• Putting Down Our Cameras to Make Mindful Memories

    CameraMobile technology makes it easier than ever before to document special moments in photographs or videos. However, how many of these moments are we actually experiencing mindfully, rather than simply viewing through a screen? Whilst it’s wonderful to be able to capture these sights or occasions so that we can remember them later on, we may sometimes find ourselves simply pointing and clicking in lieu of really looking and letting the moment sink into our minds.

    Mindfulness encourages us to slow down, and even to completely stop sometimes in order to notice or savour what we are currently experiencing. Rather than rushing from moment to moment, trying to see or do as much as possible, we can instead start taking the time to use our senses as a kind of camera, capturing the moment in a deeper way. By mindfully looking, listening, feeling, tasting or smelling, we can create a full sensory memory of the moment, so that in the future when we look back we’ll have more than just a snapshot on our phone. Although of course we can still take a photo or video as well!

    Next time you’re at a party or get-together with friends or family, or next time you see something beautiful or interesting, pause and take a moment to let the scene sink into your mind first. Really feel into the emotions it brings, whether it’s happiness, gratitude, love, awe or fascination, let it permeate your whole being. It may be helpful to think of it as a way of honouring the moment with your full presence. Take a mental snapshot before you take one on your camera, and then notice how it changes the quality of the memory when you look back on it later on.

  • A Thought on Judgement

    judgement

    With the practice of mindfulness comes a lot of talk about non-judgement. Indeed, when we become more mindful we do naturally loosen our ideas of what’s good and bad, right and wrong, etc., and as a result we may drop some of our past prejudices and knee-jerk reactions to things. However, judgement is also necessary; we need it in order to navigate our daily lives and to make decisions. So how do we find the balance?

    It’s useful to approach judgement with curiosity. If we can step back from automatically buying into every opinion we have, we can start to learn more about where our judgements are coming from, whether they’re helpful or not, and whether they are in line with our true values.

    For example, say we’re with a friend and they’re telling us about a problem they’re having. As we listen, our minds may be throwing up many judgements about why the problem is happening, what our friend could do differently, even judgements about the overall character of our friend. These judgements are inevitable (we can’t stop our minds from judging) however our reaction to those judgements is slightly more within our control. As soon as we notice them, we can try to hold them more lightly. This way, we don’t get so lost in our judgemental thoughts, and can instead redirect our focus on listening with more awareness.

    However there will of course be times when we must act on our judgements. If our friend is constantly telling us about their problems and yet never asks how we are doing, we may feel that we no longer want to spend time with that person. And that’s okay. Being mindful isn’t about passively accepting everything that happens in life. It’s about cultivating that ability to reflect on our judgements first, and then take action.

    So next time you notice a judgement, get to know it a little better. Is this judgement coming from your values, or just from the temporary mood you’re in? Is it true? Is it fair? After taking a few deep breaths, or even meditating for twenty minutes, is the judgement still the same? Don’t push the judgement away or make it wrong, simply sit with it for a while and explore.

    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    Good Friend Meditation

    RETREATS:

    8-Week Interpersonal Mindfulness Course

  • This is the Season to be Jolly… But What If You Aren’t?

    goatFor some of us Christmas is the most enjoyable time of the year. However, for others it might be a more difficult or painful time. When we’re caught up in our excitement, we may sometimes find ourselves pressuring others to feel the same way as us; reacting with judgement or criticism (either directly or passively) when someone tells us that they won’t be sending Christmas cards, or that they’d rather spend Christmas Day alone with a meal for one. This reaction, whilst understandable (we might fear losing our own joy) and socially acceptable, actually flies in the face of what most of us consider to be the true spirit of the season: love.

    There are many valid reasons for people to not enjoy this time of year. It may mark the anniversary of the loss of a loved one, it might remind us of a painful childhood, or the sights, sounds and expectations of Christmas might simply just be too overwhelming for the senses. And just because it’s Christmas time doesn’t mean that normal life stops; couples still get divorced, people become ill, lose their jobs, or suffer with depression.

    The most compassionate thing that we can do is to say, ‘It’s okay’ to our friends or family members who aren’t feeling jolly this Christmas, or to ourselves if we’re the one feeling that way. We can use mindfulness to help us make space for those feelings to just be as they are, without trying to enforce cheer upon ourselves or others. If you’re excited and happy for Christmas, that’s okay! Enjoy it! But if you’re not feeling so great, that’s okay too. Just bring awareness to whatever is arising right now, whether festive or not, and try to meet that experience with openness and presence.

    MEDITATION:

    Candlelight Meditation

    Changing Seasons Meditation

    Good Friend Meditation

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

    8-Week Interpersonal Mindfulness Course

    New Year's Resolution Workshop

  • Eat, Drink and Be Merry (Mindfully)!

    smell
    If you’re trying to stay healthy, the Christmas season can bring some stress. When we’re catching up with friends and family, and attending work parties, we’ll likely be offered countless mince pies, cakes and chocolates, plus plenty of glasses of alcohol. Usually we might eat and drink too much in December and then try to make up for it in January with a strict diet. Yet we could instead use a little mindfulness this season so that we can enjoy all the tasty things without feeling guilty, bloated and groggy afterwards.

    Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the food and drink after all. The smell of mulled wine, the taste of spiced fruit, and that sound of lifting the lid off of a box of chocolates are nostalgic elements of the season. We probably have many warm memories of these things, and so we should feel free to enjoy them! By mindfully savouring these treats we’ll not only enjoy them more fully, but we’ll also be less likely to overindulge and make ourselves sick.

    The key to mindful eating (and drinking) is to slow down and fully engage all the senses, and what better time to do this than at Christmas! When we eat a slice of Christmas cake we can savour the smell of mixed spices, and take a moment to think of the time it took to soak the fruit in the alcohol, then to mix it with the cake batter, and then to decorate it, all so that we can enjoy eating it in this moment. Even if we’re out drinking, we can apply the same attention, savouring the warmth of our mulled wine or the bubbles in our champagne; we can mindfully enjoy getting a little light-headed and merry, and of course we can also savour the company of our friends and loved ones.

    It’s usually only when we do these things mindlessly that we end up regretting them; we knock back too much wine or overeat without noticing, and are then left with all the bad feelings that come after, like a hangover or a stomach ache. But by being present while we eat and drink, we can monitor our feelings as we go and will know when we’ve had enough.

    So this Christmas don’t be afraid of mince pies and bubbly; be present and make precious memories of sharing them with friends!

    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Eating Awareness Training Workshop

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • We Don’t Have to Wait until January for a Fresh Start

    stoneChristmas is fast approaching, with the promise of New Year’s resolutions hot on its tail. We collectively buy into the idea that January 1st marks the time for fresh starts, however we don’t really have to wait until after Christmas to start anew. Each and every moment gives us that opportunity. Including this one right now!

    Change rarely happens in one fell swoop. Lasting changes are made up of lots of little choices; lots of little moments that when added up together become powerful. By postponing change, or imagining that somehow the start of a new year will mean the start of a new personality in which we’ll have more willpower and drive, we often set ourselves up for failure. It’s all too big; too much to tackle all at once.

    Instead, let’s remember that in each moment we have the chance to make a different choice. Becoming more present and grounded in our day-to-day lives makes us more able to choose not to have that cigarette right now, to have the healthy option for dinner, or to go out for a run – because we feel like it, not because we’ve trapped ourselves in a big commitment. And then we can just take each moment as it comes. Maybe the next time we want to binge on junk food, we might just eat a little less or more slowly. Maybe we won’t exercise every day, but if we’re present enough to enjoy the feeling it gives us afterwards we’ll want to do it more often. If we’re in our heads, dreaming of an ideal version of ourselves that we hope will miraculously occur come the new year, then we aren’t being present in all of those little moments that really matter. For it’s in those moments, these moments happening right now, that we make more conscious choices. This way, we can change in an organic way that suits our current abilities. And we’re far less likely to feel like ‘failures’ in February!

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    New Year's Resolution Workshop

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • “They Might Have Guns But We Have Flowers.”

    paris2In a recent interview at the scene of the Bataclan attacks in Paris, one French father shared a beautiful message of hope with his young son.

    In the short clip, the son says that they will have to leave their home because of the terrorists. After the father’s reassurance that they won’t be leaving, and that France is their home, his son pleads, “They have guns, they can shoot us because they’re really really mean daddy.” His father then replies, “It’s okay, they might have guns but we have flowers.”

    “But flowers don’t do anything,” says the son.

    “Of course they do, look,” says the father, pointing towards them, “everyone is putting flowers. It’s to fight against the guns.”

    “It’s to protect?”

    “Exactly.”

    “And the candles too?”

    “It’s to remember the people who are gone yesterday.”

    “The flowers and candles are here to protect us,” says the son.

    There’s a short pause as the reporter, the father and the son smile warmly at each other, and then the reporter asks the boy, “Do you feel better now?”

    “Yes, I feel better,” says the boy.

    Some may argue that this exchange was ‘soft’ or naïve, because of course flowers and candles cannot protect us from bullets and bombs. And yet, these things can protect us from the hatred and fear that terrorist attacks inevitably cause. Expressions of love and unity protect us from closing our hearts; they protect us from disconnecting from each other.

    Mindfulness practice teaches us how to redirect our focus; away from dwelling endlessly on the men with guns and towards the acts of courage and love which have been shown not just in Paris, but also in Beirut and other parts of the world. That’s not to say that we ignore the tragedy of what has happened and that we should not educate ourselves on the spread Islamic Extremism and do whatever we can to prevent it from spreading. But it is helpful to consciously notice the continuing goodness of people too. People like Adel Termos, who selflessly tackled a suicide bomber to the ground in Beirut, thus saving countless others from the explosion.

    Thankfully few of us will ever face the terror of gunshots. Yet we all face the fear those gunshots send echoing across the world. If we can mindfully look to the goodness of people, to the flowers and candles, to the kindness expressed in the face of horror, then we have not lost.

    “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.’” Fred Rogers

  • Hygge: Cultivated Cosiness

    mug
    There are many words from other languages that we don’t have an equivalent word for in English. Like the German word ‘schadenfreude’, which means to take pleasure from the misfortune of others, or the Spanish word ‘sombremésa’ which is used to describe the time spent after a meal, talking to the people you shared the meal with. Although we are familiar with these emotions or situations, somehow having a singular word for them can make them more tangible; naming such things can help us become more mindful of them.

    The Danish and Norwegians have a concept known as ‘hygge’ (heurgha). It’s used to describe things or situations which give us a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. ‘Hygge’ is an integral part of Danish life, and so it may come as no surprise that Denmark is considered to be one of the happiest countries in the world.

    My Danish friend, Daniel says: “You can make something hyggelig; you tidy your home, you bring cake for your class, you light candles, etc. And something can be hyggelig too; an old house, or a bench in a park, or a campfire... It's very ingrained in the language and social interaction/tradition but we're also very relaxed about it in the everyday. It can range from the very small to the big things.”

    So how can we use mindfulness to help us bring more hygge into our lives?

    One way is to bring awareness to what makes us feel nice and cosy, and then to consciously incorporate more of those things into our lives. For example, if fairy lights make us feel happy, we can hang some in our bedroom, or if we haven’t seen our friends for a while we could invite them to our home for a candlelit meal. Or we can just set aside some time to snuggle up under our duvet and read a good book.

    Another way is to be more mindful of the hyggelig things that are already around us! We can, for example, slow down and savour a lovely cup of tea, take time to enjoy a beautiful scene, or delight in the warmth of a knitted jumper or blanket.

    How do you cultivate cosiness in your life? Leave a comment sharing your best hygge moments!

    MEDITATION:

    Candlelight Meditation

  • Meeting Imperfection with Kindness

    imperfectionThis post was inspired by Tara Brach’s talk ‘Relating Wisely with Imperfection’. You can listen to the full talk here.

    When we bring to mind our imperfections, how do we feel? Perhaps we feel a sense of guilt, embarrassment, shame, regret, depression or anxiety. We may feel a tightness; an urge to keep our imperfections hidden from others. We probably wouldn’t want everyone to know of our addictions and failings, all the times we acted stupidly or selfishly, the times when we’ve lost control, lost our courage or lost our minds. And yet, in the act of me writing these words and of you reading them and relating to them, we’ve both tapped into an important point to consider: these imperfections are not unique to us alone; they are universally shared by all human beings. We all know the fear of being seen as ‘not good enough’.

    If we take just one of our imperfections and look at it for a moment, what happens when we ask ourselves the question, “Imperfect, compared to what?” What standard are we holding in our minds that we feel we are falling short of? Is it a person, or an imagined ideal? Whatever the answer may be, it’s useful to bring awareness to the standards we are expecting ourselves to meet, and to question their validity.

    We may feel concerned about normalising our imperfections, however, because if we don’t feel bad about them how will we ever change? Some of our imperfections may cause hurt to others, and so how can we be okay with that? Yet, we may also know deep down that reacting to imperfection with judgement never really works. We will never run out of imperfections to judge, and so where does that approach leave us? A life of self-loathing and anxiety simply because we are human?

    True healing and change arises from acceptance and compassion. These qualities can only flower from mindful awareness. In order to cultivate this new approach towards imperfection (in ourselves and others), we can use mindfulness to help us remember to pause before we judge. Kindness rarely makes a person lazy. In fact, kindness and acceptance often gives us the strength to be able to make better choices, and to forgive ourselves more easily when we make ‘bad’ choices so that we can move beyond them.

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • Can We Practice Falling in Love?

    mindfulnessIf we look at the phrase ‘to fall in love’ we’ll notice that it implies an effortlessness. We don’t think of it as a ‘pushing’, ‘forcing’ or ‘creating’; it’s a falling, a letting go. If we think of the things that we are in love with, whether it’s a partner, a close friend, a pet, a career, or even a pastime, we’re likely to find that we did not choose to love them. Rather, there developed a love which we have allowed ourselves to be open to.

    This makes love a rather beautiful and precious thing. We love things not because they are perfect (after all, what in life is truly perfect?), or because we have made a logical decision to love, but because we’ve tapped into a connection or alignment with that thing in that moment.

    That feeling of falling in love can be fleeting. Perhaps this is because it requires a presence that we often don’t feel we have time for, or at least don’t make the time for in our busy lives. Even in long term relationships, where one would assume both partners are consistently ‘in love’, there are in fact moments when you find yourself falling back in love again after having become disconnected. This usually happens in moments of letting go of expectations, resentments, and narrowed ideas of how things should or shouldn’t be. When we’re just ‘there’ with that person, connecting heart to heart, that’s when we find ourselves falling into love.

    So can we practice falling in love? It actually seems a lot like practicing mindfulness. With love comes acceptance and compassion, and a gentle tenderness. Perhaps love is not that dissimilar to that state of presence we so often talk about in mindfulness. If we make a conscious decision to stay open to life, maybe we can practice falling in love with a beautiful view, a bittersweet song, the dog barking in the street, a stranger who smiles at us, an inconvenient change in the weather, an old friend, a new date, or the partner we’ve spent many years with.

    .....

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

    Gratitude Meditation

    Love Meditation

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Cultivating Happiness Workshop

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • Applying Mindfulness in Sport

    Sportswritten by Oliver Dixon

    Whilst the hectic, high pressure environment of professional sport might seem like the last place you would expect mindfulness to be utilised, the practice is actually becoming increasingly popular among professional organisations, particularly in the US. Michael Gervais uses it with the Seattle Seahawks, George Mumford has used mindfulness with numerous championship winning NBA teams including the Lakers and Bulls, and Novak Djokovic, who is considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time, has described mindfulness as the secret of his success. Here we look at several ways that mindfulness can be applied in sport.

    Improved Focus

    A major issue in sport which leads to poor performance is misplaced focus. This can be caused by ruminating on previous mistakes (e.g. a missed shot), or trying to predict the future. An example of this is when athletes are said to have ‘choked’; surrendering a lead because they felt the pressure, and more than likely have run through hundreds of possible scenarios in their mind for how the rest of the match could pan out.

    Applying techniques such as mindful breathing can help keep you grounded in the present moment. Being more able to move on from mistakes or stop yourself thinking too far ahead ensures that you can stay fully focused on the next play.

    Mindfulness teaches us to become aware of the thoughts we have, not in a judgemental way but to simply recognise and observe them. This awareness is the first step in recognising what you are mentally saying to yourself during sport, and the results might be surprising. You’ll often find just how critical you are; comments you wouldn’t say to other people. When these thoughts are illuminated by awareness it then becomes easier to let them go, or at the very least not believe in them as truth.

    Novak Djokovic commented, “I used to freeze up whenever I made a mistake... Now when I blow a serve or shank a forehand, I still get those flashes of self-doubt but I know how to handle them: I acknowledge the negative thoughts and let them slide by, focusing on the moment.”

    Self-regulation

    The practice of mindfulness helps us cultivate self-regulation of our emotions. The ability to react to another player’s action without emotion is often the difference between a wise decision and one that loses the game. Sport can be a hugely stressful environment, with so many factors being out of your control, and mindfulness practices have been shown to greatly reduce stress.

    Mindfulness also teaches you how to connect your mind and body, through exercises such as progressive muscle relaxation. This heightened mind-body connection means you can be more attuned to signals your body is giving off during sport. For example, you might notice when the red mist begins to descend earlier than before by recognising stress and tension in the muscles, or become aware of a possible muscle injury before it becomes serious.

    Imagery

    One of the most powerful techniques in sport psychology is imagery. By picturing your next shot or game, you can plan responses to different scenarios. However, if practiced incorrectly it can lead to negative results. Incorrect use of imagery usually occurs due to a lack of control of the images you create, and can cause visualisations to be ineffective or even negative. For example, excessively visualising what could go wrong would likely result in a loss of confidence or cause anxiety. Mindfulness can help to increase the level of control you can have over your imagery, through quieting the mind and allowing you to focus on only relevant information. It can also help you utilise all five senses to increase the vividness of the image, increasing the effectiveness of the exercise.

    So next time you’re playing sport and you miss an easy chance, or make a mistake, rather than let negative self-talk and rumination distract you from your game, take a deep breath, centre yourself in the present moment and carry on enjoying the game!

     

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