At the risk of sounding akin to a celebratory hypnotist, ‘the power of mindfulness’ has become something of a catch phrase in my house. As my practice deepens and I draw on mindfulness more and more to steer me through everyday life I find myself saying well of course of, it’s all thanks to the mindfulness that I did this or didn’t do that. In short, that I am breaking through overused and very old, tired behavior patterns.
For many of us who practice there is that sense of (while being very kind to yourself and living in the moment and not dwelling in the past as best you can) why didn’t I take this more seriously many years ago? A few courses ago I had a very youthful participant and I found myself thinking how wonderful : to be so in touch with yourself at such a young age.
The video clip that the Mindfulness in Schools project made recently shows this so clearly as year 8 children say sagely, it’s only ten minutes, you might as well do it. How wonderful to be in the habit of mindfulness at such a young age, the closing comments from the teacher sums it up, I wish I’d been taught this at school (my words not hers)!
But I also know that at what ever age participants come to mindfulness, it is rarely a life skill that one regrets acquiring.
How the mind works will never cease to leave me filled with wonder. We really do have to most complex relationships with ourselves and our minds. Our doing mode of mind is frequently throwing things in our path that stops us from doing a job that just needs to be done.
As one participant I taught last year put it, the doing mode of mind is really just trying to protect us from the unknown and stress. But this doesn’t make our job any easier of having to pick through the real threats and the imagined. And let’s face it most of the bad things that happen to us happen to us in our minds.
Yesterday I had to finish re-recording my meditation CD so it could fit onto one CD and was less daunting to those new to meditation. I had re-recorded all but one meditation, track 7 – the befriending meditation, it is my all time favourite meditation and yet did I skip to the task or did I faff around on the internet for most of the day feeling a mild bubbling of panic and self-loathing arise as the hours slipped by and I felt compelled to look at snow boots online rather than do some actual work.
My kids were due back at 6pm from a play date and so it was no surprise that I found myself finally recording the thing at 5.15. Luckily for me it was done in one take and I got busy with quality checking and then burning and labelling CDs ready for my new courses next week.
People say when will mindfulness really have a lasting impact? And the answer is it ebbs and flows. It is certainly life changing but I will never be 100% rid of procrastination and part of me, the perennial procrastinating writer side of my character, wouldn’t want it to disappear entirely.
The difference is this: I was procrastinating on a Thursday when pre-mindfulness I would have left it till midnight tonight, which for me is most definitely progress!
Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes movement and meditation
In week six of the eight week Mindfulness Meditation Course I teach a loving kindness meditation AKA the Befriending Meditation. It helps you to befriend the difficult, cultivate compassion and feel empathy for yourself and your fellow humans. Perhaps like a parent, I am not meant to have favourites, but this baby has to be up there. It sounds a bit woolly and dare I say it, a bit Buddhist, to be wishing people well. To be holding people who might have annoyed you during the week in your heart and mind. But it has such exquisite power. It melts through cynicism and sarcasm, which for many of us can be a default setting to help us cope with life.
If you can’t do it for yourself do it for the world. If you can’t do it for the world do it for yourself. If you can’t do it for either do it for your loved ones. There are no boundaries for who we can hold in a our heart and minds.
I regularly do a befriending meditation as I walk from one bit of the tube to another. I look at each human, a passing stranger I will never meet, and wish them well. What happens when you love bomb a celebrity? In North London the other day I found out, she looked back at me, all the other passing people were plugged in to devices or looking at the floor, unaware of my looking their way. But she looked like she could always tell when someone has spotted her. She smiled, perhaps assuming I was looking because I recognised her. I smiled back and continued to wish her well.
Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes
Last year I was lucky enough to be an examiner for the first time. I can’t claim it was my dream job but it gave me a great opportunity to put into practice all the things I had been learning to teach. Get up, stretch, breathe. It helped me to avoid repetitive strain injury. Examining wasn’t the laid back affair I had imagined of having a pile of papers to work through as I sipped a cup of tea.
It’s all on line now. So there was much clicking of the mouse, much eye strain, much stiff back and arms if you got locked into a zone of not wanting to leave. Mindfulness ensured I didn’t get sucked into that funnel of exhaustion. I took a stand up break on the hour every hour and just walked round the room for a few minutes until I was ready to sit down and face the 1,000 paper mountain I was working towards.
Teaching mindful movement, the walking meditation and a bit of Qi Gong is one of my favourite parts of an eight week course, finally for those unable to sit still there is solace. Meditation doesn’t have to be about sitting still we can inhabit the here and now with kind compassion as we stretch and walk. I frequently do it on the school run, aware that as I walk those last ten minutes before the kids re-enter my world, it’s that final grab at calm before the cycle of park/homework/dinner/baths/bed demands all my attention.
Those ten minutes of mindful walking make me more ready than ever to be hijacked by those oft demanding off spring of mine!
Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes movement and body scan
When trying to meditate daily it’s hard fitting it all in and not feeling like anything else is being squeezed out of your life. Integration is definitely where it’s at if you live in the real world. My aim is to meditate for around 30-40 minutes every day. Often, during term time, I easily manage that, sometimes I fall short but whatever happens I don’t do guilt. I try my best.
When teaching a course I am more likely to be doing 30-40 minutes practice everyday and then when the holidays come I allow myself to just do whatever I can. This works well because ten minutes, it is often argued, is all it takes.
And of course there are those inevitable days or weeks where very little gets done. My son was sick this week, he missed three days from school and wanted to be held all of his waking hours. It’s hard to meditate while holding a crying four year old!
Yesterday, determined to make up my lost sessions I had planned a long session of movement and sitting practice but time ran away with me and soon I found myself heading with the family to the woods and there, as my son played in a stick house, I found the time and space and calm to meditate. The outdoor setting inspired me to do a mountain meditation. Just being in the moment, with my son playing nearby, sunlight making it’s way through the trees. It certainly beat perching on the edge of my bed. Today’s total practice time: 20 minutes
Learning can take place in the most unlikely circumstances. Many a teacher will say ‘when I stop learning from my learners, that is the time to quit’. Often we learn from great teachers other times we go to a training that tells us how not to do something. Either way there has been learning.
Personally I can’t think of a more nourishing way to spend a weekend than on a teacher’s retreat. This weekend was spent learning and practising from fellow practitioners and teachers. Connections were made and best practice was shared. It’s this type of event that keeps mindfulness teachers topped up both in terms of how to teach and in terms of zest and enthusiasm.
On the first night, after a whole day of meditating, guiding meditations and being guided through them myself, I slept so soundly I clocked up ten hours. This is a rarity in a house with small kids. So undisturbed sleep, alongside the course, made me feel fully recharged by Saturday night.
My husband had his best wry smile on when he found me googling for more retreats the next day. Why more, he asked. Because this is my CPD and it certainly beats a dry two-hour session on how better to use interactive white boards, which is the CPD I normally have to endure for my day job! Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes
Parenthood can stretch a person to the limits at times. As a woman that test is compounded by societal expectations and internal guilt inducing voices that can chide for giving too many sweet treats or for shouting after they have ignored you through ten calm requests to stop doing something.
As parents both me and my partner have been rather ineffectual at dishing out punishments. There is the thinking step, which gets occasional use but my son will just kick the door and scream until we give up and let him back into the living room. There is a red traffic light which gets dished out but already both kids have realised nothing much actually happens when they do get a red traffic light.
Withholding treats is perhaps the most effective thing but this week I have banished biscuits, TV and my sons much loved scooter in the hope it would make him skip happily off to school. I still ended up carrying him into school yesterday as he shouted ‘I don’t want to go in!’
This morning when he had ignored me for forty minutes of gentle reminders to get dressed and washed and was still lying on the bed scowling and screaming every time I went into the room to remind him to get ready I realised I would need to move on from ineffectual pleas of ‘please darling, get dressed’.
So I mindfully shouted at him! I warned my daughter I was going to shout to save her from getting worried and told her it was nothing to do with her, then I went in and bawled. He burst into tears, howled and said I had hurt his feelings. I explained it hurt my feelings when he ignores me for forty minutes on a school day. He dried his eyes, said sorry and started getting dressed.
I was reminded of the story about the Zen teacher who said use your umbrella but use it mindfully, to a woman who had to fend off a man in the market. Compassion takes many forms and sometimes it might take the form of doing something you’d really rather not do in order to be kind to yourself. Total practice time today: 25 minutes
Learning to pause is one of the essential lessons mindfulness can teach. It sounds so simple and yet for many of us, whose minds flit from one place to the next, it is a lot harder than it sounds. Part of my whole being, prior to daily mindfulness practice, was concerned with making everything OK. Smoothing over rough edges wherever I could find them. To stop doing that has been a slow process, one that is still ongoing. But over time I notice subtle changes. Over time I realise I have learnt to pause, I don’t always wade in trying to fix everything, like I used to. It’s a welcome realisation and one that is infinitely more kinder, to myself and others, than my previous well meaning attempts at sorting everything. An everyday example from busy family life: stuff getting left on the floor on my husband’s watch! Used to drive me to distraction. Do I a) nag him or b) pick it up myself? Neither option appealed. But now I have option c) do nothing, pause, see how it pans out. Nine times out of ten things do get picked up without my intervention. Eventually. Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes
Half term has, in the past, meant a huge increase in my work load. Having the kids at home all day is not conducive to catching up with chores or catching up with the paperwork my job entails. I have to arrange childcare for one day just to get anything done and then on that day I have sometimes felt a bit like a bunny in the headlights, not sure what to do with this precious bit of free time. I always thought I would be a procrastinator, thinking there are some things that can never be changed. Because that is what we learn and that is what some people teach their children, that some people cannot change. Some people cannot be helped.
Happily that rather fixed way of viewing the mind and the character is changing and in no small way thanks to mindfulness. It is possible to change what we might have previously thought of as our default setting. We can exercise choice over better managing procrastination or whatever character trait we would happily shed ourselves of.
This half term I felt that perhaps more than I ever have. My procrastination is at an all time low. I was able to enjoy the days I had with the kids and get on with work when they weren’t around, without the slight panic I used to feel of wasting my one precious day to get some work done. Now it just gets done.
Of course it isn’t quite that simple, I didn’t wake up one day to find this had happened. I chose it and enabled it to happen by living more mindfully. Does that mean I will never feel procrastination again? Of course not, I am not a robot and we don’t really delete anything. But if it does rear it’s head I am in a better place to handle it more skilfully and just get on with whatever needs to get done. Total practice time today: 40 minutes
It’s often asked on mindfulness courses: what’s better? Guided or self guided meditations. Perhaps the most skilful answer is to say your end aim might be to guide yourself through the many meditations one learns on a mindfulness course. But this doesn’t have to happen over night. Many people prefer to use the guided meditations given out on CDs for months or even years after a course elapses. If that keeps someone meditating everyday then it really does not matter. Some prefer the guided meditations as someone else’s chatter can keep the chatter of the mind at bay. It’s true when making the transition from guided to self guided your mind chatter shoots up to the point where you wonder what was actually learnt. But then this is all part of the learning. I hadn’t listened to a guided meditation for ages, not since my last silent retreat last year, but last week I wondered how it would feel to again be guided rather than guiding. It felt a bit like a mini retreat only cheaper. It’s now half term and my mini retreat has been put on hold while the kids have a week off school. Back to squeezing it in when I can. On my to do list is to keep sharing some of the meditations with my kids while we are all off the hamster wheel of school runs and life’s general busyness. Today’s total practice time: 40mins