"My Dog Ate My Homework..."

“I’d love to help out but I have to go to this Thing…”

“I wish I could but I’ve got a prior commitment.”

“I’ve been meaning to do that but I’ve just been so busy.”

And the least imaginative (i.e. the laziest excuse) of all, “I can't.  I have to wash my hair.”

The list goes on and on. We can all be really good at making excuses when it suits us. But what exactly does that mean? Why would it “suit us” to make excuses?

That’s easy. We’re afraid of something.

“Oh, no,” you might be thinking. “Not every excuse is about fear!”

Oh, yes. It is. Every single one of them will be about a fear of something.

There are the excuses we make when someone asks us to go to some event or other and we have absolutely no interest. But we’re afraid we’ll offend them, or they might not like us, or they’ll be angry or insulted. We don’t dare just say “No, thanks.”

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There are the excuses we make when we’re dating but discover behaviours or attitudes that we just don’t like in the people we’ve been seeing, and we decide we don't want to see them any more. They suggest getting together and we avoid their phone calls, or tell them repeatedly, “I can’t, I’m busy that night” until they finally figure it out and quit asking.

Or we might go so far as to tell them as gently as possible that “…it’s just not working out.” But when they ask what we mean, we say “It’s not you…it’s me” when we know perfectly well that’s not at all how we really feel. But we are afraid to be honest, afraid to hurt their feelings, afraid to stand up for ourselves.

Then there are the Mothers of all Excuses. The ones we tell ourselves about why we can’t do something that benefits us. Why we can’t pursue our goals. Why we don’t take chances, let opportunities slide past us, walk away from our dreams.

We tell ourselves we’ve just been too busy lately or it would cost too much or it would upset someone if we got this or achieved that. We’re loaded with excuses that we sugar coat as “reasons” so we can cram them down our own throats, foolishly thinking that others can’t see the truth about our cowardice.

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The worst of it is that most of what we fear won’t happen anyway. And it’s usually just based on self-destructive and inaccurate beliefs such as “I’m a failure; I’ll fail at this, too.” Or “Nothing good could happen to me. I know it won’t work out so I’ll save myself the disappointment.”

Excuses are always dishonest. They’re a feeble attempt to hide – or at least ignore – the truth. And the truth is always about fear.

When we make decisions based on fear, there will never be a good outcome. It restricts growth and learning. We stay stuck in the same place, thinking the same thoughts, having the same experiences, fearing the same things as we’ve always done. We cannot move ahead if we don’t take risks, be honest, face the truth about who we are, how we feel, what we want and need for our lives.

And that is a terrible waste.

The next time you hear yourself about to offer an excuse to anyone for anything – including and especially if it’s to yourself – stop and think about what it is that’s keeping you from speaking the truth. Try to determine why you’re doing your level best to shoot yourself in the foot. Examine the fear that has twisted itself into an attempted justification for the excuse you are about to make.

It is only when you face that fear - and address it - that you will be able to continue on the journey toward being all you’re meant to be.

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What You Do Tells the World Who You Are

Yes, it’s true. Actions do speak louder than words. In fact, they scream into a megaphone.

You might hear people tell you how “spiritual” or “religious” they are. Then they throw judgement around like a volleyball. They gossip more than Mrs Olsen did on “Little House on the Prairie”. They insult, criticise and look down their self-righteous noses every chance they get.

You might hear people tell you how much they respect themselves. Then you hear them make self-deprecating comments. You watch them eat nothing but fat and sugar. They drink excessively. 

Or they’re sliding into bed with one person after another after another at the drop of a hat – or a pair of trousers. And perhaps, not being very ‘safe’ about it either.

You might hear people tell you they’re your friends and you believe they really care about you. But when you’re ill or struggling through a bad time, they’re nowhere to be seen and can’t even be bothered to ring to see how you’re doing.

Or perhaps you hear of people who tell you of their Really Big Dreams. They go on at length about how they’re going to do this and that, and they make loads of detailed plans. 

But then, apart from talking about them, they never actually do anything toward putting them into action.

You might have a boyfriend who tells you how devastated he was by a girlfriend who cheated on him in the past. He swears up and down that he would never – could never – do that to anyone and then you find out he’s cheating on you, and he’s done it to virtually everyone before you.

You hear people say they hate liars. Yet you have personal experience of the countless times they’ve been dishonest.

You hear people tell you how strong and brave they are, how confident, and then they don’t dare go for that promotion because they’re sure they won’t get it. They won’t stand up to the shop owner who was rude. They let fear make their choices for them and their insecurity oozes out of every bit of hesitation and questioning.

Whatever you say, it’s what you do that will tell the world the truth about who you are. You may fool people for a while, especially if they’re particularly trusting, or prone to giving people the benefit of the doubt. But in the end, there’s really nowhere to hide.

Even if you never said another word, your intentions and your true feelings would be screaming like a banshee.

In the end, everything you do will tell people whether or not you mean what you say. And they will react accordingly.

What do your actions say about you? Or more to the point, what do you want them to say?

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You Can Learn A Lot From Children

I love children. They’re just too cool. They know what we “Grown Up People" have forgotten. They know what’s important and we can learn a lot from them – if we so choose.

There’s nothing quite like watching the wheels turning in an intelligent young mind that is curious and soaking up a load of new information. I love seeing those bright eyes so focused – just like lasers as they watch and learn.

I love the way children bubble over with enthusiasm. Some are like a pot of homemade soup that’s a little too full, boiling and rolling with big, bloopy, bubbles of chunky vegetables and fresh herbs that spill over and sizzle on the hob. Others are bright, quick and sparkling, fizzing over the top like the finest champagne.

Quite naturally, children love to play and we spend a good deal of time teaching them not to do it. Sit down. Be quiet. Do your chores. Do your homework. Make your bed. Mow the lawn. Don’t be silly. Mind your manners. Settle down. Shhhhhhh!

We teach them to work hard. To be ambitious. To get ahead. To “make something of themselves”, as if they are nothing in the first place. In fact, they are pure and perfect at the start, but we knock it out of them (with some help from Life) and turn them into joyless, responsible adults who’ve forgotten how to dream, how to share, how to remember that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.

I remember watching “Junior Masterchef Australia” and being astonished by children, aged 8-12, cooking things I can’t pronounce, using ingredients that were completely foreign to me, and plating up dishes that looked like they were served in a 5-star restaurant.

As if all of that was not enough of a treat, it was extra wonderful to see some very important differences between the children and the adults who I’d seen on previous seasons of the adult version of the same show.

On the grown-up version, a contestant wins a challenge and becomes a team captain. He (or she) gets to choose the opposing team captain, and the choice is always based on who will be a poor captain in hopes of that team losing the challenge - because one of its members will be eliminated.

And they choose their own teams based on who they believe are the best contestants because they want to stay in the competition, win the title, the $100,000 and the cookbook deal.

But on Junior Masterchef, it’s another story. They choose their friends.  

When the adults are doing team challenges, members from one team look nervously over at everyone on the other one, to see who’s in the lead. They’re panicking, stressing, freaking out, worried, constantly blathering on about how they cannot lose this challenge because they really wanna win! They sure as heck don’t look like they’re having any fun at all.

But the kids' team challenges have usually involved the teams rooting for each other, and at times even assisting one another if one team was falling behind because they didn't want their 'customers' to be disappointed.

And the kids were having an awful lot of fun.

When the judges praised the adults’ dishes, quite often the other contestants looked jealous or worried. They’d plaster fake smiles on their faces, gritting their teeth while clapping with all the enthusiasm of a bunch of writhing fish hanging from hooks in their faces.

Yet when the judges praised the children’s dishes, the other kids lit up. They were beaming. They were so excited, hugging each other and saying, “You did a great job!” and obviously meaning every little bit of their excitement and pure affection.

When the adults got eliminated, most of them were very upset. Some were even quite obviously angry.

This was especially evident in those who were eliminated very near the end of the competition. They tried to choke down what they were feeling, but it was clearly written on their pained faces. And when they were back just days later to watch the two finalists compete, you could still see the disappointment, the anger, the jealousy. All they had to give the finalists were fake smiles and false encouragement.

When the children were eliminated, sure, some of them cried, but some of them said, “Out of 5,500 kids who applied, I can’t believe I got this far! I’m really proud/happy/excited about that!” They were still beaming, radiant, thrilled when they got their trophies and they didn’t care that they just lost out on several thousand dollars in a trust fund and the title of Junior Masterchef Australia. They were just genuinely happy for getting as far as they did. And they were genuinely happy for the contestants who were still ‘in’.

The adults were all about the fame, the title, the money, the winning, going on about this being ‘their only chance’ to open their own restaurant etc. 

Well, how did all the other restaurants in the world happen?? Did everyone have to win a competition that would give them some start-up money? Ummm, I don’t think so.

The kids were happy to see the others succeed and it was not about whether you win or lose, it was about how you play the game. They knew it was supposed to be about fun, about having a really cool experience, about learning, about supporting each other. It was about enjoying the ride and not worrying about the destination.

Yup.  You can learn a lot from children.

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Sometimes You Just Have to Break the Vase

I remember receiving a particularly good, solid kick in the guts some years ago. The kind that knocks the stuffing out of you. The kind that sends you reeling and leaves your head spinning.

It was the kind of kick that is so hard, it shakes loose your entire belief system, right down to your core, rattling every last bit of hope and certainty you ever had until they’re smashed to pieces.

I got up after the first kick, brushed the twigs and dirt off my clothes and carried on. Then I got a really brutal kick. It was much worst than the first. I wasn’t going to get up again. Figured there was no point.

But I dried my eyes, took a deep breath, and stood up. I decided that it had just been a test of faith, and as I used to be perfectionistic about tests, I wasn’t gonna do an “A-”.  It had to be an “A” and therefore, I would prove that my faith was strong and solid.

So I squared my shoulders, laughed off the two solid kicks, and smiled, thinking “Bring it on!”

Okay, I guess "them was fightin’ words." I reckon I asked for the next kick. And the one after that. I suspected there would be several more in the near future (and I was right). I had the Universe pegged as more of a chess-player than a kick-boxer but apparently, I was wrong. Just one of many lessons in that whole situation.

When I was first looking at that test of faith, it was like I was looking at my spiritual beliefs as a strong and solid marble vase. I had relied on a particular set of beliefs for a long time, and although there were some additions and deletions of various specific parts down the years, the fundamental structure had not wavered.

That marble vase held all the fresh water and beautiful flowers I could put in it. I needed that vase because for me, life just wasn’t worth living without being able to enjoy the magnificent beauty of the flowers that it contained.

I loved my marble vase. It was perfect. I made it myself. I’d worked so hard on it and it had taken a few decades to create it, so it suited me exactly. It was so strong and solid, it never occurred to me that anything could break it. Or that anything would be horrible enough to try.

Although marble is extremely solid and durable, my beautiful vase became cracked. I continued pouring in lots of water to try to keep the flowers alive, but the water kept leaking out faster than I could refill the vase. The closer I looked, the more cracks I saw. And the flowers began to die.

At various points in that experience, I tried using epoxy adhesive to repair the cracks, but more appeared in other places. I’d got to the point of thinking the entire vase needed to be chucked. Not only did I not want to look at the vase any more, I didn’t even want to look at marble.

In fact, it got so bad, I was questioning whether or not I even wanted another vase.

One morning, I went to a favourite outdoor "retreat", needing connection with nature, with Mother Earth and the Universe in which she lives.

(Kinewell Lake, near my beautiful 500-year-old stone cottage in rural England)

(Kinewell Lake, near my beautiful 500-year-old stone cottage in rural England)

I sat and listened to the quiet wisdom of the herbs, the flowers, the thick lush trees. A soft rain began to fall, and as I felt the gentle drops on my skin, I appreciated that every one of them came from the heavens, a subtle yet powerful message about my connection with the Divine, and the knowledge that we are all spiritual beings and we are all connected to one another.

In such perfect surroundings, the answers began to come.

I remembered life before the vase. I remembered the horrible, dark feeling of being completely and utterly lost and alone, without spiritual beliefs, without that connection to the Divine, and to everyone else.

I knew I must look at the cracked marble vase again.

The way I saw it, I had only two choices. I could haul out the epoxy, repair the cracks and when I’d look at my beautiful vase, I would see them as ‘war wounds’, symbols of surviving my test of faith.

Or I could take a hammer to my marble vase and break it into pieces. I could put them together in a different way, perhaps using only some of them and connecting those pieces with beautiful bits of coloured glass or pretty stones. I could still see something of my original vase, but it would just be different. It might even be more beautiful than the original. And it would, in all likelihood, be much stronger than the first.

But one thing I knew for sure, whatever it would look like, I did need a vase. It was the whole point, the purpose, the reason for my existence.

So I hauled out the hammer. I found the coloured bits of glass and the pretty stones. I chose the best pieces of my lovely old marble vase and I created another that was unique and even stronger than the other one had been. It was daunting, yes, and even rather frightening to contemplate tearing apart my entire belief system, starting from scratch and constructing a new one.

It wasn't the first time I’d done it. And it wasn't the last. But I've survived it every time and that makes it easier each time I'm faced with the need for significant growth and change.

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Actions Truly Do Speak Louder Than Words

I’d like you to grab a piece of paper and write down your answers to a few questions I’m about to ask. It’ll be important in a minute, you’ll see. So I’ll wait……..

Okay.  Ready?

What is important to you? Don’t read any further, please, until you’ve written your answer. It doesn’t have to be lengthy or involved, just a quick point form list will do. 

This little exercise can be quite a profound experience if you do it, so please do yourself a favour and take a few moments with this.

Okay. Next question. Who is important to you? Another quick point form list, please.

Now, a separate list. Please jot down what has eaten up your week. Make a few notes about how you spent your time over the past seven days. What were you doing each day?

One more thing: What were you thinking about during the week? What was on your mind?

I really hope you wrote those answers down because there’s something about seeing them in writing that works better than just leaving it all in your head.

Now, please take a look at your list of what you did and what you thought about for the past week. Most people have a whole lot of stuff on their lists that is about work – whether it’s about their jobs or the housework, the errands, the obligations, the responsibilities, the meetings, the children’s homework and music lessons and the groceries and the meals blah blah blah.

Okay, let’s take a look at your list of what is important to you. Chances are, some of that stuff is on that list, as it should be. But are there things on that list that aren’t getting your attention? Why not?

Look at the list of who is important to you. Did those people make it onto your list of how you spent your time and what you were thinking about? Did you even make it onto your own list?

If there is something incongruent about all of this, perhaps you could stand a shift in your priorities. If you say it’s important to play and enjoy your life more, then do it. If you say your health and well-being are important, then make choices that reflect that. If you say your children, your parents, your sister, your friends are important to you, then make sure they know it. Write. Phone. Email. Send a card. Organise spending time together.

And don’t forget: Really, you must be on that list of who is important to you. If you’re not, then put yourself right at the top and make sure you spend time doing something for yourself every day, even if it’s only for 10 or 15 minutes.

We give our attention to what is important to us. Sometimes we know what - or who - should be important, and we can say all the right stuff on that subject, but really, in our heart of hearts, our priorities are a mess.

It's truly a case of actions speaking louder than words. If you say something or someone is important to you, then show it. Prove it. Live it. No more excuses.

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The Golden Rule: Completely Misinterpreted

I was chatting with a friend recently. She was really upset because despite her best efforts to be kind and respectful in a particular situation, she was treated pretty badly in return. I could sense her bewilderment, her confusion as she wondered why this had happened. There was a childlike innocence in the way she’d been expecting that being nice would have got her the same in return - or at least, in her distress about the fact that being nice did not get her the same in return.

It was rather like seeing a child open a lovely birthday present and find a toy she’d wanted forever, and then discovering that it was broken. She said something like, “I was minding The Golden Rule, being as nice as I could be and I don’t understand why they treated me like this anyway!”

Well, I guess I could say a few things in response to that. The first is that understanding it doesn’t change the fact that it happened. Even if someone has had a terrible day, just received awful news, for example, and rips your head off for no apparent reason, that person is still responsible for his or her actions. There is no way to take back hurtful words or actions.

The next thing I would say is that you don’t have any control over what other people do or don’t do. Honey may attract more flies than vinegar but ultimately, the fly still gets to do the choosing. Just because you’re being sweet, it doesn’t mean you’ll get what you want or that you'll be treated with the same respect as you are giving.

But to be honest, I think the biggest problem with my friend’s situation, and the millions of others who have the same experience, is that they’re misunderstanding or misinterpreting The Golden Rule.

Look at what it says:  ”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

It’s suggesting that we treat people a particular way. Full stop.

But somewhere along the way, a whole other section has been added:  ”And then people will do unto you as you did unto them.”

In reality, it says nothing at all about the other person’s actions. The focus is only on what we should do. Yet for some reason, we seem to think that those words contain the promise of a pleasant reaction in all cases every time we’re nice to other people. And so we’re surprised or bewildered when it doesn’t go that way. We feel hurt and disappointed, and sometimes wonder what we did wrong, or what we did to warrant such treatment.

But nowhere in The Golden Rule is there anything that should lead us to the expectation that other people should behave in a particular way because of something we do or don’t do. If you think about it, that’s rather arrogant (and somewhat controlling) of us to decide what is the correct way for someone else to behave in a given situation. It says “You do not have the right to free will – but I do.” It says, ”I made my own choice but I am not letting you make yours.”

It is unreasonable to project your reactions, responses and sensibilities onto others. It is a mistake to expect people to give you the same consideration, courtesy and respect that you naturally give them because quite often, they won’t. Don’t slide into the comfortable illusion that everyone else will be as nice to you as you have been to them.

Accept that no matter how respectful you are to other people in the first place, they are free to be as rotten to you as they want. Be prepared for it, so if and when it happens, you aren’t disappointed, hurt or bewildered.

I'm not suggesting that you should expect them to be rotten. It's just that having expectations of any kind is unreasonable and unfair. It also means you're inviting disappointment, at the very least.

It’s great to do your best to be kind and respectful to other people, but be sure that you don’t take it personally or feel crushed when you don’t get the same in return. To me, that’s just the most sensible approach, and it saves an awful lot of grief.

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Quick and Easy "Me Time" to De-Stress

People often tell me how insanely busy they are. They say, "I have no 'me time' at all!"

They're exhausted. Fed up with responsibilities, everyone and everything else coming first, and needing their attention.

Well, the truth is, no matter who you are, if everyone and everything else is coming first in your life, it's only because you are allowing it. You don't just "find time" for yourself. You have to create it.

Of course there are certain obligations that must be met that mean you have to be here or go there or do that at certain times. But there's a difference between those (e.g. being sure children get to school on time, or you show up to your job etc) and how you fill your other hours (e.g. evenings and weekends).

I spent a lot of years being a single parent. Part of the time it was with five children, while I was juggling five part-time jobs - and serious illness and some other personal issues that placed huge demands on my time and energy. I understand "busy."

In spite of all of that, I made time for myself. It doesn't have to take a lot of minutes to yourself every day to make a big difference in your life, as I tell all these busy people. They seem doubtful at best.

So I tell them about one of my favourite mini-meditations. It involves a very short period of time, preferably first thing when you get up each day. You can get up a few minutes earlier - 15 would be nice but even 5-10 would be better than none.

Now don't tell me you can't manage 5-10 minutes each day for yourself. I'm just not buying it.  You can. If you won't, well, now, that's another story.

So - get up a few minutes earlier. Yes, even if you're already getting up at 5 or 5.30. I've been sleep-deprived my entire adult life and I'm still breathing. Some things are just worth it. And sleeping for those few minutes a day won't be anywhere near as helpful as this little trick I'm about to share with you.

I used to get up at 5.00 every day, even on weekends, just so I could spend nearly two hours on yoga, meditating etc. before my children got up because after doing it for a short time, I could see what a massive difference it made to my life. The benefits far outweighed losing a bit of sleep.

Anyway, I'm not suggesting you spend two hours every morning doing yoga and meditation (although if you can, you might want to give it a try!).

What I am going to tell you what I suggest to all of these very busy people who complain that they have zero time to themselves. It's a simple and lovely little thing called a candle meditation.

As soon as you climb out of bed and are still in that lovely half-awake state, find your way to a darkened room if possible.

First, set a timer so you don't have to worry about being late with your morning routine.

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Then light a candle. Sit quietly and look at the flame. Just focus on how beautiful it is, how gentle, how peaceful its movements are, softly flickering, dancing... It moves with the air.

Focus on your breathing in a way that is designed to cause as little air movement and flame-flickering as possible. Think "stillness" as you try to keep the flame from moving by taking slow, deep, even breaths.

Or just look at the flame. But don't sit there stewing about your problems and worries. Just look at the flame. Focus on it, watch what it does, see how it moves. Notice colours in it, watch the edges of the candle change shape as the wax slowly melts.

If you're going to think about anything while gazing at your candle, think of gratitude. Think of the blessings in your life. Think of positive things, and only positive things.

Do this candle meditation every morning for a couple of weeks. Or do it before you go to bed but do it consistently; give it a real chance. Don't tell me you haven't got time. 

If you think you're unable to give yourself 5 or 10 minutes a day, you're making far too many excuses to sabotage your own life and happiness. If you're so important that you have to get all that other 'stuff' done, then you're important enough to take care of yourself.

So get up (or get ready for bed) a little early. Sit quietly and watch the flame of a candle for a few minutes. You'll enjoy it. You'll begin to look forward to it. You'll want more of this, or some other bit of 'me time' to journal, to read, to do 5-10 mins of yoga - whatever. You'll miss it if you skip a day. So don't.

No more excuses.

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How to Love Waiting

I remember a day when I had the good fortune to be sitting in a hospital and waiting for a friend. While I sat there, it struck me as odd that I used to say, "I'm waiting" as though I had a mouth full of barbed wire. It was a nuisance. It was irritating. A complete and utter waste of precious time.

But down the years, I've learned a thing or perhaps even two, and now I rather enjoy waiting.

To be honest, I do not enjoy waiting when it is for something unpleasant, something awful. When you know bad news has packed its suitcase and is on its way to see you or at least has said it might stop by and say hello on its way to visit somewhere else.

But that doesn't mean I enjoy waiting only when it's for something good either, because I've discovered that waiting has a joy all its own. How did I get there? 

Well, step one was in learning to tolerate waiting, and that was about being patient.

When you have kids, you spend an awful lot of time waiting. I used to be ridiculously impatient, but over many years I had five children. When you become a parent, you get three choices:  become patient, hurl yourself off a bridge, or end up in a room with quilted wallpaper.

Okay, so I learned to tolerate waiting. Did I like it? No. So it still felt like a waste of time. But then I learned the Buddhist art of being mindful. Such a simple concept, but my goodness, how it changes life for the better. When practicing mindfulness, time slows, your body slows, your breath slows, your blood pressure settles. You learn to notice and let go, notice and let go. It's all about observing, watching, drifting peacefully from one moment to the next, as you notice and appreciate each one before moving on to the next.

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For a very long time, a typical day for me has meant about 14-16 hours of work. Sometimes, it's even 18 and occasionally 20. This includes weekends. It's a good job that for me, "work" is enjoyable and involves being creative, doing things I love.

Because I enjoy what I'm doing for "work", it's easy for me to forget to "play", to goof off, to just chill and do nothing. And so, the Universe gently reminds me to take a break sometimes by offering the blessing of waiting.

Somewhere along the way, I realised that I could use waiting as a mindfulness meditation. It offers an opportunity to notice the lines in the wood grain on the floor and see how pretty they are. And let the thought go. It's an opportunity to notice the birds' cheerful song...and let it go. The sound of passing cars...and let it go.  The way the chair feels under me...and let it go.

I notice the snippets of conversation between people who are sitting nearby, and let them go. I notice my body, the feel of my tongue as it rests in my mouth, my elbows as they touch the chair, the slow and gentle rise and fall of my tummy as I take each breath. And I let each thought go as it gives way to the next and the next, noticing and letting go.

The more you notice and let go, the more you relax. Anxiety is worry about the future, so as you stay in the 'here and now', anxious thoughts melt away because you know that all your remaining moments will take care of themselves as you get to them. For right here, right now, in this very moment, all is well.

And if all isn't well, you let go of those thoughts as you focus on all your other experiences in this moment, and you know that your life in this moment is not just about the pain. Like every other moment, the painful ones will all pass too.

The more you focus on what you experience right here and right now, the more present you are in your life. If you're thinking about ten minutes from now, or tomorrow, or next week, or when you retired, you're missing what's happening in your life right now, in this moment.

If you're thinking about earlier this morning, or late last night, or last week, or 27 years ago, you're missing what's happening in your life right now, in this moment.

Being mindful allows you to stay connected with yourself and your life. All it takes is a constant flow of noticing and letting go of what was noticed.

An excellent place to begin practicing mindfulness is when you're eating. Notice every detail, as you raise your arm and use your hand to pick up the fork. Marvel at your body and how amazing it is that you're able to do this - especially when some cannot.

Notice the fork as you hold it between your fingers. Notice how your mouth begins to water as you scoop food onto the fork. Notice the aroma of the food. Look at it. Think about where it came from, how many processes and people it took to get it from where it began until it landed on your plate, from people who planted seeds to people driving the lorries to get the food to the shops - and the workers there, too.

As you raise the fork toward you, notice your mouth opening. Notice where your tongue is as the food goes into your mouth. Pay attention to your lips closing around the fork, and how they feel as it slides back out of your mouth. Notice the texture of the food and everything that happens in your mouth as you chew.

I could go on but I'm sure you get the point. The more detailed you are in being mindful, the more benefit you will derive, as it improves overall health and well-being. It brings clarity of focus and thinking, improves concentration, deepens insight and intuitive wisdom, increases resilience to change, strengthens relationships and improves self-confidence.

It can significantly reduce stress which offers many health benefits all by itself.

I'm so grateful that now I see "waiting" as a delicious opportunity to be mindful. I accept it as the Universe gently offering a respite from my long work days. No longer does it feel like barbed wire in my mouth. No longer do I see "waiting" as doing nothing, or a monumental waste of precious time.

Oh, no. Not at all. Now, I'm happy to say, as though it is a most important job, "I'm waiting." And it is a most important job because it affords me the opportunity to be mindful of every moment of my life.

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You Only Fail When You Stop Trying to Succeed

Is there something you want to do? Some particular goal you have? Perhaps it's a habit you want to break, for example, stopping smoking. Or maybe something you want to learn, for example how to play the piano.

Have you tried to achieve that goal, but stumbled? Stopped smoking only to start again? And again and again and again? Then stopped stopping, gave up trying, resigned to the fact that you're a failure?

Have you tried some sort of new business venture that didn't go according to plan (i.e. didn't work out at all) despite your having been absolutely certain it would be a great success?

Perhaps you haven't even bothered to start trying. One of my favourites is when adults say things like, "I always wanted to play the piano" and I tell them, "So learn." They say they're too old. And I say, "You still have a pulse." And they insist they just couldn't.

Well, I guess if they decide they can't, then they can't. It's really more about "Then they won't", because they've made a choice and decided not to even bother trying.

My mother used to shoot me down before I'd even begun to try new things. Right up until she got dementia, she was still telling me, "You can't do that!" when I'd mention something new I wanted to do or learn.

When my children were little, it drove my mother nuts that I had confidence in them. My eldest daughter, Amy, sings beautifully, and when she was 9, she was going to sing at a wedding. I wanted her to stand front and center in the church so she could be seen and heard properly. And that's what Amy wanted, too.

She knew the lyrics inside out, backwards, upside down and was a very outgoing child, not at all nervous being in such a position.

My mother insisted that she should be way over to one side, behind the piano with the lyrics there for her, just in case. There was a lot of heated discussion about this, in front of my daughter. Unfortunately, that was back before I knew how to stand up for myself and I ended up caving. 

As it turned out, people on one side of the church couldn't hear or see Amy very well - and she never did look down at the lyrics...

Amy was disappointed that she hadn't got the opportunity to prove that she could do it - not just to my mother, but to herself. She hadn't been allowed the chance to succeed.

My mother was teaching insecurity and self-doubt, which really bothered me, but it was years before I understood that she was teaching what she knew. In her own way, she was trying to protect my daughter from failing and ending up lacking confidence, something from which my mother suffered in a significant way. But it still hurt every time I watched her teach my children how to fail, as she had done to me, too.

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As the years passed, I could see that throughout her life, she had felt like a failure in many ways. She projected a lot of her pain and disappointment onto the people she loved, fearing that they would end up in the same state. She wanted to do and learn and try things but because she lacked confidence, she gave up, often without even having tried.

The bottom line is, you only fail when you stop trying to succeed. So you've stopped smoking 286 times, only to begin again. Is that a good reason to say you've failed? Absolutely not. It just means you haven't been successful at reaching your goal of becoming a non-smoker. Yet.

Whatever your goal is, as long as you keep trying to reach it, there is the chance you will succeed. If you want to be successful, stop thinking of yourself as a failure. You will only fail when you give up and refuse to try again.

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When Forgiving Seems Impossible...

We've all heard it countless times. Forgive and forget. Simple enough words. Should be simple enough to do. So why is it that sometimes we have such trouble with one or the other - or both?

Well, before going any further, let's clear up a few misconceptions about various parts of this old adage.

The first stumbling block that many people encounter is in the meaning of forgiveness. We think that if we forgive, we're saying, "What you did to me is okay." You may, in fact, decide that it really was okay, but that is not what forgiveness is. That is about a change in your perspective or understanding of the incident.

To forgive means that you're no longer willing to carry the pain of the incident that was so hurtful to you. It means you understand that as long as you hold onto that grief, that anger, that indignation, that betrayal, that breach of trust, you are hurting yourself - and in many cases, the other person isn't even bothered, isn't aware, isn't hurting right along with you just because you're holding a grudge. He or she may have been out of the picture for years, moved on a long time ago, not giving it another thought, and there you are, chewing on it still.

The very notion of letting go of that pain can have you feeling like you're betraying yourself, like you're saying, "It was okay that this person did this terrible thing to me." But really, all you're doing is holding yourself hostage and perpetuating the pain, every single unpleasant thought and memory about the incident being another log thrown on the fire that destroys your peace, your happiness, and your life as it burns its way through your soul.

As long as you hold onto that pain, every time the memory comes up you're immersing yourself in negative feelings. This will only cause further suffering, as you are willingly bringing that negativity into your life and your energy.  No good can ever come from such a choice.

Another misconception that people sometimes have about forgiveness is that it can't be done without an apology for the offending incident. It's true that you might feel better after people say they're sorry. You might feel as though their apologies validate your pain. But the truth is, to validate your feelings does not require the involvement of anyone else. Your feelings are valid because they exist. They're already real because you've experienced them.

Or you might think an apology will give you hope that the same types of incidents won't happen again if those people understand how hurt you felt. But really, that's quite a reach. I mean it would be great if it always worked that way. But it doesn't. Whatever caused those people's offending behaviours in the first place may well be tied to their emotional wounds, which will not go away just because you happened to be on the receiving end of the fallout.

On top of that, even if people say they're sorry, you might still feel hurt. You can still go and lick your wounds, no matter how much remorse or regret other people say they feel about their actions.  It's still entirely up to you whether or not you choose to let go of that pain.

And then, of course, there's another scenario. They can say they're sorry, but what if they don't really mean it? What if the words come out of their mouths, and you think they mean it but they really don't? You've heard the words, you think they're sincere, and you're now ready to let go of the pain and it feels so good.

But unbeknownst to you, those people aren't really sorry. So in reality, the remorse of other people has nothing to do with your ability to forgive. Once again, I will tell you that it's entirely your choice to let go of that pain - or not. You can decide - at any point you choose - to let go of the incident and put it in the past.

Now - what about forgetting? What does this part of "forgive and forget" really mean? Do you actually have to forget that the incident ever happened? Of course you don't. Although sometimes it happens naturally, there are bound to be incidents that are just too huge to escape the memory completely, especially when they've resulted in life-altering consequences.

When we say, "forgive and forget," usually the "forget" part is just a byproduct of forgiving. It's what happens to the incident that you've forgiven; it gets left behind in the past. Whether it's literally disappeared from your consciousness, or you've released yourself from the prison of its pain, you're prepared to move on and leave it where it belongs.

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There is another aspect of this old adage that needs to be addressed. We've established that forgiveness is wonderful.  It comes from our compassion for ourselves, and others, and is very healing, powerful - and empowering. And we've established that forgetting about an incident once you've resolved it in your heart and mind is also wonderful. So to "forgive and forget" is a great plan. Don't carry the pain any more; let it go and move on.

But there is a catch. A little trap that can keep us stuck in the past, even though we think we've moved forward by forgiving and forgetting. It is in thinking that forgetting means "going back for more." If you keep forgiving and forgetting the same incidents, the same behaviours, the same words over and over again from the same person or people, then you keep yourself imprisoned and stuck, unable to make any progress in your life.

When you've learned all you can from your interactions with someone else and there is clearly no further forward movement, it is time to stop going back for more. Otherwise, you're simply standing in your own way.

Forgive and forget as long as you're able to continue in your own progress, your own development in your spiritual journey. But when doing so becomes a roadblock on that path and you are unable to move forward, remember that there is such a thing as "forgive, forget, and don't go back for more." Only you can decide when you've reached that point.

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