Silence calms my soul…

Do you ever feel like you are on a roundabout that just won’t stop spinning, moments of your life flashing by in a blur? Or running on a treadmill, music blaring, that if you stop for one second you will be thrown off the back of it like a ‘you’ve been framed’ clip! Life can sometimes feel so full and busy and noisy that it can prove difficult to find those moments of calm and stillness, moments to rest and restore your inner balance. Space to enjoy not just outward silence but stillness of the mind.

I recently read that research has shown just ten minutes of silence can improve your memory, with results lasting for up to a week. So if you are as scatter-brained as me, silence is even more essential! This last weekend I was in London with some friends. We were staying in a hostel opposite St Pauls Cathedral. Now London is the epitome of noisy and busy anyway, but add in a regular clanging of bells, and you soon find your stress levels rising and mind clouding! It reminded me how necessary silence and stillness is but also how much I struggle to make time for it.

There are so many distractions. A month without managing to write a blog post has flown by before I could even blink. I am a month behind on my reading challenge of one non-fiction book a month, and it’s only May! I blame Netflix! Life has never been busier or noisier for many of us. From the children’s demands early in the morning, checking the phone for messages, Charlie and Lola blaring out at me in the car, checking phone again for messages, replying to emails, looking at Instagram on phone, shopping for food, cooking dinner, breaking up squabbles, checking Facebook, fitting in some exercise, fitting in some social life, checking phone for messages…you get the picture!

The constant assault of social media in our lives and being in immediate contact with the world can make it even harder to rest and find peace. I know friends that have set a cut off time for their phones and screens in the evening or they may have a screen free day on the weekend. I think these are great ideas to switch off some of the outer noise in our lives and cultivate stillness.

I had been thinking about my time recently and decided to write a list of all my responsibilities and whittle them down by saying ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Maybe’ to them. I felt I needed to de-clutter my week as I had my house! I wanted to focus on a few things and do them well, rather than feeling like I was spreading myself too thin. I wanted to be more present for my daughters and not feel rushed all the time. It was a useful exercise however I found that it was not enough to just say no to a few things and then expect to be Mrs Zen and have bags of free time! The space I had created was very easily filled with more busyness and noise.

A very wise lady said to me time only really means something because of what you do with it. Time in of itself means nothing really. Have you ever fallen down the Facebook black hole, sitting down to check it for five minutes, only to realise and hour later that you are reading the latest baby news of your great-aunt’s sister’s cousin’s son’s best friend! An hour frittered away. Yet you could have ten minutes of silence and it sparks a creative solution you have spent weeks looking for. Time has potential and we can chose what we do with that potential. To cultivate calm and stillness we need to be intentional with our time. For me this is a challenge to just stop, be still, turn off my phone, stop doing chores, stop exercising, stop planning and just stop. Sometimes I think I find this hard because I’m scared of what I will find when all these things are stripped away. I also find it hard because when I am that still I tend to fall asleep!

My book for April (yes it’s May and I’ve not finished it yet!) is called ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brene Brown. She is a researcher into vulnerability and shame, and talks about how having the courage to be vulnerable can transform the way we live. I haven’t completed the book yet but so far it has been full of lightbulb moments for me and the themes are universal. Every single person would relate to what she is talking about. In fact it’s so good, I was reading it on the train, and I had to stop myself from agreeing with her out loud. I wanted to cheer and shout ‘yes Brene, come on, you go girl’ Rikki Lake style!

One of the things she talks about is wholeheartedness. Wholehearted living is a way of living and engaging with the world from a place of worthiness. Showing up, letting yourself be seen and taking chances, a way I’m sure we would all want to live if we had the courage. From her research she came up with a list of 10 things that people who live wholeheartedly do. One of these is:

 ‘Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of anxiety as a lifestyle’.

Anxiety as a lifestyle, rushing, striving for perfection, fear of failing or messing up. With a busy life it’s so easy to fall into this rhythm, to find yourself on that hamster wheel, chasing your blinking tail! So my challenge to myself is to plan more times of quiet and stillness into my week. To cultivate the habits that bring calm and stillness and try and limit the habits that don’t. If you come to my house and there is a massive pile of washing up, don’t mind me I’m just cultivating calm and stillness!

 

Life without limits…

 

It’s done, BOOM!

Half Marathon mission accomplished.

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Team #inspiredbyzahra

 

(See  here for more on why I ran).

The weeks of build-up, training, injuries and fundraising came to a heady finale on a cold and dry Sunday morning when myself and hundreds of other mad runners slogged up a few hills, pounded down yet more hills and just about managed to keep going on the flat!

 

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Spot the numpty?

 

 It was an amazing experience and the first longer distance race I have fully enjoyed (training does actually help!). And I am so thankful for these things;

1.       I achieved my personal goal and finished in 1hr 55 minutes, sub 2hrs and a PB.  This is 6 minutes faster than my last half when I ran 2hrs 1 minute and was so cheesed off at that minute!

2.       I actually enjoyed it! Last time I ran this distance I couldn’t catch my breath on a long hill near the end and had what felt like a panic attack. I had serious beef with this distance!

3.       I didn’t poo myself – not outside the realm of possibility when running long distance after 2 traumatic births!

4.       The amazing ladies Amanda and Sarah whom I ran with. Just wouldn’t have been the same without them and their friendship.

5.       The support of friends and family who came to cheer us on. Seeing familiar and loved faces, smiling and cheering you on means so much. Also random strangers shouting ‘go girl’ and handing out jelly babies, oranges and strangely beer! The atmosphere was great and you are buzzing for hours afterwards.

6.       The generosity of people inspired me. We were running for a local charity ‘Chestnut Tree House’. After this event the current total is over a thousand pounds on our group Just Giving page.

So what’s next I hear you ask!

Well you’re probably not actually, but I’m going to tell you anyway!

 I am thinking of dipping my toe into the unique and exciting sport that is Triathlon. That’s right TRI baby! I’m going to dabble in some lake swimming, a bit of lycra clad cycling (eeek!) and finally some more foot pounding running! It’s a totally new thing for me, so I’m looking forward to being outside of my comfort zone and trying new things.

My non-fiction book for February (see previous blog) was ‘A Life Without Limits’ by Chrissie Wellington.

She is a multiple Ironman World Champion and has set numerous world records as one of the greatest triathletes of all time. Her story is seriously amazing though. She shocks everyone by winning her first World Championship in one of the most gruelling single-day sporting events, as an unknown thirty-year-old from Norfolk.

It is such an inspiring story and I really recommend it, even if you are not into running. She has such a positive attitude and talks a lot about the mind and how we are capable of so much more than we can imagine. She talks about testing the limits;

“For a start there’s the importance of keeping an open mind. The brain is programmed to protect us, and that can mean imposing limits on what it thinks we can or should do. Constantly push at those limits, because the brain can be way too cautious. Not so long ago I would have laughed at you if you had suggested I do an ironman. Imagine if I had allowed that attitude to persist. It is up to each and every one of us to change ‘I can’t’ into ‘I can’.”

Many of us have hopes and dreams, things that we would love to try but are often too scared to try, too scared of failure or scared of what other people will think. Writing was one of those things for me among many others! But one of the things running has taught me is the truth in not accepting your limits.

When I first started 5k felt like a marathon, 10k felt almost unachievable. Then each race, each small goal I realised I could push my body further, 10k under 50 minutes, running 13.1 miles. I also know there is so much more in me, but I don’t really like pain, and that is the battle of the mind that Chrissie talks about. She says we should relish pain as it shows us how hard we are working! She is one of those people that is like ‘PAIN, I laugh in the face of pain’! I’m not sure I’m fully on board with that yet, and that’s why extreme endurance is not so much my bag. But it is so inspiring and who knows if I’m still writing this blog in ten years, who’s to say what new challenges there will be!  

Never imagine anything is impossible and never stop trying new things!

It’s certainly a challenge.