Let’s be honest – how many of us can say we love our job? The lucky few who follow their passion or their vocation every day and get paid for it are the people we often watch and admire and wish we could be like.
Even if like me, you’re working on getting there (I’m trying to build The Mindful Hub into something that I can create to bring so much good mindful stuff to you all – but it’s a slow process whilst still working full time), it can feel like an uphill struggle and meanwhile you need to pay the bills. But what if even if you’re not in your dream job, you could still learn to love the job you’re in? Well using a little bit of mindful magic you can. Here’s how…
I’m presuming some of the people who read my blog are mindfulness practitioners. After all if you’re not, then a blog about mindfulness and practicing it might not tick any boxes for you.
So if you are you will probably have experienced at some point in your practice the resistance to meditation. For newbies to meditation it is in essence taking time out from thinking – to focus either on a guided meditation, or a sound, or silence.
If you are a beginner, or even just a bit curious the fact that it centres on meditation might even be putting you off; a bunch of hippies in a room chanting ‘Om’ not your cup of tea?
Thankfully meditation has moved on since the 70s, but I have still found it really hard to maintain a daily practice. Remember when you were young and it was exam time? Your bedroom never looked so tidy. That displacement technique we used then I am using now to full effect. Why meditate when I can load the dishwasher? Why meditate when I can take the dogs for a walk? Why meditate when I can make coffee and watch Netflix on my iPad?
There’s a very good, very frustrating answer to why I meditate, and why it would help you if you’re looking for a calmer, more peaceful way of living. It makes a massive difference. The head space I find when I meditate brings peace of mind, calmness and somehow more ability to cope with what life throws at me. It even throws in little insights into my world when I’m not even looking. Even though some days thoughts fly in and out of my head at a faster speed than Concorde ever did. You see I don’t think meditation comes naturally. It’s not something you can sit down first time and ‘do’. You aren’t suddenly going to have a mind as clear as crystal after you’ve done 10 minutes. It takes many sittings and many practices to master it, and even then you can find yourself finding it really bloody difficult to concentrate on the breath. But every breath makes a difference.
So why I find so many other reasons not to meditate? I guess it’s resistance to change, and it takes up time. There’s a school of thought that 10 minutes a day is enough to make a different – great. However I want to teach mindfulness so I need to have a much longer daily practice. Secondly it’s not always easy. When you’ve had a bad day at work , to clear your head of what your boss said to you and who’s used all the paperclips this week can be tough. But not meditating will be tougher on you in the long run. I have now ruminated, tidied just about everything, and have found solutions on how to make it easier to meditate. Here’s five tips to share with you to help get you started or back on track
Find a time and stick to it – If you make meditation a habit, it’s more likely to stick. I now get up at 6:20 (precisely!) for my meditation because even though I am not particularly a morning person, I know that as many times as I’ve tried to do it in the evening I never succeed; when I come home I want to eat, chill and sleep.
Use guided meditations – if you practice meditation for a while, it’s easier to sit in silence and listen to just your breath. However particularly when you first get going, and even when you’ve been practicising for a time, it’s nice to do different meditations on different aspects; from compassion, to mindfulness meditations for peace, improved sleep, mindful eating – you name it there’s a meditation for it. Check out either headspace app for a meditation subscription that’s easy to do (there’s a 30 day free trial too to see if you like it), or go to Youtube where you access tonnes of free meditations on just about everything.
Make a physical space – It can be hard to clear your mind if you’re sitting in a cluttered room surrounded by dirty washing, toys or other clutter. If you have the space – make a specific area where you can practice – with a favourite chair, or a meditation cushion, you can make a little space with things that help you meditate; a picture of something that inspires you, pebbles or crystals if you’re so inclined, a candle or an oil burner. If you’re like me and live in a small home with no permanent space- I meditate in bed in the morning sitting upright- but with a pebble that I was given from my mindfulness training, and a lotus wax melt burner that emits a lovely fragrance. It’s something that sets the space
Keep a journal – If you want to work out if meditation is working for you, keep a journey. When you’re regularly practicing and you’re writing about hoe you’re feeling, compare that to when you have a lapse, or you can’t regularly practice and see the difference.
Find a buddy – Lots of things are better with two – if you prefer to perhaps go to a meditation group, or have a friend who’s also interested you can work together to remind each other to meditate, talk about how it’s working for you or recommend different meditations.
Finally don’t give up. Getting a meditation practice to last is a work in progress. Believe me I am still working on it. Eventually it will become a habit and the benefits you will get from meditating will be the difference.
Have you got any tips on how to keep a meditation practice going?
So the tinsel is up, the turkey is thawing out and the sherry is being poured, but how do you manage not to throttle Aunty Bertha when she tells you that you’ve put on weight for the tenth Christmas in a row, or avoid the tense atmosphere between your divorced Mum and Dad who only come together once a year ‘for the kids’?
Christmas is a funny time of year, all the advertising and a lot of the social media content we see point to a great family Christmas, all around the table, laughing and joking and having a whale of a time but for a lot of people Christmas can be a minefield of interpreting social nuances and avoiding the family member who weeps uncontrollably when you ask them how they are (that has been me on occasion at Christmas I have to say…or how about the time I ate so many biscuits I got awful indigestion and had to lie down and miss Christmas dinner? I fully admit I am one of the relatives you need to plan for!)
On a serious note, if you are worrying about how to cope this Christmas, use some of these mindful tips to help you through the next few days
1. Get on YouTube and find a three minute breathing space meditation. If you search ‘three minute breathing space meditation’ lots will come up and that’s a real quick space to take some time out when you think you’ll explode if anyone asks you where your boyfriend (that you split up with three months ago) is
2. Get some fresh air- taking a walk either on your own or with others who can bare a bit of silence will give you a chance to get mindful; feel the cold air on your skin, hear the birds singing, look round and see the sights in your neighbourhood, or the place you’re visiting, hear the noise of cars in the distance and just experience being in the moment.
3. Give yourself and others compassion – it can be hard when we’re with our nearest and dearest because often they’ve known us the longest of anyone and know our weak spots, and the things that can send us from 0-60 on the rage-ometer, but actually being kind to yourself, nourishing yourself with something other than Yule log, or roast potatoes, taking time out to do something you love such as reading or knitting, will help bring a sense of calm of peace to the festivities. Add in some compassion for those around you and things will start to feel a whole lot better
4. Rather than being desperate to get home, or get through the boredom of the Queen’s speech that Dad loves to watch, revel in the moment, the glorious being together as a family, or with your partner, or even the delicious alone time with the cat, away from the pressures of work. Stop worrying about how you’re going to tidy everything up, or what’s waiting for you on your return to the office and find pleasure on the small things; the worst Christmas cracker joke or that Fools and Horses episode you love the most that’s on EVERY year.
5. Break out of old habits and encourage others to do the same – if you’ve always had Christmas dinner on the dot of two, what about having it in the evening, or changing it up for a buffet? How about going to a different sisters for lunch this year? Instead 0f a tree, what about decorated branches in a big vase. Changing it up helps to break habits which changes neural pathways and is good for getting you out of a rut. Things will feel newer and exciting and might change people’s old patterns of behaviours as well, and get them out of their comfort zones
if you give any of these a try, or have your own mindful tips to add let me know, and above all have a peaceful, and mindful festive season 💜💝
When I started this draft, according to WordPress it was exactly 25 days since I’d posted. Apart from my few months of hibernation last year, that’s the longest time I think I’ve gone without posting. I love writing my blog so what could possibly have got me silenced? Well the last few weeks since I started with my 25 day gap, it’s just been pressures of working two jobs, trying to keep up with family and friends, and generally keeping the hamster wheel going whilst trying to give myself all the things I love. However before that time it was the black snow.
I call it the black snow because it slowly falls onto the landscape of my life until I notice it. Some of you might call it a dark cloud, a black dog, being in a tunnel without any light. The number of metaphors for depression is endless, because we all experience it differently. I’m lucky now, for me because I use a number of different methods, I have very low level depression which occurs on a slightly more regular basis that I’d like, maybe 3 or 4 times a year for a few weeks, but sometimes I can keep that black snow from falling too.
The problem with black snow is it falls slowly and stealthily, covering everything in its wake until there’s a layer over everything. The things I love to do such as reading, practicing mindfulness, getting out and about start to get covered up. I find them hard going, it’s like winter in my brain and my soul on a daily basis. Just carrying on with daily living is a constant I wouldn’t say struggle because it’s low level stuff, but a constant task or chore, rather than the fact that normally there are many pleasures and laughter.
The black snow obliterates life as I usually know it. I’m thankful because now even if I don’t know the black snow is coming, I know what to do to bring the sun out and thaw it; meditate, get out and go for a walk, eat well, sleep, talk to my wife, stroke the dogs, or the cats, take some time out to do nice things. The problem I have is sometimes it takes 2 or 3 weeks to notice it’s arrived again and a further 2 or 3 weeks of getting myself into gear to do the nice things. Once it’s over, it’s like a spring day has come, the sun is shining and all that’s left is the drip drip sound of what once was.
I share this for all of you that have black snow in your life too. Whether it’s so deep you can’t open the door at the moment, or it’s a foot high which makes it hard to trudge through but you can see how you could move above and you’re working on that. Keep working on the big thaw, it’s always worth it.
I came to mindfulness in its current form two years ago after many years of trying different forms of self improvement, spiritual development and forms of healing. From Reiki to psychic development, aura drawing to coaching. I’ve tried them all. I have a Reiki Level One certificate and I am a trained coach, having done a recognised coaching diploma. Yet I had never felt motivated enough to practice either. They didn’t feel right for me, although I knew at the heart of it I wanted to find a sense of peace and help others to find that to.
Two years on since I did a 10 week mindfulness course and I have never had that problem with mindfulness. Partly because perhaps I was very aware that if I didn’t practice I was going to go back to the person I was before, and completing the mindfulness course I did was like opening a very wonderful gift. I didn’t want to put it down once I’d started. I started a practice group after the course for people like me who had completed the courses so we could learn together, share and develop. At the time I had no further intentions than to get my bum into gear to meditate regularly and keep up with all I’d learnt. However mindfulness has taken hold of my heart and soul and become part of me in ways I never thought possible. I will share more of this in other posts, but for now I will say I could never unlearn it thank goodness, and I will practice it always because it has given me more joy and peace in my life in the last two years than in all the previous 36 put together.
Mindfulness helps me to be calmer, it keeps me grounded, it makes me appreciate the little things in life like the morning sun. I can differentiate now between thoughts and just let them be. There’s no longer a daily ongoing dialogue in my brain affecting my feelings and emotions and causing me to be stressed, depressed and anxious. You could say I’ve zenned out! There’s lots of things I’ve done to get here, and again part of changing the direction of my blog is to be able to share these with you, but right now what I can say is I am starting the next step of my mindful journey and it feels very exciting. That is, I have begun a course so that ultimately I will have trained to teach it to others.
I never had any intention of doing this until around 6 months ago when I realised I wanted my life to be even more about mindfulness and I wanted to share it with others. The people in my practice group, like me, say that their lives have changed thanks to being more mindful. Being more aware of harmful emotions and letting them go, being able to just rest in the moment and appreciate it, that meditation is making them calmer, happier and more at peace with the world. How could I not want to help to get others feeling that way?
There is no formal qualification in the UK to teach mindfulness, rather a best practice UK National Listing of teachers that you can go on once you have completed a set of steps from completing an in-depth mindfulness course yourself to ultimately completing a 5 day teaching retreat. I’ve just take my first step on that journey with the Foundation in Mindfulness Course with the Mindfulness Association. The first weekend we learnt the very basic steps of mindfulness again; to breathe, to set intention and motivation, to settle, and to rest in the moment. To let thoughts be, not control us or manifest into overwhelming feelings or emotions. To complete body scans, move mindfully and incorporate mindfulness into daily life. It was good to go back to basics, and the beginning again. The Mindfulness Association is a not for profit organisation, with a spiritual but still non secular programme. They have retreats and courses in some amazing locations. I am doing my initial mindfulness certificate weekends in York and Scarborough. Not as glamorous as Barcelona or Mexico but hey it’s about the content right?
I am so excited to be on this journey. It feels very right, and I think I will learn a lot alongside becoming able to teach others how to become mindful. I want to share my journey with you in the hope you might just Google mindfulness some day and give it a try, plus I think there will be many others of you on similar journeys and I think it would be great to hear from you and how your training is going.
I went to a retreat this weekend. This is something very new to me, and something I’ve always wanted to do. Why a retreat? And why go all Buddhist retreat to top it off?
Well…I’ve always liked the idea of something very simple, time away from home to reflect on life, on where you’re at, and what you want to achieve. I also came to a really big and exciting conclusion recently which I believe all this minimalism has helped lead me to. I want to teach mindfulness to others. It’s something that has changed my life beyond measure, and something I am incredibly passionate about and I want to help bring it to other people. I also believe mindfulness goes hand in hand with minimalism. In fact in my world the two are interlinked and could be called mindfulness or minimalism and still mean the same thing to me. Make it up as you go along I say!
Part of the ongoing good practice for teaching mindfulness is going on retreat. At this point there are no mindfulness teaching courses starting until later in the year and so I thought I would get ahead of myself. We’re also in the process of moving, which as anyone who has moved knows is about one of the most stressful life experiences after bereavement. So I am needing some pretty zen vibes right now. So I had a look at retreats and lo and behold quite near to where I live is a Buddhist centre which offers Learn to Meditate weekends. As a meditator who could definitely do with a kick up the bum to practice more often I thought this might also combine peace and quiet and reflection with something quite useful. Reasonably priced, and only 45 minutes from home it seemed a winner.
Cue Friday evening sitting in the car thinking ‘What have I done?’ I’m not a Buddhist, I have to share a bathroom with virtual strangers, there’s unlikely to be any caffeine all weekend, certainly no alcohol and I am going to have to sit in a room all day chanting ‘Om’. Why was this a good idea again? I was all set for turning round. Luckily I have a very persuasive and supportive wife who talked me up and pushed me out and off I went.
I couldn’t have got it more wrong…well there was no alcohol but I don’t drink much so that didn’t bother me. The welcome was incredibly warm, not a hippy in sight, just normal people who like me are looking for the peace and calm that comes from meditating. The centre is sent in grounds of green fields, woodland, with a beautiful walled garden and all you can hear is birds singing. It was just the kind of peace I needed.
I lucked in on the first night, connecting with three people who like me were scared stiff they might have entered some sort of cult and had no idea what to expect. They were great company, and we all had a chance to talk about how each session made us feel, what we might take of it and to ask for clarification bits we didn’t quite get.
I got a lovely single room and although I had to share a bathroom it was only with four other women and perfectly fine.
We meditated first on Friday evening after supper, and through four sessions on Saturday. Starting with a breathing meditation, a teaching on meditation and then a further meditation; a bit of chanting, a body scan, some breathing, all very mindful based. Contemplation and meditation on ‘virtuous objects’ was fairly Buddhist stuff and new to me, but actually something I am definitely going to try. The great thing about each meditation as well was the break of an hour in between…I got to walk through woodland, think about what I wanted to take from each session, how amazingly calm and relaxed I felt, and to plan how I would move forward.
The peace of being in this beautiful countryside coupled with a lot of positive, enquiring, like minded people made for a really treasured experience.
So…have I become a Buddhist? No. I love some of the Buddhist concepts but organised religion is not for me, but I love the thought that our mind is something we can develop into a calm space. My wife noticed a difference when she came to pick me up. Apparently I looked rested, and even talked more slowly!
I think giving myself those two nights away was like a gift to myself, and something i have never done before. Until recently I would be petrified of spending a weekend in the company of strangers. I took to it like a duck to water
So what have I come away with from this retreat? And would it benefit you to try one?
I’ve come away much calmer, and with more peace, and with the clear expectation that this has to be maintained by a daily meditation practice, not just a hope it will last.
I’ve come away with a plan to practice meditation daily, with the expectation I will do it, not just a vague intention as previously.
I have a respect for the Buddhist religion and teachers but an understanding that the mindfulness aspect is right for me, and an even greater desire to teach non-secular mindfulness to others.
I’ve come away knowing I will definitely retreat at least every 6 months. It’s like a gift to yourself, of time away from ‘reality’ to recharge, revive, reflect and see that ‘big’ problems are actually not.
I have also started minimising even more since I got home…witnessing the amazing volunteers, nuns and monks who live in the centre with so little, and realising that there are still so many things I don’t need, don’t want and that don’t serve me.
Most radically it’s made me realise how much we, and especially me allow the external world to influence us, and how much I want to turn that around and allow my mind to influence how I feel, not others, not a new car, not new clothes or even people.
I would highly recommend a trip to a retreat, technically I think you could get away with a spa weekend being called a retreat…but go on your own. As hard as it is to walk in alone and strike up that first conversation, being alone with yourself is a gift none of us get very often in this busy world.
If you’re interested on going on a Learn to Meditate weekend at the Madhyamaka Centre, you can check it out here
It’s been over a week now since we turned the television round and put a lovely colourful crochet blanket over it (to make it look nice – obviously!). We’re trialling a month without watching TV with a view to giving up having a TV in the house permanently. You can read my blog Perhaps the biggest lifestyle change to date here, about the reasons why I wanted to give it up.
So it’s been a week and two days now, and it’s been a really interesting time. First of all I barely miss it, which is surprising given the fact I could happily while away about three or four hours a night watching it pre ‘TV turn off’. Some of that is due to the fact it’s been a busy week, but it’s also due to the fact I have found other things to do which are much more interesting.
Secondly it’s already given me a better quality of life. My wife and I have sat down to dinner at the dining table every night since we turned it off. No phones. We’ve even used that old fashioned medium of communication; conversation. Prior to this we would sit together and eat side by side in front of the television. Having dinner together, and really tasting and enjoying the food (and the odd cheeky class of wine) has already made a big difference to how we communicate and our quality of life.
We haven’t stopped watching TV altogether. I was really keen to catch up on a couple of programmes, one about Camila Batmanghelidjh and the fall of Kids Company, which I watched on catch up on my tablet, and I am also trying to catch up with Happy Valley, which is BBC 1 drama at it’s best, but we haven’t had time yet. The beauty of catch up is it will be there for the six weeks it’s on so there’s time to schedule it in.
The only time it felt slightly strange was the weekend; we’re used to watching TV during the afternoon, catching a film, or catching up on programmes we love, but instead I napped, stuck on some tunes on Google Play, listened to Radio 4 Women’s Hour podcasts, did some baking, and a jigsaw. OK I sound like I’m fresh out of the 1950s, but actually I feel a richness to my life that I haven’t felt for a long time. TV was sucking the life out of me, and I am very sure we won’t be going back to it in three weeks time.
Fancy having a go yourself? Here’s some of the things I’ve done this week as an alternative to TV…
Radio 4 Women’s Hour podcasts are great. I love listening to them, but only get to do that when I’m not working. So now I can take some time in the evening to catch up.
On a similar theme, the glorious Archers is also available in podcasts. I am always behind so fab to get to listen to them.
I practice mindfulness, which I find is a brilliant way to live a fuller, simpler life in the present. I am however rubbish at meditating. Now I don’t while away hours on the TV I have caught up on my meditating. Here is a mindful meditation for you to try.
Jigsaws- I swear by them. Despite a number of efforts by our darling cats to break my spirit by knocking it on the floor, I have completed one this week. OK it’s pretty retro, and not very of this century, but there’s something absorbing and very calming about piecing little bits of cardboard together. If you go to car boot sales, you can pick them up for a few pence or pounds, but be prepared to accept that there may be a key bit missing!
Ditto adult colouring books. What is not to love about colouring in pretty patterns using pretty colours? It’s just a lovely way to while away the time. This one from Amazon is one I have and it’s also handbag size, perfect for doctor’s waiting rooms, long train journeys and boring meetings. It’s also half price for the frugal amongst us.
If you’re crafty, take up knitting or crochet. I cannot do either, but I love the thought of being able to.
Start a blog…OK I already have but now without TV as a distraction, I actually keep it up to date!
Spend time with family, loved ones, and furry friends – TV is a good excuse to stay in one spot and watch back to back programmes. You’re not going to want to do that on a laptop or a tablet. You suddenly get a lot choosier about what you want to watch. I spend more time with my wife, with my cats, my dogs, getting in touch with people and giving myself time.
And finally….read! It’s my favourite activity. I can’t get enough of it. I now have time to read a book in the evenings, curled up and absorbed somewhere exciting. I’m currently in Laos with Colin Cotterill’s Coroner in The Coroner’s Lunch.
Hope it inspires you to at least switch it off for an evening!