The power of acceptance

There is an alternative: the power of acceptance

Ever feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall? I hope only metaphorically but frustration may get us close to the physical action!

We have a problem. We seek to find a solution. Again and again. Nothing seems to work and we still have the same problem – except we are now also tired. Tired out of trying to solve the problem.

This will sound counter intuitive but here goes. Accept the problem as it is – stop trying to ‘solve’ it (for a while at least).

What’s the benefit? A reduction in frustration, anger, stress . . . a saner self!

I experienced this with a telecoms problem I have last week: there was a moment I realised I had to accept the problem as it appeared I could do nothing to influence it. The acceptance brought me respite from constantly using my energy to try to bring about change. I still have a telecoms problem . . . but I am well in the midst.

Acceptance is an attitude that – surprisingly – changes things!

This is Mindful Monday on 1 March 2021. Join a virtual session of mindfulness on Monday 8 March 7-8.15 pm. Email hello@essencecheltenham.org for details.

Love (you)

Step by step

To seek to love others seems universally accepted, although we may all draw the line differently on whom we choose to seek to love. And we probably all agree that love is wonderful but also complicated.

To seek to love ourselves may receive a more mixed response. Many may react with diffidence.

And yet how we perceive – and treat – ourselves (loved or unloved) has a big impact on how we perceive – and treat – others (to love or not to love).

Religious traditions and ancient and present-day cultures share common ground on emphasising the need to love and care for yourself and those around you: ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’

We’ve just had Valentine’s Day, mercifully marked with less commercialism due to lockdown! Some may love the day; others may detest the day. For me this year I was drawn to reflect on the source of love – the Divine: ‘we love because God first loved us.’ It is experiencing being loved – for me, with a love stronger than any human being could possibly show – that makes it possible to keeping taking steps towards (albeit with hesitancy at times) loving myself and thereby being more able to love others.

This is Mindful Monday on 15 February 2021. Join others for an evening of virtual mindfulness on Monday 8 March, 7pm (UK time). Just email hello@essencecheltenham.org for details. There is no charge.

Wonders in tough times?

Be well, including in tough times

We remain in winter. We remain in lockdown. While some have had an initial dose of a vaccine, others wait. Inequalities are widening in the UK and across the world. Those living in war torn and economically destitute countries are badly impacted. Tough times.

Helen Keller was blind and deaf from a young age (tough times). An American, she lived an extraordinarily full life as an author, campaigner and traveller (1880-1968). She wrote, “Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”

When we look, we too will find wonders in the coming week. Note them. Treasure them.

There is challenge in her words to accept our situation: to be thankful for what we have rather than wanting what we do not have.

The life she lived shows her to be an activist – a campaigner for change – and yet it’s action based on the foundation of contentment in her own situation. Maybe when we are contented we are able to reach out to others – to show love – in a way that we can’t when we focus on achieving more for ourselves.

On first communicating with another person about God, Helen Keller said, “I have always known about God, but until now I didn’t know His name.”

It is in tough times that we may reach out to the Divine. We discover we are loved. We discover contentment.  And then just maybe we too can bring about change; we can begin the journey of learning how to love others as ourselves.

Be well – even in tough times.

This is Mindful Monday on 1 February 2021. Join a virtual evening of mindfulness – with time for individual reflection – on Monday 8 February, 7-8.15 pm (UK). No charge. Email hello@essencecheltenham.org for details.

Shuffling, limping or running?

As a group of us gathered for a mindfulness session earlier this week, a participant asked, “What is mindfulness? Are we meant to practice it every day?” Good questions which I thought I could explore in this blog.

What is mindfulness?

My own (probably clumsy) definition is that mindfulness is being intentionally aware of ourselves, others and the world around us. This for me includes being intentionally aware of God, my Creator and Provider, but for others it might not.

And I’d go a little further with a definition of mindfulness and add that once we are practicing being aware , we can then at times choose how we react or what we do with that awareness. Sure lots of things are beyond our control. But some things – like how I react to another person, an event, or when I do once realise how I feel about something – is within my control, to a degree at least.

Are we meant to practice it every day?

My aim is to continually grow in awareness – and therefore intentional living.

Some day it is right to the fore of my mind; some days it is only at the back of my mind. In a crisis I hope it will interwoven into who I am, helping me to manage well. What I know is that pursuing awareness is part of living life in all its fullness, something I believe each of us is born to do.

You might hear practicing awareness referred to as a journey. We discover a little more with each step (day). We can’t see round the next bend in the road but we can observe what we find in this stretch – the good and the bad – and walk on. Yes sometime we’re shuffling or limping; other times we are running. It isn’t a competition with the winner the first to arrive. It’s a journey to be savoured and shared with others, stopping off along the way for new discoveries.

Being mindful I guess is simply living each day to its fullest. Thanks Sue for the questions!

This is Mindful Monday on 18 January 2021.

Email hello@essencecheltenham.org to join a zoom evening of mindfulness on 8 February 2021 7-8.15 pm.

Perfectly imperfect

As many of us prepare to celebrate Christmas, we probably have expressed – or unexpressed – perceptions of what a perfect Christmas looks like. And if we don’t, ads, the media and even friends and family are ready to share their snapshots of perfectionism.

Let’s be aware of our high expectations. Let’s also be open to questioning our expectations.

Seeking perfectionism often equates with high stress levels. And because we are who we are – and those around us are who they are – a perfect celebration is impossible to achieve.

And yet the beauty – the joy – sometimes comes from the imperfect bits. It may just be my cooking but the shared laughter at the obvious differences between the recipe’s ‘marketing’ picture and the reality on the table is an example! Or perhaps you welcome an extra guest that throws the table plan and requires the use of that ‘wobbly’ chair – or this year perhaps eating in the outdoors, due to covid restrictions?!

Don’t allow the desire for perfectionism to take over. Accept the imperfect – in you and around you – intentionally noticing it and at times celebrating it.

The Japanese use a phrase wabi-sabi for a world view that includes accepting imperfection and appreciating beauty within it.

Let’s relax and breath; let’s enjoy what is so often the perfectly imperfect.

This is Mindful Monday on 14 December 2020. Look out for 2021 dates for virtual sessions.

Run ragged?

There is much talk of decluttering our houses but what about our minds?

We all have times when we experience a constant stream of thoughts of all sorts. The thoughts might cover any of these categories:  worries or concerns, ruminations or wonderings, and judgments. Whatever the mix they add up to a cluttered mind, sapping our energies and running us ragged.

Here are practices that can help us manage our anxious or repeat thoughts. The practices  are noticing, labelling or grouping, identifying if useful or not useful, noticing our breath and – perhaps to our own surprise – seeking divine intervention.

  1. Noticing our thoughts, rather than what can be our more natural tendency which is to push them away. Difficult thoughts tend to be stick. Try and push them away and the more they grip!
  2. Deciding if a thought is useful or not. Thoughts can be useful, or put another way constructive: these are often prompts or reminders to do something. A practical example would be thinking ‘I haven’t replied to that important email’. Thoughts can lead to action. I also use wise words from Scripture to decide if a thought is useful. Is the thought  true? And going deeper, is it honourable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable? These are the thoughts to dwell on! Other thoughts can be destructive. This might be because they are about things beyond our control or things that are or might be – when we actually look at them – false.
  3. Labelling or grouping our thoughts. I tend to use a piece of paper for this. Write down things you are thinking about and see if you can group them together with labels. For example I might be having repeat thoughts about Christmas: what will I be ‘allowed’ to do, how will I get presents to those I will not now see, what will the post be like, how big a turkey will we need, etc.! I can  label – or group – all these thoughts as about ‘Christmas 2020’. Labelling helps us to notice our thoughts in more detail, increasing our own understanding as well as reducing the range of thoughts we are seeking to manage to a few key themes rather than hundreds of individual thoughts. The process of labelling also helps us to understand our thoughts but not become immersed or lost in them.
  4. Noticing our breath. When our thoughts make us fearful or anxious, our fight-or-fight mechanism is engaged. We are ready to right: adrenaline is pumping. While a useful response say for running away from a wild animal or fire, this physical response doesn’t help us manage our thoughts better. Instead we can practice noticing our breath (without seeking to change it), coming to a stiller, more comfortable place
  5. Seeking divine intervention. The author C S Lewis said, ‘I pray because I cannot help myself.’ Sometimes to our own surprise, we reach out to God. In the process we may experience a peace which is beyond our understanding but welcome all the same!

This is Mindful Monday on 26 October 2020. Join us for an evening of mindful practice tonight at 7 pm – on this very topic of managing our thoughts better. Simply email hello@essencecheltenham.org for further details.

Freedom

“The last of human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”

In these Covid-19 days, the focus is on restrictions in our way of life. The word ‘freedoms’ is welcome, like a shaft of light in a dark space.

The quotation is from a book that you may have heard of. I finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl this week and its rich content around hope from the Holocaust will cause me to re-read it again.

I like the emphasis on each of us having choices in our attitude, even if our circumstances are beyond our control. Frankl asserts, “A human being is a deciding being.”

I am sure that you – like me – are all too aware of aspects of life you cannot control. Yet you – like me – have choices you can make in your response i.e. your attitude.

Frankl doesn’t imply choosing an attitude is easy; just that it is possible and worthwhile. Our wellbeing depends upon it.

Whatever our circumstances (or UK regional tier!), let’s start by being thankful for what we do have. It is a good choice to make.

In such a ‘serious book’, I also like the suggestion that having a chuckle at ourselves is good for our wellbeing.

We are in tough times. Let’s exercise that freedom to choose our attitude. Let’s make good choices and keep a touch of levity in the mix!

This is Mindful Monday on 19 October 2020.

Join a zoom mindfulness session next Monday evening (26 October) at 7 pm til 8.15 pm. Email hello@essencecheltenham.org to receive details.