Monday, 28 July 2014

Awakening to sleep

Sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together.
Thomas Dekker
Sleep is something most of us need.  I certainly benefit from a decent night's kip.  The more regularly I sleep well, the better I am able to function.  Long gone are my teenage days when I was able to lie-in once a week(end) and sleep until midday, when would wake feeling refreshed and recharged.  My body tells me it needs at least seven and a half hours of proper sleep each and every night to feel restored upon waking.  Which requires some conscious effort. 
My working day tends to start late and finish later.  The practice of psychotherapy is, in this way (and perhaps some others), something of an antisocial vocation.  I have something of a routine on concluding my client work which enables me to shift mental gears and adjust into my evening.  I have another routine prior to going to bed, again facilitating a further shift, and preparing me to sleep.  For sleep, just like any other activity, requires some preparation...
Why should my body adjust automatically on getting into bed?  It needs to be eased into this, just as I might check my handbag before leaving home in the morning, or travelling to the pool when anticipating a swim.  Body and mind need to be in sync, and creating the optimal circumstances for this to happen involves changing lanes, and shifting down through the gears as I leave the mental highway that the average day requires me to travel.   
The more I feel in need of rest, the more consciously I should prepare for it.  For whilst the body may be physically tired, the mind might be in an unhelpful state of alertness - particularly when I'm 'over tired'.  The chemicals that whizz around my mind-body keeping me going, and maintaining the pace, are hard to switch off, and no amount of glaring at the clock and telling myself I need to be on my game tomorrow will make this shift which cannot be forced and must be embraced. 
Put your thoughts to sleep,
do not let them cast a shadow
over the moon of your heart.
Let go of thinking.
Sleep is the best meditation.
Dalai Lama

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Wake up calls

I see him most days.  He sits there.  Unassuming.  Undemanding.  Yet he captures my attention, and my imagination.  Who is he?  Who was he?  How did he come to be there? 
Sitting outside Sainsbury's, he passes his day it would appear deep in thought.  Pensive.  Considering what, I often wonder? 
We've had only the briefest of interactions.
I do not usually give directly to individuals, choosing instead to set up Standing Orders which leave my bank account each month.  I review these annually, selecting charities whose mission appeals to me in some way. 
This, I find, is a straightforward way of giving.  But not, I think, a terribly engaged manner in which to do so.
We make a living
by what we get
But we make a life
by what we give
Winston Churchill
I've noticed a great many more prompts to give on the Underground of late.  Right beside the ads for online dating, and the suggestion that carrying a bottle containing a particular brand of water filter will remedy even the worst of hangovers, there are calls to action from several Human Rights movements. 
These reminders seek to mobilise their audience by use of shock tactics.  The messages they contain hit hard, making an impact quickly and succinctly (perhaps penetrating even more sharply when the commuter on the Northern line is feeling lonely and hungover). 
I can see their effectiveness - it takes very little to send a text, and confirm a gift.  But it allows us to do so from a comfortable distance.  SMS sent, we can move on, and away from the issue or cause brought to our attention, which quickly leaves our consciousness perhaps only moments later. 
I wonder how much this really does in terms of awareness raising, since the awareness cultivated is perhaps only fleeting.
And he who sits so quietly, presenting his remaining copies of the Big Issue, is a staunch reminder that whilst we might have texted on command as we emerge from the Tube, the issue is unlikely to fade as the doors close... 



Thursday, 17 July 2014

Planned discharge

I have not yet got my head round it.  In a month's time, my mother will have been discharged from the nursing care home at which she has been a resident for the last four and a half months.  The news has hit me hard.
I did not see it coming.  I have been coming to terms with her transition into residential care.  It has been a far from straightforward road for either of us. 
I feel a mixture of emotions.  Disappointment is prevalent.  We had, I think, all been hoping that she would adjust to the new environment, and make herself 'at home'. 
Why this hasn't happened isn't entirely clear.  But it's obviously not the right place.  For her.  For now.   
And so the mission continues...  Trouble is, its terms are not yet entirely clear.  And the hardest thing is that it may be too late to adequately refine them with their subject. 
There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. 
Martin Luther King, Jnr.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

A wider perspective

I have been fortunate this summer to discover some new places that have become immediate favourites.
Having enjoyed swimming at the Lido (something of a favourite haunt of mine for a little while now), I was blown away by the skyline I found to stand above it when I wandered through Brockwell Park on a Sunday morning recently. 

Observing the city from a distance struck me as a great metaphor for what my mindfulness practice stands for. 
It was possible to see the landscape more clearly, from a distance.  The City of London looked beautiful and manageable, from where I stood. 

With regular practice, I have come to see that by seeking to know better the landscape of my own mind-body I have a better chance of recognising those familiar 'signatures' - physical, emotional and cognitive. 
And, by standing back, to observe these clearly, I have the benefit of a space to pause, and remember that I have a choice. 
The inspiring Dr. Amy Salzman (who describes herself as "a holistic physician, mindfulness coach, scientist, wife, mother, devoted student of transformation, long-time athlete, and occasional poet") talks about the 'still quiet place within' when teaching mindfulness to young people.
Standing looking out across the cityscape, that spot in the park (described by Time Out as "a much needed slab of green") became a place in which I found it possible, just for a series of moments, to connect with that still quiet place within myself.  And I felt better for it. 
I am pleased to say I have been back several times since...
It occurs to me that most of us will likely benefit from finding places and spaces in which we might briefly check-in with ourselves, and with the stillness and quietness to be found within. 
If you peel back the layers in your life - the frenzy, the noise - stillness is waiting. 
That stillness is you.