Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan  Coaching, Training and Consulting


Tips and thoughts on how to have a great life.

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Silent Retreat: What is it and why should you do it?

Posted by Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan on March 29, 2018 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (0)


If you follow me on Facebook you will know that over the St. Patrick’s Day bank holiday weekend, I went on a Silent Retreat. It’s not the first time I’ve done this, having been on retreat every year for the past 5 years. It was my second time attending a retreat with this particular teacher, Marjo Oosterhoff. Marjo is trained in the Burmese, Buddhist tradition and runs her own retreat centre, Passadhi, on the Beara Peninsula in Co. Cork. The retreat took place in the Emmaus Centre in Swords. This is a great venue for a first retreat, as you have your own ensuite room and all your meals are provided, more often you will be in dormitory style accommodation and are expected to help out with meal preparation or cleaning up, but this is not the case here. Having my own space was important to me when I went on my first retreat there with Marjo years ago.

The retreat started on Friday evening and ended on Monday at lunch. After check in all the attendees, 22 in total, congregated in the meditation room for introductions and instruction from the teacher. Marjo checked to see who had been on retreat before and informed us of the structure of the weekend. The timetable was posted throughout the building so that we could check it whenever we needed. After that were instructed on Noble Silence. This is the silent part of the retreat, no speaking, no phone use, no reading, no writing and no eye-contact. On this particular retreat Marjo didn’t enforce no eye-contact, something which I found a challenge on day one as I had been used to having no eye-contact on all the other retreats I had attended. She later explained to me that this was to make it easier for all the new people, of which there were several. We then had a 30-minute meditation, with instruction from Marjo and at 9pm headed off to do our own thing, in silence, before lights out at 11pm.

Marjo Oosterhoff specialises in Vipassana (open awareness) and Metta (compassionate) meditation. Her teachings over the course of the weekend are intended to help to develop these practices or deepen existing ones. Marjo’s Metta guidance is amazing, and it was on my first retreat with her, doing this practice, that I experienced a profound feeling of compassion for myself that has never left me.

Saturday morning started with meditation in the group meditation room at 7.45am. This meditation is not guided so you are supposed to do Vipassana, based on your instructions from the night before, or Metta if you have been explicitly instructed to do so by your teacher. Breakfast is at 8.30am followed by time to do individual meditation, yoga, tai chi, walking or mindful showering and if you really need to, return to bed for some rest. I chose to meditate in my room during these breaks, practicing Vipassana or lying on the floor to do a body scan meditation incorporating some Alexander Technique teaching I had received for back problems. At 10.30am we returned to the meditation room for further guidance.

During the times we were together we were given instruction as well as an opportunity to ask questions if we needed. I always chose to stay silent as so much of my life it taken up with asking or answering questions on a day to day basis; it is useful for me to notice my thoughts without responding or reacting to them. This portion of the day involves sitting meditation, followed by walking meditation, each session taking approximately 30 minutes, on a rinse and repeat basis. Lunch was at 1pm followed by individual meditation etc. and a return to the meditation room at 3.30pm for more sitting and walking.

During these sessions Marjo also had one to one meetings to help attendees with any challenges or to give them specific guidance. This was optional, and at first, I decided not to attend but by Sunday afternoon I changed my mind.

The evening meal was at 6.30pm. Lunch was the largest meal of the day and for those of you curious about what we ate, the breakfast was a continental breakfast and the main meal was soup, followed by dinner, dessert and tea and coffee. The evening meal was a small cooked meal with a sweet treat to follow and tea and coffee. In Emmaus the service it waited service and so there is no clean up afterwards. This is really nice as it allows you to feel looked after, have a break and enjoy the shelter of the venue. At 8pm we reconvened in the meditation room for some feedback and a final meditation of the day. At 9pm we left to do our own thing and lights out were at 11pm once again.

The structure for Sunday was the same as was the morning of Monday, until 12pm on Monday when we broke the silence and had our meal between 12.30pm and 2pm to allow us to integrate back into speaking, ready for our return home.

On Saturday it snowed and so I chose to stay in for quite a bit of the day apart from some Mindful Walking outside. This was a big difference from the first time I was there. The first time I found the times between meditations very long and so I walked laps of the beautiful grounds to pass the time. Marjo had reminded us that filling our time with ‘doing’ is not ‘being’ with what is, which in some cases can be boredom or restlessness. I found it much easier to just sit in meditation this time or just sit, as the case may be, without the urge to fill up my time.

One of the challenges I became aware of on Saturday was in relation to Noble Silence. As I mentioned earlier normally there is no eye-contact or recognition of anyone else in any form but on this retreat many people smiled, whispered, opened doors for you, handed you cups or poured your water causing us to continually have to break with our own experience to acknowledge the other. I found this difficult as I went from internally apologising for myself in my head when I didn’t respond or internally apologising for breaking the rules when I did. After a while I noticed how ridiculous I was. The other challenge I had was physical, I’ve had a number of physical problems over the past few years and the extended sitting was proving difficult. As the first day progressed I became aware of how much tension I was holding in my body and how much ‘doing’ I was engaged in as I tried to sit straight, comfortably or relax. Once I began to notice this my body began to soften and by Sunday evening most of my pain had subsided. The real gift of silence is becoming familiar with yourself and your thoughts. In fact, the word meditation means ‘to become familiar with’. On a normal day our focus is often outside ourselves, needing to speak, be noticed or recognised, wanting approval, taking control or defending ourselves amongst many other things. When we stay in silence all these things either become very noticeable or fall away. This was the subject of my conversation with Marjo on Sunday afternoon to which she reminded me that we are all the same. In Buddhism they call is attachment and it is really useful to notice what you are attached to; this can be varied but some of the things that are common are: to your appearance, being right, not looking stupid, not making mistakes, perfectionism, being acknowledged, needing approval or helplessness, to name but a few.

On Monday we finally broke the silence. It takes me a bit of time to adjust to speaking again and for much of the lunch I smiled, nodded and said yes or no in response to questions before finally beginning to chat. It’s important you do break the silence however, as it can be easy for us to forget our surroundings on the journey home which can lead to potential accidents. By the time I got home I was ready to tell all to my husband, having not spoken since Friday, as well as cuddle my pets and sleep in my own bed. During lunchtime conversation it was funny to hear of the number of people who broke the ‘rules’, texting home, checking Facebook, making a quick phone call and quite a number looked up the results of the Six Nations. I of course, being the rule bound person that I am, did what I was told and only switched my phone back on at 2pm on Monday. My rule bound behaviour something my meditation has made me aware of over the years.

On return I found I was slow to get back to Social Media, staying away until the following Friday. I also found my meditations deeper and my discomfort lesson as the week progressed. I found it easier to practice Metta during the week too and spent a number days focusing on this practice.

If you are new to meditation then, I recommend you do a half day or full day silent workshop before immersing yourself into a full retreat. If after that you are interested in doing a longer period of silence then, I recommend Marjo’s retreats which you can find out about on her website for Passadhi Retreat Centre or try out Jampa Ling in Co. Cavan, they do silent retreats a number of times during the year.

Thanks for reading.

I hope our paths cross gain in future,




How to Deal with the Opinions of Others

Posted by Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan on March 23, 2018 at 3:20 AM Comments comments (0)

I know I have written about this before, but I wanted to write about it again as it is something that regularly comes up in my coaching sessions and when teaching. I recently had a message from someone who said their confidence was really knocked because someone posted an argument under a video they had shared online and it had affected them badly. So much so that they took their video down. Having an online presence and being able to deal with the reactions and opinions of others can be quite a challenge, especially when we feel a little nervous or vulnerable putting ourselves out there in the first place. I am not immune to this, but I do have some tips to help you deal with differing opinions and criticism.

From a Buddhist perspective when dealing with criticism we have to examine and acknowledge the things to which we are attached. Our attachments are the ideas we have about who we are, who we want to be and what we hope other people think of us to name but a few. When we begin to identify what these attachments are we can start to have a fair idea about why things bother us.

If we are hoping to be seen as intelligent then, if someone questions our intellect, ability, knowledge or expertise then we often feel bad. If we value our appearance, and someone criticises how we look then, we can feel bad also. Our values often determine what is important to us and these values are often the things that trip us up when it comes to criticism or the opinions of others. The real trick is to be able to use the criticism as feedback and use it to learn, grow or develop.

If we assume that we have already arrived then, we close ourselves off from further growth. Sure, being shown our failings can sting but the truth is if your value is growth, self-improvement or to help others then taking those opinions and using them to get better, to improve or to adopt new ideas and to expand your map of the world is useful.

I used to hate criticism, I could feel myself shrink inside and feel myself blush internally. I even struggled with shame and worried about the opinions of others long after an event had past. I’d lie awake at night going over and over the event as if that would somehow change it and I would miraculously erase the fact that they had pointed out my mistake or lack of knowledge. It never did change the past therefore, I had to adopt a new tactic. So, I developed a new a strategy and here it is:

The first thing I do is change the information given to me by someone else from criticism to feedback. This is a universal tool used in NLP. It can be as simple as changing the word criticism to feedback in your mind.

Then, I ask myself are they right in any way, and if so, what aspects of the feedback may be true?

If they are right. I ask myself what do I need to do, or learn, to become better? I then make a plan as to how to improve, or I ask for help. Sometimes from the person who offered the opinion in the first place.

If they are wrong, I chalk it down to a difference of opinion or I accept that this comment may be simply about them or their view of the world. I usually just thank them for their opinion and I move on. I remind myself that most people say what they say with good intention, even if I can’t see it, and I acknowledge that, to them, whatever they think or said makes sense.

The most important thing I remind myself of is, ‘It’s not about me’, in most cases people arguing with you, especially online, is more often than not, not personal. You just happen to represent something to them that triggers their values or beliefs, and in that moment they have chosen to voice them.

Most importantly, I try not to argue back. This just causes you to defend yourself, it closes you off from new experiences and learning, as it forces you to reinforce beliefs, ideas and opinions that you already have instead of opening you up to new ways of viewing the world. That old saying of not taking things personally is important to remember, as well as knowing that if you are taking it personally then that’s all you and nothing to do with them.

Get used to saying things like, ‘thank you, I appreciate your opinion’. ‘Wow, I never thought of it like that’. ‘That’s fascinating can you tell me more’. ‘You could be right, I’ll have to think about that’ and ‘you’re right I do have more to learn, thanks for giving me something new to think about’. Humility, is always a good place to start. I have to work at that all the time, but it really is worth the effort.

Another thing that is incredibly useful is to practice Loving Kindness or compassionate meditation. When we are kind to ourselves we can see ourselves more clearly as someone who is just trying to do their best. The biggest cause of sensitivity to criticism is trying to be perfect. You aren’t, you never will be and if you ever are then start worrying because then you have nothing left to learn and as far as I’m concerned learning is the whole point of living.

Thanks for reading. If you are interested in finding out about my online or face to face courses or Mind Coaching sessions you can find out more on my website.

I hope our paths cross again in future,




Silent Retreat

Posted by Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan on March 16, 2018 at 3:25 AM Comments comments (0)

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I'm off on Silent Retreat this weekend so I will be offline and away until Monday. I will post about my time away in a post in a few weeks. In the meantime I have posted the link to my Counting Meditation on Youtube for you to watch. You can also follow my scheduled posts on my Facebook page as they will still run, as I have them planned ahead of time. I am looking forward to the silence and to receiving some more teaching in meditation. I am so grateful to be able to learn more and hopefully get to share it with you in the future. Have a wonderful weekend, Elfreda

Can Gratitude Make Us Happy?

Posted by Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan on March 9, 2018 at 3:25 AM Comments comments (0)

According to Robert A. Emmons in his book Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier,

A prevailing sentiment in both classical and popular writings on happiness is that an effective approach for maximising one’s contentment is to be consciously grateful for one’s blessings

In simple terms this means if you want to be happy and content, practice counting your blessings.

I am currently teaching a five-week Stress Management Course specifically aimed at parents. The purpose of the course is to help develop a greater sense of awareness when it comes to the causes of stress as well as to develop key strategies to eliminate the majority of stress from your life. We’ve looked at The Anatomy of Stress, Wellbeing, PERMA and Sleep as well as examining how our experience of a stress-triggers determines how stressful something will be. This week we also looked at Gratitude.

I think this subject is especially relevant at the moment as many people in Ireland are expressing immense gratitude for the help and support they received in their communities over the past week, when we had one of the biggest snowstorms in over 36 years. People are overwhelmed by the kindness they received from those who cleared roads with tractors, to the volunteers who transported frontline workers to and from work to maintain the opening of hospitals and nursing facilities, as well as to the staff who braved the elements to open shops and businesses. It is in times like these and in times of hardship that we often express gratitude the most and it is this level of gratitude that allows us to see these events in a better light. Expressing gratitude allows us to feel better about things when they go wrong, and it helps us reframe events so that we can see the positive. So how do you make gratitude part of your life so that you can experience it every day?

One of the simplest exercise you can do is start a Gratitude Journal. Each night before you sleep, you write down 3 – 5 things for which you are grateful. Doing it at night primes you for positivity as it is the last thing you think of before your brain gets busy pruning synapses while you sleep. I recommend that you also note down ‘why the experience happened’. For example, ‘I am grateful I was in work early. This happened because I got up early and gave myself plenty of time to get there’. This does three things. Firstly, it identifies if you were the contributing factor in the event, or thing, you are grateful for, and if you were, then you will feel a sense of empowerment knowing that you contributed to your own happiness. Secondly, it identifies if someone else was the reason for your gratitude and it helps you to appreciate people in your life more. ‘I am grateful I didn’t have to cook dinner yesterday. This happened because my husband saw that I was tired, and he did it instead’. I could extrapolate endlessly from this one as to why my husband is really great, but I’ve been grateful for him for a long time, so that’s an easy one. This is essential when it comes to maintaining goodwill towards others as well strengthening feelings of love or positivity towards the important people in your life. Lastly, it forces you to think in more detail about the things you are grateful for, which encourages you to enhance and increase your positive feelings.

The next thing to do is to use gratitude so that you begin to track for positive events throughout your day. I recommend you do this exercise first thing in the morning. When you get up as you start your day think of 3 – 5 things coming up in your day you are grateful for and ‘why’ you are grateful for them. This encourages you to think positively about your day, and also to focus on the positive rather than on things in your day that you might find more challenging. If you practice this regularly you will begin to notice more and more things for which you are grateful which also makes you notice more of the good things and diminish some of the less pleasant so that they have less hold over you, then it becomes easier to let them go and move on.

Another way to practice gratitude is to express gratitude for everything you see as you go about your day. The main thing with all of these exercises is to always think of new things. This makes it a lot of fun, especially for this exercise as you soon find yourself being grateful for the person who invented asphalt and the person who dug the road and the person who put the bulb in the traffic lights. You get the idea? I personally find expressing gratitude a great way of getting out of a funk and I will often be grateful for my headache or my sciatica pain or the fact that a client had to cancel etc. When I do this, I need to be creative in thinking why I am grateful, my headache might remind me I’m not drinking enough water, my sciatic might remind me to sit better or to uncross my legs and the cancelled client might give me time with my husband or a chance to walk the dog. The great thing is there is always a reason to be grateful.

I hope you take some time to be grateful this weekend and I’d love to see some of the things you are grateful for in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

I hope our paths cross again in future,



Fear of the Unknown

Posted by Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan on March 2, 2018 at 4:35 AM Comments comments (0)

So, by the time you are reading this post, the ‘Beast from East’ will have hit the east coast of Ireland. It’s Wednesday as I write this and for the past two days social media has been inundated with images of empty shelves in supermarkets as people panic buy, fearful that they will be snowed in and unable to access vital services such as food, or even be without electricity or water. Conversations abound about the big snow of 1982 and the more recent snow of 2010 with most sharing some tale of the unexpected and the risks that could be faced now. For most of us it’s this unknown factor of what might occur that drives the behaviour of panic buying. At least if you have a house full of bread and milk, you won’t starve.

Fear of the unknown is one of the most common causes of stress in the clients I see both face to face and online. Ironically that is not what brings them to my door at the outset, but it is usually what we uncover after some chatting and asking and answering specific questions. For most of us we have a certain outcome that we are trying to avoid, or a set of feelings but we often don’t explore what that outcome might mean or what we could do if the inevitable happens.

One of the best ways to make the unknown less frightening is to think about what might actually happen; the worst-case scenario, the best-case scenario and the most likely. For each one come up with a plan or strategy as to what could be done if this event occurs. Think about the options and especially the resources that are already in place to help solve this problem. When we put ourselves in a place of power the unknown become less frightening because we know we can figure out a way to be ok. The more we do this the easier it gets and eventually we get so used to problem solving that we start to trust that we can solve problems easily and we begin to trust ourselves and our abilities.

Buying all the bread in the shop is a reactive version of this with less thinking and more feeling irrationally. If we take the time to plan out what might happen and what will most likely happen then we are more inclined to make better decisions. Of course, the other side of this is if you aren’t attached to an outcome the unknown is no longer a problem but that’s a chat about Buddhist thinking for another day.

Thanks for reading.

I hope our paths cross again in the future,

Elfreda, 00353868373582

Using Mindfulness For Stress Management

Posted by Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan on February 23, 2018 at 4:20 AM Comments comments (0)

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Staying Focused in Challenging Situations

Posted by Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan on February 16, 2018 at 4:10 AM Comments comments (0)

I recently posted a question to my Facebook page asking if anyone had anything they’d like my help with or opinion on. One of the questions posed was ‘staying focused on the moment in challenging situations’. I promised I’d write a blog post on this and here it is.

There is so much I can say about this topic that I am going to try to keep it concise with five specific tips you can use, but before I do there is a little I want to say about what we need to do to be aware first, when it comes to our challenges.

In my online course From Competence to Confidence I devote a whole section to ‘Identity Beliefs’. Charles H. Cooley calls this the ‘Looking Glass Self-Theory’. In this theory Cooley believes we construct our identity based on what we imagine others expect us to be.

‘I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am’ C. H. Cooley.

When it comes to situations we find stressful it is important to realise the stress comes from our beliefs around who we think we are, what we imagine others expect from us and how we feel about our potential failure or success. The stress is all our own making and because of this fact we also have the power to change it.

Here are my Five Strategies for Staying in the Moment in Challenging Situations.

1. Notice Your Thoughts

When we become overwhelmed or find our mind wandering, when we need to stay focused, it is usually because our mind has drifted into the past or future, thinking how things went wrong before or, more often, what could go wrong in the future. It’s important that we notice what we are thinking, the types of thoughts we have and what beliefs we have about ourselves and the situation we are in. When we begin to notice our thoughts then we have the power to challenge or change them, which is fundamental to moving away from learned helplessness. You can find out about this in the work of Martin Seligman and his book Flourish. When we identify our thoughts then we can begin to examine our explanatory style, which leads me to my next strategy.

2. What is your Explanatory Style?

Martin Seligman’s research has shown that pessimism is a precursor to depression and to catastrophising and rumination. When we explain our circumstance in a negative way we can usually find that the language we use is pessimistic. This means we describe things as personal ‘it’s all my fault’, permanent ‘this always happens’ and pervasive ‘what if I lose my job and can’t pay my bills and everything goes wrong’. What we say to ourselves and how we explain our beliefs about the world tells us a lot about how we will feel in times of stress. If we believe these things are transient, isolated and not personal then it is easier to move on and let go when things don’t go as planned. If you want to find your Explanatory Style there are several tests on the Penn State website here

3. Create an Anchor

In NLP we often talk about anchors and how certain experiences have memories and associations attached. I am sure you have certain smells that remind you of your childhood or foods that you associate with feeling unwell which make you not want to eat them. I ate a tube of Pringles once, in one sitting, and I am quite slow to eat Pringles now, as the memory of feeling unwell is well embedded into my mind. This a negative anchor but we can also create a positive one or one to stop us doing something in the moment. Richard Bandler uses one where he stops repetitive thinking by saying ‘Shut the F*@K Up’ in his mind. Martin Seligman recommends an elastic band, to snap, on the wrist and saying ‘Stop’ loudly in our mind. This can stop our thoughts from racing away. In Mindfulness a Mindfulness bell is often used as reminder to stay in the moment or placing stickers around our home or office to remind us to stay present every time we see one. These are useful in the moment if things have already started to derail. However, being prepared in advance is even better.

4. Practice How You Want to Feel

One of the most powerful NLP exercise we can learn is building a powerful state. What this means is creating a set of feelings and behaviours in advance of a situation, that could be potentially stressful, so that you are already ready to deal with it. This can be creating a state of calm by thinking about what we see, hear and feel when we are calm and creating an anchor to fire off in the moment to trigger it, when we are feeling overwhelmed. My own personal one is a deep breath and shoulder roll. This action triggers confidence, calm and mindful awareness for me. I’ve practiced it so many times now that it happens instantaneously and because I am aware of the thoughts that trigger my stress I just fire it off as soon as I need to. Knowing when you need it is vital, which leads to my last strategy.

5. Practice Mindfulness

I know for those of you who read my posts regularly you might think I am broken record, but I can’t impress on you enough how important it is to practice Mindfulness, if you want things to change. The brain works through repetition so, in order for us to learn something we need to do it over and over again. Noticing your thoughts, knowing your explanatory style and catching yourself when you slip into negativity comes from being aware in the moment and the one sure fire way of achieving this is Mindfulness. We live in a world of quick fixes and so we assume a ‘just do this’ attitude and hope things will change but if you want to stay focused in the moment in a challenging situation then you must practice being present, and the research says that can only happen through repeated meditation. It’s not the amount but the frequency and as Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson say in their book Altered Traits ‘after is the before of the next during’. The effects of Mindfulness are accumulative and if you want to stay in the present moment you need to practice daily.

I hope you found this useful. If you have any questions or anything I can help you with, please get in touch.

I hope our paths cross again in future.




My Interview with Gerry Kelly on the Late Lunch on LMFM Radio 7/2/2018

Posted by Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan on February 7, 2018 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Gerry and I talk about teenagers and mental well-being, resilience and having an online presence, Elfreda

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