Mindfully sad ….

I’ve been out of contact for a while; I have been struggling with the Christmas preparations and  the run up to today, 11th January 2011 and I chose not to beat myself up for not writing any blog entries. (I’m practising self-compassion –more about that in future blog entries). Hope Christmas was a joyous one for you and here’s to a Happy New Year! May 2011 bring you contentment.

 …so I find myself writing my blog in a less than upbeat mood. At 4.30pm this afternoon I left for good the Hospice where I have volunteered and worked for seven years. I am leaving behind a hugely important part of my life; I have been witness to so much sadness and despair and also the green shoots of recovery and hope from the darkest of places. I have been inspired by the courage of those I have worked with and their ripples of influence continue with me, shaping my living perhaps in ways they could not envision. Why would I choose to leave? Well, because intuitively I feel called to work in a different direction. Yet on paper it looks a bizarre decision. Giving up a salaried job in this economic climate? Leaving behind a supportive network of colleagues… Have I finally lost the plot? In making the decision to leave  I’m sad and  scared; I don’t know what the future will hold and I don’t know whether I will be able to manage financially; fear is gripping my heart really tight as I write this.

Note the strategically placed box of tissues ...

And yet, I’m opening to the pain, I’m breathing into it and allowing it to be. I know it will pass. In saying goodbye, in closing one chapter, there is sadness in the letting go and fear in the uncertainty of the transition into something new. Being mindful does not only involve being open to the joy and beauty in day to day living it involves opening to pain, loneliness, anxiety and in allowing those emotions and feelings to be present I am trusting that by not resisting them they will dissolve  (what you resist, persists right?!).

So in a spirit of more loving-kindness to myself I am going to have a glass of very good wine, I’m going to cry a little more and then go to bed to get some sleep. And as Scarlett O’Hara says ‘Tomorrow is another day’.

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Transcendental Meditation and Mindfulness

 The Sunday Times Magazine (12.12.10) published an article “Mantra with a mission” about the film director David Lynch’s mission to bring Transcendental Meditation (‘TM’)  to schoolchildren around the globe. In case you don’t know much about TM, it’s based on the allocation of a personal mantra by a teacher during a private ceremony and involves you meditating twice a day for 20 minutes each time. It got me thinking about TM and why, having been a devotee of TM for 20 years or so, I chose to follow mindfulness meditation instead.

How does she get her legs to do that?

TM, in my experience, was and is great at reducing stress and allowing the mind to settle – like all meditation practices I suppose. However I just knew there was something missing that I wasn’t getting out of my meditation. Perhaps I wasn’t ‘doing’ it right, not practicing enough, but for me I think I was seeking something more. When I first started with TM I was told it was like ‘brushing your teeth’ just get up, meditate, and then do it at the end of the working day and between times ‘forget about it’. However what I ultimately noticed was that TM didn’t help me ‘be’ in the moment. I was still as preoccupied as ever with the future or the past and yet I really wanted to live more in the ‘now’ – something I sensed was essential to the quality of my living. From my work at the Hospice I knew I wanted to really explore and understand this – we only have now, this moment, the future isn’t promised to anyone. So live the now as best you can.  I talked about this and just ‘being’ with my clients yet hypocritically I wasn’t exactly doing it myself. Doesn’t the ‘teacher’ always teach the lessons they need to learn themselves? Ouch!

It took me a couple of life changing moments to finally wake up to what I personally needed to do – somehow learn to be in the moment more often. And here I am, now embracing mindfulness in all aspects of my life (living, loving, eating…) and regularly practicing mindfulness meditation.

All I know is that since I have started mindfulness meditation the quality of my life has improved; I am coping with stressful emotional situations much better, I have developed a much more mindful and healthier way of being around food (and as a result lost weight too but without getting obsessive about it), I’ve made some major life changes and life overall seems to be flowing more easily. For sure there are difficult, painful times – that is the duality of life – there is always sadness and pain as well as joy and happiness but I can more easily be with these emotional states.

I was going to say in my work life mindfulness is continuing to play a major part as I research the wider implications of mindfulness for mental and emotional health and bring ideas and concepts to light which might enhance the quality of people’s living.  However that’s not quite true – mindfulness is for the whole of my life – for my mental, emotional and physical health in a way that TM never quite seemed to be …

I’d be really interested to hear if any of you out there have any views on meditation in general or want to extol the virtues of a particular form of meditation. I’m not into criticising one form of meditation over another – in my opinion meditation of any kind is pretty wonderful for most people.

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Mindful Christmas Present Ideas?

So how’s your present shopping going? I’m making the most of the internet at the moment and buying a lot of my pressies on line. So I was really looking forward to taking a sneak read of one present I’d ordered off Amazon for my very dear sister in law who had asked me to get her The Mindful Manifesto (How doing less and noticing more can help us thrive in a stressed-out world) by J Heaversedge and E Halliwell.

 The Mindful Manifesto

If you are looking for a simple introduction to mindfulness, some straightforward exercises and an explanation of the benefits of mindfulness then this could be the book for you. I keep on taking a sneak read without bending the pages so she can’t tell I’ve had a peek – the answer is I’m just going to have buy it myself! Also check out the authors’ mindfulness website

 While we’re on the same track also have a look at a great web site set up by the Mental Health Foundation which explores the benefits of mindfulness and gives details of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and  Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) courses . The web site address is www.bemindful.co.uk. It’s got a great Mindfulness Resources section which gives details of some informative and fascinating books and CDs of guided meditations. Well worth taking a look. You never know you might just find an idea for a Christmas present that could change someone’s life for the better – got to be an improvement on socks or bath salts?

PS I’m always on the look out for good books or CDs about mindfulness  – if you have come across any that you have found useful please feel free to share them on this blog.

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Any German speakers? Living with an awareness of dying

 I was recently interviewed for a German newspaper regarding my views on living with an awareness of death and using that to inform the quality of your living – learning to live with as few regrets as possible influenced by my experience of working within a hospice.

The link to the online version of that article is at athna.de (Hessisch-
Nidersächsische Allgemeine in Kassel)

If you speak German (which I don’t) could you let me know whether you found it an interesting or thought provoking read or not?

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Size does matter! How I got fooled by size (yet) again

I’m hanging my head in shame (not for the first time) because in a post a couple of weeks’ ago I laughingly wrote ‘…whilst I do have times when I eat (and drink) more than I want they tend to be fewer and fewer nowadays’. Yeah right. So what happened? Last week I was on my way to France; I was wondering how my mindful eating would go at my dear French friend’s house in Normandy where the staple diet is butter, cream, cheese and mountains of meat. Crikey I hadn’t even left the UK before I had yet another lesson in mindfulness and eating and drinking mindfully.  We stayed with close family and as you do I was offered and accepted a glass of red wine (it was fab) and then another…it was great to be with people I loved and I relaxed after a long journey. So how come I woke up the next morning feeling hung over and shaky, head pounding, and wondering why yet again I had failed miserably to manage my drinking?

 Because dear reader I didn’t observe what Brain Wansink highlighted in his research (check out his great book Mindless Eating) that size really does matter particularly when it comes to large, wide red-wine glasses. Apparently our brains over focus on the height of objects and under-estimate the width of objects (the Horizontal-Vertical illusion) hence I completely under-estimated how much red wine was in each glass (probably about a third of a bottle) and let my eyes do the talking rather than my body.

Compare this with the more mindful drinking we did in France where the large glasses were for water and all wine was served in small wine glasses which we tended to drink from far more slowly. Hence no over indulging in France…

 Oh well, thank goodness mindfulness is a journey not a destination!

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Laughing with Cancer

There’s a great coach I know, Suzy Greaves of The Big Leap. She has an amazing number of courageous and inspiring clients. Last week she announced with great sadness the death of one of those clients Nicholas Hull-Malham who set up the website Laughing with Cancer. After having cancer for the first time he became a stand up comedian before concentrating on becoming a writer. Do read Suzy’s blog posting, Sad News, where she talks about Nick and quotes one of his last emails written from his hospital bed. He has some great things to say about living fully and embracing life. If you have the time follow through the video links too. Way to live Nick…

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Oh go on then, just a small one – alcohol and mindfulness

 I like my wine, I really do and I particularly like a glass on a Friday and Saturday night because somehow it’s become part of the ritual of the weekend (notice that unconscious, automatic action!). And I really want to be able to say that you can drink as much as you like and still be mindful. But the truth is that alcohol and mindfulness don’t mix very well. Why’s that then? Well because alcohol takes you out of touch with your body. I know I am much more likely to eat mindlessly when I have had more than one glass of wine. By the time I’m on my third I’ve lost touch with what my stomach wants and even if it’s screaming ‘I’m full, don’t feed me’ I am more inclined to tell it to shut up as I tear open the bag of chocolate peanuts that I had saved for a night out to the cinema the following week (yes I own up that was me last Friday night).

Chocolate Peanuts - yummy

HOWEVER being mindful is also about accepting that we do lose touch with our bodies from time to time and we do forget to be conscious of this present moment but that doesn’t mean that we’re useless, and ‘no good’ at this mindfulness stuff. It just means we’re human. We’ve got so many more chances in this lifetime to be mindful.

You might want to try bringing in a pause before you reach for the second or third glass of wine (or beer, or spirit etc) and ask yourself whether you really want it and if the answer is ‘Yes’, then savour the taste and enjoy it. Try and be aware when you move from being mindful of what you’re drinking to being mindless. Not beating yourself up when you find you’re being mindless just notice and accept that’s what happens occasionally. Over time you’ll find your awareness increases and whilst I do have times when I eat (and drink) more than I want they tend to be fewer and fewer nowadays.

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