Monday, August 18, 2014

Goodbye from AnnaKist Ideas

After spending some time reviewing all of my priorities I have decided to discontinue my blog. My work position has changed and I have fewer hours in the day available to study and write. Since I already have quite a few balls to juggle at the moment (balls which cannot be dropped: family and friends) I am consciously letting go of other 'priorities' such as study and blogging.

Mike and I are even thinking about downsizing and selling our block in the country. This is a huge deal for us as we have told EVERYONE that we will be building a house and moving out there to retire. As it turns out, our life plans have changed and it can be difficult and daunting to realise and admit that, when it happens.

We are currently contemplating telling everyone we know that the plans we have been talking about for 10 years, just don't suit us anymore. We feel like failures for signing up to a plan and not seeing it through, but we both agree that going ahead with the plan (to avoid feeling like failures) would be a poor decision.

I may come back and revisit this blog if the need to write becomes another priority for me in the future, but until then, I wish you all the very best that life has to offer. 

Remember. Everything you need is already inside you. 

Pay Attention to it. 

xx AnnaKist

"Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans." John Lennon

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Practising Presence

Something amazing happened today. A fairly large problem in my life apparently resolved itself! And somehow I believe that my presence in the moment allowed this to happen.

I tried to type a brief back-story here about the experience, however it quickly spirals into personal family details that don't need to be expressed, so if you don't mind, I will keep this topic brief and somewhat vague.

For the last three days I have needed to write a message to my family, in order to try to bring three very different perspectives close enough in line that we could talk calmly. Yesterday I sat in the sunshine at lunch time and contemplated the subject thoroughly. I felt that I had the right 'angle' and tone for my letter, however something was holding me back from writing it.

Again today, I sat with the problem during my lunch hour, and considered the details some more. Finally late in the day I felt it was time to write the letter - now! When I logged into my email to begin, I saw an email from my mother. She had been to an appointment with my father in which the health professional made a decision on our behalf. She made a professional decision and it made each of our perspectives null and void. Now we had one way to face the issue, and that's that.

The email that I had drafted in my head was not needed, and I didn't have to worry about how each family member might react. Perhaps it was only coincidence (not that I believe in coincidences!) that I hadn't written that email either of the two days previous.

Since returning from our trip to Europe I have been spending as much of my day aware of the present moment as possible. I was lucky to be able start training my brain to do this while we were on holiday, and I can already feel my 'autopilot' mind trying to come back now I'm at home.

It was that awareness, a connection to the universe (perhaps)? That told me, go write your letter now. And the problem was solved.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Modern Messiahs

I'll be offline for a few weeks while Mike and I travel over seas for his brother's wedding. Before I go I wanted to do a quick post on modern spiritualism (if that's what I should call it?)

If you haven't seen Russel Brand's spiritual rantings, then you need to see his "Awakened Man" video. Yesterday I came across Jim Carrey's one minute "speech to change your life", and the night before last I listened to Mark Maron's WTF podcast with RuPaul and was seriously gobsmacked. If you thought RuPaul was "just a drag queen" you HAVE to listen to this podcast, he is one SERIOUSLY spiritual guy.

So why are these pop culture celebrities turning to spiritualism? (And these are only a few examples, I'm sure there are PLENTY more). I mean, aren't most of us meant to aspire to a life of wealth, fame and beauty (that these guys already have), yet it is obviously pretty hollow when they get there, otherwise why would they search for more?

It is very exciting to hear such awakened words coming from such a variety of people, and so unexpected too. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new era of consciousness? Even the scientific community is beginning to look at what came prior to the Big Bang and a very viable answer is consciousness. Consciousness created the universe, it isn't just a by-product of life.

So Bill Hicks had it right all those years ago! "All matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death; life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here's Tom with the weather."
Who is your spiritual hero?

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Seeking help and monthly challenge update

It's been a while since my last post, not only because I've been struggling with a bout of depression but I've also come down with the flu. I think my body has simply collapsed under the strain of worrying about my family, working full time, having relationship issues and generally just trying to cope on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis.

Mike has convinced me to sign up for counselling with a carers organisation, which I can do via email rather than face to face. Its such a relief to be able to access that kind of service that way, as there is simply no time I could take out of my week to visit a counsellor, without work having to know (which is not something I'm ready to face as yet). So hopefully communicating with someone external to our situation, with experience caring for someone, will be able to help relieve the emotional burden I'm feeling.

Our trip to Germany is also coming up soon, we fly out in just over two weeks and all the arrangements are made. We want to continue with our monthly challenge up to and around our trip, while we'll have the three weeks we are away as a holiday without any challenge attached. So we only have two weeks to implement this 'months' challenge, so we thought we'd pick a tough one. As a lead up to trying to go vegan, we have decided to go dairy-free for the first two weeks of June.

I already drink soy milk in my coffee and rice milk in my smoothies (I'm lactose intolerant), but Mike is dreading having a soy coffee so will probably go back to drinking black coffee instead. The toughest part of this challenge will be for both of us to go without cheese and chocolate. We have cheese in most dinners and often have a few pieces of chocolate for dessert.

We found a deli not far away that sells raw vegan chocolate and it is the tastiest chocolate I have EVER eaten (no exaggeration), however it costs about $10 for a tiny tiny bar, so we are going to try to make our own raw vegan chocolate. I'll let you know how that goes.

Our monthly challenge for May was to quit smoking again which I managed after the first few days but Mike has struggled with this more - he still doesn't really want to quit, so without the motivation it just isn't possible, however he has cut down enormously.

I'll send an update prior to our trip to let you know how the raw vegan chocolate and dairy-free experience is going.

Auf Wiedersehen

Friday, May 16, 2014

Talking about depression

I've decided to write a blog post about depression, as this is something I experience fairly regularly, but rarely talk about openly. I think a lot of people do the same thing, talk when they're happy and don't talk when they're not, so it's not a topic blogged or talked about much.

However at any point in time, someone close to you is likely experiencing some level of depression or anxiety, they may just be good at hiding it. My partner is now 'coming around' after a prolonged period of depression. I should point out he would probably deny this, however his symptoms of reduced sleep and appetite and extreme apathy and introversion argue otherwise.

Likewise my father is currently going through a prolonged period of depression and a close friend is also experiencing symptoms of post-natal depression. Because my friends know I have had depression in the past, the women in my life are more likely to open up and share their experiences with me. However men find it much harder talking about their symptoms.

There are multiple reasons for this including the cultural barrier (especially in Australia but also in many other countries) where men are taught not to talk about their feelings, so shy away from emotional topics. Similarly, men are taught not to show their vulnerabilities so have (a) no desire and (b) no method of talking about their experiences.

Although my thoughts may become bleak I have found that presence in the moment is very helpful in keeping the dark thoughts from developing into suicidal thoughts. That's because we can become overwhelmed by our memories of the past, or fears and anxieties about the future, but things are usually OK in the present moment.

If things are not OK in the present moment, because we are grieving (or similar) then just remember that this period is temporary, it will pass. We will not feel like this forever, or even for a long time (although it may feel that way).

If it is memory of the past or fear/anxiety about the future making you depressed, come back to the present moment. Feel your feet on the floor, wiggle your toes. Your mind can be anywhere but your body is always in the present, so focus the mind on the body. Feel your breath enter your nostrils and your stomach rise and fall. This is the present.

You can do this at work, at home, on the bus or even on the toilet! Take notice of tension in your body, and your body posture. Are your arms or legs crossed? Uncross them. Is there tension in your jaw, stomach or shoulders? Relax them. Take a few deep breaths, and move forward with your day.

The longer you have been depressed, the more those neural networks in your brain will have a clear path to fire those same depressed thoughts at you. It's a cycle. So when you interrupt a 'dark' thought by bringing your focus to the present, you create a new path. Your mind WILL wander back to those same old thoughts, but when you are aware of it, bring your focus back to the present, and you make that new path a little wider.

This practice is called mindfulness and it's an ongoing process. When you become aware of your thoughts, bring your focus back to the present. Over and over again. Soon the new neural network path in your brain is clear and wide enough that you can pick up on your depressive thought AS IT ARISES, and you won't be taken down that depressing mental path so far. 

So although I still get depressed and overwhelmed sometimes, I am able to control my reaction to these thoughts by awareness of their presence, and I NEVER feel as bad as I used to, as things in the present are never that bad.

If you are experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone about it today. The practice of mindfulness will help, however you are not alone and there are organisations you can talk to for free, if you can't talk to someone you know about it.
In Australia: or call LifeLine on 13 11 14

Monday, May 12, 2014

100-Up Exercises: The Path to Better Running Form!

I have previously blogged about 100-Up Exercises, and have now completed the 30 day challenge. I must admit that I did not manage to do the exercises every day; on average I did the exercises five times each week. The simple exercises are designed to improve your running form, so if you can't do 100 of the exercises in a row, you just stop when you can't keep good form.

Usually I stopped at between 60 and 80 exercises as my legs started to shake, or the hip burn became too much, however for the last week I managed 100 each time (except one day when I had a sore stomach and stopped at 40).

To lay a benchmark running time I went out for a 2.6km run in early April and ran at 6:39min/km. Toward the end of the run I was feeling twinges of strain in both knees and one ankle. I often had to ice my knees after runs longer than 5kms.

During the 30 day 100-Up challenge I have been running about 5kms per week on a treadmill, however a few days ago I went out and ran a 5km Park Run as well as running another 5kms home. Not only did I run a personal best Park Run time of 00:30:16 (making my speed 6:03min/km) but my run home (when I was already tired) was at 6:13min/km - faster than my original short run time a month ago.

I believe that the exercises have made me faster AND I have had no twinges of pain ANYWHERE. No pain in my knees, shins, ankles or shoulders, ALL of which were common before. Even though the challenge is over I am definitely continuing to do the 100-Up exercises each morning as they have proven to be effective in making me faster and (more importantly) injury-free.

Now that I am getting faster at the exercises in good form I intend to advance to the 100-Up Major exercises too. Since I can only offer anecdotal evidence that these exercises work I would encourage any sports medicine student to trial this in a more serious manner, including video footage of running form prior and post the challenge.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Swing Dance April

Our monthly challenge for April was to learn to Swing Dance, so we enrolled in a beginner's workshop and learnt the basic steps of the Lindy Hop, Charleston and Jive. What fun!

Mike is generally not the active type so it took some convincing for him to join me, especially on the three-hour beginner's workshop; however without the beginners class he would not be able to join in the weekly classes, so eventually he capitulated.

It was a warm day and after about fifteen minutes most of us were sweating freely, and by the end of the three hours there wasn't a dry shirt in the house! Our teachers were very patient and kind and invited us to join them at Hullabaloo (a five-day swing dancing event) the following week.

Instead of just going out to dance we decided to make a date night out of it and had dinner and cocktails before going out for a swing! The dancefloor was very crowded so we knocked into a few people and stepped on a few toes, but when we got our moves down and our turns right, we felt like 1950's superstars.

We'll continue the Friday night classes through May so we are a bit more comfortable doing some swing dancing at Mike's brother's wedding in June.

So for me April wasn't much of a 'challenge', it was fun, however Mike certainly stepped out of his comfort zone. This month we are focusing on smoking. We are both ex-smokers who still bum cigarettes when drinking and lately Mike even bought some baccy and the smoking was creeping back into our lives. It's time to nip that in the bud before we get hooked again, so May's monthly challenge is no cigarettes, at all, no excuses. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

100-Up Exercise to Improve Running Form: Half-way point reflection

I have previously blogged about the 100-Up Challenge which requires you to do the 100-Up exercise for 30 days in a row, in order to improve running form. The exercise is very simple however you quickly feel the burn in your hips and I have only made it to 100 leg lifts once in the fifteen days I have tried.

Since developing better running form is the point of the exercise, it is important to stop when the leg lifts are not perfect, rather than push through to 100 just for the sake of it.

I went for a 5km run last week and although I didn't record my speed I definitely felt more relaxed while running; I realised that I usually lift my shoulders and keep tension in my back. However when practicing 100-Up you move so slowly, and just pull your elbow back while lifting your knee (instead of pumping arms forward), so I really noticed that my neck/back/shoulders and arms ALL felt more relaxed during my run (and I think my time was pretty good too). Using and tiring fewer muscles during each run will definitely help with stamina over time.

So although I still have another fifteen days to practice the exercise I feel like it has helped my running form already, and once I regularly achieve the 100-Up minor exercises I will change this to the 100-Up major exercises (a faster more dynamic workout) and see how this affects my form and timing also.

Monday, April 14, 2014

We are ALL Autistic?!

Last night Mike and I watched a very interesting documentary on Horizon about Autism. It covered a variety of facets from recent studies to historical anecdotes, however the most striking thing mentioned on the program is that we are all essentially on the autism spectrum.

MOST people have some autistic traits (social awkwardness for example) and if we used autistic traits as markers on a ruler up to 50, then the majority of the population will have around 25 autistic traits. On average we are all about 50% autistic with an almost perfect bell curve showing that a few people have no autistic traits and a few people have all of them. 

To end up with a diagnosis of autism you need to have two things: a high score on the metric autism scale mentioned above AND the negative impacts of these traits on your functioning in society. So you may in fact have all autistic traits known, however if you have found coping mechanisms that allow you to function in society then you may not receive a diagnosis.

Of course this led us to naming our known autistic traits and it was remarkable to realise Mike will most likely score quite highly on the autistic metric scale, however his functioning in society is fine. This is partly because I work as a buffer for him and partly because Mike fills the minimum social contract required and no more (so he isn't too exhausted by his daily conversations).

Now we are starting to see autism as not only something that has historical context, but something we ALL have to a degree, it is interesting to see what is essentially evolution in progress. Different types of minds are born every day, some we can interpret (and fit into society) and some we cannot. But perhaps we are only one step away from those minds ourselves, and a shift in perspective is all that is required.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dust off an old Dream

Thanks again to Nicole Antoinette for shaking up my world yesterday. Her blog post was all about redefining failure. Instead of viewing failure as not achieving our goals, we should view failure as not stating or chasing after your goals in the first place. Hear here!

Nicole suggested you ask yourself these questions (among others), "Who do I want to be?", "What do I want to experience?" and "How can I fully show up for myself?" Each question was it's own summit to climb and I stared at that first question for what probably added up to hours in total.

Of course I wanted to distract myself, to check my emails or walk away, but I sat there and determined not to move until the question was answered. Who do I want to be? Who DO I want to be? Dammit I don't know!

I knew I didn't want to be employed. I think wage slavery is a mugs game I've been playing far too long, but I've never been one of those people who had a talent they could make money from. I have researched a MULTITUDE of home-businesses from sewing to market stalls but never found one that could make a comparable income.

A few years ago I quit my administration job to become a kennel-hand; this was by FAR the closest I had ever been fulfilled by my employment (I love animals), but in the end seeing all the good animals put down every week was too much to bear. At least I found my beloved Winstan there and I managed to save just one.
Winstan lying on Jess

So all I had to go on was: I want to be self employed and I want to help animals. Then the little light bulb went on over my head; although the better analogy would be, then the fog cleared away and I could see the light bulb over my head. You see I remembered rather than realised that I have always wanted to run an animal sanctuary. Big or small, it doesn't matter.

However everyone had always said, "You can't do that, they're money pits" which, of course is true. So I chalked it up to a pipe dream and forgot all about it. Until yesterday.

So here, now, I say to you all. I WILL have an animal sanctuary. And if I don't make it, at least I tried, and then I haven't failed at all.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An experiment to improve running form

Yesterday I stumbled across the 100-Up Challenge, based on the 100-Up exercise created by W.G.George (pictured below). The exercise is very simple and the challenge requires you to do the exercise for 30 days in a row, in order to improve your running form.

This morning I went out for a short run: 2.6km at 6:39min/km. It has been a few weeks since I have been regularly running so I thought this would make a good benchmark run prior to starting the 100-up challenge.

Towards the end of the run I felt some twinges in both knees and at the inside of my left ankle; nothing too painful though. Then at home I practised the 100-up minor exercise as shown in this video; I stood in front of a full length mirror to ensure I was lifting my knees up to hip height (proper form is key). After 50 leg lifts I could really feel the muscles in the outside of my hips burning (the IT band, I believe), so I stopped, as I could not keep the form perfect.

I'll endeavour to do the 100-Up Minor leg lifts every day for 30 days and then will do another run to compare against these original results.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Fasting one day a week: reflection

I must admit, I thought this challenge would be a lot easier! March's monthly challenge was to fast for one day each week (we chose Sunday) and there was only one day we truly succeeded.

On each other occasion we decided that we needed one warm meal a day, why was this?

Years ago I tried eating raw food only for a month, and was equally unsuccessful. At the time my colleague suggested that I was addicted to hot food, because the lack of a warm meal had a direct impact on my mental health. I became depressed; first mentally, then physically as well.

After a few days of eating only raw food for breakfast and lunch I would go home to a cold house (it was winter) and eat a cold salad. And then cry (literally). Perhaps my physical needs were being met by the meal but my emotional needs were not, and it looks like not a lot has changed.

I honestly wonder whether this is something that I need to be concerned about though - is this 'addiction' something I actually need to break? So I'm a happier person if I eat one warm meal a day. OK, I can live with that. I'm lucky enough to live in a place where hot meals are readily affordable and available so I'm chalking it up to having learnt more about myself.

There is a big part of me that feels I should push myself out of my comfort zones. Somehow knowing that the lack of a warm meal makes me uncomfortable, means that a part of me wants to push in that direction, to face the discomfort. Why is that?

In the past I learnt rock climbing, went bungee jumping (twice) and jumped out of a plane because I was uncomfortable with heights. Guess what? I'm still afraid of heights (probably worse than I was originally) but I've made some amazing memories along the way.

Maybe that drive to push myself out of my comfort zone is really just another way to take control (of the fear); perhaps it is just another form of samsara. Instead of avoiding discomfort I push myself into it as a way to control it. Neither avoiding nor hurtling towards discomfort allows you to experience it and let it go.

So with that in mind, I have learnt that fasting for a whole day isn't for me (at this point in time, but could be revisited again in the future). I currently have a smoothie for breakfast and a salad for lunch most days, so a warm meal at night is a comfort I'm willing to hang on to. 

To feel a place of warmth with my partner and my dogs; knowing THAT warmth is fleeting (as all is impermanent) brings a state of awareness to the simple beauty of a warm meal with loved ones. And I thank the fast for that new awareness of what I always had.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Shaken to the core by another's presence: what does it mean?

This morning a man came into my office and asked to use the phone. I work at front desk so was the first person to greet him and asked him a few questions in order to help him find where he was going (he was lost).

We chatted for less than 5 minutes in total and I helped him use the phone and find where he needed to be going. By the time he left I was physically shaking and had to leave front desk and take 5 minutes to calm down. What happened?

I honestly don't know. I have had previous occasions in my life when I have felt overwhelmed by other people's emotions (if someone is very sad I can feel depressed even after they have left my presence, for example) however I always assumed that was natural. This felt very unnatural.

After he left I looked up the address he was headed to and it was to a Psychiatrist's Office, which really just confirmed the strong 'vibe' I received from him. Does anyone know what happened?

I googled 'sensitivity to others energy' which just brought back thousands of pages relating to crystals, chakras and spiritual healing. Not my bag baby. How do I find out what I experienced without losing my practical scientific self? Maybe I can't and it's down to the mysteries of life (cue sitar music), but maybe the wanting to know is just grasping/clinging (from a buddhist perspective) and I should let it go.

Have you experienced anything similar?
This is how it felt

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Fasting Fiasco?

When Mike and I decided to fast for one-day a week in March we assumed it would be easiest monthly challenge yet, however the opposite has turned out to be true! So far we have attempted to fast for the last three Sundays in a row, and we still have next Sunday to go, in order to complete the challenge.

The first Sunday went well, however since then we have not been 100% well. The second Sunday was right after my dad had returned home from hospital and I was completely emotionally fatigued; from both daily hospital visits and the difficulties that arose around his return home (cue second family crisis in the same week).

So I must admit I was pretty half-hearted about the fasting by Sunday. I had been fine preparing more juices for breakfast and lunch hunger pangs, but by dinner time the emotional NEED for a hot meal was nearly overwhelming. I definitely would have broken down in tears if I hadn't been able to eat dinner. So Mike and I opted for a light healthy dinner of steamed rice and vegies, with a little home-made satay sauce for taste. Simple and absolutely delicious.

Yesterday was the third Sunday of the month and again we failed in our attempt to fast for the day, this time because Mike is sick with the flu. He had been coughing, sneezing and sweating profusely with fever since Saturday afternoon so we agreed it might not be the best time to tax his system with a fast.

We still did our best and had juice and water for most of the day (he didn't have much of an appetite anyway) but by late afternoon he was hungry so I made us the comfort-food my mum always made me when I was sick, "boiled eggs and soldiers". If I had better will power I would have just made some for Mike and not myself, but I'm not that strong.

So next Sunday is our last chance to do the full 24-hour fast and attempt to find any physical, mental or emotional benefit. I'll report back once the month is finished!
Home-made juices

Friday, March 14, 2014

The first fast and facing crises with awareness

Last Sunday Mike and I completed our first weekly fast (one day of the week without eating solids) which went well. There were two times during the day when I definitely felt ravenous - after lunch and after dinner time. At these times I drank some vegetable juice which I had prepared in the morning, that way when I was hungry (and grumpy) then I didn't have to think about the effort involved in juicing, the hard work (and cleaning) was already done.

Luckily I didn't feel too hungry when I went to bed either, certainly not to the point that it kept me awake. A dose of beetroot and celery juice filled me up enough to stave off any hunger pains; Mike preferred the apple and carrot juice combination instead.

I can't report that I noticed any great change (in health) that day or the next, however I was largely distracted by my father going to hospital late Sunday night with a fever, so I wasn't focused on the fast at that point.

On a separate subject, lately I have been overwhelmed by distressing stories: in books, movies and on the news. Having recently finished reading a very disturbing book called Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis (author of American Psycho, to give you some idea of the book's contents) and then watching movies such as Enter the Void and Oldboy as well as the always-depressing news, I was completely fed up with unpleasant stories.

There ARE good people in the world doing good things and I honestly believe there aren't enough stories being told about THEM. So with that in mind, on Sunday night Mike and I sat down to watch one of my favourite movies: Peaceful Warrior which is about facing adversity with awareness and being the best you can be. A truly inspiring movie based on an even more inspiring book (based on a true story).

Part way through the movie I had to hit 'pause' to take the call that my dad was in an ambulance on his way to hospital. After some discussion around what needed to be done immediately by the family (nothing by me that night, my duties started the next morning), I was able to finish watching the movie with a new level of awareness of the moment. My own crisis aided my attention to the moment and I was able to handle everything without being overwhelmed by the emotions I was feeling. I simply watched them rise and fall away in a wave-like pattern.

To paraphrase a line from the movie, "This is a scary time in your life, are you Paying Attention to it?" Well I was able to pay attention and the results of that experiment were far more enlightening than not eating food for a day.

Mike and I will fast again this Sunday (and each Sunday for the rest of March) to really give the fasting a proper try, so I will report back on any new findings. 

And if you are also fed up with all the torture-themed gore-fests labelled as entertainment out there. What stories (books/movies etc.) do you recommend for revulsion fatigue?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March's Challenge: Fasting once a week

Mike and I have talked about fasting before so we have decided to incorporate it into one of our monthly challenges. I looked into a variety of options: 24 hour fasting, leangains and other shorter/regular fasting but since so many of them aim at weight loss I suggested to Mike we try to 24 hour fast once a week, and he agreed.

So from this Sunday, for each Sunday through the month of March we will not be eating any solids during the day or night. Since we are aiming at a health-cleanse rather than on losing weight we are allowing ourselves fruit/vegetable juice to ease any cravings, so I'm hoping it won't be too hard!

I do tend to have low blood-sugar so it won't surprise me if a get a bit grumpy, but the juice should help with that. I've planned to have a no-exercise day so we should be able to take it nice and easy too. If I do feel any negative side effects I'm hoping to be able to meditate on them to help me mentally.

I'll let you know how we go. Does anyone else fast for better health? What works for you?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

February's Habit: Reading for an hour - reflection

Our monthly habit-changing list is now two months complete:

  • January - no alcohol - way easier than anticipated!
  • February - read for an hour each day (that should be easy, shouldn't it?)...

Soon after starting this challenge we introduced a proviso: read for an hour each day quickly turned into "... each weekday" as neither of us wanted to prioritise the time for reading during our weekends. We discovered that to each of us, weekend time was more precious than reading time, so we couldn't make ourselves sit down and read (not that we tried very hard).

So after that immediate scale-back we then piously turned off the TV at 8.30pm each night, in order to give us time for an hour of reading before bed. This was a habit I quickly came to enjoy, but Mike found that an hour of reading at night was too long for him (especially from no reading at all). Mike had to start with about 20 minutes of reading before increasing this length of time over the month.

I don't think Mike ever made it to reading for a whole hour but I've come to realise that isn't the point. The "hour" was arbitrary, it was the taking the time out of our day to read, to prioritise it as something important that was REALLY the purpose of the challenge, and that is something we succeeded in doing.

The real surprise that came out of this challenge was the large effect on the amount of TV we watched over the month. We expected to watch about an hour less television (while we read instead), however the habit of turning off the TV to read, lead us to turn off the TV at other times too!

When we wanted to talk, we would turn the TV off. When we were in the kitchen together, we would turn the TV off; instead of the television being on as background noise we found we would turn it ON to watch a program (usually during dinner), then turn it off again as it was time to read. Although I didn't specifically measure it, I would estimate our TV viewing time was reduced from about 3 hours per night to 1 hour per night (on average).

This was certainly an added bonus to the challenge and we have agreed to continue with reading-time before bed from now on, although the 1-hour time specificity has been dropped.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Home-made vegan Sports gel: success

I want to thank Matt Frazier for the vegan Sports Gel recipe in his great book, "No Meat Athlete" which I made over the weekend and used on a long run for the first time this morning. 

Not only was the gel REALLY easy to make (I used a hand blender but any blender will do), but it was also tastier than ANY other sports gel I've tried. That is not an exaggeration either. Usually sports gels make me gag a bit, so I'm sure it helps that you can make this gel to a consistency that suits you.

I followed the recipe exactly, except as I didn't have any molasses I swapped this out for golden syrup (which has been in my pantry for ages, so really just needs to be used up). When I finish that I'll definitely go looking for some molasses which will increase the health value of the gel even more.

Usually I am NOT a fan of medjool dates either (the key flavour ingredient of the gel), however apparently when you mix the dates with salt and lemon juice then this makes the dates not just palatable, but downright delicious! When I returned from my run I diluted the remaining gel with water to drink the rest - I didn't want to lose any of it.

The recipe made the perfect amount to fit in my 6oz. Fuel Belt gel flask; originally I was a bit stumped by how to get the gel into the flask, but a home-made piping bag (made out of baking paper) fixed that.

Thanks Matt! :-)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Thank you travelling Sangha

On Friday night I travelled to my local Buddhist Temple to attend chanting, meditation and a dhamma talk. It was the first time in over a decade I had attended a 'formal' group meditation session and it was as though I had never left! (Although I did feel increased sensation in my legs due to sitting on a different style cushion than I use at home).

Despite the fact that expectations can lead to dhukka, I fully expected to leave the temple many times more relaxed than how I entered, and thankfully, I wasn't disappointed. Quite the opposite!

My previous experiences in a buddhist temple were in Darwin, Northern Territory and this was my first visit to the Buddhist Society of WA temple in Perth. The guest nun who lead the meditation and dhamma talk was the sweetest thing, who spoke gentle and humourous truths.

I will definitely be making the Friday night meditation a regular occurrence. I won't be able to attend this coming weekend due to our travelling to the Nannup Music Festival. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover that tai chi and meditation are part of the programme each morning during this year's festival!

Now I can even do my group meditation there. I just want to send out my gratitude to the universe for supplying such a wonderful and supportive sangha, who are even happy to travel with me! I am so blessed.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Challenge of Chit-chat

When things are hard in life; when dealing with issues of grief, loss or other hardship it can seem extremely difficult to keep up the chit-chat. The constant pleasantries that are part of the social contract, such as "how was your weekend?", "nice weather we're having!" etc.

I've recently been avoiding the lunch-room at busy times because I find the idle chatter about normal lives too tedious when I'm grappling with thoughts of old age, sickness and death, in relation to my ailing father.

A scene in a book I read recently called "The Name of the World" by Denis Johnson, describes one character, Tiberius Soames, who is assumed insane because he has given up on small-talk. When addressed by someone at a party he replies, "my mother died and her corpse was eaten by dogs". (I'm paraphrasing as I don't have the book in front of me).

How wonderful to be able to say exactly what you were thinking! And how obvious that this would appear crazy. The character even refers to the amount of chit-chat required as part of the social contract, and how he had better talk some nonsense for a while to make everyone happy.

I definitely recommend the book to anyone, even though it is off-beat! And although I haven't taken Tiberius' lead in talking quite so openly, I have spent more time this week engaging other people in honest conversation. I found that answering questions honestly (although with some editing) allows other people to drop the facade and engage in honest conversation too, if they want too.

Who knows? Maybe we are all walking around wishing we could talk more honestly with each other? I know I'm guilty of asking some of those tedious questions to other people in order to make small-talk.

What do you think?
"I don't want to be an ant, you know?" Waking Life

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Depth of Doubt

I remember my bhante (buddhist teacher) telling me once that doubt is a useful tool, but also the last hurdle to leap on the path to enlightenment - it is there till the end. 

Using doubt as a tool to question your thoughts, feelings and beliefs is something I have learnt to do with practise; however some times the doubt travels so deeply - to my core, and it's hard to think about anything else.

Am I in the right job? Should I become ordained? Should I sell everything? Should I stay or should I go? What will happen to my loving partner and our dogs?

I try to use these experiences to open my awareness to the various opportunities available to me, however searching for the other, the better somewhere else, is just a form of chasing, of grasping at the future.

It is a bit like being an alcoholic; taking one day at a time - I don't need to figure out all the answers now, I just need to do the best I can in this moment, and the next moment, and the next moment.

Unfortunately at times like this my ability to remain in the moment is reduced, and my awareness of how short and fleeting our lives are increases, so I have an overwhelming urge to change SOMETHING. Something that will take me one step closer to the end of samsara; this never-ending wheel of birth, life and death.

It must be time to contemplate The Noble Eightfold Path. Perhaps my monthly challenges could instead be focused on the precepts instead of habits?! Although it might be more appropriate to contemplate the path during my morning meditations...

How deep is your doubt? 

Monday, February 3, 2014

January: success! February, let's get started!

You may recall that, inspired by Leo Babauta, Mike and I are doing "one habit changing practice each month", which started with no alcohol for the month of January. For complete honesty, we did not start this challenge until January 4th, however we completed the month PLUS some. 

So to round-up January before moving onto Feb's challenge, drinking no alcohol for the month has gone remarkably well! In fact, I still haven't had an alcoholic drink since I started this challenge.

There was only one day where I felt like having a 'drink' after work so I went and bought myself a bottle of ginger beer (non-alcoholic) as a treat, which was so lovely I didn't have the urge for alcohol after that. One of my friends also tried to push me into breaking the challenge because she wanted a drink and didn't want to drink alone (she did not prevail). 

I definitely think that the challenge went so well because we had mentally prepared ourselves and had been drinking less and less before January anyway. The obstacles I had foreseen were:
1. Friday afternoon drinks at work
2. Pressure from friends and family to drink during certain occasions

I prepared for Friday afternoons at work by putting a reminder in my calendar for each lunch time Friday; this reminded me to go and get something nice to drink for after works 'drinks'. That way I had something nice to look forward to drinking (such as coconut water, lemon lime and bitters) instead of just having water as my only option.

Friends and family were managed in a similar manner - the best way to prepare family and friends that you aren't drinking with them, is to give them advance notice and a reason. As expected, everyone I spoke to took this well (even my mum who was also forced to drink alone on Australia Day!) apart from the one friend mentioned above.

So what's our plan for February? Reading one hour per day. This one sounds easy but we have already missed the opportunity to do this both on February 1st and 2nd, so not the greatest start. However now it is Monday and we will start this habit afresh this evening. I'll let you know how we go!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Juice Extravaganza

We upgraded our juicer at the weekend. When we realised that our current juicer (that we bought second hand at The Salvos) was so large and loud to use that it was actually stopping us from juicing, we decided to find a "new and improved" version to try.

Without too much time wasted we found our new wonder juicer and promptly bought a bag of apples and selected fruit and veg to start juicing. I read the instructions first, which probably seems like overkill (I mean, how hard can juicing be?) but I actually learnt a lot! Four key juicing tips I learnt are:

  • When juicing multiple items always start with the softest then move onto the harder items
  • To juice herbs (I used mint) roll it up into a ball and push it through the juicer under another item (I used an apple)
  • If you aren't going to clean the juicer straight away, leave the strainer in soapy water and it is easy to clean later (don't let food dry out in the strainer - it solidifies)
  • You can re-use the pulp left-overs from the juicer! I always used to compost the pulp but I learnt that you can also make teas and use the pulp as a nutritious filler in soups and stews. I used my mint pulp to brew a GORGEOUS cup of mint tea. I am not exaggerating either, this was THE best mint tea I've ever tasted.
I only cut up half our bag of granny smith apples and that turned out to be PLENTY as a base for two different mocktails. At first I juiced everything separately (except the mint which went through with an apple, as described above); then tasted each juice and mixed it with the other ingredients to pick the perfect combinations.

Our original ingredients were:
  • A bag of granny smith apples (and one lemon to stop browning)
  • A bunch of mint (juiced with one apple)
  • Half a rockmelon
  • Several celery
  • Half a dozen pears
The instructions were also helpful in suggesting certain recipes, however I prefer to experiment. The general guide seems to be: add watery juices to pulpier ones to attain a pleasant consistency for drinking (not too watery, not to thick). Using the ingredients above the best combinations were:
  1. Apple, rockmelon and pear. YUM
  2. Apple, celery and mint. Mmmm, refreshing.
One important thing to note is that when I brushed my teeth at the end of the day I was amazed to find I still had rockmelon juice in my mouth. Fruit juice can rot your teeth and as good for you as it is, it is not worth a trip to the dentist! So always clean your teeth after YOUR juice-fest.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Is your Journey Right for You?

I felt hit by a thunderbolt while listening to the No Meat Athlete podcast with Nicole Antoinette yesterday; what she said wasn't new, however the WAY she said it drove home a point I needed to hear.

So, what was it all about? To paraphrase, her point is to enjoy the journey, not just the destination, however what opened my eyes was the way she described your happiness on the journey being KEY to whether the destination is even right for you.

Working towards any goal requires effort, and you may attribute a feeling to an achievement, such as, when I get a new job I'll be happy. Or, when I meet my soul mate I'll be happy. But what Nicole points out is, unless the journey to your goal makes you happy, then the destination definitely won't! At best you'll feel happy for a while before discontent creeps in again and at worst you'll have wasted all that effort for a goal that was never really 'you'.

Personally, it makes me question whether MY big goal is right for me. Mike and I have bought the property in Woodanilling, with the plan of building a permaculture site and tourist accommodation. We had originally based this on a 10 year plan but initial contact with the Council and other government departments helped us realise there was a LOT more bureaucracy involved and it would more likely be a 15-20 year plan in practise.

This is because we had planned to owner-build all the accommodations however it is not legal to owner-build tourist accommodation in Western Australia (only your own accommodation). To start out cheaply we had also looked into buying a shipping container and making this into our first accommodation, then renting this out in the future and building our own home, however the Council does not even want shipping containers placed on properties in the area, let alone have them fitted out and rented as accommodation.

Basically we have realised our plans entail about 15-20 years of fighting with the Council and getting the local population on side. Yes, the result may be amazing however that process does NOT make me happy.

I am currently completing Nicole's Worksheets in her free ebook "Stop Making Excuses and Start Running" which is applicable to any procrastinator out there (not just runners); I expect answering her cut-to-the-point questions will help me figure out what journey is for me.

Is your journey right for you? 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Anarchy at Work: Self Managed Organisations

Are you sick of your boss? Most people would answer yes to that question without much thought and yet we are so often 'stuck' in our working rut that we don't even question the options out there. Why are so many companies based on a hierarchical setup when quite often, the wrong people are in the highest jobs on the ladder?

The quick answer is control. When creating companies, the creator wants to control 'their' company and so the hierarchy is created and continues to exist long after the creator has moved on. However companies don't HAVE to be organised this way.

Morning Star and Gore-Tex are two self-managed companies with well documented histories of success:

To me, the fact that these self-managed (anarchistic) organisations work as well as they do, proves that anarchy works in small communities. I've previously described my experience at an anarchist camp site, so I know first-hand how well they can be run and how conflicts can be resolved. All it takes is willing participation by all involved. 

The real challenge begins when we try to up-scale anarchism to larger communities and to countries. How do you deal with the minority of people who aren't capable of active participation in self-management (for example due to mental illness or drug abuse)? 

I expect the active community would have to decide how to deal with these people on a case-by-case basis. At least the result would be far more compassionate than the mandatory sentencing handed down by our current judiciaries. 

There are many challenges to be faced by modern anarchists, but at least we have working, self-managed organisations that are profitable and fully-functioning, that can act as inspiration for those of us who are considering starting a business.

Want to learn more about Anarchy? Read:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

It's going to be a dry January, in more ways than one

I was not planning on making any new year's resolutions this year, however when I read Leo Babauta's post on making 1 habit-forming change a month I leaped at the chance to fully focus on one 'resolution' at a time.

For me, it was obvious what January's focus needed to be: alcohol. For the last year I have been physically unable to drink very much; after a few glasses of any alcohol I feel sick, if I keep drinking then I vomit (with little notice - very embarrassing!)

You would think this would stop me from drinking anyway, however the social pressure I felt meant I continued to drink each Friday after work and every time I went out with friends. I had learnt to cut down my drinking, but not cut it out.

So for the month of January 2014 I have decided not to drink any alcohol at all (for full transparency this actually started on January 4th). Bizarrely I'm actually looking forward to Friday 'drinks' at work this week, as I've prepared to bring a soft drink and still stay as long as usual socialising.

For me, alcohol has often been used as a social 'lubricant'; because I'm shy I thought I needed a drink to be funny/outgoing etc. however the honest truth is I just become loud and boorish after a few drinks - not quite as funny or entertaining as I hoped.

Last year's discovery that being shy is just an excuse to stay in my comfort zone helped me to realise that I was using alcohol as a social crutch, and it was one I no longer needed. 

The one thing I immediately missed was a cold drink on ice (it's the middle of summer here), and water just didn't cut it. So Mike and I played around with a variety of fruit juices and soda water to create different mocktails and I think we've found the perfect recipe:

  • 1 quarter pineapple juice
  • 1 quarter apple juice (with a hint of passionfruit)
  • half soda water

Yum! It's amazingly fresh and tasty. Good bye booze! Hello sobriety. I'll let you know how I go.