Category Archives: Mindfulness Practice Blog

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

CPD-a-thon

It wasn’t planned like this, this week, to be a CPD-a-thon, it’s just how things unfolded.

Of course one way to do CPD is to sign up for something every now and then and spread it out throughout the year. This year however by sheer coincidence of the two CPD events that I decided I would commit to being in the same week, I have got my CPD done and dusted for the year in under a week.

A plus of this (unintentional) intensive approach is that I have been sleeping and breathing mindfulness this last week. Cut me and I bleed mindfulness, even if perhaps for one week only.

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So first up, this time last week, I was up in Scotland at the Mindfulness Association’s annual three day conference. I heard key note speakers par excellence – Paul Gilbert, Sharon Salzberg, Vidyamala Burch and Rick Hanson. I attended a breathing workshop with Vidyamala Burch and a loving kindness workshop with Sharon Salzberg. All are leaders in their field and the workshops have already changed my practice and I know the learning will also have a meaningful impact on my teaching.

At the conference I also got to meet my supervisor for the first time in real life. We have built up a genuine relationship over the two years we have worked together on Skype but it was wonderful to have a hug and be guided by her in two practices. I felt her style resonated deeply with my own teaching and guiding style so I felt even more keenly that we are a good match to work together on this journey of supervision.

 

Lovely Samye Ling

As if all this learning, practice and connection weren’t enough to carry me over for the next few months on Wednesday of this week I headed to Imperial College London and experienced a day of practice with Jon Kabat-Zinn.

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Yes him!

I am not and have never been someone to have a guru or to hero worship others so when we were invited to tell the person sitting next to us why we were there it was hard articulating the words. Yes of course I was there because it was Jon Kabat-Zinn but I also realised I had no concrete expectations for the day. No learning outcomes or craving a bit of paper at the end. At the risk of this sounding like something we might say about a guru: being there was really enough. Seeing his style, his delivery, his practice invitations, seeing how he dealt with inquiry – any one of which might be a masterclass in mindfulness teacher training. I already have ideas of how to work this learning into sessions and courses.

I felt immense gratitude both yesterday and during my weekend at Samye Ling. Without being able to afford such luxuries as CPD events, accommodation and train travel, without being able to leave family, work and young kids, without the support of an understanding (and very patient) partner this glorious week of CPD could not have happened.

And to hear over and over throughout the week my own beliefs repeated that yes, this mindfulness teaching CPD is all well and good but it’s the practice that really counts. And now that my particular batch of CPD is over for this year, it’s the practice I come back to and will focus on.

Today’s total practice time: 10 minutes of movement, 15 minutes of seated practice.

waking up

It’s often said that when we start to practice mindfulness we wake up to our lives. So it’s seems right to also say that when we lose mindfulness it can often feel like everything is a bit hazy, like being asleep. But with regular practice we come through the haze and gain awareness once more.

For many years I have tried to practice mindfulness with varying degrees of success. At first I was holding the commitment too loosely, if I have time I have time, really taking that gentle message a bit too close to heart. Then when training to be a teacher there was rigidity: must. practice. every. day. And this was useful, this was necessary but it really isn’t a boot camp.

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Now I feel I hold the practice in my life with the right amount of lightness and commitment, the rigidity has softened and I can be flexible with whatever each day brings. Some days, like today, I get a glorious stretch of space in which to practice for an hour undisturbed. But in reality this might only happen twice a week. The other days will be a mixed bag – 40 minutes here, 30 minutes there – each day. Sometimes I can do that all at once, other times it might be 2 or 3 slots of 10 minutes.

Whatever form it takes I find it all equally beneficial and welcome whatever I can manage each day. Letting go of should’s or any sense of guilt is a very liberating part of the practice. Each moment spent meditating is a moment of real wakefulness, constantly interrupted by the haze of thoughts, thinking and busy minds. But that is the practice – we fall asleep and then we wake up. Again and again.

Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes movement, 30 minutes seated practice.

going slow

The past couple of weeks I have been reining in the mindfulness work. I have a lot booked in for April so I needed a couple of weeks respite from the constant blogging, status updating, amending advertising, updating my website, booking rooms etc that comes alongside the very thing I enjoy doing which is teaching mindfulness.

The truth of the matter is simply I spend far more time in front of a computer than I do teaching mindfulness, such is the nature of recruiting participants for the courses and groups that I run.

So having  a few weeks off in which I consciously put nothing onto my facebook page and wrote no blogs and instead made time for the kids and my allotment have been very welcome.

Going slow is a thing. It’s been a thing for many years. Our ancestors were very good at it but we in 2017 often struggle with the concept.

The fruits of going slow have been giving the kids a lovely Easter break so far, we have been to the forest twice, met with friends and family, visited the plot and grown things!

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I recommend a time of going slow amidst the busyness to anyone who feels they need it. During that time of going slow I have still been at work, I have still been commuting into London 3 out 5 days. But what changed was the stuff outside my actual day job. Freeing myself from constant internet slavery for a few weeks has been lush!

Today’s total practice time: 10 minutes movement, 20 minutes seated practice (in my garden no less, how is that for going slow!)

 

getting things done

Mark Williams writes about the importance of whittling your way through various tasks, having a little task each day policy can be so useful. Starting a task but accepting it might not all get finished in one go is also advised.

My tasks this year have sometimes felt like mountains I will never scale. First all my spare time was consumed by preparing materials for a corporate session I did earlier this year. Once that was done and delivered there were then amendments to the corporate session to be made.

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Hanging over both of these tasks was the usual whirl of recruiting for various courses, advertising for various courses, renewing my insurance and events and responding to emails. Oh and having a job, two kids and a life to fit in as well. And at the summit of my mountain was getting my application for the UK Good Practice List of Mindfulness Teachers sorted.

It was always the last thing on the to-do list each day, often getting bumped down when something needed responding too. Never quite urgent enough to make top of the to-do list.

But then Be Mindful started displaying big green ticks next to teachers who are ‘listed’ so then getting listed suddenly felt a little more urgent.

Today after much ping-ponging of emails with my supervisor and gathering of evidence – about a month’s work in total – I have finally submitted my mindfulness list application. It feels good. I am £90 worse off and I have to wait a month to find out the outcome but I put everything together as best I could and have let that go for now. The amendments to the corporate session are next on the to-do list but for today I am going to stop, breathe and reflect on the feeling of achievement we get when a looming task has been completed at last.

Today’s Total Practice Time: 40 minutes (movement and seated practice)

 

rediscovering forgotten pleasures

One of the habit busters from the eight week courses I teach is rediscovering old pleasures.

So often in life we give up the things that give us pleasure to make room for work, child rearing, study or DIY projects. I often juggle all four of these competing demands on my time and sometimes have flaked out on more nurturing activities (no time for a cuppa and catch up with a friend, no time for book club, no time for yoga).

This might be quite effective as a short term strategy but actually long term it does no favours to anyone to become restricted in our activities. Research shows we need a balance and that people who simplify their lives down to the tasks they need to get through with no leisure time factored in really do suffer from burn out and lack of creativity.

Before Christmas I had the best present idea I have ever had for my husband. My present giving is often rushed and last minute and my husband has often dispatched his well meaning presents to Oxfam rather too soon. But not this year. I went off list and got everyone things I really thought they might like.

Last year my husband had driven all the way back from Scotland with a hire-car’s boot filled with his old vinyl. I was less than sympathetic (‘Really, that old junk? Where are you going to put it all?’). His entire vinyl collection got rehoused in the summer house and may well have stayed there for ever, after all he didn’t even have a record player.

Whilst Christmas shopping for the kids and my family I had a light-bulb moment. That’s it I will get him a record player for his Christmas present, I thought. The beauty of my plan was that had we bought one together there would have been months of anguish (mainly on his part) about quality, budget, output. Loads of pouring over online deals and then where to put the thing after all that agonizing?

Solo I was able to get the cutest retro one I could find, in a colour I liked but knew wouldn’t offend him either. I knew he would just be happy that it a) allowed him to play his records after nearly 20 years of languishing in a Scottish loft and b) that it was symbolic that I was accepting his ‘junk’, his records that he had driven hundreds of miles to bring home.

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All the vinyl is now housed in the living room and I have rediscovered the beauty of vinyl that musos always wax lyrical about: the ritual of the crackling needle, the careful taking out of the paper cover. The kids were delighted and danced around whooping ‘And mummy the best bit is there are more songs! On the other side!’ We had literally blown their minds with old technology!

And this in turn has led to rediscovering another old pleasure for me – rummaging around second hand shops looking for decent vinyl. I haven’t done this for years. I made my first purchases this weekend and even found a silly record for the kids for a quid. As luck would have it I found a Billie Holiday album and an old but immaculate HMV Ella Fitzgerald album, which will be a first small step in the fight back against the rather male, white, guitar-heavy feel of my husband’s treasured record collection.

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Today’s total practice time: Mindful walk + 10 minutes seated practice 

Non-doing

Often described as a dead-week, the week between Christmas and New Year is actually perhaps the closest many of us get to an extended period of real genuine non-doing. A time to disconnect from work and just be with your nearest and dearest. This of course can come with its own challenges but as the week is nearly over it’s also worth reflecting how precious a week of non-doing is these days.

If my kids read this they would perhaps laugh at the idea of me ever having a non-doing week as there have been chilly picnics at nearby Audley End and several frosty walks through a nearby forest. Yesterday they were promised a lazy day and both declared they would not leave the house, even to venture into the garden.

They kept their word but by today my youngest, a spirited seven year old boy, was asking when that promised trip to the allotment would be. For want of better plan I said how about now and left the hubby in charge of lunch. We walked down to the plot in the fog and enjoyed getting some fresh air whilst aware we were the only people out and about bar a couple of dog walkers. I often make the comparison that having young kids is akin to having a dog, they really do need to get out at least once a day which makes non-doing a challenge to navigate.

Once at the allotment we planted out garlic, dug up some frozen onions and weeded a frosty patch of earth where we then planted out broad beans. No idea if this is the right time to do it, we found the broad bean seeds and went for it. My son enjoyed moving worms out of harms way and breaking a frozen pond in an abandoned plot next door. His hands got soaked and frozen and he shivered all they way home but we both enjoyed a brief bit of purpose amidst the non-doing along with a well-earned flask.

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Now I have been out of the house I feel settled enough to enjoy non-doing for the rest of the day! I predict by tomorrow my feet will start itching for action and adventure once more though.

Today’s total practice time: In the spirit of non-doing I have done no formal practice all week however I was mindful when I made my cup of tea this morning.

xmas cheer

As a dyslexic I have often relied on to do lists and being super organised to get me through the working week. Being organised isn’t a natural default setting for most dyslexics and so it is something I have had to cultivate over time. This can lead to a rather rigid approach to life that for me feels rather unnatural.

A while back I started toying with the idea of letting go of to-do lists, and instead embarked on the idea of doing things as the need arises. It’s been about three months since I ventured down this experimental path and I can report back that life has been more chaotic than usual. I have been late for things, something us perfectionist dyslexics who have spent a lifetime cultivating strategies to hide their dyslexia, find really difficult. I have forgotten things. And as for a Christmas shopping list – forget it, it all went free form this year.

The surprising thing about all of this though is that none of the above stressed me out, I found myself bathing in the chaos and quite enjoying it. I knew things seemed a shambles at times but I somehow managed to meet it with a friendly curiosity. How do I feel when I am not quite so in control? How late, chaotic and shambolic can I let things get?

It’s really healthy and a big part of the MBCT course to nudge ourselves out of our comfort zones. So often that gets translated as eating a curry when really we want chips, which is a great place to start but as a practice can we allow ourselves to go deeper with this and start to challenge the very way we interact with and meet the world?

I like to present as calm, competent and in control and I used to feel discombobulated if I couldn’t present that side of myself to the world. But letting go of to do lists has helped me embrace the chaos that is life, especially life with two young(ish) kids.

I bought the kids a book called ‘beautiful opps’ which teaches every mistake is a chance to learn and grow. I’ve been battling against the chaos of parenthood for a long time but now I feel ready to embrace the mess and the chaos, confident it won’t completely submerge me.

As I finished off my Christmas shopping today – yes the 23rd December – amid the crowds that would normally have annoyed me while I cursed myself for leaving it so late, I found myself instead doing a wry smile and wishing all the lastminute.com shoppers like myself well, us chaos prone types need to stick together!

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Today’s total practice time: None so far but I plan to hide in the kitchen at some point and do 10 minutes breath meditation!