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my week of mindfulness – teaching online

So today, as I continue an intentional week of online mindfulness events, I was teaching a group of unpaid carers mindfulness skills. During lockdown I have been a complete convert to online teaching via Zoom. Of course it’s not the same as being together in a room but actually these virtual communities are the next best thing. And as a teacher who is used to arriving at dusty unloved community halls with little in the way of IT support or functioning projectors, what I have noticed is that screen share on Zoom is 100% more likely to allow participants to see my lovingly crafted powerpoint presentation than the previously mentioned dusty community halls.

And we have breakout room technology to allow participants to mix and mingle and by the end of a short online course and especially an eight week online course, there is a sense of community, a sense that we have shared a meaningful journey together – we have practiced, we have connected and shared and we have had a bit of nosey into where we chose to sit for each class. Perhaps this glimpse of our homes and lives is more authentic than the self we often show in a community hall or at work, perhaps that’s why these groups feel meaningful and reduce the sense of social isolation that we can all feel during lockdown.

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Online teaching is not the same as face to face classes but it’s an important resource and support to those who are feeling isolated and disconnected as the lockdown and social distancing continues into the future. For this reason I am now offering more online content in the coming months. Follow this link for details of the Mindfulness-Based Sleep Hygiene Course, an affordable and practical course rooted in the latest research around sleep hygiene supported by journalling and daily mindfulness practice thismindfullife.net

And for this reason I am proud to be working in partnership with and supportive of unpaid carers in Hertfordshire during the uncertainty of lockdown.

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my week of mindfulness CPD

It was this week coming that I was due to go on my annual retreat to Gaia House. It won’t come as a surprise to hear it has been cancelled this year.

Each year I spend time choosing which retreat to go on, like choosing from a luxurious box of chocolates, I look at the group retreat programme and feel spoilt for choice as I work out the logistics of which week I can do, which teaching speaks to me and which teachers I feel I might connect with. This year’s choice would have been particularly welcome – run by two women, both of colour, neither British – this was not your business as usual stuffy old white man assisted by a svelte younger woman dynamic that can dominate many retreats. I was looking forward to it.

 

But part of my lockdown has been noticing the small (and sometimes not so small) wins. As a result of lock down BAMBA, my guiding body, accepts that I and all mindfulness teachers, cannot go on retreat this year. I have faithfully gone on retreat every year for the last five years – to finally have a year off, especially when you have a young family, is actually quite welcome. Gaia House dutifully returned my deposit within a week of cancelling it and I don’t have to stump up more money on train fares and extra childcare.

As I am now on a year long sabbatical from my day job to focus on my therapeutic training and family life, on a practical level this reduction in costs is also quite welcome. Couple with that the fact that many mindfulness events and conferences are being offered online this year (and are mostly free) I feel like this is win-win-win – no CPD fees, no trains to pay for and no missing time with my family.

I am getting better at the old work-life balance and lock down has played no small part in it. I have been mindful not to go mad booking myself onto online training – there’s so much out there that I am back to feeling like the kid in front of the box of chocolates all over again. So I have been ignoring a lot of it and just walking in nature instead.

But this week I plan to engage in a virtual mindfulness retreat and some CPD events. Just one week long burst and then I will retreat back to nature and living mostly offline. It kicked off tonight with a free CPD from CMRP Bangor. Their conference usually costs around £500, way out of my budget and too far away to travel to as well but this year it’s all free and all online. Why wouldn’t I take them up on that? So I signed up to Mindfulness Based Science CPD tonight, excused myself from the kids bedtime and immersed myself with my mindfulness teaching tribe. to check in with how science can better support my teaching.

Embracing some online CPD and a retreat for the next week feels good but after that I know will go back to my low fi approach in nature and my garden and with my daily walks, which feels 10 times more mindful than staring at a screen.

Total Mindfulness Practice time today: 45 minutes

reasons to be cheerful

It’s easy to let events run away with us, to get addicted to rolling news, to feel that the world will end if we don’t check into all the many social media and online outlets that now connect most of us to the world. If I don’t upload my dinner on facebook did it even exist in these lockdown days?

But what I have been experiencing in these latter weeks of lockdown is less time on Zoom (when possible – I practically live on Zoom and Skype for work) and more time out in nature, with the kids and doing things that spark joy.

It was with this in mind that we wrote lists, at the start of the holidays, to give us all a sense of purpose. How often can we not go out during the holidays? Gone are the trips to London and Cambridge that are a staple of our holidays, gone even is a walk in Hatfield Forest (a sore point as far as I am concerned as it’s large enough to allow for plenty social distancing but se la vie, it’s currently not an option, along with Audley End another holiday fav).

But we have fields, and an allotment and a garden. And we are a creative bunch really – making music and cakes on occasion. So we all wrote a list of things we would like to do but so often don’t have time for and this gave these strangest of school holidays a sense of purpose. I reviewed mine today and I was quite surprised when I realised I have achieved all of them. This is the type of life I have long dreamt of living (admittedly with more freedom to get out and mingle)! Each item on the list sparked a pocket of joy in between the valleys of gloom and worry.

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We now face three more weeks at least of home schooling, working from home and studying not to mention endless cooking, washing and shopping because I can no longer get any groceries online but having these lists has been a highlight of our lazy holidays along with the commitment to get out and walk every day while we can and while the sun shines.

Today’s total practice time: 15 mins

 

decluttering

It’s been quite a year, for me as a teacher and trainee therapist. I’ve been busy, my clinical placement and diploma started this autumn and time has whizzed past ever since. But before all that kicked in, over the summer, me and the children watched Marie Kondo on Netflix and decided we would do our own declutter.

This tied in well with wanting to live more simply, with being intentional in when and how I shop. I started this year with one main resolution – to buy less, consume less and I have stuck to this – I didn’t buy any clothes for myself for the best part of a year.

And so thanks to the declutter my drawers and wardrobe are emptier than the start of this year. You don’t need to read one of Marie Kondo’s best selling books to get the essence of her declutter method – you basically pile all your clothes in one (shamingly big) pile.

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For a woman of my age and income, I don’t think my pile of clothes was too bad to start with but there was still stuff I could cull. Then once you’ve decided what you throw and what you keep, you move onto step two which is repack the clothes you will keep into your drawers in a more aesthetically pleasing way that means you can always find the jumper or top you are looking for.

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Amazingly the kids were on board too and did their own versions of this. Three months later my drawers still look this way and I haven’t brought anything new to add further clutter. My first Extinction Rebellion meeting helped add conviction that this is the right way to live right now – less stuff means more time actually, more time to be with and connect to people, more time to do things I am passionate about.

I hope to continue living a simple life: college, work and family keep me busy enough so to give up needless consumption, whether shopping locally or mindless online purchases, feels a no-brainer right now and I’m more on board than ever to buy less, fly less and drive less in 2020.

Thanks for following my sporadic blogs in 2019,

Wishing you a peaceful Winterval and a mindful 2020!

practically sugar free

Last year I quit caffeine and reassessed my relationship with alcohol. So I guess it was only a matter of time that sugar would be the next in line to be culled. To me the three together are quite symbolic: sugar, caffeine and alcohol fuel our lives in the West – they are all acceptable and highly addictive. Two are classified as drugs, sugar gets less attention. But all three affect our lives and health and are, within society, the topic of much debate.

I believe capitalism cannot really function without them. We drink at night to unwind from the busyness of our lives then when we get up at 7am and feel tired we fuel ourselves with sugar and caffeine to get us through the day and then guess what? At the end of the day we need a little help to unwind again. It’s a cycle: wash, rinse, repeat.

The last year has been a playful adventuring into this theory that I have long held, that this holy trinity of substances fuels capitalism and also fuels a lot of suffering. ‘To know and not act, is to not yet know’, as Mishima wrote. I cannot really know this is the case until I have rid myself of cravings for all three.

So here I go – 2018 and a sugar free, caffeine free, alcohol free life. Sounds fun, right? The bizarre thing is I couldn’t be more excited. I decided as alcohol and caffeine have already been dealt with my ‘dry January’ this year would focus on sugar.

Now out of the three, sugar is the one I was most reluctant to tackle. I have never eaten that much sugar, it seems a fairly natural, plant based, food. Where’s the harm in it? So I started this experiment fully expecting to find it pointless, not for me and revert back to my biscuit eating ways come the end of January.

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But to my surprise I have enjoyed this mostly sugar free month. I’m not like super strict about it, I still have ketchup and have eaten some tomato soup in that time (both heavily laden with sugar) but I have stopped putting honey on my muesli and now buy sugar free muesli at that. I have quit, after so many years, my daily biscuit at around 3pm. It’s been replaced with dried mango and I have survived! I got lots of chocolate for Christmas which has been hidden away but I am sure it will get eaten at some point. Yesterday there was cake at work and I said no. Not because I felt I mustn’t but because I genuinely didn’t want it.

The comedown from sugar is just as bad as when you give up caffeine: headaches, cravings, flu like symptoms. If something makes you feel that bad when you quit I figure it can’t be that good. I have tried some adventures in sugar free baking and the kids are keen to try a sugar reduced life.

We never know how something will feel until we try it, all I know is that 3pm dip which I had everyday has now vanished. I feel more energetic in my mid-40s than I possibly ever have or at least post-children. I know there will be days when I say yes to cake but just to crack the daily biscuit habit alone seems a great achievement.

Today’s total practice time: 10 minutes movement 10 minutes seated

hello 2018

If I were to make any new year’s resolutions, which I’m not sure are even that useful (see a previous musing on this here thismindfullife.net/2016/01 ) they would be drawn from the learning that happened during the retreat late last year thismindfullife.net/…7/12/21/retreating-3 along with less sugar and more creative writing.

Part of this drive to unleash more creativity will involve The 52 Lists Project which I hope to work through as the year unfolds.

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This book appealed to me as it was weekly rather than daily, which felt a more realistic aim. And it’s a book rather than staring at a screen which pledging to do a blog post everyday for a year or whatever would entail.

I guess that means a new year’s resolution might also include, if I decided to make them,  less screen time, less busy-ness in general.

One day I hope to find that elusive work-life balance and so for the most part more than anything else less busy-ness resonates most with me if I were to pledge to do anything differently in 2018.

Belated happy new year – in the spirit of less busy-ness it has taken me a week to write a new year’s blog post!

Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes movement and seated practice

 

 

ground hog day

Monday mornings seem to often have the same familiar pattern. We all sleep in and struggle to get out of bed even though the night before was not any later than usual. The kids grumble about not wanting to go back to school, I say something bright and cheery like hey ho, only 3 weeks to go before summer and one of them bursts into tears because they thought it was only two more weeks before summer. My husband makes a hasty exit and the kids won’t see him again until Tuesday morning.

Everyone moves very slowly, I try my best to encourage, bribe and sometimes coerce a more speedy start. It all grinds to a halt at breakfast while my daughter goes from slow mo to freeze frame. With only ten minutes to go I find her whimisically staring out the window as she is meant to be brushing her teeth. I go to brush my teeth leaving them for all of 2 minutes and then when I get back of course one of them is crying claiming the other one punched them. I am losing the will to live and it is only 8.30. I file the incident under ‘sort out later’.

We walk to school and today that part went well except when we reached the school gates I realise the kitchen clock is 10 minutes slow again (it keeps doing this and then fixing itself, which lulls you into a false sense of security) and so we have actually arrived ten minutes later than hoped.

My daughter is given a damning red slip by the school office and looks even more anxious that she is arriving late. I stroll off to my allotment wondering how I can avoid this inelegant start to our week. Being a woman I naturally assume it is my job to fix this mess.

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I lose myself for several hours while weeding and strimming and afterwards I take the blanket out of the shed and lie in the shade watching the clouds go by. Part of me wonders what the old boys might make of this left-field behaviour but a bigger part doesn’t care. I am completely in the moment, and in that moment it feels like everything will be OK.

Today’s total practice time: 10 minutes formal siting practice, 10 minutes informal practice – watching the clouds (I recommend it!)

external events

On the 8 week MBSR course I teach in week 7 we look at how we often drop our most nourishing activities at the very times when they are so needed. Feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Out go the yoga classes. Short on time? Cancel on your friends. Working late? Order in a take away. It seems this is part of the human condition, something we all share – it’s a struggle to look after yourself when things are going well, forget it when things are going badly.

There is no magic cure for this very human predicament and I know people with decades of meditation practice who still succumb to this phenomenon. However the best thing we can do to at least stay on top of this is to pay attention to it, perhaps offer it a friendly if rather wry smile, accompanied by the thought ‘hello old friend!’ If we are aware this is how we behave when we are stressed research has shown we are much more likely to emerge quickly from the other side of the dip.

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I can imagine many people dropping healthy ways of being in the last week, as they have become sucked into the cycle of 24 hour news and worries about the future. That has certainly been my own experience since events have unfolded in the UK. Earlier this week I halfheartedly pulled my practice back together, reclaiming the very act of self care I need most at this time, not because I felt like meditating but because I had to. Procrastination and worry have never helped me feel settled, meditation does.

It is that simple. But of course as many have observed, it isn’t easy.

Today’s total practice time: 20 minutes movement and compassion practice

Addicted to our screens

I’ve lost count of the articles I’ve read about the pervasive and damaging nature of technology. Participants on the eight week courses I teach often comment on how difficult it is to switch off from work, citing the fact they can all too easily read their emails 24/7 as one more stressor in their life.

Being by nature quite low-fi I thought I had managed to dodge all of that. I didn’t get a smartphone for years and like many middle-classed parents, I don’t use much technology in front of the kids. Their screen time is usually limited to watching the occasional CBBC programme on the computer and the odd educational maths or English online primary game we’ve discovered.

So recently when I facilitated a full day mindfulness practice session I was surprised by how much yearning I experienced to check in with my phone as the day unfolded.

Perhaps it was because running the session, though fulfilling and relaxing as it was, felt like work. And at work, away from the kids, I often lose track of how often I surreptitiously check my phone for missed calls, aware small children can fall sick at any point during the school day, I check in with my phone to seek reassurance. A blank screen tells me all is, thus far, well.

So I was working but needed to model the behavior I had set out for the group – a day to switch off your phones and just be with yourself, practising non-doing, practising noticing what happens when the distractions are out of our reach for six hours.

As facilitating meet up groups comes under the broad umbrella of work, I wasn’t expecting to get much out of it for my own personal practice. But the day unfolded as one of great calm. It allowed me to tap into the calm I had experienced whilst on a longer retreat. I was aware I didn’t want the day to end and part of that was connected with having a digital detox for the day. It allowed me to return to work the next day fully recharged, ready to face the Christmas chaos of work do’s and busyness that lay ahead.

For more details on local practice sessions and our regular meet up group follow the retreat tab https://thismindfullife.net/retreats/ or the meet up group tab https://thismindfullife.net/bishops-stortford-meet-up-group/

Today’s total practice time: 20 minutes mindful movement, 30 minutes seated practice.

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Retreating

It’s been a long time since I have had the time or the space to write a blog post. My whole summer was one long digital detox. I noticed the urge to upload photos of sunny scenes on Facebook and then ignored that urge and just enjoyed the moment. I’m not claiming it will last into autumn when things get a little dull both literally and in terms of mood. It’s not easy being deprived of daylight and moments outdoors. I probably need a proper outdoorsy winter coat to facilitate my escape during the winter months.

At the tail end of summer my digital detox went nuclear by going on a week long silent retreat. I could probably write several blog posts about the insights I had during that week. How hard it was to be away from the kids, not even able to chat on the phone and yet also it was blissful. I didn’t plan a meal, cook any food or wash any dishes for a whole week. I didn’t have to bribe anyone to wash their face, brush their hair or walk to school a little faster.

I spent seven hours a day meditating. The insights came thick and fast but at the end of the retreat I felt so ready to come home and connect with others. The mountain of emails I came home to has now meant the digital detox is well and truly over. With new mindfulness courses starting in the coming weeks I cannot afford those lofty ideals any longer, it’s back to realizing I am frantically online till 10pm and juggling the kids, work and a life.

But as a way to deepen my practice and settle the mind a 7 day retreat cannot be underestimated, I will do it all again next year even though sorting out cover for the kids wasn’t easy and being apart is hard, it really was worth it in terms of deep learning and calm.

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

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