Birkbeck holds a special place in my heart.
I have often written/joked about my addiction to life long learning and Birkbeck saw one of my most expensive forays into lifelong learning when I did a Masters more there 10 years ago. Like many who have done a Masters, I’m not 100% sure what it added to my career opportunities and I have certainly moved away from what I studied since having children.
I did an MRes in Government, Policy and Politics and though my work is now in Therapeutic Services and Interventions the research skills I gained during the course have since served me well in both my day-job (focus groups and post-service interviews with clients and report writing are both examples) and my mindfulness teaching (evaluating and measuring the impact of the work I do has always been a passion along with reading the latest research on Mindfulness and EMDR).
Birkbeck is also the place where I did my first eight week mindfulness course as a participant. Under the tutelage of Michael Chaskalson and in a hot and crowded room along with 25 other busy, burnt out Londoners I learnt to pause, breathe and began cultivating more calm than I had had in many years.
So it was with much fondness that I prepared to teach a course for The Bloomsbury Institute Staff and Students, and was delighted to find out that I would be teaching this course at Birkbeck. bil.ac.uk I now have an excuse to go to my old stomping ground of Bloomsbury once a week and soak in the vibes of SOAS, IoE (where I also studied to train as a teacher) and Birkbeck. It was a sunny spring morning on my first day of teaching there and as I left I noticed with affection a predictable queue for the Hari Krishna food that is served there everyday, good to see some things don’t change. A new edition was a pop up bike maintenance service, run for and by students.
Such a special part of London, so many memories and I realised in the sunshine, I may not easily be able to sum up all that doing a Masters gave my career but it certainly gave me a few happy years before and just after my children were born, it gave me a sense of belonging to a vibrant student world and I am happy to be a part of that again, for a brief time at least.
Today’s Total Practice Time: 45 minutes seated and movement
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.
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.