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!
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.
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
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
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
As part of my CPD I have been doing a six week reflective practice journal. The idea is you do one practice for a full six week’s and record any reflections or responses to it. It was useful and it is something I will certainly do again. There is no doubt doing just one practice for this duration of time deepens your understanding of that practice. It was also quite pleasant to not have to think about which practice to do everyday, the decision was already made at the beginning of the six weeks.
Saying all of that though the six weeks has now come to an end and I am free again once more to pick and choose my daily practice. That has been something I have really been enjoying this week. Lots of breath work, lots of movement and a fair few befriending meditations. It won’t be long before I do another round of reflective practice journal keeping but in the interim period it feels nice to do a bit of off-road rambling!
Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes
A fellow mindfulness teacher told me she tries to incorporate pausing into her day. She stops for a few mindful breaths, creating a pause in every hour on the hour. At work yesterday I remembered this and as I felt stress and tension rising in me, I felt compelled to give it a go.
It was 10.15 when I first paused and I continued it throughout the day. What unfolded was an extremely mindful day. I have been doing daily meditations for some time now but it often feels compartmentalised. I also do the three minute breathing space several times a day but this shorter pausing is perhaps the missing link between the formal and the informal. Bridging the gap between sitting quietly in your room and the real world.
I haven’t paused as much today but next time I feel stress rising I will observe the hourly pauses to keep check on myself and to appreciate the moment as it unfolds.
Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes
The body scan meditation has been much on my mind of late, I have been doing it everyday for a month so I am feeling intimately acquainted with it. I haven’t done it with such gusto since I first came to mindfulness, it almost feels like revisiting an old friend.
The body scan provides the firm foundations for an eight week mindfulness course. It often makes up the bulk of home practice from week one or week two in an eight week course. Often described as the marmite meditation because people sometimes love it or hate it. Very few feel ambivalent towards it.
Why does it trigger such a response? Because it shows the doing mind participating in some of it’s most doing mind antics – it judges, analyses, compares. Perhaps all good things when you are working. But when you are lying on a yoga mat trying your best to feel your big toe perhaps the body scan shows the doing mode as a tad impatient and reticent to just let go and be in the moment.
So why bother, as early as week two especially, with a challenging meditation?
It’s precisely this challenge that gives participants an opportunity to really try to be mindful. The body scan allows participants to better connect with their body. It also allows them to see the doing mind in all it’s chattering glory. It provides ‘resistance’ training. If you can do the body scan twice a day for the next week having never meditated (at least daily) before, then the rest of a mindfulness course will be peachy!
Today’s practice time: 30 minutes (the body scan of course!)
When trying to meditate daily it’s hard fitting it all in and not feeling like anything else is being squeezed out of your life. Integration is definitely where it’s at if you live in the real world. My aim is to meditate for around 30-40 minutes every day. Often, during term time, I easily manage that, sometimes I fall short but whatever happens I don’t do guilt. I try my best.
When teaching a course I am more likely to be doing 30-40 minutes practice everyday and then when the holidays come I allow myself to just do whatever I can. This works well because ten minutes, it is often argued, is all it takes.
And of course there are those inevitable days or weeks where very little gets done. My son was sick this week, he missed three days from school and wanted to be held all of his waking hours. It’s hard to meditate while holding a crying four year old!
Yesterday, determined to make up my lost sessions I had planned a long session of movement and sitting practice but time ran away with me and soon I found myself heading with the family to the woods and there, as my son played in a stick house, I found the time and space and calm to meditate. The outdoor setting inspired me to do a mountain meditation. Just being in the moment, with my son playing nearby, sunlight making it’s way through the trees. It certainly beat perching on the edge of my bed. Today’s total practice time: 20 minutes