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.

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.