The meaning of life, my precious

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“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” 
― Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

I started this blog to write about my journey to find the meaning of life and almost exactly a year on, I think I’ve done that (or if not, at least the next best thing: discovered that it’s all a beautiful illusion anyway).

So now, I’m starting out on the next leg of my next journey and as you’ve all been such wonderful companions so far – there’s been great conversation and a shared love  of cake – I’m inviting you to accompany me on this one too. I promise you it will be a journey that’s nothing like any that you’ve been on before – we’ll meet with some some of the most interesting and incredible people on the planet, we’ll laugh, we might cry, there will probably be a few of my stretching-it-to-the-limit-of-madness metaphors, we might even find a ring that wreaks total havoc and through it all, we’ll become the most awesome version of ourselves that’s possible. Oh and we’ll have cake, always.

Seriously, Tolkein could only dream of the kind of adventure we’re going to have.

I’m here waiting for you. Will you come?

Love… lots and lots of it!

Lian

Journey

 

Bob’s legacy

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Dear beloved friends,

Today I ask for one minute of your time. Just one minute away from thinking about work, your family, your struggles, and your passions. I ask you for just one minute of reflection.

One year ago today, I lost the man who brought me up to be the woman I was then.

One year on, he’s inspired and led me to become the woman I am today – someone who is thankful to be stronger, wiser, more loving and damn well knows what to do to leave this planet in a better shape. And is taking the first steps to doing it.

Any good that I am and that I’ll ever do is because of who he was and the legacy he left.

There’s only two certainties: we will die and we don’t know when it’ll happen.

Don’t make your last day a waste of your life: watching negative crap on television, reading horror stories in the news, chatting shit about other people, focusing on your fears, feeding your addictions, and complaining about your lot.

Don’t make that the sum of your life. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t leave changing the world until tomorrow – because that might be your last. You are creating your legacy today.

Please take a moment to look inside of yourself and feel the pure love and strength that you have within you. You feel it, right?

Live large, bright and beautiful. Be loving. Be thankful. And I say it again because this is important: be so thankful for everything you have and that you are capable of. Connect with and use that inner love and strength. Every day. TODAY. And THAT will be your legacy.

Dig fucking deep and find that power. I know you have it in you. I love you.

Lian
xoxo

Rob Tyler: 62 years this lifetime; an energy and a legacy that will last forever.

Rob Tyler: 62 years this lifetime; an energy and a legacy that will last forever.

5 a Day & Aristotle

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“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

As the philosophic chap said. I don’t know about excellence but here’s five of mine:

1. Say Yo! to the sun

Via the medium of yoga and the easy peasy sun salutation. The idea is to do it every day upon waking or like me, you might prefer to do it whilst you’re running your bath in the evening. Benefits include toning the body, calming the mind, improving circulation and supposedly even weight loss and developing your sixth sense (I’m not entirely convinced about the last one but if it works for you then feel free to send me a telepathic message telling me I’m wrong).

You can teach yourself to do this quickly using some of the tons of online tutorials out there, take a few yoga classes (most will cover this) or I’m happy to teach you! Once you’ve learnt it, just like the proverbial bicycle riding – you’ll never forget how, and unlike bike riding you can do it mud-free and in the comfort of your own home, even naked, if that’s how you roll.

2. Rock your favourite colour

Remember when you were five and your favourite colour was one of the most important things about you? Remember how much of a buzz you got when you got a new toy in your favourite red? Or maybe when you waited for ages pining for your yellow top to dry so you could wear it again and feel that all was right with the world?

You can recapture that buzz now. Do you know your favourite colour? If not, enjoy thinking about it (a most delicious child-like activity) and then wear it – in clothes, jewellery, ties, scarves, shoes and of course, undies.

Mine is red (see On wearing red) and I wear it whenever I need a confidence boost or some luck. Hell, it’s more that I’d need a reason not to wear it and I usually sneak it in somewhere even if it’s just on my lips.

3. Swap toxic words for healthy ones

It’s many years since I described myself as ‘stressed’, to begin with this was a conscious effort, even if I felt the state I’d previously called stressed, I stopped calling it that and started separating out the cause (usually pressure of deadlines at work) and my response to it (needing to get my shiz together and do something about it).

Over the years, it’s become such a habit that stress has ceased to exist as a thing in my life and I rarely, if ever, feel anything resembling the stress I used to suffer from, let alone the heart palpitations, stomach aches and shallow breathing which were once, ridiculously, normal for me.

This was all the result of the flirtation I’ve had with neuro-linguistic programming (or NLP for short) over the past decade or so. I’ve learnt lots of useful techniques and I’ve made lots of changes as a result but this has been the stand-out biggie and was almost entirely down to kissing goodbye to one little word.

It’s quite incredible the power of words can have, isn’t it?

4. Say “Thank you…”

…for your family, your friends, your health, your great arse, whatever – feeling grateful is a brilliant habit to have. It’s strangely self-fulfilling in that the more one feels grateful, the more one seems to have to feel grateful about.

I used to write my ‘gratefuls’ in my diary every night. You don’t need to be so nerdy as that if you don’t want, you can cogitate over them in your mind in the morning or before sleep or speak them out loud to your nearest and dearest.

The reason I don’t write them in my diary these days is because it really has become a habit to think about how lucky I am. Which brings me to…

5. Think yourself lucky?

According to Richard Wiseman’s The Luck Factor, it’s seems that people who think they’re lucky, really are luckier than people who don’t. This luck isn’t an innate gift, the findings of Richard’s studies show that lucky people simply create opportunities just by viewing themselves as someone who luck happens to.

If you see yourself as a lucky person who has glided through a cornucopia of good stuff, your mindset will be one of looking out for opportunities, you’ll trust your instincts and you’ll be open to situations which could result in cool things happening, you’ll anticipate people liking you and helping you and because of the way you behave, chances are they will.

You’ll also be able to consider difficult events as life’s lessons and won’t take them personally – if anything, you’ll see yourself as someone who is lucky enough to have the resources or support to cope well with difficulty. Remember, whatever your personal circumstances, someone else could take the same event and view it and themselves completely differently (more in Bad stuff, good stuff and Dr Seuss). You can choose who you are, so why not choose to be lucky?

Care to share your fave five? :)

Number 5

Change & sex on the beach

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“What if I told you 10 years from now your life would be exactly the same?
Doubt you’d be happy.
So, why are you afraid of change?”

― Karen Salmansohn

Why indeed? After a lifetime, of being afeared of change, recently I’ve been trying to making a few. Partly because I want to experience as much of life as I can whilst I have the chance and partly because, as the quote says, the only way to continue to improve is to continue to change.

Don’t expect to fall off your horse when you’re reading about the kind of change I’m talking about. None of them are the biggies such as moving countries, partners, houses or jobs, instead I’m talking about small, sustainable changes that in some way enrich, enlighten or just challenge the senses a bit.

After always giving cocktails a swerve on the basis that I don’t like sweet drinks and I can’t drink much alcohol anyway so why not just have a lovely glass of wine? This year, I have a monthly date with my friend Emma to drink my way through the menu (that’s if I can get past the Caipirinha bit of it – where were they hiding all my life?)

This week I went for a session of hypnosis for past-life regression (inspired by the book and experiences mentioned in this post) so after a lifetime of wondering about stuff like this but doing nothing about it, I’m now exploring it for myself.

I’ve started doing the 5:2 or The Fast Diet which is eating normally for five days a week  and then eating a quarter of usual calories two days a week (although I’m just doing it for one day a week for the health benefits and out of interest rather than to lose weight). It’s early days in the research but it looks like one of the very few realistic ways of keeping our bodies slim and healthy for most of our lives. Weight loss and maintenance is just a happy side effect – it’s also believed to reduce the risk of most of the diseases of the Western world. I know, right… what’s not to like?

Seeing others making changes is cool – they don’t need to be radical to be a bit inspiring. Changes which have brought a smile to my face recently include: a friend decided to tackle a life-long mushroom aversion and ate every one within a particular dish – an especially brave move as the dish was Chinese so contained three types of mushrooms including the eyeballesque straw mushroom. Another friend’s making a break from her perma-jeans style and rocking dresses and lipstick instead. Another is challenging her usual monochrome style and has been brightening up her office with work wear in technicolor.

Changes like these are so doable and can seem insignificant but actually they have a ripple effect through our lives. In ten years’ time, if ALL I end up being is a cocktail-lovin’, slinky, uber-healthy expert on life in medieval times, that ain’t no bad thing and it’s more than I am now.

So… what changes will you make this year? Oh and we should so meet up in ten and compare what we’ve turned out like!

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Cocktails!

Imagination, Wonderland & Abraham Lincoln

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You’ve probably heard something of the Law of Attraction, Cosmic Ordering, The Secret, The Power of Intention… one imagines getting cheques through the post and lo, those cheques come flying through the letter box, take-away menu-stylee.

I like the thought of magical happenings as much as the next girl but a spoonful of science helps me to swallow to it. There’s little science here. Yeah, there’s some interesting references to quantum physics, and those bits do kind of make sense but leaping from the idea that thoughts can affect atoms, to getting anything you want just by thinking about it hard enough, is rather stretching the theory.

…but thinking about this stuff from a slightly different angle: to achieve almost anything, we need to be able to imagine it first. None of the inventions invented would have been possible without having been imagined first. No-one goes from nowhere to creating an innovation without first nudging some ideas around.

The man with the comedy beard said: “To believe in the things you can see and touch is no belief at all; but to believe in the unseen is a triumph and a blessing.”  He’s nailed it right there. Anyone can believe in an iPhone now it exists but it took Steve Jobs’s inspired imaginings to create Apple and everything that it seeded – iPhones, iPads, Macs – none of it would exist without it first existing in thought form.

We sometimes dismiss imagination as a waste of time. In fact, to be anything, to do anything, we need to imagine it, focus on it, believe it. A waste of time would be to not imagine what’s possible in this lifetime – a very long time, that.

I love this quote from The White Queen (Through the Looking Glass) ‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’  That’s where our imagination comes in: it’s the memory that works forwards.

Our imagination is our most powerful tool, let’s use it: Dream and then Do.

White Queen

‘—but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.’
‘I’m sure mine only works one way.’ Alice remarked. ‘I can’t remember things before they happen.’
‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ the Queen remarked.

Being here and there, the straw hat & da Vinci

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I was having dinner* with a good friend last night and we were both THERE. No television was blaring inanities in the background, no checking our phones, neither of us were worrying about the work we had to do the next day or thinking back to the last conversation we’d had with someone else. We were both just there, in the moment, enjoying our food and wine, talking about life’s woes and wonders. That shouldn’t be something worth mentioning but I think most of us know, that actually, it is.

It turned out that both of us had recently been making a conscious effort to ‘be present’ – yeah, those kind of terms make me cringe too but putting the words aside, the intention is something so obviously right but, weirdly, not really the norm at all.

Multi-tasking is seen A Good Thing. Doing two things at once? Why, when you could be doing two things AND posting on Facebook that you’re doing them, thereby making it a hat trick of multi-tasking? But… when we’re doing three things, are we really doing any of them?

May I present to you the happenings during two walks through the same park? These are both true, you can probably guess who the protagonist is.

1. Check work email on smart phone. Reply to text from a friend. Look up and narrowly avoid bumping into someone coming the other way. Add an item to mental to-do list. Send a badly-typed, semi-cryptic work email.

2. Smile at the shy bit of sunlight peeping through the clouds. Watch a squirrel weave barber’s pole-stylee up and round an old oak tree. Chuckle inwardly at a straw hat – left, randomly, on the grass. Pondering that hat, now and then, for days, maybe months, maybe even forever, wondering what its story was.

The first walk is ten minutes of elapsed time, the second one is a walk that’s actually been walked. Lived. Experienced. Remembered.

Just a walk? No, it’s the now. And each now is only now we’ll ever know. As the polymaths’ polymath said “In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.” It’s a time-limited offer – let’s not miss it.

* Props to Emma, it was a ‘Posh’ veggie burger and chips (bun=ciabatta, salad=baby spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, pickle=olives, chips=potato wedges). I assume I’m not the only one who can’t read about food without wanting to know the details :-)

If you’re mindful and you know it, say “om!”

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This is my second post about meditation or crapitation (Real actual meditation, Botox & the Dalai Lama was the first). I said we’d take the next step together and I think we’re ready for it. I’ve been cribbing and experimenting like mad and I reckon I know what makes for crap meditation and some things that might make it less crap:

1. Not enough time to even think about meditating, ffs.

This is a bit like when you hear someone say “I don’t have time for a holiday!” and from that, you know they REALLY need one, right now. If the thought of finding time to meditate is stressing you out then you so need to find time to meditate.

There’s no magic bullet here other than to bite it and create a new habit. My new year’s resolution is to make time to meditate every other day, even it’s just for ten minutes. Are you in?

2. Still the mind? Mine’s bouncing off each bloody wall and then coming back to tell me that my bum’s aching and my nose itches.

I am The Queen of Over-Thinking – I even over-think in my dreams [My dream self: "Hang on, how could that happen? That's defying the laws of gravity."] but I’m finally starting to slow down the distracting thoughts whilst meditating. This gives me hope that anyone can.

I could never get the ‘Just notice the thought and let it go’ thing to work as I’d think I’d done that and then realise I’d somehow carried on thinking the thought. A tougher approach is needed and this is what I’ve found works:

Thought “I reckon this is working, I must have been meditating for at least nine minutes now.”
Name it: “Meditation thought”

Thought: “Arrrghh! My hand is going all tingly.”
Name it: “Body thought”

Thought: “I could blog about how I’m stopping these thoughts”
Name it: “Blog thought”

After a while, I’m zapping the thoughts so automatically that I don’t need to name the type of thought, I just think “Thought” and let it go, after a while I reckon it’ll be possible just to do the ‘Notice the thought’ thing and not say anything about it at all.

3. Yeah I can do all that but *yaaaawn* it’s so boring

I am the WORST for this – I find it really really hard to sit and ‘do nothing’. I must be the only person who has asked if they can read a book whilst undergoing spiritual healing *cringe*. I now realise it wasn’t seeing it as an opportunity to have a helpful, enjoyable experience – I just saw it as wasted time that I could be using to have a bath/read a book/eat cake/facebook etc.

So, how to see it as enjoyable? Seduce yourself into meditation: incense, low lighting, a closed door and some mantraey music? Figure out what will get you in the mood and then sit back and enjoy.

It’s like a massage for the mind, baby.

4. I feel like a total fool just sitting there. WTF should I actually be doing?!

If there isn’t a Kama Sutra of meditation then there should be – there’s a ton of different ways to do it and pretty much anything goes (although ‘missionary’ isn’t recommended for fear of falling asleep): Count breaths, notice breath, focus on something (like a candle flame), move (as in Tai Chi), mindfulness (‘being present’ and letting your mind run and accepting whatever thoughts come up without focusing on them), repeat a sound or a word (like “Ommmmm”) or chant a mantra (like Ra Ma Da Sa).

I’m finding that chanting a mantra for a while and then just trying to still my mind is what works for me. Experiment, as you might find something else is your thing.

In the last couple of days, I’ve been playing around with the stuff above, and I’ve managed two lots of 20 minutes of almost not-crap meditation – that’s my all-time personal best. If you can beat that then we’re ready to take the next step together.

Bad stuff, good stuff & Dr. Seuss

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Some good friends and I recently shared our best and worst stuff from 2012. It was poignantly painful and pleasing watching the Scales of Life balance out all the good and the bad sh*t that had come our way.

There was no-one who hadn’t had good stuff: some were Champagne-worthy, fabulous successes, others were wondrously light, little daily blessings – always there but easy to ignore. There was no-one who hadn’t had bad stuff: some were small and irking, others were huge, heavy and devastating.

If there’s a man who knew about bad stuff then it was Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor. He said  “If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.”  Of course, the truly cool thing about this man and his story isn’t the fact that he survived those horrendous circumstances but that he continued to see the beauty and meaning in life. And if that’s not enough – he felt and rose to a responsibility to help others learn and take inspiration from his experiences. He developed Logotherapy,  a meaning-centered psychotherapy which propounds the idea that we can choose the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

Frankl also said “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”. 

If he can then we so can.

So, we may as well expect some bad stuff but know that we can choose to look for the lesson in it and we can choose how we react to it. We can choose not to let it flatten and defeat us, we can choose to fight it and learn a ton of useful and meaningful stuff from that fight. I can’t say this any more eloquently than the man who wrote an entire book about green eggs and ham: I learned there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead, others come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready, you see. Now my troubles are going to have trouble with me.”

I have my own bat – yeah, it’s a metaphorical one but it’s vintage willow and is hand-painted with flowers, little rabbits and birds. Don’t get me wrong, it might look all delicate and pretty but it was wittled by the bad stuff life’s chucked its way and it’s ready to knock the total sh*t out of the next batch. Until then, I’ll keep counting my blessings that I have such a delightful and useful thing because blessing counting: frantically, furiously and frequently is how to to be sure when we look back at 2013 we’ll see that we had far more good stuff than bad.

Christmas cake

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Every year, my sister makes a Christmas cake. That’s our family tradition. This year my sister decided she couldn’t make a Christmas cake – the person who loved it the most is no longer with us.

That’s the thing about Christmas – the juxtaposition of joy and pain, family and lonely, bounty and empty, gain and loss. Honestly, until this year I was complacent – I’d never lost enough to be able to understand loss. Now I do.

How do I, how do any of us, balance celebration and desolation? How do we do what we did before when nothing is as it was before? What do those old family traditions mean when the family members who made those traditions are no longer there?

We need to remember that the loss is transitory, we will meet again. In this lifetime, we need to find a way to keep on loving, giving, laughing, inspiring, living – through Christmas (and because living is for life, not just for Christmas) into the new year and for the rest of our lives. Let’s make our lives the celebration.

Every year, I go through angst about the fact I love cake and I love Christmas but I don’t love Christmas cake. This year, I remembered that last year I made a huge vegan carrot cake with lemon frosting and everyone loved it. For now, that will be our new tradition.

Vegan carrot cake

The end result, featuring an unintentional ‘yellow snow’ effect due to the buttercream :)

Compliments, rubies & the Bible

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Give compliments. Amazing and precious ones. The kind of thing so valuable that someone would buy them if only they could.

If cake is love and laughter is a gift, here we’re talking about compliments that are the biggest, glowing, sparkling, perfect, reddest rubies (rubies, as they are my ultimate jewel porn but feel free to swap them for whatever gets your rocks off).

When you get them: hoard them, cherish them, take them out regularly to polish them and admire them. Let them fill you with the fire to make brave choices. Live up to them.

You know what the old book says? “I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.” (Isaiah 54:12 NIV). Exactly! Use your rubies to shield you from the onslaught of those Dark Coals of Criticism and Self-Doubt . You know the ones which you also hoard and, like a freakin’ masochist, take out to burn yourself with now and then? Hold them next to your rubies. Which of them catches your eye? Which makes you smile? Which of them speaks to your heart? ….What coals, eh?

When you give someone a compliment, if you can, make it a ruby… huge, honest and heartfelt. Not just a “Your hair looks nice.” but a “Your eyes are absolutely gorgeous.”, “I enjoy your writing – you write like Hadley Freeman in the Guardian.”, “You always look beautiful.”  or “You are a remarkable woman!” *

One of those beauties won’t just brighten someone’s day, it will brighten their whole life.

* Some of these might be from my own little cache. If you recognise one: I’ve cherished what you said, thank you so much.

Ruby ring

Actual rubies are gratefully received too!