Embrace the cold and make the most of your day

Guest blogger Peter McFadyen shows us how to embrace the cold – literally – and how this helps him to make the most of his day.

A few years ago I started training for my first technical climb – basically involving crampons, ice axes and lots and lots of ice and snow.  In the leadup I was looking around for ways to increase my exposure to the cold.  Now I must begin this by saying that I enjoy the cold and am always fairly comfortable with being cold, but I wanted to do all that I could to give myself the best chance of success.

As we were approaching winter I saw a way that I could combine a few aspects of my self development and help myself prepare for my climb at the same time.

 I am fortunate to live on the coast and I both live and work very close to the ocean.  When I was building my toolkit to help change my moods at will I came across the ultimate may to improve my mood.  Most day’s when I take a lunchbreak I jump into my car and head down to the beach to swim.  This provides a lot of benefits to me, it gives me time away from my desk, activity in the middle of the day, allows me to spend time in nature, I frequently get to see whales, dolphins and sea eagles, my body gets to absorb some vitamin D and it gives me “two mornings” in my day so my energy and productivity stay high throughout the day.  It does mean that I start my day a little earlier and finish a little later but I find that a small price to pay for the benefits I receive.  

beach wavesMaking the most of my day – rain, hail or shine

I have also been working for some time on being comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I am a lover of the books of Pema Chodron and especially two of her books “When things fall apart” and “The places that scare you: a guide to Fearlessness in difficult times.”  These are two of my go-to reads for departure lounges and lazy afternoons in the hammock, or as a refresher when I start to take life too seriously.  In her writing Pema addresses the Buddhist concept of being comfortable with being uncomfortable as a way of attaining enlightenment.  While I’m still a very long way from enlightenment, I have found that being comfortable with discomfort makes me much less demanding, much less precious, much more open to the opportunities that life presents and it enables me to have an enjoyable time and find humour in most situations.  Most importantly it allows me to be grateful in a wide variety of situations and this greatly improves my ability to make the most of every day.   

In my daily swims I combine these two concepts and I will swim in any weather, rain hail or shine.  In now adding my desire to grow comfortable in the cold I swam every day during winter. 

I do live in a fairly temperate part of the planet but there were many single digit days that saw me wading into the water despite the cutting wind or the cold drizzle.  I would then body surf or float, depending on the swell and the tide, for as long as I could feel my toes or until my legs began to tighten up with the cold.  I’d then dry off, jump back into my car and head back to work, refreshed and happy that I had taken the time to do this small thing for myself, my health and my mental balance and toughness. 

person smile oceanThe smile every day I take myself into the ocean and the cold

Now years down the track I have become a devotee of finishing my morning shower with a 30 to 90 second burst of cold water.  There are apparently many health benefits to this and if you google it you will see that it is touted to improve immunity, ease stress and relieve depression.  I also find that it eases joint pain, increases my alertness and keeps me warm for many hours after my shower.  I was tested on a recent trip to visit some friends out at Black Mountain, near Armidale in New South Wales and at an elevation of 1400m. It was the middle of winter and I had my first fail, being unable to last more than about 10 seconds under the shower – I literally couldn’t breathe!   In recent weeks though I had the opportunity to again test myself when visiting another colder destination in the same State, Dorrigo and managed the full 30 seconds – a wonderful feeling indeed on a cold morning.       

Why do it?  Apart from the pain relief and the health benefits it allows me to start each day with a small challenge, a sense of achievement and a sense of wellbeing. 

It shows that I can do what I want to do and am prepared to take the time and put in the effort to care for myself.  While it isn’t a big thing I find that starting the day like this, then throwing in a morning dance, a good intention and knowing that I have the opportunity of a lunchtime swim truly puts me in the mood to make the most of every day. 

Is there something small you could do early in the day to set yourself up?  Is there a hidden pocket of nature near you to spend some time in?  What opportunity do you have to make the most of today?      

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi  

 

Right of Way – A Pilgrim on the Camino – Episode 1

Well I’m officially a pilgrim. I’ve heard that your Camino journey, your pilgrimage starts from your front door. If that’s the case, the first leg of my pilgrimage took over 50 hours either travelling or transiting, finding planes, shuttles, trains, buses and albergues (hostels for pilgrims only). It was an epic start to my pilgrimage, flying from Coffs Harbour, to Sydney, to Singapore, to Paris, then by train to Bordeaux Saint Jean, then another train to Bayonne and a third train, which looked remarkably like a bus (go with the flow Michelle) to Saint Jean Pied de Port.

 

I made a friend on the bus (that was meant to be a train) and his name was (and still is) Jean-Marie and he was born in Mauritius and lives in Canada.  He’s my age and he’s on his gap year!  He and I headed to a bar for a kebab (him) and a red wine (me) while we waited in Bayonne for the train that looked like a bus. I went to the bar to order my wine.  I was tired, and hadn’t learnt any French.  Now I was regretting that decision.  It took the bartender, and four others trying to understand what I was saying (red wine, vino tinto)….until I remembered my new friend Jean-Marie’s first language was French.  Red wine = Vin Rouge.  Finally, with wine in hand, Jean-Marie and I learnt about each other and waited for the train (bus) to my home for three nights – Saint Jean Pied de Port, near the border with Spain.

I met another friend on an online worldwide Camino forum for women, and she happened to live where I live – small world.  She was arriving on the same night as me and so we met up for dinner in Saint Jean Pied de Port (at 9pm – I’ll have to get used to that).  It was nice to see a familiar face – or at least that’s how it felt even though I hadn’t laid eyes on her in person before.  We shared a vin rouge (my third French word after Bonjour and Merci) and chatted to some other pilgrims over dinner.  She was headed off the next morning.

Let me share more about this online forum because it’s important – it’s on Facebook (I know, not for everyone but it serves a purpose).  It’s called Camigas – A buddy system for women on the Camino, and is a combination of the words Camino and Amiga (friend) and was established in honor and memory of a woman by the name of Denise Pikka Theim.  Denise, from the United States, was walking the Camino solo (as I am), in 2015, fulfilling her dream of a lifetime.  Like I am.

Follow the arrows Follow the yellow arrows

Along the Camino pilgrims are guided by yellow arrows, that are painted and plastered everywhere and it is commonly touted that it’s hard to get lost because they help you find the way.  In August 2015, while walking the Camino, Denise was murdered.  She was bashed to death with a stick and both of her hands were cut off.   Spanish man, Miguel Angel Munoz deliberately altered the yellow arrows that mark the pilgrimage route to lure people towards his house which was located close to the route.  After a long investigation and pressure from the US Government, Munoz was eventually charged for Denise’s murder after admitting the crime and leading police to where he had buried her body.  Denise was 41 years old.  May she rest in peace.

The idea of the Camiga’s forum is for women pilgrims to share information, provide support for each other and in some cases, highlight areas and issues along the route that may pose some danger for (in particular) women.  I thank those who created and maintain this site. It is understood that at least one other pilgrim, who was from China, also followed Munoz’s arrow and was hit with a stick by a man fitting his description.  She didn’t report the incident and of course, there was no Camigas forum to post it to to warn others.  Since I have been a member of the Camigas I have seen women post warnings about certain areas where men have been seen masturbating when single women pilgrims walk by, where men have groped women pilgrims and grabbed their breasts as they walk by.  I have seen some women, with the support of the others on the forum, take action, take photos and report the incidents, and in one case I know of, leading to an arrest.  These incidents are overall, rare, but they are there.

It is a shame that as women we need to consider a whole range of extra issues and safety concerns when we walk alone, however, the reality is, we do.


Saint Jean Pied de Port
Saint Jean Pied de Port

So as I head out for the start of the actual walking part of my journey, I do so with the memory of Denise and with an understanding that the world is mostly wonderful, except when it’s not, and that my journey will be spontaneous and free, except when its not.  I will be fearless and brave, except when I’m not.  I will let the arrows lead me, except when I check the guide book.

I will listen to my intuition, that feeling that tells me without any doubt whether I’m on the right track.  I will be brave, even when I am full of fear.  I will walk on, even when I can’t walk another step. I will walk to embrace the journey and all it brings, and I will walk with awareness and strength.

So for now, I’m off to fulfil a life long dream.  I’m a pilgrim with nothing to do but walk. Oh and drink some vin rouge or vino tinto with new friends from all over the world.

‘Let your life be your message’ Mahatma Gandhi

How to build your mood changing toolkit

Again welcome Peter McFadyen as a guest blogger here sharing how to build your own mood changing toolkit.

A year ago I decided as a part of my self-development journey that I wanted to be able to change my mood whenever I felt like it.  I was learning more about mindfulness and had been utilising the theory and practice of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to improve my ability to live mindfully.  As a consequence of adopting this manner of thinking, I had learned to live more in each moment rather than catastrophising about possible futures or ruminating on improbable pasts.  My increasing ability to recognise and accept grief, anger, happiness and boredom and greet each of them as a casual visitor in my day was a powerful gift.  Taking that one step further, I began to think that it would be handy to be able to change my mood whenever, and in whatever, direction I desired. 

Does that sound like something useful?

 

Happy face Sad face
Turning the frown upside down

So how would I go about changing my mood?  The traditional way to get over a bad day was to go home and have a few glasses of “attitude adjuster” and let the day slowly wash away – as well as most of my enthusiasm and desire to achieve anything that night!  And besides, alcohol and mindfulness are not the best of buddies so I was looking for something with greater benefits and fewer headaches.  I wrote down a title and began to fill in the lines below:

What makes me happy? 

–          Singing

–          Dancing                                                      

–          Meditation

–          LOL cats

–          Saying hello to strangers

–          Trekking by myself

–          Writing poetry

–          Spending time with my granddaughters

–          Experiencing wonder

–          Cooking

–          Hugs

–          Laughter

–          Doing an energy clearing

–          Being silly

–          Doing twenty push-ups

 

pencil and happy word
Creating happy – one thought at a time

I then developed that list a little further to see which of the above actions I could put to use at different times and in different locations.  Suddenly I had a toolkit I could dip into quickly at work, when I first got home or in the morning to set up a great day.  I also had a powerful set of tools to utilise if my mood was particularly dark and I needed a solid effort of being in the moment, being happy and being grateful in order to salvage my day or my weekend. 

Having completed my toolkit, I then eagerly awaited a bad mood so that I could try them out!

Having come home later that week after a hectic day, I immediately booted up Youtube, danced, sang, looked at LOL cats and then, when I had altered my mood enough to be open to the possibilities of the afternoon, I went upstairs and had a chat and a laugh with my son.  Low and behold, 20 minutes after coming home in a bad mood I was happy, energetic and engaged.  What a wonderful feeling and what a vastly different night it became! 

On waking in the morning now I begin my morning with a dance in my study to my latest favourite video clip (I have hopes of being able to shuffle in public one day).  I then go about my normal morning routine fairly relaxed and happy.  On my drive in to work I set an intention as to how I want my day to go and what kind of energy I want to bring with me to help make everyone’s day a little better.  During the day if something threatens to drag my mood down I close my door, clear my space, read one of the poems I have on my wall, drop and do 20 push-ups or walk outside and find something to be amazed about or someone to say hello to.  Quickly enough I then get back into my day, refreshed, open and with more energy. 

It was such a simple task really.

Are you ready to action these three steps to build your own mood changing toolkit?

Here they are again for you:

  1. Listing down what made me happy
  2. Assessing which of these I could call on or action at different times of the day
  3. Putting my tools in to action!

So let me ask you – what makes you happy?

What will you put in your toolkit to help you get the most out of your day?

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

 

Lessons I learned climbing mountains

Welcome to Life Support our guest blogger Peter McFadyen, who in this post shares some of the lessons he learned climbing mountains.  What mountain are you climbing?  

Let your life be your message.

Michelle

One of the joys of my life is mountain climbing.  I came into the sport late and, in truth, just to spend some time with my wife and get a chance to visit Africa and maybe see a cheetah or two!  At that stage I was more interested in the safari than the summit!  We climbed two mountains that trip.  Mt Meru came first as an acclimatisation climb.  At 4,562m it was a truly challenging introduction to mountain climbing!  From the top we could see our ultimate challenge – Mt Kilimanjaro!  At 5,895m it’s the highest peak in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world.  Our attitude towards this sort of adventure is that if you are going to do something then it may as well be a challenge.  It was an amazing adventure in an amazing part of the world spent with an amazing group of people, some of whom we are still close friends with.

I came away from that most amazing of experiences swearing that I would never step foot on another mountain again in my life!

Over the next three months, I noticed that the problems in my life all seemed much more manageable.  I had grown a lot more confident in my ability to handle just about anything that came my way.  I had also become a lot more comfortable in being uncomfortable and this allowed me to be more open to opportunity and challenge.  These three changes to my nature provided a powerful springboard to my journey of personal development and making the most of my life.  About that time a great mate of ours said he was training a new group of climbers to take on Kilimanjaro to do some fundraising and asked me if I’d help them train.  Once I started training again I realised how much I loved the training and being around people who shared my passion and I began to wonder if I had perhaps been a bit hasty in my decision never to climb again.

 

Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa
At the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa – the highest freestanding mountain in the world

This great mate of ours tells people that “Whenever you climb you leave something of yourself on the mountain and you take something away” – and I believe he’s right.  I now climb with him and we’ve since moved on to more technical climbing.  This requires a greater level of training and a lot more focus and in return it rewards you with even greater insight into who you are and allows you to be comfortable with that person.  Of course, this is the benefit in taking on any challenge that pushes us and there are “mountains” around us all the time in our everyday lives just waiting to be climbed.

On a recent climbing expedition I ended up with a failed attempt for the summit of Mt Aspiring in New Zealand.  Despite it being a “failed attempt I did get in a few other summits, I had a great time and learnt a lot of new skills that would come in handy in later climbs.  While I was writing down my experiences each night I ended up building a random list under the heading of “Things learned while climbing.”

On my return home I found that lot of those lessons could be applied to help me in my everyday life and I’d like to share them with you.

·     Preparation and application are key to success.  Wishes don’t climb mountains!

·     Never panic.  Stay centred and move with determination and with a clear path in mind.

·     Each step must be taken in order to reach the summit.

·     Do few things quickly but when speed is needed, do these things well.

·     If at first you don’t succeed be open to a better path – it’s there to be found.

·     Don’t dwell in difficult areas.  Move through them to a place of rest and a clear view.

·     More can be learned through hard earned failure than through easy achievement.

·     We are capable of great things if we go into them willingly, with a smile and a clear purpose.  The greatest limit is in not attempting the challenge.

·     The emotion you feel on achieving your goal may not be the one you expected but it is the right one for you if you allow it to be.  Take thetime to enjoy it and learn from it.

·     Many things must combine for you to summit. No-one summits or fails to summit by themselves – to claim that is to carry an unbearable load.

·     Look forward to see your goal, look back to see what you have already achieved, focus on each step to ensure the next step is on the best path.

·     Your chances of success rely just as much on your partners as they do on yourself – what are you doing to help them to be ready to summit?

·     Take on challenges not to achieve but to believe in the best of yourself and make it true.

 

Climbing in snow
Reminders every day of what I learned climbing and how it helps my life

I have these lessons printed up on my wall and refer to them whenever I feel I’m losing my way or when I feel a goal I have is unattainable.   Mountains are all around us in our everyday lives and every time we set out to “summit” we grow in our abilities and our self-knowledge.

What mountain are you climbing right now?  What gifts can they give you?  What are you learning?

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi