The boy in the bucket

Boyinthebucket-resized

From there to here, from here to there,

funny things are everywhere.

— Dr. Seuss

Two years ago,  I was visiting one of the major historical sites in India in the state of Karnataka. Making my way to the rest room (or should I say ‘rest hut’), I noticed a woman mopping the floors. She was playing such an important role, but one that is challenging, mundane and generally not valued by anyone.  I always offer a smile and I tip these workers, grateful not only for their service, but for the part they play in my comparatively privileged life.

As I entered the doorway there were her two little boys frolicking about on the tiles. No iPad, smart phone or toy trucks. Just a bucket and water (and detergent). Surreptitiously taking my camera out of my pocket I snapped this shot. The joy and laughter were contagious, as this little one laughed, played, splashed about, lifted his sweet face to the sun and joined his hands in gratitude.  Even if he was not fully aware of the gratitude he could feel, it was natural for him, as a Hindu, to hold his hands in prayer.

I stood there for ages watching this truly delightful scene.  Whilst visiting the site was absolutely wonderful, the boy in the bucket was the highlight.

Every time I look at this photo it makes me smile. What immense power the joy of another one’s laughter has on oneself!  What power the smile evokes!  In this case the smile was from ear to ear.  For both of us….

And again that same joy is conjured just by remembering this incident as I write this for you.

In my yoga classes, I often ask my students to close their eyes and bring a gentle smile to their face.  Then I ask the question: how does that feel?  Some of my students tell me that they can’t feel the smile when they have their eyes closed.  So I ask them to turn their smile inwards. To be aware that everything will be OK, to curve their lips upward and to create or remember an image that gives them that irrepressible joy.

Then I ask them to turn their inward smile outwards and open their eyes sharing that smile with someone known to them or not; real or imagined; or even to project that smile into an imaginary mirror peering at their own image.

Blind Freddy (whoever he was) knows that smiles are contagious. The part of the brain that is responsible for our facial expression when happy or mirroring another person’s smile resides in the area of an unconscious automatic response. So if you are smiling at someone it is likely that they will smile straight back. If they don’t then they are actually ‘trying’ not to and repressing the response.

I remember once in my teens, being so sad, that a little old lady (she was probably only my age now) came up to me in the street and simply said….’smile my dear…you look so sad…let the smile mellow your worries’.   I did smile….. and she smiled for me and with me.

Share your smiles and laughter. Smile at someone for no good reason and watch what happens. You never know, maybe, just maybe, that smile that you offered so freely, actually was an enormous gift to someone who truly needed to be lifted from the doldrums at that very moment.

And whenever you need to give yourself a smile and are not quite sure how to find it, just remember…

 the boy in the bucket!

Annemaree x

 

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why worry?

Thomas & Luke

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

-Corrie Ten Boom

 

I have been ‘looking back’ this week, which is unusual for me.  But I have been looking back reflecting on how much I used to ‘worry’ and drawing to mind exactly what I ‘worried’ about.  Oh, how much we all worry.  I see it written all over the anxious and frown-lined faces of my students. (Nothing that a smile could not break though). What’s the point of worrying?

I, like you (in all probability), used to worry about things like being accepted, being loved, being good enough, being heard, being understood, being different, passing exams, walking in high heels, what I would do when I grow up, which colour lipstick is best, saying ‘no’, being alone, being left behind, being single, being poor, being everything other than in the good nick that I am generally in!  

But what is important?  I have my sanity (although some would question that), I have two good legs on which to walk (take out the ‘good’), I lead the quiet and peaceful life that I aspired to, I travel the world, and I live in a beautiful, safe country and I am not wandering the earth looking for a home.  Plenty of food and a roof over my head. Most importantly I am well.  Most importantly I am WELL!

The above photo shows two of my beloved nephews.  The little one Luke adores his big brother Thomas.  I look back at my challenges (real or imagined) and ask myself again and again, what did worrying resolve?  Little Thomas faces a life of nothing but challenge. He has Cystic Fibrosis.  And I am writing this knowing that once again he is in hospital for treatment, and then home hospital for a while, and through no fault of his own, simply because he was born with a recessive gene. It is a tough little life.   I am not here to speak about his illness, I am here thinking about how beautiful he is, how courageous, how compassionate and how important it is for him not to worry and for me not to worry about him.  The best I can do is be by his side, keeping him calm and laughing a lot. And that entails ‘living in the present’.  Putting all my judgements aside and loving him with every fibre in my being.

Just as we learned he had Cystic Fibrosis, I wrote these words for him.  They still apply, some nine years later, even more so now.  He has them framed by his bed and apparently reads them from time to time.

I send them back out into the universe with all good intention, hope, love and peace.  May they manifest for him into a life of less worry and much mirth …..

A calm spirit and a happy soul….that is what I wish for him! And for you!

 

 

“The first time I held you I felt my heart ignite with joy.

Your dear little face and your big brown eyes delve into the core of my soul.

Each time I gently kiss you on the forehead or the tip of your nose you hold your breath and close your eyes.  It is such a sweet vision, one that I imagine as I wake in the morning and when I think of you throughout the day.

What do I wish for your future?

That you may always view the world in awe; be truly peaceful; seek truth; be kind to yourself and compassionate towards others; take lots of deep breaths; do everything you want to do; live with wonder; treasure each moment; smile at everyone you meet; explore the world; read books; laugh a lot; create memories for others to cherish; open your heart; listen carefully; speak with warmth, learn everything you can; and believe you are beautiful.”

 

Annemaree  x                                                                                                                January 2009

 

For more information on Cystic Fibrosis….www.cysticfibrosis.org.au

The photo of Thomas & Luke was taken by dad.  A very proud dad.

 

 

A Beginner’s Journal: Detachment and Learning to Let Go

When I began working with Annemaree at Cool, Calm & Collected a few weeks ago, we thought it would be great fun to use me as a guinea pig ‘Yoga Beginner’ and to regularly write about my experiences.  For this, I was the most highly qualified candidate having never pratised yoga nor tried ‘journalism’ before.  Annemaree Rowley is one brave, trusting woman.  The peculiar irony of this is that after several weeks of yoga and meditation classes, my brain seems to have become coated in Teflon. Ideas for my next article seem to slip through my brain and disappear!  Nothing takes hold.  But – ah!  Hasn’t that been the whole point?

While a Slip’n’Slide mind can be tricky when you need to quickly recall PIN numbers, important dates, (or your name!),  an upside in my Yoga experience has been to learn detachment, aka non-attachment or ‘letting go’. By this I mean letting go of and not becoming attached to my thoughts, my fears, my doubts, my emotions and my opinions. When I catch myself attaching to my thoughts, I immediately begin to feel the same old feelings of resentment, anger, disappointment, worry and anxiety. I have been reading a bit about this concept of attachment and the suffering it creates, and the best (ie, the least “oogey-boogey”) description I have come across is this:

The primary cause of suffering as human beings is grasping and clinging, which then becomes extended into greed, hatred and delusion.  In our own lives, grasping and clinging create personal suffering.  When we cling to ideas, to things, to our separateness from others, to the way things are supposed to be, we suffer.  The more we grasp the more difficulty we have.  The more we learn to let go and live with the changing things of this world as they are, the more we live in peace. Even clinging to goodness can be a problem, as Thomas Murton said:

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times”.

Clinging to our body, not wanting it to age; clinging to our children, not wanting to love them and let them grow as they should but trying to make them into what we want them to be; ALL these are causes of suffering

– Jack Kornfield, “The Beginner’s Guide to Buddhism”.

Before yoga and meditation coated my brain in WD40, when I was gripped with anxiety and boxing at shadows, I was desperately grasping and clinging.  The biggest cold shower for me is this concept of clinging to “goodness”. Before the calm I was CONSTANTLY over-scheduling – myself, the kids and the entire family. Fearful – God forbid – that someone might miss out on something.  Committees, school-help, kinder duty, swimming lessons, football clinics, trips to the zoo, the park, the beach, making, baking, creating together, date-nights, friends over, birthday parties. I was overwhelmed with guilt and anxiety if I had one spare moment to sit still.

Facebook does not help. On one hand it is a great way to feel connected with friends, old and new – but it has also left me quivering with exhaustion whilst observing a plethora of “magical mum moments and major mini-me milestones”.  I have often found myself not overwhelmed with joy for the latest status update, but trapped in some vast, virtual *Mother’s Group, thinking “CRAP!   I should be at the zoo / beach / pool / museum / aquarium! I should have slept overnight at Ticketek for Hi-5 / Dora / Wiggles / Thomas / Ben 10 concert tickets!  ARGH!  I should be baking cupcakes / making crayons / finger-painting!  We should be camping / skiing / rock-climbing / doing Europe!  Let’s not even get started on the Kids Birthday Party industry, or the extremes some go to for a tooth fairy / Easter Bunny / Santa Claus visit. Pass the Xanax, the Marlboro Lights and your finest bottle of Pinot Gris – thanks.

Well, no more.  No more “should” in my vocabulary.  Through meditation and yoga I am beginning to feel more at ease with the way things are. I stand more fully and more confidently within my own skin. I am not “over-committee”ing, over-committing, over-scheduling, trying to force things to be, or having anything be any way other than what it is.

The less I try to control everything and everybody around me, the greater grip I have on life with happiness never out of reach. My family is already happier with this paring back in our lives. More than any chock-a-block schedule of non-stop forced fun and activities, the most important and responsible thing I can do for my family is to be calm.  My family will remember for many more years to come (I hope) that I was NOT a raving lunatic; that I smiled a lot; laughed easily; and was far more fun to be with than any Dora the Explorer concert.

This doesn’t mean I have checked out of the family unit altogether.  You won’t find me in front of a shrine in the corner, legs crossed, eyes closed, blissed out and absent while the kids are in front of the TV!  There is still a hectic schedule of things to do and places to be throughout the week. Detachment doesn’t mean complete avoidance of reality!  Now, with less time being eaten up with fear and worry and anxiety, I actually seem to have more hours in the day to do all of things we enjoy.  The difference is I just don’t WORRY as much anymore.

*Mother’s Group: several women hurled together with little else than a postcode and having ‘reproduced’ in common. These groups are designed to help, support and nurture new mothers through the early days of parenting. In the author’s experience, once the first six months’ fog of sleep deprivation lifts, competition creeps in, cliques and splinter groups form, judgements arise and one can be better off smiling politely and backing out of the room slowly.

AQA xxx

(Contributing writer, student and ‘eternal work in progress’ – Anita Quigley Atherton).

 

How do I look?

“Of all the things you wear, your expression is the most important”. Janet Lane.

Over the past three weeks I had the intention of writing whilst I unhurriedly made my way through the charming streets of Paris. However, there was simply too much to see and too much to savour and in this instance crème brulee and chocolate mousse simply won out. Not to mention the Pantheon, Saint Chapelle, Monet’s gardens and all the sumptuous iconic sites, book stalls, and tea houses of this extraordinary city.

I love to observe and had time to do so sitting in cute little cafés whilst tapping into my school French! I was constantly in awe (and sometimes in shock) of how people carry themselves both physically and emotionally. What can you see when you observe? What attracts you to another?

As always, travelling is about the people you meet. It is about those special moments when a smile lifts your heart and knowledge is exchanged. Whether one is donned in Chanel or Dior, nothing is more attractive than a smile! And it was a 6-year-old’s smile that connected me to Paris.

I was sitting in a café nestled alongside a little boy and his mother. I noticed the child when I entered the café. The waitresses were pouring affection upon him and he was chatty, bright and exuberant with large inquisitive eyes and a personality of sunshine. As I was chatting away to my friend opposite me, the boy’s mother politely interrupted our conversation to say that her child, Noa, would like to say how lovely my ear-rings were. I turned around to him and melted into his big smile and replied how thankful I was for the compliment. With that he asked permission to kiss me! (They mature early in France!). And alas a friendship was borne!

Thus followed an animated conversation with Moira and Noa and a consequent day spent together learning about life in France. Nothing was too much trouble….fun, laughter, hospitality and kindness! It’s moments like these that make your stay so wonderful. The photo above is of Moira’s children. You can see the delight and joy in these little beings.

Only yesterday I had a new student express to me that one of the things she wanted to gain from yoga was ‘to smile’ more often. Of course by being internally peaceful and happy one will then exude warmth and in turn connect positively with those around them.

I know I am always talking about smiling and the expression one carries, but I realize more and more how important it is for us to become mobile portraits of ‘joie de vivre’, the exultation of spirit.

“Look up not down; smile don’t frown; live with grace, gratitude and kindness” Annemaree

Smile!

I often reflect upon an experience I had in India a couple of years ago.

I was walking along the street in a small beach resort in Kerala, the south of India, and I noticed a man standing on one leg (he only had one leg).  He was holding a large cluster of balloons for sale.

He shouted out to me “hey, I remember you, you were here last February!”  That was true, but a year had passed and I was so shocked that he remembered, that I was stopped in my tracks.

I went up to him and asked “How do you remember me?”  His reply humbled me to the very core.  He said…”I remember you because every time you walked by you would smile at me”.

Here I was traipsing around the world (on two legs) and here he was limited to a tiny spot and probably had never left this village.

The lesson is in the ‘smile’ and how much they can mean to those with whom you share them.

How do you feel when someone smiles at you?  Just smiles, without any discernible motive, just simply smiles – offering you the gifts of affection and recognition?  You feel warm and for that brief moment, you feel  ‘noticed’.

How do you feel when you smile at someone?  A smile shows for a split second that you care, you share and you acknowledge.  It makes you feel happy too….doesn’t it?

‘A smile costs nothing’ and is of particular value when you know that the person you are directing your smile to – needs it so very badly.  The more desolate a being seems, the more potent and valuable the gift.

Leave a trail of smiles behind throughout your life.  Smile inwardly and smile outwardly. Smile every day for no particular reason. Who knows, your smiles may become contagious. One by one these smiles may be passed on and soon we shall all be smiling.

A SMILE

A smile costs nothing, but it creates much.

 It enriches those who receive

without impoverishing those who give.

 It happens in a flash,

and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever.

 None are so rich that they can get along without it,

and none are so poor but are richer for a smile.

 It creates happiness in the home,

fosters goodwill in a business,

and is the countersign of friends.

 It is rest to the weary,

daylight to the discouraged,

sunshine to the sad,

and nature’s best antidote for trouble.

It cannot be bought, begged, borrowed or stolen,

for it is something that is no earthly good to anybody

‘til it is given away.

 And if it ever happens

that some people should be too tired to give you a smile,

why not leave one of yours?

 For nobody needs a smile so much

as those who have none left to give.

by Author Unknown