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My Castaway Survival Challenge 2018

Having been inundated with questions about my latest castaway adventure, I wanted to share my thoughts. I’ve always had a love of camping, campfires and nature. Nothing makes me happier than sitting around a campfire with friends and family, cooking, sharing, and talking. I’ve felt like that for as long as I can remember. For years I have watched programmes such as Bear Gryll’s, and tingled with excitement at the thought of having to survive in a remote location. This year, I decided that my urge to ‘go wild’ need attention, and typed the words ‘Castaway Experience’ into Google. Within just a few minutes, The Royal British Legion Castaway Experience popped up onto my screen, and I booked there and then.

Having raised funds for the British Legion to participate, I’ve just returned from my experience. And I loved every minute. Literally, every single minute. Prior to the event, we were told to “expect the unexpected” which filled me with excitement. I wasn’t disappointed. Without giving too much away (for next year’s participants), meeting the other participants in a hotel the night before, led to our first challenge! We were all expecting a good night’s sleep in a comfy bed in the hotel prior to our departure the following morning. We didn’t get what we expected! (Much to our amusement).

The following morning we left early, and drove boats from the marina, to our secret destination which was a lot of fun! We had no idea where we were going, but were told to follow the boat ahead. Forty minutes later we arrived at our castaway destination, a remote beach surrounded by forests. Greeted by survival instructors, we discovered that our first task was to build our home for the week. Split into teams of two, we each built shelters from logs, wood and bracken. Working together as a team and watching it all come together was incredibly rewarding. Lighting the campfire made it more homely and welcoming. It proved to be a very solid structure, which served us well.

Throughout the week, we experienced many ‘mini-lectures’ through which the survival instructors delivered their knowledge. We learnt to start fires using various methods including a bow drill which I loved. We prepared partridge, pigeon and learnt to skin a rabbit. (I apologise profusely to vegetarian’s reading. Regarding the rabbit, you will be pleased to know that although I did this, I didn’t particularly enjoy it and would only do it again in an extreme survival situation). Experiencing sea life raft survival was so much fun, (once I’d actually managed to get in it) as was the night navigation. Lying in bracken, giggling hysterically, waiting to ‘ambush’ the other team was definitely one of the highlights! As was cooking bannock , a bread style cake on the campfire. Hunger led to us foraging crab apples, rosehips and blackberries to eat. Crab apples stuffed with blackberries and roasted on the fire were delicious; I lost count of the amount that I ate!

This experience was a firm reminder, that beneath our material possessions, we are all just human beings with the same basic needs. Sat around the campfire at night, sharing stories together, it brought home the truth: as we really need is food, water, shelter and people. And that really is enough.

As for what I missed? Salt and hugs. Seriously. I craved salt and seasoning by day three. A pack of small pork pies secretly found their way into camp towards the end of the week. We all had a tiny pork pie smeared with smuggled in Branston. After a few days without flavourings, the taste was truly orgasmic. We were literally rolling around the floor in ecstasy, moaning with delight. And as for hugs? I craved them more than salt. Never in a million years did I think that I would miss physical touch as much as I did.

Overall, it was a truly wonderful experience, and I learnt so much, and made some amazing new friends. I would highly recommend a Castaway Experience to all!

Stop Bullying.. And Start Being Kind

Yesterday, I witnessed a young person being bullied and victimised in the street by three other teenagers. Their comments were cruel, unacceptable and I could see their words were causing the young person great distress.

Years ago, whilst in secondary school I remember a student who was bullied for most of his school life. He would experience doors slammed in his face on a daily basis, along with horrible, horrible insults. Often kicked and punched, he bore many bruises. I remember feeling so, so sorry for him and remember wondering how he even managed to get to school every day, knowing what lay ahead. On my own, I would open doors for him, to try to counteract the doors slammed in his face. Alone, I would converse and be as kind as possible to make him feel better. When with my friends however, it is with deep regret that I admit I turned a blind eye, for fear of being excluded myself. 

I thought at the time, that I did enough. I now know that to be far from true. Having worked with many, many coaching clients who have been victims of bullying over the years, I am now aware of the true and devastating impact. Continuous bulling leads to victims believing that they are not enough, or not loved, or not valued. Without help, this can severely impact their life for many, many years. Some victims believe these things to be so true, that they take their own life. Having worked with their parents who have lost their teenager in this way, I am aware of the devastating aftermath, in which so many lives are affected. This should never, ever happen.

I firmly believe that bullies are totally unaware of the long term effects of their words and their actions. Victimisation is not just emotionally damaging but severely physically damaging. 

A Danish study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research states that constant bullying initially creates an acute stress response and increases amounts of cortisol. This is followed by the second phase in which the body ends up within a state of chronic stress. Unable to cope, it slams the brakes on cortisol production. As cortisol is needed to produce energy, energy levels drop and the victim eventually becomes unable to function normally, experiencing further suffering. 

Kindness on the other hand, has the opposite effect. Being kind or receiving kindness creates a release of the hormone oxytocin, which has many positive health benefits. Kindness lowers blood pressure, speeds up wound healing and slows down aging to say the least. 

Yesterday, powered by my regret of not doing enough for my fellow student years ago, I stepped in. The bullies walked away. I looked the victim in the eye, sending love from my heart and told him that the things that he had just heard about himself, were not true. And I told him they would never be true. And I told him never to forget how amazing he was. Seeing the tears in his eyes, I knew how much he needed to hear those words.

I pray that you share this post because I believe that bullies need educating. I believe that if they really knew the true impact of their words and actions, they would think twice. I should also mention that I have worked with people who have honestly and bravely admitted they were once bullies. As adults, this is something that they truly regret. 

I pray that you share my words with your friends. This could not only positively impact one life, but many lives. I believe that every child deserves to go to school, or walk down the street without feeling afraid. Together we can make a difference.

DOCTOR YOU – 2 Top Tips For Adding Time To Your Life

My thoughts today are inspired by a film that I recently watched. ‘In Time’ is a fictional film in which people need to ‘buy days, weeks and years’ of their life by earning time; time being the universal currency. Every person has a clock on their arm that counts down how long they have to live. The time is topped up by working and can be transferred between people. When time runs out, so does their life.

We may not have a digital clock on our arm, but we do have a limited time on the earth. We can’t technically buy time, but there is the chance that we could gain more time with the knowledge that I am about to share.

My first top tip is to be kind! Health determines how long we live for, and it is potentially possible to increase your health, and therefore your lifespan by being kind. It’s that simple! Kindness creates a release of oxytocin within the bloodstream, which then creates a release of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide then dilates the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and aiding the heart; kindness is therefore cardioprotective.  It is also known to reduce stress, aid healing, lower anxiety and reduce pain.

My second top tip is to increase your compassion. Compassion is defined as ‘a deep awareness of and sympathy for another’s suffering’. To become more compassionate, we need to create time. We need to make time to notice the emotional state of people, and then make time to listen to them. (And I mean REALLY listen, with our heart). When we listen with our heart, we are able to connect with our deep compassion, and not only support another, but aid our own health.

There is a very significant and high correlation between people who are highly compassionate and the health of the vagus nerve. The vagus (Latin for wandering) is one of the cranial nerves which extends from the brain stem to multiple organs in the body. The vagus nerve is responsible for the body’s inflammatory reflex, and it is now known that people who are more compassionate, have a healthier vagus nerve. This basically means that they are more able to control inflammation within the body, and potentially disease.

There are many fascinating studies that support this, including the story of Roseto, a small town in Pennsylvania. From 1954 to 1961, it was found that Roseto had an unusually low rate of myocardial infarction, compared to other locations. This initially appeared confusing as the residents smoked, drank and consumed vast amounts of lard and cheeses. It was finally found that the close community was responsible for the longevity. The term, ‘The Roseto Effect’ (referring to close knit communities experiencing less heart disease) was born. 

Talking to my teenage son about his recently, he voiced his concern. “But if we go around just being kind and compassionate to better our health and prolong our life, we are just doing it for our own benefit. Surely this takes away from our idea of giving for nothing in return?” Absolutely, he is right so I’m not suggesting that you get up every day and work out ways to prolong your life by helping others. What I am suggesting is that you recognise the power of kindness and compassion, and just bear in mind that better health is merely a side effect of them both, rather than the primary goal.

I see kindness and compassion as medicine for happiness and health available 24/7 without prescription! (Yes, there is also a significant correlation between kindness/compassion and happiness!). So, to conclude, by paying attention to my two top tips, you could potentially be gaining ‘life time’. Tick tock.

Overcome Fear, Create Change!

I discovered this sign in Birmingham this weekend and found myself deep in thought as a result

When we think about creating change, it’s sometimes tempting to take a trip down our own ‘needless alley’s. We think about the worst possible outcome, as we consider all that could go wrong. Spending too much time in this place, otherwise known as your comfort zone (the place where you sacrifice your dreams for a comfortable existence), will lead to unhappiness.

The word ‘needless’ is of paramount importance. We may believe that we need protection, but this belief is often a product of a past experience. What we fail to remember is that we are older and wiser, with more resources. The belief that restricts us causes pain and frustration, because we’ve ‘outgrown’ it. It literally doesn’t fit who we are now. If it’s ‘too tight’ it will literally squeeze the life out of us. We end up living as a lesser version of ourselves. And we deserve more.

So why not step out of your ‘needless valley’ and onto the path that you really want and deserve? Let go of YOUR old beliefs…. BE BOLD and make that change!

 

Get Naked, Get Changed

We need to get naked. (I’m not talking about whipping off your clothing, I’m speaking metaphorically for those wide eyed in shock). There will be times in our lives when we find ourselves ‘stripped naked’ through adversity. All that we thought we were often disappears in times of personal challenge, leaving us questioning our purpose and identity. Comments such as “I feel so empty inside” spill from our lips, as we try to make sense of our feelings.

I’d like you to reflect on ‘nakedness’ from a fresh new perspective. Experience tells me that when we lose ourselves, it can be a wonderful opportunity to really find ourselves. How many people do you know that are living a life less than they deserve? (There is a chance you could be one of them). We are born happy with limitless potential but as we grow, we are influenced by others and experiences. We begin to live lives that we think we should be living, instead of the lives that we want to be living. This chips away at our soul, our smile and our happiness.

When we get ‘naked’, we are stripped back to nothing, so that we can find everything. Standing naked we need to dig deep to find our strength, and we do. Standing naked we re-connect with our values, and the things that are really important to us. We can never find our shine living amongst the stars of another. Adversity is the gift that gently guides us back towards our own stars, so that we can live the life we really want, connected to our hearts, souls and spirits.

The truth is, we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we react. We will all experience adversity within our lives that is for sure. There will be days that we all feel hopelessly devastated and lost. There will be days that we want to cry, rant and scream. But there will also be a day when we realise that if we look hard enough in the darkness, we discover a new kind of light.

The ‘nudies’ are the lucky ones. We get to feel nothing, so that we can find everything. Adversity is the way that we find our way back home, from our head to our heart. Only when we live from our heart can we find our truth and our happiness.

(If these words resonate with you, then you may well enjoy reading more about nakedness and happiness, within the pages of my self help book Strip Naked & Re-Dress With Happiness, How To Survive & Thrive Through Personal Challenge, available on Amazon and in Waterstones).

 

 

I was recently inspired by a 3 year old girl, after following her and her mother into a lift after breakfast in a hotel one morning.

The little girl pressed the button for floor 1, which then lit up. My husband then pressed 2. The little girl watching my husband then looked him and with a raised voice said “No! It’s number 1!” I gently explained that we were on floor 2. Refusing to accept my explanation she indignantly threw her arms down as she stomped and told us angrily that we were ‘cheating’. We suppressed our laughter in an attempt to respect her feelings as the doors opened on floor 1, and she marched out followed by her very embarrassed and apologetic parent.

The lift doors closed, and unable to suppress our laughter anymore, we collapsed to the floor in hysterics. The truth is, we were all that child once. There was a time in our lives when we spoke our minds without the fear or worry of judgment. Our communication as adults is drastically restricted when compared to that of a child, as we try to conform and fit in. This can lead to frustration and stress.

I’m not suggesting that you should all have hissy fits in a lift, but I do wonder how much better you would feel if you took inspiration from this story, and this little girl? What would it be like if occasionally you imagined stepping into the shoes of a child, to express yourself? Would speaking openly and honestly benefit your communication? There is a good chance that this could significantly lower stress and frustration! So the next time that you feel stress building and want to speak your mind, imagine stepping into pink sparkly princess pumps, or tiny trainers with flashing red lights! Step in, and let the ‘real you’ step out!

Fears & Phobias

We were born with only 2 fears – the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Other fears develop from our experiences, and our learnings.

No-one is ever born afraid of spiders, clowns, buttons, baked beans or flying! Any fears or phobias related to these are simply responses that have been ‘learnt’. So it’s entirely possible that if we learn to be afraid, then we can learn to be unafraid again!

Phobias usually start small, but then grow as time passes. Their growth can cause extreme negative reactions, which can be potentially life limiting.

I can help you free yourself from fear, whatever your fear may be. Together we will work through one or more techniques to allow you to process the traumatic memory, which initially triggered your fear.

How Does It Work?

The techniques use, enable the traumatic memory to be reprocessed so that it becomes stored as an ‘ordinary’ memory, rather than a threatening memory. The memory is shifted in the brain from the amygdala to the neocortex.

The amygdala is the part of the brain that alerts us to danger, and stimulate the fight or flight response. Usually, information associated with a potentially threatening experience is passed to the amygdala. This information then forms into a sensory memory, which is then passed to the hippocampus, and then to the neocortex, where it is stored.

If a situation appears highly dangerous or life threatening, this sudden information overload causes sensory memories to remain stuck in the amygdala instead of being passed on to the neocortex. Stuck in the amygdala, the memory remains ‘real and in the present’, and causes feelings of extreme panic and fear.

Techniques used, allow the ‘stuck memory’ to be processed appropriately, and put into perspective.

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Never judge a book by its cover.  Ever.  I’ve recently had a very strong reminder of this, and felt compelled to share….

My journey to London this week began on a train, before switching to a coach, (due to work on the tracks), then back to a train again. Upon leaving the first train, and stepping onto the coach, I found myself sat opposite a particularly unclean looking man.

 

I noticed that he was dressed in very torn and scruffy clothes, and that his footwear was virtually falling from his feet. He sat with a couple of dirty looking carrier bags, and simply wanting a quiet and undisrupted journey, my heart sank as he reached down into one of them, and pulled out a can of beer.

The journey continued, and I felt relieved as he sat quietly, leaving his remaining beer cans untouched.

A short time later, the coach arrived at its destination. All began to put on their coats and collect their belongings. A few seats ahead, a little old lady began to struggle to retrieve her suitcase from the overhead storage.  The people directly behind and in front of this lady appeared totally oblivious and I felt frustration start to build. To my amazement, the scruffy looking man had also noticed, and I watched as he stood and squeezed past everyone ahead before helping the little old lady with her case.  Not only did he help her get it down, but he carried it behind her to the front of the bus, and supported her smiling and chatting as she climbed down the steps.  He then waited for everyone to step off the coach, before returning for his own carrier bags. Feeling incredibly guilty for ever pre-judging this man, I felt a warm inner glow at witnessing this act of kindness.

Believing that my ‘never judge a book by itself cover’ lesson had been delivered, , I climbed down from the bus myself and entered the ticket office to await my connecting train. As I entered, I became aware of a raised and angry voice. The owner of this voice appeared to be stood at the ticket booth and seemed to be a very well dressed man, standing in an expensive looking suit, and highly polished footwear.  A posh leather brown laptop hung from his shoulder, and his gold watch revealed itself with angry gesticulations, as his voice increased in volume further.   It appeared that he wanted to pick up his train tickets, but that the member of staff was having problems typing his unusual surname into the computer. I watched as he crushed the staff member with his tone and his words, and muttered insults under his breath. And only in that moment did I realise that THEN, my life lesson had been delivered.

Too often we pre-judge, based on appearance, because we are often conditioned to believe that we have to look a certain way, to be a certain way. Today I was reminded of how wrong this is. I’m hoping that my words will enter your heart and your soul as you read, and that this story will somehow touch you in some way. I’m hoping that you will share this story, and as a result more people will be recognised for their inner beauty, and not their outward appearance.  I’m hoping that together we can make a difference.

Please share this story with your friends.  A tiny act of sharing creates a kinder world full of caring. Be part of this today!

Maria x

Is Your Soul In Tune?

Do you seek answers? Do you wish you knew what to do? The truth is, you were born with the words in you. Every piece of advice you have ever sought is in you right now, and always has been. It’s called your intuition, or your inner guidance, otherwise known as your soul.

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There was a time in your life when you knew exactly what to do. As a small child you probably spent the day doing what you loved, surrounded by people of your choice. If you wanted something then you asked for it, and if you didn’t understand you asked “Why?”.  As a small child you lived from your soul, refusing to compromise.

As adults we often find ourselves living a compromised existence. By this, I mean living a life that someone else has suggested or designed for us, a life that we have fallen into on the advice of others. Our soul that should be singing its own sweet unique song becomes an amalgamation of the borrowed music of others. We are left with an orchestral disaster within and our souls become distinctly out of tune.

The wonderful thing however, is that we are incredibly fortunate in that we are given signs that we are experiencing this internal conflict. Have you ever had a feeling of unrest from within that just doesn’t go away? Do you feel frustrated or unsatisfied with your current life? You may have noticed that these feelings seem relentless? Absolutely, because your soul is relentless.  It will never give up because it wants you to hear its message.

You can choose today to keep busy, and to distract yourself so that you don’t have to listen to your message. You can choose to avoid the truth, because facing the truth would mean change and change is scary.

Or, you can choose to finally listen to your soul and embrace every word. You can choose to treat your soul to some quiet time and seek solitude in nature and allow your words to surface. Seeking solitude eradicates external noise and increases the volume of your true voice so that you can face your truth. You can face your truth and accept that change is necessary and sometimes scary. But you can also accept that staying where you are for the rest of your life is scarier.

Make today the day that you make the decision to sing your own song. Make today the day that you decide to ‘re-tune’ your soul and live the life that you truly deserve and desire. Take time out to seek solitude, because in solitude are the keys to tuning your soul.

Use The Gap!

An unexpected event recently gave me a chance to experience the power of the gap. It was early one evening when I decided to go for a swim at a local sports centre. Knowing that a section of the pool would be closed for a swim training club, I decided to check that the rest of the pool was still available to the general public. Having been advised that this was true, I changed into my swimwear. As I was about to walk through to the pool, a young lady approached me with a message from the staff at reception. She said that she had a message from a staff member, who said he was  sorry, because apparently he had made a mistake. I was informed that the whole pool had been hired by the swim club, and that I should not have been let through.

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A heavy sigh escaped my lips.  Feeling particularly tired, I had literally dragged myself to the pool to exercise. De-motivated, I began to reach for my clothing to re-dress when the same lady re-approached me. She told me that under the circumstances, her swimming coaches were happy for me to stay and join in with the tri-athletes and their  training. “Really?”, I asked. “Yes”, she replied. “They said it’s fine”.

In that moment, standing in my swimsuit in the changing room, I became aware of the gap. The gap is a space in time, consisting of a few seconds in which we are given to make a choice. In that gap, I first imagined myself swimming amongst the people who I assumed to be super fit. I saw myself struggling to breathe being in an attempt to keep up, and predicted being highly embarrassed by my performance. My imagination ran wild as I considered the possibility of drowning and having to scream for help. (And I’d forgotten to shave my armpits so being dragged out of the pool by a lifeguard would be traumatising. I’d be known as the hairy one forever!).

Exhausting my mind with my negative thoughts, I found myself considering alternatives. Was there a possibility that I may enjoy it? Was there a possibility that I could keep up? In reality, a long way away from my imagination I knew I was a relatively good strong swimmer. Deciding to act on my last thought and use the gap in the best possible way, five minutes later I found myself in the pool. Silencing the, “Crazy woman, what have you got yourself into?”, voice in my mind, I swam length after length, and found myself keeping up easily with the others. An hour later, I found myself smiling at my achievement, and the unanticipated random event! And after thanking the swim coaches, I  decided that I may actually join them again in the future.

We all have access to randomness, excitement and challenge. We all have access to smiles and happiness, because we all have gaps. Every day we have the opportunity to make decisions about our future, whether it be the next 30 minutes or the next 30 years. And we make those decisions in our gaps.

The next time that you have a choice, bring my words to mind. Remember that in your gap, you have 2 choices:

You can make a decision that will keep you safe and comfortable and away from fear, and risk stagnation.

You can make a decision that scares you a little, but moves you into an inspiring future. This often brings great rewards.

How have you been using the gaps in you past? How will you now use the gaps that you experience in the future?

It’s worth more than a thought…….