#mymindfulbujo February challenge

Welcome to the first #mymindfulbujo challenge! This is just a little bit of fun for those who love to use their planners or journals but if you want to join in all you need is a notebook and 5 minutes a day to notice things.

 

mymindfulbujo-february-bullet-journal-challenge

 
One of the first benefits I felt when I started to practice mindfulness was that I noticed so much more. Good things and bad things and all the things in between. There was joy in living a richer, more detailed life. Value in paying attention to the bad. Could I help someone who needed it? Should I ask someone for help myself? All of this contributed to a more balanced and happy state of mind.

 
So the challenge this month is simply to record what you notice during a mindful 5 minutes each day. Here is my suggested daily practice.

 

  1. Use a mindful check-in to help you enter a more mindful state of being.
    • Take a few deep breaths, noticing the feeling of the breath moving into and out of your body
    • Notice what is happening in your body. What sensations can you feel? Are you holding any tensions anywhere? There’s no need to label any of this as good or bad. Just notice it.
  2. Open your awareness out again from your body to the world around you. Use all of your senses to notice what is happening – sight, smell, taste, touch and sound.
  3. Consider what you have noticed that you may not ordinarily have done so. Maybe the distant sound of traffic, the feel of your socks against your feet or the sound of your children playing as you wash up. There’s no need to label what you notice as interesting or not, just allow yourself to absorb what is there.
    • You don’t have to be sat still to do this. Obviously, it’s best not to do this when your full attention is required elsewhere (e.g. when driving or in a meeting) but if you’re walking to work, doing housework or enjoying a cup of tea for instance then those are also good times.
    • The key is to pay mindful attention to what is happening around you.
    • It may be interesting to change the time of day and location throughout the month to really get a sense of the scale of what you can notice.
  4. Record what you’ve noticed in your journal. Be as creative as you like with this. Drawing, writing, photography etc. Whatever brings you joy. I’ve shared my set-up below to give you an idea of what I’ll be doing. I’ve allowed a box for a small drawing and also space to write down what I noticed as well as how it made me feel.

 

mymindfulbujo-february-bullet-journal-set-up

 

I’d love to see what you noticed and how you recorded it so please do share your work using the #mymindfulbujo handle on Instagram. If you have any questions, then feel free to get in touch through the contact page.

Taming my doing brain

If my brain were a garden it would be wild and overgrown. It’s constantly growing ideas and grasping for things to do. I’ve always felt a real sense of satisfaction in doing things well and doing them efficiently. I didn’t identify this as a problem before I started a family and was regularly rattling through a to-do list. Giving myself little dopamine hits as I hacked down shoots as quickly as they grew. As a mother my time is no longer my own however, so whilst my brain is still racking up the tasks, I can’t simply rattle through them as easily.

 
And often when my brain identifies something that I ‘can’ do, it quickly turns it into something I ‘should’ do.

 

  • I should clean the floor rather than hold my sleeping baby.
  • I should write that post rather than sit and enjoy a programme with my husband.
  • I should make dinner rather than play teachers with my little girl.

 

Before long, my brain is carried off into the future task list (which is never empty) and I’m not enjoying those precious baby snuggles, or husband cuddles or connecting with my little girl after school. I’ve stopped being in the present moment and I’m not available to those around me.

 
The word ‘should’ is also loaded with judgement. So when I either can’t or don’t achieve the things I ‘should’ be doing, negative mood sets in as I feel like I’m failing. I’m not doing the things I ‘should’ be doing and I’m not enjoying the things that I am doing either because I’m not actually present to experience them. It feels like my garden has become jungle full of thorns and I’m trapped without a way out.

 
As my mindful practice deepens and I put more space between me and my thoughts, I start to become aware more and more quickly of this tendency. I observe the thoughts saying ‘should’ and I explore the other possibilities.

 

  • ‘I should clean the floor’ becomes ‘the floor can wait. I’m enjoying these baby snuggles.’
  • ‘I should write that post’ becomes ‘I’ll jot down my ideas in a journal and return to them another day.’
  • ‘I should make dinner’ becomes ‘dinner can wait 5 minutes while I play with my little girl.’

 

Everytime I choose to question a thought and look for alternatives, my jungle becomes a little more tame. The shoots a little less wild, a little less grasping, a little more yielding. I notice the small details I missed whilst I was trying to restrain all that was there. The love, the beauty, the nourishment of my family and friends. Not perfect, not tidy, but amazing all the same.

 
I think I will always have that inclination to plan and do and I have noticed more of these thoughts creeping in since starting this blog.  My intention for this week is therefore to continue to observe my thoughts and allow myself to explore other possibilities when I come up against the lengthening to-do list and the ‘shoulds’. Practicing this mindset of equanimity and acceptance of what I experience, without expecting to feel good through achieving or doing. Being in the moment. Accepting what comes. Being grateful for what is here. Putting love first.

 
Sitting in my wild, beautiful garden and staring at the sky.

 

 

Q&A: How can mindfulness help when I’m feeling down?

This week I was sent a question and I think it’s really relevant to all of us at one point or another so I thought it was worth turning into a blog post. It also made me think that I could have a regular question and answer on the blog so if you have any questions, then have a look at the contact page and send them in.

 
Q. Some days I struggle with just having a bad day. It’s hard not to see it as a set back, or all my ideas and positivity not working anymore and instead just accept it’s a little blip and not the end of the world. But still it shocks me that I have these odd days where my energy is off as I know I’ve come so far. I think ‘I shouldn’t feel like this! I know I should be turning it around and flipping this on it’s head’ but some days I can’t! What do you do?

 
A. I think in your question you are already halfway to the answer. Often we think of mindfulness as being a progressive state towards enlightenment at which point we will have ‘reached our goal.’ The more I learn about mindfulness though, the more I see our lives as being in constant state of dynamic movement. We’re like a cruise ship passing through a different port everyday. Some ports we like and some we don’t like. Sometimes the weather is calm and blissful, other times the ship is buffeted by storms and big waves. Mindfulness is a tool we can use to help us navigate all of these places and weathers but it can’t ensure we stay in one place forever.

 
Emotional states ebb and flow and this is perfectly normal and natural. Our intention with mindfulness is to accept each emotion in the moment and allow it to be as it is without becoming too attached to it. My first mindfulness teacher told me ‘what we resist, persists’ (a Carl Jung quote) and this is often true of negative emotions. If we become too attached to making them go away, our brain starts to ruminate on ways to solve the problem and we’re taken out of the present moment and into the past or future. All this thinking and ruminating can actually make the bad mood hang around longer or even spiral downwards into a darker mood.

 
A practical exercise you could do in this situation is as follows.

 

 

  1. Take yourself back into the body with a simple meditation. This could be a 10 minute meditation or simply 3 mindful breaths. Whatever time allows.
  2. Use your mindful attention to identify what emotion you are feeling. Anger? Sadness? Boredom? Frustration?
  3. Use a mantra to acknowledge the impermanence of emotions. Something simple like ” I am angry, this will pass.’ You can repeat this as many times as you need.
  4. Be kind to yourself. Take a moment to acknowledge what you need. Would it be helpful to eat if you’re hungry or reduce your ‘to-do’ list for that day?

 
Rumi wrote a beautiful poem about how we can welcome and make peace with all of our emotions and I’m going to share it here.

 

rumi-the-guest-house

 

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~Rumi

6 mindful tips to reduce mental fatigue

Most of us can identify with that feeling of mental fatigue in some way or another. We get to the end of the day and can’t decide what to have for dinner, or making conversation feels like a very deliberate effort. Maybe we forget to do something or start to make mistakes that we normally wouldn’t. At this point it’s easy to criticise ourselves (and others) but perhaps we need to extend ourselves more compassion. When the brain is constantly ‘doing’ (making decisions, thinking, planning and ruminating), it doesn’t have chance to rest and your cognitive performance declines.

 
The concept of ‘decision fatigue’ has been around for a few years now and is based on the work of Roy F. Baumeister. Essentially, the more decisions we make, the more mental energy we burn and the less capable of making decisions we become. It’s particularly the case with regards to willpower and is the reason why at the end of the day we’re more likely to give in to requests for television or find ourselves eating junk food.

 
I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to feel more mentally alert, calm and enthusiastic about taking on what the day has to offer so I’ve been playing around with our weekly routine to try to do just this. Here are my 6 mindful tips to reduce mental fatigue.

 
1. Meditation
Naturally, this is on the list, but with good reason. Meditation gives the brain chance to rest and step away from ‘doing mode’ for a period of time so we can start to rebuild mental energy. It also calms the automatic nervous system and improves our resilience for forthcoming decision-making. We don’t always have time to fit in a full meditation but even a short breathing space meditation of 1-3 minutes can be extremely beneficial in setting us up for the rest of the day. You can download an audio file of my breathing space meditation here.

 
2. Reduce the number of decisions
The classic example here is the likes of Barack Obama or Mark Zuckerberg who wear the same clothing everyday. By reducing the number of decisions we make, we reduce the cognitive load and free-up space to make more important decisions. In my case, I’ve created a 4 week meal plan in my bullet journal that we rotate around. This means we get enough variety in terms of the food we eat, but I don’t need to spend time each day or week scratching my head or thinking about what we’ll have for dinner.

 
3. Reduce the number of options to choose from
Have you ever spent ages standing in front of the wardrobe wondering what to put on, all the while thinking that you ‘have nothing to wear’? I did a huge clear out of my wardrobe following the ‘Kon-Marie’ method outlined by Marie Kondo in her book ‘The life changing magic of tidying’. I loved her suggestion of only keeping what sparks joy and find getting ready a much more pleasurable and easy process as a result. You can apply the principle of reduced options to anything though. For instance choosing between the first 3 things you like the look of on a menu or asking a store assistant to give you two options to choose from that meet your criteria.

 
4. Be aware of your thoughts during the decision-making process
Often we can get caught up in over thinking our decisions. We navigate between obligations, what we think others want to hear, our intuitive sense of what we want to do and advice given by others. When I’m finding it hard to decide, I try to do a mindful check in.

 

 

  1. Take a few deep breaths, noticing the feeling of the breath moving into and out of your body.
  2. Notice what is happening in your body. What sensations can you feel? Are you holding any tensions anywhere? There’s no need to label any of this as good or bad. Just notice it.
  3. Notice any thoughts that you’re having surrounding this decision. Allow yourself to consider that these thoughts are not facts. Can you let go of any rigidity of thinking that may be complicating your decision?
  4. Notice any emotions that you’re feeling. Where in your body are you feeling these emotions? Are they tied to any particular thoughts?

 
As well as a brief cognitive respite, the mindful check in allows us to be the observer of our thoughts rather than being caught within them. Often this yields a different perspective that allows us to consider our options more dispassionately and thus come to a decision more quickly.

 
5. Simplify your life
The fewer things we have to do, the fewer decisions we have to make. When assessing self-care in mindfulness classes we often look at the balance of nourishing vs. depleting activities that we engage in, in everyday life and whether we can better re-distribute this balance. Naturally we think about whether we can reduce the  number of depleting activities but sometimes we can be caught out by trying to do too many nourishing activities. Running here and there between activities can be stressful in itself. Often our well-being can be improved by doing fewer nourishing activities but more mindfully, with more space in between to rest and just be.

 
6. Getting out of the mind and into the body
Taking time out to have a bath, practice yoga or play football is also a good way to get out of your mind and into your body so the mind can rest. Any activity that allows you to focus your attention on physical activity or sensations rather than thinking will work.

 
So in a nutshell be kind, rest and simplify.

You have a right to experiment with your life

Do you ever read a quote and have it change your life? I’m a little bit in love with Anaïs Nin anyway but I read this quote of hers and it finally gave me the courage to do what I’d been afraid of.

 
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“You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too.” – Anaïs Nin

 
At the time I had a great job with great people but I knew that I wanted to be able to look after my family on more of a full-time basis. I also had a passion for mindfulness that I wanted to explore. I spent many months ruminating on the decision about whether to leave (I’ll tackle rumination in a different post) and there were two key thoughts that were holding me back.

 

  • It’s highly unlikely I’d be able to return to research in such a fantastic position. What if I regret it and want to return?
  • What if I fail? Everyone would see me fail and that would be embarrassing.

As I read that quote however, I realised that making mistakes IS inevitable. I could take all the precautions I wanted but at some point I would make a mistake anyway. We often see our lives (particularly our professional lives) as being a linear upward trajectory. We don’t expect to pause, to reset, to circle back around and come up again on a different path. But would it be so bad if we did? It suddenly felt quite liberating to acknowledge that I’d had an amazing time in research for 12 years but that right now, I could allow myself to take on a new challenge. And if I decided to return to research in the future, maybe I would find another amazing role to fill. There are no definites, only possibilities.

 
The other thought I acknowledged was that failing and making mistakes ARE OK. This is one I struggle with a lot and learning self compassion through my own meditation practice has been very healing.  Yes it feels bad to fail, but it can also be a great teacher if we let go of the accompanying self-criticism and negative thinking that we often heap upon ourselves when we do so. We can be kind to ourselves instead. Acknowledge the hurt, explore what the experience has to teach us and then let it go. We can even be grateful to our failures for teaching us.

 
So as I prepare to launch my new classes this week, I feel that familiar knot of trepidation in my stomach. My anxious mind telling me that failure is a possibility. That it would be safer not to try. To remain unseen and untested.

 
And then I remember those words “You will make mistakes. And they are right too”. I remember that I have love to give. That I am passionate about what I do. That I want to share that feeling of loving life again that I had when I learned mindfulness for the first time after my first baby. That I can do this.

 
The best mentors often allow us to step outside our thoughts and see them from a different perspective. Thank you Anaïs.

A meditation on fire, motherhood and renewal

My choice of practice to welcome the new year today was to meditate using fire as my focus. I love this practice for many reasons.

 

  • There’s the symbolic aspect of cleansing so appropriate for the New Year.
  • It’s a really tangible and natural anchor which is helpful when you’re sleepy (as I was today).
  • As I only have a fire pit outside, it’s a good excuse to be out in the open air.

 

The intention was simply to stay with my experience of watching the fire; noticing any thoughts, placing them into the fire and watching them disappear. A standard mindfulness of thoughts meditation. In fact you don’t need fire for this meditation, any anchor such as the breath or walking will enable you to put some space between you and your thoughts. Sometimes though, when you let go of all the thoughts keeping your mind busy, that’s when you get to the really good stuff. The insights or creativity that you struggle to connect with in everyday life.

 
The previous year has been quite challenging and I’ve wrestled with a lot of unsettling and difficult emotions. Mothering two small children fulltime has been all-consuming and at times overwhelming. I’ve mourned the loss of my identity and knowledge of who I am and what I’m good at. I know I’m not alone in this and there is some fascinating work being done in neuroscience that is identifying the actual changes to the brain when we become mothers and why these big shifts in emotional state occur. You can read more about it here. Whilst these changes to the brain may be necessary and ultimately positive for us, it doesn’t make it any easier to manage at the time. It’s difficult to notice and accept negative and difficult emotions when small children take up so much of our mental and physical space.

 
As I watched the fire I spent some time letting go of the usual stuff. Conversations I had that day, things I needed to do, some regular insecurities and worries etc. As I continued to watch  however, I noticed my thoughts being routinely pulled towards a sense of watching my old self be consumed by the fire and I decided to run with this train of thought for a moment. I realised that I’m not simply being consumed by the fire like wood or coal. Instead I am within the fire. Like metal, I am being returned to a molten state to be reborn with new purpose. More empathy, more love and less concern for what others think. I’m not lost, just changing and that makes me hopeful and excited for what is to come.

 
One of the greatest gifts mindfulness has given me is the ability to shift perspective from destructive to hopeful and I will be forever grateful. 2017 is looking good already.

 
“I no longer feared the darkness once I knew the phoenix in me would rise from the ashes.” William C. Hannan