Relationships

  • Taking Mindfulness on Holiday

    Ice Cream

     

    When we embark on a holiday we naturally want it to be a time of rest and relaxation, or excitement and adventure. However, whilst we may plan our holiday itinerary down to the finest detail, we can never plan for what feelings may arise during that time.

     

    Expectations vs Reality

     

    Our trips away may be planned months, or even years in advance, and so expectations are high; we want to have fun, and we want to have amazing experiences. Because holidays are often expensive and only last for a limited about of time, we may experience a very strong pressure for it to be a particular way.

    Yet real life rarely matches our ideas of should’s and shouldn’t’s, and so when we find ourselves in unexpected situations we may feel disappointed, that we’ve somehow ‘failed’, or that all the time and money we have spent has been a waste.

    Mindfulness can help with this, even before we’ve boarded the plane or packed our luggage into the car. Being mindful in the lead up to a holiday or weekend break can help us recognise any expectations we may be holding.

     

    Are we set on experiencing particular emotions?

    Are we envisioning how the weather, culture, hotel, or activities will be too vividly, to the point of becoming inflexible?

     

    It might be useful to pause and reflect on how we are mentally creating our future experiences. This not only helps us feel less disappointed if our real experiences don’t meet the standards of our imagined ones, but can also free up our minds so that we really appreciate the wonderful moments of our holiday.

    With fewer expectations we are more likely to notice those special moments that are impossible to plan for.

     

    Family Drama

     

    Although we like to imagine that family dynamics will change for the better once we are away from home, the truth is that we are still the same people with the same emotional baggage and history wherever in the world we happen to be.

    Conflicts and difficult emotions are bound to arise, whether we’re around the dinner table or sipping cocktails on the beach. In fact, with the pressure of high expectations, tension between partners or among family members can feel even stronger than usual. When we get stuck in ideals of how everyone should be, our connection to those people suffers.

     

    Water Inflatables

     

    Rather than being present with who they really are in any given moment, we find ourselves trapped by make-believe versions of them, and inevitably feel frustrated or let down when they don’t behave the way we want them to. But they, like us, are changeable human beings, vulnerable to a spectrum of emotions and experiences.

    If we find ourselves feeling uptight because our spouse is being grumpy, or the kids are whining, take a moment to feel into that emotion.

     

    Where is it coming from?

    Is it fair to blame the other person, or are we co-creating tension by having inflexible expectations?

     

    Compassion is a key part of mindfulness, and so approaching our holiday with mindful intent can help us be kinder and more tolerant of others, and ourselves! After all, family dramas are just as likely to be caused by our own issues as that of those around us.

    Treating our own emotions and the emotions of others with gentleness and kindness, instead of stress and frustration, can make holiday dramas much less explosive.

     

    “The little things? The little moments? They aren't little.”

    - JON KABAT-ZINN

     

    The cost and preparation that goes into planning a holiday can sometimes cause more stress than our daily lives – the very thing we’re trying to recuperate from!

    It’s easy to slip into anxiety over money, missed connections, and all the potential problems which can arise when we’re in an unfamiliar place. Yet the very fact that we’re able to take a holiday, to visit beautiful and interesting places is a great prompt to remember to hold gratitude in our hearts.

    Our brains are designed to notice threats above all else, and so noticing the good things around us can take a little practice. But once we start to make the effort, the easier it will become. By using mindfulness to notice when our attention is wandering to the negative, we can rein it back and focus it on what we feel grateful for instead.

    It may be something small, such as not missing the flight or a friendly smile from a waiter/waitress, or something bigger like a stunning view from a mountain.

    Take a moment now to remember something you feel grateful for, and notice how it changes your mood. Now imagine taking these moments while you’re on holiday. What a difference it can make!

     

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  • 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.

     

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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!

     

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  • Mindfulness for Relationships

    Mindfulness Teacher - Rosalie

    An interview with mindfulness teacher, supervisor and retreat teacher, Rosalie Dores, exploring the Mindfulness for Relationships course and what motivated her to become a relational mindfulness teacher.

     

    What Attracted You to Relational Mindfulness?

    I qualified to teach mindfulness in 2011 after completing my five-year master’s degree at Bangor University. While training I attended a seven-day relational meditation retreat. I had been practising meditation for 15 years. Practising relational meditation transformed my meditation practice and my relational life. It was a real turning point for me, it felt like a quickening.

    I’ve since graduated as a relational mindfulness meditation retreat teacher and spend much of my time studying reading and cultivating a wholehearted and skilful approach to life. I feel very fortunate that my passion for learning to live well, for developing the mind and body has become my livelihood.

     

    How Can Mindfulness Affect Our Relationships With Others?

    Relational mindfulness is grounded in personal solitary practice. In our personal practice we become more aware of what's going on within ourselves. With relational practice, we increase our availability to ourselves and others.

    We recognise our habits in relationships of advising, fixing, controlling or manipulating. We learn how to allow others to be as they are, and to allow ourselves to be as we are.

    A part of learning relational mindfulness, particularly as a group, relates to our sense of common humanity. We all experience challenges in relationships. We all experience some happiness. 

     

    Dog & Cat

     

    How Can Mindfulness Help Us To Communicate More Effectively?

    The first guideline we learn on the course is to pause; pause is fundamentally mindfulness. When we pause, we develop the habit of knowing what is going on in our bodies, hearts and minds.

    With mindfulness we create space to recognise our habits of relating, our reactivity and to choose a way of relating that feels more beneficial both to ourselves and others. Additionally, the safety of the group supports people in growing their confidence to be more fully, and authentically, who they are.

    People learn to recognise what values are important to them, what their needs are and how to express these, and get them met. 

     

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    How Would You Describe the Mindfulness for Relationships Course?

    The course was developed to help people to carry some of the calm and peace found in solitary meditation into their relational lives. Not only intimate relationships but all relationships, including our friends, family and colleagues.

    We are relational beings and as such much of our happiness relies on the quality of the relationships we find ourselves participating in. Relationships can be both a rich source of fulfilment and a primary source of stress.

    The relational mindfulness course supports people in recognising the roots of their relational stress and the possibilities for experiencing more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. 

     

    What Do Participants Do on the Mindfulness for Relationships Course?

    The course runs over eight weeks with two and a half hour sessions and a full day retreat day. Each session includes periods of silent meditation, relational practise, group sharing and a small amount of movement.

    Every week participants are given a specific topic that draws on western psychological understanding and eastern wisdom to support people in deepening their self knowledge and understanding. 

    During the course participants learn six meditation guidelines. These guidelines support us in accessing and developing skilful ways of relating to others. We take one of the guidelines, learn and practise it. I sometimes think the guidelines are like dials on a radio - supporting us to tune into both ourselves and others.

    People who participate in the course often speak about the depth and richness of relationships they experience with other participants. Many of them report that the course has profoundly impacted them, their experience of relationships and what might be possible. Relating in this way can bring about deep satisfaction and joy. 

     

    Tea for Two

     

    How Does This Course Differ to Other Mindfulness Courses?

    The course is different from others because it focuses specifically on relationships. It is ideal for people with a mindfulness or other meditation practises because it deepens and strengthens that practice, while developing skills for integrating awareness into daily life. 

     

    Will the Course Help Me To Build More Confidence?

    The course is excellent for supporting people in developing greater confidence. One of the core skills we learn is how to manage the inevitable anxieties, large or small, that arise in relationships.

    People with social anxiety have found the course to be liberating. Being in a group of likeminded people, cultivating awareness and suspending judgement, individuals find that they can be truly authentic. These skills are transferable to daily life. 

     

    Who Is the Mindfulness for Relationships Course Most Suited To?

    The course is particularly supportive for people wanting to deepen their meditation practice, as well as those who work with others or that can feel socially anxious.

    We explore every kind of relationship; family, partners, friends, colleagues and even our interactions with strangers. Essentially, it's for anyone that would like to improve the quality of their relationships to live a richer, fuller and more satisfying relational lives. 

     

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  • 4 Tips for Mindful Communication at Christmas

     

    A season for family, friends and festivities, the Christmas period brings our relationships and interactions with others into the spotlight.

     

    It’s often said that our closest relationships present us with our greatest challenges in life, so it’s little wonder that family gatherings over the festive season can be fertile ground for tension and conflict.

    Bringing mindfulness to our interactions can help us to navigate our way through this period and cultivate positive connections. 

    With this in mind, we bring you four top tips to support a mindful Christmas.

     

    1. Listen with Intent

    Connecting with others is important to our happiness and wellbeing -- when we are disconnected, we can feel stressed and revert back to reactive patterns of communication.

    We can bring mindful presence to our conversations by staying open and curious. We can listen with patience and acceptance.

    We don't necessarily have to agree with what a relative or friend is saying, but we can still be open to different points of view and listen with the intent to understand, not to judge.

    We can consider these moments an opportunity to practice equanimity and compassion.

    In this way, the person communicating has the experience of feeling respected and valued.

     

    Christmas Dog

     

    2. Make Space for Emotion

    The festive season can bring with it a full spectrum of emotion -- from warmth and celebration, to bitterness and frustration caused by quarrels. It can also bring moments of sadness and loneliness triggered by memories of lost loved ones.

    We can use mindfulness to make space for all of our emotions by observing whatever arises, and knowing that we don’t have to act or react to it.

    Instead, we can simply let it pass through our awareness with acceptance and non-judgement.

     

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    3. Abandon Expectations

    Around this time of the year, we can find ourselves bombarded with images of Christmas ideals of unity, harmony and joy, but the reality can be different and far more complex. This is especially true when it comes to close relationships.

    We can lay the ground for a more enjoyable experience at Christmas by choosing to not have expectations. Instead, we can stay mindfully present with our social interactions as they unfold moment-by-moment.

     

    4. See the Good In Others

    Dealing with difficult relatives can be one of the greatest challenges over Christmas.

    This year, see if you can transform a testing interaction with a relative by looking for the good in their character.

    It’s always possible to find qualities that you appreciate in someone, such as kindness, generosity, humour or even just positive intentions.

    When we make the choice to stay consciously look for these traits, we may find our interactions are transformed.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs at calendar of events to support mindfulness practice and communication throughout the year. 

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  • How to Mindfully Cope with Difficult Family

     

    If we have dealt with challenging or damaging behaviour from our family 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. This might make us feel guilty because there is so much pressure from society to have positive relationships.

     

    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 family;

     

    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 family 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 family with more objectivity, that we realise the problem wasn’t with us. Even so, those old, ingrained beliefs can be hard to shake off.  We may find it difficult to let go and forgive... and this is OK.

    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, 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 OK.”

     

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    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, we can use self-compassion to finally acknowledge and take care of ourselves.

    We can also use self-compassion to create clear boundaries with family who may be behaving unreasonably.

    Although we may feel that we ought to always be around for our family, especially as they get older, if they are being emotionally 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 them. 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 family. We don’t have to tell them how we feel about them, although sometimes that may feel right to do.

    Coping with difficult family, 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. We can give 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 family in a certain way; perhaps with us giving our power away to them, and 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 family 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.

     

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  • 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.

     

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    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.

     

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  • 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.

     

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    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.

     

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  • 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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

    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.

     

    The Mindfulness Project hosts a calendar of workshops, courses and retreats to teach mindful communication.

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  • Cultivating Gratitude All Year Round

     

    Think back for a moment to what you did over Christmas and New Year’s. Maybe you spent time with family. Perhaps you carved out some space just for yourself, or got some friends together for a party.

     

    Whether it’s Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve or a birthday, we tend to roll out the red carpet, deck the halls and bake a cake. Mindfulness can help us to savour the joy of these occasions, but it also invites us to be present for every moment, not just special events.

    During the holidays, we may have felt grateful for what we have, thankful for time with friends and family. So how can we bring that sense of appreciation into our everyday lives?

     

    Thoughts from Mindfulness Teachers

    We asked neuropsychologist and mindfulness teacher Dr Melanie Tokley what experience she most enjoyed over the holidays. She shared her memory of attending a six-night silent meditation retreat in Devon:

     

    “On New Year’s Eve, our third day immersed in silence, we walked up a winding path lit by tea lights to a beautiful bonfire. One by one, we threw pieces of paper into the fire bearing the words of things we wished to let go of. We sat around the fire drinking hot chocolate infused with cinnamon bark and cardamom pods.

     

    Despite the silence, I felt incredibly connected to everyone present. I could hear fireworks exploding in the sky from nearby towns and, despite the remoteness of our location, there was a profound sense of connectedness and community.”

     

    Melanie’s words paint a beautiful picture of how she spent New Year’s Eve. By mindfully engaging with her experience, she has created vivid memories, full of detail and texture. You can almost smell the fire, taste the cinnamon and feel the sense of letting go she must have felt in that moment.

    Doug Vaughan, a psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, suggests that “appreciating the ordinary” is one of the most effective ways of practising gratitude, no matter what time of year it is:

     

    “The holidays are especially conducive to gratitude practices and cultivating loving kindness. But whatever the time of year, one of my favourite practices is appreciating the ordinary.

     

    Rick Hanson introduced me to this concept and each time I apply it, it feels as though I’ve found a delightful secret that is freely available. That sense of savouring the okayness of this moment, enjoying those times when our bodies feel alright; those moments when there’s no apparent gloss nor grit – just a simple alright-ness that can be savoured.

     

    On a personal level, if I can recognise those moments, take them in, then my step feels a little lighter and my smile is readier to broaden.”

     

     

    How Can We Bring Gratitude to Our Everyday Experiences?

    When we practice mindfulness we become more attuned to the many moments that make up our day-to-day lives, and learn to treat all moments as equally important. By bringing this presence to our experience, we are more able to recognise and appreciate the good stuff when it happens.

    Next time you’re enjoying something, really tune in and see how that feels in your body. See if you can have a sense of gratitude and appreciation for that moment. Mindfulness also means being with moments of difficulty, so next time something difficult happens, also tune in and see how that feels.

    By fully being with our moments like this, we’re less likely to cling on to them or push them away, and can just appreciate life for how it really is.

    We can also spend some time seeing how special the ordinary can really be. Try to bring the sense of occasion you cultivated at Christmas or New Year’s to an everyday task, or a typical evening at home.

    Switch off your phone, roll out the red carpet and savour the simple “okayness” of the moments as they pass. See how it changes your experience. We’d love to hear how you get on, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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  • 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. 

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