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.

Time to be

Stand and stare

As we begin to come out of lockdown, a common literary joke in my household is ‘tubby or not tubby’! Many of us may be seeking to start to live a more active life (but remember to be kind to yourself!). And let’s not lose the joy of just being and observing, particularly as the pace of life starts to increase.

This poem says it all!

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.


By Wm. Henry Davies

This is Mindful Monday @ essencecheltenham.org on 31 May 2021.

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.

‘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.

Cracked yet hopeful?

I often come across a quotation that stays with me and this happened last week. The quotation was ascribed to Leonard Cohen, poet and singer. And like many quotations, when I researched it I found it is actually ascribed to several people.  This often happens with interesting quotations that are worthy of mulling!

Lyrics to the song ‘Anthem’ on Cohen’s album The Future include:

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

It’s a compelling mixture of pragmatism and hope.

Pragmatism. The world is cracked; society is cracked; we are each of us cracked. Perfection is beyond us. It is as it is.

Hope.  We often associate light with hope. To me ‘light’ indicates something other, beyond the everyday of life and yet within the everyday. Something spiritual, healing, of goodness, divine.

I love the image of light shining out through the cracks. Light in the midst of darkness. Hope in the midst of a pragmatic acceptance of brokenness.  

There is truth therein. It bears repeating. It’s worthy of mulling – or as we sometimes put it more commonly these days meditating on.

Get wise(r)

A year into lockdown, it still feels that there are many different worlds. These are not based on the geography of where we live.

Rather the worlds are shaped by a myriad of things like the make-up of our household, the demands (or otherwise) on our skills and our time, our sense of financial security (or otherwise) – and most fundamentally the wellbeing – or otherwise – of ourselves and those we love.

We may not have any choice over the situations we are in, but we can learn to respond to them as skilfully as possible.

Learning how to pace ourselves in whatever situation we find ourselves is a vital skill. It’s a lifetime of learning.

Take a minute today, sitting or walking, to notice messages your body is giving you. Our physical make-up tells us so much, if only we will pause to hear.

Listen to these messages, with gentleness. Don’t judge yourself. Accept what you find.

Just by noticing – listening – you will be the wiser; you will be better equipped to approach whatever situation you find yourself in today.

And when we take a step forward in listening to ourselves, it may actually equip us to better hear other people. It may also equip us to recognise the voice of our creator in what we hear. We are wonderfully made, with feedback loops that tell us how to pace ourselves.

Peaceful?

Peaceful?

Peaceful. Calm. Tranquil.

It’s an attractive place to be. None of us would probably claim to be there most of the time but we probably catch glimpses now and then.

Sometimes arriving at a place of peace isn’t a ‘non-doing’, resting process but one of action. Martin Luther King said, ‘True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.’

There are some things in life that we can do nothing to influence. When we accept this and let them go – as best we can – we may find peace.

There are other things in life that we accept as reality but also identify that we need to act – do something – to change them.

It’s a life’s journey separating the two, which is why Niebuhr’s serenity prayer remains relevant:

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Join a virtual evening of mindfulness tonight 8 March 2021 at 7 pm (UK time) on the theme of acceptance and change. Email hello@essencecheltenham.org for details.