Nature

  • 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.

     

    Find out more about mindfulness on a mindfulness course or workshop.

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    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!

    Find out more about mindfulness on a mindfulness course or workshop.

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    • TMP Admin

      We're glad you enjoyed - thanks for your comment :-)

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    • Marita Managadze
      Marita Managadze 5 September, 2016 at 6:28 am

      I starting reading a sentence of this article, and then got more caught up in it, and read the whole thing. Wow, you are soooo right! Great article! Going to show anyone I have the chance to see today :) But does that mean I'm too socially charged and not mindful!? I loved the article. Thanks!

      Reply
  • Earth Day

    Take a moment to look around you. The furniture you are resting on, the paper on your desk, the tea in your cup, the food on your plate -- all of this and most everything that sustains us, is thanks to nature and its resources.

     

    The earth is our home, but these days the majority of us live deeply disconnected from it, forgetful of the profound continuity between nature and our self.

    Today, on Earth Day, it is nice to connect with a sense of gratitude for the gifts of nature that surround and sustain us, which day-to-day we take for granted -- water to drink, sunlight to brighten and warm our days, trees to clean the air, earth rich in nutrients to grow our food. When we look with awareness, we see that we are a part of nature and not apart from it.

    Today is also a time to remember that our earth is as risk and we are edging towards an environmental disaster of epic proportions. The time is also now for us each to consider how we can play our part individually in caring for its future.

    As we do, it becomes clear that something deeper must change within us all -- at the level of our mind and our consciousness. In the words of Albert Einstein:

     

    “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

     

    Without an urgent shift in the state of our awareness, the repercussions of this crisis will begin to play out in all areas of life.

    At this critical point, mindfulness has an important role to play. The simple act of cultivating awareness is one of the first steps we can take to help us to begin to rebuild the relationship with have with the earth.

    When we become awake to the interconnection of life on earth, and aware of our dependence on it as a source of physical and psychic nourishment, we naturally deepen our respect and intention to care for it.

    These small shifts in attention and intention allow us to begin to make choices that are better for the planet and have a common humanity at their heart -- and although they may not feel much on an individual level, when they gain pace collectively, we may begin to see seismic shifts taking place.

    To honour both the hope and despair these reflections can evoke, here is one of our favourite Wendell Berry poems:

     

    The Peace of Wild Things

     

    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs a range of courses, workshops and retreats to help us to cultivate awareness.

     

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    • TMP Admin

      We're glad you enjoyed - thanks for your comment :-)

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    • Marita Managadze
      Marita Managadze 5 September, 2016 at 6:28 am

      I starting reading a sentence of this article, and then got more caught up in it, and read the whole thing. Wow, you are soooo right! Great article! Going to show anyone I have the chance to see today :) But does that mean I'm too socially charged and not mindful!? I loved the article. Thanks!

      Reply
  • Are you in need of a mindfulness retreat?

    Mindfulness Retreat

    “On retreat, we nourish the most important relationship that we have - the relationship with ourselves.” - Sarah Powers.

    This year, instead of a traditional holiday, how about taking a break to nourish your body and mind on a restorative retreat? But, what is a retreat and why might you need one?

    A retreat takes us away from the distractions of daily life entirely, a mindfulness retreat in the nurturing surrounds of nature can be a wonderful opportunity to slow down, have a digital detox and truly take some time just for ourselves.

    And there are many ways in which a retreat can be beneficial...

     

    Having space to grow

    Carving out the time to fully dedicate ourselves to an extended period of mindfulness away from everyday life is an excellent opportunity to deepen and rejuvenate our practice. “A retreat removes the daily responsibilities and technological distractions, meaning that you have more time and space in which to dedicate yourself to sitting,” says mindfulness teacher James Milford. “This is essential as practice can grow stale and tick-box like if all we ever do is try and fit it into an existing schedule.”

     

    Breaking habitual patterns

    Although it may take some time to adjust to initially, taking a retreat in silence gives us the chance to see ourselves and our habitual patterns more clearly. “Silence can be challenging for many of us when we first start to observe it, but over time it becomes a welcome and nourishing refuge,” says mindfulness teacher Christiane Kerr. Being in silence allows our practice to deepen and helps us recognise our habitual thought patterns.” For example, you might notice that you get very self-conscious at meal times, which might lead to urges to eat more or less than usual. On retreat, there’s no distracting ourselves in such uncomfortable moments by checking our phones or chatting. Instead, we have the opportunity to cultivate awareness of our patterns, and meet them with self-compassion.

     

    Connecting with others

    Although it might sound strange, silent retreats offer a wonderful opportunity to connect with others in a new and profound way. Surrounded by fellow meditators, a retreat offers a supportive and nurturing environment in which to practice -- there is always someone there supporting you with their presence. And moments where you catch someone’s eye or receive an encouraging or understanding smile become really special. “Practicing mindfulness alone day after day can be a little dispiriting at times, so a retreat is a welcome chance to be with others and draw benefits from their participation and proximity,” says James.

    For most of us, sitting in collective stillness for days at a time will be a new experience - but through it we may find that we discover new ways of being with others and a rich sense of connection that nourishes and enriches our practice.

     

    Training our mindfulness muscle of attention

    On retreat, we spend a large amount of our time in formal meditation, and the rest of our waking time in informal practice. This means we are exercising our muscle of attention much more than we would usually do. This presents a wonderful opportunity for us to have deep insights, and this turning inwards to connect with ourselves and our inner wisdom can bring new perspectives that leave us feeling refreshed and renewed. Most retreat attendees notice a significant difference in their ability to meet everyday challenges with more ease when returning back home.

     

    For those new to meditation or a silent meditation retreat, the idea might seem quite daunting and scary, or even just really unappealing. But by placing ourselves in this unique environment, we can truly spend time with ourselves, have space for reflection and practice living in the present moment. And just because it’s silent, it doesn’t mean that you can’t talk to one of the teachers or support staff if you need to, and there is often dedicated time for discussion with the teacher in groups during the retreat.

    In other words, the silence isn’t there as a test of stamina, but rather as a way to observe your habitual patterns and thoughts. It is only through this awareness that we gain a platform to change and grow.

     

    All 8-Week MBSR, MBCT and Self-compassion courses include a full-day retreat day. For those that have completed a course, we also run regualr retreat days to reconnect with our practice. 

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    • TMP Admin

      We're glad you enjoyed - thanks for your comment :-)

      Reply
    • Marita Managadze
      Marita Managadze 5 September, 2016 at 6:28 am

      I starting reading a sentence of this article, and then got more caught up in it, and read the whole thing. Wow, you are soooo right! Great article! Going to show anyone I have the chance to see today :) But does that mean I'm too socially charged and not mindful!? I loved the article. Thanks!

      Reply
  • Mindfulness in the City

    By Amy Wood

    Frenetic and fast-paced, the city can present the greatest challenges to our mindfulness practice. Urban environments are hives of activity, and the smells, sights and sounds of the city can provide an overload of sensory stimulation that impacts us on a physical and psychological level.

    “Life in the city can be both exhilarating and exhausting,” says Tessa Watt, leading mindfulness teacher and author of Mindful London. “It's easy to find ourselves in a state of constant rush and agitation, swept up by the crowds and the hectic pace of work and play. So it's all the more important to take time out to nourish ourselves – to simplify things, stop rushing around and make time for ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ ”.

    Finding ways to carve moments of silence and space into city living is crucial, and the conscious practice of mindfulness is a simple way to do so. Here are some of our tips on how to find calm in the chaos of the city.

    Into the wild

    Nothing is more grounding and nurturing than time spent in nature. Rooted in the here and the now, the natural world is alive and ever-present - an idea that's central to the practice of mindfulness. Nature's restorative benefits are backed by research and accessible to us all at any given moment. Studies have shown that nature can not only improve cognitive function, but can also immunise our brains against the effects of urban stress.

    Despite its reputation as a concrete jungle, London has over 3,000 green spaces and eight million trees within its radius, so we are never far from flora and fauna. Lunch breaks and walks to work are ideal opportunities to reconnect with nature and restore equilibrium with our mindfulness practice.

    We can cultivate mindfulness by tuning our awareness to the sensory experiences of nature around us: the sound of bird song, the breeze on our skin, the warmth of the sunlight on our face.

    Calmer commutes

    Many of us feel the uncomfortable nature of commuting on overcrowded buses and trains. It can leave us energetically drained and mentally disconnected before the day has even begun. There's a compulsion to switch off and autopilot our way through the experience, but that only leads to a sense of disconnect from the present moment.

    We can find a new perspective on our commute by incorporating simple mindfulness practices into the journey. Giving our attention to the subtle movements of the train or bus and letting these sensations fill our awareness can bring us back to the here and the now.

    By focusing on the breath, we can create internal space where we may be lacking it externally. When the mind wanders, as it has a natural inclination to do, we can gently bring the attention back to the breath.

    Silent sanctuaries

    Spaces and places that promote calm are hard to come by in the city, but they do exist. Churches, museums, libraries and bookshops all provide a welcome respite from the city's soundtrack of sirens and traffic. No belief system is required to enjoy a church's space. We can simply appreciate it for what it is - a tranquil environment untouched by technology.

    Moments spent in these types of spaces are important to our mindfulness practice as the emphasis is on the experience of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. We can embrace them for the opportunity they bring to slow down and breathe.

    City challenges

    From the roar of the rush-hour, to the tedium of queuing, everyday irritations are an inescapable part of city living. But what if we could use these sensory experiences as prompts to be mindful? As challenging as that may seem, these experiences present the possibility to grow and strengthen our practice. The next time you find yourself waiting in line, embrace it as a reminder to stay present. If feelings of irritation arise, acknowledge them with non-judgement, notice how they are impacting you and let them fall away.

     

    Join a mindfulness courses or workshops with The Mindfulness Project.

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    • TMP Admin

      We're glad you enjoyed - thanks for your comment :-)

      Reply
    • Marita Managadze
      Marita Managadze 5 September, 2016 at 6:28 am

      I starting reading a sentence of this article, and then got more caught up in it, and read the whole thing. Wow, you are soooo right! Great article! Going to show anyone I have the chance to see today :) But does that mean I'm too socially charged and not mindful!? I loved the article. Thanks!

      Reply
  • Mindful Nature Connection

    Mindfulness & Nature Connection

     

     

    Just as formal mindfulness meditation practice allows us to tend to ourselves and sooth our systems in a nourishing way, connecting with nature can have an equally therapeutic effect - especially given our busy and digitally loaded lifestyles.

     

    Putting our phones aside and spending some time in nature can leave us feeling calmed, refreshed and happier. If we can sit in the grass and watch a tree for a couple of minutes, notice the light shine through its fluttering leaves, we can pause and – connect with something bigger.

    The benefits of connecting with the natural world in this way are also supported by research. Simply being in nature has been shown to bring about positive emotions, and activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which calms and restores us.

    Studies have also shown that spending time in nature aids in attention recovery, is emotionally restorative, and promotes general psychological well-being. Mindfulness only enhances our ability to connect with nature and thus reinforces these benefits.

    You will find that there are some unique qualities to connecting with nature mindfully -- here are the key points to consider:

     

    1. Permission

     

    Give yourself permission to take time out, disconnect from your devices, to spend time in and be with nature.

     

    2. Intention

     

    During your dedicated time outdoors, set the intention to connect and be present with the nature around you, as well as your internal experience. Be the observer or the field researcher of your environment.

     

    3. Attention

     

    Rest your attention on the sensory experiences of nature - the smells, sights, sensations. And when the mind wanders, as it will, bring your attention gently back to whatever you have placed your attention on.

     

    4. Attitudes

     

    Bring the qualities of mindfulness such as curiosity, allowing, and non-judgemental awareness to your time in nature -- this can enrich your experience with profound and insightful moments.

     

    The reason mindfulness and nature are such complements to each other is because in mindfulness we rest our attention on sensory experiences such as the breath or sounds, and nature offers so much inspiration for the senses.

    Feeling the sunshine on your cheeks on a crisp morning, or taking in the smell of fresh rain on the soil, or sitting down in a meadow and watching the wind blow through tall grass… these are the kind of moments where we can practice coming back to our senses to access the restorative benefits of both mindfulness and nature connection.

    Beyond just imagining it, we would encourage you, next time you feel the need for a real break, to leave your phone behind and make your way to nature.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness retreat days, courses and workshops.

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    • TMP Admin

      We're glad you enjoyed - thanks for your comment :-)

      Reply
    • Marita Managadze
      Marita Managadze 5 September, 2016 at 6:28 am

      I starting reading a sentence of this article, and then got more caught up in it, and read the whole thing. Wow, you are soooo right! Great article! Going to show anyone I have the chance to see today :) But does that mean I'm too socially charged and not mindful!? I loved the article. Thanks!

      Reply