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Are you ever satisfied with what you have got?

Aren’t we having glorious weather here in the UK! Or is the satisfaction tinged with a qualification, like it’s too hot or stuffy, or you can’t get out to enjoy it and you’re sure it’ll be wet by the time your holiday arrives? It’s worth checking what you do with something positive that happens and whether you negate it to some degree. Taking satisfaction in what occurs is something that does not come so easily for many of us.

Being satisfied with what you have got can clash with a deeply held belief that what we have isn’t enough. We tend to think of the grass being greener on the other side. We might for example be heavily invested in the idea that we still have more to do with our lives in some way, like a higher salary, more material possessions, a certain lifestyle or a relationship. What we have now may even be a cause for dissatisfaction, like something is missing. You might from the outside have everything you need but from the inside it isn’t quite right in some way. Such dissatisfaction can eat away at you and you can get frustrated or depressed.

In some aspects of life not being satisfied with the status quo can be seen as a good thing and thus in business for example one might strive to innovate or improve, questioning whether there’s something more or better that can be done. You might notice how businesses use words like “more than” in their strap lines. While you might seek to improve your lot, you could also take satisfaction in what you’ve achieved and it is good to celebrate these. In your personal life however, and in your career even, it can be worth checking the degree of balance and whether dissatisfaction tends to predominate.

In personal development it is quite common to find people who have worked a lot on themselves and yet don’t fully engage with valuing what they have achieved and simply what they have and who they are. Self questioning can be overdone. We can get stuck in introspection and don’t engage enough with the world. We can get into spirals of questioning where what is somehow still isn’t quite right.

It might be worth exploring what the standard is against which we are making these judgements of ourselves, because the bottom line aspect might be low self-esteem, like the belief that “I’m not good enough” that can lurk hidden away inside. Thus instead we can be constantly driven, seeking, wanting, needing, and never quite getting “it”. Instead we’re “wanting of it”, the want of it.

Thus it can be vital to pause, breathe, let go and simply take in where you are at, and see what that’s like. Being in the moment and being mindful, we can appreciate what is right here, that you and I are alive, present, aware, magnificent just as we are, and this world right now is beautiful beyond measure and beyond comparison.

Now if you struggle with that notion, then it’s worth exploring where you go and what that’s really about, and deal with it. Because for some of us there’s a little voice inside that questions this kind of experience. You might for example find yourself disengaged from the experience of the moment and questioning it, or questioning yourself and your value. Being present in the moment invites us to value ourselves and see our own glory, because in being in the moment we’re being in our body, in awareness terms, and sensing and feeling ourselves. Now, if there’s an element that doesn’t like ourselves, we’ll feel it.

Thus the journey becomes one of loving oneself, as well as life, because the self and life are really One.

You can learn more about this, and about how to value yourself and take satisfaction in you and in life, on this course: click here.

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Being who you are means knowing who you are not

“Just be who you are” can seem easy to say, except that it poses all sorts of questions. For one, it first presupposes you know who “you are” is and secondly that you feel able to “do it”!

Yet authenticity, being who you are, is what our contemporary culture is demanding. Just watch reality TV programmes. We also today have a big rise in what is referred to as narcissism, the false self. Narcissus was a beautiful mythical Greek who fell in love with his reflection in a pool and wilted away and died of the impossible love. Narcissism can be called being excessively in love with yourself, although love isn’t a very useful word, more an unhealthy self-absorption that craves anything that bolsters this false self and fears terribly its ego’s collapse and the accompanying fear of shame, worthlessness and isolation. So, today we refer to the “me” society, the massive emphasis on self, and along with it might notice things like self-importance, grandiosity, achievement-obsession, perfectionism, pride, entitlement and self aggrandisement, to various degrees.

Not that we’re all like that by any means, as how I’ve put that is more at the extreme end in order to indicate a contemporary pattern, but we can hold elements of it, some element of inauthenticity. One potential trap in the pursuit of loving and valuing oneself is that the self being so bolstered is in fact a false construct. This is where people doing self development can get stuck, a kind of egotism that actually inhibits satisfaction and fulfilment of the life path. Very often I’ve seen people seemingly making great strides and yet get stuck in this area of knowing oneself.

The journey of the false self can therefore include learning to not necessarily rely on “out there”, as for example in other’s views towards you, and instead seek “in here” to find your own inner authentic self that you can truly honour, respect and value.

In Eastern mysticism they refer to the 60,000 veils of illusion, maya, which are concealing the true Self. Hence the discipline of meditation helps to facilitate being more and more present with who we really are, and sets aside or “witnesses” our ego. I explain about this on my new online series of courses.

Since we all hold in ourselves facets, to some degree, of what we experience in others, it is always worth exploring the degree to which you or I have some level of “false self” in us. It is of course a typical way of describing the ego, though by no means the only way as there are many other aspects to the ego too. Although I prefer words like “small self” or “limited”, since so much of what we say is so easily value-laden and open to interpretation and misinterpretation.

The point here that I’m curious about is the ego trap in personal growth of, in doing work on ourselves, getting caught up in some false construct, some inauthentic expression of self.

This is where the path of self awareness is so valuable, of learning to discern and discriminate, of really knowing yourself, so that you come to know who you are in ego terms and in authentic terms too. Then you know better what to focus on and what to set aside! You don’t have to do masses of in-depth therapy for this, although it has its place for some of us, but knowledge is very useful.

You can come and learn more of who you really are on our upcoming program. To find out more, click here

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To value yourself gives you your well-spring for action

As any who has battled with self esteem will tell you, a powerful impulse for action comes from a sense of inner knowing of your self-worth, when you value yourself. We’ll use different words for it and will often refer to things like self belief, valuing ourselves, knowing we are OK, that we’re worth it. We can often limit our actions, and the strategies we choose, and even the insights we come up with on which we make plans, by how we’re feeling inside about us ourselves.

It’s like, what’s the flavour of the moment today? If I’m not feeling so good, a bit down, I might not go out and see someone. If I need to maybe be looking for a new job, if I’m not so sure of myself today, I’ll not take any action or I’ll not be so adventurous or creative in the ideas I come up with for what I might go for. I might not dress myself so attractively to as to be seen in a positive light because I’m not feeling good and don’t want to “make the effort”. I could go on. What on a good day might be easy to do, effortless, and productive, may on a bad day be ruled out or not considered.

The power of getting to know inside who we really are, and to feel OK about what we find, is that we get a more effective metric for readiness for action. We can also more easily develop ways to manage our state, and deal with the ego, because we know what it really is we need to manage.

Our society is so accustomed to teaching that there are external metrics, social conventions, rules of behaviour, expectations, that we are supposed to live up to, either overt or assumed, or ones we’ve made up ourselves and internalised and made unconscious, outside of awareness. What isn’t so easy is to develop your own, inside. For starters, we many of us avoid doing that because we’re afraid of what might be revealed. After all it’s a bit of a contradiction: I limit my potential because of how I see myself but I’m afraid to go inside and find that it isn’t what I thought it is!

It’s very easy for people like me to write that we are inside beautiful beyond measure. But it’s really all just words, until each of us in our own way take that journey and find it for ourselves. When we find our own way to peel back the onion skins and make contact for example with the pure love that dwells naturally within, then we know from personal experience what that means.

Then we can live as That, in whatever that means personally for me or you. It’s a tremendous liberation. No wonder Eastern mystics use exactly that word. When you find your own inner Self, it’s so much easier to go “out there” and be as who you are.

So, you can take this journey if you wish, at your own speed, and at whatever stage in your own growth you’ve reached. You’ll know the stage by the results you get, what occurs and shows up in your life, and how you feel.

Here’s a really good start, a day to explore who you are, to develop your knowledge of yourself within as who you really are, to connect more with the love and joy that is really you and be more as That in your everyday life.

Then, as you develop this knowledge, when you need to take action, you can do so from a more positive base of inner self-knowledge, of Self-knowledge with a capital “S”. Life is then so much easier.

So, you can read more here and book your place here in beautiful Wiltshire at the height of gorgeous spring, in May 2013.

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Beating ourselves up doesn’t make for lasting peace

Have you found that the frustration, shame or disappointment you have felt for something adverse that has happened for you has been such that you’ve turned it on yourself?

Beating ourselves up can be one way of dealing with lack of success in some area of life, although not exactly the most positive way of treating the self. If we don’t take it out on others, then there’s ourselves, if that is we feel we have to “take it out” on something. The anger, shame, rage, call it what you will, needs an outlet. There’s a long history of this. If society hasn’t judged us and then punished us for our alleged transgressions, then we can do a pretty good job on it ourselves. In medieval times it also had a religious aspect too, the Flagellants, especially during the Black Death, doing penance for our perceived sins and unworthiness. At the extreme end, some people self-harm today, deliberately hurting themselves, hitting, stabbing or cutting themselves for example, often as a release for the pain they feel.

Psychologically we can beat ourselves up too, being angry with ourselves, even insulting ourselves, very much as we might imagine others might do to us. Yet when it’s over, people can report feeling at peace. Interesting that we feel we need to inflict pain on ourselves to get to peace.

For some it is an energy that really needs to be channelled outwards, as if we really want to be directing it towards others or the world. Who would we really like to direct this at? People who were taught not to get angry with others, for example, direct it at themselves instead. Those too who’ve been on the receiving end of some verbal or physical abuse, then carry it on with themselves.

We might blame ourselves for some perceived inadequacy we think we have. We might think we’re failing at something, or “no good” at something, or don’t come up to our own exacting standards. I say “perceived” because this is all so much as we see it, or we think others might see it, and we lack a detached, more balanced view of what is going on.

It is as though there is one part judging another, inadequate part of us. And this can be a crucial insight, since neither part is who we are really, but just two parts of us at war. It’s like there’s a morally superior part that sits in judgement and then there’s some poor, mean and feeble underdog that can’t “get it right”.

In beating ourselves up what we fail to see is that this is all ego, all a false identification, not who we really are. In all the anger and angst the pure, peaceful Self is obscured, seemingly obliterated in the rage and upset. So, when we’re at peace again, then we can feel It more. Not a very self-respectful way of proceeding in order to know peace. We need to find a way to be kinder and loving to ourselves all the time. They say that the body is the temple of the spirit and therefore deserves kindness and respect. The challenge is to find ways to heal our angst and anger and connect at ease with our Inner Peace, the inner contentment of the Self.

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There are two sides to self confidence

There are two sides to self confidence. There’s how we feel about ourselves and then there’s confidence in others, which is closely linked to trust. Confidence in others can take quite a lot to build up but can easily and rapidly be lost. It can be very easy to make self confidence “other-person related”.

This is very evident curiously enough in the current furore over banking in the UK. Banking is built on confidence. That’s why you put your money in a bank. But because of the slump since 2008, confidence has been severely lacking. And it’s spread out to include politicians and journalists. When we find the trust has apparently been betrayed, as with the alleged fiddling of interest rates, there’s an explosion, all the worse when it appears politicians were involved too.

So too with our relationships: having confidence in your partner is crucial. If we find out our partner has cheated on us, it gets very hard to trust them. Yet a relationship is based on trust. You need to know they’ll show up for you, they’ll be there for you, they’ll honour your confiding in them, they will respect your space, they’ll reciprocate when you put yourself on the line for them, and so on.

A betrayal of trust is like a rejection. It can hurt deeply. If someone’s proven not to be there for you, you can feel abandoned. You might also feel like it’s an injury, depending on what’s happened.

Confidence in life, in its ability to deliver for us is profoundly important. For those who have such confidence, it’s like knowing that in each step you take, the ground is firm and steady and it supports and sustains you. Things show up when you need them to. All sorts of things appear just when needed. Life works. Without this trust, there’s a doubt and a questioning. Will this happen OK? Will I be safe? Will the road be OK to drive along? Will that car drive past me safely or will it do something dangerous? In my job, will others respect me when I speak up and go for what I want? Will they think I’m worth it if I go for that job? Will people see my value? To those that have self confidence, they just believe it will be OK, until they get evidence to the contrary. To those that lack self confidence, there is often fear, anxiety and doubt. There is a doubt that the world will show up for them as they need it to, and there’s also an inner doubt about themselves. This will vary according to the context of course.

Whatever the challenge and the level, contemplating an action can give us anxiety and we’re not sure we can do it and that it will work. Very often this involves a question of whether others will respond as we need them to. Will we get what we want?

This is why a key aspect to self confidence work is to learn to face our fears, and to build up trust by experimentation, taking action and trying things out, often in the process challenging the inner dialogue that can so easily undermine us. It can sometimes be like we’re learning anew certain life skills, like for example the art of communication and influencing, but this time with an inner faith and an inner power, one we hold true for ourselves whatever seems to happen in the world “out there”. That’s when we need to go within and decide that “in here” is OK. That’s when we take action based on inner confidence.

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Success need not be about how good you were at school

I was given a great link today to a video by Sir Ken Robinson about our western education system. For all those who might to some degree attribute their struggle to achieve success in life to the limitations of their education, or those of their parents or children, this is worth watching. Personally I’m reminded of how strongly education is dominated by a traditional academic “top-down” elitist approach, what Sir Ken calls a massive university selection system.

The current belief goes that if you want to have success in life you “must” get good academic results, get a degree (preferably from a “good” university), go on to get a Masters and now even a PhD. Yet we also currently have a high number of graduates unemployed, unless they have studied “relevant” disciplines for their chosen career (those who know what career to choose). And very many have left university with massive debts. There is a massive question in there somewhere about whether education is really serving the needs of our young for the future.

Sir Ken talks about how education squeezes creativity out of people. He points to the high levels of ADHD today and suggests that the massive multiple stimuli of the digital age and the very high levels of creativity in such people may have something to tell us about a surge in creativity that the traditional education system is unable to accommodate. You could also say that we’re just too overloading ourselves today, but I leave that to you.

I have worked with huge numbers of people who have left school with little or no “qualifications” and gone on to senior levels in business. For them, school didn’t really do it. Schools lose every year vast amounts of talent, since it is geared towards passing exams and getting people to university, which inherently eliminates people along the way, the majority. So often I meet people who say words to the effect that they “aren’t very bright.” People come out of this system thinking they are “unintelligent”, since the system was geared towards what was perceived as the “intelligent”. If you listen to teachers, they are frequently comparing pupils according to how “bright” they are. The “bright” ones get the rewards of the system, and rest are treated as “also-rans”.

Now there are lots and lots of teachers who don’t see it like this and struggle against it, and schools with more enlightened approaches. I’m thinking more of the prevailing ethos in our society and in education as a system broadly conceived.

My point in all this is that success takes many forms, is really something best defined by the individual according to their own values, understandings and aspirations, and that (and this is crucial), no one person is “better” than another and that there are multiple forms of “intelligence”. For example you can have a capability which hasn’t emerged yet and you can find it later in life. Your ability might vary. It might be rational/logical, it might be aesthetic, it might be perceptual, it might be artistic, it might be musical, it might be spiritual, it might be philosophical, it might be moral, it might be inter-personal, it be in communications, it might be in code,  it might be practical, it might be organisational. And so on. We all have value and we all have potential.

For those seeking to maximise success for themselves, we have a workshop for you to help you turn this around.

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It’s hard to like yourself when you don’t like your body

Imagine you were an alien and you were being given a guided tour of shops to get an idea of what interests Earth beings. Suppose you were taken round Boots, the UK drugstore chain. What would that tell you about people’s preoccupations? Probably an awful lot about our preoccupations with our bodies and our appearance.

Many might be used to seeing news articles relating to women’s concerns in this area. Last week there was something on men too. Apparently 35% of 40-year old men surveyed would trade a year of their life to achieve their ideal body weight or shape. 80% engaged regularly in conversation about their bodies. The biggest matters of concern were muscles and “beer bellies”.

People seemed to be surprised about this. Yet, as a male, I was always very aware of the importance males attached to their body shape and how much they compared themselves with each other, but then I would, wouldn’t I, being “thin”, or as my wife reminds me, “slim”? “Body building” has been around for years. However there is a danger in generalising from one’s own experience. Concern about obeisity in men is a more recent thing, though. What the survey reveals is the level of unhappiness about body shape in men too, with the suggestion that an “obsession” with appearance is growing.

It’s worth noting just how much people worry about how they look, how they compare with others, what others think of them, how they match up to perceived stereotypes of appearance, how they can achieve what they regard as the ideal, perfect person, and how much we don’t value difference and don’t value ourselves. Instead the underlying drivers are thoughts like “I’m not good enough, not attractive enough, not strong and powerful enough; people don’t respect, like, or appreciate me,” and so on. Negative self-beliefs at work again. And they are very powerful beliefs. Linked with that is the ego tendency to compare ourselves with others, usually negatively in this case. The ego is engaged here, because this is about “who I think I am”.

The impact on one’s life of such preoccupations are huge, reinforcing negative self-images and that filter out into other ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.

Somewhere, deep inside, there’s another part of us that isn”t like that and doesn’t believe it, as it isn’t who we are. It needs a voice, for example to start challenging these negative self perceptions and asserting a more loving and respecting view of oneself.

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It is a journey to learn to honour and approve of your self

People who struggle to value, praise or appreciate others are often ones for whom the idea of valuing people overtly is not an easy one to do. A root cause of this can be because they do not value themselves underneath. Also people who look for appreciation from others can find it missing in themselves. So our ego watch for today is self-deprecation, putting ourselves down.

People who put themselves down are ones who might for example when invited to have something for themselves will decline it, saying “It doesn’t matter.” They may push it away, implying it isn’t important, but might leave you with the sense they they aren’t actually valuing themselves. Of course many of us were taught to be modest, to not “push” ourselves forward, to “not be pushy”, to keep quiet, to not draw attention to ourselves, to “not boast”, to keep a low profile. Can you read all the “nots” in that?! It is of course profoundly negative.

The person who doesn’t value themselves may hold the core belief inside that they are “not good enough”, that they “don’t matter”. It’s a profoundly unhappy place. You’ll hear it in things like an inability to acknowledge ability: “I’m no good at…” whatever it is. You can hear the words “I’m no good” in there. Another manifestation is apology, “I’m sorry”, often when there’s nothing to apologise for.

Self-deprecation can be very effectively covered up. People may act the reverse to the underlying belief. Or they may have their hearts closed, being reluctant to contact the pain inside.

Yet often a core aspect is a dislike of self, a shame, that goes back a long way. But it is not who we are.

This is where self-esteem, confidence and positive psychology work is important. The affirmation needs to be “I love, value and appreciate myself”. But to be able to say that to yourself, you are very likely to need to work on developing a sense of self-value, of how it feels inside, and finding the space inside where you begin to love yourself. Words on their own don’t quite do it. We would take positive psychology a step further. Self-deprecation is a hugely powerful negative ego trait. It nicely illustrates the function of the ego in masking the real Self, who you really are. The underlying Self is bliss, joy, love, contentment, peace. This Self is the source of all that is good about oneself. It feels so good. So it is a fundamental shift to make, from self-deprecation to honouring the Self. This is where developing an inner awareness of the authentic Self is a major, powerful journey.

This is part of what we teach in our awareness work.

As a simple awareness practice in the meantime however, catch yourself putting yourself down, not valuing yourself, and say to yourself empowering words, like “I love, value and appreciate myself”. It needs regular practice since self-deprecation is often very well-entrenched.

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The terrors of publicity

How do you feel about other people poking their noses into your affairs? For example, do you think “I have nothing to hide, I’m OK,” or do you resent the intrusion?

We have an interesting debate going on in the UK about the right to privacy. A professional footballer had obtained a court injunction to prevent the media from disclosing anything about his private life, apparently to hide an affair he had had with a fellow celeb. This is in the context of already on-going “super-injunctions” preventing anything being published about particular people. “What about free speech and its concomitants?” people asked. However, for this perhaps unlucky footballer, he was “outed” on Twitter, then by a Scottish newspaper outside English jurisdiction and then by an MP using Parliamentary privilege, leaving the courts with a dilemma over enforcement.

The debate is a classic one, the right to privacy (for the rich, it should be said, who can afford the legal fees to protect their name) as against the public right to know and freedom of the press. John Stuart Mill in 1869 in his famous essay “On Liberty” argued that the only constraint on non-violent free expression should be the unfavourable opinion of others. In other words, fly or swing by how others see you.

This is a very public age. We all can become famous or be ridiculed in the public arena thanks to the internet. All kinds of people can, through reality TV, be seen warts and all.

Those less inclined to seek public attention may wish to hide at this point. Self-disclosure for many people has its terrors. Did not many of us fear being exposed by our peers at school, fear being laughed at and made fun of? People can be merciless in their so-called “fun” at another’s expense. “Can’t you take a joke?” I remember people saying as they did this to each other. A curious sort of humour.

Being exposed produces very painful reactions in people. We may try to conceal it, but the giveaway is often the blushing in the face and feeling very hot and uncomfortable. This is often shame, a very painful reaction, often a “re-action” of old experiences, in which we feel bad at our core. Embarrassment is its companion.

No wonder many get very paranoid, worrying about what others are thinking about them. In all likelihood they aren’t thinking anything at all, but that’s not what we think. Imagine your private life, with lots of inaccuracies and distortion, all over the national press. Imagine how you’d feel. So, see what happens when the press make unfavourable comments about celebs. Hence the latter hire specialists to manage and protect their image, for example the likes of Max Clifford in the UK, and take out injunctions to muzzle the press.

Princess Diana famously hated the paparazzi, who pursued her eventually literally to her death, and yet she had also courted the press when it suited her. Remember those beautiful poses in some gorgeous gown, with her coy look.

Publicity can be great for some, sheer exhilaration. All that attention and let’s hope all that approval. Pop stars get addicted to it. But they have huge downturns when it goes sour, so much do they often lack the skills to manage it.

Others would be terrified of such exposure. And exposure can be how it feels, naked in front of masses of seemingly unfriendly faces.

Such do our egos trip us up. Being able to be “out there” in front of others means self-exposure, opening your self to others, being fully vulnerable, so that people see all of us (although for very many that is strictly managed). Intimacy, being vulnerable, can also mean “into me see”. Here our view of our self gets challenged, by our perception of what others think, and what we think of ourselves.

So, what is it therefore about ourselves in relation to others, in all this, that we really dread? (More of this to come.)

To learn more about developing your own inner awareness of who you really are, and how to feel good about yourself, take part in The Point of Awareness programme. Read the brochure and sign up here

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A time for celebration

May Day this year is being celebrated amidst seemingly unseasonable summery weather, but perhaps not inappropriate in helping people mark the shift away from wintry to more summer-like climes that is typical in May Day celebration. May Day has pagan origins in fertility rites but from the 19th Century has also been used as a Labour Day in many countries. Traditionally in the UK people danced round the May Pole and wore flowers on their hair or in their clothes. They celebrate.

In the UK we’ve also had an unusual combination of celebration this year, Easter having just finished and then a royal wedding which produced massive celebration across the country. It must seem like a very long holiday for some.

When we have major events, a major change or something completed successfully, we celebrate. We can for example celebrate an achievement, a success, perhaps like someone or some people winning in sport. Celebration comes after a period of effort, perhaps some adversity, but there’s been a winning through. It is a time to take satisfaction after the period of effort, to acknowledge what has been done, to praise those that have been successful, but also to have a good time ourselves. It is like we also need to praise ourselves, to acknowledge to ourselves what we too have achieved.

This is not something we do easily. Perhaps it is the work ethic, perhaps our discomfort with praise, but we do not easily take satisfaction and celebrate. There seems to be some guilt in there somewhere. Or we believe we don’t somehow deserve praise, as if we are not good enough. Sounds good ego stuff, doesn’t it?

So, it’s a good reason to do it, to let our hair down, and acknowledge ourselves, and if you can’t think of a “good enough” reason, why not simply acknowledge yourself for being you.

In acknowledging ourselves, we praise ourselves. And we let it in, let the heart feel the warmth of the praise we are giving ourselves, simply for being who we are, who you are. Say something like “I acknowledge my Self. I honour my Self”, with a capital “S” for Self. “I honour my Self”. And let the praise sink in, feel it in the heart centre, and allow it to connect with the love that dwells within.

We say it warms the spirit, but perhaps it is more that we feel warmed by spirit.

Positive self-affirmation, done without ego, without self-inflation, simply and honestly, warms the very centre of ourselves, and connects us with the Self once more.

A very good thing to celebrate.

To learn more about developing your own inner awareness of who you really are, and how to develop a positive sense of Self, read here about The Point of Awareness.