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A Mindful Dance of Doing and Being

It’s an exciting week, the official start of a new pathway I have been embarking on. Tomorrow, I will start the Breathworks Mindfulness teacher training programme. It’s not unusual for me to start a new venture, to say I’m going to do something and then make it happen, often against quite unfavourable odds, but something about this feels reassuringly different.

In mindfulness, we often refer to two different modes of mind, doing and being. Like many people, the doing mode has often been my default, habitual setting. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it has enabled me to do so much. I have goals. I get things done. I move forward. I couldn’t have got a first-class from the Royal Academy of Music without it. I had a successful career as a musician. I was striving for more, better, the next thing, analysing what I needed to do to get there and putting it into action. But I also ran on autopilot, doing things out of habit, often without identifying or listening to my needs. Apart from the times when my body stopped me. In the short-term, it may have appeared very successful, but in the long-term it caught up with me. It was unsustainable.

As my mindfulness practice has developed, I’ve been more able to recognise this. I’ve also learnt how helpful, and vital, my being mode is. It helps me to take a step back, to gain perspective and make creative choices. It allows me to observe the inner workings of my mind, safe in the knowledge that I don’t have to buy into everything it tells me. It encourages me to tune into my needs and honour my values. It brings a gentle acceptance, being content with where I am.

By practising mindfulness, I’ve been learning to shift to a more helpful balance, aligning my aspirations and goals with my needs and values. As I reach the start of my teacher training, what feels different? I’m allowing it to naturally unfold. I have goals in mind, ones that fill me with purpose and intention, that make my heart swell and my face light up, but I’m not forcing it, setting strict deadlines or having harsh expectations. I know that my teaching will ultimately come from my own experience. To be the authentic mindfulness teacher I aspire to be, I need to embody it. By embodying mindfulness, I am showing myself compassion and honouring my needs.

As I dance between the doing and being modes, my practice is my protector. Approaching my training in this way feels every bit as exciting as being caught up in the doing mode, but without a lingering fear that it could unravel at any point.

Mindfulness Bells

The ring of a bell is a familiar sound to meditators; an invitation to settle and become aware, it marks the start of a formal meditation practice. When I hear the chime, I find myself more awake to my immediate experience, my breath, my body, my thoughts and my feelings.

A helpful way to include mindfulness in daily life is to use ‘bells’, or cues, as a reminder to become aware. It can be an object you keep in your bag or on your desk, a particular activity you do regularly (for example answering the phone or opening a door), a reminder on your phone, a post-it note on your fridge, there are so many ways to scatter bells throughout the day.Read More

A Lesson In Patience

There’s a lady in the bed opposite. She’s waiting patiently with such elegance and poise. Later today she is having surgery to remove a tumour from her brain. She’ll be awake during the operation. She’s been warned of possible complications; loss of function and changes in personality. She waits, calmly. “It’s okay for me,” she says, “this is a one-off. It’s you I feel for having an ongoing condition.”

There’s a lady in the bed alongside me. She’s been waiting for hours, days, for tests she desperately hopes will reveal answers. “I just want to know what’s wrong,” she says, jumping up every time someone approaches her bed. I don’t know what’s tormenting her more, the waiting or the unknown.

As for me, my bags are packed and I’m waiting to go home. My face lights up as I think of seeing my kitties and being in the peace and quiet of my little oasis. But here I find myself, waiting.Read More

The Chocolate Meditation

I once found myself sitting in a hospital patient group with a raisin in my hand. What did it feel like? What did it look like? What did it smell like? What did it taste like? At this point, there were murmurs of distaste going around the room as most of the group, myself included, didn’t like raisins.

The raisin exercise was my introduction to mindfulness. I may not have particularly enjoyed the taste, but I did notice the sweet earthy scent and the wrinkled grooves sitting on my tongue for the first time. That one little raisin was bursting with flavour. It proved a point; when you deliberately pay close attention to something, using all of your senses, whilst not being clouded by the past or the future (or the judgement, ‘I don’t like raisins!’), your immediate experience can change in powerful and unexpected ways.Read More

Hope

‘Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully each moment, and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.’ I’ve recently found myself waking up with this Gatha by Thich Nhat¬†Hanh. As I start the day it reminds me that each hour is full of possibility, opportunity and hope.Read More

Weaving A Parachute

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” Jon Kabat-Zinn often adds to his well known definition, saying, “as if your life depended on it.”

As if your life depended on it.

I’ve written in previous posts about how I use mindfulness to identify and acknowledge how I feel, enabling me to show myself kindness and attend to my needs during the most challenging times (‘Self-soothe‘ and ‘What do I need? A Technique for Self-Care‘). I’ve recently realised the importance not just of my practice during the harder times, but during the gentler times too. It’s during those better times that reserves of resilience are built. Practising mindfulness has been compared to weaving a parachute. As Mark Williams and Danny Penman wrote in ‘Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World’, “there’s no point in doing this when we’re falling headlong towards destruction. We have to weave our parachute every day so that it’s always there to hold us in an emergency.” So how do we weave our parachute and keep those reserves of resilience topped up?¬†Read More

Intentional Internet

So you’re reading this blog. I wonder how you got here? Maybe you came online to send an email, saw a notification for a new post and here you are? Or perhaps you were scrolling through Facebook, this post popped up and you clicked the link before you even knew it? I’ve been thinking a lot about my use and interaction with technology and the internet. I know too much time on these things doesn’t serve me well, yet it is so easy to get sucked in. If you go with the flow of modern society, that seems to be exactly what happens, but at what cost?Read More

‘The Little Mindfulness Workbook’ by Gary Hennessey

What is mindfulness? The next time I’m asked, I may well recommend ‘The Little Mindfulness Workbook,’ by Gary Hennessey, co-founder of Breathworks. The small, compact size of this new mini book is appealing, yet Gary, with his extensive experience practising and teaching mindfulness, introduces many key principles and practices. He captures the essence of mindfulness, which can be so hard to articulate, in a down to earth and friendly manner.Read More

Self-Soothe

I was becoming invisible, my body paling to the white sheets. As I lay on the hospital trolley, unable to move or speak, all I had was my mind. The strength of my thoughts and the images they created could take me anywhere. As I felt my heart sinking and tears pooling at my eyes I knew I needed to change direction. I focused on my breath. It gave me perspective. What was I feeling and where was it coming from? I felt utterly worthless. The actions, or lack of actions, by others during a time of acute illness in A&E had triggered an inner story; a deep seated belief that I knew to be untrue, yet at that moment I was compelled to believe.Read More

Reflections on Retreat

It was a dark winter’s afternoon and I was surrounded by fields in rural Suffolk. I’d lost all sense of where I was when I embarked on my first meditation retreat, but the centre soon enveloped me in its gentle and calm atmosphere. I was at Vajrasana, part of the London Buddhist Centre, in the state of the art ‘intelligent’ building that opened in 2016. Communal spaces, bedrooms and meditation spaces surrounded peaceful courtyards. Each way I looked, a picture was framed by the architecture, changing with the light and dark, and the misty fog that seemed to shroud us until our final afternoon.Read More