Sarah lives with her three teenagers and her husband, all of whom she loves dearly. She works from home too. I asked her whether mindfulness has affected her life at all.......
'I find I am less snappy and short-tempered, so difficult relationships become less stressful. Sometimes I need to go to the toilet and take a few breaths! At the same time, mindfulness helps me recognise what I need in my life for my own wellbeing. I discovered I need more space, and as I take the space I need, that helps me manage those difficult relationships better.
‘It has made me look at my life from a more positive point of view. Negative thoughts still come and go, but I notice the positives more. For instance if I get cut up whilst driving, in the past I might have spent the whole day being cross, replaying the incident. Now I can almost look at it with amusement. Or if I am walking the dog in the rain, providing I am covered, I find myself enjoying the sounds of my wellies squelching in the mud, rain on one hand, dry on the other, the sound of the rain drumming on my hood, watching the dog, becoming absorbed, it becomes a precious experience. Mindfulness makes life more enjoyable.
'I have physical pain a lot of the time. As I allow myself to soften into the pain, giving it attention and tenderness, it starts to dissipate. Or I might have a tight headache, tension in the shoulders, and sensing the pain, I recognise something has happened that has upset me and I am holding on . So I ask myself, 'what is this?, why am I feeling this? I can be with this' and again the pain starts to go and I see the situation differently.
'Mindfulness has given me the tools to deal with difficult moments in my life. I am more accepting and tolerant, not in a gritted teeth way, I am more able to love.'
Mindfulness courses are starting on 29 January at Chequer Mead in East Grinstead 7.30 - 9.30, and 30 February in URC Church in Caterham with a free introduction. Come along and find out for yourself about the 8 week mindfulness training course which starts on 5 February in East Grinstead and 6 February in Caterham
How would it feel to live a life where ‘your brain feels more chilled and less cluttered, you notice and enjoy the beauty of nature all around you more and you are at one with the world?’ Well this was the answer from Karen when she was asked, ‘What has a mindfulness course done for you?’
‘My mind is more taken up with the good things in the day rather than dwelling on what went wrong’, she went on. ‘My mind is less crowded out with thoughts and worries.’
Karen enjoys her job dealing with the public, but like most jobs it can get pressured. She went on to explain, ‘Mindfulness makes me more aware of challenging thoughts and emotions, like stress at work, and has given me the tools to manage them. I find I am able to do my job even better and enjoy it more.’
‘I also made new friends. It’s such a relief on the course to share thoughts honestly without having to pretend to be on top of everything all the time’.
I asked Karen whether she would recommend the mindfulness training, ‘Of course’ she said, ‘You have nothing to lose and everything to gain..more peace, more joy and new friends.’
Courses are starting soon: 25 September in East Grinstead and 26 September in Caterham. A daytime course will run in East Grinstead from 4 October, 10 - 12
Taking a mindfulness course is life-enhancing in so many ways. One young mum, Lisa, found that it transformed her experience of being with her young children:
‘Like many mums, I was always feeling guilty. Guilty about shouting and getting cross, guilty about doing something just for myself even going out for a few hours, guilty about feeling fed up because it is all so relentless.
‘Following the mindfulness course I find I focus much more on the positive. Mindfulness leads me to stop and appreciate the children, rather than thinking ‘oh no I’ve got to give them a bath, cook tea, take them here, take them there - now they are arguing aaargh.’ It’s easy to get caught up in what you want them to do rather than enjoying them being themselves. Mindfulness gives me the space to appreciate them and I am so grateful because they are lovely.
‘Bedtime for instance used to be really stressful. I could not wait for them to just go to sleep. By the time it got to 7pm I was knackered. I remember getting so wound up and thinking ‘GO TO SLEEP! I was resentful at not being able to sit down on my own and have time for myself. I learnt it made life much easier to simply accept the way the children were. I accepted that I might just have to sit there for half an hour. Sometimes it was beautiful to do that. And when they were finally asleep I would enjoy my tea, TV, book so much more because I wasn’t wound up and was calm.
‘I am generally much calmer with them. If I do get annoyed by them then I don’t feel so guilty about that and that means I can snap myself out of that much more easily.
‘I make mindfulness part of my day. I practice in bed in the evening and that helps me get to sleep and sleep more deeply. If I find I am getting really cross during the day I take some moments to breathe deeply, then connects me to a calmer state, and then I can – sometimes- respond differently.
‘Mindfulness gives me the space to appreciate life in general so much more and the children are an important part of that. It means, for instance, we literally stop to smell the roses on the way to school.’
The next mindfulness courses start with free introductions in September as follows:
EAST GRINSTEAD Free introduction Tuesday 25 September 7,30 - 9.30 @ Chequer Mead, De La Warr Rd, RH19 3BS. The 8 week course starts the following Tuesday
CATERHAM Free introduction Wednesay 26 September 7.30 - 9.30 @ URC Church, Harestone Hill CR3 6SX The 8 week course starts the following Wednesday
I’m old enough to remember a time when people usually answered “good” when you asked them the standard, “How are you?” (often said “harya?”). These days the answer is commonly “busy.”
In the last few months I’ve been very busy myself and starting to feel dispersed: juggling a dozen priorities at any moment, attention skittering from one thing to another, body revved up, feeling stretched thin and spread out like an octopus squished between two sheets of glass.
You know the feeling? Besides being both unpleasant and a spigot of stress hormones, it’s weirdly contagious. Spreading from one person to another and fueled in part by the underlying economics of consumerism, we now have a Western and especially American culture of busyness. If you’re not busy, you must not be important. If you don’t have a lot on your mind, you must be under-performing. If your kids aren’t busy with homework and after school activities, they won’t get ahead. If you don’t look busy, someone will ask you to work harder. Etc.
Enough already. Instead of being scattered to the four winds, collect and concentrate your mind and energy. Besides feeling a lot better, it’s more effective in the long run. For example, what does an Olympic gymnast do before launching into a run or a rocket before heading into space? Come to center.
1. Savor Pleasure
As the brain evolved, pleasure and its underlying endorphins and other natural opioids developed to pull our ancestors out of disturbed fight-flight-freeze bursts of stress and return them and keep them in a sustainable equilibrium of recover-replenish-repair. Let physical or mental pleasure really land; give yourself over to it fully rather than looking for the next thing.
Dance, exercise, yoga, walks, lovemaking, play, and athletics reset the body-mind. For me personally, movement at either end of the intensity spectrum – very subtle or very vigorous – has the most impact.
3. Get Wild
We evolved in nature, and multiple studies are showing that natural settings – the beach, wilderness, sitting under a tree in your back yard – are restorative.
4. Enjoy Art
By this I mean making or experiencing anything aesthetic, such as doing crafts, listening to music, watching a play, trying a new recipe, playing your guitar, building a fence, or taking a pottery class.
5. Feel the Core
Most of the inputs into your brain originate within your own body, and most if not all of those signals are like night watchmen calling, “All is well. All is well. All is well . . .” Feeling into your breathing, sensing into your innards, and noticing that you are alright right now are endlessly renewing opportunities to settle into the physical center of your being.
6. Be Now
The center of time is always this moment. A primary difference between humans and other species (with the possible exception of cetaceans) is our capacity for “mental time travel.” But this blessing is also in some ways a curse in that the mind keeps dispersing itself into the past and the future; it proliferates worries, plans, rehashings, and fantasies like manic vines in a speeded-up jungle. Instead, right now be now. And again.
7. Get Disenchanted
This means waking up from the spell, from the enchantments woven by the wanting mind in concert with culture and commerce. We normally pursue hundreds of little goals each day – return this call, organize that event, produce these emails, get across those points – associated with presumed rewards produced by ancient brain centers to motivate our reptilian and mammalian ancestors. Let the truth land that these rewards are rarely as good as promised.
Again and again I’ve had to remind myself to quit chasing the brass ring. While staying engaged with life, return to the reliable rewards of feeling already full – the undoing of the craving, broadly defined, that creates suffering and harm. Try a little practice on first waking or at other times in which you take a few seconds or longer to feel already peaceful, already contented, and already loved. This is the home base of body, brain, and mind.
Come home to center.