Mindfulness

The Truth About Being a Strong Woman

The question that often sits on my mind is “are we born strong or do we become strong?”

If we are born strong then that would imply that we come into this world as a blank canvas and life moulds us, in a sense we have no control of who we will become. However life has shown me that to a certain extent we bring some qualities with us, how this happens depends very much on your personal beliefs. I know for certain that some people are born with insight and wisdom, others seem to live forever and never develop the capacity to develop as humans.

I am tough, ambitious and know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, Okay - Madonna

I was both gifted and cursed with the label “strong” since I was a child. It was a persona I created to protect myself in a world that left me vulnerable and often alone. Others around me would say “you are too strong to cry” and completely forget I too was a child, this is the curse of the strong child! As I grew up I embraced the strong label because it kept people away, and I learned to stand alone. What others couldn’t see or didn’t want to see was the soft, emotional, caring person underneath, what those close didn’t want to see was the hurt that was being covered by the strong persona. What they couldn’t see was the little girl that just wanted to be loved and cared for.

Over the years this young girl became an independent, intelligent, self-sufficient lady who others could rely on, what else could she have become? The world isn't ready for “strong” women, it’s too much of a threat. We are aloof, uncaring, downright bitches who won’t be tamed.

I know what I bring to the table….so trust me when I say I am not afraid to eat alone

When I reached fifty my life took a surprising turn, things started to fall apart one bit at a time. Just as I thought I’d reach the stage where I could reap the benefits of all my hard work, the rug was pulled below me and nothing could hold me up. The illusion of a happy home, successful career and good life was shattered, the lie finally exposed.

First there was the text from my ex-husband to a new female interest that just happens to land on my phone, it was karma in action, the marriage was never going to last, two people who were clearly on different paths.

Then the news that I was going to be made redundant. I remember the day that I was called into the office at work to be given my notice, I hadn’t expected this even though I probably should have. I was the main earner in our home, my salary paid for most things and we were comfortable with that (or so I thought). I remember the words being said by my manger at the time but my mind drifted off to thoughts of panic, anger and even at times a sense of freedom. I had been feeling trapped for a long time, not just in my working life.

I left the office that day to take the train home in a daze, shocked and emotional but unable to cry in the center of busy London, that’s what crazy people do, isn’t it? But I was broken, sad and emotional, I guess that’s what it feels like to be made to feel worthless. All I wanted to do was to get home so I could cry!

As I entered my home, I could feel my posture change however instead of letting myself feel hurt and emotional, I realised I was putting on that strong woman persona again. Why? Because in my marriage that was my role and I was just being who I had become. I remember telling my husband and being very careful about my words to not upset him too much, not out of fear just so I didn't rock his boat too much. It was because I knew he was weak, he was never going to be the one to give me good advice or be there for me, he wasn’t capable of that. So I let go of how I was really feeling to make sure he was alright, the same old cycle repeating itself. This game we played we had mastered after thirty years, I was superwoman, and nothing could touch me and he needed to be saved every single day.

I decided that I wasn’t going to go back to work, they didn’t deserve that from me. So I went to the doctor to get a sick note. As I entered the doctor's surgery, I began to run through the story I was going to tell the doctor. He was a young doctor I’d never seen before. I sat down and began to tell him about my redundancy and how it had made me very anxious, the truth in fact. Then he looked at me and asked me if I was alright. Nobody had asked me that, I started to cry uncontrollably, and this startled me. Then the doctor asked me if I had any suicidal thoughts, “of course not” I replied. I was given time off work and left.

As I was driving home, something felt very different to me. I kept thinking “why could I cry in front of a complete stranger and not to the man I’ve shared my life with for over thirty years?” That question kept going on over and over in my head.

He who conquers others is strong; he who conquers himself is might - Lao Tzu

It suddenly hit me that I could no longer keep up with the fake persona that had got me through a difficult childhood. I had shut down as a person, attracted people into my life that were takers and had no idea who I really was.

Over the following weeks, this change became apparent to my husband, I just wasn’t willing to play that game anymore. I was fortunate to find out that he was already having a flirt or whatever you like to call it with another woman, this was my get out of jail card and I used it with no option to return. He wanted the woman that never made demands on him, the one that just got on with everything and never expected anything in return, so I stopped being that woman and this is where I began, and we ended.

To be strong means I am grounded and confident in who I am

I learned that being strong is not being uncaring, being strong is daring to be vulnerable and open. I learned that having the courage to be who you are without having to fit the expectations of others is worthwhile.

I’m done saying sorry for being who I am, I’m done being the strong one, I’m done being what others want me to be or expect me to be. I’m happy to be who I am, I’m happy to be with me if that’s what it takes to be me.

To any woman or man who feels like they don’t fit, I say be fucking proud of who you are. Don’t become someone others need, become who you need. Weak people will always try to break you because watching you makes them feel bad about themselves. Let them be, don’t try to fix them or change them, move on and walk your road. No man or woman is worth you losing yourself for, in the end, we will go our own way anyway.

And be thankful for the pain, it’s what has brought you to this place, the one that you are at now. This is where you get to change your life. I thank my redundancy, I thank my divorce because finally when I sit alone and it is quiet inside.

Being strong doesn’t mean you can’t reach out, how can we help? Contact us and let’s work together through whatever is keeping you stuck right now.

Resilience is the key to happiness

If I asked you what you want most in life, I’m going to guess you would say something like, to be happy. It’s certainly what I would say, I think it’s the one thing that universally connects us all, this desire to be happy.

Why is happiness difficult to achieve?

Well to me the answer is simple. When happiness is reliant on external factors such as materialistic things or other people, then it can not be controlled. We can have moments of happiness but as soon as that external element changes or we lose it, then we are no longer happy.

It is therefore fundamental to our well-being that we strengthen our internal world so that we have the capacity to make ourselves happy. Does the fact that happiness is something you can create seem alien to you?

In her book The Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware lists one regret as “I wish I had given myself permission to be happy”. If happiness is in our control, then that’s good news because at any given time you can give ourselves permission to be happy. Is now a good time to do that, if not now, when?

What’s the missing ingredient?

I’ve come to see myself as a teacher of resilience rather than of Mindfulness because to me resilience is the key to happiness. If life is going to throw challenges at us at any given time, if we have no idea what is around the corner, then surely we need to build our inner resilience so we can weather each storm?

People often come to Mindfulness in pursuit of happiness, to find a way to stop the pain and suffering in their life. Sometimes they think all they need to do is to learn how to relax and I often see their disappointment when I tell them Mindfulness isn’t about that. Relaxation is a temporary feeling, it easily lost as soon as something we don’t want or like comes our way.

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

To be resilient is to have the strength to pick yourself up when you fall, to keep picking yourself up, to not give up or to stay stuck in pain and suffering. Resilience is an inner strength.

We need resilience in all areas of our life, personal, intimate, work and leisure. Difficulties and challenges will come and go, it’s a fact of life. Because of that, I prefer to teach people how to be resilient, that is my type of Mindfulness.

How to become more resilient

Let Yourself Fail

The bad news about resilience is that we need to fall to learn how to pick ourselves up, we need to know what pain is to find a way to heal and we need to know how to fail to learn how to succeed. If we avoid failure, we are in fact avoiding what helps us become resilient.

The strongest people are usually the ones that have had to endure the most suffering. Look at history, the people who have left a mark on us are people like Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. They had to develop immense resilience to survive. Not only did they survive, they thrived through their challenges.

Accept Change

You can bet that something good is right around the corner just as much as we know the opposite is also a possibility. If things are not how you want them to be at this moment, then luckily you know it’s going to change because nothing stays the same. Wouldn’t it be better to accept that change is happening all the time and to stop trying to control everything around you? Instead focus on strengthening your inner resilience so you can pick yourself up when things are not going as you wish, then you are not easily knocked by life.

Challenge Yourself

This is one of my favourites. When I notice I’m a little scared of something, then that’s when I know I must do it. The more I challenge myself the easier it becomes. Nothing is ever as bad as our mind makes us believe. I remember when I first took a jet ski lesson and the instructor left me on my own in the open sea (or ocean!), the waves were high and rough. I thought I’d fall in and not be able to get myself out. I remember the instructor saying “the slower you go the less stability you have” so I had to make a choice. Go slow and lose control or rev up the engine and see what happens. To my surprise although I was scared, it felt pretty good!

I guess this reflects life, we can hold the break and live life safely or we can let go and live life regardless of fear. It is our decision.

Mindfulness and Resilience

Mindfulness helps us develop our resilience in three steps:

  1. We become aware of our inner talk and begin to see our limiting thoughts.

  2. Then we notice our patterns of behaviour which are our learned reactions. Note I say reactions because we are not usually aware of them.

  3. Once we become aware of our limiting thoughts and reactions, we can change. Using Mindfulness practices to respond rather than react.

Mindfulness gives us the tools we need to self regulate and develop our inner resilience. And then we can take charge of our life.

If you want to know more about our approach to Mindfulness for your personal life, work or general well-being please do get in touch.

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.

 

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.