Learning can take place in the most unlikely circumstances. Many a teacher will say ‘when I stop learning from my learners, that is the time to quit’. Often we learn from great teachers other times we go to a training that tells us how not to do something. Either way there has been learning.
Personally I can’t think of a more nourishing way to spend a weekend than on a teacher’s retreat. This weekend was spent learning and practising from fellow practitioners and teachers. Connections were made and best practice was shared. It’s this type of event that keeps mindfulness teachers topped up both in terms of how to teach and in terms of zest and enthusiasm.
On the first night, after a whole day of meditating, guiding meditations and being guided through them myself, I slept so soundly I clocked up ten hours. This is a rarity in a house with small kids. So undisturbed sleep, alongside the course, made me feel fully recharged by Saturday night.
My husband had his best wry smile on when he found me googling for more retreats the next day. Why more, he asked. Because this is my CPD and it certainly beats a dry two-hour session on how better to use interactive white boards, which is the CPD I normally have to endure for my day job! Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes
Parenthood can stretch a person to the limits at times. As a woman that test is compounded by societal expectations and internal guilt inducing voices that can chide for giving too many sweet treats or for shouting after they have ignored you through ten calm requests to stop doing something.
As parents both me and my partner have been rather ineffectual at dishing out punishments. There is the thinking step, which gets occasional use but my son will just kick the door and scream until we give up and let him back into the living room. There is a red traffic light which gets dished out but already both kids have realised nothing much actually happens when they do get a red traffic light.
Withholding treats is perhaps the most effective thing but this week I have banished biscuits, TV and my sons much loved scooter in the hope it would make him skip happily off to school. I still ended up carrying him into school yesterday as he shouted ‘I don’t want to go in!’
This morning when he had ignored me for forty minutes of gentle reminders to get dressed and washed and was still lying on the bed scowling and screaming every time I went into the room to remind him to get ready I realised I would need to move on from ineffectual pleas of ‘please darling, get dressed’.
So I mindfully shouted at him! I warned my daughter I was going to shout to save her from getting worried and told her it was nothing to do with her, then I went in and bawled. He burst into tears, howled and said I had hurt his feelings. I explained it hurt my feelings when he ignores me for forty minutes on a school day. He dried his eyes, said sorry and started getting dressed.
I was reminded of the story about the Zen teacher who said use your umbrella but use it mindfully, to a woman who had to fend off a man in the market. Compassion takes many forms and sometimes it might take the form of doing something you’d really rather not do in order to be kind to yourself. Total practice time today: 25 minutes
Whether to include a befriending meditation on an eight week mindfulness course often sets mindfulness teachers off on lengthy meanderings. I hear the concerns of teachers who say it feels too Buddhist or all that talk of loving kindness might put people off. I try not to include anything that will marginalise people in my courses but including a befriending meditation in my course was a conscious choice because let’s face it: religion does not have an exclusive claim to kindness. Us secular humanist atheists can be kind as well.
The bottom line is this: it’s hard to escape the unnecessary suffering caused by a stressed out mind when that mind is still being unkind to itself and others. And if it feels wrong to be kind to yourself, think of it as an act of self improvement and one that could strengthen relationships as a by product.
And kindness inspires kindness. At the weekend inspired by a group of participants on one of my courses who always wash up cups at the end of a class, I (on a training course myself) offered to clear up the lunch dishes. This cascaded down and soon all the other participants were clearing up their own plates. The organiser beamed and said ‘This doesn’t usually happen.’ Little acts can make a big difference.
Today’s total practice time: 15 minutes
Learning to pause is one of the essential lessons mindfulness can teach. It sounds so simple and yet for many of us, whose minds flit from one place to the next, it is a lot harder than it sounds. Part of my whole being, prior to daily mindfulness practice, was concerned with making everything OK. Smoothing over rough edges wherever I could find them. To stop doing that has been a slow process, one that is still ongoing. But over time I notice subtle changes. Over time I realise I have learnt to pause, I don’t always wade in trying to fix everything, like I used to. It’s a welcome realisation and one that is infinitely more kinder, to myself and others, than my previous well meaning attempts at sorting everything. An everyday example from busy family life: stuff getting left on the floor on my husband’s watch! Used to drive me to distraction. Do I a) nag him or b) pick it up myself? Neither option appealed. But now I have option c) do nothing, pause, see how it pans out. Nine times out of ten things do get picked up without my intervention. Eventually. Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes