Snow Down

IMG_6424I’ve been waiting for my life to slow down. In fact, it seems that as of late, my life’s one constant has been ‘full steam ahead’. I’ve had friends and colleagues marvel at how I do it all- yet, somehow there always seems to be more to do.

This got me thinking of a time when I was finishing a degree with three young children. I went to the local Women’s Group AGM and was asked to chair the new committee.

In exasperation, I said to the old committee- ‘Do you know how busy I am?’

Only to hear- ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’.

Apparently, this is a quote from Lucille Ball of ‘I Love Lucy’ fame. She also said ‘The more things you do, the more you can do’.

My mother used to wear this as a badge of honour. (And I’m sure there are elements of this ethos not lost on her daughter)  However, what does this say to me, a mindfulness teacher?

SLOW DOWN. I’ve been caught in a perpetual loop of doing mode. And for the sake of my health and happiness, I need to balance this doing mode with simply being. Kabat Zinn speaks of this being mode when he states that “a lightness of being and playfulness [are] key elements to the practice of mindfulness, because they are key elements of well-being.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am exceptionally good at slowing down, ‘playing’ and enjoying the quiet moments of simple, single task activity. There is nothing more delicious than an hour with a hot cup of tea in front of the fire; or an afternoon on my dock at my cabin with a good book, a leisurely swim and the sound of the water quietly lapping at the wood of the platform; or an afternoon of baking my favourite cakes for my favourite people.

And I nearly forgot this. In my ‘busyness’, I nearly forgot the fact that I NEED these activities to fill my cup. It wasn’t until my best friend pointed out to me that she was happy to see me relaxing in front of the fire this weekend, as the one thing she does know about me is my need to ground myself in my home with quietness.

Recently, the hustle and at times dizzying travel has/had taken over. However, I feel a shift.

This week, the news has been filled with anticipation of ‘The Beast from The East’. ForIMG_6422 those of you in non- European parts of the world, don’t get too excited! ‘The Beast from The East’ is not Godzilla. No, it’s a massive snow storm from Siberia that is blowing its way across the continent and into the UK/ Ireland- and it’s forcing me to SLOW DOWN. Or, for the sake of this blog post, SNOW DOWN.

For instance, I was meant to fly in and out of Manchester yesterday for a day of working in MAHQ. Instead, we cancelled due to the weather.

The kids were meant to go to school today. Instead, it was cancelled due to the weather.

We are all grounded in our house with the quietness of snow. What a perfect opportunity to slow down and enter into that mode of being.

So- what is this mode of being?

Well, it’s a break away from the doing mode of autopilot- from cooking the dinner to get through it so that we can all eat and get on with our evening activities. Instead, it is taking the time to really be with the process of cooking- to feel the textures of the food, to smell and taste the flavours, to experience the transformation of ingredients into a meal. To create. And maybe even to create with joy and appreciation and a resting in the knowledge that this food will nourish our bodies.

It’s a break away from the doing mode of striving- from trying to get every job ticked off the list as fast as possible so that the next moment will be better. Instead, it is taking time to bring a beginner’s mind to each task and approaching them without the finish in view. It’s writing this blog post while looking up every so often to enjoy the vision of falling snow out the window, the smell of coffee wafting in from the kitchen. It’s not looking at the list for the day, but just being with this job, in this moment. It’s knowing that this moment has everything I need- it doesn’t need to be better.

It’s slowing down and taking it all in for what it is. It does not mean getting nothing done- but it might mean relating to my moment to moment experience with an open curiosity.

So, on this Snow Day, my intention is to slow down and simply be with my day, one moment at a time- living deeply and savouring each unfolding. And to start with, I will enjoy taking a lunch break with my Nelly in the woods.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach- Thoreau

*And as I am just back, what did the woods have to teach? There is stillness, and wonder all around me- I just have to step into it*

This week’s challenge- can we all slow down and move towards entering that mode of being as we go about our lives. Snow or no snow. Can we notice when autopilot has taken over, when we are striving, when we are shutting things down out of our preferences? Can we just be with? Can we move away from all of the doing?

-Jane

Maybe you have been wanting to sign up for our Level 1: Being Present course but there is not a course running near you? Or, maybe you would like to start the Mindfulness or Teacher Training pathway from the comfort of your own home?

I am teaching on an online version of our Level 1: Being Present course (the start of our Mindfulness or Teacher Training pathway) next Thursday, March 7th at 7pm. If you would like to join me and the other participants as we explore mindfulness from the quiet of home, sign up here!

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The Hump

A few years ago, I was visiting my cousins in Canada and we were sitting around a camp fire discussing our social anxiety. Now, if most people saw the three of us discussing our resistance to going into a grocery store where we might bump into someone we know, they would be surprised and maybe even in disbelief.

If any of you have met me, you will know that I don’t exactly appear shy. In fact, I really love people and connecting with others on a human level. This is a great joy to me. Also, my two cousins who I was having this conversation with are strong, confident and vivacious individuals. They teach school, coach sports teams, lead community groups, etc.

So, this idea of social anxiety doesn’t seem to fit the bill, right?

Well it does. And from the conversations that I have been having with many people, AND many of my teaching friends, it is clear that it permeates society, regardless of one’s level of perceived social ease.

What is social anxiety?

According to Schlenker and Leary, “social anxiety arises when individuals are motivated to make a preferred impression on real or imagined audiences, but perceive or imagine unsatisfactory evaluative reactions from subjectively important audiences” (1982). Basically, social anxiety is this fear of not quite measuring up in other people’s eyes.

Many of us suffer from this. I suffer from this. My friends suffer from this. I’m not sure if my dog suffers from this. She’s pretty shameless. In a good way.

However, why would I be afraid of not quite measuring up in a grocery store? I’ve been thinking about this and I’ve come to the realization that this is probably due to my, in my mind, somewhat outwardly perceived by others, extrovert personality. What if I go into that store and don’t feel happy and go lucky? What if people see that I am actually a bit tired, weary and I haven’t washed my face today? What if people know that I don’t feel like talking and that I am a bit shy and unsure of myself?

This spills over into my teaching practice. Almost always, before I have to teach, I think to myself ‘Why am I doing this to myself? I don’t need to teach. What if I forget something? What if I misunderstand my participants? OR…  and this is the best one: What if they don’t like me?’

The fear of not quite measuring up floods me. Social anxiety at its best.

I like to call my social anxiety ‘the hump’. I need to get over ‘the hump’ before I step into a grocery store, before I answer the phone, before I sit on my cushion to teach. However, once I do get over the hump, it all falls into place and I am fine. I am able to step into my self and rest assured that it is all going to be OK, it is OK and I find my voice. Which is usually quite loud. 😉

 

downloadOver the years, I have built/gathered some reserves/resources to get me through ‘the hump’. Primarily, they come from my compassion training. Whenever I feel that insecurity set in, I employ the self-compassion break or self- tonglen. These are both practices that we teach on our Level 2: Responding with Compassion course. I also have developed my own compassionate gesture that eases my body on a physiological level. I usually rub my belly as I move into the Self-Compassion break of quietly noticing that this is a moment of struggle, that I’m not alone (I mean, even my cousins suffer with this), and I ask myself- what do I need to hear right now that would be helpful? This whole system can take seconds, minutes, as long as it takes, but I find it extremely helpful. My compassion practice enables me to be my full self- even when my social anxiety surfaces. And for this I am grateful.

So, this week’s challenge is see if we can notice when we have feelings of the fear of not quite measuring up- or if there is some sort of social anxiety present. If there is, can we be kind to ourselves? Can we remind ourselves that it’s hard, but we’re not alone and then ask ourselves- how can we be kind to ourselves in this moment?

And if you see me rubbing my belly, maybe send me a kind smile.

😊

-Jane

Heather and I will be starting and teaching on our Level 2: Responding with Compassion course, this July in Samye Ling. Why don’t you join us? Click Here.

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The Truth of The Matter…

I remember the first time I heard Rob Nairn exclaim that the mind is a liar- that the mind is always telling us untruths. Whether it  is telling us that we are not good enough, or that we are unlovable or that we will fail, we can rest assured that these messages are simply mind propaganda wrapped up as protective shields, but in all reality are driven by fear. And fear stops us in our tracks. In fact, fear can sabotage all our hopes and dreams.

Stop-Telling-White-Lies-Step-4

My mind has been telling me lies. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it does so… all the time.

Some days it tells me that people are looking at the grey hairs sprouting up on my head and that everyone who sees me will know that I’m not in my early 20s! (Which is another lie it loves to tell ha!) Other days it tells me that I am not as good or experienced or worthy as those who I share space with.

And then other days, it tells me that I am a rock star and anything that I say or do will be met with wonder and awe and adoration. Let me tell you- it sure is disappointing when this fails to happen!

Lately, it’s been telling me that I am all alone.

Now, I know this is a lie when I bring my rational mind to the story and its details. However, this story is juicy and it grabs hold.

The story that I am a Canadian living away from her country and family. The story that asks- if I get sick, who is my adult next of kin? The story that even if I were to return to Canada, I wouldn’t belong. The story that I don’t even belong in Ireland. The story that I don’t belong.

However, the reality is that I do belong. I belong to my three children. I belong to the Beloveds in my life. My dear friends, my colleagues, the communities that I inhabit.

This story is driven by my fear. The fear that I will be and that I am alone. Isolated. And when this fear sinks in, I stop. I stop making plans, I stop reaching out, I stop talking about it. I stop dreaming. Then, I feel even more alone.

It’s beyond crazy! But it happens to most of us. Our stories may be different, but we can all fall prey to fear and these negative thoughts patterns: these lies that our minds tell us.

So this is where my mindfulness practice comes in. What my mindfulness practice has done for me is allow me to see these lies. It has created the conditions to ‘know what is happening while it is happening’. Once, I see what is happening- the mind telling me stories- the lies lose their power. I am able to step back from the story and recognize it for what it is: untrue.

And, once I recognize this untruth, I can choose to actually look around and feel gratitude for the family I do have over here on this side of the pond- my kids, my Beloveds, my dear friends and colleagues, my communities.

My mindfulness practice really helps me turn towards my fear and see it for what it is. Stories. Elaborate tales told to me by mind. And once I see them for what they are, I am free to move forward with a new way to be. I am free to dream.

So, this week’s challenge is to see if you can notice the stories that the mind tells you. Are they familiar? Are they helpful? How does it feel to be lost in one? What does it feel like when you notice and step back?

And if you would like to know more about mindfulness and move towards ‘knowing what is happening, while it is happening, without preference’, why not join me on one of the Level 1 courses that I will be teaching on? I’ll be teaching in Samye Ling this March and Ireland in June. (Click here for more details)

Or, join our membership and join me for the weekly sits! I’d love to see you. (Click here for more details)

-Jane

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A Silent Witnessing

I’ve got sunsets on my mind! Well, I’ve got the wonder and curiosity of what it might be like to approach each of my interactions/ communicative exchanges as if I were gazing on a sunset.

This was the challenge we were given during the MA’s Mindfulness Teacher Supervision training session last night. Can we walk around and see people as sunsets?

watching sunset

Now, when I first heard this suggestion, I tried to imagine just that- gazing at a person as if they were a sunset. I had this vision of myself looking all doe- eyed and goofy. Then the thought came- ‘What if people think I am taking drugs?’ This might alarm those who I come into contact with. I must admit, I found this slightly  amusing.

Then I closed my eyes and put myself in front of that sunset again. I felt my eyes soften, a soft smile appeared and I marvelled at the shifting colours with each passing moment.

What might it be like if I was able to bring this same soft, openness to each passing moment of conversation?

Many poets and scholars speak about being present for others. This Nhat Hanh explains that the best present we can give one another is our full embodied presence.

John O’Donohue, the Irish poet and philosopher puts it another way:

Open your eyes and see the friends

Whose hearts recognize your face as kin,

Those whose kindness watchful and near,

Encourages you to live everything here.

For me, these words bring to mind a sense of care-taking and safeness that can come with being heard and held in relationship. It also brings to mind all of the times that I have felt unheard and alone and how in those times I have often wished to be surrounded by those who do make me feel held and safe. I used to, and still do from time to time, tell my best friend that I just want her to brush my hair so that I can feel soothed and held.

Perhaps in times of struggle, I simply need to feel the human connection of being seen in the same way that I gaze upon a sunset. For in the moment as it passes, there might be a shared silent witnessing, where nothing else needs to be done.

In which case, what might it be like if I can do this for others?

This week, I would like to extend the challenge that was given to me- to greet those you meet as if they were a sunset. Can we be present with a soft, warm openness, allowing all that unfolds to be without judgment? A silent witnessing.

Or, as John O’Donohue writes, can we allow the presence of others to ‘encourage [us] to live everything here’?

-Jane

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Spring Shoots…

Today is a special day in Ireland. It is St. Brigid’s Day or Brigid’s Day, or if you go back even further it is Imbolc. And one of the overriding themes of this is that it is the first day of Spring.

I can remember when I first moved to Ireland and heard and experienced February 1st as the first day of Spring. I was dumbfounded. It was cold and wet and appeared no different to the days of Winter that came before it. It seemed ridiculous.

IMG_6303Still, people all around me showed me all of the subtle signs (soft green shoots of daffodils, full bloom snowdrops, days getting longer) while also explaining the cultural celebration of St. Brigid’s eve/ day. Or, a day where one sweeps the home and the hearth clean while weaving their intentions for the coming year into Brigid’s crosses- crosses made from rushes found in the fields and weaved into what has been called a sun wheel or sun cross.

So this morning, after I dropped the kids to school, I took to the fields to find my rushes, so that I can set my intentions and weave my cross this evening, as I light the first fire on my swept hearth.

All of this activity got me thinking of a conversation that I had with my friend and colleague Alan. Alan and I had been teaching this weekend at Samye Ling on the Level 1 Mindfulness: Being Present course. (For more information, click here)

One of the participants asked us about the importance of setting an intention at the beginning of each practice. In our own words, we shared how setting an intention has been an integral part of our practice- whether that intention be to simply be mindful or to practice noticing our distractions or even something more personal like an intention to ease an anxiety that has been plaguing the mind. We do not always arrive at our intended destination (I.E. notice those distractions or ease that anxiety); however, our intention plants a seed and helps create the conditions for a moving towards- and maybe even one day, full fruition.

Setting a intention and visiting our motivation is something we explore quite thoroughlyIMG_6304 throughout the whole of our Level 1 training, and indeed, throughout all of our trainings. Not only can setting an intention be helpful in our meditation practice, but it can be helpful in our day- to- day living. For instance, we might like to start our day with setting an intention to be more compassionate/mindful/helpful for the day; or start each season with an intention for the coming months. One thing to remember is not to get too caught up on whether we see the fruition of this intention, maybe we can just rest in the reassurance that these intentions are planting seeds and creating the conditions for the day to come.

So, on this first day of Spring, what are your own intentions? Perhaps, this week’s challenge can be to set aside some time for quiet reflection on what are your intentions for the coming year. What seeds will you plant? Hopefully, in time we might be able to reap the rewards of that harvest!

-Jane

We have many Level 1: Being Present courses starting in Glasgow, Samye Ling, Birmingham, Cardiff, London and Edinburgh- we even have an online version starting in March! Make sure to check them out here

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Passing the Torch…

I’m sitting in Dublin airport, about to board a flight to Scotland where I will be teaching for the weekend. I’m sipping a coconut café mocha, feeling relaxed and enjoying the pleasant feeling of being here on time, space to do some work, but also to simply rest in the knowledge that someone else is flying the plane. I can simply be the passenger.

I travel a lot and I like travelling. Awhile ago, a friend of mine and I were talking about how much I like airports. When I am in an airport, there’s nothing else I can do but be in the airport. There’s no toilet to clean, meals to cook or any other domestic responsibility screaming out for me to attend to. The stress of getting here is over and I can now hand over any sense of urgency to ‘the airport’. I must add here that I usually give myself a lot of time in airports- rarely arriving at the last minute.

IMG_6269Sometimes I even give myself enough time to get some MA work done- like I am doing now. In fact, I’ve put in whole days of work at airports. Sitting in a restaurant, ordering food when I need it and enjoying the fact that the only place I have to be is at the airport. I am anonymous- no one will ask me for anything, (well, this depends on my inbox!), and this whole airport will function sufficiently without my having to do anything. I can simply move through it.

If I am honest, I haven’t given this ‘I like airports’ too much thought or analysis, until a friend and fellow member of the Mindfulness Association sent me a beautiful excerpt from ‘Taking Exquisite Care of Ourselves’. I have no idea who wrote it as there is no name and any google search has come up blank.

However, the excerpt is on Deep Resting and it explains that “[r]esting is not just about sleeping sufficiently, though that is important in any sound strategy for health. And it has nothing to do with procrastination, evasion of hard challenges or indolence…It is about being able to pass the torch for a little while and trust others to stand guard, keep watch and see that all that is essential is done”. And this is what I do in airports! I don’t evade work- actually, I can be very productive in airports- but what I do ‘do’ is “pass the torch for a little while and trust that others stand guard, keep watch and see that all that is essential is done”.

Interestingly, months after my conversation with my friend, he rang me from an airport and told me that he was actually enjoying his space there. He was having a coffee and simply watching people move through as he took the time to just ‘be’.

So, this week’s challenge is to see if can we find a safe place to ‘pass the torch for a little while’. Can we let someone else stand on guard and can we rest deep? This might be asking your partner to set the alarm for an early rise and surrendering to the trust that they will wake you, or delegating a job to a colleague and trusting that they will get the job done (without your help!), or maybe it’s finding yourself in an airport or a train station with enough time to surrender all concern to the functioning of its very planned out system.

-Jane

If you’re looking for some inspiration this January, why not sign up for one of our courses! Click here for more details.

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Every Season…

I have just started reading a book by Jack Kornfield titled, After the Ecstasy, The Laundry. It was recommended to me by quite a few people, and while I have owned it for the 6 months or so, I am only getting to it now. However, picking up this book in the month of January feels like providence. Like the spiritual laundry that Kornfield speaks about, January can feel a bit humdrum. In fact, I feel sorry for January-it cannot be easy following the ‘ding-dong merrily on high’ magic-filled month of December.

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Like the holiday season, Kornfield explains that “[e]nlightenment does exist. It is possible to awaken. Unbounded freedom and joy, oneness with the Divine, awakening into a state of timeless grace—these experiences are more common than you know, and not far away. There is one further truth, however: They don’t last” (p.xiii).

‘What??’ I can hear people gasp. It doesn’t last? Well, what he means is that anyone who has experienced these enlightened states doesn’t just remain in a state of un-adulterated bliss. Indeed, life gets in the way. Like any meditation where one has moments of clarity alongside periods of chaos, ecstatic spiritual awakenings are followed by the monotony of everyday life. Even the Buddha returned to monastic life after reaching enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.

Moreover, for many, January can feel a bit similar. While December has the propensity to deliver good will and images of ‘silent nights’ filled with hope and light, January can be grey and disappointing. So how can we cope with this pile of laundry? This aftermath?

Simply being aware of our emotional landscape helps– alongside treating each visiting emotion like a guest in a guest house. Rumi wrote a famous poem that helps to remind us that being human means experiencing a range of cyclical emotions. If we can learn to allow our changing moods to exist within us, their power over us dissipates. And as their power dissipates, these emotions slowly move on, making room for our next moment of awakened enlightenment. Every season has a turn….

-Jane

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