The Sacred Centre

sharing – daring – caring – writing from the heart

Category: Letting go of Everyday Life

Fourth Day – Fighting Pain

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I awoke feeling slightly ill, very heavy, not able to motivate myself to move a single limb, while I was very aware of a fist sized pain sensation in my back. I really much rather skip working meditation today but that also makes me feel incredibly guilty and such a failure. I always see things through, I never give up. But I worry, worry, worry about every possible outcome regardless…

The Mutant Message Down Under revealed that “souls were made in the likeness of Divine Oneness, capable of pure love and peace, with the capacity for creativity and caretaking of many things. We were given free will and this planet to use as a learning place for emotions, which are uniquely acute when the soul is in human form”.

The new back pain is probably just because I changed my sitting practice yesterday and used new muscles.

The working meditation wasn’t that bad after all, having been gently pushed to go by one of my fellow room mates. The process of allocating who does what was pure hell and I had to really fight the urge to leg it and hide. But I got what I wanted, the library, which was basically sorting books and was very calming on my mind. It’s funny, as with the veg patch, first you don’t want to do it, then you get into the flow and forget your surroundings, like some sort of trance and suddenly you “come round” and feel exhausted but also proud of your achievement. I wonder whether I will be able to the same at work next week.

Of course I tried to place a heavy burden of blame on myself for once again doing only the things I wanted, getting my way again, and knowing that if I hadn’t there would have been a very high chance of me disappearing in my room, hiding in bed.

Later that day I had an awesome Thai massage by one of the retreat participants who had listened to my dharma sharing the other day and needed to practice. It eased my back pain and made me feel a little fresher and clearer in my head as well. I can only recommend you try it out for yourself!

A beautiful moment at the frog pond, catching the last golden rays of the setting sun, while listening to the evening bell and song. The water was sparkling and glittering, flies danced ecstatically, the sweet scent of freshly mowed grass still lingered in the air, as three souls unite when my room mates cross paths and briefly join me in the present moment, sharing eternity with each other.

I feel easier, less tense and frustrated. Sitting is easier, just eating is still a bit cramped. I was humbled by the realisation that someone had gone through the kind trouble of peeling the kiwi instead of just cutting them into halves. I find myself getting too late to activities. Am more relaxed. I figured that you don’t necessarily come here to be relaxed but to learn to relax and then be ready relaxed for when you leave back into reality.

Third Day – Releasing Blame

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This morning was beautiful. Fresh air after the rain, golden sunshine. As I sat down to look over the frog pond, a light sprinkle of rain blessed us while the sun looked on. It was as if the rain wanted to be part of this beautiful experience, like a cosmic handshake or hug.

Last night us three in the room were talking and laughing and it felt so good, exactly what I had been missing. Like hanging out with friends you’ve known all your life and you’re finally catching up again, despite having known them a mere three days. It felt good in my heart.

All night I was dreaming, waking, sleeping, tossing and turning. Today is lazy day, two more hours sleep, breakfast, a long and gentle yoga session, shower. I’m wondering: Have I been on my own too long or too much so that I feel the only way is my own way? Is that why I feel like rebelling against rules?

In on of my dreams last night I cried a little after a silly girl said to me that maybe I shouldn’t go on a run with them since my bad mood would bring them all down. Afterwards I felt like saying that she “should” have been more supportive and could have helped me lift my mood instead of rejecting me. I didn’t cry for long, there were things to do, even in my dream world.

I’m reading “Mutant Message Down Under” by Marlo Morgan and am equally amazed as I am unsure of whether it is fiction or reality. The reviews are confusing but the simple truths of humanity, which we seem to have forgotten all about, are revealed by example of the life and believes of the Australian Aborigines. It might be an invented story but this doesn’t make it any less mind blowing and answers a lot of questions as well as offers advice, coinciding with my own thoughts and conversations with other retreat participants. As soon as I pick up the book, there is the answer in black and white!

In terms of dreams, for example, one member of the tribe realises after a dream about a turtle with only two legs on one side that his aches and pains had materialised because his job as tool maker, which he loved, had become less enjoyable with more self-inflicted pressure, so he was signalled a need for change. He had become one-sided, hence the two legged turtle, no longer balanced in work and play. He said: “When thinking became flexible, joints became flexible. No pain no more.”

There will be more working meditations this week and something in me is really going against it. I struggle enough with the early sitting mediations and worry that by pushing myself too hard I will get worse again. On the other hand I wonder whether it is a good opportunity to gently get myself prepared for work again. I do worry that I won’t be able to do my job when I return next week…

On jobs Mutant Message Down Under sais: “Business seemingly has become a hazard to humanity. It started as means to get better things, to express individual talent and become part of the money system. But now the goal of business is to stay in business. But business isn’t real, it’s only an idea, an agreement.”

The book describes how the tribal members believe that the difference you make in the world is by leading by example, by the things you do. That gives them the drive to be a better person each day. They say: “People are non-living when angry, depressed, feeling sorry for themselves or filled with fear. Breathing doesn’t determine being alive. It just tells others which body is ready for burial or not. Not all breathing people are in a state of aliveness. It’s okay to try out negative emotions to see how they feel, but it certainly isn’t a place one would wisely want to stay.”

I remembered yesterday’s dharma talk and the topic of blame. “We can’t blame others, no matter how much we feel we ought to.” Our emotions are within us and others merely mirror them. What we react to is ourselves. Just what to do with that blame? It’s easy to direct it at ourselves, but not advisable. Sitting with it is hard. A life without blame, or rather the prospect of it, appears to be happier. How does it feel to be happy, without anger or pain, I ask one of the girls: “Light, free” she sais after a few moments of thinking. “Happiness is peaceful” sais another. I wonder, will we get bored when we’re always happy? Do we create emotions to “entertain” us when we’re bored, like a theatre production?

I realise how much I have been blaming others: my father, teacher, technology, the world, climate change, other people, my boyfriend, manager, work, depression, the system, food, the weather, my genes, my body, myself. So what remains if I don’t blame any of those? A whole lot of nothing?

Again from the book: “The only way to pass any test is to take the test. All tests at any level are repeated until you pass.”

“Happiness is freedom from wanting!” Leaving the bookshop “just” with an ice-cream is a start.

After a long lazy day we practice beginning anew in the evening. Touching the earth I vow to release blame and express my hurts. There are still no tears but I feel lighter, happier after releasing attachment to blame. I’ve been tying too many knots over the years by swallowing hurts and blaming others for my pain instead of speaking up and clearing my emotions. Now I have arrived at the bottom and can begin to untie one knot at a time. Releasing the built up anger, becoming free and happy.

That night I write a letter to my boyfriend, saying how I admire him, regret how I made him suffer with my mood swings and not listening to him properly, saying how I also feel disappointed that he doesn’t give me his full attention when talking to him, wishing that we can become more aware of each other’s emotional needs. I feel relief.

Second Day – Anger Manifests

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We all spend the day at the Upper Hamlet, a long day with dharma talk, formal lunch and dharma sharing. Inside of me it was boiling and bubbling, my back hurt with a passionate burning sensation which stretched all along the whole length of my spine. I was fed up with sitting and being “happy”. The dharma talk fittingly spoke of a crying baby inside of us that needs attention.

A humble moment occurred when Thich Nhat Hanh, zen monk and founder of Plum Village who was still affected by his illness, was wheeled in during the dharma talk while a hall full of monks, nuns and lay friends sang “I have arrived, I am home“. His presence was immediately noticeable. He was only able to hold up one hand in half prayer pose but with his eyes full of energy he scanned every single face in the hall, going along the rows of people. I also spotted Sister Chân Không, who helped to set up Plum Village, among the group of monks and nuns during the welcome song at the beginning of the day, as if seeking refuge. I was very touched and humbled to be in the same room as those two inspiring individuals.

I was hoping to see one of the monks again that I spoke with the last time I was there but I couldn’t spot him in the crowd. We had shared from the heart our experience of not being recognized and accepted by our parents. There had been no change in my situation apart from a new sort of anger that was brewing at still being ignored by my father and I was intrigued to hear whether there had been any changes for him. Later back at the Lower Hamlet, a girl who attended one of the other dharma sharing groups said how touched she was by a monk in her group who shared with his mother who had come to visit him from the other end of the world and that both had cried. By her description of him I could assume that it was him, tall, big nose, still with his hair, slightly curled and combed back. I was saddened to think I missed him, the lump in my throat tightened. But then I heard we might still meet the other hamlets again for a day of mindfulness later in the week. That would be good, maybe the time just wasn’t right yet.

During dharma sharing I spoke from the heart how I had tried to keep up my practice since my last visit to Plum Village three years ago and how I felt like a failure for my stress related anxiety despite my knowledge and awareness of mindfulness and had come to Plum Village in the hope to find my flow again. But instead, I said, I was experiencing frustration and anger, feeling like I want to run away, but figured that since I was aware of these emotions I might as well sit with them and see what happens. The dharma talk also mentioned how our emotions are not us, that they are mere visitors in our house. So we can sit with them but we won’t let them take over our house.

It was interesting to hear others share how they were struggling, especially in their second week (even if mine was three years later). It seems to be that way. Also, when the need to share arises it appears to be common to feel your heart race or a pressure feeling in your chest. For me it was also accompanied by anger at what others were saying, which subsided once I had said what I felt and was able to listen to the others without that negativity inside of me. I felt a little lighter afterwards, as if someone had lifted the lid off the pressure cooker, even had a few more natural and less constrained conversations with other participants afterwards.

I want to cry, let it all out, but it just wasn’t happening! My 48 hours were up, where were the tears?

And after learning about non-attachment we merrily go into the gift shop and buy pretty and useful things we don’t really need.

The key to a happy and emotionally balanced life is to let the heart speak when it calls out. I wouldn’t be depressed if I had been able to speak up openly and clearly express my opinion, regardless of it being different to others. I need to start doing that. No point in silently agreeing with others only because you get their point. You can bring your own point across as well and calmly work on finding a middle point agreement that suits everyone.

I probably also tried too hard to be mindful, setting myself up for disappointment. I feel suffocated by the rules of meal times. They are all different and I’m just never quite sure when to wait, eat or get up. Earlier we were unsure because there had been no bell and it was already ten minutes after beginning of meal time and lazy evening. So when I observed a nun take food I thought it meant we could help ourselves. But when picking a plate I was reminded that the bell hadn’t yet invited dinner and the nun had some other reason for taking food. Felt like such a fool! And my internal magma was bubbling…

 

 

First Day – Irritation Rises

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While travelling to Plum Village I kind of naively believed to be travelling and arriving on my own until half the train got up to leave at the same station. And the girl that sat next to me on the plane also stood there! Having been to Plum Village before I found it easier to settle in and be. I slipped straight into my comfy yoga pants and poncho and looked forward to a wholesome week of calm, despite the strong headache I experienced on the evening of arrival.

However, as it goes, the first irritations already came to the surface right on the first morning. I woke up from the 5am bell, not having slept all too well, and was looking forward to laying in the dim morning light for a little bit longer while listening to the gong, when instead my room mate’s mobile phone alarm was going every five minutes for the next thirty minutes and persistent plastic bag rustling ensued from the other.

I had a rather enlightening dream though, which helped me feel really good about my unsure thoughts to look for a new job. In the dream I made that decision and announced it openly, which felt liberating and good, a feeling of relief that still registered in my tired bones when I woke up.

My irritation grew further during orientation, when a retreat participant with a persistent sniff sat right behind me. The meal time rules seemed to have gotten more complicated too, or did I just not realise the last time? Breakfast: noble silence, fill tables and only eat when table full with at least six others. Lunch: Noble silence, sit anywhere, only eat when everyone is seated at all tables, don’t get up for at least 20 minutes. Dinner: Noble silence, sit anywhere, start eating straight away. My back started to hurt from sitting unsupported, the Sister kept going on and on… Too slow, collection of mats at the end, too slow… but I’m also able to leave it be better than the last time.

I’m diving into the anonymity of the group of participants without feeling alone. Where else can one be with a large group of people from all  over the world without the need to talk or interact and without feeling left out? Maybe I’m excluding myself too much. It’s still early days, the group still needs to find itself.

I still feel rather restless, like as if I should be doing something, can’t stay down very long, get up and walk, slow walking. I’m somewhat in a hurry to I don’t know where. It must be my anxiety, though I always thought it is enthusiasm, curiosity drive. The lump in my throat came up during walking meditation but went again at some point. During the committed quiet time at lunch and while weeding during working mediation I felt trapped, angry, impatient and had a strong urge to run.

The last time I was here it took me 48 hours to unexpectedly cry. It was crucial for me in my process of letting go and I’m hoping it will happen again this time. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.

 

 

When time allows

Have you ever noticed how slow time passes when you don’t check for time?

Having purposefully left my mobile phone switched off over the weekend I find myself swimming in a see of calm and peace with very little worry for anything other than making the most of each moment. And the moments keep coming. Every now and again I throw a casual glance at the kitchen clock when I happen to pass by and am left wondering why there is still so much time of the day left. This is a beautiful feeling and I am savouring every long moment of it.

time

The need to check my phone for missed calls, messages, emails, the weather, news and facebook updates had become obsessive. And I don’t even like it! It’s the reward centre of my dear brain that urges my nervous system to act and find new stimulation to increase my happiness, and thus a lot of time is wasted picking up my phone and checking stuff. But instead of making me happier I felt increasingly more stressed.

I just finished reading “The Time Keeper” by Mitch Albom which has a crucial message about the invention of time: “Once we began to chime the hour we lost the ability to be satisfied. There was always a quest for more minutes, more hours, faster progress to accomplish more in each day. The simple joy of living between sunrises was gone. Everything man does today to be efficient, to fill the hour, does not satisfy. It only makes him hungry to do more. Man wants to own his existence. But no one owns time. When you are measuring life, you are not living it.”

So I urge you to claim back your time, stop watching it go by and start living it! Go out and brush through the yellow autumn leaves on the ground, listen to the wind in the trees, watch that squirrel jump about, smile back at the occasional burst of sun and for once, even if it is just for that one moment, forget that time exists!

Have a lovely day!
Anna

That New Year Feeling

As the end of the year drew closer I felt inspired to create a new vision board for the New Year.

I thumped through pages and pages of magazines with beautiful photos and inspiring quotes, following a feeling that I had for the New Year. It is a humbling feeling, much calmer and peaceful than the past couple of years. I will be finishing university in the summer and am looking forward to resting during the latter half of the year. And I have achieved quite a fair amount in the past year. New opportunities have opened, my role at work has changed fundamentally and I as a person have equally grown and changed. Now I feel the need to take some time to adapt to those changes, to re-centre and find my save ground again on which I can stand and feel safe while I figure out what kind of person I am now.

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“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Ghandi – Dreaming, waking, sleeping, devoting. – This is it (Thich Nhat Hanh). – “Be present where you are.”

The end result of ripping through magazine pages was the above vision board. I felt the need to use my native language German for it, something that I have not done so far. It was this Christmas that I had seen most of my family in Germany, some of whom I hadn’t seen for six or more years. It made me more aware again about my roots and my origin.

There had been a rift within our family for a few years and for Christmas my brother and I had written “Love Letters” to family members based on Thich Nhat Hanh. The idea is that when we acknowledge the good in others it might not only help them see it too but it might also break down old habits and create change where there had been old patterns preventing communication between individuals. It partially worked and we sincerely believe that whatever seed we planted with this that it now can grow until the time is right.

The small circle of “This is it” on the collage is also from Thich Nhat Hanh representing the arrival in the present moment where one only breathes and smiles. It goes together with the big yellow  “Be present where you are”, to fully emerge and participate in every moment. This leads me onto the many roses on my collage which I felt really drawn to. I have plans to plant some more roses next year and I would like to have plenty of time to “smell the roses”.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” by Gandhi will be my mantra for the next year. Instead of preaching to simply be what I believe in. For me this notion is a much calmer and more humbling perspective than my last few years of actively breaking down convention to create positive change.

The big Buddha face in the centre is a painting by a lady called Maurah and it simply spoke to me with it’s calm presence and air of “this is it”. The smaller Buddha figure underneath holds the teaching mudra, which is another aspect that I feel drawn to in my life. To live and teach by example, not only by theory but by practice.

Dreaming, waking, sleeping, devoting – going for a welly boot walk by the sea, following the never ending circle of life. To arrive within myself, to breathe, to smile, to walk slowly. It  surely sounds like a beautifully mellow 2015 😉

Happy New Year to you all!

Love
Anna

Beyond Words

Writing for me is coupled with emotions, an urge to express myself and my feelings, something that can often be difficult to put into words. However, the process of finding words to describe emotions has been hugely beneficial in that it made me look at myself and help me understand the connections between my feelings and the way I react to them. Often I found myself looking for more information on topics I was writing about and even learned a thing or two on the way.

And I can certainly say that I have changed a great deal since I began writing a couple of years ago, even believe that the writing process helped me to lay some issues from the past at rest. After the initial burp of endless blog posts I have calmed down a little. As if I have found my inner peace at last. I don’t seem to get outraged so much no more, often don’t even feel like writing about thoughts that pop up. I find myself smiling at them and watch them flutter away like butterflies.

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Reading through some of my past blog posts I find a lot of wisdom and am often surprised at the almost accidental knowledge and insights that I unearth while writing. Whether anyone else has benefitted from my posts I won’t know for sure, but I am greatly reassured by the vast knowledge that is seemingly hidden within me, be it inspired from a higher source or simply just hidden from view, only available when the present moment requires it.

Recently I have become very angry and upset with the electronic developments of our time. What good are they to humanity in the long run, especially since we are depleting the planet of its natural resources to fund them. We’re getting way too dependent on them and won’t be able to live without them, which makes me very sad. I got so angry with Facebook and mobile phones that I came to the point where I silently made the decision to cut any electronic related hassle out of my life. I even refused to write another blog. Easier said than done. Because how can I condemn all the other users of electronic gadgets but still use it myself? And where was all the anger coming from anyway?

The funny insight came after I had calmed down a little and I realised how threatened I felt by a device or system that wasn’t actually posing any direct threat to me. It was just my own dissatisfaction with the development of machines and the thoughtless use of consumers using them that upset me. Once I had acknowledged that I took a deep breath, dropped the anger and allowed for the clever gadgets to co-exist without interrupting my peace of mind. For it is presently not within my capacity to prevent humanity from using any electronic equipment and revert to prehistoric living standards. All I can do is find my own peace of mind and live a happy life which maybe others will take note of and begin to make small changes themselves. The secret is to take advantage of today’s clever gadgets with a mindful approach but to not be sucked into their mindless maze of activities and waste precious present moments of your life.

Ask yourself: Am I taking a photo or am I living the moment?

It is so important to find peace of mind, and yet so difficult to actually achieve it. Years of practice doesn’t sound promising to most and albeit it is necessary if you want to permanently achieve mental calmness, so the process starts with the very first minute that you simply close your eyes and take a deep breath. Note the thoughts that arise, smile at them and let them move on with the wind and the clouds. If a persistent thought won’t leave you in peace, maybe consider writing about it and find out what it tries to tell you.

Happiness is a peaceful mind, not a Facebook update 😉

Love
Anna

What makes you Happy?

The question is not whether to believe or not believe, or whether one religion is more true than another, or whether confession is going to make you a better person, or if there is a life after death…

The simple truth is that we all strive for some form of happiness.

For some this may mean a big family, others prefer a nomadic existence in isolation. A child gazing up to a balloon, an athlete winning a gold medal, getting that job, laying at the beach in the sun. There are those that want to earn loads of money to live a splendid life when they retire and those who have learned that possessions alone don’t bring about happiness.

Another simple truth may be that most people don’t intend to cause harm, they just don’t know that what they do is bad because they either grew up believing it is acceptable or can only see the benefit for themselves and lack the insight necessary to see that their benefit may harm others. Apart from a few psychopaths who really simply don’t care.

And among all these questions – polarities – of what is considered right and wrong and who actually decides who is right or wrong, lets just decide we are neither right nor wrong, we simple follow different ways to our very own happiness, which are all acceptable, as long as they don’t harm anyone else.

“When the thought of someone’s decapitated head upsets you, that is love”

it says in the silly movie “The Dictator”. Silly, and slightly wrong, yet quite true in view of our universal responsibility, which I had previously mentioned here.

As Raimon Panikkar put it so aptly:
Our responsibility is based on the response we give to ourselves, to our being, because our being is constitutively related to all other beings. We have responsibility towards others (legal) and to ourselves (ethical). We are not just responsible for our actions but also for our thoughts.

The seat of our responsibility lies not in the good or bad example we set, not in the good or bad effect we have on others, but in our very being. The seat is inside us, it is ourselves. Aware of our intrinsic responsibility in our very being, we do not frantically run to influence other people or “convert” them to our ways by extrinsic means. Instead it is the purity of heart that counts and the transparency of our lives.”

With that in mind I breathe in deeply and breathe out unhindered, cherishing the moment, the pure act of air entering and leaving my body, being grateful to be able to sit, walk, smile, knowing that I am an incredible individual with many talents.

These talents of mine don’t need to be forced onto the world. They merely exist inside of me to filter trough the masses as and when needed. Timing is crucial, as a mere demonstration of a talent could be misunderstood and lead to confusion in those who are not yet ready to learn from it.

When you learn to follow your breath, you will intrinsically know the right timing and be in tune with the universal ebb and flow of life.

Ultimate happiness lies in the breath of the present moment. Here I dwell in serene calmness and smile as I watch the world go by.

There is way too much noise and information out there. Put aside your phone for a moment, switch off the telly, close the iPad and stop the music. Listen, breathe, smile. Close your eyes and simply be.

And it is okay not to talk about it on Facebook 😉

Love
Anna

Smile Breathe Walk

The first thing I learned about mindfulness was that it is important to smile at yourself, to smile at your thoughts, to breathe and to walk. “If you can do these things, you will be happy”, said the sister at Plum Village.

The practice of mindfulness can bring a little more ease into our everyday life. Breathing deeply  and following the natural flow of our breath in and out of our body for a few minutes is a simple tool to arrive in the present moment, to feel calm and be at peace with yourself.

Calligraphy by Tich Nhat Hanh

A brilliant help on the path of mindfulness is the mindfulness bell. Any kind of sound – a bell, ringing phone, door bell, beeping car – can be utilised to bring our awareness back to our breath and most importantly, to drop those tight shoulders. Common side effects include no more neck pain, a serene happiness and reduced anxiety.

If you would like to make use of the mindfulness bell you can use this clever gadget that you can install on your computer, or run via your web browser and that you can set to a preferred time or let it surprise you at random. www.mindfulnessdc.org/bell/index.html

My singing bowl – the perfect mindfulness bell!

I even extended the idea of using any sound to bring me back to the present moment to someone screaming outside, which used to infuriate me, but has now become a reason for me to simply focus on my breathing and to smile. Believe it or not, I actually sleep through most of the midnight screamers now. Pure bliss 🙂

By living more consciously aware of yourself and your surroundings you can arrive in the present moment any time. Another tool is the practice of slow walking, or walking meditation. Walking not to get somewhere but simply to walk for the sake of walking, breathing, smiling, slowing down and giving the present moment a chance to catch up with you.

Brothers and sisters walking slowly at Plum Village, France

I quite often walk along our seafront in Eastbourne, UK at low tide and decided I am going to invite others along to share the practice of mindfulness and help them to slow down a little and become more peaceful.

So if you live somewhere around Eastbourne, UK, or are planning to visit, and would like to join me on a mindful low tide walk, follow me on Facebook or Twitter where I will announce when I will be going. This will be very sporadic, whenever I am free and it happens to be low tide, and quite likely on a short term notice.

The walk will be very slow and in silence, but there will be a little time after and before for questions. Make sure you are there at least 5 minutes before the time stated, I will not wait. As a meeting point I suggest the old fountain outside of Fusciardie’s Ice Cream Parlour. I like to walk barefoot, and like to encourage others to do the same, but feel free to wear wellies or water proof shoes if it would make you feel more comfortable. There is absolutely no charge, besides, air is free to breathe as well 😉

However, if you wish to donate something, I am collecting for urgent maintenance and repair work in Plum Village, aiming to send all donations over in December as a Christmas present.

Bell Tower and Lotus Pond at Plum Village, France

Plum Village was established over 30 years ago, and time is passing which means that there are cracks in the walls and boards falling from the ceilings (yes it came down right outside my room door 🙂 ). There also are a lot of Government regulations and expectations to live up to, and if things don’t improve, Plum Village will not be able to take any more visitors, which would be a great loss. It is such a tranquil place of peace and calm, which also supports many Vietnamese living under very poor conditions in Vietnam.

If you are unable to join me in Eastbourne, why not practice on your own. Walk slowly, breath deeply and smile to yourself 😉

Enjoy living and breathing in the present moment!

Love
Anna

The Breath of Life

I have come to see more and more recently, how important our breathing is and how distant we become from ourselves if we are unable to connect with our breath. Breath is life – life is breathing. We could possibly survive without food for about a month or two, without water for two to three days but without oxygen only for a few minutes.

Breathing deeply can help to maintain the connection to our body and inner self. Taking a deep breath and following the natural flow of your breathing in and out of your body for a few minutes can be a simple way to celebrate being alive. It can bring you back into the present moment and also give you a sense of calmness and being at peace with yourself.

However, not everyone is able to breathe properly, me included. I spent a week at Plum Village recently, a Buddhist retreat in France, and there I learned to use any kind of sound – a bell, ringing phone, door bell, beeping car – as a way of centring, bringing my awareness back to my breath and most importantly, to drop my shoulders.

Small Bell at the Lower Hamlet, Plum Village

At first, this was strange to me, I actually tensed up even more whenever I heard the mindfulness bell, as if I innately feared something bad was going to happen. At the same time I realised that my breath literally got stuck in my chest, I was unable to breathe properly. It was as if someone was holding a tight grip on my neck and shoulders, as if I was doing something I shouldn’t do, as if I wasn’t allowed to be alive.

This actually translates nicely onto my father’s decision to have me aborted. His words posed a danger to my most basic need, being alive and breathing, and once I took my first breath they unconsciously haunted me for most of my life, giving me the feeling that I shouldn’t be here, alive, breathing.

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

I had some deep revelations and a lot of letting go during my stay at Plum Village, which you can read about in the category “On the Road to Mindfulness“, and soon I began to relax whenever I heard the bell. I even began to long for the sound of mindfulness to bring me back to peace.

Back home I found this clever gadget, a mindfulness bell that you can install on your computer, or run via your web browser and that you can set to a preferred time or let it surprise you at random. www.mindfulnessdc.org/bell/index.html

I even extended the idea of using any sound to bring me back to the present moment to someone screaming outside, which used to infuriate me, but has now become a reason for me to simply focus on my breathing and to smile. Believe it or not, I actually sleep through most of the midnight screamers now 🙂

It was a couple of months before I learned about the mindfulness bell that I felt the urge to get myself another singing bowl in addition to the one I had bought in Nepal a few years ago. It is only now that I realise that this little bowl serves as the perfect mindfulness bell! 🙂

By living more consciously aware of yourself and your surroundings you can celebrate life at any moment in time. Another tool I would like to carry forth from Plum Village is the practice of slow walking, or walking meditation. Walking not to get somewhere but simply to walk for the sake of walking, breathing, slowing down and arriving in the present moment.

While I was doing just that today along our seafront on the sand that the low tide had revealed, I decided I am going to invite others along whenever I do a walk like that to spread the teaching of mindfulness and help others to slow down and become more peaceful within themselves.

Monks and Nuns walking slowly at Son Ha, Plum Village

So if you read this and you live somewhere around Eastbourne, or are planning to visit, and would like to join me on a mindful low tide walk along Eastbourne’s seafront, follow me on Facebook or Twitter where I will announce when I will be going. This will be very sporadic, whenever I am free and it happens to be low tide, and quite likely on a short term notice.

The walk will be very slow and in silence, but there will be time after and before for questions. Make sure you are there at least 5 minutes before the time stated, I will not wait. As a meeting point I suggest the old fountain outside of Fusciardie’s Ice Cream Parlour. I like to walk barefoot, and like to encourage others to do the same, but feel free to wear wellies or water proof shoes if it would make you feel more comfortable. There is absolutely no charge, besides, air is free to breathe as well 😉

However, if you wish to donate something, I would like to collect for urgent maintenance and repair work in Plum Village, aiming to send all donations over in December as a Christmas present. Plum Village is such a tranquil place of peace and calm, which also supports a lot of Vietnamese living under very poor conditions in Vietnam.

My room was in Persimmon House at the Lower Hamlet, Plum Village

Plum Village was established over 30 years ago, and time is passing which means that there are cracks in the walls and boards falling from the ceilings (yes it came down right outside my room door :)).  There also are a lot of Government regulations and expectations to live up to, and if things don’t improve, Plum Village will not be able to take any more visitors, which would be a great loss.

Bell Tower and Lotus Pond at Lower Hamlet, Plum Village

If you are unable to join me, why not practice on your own. Walk slowly, breath deeply and smile to yourself 😉

Enjoy living and breathing in the present moment!

Love
Anna

Mindfulness in Reality

So how do I integrate the practices of mindfulness I had learned at Plum Village into my daily life? Whereas it is possible while I make an effort, it is also more difficult than I had thought. 

While on holiday one has time and it is easier to fully dedicate myself to meditate, slow down and relax. But back at home in every day life, there is always something that needs to be done which causes distractions followed by stress.

Even though I take the time to sit and breathe, my mind wants to carry on planning the day and get things done. And it really doesn’t help that I have loads of photos to sort through and a very slow computer to do it with! 🙂

I’m loosing all my mindfulness over it… Does mindfulness require a good working computer?

Although I am generally more at ease and less stressed in most situations, I also feel that all my joy and excitement has fallen to the wayside, overshadowed by a soft blanket of peace and calm. My first day back at work was almost surreal, colleagues joked I look lost, asking whether I was away for too long and had forgotten what to do. How can I get back to being more actively joyful without directly toppling over into the cycle of mania and depression?

It is almost as if my body and mind are fighting to prevail over my soul. I notice pure anger welling up as my computer stops working once again… I scream out loud. Not mindful at all. I decide it is time for a new computer.

I see that the true lesson of mindfulness is not to master being mindful but to integrate mindfulness into daily life. And to not get upset or angry at our or other’s unmindful behaviour but to use our awareness to be more mindful in the future. Our behaviour will be noticed by others, who in turn will reflect it back to us. How would you like to be treated? Treat others the same!

Another new behaviour of mine is that I don’t feel like eating meat. After a week of wholesome vegan cuisine at Plum Village I am left wanting more of it and even feel repulsed at the thought of eating meat. It is almost like eating my own brother. At the same time I don’t like to call myself a vegetarian, it is so limiting. I have been eating meat since I came back, but I get less and less inclined to carry on, and more and more excited about trying vegan dishes. They are just so easy and delicious!

Interestingly, a lot of people assume that I already am vegetarian. When I ask what gave them the idea, they shrug their shoulders and say they just thought I was. Is it because most of my meals are vegetarian or because I eat a lot of salad, or because I promote raw chocolate? I don’t know, but does it matter?

Nope 🙂

To a mindful life and new ways of thinking!

Love
Anna

A Mindful Journey Home

When the bell invites me for breakfast the last time, I step outside into the warm rays of the sun that are filtering through the leaves, into the fresh morning air, sensing the cold, as the cuckoo greets me with his call.

Bell tower at Lower Hamlet in Plum Village

Reality sucked me in like the East Australian Current does with the sea turtles. At first I withstood the current, smiling, driving far too slowly through the rolling green hills as I leave Plum Village behind me. But all too soon did other drivers, traffic jams and time catch up with me. I maintained my conscious breathing, which did help to remain calm. It was difficult, however, to find decent food. I just didn’t want to eat meat. And everything had cream of some sort or another. When I actually found a salad bar along the motorway they didn’t even have green salad leaves.

After a ten hour drive north, I arrive with my protector on the roof in the pretty country village of Mont-Dol, where I had booked in for two nights. This time I took full advantage of my protector and he duly took me to the nearest toilet or petrol station whenever I asked for it, even if it meant that I “accidentally” misread the sat-nav.

The BnB is a beautiful farm building and is run by a lovely couple, accompanied by two friendly dogs, a loud goose and a few horses, still, the atmosphere is noticeably different to Plum Village. People ask so many interrogative questions and the old awkwardness of having to make conversation for the sakes of it hangs in the air, all the while the TV is running in the background. In my lovely little attic room hang abstract drawings of nude ladies.

Countryside BnB in Mont-Dol

I try to accommodate the “new world” which is clashing with my inner peace like two rivers meeting and being expected to share the one and only river bed. Outside it thunders and the heavens are pouring tons of hail over us. There was thunder the evening I arrived at Plum Village… I remember one of the nuns saying yesterday that “It isn’t other people, songs, movies, books etc. that make us sad or happy, but that they merely bring up the sadness or happiness which is already in us”.

Walking towards Mont St Michel

The whole next day I spend on Mont St Michel, a granite rock island topped with a picturesque abbey and even has a few houses dating back to the middle ages, which are now mainly hotels, restaurants and gift shops. Up the stairs, down the stairs, left round, right round and then down to the beach and round the island rock at low tide. Pretty impressive!

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View of St Aubert’s Chapel at the beach of Mont St Michel

The following morning I wake up early, as if my body unconsciously joined in the morning meditation at Plum Village, and as I look outside the window a huge full moon is hovering over misty fields. I nearly lost all my mindfulness trying to open the window, but it wouldn’t budge, so I only got a blurry impression of the mighty scene. Oh how I wished I was at Mont St Michel now! Why didn’t I at least go outside? Because I was at the top floor of a tree story farm house whose stairs creaked like nobody’s business and it was Sunday after all and I worried the owners might think I try to sneak away without paying 🙂

Mindfulness is to enjoy the moment when it happens and not to look at it on a photo later.

When I enter the dining room for breakfast I naturally bow as I see a monk in cream coloured robe sitting at the table. Oh dear, I wonder if I shouldn’t have. Plum Village has properly conditioned me 🙂

Nearly two weeks driving through Europe including 6 countries and many toll stations on the last leg of my travels, and I was back again at the familiar ferry port in Calais. Earlier I had found myself suddenly and unexpectedly on a rather high bridge crossing the Seine estuary, clinging to the wheel of my car for dear life as I reach the middle of the bridge which was way too high above the water.

On the ferry I get myself an über-expensive meal because I am proper hungry and as I sit by the window eating, watching the French coast pass by, I feel like the Queen of England 🙂

As soon as I have finished eating I am outside, pointing my noise into the wind. With no more spaces left on my memory card, eliminating the chance of taking any further photos, I surrendered fully to the present moment. With view of the French and English coastlines as time grants me an extra hour, I find a place to simply be. Soon the first seagulls announce land and the familiar white chalk cliffs welcome me home. We even get an extra tour along the cliffs thrown in for free as the port wasn’t ready to take us in and we had to wait for a little while.

Chalk cliffs at Dover

The last couple hours driving on English soil pass in no time and I find myself back home, sitting on the sofa, smiling blissfully hoping that this feeling will last.

And I totally forgot to add the map in all my blissfulness 🙂

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Travelled from Plum Village (4) to Mont-Dol (5).

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And from Mont-Dol back to Eastbourne.

Truly Arriving at the Sixth Day of Mindfulness

Frogs of the Lotus Pond at Plum Village

As the wind rustles through the trees, we are standing around the lotus pond, listening to the frog’s song as they jump and play around. The sun is out and the daisies are smiling up at me from the green grass and I can’t help but smile back at them. We had butterflies passing by, spiders and ants crossing our path while walking mindfully through the plum tree orchard. And as the wind blew through the bamboo, I knew that I had learned something new. As I pass underneath the sweet scent of the elderberry tree I pause and feel at peace as I reach to smell the roses and admire the beautiful orange-yellow against the stone wall. I have finally arrived, I am truly home.

Having finally arrived, being truly at home expressed itself to me as an immense feeling of calmness, a deep sense of happiness, the absence of all worries, just being present in the moment. All my tensions and funny gut sensations seem to have vanished. At our last Dharma sharing I made a feeble attempt to communicate this sensation of peace to the others, which I had no words for. And while my confusing array of words was simultaneously translated into French, the French speakers looked at me with slight bewilderment.

How do you express a feeling and put it into words? I compared it to being in love – just different. One of the Vietnamese sisters said she fully understands what I mean, because many here have experienced the same sensation of pure happiness and she was happy for me to have found it here too. A French sister called it “the Buddha within”, saying that I can carry it within me wherever I go, but that it is also important to nourish it well. Those comments already added great nourishment to my inner Buddha 🙂

“If a feeling is so intrinsically beautiful that it can’t be expressed by words,
it can only be expressed by living it.”
Anna

“Water your flowers”

The language barrier meant that there were some participants that I didn’t talk much to. It is interesting to notice that something in me assumed that we wouldn’t have anything in common either. A few days ago I was thinking to myself how easily we meet new people and judge them straight away on first sight and then slowly get to know them by listening to their Dharma sharing and suddenly you begin to feel a connection with them.

Today a French participant had said this about a mushroom: “Up to now I never liked the big Asian mushrooms, just didn’t like the look of them, with their big wobbly shape. Today I tried one. At first I just looked at it, deeply, until I could sense the connection with it to the whole cosmos. Then I ate it, with every bite recognizing and assessing the texture, the taste, the smell, and I began to like it, just the way it is.” The intensity and huge meaning behind it touched me deeply, particularly because I was sitting next to her while she was poking around at her food while I caught myself thinking why she wasn’t just eating it…

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I was surprised to see how many participants here have problems with their parents, either not being fully accepted or trying to live up to individual expectations. Once again quite aptly we were watching a Dharma talk by Thay on video about children and parents today, suggesting that we should aim to see our parents as 5 year olds in order to help us develop compassion towards them and to enable us to heal the pain we associate with them. And it came to me that parents are also just people with problems they are trying to heal. And they then try to create a world for their children that fulfils their own dreams and ideas, believing they are making it better than their own childhood. When children begin to work on realising their own dreams and ideas, parents might meet them with misunderstanding and criticism, purely because they think their view is better, for they surely must know it best. Who gives us the ideal of how parents or children should be?

Some people came with similar expectations to Plum Village. Some left earlier because they didn’t think there was enough teaching. Others said they didn’t get their money’s worth out of this week. Once again, what are they basing their evaluation on? Some only want to come to meet the honourable Thich Nhat Hanh. He actually has written over hundred books on the theory and philosophy of Plum Village, you don’t need to come here to be taught what you can read in them anywhere in the world. Here you can come to practice mindfulness. I came without any expectations, only hoping that I would be able to calm down a little. This I have done, together with unexpected profound insights and wonderful occurrences. The arising uneasiness from the negative comments I settled with deep breathing.

The welcome letter in our room (click to enlarge)

Though my back still aches during sitting meditation, the pain seems to have moved downwards below the shoulder blades. I am pleased to say that today I actually felt light while sitting in meditation, as it should feel like, unlike the past days, where I always felt like a heavy block of pain. Having observed the brothers and sisters sitting gracefully in peaceful silence, I wonder how long it took them to sit trough the pain until they were able to meditate without being bothered by pain.

Replaying some conversations I had with brothers and sisters or remembering individuals I had listened to during Dharma talks and sharing, I wonder whether one decides to become a monk or nun because one feels unable to cope with or to have failed in “normal life”? Is it a way out, like running away or is it possibly the true path of awareness that the “normal world” can’t actually give us what we really need to live in the here and now? For what kind of life is it to be running from here to there and simultaneously be thinking about yesterday and tomorrow, if one could joyfully live every moment to the full right here and now? Who determines how fast the world should turn around itself to function properly?

Buddha statue at the Lower Hamlet

Together with all the issues we seem to have with our parents, I wonder whether we could be happier living alone.  Having come to the understanding that monks and nuns live apart from each other so they could devote themselves undisturbed to finding inner peace, yet still live under a shared roof, the thought arises whether God only created Adam to share the wonders of his creations with someone else? Because what worth is there to being able to create if one can’t show it to someone? Is this maybe the reason why us humans on principle can’t be alone?  I myself am very creative and wonder what it would be worth if there was nobody who I could create things for. What would I do if I was the last human on earth?

The last gongs of the big bell announce noble silence. I pause, breathing in and out. Standing under green foliage, I watch a yellowing leaf gliding to the ground as a couple of birds fly up from the trees toward the evening sky.

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I sit in the small meditation hall on my own for the last time. Tomorrow I will already leave Plum Village, though I am not sad about departing, rather excited to share my insights and new practices with the world.

The air is crisp and cool and fresh from the rain, the dark blue evening sky is clear. The frogs and crickets are singing their song, in the distance the sound of a tawny owl. I watch in awe as the moon rises bright and big above the bell tower roof.

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A Serene Fifth Day of Mindfulness

A grey lazy morning, rain is mixing with the water of the lotus pond, a gentle wind, otherwise silence. Can’t possibly walk past the water drops on the roses without taking a photo.

 I think I have finally understood the table manners now. Fill empty seats at a table before sitting at an empty table, bow before sitting down, wait until everyone is seated at the table and bow before beginning to eat. When finished eating, bow before standing up, wash up your plates and remain silent for the whole procedure 😉

Cat outside dining room

Cat outside dining room

I have been watching many “random acts of kindness” or rather “rescue missions” of small creepy crawlies and invertebrates the last days. Just like flowers are left untroubled by slow walking Buddhists. It gives you an idea what impact mindfulness could have on the planet if we were all to incorporate it into our daily lives.

The bell and I

My stay here has greatly helped me to breathe better or slower. My shoulders are also so much more relaxed and I can now hear a clicking noise every now and again when I take a deep breath, which might not sound good, but compared to the previous tightness, is definitely a positive change. At first I was unable to join in with the group singing, partly because I didn’t know the texts and melody, but also due to shame and embarrassment. As the days went by I began to recognize some of the songs and began to sing along. Today I even sang a short German song in the group on my own, which was complemented with cheerful hand fluttering, for here nobody claps their hands.

Small bell

It dawns on me why monasteries separate men from women, because I understand now that it is about finding inner peace, which is impossible to find if there is someone who you just can’t get out of your head. For if I have found inner peace, I can engage peacefully with the other sex without my head being full to the brim with perplexity. And I realise how perfect it is that I have found a loving long-term partner, who gives me all the time and space in the world when I need it and yet is also there to listen, talk and share my life with. Even though I might at times long for the excitement we felt when we had just met, I also know that these feelings won’t last in any relationship, and if I were to keep looking for these feelings of excitement, they will be all I will ever have. For once they will stop me from finding inner peace and secondly experience the beauty of real love, which develops over time. Just like wine, as the French will tell you 🙂

View over plum orchard at Plum Village

Today’s walking meditation leads us past the plum trees with a beautiful view onto Plum Village. We stop for a mindful moment and I smile when I see that the tall grass is bowing to me in the wind and I bow back. A purple flower is standing proud amidst the green border. My head prickles under the sun. I’m breathing in and I’m breathing out as feet slowly pace ahead again.

The bowing grass and the purple flower

Working meditation was on the schedule again and I was once again allocated to remove the cobwebs, this time in the big meditation hall. The little nuns made the most of it and took full advantage of my height, even tying a long bamboo stick to my mob so I could reach the high ceiling. I wondered what more figurative cobwebs there were  that I still needed to get rid off, didn’t I already remove enough during my stay?

Big meditation hall at Plum Village

When I reached the far end of the hall and began to remove cobwebs around the magnificent stained glass window depicting Buddha, I came to the conclusion that the last few figurative cobwebs were still clouding my full devotion to whatever there is that makes us live. As I looked at the vibrant colours of the glass, I promised myself to continue practicing mindfulness, as it seemed to be a practice of real worth to the inner self, which is where devotion should be aimed at first and foremost.

Stained glass window in the big meditation hall

Yesterday I had talked to the brother about how I don’t like to be part of a group, especially not a religious belief, since I don’t believe in a one and only belief and that I don’t like the rules that come with such group formations. This was reason enough for me to decline my holy communion when I was 14, and I wasn’t prepared to let my search for the truth be blinded by somebody’s teaching of their truth.

The golden light of the evening sun

But what I had come to like at Plum Village was the ease of simply going with the flow of your breath. Yes, there are certain rules, like the table manners for example, which are really just courtesy rules, whereas the teachings are mainly based on the heart, on being in the present moment, being mindful of yourself and your surroundings and to practice for your own inner peace. And like the brother had said: “You don’t need to be a Buddhist in order to practice.”

A cheeky noble silence cherry picking

As noble silence sets in me and my room mate are reaching for red cherries, giggling and whispering merrily.

Cheeky cherries

Celebrating Wesak on the Fourth Day of Mindfulness

Stick exercise! Equipped with a bamboo stick matching my height, I stand in a circle in the dim morning light while a faint rain is drip dropping on my rain coat. Wielding my stick precariously over my head, stretching with it behind my back, this is fun!

 

Early morning stick exercise

Today we are leaving the Lower Hamlet again in the white mini vans to celebrate Wesak, the Buddha’s Birthday, at the Son Ha building, a short drive away. Everyone from all Hamlets gathered together again for a few songs, wholesome lunch, a short walking meditation and obviously for the Wesak Ceremony.

Happy Wesak

The previous day, some brothers and sisters had lovingly decorated the estate. They had hung garlands along the water bank, attached flowers to the small bridge crossing the water and, on what seemed a tiny island, had set up a place with a small Buddha statue and a water basin filled with flower petals. It looked really pretty, just the weather didn’t.

Everyone gathered around the big tree to listen to the story of Buddha’s birth. The brothers, sisters and lay friends formed two lines, separating men and women, and slowly walked towards the second bridge, crossing the water, along the small strip of island towards the Buddha shrine.

Up to the very end, as it was nearly my turn, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do. Nervously observing those in front of me, I bowed, got down on my knees, scooped up a ladle of petal water and poured it over the Buddha statue. Then I put the ladle back down, bowed, stood up and walked as slowly as my nerves were letting me over the bridge and relaxed. It just doesn’t help if a large group of people is looking at me (that includes Buddhist monks).

Suddenly I felt socially very awkward. I didn’t know anyone and couldn’t see the other girls from my hamlet. It didn’t help that a fellow German lay friend recognized me from the Dharma sharing two days ago and started talking to me. It was really quite surprising to notice how different it is to talk to men after a few days among women. It threw me off balance and made me rather nervous. Even more surprising was my reaction to him saying he was getting himself a cup of tea, asking if I was having one. I said no – I simply don’t drink tea – which always seems to give off the idea that I don’t just want tea but don’t want to carry on talking either, which is never my intention. After an awkward moment he turned away to get his tea whereas my throat was blocking off again, and the feelings of rejection came flooding up, just like they had done two days ago at the dinner table.

Small bell at Son Ha

Now that was strange. I went for a slow walk to calm me down and noticed the brother from the Dharma sharing two days ago, whose story had brought up my invisible core. I approached him, bowed and asked if I could share something with him. “Of course sister”, came the open answer. I told him about my breakthrough and thanked him for sharing his story, as it did help me, unlike I had said there and then, for which I apologized again. I really liked the uncomplicated yet deep way we talked. When he said that I didn’t sound like someone who had only been here in Plum Village for a few days, rather a few years, I replied that I have been talking and thinking like this for many years, just that I don’t really listen to myself often, hence I was here hoping to find stillness so I could listen to myself.

With his tall statue and unique facial features, he stood out from the crowd of mainly short Vietnamese monks and nuns and I couldn’t help but wonder why he had curly brown hair, unlike his fellow brothers and sisters. He explained that shaving your head is a choice you make and that it is usually an obvious sign that something is going on in someone’s head if the hair is growing. I asked if he had found complete peace here with his practice of mindfulness and whether old hurts would therefore cause him no more pain. He replied that even though he had found peace here, he could still feel the pain.

I was thinking aloud whether pain is peace, or peace is to be found in pain. They both appear to be directly connected with each other. Maybe the goal is to find peace in pain? The brother made an interesting remark that stuck with me. With his big blue eyes, he seemingly looked straight into my heart when he said that if we can’t understand our parents, we might be able to find out what is going on inside of them by watching our own thoughts and habits, because it is the same genes at work.

Vegan BBQ – really good!

The scent of burning charcoal and roasting vegetables raised my interest and I went to inspect my first vegan BBQ. And it was really, really good! The many different varieties of tofu I have encountered this week is phenomenal! After lunch we are being entertained by brothers and sister with catchy songs, jokes and laughter.

Afternoon of entertainment

I did speak to the German again briefly during the afternoon, noticing again the difference, this time compared to the monk I was talking to, and how much I long for attention and also affection, not especially his, or of any other random male for that matter, but for my father’s. Though for years and years I thought it was mere attraction to the opposite sex. Now I realise that it is just the missing recognition and accordingly the missing link to a neutral male, being unable to understand fundamental differences between men and women and how to interact. Talking to the brother was like talking from soul to soul whereas talking to the German was like talking from man to woman. Is it necessary for a man to be celibate for me to not get nervous?

I had arranged to walk back to the Lower Hamlet with one of the aspirant nuns form my Hamlet so we could talk. I had asked her a few days ago if she would like to share her story with me. Neither the German nor the brother were around when we were about to leave which to me felt like unfinished business. Even if I knew I would possibly never see them again, I still had made a link with them and simply wanted to say goodbye.

Buddha Statues near Upper Hamlet

We walked towards the Upper Hamlet and I was able to see the impressive group of Buddha statues in the woods. She remarked that I was lucky to see all the hamlets within one week. That usually doesn’t happen, she said. While passing through the Upper Hamlet, we not only bump into the German for yet another banter but the brother also walked round the corner. I get to say a proper goodbye and leave with a serene feeling of happiness, which is topped by the brother driving past us a little further down the road, leaning out of the window saying ” Good luck with everything, Anna, and thank you again for sharing!”

While talking to the aspirant nun I see a lot of similarities.  I observe her talking with another brother and wonder what would happen if brothers and sisters fall in love. She explains to me later that she isn’t permitted to talk to brothers unless she has a “second body”, another nun, with her. This she finds hard, especially since she has quite a good friendship with one of the brothers. She tells me that she had come to realise that she is much happier without a relationship because it enables her to be herself, without being tied down by others. Her story resonate with me, since I used to picture myself living at a monastery when I was younger. I am in awe with the way the brothers and sisters treat each other here, with unconditional love, just like real brothers and sisters.

Both encounters, with the brother and the sister, touched me deeply. And all these other wonderful conversations, so deep and profound, with people that I had met only so briefly, left me feeling as if I had known them forever. And together with the Buddha’s birthday and last night’s ceremony on beginning anew, I also feel like I have just been born again.

A Lazy Third Day of Mindfulness

On a lazy evening followed a lazy day, where we can do whatever we like. Still, I got up before breakfast to meditate and practice yoga, which seems to come naturally to me here. It is good to have nothing else to do or not to need to go somewhere. This way I can fully emerge myself in my practice until the bell rings for breakfast.

Schedule of Lazy Day (click to enlarge)

I have to say that compared to a “normal holiday”, I feel so much more relaxed here, despite of getting up so early and sitting upright without back support for most of the day. This inner tranquillity, that I already feel after such a short time, is very pleasant.

“A true holiday begins within yourself”!

It is truly remarkable and sweet how much the nuns enjoy singing, even if they are not quite sure of the notes. They sing from their hearts, because it brings them joy, not because they want to shine.

Mindful Photography = take time to actually smell the roses!

Mindful Photography – try that 🙂

Most of my three weeks in New Zealand, nearly a decade ago, was spent driving around the north island, jumping in and out of the car, taking photos to capture as much as possible of this beautiful country at the bottom of the world, forgetting to actually be there in the moment. I have long since been aware that I keep doing this. Taking photos to marvel at after instead of looking at the actual motive. Now I am vowing to myself once again that in future I will take time to look at the motive more with my eyes than with my camera lens.

Before lunch today, me and my room mate decided to discover the area around Plum Village. We strolled up along the road towards Loubes-Bernac in fluorescent vests, which the nuns had asked us to do, since there are actually no pavements or walking paths here.

Yes I am a tourist and I am fine with that!

As seen from Loubes-Bernac

We took plenty of mindful photos of the town’s church and then carried on along the road, hoping it would take us in the promised circle back to Plum Village.

Church in Loubes-Bernac

When it was nearly lunch time we realised that we would never make it back to Plum Village in time for lunch. We asked a lady in a car whether she knew a quick way back to “Village des Pruniers” to which she looked at us in disbelief and offered us a lift back. Maybe we were actually lost, just a little bit 🙂

Plum Village Sign

After a few minutes of driving back along the road we had come from, it was now actually raining, we arrived at the Plum Village car park, excited like little children at Christmas. We exuberantly thanked the kind lady, even threw a few bowings in, just because it had become so natural for us to do, which seemed to delight the kind lady, and we cheerfully went on to have lunch.

Soaking beans for dinner

Today I realised that just chewing slower isn’t really mindful eating if you are at the same time already digging in your bowl, preparing your spoon for the next load. So I tried to wait until my mouth was completely empty and then began filling my spoon. What a difference! It took me twice as long to finish my meal, which I really enjoyed. This meant that I even got caught out by the mindfulness bell twice 🙂

The big meditation hall

In the evening we had a “New Beginning Ceremony”, which follows on nicely after yesterday’s revelation. The ceremony involves a lot of  “touching the earth” practice and I vowed to myself that I would leave the past behind, to live unattached by it, to accept it as it is and to start anew from today. This beginning anew can be done as many times as you like. Listening to the nun reading from a book, I begin to like the idea of it more and more, understanding that this practice helps to get rid of old grudges you hold towards others and to simply start again with a new mindset.

Buddha statue outside Dharma Nectar Hall

It differs slightly to my usual “trying to forget and get over it” in that it is actually leaving the past behind and not just jumping over it in an attempt to move on. But it also doesn’t mean you simply forget, but that you understand the mistakes of yourself and others and try to make it better the next time. It would also help if you share this with another person, particularly one that you have a disagreement with. If only it was that easy…

Swing under big oak tree

I’m spending the sunny evening on the swing, hanging from the massive oak tree with its deep green roof of leaves, listening to the evening song of a nun with the regular gong of the big bell inbetween. Apart from that, the wind in the trees and the distant song of birds, there is silence. Even the frogs in the pond are silent.

Big Bell

The Sound of Eternity

In 2010 I jetted off to spend three weeks teaching young monks English at Buddhist monasteries in Nepal. That was a great experience in its own, however, what I took back morphed into something even bigger than I hadn’t seen coming.

Discovering a different culture and learning from it can be profound. I had a small list on me with things I was hoping to bring back. Among prayer flags, incenses, mala beads and a small Buddha figurine was also a small singing bowl. These I had seen here and there in the West but they didn’t bear any connection had I simply bought them. It means so much more to me to have a personal memory or experience attached to an object.

When I was unexpectedly introduced to a large healing bowl atop the Swayambhunath Stupa and saw the water splashing up when hit with a mallet, I was hooked. The word “healing” did it for me since I practice subtle energy healing. And I hadn’t mentioned that to anyone there. Still I might have well simply fallen prey to a standard marketing trick, since a book of mine mentions just that, and that there are only singing bowls, no healing bowls – albeit they may have a healing influence on our body. But did it matter? No! Because I took home a beautiful bowl with mysterious inscriptures and a beautiful humming sound that evokes beautiful memories of a few short weeks away in the Himalayas.

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When I began to look more into the inscripted symbolism I found out that next to the big lotus petals on the bottom, which represent a chakra, the inscriptures along the inside wall depict the eight auspicious symbols which are the traditional offerings to the deities in Buddhist mythology. The outside wall shows the traditional prayer “Om mani peme hung” in Sanskrit symbols. The note of it is a C, which corresponds either with the base or the sacral chakra, depending on if you follow the Vedic or Tibetan belief.

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On my daily walk to the monastery in Nepal, I passed a singing bowl manufacturer who was busily hammering away on a piece of metal alloy, shaping it into a bowl. I hadn’t fully grasped the concept of singing bowls at that point and regret that I didn’t spent more time watching him. I definitely will should I ever be in Kathmandu again!

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Unfortunately, these magnificent bowls hold more mysteries than what is known about them. The tradition of making them is said to date back to the time of the Buddha – approx. 2000 years. Nowadays it is said that they are a dying art and that most knowledge about them is dying with the old bowl makers.

Singing bowls are said to have traditionally been made by hand in varying quantities of seven metals representing the seven heavenly bodies as well as the seven chakras and a corresponding musical note. However, research has found that most bowls mainly consist of copper and tin. There are two different belief systems that connect musical notes with chakras, the Tibetan and the Vedic system. But I suggest you just listen to your intuition.

Bowls originate in Asia and you can hear them being called Tibetan or Himalayan Bowls. There are also bowls that come from Japan or China. They are all basically bells that sit rather than hang but are actually not commonly found in temples or stupas. A lot of bowls are made with machinery nowadays which affects their sound and they sometimes don’t ring as long or full as the traditionally handmade bowls.

Bowls vary in size and some have a more golden colour, others might be darker. Some have symbols or inscriptures on them, others are plain.  Though the way it looks will be pleasing on the eye and an impressive object in the room, but in the end it is the sound that promotes healing.

As mentioned in my Linseed Tea blog, our body consists of about 70% of water and that it is therefore important to keep ourselves properly hydrated. Sound waves can have an influence on the fluid part of our body and can release tensions. This is called “Sound Healing”. Everything around us consists of atoms that vibrate at a different speed. Bowls, when struck, vibrate. This vibration translates onto the body, either by placing the bowl directly onto the body or carried forth by sound waves. Because of the vibrations, singing bowls are just as effective for those who are hard of hearing.

Eva Rudy Jansen describes in her book “Singing Bowls – A practical Handbook” that sound creates and arranges. She further explains that a healthy organ is well tuned, vibrating at its own frequency, whereas the frequency of a sick organ is disturbed. Singing bowls can assist to recreate the original harmonic frequency and stimulate the body to rediscover its own by making it vibrate to the frequency of the bowl so that it can vibrate independently once it is synchronized.

“Anyone who expects something from sound will make the greatest discovery by not expecting anything.” Eva Rudy Jansen

Beside the vibrations, sound can act as a focus for our mind and help us relax, calm down and shift from lower emotions to higher. Suren Shrestha says in his book “How to Heal with Singing Bowls”: “When we use sound with intention, which is the most important aspect of healing, we can direct sound vibrations to raise the body’s vibrational frequency.” He describes the vibrational influence of sound on our body fluid as “creating a mandala which is healing and relaxing”. No need to belief in any of the mysticism surround singing bowls or any of its inscriptures. They are art, sound, history and a simple tool to assist relaxation.

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A few weeks ago I acquired another smaller bowl with a more golden appearance and a magnificent and clear high sound of G. There wasn’t much information of its history available, but its sound resonated with me, which was my main interest.

I chose my singing bowls to be part of my meditation and relaxation session at our monthly Mini Retreat to share their magic, to offer participant’s the chance to get from them whatever it is that they need and to enhance overall relaxation. Do book yourself in if you would like to experience a sound bath with my singing bowls and keep hydrated with linseed tea to receive sound to the fullest! And if you are interested I would love to show you the effect of sound on water when playing the bowl when it is actually filled with water! 😉

Love
Anna

“Your sound bath/meditation was so soothing and spiritual.” Alexia

Anna with Tibetan Singing Bowl

“The need for music, the urge to dive into a world filled with colour and sound. Into absolute silence and equality. To dance under rays of sun, under a rainbow of emotions. To find complete happiness, without fear of failing. To find oneself. To master challenges. And to know in the end that it was worth it.”

Anna Hoffmann, 2004

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If you like to take part in a Mini Retreat in Eastbourne, UK, get in touch! There are still places available on all our retreats in 2013.

For more information call either below or email: info@awarenessspa.co.uk 

Elke 07986361649
Anna 07547431317
Korina 07866543782

Find us on Facebook (AwarenessSpa) and Twitter (@AwarenessSpa)!

Blessings to www.adaptatrap.co.uk for my latest singing bowl!
Also check out: www.himalayanbowls.com

Of Toy Horses and Existence

After eight years I have finally moved out of my mother’s house for good. Don’t get me wrong. I had actually left my home country of Germany seven years ago, just with a suit case and bare necessities. Most of my stuff I had left behind, knowing that they would be save where they were.

Initially I had taken most of my belongings 300 km south where I would be studying for the next year and a half, only to move them up again once I had decided to live in another country. From there, twice yearly visits turned into once yearly, but still, every time I took something that seemed important enough with me into my new home across the English Channel. It is incredible really if you think about the stuff we accumulate and hold dear. It’s our most innate habit: existence, holding on to things that define who we are.

In an interview with Ophra, the Dalai Lama remarked: “Even when a person has all of life’s comforts—good food, good  shelter, a companion—he or she can still become unhappy when encountering a  tragic situation. Physical comforts cannot subdue mental suffering, and if we  look closely we can see that those who have many possessions are not necessarily  happy. In fact, being wealthy often brings even more anxiety. On the other hand,  those who don’t have a life filled with luxury may have a home filled with  compassion, based on their choice to be content and to practice self-discipline.”
(Read more: http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/Oprah-Interviews-The-Dalai-Lama/2#ixzz2H2GUEuwD)

When my mother mentioned she might move into a much smaller accommodation, I decided it was time to rid myself of the extra belongings that had not been in use since I had left them. By no means did I think it would turn into an ordeal with the extend of a near breakdown.

It was mainly the memories that arose with each single piece from dust-covered boxes. Most were school related, arts and crafts, paintings, including end of year reports which reflected the negative impact my teacher of eight years had on my upbringing. There were notebooks with terrible handwriting and yet pretty interesting content. All my Barbie dolls plus an impressive array of horses, one of which could even walk, resembling some peculiar Michael Jackson move, providing you put batteries in. None of these I really needed, yet they were part of my childhood, part of who I once was, the part that made me who I am now. How can you just chuck that part away? You wouldn’t cut out a piece of your thigh and continue walking as if nothing had happened, would you? Yet, some people never even had the opportunity to accumulate any worldly possessions…

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After the first sorting run, the second already proved less emotional. With the third, I had thrown away another half of what I initially was unable to part with. Now I had gone through the process of remembering, the joys and pains, and had come to realise that there was no need to keep it and was finally able to let go. Though I did worry that in a decade or two I would be looking for some memorabilia, that would not be there no more. It was more about “just looking at it and remembering”. The other thing, however, was to try and fit it all into an already crammed tiny flat.

It might be a coincidence that this process of letting go also applies to a change in my diet, mainly excluding refined cane sugar, which I am currently writing about in a separate blog. Being back at my mother’s house at Christmas, the place I spent all my childhood, I find myself reverting back to the little child I once was, with the reflection of the wax candles in my eyes only merely covering up the gleam of near insanity, or child-like joy, at the sight of granny´s big Christmas plate filled with lebkuchen, stollen, biscuits, marzipan and chocolates filled with the most delicious mousse and cream, all wrapped in all the colours of the universe. And somewhere deep inside I wonder whether I will ever be able to abstain from sugar for good.

Of course, my 30-year-old self still couldn´t help itself in view of the Christmas treats, though it was more in control than the last years. I had cut down on sugar in every-day life, with the exception of festive periods. With every sugar-coated almond, chocolate coated marzipan, chocolate nougat ball, poppy crumble cake, waffle topped with hot cherries and rice pudding I ate, I said my last goodbye, knowing that if I want to change, I will have to just do it.

The same goes with my material belongings. If I want to be free and filled with happiness, I will have to just let go of things that don’t serve me no more. I know that it is about time to let go and I vow to myself that I will lovingly do so. And if it isn’t so much letting go of all worldly possessions yet, so it will begin with thought processes. The past is over and gone and has no impact on me. I acknowledge it as a stepping stone that made me who I am today. My life is full of joy, laughter and fun and I fully love myself and those around me. I choose my own future and create my life to my highest good. Wherever I go, life offers me splendid opportunities to grow. I only hold love in my thoughts, speak truth with my words and warm others with my radiant smile.

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For this is not happiness 😉

To a new year, filled with new adventures.

Love
Anna

A Sound Bath with a Difference

Last week I enjoyed my first full-length crystal bowl sound bath. I was excitedly looking forward to it after having had two short tasters in the past.

In case you don’t know, and even I had to look into it, crystal bowls are made from highly purified quartz powder (approx. 98.9% silicon quartz) which is fused together at a high temperature. They are a more recent product compared to the ancient metal singing bowls traditionally made in Tibet and Nepal. When played, these bowls emit a sound vibration which registers in the fluid of our physical as well as in our more subtle energy bodies. Sound healing is a fantastic tool which works gently, yet with a sometimes surprising intensity.

Another reason why crystal bowls in particular work is because apparently our bones, blood, brain and DNA are crystalline in structure and our cells contain silica, which is the same formula as natural quartz crystal. So when the crystal bowls are played, the crystalline cells in our body begin to vibrate at the same frequency as the bowls. You do the maths.

I have been very busy this year with a lot of major new projects and was really looking forward to the opportunity to just lie flat on the floor (the most humble and relaxing position) and enjoy a good hour of sound healing. Using the sound of my Tibetan healing bowl in my own workshops, I was ever so pleased to have someone else (the magnificent Wenche) create beautiful waves of sound that sent my body and mind into the most exquisite state of apathy.

For a long time I was even able to resist the urge to move or relieve that niggling itch until the nerves in my left hand got  the better of it and twitched involuntarily. My joints began to feel painfully stiff from my self-imposed “corpse pose”, so I began to move my hands and feet lightly when a massive bang and shattering of glass interrupted us. I knew instantly that one of the bowls must have broken and I worried that it was me. When I’m not fully in control of my physical movements and thoughts at the same time, I have in the past been blowing numerous light bulbs or other electrical equipment, not to mention the electric shocks from various metal objects. Since I learned to actively work with energies, these occurrences have lessened, but still happen now and again. I wasn’t the only one who reported sensations of restlessness before the bowl burst.

Before the start of the sound healing session, Wenche was talking about the upcoming shift of human consciousness later in the months, so it now appeared to be very auspicious, especially since she didn’t even play the bowl when it broke. The bowl was tuned to the note A, the brow chakra/third eye and had the attribute of Capricorn, whose zodiac sign we will be entering on the long-awaited day of doom and gloom, December 21st. Wenche was, however, playing the bowls on the other side, among which was the bowl associated with the heart chakra, which not only resonates more with me and my Sacred Centre work, but also leads me to another topic that I stumbled across on my research on crystal bowls.

(From www.healingcrystalbowls.com) In the ancient lands of Egypt, the healers travelled from door to door with a special healing Crystal Bowl called the “Faience Bowl”. It was tuned to the note of F# for the high heart. The ancients believed that the way to facilitate healing is by opening the high heart that connects the hearts of all beings. The high heart is the one heart that connects all hearts to the One, to spirit, to God. It is located in the thymus gland or the center for the immune system. To ancient Egyptians, it was the heart and not the brain that was the seat of emotion, thought, will and intention. Since I began my work to lead others into their heart space, their “Sacred Centre”, I have come across a few mentions and stories of like-minded people and in general the importance of moving up into the higher chakras, in conjunction with the rise of consciousness in line with December 21st.

According to Wenche, bowls don’t just shatter like that, especially not when she didn’t even play the one in question. She said it literally jumped off its rubber ring. If you want, you can see it as an auspicious sign, a sign of higher ascension and the beginning of a new age, shattering of old habits and past thinking. The third eye is associated with wisdom, higher vision and insight, but surely it would teach us a much bigger lesson by staying intact and gently opening our sixth centre instead of shocking us out of our minds. Or is that, after all, exactly what we needed?

Anyway, after the initial physical reaction to the shock of a loud noise and possible danger, I thought to myself that this is yet another perfect situation to let go of  my past fears. Interestingly, I found a suitable attribute to the third eye during research: “The state of our fears, experience, memories and facts come together to be our wisdom. The development of detachment is in this chakra. ” How very true and important this is for me. And without knowing it then, this was exactly what I did. And as the sound bath continued around me, I let it wash away my thumping heart beat together with old fears and anxieties.

Still, I had to find out what the likelihood of a crystal bowl breaking was. Spectrum Wellbeing states that “on rare occasions and not always for any apparent reason, quartz bowls have been known to shatter while they are being played. All quartz bowls are susceptible to this, though this is a rare happening and has fortunately never happened to us although we have often done some of the things we are now warning against! To minimise the risk of breaking, never play the bowl with excessive force, don’t hit the bowl with the stick, only tap lightly, keep bowls a foot apart from each other when playing, don’t play a very large bowl in a very tiny room, play on the outside of the rim and not on the inside. A 15 minute break is recommended to ensure that the energy field is not overloaded and everyone has a chance to assimilate the changes.

In the end, nobody will know for sure why it happened. The cynics will insist that any of the cautionary terms above weren’t met, whereas the spiritually minded will insist on their auspicious signs. Everyone gets out of it what they believe to be true, or just to mention another theme of the third eye chakra:  “As you think, so you become”.

If you have the chance to attend a crystal bowl sound bath, go for it! It might feel strange at first, some find they have to leave the room because it influences them strongly. You are likely to benefit most if you can just accept it and let it happen for the highest good.

Have a listen to this YouTube video if you want to know what crystal bowls sound like.

More on the ascension theory I found here.

After the sound bath we sat in a circle and, after discussing the event of the broken bowl, we were asked to describe how we feel in one word. “Immortal” came up for me, which surely can’t mean the end of everything 😉

Love
Anna

The Crack in the Egg

Ok, the egg has cracked, and it stank to heaven (it was a foul egg by the way), and somewhere deep inside of me something else has cracked. I didn’t notice it at first, but it surely opened up to something that is neither tangible nor easy to understand or put into words. Words…whatevery they mean. But it is there. Right in front of me, and I shall follow, wherever it may take me.

I wasn’t even going to blog today. I’ve been feeling very tired the last few days. Worn down from the massive thought processes winding their way through the narrow passages of my brain, creating new links to old events and opening new doors to life.

I feel beyond caring what others think, and I usually give a great deal to that. But in all honesty, it is very, very tiring, tremendously exhausting to try and please everyone. And nobody, really nobody is giving a s*** about my worries and fears. They are my own, to hold and carry around.

Now I am soo excruciatingly tired of it, I am finally ready to let go of all self-imposed expectations that have been sitting on my shoulders for a time that feels like eternity. Instead I shouldered my inner child, so that I can finally grow up without being under continuous scrutiny by criticism and expectations, which my inner child simply couldn’t deal with. It is by far better off on its view point from where it can add to any situation without being personally affected.

Something is changing. I can feel it, yet I can’t name it. I am more at ease, less edgy. And though I might relapse every now and gain, my core runs at a different frequency. Is this what its like to grow up?

I remember the day I stopped chewing on my fingernails. I was 12 then and my fingers were in a truly horrific state. Many things I had tried but nothing would stop me from chewing on them again, until the day I decided that it was enough now. I have never chewed on my fingernails again since.

A few weeks ago I decided that it was time to let go of some individuals whose past encounters were seemingly holding a tight grip on my life. And I simply dropped them, just like that. They do not hold any power over me anymore.

I acknowledge that I have come a fair way to meet the person I am now. I am an idealistic dreamer, hopeful fanatic, full of pride and remorse, shaped by the past like the Grand Canyon by water. My present moment is here and there and everywhere, just never quite where it should be, subject to behaviour-controlling matter-forming molecules called hormones.

I am a lacking painter, fascinated photographer, marvelling spiritualist, exceeding health care practitioner, overwhelming story-teller, vivid scientist, aspiring world teacher, ambitious student of life, a human female with eternal heart, reluctant philanthropist, caring soul, eager explorer, never tiring first aider, bright eyed and bushy tailed, beautiful in the eye of the beholder, excessive thinker, homeland escapee, curiosity induced, certified graphic designer, foreign language secretary, clinical healthcare supporter, energy healer, acupressure massage therapist, contradicting my own rights, worrying warrior, inspirational individual, self-appointed entrepreneur, obnoxious perfectionist, incapacitated know-it-all, occasional musician, indigenous earth dweller, lover of flowers, trees, nature and all elements, enthusiastic gardener, excited vegetable grower, allusive cook, avid raw chocolate advocate, night sky watcher, sunrise lover, sunset marveller,  moon notorious, trying self-imposter, peace-loving kickboxer, encompassing yoga practitioner, elusive new age meditator,  a being on the verge of perfection and yet not perfected at all, aware that I know a lot, but not nearly enough to know at all.

Who will I be tomorrow?
Who will you be?

In all honesty, crack the egg!

Love
Anna

By Trial and Error

A few months ago, I had a water leak at home. In came the plumber and upon noticing my Tibetan Healing bowl we got talking and it turns out that we both know the same yoga teacher. On his next visit, he handed me a card from his wife, who offers holistic massage treatments and the minute I saw the card I knew something was on the way.

Since the beginning of the year I had cycled past a sign advertising “Natural Wonders Therapies” and I kept saying to myself that I ought to see if they had treatment rooms for hire. But when I did look on the website, it didn’t look like that was the case and I put the thought to investigate further aside for the moment. Until the plumber gave me this card.

Of course it was the same as the sign! It was only a couple of weeks earlier that I had actually been on her website and now it seemed like the universe was giving me a gentle yet stern nudge to do something about it. When I rang her up she was not surprised and said she was about to call me too. It turns out that we were both born in Germany and had wandered abroad to live and explore. Having worked as a massage therapist she was at the point of opening up to the more subtler energies of life whereas I had been studying energy healing for the past years and was just about to embark on a massage course.

It was at this cross road that I met Elke. We spoke about our dreams and visions and we soon found ourselves talking about a joint workshop. Shortly after she introduced me to Corina, an artist and psychotherapists, and suddenly we were at full speed ahead planning our Awareness Spa Mini Retreats.

We had a vision and we had something to tell and we also had repeat bouts of worry that we wouldn’t be able to see it through. Life goes like that sometimes. It sends us on field trips and makes us hike up to the top of the highest mountains to reach for the stars, and it is only on the way up that we realise we forgot to pack wooly socks and a hat to keep us warm on the summit. Yet the view is breathtaking and well worth the rugged ascend. We forget all aches and pains and the smile on our face tells us that we did reach our highest goal.

After three months of brainstorming and concrete planning we were finally there. The fear of the unknown broke through every now and again but took no hold in our eager and strong hearts to accomplish our vision. The first setback on the day of our first Mini Retreat were three cancellations, which however, enabled us all to take part in each others segments and to go along our trial run without any signs of stress.

After an initial flutter of nerves, the retreat began with my workshop on finding the “Inner Self” with meditation and inspiration and I delivered a relaxing sound bath with my healing bowl. After my workshop I was pleased to be able to participate in Corina’s workshop on Art from the Soul which gave me the long sought after time to engage in colours, shapes and paint on my fingers again. When we had managed to get most of the paint off our hands, we covered them in delicious chocolate as I introduced an easy to follow recipe for a raw chocolate treat while Elke prepared a refreshing and filling Raw Lunch Snack with lettuce boats filled with humous and a green smoothie. After lunch, Elke and I gave our participants a massage and we closed the retreat with a grounding circle amidst the warm autumn sun outside in the garden.

It truly was a successful day and I felt more like taking part in a retreat than actually leading it. It was a very rewarding day after all the preparation we had put into it.

Our vision had become reality and we are now fully prepared and set to start monthly Mini Retreats in the new year. Do get in touch if you are interested!

And never stop following your instincts and your dreams!

Love
Anna

via By Trial and Error.

Stress

Signs of stress can be as varied as an individual’s personality which is why everyone will show different signs of stress and will have different ways of dealing with them. Yet there are a few common physical and emotional symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, aches and pains, nausea, irritability and feeling overwhelmed and depressed. Additionally one might experience the inability to concentrate or relax, constant worrying, changes in eating and sleeping behaviours and the neglect of usual responsibilities. There are many more…

Stress could be related to the pressure to meet own goals, dealing with situations that you feel you can’t cope with, expectations from managers, friends, family, financial problems and major life changes such as a bereavement.

Personally, I begin to feel stressed when I have too many things on my plate and not enough time to do it all together with a strong sense that I have to. At work this happens when we are short staffed and, on top of the general duties that form my daily routine, experience a high demand of requests from fellow staff as well as clients. My patience generally stretches a long way, but in a situation like this I can easily feel overwhelmed and anxious to please everyone which can be quite frankly impossible. I then feel guilty and sad that I can’t help all of them, which to me feels like I am incapable of doing a good job. It gets especially bad when I begin to worry that others think I simply don’t care.

At the end of the day I will have a headache, aching limbs and feel very exhausted, sad and possibly a little angry. All I want to do is sleep because I find that I can’t concentrate on anything, especially not reading my book and my eyes are too sore to watch telly, and I really can’t follow the storyline anyway. The next day I wake up and ache all over. I still have the overwhelming feeling of tiredness and don’t really feel like getting up. If I have to go to work again, I just get on with it. If I don’t, I have a bit of a lie in until I feel like I should be doing things. These things take up all day, once again too many things, not enough time, and suddenly I’m back in bed for an early night because I simply still feel so terribly tired, yet I also feel like I have not achieved very much, which I can beat myself up with at times.

Now, you might have realised that I have just described two days which appear to have been fully packed with tasks but actually didn’t indicate any time to relax at all. When I find that I don’t have much time, I tend to rather just go to bed a bit earlier in the hope that my body will recuperate on its own, than try to actively relax. However, I do actively practice yoga and meditation to calm down, unwind and stretch and attend a weekly kickboxing class which counteracts stress quite vigorously. Also, I do enjoy a brisk walk along the seafront or the cliffs which supplies fresh oxygen for fresh thinking and the movement wakes up my muscles. I really should do this more often though! Painting I have done since childhood and I do feel the need to be more artistic at times but unfortunately find myself once again lacking time and patience. Yet, when I do, I feel very calm and relaxed after with a very warm and happy feeling in my gut that I have achieved something beautiful. Generally I find myself constantly making lists with things to do and it feels reassuring to be able to cross things off once they have been done. Also, simply by becoming aware of how we react to stressors and particularly what stresses us most, is a good step in counteracting it.

I think that I find it difficult to just do nothing. It gives me the feeling that I am a failure. This in its own is probably my main stressor. Accordingly, I maintain a very active life outside work, with courses, workshops, new skills and people. I like my shift patterns because to me every day off feels like a holiday, there is no routine, which suits me. Another stressor for me would be to not be able to get out or away, the feeling of which a 5 day week would certainly contribute to. The only time I feel like I am stretching my resilience would be when I find my shifts on alternating days – one day on, one day off – for a whole week. Because it feels like I can’t rest fully, since I basically continually apply the two-day routine described at the beginning.

If, additional to normal stress factors, someone has had an unfortunate experience which gave them a very high level of stress as a result of extreme fear or sadness, other stressors can have a much bigger impact and it can be much more difficult to counteract them. In such cases, if they still experience anxiety at times, it might be advisable to seek advice from a professional.

As far as possible, I would suggest that a solution focused approach would be good in dealing with any kind of stress. Because if we only ever think about the things we can’t do and the time we don’t have and the stress we experience, we are likely to get “stuck in a rut”. But when we focus on what we can do, we can step by step work towards it by acknowledging what we do, rather than worry about what we don’t do.

Take a minute and write down what stresses you most. Come up with a solution how to deal with a stressful situation and the next time you encounter it, you will know how to counteract it!

Together with two other lovely ladies I have just recently set up the “Awareness Spa Mini Retreats“, which will be taking place every second Thursday of the month and offer a little getaway amidst the bleakness of our weekly routine with the aim to de-stress. The Mini Retreat will run from 9.30am to 3pm in Eastbourne, UK and offers meditation, art, mini massages and inspiration for a fresh look at yourself and your life. Contact me for more information, if you are interested.

Love
Anna

A Perfect Sunday Morning

Working shifts, my job enables me to have a variety of different days off within a week.

But there is nothing that compares to an actual Sunday. Although I’m not entirely sure why that is, I have concluded that there is generally less noise outside. There are no bin men making a racket of a noise, there is no postman rattling on letter boxes, no children on their way to school and fewer people are out and about on their way to work. And even all the usually noisy people and mutating clubbers and pubbers have finally shut up and are peacefully sleeping off their hangover.

You can literally seize the peace in the air. And this is what I woke up to this morning. And I enjoyed it long enough to make it nearly 10 o’clock before I finally rolled out of bed.

This peaceful serenity was topped with my exquisitely good mood after a month of hormonal ups and downs and so I cuddled up on the sofa with my boyfriend and we had freshly baked croissants from a container that popped loudly when I opened it and revealed triangular-shaped pieces of dough which had to be rolled up and baked in the oven for an exclusive makeshift continental Sunday morning breakfast experience. Just imagine the beautiful smell!

All the while we watched children’s TV which could only be topped by Sabrina the Teenage Witch and transported me back a good 15 years to a time of blissful naivety without work and bills where the only real problems were school, boys and teenage girls.

Outside presented itself a windy and rainy September day, which was even better, because I didn’t have to feel guilty about not leaving the house!

These mere two hours made life so perfectly worthwhile. A small fraction of my life, a seemingly insignificant experience, noticed and transformed into food for the heart.

Love
Anna

A Stroll through Kathmandu

There must have been something in the air this morning because suddenly I found myself back in the middle of Kathmandu, Nepal, on my way to one of the monasteries I had been assigned to as a volunteer to teach English.

The sun was high in the sky when I left the big and cool stone building of the Student Guest House and the streets were already filled with locals rearing to welcome tourists and friends alike. I admired the young mother who swept the three small steps to her shop so devotedly as if she was caring for her own child. The air was still relatively free from dust, washed down by last night’s rain and a mild wind ruffled timidly on my light cotton clothes. As I walked on towards the centre of Thamel (according to the local sign it stands for “To Homely Atmosphere & More Enjoyable Living”) I see more and more proud shop owners offering their goods. Yes, it did struck me how proud these people are of their achievements and yet how little they actually have.

Ignoring the usual offers by sellers and taxi and rickshaw drivers, I turn right at the butcher’s hatch with mixed feelings towards the bleating goat which has been tethered right next to the already skinned and ready to be sold goat. In the absence of fridges, life stock is the best preserve. Shortly after I pass the local laundry, a mere stone basin of plain water around which the local women have hung all their whites (spotless, I have to remark) whilst the children played around and underneath. Further on, a holy cow (no offense) duly ruminates amidst a massive pile of rubbish on the side of the road.

The road widens as I approach the bridge which leads to Swayambhu and crosses over the Bishnumati River which is lined with bags and bags of rubbish and has the most extraordinary smell about itself. I arrive at a flight of stone steps leading to a small temple or school where I greet the old local man who appears to be sitting on the top of the stairs all day every day offering the traditional “Namaste” unconditionally to anyone passing by. It is from him that I learned that it doesn’t have to be the prim and proper both hands clasped together and raised to the forehead. It can be as fleeting as just bowing the head down a little and raising one hand. It is the gist of the gesture that counts, not a fully choreographed play.

After passing yet another pile of rubbish, this time with chickens picking away, I pass a few garages filled with beads. Local women are busily threading mala beads while the local lads chat among themselves, leaning on their motorbikes. The roads up here are mere dust tracks compared to the tarmaced road down in town. Uneven and full of holes filled with the aftermath of the latest gush of monsoon, creating muddy pools that splash everywhere when a car passes by. I notice some children flying small square kites on a slope overlooking the City of Kathmandu until my attention is caught by a bowl maker. I acquired a healing bowl myself a few days ago and was intrigued to see the skilled man hammering away on a flat piece of metal, slowly shaping it into a bowl shape.

A beeping taxi ushers me out of the way and I carry on the last bit of road until I reach the foot of the Monkey Temple, named after the holy monkeys resident there. The Swayambhunath Stupa is said to be the oldest religious site in Nepal and at the bottom of the entrance steps that I am currently standing is also a pair of feet engraved. These feet can be found in places that Buddha has set foot on.

Well, I’m on my way to “work”, so I can’t linger long and instead follow the road to the left, past the police station. While the resident officers are getting ready for the day, a local man has set up his fruit shop on a bicycle right next to the entrance.

A snake slithered past me in the drain on the side of the road making me jump and squeak embarrassingly. After a couple of shops which are blaring out a mix of the latest Bollywood hits and traditional prayer music, I reach another set of small shops which sell prayer flags and incents. The heavy scent floats in the air. There are a line of prayer wheels on the wall running along the bottom of the hillside of the Monkey Temple and I decide to set them into a spin to release prayers and mantras to heaven.

Finally I reach the big road and that’s when all the town’s hustle and bustle catches up with me again. There are mini buses, taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, rickshaws, dogs, cows and people of all ages, genders and professions on the road, swerving and veering around each other in a beautiful harmonious chaos all under the watchful eyes of a giant golden Buddha statue. The challenge is to cross this road myself. The idea is to just go and everything will just swirl around you. Just don’t stop. A wonderfully exhilarating experience. I disappear in a small road leading up into nowhere, literally turning into a steep, dried up river bed. There are a few houses before the road disappears and half way along the road lies the Karma Samten Ling Monastery where I will be teaching the little monks English for a few days.

 

This was exactly two years ago but the memory is still as visibly clear in my head as if I was actually there. It was a fantastic opportunity of an eye opener to see the world from a different angle. Namely from one of the poorest countries of the world. Yet I was fascinated by the easy-going attitude of the locals and how they just carried on regardless. No power cut, no landslide nor monsoon could stop them. And to see the pride in their work shining in their eyes, from the sweeping shop owner over the window display creator to the wood-carver, who proudly runs his hand along the finished piece after putting it up on the wall outside. I found this very inspiring.

But the very best was watching the sun rise over the Annapurna mountain range in Pokhara. Unforgettable!

Love

Anna

How Do We Do Nothing?

While trying to explain to my mom why I hadn’t returned any of her calls recently I said that I had been soo busy and every now and again tried to do nothing for a change as well. And she asked candidly: ” When, or how, do you do nothing?”

Yes, what do I do when I do nothing?

Just the pure act of “doing” nothing already implies that I actually am doing something. No matter how hard I try, I will always be doing something, even if it is the simply act of breathing.

So what do we mean when we imply that we are doing nothing? I assume that we usually want to get away from our usual everyday tasks and duties and relax.

Thinking about a moment when I feel closest to doing nothing I came to the conclusion that it happens when I am fully there in the present moment and happy with myself. And if it should compare to doing nothing then I should indeed not be doing much in that moment. This would bring us to meditation. Of course, I am meditating compared to doing nothing, but once I am fully relaxed, watching fresh air filling my lungs naturally with each in breath and letting go of any worries and tensions on the out breath, I experience a moment in which I’m not doing anything constructive but instead am able to unwind and experience a deep level of relaxation.

If you are conscious of living in the present moment, you might experience these moments of bliss even when you are not meditating or actively letting go. You might find yourself adoring a beautiful flower, reading a really good book, watching the clouds move by, noticing the smell after a summer rain…

Today I found myself sitting on top of the South Downs overlooking the green land stretched out in front of me and I thought that this is what God must feel like looking upon his creations. Of course I didn’t create any of it but after a short centering in my heart centre, connecting to my higher self and grounding in the earth I felt such an immense feeling of peace and pure happiness that is difficult to describe with words. Apart from the wind and the bird’s twittering there were no other sounds and the clouds moved majestically along the sky pulling massive shadows along with them casting them over the green hills and fields.

And in all this sheer beauty of the moment I found myself doing absolutely nothing until the wind got the better of me and drove me back to the car, jittering with cold, bare feet touching the lush green grass and eyes squinting against the sun revealed by the clouds every now and again. These few precious minutes up there were enough to recharge my batteries to the full.

So go out there and get blown about by the wind, get your feet out of your tight shoes, laugh at the sun and even the rain and enjoy the special moment in every minute of the day!

Love
Anna

Letting Go in Three Steps – Step 3: Acceptance

I thoroughly caught up on the sleep I had missed out on last night and awoke serene and calm at 5.30am to the ear-piercing bleeping reminder to “stand well clear, vehicle reversing” outside. When I fell back to sleep it felt like the alarm went off straight away.

After breakfast I took another hour to read a bit more in my book before heading off again towards the train station. Suddenly I did indeed feel like meditating. I sat back and hovered in the etheric field for a little while enjoying my little peace and calmness. And just when I thought about including a few mantras and mudras the cleaner rattled on the door eager to fulfill his duty to bring my room back to status quo.

So I staggered back to the town of “GOD” and after a lovely walk along the river Wey chasing a swan invigorated by the thought to take a photo of it and a disheartening experience of feeling too pushed about by busy locals to be able to take in Godalming’s cosy town centre I decided to take the train back a couple of hours earlier than planned and to stop for lunch in Brighton instead.

Suddenly I felt eerily tired and could hardly bear all these people around me, a side effect commonly experienced after having spend time in self-imposed isolation.

Today, as the last day, was supposed to be about acceptance and appreciation for what we have in life. But all I could see was that none of those people pacing up and down the platform at Clapham Junction had any of that. Worst of all, when I arrived back home I just wanted to run away again. I really looked forward to getting back and spending some time with my partner but instead I just felt overloaded all of a sudden. I spend the rest of the evening worrying if I was living the right life.

Now, I clearly have to work on acceptance. Maybe we never will be able to properly accept ourselves and the life we have. We are forever changing and with each new aspect  we gain we need to pluck up the courage again to accept that new aspect of ourselves. So maybe I shouldn’t beat myself up for not delivering the “happy end” story I was intending to write but merely acknowledge that life is forever changing and that we can only do our best to get along with it and play our part. We have free will to do what we want to do, we just got to take one step at a time.

Letting Go in Three Steps – Step 2: Calm Down and Unwind

The only disadvantage of a B&B is the set breakfast times. There is nothing more unsettling for me than to have the feeling that I have to get up for something on my day off. Other than that I am usually awake by 7 or 8 AM anyway but simply enjoy the beauty of not having to be anywhere just yet.

After a night of repeatedly waking up every other hour I decided at 6.30am that I was officially awake. An hour later I finally emerge from beneath the cave of my duvet feeling slightly disappointed that I got up half an hour before the time I had instructed my alarm to gently raise me from the land of nod.

I wolfed down the small portion of porridge, which I am content to say had been prepared especially for me with soya milk as I had requested (I ignored the audible opening and closing of the microwave – oh the radiation…). Last night I experienced a hunger attack, unfortunately after the pub had stopped serving food and my question earlier in the day if there were any shops nearby had been left unanswered. “You’re walking? You don’t have a car??” Followed by disbelieving head shaking of the locals wondering what on earth this young woman was doing alone in a pub away from shops right next to the roaring A3. Well, I still had a banana left which served as an instant life saver.

The only two options for the rest of the day were either to go for a walk or read my book. It wasn’t raining so I took the opportunity to go look for more woods. But I only found horses, a medieval bridge and a falcon that clearly had been in a traumatic roadside accident.

The woodland I had been circling since yesterday was clearly privately owned and regardless how hard I tried I couldn’t find a way in. Nor could I get into the wood on the other side of the B&B due to the golf course which was also cordoned off with high fences like a crime scene. One footpath clearly wanted to send me across the A3 which I thought was plain suicidal. By that time the rain had begun to seep through my robust walking boots and I made a turn back to my room where I huddled under the duvet exploring a different world altogether in my book until I felt a sudden urge for a power nap which I simply couldn’t resist and happily gave in to.

The art of unwinding is simple. Find somewhere where there is absolutely nothing to do. Resist multimedia by any means because it will only overstimulate your brain, which is something rather to be avoided when unwinding. Even if you think it will help you relax, it doesn’t. If then all outside activities fall to the wayside due to torrential rain (and by all means that really shouldn’t stop you either), the world will gently grind to a halt which is the moment you experience calmness. Or sleepiness. Either way it indicates a state of relaxation.

I had planned to follow my yoga practice but even this wasn’t very practical in a room where there was merely space for a single bed and a table in between which I could only walk past sideways. Meditation has crossed my mind too, but I don’t feel like having to do it right now only because it would be good for me. Anyhow, this is not a spiritual retreat. Sometimes it is beneficial even to abandon all spiritual practice for a few days.

The staff in the pub are still trying to figure out why I am here, or at least my mind is under the impression and hence is busy conjuring up excuses and explanations, most of which aren’t even true. Why do I still try to justify my existence? A new teacher once introduced himself announcing that he had trouble spelling but added that he was fine with it. I liked the ease of it, but still don’t find it as easy to implement it for myself.

My final attempt to find the delusional woodland failed as well but I did, however, find a little wooded area with bluebells above which hovered the unmistaken scent of wild garlic. There is something magical about bluebells. They have such a fine and yet energetic energy to them. I spend a little while attempting to take photos of water drops hanging on blue flower heads that swayed far too much in the wind as that my camera could capture them quick enough.

The minute I came to the conclusion that all woods in this area must be privately owned I promptly am confirmed in my assumption by a large white sign proudly abounding in big black letters “PRIVATE” behind a tall fence leaving me staring obliviously at the secluded rural forest that lies behind it.

Letting Go in Three Steps – Step One: Get Away

Once a year I go on  a little adventure. Whenever I happen to have a few days off I take out my map (or consult google maps) and look where I haven’t yet been but wonder what it may look like. I pick and mix an affordable accommodation with a decent countryside and go.

A change of scenery has many benefits. It brings a welcome change to routine life, widens your horizon and keeps your mind open and interested. For me, such short breaks are a breath of fresh air and form my annual “free spirit escape”.

Obviously I go on my own. I need this time to be able to unwind and release all fear and expectations I have taken on from people around me. On my little getaways I can simply just be who I want to be and do what I want to do without worrying about anyone else. And I do generally worry a lot, which does in no way mean that I turn into a careless monster the minute I leave home. No, I can without remorse simply do nothing if that’s what I wish to do.

What better place could there be to relax and unwind than a town whose train station code is “GOD”? Godalming is located in Surrey by the river Wey. I once visited someone near Guildford and liked the amount of woodland so I thought it would be interesting to go and see what this area looked like. Quite frankly it was the cheapest accommodation in the area I could find.

I chose to go by train despite my partner offering me his car. I wanted to do this on my own so relying on somebody else’s transport didn’t feel right. I actually really enjoy travelling by train. The only nuisance is the changes in-between. Otherwise I love to sit back and watch the world go by. I see lovely houses, their back gardens, woods, fields, lakes. Today I passed two fishing ponds with men enjoying a quiet Sunday perched on stools closely resembling garden dwarfs clutching their fishing rods. I also saw a herd of deer, a fox, a cat and rabbits watching nervously as the train rattled passed. Most glorious of all though is the awe-inspiring yellow of the flowering rape seed fields forming huge yellow carpets. All this I wouldn’t have been able to see or take in properly would I have zoomed past encapsulated in a car.

I decided to walk the 2.2 miles from the train station to the B&B only considering a taxi in the worst case rain scenario which there wasn’t. Instead I was greeted with pure warm sunshine as I stepped onto the platform in the town of “GOD”. The rain caught up with me just before I arrived at the B&B but I made it just in time before the hail storm descended on us and my mobile phone requested to be charged. GPS had sucked the life out of it like a hungry vampire.

I realised how hungry I was so I set off to go and see what the pub had on offer. This was a challenge for me because I firmly believed that it would be odd to go out on your own. Well, this isn’t exactly “going out”, more going to get something to eat. Odd it was, however, still. “Who is she and why is she all on her own?” I hear people think, followed by further ideas and prejudices.

Maybe this is what I should let go of most this time. Other’s thoughts. It doesn’t matter what they think as long as I am happy within myself. It isn’t their life I am living. I live my own.

It is in the human nature to assume and judge, we can’t help it. The reason why we listen in more intensely on someone’s phone conversation is not necessarily only because we are curious but mainly because our brain naturally tries to make sense of half the conversation. The same goes with judging people. Our brain simply tries to get the whole picture about someone. And what it can’t get because it doesn’t have the needed information, it simply makes it up. We are forgiven 🙂

After a lovely posh pub Sunday Roast I take a stroll along the public bridle way leading into the valley. I suck in the earthy smell of wet soil moist from the rain and while listening to the birds chirping together in a big concert I take in the fresh spring green and tiny flowers adding a sprinkle of colour every here and now. I make friends with a massive tree, whose trunk and roots are overgrown with soft green moss. Leaning against him feels like leaning against an old friend. I sigh a deep breath, close my eyes and let go of a big chunk of stress that I have been carrying around with me.

At 6pm I scramble into bed, happy to just lie there and read my book until i drop off to sleep. The evening sun braves the rain, sending its golden light through the clouds despite the falling rain which is coming down in persistent streaks at the same time and I notice how happy and content I am to be able to have this experience.