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A Year’s Reflection

December, we know, is a busy month as we find ourselves perhaps prematurely propelled into Christmas and the New Year. For me, December is also a reminder to reflect upon the year’s work – life in general and especially at this Centre.

I use the word ‘work’ when perhaps, for the latter our engagement with the wonderful clients we meet is closer to gentle play – or reverent communication. It’s an endeavour that for several decades I have truly loved to participate in – and I believe that truly expresses the sentiments of my wonderful assistants and associates. And so my thoughts turn to the ‘why’ of our work. And from a personal perspective, why indeed have I shown up week after week to meet with and hold in ‘stillness’, so many people over such a long period of time?

The ‘why’ I believe, is because this ‘work’ is a gift to give to others who, as any of us are destined to experience, find themselves in times of emotional pain. Within this work comes the visibility of human need and the privilege to assist as we each grow through all the hopes and obstacles, successes and disappointments, losses and gains and times of sorrow – the major and minor challenges that every year presents. These highs and lows are the stuff of life from which no one is exempt – and which very often we cannot truly understand. And yet this work, the work of stillness of mind, can somehow pacify these events and bring healing and strength. My mentor, the psychiatrist Ainslie Meares says this:

What can I understand?
Events have their consequences.
Cause and effect.
Basis of all understanding.
Perhaps.
And may we say, perhaps not.
Who mended a heart ache.
By knowing the cause?
It comes in the calm and the stillness.
To know beyond words.
And we know no pain.

Yes, understanding can come in special ways. And very often in ways so subtle that it’s easy to recognise that the use of words may frequently just get in the way.

And so my thoughts travel further to recall some of the reasons people come to participate in our work … reasons that each and every one of us can readily identify with:

  • The cancer diagnosis
  • Trauma following financial collapse
  • The death of a life partner
  • A retiree at a loss to know how to find fulfilment
  • An unexpected broken marriage
  • A compelling fear of flying that prevents family connection
  • The personal outcome of a dysfunctional family
  • A breakdown due to post traumatic stress
  • Certain challenges in tending to a chronically ill child
  • The diagnosis of a rare disease
  • The mid-life crisis
  • A separation due to his partner’s dementia
  • Grief and anger surrounding the unfaithful husband
  • Exam time for the twenty year old
  • School bullying for the teenager
  • Social anxiety inhibiting life achievement
  • Unjustified accusation of wrongdoing
  • Work related stress
  • Trauma and injury following a road accident
  • Countless negative outcomes due to low self esteem
  • Chronic depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Emotional pain from early life abuse

… and so the list goes on … human life in need of consolation … or simply in need of managing things differently and perhaps becoming more complete people in the process. And we’re all in this together!

Last month I wrote of the precious gift of freedom reminding myself and others that:

“Life challenges exist and enter our way in many varieties even within the cushioning of our usually comfortable existence. And the major reaction to such challenges is that ultra modern disease – stress – meaning worry, lost energy, mental burnout, confusion, rampant, life limiting anxiety and shades of depression. So stress and the anxiety it brings, needs to be managed to gain a sense of personal freedom”.

So let’s pause for a moment and be thankful for this year, 2018, with all its ups and downs. Let’s look to the busyness of December and the coming New Year with a sense of joyful celebration and hopeful expectation. Let’s value whichever way we have established within our life to best support whatever comes our way. And let’s never forget to engage in the pursuit of peace – within ourselves and far beyond.

We look forward to reconnecting with you next year and send warmest wishes and Season’s Greetings from us all at the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, December 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Absence in the cause of freedom

In one of my books on a topic close to my heart (Help Yourself & Your Child to Happiness) I have quoted the respected literary poet, T.S. Eliot:
“Teach us to care and not to care, teach us to sit still”.

I really admire those words – conceived in the early 20thC with insight and wisdom. Eliot wrote frequently about ‘stillness’, his penetrating mind highlighting many years ago, other reflections so pertinent to current times. Here are a few examples:

• So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

• I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing

• Where is all the knowledge we lost with information?

• Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

Eliot’s thoughts are well worth pondering – and pondering even more the significance of absence as the solution to a better understanding of life. And so the focus of our work at this Centre is on just that: absence of disturbance of the mind – as we offer the skill of stillness created by psychiatrist, Ainslie Meares who identified profound stillness as the ultimate step in change, growth and of course, personal freedom.

The end of October Halloween celebrations (whether we like the custom or not), highlights the gift of freedom. To see relative strangers welcoming each other into their homes, allowing hordes of kids to run freely, meeting new faces, receiving and sharing their treats with many parents gathering to party into the night, unquestionably reminds us of what it means to live in this ‘lucky’ country.

Freedom is perhaps the most precious gift humanity can know, and a perennial cause for celebration. And yet alongside that freedom is the reminder of the gradual erosion of the freedom we take for granted when we in Melbourne have so recently experienced loss, grief and disbelief in the heart of our beloved and safe city. These are harsh reminders, too, of the many atrocities now and in the past, where countries throughout the world were and remain subjected to long periods of occupation – as well as the peoples’ oppression of their own nationality and identity.

I’ve written of this before, but I can never forget the experience of spring celebrations near the site of liberation in Tallin, Estonia, alongside the giant memorial cross made of glass – glass as an ongoing reminder of the fragility of freedom. Even more imprinted in my mind is our shocking tourist visit to the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. At Birkenau, the opening words on the plaque of remembrance state: For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity … One would think humanity might have learned. Yet still our world knows war and terror, with thousands throughout various parts of the world seeking refuge in safe lands.

We, in this country, are generally at a loss as to how to offer support to those suffering in other parts of the world. We can continue to encourage, pressure, plead for our Government to find the right way to truly assist refugees – and to seek the wisdom it needs when making decisions that ultimately affect our country and our own freedom. But as individuals, sometimes it is challenging enough to gain and sustain the strength we need ourselves, simply in daily living. Life challenges exist and enter our way in many varieties even within the cushioning of our usually comfortable existence. And the major reaction to such challenges is that ultra modern disease – stress – meaning worry, lost energy, mental burnout, confusion, rampant, life limiting anxiety and shades of depression. So stress and the anxiety it brings, needs to be managed to gain a sense of personal freedom.

Let’s think, then, about absence – the missing piece in the puzzle of life. The concept of absence may mean new strengths to recognize, develop and practice. Let’s think about developing the practice of a quiet and rested mind to better manage stress and reduce anxiety; to differentiate what’s really important; to increase confidence and gain better health and energy and to gain the strength to persist when trouble crosses our path.

Like the tree that begins as a sapling and survives by standing firm despite the stress of the elements, injury or disease, by doing ‘nothing’ in a special way, we too can re-shape and calmly grow stronger.

Perhaps there lies the hope that ultimately, that calm may spread to the minds and hearts of others – to our leaders or simply the community – in small steps to build greater freedom for all.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, November 2018

 

Mental health and social anxiety

Should mental health begin by understanding social anxiety?

Driving today I heard an excellent radio interview with singer Jane Hendry on the topic of her release of ‘Mirror’. The song, inspired by a poem of the same title by Sylvia Plath, is described as an expression of the “hunger for self affirmation through the saccharine veils of social media”. The studio discussion led further into matters of self esteem and the negative influence of social media as it compels people to spend time and energy checking in, responding to others and creating personal ‘stuff’ to ignite the interest of such others. I feel it’s time to recognise this fickle ‘mirror’ that has taken hold of so many lives, so frequently leading to emotional pain and physiological exhaustion.

This topic is food for serious thought, particularly at this time of October, the month of mental health awareness. To be attentive to the rise in mental health issues, we need to consider the complexities of the human mind and the existential coping strategies people employ. Stress in life leads to reactions – primarily fear and anxiety – which in turn lead to avoidance, isolation, loneliness, negative thoughts and rumination, self harm and depression, with a high risk of suicide.

I believe strongly that self esteem – lost or never found – is very likely the prime mover of these emotional reactions. The possibility of human rejection is humanity’s deepest fear. People crave the security of acceptance within their ‘tribe’ and Western society does little to provide that security. In former times, social interaction took place mostly face to face and usually with some consideration of individual circumstances and personal feelings. Any experience of social competitiveness, jealousy, criticism, judgment, rejection and exclusion can cause immense pain. There is no doubt that the ‘free for all’ manner of social interaction of today has the blatant power to instigate personal pain 24/7, at the tips of unkind fingers and insensitive minds.

In the real world, life is a mix of joy, sorrow, change, uncertainty, loss, grief, regret and achievement to name merely a few human emotional experiences. Body, mind and spirit are affected and so the mind, our rational mind, attempts to deal with these elements.
So how does the human mind respond? Do some forge ahead and deal with each issue as it occurs, riding the waves of hope and despair? Do some retreat, preserving themselves from further pain? Do people seek (or indeed risk) the comfort of personal disclosure within friendship in the manner of RUOK? Or seek professional counsel? Do people have the practical and emotional support of family? Are many very much alone in the pain that disturbs their mind? Are too many alone, left with the physically debilitating symptoms and life limitations that come with that pain? And what indeed, is that kind of pain?

One of the most common expressions of fear presents itself for many as social anxiety, perhaps the primary factor surrounding mental health disturbance. The smallest hurt can trigger great suffering, begetting the mental ‘illness’ of social phobia – an unfortunate title that carries a simplistic understanding of the compelling nature of this anxiety reaction.

There is no doubt that social phobia begins with emotional pain. This pain may be formed within early childhood or at any time of life and lived with – until personal insecurity is heightened by extraordinary stress, loss, grief or trauma. Whatever the ‘cause’, something in one’s life has raised anxiety to the point where the body begins to generate the alarming reactions surrounding panic and a sense of losing control within the mind. So follows the desire to retreat from social interaction, for fear of somehow ‘falling apart’ leading to further judgment, criticism and rejection. To preserve security and for personal protection, avoidance then becomes a way of life.

There is a warning to heed here because the more avoidance is practised, the more the tentacles of fear spread to other objects or situations: fear of any social gathering or public exposure may include the fear of eating in company, fear of writing or signing one’s name in view of another, fear of crowded places, fear of expressing oneself and any involvement in public view. And so fear gains strength, personal power diminishes and negative beliefs increase as fear invades whole of life situations: a claustrophobic fear of flying, or using elevators or public rest rooms, fear of being alone, fear of new places … and more … very likely escalating to full blown panic and potentially the agoraphobic reaction, the most lonely and life-limiting reaction of all.

I have seen this pattern time and again since I explored fear following my own experience of agoraphobia many years ago¹. And I emphasise again – anxiety as a mental illness begins as the fear of losing personal control. While it’s true to say that social anxiety and social phobia has undoubtedly existed for time immemorial, combined with 21stC pressures it is little wonder that now we hear so regularly of excessive levels of anxiety within the community, more and more incidences of depression, increased mental illness and high statistics surrounding the frequency of suicide.
Let’s understand the implications of Social Phobia. And among other measures of healing, let’s take a long hard look at the side effects of Social Media. Its name belies its purpose because this virtual interaction may well be the most anti-social medium of all.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, October 2018

¹In Stillness Conquer Fear: Pauline McKinnon, Garratt Publishing 1983, 2016

 

 

Stillness Meditation helps you really love your life!

‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,
All play and work makes Jack a mere toy’

With R U OK in mind this month, let’s get some energy and balance in life.  The old proverb gives us a hint that it’s not a bad idea to do just that, yet sometimes it’s a bit tricky to get the balance just right. We all must work in one way or another and while we all need play for recreation and refreshment, we can’t rely on play for life satisfaction. However (and unfortunately for many), our desire for ambition and independence, our easy access to international travel and all that entails and our ready access to technology of many kinds can mean that work can become far too constant – and over-cluttered.

That’s when burnout begins to make its presence felt. This is when finding the time and energy for play becomes challenging. Play becomes difficult to organise, seems to be interrupting more important matters, and fatigue destroys what once would have been an enjoyable and relaxing event. This is when other unwanted feelings begin to dominate the day. Frustration becomes a regular companion. Struggling against a kind of entrapment or helplessness underpinning the work ethic and drive for success, tension increases. The mind is racing and the faster heartbeat and shallow breathing recurs too often. “Work is great, I love my job” is the inner cry – while chaos abounds and the exhaustion of wakeful nights produces with daylight, a sense of overwhelming panic.

This is overdrive, this is stress – this is burnout – a state of existence where its victim is running on adrenalin all week and collapsing in shreds at the weekend to curl up for two days under the doona. How much better to have balance, to be relaxed in work and play and keen to seek fresh air, sunshine, exercise, the fun and company of family and or a simple meal and a glass of wine with friends.

Burdened by headaches, recurring colds and ‘flu, chronic illness, the expression of latent anger and high tension levels, now comes a conflict between love of work and fear of work. We see this from the dark suit corporate world right down to new mothers learning to juggle and adjust to an unfamiliar role. People want to succeed, to get things right, to be in control. But those aims are difficult to accomplish if we’re operating along the lines of the Duracell Battery.

So, are you loving your job and balancing it all with ease or slowly collapsing under its weight? If your reply is that of the latter, then you are in the clutches of a stress response and burnout is likely to be the reason.

At this Centre we abide by the theory and the words of eminent psychiatrist Ainslie Meares who defined stress as the difference between what is happening in our life and how we are handling it. Those words of wisdom apply to the effect of any ‘stressor’ that may enter one’s life.  Burnout is supposed to be work-specific. However, anyone can experience burnout if we’re not taking care of ourselves. I say this with conviction due to my personal experience which coincided with my experiencing a major panic attack. I wasn’t in the corporate world of today, but I was hard working, inclined towards perfectionist ideals, ambitious in my desire to perform well in anything I attempted, newly married, a new mother, very short of sleep, unaware of the need for rest and facing the reality and grief of a series of losses and readjustment to life. Whew! I was stressed and ‘burned out’ and life was very difficult until I learned and developed the natural way back to balance.

So … R U OK? How will you know? When we want to bring life back into life again, sometimes it’s in simplicity that we discover the greatest power … and so we remain passionate about Stillness as the premier meditation.

Our work and our passion means helping lots of others truly love their life!

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Director
Melbourne, September 2018

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Essential Calm

The primary purpose of our work in teaching Stillness Meditation Therapy (SMT) is to help people to find within themselves, the essential calm that gives power and purpose to life. Our world today is a busy place, often cluttered, sometimes controlled beyond personal resource and many feel overwhelmed. When we ask our new clients what they hope for in coming here, the distilled responses are always located within the primary desire for calm, peace and happiness.

When psychiatrist Ainslie Meares created his concept of meditation (the Stillness Meditation Therapy of today) way back in the 1950’s, he keenly recognized those needs – calm, peace and happiness – and the way to access such desirable strengths within the self. As specialists in his work we aim to collect, nurture, distil and teach attitudes of calm; to curate and project the values of calmness in fact. And so we assist people to access their own essential calm through natural mental rest – in silence, quiet and profound stillness.

Once the commitment to stillness commences and after several intensive sessions, without doubt good progress can first be seen in each person’s face … the loss of tension, and yes, the calmer, more serene (yet livelier and happier) expression, and the clarity within their eyes. As such, these observations often lead us to test our clients’ sense of humour by suggesting that SMT can be the most wonderful form of beauty therapy, too!

When the mind rests naturally in stillness, the reactivity of stress and the symptoms of tension, anxiety and depression are relieved: the body’s own way of coping with distress, to quote Dr Meares. Gradually we see our clients begin to experience living calm, which of course means that they are moving toward their goal of becoming calm, peaceful and happier people! And then along comes confidence. Confidence leads to productivity and these lead to courage. Courage means meeting life’s challenges, reaching ambitions and dreams and being rewarded with success. Success brings contentment … and so life gets better … and better.

In short, as the days and weeks pass and new friends become regular visitors, magic happens! And while each person may not know it yet – or they may not have yet reached the personal freedom they believe they are seeking – further changes are taking place.

Now here’s an important thought! Anyone can achieve this. SMT is not a challenging system or technique to learn through action. In SMT there is no mantra, no chanting, no mindfulness, no need for breath control or the focus of background music. Stillness is about not doing anything … just simply being in profound mental rest with the outcome of experiencing deeply, one’s inherent calm.

SMT is simple, natural, and easily accessible. Sometimes though, the simplest things in life can be the most elusive. In learning to capture such simplicity, the majority may need some help in correctly finding the way.

Pauline McKinnon (C)
Melbourne, August 2018

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A calm mind and a beautiful life!

This is a really important reflection. As well as witnessing life changes taking shape with our clients, we meditation therapists consistently notice visible changes, too. When the art of ‘stillness’ is truly captured, it’s really another form of beauty therapy – men and women alike!

I’m always interested in the progress of our clients as they walk the walk of Stillness Meditation. We review this progress formally at certain times during each client’s course. But far from the formal assessment of individual progress is the appearance on people’s faces as they gradually begin to live calmly.

Very often at first meeting, the new client’s strain visibly shows. When anxious, tense, stressed or depressed, the facial features appear tight, twitchy, nervous or sad. Hands are restless. Nails may be bitten down. Legs are crossed and uncrossed and the eyes, often close to tears, are wide with apprehension. After so many years’ observing the effects of ‘stress’, it’s just not possible to miss these things.

But as the days and weeks pass and the client becomes a regular visitor, magic happens! The practice of stillness is morphing into living calm. Individuals may not know it yet but there’s a serenity appearing. ‘Stillness’ is becoming part of their life. The smile is brighter and more spontaneous. The eyes look rested. The nervous habits have vanished. Nails are growing and excessive lines are smoothing out. A kind of beauty is gradually emerging. He or she may not yet have arrived at their desired outcome – but the way there, the way of living calm, is certainly making a difference.

Calmness leads to confidence. Confidence leads to courage. Courage means facing life challenges, meeting those challenges and being rewarded with success – and then achievement … and adventure … and little by little, next comes the change that leads to contentment. And so life gets better, and better …

Meditation is the balm to soothe life and challenge and personal growth. For some, these transformations are captured surprisingly quickly. Others may take many months to have their commitment and patience rewarded. But as an observer who is also sharing the journey, it is utterly delightful to notice beauty in its many forms, gradually emerge.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
July 2018, Melbourne

Can we attempt to reverse the sad facts of life?

Some time ago the World Health Organization predicted that suicide would become the highest cause of death by the year 2020. As again we learn of several more high profile people having taken their lives, it seems that prediction has almost become a reality. Even more mystifying is that the act of suicide is very often taken by those who are seen to ‘have everything’ … prestige, economic wealth and the prospect of a successful future.

How can we as a community attempt to reverse such negativity? Questions arise.

What are the primary values of Western society today? Who could be so significant that they are deserving of excessive salaries while worthy folk struggle and some lie destitute in the streets? Why is anger so readily expressed – from road rage to newsworthy ‘incidents’ right through to domestic violence and beyond? Why are many ruining their lives and the lives of others, seeking the bliss they crave in drugs and the accompanying way of life? Why are many admitting to depression and how have these negative matters so painfully infiltrated the modern world to the extent that life for too many people has become worthless?

Attempts to normalise mental illness are liberating but there is also an accompanying risk that irrational acts are part of that normality. For many it seems life has deteriorated into a roller-coaster experience where calm reason appears to have vanished, leaving behind it a raft of pain for others including shock, bewilderment, loneliness, lack of resolution and grief.

Surely we must acknowledge that the ever-increasing expansion of technology and the expectations that brings, is somehow robbing us of humanity. Virtual tools are creating ‘virtual’ lives … lives that may remain empty of personal contact. Yes, there is medication and there is therapy. But clearly medication is not a complete answer to emotional restoration; and therapy is only successful when there is rapport and relationship between patient and therapist. And even to commence to assist or resolve this level of suffering and its surrounding hopelessness takes time and most importantly, patience – for the sufferer and therapist alike. In our fast moving world where technology promises to repair, replicate, amend at the touch of a button, new understanding of the requirements for emotional change must be recognised.

Then, with so much 21stC freedom and so little restraint, due respect – for oneself as well as to others – is also becoming scarce. It’s all too easy to judge, criticise and blame, internally and externally. And so values become trivialised and individuals, diminished. Unfortunately this lack of respect in many instances is exemplified right at the top. If all leadership would demonstrate respect, perhaps respect would regain its rightful place.

And we need courage and the ability to encourage. Though it can be challenging to really understand another’s emotional turmoil, let’s take courage and patiently and respectfully listen, knowing that any conversation with any person may be the conversation that makes or breaks an emotional situation.  So let’s readily ‘be there’, offering trust, companionship, compassion and encouragement so the downcast may glimpse the support they so desperately need – and sufficient hope to gather the strength to continue to live the life they’ve been given.

Let’s also remember where we each began – in the natural world. The seasons don’t hurry or expect more than is due. Each comes in time, bringing with it challenges as well as joys. In the crispness now of our Melbourne winter, remember that the world keeps turning, darkness passes and the leaves having fallen soon we will see again, fresh new growth. Let’s learn and exemplify the ability be still, to breathe, wait, let go and feel the living life. Let’s be leaders, not followers and set about generating some joy?

Look into another’s eyes with kindness, and touch their soul
And so two souls might lift both hearts in hope, optimism and the eternal power of love

                                                                                                                               

                                                                                                                                Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, June 2018

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Let’s discuss anxiety again

The stories and struggles of people experiencing anxiety are becoming more and more prevalent. How interesting that this word ‘anxiety’ has become so much a part of our vernacular when not too many years ago, people believed anxiety was the domain of others – never themselves – and shied away from any anxiety related personal disclosure. I’ve written lots about anxiety in the past but I feel it’s time to raise the topic again.

It’s always important to remember that anxiety, is in reality fear, our natural defence mechanism. However anxiety unmanaged can cause huge distress, becoming symptomatic in two ways:

  • Stress-induced anxiety is the reaction that happens when challenging life problems give cause to worry. This is when sleepless nights, feelings of overwhelm, high tension levels, increased blood pressure, headaches and palpitations lead the individual to seek ways to calm down. Usually anxiety symptoms at that level do eventually calm down as the stress related problem is resolved and so people are restored to ‘normal’ and continue to get on with their lives.
  • But acute, chronic anxiety is another matter. This is when people experience all the above symptoms plus many more such as hyper-vigilance, panic attacks, avoidance, phobias, obsessions and compulsions, eating disorders, fear and terror, self-harm and depression – and potentially a diagnosis of mental illness. Like a flow on from stress-induced anxiety, this is the level of anxiety that occurs when challenging life issues set the ball rolling but leave deeper, concealed or denied existential issues still unresolved: the lack of personal fulfilment, unrelenting loss and grief, a faulty relationship, a negative self image and so on … intangible issues that may need careful investigation. This kind of anxiety is life limiting at the very least and at worst, a huge personal burden to carry.

In all this, it’s evident that relief from anxiety remains confusing to many and unquestionably an area in need of support within the community.

So what to do? When anxiety at either level is diagnosed or otherwise identified it may be thought that relief can be found in the same way the flu can be dealt with. But anxiety is far deeper than contagion! Anxiety is part of human existence, part of our life experience and hopefully, part of learning to grow. So it can be really helpful as a starting point, to begin to accept that some level of anxiety helps keep us safe.

Next – and most importantly – is to find a way to reduce the intensity of surrounding feelings and symptoms. Nervous tension is the primary force behind insistent symptoms and as it reduces, the unpleasant symptoms decrease. Tension is like an acceleration of activity within the nervous system – with no idea of how to apply the metaphorical brake! Tension is usually a habit developed in a bid to cope with the ups and downs of living. And of course, tense families produce tense progeny and on it goes until someone breaks the cycle. To successfully reduce nervous tension takes understanding, recognition and assistance from another who has the skills to impart effective change. Hypnotherapy, therapeutic meditation sessions or reputable relaxation classes are the premier ways to be assisted in reducing nervous tension.

And finally, best of all in the end, is the development of a positive attitude and the courage to begin to discover and truly know oneself – the dark side as well as the bright side – through self exploration or the guidance of a mentor or therapist.

I’m reminded now of a lovely story that I recently heard from one of my clients. Accompanied by a few tears Kay recalled how her much loved Grandma had passed away at 96 following a fall while dancing! And so we talked about the happy spirit of this lady and within some other anecdotes, Kay reflected on further memorable moments. “Sometimes I’d phone Grandma and find her a little bit overwhelmed by day to day events but her attitude was always amazing. She was ever an inspiration but perhaps her most often repeated words if I happened to call at a difficult time were the enthusiastic “I’m having a terrible day – but I’m having a wonderful life!”

That is an attitude we could all do well to cultivate, too. Life can be challenging but it’s ultimately rewarding.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
May 2018

 

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Are YOU becoming too busy?

When I need some holiday time I seek serenity by the sea. A range of responsibilities have brought highlights as well as challenges for me in recent months. But while responsibilities and duties (and of course the good times) are cause for planning and executing these well, when some days feel a little too busy, then I sense trouble brewing.

Trouble may mean feelings of being time-poor, the hint of uncommon restlessness, too many lists as yet unfulfilled, emails unattended, more papers than desirable waiting on the desk and occasionally, interrupted sleep. Feelings like these are normal enough in the ups and downs of life – but being too busy can lead to those ‘troubled’ feelings I’ve just outlined … and for many, of feeling just a little out of control.

To remain capable and to deal with modern living, some element of control is a necessity; but to feel out of control because of feeling controlled by external forces is certainly unhealthy and may lead to stress, anxiety, depression and illness.

So – the main pressures of today? Somehow – through transportation and technology – society has accepted the desire for instant gratification. It’s possible to achieve a great many outcomes almost instantaneously and contact is perhaps the greatest achievement of all. Being in quick or constant contact may seem to be desirable. But it brings with it a subtle demand to perform in some way. Evidence of this pressure surrounds the use of virtual skills to think, to offer ideas, opinions and knowledge; to photograph, edit, save and send; to interact and make instant decisions and feel the need to respond – even when it may be preferable not to do so – and even if neglecting to do so might mean missing out on some information, event or opportunity.

This kind of busy is a successful sales pitch. Yes, we want to succeed in life. Yes, we want to feel recognised, included and liked. But maybe this sales pitch has the power to rob people of the very self confidence that is actually craved. Rather than building confidence and a sense of self, there’s something of a universal need to compete. There’s also an inclination to judge, as well as the need to ‘have’ what others have – or perform as others do. These are the pressures that can drive some to succumb to frantic online shopping or comparing goods and concepts with those desired or possessed by others. Perhaps it’s time to revisit reality? Those others by whom we may feel judged are most likely not close or dear friends. Perhaps they (and we) are merely passing each other in virtual form without a future or very importantly, knowledge of the real person.

Could it be in this now readily accepted process, that many are losing our uniqueness within the probable ground-swell of conforming to the ideals of others? Are we losing the freedom to make personal choices? And might we be harbouring feelings of guilt or even fear if we overlook returning that message or responding immediately to social media in its many forms? Even worse, are we unwittingly allowing these pressures to create the predictable underlying and compelling advent of stress?

I asked myself these questions as I meditated by the sea. For me the sea is a reminder that all is possible in life – providing we own the physical and emotional foundation of calm. Which is why I meditate; which is why I teach others to meditate.

As always, a simple image like this gives me my answer … there is serenity to be found within and beyond all activity – providing we have the wisdom and power to access it.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, April 2018

Value of self – value of others – the companion to respect

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day urges #Press for Progress.  In fact women have made tremendous progress since the initiation of the Women’s Social and Political Union in the UK in 1908. Progress has come in many forms – to quote the perception of Virginia Woolf ¹ “Moreover in a hundred years … women will have ceased to be the protected sex. Logically they will take part in all the activities and exertions that were once denied them. … expose them to the same exertions and activities … and will not women die off so much younger, so much quicker than men … “? Hmm … interesting to contemplate – and almost heading towards target, too?

So what might this have to do with values?  We humans are complex.  Our physical bodies are an amazing assemblage of useful moving parts to steer us through our time here.  But that aside, our mind, that which is almost constantly at work – well, our mind is the most precious – and the most powerful gift of all.

So let’s remember, progress for any cause really begins with our mental view of our self.  The role of the mind as the director of our entire being is overwhelming to contemplate.  Our life and our interaction with the world rest within our mind.  Therein we can choose to take action or not, to make decisions – wise or otherwise – to differentiate between choices, to judge or to be giving in our consideration of others and to judge or be giving in our consideration of our self.  And countless more responses – even within a mere day.

And because of our mind, our view of our individuality and all we believe about our self is the view that colours our entire act of living.  It is that ego, that self that runs the show for each of us, women and men alike – and it’s that self that dictates – unless we remember to be wiser – our reactions to and our treatment of others.

I would dare to suggest, then, that as well as those of our responses we regard as worthy or in fact any action we may take, come from the value and image we have of our self.  We must be careful.  It’s very easy to lose sight of or to over-compensate for that ‘self’ amid the flurry of day to day dealings, media influence, social media and especially, (for anyone who might haplessly glimpse it), reality TV.

Maybe IWD this year could prompt an opportunity to take the time to quietly consider our self – by asking a few questions.  Who am I?  How do I see myself?  Where did I learn to appraise my view of myself?  Am I critical and judgmental when considering myself?  Am I positive and generous in my perception of myself?  Am I developing and growing as a valuable human being in this 21st century?  And ultimately, how does my view of myself guide me in the way I treat others?

This may require a bit of ‘calm’ time … sitting quietly in meditative composure with a pen and paper to hand.  In quietness, memories surface, insight flows, intuition speaks and obstacles we grapple with might more readily point us in the right direction to discover resolution.  And so perhaps – women of the world – this exercise could assist our progress in positive and life-affirming ways?

Pauline McKinnon (C)
Melbourne, March 2018

¹Virginia Woolf: A Room of One’s Own, 1929