I don’t know how to have fun…better work on this. (Or maybe I should just chill out).

I have been given an amazing insight by my long suffering mother today. I am actually one of those people who doesn’t know how to have fun – this is true. I think I know – but I don’t. That’s the problem. I think too much. For the first time in this life, I have admitted this to myself. I take everything so seriously (well, not everything but a lot) and ‘fun’ isn’t something I would consider myself being or having. I can have a laugh and a joke with friends and have a good night but my entire mindset is geared up to finding the point and the meaning within everything I do otherwise, there is just no point in doing it. Everything has to mean something.

I really do need to have more fun. Just for the sake of it! This feels weird to me…how sad!

‘Don’t you ever do things just for fun?’ ‘No mum, I don’t see the point. You have to learn something about yourself and the world around you and acquire new skills and a certificate in the process. Otherwise, you’re just wasting energy. What are you achieving?’ (Comparing me to close family members in the process…’you know you’re exactly like your sister, your aunt, your cousin…’

How did I miss this?

‘Is there a course I can do in ‘having fun?’ (Only joking…) No! That one is down to you… just chill! Not everything has to be a trial.’ I blame my training as a classical musician. ‘If you make one mistake in this audition, you won’t get in’ I made a mistake. ‘Yeah, that’s why you didn’t get in.’ So – I spend the early years of my life believing mistakes cannot happen and that everything is just that serious. For some people yes – but I am not one of those people obviously. I have a lot to unravel….or maybe not..I’m cool 🙂 I don’t have to understand why all the time…ahem! (Fighting every natural (or conditioned) urge in my body right now…

I came home from work earlier feeling a bit blue, bored and a bit tired. I decided to call home. I was preparing my negative monologue. ‘Ah there’s just no point to anything…this is a mad life. I don’t know what I should be doing.’ It is a mad life of course. Yes it is. So mad I can’t even begin to tell you. You know yourself what this planet is like.

I get uptight about silly things. I obsess about stuff I shouldn’t really – but then I think to myself ‘well if I don’t do this or if I don’t take this seriously, nobody else will and then something bad will happen or we’ll make a mistake.’ Yeah. Maybe. But…maybe not. Obsessive? Me? Ha! If I relaxed a little more, what harm could it do? I like to think of myself as someone who knows how to have fun. Why should I have to ‘know’ how to have fun? Why can’t I just ‘have’ fun?

I feel quite odd as I write this. I know I’m very structured, organised and I like my routine. I am a creature of comfort but I want to be different. I crave to be passionate, adventurous, more of a dare devil and an extrovert – but I really don’t think I am. I pretend I am and that pretense is what has been driving me crazy over the years. If I can finally accept the fact that I am actually quite wound up sometimes – (I really feel uncomfortable admitting this), perhaps I might be able to loosen up more as a person.

I mean – here I am telling people to make the most of every moment and enjoy life when I don’t do the same myself a lot of the time. If I took my own advice, it would be a good thing. I’m stuck in my head, lost in thought and neglecting the very basic fact that life is there for enjoyment – this includes myself.

(almost forgot about that).

© Christina McDonald 2014.

The power of thoughts…..

You may consider a thought about something is nothing important. Something transitory and fleeting and in many ways, this is true. Thoughts are impermanent but their effects on our entire wellbeing can be quite extraordinary. The power a simple thought has can be found in our reaction to it.

When we begin to identify and react to our thoughts, we allow ourselves to become what we believe to be true. ‘I am positive. I am rubbish at this. I can do this. Nobody wants to be with me. I am worthwhile.’ The list goes on. How many thoughts do you have during the course of a day that you would say are useful and positive?

You can think about anything you like. You can choose what to believe, what to feel and what to say. You are in charge of how you react to yourself and the world around you. When you are aware of this, it becomes so much easier to see that there is a choice when it comes to how we feel. We can choose which thoughts to react to and those we ignore.

Emotions are a constructive tool we can use when it comes to changing how we feel. Instead of reacting to emotions without an awareness of why we are experiencing them, we can effectively learn to watch our negative thoughts without reacting to them.

A lot of stress and anxiety can be managed simply through becoming aware of our emotional ‘triggers’. Only you can know what they are. Is it a thought or a feeling? An event perhaps? It could be anything.

What you need to remember is that the thought or feeling itself is just what it is. Your reaction (or non reaction) to it is the key point that will either create a good or a bad day.

And we all want to have a good day. It is easier than you might think….

Just be aware of your thoughts and the choices you have…..:)

Feel good and be happy….

Developing Mindfulness and Staying Grounded

This is all about practice. Like everything else in life, it doesn’t always come easy but it does become easier with time. Mindfulness is a way of being. There are no set rules to becoming mindful and aware but you can begin this process by directing your attention towards simple things such as your breathing. This is probably the easiest way to ground yourself and ease yourself into a relaxed frame of mind.

We tend to lose our sense of grounding when we become emotionally stressed and by that stage, it is usually too late to act. It will be harder to come back to grounding if you do not train yourself to look for the warning signs – for instance, snapping at people without any real need to, feeling ‘worked up’ for no reason, having a knot in your stomach that stops you from eating, breathing too quickly (the body has gone into flight or fight mode as it is perceiving a threat of some kind is imminent) and racing thoughts which are usually very negative.

If we are very used to brooding and obsessing over problems, there will be a strong chance that we end up blowing things out of proportion. When we become lost in a maze of thoughts, there is something we can do to help alleviate the feelings of emotional discomfort. By focusing on the breath, we immediately divert attention from thoughts and thinking and into the body. As soon as you do this, you stop the endless cycle of repetitive thoughts. Aligning your attention with the breath is the only way to bring yourself to a centre of calmness.

You then become aware and mindful of the present moment. That is all you ever have to deal with and can deal with. Doing a thousand things at once is possible if you are very organised but if you have a thousand thoughts zooming around your mind creating varying degrees of emotional anxiety with no purpose or resolution, you experience levels of stress that you cannot deal with. Focusing on your breathing releases you from the prison of emotional anxiety and the thoughts that are related to them.

I would say that with practice, you can begin the process of becoming more mindful over time. You will have good days and bad days but the important thing to remember is that you are moving forward. It is a process that takes a lot of time and perseverance and sometimes you feel like it is pointless trying when you are having a difficult time.

Don’t let the bad times get you down! Everything you go through is an experience – it is how you learn from it and how you react to these changes that shape your future.

© Christina McDonald 2014.

Music Memories….

It seems like such a long time since my days at university when I was studying for a music degree. Almost like another lifetime – the passage of time changes many things. I enjoy many things in life but I would have to say music is my absolute passion. I love it (even more than eating chocolate and that’s saying something!) Music has the profound ability to connect you to something – a feeling, a memory, your own idea of what heaven is perhaps – it has the power to unite people in celebration, joy, excitement and sadness. Seldom does it divide (unless you were part of the audience for the premier of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ in 1913 of course).

What is about music that is so moving? Is it the music itself or is it our own emotional reactions to what we are hearing? I think it is a combination of the two. There is a certain amount of nostalgia experienced when we hear certain pieces of music. If you hear a song from many years ago when you were a child, it has an almost magical ability to transport you back to how you felt when you heard it. ‘Oh, this takes me back…’

Almost like riding a bicycle – you never really forget how to do something or lose the memory of a feeling regardless of how many years ago you experienced it. Playing an instrument stays in your fingers and in your mind even if you have a break from it for a while. I still have wonderful memories of when I sang in choirs, played in concerts and (along with a great deal of stress, nervous tension and caffine), enjoyed the fact that I was able to make music. It was a dream come true.

Yes, music has a way of encompassing you entirely bringing you into a different sphere of being. Whether it is classical music, rock, listening to a choir singing in a cathedral, folk music, etc. whatever it is you enjoy listening to and playing, you can be sure of one thing – the ability of music can change the world around you. With a seemingly magical and otherworldly power to influence and move people on such a scale, it is no surprise that music spoke to me at such a young age, being the artistic, sensitive soul I am. It all started when I picked up a recorder and started playing along with T.V theme tunes by ear.

I was hooked.

Nowadays, I love listening to music more than playing. I play for my own enjoyment and it is as if no time has passed at all from when I picked up the flute at the tender age of 14 years old and said to myself ‘this is impossible, I’ll never get a note out of it’ to now when I can play hosts of scales and tunes until my heart is content. I didn’t think I would reach that point – but I did!

Now I listen to and play anything and everything – the more varied, strange and interesting, the better. I wouldn’t say I prefer one genre over the other – I just love music that has the ability to uplift and change how I feel and perhaps helps shift my increasingly stubborn perspectives somehow. Ah, growing older…

Music is all around us…

Practice, patience and perseverance are the ingredients in whatever you choose to do in life…. and not forgetting of course to love what you do!

Go be, do and enjoy 🙂

© Christina McDonald 2014

I’m not perfect (nor do I want to be)

I’m not sure if it is because I am too tired (or getting too old to care anymore) but I feel as though the pressure to be perfect is just a crazy way to feel and live. I am all for high standards – don’t get me wrong – and it is extremely important to give your very best in life. If you stopped trying, things would just fall apart. Caring about what you do is paramount and sometimes, other people’s lives and safety depend upon it.

I just hate that feeling – you know – the feeling that everything you do hinges on being absolutely perfect. No mistakes, no errors, no room for failure. I make mistakes sometimes, even when I try not to. I’m not perfect – there!

Are there people out there who simply don’t mess up? How do they do it? Do they just cover it up superbly when they do make a mistake so nobody notices? (In other words – through ‘bull****’? I’m not saying I make mistakes all the time. Not at all. Sometimes when I do, I feel like it is the end of the world and it isn’t. I say to myself ‘Why did I do that, how stupid! I should know better than this!’ (And I should and do). So, why do I make silly mistakes then? Are mistakes the be all and end all? No, of course not. But – they feel like they are sometimes.

I don’t know about you, but I feel as though the drive for constant perfection in society is maddening. High standards, yes. Perfection – no (and it can sod off). The perfect body, the perfect image, the perfect holiday, the perfect relationship. The perfect amount of money, (Yeah, right).

The problem is when it comes to perfection, enough is never enough especially when it comes to materialism. You always think you can do better and have more, improve this, change that. To me, perfectionism is an illness perpetuated by fear that quietly resides in the psyche waiting to pounce the moment you feel just a little bit insecure or unsure of yourself.

(The fear of not/never being good enough – that is the driving force behind perfectionism – so we keep striving at all costs to prevent a realisation of this truth…that we might not be what other people think.

Who cares?????

I am not perfect and I don’t think anybody should feel guilty for it and feel as though they should apologise for their own perceived ‘failures’ and weaknesses. Realising you have a weakness is actually a strength because (if you feel you need to), you can then become aware of it and can change it.

When painting a picture and your paintbrush slips across the paper, do you score it all out, tear it up and put it in the bin? No. You simply include the ‘mistake’ as part of the creative process. You are the one defining what that mistake is. Perhaps I am also defining my mistakes – I am self-critical to the point where I can sometimes lose perspective of what really matters – the fact that I am human….

I remember years ago when I was applying for jobs after university, going through endless application forms and reading the requirements – ‘must have superb attention to detail, must be proactive, dynamic, a leader, a visionary, presidential material, quite simply – awesome, amazing and magical (of course, not forgetting to demonstrate excellent customer service, blah blah etc. Must, must, must must. Fine – I get it. You want someone who will try hard and do their best.

Reading those kinds of things just makes me not want to bother – why? Perhaps it is some kind of false sincerity on my part – having to care when I didn’t actually care that much. Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think I’m alone here – most people want to do their best, earn their money and go home at the end of the day and forget the fact that in their 9-5 jobs, they are actually superhumans in disguise of a person who makes mistakes from time to time.

At least now I have a job I love and really do enjoy – thank goodness. Even when I went for flute lessons as a student, my teacher told me once when I was auditioning for an orchestral vacancy – ‘you cannot make a mistake at all here, there are over 300 candidates going for this seat and there is no room for error.’ Well – I went to the audition, made one tiny mistake and hey presto, that was that. (I tried not to, but I did). So myself, and 298 other candidates bit the dust. That’s the way it goes….

So, I guess the theory is – try not to make a mistake but if you do, just let it go and try not to let it ruin the rest of your life….it doesn’t matter if you screw up. Having high standards is perfect enough. Striving for perfection in my case is very self-limiting and completely soul destroying. I cannot do that but I am sure there are others who can.

Be creative, make music, paint and write, even though people may never appreciate it and be joyful for the sheer sake of it. Life is short and very precious. Don’t make unnecessary sacrifices for nothing. Just be and do.

In life, it only matters if you stop trying. Whatever happens, do it for you.

© Christina McDonald 2014.

On love….

When you begin to love yourself, you start connecting with your own heart. As obvious as that sounds, not enough people spend time caring about themselves in the way they should. We spend so much of our lives searching for something to complete us but our quest to reach that destination is as simple as putting some time aside for personal relaxation.

What does loving yourself really mean? (That phrase really has lost its meaning I think! I sometimes hear people saying ‘Aww that guy really loves himself, what a loser!’) In other words, love has become lost in self obsession somehow -how things look. It doesn’t mean doing continuous selfies and posting them on social media),it simply means treating yourself well. Not beating yourself up for not having been good enough in your own mind, it means giving yourself a break.

If you actually think about it, we all put so much effort into the appearance of things without factoring our own happiness into the equation. Life then becomes a vacuous struggle to achieve the goal of having a perfect image rather than a fulfilling life and a less than perfect image. If you haven’t seen ‘American Beauty’, it is one to watch. It illustrates that brilliantly.

The way things look doesn’t actually matter at all. Reflections of who you really are go beyond your physical appearance. That is good to know. We are not being ourselves living up to someone else’s standards whilst at the same time compromising our needs. Denial tends to bridge how things look and how things really are. What are we in denial of most of the time? Who we really are.

If we have the courage to be honest with ourselves, we start living life from the heart. We start treating ourselves in the way we deserve. What do you really need?

To be yourself.

Christina McDonald 2014.

Emotional Healing through Conscious Awareness.

If you have been on a ‘mental spin cycle’ as I would call it, you know exactly what I’m talking about when you cannot get your brain to switch off. Endless thoughts that carry on endlessly without ceasing. When life has become too difficult, when stress has taken over, it is very easy to lose perspective.

What I discovered years ago was that you can make this cycle stop simply by being aware of what is going through your mind. Through awareness, you stop identifying with these thoughts. You no longer lose yourself in the ‘drama’ as it were. They are just thoughts and they will only have a say if you let them.

Take a deep breath:

Focusing on your breathing is the best way to centre and ground yourself when you feel emotionally anxious. When you bring your attention to something as simple as your breathing, you are directing attention away from your mind and into your body, into the present moment. Within this moment, is where your attention should be.

Don’t react to negative thoughts:

Allow yourself to become aware of your thoughts, just allow them to be as they are. You may perhaps feel anxious within yourself but just let those feelings exist within you. They will subside eventually when you stop reacting to them. When you react to negative thoughts, you give them more sway and one negative thought leads to another and then another and so the cycle continues. You can stop it simply by being aware of what is going on in your mind.

Don’t over-analyse:

Brooding, obsessing and mulling over thoughts endlessly diverts your attention from what you should be doing and robs you of energy. When you do this repeatedly, you will feel incapable of focusing on anything else. Your work and your relationships will suffer needlessly in the end. Stop thinking for a while and just be.

Emotions are transitory:

Feelings and emotions change constantly. Like throwing a pebble into a lake, they are like ripples in consciousness. They are fleeting and if we react to them, we are reacting to a naturally impermanent state and making it into a permanent one instead. Watch emotions and feelings come and go as they always do but remember they are ephemeral…

© Christina McDonald 2014.