Tag Archives: MBCT

rediscovering forgotten pleasures

One of the habit busters from the eight week courses I teach is rediscovering old pleasures.

So often in life we give up the things that give us pleasure to make room for work, child rearing, study or DIY projects. I often juggle all four of these competing demands on my time and sometimes have flaked out on more nurturing activities (no time for a cuppa and catch up with a friend, no time for book club, no time for yoga).

This might be quite effective as a short term strategy but actually long term it does no favours to anyone to become restricted in our activities. Research shows we need a balance and that people who simplify their lives down to the tasks they need to get through with no leisure time factored in really do suffer from burn out and lack of creativity.

Before Christmas I had the best present idea I have ever had for my husband. My present giving is often rushed and last minute and my husband has often dispatched his well meaning presents to Oxfam rather too soon. But not this year. I went off list and got everyone things I really thought they might like.

Last year my husband had driven all the way back from Scotland with a hire-car’s boot filled with his old vinyl. I was less than sympathetic (‘Really, that old junk? Where are you going to put it all?’). His entire vinyl collection got rehoused in the summer house and may well have stayed there for ever, after all he didn’t even have a record player.

Whilst Christmas shopping for the kids and my family I had a light-bulb moment. That’s it I will get him a record player for his Christmas present, I thought. The beauty of my plan was that had we bought one together there would have been months of anguish (mainly on his part) about quality, budget, output. Loads of pouring over online deals and then where to put the thing after all that agonizing?

Solo I was able to get the cutest retro one I could find, in a colour I liked but knew wouldn’t offend him either. I knew he would just be happy that it a) allowed him to play his records after nearly 20 years of languishing in a Scottish loft and b) that it was symbolic that I was accepting his ‘junk’, his records that he had driven hundreds of miles to bring home.

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All the vinyl is now housed in the living room and I have rediscovered the beauty of vinyl that musos always wax lyrical about: the ritual of the crackling needle, the careful taking out of the paper cover. The kids were delighted and danced around whooping ‘And mummy the best bit is there are more songs! On the other side!’ We had literally blown their minds with old technology!

And this in turn has led to rediscovering another old pleasure for me – rummaging around second hand shops looking for decent vinyl. I haven’t done this for years. I made my first purchases this weekend and even found a silly record for the kids for a quid. As luck would have it I found a Billie Holiday album and an old but immaculate HMV Ella Fitzgerald album, which will be a first small step in the fight back against the rather male, white, guitar-heavy feel of my husband’s treasured record collection.

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Today’s total practice time: Mindful walk + 10 minutes seated practice 

retox – detox

It’s that time of year again, when we set ourselves lifestyle or well-being goals and then perhaps give up halfway through January realising that nothing beats the winter blues better than a glass of red wine or a slice of cake.

I am as partial as the next person to resetting the dial in January, I have been doing a regular dry January for more than a decade and in the past have done all sorts of fruit detoxes and vegan months during January.

This year my best intentions went a little awry as they frequently have since becoming a parent. The vegan/veggie January thing doesn’t work as well when you are cooking for two carnivores everyday. My daughter gallantly offered to keep me company but fell off the veggie-wagon on day 4. And so did I.

I got some horrible bug the day I went back to work, which hey, if nothing else you have to admire the timing of it. I managed to dodge the sickness bug the whole two weeks I was off and then on my first day back to work I was struck down in the evening with the worst sickness bug I’ve had for years. There were jokes (later) about being allergic to work but I was left confined to my bed for nearly 24 hours, unable to do anything other than sip herbal tea and listen to radio 4. Once again as sick days go, it could have been much worse – my husband was around and so able to supply me with tea and a radio.

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Luckily the bug went as quickly as it arrived and so the next day when offered soup I readily agreed not realising it was chicken soup. I concluded there and then that this year detoxing probably isn’t for me. Instead of going fully vegan, eating clean and no alcohol for a month the best I can manage this year is no caffeine, alcohol and less biscuits which actually is good enough.

I do less of the retoxing these days anyway and so perhaps there’s less to detox, who knows if any of this stuff makes any difference anyway. If nothing else I approach it as a habit buster – a time to challenge that afternoon habit of always having a strong cup of builder’s tea and replacing it with peppermint. Yes I miss the caffeine hit and the chocolate hobnob I usually dunk into that pre-school run or commute home cuppa, but it’s always good to review these habits that can steer us towards automaticity after so many years of observing them.

Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes movement and seated practice 

 

Non-doing

Often described as a dead-week, the week between Christmas and New Year is actually perhaps the closest many of us get to an extended period of real genuine non-doing. A time to disconnect from work and just be with your nearest and dearest. This of course can come with its own challenges but as the week is nearly over it’s also worth reflecting how precious a week of non-doing is these days.

If my kids read this they would perhaps laugh at the idea of me ever having a non-doing week as there have been chilly picnics at nearby Audley End and several frosty walks through a nearby forest. Yesterday they were promised a lazy day and both declared they would not leave the house, even to venture into the garden.

They kept their word but by today my youngest, a spirited seven year old boy, was asking when that promised trip to the allotment would be. For want of better plan I said how about now and left the hubby in charge of lunch. We walked down to the plot in the fog and enjoyed getting some fresh air whilst aware we were the only people out and about bar a couple of dog walkers. I often make the comparison that having young kids is akin to having a dog, they really do need to get out at least once a day which makes non-doing a challenge to navigate.

Once at the allotment we planted out garlic, dug up some frozen onions and weeded a frosty patch of earth where we then planted out broad beans. No idea if this is the right time to do it, we found the broad bean seeds and went for it. My son enjoyed moving worms out of harms way and breaking a frozen pond in an abandoned plot next door. His hands got soaked and frozen and he shivered all they way home but we both enjoyed a brief bit of purpose amidst the non-doing along with a well-earned flask.

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Now I have been out of the house I feel settled enough to enjoy non-doing for the rest of the day! I predict by tomorrow my feet will start itching for action and adventure once more though.

Today’s total practice time: In the spirit of non-doing I have done no formal practice all week however I was mindful when I made my cup of tea this morning.

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!

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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!)

 

 

when did you stop dancing?

Dancing used to be a huge a part of my life, at one point dancing was a weekly event, sometimes several evenings each week when I was young would be spent dancing. Slowly over time of course no one can sustain a three times a week clubbing habit and so with the onset of kids, middle age and moving out to the burbs I have watched my dancing life dwindle to such a point that if I can count three times I have danced in a year I feel I am doing quite well.

Mark Williams et al in their ever insightful Frantic World book report that in some countries doctors don’t ask when did you start feeling depressed but instead ask when did you stop dancing. For me it’s a pertinent question and one of course that we can all adapt to mean when did you stop doing the things you loved doing and become a mass of duties and responsibilities, a fun-free zone?

For most of us it’s a similar response. First there was the mortgage, then the kids, then the extra hours and responsibilities at work and suddenly I was whittling down all the things I enjoyed to make time and space for the serious business of paying a mortgage, renovating a house and raising a family.

And then of course there’s the big part alcohol plays in all of this socialising. I am not at the stage of total abstinence and still have the occasional tipple but again these days it is very occasional. For a reserved Brit drinking and dancing often go hand in hand so how can you sustain a dance habit when your whole life is now cleaner and more sober in general?

Can I even dance when I am sober?

This is a question I answered in a cold school hall at 10.30am yesterday morning when me and my daughter became initiated in a family friendly five rhythm’s dance. I have always shied away from five rhythms, using the nickname rainbow rhythms in a disparaging way when others have talked about it, thinking the whole thing is a bit too Chakrha laden and new age-y for someone scientifically minded like myself.

The answer though was happily a resounding yes! Five rhythms is quite leftfield and not everyone’s cup of tea but if five rhythms (and a chilly school hall at 10.30am)  is the only way I get to have some communal dance in my life, beyond my kitchen, then so be it. I’m ready to have more fun and I’m up for journeying outside my comfort zone to facilitate this so that I never have to say I have stopped dancing for good.

Today’s total practice time: 1 hour silent practice at Mindful Sunday  thismindfullife.net/mindful-sundays + 30 minutes personal practice

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Resurfacing

I came out of retreat more than two weeks ago, blinking like a mole in daylight for the first time. Travelling through London on the tube at rush is almost too surreal an experience after five days of silence and stillness. Suffice to say it felt slightly psychedelic, like the colours and noise were cranked up just a little too much.

The retreat itself was a delight. It was very different to any retreat I had done before. I found myself comparing it to previous experiences and finding it didn’t quite measure up. It was too short, too easy and too still and yet I knew it was exactly the right retreat for me at that moment. I found myself judging the Qigong (often with the words ‘this is so lame’ ringing in my mind), unspoken they felt all the louder.

I arrived late and was put on lunchtime pot washing detail for my work hour which meant I was out of sinc with most other retreatants and I lamented not getting that lazy lunch hour that was such a celebrated part of my previous retreat.

For some of the time I was holding on to that previous retreat, remembering one sunny afternoon when after a lovely veggie lunch a load of us lazed around on the grass in the sunshine. People I would never see again, many of whom’s names I didn’t know, and yet in that moment I felt so utterly and wordlessly connected to them. It was pure joy.

By day 3 I shed the old retreat and made friends with this present one. It was a much easier retreat in many ways, for a start I had only one room mate (not three) and she didn’t snore or use the toilet twice each night. I was sleeping well, I came out of the retreat feeling more revived not less.

And the Qigong was pretty still and I struggled with that – with boredom, with stiffness and restlessness. But it gave me so much to work with. I had to be with the body and all its aches and pains, whether I wanted to be or not. I had to do the dull movements for eight hours each day because I was there and I might as well take part. And I grew to love them and the breath works we were taught.

Two weeks later, even though life has been one busy blur since coming home, I still do those movements and the breath work everyday and my practice has never felt more stable.

Today’s Total Practice Time: 1 hour (Qigong, movement and breath work)

Retreating

In life we find thousands of ways to retreat from reality. As a student I used going out and drinking as a short cut from reality and this can be a hard habit to shake off. Now it’s gadgets and internet access galore that continually pulls me away from the here now.

Inexplicably when things get tough, that is when I feel compelled to google what flooring we need to buy for the bathroom. Or last weekend I spent several hours googling therapist courses, only to wake up the next day knowing it had all been some impulsive mind trick to pull me away from the kids and their constant squabbles.

Why is it so hard to be with what is? To really reside in the here and now.

The answer is simple: we humans, all of us (yes you!), are addicted to distraction. The human mind is addicted to distraction. So checking Facebook 90 times a day or whatever your ‘vice’ might be is totally normal given the addictive nature of smartphones and the way the mind loves distraction.

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However that doesn’t mean we have to surrender to this addiction, we can reassess things and set some boundaries if we want. When I told work mates I was off on a silent retreat this week the reaction was divided between ‘how wonderful’ and ‘I couldn’t do that’. Several people have said ‘wouldn’t you just chuck this away if you could’ waving the ubiquitous smartphone.

I think the answer really is to find a balance you are happy with and we always know when that is achieved or more often, when it isn’t and we feel out of sync.

Once a year I have to go on retreat to support my mindfulness teaching. When I taught in mainstream adult education my CPD revolved around how to inspire learners to use the Virtual Learning Environment or how to use a Smart board. Now my CPD is go to Devon for five days, live without gadgets, in total silence whilst being sustained on amazing veggie food (that I didn’t have to cook).

It’s a change I appreciate and one that always helps me to reset my own dial.

Today’s Total Practice Time: 10 minutes so far but a schedule of seven hours meditation each day awaits me this weekend and beyond!

 

Lightening the load

In the eight week Mindfulness-Based Parenting Programme I teach we encourage parents to draw a picture of a balloon with sandbags. Now we all need a bit of ballast to keep us from floating away into the stratosphere but too much weight will see us permanently grounded. So like many things in life, it’s all about balance. When I did this exercise a few months ago I realised I had too much weight dragging me down.

The last year has been a busy exciting haze of taking voluntary redundancy and heading off into new career territory. It’s been a bumpy ride, the kids don’t like me working more days and longer hours, we’ve had to negotiate a lot of childcare arrangements so that everyone’s needs are met but a year since applying for (and getting) voluntary redundancy I can honestly say it was a smart move and one that I have not regretted.

But my balloon was still too heavily weighed down and something had to give. Part of the point of these exercises is that it gives you the chance to stand back, reflect and take stock. There are some sand bags (being a parent full stop is a massive sandbag for example) that are not likely to go away. Cooking, cleaning and work are all sandbags on my picture but these need to be done. However two of the biggest sandbags over this last year have been being a governor (I urge anyone to give this a go, it gives you a taste of local democracy in action but only if you have the time – I realised I really didn’t )  and learning to drive. Both activities really drained my resources and time and yet gave me very little pleasure.

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So I handed my resignation in after three years of being a governor, I had procrastinated the whole summer and then with one simple email it was done. A very heavy sandbag had been severed from my balloon making me feel instantly lighter.

The second sandbag I have been trying to sever was not quite so simple. It isn’t particularly easy or pleasant learning to drive at any time in your life but when you are 45, dyslexic, extremely busy with few slots in which to book either lessons or tests, have zero interest in cars and have never even wanted to drive in the first place – then you can imagine it was a very challenging learning curve. I started out consistently having weekly lessons but around spring the lessons got patchy especially for every school holiday. I had several months when I didn’t have any lessons. I found both driving instructors I had hard work and quite unprofessional. And the knowledge that if I still lived in North London I would have happily yielded nothing more than my Oyster card well into my dotage didn’t help. And don’t get me started on how uneasily it sits with my green credentials.

But I got to the point where I had ploughed too much time, money and energy into this venture that I had to plod on with the whole joyless exercise. So plod on I did and 14 months after first stepping into a car and with numerous gaps in lessons I passed my driving test on Thursday. Delight wasn’t even close to what I felt, instead I was flooded with utter relief that it was over and I could now do things that interest and nurture me on my precious one day a week without the kids rather than sitting in a car being shrieked at about the give way rules of a roundabout by a highly strung instructor.

So I am feeling light and buoyant right now. Severing these things that drained my resources has left me with the space and energy to do other more pleasant things. I am meeting a friend for lunch today, plan to go out in London after work next Wednesday (which I haven’t done for ages because Thursdays were frequently driving lesson days) and I am getting excited about my retreat later this month.

Be aware if you do clear away some of your own sandbags there will be an overwhelming urge to instantly fill the gap with more crap. Two days after freeing myself from my governor role I started talking to my husband about my desire to become a union rep at work, he didn’t even need to say anything, he just kinda looked at me with a bemused face that seemed to say there she goes again, the queen of busy-ness! ‘Maybe I’ll give it 6 months before doing that,’ I found myself saying.

From next week I’ll be working four days a week in London. That’s the most I will have ever had to do the commute and instead of feeling worried and overwhelmed by this prospect I feel that clearing the sandbags has allowed me to have the energy to accommodate this change in working patterns. It’s only for eight weeks and then I go back to 3 day weeks. My house may get dusty in that time, I’m cool with that, but at least I won’t be squeezing committee meetings and driving lessons into the few spare moments I do have to relax.

Today’s practice time: 10 minutes movement, 15 minutes seated practice

 

 

 

 

 

ground hog day

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.

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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!)