Tag Archives: Meditation class

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!)

 

 

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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Going on retreat

Young Woman Meditating on the Floor

Last year I gave myself a Christmas present of a day of silence. I had to sit on rail replacement bus services to get to my precious day of silence and the community hall the day long retreat was taking place in had an unexpected interloper halfway through the day that burst our silent bubble but still it was worth putting life on hold for just one day.

The last few week’s have tested my practice to the limits and, as the dust settles for the time being at least, I find myself more enthused then ever. So putting my life on hold once more this weekend comes at just the right time, a quiet calm before the storm of Christmas and preparation for going into retreat for almost a week early in 2015.

I feel a small amount of trepidation about leaving the kids for so long but I have also booked myself a single room, figuring I may as well try to catch up on about six years worth of sleep while in retreat. The childcare is in place, the train tickets are booked and I have a lot of pre-retreat reading to undertake over Christmas but just as a day long retreat is quite nourishing I know a week long one will be profoundly so.

Today’s total practice time: 1 hour

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The power of mindfulness

Young Woman Meditating on the Floor

At the risk of sounding akin to a celebratory hypnotist, ‘the power of mindfulness’ has become something of a catch phrase in my house. As my practice deepens and I draw on mindfulness more and more to steer me through everyday life I find myself saying well of course of, it’s all thanks to the mindfulness that I did this or didn’t do that. In short, that I am breaking through overused and very old, tired behavior patterns.

For many of us who practice there is that sense of (while being very kind to yourself and living in the moment and not dwelling in the past as best you can) why didn’t I take this more seriously many years ago? A few courses ago I had a very youthful participant and I found myself thinking how wonderful : to be so in touch with yourself at such a young age.

The video clip that the Mindfulness in Schools project made recently shows this so clearly as year 8 children say sagely, it’s only ten minutes, you might as well do it. How wonderful to be in the habit of mindfulness at such a young age, the closing comments from the teacher sums it up, I wish I’d been taught this at school (my words not hers)!

But I also know that at what ever age participants come to mindfulness, it is rarely a life skill that one regrets acquiring.

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Ode to the internet

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In week seven of the eight week mindfulness meditation courses I run we look at what activities nourish and deplete us. Participants are encouraged to do an inventory of their lives and consider some simple steps to redress the balance,  in favour of nourishing activities.

For myself whenever I do this, and it is certainly something we can all do with reviewing from time to time, my relationship with the internet often looms large as one of my least enjoyed habits.

I don’t have a TV so the internet is my source of catch up TV as well as my supermarket and shopping portal and it also supports my mindfulness work and looms large in my day job. Even though my boss works in the same building  that I teach in I rarely see her and so any questions are emailed.

In the past I have found that I would answer a work email or a course enquiry late into the night, I would sit there in driven doing mode, pressing on, wanting so much to clear the decks. But what I have come to realise is that with emails the decks are never clear and in this world of fuzzy work-life boundaries, the only person who can impose any good practice guidelines is yourself.

So I endeavour  not to be online after 9pm and I try not to check in at all on Sundays, everyone deserves at least one day off after all. If something pops into my head (google x, y or z, order such and such, email so and so) I write it down on a list by the computer.

And so now instead of seeing the internet as this invasive time consuming beast I see it as a communication tool that supports my teaching but that also needs to be used carefully and in moderation.

Today’s total practice time: 45 minutes

Young Woman Meditating on the Floor

Awareness of autumn

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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

Young Woman Meditating on the Floor

Approaching the difficult

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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

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Camping: the ultimate habit buster

Glamping fire

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

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Meditation whilst invigilating

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Part of my day job involves preparing learners for exams, doing practice papers and finally when all the preparation has been done, helping to invigilate the exams they sit.

At first it may seem ironic – much of this drive towards passing exams may appear to be at odds with many elements I teach on a mindfulness course. All that ‘holding things lightly’ and ‘non-striving’ may seem the very opposite of what I should tell learners preparing to sit exams. But in fact it sits well for learners of all abilities to be encouraged to do the best they can and let go of worrying about results, after all it is only an exam.

Before, when preparing for some earlier exams this year, I encouraged learners to breathe, pause before speaking and sit with feet flat on the floor to encourage confidence. Maybe I got lucky and this of course could be a mere coincidence, but they all passed.

Today was day one of invigilating week, a week that often drags. It used to bore me rigid, the non-activity of it all. This year I decided to meditate, eyes open of course, very much connected to the room and all those in it but when I felt boredom arising I focused on my breath, on my feet, I inhabited the moment and I wished the learners and a rather bossy work colleague well. All in my head of course. Boredom never hung around for long and I had it reaffirmed once more that it is precisely during those times we find difficult when it is beneficial to experiment with your awareness.

Today’s total practice time: 1 hour

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Love Bombs

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In week six of the eight week Mindfulness Meditation Course I teach a loving kindness meditation AKA the Befriending Meditation. It helps you to befriend the difficult, cultivate compassion and feel empathy for yourself and your fellow humans. Perhaps like a parent, I am not meant to have favourites, but this baby has to be up there. It sounds a bit woolly and dare I say it, a bit Buddhist, to be wishing people well. To be holding people who might have annoyed you during the week in your heart and mind. But it has such exquisite power. It melts through cynicism and sarcasm, which for many of us can be a default setting to help us cope with life.

If you can’t do it for yourself do it for the world. If you can’t do it for the world do it for yourself. If you can’t do it for either do it for your loved ones. There are no boundaries for who we can hold in a our heart and minds.

I regularly do a befriending meditation as I walk from one bit of the tube to another. I look at each human, a passing stranger I will never meet, and wish them well. What happens when you love bomb a celebrity? In North London the other day I found out, she looked back at me, all the other passing people were plugged in to devices or looking at the floor, unaware of my looking their way. But she looked like she could always tell when someone has spotted her. She smiled, perhaps assuming I was looking because I recognised her. I smiled back and continued to wish her well.

Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes

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