Acceptance isn't giving up

Acceptance is a difficult one to work with when you are going through a tough time. When your world is falling apart, you have a painful illness or you just can't see anything positive in life, how does acceptance help?

Well, firstly it's good to understand what we mean by acceptance because it is very often confused with giving up and resigning ourself to our current situation.

Acceptance is nothing to do with giving up, it is much more about seeing it clearly, about facing whatever your current challenge is and just saying "well it's here, I might as well face it". In Mindfulness, we say we turn towards it because it is through this process that we can begin to deal with it.

A Beautiful Mind 

It may be useful to look at the story of John Nash, a Nobel Prize winner with a remarkable mathematical mind who has spent a lifetime living with Schizophrenia. The film a Beautiful Mind documents John's story and how he was able to finally find a way to live with his delusional state of mind without medical intervention. To clarify, John Nash had invented three imaginary people who played a major part in his life and that led him to behave irrationally, sometimes dangerously. 

It is in this scene that he gives us some insight into how he has come to terms with his condition. After years of working on his confused, irrational thoughts, John Nash finally shares how he was able to transform his life. Let me share this insightful conversation with his old (real) friend Martin:

Martin: "Have they gone?" (referring to his imaginary friends)

John: "No, not gone, maybe they will never be gone. But I've got used to ignoring them, and they've kind of given up on me"

He then goes on "I think that's what it's like with all our dreams and nightmares, you have to keep feeding them to stay alive"

Martin: "John, but they haunt you?"

John: "They're my past, everyone is haunted by their past" 

What John's story teaches us is that it was only when he was able to accept his delusions, was he able to help himself.

Acceptance is not giving up

Pema Chodron refers to our constant battle with "what is" like us constantly kicking the wheel. We can't have peace of mind if we keep on kicking the wheel, or if we bite the hook so we get caught. In Tibetian, the word "Shenpa" is used to describe that sticky, uncomfortable feeling we get when we are experiencing something we don't like or want. 

Shenpa - An unwillingness of human beings to let go of certain thoughts, particularly those that cause suffering

So what is the difference between acceptance and resigning yourself to your current situation?

In Mindfulness, we practice staying with our current feelings and emotions, even though our instinct may be to run or distract ourselves so that we don't have to feel what we feel. But we can't change the movie if we don't see it, we can't solve a problem until we understand it, we won't know the root cause if we don't explore deeper.

So we learn to stay, even if it is uncomfortable. We bring in loving kindness to the situation, we give ourselves the support we need to sit with the uncomfortable feeling. Until we can develop our inner resilience we are always going to be caught up in life's ups and downs, the slightest thing will upset or agitate us.

By staying and accepting what is happening at this moment you are able to get to the root of the struggle. We do this through meditation or by simply sitting with your breath, becoming fully acquainted with whatever is going on right now.

Taking John Nash's story as an example, we could narrow the process down to three simple steps:

First you must see.

Face your struggling. And recognise the thoughts you have around this uncomfortableness. Question your thoughts, are they real? Do they really reflect the whole situation? In the film Beautiful Mind, at this stage John Nash shouts at his imaginary friends "you are not real" because our thoughts are not a realistic reflection of the whole situation, are they?

At this stage you are curious, you are exploring and you are asking all the questions. If you are suffering from an illness, are your thoughts helpful or are they causing you to suffer more? What are the facts and what are the delusions? 

Making Friends with Your Struggle

The next step is to stop fighting, to surrender to the fact that maybe your challenge will never go away. Now that sounds very fatalistic, doesn't it? Well, actually it's not because when you let go of the struggle, suddenly it has less of a hold on you. For those of us who've experienced childbirth, we know that the only way to bear the pain is to stop the struggle. Adding pain to what's already a painful experience doesn't help anyone.

And always remember to be kind, yes I know this is a whole other subject!

Make Peace - Acceptance

Going back to our friend John Nash, he freed himself from the constant involvement with his thoughts. That is what acceptance is, see it for what it is, let go of the struggle and make the changes you need to make to help yourself. The pain may not go away completely, the constant negative thoughts may not disappear overnight but what will happen is that you will make peace with yourself.

If you have a personal struggle, we may be able to help. 

Sign up to a course - Book a One to One - Or get in touch directly

 

Breaking the chains of habit

Habits keep us chained to behaviours that continually cause us pain. It's like we are suckers for punishment, knowing that what we are doing is not good for us but somehow we just don't know how to help ourselves. 

I'm fascinated by how easy it is to be drawn back into our old ways, old patterns of behaviour, it's something I've experienced recently and it took me by surprise. It's not until you are totally sucked in that you begin to realise how easy it is to be trapped again, repeating old, familiar habits. It can be simple things such as our daily habits, like unhealthy eating or more complex habits, such as our repeating behaviours in relationships with others. 

Nothing ever just springs out of it's own accord, all our actions follow a thought

When we start to pay attention, we pick up on the thoughts that precede the habit behaviours and that's why it's so important to be on constant guard of our mind. It is this lack of self-regulation that allows our thoughts to take control, we let them run wild and before we know it we are acting these thoughts out. 

Our Thoughts Are Habits

Our thoughts are just habits, they are always repeating, nothing new just the same old stories going round and round. They are not fresh thoughts, they are past and future based and they instigate our actions. Our mind is out of control, no peace, no quiet, just those same old same old thoughts.

The problem is that these habits often go back to our childhood, they have taken a lot of time to become deeply ingrained and because of this, it takes real effort to break out of them. However, we rarely have what is needed to break these habit because we form then unconsciously but breaking them requires a conscious commitment. 

The challenge is that even when we decide we would like to break free from a habit and make a commitment to change, we find it's not that easy to do. We may work hard at it and for a while, it feels like you've got hold of this habit finally. Then we reaslise that as soon as we take our eyes off the ball, we are soon back where we started, doing the same old thing over again. This is why it's so hard for people to stop smoking or lose weight because they rely on willpower, however, as the brain is hardwired willpower alone does not work. 

Willpower Alone Does Not Work

The only way to break these destructive and harmful habits is to re-wire our brain so it can take a different pathway. The scientific term for this is neuroplasticity, where we consciously make an effort to change our neuropathway. Habits are created by a consistent action or thought, we keep doing until it becomes automatic. We call that a habit and the more we repeat, the more it becomes who we think we are and then we become chained with no escape. 

Our brain is built to create pathways that enable us to perform certain tasks automatically, we need to do this to function in life. It's absolutely necessary to know how to drive your car without having to learn it over and over, it's important to know how to jump out of the way of an oncoming car, these are all tasks that we perform on autopilot. However, what we tend to do is live on autopilot, not really being conscious of what we are doing, when we are doing it and our habits take over our lives.

Science now shows us that our brain is not static and it is possible to change. Good news for us when we want to free ourselves from these chains of habit. We can replace the old, negative thoughts and behaviours with new positive thoughts and behaviours, until they become our new habits. But it isn't easy and sometimes we need help to do this. 

Mindfulness As A Tool To Break Habits

It's not easy to change habits because it requires a conscious effort. And that's exactly where Mindfulness comes in. 

Through Mindfulness we train our brain to create new pathways, we do this through developing awareness of thoughts and getting to know our mind better. With a clearer understanding of our own mind, we are also able to take some control. It is only when we are aware of how and what triggers us to behave in certain ways, that we can start to break those patterns of behaviour that are not to our benefit.

The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken

So if you want to learn how to use Mindfulness to break the chains of habit, then why not join our 4 week online course staring soon? Nothing to loose and everything to gain - link below to find out more.

 

3 Easy Ways to Practice Mindfulness

I want to start by sharing a couple of paragraphs from Paul Verheaghen's book "Presence" His clear definition of Mindfulness in just a couple of sentences: 

These days, the fashionable term for the meditative experience and its aftermath is Mindfulness - a sense of being present in the moment, of observing whatever is happening rather than getting caught up in it and doing so with gentleness and a certain detachment

Then he goes on to give us probably the best bit of advice about the practice of Mindfulness in  this short paragraph:

This is aspirational, of course - it is nearly impossible to actually live a mindful life all of the time. It's a near-unattainable ideal. As a consequence, part of the practice of living mindfully is to learn how to fail with grace: Fail, get yourself back to a state resembling mindfulness, fail again, get yourself on track again, and so on. The hope is that ultimately something will come from this perpetual gently guiding yourself back to where you need to be.
This practice of repeated stumbling does lead to a more lasting habit of mindfulness

Well at least now we know that we don't have to be mindful all the time to be a Mindfulness practitioner or to benefit from Mindfulness, that takes some pressure off! So let's start with a few easy to follow tips to bring Mindfulness into your daily life.

One - From Mindless to Mindful

The first thing that we can work on is our habit of being on autopilot; going from one task to the next without stopping to pay attention. Have you ever got to the end of a car trip and wondered how you got there? Or left the house and wondered if you turned the oven off? These are common after-effects of not being present when we are going about our everyday life. Commonly known as "absent mindedness" 

So what can we do to be mindful and less mindless?

You can start by using some simple aids to break the patterns of distraction, use them over time to develop your capacity to bring yourself into the present moment. 

MindBell

This is a personal favourite, easy to use and free to download. 

MindBell rings periodically as a mindfulness bell during the day, to give you the opportunity to hold on for a moment and consider what you are currently doing, and in what state of mind you are while you are doing it. According to the Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, this is an effective means of developing mindfulness.

Download here

There's also a similar app you can use on your computer, such as Bell of Mindfulness

This is a bell that reminds us to breathe and be mindful of our body and mind. In the busy time of our daily life, we let our mind float away to many distractions. We forget about our body, our breath, and our mind; we forget about the unity of our mind and body. In order to remind us of this unification, the bell of mindfulness is meant for us to bring our mind back to our body. When we hear the sound of the bell, please stop what we are doing and take three breaths to bring our mind back to our body. Let this unification happen and be happy in the present moment. Download here

There are many different apps you can use, do a search if none of the above work for you and start being mindful today.

Two - Routine

Now, this requires a certain amount of commitment. If you don't believe in the benefits of Mindfulness then you won't make any effort to bring it into your daily life. However I'm going assume you do think Mindfulness would be beneficial to you and if this is the case, then you may have to make some life changes to fit Mindfulness in.

Perhaps it's a simple routine change, like getting to bed a little earlier so you can wake up in time to sit for 10 or 15 minutes before your day starts?

Interestingly Paul Verhaegen starts his book "Presence" by stating that he began his meditation by practicing 6 minutes a day and slowly building this up. I have to agree that for people who are just starting a meditation practice, slowly introducing short sessions is much more realistic.

Meditation is the tool that leads to Mindfulness

Then think about how you spend your day, how much of it is used efficiently and how much of it is used in time wasting?

At the end of your day can you spend a little time quietly reflecting on your day and then letting your day go before you go to sleep? 

How about introducing mindful walking or mindful eating? 

What about bringing some silent time into your day? A little bit of silence can be a very healing part of our mental health. 

Be honest with yourself, commit to small changes and don't beat yourself up if you fail, remember to fail with grace. Get back on it and keep going. Over time it will become a new healthier habit. 

Three - Nature is a Healer

I am sure you don't need me to remind you how important it is to connect with nature, an essential part of a healthy mind and body.

Wherever possible try to go out for walks, do some gardening, take trips out of the city, do whatever you can to get into nature.

Being in an office or inside all day is a very unnatural way to live. We need to breath fresh air, we need to walk on the grass and look at the beauty of nature. If you think you are too busy to take 10 minutes a day to get outside then you really are in need of some Mindfulness. Look at your routine, how much time do you spend watching TV? Can you swap some of that time to be outside in the fresh air? 

And London (if you live in London) has many beautiful open spaces, get out there and explore. 

Of course it's not always easy to make changes in your life, even when you know it's for the best.

Why not join our live online course starting soon to begin your personal Mindfulness practice?    

The Hardest Break Up So Far

In the last few years, I've become quite an expert at ending relationships, seems that it's a skill you can develop with practice. Not that I'm recommending getting into a relationship so you can learn how to break up, just saying with experience it becomes a little easier to do.

However recently I've been struggling with my relationship with my mobile phone, so I decided to end this romance, uhm I didn't expect it to be so difficult! It shouldn't be such a big deal, after all I've become a "move on" expert?

Why the romance ended?

Well, to be honest, I came to realise that my phone has become a bit like these past relationships, just bad habits. You see you start a relationship with all these expectations, you buy into the fairy tale. At the beginning its the dream that you've finally met your perfect partner, they will make you happy, they will add to your life. Just a note here, if you meet someone and are expecting them to fill a void, the relationship is already heading for trouble. You fill your voids, then you meet someone who will compliment you. 

Anyway, back to the point. As time passes, you start to see that this person isn't really what you thought. You may even come to the conclusion that he or she is not adding to your life, quite the opposite, the relationship is draining your energy and distracting you from what's really important to you. Then the fairytale is no more. Similarly I've come to see my relationship to my mobile phone as an addiction, another bad habit. This addiction is further fed by the stories my mind has around the relationship. It tells me I need my phone, I need this relationship, I mean how could I possibly live with out it? If I break up I will be lonely, sad, single!! Goodness, being single, how awful that would be?

This is how I started my romance with my phone started to end. I saw the affect it is having on my life, a unnecessary distraction. Yes, I need my mobile phone to make and receive calls, what else do I need it for? Do I need to keep checking my social media, messaging friends and checking the time? How did I survive before mobile phones?

Then I started to think about my childhood, in the park all summer with my friends. No phone, no way for me to be contacted or to contact anyone except face to face. I miss those days, peaceful and free. Totally in the moment, yes the innocence of childhood, which our children don't get to experience anymore.

That's when I began the process of breaking up with my phone, enough is enough. I need my mind back, I need my peace back.

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One - No Contact!

The most common bit of advice people get when they are going through a break-up, is to follow the "no contact" rule. And I have to say it is probably the most important bit of advice you will get when you are trying to break away from someone or something. This is scientifically based. When you are in the habit of being with someone, the only way to break the habit is to abstain, just like breaking any addictive habit. Slowly over time your mind will build a new pathway, but it needs time and no contact is necessary for this to happen. Breaking the attachment. 

To end my relationship with my phone I had to learn to switch it off, no contact, at least for parts of the day. I have a landline, so the important people in my life can contact me. Now my phone is off during the night and of course when I'm running a Mindfulness groups or when I'm meditating or just when I feel like it. Who's in charge anyway?

Two - Replace the Bad Habit with a Good Habit

To replace the I need my phone to know the time excuse, I bought a simple, no frills watch. I stopped wearing a watch many years ago when I got fed up constantly checking the time for my working day to end. I live a very different life now and value time in a much healthier way. No longer wishing my day away, more like trying to make sure it hasn't slipped by without me noticing. 

That bad habit has been replaced by my new watch, quite like it actually! 

Three - See it for what it actually is

I'm being a little humorous of course, ending a relationship is difficult, it hurts, I know that but when we really look at it for what it is, then we can see through the stories our mind has made up. Having the courage to see people as they are, not as I want them to be, is perhaps the greatest lesson I've learned from my past relationships. 

Our mind can convince us of so much, it really can. I mean look at our behaviours, look at what we allow in our life, if we really saw it for what it was we certainly wouldn't allow it. If we valued ourselves, our life and this precious human existence, we would not throw a moment of it away on useless pursuits.

I'm not saying we shouldn't use mobile phones or that we shouldn't have relationships with others. Quite the opposite. We need good people in our life, they enrich us. We need to use our technology for it's purpose, not to distract us. I guess that's the point, we let bad habits creep into our life because we are distracted and then these habits become addictions.

Once we notice how lost in our distractions we are, then we can liberate ourselves. We will break up with everything that stops us living fully

Mindfulness helps us break free from our addictions and bad habits.

Why not join our new online course starting on Tuesday 10th July to find out how? 

 

Mindfulness for Loss and Grief

How to live with loss and grief

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Today I got the sad news that a previous course participant loss her battle with Cancer. People often tell me not to take my work home with me, is that even an option in this line of work? I don’t take my job home with me, I take my being human home, it's one thing I refuse to detach from. My work gives me a reminder every day at how lucky I am to wake up with my health still intact.

This morning, just by coincidence I came across this post written by Elizabeth Gilbert and it struck a chord, especially relevant on this day when my thoughts are with the lovely lady who lost her life to this devasting illness and her family that now must pick up the pieces.

I am Willing - Elizabeth Gilbert

Dear Ones:
What does “forever” mean, when one of the lovers has terminal cancer?
That’s simple: It means FOREVER.
Six months ago this week, Rayya died.
People keep asking me how I’m doing, and I’m not always sure how to answer that. It depends on the day. It depends on the minute. Right this moment, I’m OK. Yesterday, not so good. Tomorrow, we’ll see.
Here is what I have learned about Grief, though.
I have learned that Grief is a force of energy that cannot be controlled or predicted. It comes and goes on its own schedule. Grief does not obey your plans, or your wishes. Grief will do whatever it wants to you, whenever it wants to. In that regard, Grief has a lot in common with Love.
The only way that I can “handle” Grief, then, is the same way that I “handle” Love — by not “handling” it. By bowing down before its power, in complete humility.
When Grief comes to visit me, it’s like being visited by a tsunami. I am given just enough warning to say, “Oh my god, this is happening RIGHT NOW,” and then I drop to the floor on my knees and let it rock me. It’s a full-body experience. To resist it is to be brutalized by it. You just bow down — that’s all you CAN do — and you let this thing roll through your heart and body and mind, in all its vehemence.
How do you survive the tsunami of Grief?
By being willing to experience it, without resistance. By being willing to feel everything. By being willing to accept the unacceptable.
The conversation of Grief, then, is one of prayer-and-response.
Grief says to me: “You will never love anyone the way you loved Rayya.”
And I reply: “I am willing for that to be true.”
Grief says: “She’s gone, and she’s never coming back.”
I reply: “I am willing for that to be true.”
Grief says: “You will never see her walk in the door again.”
I say: “I am willing.”
Grief says: “You will never have access to her wisdom again.”
I say: “I am willing.”
Grief says: “You will never hear that laugh again.”
I say: “I am willing.”
Grief says, “You will never smell her skin again.”
I get down on the floor on my fucking knees, and — and through my sheets of tears — I say, “I AM WILLING.”
I am beginning to understand that Grief is not the same thing as Depression. Depression is unwilling. Grief is a MOVEMENT — catastrophic and mighty — that you ALLOW to rock you and spin you. Depression is refusal to feel. Depression is a refusal to move, or to be moved. Depression is resistance, and resistance is futile.
I am not depressed, in the wake of Rayya’s death. I am DESTROYED, but I am not depressed — but that’s only because I am willing to be destroyed.
I will live on, because I am WILLING. I am willing to take this life on God’s terms, not mine.
Love’s terms, not mine.
Grief’s terms, not mine.
I am willing to surrender to the reality that I will never understand any of this. I am even willing to accept that I may not ever fully heal from the loss of Rayya.
Grief says: “You may never recover from this”
And I say: “I am willing.”
This is the job of the living — to be willing to bow down before EVERYTHING that is bigger than you. And nearly everything in this world is bigger than you. Let your willingness be the only big thing about you.
Me, too. I am completely fucking baffled. I don’t understand Life any more than I understand Love or Death or Grief.
But I am willing to be here for the duration of the mystery. I am willing to be rocked by every last tsunami.
I don’t know what Rayya is doing or being now. That is not for me to know. I only know that I will love her forever. And I know what I am doing and what I am being:
I am willing.
Onward,
LG

Acceptance and Willingness to Feel

What struck me when reading the words of Elizabeth Gilbert was how beautifully they explain the place of Mindfulness in the context of loss and grief. It’s her acceptance of whatever comes up in the moment and her willingness to stay open to life, whatever the future brings. I guess it’s the difference between closing down after a great loss or staying brave, open and soft to life even if you want to shut down. Ms Gilbert likens it to the difference of being sad and being depressed, a useful comparison. 

I am willing to be here for the duration of the mystery – I am willing to be rocked by every last tsunami – I am willing

This is the only choice we have in life, to accept that we have no control and that living now, this very moment is the only choice we have.

In the end, we have to accept that for now, we feel deep pain, maybe it will pass or maybe it will just soften, or maybe you will just let it become a part of who you now are. But for now, we have to be willing.

If anything from this post has hit home for you, if you need help or support for grief, loss or Cancer, please get in touch to find out how we can help.

 

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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