I can’t paint birds … yet

painting birds

I have been taking a course in Chinese brush painting and yesterday I went with two of my classmates to a store selling beautiful Chinese books on brush painting. There were books with bamboo, peonies and cherry blossoms, but many of them also showed birds, tigers, butterflies or other animals.

“I can’t paint birds”, I said.
“I didn’t think so either”, said Lisa, “but once I had tried I realized it wasn’t that difficult”.

Since Lisa is a very talented painter I didn’t think that that would go for me, and therefore I only bought books on how to paint bamboo and flowers. When I came home and looked through my books I saw that in one of the books there were instructions on how to paint a bird. And then I realized that I had done such big mistake! I work as a professional coach and here I had kept on telling myself that I couldn’t do something I hadn’t even tried to do!

Perhaps I tried to paint some animals or people 20 years ago, but even then I didn’t give it much training. I have all the equipment I need to paint and no physical limitations, like bad sight or difficulties holding the brush. So it’s all about my mind. I tell myself that I can’t do it and then I don’t have to try, because I already know the result of such an action. What a good excuse! Excuse for what? What would be the worst thing that could happen? If I stop for a second and think about it. The worst that could happen must be that I would paint a really ugly bird.

When I write it down, even I can see how unimportant and small that is! But I know that there is always a reason behind all our behaviors, so what is mine? It’s a much bigger one. It’s the fear, not to be good enough. Yes, there it is again; “The good girl” within trying to control the mature, balanced woman I try to be. Do you have that same “good girl” whispering in your ear every now and then too? She is so discrete I hardly notice that she’s there most of the time …

There are so many believes and “laws” that I follow, that aren’t true at all, but I have been carrying them for so long, never questioning them, that they have become truths. I know you have them too. What are yours?

I’m not good enough for this job (and soon someone will notice).
I can’t cook.
I can’t drive in this terrible traffic.
I don’t understand math.
I’m too fat.
Life isn’t easy.
You can’t have it all.

So I stare at that good girl in the mirror and tell her loudly: “I can’t paint birds – yet!”

Carrying my life in a teaspoon

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Last week I was on vacation with my family. The last day I was sitting by the ocean enjoying the sunset, thinking how grateful I was for living my life the way it was, right in that moment. Then I remembered how frightened such a thought would have made me some 20 years ago.

I used to think, more or less subconscious, that you had a balanced amount of good and bad days. So if you were really lucky for a period, that period simply had to be followed by some kind of tragedy or bad days. That was some kind of law. I don’t really know where I got that from, it was just the truth for me. That made me reject thoughts of gratefulness, because that would sort of seem like I counted that as a good moment. Maybe there could be better moments, but I had already made sure that bad days would come! Have you had the same feeling? Or did I invent that stupid law myself?

One day a wise lady told me: “You seem to be carrying your life in a teaspoon! You are so afraid the happiness will spill out that you can hardly enjoy it.”

Shortly after I heard about mental training for the first time (I will write more about that another day!). Today, after years and years of studying, training and working with mental training, I know that what you focus on, you will probably get more of. If you let your brain know the goal, it will help you to see and go for those things that will get you there. No magic, no hocus pocus.

In recent years I have been more and more interested in exploring the spiritual realm and also there I see the same thoughts, but perhaps with another – more magical! – explanation. Many of you probably read “The Secret” some years ago. According to the Law of Attraction you get what you focus on. Universe, God or Source will bring it to you. Usually we are very focused on what we lack. So therefore we will get more of that! “I am not rich, beautiful, smart enough”, or “I don’t have the car, the house or the relationship I want”. So be it!

If I am grateful for the moment I have, even if it’s not one of the top-10-days, I will get more of that. Or if I can focus on the nice parts of my body, the nice parts of my house or the things I can do for the money I have and be grateful for that and say “I am happy for this and would love more of it to come” – so be it!

The teaspoon I threw away years ago, but I’m far from perfect and it doesn’t work all days and in all situations, but I am getting better and better in my gratefulness training. And I love that I can sit there by the ocean today and allow myself to actually be happy!

 

Expat wife life: Bring a piece of peace

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I have found that when I start something completely new, like moving, starting my own business or getting involved in a relationship, it brings a lot of stress. It isn’t that familiar stress that comes when I’m experiencing lack of time, due to too many things to do. No, it all has to do with me being out of my comfort zone. I don’t know the hidden rules, I feel lost or confused or I am constantly doing things that I’m not used to do.

It has become very important to me to make myself some kind of physical comfort zone. To be able to relax in a comfortable armchair, reading a nice, uncomplicated book and drinking cups and cups of tea – that brings me peace in times of confusion. To when we moved to Shanghai this summer I was quick to ask the people I met if they had any nice books I could borrow. I even asked the school librarian if I could use the school library, which was fine. At first I was ambitious and choose some classics that I haven’t had time to read before, but it turned out that they were also adding to my stress. Some feelgood books were just the right thing!

So my advice now to people moving abroad is to bring something that can give them a little peace in the beginning. It might be some books, painting equipment, training clothes, baking material, knitting things etc. I know that most people who move just have one suite case for clothes and things to use for a month or two before their shipment arrives, but I still recommend to bring it. It is worth it to be able to relax just a little bit in that first stress.

And I am sure that goes for us when we are out of our comfort zone in our regular home and country as well: to know what brings us peace and mindfulness. Not everybody knows that. Try to find out what energy sources you have! Is it to sit on that stone in the forest? Is it to meditate, write, read, paint, workout at the gym? Whatever it is, don’t underestimate the importance of it in your way to everyday peace of mind.

Am I confusing a fact with a thought?

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“It sure has been a very boring winter”, I said to my husband. And then I went quiet and started to think about what I’ve just said.

I remembered that the Buddhist monk Vajracaksu, had been teaching me not to confuse a fact with a thought, to make sure that I don’t jump to conclusions too fast.

So, had the winter been boring? The fact was that it had been much colder and much less sunnier that the two last winters. But “boring” was of course my conclusion. Does it matter? Well, since I can’t do much about the weather that thought makes me a victim. I just have to endure this boring weather and get depressed about it and feel as if my energy level has reached bottom line. If I, on the other hand, can make myself see that “boring” is a thought that I choose myself, I can easily change the thought.
Perhaps “It sure has been a good winter for reading and having cozy coffee mornings with friends” would make me feel less depressed?

Not to confuse a fact with a thought, I find especially difficult with short text messages. I know that’s why the smileys have been invented, but still it happens quite often that I find someone rude or harsh when they send me a message. I easily attach an imagined attitude to the message. But now I have difficulties sending a text message without a smiley, because it looks to serious!

Back to the confusion again: Honestly, isn’t it a very important lesson – to notice if I am confusing a fact with a thought?

I saw an old class mate putting strange photos on Facebook. So when I met some other class mates someone said something about it, and we all were shaking our heads and judging her as a bit crazy. Then one of them said that he had heard that her husband had left her, and another one then said that her sister had died. Hey, wait! With these new facts, I was suddenly not so sure that the photos were crazy. Here was perhaps a terribly sad and confused person, who might be a bit lost at the moment. Within a few minutes I started to feel very sorry for her and seeing her photos as a statement of her sadness. I had clearly confused the facts (the photos) with a thought (“She is crazy”).

How bad isn’t that for world peace?!

Today I’ll try hard to focus on my thoughts about people and situations and notice how often the facts might not be completely supporting my thoughts. Do you feel that you mix them up as well?