Moving from Illness to Wellness

In this week’s blog I thought I would look more holistically at wellbeing and see how Mindfulness is a core component of keeping us mentally well.

In 2008 the UK Foresight Challenge Report aimed to enhance the understanding of how to achieve the best possible mental health and wellbeing for people living throughout the United Kingdom.  It commissioned the Centre for Wellbeing at the new economics foundation (nef) to develop a set of evidence-based actions to improve personal wellbeing.

According to nef the concept of wellbeing comprises two main elements: feeling good and functioning well.

A positive experience in life is reflected through feelings of happiness, contentment, enjoyment, curiosity and engagement.

Unfortunately, it is estimated that only 14% of people in the UK have a high level of wellbeing – often referred to as “flourishing”.  The equivalent number, 14%, have low wellbeing (not including those with a diagnose mental disorder), what some would call “languishing”.

So what influences wellbeing?  Evidence is reliably pointing towards what we do and the way we think.  The consensus within the fields looking at wellbeing seems to be that a holistic approach to improving one’s wellbeing is important.

nef’s role was to develop a set of actions that enhance wellbeing, however positive psychology research has indicated we quickly adapt to repeated activities.  Therefore it seems that variety really is the spice of life as it keeps us fresh and interested, and more likely to continue to achieve success.

Acknowledging that different approaches suit different people, nef developed five actions that can be varied according to age, lifestyle and culture.

Those five areas are now known as the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, encouraging us daily to explore how we connect, be active, take notice, learn and give.

Connect – social relationships are critical to wellbeing.  Social participation is the biggest factor between those with  and those without mental health.

Happy people have stronger social relationships than less happy people.  Life goals associated to a commitment to family, friends, social and political involvement promotes satisfaction with life whereas life goals associated with career success and material gains are seen to be detrimental to life satisfaction.

To Connect you can build connections with those around you; smile; make eye contact; greet others; share; enjoy – basically invest in personal relationships.

Be Active – physical activity is related to a greater sense of wellbeing, lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups.

Research is exploring the types of activity which is most beneficial, however it has already identified that physical activity increases perceived self-efficacy, sense of mastery and the perceived ability to cope.  Action is central to cognition.

Even small changes in activity levels of people who are sedentary and the elderly has shown to enhance wellbeing.

You can improve your activity simply by stepping outside more; moving; doing whatever energises you to continue to move.

Take Notice – this areas is an emerging field.  Increased sensory awareness has been shown to decrease stress and improve overall wellbeing.

Research supports that the practice of Mindfulness predicts positive mental states, self-regulated behaviour and heightened self-knowledge – all contributors to emotional intelligence.

Self Determination theory suggests that an open awareness is particularly valuable for choosing behaviours that are consistent with one’s needs, values and interests.

When we are aware and taking notice we are able to in turn savor moments that reinforce our life priorities.

You can Take Notice by encouraging your own curiosity; noticing beauty and the unusual; notice the changing seasons; savoring the moment; becoming aware of the world around you at any moment of the day.

Keep Learning – learning is an important role in our social and cognitive development.

Life-long learning enhances self-esteem, encourages social interaction and a more active life.  It has also been linked to lifting depression in older adults.

Wellbeing is enhanced when goals are self-generated, approach goals and are congruent with personal values.  Formal and informal learning are highly desirable .

To Keep Learning you could try something new, rediscover an old interest; sign up for a course; take on a different responsibility at work; fix something around the house; learn to play an instrument; cook something new; set challenges you will enjoy; learn things that will make you more confident.

Give – neuroscience is contributing greatly to how we understand the impact of giving on wellbeing.

Wellbeing is considered to be greatly enhanced when an individual is able to achieve a sense of purpose in society, and contributes to their wider community.

Helping, sharing, giving and team-oriented behaviours are likely to be connected with increases in self-worth and positive feelings.

Offering support to others has been linked with reduced mortality rates.

What the research is saying – individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy.

It seems that to improve our own wellbeing we need to be outwardly focussed not inward.  We need to look to improve the life of others and in doing so we improve our own.

To Give you could do something nice for a friend or a stranger; thank someone; smile; volunteer your time; join a community or sporting group; perform Random Acts of Kindness often; look outward and see your happiness linked to the wider community; seek reward through giving rather than receiving.

So now you have 5 Ways to Wellbeing.  If you like apps you can download the 5 Ways to Wellbeing app, set goals and keep track of your wellbeing in the five action areas.

Remember that you can only achieve wellbeing through you actions in the present, this will set up how you view and act in the future.

Give the 5 Ways to Wellbeing a go and let me know how you go.


Changing sides

Recently I travelled (hence the delay in this week’s blog – apologies).

Naturally as a student of mindfulness I notice everyday events in detail, this happens when I travel just as it does every other day.

One of the things that I noticed again was how often people appear to be flustered when they travel.  Some even panicked that they might be doing something wrong.

Travelling creates a major break in routine which our minds need to deal with.  We need to be observant of new conditions such as traffic moving in a different direction,  or perhaps a different etiquette, carrying extra things we may need, noticing where services and supports may be, getting to places at scheduled times.

If we neglect to notice these things we can make mistakes and feel quite silly about ourselves when we would normally be quite competent.

We can also leave or forget things such as phone chargers, tickets, books or other belongings in hotel rooms; leave parcels on seats or on transport; or forget to carry cash in places that don’t have teller machines.

Breaking routines as we have noted in a previous blog in January, Changing Things Up a Bit,  creates an environment of flexibility.  Doing things differently can be challenging when our minds have created habits and expect things to go a certain way.

When things don’t go as automatically as we thought, panic can set in.  I have seen people at airports frantically going through their luggage checking for certain belongings.  I have seen people checking and double checking that they have got everything with them.  Our minds can be quite edgy when we think we might make a mistake and look silly in front of others. We can become distraught if we forget something, which we think at the time is really quite valuable, too valuable to lose.  If we do happen to forget it, we soon realise that we can either live without it or it is replaceable to some extent.

For this week’s Mindfulness Challenge you might need a sense of humour, as the challenge is to use your non-dominant hand for as many ordinary tasks as you possibly can each day.

Some things you could consider may be changing how you drink your morning cuppa, brushing your teeth, locking your door, picking things up, unpacking the dishwasher, opening the refrigerator, even scratching your head or folding your arms, handing something to someone, or changing the television channels.

You might try writing with your non dominant hand. Of course if you have an important certificate or document to sign you may want to use your dominant hand, but at other times give it a go.

You will of course notice how clumsy and awkward it will feel.  You may not remember but there was a time when using any hand was clumsy and awkward as you started out becoming independent as a child.  Your dominant hand has grown a skill that the non-dominant hand hasn’t.

This exercise can teach us many things. To appreciate our dexterity and our ability to use the limbs we have, to the ability we have.

To notice perhaps and develop compassion for others when they are clumsy or unskilled; or perhaps injured or disabled.  We can develop compassion and patience and not expect others to always complete things as we would do.

This task will challenge your determination as well as your ability to tolerate imperfection.

You may be surprised at how quickly or how slowly your mind and body adapt, this could be beneficial if you ever become incapacitated or injured for a period.

You may develop a confidence in your non dominant side and realise that you are not too old to learn new skills and you have many abilities lying deep beneath the surface just waiting for the opportunity to be revealed.

Mostly it will encourage you to approach daily tasks with the Beginner’s Mind I have previously blogged about (June 15th, 2014). To approach things without expectation, with an openness to what will happen, with curiosity and patience toward yourself.

With practice you will develop trust in yourself, a freedom knowing that you are capable of so many things that even you didn’t know about.

Stay present, flexible, and accepting with open-hearted spaciousness and watch yourself grow.

Gratitude – something to be thankful for

Yes life is difficult, challenging and demanding.  People at every turn seem to want that little bit more of us.  We can feel that we are being pulled in all directions and then our head steps in and pulls us in another one! So what is there to be grateful about?

It is easy to get caught up in the demands of daily living.  We know intuitively that we are grateful for lots of things.  If asked we can often rattle off a list of things we are grateful for – a place to sleep, food, warmth, people we love, perhaps a good job.

So what do you have to be grateful for and how often do you call it to mind?

According to research, (Park & Peterson 2006; Park, Peterson & Seligman 2004), gratitude is one of the strengths most robustly associated with life satisfaction, leading to higher levels of social integration (Froh, Bono & Emmons 2010).

However gratitude can look differently for different people.

Gratitude-appIt may be a sense of wonder or appreciation; it may be expressed through optimism or sharing; it may be thanking an individual, a group, a nation, a higher power.

Gratitude is savouring, a deep understanding that this needs to be noticed and not taken for granted.

Gratitude and its expression can become an antidote to envy, hostility, fear, irritation or worry.

How does gratitude fit into Mindfulness? To put it simply, in order to be grateful we need to be present moment focused.  We need to firstly notice how our life is today and express an appreciation to what has contributed to that.

Remember our minds are tuned to a negativity bias.  We needed this to keep ourselves alive, however, in today’s society this negativity can just bring us down.  It can keep us from experiencing the whole nature of our interactions throughout our day. It can keep us stuck on what’s going wrong and we can replay these things over and over in our minds.

Developing a focus on the positive and supportive things that happen to us in our day can tone down our negativity and help us enjoy life more.

In How to Train a Wild Elephant, Jan Chozen Bays suggests we “turn the unhappy mind toward discovering even one thing it can be grateful for.”

During the day you can notice and take mental notes of things to add to your gratitude list.  This develops a form of ongoing gratitude.

Gratitude is so much more than saying ‘thank you’ as it has multiple benefits.

People who show gratitude consistently are happier, more energetic, more hopeful and experience more positive emotions.  They are more helpful, empathic, more forgiving and less materialistic.  They are less likely to be depressed, anxious or lonely.

Letting people know that we appreciate what they have done also has untold impacts on their levels of wellbeing and also our own.

It is interesting how we feel better when we actually express our gratitude rather than just think it.  We need to actually let people know that we are grateful. We need to show them.  Most people I know, well actually all of the people I know, can’t read minds, so we need to let them know.

In her work on happiness and wellbeing, Sonja Lyubomirsky points to eight ways gratitude boosts happiness; grateful thinking leads to savouring positive experiences; showing appreciation boosts self-worth and self-esteem; gratitude helps us cope with stress and trauma; expressing gratitude leads to more prosocial behaviour; gratitude can build social bonds, strengthen existing relationships and nurture new ones; being grateful reduces negative comparisons with others that keep us unsettled and envious; because it is such a positive experience it is incompatible with negative emotions; and finally, being grateful reduces our adaptation to pleasant things so that we continually see when new events are positive and don’t become blase about events, relationships and life.

There are several paths to developing gratitude and finding your own pathway is vital.

If you enjoy writing you might like to start a Gratitude Journal where you can spend a regular time each day, week or month, reflect on your life and list perhaps between three to five things you are grateful for.  I always encourage people to look so much further than the immediate such as food and shelter, which of course we need to be grateful for.  But to look beyond, looking for what has helped you this day live your life to its fullest.  For example when we need to vote in Australia, I reflect on how grateful I am that I live in a country that encourages everyone to participate, including women, which doesn’t happen automatically in some countries in the world.  Immediately I am grateful to live in my country and lining up, waiting to vote doesn’t seem so onerous.

You might like to try a gratitude substitution – replacing an ungrateful thought (eg: my sister/brother/partner forgot my birthday) with a grateful thought (but they are always there to listen and support me).

You could find a gratitude partner and share gratitude lists with them.

If you are at work find ways to let others know how much you appreciate their contribution to the workplace, or your specific role or to the team

As a customer you may like to let someone who has served you well how much you appreciate their attitude and expertise.

Think more broadly, you may like to offer your home to help out with accommodation for someone; show people visiting your city around; offer a ride to someone to save them driving to the same venue as you.

Write a gratitude letter to someone who has been an influential person in your life.  Express what they have done that has impacted on you.  Describe in detail what they did and exactly how your life is the better for their part in it.  You don’t have to send it but imagine how it would feel to know you had made a positive impact on someone’s life.  If possible you may want to deliver the letter by hand.

A gratitude visit may be to take the time and visit a person you would like to thank and tell them in person, or call them via the phone or internet.

Whatever way you choose to show your gratitude, keep it fresh for yourself.  Choose a strategy that best suits you and you will enjoy, and will hold its meaning for you.

This habit has staying power, people who have practised gratitude lists of three good things each day for only a week have shown to still be reaping the positive emotions six months later.

Remember a new habit takes time to develop, so keep practising.  Train your mind to notice things and then it will become second nature to be grateful and therefore happier.

“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind” Lionel Hampton.

Be your own ‘best’ friend

Would you be your own best friend? Do you want to be happy but think your way out of it?

Do you hear things in your head about you that you would want others to say about you?

If your friend said what you hear in your head would you still want them as a friend?

Quite often our thoughts are not our ‘best’ friend.  In fact quite often our thoughts keep us stuck in depression, anxiety, inaction, self-hate even self-pity.

We may think we need to be critical of ourselves, to keep ourselves motivated or else we may become lazy or self-indulgent.

Because we think something does this make it true? Does it make it right? Necessary? Accurate? – Probably not. Ever had a thought that was wrong? I have!

Our thinking is very useful.  Thinking helps us problem solve, understand complex concepts, determine if we like or don’t like something – all very useful skills.

However when we believe something, we can assume we are right, this can get in the way of our listening to others. It may even put our relationships at risk as we move to defend our position.

Can you let go of the need to be right? Could being kind be better than being right?

Being Mindful means we can become aware of the type of thinking we have attached to.  Mindfulness can allow us to ‘view’ our thoughts just like waves on the ocean, coming and going with the deep, peaceful, calmness hidden below.

Becoming an observer of the words in your head is the first step to becoming aware of the power of your words on yourself and on others.

Our interactions with others start in our thoughts.  If we express doubt in ourselves we will likely restrict our contributions to others.  We can become angry and uncaring because our focus is turned inward not outward.

If you reduce self-criticism and develop self-compassion this will transfer into your relationships with others.  If you love yourself you will express that love in your interactions with others.

When we are aware we can become involved to ensure that our words manifest our true intentions.  That we are saying what we truly believe and we are being the person we want to be.

Our Mindfulness Challenge for this week is to notice our words.  Our words in our heads – our thoughts – and our words to others.

Be conscious to say only what you mean with gentleness knowing that our words ‘land’ on others.

Avoid using words to speak against yourself or others.  Be loyal to those who are absent.

Use your words to be kind to yourself – be your ‘best’ friend.  No need to point out your faults, you already know them! Look for when you are being at your fabulous best and honour that by taking notice of it and savouring it.

These may be small, seemingly insignificant moments that we often let slip by. Notice when you are bringing peace and calm to others and you will in turn feel that way as well.

Speak and act from deep within the ocean (your values) not being tossed about by the swell and the crashing waves (your thoughts).

Practice self-kindness – don’t beat yourself up for not coping, or not getting something right, or for not being perfect. Develop the ability to cope by comforting yourself when you are hurting or in need of care.

Relate to your mistakes or shortcomings like a ‘best’ friend would, with tolerance, understanding and love, understanding that perfection is not only unattainable but boring and over-rated.

Resist comparing how you feel on the inside to how others present on the outside.  We know that everyone suffers in some way.

Be kind to yourself and watch out for times to be your own cheer squad – but you will need to be present to notice it otherwise you just might miss it.


Changing seasons – Changing emotions

Noticing seasonal changes connects us to this amazing planet that we inhabit.

Autumn and the beginning of Winter here in Melbourne has been unseasonally mild, even warm.  Plants have re-budded thinking it is Spring.

But it is now turning cold and wet, more consistent with this time of the year, and yet we start to complain – “it’s gotten so cold” or “I don’t like winter”.  It is easy to curl up when it’s cold and become a hermit, confine ourselves to the indoors for the duration of the Winter.

Our moods are often connected to or influenced by the weather or seasons.

Ever wish it were sunny and warm every day?  Ever think you feel better when the sun shines? That’s probably because you do. Researchers are now investigating links between Vitamin D and depression, however these links are still unknown.

The sun does indeed help our health and mental health in many ways.  We use Vitamin D to strengthen our bones, to increase our uptake of other vitamins and minerals.

When it is sunny we feel we can venture outside more to exercise, play and socialise all good for our mental health.  But how would it be if we had the same weather day in day out?  How would nature survive without dormant periods, without rain? Would we really feel better?

The changing seasons demand for us to adapt our lifestyle and develop our flexibility, and increase our creativity if we want to exercise, play and socialise.

It seems appealing to want to experience ‘good’ weather on a more permanent basis just as we are seduced by the possibility of experiencing ‘positive’ emotions such as happiness on a more permanent basis.

But imagine for one moment if you were offered the ability to experience one emotion only for the next week.  You would experience it to its fullest. Which one would you pick?

Happiness? Joy? Gratitude?

What would determine the emotion you would pick? What would happen?  What would the impact be on your relationships if you could only express that one emotion?

How would others respond to you?  What would be good or not so good about it?

In Mindfulness we don’t view emotions as necessarily good or bad, positive or negative, they are all just emotions, useful in their own way.

The Mindfulness Challenge this week is to notice when you are clinging to certain emotions.  Notice your inner self talk about emotions and change.  Notice what you like or want it to be like, and move toward becoming more accepting of change.

Be observing of how you respond to emotions you experience.

Try to bring some curiosity to your emotions – ‘isn’t it interesting that this is how I feel about this experience’ rather than clinging to one emotion.

Just like the weather, your emotions will change.  Becoming more observing of our emotions allows us to step out of them, noticing that “I feel sad” or “I feel angry” rather than “I am sad” or “I am angry”.

Accepting that you will experience different emotions means that you will become more flexible and creative when difficult emotions arise.

Stepping back, noticing, accepting, gives us a greater ability to see ourselves as so much more than the emotion we are experiencing.


Beginner’s Mind

Ever felt that today is just another day?

Been here before, done that?

Or perhaps feel like nothing is exciting, challenging or worthwhile?

Many times our lives can appear mundane – we get up, go to work; come home, go to bed. Or we look after children all day; day in, day out; go to school – nothing seems to change; or many other configurations of everyday life and nothing is different.

As a result we can start to feel like we are experts in our lives because after all what is there not to be an expert in, everything seems to be the same.  We live it, we know it.

This is the development of what is often known as the ‘experts mind’.

When we feel this way we can try to distract ourselves by engaging in endless activities, looking for sensory experiences to help us feel alive, or by pursuing wealth, power and fame (and FB friends).

Eventually reality confronts us, and we can then become quite disheartened, depressed even anxious. Other mental health issues can settle in.

So why not look at reality in the first place and resolve to have a new perspective? Mindfulness helps us create our own happiness by exploring the present moment as if it hasn’t happened before – because it hasn’t.

When we come to the realization that the past no longer exists and the future hasn’t arrived yet, we can grow our understanding that the present is, at the same time, something we cannot hold on to for it is always changing, unfolding, revealing. The famous Matthieu Ricard writes “cultivating mindfulness does not mean that you should not take into account the lessons of the past or make plans for the future; rather it is a matter of living clearly in the present experience that includes them” (p67 The Art of Meditation).

We usually approach a situation with our ‘expert’s mind’. “I’ve been through this before, I know what is going to happen” or “I’m not going to let others determine things for me, I know what needs to happen because I have all the answers, I need to control this situation”. The expert’s mind closes us off to opportunities, opportunities for things to be different.

The Beginner’s Mind however is open.  Open to new experiences at every moment.  It sees opportunities and as a result becomes creative and excited by possiblities.

If we bring a ‘beginner’s mind’ to each situation, we open ourselves to options for how things may be.  A beginner’s mind says “I have never been at this point in my life before, be open to what is here and now, be open to what I can be and what others can teach me”.

It is like a child learning to walk.  The child falls down and gets back up, not one time but many times.  Even though the child is an ‘expert’ at sitting or crawling, it pushes itself to see what can be possible, to get up and walk.

A Beginner’s Mind resolves to not judge. To put away the word ‘should’.  I have a saying that I don’t ‘should’ on myself or ‘should’ on others!

A Beginner’s Mind says I have wisdom and know my values but I let go of expectations of common sense.

A Beginner’s Mind says I have never been at this juncture in my life with such awareness and ability, what can unfold, what can I do, what can I understand of this?

How exciting would it be to walk down your street for the first time again? To walk into a meeting and listen with fresh ears? To watch your children eat, play and learn? To truly be with a long term friend or partner and hear them for who they are today, here and now?

This is the challenge and blessing of the Beginner’s Mind – see what happens.


Life seems to be rushing past us and yet when we are asked or expected to slow down or even stop to wait for someone or something, we get impatient to keep moving on.  But what are we moving on to?

It seems that this concept we call time has become our master and we think about how we use it, how we waste it, how we want more of it, how it would change things or even how IMG_1063other people seem to have more of it than we do.

Ever caught yourself thinking or even saying things like “I haven’t got time to wait for this”? The underscript here is “I’m too important, don’t you know that?” I’ve got better things to do than to wait for you!

Or perhaps you have been waiting for your computer to load or to receive a message.  Maybe in a queue or traffic thinking “what could be taking so long?” or even “you idiot, get moving” or “hurry up …….” with some colourful language thrown in.

If you think about it, we can push and rush ourselves through each part of our day, just to move onto the next part, hurrying through everyday ‘mundane’ things like eating, or washing dishes, or driving home, just so that we can move onto the next part of our lives.

We can even want to move other people through what they are saying more quickly by finishing their sentences for them, or not letting them finish what they were saying as you think you know what they are going to say and it is much more important that we move on.

What are we in such a hurry to move on to? The next thing, the end of this meeting, the end of this trip, the end of this chore, the end of this day – this week – this year -this life?

When we move into impatience by listening to the ‘hurry up’ story in our heads we activate other physiological reactions as well.  Our foot or finger might start tapping, increased heart rate, muscle tension and our stress response.  You may even notice your own body language sitting forward in the car as if this is going to get you through the traffic more quickly!

You may have been experiencing this impatience for a long time and feel that it is ingrained in who you are, however, we can look to see when we developed impatience which can help with making changes.  Perhaps you were hurried along as a child and this modelling has stayed with you. Perhaps you developed impatience while you were at school and things seemed so much better when you weren’t in class and you wanted to get out and play.

People who live in impatience, who don’t like to wait, can cause their own unhappinesss.

This week’s Mindfulness challenge is to sit with waiting and there are a few mindful ways to do this.

The first part is awareness. Notice when you are impatient, notice your self talk around waiting and ask yourself “why am I in a rush? What am I in a hurrry to do?” see what comes up.

Then touch base with the present. Notice your breath, moving in and out. Remember no judgment just noticing.

A great mindfulness practice is to notice 5 things – notice 5 things currently touching you, this may be clothing, jewellery, your hair, the seat you are in, something you are holding like a cup or book.  Then notice 5 things you can hear.  Instead of listing a plane for example, listen for sounds within sounds and the changing of those sounds.  Then notice 5 things you can see.  This exercise gets you here and now.

Try the Purple M&Ms activity my meditation teacher taught our class – pick a colour and notice all the things you can see that are that colour; pick a shape, for example round, and notice all the things in your environment that are round; pick a letter, perhaps the first letter of your name or M (for M&Ms) and notice everything you can see that starts with that letter, or notice where you can see that letter written.  And because M&Ms are yummy, notice something in the environment that is pleasurable for you.

Another way to get present of course is to ‘drop anchor’ through your feet.  Bring your attention to your feet connected to the floor/earth. Feel your weight in your feet or if you are sitting notice your weight sitting in the seat.  Then mentally body scan your way up your spine, bit by bit, noticing tension and letting it go by moving on to the next body part. Come back to the breath moving in and out.

Most people find that they can sit with waiting and impatience if they get present rather than get into their heads.  Give it a go, after all, waiting is part of being in this world with other people.  People we love, we care about, we work with, we need to deliver things to us, people who are also wanting to move on to the next moment rather than be in this one.  Model waiting mindfully and see what happens.


Are you searching for the perfect world?

When we live in our heads we often have conversations about how things ‘should’ be.

We are always striving towards the perfect – the perfect relationship, the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect suburb; being the perfect parent, having the perfect body, perfect, perfect, perfect.

We think that if we strive for perfection or if we are perfect then things will be ok. My relationship will survive, the kids will go well at school, I won’t lose my job.

Striving for perfection narrows our tolerance toward difference. It can mean we don’t cope with change, or anything that doesn’t fit in to our ‘perfect’ world scenario.

We can relentlessly judge others and ourselves. We compare what we have or what we are like to others, even though the comparison may not be accurate.

This persistent striving keeps us on edge, agitated, trying to control things, trying to create how things ‘should’ be, in order to be just ‘right’.

Have you noticed that no longer can we have a ‘good’ day, we are expected to have a ‘great’ day. No longer can we say that we feel good, we need to feel fantastic. Everyone is trying to perpetuate this image of perfection.

Mindfulness encourages us to simply be, to suspend judgment. To watch the world simply as it happens and unfolds before us. Not having to make it any way in particular just accept the way it is, and to also accept ourselves along with it.

We don’t have to close down options because we haven’t predetermined how things ‘should’ be. Mindful acceptance doesn’t mean resignation, it is an acknowledgement that an experience is here, in this moment. However, instead of letting thoughts and wants seize control of your life, mindfulness allows you, simply and compassionately, to observe rather than judge it, attack it, argue with it or try to disprove its validity.

By doing this it allows you to step outside the spiral of disappointment and negativity, giving you far greater control over how you respond to a situation.

This week’s Mindfulness challenge is to embrace the messiness that is life in the moment.  Be accepting of the imperfections.

Notice when you are ‘shoulding’ on yourself or on life.

Notice when you feel uncomfortable because things look like they may go a bit different to the ‘plan’ you had in your head.

Be open and up for whatever life brings you, so you can tap into your strengths in return.

Notice when your mind brings up fears that keep you locked in the search for perfection. The fear of not coping. The fear of being rejected by others. The fear of not fitting in. The fear of not being good enough.

When you notice the fear you start to circumvent its power over you because you observe it and you name it. The need to control it will fade.

Give your story a name – “oh that’s my ‘I have to be perfect story’ or that’s my ‘I can’t lose story’ or perhaps it’s the ‘I’m an imposter story’.

Notice it, name it and then get in touch with what is really in front of you – the colour of the sky, the feel of clothes on your skin, your feet connected to the earth, the sounds in your present moment, and continue on with whatever this moment asks of you, not whatever the story in your head is demanding of you.

No need to judge, just be there with yourself and this messy thing we often call life and watch the awesomeness unfold!

Mindful in May

With May upon us, and a change of seasons settling in, it seems to be a good time to reflect on our mindfulness strategies we have explored so far this year.

Mindfulness is bringing an awareness to this present moment.  A moment we have never come to before nor will we share again.  This deliberate attention takes practice as our 21st Century minds are crowded with ideas, thoughts, problems, fantasies, hopes, dreams and pressures.

Just like learning any new task we will have moments when this is easy and moments when it just doesn’t work for us.  Mindfulness asks us to bring a non-judgmental approach to our practice.  To be gentle on ourselves when our minds go wandering and recognise that our thoughts and emotions are just a passing parade.  We don’t need to get hooked into our thoughts or get stuck on any one of them.  By tuning into our bodies, our senses and our experiences we learn that we have many sensations and not one needs to be given any more attention than the other. This takes patience and practice!

On our Mindfulness journey we started looking at bringing an awareness to autopilot in our daily lives by noticing when our mind starts to wander while we are performing everyday activities such as showering, brushing teeth, getting dressed, driving etc. and bringing it back to this present moment.

We used three breaths to punctuate the day, when washing hands, waiting for a meeting or an appointment, sitting in traffic, washing IMG_2422dishes.  Mindful eating showed us that the first mouthful of a meal is a banquet.  We are now noticing habits we had fallen in to and we release ourselves from their burden in habit releasing.

By tuning into touch in our world brings a gentleness to our connections with others.

Becoming aware of how we can create our own suffering by the way we process our world and focus on things that we don’t like, gives us a greater understanding of the power of our minds.

We decided to become more present in our conversations with others, and release the tension we hold in our bodies.

We are now noticing blue and other colours and also getting in touch with the child inside.IMG_2727

We noticed how our monkey minds time travel re-living the past and pre-living the future.  Our world is full of motion and we started to bring our awareness to movement in our bodies and things around us.

Sometimes it’s good to sit in silence and notice the sounds around us.  We can encourage silence into our lives by turning off electronic devices, not reading or talking or singing.

Becoming present we can notice transitions in our day, coming from one moment to the next and when we are present we can notice the unusual as well as how water flows around us.

Last week we learnt a cuppa meditation which of course can be adjusted to whenever you stop to drink.

All of these practices continue to bring us to this very moment, the only moment we really have.  This practice sets us up to developing a regular meditation practice should we wish to try.

Another thing happening in May is a wonderful project here in Australia called Mindful in May.

By joining this project you can participate in daily meditations for the month of May as well as contribute to raising money for  clean water in Ethiopia.

Research shows that daily meditation has great benefits.  We can train our wandering mind to be more focussed, calm and centred.IMG_1976

By stopping daily you will gain clarity in your thinking and also become more connected with your environment and with people in your life.

By joining the cause you can become part of a community of like-minded others bringing more kindness, compassion and consciousness into the world.

Mindful Moments has set up a team in the Mindful in May project called “Mindful Moments in May”, if you would like to join us and raise funds for this great cause that would be great. So far we have been practising a body scan meditation.

If you prefer however, you may just want to revisit the mindfulness practices we have been implementing so far, continue to notice your own monkey mind, be gentle on yourself and look forward to our new challenge next week.

Whatever you do, remember to stay present, moment by moment.



Cuppa meditation

What is meditation and why do it?       IMG_1976

The Western world is slowly catching up to what the Eastern world has known for thousands of years – meditation does change things.

At one time meditation was for hippies or people with an alternative lifestyle.  Nowadays it is easily accessible and has science to back it up.

As adults we spend a lot of time analysing, problem solving, judging life, basically living in our heads.  This can cause no end of problems for us, most of all a sense of dis-ease with our daily environment and life.

Because of this busyness we tend to be running on overdrive and we lose enjoyment in daily tasks.

Over the past 16 weeks we have been building our mindfulness skills. Training our minds to be more present and hopefully you are noticing some of the benefits.

This week’s mindfulness challenge is to stop and place your full awareness, to give yourself some time-out, and to tune-in, to what you are actually doing.

Let’s try this with a simple task of making a cuppa – tea, coffee, whatever you drink.  It IMG_2685won’t take you too long, but it will make a big difference.

Firstly take your attention to the breath entering your body.  Notice the air as it first comes into your nose. Notice breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out.

Already your busy mind will be saying things like – “what are doing this for? you know how to breathe!” or maybe “okay that’s long enough, let’s get on with it”.  This may sound silly, but trust me, these words or something similar will happen.

So, back to your breath.  Now walk into the kitchen and notice your footsteps on the floor.  Notice the movement of your legs getting you toward your cuppa.

As you lift the kettle, notice the feel of it in your hand, the warmth perhaps of the handle.  Notice the weight when you pick it up.

As you turn on the tap feel the metal of the tap handle, listen to the water running, notice the change in sounds as the water fills the kettle and then notice the weight of the kettle getting heavier.

Plug the kettle in and listen to the sounds as the motor starts to heat the element and warm the water.

As you take the cup from the cupboard, listen to the sounds, feel the smoothness of the cup in your hand. If you use a spoon, notice how light reflects on the metal and the feel of the metal in your hand.

As you pour the water notice the teabag or coffee change with the heat of the water.  If you use milk, bring your attention to opening the fridge and holding the milk in your hands. Then watch the milk pour into the cup and the colour in the cup change.

As you start to drink from the cup, feel its warmth in your hands.  As you lift the cup notice how your body reacts with ease to what you want it to do.  Feel the warm cup on your lips, the steam on your face.

If you don’t drink a hot drink, use this method with cool water or other liquids.

Taste the liquid one mouthful at a time. Feel it run down the throat.

Of course to do all this you will need to be silent.  Resist the urge to talk to others, or use your phone while you wait for the kettle to boil and the tea to draw.  Sit with a little bit of silence in this noisy world.

As you take this time to tune-in to having a cuppa or drink, your mind will wander, or try to hurry you up.  Remember you are the master in charge of your mind, take the time out and enjoy a moment where you have no pressures, no demands, no expectations; just time, to enjoy the serenity of a cuppa, just for yourself.  After all don’t you deserve it?!