Relationships

  • Mindfulness in Relationships: Connecting with Others

     

    Horses Grooming One Another

    Written by Jenni Chante

     

    Relationships of all kinds can be a minefield of unrealistic ideals, old baggage, hang ups, habits and misunderstandings. All too often we find ourselves stuck in unhelpful ideas and beliefs, rather than genuinely connecting with people.

     

    Thinking that we know those around us inside out can sometimes block us from being present and really hearing them. Or we may feel so sure of our role within a relationship that we find ourselves repeating unnecessary behaviours which lead to the same old arguments again and again.

    In arguments we often place the blame on the other person – they’re not listening to us, they don’t understand, they’re being difficult or purposely trying to wind us up. Conversely, people can feel the same way about us.

    Yet by becoming more mindful, we can start to accept some responsibility. Taking responsibility for our feelings and actions is not the same as blaming ourselves. We can take responsibility without layering guilt over the top.

    By introducing mindfulness we can start to let go of the repetitive dramas and reach a much deeper, more meaningful level of connection with our partner, family, friends and also ourselves.

    Here are some useful questions to ask ourselves when things feel difficult or strained within a relationship.

     

    1. What are my beliefs about relationships?

    Relationships are important to most of us. We may even attribute our self-worth to our relationship status or circle of friends. It’s useful to be mindful of what we think a relationship should provide us with, or what feelings and experiences we believe shouldn’t arise in a successful relationship.

     

    Do you have ideals of what your perfect relationship should look like?

    Or the type of people you think you should spend your time with?

    Or how your family unit should function?

    How does it match up with the truth?

    Are confrontations arising because of some discrepancy between your fantasy and reality?

     

    The truth is real relationships will rarely meet idealised expectations. Life is messy and unpredictable. Not only will your expectations cause rifts, they may also be holding you back from experiencing the true joy which can come from honest, real connection.

     

    2. What are my beliefs about my partner, family and friends?

    We can very quickly fall into the trap of thinking we know a person. We experience a few of their idiosyncrasies and bam – we’ve made up our mind up about them. When we do this with a partner it leads to us experiencing people through our limited lens of who we believe they are, rather than seeing them as they truly are – a perpetually evolving human being with great capacity for revealing new facets of their character.

    Be mindful of whether you’re being present with those around you, or whether you’re stuck in an old idea of who they seemed to be at some stage in the past.

     

    Discover how mindfulness can support healthy relationships on a course or workshop.

    BOOK COURSE

     

    3. What are my beliefs about myself?

    Just as we can become caught in old ideas about others, the same can be true of ourselves. We may believe we have a certain role to play within a relationship, or that certain aspects of ourselves are not good enough.

    But like others, we also contain deep potential for change. By bringing attention to the limiting thoughts about ourselves, we can break free of old cycles of behaviour.

     

    4. Do my verbal expressions match my true feelings?

    It’s an ongoing joke that women expect men to be able to read their minds. However, most of us are guilty of wanting others, particuarly our partners, to guess or uncover what we’re really feeling, and that’s true of both men and women.

     

    How often do we really explain our feelings in full?

     

    Or when misunderstandings arise, how often do we truthfully look at what we’ve said, rather than staying stuck in how we feel. Of course, sometimes we ourselves aren’t entirely sure of what’s going on inside our minds, so it’s not always possible to be clear.

    Yet even during these times we can still bring mindfulness to our confusion, and express that our loved ones. Sometimes just saying “I’m sorry, I know I’m not making sense, I feel really confused” can take the edge of a heated argument or miscommunication.

     

    5. Am I exaggerating?

    Often when we are upset, we project our current feelings into the past and future. For example, say that we are upset that our partner didn’t help us with a household chore. This may trigger some old emotions around not feeling supported, and that emotion colours our view of the past.

    Suddenly instead of it just being “You didn’t help me with ___”, it’s “You never help me” or “You always let me down”.

    An alternative suggestion might be “I’m feeling frustrated / unhappy / stressed because the house is a mess. I’d like us to make this more of a priority”, placing the onus on how we’re feeling and offering a solution without the need for an argument.

    By being more mindful and honest about the truth of the situation, and of dealing with the present problem instead of raking up the past or projecting our suffering into the future, we can avoid a lot of conflict and remain closer and more connected with those closest to us.

     

    Discover how mindfulness can support healthy relationships on a course or workshop.

    BOOK COURSE

  • 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 approach communication with clarity and build stronger relationships.

     

    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.

     

    Why not join one of our friendly drop-in meditations every Tuesday (Beginner Friendly) and Thursday (Beyond Beginners)?

    BOOK NOW

     

     

    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.

    VIEW CALENDAR

  • 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.

    VIEW CALENDAR

     

    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.

    VIEW CALENDAR

  • How to Introduce Mindfulness to our Friends

     

     

    When we discover something that improves our lives it’s natural to want to share that knowledge with others - especially our friends. Whether it’s a new way of eating, a new found love of yoga or the benefits of mindfulness, we may feel compelled to tell our friends and family how they too could feel better if they were to try it.

     

    However, as we’ve probably also been on the receiving end of such recommendations, we know that, while intentions may be good, it’s all too easy for these suggestions to come across as pushy or overzealous.

    People, in their eagerness to help, may end up forcing ideas on others that are not always helpful. As mindfulness practitioners, we are not immune from sometimes becoming a little fanatical too.

     

    So how can we share the benefits of this great practice, without losing sight of what we’re trying to promote?

     

    It’s useful to develop some awareness of the kinds of situations that prompt us to suggest mindfulness to others. For example, when a friend tells us that they are feeling depressed, is our first thought to tell them to try mindfulness? If someone tells us that they’ve been feeling stressed at work, do we jump in and start telling them how much mindfulness has helped us with that problem?

    We may find that we sometimes make such suggestions in a bid to ‘fix’ the other person’s problems, instead of engaging in some mindfulness of our own. Sometimes a friend may simply want someone to listen to their struggles for a while, and rather than telling them to sign up for a mindfulness workshop, we could use this time to practice our mindful listening skills.

    That’s not to say that suggesting a mindfulness practice is always wrong in these situations! Yet we should use mindfulness ourselves so that we can better judge whether it’s the right time to discuss solutions.

    We should also keep in mind that mindfulness isn’t a cure-all, and that not everyone will find the same benefits in the practice as we do. And that’s okay. If we feel offended or frustrated by their lack of interest, this may be something for us to meditate on and explore within ourselves.

    Perhaps the very best way to introduce the concept of mindfulness to others is simply to embody it. By focussing on and deepening our own practice, rather than telling everyone else to start theirs, we will naturally become better listeners, more empathic and compassionate, and more emotionally spacious to deal with other people’s problems. This way, mindfulness can arise in conversations organically, without feeling forced or like we’re trying to fix things.

    For those that would like to integrate mindfulness practice into their interactions with others, explore our 8-Week Interpersonal Mindfulness Course. 

    VIEW CALENDAR

  • Using the Body’s Wisdom as a Signpost to Healthy Relationships

    Written by Alexa Frey

    Mindfulness means living in our body. Noticing the footprint our experiences leave on us.

    Some of us were repeatedly hurt by our primary caregivers or other important people in our lives. Repeatedly. Throughout childhood or adolescence.

    People hurt us and we got used to that pain. Somehow pain became part of our lives.

    Now, as grown ups, we might find ourselves meeting people who hurt us. We might have a partner that doesn’t give us what we need. Maybe he or she is even causing us emotional pain on a regular basis. Or we find ourselves working in a job that stresses us out, day by day.

    If we were exposed to repeated pain in our childhoods and couldn’t escape, we are now more likely to stay stuck in and stay in such unhealthy situations or relationships. We’re trying to manage, tell ourselves it’s not as bad. We’re enduring. We’re trapped.

    How can we use mindfulness to free ourselves from our past conditioning that creates unhealthy patterns in the present? How can we develop happier relationships with our friends, colleagues or partners?

    It’s simple. By dropping into and checking in with our bodies.

     

    How does this over-chatty and nervous friend make me feel we meet in this loud bar?

    Does my chest tense up, or does my heart rate increase?

    Does my body become restless?

    How does my body feel at work?

    Am I feeling claustrophobic?

    Stressed out?

    Tense?

    How does my partner or family member make me feel every time we meet?

    A bit anxious that I am not good enough?

    Restless or bored?

     

    As we start to frequently check in with the feelings and sensations in our bodies, in certain situations and with certain people, we will become more aware, which situations and people nourish us, and which deplete us.

    The next step is to take care of ourselves. Which means, taking the necessary life changes to expose ourselves less to situations and people that leave a negative footprint on our body, and increase the ones, that make us more happy and healthy.

    So, mindfulness is about using our bodies wisdom. We don’t always have to analyse every situation or person. How about we just simply start with asking ourselves: How does this right now, make me feel, in my body?

    That’s it.

    For those that would like to integrate mindfulness practice into their interactions with others, explore the Interpersonal Mindfulness Course. 

    VIEW CALENDAR

  • Christmas Presence: The Gift of Mindfulness

     

    “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.”

    -- THICH NHAT HANH 

     

    Make a pledge to put down your phone at Christmas and be fully present with those you love. Look at them in the eyes; listen with intent; abandon your expectations; stay curious and give conversations your unwavering awareness as they unfold.

    Observe what this approach does to your experience moment-by-moment -- you may find that it expands and deepens your connections, as well as your sense of the memory after the moment passes. You’ll likely discover that presence is one of the most precious gifts we can give at this (and every) point in the year, and adds far more value to our lives than any material object can.

    Most of us would like to think that we are present in our daily lives, but the truth is that so many of us live a far distance from ourselves and from our experiences. We often operate on autopilot patterns of feeling and behaviour not just in the midst of our daily lives, but in the face of those who matter most to us, our loved ones.

    As a season of unity and connection, Christmas lays the ground for interaction and gives us an opportunity to put our mindfulness in motion. With the simple and repeated practice of awareness, we can give presence to everything the season brings -- from warmth and joy, to difficulty and tension -- without needing to change or fix anything. We may find that being better connected to the moment in this way, a better connection to our self and to our family and friends begins to grow and flourish.

    Mindfulness is not just a gift for us individually, but collectively too. In these turbulent times of division and discord, mindfulness has the power to reinforce the shared humanity that holds us all together.

    The individual is reflected in the collective, and when we bring awareness to the way that we relate to ourselves individually -- that is, when we develop a deeper understanding of and more compassionate connection with our self -- this is mirrored in our interactions with those around us in the collective.

    Mindfulness begins individually, on our own terms, but if you like the idea of giving it as a present, you can browse our shop for mindfulness gift ideas and vouchers. 

    Whether you want to help a friend or family member cope better with stress and anxiety, introduce them to ideas of self-care and compassion, or more broadly, live a life that is fuller and freer -- mindfulness gives us skills that last a lifetime.

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

    VIEW CALENDAR

  • Mindfulness Tips For When We Feel Jealous

    jealousy

    Sometimes it’s as harmless as envying a friends new pair of lovely shoes, but at other times jealousy can feel like a painful dagger in our hearts. It can make it difficult to enjoy any sense of happiness or gratefulness in our lives, because all that we can see is what we don’t have. It’s called the ‘green-eyed monster’ for good reason, for at its worst jealousy can make us bitter, resentful and lead us to behave in ways that aren’t aligned with how we really want to be.

    When we’re focusing on the good in others’ lives, and only on the bad in ours, our view of life becomes distorted and we get stuck in an envious trance. If we can learn to notice it when it arises, jealousy can serve as a reminder for us to take some mindful steps back into the present moment.

    Recognise and Accept

    Before we can make positive use of the arising of jealousy, we must first get to know it better. How does it make us feel? Although it may seem unappealing, it might be useful to bring to mind a situation that made you feel jealous, so that you can become familiar with the mental and physical changes it creates. For example, it might make you feel tense, or perhaps it gives you a heavy or restrictive feeling in your chest or throat. Maybe your pulse quickens, or perhaps you start to feel tearful. What kinds of thoughts are attached to the emotion? And what happens to your mental clarity? It’s likely that any sense of peace or spaciousness disappears, and instead we find that our whole attention is taken up by the subject of our jealousy.

    Once we become familiar with these signs, we will then be more able to recognise its presence next time it occurs. With this recognition, it’s also helpful to give ourselves some compassion and understanding, trying our best to just accept that we feel jealous in this moment, without piling on too much guilt or judgement about it.

    Breathe Through It

    Jealousy might sometimes highlight problems in our lives that we have the power to change. For example, if we’re envious of a friend’s career, we might find that we can take certain steps that will enable us to change careers and find our dream job.

    However, in other situations, we might experience jealousy over something that we just can’t do anything about. For instance, in unrequited love, if we see the person we love with their partner, and feel all the jealousy and pain that comes with that, there’s nothing we can do to change that situation. In these types of scenarios, the best that we can do is to breathe through the emotion until it passes (which it always will).

    A simple meditation that focuses on the breath is useful for when we’re experiencing emotional pain. Of course, it’s a given that our minds will wander onto painful thoughts, but by gently bringing our attention back to the breath each time we notice, we can become a little calmer. If we can include an attitude of compassion during this process – forgiving and understanding ourselves – then we will find that our racing minds will eventually settle down, and we can move on with our day, knowing that at any time we can return to this practice of coming back to the breath.

    Proactive Steps

    By focussing on what is missing from our lives, our minds create suffering. However, there are things that we can do that will help our minds focus more on the good, and less on what is lacking.

    To help train our brains to see the good things in life, we can practice writing down three things each day that have made us feel grateful, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem. Knowing that we need to remember things to write down will prompt us to start consciously looking out for the good stuff. As well as this, we can also start allowing ourselves to linger on pleasant experiences. If we’ve been feeling jealous, we’ve already been letting ourselves linger on unpleasant experiences, so we might as well do the same for the good stuff! Each time we let these positive experiences and feelings sink into our brains, we get a little better at noticing them and appreciating them.

    There will always be things in life that make us feel jealous from time to time, and gratitude won’t cure that completely. However, by taking proactive steps to notice things that make us feel grateful, we’ll be able to bring some balance and happiness back into our lives.

     

    Find our more about our mindfulness courses and workshops. 

    VIEW CALENDAR

  • How to Mindfully Cope with Difficult Parents

    If we have dealt with challenging or damaging behaviour from our parents in the past, this can make our present relationship with them feel like an emotional minefield.

    We may even feel that we don’t want a relationship with them at all, but feel guilty for that, because there is so much pressure from society to have positive relationships with our parents.

     

    How can we navigate these complicated dynamics and look after our own well-being at the same time?

     

    And, if we want to have a good relationship with our parents;

     

    How can we remain open and present with them when there may be so much pain from the past?

     

    Accepting Our Feelings

    Many of us probably loved our parents unconditionally when we were children. Although there may have been times when their decisions or behaviour seemed unfair, we generally accepted that they must know best. This may mean that they unknowingly left us with some negative beliefs about ourselves. For example, if a parent had a quick temper, we may have grown up thinking that they were right to get so angry all the time because we are bad. It’s usually not until we’re older, and can see our parents with more objectivity, that we realise the problem wasn’t with us, it was with them. Even so, those old, ingrained beliefs can be hard to shake off, and so we may find it difficult to let go and forgive. But this is okay.

    Mindfulness practice helps us notice our true feelings, and encourages us to accept them without judging or clinging. Although it can be tempting to think that judging ourselves for having feelings of anger, resentment or disappointment may push us into letting them go and replacing them with more ‘acceptable’ feelings, it usually does the reverse. By judging our feelings as bad, we end up holding onto them more tightly, fuelling our original feelings with added guilt and shame.

    Accepting our feelings simply means that we acknowledge the reality of the moment, whatever that contains. It’s not about what is right or wrong, or good or bad, or what should or shouldn’t be in an ideal world. It’s about saying to ourselves, “These are my feelings. This is my current experience. And that is okay.”

    The Importance of Self Care

    Now that we are adults, we have the option to give ourselves the care and understanding which may have been lacking in our childhood. Rather than pushing our feelings away or making them wrong (in ways that may echo how our parents reacted to us when we were in need), we can use some self-compassion to finally acknowledge ourselves and take care of ourselves.

    We can also use this self-compassion to create clear boundaries with parents who may be behaving unreasonably. Although we may feel that we ought to always be around for our parents, especially as they get older, if they are being emotional abusive we can give ourselves permission to take a step back. This could be in temporary ways, for example we cut back on how often we visit or telephone our parents. Or this stepping back could be more permanent, depending on what we feel is right for our situation.

    Caring for ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean that we do anything differently when we’re with our parents. We don’t have to tell them how we feel about them, although sometimes that may feel right to do. Coping with difficult parents, rather than changing anything on the outside might actually be a very personal, private process, which is more about coming to terms with uncomfortable feelings, and giving those feelings a kind and patient space to exist within.

    Becoming Clear on What is Right For Us

    If we go through life mindlessly, we may feel that we are not really in control of anything. We might make decisions that are based on old beliefs, habits or the expectations or wishes of others, rather than having a clear idea of our own present values and needs. In a parent-child dynamic this can feel magnified.

    We are so used to interacting with our parents in a certain way; perhaps with us giving our power away to them, and perhaps them expecting it to be that way too. In some ways this is inevitable; they spent years guiding us, making decisions for us and shaping who we are. Yet by becoming more mindful about what we want to get out of, and give into, the relationships in our lives, we can start to make more conscious decisions about what is and what is not okay for us – even with our parents.

    Being more mindful in these difficult situations with our parents can help take us out of knee-jerk reactions and auto-pilot responses, so that we can act with greater clarity, self-compassion and in ways which are more aligned with our values.

     

    Join a mindfulness courses or workshops with The Mindfulness Project.

    VIEW CALENDAR

  • 8 Wellbeing Benefits of Practicing Gratitude

    Gratitude

     

    Increased gratitude is a common result of practicing mindfulness. As we start paying more attention to our thoughts, we notice where we block ourselves from appreciating the good things in life.

     

    Say, for example, that you always used to get angry when stuck in traffic, but now when you bring your focus to where you are (rather than where you want to get to) you notice things such as the song on the radio or a beautiful scene beyond the car window. We can’t feel grateful for things we don’t notice, and so mindfulness and gratitude go hand-in-hand.

     

    The Science of Gratitude

     

    Robert Emmons, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at UC Davis in California, and has been studying the effects of gratitude on over 1,000 people. The participants in his study ranged in age from eight to eighty, and were split into two groups. One group was asked to keep a journal in which they were to write five ‘gifts’ that they were grateful for each day, while the other group had to write down five ‘hassles’. Some examples of the ‘gifts’ people noted were generosity of friends, and watching a sunset through the clouds. Examples of ‘hassles’ were things like difficulty in finding a parking space, and burning their dinner.

    What Emmons found was that those who had kept a gratitude journal experienced significant psychological, physical and social benefits: a 25% improvement in overall health and wellbeing in comparison with the group focussing on what had gone wrong each day.

    Here are just eight of the many ways in which mindfully practicing gratitude can improve our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others around us.

     

    1. Greater Energy Levels

     

    When we experience sadness or depression, our energy levels slump way down. Sometimes doing the simplest of tasks can feel like running a marathon. However, people who kept a gratitude journal in Emmons study reported that their energy levels improved. Many also started exercising more.

    People with depression are often told that exercise will help, however this study suggests it may in fact work the other way around; that being mindful of what’s good about our life plays an important role in having the energy to exercise.

     

    2. Better Sleep

     

    On average, study participants found that they were not only sleeping 10% longer than they used to, but that the quality of their sleep was improved. They reported waking up feeling more refreshed and ready for the coming day.

     

    3. Reduced Blood Pressure

     

    With our current hectic lifestyles, high blood pressure has become a common problem. However, simply taking moments to focus our attention on our loved ones or friends, or on the beauty of nature, can lower blood pressure, thus taking the strain off our hearts, brains and many other parts of the body.

     

    4. Feeling Less Lonely

     

    Gratitude strengthens relationships, not just with people we know, but with other people in general. When we’re mindful of positive traits and behaviours in others, we feel more supported, and that leads to us feeling more able to support others in return.

    When we feel safer, we become less selfish, as we no longer feel such a need to look out for our own interests above others. This leads to us feeling less lonely and isolated, as we are more able to truly connect with others.

     

    5. Fewer Physical Symptoms

     

    People who wrote down five things they were grateful for each day became less affected by aches, pains and other physical symptoms. This ties in with other studies which have found that mindfulness can ease uncomfortable physical symptoms, even chronic pain.

     

    6. Improved Attentiveness

     

    As we mentioned earlier in this post, mindfulness and gratitude are very much linked. Over time, those who deliberately thought about what they were grateful for experienced greater attentiveness. They felt more alert and aware of life.

     

    7. Taking Better Care of Health

     

    Practicing daily gratitude resulted in many participants taking better care of their physical health. Mindful individuals tend to have better self-control and are less impulsive, in many areas of life, including eating habits. Add this to more exercise and better quality of sleep, and you’ve got an all-round much healthier life.

     

    8. Increased Joy

     

    When we steer our attention to what’s good about the world, we naturally feel a greater sense of joy. It’s important to note, however, that gratitude isn’t about denying what’s wrong; solely acknowledging the positive and avoiding the negative can do us much psychological harm. But noticing good things, when and where they exist, takes us out of seeing the world as just being a bad place where bad things happen. In truth, life contains both good and bad, but mindful gratitude helps us appreciate those lovely moments in life, whilst at the same time enabling us to make more of those lovely moments for others.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs regular workshops, courses, retreats and drop-in sessions. 

    VIEW CALENDAR

  • Being Vulnerable In Love

     

    Strawberry Heart Square_3

     

    There’s a popular saying that we must first love ourselves before we can expect others to love us. However, as with everything in life, the truth is more complicated than that.

    Love for ourselves will come and go; there will be times when we actually don’t like ourselves at all. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be loved by others. What is more crucial in a relationship is that we are willing to be vulnerable and honest; that we are willing to be open and show our loved ones who we really are, warts and all. This is by no means an easy feat, and however long we have been with our partner, it doesn’t seem to get easier with time. Being vulnerable is painful, and risky. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

    Love is a Risky Business

    Even in the early stages of a relationship we’ll find that vulnerability is necessary. Telling our date that we’d like to see them again, leaning in for that nervous first kiss, or telling them for the first time that we love them, all require us to take a risk. We open and offer our hearts to this other person, without any guarantee that they’ll want it. It’s no wonder that many of us find it easier to stay single! Yet love can’t blossom without us taking these risks, without these painfully vulnerable moments. This is true even 10 or 20 years into a relationship. The need to be vulnerable with each other never goes away.

    For a long time, society has taught us that vulnerability is a weakness. We’re not safe when we’re vulnerable, so it’s important to be strong. It’s true that we don’t feel ‘safe’ at all when we open ourselves up to others. But mindfulness can help with this.

    “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
    Thích Nhất Hạnh

    Life gets difficult when thoughts, emotions and outside events are constantly throwing us off balance. This is also true in relationships. When every misunderstanding and argument throws us into doubt and inner turmoil, it may feel that being in a relationship is not worth the hassle. However, through the practice of mindfulness we can develop a stronger centre, an anchor to ourselves. This way we can keep our heads above the waves, even if sometimes it feels like we’re only just managing to do so, rather than drowning every time our imperfections make the waters become choppy.

    Reframing Our Baggage

    By cultivating compassion and adopting a less judgemental viewpoint, we can reframe not only our own flaws and hang-ups, but those of our partner too. Rather than seeing our failings as a sign that there is something wrong with us, or that we’re not good enough (or that our partner is not good enough), we can start to see that everything we struggle with is simply a sign that we are human.

    These imperfections are something we share with all of humanity. Whatever we may feel embarrassed about or ashamed of within ourselves are not unique to us alone.

    Of course, there will be some issues that cannot be tolerated within a relationship. Not all relationships can last. But even in these cases, we can aim to end relationships in the most compassionate way that we are able to, forgiving ourselves or our partner if possible, so that we can move on in life without holding onto resentment or blame.

    Taking the Plunge

    There can be no love without an element of risk. In order to connect with others on such an intimate level, we are required to go out on a limb, to potentially make fools of ourselves, to take the risk of being rejected. But the payoff from taking these risks can be worth all the heartache it may cause.

    We can only be truly loved if we are loved as a whole. Allowing someone to only see and love our best side means we are not loved fully. The same goes for our partner; if we don’t allow them space to be imperfect, can we really say that we love them?

    Ultimately, if we want love we must dive into it, even though it is bound to be messy and difficult at times, because true love will also be beautiful and profound too. Let mindfulness be your anchor, and take the plunge.

     

    Find out more on one of our mindfulness courses, workshops or masterclasses. 

    VIEW CALENDAR