Like a child

Like a child . . .

One of my childhood associations is eating a cold ice lolly on a hot day.

I found a treasure trove of different lollies recently made to be reminiscent of childhood sweets: Fruit Salads, Sherbet Dib Dabs, Nougat, Cola Bottles, Black Jacks. It is good to recall a positive simple memory from childhood and I am enjoying repeating the experience!

I can still really immerse myself in enjoying eating an ice lolly on a hot day. It is a simple pleasure. It uses all my senses.

Sometimes children seem to naturally be more mindful – be fully immersed in a moment – using all their senses.

Let the child in you live on. Enjoy a simple pleasure. Immerse yourself fully in it. There is a simplicity in the moment that you will relish.

This is Mindful Monday on 14 June 2021. Join a session of mindfulness in the outdoors on 15 June, 4.30-6 pm. Email hello@essencecheltenham.org for details.

Verdant

Everything is growing

It’s full-on summer in England. Everything is growing. The scene is a bright, lush green wherever you look, city, town or country. And in my garden, the plants I designate to be weeds are growing alongside those plants I designate as keepers!

As we observe what is happening in nature, we can use it to reflect on what is happening within ourselves.

Holding a mirror up to nature, what is growing in you? Or put another way what is flourishing? And in the picture, is there anything that you can see growing that is undesirable i.e. a weed?

This is Mindful Monday on 7 June.

Be still . . .

Be still . . .

What is mindfulness? It’s about becoming more aware and living life more fully.

At times, we can almost sleep walk through life – a small example is drinking a cup of tea without noticing, to the degree that we are surprised when we look into the mug and find it empty!

Mindfulness can help us to perceive better, see better, think better, hear better – and even become more aware of what we eat and drink, so taste better! It helps us to be more aware of ourselves, others and the world around us. And as we become more aware, we can choose to open ourselves not just to the physical, emotional and rational in life but also to the spiritual, if we choose.

Someone who knows of my Christian faith asked me this week how mindfulness relates to it. My answer is, it relates entirely!

There is a story of Jesus seeking a friend’s attention, and not that friend’s frenetic activity. The friend’s name was Martha. My sense is Jesus wanted to know Martha as the ‘human being’ she was, not as a ‘human doing’ lost in endless activity! Like Martha, we can find it hard to stop, to simply be and learn to listen. Mindfulness can teach us how to quieten ourselves, to physically stop and ‘lay down’ our thoughts and emotions. These lessons help me to prepare myself to simply be present with God’s Spirit.

There is another story of Jesus telling his friends to step away from the busyness and come to a quiet place. I often find refreshment as I intentionally set time aside to be quiet. And greater awareness of myself through the practice of mindfulness helps me to know when I need to do this. It seems a part of a divine design.

There is an instruction in ancient Christian poetic Scriptures, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’. Written long ago but so relevant: we seem to function better if we can learn to be still, to pause, to take a break. But there is more: as we still ourselves, we can choose to open ourselves to the possibility of drawing close to God, whether we have a strong belief in God or whether we are unsure what we believe.

Mindfulness has benefits for anyone and everyone, whether we have a faith or not. Practicing awareness of ourselves, others and the world all around us is a worthwhile life-long journey, regardless of who we are. But it is my experience that it is also helpful in coming into an awareness of the reality of God’s presence.

Journey well as you too seek just to ‘be’.

This is Mindful Monday on 24 May 2021.

Acceptance is key

Many of us will at times suffer from poor sleep. And I find any insights on how to improve sleep are usually gratefully received.

There is a lot of advice available on how to replace thoughts and behaviours that are keeping us awake with thoughts and behaviours that increase the chance of sleeping. It’s advice based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT for short.

But I was struck with a new approach, described as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT for short. Here the focus is on accepting the thoughts, feelings and sensations that go with lying awake. Rather than ‘battling’ against our wakefulness, instead we simply accept it as it is. ‘Letting go’ of the struggle to get to sleep can help restore the natural biological process.

It’s actually a practice at the heart of mindfulness: accepting things as they are. And there are rich rewards as we – often courageously – do this.

This is Mindful Monday on 17 May 2021.

‘Double trouble’ and how to avoid it

Find the alternative

Do you – like me – feel the sting of making a mistake more powerfully than the joy of doing something well? We may glibly say ‘everyone makes mistakes’. But when it comes to realising that we have made a mistake, I suspect that most of us are far less forgiving of ourselves than others.

Psychologists speak of a negative bias, meaning we register and dwell on the negative more readily than the positive. We become fixated on our mistakes.

When we become fixated, we cause ourselves a ‘double trouble’: our self-talk is ‘I’m such an idiot’ and then we amplify it, with self-talk such as ‘I’m never going to get anything right.’ This negative spiral isn’t helpful.

So what’s the alternative?

  1. We can recognise that we may have a tendency to a negative bias. The recognition alone puts us in a better place to respond in a more useful way. It isn’t that we want to have a rose-tinted view, it’s just that we don’t want to over-emphasise the negative.
  2. When we make a mistake (cos we all do make ‘em), acknowledge it simply: ‘I got that wrong’. Where others are involved, we may need to apologise or rectify the mistake in some way.
  3. Now we are not wasting our energies on repeatedly beating ourselves up, we can turn our energies instead to exploring what we can learn from that mistake. Is there something we can put in place to stop ourselves repeating it?
  4. Finally, re-dress the balance in your thinking. Identify something you have done well. This isn’t ignoring the mistake. It’s about giving extra attention to good things you have done. Without making an effort to recall the positive, the negative will win out!

This is Mindful Monday on 10 May 2021.

Just be

I live in a town that has great street art. As we begin to emerge into differing degrees of lockdown (in the UK at least), this image came to mind. Both during lockdown and as we come out of lockdown, we need to pace ourselves.

It is a lifelong journey of learning what works and what doesn’t, seeking to balance the different elements in our lives. And it probably changes across different phases of life.

What matters is being the human being you were designed to be. Choosing to building in times ‘just to be’ is part of healthy living.

Love in the midst

Love amidst . . .

Life is such a mix: the everyday good and bad; the moments of joy and pain.

I am a Christian. With many other Christians around the world I am once again exploring the Easter story. Wow there is pain in the story. Wow there is joy in the story.

In the midst, there is love. It is love that makes sense of the pain and the joy. It’s a story of God giving his precious son (pain). Why? Because of love. And what for? For life (joy).

Regardless of whether we profess a faith or not, we may sense a truth in how love – mysteriously – makes sense of the joy and the pain. Somethings are beyond words – and mine are clumsy. In the midst, may you know love.