Tag Archives: Course

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

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

 

waking up

It’s often said that when we start to practice mindfulness we wake up to our lives. So it’s seems right to also say that when we lose mindfulness it can often feel like everything is a bit hazy, like being asleep. But with regular practice we come through the haze and gain awareness once more.

For many years I have tried to practice mindfulness with varying degrees of success. At first I was holding the commitment too loosely, if I have time I have time, really taking that gentle message a bit too close to heart. Then when training to be a teacher there was rigidity: must. practice. every. day. And this was useful, this was necessary but it really isn’t a boot camp.

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Now I feel I hold the practice in my life with the right amount of lightness and commitment, the rigidity has softened and I can be flexible with whatever each day brings. Some days, like today, I get a glorious stretch of space in which to practice for an hour undisturbed. But in reality this might only happen twice a week. The other days will be a mixed bag – 40 minutes here, 30 minutes there – each day. Sometimes I can do that all at once, other times it might be 2 or 3 slots of 10 minutes.

Whatever form it takes I find it all equally beneficial and welcome whatever I can manage each day. Letting go of should’s or any sense of guilt is a very liberating part of the practice. Each moment spent meditating is a moment of real wakefulness, constantly interrupted by the haze of thoughts, thinking and busy minds. But that is the practice – we fall asleep and then we wake up. Again and again.

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

xmas cheer

As a dyslexic I have often relied on to do lists and being super organised to get me through the working week. Being organised isn’t a natural default setting for most dyslexics and so it is something I have had to cultivate over time. This can lead to a rather rigid approach to life that for me feels rather unnatural.

A while back I started toying with the idea of letting go of to-do lists, and instead embarked on the idea of doing things as the need arises. It’s been about three months since I ventured down this experimental path and I can report back that life has been more chaotic than usual. I have been late for things, something us perfectionist dyslexics who have spent a lifetime cultivating strategies to hide their dyslexia, find really difficult. I have forgotten things. And as for a Christmas shopping list – forget it, it all went free form this year.

The surprising thing about all of this though is that none of the above stressed me out, I found myself bathing in the chaos and quite enjoying it. I knew things seemed a shambles at times but I somehow managed to meet it with a friendly curiosity. How do I feel when I am not quite so in control? How late, chaotic and shambolic can I let things get?

It’s really healthy and a big part of the MBCT course to nudge ourselves out of our comfort zones. So often that gets translated as eating a curry when really we want chips, which is a great place to start but as a practice can we allow ourselves to go deeper with this and start to challenge the very way we interact with and meet the world?

I like to present as calm, competent and in control and I used to feel discombobulated if I couldn’t present that side of myself to the world. But letting go of to do lists has helped me embrace the chaos that is life, especially life with two young(ish) kids.

I bought the kids a book called ‘beautiful opps’ which teaches every mistake is a chance to learn and grow. I’ve been battling against the chaos of parenthood for a long time but now I feel ready to embrace the mess and the chaos, confident it won’t completely submerge me.

As I finished off my Christmas shopping today – yes the 23rd December – amid the crowds that would normally have annoyed me while I cursed myself for leaving it so late, I found myself instead doing a wry smile and wishing all the lastminute.com shoppers like myself well, us chaos prone types need to stick together!

Today’s total practice time: None so far but I plan to hide in the kitchen at some point and do 10 minutes breath meditation!

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!)

 

 

Dealing with stress

Sometimes mindfulness teachers present such a level calm embodiment of mindfulness to the world and their participants that it is hard to imagine them ever feeling ruffled. I like to joke that I am very good at modelling imperfection as all mindfulness teachers are encouraged to do. Modelling imperfections I have no hesitation in doing but modelling calm whilst under stress I have always struggled a tad more with.

So on Wednesday when I found myself locked out of the building where I normally teach one of my courses I was amazed to find myself feeling surprisingly unruffled. Even when the emergency contact number failed to come up with any help I still found myself smiling and thinking oh well, that’s that then.

Don’t get me wrong, it was an annoying situation that I hope I never find myself in again but I didn’t battle it or get myself all agitated, that was the big difference. There was no denial, I felt myself almost settle into the situation and think this is just how it is right now.

It’s almost mandatory for us mindfulness teachers to use anything unpleasant or uncomfortable as a way to practice mindfulness. If someone has a cough in a class we say ‘It’s OK it just gives us something to work with’, ditto if there’s a loud ticking clock or traffic noises outside. It’s just something to sit with and see what arises.

Wednesday night gave me a lot to sit with and see what arose. After my room shenanigans I got to my usual train station to find the express train I hoped to catch had been cancelled. There was no wrestling with this second major inconvenience of the day, instead once again there was a sense of shrugging, a letting go, when before there might have been silent curses and annoyance. Nothing else has actually changed, just my perception of all the stuff that happens.

Today’s Total Practice Time: 40 minutes movement and seated practice

Thursday 30th January 2014

I can vouch that this mindfulness stuff really works! I know I would say this – I am a passionate practitioner and teacher but today I had a moment or several, when I could feel such a fundamental change in my perspective. Today my perspective on several events were so different to how they would’ve been a year or so ago. First walking the kids home from school with two of their friends we see a fire engine outside our house. A while ago I would have assumed the worst and thought my house was on fire but today I felt only curiosity. The kids got to sit in a fire engine as well which was a nice start to any play date! Then the play date itself: two five year olds and two four year olds under one roof, this was the type of situation that would see me feeling stressed but today I surprised myself by enjoying it. Today’s total practice time: 20 minutes

Thursday 2nd January 2014

It was possibly the best festive season I have had for a while. I didn’t drink too much, I did eat far too many chocolates but I managed to meditate everyday even though surrounded by family and merriment. I felt like it’s now so embedded in me – to meditate everyday – that remembering it was no longer an issue and amidst all the mayhem of Christmas I loved my 15 minutes of peace that I carved out for myself each day. It has inspired me to attempt to get a course running in Muswell Hill – I have a venue in mind, have ordered flyers so watch this space for more news! Today’s total practice time: 15 minutes

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