Pets are pretty amazing. They don’t tell on you if all you do on a Friday night is eat takeaway in your pants. If you want to wear your pyjama pants three days running they’ll still love you. They don’t post pictures to social media of you snoring. Their little personalities are all different and they are loving, and depend on you (OK not so much cats). I should know. We have six. Yes you heard right, six of the little darlings. Two dogs and four cats. Our hybrid family came together from a mix of locations; two single households, some joint ownership and two failed foster cats. (Failed in the sense that I couldn’t give them back.)
You’d be forgiven, particularly if you’re not a pet owner or animal lover for thinking we’re pretty bonkers for having so many pets. However we love our busy household full of furry friends. And since I’ve been practising mindfulness, I realised something about pets, which is pretty good for me. They make you more mindful.
For those not in the know, it was International Women’s Day yesterday. A day to celebrate women everywhere. In York, UK, where I live we were celebrating with a screening of Embrace – the Documentary. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about you can find out more here.
Basically Embrace is a body image movement founded by Taryn Brumfitt, an Australian who, fed up with hating her body and herself set about learning to love it and make peace with it. She posted a now infamous before and after photo of herself on Facebook – the before being her in the ‘perfect’ shape when she was a bodybuilder, and the after as her now, with a bit of a belly and some cellulite in irony to the traditional before and after pictures of women who go from fat to thin.
It went viral and since then Taryn has been on a worldwide journey to spread her message. I heard about her just a few months ago and was so interested because like many I am on a lifelong journey to make peace with my body.
I’m presuming some of the people who read my blog are mindfulness practitioners. After all if you’re not, then a blog about mindfulness and practicing it might not tick any boxes for you.
So if you are you will probably have experienced at some point in your practice the resistance to meditation. For newbies to meditation it is in essence taking time out from thinking – to focus either on a guided meditation, or a sound, or silence.
If you are a beginner, or even just a bit curious the fact that it centres on meditation might even be putting you off; a bunch of hippies in a room chanting ‘Om’ not your cup of tea?
Thankfully meditation has moved on since the 70s, but I have still found it really hard to maintain a daily practice. Remember when you were young and it was exam time? Your bedroom never looked so tidy. That displacement technique we used then I am using now to full effect. Why meditate when I can load the dishwasher? Why meditate when I can take the dogs for a walk? Why meditate when I can make coffee and watch Netflix on my iPad?
There’s a very good, very frustrating answer to why I meditate, and why it would help you if you’re looking for a calmer, more peaceful way of living. It makes a massive difference. The head space I find when I meditate brings peace of mind, calmness and somehow more ability to cope with what life throws at me. It even throws in little insights into my world when I’m not even looking. Even though some days thoughts fly in and out of my head at a faster speed than Concorde ever did. You see I don’t think meditation comes naturally. It’s not something you can sit down first time and ‘do’. You aren’t suddenly going to have a mind as clear as crystal after you’ve done 10 minutes. It takes many sittings and many practices to master it, and even then you can find yourself finding it really bloody difficult to concentrate on the breath. But every breath makes a difference.
So why I find so many other reasons not to meditate? I guess it’s resistance to change, and it takes up time. There’s a school of thought that 10 minutes a day is enough to make a different – great. However I want to teach mindfulness so I need to have a much longer daily practice. Secondly it’s not always easy. When you’ve had a bad day at work , to clear your head of what your boss said to you and who’s used all the paperclips this week can be tough. But not meditating will be tougher on you in the long run. I have now ruminated, tidied just about everything, and have found solutions on how to make it easier to meditate. Here’s five tips to share with you to help get you started or back on track
Find a time and stick to it – If you make meditation a habit, it’s more likely to stick. I now get up at 6:20 (precisely!) for my meditation because even though I am not particularly a morning person, I know that as many times as I’ve tried to do it in the evening I never succeed; when I come home I want to eat, chill and sleep.
Use guided meditations – if you practice meditation for a while, it’s easier to sit in silence and listen to just your breath. However particularly when you first get going, and even when you’ve been practicising for a time, it’s nice to do different meditations on different aspects; from compassion, to mindfulness meditations for peace, improved sleep, mindful eating – you name it there’s a meditation for it. Check out either headspace app for a meditation subscription that’s easy to do (there’s a 30 day free trial too to see if you like it), or go to Youtube where you access tonnes of free meditations on just about everything.
Make a physical space – It can be hard to clear your mind if you’re sitting in a cluttered room surrounded by dirty washing, toys or other clutter. If you have the space – make a specific area where you can practice – with a favourite chair, or a meditation cushion, you can make a little space with things that help you meditate; a picture of something that inspires you, pebbles or crystals if you’re so inclined, a candle or an oil burner. If you’re like me and live in a small home with no permanent space- I meditate in bed in the morning sitting upright- but with a pebble that I was given from my mindfulness training, and a lotus wax melt burner that emits a lovely fragrance. It’s something that sets the space
Keep a journal – If you want to work out if meditation is working for you, keep a journey. When you’re regularly practicing and you’re writing about hoe you’re feeling, compare that to when you have a lapse, or you can’t regularly practice and see the difference.
Find a buddy – Lots of things are better with two – if you prefer to perhaps go to a meditation group, or have a friend who’s also interested you can work together to remind each other to meditate, talk about how it’s working for you or recommend different meditations.
Finally don’t give up. Getting a meditation practice to last is a work in progress. Believe me I am still working on it. Eventually it will become a habit and the benefits you will get from meditating will be the difference.
Have you got any tips on how to keep a meditation practice going?
The course is in three parts; the actual ‘mindfulness’ bit which was four weekends, teacher training skills and a five day teaching retreat. The main body of the first part of the course is run in Scarborough which gave the added bonus of training by the sea. So win win really! The course is secular, but is taught by two fabulous women, one who is a Buddhist Nun and the wisdom and compassion that came from them both had a massive impact on me.
Oh how naive I was when I started the course. Swaggering into the Holiday Inn where the foundation weekend was held thinking ‘I know all about mindfulness and I am just coming to this so I can get onto the Mindfulness Teachers list’. Cue a year later having had my eyes opened beyond measure to how blind I was to the depths of mindfulness.
I had already done some mindfulness training which to be honest changed my life. Before I I came to mindfulness I suffered with depression, anxiety, I impulsively spent money, and I lived in a chaotic whirlwind of emotions. Having completed an eight week mindfulness course I started practicing the techniques I’d learnt and started seeing the benefits almost instantly; I felt calmer, clearer headed and started learning to live in the present. I found it so life changing I wanted to help others come to mindfulness.
Back to the Holiday Inn…another intensive mindfulness course that would be the first step on the pathway to teaching others. The first weekend covered many basics I already knew; living in the present, meditation and awareness. Nothing too new. Then weekend two came along and oh boy…compassion.
Now compassion is something I have in spades usually. For others. Ask me to be compassionate to myself and then we start to have a problem, but a big part of this course was about self compassion. A lot of self compassion. This course was where I realised I really didn’t love myself. I wasn’t even sure liking myself was even part of the equation, and it hurt. It really hurt. I pushed against it, I felt blocked in trying to do the exercises. I rebelled against the silent practice and went to sit with the seagulls. I cried in front of a lot of almost strangers. Two weekends went by where compassion were a big part of the work we were doing. Compassion to self and others is a big part of mindfulness , as it should be, to be able to be kind to yourself and to others, even those you really don’t have much time for is a great gift, but it’s not easy.
In between weekends we had to practice the different practices we were learning, read books on mindfulness, meditate and generally open ourselves up the mindfulness journey we had started. I could do this for many areas; demonstrating mindful movement in the practice groups I run, reading more and trying to get a regular meditation practice in place, but somehow I skirted around compassion, finding it too hard to contemplate.
I loved the other work, the acceptance, the mindful movement, the meditation practices, the observing of thoughts, and even though it’s a work in progress I have started to make peace with myself. Weekend four was this last weekend. We pulled together everything we’d been learning and practicing, and suddenly something shifted. I felt ready to start being kind to myself. After all why don’t I deserve that? There’s something fundamental in most of us that feel being kind to ourselves is indulgent but it’s absolutely crucial to our wellbeing. Without compassion to ourselves and to others how can we bring out the best in ourselves and others?
Ironically I now feel ready to have a full mindful practice. I will talk more in another post about the changes that I have already put in place this week to find joy in the present moment.
Are there any parts of mindfulness you are particularly interested in? What have you struggled most with?
Looking forward to my teaching skills weekends starting in June…watch this space!