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.

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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

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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!

 

a lesson in acceptance

A few weekends ago my husband and I woke up on a Sunday morning and had a rare moment of clarity. The sun was shining, it was gloriously mild, the kids had been going a bit stir crazy the day before and all the homework had been completed. It was a perfect recipe for a day out. Last year we had decided to take the kids to Stonehenge en route to Glastonbury and had been gifted an English Heritage Membership Card as an early Christmas present from my mum. Ever since then if we have the energy and the time instead of doing our default trip to a nearby forest we sometimes swing by Audley End House, which costs a fortune before we had this red card but, for this year at least, is free.

So Audley End House had been decided on with the kids’ blessing, especially when I said we’d have lunch at the cafe and my daughter decided they probably do sausage rolls, her favourite.

We all piled into the car and we kept saying, wow this is what it’s like to be sorted and organized. You know one of those families that manages to get out of the house before ten o’clock. Somehow for us that has always been a struggle.

Partly because we are laid back people who believe we should all have a rest. Sunday mornings are lazy and porridge filled. The food theme continues, I usually cook something and we all sit down to break bread – often it’s the only family meal we get to eat together for the whole week.

There’s value in going slow, in allowing yourself to melt into a lazy Sunday morning with no plans. But with kids there will always come a point when daylight, fresh air and a leg stretch are very much needed. And at that point we’ll roll out of the house, not quite sure what to do or where to go, there’ll be no packed lunch made, we’ll arrive at said local forest and people are queuing round the block to get in, the kids start kicking the backs of the seats and are complaining they’re hungry, you look at the clock and realise somehow it’s 2pm already and then dark thoughts creep in about the weekend being nearly over already and you’ve only just managed to drag yourself out of the house.

So it’s a balancing act, like everything in life. But on this Sunday we felt we’d got it right. We hadn’t cajoled anyone to hurry or rush, it had still been a fairly lazy and porridge filled start to the day but miraculously we were sitting in the car, sun shining and it was only 10.45am. And we had a plan and everyone was happy with it.

Fast forward fifteen minutes and we are still sitting on the drive, kids kicking the backs of our seats and tempers in the back are getting frayed. The car won’t start, for the second time this year. I feel disappointment wash over me. We were like the f-ing Von Trapps for once in our lives and then how does fate repay us?

The car will not move. It’s not budging, something is severely wrong with the brakes. And so we stay put. Back to thinking on our feet, a skill I was usually good at pre-kids, but add whining and kicking seats and suddenly quick thinking gets clouded.

I can feel disappointment wash over me and I am aware that a behavior trait pre-mindfulness would be getting angry – at the car, the situation and then shutting down – ignoring it all, going online, using the whole situation as an excuse to disconnect from my family. What’s interesting to me was on that day I felt pulled towards all those things but somehow there was space and distance to not go down that well-trodden path.

‘Let’s go to the allotment instead,’ I said cheerily hiding my disappointment that was just as real as theirs. Both sighed heavily. ‘My sausage roll!’ was the only audible comment from my daughter.  ‘TV?’ offered my youngest.

‘Allotment and a pub lunch?’ I offered again. They grumbled and plodded all the way to the allotment as we left my husband to call the AA and wait. But once at the plot they played on the rope swing, got muddy and soon forgot about Audley End. I got some weeding done and then took them for that promised pub lunch. My husband was able to join us as they played in the pub garden in the sunshine and then the youngest suggested we walk along this muddy path we’d discovered.

We went for this local walk in the bright sunshine, the kids getting even muddier, stopping to chat to every dog walker who passed by. It’s a path I have never had time to explore in four years of living here. It hadn’t been the day trip we had envisaged but it taught me a lot about acceptance and how everyday is a chance to tread different paths.

Today’s Total Practice Time: 20 minutes

Young Woman Meditating on the Floor

 

The Power of Cooking

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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)

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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!

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Staying Mindful this Winterval

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Even with the best of intentions it can be a challenge to stay mindful during the school holidays and especially during the consumer binge session that Christmas can so frequently become. We see old friends and family which can trigger off old behaviour patterns, if we have kids they are house-bound, wired and going stir crazy and there will be alcohol, often lots of it.

So how do we stay with our intentions to continue our daily mindfulness practice during winterval?

Firstly remember that daily practice means 6 days out of 7 so you can allow a day or two to slip by in the next week and not be too concerned. Saying that I have found that when you take all of the above into consideration maintaining even a very parred back daily practice over Christmas can be extremely helpful.

Here are 6 ways to stay present and mindful during the festive season:

  1. Make tea! Practice loving kindness by offering to make a cup of tea for your relatives before they head into alcohol fueled oblivion. This works on so many levels, you are being kind, you are offering something other than alcohol and perhaps sobering up a few older sherry soaked relies along the way. And best of all use the the time it takes for the kettle to boil to shut the kitchen door and do a 3 minute breathing space: acknowledge, gather and expand awareness as that kettle boils!
  2. Go for a walk! Going for a post-Christmas dinner walk works wonders for clearing the mind and lifting the spirits while having a welcome sobering quality. If you can’t persuade anyone to go with you just excuse yourself for 10 minutes and walk round the block, bring awareness to your feet, the fresh air and the (probably) snow free vistas.
  3. Start and end each day with a brief breath meditation. On waking sit yourself up on the edge of your bed and just focus on the breath. Notice how the mind will wander and remind you of the 50 things you need to do. Notice how it feels to bring yourself back to the breath and the body, sitting on the bed, breathing.
  4. Practise loving kindness. If you are spending Christmas with relatives or old friends see if you can practise loving kindness by hugging each of them in turn and asking them how they are. OK so some of them will invariably forget to ask you back but for one day at least try letting it go and see how that feels.
  5. Wash up mindfully! When the feasting has finished and the pots need to be cleaned see if it’s possible to turn mindful attention to washing up. Notice the soap bubbles on the plates, the feel of the water, any emotions and thoughts? Make a small dent in the mountain of dirty dishes before gently passing on the washing up baton for someone else to enjoy.
  6. Have a digital detox! Switch off your gadgets for at least one day and just be, whether on your own or with family or friends. Notice how it feels and be aware of any resistance that arises from the driven-doing mode of mind.

This list is by no means exhaustive but so far these have proved helpful – good luck, stay mindful and thanks for the follow in 2015.

Wishing you all a mindful Christmas and a peaceful new year.

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Going on retreat

Young Woman Meditating on the Floor

Last year I gave myself a Christmas present of a day of silence. I had to sit on rail replacement bus services to get to my precious day of silence and the community hall the day long retreat was taking place in had an unexpected interloper halfway through the day that burst our silent bubble but still it was worth putting life on hold for just one day.

The last few week’s have tested my practice to the limits and, as the dust settles for the time being at least, I find myself more enthused then ever. So putting my life on hold once more this weekend comes at just the right time, a quiet calm before the storm of Christmas and preparation for going into retreat for almost a week early in 2015.

I feel a small amount of trepidation about leaving the kids for so long but I have also booked myself a single room, figuring I may as well try to catch up on about six years worth of sleep while in retreat. The childcare is in place, the train tickets are booked and I have a lot of pre-retreat reading to undertake over Christmas but just as a day long retreat is quite nourishing I know a week long one will be profoundly so.

Today’s total practice time: 1 hour

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