7 Steps to Happiness

100_2326View this 7 minute clip on my You Tube Channel; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPbNK1TVuRgFind out in 7 easy steps how to bring happiness into your life, filmed on a beautiful Indonesian island, worth watching for the view alone!

Disconnecting to reconnect - Tiny Buddha

Pleased to share my article on the importance of disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with ourselves and nature which has just been published on tinybuddha.com.  To celebrate I'm trying something new and have a video blog on the topic to share with you, you can read the full article on tiny buddha;  http://tinybuddha.com/blog/theres-no-wifi-in-the-forest-but-youll-get-a-stronger-connection/ [video width="320" height="240" mp4="http://inspireyourlife.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Disconnect-to-reconnect-Jess-Stuart1.mp4"][/video]Let me know your thoughts and your experiences in the comments section

What is Mindfulness?

LotusThe world moves faster now than it’s ever done, we are working more hours, our lives re busier, expectations are higher and the pace of life has quickened to a point where we’re struggling to keep up. The technological age means we’re now on call 24/7, we are checking our emails on handheld devices at 10pm, we are in touch with friends and the world news all times of the day and night, as a result we never switch off. One of the best antidotes to our busy lives is taking a few minutes out of each day to be still, meditation is a way of reconnecting with yourself, feeling grounded even among the chaos and teaches us to be more aware of the present moment.We are also hearing a lot these days about Mindfulness, it’s trended significantly over the last 12 months. Celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Richard Gere, Ruby Wax, Rupert Murdoch and Sting talk about mindfulness and it has also been brought into the corporate world through companies such as Google, Apple, Ford and Ebay. You’re also likely to hear the word used in other contexts these days as with anything that becomes popular it can then also become overused. Things like ‘we need to be mindful of the impacts of the strategic review on our sales figures’ and ‘be mindful of that dog poo as you step out of the car’ doesn’t quite contextualise the word in its true form, but it is about awareness and being in the present moment.What is mindfulness and how does it differ from meditation? There’s been a bit of a mindful revolution and it has become a fashionable word. Where as meditation may invoke images of zen monks sat on hill tops in silence, mindfulness brings to mind celebrities who are happy and successful and something a lot more main stream and attractive. Meditation and mindfulness are one of the same thing, mindfulness is what happens when you take meditation off the cushion into your daily life so it makes sense to start with meditation, train your mind to be present and still and go from there into a world of being mindful in other areas of your daily life.In our busy lives we are often on autopilot, we get lost in the doing at the expense of just being. Have you ever arrived at work and not remembered the commute? Or been eating popcorn at the movies only to put your hand in and realise the box is empty? It’s when we are focusing on other things and our mind has wandered that we are not paying attention and life passes us by. And in our busy multitasking lives it’s easy to get lost in the doing and live most of our days on autopilot but at what cost?Being more mindful means living in the present moment, focus and awareness in a non judgemental way and is a lot like meditation, but mindfulness can be brought into everyday tasks. Like brushing our teeth, washing the dishes, going for a walk, listening to a friend, it is when you are 100% present in what you are doing and noticing every little thing, there are no distractions, you are not multitasking or thinking about your to do list or what’s for tea, you are there in the present moment and fully aware.In a world where multitasking is seen as a necessary skill being mindful is the opposite, it is slowing down to focus on one thing at a time, one moment at a time. Full concentration, unwavering attention on one thing and remaining focused as long as we can before our mind wanders. Thoughts will still come and this is natural, we are not trying to stop or supress our thoughts but we become a witness or observer to what comes up and without judging what we find we notice the thought and return to being mindful without attaching to what that thought means or being carried away into analysing it. Rather than being frustrated that the mind has wandered (again!) we should be pleased that we have noticed and bring it back to the present.You can start by breathing mindfully and being aware of your breath, whether you are sat meditating or in the car driving to work or queuing at the supermarket. Eating mindfully is another helpful practice, not only does it help slow us down and focus on our food but it’s better for our digestion than rushing through our meals as we tend to these days. Mindful walking is a lovely way to spend a summers evening, there is no destination in mind, it is slow and deliberate, you’re not rushing from point A to point B, nor are you lost in thought about what went on at work that day, you are mindfully absorbed in the joy of walking, feeling the ground beneath your feet, listening to the birds in the trees, feeling the breeze in your face and watching the sun sinking in the sky and taking the time to quite literally smell the roses. Through mindfulness, you'll reconnect with yourself and become healthier in mind, body and soul, not just whilst you’re practising but in the future too.“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” - Robert Brault

In between thoughts

VipasanaIt sounded so easy, go away for a 10 day silent Vipasana retreat, away from the busyness of daily life, to have all your meals cooked, nothing to do but it was intense, hard going internal work on a scale I’d never tried before. This was 10 days devoted to working on awareness of the body and mind and I was surprised by what I found.It was a beautiful place surrounded by nature high up in the bush nestled in a valley north of Auckland. My room had everything I needed which was nothing at all really – a bed, a bench and some hooks. No electronic devices were allowed, nor were reading, writing materials, intoxicants or communication of any kind. The idea was that all distractions were removed to allow your entire focus to be on the job in hand.The rules were strict but the silence was deafening, although it didn’t seem to apply to the Cicadas, Tui’s, Possums and Morepork!  There was complete silence throughout the day which started at 4am when the wake up gong sounded, there was 2 hours of meditation before breakfast and after lunch no further meals, just some fruit and tea in the evening.  I found when all distractions and noise were removed you are given the opportunity to notice so much more; the nature around us, the thoughts in our heads, the way we feel; which isn’t always positive which is why I guess we devote so much of our time to distracting ourselves from it.We know our mind is important, everything we do and feel starts in the mind, it dictates how we feel and how we act yet we pay it so little attention and in fact go to extreme lengths to avoid doing so. We seek to fill our lives with distractions, facebook and youtube are great examples of this along with TV, magazines, going to the pub, anything to avoid being left alone with our own thoughts.After 10 days spent alone with my own thoughts what surprised me most was how much time my mind spend either going through past events (which I can not change as they are in the past) or day dreaming about future plans. It was never in the present moment, jumping from thought to thought many of which were of little importance. That’s why it’s called the monkey mind, maybe it’s always doing this we just never notice as we’re never watching it or perhaps it gets busier when we try to control it. Yet once you focus on what it’s doing and the thoughts begin to subside you get a glimpse of what a peaceful mind looks like, between the train of thoughts appears these moments of emptiness, space, stillness and it feels like bliss.The people in attendance (about 80 in total) were from all backgrounds and all walks of life and whilst different reasons had brought us here we all had one goal; to find peace of mind and inner contentment. The centre is one of many world wide and all available due to the kindness of others, run on donations and by volunteers so accessible to everyone.We had been warned that undertaking the course was like peeling back layers of onion and as we went deeper into our mind it had the same effect with some people brought to tears due to the nature of what they were working through, at times it was often more like a therapy room! Many of the participants had past traumas or addictions that had contributed to their reason for being here. Some craving their cigarettes or coffee, for me it was my notepad and pen. I realised we are all fighting our own internal battles, we just use different weapons.We spent hours everyday watching the sensations that came up from within us and learning to accept what we found. I was having other worldly sensations in my knees after 10 hours a day of sitting cross legged. Over the 10 days we learned to maintain awareness and equanimity, giving all our attention to this present moment and accepting what it brings. There were difficult things that came up for every individual but as in life rather than trying to avoid these difficulties we learned to accept them and know that they will pass. In the same way when the pleasant thoughts arose, as in life our task was not to chase after them on a desire fulfilled pursuit but to accept they have arisen but know they will not last.This is the main learning for me; everything is impermanent and the good news is that means tough times won’t last forever but the bad news is that means that good times won’t last forever either. Knowing this we can avoid the disappointment and rather focus on acceptance, making us stronger people.Whilst I don’t necessarily advocate the particular technique used in Vipasana as there are so many good meditation techniques out there, what I do endorse is finding space, silence and peace of mind through whatever method of meditation suits you. It’s taking the time to be with yourself, focus on the breath and become aware and in between the thoughts find that stillness and peace of mind that is the antidote to so much of our modern way of life and can work wonders for your mind, body and soul.For more information about meditation, the benefits and how to get started, click here to visit the meditation page