Thursday, 29 December 2016
I was saddened to read about the 10% rise in homeless families this Christmas, compared to last year. There has been more than 300% increase in the number of families being illegally housed in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation since 2014, thought largely to be the result in an escalation of private rent increases making it impossible for parents to be able to afford to stay in their homes.
But this isn't a case of me being a middle-class, young-middle-aged woman in a nice house, tutting and shaking my head in despondent gloom.
I was once in this situation myself, so reading about what these families are going through some thirty years after I was, makes me upset, to say the least.
A little share about my experience...
We (my parents, my brother and I) were living in a lovely house, in a beautiful coastal town. It was 1986: the year of Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer , the Chernobyl disaster, the Challenger tragedy; and Maradonna's Hand Of God controversy.
It was also the year that I packed away my 11 year-old self into boxes, to put into storage, for what I thought was going to be a few weeks, but turned out to be thirteen long, life-changing months. Every toy, book, keepsake and cassette tape (I smile as I remember my over-played Queen's Greatest Hits album, my Now That's What I Call Music 6, my colouring pens and books, and the kid's Ghetto Blaster I used to play my music whilst lying on the bed with my homemade patchwork quilt my mum made for me, in my Laura Ashley wallpapered room...well it was the 1980's...); our two cats and our two cockatiels, which went to the vets - I am still assured all these years later that they didn't go "to the farm", but were gladly re-homed - everything else we owned was packed away, except for enough clothes to last a few weeks, because we thought we'd only be in the bed and breakfast accommodation for a maximum of six weeks.
How wrong we were.
My parents split up and my dad moved to London to work, whilst my brother and I stayed with my mum, to live in a run-down B&B in the town. We went from a 6-bedroom house to a modest room with a couple of bunks, a double bed, a sink and a tiny little black and white TV. At first, it was a bit of a novelty, but the novelty wore off very quickly, especially by the following weekend when we discovered that we were only entitled to breakfast and an evening meal. My mum was an early-bird, so we were up and dressed by 8am on a Saturday, eating Sugar Puffs in the dining room before heading off to the launderette to wash the few clothes we had.
The launderette turned out to be our only contact with the "outside world" at weekends - aside from the owners of the B&B, who seemed to just about tolerate us living in their house. As time went on, I dreaded weekends and school holidays, which soon became a mixture of the worst kind of boredom mixed with an insatiable hunger headache and jealousy as we met the "real" guests in the B&B, the ones who were paying to come on holiday to the seaside, with children who told us all about their trips to the beach, the arcade, enjoyed ice-creams and paddling in the sea, and lovely family meals in cafes and restaurants.
My mum became very depressed, my brother and I argued a lot, and we had our own emotional reactions to our new-found circumstances. I remember wondering what the point of "me" was. At the age of 11, I distinctly remember questioning the point of my own existence, pondering upon whether I would ever see my belongings again, whether I would be able to invite friends to my (non-existent) home, whether I would be able to be a normal child again.
Six months later, we moved into a very small, very damp and dilapidated winter-let. Mouldy net curtains hung in the ice-laden windows; a tiny fireplace was our only source of heat as we huddled around it to watch The Waltons on a Sunday! I was thankful for Sunday roast chicken and spongecake, but our belongings were still packed away, our clothes were becoming too small for us, some of which were replaced; my brother developed whooping cough. A few months later we were back into the same B&B for a few more months, where we endured the same as before. In the meantime, we were adjusting to life as a broken family, with no home, a depressed mother who was increasingly turning to alcohol for comfort, meanwhile wistfully waiting for our dad to come to visit. We eventually moved into a lovely council flat for a year or so, which is in the same road as I moved into, eight years ago. The irony of coming full circle is not lost on me, and for each time I walk past the flat we lived in back in 1987, I am reminded of these things: the sixpence we found in the garden one day when digging for treasure; the kind lady and her young son who lived in the grounds who I talked to in order to try to make sense of the horrid time we'd lived through; the now non-existent telephone box I used to desperately contact Childline one day when mum was at her absolute lowest point, where I was scared and felt the weight of the world upon my shoulders and felt as though it was collapsing around me.
I am also reminded of my strength; my conviction to believe that something would change. OK, I imagined that someone would come to rescue us, that someone would come to make mum happy and that this person would be really kind to us. I became engrossed in adult fiction over one summer, because mum wouldn't engage with us, so all I had for entertainment was my few beloved cassette tapes, my ghetto blaster, and my mum's bookshelf to tuck into. At the age of 12 I prolifically read, wide-eyed in a mixture of curiosity and naivety as I consumed The Thorn Birds and If Tomorrow Comes during the summer holidays. In fact, these books served as a convenient form of escapism, in between my self-choreographed interpretive dance to my Queen album...needless to stay, the summer of 1987 was interminably long, painful, and boring. My brother and I would raid the kitchen cupboards and eat golden syrup and hot chocolate powder for lunch whilst mum indulged her sadness in her dressing gown, listening to her vinyl collection in the lounge. The strength I had resembled hanging on to a cliff edge for dear life: I am uncertain where I would be if I had lost my grip and fallen.
So what has any of this got to do with mindfulness? What bearing does any of this have on my work, or my adult life?
Our childhood experiences shape us into the adults we become. Some of these experiences allow us to bloom in positive, sunlit ways; other events cause us to bloom in the darkness, only to reveal our beauty when we choose to be seen, or when someone notices we are there. I feel that I am in the latter. These events I describe caused me to shrink, to hide away, to believe that I was not worth investing in, not worth the time or effort to listen to or to nurture. But something changed within. Something inside of me told me that I HAD to keep going. I have Freddie Mercury to largely thank for this, whose music inspired me and kept me going in my darkest of days. Without my clumsy, calamitous interpretive dance to Bohemian Rhapsody (I admit to an embarrassed face-palm at this point, by the way) - the lyrics of which I clearly understand now, but as a child could feel the emotion and deeper meaning behind the dramatic score - I would have retracted deep into my self, to a deep, dark place where I would probably never had the opportunity to understand my own emotions and make sense of them, let alone develop the empathy and understanding to be able to connect with those around me; nor the gratitude to know that I always had something, even if it wasn't what I wanted - remember, you can't always get what you want, but you often get what you need...
You see, I remember deeply feeling the despair my mum felt, because I was vicariously living it. I felt my brother's frustration and sadness, because I was feeling the same.
So, as an adult, I am particularly passionate about helping children who are going through difficulties in their lives. I can identify their emotions in a number of ways: as a healthcare professional who has worked with children in my jobs for a number of years, as a former child, as a mother; and as a mindfulness and meditation tutor to children. The mixture of all of these ingredients in my life have helped me help others, which I strongly believe is my purpose in life: to heal one person at a time, in order to help make this world a better, brighter, more peaceful place to be. It gives me the greatest of pleasures to be able to gift a child the opportunity to heal from the inside out. For every child I work with successfully in some way, I also heal a little part of me, which is ultimately what makes me who I am, as well as helps someone else see and love who they are and who they choose to become. I work with adults doing inner child work with powerful and inspiring results, too.
Go here if you are in need of a foodbank; check with your local supermarkets or churches if you would like to donate food to families and individuals in need.
Nikki Harman is a Connected Kids™ trainer and tutor, teaching mindfulness and meditation to children as well as those who care for or work with children of all ages. Nikki is the founder of The Inner Space Project, teaching mindfulness to adults, is a reiki master practitioner; and is a part-time registered nurse working in the NHS. Nikki has written a course specifically for healthcare workers who work with children and is available to teach in the NHS and privately. Nikki has also written a book on mindfulness and her life experiences, due to be published this year. Contact her for more details on booking a session or a course with her.
Sunday, 13 November 2016
I believe that we are in the midst of a changing culture within the NHS. At work, I see burnt-out staff, stress levels as high as ever and clinicians struggling at times to deliver the care they really want to give to their patients. At the same time I see a high demand of patients who are urgently in need of care, but are also sometimes not prepared to take ownership of their health. Some see that it is up to the NHS to "fix" them. This belief contributes to the pressures the NHS faces and so it sometimes appears to resemble a tug-of-war between staff and patients set within the political arena, stoked up by the media and fanned by disillusionment, thereby increasing frustration and stress within the workforce and fear and unrealistic expectations from patients. This has to change in order for the NHS to survive into the future. Notice I am not going to get into the politics, here - that's for another post! :)
For me, as a nurse and as a mindfulness coach, I want to help facilitate positive change within the clinical environment. I passionately believe that teaching staff to connect with themselves through mindfulness meditation will benefit not only the individual, but their colleagues and the patients, too. Teaching mindfulness meditation to patients to help them with anxiety, pain, phobias or other emotions in a clinical environment could have far-reaching benefits for them and create a different atmosphere at ward level, which will have a positive effect on others.
I have written a one-day course as part of my Connected Kids™ training for healthcare workers who work with children in the clinical setting (ward, outpatients, theatres). This course will teach staff about mindfulness, meditation, how to apply to their practice as a tool for implementing care and will teach them how to write and deliver their own scripts to their patients.
If you are interested, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please do share with your NHS friends, family and colleagues!
Saturday, 29 October 2016
Intention-setting is a powerful way to bring what you want to create into your life and live it as authentically as you can. Intentions are individual ideas and dreams that are meaningful and important to each person. To have an intention, however, is different to setting an intention. So someone could say, for example, that they intend to find that new job they want because they're unhappy where they are at that time. But in order for that to happen, they need to set the intention and make it happen by taking steps to create it into reality.
So here is an exercise for you to try if you would like to combine some mindful intention-setting with exploring your creativity.
- Buy a box of 6 eggs - the best quality you can afford, because that enables you to be investing in yourself. You'd ideally want to be enjoying organic, free-range healthy hens eggs because they were free to live according to their means, rather than eggs from hens who were restricted in their lives in some form or another.
- For the next six days, you are going to use one of the eggs each day. You could choose to boil, fry, poach, scramble, make an omelette or a pancake or add to other recipes.
- For each day, set an intention. To start with, get a piece of paper and write down a few that you'd like to see become a reality - one that you feel inspired by, something that fires you up inside. Think big! This is meant to be a fun, creative exercise
- Before you start, make sure you are clear on what your intention is for the recipe you are going to make. Keep things as simple as you like, or as detailed as you feel - spend a few minutes sitting quietly, listening to thoughts and emotions that come up for you, breathe into your abdomen and relax into the moment.
- Begin to make your egg dish for the day. As you do so, focus on your intention, creating it into the recipe as you go. Then take your awareness to the cooking process itself: use your senses to connect with the egg's changing form as it cooks. Notice any thoughts and emotions that come up for you at the time. It's helpful to write these down as you go or after you finish eating, for you to look at again, later.
- Enjoy your egg as fully as you can - taste each mouthful mindfully and slowly. As you do so, reflect on how the egg has changed its form through your intention-setting (cooking it) and that you have created that change within the egg (your life) and you are consuming it (becoming the intention).
- After you have finished the box of eggs, spend some time reading the thoughts and emotions that have come up for you as you have written them down. Observe any patterns that have come up for you as you go, and consider the relevance of these in your everyday life.
- If the egg doesn't turn out as you expect it to each day, don't worry about it - allow any feelings to come up, then let go of them - sometimes things don't always work out the way you intend them to, but you can still put your energy into trying, as you have nothing to lose by doing so!
Nikki Harman is a Connected Kids™ mindfulness tutor, adult mindfulness coach and reiki therapist.
Go to innerspaceproject.com to find out more
Thursday, 20 October 2016
Anyone who plays a musical instrument will know that it can be a totally absorbing experience. This activity involves the musician's total focus, concentration, listening, motor co-ordination, muscle memory; and the ability to play at a certain rhythm, decode the information and turn it into the sounds of something quite beautiful for they and their audience to enjoy. This TED-ED talk explains the fascinating neuroscience of playing an instrument. It is a shame our government still isn't fully recognising the essential value that learning to play an instrument brings to the overall learning, because I believe that academic performance would improve if music had a greater influence in the curriculum taught across the key stages - as well as having happier, more creative children!
So as a Connected Kids™ mindfulness tutor, I am keen to teach my young clients ways in which to engage in activities mindfully and have a great time whilst they do so. After all, we don't have to sit quietly and still in order to meditate: children really benefit from using their energy creatively.
If your child plays an instrument, give them the opportunity to experiment with it as well as to practice their learned pieces. Connecting with their instrument in other ways, such as giving it a fun name, putting stickers over it (if it belongs to them!) or other ways of personalising it allow the child to make a greater bond with their instrument, which can make them look after it more carefully, be protective of it, or be proud of it. These feelings create a sense of belonging and care within the child. Learning to play an instrument is as much about having creative fun as it is about becoming proficient at playing it, developing concentration skills and learning.
If your child doesn't play an instrument, playing anything rhythmic like the cup song, banging sticks on a railing or gate, clapping, shaking lentils in a plastic bottle; or blowing into the tops of bottles filled with different levels of liquids can help to develop these musical skills, but is a fun, expressive and mindful activity.
Thursday, 8 September 2016
My daughter, (above), was happily bouncing on a trampoline a couple of weeks ago, when she landed awkwardly after landing a little half-bounce...not even a big jump; no fall onto the ground - just a little jump. She heard a loud "click" and then had lots of pain. I didn't know about the big click she heard until she mentioned it in the emergency department, but until then, I had assumed it was a soft tissue injury, as I couldn't see any obvious signs of a broken limb, and the swelling went down with some ice packs, rest and pain relief. She even managed to hobble a bit.
This has been haunting me ever since. I had assumed that it was a soft tissue injury and as I know my daughter very well, I also assumed that as she has a low pain threshold, that she was feeling panicky about being in pain. So although I was sympathetic to her pain and helped her, I also asked her to try to relax and enjoy the rest of the day, as we were at a party.
As the hours passed, she settled down but then awoke in more pain, so I did take her to the emergency department where her leg was x-rayed, and yup...there it was, plain as day: a nasty fracture. For my daughter, the moment where the surprised staff told us the findings - surprised, as they initially thought the same as I did - validated everything she had already feared and all that I had not been prepared to consider. It hurt her that I hadn't believed her.
So the last week or so has been spent getting to grips with what's happened, what is going on, and wondering about the future. We have all cried, laughed, hugged and supported each other to accept what is going on. We have no idea how the leg will heal, as it is a nasty break, so we are preparing to consider how things might look for my daughter in the future. It feels like grief in a way. We are facing a different view to the one we were looking at before the accident, but we are also living a different life now, too. A wheelchair is her best friend. She has started at secondary school, coming in on day one with a bright blue plaster, in a wheelchair, on crutches and having to learn about a new building, new classrooms, new teachers, students, friends, rules, and all the while in a vulnerable position, sat down in her chair with her leg stuck out in front of her! The school have been fantastic at supporting her, and her friends have been keen to help her get to classes and at break times.
I am so proud of her achievements, because of the extra pressure she has been faced with. She has dealt with it so well. She has been strong and determined. I have been doing lots of mindful work with her, as well as with myself. In the end, what it comes down to is this: learning to adapt to a new situation brings positives out of negatives. The pain, the frustration, the inconvenience, the fear over what might be. My guilt, my willing her to get better and to mend fast, my love for her which dissolves any fear for her. My sadness for her, which comes in waves, and which I allow to come up, feel it completely, then let it go, is healing in some ways. Her anger, her cries of "it's not fair" when she can't pick something up from the floor, or get through a door, or when her leg is hurting, or when she wants to just get up and run around with her friends, she sees as a motivation for getting better, rather than to pity herself. She has a strong, bright spirit that is teaching her resilience, patience, determination, and strength. My mindfulness work with her is helping her to tap into these positive qualities, those of which she did not know were there and are so strong, and which are helping her to cope with these big changes at the moment; and she is able to talk about her frustrations, fears, worries and the negatives, which we are paying attention to but are not allowing to consume her. We are looking forward to drawing inspiration from watching the paralympics, too. For me, I am learning resilience, determination, patience and that my love for her goes far deeper than I ever knew. I am learning from her that the more she is held back, the further she will fly when she is free to leap...just as long as it's not on a trampoline...
Nikki is a Connected Kids™ tutor and apprentice trainer. Contact Nikki at email@example.com
Saturday, 2 July 2016
A little share for today...
When I was 7 years old, I was sitting at a table in my classroom, doing some handwriting practice along with several other children. I remember that I was holding a well-chewed, thick red pencil. My teacher came to our table and looked at everyone's work. He looked at each piece of paper, and praised each child in turn. When he got to me, he told me I needed to improve my writing as it was not "good enough". My embarrassment turned to shame and then to anger, as he rewarded every other child at my table a lovely blue Berol handwriting pen for their superb efforts. He then told me that I couldn't have a pen yet as my writing was too scruffy. Within me I could feel the injustice, as I looked at my own page, blinking back the tears, my voice of indignation screaming in my head, "But that's not fair!". I was doing what I believed was my best efforts, at the time.
I have carried this experience throughout my life in one form or another, telling myself I must try harder, I must do my best; for each knock-back or rejection I have had my young voice shouting "It's not fair!" within me.
When I look back at the handwriting experience, I see two things.
Firstly, how that teacher's remarks and actions shaped how I have been perceiving my life ever since - that I have to somehow prove to myself and/or others that I am perfectly capable - even very good - at some things. But apart from the self-imposed sabotage of my efforts in life, others who are the "source" of the rejection or criticism are just feeding off my own sub-conscious fears, because they are picking up on them.
Secondly - and this is what makes me chuckle - is that because I am stubborn and determined not to prove anyone else but myself that something is "wrong", I end up succeeding, anyway! I am the one who has been creating my own obstacles to success because of what I believe to be true about myself. It is that little girl within me who is protesting "But it's not fair!" who is my motivator to make something exactly as I want it to be. To make things "right".
So, with regards to the handwriting practice - guess what my 7-year-old self did? She went away and practised her writing for years. We never seemed to have enough paper at home to write on, so many of my children's story books are filled with graffiti'd handwriting, ranging from the names of all the children in my class, to horrible remarks about my little brother, bossy comments about the book itself, etc...all to practice getting my handwriting as I wanted it to look. In my teens I enjoyed calligraphy as a hobby, which inevitably got my handwriting better as time went on.
I am happy with my handwriting, nowadays. I relish writing upon a fresh, crisp, clear piece of paper and I still use the beautiful fountain pen my lovely friend gave me for my 21st birthday.
Tuesday, 10 May 2016
Last Autumn I made a pact with this ailing meadow: that by the following Spring, we would both be in bloom. In the cold, grey light of October, as I absorbed the detail of the dying grasses giving way to muddy, rain-sodden footfall, I asked the meadow to bloom stronger than before, the following year. The meadow replied with a forceful sea-breeze, cruelly blowing hard raindrops into my cold, red cheeks. Initially put out, I then took the rain to hold the emotion of my side of the pact - that which I needed to open up to in order to grow; and the wind to strengthen me each day, to blow away the cobwebs, the dead grasses, and to carry the seeds of change and renewal into beautiful growth.
Six months ago I was coming through a long period of uncertainty, at a time when every day seemed to bring me some great challenge to overcome. There were days I felt a nervous anticipation as I left the calm peaceful sanctuary of my bedroom, albeit with a reluctance to face the day, to face other people, to deal with the storm I was travelling through. The days when it would have been easier to sit in my meditations, to enjoy the peace within, to be surrounded by my own familiarity. I knew then, as I know now, that being a practitioner of mindfulness and meditation means bringing it into the everyday, not just to enjoy, contemplate or experience the moment I choose to be aware of, but to approach negative situations in the same way. To be empowered by the moment itself.
Therefore, the subdued, flowerless meadow reflected a deep part of me that I was only too aware of. In one sense, this meadow looked as though it was dying; however the beautiful reality was that it - as always - is teeming with life through the insects, birds, hedgerows and other wildlife which is reciprocally nurtured by her. Underneath the dull-looking landscape, growth and repair was busy at work, new life was coming into being. The Autumn may have robbed the meadow of her old life, but the Spring would bring renewal, change, growth and beauty.
I have heard some of my clients or friends ask me how difficult it is for me to be positive, all the time. There is an interesting assumption that, in order to be mindful, we have to see only the good things, to ignore the negative stuff.If we were all to do that, then not only would we be resisting the change, but we would be stifling the beauty which arises from going within to the baron meadow. To explore the mud, the dead grasses, to clear them and plant the new seeds to enjoy the growth, to allow change and beauty to shine through. To learn to accept the hard times, deal with them, then let go.
I'm not always positive. I have days when the world seems muted, when I feel as though I am in a void of negativity. Instead of succumbing to it, though, I plough my way through, examining, weeding, digging deeper to find the growth. All negative experience can teach us so much about our relationships with ourselves, as well as others, and of the experience itself. Sometimes it may seem not so much a meadow, but more of a swamp: a soupy, gloopy mess of stuff to sort through. But even swamps have life and growth.
Yesterday I visited the meadow for the first time in a while. She was proudly resplendent in cowslips and emerging clover. Showing off her beauty, the cowslips gently waved to me in the Spring breeze, like a crowd cheering on their team. Incessant chattering from the birds in the hedgerows, coupled with the quiet buzz of curious insect life existing happily amongst the floral landscape, non-judgementally shared the moment with me. For a while I lay on my tummy as I photographed this cowslip. The ground felt warm and comforting. I felt invited and welcomed. I felt life around me, within me. The meadow seemed to be smiling with me, affirming with me that I too had grown since Autumn, that I too was teeming with opportunity for further growth, change, and that I am starting to bloom.
As the saying goes, "change is the only constant in life".
Nikki Harman is a mindfulness tutor to adults and children. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.innerspaceproject.com