Forced Meditation: What I learnt while travelling around New Zealand in a camper van

Everything happens for a reason and at the right time

Before I had even packed my bags, my fiveweek road trip in the North and the South Island of New Zealand were to be transformative. I was seeking answers. Answers whose adhering questions were mostly ethical and highly theoretical. Yet life happens and as per the aforementioned mantra, it happens when it wants and needs to happen. So, a single day before a 24-hour+ trip from London to Auckland, I found myself unexpectedly single with a broken heart and plans that were on the works for more than a year suddenly collapsing on themselves leaving me entirely unprepared for what my return from NZ would look like. Barely keeping it together, bursting into tears whenever my mind and body got a break from carrying bags, running up and down corridors and boarding flights, I made it to NZ. I went in expecting answers. And answers I got. Only they were answers to questions I had not yet asked. 

 

No level of preparation could ever have prepared me for the reality of spending so many hours disconnected (from the internet and from civilisation in general), alone, staring at the road and the surrounding nature. The only words in which I have myself managed to conceptualise what I experienced would have to be “forced meditation”. With music playing in the background (mainly Arcade Fire to be honest), I drove and drove and drove further still not towards a destination (one of the biggest perks of having a vehicle/home combo), but simply for the sake of exploration. I drove on scenic side roads, often following (and being blinded by) the sun, accompanied by nothing less or more than my thoughts. I drove past fields and left my thoughts behind amongst the grazing cows; I drove towards new, exciting thoughts triggered by the landscapes changing from tropic to bucolic to alpine with every stretch of distance. I drove next to rivers, lakes and waterfalls, and with every bend or ripple in the water I saw the reflection of my ego disturbed. 

 

Were I safely at home and not in the middle of this extraordinary country, I would have dealt with this new reality quite differently engaging in all types of distractions, keeping my mind busy and my heart as content as I could under the circumstances. Were I not in the Southern hemisphere and thus in the opposite time zone to everyone that would normally hold my hand, allow me a shoulder to cry on and listen to my muffled arguments and excuses, I would not have been forced to look deeply within myself and truly understand my emotions as they were organically evolving. Having been forced to dwell on my thoughts and lay them on the road ahead, I began to question realities I never had before. How much were those plans that I was grieving my own and how much were they simply figments fulfilling desired societal expectations? How certain were I really about being located where I would have been, doing what and being close to (and thus away from) whom I would have been? The unexpected rip in my life’s trajectory and most importantly its relative timing to my road trip allowed me (or better forced me) to really question and discover what I really want from and for my life. 

 

And the answers came more organically than I ever thought was possible. Amongst the original thoughts that emerged, I started to notice brand new connections between situations, feelings and memories that regularly twirled in my mind. I could see some of my wants clearly taking shape popping at me like the drawn lines on the road, whizzing past my van under my feet as the miles packed on. Images and words manifested themselves to me so clearly that I just had to listen. There was no ignoring them. For me that were five concepts, related and unrelated not only to each other, but to my life as it was before they revealed themselves to me. Revealed not in the sense that they were hidden per se, but that their absolute significance was. I chose in that moment to not ever let anything distract me again from those five concepts. I made the conscious decision to let them drive me and let them inspire every choice that I make from now on until I re-evaluate and discover that I have changed once more. 

 

My experience of “forced meditation” was revelatory and frankly shook me to my core. It allowed my mind space and time to grow, relax and reflect that I wouldn’t have normally allowed myself. I gained not only a valuable experience, but a tool to take forward in my ‘real’ life. “Forced meditation” might mean a different thing to every person, but for me it means that I now allow the chance for boredom into my life. What I found out through my experience is that in contrast to popular belief, enough time does indeed exist for simply sitting. I now choose to log off. No computer, no telly, no phone, no podcast, no audiobook, not even music if I find it distracting. No matter how entertaining or informing, the above are distractions. Sitting on the couch with no distractions and without the open road ahead is much harder, but incredibly fulfilling. The frustration of inefficiency was overwhelming at the start and anxiety sometimes inevitably takes over. I like to breathe deep, acknowledge it and consider: Can you in the present moment do something to tackle whatever is causing you to feel this way? If the answer is yes, then by all means finish your thought, make an action plan, get out of your comfortable seat and attack. You’ll feel better for it. 

 

However most of the times the answer is no. Acknowledging that the worrisome thoughts are as equally, if not more, unproductive than the neutral or positive ones, choose to shiftyour mindset on what is instead in your control. Allow for the space and time where boredom may emerge, because eventually you will realise that boredom is just a threshold to be stepped over into what your mind is truly capable of and what your soul really needs and desires. 

 

 Anastasia Baka

social scientist with a specialisation in media practice for development and social change.

  

Move more, make friends and be outdoors. What’s not to love?

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This week’s post has been written by the wonderful Iona! Iona is an Internet friend I made through following each other online and keeping up with each other’s journeys along the way. She is a big inspiration and she takes absolutely stunning photos of her hikes and trips through the outdoors. Today she has kindly written a post all about the positive influence being out in nature has on her and how it helps her gain more clarity and insight on things. This post has been beautifully written and really highlights the importance of doing something that fires you up and lights you up inside in order to allow you to go into other elements of life showing up as your best possible self. 

If you follow my Instagram account (@iona.adventuring) then you will know how much I strive to spend every spare second finding new adventures. People constantly ask me how I have the time to explore so much and I get asked what I do for work that allows so much free time. The reality is that I work full time as a nurse with very unsocial, long hours. I just have to look a little harder for the free moments in my week which I can then fill up with big or little adventures.

 So you may say that I manage to find time to enjoy the great outdoors DESPITE working such long shifts. I actually feel that it is BECAUSE of my work that I crave the therapeutic benefits of spending time outside. The everyday stresses and strains of life can leave us feeling drained and lethargic. Everyone has ‘stuff’ going on and everyone is under pressure at some time or another. The easy option may be to sit down in front of the TV and switch off from the rest of the world. Does that really leave you feeling refreshed and re-energised? Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that’s exactly what I do. However I can truthfully say that the majority of the time my real stress reliever is to lace up my boots, wrap up against the elements and get out into the hills. Even a gentle stroll round a loch. Kick through leaves in a park. Cycle along muddy trails. Dip my toes in the sea. Anything to be outside taking big gulps of that lovely fresh air!

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 It’s these moments with mother nature that I look forward to. When I’ve got a long day at work I’m constantly planning and scheming the next adventure in the back of my mind and that is what keeps me going. Although I know of course that these hours spent in the outdoors are good for my physical health, it’s the psychological aspect of it that also draws me back time and time again. When I’m out walking in the hills I allow myself the headspace to think about the things that have been on my mind. I don’t necessarily come to any final conclusions but it’s good to have the time to actually process my thoughts without the interruptions that everyday life can throw my way.

 There’s something naturally therapeutic about putting one foot in front of the other with no purpose other than to enjoy moving. Not hurrying to get somewhere, not trying to prove something to someone who’s opinion doesn’t really matter. Just moving and enjoying the fact that you can do so!

 We all know about those lovely natural endorphins that are released in the body when we exercise but there’s so much more to it! There’s a sense of achievement I get from planning an adventure and seeing it through. That connection I built with anyone who joins me for a day in the mountains. Not to mention the incredible views from the summit of a majestic Munro! There’s a reminder that however big my problems may seem, being outdoors and surrounded by those huge powerful mountains puts everything back into perspective.

 The mind is so incredibly intricate but it can be easily neglected. From my own experience I find that being outdoors and exercising helps my mind to slow down so I can process everything a little better. In turn it can then catch up with the constant pace and demands of the rest of my body. When some aspects of your life can become overwhelming, trust that some time in the outdoors will give you a clearer perspective of it all. Make a little more time to explore and to move, I think you’ll find that the benefits can become addictive!

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 If anyone would like to join my mountain days then you can find regular updates on the facebook group ‘Iona’s Adventures’. So far I have met some really wonderful people through my online community and it’s amazing to be able to bring together like minded people with a passion for the outdoors!

In her spare time Iona also raised money for the charity Health in Mind by hiking 26.2 miles! (Is there anything this girl can’t do- she’s a superwoman). If you want to learn more about the charity please check out their work through this link.

http://www.health-in-mind.org.uk/

 

Love Your Skin- My Guide to Body Positivity

Today’s post has been written by the WONDERFUL Sarah from Self Love Sarah. She is one hell of a woman. Someone striving to help others love themselves and feel more confident in their own bodies. She genuinely brightens up my Instagram feed EVERY DAMN DAY. I hope you love reading her guide to body positivity as much as I did! Also head over to her online platforms and give her some lovin! 

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In a world where we are surrounded by diet culture, and are constantly told to count our calories, slim down our waists and [add your own body insecurity here], no wonder we find it so hard to love or even be comfortable in the skin we are in!

We are constantly told, whether it’s by the adverts we watch, the leaflets that come through our letterbox or even subconsciously by the diet talk we get sucked into at work, that we are not good enough and we need to change ourselves, and mainly our bodies, to look a certain way. An acceptable way.

Well I call bullshit. It’s time to start a revolution ladies. Time to end the war with our bodies and fall in love with ourselves again.

Body positivity (BOPO) can be seen as one of those woo-woo terms that make people cringe. It is a hot topic right now with the evident rise of the body positive community on social media. However, in my opinion, body positivity isn’t some woo-woo new trend on the internet, it’s a necessity and a right for all women.

So, let’s get clear on what body positivity is and more importantly what it is not:

  • Being body positive is not staring at yourself in the mirror telling yourself you love yourself, but not really meaning it.
  • Being body positive doesn’t mean you have to love every single part of your body all the time.
  • Body positivity is not before and after weight loss photos.
  • Body positivity is not #gains, forcing yourself to exercise in a way you hate just to fit into that little black dress.
  • Body positivity is not promising to love yourself after you’ve lost those five pounds.

So, what is body positivity?

  • It’s accepting your body for exactly how it is in this present moment.
  • It’s showing gratitude for what your body can do, not focusing on what it can’t do.
  • It’s adopting a mind-set that EVERY single body is unique and worthy – and I mean EVERY single body.
  • It’s speaking kindly to yourself.
  • It’s not shaming any body – size, shape, colour, race, age, gender.
  • It’s realising that you are more than just your body. You are your soul. Your body is just a vehicle. But it’s the only one you have. So, love it and treat it with kindness.
  • It’s the freedom to express and decorate yourself and your body however you want to.
  • It’s giving a huge middle finger to the society who tells you that you need to look a certain way in order to be worthy, accepted or loved.
  • It’s accepting that you are enough exactly as you are right now.

If you’re reading this and thinking – this shit is hard! Don’t worry! I’ve got your back. It is hard, which is why I’m going to share with you my top 5 tips for practicing body positivity. And the reason I say practicing, is because body positivity is a practice. It is not an end result. You won’t just wake up one day and be like “Yay. I’m body positive now. I love myself. I love my body. I made it”. Body positivity is a journey, it’s a practice. Some days we will rock at it, some days we won’t. Some days we will have those unkind thoughts about ourselves, and that’s okay.

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So here are my top 5 tips to help you on your body positive journey:

Throw out the scales. How many of you just read this and tensed up? Yep, the first tip is probably the hardest, but it will change your life. Why are you judging your worth and living your life based on a number on a block of plastic and glass? The scales literally just tell us our gravitational pull to the earth? It’s just a number. You are not a number. You are so much more than a number. These scales don’t tell you how beautiful, intelligent, creative, kind, caring, loving and amazing you are. Trust me, getting rid of the scales is such a freeing feeling. Take them out now – preferably with a sledge hammer.

Ditch the diet culture. Want to lose weight? I’ve got the secret – the real secret. Get rid of any diet-culture related influences in your life. Throw away the slimming club magazines, unfollow the people on social media who try to convince you that you need to change or make you feel bad about yourself. Stop buying foods with the words ‘diet’ or ‘light’ in them. Stop meeting up with so called ‘friends’ who only talk about how much weight they want to lose. And after dropping all of this diet-culture deadweight, notice yourself feel instantly lighter.

Connect to your body. Our broken-down relationships with our bodies and with food all stem back to a lack of connection with ourselves. It’s time to connect back to and really listen to our bodies. Our bodies are so freaking clever. Think about everything they are doing right now just to keep you alive – breathing, digesting, pumping blood around body, sending millions of tiny signals all around you – without you even having to think about it. Your body really does know what is best for you. So, start tuning in to what she has to say. I like to connect to my body through yoga, meditation, journaling, getting into nature, self-care pampering and my favourite one – dancing like there is nobody watching!

 Sprinkle kindness like confetti. The way we treat other people is a direct representation of how we treat ourselves. So, if you find yourself judging other women by how they look or having unkind thoughts about other women (hey no judgement from here – we’ve all been there!) then the likelihood is you have these judgemental, unkind thoughts about yourself. Start complimenting other women regularly, cheerlead them, support them, uplift them, empower them. And then notice how your own thoughts towards yourself become kinder.

 Practice gratitude. Gratitude is the new attitude you know? We find it so easy to focus on everything we are not. To focus on what we haven’t got. To change ourselves to be something else. Instead, let’s focus on everything we are and everything we have. Be grateful for yourself and your body and everything it can do right now. When you switch your mind-set from scarcity (lack) to gratitude (abundance), you start to live a full up life and realise you have everything you need right in front of you – including a gloriously, unique, one of a kind body.

So there you have it, my top 5 tips for practicing body positivity. Why not try integrating just one of these into your life? Then maybe two, three? You get the idea! But most importantly, do it with love and curiosity. No judgement or comparison.

And just because you are wonderful, here is a little bonus tip from me:

Be true. Be you. Be kind. Because you are fucking fabulous!

 

(You can follow me for all things self-love and bopo @selflovesarah_ or why not visit me at my website http://www.selflovesarah.com)

The post uni blues no one talks about

Graduation was the best day of my life- hands down. I felt an overwhelming sense of achievement that day that all the hard work and graft I had put in over four years was being recognised and had paid off. I was surrounded by my caring and supportive family who were all equally as proud of me as I was and it was such a special day I hold very close to my heart.

Graduating is an amazing time; a time for prosperity, new beginnings and new adventure. However, when summer is over and a new University year begins you all of a sudden begin to feel very left out. You’re not going back there when a lot of your friends are. Going out drinking mid week isn’t as acceptable now you’re no longer a student either. For the last four years you have had this student label attached to you and if you’re unemployed or working any job you can just to pay the bills you begin to feel like you have lost a community and a sense of belonging.

I also moved home after finishing my studies because I wanted to be able to save money and have the flexibility to move for a job in an instant. I found moving home incredibly difficult. I had lost a sense of freedom. I didn’t like having to report to my parents and let them know what I was up to. I struggled to slot back into the home family environment and really resented the fact I had to do it. I also lived quite some distance away from my friends so popping out the door and walking down the street to grab a coffee and have a catch up was no longer an option meaning I began to feel very lonely too.

Then there’s the job applications. The dreaded job applications. I couldn’t tell you the number of jobs I applied to, the number of enquiries I made and the amount of unpaid work I did to try and get myself a job. It seemed never ending and it seemed like I was failing. I couldn’t understand it; I had done everything right. I had worked hard at school to get the grades for uni, I then continued to work hard in order to graduate with a 2:1 and had worked for several different companies whilst doing so to gain the work experience. I had been on several uni sports teams and committees and volunteered too. All CV boosting skills I had been told. But they weren’t enough and I wasn’t enough. My confidence hit rock bottom. I was embarrassed because my cohorts from university were all getting jobs or travelling the world while all I felt was stuck. Stuck with no way out.

No one tells you how lonely graduating is and how getting a foot in the door in a graduate job is increasingly difficult. I don’t think people appreciate how difficult the transition from student to graduate is and so many of us suffer in silence thinking we’re going through it alone.

But I promise it will get easier. A job will come around and it may not be your dream career (no one really loves their first job) but it will give you the tools and experience to later get into that dream job role you were always hoping for. Remember to step away from the computer and don’t frantically apply to anything and everything. I did so much of that and people can see right through it- they can tell you’re not the right fit for theming their business because your heart isn’t in it. Take time out to do the things you love and remember this is only temporary. It’s a challenge to be faced and it will make you a stronger person.

#Littlegirlsdeservebetter

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A warm welcome to today’s very special post from my smiling moon beam face! I woke up this morning and four words came to the front of my mind: Little Girls Deserve Better. For those who have been following my blog a while you will know I am a self love activist who wants young girls to grow up with more genuine and diverse role models in their lives. I want to be the change that I want to see on this planet! So, I decided to launch the campaign #littlegirlsdeservebetter.

I’ve not always liked my skin and I certainly did struggle with acne until my early twenties. It took a complete knock out of my confidence, I was bullied at school for my imperfect looks and for not quite fitting in with my peers. But this isn’t about me; you don’t need to hear my sob story because the past will not change the future.

Little girls growing up today deserve better than what we were sold when we were younger. They do not need to see very real and natural bodies being slated on the covers of magazines for having a tiny midriff or some cellulite hugging their thighs. They need to see REAL women standing up and sharing something that they want little girls to know.

I’ll start…

“Little girls deserve better. Magazines shouldn’t make them feel bad for having imperfect skin. Little girls should be running around and having fun with their friends and not worrying about the pimples that are on their faces. They should not have to beg their mothers to buy them make up to wear to school because others are being unkind towards their looks. You are beautiful. You do not need to cover your natural beauty. Spots are so normal! Yet we are told they are ugly and something that needs to be fixed. You are young. Go out into the world and be who you want to be regardless of your skin. Focus your energy reading books, studying hard at school, playing with your friends, baking cakes. Do whatever makes you happy and never stop doing it because of a few marks on your skin. You are a goddess and always worthy.”

Be the change that you want to see.

Today I urge other women and men to join me in this campaign. I want it to stretch the globe because little girls everywhere need to hear your message. I want little girls to love the skin they’re in. What do you want for them? What do you believe they deserve? It can be anything that resonates with you. It can be body positivity related; you might think they deserve a more eco friendly planet; you might want them to know their unique fashion sense is special and valued. You might want them to know that having a boyfriend doesn’t make them whole and their independence should be celebrated! Whatever it may be, post a picture and share with the #littlegirlsdeservebetter then tag three friends to send the message out further.

I can’t wait to read all your wonderful stories. I want this to make a difference and even make one young girl proud of herself because she is beautiful on the inside and out.

It’s time to accept the early bedtime- I’ve become everything eight year old me hated

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Let’s go back to when I was eight years old; my sister and I HATED bedtime with a passion. We would be caught sneaking through to each other’s bedrooms to continue playing games and having fun; we would run up and down the stairs complaining to my parents of ailments and illnesses or that we just couldn’t get to sleep! My poor parents didn’t get a night to themselves without one of us kicking up a fuss about the dreaded bedtime routine.

Fast forward 10 years- I was 18 and in my second year of university and still hated sleep. I would go out clubbing four or five times a week whilst studying and working. Sleep was not a priority then either. “Go hard or go home” was the slogan on my 18th birthday sash gifted to me by my good friends. This behaviour continued until I graduated from university and began working a job in a supermarket where I would start as early as 5am and finish as late as 10pm. When I wasn’t prioritising sleep I was getting sick; two rounds of tonsillitis in 6 weeks, and forever run down with a cough or cold. I actually started to think it was normal that my eyes hurt every time I closed them! I knew that something had to change. However, I had never really considered the importance of sleep until my boyfriend suggested I listen to Joe Rogan’s podcast featuring Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist and director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at The University of California, and he had some really insightful things to say on the topic.

So, today’s post was actually suggested by my better half and is aimed at those of you who think you can survive on six hours of sleep or less and still be productive in your daily lives. This is an opportunity to look at sleep as a way of enhancing performance and not a sign of weakness. I have done lots of research from different avenues and I will link all their references below for you to check out yourselves if you wish.

A lack of sleep impacts decision making or creates what I like to describe as brain fog, where you cannot think straight and simple tasks become unmanageable. Alongside Matthew Walker I have read works by Caroline Webb, a researcher in behavioural economics, psychology and neuroscience. She believes that to function effectively in the workplace you need to carry out three core daily practices- sleep well, practice mindfulness and remember to exercise. Sleep is hugely important because when we don’t get enough of it less blood flows to the prefrontal cortex where our deliberate system is. This means that without enough sleep it is difficult for us to be creative, create intelligent solutions to problems or act quickly and smartly on our feet when we are placed under pressure. She discusses that sleep deprivation differs from one person to another however generally speaking people need between seven and nine hours to function at their best the next day.

Charles Czeisler, a Harvard professor of sleep also explained that through recent studies we have discovered that those who go a week sleeping between four to five hours a night become mentally impaired the equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%. This means that not sleeping enough is like turning up to work drunk the next day. Can we stop and think about that for a second. Those of us who care about producing high quality work would never dream of turning up to an important meeting drunk but we would argue that we HAD to stay up all night preparing for said meeting. Which in reality is as bad as being intoxicated by alcohol.

Matthew Walker explains that a lack of sleep affects every part of our biology and we have to recognise as a society that sleep is fundamental and should be taken more seriously by businesses, the NHS, and the government. But why has sleep deprivation become such a massive issue over the last 75 years? It is largely down to our lifestyles, the technology we use late at night lights up our brains and keeps us stimulated for longer. We are expected to be fully flexible in our jobs and work longer hours in order to succeed or get that promotion that is on offer. Then once people have finished working for the day and driven their commute home they feel guilty for staying late at the office and not spending that time with their family so in order to make that quality time available they sacrifice sleep instead. Nowadays, we have all the connection we could have ever imagined yet we are lonelier and more depressed. Caffeine and alcohol are stimulants which are more widely available to us and they all impair our quality of sleep.

We also view sleep negatively in western society. We look at those who sleep in as lazy and unproductive. We believe that in order to be successful we must be busy and active. This one is very personal to me because when I was at my lowest point all I ever wanted to do was sleep however I felt guilty doing so because I didn’t want my family or friends to think less of me for not getting work done around the house or missing a social engagement because I was tired.

So, the research shows us that sleep is imperative to making smarter more thoughtful decisions and we should be aiming for between seven to nine hours a night in order to unleash our full potential. This week I challenge you to go old school and set yourself a bed time, get into bed earlier than normal; put the phone on aeroplane mode and read a good old fashioned book. Aim for those recommended number of hours sleep and see the difference it can make to your energy levels, your productivity levels and your emotional and mental wellbeing.

References:

Caroline Webb- How to have a good day: The essential toolkit for a productive day at work and beyond

Matthew Walker: Why we sleep

Czeisler, C. & Fryer B. (2006) A Conversation with Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business Review.

Forever moving forward

Things are changing all around me right now. I’m away to start a new job, friends are moving away to begin their own careers, university courses, or moving in with their partners and growing their lives together. We’re all growing up and adulting pretty well if I do say so myself. I myself am moving to Leeds to begin a graduate job with a nation wide supermarket as a digital marketing trainee which is really exciting as it was one of my favourite topics at university.

However, it’s easy in these transition periods to worry a lot about what the future holds. I’ve never sat with change well, it takes me a little while to accept it and move with the flow. I worry a lot about the ‘what ifs’ and really stress myself out over things that haven’t even happened yet.

Change challenges us to think differently; work with new people in new places, doing new things. It allows us to learn what is really important to us and forces us to find a way to make things work even though sometimes it seems tricky. Everything is manageable if you want it to be. Moving away from home to a new city with no friends can seem daunting but this pushes you out your comfort zone. Maybe you’ll take up that new hobby you’ve always thought about and meet likeminded people there or it’s the kick up the backside you needed to appreciate your current friends and keep in touch with them more regularly. It’s different for everyone.

But change doesn’t have to be scary when I begin to panic about the ‘what ifs’ I am trying to turn it around and think of all the great things I can learn from this experience. Change is what you make of it and often it’s the push you unknowingly needed to personally grow and develop from.

Seasons change and people change. Buds don’t turn into flowers and bloom all year round so we can’t be expected to either. Sometimes change gets us down but we recover and bloom once more.

Have any of you had big life changes happen to you this year? How did you handle it? I would love to start a conversation.

Until Next Time,

XO