Lessons from a speed awareness course

slowdown

If I were to describe mindfulness to you, I would say it is an awareness, a noticing of what is happening right now. So when I received a letter recently explaining to me that I had been caught speeding by a camera positioned close to my home, I realised I had not been practising mindfulness recently. I had not noticed the camera and I had not even realised that I was speeding. I was in such a rush to get where I was going, my thoughts were half an hour ahead imagining being late to meet my friend and the possible outcome of that, or in the past, why hadn’t I set of earlier, I should have finished work on time. So I had clearly proven to myself, that when you move through the day mindlessly it tends to make life more difficult. So this was my first lesson in mindfulness taught to me by the speed camera.

I was offered the opportunity to attend a speed awareness course rather than have 3 penalty points of my drivers licence. I reluctantly attended the course expecting it to be dull, however, I was pleasantly surprised. Apart from learning a lot about road safety and feeling embarrassed at my lack of knowledge on the highway code! I heard words of wisdom which by can be directly transferred to the practice of mindfulness in day-to-day life. And so I got my second lesson in mindfulness from the speed awareness instructor.

The instructor asked “how do we feel when we are speeding in our cars and driving erratically?” We responded that it can feel stressful and frustrating, we make mistakes and miss turn offs. “So” the instructor then asks “how does it feel to drop back, take it a little slower, leave more space between us and the next car?” After some thought we all admit it would feel more relaxed, we would have more space and time to respond appropriately, we would probably, actually get there quicker and more safely.

It struck me that this is exactly what we are achieving when we live mindfully. It is allowing more space and time. We have time to respond calmly rather than react hastily to life events. Things “go right” more often because we are not rushing or cutting corners. By taking more time we probably are more effective and achieve things in a more timely manner. So since my speed awareness course, I have been mindful of my speed when driving and I have to admit that driving is a much more relaxing experience. I have also tried to bring this reduced pace into my life, and so far so good. I still get my work done on time, I am more effective and the stress is lifted. The only way I can describe it is that I have more “space” in the day in subtle ways that make me feel better.

Challenge yourself to consciously slow down in everything that you do for a whole day and see how it feels. I promise you, you will like it.

Just for today…….

Reiki-Principles

As I prepare to further my Reiki training, I have been studying the principles of Reiki and realised how closely they link with Mindfulness and present moment awareness. Dr Mikao Usui developed the five principles of Reiki (or the 5 Reiki intentions) to help us gain the most from Reiki and understand the ancient secret method for gaining happiness. Dr Usui believed that applying the five principles or intentions in our lives, in conjunction with Reiki practice, helps to increase our wisdom, compassion and inner strength.

The appealing aspect of the Reiki principles is that we only have to think about today. The thought that it is “just for today” can often make any difficult or daunting life experience seem manageable. Maybe when we are making a lifestyle change such as stopping smoking or dieting, the prospect that we might never smoke another cigarette again or will have to go for weeks without our favourite food, seems unbearable. If we bring more present moment awareness to the experience and remind ourselves we only have to do this today, and tomorrow is a new day, things somehow feel more achievable.

This fits in nicely with the mindful approach to living and present moment awareness. Our tendency to be carried away by our thoughts into future events or fears is a common source of stress. Reminding ourselves of these intentions, and living just for today brings us back to the now.

I found these intentions particularly helpful when I was grieving for a very dear and beloved grand parent. I found it over whelming that I would never see her again. Imagining my whole life stretching out before me without her in it seemed frightening and heart breaking. Just thinking about it in these terms now as write, makes my heart race and my eyes fill with tears. But, if I ask myself will I be OK if I just don’t see her today? The answer is yes, just for today I will be OK without her.

So if you are grieving, trying to change a habit or stuck in a job that you dislike and are feeling stressed about spending the next few months there, ask yourself, can I do this  just for today? The answer will probably be yes. You might think that this approach may prevent you from moving forwards in life or changing unhappy circumstances, however, when you remove the stressful thoughts of a future that hasn’t arrived yet, you achieve some mental clarity and space to take positive action.

 

 

5 Habits of mindful people

 

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If you want to become succesful at something, a good place to start is to find a role model and examine their habits.

On my recent Enhancing Mindful Resilience training I was impressed and in awe of the trainers who seemed to embody mindfulness and exude the serenity that mindfulness can bring. So I have spent some time watching people who I consider to be “mindful masters” to compile a short list of habits that promote mindful living.

1. Meditation

Mindful people prioritise their meditation time. They don’t wait to see if they get everything done and then if they have time, squeeze 10 minutes of meditation in. They meditate (usually as part of a morning ritual) and then begin the rest of their day. If you feel like you don’t have time to mediate, set your alarm just ten minutes earlier, when it goes off hit snooze. Then sit up in your bed and meditate for the 9 minutes until your snooze alarm sounds. You will feel the benefits for the rest of the day.

2. Conscious Listening

How often are you involved in a conversation and whilst the other person is talking, you are planning your answer, wondering if you will finish work on time or wishing you had bought those shoes in your lunch break? You are not in the present moment, consciously listening to the other person, you are in the past or the future.

When I observe mindful people in conversation they are calm and you can sense that they are present and listening fully. They don’t rush to provide answers or respond in the conversation. Their speech is unhurried and considered. They creat space to engage fully in the present moment. Being in conversation with a person who is mindfully aware is noticeably different and a much more enjoyable experience.

3. Mindful Eating

How often do you eat your sandwich at your desk or eat your tea whilst watching TV? You are not concentrating on your food. You are not enjoying the tastes, the textures or the smell of the food. More importantly you are not paying attention to when you are full, and so you mindlessly eat until the plate is clear. Experiments have shown that when a person is blindfolded during their meal, they eat less. They are not distracted and cannot see when the plate is empty, and so they stop eating based on their sense of feeling full.

Mindful people will treat their meal times like a ritual. Preparing the food and eating the food without distraction. Try turning the TV off and sitting quietly to eat your food. Savour each bite, chew the food for longer and take some time between forkfuls. Listen to your body and stop when you feel full rather than when the plate is empty.

4. Uni-tasking

I often find myself checking my emails on my i phone whilst I am walking round the supermarket. Or writing an email at work whilst I am on hold on the phone. By multi tasking we are doing neither task to the best of our ability. Rather than save time, we are probably causing more problems for ourselves and wasting time. I might forget half of my shopping list due to being on my phone and have to go back to the supermarket. I might make a mistake in the email because I am concentrating on the phone call.

Mindfully completing one task at a time will save time. Look at each task like a ritual. Give it your full attention and do it to the best of your ability then move on to the next task. Try to remain in the present moment. When your thoughts wonder to the next thing on your “to do” list, notice this and gently guide your attention back to the task at hand.

5. Self Compassion

One of the key principles guiding mindfulness and mindful people is self compassion. Being kind to ourselves as much and as often as possible. Don’t judge yourself for your thoughts, actions or lack of action. If your mind is busy during meditation, don’t get frustrated,  just notice the thoughts, acknowledge the busy mind and guide your attention back to the breath and the present moment. It is not possible to do a mindful meditation incorrectly, just a moment of quiet and stillness will benefit you. Don’t stop practicing because you fear you are not meditating correctly.

 

 

 

5 easy ways to turn frustrating situations into calming mindful pauses

How often are you kept waiting for things and find yourself frustrated? Waiting at the school gates when you need to be home and starting the tea, stuck in traffic and late for a meeting or, waiting to find out if you got the job that you just interviewed for. Life moves so quickly and we all feel that when we already need more hours in the day, anything that holds us up is just another stress. Well for those of you who just don’t have time for a regular meditation practice, follow these five tips to turn those frustrating events in your day into calming mindful pauses and soon you will be wishing for more traffic jams.

1. Stuck in traffic

Being stuck in traffic can be frustrating and stressful particularly when you have to be somewhere. The fact of the matter is, that unless you have a hover board that you can hop onto, you are stuck. So get comfortable in the seat, put your favourite CD in the CD player, and listen mindfully to the songs you love. Use the music as your focusing anchor. Listen to the words, the melody and the sounds. If your attention drifts and you catch yourself wondering if you’re going to be late, don’t judge yourself just gently bring your attention back to the music. If you don’t have any music in the car, use your visual senses. Look around and take in your surroundings. Try not to attach any description to them just observe. Again if your attention drift just acknowledge this and come back to what you can see. Do this for as long as it feels effortless (or until the traffic moves)!

2. You’ve been put on hold

I wonder how much of lives we spend on hold, calling the gas supplier or our mobile phone provider? And just when you manage to get through to a real human, they kindly inform you that you have the wrong department and put you back on hold whilst they transfer you!
I now try to use these times as my meditation time. I get comfortable either in a chair or on the floor, I put the phone onto loud-speaker and put it close by and I do a short mindfulness practice. I take a few moments to settle and then I bring my hands to belly and focus on the rise and fall of my belly as I breath in and out. When my attention drifts which it always does, I notice it and guide it back to the feeling of my hands rising and falling against my belly.
You will become so peaceful during these times that you may wish that you could go on hold a little longer! And, when the call handler does answer the call, you will have a much clearer and calmer mind to deal with the situation at hand.

3. Waiting in a queue

Queueing can be very frustrating. I have the wonderful skill of judging queues very badly and after lots of deliberation I always end up joining the one that moves the slowest.
When this happens, stand with your feet hip distance apart, rock back and forth slightly to ensure your weight is even throughout the whole foot. Soften your knees a little. Now just bring your focus to the feeling of your feet on the floor. Taking your focus to the feet takes you out of your head and your thoughts. Notice where your feet make contact with the ground, which parts of your feet press more firmly onto the ground? Notice which parts of the feet don’t make contact with the ground. Practice moving your weight slightly from one foot to the other. When needed gently bring your attention back to your whole body and the matter at hand.

4. Waiting for the kettle to boil

How often do you impatiently flick the kettle off before it has boiled? The next time you are making a drink, take your time. Pay attention to all the actions involved in the process. Filling the kettle, flicking the switch, putting the tea or coffee into the cup. Think about the tea or coffee, where it came from, what processes it may have been through to get to your kitchen. Listen to the sound of the kettle boiling, watch the steam rising. If you thoughts wander just notice it and bring your attention back to the kettle boiling. Don’t flick the switch too soon, just enjoy the process and then maybe sit quietly and mindfully enjoy the drink.

5.  Waiting for the friend who is always late

We all have at least one friend who always turns up late. The one you tell a little fib to and give them an earlier meeting time than everyone else just so that they might turn up at the proper time 15 minutes later. If you are alone in a bar or  waiting restaurant for someone you can sometimes feel self-conscious and find yourself, pretending to be on the phone or scanning your twitter feed. Next time this happens, try to avoid feeling the need to distract yourself. Get comfortable in your seat, feet flat on the floor and take a few mindful moments. Nobody in the restaurant will notice what you are doing. You could choose to focus your attention on the noises around you or the smells. Or just focus on you in breath and out breath. When your friend arrives they will wonder what your secret to looking so serene is.

 

Mindfulness should be easy and effortless. It is simply the practice focusing our attention onto a neutral anchor such as the breath, a sound or a sensation. When our attention drifts (which it always will) this is just a welcome opportunity to notice where our attention has gone to, and bring it back to our focusing anchor. It just takes us one step back from the often continuous dialogue in our minds, and gives us some welcome peace. It also keeps us in the present moment. So welcome the mundane and frustrating moments as blessings and never miss the opportunity to give yourself a mini mindful meditation.

Mastering the mind

mindfulmasterOur minds are often dominated by automatic thoughts. As we drive to work in the morning we often have no recollection of the journey because we are lost in thought. We don’t notice that the blossom is coming on the trees or that there is a new shop open on the high street. Often these automatic thoughts are negative and are about an event in the past or the future. We are missing the present moment, the only moment that truly exists. Being mindful is simply being fully aware of the present moment experience.

We don’t need to sit in an uncomfortable position for prolonged lengths of time or join a cult to practice mindfulness. We just need to stay present in the moment and notice where our attention wanders too and gently bring it back. We can look at our thoughts rather than from them and in this way creat some space between our experiences and our reactions.