What is this mindfulness and why is it so hard to explain?

I’m in the process of writing a number of articles, books and workbooks about mindfulness and mindful living, and each time I seem to come back to a hurdle: what actually is mindful living? what is mindfulness? How do I explain these ideas to someone who’s maybe only heard them in passing, never heard of them, or heard of them a few times but has no idea what they actually are?

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How I am surviving life after credit cards…(and some tips to help you do the same)

I am trying to be more mindful in all areas of my life, and spending and eating are probably the most two challenging of those areas for me. I am turning 40 this year, and this has helped me look at my life and what I want to achieve in the next decade. Still having debt is not one of my aims, funnily enough.

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Five reasons to be happy on International Happiness Day

I didn’t know it was international happiness day today? Did you? I found out when someone in our mindful practice group bought in lovely stickers to give us all. That got us thinking, what makes us happy? We came up with a long list (which you’ll see featured on The Mindful Hub soon) of nourishing activities but for now to get your happiness juices flowing here’s five reasons to be happy on International Happiness Day…

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Can’t meditate. Won’t meditate? Five tips to getting started

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

meditative_listening

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

 

 

 

What I’ve learnt from my mindfulness training so far…

Quite a while ago I blogged about starting a mindfulness course with the hope to become a teacher of mindfulness.

I found a course run by the Mindfulness Association  which runs ethical mindfulness training which was important

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.

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Samye Yorkshire ; Buddhist Centre in Scarborough where I have completed my training

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!

The Anti-Resolutions

I used to set a lot of new years resolutions. A lot. Then I realised that I didn’t keep to them and that made me feel shitty. I asked myself, why don’t I keep to my new years resolutions? The answer was usually because I was looking for the moon on a stick and actually I could be a bit more realistic.

So now I still set myself something to achieve, but I call them goals. I set them small. The idea being that;

They’re achievable

They’re realistic for what I can achieve

I can see my progress

I can set a time for them

They’re clear and I know what they mean. in the business world this would be SMART. See…?

They’re clear and I know what they mean (S)

I can see my progress (M)

They’re achievable (A)

They’re realistic for what I can achieve (R)

I can set a time for them (T)

Anyone can do this. You can too. If you’re feeling down in the dumps about winter, or about not sticking to any one of a million things you haven’t done that your peers and the media tell you that you should be achieving e.g. making a high salary, driving a big car, losing five stone in a month, annihilating all cellulite. STOP! Take a deep breath and set yourself some realistic goals. When we achieve something, we get a shot of feel good stuff, which makes us feel better. So why don’t we set things we can achieve? Well these days we’re often told to achieve the unachievable, to reach for the stars. To believe. I’m all for believing, but sometimes it’s about the little things. The small , achievable stuff that helps you get to those constellations.

Here’s my goals for 2017…

Catch up with the people I haven’t seen for ages (I took the word all out of this – not achievable). I’m really looking forward to seeing people I haven’t literally seen for years.

To eat better (So here’s the thing. I’m overweight. Very. But I refuse to set myself a goal to diet. Everything about dieting is negative. It’s reductive. It says there’s something wrong in the first place. It makes you think about food just about 24/7. I want to love my body, to treasure it, and to want to look after it. How can I do that if I hate it? So I want to eat better food, more grains, more pulses, more fruit and veg. Less processed stuff. I want to feed myself well. Try catching up with minimal wellness if you’re interested in this.

Which brings me onto my next goal

To give myself more self compassion. I’m doing a mindfulness course at the moment, and when I started I naively thought, oh this will be easy I’ve been practicing mindfulness for a while. It’s just a process. Until I got to self compassion. Whoa that hit me like a train. I don’t actually have any for myself. When asked to give myself some, I broke down. I had literal pain in my chest. So I need to work on that. Being kinder to ourselves is something most of us needs to do. This year I’ll be reading the book The Mindful Path to Self Compassion.

And you know what? That’s it. There’s loads of other things I want to do. I want to get a camper van and travel off round Britain rather than work. I want to be debt free. I want the perfect clematis cover on my trellis this summer. I want to work in a job that doesn’t involve 9 to 5. Actually that’s all pretty overwhelming isn’t it? If I tried to do all those things at once I’d blow a brain gasket. So instead I will set my intentions to achieve these things, and let them organically develop (I hope) in the background while I get on with my goals. If you’d like to try some goals, remember

  1. be SMART. There’s a reason all the business gurus focus on SMART. Because it works.
  2. Start small and achievable. If you’ve got loads of debt and want to eradicate it, start with a credit card, or a catalogue debt with the highest interest and set clearing that as your goal
  3. Have fun. Life isn’t meant to be boring, so have fun with your goals. If you want to see more of the world, create a pinterest board and pin your favourite locations. Set up a travel fund and siphon a bit of your income away each month to achieve your travels. If it goes out directly from your salary you’ll notice it less.
  4. Don’t quit if it doesn’t go to plan. If you find yourself not able to achieve your goals, or you feel you might have set the wrong goals, change it up. They’re your goals. Own them, know them and then kick their ass!

Let me know what goals your setting this year, and good luck with them

How to have a mindful Christmas

So the tinsel is up, the turkey is thawing out and the sherry is being poured, but how do you manage not to throttle Aunty Bertha when she tells you that you’ve put on weight for the tenth Christmas in a row, or avoid the tense atmosphere between your divorced Mum and Dad who only come together once a year ‘for the kids’?

Christmas is a funny time of year, all the advertising and a lot of the social media content we see point to a great family Christmas, all around the table, laughing and joking and having a whale of a time but for a lot of people Christmas can be a minefield of interpreting social nuances and avoiding the family member who weeps uncontrollably when you ask them how they are (that has been me on occasion at Christmas I have to say…or how about the time I ate so many biscuits I got awful indigestion and had to lie down and miss Christmas dinner? I fully admit I am one of the relatives you need to plan for!)

On a serious note, if you are worrying about how to cope this Christmas, use some of these mindful tips to help you through the next few days

1. Get on YouTube and find a three minute breathing space meditation. If you search ‘three minute breathing space meditation’ lots will come up and that’s a real quick space to take some time out when you think you’ll explode if anyone asks you where your boyfriend (that you split up with three months ago) is

2. Get some fresh air- taking  a walk either on your own or with others who can bare a bit of silence will give you a chance to get mindful; feel the cold air on your skin, hear the birds singing, look round and see the sights in your neighbourhood, or the place you’re visiting, hear the noise of cars in the distance and just experience being in the moment.

3. Give yourself and others compassion – it can be hard when we’re with our nearest and dearest because often they’ve known us the longest of anyone and know our weak spots, and the things that can send us from 0-60 on the rage-ometer, but actually being kind to yourself,  nourishing yourself with something other than Yule log, or roast potatoes, taking time out to do something you love such as reading or knitting, will help bring a sense of calm of peace to the festivities. Add in some compassion for those around you and things will start to feel a whole lot better

4. Rather than being desperate to get home, or get through the boredom of the Queen’s speech that Dad loves to watch, revel in the moment, the glorious being together as a family, or with your partner, or even the delicious alone time with the cat, away from the pressures of work. Stop worrying about how you’re going to tidy everything up, or what’s waiting for you on your return to the office and find pleasure on the small things; the worst Christmas cracker joke  or that Fools and Horses episode you love the most that’s on EVERY year.

5. Break out of old habits and encourage others to do the same – if you’ve always had Christmas dinner on the dot of two, what about having it in the evening, or changing it up for a buffet? How about going to a different sisters for lunch this year? Instead 0f a tree, what about decorated branches in a  big vase. Changing it up helps to break habits which changes neural pathways and is good for getting you out of a rut. Things will feel newer and exciting and might change people’s old patterns of behaviours as well, and get them out of their comfort zones

if you give any of these a try, or have your own mindful tips to add let me know, and above all have a peaceful, and mindful festive season 💜💝

The (almost) no present Christmas

This Christmas things are very different in our household. The decorations will be up, the cards will be written and sent, the mince pies are already being tested, but there’s one big change. We’re not sending and receiving presents.

With the exception of a secret santa, and a few homemade biscuits for our families, we have made the decision not to give or receive gifts this year. This has caused some upset, and has made us seem probably a bit like a 21st Century version of Scrooge to others. Yet as I investigated the internet to see if we were the only ones, I came across people time and time again agonising over whether to give or ask not to receive gifts, for many different reasons; finances being a big one, but also the over consumption of ‘stuff’ for themselves, their children and the vast wastage of goods when you either get something you really don’t like or won’t use, or even the fact of just having to remove the enormous amount of packaging that comes with everything.

For us there are a few reasons we took this decision. We are trying to be minimalists, and we have a small home. Every Christmas although we’re extremely grateful people want to give us presents, we have to find room for more and more things. As the years are going by our wants are getting so few, it’s harder to find anything we need or desire and so we end up wasting people’s money.

Secondly present giving is often a ‘I’ll spend £30 pounds on you, and you’ll spend £30 pounds on me. What do you want for Christmas?’ Given what I’ve said about being hard to buy for, it’s no wonder poor people ask everyone what they want for Christmas so as not to waste their hard earned cash, but it begs the question to me, if you don’t know what I want, please get to know me better so you know what to buy me. I’d much prefer that. You see to me the gift of showing up, the gift of time, the gift of being there for the shitty bits far outweighs any gift I might get. I’m not being glib, I do love presents sometimes, but I also prefer to spend time thinking about the person I’m buying for, get some nice wrapping paper, or buy them an experience they’ll remember. I would prefer it when times are down that someone says ‘What can I do to help?’ That to me is the greatest gift anyone could give. Their time and their love.

Christmas was once (in case any of the younger generation aren’t clear) a religious festival. I’m not religious, I don’t celebrate Eid or Ramadan, so why would I celebrate a Christian festival? Now it’s just an orgy for over consumerism, and getting worse each year, and I don’t celebrate that either.

I like to give gifts but on my own terms. Something I spot for someone that makes me think of them, something that cheers someone up like a bunch of flowers or a gift that I’ve really thought about. I didn’t ever want people to think I don’t love them. I’m a big old ball of love, but I just want to express it by showing up and being there, not by buying a Boots 3 for 2.

The other key aspect of not buying gifts is of course the finance. This year if I’d bought all the gifts I’d done in years before I would have had to use my credit card. Money is all budgeted out for us, and a big expense like that just can’t be taken out of a monthly budget. Yes I could budget for 12 months to pay for a days worth of excess, but that just doesn’t work for me right now.

The result is although it has been hard to explain to the people I love why I am not buying gifts this year, it’s been worth it. I am far more enjoying Christmas without worrying who to buy for, what to buy and how I’ll pay for it. I feel festive, and free and for the first time in years, I am looking to enjoy Christmas for the key parts for me; family time, good old films and mulled wine! So now off to perfect the homemade Christmas biscuits…

The valuable lesson(s) I’ve learnt from dropping my phone down the toilet

You might think this is going to be one of those posts with helpful, practical advice on what to do if you drop your phone down the toilet…sorry to disappoint. This is more of a deep and meaningful realisation about the phone as a tool and how I’ve allowed myself to disappointingly buy into the big sell on phones.

However I can share with you that apparently everyone other than me knows the rice trick for if you submerge your phone in water (turn off your phone if you can, place it, submerged, in a storage container full of rice, leave for at least 48 hours) . Apparently many people I know have resurrected phones in this way. Not such a happy ending for my phone.

So back to my phone, RIP. Sadly on Thursday whilst I was holding it on the way to use the loo (I am one of those people who use their phone whilst on the loo – another lesson learnt there) I managed to drop the phone in the toilet (pre-use thankfully). Although I rescued it pretty quickly, the screen srarted flickering and it went black. Submerged in rice, it’s still flatlining and will need to be removed shortly for burial.

However even though I have only had the phone five months and I am still paying it off (Samsung S6. – bought sim free so rather expensive) I am actually really glad this happened. It’s woken me up to where I was at with the phone.

You see I’d bought into this materialist mantra that the latest, most up to date phone from one of the two lead phone manufacturers is the only way to go. I believed the hype…I justified, my phone is my diary, my camera, my notebook. It’s OK to buy the most expensive. It’s an investment…and I guess it could be if you don’t drop it down the toilet after 5 months if having it.

During the 48 phone-less hours I lasted before giving in and getting a new phone I had a pretty amazing experience. I wasn’t connected to the rest of the world any more. Adrift and alone I ended up alone at a dinner where my wife’s train was cancelled followed by a tearful wife who had imagined a catastrophe after not being able to get hold of me for a couple of hours. I had time to really think, rather than ‘just quickly checking on Facebook’ or Pinteresting before bed. However I also couldn’t remember a thing on my task list, and I couldn’t connect as easily to people and places.  It’s given me an insight into just how much we rely in our phones for so many things nowadays. I rely on mine to get me up in the morning, to remind me of what to do, to capture photos of moments, to bank, to shop, to meditate and and even that old fashioned thing of keeping in touch with people. It’s become, I believe, a necessity now. Certainly in York on the fateful day of a delayed train and a dinner eaten alone I couldn’t find a phone box to make contact. The mobile phone is now as much a part of our infrastructure as roads and electricity.

The other really important life lesson for me was that I hadn’t realised how much I had bought into the hype about branding. I speak so much about our materialist culture that to find I’ve fallen prey to it is a little disappointing. When I got my last phone I never asked myself, what do I need a phone for? What’s the best out there for me?  Can I find something that will do the job that doesn’t cost nearly £500? My feeling then was if it’s one of the top phones and that expensive it must be what I needed.

So picture the scene.. without a phone which I have found I need and with £300 still to pay off my other phone that has dearly departed there is no option but to get a cheaper phone. So I start looking and here’s the thing…there are much cheaper phones out there that have similar functions and I could have bought outright. There’s a whole range if good quality budget smartphones I wasnt even aware of because their advertising hadn’t reached me. £160 later and I have a phone that does everything I need it to. Granted it’s not all glass and I can’t wirelessly charge it. It only has half the memory of my old phone but I can use a memory card and it’s affordable for me. I could have bought it outright without being in debt. That’s what I’ve learnt and that’s what’s invaluable and why I am glad I dropped my phone down the toilet!