Monthly Archives: July 2015

  • Mindfully Coping with Desire

    Bee

    Desire or wanting comes as naturally to us as breathing. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t want to survive, if we didn’t crave things like food, community and rest. Our desires and wants drive much, or maybe even all, of our existence in one way or another. And yet so much of our suffering is put down to desire – a wanting of something we currently don’t have.

    So if we want to be free of suffering, does that mean we must free ourselves from wanting? Or is there another way, one in which we can still enjoy the pull of our hearts (and the adventures and experiences that brings), without being pulled away from the moment?

    Why Desire Causes Suffering

    If we’re not mindful, we may find that our desires end up constantly pulling us this way and that. A good example of how this can happen is when we’re shopping. We might have started out by looking for one thing that we wanted or needed, but when faced with so many other products we soon find ourselves wanting stuff that we might never have even heard of before! Or perhaps we’re watching a movie, see someone eating a burger and suddenly we’re overwhelmed with a craving to eat the same.

    There are other forms of desire too. We can desire to be right, and to have a solid sense of who we are. These desires can make us inflexible and cut us off from being present. For example, when we’re arguing with someone, our internal dialogue is likely to be full of justifications, stories about how we’re right and the other person is wrong. Our desire to be right often gets in the way of hearing the other person, as well as truly listening to ourselves, so that we remain in conflict much longer than we might really want to.

    Instead of desire resulting in us following our hearts true calling, we find ourselves trapped in a perpetual state of never being quite satisfied enough, always wanting something more or different than what is, forgetting perhaps the simple things we set out wanting to achieve. Desire causes suffering not because of its existence, but because it so often disconnects us from ourselves. When our sense of wanting takes us away from the present moment, that’s when it becomes painful.

    Exploring Desire

    Through practicing mindfulness we can learn how to dance gently with our desires, learning to recognise when they become restrictive (cutting us off from our presence of being) and also enabling us to enjoy them when they are enriching.

    One way that we can become more mindful of desire is to consciously look into it, so that we can notice how it arises, expresses itself and feels in our bodies. We can take a few moments to close our eyes and really focus on something we are feeling a particularly strong desire for. How does that desire feel in our bodies? What emotions does it bring up for us? Then we can go even deeper, fully allowing our bodies to express that sense of wanting. If we curl our hand into a fist, what does that fist do as we go deeper and deeper into our desire? Does it soften, or does it tighten? What happens to our posture – do we relax, or do we sit forward and tense up in our seat? In the midst of our focused desire, do we feel comfortable, or not? As we look at it closely, is this even what we truly desire, or is it a substitute for something else, some feeling or way of being that is currently lacking in our lives?

    By spending some time exploring in this way, we’ll be able to see whether we are binding ourselves to the object of our desire and losing touch with the present. We’ll be able to tell whether our desire brings us joy or whether it is actually causing us to suffer. If we do discover suffering, we can then practice letting go, even if it’s only slightly, coming back to this moment now and trying to tap into what it is that our hearts really want. We may discover that by simply becoming more grounded in our presence, we naturally meet some of the needs we are seeking to fulfil from outside of ourselves, whether it be through food, entertainment, a person, a career or a material thing.

    Forgiving Our Wanting

    Another trap that is easy to slip into is wanting to be free of desire. Because desire can make us tense and grasping, that may sometimes mean we don’t like how we become when we want something. However, by resisting desire, we are setting ourselves against something which is a natural part of being alive. Therefore it’s important to cultivate an accepting attitude towards this tendency that we all experience. If we can practice recognising and allowing desire to be, with a gentle compassion, we will not only be free of the more destructive sides of desire, but we can also enjoy a quieter mind – one that is not so full of struggle against what is and how we are in a given moment.

    Would you like to learn more about how mindfulness can enrich our lives? Check out our calendar for upcoming workshops and courses!

  • My Mindfulness Journey

    daisy

    I’ve been a self-taught mindfulness enthusiast for some years now. I’ve read articles, listened to talks, and sporadically practiced meditation, and found all of this to be useful in dealing with the depression and anxiety I’ve experienced since my pre-teens. So when I decided to do an 8-Week Mindfulness Course, I just thought it would be a good way to solidify my existing knowledge, and maybe help me start practicing mindfulness meditation more regularly. I didn’t realise then how much deeper the course would take me, or how much of an impact the following 8 weeks would make.

    My Shaky Start

    I had a lot of anxiety before and during the first session. As someone who feels anxious about talking to new people, I found it quite challenging. But I soon discovered that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, which was comforting.

    I also found the first body scan meditation emotionally difficult – I found unexpected physical and emotional pain arising. But again, after listening to other peoples experiences afterwards, I learnt that I was not alone in this. The gentle guidance and support from the teacher, Dr. Cinzia Pezzolesi helped me see that my difficulties were not a sign of failure or of ‘not doing it right’, just that I was getting in touch with myself.

    The challenges of the first session made me realise that I was not being as present with myself as I had thought, and although it was difficult, I was excited about continuing the course.

    Mindfulness Has Become a Lifestyle

    Having always practised mindfulness alone in the past, it was really useful to have structured guidance from the teacher, and to be given homework assignments to do each week. Even though I may not have always stuck to the homework, having it to come back to as a reference point was invaluable and encouraged me to stick with it, whereas in the past when I’ve practised alone it was all too easy to let long periods of time go by in between meditating or practicing being aware.

    The course has helped me incorporate mindfulness into my daily life, to the point where I would now notice its absence; in the same way that you would notice a difference if you stopped exercising after exercising regularly for a couple of months.

    New habits take time to develop, and I found that the 8-week course gave me the perfect space to develop those new habits in a supportive environment. The process was gentle; there was no pressure to do any of the practices and you could adapt the practices if you needed to in a way to suit you. This relaxed and down-to-earth approach therefore created very little mental resistance in me that sometimes happens when we’re told what to do or how to do it. The focus was on intention and that in each moment we have a fresh opportunity to try again. This really suited me, and made me feel safe and supported.

    Surprising Benefits

    Before the course started, I thought that the only benefit I would get would be a slightly calmer mind. However, the actual benefits are far greater than that, and have taken me by surprise.

    The main difference I have noticed is that I now have the mental strength to make healthier choices. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety since childhood, I’ve been told so many times that regular exercise and eating healthily will help, yet depression can make those things seem impossible. Some days it takes all my willpower just to get out of bed and face the day, so I haven’t felt able to develop a regular exercise routine or take the time to prepare healthy meals, even though I’ve tried many, many times throughout the years.

    Having completed the 8-week mindfulness course, I find that my choices are changing in a natural way. I can’t say that it’s been effortless, yet feeling more present in my body and having greater mental clarity enables me to give myself that little push to make choices that nourish my body, rather than deplete it. For example, I’ve always been the kind of person who reaches for comfort food, cigarettes or alcohol to make me feel better in times of stress or upset. However, the mindfulness course has given me the skills to be able to soothe myself without always turning to those unhealthy things, which often didn’t really make me feel better anyway. That’s not to say that I don’t still smoke, drink or eat unhealthy food, but I feel more in control now, and those things have become something to indulge in from time to time, rather than an automatic, mindless coping mechanism. In fact, I’ve never felt so healthy in my life! I now feel like I can give my body the healthy things it needs, like giving a gift to myself.

    I’ve also noticed that I’ve become kinder to myself in other ways. For example, I don’t beat myself up so much for feeling depressed, anxious, angry or upset. I now have a more compassionate space for those feelings within myself.

    Going within and getting to know ourselves better is never an easy journey; it can bring up challenging or uncomfortable feelings sometimes. But I’ve also discovered that it can be very freeing, and has made me feel hopeful about the future, something I’ve rarely ever felt. Being guided through this process sure beats trying to do it alone!

  • The Joy of Mindful Learning

    Drawing

    Can you remember how you learnt to write your name or how to walk? Probably not! When we’re children, we learn many skills with ease. However as adults, learning new things becomes a little trickier, partly because our brains are not developing at the same lightning speed as they used to, but also because we’ve got more fears and thoughts in the way.

    To begin learning a new skill, and to stick with the learning process until we become confident and proficient, requires a certain set of qualities, such as patience, presence, determination and self-compassion. These are all qualities which flourish when we practice mindfulness!

    Being a Patient Student

    We tend to become inspired to learn a new skill – such as creative writing, knitting or a new language – when we see the products of people who have already learnt those skills. For example, we might read an amazing book and think to ourselves, ‘Wow, I’d love to be able to write like that!’ So from the very start, our aims are high.

    Being ambitious is not a problem in itself; however it can sometimes make us impatient. We want to be a good writer/fluent in Spanish/an expert in crochet right now. But when we’re solely focussed on outcomes, we miss the opportunity to find joy in the learning.

    Learning takes time, and requires many small steps. We’re bound to make mistakes and produce things that we’re not happy with. Our ‘failures’ may make us feel that we are no good at what we’re doing. But if we can practice mindful learning, we can start to enjoy the process itself, and can maybe even let go of needing our results to be of a certain quality in order for us to feel happy. We can do this by becoming more centred in the present moment.

    Learning Starts Here

    By pausing and taking a few conscious breaths, we discover that this moment right here is where all future things begin. The past is gone, and the future hasn’t happened yet – all we have is this moment. So what small steps can we take right now that will help us progress towards our goals?

    If we take the creative writing example, what we could do right now might be to read an article on how to begin writing, we could sign up for a workshop or a course, or we could simply start writing and explore what comes to us. Whatever it is that we do, we can try and be present in doing this first simple step. We can do our best to be content with where we are at this moment in our learning journey, and trust that our combination of intention and action will eventually take us to where we want go. If we find our minds wandering onto ideas or fantasies about how we want the future to be, we can simply pause again, take a few more breaths, and settle back into where we are right now.

    Staying Determined

    Speak to any expert in any field and they will (if they’re honest!) tell you that they faced many hurdles on their journey to where they are now. For every bestselling novel, there will be thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of words of text which were thrown away out of frustration or rejected by publishers. For every invention there will be many unusable prototypes which came before. For every beautiful cardigan, there will be many tangles of wool! Success is built on past failures. So how can mindfulness help us deal with these set-backs, and help keep us on track with our learning?

    First of all, practicing mindfulness can help us take ourselves out of the equation a little. When we are mindful, we can more easily reframe our experiences, so that rather than constantly being in emotional reaction to life, we can detach a little and see things more clearly. Rather than seeing our failures as being indicative of our personal worth, we can create some space to see that our failures are simply steps towards becoming good at what we’re doing.

    Of course we will inevitably feel disheartened, frustrated, or doubtful of ourselves at times. These are experiences that we share with the whole human race. Yet, we can always return to this moment and start again.

    A Nurturing Attitude

    Anyone who can remember being criticised by a parent, teacher or peers will know how important encouragement is, and how painful it can be when we don’t receive it. Overly critical people can really put a dent in our self-confidence, and can affect our belief in ourselves for many years. Generally we tend to be encouraging to others in their creative or academic pursuits, yet how often do we afford ourselves the same amount of support?

    Self-compassion is really important when we’re learning a new skill, not only so that we can be kind to ourselves when we make mistakes, but also so that we can see when we have achieved something. Self-compassion is all about nurturing and caring for ourselves. By developing a nurturing mindset, we’re more likely to progress, and enjoy the process of learning.

    Next time you achieve something, why not congratulate yourself as you would a good friend who had achieved the same thing? Maybe you could even treat yourself in some way, to acknowledge that what you’ve done has value.

    Have you ever wanted to learn creative writing? Our Mindful Creativity: Writing workshop is the perfect starting point, where you’ll be guided through getting in touch with your present experience and expressing that through words. Even if you’re an experienced writer, this workshop can help you move through creative blocks caused by over-thinking and self-criticism. Book your place here.

  • How Art Galleries Can Help Us Practice

    61H

    Studies in art galleries have found that people generally don’t spend much time looking at artwork. The average viewing times vary from study to study, ranging from a glance of less than two seconds to up to 32.5 seconds, yet even the upper end of that scale doesn’t seem that long when we consider the amount of time and effort it takes to visit an art gallery in the first place. The Louvre in Paris estimates that people spend just 15 seconds admiring the Mona Lisa. This could be because the crowds of people make it hard to stop and look for longer, yet sometimes it might possibly be because we think we know what the Mona Lisa looks like and so we don’t take the time to admire her with fresh eyes.

    Practicing mindfulness enables us to really appreciate our senses. Whether it’s listening to music, tasting or smelling food, enjoying how things feel on our skin or how colours and shapes look, we can use mindfulness to savour these moments; moments that, without mindfulness, are so easy to miss or take for granted. With mindfulness, these sensory experiences can be enjoyed as if they are new to us.

    So when we visit somewhere like an art gallery, we can use our knowledge of mindfulness to heighten our sensory experience of the place. By remembering to slow down and really see what we are looking at, our visits can become enriching rather than routine.

    The Gift of Sight

    If we have the ability to see art then we have something precious to feel grateful for: our sight. It’s easy to take for granted something that has always been with us, and that we use every day without having to think about it. However, if we can take a pause from running on auto-pilot we have the opportunity to let gratitude into our hearts for this amazing ability.

    We may realise that we have spent most of our lives never really seeing the colours around us. It might not be until we focus our attention on what our eyes are taking in that we start to notice subtle differences in tone or hue, the varying textures of paint on canvas, or the captured marks of brush strokes. Even statues that we walk past on the street every day could offer us something new and interesting, if we offer them our full attention. Feeling gratitude for our sight can help prevent us from skimming over life’s rich details.

    Curiosity Creates Fresh Vision

    In a fascinating talk, Dr. Ellen Langer demonstrates how what we see in an image is determined by what we already know about that image. She starts off by showing what looks like an abstract black and white image and asks the audience what they see. Some members of the audience say they can see a cow, and Langer responds by pointing out that the only reason they can see a cow is because they’ve already seen the image before and have had the cow pointed out to them. Sure enough, once the cow image is highlighted, it’s impossible to not see it any more, showing us just how much our senses are influenced by pre-existing knowledge or ideas.

    Langer then goes on to describe the attributes of mindlessness:

    “Mindlessness: an inactive state of mind characterised by reliance on distinctions, categories drawn in the past:

    1) The past over-determines the present.
    2) Trapped in a single perspective.
    3) Insensitive to context.
    4) Rule and routine governed.
    5) Typically in error, but rarely in doubt.”

    Dr. Langer’s approach is light-hearted; she uses examples of her own mindlessness to demonstrate her points, and makes it clear that just because we’re often mindless doesn’t mean that we’re stupid. Mindlessness is not something we ought to feel embarrassed or guilty about; it’s just human.

    However, once we become aware that we are detached from the moment, and that our sensory experiences are being heavily influenced by the past or by a fixed perspective, we can remember to breathe, and re-focus on what’s right in front us.

    In this context, a little doubt can come in handy! What would things look like to us if we weren’t so sure of what we knew or thought about them? This sense of curiosity acts as an antidote to our habitual ways of thinking and seeing. We can actively look for novelty, whereas before we might assume familiarity.

    Never Underestimate the Power of a Painting

    Art has the power to transform our lives, to give us new ideas, to prompt us to think differently about ourselves or the world. The way in which art does this is often subtle, requiring mindfulness on our part so that we may ‘hear’ its lessons or insights. This process of inspiration is entirely personal: the artworks themselves don’t contain any wisdom; these qualities exist in our relationship with them. We must be open, to allow space for it, in order for it to arise for us. That’s not to say that we go searching for deep meaning in every work of art we look at, just that if we gently and consciously cultivate a more open, mindful mind, what our eyes are seeing has more chance to inspire us.

  • Getting the Most Out of the Summer

    Flower Box

    Summer is here! And so it’s time for picnics, walks on the beach, BBQ’s with family and friends, and chilled out summer evenings. For those of us in England, it can also mean super changeable weather!  But whether we’re having a typically unpredictable English summer, or the sun and sand of exotic holiday destinations, there’s many things around us at this time of year that we can take time to appreciate and feel grateful for. We can use the signs of summer as reminders to practice being mindful.

    The Gift of Sunshine

    There’s something about a clear blue sky and warm summer sunshine that makes life seem that little bit easier. Of course, just because the clouds have gone doesn’t mean our worries have too. Yet by taking a moment to appreciate the nicer weather we can at least soften our troubles for a while. Actively noticing and feeling grateful for the positive things in life, like the sunshine, can help make us healthier and more resilient. You can read more about this in our blog post, 8 Wellbeing Benefits Of Practicing Gratitude.

    So next time we notice that the sun is shining, we can take a few deep breathes and spend a moment or two to focus on our experience. We can let our eyes drink in the beautiful blue of the sky, and notice the warmth of the sun on our skin or in our hair. Try sending a smile or a heart-felt ‘thank you’ up to the sky, and notice how it might change your day.

    Switching Off

    Maybe we’re on the beach or lounging in the garden, and we want to take pictures of our cocktails or our ‘hot dog legs’ to put on social media. This isn’t a bad thing, but maybe we don’t always need to show the world that we’re having a nice time; maybe sometimes we can appreciate the lovely day and keep the experience as a private gift to ourselves, or something we only share with those who are there with us.

    Mindfulness is all about getting in touch with the moment to moment nature of life. By pausing and settling in to the moment, we may find that it’s simply enough to enjoy what we’re doing without immediately reaching for our phone to share it. Experiment with appreciating some moments just for yourself, and see how it changes your experience.

    Connecting with Nature

    Summer offers a great opportunity to spend some time in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of town or city life. Although a lot can be said for winter walks, sometimes it’s easier and more pleasant to be outdoors when it’s warm and dry! If we’re not mindful, the summer can pass us by before we know it, so if we have busy schedules we may need to consciously set aside some time to appreciate it while it’s here.

    No matter where we choose to go, there will be plenty of things around us to help us become more mindful. If we go to the beach, we can take time to notice how the warm sand feels between our toes, or how the gentle sound of waves can soothe our worries away. If we’re in the countryside, we can notice how the sun shines through the leaves on the trees, creating brilliant greens and dappled shade on the ground. Or we can watch how the bees and butterflies flit from flower to flower.

    The great thing about nature is that it’s never in a rush. It takes its time, and yet everything gets done: the flowers bloom, the grass grows and the bees collect their pollen. This provides us with a gentle reminder that we too are part of nature, and that we are all growing and blooming in our own time.

    Ice Creams, Berries and BBQ’s!

    When it comes to food and drink, there are lots of things we can enjoy in the summer that just don’t taste the same at any other time of the year. If we practice mindful eating and drinking, we can really enjoy and savour these things.

    We can notice how our ice cream tastes, and how it melts in the heat. As we try to lick the edges of our ice creams before they melt, we may be reminded of carefree childhood summers, or simply just enjoy getting a little messy! If we’re eating strawberries, we can slow right down and really experience eating them; noticing how they look, smell and how they taste as we bite into them. Maybe they’re still warm from the sun, and so we can feel grateful for being able to eat fresh locally grown fruit. And if we’re at a BBQ with friends or family, we can take the time to notice the smell of the coals and smoke, or even how it’s kind of satisfying to watch how the food slowly cooks on the grill.

    There are so many unique sights, sounds, textures and tastes to be enjoyed in the summer, and noticing them with more attention, and intention, can make our moments so rich and memorable!

    Changing from one season to another can be difficult. The following meditation helps you let go and be grateful for the season that lies behind you, and lets you welcome and look forward to the new one - so that you can gracefully flow through life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3nFcLtGWuU&t=13s

    Would you like to learn more about how mindfulness can enrich our lives? Check out our calendar for upcoming workshops and courses!