Wellbeing Toolkit

playablanca

Over christmas I was closing down my old journal which spanned two years. Reading through it was enlightening to say the least. I have a relatively peaceful life with good friends and family, a job which I would describe as my vocation and enough money to live comfortably. Like most people however, I encounter difficulties which sometimes wipe me out and make me sad and fearful. I was pleased to find an entry in my journal which I had written as a letter to myself after I had recovered well from a particularly heart breaking situation.

The letter to myself reminded me that, whilst in the middle of the crisis I felt that I would surely never recover, I did recover. I then listed all the things that I did to aid the recovery to be referred to in the future should the need arise. It is good to make this list while you are clear-headed and feeling positive because when you are feeling despair you might not be able to motivate yourself to come up with solutions, but you can easily refer to your list, pick a helpful activity and do you best to take part. I would call this list your “wellbeing tool kit”.

Take some time to think back through any challenging events in your life that might have taken you to your knees for a while. Now in your journal, on your iPhone or just on a pice of paper make a list of the activities, people and things which brought a smile to your face and lightened your heart just enough to see you through. What helped you to gain perspective? What gave you the boost to push through to a better place?

Here are a few of the things on my list:

1. Dancing with my niece.

Children are free of burdens and are so disinhibited that being around them, and engaging in childlike play never fails to lift my spirits.

2. Walking in nature with friends.

We call it “walking therapy”. Just half an hour out in the fresh air, exercising whilst we moan, gossip, laugh and cry always leaves us feeling like at least a tiny part of the problem has been solved.

3. Yoga

To me yoga is a cure-all. If your tired it revitalises you, if your wired it calms you down. If you are fragile you can take it easy or even just sit on your mat and breath. It will always leave you feeling better than when you started.

4. Mindfulness

I used to be lost in my stressfull thoughts most of the time before I discovered mindfulness. Now I’m still lost in thought but not as much. Mindfulness practice provides me with a balcony view over my thoughts. This allows me the space to recognise that they are “just thoughts” not facts!

5. Retreat

The picture above is me on a beach at sunset. During time away on holidays and short breaks I can clear my mind and be peaceful. If you can’t afford a holiday then plan a small at home retreat. A day of “nothingness” to just relax and unwind. Eat some nourishing food and read a good book.

6. Books

Motivational reads are perfect for challenging times. See the “on my bookshelf” page for some ideas.

7. Friends

When times are hard surround yourself with your support team. Those friends that listen, make you laugh, give you the home truths and leave you alone when you need it. I look to people who inspire me and people who have been through difficult times and recovered to be stronger than ever. These are the friends from who we can learn and grow.

8. Nourishing the body

Taking care of the body is so important during stressful and upsetting times. adequate sleep and a good nutritious diet will push you through to a better place much more quickly than self neglect. Even if you’re feeling low and de-motivated try to care for your body as you would take care of a little child, with lots of love and kindness.

 

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Lessons from a meditation retreat

 

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This weekend I had the luxury of spending a day at a meditation retreat. This was a new experience for me, I went alone and I did not know anybody there so I was a little apprehensive. When I first walked in and saw the meditation cushions on the floor my first thought was that I would never be able to sit on a cushion for a whole day. Thankfully everyone there had the same thought and we all opted to sit on chairs (phew!).

From the moment that I walked into the room I felt relaxed, my shoulders lowered a little and I soaked up the peaceful atmosphere. Everyone was there for a break from daily life, for retreat. Everyone remained quiet most of the day with little need for small talk. This is very new for me as someone who feels compelled to fill every silence with nervous babble. Before long I felt comfortable just sitting in companionable silence (no need for nervous rambling after all).

So I learned many lessons from the retreat. First, just because we are meditating does not mean we have to sit in an uncomfortable lotus position and second, I will not explode if I sit quietly with another person without talking. From David, the excellent meditation teacher I learned the principles of Anapanasati Sutta (the awareness of breathing) and I will talk about this in a later blog. My most important and valuable lesson from the day came from a passing comment from the mediation teacher during his introduction to the day. As we all settled down to begin the retreat he advised us that “if we had any expectations for day, we should leave them at the door as they will only get in the way of our experience”.

At first I was a little disgruntled by this. After all if he didn’t want to know my objectives for the day, how would he ensure that the retreat met my needs? I consider myself a driven person. I set goals, creat a plan on how I will reach those goals and then systematically work towards them. I came to this retreat wanting insight and enlightenment. I wanted to observe his teaching style to inform my own practice of guiding mindful meditation with my patients. I wanted to spend time at the end evaluating how my expectations had been met.

After giving some thought to his comment I realised how right he was. I have let my expectations get in the way of many life experiences. When I go on holiday, I research the area, spend hours on-line working out an itinerary, I track the weather leading up to departure, discuss plans with friends and imagine how wonderful it is going to be . Inevitably, when I arrive on the holiday, if I have to deviate from the plan or something does not meet my expectations, my experience is somewhat dampened.

conversely I will spend sleepless nights expecting a busy day at work, a difficult organisational meeting or a nerve-racking interview and in reality, the experience is never as harrowing as anticipated and could have actually been enjoyable if not for my poor expectations (and lack of sleep).

So I am due to spend some time on the beautiful Dalmatian Coast in a few weeks and the plan is……………. there is no plan! I am not going to spend hours online or pour over guide books before we depart. I am simply going to turn up and experience the moment, no expectations.