The Gift of Graciousness

As the holiday season is approaching, a friend and I were talking about gift giving and of the politics that can surround the purchasing of presents. One observation that we made was the need in others, and ourselves from time to time, to reciprocate. And not only to reciprocate but to make sure that we have reciprocated ‘enough’.

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There are probably a hundred well-oiled sociological reasons why, but it is quite astonishing how uncomfortable it can be to receive and to watch the scramble to return the favour. When I was speaking with my friend, I was recalling to myself how often, as a child and at birthday parties, I would conveniently ‘forget’ to open gifts out of the embarrassment of receiving, or how another friend once told me that she keeps a cupboard filled of Quality Street chocolate boxes as a ‘just in case’ someone stops by with a present and she doesn’t have one to return. The social anxiety around gifts can completely dampen the grace of the intention.

Therefore, this week’s challenge is perhaps a seasonal challenge called the Gift of Graciousness. Can we set the intention to receive in a way that allows the kindness and thought behind the giving to be acknowledged and appreciated without any politic of having to counter the act. Can we give the Gift of Graciousness and receive in a way that allows the gift giver to enjoy the gift of giving?

This may feel natural, it may feel joyous or it may feel uncomfortable. We can bring in our mindfulness practice to really notice what it feels like to simply receive and perhaps even move towards receiving with gratitude. For it is in the receiving with gratitude that we are able to give back The Gift of Graciousness. It’s a win- win!

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Darkness to Stillness

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” T.S. Eliot

As you may have noticed, the skies are darkening a lot earlier and the evenings are becoming much longer. Winter has set in.

In this time of darkness, the land has become more still and many animals, plants and birds that were vibrant with life a few short months ago have surrendered to a place of hibernation where they rest and rejuvenate.

Can we learn from nature? Can we take the opportunity at this time of darkness to quieten our activity, to come to stillness and to rest and rejuvenate?

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This week’s challenge is called Darkness to Stillness and invites us to use the darkened evenings as our support for our practice. For this week and the weeks that lead up to Winter Solstice on December 21st, I invite you to spend twenty to thirty minutes each evening by candlelight and with all devices and technological sounds shut off. With the use of the breath, we can guide ourselves into a place of resting and stillness, allowing the mind and body to rejuvenate. We may like to have a journal near by or a sketchbook to allow our creativity to flow as it surfaces.

Just as the acorn lies dormant beneath the soil, giving rise to the shoot of a new tree, so too can we  use this December moment as a time and place for respite, for the germination of new energies, ideas and growth within.

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Caring For Anger

An oldie but a goodie, and a challenge that I have had to revisit this week time and time again…

This week’s Mindfulness Challenge is called Caring for Anger

We all experience anger from time to time. Sometimes it feels white hot, while other times it is like a simmering pot on a stove, slowly bubbling away, waiting for its time to boil over. If we ignore the cues, it can burn and blacken its contents…

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Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist master, offers some advice and some beautiful gathas (or short sayings) to help ease our anger, whenever it may arise. One of the first thing that Thich Nhat Hanh advises is to refrain from saying or doing anything when we find ourselves in a state of anger. Instead, if it is possible, it is best to remove oneself from the situation or the person that is causing the anger, and to perhaps practice mindful walking.

As we are walking, we can say:

Breathing in, I know that anger is in me
Breathing out, I know this feeling is unpleasant

As we walk, for a while and our mind starts to settle and focus on our breath, we can say:

Breathing in, I feel calm
Breathing out, I am now strong enough to take care of this anger

In this way, we have created space around the situation and the opportunity to respond, rather than react to the anger that is within us.

Another gatha that Thich Nhat Hanh offers when we are faced with anger is:

Getting angry at each other in the ultimate dimension
We should only close our eyes and look into the future
In one hundred years from now,
Where will you be? And where shall I be?

This shift of perspective highlights the impermanence and the changeability of our emotions.; moreover, it shines a light on the preciousness of our lives in this one pure moment…

Perhaps for this week, whenever we start to feel the edginess of anger, or the slow rumble of annoyance, we can practice Thich Nhat Hanh’s gathas, alongside of walking meditation. All the while, we can notice what happens to our anger when we give it space, and/or shift perspective.

Let us know how you get on!

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Stop! Slow Down. Breathe…

Recently, I have been teaching the MBLC to a mix group of participants who are in mental health  recovery and those who work in the services. It has been an enriching experience that has been filled with both challenge and joy.

As we have been moving through the weeks, the importance of our compassion training has become apparent. Sometimes, in order to be with a painful moment it is crucial to have the tools in which to hold ourselves with safety.

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Coincidently, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Prof. Paul Gilbert on the phone today for work purposes. He, too, stressed the importance of building up our compassion reserves in times of difficulty.

This really struck me as I have been having my own ‘wobbles’ lately with the stresses of family life and working. Life can be tricky and I often forget that I have the power to call on my own compassionate self to help out. So, this week’s Mindfulness Challenge is called ‘Stop! Slow Down. Breathe…‘ and is taken from a session given by Prof. Paul Gilbert at our Summer Conference in June, 2014.

At the 2014 conference, Paul instructed, “whenever you are in crisis, practice: Stop. Slow Down. Breathe. Now. Then ask yourself, ‘if I engaged my compassionate person, how would I deal with this? How would I bring wisdom to this? In short, slow down and create space for it to happen”

Perhaps, any time that we may find ourselves in crisis over the next week (crisis could mean anything from feeling shy and insecure to dealing with a difficult family member), practice “Stop! Slow Down. Breathe. Now.”. Can we call on our compassionate self/person and invite them to help move forward more skillfully?

Let us know how you get on!

Paul will be presenting at our 2017 Summer Conference, once again. Make sure to check it out Click Here

Getting Lost…

This morning I got up early and made my way to Whaley Bridge, where I have been working all afternoon on launching the brand new website!

Make sure to check it out:

http://www.mindfulnessassociation.net

As we (Heather, Charles and I) worked away at going over any glitches and revisiting past content from our old site, I found this weekly challenge that I wrote a few years ago. It remains relevant to me today. Often I find myself ruminating over and over the same problem, trying to find the right words, the right solution. I seem to regularly forget that the minute I jump off of it, is the moment that I land.

So, in accordance with Charles Dickens…

This week’s Mindfulness Challenge is to ‘Get Lost’.

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I once read an article that stated that Charles Dickens used to walk up to 20 miles in one night just to ease his mind and relax the grasping and striving that can come with writing. He would become the observer and act as a witness to the thought processes of his mind. With this came great freedom from his thoughts and indeed, creative inspiration for his craft.

Anne Kreamer from Wired magazine writes:

“In a recent essay, Verlyn Klinkenborg connected Charles Dickens’s extraordinary creative output to his nightly walking. “He is lost in a kind of mental ventriloquism,” he wrote, “calling up his emotions and studying them. Every night he walked a dozen miles, without which, he said, ‘I should just explode and perish.’ Under the pseudonym Boz, Dickens wrote, ‘There is nothing we enjoy more than a little amateur vagrancy, walking through London as though ‘the whole were an unknown region to our wandering mind.’” Wired Magazine http://www.wired.com/2012/03/opinion_creativitydickensjobs/.

Dickens often referred to his nighttime walks as a means to ‘getting lost’. This week, our Mindfulness Challenge is to ‘get lost’. Throw away expectation, throw away any attachment to outcome or destination. Take a long walk and be the observer. Where do our minds go? Where do our minds wander to as our body explores the roads of our environment? What sort of emotions are evoked during our walking?? How do they feel in the body?

What happens when we ‘get lost’??

Look Up and Look Out

This week’s Mindfulness Challenge follows the lead of last week’s Skyscape in that this week’s challenge is to Look up and Look out.

Last week’s challenge invited us to use the morning Skyscape as a support for bringing us into the present, touching in with our internal weather report, taking a few moments to ask the question of what it is that we need in this moment.

This week’s challenge is to find a few moments in the day to stop what we are doing or absorbed in and to look up and look out. Often-times, we can become so involved in our day to day tasks of chores, or working on a computer, or perhaps even reading that our focus becomes tight and restricted. We might even start to block out all of the things that are happening around us.

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Sometimes, we can feel this tight focus in our eyes. I noticed this tightness one day as I was hiking with a friend. We were climbing a mountain, head down, caught up in conversation and watching the placement of our feet. As we got to the top of the mountain and looked up and looked out, my friend remarked ‘it’s like healing for the eyes- can’t you feel the release?’. And I did. By broadening out my attention and my focus, the muscles around my eyes softened and my shoulders dropped. It felt like an exhale.

So this week’s challenge is to take the time, when involved with the task at hand, to stop what we are doing in order to give our eyes a bit of therapy by looking up and looking out.

Let us know you get on!

Skyscape

This week’s Mindfulness Challenge is called Skyscape.

As I was waking this morning, I looked out the window and could see big multi- coloured cumulus clouds that were shades of  whites, greys and pinks rolling over the mountain that sits behind my house. I immediately felt  a sense of peace. I touched in with my breath and could feel my mind slowly coming into my body, touching in with my mood, thoughts and asking myself what it is that I needed in that moment. These clouds acted as a trigger to transport me out of my ‘goings over’ of what I needed to accomplish in the day into the present moment of what was happening right now, in this moment.

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I then remembered a Mindfulness Challenge that I posted last year and I thought that I would post it again…

Last year, I was teaching a Mindfulness course where we brainstormed ideas of how to incorporate mindfulness into our daily lives. One idea that came up was to spend some time with the morning sky, really taking in the immensity and the colours, cloud formations, and expansiveness of the horizon.

For this week, I invite you to wake up with the Skyscape and spend a few minutes with it as a mindfulness support. We can bring our beginner’s mind to the different shades of grey, or pinks and yellows, watch the movement of the clouds and the light as the morning brightens awake. As we spend these few minutes with the sky, we might want to scan our bodies and check in with our internal report as to what sensations, thoughts or emotions might be present. We can then finish with the question of ‘what is it that I need in this moment’ and take five deep mindful breaths before we get ready for the day.

This morning, my immediate moment ‘need’ was a coffee outdoors, enjoying the clear, crisp Autumnal air on my skin. Thanks to the clouds, I didn’t miss it!