The Art of Simply ‘Being’

I am a worrier.  I’m obsessive.  I compulsively plan each and every thing in my life and can get horribly upset when things don’t work out exactly as they’re meant to.  I make lists for everything and am always one step ahead of my own reality, despite never quite being able to decide what that step is.  I also know however, that I’m not alone.  Having a diagnosis for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as well as recovering from Anorexia can often heighten my stress levels and my inability to live in the moment but I know, at least to some degree, that these days pretty much all of us find it difficult to switch off and see the world around us and experience our lives as they are truly meant to be lived – in the moment.

And here is where the art of simply being comes in.  It is something that many people may never have thought about and, in today’s society, something that is pretty much impossible to fully embrace but even letting go of the need to control slightly and allowing yourself to appreciate what you have seen a million times as the miraculous and beautiful things that they are, would go a long, long way.  My understanding of ‘simply being’ comes from an accumulation of spiritual practices and ideas which I have tried over the years in an attempt to improve my mental health and so it may be different to what others believe and, ultimately, what you believe, but for me its important and that’s why I want to share a little bit about it with you here.

My journey into practices of the mind and towards trying to finally embrace the art of simply being started when I first tried mindfulness during one of my hospital admissions for anorexia.  Lets just say that at the time I wasn’t impressed and was just as sceptical as the majority of the population, but now I am so glad that my nurse (who I was less than fond of, I might add) forced me to sit down and practice and read the information she gave me because a few years later I  have realised that the concept of mindfulness was exactly what I needed.  Mindfulness is basically the practice of living in the here and now and recognising the processes of your body and mind in the very second in which you are living.  It means not obsessing about the future or the past or even about how much stuff you had planned to do that day but never got round to.  It originally comes from Buddhist practices and is a chance for us to let go of our insatiable need for planning and thinking and would hopefully lead to a peace of mind I have been forever searching for.  I have tried and failed many times to fully commit to the practices and doing the meditations on a regular basis but now that my journey in this field has progressed I can see why its so important to keep it up and keep adding to your ability because calming the mind is a skill that takes practice, just like any other skill you may choose to learn.

The second major step in my journey towards simply being is a slightly more recent one.  My mum’s friend is a great believer in spiritual healing and practices reiki and reflexology on a regular basis and, especially since I became unwell, she has continued to give me books about spirituality, crystals and self-help.  And, while I did read the books she gave me, I just never really believed it could work or help me in any way – until about two months ago.  Just after handing in my final essay at university I was looking for a new book to read and, as I was rather low on funds (just for a change) I found I didn’t want to spend money on the novel I had been fancying and decided to read something I already had instead, which turned out to be Gabrielle Bernstein’s ‘The Universe Has Your Back’, which I had received as a gift from her over a year earlier.  I started reading it and I guess something finally clicked.  The timing was right and I honestly believe that I was meant to read that book at that time and, just to prove it, when the book asked me to look for a sign in my everyday life, I found the exact book I had wanted to read instead of ‘The Universe Has Your Back’ in a charity shop for £2 in a place I would never usually had ventured, just half an hour later.

In ‘The Universe Has Your Back’, Gabrielle discusses letting go of some of our control and allowing the universe to give us what is right, instead of obsessing over having to get it ourselves.  It also talks about the power of positive thinking (which I am obsessed with) and how mantras and meditations can help us to not only make our own lives better, but the lives of everyone else around us better too.  The meditations are slightly different to mindfulness practices but run along the same lines and, I feel, are in some cases even more helpful for me personally than the former.  It was an incredibly freeing experience to read this book and it is ultimately why I am writing this today and why I wanted to share the act of simply being with you all.  A lot of you will be thinking that it sounds like nonsense and that’s ok because for a long time I did too but I simply ask you to be open minded and to give it a try to see if it can help even slightly to give you  a bit more peace and calm in your mind and, ultimately, in your life.

And so by this stage, my idea of the art of simply being became a mixture of mindfulness, Gabrielle Bernstein’s theories and Buddhist teachings but the final part of it also became my own personal opinions and beliefs in life which I found were just as important in shaping how I practiced these philosophies as the ideas themselves.  I don’t believe that you can just wait around for opportunities to fall into your lap and sometimes the best thing you can do is fight and work hard for something to make sure you get what you want because then, and only then, if it doesn’t happen then you can be satisfied that, in this place and in this time, what you really want is not the right thing for you.  I also don’t believe that its possible not to sometimes look ahead and plan things just as its also nice to sometimes look back and appreciate happy memories and what used to be and I think that recognising the times where planning and remembering are helpful are important practices too.  But probably the most important thing I’d like to add is that its ok not to follow spiritual practices or theories of self-help to the letter because everyone is different and everyone will find a different way of living which works for them.  As long as what you do makes you happy and makes other people happy too then it’s a worthwhile practice to me.

Personally, I am really hoping that giving my art of simply being a final try will be the thing I need to stop overthinking everything and, quite often, still being a slave to my own thoughts.  June has been a particularly difficult month for me but I am glad to be coming away from it with something much more positive than I could have imagined and, by sharing these positive practices with you all, perhaps something even more positive still.  And I know it seems daunting but its ok to slip up and its ok to not understand what you’re actually trying to do but being truly present in your everyday life and letting go of some of the fears and doubts you have really can help.  And to help you get started below you will find some of my favourite and easiest ways of practicing the art of simply being in everyday life from books and resources I have used in the past, and, if you do want to take it that step further, I have also added a number of links to resources which may help.

How To Practice The Art of Simply Being in Everyday Life

  • A good way to start is with simply breaking one of your normal routines.  Say you usually sit in a particular chair in your house or at work or you do things in a set order when getting ready in the morning etc. then just switch this up.  Sit in a different place or have your breakfast before you do your makeup for a change – it can be amazing what a change can be made from breaking away from your default pattern!
  • As soon as you wake up in the morning tell yourself, either out loud or in your head, that today is going to be a good day.  Say it a couple of times and use it as a positive mantra to show that you’re ready for whatever the day will bring.
  • Go for a walk and leave your headphones at home for a change.  Simply walk around and try to do nothing to experience the world around you.  You will be amazed by the different sights, sounds and smells that you usually completely miss.
  • Take a social media break for a day or leave your phone at home.  Or, if you can’t manage that then leave your television and laptop off for the night. Cutting yourself off from technology for a while can seem really daunting but its often one of the only ways we can truly experience the world around you and trust me, it feels great to get a bit of freedom from it!
  • Try out one of my favourite, basic mindfulness practices called the raisin meditation.  All you have to do is take a handful of raisins and a notebook and start by really studying one of the raisins.  Look at it’s physical appearance and write down what you find.  Then, think about the texture of the raisin and how it feels in your hand.  Finally, put the raisin in your mouth and, very slowly, bite into it and think about what it tastes like.  Write down the results and try again with the next one.  You will probably find that you’ve never truly tasted a raisin more and you’ll realise all the times you’ve absent-mindedly eaten things without even giving it a second thought…oh, and you can also do this meditation with chocolate if you want!
  • Each time something frustrating happens or you find yourself faced with a problem, stop for a minute, take a deep breath and think about it differently.  See it as a challenge that you have to overcome and use the minute to think how you can produce a more positive outcome from this situation, than if you had just acted straight away.  You may find that this is just the universe testing you, waiting to see how you are going to react.
  • A good time to practice being mindful is while cleaning your teeth.  You will find that you are so used to the activity that you’re mind will wander on to a number of different topics and you won’t even really pay attention to the brushing itself.  So, next time you brush your teeth don’t think about anything but the activity itself.  Notice the way the brush moves across the teeth and take your time to cover each and every one and see how the action feels.  There’s two great opportunities per day to be mindful without taking any time out of your day!
  • And this last tip is all my own and its very simple: get more sleep.  It is impossible to be completely present in your life if you can hardly keep your eyes open during it.  Simply being is not about coasting through your life, it is actually about being awake and aware and you can’t do this on four hours of sleep a night!

Resources Which May Help

  • The Headspace App, available on apple and android, is a really user-friendly app which allows you to do meditation practices anywhere.  It takes you right from the beginning and seems like a much more ‘acceptable’ way to clear your mind if you don’t feel ready to jump into the heavily spiritual stuff yet.  It gives you a ten session free trial and after that costs hardly anything for a full year subscription.  It’s a great tool and I would highly recommend it.
  • https://gabbybernstein.com/ – if you want to find out more about Gabrielle Bernstein and any of her books or products or are looking for more resources about this aspect of spiritual teaching then definitely check out her website.  She really is a great figure in this field although some of the things she talks about may be quite daunting for someone completely new to meditation or spirituality in general.  But if you’re open to it, I know this could be a real help.
  • Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, written by Mark Williams and Danny Penman – this book is where it all started for me and is really user-friendly.  You get a CD with the book which gives you some of the best mindfulness meditations that I have ever used and has a good number of chapters just talking about what mindfulness is and why it is useful and each week you get a set of different tasks to complete which makes it really simple to follow.  Only challenge you have to face with this one is fully committing, and staying fully committed for the entire eight weeks!

GOOD LUCK!

 

 

Looking Back on First Year at University

It’s now been nearly two weeks since I moved out of student halls and back into what I guess I have come to know as ‘my old life.’  All the boxes have been unpacked and the memories of first year at university are starting to become just that – memories.  However, I don’t want to forget the year I have had quite yet and I don’t exactly feel like letting go so I thought that one last reflection on what has been one of the most miraculous, surprising and freeing years of my entire life was very much necessary.

From the moment I arrived at university and first set foot in my new halls last September I promised myself that I would give the student life my all.  For the past four years really, my life has felt as if it was on pause, unable to move forward through the struggles I encountered with anorexia, my mental health and just generally not fitting in and so what I really wanted, more than anything, was for this to be my chance to fully press the play button on life once again. And, I can honestly say that I have thrown myself into everything I could have done and pushed myself further than I would have ever thought possible, and I know that it is for these reasons that I am sitting here today feeling so entirely satisfied and happy with all I have achieved in the space of eight to nine months.

One thing that didn’t really satisfy me and one of the first things that I learnt after moving is the truth about Freshers week because before I left home I guess I saw it as a highly important time where new friendships would form and I would perhaps instantly be able to know whether I would achieve the fresh start that I so desperately longed for or not.  But the truth is that Freshers week, for the majority of the new student population, is simply a week where you feel incredibly ill and tired all the time but still also have a strong sense of guilt for every night you don’t go out and drink yourself into oblivion.  I know I got to the end of it and really just wondered what I had to show for it which was, let’s be honest, a few new acquaintances on my Snapchat and some seriously bad dark circles under my eyes.  But hey, it’s a lesson right?

And so Freshers week had not lived up to the hype and I have to admit I was a little worried that the rest of the university experience would be the same but luckily for me, over the next few weeks and months, I started to see just how amazing my life could be, providing I stopped obsessing over when and how things would change.  And, in the end, it was sort of an accumulation of a number of things that finally made me see how great I really had it.

I know for a fact that one of the things that ultimately made my time so worthwhile was flat 22 and everyone in it.  Student halls is definitely a bit of a lucky dip since no-one can truly know the people who will get on and those who won’t but for the majority of those I ended up living with, I now couldn’t imagine my life without them. Flat 22 became our little family – people to laugh with, cry with and generally IMG_0625.JPGmake an idiot of yourself with and for someone who had always tried to hide the embarrassing or weird parts of my personality, it was amazing just to be forced to be myself and realise that everyone has their quirks – which turned out to be the best part of it.  They say you never really know a person until you live with them and I am sure that when we meet again in September I will remember all the really annoying things about everyone but right now I am just so glad that I got the chance to get to know each and every one of my flatmates.

Another thing that has really made my experience of first year so special is the chance it gave me to restart my dancing again after having to stop nearly five years ago for medical reasons.  The Edinburgh Napier Dance Squad was, I have to admit, a little bit more of a daunting aspect to get involved with, and I know that a lot of people even scoff at or look down at sports and societies but honestly, it has been great for so many reasons.  I have met some amazing people, it has filled my schedule with something other than drunken nights out (although there was some of that too!) and it also Dance Show 2017.jpgmanaged to help me realise how much further I had to go in my anorexia recovery, which is something that I never could have foreseen it doing.  It was dancing that first made me aware of how unfit my lifestyle was making me and how tired I would get compared to everyone else and I also started to feel frustrated by the anxiety I felt about having to eat my tea so much later as a result of classes.  And so, along with a number of other factors, I really have dance to thank for how much more recovered I am now, compared to when I started university in September.  And I have a feeling that dance will become an even bigger part of my life in second year because I managed to secure a place as Social Secretary on the new committee.  The fact that people picked me for this role actually means more than anyone could know.

I guess that one of the last things I should probably mention though is the actual course itself which has been a bit of an up and down experience.  In trimester one I loved it.  English and film are two of my favourite things in the world and so getting to go in and study and talk about it really blew my mind for a while and the fact that I was only actually in for nine hours a week was very attractive too.  But I don’t know if it was because the novelty had worn off or because I failed to engage with the modules so much in the second trimester but for me, something felt off.  I kind of clawed it back at the end but I just seemed to see that there was a number of holes in what I was learning and I got seriously fed up of every single debate coming back to the theme of feminism.  However, it remains a subject I love and so for that reason I am going back next year with a positive outlook and the hope of re-engaging with the wonderful world of movies and books even more.  And I came away with merits for every module I took so it can’t all be bad!

But now I guess that’s it.  I would be here all day if I went into exact details or the countless numbers of specific events which has made my year such a rewarding experience but I need to remember that first year doesn’t have to be placed in a box and cut off as something which has passed because, as cheesy as it sounds, going away and living independently and being placed in such a different setting has actually made me realise much more who I am as an individual and has made me a much better person in the long run too.  Sure, I made a lot of mistakes and did a lot of things that I now really, really regret but what is first year for if not for making a few wrong turns now and again?  And, now that I can clean a bathroom, have taken a real interest in cooking and actually have to think about my finances, I guess you could say that I am sort of an adult after all this!  And for anyone nervous or unsure about taking this massive step in their lives, I can only urge them to take it.  Going to university has been the single best decision of my life and I am happy to announce that the play button on my life is well and truly back on, and I can’t wait to see what new adventures are just around the corner.IMG_0185.JPG