Birds of my Mind

Mornings in Barrydale are melodic with the cheery greetings of a variety of birds. The chirps, warbles and tweets of the garden birds compete with the wistful call of distant guinea fowl, roosters crowing and the cry of peacocks. This morning there was an urgent gathering of weavers, sun-birds, bishop birds, doves and a robin in the shrubs below my window. The plants were alive with hopping, chattering birds. I learnt as a child to look closely at these gatherings to see who was causing such a cacophony. It may be a cat, or a mongoose, but could just as well be a snake.

It is a strange feeling, investigating such a gathering. Physically you go into fight and flight with your head telling you to move in one direction, towards the noise, while your legs want to carry you in the opposite direction for fear of finding a snake. Boomslangs and cobras, both very toxic, are common in Barrydale so you find your eyeballs hopping all over the place. Do you look in the bushes or on the ground? You find yourself walking like a chameleon: pick up a foot, wait to check three times where to put your next step, even when you are on the lawn, afraid you may step on a snake. Relief floods the body when you find a fat, furry cat stalking through the flower bed. The worst is when you spot the sleek, scaled ribbon of snake, grateful that you know where it is but flooded by the extra surge of adrenaline which your body kindly supplies for your rapid retreat. There are times when you find nothing, when the gathering of excited birds abruptly adjourns and they fly away to continue with their day. I like to call these twittering gatherings bird parties, though it may be better to call them bird parliaments, as they seem very worked up about what appears to be nothing.

There is a big shift towards conscious living on our planet and we often hear about mindfulness, meditation and the importance of controlling our thoughts. My mind is a part of me, just as my hand or foot is a part of me, but it isn’t all of me. My mind is there to keep me safe, to warn me of danger, even when I can’t see it, like a party of garden birds, chirping and twittering in the bushes. A word, a situation or an event can send my thoughts into frenzy, crowding my head with scenarios and scripts of what I will say, twitters and squawks of warning from the birds of my mind. My neurology cannot distinguish between what is real and what is imagined so my body goes into fight or flight and I start to do a mental chameleon walk because I know I am going to find a “snake”. I jump to the worst case scenario immediately. My blood chemistry changes as the adrenaline and cortisol feed my need to take on the threat or to run. This happens many times in a day, sometimes for hours but often just for minutes or even just seconds. The birds of my mind may well be right, there may be a snake in the bush but sometimes it is just a fat cat or most often, just a bird party which calms and melts away after a while.

Mindfulness is about knowing the difference between a real threat and a bird party. When I find myself in the metaphysical bushes, hunting a snake, I take a deep breath, centre myself. I thank the birds of my mind for their warnings and then I take control of my thoughts. I decide whether the threat is real or if it is the makings of my imagination and I take appropriate action, facing the threat or dismissing it as the bird party it is. Being mindful, noticing what you are thinking and knowing that you have the ultimate control over what you think, can make the difference between being in a state of constant stress and worry, and staying calm and centred.

Until next time, stay mindful, be conscious and Keep Moving…

New Beginnings

At the beginning of each New Year, I like to set up a plan for the year. What do I want to learn? Where do I want to go and how can I make this year better than the last?

Before we know it, the year sweeps us off our feet and we are thrown into the frenzy of life, treading the same familiar path as before, unless we plan otherwise. We call these plans Resolutions, and we all know how those good intentions dissolve in the hot summer sun.  We start out really well but then the Peanut Gallery of your mind gets involved and everything unravels.

Your mind is part of you, but it’s not you. That Peanut Gallery of conversation which you hold with yourself is there to keep you safe but it rarely is supportive. On the second day of your new fitness routine, the Peanuts start to discuss the merits of starting slowly. Perhaps I should take tomorrow off so that I don’t get too stiff. Next Monday would be a good day to start again. But on Monday you are still a tiny bit stiff so the Peanuts suggest starting tomorrow. The days go by and the resolution is starting to fade. This is when the Peanuts suggest starting in February…

Being aware of what you are thinking is key to maintaining momentum with the changes you want to make in your life. The thoughts are just bubbles of information and you do not have to listen to them. When an unsupportive thought happens, consider it and then decide if you are going to follow the Peanut Gallery or take back your power with a more supportive thought. You always have the choice. The Peanuts will try to convince you that you must eat that piece of cake because it will be the last one for a long time. Really? When it comes to curbing food temptations, I find that telling myself “Not this time” really helps.  I am not giving anything up forever, just in this moment. Next time I get to choose again. Practice makes perfect and practicing making good choices makes it easier to choose well in future.

So my wish for you for this year is that you may be aware of what you are thinking, that you have the power to make good choices and that your resolutions bring about the changes you desire.

Happy 2019. Until next time, Keep Moving…

Life de-‘FINE’d

Everyone knows it’s not cool to complain so we speak in code instead. You bump into a friend and exchange greetings. “How are you?”  How often do you use the word FINE to convey the politically correct, seemingly all happy response? FINE can mean many things, but it rarely means fine; the dictionary definition of the word which is…  “quite well or satisfactory, in a good, acceptable or comfortable condition” (Encarta Dictionary).

If you have just come from unsuccessfully trying to query your municipal account, you are probably feeling Flippin’ Irate, Nettled and Explosive. But we don’t generally feel this way all the time. A new Mum may be Feeling Isolated, Near tears and Exhausted while someone who has started their own business may be buried in Filing, Invoicing, Networking and Excel sheets. Someone who suffers from depression may find themselves Feeling Ignored, Negated and Exiled. Many of us are trying to lose weight but when we are not coping with life, and when we are feeling Flipping Insecure Neurotic and Emotional, we Feel an Intense Need to Eat.

You may argue that it’s OK to say FINE, that maybe you are having a good day. Wouldn’t it be better to say “I feel amazing, thank you”, fantastic, glorious, awesome, inspired perhaps? This is what I call a “Quick Fix” for your toolbox. Just saying these words puts a spark in your day and a little more spring in your step. It lifts your spirits and those of the people you meet. We are so serious and so afraid to be happy lest we shine too brightly. Happiness is contagious, or so the saying goes, but I find that heavier emotions like worry and doubt seem to poison a room so quickly. Happiness dissolves like mist in the morning sun and gloom descends. Everyone is FINE. Work is FINE. School is FINE.

Next time you catch yourself using FINE to define your day, figure out what it stands for and then choose a better word, one which uplifts and inspires you. We make our lives what they are. We choose the narrative. So make your life a better one by choosing better words.

If you find your life to be FINE and you don’t seem to be able to lift yourself to brighter things, contact me and we can set up a free session to help you define what is missing and how to move forward and Keep Moving.

Chocolate or Vanilla

Imagine baking a delicious, chocolate cake. You would need cocoa and chocolate and all the other yummy things which make a cake chocolate. Now imagine that you bake a chocolate cake every week. After a while you start to get bored with chocolate cake and decide you would like a vanilla cake for a change. You gather all your delicious chocolate ingredients, mix them together and put the cake in the oven to bake. You have heard about the power of positive thinking, so while your cake bakes you focus on it being a delicious, vanilla cake. You smell the vanilla, you taste the vanilla, you see the delicate pale cake in your minds eye. Imagine your disappointment when a chocolate cake emerges from the oven. “So much for positive thinking,” you think to yourself. But people tell you to persevere, so you do, week after week, and it’s always a chocolate cake.
This is how we live our lives, always doing the same things, and expecting life to get better. You need to go back and look at how you are doing life. What are your ingredients? Make a new list of ingredients and then bravely mix a different cake. It may take some trial and error, some flops and failures, but you will get there if you keep trying. When you invent a new recipe for your cake, you will need to look back at the last attempt and see how it can be improved. Or will you get wrapped up in the misery of failure and go back to baking a chocolate cake, all the time complaining about how unlucky you are and how miserable life is when all you can bake is chocolate cake.
Failures are only bad when we ignore the opportunities they offer us to learn and improve. Positive thinking alone is not worth much when we keep doing the same things in the same way. If you want a different life, you need to do life differently. Being positive changes your perspective but you have to take action to initiate change. Here is a challenge to get you started… Choose one thing which your inner voice tells you to start doing but you don’t. Or one thing which you know you need to stop doing and don’t, you just ignore it, you put it off for another day.
Make that day today. Do it, tick it off, get it done. By doing one thing differently you will have changed the recipe of your life. Just like using vanilla in a cake instead of cocoa. Life is a really big cake with lots and lots of ingredients, but if you change it just a little every day, it will be quite different in a month or a year.
It just takes one change to break the inertia. After that it will be easier to keep moving…