Monthly Archives: February 2015

  • 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

    Stocksy_txp09765ccdOx5000_Small_189814In 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 and 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

  • How Mindfulness Can Help Prevent and Ease Burnout

    Most kind of work brings with it some level of stress, whether we’re in a position that entails a lot of responsibility or whether we have deadlines and standards to meet. We may find ourselves doing more than one person’s job without the extra pay. Or we may simply just not enjoy our work and find that we are feeling stressed and low because we feel unfulfilled.

    Work-related stress may leave us feeling exhausted, disillusioned and all out of compassion or care for our fellow colleagues or clients. Burnout doesn’t just affect us as individuals, but also the people we work with and provide services for. We may find we’re more impatient with customers, or may get overly defensive when a co-worker offers some constructive criticism.

    Fortunately, mindfulness helps us spot the signs of burnout before they become severe, and can also improve existing symptoms. For example, studies have shown that after participating in an 8-week mindfulness course, healthcare professionals saw improved scores on the Maslach Burnout Inventory – a test which measures factors such as emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.

    Recognising the Signs

    For some, burnout can creep up unnoticed. How many of us let our job take precedence over our individual well-being? Of course selflessness is admirable in certain circumstances however, when this attitude goes unchecked, we may start to see serious consequences in regards to our mental and physical health. Whilst we may think we’re doing a good job by dedicating ourselves so fully to the role, if our actions lead to burnout we’ll find ourselves no longer able to care about the role at all.

    Although it may sound like a small thing, recognising and acknowledging how we are feeling is of vital importance. We can’t seek support without first noticing that we need to, and it can mean the difference between taking a few days off work to rest and being forced to take a long absence because of severe burnout.

    Through practicing mindfulness we become more aware of subtle changes in our mood and physical health, and can start to notice more quickly when we are struggling. Rather than waiting for a full meltdown before we take action, we can read the signals of our minds and bodies and start to take better care of ourselves.

    Using Creativity to Re-Focus

    It’s hard to pay attention when we’re exhausted or disillusioned. Whether it’s paperwork, or interacting with a client or colleague, tiredness and disinterest can lead to us making mistakes. When those mistakes are to do with someone’s health, finances or important services the consequences could be serious.

    However, staying focused becomes easier when we notice new and different things about a person or situation. Simply changing some of our fixed routines can help us see things in a new light, therefore keeping us engaged. For example, if you’re struggling to feel compassion towards a difficult client, practice mindfulness when you’re talking with them. Notice your beliefs about the person, and imagine that they may not be completely true. Try to see that person with fresh vision, as if you were meeting them for the first time. Or if the problem is repetitive paperwork, make small changes to help you focus. Try sitting in a different place. If you can’t do that, change the layout of your desk. Use a new pen and notice how it feels in your hand, notice how the ink looks on the paper. Although these may at first sound like pointless exercises, studies have shown that making simple changes to our environment or to our relationship with an object or action can greatly improve attention and focus. When we’re engaged with an activity, responding in a mindful way, we’re less likely to make mistakes or feel stressed.

    Self-Compassion and Self-Care

    How often do we show the same level of compassion to ourselves as we do for our loved ones and friends? Preventing or healing from burnout is impossible without taking care of ourselves and practicing some self-kindness.

    Far from being a fluffy or airy-fairy concept, self-compassion allows us to perform better in our jobs in a practical way, by preventing harmful burnout. Self-criticism and compassionately noticing where we can improve are not the same thing. Many of us confuse being hard on ourselves with being driven, yet without kindness we are likely to drive ourselves into a breakdown rather than towards long-term happiness and success.

    Using mindfulness to become aware of the ways in which we give ourselves a hard time, and to step out of habitual unhelpful ways of responding to our own emotional needs, helps us overcome or avoid symptoms of burnout and will also make us better at our jobs.