All posts by wifi allotment

my week of mindfulness – teaching online

So today, as I continue an intentional week of online mindfulness events, I was teaching a group of unpaid carers mindfulness skills. During lockdown I have been a complete convert to online teaching via Zoom. Of course it’s not the same as being together in a room but actually these virtual communities are the next best thing. And as a teacher who is used to arriving at dusty unloved community halls with little in the way of IT support or functioning projectors, what I have noticed is that screen share on Zoom is 100% more likely to allow participants to see my lovingly crafted powerpoint presentation than the previously mentioned dusty community halls.

And we have breakout room technology to allow participants to mix and mingle and by the end of a short online course and especially an eight week online course, there is a sense of community, a sense that we have shared a meaningful journey together – we have practiced, we have connected and shared and we have had a bit of nosey into where we chose to sit for each class. Perhaps this glimpse of our homes and lives is more authentic than the self we often show in a community hall or at work, perhaps that’s why these groups feel meaningful and reduce the sense of social isolation that we can all feel during lockdown.

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Online teaching is not the same as face to face classes but it’s an important resource and support to those who are feeling isolated and disconnected as the lockdown and social distancing continues into the future. For this reason I am now offering more online content in the coming months. Follow this link for details of the Mindfulness-Based Sleep Hygiene Course, an affordable and practical course rooted in the latest research around sleep hygiene supported by journalling and daily mindfulness practice thismindfullife.net

And for this reason I am proud to be working in partnership with and supportive of unpaid carers in Hertfordshire during the uncertainty of lockdown.

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my week of mindfulness CPD

It was this week coming that I was due to go on my annual retreat to Gaia House. It won’t come as a surprise to hear it has been cancelled this year.

Each year I spend time choosing which retreat to go on, like choosing from a luxurious box of chocolates, I look at the group retreat programme and feel spoilt for choice as I work out the logistics of which week I can do, which teaching speaks to me and which teachers I feel I might connect with. This year’s choice would have been particularly welcome – run by two women, both of colour, neither British – this was not your business as usual stuffy old white man assisted by a svelte younger woman dynamic that can dominate many retreats. I was looking forward to it.

 

But part of my lockdown has been noticing the small (and sometimes not so small) wins. As a result of lock down BAMBA, my guiding body, accepts that I and all mindfulness teachers, cannot go on retreat this year. I have faithfully gone on retreat every year for the last five years – to finally have a year off, especially when you have a young family, is actually quite welcome. Gaia House dutifully returned my deposit within a week of cancelling it and I don’t have to stump up more money on train fares and extra childcare.

As I am now on a year long sabbatical from my day job to focus on my therapeutic training and family life, on a practical level this reduction in costs is also quite welcome. Couple with that the fact that many mindfulness events and conferences are being offered online this year (and are mostly free) I feel like this is win-win-win – no CPD fees, no trains to pay for and no missing time with my family.

I am getting better at the old work-life balance and lock down has played no small part in it. I have been mindful not to go mad booking myself onto online training – there’s so much out there that I am back to feeling like the kid in front of the box of chocolates all over again. So I have been ignoring a lot of it and just walking in nature instead.

But this week I plan to engage in a virtual mindfulness retreat and some CPD events. Just one week long burst and then I will retreat back to nature and living mostly offline. It kicked off tonight with a free CPD from CMRP Bangor. Their conference usually costs around £500, way out of my budget and too far away to travel to as well but this year it’s all free and all online. Why wouldn’t I take them up on that? So I signed up to Mindfulness Based Science CPD tonight, excused myself from the kids bedtime and immersed myself with my mindfulness teaching tribe. to check in with how science can better support my teaching.

Embracing some online CPD and a retreat for the next week feels good but after that I know will go back to my low fi approach in nature and my garden and with my daily walks, which feels 10 times more mindful than staring at a screen.

Total Mindfulness Practice time today: 45 minutes

reasons to be cheerful

It’s easy to let events run away with us, to get addicted to rolling news, to feel that the world will end if we don’t check into all the many social media and online outlets that now connect most of us to the world. If I don’t upload my dinner on facebook did it even exist in these lockdown days?

But what I have been experiencing in these latter weeks of lockdown is less time on Zoom (when possible – I practically live on Zoom and Skype for work) and more time out in nature, with the kids and doing things that spark joy.

It was with this in mind that we wrote lists, at the start of the holidays, to give us all a sense of purpose. How often can we not go out during the holidays? Gone are the trips to London and Cambridge that are a staple of our holidays, gone even is a walk in Hatfield Forest (a sore point as far as I am concerned as it’s large enough to allow for plenty social distancing but se la vie, it’s currently not an option, along with Audley End another holiday fav).

But we have fields, and an allotment and a garden. And we are a creative bunch really – making music and cakes on occasion. So we all wrote a list of things we would like to do but so often don’t have time for and this gave these strangest of school holidays a sense of purpose. I reviewed mine today and I was quite surprised when I realised I have achieved all of them. This is the type of life I have long dreamt of living (admittedly with more freedom to get out and mingle)! Each item on the list sparked a pocket of joy in between the valleys of gloom and worry.

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We now face three more weeks at least of home schooling, working from home and studying not to mention endless cooking, washing and shopping because I can no longer get any groceries online but having these lists has been a highlight of our lazy holidays along with the commitment to get out and walk every day while we can and while the sun shines.

Today’s total practice time: 15 mins

 

hello 2020

It’s been more than a month since I have found the time to write anything. We had a local Mindfulness Meet Up Group last week but other than that I am not teaching as much while retraining to be a therapist – there isn’t the time to do that currently and that feels pretty good.

Instead I am making time to meet with people I hardly saw last year as I embarked in my first year of therapy training. Local trips to the cinema, walks with friends and of course as much time with my children and hubby as I can manage are my intentions this year.

As part of this intention I went a few weeks ago with a friend to see ‘Jo Jo Rabbit’ which we both enjoyed and one of the characters had a moto ‘Trust without fear’. It stayed with me and feels like if I had to have a resolution to greet this new-ish year it would be that: Trust without fear. Though that’s probably a lifetime’s work.

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Today’s total practice time: 1 hour

decluttering

It’s been quite a year, for me as a teacher and trainee therapist. I’ve been busy, my clinical placement and diploma started this autumn and time has whizzed past ever since. But before all that kicked in, over the summer, me and the children watched Marie Kondo on Netflix and decided we would do our own declutter.

This tied in well with wanting to live more simply, with being intentional in when and how I shop. I started this year with one main resolution – to buy less, consume less and I have stuck to this – I didn’t buy any clothes for myself for the best part of a year.

And so thanks to the declutter my drawers and wardrobe are emptier than the start of this year. You don’t need to read one of Marie Kondo’s best selling books to get the essence of her declutter method – you basically pile all your clothes in one (shamingly big) pile.

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For a woman of my age and income, I don’t think my pile of clothes was too bad to start with but there was still stuff I could cull. Then once you’ve decided what you throw and what you keep, you move onto step two which is repack the clothes you will keep into your drawers in a more aesthetically pleasing way that means you can always find the jumper or top you are looking for.

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Amazingly the kids were on board too and did their own versions of this. Three months later my drawers still look this way and I haven’t brought anything new to add further clutter. My first Extinction Rebellion meeting helped add conviction that this is the right way to live right now – less stuff means more time actually, more time to be with and connect to people, more time to do things I am passionate about.

I hope to continue living a simple life: college, work and family keep me busy enough so to give up needless consumption, whether shopping locally or mindless online purchases, feels a no-brainer right now and I’m more on board than ever to buy less, fly less and drive less in 2020.

Thanks for following my sporadic blogs in 2019,

Wishing you a peaceful Winterval and a mindful 2020!

awe and wonder

I have been looking at the sky as part of my daily mindfulness practice for a couple of years, inspired by an activity described by Vidyamala Burch in her excellent book Mindfulness for Health. I loved the invitation to notice the sky for 5-10 minutes everyday and do it whenever I remember to. So I might be standing on a platform at Tottenham Hale station and notice either blue skies or grey clouds and I notice how the difference between the two can make me feel.

I might do it, on a slower day, from my garden with a cup of tea or on busy work days I look at the sky from the kitchen window in my workplace as I make a herbal tea. The practice is simple – look at the sky, check in with the body, notice the breath, notice any thoughts, go back to noticing the sky, repeat.

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The view from my plot!

This morning I made time to visit my allotment which doesn’t happen that often these days. I was late in London at college last night and had awoken as always too late and to much general child induced morning chaos – arguments, some dog poo that had mysteriously made it’s way into the house and needed to be cleared up, confusion about whether the kids had a trip to pizza hut and needed a packed lunch or not, an interview later today and mindfulness-based supervision were all things I had to navigate before 11am.

But squeeze in a trip to my plot I did and after that list of things it felt practically obligatory! I weeded for 20 minutes and then gave myself permission to just sit and watch the sky for 10 minutes before heading home, something again that I rarely do. When I started the practice several years ago I had no idea it would impact so deeply on my life and had no idea about the recent research into awe and the positive affects it can have on our lives. Researchers have found that having a daily dose of awe in our lives can improve our moods, our health, make us more cooperative and less materialistic and even help with critical thinking.

greatergood.berkeley.edu/…/eight_reasons_why_awe_makes_your_life_better

And for me watching the sky gives me that daily dose of awe that we all need in our lives, so too does watching a nature programme on TV – so this is something literally all of us can access in our own way. And it works well with clients who have experienced trauma and who might not yet feel OK to sit with their eyes closed on a cushion, simply going to their local park or even looking out the window at some clouds can be enough to kick start the process of better regulating emotions.

greatergood.berkeley.edu/…/four_awe_inspiring_activities

Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes (including 10 minutes of sky watching)

Back at Birkbeck

Birkbeck holds a special place in my heart.

I have often written/joked about my addiction to life long learning and Birkbeck saw one of my most expensive forays into lifelong learning when I did a Masters more there 10 years ago. Like many who have done a Masters, I’m not 100% sure what it added to my career opportunities and I have certainly moved away from what I studied since having children.

I did an MRes in Government, Policy and Politics and though my work is now in Therapeutic Services and Interventions the research skills I gained during the course have since served me well in both my day-job (focus groups and post-service interviews with clients and report writing are both examples) and my mindfulness teaching (evaluating and measuring the impact of the work I do has always been a passion along with reading the latest research on Mindfulness and EMDR).

Birkbeck is also the place where I did my first eight week mindfulness course as a participant. Under the tutelage of Michael Chaskalson and in a hot and crowded room along with 25 other busy, burnt out Londoners I learnt to pause, breathe and began cultivating more calm than I had had in many years.

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So it was with much fondness that I prepared to teach a course for The Bloomsbury Institute Staff and Students, and was delighted to find out that I would be teaching this course at Birkbeck. bil.ac.uk I now have an excuse to go to my old stomping ground of Bloomsbury once a week and soak in the vibes of SOAS, IoE (where I also studied to train as a teacher) and Birkbeck. It was a sunny spring morning on my first day of teaching there and as I left I noticed with affection a predictable queue for the Hari Krishna food that is served there everyday, good to see some things don’t change.  A new edition was a pop up bike maintenance service, run for and by students.

Such a special part of London, so many memories and I realised in the sunshine, I may not easily be able to sum up all that doing a Masters gave my career but it certainly gave me a few happy years before and just after my children were born, it gave me a sense of belonging to a vibrant student world and I am happy to be a part of that again, for a brief time at least.

 

Today’s Total Practice Time: 45 minutes seated and movement

 

Drop Everything and Meditate

It’s world book day this week, it comes round quick each year. My kids are now in upper primary and I’m not sure where the time has gone but this year their school are doing a Drop Everything and Read event during which time every time a bell is sounded they do as the title suggests – giving up all other pursuits to read a book.

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Photo by Samuel Silitonga on Pexels.com

I have been looking for a fun way to bring more mindfulness into family life and so I asked the kids how they would feel about doing a Drop Everything and Meditate event at home this week, to accompany their reading at school. The idea being we sound a bell at some point each day when we are together and meditate. They loved the idea especially the element of surprise and so we have managed to do it twice so far this week, bells curtesy of Insight Timer which I love for it’s free access and multitude of bell choices insighttimer.com/meditation-timer

Of course they wanted to know what would happen if the bell sounded when they were on the loo or having a shower or reading their book but they already knew the answer – drop everything and meditate (though not literally if you are holding a cup of juice!)

I hope I remember to do it throughout the week as so far it’s been a pleasure to sit with them and meditate when they least expect it and who knows it might prove to be the much sought mysterious way of getting them to mediate more often which so far I have not been able to really achieve.

Today’s total practice time: 45 minutes (seated and movement) + 10 minutes settling practice

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

clearing out for winter

It’s that time of year when we need to face winter square on. As time has passed I am getting better at preparing for my least favourite season. I realised a few years ago being in denial about winter is not helpful and creates more suffering. So instead these days I embrace winter – I dig out my winter coat and start wearing warm clothes as I know it will help me accept that it’s here – those dark long (frequently grey and wet) British winter months are part of my life, just like summer is and so I need to celebrate the arrival of winter as best I can.

At my allotment after a bumper crop of apples, middling crop of pumpkins and disappointing crop of spuds I have now cleared the decks ready for winter. My moto during a busy term this autumn has been to visit the plot little and often. I have been rocking up to the plot at 4pm on a Sunday sometimes – clearly in denial that, since the clocks went back, I will only get half an hour at best but actually quite enjoying this.

By making it so time limited I get to keep on top of things but not miss out on family life (no one else can be tempted to accompany me now the weather has turned). And today I finished weeding one last raised bed and then got the satisfaction of covering three raised beds in readiness for spring. All cleared of weeds, I covered it in thick black membrane, so each bed is now tucked up away from the cold, like an animal hibernating until the weather gets better.

There are two active beds still – for garlic and broad beans (yet to be planted) and a few odd jobs that mainly involve lopping (the apple tree and the fruit bushes) but aside from that I feel like I have cleared out for winter.  This morning as I thought of that line I was reminded of a Rumi poem we use when teaching mindfulness that I had read the day before at a silent practice session and the lines about ‘clearing you out for some new delight’ resonated as I cleared the decks for winter, knowing this act means I am also, in a way, preparing for new life and spring.

The Guest House
Translated by Coleman Barks

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, 
some momentary awareness comes 
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Jalaluddin Rumi

 

practically sugar free

Last year I quit caffeine and reassessed my relationship with alcohol. So I guess it was only a matter of time that sugar would be the next in line to be culled. To me the three together are quite symbolic: sugar, caffeine and alcohol fuel our lives in the West – they are all acceptable and highly addictive. Two are classified as drugs, sugar gets less attention. But all three affect our lives and health and are, within society, the topic of much debate.

I believe capitalism cannot really function without them. We drink at night to unwind from the busyness of our lives then when we get up at 7am and feel tired we fuel ourselves with sugar and caffeine to get us through the day and then guess what? At the end of the day we need a little help to unwind again. It’s a cycle: wash, rinse, repeat.

The last year has been a playful adventuring into this theory that I have long held, that this holy trinity of substances fuels capitalism and also fuels a lot of suffering. ‘To know and not act, is to not yet know’, as Mishima wrote. I cannot really know this is the case until I have rid myself of cravings for all three.

So here I go – 2018 and a sugar free, caffeine free, alcohol free life. Sounds fun, right? The bizarre thing is I couldn’t be more excited. I decided as alcohol and caffeine have already been dealt with my ‘dry January’ this year would focus on sugar.

Now out of the three, sugar is the one I was most reluctant to tackle. I have never eaten that much sugar, it seems a fairly natural, plant based, food. Where’s the harm in it? So I started this experiment fully expecting to find it pointless, not for me and revert back to my biscuit eating ways come the end of January.

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But to my surprise I have enjoyed this mostly sugar free month. I’m not like super strict about it, I still have ketchup and have eaten some tomato soup in that time (both heavily laden with sugar) but I have stopped putting honey on my muesli and now buy sugar free muesli at that. I have quit, after so many years, my daily biscuit at around 3pm. It’s been replaced with dried mango and I have survived! I got lots of chocolate for Christmas which has been hidden away but I am sure it will get eaten at some point. Yesterday there was cake at work and I said no. Not because I felt I mustn’t but because I genuinely didn’t want it.

The comedown from sugar is just as bad as when you give up caffeine: headaches, cravings, flu like symptoms. If something makes you feel that bad when you quit I figure it can’t be that good. I have tried some adventures in sugar free baking and the kids are keen to try a sugar reduced life.

We never know how something will feel until we try it, all I know is that 3pm dip which I had everyday has now vanished. I feel more energetic in my mid-40s than I possibly ever have or at least post-children. I know there will be days when I say yes to cake but just to crack the daily biscuit habit alone seems a great achievement.

Today’s total practice time: 10 minutes movement 10 minutes seated