The other day I was sitting on the beach here on Koh Lanta, my home away from home again this winter, watching this serenely beautiful sunset. I was thinking about someone, a person in my life whom I have come to love beyond measure.
Well, 2016 has been a real humdinger of a year, amiright?!
On a global level, it has sometimes felt like the world is collapsing around us. We’ve lost so many incredible artists and global icons. We’ve witnessed political calamities unfolding like Brexit and the election of Trump. In public commentary, behaviour and voting patterns we’ve seen an unfortunate rise in anti-“outsider” sentiment and blatant racism. Terrorist attacks continue to inspire fear and sorrow around the world, and our hearts have broken wide open upon seeing the ongoing atrocities and slaughter in war-torn Syria.
On a personal level, 2016 was really a year of two halves.
About four months ago, my Mum noticed that my Dad had been a bit absent-minded – more than usual, anyway. Asking what day it was, ignoring a leaky kitchen ceiling for a few days, forgetting to play golf one day. That was the real warning sign right there – my Dad’s life pretty much revolved around golf, so for him to forget to play was simply unthinkable.
After several days of trying to convince him to go to a doctor (he was a stubborn man), he finally relented and allowed my Mum and my brother to bring him to the hospital. He was admitted immediately and was eventually diagnosed with a brain tumour. They thought it would be treatable, and Dad, our “Indestructible Man”, had bounced back from a number of health issues before, so, while concerned, we remained positive and didn’t necessarily fear the worst. Delays in getting the biopsy completed meant that it was another few weeks before we finally got the news every family dreads – the tumour was in fact an aggressive and terminal form of brain cancer. We were told he had months left. As it turned out, he only lasted another two weeks.
Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations With God is one of my favourite books of all time, and one that resonated deeply with me when I first started getting into all this spiritual malarkey. The book is written as a dialogue between Walsch and “God”, after Walsch claimed to hear a response to his desperate plea for answers during a low period in his life. I understand that it may be a bit of stretch to ask you to believe that Walsch had an actual conversation with God (although for the record, yes I do believe it), but regardless, this book is full of beautiful insights and life lessons. This is a book I return to time and time again, and I wanted to share with you a selection of my favourite nuggets of wisdom within.
(PS If you like what you read here, you might consider buying your own copy!*)
As spiritual practice goes, chanting is a relatively easy option. It can be challenging to quiet your mind and release stray thoughts during silent meditation. It can be difficult to bring a sense of mindfulness to every moment, especially the difficult ones. With chanting, however, all you really need to do is say the words. Out loud, regularly and consistently. After a while, you’ll even find that those meditation and mindfulness skills start to come naturally! You just need to start with nam myoho renge kyo.
People often ask what they should think about while chanting, and there is no right or wrong answer to that. The power of the words alone will be invoked no matter what you’re thinking about as you’re chanting.
However, there are several ways you can consciously direct your thoughts and intentions to get the best out of your chanting, or to complement any other spiritual or self-help practice.
When it comes to spiritual (or self-improvement) practice, everyone has different preferences. Some like meditation, some prefer yoga, some do mindfulness practices, some talk to angels… I think that all practices can ultimately connect you to the same energy that lies within and around us, so it doesn’t really matter which particular practice resonates with you. There is no right or wrong.
With one caveat…
Spiritual practice should be a DAILY thing. Not every few days, or every once in a while. EVERY DAY.
Imagine having a conversation like this with a friend:
“Hey buddy! Thanks so much!”
“That 100 quid!”
“Ummm… what 100 quid?”
“The 100 quid you’re going to give me!”
“What, you need a loan?”
“Haha! No, not a loan, you’re just gonna give it to me!”
“Ehhh are you crazy? I can barely afford to splash out 100 quid on myself, let alone just give it away!”
Sounds about right, yeah? After all, it would be a bit presumptuous to just assume someone is just going to give you something for nothing.
Well here’s the good news – the Universe LOVES presumption!
I have once again been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time (thank you Universe!) as the two-week Chinese New Year celebrations kicked off just after I arrived in Penang, Malaysia. With Chinese comprising about half the population of Penang, it is the perfect place to experience this crazy, colourful, chaotic event. I was staying in Georgetown which is all decked out for the holidays. There are red lanterns adorning every street, and giant sticks of incense burning outside the numerous Chinese temples and clan houses in the area. Lion dances regularly take place outside the temples to the rhythm of deafening drums. Fireworks explode over the city at all hours of every night. The Esplanade in Georgetown also serves as a focal point for much for the festivities, which is apparent from the visuals on display there for the holiday period. On the street side, hundreds of hand-made paper hot-air balloons hang from the arches of a pretty walkway – they are individually painted and decorated, and, along with the red lanterns, truly make for an enchanting setting when all lit up after darkness falls. On the other side of the park by the water, there is an installation with big colourful plastic statues of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. As we are entering the Year of the Monkey, the monkey statues are given center stage. I was born in the Year of the Monkey, so I was excited to be coming into my own year – until I learned that this can actually bring bad luck! Guess I’d better be extra careful this year…
You can be happy, right here, right now.
It is possible to summon a feeling of joy in every single moment, no matter where you are or what you’re doing.
And if it is possible to consciously create a joyful moment, doesn’t it then follow that you can bring that practice that to every moment and create a joyful life?
Yes, it does! Keep reading to find out how.
My first stop in Malaysia was a short visit to the capital city, Kuala Lumpur. And as luck (or the Universe) would have it, this trip just happened to coincide perfectly with a Tamil Hindu festival I hadn’t heard of – Thaipusam! Turns out this one is a pretty big deal in the Hindu calendar, and is also renowned for being a particularly gruesome event. Over the course of the weekend I was fortunate enough to witness devout Hindus going to extreme lengths to demonstrate their faith or to seek favour from Murugan, the Hindu God of War to whom the festival is devoted. The experience was extraordinary to witness, and has given me a bounty of food for thought about the personal choices and sacrifices people make in the name of their faith, and why.
Warning: If you’re of a sensitive disposition, there are some pretty intense (although blood-free) images of facial and body piercing below – proceed at your own risk!