Why Am I Here? Pt.1

Mary Oliver

As a yoga teacher, I was privileged to study at the feet of the master, Shanti Gowans. One of the very first assignments I received from her was simply entitled ‘The Path to Self’. It had to be so many words (I can’t remember how many now) but it was long – well ‘long’ in thought at least! Little was explained other than to understand one’s ‘purpose’.

OK then, that’ll be easy I told myself. I sat at my computer, typed the title ‘The Path to Self’’, wrote one line that read something innocuous such as ‘My Purpose is’……and six months later I still hadn’t written another word. The journey was arduous: difficult, trying, hard, tough, tiring, severe, painful and exhausting and every other emotion I can think of to define the word.

It did my head in!!!

I was totally miserable that I couldn’t write such a simple paper. Simple???

And then of course, it dawned on me. Why was I here? I really hadn’t a clue.

As one of my students once commented when I asked her to define her purpose, she simply said, “Oh I can’t think about that! Otherwise I might get such a fright that I have been living all these years without doing one single thing about it!”

Of course, there were hints along the way. I had worked hard and long, pushing my way through life, achieving, creating, giving…..but was I truly on ‘purpose’? I expect I was too busy surviving to sort that out.

And……as I am writing at this moment and reflecting on ‘Why Am I Here”? the wonderul poetess Mary Oliver comes to mind with her gorgeous poem ‘The Journey’.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began…….
“Mend my life”!

So to truly understand my purpose, I had to first look at who I am. Ummmm………..scary!

How many blogs and pieces of information do you come across that tells you what you already know?

How about the answers? How do you work it out?

Well, I can only speak for myself, but over the next few weeks I shall give you some of the paths I took to try to understand myself and therefore discover my purpose.

I hope I can throw some light your way.

…to be continued

P.S. I am writing this for those of you who have recently commented about being ‘lost’ and not ‘on course’.

Is there such a thing as Karmic Irony?

OprahO’ Oprah’s Magazine – February 2014

I was once taught that life deals its cards in mysterious ways. Sometimes you are dealt an ACE and sometimes you are dealt a JOKER.

Well since I have been following my passion teaching yoga, I have been dealt ACE after ACE. A part of my deck of dreams was to create some of the most beautiful tours I could possibly conjure in order to pass on the wonderful teachings and ‘truths’ of yoga, mindfulness and meditation.

The criteria? Well it had to be a feast of the senses. To be surrounded by beauty; to dine in the company of generous souls; to experience copious quantities of laughter; to live in comfort and style; to indulge, explore, connect, and bathe in the warmth of the sun, the lands and its people. …a nurturing experience of pure ease and tranquility.

Thus one of the places we visit on my ‘Rubies & Roses’ Tour to Northern India is Ananda Spa. Nestled in the Himalayan foothills, it is simply a breath of heaven!

Enchanting, graceful, beautiful and very, very peaceful, one’s Ananda sojourn combines the teachings of Ayurveda (5000-year-old healing system), Yoga (spiritual and ascetic discipline of wellbeing) and Vedanta (philosophy and science of the spirit). Ananda has created a private haven for those who are seeking true peace and wholeness (not to mention gorgeous cuisine and stunning treatments).

Part of the allure of Ananda is that it honours each individual, treating them on a completely equal basis and is completely respectful of anonymity and personal space.

Enter Oprah!

So here we are one morning taking a yoga class alongside Oprah. Well of course we know who Oprah is but she doesn’t know who we are. Over breakfast, munching on exotic, organic grains, our group discussed how important it was for us to respect Oprah’s privacy….she too deserves a rest, we said!

We decided not to ask her if we could pose in a photo nor put our arm around her and pretend we had become bosom buddies. The most we would do would be to say ‘hello’. Yes, if we had these photos would it impress others? Maybe! Would it be good for our businesses? Maybe! But nevertheless imposition was out. Respect was in.

What was interesting for me was how I observed people doing exactly what we decided not to do. And Oprah was so obliging and charming…….I guess that is her karma. And often we were dressed in Ananda Kurta Pyjamas, covered in oil and not exactly in our most flattering photographic element. Though I guess Oprah wouldn’t care that much. Next to Marilyn she must be the most photographed female idol in the world.

But as the universe unfolds, the pendulum swings and the dealer deals a new hand, another ACE was laid on the table. Four months after our tour, ‘O’, Oprah’s magazine hit the stands. And here we are. Our group. Yes, that’s me in the middle in black and white, flanked by the ‘Rubies & Roses’ team.

Enter Ananda’s website, and here we are again…..’What Oprah knows for sure about stillness”.  Another ACE!

Thank you Oprah. Even though you may never see this and never know who we are!
www.anandaspa.com

My Yoga Journal – Letting go of my FOMO

Etsy cusion

fomo_definitionAt the beginning of the year I deactivated my personal Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest accounts just to see what would happen. The universe tends to whisper things to me like “could you be feeling exposed, paranoid and anxious because of Facebook?” Or, “have you noticed how depressed you feel after spending hours on the computer – mostly on Facebook?”

It reminds me of the film “The Matrix”, when Morpheus gives Neo the choice of the red or blue pill: “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

I chose the blue pill because, quite frankly, the rabbit-hole blows my tiny mind.

It’s not that I was on Facebook for hours, but as I run my business from home – which of course has a Facebook page (I’m happy to WORK in Wonderland, I just don’t want to LIVE there!) –  I would dip into my personal “feed” as a means of a mental break (having given up the fags last year – Facebook has to be healthier than that, right?). But the Facebook mini-break meant an hour at the computer became three.

If the kids were home while I was trying to “work” I would get snappy with them for “interrupting” me when I was trying to get a work project finished – when really it was me who was wasting my own precious time!  I think Annemaree calls that “projecting” (that which annoys me about me I find fault with in you).

So, I listened to the whispers of the universe and I dropped out. Like an addict having to throw the whiskey bottles in the bin I had to fully deactivate accounts, unsubscribe from lists and delete apps from all of my various devices – I had to go completely cold turkey.

Once I did this, the mutterings of the universe got louder and louder. I kept seeing articles about more and more people feeling the same way. I read once (probably on Pinterest – and I re-pinned it of course!) that “comparison is the thief of joy”. Facebook had become for me a yard stick against which to measure my life in comparison to others’. And it did steal my joy. It gave me feelings of anxiety, of inferiority, of missing out.

From a yogic perspective, one cannot possibly live “in the moment” when you are constantly thinking up your next status update or checking what else is happening; what else you could be doing; where else you could be. This friends, is FOMO. The Fear of Missing Out. There is no place for FOMO, or living fearfully, in a yogic life.

Oddly, in this desperation for connecting with one another, we are becoming so utterly disconnected from ourselves and one another. I absolutely cannot bear it when someone is checking their phone whilst I am having dinner with them. It is like meeting someone at a party who is looking over your shoulder to see if there is someone more interesting in the room. And please, keep it in your handbag and not on the table!

In the early days of “dropping out”, if I had a compulsion to share something (an outrageously witty, insightful, fleeting thought) I would send a text message to my husband, or my best girlfriend. Neither of whom are – nor have ever been – on Facebook! The irony is too delicious. So, two of the most important people in my life who know me better than anyone else and actually care what I think, have been excluded from an inner life I chose to share publicly with acquaintances.

Now, when I take a gorgeous photo of my children being funny, weird, angelic or outrageous – I email it to my husband. Their father. Probably the only person actually interested in seeing a photo of my kids. Previously, he missed out on this. By not being on Facebook, I am in more regular contact with my husband – just sharing nice things throughout the day. I am closer to him. I am not excluding him.

When my friends hear from me, via phone call, SMS or email, they can be assured that I have put real thought into who actually receives contact from me. This makes THEM feel special. More importantly the people who HAVE NOT heard from me don’t know! They can’t see who I am in contact with and can’t be hurt by assuming a non-existent, passive-aggressive snub.

I have to confess that Pinterest and Instagram have slipped back through the net. Although, in the absence of the true ego-fest that is Facebook I am questioning what the point is of Pinterest? Am I creating a persona for the world to see by pinning pictures of clothes I don’t own, interiors I don’t have, words I don’t live by and food I don’t cook onto boards so people I don’t know will think I’m terribly stylish and interesting?

I reinstated Instagram mainly to keep in touch with our extended families who are photo-mad Insta-fanatics. They all travel far and wide doing terribly interesting things so it is always lovely to see a photo of where they are and what they’re up to – and share our interesting exploits too. But, I think I need to cull the list of Instagrammers I am following – if I see one more damn photo of someone’s smoked salmon and poached eggs on sourdough I will bring up my own breakfast.

By “missing out” I have more time, better relationships, less anxiety and I receive a lot more phone calls from people who ACTUALLY want to talk to me!  So, let go of FOMO and embrace JOMO! The JOY of missing out.

Until next time we meet,

Om & Out

AQAxxx

This article has been contributed by Cool, Calm & Collected’s student, writer & eternal work-in-progress, Anita Quigley Atherton

Image: http://www.etsy.com (Yes, you can buy FOMO cushions)

If you ever feel dumb…..

Image

Sloth

I saw this on an office wall today and it really made me laugh and reflect on some of the hilarious ‘dumb’ things I have done over the years.  I laugh at myself all the time.  Many people wouldn’t admit to doing such outrageously ‘dumb’ things as I have done, either because they believe that no-one in their right mind would believe them or they wouldn’t want to look stupid.  Quite frankly I don’t care what others think as doing ‘dumb’ things simply makes me laugh at myself and helps me to become a little more mindful (well… sometimes).

It seems over the years, as I have increased my yoga and meditation practise, I have become more focused and aware.  I don’t seem to walk into a room these days arriving and not knowing why; or finding the iron in the fridge; or misplacing every sock in the house; or forgetting where I have left my car!

Although….I do recall going to a friend’s house one night and staying so late that we thought it would be a good idea for me to stay over.   I rang the police the next morning because my car had been stolen from outside her house.   The police arrived in little under an hour and said they had found my car.  It was parked at my house around the corner.  I had forgotten I had walked.

Then I guess there was the time when I arrived at the airport without my wallet and had to catch a plane to Hong Kong.  Of course, my wallet contained all my credit cards and money.  I asked someone at the check-in counter if they could lend me enough money to use a public phone. (Yes, it was before smart phones).  I rang the office, asked my work mates to take up a collection from their weekly pay and send it in a cab to Tullamarine (Melbourne’s international airport).  I boarded the plane.  Sometime later I found my wallet in the freezer wrapped up with the frozen spinach!

Another time, when I wasn’t paying attention, was when I was travelling with my youngest brother through Central America.  We travelled with a group and had our own bus.  We all disembarked to buy water and to stretch our legs.  When the word came to re-board I did.  But I got on the wrong bus.  Here I was sitting amongst a whole lot of Mexicans (which I didn’t notice).  I should have twigged when there was a chicken or three running around my feet.  But didn’t.  My brother who had been watching my movements boarded the bus took me by the hand and guided me onto our transport, just calmly shaking his head, not uttering a word and therefore insinuating I had completely ‘lost the plot’.  In retrospect, what was even funnier, is that I didn’t know where I was; no-one spoke English in the province; and it could have been days, indeed weeks, before I was found.

The irony is that I am not slothful and know my arms are my arms.  But when I am over-using my brain, ‘being busy’ and scrambling my mind with thousands of useless thoughts, I lose focus.  I then just ‘lose it’  and have no idea where I am or what I am doing.  And….we are all the same!  Believe me we are.  You just won’t admit it!

So the answer….slow down; meditate; be mindful; don’t take yourself too seriously and laugh a lot!

And….don’t climb trees!

Photo source: Google – author – unknown

Losing My Way

I have been struggling recently to stay the course.  Overall, I have managed to keep myself Cool, Calm & Collected. Apart from a school holiday disruption I have maintained my yoga and meditation practise and managed to emotionally negotiate a sudden job change for my husband. I have picked up a couple of new clients myself and everything is swimming along nicely.  My children are fed, healthy and on time for all of their various appointments. Our family schedule is brimming, but we make time for quality time with our expanding extended family. We would like more time to spend with our friends – but everyone’s in the same boat.

The struggle I am having right now is with handling judgement and OPOs.  OPOs?  Other People’s Opinions. I have been on the receiving end of OPOs recently and I have not handled them well. The Yogi in me knows that opinions are like belly buttons – everyone has them. The Zen part of me understands that opinions are a reflection of the holder of the opinion rather than the recipient of it. My Buddha nature knows to smile, be tolerant and accepting of all opinions and recognise the Buddha nature in everyone else. But when I am facing OPOs “in the moment”, my Yogi, Zen and Buddha nature leave the building.

I take full responsibility for my role in losing my banana. Both of the recent, most painful occasions were over the dinner table after sharing much wine – but when Person A told me that staying home with the kids full time and not contributing financially to the household was copping out, well I nearly leapt over the table and pulled his throat out. In this moment I discovered that I, in fact, had not fully come to terms with my domestic situation and he had clearly hit a very raw nerve. Buddha was nowhere to be seen, but Ego was right on my shoulder screaming “ATTACK!” I was deeply humiliated and offended by the comment and deeply embarrassed and ashamed of the way in which I responded.

I talked it through with Annemaree Rowley when I returned from holidays. She reminded me that when we are angry with others it is always a reflection of what we do not like about ourselves. This is a phenomenon known as “projection”. After more talking I came to realize that it wasn’t the CONTENT of what he said, it was the JUDGEMENT. If I look back to all of the major conflicts and arguments I have been involved in – those ones that still make me wince when I recall them – it is when I have felt judged. Judged, or offered mostly unhelpful, unproductive OPOs about parenting, my children, my intelligence, my family, my financial status and on and on. When OPOs don’t match my version of reality, conflict arises. This is where it starts to get interesting.

This is the playground of the ego. This is where being right becomes more important than being happy (kudos to Dr. Phil for that one). In “biting back” to an uninvited, unhelpful OPO is in itself an expression of judgement thereby perpetuating the violence of judgement. This is the sort of stuff that the Dalai Lama has internalized completely so if he had been at the dinner table he would have giggled – which would have made me want to rip his throat out too. But I think you know what I’m getting at here.

It is mind-bending stuff really. My intolerance of intolerance is itself intolerant, so I am what I loathe. I told you.  Mind-bending. Whilst I may not always have the ability to take on this concept in a cool and calm manner, being aware of it means I can recognize it arising. This is mindfulness. So my second encounter with another unhelpful, uninvited OPO last week – whilst not handled perfectly, was recognized as it arose and handled…. better. Mindfully.

I came across a quote by Alain de Botton quote recently  which helped me identify the conflict:

“A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you and uses that to come to a complete vision of who you are.”

This defines the turmoil I have found myself in because not only is this what hurts me the most, it is the way in which I have both knowingly and unknowingly inflicted the most harm. I have raised snobbery to a high art form at times! I can be extremely judgmental – it’s an acquired skill as a marketer! You have to make broad assumptions about sweeping chunks of the population based on piecemeal evidence in order to generate profits. This concept, whether in the personal or professional realm, panders to our egos by creating a feeling of inclusion or exclusion. If you’re in you’re in, if you’re out you’re out – like those horrible days in the playground.

As if by magic, I was lying on the floor of Annemaree’s deep relaxation class and she read the following from a meditation she had written herself:

Judgment of yourself holds hands with unrelenting fear you know.

Judgment of others stops you from attending to yourself!

 Of course, when we succumb to this form of behaviour, we then project onto others.  We seek fault in others and criticize so that we don’t have to look at ourselves.  We fill in the gap in our hearts with judgment, often being so totally self-absorbed that we don’t understand just how detrimental unkindness can be to another.

 Often it comes in the form of ‘ribbing’ or ‘teasing’ with an insidious camouflage of mate ship or friendship.  Often it is recited in little quips across a dinner table which although delivered under the guise of humour often humiliates and undermines the receiver. 

 Or judgment may be delivered in the form of a compliment with a ‘but’ beginning the next sentence!

 We become critical of everyone and everything, never realising for one moment that everyone around us need kindness and compassion too.

Having felt that I have lost my Yogic way recently, that I disappoint other people, that I do not live up to their expectations, that I disappointed myself, I gave myself an hour this morning to sit down and eat some worms about it all. Then I gave myself permission to just drop it and move on.

So I return to my breath, I live in this moment and – without taking it all too seriously – I will TRY to be the best version of myself within each moment and speak only with kindness – and not rip the throats out of ignorant sods.

Until next time we meet,

Om & out

AQAxxx

This article has been contributed by Cool, Calm & Collected’s student, writer & eternal work-in-progress, Anita Quigley Atherton.

My Yoga Journal: Catastrophising – (Just eat the cheese!)

The first time I heard this term I was sitting in my GP’s office having my anti-anxiety medication script re-filled. Cool as a cucumber, she looked at me and said “Anita, have you been catastrophising again?”  It’s a great word – applicable to myriad scenarios.

I decided to write about “catastrophising” a week or so ago and since then it has manifested itself in many conversations.

Let me start with a definition:

“When a person experiences an unhelpful emotion (e.g. depression and anxiety), it is usually preceded by a number of unhelpful self-statements and thoughts. Often there is a pattern to such thoughts and we call these “unhelpful thinking styles”.  One of the things we have noticed is that people use unhelpful thinking styles as an automatic habit.  It is something that happens outside of our awareness.  However, when a person consistently and constantly uses some of these styles of thinking, they can often cause themselves a great deal of emotional distress.”[1]

Some of the great catastrophisers of our time include Chicken “The Sky is Falling” Little and the child in Kindergarten Cop who suggests Arnold Schwarzenegger’s headache is most likely a brain tumor.  This may seem amusing, but this poor kid probably had a mother like me – I’ll explain later.

It’s a funny old world we live in, which facilitates, encourages and endorses a catastrophic way of thinking.  Just watch the news.  My 3yo once asked me why I watch the news; my 6yo answered – “it’s because you need to find out all the bad things that have happened in the world”.  My 6yo is a Master Catastrophiser (hence his nickname:  “Worst-Case-Scenario-Mario” or “The Master of Disaster”), but I think he is bang-on in this observation.

For a watered down (but doubly toxic) version of “monsters under the bed” reporting, catch a glimpse of  “A Current Affair” or “Today Tonight”! Helping you keep one step ahead of all of those trades-people and supermarkets that make it their life’s work to rip you off. Oh, puh-lease.

My husband comes home from work exhausted and beaten; dying a death of a thousand cuts – paper-cuts that is!  The industry in which he works is living proof of The Chaos Theorem. Instead of a butterfly flapping its wings in Santiago – if a man falls off a ladder in Broadmeadows, the rest of the building industry drowns in red tape and paperwork now – and ad infinitum.

When – exactly – did we stop taking responsibility for our own actions?

If I trip over raised concrete in the street – making me look and feel like a bit of a dill – should the council / the layer of the concrete / the tree’s roots that lifted the concrete / the planter of the tree / the creator of all things pay [me] for that?

Whilst catastrophising ensures I feel that EVERYTHING is my responsibility, I live in a litigious society which promotes the fact that it’s all someone else’s fault!

I choose to laugh at myself tripping over the tree root, bung a Band-Aid on my face and learn to watch where I’m walking. Accidents happen. Move on – more carefully. You can take this on good authority as a woman with a ripping scar and nine screws permanently in her left hand after a martini-induced dance-floor mishap. With friends…at home.

I previously worked in a sales role in which I lived and died by the monthly numbers.

Here, the world ended (for some people, quite literally) on the last day of the month. It began again on Day 1 of the following. It was constantly and oppressively stressful. It was an environment in which it was very hard to achieve just the sales targets, let alone navigate the vicious office politics.

A previous boss of mine, whom I hold in very high regard as a coach and mentor and who remains a good friend, offered me advice once on how to survive the environment. He told me to always prepare for – and expect – the worst, so whatever happens will always be better than what you imagined.

This person also unconsciously chews the hair off his arms under stress, suffered a minor stroke and has on-going heart concerns – so whilst I appreciate the sentiment, hindsight suggests I take these pearls of wisdom with a couple of handfuls of salt. He, on the other hand, should probably lay off it.

We are both out of that game now. Relaxed, happy and successful – able to enjoy a laugh about “those days” together with our families – over a few “too many” vinos!

Catastrophising is not purely a corporate phenomenon.  In fact, it was not until I became a mother that I truly unearthed my innate talent to catastrophise.

Becoming a mother raises the stakes immediately.  It begins in pregnancy.

The books. Oh! The books. I stopped reading the books.

I was convinced early in the gestational period that eating a single piece of soft cheese was going to result in my having a child with severe disabilities; one who would surely require round-the-clock specialist care; most probably within an institution – with a team of Swedish neurological experts (who would “tsk-tsk” (in Swedish) in my general direction, whispering to one another “this would never have happened if she hadn’t eaten the cheese”).

From this point, having children – I have heard described beautifully – is “like having your heart walking around outside your body”.

From a place of intense love and a primal instinct to protect, also comes a tsunami of catastrophising thoughts. You think your headache is an undiagnosed brain tumor (refer Arnie, earlier). You hear a cough from your child’s bedroom in the middle of the night and curse your GP for not picking up the resurgence of Bubonic Plague.

Why am I saying all this?

I think the more we pretend that everything is okay the more we damage one another.

Chicken Little may have been deemed a crackpot after the acorn incident, but at least the chick voiced its fears aloud!

By talking about our fears and anxieties THEY – not us – will break down. Sometimes giving your voice to the crazies – the monkeys – in your head can make them seem small and silly. Meditation gives me a small moment to look at them, sit with them, smile at them and put them aside.

Leaving them left un-checked inside can wreak havoc on you mentally, spiritually and physically. Believe me, I know.

Until we meet again,

Om & Out.

AQAxxx

This article has been contributed by Cool, Calm & Collected’s student, writer & eternal work-in-progress, Anita Quigley Atherton.

[1] http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au

[2] Walt Disney image – ‘Chicken Little’