Sunday, 17 March 2013

Mindfulness is always just a moment away

I have a confession to make.....
Yesterday I wasn't #MindfulinMarch.

It's been a testing weekend all round, hospital appointments, trips to A and E, teenager issues not to mention preparing for two very different interviews on Monday and Tuesday of this week.  I thought about mindfulness, even read about it, but when it came to practising it - I just couldn't do it.  Time, energy, annoyance, anxiety all featured but perhaps so too did my negative self-fulfilling prophecy!  My bad mindful angel (did we call her Maud?) was just sat there smugly - I say sat, she was actually lounging on my shoulder, smirking and saying "I knew you'd never keep it up - you never do".  At that point as I've done so many times with diets, exercise classes I really thought what is the point.  I've "failed" today so that's it.  But then I looked back over the last few weeks and how #MindfulinMarch has really helped me cope and given me some lovely insights into myself.  Did I really want to stop all that?  It's been a huge benefit.  It's refuelled my interest and made me reconnect with a wonderful technique/attitude/way of being, whatever you want to call it and by doing this it's made me re-engage with life.  I'm seeing things I've not seen before, I'm noticing more about myself and seeing those negative behaviours creeping in which limit my life.  How easy it is to slip into old patterns.  Despite having crafted a lovely new pathway in my brain, edged with flowers, showing me new views and interesting landscapes, I am still legging it back to the old worn path, mossy, filled with ragwort, tripping over the bricks and stones left carelessly in the way.  But that's ok.  It's inevitable that we try and stay in our comfort zones, our place of familiarity - but by cultivating mindfulness we can see that it's happening and gently and kindly guide ourselves back over to the new paths to take in fresh experiences and even better views.

When things got tough this weekend, I slept in with my head under the duvet not wanting to face the world.  After a while I thought, is this helping?  It wasn't.  So I put on a mindfulness guided practice, focussed on my breathing and lo and behold after 20 minutes my heart had stopped racing and my cluttered mind had just enough space to allow me to do my interview prep. 

I'm lucky to have such a fantastic gift at my disposal - it's always there, ready to saunter into action when I give it a call.  It will come without ceremony or judgement - there will be no "you didn't call on me yesterday so I'm not helping today".  I realise this now.  So it doesn't matter if I missed a day of being mindful: time to practice is always just another moment away.

Have a mindful week!

ps  During my interview prep I found an organisation called Young Minds who are using mindfulness in schools.  They had a great video of their work showcased here if you are interested

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Curiosity didn't necessarily kill the cat!

I was lucky enough to go to a mindfulness practice day on Saturday and have the opportunity to do various mindfulness activities throughout the day.   It was during a discussion that I realised how easy it is to forget the basics!!  The person leading the sessions discussed how sometimes we can focus on goals in meditation and miss the essence of mindfulness.  We all approach meditation with our own in-built issues and personality traits - so for someone like me, who is time-orientated and gets bored easily - my approach is to "do" mindfulness as a task for a set time - then I can complete my task and do all those other things that I need to do.  For others, it might be about persevering and meditating for hours to prove that they have staying power - again, this is perhaps task driven and missing a very vital component to mindfulness.  Curiosity!  If we are just "doing" mindfulness meditation then aren't we missing the point?  It's not necessarily about emptying the mind although if that happens then bonus!  It's about learning about ourselves, what's really going on when we resist a practice or put time limits on it.   If we bring a friendly curiosity to our practice this really opens us up to find out who we really are.  What's behind the boredom or impatience - how would it be to sit with that for a while (Too hard my inner voice is screaming - I can't stand being bored).  And yet, very often when I allow myself the freedom to meditate and be with what's there, when I allow curiosity to get the better of me - it's surprising what I find. 

During the noticing practice on Saturday we were asked to look at a pot of daffodils.  I brought this pot (It was one of mum's mother's day gifts) and I'd seen them on several occasions.  I thought I knew what they looked like but...did I really?  Once I started the practice and having been reminded about bringing a friendly curiosity, I noticed all sorts of different things.  The flowers, instead of a being a "host of golden daffodils" (cheers Wordsworth) became individuals!  I swear they had their own personalities!  I resisted this at first but then the person leading the practice said are you looking at all the daffodils the same or does anyone stand out? - YES! I wanted to shout - that little guy at the front (little guy!! it's a daffodil!!).  What else do you notice he asked. "They're smiling!!"  What?   Daffodils smiling?  Really!  Well they were to me, because I was seeing as if for the first time, with "beginners mind" which is a central tenet in mindfulness.  With practice, this curiosity is something which can help us change our perception of ourselves and the world, breaking patterns of behaviour or rearranging a distorted perspective.  I had forgotten how good it is to be curious because to be curious is to be open - and when we are open to experience the world is a richer more vibrant place.

So from now on I shall try and be more like my cats - bring anything new into the house and they are there - new box - they're in it - new furniture - they're on it, new bag - they wee on it - sorry but they do!  Here's one of my cats being curious .......

and the other who isn't.........


I know who I'd rather be!
So this week I'm going to try and see things with "beginners mind" and enjoy the variety that this will hopefully give me.  Come on.....I bet you're dying to see some smiling daffodils!  I know I am!
Have a great week.


Friday, 8 March 2013

Gardeners required, enquire within!

Well it's been a mad week all round.  I feel like I've hardly drawn breath and here we are - Friday already.  I had so many plans to incorporate mindfulness in my daily life, meditate at great length, do yoga and I was going to blog daily, (seriously?), hmm, maybe every other day (good luck with that)....ok then twice a week.

When I thought about "Mindful in March", I knew it would take effort but I also hoped it would bring mindfulness cente-stage in my awareness as opposed to all those other thoughts that dominate (Is my son happy at school?  Will I ever find the right job? and have we enough potatoes to make chunky chips?).

How's it going just over a week in I hear you ask, you did ask didn't you?  Well I'll tell you anyway.  Fair to middling I'd say in all honesty.  In terms of finding time to do lots of meditation, I'd say that's not been great.  I don't know if it's truly because it has been an unusually busy week with lots of stresses or I am encountering resistance to practice which is perfectly normal.  Mindfulness has been very much on my mind - I've been thinking about it, reading about it, writing about it but when it comes to sitting in stillness, I've been too tired/busy/distracted to do anything more than 10 minutes.  Does that make me a bad mindfulness practitioner, am I being unmindful?  No I don't think so.  Mindfulness is a permanent challenge which presents us with the opportunity to stop and see what's really going on when the dust of our thoughts settle.  When they are blowing in the wind the picture is unclear and we are buffeted by the stories they tell, allowing ourselves to be led down the garden path by some thought pretending to be a fact, the content of which we believe to be true.  I hope you're following this....I am but only just.  Let me illustrate.  All week I have been thinking that I'm not very good at mindfulness because I don't practice for half an hour a day.  This thought whirled and swirled in my head to the point where I totally believed it was true and decided there was no point carrying on or blogging because I wasn't good enough.  Having noticed this (noticing....very mindful....excellent!!) I realised that this is typical of me - making judgements about myself and stopping myself doing something before I get started!  I have done this time and time again.  So maybe, despite my lack of 30 minute practices I am in fact being very mindful.  Noticing what's coming up for me, stepping back and seeing it for what it is, ingrained patterns of behaviour which serve to limit rather than expand my world.  I am treading a well worn path in my life which is familiar but doesn't actually get me where I want to be.  I need to make a new path but that may require a bit of digging, plenty of effort and the help of friends.  Anyone fancy a spot of gardening?

Have a great weekend.


ps:  I'm off to a full day of mindfulness practice tomorrow - 5 hours!  See, I told you I was a proper mindfulmissy!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

To guide or be guided?

Well I was just about to sit down to Dancing on Ice with a glass of wine when a thought struck me.  It said...Let's meditate.  I nearly fell off the sofa!!  Give up Dancing on Ice to pause, be still, sit quietly and reflect?  Are you mad!  It's the semi-final!  But having broadcast that I was trying to be "Mindful in March" I thought I'd better pay attention to my good mindful angel (let's call her Miranda) and ignore the negative self talk coming from my bad mindful angel (otherwise known as Maud - cos she get's a bit maudlin - you see what I did there!).

So I put DOI on live pause, left the wine in the fridge and got me some meditation.  The usual question I ask myself at this time is "guided" or "non-guided"?  If I'm really in the zone then I adopt a DIY approach, sitting quietly, paying attention to my breath or sounds, whatever my chosen focus is and seeing what happens.  If I'm feeling lazy and have a head full of butterflies, I stick on a guided meditation (I have a few on my phone/ipod to choose from).  This way, I can just be told how to do it - it's an easy option - or is it?  Because whilst I think that's the case sometimes I find, as I did tonight that I'm telling the lovely Mark Williams (top mindfulness guy from Oxford) to shut up!  Try as I might to follow his instructions (and they are excellent by the way), I just could not go with the flow.  I wanted peace, quiet and to see what emerged by myself.  So, no offence to Mark, but I was much happier when he'd finished and I could just spend a few more minutes just paying attention to my breath, hands on tummy, watching the rise and fall and resting in the stillness.  I think the learning here was that my mind told me what I needed (easy life - guided meditation) but the opposite was true.  By paying attention and noticing what was happening I saw what I actually wanted, rather than what I thought I did!

Here's the meditation I (tried) to do this evening.  It's called Mindfulness Meditation of the Body and Breath.  It's a lovely one to have available on your phone/ipod - you could do it whilst waiting for a bus/travelling/at lunch-time as it's only short and easy to fit into a busy life.

As Mark says "This eight-minute meditation is a brilliant introduction to Mindfulness. It will begin the process of putting you back in control of your life".  It's  taken from his book ‘Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World’, co-written with Danny Penman.

One point to note, there is one bit in it where he mentions "putting both legs centre stage in your awareness".  I don't know why but it makes me laugh everytime!  I just get a really great image of someone on stage holding up two legs - a bit Kenny Everett!  Maybe it's just me!  Anyway, there's nothing wrong with having a giggle when meditating!

Have a restful Sunday and a lovely mindful week!



Friday, 1 March 2013

Why be Mindful in March?

So why be Mindful in March?

On January 1st this year my new year's resolutions were to start a journal and try and be more mindful.  Last year my interest and practice of mindfulness dipped, mainly due to difficult family circumstances.  The irony being of course, that was just when I needed it most.  I came very close to losing my dad in September, so close in fact he gave a very moving, some would say rousing goodbye speech during which he spoke of laughing lots, being very happy and not regretting a thing in his life.  It made me look at my own life and think whether, under the same circumstances I'd have any regrets?  The answer was a resounding yes.  So, I saw this as a second chance - one of those moments in time when you stop and take stock of your life and how you are living it. 

In January and February I was thinking and reflecting - meditating a bit and on one occasion I just had the idea of being Mindful in March.  (Meditation does that - clears the mental clutter so there's space for ideas and good stuff!!!).  The main aim being to commit to some form of daily practice, be more mindful in my everyday life and just engage more in what's happening around me.  More recently I've noticed how much I operate on automatic pilot and in doing so I am missing out on valuable experiences.  I thought it would be nice to share mindfulness with others, hear about other people's experiences or knowledge, encourage others and be encouraged - mindfulness is simple to do but hard to maintain - I also thought it would be nice to be part of a small, like-minded community.  I like the creativity of writing, so I thought I'd try and blog about it too - useful to show progress (or the lack of it)!  Either way, I just wanted to be in the moment more, taking a risk and seeing what emerged.

About a month ago I mentioned it in passing to friends who all said, great idea.  Then at the start of the week I put it on Twitter - I felt that once it was out there I couldn't take it back.  Boy was I scared once I'd done that!  The usual stuff going on...what will people think of me, who does she think she is talking about mindfulness, what if no-one's interested.  In a way none of that mattered because the mindfulness practice was for me to commit to - a way of developing my own practice. I didn't need anyone to share it with me - I just hoped that they would.  So I started off, my lone voice whispering to Twitter, saying quietly what I was doing.  Up popped a mindfulness friend, Jackie who said I'll do it too!  So I went from being a soloist to forming a duet!  Then Pam offered words of encouragement (doesn't she always) and before I knew it a lovely lady, Trisha from New Zealand said she'd have a nosy at what we were up to - and we mushroomed into a small but perfectly formed global community!

And here we are.....trying to fully engage with our lives, savour each moment and build resilience through mindfulness.  Over the next 31 days I'll talk about, practice, enjoy, try and avoid and get giddy about mindfulness and all it's glories.  I'll tweet about it and try and blog regularly.  Most of all I just want to share something that is of tremendous benefit to all of us.  I'm bringing it to the public domain as way of committing.  I know there will be people nudging me and poking me to say "what are you up to" if I don't talk about mindfulness and that's really good for me.  In the meantime, we can just have fun with it.  It's not about being serious or achieving anything - it just is what it is!  And that's the interesting bit!

So the question isn't why be Mindful in March?   The question is why not?

Have a great mindful weekend!


PS:  my dad's fine by the way - his goodbye speech raised his blood pressure and his inner determination not to leave my mum did the rest!  Awesome!

Today's practice:

For those of you who are interested I did a lovely sounds and thoughts meditation from Mark Williams at Oxford.  Find it here

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Back to the future? No! Let's stick to the present!

I know!  It's been an age! 

I'm not sure why that is, maybe just that life has got in the way somewhat....or is that just an excuse!  I do that with mindfulness sometimes.  I really do need to finish this episode of Emmerdale before I meditate! No honestly.....that ironing really is my priority (as is emptying the bin, decorating!!!  Both of which I hate but they are good excuses!)  It sounds like I don't like meditating which is ridiculous because I love it, it's so calming and has changed my life in many ways.  But there is just this little voice in my head (actually, it's like having a Good Buddha and Bad Buddha on my shoulder, whispering.....). Good Buddha says, you know you will feel so much calmer if you do half an hours meditating?  Bad Buddha replies, yeah but think what you might miss on Twitter!!!  It's really happening on there!!!  Good Buddha says, well ok then, if you can't do half an hour, how about being kind to yourself and just doing 20 mins?  Bad Buddha says, nah!  It's hardly worth it - do it later, tomorrow, next week, you're only playing at it anyway!!!  At this point, Good Buddha interjects, punching Bad Buddha on the nose and shouting, "She is not playing at it, that's just a critical, judgemental thought and we don't do those!  She's trying really hard at this and it's important to her so STOP distracting her and filling her head with negativity!   Good Buddha then recovers her composure, dusts down her ....(whispered aside...what do Buddha's wear?  Is it a tabard...No!!  A toga?  I think it might be a toga, gosh I really should do my research) dusts down her toga (???) and being totally accepting of herself, doesn't judge herself for having "gone off on one", gently saying "Missy, just do it" and I am!

It's been an important week in our household for two very different reasons and I think it highlights the benefits of being mindful and "living in the moment".

I've been to hospital this week with my dad who'd had a screening test for cancer which had thrown up an anomaly.  Now, with older parents you expect that there are going to be health issues but cancer is in a league of it's own!  My mum couldn't bring herself to say the word, thinking that if she said it, then it would happen!  Anyway, I go with them, a 3rd pair of ears because I know when you are at hospital having tests you can be so stressed you don't hear a word. He has the tests, reassured and supported by the most wonderful doctor and staff (for some people it really is a vocation isn't it - you can just see it in their eyes and their whole demeanour - like a stick of Blackpool rock with "caring" written all the way through!)  At the end, the doctor drew up a chair (an alarm bell rang).  It's not as good as we'd hoped he said!  (a cacophony of bells) I felt calm.  He explained more.  I breathed and still felt calm (what's going on, I'm normally catastrophising by this stage!!).  Now I don't know if it was the reassuring support of the doctor and staff who explained things so clearly and gently, painting a clear picture of the problem and how it would be dealt with, or my continued mindfulness practice but somehow, I was able to take a step back, observe the situation and not allow my thoughts to pull me into some negative narrative that didn't have a happy ending!  In this moment, I was able to see that dad had a problem and the medical staff were going to try and fix it!  Result!  I felt like I'd come of age!  So fingers crossed, dad will have his treatment and be fine!  And I am so grateful to mindfulness for giving me the skills I needed to handle such a difficult situation.

And finally, FA cup final week in our house.  35 years of waiting for a trophy!  My husband was beside himself!  He's been a bag of nerves, distracted, edgy!  There's hardly been a smile cracking his lovely face!  I can see in his eyes that he's been in the future all week, somewhere around the 89th minute of the game, with City 1-0 up and he dares to allow himself the possibility of winning!!   But then, his own Bad Buddha has been tagging along all week and he's not been whispering....oh no ...he's been shouting!!  City win the FA cup!  Don't make me laugh!  You will never win anything AGAIN!   You can't win, you're not allowed to win, you City fans have to have something to moan about, and joke about in the self deprecating, City way!  It's the law!  And with that he swooshes his toga (for he wears one also) over his ample girth and grins menacingly!!!  So it's 1pm and coverage starts, D makes excuses not to watch the preamble, helping me clean the house (oh the things we do to distract ourselves!!).  Eventually, 3 O Clock arrives and we watch with bated breath.  The minutes tick by, first half over (we're playing well?!!!  There's a tinge of relief but we need a goal!).  Just when we think it's never gonna happen and we (mentally) fast forward half an hour seeing the agony that is...extra time and penalties!! City score!  I scream and D makes a sound like a possessed hyena!  But on no,  we've still got 15 mins to play!  D paces the lounge, I tap my legs randomly!  It gets closer and closer, D watches less and less until finally after several last minute corners (to Stoke) the ref blows and they have done it!

D is elated!  Followed by deflated!  I fear that he has lived this match and the outcome so many times in his head he can't now deal with the reality of it!  35 years of waiting and he can't enjoy the moment!  I'm sure he's not alone!

Back to the future anyone!  Nah!  I'll stick with the present thank you!

Have a good week.

Mindfulmissy xxxx

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

In pursuit of Happiness

A really huge initiative was launched this week called "Action for Happiness.   It's main aim is to increase joy and happiness in the world by being kind to others and fostering a sense of community in response to what they say is "an epidemic of loneliness and isolation".

So is this true?  Are we at the stage where we need an intervention to be happy?  Professor Richard Layard, who runs the wellbeing programme at the London School of Economics says that despite earning more money than ever before society isn't any happier.  To this end, he has helped mastermind this initiative and is asking people for an individual commitment to increasing happiness for themselves and perhaps more importantly for others.  Supporters will do this by setting up local action groups with a view to promoting happiness and well-being in their communities.

Now it's easy to pour scorn on such a seemingly "frothy" idea but I have to admit when I read about it I felt positively excited by it all.  I spent last night reading everything I could on Action for Happiness, tweeting every nugget of information regularly in an attempt to get the message out there.  I think I did this because I have felt that, as a nation we have become glazed with a veneer of negativity.  We seem to have lost all sense of community and yet this is the glue which keeps families together and each other safe and happy.  By operating within our own personal bubbles, are we missing out on simple acts of caring for other people, the vulnerable and isolated, when a small act of kindness could foster a sense of belonging and improve well-being? 

Yesterday's media was all about the postive effects of Action for Happiness, I mean after all, who would DARE to diss such a positive cause on it's launch day.  Today, this was counter-balanced with the headline along the lines of "happiness makes me feel a bit sick".  Wow that didn't take long did it!  Launched Tuesday, placed on pedestal; dissed on Wednesday, shoved off pedestal!  Happy.......for one day!  To be fair the journalist in question, did admit that the organisation had "fantastic chutzpah" to attempt this in the grip of the worst recession in decades.  She also noted the impact of technology in pursuit of happiness and highlighted the wonderful MINDAPPLES ( which is another social enterprise promoting positive mental health.  Their aim is to "make looking after our minds as natural as brushing our teeth" and they do this by asking the question “What’s the 5-a-day for your mind?”.   It's a simple concept but how often do we really give our minds our full attention (if any!!).  Given the list of daily chores, work, cooking tea, packed lunches, feed fish, feed cats, feed cats, feed cats (AGAIN), washing, remove choc wrappers from washing machine etc etc, is it any wonder we don't think about nourishing and protecting our minds!

I'm sure the debate will continue about the validity of pursuing happiness as a specific aim.  But for me, I'm certainly going to give it a try and have already signed up to Mindapples and posted my 5 a day which were:

1.  Watching my washing blowing in the wind (chance for a brief meditation!)
2.  Share a joke with my 11 year old (laughter always the best medicine for me!)
3.  Listen to Pause for Thought, Radio 2, 9.15 am or thereabouts (eclectic mix of vicars/monks/wise people   offering an insight into daily life which is always refreshing and thought-provoking.
4.  Have coffee, cake and a chat with a friend (my cure all for everything - guaranteed to make me feel good).
5.  Give a hug (best of the day usually when husband returns home from work) - I used to get them from my son and they were glorious but he's 11 now and its SOOOO uncool!! Boo!

Why not take a moment and think of your 5 a day!

I'm off now to see if I can log on to the Action for Happiness website.  I've tried on several occasions only to be told that the website is overwhelmed and has crashed under the weight of users!!!  I guess I'm not alone in pursuit of happiness!

Have a good week and BE HAPPY

Mindfulmissy xxx

ps  Forgot to mention that yesterday during the launch, someone led a group meditation which was disturbed by a persistant ringtone!  I can just imagine all those lovely people merrily meditating and then getting more and more annoyed by this.  I know my own mindfulness guru would have said "turn towards the discomfort - explore how that ringing phone makes you feel".  I would have wanted to shout SHUT THE BLOODY THING OFF I'M TRYING TO GET HAPPY HERE!!!  Still learning......