A Good All-rounder 

One of the most important aspects of my self-renewal journey is learning to meditate and be more mindful.  This encompasses all four motivations that I am working on – Physical, Spiritual, Mental and Social/Emotional (through self-care).  This is the area that I have been working on the longest and I have currently been meditating for 36 days.

I felt quite strongly that this was the place I needed to start and that it would be the one activity which would help me in all other endeavours.  I have tried and failed many times previously to learn to meditate and be more mindful.  I would always do quite well to start but would then become increasingly frustrated with some of the initial issues such as not being able to focus, the mind keeping on wandering, not being comfortable or finding it a bit of a chore or a little boring.  I realise now that at those times I had not realised the importance of it.  It was only when I started writing down my lists that I realised this one thing could be the key to changing everything for me.

In my post today I want to write a little about how I started meditating and the initial struggles I faced and how I found ways to overcome them.  Hopefully by the end of the post anyone who has been thinking about giving it a go will have a few steps to work with.  I also recommend an app called Headspace which I have been using to help me.  I find it really helps motivate you and keeps you on track.

The first thing to do is to get comfortable.  You can sit in a chair or on the floor.  It is not necessary to sit in any particular position such as the lotus although your spine should be erect.  For some, sitting with your spine straight can be uncomfortable to start with but you will get used to it quickly.  Initially you can use the feeling to help you stay present.  I don’t recommend sitting on the sofa as if you are too comfortable you may fall asleep and it is harder to sit with your spine straight!  Okay, Are you comfortable?

You can start with your eyes open.  Don’t stare at anything particular, just keep a soft gaze and be aware of the space around you.  Now you can start to take a few deep breaths.  Breathe in through the nose.  Your focus should be on your chest expanding and your lungs filling with air.  You should breathe out through your mouth where your focus should be on your body softening and relaxing.  Initially breathe loud enough that if there was someone sitting next to you they could hear you inhale and exhale.  Do this for as long as you need to feel relaxed. When you feel relaxed, close your eyes gently on an exhale.

Firstly focus on the physical sensations.  Feel your body pressing down against the chair or floor.  Feel the soles of your feet pressing on the ground.  Feel your arms and hands resting on your legs or lap.  It can be quite difficult at first to tune into the body but it will get easier the more aware you become.  I found focusing on the feet helpful as you often get a tingling sensation here which is quite obvious.  Focus on the body sensations for a couple of minutes.

When you feel ready start to notice the sounds around you… a ticking clock, the hum of electricity, cars passing outside and the wind blowing.  It is important that you don’t search for sounds, just notice what comes to you.  As soon as it comes to your awareness, let it pass again.  It’s amazing what you notice when you think you’re in silence!  When you feel comfortable with this bring the attention back into the body.

Notice how your body is feeling.  Scan down your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.  Don’t allow yourself to get stuck on any one area, just keep moving steadily down.  Are there any areas of tightness, tension?  Are there areas which feel relaxed.  Don’t think about it, just notice and move on.  Build a picture of how your body feels.  Initially I found scanning the body difficult as I could not feel every part of my body.  When this happens you just need to notice you don’t feel anything and move on.  It can help to say the body parts in your head to keep you focused and moving on.  Head, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, neck…etc.  You will become more aware as you practise.

Next, when you feel ready start to focus on your breathing.  Notice the rise and fall in your body.  Where do you notice it?  In the stomach?  Diaphragm? Chest? Shoulders?  Notice the rhythm of the breath.  Are they long? Short? Shallow? Deep?  Don’t think about it, just notice.  After a short while you can count the breaths, I found this really helped me to focus.   Count one on the inhale and 2 on the exhale etc right up to ten.  When you reach ten, start back at one and continue in this way.  Allow thoughts to come and go.  If you get distracted, come back to the breath and pick up on the number you left off on.

Next, completely let go off any focus.  If your mind wants to think, let it think.  If your mind wants to be busy, let it be busy.  Don’t try to control anything.  After a few moments bring the attention back to the body.  

Notice the physical sensations, the contact your body has with the chair or floor.  The soles of your feet on the floor.  Your arms and hands resting on your legs or lap.  Notice the sounds.  Bring yourself back into your immediate environment. Gently open your eyes, have a stretch and relax.  Take a minute to appreciate how good it feels.

Remember at this stage it is still very common for you to be having a lot of thoughts.  This is normal, just remember the moment you realise that you are distracted, just to bring your awareness back to the body or breath.  It gets easier with practise. 

Living By My Values

As part of my Spiritual renewal I made the decision that I needed to sit down and think about what values are most important to me and whether I am actually living by them.  A value to me is defined as something which is important to me in the way that I live and work.  It is something which is a priority to me and let’s me measure whether or not my life is turning out in the way that I want it to.  In general when we live according to our values we feel happy and content.  When we do not live by our values this is where something in your life can seem not quite right and is generally accompanied by a sense of unhappiness.  This is why sitting down to identify your values is very important.

Knowing our values can help us identify the right path to choose in life and help us to make difficult decisions.  Knowing your values is almost like having an internal compass pointing us in the right direction.  When you don’t live by your values you can get that ‘lost’ feeling or the sense of never knowing where to start or how to solve our issues.  We are out there in the mountains without knowing which direction we should go.  It can feel pretty scary.  

It’s important to always be aware of what your values are because as time goes by they can often change.  Many people’s values change yet they carry on living their life the same way they always did and come across problems.  My own example of this is when I was in my twenties I was a people pleaser, I had become the person that I thought other people wanted me to be.  As time went on I had no sense of identity and knew nothing about how to be independent or have my own thoughts.  This ended up with me being in a difficult relationship with a baby on the way.  When baby came along I was all of a sudden responsible for this little life with little help from my partner and there was so little left of my identity that I ended up with post natel depression.  As awful as this was it actually helped me pull myself out of a rut (eventually) and I learnt to be strong  and find my identity again, even outside of being a mother.  I’m a firm believer that life will throw at you the experiences and situations you need in order to evolve as a person.

So, how do we begin to identify our values.  I found this easiest by looking at each of the roles in my life.  You can also get ideas from thinking about a time in your life when you felt really happy – What we’re you doing?  Were you with other people?  If so, who?  What other factors contributed to your happiness?  

You can identify a time when you felt really proud.  Why were you proud?  Did other people share your pride?  Who?  What other factors contributed to your feeling of pride?  

You can identify a time when you were the most fulfilled or satisfied.  What need or desire was fulfilled?  How and why did the experience give your life meaning?  What other factors contributed to your feeling of fulfillment. 

The first area I looked at was being a parent.  In this area values which are important to me are family orientedness, calmness, compassion, altruism, empathy, enjoyment, love and openness. 

In the area of relationships (with my partner) the values which are important to me are accountability, fidelity, freedom, honesty, love and openness.

in my work the values which are important to me are creativity, effectiveness, hard work, making a difference and service.

As an individual my values include altruism, balance, compassion, continuous improvement, creativity, effectiveness, family orientedness, freedom, making a difference, service, thankfulness and vision.

Looking at my list it seems like quite a lot of values to keep up with.  Some can be perhaps bundled into one category.  So I decided to prioritise my top five to concentrate on (subject to change!)

  1. Family orientedness
  2. Altruism (this also encompasses compassion, empathy, love and service)
  3. Honesty (also encompassing fidelity, freedom and openness)
  4. Creativity 
  5. Continuous improvement (also encompassing effectiveness, vision, accountability and balance)

Am I living my life according to these values?  I try as hard as I can but I know there is room for improvement in every area.  At least now I have my starting place to set myself some goals and to keep me pointed in the right direction.


My Spiritual Realm

I have been looking at my plans for spiritual renewal by looking at the spiritual checklist.  Again, i have been working on some areas for a while and others not so much.

I see myself as spiritual and do not follow any particular religion but i respect all.  For me, ‘God’ or a ‘higher power’ is manifested within ourselves and is otherwise known as Love, Compassion and Kindness.  I believe once we can be and do these things without condition, this is when we will ‘transcend’, ‘become enlightened’, ‘be in heaven’.

I have a good idea of what my values are such as the ones mentioned above (kindness, compassion etc) but I have not yet sat down and written it down. I also don’t think I live by them as much as i should. I don’t always take the time to stop and think before I do things or make decisions.  Also some values are really difficult to integrate into your life, for example integrity.  I work in a very female dominated environment and it can be quite bitchy. As much as I try to stay out of the gossip circles, sometimes you inevitably get drawn in.  I would love for that to stop happening and I would love to have the courage to stand up for the person not present who is being talked about.  So I need to sit down and look at each value individually and look at how to incorporate it and see what needs changing.

Again, i have a rough idea about how I would like my life to turn out (at least at this present moment!). But I have not yet sat down to write a mission statement.  An area that I’m completely lost with is my career.  I just don’t know what I want to do (I’m 35!).  I love what I do now but I have this niggling feeling that it is not what I’m supposed to be doing!  I never had an idea as a youngster about what i wanted to be when I grew up, so I’ve just tried out a lot of different things.  I’ve been in my current job for ten years and I enjoy it but I’m there because it’s convenient and comfortable if I’m honest with myself.

I find daily renewal through meditation.  I am currently on Day 20 of Headspace and I am thoroughly enjoying it so far (I have a 1 month free trial voucher code if anyone is interested).  I would also like to study something that interests me probably informally rather than formally.  I have no idea what though so I need to have a think about that.  I would also like to start some kind of reflective journal.  I have started many journals and I always get frightened that someone will find it and read it so I end up stopping and disposing of it.  I guess I could have a password protected computer journal!  Also, my blog will be quite reflective in many ways.

My place for spiritual renewal is in nature so I need to find somewhere I can go local to me and make regular time in my scheedule to be there.

I work with adults with profound, multiple learning disabilities so I spend most of my days doing service for others which is very rewarding and humbling.  This is paid work so it would be nice to have something else I do without any kind of return.  I’m really interested in random acts of kindness so would like to do more in this area.  I would also like to encourage my children to do something like this and I have found some great resources on Random Acts of Kindness.

On my list of goals so far I have the following items:

  1. Plan and live life according to my values.  (Obviously this can be broken down into numerous goals with a bit of thought.)
  2. Create a mission statement.
  3. Follow Headspace daily meditation. (Day 20! Yay!)
  4. Study something that interests me.  Take a look at OU free courses and Khan Academy etc.)
  5. Start a writing process, journaling, blog. (Underway!)
  6. Spend regular time in nature.  Look into local walks, woodland etc.
  7. Find ways to serve others including work, home and school.  Random acts of kindness.
  8. Start a gratitude journal.

There is quite a lot to do for this one but i have to remember it is all about the journey, not the destination!

Beginnings

In 2010 I returned to work after maternity leave following my first born.  I could not have been more happy to be returning to work and felt like I could get my life back on track.  My pregnancy and maternity leave had been a very difficult period of time and I felt very disappointed and guilty that I had not enjoyed the experience as i should of done or was expected to.  I had been in a very difficult relationship with a man who was struggling with alcohol dependancy, we were in a lot of debt and the stress got to me.  I suffered with post natel depression which if I’m honest with myself lasted roughly three and a half years in total.  I also had my second child during this period.  I was under a lot of pressure and had no idea how to help myself.  My pride stopped me from asking for help from others and the thought of admitting i couldn’t cope was too much to bare.

So I returned to work and got stuck in to my responsibilities.  I performed very well and was placed on a programme for very talented employees who go above and beyond in their job.  On this programme I was introduced to the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.   This book changed my world and started my journey of personal development.  

My life became much improved after I was able to deal with my own issues and let go of the things i couldn’t change in other people.  I got through my PND and I am now happy in my relationship and have been able to support my partner and we have come out the other side stronger than ever.  I’m not saying that everything is perfect, but we take things one day at a time.  There is always room for improvement in any relationship and as you can see I am not a quitter!

I have two wonderful children.  Daddy’s Little Princess (DLP) is 6 and Mummy’s Little Soldier (MLP) is 5.  MLP was diagnosed with Autism this earlier this year, so this is another adventure we are experiencing as a family.

I have found that I can keep my self flowing nicely along by making sure that four areas of my life are in balance.  These are my four motivations.

My Physical Self

My Spiritual Self

My Mental Self

My Social/Emotional Self 

On each of these pages you will find a checklist where you can assess how you are doing and see where you can make improvements.  It is very helpful when you’re not sure where to start.

Although I have been through some difficult times, this blog is not intended as a space to be negative and such stories will only be included briefly for context.  I want this blog to be positive and uplifting and proof that if we put in the effort we really can get through difficult times and there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

This blog will be about my journey, my life and how I am attempting to become a better, stronger person, partner, and mother.  I have decided to record this journey to help me stay on track and to have some accountability.  

I would love to hear about other people’s journeys.  So please share your experiences with me or join me on mine.  I certainly could use all the help I can get.  I think we all can!