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.

Leaves falling

In the northern hemisphere, we are at a clear change of season, moving from summer to autumn. Most crops are harvested, some trees are changing colour, leaves are falling, the temperature is dropping – and yes and the rainfall has most definitely increased!

Observing the seasonal rhythms is a joy in itself. We can also though notice a season in nature and be intentional in thinking through how it speaks to us.

Here I am focusing on that change from summer to autumn.

As you see trees getting ready to let go of their leaves, does it prompt any thoughts of something you need to let go of? It might be letting go of something only for a period of time or more permanently. Like the leaves, it might be something that has been a good thing in your life but is now no longer useful.

The seasons come and go. Seasons in our lives also come and go. Take time to notice. Be wiser for it.

This is Mindful Monday on 5 October 2020. We meet virtually on zoom tonight 7-8.15 pm. Email hello@essencecheltenham.org for details of how to join. There is no charge.

Childlike

I sat on a bench today that was too high for my legs to touch the ground. I enjoyed sitting and swinging my legs – as I would have frequently done as a child.

We may sometimes use and hear being childish as a criticism. Here I want to celebrate and encourage moments when we can be childlike.

Do you have memories as a child of being totally focused on or immersed in what you were doing – lost in the moment?

Maybe you have memories like me of sitting and swinging your legs, simply enjoying being.

Maybe you too have held onto the child in you that loves to kick autumn leaves.

I realise each of us will have had our own unique experience of childhood, positive and otherwise. I hope as you read this you can recall positive moments like those I have described.

Let’s celebrate being childlike.  Today and throughout this week, welcome moments when you can be childlike – and (once again) be curious and open to fun. Enjoy emerging refreshed.

As I sat on the bench today, swinging my legs, I knew again that I am a child with a heavenly father, a child of God. That is a good place to be, whatever the happenings around us.

Letting go

A martial arts beginner went to a teacher and said earnestly: “I’m devoted to studying. How long will it take me to become a master?” The teacher replied, “Ten years.” Angrily the novice said, “But I want to get there faster than that. I’ll work hard. I’ll practise every day – for hours if I have to. How long will it take then?” The teacher thought for a moment and replied, “Twenty years.”

Sometimes we need to let things unfold in their own time. Being too demanding on ourselves can create a block: we fail to see what is around us because we are staring too intently. A gentler glance may reveal more.

Mindfulness is like that. So too I think is growing a relationship.

In a world where we may feel we always need to work harder and longer, it is a relief to know that at times we do indeed just need to let things unfold. As we become at ease, we start to see more clearly. We get further by ‘doing’ less!

This is Mindful Monday on 21 September 2020.

Look out for dates of virtual mindfulness sessions on zoom starting in October.

Be strong

Upbeat? Downbeat? In between?

Whatever your mood and situation, being thankful for the good things you have is a winner!

Louis Armstrong includes trees, roses, blue skies, white clouds, rainbow colours, people’s faces, the sounds of the next generation and friends shaking hands in his song about thankfulness, What a Wonderful World. In these covid times we need to skip the last item but we can wave instead!

Be thankful. Name what you are thankful for as you go through each day. You will be stronger for it.

This is Mindful Monday on 14 September 2020. Dates for virtual mindfulness sessions open to all coming soon!

Sensing

Sight is an amazing sense. To be able to look and see what is around us is a gift. But what we see can become our ‘dominant’ sense, reducing our use of our other senses.

Whether outdoors or indoors  – in a safe place – take a few minutes to be still and nurture your other senses. Shut your eyes.

Listen. Notice the sounds you can hear.

Smell. Notice any smells – you may be surprised what comes to your nostrils when you are intentionally noticing smells!

Taste. This may sound strange, as this is not an eating meditation, but is there any ‘taste’ in the air? Classics for me are walking past a clump of wild garlic or being by the sea. It is ‘as if’ I taste them.

Feel. It is likely your fingers are in contact with something. Notice the texture of what they are touching. It might be your other hand, the clothes you are wearing, the arms of a chair. Pay attention also to any feeling on other parts of your skin, such as the sun or wind on your face.

This is just a few minutes of your day but it will awaken your senses, helping you to ‘sense’ more widely through the activities of the rest of the day.

This practice will also make you thankful for the gift of all your senses, so precious and yet all too often passing us by.

This is Mindful Monday on 7 September 2020.