Friday, 29 July 2011

Authenticity Uninterrupted?

"To be nobody but myself - in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else - means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting."
E. E. Cummings 




Standing in a queue at the cash desk of a London department store recently, my attention was caught by a little boy dressed up in high heels and a long T shirt which he was sporting as a rather fetching dress and, to complete the outfit, a bra filled with sports socks.  As he admired himself in the handily situated mirror which stood on the floor, he looked pleased at the look he had accomplished. 

My fellow shoppers, including his mother, seemed not to give him a second glance.  He seemed so content, and was quite happy amusing himself, in a way that appeared both familiar and comfortable.  I was struck by the scene for different reasons, but what really caught my eye was the exuberant joy that emanated from it. 


He had an enthusiastic aide who was, most likely, a sister, cousin or friend, who had also donned sophisticated footwear, but whose gait in them seemed less poised.  The two of them took turns adjusting their cleavage in the mirror, with a very clear idea in mind as to the look they wished to achieve. 

There was tremendous freedom, without any inhibition.  The only pressure was time - his mother was in the queue in front of me, and having made her purchase, wanted to leave the store but not before she agreed to take a few posed snaps of her son in his chosen attire.  It was only after he inspected and approved the photos on her iPhone that the trio left, the bras having been taken off, and returned to the small hangers and the racks they adorned. 

I found myself wondering at what age that expression might become troublesome, and for whom. 




"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."  Maya Angelou



"You can't base your life on other people's expectations."
Stevie Wonder



Thursday, 28 July 2011

Simple Pleasures

Pedalling around London in the sunshine is my idea of heaven.  Being taken to Look Mum No Hands for coffee really was the icing on the cake that was my morning.  It's funny that, whilst negotiating pot holes and rather unfriendly traffic, including cars whose drivers decide to overtake only to immediately want to turn left, we both arrived feeling really rather content, and relaxed.
 
It is easy to forget the magic of cycling when you ride a bike most days, but on mornings like this, I'm glad to be able to reconnect with the joy riding my singlespeed around town gives me.

Most people know that cycling, as a form of cardio exercise is good for the body, but it has proven benefits for the mind and spirit too.  It's no surprise then that cycle training organisations are setting up "cycle for health" projects around the country, designed to help a diverse variety of people get back on their bikes with confidence. 

Two lattes later, puncture repaired and inner tube replaced, I was ready to head up to NW3 via the West End, taking an hour out of my not particularly busy day to potter around Marylebone High Street and two of my favourite bookshops.  After some rather inevitable impulse purchases, with panniers even fuller than usual, I made my way through Regent's Park to get up into North London proper.  I can't help but feel privileged to live in the city whenever I cycle past the stucco fronted Nash terraces, villas and ambassadorial residences.  It certainly beats a spinning class. 




Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Think Twice: Our Two Brains



"There can be no brain without a body to inhabit, and no body could survive without a brain inside it. The body is a single organism that includes the specialist functions of the brain, which include those of taking account of what is happening in the body, including the part of it that is itself." Antonio Damasio, author of 'Descartes' Error' and 'The Feeling of What Happens'.

As a practitioner and student of Mindfulness, I am interested in mind and body, which might perhaps more accurately by thought of as bodymind.  I was recently discussing this in some depth with colleagues who are similarly interested in aspects of neuroscience as they pertain to our health and wellbeing. 
 
 
"What the mind dwells upon the body acts upon"
Dennis Waitley, American inspirational speaker and self-help author, b.1933





Given the very basic level of my biological knowledge, our discussion of the vagus nerve stood out as something of importance to me.  Our capacity to self soothe is nothing less than crucial to our survival.  The vagus nerve would seem to be critical in the management and expression of our emotions.  Darwin highlighted this, in 1872 but did not have the same science at his disposal as we do today.  It has since been shown that the vagus nerve plays a critical role in affect management through the regulation of brain structures, and is related to epilepsy, depression and repetitive self destructive habits such as those found in autism.  Activation of the vagus nerve typically leads to a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure, or both.  Within the healthy range of activation, it is the vagus nerve that allows us to comfort and soothe ourselves, and interact with other people.


Similarly, our digestive system is at the heart of the network with which we process our emotional experience.  This confirms the existence of 'gut feelings' - we really do process our feelings in our intestine.  There are said to be 100 million neural networks lining intestinal walls which comprise our enteric nervous system - we do, quite literally, have a second brain in the gut. 

 

"The second brain doesn't help with the great thought processes…religion, philosophy and poetry is left to the brain in the head."
Michael Gershon (1999) 'The Second Brain',  Harper Collins.

Butterflies in the stomach - signaling in the gut as part of our physiological stress response, is but one example.  Although gastrointestinal turmoil can sour one's moods, everyday emotional well-being may rely on messages from the brain below to the brain above.

Serotonin

Given the two brains' commonalities, other depression treatments that target the mind can unintentionally impact the gut.  The enteric nervous system uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, just like the brain, and in fact 95 percent of the body's serotonin is found in the bowels.  Because antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase serotonin levels, it's little wonder that meds meant to cause chemical changes in the mind often provoke GI issues as a side effect.  Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which afflicts between 20-25% population at some time in their lives, also arises in part from too much serotonin in our entrails, and could perhaps be regarded as a "mental illness" of the second brain.


Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Going the Distance: Swimming through Recovery: Parallels from the Pool

I am a long distance swimmer rather than a sprinter.  Whilst I can, and occasionally do, swim fast, my preferred pool style is characterised by endurance.  On a recent visit to the pool, I began to think a little more about the parallels between swimming and recovery.

Aesop's fable of the tortoise and the hare comes to mind...



Once upon a time there was a hare who, boasting how he could run faster than anyone else, was forever teasing tortoise for its slowness. Then one day, the irate tortoise answered back: “Who do you think you are? There’s no denying you’re swift, but even you can be beaten!” The hare squealed with laughter.  “Beaten in a race? By whom? Not you, surely! I bet there’s nobody in the world that can win against me, I’m so speedy. Now, why don’t you try?”

Annoyed by such bragging, the tortoise accepted the challenge. A course was planned, and the next day at dawn they stood at the starting line. The hare yawned sleepily as the meek tortoise trudged slowly off. When the hare saw how painfully slow his rival was, he decided, half asleep on his feet, to have a quick nap. “Take your time!” he said. “I’ll have forty winks and catch up with you in a minute.”

The hare woke with a start from a fitful sleep and gazed round, looking for the tortoise. But the creature was only a short distance away, having barely covered a third of the course. Breathing a sigh of relief, the hare decided he might as well have breakfast too, and off he went to munch some cabbages he had noticed in a nearby field. But the heavy meal and the hot sun made his eyelids droop. With a careless glance at the tortoise, now halfway along the course, he decided to have another snooze before flashing past the winning post. And smiling at the thought of the look on the tortoise’s face when it saw the hare speed by, he fell fast asleep and was soon snoring happily.

The sun started to sink, below the horizon, and the tortoise, who had been plodding towards the winning post since morning, was scarcely a yard from the finish. At that very point, the hare woke with a jolt. He could see the tortoise a speck in the distance and away he dashed. He leapt and bounded at a great rate, his tongue lolling, and gasping for breath. Just a little more and he’d be first at the finish. But the hare’s last leap was just too late, for the tortoise had beaten him to the winning post. Poor hare! Tired and in disgrace, he slumped down beside the tortoise who was silently smiling at him.  “Slowly does it every time!” he said.


Going the distance in the pool, or in recovery involve the same ingredients:  preparation, rhythm and maintenance.  Just as I would not consider heading to the pool without goggles, and a drink, recovery involves preparation and planning. 

It is a well known truth that unless and until someone wants to get well, it is unlikely that they will succeed in sobriety. 

I don't get to the pool by accident: I make a conscious decision to do so.  This bodes better for my swim, in the same way as it does for someone entering recovery.   



In order to sustain myself in the pool for the 50-75 minutes I tend to spend there, rhythm is vital.  I tend to focus on nothing other than my breath to begin with for it is my first 30 lengths that are both the most challenging, and the most important.  It is during this first 12-14 minutes that my rhythm is established, and the foundations laid. 

The same might be said about recovery:  the early days are some of the hardest and it is for this reason that the suggestion of getting to '90 in 90' (ninety meetings in ninety days) is made - to encourage those new in (or newly back) to avail themselves of the most support they can.




Once I have got into a rhythm, it is essential for me to maintain this as best I can.  I try to keep my breaks to a minimum, and tumble-turn at the end of each length, to swim continuously.  It is for this reason that I, like other keen swimmers, prefer longer pools (and, in my case, nothing less than 25m).

Maintaining a routine in recovery is a real asset; addiction is characterised by chaos, and often entails a lot of unpredictability.  Living life on life's terms is not always easy; life isn't always a bed of roses, or a bowl of cherries - having a strong routine makes things considerably easier, and paradoxically allows us to be flexible come what may. 


There are, it occurred to me later, other parallels between the pool and the road of recovery... 


Swimming can be rather lonely.  It is (unless you are involved with either water polo, or synchronised swimming) a solitary activity.  That said, I have over time, come to know some regulars who frequent the pool with a similar regularity as I do, and whose training regimens are not unlike my own. 

Finding someone to swim alongside, with whom you can pace yourself has great advantages. 

This stands up in relation to recovery:  addiction in all its guises is about isolation.  Relationships are are avoided or destroyed.  Walking alongside others with shared experience, and a common goal is a good way to get there. 

Mid-swim I occasionally find myself reminded of the inevitability of powerlessness:  people, places and things over which we have no control.  Shit happens.  Whilst swimming, the lane-invader represents a good example of this.  It serves me not at all to fight the intrusion, less still to give in to 'lane rage' and allow a resentment to develop - to do so quite literally puts me off my stroke.  Far better to let go, retain my focus, and look ahead.  Chances are, they won't stay for long anyway (there are few of us who swim over 2.5k in a session).

Whilst swimming is without a doubt beneficial to body and mind, to swim my best, I need to look after my physical and mental well being.  I need sufficient sleep, and adequate energy before diving in, and then need to bring with me into the water self belief, determination, and focus.   




Sunday, 24 July 2011

RIP Amy Winehouse (1983-2011)










Whilst I felt unsurprised I was gravely saddened to learn yesterday afternoon that Amy Winehouse had been found dead in her home in Camden. 

As I said to Petrie Hoskyn on LBC 97.3FM this afternoon, it was clear that Ms. Winehouse had been struggling for some time, and her bedraggled public appearances and drunken performances in between failed attempts to get clean in rehab had been a testament to that painful struggle.

Whilst a post mortem is pending, and the cause of her death as yet unknown, perhaps there is something more pressing to be acknowledged in the wake of this talented young artist's death - her life wasconsumed, and ultimately destroyed by her addictions.







Described as the wild child of British Pop she has now joined the fateful '27 Club'.  Some would say she survive the transition and perhaps the reference to her 'child'like self is indeed apt, becoming a star so young, having failed to complete school, Amy arguably got stuck in a state of psuedo-sophistication.  Renown for her opinions, and her willingness to express these, much of her behaviour resembled that of a troubled adolescent, for whom any attention was at least attention which maybe contributed in part to her troublesome lifestyle.  Famous for tantrums, and violent outbursts, it strikes me now more clearly than before that Amy was most definitely still caught in the throes of adolescence, yet distanced from the support we need to survive the challenges it presents. 

Amy Winehouse exemplifies a reality true for many alcoholics and addicts: addiction is a progressive illness that cannot be cured, but can be arrested and recovery is then possible. Sadly, her time in treatment was often short, and the distractions many. 


Recovery from addiction is a often conceptualised as a daily reprieve requiring continued commitment and vigilance.  As a bio-psycho-spiritual malady, support in each of these domains is a prerequisite for sustained recovery. 


Another truth that Ms. Winehouse's story highlights very clearly, is the relationship between substance abuse and mental health.  The singer songwriter referred to her depression in her music, and her body was a homage to her other self injurious behaviours, including cutting and a problematic relationship with food.  Her pain and vulnerability were self evident in her lyrics, and her performances. 

 

Addiction is correctly termed as a family illness, and affects networks of people beyond the person who is themselves addicted.  On air earlier I was asked what families and friends of those battling with addictions can, and should do.  There's no simple or straightforward answer, but I hold on to my belief that those affected by another's alcoholism or addiction both need and deserve support, independent of their loved one.  This is vital, in order that addiction does not destroy those who witness the often darkly tragic show that is played out on the family stage. 

By accessing this support, family members are able to detach from the problem, enabling them to help themselves, and better help the addict or alcoholic, who cannot and will not recover until their denial is challenged and colluded with no longer.  My thoughts are with the family and friends of Amy Winehouse, and all those who are witnessing someone they love on 'self destruct'. 

 


 Al Anon exists to support anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drinking.  There are over 800 support groups in the UK and Republic of Ireland.  Al-Anon is an anonymous fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who share their experience in order to solve their common problems.

www.nacoa.org.uk 
The National Association for the Children of Alcoholics provides free and confidential advice, information and support to anyone affected by a parent's drinking. 



www.famanon.org.uk
Families Anonymous is a world wide fellowship of relatives and friends of people involved in the abuse of mind-altering substances, or with related behavioural problems.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Fun: are you getting any?



Clients often look at me as though I'm speaking in a foreign tongue when I ask them what they enjoy doing.  What they do for recreation, and pleasure.  Whether they have hobbies, or interests, activities they do just for fun.  Perhaps I've lost you, too...

It strikes me that fun is an important, if not crucial, component of recovery and life generally.  Research suggests that those of us who are fortunate enough to have things we enjoy, and time to engage in these, are likely to report better quality of life.  Hardly surprising.

What is surprising, worrying even, is how little time we spend enjoying ourselves. 

Fun, smiles, and laughter are all good for our health.  Doing things we enjoy, and things we are good at, are both equally important.  Pleasure and mastery fight depression and other ailments. 

I have deliberately introduced fun into my life.  I am who I am because of my friends, and some of my closest friends are my 'fun police'.  They too realise the importance of having fun, and we make sure to make time to do so. 

There are certain things I try to do every day, as basic maintenance, which enables me to maintain a sense of balance, and purpose during my waking hours.  Then I have things I do weekly, or at least several times a month.  These give me a sense of progress, and are markers I plan ahead, and organise, as celebrations of achievements, or things to look forward to.  Finally, there are some things I maybe do only annually, which also form part of my 'fun' routine.  Holidays and breaks away from my usual routine add to my motivation, and provide me with opportunities to both reflect on what's been and what's yet to come. 

So, I cycle and I swim.
I read things that interest me.
I practice yoga. 
I buy flowers when I visit the supermarket. 
I get my hair cut and my toenails painted. 
I keep in touch with people I care about.
I get to the cinema, and to the theatre.
I drive to beautiful places. 
I visit art galleries and exhibitions.
I enjoy drinking tea with friends. 
I travel to different parts of the world, with different climates (and, in particular, good snow).
And, I think about what I'd like to do on my next day off...



No one said that life was easy.  No one said it was meant to be miserable, either. 

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Ghost the Musical: Haunting

'Ghost' exceeded any expectations I might have had.  I wasn't consciously aware of many preconceptions but was very positively surprised by the superb performances and breathtaking special effects.  They have stuck close to the storyline of the 1990 film and the romantic fantasy is beautifully enacted live on stage. 


Whilst the actors who play Sam and Molly, whose love story is cruelly interrupted, are very good, it is Sharon D. Clarke who stole the show, for me.  Her character, Oda Mae Brown, is that which Whoopi Goldberg occupied in the film - as the comic New York psychic, from Spanish Harlem, who is surprised to discover her 'gift' having been professing to connect with those who have 'passed' for some time before Sam approaches her boudoir.


Oda Mae almost makes it: whilst she doesn't get to keep the $10,000,000 she does put her rates up for readings. 
She does however dream in style.













The set, projections, and effects are truly inspired, and succeeded in transporting us direct to the madness of Manhattan. 

The lighting and choreography set the scene for what was, I thought, a very slick show that will, I think, run and run... 

So far, the new show has received mixed reviews.  I'd invite you to go and form your own opinion.  It certainly has a different feel to the film, but there's something electric and soulful in this stage production. 


Monday, 18 July 2011

Tree of Life (2011)

Tree of Life is, to my mind, a film to be experienced, rather than simply watched.  I had no idea what to expect, having characteristically avoided reviews, and critics' comments.  It is, I think, a film for all.  I would challenge anyone to come out from a screening to lack a response...  My own felt to come from my heart rather than my head, as the film is an epic journey through unfamiliar territory. 


Bits of it were reminiscent of the best David Attenborough documentaries, the ecological cinematography is quite literally, out of this world.  Other parts were captivating, inviting engagement, and demanding consideration. 

I felt tired leaving the cinema, and not because it had been a late showing, but rather because I felt my mind, body and senses had all been taken on an unforeseen journey quite unlike anything I've experienced before. 

The performances are deep, and yet the human presence somehow minimal.  This film has perspective, and highlighted our profound insignificance upon the planet, and our relative minuscule presence and longevity alongside the elements. 

Throughout the film I was acutely aware of the powerful and symbolic use made of light.  Tree of Life is already one of my 2011 cinematic highlights; and one which will not be quickly forgotten or overtaken.  Unusually, I have, despite my efforts, found it hard to either summarise, or even describe.  It is one to be experienced, for yourself. 


Terrence Malick's latest release has received mixed press since it was reviewed at Cannes in May.  I can appreciate that it won't appeal to everyone, and yet there seems to be something for everybody within its scenes.  Perhaps most controversial are the references to Christianity, and yet I found these subtle, and strictly optional, featuring as a background to far stronger visual experiences and invitations. 

"The only way to be happy is to love.  Unless you love, your life will flash by."


I can't argue, it is a long film, yet (in spite of the Odeon's frankly inhospitably hyperactive air conditioning) I was drawn in to it, in a way that caused me to feel transported beyond the realms of time.

It is, I think, rather better described as metaphysical than Christian.  There is certainly nothing remotely evangelical within it, and I interpreted the message as rather more widely existential - that, in our efforts, to comprehend, and work through in order to come to terms with our apparent insignificance whilst in existence, we tend to look towards structure, such as that offered by the Church.    What Malick draws our attention to, however, is how insufficient a container this faith can offer, given our boundless confusion and resultant chaos. 

"Are You watching me? 
I want to know what You are. 
I want to see what You see."


There is something magnificent about this movie - which has been brilliantly shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, and which is, not only majestically ambitious but passionately felt, and deeply serious in its address to the audience.  As we witness a tormented man facing what might be described as a 'mid life crisis' (Sean Penn) we are brought to understand with impressive intimacy, his inner turmoil and colossal fear as he acknowledges his own negligible place in the universe. 

"There are two ways through life:  the way of nature, and the way of Grace. 
You have to choose which one you'll follow."

As he recalls growing up in the Midwest in the 1950s, we are introduced to the early origins of his disturbance with hints of possible parental abuse, at the hands of his frightening father (Brad Pitt) himself a deeply unhappy man, who abandoned his own artistic passion as a talented musician to try and build a career as a businessman.  The boys' mother (Jessica Chastain) is portrayed as a gentle soul, who tries to encourage her sons to follow the way of divine grace, rather than be content to thrive as natural beings.  She is ferociously opposed in this, by her tyrannical husband, who insists that his sons need only be strong.  The family is wounded when one of their sons dies, in military service, at the age of 19, and it looks uncertain whether they have the resources to heal and time does not seem to aid this process, only aggravate the suffering. 

"Father, Mother.  Always you wrestle inside me.  Always you will."

It is uncomfortable viewing at times, particularly as Pitt's model of parenting seems to cause an absurd confusion between love and fear, with his sons struggling to recognise the difference, less still feel it.  I can't pretend to comprehend all of the scenes my eyes were offered, yet I appreciated the package.   


Thursday, 14 July 2011

Tissues and Tears: The controversy of Lacrimation


According to Wikipedia, tears are "the secretions of the glands that clean and lubricate the eyes.  Strong emotions, such as sorrow, or elation, along with irritation of eye, may lead to an increased production of tears, or crying."

Furthermore, in nearly all cultures, crying is seen as a specific act associated with tears trickling down the cheeks and accompanied by characteristic sobbing sounds. Emotional triggers are most often sadness and grief, but crying can also be triggered by anger, happiness, fear, laughter or humour, frustration, remorse, or other strong, intense emotions. 

"The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears."  John Vance Cheney

Tears from the therapist's chair are somewhat of a controversial issue.  According to traditional theory a therapist should be empathic but neutral, but as a general rule she should not disclose her feelings.  Neutrality serves the purpose of establishing the patient’s independence and self-determination, a boundary that underscores the separateness, so in this sense it is therapeutic.  From this stance crying is not ok, being both a breach of neutrality and an act of self-disclosure.

Relational theory has progressed a little further, valuing both empathy and connection above all and taking a rather more permissive stance towards a modicum of self-disclosure, crying is considered ok as long as it favours attachment and communicates the therapist’s attunement (as opposed to neediness or a manifestation of a lack of control).

I have noticed that there are many forums where clients share their stories of crying therapists but – judging from the paucity of literature – it seems that therapists themselves are reluctant to tackle the subject of our own tears.  I wonder why?

According to Judith Kay Nelson, author of 'Seeing Through Tears', about two thirds of therapists have on (rare or isolated) occasion been moved to tears in front of their clients, and half of the remaining third is moved in session to the point of wanting to cry, but they actively suppress their tears.  For most therapists who cry, tears are usually an isolated episode.

I've found myself shed more than a single tear in the presence of clients.  I do not, nor would I, sit there blubbing, nor do I reach for a tissue, but I might find myself drying the corner of my eye.  I would be worried if I did not feel the emotions that prompt me to well up from time to time, given the material I am so often a witness to. 


"Every tear should live its purpose.  Don't ever wipe the reason away."  Jessica Simpson

In my experience, my tears are usually a timely acknowledgment of something (usually historical) that a client has shared with me, which they may struggle to connect with, beyond words or which they may, with time, have either become less connected with or so identified with that it no longer carries the emotional response it once did, or perhaps still could.  In either scenario, the appearance of my tear(s) is both powerful, and significant, for me as a therapist, and for our work together. 

Clearly, sobbing uncontrollably is rarely, if ever, appropriate.  Most experienced therapists, especially those among us who have been in therapy themselves, have grown to become comfortable with painful places most would rather avoid and, as a result, are well equipped to embody a state of compassion and to not feel overwhelmed or triggered by their clients' issues.

It is, I believe, my job to guide individuals through their own therapeutic process.  I am adept at doing this, by virtue of my training, and the fact that I have been in therapy myself.  I do not and would not expect a client to anything I have not done, or would not be prepared to do. 

My tears are a sign of empathy which I believe to be a normal, healthy and sincere element of the complex human process of relating emotionally to the experience of another.  Receiving empathy can help us feel safe and understood, strengthening and later maintaining the bond of trust between therapist and client. 

Sometimes one of the explicit goals of therapy is for a client to become comfortable with their more vulnerable feelings.  And often, a therapist transparently displaying empathy for a client helps that client foster self-compassion.  I say 'often' because for some, the experience can instead feel rather challenging, and possibly uncomfortable. 

Should my emotional expression ever contribute to a client feeling uncomfortable, I sincerely hope we would have an opportunity to explore this.  It is often the discomfort experienced in the room that is the 'nugget' to be worked with.  People can feel uncomfortable with vulnerability, and struggle to receive empathy.  Perhaps an expression of my emotion risks disappointment: crushing the idea that, as a therapist, I am perhaps superhuman and detached...

I am a therapist with a heart, and more often than not, I bring it in to the room with me.  It serves me, and it serves my clients.  Rarely do I feel the need to cry, but if and when I do, I do so with good reason, and to suppress or hide my tears would be inauthentic, and incongruent. 

"Let your tears come.  Let them water your soul."  Eileen Mayhew

 

Mindfulness: Coming (back) to our Senses

"Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now." 
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever you go, There you are:  Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.


"Peace is something that we can bring about if we can actually learn to wake up a bit more as individuals and a lot more as a species; if we can learn to be fully what we actually already are; to reside in the inherent potential of what is possible for us, being human." 
Jon Kabat-Zinn

As a student and practitioner of mindfulness I seek to embody my learnings, and practise the principles 'in all my affairs' in the spirit advocated by The Most Venerable Thich Naht Hanh.  Whilst I do my best to practise perfectly imperfectly, I often find that I have slipped into autopilot, and lost my connection with the present. 

On one day of each week I try to realise my intention of paying special attention to my thoughts, words and deeds.  I try to bring awareness, deliberately, moment to moment, without judgment.  Mindfulness is not something that happens in quiet rooms sat upon cushions.  It is a mental quality that can be cultivated in our everyday lives.  It is in this domain that I find it most most nourishing.  The benefits come from 'coming to our senses' and noticing the ordinary which we so often neglect that on being reunited with it, it becomes somehow extraordinary.


Coming to my senses this week involved eating mindfully.  Coming to attend to my appetite, and tuning in to what it was that my body needed, rather than what I might have pre-planned several days before, whilst at the supermarket. 

Preparing my dinner, I tried to slow down.  I focused on what I was doing, and that alone.  I noticed the food available, in my fridge and cupboards.  I felt content and grateful for the fact that I have such a rich variety at my disposal, and the means to purchase it.

As I washed the vegetables, I noticed their colours, shapes and textures.  I observed how one tomato was, in fact, quite different to another, and engaged with the salad I prepared, noticing how it looked, felt, and smelt.  My senses buzzed, alive and attended to once more. 

I noticed how much I was looking forward to eating my perfectly ordinary (and really rather simple) supper, and how I was already anticipating it.  I enjoyed putting the various components together, and laid the table, as I might were guests coming round. 

Thinking about our posture when we come to eat can affect our digestion, and enhance our experience.  When we are rushing, we may not even sit to eat, taking the time to consider the way in which we are sitting in relation to our food can make a difference.

Eating, without television, radio, or reading material, I was able to bring my attention to the tastes and textures, in a heightened manner.  So often we multi-task, we lose out on the sensory stimulus, as our attention is diverted elsewhere, and we are somewhere other than the present - thinking about what we must do next, what we have forgotten to do, who we must speak to, about this and that.  We are not where we are. 




"Smile, Breathe and Go Slowly." 
Thich Naht Hanh

"Life is available only in the present moment." 
Thich Naht Hanh

"Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future." 
Thich Naht Hanh


 



Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a poet, a scholar, and a peace activist. His life long efforts to generate peace and reconciliation moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. He founded the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon and the School for Youths of Social Services in Vietnam. When not travelling the world to teach “The Art of Mindful Living”, he teaches, writes, and gardens in Plum Village, France, a Buddhist monastery for monks and nuns and a mindfulness practice center for lay people.

Thich Nhat Hanh's key teaching is that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live in the present moment instead of in the past and in the future. Dwelling in the present moment is, according to Nhat Hanh, the only way to truly develop peace, both in one's self and in the world.  http://www.plumvillage.org/

Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD is internationally known for his work as a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher engaged in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society. He is Professor of Medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he was founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, and founder (in 1979) and former director of its world-renowned Stress Reduction Clinic.
"The little things?  The little moments?  They aren't little."  Jon Kabat-Zinn