Tag Archives: Class

clearing out for winter

It’s that time of year when we need to face winter square on. As time has passed I am getting better at preparing for my least favourite season. I realised a few years ago being in denial about winter is not helpful and creates more suffering. So instead these days I embrace winter – I dig out my winter coat and start wearing warm clothes as I know it will help me accept that it’s here – those dark long (frequently grey and wet) British winter months are part of my life, just like summer is and so I need to celebrate the arrival of winter as best I can.

At my allotment after a bumper crop of apples, middling crop of pumpkins and disappointing crop of spuds I have now cleared the decks ready for winter. My moto during a busy term this autumn has been to visit the plot little and often. I have been rocking up to the plot at 4pm on a Sunday sometimes – clearly in denial that, since the clocks went back, I will only get half an hour at best but actually quite enjoying this.

By making it so time limited I get to keep on top of things but not miss out on family life (no one else can be tempted to accompany me now the weather has turned). And today I finished weeding one last raised bed and then got the satisfaction of covering three raised beds in readiness for spring. All cleared of weeds, I covered it in thick black membrane, so each bed is now tucked up away from the cold, like an animal hibernating until the weather gets better.

There are two active beds still – for garlic and broad beans (yet to be planted) and a few odd jobs that mainly involve lopping (the apple tree and the fruit bushes) but aside from that I feel like I have cleared out for winter.  This morning as I thought of that line I was reminded of a Rumi poem we use when teaching mindfulness that I had read the day before at a silent practice session and the lines about ‘clearing you out for some new delight’ resonated as I cleared the decks for winter, knowing this act means I am also, in a way, preparing for new life and spring.

The Guest House
Translated by Coleman Barks

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, 
some momentary awareness comes 
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Jalaluddin Rumi

 

a mindful read

As any busy member of a book club can testify once you start reading for a book club it can sometimes prove a challenge to fit in any other reading. Recently, thanks to not being able to get hold of one particular title, I found myself at liberty to choose any random book off my book shelf.

I chose ‘Eyeless in Gaza’ by Aldous Huxley. Bought well over  a decade ago, inspired by reading Brave New World in the first book club I was ever part of, a group that discussed and dissected dystopian classics in Central London on Tuesday nights, filled with anarchists and radical feminists. Fast forward ten years and now I am part of a suburban book club, a group of mums who wanted an excuse to escape the drudgery of motherhood to discuss books and drink wine, authors have included Caitlin Moran and Julian Barnes, nothing too taxing on the whole. It’s great fun reading other people’s choices but I also miss choosing for myself.

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‘Eyeless in Gaza’ is the most Buddhist novel I have ever read, not that I read many Buddhists novels, in fact I would probably actively avoid them being a secular mindfulness practitioner but it’s message was basically – get to know your mind, choose a different path and liberate yourself from suffering.

I was blown away by the quality of the writing, the skillful way the story weaved between various time frames and characters. Written in 1936 it felt very relevant and prescient in many ways. Themes covered were love, lose, betrayal, abortion, homosexuality, addiction, disconnection, war, bullying, public school life, bereavement, redemption, forgiveness, patriotism, pacifism and having the curiosity to try to live a different life. And at the heart of it all was compassion. It is essentially about how one man shifts from a position of recoiling from life to embracing it.

It’s a month since I read it and I quite possibly can no longer do it justice. For a book club book I sometimes make notes, as I was reading for personal pleasure I made no notes and so all the quotes I enjoyed are lost somewhere in the 500 page text but if you are looking for a compelling Christmas read that covers life, death and how to live and train the mind and walk a different path I can’t think of a better, more relevant read.

Today’s total practice time: 5 minutes breathing space (kids are off for Christmas hols!)

 

 

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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Holiday Chaos

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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.

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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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Use your umbrella!

Young Woman Meditating on the Floor

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

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2nd February 2014

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It’s been a lovely weekend, mainly because I listened to my body and took note. I have had a sniffling cold for ten days and it still hasn’t gone. Yesterday I was due to go to a conference in London on education ‘From cradle to grave’ but when I woke up still sniffling I decided I needed a day off from commuting and tearing around. It’s good to take a foot off the pedal but sometimes, on the hamster wheel of life, it’s easier to just plough on. I always used to plough on but recently I notice I am making more skilful choices. A day off was much needed. Obviously being stuck in a house with two children is not really a day off but it was a slightly more restful day at least.  Today a friend was having afternoon tea at a stately home with cake a plenty for her birthday. We talked about the merits of being civilised V going dancing. When did you stop dancing? Is a question often asked on mindfulness courses, I loved being civilised on someone else’s behalf and yet decided for my own birthday I want to dance! Today’s total practice time: 15 minutes

Young Woman Meditating on the Floor

Sunday 3rd November 2013

Half term! It’s always hard finding the time to meditate during half term. I did manage to do something everyday but on some days it was literally just a 3 minute breathing space on waking up. I might top up through the day and I also did a lot of walking meditations as we walked from A to B but even this is punctuated with interruptions when accompanying two small kids anywhere. One morning even my breathing space was interrupted as the kids decided they wanted to get dressed next to me. The eldest kept asking mummy are you meditating. Yes I would have to say, breaking my peace. Today the have had a sleep over at nana’s so I can squeeze a solid 30 minutes in between DIY projects and getting ready to go back to work tomorrow. Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes

Saturday 12th October 2013

I have been trying to knuckle down to writing my schemes of work (SoW) for my job in London but it seems I keep coming up with all manner of avoidance tactics. So far I have done very little. I suddenly felt compelled to have a clean out, rearrange the kids’ rooms, buy a new toilet seat. So the upside is I now have a much tidier, ordered house but still the SoWs hang over me. Tomorrow, I keep promising! I have been squeezing in practice as always. Wednesday 9th October I practised on the train and did a walking meditation. Total practice time: 20 minutes Thursday 10th I  only managed two 3 minute breathing spaces!  Total practice time: 6 minutes Friday 11th I made up for my slackness and made sure, alongside my regular morning 3 minute breathing space that I did a waling meditation and a pre school pick up meditation – very therapeutic when one of your kids often bolts without even saying hello  Total practice time: 20 minutes Today, Saturday 12th I did yoga, Chi Qong and mindful movement before doing a sitting down meditation for 20 minutes  Total practice time: 1 hour

Tuesday 8th October 2013

Equilibrium has almost been restored! I did spend a lot of time today faffing around, avoiding doing my schemes of work for my new classes but I managed to start the day as ever with a 3 minute breathing space. I did a walking meditation (10mins) and then did a 15 minute sitting meditation at a quiet moment during the day. Feeling very balanced! Total practice time today: 30 minutes. Yesterday I did ten minutes on the train, standing and then 15 minutes sitting during a quiet moment before picking up the kids. I also did a walking meditation for 5 mins. Total practice time yesterday: 30 minutes