Life is ready to love you

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One of my big learnings for 2015 is that life is ready to love you. The question is whether you are open to it?

By saying that life is ready to love you.

I’m NOT saying that:

  • You won’t experience any difficult or challenging situations.
  • All your worries and stress will disappear.
  • You will live happily ever after…

I’m saying that:

  • If you take a courageous leap that is in line with your calling or passion. Life might surprise you with the support it provides.
  • If you step out of your comfort zone. Life might show you kindness in unexpected places.
  • If you start to ask for what you truly need. Life might bless you with more than you hoped for.

Julia Cameron said ‘Take small steps in the direction of a dream and watch the synchronous doors fly open’

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Open up to the moment as it is

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How much do you allow yourself to open up to life? Do you ever allow yourself to experience intimacy within the moment?

Lately I’ve become more aware of how we tend to put conditions on our experiences. We unconditionally put conditions of satisfaction on life. For example, if I can retire without being financially dependent on someone I will be satisfied with my life. Or if we are diagnosed with a disorder, we tend to wonder why is my life so difficult. As if there is a specific way how life should be. Instead of accepting it for what it is we review it based on our pre-set expectations. In doing that we are judging it. This way of thinking can cause a lot of suffering.

In her book ‘Getting our bodies back’, Christene Caldwell writes that

When we relate in an unconditional way to our experience, we become accepting of it. And we can enjoy an open attitude towards it. When I accept my experience I can tolerate its intensity, I can learn from it. I can even find joy in it. In fact, I become nourished and joyful at the process of acceptance, more than at its actual content. It is that act of being with my experience that is satisfying, not the content of what is happening. When I accept myself, love is reborn. 

When we judge our experiences we can’t be fully open to what it may offer. We also can’t experience any form of intimacy. Not being able to experience forms of intimacy whether it is with yourself, with God, with the moment or life can lead to various addictions. As humans it is very difficult for us not to judge or label. The brain and Ego like to label and structure things in order to protect us. However, it is possible to learn to let go a bit more. To let go of our ‘conditions of satisfaction’ and to open up to the raw experience of the moment.

The good news is that you can start small. Try to strip yourself from your expectation and open yourself up to a moment each day. It can be a sip of coffee, a hug from a friend, a smile from a stranger, etc. As Caroline Myss said ‘The most meaningful events that have shaped our lives have, by far, been the smallest and most subtle’.

When last did you do a well-being check?

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Well-being is a field that I’m very interested in. Not only overall well-being but also well-being in the workplace. There are different definitions and types of well-being. In this blog I want to focus on overall personal well-being. The Oxford dictionary defines well-being as the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. Research shows that people with higher well-being have lower health-care costs, are more resilient, more productive, more involved in the successful development of their community and organizations they work at. It is, therefore, important to start focusing on well-being if we want to create flourishing societies.

Gallup and Healthways have developed a Well-being Index indicator to measure the well-being of different populations. They interviewed different people and then calculated the perception of their well-being through the following five interrelated elements that they believe make up well-being:

  1. Sense of purpose – like what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.
  2. Social relationships– having supportive relationships and love in your life.
  3. Financial security– managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.
  4. Relationships to Community – liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in you community.
  5. Physical health – having good health and enough energy to get things done.

According to their 2014 global research report, Panama is the country with the highest well-being, whereas Afghanistan scored the lowest. The European countries lead in financial well-being. The United States overall well-being is ranked 23rd of the 145 countries that participated. South Africa’s well-being is ranked in the lowest 25% (number 109). I was a bit shocked to read that the global overall well-being is only 17%. It made me wonder how important is well-being to others? (If you are interested you can read the full report http://www.well-beingindex.com/2014-global-report.)

As part of my coach training this year I had to assess my overall well-being at the beginning of this year and again now (at the end of the year). It is time consuming and not always easy to do an overall well-being check with yourself. It brings to the fore aspects of your life that you rather want to push aside or ignore. But if there is one thing that I know, it is that avoidance does not solve anything. If we don’t take the time to review our overall well-being we may never notice our patterns of behaviours or the consequences of our choices on our self, relationships and community. I want to challenge you to do a well-being check on yourself. If you are up for the challenge here are some questions that will get you going:

  1. How clear is my sense of purpose?
  2. What support am I providing to my loved ones and how much support am I receiving from them?
  3. How effectively am I managing my financial resources?
  4. How active am I involved in the community to foster compassion, service to others and a feeling of safety?
  5. How well do I listen to what my body is telling me and respond accordingly?

‘To know the world, first know yourself. To change the world, first change yourself.’ Anonymous

What’s your story?

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‘You must give birth to your images

They are the future waiting to be born’ – Rainer Maria Rilke

We all have a story. The stories we tell ourselves are shaped by our history, the struggles we faced, our failures and previous experiences. In their book ‘You are what you say’ Budd and Rothstein indicated that our judgments (such as ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘ I am not loveable’) are a function of our history of living and the standards for satisfaction that we’ve embodied. These judgments form part of our story (narrative) by which we then build our own identities, habits and our relationships with others. Our narrative forms a structure through which we interpret the world.

As protection is the most important function of the brain, we create habits and a spiral of thoughts to protect us. These thoughts often stem from fear of uncertainty or of what other people might be thinking. We work out who we are by the way others react towards us. So when we feel emotionally scared, the brain makes up a story about what is happening and how to stay safe. But sometimes these inner narratives of ‘I’ll never get ahead’ or ‘Life is unfair’ are unhelpful and bog us down.

The good news is that research indicates that we can challenge these stories and even change them. According to narrative therapists you can change the way you see the world by rewriting your story. You are meant to be in control of your story, not the other way around. We are all authors of our own lives. In creating a new story, that is aligned with your values, positive qualities and dreams you aspire to accomplish, you are creating a new reality at the same time.

To begin to foster change you first need to become aware of your current narrative. Pay attention to events that trigger it. Then actively choose to change your thinking when faced with these ‘triggers’. The task is to diminish the negative story and reinforce the positive story. In doing this you are training your brain and laying down new pathways to think and feel. Every choice gives you a chance to integrate the new story (such as ‘I am the hero or heroine of my story’ or ‘ I am an explorer in the adventure of life’) into your life. You can decide if you are going to remain stuck in your old story that is not serving you any more or are you going to create new habits or thoughts that can open up new possibilities.

We are each responsible for our own story. If you are holding anyone else accountable for your story, you are wasting your time. The psychiatrist, Carl Jung, once said, ‘I am not what has happened to me, but what I choose to become.’ What new way of being in the world, new story, can I invite you in?

Five lessons that Tamo and Stella taught me

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Tamo and Stella are our two Staffordshire bull terriers. I grew up with staffies. From as young as I could remember my parents had staffies. They bred with them occasionally. One of my fondest memories as a child was playing with the puppies. I remember I could not wait to get home after school so that I could play with them. The minute I picked up a puppy I could feel how all my worries disappeared and how my heart started to fill with love until it wanted to burst wide open.

Over the years my dogs have been my companion, protector and teacher. My dogs taught me numerous lessons. I would like to share the following 5 lessons with you:

  • Unconditional love – No matter how long I’ve been away they are always happy to see me. They don’t interrogate me before they show me love. They surround me with love the moment they see me. They don’t care if I’m rich or poor. All they care about is that I’m with them.
  • Happiness– When they are happy they wag their tails. The tempo of the tail wagging depends on how happy or excited they are. The amazing thing is that just by looking at their waggling tails I start to smile. The pure expression of their happiness is contagious.
  • Compassion – Whenever I am sad I would go and sit with one of my dogs. When I look in Tamo’s eyes it feels as if he can see right into my sadness. He does not run away or try to take it away he sits with me and stays with it. It feels as if he understands my suffering.
  • Protecting your borders –When they feel as if their territory is being invaded they will bark and try to protect it. If they can sense that you mean well they will back off and welcome you in their space. We all have borders that we build around ourselves in order to protect us. Healthy borders are necessary for our emotional wellbeing and nourishing relationships. But boundaries or borders that are too set in their ways may at times hinder us from welcoming love into our space.
  • Awareness – Tamo and Stella can be sleeping peacefully on their ‘mandjie’ (their big cushion) but the minute  they hear a sound that sounds suspicious they will get up and inspect the surroundings with tails that indicate high alert. Once they’ve established that it was a false alarm they will stroll back to their ‘mandjie’ plonk down and dose off again. They don’t continue to wonder about it or try to think about ‘what if…’ or work out different scenarios. They have the ability to be aware in the moment as it is.

I agree with Dr. Louis J. Camuti that ‘Love of animals is a universal impulse, a common ground on which all of us may meet. By loving and understanding animals, perhaps we humans shall come to understand each other.’