Why Pain is Good

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I’m not a masochist, but I want to challenge the idea that pain is something to be avoided.

In this world, we are told that feeling pain is bad and feeling happy is good. And when I’m teaching yoga, I often tell students to avoid pain in their bodies, as this is our body’s way of telling us that something is going wrong. And I do think, as much as possible, that physical pain should be avoided. Emotional pain, on the other hand, is something to dive into head first; avoiding emotional pain leads to all sorts of discontent and dishonesty (mostly with ourselves).

Emotional pain is an essential part of life. It allows us to see the light and shade of life, and cliched as it sounds, pain is where the growth happens. By avoiding it, we miss out on the realisation of our strength and the understanding of our power.

That’s not to say it’s easy – allowing ourselves to feel pain is one of the hardest things we can do. And we are bombarded by a plethora of ways to avoid it; advertisers have made an art of offering solutions to avoid pain, and technological advances have allowed us to have on-demand distractions which again, take us away from being in that difficult place.

Sometimes these distractions are useful, but not in the long term. When the pain is fresh it can be too much to handle, and sometimes the distraction allows us to keep going, to do the daily things we need to do to survive without breaking and shattering completely. But eventually we need to find some space away from the consumption (shopping, scrolling, over-scheduling) and find a way to feel our feelings.

Allowing ourselves to sit with our pain (much like allowing ourselves to sit with our fear), can have a deep and profound impact on how we go through life, how we show up for other people, how we feel about ourselves and how we approach certain situations (like risk). The first time is the hardest, but it gets easier each time. And while I don’t think any of us would voluntarily put ourselves in a position where life is painful, when these situations occur, here’s what I do:

 

Step 1 – distraction. I binge on Netflix, trashy books, social media, and eat food/drink that I might usually avoid, until I get to a place of acceptance with what’s going on.

Step 2 – stillness/quiet time/meditation. I try to allow the feelings to surface and allow space for tears, rage and/or whatever else comes up.

Step 3 – talking or writing. Both help me to get to the root of the issue, and to understand what’s happening. Sometimes having a sounding board (whether a friend or a blank page) can put things into perspective.

Step 4 – getting into my body. Exercise, massage, reiki, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, etc. I move my body and get outside help (via trusted practitioners). My body and heart know what I need, way more than my mind. Keeping in touch with the physical signals they send helps me to avoid spiralling into negative thought patterns.

Step 5 – reflection/more quiet time. Once again, I try to allow the feelings to be there. More tears/anger/etc.

Step 6 – action. I start to make changes based on what I’ve learned, whether that’s quitting a job, changing friendships, changing personal habits. This step is difficult, but important to me because it shifts me from feeling like a victim to giving me a sense of autonomy over my life. The changes may be small to start, but over time they can make a big impact.

 

This isn’t always a fast or easy process (in fact it’s usually quite slow), and sometimes the steps are not linear (one step forward, two steps back and then a sashay to the side). But this process of listening, feeling and action has been useful to help me feel empowered in my life, even when the pain comes from an external source (like loss or tragedy). It’s also helped me to understand that pain doesn’t need to be avoided; looking back, I always realise that it is times of pain that have made the biggest positive impacts on where I am today. Those times have taught me about my strength, my resilience, my ability to get to the other side unscathed (but not unchanged), and have really made me who I am today. I no longer fear pain. Although I can’t say that I enjoy it, I appreciate what it can do and where it can lead.

For more on dealing with pain in life, I recommend reading Pema Chodron’s book “When Things Fall Apart”. She explains these concepts clearly and eloquently and offers simplicity to some of life’s complicated stuff.

We don’t always choose what happens in life, but we can always choose how to react.

What are your strategies for dealing with pain? I’d love to hear more – leave me a message in the comments below.

Photo by Ali Schilling Photography.

Yoga for Creativity

Sometimes we all need a bit of help to get inspired and to reconnect with ourselves. And of course yoga can help!

Below are a few videos to help connect in with our centre and lower bellies, the areas of the body linked to our creativity and sense of self. These are lovely movements at any time, but especially useful if you’re feeling creatively blocked, uninspired, unmotivated or not quite at ease with who you are. You can do just one video, or all four, and take as long or as short as you like with any of them – all together they are just under 10 minutes, but feel free to take more time if you have it. I like these movements most just after I wake up (to bring movement into the spine), or if I’ve been working all day and need a little boost in the afternoon.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and what impact the videos have for you! Leave me a comment or find me on instagram: @laurenewilkie

 

Giving and Receiving Abundance

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“It’s just like a magic penny. Hold it tight and you won’t have any. Lend it spend it and you’ll have so many, they’ll roll all over the floor!”

I’ve frequently been reminded of these lyrics in recent days.

At the beginning of this year, I was listening a lot to The Lively Show podcast, and it’s been delving deeper and deeper into the teachings of Abraham / Jerry and Esther Hicks, most notably, The Law of Attraction. I’d read about this concept before, but it always felt a bit silly to me – how can you think something into being? By focusing on your desire, you will be able to manifest and bring it to life?

But I had it all wrong. Jess Lively goes into much more detail on her podcast (which I would highly recommend checking out), but my summary is this: it’s not about wanting something so badly that you create it, it’s more about getting yourself into a state of alignment with that desire – finding that state or desire within yourself, which in turn attracts more of that state/desire to you.

This year I wanted to cultivate a sense of abundance in my life – not only financially, but also socially, culturally, and professionally. And I wanted to be able to share my abundance somehow in the world. I will admit, I have never been particularly involved with charitable or political organisations (unless posting about them on facebook counts as involved) – I have donated here and there to certain charities, but never with any kind of commitment. I try to spend my money consciously (with socially responsible organisations) as much as possible, and I go out of my way to help people when I see a need, but I don’t volunteer my time on a regular basis, and I very rarely give out money to homeless people on the street.

I still have a far way to go, but starting small and slow can eventually lead to an avalanche (I’m a big believer in the “one small change leading to a revolution” kind of thing). In an effort to both create more abundance and to share my abundance, I’ve been doing two things:

  • Telling myself that I am abundant (and listing the ways) most days. This is akin to a gratitude list, but just looking at it through the lens of abundance. I was really inspired by Che Dyer’s post about abundance affirmations.
  • Giving back and giving things out. I’m giving my change (and not just my pennies, but my pounds) to people asking, and making a concerted effort to donate time and money more regularly. In addition, I’ve been more willingly generous with friends and family (but ensuring I know my boundaries so I don’t end up resentful).

The result of these two small but regular actions is that I feel more abundant, more fulfilled and more at peace. Sometimes to have more, we need to give more, and to give more we need to feel like we have more. Taking time to notice what we have and taking time to give it away (which, for me, surprisingly, has had minimal impact on my time or standard of living), has made a huge difference in my mindset, which I’m sure has resulted in a more full and fulfilling life.

And although I’m not rolling on the floor in pennies (or pounds), I feel incredibly abundant. And that’s really what it’s all about.

I’d love to hear how you give back and what you do to bring abundance into your life. Let me know in the comments or find me on Instagram @laurenewilkie

Digital Detox

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I recently got back from an amazing holiday in Sri Lanka. Before we went, life had been full and hectic, and I knew that I wanted to take some time during the trip to really switch off and restore my body and mind, so that I came back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. We spent the first week on an incredible yoga retreat with Holly Warren, a remarkable teacher who is somehow able to find a place for the reverence of yoga, without making the atmosphere heavy. This is the second retreat I’ve been on with Holly and both have been transformative and magical.

The second week, we found an incredible AirBnB in a quiet part of southern Sri Lanka and I decided that to make the most of the breath-taking surroundings, I would stop looking at social media and checking my phone until we came back to reality. Ironically, often when I’m on holiday I find myself checking social media MORE, as I post photos of our adventures; not having anywhere to be also eliminates the natural deadline for a forced switch-off.

I’m not going to lie – I found it really hard. Not just at first – the whole time. What is it about those sites that is so addictive? I persevered and managed a full 5 days without looking at Instagram or Facebook. And it was only at the end, when I started checking again, that I realised what I had gained by switching off.

I had so much more space in my head! I wasn’t constantly feeling the need to consume words and images and to know what was going on everywhere that I wasn’t. My thoughts slowed down and I could actually figure out what I was thinking and feeling. My internal dialogue slowed. Everything inside me felt like it was moving at a manageable pace, instead of racing around on super-speed.

I realised that by the continuous filling up of my head, I hadn’t left any space for my self: for the guidance of my intuition and my heart. And that by limiting the amount of time on social media, (and therefore the number of messages that came into my brain) I was more able to relax, more able to concentrate and more able to feel and be.

I realised also that checking our phones is both a habit and a distraction. In a short amount of time, we have forgotten how to feel bored. Waiting in line, waiting for the train …. waiting for anything really, has become an opportunity to consume rather than reflect and observe. By not taking this time and allowing the space, we supress our natural instincts and especially our emotions (which of course, then come out in other ways when we least expect it). And we fail to notice what’s gong on around us – interesting things, opportunities, thoughts, emotions …. All of which could be extremely useful or just fun.

So for now, although I’m back on social media, I’m trying to limit the amount of time I spend there – allowing more space in my head, allowing emotions to present, and allowing more presence in my life … even if that means being bored for a few minutes each day.

I’d love to hear if you’ve tried a digital detox and what happened? What did you discover? Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram or Facebook (after the detox, of course!).

New Year Ritual

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Each year, with the onset of Christmas and the end of year fast approaching, I feel the urge to reflect, reset and contemplate on what lies ahead. Sometimes I do this formally, taking a couple of days to think and write and ponder – other times it’s more intuitive, the planning and reflecting taking place in my head. On New Year’s Eve, after the festivities and indulgences of Christmas, my husband and I usually spend a quiet night at home, chilling and chatting. Over the years we’ve developed a little ritual that leaves me feeling grounded but excited for the upcoming year and a fresh start. It doesn’t take long, but allows for some reflection, some planning and a release so that the year starts new. Here’s what we do…

Take two pieces of paper and on the first page:

  • Write five things from the past year for which you are grateful.
  • Write three things from the past year which you’d like to let go.
  • Write three things that went well
  • Write three things that you would do differently (and how that might look)

On the second page:

  • Write three things for the upcoming year that you’d like to see, do or accomplish.
  • Write three things for the upcoming year that you’d like to feel or be.
  • Write three things for the upcoming year that you’d like to stop doing or finish.
  • Take a few moments to think about how the choices you will make in the next year can align with these intentions.

Take the first page and set it (responsibly) on fire, honoring the gifts you received and the lessons you learned. Let that shit go.

Take the second page and place it somewhere you will see it often (bathroom or kitchen are often good choices); revisit a few times throughout the year as needed to revise or update. Keeping it close will remind you of what you want for the year when faced with difficult choices or when you get off track, but also how much you can change in a short amount of time.

I wish for everyone, a peaceful and happy holiday season, and a fantastic 2017. See you in the new year!

 

 

Five tools for easier meditation …

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When I first started meditating, I found it really difficult, and I used to get frustrated and angry with myself because I thought I wasn’t doing it “right” (more about that here). After practicing meditation regularly for a couple of years, I’ve developed a few tools to make it easier and more enjoyable.

 

1. Find a comfortable way to sit. If you’re not comfortable, the discomfort will be the only thing you think about and it will make you annoyed at meditating, annoyed at yourself, and resistant to doing it. A few options that work for me:

  • Kneeling with yoga blocks or a bolster under my bum.
  • Sitting on a chair with feet on the floor.
  • Lying on the floor.
  • Sitting in bed with pillows behind me.

 

2. Pick a time every day that works for you. For me that’s either first thing in the morning or directly after my yoga practice. Before bed can be a nice time (just make sure you don’t fall asleep), or when you get home from work, creating space for the transition from work to home. Lunchtime works for some people, and depending on your morning or evening commute, those can also be good times to try. Whatever time it is, make sure it’s one that you feel comfortable with and are able to commit to (most of the time).

3. Use a timer to start. When I began meditating, I used to worry that I would get caught up and be late for work or appointments. I became a little obsessed with looking at the clock during my meditation and I found it very distracting. When I started using a time,  I could let go and concentrate more on breath or whatever my focus was that day. Now my body kind of knows when it’s time to stop so I don’t use a timer any more, but I found it very helpful at the beginning. (Side note – make sure the timer ending noise is gentle, or you’ll be rudely jolted out of your stillness).

4. Stop feeling like your mind should be blank. This is basically impossible and will leave you feeling frustrated or annoyed. I meditate not to clear my mind, but to observe what is going on and to create space between thoughts, feelings and actions. At the beginning, it can be nice to focus on a particular “thing”, and when your mind wanders, bring it back to that item to create focus. I often use my breathing or the repetition of a mantra, but it can be similarly useful to focus on an object (I like rocks and crystals – they’re solid to hold and make me feel connected with nature). The object itself is not important- it can be a candle, a flower, or something special – what’s important is that it helps keep focus and you can keep coming back to it when you start to drift off.

5. Start small. At first, sitting in stillness with only your own thoughts and feelings can be very difficult. Begin with 5 minutes a day, and slowly build from there. Small but regular practice will have a stronger impact than long sessions infrequently.

 

Did you find these tools helpful? Let me know in the comments or use #meditateoctober

It’s not too late to join me for 10 days of meditation over on Instagram #meditation101010

Finding Truth

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The poison:

Feeling the pressure of accomplishing and creating the perfect life – not just professionally, but personally too.

Feeling “not enough” because you haven’t hit the milestones … even those milestones that you didn’t want to hit.

Feeling like you’re not keeping up (even though you know you’re on your own right path) because all around you are messages that you’re falling behind, moving too slow, running out of time?

 

The antidote:

Put down the phone, stop scrolling. Forget about the inspirational quotes and the six-pack abs. Quiet the voice of comparison in your mind.

“Know that you are on your own path; only you know what’s right for you.”

“Different milestones happen at different times for everyone; and they don’t always happen – which is good.”

We say these things to ourselves, but do we really feel them in our hearts?

Turn up music you love and let your body move organically, then sit quietly and listen to your own breath.

Place your hands on your heart. Be still. Determine if what you are doing (or not doing) is true and right for you. Your heart knows. Listen only to that.