When I was in Brighton this weekend to support my sister as she ran her first and (she professes) only marathon I was struck by the huge amounts of people who had given up time and energy to train to run this 26 mile challenge.
Men, women, old, young and people of diverse nationalities, it seemed, had decided to give the Brighton marathon a run for it’s money. As we stood around waiting for glimpses of my sister on the epic route we mused about what gives people the running bug.
There were drums, clackers and lots of banner waving and a huge amount of support as people wrestled with their body as it screamed stop and their mind which was set on finishing the marathon and gaining a medal.
In his book Mindfulness in eight weeks Michael Chaskalson makes the observation that in 1970, the first New York marathon had only 127 entrants and fewer than half of those made it to the finish line. By 2010 44,829 people finished the New York marathon which at that time was a world record for marathon races. And each year all the big marathons around the world are hugely oversubscribed.
Chaskalson makes the case that somewhere along the line in those 40 years a paradigm shift had taken place. In that time running, jogging, gym membership and yoga became common place. He proposes that we are set for another paradigm shift – that possibly in 40 years time mindfulness will be as common place as jogging. Mental fitness will take it’s natural place as an equal alongside physical fitness.
It’s a great and optimistic vision and one of course I hope comes true but with out the support of friends and family it can be challenging to run a marathon. And for the person who tries to make time to meditate it can also be a challenge if those around are not supportive and understanding that to cultivate any practice routine, be it mental or physical, takes time, energy and patience. The rewards are not so instantly apparent with mindfulness and no one will hand you a medal on completion but in the long run it might be even more beneficial for all of us if that paradigm shift happens soon.
Today’s Total Practice Time: 50 minutes (15 minutes yoga followed by a bodyscan)
Every marathon runner needs supporters!
For me it’s only a small exaggeration to say that food means everything and is a real barometer of my internal weather. The last few weeks with endless colds doing the rounds, I’ve felt tired, snuffly and lacking the necessary energy to cook healthy food.
Recently quinoa and super food salads have been making way for fish and chips. There’s nothing wrong with this for a week or two but when we are busy and stressed takeaways and ready meals can become a way of life . I was procrastinating about what to cook tonight when I saw a pot of coriander wilting on the window sill.
It reminded me I had bought it over a week ago with the idea of making dahl and rice sometime soon and yet every evening I have been unable to find the energy to make a dahl from scratch, so even though it was on it’s last legs I still rummaged around the freezer in search for something, anything, that would help me avoid making dahl.
But why do I do this when I love dahl? And actually, like all wholesome tasks, I don’t actually mind creating one once I have started.
The answer is that we drop the things that nourish us when we are at our lowest. Feeling stressed and depressed? Out the window goes your yoga, bookclub or wholesome cooking. This is really useful to know if you are a mindfulness practitioner. When we need our practice most that is when your driven doing mode of mind will be screaming your to do list at you. What you want to meditate? Not till you have done every single thing that needs to be done first.
This irony of our minds steering us towards unhelpful behaviour is covered in week seven of the eight week mindfulness meditation courses I teach. Through mindfulness meditation I have learnt to navigate that compelling busy stressed out voice that urges me not to cook, to ditch the yoga and to zone out to TV with some crisps. Some weeks it is easier than others and this week food has been my main stress indicator and the thing that fell by the wayside. It happens to us humans, no need for self flagellation.
So after lunch today I congratulated myself on noticing my wilting coriander plant and all it stood for and then finally made that dahl from scratch. It felt good to be cooking again and I can’t wait to eat the results but most interestingly it was the process itself, the soothing washing, chopping, stirring, crushing that comes with making a dahl that felt so nourishing to my rather stressed and tired mind right now.
Today’s total practice time: 40 minutes (yoga and seated meditation)
We had a snow day the other week. It was a perfect flurry that made everything look picture perfect and yet it didn’t totally disrupt the trains and roads, so win-win all round.
On the eight week mindfulness courses I teach there is much reference from week one of the beginner’s mind. Participants are asked to eat a raisin as though they have never seen one before and then this continues in their home practice by doing a daily task with the spotlight of their full attention.
If ever there is something that reconnects us with beginner’s mind it must surely be walking to school with two kids after a snow flurry. The same old tired journey we do everyday was suddenly magical and exciting to them. The alley we traverse (often much covered in dog poo) was transformed into a Narnia-esque secret snow tunnel.
There were oooohs, there were arrghs, there were a few soggy tumbles as well but with the help of kindly curiosity I found myself quelling the urge to say ‘come on’ (surely the most overused two words on the school run?) and instead just marveled at their marveling. At moments like that I find myself thinking, ‘this moment, must remember this moment.’
It seems to me children are naturally mindful and we (society, parents, teachers, life, soft cops) squash it out of them, telling them to hurry and multi-task so we can squeeze all the things that need to be done into one day.
How wonderful it was to just take our time, marvel at the beauty of winter and, for one day at least, give ourselves permission not to rush.
Today’s total practice time: 30 minutes with the kids (it is half term)
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!
In week seven of an eight week mindfulness meditation course we explore the exhaustion funnel. When teaching this class I quote from This Frantic World which says in some countries doctors don’t ask ‘when did you start to to feel depressed’. Instead they ask ‘when did you stop dancing?’. I have yet to find out which country it is that has such enlightened doctors but I am tickled by the idea that perhaps in some utopia there may be salsa on the NHS!
This is a preamble to say that dropping the things that nourish us can cause us more stress than hoped. A person may drop all sorts of ‘optional’ pastimes in the name of clearing the decks or making more time. But they then may wake up a few years later burned out and with little joy in their life. Hence the question is really when did you stop doing the things you loved and start only focusing on work/children/caring responsibilities/obsessive house renovations (delete where applicable).
The good news is that none of this is irreversible. As Jon Kabat-Zinn frequently says there is always more right with you than wrong with you. Reclaiming your life is a big part of week seven and a big part of living mindfully. Being able to ask yourself, ‘what is the best thing I can do for myself right now?’ and perhaps deciding it’s a cup of tea rather than whittling away at your seemingly endless to do list.
Today’s Total Practice Time: 30 minutes
I can vouch that this mindfulness stuff really works! I know I would say this – I am a passionate practitioner and teacher but today I had a moment or several, when I could feel such a fundamental change in my perspective. Today my perspective on several events were so different to how they would’ve been a year or so ago. First walking the kids home from school with two of their friends we see a fire engine outside our house. A while ago I would have assumed the worst and thought my house was on fire but today I felt only curiosity. The kids got to sit in a fire engine as well which was a nice start to any play date! Then the play date itself: two five year olds and two four year olds under one roof, this was the type of situation that would see me feeling stressed but today I surprised myself by enjoying it. Today’s total practice time: 20 minutes
Every January for the last ten years I have detoxed. It has become part of my calendar, alongside Christmas, New year and loved ones birthdays. It sits at the beginning of January like an old friend and some years I have longed to get on with it. Other years I have thought I don’t really need to do this. When I was pregnant it was a perfect excuse for not drinking so no one suspected for months! I usually do a 3 day fruit detox to kick things off followed by a few weeks of vegan, alcohol free living. By February I have usually had enough. But this year I could not complete my 3 day fruit detox, I felt awful, hungry and slightly ill so after two very long days, during which I still had to cook for the kids, I decided life is too short. The vegan part of the detox feels like pure bliss in comparison. I can easily go without meat, dairy and alcohol, just don’t deny me carbohydrates! Meditating was the one enjoyable part of the fruit detox this year, to quieten my hungry thoughts and focus on the breath was pure relief! And today having cast aside the fruit detox I did yoga, chi qong and an extended meditation. Total practice time today: 1 hour
This has gone from being a daily blog to being a weekly blog to being a sporadic blog. Life as always gets in the way but despite the absence of a post for 3 weeks the practice has been going well. Everyday I do something between 10-30 minutes. Today I have a poorly child at home so it is unlikely to reach more than 20 minutes today but the most interesting thing is how I feel. Usually at Christmas I feel busy and slightly stressed but this year I feel relaxed, excited, happy. I have done all that needs to be done bar wrapping gifts and a bit of food shopping. And socially I have been cautious about saying yes to every invite that comes my way and with the exception of one boozy mums’ night out I have stayed pretty sober throughout. So a relaxed, healthy and mindful Christmas! Today’s total practice time: 20 minutes
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
I have been trying to knuckle down to writing my schemes of work (SoW) for my job in London but it seems I keep coming up with all manner of avoidance tactics. So far I have done very little. I suddenly felt compelled to have a clean out, rearrange the kids’ rooms, buy a new toilet seat. So the upside is I now have a much tidier, ordered house but still the SoWs hang over me. Tomorrow, I keep promising! I have been squeezing in practice as always. Wednesday 9th October I practised on the train and did a walking meditation. Total practice time: 20 minutes Thursday 10th I only managed two 3 minute breathing spaces! Total practice time: 6 minutes Friday 11th I made up for my slackness and made sure, alongside my regular morning 3 minute breathing space that I did a waling meditation and a pre school pick up meditation – very therapeutic when one of your kids often bolts without even saying hello Total practice time: 20 minutes Today, Saturday 12th I did yoga, Chi Qong and mindful movement before doing a sitting down meditation for 20 minutes Total practice time: 1 hour