12 Months of Simple Living: End of Year Thoughts

It’s been a year of this transformation journey and as January 2018 arrived, I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on each month and what impact, if any, it has had on the way I live my life now.

1. | January – Vegetarian |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Vegetarian Recipes

If there was ever going to be a controversial challenge it was this one. With opinions and beliefs splitting people world wide on the subject, it was always going to be harder for a previously strict carnivore to “try out” being Vegetarian for a month and then blog about the short lived and not hugely successful experience. But this journey is my own and now I can see this short lived month really did have an effect on my view, and now my lifestyle choices. However insignificant they might seem, they are still small steps toward a healthier life and a better world.

Since January, I’ve found myself increasingly choosing the vegetarian options whether it is in my work canteen, at home or out to eat with friends. I put this down to a change in my attitude towards meat as a result of understanding the vast amounts of waste, the damage to the environment and the inhumane treatment of animals all for the sake of corporate greed.

From a health point of view, I am so much more aware of the fats and greasiness of meat and how much heavier it sits in my stomach, I do tend to feel a little odd when I eat some types of meat now. It does make me wonder what sort of diseases we are potentially exposed to by eating meat.  That’s not to say I don’t crave the odd steak now and then but I am so much more aware of  trying to choose organic, free range, grass fed meat.

Having said that, I do want to aim to be even more veggie and I have concluded that being a full time vegetarian would be the ideal lifestyle choice and probably is how we were once meant to be. Not that any of my life choices are ideal- we’ll see!

Note: Spiralizers interest me now more than ever before!

 

2. | February – Forgiving |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
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This one has to be the hardest of all as it’s a continuous battle and a continuous cycle. Choosing to let people off the hook when they have wronged you seems unnatural to our human instincts and makes us feel like a doormat sometimes. But this doesn’t have to be so. I am continually reminding myself that forgiveness does not mean reconciliation; if you are continually wronged, don’t let them wrong you again. But love them and show them kindness anyway.

I can definitely see improvements with the way I handle disagreements, knowing that just because we have differences of opinion doesn’t make us bad people, just unique individuals who handle things in different ways. I try to respect another’s perspective even if I disagree.

I still struggle with letting things go quickly, but I can usually get over it after taking a breather. And with my long term grievances, it will always be a battle to maintain forgiveness but I will keep trying.

 

3. | March – Positivity & Thankfulness |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
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This challenge is one that went beyond my natural disposition. I’ve grown up in an environment of complaining, from my family to the culture of the UK, so trying not to was a real difficulty. Being thankful for everything, including the bad times, just opens your eyes to how blessed you really are. Blessed you have arms and legs, and eyes and ears, blessed you are able to use them, blessed you have food, shelter and a job. There’s actually a lot to be thankful for!

I really struggle, still, to see the glass half full rather than half empty but I am working on it. A good way to start thinking a bit more positively is by writing a diary of your week noting, at various points of the day, how you felt – happy, sad, angry – and to what degree out of 100% you felt those emotions. When you look back, you will likely realise you have a much happier life than you initially thought. This is because our minds get conditioned just to remember the negative and not the positive.

Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

 

4. | April – Stick at It |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
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This challenge  actually made me realise that my problem wasn’t so much giving up on things, as feeling like giving up every time something gets tough. Also it was about believing in my ability to achieve what I set out to do.

Through going travelling, something I needed to do for myself but was afraid to, it helped me build confidence in myself. I’m trying to maintain this confidence now that I am back; it’s actually the mundane things in life that knock the confidence out of you.

I have found myself being a little braver and taking those risks even if I might fail, but there’s still work to be done!

 

5. | May – Exercise |

Navigate: Part One| Part Two | Part Three

This one’s gone out the window! Seriously, I don’t like doing any of it – classes annoy me, I don’t even know where to start in the gym, I HATE running, going for walks in the cold British weather is not up there on my fun list… so what can I do?!

I know I have to exercise, I know it’s very important for mental and physical health, but I just need to find something I actually enjoy doing.

I am working on it!!! The only classes I do quite enjoy are yoga classes, so I will try to keep those up at least. Any suggestions? Let me know!

 

6. | June – Meditation |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two

A very interesting challenge, in that, I thought this would be the easiest, but it turned out to be much harder than I thought.

I enjoyed it when I did it, but I found that I had to make time for it, rather than try to fit it in my day.

I haven’t kept it up on a daily basis but have naturally found myself meditating on life, faith and positive thoughts when on my own and spending time enjoying the beauty of Nature.

“Beauty is the purest feeling of the soul. Beauty arises when soul is satisfied.”
― Amit Ray

 

7. | July – Water |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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A challenge that you either understood completely or didn’t get at all. Fellow water haters, I confess, I was doing so well and then I reverted… But I have a plan to get me back on track!

Drinking water has always been at the bottom of my to do list, and something happened when I realised, in my sugar free month, that (some) wines only had naturally occurring sugars; I started drinking more wine… And more… Not like an alcoholic, but just like with my dinner and in replacement for water…

Okay jokes aside (sort of), I just struggle in this already damp and wet, cold English weather to feel thirsty. I feel somehow I’m absorbing so much water just through breathing damp air. And even when thirsty, I’m so cold I opt for a dehydrating cup of tea (that’s right, tea is a diuretic so you ultimately lose more water than you take in).

But the plan? I bought this from Kikki.K and I intend to use it.
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New Year, new pee… I mean me.

8. | August – Say Yes |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
Climb every mountain

This challenge was certainly the most adventurous and the most rewarding, delivering me to exciting new places, giving me more out of life and connecting me with the best people the world has to offer!

It’s an attitude that takes courage and takes self-belief. You need to be a risk taker, taking chances when there may be disappointment. Worst, you need to be prepared to be disappointed.

I have definitely carried on with this type of attitude, but I have to remind myself. I am naturally cautious and if left to my instincts, I would let opportunities pass me by. I struggle with disappointment and so when I am let down it hurts, a lot! But life is not going to get more interesting, fun or exciting if you don’t take risks.

I hope 2018 will be a year that I don’t hold myself back with my own self-doubt, but a year which I open my eyes to opportunities and take them with both hands!

 

9. | September – Slow Down |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two

slow down 1
Image Credit: ryangoggin.com

This one is harder to keep up when life just gives you busy schedules week on week. Certainly, my technology diet assisted with this and I naturally slowed down in most aspects of my life.

I have since had to remind myself to enjoy beautiful moments, the first full moon of 2018 for example, and a stunning sunrise the following morning.

Slowing down ties in with meditation, with reducing social media and other time fillers and many other parts of my yearly challenges.

I hope to carry on a slightly slower, more purposeful pace into 2018.

 

10. | October – Sugar Free |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner | Dessert
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This is the challenge I am most proud of. It was complex and required a lot of effort; cooking, reading ALL labels, turning down tasty office junk food etc. But I smashed it!

I honestly saw the health benefits (especially when I returned to sugar), I realised the effect that sugar had on my asthma!

Sadly, the return to sugar has been a full submersion due to the time of year, but I would like that to change in the new year and I’d like to greatly reduce my intake. If not for my overall health, for my asthma (which has suffered greatly due to the return to sugar and all the other factors that trigger it).

I will proudly say though, that I have not returned to putting sugar in my tea!

 

11. | November – Technology Diet |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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Being cut off from the world of social media came with mixed feelings… It was strangely freeing but at the same time isolating.

Yes, I missed out on social events, life updates from all my 900+ facebook “friends” (ha! I have more than you! JK) and ultra-hilarious memes, BUT I gained an independence, learned a new language (slash carried on learning Spanish from all my years of dabbling) and met people in more organic ways.

Being back on social media, I actually am not as bothered anymore… It’s sort of an effort to post so I’m doing it less. And I’m only really scrolling through facebook for the “12 times you failed at life” style posts, because … they make me giggle.

So, although I won’t keep off social media, I think I have struck a balance along the way.

 

12. | December – Volunteer |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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What a feel-good way to end the year; by volunteering! I honestly got such a sense of achievement by helping these charities in the skills that I had to offer. I really cannot urge you enough, if you have any spare time, to give some of it to a charity of your choice. You will form new friendships, new connections and it can even help you gain more skills.

One thing that is overlooked when people are looking for jobs but lack the experience, is volunteering. The way I gained my administrative experience was by volunteering for the Lifetrain Trust. So if this is where you find yourself, just go for it – if not to help, then to look better on your CV. But you will feel good when you see the contribution you have made to these charities.

Charities do amazing work, and I will be more than happy to give more of my time to volunteer during 2018!

 

So that’s it, my end of year update! Let me know how you have found my challenges and if you have a resolution for 2018!

Thanks for reading!

Ciao!

X


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August Month 8: Say Yes (Part One)


Challenge: Say “Yes” to new opportunities
Charity: The LifeTrain Trust
Total £ accrued: £2
Status: Sometimes your heart just wants to say no. Those may be the times you must not follow your heart.


The Eighth Challenge: Saying “Yes” to New Opportunities

Climb every mountain

Before I get into the challenge, you should know that this came at a hard time; it was almost well-timed. Because as July came to a close, so did my 9 month relationship, which kind of messes with my travel plans, but gives more flexibility for this month’s challenge – to say “Yes!” to new opportunities. It’s never easy dealing with relationship breakdowns because your heart just wants to say “no” to everything. To waking up, to getting dressed, to stepping out of the door! Eek, humans!

After convincing myself to go out and explore (like, I didn’t pay all this money to sit in a hotel room watching chick flicks and shovelling mango sorbet down my throat), it suddenly dawned on me that there are couples EVERYWHERE and the only person also on their Larry (that’s on your own in British, or solo) was old dreads mcghee who sadly was an addict living on the Georgian streets. Before you judge me – I did give him a Chick-fil-A meal, probably the best gift you could give anyone around here!

 

The First “Yes”

Church in Virginia

Surprisingly, this bump in the road lead me to my first “Yes”, I’ll tell you why.
In this sad time, I sought the comfort of the place I have always received peace from; Church. And it just so happened that around 15 minutes from me was a church I had been familiar with as a youth – The Vineyard Church. As soon as I stepped in I was greeted by a kind woman who handed me a welcome pack (it had snacks, books and music which I later gave away to a begging child) and it wasn’t long before she and the pastor’s wife learned of my situation and offered support through prayer.

They invited me to lunch with them after the service and that’s where I met a bright, smart 9 year old with the most beautiful smile, Eden. She was over the moon to hear that I was from England and even more excited when she found out about my travelling adventures. “I wish I had your life” she said, longingly. I swallowed back tears, she had no idea!

I met her lovely parents, Phil & Daesy, they had been in the worship band. Daesy was from the Philippines and so we had a lot to talk about with my travels to Asia. It wasn’t long until Phil turned to me and said “Mary, Daesy and I have been talking and we would love to offer you a place to stay.” I was so overwhelmed by their kindness and this was my first Yes!

breakfast by Phil & Daesy

Before I knew it, I was part of their family as they included me on their meals, movie nights and even gave me lifts to places. It was exactly what I needed when I was so low and I am ever thankful that I met them. It has also lead to new connections as it turned out they have family in Portland that I will now be staying with when I get there. Follow my travel posts for more on that.

 

 The Two “No”‘s

Sadly, there are two opportunities which I’ve turned down thus far. It might be for the better or perhaps I missed out. I have named these two “no”‘s the Yacht and the Fisherman’s cabin, but they could have just as easily been the raft and the junkyard, but I will never know.

 

The Yacht
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St. Mary‘s was a beautiful little town with a river separating it from the Islands beyond. Many boats rested harboured on the dock but the town was still and quiet, almost deserted with a rare face appearing from time to time along the dock. Deciding where to eat that night was easy seeing as I had one option alone, the Seagle’s pub. As it flooded down with rain, I ran inside and placed my drenched mac on the stool next to me. The bartender was yelling at this old man with her husky deep south accent, she did not look like the type of woman you’d want to get in a fight with.
“What can I get for you, honey?” she said sweetly to me, that’s when I realised they were not in a fight but just having a good old back and forth. The old man chuckled, “You gotta watch out for this one!” He sounded like he should have had a cigar between his teeth as he spoke.
“Don’t listen to the old fool!” she shouted back.

A gin and tonic, grilled shrimp and basket of fries later, we were all enjoying a bit of back and forth (or banter as we Surrey folks call it). “So what’s a young man like you doing in St. Mary’s?” I finally asked the 80 year old. That’s when he told me he was sailing the east coat and guess where he was headed? To Florida! “You know, we could do with another lady on the ship” he winked over at his wife and introduced me to his captain who he’d hired to get them safely around the coast. I could have kicked myself for having a rental because the opportunity seemed perfect! They’d only docked in St. Mary’s because of the thunderstorms we’d been having in the area and by chance happened to meet me and also happened to be going south along the coast. But sadly, the answer had to be “no” in the end. But there’s more to this story so keep an eye on the travel posts.

 

The Fisherman’s Cabin

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The next morning as I waited to board the local ferry to Cumberland Island, I met Jimmy. Jimmy was a retired veteran whose days consisted of crabbing or fishing in the mornings, selling his catch to local restaurants and then heading home, kicking his feet up with a beer as he cooks up his latest catch. It was a simple life, and that’s the way he liked it. I enjoyed talking to him about his life and he seemed kind, the type of person who made the most out of life and was happy to be alive.

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Realising that I had no set plans of where I was staying, he readily offered me a place to stay. He was so trusting, he even offered to give me his house keys should I wish to head there before he was done with his day’s fishing. I thanked him and took his address, I wasn’t sure where I’d be and if I’d be back but I promised to drop by if I was in the area.

Sadly, I realised later as I arrived at the Okefenokee swamp that my time was running out and I needed to be in Miami soon. So it had to be another “no”.

 

The Challenge

There have been more “yes”‘s and they’ve lead to some great places but I’ll tell you about them in the next post.

The challenge will be to say “yes” to new opportunities. That doesn’t mean being a “Yes Man”, should someone proposition me, I would not necessarily consider it an opportunity and nor would I consider jumping from a high place without a harness…

Cambodia Waterfall Jump
Oops, might be too late on that one…

Basically, you get the picture. It’s about being open to new things and new opportunities, and not being afraid to go for it. But, for every opportunity  I decide against, I’ll give £1 to the LifeTrain Trust who assist young people of underprivileged backgrounds providing them with the skills and give them the opportunity to build a life they have chosen rather than the one they were destined for; seek further education or qualifications and to say no to anti-social behaviour.

This month could be very good, or very bad… only time will tell!

Part Two

June Month 6: Meditation (Part Two)


Challenge: Meditate
Charity: Be Me Project
Total £ accrued: £20
Reflection: “Sometimes, you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead.” – Yvonne Woon


The Sixth Challenge: To Meditate

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What do you wake up for?

It’s been a challenging month, mixing the excitement of travelling with the serenity of meditation. But it really has had me thinking more and more about life and what it’s all about.

Earlier this month, I posted this on social media:

today i woke

The purpose for this was not to make us sad about where they are currently, but to make us think about the reason why we do what we do. A question as much to myself as to everyone else; why do we wake up every morning, what is our purpose and plan for our lives?

I have been so blessed to be able to travel around Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, but one thing that I was made increasingly aware of, was the fact that so few of the people I met and saw in local communities would ever be able to afford to save, let alone travel. For many, the reason they wake up and do life is to feed themselves and their families for that day. If they have enough food that day and a little to spare the next day, they consider it a very good day.


So what are your reasons? There are no right answers, only, let’s make sure we know what we are waking up for each day.

 

Taking in the Beautiful


Nature has gifted us with so much that we take for granted. The earth is a giant gift that keeps giving as we enjoy it’s warmth or coolness, varied fruits and food, drink, fuel, medicines, clothes and so much more. Isn’t it funny to think that everything, absolutely everything that we have comes from this earth?

The other gift that is ours for free is the absolute beauty that is all around us, this in itself is taken for granted most. There is something about pure beauty that just heals the soul, nourishes the mind and swells up the heart. It’s as if you absorb beauty through your eyes and it fills your entie being.


I have been lucky enough to explore some of these places of immense beauty abroad, but if I’m honest, I really didn’t have to come this far for it. Surrey, especially where I live, is full of breathtaking views that just seem to melt away my problems when I stop to take it in.
Next time you see something beautiful, do take time to sit and absorb with your eyes (and not always with your lense). You might find you take more away with you than you expect.

The Conclusion


Success rate: 87% (5 days failed out of 30)
Cost per fail: £5
Money raised for charity: £25


Because you’re worth it!


Meditation has not been as easy as I thought as it is just as important to give quality time to it as it is to actually do it.

Being on tour at the beginning of the month meant early mornings and late nights with not much option for quality meditation time. This is where I lost the most days. But when I did get into meditation, I found the time went so fast and often I would be there for 10, 15 minutes without realising.

I took advantage of the opportunity I had to be in stunning locations, this made meditation easy and it came naturally to me. I have been able to meditate on beaches, at waterfalls, on boats, in temples, in the ocean and even in the deeply tragic killing fields that offered so much beauty yet had seen such horror.

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I have really felt the benefit of this and will continue to do this daily, it is something that grows with time as you get spiritually, mentally and emotionally stronger.

Next: July’s Challenge – Water!

 

 

13 Weeks of Wandering – In Cambodia

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver


Where To? Cambodia
How long? 7 days
Status: Temples, Tarantulas and Treks


13WoW – In Cambodia

Getting to Know the Cambodian People

To summarise Cambodia in 3 words, it would be temples, tarantulas and treks.

Cambodians are beautiful people, kind, warm and friendly. And all this is despite the horrific genocide that took place by the Khmer rouge nearly halving their population not even 40 years ago. This genocide affected everybody and most will have at least one family member who was killed by the regime. I highly recommend you educating yourself on this if you choose to visit Vietnam by visiting the interrogation camps and the killing fields in Phnom Peng.

The killing fields
People have left bracelets around the “burial grounds” as a sign of respect. I added mine also.

And make sure to book a tour guide to get the not-so-official full story that you will not get by listening to the government approved audio guides (I recommend a tour guide called Nay – just ask if you want his details).

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I was also lucky enough to have been able to have met 2 of the 5 survivors of the interrogation camps. I bought one of their books for $10, the proceeds go to a charity to help those affected by this genocide.

 

Tasty Little Creatures

Actually, the one of the first things I came across when entering Cambodia was Tarantulas.

tarantula!!
Yes, that’s me, holding a tarantula, trying not to cry!

Believe it or not, deep fried tarantula is a delicacy in this part of the world, as well as many other insects.

A couple of my tour group were brave enough to try some insects. I was not!

There was a fiasco where a member of  the group was holding a bigger tarantula than the one above and then it started to quickly crawl up their arm. In that moment we all screamed like little girls and dropped the poor thing in a puddle. The seller was not amused as taranulas can die in water.

I was glad when we stopped at this restaurant to get a real lunch. Needless to say, Beef with Fire Ants was just one of the wonderful options on the menu.

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The view at lunch

And later that day visiting the New Hope restaurant (see my previous post) deep fried crickets were brought to the table alongside other (more delicious) Cambodian dishes; coconut curry with pumpkin, beef lok lok, crispy vegetable parcels and more!

 

Temples

Ankor Wat

With Asia being predominantly Buddhist, you don’t have to look far to find a beautifully designed temple. But some of the oldest and best temples are located in Cambodia.

Here are some of the temples I visited:

‘Wat’ Else?!

Aside from the many temples that you could lose yourself in for days on end, Cambodia has lots to offer.

We visited the circus which is produced and performed by the locals and tells a story about the Cambodian people. You will be pleased to know there were no animals involved.

If you were feeling like interacting with some animals, you can pay a visit to Wat Leu temple where monkeys freely roam and like to hang out with man (especially with a food incentive).

Cambodia also has a number of trekking spots, some great beaches and even waterfalls!


And if you’re thirsty, they are not short of good bars!

 


Overall, Cambodia has a bit of everything! You have a lot of choice and a lot of variety – just watch out for the street food as it’s slightly less reliable than some other parts of Asia and be prepared to pay more if you stick to dollars rather than convert to Riel.

Next stop, Vietnam! X

June Month 6: Meditation (Part One)


Challenge: Meditate
Charity: Be Me Project
Total £ accrued: £0
Reflection: “Let your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” – Nelson Mandela


The Sixth Challenge: To Meditate

The fight for survival!!
A very accurate representation of what it was actually like millions of years ago as we fought for survival.

Once upon a time, millions of years ago we were just starting out as the human race in a big and scary world. Back then, we were more exposed to a multitude of threats and potential predators like wild animals, other humans (which is very sad because we should have just worked together), natural disasters and diseases.

As a way of surviving, our great great great great great grandparents of millions of years ago had to focus the majority of their brain power on spotting potential threats. This developed a “negativity bias” which has been passed down from generation to generation as a survival instinct.

Because of this, a lot of us have a natural tendency to pay more attention to negative experiences than to to positive ones with our thoughts turning to anxiety and depression, thus limiting what we choose to do.

 

So Why Meditate?

meditation
Image Credit: google.com

Meditation is a way of harnessing your mind power to gain control over your negative thoughts and instead use that same energy to produce positive thoughts. Science has shown that Meditation is one of the best tools we have to counter the brain’s negativity bias as your mind and body benefits from taking time out to shut down and relax.

Some say that Meditation is essential to mental and emotional wellbeing as it aids us in discarding negative thought patterns and changes the structure of our brain to support self-control.

It has also been proved that meditation, carried out on a regular basis, will control stress, decrease anxiety, improve cardiovascular health, and achieve a greater capacity for relaxation. This then assists with your metabolism, lowers blood pressure, improves your heart rate, breathing, and brain waves.

Here is a summary of the benefits:

Tension and tightness released from muscles
Increased production of the anti-aging hormone DHEA
Decreased anxiety, depression, and insomnia
Reduced production of stress hormones
Increased self-awareness
Improved immune function
More efficient oxygen use
Decreased blood pressure and hypertension
Lowered cholesterol levels

 

How to Meditate

Yoga in the Desert
Image Credit: http://www.ryangoggin.com

I will look to be harnessing my mind power to use it to develop a more positive mindset (which is a work I begun in my Positivity & Thankfulness month) and to increase self-awareness. I found this useful guide on meditation from Ashley Turner.

“To begin the meditation, sit comfortably in your chair with your shoulders relaxed and spine tall. Place your hands mindfully on your lap, close your eyes and as much as possible eliminate any stimulus that may distract you.

Watch your breath. Simply notice your breath flowing in. Flowing out. Don’t try to change it in any way. Just notice.

Silently repeat the mantra: “Breathing In. Breathing Out.” As your mind begins to wander, draw it back to your breath. Notice that as your breath begins to lengthen and fill your body, your mind begins to calm.

Consistency is key. Try to do this breath meditation first thing in the morning and/or at night. Be consistent with your meditation. Shorter meditations on a regular basis are more productive than long sessions every few weeks. Aim for 5 minutes a day and add 1 minute each week.”

 

Making It Your Own

Reflecting on Life at the Grand Canyon
People meditate for so many different reasons, whether it is any of the health benefits mentioned above or working towards reaching a state of peace, balance or spirituality.

Whatever your reasons for doing it, make it your own. Because it is your mind, your thoughts and your body that will benefit. For me, my purposes for meditation will be:
– Reflection & Silence
– Harnessing of Positive Thoughts
– Spiritual Growth
– Releasing of Negative Thoughts

I will start with 5 minutes, working my way up to 20 minutes a day, taking time to clear my mind and reflect either on the day ahead (in the morning) or the events of the day. Quieting my mind by letting go of each negative thought one by one and replacing with a positive until my mind is silent and I am able to listen and create a spiritual connection with God. This should help me to become self-aware and develop my confidence in who I am as a unique person.

For each day I choose not to meditate, I will be giving £5 to the Be Me Project, whose self-esteem courses help many young girls and women to celebrate their true identity by exploring and enlarging their vision, equipping them to thrive in life. They equip women to be who they are, and to break free from the ever increasing sense that they are not good enough or need to be someone different. Something very needed in today’s society.

I’m looking forward to seeing for myself the benefits that Meditation will have on my Mind, Body and Spirit.

Part Two