Reflecting on 2010

It’s December, it’s winter and the year is ending. A good time to reflect on 2010, what’s happened and what I hope for 2011.

I’m being aided by Reverb10, a worldwide network of people currently reflecting on 2010. The website is live for December only, and provides prompts for you to reflect upon. So thanks Reverb10, you’re inspired.

The word for 2010 for me was Change. Everything changed. My relationship, my home, my wishes for the future. I started to think more about community and how I could contribute to others, and not just what I could get for myself.

I have found myself within new communities, making new artistic friends and new spiritual friends. Both of these have enriched my life greatly, and nourished my soul. I am deeply grateful for all the people I have met or grown closer to in 2010. They have played a huge part in influencing my evolution. I even have to thank the online Twitter community… it is so wonderful to follow the word journeys of my heroes, or laugh at retweeted pithy comments, or see the world through my friends’ eyes.

Some of the changes in my life this year have been gradual. Some of the changes have been instant! The book Power Versus Force by Dr. David Hawkins caused my consciousness to lift itself overnight! Since reading his book, I am much more aware of vibrations in consciousness and able to make choices that appeal to my higher nature. An amazing book, and timely for me.

In 2010, I have gained more clarity on what I can commit to. I have given a lot of thought to the principles in my life: what I stand for, what I won’t compromise on, who I want to spend time around, what I want my influences to be… and these have helped me live a happier, more positive, more vibrant life. What would I like the word to be in 2011? Hmm… good question… can I come back to that after reflecting?

The moments I felt most alive in 2010 were by the sea. The first was getting flattened by the Atlantic ocean in Tenerife. Those waves will pound you to the ground like you ain’t nothing! Okay, so that day the red flag was flying, but I’m a fish and a rebel, okay? I screamed like a girl, standing waist deep in the salty waves, while three-metre-high waves crashed down on my head. If I was lucky, I would dive through the waves and end up unscathed ready for the next onslaught. If I timed it wrongly, the waves would pick me up, throw me down, drag me under, fill my mouth and ears with saltwater, swirl me around, hold me under for three or four seconds before releasing me. Wow, that was a thrill! I enjoyed the release of letting go, letting the sea do as it wished. My pulse was racing and my adrenaline pumped. I felt high!

The sea in Ibiza was more soothing for me, the Mediterranean being a lot more calm and forgiving than the Atlantic. I enjoyed swimming out about thirty metres and just relaxing on the waves, lying full-stretched on my back, gazing at the sky and allowing the sea to rock me. The control freak in me didn’t always enjoy it. I could hear her nagging, “But what if you get dragged onto the rocks?” . I allowed her voice to continue, but she got quieter and quieter until I looked forward to the sea just holding me, supporting me, comforting me. Letting go is bliss.

I have been asked what makes me beautifully different? What do I do that lights people up? Well, I guess I laugh a lot. People always compliment me on my laugh. It’s a great big giggle and rather childish. I’m told it’s infectious. And I laugh easily. Don’t ever test the quality of your jokes on me; I laugh anyway! I love to laugh; I love to be silly in order that I might laugh. It’s probably why I love to work with children. They’re hilarious!

I’m also blessed with an open heart. I love people and thanks to all the love and care I’ve received in my life, I find it easy to love others. Love is the most beautiful transaction, and like His Holiness the Dalai Lama said:

Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.

Where there is darkness, let me bring light.

The wisest choices I made this year were about getting rid of the unnecessary. Getting rid of relationships that weren’t working, getting rid of stuff, and getting rid of the fear and attachment that went with each of those.

The more I have gotten rid of, the more clearly I can see what I do have. And these treasured gifts are not really possessions, they are the gifts of conscientiousness, love, friendship, spirit and generosity. In these I am rich beyond my wildest dreams, and in these I invest my future. One action I would like to take in 2010 is to start a charity. This charity will be called The Magic If Foundation because asking ‘What if..?” can be the single most important and life-changing question we ever ask. What we can imagine, we can create. I want to help others imagine more, dream more wildly, give expression to their thoughts and feelings, and make ideas come to life.

One way I could do this practically is in running free improvisation and story-telling workshops with children. I have to thank the children I tutor for bringing my great love of the imagination and the idea of a charity to the surface.

I watched an amazing documentary on Palestine recently called “Arna’s Children”. Two Israeli volunteers help children put on performances and plays. You see a young child acting their heart out in a play, and then the film-crew return five years later to find many of the young male actors have become ‘martyrs’, and killed themselves on suicide missions against Israel. This saddened and inspired me. I am so grateful I had a happy childhood, and that I didn’t hear bombs at night, or suffer constant nightmares, or see my family’s home destroyed, or consider throwing stones at people my favourite game.

I believe we can help children like this imagine a future different from blowing themselves up.

The lesson that has been the most valuable to me this year is that compassionate thoughts and kind actions can change your reality. My mum suffers with mental illness and in the past, I have not always been kind to her when she is suffering. This time, thanks to learning the practises of compassion meditation, and mindful awareness of my thoughts, I have been able to help my mother much more usefully, and with much more generosity of spirit than ever before. I will be eternally grateful to Didier Danthois and Sogyal Rinpoche for these techniques.

This process was not only good for my mum, it was good for me. I have found it extremely healing. I’m not so angry as I used to be. It feels good to let some of that anger go.

What did I avoid this year? Ooh, that’s a tough question. That requires me to be totally honest. Well, I have avoided marketing my book Free Degrees. I think it’s laziness. I have letters ready to print and send to schools, but didn’t make the time to do that. I hope in 2011 that creating The Magic If Foundation will inspire me on my journey to promote using the imagination as a life-changing force. I want to let more students know, especially now that the government have put tuition fees up, that they can raise £25,000 for university and not get into debt. I just need to take action.

I have also managed to avoid letting strong feelings run my thoughts, actions (and my mouth!) this year. Giving up drink has helped. I was horrified to realise this year that every one of my major relationships had started on nights when I had been drinking. Now I want to build a relationship on a solid foundation, to take my time getting to know someone, and not give my heart and body away so easily. Next time it has to be a soul thing.

My advice to myself for 2011 is to not look back, to dream as big as possible, to slow down and love each moment, to relish the abundance of life, to take time out to achieve clarity and to consult the heart and soul when making decisions.

People I would like to thank:

  • My mum, for her love and generosity, and for helping me heal through compassion
  • Didier Danthois, for being a loving, inspirational and life-changing spiritual teacher
  • Verity Pabla, for bringing purity, dreams and music back into my life, for being a great friend and for introducing me to ICE and so many cool people
  • Caroline, for her lessons in care, love and attention to the needs of others
  • Janice, for her inspiring and romantic wedding day, and for being as generous and fun a friend as anyone could wish for
  • Fay, my yoga teacher, for flexibility and for being a great person
  • The author Geshe Michael Roach, for the inspiration and wisdom of The Diamond Cutter
  • Sogyal Rinpoche and Rigpa for spiritual growth and nourishment
  • The children I work with, for being a vibrant source of energy and joy
  • And all my friends, family and colleagues for their love, dedication and fun times!

So I guess I should return to that question: what is of my word for 2011?

It’s Heart.

In 2011, let me above all else, follow my longing, and follow my heart, and let love flow in and freely between my heart and the hearts of the others in my world.

Wishing you all love, laughter, abundance and peace this Christmas and New Year.

Can compassion be learned?

Is compassion something you are born with, or can you learn to become more compassionate?

New research suggests that compassion can be both taught, and learned. Richard Davidson and associate scientist Antoine Lutz studied the brain scans of 16 monks and 16 control subjects. All were asked to practise a special compassion meditation whilst undergoing an fMRI scan. The scientists found that areas of the brain used for empathy were stimulated during the meditation practice.

Davidson and Lutz believe that this research could be useful in treating people with depression. The theory is that if people suffering with depression could be taught a compassionate meditation practice, they could relate to the suffering of others more easily. “Thinking about other people’s suffering and not just your own helps to put everything in perspective,” Lutz says.

This is a subject that science is taking very seriously. The Dalai Lama is speaking at the CCARE Conference on Scientific Explorations of Compassion and Altruism on Friday, October 15, 2010 at Stanford University. You can watch a live webcast of the conference here.

From personal experience, I can say that compassionate practise has helped me deal with family problems more usefully. Over the summer, I learned a compassionate meditation practise during my three weeks on working retreat at Casa Saraswati. This is based on the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and involves visualising a being or situation that gave you love, feeling the love grow in your heart, and then transferring this same love to others. Often we would sing the Avalokiteswara mantra after meditating, which also encourages compassion. I practised for three weeks, and noticeably became a much kinder, more generous and giving person in my daily life.

When I returned from my retreat, I found that my mother had become mentally ill again. Up until now, I have been notoriously unkind to her during her bouts of illness. As a child and younger adult I felt angry at my mother for not taking her medication, and bringing such suffering to everyone around her, not just herself.

This time, things were different. I was much more understanding of my mum. I felt more tolerance towards her. It wasn’t always easy: sometimes the old anger would arise while I was sitting with my mother, so I would sing the Avalokiteswara mantra over and over in my head until I softened. This would always work, and allow me much greater empathy for my mum. As a result, I was much more able to help and support her through this difficult time, and she managed to come out of hospital much sooner and with much less stress than in the past.

I am extremely grateful to the Buddhist tradition and my teacher Didier Danthois for this incredible gift. I also had the support of a very loving and compassionate partner, Caroline, who is a care-worker. She has already achieved a very high level of compassion towards others, without any mediation.

Imagine if we could teach compassion practices like these to children who were bullies, or to prisoners?

Imagine how greater compassion could better your relationships with your family and work colleagues?

Imagine how we could all care for the environment and put an end to war if we all learned to develop greater emotional understanding of all living beings around us?