I am a Brexit refugee. It’s been over twenty years since I left the UK to live in Amsterdam. Except for an interlude of five years working in France, I have been there ever since. It has been wonderful to have the freedom to live and work in Europe. This freedom is in direct contrast to the UK, where I have not been allowed to vote since my absence from the country passed the fifteen-year mark. It was not even possible to vote in the Referendum in 2016.
Dutch friends started off being completely puzzled as to why the UK wanted to inflict such harm on itself by leaving the EU. These days they are mostly in a state of shock at the continuous unravelling of anything they recognize as British competence. They feel my pain, but they are also glad it is not happening to them.
It’s almost impossible to explain the chaotic mess that the Brexit process has become. When I try come up against my own feelings of shame and embarrassment at the closed-minded perspective that brought us here. The thing is though, that one day this process will be over and then the UK will need to work diligently to heal the scars of this battle. I would love to see kindness put at the forefront of this work. It’s hard to see how we will move forward without it.
What would a kind approach to Brexit look like?
There is a growing body of research into the benefits of kindness. It turns out that they are considerable and wide reaching. Kindness benefits the person offering it, the person receiving it and all the people who witness it.
It affects us on a physiological level—kindness can improve heart function, lower blood pressure, slow aging and strengthen our immune systems. The author and scientist, David R. Hamiltonexplains that through the production of the hormone, oxytocin and the neurotransmitter, serotonin our levels of wellbeing are raised.
On an emotional level—anxiety, stress and depression can all be reduced through preforming genuine acts of kindness. In his ground-breaking book, The Healing Power of Doing Good, Allan Luks documented the good feeling that you get from helping others and which is now referred to as the Helpers’ High.
Imagine some of these benefits being injected into the Brexit debate right now.
To begin with the insults, posturing and inflammatory accusations would need to stop—completely. We would need to start listening to each other. If possible, to appreciate that each person is acting from what they genuinely believe would work best. If someone disagrees with me it does not make them a bad, or stupid person.
I saw a great example of this recently when my Dutch partner sent me a video clip of the author Michael Morpurgo and historian Robert Tombs have a civilised disagreement about Brexit on Channel 4. Morpurgo is for staying in the EU and Tombs is for coming out. During the brief extract from their discussion neither man insulted the other. They listened to each other’s arguments and neither thought less of the other because they had an opposing point of view. It was remarkably reassuring to see that this kind of exchange is still possible.
When Ireland recently voted to overthrow the ban on abortion, much was said and written about the Citizens’ Assemblywhich was set up to give people a voice in such a big decision. Since then there has been talk about doing something similar for the Brexit debate. The former Labour PM, Gordon Brownhas put his weight behind this idea. His suggestion is to bring representative samples of leavers and remainers in regional groupings. The idea is that they could then take the time to go more deeply into all the issues that make up the Brexit puzzle.
The Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland was not perfect and has its own criticisms to answer. That’s perfectly understandable with big initiatives. Just because something is not perfect is no reason not to try not move forward with it. There is little cause to apply the word, ‘perfect’ to anything about the current debate raging in Parliament and across the country.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It involves an understanding of what another person is feeling from within their own frame of reference. You could say it is a bit like walking in someone else’s shoes.
Edwin Rutschis the founder of Centre for Building a Culture of Empathy. He has run many Empathy circlesdesigned to facilitate dialogue on many different issues. One feature is an empathy cafe where people gather to discuss challenging issues. He has run several dealing with the polarisation of political views between the right and left in the US.
Actively using the skills of empathy to understand another person’s views, rather than to weaponize them would add enormously to any Brexit discussion.
Here’s a quote from Henry David Thoreau that sums up empathy for me,
Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?
As I read this quote, I am aware that it can take courage to look through the eyes of someone whose views you find appalling. It’s natural to feel quite apprehensive about what you might see. My understanding is that Thoreau is talking about looking beneath and beyond the opinions of the other person. He is celebrating the insights into the heart of another person when we allow ourselves to look with judgment. On the occasions when all we see is aggression and self-interest, then can we let the limits of such an attitude touch us with compassion?
What can I do?
Recently I have realized that any change in the quality of the discussions around Brexit has to start with me. It’s a daily occurrence for me to shout at the TV when the news is on. There are MPs who I cannot bear to listen to and that goes for some of the media coverage too. My Facebook page is swamped by articles and cartoons charting the course of this debacle. There is a level where all the aggression, lies and procrastination has seeped into my own relationship to the whole thing.
If I want to change how Brexit is talked about, then I have to find a way to change how I am talking about it myself. I need to connect more actively with my own compassionate heart, rather than complain about the lack of compassion in others. It’s not enough to take comfort from the privacy of my hostility—thinking unkind thoughts undermines compassion as well as actions.
It’s so seductive to carried along by ideas of cooperation, inclusion, and common good but then to place people who see things differently outside your circle of respect. One strategy that I find it helpful to try and separate a person from their actions. When I can do this, I find we have much more in common than it appears. The right wingers pushing for an anti-European, nationalist agenda are wrong in my view, but if I remember that, just like me, they struggle with insecurities, anxieties, and fears then they become human again.
I want to use this quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellowto help me remember:
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
It’s about remembering that we are all human beings—complicated, vulnerable and imperfect. When my own opinions and beliefs are in full flow, this can get overlooked completely. Then the person on the other side of the argument becomes the ‘other’ and no longer worthy of care and respect. When I dehumanize those I disagree with it becomes easier to at best dismiss them and at worst vilify them.
My Brexit grief
The truth is that I am in mourning as a result of the 2016 Referendum. I never expected the UK to vote to leave the EU and to this day I still hold out hope of a second referendum that will put a stop to the whole process. My grief is on so many levels—ranging from my concerns about my own personal status as a Brit living in Europe, to a deep sadness about what the UK seems to stand for these days. I am embarrassed, ashamed and deeply shocked. Although I have always been a bit of an anarchist there was always a sense that the UK was on the side of decency, good governance and some level of wanting to contribute to a better world. This feeling has been rocked to the core.
All this needs to find a place and to work itself through. It’s my belief that will happen much more effectively if I can curb the more extreme expressions of this grief and find a way to resolve it through kindness.
A friend of mine told me a wonderful story about his early days of leading meditation sessions. At the time of this story he was working full time, had a young family and had really only been meditating himself for a couple of years. on top of all this he volunteered at a local Buddhist centre in Dublin, where he was asked to hold the introductory meditation session before the talk of the evening began. He was eager to help but really over-extended. My friend told me that he would rush out from work, grab a quick bite to eat on the run and dash across town to get to the Buddhist centre. Oh, and by the way, the room where the evening talk was held was up eight flights of stairs with no lift. He said he would arrive out of breath, hassled and all over the place. When he sat down in front of the group, he would have trouble remembering what it was that he was supposed to do.
I am sure he was exaggerating because he became a really good meditation guide, but his story often comes back to me. Our lives tend to be so busy and over-scheduled. When we finally sit down to do our meditation, our minds are often racing. We don’t give ourselves time for settling into meditation.
In this post I am going to share a simple routine for this process of settling.
Choose your meditation spot well
You don’t need to be fussy about where you meditate. At the end of the day you can do it anywhere. You just need to be sure that where you choose works for you and you feel comfortable there. If you want to choose a place outside, then go for a spot where people will not stare at you. You need somewhere a bit secluded—or you can always wear sunglasses!
If you are doing your session at home, then make sure you are going for a place where your family, or flatmates are not about to start an activity. You don’t want a hassle about who is going to do what, where.
Above all, choose somewhere that feels right.
Remember why you want to meditate
It is good to just take a moment as you sit down to remember why you wanted to meditate in the first place. You will have heard about all the benefits of meditation. Which are the ones that resonate with you most? Bring them to mind as a way of inspiring your session.
Perhaps you have a favourite benefit? Bring it to mind and remember why this was important to you. It could be that one benefit pre-occupies you at the moment but next moth it will be a different one. That’s fine. The point is to connect with the inspiration for yourself right now.
Take a few deep, slow breaths
It’s a good idea to take a few really good deep breaths before you start. It helps us to relax and to arrive on our meditation seat – to settle into meditation. I find it helps me to make a break from the activities I have been busy with and the focused, quieter time I am going for in meditation. You can do this before you sit down and combine it with a stretch. Do whatever works for you.
Pay attention to your posture
The way you arrange your body for meditation will affect the meditation itself. It is a crucial element in how you settle into meditation. The posture and the meditation go hand-in-hand. There are two fundamental things to keep in mind—relax but be alert. It’s easy to get stiff and self-conscious when we sit to meditate. We try to sit ‘properly’ and usually end up being uncomfortable.
Here is a simple checklist:
- Back straight but respecting the spine’s natural curve
- Chin slightly tucked in
- Eyes open with the gaze slightly downwards
- Relax your shoulders
- Legs crossed if you are on a cushion, feet firmly on the floor if you are in a chair
- Hands relaxed on your thighs
- Mouth relaxed, with lips slightly parted
If you feel uncomfortable, just stretch and come back to the posture.
Do a simple body scan
A full body scan meditation takes about 45 minutes, but you can do a simple body scan in just a few moments.
Bring your attention to the top of your head, and slowly let it travel downwards through your whole body. Try not to miss any parts of your body—remember the back of your neck, your arms and elbows, your hips, legs and so on. When you reach your feet just relax. Whatever aches, pains, and sensations that you notice, that’s fine. Really. Just notice them. Try not to have a reaction—I don’t like this feeling in my shoulders, my stomach is too big. Just notice and move on.
This is just a simple check-in with your body to help with settling into meditation.
Notice your mood
The next part of the checklist for settling into meditation is to check in with your mood. This does not mean you have to arrange yourself to be in a good mood. Just look into how you feel and notice whatever is going on. Perhaps you are a bit tired – just notice. Maybe you are looking forward to an event you have coming up – just notice your excitement. The idea is to look at your mood without judgment, accepting it as it is, without wanting to change it. This is the kind of attitude we have to our thoughts and emotions as they come and go during our meditation session.
Connect your meditation to your world
I find it helps to make a brief aspiration at the beginning of my meditation session. Sometimes I make it quite general—like a hope that through meditation I will learn to calm my mind and become more useful for other people. Other times I will try to connect it with something that is going on in the world, or in my own life. I might think of people going hungry in Venezuela and hope that as meditation becomes more popular in society it will lead to great wisdom and kindness in politics. It helps inspire me to complete my session.
The 7 steps that I have shared here are ones that help me with settling into meditation. You might not want to take on the whole 7, or you may have one or two others that help you as well. If you do, please do share in the comments section. One last tip—decide what you need for your session and make sure you have it to hand. Are you using a timer? Have you turned your phone off? Are you drinking tea, coffee, or water? Do you need a blanket? Decide on all this before you start, so that once you sit down you can relax and not worry about anything else.
If you like checklists here is one to help you remember the steps to help you settle into meditation. You can download the pdf Settling infographic-2
If you would like to go deeper into meditation, then try this online course – it’s packed full of practical tips for making room for meditation in a busy schedule.
I am delighted to include a guest blog from Bhavna Kapoor Vaish. Bhavna worked in finance and banking and has a strong interest in mindfulness and meditation. She was the perfect person to ask to write something on how to manage your finances when you don’t want to have a 9 to 5 job. Enjoy the post!
Ever dreamt of backpacking around the world or about living your life on a boat? If you have, you wouldn’t be alone. I can bet that one of the biggest obstacles to living the life of your dreams is money. How are you going to fund it?
Your unconventional lifestyle does not come for free. Chances are you still have to earn your living.
But will your alternate lifestyle let you do that? How can you make money sitting on your boat or exploring the remote parts of this world?
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to earn money that will align with your atypical lifestyle. But before we examine these opportunities, let us first understand what an alternate lifestyle really is.
What Is An Alternative Lifestyle
An alternative lifestyle is a way of living when you do not have a typical mainstream job. You do not earn your living from a 9-5 corporate job. Wikipedia defines alternative lifestyle as “a lifestyle diverse in respect to mainstream ones, or generally perceived to be outside the cultural norm.”
It is a lifestyle you wish to embrace because it frees you from the status quo you find yourself in currently. You want to spend your life travelling and exploring cultures. You love an RV life or want to backpack around the world. Or you have identified your purpose in life.
Read More: Being Purposeful: Achieving The Life You Envision
Often it is a life you choose and sometimes it may be a result of circumstances. It could be a result of your health or economic conditions. You are no longer able to work at a typical job and are looking for an alternative.
Whether it a choice you make or the result of the conditions you find yourself in, this is your reality and you have to make it work.
Let us face it. Now your biggest hurdle is money. Especially if you haven’t saved money or if your savings aren’t enough to last a lifetime.
In any case, as adults, we need to be able to make money.
Do you find yourself daunted by the idea of how to finance your lifestyle?
There are tonnes of ways to make money that go beyond the mainstream. Making money through these methods can help reduce your stress, prevent you from digging into your saving or retirement fund and help you feel satisfied.
Unconventional Ways to Make Money To Support Your Alternative Lifestyle
Here are some ways you can make money working from home or a remote jungle:
There are many freelancing sites online that offer to pay you money to transcribe an audio or video file for them. The payment rates offered are per hour of the file to be transcribed. While these companies may not pay much, your earnings do improve as you become better. And no skill is required to get started.
Most websites and businesses need top-notch articles to promote their services or to bring in more traffic. These jobs can be found via freelance websites like Upwork, Freelancer and Fiverr. You can also try submitting your articles to publications who pay better rates.
If you find yourself correcting common writing errors and still remember the grammar rules you learned in school then try proofreading for a living. Many bloggers write their own articles but like to have a proofreader go through their work before they publish it. Law firms, authors and businesses offer similar opportunities. Becoming a court transcripts proofreader requires higher standards but it also pays better.
Become a Virtual Assistant:
As more and more people work as entrepreneurs from their own homes they are in need of people who can help them with tasks. The demand for virtual assistants is rising.
A virtual assistant’s tasks may include social media management, formatting and editing content, scheduling travel, or managing emails.
Doing Surveys Online:
Answering survey is a quick way to earn some money. While these may not add up to a lot, they are an easy and fast method to earn a little extra.
Sell on Amazon:
There are many, many people who sell items on the world’s largest retailer and earn money from home. If you are thinking that you do not know how to sell on Amazon, then there are courses available for that, even free ones. You can easily search for these online. These courses will even help you choose what products to sell.
Teach English (or other languages and subjects):
Did you know that you may be able to teach English online to children around the world to earn money?
VIPKID is an online teaching and educational company which has over 500,000 paying students located in 63 countries. They do have certain minimum requirements for their teachers.
Write a book:
If you have a story to tell or have a skill that will be useful to other people, think about writing a book. This is a great way to earn a regular income. Books are a great way to earn passive income. Once the book is written and published, you will keep earning money each time you make a sale.
There are many free and paid courses and other articles available online to help you write, publish and sell your book.
Teach a skill:
Is there something you know well that others may want to pay you to teach them? This could be anything from gardening, photography, outdoor survival skills, an instrument, fitness and personal training, a sport. Use your local listings to search or list your self. Teachable is an online platform that lets you create and sell your own course and get paid for it.
Got extra space, an unused room, an empty garage or a parking spot. Think about renting these out to earn extra bucks. Going away for a few months? Convert your home to an Airbnb.
Apart from earning money, you could look at ways to reduce costs. Here are easy ways to save money from your monthly budget without impacting your standard of living
These are just some of the ideas that you can use to earn money to fund an alternative life. Before I sign off, I would like to thank Maureen, the owner of this site for allowing me the opportunity to write for her blog. If you are interested in discovering more ways to fund your lifestyle or to earn money while you follow your passion? Follow my Pinterest Board where I curate useful articles, tips and ideas from across the web.
Bhavna Vaish is a blogger who loves the world of finance. She writes about being wise with your money so you can live a life you love on a budget you can afford. Her blog Pennies For Cents has more useful articles for you. She has been a banker and a finance professional for many years before choosing early retirement.
The short answer to the question, what is the best time to meditate is—any time and as much as possible! However, this does not help us so much when we are trying to get used to meditation and to find a place for it in our lives. In this post we will take a look at three popular times for your meditation session that can work very well—as well as where they can be problematic.
First thing in the morning
In many ways this is the best time to meditate. Your day has not yet got going so there is some space. You can control when you set the alarm and what time you choose to get up. It’s always a good idea to get up a bit earlier than usual if you want to do a meditation session. Having some quiet, focused time is a great way to begin the day. It gives a flavour to everything that comes after and makes it easier to come back to meditation at odd moments throughout the day. It feels good to prioritise making this special time for yourself.
There can be drawbacks of course. Getting up earlier cuts down on how late you go to bed the night before, which is not always easy. You might not be a morning person at all. You need to consider whereabouts you will do your meditation session. If you live with other people, they are going to be affected by your decision to start with meditation. You might need to negotiate some quiet space for yourself.
During your lunch break
This can work for anyone, but it is particularly helpful if you go out to work. Creating a space to be quiet and present is a good way to cut through the busyness and stress of a working day. It also brings meditation directly into your work environment and makes it easier to take short meditation moments at any time.
There are two disadvantages. The first is that your lunch break is quite vulnerable to interruption. Things come up all the time and you could find yourself with only a moment to grab a sandwich. There is also the problem of where you do your session. Do you have a quiet place at work you could go to? One hint I picked up from a client of mine recently is to find a nearby church and go there for your meditation session. He said it worked brilliantly for him!
Before going to bed
This is popular with a lot of people who like the idea of having a peaceful finish to their day. It’s true that meditating in the evening can help you to sleep better. Some people do their session as soon as they get home. Others wait till they are going to bed and make it part of their usual routine.
The disadvantages are that by the end of the day we tend to be more tired and the temptation to skip our session and get straight to bed is very real. On the other hand, we might want to go out and have social plans for the evening, which makes fitting in a meditation session quite hard.
So, what do we do?
It is important to just play with which time works best for you. Take it lightly and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t stick to a routine that you’ve set up. It’s a good idea to experiment with all three times. You could set out to meditate every morning for a week. Next try lunchtimes for a week, and then the evenings. After an experiment like this, you can see what has worked best for you. No one method will be perfect—you will need to choose the one that has the least disadvantages for you. If you feel daring, you could try having your first choice for a meditation session, and if that does not work out you go to a fall-back position—your second choice. This would mean not meditating at the same time every day, but it would increase your confidence if you felt you could be flexible. That’s what we are aiming for long-term.
What other times of the day have your tried to have your meditation session? Let me know in the comments section.
Here is a simple checklist that shows the pros and cons of the three times we talked about in the post. You can download a PDF here Time to meditate
Some people use their commute as a time for their meditation session. Check out this free five-day e-course to see how that works HOW TO MAKE YOUR COMMUTE BENEFIT YOUR WORKING DAY
Introduction to the Meditation Checklist
There is a great deal of information out there about meditation. To meditate is very simple but to make time and space for it in our lives can be tough. We need to find simple, practical ways to make it a habit – just like cleaning our teeth – so it becomes a natural part of our daily schedule.
Here is a simple checklist that outlines the main stages of a session of meditation.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to look at each part of the checklist and go into more detail.
Until then, please get in touch and let us know if you think we have missed anything out. We always like to hear from you.
You can download the Meditation Checklist here Meditation checklist
Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash
It’s a great life skill to able to look on the bright side as we negotiate the ups and downs of everyday living. The ability to look at a glass and see it as half-full instead of half-empty is surprisingly rare but it’s impact on wellbeing is considerable. It increases our resilience and makes us more attractive to be around. However, we all know people for whom the glass is always half empty. It’s the sort of person for whom there is always a ‘but’, whatever good circumstances are coming their way. Lovely weather is forecast for an outing, but they always take an umbrella. They manage to negotiate a pay rise, but it is not as much as they hoped for. They cook a beautiful meal for a dinner party, but now they are exhausted. Their negativity bias is alive and flourishing!
If we are honest, we can see that although we are not like this all the time, we all have moments where we are just focused on how unsatisfactory things are.
Why is this?
We are constantly on the lookout for threats
Our brain has evolved to keep us safe, alive and reproducing our species. We are programmed to pay more attention to negative stuff and to remember it longer. When you think of our lives as hunter-gatherers this makes sense. Finding a new food source was a good thing but discovering a berry that was poisonous and killed you was much more important—so we remembered it and avoided it the next time we came across it. This is sometimes referred to as the brain’s negativity bias. The brain is always tracking for threats to our survival and once we locate one, then we store it away to remember for the future.
What this means for us now
Of course, in our modern lives there can still be real threats to our physical survival but mostly the negative stuff the brain is identifying and storing away is just part of the wear and tear of everyday life. If we fall out with a family member or get a harsh comment from our boss, it weighs on our minds and we tend to replay it over and over again. An unpleasant encounter in the supermarket over-rides all the courtesy and friendliness we usually encounter. If our favourite restaurant has an off day, all the delicious meals we have eaten there previously seem to be less believable.
The trouble with all this is that can lead to us giving into anger, frustration or jealousy. By focusing on negativity, we highlight our problems and bring them into the forefront of our experience. Giving such weight to the difficult things makes it easier for us to give into our more troublesome emotions, such as anger, fear and jealousy. It can make us tougher on other people because we are operating from this position of threat.
Two aspects of our negativity bias we can stop straight away
Cut the anxiety loops in our minds
We can try to get out of the habit of going over and over stuff that has bothered us and replaying different ways we should have dealt with it. Ruminatingin this way only works the negative memory in deeper and ensures that it stays with us longer. One of the most effective ways of cutting through rumination is with mindfulness meditation. By helping us to be awake in the present moment, we can bring our mind back from going over stuff that has already happened, or other stuff we are worried will happen in the future.
Stop beating ourselves up
We can try to stop telling ourselves off for the way things turned out. How many times do we say to ourselves, ‘I should have….’, ‘If only I had….’.’Why didn’t I?….’ Most of us have a voice in our headthat give a running commentary on how we are managing and sadly, its commentary is often negative. The thing is that we did not do any of those things and it is too late to change it. We can take note for the next time but beating up on ourselves will only increase the negative impact. The most effective way to transform our inner critic into something useful is by showing ourselves the same kindness that we would show a friend in a similar situation.
Here are more good habits that can overcome our negativity bias
Notice the good things that happen to us every day
These can be small things—a sunny morning, a smile from a stranger, a helping hand from a friend. Don’t just notice the first thing—keep your eyes open for all the small but precious moments throughout the day.
Allow yourself to feel good
There is no need to feel guilty or to worry that it is selfish. A moment of happiness, or satisfaction will help you to be more open and accessible to other people. You can share the benefit.
Savour the experience
Once we have noticed something good happening, then we can take a moment to savour the experience and let it sink into our consciousness. We are often too quick to shrug off the good stuff. By allowing ourselves to enjoy moments like the smelling the freshly baked bread in the local bakery, or pausing to watch children playing in the playground we are acknowledging the good experiences and letting them in. This will help to feel more satisfied and less in need of external stimuli.
We can even take a moment to express appreciation for some of the many, small, wonderful things that happen to us every day.
Here is an exercise that you could try
The purpose of the exercise is to help us to connect with experiences that can help us to undermine our tendency to focus on the bad stuff. By really seeing the good stuff and appreciating the effect it has on our moods and state of mind, we can learn to apply it when unpleasant things happen to us. This exercise shows a way of doing this after the event but as we get used to working this way, we can apply it as things happen.
Let me know how you got on with the exercise. I would love to hear how it worked for you.
If you have enjoyed this post and found it useful, you might want to take a look at this free 5-day e-course, HOW TO MAKE SELF-COMPASSION YOUR TOP PRIORITY
You can find out more here