this very moment between one breath and the next

In a sense, nothing has changed.

I am still figuring out how to be human, how to be me. I am older, stiffer, hopefully wiser and more compassionate, but I still need lessons in BEing. I thought I had conquered food issues addiction (let’s just call it what it is) but here I am, back in the same faculty, even if it is perhaps a more advanced class. I thought I had found a successful formula for keeping that black dog at bay, but depression sometimes still strikes, taking me by indignant (and usually undignified) surprise. I still battle all the old demons and doubts.

We don’t ever reach the point of ‘arriving’. We keep on having to keep on figuring things out. It is part of what makes life so unpredictable and delicious. Just when you think you’ve finally pinned it down, it snaps away, yelling ‘plot twist!’

So you start over and see what this next round will teach you. Because curiosity is always a happier and more helpful approach to suffering.

And here is what I am learning: No matter how deep the darkness, when you pause and examine this moment, this very moment between one breath and the next, where you are neither bound to the past and its regrets, nor to the future and its uncertainties, just this moment, then you realise that it is utterly beautiful and perfect all by itself.

You notice the late afternoon sunlight on your face, the gentle sway of leaves in the breeze, the dipping of the swallows against the clouds, the soft touch of your shirt against your skin, and it is all so achingly beautiful that it is simply … perfect.

In that very moment there is no suffering; there is only contentment.

In that very moment, everything is whole.

It is like discovering an actual superpower. Because every time you anchor yourself in this very moment, between one breath and the next, then the mindfulness it brings – and the spark of joy! – helps to tip the scales towards the light.

And in the end, that changes everything!

04Lovely

Advertisements

knocking off rust

Well, this is quite an unexpected turn of events, to find myself back on The Porch again after such a long hiatus.

The word always keeps calling, always flows and trickles, finding a way in … and eventually finding a way out.

Even though the blogging world has changed in the last years, flattening out into a much more impersonal place, it doesn’t change the original reason I started writing here: to give my thoughts coherence and space.

We all need time to reflect, to find the pattern and the meaning … and for me that means to sit on The Porch at the end of the day and let the word flow through the patterns.

what zombies have to do with self-growth

I am not a fan of the horror genre. Except for zombies. When my son became intrigued by zombies, I explored all the movies – from the very first – with him. And the more I think about zombies, the more I realize we can learn from the genre.

Recently, I came across this older article exploring why exactly our society has developed this fascination with zombies. In a nutshell, its premise is that the zombie craze “mirrors a level of cultural dissatisfaction and economic upheaval”. According to the researcher that is quoted, Sarah Lauro, “We feel like, in one way, we are dead”. This article quotes her as saying, “We are more interested in the zombie at times when we as a culture feel disempowered.”

I don’t quite agree.

Yes, zombie stories intrigue us when we face challenges of our own, but not because we feel dead. And I’m not sure that it has to do with global disempowerment, either. Rather, I believe it is more personal. The greater attraction of the zombie genre is this: survival.

These stories show us that it is possible to survive against horrific odds. They show us people who keep fighting even when we might have wanted to give up because there just doesn’t seem to be a way out. They make us believe that yes, we are able to keep going even when nothing makes sense, to be resourceful when options are limited, to be creative when everything we used to know changes, and to remain essentially human even when surrounded by monsters. They help us remember that sometimes the only power we have and actually need is that of perseverance, because it will get us through the hopelessness. That is uplifting and encouraging! Especially when life becomes challenging or the future seems bleak.

For me, it has little to do with cultural dissatisfaction or economic upheaval. It has everything to do with fighting my personal monsters. I believe this is the attraction of all successful dystopian stories: the implicit truth that even at life’s worst, we keep fighting.

However fictional they may be, they contain true empowerment because they remind us we are indomitable. We are heroes, purely for not giving up.

And that is amazing.

From the AMC show, The Walking Dead

From the AMC show, The Walking Dead

teacupping : oceaning

I found myself teacupping again the other day. You may not have ever heard this term – I made it up – but I know you will understand it immediately.

Teacupping: When you become so small that almost every experience causes a storm inside you.

You slosh over the edges. You rant and rave inside (or if it gets really wild: outwardly as well) over the little things that should not even cause a ripple on your surface.

  • The way your neighbours put out the wrong trash on the wrong day of the cycle
  • The way someone eats a doughnut – when you can see they need to eat healthier
  • The way someone at the office left sugar scattered over the entire kitchen counter
  • The way someone whines about their rich people problem
  • The inanities people post in social media or publish in the news
  • The way someone chews too loudly

Admit it, unless you are remarkably phlegmatic, you know how this is! And I am sure you can add many more examples here. All instances of storms in a teacup.

Why does this happen? And more importantly, how does one solve this problem? Because if you have ever teacupped before, you will also know that it is exhausting. There is nothing that can burn up your energy as quickly as this over-excitability in the world. Not to mention the strain on interpersonal relationships this can cause.

I have written before about the need to expand your container, and it is exactly for this reason. The larger the container of your spirit, the less disruptive your experiences. A drop of poison that falls into a teacup can be deadly. But into the ocean? It would not even be noticed. And quite frankly, I want to be the ocean.

Terry Pratchett wrote: “The big sea does not care which way the little fishes swim.”

I find that to be a profoundly powerful statement. If your container is as big as the ocean, the little fishes don’t bother you at all. They can swim in whichever direction they want to, they can jump out of the water (they will just fall back in) and they can even devour each other – it is not going to affect you.

So how do you change from teacupping to oceaning? How do you expand your container so that the little fishes don’t bother you anymore?

  • Meditate – For me, this is the easiest and best way to do it, because when you become mindful you find peace again. You enlarge from within. There are many guided meditations to help you achieve this. Compassion meditation works especially well, as does mindful breathing.
  • Walk – Or do something physical. Once you get your blood flowing, your mind is able to settle much easier, and your perspective is corrected.
  • Spend time in nature – We need big spaces to remind us that we are big, too, and that all is well. There is something mindful and rejuvenating about being outside; it can’t be duplicated by man-made spaces.
  • Pray – First for yourself. Then for whomever or whatever tips your cup.
  • Listen to music – It might be that you need loud, passionate music, or slow, gentle music. Find out what works for you to expand your consciousness again to a point where you are bigger than your challenges.
  • Get out among people – Especially if you are introverted or melancholy by nature, you might need that gentle reminder to place yourself among other human beings from time to time. Exposure to other people helps remind you that your challenging experience with one person is not all there is.
  • Practice gratitude – Remember the good things that fill your life.

There are more ways in which to ocean, to expand your container. Some of them may be unique to you, to what works for you. That’s the point: find out what clicks for you, what keeps your container as wide and expansive as the ocean, and as freely and abundantly giving, without any concern for which way the little fishes swim.

Art by the amazing Pascal Campion

Art by the amazing Pascal Campion

9 tips to commute like you mean it {productivity}

What do you do with the time it takes you to travel between home and work? Or going into town? For most people it is simply a means of getting from point A to point B, and little thought or productivity goes into it.

Yet it is by now well-known that your commuting time offers a vast treasure of opportunities for your day to pack more punch. Your choice: you can zone out in traffic – whether you use a car or public transport – or you can engage in a meaningful way.

For me, public transport is fortunately a fantastic option – and a welcome one! – and I prefer it because it frees me up to focus on other things while getting to my destination. These suggestions work best for that. Many of them can still be adapted for using your own transport as well – always of course bearing in mind that safety and alertness come first.

  1. Educate yourself: Read a book (if you use public transport and are one of those lucky folk who can read in a moving vehicle) or listen to an audio book. Those minutes add up when you use them to educate yourself! If you spend an hour on the road five days of the week, can you imagine how much you will have empowered yourself by the end of a year!?
  2. Plan & review: Use the time to plan your day if you are going into the office, or review your day when you go home. The advantage of this is that you walk into the office knowing what you want to achieve that day, and you walk into your home having already processed the stresses of the work day. Make a voice recording for yourself if you need to.
  3. Pray: Use your commute for prayer time. Yes, you can’t go as deeply into intercession as you would have if you were in your inner room, and this is not meant to replace that private time. As an addition to that time of worship on your knees, though, commuting prayer time offers marvellous scope for bringing the concerns of all your loved ones and the world to God. Or simply talking to Him, the way your kids used to talk to you when they were small and sitting in the back of the car. When I was driving more regularly, prayer time was one of the two things which kept me from road rage.
  4. Listen to music: I mean, really listen. This is the other thing which kept me calm in traffic. For me, spiritual music worked most especially well. But there are days you really just need that immersion into classical music or some good 80s music or the Beach Boys. Whatever you can immerse yourself in and which touches your spirit. If you want to make a challenge out of it, then set yourself the goal to listen to everything Chopin has ever composed, or Nickelback, or Hans Zimmer … whatever floats your boat!
  5. Create: If you are creatively minded, your commute can even be a time in which you work on stories or blog posts or Toastmasters speeches. Even if you can’t take notes, running through a first or second draft in your mind will mean that once you are at your desk, it will flow so much easier out of your pen.
  6. Memorize: This goes for practising that Toastmasters speech or work presentation you have to give, and also for learning a language or Scripture verse. Whether you are doing it out loud alone in your car or sotto voce on the train, this is one of the best stretches of dedicated time you are going to find to hone your skills. Why not make use of it instead of having to fit it into your day later?
  7. Meditate: Using public transport, this is one of the times I know I can dedicate to a short 20 or 30 minute meditation. There are so many guided meditation apps for Android and iPhone that it is the easiest thing in the world to pop in your head phones, close your eyes, and just become mindful and fall back into yourself.
  8. Notice: Remember when you used to play I Spy With My Little Eye on those long holiday trips as a kid? Have you ever set yourself the goal to notice something new on your trip to the store or to the office every day?
  9. Relax: Sometimes you need to create a little bit of space in your day, too, and the greatest gift you can give yourself is to not follow any of these suggestions, but simply relax, simply BE.

How do you use all the time you spend travelling?

Art by the wonderful Pascal Campion

Art by the wonderful Pascal Campion

piggybacking {productivity}

Last week I wrote about viewing tasks as full cycles.

Once you have that skill under your belt, there is an additional way in which this can benefit you: by expanding the cycle.

Adding an additional small task into a cycle is one of the easiest ways to build good habits. It is called piggybacking. You take something you want to make into a habit and piggyback it onto an already established habit.

Let’s use making a cup of tea as an example of what a full cycle plus piggyback add-on would look like:

  • Fill kettle, put teabag, sugar and spoon into cup
  • Boil water 
  • Pour water, steep
  • Remove teabag, add milk
  • Place milk back into fridge, spoon into sink, throw teabag away
  • Enjoy tea
  • Rinse cup and put into dishwasher

That is what constitutes a full cycle for tea-making, for me. The diamonds mark the two opportunities in this cycle to add something into it if you want to build a stronger habit. While the water is boiling, you have a few minutes at your disposal where you are probably just hanging around in the kitchen. This is the ideal window for a piggyback addition to the cycle. It could be wiping a counter, decluttering a shelf in the fridge, doing 10 wall push-ups, memorizing a verse of Scripture or a new word in a language you are learning. Or perhaps this is the time you take to connect with someone via a short note from your phone or tablet. The options are as varied as your imagination, needs and goals.

And likewise, while the tea is steeping, you have another small window of opportunity to piggyback a bonus habit onto the cycle. Taking vitamins, taking out the trash, taking something out of the freezer for dinner, updating your shopping list, whatever you can fit into that small window that needs to become a habit.

If you continue focusing on this, soon it will become completely natural for you to make that part of the tea cycle. Or wherever you see the opportunity to creatively make your day and your life easier. I find it easier to keep the bathroom clean since I have resolved to clean something small whenever I go in there. Instead of spending a dedicated amount of time on bathroom cleaning, whenever I visit the restroom I do one small thing: brushing the toilet, wiping the mirror, wiping the counters or windowsill. It means that the bathroom always stays under control and because the whole cleaning routine is broken up into small, widely distributed tasks, it does a lot to keep me free from overwhelm.

Need another example of this skill? Resolve to never leave your car without removing trash or (whatever does not belong there) from it. And when you have nothing left that needs removing, there is still the option to quickly wipe a rag over your dashboard or one of your windows at a time. I even do this while waiting at the stop light. This constitutes a major victory for someone who used to have a car that needed to be hidden from everybody I knew because it was such a dump!

Once you mind starts working in this way, the world opens up to you: you find ways and means to make so much of your day easier and more productive. And that, to me, is just one of the greatest joys possible!

What can you piggyback onto an existing full cycle habit?

Artist unknown

Artist: Leonard Leslie Brooke

full cycle {productivity}

Recently I encountered a stellar piece of advice that has transformed my productivity in exponential leaps and bounds:

Determine the full cycle of a task and don’t stop until you’ve completed it.

It is that simple! Often we don’t have a clear image in our mind of what the complete task actually should be. Let me give a few examples of how this works:

  • Laundry: The full cycle of laundry is only completed once those clean clothes have all been put away. You’re not done when the washing machine is done. Or the dryer. Or the clothes are all (clean) in a hamper. You’re done when everything has been put away.
  • Writing a report: The full cycle needs to include research, typing, editing and proofreading (yes, folks, that’s an important part of it!), and submission before the deadline. It’s not done before that.
  • Travelling: The full cycle is only completed once you have unpacked and put away your luggage and your clothes are in the dirty hamper. For the more organized among us this may go even further and include putting together a packing list for the next journey.
  • That empty toilet roll: No, you can’t just leave it like that. If you used the last square of paper, you have already activated the cycle and you need to complete it. And that doesn’t mean you can just put a new roll on top of the bathroom counter. You are only done when you have put the new roll into the toilet paper holder and disposed of the cardboard core. (This is applicable to anything you finish: the paper in the office photocopier or printer, the milk in the fridge, a light bulb that has gone out, fuel in your car – once something is finished, the cycle has been activated and needs to be completed.)
  • Going to the doctor: The full cycle only ends once you have paid the doctor, gotten the medication from the pharmacy, paid the pharmacist, and – if need be – put reminders in your phone or calendar for when to actually take the medication.
  • Using equipment: Whether you are mowing the lawn, crafting, putting up a picture, taking photographs, making dinner, the rule is the same: the cycle is only completed once you have put away everything again.

Almost everything we touch in our lives consists of cycles. And the beautiful thing is that, as we grow, those cycles grow, too. You can start with a short cycle, and as you become more au fait in this, add on to it.

It has been truly empowering for me to realize this, especially since I can get a bit distracted sometimes, touching and going, and forgetting what I had been busy with. Or just not plain thinking. But I can tell you from the toilet paper situation in my and friends’ homes that clearly I am not the only one who needs this epiphany.

Viewing tasks in terms of full cycles brings with it the immense reward of a feeling of freedom and completeness. There is deep satisfaction in knowing you’re done with this one thing. It has been taken care of, all the loose ends have been tied up, you are free to move on to the next step.

For me, that means there is one less process that is open in my brain, slowing down my processing speed. I can use that released space for something more important. And next time I come into the bathroom and see the toilet paper, I think: ‘Yep! Nailed it!’

It’s the little things that make the biggest difference!