Category Archives: Mindfulness Practice Blog

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.

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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

 

one year no beer

There are all sorts of programmes and support groups, both online and in our communities, to help us cut down or quit alcohol. One such website is one year no beer, whose aim is to encourage people to have a dry January through to December oneyearnobeer.com . Another – club soda – is a mindful drinking website joinclubsoda.co.uk  They both work as membership organisations and there are different packages available to support those who want to quit alcohol.

I have found myself on a largely unplanned break from booze. I always do dry January, I’ve been doing it before it even had a name in the mainstream media. This slowly built up to often being dry January and February. Then last year it finally happened – I had a few weeks when I had a glass or two of wine but then found myself wondering why bother?

This heralded an unprecedented voluntary dry six months punctuated only by a trip back to my old home Madrid and my favourite bar in the world the sherry bar. That and a gift token to a honey beer tasting were pretty much my only adventures in alcohol of 2017.

I did Christmas sober and had my second New Year’s Eve sober. Yes, I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself but I’m also mindful that having  a moderate glass of wine can be great fun, a pleasure with  a meal. So I’m not sure where this dry spell will take me, I quite fancy doing the full ‘one year no beer’ which would take me to September 2018 and then I’ll just see how I feel.

I was lucky – my mindfulness practice and research into addiction meant I was very aware of what tricks the mind plays on us when we give something addictive up. I didn’t need to sign up to an online group or challenge but they are useful resources and thanks to raised awareness around dry January and a small but growing acceptance that living a sober life is a wonderful liberating step I think there will only be more and more people taking this journey.

Whether you are choosing to drink every month of the year or taking a break for January it’s always good to reassess alcohol use. One year no beer gathered together the data below from Professor Kevin Moore’s research (Royal Free Hospital, London) into stopping alcohol for four weeks and the benefits are very compelling.

What happens when you take a break from booze?
Today’s total practice time: 1 hour (30 mins movement, 30 mins seated)

goodbye 2017

This is the time of year when we reflect on the year that’s just passed and plan for the year to come. It’s tempting, as I’ve written before, to attempt to rip up the old me and bring in a fresh new, improved version of ourselves. But as Jon Kabat-Zinn so wisely wrote: Wherever you go, there you are!

Often there isn’t really a need to create a new year, new me. Instead we can just work on who we already are and get more in touch with what will truly make us happy.

In that wilderness week in between Christmas and new year, when those of us lucky to be at rest might easily forget the day of the week, it can be tempting to reflect on the year that has just passed. And I found myself doing just this when people asked me for me highlights of 2017.

For This Mindful Life CIC the highlights were as follows:

  • This Mindful Life CIC was successfully and officially formed as a not-for-profit company committed to delivering quality mindfulness training to diverse communities.
  • This Mindful Life delivered more courses in partnership with The Everyone Project, who’s aims of widening the reach of mindfulness sit well with This Mindful Life CIC.
  • This Mindful Life CIC successfully opened an ethical CIC bank account with the co-op which was a lot more challenging than it sounds!

For me personally as a mindfulness teacher, highlights of 2017 were:

  • Being accepted onto and included in The Mindfulness Network’s list of recognised Mindfulness teachers UKMN_2017_18_MAY 
  • Attending the Mindfulness Association’s annual conference which included trans-formative workshops with Sharon Saltzberg and Vidyamala Burch and getting to meet my supervisor in the flesh after two years of working together.
  • Attending a day of practice and CPD session with the God father of secular mindfulness: Jon Kabat-Zinn. Truly inspiring to hear him guide meditations but also to see him lead an inquiry after each practice.

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  • Realising the direction I would like to go in as a teacher – working with client groups who have experienced trauma and/or addiction alongside mainstream teaching work.
  • Completing a course on addiction and the impact this has on the brain as the first step in this journey.
  • Signing up to train in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) as the next tentative step in this journey.

For me personally as a human being the highlights of 2017 were some golden moments with much loved family and friends. While on retreat thismindfullife.net/…7/12/21/retreating-3 I realised that while teaching, training and day job stuff are all very important to me,  it would also be useful not to take on too much in order to ensure there are further plentiful golden moments with loved ones in 2018.

Today’s Total Practice Time: 1 hour (mostly movement and a short bodyscan)

retreating

This is the time of year that many of us want to hunker down, switching off from work concerns and spending time with family.

So when I went off on retreat last week, leaving the kids to have their last week of school without me I did question my motivations. I had booked it up months ago, in the summer and back then it had seemed a move bordering on genius – going on retreat before all the Christmas madness kicks in, what’s not to love?

But of course the Christmas madness kicks in around late November so I was already in the thick of it when I left last week to Gaia House for a retreat on remembering the heart’s potential.

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I arrived one day early and had the whole house to myself near enough. I then maintained the silence as all the other participants arrived which made me feel a little out of kilter with the house but by the time the retreat started properly I was already very settled and ready to get the most out of the teachings.

There were moments of rich learning and everyday practical insights coupled with being in nature and in the silence, having time for awe and wonder at a robin tweeting nearby or a leaf falling from a tree. The simple pleasure of a hot cup of tea (with no biscuits or sugary treats) drunk outside on a crisp morning never ceases to be amongst my favourite moments when on retreat.

As I recounted some of my adventures in the mind and on retreat with my husband who had of course had a very different five days, single handedly looking after the kids, he said I don’t think I need to be in silence for five days to appreciate having a cup of tea outside. And to be fair neither do I. I love doing just that in my own garden or at the allotment but there is something very special about being on retreat. About being with people but not having to be anything for those people, about living alongside people in silence.

Top six things I realised in the silence:

  1. Do more yoga!
  2. Rediscover the body scan on a more regular basis (this was done everyday on retreat and I loved rediscovering it)
  3. Spend less time on line
  4. Spend more time with the kids
  5. Be generous
  6. Be brave

I’m not quite sure how the last 2 things will manifest. A whole new year awaits us after the winterval excitement passes by, so these are themes I will continue to explore in 2018 but for now that doesn’t seem an insignificant list of things to realise would have a big impact on my life, on which note I won’t be online again for some time.

Many thanks for following and reading my musings in 2017, wishing you a peaceful and productive 2018 xx

membership

Was it Groucho Marx who said that thing about not wanting to be a member of any club that would have him? Does that demonstrate some deep seated sense of self loathing on his part or just a dislike or mistrust of clubs?

I share some of his reservations about clubs and membership. As a child I was an adamant non-joiner – Brownies? No thanks, brown really wasn’t my colour and the activities they did left me cold (although I did have  an old Brownie uniform in my dressing up box as a child and it was fun to put it on, displaying someone else’s badges but without having to bother with the effort of earning them).

My children, particularly my eldest are stark opposites. They must take after their dad, who was a real joiner in childhood. They love Beavers, Cubs, drama, if there’s a club they will happily join it, so much so I have now had to say no! No more clubs, not wanting to make their childhoods as busy as their adult lives will no doubt be.

Although reading some employment forecasts who knows, maybe many jobs will be automated in the next decade or so and a life of leisure and hobbies beckons our young folk. Maybe after schools clubs are mere training grounds for all the leisure time they will have to come.

But back to the present, I have switched roles with my husband as I find in adulthood it’s fun to join things and feel a sense of solidarity with your fellow man. Long gone are the days when my favourite line from a film was ‘I hate my fellow man and my fellow man hates me.’ I’m a joiner these days.

I did a spell as a parent governor (won’t be repeating that!) I belong to a political party (the compassionate one of course), I have a membership card for the co-op. I support my union at work not just by being a member but I have stepped up and become a work place rep as I believe there has never been more need to protect those hard won workers rights.

And then of course there is all the mindfulness organisations I am a member of. This year saw me join the coveted list of good practice following mindfulness teachers.

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I still support Grow Mindfulness (even though it has stopped being a membership body) that lovely grassroots organisation that tried to put teachers at the front line of policy developments around mindfulness.

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And my favourite mindfulness organisation that I often wax lyrical to other mindfulness teachers who have not heard of them is the Mindfulness Association. Yes they are very Buddhist (but isn’t Bangor? and Oxford?) but they put compassion and accessibility at the heart of every course they deliver, every bit of training they provide is more affordable for normal people who want to access mindfulness. This in turn can only mean one thing – more mindfulness for everyone. They actively work towards a Mindful Nation, rather than paying lip service to it and yet ensuring training costs put training out of reach for most people.

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As a secular practitioner, I’m proud to be a member of an organisation that talks the talk and actually walks the walk.

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Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes

having a complete day of rest

Anyone who knows me well knows I have been atheist since primary school. I’m a fairly committed and unwavering atheist which comes with challenges (it’s pretty scary admitting there is no heaven, it’s even harder sharing that ethos with young children, now I have them!). But that doesn’t mean I don’t respect and draw wisdom from the world’s religions – most of us need some code of ethics to live by and being a secular Christian from my upbringing I of course remember and carry with me many of the teachings from my days of reluctantly attending church.

There are many things I agree with from those teachings – love, compassion, forgiveness all sit very well with my own world view. And the idea of having Sunday as a rest day is something that for many years I neglected – won over by the opening of shops on Sundays during my youth and then having  a busy life in adulthood has meant the rest day has oft been neglected.

In the run up to Christmas, which again coming from a family of Christians, I observe but more in the spirit of pagan mid-winter festival than the co-opted capitalist version of pointless, wasteful consumption of things we all probably don’t even need, it is tempting to shop till we drop any day of the week, specially cramming it into a Sunday.

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Yesterday though I managed to do what it would be great to do every Sunday – a complete day of rest. Of course the kids still needed feeding as did I and my husband, of course the dishes still needed washing up but aside from that I did nothing. I spent large amounts of time on the sofa reading The Guardian, drinking tea – it was bliss! My phone was off, I didn’t check my emails once.

I can’t remember the last time I have allowed myself to do that and I know it’s unlikely to happen again until mid January but if we can all just give ourselves a complete (or as near as feasibly possible) day of rest even just once a month I think stress levels would decrease and well-being would be positively impacted. Such  a simple thing that costs nothing – how challenging will it be to observe?

Today’s Practice Time: 20 mins movement, 20 mins seated practice

in times of stress

In the last couple of weeks my youngest had a medical procedure that required a week off school. This in turn involved much juggling of work patterns, dependency leave and childcare arrangements. I was working from home some of the days and trying to give care to this little person in pain and as if that weren’t enough plates to spin it all fell on a week when I happened to have 3 additional bits of mindfulness work.

A six week in-house mindfulness course I had been delivering to a large charity came to close. I gave a taster session in the private sector which had caused me a great deal of anxiety, for whatever reason I imagined private sector people would somehow not be as engaged as their public or charity sector counterparts – how wrong I was, they were lovely and engaged participants throughout, proving of course we are all human regardless of the sector we work in. Even bankers want to relax.

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To top off this busy and exhausting week I was facilitating my not-for-profit local meet up group’s biannual all-day practice session. I let out a big sigh when I realised how the week would pan out – why do these frantically busy weeks keep happening to me? This is a theme in my life and I thought one day it would stop.

Strangely though as I arrived at the draughty little community hall where we come to practice every few months I felt such a sense of relief. Yes I wanted to be having  a lie in, eating porridge with the kids, putting my feet up after the worst week I have had for ages but I’m here instead and here is good enough. It turned out in fact it was exactly where I needed to be.

Throughout the week’ long convalescence of my youngest, my mindfulness practice had gone out the window along with the chance to do any CIC or life admin. And after not meditating for a week I was so ready for a day of calm and stillness. It was writ large for me to see what I have always known deep down – we frequently think we don’t want what we need most.

I’ve been on catch up ever since, catching up with life admin, catching up at work after a week away from the office and of course trying to stay on top of the looming winterval shenanigans just round the corner. But for this year at least I have finished all my teaching commitments so a little calm has now been restored to my life.

Today’s total practice time (so far): 20 minutes movement, 10 minutes sitting