simple practises I will talk about changed my mindset and in doing so changed my life.

Journalling and reflection:

For some years I have been keeping a diary, inspired by my father I think who religiously writes about his day in his spidery writing, documenting his days.

I like to document my day and read back through it sometimes, but it is also important to offload everything onto paper, your thoughts, your dreams, your worries, your feelings.

Now, I understand again the macho attitude that writing in journals is not how a man deals with things. This is the bullshit attitute we need to make a thing of the past. Times are changing and, we as a race are waking up to what we need.

If I did not incorporate these measures I would be out of shape, stressed out, unhappy and unhealthy.

Exercise:

Movement is so important. I sit at a desk for most of the day, but even if you have a reasonably active job the important thing here is to get the heart rate up.

Vigorous exercise produces brain chemicals which are proven to make us happier.

Cut out negative people:

Life is too short to deal with negative attitudes. Negative talk effects our brains. How can you remain positive if you are not receiving positive vibes and energy.

This sounds callous, but to be honest, so what? We are not users who hang around with people just to gain something, but conversely, we do not have to tolerate people in our lives who offer nothing positive and negatively effect us.

Get away from a negative environment:

My work environment was stressful. It was only in hindsight that I realized I did not enjoy my job and that it was chipping away at me bit by bit every day. It is hard to make a change when you do not realize the change needs to be made, but deep down I knew and eventually it surfaced, and I became receptive to moving on.

It was when I opened up to the possibility that the opportunity presented itself.

Gratitude:

I listened to a TedTALK where a Fransiscan monk spoke about the merits of gratitude and that it is the path to hapiness.

This may seem unrealistic. If you think so just try it out for a week. Write down three things you are grateful for everyday and see how it feels.

Smile:

Again, this may seem like it can’t make a real overall difference but it does. Smile, even if you don’t feel like it, just fake it. The happy chemicals will come flooding straight in like a whole bunch of happy drugs.

Have a read of my blog on the effects of smiling.

Eat healthy:

You are what you eat. Garbage in, garbage out. Be smart with your food choices. I ate crap for about 28 years of my life, actually it was when Theresa and I moved in together that my diet changed. I wonder why?

Yoga:

Yoga saved me. It was through yoga that I found so many other practises like meditation and really looking inwards to see myself. It also brings so much focus to the breath which I think is the most important aspect of our lives.

Fresh air:

There is no better medicine than clean fresh air. I have not been sick in years, but I remember heading up into the fresh winter air of the north shore mountains in Vancouver and feeling all the symptoms immediately disappear once I got out into the crisp clean air.

It has the same effect on the mind, cleaning out any crap which is clogged up in there, whether it be thoughts, emotions or just general junk.

Be positive:

Negative self talk will literally kill you, eventually. You cannot change your self talk until you start to listen to it and for that you need space and silence which brings me onto my next topic.

Meditation:

In my opinion everybody needs to meditate. It should be thought in schools and encouraged in the work place. My daughter will be brought up with meditation being part of her life like brushing her teeth or washing her hands, a part of daily life.

I cannot stress the importance meditation enough. A friend of mine once told me he wasn’t a meditation kind of guy. I had suggested it when he spoke about his many stresses. It seemed better to remain stressed out rather than do something about it.

If the body is tired or stressed we rest it. The mind is no different. We need to create space and silence in the mind so that we can see ourselves and observe our state.

I could never change my course of action when I was to wound up because I couldn’t even see the issue. I just spiralled out of control

Breath:

The breath controls everyhing. Without the breath we cannot live, we cannot move. The breath creates space both in the body and mind. It also gives us the chance to pause.

How many times have you been told to take a deep breath?

It works. Take a slow, deep breath and you take the time to pause, take stock of the situation and come away from the shallow, quick (fight or flight) breathing to a more controlled state of mind.

If one deep breath has this effect, imagine what you can do with ten deep breaths.

I have given a lot of information here, to simplify it, if I were to pick the top three things that helped me overcome my anger issues I would say:

  1. Exercise (yoga and hiking)
  2. Fresh air
  3. Meditation

So after all that, where am I now? It is about four years since I have started to take yoga and meditation seriously.

Maybe I lie in the title when I say I overcame my anger issues. The anger surfaces from time to time, though far less often than it used to. It probably always will, but the difference is that now I can see where I am at.

I am aware of what is happening and I am aware of what I can do to take myself out of the situation or deal with it in a calm manner.

I think I am healthier (physically and mentally) now than I ever have been in my entire life.

It takes effort, it is something I will work on for the rest of my life but the only effort is in being consistent, it is in remembering to be kind to yourself and in knowing that you will slip up sometimes but that there is a way to calm the rough seas and let everything become still.

There is a way to slow down and stop you just have to give yourself the space to see that.

Peace,

George

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A Daily Meditation Practice: Make It Work For You

From trial and error over many years I have come to realize the success of a daily meditation practice for me is to be realistic. We would all love to meditate for an hour in the morning and an hour before bed but for the majority of us that is not possible. How much time can you spare and can you find a similar time of the day to practice meditation? Making the effort to carve out time for meditation is the first step. The next step is sticking to your commitment of time & place for your meditation. This is where you need to create a habit so like brushing your teeth in the morning, you do not pass a day without meditation.

For me the best time of day for meditation is first thing in the morning. I have set my alarm 15 minutes earlier in the morning to get up to meditate. I wake up, go to the washroom, put on an extra layer, drink lemon water, take out my meditation cushion, press start on my meditation timer and sit in silence for 10 minutes (additional 1 minute warm up to get settled). So why on earth do I get up earlier to meditate and not savour that extra 15min of extra sleep? Am I crazy? Possibly! The answer is I’m not sure. I was so close to googling why meditation is good and writing a paragraph about that to fill this paragraph with but let me try and figure out why I choose to wake up earlier to mediate and why you should too?

Is sleeping not better for me than waking up earlier to sit in stillness? This is a fair question since the majority of the population suffer from sleep disorders and don’t get enough sleep at night. However, sleeping and meditation are completely different and both bring amazing benefits and both are super important. If you are a person who doesn’t get enough hours of sleep at night, I would say don’t set your alarm 15minutes earlier to wake up for meditation, sleep and let your body recover. Choose a different time of the day to meditate, simple. On your lunch break, go find a quiet bench to sit on, an empty office to sit in, the restrooms to hide out in…. honestly anywhere you can find that you feel safe & at ease in. Don’t feel you need to sit on a meditation cushion, in yoga pants at 4:45am to mediate, you don’t.

Personally I don’t have an issue with sleeping which I am very grateful for and we go to bed early in our home, around 9:30 pm. Therefore, I get enough sleep so I can wake up 15minutes earlier to meditate. This routine works for me but find one that works for you, one is not better than the other. It really doesn’t matter when, where and what you are wearing, just take 10minutes to focus the mind to meditate.

So, what is meditation? Again, the temptation to google is there but I will answer from a personal place. For me meditation is a very active practice. From the outside you may look like still with very little movement but on the inside the mind is extremely active. The practice is to bring that outward stillness into the mind. The mind or our thoughts have an innate tendency to wander, flow, distract and go nuts when you bring your body to sit in stillness. In truth your mind is always going but it becomes really apparent how crazy your thoughts are when you sit still and bring your attention to them. The aim of meditation for me is to become aware of my thoughts, notice where my thoughts lead and bring them back to a still point by focusing on my breath, the inhale & exhale through an open mouth a focal point to help focus & control the crazy spiralling of my thoughts.

Focusing solely on your breath for the first few breaths can be easy, however without even knowing it the mind wanders off to past or future thoughts and the breath is lost. The kind of exercises I like to do to help focus my mind is to focus my attention between my eyes to my inner eye, this really helps me for some reason, it’s like a pause button until I get distracted by my thoughts again and I need to repeat the process. Another one I like is to whisper silently in a kind way to myself that I am thinking and to bring my attention back to a focal point, sometimes I like that point to be my belly. A great way to help focus the mind and distract yourself from your thoughts is to count to 10 and repeat. You won’t believe how hard this is, I have found myself almost at 50 before noticing I wasn’t paying attention. When you notice you are not paying attention you start back at 0.

So why meditate? Meditation is getting a lot of media attention lately which is awesome, most of us know the benefits of it already. Even 1 minute of meditation is supposed to be beneficial to our mental health. Again, I will speak from a personal experience. Why I mediate is for the mental challenge it provides every morning. I know challenging to still my mind helps me cope with life after those ten minutes. It helps me think clearer, pause before I react (this doesn’t happen all the time but I notice an improvement), it helps me listen more as I am not afraid to sit in silence, it helps me in awkward silent situations and not feel awkward, it helps me sit in a restaurant by myself and just sit there without having to pull out my iPhone to distract me from the silence or loneliness, it helps me feel comfortable in my own skin, it helps me cope in times of stress, it helps me relax and ease into my day, it provides clarity and helps me be present in moments that I really want to be present in and fully aware.

There are many scientific reasons why meditation is great and I am sure I am benefiting from so much more but these are the reasons why I keep meditating every morning. I see an improvement in my life and how I look at life in general, I have learned to separate the unimportant from the important (can still mess up of course) and I truly believe it is those 10minutes every morning that help clear space in my head for what’s important, stillness, awareness, knowing who you are and being present in this life and taking control of your life to live the way you choose. All that from 10 minutes a day. Try it and see how it transforms you. It’s not all hype, find a time that works for you and just do it.

 

Thank so much,

 

Chat soon,

 

Theresa x

Having Less: Why & How It Has Changed Us

The decision to live our lives with less gradually occurred over years. Realising that buying things only lead to buying more got exhausting, expensive and stressful. The constant need to keep up with friends & family, comparing what we had with others would make anyone feel inadequate.

Constantly going around the same loop of needing-wanting-getting-feeling bad, I came to a realisation that buying things was not making me happy but creating stress, worry, sadness and loneliness. I hate shopping malls and really didn’t like spending time in them. So why was I going there to buy stuff, it didn’t make sense.

Wakening up to the fact that buying things did not make me happy or having lots of clutter in our home did not make me happy. I decided to make a change. This decision came about from certain events but I think the one real eye opener was being around people who had so much money and things. Soon I realised they were no happier than we were. In fact, all their stuff caused them so much stress. People were even hired to take care of their stuff; houses, cars, animals, bags, jewelry. Stuff needs taking care of, maintenance, up keep, constant surveillance. Owing more than one home creates so much stress, especially when they are not lived in all the time leaks, electrical issues, surveillance, security alarms, all of these extra stresses which start to control the lives of the people.

I saw first-hand how people who seem to have it all, were controlled by it all. Spending months working on their houses, renovating, painting, adding on thinking it would all end in a few months but then the upkeep of the homes began to take over weekends. The time spent having to clean the house, do jobs around the house, or paying people to do all that just didn’t appeal to me.

Living in a rented 1-bedroom apartment might not seem like a lot to most people but what it is freedom. Freedom from upkeeping a massive house, freedom from huge mortgage bills, freedom from having to hire staff to clean, freedom to live more simply. Is this going to be reality for the rest of our lives, no, we want to live in our own small place on our own land someday but for now this is perfect.

Living in a small space doesn’t mean that we are living simply, you can over complicate life very easily with extreme shopping habits. This is what we wanted to change. We wanted to eradicate the need to want things, we wanted to sit and relax in our home and not want or need. Be happy with what we had because everything we had was chosen with care & love and thought.

We want to live in a home with less noise, more space and beauty. That meant going through every room, drawer, cupboard, box, shelf, basket and storage area to get rid of all the things that did not spark joy or happiness. Marie Kondo book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying” was the road map we used to help declutter our home. For me this process of getting rid of stuff is fun, I have no issue with giving unused, unwanted and no longer needed items away. In fact, when they find a great home it makes me feel so happy! We gave away and sold lots of stuff, no dumping required except we recycled a lot of bank statements, notes from courses we took, old notebooks and lots of other paper that was stored throughout the years. Now we just have 1 folder for our important paperwork and avoid bringing paperwork back to our home.

I like to look through each area of our place on a monthly basis to see if there are any other items we could donate or give away. We have come very close to a place now that we truly have just what we use & need.

I cannot explain how relaxing this is and how happy I am when I walk through our home door every evening after work and look around to a place where I want to relax, destress and be comfortable in. Not having a need to clean, improve or change anything. Its home. I swear I smile everything I come home, maybe because we worked so hard for it and spent a lot of time deciding how we want our place to look & feel. The constant need to buy is no longer there. We would rather spend time working on projects we want to complete, be out in nature & socializing with friends.

Having less is not easy in fact it is so much easier to have more, more stuff, more debt, more stress, more money, more drink, more credit cards, more cars, shoes……. it’s harder to limit, to say no and to realise that having more does not make you happy. Having been around people who have lots of money……. but still want more money & more stuff….it made me realise that the wanting never stops even when you become hugely successful.

Spending life taking care of your stuff is a horrid waste of time when you could be doing things that spark joy & happiness…don’t waste life accumulating things instead accumulate memoires, experiences, friends, love & relationships. Focus on what really matters, connection, community, health, wellbeing, friendships, family…. stuff will never make you happy…. It may make life easier sometimes but never happier.

Having less is the best decision we ever made. We Know having less is better for our environment, relationships, health and bank accounts. We choose having less clutter and more time to enjoy life. Yes, this lifestyle will not make sense to a lot of people but we are free to life exactly how we choose…. we choose less. Our possessions do not control our lives.

As always, we would love to hear your feedback and comments.

Have a great week,

Chat soon,

Theresa xx