Mindfulness in the City

 Mindfulness in London - View of the City

Mindfulness in London - View of the City

I'm a Londoner, born and raised. I love city life, not yet tired of it. Having lived in Cyprus for ten years I know the difference between living in a busy city like London and a quiet, slow-paced place like Cyprus. I know how stressful life can be in London, just a simple train journey into central London is enough to break any sense of tranquility. 

So how do we stay mentally healthy whilst living our daily lives here in London (and of course other cities across the world)?

The Origins of Mindfulness

Mindfulness can greatly enhance how we experience life, even in the city or perhaps especially in the city. To understand how Mindfulness can be incorporated into our busy lives, we first need to understand what Mindfulness truly is.

And to do that we need to look at its origins, Buddhism. I want to bring attention particularly to the Zen master Thich Nhat Han who is often referred to the master of Mindfulness. Many of us who study Buddhism can get caught up in the intellectualization of the teachings, studying, reading, trying to understand. However, Zen Buddhism reminds us that there is no need to study, to understand even because all we need to do is practice. 

This short conversation between the Buddha and a philosopher may help to clarify what Mindfulness is:

 "I have heard that Buddhism is a doctrine of enlightenment, What is your method? What do you practice everyday?" - philosopher
"We walk, we eat, we wash ourselves, we sit down...." Buddha
"What is so special about that, everyone walks, eats, washes and sits down" - philosopher
"Sir, when we walk, we are aware that we are walking, when we eat, we are aware that we are eating.........When others walk, eat, wash or sit down, they are generally not aware of what they are doing" - Buddha

So we can see from this simple conversation that Mindfulness is not an intellectual method, one that needs a deep study. It requires practice, every day, focused, committed practice. Working on the small things, becoming aware of what we are doing at any given moment and remembering to be kind when things don't go as we had wished.

Mindfulness is being rather than doing.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Meditation is what we call the "formal" practice of Mindfulness, an essential part of the practice. However, it is a common misconception in the West that meditation is all we need to do to be a Mindfulness practitioner. There is little point in sitting on a cushion for an hour and then making no effort to be mindful in our day to day life. 

I find that people are often discouraged from Mindfulness because they feel that they don't have time to meditate. Of course, we all have time to sit quietly for 10 minutes a day, it's because we don't know the benefits that we don't make the time. So maybe we should start with daily activities and slowly build in our meditation? 

Mindfulness in the City

 Mindfulness in London Southbank

Mindfulness in London Southbank

It is possible to live in a busy city and remain mindful, developing your awareness of what's happening at any given moment and alleviating your stress levels.

You can begin with simple things such as:

  • Reduce noise in your life
  • Switching off distraction, turn the TV, radio and Technology off for a while
  • Establish a routine that sets you up for the day
  • Do one thing at a time and focus on that one thing only
  • Remember to breath before reacting
  • Develop self kindness and become aware of your harsh self talk

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Three Attitudes to Breaking Old Habits

I'm not Perfect and that's OK

I've had a challenging few months, mostly caused by my own habitual behaviours. And believe me I know I am not perfect, I have much work to do on myself. The habits I am referring to are not the ones we commonly recognise, such as unhealthy eating or lack of exercise. I'm talking about the thinking mind habits, the unguarded thoughts, emotions and behaviours that lead us into painful situations. In Mindfulness, we learn that our thoughts are just habits, rarely fresh and new, primarily based on our past experiences. 

When we look at our behaviours we can clearly see the routines and habits that we have become accustomed to and even if we know they are harmful, they comfort us because they are familiar. This is precisely why we keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting change even though we know this doesn't work. To break a habit, we have to change the thought patterns that trigger these habits. In neuroscience, this is called "re-wiring" the brain. In Mindfulness this is exactly what we are trying to achieve, a new pathway for our new and better habits to follow.

Portia Nelson's poem "There's a hold in my sidewalk" covers this perfectly.

"I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost.....I am helpless. It isn't my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in the same place. But, it isn't my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hold in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in. It's a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately. 
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
I walk down another street." 

"I see it is there, I still fall in. It's a habit!"

How many times have you felt something is not right but still gone ahead, I certainly can speak from experience on this one. For some of us, this is particularly the case when it comes to our relationships. We habitually allow others into our lives even though we know they are not deserving or right for us. We give our time to others when we are more than aware of the pain this ongoing relationship causes us. We do this because often this is all we know, our habits from childhood continue until we change the way we think, until we take another road. 

For real change to happen we have to start to develop our awareness of our habitual thoughts and behaviours, so we can stop before we act or react. We have to learn to walk down a different road. 

"If I have no pain, I'll never long for freedom" - Pema Chodron 

We need to do it differently over and over until we replace old habits with new, healthier ones. At first this is difficult because we have to be aware, then make a commitment to change. It takes effort and a longing to be free from pain, from self inflicted pain. And we can do this by first changing our attitude. 

Three Attitudes to Breaking Free from Old Habits:

Pain has its virtues: Remember that when things are not going as we wish, we can value the lesson and grow from the pain.

Stop looking externally for happiness: Stop chasing that a new job, the new relationship, look at what you can give yourself. And remember NOW is the only reality.

A stable mind is a free mind: Be careful who and what you let into your life, develop inner strength so you are happy whatever is happening externally.

If you are struggling with harmful habits, pain and personal challenges, get in touch to find out how Mindfulness can help.

How to be in the present moment

People refer to Mindfulness as being in the moment and although that sounds so easy, it's actually very difficult to do. Most of us don't really understand what that means because we usually spend our time going from being in the past to going into the future. We may have experienced moments of being totally in the present, perhaps when we are in nature or when we are doing something that totally engrosses us. But most of the time we are going from doing one thing to the next, rarely stopping to be present for whatever is happening at the time. Our mind is always on the go.

At our Mindfulness courses we teach people how to begin to pay attention. We start by making a conscious decision to stop for a moment and really be present. It takes effort to start with but with practice it can become very therapeutic and certainly life changing.

Mindfulness Daily Activity

When we look at Eastern culture we may find it intriguing or even mystical to see how they have a whole ritual around making a cup of tea. Or when we watch people in China slowly perform Tai Chi in the park, we may think its something for them, not us. In monastic life, it is in the mundane everyday tasks that people learn to be mindful. This is the training, this is where you will find the way to stay in the moment.

One of the tasks we give during our courses is to choose a daily activity and to just do that one thing, to remove all distractions, background noise and other activities. For some people that can be very difficult to do. We maybe in the habit of watching TV while we are having our morning tea or coffee, therefore not really being present. When we switch off all distraction, we start to notice just how busy our mind is. We use the daily activity to get to know our mind and how to bring it back to the moment, to the making a tea, brushing our teeth and we do this in a gentle and kind way. 

When we start to experience being in the now and how the mind is quiet, we realise that this is when we are relaxed, at peace and stress free. This can also be a challenge for some, in my experience when working with cancer patients, the present moment may not be easy for them. However, to live with cancer and other trauma, we have to get out of the past and future thinking. This is where Mindfulness becomes life changing, where we learn that the past and future are only alive in our thoughts. 

To better understand, I am sharing the thoughts of cancer survivors from one of my courses. Their words bring it to life.

Brushing Teeth Mindfully

"I look at the bristles on the toothbrush, notice how toothpaste is spread on the toothbrush. How thick is it? What colour is it? I watch the water as it covers the toothpaste, listen to the way the water trickles off the toothbrush. How do the bristles feel against my teeth and tongue? How does toothpaste taste? How does it feel against my teeth?

Notice the sensation of bristles against my teeth. Notice temperature of water as I rinse the toothpaste out. Feel the sensation of water as I rinse my mouth full of water out. How does that feel?

Feel texture of material of the towel, is it cotton? against my skin as I dry my face. Notice how my teeth feel now" - Gavin Cancer Survivor

Gavin was kind enough to share his second daily mindful activity.

Mindfully Making Tea

Mindful Tea Drinking

"Notice the silence in the kitchen before I fill the kettle up. Recognise the burst of water as it leaves the tap and enters the water filter. Aware of noise of water as it goes into the filter. Feel the texture of the tea bag between my fingers as I extract if from the cold, silver, cylindrical container and place it in the white, cool china mug.

Be aware of the bright light and low faint hum of the fridge as the door opens and the cold air wafts against my face. Notice the resistance of the fridge door as I pull it towards me. I extract the milk from the fridge, feeling the sensation of the cold carton against my hand.

Notice the sound and flow of water as I empty the water filter into the kettle. Beware of the silence as I wait for the kettle to boil, perhaps gazing through the patio doors and observing the peacefulness, stillness in colours outside in the garden. Notice change in the sound of the kettle as it comes to the boil.

As I pour the boiling water into the mug I notice the sound being made and how the colour of the water darkens as the tea brews in the freshly boiled water. Again I notice how the colour of the water in the mug changes milk is added to taste. 

Finally, I notice how the brown sugar is made up of so many tiny granules which move silently in the sugar bowl as I carefully measure the required amount into the mug". 

Mindful Coffee Making

Mindfulness Washing Hands

"I go to the cupboard and pick up the metal coffee container, I feel the cool of the metal against my hand. I enjoy the smell of coffee when the canister is opened. I take a mug and the cafetiere from the other cupboard. I measure a spoon and a bit extra of the coffee and put it into the cafetiere. It makes a soft sound as it hits the bottom. I fill the plastic kettle at the sink, being aware of the weight of the appliance in my hand. Hear the squeak of the turning tap and the swoosh of the water in the kettle. 

I hear the click of the kettle when switched on and the sound of the water as it heats up. Turn off the kettle before it boils and pick up and fill the cafetiere. I place the plunger on the top and while waiting I go to the fridge and grasp the plastic carton of milk. I hear the whisper of the door opening and shutting. 

I pour the cold milk into the mug and slowly push the cafetiere plunger, feeling resistance as I push it down. Slowly pour the coffee on top of the milk and sit down to enjoy the first coffee of the day" - Christine Cancer survivor.

Why we practice Mindfulness?

Through making this conscious effort to pay attention you can see just how different the whole experience was for both Gavin and Christine. They felt sensations, heard sounds, smelt the coffee and tea, they were truly present for the moment.

In our daily life, we rarely stop to pay attention, in our courses we discuss "auto-pilot" which is how we live our life on most days. It is when we stop doing for a while and really be connected to our senses, that we start to feel alive. 

Scientifically the more we develop the capacity to stay in the moment, the less our mind becomes stressed and full of anxiety. This is why science is now showing how Mindfulness is changing our neurological pathway and improving mental well being. 

Mindfulness is a way of life, it takes time and effort to develop a sense of presence and awareness. Start simply by taking one daily activity and be present for it. When you notice your mind straying into the past or future, direct your attention back to your activity. Practice this every day and slowly you will notice how different life feels.

Join one of our courses to learn how to bring Mindfulness into your life. 

 

Mindfulness for Cancer

It's been two years since I started running Mindfulness courses for Cancer patients and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It has led to more and more demand from local organisations, asking for Mindfulness to help support people living with Cancer. 

A previous course participant sent me this beautiful message last week, I think it says it all.

"I joined your mindfulness course earlier this year. I didn’t realise just how helpful it would be. I had my op.for breast cancer in April and feel a bit sore and bruised but ok .I listened to your tape while meditating and found a new kind of calmness and peace.I use your tape most days, and can’t thank you enough for the inner strength it gives me ,a feeling of being in control in relaxed way without judgment. Thank you so much, you really helped more than I can say" Betty Cancer Patient

Last week Nightingale Cancer Support Center had a two page article about the work we do to help people living with Cancer. It is clear that people are finding Mindfulness extremely helpful, once again this is some feedback from a previous course participant.

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What is Mindfulness for Cancer?

Being diagnosed with Cancer is a traumatic experience, it is a life-changing experience and of course a very scary one. Most people will not be prepared for hearing the news that they have Cancer, it's always going to happen to someone else, not me! Until it does, then the reality can be extremely difficult to accept

Often Cancer patients will seem very strong and optimistic whilst going through therapy. This is because they go into classic "fight" mode, our natural reaction when we are under threat and
Cancer causes real fear. They may also struggle to accept it's even happening to them, having a sense of detachment to the whole experience. It's easier to not think about it, let the doctors do their job and it will be fine. That's not to say they never feel panic or anger, there are a whole host of emotions that come with the "you have Cancer" diagnosis. 

And whilst we are making progress in treating the physical side of Cancer and people are surviving where in the past they may not have, it's the emotional and mental side effects that can be the most difficult to deal with and longer lasting, even when you are given the all clear. 

While you are going through Cancer, everyone is giving you attention, you are getting support and people are around you. However for the Cancer survivor, it's never really over, sometimes it's the after effects that start the real struggle. 

What we cover on the Mindfulness Courses

We run four, six and eight-week courses. These courses are loosely based on the Mindfulness-Based Living Course (MBLC), with the exception of the eight-week course which is the full MBLC. We also use some of the teaching points from the Mindfulness for Cancer course developed by Trish Bartley at Oxford University. 

One of the fundamental elements of what we teach is kindness to self, compassion, and self-acceptance. Very often Cancer patients can feel self-judgment and self-critical thoughts. And cultivating a kinder attitude to self can at first be very challenging but once there is a breakthrough, things really start to change. What we are looking for is a sense of self acceptance and a more peaceful way of living with Cancer, one that is not full of anxiety, stress and panic. 

Telling a Cancer patient to be positive or to fight is not helpful - it can have exactly the opposite effect.

We spend a lot of time working through the different emotional states and thinking patterns, using formal and informal Mindfulness practices. By formal I mean guided meditations to help develop a sense of calm, informal meaning shorter meditations and focused daily activities. 

What I have noticed is that after a couple of sessions, people start to see that their mind can be settled and it can be a little less noisy. Many of our participants have experienced a real change in their view of life, how they are living it and begin to find a better way to live with Cancer. They stop trying to go back to who they were before the big "C" and start to accept the new person they have become.

If you want to find out more about our Mindfulness for Cancer courses please get in touch.

Your Mind is Your Reality

Through my Mindfulness practice I have come to really see how my mind is the lens through which I experience life. Whatever we think is our reality, however we don't always realise the importance of fully understanding this. When we start to be totally aware of what our mind is doing, we can see how distorted it can be. 

What I have come to accept is that I can turn a good situation into a bad one just through my thoughts. I can turn a loving, kind person into my enemy, through my negative thoughts. I can be angry for no reason, except that my mind said there was a reason. Mindfulness has taught me that I am at the mercy of my mind unless I learn how to tame this wild animal.

Of course I am also guided by the great Buddhist teachings after all what Buddha taught is mind training.  

"The Mind is everything. What you think you become" - Buddha

Knowing that our mind is the lens through which we experience life is both good and bad news. It means we are in charge of how we perceive everything in our life. We can change it just from the way we interpret any given experience. The bad thing about that is, we now have to take full responsibility for everything, no more blaming outside entities!

Does this mean that there are no "bad" experiences or that we should sugar coat everything so we deny pain and suffering? Certainly not, it's this very thing that creates our suffering, pretending things are not as they are doesn't change anything. 

One thing that really gave me a wake up call was when my marriage ended. It was the first time that I actually became aware of how quick the mind could change. It took a second to change from seeing my ex-husband as the "good" guy to seeing him as an enemy. That's how powerful our mind is, it only takes a second to change our mind if we are hurt or threatened.  

Every minute of the day we change how we see a particular person just from what they say to us or how they behave. One minute we are crazy in love because everything is going our way, then we hate the very same person because they did something we didn't want. That person hasn't changed, they are still the same but our mind has made up a story to convince us differently.

How many times do you make up your mind about someone you see? You quickly judge a stranger, based on their clothes, colour, gender and a whole set of other labels. They can instantly be a threat, until they smile at you and suddenly your mind tells you, no they are nice after all. 

The mind is it's own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven - John Milton

How true is this? Our mind can make our life heaven or hell, how many states of mind do you go through in one day? I know that my mind changes in an instant. I can be as calm as a still stream in the morning until I get in the car and someone cuts me up, then suddenly the world is an ugly place. 

So here's the thing, Mindfulness teaches us to catch that thought before it goes off on one, before it takes control and leads us into muddy waters. Mindfulness teaches us to Stop - Breath - And take a step back. 

Do you know anyone who is constantly angry, or that can't see good thing in anyone else? Perhaps you see it in yourself? Now you are aware of the power of the mind, you know you are also able to change. And Mindfulness can provide the path for this change. 

Change your mind - Change your life

Taking Care of You

It's been a busy start to the year. I've been running Mindfulness courses non-stop, mainly Mindfulness for Cancer. I am privileged to work with such amazing, beautiful people. I am humbled by the strength and courage of all the participants on my courses.

I try to give my all and make every effort to be totally present in my sessions. I share my own experiences, I show my vulnerability because I want everyone to see that I am just human, that I am no different than them. It is important to me that each participant feels we are all connected and that we all struggle at times. None of us is immune to difficulty, challenge and suffering in life, it is all part of being human. 

I have noticed that I can sometimes feel totally drained after one of my group sessions. It's not a physical tiredness, it's much more about being emotionally exhausted. 

Sometimes the answer is to give up the fight Surrender to itLet it beDon't control itDon't fight itIt will pass if you leave it alone.png

Caring for Yourself

When we care for others, we can forget to care for ourselves. And we can think that taking care of ourselves as selfish and certainly not a priority. However, if we don't take care of ourselves then we are less able to care for our loved ones, we are less able to do our work and help others.

This week I've struggled, even had to fight with many of my own emotions. And I've sat in silent contemplative meditation, reflecting on particular questions, to see what might come to the surface. 

What is the point of fighting, what's the point of pushing yourself to keep going when the mind and the body are both saying "time out"? There is no point, we have to stop, we must listen and give up the struggle. We should listen to the signals our body is giving us. 

Sometimes we need to take care of ourselves first, sometimes we have to place ourselves in the centre of our own life. If we don't, then we are no good to anyone, especially to those we are trying to help.

“Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our lives as it is.” - Tara Brach

No Guilt

So I gave up tonight, I have been totally unproductive and there's no guilt. What is the point of taking time out and then feeling guilty? If we decide to let things go, to stop the struggle and give ourselves what we need, then we need to drop the guilt too.

This is the point I guess, sometimes we just have to give ourselves permission to do nothing, to stop doing and just "be" for a while. Give ourselves permission to stop trying to avoid the need to slow down, to let whatever needs to pass, to just pass. 

We are not used to being, we are taught to be productive, to keep "doing" and if we are not careful we burn out. 

If we learn to listen to the mind and body, then we can learn to take care of ourselves before it becomes too much. Pay attention to the signs, learn to give yourself what you need and remember you are worth it!