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.

 

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.

Why Should We Play?

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Research in the UK has shown that rates of depression and anxiety in teenagers has increased by 70% in the past 25 years, not only that but, one in ten children aged 5-16 years have a diagnosable mental health disorder, one in twelve children and one in fifteen young people deliberately self-harm and about 35,000 children in England are prescribed anti-depressants.

Over the last ten to twenty years childhood has changed significantly with various factors leading to a reduction in a child’s access and ability to play.

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These factors include children living in a world which has a much faster-paced, life-style, society is far more risk-averse, there is an increased focus on academic success and play has been undervalued rather than seen as an essential tool to help a child develop social skills, creativity and on-going learning.

National Children’s Day UK (NCDUK) was created to establish how important play is for learning, creativity and a host of other skills needed to survive in this 21st century world we inhabit. NCDUK wants to raise awareness about young peoples rights and wellbeing.

We should be allowed to play, whether young or old, because creativity, freedom and access to your inner imagination – are integral factors to maintaining mental health and wellbeing.

Have you noticed how alive and good you fill – simply by walking down a county road, or touching the bark of a tree’s trunk – nature is bountiful and quite simply it makes you feel good. Being playful, breathing outside, being creative, immersing yourself in an imaginative, playful and natural environment is a simple and perfect tonic and one we must allow children and adults alike to access and enjoy so they understand how to find that inner peace and goodness as children, and adults, grow.

NCDUK, which is now in its second year, was started by the Save Childhood Movement – a collaborative network of people who are committed to protecting the rights and freedoms of childhood and who support, inform and, where necessary, challenge leaders and policymakers in order to build more caring and value-led societies.

Wendy Ellyatt, CEO of Save Childhood Movement, said: “Childhood is changing fast. From the impact of screen technology to the restrictions of an increasingly risk-averse culture and the downward pressures of the schooling system, children’s rights and freedoms are being eroded and their opportunities for free play have been drastically reduced. In the lead-up to National Children’s Day UK 2015 we want to remind everyone just how essential play and playfulness is to human creativity and wellbeing.”

In 2010 IBM carried out a study of 5,000 chief executives across 60 countries and 33 industries and found that creativity was selected as: ‘the most crucial factor for future success’.

Creativity, imagination and playfulness are fundamental to every aspect of us as human beings, in our social skills, in our health and well-being and even in our business success – playful and innovative thinking is essential for a 21st century.

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There are so many ways to be creative, painting a plant pot, planting and nurturing a seed, baking a cake, writing a letter, lying in the grass and watching feeling the wind on your cheeks – nurture yourself and those around you in the simplicities of freedom, nature and play and grow inside.

NCDUK – was held around the UK yesterday 17th May 2015.

Why should we save Childhood?

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Boo inside an ENORMOUS Oak Tree Trunk #FreeNature

Childhood – an enormous word encompassing so much. There is such emphasis put on ‘childhood’ today and as parents it can feel very confusing knowing what you should give your child in order that they: ‘get the best’ childhood.

Of course, for every parent that means something different, perhaps a safe home, a garden, violin classes after school, private school, Steiner school, home-school, playdates, being vegetarian and on and on. There is a myriad of things we worry we should do more of, or cannot compete with, or simply cannot afford to give.

Yet research has found, over and over again, just giving a child the chance to connect and be free with nature, dirt and the earth around them is, quite simply, one of the most vital and important experiences they can have.

Encouraging children to play by themselves is essential. Get them outside and away from screens. Let them roll in the grass, chase butterflies, make ‘perfume’, plant seeds, blow a fluffy seed clock, run barefoot in the grass, listen to the birds, poke holes with sticks, taste fresh berries off a tree, build a fairy house with leaves, moss, stones, talk to animals, trees, flowers, clouds, the moon. Just let them really feel. 

This natural play is the building blocks of intelligence. To discover how to feel connected with the earth and yourself, to know you can return, any time you need, and re-tune throughout your life. It is so simple and all we need to provide is a green space.

One uncluttered with screens, tests, exams, the pressures of what to look like, be like, speak like, act like – leave it all behind – un-necessary weight.

The value of creative and experimental play in childhood, and adulthood, is often undermined and we need to ensure that we, as guardians of the next generation, are strong enough to stand true to the simple values of letting the children of our future be free.

Be truly free to experiment, get dirty, to imagine, to really feel and to play with their beautiful and wild imagination.

Britain has plenty of parks and open spaces and it is up to us to try and get everyone out for a walk and to deeply breathe in fresh air.

This year the Save Childhood Movement is partnering with National Children’s Day UK (NCDUK) on 17th May to celebrate: The Science and Magic of Play. Here in Bath that celebration will be in partnership with The Forest of Imagination ( a four-day contemporary arts event in Queen Square). This will include of a number of free talks given by the likes of, Wendy Ellyatt, Chief Executive, Save Childhood Movement, Steve Chown, Director, Play England and James Findlay of The Play Foundation. To hear these inspiring speakers and to find out more go here.

Tweeting without flatulence

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There is an absent-minded acceptance to the endless clouds of flatulence floated out across, so-called, social media.

Reams of farted out flannel, regularly drip into the vast ocean of characters held afloat by the likes of Twitter or Crackbook.

And there is definitely a compliant misery by us as we wade through the endless drool in the hope of finding a glimmer of meaning, interest or words that are just plain useful.

And then, in March, Sir Terry Pratchett died, and left us with, what felt like, his last public words in the form of a tweet…Here it is:

‘Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.’

And then, his final tweet…

‘The end.’

How poignant. So simple, direct. Many of us have a much to learn from Sir Terry and his use of just 140 characters to communicate directly from his heart, with meaning and clarity.

This is an art form in itself.

George Monbiot intrigues with his statement: ‘lets re-wild the child’.

This brilliant expression is directed at re-educating parents, teachers, political leaders and others about the essential need to allow children to explore their natural world and to discover learning through interacting with nature. Rather than sat, day after day, in a classroom being stuffed, like a French goose, with information.

Check out his short and simple video about re-wilding the child here.

Giving your social media and communication meaning is key to conversation – no-one likes a bore, lets face it. No-one likes to be endlessly sold something.

But having a meaningful, fulfilling and potentially intimate online conversation is a benefit to everyone.

Do you have any favourite tweeters, or Instagramers who really connect with you on a personal and fundamental level?

Please tell me know they are…share it with me below.

 

Le Puff de Fromage

When
the music stopped.
The highways collided.

Route 1970.

It fell into place
Our lips finally taste.
those
moments
No breath it fill
Until –
our hearts unveil
and locate.
They mate
and create a wave
 of titillating
danger.
The unknown
The beginning
The end.
That smattering of unearthly magic:
Love.
In all her untamed wildness
Held forth in that one kiss.
This moment is forever held in my heart.
Let me never let it go
Standing on that ancient street corner
Lip locked
In the flow…
The moon gently closing her thighs and sighing behind us
I was, finally, in cahoots with le toots
He, who remembers Roxy music
This red haired fox
Whose rich, ripe semen –
Made my whole body teemin
With babies
As one became two and two became three.
Endlessly the adventurer, the perfectionist
Loyal to you, his friends – until he cease
Whose groove will never stop getting on
Despite an aching back, dodgy knees, grey hair and a mortgage to choke…
Him –
He is never broke
En
My man
His balls have always, been BIG
 Come, what may –
And Hairy.
May he never stop chasing his dreams: French farmhouse, dusty Spanish jeep, a handful of plane tickets for those he loves, music maker, mountain warrior…
My
own
dearest
fromage.