Posted on March 11, 2017
As Within, so Without – Is your life a reflection of the way you think, feel and behave?
If, like me, you are striving to make sense of life here on Earth then this spiritual law – As Within, so Without – is a bit of an eye opener. Discovering that your outer reality is a reflection of your inner world can be a bit of a shock.
If life is perfect and you’re swimming along in a bubble of joy and contentment then, of course, you can lounge in the satisfaction that you, alone, are responsible for creating such a glorious existence. If however life is a constant maelstrom of challenges (they used to be called problems) leaving you exhausted and disillusioned it is no comfort to know you have participated in this testing and arduous existence.
There may be little we can do about life’s big issues that come knocking on our door when we least expect them, turning our cosy – if occasionally difficult – world into a frenzy of pain and suffering. But what about the everyday? The bickering with family members; the reoccurring headaches; colleagues who make our life a misery; the things that wear us down on a day to day basis. Are these a reflection of our inner emotions or are they everyone else’s fault?
When I wake up in a bad mood – yes it does happen from time to time! – I struggle to smile or act with kindness; I’m more critical of those around me; I’m argumentative. I know I’m behaving badly but am unable to control it – usually don’t wish to control it. In response to this, I’m treated the same by whoever I’ve taken my bad mood out on. The arguments and irritations bounce back and forth until someone relents and responds with love and kindness. It is human nature. Smile at someone, they smile back. Snarl at someone, they snarl back. Give someone a cuddle and the niggles of the day dissipate.
It has been well documented that our inner emotions also reflect in our physical well-being. If we are angry, worried or stressed our bodies produce hormones to compensate and deal with this. Over time this leads to long term health issues. Again…As Within, so Without.
I do believe it is human instinct to be kind. Whenever tragedy strikes, either globally or within families, there is an innate desire to comfort and help. This is clearly seen when there is an earthquake or some other disaster and everyone rallies round from all parts of the world to send aid, either in the form of blankets and food, financial help or even offering to assist in the rescue of those trapped or to rebuild homes. The same occurs when a family member or good friend is sick. So why do we find it so difficult to make an effort to be nice to those close to us unless something serious has occurred?
If it is instinctive to be kind – and it is in our own interests to be so because, according to the spiritual laws, it is reflected back to us – why do we not all live in harmony? It is easy to come back with the rebuttal that people take advantage or that your help is not appreciated (or he/she started it!!) But is this always the case? Even if it is, it takes a courageous person, not a weak one, to control their response to any given situation.
Most people desire happiness and if someone is in a perpetually foul mood it is reasonable to assume they are not happy. When this happens, at the work place or at home, their misery affects all those around them. Surely it is in our own interest to help everyone, whenever possible, to feel good inside. Better for them and better for us.The following quote from the Dalai Lama summarises it nicely:
It is a very simplistic view but I truly believe that kindness, which is free to give, goes a long way to making the world a better place and our daily lives more tolerable. If each person could express a little more of it every day towards their own circle of family, friends and colleagues this must surely increase exponentially – to the benefit of all. Yes, there will be a few that take advantage but there may be reasons for this that we don’t understand and this should not distract us from spreading goodwill, love and kindness whenever possible.
It is said that the spiritual laws are exact. So if you feel calm, happy and at peace this should soon be reflected in your daily reality.
Posted on February 27, 2017
Nuala Ellwood received recognition on the list of The Guardian’s ‘new faces of fiction 2017′ with her debut novel My Sister’s Bones, published by Penguin on 9th February.
The story begins with Kate Rafter, a war correspondent, undergoing psychological analysis at a police station in Herne Bay, Kent. She has recently returned to her childhood home, from a very traumatic period in Syria, to deal with the estate of her deceased mother.
The first few pages give a clear indication of Kate’s mental fragility due to the horrendous events she has experienced while reporting from various war zones. During the interview with the doctor she knows that she “mustn’t tell her about the voices” but has difficulty focusing and responding to the questions due to their intrusion.
“as I speak, they’re back, fading in and out like a radio between frequencies. The old woman wailing; the young father running through the streets holding the blasted body of his baby girl in his arms. My old faithfuls, the ones that return to me whenever I am under stress”
While the doctor is writing, determining whether Kate should be held under the Mental Health Act, Kate knows that “every word I say here can be used against me”.
The story then moves to one week earlier with the narration flitting back and forth between Kate’s assessment at Herne Bay Police Station and the events leading up to her arrest.
The family home in Herne Bay where Kate spent her childhood with her parents and sister Sally holds its own painful memories of an abusive and alcoholic father and the death of her younger brother. Kate was the stronger of the two girls and always stood up to their father in an attempt to protect their mother from the beatings, while Sally would try to please her father. This led to a rift between Kate and Sally, causing a fractured relationship in adult life.
Kate became a journalist, reporting from some of the most dangerous war-torn countries because she wanted the world to know of the intense suffering endured by the people – no doubt, to some extent, influenced by her own disturbing childhood – whereas her sister Sally sought consolation in alcohol, like her father had after the death of his young son.
My Sister’s Bones is a superb psychological thriller which deals with the tough subjects of Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and the long term effects of growing up in an abusive environment. Nuala Ellwood has sensitively combined these difficult topics with excellent plotting to produce a brilliant and exciting novel. Very well written, it conveys the issues surrounding mental illness without trivialising it to enhance the story. It incorporates the heart of suffering without slowing down the fast pace required for a good psychological thriller.
As well as having almost as many twists and turns as a DNA double helix there are some subtle messages conveyed in My Sister’s Bones. One is that someone suffering with mental illness should not be casually dismissed as a ‘mad person’ when they voice opinions that may seem illogical or odd, such as when Kate claims to see a little boy sitting in a flower bed in the garden. Another is to resist making judgements as it is not always possible to fully understand what a person has experienced to make them what they are today. Kate was known as the intrepid journalist, brave and strong, standing up for victims whereas Sally commanded less respect due to her decline into alcoholism and is seen as weak. Both were exposed to violence in their childhood and both saw these experiences differently.
The story also highlights the regrets that often accompany tragedy: Wishing you had listened more carefully; wishing you had not judged so quickly; wishing you had made more effort instead of harbouring resentment.
Nuala Ellwood definitely deserves to be on The Guardian’s list of authors to look out for in the future. My Sister’s Bones is a well crafted, compelling thriller with a fast moving plot and authentic characterisation.
A highly recommended five star read.
You can follow Nuala Ellwood on Twiiter: @NualaWrites
Posted on February 2, 2017
Synchronicity: “The simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection” – www.oxforddictionaries.com
I recently read a book called Synchrodestiny by Deepak Chopra explaining that there is no such thing as coincidence; events are carefully coordinated to give us opportunities for growth. There are sign posts everywhere (apparently) if we are alert enough to see them. Well, I can’t see them for looking – as the expression goes.
How do you know when the universe is trying to tell you something when you have no idea what you’re looking for? It’s impossible to interpret every single incident trying to look for clues. It can drive you crazy – I know because I tried it for a day and ended up with a headache.
We’ve all experienced those uncanny moments that give us pause for thought – which we then invariably dismiss as freaky coincidences. As Deepak Chopra says, ‘Your car breaks down on a deserted road, and just when you had resigned yourself to being stranded for hours, the very first vehicle that comes along is a tow truck”.
Are these experiences signs and if so how do we interpret them?
My sister called recently to say she had awoken with a song in her head, an old song from her ipod that she hadn’t listened to for some time. An hour later in the car on her way to work, not liking the current topic on the radio, she tuned into a music station and yes, you can guess the rest. Same song. She asked me what I made of it and all I could offer was that perhaps there was something in the song that was relevant to her current circumstances. Not that she was aware of, she replied. Perhaps there was, perhaps there wasn’t, how are we to know? It’s all so vague.
Although I am far from understanding how synchronicity works and a million miles away from understanding any sort of divine message, I am a fan of the whole ‘working behind the scenes’ theory. Nature, in its chaos, is carefully coordinated. The solar system is ordered. Although talk of destiny implies we have no control over our future, that everything is already mapped out, I don’t see it like that. I see it more as a guiding hand which strives to bring us what we need – and these needs are constantly changing depending on our daily actions and decisions. (A blog for another day).
I had an experience some years ago that pointed in a particular direction; one that fortunately I didn’t ignore. With the children away at university I had been trying to think of a hobby that I could take up and continue into later life. Something that didn’t tie me to a place or time.
One morning as I showered for work the idea of writing popped into my head. Due to my general lack of artistic talent and creativity I dismissed it immediately and thought no more about it. My trek to work that morning was stressful as there were long delays on the tube, forcing me to walk the last part of the journey. In the whole year I had been at this job I had never had to walk along that particular road.
There was a fierce wind so I kept my head down (plus I usually look at the pavement to avoid picking up anything nasty on my shoes!). About half way along I looked up at the building I was passing and it said Kogan Publishers. I was excited. A link to writing. As soon as I arrived at work I Googled it. They published business books and I was disappointed, convinced it would be a literary publishers after my thoughts in the shower.
That evening after dinner my husband was flicking through the TV channels (as usual) and I was reading (as usual) and suddenly for about ten seconds he picked up a programme on authors. The short clip I heard was Martina Cole saying ‘You don’t have to be a great literary person to write’ or something along those lines. Three events linked to writing and publishing within a twelve hour period. Surely this was no coincidence. I decided that writing a novel was something I could do anywhere in the world as long as I had a laptop (and a cup of coffee or a glass of Pinot Grigio).
During my next visit to the library I took out a mountain of books on creative writing and began to learn the craft. That was four years ago. My interest has never waned, in fact it has increased. To this day I believe it was the universe guiding me.
So make of that what you will but it certainly piqued my interest in synchronicity versus coincidence and if a book falls off the shelf in Waterstones and lands at your feet I suggest you take a good look at it – just in case.
If you have experienced something similar please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org as I would like to follow this blog with another using some other experiences.
Posted on January 9, 2017
A spiritual practice or spiritual discipline (often including spiritual exercises) is the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of inducing spiritual experiences and cultivating spiritual development – Wikipedia
The above gives a fairly accurate definition of spiritual practice but I wonder if we truly need to believe in an elusive spiritual world to benefit from spiritual practice.
What is ‘spiritual practice’ after all?
Meditation, yoga, mindfulness with the occasional prayer thrown in when times are tough (let’s face it even those who do not believe in God pray when desperate). Do we need to undertake such exercises with the sole aim of ‘inducing spiritual experiences and cultivating spiritual development’?
I don’t believe we do.
I was propelled into this line of thought after listening to a conversation on the tube between two women (I do this a lot so be careful what you talk about!). One appeared to be in her 20’s, the other in her 50’s. Mother and daughter perhaps. The younger woman said, a little self-consciously, that she had signed up for an eight week course in meditation and mindfulness to help her deal with her stressful job.
The older woman’s lip curled up, a look of disdain on her face, as she replied:
‘You don’t believe in all that rubbish do you? Just a waste of money. They’re out to con you. You’ll be telling me next you’ve seen angels and was Lady Godiva in a past life!’
The young woman’s shoulders sagged and she didn’t reply, knowing perhaps that any attempt at defending her actions would be futile. The older woman then went on to complain about her ailments and how fed up she was.
By the time they had left the tube I felt depressed so I can image how the young woman must have felt because she probably had to listen to the other woman whinging on a regular basis.
This is the problem when anything connected with the spiritual comes into the mix, especially when some books or magazines claim they are ready to take your soul to a new level – probably in just 30 days!! People are sceptical and remain closed to the benefits of taking up things like meditation, mindfulness and yoga.
But is it necessary to believe in the soul, in reincarnation or the possibility of an out of body experience to take advantage of what these practices have to offer? Surely the exercises can be carried out on different levels with different aims.
The ultimate goal for those on the spiritual path is enlightenment/transcendence. This means a shift in experience and perception of the world around us which frees us from pain and suffering. The problem with this approach is that most of us are unlikely to attain this goal anytime soon and are doomed for disappointment if that is all we are aiming for.
Is it not enough to practise mindfulness as frequently as possible, fostering a measure of control over our emotions and enjoying life more fully? Is it not enough to practise yoga and meditation to calm the mind and keep the body fit? Is it not enough to think positively and make the best of each day?
There is a growing body of evidence that meditation alone can curb anger, relieve depression, lower blood pressure and…wait for it…increase grey matter in the brain (eat your heart out Poirot!) Mindfulness puts us in the present, allowing the appreciation of each day rather than waiting for something that may, possibly, happen in the distant future. The benefits of yoga for physical health and energy are well documented.
A belief in the metaphysical is not a prerequisite for partaking in these beneficial ‘spiritual practices’.
In fact, sometimes the desire to search for evidence of a spiritual world, of life after death, becomes so all-consuming that family and friends become less of a priority – and this should not be the aim of a true spiritual disciple. It is also easy to become disillusioned on the spiritual path when, after regular practice, a spiritual experience remains elusive.
Fantastic if you are on a quest to understand the purpose of existence but for those who are not, there are still huge benefits both mental and physical to engaging in the exercises of spiritual practice. The goals may be different but the advantages are the same for all. How amazing to be able to retrain your mind to positive thinking in order to be happy, calm and in control. How good would it be for your body to be fit and pain free? I can’t think of much that would be better!
…and if you are that lady on the tube, stop complaining and take up meditation, mindfulness, yoga – or all three. Your family and friends will be grateful, I’m sure!
Posted on November 26, 2016
Hindsight would tell us that we frequently make wrong decisions but is this really so?
“If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another.
The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.” ― Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life
As one of those people who sometimes struggles when making decisions, I find the above quote reassuring. The minor choices which arise, such as what to choose from a menu, I’m okay with. No dreadful consequences if I select a ghastly meal other than the need to make peanut butter on toast when I get home.
When I have an important decision to make I tend to gather information; ask the opinions of family and friends in an attempt to think through the options logically. This works to a degree but trying to see into the future without the aid of a crystal ball remains unreliable.
I am in the process of completing my first novel. The final edit is almost done and I’d like to see it in print. Would it be better to get an agent, go directly to publishers or attempt the self-publishing route?
After seeking advice and receiving – as you would expect – opposing opinions, I’m still in a quandary. All three options have been used with success but what would be right for me? It feels like such an important decision, as though the success or failure of the novel depends on the choice I make.
But is this so?
According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American lecturer and poet who took a great interest in the soul and led the transcendentalist movement in the 19th century:
Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.
Fantastic! No more deliberating over the ‘correct’ choice; no more sleepless nights meditating on whether to do this or that! Whatever we choose to do will turn out for the best to align with our position in the universe.
Seems like we can’t lose doesn’t it? However…
Reading around this subject a little further I understand – and I may be wrong here – that this does not necessarily mean the result will be what we desire. The result will depend on our relationship with the universe, the intentions behind our desire and what is in our best interests at that stage of our life. Basically, you don’t always get what you want!
For example: A man – or woman, let’s not be sexist! – plans to rob a jewellers and emigrate to the Caribbean. He deliberates on the best method. Should he ram the shop window with a van, take the goodies and drive away? Or should he go in, armed with a weapon, order the staff to put the goodies in his SWAG bag and leg it home? If he rams the shop with a van and gets caught he will probably say: Damn, should have gone in with the gun! The chances are, the universe will not sanction either method, the robbery being doomed from conception regardless of the decisions made on method.
If, however, he (or she) is a modern day Robin (Robina) Hood who intends to sell the jewels (which were obtained illegally by the jeweller) and use the proceeds to help feed and clothe refugees, well, the universe may take a different view and either method of theft may work.
Not the best example but hopefully you get the drift.
The only comfort I can take from all this is that whatever choice I make, if my book is meant to be seen in print, will be the correct one.
Fingers crossed! (Does this help, I wonder?)
Posted on November 3, 2016
I have discovered over the years there is a lot of misunderstanding about the practise of meditation.
Like many, when I first began, I thought the aim was to be free of thought, to zone out and go into a dreamlike state where I would somehow, miraculously, become enlightened. And like many, over the years, I practised sporadically because each time I went through a ‘serious’ meditation phase I failed to reach that state of nirvana. Can you believe it!
The term ‘meditation’ conjures up images of sitting in the lotus position (who can get anywhere close?) and humming a mantra, giving the impression it is only for those ‘weirdos’ who have the time to sit for three hours a day chanting.
Most people ‘meditate’ without even realising it so I will give a few definitions I found of what meditation is:
- To focus one’s mind for a period of time
- To develop concentration, clarity and emotional positivity
- To think deeply about something
No mention of floating off with the fairies! When you are absorbed in a piece of music, focused on a particular task or just enjoying a stunning sunset that takes your breath away, you are meditating.
The aim of meditation is to focus concentration, allowing the mind to be in the present rather than anywhere but. It is a tool to tame the mind. To allow you to control your thinking rather than your thoughts controlling you. The mind should be alert but the body relaxed. If along the way you get anywhere close to enlightenment it’s the icing on the cake.
Most books will advise starting with a short practise of about ten minutes twice a day, increasing to longer periods over time. If you are anything like me you will start with good intentions, set the alarm fifteen minutes earlier (for three days at least!) and do your evening stint after climbing into bed – and promptly fall asleep before you’ve managed a few deep breaths! It is not surprising so many give up.
I have found the following ideas, practised during the normal working day, to be of far more benefit to begin with than setting aside a particular time (which, if you miss it, that seems to be it for the day!)
WATCHING THE BREATH. While washing, dressing or queuing at the supermarket focus on your breathing. Relax the body, keep your eyes open and feel your breath moving in and out while still being aware of what is going on around you. With practise you will be able to do this while holding a conversation.
VISUALISATION. This can be done when you are able to close your eyes for a minute or two. On a train, at work during lunch break, or sitting on the toilet is the perfect opportunity! Look around for any item: a clock, a picture or even just your hand and look at it for a moment then close your eyes and try to recall its detail.
PRESENT MOMENT AWARENESS. While performing any task give it your full attention even if it’s boring. If you are ironing (that’s my most boring task by far!) see the patterns on the piece you are ironing. Or notice the vibrant colours of plants while weeding. Be aware of what you are doing rather than acting subconsciously.
I have found that these exercises, if part of a daily routine and performed as often during the day as can be managed, enhance awareness and train the mind for more formal meditation.
So why bother?
As well as the possibility of a deeply spiritual experience (this is the dangling carrot!) there is a growing amount of evidence that meditation can have huge health benefits:
- Reduces depression
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces anxiety, stress and worry
- Gives you greater control over your actions and reactions
“When we understand meditation, it becomes surprisingly simple – in principle at least. It is like finding the light switch after hours groping in the dark.’
This is a quote from a book called Teach Yourself to Meditate by Eric Harrison which is an excellent book for beginners with lots of tips and exercises on how to make meditation part of every day living.
Posted on October 18, 2016
“Anytime you are unhappy in the present or feeling unsuccessful, it is time to learn from the past or plan for the future.” The Present by Spencer Johnson
There comes a time in everyone’s life when they are stuck in a rut. If you are the lucky person who always has a busy, fulfilling and happy life then please email me with the secret!
Me, I go up and down like one of those round toys on a string that we played with as children but are now banned from the school playground. Yes, the yoyo!. Sometimes I’m on top of everything, the positive thinking is doing its trick and even mild setbacks, like rain dripping through the living room ceiling, fail to faze me; get a bucket – no problem. Life’s a joy. Throw something at me – I catch it. Knock me down and I bounce back up.
Then come the darker times. The times when an innocuous comment hits a nerve and sends me scurrying away in floods of tears. The times when I’m not achieving my goals.The times when work is dull, my social life non-existent and I dwell on the purpose of existence.
Reading The Present by Spencer Johnson I realised that: a) I am personally responsible for my happiness and there is something I can do about those low or unproductive times and b) it is near impossible to change other people. The only option, if I am unhappy, is to look at myself to change the situation. If I can’t change the circumstances then I must change my attitude towards them.
As family and friends know I have been working on my first fiction novel for…er…um…nearly three years. I desperately want to finish it but for some reason I procrastinate and have periods when I don’t touch it for weeks. I blame the house for constantly getting itself dirty, compelling me to clean. I blame the sun for making the grass and plants proliferate, forcing me to spend the day mowing and pruning. I even blame my son for coming home from uni: ‘How can I focus when you’re asking what’s to eat every five minutes?’
And I know, deep down, that none of these reason are valid because many people write books as well as work and look after a family.
So, after some reflection on the wise words of Spencer Johnson in the quote above I looked at how I could learn from the past and plan for the future.
I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been very slovenly with my time. As I generally sleep for no more than seven hours a night that leaves a whole seventeen hours conscious and capable (well almost!). Do you know how much you can achieve in seventeen hours? Quite a lot, I learnt.
As the primary excuse for lack of words on laptop was insufficient time I decided to record everything I did for a few days and how long each task took. Surprise! Surprise! Nowhere near as long as I thought. For example, I had set aside one whole day to get the paperwork ready for the accountant. I completed the work in six hours but because that was the only job for the day I faffed around with other little bits until dinner – then read a book. That’s six hours of constructive work out of a total of seventeen.
Now, I’m not one who likes a strict regime. You know, shepherd’s pie on a Monday, vacuum the house on a Tuesday for example. I work from home because I like the flexibility and the opportunity to take up the offer of lunch, or some other distraction, should the occasion arise. But like most people who work from home, my time management is somewhat lax.
Not one for spreadsheets either (I used to laugh at my daughter who planned her meals for the week) I decided to give them a go (this is the planning for the future bit that The Present refers to) and I have to admit that, so far, it’s working. So much so, that I try to start some of the following day’s tasks in advance to get ahead!
I am happy to report that the novel is progressing nicely and I get a great deal of pleasure striking through each task on the spreadsheet when completed. I am currently ahead of schedule and if this continues, the novel should be finished by Christmas.
I was feeling quite demoralised and, at one point, considered abandoning the novel completely but now feel back in control. I am happy – for the moment at least. I can also see that this philosophy can be applied to most circumstances.
If my social life is boring I have to make an effort to enrich it because most of the time it is pure laziness that prevents me from arranging to meet a friend or book an evening at the theatre. I blame hubby for not wanting to go into London as he is not a theatre fan but, as he is unlikely to change, it is up to me to arrange to go alone or with a friend.
Knowing I have the power to change many things that make me feel stuck is extremely liberating. A little effort with a change of mindset and, as Del Boy would say: the world’s my lobster!!
Posted on October 7, 2016
Vaseem Khan was born in London in 1973. He worked for ten years in Mumbai, India and on his return in 2006 joined the Department of Security and Crime Science at University College London and still works there.
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is the first in the Baby Ganesh detective agency series and was published in August 2015. The next in the series, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown is due out next spring.
As Inspector Chopra is preparing for his last day at Sahar police station he discovers he has inherited a baby elephant from an eccentric uncle. As he arrives at the police station a crowd is gathered because a young man has died. His mother claims he has been murdered and is very distraught because she believes her son’s death will not be properly investigated because they are poor.
Inspector Chopra asks for a post-mortem to discover the cause of death although his replacement has already decided it was death by drowning whilst drunk. There is little he can do on his last day.
In the days that follow his forced early retirement Chopra is feeling despondent and at a loss at how to spend his time to fill the long days ahead. The baby elephant refuses to eat and the new inspector has refused the post mortem that Chopra requested for the young man.
Ashwin Chopra, a principled and honest man, wishes to do what is right for the elephant and the dead boy so he seeks knowledge on how to care for baby Ganesha and commences his own investigation into the boy’s death.
His search for the truth leads him though some of the roughest parts of the Mumbai slum district and baby Ganesha comes to his assistance when the going gets tough.
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is a delightful book; very amusing and entertaining with well-defined characters. Inspector Chopra is very easy to like because he is an honest man yet not pompous with it. He is kind and thoughtful but never too imposing with his code of ethics. His character evolves as the novel progresses. There is also humorous and moving interaction between Chopra and his wife Poppy.
Due to its setting the story allows you to escape to another world: the vibrant city of Mumbai. There are some wonderful descriptions of Mumbai’s underworld as well as the more affluent areas and weaves in the charm of the local people and their lives.
I can see the Baby Ganesh detective agency series a clear favourite for a television series sometime soon.
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is published by Mulholland Books – An imprint of Hodder and Stoughton
You can follow Vaseem Khan on Twitter: @VaseemKhanUK
Posted on August 25, 2016
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet” Mahatma Gandhi
I love this quote. My interpretation is that I will not let anyone hurt or upset me with their opinions and judgements. After all, they are personal views formed from their experiences of life. They are expressing these views from their own understanding and beliefs.
It does hurt when people criticise. It even offends when people we don’t know are rude or judgemental about us. Interestingly, as I grow older, the views of others have less effect on me. Perhaps that’s why older people speak their minds, sometimes to the point of rudeness. They’ve realised that someone’s appraisal of the situation is not always accurate and should sometimes be disregarded.
I was reading an article the other day about the ego. Sorry – that blasted ego keeps popping up; it’s always there, humming in the background. The article explained that finding fault in the actions of others strengthens the ego. If you watch for it, in yourself and others, it’s plain to see.
A conversation I overheard recently, while queueing in the supermarket, went something like this:
‘Did you see what Chrissie was wearing the other day?’
‘Yeah, didn’t do her any favours did it. Wrong colour, wrong style, everything!’
‘Made her hips look huge! I would never wear that style if I had big hips. You can never get away with it – pleated from the waist – with hips that size.’
‘And the red with her pale complexion made her look ill.’
Trinny and Susannah would have been proud.
If these two women had been talking about me I would have been mortified but as a bystander, earwigging, I could only laugh because their own dress sense was appalling (in my opinion that is!) Mind you I often found that the case with Trinny and Susannah. I would think: What on earth are you wearing? And you’re giving advice!
Why do we worry and get so upset about the opinions of others when they’re clearly not speaking with any authority on the matter?
Another scenario concerns the opinions of the bully. We’ve all been in situations, I’m sure, where a parent, partner, boss or colleague keeps digging away: Are you stupid or what? Did you not think? I can’t believe you just said/did that! Comments accompanied with the rolling of the eyes or a shake of the head; chipping away at your self-confidence, causing you to question whether there is something wrong with you. Perhaps I am stupid after all, you wonder.
It has taken me a lot of years, a lot of people watching and a good degree of introspection to realise that people who criticise rarely do so to be helpful. So, before you allow someone else’s voice to reverberate in your mind, take a clear look at who is speaking to you. You may discover that the person who is constantly telling you that you’re forgetful and getting senile frequently forgets things themselves.
A well-meaning friend who says, ‘well I would never let my child have internet in their bedroom,’ leads you to think that you’re the worst parent ever until you remember they feed their own children ready meals and takeaways and allow them to eat lots of sweets and drink cola. Then you realise their parenting skills are no better, so why did you allow their comment to cause you to question your own parenting methods. It is just their opinion.
Back to Ghandi – be careful whose dirty feet you allow to walk through your mind. Be discerning. Think carefully about the comments and opinions of others. Some are worthy if delivered with authority or from someone who genuinely has your interests at heart. Otherwise, don’t take the careless comments some people make too much to heart.
Posted on July 27, 2016
The Present is a story about a young boy and his friendship with a wise old man. The old man tells the boy that The Present is a gift which, of all the gifts he will ever receive, ‘is the most valuable of all’ because it offers the opportunity to be happy and successful. The boy wishes he will someday get The Present. For now he is just happy to play.
The boy is growing up and although he has received many gifts over the years, the joy they bring is short lived. As he reaches his teenage years he starts to feel more dissatisfied with his life. Visiting the old man one day, he remembers The Present and asks his friend why it is so special. How could it make him happier and more successful?
The old man defines success as: ‘progressing toward whatever you think is important’ and the boy realises that this idea allows him to decide for himself what he wants to succeed at.
As the story continues and the boy becomes a man, he frequently returns to visit his wise, elderly friend who imparts little snippets of wisdom but the young man does not take time to reflect on what the old man is saying. He wants to know where he can find The Present and does not understand why the old man will not just tell him where to find it. The old man tells him:
‘No one can find The Present for someone else. The Present is a gift to yourself. Only you have the power to discover what it is’
Disappointed in the reply, he leaves.
Sometime later, determined to seek The Present, he reads books, scours the Internet and talks to others. His search is fruitless and he gives up.
Passed up for promotion and in a failing relationship the disillusioned young man returns to the old man for help. The old man suggests he takes a break to spend some time alone, reflecting on his life. This he does and discovers the beauty of everything around him. He notices things, like the carefully crafted fireplace and can almost feel the love laboured on this piece of work; that the creator must have enjoyed building it.
He suddenly realises that The Present is the present moment. The old man had said before that:
‘When you are fully engaged in what you are doing your mind doesn’t wander and you are happy…you are intent only on what is happening at that moment’
The young man could see the value in this but was puzzled on its application when you are in a situation that is unpleasant, not permitting you to enjoy the present moment.
The old man talks to him of ‘tuning out distractions…paying attention to what is important now…and creating your own present’.
The old man imparts a little more wisdom:
‘Anytime you are unhappy in the present or feeling unsuccessful…It is time to learn from the past or plan for the future. Look at what happened in the past. Learn something from it. Use what you learn to improve the present’
He tells him that the past cannot be changed but if you learn from the past then the present will be better. Do not repeat the same mistakes. He also tells him that:
‘No one can predict or control the future (but) the more you plan for what you want…the less anxious you are in the present. Picture what a wonderful future would be like. Create a realistic plan to help it happen. Put your plan into action in the present’
As the young man grows older he finally sees the value of the old man’s teachings and puts them into practise, becoming happier and more successful (remembering this definition is a personal one). He comes to realise that:
‘Success is becoming who you are capable of being…progressing toward worthwhile goals. Each of us defines for ourselves what it means to be successful’
The Present originally published in 1983 as ‘The Precious Present’ is a short, easy to read book with a very simple message, but one which takes quite a lot of personal reflection to fully comprehend. It is wonderful to believe we can decide our own interpretation of success rather than the assumptions made by others where success is often considered in monetary terms, academic achievements or our position in the hierarchy of society.
Sometimes, of course, the present is just too painful to inhabit. The current climate of terror attacks give testimony to this and time is needed before the present becomes, once more, an acceptable place to reside. However, speaking for myself, a lot of present discontent can be eliminated if lessons are learnt from the past (and it’s not always easy to see where things may have gone wrong). The present moment of the future can also be better if a strong vision of what we would like to achieve is considered, and determined action taken to work towards the desired outcome.
If you read The Present I hope its profound message resonates with you too.