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.

The Guilt of Motherhood

5b9b65e0-f880-4a85-9ff1-483130dc5446Some days, I find myself shouting: screaming and swearing like a fish-wife and, as I do so, in front of me stands a crying child. Quite obviously terrified, quaking, in case I actually reach out and hit someone. This is all due to: being late for school, again –  or someone hasn’t put their socks on, brushed their teeth, or is still: playing lego/drawing/reading/singing on the piano… while the minutes, just literally dissolve into a black hole and we are late, again.

I shout in vain for them to: ‘get a bloody move on’, jumpers unfound, toothpaste strewn down shirts, hair in a tangle and all, for, what?

Conformity.

As we drive silently in the car – my anger slowly draining from my body – the children: quiet, tense, the day just unfolding.  I resolve, silently to myself, to apologise and hug them as tightly as I possibly can before they go into school.

I do.

The rest of the day is spent in a grey fug as I feel drenched in dark mother-guilt about my: outrageous behaviour.

And I wonder: did my mother, ever, do this to me?

Yet sometimes, and I have to make this point to you, this is not a regular occurrence, but just, very occasionally, (honestly),  I am so lost in anger. I. just. Cannot. Stop. Even when: right in front of me, I can see the destruction I am manifesting in my children.

Motherhood has revealed the darkest side of me: the anger and venom that gently froths, darthvaderlike, just beneath my conscious…Waiting for some unknown trigger to set free the raging torrent  across the still-ish waters of family-life and establish literal tsunamis of pain, tears, anxiety and, quite probably: therapy-inducing permanent fuck-up fuelled futures…with an over-priced psychotherapist proferring instant coffee…

And, as the days from that jarred, hurtful, venom-filled moment pass – I carry the wake of churning guilt and bitter after-taste disgust within me. I cannot believe I can behave this way to those I love more than any other beings on the planet…

What is that?

I apologise, again, many days later and desperately seek forgiveness – it is waved off.

But that anger is really, truly, not fine, sometimes it is truly scary and I’m in it and I cannot find a way out.

 

Reaching for the Moon

“I cannot wait to start my periods mummy!” Declared my nine year old last month on our way home from her first visit to the Red Tent.

Can you imagine feeling like this as a young girl standing on the brink of puberty? Actually being excited and in awe of the future periods that will be yours? It seems preposterous – but is entirely possible.

It is within our reach to completely change the perception of our daughters, nieces and god-daughters bodies and their monthly cycles by simply preparing them. By introducing a positive and exciting spin on the incredible gifts we are given as women: our bodies, our monthly cycle and our divine legacy to create and give life!

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My daughter, who is nine, took part in a Girls Celebration Day, hosted and run by Lou Press of the Woolley Valley Red Tent.

The morning began with the five girls, aged 9-11, creating a mandala of seeds and rice, whilst Lou told them gentle stories about coming of age. The girls then calculated how many periods they would have over the course of their lifetimes!

Following this simple calculation:

Estimated age I stop my periods: 55, minus, estimated age I will begin my periods: 13 = 42.

Minus:    Estimated number of children I hope to have: 3 (this is what my daughter said!) x1.5yrs (for each child no period for 9 months pregnancy & 9 months breastfeeding) = 4.5yrs.

42 – 4.5 = 32.5 x by 12 and a quarter (average number of periods a year) = 459 periods in my lifetime.

Extraordinary! Don’t you think – did you ever realise how many you would have, are having? And how few that actually seems!

The afternoon was spent with the mothers and daughters, the girls were sewing small felt lockets as the mothers revealed stories about their first periods. We giggled and were in awe of everyone’s different experiences. We shared pictures of us at their age, with our silly hairstyles, dreams and 80’s sweatshirts. As the girls stuffed their lockets each mum wrote a special message on a note for the girls to hide inside the felt lockets and then they sewed ribbons to create a necklace. We each chose a few words to describe each other, from mother to daughter and from daughter to mother, we listened to each other and, finally, we presented our daughters with their hand-sewn locket.

The girls left joyously excited about their unfolding young womanhood.

The mothers left changed women. Having opened our hearts to our daughters and to ourselves and having begun to glimpse the changes ahead, of our daughters as they begin to walk their own paths and become wise, understanding females.

Our Future:

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If you are not fortunate enough to have a local Red Tent but you would like to give this gift of confidence, understanding and openness on the journey of beginning menstrual cycles then I heartily recommend Lucy H Pearce’s beautiful, gentle and informative book for girls: Reaching For The Moon.

Never Stop Reading Aloud

The last two weeks in Bath have been so exciting and inspiring with the Bath Kid’s Literature Festival in full swing, we have enjoyed Andy Stanton, Lauren Child, Michael Rosen, Jon Scieszka, Emer Stamp to name just a few…

We have been reading like crazy ever since, pouring over our new, signed editions, and sharing the jokes and stories. I have been reading aloud to all three of my children, nine-year old twins and their six year old sister Boo, it has been beautiful, you are never to old to be read to, or for that matter, to read aloud.

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We just finished The Oddfellows Orphanage by Emily Winfield Martin and it is simply perfect, a curious and gentle read, I cannot recommend it enough, for boys, girls and adults alike.

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?

Fromage

Forgive me this confabulation of fromage – but it is, indeed, National Poetry Month..in, err, The States, but I assume I can still join in?…Seeing as we are all part of the global cheese eating community, what?

IN CAHOOTS WITH LE TOOTS

 My Cheesepuff
In cahoots with le toots…..

This boy whose ripe semen
made my whole body teemen-
with babies.

This man of just thirty-five-
when we kissed, made me feel so alive.
With love and lust, with crazed, wild-headed amor.
And although we were always so, so poor.
We were rich with simplicity,
Just two babies, him and me.
No mortgage, no home, no sense of 2.4
A bycycle, some lycra.

But we always wanted more…

A dusty jeep in the Spanish mountains,
a French farmhouse…and space for counting
our children, as four became five.
A wilderness, a desert, a city, a community
That certain something, a je ne sais quoi, that will make us blissful with glee…

Of course, we already have it,
Me and my cheese puff.
We already have quite, quite enough,
And more, but that won’t stop us looking
We will never stop cooking-
Up; plans and adventures, dreams and desires,
Of stories to tell our grandchildren round campfires.

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Keep Smooching

With Valentines left behind in Februarys greying thighs, we must continue to flounce our love. Ruffle his, or her, feathers, nurture your honey with a whole bucket of squishy, treacle-drenched, smooching.

Snog them, smooch ’em, kiss their toes, okay, well maybe not their toes, but the tips of their fingers, their lips, neck and cheeks – all cheeks.

According to research, kissing promotes an array of health benefits, including relieving stress, burning calories, boosting immunity and even removing plaque…yikes – that must include some serious tongue waggling.

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“Both of us were transfixed by this one moment – this moment when the earth just, literally, stopped…as our lips finally touched and we could not move apart, never let go, on that simple street corner, the sun rising behind us, this time defining connection of lust and love and absolute wholeness.”

Maybe not all kisses are like that but the simple ones: hello, goodbye, are you ok?, it’s going to be ok. These are almost more important in defining your union. Endorphins are released each time you touch and kiss, and you are present in that simple physical moment, whether it is with a babies perfect peachy bottom or your grannies crinkled cheek.

You may seek to impress like Maddona and Britney, or make a statement like the Chilean students who, last year, made kissing their statement in protests against the government over education, or get swept up in emotion like Gary Neville from Manchester United who snogged team mate Paul Scholes. But whatever, however, whoever – you must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss…..mmmmmmmwwwwaaaaaahhhhhhh.