Tag Archives: meditation courses in cambridge

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

 

 

 

 

 

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On the 8 week MBSR course I teach in week 7 we look at how we often drop our most nourishing activities at the very times when they are so needed. Feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Out go the yoga classes. Short on time? Cancel on your friends. Working late? Order in a take away. It seems this is part of the human condition, something we all share – it’s a struggle to look after yourself when things are going well, forget it when things are going badly.

There is no magic cure for this very human predicament and I know people with decades of meditation practice who still succumb to this phenomenon. However the best thing we can do to at least stay on top of this is to pay attention to it, perhaps offer it a friendly if rather wry smile, accompanied by the thought ‘hello old friend!’ If we are aware this is how we behave when we are stressed research has shown we are much more likely to emerge quickly from the other side of the dip.

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I can imagine many people dropping healthy ways of being in the last week, as they have become sucked into the cycle of 24 hour news and worries about the future. That has certainly been my own experience since events have unfolded in the UK. Earlier this week I halfheartedly pulled my practice back together, reclaiming the very act of self care I need most at this time, not because I felt like meditating but because I had to. Procrastination and worry have never helped me feel settled, meditation does.

It is that simple. But of course as many have observed, it isn’t easy.

Today’s total practice time: 20 minutes movement and compassion practice

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 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

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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Mindful Movement

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Last year I was lucky enough to be an examiner for the first time. I can’t claim it was my dream job but it gave me a great opportunity to put into practice all the things I had been learning to teach. Get up, stretch, breathe. It helped me to avoid repetitive strain injury. Examining wasn’t the laid back affair I had imagined of having a pile of papers to work through as I sipped a cup of tea.

It’s all on line now. So there was much clicking of the mouse, much eye strain, much stiff back and arms if you got locked into a zone of not wanting to leave. Mindfulness ensured I didn’t get sucked into that funnel of exhaustion. I took a stand up break on the hour every hour and just walked round the room for a few minutes until I was ready to sit down and face the 1,000 paper mountain I was working towards.

Teaching mindful movement, the walking meditation and a bit of Qi Gong is one of my favourite parts of an eight week course, finally for those unable to sit still there is solace. Meditation doesn’t have to be about sitting still we can inhabit the here and now with kind compassion as we stretch and walk. I frequently do it on the school run, aware that as I walk those last ten minutes before the kids re-enter my world, it’s that final grab at calm before the cycle of park/homework/dinner/baths/bed demands all my attention.

Those ten minutes of mindful walking make me more ready than ever to be hijacked by those oft demanding off spring of mine!

Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes movement and body scan

Young Woman Meditating on the Floor

Learning to Pause

Young Woman Meditating on the Floor

Learning to pause is one of the essential lessons mindfulness can teach. It sounds so simple and yet for many of us, whose minds flit from one place to the next, it is a lot harder than it sounds. Part of my whole being, prior to daily mindfulness practice, was concerned with making everything OK. Smoothing over rough edges wherever I could find them. To stop doing that has been a slow process, one that is still ongoing. But over time I notice subtle changes. Over time I realise I have learnt to pause, I don’t always wade in trying to fix everything, like I used to. It’s a welcome realisation and one that is infinitely more kinder, to myself and others, than my previous well meaning attempts at sorting everything. An everyday example from busy family life: stuff getting left on the floor on my husband’s watch! Used to drive me to distraction. Do I a) nag him or b) pick it up myself? Neither option appealed. But now I have option c) do nothing, pause, see how it pans out. Nine times out of ten things do get picked up without my intervention. Eventually. Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes

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Half term

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Half term has, in the past, meant a huge increase in my work load. Having the kids at home all day is not conducive to catching up with chores or catching up with the paperwork my job entails. I have to arrange childcare for one day just to get anything done and then on that day I have sometimes felt a bit like a bunny in the headlights, not sure what to do with this precious bit of free time. I always thought I would be a procrastinator, thinking there are some things that can never be changed. Because that is what we learn and that is what some people teach their children, that some people cannot change. Some people cannot be helped.

Happily that rather fixed way of viewing the mind and the character is changing and in no small way thanks to mindfulness. It is possible to change what we might have previously thought of as our default setting. We can exercise choice over better managing procrastination or whatever character trait we would happily shed ourselves of.

This half term I felt that perhaps more than I ever have. My procrastination is at an all time low. I was able to enjoy the days I had with the kids and get on with work when they weren’t around, without the slight panic I used to feel of wasting my one precious day to get some work done. Now it just gets done.

Of course it isn’t quite that simple, I didn’t wake up one day to find this had happened. I chose it and enabled it to happen by living more mindfully. Does that mean I will never feel procrastination again? Of course not, I am not a robot and we don’t really delete anything. But if it does rear it’s head I am in  a better place to handle it more skilfully and just get on with whatever needs to get done. Total practice time today: 40 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