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.

Ring the changes

Quit sleepwalking

The more our days are samey, the easier it is to sleepwalk through them. Sure, our eyes are open but we fail to notice much.

We make a cup of tea and drink it. A moment later we check our empty mug: we do not recall the warmth, the taste, the smell – all the sensations of having a cuppa.  It’s a small example of failing to experience living to the full. We miss the moment entirely.

A fellow participant on a pain management course I went on many years ago shared a top tip with me on how to remain aware – live consciously – even when things are samey. It has stayed with me and I think you too will find it useful.

A biker living with ongoing pain from a major motorcycle accident, each time he bought washing up liquid he bought a different one. He did this so that when he was washing up he could experience a change in the smell and even the texture of the bubbles. In an everyday activity, he was intentionally ringing the changes in order to awaken his senses.

What change could you make this week to enable you to be more fully awake, to notice, to live life more fully? It could be as simple as doing a familiar walk at a different time of day or choosing to brush our teeth with a traditional toothbrush rather than our usual electric one (or vice versa). Look out for opportunities to ring the changes in small ways – and by doing that experience the miracle of life more fully.

This is Mindful Monday on 8 February 2021. Join a mindfulness session ‘wintering in lockdown’ on zoom tonight at 7 pm. Simply email hello@essencecheltenham.org for details.

Perspectives follow us

This is a story about a traveller. (With so many of us on lockdown, it’s a tantalising thought just to be a traveller I know.)

On arrival in a new country, the traveller asks an old man, “What are the people like in this country?” The old man asks, “How do you find the people in your country?” The traveller replies, “They are kind and hospitable.” Smiling gently, the old man replies, “You’ll find the people of this country to be so too.”

Later in the day another traveller asks the same question of the old man. Once again, the old man asks, “How do you find the people in your country?” The traveller replies, “They are always fighting and completely inhospitable.” The old man answers, “I’m afraid you’ll find the people of this country to be the same.”

This is Mindful Monday on 23 November 2020.

You are invited to an evening of mindfulness on zoom on Monday 7 December at 7-8.15 pm. Simply email hello@essencecheltenham.org for joining details.

Make a choice

Whether we are US citizens or not, many of us will have been watching the American election results this week as Biden inched forward and duly became the President Elect.

Depending on our politics, we may be elated, disappointed – or just plain relieved. The twists and turns were for me high emotion. And during the week I found I had to make choices.

I had to make a choice to limit my exposure to the news. Why? Because the twists and turns were overly controlling my emotions. Sound familiar? Some of us might also have found this when following news of the coronavirus pandemic.

We can each make choices to improve our wellbeing. Sometimes this includes what we allow to dominate our thoughts. I am drawn back to a saying attributed to Martin Luther – wisdom crossing centuries: “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

Take notice. Make wise choices.

This is Mindful Monday on 9 November.

Join others for a virtual mindfulness gathering on Monday 16 November, 7-8.15 pm (UK time). Simply email hello@essencecheltenham.org for details.

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.

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.