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Alison Canavan, west cork, dzogchen beara, retreat, sogyal rinpoche, meditation, buddhist retreat

Its #MindfulMonday again and this week is a very special Monday for me as I have just returned from Dzogchen Beara in West Cork, where I have been on a meditation retreat for the weekend with Sogyal Rinpoche. Rinpoche is a world-renowned Buddhist teacher from Tibet, and author of the highly acclaimed The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying which I read when my dad passed away and it helped me to make sense of my grief and it also helped me to heal and understand the human condition better.

 

I have been working really hard and I really needed a weekend of meditation and teachings. I now know when I’m entering what I call the danger zone and warning lights come on letting me know that I need to act to prevent myself slipping bad to my old ways and into a world of anxiety and depression. Over the years this has become increasingly easier as I get to know myself better and become more comfortable in my own skin.

 

My old way of dealing with these issues was very simply to go out and drink my head off leaving me with the “fear” the next day along with some free gifts of depression and anxiety. After 20 years that became frustrating and incredibly boring and its nearly a year now since I’ve had a drink and let me tell you it’s a very different world.

 

I’ve been making changes very slowly during the past few years, which is the only way they become part of your daily life. Making too many big changes quickly usually leads to a feeling of frustration as you try to keep up and then end up disappointed when you can’t keep up and revert back to your old ways.

 

What we need to remember is bad habits took years to develop and they will take quite a considerable amount of time to break.

 

I went looking for something this weekend, answers to problems and daily frustrations but what actually happened was that I left something behind and I’m glad I did. I was desperately trying to get rid of my negative thoughts, tiredness and patterns that just don’t serve me anymore.

 

We are all constantly changing and I was reminded yet again this weekend to be kinder to myself and to understand that as a human being as I evolve and grow I will reach hurdles and obstacles but as long as I’m willing to work through them I have the incredible opportunity to really learn and grow. I was reminded once again that happiness is an inside job but a job well worth putting the effort into.

 

So this week be kind to yourself and take time to just be in the moment. It’s these small changes that will move you forward to becoming the most complete you that you can be.

 

Ali xxxxx #becomplete

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It’s Mindful Monday again and today I wanted to talk about mindfulness and meditation becoming trendy and cool.

I thought this was great in the beginning but now the inevitable has happened and on a daily basis I now get people sending me links to articles questioning does it work or is it just ridiculous. Where’s the real proof etc…

I’ve been meditating for over 15 years now. I was first introduced to it at the end of my yoga classes in London but then it developed into something much more. I have explored many different types of meditations in my time and I currently practice primordial sound meditation and I also have my own visualization techniques and affirmations that work for me. I have never needed science to back up how it made me feel.

Over the past few years I have deepened my practice further and again I have not needed studies that cost millions to verify the benefits that I am living, feeling and noticing in my day to day life from my practice.

I do however respect and understand people that are interested in the scientific proof and thankfully we have that now. This area is called neuroplasticity, which is a term that is used to describe the brain changes that occur in response to experience.
There is an abundance of studies on how meditation affects the brain now and they are amazing to read with more and more benefits being proven everyday.

FURTHER READING:

Scholar works
http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/01/eight-weeks-to-a-better-brain/

I have always been drawn to the more spiritual side of life and this is something I have shared with very few people for obvious reasons down through the years. I used to get slagged off for going to my weird classes and retreats but in recent years it has become cool to pay for expensive retreats where people are hoping to get all the answers to their problems and that is where the problem lies. We live in a quick fix world of instant gratification. People expect to practice meditation and miracles to happen.

We are all looking for something to help us navigate this complex and somewhat difficult journey called life. The fact that mindfulness and meditation has become such a cult trend is a huge warning sign in my opinion that there are an awful lot of people desperate for answers and some peace in their lives.

We all have different tastes in music, clothes, food, exercise, people and so on which means one type of relaxation technique will not work for everyone. The Telegraph newspaper has even called mindfulness the saddest trend for 2015, but too be honest what I find sad is that we are living in an age where chronic diseases are at an all time high, stress is our biggest killer, our food is packaged and processed beyond recognition and depression and anxiety issues are crippling society.

I know that I would personally rather been meditated than medicated.

For years I was both and it has not been easy to trust myself, but the only person you can really trust on this journey is yourself as you are the only one who can decide what is right for you.

I will admit you need to very discerning in this field because just like any other trend it has started to attract a lot of opportunists trying to exploit people’s vulnerability. I was extremely vulnerable when I was looking for answers years ago. I was always looking to outside sources for answers but as corny as it sounds all the answers lie within you. By all means study, practice and try new things but at the end of the day you are the only person who can truly know when you feel at peace.

If meditation and mindfulness give you peace in your life it really shouldn’t matter what anyone else says. Some people never feel peace their entire life don’t be one of them.

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Today is the beginning of Oprah and Deepak’s 21-Day meditation Series on “Manifesting Grace Through Gratitude”. I absolutely love these meditation series as they are thought provoking, easy to follow and complete.

For me meditation is a chance to just sit still with myself and be present. For such a long time I lived life in fast-forward. I felt like a DVD player whose button was stuck and I was too busy top go and get repaired. When my world fell apart I had two choices to face what was happening or bury my hand in the sand and wallow in my own self-pity.

It was at that point I actually realized how selfish I had been for years. Partying myself almost to death at times in an effort to block out reality. I didn’t even realize the pain my friends and family were in watching me but in hindsight I also had no idea how to help myself.

When I chose to face the music the weeks and months and indeed years that followed were some of the most difficult of my life so far. Throughout this time one of the many tools I used was meditation. I’m very often asked if meditation can bring up strong emotions and the simple answer is “yes it can!” But what I found powerful is that sometimes words aren’t enough and we if we really want to heal on a deeper level unfortunately we do need to dig deeper to get to the truth. I use the word unfortunately here because it can be hard work and very hard on yourself personally but let me tell you it’s worth it in the long run.

I combined meditation with journaling, counseling, exercise, nourishment from food and I also kept a gratitude diary so when I listened to todays initial meditation from Deepak and Oprah the tears flowed and instead of fighting them like I used to I let them flow. I wrote in my journal for a while afterwards because I obviously hit a nerve and what I realized yet again is just how powerful the art of gratitude is. When you are deeply and truly grateful for something you will feel emotions. Part of my tears today are relief that I pulled through and sometimes I get overwhelmed by emotion when I think of how kind some people have been.

So try not to be afraid of who you are and your emotions. Own your feelings, recognize them and if necessary ask for help in figuring them out but never ever be afraid to just be who you are because we are all different and unique and this world needs you to shine your light brightly as there is only one of you and no matter what you think you are important too!!

NAMASTE XXXX

Visit www.chopracentermeditation.com for more information on the 21 day meditation series

If you want to try meditation and reap all the rewards and its benefits but have some fun too then this hilarious meditation from Jason Headley is the one for you!

Jason Headley’s short films have been featured on NBC’s TODAY Show, SundanceTV, the front pages of Funny or Die, Reddit, and Digg, chosen as a Finalist for the Comedy Central/NYTVF competition, Vimeo Staff Picks, official selections of the Mill Valley Film Festival, St. Louis Film Festival, and the Best of Shorts programs at the Carmel Arts & Film Festival. His short “It’s Not About the Nail” has over 15 million views and counting.

Coming from a long line of yarn-spinners and bullshitters, Jason began his storytelling career in earnest with the publication of his novel, Small Town Odds. His screenplays have made the Quarterfinals of the Nicholl Fellowship, the second round of consideration for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and the quarter- and semifinals of other national competitions. Fun fact: Jason is more handsome in real life than he is on camera, but he’s still not actually handsome.

For more information on Jason Headley

I really enjoyed this interview with Izabela Chudzicka for her new chat show APT 115. We had a great chat about living a healthy lifestyle, eating better and the effect food has on our mental health. We also talk about being a parent and trying to find that elusive work life balance.

I hope you enjoy watching it

Ali xxxx

Be a part of meditation history!!

An amazing experiment is about to take place on the 8th of August as Deepak Chopra, India Arie, Gabrielle Bernstein and master educators attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest group meditation in history.

The meditation is part of Seduction of the Spirit retreat, a seven-day journey where Deepak, Gabrielle Bernstein, and master educators will guide you through reflective workshops, beautiful yoga practices, and guided meditations dedicated to increasing global consciousness and connection, and helping you build your personal practice and find inner peace. Log onto http://globalmeditation.chopracentermeditation.com to register for free.

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My mum recently sold the house and one day when we were clearing out 36 years of hoarding she handed me a newspaper article from 2012. “I want to go there one day,” she said and just like that she left the room. I looked up the website details and it looked like heaven. It’s a place called Dzogchen Beara in West Cork offering some peace and tranquility away from this sometimes chaotic and crazy world. As I looked at the website I got incredibly excited to see that Sogyal Rinpoche was in Ireland for 10 days and they were offering a weekend retreat in three days time. I called mum and she has absolutely no idea why I was so excited or indeed what the hell I was rambling on about. The book I kept saying to her, the book I read fifteen years ago, he’s here. It was at that point I think she wanted me to go for the weekend in case I was having a mental breakdown.

When I calmed down as I do like a bit of drama, I explained to mum that Sogyal Rinpoche wrote the book, The Tibetan book of living and dying. Its now 20 years old and will still be relevant in another twenty years because the content is timeless. Every one regardless of background and religion should read it. It has many lessons in it relevant to all of us during our lifetime and for me its an incredibly thought provoking book that made me look at meditation in a new light and develop my own compassion for others and to try and look at death differently. The book teaches us that everything in life is transient and if we don’t come to terms with that we will always struggle and hold onto things or indeed people when we should let them go.

This book has taken me on a spiritual journey through some incredibly difficult times and no matter how many times I read it I learn something new.

I headed off to Cork on my own which was exciting as it was the first time I have been away completely on my own since I had James and all I could think about was sleeping without getting kicked in the face by a toddler. I arrived tense and quite stressed as recently a couple of my business ventures were showing signs of failing and I was upset because I had put my heart and soul into them. I was becoming impatient and angry and needed space to think. On Saturday afternoon as the day was progressing I began to feel quite emotional. Listening to the teachings from Rinpoche was stirring a lot of uncomfortable feelings inside me. I thought of my dad, my sometimes pained and fractured family and when I returned to my B&B I sobbed so hard I honestly thought my insides were going to come out. I returned the next day slightly speechless as I began to feel a change within myself. Again I felt emotional but I gave in and allowed myself to actually feel and work through my feelings. We meditated for quite a while and as the day went on I really felt a sense of peace within myself. I also realized how much of my own “stuff” I hadn’t dealt with. Sometimes in life we move on so quickly after traumatic and sad events. We live in the future almost constantly from the minute we get up till the minute we go to bed. When we go to bed we worry about the next day and all day the next day we worry about next week or even next month.

This was the first retreat that I had been on where I was introduced to meditation with my eyes open. This made me quite uncomfortable in the beginning but made so much sense towards the end. Tibetan Buddhist Meditation is about being present in the moment and having your eyes open ensures you are present. You don’t look at any one thing, you look or gaze but without focus. You see things but you are not really involved. I learnt a few key simple steps, which are that during meditation you need to sit still, speech silent, have the natural flow of the breath and the mind at ease. You should also keep your mouth slightly open as if you are about to say Ahhh. The main thing during meditation is to not block your thoughts. Acknowledge them but don’t follow them. Think of it like watching traffic and then all of a sudden you see a Ferrari and are tempted to follow it, don’t, let it go by!

The biggest addiction we have in modern society is negative thinking and meditation can help with this. It has been scientifically proven that meditation can alter the structure and function of the brain, which is called neuroplasticity. It activates a part of the brain associated with positive emotions. Even when you are not practicing these areas are sill lit up proving that mental training does affect the mind.

The mind really is the root of everything. It’s the creator of both happiness and suffering. Buddha says that all our fear and anxiety comes from a mind that’s untamed leaving me with one thought. Why not try meditation? Its free and just 10 minutes a day can transform your life. Driving back from Dozgchen Beara I felt different like my energy center had changed. I felt emotional but calm as I reflected on a three-day retreat that has probably changed my life forever and for that I will always be grateful. #meditatewithali
Over three million copies of the Tibetan book of living and dying have been printed in thirty-four languages, and the book is available in eighty countries.  It has been adopted by colleges, groups and institutions, both medical and religious, and is used extensively by nurses, doctors and healthcare professionals. For more information on retreats www.dzogchenbeara.org

AS PRINTED IN THE DAILY MAIL 30TH JULY 2014

 

 

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AS PRINTED IN THE DAILY MAIL:

Q: Have you any tips on taking mum time when there’s so little time to spare?

 

“Mum time”, the mere words make us shudder and shake with guilt. I always hear Mums talking about never having a second to spare and being completely exhausted and that is exactly what led me to having such bad post natal depression. Trying to be the perfect person simply didn’t work for me. I’m now settling for just doing my best, which is what everyone should try and do as being perfect is vastly overrated or so I’ve heard!

Long before having James I started going to meditation classes in New York. Initially, I thought everyone was bonkers and as we sat and meditated I kept cheating and peaking to see if everyone else was actually doing it. Over time though I began to understand the power of simply sitting still which is something so rare for any of us nowadays. When you have children the thought of doing anything for yourself simply goes out the window but it is vitally important.

As time is of the essence I recommend finding just ten minutes every day where you can sit still. Meditation is not about connecting with a higher being or feeling like you were transported to another place. I’ve been to a lot of weird sessions which is why people get turned off so let me simplify it for you. Unless you’re dead or an enlightened being (god, Buddha, Dali lama) it is impossible to clear your mind completely. For me meditation is about sitting still in the moment and watching those thoughts pass through. I either focus on my breathing or I listen to some music from www.omharmonics.com or www.zen12.com where you can download sample tracks. You also don’t need to be in a room with candles and sit on the floor with your legs crossed. You can meditate anywhere at anytime. I have often sat in the car when I have ten minutes when I’m early for a meeting or sometimes I set my alarm ten minutes early in the morning. Those ten minutes are there you just need to make sure you find them. You could write a book about the benefits of mediation but here are just a few.

It increases optimism; self esteem and helps with depression. It can also help you sleep better and help your mind to become clear and focused. I find it helps my patience, especially with a 4 year old. It definitely reduces my stress levels and emotional wellbeing. Try it for a week and if you like it tweet me @alicanavan #meditatewithali

 

4  TOP TIPS:

1. Pay attention to your breath as it’s the greatest way to focus on being in the present moment.

2. Don’t try and stop your thoughts, instead let them float by and focus on your breathing again. This will become easier with time

3. Use music specially designed for meditation. I find it gives me a far better experience. I alternate this with days of silence too for maximum benefit.

4. Enjoy the experience and as a mum enjoy this time alone