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.

Making a choice

Be well Make choices

There are plenty of definitions of mindfulness, each seeking to capture the essence of a practice. (Feel free to add a favourite of yours in a comment on this post.)

Here are two definitions I have often used: “being in control of our thoughts and feelings, rather than being run ragged by them” (Ruby Wax); “learning to pay attention and becoming fully awake” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). Two good definitions.

I loved coming across a new definition this week and it is this: “to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”. It wasn’t in a book on mindfulness. It wasn’t intended to be a definition of mindfulness! And yet it serves well as a definition.

It is from a holocaust survivor who was also a neurologist and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl. Here’s the context in which the definition appears:

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

It’s easy to go into ‘auto-response’, especially when a situation we are in is difficult (even if no where near as difficult as Viktor Frankl’s experience). It is great to be reminded that we can be intentional – make a choice – in our responses to all the happenings of life.

Let’s notice where we might make ‘auto responses’ this week. Let’s turn these into opportunities to make choices.

This isn’t easy to do but it will reward you. You will be the healthier for it.

For me, I also find getting on my knees and seeking divine assistance on what’s a good choice is part of the journey.

This is Mindful Monday on 31 August 2020.

 

Raining?

water drop

On wet days growing up, I remember singing the nursery rhyme “Rain rain go away, come again another day.” Child or adult, it would be an appropriate ditty for many of the days we are having in the UK, rather typically as August draws to a close!

The rain we are experiencing is part of the water cycle central to our own survival as well as that of animals and plants. Blue is the dominant colour in pictures of Earth from space; 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Water is vital for life – or put the other way, without water there would be no life.

This last week I have had containers of tap water set aside, following a warning from my water company of works in the area that could disrupt or taint the water supply. This made me more conscious of all the practical uses of water through each day including drinking, washing, cleaning, cooking, and growing plants. We also use water for wellness: a bath gets us clean but it can also be relaxing. And we may even use water imagery to express our spiritual needs, such as a desire for spiritual cleansing.

Starting now for 24 hours, pay attention to all the uses you make of water.

As you drink it, recall that every living cell needs it to function. Notice your thirst; relish drinking. Notice how your body uses that water to regulate your body temperature, whether you prefer to describe it as glistening or sweating! Notice how it flushes waste through your system. It is even lubricating your joints as you move.

And on through 24 hours . . . let’s notice our use of water.

As we pay attention to it, we will find ourselves thankful.

When we practice thankfulness, we find ourselves happier – and even more able to cope with the tough stuff of life.

If you are on the last week of summer holidays with others in your household, turn it into a household activity. If you work in a team, turn it into a team activity. Notice together. Be thankful together.

This is Mindful Monday on 24 August 2020. Look for details of virtual mindfulness sessions coming soon!

 

 

Unsettled?

Unsettled or serene

“The only constant in life is change.” This is a theory attributed to a philosopher 2,500 years ago. I had to look up his name and just in case you can’t recall it either, his name is Heraclitus (and yes, he was Greek).

It’s a theory that seems to have stood to test of millennia – and that is because it is relevant.

In the south of the England in the last week, we have been experiencing big weather changes. – and it looks like we may have unsettled weather for a while to come.

Waking up one day, none of us would venture to change the weather – even if we utter the odd grouch about it! We know we need to accept it as we find it.

I am a natural ‘do-er’, task oriented and keen to make a difference. I find it easier to bring about change than accept things I cannot change. But in the last week I have needed to ‘let go’ of events happening that I am unable to influence but need to accept as they are, just like the weather.

I have used a well-known prayer – written about 90 years ago – by an American Reinhold Niebuhr and still relevant today. You will probably already know it, the beginning bit at least.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen

In the week that has passed and the week to come each of us will experience change of some kind, some which we can influence and some of which we can’t. It is inevitable.

Whatever the week has in store for you in terms of change, reflect on what you need to accept and what you need to influence. Being mindful opens up choices. And for me, opening my spirit to the wisdom of the one who created me is also a vital part of the journey.

All weathers

 

Whatever the weather . . .

In many cultures – and certainly in the British culture – we love to talk about the weather. It comes up naturally and is often a fall back for conversation when passing a neighbour in the street.

We are great at observing the weather. We dress differently according to how we perceive the weather to be. We freely discuss it.

We are sometimes not so great at observing our emotions. We may seek to hide how we are feeling from others. We fail to share.

We can be intentional about observing our emotions, taking time to identify our dominant emotion i.e. how are we feeling? Happy? Sad? Annoyed? Angry? Calm? Peaceful? Disappointed? Hopeful?

Sometimes it is helpful to express our dominant emotion. When our dominant emotion is very strong we can hardly not express it! When we are really happy – or really angry – it bursts out! Even strangers will probably enjoy sharing in our happiness but our anger might be less welcome. Whether it’s a welcome or difficult emotion, going through the process of observing it and labelling it helps us to be appropriate in our next steps.

Identifying our emotion is key to understanding it. If I identify I feel annoyed, I can then reflect on why I am annoyed. As I do this, I may be tempted to blame someone else for my emotion. But the way I feel is actually determined by how I think about the situation, not necessarily someone else’s action.

Here’s an example:

Activating event: someone pushes into a queue I am in.

Belief: I believe joining the end of the queue is the right thing to do.

Consequence: I feel annoyed.

So I identify my annoyance. I recognise it is because someone ‘pushed’ into the queue (it’s a strong emotion – someone pushed in!).

Armed with this information, I can question my belief, perhaps crediting the person with a reason for their urgency that I might not be aware of. Or I can challenge the person, pointing out politely where to join the queue. Or I can smile at my belief, recognising that others may not share that belief and – after all – the difference in time to me at that moment is inconsequential. There is no ‘right’ in this situation – all of these choices are open to me and all of them reduce my annoyance. Identifying my emotion gives me choices on the outworking of that emotion.

Life throws up far more complex situations and emotions than a queue jumper and the resulting annoyance. Let’s observe them. Let’s label them. Let’s be open to sharing them. Let’s understand our own beliefs in the situation. Let’s open ourselves up to having choices.

And if it makes you more comfortable, you can even use metaphors relating to the weather to identify your emotions. It’s a cultural thing I know!

This is Mindful Monday on 10 August 2020.