There are all sorts of programmes and support groups, both online and in our communities, to help us cut down or quit alcohol. One such website is one year no beer, whose aim is to encourage people to have a dry January through to December oneyearnobeer.com . Another – club soda – is a mindful drinking website joinclubsoda.co.uk They both work as membership organisations and there are different packages available to support those who want to quit alcohol.
I have found myself on a largely unplanned break from booze. I always do dry January, I’ve been doing it before it even had a name in the mainstream media. This slowly built up to often being dry January and February. Then last year it finally happened – I had a few weeks when I had a glass or two of wine but then found myself wondering why bother?
This heralded an unprecedented voluntary dry six months punctuated only by a trip back to my old home Madrid and my favourite bar in the world the sherry bar. That and a gift token to a honey beer tasting were pretty much my only adventures in alcohol of 2017.
I did Christmas sober and had my second New Year’s Eve sober. Yes, I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself but I’m also mindful that having a moderate glass of wine can be great fun, a pleasure with a meal. So I’m not sure where this dry spell will take me, I quite fancy doing the full ‘one year no beer’ which would take me to September 2018 and then I’ll just see how I feel.
I was lucky – my mindfulness practice and research into addiction meant I was very aware of what tricks the mind plays on us when we give something addictive up. I didn’t need to sign up to an online group or challenge but they are useful resources and thanks to raised awareness around dry January and a small but growing acceptance that living a sober life is a wonderful liberating step I think there will only be more and more people taking this journey.
Whether you are choosing to drink every month of the year or taking a break for January it’s always good to reassess alcohol use. One year no beer gathered together the data below from Professor Kevin Moore’s research (Royal Free Hospital, London) into stopping alcohol for four weeks and the benefits are very compelling.
What happens when you take a break from booze?
Today’s total practice time: 1 hour (30 mins movement, 30 mins seated)
This is the time of year that many of us want to hunker down, switching off from work concerns and spending time with family.
So when I went off on retreat last week, leaving the kids to have their last week of school without me I did question my motivations. I had booked it up months ago, in the summer and back then it had seemed a move bordering on genius – going on retreat before all the Christmas madness kicks in, what’s not to love?
But of course the Christmas madness kicks in around late November so I was already in the thick of it when I left last week to Gaia House for a retreat on remembering the heart’s potential.
I arrived one day early and had the whole house to myself near enough. I then maintained the silence as all the other participants arrived which made me feel a little out of kilter with the house but by the time the retreat started properly I was already very settled and ready to get the most out of the teachings.
There were moments of rich learning and everyday practical insights coupled with being in nature and in the silence, having time for awe and wonder at a robin tweeting nearby or a leaf falling from a tree. The simple pleasure of a hot cup of tea (with no biscuits or sugary treats) drunk outside on a crisp morning never ceases to be amongst my favourite moments when on retreat.
As I recounted some of my adventures in the mind and on retreat with my husband who had of course had a very different five days, single handedly looking after the kids, he said I don’t think I need to be in silence for five days to appreciate having a cup of tea outside. And to be fair neither do I. I love doing just that in my own garden or at the allotment but there is something very special about being on retreat. About being with people but not having to be anything for those people, about living alongside people in silence.
Top six things I realised in the silence:
- Do more yoga!
- Rediscover the body scan on a more regular basis (this was done everyday on retreat and I loved rediscovering it)
- Spend less time on line
- Spend more time with the kids
- Be generous
- Be brave
I’m not quite sure how the last 2 things will manifest. A whole new year awaits us after the winterval excitement passes by, so these are themes I will continue to explore in 2018 but for now that doesn’t seem an insignificant list of things to realise would have a big impact on my life, on which note I won’t be online again for some time.
Many thanks for following and reading my musings in 2017, wishing you a peaceful and productive 2018 xx
The past couple of weeks I have been reining in the mindfulness work. I have a lot booked in for April so I needed a couple of weeks respite from the constant blogging, status updating, amending advertising, updating my website, booking rooms etc that comes alongside the very thing I enjoy doing which is teaching mindfulness.
The truth of the matter is simply I spend far more time in front of a computer than I do teaching mindfulness, such is the nature of recruiting participants for the courses and groups that I run.
So having a few weeks off in which I consciously put nothing onto my facebook page and wrote no blogs and instead made time for the kids and my allotment have been very welcome.
Going slow is a thing. It’s been a thing for many years. Our ancestors were very good at it but we in 2017 often struggle with the concept.
The fruits of going slow have been giving the kids a lovely Easter break so far, we have been to the forest twice, met with friends and family, visited the plot and grown things!
I recommend a time of going slow amidst the busyness to anyone who feels they need it. During that time of going slow I have still been at work, I have still been commuting into London 3 out 5 days. But what changed was the stuff outside my actual day job. Freeing myself from constant internet slavery for a few weeks has been lush!
Today’s total practice time: 10 minutes movement, 20 minutes seated practice (in my garden no less, how is that for going slow!)
Mark Williams writes about the importance of whittling your way through various tasks, having a little task each day policy can be so useful. Starting a task but accepting it might not all get finished in one go is also advised.
My tasks this year have sometimes felt like mountains I will never scale. First all my spare time was consumed by preparing materials for a corporate session I did earlier this year. Once that was done and delivered there were then amendments to the corporate session to be made.
Hanging over both of these tasks was the usual whirl of recruiting for various courses, advertising for various courses, renewing my insurance and events and responding to emails. Oh and having a job, two kids and a life to fit in as well. And at the summit of my mountain was getting my application for the UK Good Practice List of Mindfulness Teachers sorted.
It was always the last thing on the to-do list each day, often getting bumped down when something needed responding too. Never quite urgent enough to make top of the to-do list.
But then Be Mindful started displaying big green ticks next to teachers who are ‘listed’ so then getting listed suddenly felt a little more urgent.
Today after much ping-ponging of emails with my supervisor and gathering of evidence – about a month’s work in total – I have finally submitted my mindfulness list application. It feels good. I am £90 worse off and I have to wait a month to find out the outcome but I put everything together as best I could and have let that go for now. The amendments to the corporate session are next on the to-do list but for today I am going to stop, breathe and reflect on the feeling of achievement we get when a looming task has been completed at last.
Today’s Total Practice Time: 40 minutes (movement and seated practice)
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.
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!)
It’s fair to guess that not many of us relish a life of forever trotting on the hamster wheel of life, without pausing or stopping for holidays. In my day job I am particularly lucky in that I get 20 weeks off each year, it would be a stretch to say that it’s all paid holiday, as it really isn’t but I have always valued the time off I get even though, particularly in August, I am frequently broke.
But the one thing about routine is that it can nurture and help us sustain our practice. I had been a fit-my-practice-in-where-I-can practitioner until this year. At the start of 2015 I made a very vague new year’s resolution to start having a more Jon Kabat-Zinn approach to my practice, now the kids are older and I get a bit more sleep. I decided to get up at 6am on work days and 6.30am on non-workdays to give me a full 30-40 minutes of silent practice every week day before the house erupts into noisy five year old style chaos.
On my workdays I continue the practice into my breakfast, foregoing radio 4 and munching my muesli in silence (believe me this is the hardest of all asks for a new’s addict like myself). The difference I have noticed to my life though reassures me the early starts are well worth it.
That routine, and thinking I need to practice followed by a lovely realization, that box was ticked at 6am this morning, it really can’t be beat. And most importantly the impact my practice now has on my life feels even more profound than when I first started a solid commitment to daily meditation. Quicker to smile, more reluctant to shout even when my youngest is throwing his biggest of strops.
But only 3 months into this regime/routine and then along comes Easter and all my good intentions are thrown out the window by illness on the kids part and the school holidays. I didn’t really want to go back to work yesterday but as I sat on the train meditating and got back into the habit of regular pauses throughout my working day I know that for now my sense of calm and order has once again been restored!
Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes movement and self-compassion practice.
A few months ago I was invited by the Grow Mindfulness group to their launch event at Westminster University that took place on Friday 13th March. I put it in my diary made a few inquiries about who could pick up the kids for me that day and with childcare secured, booked my free ticket,
Being in London on a Friday was a habit buster in itself and knowing the kids were being picked up by their favourite substitute to me – their dad – was lovely. Knowing everyone was happy I left early and chanced upon Dermot O’Leary’s dance-athon (it was red nose day and the BBC headquarters are two minutes from Westminster Uni) which further renewed the feeling that I was doing something a bit different and exciting on a school day (I’m a parent of 2 young kids with a very fixed schedule – so it doesn’t take much!)
The event itself was a good chance to network with other mindfulness teachers – much needed when so many of us work in our own little bubbles most of the time. There was an excellent talk on the neuroscience that backs up and supports everything we do when we teach these courses. On my courses I try to point out that it isn’t just Buddhists we need to doff our caps to, it’s the neuro-scientists who have proven with the help of MRIs that these practices can change our brains, helping us shift from the amygdala towards the insula.
But what was most heartening was that Grow Mindfulness is a grassroots organisation that literally wants to grow mindfulness and widen access to the eight week courses. Made up of committed passionate women from working class backgrounds, it was so heartening to hear them talk about broadening our scope and making sure everyone who needs mindfulness has some in their lives.
Quite how we will do this is still to be decided and without doubt the journey maybe a challenge but I left with a heart felt sense that this is an organisation that wants to shake things up a bit while connecting and supporting those at the very heart of mindfulness provision. That is an organisation worth supporting.
Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes seated meditation
Many of us, especially perhaps my generation who grew up with Thatcher and the Falklands War as the backdrop for our childhoods, sometimes ask the question ‘When will I actually grow up?’
Even though I have been old enough to vote for more than two decades and ditto buy alcohol it still sometimes seems that achieving full-blown adulthood has somehow eluded me. For so many years I was footloose and fancy free, a global vagabond and loved every moment of it.
It took moving out of London, getting a mortgage, signing up to the teacher’s pension scheme (after nearly a decade of putting my head in the sand, pretending old age wouldn’t affect me) and waking up from two years of new-parenthood sleep deprivation to make me think OK maybe I am now actually an adult. Maybe this is actually it, I am all grown up.
It’s funny the roles we like to hold onto. We become so attached to the comfort of a well-worn character trait. Disorganised, slightly useless with money, not still really sure where life is taking you. I have felt all of those and more since being more an ‘adult’.
But what I have come to realise, with the help of an established meditation practice, is that some of that stuff you can let go of, while keeping the parts that serve you well. I don’t feel I have to be crap to be me anymore. But I still quite like keeping my child-like wonder at the world. After all many things about adulthood – the striving, the rushing, the not seeing what is there in front of you – are very overrated.
Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes (Qigong and sitting breath and compassion practice)
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
One of the most wonderful things about teaching mindfulness is that every time I do some CPD not only do I deepen my knowledge about mindfulness and how to deliver it, I also learn a lot about myself. The last training I went on, facilitated by Bangor University, felt something of a mini retreat.
Being taught by very mindful facilitators was a master class in itself on simply how to be. Even though it was a room full of 20 mindfulness teachers there was still a little bit of competition and posturing from one or two participants. At one point one the facilitators made a comment about questioning our need to talk, what are we hoping to achieve each time we open our mouth? Are we showing off, point scoring or making a valid point.
The whole training was on how to speak and how to inquire. And I discovered I don’t particularly like it when people inquire too much about me. Admittedly I was on the sharp end of some rather over zealous questioning in one of the group activities but this realisation threw me a little as I have always thought I like people taking an interest in me, but I guess it really does depend what is being asked and how.
Taking on the role of the person being probed made me more empathetic than ever about the tender process that is inquiry. If it feels wrong don’t push it, let silence rule if that’s what the moment needs.
And ground yourself to the floor, feeling your feet, every moment of the way!
Today’s Total Practice Time: 30 minutes