Spirituality has been somewhat either of a taboo or a just a “No-Topic” for any conversation whatsoever. Believing to a power, spirit or sense that is higher than us has been either downplayed, critisised, punished, or simply has let others indifferent. And don’t get me wrong religion might have something to do with it but not necessarily. Or not? Can a person be spiritual without being religious? Can a person be religious without being spiritual? What does spirituality even mean to me, to you, to your best friend?
If you end up asking around, it seems all of us some a different kind of view when it comes to how spirituality is perceived. Isn’t that fascinating? One would think that Google and Wikipedia could give us all the information and all the answers. For certain things, it’s not just information that you think. It’s the actual feeling that the belief, trust and hope from a higher power invoke in you. The atheist might argue that all the power that you need is within you and that might be true. Yet, who or what is that power within you? If there’s no higher power, however you may choose to call it, what is it then all about? Is it all about self-confidence and all that bullshit “trusting yourself”?
I’m a rather proud person and do have sadistic tendencies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m probably equal to every single one of you, I’ might be similar to you but not the same. In my greatest difficulties, in my greatest worries, fears and uncertainties, I’ve lost the self-confidence. Because in those difficulties I had no control over life, over health, over relationships, over money, you name it. In those moments, no matter how long they last we lose control. The uncertainty might be so scary, so that in order to overcome it we need to believe in a higher power and allow the trust in that higher power and others help us and shine a light on our way. Because if that doesn’t happen is all about resignation after that, isn’t? And who wants to admit they are giving up and have others feel sorry for them? I know I don’t. So I choose to believe.
I choose to believe that there ‘s a higher power. What it is or who it is, is a personal question, a question worth asking. Finding the answer might not really be the main point I want to make. Spirituality and religion are moth malleable. Each interprets it the way they choose to. And that’s only fair, as each of us has a unique perspective of the world.
Now, acting upon what you believe is in accordance to what/who you believe in every single day might be more fulfilling and closer to your heart than paying taxes to churches and visiting temples. And when I’m asked I do say I’m a muslim, whereas I’m defining that for me as I go. Where do I draw lines and where do I let go? What brings me closest to Him/Her/It? Art is my way of feeling closest to this higher power I currently call Allah or God. Art in any way; through dancing, painting, playing the violin, learning new languages, taking care of me, traveling, deeply and naturally loving and caring for someone with no judgement. My Allah has only good and positive intentions. My Allah is empowering, trusting, full of hope and unconditional love. That’s my Allah. How’s yours?
Do you wake up, curse on the alarm clock, hit snooze, and 3 times after you’ve hit the snooze button finally find it within you to finally get up? Do you drag yourself half asleep to the toilet, wash up and get dressed ? If you are a female good luck; you will have probably changed 3 times already. Do you make your way to the kitchen -which is probably messed up cause… who has the power to clean the dishes from the day before?- and swallow a coffee as fast as you can because and before you know it, it’s already time to go to work…? AGAIN…?! And you cannot even remember where the stupid keys are! AGAIN! This sadly happens to most of us on most days -if you are living alone! Can you imagine living with more than you? Already CHAOS, PANIC, STRESS rule and take over your body!
It is a fact: Most of us go to work ALREADY stressed! Now, we also have our work, our customers, AND our bosses to worry about it ON TOP! Oh, man…!
I can honestly say that the first time at work I felt stressed was my first day at work. Or should I say first week? Or was it more? To be fair, it was a mixture of feelings, most frequently switching from excitement to fear, to stress, to being proud. So I decided I needed to put an end to the negative stuff, especially stress. I dug deep into my notes from the past and found some answers. Before writing this article, I dug a little deeper for us, just to keep us up-to-date 🙂
I cannot STRESS enough how STRESS can kill you. So I hope you and I find these stress management strategies helpful. Please remember, just because it is working for me or others, does not mean it works for you. The list is quite long -options, options ;)- but even if you apply 1/10 of it, you will probably have better chances of limiting the effects of stress -especially chronic stress- than others. Just experiment with a technique for some time -if you are open to it- and see if it is sincerely for you or not.
I. What can I do to release stress in the moment?
1. Learn the physiological signs of stress and acknowledge how your body reacts to it. Do not ignore the signs, i.e. sweaty palms, increased heart rate, neck stiffness, upset stomach..
2. Think of the stressor as an opportunity to grow and move on, rather than something negative. Shift your way of thinking and use the rush you get to focus undeniably to the task in hand.
3. Say over and over: “I got this! Done it before, can handle, time to crush it baby!” Believe me when I say, positive thinking will get you a long way! 🙂
4. Activate your yang, your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) that is. The PNS has the ability to calm down the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which is eventually responsible for the adrenaline rush. How to activate your PNS? A simple on-the-spot technique is the “5x5x5 deep breathing“: breath deep through your heart, feel your abdominal muscles and your chest expanding and contracting, imagine your diaphragm moving up and down. 5 seconds inhale, 5 seconds exhale, for a total of 5 deep breaths.
5. Write down a to-do list, prioritise, strategise. Everything will be clearer and you will be able to focus in no time.
6. Talk to someone you trust, someone who can listen and can give advice. Talking things through will always pave the path for a better understanding. It helps us to see the problem with a fresh eye and get to solutions faster. [PS: These kind of people are hard to find, so when you do, cherish them and show them how much you appreciate them]
7. Promote a calm aura, as if you are the Dalai Lama in the middle of a war zone. Relax your face, relax your shoulders, stand up straight, and keep your voice calm and reasonable. Why? Well, consider the last time someone talked to you in a distressed tone -for me it will always be the nurses… How did you react?
II. What can I do to relieve/release stress on the long run?
1. Take time to define on paper your code of conduct, your dreams and visions, your values and rules, your ideals, ultimate goals, and beliefs. Be honest and ask yourself these little treasures:
A. Where do I stand today?
B. Where do I want to get to?
If question C does not stir up some emotion inside of you, know it is not the right one. So, keep asking why and you will get there. Finally,
D. How do I get to B? What can I do differently?
Knowing your core self will help your focus and allow you to say no to stressful things that may not even be as important or urgent for you and where you want to be.
2. Practice mindfulness techiques purposefully, intentionally, with an open mind & heart.
– mindful breathing
– mindful STOP: STOP and smell the flowers 😉
– mindful daily routine
– mindful eating: smell, sight, sound, texture, taste, temperature
– mindful commuting
3. Pay attention to the positives, rather than the negatives: think of something or someone that makes you happy or puts a smile on your face.
4. Practice gratitude:
– Write “Thank you” notes
– Write gratitude letters
– Journal 3 times/week about 3 things you are grateful for. I have noticed that the smaller and the more unimportant something may seem to be, the more I am grateful for it.
5. Volunteer (do acts of kindness), give
6. Connect with others and empower your compassion: with people you love, with people you feel can teach you something new, with strangers.
– Guided imaging/visualisation through all our senses to get to our “Happy place”
8. Try destraction methods, i.e. cold showers (not a fan, lol)
9. Have a self-soothing, self-compassionate outlook on yourself: look at your mistakes with kindness, use constructive criticism with yourself rather than cold judgement, see the day as an opportunity for progress instead of perfection. Hug yourself.
10. Be proactive: Plan ahead, use prioritised action lists (what, where, when- even your recreation time!), use if-then statements (i.e. “If it is 20:00, then I will exercise”) and get excited about getting things done! Check out my first blog about planning here!
11. Count your little wins, give yourself a tap on the back,and celebrate your progress any way you feel like!
12. Spend time in nature, in green places.
13. Cherish & nurture your hobbies, recreation and leisure time. If possible do it away from work, and just play and have fun with others.
15. Self-reflect with the help of journaling
16. Use techniques like: Neural feedback or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
17. Search and find a mentor or ask the help of a life coach
Appointment booked. I’m all set. Coach me!
18. Define your inspirations, role models and heroes according to what you want to improve on.
III. Last but not least, here are some lifestyle changes to consider:
–Nutrition: the what is just as significant as the how
The what: limit salt, sugar , “whites”, (i.e. bread, milk, sugar) & red meat, eat a “rainbow” of vegetables and fruits, go for healthier carbs & nuts, drink plenty of water.
The how: mindfully, without TV, enjoy and talk to others
– Exercise: 30 min/day moderate, aerobic exercise (which means not being able to talk with ease) & weight bearing (yoga, pilates, weight-lifting). Zumba® is a fantastic, fun way to tone, burn calories and most importantly have FUN! Check my Zumba instructor page! Check out when the next class takes place and make sure you share your love by clicking on the ♥ button!
– Sleep: 7-9 hrs/d is considered physiological.
Take care of your sleep hygiene, i.e. avoid exercise, alcohol, smoking, caffeine at least 2 hrs before going to bed. Control the sleeping environment, combat cognitive hyperactivity with breathing or meditation.
Now it’s up to you? How does your body, mind, health experience stress? What have you been doing so far? What is working, what not? What would work? Which practices, tools, ideas are you ready to give a go? Which others come to mind?
Religion has played its role in my life, most significantly during the last couple of years. I guess it has been a journey for me. I would like to think that I grew up in a mixed family; 50% of my roots are arabic and the other half cypriot. Extrapolating from that, there is a 1:2 chance that I would either grow up to be Muslim or Christian Orthodox.
Religion did not bother me much until a teacher of Religious Education-yes we have those where I grew up- descriminated me in front of the class. I can still remember him asking me outloud: “You are the Maronite, aren’t you?” I looked at him puzzled; at that time I didn’t know what that even meant. I thought he was asking for my surname… I did not give the incident much thought then but I flashbacks came back of the same scene, when the actual Maronite entered the class. And I knew her surname was not “Maronite”. At that point, I decided to research it and realised that it was just an ethnoreligious minority in Cyprus. Maronites are a Catholic Christian entity, whose name comes from St. Maronas, an eremite living in Syria. A fellow student the actual Maronite, was eventually excused from class as we were going to go deep into Orthodox Christianism for the rest of the year. It was not spectacular, let me tell you that. We ended up memorising prayers by heart in order to get a good grade. Ironic how the government can blindfold children like that. Needless to say, by the end of the year I wish I had answered “Yes” to his initial question…
In my need to understand what Christianity really is, I religiously went to church during Easter time, following all the rules and listening to the chanting of the psalms to Jesus, God, Mary and the Holy Spirit. The language was hard to understand, the smell in the church was rather whoozy and the whole atmosphere felt rather heavy. People knew when to bow their heads, when to say “Amen”, when to pray along. I was lost and felt like a stranger. I stuck through it because I wanted to understand. I still remember that Easter morning, when all the black vails fell down from the icons and everyone started banging their chairs in order to let everyone know that Jesus has risen. I must say the effect was dramatic and caught me by surprise. I did not expect a sudden burst of chaos and panic in the heavy, sad atmosphere I had experienced in the past couple of days. After that I got REALLY into it. I started asking that teacher numerous questions. He gave me answers which in the end somehow did not make sense and other times contradicted each other. I was not convinced.
As time passed, I only went to the obligatory gatherings at the church organised by the school. These were typically taking place either when the school year began or before the bigger events, like Christmas and Easter. For me God at the time was no one religion. God was synonymous to love in my mind back then. The rest I did not know or cared to know. So I became agnostic. This belief carried me through university.
In the mean time, my sister had converted to Islam. I cannot say I was taken aback, as she was even more confused as I was and even got into trouble for expressing her mind back in school. She said she felt at peace once she converted. I accepted that no questions asked but was not intrigued to understand Islam until we were in Cyprus during Ramadan time. I had asked her some questions in order to understand what Ramadan meant and why she was doing it. She explained as well as she could. Later I asked her to send me a copy of the Quran.
When I was even younger, we used to visit the rest of the family, my dad’s palestinian family, who are living in Jordan. I would see my grandpa or grandma kneeling on the floor, then standing back again whilst whispering arabic. I felt that they were experiencing a unique moment and I were not to disturb them. Again, did not understand what was happening. My aunt at the time was trying to explain to me in broken English what was going on. I guess she did not know the word “pray” and kept repeating “Salah”. Dad explained it to me in the end. The holy time with Allah happened often and I had to become 28 years old to really grasp the concept of Islam.
Some people choose to believe that we all learn something from every relationship in our lives. I came even closer to Islam because of a rather dysfunctional relationship. So, once it finally ended and after a rather long illness, I had realised that Islam and the retrospectively scant knowledge I had gained about it was the positive outcome of all the suffering. I visited the nearby Mosque, met with the Imam, asked questions and now I am learning arabic because I want to understand the Quran as best as I can. Once I converted to Islam, I felt free and at peace. My religious journey is still ongoing and I am definately not the best example of a muslim woman, as I am still learning. That might be offputting or even unexeptable to some. Personally I do not care what others think of me; I accept myself as is. I realise this when I am praying, especially during the days of Ramadan. Sometimes I do get distracted and do not feel the deep connection with Allah. Other times during the day I might say or do things that Allah or other muslims might not approve, i.e. I choose not to wear a headscarf or cover my body as intended. And yes, I do not hide away during Ramadan when I can eat during my period. There are things to contemplate upon, there are others where I am learning to cross a red line.
All in all, I am getting better at it. If I were to compare only the physical and mental part during the last 3 Ramadans I can say there has been significant progress. During the first year I was simply accompanying my sister during her journey. I was doing experimentally to feel what she was going through. Of course, by the afternoon I started having a headache, nausea, dizziness, and extreme tiredness. I ended up with having something to eat and rest. The second time around I had already been converted. I believe that this along with praying gave me the mental strength to begin and move forward. As for this year, it seemed to be a piece of cake on the physical part, I was more focused on the mental part. This was actually pointed to me by a dear friend of mine and that reminded me that when faith and connection are there, everything is possible. Other priorities seem now to be more important, like the intention to connect better with Allah and learn some so-called “Duas” and prayers by heart. It is also my intention and goal to fast every Monday and Thursday.
Ramadan feels like a new beginning for me. It is like a second New Year’s Day. As I see it, it builds discipline, mental and physical strength, faith, gratitude and appreciation for the simple things in life, like water. Once it comes to an end, one feels proud for himself and stronger than the last time. Any intentions, wishes, goals and dreams are clearer and willpower is more solid and robust than before. I wish that to all of us, and mostly to the ones that feel lost either in their hearts or minds.
Dedicated to someone special in my heart
Now it is up to you! What is spirituality for you? How does it look like? What religions or spiritual thoughts intrigue you?