It's the "snot and grot" season here in England and Heni has been off college for two whole weeks recently. As usual she has been trying to get an extended half term holiday! When everyone else gets ill, she often gets it ten times worse. Fortunately, we managed to stave off the antibiotic rounds... and she returned to college at the end of last week. For the two weeks that she has been home it has meant that hubby and I have been back on slow down mode, taking care of her needs ..... not really knowing how things would pan out...It is always very stressful when she is ill and is not usually a very pleasant time....
It has however, been quite handy that I've had some extra "sit and do nothing time"... cuddling Heni on my knee. It has meant that over the two week period I have been able to tune in and listen to the great interviews each day on the Mindfulness Summit hosted by Meli O'Brien (aka Mrs Mindfulness).... and just sit listening....soaking everything up.
A few days ago when Heni was feeling a little brighter, we wrapped her up in lots of blankets and set out to get some fresh air in the woods close to where we live. As we walked around I reflected on some of the things that I had learned.
Mindfulness was explained in many different ways on the summit, but one of the definitions that I liked was a sense of "waking up" to what is around you and having a present moment "awareness" of what you are feeling and thinking. The one word that resonated the most with me was to allow ourselves time to just STOP.
When stressful times rears their ugly head (in the form of Heni being ill) I have a natural tendency to "cut the clutter" and the everyday routines get thrown out of the figurative window. Heni has a knack of making whoever is looking after her focus soley on her needs and STOP.
So often we find ourselves in automatic pilot constantly moving from one task to another, one thought to another... thinking of what has happened or what is about to happen ... being in constant motion.... not being able to "see the wood for the trees" which means ...we miss out on the "here and the now".... we miss out on this very moment, not experiencing life to its fullest.
The most common conception of practicing mindfulness is to sit and meditate, however there are many other ways to practice... playing a favourite sport, doing a Yoga or Tai Chi class and even a walk in nature.....can all bring about a state of mindfulness. You can even be mindful whilst doing the dishes!
Most days on the summit there have been some form of mindfulness exercises to practice such as "focusing the attention" on different things. Often the practice includes "observing" the breath, body sensations, thoughts and feelings, "acknowledging" choices and our state of mind. Other times we have been invited to "notice" or be "conscious" of what is happening inwardly. At other time the "focus" has been directed outwards. What noises can you hear around you? What do you see in your surroundings?
The practice shows us that there is a "space" between the observing and the thing being observed. Instead of doing things in an auto pilot, habitual way, that space provides us with time to make a "choice" to do things differently.
Mindfulness, "if" practiced, has the capacity to make individuals more awake, more conscious, more aware and to "value the moment" regardless of what that moment contains.
Neuroscience has shown that those who do practice, have higher gamma brain wave activation and left prefrontal cortex activity... which basically means eventually we become nicer people to be around. The more we practice the more neural pathways we can create... a super highway or easy access route to creativity, healthier reactivity, acceptance of emotions and compassion to ourselves and others.
Mindfulness is often attributed to Buddhism, but most world religions... (perhaps without people realising it) have some form of mindfulness practice attached to them. One of my favourite scriptures is "Be still... and know that I am God"(psalms 46:10). To me, this is an invitation for us to allow ourselves the time to STOP.... tune in, listen, tap in to our own inner intelligence AND receive inspiration from above.... and to learn to differentiate between the two! It is a time for us to reflect, become aware of where we are, what our needs and the needs of those around us are...... and gain much needed insight and direction for our lives.
As I sat with Heni and listened to the summit I would tune in to her breathing, listening to the rush of the oxygen through her nasal canulae, feel her relax in my arms and feel the warmth of her frail little body next to mine. I would notice the whir of thoughts going on in my head... running off in every conceivable direction... worrying about what is the best thing to do for her, does she need sleep, does she need antibiotics will she fight it off by herself? Will she go down hill... What would that mean...?
I would notice how emotionally caught up I would get in my thoughts and gently remind myself to ... STOP.... and breath and enjoy her in my arms right now.....to pay attention with openness to my thoughts and emotions, and to try not to judge them so harshly... and just let them be....I am hopeful that one day, with more practice, I will learn to observe more and respond to my thoughts and feelings in a wiser, kinder more compassionate way.
Listening to the mindfulness summit showed me that l can learn to engage with my thoughts and feelings differently; stand back from them and not identify so closely to them... to see them with greater objectivity. However, It is a lot easier said than done and I think I will need to remind myself often that I am doing the best that I can with the circumstances that I have.
Continued practice can allow us the opportunity to gradually become more emotionally "in tune" and intelligent.... and become fluent in the language of our heart, mind and might (body). Whatever form of Mindfulness practice we choose to do, it can gives us the chance to learn more about ourselves and re-orientate our sense of self. It can ultimately help us to gain more resilience and find the calm amid any storm that should happen to come our way.
I am looking forward to the next two weeks of the summit and also putting some practice in! Why not tune in to the summit yourself on Mrs Mindfulness' facebook page and listen to some of the remaining interviews?
Here is one of the exercises that a few of the speakers mentioned its called ....
The Stop Method:
- T......Take a few breaths
- O......Observe.....what is here right now in your thoughts emotions and sensations? How does your body feel? Are there any tension areas? What emotions are here right now? What is on your mind? What are you thinking?
- P......Proceed by asking a question.... What is most important to pay attention to right now?