• Present Perfect

     

    Do you frequently find yourself ruminating over mistakes? Do you give yourself or others a hard time when things don’t go according to plan? Do you find it painful to hand over tasks to others, for fear they’ll mess things up?

     

    If any of this sounds familiar, you may be a perfectionist: someone who spends a significant amount of time feeling anxious about doing things ‘correctly’ and prioritising what you feel you should do over what you’d like to do.

    Almost all of us experience these feelings from time to time, however when our striving for perfection becomes excessive, we can end up feeling exhausted and entirely lacking in self-worth.

    Far from improving our lives, perfectionism can destroy our peace of mind, leading to life feeling more like a chore than a joy.

     

    Obsessed with the Destination

     

    As perfectionists, our focus is primarily on future goals – finishing the project, getting the grades, succeeding, achieving, completing. We’re so busy working towards the “perfect outcome” that we completely miss the journey, along with any happiness which may lie in the process.

    We want to reach perfection, so that we can finally stop and rest. And yet, we never do seem to get there, do we?

    We think that this determination to succeed makes us better at what we do. Yet while it may sometimes make us more productive and hard-working than others, it kills spontaneity, flexibility and ultimately creativity. Creativity requires the space to make mistakes and adapt; perfectionism restricts and confines us to a narrow view of how things should be.

    With so many internal should’s and shouldn’t’s, we are dragged away from the present moment, locked into a rigid view of good and bad, right and wrong, success and failure. Failure in itself is not so bad, yet when we believe that our self-worth exists within success, failure then feels like the end of our world. It doesn’t matter that we did our best, learnt new things, or had good experiences along the way: if we didn’t ‘win’, it didn’t count.

    In his book ‘Present Perfect’, Pavel Somov describes perfectionism this way:

     

    “It is a mindless reaction driven by the past rather than a mindfully chosen action that reflects the present.”

     

    Stuck in our prison of rules from the past, we lose sight of the value of the present moment. Which is ironic, for if we could only slow down for a moment, we would see that perfection has been there all along, waiting for us to take notice.

     

    The Perfection of Flow

     

    “Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.”

    -- SALVADOR DALI 

     

    Even if we were to create something which met our standards of perfection, it could never remain that way. Just as things grow and blossom, they also fade and decay. Seeking perfection in a world of constant change is like demanding that a beautiful sunset never end. We cannot stop the sun from dipping below the horizon.

    However, we can make efforts to become present with the sunset and savour it while it is there. We can use mindfulness to shift our focus from creating perfect outcomes to enjoying the perfection inherit in the moment to moment flow of life.

    This can be done by noticing when our minds are preoccupied with thoughts of ideal outcomes:

    Next time you are working on a task, such as a work project, creative pursuit, or even when you are sitting doing meditation, try to notice when you start thinking about achieving an end goal, rather than appreciating the moment to moment experience of what you are doing. End goals could be anything from wanting to impress your boss, make more money or become an “expert” meditator.

    Once you’ve noticed, gently bring your attention back to the present moment. Focusing on the breath or on physical sensations is a useful way of doing this. However, beware of turning this practice into yet another goal to be achieved perfectly. Gentleness is key here. Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered, bring it back to your current experience.

    Experiment with resting in the sense that whatever you do, whatever you feel, you are already perfectly human, perfectly changeable and ever-evolving just as all of nature is, and that you could never be any other way.

     

    Join internationally renowned clinical psychologist, speaker and author of ‘Present Perfect’, Dr. Pavel Somov, for a special workshop, 'Overcoming Perfectionism', on Thursday 19th August 2021.

     

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  • Communicating Mindfully When We Are Upset


    communication

     

    Communication is the bridge which links our innermost thoughts and feelings to the outside world. Yet, if our emotions get the better of us we can cause problems with unskilful communication.

     

    Sometimes we may be so caught up in our emotions that we’re not even sure of what it is we are trying to say. If we are mindless of our tone and the type of language we are using, we may appear hostile, angry or just confusing to the people we are trying to communicate with. This could leave us feeling misunderstood and isolated.

    But if we can communicate mindfully, we have a much better chance of being heard and understood, as well as understanding others.

     

    Understanding Ourselves First

     

    The first step to mindful communication is to become really clear on what we’re thinking and feeling. Unless we pay attention to our own experience, we don’t have much chance of successfully expressing that experience to others.

    Say, for example, that we are angry with our partner. We are upset because they have been neglectful in some way. We may spend days, or even weeks feeling angry at this person for what they’ve done, or haven’t done. Without us necessarily being aware of it, our emotions may affect how we communicate with them.

    We might become snappy or unkind, and although this might give us the impression that we are expressing our feelings, it isn’t a mindful, clear way of communicating. What’s likely to happen is that the other person picks up on our upset, feels upset or defensive in return, and we end up in a vicious cycle of bitterness and emotional outbursts.

    Through practicing mindfulness, however, we become more in tune with our inner experience, and recognise fluctuations in our mood. If our partner has upset us, instead of holding onto the resentment we feel, or wishing it had never happened, we can acknowledge our feelings and the situation with honesty.

    For example, “My boyfriend didn’t remember our anniversary, and that makes me feel sad/angry/unappreciated, etc.” By seeing and owning our feelings first, we can then approach communication with clarity.

     

    What Do I Want From This Communication?

     

    As well as being mindful of our true feelings, it’s also useful to become clear on what we want to get out of communicating with a particular person.

     

    Do we want them to feel bad about how they’ve made us feel?

    Do we want to punish them with our words?

    Or do we want to feel understood?

    Do we want to find a resolution to a problem?

     

    Maybe we want to understand the other person better, as well as helping them understand us.

    If we feel like we want to use our words to get revenge on someone because they have hurt us, this is a natural feeling and doesn’t mean that we’re a bad person. Yet do we really want to act on these feelings and say things which might cause someone pain?

    It may be a good idea to just sit with these feelings for a while, rather than verbally lashing out and saying something we may later regret.

    If we want to feel understood, or find a solution to a conflict or problem, it’s helpful to take a few moments to think about the kind of tone or language we want to use in order to help us meet our communication goals.

     

    Noticing Our Tone & Language

     

    How we choose to phrase our feelings is important. The types of words we use can make a big difference in how we are understood, as can our tone. Even if the words we are using seem diplomatic, if our tone is bitter, sarcastic or mean, those words will count for very little.

    Most of us get defensive when we feel attacked, and so it makes sense to try and limit this if we want open and meaningful dialogue with someone. After all, the person may not even be aware that they have caused us any bad feelings!

    Rather than listing all the things we feel that the person did wrong, it might be more helpful to speak openly about how we feel, and why. For example, instead of saying, “You ignored me! I’m really angry at you!” we can mindfully rephrase it and say something like, “I don’t know if you meant to, but I felt ignored by you earlier. It made me feel really hurt and angry. Can we talk about what happened?”

    We can notice our tone, and try to take as much blame out of it as is possible. This way, we are allowing space for a real, two-way conversation. We are staying open-minded about what really happened; although we feel upset, we recognise the fact that we may have misunderstood something, or that the other person is going through their own emotions.

    Mindful communication isn’t about getting it right all the time. We’re all dealing with our own internal worlds, and sometimes we just can’t avoid misunderstandings and heated conversations. But we can become more mindful communicators at any time, just as soon as we notice that we’re stuck in a blaming mindset.

    Even if we notice half-way through an argument, we can make efforts to re-evaluate our stance and approach the situation with more mindfulness and compassion.

     

    MEDITATION

    Mindfulness of Breath

     

    The Mindfulness Project hosts a calendar of workshops, courses and retreats to teach and support mindfulness practice.

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  • How Animals Help Us Live in the Moment

    The company of animals certainly seems to have a healing effect in many of our lives. This is probably partly due to the fact that they don’t judge us in the same way fellow humans do.

     

    They may get annoyed with us if we stroke them the wrong way, but they’ll never judge us for our flaws. A cat or a dog will never reject us because we eat too much, have credit card debts, or don’t call our mothers as often as we should. It’s not unusual to see dogs sitting beside homeless people on the street.

    Our animals love us, even if we don’t love ourselves. In many cases, they embody mindfulness; they are non-judgementally present in the moment. When an animal is sitting with us, they aren’t busy thinking about yesterday or tomorrow. They are simply there. This is probably why they have such a special place in many of our lives.

     

    Being Mindful with Our Pets

     

    In our busy lives it can be all too easy to take our pets for granted. However, if we can make the time, our pets can provide us with great ways to practice mindfulness.

    Next time you’re with your pet, why not take a few moments to really notice everything about them. When you stroke them, pay close attention to how their fur or feathers feel beneath your hand. Maybe even imagine that it’s the first time you’ve ever felt them, and see what difference it makes to your experience of them. Notice their appearance, taking in every whisker, every feather or patch of coloured fur, every paw and claw. Watch how they’re breathing. Listen to their heart beat if you’re snuggled up with them.

    Perhaps most importantly of all, cultivate a sense of gratitude for having them in your life. Remember all the difficult or painful times that you’ve been through, and how your pet has been there with you through it all. Let that gratitude fill you from top to toe.

     

    Animals & Meditation

     

    One of the great things about animals is that they don’t care about our plans. They have a habit of interrupting those streams of thought that we feel are very important. Although this may at first seem like a negative thing, it can actually help us become unstuck from living in our mental chatter by bringing us back to reality. For this reason, animals can help us in our formal meditation practice.

    Have you ever been meditating, and then heard a dog barking in the distance, or had your cat try climbing on you for a cuddle? Far from being distractions from our meditation, they can enhance it. Meditation is not about escaping from the present moment, but about embracing it. While we’re taking our meditation very seriously, animals are just living their lives. And so that dog barking in the street or that cat determined to have your attention act as anchors to the flow of the present. They are reminders that we are not in control, and that the best way to cope with life is to let go of our pre-conceived ideas of how things should be and join in with the dance of how things really are.

    We can do this by noticing our reactions to them. If we feel annoyed about our meditation being interrupted, we can look at why that is. Perhaps it’s because we have an inaccurate idea of what meditation is about. Or perhaps we’re attached to an idea of how we’d like to be. In this way, animals can have a very humbling effect. They can remind us that our meditation practice doesn’t place us in an elevated state above the rest of life, but that in fact our meditating is just like the barking in the street, just one small part of life as a whole.

    Animals are indeed great mindfulness teachers, if we take the time to notice them. What mindfulness lessons have you learnt from your pets? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!

    MEDITATION:

    Animal Affection Meditation

     

    Find out more about mindfulness with a course or workshop.

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  • Do You Need A Digital Detox?

     

    Unless you’re a teenager, you’ll remember a time before our lives revolved around mobiles and computers. However, the ability to be technologically connected at all times is now central to many of our lives, to the point that we might feel some sense of withdrawal if we went a few days without checking our social media accounts.

     

    For some, this need for constant connectivity has become an addiction, and it makes many of us feel unable to genuinely switch off from work or social duties. Ironically, this virtual connection to the world can make us feel lonely and disconnected – the very feelings we are trying to use technology to help us avoid.

    It would be safe to say that these modern problems are impossible to resolve without mindfulness. Daily activities and habits become so second-nature that we often find ourselves going through the motions with little memory of when or why we started. Yet by bringing our attention to the present moment, we can notice our behaviours and therefore start to make more conscious choices.

     

    Self-distraction is at epidemic proportions—and it’s not the iPhone, it’s the thought of, ‘I wonder if anybody texted me.”

    -- JON KABAT-ZINN

     

    We reach for our phones or tablets reflexively now, almost in the same way we move our hand towards an itch so that we can scratch it. So it’s important to slow down and really tap into our motivations.

    Next time your phone pings with a text, email or notification try noticing your immediate response. It might be, “That could be work, I better read it!” or “Maybe someone has replied to my Tweet / Instagram post.”

    If it’s the evening, why can’t the work-related email wait until the morning? If someone has responded to a social media post, what does it mean to you that someone has responded? Or if your phone hasn’t pinged for a while, and you’re feeling a bit down about it, why is that?

    There may be other things we use technology for that we don’t need to. Things that we've become accustomed to. For example, when was the last time you asked a person for directions, rather than reaching for your phone to look at Google Maps? When you’re doing a sum, do you ever try and do it in your head before finding the calculator function?

    Using calculators and digital maps isn’t wrong. In fact, they’re very useful. But the problem comes when we use these useful things mindlessly. When we’re mindless, we cut ourselves off from other possibilities, other ways of doing things which might also be fun or rewarding.

    Becoming more aware of our motivations and emotions around technology may not result in us not using it for certain things, but it enables us to make our actions less reflexive and more deliberate.

     

    Creating Time Away From Technology

     

    Anyone who has ever tried to overcome an addiction or habit using willpower alone will know how challenging it can be. Using hard effort to change a behaviour is a largely ineffective method, and is why so many people get stuck in yo-yo dieting, cycles of sobriety and alcoholism. It's why so many smokers have had a hundred “last” cigarettes.

    Technology is comparable with insomnia in some ways. For example, in order to improve our chances of falling asleep we must first accept and acknowledge why we’re not falling asleep. Detoxing digitally works along the same lines. To start off with, all that is required is more awareness.

    If we start noticing how much we rely on digital connection and communication, then using willpower starts to become unnecessary. This is because when we are present in what we are doing we notice its affect. We can start by simple recognising;

     

    • When we use it - late at night, when we’re with family or friends, etc.

     

    • How it makes us feel - frustrated, isolated, over-stimulated.

     

    • How it affects other aspects of our lives - sleep, exercise, our connection with family, friends and nature.

     

    Let's take reading work emails before going to bed as an example – it makes you feel agitated and unable to unwind. Once you’re conscious of that feeling, and you know it’s linked with your action of checking emails at night, you naturally won’t want to be present in that agitation.

    Feeling the agitation of it, mindfully, is a little like noticing you’ve got a splinter. Once you know where the irritation is coming from, you’re unlikely to leave it there. Without having to mentally motivate yourself to reach for the tweezers, you just pick them up and remove the splinter.

    In the same way, once we’re aware, we naturally stop doing things that don’t make us feel good. Living mindfully gives us more choice, and will help us use technology when it suits our real needs, rather than as a mindless reflex.

     

    Find out what happened when The Mindfulness Project co-founder, Alexa Frey, took a 12-hour Digital Detox.

     

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  • A Mindful Approach To Insomnia

     

    If you suffer from insomnia, you’re not alone. An estimated 50% of us in the UK struggle to get a good night’s sleep.

     

    Poor sleep doesn’t just make for an uncomfortable night; the effects of insomnia carry on into the day too. For example, we may find that our ability to focus is impaired or we may feel grouchy.

    Insomnia can increase depression, affect our physical health and has even been shown to lead us to make unhealthier food choices. It’s a problem we just can’t afford to ignore.

    The good news is that one of the many benefits of practicing mindfulness is improved length and quality of sleep. However, unlike most other methods, such as medication or counting sheep, mindfulness requires us to kindly acknowledge and accept our sleeping difficulties, rather than try to cover over them, fix them or avoid them.

     

    Changing the Goal

     

    When we can’t sleep, the thing we want more than anything is the very thing that eludes us. Our only goal is to ‘just get some sleep’, and so begins the struggle. As the night goes on, our desperation increases; the more sleeplessness we experience, the more we crave to meet our goal.

    This conflict between how our present moment really is and how we want it to be can bring up a range of unpleasant emotions. We may get angry and find ourselves remembering past events that have annoyed us, or we may become overwhelmed by depression and find that our predicament brings us to tears.

    Mindfulness offers an alternative ‘goal’. Rather than trying to get to where we want to be, we re-focus our attention on where we actually are. We stop trying to fight the situation, and instead surrender to it with awareness and self-kindness.

    The word ‘surrender’ might have negative connotations for some people. But think of it this way: You’ve just walked into a pit of quicksand. Your natural instinct is to try and get out as quickly as possible, so you start struggling against the pull. Then you notice that the more you struggle, the faster you sink.

    So what do you do? Fight more, or surrender?

    It may seem obvious in this scenario. And yet so many of us spend each night fighting to escape our sleeplessness, when in fact we need to breathe, relax and let go of the struggle to fight it.

     

    Observing with Self-Compassion

     

    Perhaps you can’t sleep because you’re feeling stressed or worried about something. Perhaps you’re in pain. Whatever the reason for your insomnia, paying attention to it in a kind, accepting way will help your body and mind relax.

    Sounds familiar? Once we’re aware of the thoughts spinning through our head such as “If I don’t get some sleep, I won’t meet my deadline tomorrow” or “This always happens! I can never sleep!”, we can take steps to create some distance from them.

    In fact, you can practice doing this right now.

     

    1. Take a moment to really feel into one of these difficult thoughts, one that you often have when you can't sleep.

    2. Notice the emotions and feelings it produces in your body.

    3. Notice any tension or anxiety.

    4. Now mentally take a step back, and think of it as simply, “I am currently having the thought of….”.

    5. If it helps, imagine that the words of the thought are written on a poster, or a t-shirt, or on the side of a moving bus.

     

    Do you notice any difference?

     

    Self-compassion during this process is key. What can often happen when we can’t get to sleep is we get frustrated or angry with ourselves. Yet imagine doing this with a baby who can’t get to sleep.

    If we take our frustrated thoughts, and imagine vocalising them to the baby (imagine the words, tone and volume), think of what the reaction would be: more crying and still no sleep.

    And so, showing kindness to ourselves is vital if we want to become calm and relaxed, and thus more open and receptive for when sleep finally arrives.

     

    Join one of The Mindfulness Project's sleep or self-compassion workshops to support a better quality of sleep. 

     

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  • Understanding the 7 Types of Hunger

    Purchase this image at http://www.stocksy.com/40413

    How many times have you reached for the snacks at a party and munched through them without thinking, or ordered dessert even though you were already full, just because it looked so good?

     

    We eat for many reasons - because we’re stressed or feeling sad, because we feel like we deserve a treat or simply because it’s our scheduled mealtime.

    Eating mindfully is about expanding our awareness around food habits, so that we can make more conscious decisions about what we eat and when. According to Jan Chozen-Bays, MD, author of the book ‘Mindful Eating’, there are seven different types of hunger relating to different parts of our anatomy - the eyes, nose, mouth, stomach, cells, mind and heart.

    Once we are more aware of these different types of hunger and their reasons, we can respond consciously and more appropriately to satisfy them.

     

    1. Eye Hunger

     

    We are highly stimulated by sight, so a beautifully presented meal will be a lot more appealing to us than a bucket of slop - even if the ingredients are the same.

     

    TIP: To satisfy eye hunger, we can really feast our eyes on the food before we put it in our mouths. If we mindlessly throw our dinner in our mouths while watching TV, we’re wasting an opportunity to fully appreciate it.

     

    2. Nose Hunger

     

    Most of what we think of as taste is actually smell. Our sense of smell is much more subtle than that of taste, as anyone who’s had a head cold and a stuffed up nose will tell!

     

    TIP: To satisfy your nose hunger, practice sensitising the smell of your food, isolated from taste, by taking a pause before eating to really take in the aromas.

     

    3. Mouth Hunger

     

    What we think of as tasty, appealing food is often socially conditioned or influenced by our upbringing. This includes how sweet or salty we want our food, and the kinds of seasoning and spices we enjoy. What is considered a delicacy in one country can repel those of another culture. Anyone for deep-fried cockroaches?! Many people’s aversion to raw food is a prime example of this social conditioning of the mouth hunger.

     

    TIP: Generating greater awareness and a sense of open curiosity around the flavours and textures in our mouths as we eat can help satisfy our mouth hunger.

     

    4. Stomach Hunger   

     

    A rumbling tummy is one of the main ways we recognise hunger. And yet, it doesn’t necessarily mean our body needs food. The hunger cues from the stomach are self-taught and linked to the schedule we have give our imposed upon it. It takes practice to sense when a grumbling stomach means actual hunger.

    Often, we can confuse the sensation with other feelings that affect our stomach such as anxiety or nervousness. If we feed anxiety with junk food, then get more anxious about our diet, we can spark off a negative spiral of emotional eating.

     

    TIP: What to do? This takes practice. Listen to the stomach’s cues and start to familiarise yourself with them. Try delaying eating when you feel hungry and become aware of the sensations. Assess your hunger on a scale from 1-10 before a meal, then halfway through check-in again.

     

    5. Cellular Hunger

     

    When our cells need nutrients, we might feel irritable, tired or we may get a headache. Cellular hunger is one of the hardest types of hunger to sense, even though it is the original reason for eating. When we were children, we intuitively knew when we needed to eat, and what our body was craving. But over time, we lose this ability.

     

    TIP: Through mindfulness, it’s possible to become more aware of our body’s cravings for specific nutrients and to develop some of the inner wisdom we had when we were children. As Jan Chozen-Bays says, “To learn to listen to cellular hunger is the primary skill of mindful eating.”

     

    6. Mind Hunger

     

    Modern society has made us very anxious eaters. We're constantly influenced by the current fad diet, the latest nutritional guidelines or research paper. We are deafened by our inner voice telling us that one type of food is good and one type bad. This can make it very difficult to pick up on our body’s natural cues. The mind is very difficult to satisfy, as it is fickle and will find something new to focus on if one craving is satisfied.

     

    TIP: Mindfulness can help calm the mind and allow for a more sensitive awareness of the other cues our body is sending us.

     

    7. Heart Hunger

     

    So much of the time, what and when we eat is linked into our emotions. We might crave certain comfort food because we were given it as a child, or because we’ve associated it in our mind as a treat for when we’re feeling down.

    Often emotional eating boils down to a desire to be loved or looked after. We eat to fill a hole, but that hole often can’t be satisfied through eating. To satisfy our heart hunger, we need to find the intimacy or comfort our heart is craving.

     

    TIP: Try noticing the emotions that you’ve been feeling just before you have an urge to snack and you might be able to find other ways to satisfy them, such as calling a friend or having a cup of tea or a hot bath.

     

    So, next time you feel hungry, check-in with yourself and work out what kind of hunger you’re sensing. If eating is appropriate - go ahead and eat! Try to be mindful of what and how you eat, take in the aroma, feast with your eyes and savour every flavour. Only then will you be truly satisfied.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs regular workshops and courses on mindful eating.

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  • Developing Mindfulness Skills To Better Understand Race

     

    Interview with Dr Tina Basi 

    Tina Basi is a mindfulness teacher and guest lecturer on the subject of sociology at the London School of Economics, specialising in culture and technology. In developing the Mindfulness and Racial Awareness Course (MBCT), Tina has brought together two of her lifelong passions, sociology and mindfulness.

    Tina is currently researching the concept of community and the role it has played in traditional mindfulness practice, bringing to light the work that is yet to be done in contemporary western mindfulness practise. She recently contributed an essay on the subject of community for the Mindfulness Initiative’s forthcoming publication ‘Mindfulness: Developing Agency in Urgent Times'.

     

    What motivated you to develop the Mindfulness and Racial Awareness Course (MBCT)?

    This came out of my own experience in having challenging but necessary conversations with my own friends and communities. I found that as a woman of colour I often felt apologetic in putting my views forward or creating a conversation, and that my white friends were often very defensive and sometimes aggressive in the way that they were engaging with the conversation. I wanted to bring together my skills and experiences as a meditator and a teacher of mindfulness to help bring about this very necessary social change of creating racial awareness and ending racial injustice. 

     

    What do you hope participants will achieve from the course?

    I believe that being able to sit with unpleasant experiences when having discussions of race are going to be vital in progressing this period of social evolution for all of us. For all of society and for all the world.

    At the moment, there are lots of internal flashpoints when discussions of race come up and I think we understand from our studies of mindfulness that this is the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) kicking in. What we want to do is to be able to notice the way in which terms of race trigger the SNS. We want to notice it in the same way that we do with overthinking, signs of depression or any other triggers that take us into negative spaces. 

    It’s really about cultivating an awareness and a sense of spaciousness when we’re dealing with race. 

     

    How does the course differ from a standard MBSR or MBCT mindfulness course? 

    The course is in line with the curriculum of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) courses. It’s an eight-week course and follows the same themes and exercises each week. The only real difference is the parts of the sessions in which you can share what has come up for you and in the weekly homework assignments. There will be a really open invitation to share how those experiences have connected with racial awareness.

    We wouldn’t usually talk about something so thematically organised in the MBSR / MBCT, and here we’re going to actively invite opportunities to notice, experience and then articulate anything that might connect with race, racism or racial awareness. 

     

    Is the course suitable for everyone? 

    Absolutely, the course is suitable for anyone. My hope is that the topic of racial awareness might bring people who have previously thought mindfulness wasn’t for them into the conversation because this is a new way of engaging with race, racial awareness and conversations of race. Mindfulness is another tool to engage, just like debate, discussion, reading, learning, seeing, watching, and hearing. 

     

    What will I be doing on the course? 

    There will be a lot of practices - body scans, mindful movement, seated practice, awareness of sound, etc. A lot of mindfulness practice, and then opportunity to share what comes up with the group. 

     

    How many people will be in the group? 

    It will be quite a small group - up to 12 people. We have found that smaller groups mean that you have the chance to connect and share with almost everyone in the group and that really does help in the articulation process.

    When the group is too big it can be a bit intimidating to share what’s come up in your practice, but in a small group there’s a sense of intimacy and trust that is built right from the outset. This makes the learning process a little smoother and softer. 

    With an online course, again it would be a small number and there is a chance to really share and listen to one another when we feedback to the group. It makes it easier to learn from other people’s experiences as well. Quite often in mindfulness we find that others are having similar thoughts and feelings, and it can help to have someone else articulate what you have been through. 

     

    What do I need to bring to the course? 

    There’s nothing in particular you need to bring to the course. If you are doing the course online, it would be a good idea to tell those you are living with that you are doing the course and to find a room where you can close the door and not be disturbed for a couple of hours. This includes not just partners, family, friends, but pets as well.

    You want to be comfortable enough that you can focus on the practice itself, but not so comfortable that you will fall asleep. For the practices themselves, you might find it handy to have a blanket, cushion for your chair and a pair of warm socks -- there’s no need to have meditation cushions or to sit on the floor, unless you want to.

    Please note, the safety and welfare of all participants is a priority for us in running the course. 

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  • Meeting Imperfection with Kindness

    imperfection

     

    This post was inspired by Tara Brach’s talk ‘Relating Wisely with Imperfection’. You can listen to the full talk here.

     

    When we bring to mind our imperfections, how do we feel? Perhaps we feel a sense of guilt, embarrassment, shame, regret, depression or anxiety. We may feel a tightness; an urge to keep our imperfections hidden from others. We probably wouldn’t want everyone to know of our addictions and failings, all the times we acted stupidly or selfishly, the times when we’ve lost control, lost our courage or lost our minds.

    And yet, in the act of me writing these words and of you reading them and relating to them, we’ve both tapped into an important point to consider: these imperfections are not unique to us alone; they are universally shared by all human beings. We all know the fear of being seen as ‘not good enough’.

    If we take just one of our imperfections and look at it for a moment, what happens when we ask ourselves the question...

     

    “Imperfect, compared to what?”

     

    What standard are we holding in our minds that we feel we are falling short of? Is it a person, or an imagined ideal? Whatever the answer may be, it’s useful to bring awareness to the standards we are expecting ourselves to meet, and to question their validity.

    We may feel concerned about normalising our imperfections, however, because if we don’t feel bad about them how will we ever change? Some of our imperfections may cause hurt to others, and so how can we be okay with that?

    Yet, we may also know deep down that reacting to imperfection with judgement never really works. We will never run out of imperfections to judge, and so where does that approach leave us? A life of self-loathing and anxiety simply because we are human?

    True healing and change arises from acceptance and compassion. These qualities can only flower from mindful awareness. In order to cultivate this new approach towards imperfection (in ourselves and others), we can use mindfulness to help us remember to pause before we judge.

    Kindness rarely makes a person lazy. In fact, kindness and acceptance often gives us the strength to be able to make better choices, and to forgive ourselves more easily when we make ‘bad’ choices so that we can move beyond them.

     

    Join internationally renowned clinical psychologist, speaker and author of ‘Present Perfect’, Dr. Pavel Somov, for a special workshop, 'Overcoming Perfectionism', on Thursday 19th August 2021.

     

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  • Using Mindfulness When Things Are Beyond Our Control

    control

     

    As much as we like to plan and make our own choices, there will always be times in our lives when we have little or no control over what happens to us.

     

    Say we have an accident and have to stay in hospital for a while, or we’re involved in a legal procedure and are awaiting a decision that could change our lives, or even something less serious as waiting to hear about how we did in a job interview.

    That waiting, lack of influence or loss of autonomy can be incredibly stressful or depressing. Our minds may be full of solutions that we simply are unable to put into use, or we may be plagued with regret, rumination and thoughts of 'if-only'.

    However, we can use mindfulness and self-compassion to help us get through these difficult or uncomfortable situations.

     

    ‘Fight or Flight’ Reactions

     

    Ever noticed how stressful situations get your blood pumping, your heart beating faster, and your whole body buzzing with nervous tension? That’s a ‘fight or flight’ reaction (also known as ‘hyperarousal’ or ‘acute stress response’) – a physiological response to a perceived attack or threat.

    An initial response from the amygdala then starts a chemical chain reaction within the body, which is why our blood pressure goes up (among other things). The nature of the threat doesn’t really matter to the brain; the fight or flight response could be triggered by a vicious dog jumping out at us, or just the prospect of speaking in public.

    Basically anything that we perceive as being potentially harmful to our physical or psychological well-being will send us into that stress reaction.

    In general, this is no bad thing; it’s designed to help keep us safe from danger. However, if this reaction is triggered regularly, it can make us feel constantly anxious and on-edge.

    This can happen in situations that are beyond our control; we naturally feel threatened or at risk, however, there’s nothing we can do to avert that risk.

    For example, say we’re waiting for an important medical scan, the results of which could show whether or not we have cancer. We have to wait for the scan, and then we have to wait for the results, and throughout all this time there’s nothing we can do other than worry.

    Our anxious thoughts of not-knowing, of not being able to ‘do’ anything will keep triggering our fight or flight responses, trapping us in a perpetual state of stress. Aside from the health issues this can cause, it’s simply not pleasant! So what can we do when we find ourselves helpless against our circumstances?

     

    Noticing When We’re On High Alert

     

    The first step in helping ourselves cope is to notice when we’ve gone into a stress reaction – sometimes this can happen just from thinking about the situation we’re in. By bringing mindful awareness to our bodies, we can notice if our breathing has become rapid, or if we are holding tension in parts of our bodies.

    What usually happens when we bring mindfulness to these things is that we naturally let go a little, simply from noticing that the tension is there.

    Of course, this won’t always be the case though. It’s not always possible to relax ourselves. In these cases, it may just be enough to simply acknowledge how we’re feeling. If we’ve been going through a trying time, we may have got stuck in the belief that we must keep soldiering on, that we can’t allow ourselves to feel sad, angry, anxious or whatever else.

    And so we hold it all inside. Being honest and accepting of whatever is arising for us at this time will allow those feelings to come and go more freely, rather than getting held tight in the body.

     

    Mindfulness Shrinks Amygdala Volume

     

    Studies have found correlations between increased mindfulness and decreased amygdala volume. Remember that it’s the amygdala which kicks off the whole stress response process. So in other words, people who practice mindfulness benefit from a reduction in stress and anxiety.

    That’s not to say that we won’t still feel stressed during stressful situations! Yet we are more likely to be able to cope better when those things arise. Therefore, practicing mindfulness isn’t just a good idea for in-the-moment stress relief, but is useful as a sort of ‘preventive’ measure for future stresses too, in the same way that strengthening your back muscles may help prevent so many aches and pains in later life.

     

    Self-Compassion in a Crisis

     

    There’s never really a time when some self-compassion isn’t a good idea, however when we’re helpless and in a difficult situation that’s when we really do need it the most. When there’s nothing else we can possibly do, we can at least be kind to ourselves.

    In a beautiful talk (The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion), self-compassion expert, Kristin Neff describes a particularly challenging experience she had on board a plane with her four year old autistic son, Rowan. As can sometimes happen when autistic children are very young, Rowan had a terrible tantrum. He’s flailing and screaming on the plane, while all the passengers are staring disapprovingly. Kristin decides to take him to the bathroom to comfort him away from everyone else, but when they get there it’s occupied:

     

    “So imagine being in that little space, outside the bathroom door, with this tantruming child, and I knew that in that moment the only refuge I had was self-compassion. So I put my hands over my heart, and, I tried to comfort him but I was mainly focussing on myself: ‘This is so hard right now darling, I’m so sorry you’re going through this, but I’m here for you.’ And you know what? It got me through.”

     

    So although there are some things in life that we can’t control, we can at least choose to be kind and caring towards ourselves; to take a deep breath, acknowledge how hard things are right now and that we’re doing the best we can, and show ourselves some compassion.

     

    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs a full calendar of events, including the 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course. 

     

    << VIEW COURSE & WORKSHOP CALENDAR >>

  • Chronic Pain & Illness - How Mindfulness Might Help

    Written by Tina Stallard

    The Breathworks Mindfulness for Health course helps people living with long-term pain or illness to improve and even transform their quality of life. During the eight-week course you learn how to pay more attention to the present moment, rather than living in the past or the future. Mindfulness helps us to open to our experience with compassion and care – an approach that can have many benefits: improved physical and mental health, increased resilience, better concentration, more fulfilling relationships and greater enjoyment of life.

    Mindfulness has been shown to be effective for people with a wide range of conditions, including chronic back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis and cancer. Long-term illness and pain can often lead to sleeping difficulties, anxiety or depression. Clinical trials show mindfulness practice can be as effective as prescription painkillers and it also boosts the body’s natural soothing and healing systems. Neuroscience demonstrates that it can cause physical changes in the brain’s structure, allowing us to feel less anxious and more contented.  Its benefits are now widely accepted in modern psychology and health care.

    Over the eight weeks, the course teaches simple breathing techniques, gentle movement and guided meditation to help deal with chronic pain, stress, illness and other difficulties.  I’ve been teaching this course for many years, and I have been privileged to witness how powerful these simple practices can be. I see people arrive on the course, some who have exhausted all other avenues, often feeling desperate, frightened and powerless. I see how during the course, people begin to open to their pain and difficulty, rather than using energy to fight them, how the simple act of committing to regular practice gives a chance to develop new responses, how the gentle movements encourage us to relate to our bodies in a different way. And gradually, in subtle and deep ways, the bleak landscape of pain and suffering shifts, and rays of light start to shine through the cloud.  At the end, people tell me the experience was “life-changing” and “empowering”.  One person said it gave her a “more joyful quality of life, …regardless of how much pain I am in”.

    ---

    Tina will be leading a Breathworks Mindfulness for Health workshop starting Monday, 18. November. The course is based on a meditation programme developed by Vidyamala Burch, the founder of Breathworks, to help her cope with the severe pain of two spinal injuries. Her book, Mindfulness for Health, won an award from the British Medical Association and is recommended by doctors around the world.

    You can read more about the course and book here: https://www.londonmindful.com/8-week-breathworks-mindfulness-for-health-course.html

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