I read somewhere recently that 40-somethings are often in the rush hour of their lives. The article said this is when career and child rearing responsibilities reach their pinnacles leaving those in their forties with very little free-time outside of work and child-rearing. The moniker Dual Earners, Toddler Twins (DEETs) rings very true for me and my partner.
It feels as though we have had toddler ‘twins’ for decades, though of course it has only been six years. And by definition neither of them are officially toddlers anymore nor twins. But having two young kids while trying to have a career is trying and frequently tests my mindfulness practice, let alone trying to carve out a new career for yourself at the same time.
Add to this mix the never ending story of retraining, which so many of us undertake in our thirties and forties because we realise we want something different or need something that fits round the kids, and you have levels of busy-ness unknown to our parents generation.
When my parents were in their forties they weren’t schlepping off onto training courses and retreats. You decided what you wanted to do at 18 and pretty much stuck with it. There are of course pros and cons to this model but in their forties I think they were certainly relaxing, watching TV and going down the pub more than I ever do!
I realised the other day, as I got in from London and had half an hour before needing to pick the kids up, that what I thought I should do was turn the computer on and catch up with emails and then head back out into the world even more frazzled than when I arrived. But I paused and guess what? A different idea came to mind. How about leaving the computer off, putting the kettle on and allowing myself half an hour with the paper before getting the kids?
Deep down we know that’s what our parent’s generation would have done with a spare half hour, rather than thinking their blog that has 3 readers desperately needs to be updated, on which note I down tools for lunch!
Today’s total practice time: 35 minutes (20 minutes qigong and 15 minutes self-compassion meditation)
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!
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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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.
In week seven of the eight week mindfulness meditation courses I run we look at what activities nourish and deplete us. Participants are encouraged to do an inventory of their lives and consider some simple steps to redress the balance, in favour of nourishing activities.
For myself whenever I do this, and it is certainly something we can all do with reviewing from time to time, my relationship with the internet often looms large as one of my least enjoyed habits.
I don’t have a TV so the internet is my source of catch up TV as well as my supermarket and shopping portal and it also supports my mindfulness work and looms large in my day job. Even though my boss works in the same building that I teach in I rarely see her and so any questions are emailed.
In the past I have found that I would answer a work email or a course enquiry late into the night, I would sit there in driven doing mode, pressing on, wanting so much to clear the decks. But what I have come to realise is that with emails the decks are never clear and in this world of fuzzy work-life boundaries, the only person who can impose any good practice guidelines is yourself.
So I endeavour not to be online after 9pm and I try not to check in at all on Sundays, everyone deserves at least one day off after all. If something pops into my head (google x, y or z, order such and such, email so and so) I write it down on a list by the computer.
And so now instead of seeing the internet as this invasive time consuming beast I see it as a communication tool that supports my teaching but that also needs to be used carefully and in moderation.
Today’s total practice time: 45 minutes
Many unexpected consequences can come up from a daily mindfulness meditation practice. Often the thing we were hoping to get from it dissolves and we find ourselves exploring completely different avenues.
At first I meditated because of stress, now I find (and often say) that I have never been more aware of my feet. I must admit, awareness of feet was never part of the plan.
In mindfulness we constantly anchor our awareness in the feet. In the walking meditation you do nothing but bring your awareness back again and again to the slow walking feet. In the .b course we teach teenagers to FOFBOC. To the uninitiated that stands for Feet on Floor Bum on Chair.
We FOFBOC continually throughout the eight week course. Every seated meditation starts with the invitation to place your feet flat on the floor and assume a dignified pose. All of this is a preamble to the realisation I had the other day that I have recently gone a bit footwear mad since the weather turned cold. There have been new boots purchased along with cosy thermal socks and I think I can blame/thank mindfulness awareness for this sensible shopping spree.
Gone are the days when I put up with cold feet, holey socks and discomfort. I am so tuned into my feet that I cannot tolerate the merest hint of cold or dampness. My old work boots had a hole in the sole. I used to just put up with them and avoid puddles as best I could but this autumn I realised winter is on it’s way and instead of feeling a creeping dread as SAD robs my life of joy I find myself deciding the best way forward is to make myself comfortable as I walk in the cold.
So instead of burying my head in denial I have embraced the onslaught of winter. I have thermal socks, bring it on.
Today’s total practice time: 1 hour
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
Most of us aim for some basic level of consistency in our day to day lives. With children we are constantly told (as easily guilt tripped parents) that there is perhaps nothing worse than to be inconsistent with your off spring, as this can lead to insecurity and confusion in our children.
The reality of course is that to be 100% consistent is near impossible as fortune fires its slings and arrows our way. Take this week, a poorly child at home, yelping with pain from an ear infection has seen my practice nose dive into nothingness for the second half of the week, my Qi Gong routine feels equally neglected.
The lovely thing about mindfulness is when this invariably happens (and it is when not if – people, especially five year olds, get ill, that’s life) nowadays I find myself not cursing or lamenting the day that might have been and the work I will not get done. I just accept it. Simple as that and yet this has taken me years to be able to do, to say OK, this is here, this is how it is. This poorly pup was with me for the whole day and so I enjoyed it as best I could while secretly relishing a legitimate excuse to fall behind with my emails. We had lunch and watched a DVD and I was reminded of the three year old he once was, coming home to me everyday for lunch before school whisked him away for six hours everyday.
As for my practice, it’s almost the weekend and there’s always tomorrow.
Today’s Total Practice Time: 10 minutes of little mindful pauses + noticing my feet/walking meditation as I dropped my eldest off at school
Practising mindfulness does not make all the bad stuff in your life go away. There is no way to stop the potential stressors in your life. All we can do is learn how to breathe through them when they do appear. There are various things that I really don’t like doing – ringing up my bank is one of them (I struggle to remember the answers to all those security questions I set up several decades ago and yet when asked by a computer they come to mind so easily) or talking to my children’s teachers (why do I still feel like I am on the naughty chair?).
And yet do those things I must on occasions. So mindfulness allows me to notice that it’s difficult for me to do this, I acknowledge this without in anyway berating myself. I notice that I seem to be doing anything rather than the tasks in hand and finally when the Facebook-faffing-denial can go on no longer, I do them.
And when I do finally face that I have to do them and they can be put off no longer a strange thing happens. I prepare for the moment. This is a big thing for a dyslexic, being prepared, it’s never been something I do. At interviews I have always been more prone to winging it than painstakingly researching what it is I am being interviewed for.
But now I research and I prepare and I breathe and I know there are certain things that can help me get through these arduous chores like not being hungry or hungover, so I choose my moments, pause and then do it, without judging myself that it may well have taken three days before the procrastination came to an end.
Today’s Total Practice Time: 1 hour