Can I choose a nicer feeling?

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If I was not worried about this situation, but felt calm and positive about it – would that change anything for me?

This last week I have been trying a little bit extra to focus on my everyday fear. I always say that all emotions come from either fear or love. As if irritation, worry, anger, anxiety or frustration have their roots in a place of fear, while harmony, happiness, contentment and hope have their roots in a place of love. Like a “fear mode” and a “love mode”.

It’s natural for us to look for dangers all the time, since that’s more crucial for our survival than signs of kindness or love. We have done that for so many years that it has become the first hand choice for our subconscious – to choose an emotion coming from fear rather than considering one from love.

I therefore have to make a conscious effort to first realize that what I’m feeling is coming from fear.
“I’m worried.”
Then I have to ask myself what it would feel like if I picked a feeling coming from love, calmness for example.
“That would be much nicer and I would be much more relaxed”.
So I continue and ask myself if something in reality would change if I choose to focus more on being calm than worried.
“Maybe I would make decision that are better for everyone involved. I would probably be more creative. And perhaps more fun to be around!”
Do I have anything to earn from continuing being worried?
“No, I just don’t want to be naïve, but I can’t actually see that things could change for the worse if I changed the roots of this emotion from fear to love.”

Piece of cake? Not exactly. But interesting and a good way of growing and developing.

If you want to try you don’t have to start with the big fears in your life. Start with a little useless negativity that you have in your mind or body right now.

 Are you irritated, frustrated, bitter or low about something or someone particular today?
 What if you were not?
 What positive emotion could you choose instead?
 Would that be nicer? Want to give it a try?

Write a little note or place something symbolic on your desk (I have my symbolic bracelet that reminds me of today’s challenge!) or set the alarm and think about the situation and your feelings from the “love place” as many times as possible today.

Stop. Breathe. Notice.

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This is one of my favorite exercises to make myself more mindful in my everyday life.

I might sit in my office about to write a blog post, when I simply stop what I’m doing for a moment, I look outside the window and take a breath. Then I just notice whatever I see. Today the sun falls nicely on the leaves of the green bush outside, while the leaves of the tree behind gently play in the wind. It’s surprisingly beautiful!

But I’m always surprised by the beauty of what I see when I just suddenly focus on something ordinary surrounding me. I think it’s the breathing that makes me notice what I actually see. So often I look out the window but I don’t really see anything in particular. To stop, breathe and then just notice what you see, not judging or starting a long chain of associations, but just noticing makes your pulse slow down and the stress hormones in your body decrease instantly. I also feel that it makes me happier. Most of my thoughts are about memories from the past or worries or planning for the future. Very little of my time I actually spend in reality – here and now. To just be and enjoy the very simple thinks in front of my eyes makes me appreciate my life more.

And it’s such a good thing to do when you’re waiting; in the line at the grocery store, in the street waiting for green light, on the doorstep waiting for your teenage daughter to finish her make-up or in front of the wakening computer. Waiting is usually boring and useless, but if you train your mind to notice the things around you – “she has a green hat”, “the shadow is very long”, “all but one person here are wearing sneakers” etcetera – the waiting will suddenly be a little pleasant reality check. Try not to go on about how ugly the green hat is or how cold it is in the shadow – simply notice what it looks like. I promise you that you will like this exercise!

Can Technical Development Cause De-Civilization?

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What is actually development? When you look around the world you will probably think that some countries are developing in the wrong direction. But how do we know what is wrong and what is right? And what is right anyhow? Is it BNP, life length, happiness, or technical implementation?

Is technical development necessarily something that leads to a civilization’s development? Clever brains have the possibility to invent new machines and solutions, but is it for the happiness, health and wealth of the people in the world or mostly for the wealth of that particular company producing it? Well, we all know the answer to that I think.

But if we believe that some inventions actually make more people stressed and unhappy and don’t add to their health or wealth, is it right to forbid it, to stop a kind of de-civilization in the country? I find it an interesting question, but of course almost impossible to answer, since it all comes down to guessing. How would anyone know if a new thing is for better or for worse in the long run?

I see an interview with the old king of Bhutan, who started to put the measures of the people’s happiness over the BNP in the 1970s. This is still their primary goal in the country and to keep the happiness of the people on a high and growing level, they forbid a lot of technology and inventions from outside, which they don’t see is to their benefit. Is this wonderful or just a way to control the people?

If you look at your life – are all the technology surrounding you adding to your happiness or would it even be less stressful without it? What in your life is truly adding to your happiness?

I myself realize how detached my mobile make me. Instead of looking at the people, trees or everyday life surrounding me, I keep reading useless articles or look at little kittens on Facebook! As if it’s better to do an activity (scrolling down on Facebook) instead of enjoying the moment in real life!

 

Does Beauty Make You Happy or Sad?

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Today I wanted to think about how it comes that beauty makes us happy. Why does a golden sunset or a delicate flower or a puppy make us happy?

But the more I sat thinking about it, the more I started to doubt whether that is always true. If I’m unhappy, will a sunset make me happy again? Or do I have to be happy first to be able to be happier by the sight of a beautiful sunset? Might it even be so that a beautiful sunset can cause me more unhappiness if I for example have unhappy emotions of loneliness, low self-esteem or quilt? Maybe that beauty will make me feel excluded from the happiness I know I’m supposed to feel.

That makes sense if the saying “The beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is true. How I interpret something depends on my mood, and the interpretation then adds to my mood. If I see a beautiful woman, will I smile and be inspired or will I feel ugly and inferior? Well it all depends on my attitude. That attitude can of course be one of very deep good or bad self-esteem, but it can also vary from day to day, depending on my mood that actual day (or if I have a bad hair day!) If I’m happy I will get happier, if I’m sad I will get sadder. That’s unfair, isn’t it!?

But I still enjoy beauty around me. I can’t really understand people who have aggressive, sad or cruel art on their walls. But once again that’s my interpretation! When I was a poor student I bought a beautiful, quite expensive picture. The first thing you saw was the head of a man in total peace, with a light smile on his lips. If you continued to look you could see that his head was on a plate. It was a picture of John the Baptist’s head. When I looked at it I was filled with the peace of his face at that moment, but all my friends found it horrible and only saw the cruelty behind it!

Still I think we have an urge to make our surroundings pleasant and nice and that we like to enjoy beauty. If we’re not too unhappy, but just a bit exhausted or low, I believe the sight of a sunset or a puppy can’t keep us from feeling a bit better. Or what do you say?

“It’s a fact. That’s true!”

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These days we hear a lot about “alternative facts” and jokes about “the truth”, coming from the circus in the US. We laugh because we know that there can only be one true fact about something. You can’t have alternative facts. A fact is a fact. And a truth is a truth. Based on the facts most of the time.

At the same time we know how facts and statistics can be used in any possible way, depending on your purpose. Which facts you choose to report and which ones you omit. I’m a little bit troubled when I see how the different news channels, without even trying to hide it, clearly choose the facts that they think make the best “news”. How will the audience be able to see the big picture and be able to make their own opinion about what’s going on if they never get “alternative facts”?

And who decides what the truth is? Is it the conclusion someone at the news desk draws from the chosen facts? Is it something we have been told for generations or always done in our culture without questioning it? Can you make a reference to a god and immediately everyone has to believe that it’s a truth? Is it true because it’s the latest scientific proof?

I think that most of us want to live in a truthful way. So how come that we have so different ways of looking at the truth? It bothers me to use the word “truth” since that immediately implies that the opposite, or even the slightest deviation, has to be untrue or false. As if there only exist one good, true side of each opinion or action.

In honest, deep discussions I find that most people agree that everyone wants to be good and truthful, but how come that we too often completely forget that and look at actions and beliefs of people on “the other side” as if they were stupid, less intelligent than we? If I believe that my opinion is the truth, how can I accept that their opposing opinion is just as true? Not just true to them (no wondering since they are stupid?!), but actually as true as my truth.

I don’t say that we should be passive and just accept actions and speech that we find wrong, but I think it’s of great value to the overall development of societies, if we start by trying to figure out how it can be true in different ways to different people. Only then can we grow and continue the discussion on a higher, more developed level.

Is it true? How to change your negative feelings about someone in a few questions.

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Many years ago I and some colleagues were discussing another person at the office, whom we disliked because we found him lying about so many things and acting nice, but being mean behind our backs at the same time.

He’s such a false person, one of my colleagues said in anger.
Are you really sure about that?, I asked this particular day. She looked at me in confusion:
Of course I am!
But can you be 100% sure that he is false?,
I persisted.
Well, of course he’s not false all the time, she admitted.
How would we feel about him if we didn’t think this way about him?, I dared to ask.

Both my colleagues probably thought I was crazy, but we agreed that it would improve the atmosphere at the office and make co-operation much easier.

By now they wondered why I was asking these strange questions, instead of just participate in the daily nagging on our colleague. So I had to tell them that I was just reading about The Work by Byron Katie (“Loving What Is”) and that I had one last – reverted – question:

What if it’s WE who are false?

That was just too much! No, they could not even ponder that question! But I persisted: Here we are sitting, talking angrily about this man, but we never tell him how we feel about him. Instead we are smiling and carrying on with our jobs. So you could actually say that we are just as false as he is!

Well, they didn’t really accept that, but to me it made a difference – I was not as hard in my judgement and attitude any longer, because I could see that I had my part in the play as well – and since that day I have often come back to Byron Katie’s questions, if I’m having negative thoughts or feelings about someone.

It’s so easy to pick a negative thought and then hang on to it, as if it’s a truth, just because we have been thinking it over and over. Nothing good will come from that. Since I can’t change anyone but myself, scrutinizing my own thoughts about others, is a good start to improve relationships. And to grow as a person!

Is it true?
Can I be absolutely sure that it’s true?
What do I feel when I think like that?
How would I feel if I didn’t have that thought?
What if I revert the thought: He is NOT …/ I am …./ I am not ….

 

What is a good life?

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Today I got inspired by a talk by Arianna Huffington. She said that when we say we want a good life, we usually mean a successful life. And by successful we usually mean a life were we have gathered a good amount of money and power. This is quite a modern way to look at life. In ancient time, the Greeks used to talk about the four pillars to a good life: giving, wellbeing, wisdom and wonder. What a completely different way of looking at it!

What I find fascinating and sad is that most of us probably know that to be able to earn a lot of money and gain power, we have to be creative, make good decisions and see new solutions. But that is almost impossible to do if you are tired, stressed and out of balance. We know that too. But still we admire people who seem never to sleep, have hundreds of projects going at the same time and never being lazy, relaxing in the sofa the whole Sunday.

Arianna Huffington talks about an experiment where people got two choices: Either they should sit all alone, without any devices or anything else, in an empty room for a long time, or they should sit in the same room getting electric shocks. 47 % of the men preferred to have electric shocks instead of sitting alone with nothing to do! Isn’t that tragic! (Only 25 % of the women choose electric shocks, which is somewhat reassuring though!).

But how can this be!? How can it be hard to do the nice things we know we have to do, to be in balance? Is it cultural? It seems like more and more top leaders are confessing that they have been meditation for years, but never told anybody. If it would turn out that meditation or sleeping a lot or taking 30 minutes time for reflection in the middle of the day is what cool leaders do, will that change our view of how to look upon our work?

After more than four years of not working the way I used to do, I still feel a bit ashamed if I have not been “productive” enough every day! But I am getting better and better at thinking about my meditation or breathing in mindfulness as a productive thing to do. I can see how important the balance in my life is, not only for my harmony but also for my relations with my family and friends. Being more balanced also makes it easier to make decisions or find out what we truly want, because we have a better access to both logic and emotions when we aren’t constantly involved in something non-real happening in our minds or our cellphones! It will even prevent you from accidents – if you are in balance, you will see that stone or hole in the road and you will not fall. You will not fall, because you are totally in the present, alert about what you are doing, using all your senses here and now.

Just one last thing that Arianna Huffington also said that made me think; She commented on the fantastic technique we have today, that brings us this enormous amount of knowledge – how will we now gather that into wisdom? So much knowledge and so little wisdom …

I have read and heard about Arianna Huffington and her Huffington Post for years, but never actually heard her speak or understood what she is doing. Here you can see the 30 minute speech that I was inspired by today: Arianna Huffington – Reimagine. Everything.

I can learn something from everyone I meet.

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Reading Swedish film director Kay Pollak’s book “No Chance Encounter: Meeting Yourself in Others” some ten years ago was one of those eye opener you get once in a while. Whenever you have any negative feelings towards someone else it’s mostly about you, Pollak says.

At first I had troubles understanding what he meant.

So that terribly annoying mom at school is not really annoying at all – it’s I who have a problem? And that far too smiling sales man is not embarrassing at all? It’s all about me?

Of course I had to do my homework! I remember so well one morning when I was waiting for the commuting train and I saw this young adult covered in tattoos. He had tattoos all over his neck and face and they were far from professionally made. One was even wrongly spelled. I became aware of my negative feeling towards him. So my first quest was to find out what I was actually feeling? I tried to be honest and realized that it was a feeling of despise. That’s shameful! You should never despise someone! So I breathed deeply and went further into this feeling of despise. Was I despising the fact that he had tattoos? No. Did I despise that they were all over his face? Maybe, but not really. That they were so ugly and badly made? Yes! Here I could feel in my body that I had hit the root of the feeling. But why did I despise that?

“It’s ugly”, I could hear myself thinking, “and you just don’t make yourself ugly!” Aha! “Why not?”, I asked myself. “Well, you just shouldn’t!”, was the agitated answer. I was actually a bit surprised about the strength in my feelings about not making yourself ugly and I started to scan my life and childhood about such situations.

When I grew up I was very tall with red hair, freckles and white eye lashes. I never felt ugly, but then I never felt cute or beautiful either. I did my best to look good, dress nicely and be as creative as possible when I was allowed to use make-up. I had always hated masquerades when you were supposed to dress like a monster or ghost or any other kind of ugly creature. I didn’t want to look worse than I did – I wanted to look a little bit better! How on earth could anyone even suggest such parties?!

So now you can also see where my deep emotions came from! The child within not being cute enough. Feeling a bit sad about this, standing there still waiting for the train, I continued the chain of thoughts and started to think about the man with the tattoos again. What he had done I would never be able to do! I wouldn’t be brave enough to go around with one fake tattoo in my face just for one day! So actually he was much braver than I … What a turn of feelings! I looked at him and smiled and thanked him in my mind for a wonderful lesson!

Since that morning I have done this exercise many times. And it’s thrilling and amazing to see how my irritation about that mom’s behavior turn into a lessons about me being afraid of making a fool of myself at the school meeting or being unsecure about my social skills in new encounters. And I can see now how every meeting is a chance to grow and develop!

We are only alive in the moment

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Even before I left Sweden, I had heard friends living abroad saying that they found themselves so much more alive there than they did in their home countries. They thought that people at home just lived every day the same way and were only looking forward to the weekend or the vacation. During my years abroad I have heard this often and wondered what it’s really about. The other day I was working on a course in mindfulness and I suddenly got it!

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of modern mindfulness, explains in an interview what mindfulness is:

“It’s the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally.” And then he adds: “As if your life depended on it!”

Day in and day out our brains are fully occupied with thoughts about the past or planning in the future. We very seldom just ARE in the moment, experiencing it just the way it is, without thinking. But since we’re only alive in the moment, not being aware of it makes us sort of emotionally dead! Only when we are fully aware of the moment do we feel alive.

When you’ve left the people, the environment, the language and the culture that you know so well and suddenly are standing in a street with completely new smells and sounds, people acting in new ways and talking a different language and you’re trying to cross the street with a seemingly chaotic traffic, you are most probably not planning your dinner at the same time. You just are. You are completely alive and aware of the moment.

Maybe you’re not completely non-judgmental all of the time though, and you might find it extremely stressful to have to get to know new people all the time, experiment with new groceries or trying to explain what you want in a new language, but this lack of grueling on the past or planning of the future actually makes you live here and now more than you did at home. It’s a kind of unintentional mindfulness, that is forced on you whether you like it or not. The best is of course to practice some awareness and let go of the thoughts just for a little moment every now and then and just enjoy what you experience, no matter if it’s in a chaotic corner in Shanghai or in your well-known kitchen in your home country!

If you want to hear Jon Kabat-Zinn explain what Mindfulness is you can click here (5:17 minutes)

The impersonal intelligence beyond my control.

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Today I happened to hear an old interview with Dr. Wayne Dyer talking about the impersonal intelligence. He gave an example that I liked very much: Put forth your hands and take a look at your ten fingers. On everyone is a finger nail. A nail that is growing constantly. If you find it tiresome to have to cut them and take care of them all the time, you might want to tell them to stop growing. Will this prevent them from growing? No, it won’t, because that is out of your control. There is an intelligence within you that makes the nails grow. And that same intelligence is within all of us.

So my nails keep on growing due to some kind of intelligence beyond my control.

When I start to think of it, that’s the case with everything in life that is truly important. I can control what I do during my day, what I eat, what I say and what I pay attention to. But I can’t control my breathing very much, my heart pumping, blood running in the right directions in my body, all my organs taking care of food and air and turning it into fuel for my body. The actual things that are important for me to be able to live yet one more day! Of course I can make it easier or more difficult for my body to be able to carry out its purpose, depending on what I eat, the pressure I put on my body, if I get a cold etc, but the ability to fight the bacteria, to mend broken muscles or turn food into healthy fuel I can’t control.

Where is this intelligence? Is it in my cells, or between them, or outside of me? Is my body like a radio satellite, receiving information and forwarding it to the right cells? I don’t know. But I find the thought fascinating, that we all have the same intelligence making our nails grow. Is it once source of intelligence telling all our bodies what to do, or is it one intelligence in each of us, originating from that one source?

Is tolerance to be passive?

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There are some words that I’ve always found hard to use, hard to really understand, for example love, tolerance, forgiveness, peace.

I want to develop and become a better, kinder person and I suspect that to act out of love, tolerance and forgiveness is important. But the words are so BIG to me! Do you understand what I mean?

How can I love people I don’t know? How is that possible? How can I be tolerant towards people that have the most horrible opinions and do terrible things?

Actually it is only the last few years that I have understood that it is the INTERPRETATION of the words that make the difference. If I think of love like the feeling I have for my daughter and expect to feel that towards everybody in the world, I will never succeed. And if I try to accept and understand the thoughts of someone doing horrible things I will make myself a victim and become a passive doll.

So I have to see the words from another angel.

“Tolerance is not about agreement or being vague about differences and disagreements. Tolerance is maintaining metta (loving kindness) towards those who hold views which are different from ours and which are even repugnant to us. Metta is the basic Buddhist attitude and tolerance is the application of that basic attitude to the area of difference and disagreement with others.”
‘Buddhist thoughts for a violent world’ by Ratnaghosha (2003)

When I read this quote some years ago, that was something new to me. Until then I couldn’t understand how one could be tolerant with all those crazy people in the world having such violent, egoistic, narrow views. To me that was to be passive! How could I just listen and smile if someone told me about his or her opinion and I thought that they were completely wrong? To just listen and smile would be being a coward, not fighting for a better world! Or at least feeling that I was dishonest to myself, by not telling the person about my opinion.

Then I was taught about the difference between being passive and being tolerant. As the quote above says, the point is not NOT to say my opinion, it is to do it in a kind way. To listen to the other person, to try to understand what he means and maybe even why he has this opinion. Then I can tell him my view, I can write articles, I can demonstrate, I can do anything I want to show my opinion, but I should do it in a kind way. I should not hurt or even kill him, I should not shout, humiliate or say mean things. I should respect him. I should respect the other person as an equal part of humanity.

I can see now how I often have felt as if my opinion, or rather I myself, have been threatened by somebody else’s opinion. I felt that I sort of had to WIN, or I would have LOST. To be good at argumentation would be to be better at winning. That might be completely wrong then. I should not feel threatened next time. I shall try my best to accept that this other person thinks like this, and that I can tell him or her what I think if I feel that it would be good.

I shall express myself in a kind way, no matter what others say or think!

How can it be stressful being an expat spouse?

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You’re an expat. Your children are at school and your spouse at work. Your only duty is to make dinner today. You have all the day to do whatever you like. Yet, you’re not happy. You actually feel quite stressed and you feel stupid about it. How on earth can you be stressed under these luxurious circumstances? If you would tell your friends at home they would probably frown at you and not understand how such a spoiled person can be stressed. So you try to tell yourself that you are such a lucky person, that all is well and you engage in a mass of activities to keep your mind off those depressing emotions.

If you’re actually living an expat life I’m pretty sure that you have been there. The question is how it can be stressful?

Last week I took a look at the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. It lists 43 stressful life events that can lead to illness, and I realized that when you move abroad you (usually) have to separate from your extended family, say goodbye to all your friends and social network, quit your job not knowing if you will ever get it back, leave or even sell your house and then move to a new house with foreign furniture and no things of your own, try to find food that you can use in a new food culture, try to find your way around in a new neighborhood, try to communicate in a new language, try to understand all the new, unwritten laws and behaviors, get used to the climate and all the noise in a big city as well as the traffic, take care of a stressed out spouse coming home from his/her new job and comfort your children coming home from school in a roller-coaster of emotions (with a new language, friends, system, teachers, subjects and unwritten rules), get yourself out and find new friends and finally enjoy that now you can do whatever you want – if you just had any idea of what that might be.

My conclusion was that you hit so many of the crucial stress factors at once, in a way that you probably never ever do in an everyday life at home. You might not have the stress related to time management that you have at home, but that’s not the most dangerous one. You sort of get BINGO in stressful events!

So accept that it’s enormously stressful to move abroad like you have done! You have had to meet so many stressful events at once that your friends at home would be shocked if they actually understood! Take care of yourself and accept your feelings. Share them with the new friends you find and you’ll be able to comfort each other. If you listen truthfully to yourself you’ll probably be able to figure out what you need to do to reduce your stress level. It might be to start meditate, find a gym, read a book, organize excursions with a neighbor to get to know your city, sleep a lot, watch a movie in the middle of the day or join a course to try new hobbies. The most important, I think, is to accept your feelings, listen to your thoughts and wishes and take a first step to reduce the stress and bring in more moments of recovery and joy.

 

Below you will find the Holmes and Rahe stress scale.

Life event Life change units
Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Imprisonment 63
Death of a close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Dismissal from work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Gain a new family member 39
Business readjustment 39
Change in financial state 38
Death of a close friend 37
Change to different line of work 36
Change in frequency of arguments 35
Major mortgage 32
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Child leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse starts or stops work 26
Beginning or end school 26
Change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in working hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change in schools 20
Change in recreation 19
Change in church activities 19
Change in social activities 18
Minor mortgage or loan 17
Change in sleeping habits 16
Change in number of family reunions 15
Change in eating habits 15
Vacation 13
Major Holiday 12
Minor violation of law 11

Score of 300+: At risk of illness.

Score of 150-299: Risk of illness is moderate (reduced by 30% from the above risk).

Score <150: Only have a slight risk of illness.

Will I reach the top of the hill when I turn 50?

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We have all seen the illustrations of human ageing; the babies followed by young children and teenagers going upwards in a stair case or a hill side. On the top of the stairs or the hill is the middle aged person and after that it all goes downward with the retired followed by on old, crocked person with a stick and finally the cross symbolizing death. So how depressing isn’t it being on the top?!

“It must be around forty, when you’re “over the hill”. I don’t even know why it’s a bad thing. When I go hiking and I get over the hill, that means I’m past the hard part and there’s a snack in the future. That’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned”, writes Ellen Degeneres in her book “Seriously …. I’m Kidding”.

I find that such a great way of seeing it! It’s much nicer to think that in life it’s time for a “snack” and I can imagine that I will sit down and enjoy the view every here and now. The walk will be easier and not require the same amount of energy and perspiration. It’s a beautiful image. But is it true? Or is it just me changing my perspective because it suites me? To see my future as a nice downhill walk I find more enjoyable than a depressing slope towards illness and death.

I can without doubt say that I would never like to be a teenager again! But I remember that I liked turning 28. I felt that I had been 28 mentally for many years and liked that my actual age and I was suddenly the same. Then I stayed 28 for some years before I had to admit that I was actually 35. But would I like to be 35 again? The truth is that it’s impossible to compare. Today I’m living expat wife life in Shanghai, trying to support a teenager and a husband, but back then I had a hectic life with children, a career involving travelling all over Europe, commuting three hours every day and taking care of a big house and a garden – while longing for the holiday. But maybe it’s not so much about the whereabouts of everyday life, but the change of attitude.

Looking out from the top of the hill, I enjoy that what I see now is not black and white. During my travel uphill I have met so many people with so many different opinions and values that I today know that the Truth might look very different from different angles and that Good and Bad often depends more on the intentions and the consequences than the actual deed. That gives me a more relaxed mind on my way down. I don’t have to be perfect, because there is no such person, and I don’t have to know all the right answers, because there is no right and wrong.

I tend to be more anxious about my health now than I was going up towards the top, I must admit that. A bad knee was just something I tried to forget, hoping it would be better next month, but now I get a bit worried that it will not disappear by itself. What will the rest of the trip look like if it doesn’t?

My world view has changed in the opposite direction though. When I was young I took for granted that we all could change the world, today I’m not that optimistic …

I have come to the conclusion though, that the major difference between going up and going down on this imaginary hill, is that when we are working our way up we always aim for the next camp. These camps are goals that we have, like meeting a man/woman, get married, buy a house, have children, change job to speed up the career, buy a nice car, travel to our dream destination etc. Some might have very specific goals that they have set up, but most of us just follow the goals set by society, friends and family. Even though I’m a coach and I love working with goals and how to reach them, I think that the joy I feel now – overlooking the downhill path – is the lack of these unstated but life changing goals! The goals I set up for myself now are purely created from my heart, to give me and my family joy and harmony. They are not so much about things and positions, as they are about feelings and attitude. That makes me feel so much more in control of my own life. On my way down I don’t have to hurry up to get to the next camp – I can follow the stars, stray from the path to look at the flowers or sleep in that cave just for the thrill of it!

And isn’t it time for that snack now?!

How I let my past ruin my present moment.

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Lately I have begun to notice how I worry about things in the future that all derives from my past experiences. Of course they do – how could I predict the future? All I have is the moment of Now and my past memories. But it actually helps me to react to my worries and ask myself what experiences and memories these feelings of fear or unease come from.

Then I can also ask myself if I am absolutely sure that this exact same thing will happen in the future. If I believe so (which is very seldom) – what can I do to prevent it? It helps me to focus on actions which I can control instead of feelings that I can’t change. If I don’t think it’s absolutely sure that it will happen, I try to convince myself that the worries will only make me loose the joy of the moment, my mindfulness, and peace of mind for something that has already happened.

Is the thing I am anxious about happening right in this moment? No! So the fear is all about something that does not exist, something that is not happening. Either it’s a past memory or an imagination of the future, based on the same memories. But it is not happening right now!

A while ago I tasted a fruit that I had not tasted before. “Is it good?” my daughter asked. I didn’t know. It wasn’t bad, but I couldn’t say if I enjoyed the taste or not. “What does it taste like?” she continued. I didn’t know that either. It tasted like nothing I had eaten before.

I could really imagine how my brain was working at high speed to try to find something somewhere in my brain that could make sense of the taste in my mouth! And even if my answer to my daughter was: “Maybe it tastes a bit like banana mixed with something” it was not the true explanation of the sensation of the moment. So I had to stop searching and instead concentrate on the present – to enjoy the happiness of tasting something completely new!

Our daily lives are like tasting new fruit every day, but since we mostly think the same thoughts today as we did yesterday, we miss the moment and keep ourselves stuck in old memories. We keep ourselves busy all days trying to imagine all the dangers and troubles that might meet us tomorrow or next month. Of course we have to plan our days and use our experiences when needed, but then let go and enjoy the Now, the thrill of not knowing what tomorrow will bring!

 

 

 

My mood changes with the falling leaves

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Today I walked home from a friend, looking at all the leaves falling from the trees around me. The street workers were busy gathering the leaves in big stacks. It was much colder today. After a while I got aware of my feelings. They were my typical “autumn feelings”; a mixture of slight depression and calmness. Things are slowing down after a hectic summer. Suddenly I started to laugh for myself. It’s not autumn! It’s spring! It’s just that here in Shanghai the leaves didn’t fall from the trees last autumn, but now when the new spring leaves push them off the branches they fall.

That makes me wonder what the Chinese feel. Do they get the typical spring feelings from falling leaves? Probably.

Isn’t it amazing how our moods are suddenly influenced by things around us? Sometimes I know exactly what it is, like a special song I hear. Immediately I get a happy or sad feeling, depending on the song. But I’m sure that my feelings are affected by a lot of situations, sounds, smells and things that I don’t even notice consciously. I might wonder why I am suddenly happier or more worried than before, but the reason that triggered my emotions has already passed.

Is there anything I can do to prevent myself from being negatively affected this way? I don’t know. Is there?

Just being more aware of my mood might be a good start: “Okay, I’m a bit irritated today. Why?” I might not know why, but just to get aware of it I think will make it possible for me to change it. To do something nice, something that I like. Or just breathe and accept the feeling.

So if you concentrate on your inner feeling right now – what do you feel?

How can I reduce my stress level?

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I’ve been seeing a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor for some months together with a friend here in Shanghai. Today he told my friend that her energy level has risen up to the stomach, which is good, but now it has to come up to the head. “You have to reduce your stress level”, the doctor said, putting some acupuncture needles in her feet, but not giving any further advice on how to reduce the stress.

Later she asked me “So shall I just go home and sit in my sofa reading books all days, or what?”

I think this is a problem many of us share. We can clearly see sometimes that we have to reduce the amount of tasks to be done, to not be overwhelmed or too stressed, but that’s not enough. My Stress Coach teacher and world known expert on Mental Training, Lars-Eric Uneståhl, talks about two different types of stress in our bodies. One is the tension we get when we perform something. If we climb a mountain our leg muscles will be pretty tense after a while or if we try to solve a huge problem our brain will be tired.

“Stress is not harmful at all. What is harmful is the lack of recovery.“
Lars-Eric Uneståhl

Since we don’t pay attention to the amount of recovery that is needed every day to be in balance, we produce another kind of stress. That is the basic tension that we have in our body even when we are not performing anything at all. There has to be a small basic tension, because even when we sleep there are autonomous actions in our body that requires energy and produce motion. But unfortunately we go to sleep with tense muscles around our eyes, in our cheeks, stomach, neck, legs and so on. There is this unnecessary tension that we have no use of, a tension that only stops our normal body functions to heal and repair itself.

But there are a lot of things we can do to help our bodies and minds to relax and let go of this unnecessary tension. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Take three deep breaths 2-3 times a day. Concentrate on your diaphragm and fill it with air. Keep your breath for some seconds and let go of it. Make sure that you empty your lungs completely and let there be short moment of stillness before you take the next breath. Don’t overdo this, because it can make you dizzy. Three breaths can be enough to make your body calm down.

2. Meditate on your body. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine strait. Close your eyes and start to concentrate on your different body parts. Is the feeling in your feet good, bad or neutral? What about your legs – good, bad or neutral? Go through your body and give a statement about each part. Try not to think about anything else but the feeling in each part.

3. Meditate on your breath. Sit comfortably as above and this time concentrate on your breathing. Inhale, in a relaxed tempo, exhale, and count 1. Continue like that until 10 and do it all over twice. Try not to think about anything. Just enjoy being.

4. Progressive Muscular Relaxation (PMR). Here I think the best thing is to find a recording that can guide you through the body. The idea is to tense and relax a muscle at a time to learn how to control each muscle and be able to make it relax by will. Usually we have no idea how to relax our right calf muscle for example! Google Progressive Muscular Relaxation or try this very short one from Orrion: Progressive Muscular Relaxation

5. Be mindful about something you do several times every day. For example washing your hands. Each time you wash your hands you give yourself the time to concentrate fully on the experience. How does the water running over your hands feel? Slowly rub the soap into your hands and enjoy the feeling. Just be in the moment. This also gives your body a moment to lower its basic tension.

If you have serious troubles because of your stress you should of course also talk to your doctor!

Remember that you have probably built this basic tension up to this level for years, so don’t expect to be completely relaxed after a few minutes of meditation! It takes time to learn how to relax.

I’d be happy to hear your comment on this! And if you like what you’ve read, please share it!

 

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?