• Forgiving Ourselves

    forgivenessAlthough we might make every effort to respond to other people and stressful situations in a mindful way, we’re only human and won’t get it right every time. Try as we might, we can’t be mindful twenty-four hours a day; we’re bound to sometimes say or do things mindlessly. As a result, we may end up hurting other people’s feelings, doing things we later regret, or getting ourselves into difficult situations.

    Our first reaction might be to blame ourselves: “I should have known better. Why on earth did I do that?” However, mindless moments give us opportunities to become mindful again. Even though we may have caused trouble for ourselves or others, it’s never too late to re-centre and go forward with mindfulness.

    What If We Don’t Want to Forgive Ourselves?

    “When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.” - Bernard Meltzer

    It’s normal to feel some resistance to forgiveness. In some cases, it’s the very last thing we want to do. To forgive ourselves may make us feel like we’re saying ‘It didn’t matter’. Of course, how we treat each other matters very much. Forgiveness isn’t about diminishing our responsibility to others and it isn’t about dismissing the effect of our actions. 

    Forgiveness is about acknowledging what has happened, and accepting the reality of it with open-heartedness and understanding. This is why forgiveness is so difficult to do! It’s not easy to open our hearts in painful situations, especially when we know it is us who has caused the pain.

    Mindfulness gives us the opportunity to become clear on our intentions. If we have caused pain, suffering or even simple inconvenience to others, what is our heart-felt intention going forward? It’s probably to put it right somehow, to re-connect or find resolution. However, if we’re unable to forgive ourselves, it’s unlikely that we will be present enough to heal the situation, because we’ll be too caught in self-blame and anger towards ourselves to be there for the other person. If we really want to be of use to others, we must find a way to become grounded in the present. After all, the solution to mindlessness is not more mindlessness.

    Forgiveness as a Re-Entry Point

    When we feel that we’ve done something wrong or bad, we very often slip into mentally beating ourselves up over it. We chide ourselves, and can become overwhelmed with thoughts of how stupid we are, how selfish we are, how we were so wrapped up in ourselves that we didn’t think of the consequences of our words or actions. But here is the important point: when we are wrapped up in ourselves, there’s always a reason. Usually the reason is that we are experiencing some kind of pain or stress. We become blind to the present moment because of our own difficult internal experience.

    This is why forgiveness is so important. If we beat ourselves up every time we act mindlessly, we are simply continuing to suffer and therefore not being as present as we could be. Acceptance and forgiveness helps us step out of our mental chatter about what a bad person we are, and back into the here and now.

    Self-Exploration and Understanding

    It may be useful to spend some time reflecting on what distracted us away from being present in the first place. What was on our mind at the time? What was going on in our life? Approach this process gently and lightly, with a sense of compassionate curiosity, rather than blame or guilt. If we can gain a better understanding of ourselves, then we are more likely to not get so stuck next time around. And if we do get just as stuck, we might be able to notice more quickly and accept the situation with a little more ease. Either way, taking the time to listen to ourselves and understand ourselves better will have an outwardly positive effect on those around us. So even though it might be hard if we’re in a self-blaming mindset, try not to think of it as a self-indulgent or selfish practice.

    We all experience many mindless moments throughout the day. Yet this can be harnessed as an opportunity to really explore the inner workings of our minds. Every time we notice that we have become mindless, we can gently bring our attention back to the moment. We can practice forgiving ourselves, accepting that we, like everyone else around us, are only human and are always doing the best that we can in any given moment. In time, we may notice that practicing this self-forgiveness enables us to extend that forgiving nature to others too.

  • Making Healthy Choices from a Place of Self-Nurturing

    food
    If we approach healthy living from a place of guilt, shame and self-criticism, we may find ourselves trapped in cycles of yo-yo dieting or unrealistic exercise plans that inevitably always fail.

    Rather than exercising and eating well because we want to or because it feels good, we might be making choices based on emotive should’s and shouldn’t’s; because we feel that we are doing things wrong. Trying to stay healthy from this place of feeling bad about ourselves often doesn’t work. However, if we cultivate a sense of self-nurturing awareness, it becomes much easier to take care of our bodies.

    Are We Punishing Ourselves?

    If we notice that we’ve been putting on weight or that our physical fitness is not as good as it used to be, it’s common to feel that we’ve let ourselves down, or that we’re lazy or bad in some way. We recognise that our bodies don’t feel good, yet rather than listening to what it needs and nurturing it with care, we may start punishing it because we feel ashamed of ourselves.

    For example, say we’ve been busy with work, so we’ve been eating unhealthy convenience food and we haven’t exercised in a long time. Our shame might drive us to become very restrictive about what we can and can’t eat, or we might put ourselves through gruelling exercise routines to make up for all the time we’ve spent not being active.

    When we do this, however, we step out of the present moment, away from listening to our bodies and what they need. Rather than acknowledging that we want to change our habits with a sense of self-compassion and patience, we become stuck in self-criticism and rigid rules. Although we may find that we’re able to stick to our new regime for a short while, it sure feels like hard work, like we’re constantly fighting ourselves. Just one slip up can make us feel like everything is ruined, and soon enough we’re back to our old unhealthy habits.

    This is because our foundation for health is built upon unstable, negative emotions. In the same way that a romantic relationship can’t flower from resentment or bitterness, our relationship with our own body can’t be healthy and complete if we’re always telling ourselves that we’re bad and wrong.

    Shifting Our Focus

    Instead of focussing on what we’re doing wrong, and trying to enforce change, we can shift our focus onto cultivating self-compassion and self-nurturing. This way, healthy habits can flourish organically. When we become more attuned to our physical needs, we’ll naturally want to take action to meet them.

    So if we find ourselves in a situation like the one above, where we’ve not been eating well and not been exercising, rather than jumping into self-criticism, we can instead pause and try to notice how our bodies feel in a kind, non-judgemental way.

    Do we feel tired? Drained? Are we having trouble sleeping? Do our muscles feel weak? Do we feel lethargic or bloated after eating unhealthy foods? If a loved one felt this way, would we dump guilt on them? Probably not! We’d more likely want to help nurture them back to health. And we can do this for ourselves too.

    Making Choices in the Moment

    Tuning into our bodies on a regular basis can help us make healthier choices, not from guilt, but from a place of honouring our body’s current needs. Approaching health this way makes everything more manageable, because we are taking each moment as it comes, and adjusting slowly to a new way of being.

    So, for example, we are feeling lethargic and weak because we haven’t been giving our bodies the right nutrients or amount of exercise. What do we do? We can pause to assess how we feel in this moment. In this quiet space of reflection, we have the opportunity to step out of our regular, auto-pilot pattern, and so instead of buying junk food for dinner like we usually do, we notice that our body would prefer something healthier, like some vegetables and fish, for example. If we notice that our mind is jumping ahead, thinking about how we’ll eat vegetables and fish every day, we can patiently and compassionately re-focus our attention to right now, and instead think, “Today I will eat healthily. Tomorrow I will tune into my body again and see what it needs then.” The same approach can work for exercise. If we go out for a run today, we can notice how it makes our body feel. If it feels good, then we might think, “I will try and do this again, because I like how it makes my body feel. I’ll tune into my body tomorrow, and see what feels right.”

    Once we start listening to ourselves, with compassion, we’ll start to build a different relationship with our bodies. Rather than fighting against it, or trying to restrict and limit it with rigid rules, we become more present with ourselves, more grounded in the moment. We’ll start to notice which foods make us feel bad, and which give us energy. We’ll notice the difference in our bodies when we exercise. By becoming more mindful, we’re likely to find that our bodies naturally start to guide us towards what it needs, rather than having to make a forced effort with our minds.

    Would you like to learn more about how to replace self-criticism with self-compassion, and how we can gain freedom from worries about food, eating, and weight, and develop a personal eating plan that works for us? Check out our upcoming Introduction to Mindful Eating!

  • The Art of Mindful Drawing

    Drawing

    When we were children, we’d be so captivated by the process of exploring our imagination on paper that self-critical thoughts probably never entered our minds. Yet as we grew older, and faced the sometimes harsh opinions of others, this creative confidence might have been chipped away. We became fearful of making mistakes, of being laughed at or criticised, or of not being ‘good enough’ at what we were doing.

    However, with a little mindfulness and self-compassion, we can regain the creative freedom of our childhood and once again experience the joy of exploring our artistic side! Whether doodling freely, or drawing from real life, we can use these different methods of drawing as a way to reconnect with ourselves and the world around us.

    Creativity Hasn’t Left Us

    “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

    -- PABLO PICASSO 

    The reason it becomes more difficult to remain artistic as we grow up is not because we lose creativity; it’s because we lose our confidence in it. Beneath all of the internalised criticism and limiting beliefs, our creativity is still there.

    In a fascinating study conducted by Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson of North Dakota State University, it was found that undergraduates showed higher levels of creative thinking when prompted to imagine that they were 7 years old. In the study, the undergraduates were split into two groups. One group was instructed: “You are 7 years old. School is cancelled, and you have the entire day to yourself. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you see?” The second group were given the same instruction, all but for the first sentence.  After taking a variety of tests to measure creative thinking, the first group showed increased creative originality when compared to the second group.

    So we still have access to our creativity; we just need to be reminded that we never lost it.

    Doodling (or Going With the Flow!)

    Our society is a little obsessed with outcomes. We like to know the results of what we’re going to do before we start doing it. Yet, as children, we probably just put coloured pencil to paper and started drawing, maybe with a rough idea of what we were trying to create, but perfectly willing to draw whatever we felt moved to draw at the time. Nothing seemed too fanciful, nothing too abstract or weird. It was just fun!

    Doodling without a plan or purpose can feel very therapeutic, and is a great way of practicing being in the moment. Through drawing, shading or colouring, in whatever ways feel pleasant or interesting, we can get to know ourselves better. Which colours make us feel happy? Or sad? What kind of shapes are we drawn to? Do these things change depending on our mood? What kind of movement of the pen or pencil feels good to us? Can we allow ourselves to draw without form, and if not, why might that be? Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to doodle, just like there’s no right or wrong way to dance! It’s all about drawing what we feel to draw, just exploring what comes through us with openness and curiosity.

    Attention to Detail

    Unlike doodling, drawing from real life requires more conscious concentration. This makes it the perfect tool for training our eyes and minds to really see what we’re looking at. Forget all ideas of what you think a face, a flower or a piece of fruit looks like, and really pay attention to it before making a mark on the paper. Have you ever seen this particular object, from this particular angle, in this particular light before this moment? It’s unlikely, so notice every detail about it: shape, texture, colour, light and shade, any perception or depth or distance.

    By letting go of pre-conceived ideas, we can start to see things as they truly are. Draw what you see, not what you think you see.  Some artists say that you never really see a person until you draw them. It’s certainly true that drawing from real life can open our eyes to a whole world of detail that we never noticed before.

    Self-Criticism & Self-Compassion

    There is of course room for healthy, constructive self-criticism. In fact, learning how to do things better can be part of the joy of drawing. Over time, it’s natural to want to see some sort of progress in our creative endeavours; objectively analysing our artistic work and trying to improve can help us find this.

    However, if this self-critique becomes excessive, unkind, or if we become trapped in restrictive perfectionism, we are more likely to give up trying, rather than advance as artists. This is where self-compassion becomes really important.

    Whether we just want to draw something every now and then for the fun of it, or whether we want to become skilful artists, self-compassion is equally important. Rather than always finding fault in our creations, we can try to focus on what we have achieved.

    Being mindful of our self-talk can help us determine which criticism is worth taking note of, and which is coming from a self-diminishing place.  If we adopt an encouraging attitude towards ourselves, we can give ourselves back that creative confidence we lost as we were growing up.

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  • Taking the Rush Out of Life with Mindfulness

    londonDo you ever feel like the Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland? Always looking at the clock, feeling that there’s no time? That eternal sense of ‘I must rush on to the next thing’. Work and family commitments, household chores, even scheduled leisure time activities, can all give us the feeling that there’s a never-ending list of things to get done. Rather than living from a place of presence, we find ourselves caught up in our mental to-do list, always missing the present moment experience, always thinking ahead to what’s next in line.

    This way of being can cause a lot of stress and tension in our lives. It can also leave us feeling detached from what really matters to us; that we are not living fully, only existing to achieve this task, and then the next, and the next. But the practice of mindfulness can provide respite from this sense of needing to rush. By reconnecting with ourselves and the moment, we can give ourselves the gift of greater peace of mind.

    Resistance to Slowing Down

    When we’re feeling rushed, the thought of taking a moment to pause may at first seem impossible. It might even add extra tension: “Not only have I got this, this and this do to, but now I’ve also got to take a few moments to breathe? Yeah right!” It’s natural to feel some resistance to it, after all isn’t it just piling on another task for us to complete?

    If we see mindfulness as something to achieve then of course this will just add to our sense of not having enough time. However, those moments of feeling overwhelmed are the perfect moments to take a breather. Imagine a traffic jam; all the lanes are closed, and the cars are just piling up behind the blockade. The mounting fumes from running engines, the noise from car radios, the stress of being late, of being stuck, it all just keeps growing and growing. Then someone opens one of the lanes and the cars start passing through. Then another lane is opened, and before long the traffic is running smoothly again. This is what we do when we take a moment to slow down. Rather than making the problem worse, it helps everything run more efficiently. Our rushing thoughts are the cars in the traffic jam, clogging up our experience, and our mindful moments are the opening of the lanes to let them through.

    Noticing the Signals

    When we’re caught in our to-do list, it’s like we’re living in a trance, missing everything around us and disconnected from our feelings and needs. But thoughts like “there’s not enough time” provide signals that tell us we’re not present. That’s not to say that such thoughts mean we’re doing anything wrong. In fact, they’re a totally natural response to the stressful lives we lead. Yet if we become attuned to noticing these types of thoughts, plus feelings of tension or tightness in the body, we can start to use these as cues to slow down, breathe, and reconnect with the moment.

    What’s Important Right Now?

    “The most important thing is remembering the most important thing.”Suzuki Roshi

    If we’re feeling stressed and rushed, it’s likely that we’ve lost sight of what’s really important to us. It’s useful to take some time to reflect on what is truly important to our hearts. Is it really having a spotless home, working into the evening, or constantly pleasing others? Or is it things like spending quality time with our loved ones, cultivating compassion for ourselves and others, and building a life around our true values? We might tell ourselves that once we have done all the things we need to do, then we will become attentive to what really matters. Yet how likely is it that our to-do list will shrink without some intention on our part to make it so? If we knew that today was our last day, would we still feel we had time to rush? Or would we realise that our time is precious and that it matters to us to pay attention to the here and now? Not out of some sense of ‘should’ or ‘ought to’ – which is where our rushed feelings come from – but because it personally matters to us.

    We have responsibilities. Practicing mindfulness won’t magic them away. However, we can hold the intention to pause and appreciate the moment, even if our appreciation is only for little things like a smile from a stranger, or the sun shining. We tend to think of life as a long journey spreading out in front of us, but actually life is a succession of these small moments. If we notice them and feel grateful for them, we may still have our to-do list, but the ‘doing’ of life can become less an automatic chore and more an active, conscious, and hopefully enjoyable engagement with our own hearts and the world around us.

  • 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.

     

     

  • Our Need for Acceptance and the Pain of Rejection

    communicationIn Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ‘social belonging’ is placed right after physiological needs – such as water and air, and safety needs – like protection from the elements. Most of us probably experience this to be true; that the need to be loved and wanted is high on our list of needs.

    When we feel rejected – whether it’s in love, from our family or friends, or in work or creative pursuits – this rejection can feel incredibly painful. Rejection can send us into depression or anxiety, and can make us question our value as a person.

    Rejection is Bound to Hurt

    Modern neuroscience backs up Maslow’s psychological theory of our strong need for social belonging. Studies have shown that social pain activates the same regions of the brain as physical pain does. A team of researchers, led by Dr. David T. Hsu, at the University of Michigan Medical School, found that our brains release the same chemicals to dampen pain signals when we experience social rejection as when we experience physical pain. So it makes sense that we would want to avoid rejection, just as we would want to avoid physical injury. In the same way that we will avoid putting our hand in the fire once we’ve learn how much it hurts, some of us will avoid starting new relationships, chasing career goals, or trying new things; we’ve felt the sting of rejection before, so we don’t want to put ourselves through that again.

    It seems that we are hard-wired to find rejection painful. But does that mean we are helpless when faced with it? Although mindfulness can’t stop us feeling the pain of rejection completely, it can help to take the edge off.

    Remember to Breathe

    When we feel pain, whether it’s emotional or physical, we tend to tense up. Even our breathing tenses up; it might become shallow and irregular. We’re not accustomed to relaxing into pain and allowing it to be. It hurts, and so we want to fight against it! Yet this only makes our experience even more painful.

    The simplest and most powerful thing that we can do when we’re in emotional turmoil is to remember to breathe. Taking deep, measured breaths can help take us out of our mental chatter (which is probably moving at the speed of a runaway train after a rejection) and back into our bodies. Each breath is like an anchor to the present moment. And if we get caught up in our minds again? We simply notice this, and use the next breath as another anchor.

    Once we’re more calm and grounded, we can look at some of the thoughts and beliefs we have about rejection, and how they might be adding to our suffering.

    Breaking Free of Rumination and Self-Criticism

    If we’ve been rejected, we may end up ruminating on what we could have done differently; how we could have done more to make people want us. Thoughts like “What’s wrong with me?” might be echoing around in our minds. If we’re not mindful, we may start coming up with harsh answers to these questions. Before we know it, we’re caught in a downward spiral of self-blame and self-criticism.

    Yet by noticing our beliefs about what rejection means to us, and reflecting on the reality of the rejection, we can take a step back and view it with a little more objectivity. For example, if we get turned down for a job we really wanted, rather than believing in the emotion-packed thought of “I didn’t get the job because I’m useless”, we can re-direct our attention to what’s actually real, which is that we either didn’t have the right kind of skills for the job at this time, or that we did have all of the necessary skills, but for some reason or another, a different candidate stood out and was chosen. The decision to choose another person over us probably has less to do with us than we may believe, and is 100% nothing to do with our overall value as a human being.

    Learning from Rejection

    Viewing rejection with more objectivity will not only take some of the emotional sting out of it, but it can also help us use that rejection in a more productive and positive way. Taking it less personally gives us the opportunity to take lessons from it. So in the example of being turned down for a job, rather than sinking into depression about it and giving up on our hopes and dreams, we can take note of what we need to improve on for the next time.

    Of course, being rejected in love or from family is different, and is harder to turn into a positive. Yet even in our most heart-wrenching rejections there is space for growth, as long as we treat ourselves with compassion and patience, and keep the self-blaming in check. And if we’re unable to feel kindness towards ourselves, we can at least keep breathing consciously until we’re able to find some self-compassion for our predicament.

    Simply acknowledging that rejection will hurt, whatever we do, can in itself be a relief. Much of our suffering comes from wishing that our experience was different to how it currently is. But mindfulness helps us to see and accept this moment, however we happen to find it, even if our moment is filled with feelings of unworthiness. The trick is to remember that unworthiness is a transitory feeling, never an absolute truth about us.

  • Taking Mindfulness on Holiday

    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.

    Palm Trees

    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 what the weather, the culture, the hotel, or the activities will be like 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 Dramas

    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. 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 that 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!

  • Taking Time to Play

    Have you ever sat and watched a group of children play, and sighed to yourself, thinking, “Man, I’d love to be a kid again!”? How nice it would be to feel so care-free again!

    Yet just because we’re grown up doesn’t mean that we can’t still play. In fact, taking time to play is very beneficial for our well-being, relationships and even productivity.

     

    play

     

    A Waste of Time?

    Author and psychiatrist, Dr. Stuart Brown, MD has studied the life histories of over 6,000 people and found a compelling link between a person’s success in life and their childhood, and current, playing habits. “An adult who has “lost” what was a playful youth and doesn’t play,” he says, “will demonstrate social, emotional and cognitive narrowing, be less able to handle stress, and often experience a smoldering depression. From an evolutionary point of view, research suggests that play is a biological necessity.” And yet so many of us don’t allow ourselves to be playful.

    We certainly live in a results-driven society. When it comes to work, education, and sometimes even how we spend our free time, our focus is usually on what we will achieve by the end of a particular activity. We spend our time in the same way we would spend money; we feel we must put it to ‘good use’, and not fritter it away on frivolous things. If we do spend time on something that was fun but not ‘useful’ (i.e. we don’t have anything to show for it afterwards), we may feel guilty for having wasted that time. For example, we may avoid investing time in learning new things unless it will benefit our career, or if we exercise it may because we have particular fitness goals that we want to achieve, rather than because we enjoy moving our bodies. This is probably why we envy children’s ability to play: they don’t play to achieve something; they play because it is a joyful way to spend time.

    Yet if we really watch children play, we can see that they are not wasting time at all. Firstly, enjoying our lives is never wasteful. And secondly, children learn many skills from playing. They learn how to interact with the world, with other people, and in the process of playing they explore their dreams, emotions, and who they are. Studies, such as Brown’s, show that this beneficial process doesn’t stop justbecause we’ve grown up.

    Enjoying This Moment

    One of the main benefits of practicing mindfulness is that it helps us become more present. Being present in the moment doesn’t mean that we forget about our responsibilities, or that we don’t make plans for the future. However, if we are spending the majority of our time preparing for the next day, week, months or years, then we are perpetually missing the gift of the present moment.

    While we of course can’t become completely like children again, we are able to become more conscious about how we spend our time, and can actively choose to spend some of that time simply enjoying life. Giving ourselves permission to play is an excellent way to do this.

    How to Play

    Dr. Stuart Brown, MD compares play to oxygen: “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” The opportunity to play is all around us because all it really means is to engage with our present surroundings with curiosity and imagination. Cultivating a sense of curiosity helps us stay mindful, because it means we are really taking notice of things. We can do this anywhere, and in many different ways.

    We could buy a pack of paints and start adding them to a canvas, with no idea of what we’ll end up creating, just exploring how the colours look, how they blend together or contrast with each other. We could take a walk with no destination in mind, just because we want to explore where we live, or an area of countryside. On our walk, we can stop to notice trees, plants, streams, touching them and engaging with them as if the world is our playground. We could take some time to look out of the window at the clouds and daydream. We could have funny conversations with our pets, and notice the cute and amusing ways they react to us. We could dance like no one was watching, or sing like no one could hear us. We could try on clothes that we wouldn’t normally wear, or experiment with make-up and accessories, not because we’ve got to get dressed up to go somewhere, but because it’s fun to play dress-up sometimes, just as we did as children.

    Regaining our sense of play can help us in many areas of our lives. It can help us become more creative in work or at home, it can help us connect with loved ones, friends and even strangers, and perhaps most importantly, it can help reconnect us with ourselves!

    When was the last time you played? What did you do? Or what play ideas would you like to do? We love hearing your experiences, so share them in the comments below!

  • Dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Thinking

    OCD

     

    Obsessive compulsive thoughts can range from a mildly irritating sense that you might have left the oven on, even though you know you haven’t, right up to the very distressing belief that simply having a negative thought might cause harm to others.

     

    Although scientists have not yet agreed on a definitive cause for OCD, there are a number of theories which offer explanations of why some of us develop these very strong, and uncomfortable, intrusive thought patterns.

    The biological theory suggests that in OCD sufferers, the brain struggles with turning off particular impulses. For example, before we leave the house we might check that all the electrical switches have been turned off. Even after we’ve checked, the impulse to do so still remains, and so we may experience discomfort and concern if we do not check once more.

    Another theory suggests that the cause may be psychological, and that people with OCD place too much importance – through no fault of their own – on the kinds of intrusive thoughts that everyone experiences from time to time. For example, “Did I leave the oven on?” or “Am I a bad person?”.

    Rather than letting these thoughts come and go naturally, OCD sufferers may believe that something bad will happen unless these thoughts are acted upon, or even that the very act of having certain thoughts is causing bad things to occur.

    Stress, depression and traumatic life events, while not considered to be causes, can act as triggers of obsessive compulsive thoughts, and often aggravate our pre-existing problems.

    At its worst OCD can be debilitating, and even if we can function normally with these thought patterns, they may still cause anxiety and depression. Yet mindfulness offers some hope.

     

    Using the Breath as an Anchor

     

    When we’re caught in repetitive or obsessive thought cycles, we’re not present. Instead, we’re trapped in painful what-if’s or ruminations about how things we’ve said or done may have affected others negatively.

    Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a gentle awareness of the present moment. Practicing mindfulness can really help us break free of this internal trap, by grounding us in the reality of the moment, while also helping us cultivate a greater sense of kindness and compassion towards ourselves.

    In mindfulness meditation, we train our minds to focus on the here and now. We give our brains something to focus its attention on (i.e. the breath or a piece of fruit), whilst at the same time, encouraging ourselves to notice when our minds are wandering away from that focal point, and gently bringing it back each time.

    This practice can help us develop a healthier relationship with our thoughts, by encouraging patience and kindness within ourselves when we get carried away by mental chatter. This can be immensely helpful when it comes to obsessive compulsive thoughts.

    When we find ourselves caught in obsessive thoughts, there is one focal point which is always available to us: our breath. For as long as we’re alive, we’ll always be breathing, and so directing our attention away from our thoughts and onto the breath is an option that will always be there.

    By paying attention to the physical sensations of breathing, like how the air feels as it fills our nostrils or how our chest expands and relaxes with each breath, we can take some of the emotional charge out of our obsessive compulsive thoughts and feel more grounded in reality again.

     

    Mindfulness Improves Impulse Control

     

    Studies have shown that mindfulness can be effective for helping us control impulses. When we have a more observational relationship with our thoughts, we’re more able to sit with impulses and urges, patiently being with them and waiting for them to pass, rather than acting on each and every one.

    For example, if we’re giving up smoking, mindfulness can help us accept the feeling that we want a cigarette, without interpreting our experience to mean that we must have one. This process can also be applied to obsessive compulsive thoughts.

    Say, for example, that we are leaving the house and we’ve locked the door behind us. But then a thought pops up that says, “You better check again, just to make sure.” So we double check, and turn to leave, but the same thought arises yet again. If we get caught by this series of impulses, we could be stuck checking the door for the next ten minutes or more.

    However, studies suggest that regular mindfulness practice helps our brains become better at regulating impulses by promoting growth in the areas of the brain that are involved in impulse control.

    This means that mindfulness may be very beneficial for those of us who struggle with obsessive impulses, not just because it makes us more aware of them, but also because it enables our brains to deal with them better, in the same way that exercising makes our muscles stronger and more able to deal with stresses and strains.

    If we can be patient with our obsessive thoughts, and make efforts to deliberately and repetitively re-focus our attention on something like the breath or our surroundings, we may reach a place where obsessive thoughts can arise and fall away more freely.

    Want to learn more about mindfulness and how to use it in our day-to-day lives? Visit our calendar to find out our upcoming workshops, courses and retreats.

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