Mindfulness of Body

BodyI have been travelling a lot lately and with travel comes all sorts of aches and pains through stress and cramped quarters- whether it be rushing to catch a train, a tight plane seat or a lumpy bed in some strange hotel room.

I couldn’t figure out why I was so tired when I returned from my latest adventure and then I felt it. My shoulders were up around my ears. My body had been in a perpetual state of tightness and contraction for a 24- hour period.

When we are out in the world meeting new people, hearing new ideas, rushing to and fro, our bodies and minds are turned ‘on’. The opportunities to rest are few and far between- a huge contrast to when we inhabit our safe places and have the chance to lower our guard or turn our public personas ‘off’.

My body was communicating to me. It was screaming- you need to rest! You need to drop those shoulders. Shut off! In the end, I was forced to as I came down with a virus.

However, we don’t have to be travelling to experience this pent up, often- times draining, body tension. We could be having a busy day at work, or on the go running errands without a break when the frazzled, tightness sets in.

Recently, a friend had texted me with a million questions (the speed in which her mind was working) about what was happening in my day, only to send an immediate follow up text of ‘Don’t answer those questions- my brain is not working- I am feeling manic and uptight from my day’. She had been teaching two different groups of MBLC participants and had been ‘on’ for nearly 8 hour straight without a break.

Her body was screaming at her and she felt it. She went home and had some chamomile tea, walked her dogs and started to come down.

Our bodies are constantly communicating to us and this communication often reflects the state of our minds. Whether we are tuned in to it or not, mind and body are connected, and at times, our bodies hold tension in a multitude of areas without us even being aware of it.

However, one of the most common areas of tension in the body is the shoulders. If we can remember to touch in for tension in the body by checking our shoulders, maybe we can respond to our needs more skilfully by responding with kindness and taking the time to switch ‘off’, even if it is for only 5 minutes.

One way of doing this is by simply lifting our shoulders to our ears and then dropping them. The motion of dropping our shoulders will emphasize any tension that might be there.

This week’s challenge is to check your shoulders twice a day. Place a loose rubber band around your wrist as a reminder, if you need to. If your body feels tense, take three deep mindful breaths and rub your arms as you would a child when giving a hug. Or maybe, take yourself outdoors for 5 minutes of fresh air. Or make yourself a cup of chamomile tea?

Remember to be kind to yourself!

-Jane

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Resilience…

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75% of all people will experience some trauma at some point of their life (Hepp U, Gamma A, Milos G, et al. 2006). Whether it be a childhood trauma, an accident, bullying or abuse, the effects of trauma can be damaging. Anxiety, hyperarousal, disassociation, skin disorders, digestive disorders, personality disorders, depression, all can radically limit and interrupt normal functioning in society.

What is more, I know this first hand. In fact, I came to mindfulness through my own trauma. After suffering from 3rd degree burns in an accident which killed my friend and injured others, I was diagnosed with PTSD and mindfulness has been an integral resource in my recovery and healing.

One of the defining factors of mentally surviving a trauma is psychological resilience or the ability to experience trauma and to return to a mental state that is stronger than before the event (Psychology Today website, undated). Hora Estroff Marano, the editor-at-large of the journal Psychology Today explains that “[a]t the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself- yet also a belief in something larger than oneself. Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs” (Psychology Today website, May 21st, 2013, para. 1)

Marano’s definition of resilience can be compared to the underlying principles of the Buddhist concept of mindful compassion in that psychological resilience requires a shift from self-focus to a focus on others (compassion), a reluctance to define themselves according to the their experience (non-attachment), and by ‘perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs’, a state of mindfulness and a deep comprehension of impermanence is required with the meeting of each moment as it unfolds.

Indeed, my mindfulness and compassion practice has contributed to my psychological resilience in spades!

Earlier this week, I spent two days with a colleague teaching a workshop on trauma and compassion. This workshop was delivered to service users, as well as mental health professionals looking to find their own resilience in the face of trauma. We explored many of the different compassion practices that we cover on our mindfulness and compassion training (for more info on our training pathway, click here); however, we also acknowledged that there are many ways of building up our resources to hold our trauma in a safe and kind way and as a means of establishing resilience.

I explored this concept of building resources and becoming both the holder and the held in my blog post last week: The Hold and To Be Held. I encouraged readers to engage with my colleague Choden’s practice of The Holder and The Held; however, while I was teaching the workshop, we explored some of the personal resources that we might already have in place that help build up our potential to become the holder.

As I have already mentioned, one of my main resources is my mindfulness and compassion practice. The Self-Compassion break is a regular go to for me. This practice has me acknowledging the suffering that is happening in a given moment (mindfulness) but also helps me move beyond myself by linking my suffering to the suffering of others (common humanity) and then bringing a warmth and kindness to my experience. However, through doing the work with the group, I discovered that I have been neglecting another resource that in the past has brought much solace. I have been neglecting my need for mindful connection to the earth and nature.

In the past year, I moved houses. And when I moved houses, I moved from living ruraly to living in a town. Connecting in with the land has, all of a sudden, become not so accessible. This has been a huge loss! So, after the workshop finished, I was determined to find my way to connect in and make sure that I really prioritize this activity in my life as I move through times of difficulty, and indeed, when I am negotiating my trauma. For when I am in nature, I am able to move beyond myself, notice that life is all around me, and that life is cyclical and ever-changing- it is always in a state of flux. Moreover, nature helps me feel connected- less alone. For me, connecting in to the earth is like drinking a cold glass of water on a hot day.

So, I thought it might be a good idea for this week’s challenge to spend some time reflecting on what are the resources that help you hold difficulty. Perhaps, it is your mindfulness practice, or your faith community, or exercise, or spending time with a good book, or sharing with a friend.

Maybe it is difficult to identify a resource and you would like to build some. In which case, why not download our MBLC or CBLC apps (for iOS and Android) and start exploring some practices. Or, if you are a member, why not log on to our weekly sit this evening where I will guide the practice of The Holder and The Held, as well as have a bit of a discussion on building resources. In this way, maybe we can move towards a more resilient life!

-Jane

Click here for The Self Compassion Break

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To Hold and To Be Held

This coming weekend there’s going to be a party in my house. Usually, I like parties. I enjoy planning the menu, prepping the house and feeling the buzz about the place. However, this party that is coming is feeling like it is tipping me over into a place of overwhelm. I just don’t have the time. I don’t have the time to clean, to cook or to enjoy. And yet, this party is still coming.

IMG_6379Thankfully a few months ago, while teaching on the MSc: Studies in Mindfulness (click here), my colleague Choden gave a profound teaching on our ability to move toward being ‘The Holder and The Held’. This concept is the idea that we all have the ability to hold our difficulties with compassionate arms, while also having a sense of being held at the same time. We can be the holder and we be the held.

So how do we do this?

Well, we start by building our resources or filling our tool boxes with methods in which we might practice kindness, warmth, and open-heartedness towards ourselves. We build our capacity to hold.

In our Level 2: Responding with Compassion course (click here) we explore all sorts of practices (both mind and body) that help build and strengthen what Tara Brach calls ‘the unfolding arms of acceptance’ or holding our experience/embracing our pain as a mother holding her child. Again, this is our capacity to hold.

However, there is one practice that has really stood out for me. It has been Choden’s practice of ‘The Holder and The Held’ that has really been helping me open up to my struggle and to notice how my struggle is manifesting in my body, my feelings, in my heart. Once, I’ve brought an awareness to what is present for me, I can move towards stepping into the stability of my body and allowing this stability to hold what is present with a kindness and a warmth and an open-hearted attending to. It has been incredibly powerful.

So, as I face this party that is coming, I can stay with the difficulty of the overwhelm and really have a sense of being held by my compassionate self. It is still difficult; however, I feel like I can do this one step at a time.

This week, I invite you to listen to Choden’s practice and give it a go. Are you able to open up to difficulty and possibly even hold that difficulty with a warmth and tenderness? Or, as Tara Brach says, what is it like to move towards tapping into ‘the unfolding arms of acceptance’. Sometime it is easier said than done! But we can set the intention to. 😉

Click Here for Choden’s practice of The Holder and The Held.

-Jane

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A Measure of Light

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Over the past weeks, for a number of reasons that are too tedious to get into, I have been grounded. And by grounded, I don’t mean in the ideal state of being grounded and stable. No, I mean that I have not been travelling very much and have been ‘stuck’ close to home.

At first this caused me much distress. The travel that has accompanied my life has balanced out the ‘working from home’ element of my job. However, slowly and in their own time, there have been some juicy nuggets of revelation that have burst through the clouds of ‘stuck’.

This past weekend, I found myself without kids AND without work. So, I decided to take advantage and do a bit of local sightseeing with my friend and our first port of call was a small Quaker village located about 15 minutes away. I had always heard that Ballitore was a Quaker village but I had no idea what that meant. I knew that the Quakers met in ‘meetings’, where they sat in silence and waited for inspiration and for God to speak through them. However, once in the museum in Ballitore I learned a bit more. I learned that the Quakers believe in equality, admonishing hierarchy. And I learned that their founder, George Fox, spoke about how no matter who you are, everyone has a measure of light within. And it is through this measure of light that inspiration is born.

I love this idea of a measure of light. It reminds me of the Buddhist theory of Buddha nature or the belief that all of us have a fundamental nature that is capable of enlightenment. Or as my colleague Choden has explained it to me when I was studying the MSc Studies in Mindfulness: “Buddha nature, is the fact that each one of us is intrinsically whole and well and free, and nothing that happens in life can damage or destroy this”.

For me, the idea that there is light inside of me or a life force that spurs my inspiration, that is ‘intrinsically whole and well and free’ had gotten lost along the way. Oh sure, I knew the theory and loved the sentiment; however, I had misplaced the felt sense of being whole and well and free. I had been searching for inspiration-  well actually, I had been searching for time to find inspiration.

And now it has come. It has come in this quiet of ‘stuck’. It has come with the stillness of slowing down, with sitting with my breath, with the space to allow things to just be.

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My curiosity has taken centre stage and I find myself exploring my town, the land around me, the neighbouring villages and the people who inhabit them with beginner’s eyes and a deep appreciation for all that is around me. John Darwin, who is teaching our Mindful Ageing weekend, speaks about the importance of cultivating this sense of awe, this child-like wonder, as part of the healthy ageing process and as a path to well-being.

So, with this space and time of my being ‘stuck’, I’ve re-found my inspiration and I’ve reconnected with a sense of being ‘whole and well and free’. Moreover, I’ve been exploring. I’ve been listening and I’ve been observing. To my body, to my neighbours, to the land, to the wonder of it all. I’ve tapped into my measure of light and I wouldn’t have been able to notice all of this without my mindfulness practice!

After our visit to the Quaker village, my friend and I took a long ramble through the mountains that make up the landscape in which I live. On that ramble, we ate beside rivers, we shared space with deer, we felt the sun on our faces: we savoured. And it was in this savouring that we felt even more inspiration to make plans for further exploration, we shared ideas for our work, for our homes, for a life well-lived.

This got me thinking- wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could all take a slice of time to put on our beginner’s eyes and walk our streets, our fields and to listen and observe and to cultivate some awe? To see if we can notice the workings of inspiration and how this inspiration might lead to a further and more enriched engagement with our life and maybe even a healthy ageing process.

This week’s challenge is to take what John Darwin calls a gratitude walk. Seeing if we can take a walk with the intention to use our mindfulness practice to notice all of the beauty and wonder around us and maybe even savour some of that light and inspiration that we might find and see where it can take us.

This being stuck ain’t so bad after all 😉

-Jane

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To Remember…

When the Mindfulness Association mentioned the possibility of running our Level 1 Mindfulness: Being Present course as an online course, I felt a bit cautious. I have done quite a bit of online teaching in different forms- the weekly sits, The Wonder of The Everyday, The Stillness of Movement (Mindfulness of Body), etc… However, running a Level 1 online requires quite a bit of commitment (logging on every 2 weeks over an 8 month period), 2 and a half hour sessions online (my experience of sitting through online meetings that went on for longer than an hour have felt exhausting), and I questioned the drop off rate.

Last night, our first online Level 1 Being Present course finished its third session. And you know what? It works. Not only does it work but it has actually been quite rewarding.

First off, teaching from the comfort and intimacy of my own home has really enabled me to feel grounded, at ease, and dare I say it, close to the group. Plus, we have participants logging on from all over the world, from the comfort of THEIR own homes. And even the comfort of their holidays!

We have a 15 minute break, stretch through transitions, and due to the fact that our Level 1: Being Present is the required course to carry on with all of our training pathways, the course is well attended by a dynamic group who contribute in all discussions and who practice together.

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So, during last night’s session we addressed the practice of bringing mindfulness into our daily lives. This has always been a question put to me when teaching mindfulness- how do you bring mindfulness more fully into the everyday? And what a question it is. This is the reason why we teach formal practice- this is why we do formal practice! So that we can create the conditions and the new habit of being mindful as we move about the world.

I’m sure many of you who have a mindfulness practice will agree with me- sometimes itIMG_6663 is easier said than done. Sometimes I can feel quite mindful, where other times, my practice is out the window!

This past weekend I was able to bring my practice into my daily life without much effort. This got me wondering why… And what I could discern was that it all boiled down to intentionality.

This is the ‘on purpose’ of Jon Kabat Zinn’s definition of mindfulness meaning to “pay attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

Last Saturday and Sunday, I woke each morning with the intention to walk my Nelly in the early morning hazy sunlight, to open my senses to the birds, the crisp air, the quiet of the town that had not fully sprung to life yet. I came home with an intention to spend a day in my kitchen being mindfully present as I baked my bread, putting my energy and love into the food that I created for those who I love. I set an intention to engage my children in gratitude practices, in conversation, in breaking the bread, in taking a break from screens. I set the intention to connect in with my environment and with each activity with care and attention.

Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I forget to pay attention, to live ‘On purpose’ in the present moment. Sometimes I forget to set intentions.

IMG_6667However, when I remember, life feels rich. Life feels full. Gratitude fills me.

Perhaps, the challenge for us all this week might be to set an intention to make ‘life’ the practice. There is no need to separate cushion time and ‘mindfulness’ from the intricacies of our day to day moving about the world.

I am so fortunate that I get to teach mindfulness and that I get to teach it online from the comfort of my own home. It helps me to remember- what is more, it connects my home to the teachings. There is no separation between my practice, my teaching practice and where I live. They all weave together into a tapestry of this mindful life.

So, if you would like to know more about setting intentions or the ‘On purpose’ ness of creating a mindful life, come practice with me. You can log on to our weekly sits, live teachings (for more on our membership click here) or maybe even join the Level 1: Being present course that will be starting in September. Or, if you already are on a Level 1: Being Present course and have missed a weekend and need to make it up, come join me online (for more information, click here).

Together, we can remind each other….

-Jane

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Happy Scientists…

Last week, I stumbled upon an article that asks 9 scientists about their happiness practices. This peaked my interest- scientists with happiness practices! How wonderful!

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I knew some of the practices that were outlined: Loving Kindness meditation, Mindfulness of Body through exercise, gratitude, gratitude and more gratitude, meditation, etc… However, there were a few nuggets in there that were new to me.

For instance, there was one practice that asks that we are ‘alert to high- quality connections (HQCs) that [we] have with other people during the course of the day’- along with many mentions of the importance of community and affiliation. In other words, feeling connected, feeling in relationship with others and feeling supported all can contribute to our health and well-being.

After reading the article, I took out my journal and made a list of all of the HQCs that I had experienced throughout the week. There were many and gratitude immediately stepped in.

I don’t see many people throughout my work week as I work from home; however, in any given day, in any given hour, What’s App delivers me messages from the beloveds in my life. Skype brings my parents into my living room. And walking through the town carries encounters with my community and my best girlfriends who are really like sisters to me.

So, as I set an intention to be ‘alert’ to HQCs, I started to notice them all around me, and I started to really see if I could help transform any connections into high quality ones.  I am trying to do this through slowing down and really being present for other people- hearing and seeing them.

As part of our mindfulness teacher training, we learn of the importance of hearing and conveying back to others what they share as a means of encouraging connection and making sure that we in fact do hear and do understand what they are saying and that they are seen. This has really come alive for me in my day to day living. For instance, my son was telling me about his day at school and how he was feeling fed up. I didn’t try to fix it for him but told him that I heard him.

He thanked me. This is huge for my 16 year old boy.

It has been a bit of a revelation for me. Rob Nairn often quotes Krishnamurti when he says ‘the seeing is the doing’. Noticing my HQCs has helped me BE a high quality connector.

We have just launched a new membership site at The Mindfulness Association. Our new website was created so that we can connect people. So that we can support community and help build relationships. So that we can facilitate some HQCs.

Members can log on, create profiles, join groups and participate on our many forums. I’ve set up a discussion post to discuss just this- connection and the happiness that might arise from connection. If you are a member, why not log on and join me in the discussion? Maybe together we can create some HQCs.

Interestingly, I was also reading a research paper titled ‘Community Perspectives and Subjective Quality of Life’ by Bramston, Bruggerman and Petty (2010). In it they state that ‘[r]ecent research has demonstrated that community integration needs to be more than simply living within a community, people need to use the community and feel like they belong’. So this week’s challenge is for members to log on and use the membership website so that we can all belong together!

Oh- and also to notice high quality connections wherever you!

Not a member? You can sign up for a £10- 6 month trial here.

Click here for ‘9 Scientists Share Their  Favourite Happiness Practices’ article.

-Jane

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My Favourite Chair…

My grandmother lived until she was 92 years old. And not only did she live until she was 92 years old, but she lived on her own, cooking and cleaning and even shoveling the snow from her walk. I can remember flying home for the summer and dropping into her world for an afternoon or two, listening to her stories of the 19 year old version of herself and feeling a deep peace and restfulness in her presence.

IMG_6586I longed for her quiet routine of waking,  making her one cup of coffee for the day, preparing a meal, watching her TV show (Walker Texas Ranger- AKA Chuck Norris- this may be a cultural thing, but even for a Canadian this was a weird pairing), speaking with her daughters on the phone, etc. She didn’t need anything- she had everything she needed. The same worn blanket sat on her favourite chair where she would watch the world through her window, the same sheets adorned her bed, the same hand creams stood by her bathroom sink. This may sound boring but she was happy. She was settled.

In her later years, nothing really disturbed her or excited her. She handled all of the family dramas with poise, integrity and acceptance.

She embodied equanimity.

The Merriam- Webster dictionary defines equanimity as “evenness of mind especially under stress; right disposition : balance”. Moreover, Gil Fronsdal, explains that “ while some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.” (https://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/equanimity/)

My grandmother was filled with generosity and warmth and deep, deep love, even though for some, her life may have been viewed as tedious.

Lately my life has been filled with anything but equanimity. It has been overtaken by one intense experience after the other. In the past two weeks, I have experienced pure bliss, life-stopping fear, great excitement, painful anguish, all coupled with moments of gratitude. My head was spinning- waves were surfed! However, my grandmother and her quiet routine kept popping into my mind as if it was shore to rest upon.

Then yesterday, I was reading Sharon Salzberg’s book ‘Real Love’ and she states that “[o]ur tendency, of course, is to seek out intense experiences in order to feel alive. If our attention is not trained to notice routine or subtlety, we simply wait for the next big hit and switch off until then” (p.123). And I smiled with the realization that throughout these turbulent weeks and ‘big hits’, and with the unspoken intention to reach that shore,  I actually have started creating some routines.

I have started sitting in my favourite chair, working away on my laptop as I watch the world through my window. I have started preparing meals in the morning so that I have good healthy food for when I am finished work. I have started re-watching my favourite Canadian TV show ‘Murdoch Mysteries’ as a treat in my evenings.

I don’t need much more than this. I feel more settled. The ‘big hits’ are being faced and moving on without my needing to intervene. I’m feeling less reactive. Most importantly, my mind feels more stable and I am noticing the beauty in the subtleties.

So, this week’s challenge is to set the intention to notice the routines, to notice the subtleties. For me, these small routines can feel like little ceremonies in themselves. In fact, I’ve heard Jon Kabat Zinn throw away all working definitions of what mindfulness is by simply explaining that mindfulness is living life as if each moment is important.  And maybe if we can move towards this noticing, we will not need big moments to feel alive, rather a more equanimous peace may just settle in (for awhile 😉)

This is what my grandmother was so good at. Living each small moment with intentionality and with attention. She was a wonderful teacher.

-Jane

I’ll be guiding the membership weekly sit tonight from my favourite chair, why not log on and join me? Not a member? You can sign up here

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