7 compelling reasons to meditate!

7 compelling reasons to meditate!

Would you like to find an effective way to stay calm and centred in stressful situations instead of being hijacked by your emotions? Would you like to understand yourself better? Meditation is excellent for reducing stress levels and enhancing your mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Here are 7 compelling reasons for bringing meditation into your life.

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  1. Meditation helps you to relax and realign

Slowing down, breathing deeply and being still, even for just 5 minutes a day, deeply relaxes and realigns your entire body. The more frequently you practice meditation, the easier you will be able to access a relaxed state just by bringing your awareness to your breath and your body for a couple of minutes a few times throughout your day. This ability is very useful during stressful situations.

  1. Meditation reduces stress

Meditation is a very powerful antidote to stress, because you give your body a chance to take a break from the inner stress response (which for many of us is constantly on) and come back into balance. Given the strong correlation between stress and illness, it’s never been more important to find effective ways to counteract stress for your overall health and well-being.

  1. Meditation brings you into the present moment

Practising being “present” is an excellent skill to learn, as when you bring your awareness into your body and what you are feeling and sensing right now, you realise that most of the time you are anywhere but present: your mind is either imagining future scenarios or replaying past situations. If you are stuck in the future or the past you miss what’s happening right now! So the skill of presence is training yourself to bring your attention to what’s happening right now in your body through your senses, and then you can appreciate and do more with the life that you have.

  1. Meditation helps you to manage your emotions

If you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed or there’s some funky energy in your body, meditation gives you the space and opportunity to process your emotions. Emotions are not meant to stay stuck in your body. When you feel your emotions fully, you can gain insight into what’s really going on for you and the emotions tend to recede.

  1. Meditation connects you to your heart and intuition

Your body has the most extraordinary technology – your emotions are signposts towards how you feel about your life and relationships, your heart knows what’s true for you where it really counts and your intuition is an incredible in-built radar system that mysteriously but masterfully pulls you in the direction of your highest good. These intangible and less understood intelligences are not yet valued in our rational society. But they are amazing and worth tapping into and, best of all, you don’t need to believe in any philosophy or woo woo to use them to your advantage. Meditation is the best way to connect to your heart knowing and intuition, because you have to be very quiet and open to hear what it has to say.

  1. Meditation increases self-awareness and self-knowledge

Spend time with yourself in meditation and you’ll get to know yourself better. With practice in slowing down and focusing your awareness, you’ll start to get occasional glimpses of your habitual responses in your relationships, dysfunctional patterns of behaviour that keep you stuck or in chaos and the limiting beliefs that have been driving you for a lifetime. This is the aim of inner work, as when your previously unconscious patterns become conscious, you can then work on changing them for the better.

  1. Meditation opens you to the sacred in life

Meditation can help you access a state of deep peace, spaciousness and bliss that is as humbling as it is mysterious. There is undoubtedly much more to our consciousness than most people know. When you connect to the deeper parts of yourself in meditation, you realise that you are uniquely independent and interconnected to every person on this planet. Meditation is the ultimate practice for connecting to the sacred, mystical and transcendent elements of life.

The great thing about meditation is there are many different ways to do it and you don’t have to believe in any religious or spiritual philosophy. If you are starting out it’s worth trying a few different methods to find what works best for you. I offer transformative group meditation classes at various times in the Northern Beaches, Sydney. To find out more, please contact laurelle@transformcounselling.com.au.

Why your most difficult relationship can be your greatest teacher

Are you in a difficult relationship with someone in your life or a challenging situation that presses every one of your buttons and triggers an unusually strong reaction in you? Does the very thought of this person or situation send you into a mental spin that lasts for days, weeks, even months?

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Have you ever wondered how you could improve things so there’s less charge and more harmony, at least from your side?

Whether it’s a past relationship or a provocative situation that still upsets you, or a relationship that you can’t end because they’re family or you live or work with them, then the most empowering approach is to change your inner orientation to that person or situation.

Why on earth would you want to do that, when they’re the person with the issue, you might ask?

Good question.

The simple answer is you have very little control over how others behave. If someone chooses to be rude, offensive, judgmental, unfair, irrational or narcissistic, that’s their issue. You can’t change them no matter how much you would like them to be different. Yet how you react to them and how you continue to relive their words and actions is your responsibility; that’s your issue.

Once you recognise that you have no power in trying to control how others behave, the question becomes, well where do I have power in this relationship or situation? What is in my control? What are they are triggering in me?  Can I accept this person for who they are or the situation for what it is? Asking yourself these types of questions is significantly more empowering than blaming and resenting others, and can in fact be game changing.

You may notice that you don’t like how you feel when you’re with this person. It can bring up uncomfortable feelings (ie powerlessness, anger, frustration, resentment) and you may behave with them in a way that doesn’t feel like “you”. That’s because you often leave yourself when you’re with challenging people.  It can feel like they take your power, but in actuality you give your power away.

When you react strongly to someone, chances are something about them hooks you back into your old unfinished business from the past that has nothing to do with this person. This is classic shadow dancing: you each trigger old hurts and wounds in the other.

It’s also a ripe opportunity for learning how to become less triggered in these situations.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

The interesting thing about personal growth is pretty much everything that goes on in your life is actually about you. It’s about how you relate to others and to yourself. Sounds narcissistic, but it’s far from it. Your relationships mirror back to you your relationship to your life. So if you find yourself triggered by someone, instead of ruminating over what they said or did, please pause for a moment and ask yourself:

What if they are teaching me about how to be more accepting, more loving, more connected to others?

What if they are showing me what my unmet needs are?

What if they are teaching me about empathy, patience, and tolerance?

What if they are teaching me how to stick up for myself, find my voice, not take things so personally, or how to have stronger boundaries in my relationships?

Ultimately, it’s about acceptance.  Acceptance of yourself and acceptance of others as they are. And with acceptance, comes the freedom to make different choices. Most of us receive feedback and instruction on our behaviour until we leave school, but after that there are less opportunities for real feedback on the areas in us that could do with a bit more attention.

These tricky situations and relationships are your best opportunities to make real leaps in your personal growth and maturity, because they show you your blind spots in a way that no one else will. They are a gift (albeit of the painful variety…). It might sound crazy to welcome your adversaries and be grateful for what they teach you, but if you are able to do this, then you are doing true soul work. What’s more, as you start to extract the lessons and apply the hard-won understandings to your life, you may well find yourself unfazed by similar situations in the future.

Why you should pay more attention to your emotions Part 1

ImageWhen life isn’t going so well, often our first response is to go into distraction overdrive to avoid feeling our feelings. If, like most people, you dislike the sensation of being angry, frustrated, uncertain, anxious, confused or overwhelmed, in an attempt to get rid of these feelings you might emotionally eat, have a few too many 5 pm wines, or spend all your spare time online or watching TV. Basically, any addictive behaviour that stops you from feeling your inner turmoil can be, let’s be honest, a relief. It’s an habitual way of dealing with uncomfortable emotions that may have served you well in childhood, but now just keep you stuck.

If you try to bury or avoid feeling your feelings, it’s important to know that whatever’s causing you emotional distress doesn’t actually go away. If only! The issue and the intensity of your feelings might dim for a while but rest assured at some point they come back. Always. So to avoid a bigger personal crisis down the track from years of stored emotions, what could you do now to restore some balance in your system and, more importantly, why would you bother going to the effort?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that when you’re in turmoil, and your emotions are intense and uncomfortable, there’s a reason for it. Your body’s trying to tell you something and it’s worth listening. For example, if you’re angry, perhaps you didn’t speak up for yourself with someone, or maybe you were undermined at work. Anger often represents a boundary issue. If you’re feeling sad, perhaps you’re having to let go of something that was important to you. Until you feel into that sadness, you may not even realise just how important it was to you.

Let’s imagine you’ve been in the same job for 5 years and you’ve been happy there. Then one day you wake up and feel differently about your job. You’re frustrated, bored, dissatisfied and restless. If you paid attention to these feelings, it would start to become clear that something needs to change: perhaps it’s time to move on as you’ve outgrown your job, or maybe you need to have a conversation with your boss about making the role more challenging.

If, on the other hand, you ignored these feelings, because your emotions are energy, and they haven’t been felt or expressed, they build up in your system over time and then come out in more disruptive and dysfunctional ways, often when you’re least expecting it. For example, someone says something minor and you lose your temper; or you project all your “stuff” onto someone else making them the problem in your life; or you constantly feel lethargic from all the years of ignoring your body and it’s wearing you out.

As you can see, when you feel your feelings and accept them as being a valid part of your experience, even if you don’t like how they make you feel, they will always give you information about your current reality. They can be a phenomenal source of personal guidance. Sometimes it’s hard to hear that guidance because the truth can be painful. It can take time to come to terms with what it is we need to change in our lives. However change doesn’t always mean ending something; but it does mean that you have genuine needs that deserve to be met.

When you choose to include your emotions in your life, you’ll get to know them for the remarkable guidance system that they are and you’ll start trusting yourself a whole lot more.

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll be giving you some quick tips on how to feel your emotions.

My top 7 self-help books

One of my all times favourite activities is to read, so it’s really no surprise given my profession that I have an insatiable interest in books about the human condition. Here is a list of books that I highly recommend for their ability to inspire, teach and translate sometimes complex concepts into practical tools for living.

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  1. Daring Greatly, Brené Brown

    I had so many aha moments reading this outstanding book that I had to physically stop myself from highlighting the entire book.  Brené talks about the values of courage and vulnerability and explains how to develop shame resilience, which is crucial for our psychological health as well as that of our kids.  Brené Brown is not only funny and insightful, she really knows her stuff.  In this book, Brené’s main premise is that as human beings we are wired for connection, yet to actually experience deep connection, intimacy and joy in our relationships, we need to be open, authentic and vulnerable with each other.  Being open and vulnerable can be risky and scary and can easily trigger shame, particularly for men, who have often learnt the hard way that vulnerability equals weakness.  Ultimately though, Brené emphasises that the rewards far outweigh the risks.  This is a very important book for our times.

  2. The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle 

    Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual teacher who had an intriguing spiritual awakening in the middle of the night in his late 20s.  This thought-provoking book contains Eckhart’s essential philosophy on the self, as he explains how our minds get in the way, how we get caught up in the same old dramas of our lives, continually re-triggering our old pain.  His teaching is simple:  learn how to become fully present in this moment and it will transform your life.

  3. The Places that Scare You, Pema Chödrön 

    Pema Chödrön might be a Buddhist Nun, but before that she was a schoolteacher living an ordinary life just like the rest of us.  In my humble opinion she’s one of the wisest people on the planet. She gives wise and compassionate guidance within a Buddhist framework on how to live through life’s more challenging moments.  Budddhism has a lot to offer Western psychological thought and Pema Chödrön has the ability to speak to everyone about everyday challenges, no matter what their preference or faith. I love this little book and continue to return to it for inspiration.

  4. Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges 

    I read this book a few summers back on the beach and pretty much the only part that was saved from the highlighter was the covers. This is a brilliant book on managing life’s transitions, one of my all-time favourite topics. An important distinction to understand is that transitions are not the same thing as change.  Change happens to you (ie you’re made redundant) or a change can arise from within you (you feel differently about something or someone). A transition is your inner response to that redundancy or change – ie how you feel about it, think about it and experience it.  As you know, life is made up of many different transitions and they can be very painful and challenging to work through.Bridges has come up with a 3 stage guide to help us all manage the transitions in our lives with more ease and understanding.  The first stage is grieving what you have lost.  Grieving losses is important because you cannot move forward whilst you are still holding onto the past. The second stage involves sitting with uncertainty and often chaos because you are in between the two phases of your life. You’re no longer where you were and you’re not yet where you’re going. This stage is the most challenging because of all the uncomfortable feelings that can arise (like confusion and fear) and because it can really shake up your sense of identity and stability.  It’s important to be patient when you are here though because somehow it’s through this murky-ness that the new ideas and potential for living a new way arise. It’s literally allowing a transformation to occur from within you. The third stage is where you step into your new identity or way of being and move forward.  It’s a wonderful book to read when you are going through a transition because it helps you understand that there is a process occurring and it will, ultimately, resolve itself.

  5. Man’s search for meaning, Viktor Frankl 

    This is an incredibly powerful book about our need to find meaning in our lives and how this meaning can save us, even in the most difficult of circumstances.  Viktor Frankl details his harrowing experiences in concentration camps during World War II and the discoveries he made about the nature of being human.  Whilst at first glance this seems an odd choice for a self-help book list, there’s something incredibly moving and powerful in his account of survival against the odds.  His experiences prove that whilst we can’t avoid suffering, we can choose how to cope with it and find meaning in it.  These very human qualities can help us move through situations and look forward. At the very least, it’s a shining example of the strength and resilience of the human spirit. An unforgettable book that should be read at least once in your lifetime. 

  6. The 5 Love Languages, Dr Gary Chapman 

    This easy to read book is a gem for relationship strengthening – the basic concept being that we all have different needs in love and one of the problems we experience in our relationships is that we don’t necessarily speak the same “love language” as our partner.  For example, if (metaphorically speaking) you speak Chinese and your partner speaks Spanish, and you’ve never bothered to learn your partner’s language (Spanish), you’re likely to experience communication issues and have lots of unmet needs in your relationship. This book sets out the 5 main love languages that Dr Chapman devised from his decades of work as a couple therapist.  It is well worth reading as it opens your eyes to your partner’s way of seeing things and needs that you may not have previously appreciated.  It also opens up the possibility of fresh conversation about how you could learn to speak each other’s language and take more interest in each other’s way of seeing the world. When people feel understood it goes a long way towards creating stronger, more connected relationships. 

  7. Intimacy & Solitude, Stephanie Dowrick 

    Here, Stephanie Dowrick brings her wealth of experience as a psychotherapist to issues of identity – which is well worth reading if you are trying to figure out who you are (no matter what stage of life you are at), or if you are keen to achieve greater intimacy in your relationships.  It’s about learning how to be independent and connected in an authentic, meaningful way.  Stephanie is a beautiful writer; I find all her work brims with wisdom and soulfulness.