Still Your Mind

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We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.

-Buddha

 

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Well, I propose an amendment:

“If you can’t think something nice, don’t think anything at all.”

That’s right. If you find your mind spiralling into negativity; if your thoughts evoke feelings of fear, guilt, or envy; if you are suddenly bombarded by a parade of judgments…

Still your mind. Stop thinking. It’s that simple.

Simple, but not easy.

How can you stop your mind from thinking? It’s normal. It’s natural. We all do it, right?

It is normal that your mind projects a constant stream of thought. That’s what minds do. Sometimes your mind creates problems that don’t even exist. These imaginary problems cause stress, which can impact your physical health. They cause dis-ease. A restless mind makes a restless life.

But what if you are not your mind?

What if you could stop your mind and instantly change your life?

Think about a time you have been trying to focus on an important work project. (Like right now, for me.) After a few minutes you might notice that your mind has been wandering. Instead of thinking about work, you might have been thinking about… well, let’s pick something completely random – let’s say you’ve been thinking about raiding that stash of coconut, caramel chocolate in the pantry.

Who is the person witnessing your thoughts? Is that you? Or is the chocolate-obsessed thinker you?

In his book Practicing the Power of Now, bestselling author and spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, writes,

“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not “the thinker.”

Tolle explains that the one witnessing your thoughts, in a non-judgmental way, is your Higher Self, a higher level of consciousness. As you access your Higher Self, your thoughts recede. Only stillness remains. And you begin to feel a deep sense of peace.

So how can you access this Higher Self?

All the methods below are simple forms of meditation that will help you tap into a higher level of consciousness. The more you practice them, the more peace you will experience in your life.

  1. Watch the thinker. Tolle suggests that you become the watcher of your thoughts. Don’t judge them. Don’t reject them. Just become aware of them. Soon you will notice something interesting: Almost all your unsettling thoughts are replays of painful moments from the past or projections of problems into the future. As you begin to watch the thinker, your thoughts fade and disappear. By watching them you dissolve them. Your mind becomes clear.
  2. Live in the present. The present moment is a portal to your Higher Self. When your mind relives the past or projects into the future, it can make you feel anxious. To bring your thoughts into the present, focus deeply on what you are doing, right now. Become aware of the subtle sensations of this action. If you are touching something, feel the texture of the object. If you are looking at something, imagine you are seeing it for the first time. Being present creates mental clarity and opens you up to the possibilities of the most precious moment of all, the only moment that ever truly exists: Now. The present is just that: a gift. Accept it with gratitude.
  3. Breathe. Inhale deeply and imagine the breath is a beam of light. Feel your chest expand. Imagine the light moving through every cell of your body. Then as you exhale, imagine the breath shining out into the world. Conscious breathing activates your Higher Self by bringing your thoughts into the present. Your mind becomes still. You feel calm and alert.

When I lived on the Tiny Island (see my About page), I would often stroll along the windswept Atlantic beach in the late afternoon light. I began to think of the ocean as my busy mind. The churning waves were like thoughts crashing across my consciousness, and the sand was like my body, sculpted by these thoughts.

Then I cut inland and strolled a half mile to the bay on the lee side of the island. Here the sea was sparkling and smooth, like a mirror. I flicked a shell into the water and watched the ripples expand and shimmer in the golden light. I began to think of the glassy bay as my Higher Self. Calm and gentle. Reflecting peace. Radiating like the ripples from the shell.

When you stop your mind and summon your Higher Self, the light within you burns brighter and shines out into the world. You feel a deep sense of peace and joy. You feel light and free.

Clear your mind so you can hear your heart. Follow your heart and you will live in love and light.

Karen

Recommended Reading:

Eckhart Tolle

How to Stop Thinking

The Art of Thinking – Or Not

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Smile More

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

Thích Nhất Hạnh

Did you know most people you meet sum you up in three seconds? Three seconds for a first impression! That’s all it takes. Maybe less.

So what can you do in three seconds to help people see you as the limitless, Divine soul you really are?

You can smile.

Power of a Smile

When we first moved to the Tiny Island (see my About page) I realized the true power of a smile. Zooming around in our golf cart, we always made a point to smile and wave at everyone we passed. It was easy. During those first few weeks we were so besotted with our new island home that our faces were fixed in euphoric perma-smiles.

But even when our initial bliss faded a little, we still made an effort to smile and wave at everyone, even if they didn’t return the gesture – especially if they didn’t return the gesture. I told myself that even if someone scowled back at me, perhaps I helped him or her to smile on the inside.

All that smiling paid off. Within days, we earned the label “friendly”. The locals spread the word, and before we knew it, people would smile at us as we approached, even if they hadn’t met us yet. They went out of their way to help us. Life seemed to be on our side.

The same principle applies in the Outside World. Sometimes you may never see the person you smile at again. But that’s OK. You’ve sent a ripple of joy out into the world. And just like the ripple in a pond, it will grow exponentially.

If smiling doesn’t come easy for you, if you’re shy and find it difficult to smile at a stranger, you are not alone.

Here are some Tips to Help you Smile:

  • Be grateful: In every moment focus on something you can be grateful for. It might be as simple as the fragrance of jasmine on a warm spring day, a butterfly floating by, or a warm coat on a winter’s day. Gratitude makes you smile.
  • Think happy thoughts: It’s impossible not to smile when you’re thinking about something happy like a child’s giggle, a friend’s joke, or your favorite food.
  • Look for the light in everyone: Everyone has a light flickering deep within, waiting to burn brighter. Make it a challenge to ignite it. Sometimes a smile is all it takes to tweak the energy exchange between two people.
  • Quit judging others: You don’t know what the person you just met is going through in their lives. People choose their own path of learning, and the most powerful and liberating thing you can do is respect that path. Always give others the benefit of the doubt.

A smile says, “I come in peace and love.” You may smile at someone and forget, but that simple smile could make someone’s day. It could even save a life.

Smiling is contagious. Not only does it make the recipients happy, and all the people they smile at happy, it also makes you happy.

Smiling is good for your health. It lowers your heart rate and boosts your immune system. It breaks the ice of stress.

Smile and watch the world yield to you. Light up a stranger’s face.

Ignite joy.

Karen

Cast Away

 

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Mark Twain

Have you ever felt a deep longing to do something, but fear held you back?

I’ve always wanted to live a simple life on a beautiful tropical island. I tried it once with my husband when we were young. We loved it so much that I wanted to try it again with our kids. I wanted to immerse them in the peace and beauty of nature, to nurture an appreciation for the little things in life. That was my dream.

Then the Great Recession hit. It was a time of stress and sickness, a time of loss. But somewhere deep inside me a glimmer of light flickered in the form of a feeling, a craving, a question:

Why can’t we live our dreams?

The more I thought about it, the lighter I felt. Then it hit me…

We’d already sold our house and most of our possessions. Why not Go with the Flow? Why not sell it all?

Why not sell it all and live our tropical island dream with the kids?

But I had to sell the idea to my pragmatic husband first. I needed a pitch, an angle, a hook. Hmmm… What could it be? What was my hook?

Hook. That was it! Fishing was my hook.

You see my husband, Brian, is an obsessed saltwater fly fisherman. For him, casting a fly to a tailing bonefish on a shimmering, tropical flat is a potent stress buster, a powerful form of meditation.

I had my hook. Now all I had to do was cast out my line. The conversation went something like this…

“Bri-an,”

“Yes?”

“I was thinking…”

“Oh no.”

Nervous chuckle.

“How would you like to live in a place where you could fish for bonefish every day?”

“There are no bonefish here.”

“Yes, I know.” Pause. “But what if we lived in a place where there are bonefish? Somewhere hot and tropical with beautiful, crystal-clear flats?”

“We can’t afford it.”

“But what if I have a way to afford it? “

Direct eye contact.

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…” I could almost hear the reel scream.

That was the short version of my pitch. Of course there were many other conversations, but generally the whole process was easier than I thought.

Instantly the energy shifted. Instead of serious resignation and a sense of defeat, we felt an almost child-like excitement. A spark ignited. The spark of adventure.

Three months later we packed eight bags, swapped our cell phones for fly rods and moved to a tiny, tropical island in the Bahamas. It was then that I realized:

Loss can lead to living your dreams.

Change your attitude. Change your life.

So if you really crave something, cast away and see if you can catch it. Don’t spend your life wondering… what if? Don’t let regret rule.

You really can live your dreams. It’s all up to you.

Live light and live happy.

Karen

Forgive and Be Free

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As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.

Nelson Mandela

We’ve all been hurt by someone. At some point in our lives someone has betrayed us, brutalized us, banged us up, brought us to our knees. You know who they are. You hate being around them. You can’t bear to think about them, because the painful memories ooze to the surface like pus in a wound. I call them the Hurters.

The Hurters can make us curl up in a ball, scared to face the world. Terrified to trust.

But what if Hurters can be Helpers?

When I hit rock bottom, the Hurters were there. These were the people who shunned me, slammed me, stabbed me in the back. They were the final straw, the last kick in the gut. And then I knew I had to change.

It was time to live the life I craved, to sell up and strip down, to live my dream of a simple life on a beautiful sun-soaked island.

It wasn’t the Hurters that forced this change. But they gave me the final push. Without them, I might still have been stumbling through my stupor, fantasizing of escape.

And when I arrived on that island of my dreams, I stood with my feet planted deep in the soft, powder sand, gazing out at a mirror sea, and I thanked the Hurters. For every door they slammed shut, every snub, every smirk, and every barb – all of it – brought me here, to this bliss.

The Hurters were Helpers.

Every person we meet is in our lives for a reason. And the people who hurt you the most, the people who bring you to your knees, tears raining, pain pressing, suffocating, choking, driving you to the brink; these people, these Hurters can be your finest teachers.

But only if you let them.

Perhaps they teach you tolerance. Perhaps they ignite an inferno of purpose and resolve. Perhaps, like a foil, they shine on your soul.

Smile and thank them. For they helped make you strong and send you on your way.

Life is a delicious drama. Look back and you will see how every character plays their role like a virtuoso. Kicking you at a critical moment. Nudging you to where you’re meant to be. Right here. Right now.

Love and gratitude are much lighter than a grudge.

Forgive and be free.

Karen

For more on seeing light in the dark, see Sink or Swim.

Strip Away Stuff

Enough is a feast.

Buddhist Proverb

Ever thought you need more storage space or a bigger house so you can organize all your stuff?

You are not alone. But I learned through experience that buying more space is not the answer.

It all started one rainy weekend at home. My husband decided to risk his life and venture into the dark depths of our junk-crammed storage closet looking for a forgotten tax file. Stretching up high to an overloaded shelf he pulled on a box.

Thwack!

A plastic singing bass slapped him in the face.

“We need more storage space! We need more shelves!” he screamed.

Soon we had to sell that house, and our real estate agent spoke those dreaded four words, “You need to…” Oh no. Wait for it. “You need to… declutter.

Aaaargh! So much stuff. So little time.

Digging through all our possessions, I was shocked at how much junk we collected over the years. Expensive junk. What was I thinking? I hardly even used this stuff. Then it hit me like a runaway U-Haul.

We don’t need more storage. We need less stuff.

So we had a garage sale. We sold a jumble of ugly, old furniture teetering in the garden shed. Et voila! We reclaimed an entire outdoor room of storage space. We recycled magazines, and finally I could dust under the coffee table. We gave away clothes. We donated books.

Giving felt great. It created space. And whenever I wondered who would most need the things we wanted to give away, the perfect person would magically show up.

Like my neighbor, Bettina.

A year earlier she lost her only child to a brain tumour; her precious, luminous ten year-old daughter. After a year of unimaginable grief, I recently heard that Bettina and her husband were in the process of adopting twin toddler daughters. Maybe they need some toys, I thought, as I tripped over a Fisher Price farmyard pig. I called her over.

Bettina took one look at the sea of puzzles, princess toys, ponies, and girly paraphernalia. “Thank you so much,” she sobbed. And she pulled me into a bear hug.

I was shocked. I felt so unworthy. To me this was stuff the kids no longer cared about. Closet cloggers. To Bettina it was hope; hope of a home filled once more with the laughter of a child. Hope that grief would loosen its grip. Hope of happiness.

I realized that for Bettina, accepting the toys was an act of great courage. It was her way of opening up her heart. Daring to love again. Embracing vulnerability.

“Thank you,” she said again, and her gratitude made me glow.

A simple act. A powerful reaction.

As we move through life, stuff can weigh us down. Assets can become liabilities: Extra stuff to stress about. Extra stuff to store.

Giving can free us. And it reminds us of who we really are.

We are not our possessions. We are not a big house with a granite kitchen, a media room, and a double-car garage. We are not a new car with leather seats and a wood dash. And no, we are not a plastic, singing bass. (Thank goodness).

We are not stuff.

We are love and light and joy.

Stripping away our stuff felt so good that we decided to keep going. We sold more stuff. We packed 8 bags and our fishing rods, and we moved to a tiny tropical island with our two kids and our geriatric cat.

Join us on our adventure as I share the pearls of wisdom I found along the way. I hope I can light a little spark in you and help you find your path to peace and joy.

Live light and live happy,

Karen

Go with the Flow

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

Lao Tzu

Think back through your life. Can you remember a time when you wanted something so desperately but obstacles kept thwarting your path?

Did you ever consider that perhaps you were being guided in another direction?

Sometimes all we need to do is tweak our perspective and try a fresh approach. It can mean the difference between swimming against the current and floating effortlessly downstream.

When things kept going “wrong” in my life and I lost the things I thought were secure, I reacted with knee-jerk panic and fear. Too scared to let go, I clung to my comfortable, privileged life. I was terrified of change. But one thing after another continued to collapse around me. Finally I felt like I had nothing left to lose.

So I decided to try something different…

I decided to Go with the Flow. We’d already lost our home in a fire sale. Why not keep going? Hell, why not sell it all?

Why not swap our stressful and expensive life in the suburbs for a simple life in a beautiful place doing what we love?

So we did.

We sold our cars and most of our possessions. We uprooted our kids and our geriatric cat, packed eight bags, and moved to a tiny tropical island in the Bahamas.

It was one of the best things we have ever done in our lives.

From the moment we made the decision to Go with the Flow, instantly I felt the energy shift. Instead of everything going wrong, suddenly things seemed to click.

In my next post I’ll share how stripping away the clutter in our lives can set us free.

Until then,

Go with the Flow.

It seems like a small change but it can make a big difference.

Sink or Swim

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“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”

Joseph Campbell

Welcome to my first post.

If you’ve read my “About” page, you’ll know my main mission for this blog. It’s all about helping people. Lately I’ve learned many lessons in my life, lessons I wish I’d learned a long time ago. Now I want to help you by sharing these experiences.

In this post I want to talk about transforming what we might judge as a negative life event into a positive force for change.  Instead of sinking into the depths of panic and fear, we can swim to the light.

Let’s begin with an idea:

Bad luck can sometimes be good luck in disguise. We just don’t know it until we look back.

Think about it.

How many times has a life event devastated you, yet later, with new perspective, you feel intense gratitude for that same experience?

Perhaps something good came out of it. Perhaps you learned something about yourself or it nudged you in a different direction. Like the time you didn’t score your “dream” job, but later found a more rewarding career on an unplanned path. Or the time you stressed yourself out because something made you late for an important event, only to discover you dodged a fatal crash on the freeway.

What if every time something “bad” happens we take a different approach? Instead of reacting with fear and fretting about things that are out of our control, we could ask ourselves what we can learn from the event. It can also help to tell ourselves that things happen for a reason. We might not know the reason right now. But one day we may understand and be grateful for the changes.

Like everyone, I’ve had some “bad luck” in my life. It was a time of loss, a time of fear. A time when life stripped away everything I thought was secure.

When the Great Recession struck, all the material things I thought were safe collapsed around me, one by one. Every time we lost something, I clung in fear to what we had left.

When sales sank at our business, I told myself, At least we still have a beautiful home. Soon we had to sell that beautiful home in a fire sale.

But I didn’t give up. When it looked as though we might lose everything, I told myself, At least we’re all healthy. The next day my husband, Brian, was diagnosed with a melanoma.

That’s when I fell to my knees.I didn’t know what to think anymore. I didn’t know what to believe.

Perhaps you have been at this stage in your life too. Perhaps the same questions were running through your mind:

Why is this happening? Why now? Why me? 

Looking back, I think I know why this happened, and I am filled with gratitude. But at the time, I was overcome with panic and fear. It wasn’t until I took a deep breath, and looked at my life in a different way, that I saw light in the darkness.

After months of fear-induced nausea, I made a choice to stop acting like a victim. Instead I vowed to use those “negative” events to make a positive change. It was a simple change but it had a powerful impact. And I quickly learned I could apply it to every facet of my life.

This small change led to big things. It helped me simplify my life and live my dream of moving to a beautiful, tropical island with my family.

Stay tuned and I’ll share it with you in my next post.

Karen