Category Archives: My practice

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.

retox – detox

It’s that time of year again, when we set ourselves lifestyle or well-being goals and then perhaps give up halfway through January realising that nothing beats the winter blues better than a glass of red wine or a slice of cake.

I am as partial as the next person to resetting the dial in January, I have been doing a regular dry January for more than a decade and in the past have done all sorts of fruit detoxes and vegan months during January.

This year my best intentions went a little awry as they frequently have since becoming a parent. The vegan/veggie January thing doesn’t work as well when you are cooking for two carnivores everyday. My daughter gallantly offered to keep me company but fell off the veggie-wagon on day 4. And so did I.

I got some horrible bug the day I went back to work, which hey, if nothing else you have to admire the timing of it. I managed to dodge the sickness bug the whole two weeks I was off and then on my first day back to work I was struck down in the evening with the worst sickness bug I’ve had for years. There were jokes (later) about being allergic to work but I was left confined to my bed for nearly 24 hours, unable to do anything other than sip herbal tea and listen to radio 4. Once again as sick days go, it could have been much worse – my husband was around and so able to supply me with tea and a radio.

Luckily the bug went as quickly as it arrived and so the next day when offered soup I readily agreed not realising it was chicken soup. I concluded there and then that this year detoxing probably isn’t for me. Instead of going fully vegan, eating clean and no alcohol for a month the best I can manage this year is no caffeine, alcohol and less biscuits which actually is good enough.

I do less of the retoxing these days anyway and so perhaps there’s less to detox, who knows if any of this stuff makes any difference anyway. If nothing else I approach it as a habit buster – a time to challenge that afternoon habit of always having a strong cup of builder’s tea and replacing it with peppermint. Yes I miss the caffeine hit and the chocolate hobnob I usually dunk into that pre-school run or commute home cuppa, but it’s always good to review these habits that can steer us towards automaticity after so many years of observing them.

Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes movement and seated practice 

when did you stop dancing?

Dancing used to be a huge a part of my life, at one point dancing was a weekly event, sometimes several evenings each week when I was young would be spent dancing. Slowly over time of course no one can sustain a three times a week clubbing habit and so with the onset of kids, middle age and moving out to the burbs I have watched my dancing life dwindle to such a point that if I can count three times I have danced in a year I feel I am doing quite well.

Mark Williams et al in their ever insightful Frantic World book report that in some countries doctors don’t ask when did you start feeling depressed but instead ask when did you stop dancing. For me it’s a pertinent question and one of course that we can all adapt to mean when did you stop doing the things you loved doing and become a mass of duties and responsibilities, a fun-free zone?

For most of us it’s a similar response. First there was the mortgage, then the kids, then the extra hours and responsibilities at work and suddenly I was whittling down all the things I enjoyed to make time and space for the serious business of paying a mortgage, renovating a house and raising a family.

And then of course there’s the big part alcohol plays in all of this socialising. I am not at the stage of total abstinence and still have the occasional tipple but again these days it is very occasional. For a reserved Brit drinking and dancing often go hand in hand so how can you sustain a dance habit when your whole life is now cleaner and more sober in general?

Can I even dance when I am sober?

This is a question I answered in a cold school hall at 10.30am yesterday morning when me and my daughter became initiated in a family friendly five rhythm’s dance. I have always shied away from five rhythms, using the nickname rainbow rhythms in a disparaging way when others have talked about it, thinking the whole thing is a bit too Chakrha laden and new age-y for someone scientifically minded like myself.

The answer though was happily a resounding yes! Five rhythms is quite leftfield and not everyone’s cup of tea but if five rhythms (and a chilly school hall at 10.30am)  is the only way I get to have some communal dance in my life, beyond my kitchen, then so be it. I’m ready to have more fun and I’m up for journeying outside my comfort zone to facilitate this so that I never have to say I have stopped dancing for good.

Today’s total practice time: 1 hour silent practice at Mindful Sunday  thismindfullife.net/mindful-sundays + 30 minutes personal practice

sites.google.com/site/cambsdance

Retreating

In life we find thousands of ways to retreat from reality. As a student I used going out and drinking as a short cut from reality and this can be a hard habit to shake off. Now it’s gadgets and internet access galore that continually pulls me away from the here now.

Inexplicably when things get tough, that is when I feel compelled to google what flooring we need to buy for the bathroom. Or last weekend I spent several hours googling therapist courses, only to wake up the next day knowing it had all been some impulsive mind trick to pull me away from the kids and their constant squabbles.

Why is it so hard to be with what is? To really reside in the here and now.

The answer is simple: we humans, all of us (yes you!), are addicted to distraction. The human mind is addicted to distraction. So checking Facebook 90 times a day or whatever your ‘vice’ might be is totally normal given the addictive nature of smartphones and the way the mind loves distraction.

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However that doesn’t mean we have to surrender to this addiction, we can reassess things and set some boundaries if we want. When I told work mates I was off on a silent retreat this week the reaction was divided between ‘how wonderful’ and ‘I couldn’t do that’. Several people have said ‘wouldn’t you just chuck this away if you could’ waving the ubiquitous smartphone.

I think the answer really is to find a balance you are happy with and we always know when that is achieved or more often, when it isn’t and we feel out of sync.

Once a year I have to go on retreat to support my mindfulness teaching. When I taught in mainstream adult education my CPD revolved around how to inspire learners to use the Virtual Learning Environment or how to use a Smart board. Now my CPD is go to Devon for five days, live without gadgets, in total silence whilst being sustained on amazing veggie food (that I didn’t have to cook).

It’s a change I appreciate and one that always helps me to reset my own dial.

Today’s Total Practice Time: 10 minutes so far but a schedule of seven hours meditation each day awaits me this weekend and beyond!

 

The Power of Cooking

For me it’s only a small exaggeration to say that food means everything and is a real barometer of my internal weather. The last few weeks with endless colds doing the rounds, I’ve felt tired, snuffly and lacking the necessary energy to cook healthy food.

Recently quinoa and super food salads have been making way for fish and chips. There’s nothing wrong with this for a week or two but when we are busy and stressed takeaways and ready meals can become a way of life . I was procrastinating about what to cook tonight when I saw a pot of coriander wilting on the window sill.

It reminded me I had bought it over a week ago with the idea of making dahl and rice sometime soon and yet every evening I have been unable to find the energy to make a dahl from scratch, so even though it was on it’s last legs I still rummaged around the freezer in search for something, anything, that would help me avoid making dahl.

But why do I do this when I love dahl? And actually, like all wholesome tasks, I don’t actually mind creating one once I have started.

The answer is that we drop the things that nourish us when we are at our lowest. Feeling stressed and depressed? Out the window goes your yoga, bookclub or wholesome cooking. This is really useful to know if you are a mindfulness practitioner. When we need our practice most that is when your driven doing mode of mind will be screaming your to do list at you. What you want to meditate? Not till you have done every single thing that needs to be done first.

This irony of our minds steering us towards unhelpful behaviour is covered in week seven of the eight week mindfulness meditation courses I teach. Through mindfulness meditation I have learnt to navigate that compelling busy stressed out voice that urges me not to cook, to ditch the yoga and to zone out to TV with some crisps. Some weeks it is easier than others and this week food has been my main stress indicator and the thing that fell by the wayside. It happens to us humans,  no need for self flagellation.

So after lunch today I congratulated myself on noticing my wilting coriander plant and all it stood for and then finally made that dahl from scratch. It felt good to be cooking again and I can’t wait to eat the results but most interestingly it was the process itself, the soothing washing, chopping, stirring, crushing that comes with making a dahl that felt so nourishing to my rather stressed and tired mind right now.

Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes (yoga and seated meditation)

Snow day

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We had a snow day the other week. It was a perfect flurry that made everything look picture perfect and yet it didn’t totally disrupt the trains and roads, so win-win all round.

On the eight week mindfulness courses I teach there is much reference from week one of the beginner’s mind. Participants are asked to eat a raisin as though they have never seen one before and then this continues in their home practice by doing a daily task with the spotlight of their full attention.

If ever there is something that reconnects us with beginner’s mind it must surely be walking to school with two kids after a snow flurry. The same old tired journey we do everyday was suddenly magical and exciting to them. The alley we traverse (often much covered in dog poo) was transformed into a Narnia-esque secret snow tunnel.

There were oooohs, there were arrghs, there were a few soggy tumbles as well but with the help of kindly curiosity I found myself quelling the urge to say ‘come on’ (surely the most overused two words on the school run?) and instead just marveled at their marveling. At moments like that I find myself thinking, ‘this moment, must remember this moment.’

It seems to me children are naturally mindful and we (society, parents, teachers, life, soft cops) squash it out of them, telling them to hurry and multi-task so we can squeeze all the things that need to be done into one day.

How wonderful it was to just take our time, marvel at the beauty of winter and, for one day at least, give ourselves permission not to rush.

Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes with the kids (it is half term)

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Kids – a useful mindfulness tool!

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It’s often when we need it least that illness can strike. Although saying that is there ever a good time to be ill? All week I have been catching up with my work – both from my day job and from my mindfulness teaching work that I do. Blog posts, emails, advertising, lesson planning, proof reading my new mindfulness booklet, burning CDs and labelling them – it all takes up time.

And last week I was unable to do any of these day to day tasks as I was on retreat in Lockerbie, although at times I blinked and found myself remembering Tibet and my travels there. It was a wonderful, nourishing retreat and also very hard work. And of course this week has been all about playing catch up.

My oldest has had a hacking cough all week and I have insisted she trudge in to school every chilly day so that I can get my work done. She was fine and she didn’t need a whole week off but today she looked at me and just said ‘mummy, I think I need to rest my voice’.

As a teacher I know that feeling only too well so I relented and said OK you can have today off. This caused a meltdown in my youngest who on twigging that the oldest was having a day off decided he too was so ill school was not option.

As I almost dragged him bodily into school, a forced smile on my face, and the oldest ‘ill’ one kept skipping with delight (in between hacking coughs) at the idea of having a whole mummy day at home, I recalled, or perhaps it was somewhat later, what Jon Kabat-Zinn says about kids.

Let your children be your own zen master, he advises. That way whatever they throw at you, you can take a deep breath and tell yourself this is all part of the practice!

Total Practice Time: So far today ZERO, but the intention is there!

Thursday 30th January 2014

I can vouch that this mindfulness stuff really works! I know I would say this – I am a passionate practitioner and teacher but today I had a moment or several, when I could feel such a fundamental change in my perspective. Today my perspective on several events were so different to how they would’ve been a year or so ago. First walking the kids home from school with two of their friends we see a fire engine outside our house. A while ago I would have assumed the worst and thought my house was on fire but today I felt only curiosity. The kids got to sit in a fire engine as well which was a nice start to any play date! Then the play date itself: two five year olds and two four year olds under one roof, this was the type of situation that would see me feeling stressed but today I surprised myself by enjoying it. Today’s total practice time: 20 minutes

Saturday 12th October 2013

I have been trying to knuckle down to writing my schemes of work (SoW) for my job in London but it seems I keep coming up with all manner of avoidance tactics. So far I have done very little. I suddenly felt compelled to have a clean out, rearrange the kids’ rooms, buy a new toilet seat. So the upside is I now have a much tidier, ordered house but still the SoWs hang over me. Tomorrow, I keep promising! I have been squeezing in practice as always. Wednesday 9th October I practised on the train and did a walking meditation. Total practice time: 20 minutes Thursday 10th I  only managed two 3 minute breathing spaces!  Total practice time: 6 minutes Friday 11th I made up for my slackness and made sure, alongside my regular morning 3 minute breathing space that I did a waling meditation and a pre school pick up meditation – very therapeutic when one of your kids often bolts without even saying hello  Total practice time: 20 minutes Today, Saturday 12th I did yoga, Chi Qong and mindful movement before doing a sitting down meditation for 20 minutes  Total practice time: 1 hour

Tuesday 8th October 2013

Equilibrium has almost been restored! I did spend a lot of time today faffing around, avoiding doing my schemes of work for my new classes but I managed to start the day as ever with a 3 minute breathing space. I did a walking meditation (10mins) and then did a 15 minute sitting meditation at a quiet moment during the day. Feeling very balanced! Total practice time today: 30 minutes. Yesterday I did ten minutes on the train, standing and then 15 minutes sitting during a quiet moment before picking up the kids. I also did a walking meditation for 5 mins. Total practice time yesterday: 30 minutes