Many of us, especially perhaps my generation who grew up with Thatcher and the Falklands War as the backdrop for our childhoods, sometimes ask the question ‘When will I actually grow up?’
Even though I have been old enough to vote for more than two decades and ditto buy alcohol it still sometimes seems that achieving full-blown adulthood has somehow eluded me. For so many years I was footloose and fancy free, a global vagabond and loved every moment of it.
It took moving out of London, getting a mortgage, signing up to the teacher’s pension scheme (after nearly a decade of putting my head in the sand, pretending old age wouldn’t affect me) and waking up from two years of new-parenthood sleep deprivation to make me think OK maybe I am now actually an adult. Maybe this is actually it, I am all grown up.
It’s funny the roles we like to hold onto. We become so attached to the comfort of a well-worn character trait. Disorganised, slightly useless with money, not still really sure where life is taking you. I have felt all of those and more since being more an ‘adult’.
But what I have come to realise, with the help of an established meditation practice, is that some of that stuff you can let go of, while keeping the parts that serve you well. I don’t feel I have to be crap to be me anymore. But I still quite like keeping my child-like wonder at the world. After all many things about adulthood – the striving, the rushing, the not seeing what is there in front of you – are very overrated.
Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes (Qigong and sitting breath and compassion practice)
I read somewhere recently that 40-somethings are often in the rush hour of their lives. The article said this is when career and child rearing responsibilities reach their pinnacles leaving those in their forties with very little free-time outside of work and child-rearing. The moniker Dual Earners, Toddler Twins (DEETs) rings very true for me and my partner.
It feels as though we have had toddler ‘twins’ for decades, though of course it has only been six years. And by definition neither of them are officially toddlers anymore nor twins. But having two young kids while trying to have a career is trying and frequently tests my mindfulness practice, let alone trying to carve out a new career for yourself at the same time.
Add to this mix the never ending story of retraining, which so many of us undertake in our thirties and forties because we realise we want something different or need something that fits round the kids, and you have levels of busy-ness unknown to our parents generation.
When my parents were in their forties they weren’t schlepping off onto training courses and retreats. You decided what you wanted to do at 18 and pretty much stuck with it. There are of course pros and cons to this model but in their forties I think they were certainly relaxing, watching TV and going down the pub more than I ever do!
I realised the other day, as I got in from London and had half an hour before needing to pick the kids up, that what I thought I should do was turn the computer on and catch up with emails and then head back out into the world even more frazzled than when I arrived. But I paused and guess what? A different idea came to mind. How about leaving the computer off, putting the kettle on and allowing myself half an hour with the paper before getting the kids?
Deep down we know that’s what our parent’s generation would have done with a spare half hour, rather than thinking their blog that has 3 readers desperately needs to be updated, on which note I down tools for lunch!
Today’s total practice time: 35 minutes (20 minutes qigong and 15 minutes self-compassion meditation)
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!
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
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
Most of us aim for some basic level of consistency in our day to day lives. With children we are constantly told (as easily guilt tripped parents) that there is perhaps nothing worse than to be inconsistent with your off spring, as this can lead to insecurity and confusion in our children.
The reality of course is that to be 100% consistent is near impossible as fortune fires its slings and arrows our way. Take this week, a poorly child at home, yelping with pain from an ear infection has seen my practice nose dive into nothingness for the second half of the week, my Qi Gong routine feels equally neglected.
The lovely thing about mindfulness is when this invariably happens (and it is when not if – people, especially five year olds, get ill, that’s life) nowadays I find myself not cursing or lamenting the day that might have been and the work I will not get done. I just accept it. Simple as that and yet this has taken me years to be able to do, to say OK, this is here, this is how it is. This poorly pup was with me for the whole day and so I enjoyed it as best I could while secretly relishing a legitimate excuse to fall behind with my emails. We had lunch and watched a DVD and I was reminded of the three year old he once was, coming home to me everyday for lunch before school whisked him away for six hours everyday.
As for my practice, it’s almost the weekend and there’s always tomorrow.
Today’s Total Practice Time: 10 minutes of little mindful pauses + noticing my feet/walking meditation as I dropped my eldest off at school
One of the most wonderful things about teaching mindfulness is that every time I do some CPD not only do I deepen my knowledge about mindfulness and how to deliver it, I also learn a lot about myself. The last training I went on, facilitated by Bangor University, felt something of a mini retreat.
Being taught by very mindful facilitators was a master class in itself on simply how to be. Even though it was a room full of 20 mindfulness teachers there was still a little bit of competition and posturing from one or two participants. At one point one the facilitators made a comment about questioning our need to talk, what are we hoping to achieve each time we open our mouth? Are we showing off, point scoring or making a valid point.
The whole training was on how to speak and how to inquire. And I discovered I don’t particularly like it when people inquire too much about me. Admittedly I was on the sharp end of some rather over zealous questioning in one of the group activities but this realisation threw me a little as I have always thought I like people taking an interest in me, but I guess it really does depend what is being asked and how.
Taking on the role of the person being probed made me more empathetic than ever about the tender process that is inquiry. If it feels wrong don’t push it, let silence rule if that’s what the moment needs.
And ground yourself to the floor, feeling your feet, every moment of the way!
Today’s Total Practice Time: 30 minutes
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
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!)