Linda’s Craft Kit

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(The craft kit Linda made up especially for me so that I would always have something creative at hand when I am away❤)

When I woke up this morning I was thinking about the craft kit Linda gave me the week we left Ireland. I was thinking, it’s a great kit and isn’t she very smart and doesn’t it look so neat and didn’t I get great use out of it already… Then I realised I was thinking and I was doubly pleased! Thinking for me is talking to myself and it starts first thing in the morning and goes on all day until I fall asleep. There’s brief moment or two of no thinking/talking when I am meditation or napping or engrossed in a craft. Other than that the day is full of me talking… to myself. And I rarely notice I’m doing it so when I noticed this morning I was chuffed.

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(Close up of some quilling I made using my kit)

When I first encountered meditation (and for many years after that) I thought it was all about clearing my mind, making it completely silent in there. It’s not. It’s just about noticing when I’m thinking and then going back to whatever I’m doing, like breathing (something else I do all the time.) So in fact every time I find myself thinking when I should be meditating I am actually meditating! (Did you get that? The “finding myself thinking” is the key! My sister has a term I like: the gift of failure.) But there’s even more important things about meditation. It’s not just the sitting there practicing… it’s what happens when I’m not sitting there meditating. Like this morning when I woke up thinking about Linda. The fact that I noticed that I was talking to myself is a BIG thing.

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(These are the quilling papers from my kit)

Because if I notice I am talking to myself then I can notice what I’m saying… this morning it was something nice. Often it’s not something nice, often it’s something horrible… about me! So imagine the scenario, you’re sitting there looking at a beautiful sunset and from nowhere comes the thought, you should be doing something more productive! Which leads on to an uncomfortable feeling and another thought, you’re a lazy lump! Which feels even more uncomfortable and leads to another thought, this is completely useless, in fact you are completely useless sitting here! Well, you might as well be sitting with someone who hates you! But no, you’re with the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with – You! Don’t be mean to you! But how can you stop being mean to you? You don’t even know you’re talking to yourself!

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(Here are the stones and glue that I can use to make pebble art)

And that’s one of the gifts of meditation! A different thought pops in to tell you, that’s a thought! At first you can’t hear this new thought and you carry on being mean to you. But one day, you hear, that’s a thought! And your eyebrows rise and you smile and you say, yes, that’s a thought, I’ll go back to looking at the beautiful sunset, sigh.

It’s just a thought and you are not your thoughts, Mairead.

PS If you want to hear Linda’s thoughts go to

We are up in the hills…

(Sunrise this morning)

Do you remember the first time we took Ruby to Portugal? (I’ve put a link here if you want to remind yourself.) We ended up on teeny tiny roads searching for internet access. Well we’ve done it again, this time looking for electricity… We found the electricity but now we’re having difficulty accessing the internet!

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(Strange old machine in the car park in Viana de Castelo)

We are in the middle of nowhere in a campsite up in the hills of northern Portugal, thirty minutes north of a town called Vila Verde. Apart from the man working reception we are the only ones here. This is our first stay at a campsite on this trip. The only reasons we ever need to park in a campsite is for electricity or if we want to stay for more that 48 hours in one spot. Most of the free aires have a 48 hour (or similar) limit. So far we have been happy to move after 24 hours but that will probably change once the weather gets better or we run out of land to go further south!

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(Our new pet seagull)

It’s raining heavily at the moment but we have electricity so we are warm and our laptops are powered up. We have hot showers so we are clean and sweet-smelling. There’s food in the fridge and water in the tank and we also have half a rustic baguette, still fresh – it really doesn’t get much better that this.

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(Home for tonight)

In fact I’ve been reading and enjoying a book about meditation and mindfulness and I’m feeling very zen. The book is called 10% Happier by Dan Harris and the message I’m getting is that a day when you have half a rustic baguette is a very good day. Ok, it doesn’t actually say anything about bread, fresh or not… but it did say nothing lasts, neither good things nor terrible things. So, i’m choosing to enjoy my half a rustic baguette moment… I may have misunderstood the message.

We’ll probably move back towards the coast tomorrow, Mairead.

I think… a lot

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(The rocks at the lighthouse near Sagres, Portugal)

It’s coming towards the end of this journey and as always my mind stops living in the present and moves ahead. It’s very counter productive because on the one hand I am thinking about leaving and missing this lifestyle and on the other hand if I’m thinking about leaving then I’m no longer here! So I’ve left the travelling already… two weeks before it ends! I used to do the same thing when I got a massage. The session would hardly have started before I’d be thinking, I wonder how much time is left, I wish this would last longer….

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(Port with little lighthouse near Sagres)

For the past two weeks I’ve been meditating using Headspace and that’s how I recognised that I was in this pattern again. During the fifteen minutes of the meditation, the guide, whose name is Andy, reminds you to pay attention to your breath and count along with the in breathe and the out breath to ten and if you get distracted by thoughts or feelings to stop the counting. Then notice you had a thought or feeling and go back to counting the breaths. I used to think that I couldn’t meditate because I was continuously distracted by thoughts but now I realise that the distractions are the place where I learn what I’m doing to myself.

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(This guy was in the campsite at Luz, Portugal)

And the thing that I’m doing to myself, is thinking… constantly thinking. Thinking about the future, the past, the bad things that could happen, the good things that could happen, the things I might miss, the things I did wrong, the hurt I caused, the apologies I could make, I didn’t make, I can’t make. These thoughts have an impact on my mood, my well-being, my mental health, my relationships, my productivity, my sanity! Since restarting meditation I have been noticing my thinking as it distracts me for a fifteen minute section of the day. (For the other 23 hours and 45 minutes each day I hardly ever realise I am continuously thinking.) For fifteen minutes a day I cannot stop those thoughts but I can notice them and then return to counting my breaths and that helps.

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(Gibraltar, of course)

Today, in the meditation Andy asked me (it’s pre-recorded, he’s not actually talking to me…) to consider the bigger picture. To consider everyone I meet is doing exactly the same thing to themselves. Everyone I meet or see on the street or hear in the shop is doing this to themselves. And they can’t stop. We can’t stop the thinking of the thoughts, the best we can do is to notice it and then return to what’s actually happening. For the rest of this journey I will be practicing returning to what is actually happening here, because I’m still here, even if my thoughts are not.

One teeny, tiny, baby step at a time, Mairead.

P.S. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland!

Making peace with embarrassment

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(Palm tree trunk)

We’re still in Luz so I’m getting comfortable here, starting to feel right at home… which means some of my old habits are popping up. (By the way, I’m working away happily on my book so that’s probably why I keep thinking of habits and beliefs.)

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(Lagos, old town)

So… one of my habits is, I see something I want to do but just before I do it, I think, “nooo, I would look stupid, much too embarrassing to do that!”  Then afterwards when I don’t do it I feel a bit miserable for not doing it. A bit of a misery cycle. This habit is masking a couple of beliefs. The one that stops me doing the thing I want to do: What other people think of me is important and it needs to be positive. And the one that makes me feel miserable when I don’t do it: Trying new things is really good for my healthA bit of a self-judgemental cycle.

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(Like blue sky)

At the same time I have returned to meditation, fifteen minutes every morning. And there’s something useful in the meditation practice that can help me untangle the misery and self-judgemental cycles. It’s about noticing whatever it is you’re feeling, just noticing, not thinking, just noticing… in your body. Not in your head, in your body. (Over emphasising might be a habit too?)

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(Blue water, blue boat, blue jacket, blue hat)

So… I’m practicing meditation on my embarrassment. Each day (since Monday) I do one thing that I know would cause me to feel embarrassed and I notice what that’s like. In. My. Body. Monday morning I went to the outdoor gym! I had been looking at the equipment since last Wednesday when we arrived, thinking that looks like fun! Then the misery/self-judgemental cycle began, so I didn’t dare. 

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(Boat for sale…)

But on Monday morning I got into my baggy pants and approached the gym area. Slowly. Giving me time to notice the embarrassment and I noticed it… but it was a bit different. Too late to turn back I arrived at the area and there’s another camper doing gym things (and doing them really well) smiling and saying hello. Having a lot of embarrassing thoughts now but remembering just in time to NOTICE IN MY BODY I squeak out, Hi, which one of these is good for a beginner?

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She is really friendly, Dutch or German I think and delighted to point me towards a swing-swong kind of thing and I start swinging and it is fun. So much so that I try a stand-up-rowing machine thing next but that’s a bit harder. Just as I start to feel stupid and think this is too hard I remember to NOTICE IN MY BODY and I slow down and it’s ok. Feeling embarrassed is actually ok… the thing that’s upsetting is the thinking about being embarrassed, the thinking about the people watching, the thinking about the people who are good at this fun thing. 

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(Rocks and sea at Luz… doesn’t it look like Greystones? Or does everything remind us of Ireland?)

Sooo, I’m stand-up-rowing with a smile on my face and a hello for all the people walking by and my new Dutch or German friend says, the hardest thing is to stop yourself competing with other people, just do your best. Well, wasn’t that lovely? I feel quite emotional all of a sudden. I’m rowing away and I’m thinking this embarrassment thing isn’t so bad. Then a group of six toned Swedish women jog past and I wave and nearly fall off my stand-up-rowing machine.

There should be a health warning on these machines, Mairead.

Head Space – there’s an app for that!


(Sign from bridge in Mount Usher Gardens… don’t jump, leap)

I’ve started doing meditation. I’ve started many times before but this time I might keep going. So far I’ve completed twenty days. I’m doing it with an app. It’s on my phone and every morning it reminds me that it’s time to get some head space. So I sit down, tap the app and a guy talks me through fifteen minutes of calming words and paying attention to my breathing.


(They have funny signs…)

Last Friday was about noticing my emotions and then noticing my breathing. He says it’s not that I’m supposed to change anything, just notice. Funny enough when I begin noticing my breathing something changes with my emotions. Not the emotion but the power behind it, it seems to shift back to me. The week before was about noticing discomfort in my body (like pain or irritation or just an itch). When I noticed discomfort there was no need to change it just notice it. I had a slight pain in my shoulder but I figured it was enough to use for the noticing exercise. I think the idea is that we normally resist the discomfort and this makes the discomfort even more uncomfortable. But when we notice or pay attention to the discomfort it comes to the surface of our consciousness and can be released.


(and a sad sign…)

So I tried it and it was a very different sensation to “feeling” the pain in my shoulder. Noticing the pain in my shoulder doesn’t make my mind wander to Is there something wrong with my shoulder? So, no worry, just curiosity, about that discomfort thing in my shoulder. The pain in my shoulder didn’t go away but the next day when I was noticing for discomfort in my body, my shoulder had less pain than the previous day.


(and a strong sense of history and the details)

I might just keep doing this kind of meditating, Mairead.

PS The app is called Headspace, the first ten days are free and you can pay by the month or the year after that. I signed up for one month’s worth. Oh and Denis didn’t write it! And they’re not paying me (or him) I just like it and I paid for it… myself… This is getting way too long-winded.