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.

Extreme wintering

Aligning with nature’s seasons

Live in each season as it passes;
breathe the air,
drink the drink,
taste the fruit,
and resign yourself
to the influence of each.

Henry David Thoreau

For many of us winter may be the hardest season in which to be present; we may be more inclined to be more accepting of Spring, Summer and Autumn.

Winter plus lockdown seem to be taking it to the extreme. We are likely to be even more aware than usual of shorter days, the cold, and the rain – and the sense of isolation (even hibernation) that the season engenders.

It feels rather enforced this winter in the UK. But if we can accept the season as it is – rather than just willing Spring to come – we may find we can benefit from it.

How? Join with nature by slowing down the pace and prioritising rest: this might even mean you find you go to bed earlier and rise later. Sense the season outdoors by looking, smelling, listening and touching to see the changes to nature including on those oh so familiar walks. Eat seasonal foods; there is design in what is in season and the nutrition our bodies need. Be thankful for warmth and shelter – this is easy to do as we move from the outdoors to the indoors at this time of year.

Reflect for you (the unique and special person you are) what the season might be suggesting to you: learn from the season rather than willing it be gone!

This is Mindful Monday on 25 January 2021.

Join with others for an evening of mindfulness at 7-8.15 pm on Monday 8 February. Simply email hello@essencecheltenham.org for details.

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.

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.

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.

It will pass

weathers

I was fortunate enough to be by the sea last week, a joy indeed as lockdown begins to lift.

I watched the colours and sound of the waves change each day, through all weathers.

Watching the sea reminded me that we too go through all weathers. There are times when we are happy; there are times when we are sad. There are times when our circumstances are comfortable; there are times when our circumstances are uncomfortable.

If you feel grey today, look at nature and remember that it will pass. The clouds and the rain will clear and the sun will come out. In the sunshine? Bask in it!

This is Mindful Monday on 13 July. Look out for details of our next gathering later in July.