Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A Moment



In the quiet of your mind, in the silence of your thoughts, you can be completely with the moment. There is no judgement in the present: the presence of your mind simply allows you to drift through, second by second.
In each second, a murmuring of thoughts or ideas can rush to you, consume you, engulf you; or you can choose to acknowledge the burst and see it wash over you, or pass you by like a cloud in the sky. See each thought as a gift to yourself: the process of thought is one that only you can control, and is yours to accept and allow to pass by without judgement; or one to hold on to and keep. It is not for I nor another to tell you how to use this thought, it is not for me to tell you how that thought will affect your whole Self.
The gift is not really in the thought, but in the deed of your own action, and the consequences once the choice has been made.
 The gift is not in the action, but in your own Self, because you are your own thoughts, you are your own deeds, you are your own consciousness.
The gift is your life, of which You Are. You are the Life, you are your own Truth, you own your own Path.
As you live each day, be the one you long to be. Be the kindness you want to see in others; be the love you want to feel. Love yourself unconditionally as you love others. Be as gentle with yourself as you would be with a newborn baby, and feel that soft connection of who you are within.  Walk each moment knowing that you have created that step in your whole self, putting one foot in front of the other, as well as the steps in your mind as you act out your thoughts and decisions. Just be.


So in each passing moment, be accepting of who you are just in that second, holding no judgement of the thoughts that come to mind, but live it knowing that these thoughts are the essence of who you are. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Heart Box


I am having something of a parental re-vamp, at the moment. There have been a lot of changes at home, lately, bringing with them a number of challenges. It's OK to have these challenges in life, I think, but I want to be conscious of my parenting by being able to connect with my children as much as I can, in order to understand them. I want them to understand their own feelings.

That said, they are pretty good at being able to articulate their thoughts and fears. "I just don't know how to work this out" was a tearful remark made by my 5 year-old son, recently. This sentence stung my heart, because I could totally feel his pain and confusion in the midst of all these changes we are going through. I don't expect him to be able to "work this out"; I don't expect him to be able to process this all like an adult; I do expect wobbles and tears and fears and that is why I am doing my best to be able to keep this line of communication open, for my children to know that they can talk to me about their feelings; and for them to know that their feelings are completely valid and acceptable.

I want them to know that I know it's hard for them and that I am trying to make things better for them. I hope that I am, because I don't think I can try any harder than what I'm already doing.

Part of the work I have been doing in the schools I did some sessions with, involved choosing one of the printed intentions I'd organised. Intentions are sentences or themes which inspire the child (or member of staff) and can choose to follow each day. They select a sentence out of the box, and decide whether or not they are going to go ahead with it. It is a voluntary thing, but the idea is to practice mindfulness using this intention as they go about their day. My aim is for the individual to reach the end of the school day, and think, "yes, I achieved this" when they reflect back on their activities, conversations, lessons, and feelings. Reflection is a mindful activity in itself, and good practice in which to be thankful for ourselves and others, and think about how to modify any behaviours that the individual wishes to change - or to be able to simply identify a need to modify a behaviour/thought/intention etc - for the better.

I decided that today I would bring this into my home, because it gives us all a focus. It gives each of us a chance to not only pick an intention at the beginning of the day, but to re-connect with each other at the end of the day at our evening meal, give each other support, praise, encouragement and reflect together. My aim is that this will bring us closer together as a family, to give recognition for each other's feelings, as well as reinforce and grow our love.

What do you think? How do you bring emotional development into your family? I'd love to know and learn from other's experiences, so please share! Thank you.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Presence

There have been frequent occasions where, whilst on a run, I have been greeted by this wonderful sight. The sun, reflecting on the ocean as a silvery-white glow, its gentle yet persistent beams striking through the clouds. Today's view, however, got to me so much I was almost breathless with awe (and it was not the result of running away from the inquisitive cattle in the adjacent field).
There was just something about the scene that was so powerful I could feel it in my chest, a rush of love and happiness to be able to witness the beauty that was there, in front of me. Free for anyone who could see it, to soak up the gift the eye gives to the soul. Who could look at this and not feel a stirring in their heart? The simple pleasure of being able to tune in to the surroundings and experience that moment of happiness.
I stood still, and drank up everything around me: the crisp, cool breeze that danced around the field; the chattering birdsong, mingled with the occasional "moo" from behind the hedgerow, and the loud sighs of waves meeting land; the delicate salty smell lingering in the air and the taste on my lips; the contrast of the dark blue sea, the heavy clouds, against the green of the fields and the striking sunlight on the water. I stood still, and took everything in. A few moments of stillness, where I closed my eyes, and listened to myself. I could only hear the quiet of my breath, and the joy of the moment, a tangible sense of peace for myself, the words "thank you" whispering in my mind, and gratitude for everything around me. What more could I ask for, at such a moment, other than the gift of presence?

Fear-Less


One day, in the summer holidays, I took my five year-old swimming. He was under-confident and clung to me, having lost all the confidence he had gained in his swimming lessons, before the summer holidays began. Then the alarm for the 3-minute warning of the wave machine sounded. He panicked, began to shiver and asked me to take him out of the water.
"It's OK to be scared", I told him. He tried to pull me towards the shallow end, but I held him tightly, and stayed where we were. I decided to use this as a mindfulness opportunity. "I can feel how scared you are. What is it that worries you the most?" He replied, "being pushed over by the waves". So we had something to work on. "That's a possibility. You're scared of the danger, aren't you? That's OK, we can work with this, too. Are you still feeling really scared?" He nodded. "That's OK. But you know that right now, it is safe for you to feel scared, because I am here and I won't let you get into danger." He began to loosen his grip around me. I empathised with his feelings, naming his emotion (fear), and together we accepted the fear. As the wave machine began swirling the water around, he had already acknowledged that he was scared, accepted his emotions, and been given a safe space to experience it. When he accepted that his fear would not be realised, he relaxed a bit.
At this point, I moved a few paces deeper into the water, the waves colliding around us. He allowed me to do this, and I asked him how scared he was. "Not as much as I was" he said. Then he asked to get down and go under the water with me. We submerged ourselves for a few seconds, holding hands, before resurfacing. He was jubilant: "I did it!" He suddenly found his confidence, and he directed me to the shallow end, where we jumped over the waves together. His moment of fear in the past, replaced with fun and confidence.
I have used this sort of technique for all sorts of moments where fear is the thread of the situation. In all cases, once the fear has been acknowledged and accepted, the process of overcoming it can begin. Fear will remain as long as it is unexplained, or unidentified. By tapping into the fear and unravelling it, it can be overcome.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Child's play


Two giggly voices are echoing around the room, interspersed with the sound of paintbrushes dabbing furiously onto paper, and accented by the occasional SPLAT! of bare feet jumping up and down on the spot. This is the activity of two children painting, first thing on a Sunday morning. Oblivious to the November wind and driving rain outside, they are fully immersed in painting a forest: this one has purple, red and green apples growing there. Aw, how sweet! It also contains poo, but we won't dwell on that...

As the two friends continue to paint, they are unaware of everything else around them. I wonder if they would even notice if a horse clip-clopped its way across the kitchen, as they are really enjoying the act of creating this picture, together.

When they finish, they stand back a bit and admire their work. I ask them to imagine being in the forest: they immediately press their noses against the paper and try to get into the picture. "can you imagine how those apples smell" I ask them, and they both take in a big breath through their noses, as if to smell the fruit. Then they are done; they abandon their work of art, and run off to engage in the next activity, the painting forgotten in an instant, and replaced with the next delight.

It's easy to be a child in terms of living in the moment: to focus the mind and the body completely on whatever it is they are doing, block out the outside world, and totally immerse themselves in their present experience. If you've ever got involved in a task and become completely focused on it - then looked at the clock and surprised yourself by the unnoticed passage of time - this is what young children are like for most of their day. Lucky them: I might have to try it, myself!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Mindfulness in hospital

Last week, I reached a milestone for my work. I ran a taster session for staff at the hospital where I work as a nurse, under my business as The Inner Space Project.
It was a seemingly small step, but I was so excited about it. For a start, more people than I had expected wanted to come along and find out about it. The session seemed to go down well with those who had come along, and crucially, they want more! I taught a series of activities based on focusing and visualisation, and ended with a relaxing meditation. I got some appreciative feedback, for which I am grateful for. It was a great session!

You see, I believe my role in nursing goes much deeper than the clinical everyday nursing stuff - this is important, don't get me wrong. But I want to weave the deeper stuff into my work, and I believe that others can do this, too, and have a positive influence not just on themselves or their patients, but within the department they work. I am full of ideas about how I can bring my clinical practice and my mindfulness into alignment, and use accordingly - and I am chomping at the bit to get it going!

The deepest thread amongst everything I do as a nurse (and in life) is to form a connection with others, and teach them to do the same, but also connect with themselves. I feel that our own inner voices often sabotage our good deeds to ourselves, and if that's happening on an internal level, it is being reflected externally, as well. At the centre of everything, the most important things to remember, are that we love ourselves, we are gentle with ourselves, and we forgive ourselves. If we can turn down the white noise, the noise that jeopardizes these kind and essential deeds, then we can start to influence others in the same way. What happens after that is connection, fulfilment and joy. A crazy, hippy ideology, maybe - but who says we can't try?!

If you'd like to find out more, please contact me at innerspaceproject1@gmail.com

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Gem In The Dust

As far as weeks go, this one has been one of my most challenging, to date. These challenges have pushed me to the limit. I feel like I have been pulled through a hedge backwards, and dragged along a stony path. I'm going through a marriage break-up, so anyone who has experienced this will know exactly what I mean! On top of that, though, I have had other, emotionally-draining encounters on top of the usual daily stuff that we all live with and deal with.

But I've also had some profoundly positive experiences going on, this week. The timing has been impeccable. Just at the point when I was beginning to wonder how I was going to continue to pull myself onward in my new life, brilliant gifts appeared for me. I've been presented with new opportunities to grow and evolve, that are in keeping with my intentions for my new life.

I have termed what I'm going through right now as "life rehab". I am journeying along a brand new (stony) path. Some parts of the path contain potholes that I have accidentally walked into, or those which have been unavoidable. It has rained hard along the way, and the puddles and mud that has collected each serve as a lesson for me. I have spent a long time at each of these potholes, puddles and muddy patches, reflecting and feeling the experience as deeply as I can, because they are lessons for me to learn from and use to grow and get better. I realise that I am mindfully going through my divorce, trying to experience it as fully as possible, embracing the pain, fears and anxieties, and then meeting them head (and heart) on.

This is not a time to shy away from the self. It is a time to allow the experiences to facilitate positive change. This week's solar eclipse, for me, has shown me how I have finally met the darkness within my life and begun the process of shifting it, to reveal the light, the source I have within me to shine brightly. This is my life rehabilitation: crafting my life as a new energy, and mindfully creating my new self into reality.

Negative experiences can teach us so much about ourselves. As horrific as some of these events can be, I feel that it is essential to be gentle and forgiving with ourselves during these processes. There is no point in self-sabotaging by internalising the negativity, turning it inwards on ourselves as further punishment; but to experience it, feel it, and then accept and release with love for ourselves, and gratitude for the experience, itself - here is a chance to make something different, no matter how small or large it is - because there is always a way to find a gem hidden in the dust.

As I reflect on this week, I can see the turning point - ironically, right after the eclipse! Suddenly I was experiencing what I have been working towards for a long time. Opportunities to shine are presenting themselves to me in several ways. Crucially, the change is because suddenly I believe in myself, and so do others. So here I stand, on my stony path. I have wiped away the mud and the tears: I am the gem in the dust. And people are beginning to see my true worth. The path ahead looks clear - because I have not yet walked along it. It is fresh, new, fertile ground, and I have seeds to plant along the way.

Friday, 3 October 2014

pill-popping or hearts and minds?


Today's news has included an article about a new pill for men and women who drink excessively, to help them reduce their alcohol intake. It has made the headlines and induced discussions in the media, with the slant of being a new "wonder-drug" that will help many people.

That's great, isn't it?

Yes, it is great,

I don't think there is anything wrong with taking medication. I am a nurse, so I spend a great deal of my time administering tablets, medicines, drips and antibiotics to help make the people I look after, better. This is fine.

But...

I do also feel that as a society, we are easily swayed by medications to combat illness. We are conditioned to believe that a pill will make everything better, again. I find myself telling my children that "this medicine will make you feel better", or telling my patient, "this tablet will take the pain away", or "this antibiotic will kill the bug you have". Yes, they may well do, and invariably, that is what happens.

But...

Why do we think that we are only capable of fixing ourselves with a pill? What is it about our fixation with medicines to cure all ills? As a nurse, if I have a patient who is agitated, anxious or confused, the planned route would be to speak to the doctor to get a tablet to calm the patient down.

But...

With increasing frequency, I am using mindfulness techniques in my clinical practice to help my patients. I have had some surprising and successful results, from children to the elderly; from the scared and confused to the acutely ill, climbing-the-walls-with-pain patients.
For example, about a year ago I did a shift in A&E and was looking after a very scared, confused elderly lady. She did not know she was in hospital, and was desperate to go home. She had fallen at home and was very unsteady on her feet in the department, which was dangerous because she repeatedly got up from her chair to try to find her way into the cold, wet morning in her dressing gown and slippers. I sat down with her, did some breathing and focusing work with her, and then did a 5-minute meditation with her. As she relaxed in her chair, she settled, and then dozed off! In the time it would have taken me to either speak to a doctor about getting something to make her less agitated, or tried to get her to sit in her chair by telling her where she was, what had happened to her, and answered the repeating questions, thereby increasing her agitated state, I had simply taught her to relax her body and her mind for long enough for her to fall asleep.

So...

It works! So much so, that I am taking this further, starting with teaching mindfulness and meditation to my colleagues and other staff at the trust I work in.

Coming back to the news today, though, makes me feel a slight disappointment. Not because I don't think the tablet will work, as it sounds very effective; but because it compounds the all-round belief that we can only be fixed with conventional medicine. It reinforces the increasing belief in our society that the NHS can be relied upon to fix everybody, and it increases the "clinical" perception that society's health can only be managed "clinically". We are generally losing our ability to see things more holistically, that there can be some other frameworks that support an individual to take better care of themselves, manage their existing conditions as a "bundle" of care rather than singularly; and that by teaching people to connect within to understand why, for example, they feel the need to drink 3 pints of beer a night, they might be able to reduce their intake and feel healthier as a result.


Friday, 5 September 2014

Zen and Jam

I was given a windfall of plums, this week, by my friend the Jammy Bodger. Today was my only chance of getting some jam made, as some of the plums were starting to look a bit mouldy.
I love making jam. But I make such a horrible, sticky mess that the processes of washing up, and scraping dried jam juice from my oven and pans take the edge off the occasion.
Today was no exception. Well actually, it was an exception, because today I made more mess than I've ever made, before. I let the pan boil over; the bowl I used for the stones and the skin wasn't big enough, so plum juice dripped down the sides, onto the worktop, and down the cupboard door.
For a while, I wondered why on earth I was creating such chaos for myself, when normally, I would at least try to keep things organised.
Eventually, I realised what I was doing; I was inappropriately multi-tasking, resulting in something Not Quite Right. Whilst the plums were bubbling away, I went off to do some jobs on my laptop, in another room. One of the jobs on my long to-do list for today involved making a phone call. The phone call reminded me that I needed to send someone an email; and when I opened up my email inbox I found 3 emails I needed to respond to. In the midst of this, I could hear my oven timer beeping, telling me it was time to dredge the skin and stones from the bubbling pan in the kitchen.
So then, it was no wonder I was finding the process of making jam very frustrating; the emails I needed to take action on seemed difficult to do; and my to-do list was starting to annoy me, with my inner voice sarcastically mocking me: "Ooh, you think you're so clever with your list-making, why not add to the list just to prove how much you can do in a day!"
After an hour of pacing up and down the hall between laptop and sticky pan, I decided enough was enough, and focused on the one task. The jam-making. But I found myself rushing, trying to get on to the next task, whilst separating plum stones from flesh, and making a terrible mess of it. My patience was starting to wear thin.
At this point, I stopped, and thought about what was happening. Today I have had some big challenges to deal with, including life-changing decisions which I'm now following through on; the to-do list had to be completed, it couldn't wait until next week because I'm back at work; the jam needed making before the fruit rotted away; and it's Friday. Fridays are supposed to allow me to be a bit more gentle with myself, instead of over-analysing, over-reaching, and doing too much at a time. No wonder I was feeling impatient.
I changed. I took a deep breath, and completely focused on those plum stones. I had over 3Ibs of plums to go through, which were checked carefully before placing back in the pan. I ignored the mess, I'd clean it later. I just concentrated exactly on the task in front of me. I began to enjoy it. A sense of fulfilment about completing the task filled me, and at the end, I had a taste of the fruits of my labour: not too sweet, slightly sharp, and with a hint of spice.
That pretty-much sums up my Friday!


Friday, 15 August 2014

Spark or Sparkle? Get connected!


I've been reading the latest reports on what's happening in our world, this week. Ebola; the conflict in Gaza; Syria; Ukraine and Russia; misguided/greedy/clueless politicians around the world making decisions affecting their country and not listening the the masses; then there's the rising obesity, cancers, poverty, famine, the global economy; the death of Robin Williams. All of the above interspersed with adverts trying to influence what car I should buy, what I should be wearing, where I should be holidaying, and how to be thin. Social commentary on facebook/twitter about the above, and the radio making sure views are adhered to. Or to give people a chance to rant about a subject. No wonder I'm feeling glum. In the time it's taken me to even type this list, I'm feeling lower than before I started.
This can't be how life is supposed to be...is it? Are we all hard-wired to strive for our own individual wants, over and above what others needs are? At what point did the human race move from looking after their basic needs - as being satisfactory to a happy life - to tearing apart someone else's to satisfy one?
 I know this is not the case: the outpouring of grief over Robin William's apparent suicide has been immense, and why? Because he was a fantastically funny human being, who demonstrated his ultimate fragility. A fragility which exists inside all of us. His death has struck a chord with many.
What's happening in the middle east is becoming a prominent news feature every day, and as such is no longer hard-hitting. A couple of weeks ago, whilst eating breakfast in a hotel dining room, the TV was showing the BBC news and weather. As the news items rolled, it reported the latest death toll of the Palestinians: nobody moved. Nobody watched the item. Heads down, shovelling in their food. A moment later, and the weather forecast came on the screen: heads swivelled to watch in anticipation of how hot it was going to be, and whether raincoat or sunscreen would be required, for the day. A hush fell in the room. As soon as the report had finished, people went back to eating. How can this be? Is this English-ness? Is this apathy? Is this a tolerance thing? Is it tolerable to hear how children are dying because of an arguement over land and religion as a means to power and control? I feel the answer to this is "yes" - because we are flooded with the news all the time. We are becoming hardened to war atrocities, because it is something happening far, far away, and it doesn't affect us, at all. Does it?
You know what? It does! It bloody well does, you know. Why?
The fact that someone is more bothered about the weather in their town than fighting and killing going on in another part of the world, is a worrying symptom of how our societies are becoming disconnected with each other. My ability to continue to empathise and feel the need to help relies on my emotional intelligence, that which lights me up inside. How would I feel if I were in a refugee camp in Syria with my children? Not being able to go back to my home. How does it feel to be too scared to leave the house for fear of being raped, killed, or arrested? How does it feel to bury a child? How does it feel to lose everything in the blink of an eye? How does it feel if I forget my umbrella and it rains because I didn't listen to the weather report that day? I get wet: so what?
The thing is, it seems that there are more people who are willing to loudly complain about getting wet before they go home to shower and change into something warm and dry, than those who are shouting about the injustice in the world, and who are prepared to hold out their hand to help a fellow human being. A disproportionate power who want to seek revenge and kill, in comparison to those who are prepared to connect with themselves and others, and find out what has made them feel that urge and make a change. That's why we are all affected by apathy or a lack of empathy. I know that there are movements, campaigns, and positive ways in which social media is helping to influence societies and governments and those in power, but we need to make more of a connection with what's going on in the world, and pay attention. We are all affected in some way by the actions of others.
I was waiting to pay for my food in the supermarket a few days ago, where the store is being refurbished. It was quite busy, and there was an older couple behind me getting really cross and complaining about having to wait to pay for their trolley full of items, despite a free till which was for "baskets only". "So what?" I thought. "The man at the till is doing his job. There are a number of people walking around with baskets, and a larger number with trolleys stacked full of food".
The woman started to raise her voice in annoyance at this, referring to the "stupid idiot" at the till who had refused  to serve her. I wondered whether the young assistant had heard her, and if so, how he would have felt to be insulted like this. I made eye contact with her. The woman continued to complain. I smiled as I listened, then said, "Ah well...never mind. Let it go! There are worse things going on in the world, right now! A few extra minutes queueing won't do you any harm." She stopped in her tracks, took a step back from me, then whispered, "You're right. Of course not." She was so wrapped up in her own head, thoughts, irritation, that everything else had become insignificant. But given an opportunity to see another view, she made a connection with her own feelings, and realised that it didn't really matter, in the grand scheme of things. After I'd paid for my food, I went up to the woman, and wished her a lovely weekend. She smiled back at me and wished me the same. Ta-da! Connection made: spark turned into sparkle. Job done!

This is what this blog post is really about: taking a moment to step back from a situation and connect with your self. Just a moment to track what's going on, back to the "spark", and decide whether it is a sparkle to light your inner glow (that which makes you shine); whether that spark starts an unstoppable fire (that which provokes a sense of a need for revenge or retribution); or whether that spark should be extinguished before it causes any damage (the awareness of negative feelings and acknowledgement  before letting them go without consequence). And if it ain't gonna make you shine brightly enough for others to see and share their light with yours, then don't set the sparks off in the first place. As Ghandi said, "You must be the change you want to see in the world".

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Tracking The Inner Voice

A cup of decaffeinated coffee sits on the table, next to my laptop as I work. I am in a hotel near the camp site I am staying at with my family: they have gone on a day trip whilst I take some time out to write, catch up on work and come back to find my inner voice, again. I have been on a roadtrip around the UK with my 2 children for the past two weeks, going from friends to YHA to hotels, to parents; and now camping in Hampshire. I feel worn out and in need of some peace and quiet, despite the fun and frivolity of the past fortnight.
Outside, the rain has been lashing down; now the sunshine is out again and the world outside the window no longer looks dark and foreboding, but light and welcoming: even the leaves on the trees seem to shimmer with delight as they dance in the summery breeze. Here in the relaxed atmosphere of the hotel lounge, Jack Johnson is playing through the speakers; cutlery scraping plate occasionally accompanies the acoustic guitar, joining in the rhythm of footsteps on polished wooden flooring. A child patiently teaches his terrier pup how to sit and stay: the dog obliges and is rewarded with a splash of wine from his master's mother's wine glass.
Back to my inner voice. What is it saying to me? "Write. Work. Get on with what you came here for. You haven't got all day." I take a sip of my coffee. "It tastes too good to be decaff" says the voice. But I reason with it: "I checked with the waiter and he said it is. It's fine. Go ahead, enjoy!" There was a time I would drink caffeinated coffee, but in the past six years I have given it up. I feel so much better for it, too: I no longer feel jittery or anxious, which is how I must have felt a lot of the time without even realising it. There was once a time when I was accidentally given a proper coffee whilst out with my son, who was 3 at the time. Within 40 minutes of taking my first sip, I felt impulsive and wanted to go out and spend lots of money. My son egged me on in our apparently reasonable discussion to get my ears pierced for a second time (seeing mummy acting with exuberance all of a sudden appealed to his toddler mind; we laughed together as I walked home with sparkly blue earrings added to my plain studs. Caffeine does strange things to me).
But back to my inner voice. "What are you doing? Just get on with what you need to do! Why are you adding sugar to that cup? You don't take sugar!" I reason with this: "The sugar lumps look nice. I want one".

I take a lump and watch as it plops into the darkness. A few bubbles appear on the surface. I find myself entering into a quiet moment of reflection. I see how the sugar has altered the coffee. I see myself as the cup, the coffee as the material I am made of, and the sugar as the external substance that alters the matter. Bubbling away, changing the structure, but the vessel itself remains unchanged. A concious decision to change something within, as easy as that. "If only all decisions were that easy" I hear within me.
But in reality, anything can be changed, it just takes action. Thoughts can change the perception of substance. Only action can alter our reality. In order to make the change, though, the perception needs to be there. We can only perceive that a change is needed by recognising the options and choices around us, but we may have to seek for them before they present themselves. We may not always make the "right" choice, but that decision changes us intrinsically. Within us all is the intrinsic ability to be flexible, to change, but what holds us back? "Fear!" I hear my inner voice exclaim. "That sugar is bad for you, what are you thinking?!" I reflect on this. "Habit" I answer. "It's my habit of adding sugar to my coffee, because the sweetness takes the edge off the bitterness. I don't really like the taste so much, these days. Why did I order that coffee? Because I doubt the hotel serves rooibus tea with almond milk: my preferred position of hidden hippy." So I adapt to my surroundings, rather than force a change on others. I doubt there is a demand for this, and I understand that others may recoil at the thought of almond milk and rooibus. I get it! But there could be, if more people knew about it, if more people were willing to try something new, to make a concious decision to change a habit, without allowing fear to stand in the way of an experiment.
I drink the coffee, enjoying the bitter-sweet flavour, knowing that I won't become jumpy or impulsive. Outside, the sun is still shining. Time has moved on. The alcoholic dog has left the building, and new diners have entered the lounge. The music has changed to something with a bit more energy, and new staff have arrived. The hotel has changed within, but outside it still looks the same. There is a different feel to it. I am now enjoying a bowl of soup and a healthy glass of water. Everything has changed, but is still the same.

Plant For Peace

Plant For Peace
- Buy a flower, shrub or seed and plant it in your garden or into a pot or window box - somewhere you (and others) will be able to see it daily, and watch it grow
- Dedicate it to all living beings in the world 
- Place the intention of peace, happiness and love upon the plant for the world
- Place the intention of an end to world conflict through the growth of love and peace and watch it grow
- Say a blessing or prayer
- nurture your plant with everything it needs to grow, bless it daily, feel gratitude for its growth, and for its place in your world
- Visualise the roots bedding into the earth, spreading the peace through the soil and beyond
- Dedicate the growth to peace in your life and around the world
- Whenever you see the plant, invoke a sense of peace within yourself
- Share the plant by taking cuttings and giving to friends and family, asking them to do the steps above
- Share this post far and wide: get planting for peace on earth!
Thank You All 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

One Step At A Time

This photo represents how I try to view each day: I can only experience each part of my day as I reach it, one step at a time. I can start my day by looking at what's immediately in front of it, and so react to it accordingly. I am aware that the rest of the day stretches ahead of me, but I can't experience it and know what will be until I reach it.
One Step At A Time.
There is movement around me, there is a flow, a current; but I choose to take things One Step At A Time. I can look ahead, but not cannot reach it without taking those steps, first. Each step will feel different to the last. A different perspective, a different feel to it. A different moment. I can look behind and see the steps I have made, and although they may matter, they are no longer important in this very moment.
In other words, when I wake up in the morning, I deliberately stop myself from dwelling on the day ahead. It just makes me forget to live in the moment - that first satisfying yawn and stretch after waking, listening to the sounds outside my window, the noise of the outside world, mixed with the sounds of me: my breathing, my voice, my rumbling, empty tummy; my children laughing and chatting. The light straining through the curtains, the feel of the bedclothes, the warmth I am surrounded by. These things and more make me feel so grateful for the day ahead - whatever it may bring. Why spoil the moment by bringing in the stuff to come several hours away - be it good or something to stress about - when I could just enjoy those first precious moments of a new day? Being mindful of each step - from brushing my teeth (I feel so grateful to have healthy teeth, a toothbrush, toothpaste and fresh, clean water), eating my breakfast (delicious toast and tea, tasty fruit), chatting with my children (admiring their growing brains, personality and the unconditional love we have for each other), and so on - experiencing each step to its fullest potential, and enjoying myself, is a key to feeling happy, connected, and contented in my life.
Believe me when I say I have bad days - don't we all? But taking those steps to get from one end to the other when experienced as fully as possible, in connection with ourselves, with others, and with our environment makes everything more of an experience. And if we can try to weave in some gratitude for ourselves and others, and share in the fullest joy for the great stuff that happens to ourselves and others in our day, isn't that worth getting up for?


Sunday, 29 June 2014

Meditating Play


I love these big bowl swings. I find my inner child coming out to play whenever I'm near one: there's nothing like sitting in the swing, and the feeling of swaying back and forth through the air. Today we went to the park for a play, and opportunistically, I gave a guided meditation.
Being comfortable, lying in the swing, and being aware of the feeling of the pull of the earth as the swing sways back and forth. The body being pulled down and up as the swing moves. Breathing easily and slowly, in time to the sway. Closing the eyes, to really experience the feelings of movement; and that barely perceptable pause before the swing moves in the opposite direction. Each sway is a moment in time. Experience that present moment, before it's gone and replaced by the next. Like a clock ticking: tick...tock...
Each moment is different to the next. Each sway is slightly slower, slightly shorter. A fraction of time slower. As the swing continues swaying, so the present is ever changing, so the moment is different. Focusing on each moment. Each sway leaves a greater feeling of calm, of peace. Relaxing into the seat. A constant change. A constant movement, whilst the body stays still, the mind is quiet. Feeling the body react to each sway, slowing down...slower...slower...almost still. Quietly resting, a tiny movement in the swing. Calm, slow breaths, calm, quiet mind. Peace. Being held in the air, supported by the swing as it gently moves in the breeze. Quietly resting in body and mind, feeling calm and peaceful. Happy.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Mindful students

Today I have been doing mindful activities with students at both Swanage Primary and The Swanage School.

This morning I met with reception children. We did a range of activities, from imagining blowing up balloons and watching as they floated away, eating strawberries mindfully, to lying down for a beach meditation. It was really interesting to hear their thoughts about what they were eating. They used each of their senses to engage completely in the process, which came to them happily and naturally, without any awkwardness. They talked about how the strawberry had started off as a seed, explained to each other how the seed grew and that there was no such thing as a strawberry tree, and how the rain and the sunshine had helped the strawberry to grow.

When they chose a strawberry to eat, I asked them to feel the texture, weight and shape. Then they used their sense of smell to identify what sort of aroma they picked out ("sweet-smelling"), before licking it, which they found most amusing! Next, rather than taking a big bite out of the strawberry, I asked them to take a tiny nibble and let the flavours move around the taste buds, so that they could identify any different flavours ("tangy", "bubbly"). I asked them to close their eyes to find out if the flavour changed ("stronger").
They all enjoyed this activity. I wondered if they would have been as happy to try doing the same with a piece of food they didn't like or had never tasted, before. Perhaps that's one for another day!

We moved on to some quiet time for a beach meditation. I was taught not to expect young children to lie still, but to allow them to move and wriggle around if they needed to. I was happy for them to do this, although it does feel a bit counter-intuitive! However, despite the wriggling and the fact that most of them kept their eyes open (not a problem) they did lie quietly. We visualised a special pebble which each of them put in their pocket, and then they got up and did a bit of grounding exercise before heading off to lunch. With an extra strawberry as a treat, of course! I thoroughly enjoyed working alongside the children, and felt privileged to do so.

This afternoon I did some mindfulness work with older students. This time it wasn't bread-making, but working with "Zentangle". I asked the students to come up with an intention before they started, and to think about their intentions as they doodled.

It was quite a challenge for them I think, but that's good. My intention for the session was for them to do something that would take a lot of patience and to persist, even if they found it difficult. To realise it doesn't matter about the mistakes, but to carry on regardless of whether it is "perfect" or not. I am sure they were proud of their efforts!

If you would like to book me for some sessions at your school, please get in touch at innerspaceproject1@gmail.com


Saturday, 21 June 2014

Solstice


Here in the northern hemisphere, we are celebrating midsummer's day. It has been a beautiful day, with the sun blessing us with its warmth and energy. I have been busy for most of the day, rather than making the most of the lovely weather, but I have been reflecting on my life, looking back at the months since the winter solstice.
The photo above was taken at 10.30pm, just as dusk gave way to the creeping darkness as it slowly swept the sky clear of any remaining light. I went for a walk, and came across several bats as they began their nightly routine. The air was warm with a light breeze, and there were aromas of heady evening floral scents. I finished on the beach, and went for a paddle. The water was cool and refreshing, the waves were quiet and gentle. Just what was needed for me, this evening.

Thinking back to the winter solstice, my new year's resolution was to stand out of my comfort zone. I think I have achieved this - although there is room for a lot more shuffling! Personally, I have gone beyond my comfortable limits frequently since January this year, and don't intend to stop, now. Today I decided to add in a new intention for each week until the winter solstice, in order to continue to grow and evolve.

But for now, happy midsummer's day, or if you are in the southern hemisphere, happy midwinter's day!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Baking Bread - mindfully



Yesterday, I went to The Swanage School, where I did some mindfulness work with two students. I taught them to make bread.

For me, making bread is full of symbolism and meaning. It is a process of transition and constant change. It involves constant attention, requires physical strength, and needs endless patience in order for the bread to evolve and "bloom".

The students I was with yesterday began by feeling fairly unsure of what they were about to do. Neither of them were really sure about what was going to be involved, but they got stuck in, anyway. As they began to mix the flour and yeast mixture together with their hands, I could see they were getting into it. They wanted to succeed, even though they had some doubts about their ability. Neither of them had ever made bread, before. I asked the students to really focus on the sensations, and use their senses to fully appreciate their efforts. Thoughts and feelings were expressed throughout. :)

As they left their trays of dough to prove in the lunchtime sunlight beaming through the windows, I saw how the students cared about their work. They wanted their efforts to succeed. When they returned 45 minutes later to enormous balls of dough, they were amazed. Then came the bit they had been waiting for: beating the air out of their dough. Taking out their frustrations, before moulding it into the shape they wanted their loaves to be, before placing back on the windowsill to rise.

When they returned later to collect their huge golden loaves from the food-tech room, full of the delicious aroma of freshly-baked bread which had just come out of the oven, they couldn't believe their eyes! The expressions on their faces were of pride, amazement, and happiness. They had gone through the whole process from start to finish using mindfulness, and achieved something wonderful out of it, at the end.

Achieving something wonderful in mindfulness or meditation terms, can take any physical form, but using mindfulness in our activities also brings about an inner form, in the shape of happiness, calm, pride, satisfaction, or more besides. But it also creates the moment of just being. Being present in each moment and fully experiencing what our bodies and our minds are creating: a sense of inner peace.




Sunday, 1 June 2014

Cast Light On Your Shadows



Last summer, whilst out running in the woods, I headed towards a path I tend to feel wary of. It was a gloriously warm summer morning, and as I ran along the sunlit-dappled path, I became mindful of looking out for Adders. Now I used to be terrified of snakes as a child; and even as an adult, I’m really not that fond of them. 
Despite my fear and dislike, I have never seen a snake anywhere other than behind a plate of glass at the zoo: a sanitised, safe environment – perhaps not so much for my benefit – as for the snakes themselves.

I reflected upon this as I left the woods and entered an open space, that the fear I have of meeting a snake on my own well-travelled path, has little basis. Why must I place the emotion of fear into a situation I have never encountered, and may never face? Surely it would be better to experience the fear and react accordingly if need be?

As much as I love being amongst woodland, I do tend to run a bit faster in the areas where I am likely to encounter an Adder. This might knock a couple of seconds off my time, but if I run too fast, I may miss the beauty all around me - even that of the adder itself.

To confront a fear allows us to learn something deeper about ourselves. If we permit the fear to control our decisions on, say, which paths to take in our life, we restrict our choices, and may inhibit our own growth. Although it might feel easier to avoid anything scary or unknown in order to protect and preserve – to sanitise – our comfort zones, these seemingly easy decisions can prevent us from learning more about ourselves, and forming a deeper connection within.

By facing our fears, we can begin to open up to what it is that has influenced our decisions and perceptions. If we fully experience our fear, we can then see the beauty of our deeper selves, learn as we conquer our fear, and evolve on a spiritual level.

So look for your own strength and courage in your heart, and allow the light within you to be the sun dappling upon your path less travelled. 

Enjoy The Moment

Photo: How often do you hear your children asking for a mobile phone/tablet/new trainers or other highly-desired items? How do you respond? Do you ever ask them to consider why they feel they "need" it, or to consider the difference between a want and a need? It could stem from a need to fit in with their peers, to be liked, and to be accepted by others, which are all vital to our sense of self. So if you are feeling the pressure but feel that they are too young or not yet able to take responsibility for these status symbols, how do you teach them to understand?
Each time I feel that my children are asking for something they don't need but want, in order to fulfil their sense of self, I remind them of an analogy I developed with them: see your life as being like a big, best quality chocolate bar, wrapped in shiny paper. You carefully take off the layer and look at the beautiful, complete bar of chocolate. Then you decide how you would like to eat it. Which would be better: to pick up the chocolate, bite into it and eat the whole lot, and then feel full, sick, and sad that it is all gone? Or enjoy a small square at a time, savouring each mouthful, experiencing it piece by piece and happily admiring the taste, smell, feel and sight? So do you want everything right now - to consume what you have - and then get to a point where you are left wanting more? Or would you like to enjoy your life piece by piece, moment by moment, taking in the scenery, sights, emotions, experiences and the beauty of life, savouring each moment and evolving into the person you are? 
At the age of 8 my daughter understood this, and although it is sometimes hard to accept the disappointment and the longing for something, there is plenty more to experience and enjoy in her life, so she is beginning to learn to make the most of what she currently has. My 5 year-old son is also beginning to grasp the concept, so it's never too young to learn!
Live in the moment, and enjoy each and every day!
Photo:Nikki Harman - Chocolate from Chococo, Swanage

How often do you hear your children asking for a mobile phone/tablet/new trainers or other highly-desired items? 

How do you respond? Do you ever ask them to consider why they feel they "need" it, or to consider the difference between a want and a need? It could stem from a need to fit in with their peers, to be liked, and to be accepted by others, which are all vital to our sense of self. So if you are feeling the pressure but feel that they are too young or not yet able to take responsibility for these status symbols, how do you teach them to understand?

Each time I feel that my children are asking for something they don't need but want, in order to fulfil their sense of self, I remind them of an analogy I developed with them: see your life as being like a big, best quality chocolate bar, wrapped in shiny paper. 
You carefully take off the layer and look at the beautiful, complete bar of chocolate. Then you decide how you would like to eat it. 
Which would be better: to pick up the chocolate, bite into it and eat the whole lot, and then feel full, sick, and sad that it is all gone? 
Or enjoy a small square at a time, savouring each mouthful, experiencing it piece by piece and happily admiring the taste, smell, feel and sight? 

So do you want everything right now - to consume what you have - and then get to a point where you are left wanting more? 
Or would you like to enjoy your life piece by piece, moment by moment, taking in the scenery, sights, emotions, experiences and the beauty of life, savouring each moment and evolving into the person you are?

Live in the moment, and enjoy each and every day!

Photo:Nikki Harman - Chocolate from Chococo, Swanage

How To Eat An Orange

You may think eating is a pretty simple activity, and on the surface, you'd be right. But I want to look beyond the surface, at what's beneath the obvious. Let's be honest: how often do you concentrate on what you're eating or drinking? How often do you stop to consider how that food you're popping into your mouth arrived there in the first place? How often do you really pay attention to what's happening to you as you're eating?

I, for one, don't spend every mouthful of food deeply thinking about it, or examining the sense's reactions to the food. I don't bless each morsel with gratitude, I don't think about how the food arrived on my plate; and I definitely don't always say a grace. If I did, surely my food will have cooled down, and not taste as good as it should have? I am, as many others are, guilty of one of the following on a regular basis:

  • eating whilst watching TV
  • eating whilst answering a text
  • eating whilst working on my laptop
  • eating whilst reading a book or writing notes
  • eating whilst walking around
I bet the majority of those reading this will be able to agree that they have done at least 2, if not all of those in the list above (and if you can do all at once, then you are multi-talented). Some of you will be able to agree that you do say a prayer or bless your food - but how many of you do so for every meal?

What do you think is the best approach? How does food make you feel? Do different types of food affect your mood or how you feel? What is your relationship with your food?  What sort of food do you eat on a daily basis? Do you cook it yourself, is it freshly prepared? Is it healthful? For those who are just about to skip to the next blog, wait! 

Please, stop and think for a moment. Because food is a huge part of every society, every culture, we depend on food to keep us going, at the very least, and to enrich ourselves and feel healthy, at best. Don't you think that something we as humans rely on so much for survival, something so crucial to our health, should get more attention when we prepare it, and eat it?

Today I'm going to give you an example. I teach this in my beginners mindfulness course. I love this exercise, because I see the reactions of those taking part in it. I love when the participants feed back to me the exact point of the exercise: it makes me feel that someone else is on my wavelength. I love it when those who look at me suspiciously when I present them with a plate of fruit - like I'm a little bit crazy - find the exercise has taught them something that they didn't really think about beforehand.

How do you eat an orange?

  • Do you cut it into wedges and suck them? 
  • Do you peel it and eat each segment? 
  • Do you halve it and squeeze out the juice?
  • Do you think about how that orange arrived in your kitchen?


My suggestion is that you get yourself an orange. Hold it in your hand, feeling the texture, the weight and the shape. Just be curious about who planted the orange tree. Where did it grow? How long do you think it took to grow? Who picked it when it was ripe?
Who packed it, and packaged it along with the rest of the crates to be shipped around the world? What was the journey on the ship like for those who work at sea to deliver goods around to different countries? Who drove the crates with your orange to the supermarkets, or delivered your vegbox to your door?

Who placed your orange on the shelf for you to see, and buy, or loaded your fruit box?

And now, here you are, holding your beautiful, precious orange, that which has been handled from seed to plate. Acknowledge all those who have had a part in giving you your moment of sustenance. What might the life story be of each person involved? Thank them for their part in providing you with food.

Begin to prepare the orange. As you do so, breathe in the zest, smell the sunshine and the rain and the air, soil and energy required to transform the orange seed into the fruit you are preparing, now.

Then, just before you place your first segment or wedge into your mouth, clear your mind and zone in completely on the experience of what you are doing. Concentrate as you bite into it. Taste it. What do you experience? What do you notice?

Continue to eat the orange, observing your senses as you do so, watching your thoughts and concentrating on what you are doing. When you have finished, sit quietly for a minute or two, just to reflect. What comes up for you?

You know when you've digested that orange, when all the vitamins and water have been carefully, chemically stored in your body, the waste of which is eliminated from your system and into the toilet (let's not get too graphic at this juncture), what happens to it? It goes back to the earth. Through your breath, through your skin, through your elimination systems, into the sewage, into the water, into the air, and back to earth.

Can you see, then, that we are all intrinsically connected? That person who planted the seed or operated the machinery (even the people who assembled machinery in the factory), to the person who took your money for the orange at the shop, has had a part in providing you with sustenance. By eating it, you take on the energy of this process, and by eliminating it, you provide the earth with sustenance. It's a two-way process.

When we eat, we are engaging in a big, symbiotic relationship with each other, the world; we are all doing it in a similar way for mutual benefit of ourselves and for earth, consciously or unconsciously.

I'm not suggesting that you treat every meal in this manner - who has time for that in their lives? - but to at least acknowledge the food you are about to eat, from seed to plate, and for the work you have put into being able to buy (or grow) yourself.

Give thanks - and enjoy every mouthful - for of course, you are what you eat.