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)
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.
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
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
Last year for my family holiday I went glamping, in a beautiful bell tent with the hubby and kids (then 3&5 so you can imagine there was nothing remotely glamorous about it). It was lovely and testing and different all at once.
Holidays are what get us away from our routine, from the nine to five grind of school runs, doing homework with reluctant jiggling young children and commuting into London. To stand back, take stock and have a rest is so welcome even though with young kids there is no rest, only a change of location in which you perform the never ending round of get up, entertain, cook , cajole to eat veggies, clean teeth and then usher bedwards.
It was hard work being in a tent, losing my space to practice any form of meditation or yoga and then when the children finally did go to sleep it was usually only half an hour later before it got dark.
Talking to someone recently about camping they said ‘It’s the ultimate habit buster, you have to change the way you think and change the way you do everything, from going to the loo in the night to washing the dishes, nothing is how you usually do things when you camp.’ That is so true. The practice was just being there, watching the flames flicker each night by the fire as we had a medicinal glass of wine and talked briefly before crashing out to face another 5am wake up call from our youngest and most excitable child.
This year’s holiday was more civilised – a farm house with my extended family. I had space and time to do Qi Gong everyday and meditate as much as I wanted. It was bliss compared to glamping but I wouldn’t completely rule camping out in the future because there are very few experiences that get you right back to basics, it just might be more rewarding once my son has stopped waking up at 5am.
And for those of us who go away only once or twice a year there are so many ways to shake things up in our daily lives in between holidays, from changing where we sit to watching a random film we know nothing about, little and regular changes to our daily routine can help us recognise and even change our sometimes unhelpful habitual behaviour.
Today’s total practice time: 20 minutes
Most of us have activities we would rather avoid, and for me, up there with sitting exams and doing door-to-door charity collecting, as I once did while backpacking, it is going to the hairdressers.
I clearly am not a typical woman as I know many women who love nothing better than spending three hours having their hair dyed while idly chatting away about holidays with their young hairdresser. I also know quite a few women who also loathe going and begrudge paying £33 or whatever for a forty minute cut and blow dry. I like my husband’s idea of buying a pair of clippers and just doing it yourself for as long as you can reach round the back of your head but it’s quite a radical, bold (no pun intended) move for a woman.
So instead I go to the hairdressers as infrequently as possible, get the most low maintenance of cuts and grin and bear it as best I can. Today I tried something different, I accepted I disliked it and then as I sat bored in the chair I meditated. It had never occurred to me before, I think the whole experience sends me so off kilter I have never had the wherewithal to consider meditating.
It made a disliked and boring activity seem much more interesting. By taking to heart Jon Kabat-Zinn’s words of allowing life to be our teacher and treating our lives as one long experiment in awareness we can turn the moments we dislike into something more, a chance to learn and see how we flinch at those parts of our lives we simply can’t avoid.
Today’s Total Practice Time: 1 hour