Journey well

I am thankful. Thankful for what I have learned practicing all things mindful through Essence Cheltenham since 2014. Julie and I have facilitated numerous sessions in at least five different locations (as well as online). We are thankful to each of you for sharing in the journey.

Mindfulness has become much more part of ‘the toolkit for wellbeing’ over the last eight years. Of course, it is just the label that has become more recognised, with the practices themselves going back through the centuries!

Yet the focus in Western Society often excludes the spiritual. Julie and I have sought to intentionally journey mind, body and spirit. Here are three things that the journey of the last eight years has brought to the fore for me in the spiritual realm.

  1. Focusing on our breath is so simple and yet so profound. Practicing awareness of our breath brings us closer to a still point. For me, it helps me to practice the presence of God. It takes me to God (the father) being the creator of all things including humankind, breathing life into me. It takes me to God (the son, Jesus) making relationship with God possible. It takes me to Jesus breathing God’s Spirit on his friends. It’s (just) our breath; it’s life itself.
  2. Observing nature takes us to a place beyond ourselves. And meditating on a living thing (a leaf, a shell, even a blade of grass!) never fails to take us on amazing journeys. This is also true of looking at things that have been made, such as a painting, a piece of woodwork or even a piece of furniture made in factory conditions. For me, as I look, I see the glory of the creator – in nature and in people’s abilities.
  3. Being thankful changes everything. Why? Because it changes our perspective. Sure the tough stuff remains but now the good stuff is not eclipsed. Mindfulness has thankfulness at its very core; I choose to direct that thankfulness to God.

Practising mindfulness is good for our wellbeing. And if we allow it, we can open ourselves to the spiritual: being aware of our very breath, noticing nature and practicing thankfulness can lead us to glimpses of the very presence of the Divine.

It feels the right time for Essence Cheltenham in this particular form to draw to a close. But of course the journey of awareness continues for each of us. May you journey well in body, mind and spirit.

The best of resolutions

Happy new year!

A new year. This can be a time we make resolutions about how we want to live in the year to come.

As I have reflected I have come back to sacred writings from approaching a mere trimillennium ago. (Yup, that’s approaching three thousand years ago!).

To act justly and to love mercy

    and to walk humbly with your God.

The Bible, Micah 6:8

Desmond Tutu is an amazing example of living this way. He defended the rights of others; he showed compassion. Watching clips of his funeral, I found his cheap pine coffin a powerful reminder of his humility. He is an example of living well in what he did but also in who he was. I think it was his awareness of being a human being (not a human doing!) that made him quick to laugh – and quick to cry.

It’s a good direction of travel for the year ahead. And you?

This is Mindful Monday on 3 January 2022.

Uncertain times

Surviving – even celebrating – in uncertain times

For many of us, we’re surprised that we continue to live in uncertain times. The only certainty is the uncertainty!

In fact there’s a sense of déjà vu. The impact of the pandemic in December 2021 seems little different to 12 months ago. We’ve been living with uncertainty caused by the pandemic for way longer than we ever imagined – and may be it’s all to the good that we didn’t imagine this duration! Each day does indeed have enough trouble of its own.

Getting back to that sense of déjà vu. When we experience something again, we have the benefit of hindsight. We can apply – if we choose – what we learned from our last experience.

These times have reinforced for me that anything can change at any time, including government regulation, societal norms, and our own circumstances (health, wealth and the rest). This is reality.

They’ve reminded me to keep identifying things I can change versus things I cannot change (as helpful described in Niebuhr’s serenity prayer). Those things I can change require me to act. Those things I cannot change require me to accept them. Neither action nor acceptance are necessarily easy – and there can be sadness and pain in either. But this is the reality.

Beyond the first couple of lines, Niebuhr’s prayer goes onto point to a relationship with God, beginning in our present reality but continuing beyond our earthly lives. It is valuable to reflect on things that are unchanging. For me this includes the God of love, ‘love divine all loves excelling’, the Alpha and the Omega.

As you face uncertainty today, may you approach it with wisdom. And if you choose to, may you too know the God of love. A Happy Christmas to you.

This is Mindful Monday on 20 December 2021.

The sound of silence

The sound of silence

I am (quietly!) reading about silence. Silence in the age of noise by Erling Kagge seeks to answer three questions: What is silence? Where is it? Why is it more important now than ever?

I feel the need for silence. Maybe even more so at this time of year when retailers put on and turn up the Christmas jingles.

Being in silence doesn’t mean being without noise: I live in a town and traffic is always audible; even in the countryside away from roads, there will be the sound of bird song or the wind. It is about a silence – or a quietness – within, rather than without.

Silence costs no money, and yet it feels like a luxury! Treat yourself.

If you aren’t familiar with being in silence, start with just ten minutes. Be patient as you hear the cacophony of noise within. Persist. Answer for yourself if silence feels like something not only luxurious but also important.

This is Mindful Monday @ essencecheltenham.org on 13 December 2021.

A bedrock for living

Thankfulness in all circumstances, our bedrock

We can choose to make thankfulness a bedrock, a solid base for our lives.

I am a Christian and it is scriptural to give thanks in all circumstances. In fact Christians share an emphasis of living with thankfulness not only with Jews but also with Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus.

Psychologists advocate being thankful as key to good mental wellbeing as well as for building resilience to deal with all the tough stuff that is also an inevitable part of living.

Back to being thankful in all circumstances. This implies even in the midst of the tough stuff.

Each day has its challenges, the big and the small. As you become aware of a challenge, make a choice to pause and note something for which you are thankful. You’re not pushing away the challenge; you are simply rooting yourself in thankfulness to better deal with the challenge.

Give it a go.

This is Mindful Monday on 6 December 2021. http://www.essencecheltenham.org

The winds that shape us

Winds that shape us

Each of us is shaped – or influenced – by many different winds, from infancy to today.

Pause and identify one or two of the winds that have influenced you.

Some winds are positive. How do we know them? They are the ones that tell us that we are valued and loved, and enable us to value and love others.

Some winds are negative: they are the ones that tell us that we are useless and unlovable, and make it harder for us to make good relationships with others.

Being able to identify and classify the winds that shape our thinking about ourselves and the world around us gives us understanding, including compassion for ourselves. We weren’t always in a position to control what shaped us. We will find weather damage!

Being able to identify and classify the winds that shape us also gives us the opportunity to review what we are being influenced by, opening ourselves more fully to some influences and closing ourselves to others.

For me today, thinking of the winds that shape me, I am resolute to open myself more to the breath of the Divine – God’s Spirit. The Spirit is the one who knew me while I was still in my mother’s womb and is each moment all knowing (omniscient), all present (omnipresent), and all powerful (omnipotent). It’s the best of winds.

May you too open yourself to life-giving winds.

This is Mindful Monday on 8 November 2021.

Health check

Be wise

These are wise words: “Simply let your `Yes’ be `Yes,’ and your `No,’ `No’”. But it is easier said than done, in some of our relationships at least.

Some of us may have been taught as children that it isn’t polite to say ‘no’. Or we think that setting boundaries in our relationships means that we are not being loving.

Thinking like this makes it harder as adults to take control of life, to know that we can make choices for what we do and don’t take responsibility.

Let’s observe our choices this week. Are we clearly thinking through for what we take responsibility? Or are we welcoming all comers, without discernment?

It’s healthy to be able to use both words, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.

Give yourself a health check by observing when you find it easier to set boundaries and when you find it harder. Self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom.

This is Mindful Monday on 25 October 2021