Monthly Archives: January 2015

  • A Mindful Movie Experience: Momo

    ‘Momo’ is a magical film about our fear of losing time. Although it was made in 1986, this subject is still just asrelevant as it was back then. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that Michael Ende (who wrote the novel which the film is based on, as well as ‘The Neverending Story’) couldn’t have guessed that twenty-nine years on his wisdom would be needed now more than ever before. As a society we are obsessed with ‘saving time’. Think of the countless apps and technologies which have been designed to help us manage time. We count the minutes that we work, exercise – even meditate! We can instantly communicate with people who live on the other side of the world. We can pop food in a microwave and eat it five minutes later. And yet, who feels that they have more time? If anything, we feel we have less than we ever did. If you do too, then Momo is a must-see film.

    Momo starts off as any typical children’s film would – innocent and sweetly fanciful. We meet the heroine, Momo, when she is discovered hiding away in a hole by the side of the road, on the outskirts of an unnamed Italian city, by a kindly road sweeper. She is quickly accepted into the lively community there, and they build her a home. While the people around her get caught up in anger, doubt and arguments – like we all do – she brings a sense of calm wherever she goes. She is the embodiment of mindfulness: compassionate, non-judgemental and perfectly present. Her curious nature brings joy to everyone, and it seems that everything is wonderful… until the Men in Grey arrive.

    momoThis is where the sweet children’s film takes an all-too-grown-up turn. We instantly recognise these sinister Grey Gentlemen from the ‘Timesavings Bank’, who start advising the townspeople on how they could spend their time more efficiently – for how many of us have our own internal Grey Gentlemen? They analyse the time the people spend on sitting with friends or gazing out of the window reflecting on their day, and tell them how they are wasting valuable seconds here, there and everywhere. They are very convincing, and it’s not long before the people start acting differently; they become rushed, agitated, unfriendly. They no longer do things for the enjoyment of it, but for how much money they can make and how much time they think they can save. And this means they no longer have time for the free-spirited Momo. Even the kindly road sweeper says he has to work a late shift, “just this once”…. However, it doesn’t end there. I won’t spoil the film for you, but let’s just say I didn’t call Momo the heroine of the story for no reason!

    Perhaps the most prominent lesson of the film is to take time to appreciate all the little moments of life. Unlike the Grey Gentlemen, who frantically try to ‘save’ time by rushing, Momo notices, and therefore appreciates, everything around her. Many of us have certainly fallen into the trap of thinking that we never have enough time. And yet, practicing mindfulness helps us to see that this simply isn’t true.

    The ‘Three Step Breathing Space’ approach can help us re-centre when we get caught in a mental rush. This works firstly by becoming aware of our experience in the moment; what are our current thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations? Next, we redirect and focus our attention on the physical sensations of breathing. This way we can use the breath as an anchor, bringing us back to the present moment. We’ll probably find that our mind wants to wander, but we can gently keep bringing our focus back to the breath. Lastly, we expand our attention to our whole body, feeling the sense of our attention encompassing our whole being. This helps us acknowledge and accept everything that we are experiencing in the moment. By doing this practice regularly, we can notice more and more quickly when our attention is on rushing, rather than appreciating what’s around us. Like Momo, we can start to take more joy in the birds singing in the trees, the sun and the clouds in the sky, or the breeze on our faces. Far from being a ‘waste’ of time, noticing these seemingly small moment are what makes life worthwhile.

    Johannes Schaaf does a wonderful job directing this film, and Radost Bokel plays the part of Momo totally convincingly. The Grey Gentlemen are genuinely creepy, not just because we may recognise their plan to account for every second of every day within our own lives – they’re also pretty creepy to look at! There are also truly heart-touching and insightful moments where the film expresses mindfulness teachings we may already be familiar with, but have probably never seen portrayed in such a creative way. Momo is a special film, and is bound to leave you with a refreshed sense of how time should really be spent.

    We’ll be screening Momo at our Movie Night on Friday 20th March, 19:45 – 22:00. Click here to book your place.

  • Mindfulness in the Face of Terrorism

    Optimized-Je Suis Charlie

    The news is filled with tragedy every day. Yet there was something different about what happened in Paris last week. It wasn’t that it was any worse than other atrocities or acts of terrorism; it was that it was so close to home. And, although it may feel like an uncomfortable truth, gunmen storming an office on an ordinary Wednesday morning is more personally frightening to us than the same happening to a school thousands of miles away. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about other parts of the world, it just means that our brains are wired to seek out threats, and danger so nearby will naturally affect us more deeply. The question is, how do we remain mindful in the face of such tragedy, and how do we keep our hearts open amid such strong emotions?

    Fear, Anger and Hate

    It may seem flippant to quote Yoda from Star Wars when writing about such a serious matter, however there is undeniable truth in what the scriptwriter wrote for the character: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

    Although we live in an unpredictable world, we’re pretty good at forgetting that we’re not in control. Most of our days pass by without incident, and so when we hear on the news that something terrible has happened we are shocked back into the reality that life can be precarious and unsafe.

    Many of us have probably wondered, “Are we next?” This is a scary prospect. For Londoners it’s also bound to bring up painful memories of the 07/07 bombings. These fears are then fuelled by sensationalist media coverage. If we’re not mindful, we can end up feeling paralysed by fear and despair.

    Our initial reaction to the attack on Charlie Hebdo may have been shock or sadness, yet if we’re honest with ourselves how many of us then became angry? With that anger comes all kinds of aggressive and defensive thoughts and feelings. This is normal fight-or-flight stuff. However, if left unchecked, these thoughts and feelings could rapidly turn into hatred.

    This is how racism and prejudice are born; when we allow normal emotional reactions about individuals to turn into beliefs about entire groups of people. This is why mindfulness is so crucial. If we mindlessly descend into hatred, this doesn’t just cause suffering within us; it also fuels division outside of us too. Approaching our feelings with acceptance, compassion and honesty helps us avoid getting lost in this destructive spiral.

    Acceptance Doesn’t Have To Be Passive

    While acceptance of feelings and circumstances is important, this acceptance doesn't mean, as Tara Brach says, “to be a doormat”. It doesn't mean that we have to simply accept that bad things happen in the world and that we have no influence; that we need to accept the anger, fear or sadness that this brings up, add a little (self-)compassion into the mix, and that's it.

    If we feel passionate about injustice, acceptance is only the first step. The next step is to take action. Why? Because we can be accepting and still go to a demonstration such as the one in Paris and thus let the world know that we furiously condemn the killings of those journalists and want to stand united with others for peace. Mindfulness is not about simply sitting on a cushion, it can also give us the courage to get up from that cushion and engage with this world.

    Having Open Hearts, Even When it Hurts

    Even though it’s hard, we need to give ourselves permission to have an aching heart. The pain triggered by such tragedy can be overwhelming. We may lose faith in the goodness of humanity, or despair at the fact that we don’t live in a kinder world. It’s easy at times like this to become suspicious of each other, to want to disconnect. But we don’t like feeling these things, and so our instinct is to fight it. This just creates more suffering.

    The practice of mindfulness helps us to hold this range of emotions with gentleness. We realise we don’t have to push these thoughts away, because our compassionate heart is able to hold them lightly without turning them into truths about the world.

    Our fear and anger can be so strong as to make us forget the good things about people. Yet mindfulness helps us stay committed to the truth. The truth is that terrible things do happen, but so do good things. The existence of terrorism does not negate the fact that people also do wonderful things for each other every day.

    Ultimately, accepting the painful feelings which arise, and acknowledging that this pain is an experience we share with the whole of humanity can help stop divisive beliefs from taking hold. And making a conscious effort to remember the goodness in people will help us keep our hearts open.