Sunday, 29 December 2013

A Mindful Year, A More Mindful Life?

My 52 week challenge has come to an end. The final challenge now behind me, I've taken some time to think about where I've come from, what I've 'seen' and where I've landed.

Has a year of living more mindfully changed me? Am I 'better' at being mindful than I was this time last year? Do I like myself more? Do other people? These questions are kind of big ... I'm not sure I can do them justice with a good answer. Even so, I'll do my best.

Yes, I think I am changed, but maybe only subtly.

Yes, I am 'better' at being mindful, but I'm certainly not at a place where my every moment is mindful (or even the majority of them).

I like myself more ... sometimes.

Other people? I have no idea - though I did ask my husband if he'd noticed a difference in me. He declared that he couldn't really tell. He is, after all, with me so often it's hard to get the 'distance' to see change. But then he paused for a moment and said: "actually, I haven't gotten in trouble the last few months - even when I probably deserved it". This, to me at least, was significant. Maybe I am slower to snap now than I was. Maybe I give myself a chance to consider before I respond. Maybe, just maybe, I have changed.

Regardless of the answers to these questions, I know one thing for sure: my life feels better when it's lived in the moment. Even if it's not every moment, knowing that I'm capable of turning off the distractions (whether internal or external) is huge. I still have a way to go, though. As I type, I have no fewer than five internet tabs open (though I'm not flicking between them the way I once would); the television is on, though it's not my focus. I just stopped mid-post to take a phone call from my sister.

There are times when I choose to be less than 100 per cent mindful and there are times when I give what I'm doing my all.

But I always have a choice.

My 52 week challenge may be over, but my mindfulness quest is far from complete. The next year will no doubt be full of just as many challenges as this year has held, if not more. I have another baby on the way, a new blog to launch,a yoga business to continue running, a Masters degree to complete. My aim is to live every day of my life as mindfully as possible. Mindfulness has become like a 'reset' switch for me - returning me to a level field, giving me perspective, giving me space to be however I am in the moment.

Thank you for sharing the past 52 weeks with me. I hope you'll come on over to my new blog and visit me there. Details coming very soon!

Week 52 Update: Christmas, Oh Christmas.

Christmas week has been and gone. What a whirlwind.

My aim this week was to experience Christmas more mindfully than I have in recent years - focusing on being present rather than worrying about what things might be like. I did okay. I saw, regularly, my normal dialogue about Christmas bubbling up: too expensive, too commercial, too busy, too many expectations, too stressful. I saw them, I faced them, and I did my best to drop them and be in the moment instead.

It worked, at least a little. I probably felt the most relaxed this Christmas that I have in a long time (and that was with a grand total of about two hours sleep the night before). While my eye did wander towards the clock and my mind did remind me of the places I needed to be, the people I needed to see, I was also able to sit back, enjoy the food and company, and forget about what might be.

Even so, I won't pretend I got it perfect. After all, perfect isn't my aim (nor is it realistic!). But, like I've said many times, being mindful has a lot to do with simply making the effort and remembering to do it. I remembered enough to make my Christmas experience far more enjoyable. I hope yours was, too.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Week 52: A Mindful Christmas and The (Non)End Of A Journey.

Week 52. Seriously? Week 52 already?

I'm almost hesitant to write this post. Can I really be at the end of my 52 week challenge to live more mindfully? I have so much more to explore and learn, so much more to see.

Heading into this challenge I always knew the first 52 weeks would only be the start. After all, living mindfully isn't something you suddenly 'get' and do automatically. It's something that takes continued and continuous effort. It's something I'll be working with and on for the rest of my life.

Fifty-two weeks have set me off well, though. I have 52 challenges under my belt - plenty to return to, plenty to explore again and again.

Still time for one more challenge though, and given it's Christmas this week, I know just the thing.

In years past, I'll admit to being quite the Scrooge. I loved Christmas growing up - it was simple, full of family tradition, love and food.

Then I grew up, the magic faded, family life got complicated and Christmas became busy, expensive and stressful.

Christmas day itself became something I had to survive, not something I looked forward to.

Ugh, I dislike that sentence a lot. When did I turn into this grinch? Where did my Christmas spirit go?

I think the answer to that is this: I started to focus on the projections in my mind, rather than the unknown reality ahead of me.

With so much to do, so much money to spend, so many people to see and please, my focus landed squarely on thoughts like these: "Oh, I don't know why I bother, they never like my gifts anyway", "It's going to be so rushed, it's no fun", "I'm already exhausted and it hasn't even started ... this is going to be hard".

Instead, couldn't I have gone into it the way I like to step onto my yoga mat? Which way is that, you ask? With beginner's eyes. I like to step onto my mat as though I've never stepped onto it before: each session, each pose being experienced as though for the first time. No expectations. Could I do the same for Christmas?

I think so. At least, I'm going to try. Already this year I feel my Christmas spirit returning. I'm positive it has a lot to do with my little boy who loves the excitement he can feel building. But it's more than that - I think my year of more mindful living has a lot to do with it, too. I'm in a place now where I feel like I can drop those expectations a little, where I can settle into 'being' rather than sitting in the corner feeling sorry for myself. While I still think Christmas is expensive and busy (two things I don't love), I can also see beyond that (though surely there's a way to simplify? Maybe I can explore that next year ...).

As I head into Christmas week, I'm going to try to do it mindfully. As I plan, bake, eat, interact, give and receive, I'll do my darndest to be there in the moment, not in some story I've woven in my mind. I encourage you to do the same! Christmas, joyful as it can be, can also be a source of stress and distress for people ... Can mindfulness take the edge off that? I think so; I hope so. It's certainly worth a try.

I'll be back at the end of the week to report on week 52. In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas x

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Week 51 Update: Learning Something New Can Be Hard To Do.

What was I thinking? Learn something new ... ok, ok, seems reasonable enough. But maybe I should have gone with pottery after all. Or learning French. Building a website - who thought that was a good idea?

My week of 'learning something new' got off to a mindfully-challenged start. Instead of finding myself absorbed in what I was doing, I was threatening to throw my laptop at the wall. I was anxious, frustrated, angry ... in short, I felt utterly incompetent and I didn't like that one bit.

I was surprised by how much this challenge impacted me. I mean, it's a website - hardly earth-shattering, not terriblly important in the grand scheme of things. People build them all the time. I wasn't even building from scratch, so what was the problem?

I learned a bit about myself through the week, though, not all of it very pretty. I learned that I like to be good at what I do (don't we all) and that I have a tendency to be rather harsh on myself when I'm not as good as I think I should be. Then, towards the end of the week I learned this: everything changes, nothing stays the same. Even website building.

For days I struggled, cursed and moaned as I took whatever chunks of time I could to nut my way through this project. I worked hard, lost my work, got angry. Repeat. Then something clicked. I had it! (well, not all of it, but part of it). Suddenly I popped out of the dark, musty cave of a place I was in and into the sunshine where everything seemed much clearer. I had it! I wasn't so silly after all! An old(ish) dog can learn new tricks! Hooray!

Finally, I was absorbing myself in my project in a good way (gone was the urge to hurl the laptop). Mindfulness came in bursts and waves. My website is on the way. I still have little idea of what I'm doing, but I've found the breadcrumbs that lead the way. I'm learning, I'm doing, I'm actually having a bit of fun.

Learning something new can be really hard to do. But it can also be fun and totally worth it. Just be prepared for the dark cave bit at the beginning!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Week 51: Learning Something New

Rock climbing, anyone? How about white water rafting, knitting, painting, gardening or applique?

Learning a new skill, taking up a new hobby or taking a class - these are well-accepted ways of experiencing mindfulness.

Why? Well, maybe it's a little bit easier to be mindful when you're doing something new and unfamiliar - you have to give it so much attention that you don't tend to operate on auto-pilot the way you might in other scenarios.

When I thought about setting myself this 'Do Something New' challenge quite a few weeks ago, I considered how nice it would be to try my hand at pottery or crochet - something well outside my comfort zone; something lovely and creative. Instead, it's going to be website building. Yep - building a website (for my new blogging venture in 2014 - The (Non)Sense Of It!). Definitely new, definitely challenging, definitely outside my comfort zone.

Will it help me be more mindful? Or will it drive me up the wall with frustration as I nut my way through it? Time will tell ...

Friday, 13 December 2013

Week 50 Update: Reminders Help ... So Do Other People.

I stuck mindfulness reminders up throughout the house this week. Little notes imploring me to 'Be Here, Now'; prompts to make me consider 'Where's Your Head At?'; subtle suggestions of 'Now, Now, Now'.

My theory was that these visual cues would help keep me on track on a general level, being more mindful as I moved throughout my day. They worked, at least as much as they could. I was reminded in the kitchen to be present, reminded in the bathroom as I brushed my teeth. As I played with my son, these words looked down on us, urging us to be in the moment.

Then there was this one day, when everything seemed hard. I was feeling overwhelmed, tired, uncomfortable. I was letting myself get away from myself.

My little mindfulness reminders mocked me. I was getting carried away.

A phone call with my husband pulled me back a little closer to reality, reminded me that everything was temporary.

My lesson here? That even with the best intentions, even when we try, sometimes our minds still wreak havoc on us. Sometimes we need the gentle (or not so gentle) words of perspective from another person. Sometimes we have to accept that we aren't or won't be present all of the time... We have to be kind with ourselves, gently easing back into the moment, recognising that we haven't failed - we're just learning.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Week 50: Trying to Remember.

Sometimes, the hardest thing about being mindful is simply remembering to do it. I mean, there are so many things to think about, do, be, that you'd be forgiven for forgetting about mindfulness altogether. Kind of like the way you forget the milk at the shops or the washing on the line.

I'll admit that over the past 50 weeks, I have forgotten about my weekly challenges here and there. Some have been easier to remember than others. Which brings me to this week's challenge ...

This week, I'm cracking out the post-it notes and the thick markers. I'm going to give myself some visual reminders about being mindful. I'll stick them up around the house (given that's where I spend 90% of my time) where I can see them as I go about my day. They will be simple visual cues to remind me to be here, now.

My hope is that these little memos will help me to be present in what I'm doing (as much as possible) - whether it be playing with my son, doing the dishes, drinking a cuppa or having a shower.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Week 49 Update: Shoulders Have No Place By Your Earlobes.

I am not alone in mindlessly holding tension in  my body. Wearing shoulders as earrings, grinding teeth, furrowing brows, clenching fists ... we do it without realising. We do it all the time. It doesn't feel good, though, does it?

This week I set out to notice and soften any time I found myself holding tension where it didn't need to be. Simple, really, but not easy. To stop and notice requires a pause - something that we don't love to do in this busy world of ours. But it only takes a moment - a moment to say "look there at my teeth grinding/shoulders hunching/fists clenching" and then soften. I did this far too many times throughout the week to count - but seven days later, my jaw feels 'easier' than it did, I'm far more tuned into the tension when it arises, and I've appreciated those regular moments to check in and ask myself "how are you, Erica?"

How often do you stop to ask yourself that question? To really notice how you're doing? The tension-holding gives us a clue, as does our ability to soften. It's worth the moment(s) it takes to pause. Very worth it, indeed.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Week 49: Shoulders Are Not Earrings.

How often do you find your shoulders hanging around somewhere near your earlobes? If you're like many people I know, you'll find them that way a lot. As a yoga teacher I repeat the phrase 'soften your shoulders' umpteen times a week. I often pair this up with a gentle hand on the offending shoulders and I can immediately see tension drain from the upper body.

Tight, tense shoulders are hardly unusual. We tend to live with it and claim "I can't help it!" when it's brought to our attention. But what if we checked in - time and time again - and softened them every time we noticed them higher than they should be?

For years and years I was a shoulder-tension-holder. These days I seem to have a firmer stance with them and they behave a good lot of the time. Now, though, I find the tension sitting in my jaw or that space between my eyes.

It's the same thing and requires the same treatment - repeated 'checking in' and softening. It might mean checking in tens or even hundreds of times per day ... but it's well worth it. Not only does it feel better not to hold this tension so frequently, it's also a perfect opportunity to assess how you are in any given moment. As you check in with your shoulders/jaw/eyebrows/hips/fists (whatever is your tension storage house), it's a chance to make an assessment on a greater scale. Tight? What can you let go of? Relaxed? Awesome - do more of that.

So, this week it's all about checking in on the tension. Check, soften, repeat. Lots of little mindful moments.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Week 48 Update: Doing Less Can Be More.

I set out to do less this week; to cut my 'to do list' short; to put some tasks on the 'nah, not right now pile'. I did a pretty good job! Each day I made a conscious decision to choose not to do something that 'needed' doing. Often it was something like mopping or vacuuming - things that do need to be done at some point but have little urgency.

The biggest thing I noticed? That by giving myself permission to do less, I felt far less pressure to do and achieve. I chose where to put my energy more carefully and this meant that I didn't feel completely run off my feet every day.

The downside? Sometimes it's really hard to do less - I mean, dirty floors and bathrooms do their best to command your attention. And, let's face it, these things do need to be done at some point ... I've never seen such chores spontaneously complete themselves. For those working in a professional environment, deadlines don't tend to lend themselves to 'less'. And parents certainly can't choose not to do vital child-rearing tasks.

Still, I think there's always a bit of 'to do list fat' that can be trimmed, even if only temporarily. Plus, we can ask for help. In any case, doing less gave me more - more time, more space, more clarity and more choice. Less definitely felt like more this week. And more mindful.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Week 48: Just Do ... Less.

How many things do you have on your to-do list for the day? What if you took that list and just made it shorter? How would that impact your day?

This afternoon, my husband took a photo of me ... having a little rest on top of the pile of clean washing I was 'meant' to be folding. The photo is a telling one. Simply - I'm tired! I'm currently 21 weeks pregnant with my second child and it's certainly taking it out of me. I have days when I'm full of energy and days when I need someone to prop up my eyelids. Normal - absolutely.

I'm just like everyone else - I wake up in the morning very conscious of all the things I have to do. The list always seems long - mothering, housework,  yoga 'work', writing, socialising, sorting, organising, preparing, cooking ... And despite the fact that I'm far from a clean-freak or a perfectionist, there is NO shortage of things to do.

But how important are all of those things, really? What if I just decided to do less?

Hmm ... less? We're a society that focuses on more ... less is a vaguely foreign concept, isn't it? Less ... I like the way it sounds.

This week I'm going to do less. That to do list is going to be shortened every day. Maybe one non-vital task comes off the list, maybe 10. The important thing is the lack of push and pressure, the focus instead on creating more ease by doing less.

If I do less, will those things I do do be done more mindfully? At a guess - yes.

Week 47 Update: Pour, Stir, Mix, Bake.

A week of mindful cooking. Focusing not on the end result of the cooking process but on the process itself.

Now, I love to cook. But sometimes, it's all too much - another day, another bunch of meals and snacks to cook/prepare. Really? Can't we just have pizza?

This week's challenge gave me a chance to step back from the meal/snack/drink and instead be present with the measuring, chopping, pouring, mixing, stirring, baking ... If I'm honest (which I am), I didn't always remember the challenge I'd set for myself and so I often found myself distracted while I prepared our meals. But on those occasions when I did remember, what a difference it made. It never ceases to amaze me how the way we think about what we're doing impacts on our expereince of the the situation so much. If I'm focused on how annoying it is to have to be in the kitchen again then I feel frustrated, tense, overwhelmed. If, instead, I focus on the process, forgetting for a while what comes next, then it's just the moment - no result.

I had a couple of baking fails this week - something no self-confessed baking lover enjoys. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself reasonably unaffected by these less-than-perfect outcomes. Perhaps my mindful approach in the kitchen offered me a new perspective on perceived failure ... Yes, in fact, I'm sure it did.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Week 47: The Mindful Cook

You know those days when it seems like such a chore to put a meal on the table? Those evenings when you sit and think "I could just as easily eat toast tonight ... or pizza". It can get tiring feeding yourself, not to mention your family. I mean three meals a day - plus snacks?! That's asking for a bit, isn't it?

I love to cook and bake - probably because I also love to eat. Yet, as I walk into the kitchen for the umpteenth time I often think "Again?!" When you feel like this, cooking can become something to simply get through. There's little pleasure in it - it just needs to be done so the food can be consumed. Not very rewarding, really ... especially since that food will be gobbled up (or thrown on the floor) far too quickly.

What about mindful cooking? Cooking for the sake of cooking? That doesn't mean taking on more cooking to do it mindfully - but simply using those inevitable opportunities to do it in a way that values the process, not just the outcome.

I hope that by being more mindful with my cooking this week, I'll find myself shifting my focus from what will end up on the table at the end (and how quickly it will disappear), to the process itself. Because there's lots of joy to be found in cooking (and baking!). And if there's bowl licking involved, well, that's a bonus! Might be a cook week to bake a chocolate cake ;)

Week 46 Update: Where are You Values?

A search last week for my values ... taking the chance to question not only what they are but how they translate into the way I live my life - the things I do and say, how I react and behave. I thought working out my values would be easy enough, but, like all of the challenges I've faced over the past 46 weeks, it came with its hurdles.

At one point during the week I Googled 'list of values' and perused a few of the results. As I scanned these lists, a few values jumped out at me: Compassion, Love, Mindfulness, Integrity, Unity. These seem as though they 'fit' and are an excellent guide to how I want to live (though maybe they don't always mirror how I actually live).

One of my main concerns heading into last week's challenge was my ongoing struggle with social media and how to control what can at times seem like an addiction. This week I realised that addiction or otherwise, this social media habit of mine serves a very valuable purpose. As a mum at home with my son, I actually need that outlet to connect with people, ideas and the like. What I can also do, though, is ask myself a simple question when the urge to 'check in' strikes: 'would looking at Facebook/Email right now interfere with my ability to act with compassion, love, mindfulness, integrity and unity?' If the answer is yes, hopefully I put the phone down. If the answer is no - well, check in I will!

Let's be honest - one week of this is just skimming the surface. But I like where it's headed ...

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Week 46: Values and the Search for Answers.

As I venture into week 46 of my 52 week mindfulness challenge, I find myself questioning a few things. A conversation with a beautiful friend last night got me to thinking about how my values impact what I do, how I react, what I prioritise and how I see my own thoughts and actions.

I'm trying to think of a good way to describe what I'm thinking, but struggling. Maybe an example will help!

Over the year, one of the things I've been trying (and struggling) to get a handle on is my apparent addiction to social media. I check into Facebook and emails a lot. Partly because I like to connect with my friends, partly because I like to find new recipes and ideas, and partly because I just feel like I have to (very good sign of an addiction there).

I know this habit of mine is worse since becoming a mum, but I don't know if this behaviour is being used to fill the relative void of adult interaction in my life (hard to believe when I actually have a lot of contact with adults every day!), to distract me from whatever fears I have of not being a good enough mum, or something else entirely.

And I don't think the checking, reading and interacting is a bad thing. Not at all. I think it's good for me ... at least if I use it wisely. The thing that still bothers me is the frequency of my checking, the apparently uncontrollable urge that this takes, and the fact that my son already (at 19 months old) knows that mummy's phone is always nearby. I don't want him to grow up thinking that checking into social media umpteen times a day is normal (even if it is!). I want to foster mindfulness in him as he learns and grows, so maybe I could be setting a better example.

This is where the values stuff comes in. I'm starting to feel as though my behaviour simply doesn't match my values, which is maybe why I feel so uncomfortable about the whole thing (and why I struggle to find the right words to describe it).

Where am I going with all this? Well, this week I want to spend some time thinking, contemplating, assessing. I want to consider what my values are and how they translate to my actions and reactions. I want to see if I can find a way to align them better, to feel as though I'm living in a way that feels like a good fit. I have no intention of signing off of social media as a result - absolutely not. But maybe I'll find myself choosing my times more wisely.

I want to be perfectly clear here that I'm not making a judgement call about when anyone else uses their phone or checks in with social media around their children. I'm the last person to suggest I know what's right/best/good/bad. I just know how I feel about my own life and this is where I'm at right now!

So I'll be off contemplating this week ... digging to work out what my values are and how they can lead me to a more mindful life.

Week 45 Update: Passion, Inspiration, Perspiration.

Last week I set out to follow my passion for writing by doing it every day. Every single day, whether it was fun and inspired or not. Outside of my 52 Weeks of Now challenge, I signed up for NaNoWriMo which basically has me set up to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. No small feat - one I didn't think I had the time or inspiration for, and one I am determined to see through.

The thing I discovered this weeks is this: Following your passion isn't always easy. It isn't constantly fuelled by passionate inspiration, it doesn't necessarily come with a warm and fuzzy hug of encouragement ... But, it is totally worth it. Despite the fact that it's been hard, following my passion has given me a new appreciation of what I'm capable of, what I can achieve when I am determined.

It's terribly easy for me to say "I'll never be a real writer" or that "I don't have time to write as much as I'd like" or "I'm just not good enough". It's harder to hear those things in my head and then say "stuff it" and push through the fear and frustration anyway. I've actually had more energy, more drive, more motivation for everything - not just writing - this past week than I have in a long time. Maybe this is because when I write I tend to be mindful - absorbed in the words springing from my fingertips, delicately weaving other lives and worlds on the page. Or maybe it's because I feel more fulfilled. Or perhaps it's  because I'm following my calling. In the end, it doesn't matter. Following your passion is worth it. Full stop. Nothing more to say.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Week 45: Passion. Ignite It, Follow It.

I did something a little crazy on the weekend. I signed up for NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. During the month of November, thousands of writers from around the world knuckle down to write a 50,000 word novel. Yep, 50,000.

I've wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo for a while now, but it never seemed like the right time. I mean, who has time to write a novel in a month? Then, on Saturday, I decided on a whim to give it a go. What was I thinking? I don't think it was. I didn't even have a clear idea about what I'd write. Still, when I commit to something I don't like to give up too easily, so I'm giving it a crack.

Why? Because I love to write. Because it's a passion and one worth following. Because when I write I feel alive (and also sometimes immensely frustrated, stupid, inadequate...). I've always wanted to make writing a bigger part of my life, to somehow build it into a career. So, what better way to ignite and fuel my passion than by aiming to write over 1,600 words a day?!

I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in my Arty Farty challenge, about the idea of flow. When I write, sometimes, I get the incredible blessing of being in flow. I am in my story, in my words. I am in the moment.

This week's challenge, then: to follow my passion for writing. To commit myself to writing every darn day, even when it's hard. Because by following my passion, I'm being mindful, present and kind to myself.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Week 44 Update: Pen to Paper, Truth Be Told.

A week of journal keeping, a week of being confronted by the utter 'bareness' of this process. I know the diary is for my eyes only, but still, it seems so revealing to commit my thoughts and feelings to paper. I mean, what if I reveal to myself that I'm actually different to what I thought? Or I come up with an idea that I have no choice but to follow? Or if I open a can of worms that threatens to wind itself into a great big worm ball?

Ok, so that opening paragraph is dramatic, and perhaps belies what actually fell between the pages of my journal this week. It wasn't anything earth shattering, as this entry attests to:

Friday 1 November 2013
Golly gee wizz that came up fast.
So, so tired tonight, I don't think I can stay to write. Bed is calling.

Hardly anything, right? Right. (And yes, I really did use the words Golly, Gee and Wizz. I am that daggy). Still, the process of journaling and what it represents feels to me earth shattering. All those thoughts that clog up my mind have an opportunity to be immortalised on the page, to find their truth in ink. It's commitment of a sort and commitment is scary.

The entry I've shared above was my shortest throughout the week, and the least revealing. I did write about other stuff, including pondering 'where to' after my '52 Weeks of Now' journey comes to a close. I also admitted to myself that I regularly try to keep too many balls up in the air; wrote about my love of yoga teaching; and, wrote about the fun my son and I got up to during the week.

What this challenge pushed me to do was consider the jumble of thoughts in my mind and lay them out. Not all of them and not always in a way that gave me answers, but in a way that allowed me to become aware of them - not ignore them or push them away. It was an excellent practice of mindfulness, even if it was confronting.

I don't know if I'll keep the practice up. Probably not every day. I hesitate to suggest I 'should' do anything (I don't like that word at all), but I do think this would be 'good' for me. Maybe a weekly journal is the way to go. Something that gives me an outlet. A sorting process of sorts. Yes, I could do with that.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Week 44: Dear Diary.

I've written diaries, or journals, before. Sometimes I've gone back and read the things I wrote years ago and I'm surprised by the girl I find between the pages. We forget, it seems, the trials and even joys we've had in the past. The intensity of emotion that once seemed so poignant and maybe even irreparable fades, though it's impression is left on the pages.

While I've kept journals in the past, I've never been very consistent with it. While I was pregnant with my son I kept one and vowed to myself that I'd keep it going. A brief dip into its pages reveals my last entry on Wednesday 17 October 2012 - over a year ago.

Still, whether I've been consistent with it or not, my experience has been that journal writing is an exercise in mindfulness. It allows us to download our private thoughts onto the page; to dig within ourselves to uncover what's beneath the surface. Sometimes it's surprising what comes up, other times it seems intensely bland.

I find it funny that as a writer I find keeping a journal difficult. Surely my passion for the written word should be enough to compel me to write every day - if for no other reason than to offer myself an outlet for my anxieties, hopes and dreams. Writing can offer clarity to otherwise murky thoughts that become stagnant in the mind. It can bring to the fore things that we didn't know were there or allow us to see the ordinary in new and extraordinary ways.

For all of these reasons and more, my challenge this week is to journal every day. Why do I feel vaguely anxious at the thought of it? I'm not entirely sure, though it will be interesting to see what lays between the pages of my journal come week-end.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Week 43 Update: Remembering to Ground.

For whatever reason, I found this week's challenge harder than I thought. Grounding - using the earth to support me - is something I thought I'd find reasonably easy. It's not something that's foreign to me - I practice it all the time on my yoga mat. Still, this week, my tendency has been to attempt levitation ... shoulders up around my ears, breath higher than it should be in my chest, muscles working to lift me up when all I want to do is surrender my weight down.

I'm not even sure why this has been so difficult. Perhaps it's the challenges I've faced in encouraging my son down for his sleeps, or the physical discomfort I've felt as my expanding belly expands even further (no doubt about it - that baby is a growin'!). Maybe the reason doesn't matter and maybe I'll never really know; but the truth is that even though it wasn't easy, even though I didn't find myself 'grounding' as frequently as I may have liked, the times I did 'succeed' (for want of a better term), it felt great.

I spoke a bit about this idea of grounding in my yoga classes this week. It's true that grounding can be a place of relative vulnerability - think of the way we 'expose' ourselves in a pose like Shavasana (lying down for final relaxation is what most of us know this as). When we ground, we surrender. And that can be scary. After all, we rather enjoy this illusion of control we maintain for ourselves. You can take a moment now to notice how easy or difficult you find it to surrender to your seat. Can you let the bits of your body that contact the floor (or chair, or earth, or bed or whatever it is you're in contact with) soften? What does it feel like to surrender, while at the same time maintaining a posture that is open, solid and fluid?

I remember someone repeating a quote to me once about having to surrender to get results. I don't know who said it or what quote they were referring to, but it struck me as rather profound. It can be so true: sometimes all the pushing in the world doesn't get us to where we want to go (though maybe sometimes it does). Sometimes we have to let go before we can go forward.

Enough rambling from me for now. Time to surrender with a cuppa for few minutes.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Week 43: Grounding..

We spend a lot of time holding ourselves up - propping ourselves as though we are alone in our efforts to stay upright. It's understandable - life has a way of knocking us sideways again and again. We're protective because we don't want to get hurt; because we want to look after ourselves. We don't need any help and we don't need any support. We're all we need.

Um ... nope. Not a good plan.

I think we all know what this feeling of 'propping' is like - you'll sense it in your shoulders as they creep up towards your ears, as you struggle to relax your body into your seat or bed, as you find your breath sitting high up in your chest when you breathe - and it isn't all that nice. To me, it seems a very forward-thinking type of approach, and not in an entrepreneurial way. It's very much a forgetting-the-present-moment stance. When we 'prop' and protect, we're getting a jump on all the 'could's' in our future, not necessarily responding to what's happening in the moment.

What's the alternative? Grounding: Using our connection with the earth or whatever it is we're in contact with physically to support us. What this doesn't mean is collapsing into the earth or falling flat. It's not a giving up or a sign of weakness. Grounding allows us to give our weight to the earth in a way that is supportive and allows us to move and be more freely.

That connection between the body and the earth is so present - it's real, it's happening - so it's a perfect anchor to now.

If you want to get a better idea of what this feels like, stand up for a moment and try this:
First, stand with your feet hip-width apart and engage as many muscles in your body as you can. As you press down through your feet, feel your knee caps lift as your thighs engage. Your buttocks will clench, your belly will draw back towards your spine. Feel your chest lifting towards the ceiling, as well as your shoulders and head. You'll likely find that your breath is sitting very high in your chest, if you're breathing at all.

Next, do the opposite of the first step. Let everything go. Bend your knees a bit, round through your back and shoulders. Feel as though your posture is giving into gravity. Notice how this feels.

Finally, try to find the middle ground between these two extremes. Use your contact with the earth through your feet to ground. Feel the strength you get from giving your weight down and the way this rebounds through your entire body, creating lightness and ease. Notice your breath, how you feel. Hopefully it feels great!

This week, this will be my practice. When I find myself frazzled, frustrated, less-than-mindful, I'm going to come back to the earth - noticing the contact points I have, using them to ground me and help me to stay present. I can do this in any position - wherever I am, whatever I'm doing - simply noticing and grounding.

Week 42 Update: An Art Escape.

Getting Arty Farty was fantastic. I spent my week (amongst the ordinary daily activities) getting my creative on. I sewed some new curtains for my son's room (a surprising success!), drew some simple pictures for his wall, moulded play dough and coloured with crayons. It was fun.

It made me realise something significant - I have to create. Whether it be big or small, creating something from nothing makes me feel good. It grounds me, pulls me out of my head and brings me a huge amount of pleasure. So I suppose there'll be more sewing, drawing and all things arty farty in my future.

I think the main thing I learnt this week is that letting go of the outcome is so important. When I get arty/crafty, it should be about the process of creating, not about aiming to finish with a masterpiece.

I love watching other people create, too. When you get a chance to watch someone so deeply entrenched in what they're doing - whether it be painting a picture, planting in the garden, playing a musical instrument - you can't help but be impacted by their state. That state of 'flow' - of being so absorbed in what you're doing that everything else seems to melt away. That is some powerful mindfulness. Being creative can take us there.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Week 42: Arty Farty.

I like to be creative. Writing, drawing, doing crafts, dancing like no one's watching.

It doesn't mean I'm always good at it. Which can be a 'problem' because it stops me from doing it more often. Fear seems to be the block that stands in the way of so much we would like to do but don't. "I won't be good enough", "I can't do it", "It looks awful" ... these are the things we say to ourselves - to convince ourselves that there's no point in trying. I disagree. There is a point in trying. Actually, scratch that. There is a point in not trying but doing it anyway. Doing it simply because there's pleasure to be had in the process.

Sometimes, when we do something we love, just because we love it, we become so involved and immersed in it that everything else seems to drop away. This is a phenomenon known as 'flow'. Have you ever felt it? It can come on when we do anything, really. From cooking to surfing or running or anything in between or beyond. It is absolute mindfulness. It is divine.

This week, I may not come into contact with flow, but I will absolutely come into contact with my creativity. This week I'm going to get arty farty. I'm whipping out the pencils, crayons, arts and crafts. I'm going to do it simply because it's fun, not because I want to create a masterpiece. Flow, my friend, please feel free to descend upon me. But even if you don't, in those moments while I'm creating, I intend to forget about the dishes and the washing and the tax return that still needs to be completed. I'll be too busy getting my arty farty on.

Week 41 Update: Driving Without Distraction ...

This past week was the first week in a long, long time, that I didn't make or take phone calls while driving. I've long found that time on the road to be ideal for catching up on missed calls and long overdue contacts. Likewise, it was the first time in ages that I've not checked my phone at a red light - you know, just in case I'd missed something since the last red light.

The thing is, I don't really want to talk on the phone or check for messages at red lights. I find it a bit stressful. Another instance of trying to do too much at once. You might ask: "Why did you do it, then?". Indeed. I guess because, just like everyone else, time feels as though it's flying by. There's a lot to be done in a day, and seemingly not enough time to do it in ...

This week, when I put the phone away, turned off Bluetooth and just drove, it was a bit of a relief. No phone calls. No 'giving in' to that incessant urge to check the phone. No distractions.

Hang on ... About that last point. That's not quite right. No distractions? Hardly the case, unfortunately.

The truth is, despite the phone being out of the picture, there were still plenty of opportunities for distraction. My 18 month old son in the backseat for a start. But then there were my thoughts. Of what to make for dinner. What challenge to set myself next for this blog. What I might teach in yoga during the week. The meaning of life. My noisy, noisy mind set out to derail me at every opportunity. Oddly enough, I find this to be moreso when I'm pregnant (as I am now). Why, I'm not so sure. But it seems to be so.

Well then, what to do? I think putting the phone away is a good start. As for my mind, I think I'll have to keep on that one: focusing my attention away from those incessant thoughts and back onto the task at hand - driving.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Week 41: Drive Time.

I know I'm not the only one guilty of using time in the car driving as 'down' time. It seems like a great opportunity to catch up on phone calls because, all of a sudden, we're not busy. Hmm... there's something wrong with that logic. We are busy. Very busy in fact. Busy driving. Busy keeping ourselves and those around us safe from the damage that can come from distraction on the road.

Sometimes I shock myself by how easily I will make a call (hands free of course) while driving. I'll even check my messages at a red light. But every time I do that, my mind shifts from what it should be doing - driving. And even though I might think I can do both things at once - talk and drive or check a text and then let it go until I have a chance to deal with it later - the truth is that my attention has been diverted and confused. I'm not as present as I could be (to either thing).

Just because I've been driving for over a decade doesn't mean I'm immune to making stupid decisions, not seeing an oncoming vehicle or a red light. I'm no superwoman. I'm not shielded from danger by some invisible energy field. When I look into the rear view mirror I'm reminded that it's not only my own safety I'm in charge of - it's that of my son in the back seat (and, now, the baby in my belly), too.

So, this week, I'm turning off my Bluetooth, I'm putting my phone out of sight, and I'm focusing on driving.

In the words of my son: "Beep, Beep!".

Week 40 Update: Three Minutes: Teeth, Distraction and ...

Three little minutes (probably less, actually). Time to focus on one thing - just one thing. Brushing my teeth. It should be easy, right? I mean, three minutes - that's nothing. If my attention span is so short that I can't focus on my teeth for three minutes then something's not quite right ...

Well then ... something's not quite right. It was hard work this past week to focus on nothing but brushing my teeth. I mean, I could put away a bunch of folded washing in that time. I could check my emails or Facebook. I could put on my socks. Still, I persevered. I was just surprised by how hard it was.

I think I'm going to use my teeth as an ongoing reminder. Three minutes, twice a day to act as a warning sign. If I'm struggling to focus for that long, I'm trying to do too much. I'm not being mindful.

I think this week was a good reminder for me that being mindful takes practice, perseverance and isn't always easy. Even when the 'task' seems utterly straightforward.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Week 40: This Is The Way I Brush My Teeth.

Brushing my teeth has always seemed like a chore. All that paste, all that foam, all that buffing and polishing ... those precious three minutes in which I could be doing something else. Actually, usually I am doing something else, like checking in on Facebook or taking a quick peek at my emails. Maybe I'll throw some clothes back in the cupboard or put on my socks. Rarely do I brush my teeth simply to brush my teeth.

I had to stop and think about this though: brushing your teeth is supposed to take about three minutes (I'm sure I heard this somewhere). Aren't those three minutes an ideal time to practice mindfulness? I wouldn't be shocked if my teeth ended up cleaner as a result, and maybe that pesky issue of receding gums would be reduced if I didn't just bash away at the task without any thought.

Three minutes, twice a day. Surely not too hard.

Mindful oral hygiene.

A mini meditation. The foam is just a bonus.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Week 39 Update: Dance, Dance, Dance!

You know that saying: "Dance like no one's watching"? I've always loved it. Whenever I read it it sends a tingle of freedom and empowerment up my spine. Why is it such a delicious, heart expanding sentence? Because for some reason, sometime between childhood and adulthood we become seriously self-conscious and put a heavy ol' lid on our impulsive, innate urge to dance.

My 18 month old son and I have danced together a lot this week. Watching him is nothing short of joyful. He hears the music and he dances. He breaks it down like no one's watching - because, he couldn't care less if they were! He feels the beat, he feels the urge, he does what feels good. I'm sorry I've lost that carefree-ness somewhere along the track. In fact, I know I lost it behind me on the path somewhere long, long ago. For as long as I can remember, the dance floor has been a place of serious unease. I don't like to dance in public; I look ... silly. Yet, maybe it's because I'm getting older, or maybe it's the impact of motherhood, but somehow - slowly, slowly - this self-consciousness is dimming. I'm still not likely to lead my husband or my friends onto the dance floor, but if they invited me I might be a little less reluctant to join them.

This metaphor, if I can call it that, of dancing extends well beyond the dance floor. This week I've been thinking about how and where else I'm held back due to fear, self-consciousness, doubt.What I've found is that this idea of 'no one's watching' or of there being no consequences (social awkwardness for a start) is an interesting and empowering way to cut through my fears. Who cares who's watching? Well ... we all do to some extent, but I, for one, plan to shrug it off more often.

Dancing is one seriously fun and empowering way to experience the present moment, to practice mindfulness. I've cut some pretty mean moves this week ... of course no one but my son had the pleasure of witnessing them. You'll just have to trust me ...

Still, if you do happen to see me busting some moves around and about, I don't care if you think I look silly or not!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Week 39: This Body Was Made for Dancing.

I had the absolute pleasure of spending the weekend at a yoga workshop. I could natter on about how amazing it was for a long time, but I'll spare you all that and get to the point: Dancing.

The teacher announced that we were going to free-form dance. Two things happened for me simultaneously: my stomach dropped in horror and my heart filled with excitement. I felt instantly embarrassed about having to be so free and open and potentially vulnerable, while also feeling the energy that comes with the promise of an experience that has the power to transform. In any case, fear or otherwise, I gave myself wholeheartedly to the activity. And it blew my mind. I wanted to cry, I wanted to keep moving, I wanted to understand the barriers that broke down - the way I became so present in myself that I didn't care what anyone else was doing, who was watching and how 'silly' I might look.

It was possibly the most profound experience of mindfulness I've experienced in a long time. I was moved - literally.

That absolute presence I experienced - delicious. The feeling of my body moving in space with no barriers, no restrictions and no self-consciousness - divine.

So this week there's going to be dancing. Every day, just dancing.

Me, the music, the moment.

Week 38 Update: Housework .... Hm.

Housework. As I mentioned at the start of the week, housework isn't my favourite thing (is it anyone's?). Usually, I take to housework with the sole intention of getting it finished. As I work, my mind is on the next job I have to complete, or that well deserved down-time I hope to fit in. This week, I tried a different approach - simply doing the housework to do the housework. No other agenda, not focusing on the outcome or the next thing, just doing the housework and being present.

Surprise, surprise, it was HARD!

I think a huge part of this difficulty has to do with my mindset about housework. Because I perceive it as a hurdle to doing the fun/relaxing/enjoyable things I'd rather be doing, it becomes a chore rather than just what I'm doing.

In those moments this week when I 'succeeded' in 'doing the housework to do the housework', I felt a sense of things slowing down, of that 'urgency' that so often permeates my actions falling away. It was nice. Really nice.

Just because something's hard doesn't mean it's not worth doing. So I'll keep trying. 'Doing the housework to do the housework'. Because let's face it - there's no shortage of housework!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Week 38: Doing the Housework to Do the Housework.

Last night my husband, son and I returned home from four days away. It was our second little trip in as many weeks and we've come home happy, exhausted, and with a pile of housework staring us down.

Now, I don't love housework. I don't hate it either, it's just rarely at the top of my list of things to do. But this week, it really needs doing. From the piles of clothes that need washing and folding, to the floors that need to be vacuumed and mopped and the bathrooms that need a good once-over, my house is begging for some attention. So attention it will get ... mindful attention, hopefully.

It's HARD to do housework mindfully, or at least that's my experience. Usually we're so focused on the outcome of what we're doing or on the next task we must complete, that we tidy and clean on autopilot. Becoming a mum has made this even harder. There's a delicate dance that happens when you have kids. If the housework is done while they're sleeping then there's no time for mummy to rest or do something 'for her'. On the other hand, if the housework is done while the children are up, it a) takes longer and b) is harder to give your full attention to. I tend to do both - some housework while my son sleeps, some while he's up. Very different experiences, both with their pleasures and pains.

Anyway, this week, as I stare down and ultimately surrender to the housework that must be done, I'm going to aim to do it mindfully. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us to "wash the dishes to wash the dishes" - taking pleasure in the act itself, not being focused on the end result (clean dishes) or what that means (that you can now sit down and have a cuppa). I'm going to apply this to as many household tasks as I can this week.

Here I go now to hang the washing.

Week 37 Update: Balance for Balance.

My aim over the past week was to spend some time each day doing a yoga balance. Balances hold a special place in my heart - I really cannot speak highly enough of them! This week I practiced Warrior III, Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and Standing Pidgeon Pose. I loved it. I even got the chance, while away on holiday, to do my balances on the beach. Ahhhh!

As I set out to balance every day, my intention was to notice and settle into the way the chatter in the mind tends to quieten when we're focused on balance - it's hard to think about that deadline at work when you're trying not to topple over. While this was a worthy goal in and of itself, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this focus on physical balance overflowed into other areas as well. Being away on holiday for a few days last week, I found myself balancing things in other ways - Facebook got less of my attention, my family got more; I found the time to just sit and listen to the ocean, to read, to chat with others; I balanced my anxiety about flying and travelling with my young son with an 'It'll be right' attitude - all in all, I found balance.

I like this idea of balance beyond a physical practice. It really comes down to recognising that we live in a fast-paced, modern society. Sometimes we go fast, but we can balance it with times of slow. Sometimes our focus is here, other times we place it there. Sometimes we're happy and sometimes we're sad. Yet no matter what, the moment we're in can act as an anchor and we can seek the balance we crave every day.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Week 37: A Balance a Day.

I love yoga balances. Absolutely love them.

From Tree Pose to Crow Pose and everything in between and beyond, I think they are awesome. The concentration, the freedom, the challenge, the strength, the 'sweet spot'. What's not to love.

And they are absolutely a gift when it comes to mindfulness practice. How hard is it to balance when you're busy worrying about what to make for dinner or that argument you had with your partner? When you're balancing, when you're balanced, there's no room for all of that mental clutter. It's just you and the moment.

Plus, balances can teach us a heck of a lot about ourselves. Those moments when we get frustrated with our lack of balance - what do they tell us? The way we deal with being thrown off centre, diverted from our goal, not quite achieving what we set out to achieve - this teaches us a lot. Balances (and the struggles they present) offer a glimpse into our psyche and allow us an opportunity to practice on the mat what real life throws our way again and again - being thrown off centre, diverted from our goals, falling 'short' of what we expect ...

That's why I'm devoting this week to yoga balances. A balance a day to keep the mental clutter away!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Week 36 Update: The Extraordinary in The Ordinary.

I spent the past week away with my family at the snow. Beautiful Mount Hotham, the surprisingly warm sun shining, the white snow glistening (and eventually melting ...); a break from my ordinary every day.

So I set out to take in the moments that made up my days while separated from my 'normal' existence. Sometimes this was easy. A breathtaking view of the sun rising over the snow-capped mountains; the vision of my son and his cousins playing joyfully in their snow-suits; the sensation of feet sinking in slushy snow. At other times, I lost the extraordinary and found myself deeply entrenched in the ordinary. The same things still had to happen - my son had to be fed, played with, coaxed down for naps. Food had to be cooked, dishes had to be washed, toys had to be picked up. In these moments I found myself missing the moment. Instead, my mind would often trail off into daydreaming or I would let myself swim about in the fogginess of fatigue that seemed to buckle my knees while we were away.

Still, the moments that were extraordinary really were just that. The trick now, I suppose, is to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. In those run-of-the-mill moments, there's always something to see. We just have to remember to see it. In those moments when my son cries out in protest at his desperately-needed nap, what can I see? What about as I wash my 1500th dish for the week? What then?

There's always, always something to see. The extraordinary exists in the ordinary.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Week 36: A Break From The Ordinary.

I'm on holiday! Up at the beautiful Mount Hotham where the sun is shining and the (disappearing) snow is glistening.

Far from the everyday; far from the washing machine, computer, groceries ... dare I say I fear the onset of boredom? No, certainly not ... well, maybe, just a little.

We become so accustomed to our 'normal', our routines, our surroundings. Without the everyday things that fill our days, what have we got? This moment, that's what. In fact, perhaps being away from the everyday is a brilliant opportunity to focus on the moment for the very fact that it's different.

So that's my mission for this week. I'm out of my everyday surroundings - time to take in the 'moments' that make up my days.

Week 35 Update: I'm Doing Alright.

A week of studying my motherly self. A week well spent.

I tend to be pretty harsh on myself at the best of times,  but motherhood has put a whole new spin on things. I set the bar perhaps a little out of reach and then find myself frustrated and guilty when I can't reach my lofty standards.

This week I've realised that the pressure I put on myself and the guilt I experience are a choice. I can choose to wallow in guilt, to beat myself up about not being good enough. Or I can let all of that go and sit comfortably in the knowledge that my little boy is loved and cared for.

As soon as I put my motherly self in the spotlight I actually relaxed into the role more,  taking my cues from my son. And it turns out I'm doing better than ok. I'm doing great. I just have to remember that!

There is one thing I know would make me a 'better' mummy though ... I need to do more for me. I need to feel loved and nurtured too. Massage, anyone?!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Week 35: Studying My Motherly Self.

I am a mother. It's a role I love, yet at the same time I feel utterly overwhelmed by it. Am I good enough? Do I do enough? Am I too lazy? Too selfish? Too controlling? Too lax? Guilt is a common feeling, as I know it is for mothers everywhere through the ages.

When I set out on my 52 Weeks of Now journey, my son was a huge part of my motivation. I don't want to be that mummy who's constantly distracted by 'things' - I want to be mindful, patient, fun, reasonable, kind ... I'm not unrealistic though - I know that sometimes I am and will be distracted; that my patience will wear thin at times; that I may well not be fun all the time; and that sometimes I might be harsh. In short, I know I'm human.

I think a huge part of my discomfort within my role as mummy is that I'm reluctant to dig too deep. I'm almost scared about what I'll find. Why scared? Well, when we come face to face with our 'truths' that can be a little confronting. What if we find something less than our picture of perfect? Or something that feels well beyond the boundaries of who we know ourselves to be?

Despite my passionate desire to be a mindful mummy, I regularly find myself being pulled away from those precious moments with my son. I have to check my phone, or email, or Facebook - now. Really, I don't think that doing these things while in the company of my son is bad - no, not at all. But I think it's time for me to dig more deeply into these urges, especially because they're so persistent. It's time to peel back the layers of my mummy self and figure out what it is that stops me from being the mindful mum I want to be.

This week will be a good ol' exercise in self-study!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Week 34 Update: Simplicity in Noticing.

Stop. Listen. Feel. See. 

Notice three things you can hear, three things you can feel, and three things you can see.

Grounded? Or at least more present? I thought so.

I've loved this week's challenge of noticing 'three things'. So terribly simple, yet it's allowed me to appreciate the simple things around me every day.

Often I've noticed the sound of my own breath, the sensation of the breath in my nostrils. At other times I've been acutely aware of the sound of my son's voice and laughter or the infectious call of a kookaburra out the window. I've noticed my dogs - really noticed them. I've watched my husband in a way I haven't for a long time - just watching, noticing.

I've tried to avoid creating any kind of 'dialogue' or 'story' to go along with what I've heard/felt/seen, but that's been hard. Still, the stories I've told myself this week are lovely ones. Ones that lead me to a greater appreciation of all the things I've heard/felt/seen. For aren't I blessed to have the ability to take all of these things in; to be surrounded by incredible people, animals and things.

Such a simple practice, one that can be called upon at any time, any place. A way to ground yourself, to become mindful of the moment just as it is. Because now is the only moment you've got.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Week 34: Three Things.

As I sit typing this, I'm at a rather messy desk. It's covered in papers, a drinking glass, a couple of cds, pencils and pens, a couple of gifts that I need to wrap, and a few other odds and ends. Mostly though, I don't pay these things much notice, I just get on with what I'm doing.

This got me to thinking. How often do I miss what's around me simply because I'm on autopilot?

My husband and I laugh every time we take our son out. The world is such an amazing place for him. Every little thing evokes a cry of "What's that?!" or the somewhat less eloquent "uh-uh-uh!". He is fascinated by the details, blown away by the variety and excitement of his surroundings. When do we lose that?

I tend to think of myself as having retained some of that child-like wonder. Yet I know my view of the world is rather greyer than it once was.

This week's mindfulness challenge will hopefully bring back some appreciation of my surroundings. I came across the '3 Item Exercise' here. Here's how it's done:

Begin by breathing normally and focusing your awareness on your breath. Slowly draw your awareness away from your breathing and towards your surroundings. Looking around, take note of: three items you can see, three things you can hear and three sensations you can feel.

Simple, yes? I'm going to try to do this at least twice a day. Sometimes at home, sometimes when out and about. It will be interesting to see what is new or surprising in my surroundings. Even if nothing seems new or surprising, or even particularly exciting, it will bring me into the moment and allow me to stop, look, listen and feel.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Week 33 Update: Help at hand.

I've never been good at asking for or accepting help. I hate to think that other people are going out of their way to give me a hand or, goodness forbid, actually bemoaning having to help me behind my back while plastering a smile on their face to placate me. Ugh, the thought of that is enough to leave me running in the opposite direction.

This week I was pleasantly surprise to find that help was and is available without any of the 'baggage'. I've been a bit under the weather again this week, with low energy levels, headaches and the like. I think my body is trying to tell me to slow down. And I've been listening. That means I've had to ask for help ... And it's been far more rewarding than I could have anticipated.

From extra 'help' around the house from my husband, to my parents helping out with baby-sitting and baby bedtime wrangling, I've not been short of a helping hand this week. But things could have been different. I could have ignored how I was feeling, ignored the offers for help, or kept my mouth shut and pushed through with all the things I had to do. I made a choice and that choice was a good one. I chose to show some vulnerability, listen to my body and accept what was being offered graciously and with love.

I highly recommend it!

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Week 33: I Need Help.

I'm not very good at asking for help. Or accepting it when it's offered.

I'm more of a 'I can handle it' kind of girl.

Still, there are days when I stand at the kitchen sink, wishing and willing that my husband will offer to help. Sometimes I'll suggestively demonstrate my frustration at having to hang another load of washing before bed hoping that he'll step in and do it instead. Where does this get me? Very quickly into a place of frustration and resentment. Not the best place to be. Why can't I just ask for what I want (namely, help)?

Recently, my family was struck down with the inevitable winter lurgy. First my husband, then my son. I looked after them both, went about my days tending to their needs and doing what I could. Then I got sick and it started to fall apart at the seams. The housework, my homework and my wish list of things to complete started to pile up. It was time to ask for help. So I did. It was actually really hard ... Why is that? Why do we find it so incredibly difficult to admit that we cannot be super-women and men? Why do we glorify the multi-tasking, no-rest-til-it's-over, I cannot sit down mindset that so many of us operate under? It's not only harmful to our health, it's not very much fun.

As I found myself still feeling a bit so-so this past weekend, I said 'forget it' to this weird sense of pride that accompanies the super-woman side of me and asked for help. Repeatedly. I asked for help with all sorts of things - the washing, the dishes, going back upstairs for that jumper or book or whatever I had left behind. I asked my husband to cook, I asked my mum for a hand with an appointment. I asked for help. Wow.

So, this week I'm going to keep going. I'm going to take the time to recognise that I cannot and should not be a superwoman. This exercise in mindfulness will help me to accept that help is a good thing, not a sign of weakness. It will help me to not only notice when I can't do something alone, but to follow through on that and ask for help. Because, let's face it, we all need help sometimes and the best way to get it is to ask.

Week 32 Update: Love, kindness and the warm and fuzzies.

When I set out to practice loving kindness meditation this week, I have to admit I thought it might take me in the opposite direction of mindfulness. Why? Well, because I thought the mantras I was repeating to myself (may I/you be: healthy in body and mind, safe and happy, peaceful and at ease) might cause me to worry about whether I or the other people I was thinking about were indeed healthy, safe, happy, peaceful and at ease. Yet, this didn't happen.

In fact it was a surprisingly powerful exercise in mindfulness. Instead of bringing any potential lack to my awareness, these mantras, along with the feelings that accompanied them, gave me a strong sense of how I was in that moment. This meditation gave me the space and freedom to feel into what was there.

And as for those 'other people' who became the focus of this meditation throughout the week, well, this was perhaps the most powerful thing of all. I tend to want to be a 'fixer'. It upsets me when people I love are upset, stressed, angry. I want to help them, take away whatever is bothering them. In short, I want to fix it. At the same time, I'm intensely aware of the fact that I can't and shouldn't be responsible for anyone else's health, happiness or peace. All I can do is be supportive, kind and caring. And that's what Loving Kindness meditation felt like to me this week. As I held various people in my mind, sending out my wishes for them to be healthy, happy and peaceful, I found a way to offer them something in an un-intrusive yet incredibly beneficial way.

May everyone, everywhere, be healthy in body and mind, safe and happy, peaceful and at ease.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Week 32: Loving Kindness Meditation

How much do you love yourself?

That can be a really hard question to answer. If we're honest, we're often our own worst critics. It's not unusual for people to talk to themselves in a far, far harsher way than they'd speak to anyone else. Why do we do it? Great question, and not one I'm qualified to answer. What I do know, though, is that the more I feel at peace with myself, the more I respect and am kind to myself, the more I have to offer the people around me and the world at large. So it's worth finding a way to cultivate this.

From a mindfulness perspective, when we're being nasty to ourselves, we're simply not being mindful. When I was completing my yoga teacher training, I remember being told that no situation in and of itself is good or bad - it's only our thoughts about it that make it so. This idea shocked me to my core. To think that when we berate, talk down to and criticise ourselves (or anyone else for that matter), we're actually pulling away from the present moment is hard to accept at times. But it's what happens.

What to do? Well, this week I'm going to give loving kindness meditation a burl. The idea behind this practice is to invite feelings of loving kindness to fill you up in this moment. To do this you can choose some simple phrases that encapsulate loving kindness and repeat them to yourself. Then, you can extend this practice as far and wide as you like - to your family, friends, people who have wronged you, strangers and so on. Maybe this sounds a little hippy-dippy to you, but I think it's worth remembering that the way the practice feels is probably more important than what we think of the idea.

The phrases I'm choosing to work with this week are:

May I/you be healthy in body and mind
May I/you be safe and happy
May I/you be peaceful and at ease

I intend to sit for at least five to ten minutes each day, sending this loving kindness messages to myself and others. May it bring me firmly into the present moment.

"If I become a center of love and kindness in this moment, then in a perhaps small but hardly insignificant way, the world now has a nucleus of love and kindness it lacked the moment before. This benefits me and it benefits others." Jon Kabat-Zinn
"When you can love one tree or one flower or one dog or one place, or one person or yourself for one moment, you can find all people, all places, all suffering, all harmony in that one moment." Jon Kabat-Zinn.

You can find a lovely summary about loving kindness meditation (also known as metta) here.

Week 31 Update: I was going to invert ...

My plan for the past week was to invert - go upside down - every single day. Guess how many times I did it? About twice.

I didn't forget, I didn't get lazy. I got sick. Some germs overtook my system and bam - I was out for the count. It hurt to put my head down low, so bye-bye downward dogs, shoulderstands, headstands etc etc and hello couch time.

If you read my Week 31 post you'll recall I was worried about an impending deadline. Yeah, well, that deadline hung over my head all week. But mostly I ignored it. I found a minutes here and there to tackle what was left of my assignment, and those minutes strung together were enough to get something in. Something, but nothing perfect. You know what, though? I don't really care. It's not that I don't want to do well, I do. It's just that this week, looking after myself was far, far more important than polishing my assignment. The only thing I put above my own rest time was my son's well-being, because he's not quite at the stage of self sufficiency!

Even though I didn't go upside down, I think this week taught me the lesson I was supposed to learn. I thought that going upside down would help me gain and keep some perspective, keep my anxiety levels about my assignment in check, and give me a well-earned rest every day. Being sick did kind of the same thing.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Week 31: Inverting to see what's there.

I have a due date rapidly approaching. It feels as though it's zooming towards my face at an accelerated pace. It's mighty uncomfortable.

My assignment is one that's well outside my comfort zone: A film script sample. I'm no script writer, let me be clear. Yet, it's what I have to do to satisfy my current Masters subject. Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying the process. It's just that I'm feeling a lot of pressure. This little fishy is flapping on the bank.

Over the weekend, I worked on my assignment in a big way. I wanted to fix all the bits I thought were 'wrong' and make them 'right'. I tapped at the keys, then sat back rather satisfied. I actually thought I'd done a pretty good job. Then I got some feedback from my tutor, and my heart sank.

So, what did I do? Well, I catastrophised of course, at least briefly. I bemoaned the inevitable poor grade I would receive, hung my head in embarrassed shame.

Then I shook myself off. It is only one assignment after all. It's hardly the end of the world. Still ... I want to do well, I really do.

I have one week until the due date. I need to stay mindful to stay sane.

So this week I'm going to do something a little different. I'm going to invert every day. "What?" you ask! I'm going upside down every single day. It might be downward facing dog, lying with my legs up the wall, doing a shoulderstand or a headstand - anything that changes my perspective ... tips it on its head, if you will.

Why? Because going upside down offers an opportunity to look at things differently. It gives us fresh eyes to take in what's there. As we view the world every day, we become complacent. We see what we 'know' is there instead of taking it in and observing it like it's brand new.

As I take my head down lower than my heart, I'm going to soak in what's there. I will be mindful using all of my senses.

And, with any luck, this little mindfulness 'challenge' will keep my creativity flowing, my anxiety in check, and give my body a well-deserved break from typing and toddler-carrying duties.

Week 30 Update: The Calming Breath.

Alternate nostril breathing is absolutely my favourite pranayama. It calms me, centres me, and allows me to focus on just one thing  - the breath.

I needed it this week.

My son has been unwell. And unhappy. It's been a hard week.

At one point, I sat in the bathroom and did a few rounds of alternate nostril breathing. It really helped.

That's all I can say. It works, I'll keep doing it.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Week 30: In one side, out the other.

In one side, out the other. Nope, I'm not talking about baby brain here (for the uninitiated, baby brain comes on sometime during pregnancy and then I'm pretty sure hangs around until your children are having children of their own. It's characterised by forgetfulness and, uh, that other thing I can't think of right now...). I'm talking about the breath.

Back in Week 6 my challenge was noticing the breath ("I'm breathing in, I'm breathing out"). This week, I'm back to the breath, but in a slightly different way.

Alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhan, is one of my favourite pranayama, or breath control, practices. It has a beautifully simple way of drawing you into the present moment, with the added benefit of bringing balance to your energy.

It's easy to do. Here's how:

  • Using your right hand, rest your pointer and middle fingers to the middle of the brows. 
  • Rest your thumb on the outside of the right nostril and your ring finger on the outside of the left nostril.
  • Block off the right nostril with your thumb and breathe in through your left nostril.
  • Block off the left nostril with your ring finger and breathe out through your right nostril. 
  • Inhale through your right nostril.
  • Block of the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril.
  • Inhale through your left nostril.
  • Repeat for 5 - 10 cycles, eyes closed.
This week I'm going to spend a few minutes every day practising this breathing technique - focusing purely on the breath. All going well, I should be pretty balanced by the end of the week ... 

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Week 29 Update: An obsession that feeds itself.

This past week I set out to break (or at least put a dent in) my obsessive Facebook and email checking habit.

I am not exaggerating when I say that the urge to check in with social media is one that has infiltrated a substantial proportion of my waking moments. I would check whether I had time to read/reply/take in what was there; I would check whether it had been mere minutes since the last time I checked; I would check because I was procrastinating about folding the washing or doing some homework; I would check because ... well, because it was something to do.

It's not that I don't have enough to do - I'm a stay at home mum, a work from home mum, and a study from home mum. I love all of my roles, but excess time is not something I have in spades. So, then, why is this habit SO HARD TO BREAK?!

I think the answer to that question is this: because the habit feeds itself.

I check once. I like it. I check again. I still like it. I like to look at all that shiny goodness on this crazy piece of technology that is my smart phone. I like to know what my friends are up to. I like to know that I'm not going to miss anything (the irony of that last point is not lost on me...). The more I check, the more I want to check.

And that's the thing I've noticed this week. When I've successfully resisted that urge to check for an extended period of time, the urgency of my need dissipates. Suddenly, it doesn't nag at me in the same way. The voice inside my head saying, "Check me! Check me!" reduces in volume. Of course, resisting this urge - saying no to checking in for the umpteenth time today - is a constant challenge. Like any habit, it's ingrained, hard to shift, incessant. No reason to stop trying though, hey?!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Week 29: I check you once, I check you twice, I check you many, many times.

Ah, Facebook. How obsessed with you I have become. It never used to be this way, but lately I find myself drawn to you in what can only be described as an obsessive way. I hold my shiny black smart phone in my hands and you beckon me with your little blue and white logo. You call out: 'check me! check me!'. I oblige. Then you do it again and again and again.


Now, let me make one thing perfectly clear - I don't have anything against Facebook specifically or social media in general. Quite the opposite in fact. I think they're great. A brilliant way to share things with friends; a place to learn, laugh, challenge; a forum for community of a very modern kind. What's not to love? Well, I can think of one thing ... that nagging urge to check in with what's going on on Facebook. All. The. Time.

I used to check in once a day. Then it just grew and grew until it got to the point where I'd be embarrassed to count the number of times I check, and even more embarrassed to report that number here. It seems so innocent - just a quick press of the finger on a simple icon, a little scroll through new stories, a read of messages. Fine. Nothing wrong with that. Until, that is, the urge beckons you over and over again in a relatively short space of time.

I'm kind of the same with emails. A quick check to see if there's anything new. But even if there is, rarely do I have the time or space to reply to them then and there, so what's the point of checking?!

I have no desire to 'switch off' completely - absolutely not. Social media and email are a part of our world. I like them. A lot. What I am going to do is start ignoring that little voice every time it whispers (or shouts, actually): 'CHECK ME!!!' I'm going to cut back, use some self control. Because the fact of the matter is, I have plenty of things to attend to away from the screen. My son for one.

How do I know how much is too much (Facebook and email checking that is)? Well, I think I'll just focus for now on resisting the urge to check every single time it arises. And, I'm only going to check my emails when I have the intention of replying. That's a good start!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Week 28 Update: Grateful for Gratitude.

Gratitude is a seriously wonderful thing.

I must admit that even though I tend to be a fairly positive, optimistic person who tries to see the best in things, a gratitude practice has never been on my radar. But that's definitely going to change.

This past week, I've focused on the things I'm grateful for. The big things (like the house, car), little things (a hot cuppa, a home made cookie) and people things (my son, husband, family, friends) have all gotten a look-in. It's funny - even though I've always appreciated these things, in the process of practising gratitude, I've come to appreciate them even more.

During the week, when I've been faced with things that made me frustrated, upset, angry, or just plain grossed-out (like the time my son put dog poo in his mouth ...), I've taken the time to find something in the moment to be grateful for. There's always been something - and usually lots.

Practising gratitude has done far more than simply highlight the good things in my life. It has, without a doubt, helped me to be more mindful and present in the moment. To be able to stop, notice and appreciate what we're grateful for at any given moment, we have to be present, we have to be mindful. Win-win.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Week 28: Gratitude.

Put your hand up if you find it easy to be dragged down by all the yucky/mundane/boring/crap stuff in life? You know, the things that don't go 'right', the frustrations, gaps, stresses, inconsistencies, lack of time, housework, bills, the daily grind ... yadda, yadda, yadda. I'm betting there are a few hands up. You're not alone.

It's far too easy to lose sight of the things that matter in life, to get carried away by things that are outside of our control or, often, simply do not matter. Yet, in every situation, in every moment, there is something, no matter how small, to be grateful for.

The idea of creating a gratitude practice is one I keep coming across. It started when I began following this wonderful blog: The Spaces Between, where Natalie is halfway into a year of being grateful. Since then, I've bumped into this notion time and time again, most recently in the past week when it's been brought to my attention via the I {Heart} My Daily Practice Summit.

Despite my best efforts and my daily practice of mindfulness, I have to admit that I'm still getting dragged down - by fatigue, daily frustrations and a perceived inability to find enough hours in the day. I think now is a perfect time for some gratitude!

This week I'm going to spend a few minutes every morning and every evening reflecting on the things I'm grateful for. There are many of them, so that shouldn't be terribly challenging. Also, when I find myself upset, frustrated, angry or whatever, I'm going to look for any tiny thing I can be grateful for in that moment.

Research suggests that gratitude practice is a powerful tool - it can increase our happiness, help us to live more presently in the moment and even improve our health. You can read more about that here. In the meantime, I'm off to embrace the countless things I have to be grateful for.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Week 27 Update: I'm trying to let you eat cake, but gosh darn it it's hard.

Right. So at the start of this week I set out to catch myself whenever I was stepping on the mindfulness toes of others. In particular, I'd noticed lately the way I tend to shovel food into my son's mouth rather mindlessly, which doubtless impacts his ability to be present. Likewise, I'd find myself waving around various toys, singing and dancing like a crazed mummy in some weird attempt to quell my rising fears that I'm not a good enough mum. Then there are all those times I start speaking with my husband while he's watching telly, on the computer/smart phone/driving when I know I don't have his attention and then get frustrated because he doesn't immediately make me his sole focus.

I was actually a little surprised when I stepped back from this and noticed the way my own ability to be mindful was enhanced when I was more conscious of other people's space. Then, on the other hand, I have found it so, so hard to do it! My practice this week hasn't been perfect - I have inadvertently trod on some mindfulness toes - but it has been a fascinating exercise.

What are the biggest blocks I've faced?

For me, I noticed that this is far harder when I'm feeling stressed or rushed (hurry up, shoes, no time, let's go!), when I'm frustrated with the person I'm dealing with, or (and this is a big one) when I'm feeling uncomfortable in my own skin.

That last point needs some clarification perhaps. I realised this week that in those social moments when I'm uncertain of myself, I tend to deal with this by falling back on my old faithful companion - Mrs. Interruption. For whatever reason, if I feel any social anxiety, if I feel judged/un-liked/unsure/out of my depth, I interrupt (not in a negative way, more from a place of nerves and over-compensation), I babble, I become vague and kind of out of place. I watched myself do this at least a couple of times this week ...

I know that this week's challenge won't be dropped by the wayside just yet. Becoming more and more aware of how I impede or get out of the way of others' mindfulness stands to teach me a lot.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Week 27: Let them eat cake ... mindfully.

I had a moment, a while ago now, when I realised that sometimes I'm the thing that stops the people around me from being mindful. My son was breastfeeding and he kept popping off to inspect one of the buttons on my top. I was frustrated (we had somewhere to be!) - why couldn't he feed and look at the button at the same time?! Then I just had to laugh - he was being mindful and here I was finding that annoying.

I don't think that's a rare situation. Many a wife/girlfriend/partner/friend has lamented their significant other's inability to multi-task - to talk to them while the telly is on, for instance. Then there's all those moments when we launch into a convoluted speech without asking if the other person can give us their attention. We're left wondering at the blank look on their face when they finally realise we were talking to them.

My influence on others' mindfulness hit me again this week as I held a spoon up to my son's mouth, waiting to insert another mouthful of porridge before he'd finished chewing the last. "What am I doing?", I thought to myself, "do I want to teach him about mindfulness or about rushing?" The answer is definitely mindfulness, though my actions suggested the alternative.

So this week I'm going to be watching the way I impact other people's mindfulness. I have an uneasy feeling that it's going to be hard to 'watch' ...

Friday, 28 June 2013

Week 26 Update: Where I am.

At the midway point in my year-long mindfulness quest, I've taken the opportunity to reflect, take stock, ponder. I wanted to take the time to consider where I've been, what I've learned, where I'm still growing.

Two things I know for sure: One - I'm much better at being mindful than I was before and, two - I'm not perfect.

Let me be completely honest: I still get frustrated, I still lose my temper, I still find myself rushing (to what, where, who is anyone's guess), I still notice myself multi-tasking (sometimes to the extreme), I still have anxieties and concerns ... In short, I'm still human.

In the past six months I may not have become the perfect picture of mindfulness and living in the moment, but I have changed. And you know what? Being perfect was never my goal. When I set out to spend a year of living in the now, I didn't do it with the intention of quitting at week 53 because I 'got it'. No! I saw it as a springboard into a lifetime of conscious living.

Twenty-six weeks in to my challenge, I'm better at catching myself when I'm being less than mindful. Sometimes I catch myself and drop the multi-tasking/anxiety/rushing, and other times I consciously plow ahead in my mindfully impeded state. But I make a choice, and that's something.

I still have room to grow, I still have so much to learn. The nice thing about all this is that I'm enjoying the journey. Given that this quest has no destination, no end point, the journey is it.

Still, I do have goals. Over the next 26 weeks I hope to tackle that 'go fast' feeling that still permeates my actions ...

So, bring on the second half of '52 Weeks of Now'!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Week 26: 25 Weeks of Then; The Half Way Point; Taking Stock.

Week 26. That's officially half way in my 52 week mindfulness challenge.

Honestly, time flies when you're being mindful (ha!).

I hate to use a cliché, but really, where have the last six months gone?

I've ummed and ahhed over a fitting half way challenge. I figure it has to be something really good. Something I can sink my teeth into. Something seriously mindful. I thought and thought. I came up with ideas and filed them away for week 27 and beyond. Nothing seemed quite right. Then it hit me: It's time to take stock. With 25 weeks of challenges behind me, where am I now? What challenges do I continue to face and where have I grown? This half way milestone is a perfect opportunity to take a good hard look at where I've been, where I am, and where I'm going (mindfully of course).

I'm going to spend the week thinking about all of these things, setting my course for the second half of this challenge. I'm thinking of it as a meditation of sorts. Stay tuned at the end of the week for my analysis!

Here's a quick summary of the challenges from week 1 through 25. I'll be looking at this a bit over the next week!

Week 1: Focusing on one task only while on the computer.
Week 2: Mindful eating.
Week 3: Not interrupting people when they're talking.
Week 4: Getting out into nature.
Week 5: Making lists (to get 'stuff' out of my head)
Week 6: Focusing on the breath.
Week 7: Loosening my very tight connection with my mobile phone.
Week 8: Noticing feelings, not pushing them away.
Week 9: Sitting down to read every day.
Week 10: Finding my 'half smile' when frustrated.
Week 11: Moving house mindfully.
Week 12: Focusing on smell.
Week 13: Mantra: "I have all the time I need"
Week 14: Simplifying - un-subscribing from email lists.
Week 15: Taking time for myself.
Week 16: Thinking before I speak.
Week 17: Noticing judgements.
Week 18: Daily yoga asana practice.
Week 19: Accepting things the way they are.
Week 20: Mindfully taking the stairs.
Week 21: Meditating every day.
Week 22: Focusing on ONE bite of food at a time.
Week 23: Noticing when I'm happy.
Week 24: Focusing on sounds.
Week 25: Moving on from the small stuff.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Week 25 Update: Permission to move on ... liberating.

Well, well, well, what do you know ... the ability to move on was always in my hands, I just had to give myself permission!

I am a shocking 'stewer'. I have a tendency to re-hash situations in my mind over and over again. It's almost as though I like hitting myself over the head with a stick labelled 'it's done and dusted, but I oddly like the repetitive feeling of this stick hitting my head'. No more (well, okay, let's be realistic ... no more may be a little optimistic ... maybe I'll say 'less frequently', just to be on the safe side).

What had to change? I had to give myself permission. This week, as I set out to 'move on' from the little things, essentially I was giving myself permission to ignore that persistent urge to worry and re-live moments gone. The ability to move on was always there, but I think I felt that by stewing, playing 'what if?', beating myself up about 'mistakes' or ill-chosen words I was making things better, or at least paying my penance.

Ah, how wrong I was. Moving on has been liberating! I'm not going to lie and say I've been able to move on 100 per cent from every little thing this week, but I have made a huge shift. It's incredible the space that opens up to be in the moment when I'm not caught up in the past. Magnificent!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Week 25: Honey, just move on.

Last week, some friends and I sent some flowers to another of our gorgeous friends. I, for reasons still unclear, accidentally sent the "Shall we send her some flowers" message to ... her. Fail.

Let's face it, this is far from earth shattering, bury your head in a pillow kind of stuff. Still, I was annoyed at myself. I'd ruined the surprise and felt like I'd let my other friends down. Plus I felt like a complete dill.

I dwelt on it for a little while, beat myself up with it in my mind, reminded myself a couple of times that I can be so stupid sometimes ...


Not only is this self-judgment harmful and inaccurate, it's a downright fantastic way to live anywhere but in the present moment. As soon as I (or anyone else) starts to lament about decisions and actions past, we're well out of the moment, living in some fantasy land of memory, conjecture and 'what if'.

Now, I'm all for learning from your mistakes. I'm not suggesting that I shouldn't learn from 'regrets' (for want of a better term), but rather that I can take whatever lessons I need to from a given scenario and then move the heck along. Neither am I suggesting that negative feelings should be buried or that we should be able to 'snap out of it'. It's one thing to be with your feelings (which I'm all for - you can read about that in Week 8), quite another to follow them into a dark tunnel of mind games.

I've given a fairly innocent example above, but the same applies in any kind of scenario that gives rise to self-flagellation, regret, worry, 'what if' ... Like after I've lost my temper, said something I wish I hadn't said, not said something I wish I had ... you know what I mean.

Week 25 - Honey, just move on. Time to catch myself in the act of 'stewing', of playing 'what if', of beating myself up for human error. No more missing the present moment because I'm fretting about things past.

Week 24: I've been listening ... It's a noisy, noisy world.

Noises are everywhere. Even when you think it's quiet, rest assured there's something audible going on. Whether it be the sound of my computer humming as I type or the quiet sound of my own breath as I drift off to sleep, I've noticed this week that it's a noisy, noisy world out there.

I was struck this week by how much I tend to take noises for granted. I mean, the sound of rushing water, even if it's only rushing into the kitchen sink, is pretty cool. So too is the sound of my own heartbeat when I can hear it in those quieter moments.

There have been times this week when I've been so aware of noises that it's been a little overwhelming. Yet, surprisingly, I've also noticed that some sounds are 'better' at drawing me into the moment ... my son's laughter, for one; the sharp clang of my yoga tingsha bells (in the hands of my son), for another. The fewer the perceived noises, the easier I've found it to be drawn into the moment, too. When it's really noisy, lots of sounds competing against each other, it has felt a little like being inside my own head - incessant, clamorous, nonsensical. I've felt scattered, misplaced, confused. With just a few noises to attend to, and more 'peaceful' ones at that, the present has seemed easier to attend to. Like right now, as I sit at my computer typing this, I can hear the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard, the hum of the computer and the faint sound of a television at the other end of the house. Not overwhelming; oddly grounding.

As well as recognising the way sound can punctuate, define and announce the present moment, this week has given me a greater appreciation for the subtlety of the things I can hear. Not everyone is so blessed.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Week 24: Are you listening?

I've just been to the zoo! It was my son's first visit and he loved it. We saw some amazing animals - marvelled at the running giraffes, laughed at the playful monkeys, and were left awe struck by the sheer size of the elephants.

But it wasn't all about what we saw, the sounds were something else. We heard the incredible roar of the lion and the impressive call of the orangutan. Even listening to the varied voices and accents of our fellow zoo-goers was interesting. The look on my 14 month old's face said it all - those animal noises were amazing.

Our sense of sound is something we shouldn't take for granted, but, like everything in life,  we can get complacent. This week I'm focusing on this gift of sound. Whether it be sitting and listening to a piece of music  or revelling in the sound of my son's laughter, this week, the ear's the thing.