My Mind Garden [1/7]

Every action begins with a single thought. And every thought, be it positive or negative, is powerful. Once I realised that, I knew that I can only progress from then on.

Prior to that, however, my head was littered with negativity. As a consequence, mostly everything else faltered. It affected my daily tasks, my academic performance, learning process, fitness level, eating habits, and even the things I used to enjoy doing. Those negative thoughts fed the insecurity, doubt and fear. And so for a period of time, I wasn’t improving in any way and my life felt stagnant.

I guess being in a different environment, moving away from home as well as finding inspiration on the Internet (self-helping), catalysed this realisation that I am here on Earth for some reason and that this stagnation is not sustainable. It would destroy me even more if I continue to allow negativity to control me. I just wanted to get away from or perhaps banish the black hole anchored in my mind.

It was no doubt difficult to do so considering the primary source of information I sought was the Internet—YouTube specifically. I did not seek help from immediate people around me due to intimidation. I was already feeling doubtful and fearful so it did not make sense to me at the time to tell people of my dilemma only to possibly receive chastisement. At least I was determined enough to accept advice from virtual strangers.

I eventually managed to switch my mind from negative thinking to a more positive one. However, I did not follow any exact steps or method. It was more of a slow, gradual process for me, although I did fall back a few times. I am not quite certain of how I succeeded in doing so except that I put my foot down and decided to immerse myself with pertinent issues through reading, watching inspirational videos online, and discovering spirituality.

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari laid down the methods that might speed up the enlightenment process had I read it a few years back. But I thought it is still a relevant exercise that I can still do now. And anyway it is good to refresh one’s thoughts and purpose every now and again.

The first of the seven essential values to an enlightened life is to Master Your Mind, as I alluded to in the first several paragraphs. This would be the garden in your mind that you would have to cultivate and nurture so that it is beautiful, abundant and alive. It is like feeding your body with nutrients so that you can physically develop. Your mind is like your body; it needs the proper input to function optimally. If you can take the time to feed your body, why should you neglect your mind?

I guess sometimes we forget that our brains and our bodies are connected rather than distinct, and that our bodies receive instructions from our minds.

To control your mind is to cultivate focused thoughts. When I had a million unnecessary thoughts and worries swimming in my head, I could not actually get things done and if I did, the outcome was mediocre at best. So this is where meditation came in. I began learning how to breathe. Of course we all breathe but how many people are actually aware of the pattern of our breaths?

I practiced the technique every day. It is really simple. I would just sit cross-legged in my room, close my eyes and breathe. I examined every inhalation and exhalation, extending each of them, engaging my diaphragms, and got into a rhythm. I consciously relax every inch of my body from the tip of my head, to my shoulders, hips, knees, and toes. I got acquainted with every muscle in my body. Acknowledging my presence was the first step to a long and faithful relationship with myself.

Once my body and I were on good terms, I started adding positive thoughts into my mind. The best way to get started is to express gratitude. I am grateful for the body I have to be able to move about. I am grateful for this bed I am sitting on. I am grateful for the roof over my head that keeps me safe. I am grateful for the clothes I am wearing. So on and so forth.

This expression of gratitude grounds my soul. It makes me realise how fortunate I am in spite of hardship, and that the difficulties actually do not value much compared to the immense wonderful occurrences in life. And immediately after that exercise, I felt lighter and happier. It is truly a matter of perception.

I like this quote from the book:

There are no mistakes, only lessons.

If we can tune our thoughts to believe that, I think we can each improve tremendously because then there is no pressure put upon us. Mistakes are often associated with punishment and derogatory remarks that do not effectively contribute to our personal growth. Instead, if we think of experiences as lessons i.e. understanding that there is something to be learnt and improved on, then there is a better chance that we could make progress.

Thoughts are energy, and energy manifests into productivity. The difference in the outcome lies in the kind of thoughts that we choose to feed the mind with. Indeed, the quality of one’s life is determined by the quality of one’s thoughts.

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7 Essential Virtues to an Enlightened Life

I knew about the book entitled The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma months ago but only recently did I decide to read it. I suppose it was driven by a sudden thread of curiosity to know the contents of such an attractive title, and also the fact that my one-month free membership on Scribd is soon expiring so I might as well make the most out of it.

And my, oh my, was I surprised and delighted to realise, by the end of the second chapter, that this book relates to my own spiritual journey very similarly, but with much more eloquence than I could have explained.

The narrator begins by giving a background story on his close friend and colleague, a lawyer named Julian, who was very successful in his field and was rich enough to own a Ferrari. But as years went by, living a very demanding life took a gradual but severe toll on him and in the middle of a court hearing, he collapsed.

He survived the cardiac arrest, but only barely. For him, that was a brutal wake up call and he realised that his life needed to change for the better. He could not continue living the way he had and so he immediately quit his job, sold his Ferrari and went into exile in India.

Years later, the narrator named John, who had become quite an established lawyer, was visited by a young-looking, beaming man. That man turned out to be Julian the ex-lawyer. John was obviously bewildered as he did not recognise his old friend at all. And thus began Julian’s sharing of his experiences and knowledge whilst in a remote but inhabited mountain in India.

So this book informs the narrator, and thus the reader, of the steps to an enlightened life as experienced by Julian. The values and lessons were told in a structured manner, focusing on the 7 Essential Virtues to an Enlightened Life. Each virtue is associated by a symbol for easy remembrance. Julian weaves the virtues together in a symbolic scene that goes like this:

You are sitting in the middle of a magnificent, lush green garden.  This garden is filled with the most spectacular flowers you have ever seen.  The environment is supremely tranquil and silent. Savour the sensual delights of this garden and feel as if you have all the time in the world to enjoy this natural oasis.

As you look around you see that in the centre of this magical garden stands a towering, red lighthouse, six stories high.  Suddenly, the silence of the garden is disturbed by a loud creaking as the door at the base of the lighthouse opens.

Out stumbles a nine-foot-tall, nine-hundred-pound Japanese sumo wrestler who casually wanders into the centre of the garden. The Japanese sumo wrestler is almost totally naked. He has a pink wire cable covering his private parts.

As the sumo wrestler starts to move around the gardens, he finds a shiny gold stopwatch which someone had left behind many years earlier.  He slips it on, and falls to the ground with an enormous thud.  The sumo wrestler is rendered unconscious and lies there, silent and still.

Just when you think he has taken his last breath, the wrestler awakens, perhaps stirred by the fragrance of some fresh yellow roses blooming nearby.  Energised, the wrestler jumps swiftly to his feet and intuitively looks to his left.  He is startled by what he sees.

Through the bushes at the very edge of the garden he observes a long winding path covered by millions of sparkling diamonds.  Something seems to instruct the wrestler to take the path, and to his credit, he does.  This path leads him down the road of everlasting joy and eternal bliss.

The words in bold are the symbols that are explained in detail throughout the rest of the chapters of the book.

Since I relate so much with the events that Julian went through in the book, I think that writing about my own experiences in accordance to each of the symbol would be a nice idea. I suppose I can consider this as a small project. I think that by writing it down I would be able to clarify and distinguish the internal or spiritual journey I have been through so far, addressing the problems and solutions, in a coherent manner. And of course by sharing this I can only hope that my thoughts and experiences may benefit you in one way or another.

So keep an eye out for my next post!

What I Eat | GREEN GALORE

I had a really lively lunch yesterday, partly because I just needed the nutrients and partly because I needed to eat the lettuce before they wilt.

On the plate were cooked quinoa, lettuce, guacamole, and seasoning (dill, pepper, chilli flakes). I cooked the quinoa a few days ago so that saved some effort. The guacamole was really just mashed avocado mixed with red onions. And currently, dill is my new favourite herb. I just love the quirky smell and taste of it.

Now let’s talk about the smoothie! I basically put these in the blender:

  • a handful of almost wilted kale
  • two very ripe bananas
  • 6 dates (stones removed)
  • about 1:1 ratio of water to almond milk (making up 1L)

The green colour may look daunting but if you put a lot of dates or any other natural sweetener like maple syrup it will taste sweeter (duh!). Honestly, kale doesn’t have a strong taste anyway. And it’s super filling, I drank some during lunch and saved some for after I went to dance class.

Yes, this lunch was enough to prepare my body for a cardio session! I felt fantastic! I guess that’s what I get from eating live foods 🙂

A Month With Myself

If you haven’t guessed already by the lack of exotic-looking travel pictures and/or airport location updates within the past month, I did not travel out of Durham during the Christmas holidays. To an outsider (that is, anyone that is not me), they might quickly surmise how boring, lonely and unproductive my life at that period was. Well, in my view, they could not be more wrong.

You can say that I am well-trained in the Art of Managing Loneliness, whereby I am now a black belt master in controlling and even befriending such a feeling. Generally, a person who is consumed by the negative side of Loneliness would crave for a different scene in an attempt to be productive or get rid of the symptoms.

This time, I associated myself with the positive side of Loneliness.

Putting uni work completely aside, I spent the first two weeks of holiday really analysing my needs, wants and wishes. Of course I had them in mind, floating freely, for some time but I only had the opportunity then to completely focus on them.

I realised that I need to:

  • strengthen and maintain my spirituality
  • keep healthy and fit
  • “love the life [I] live” and “live the life [I] love” (in the words of Bob Marley)
  • have deeper connections with living beings – people, plants, animals etc.

Therefore, I want to dedicate my life to concentrating on my needs by doing whatever it takes to satisfy them. And so I wish that I could keep this budding strength and motivation alive and not be pressured by anyone into doing what I would not get value from. I know it’s easy to say now what I wish to do in the future when the future is not set in stone and that I am still living comfortably under my parents’ provision.

But there is this voice in me, quiet but defiant, saying I would be better off doing the hard work that I enjoy or get value from and still be happy, rather than doing the hard work against my will and slowly face death from the inside out.

After reading up more about the topics that I find fascinating (energy, fitness, meditation, spirituality, herbalism, etc), volunteering at an organic farm, and some therapeutic sessions with a few of my good friends, I can see the purpose of my life unfolding in front of me. I began to understand what I must dedicate my life to and how I should go about it.

Before Doubt could come and disrupt my train of thoughts, I wrote them down. And then I told said good friends to further validate them. Now there is no room for cowardice. The words are out, the Energy is evolving.

And then I put my thoughts into action, gradually.

I have set up the habit of maintaining my circadian rhythm; I go to bed at 11pm and wake up around 06:30 or 07:00. No exceptions. I dedicate the first half hour of my every day to prayer and meditation. I make sure I try to exercise (stretching/cardio), for at least half an hour, ideally one hour. They say that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but I say that it takes determination with a set of purpose to keep up the consistency.

To rid of the toxic “habits” within me, namely procrastination and laziness, I analysed the root causes and rectified them. In the case of laziness, all I really needed was to discover my purpose and embrace the activities or topics that truly nourish my soul because that way I would not mind putting all my energy into pursuing them and receive satisfactory outcome. I was lazy because I had no idea what to do with my energy. Now I know that I simply cannot work with things that just don’t uplift me – it doesn’t make sense to me.

Battling procrastination was tough. Too much of it is detrimental, but I also realised that it can never be eradicated, and I actually do need a little of it. This is one of the many things where balance is key. I had obviously procrastinated way more than necessary and I found that it’s because I felt I needed some sort of social comfort or validation to curb the seemingly perpetual state of loneliness. And again it’s due to the fact that I was involved with the negative side of Loneliness. So when I looked to the other side of it, I knew I didn’t really need external comfort. I am an energetic being, an extension of the spiritual energy of the whole Universe, capable of manifesting happiness, gratitude and acceptance. And I believe this is true for all beings.

The solution seemed blindingly simple really. I just had to cut off the tangible sources that aided my procrastinating such as social media applications on my phone and online grocery shopping, and also the intangible ones i.e. the irrational desire for external comfort. Once I was able to manifest the necessary thoughts and Energy, understanding myself completely, the rest just fell into place.

Basically, I spent most of the holidays learning more about myself at an even deeper level. I’m glad for the time off from the stressful student community. My thoughts and actions during the holidays were the genuine outcome of my true self. I only hope that I can stay true to that now that I do have to associate myself with the community (which is of course necessary). And indeed I do feel different. I feel more strongly. I am better at expressing myself and I am able to keep focused on what’s important. I do feel an improvement.

God willing I can keep this up.

Grocery Shopping Transition

In my attempt to reduce waste and the negative environmental impact that I have been guiltily contributing to, I have decided to make some changes with the way I grocery shop.

For the past few months, that is before I was aware about the Zero Waste concept, I had been doing online grocery shopping on Tesco. I thought that since it’s my final year at uni, online shopping would give me more time to be productive. It seemed fun and convenient at first — clicking the items I needed and booking the time slots, all without having to move my bum. This shows how lazy I was.

Now the thing with online shopping on Tesco is that you would have to spend at least £40 for free delivery. If not, you would be charged the ‘Minimum Basket Charge’ of £4, and the delivery charge of £1-£5 depending on the time slots. But this is only if you are subscribed to a Delivery Saver Plan (£3 a month).

So to avoid the ‘Minimum Basket Charge’ and have free delivery, I thought I’d play smart by reaching at least £40 and not exceeding £45. So I’d buy a lot of canned and frozen items besides fruits and veges.

But I soon realised that online shopping took a long time rather than not, probably because of either my indecisiveness or the need to get the necessary promotions (e.g. buy 5 for £2, buy 3 cheapest free, etc.) or both. So it was not productive at all. And I would still have to carry the load of items up a flight of stairs to my flat when the delivery truck came because somehow there’s a policy that the drivers are not allowed to enter the building.

This reflection coincided with my learning about the Zero Waste initiative and how even the simplest, careless and normal actions do affect the well-being of the environment. By doing online shopping, I was encouraging the use of more fuel for transportation. And even though I did not opt for plastic bags (4p each), I noticed that there were still plastic packaging to most of the items, including onions. And what’s worse, some of the plastic packaging are actually plastic film that is ‘currently not recycled’.

I was frustrated knowing that I was conscious of the impact and yet I still did nothing to change. But this frustration pushed forward my intention of reducing un-recyclable waste.

So last Friday, with my shopping trolley, I went to a proper grocery store and bought the fresh produce I needed. I know I can’t ignore Tesco altogether because I still need the canned beans, bread and toilet roll. But the point is that I am in control of how I shop, what bags I use, and, if the items are packaged, making sure that the packaging is at least recyclable.

And I have cancelled the Delivery Saver Plan so I don’t have to pay for fuel and overpriced deals anymore — hurrah!

[The featured image is of the veg bags that the organic farm Abundant Earth does. Hopefully at some point in my life I can eat fresh veg & fruits from my own garden!]