Mindfulness after the storm

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A couple of nights before the group met last week, residents of Edinburgh and neighbouring parts of Scotland encountered the most dramatic storms we have seen in quite some time.

We met online for a session on mindfulness, firstly defining mindfulness as:

“The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally to things as they are” (Kabat-Zinn).

Group members spoke about their experience of mindfulness, some people commented how that they had sometimes found it hard to get into and hard to relax because of continually worrying. Some had found it useful and wanted to practise more exercises. We discussed how even slowing down the breath can help to calm our threat system.

We considered where our minds had predominantly been this morning before the meeting, whether in the past, present or the future, and where our minds were normally. We agreed that for the most part, being presently minded was most useful to us. Dwelling too much on past events could lead to rumination and low mood. Overthinking the future with all it’s unknown and uncertainties-especially during this pandemic, could create high levels of catastrophising and anxiety.

Being grounded in the present moment allows us to be focused, present and have joy in the moment. Mindfulness then, is acquiring the great but simple art of just noticing where we are, and possibly who we are, right now. Mindfulness also just watches where our mind goes off to, where it may drift and wander. When we are aware of this we can have more control over not being pulled in rumination or catastrophising or worry.

Because of the storm, internet connections were a bit intermittent, so some group members lost momentary connection with the group and had to connect back in again. Maybe this is a parallel with what can happen with mindfulness, where we drift off in thought and perhaps lose contact with our conscious mind for a moment, but then we notice and actively connect back to ourselves in the present moment. This is precisely what mindfulness is, noticing where our mind goes; sometimes it goes away because it needs to attend to something else.

We used an exercise today to practise being aware of our ‘self’ observing our thoughts, feelings, sensations and motivations. Learning to observe these parts allows us to step back and objectively realise that we do not need to be taken over by an emotion or thought process and we can start to take a little more control of our state by increasing this awareness.

It is maybe important to acknowledge that dwelling in the present may sometimes be painful and stressful if we are in crisis. However, a self-compassionate response to our pain with empathy, understanding and caring for what we need in the moment may help us to face rather than avoid difficult times.

It’s like all the chaotic energy firing around in a thunder storm, it needs be discharged to find ground and be earthed. Likewise for us, sometimes the way to calm the storm is to put our feet on the ground and take a few deep breaths and see where we are and what we need right in this moment.

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What we may be

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says “Lord, we know what we are, but not what we may be.” This quote points to future possibilities and potential being unknown. For Ophelia and Hamlet, whose lives were written by someone else, namely Shakespeare, they didn’t get much say over how things turned out for them. However, we can create our own narrative in life. Piero Furrucci took forward a passion, believing that visualisation and imagination can change and determine our situations; that through, love, kindness and creativity, lives may be transformed. In this week’s group we used one of Ferrucci’s visualisation exercises together. The exercise allowed us to meet a part of ourselves (as we all have many parts, for example, the part that wants to go for an early morning walk each day and the part that wants to sleep in). Ferucci’s exercise allowed us to meet a part and find out a bit more about it.

Our group experiences included finding perfectionist parts, and seeing that perhaps things did not always have to be exact. Some found parts that were looking for nurture and care and realised the ways this could be achieved, some realised the part that would like to just relax and be, and others found a hope in future possibilities.

When we find a part of ourselves, and what it might need and start to be kind to it, this will hopefully help us to be less critical towards the parts of ourselves that we feel uncomfortable with and try to avoid. If we find out what the part needs, we can transform that part through our understanding of it.

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More lighthearted jokes from group members!

Fun is an important part of our well-being

“Don’t buy anything with velcro, it’s a total rip off!”
“Hedgehogs eh? Why don’t they just share the hedge?!” 
“I’m not doing this stay at home thing for the good of my health you know!”
“Don’t buy a spider from the pet shop, you can get one cheaper from the web!”
“So without telling her, I swapped our bed for a trampoline, my wife hit the roof!”
“Today I built an electric fence around my house, my neighbour is dead against it!”
“I Wish I could get a job cleaning Mirrors, it’s just something I can see myself doing!” 
“Russian dolls eh? They’re so full of themselves!” 
I bought my friends an elephant for their room. They said “Thank you” I said ” Don’t mention it”!
“There’s no real training if you’re a bin man … you just have to pick up things as you go along!”
“I just wrote a song about a tortilla…well its more of a rap really!” 
“People are making apocalypse jokes…like there’s no tomorrow!” 

Enjoying Nature During Lockdown

In last week’s meeting online we discussed where we had been for walks during lockdown and what we had discovered or rediscovered and enjoyed during this time. Some had stayed quite close to home and in doing so discovered a great deal more about their locality than they had previously noticed. People had found new pathways, historical sites and places which brought peace and pleasure. Those who had ventured a little further had seen some more unusual wildlife, whilst others had become familiar with the birds which visited their garden. Wherever we had been it seemed that everyone had a bigger awareness of natural spaces and places of peacefulness.

Walking and getting out into nature are good for us in a myriad of ways. Physically walking increases heart rate, decreases blood pressure, boosts immunity, strengthens bones and aids sleep. Socially, walking allows us to have connection with our fellow human beings as we say hello, point to a beautiful sunset, comment on the wind or say hello to a waggy tailed dog. Group members commented that during lockdown people were more likely to say hello to each other on their daily walks, and hoped that this would be a feature that continues as restrictions are eased. Walking with another person facilitates open conversation and a mutual appreciation of the landscape and allows a physical rhythm of walking together. Walking is good for our mental health, it improves mood due to the release of endorphins.

If we are unable to physically go out walking, looking a picture of a calming natural scene reduces stress. Activities like looking at pictures, looking out of a window, going for a drive in nice scenery or virtual tours, sitting in a garden or growing flowers in a window box or feeding the birds are all beneficial.

Walking is also good for our brain health, as we walk and navigate we increase brain activity in different brain regions which helps us to problem solve and get creative.

Black Lives Matter Discussion

As a local group meeting in Edinburgh, separated by Lockdown, we have been delighted these last few weeks to connect again online. This has challenged some to the very edges of their technological abilities but we are very pleased with our achievements to have everyone up and running online. Well done!

Facing a computer screen with a myriad of buttons can be quite daunting when you don’t know what worldwide implications lie at the end of it. Pressing ‘send’, ‘post’, ‘agree’, ‘buy’, ‘leave’ can all hold a bit of anxiety.

Last week we took time to consider the impact of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement which has been very significant during this time. Group members spoke of their rising awareness of racism in society, both explicit and implicit and expressed feelings of sadness and of anger upon learning more about the everyday injustices and suffering which people face in our society based on skin colour.

People spoke about the efforts they had gone to to find out more about people’s stories and experiences, and some had taken on the task of examining and becoming aware of unconscious biases passed down through family or society. We agreed that awareness and education are key, and just listening to how it is for people.

Ultimately we wish to see a world which does not divide itself according to race or colour, or for that matter, gender, age or sexuality, or football team or religion!

What is it going to be like coming out of lockdown?

We acknowledged there could be a lot of anxiety going into lockdown, time was required to settle in and readjust. And, maybe after a while we got used to the safety, the quiet and the spaciousness, or maybe not. As restrictions begin to ease, what may be facing us and what can help our transition?

Are there going to be new social politics to navigate? How do we feel when people get closer than 2 metres or start meeting up in large groups? During lockdown some people have felt very anxious about the behaviours of others, while for some the guidelines have felt too restrictive and have chosen not to follow them.

Perhaps we carry apprehension about how other people will behave as restrictions lift, or maybe we are ready to flick the switch and go out and hug the world again, or somewhere in between? How will we respond to other people’s behaviour and etiquette? The truth is that we can only be responsible for the way we behave and cannot control the behaviours of others no matter the injustice we may feel.

The hope is we can all learn from our lockdown experiences and have even more of an appreciation for our world and fellow human beings.

Acceptance and kindness are perhaps the way forward

Thinking of Places We Love to be together, while space is between us

This week through poetry we are considering a feature of Lockdown where we are together by telephone or online but we are missing our physical spaces where we meet together. The following poems remind us that we are still emotionally connected even though we are physically separated.

‘Places We Love’ by Ivan V. Lalic (extract)

Places we love exist only through us,
Space destroyed is only illusion in the constancy of time,
Places we love we can never leave,
Places we love together, together, together,
And is this room really a room or an embrace,
And what is beneath the window: a street or years?
And the window is only the imprint left by
The first rain we understood, returning endlessly,
And this wall does not define the room,
And this door leads into an afternoon
Which outlives it, forever peopled
With your casual movements as you stepped,
Like fire into copper, into my only memory;
When you go, space closes over like water behind you,
Do not look back: there is nothing outside you,
Space is only time visible in a different way,
Places we love we can never leave.

Scottish poet and former Makar, Liz Lochhead has written a poem specifically about Lockdown. It is called The Spaces Between.

To hear Liz explain the background to writing this poem and read her poem you can download the Radio 4 podcast here.

Be Kind

Kindness makes you the most beautiful person in the world no matter what you look like

Kindness is a subject we talk about often in the group. In fact we published a blog on this two weeks ago so we are delighted that it is the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week. We couldn’t agree more.

The smallest acts of kindness can have a profound impact such as a smile, a thank-you, saying ‘hello’ or ‘sorry’.
As Francis of Assisi notes: “A kind face is a precious gift”.

Maya Angelou observed “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The following is a story sent by a group member illustrating how even in correction the greatest lessons are delivered kindly:

An old man meets a young man. The young man asks: “Do you remember me”?

The old man says no. The young man tells him he was his student, and the teacher asks: “What do you do now in life?”

“I became a teacher ” said the young man.
“Good” said the old man “like me”. 
I became a teacher because you inspired me to be like you “.

The old man asks the young man what had inspired him. The student told him this story:

“One day,  a friend of mine,  also a student, came in with a new watch, and I decided I wanted it and I stole it, I took it out of his pocket.

When my friend noticed that his watch was gone he immediately complained to the teacher.  As that teacher you said: ” This student’s watch was stolen today. Whoever stole it, please return it”.

I didn’t return the watch because I didn’t want to. You told us you were going to search our pockets, one by one until the watch was found. 

You would only look for this watch if we had our eyes closed. You went from pocket to pocket. When finding the watch in my pocket you took it. You continued searching everyone’s pockets. When finished you said.  “Open your eyes, we have the watch”. 

You never told who stole the watch.  That day you saved my dignity. This could have been the most shameful day of my life. But because of your kindness I decided not to become a thief.

You did not shame me, scold me or moralise me. Through kindness I received your message clearly. 

Thanks to you, I understand what a real educator needs to do. 
Do you remember this episode Professor? The Professor answers: “I remember the situation, the stolen watch, I didn’t remember you,  because I also closed my eyes while searching. This is the essence of teaching, if to correct you must humiliate; you don’t know how teach. 

Light-hearted humour during lockdown

Throughout this challenging period of time in which we have all had to deal with so much fear and uncertainty, one thing that has been really helpful for some has been the use of humour. The memes and jokes people have received have provided some welcome respite, raising spirits and maintaining a connection with others. This however does not in anyway disrespect or take anything away from the devastating impact this virus has had on the world, It merely provides a sense of escapism. In light of this we have included some light-hearted jokes below that we hope you will like and provide you with some respite!!

“If a child refuses to sleep during nap time, are they guilty of resisting a rest?!”

“What did the pirate say on his 80th birthday? AYE MATEY!”

“Did you know the first French fries weren’t actually cooked in France? They were cooked in Greece!”

“My new shoes are very smart and they can dance all by themselves, clever clogs!”

“I put one of my jokes on someone else’s Facebook threads the other day and got no response… must have been lost in the post!” 

“These new invisible tennis balls are fantastic, you just cannie whack ’em!”

“Not happy that my dog has only the one leg, It doesn’t sit well with me at all!”

“My mistake, I bought shaving foam instead of deodorant, I will take that on the chin!”

“What do you call a dog that can do magic? A Labracadabrador!”

“Why couldn’t the bike stand up by itself? It was two tired!”

“What’s Forrest Gump’s password? 1forrest1!”

“I used to have a job at a calendar factory but I got the sack because I took a couple of days off!”

“Two guys walk into a bar, the third one ducks!”

“What did the buffalo say to his son when he dropped him off at school? Bison!”

“Two peanuts were walking down the street one was a salted!”

What did the horse say after it tripped? “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t giddyup!”

“You know what the loudest pet you can get is? A trumpet!”

“What do sprinters eat before a race? Nothing, they fast!

“Why do melons have weddings? Because they cantaloupe!”

“What happens when you go to the bathroom in France? European!”

“How does a penguin build its house? Igloos it together”

“What’s the difference between Bing Crosby and Walt Disney? Bing sings and Walt Disney!”

Be kind to yourself during Covid-19 Lockdown

The current social distancing guidelines and living in self isolation means that many of us will have had to meet with ourselves in these times.  Where ordinarily we would be with others we may now be alone, where we would find distraction and comfort in going to other places we are now at home.  Where we may be in a difficult relationship at home it may now feel like there is no escape or relief and feeling very alone in the presence of another person who may not understand, care or connect with you.

Building the quality of our self to self relationship is very important in these times.  There are a lot of terms around to describe our self relationship; self-worth, self-esteem, self-help, self-confidence, self-criticism, self-compassion, self-support, the list goes on.  Some parts of the self to self relationship are helpful and others are not.  Today it might be useful to grow those parts which will best sustain us in this difficult time.

It is useful to find those things within ourselves which can give us a sense of feeling safe, secure and reassured. Kindness, compassion and gratitude are helpful tools for this.

Speak kindly to yourself when you are struggling; it is understandable you would feel like this, it is a time of suffering in many different forms, many people are feeling sad, scared, lonely and many are grieving. Here are 10 self-compassion exercises by Kristin Neff to try being kind and reassuring with yourself when you have moments of struggle, overwhelm and upset.

Kindness, compassion and gratitude have emotional, physical, psychological, relational and societal benefits for the giver and receiver, it’s a win win!

‘Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle’, (Philo of Alexandria). This includes being kind to yourself in your own battles. Kind words diffuse negative situations and grow confidence, kind acts show love.

Gratitude focuses us on what we do have, when we are struggling it can help to re-calibrate us onto an upward spiral. We get the opportunity at the moment to say thank-you together as a society on Thursday nights at 8pm. If you haven’t tried this try, join in with the clapping for our NHS, care workers, shop keepers, refuse collectors, if you really want to go for it you can bang saucepans, if you have a ship, blow your horn.

Collect grateful thoughts in the morning to start the day well and at night-you might find you sleep better. When we meet together as a group we have a weekly ‘Good Notice Board’ where we each think of one good thing in the week-even if it was a tough week. Can you think of one good thing that has happened this week?

Compassion recognises the suffering of ourselves or others and desires to relieve that suffering. What do you need right now to feel cared for?

If we learn to find our own care, compassion and kindness to self we will fill our well from which these attributes will automatically flow to others. If we are trying to fulfil the second but not the first we will feel empty and worn out.

What was good about today? What went well? What was hard today-what kind words do you need to hear? What moved you-how can you reach out?

Paul Gilbert, one of the founders of Compassion Focused Therapy explains that we have a tricky brain, we didn’t choose for our brain to react like this, it’s not your fault you feel scared and anxious, and now we find ourselves here, in isolation. Because our brains have the capacity to imagine and create, in frightening times they can ruminate and worry which is how our brains have developed to protect us, we are shaped by the circumstances we were born into and did not choose this. So it is not our fault that our brains can sometimes loop round lots of anxious and depressive thoughts. Instead of putting yourself down for feeling anxious, learn more self-compassion and remember that you did not choose this brain. The good news is that by learning about applying compassion to ourselves we can feel more safe and secure and less anxious.

Studies about the effect of kindness, gratitude and compassion have shown that when engage in these towards ourselves and others it can improve our health, our immunity, slow down aging and make us feel happier.