Lessons In Mindfulness

On a damp, dark Friday 13th, in the midst of the Paris terrorist attacks, a cross section of Bath’s society sit in perfect silence. Deep in the bowels of Bath Central United Reform Church, in a basement room, strip-lights overhead, rain pitter-pattering beyond, stillness reigns over a seemingly random collection of people…

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In the floor in the centre of the group is a vase of flowers and each person is staring straight at it, in absolute quietude, nothing but the low-buzzing of the lights overhead and the rain outside can be heard.

Many minutes later the group suddenly break out of their flower staring reverie; look up at each other and, smile, with a sense of peace and breakthrough. A tea break is declared.

This random assembly which, includes a teenager, grandmother and others of varying creed and class in-between, have fallen together to learn the art of mindfulness.

You many have heard of mindfulness? It’s the buzzword across the NHS, in psychotherapy clinics across the country and is even penetrating the education system and I am not just talking private schools here, there is no escaping it.

But, what exactly is it?

In it’s simplest form: mindfulness is a form of mediation which focuses on being in the moment, concentrating your mind on one thing at a time. So the vase of flowers, for example, the group were simply looking at, being aware of, the flowers.

“Utter Bloody Pigsquiffle”, I hear you cry.

But wait…

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Breathe In…Breathe Out…Breathe In…Breathe Out…

Indeed, for many it is utter bloody piqsquiffle, and I apologise to all pigs right here and now, but the research surrounding mindfulness is compelling. Studies have found that benefits can include; decreasing stress levels, reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, pain and insomnia, an enhanced ability to pay attention and people can simply become happier.

Huw Griffiths, of Mindfulness Bath, runs mindfulness courses, is a practising Buddhist, has been meditating for more than thirty years and is on a mission to share how enlightening daily practice of mindfulness can be.

“It is far more profound than a trend, we can physically show the difference between the beginning and the end – you will become less anxious.”

“People believe that it is about emptying your brain and being relaxed but it is nothing like that – it is about focusing your mind on the present moment.”

The people who attended Huw’s course, the one with the flowers, agree. This arbitrary group of people came together every Friday night to sit quietly and learn, from Huw, how to be in each moment. They were positively in awe of the tranquility they had begun to find within themselves, using breathing patterns to find peace during stressful times, they felt a clarity in their understanding of themselves. It was quite extraordinary to witness.

Breathe In…Breathe Out…Breathe In…Breathe Out…

So, when did we begin to take our breathing for granted? This unassuming tool we use every moment – it is central to our survival, it is our very life force.

Breathe In…Breathe Out…Breathe In…Breathe Out…

Have you ever sat and just breathed in and out and by counting each breath focused on that tiny moment of your life?

Try it.

I dare you.

Then sit in the silence that follows and see how you feel. Do you notice the sensation that arises and the sense of peace it brings just for to give yourself permission to sit quietly in a busy day. But. that was just for a moment – imagine what could happen if you were brave enough to open the door to mindfulness and walk through?

In the US, Marines and veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been introduced to the benefits of mindfulness, after research found that Marines who had undergone a course recovered far more quickly from trauma and stress, compared with peers who had not.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation, maintains that by 2030 mental ill-health will be the biggest burden of disease in developed nations.

What with the impact of technology, the future for the current generation keeping up with high tech, social media, pressures of education, jobs, housing, not to mention climate change and terrorism, it is no wonder our minds are riddled with anxiety.

Katie Norton, head of PSHE at The Corsham School, explains why the school began to offer students mindfulness courses in 2012.

“Schools across the country are reporting more instances of poor emotional and mental health and a rise in self-harm and depression. Mindfulness, helps us to view all experience – physical sensations, emotions, thoughts and behaviours – from a slightly elevated, observer’s point of view.”

Katie goes on: “In one mindfulness lesson a group of students were worried about the upcoming sports day. As they explored this, they observed their thoughts: ‘people are going to laugh at me’, or ‘I’m going to fall over’. Through such an awareness activity, participants can learn to self-regulate better. They start to understand that they don’t have to follow the habitual reactions that these thoughts and feelings can lead to, and have freedom to make other behaviour choices, thus lessening reactivity.”

At Corsham, the staff are also offered the opportunity to take the course with one member of staff commenting: “ I am much more positive and much better able to cope with daily stresses and anxieties.”

King Edwards School offered mindfulness to its Sixth Form after the school’s Chaplain, Reverend Caroline O’Neill, suggested it. Later, after consulting with local child and adolescent psychologist, Linda Blair, and teen gaming and gambling expert, Stephen Noel-Hill, who both recommended the practice, PSHE Co-ordinator, Lisa Bowman, decided to introduce mindfulness throughout the entire school. The course is offered to staff – who also enjoy a fifteen minute peace session each week.

Psychotherapists, Philippa Vick and Nigel Wellings, have been teaching mindfulness in Bath and Bristol for the past ten years. “Nature has given us two ways to be with our emotions: One: to push them away because they are too painful. Two: to be overwhelmed by them and simply not cope.”

Nigel goes on: “The third position, is what mindfulness provides, it allows us to step back a little from our emotions, but still remain in touch with them, which gives us the possibility to chose – and that is the key.”

It is the key: through regular practice, you learn not to be swept up in each reactive emotion as it arises. But, rather, notice it: anger, stress, worry, panic etc and then decide how to react, if at all, as Nigel says: “exchange reaction for response.”

Philippa explains: “It is important to realise this is not therapy – no one shares emotional traumas or experience. But what is essential to the course is that people share their experience – it is fundamental to discover we all have the same neurotic minds. We all share these basic human sufferings.”

Recently, Huw launched a free App (search: Calm Mind in the App store) around his teaching, to support his clients and to provide everyone with the opportunity to build mindfulness into their lives. Huw believes that if he can get one million people to download the free app then he will be able to change the world in just a few generations. (Watch Huw’s video, filmed in Bath, to find out more: http://www.mindfulnessbraintraining.com.)

“I want to make a series of apps focused on children, then we can transform the world in three generations. Imagine a calmer. More kind. Happier and compassionate human race…now that would be a gift to give our grandchildren.”

That, Huw, would indeed be the ultimate gift.

 

Find out more about Mindfulness Courses in Bath:

Huw Griffths, Mindfulness Bath: www.mindfulnessbath.co.uk

Philippa Vicks & Nigel Wellings: www.bath-bristol-mindfulness-courses.co.uk

Nigel Wellings Books on Meditation: http://www.whycantimeditate.com

The Well Being College Bath: www.wellbeingcollegebath.co.uk

http://www.themindfulschool.co.uk

Extract, from Nigel Wellings Book, Why Can’t I Meditate:

Calming our Restless Minds – Just five breaths

Rest your attention on your breath and simply follow it as you breath in and out for five breaths. Let the breath be as relaxed as possible, so you can feel that it breathes itself in and out without you having to do anything to help. It may naturally slow and deepen, but this is its job, not yours. And stick to just five breaths for the moment – resist doing more.

Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S)

Hannah and Toots kissing up a tree: K.I. double S  I.N.G…

Just one kiss, this is where it begins. A single kiss has the potential to lead to a myriad of outcomes, one is parenthood…did you plan it like that?  I didn’t have the time or the notion to think about how I would: ‘parent’ – I was terrified…That one kiss led to twins.

I have no ambition to preach, or bore. Yet one thing is essential for us, our children, our friendships and our loves: simplicity.

Allowing our children to unwind and grow in a technology-free environment. Where nature and boredom can sit hand in hand, allowing a child to discover in their own time and in their own way, how to play.

Children in todays world are bombarded by an unprecedented amount of media and technology, the way they play freely has changed dramatically, the countries schooling system is under pressure and a competitive nature in parenting leaves many children finding it hard to cope.

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How can we help them to function in this high speed, stressful environment?

We have to simplify things, we need to de-clutter emotionally, physically. Give children, and yourself, the freedom to do nothing, to have nothing to do, to get dirty, to get outside, in the park, in the garden, kick a ball about, read a book or hang out with a mate.

Remove the technology and the thinking, the information and your anxiety to ‘succeed’ and allow them to just be. Allow them to get bored and to faff about with a pen and a paper, or a hammer and a nail, a hole and some mud.

Enjoy the chaos, the mess and the madness – this is life.

This scaling down, moving technology, pressure and allowing us all too just live gently and more organically – will provide your child with a safe space to be themselves – and it will teach them to find contentedness in simplicity.

And the Reason Is?

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“I’m fat mummy”.

Does that sound familiar? An eight year old recently said this to her mum – she thinks she is fat because her older brothers tease her. This little girl is a normal, healthy child but is worried about her young, innocent and perfectly beautiful pre-pubescent body.

We learn so much from elder siblings, and if we don’t have them, invariably someone else will. Influences both negative and positive spill out into the classroom, the playground and beyond and there is nothing we can do about it.

So how should we support a child and ensure they have a healthy, well adjusted body image?

At what point, if ever, do we decide that there is more beauty and aesthetic pleasure to be gained from our imperfections? To be perfect is impossible. Yet for many the acquisition of perfect is the quintessential conclusion we must all, surely, wish to achieve. Through our jobs, our homes, our bodies and our clothes.

How then can we teach children, and ourselves, that beauty comes from within and shines out from inside like a beckoning beacon.

For younger girls (say from 3-11yrs) this book; Beautiful Girl is simply perfect, written by Dr.Christiane Northrup, the essential element of the story is to introduce girls to their bodies, for them to understand they are beautiful just the way they are and for them to begin to discover the incredible gifts and magic that their bodies contain.

It might seem stupid and ridiculous to you but positive visualisation, a kind of easy meditation, is something you can do with children – it is so gorgeously simple and it is also a really wonderful thing to do together. Your are literally just telling them a story. Practice it in the classroom, at bedtime, sitting quietly under a tree or snuggled up on the sofa. It is a moment when a child or children can close their eyes and indulge in a short story told by you.

These visualisation techniques right here will give you the tools to begin to help your child regulate difficult emotions, fears or worries. These brilliant ideas from the Kids Relaxation team can help teachers and those working with large or small groups of children – especially using this: the Mind Pirates visualisation and game.

Give a child the tools to believe in themselves and give them a way to help them believe in themselves and help yourself and learn along the way.

Do you have a reason to believe in yourself?

I am not here for you…

With a rise in sex crimes in 2013, amid the Jimmy Saville scandals, news detailing a lone male intruder into Portuguese holiday apartments, and this week a ten year old boy is in court accused of raping his school mate in Primary School after watching online porn – do you wonder how we can protect a generation swamped in sexualised imagery, with easy access to porn, and who are drowning in their own critical self-doubt about how they should look and portray themselves both online and off?

Ban Facebook for under 18’s for a start I say.

I fell upon this beautiful video created to portray the simple yet inspiring work carried out by Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh on the streets of New York.

Fazlalizadeh talks to women about sexual harassment on the streets, how it makes them feel and what they would like to say in response to the men who belittle and demorailse these women on a daily basis.

Take a look and see for yourself…

Stop Telling Women To Smile from Dean Peterson on Vimeo.

Beholden to the boss

IMG_4200France, our perennial adversary, recently unveiled plans making it illegal to send work related emails to colleagues after the working day has finished. Yes, you heard me right – it will become illegal to write, open or send emails after 6pm.

This people – is downright bloody genius, don’t you think? Hang on I am just going to google this and check I have it right…

Ohhhkay – so it will not be actually illegal per se – but the Gallic country has indeed introduced new rules designed to ‘protect’ workers in media and consultation. These rules ask workers to switch off their work phones and stop checking work emails after 6pm and before 9am.

This intentional disconnect is such a bloody fantastic idea. In this crazy century we are in we need to be given permission to have down time, to eat supper without a device, to understand that it is just, no MORE, important to have a life outside of the workplace – and that the internet will not explode if we don’t check it every five minutes.

If you work from home it is exceptionally tricky to locate the off button – much to the delight of your employer – and much to the frustration of your family.

It has become more and more acceptable to work at all hours of day and night. If a client or colleague emails and expects a response, the rub is that if you don’t respond you feel guilty and if you do, you feel pissed off…

We feel beholden to that all encompassing dictator; the internet, all its devices and ways of luring you in.

But what if we were all on the same page – that we could relax in the knowledge that we are having our, much needed, time out altogether – without the fear that someone else will jump on your bandwagon just because you are happily taking a walk or sharing a meal.

This simple yet brilliant idea is one we, I think, should fight to adopt – here on our shores, where working all hours has crept into our lives and is fast becoming the norm.

So are you in with me?

Working nine-to-five

For the first time in four years I have utterly, totally and completely abandoned Fealte & Rosebud. My place of respite and rejuvination. I screwed up: I went and got myself a fucking job. Now I find myself writing for the wedge, not the edge and my friends let me tell you – it sucks. rosey_mother

Well, not the money in the bank every month bit – obvs. But the actual, physical, doing the work bit.

As your very last child crosses the bridge into the eternal abyss of the British schooling system one is left – and bereft. The pressure begins to build…expectations, raised eyebrows and you feel you should move on – your work here is done – hell, let the teachers pick up the slack.

So you scan the job sections, you talk to friends, you fantasize about the perfect job and here’s the rub…it doesn’t actually exist.

The real nux of the problem – is that the school day is ridiculously short. Within that 9-3 window the washing still needs to be washed, the shopping bought, the meals cooked, the old man appeased, the hoovering – jesus, girls how do you do it? Who washes the inside of the pan these days? Who, tell me, puts out the recycling, folds up the pants and pours the wine? And, into this madness, not to mention BTW, the football practice, ballet, play-dates, cubs and all the other social overkill that escalates with school attendance, you have to squeeze your working day in and out and appear, deep breath: measured, on the ball, intelligent: unflappable – not the washed out old bag you really are…

So without employing a cook, a cleaner and a myriad of after-school or before-school clubs, frankly, your just winging it. But in the craziest of ways, it feels good: you can do it: you’ve pulled it out the fucking hat.

Yes – it might be pasta every night and hell, who needs play-dates, they spend all day with the bloody blighters anyway…and, guess what, I can afford perfume now.

Until, that is, someone pukes…or the holidays rear their ugly/beautiful head.

But what I really wonder is – when the day comes that I lie on my deathbed…bear with me …and consider: what was the most important achievement in my life? (Apart from the, as yet, un-published book) it is, without doubt: my children – no regrets.

So, in order to juggle everything – all the minutiae gets thrown out – the sweeping, hoovering, play-dates, hand-made bread, cubs – fuck it all – we will just do the best we can without, compromising the bin lids…and our, very precious, time together.

Twin Perks

Getting a ride on the back of my new loves bike was a profoundly altruistic experience, more so because I was five months up the duff, and we were wheedling through heavy Barcelona traffic.

Cycling our way to hospital, “Caballero”, the van drivers yell to my boy: a gentleman they considered him. As he humbly struggled to peddle me around, while I sat fat, blooming, getting a backie.

The twins

At that five month scan, our first – (eventually we had managed to decipher the bureaucratic Spanish health system) – the obstetrician asked whether we had planned our pregnancy.

“Errrr, no Señor”, we sheepishly admitted. He then proceed to interpret the scan image.

“…Your first child is here…” I looked across at my new love – he paled and fell back against the wall, desperatly looking for somewhere to sit down.

“There, there is the spine, the head and the vagina…”

“The second baby. Here, see the head, the spine, here, and the penis…Did you know you had twins?”

Shock, fear, joy and sheer disbelief flooded through me, fortunately I was lying down. Unlike Toots, who was clinging onto the cardboard walls.

“You are very lucky”, the obstetrician proclaimed as he left us in our newfound chaos.

We stumbled out of the hospital and gazed across at the steadfast, azure whims of the  Mediterranean sea.

We clung to each other in wondrous amazement. We were indeed blessed – we were magical. We could not believe this thing we suddenly held between us. Just an hour ago we had one baby and now, incredibly, we had two – we were: a family of four.

It was mind-blowing. More so, as we had met only eight months previously and had nothing between us except for a couple of rucksacks, a laptop, some books, our passports and a great and beautiful love for each other.

Nothing so far in our relationship had been conventional and now fate had dealt us another unexpected card. We truly believed our love was so magical that we had created boy/girl twins from it.

Little did we know at that time how common multiples are becoming as our generation parent much older and as IVF becomes more prevalent.

Eight years from that precious eureka moment Fealte & Rosebud have played a starring role in our lives.

And from those humble bycling beginnings we have continued on our quest for simplicity, knowing that the single most important thing we can ever give to our children is our love.

No need is there of great mounds of ugly plastic destroying our peaceful home.

No need is there of television or high-tech pushchairs, great monstrous high-chairs, massage classes or adidas trainers.

Pencils, paper, lego, books and latterly bikes are the most important tools in their lives.

Barefoot we plant seeds, water vegetables and make-up songs.

Research from TAMBA (The Twin and Multiple Birth Association) suggests that parents of multiples are more likely to separate – citing financial pressure as the main culprit.

But surely twins, or singletons, or three, or four children need as little or as much as you care to give them. Granted the costs of two high-chairs, two cots and two pairs of shoes at once may be great, but that is, surely, what IKEA was invented for.

No parent needs to lavish its offspring with the amount of material junk they do these days. No child can wear more than one pair of shoes at once. No child needs a mountain of DVD’s or plastic gadgets. No child needs to be taken to hand-signing or baby-yoga classes in a huge motor.

The amount of debt and expense taken on for the sake of an innocent child is incredible and cannot fail to rock the foundations of its parents as they struggle to keep on top of this mega debt.

And all for the sake of whose happiness?