Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Wanted: Alien. To be murdered by science.

There is so much that is so wrong about chemo on so many levels. This dawned on me as I sat opposite my best friend, already far more comfortable and better prepared for what was about to happen than I could even pretend to be. I didn't need to:  I was there, but I was nothing more than a welcome addition rather than anything essential to this morning's proceedings...

We arrived on time. We were not the first, and the nurse's instructions (not to mention the 'q word', as it was, at that point, fairly quiet) were not without good reason:  in the three and a half hours we spent on the day unit, it progressively filled up. Soon there was not an empty chair in the house, and this was, it was very clear, just a normal day for all concerned. 

There is something about this end of medicine that is (from where I was sitting, as undiagnosed but not, I would say, unaffected, observer) strangely comforting. Or at least resilience promoting. Everyone is getting on with it. And, they are there for you, if you want company along the way. There is no insistence on any camaraderie, but there is no need to feel alone either.

The warnings were read.  Out loud.  Again.  The patient was asked to confirm her name and her date of birth as the bags containing the all-important cytotoxic ingredient were checked. And double checked.  Everything had gone very smoothly, aided by the fact that cannulation was not on the agenda (and will not, with any luck feature looking ahead) thanks to the PICC line that is up and running. This is, we concluded, probably a relief to everyone concerned. Veins are not, at this point, in great quantities, and those that 'might be of interest' (as one nurse put it, as she tapped away on the nextdoor patient's forearm) are very few and far between. Charlotte's arms have been through it over the last few years.

The bag was hooked up, and the timer set.  Then followed the Zometa - to keep Charlotte's bones super strong and avoid any complications the alien might leave in her wake.  Lastly, it was time for line maintenance.  The last hurdle.  Overcome with grace:  "Notice it, and let it go..." a gentle voice reminded herself as she breathed into the discomfort.  Serenity personified.    

Today my best friend was described to me as always having been 'very pleasant' by a nurse who has come to know her over the last 3 years.  I experienced her (once again) in rather more glowing terms.  She was, quite simply, the model of calm.  This is simply what needs to happen, and it's good to have a plan.  It is an assertive plan of action.  There is little room for hesitation in the schedule, but any queries or concerns will be handled with the utmost care by the team whose care she is under, which radiates wisdom, strength and hope.  No question is too silly, and no concern too insignificant for them.  Patients matter.  How they feel about their treatment matters.  Confidence is a significant ingredient with a key role to play.

The point of the chemo is to powerfully destroy the alien and kick every last remnant of it out.  The alien lacks inhibition (of any sort) and is doing Charlotte no good at all.  Chemo's ability to exterminate this foul interloper depends on its ability to halt cell division (what happens relentlessly, due to her lack of inhibition).  Chemo barges in on this chaos without apology, thus disabling the cells from doing what they are driven to do, obstructing the cancer, and killing the cells: as they are forcibly prevented from dividing, they must die.  And this is the good part:  the faster the cells are dividing (which, given Charlotte's recent presentation looks to be super swiftly) the more likely the chemo will induce cell suicide.  

Today was Round 1 of 6 of the new concoction to kill the evil alien who has raised her ugly head once more. Carboplatin is the name of the new road my best friend has embarked upon which will take the form of 21 day cycles: just enough time to allow her body to recover before taking the next hit.  Bring it on...  

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Mindfulness: Non-negotiable self-care

I meant it when I said that it was a privilege to be there last night.  It is always a privilege to have an opportunity to share about something that has, for me, not simply been life changing.  I hold mindfulness responsible for saving my life.  On more than one occasion.

Cate, the Founder of PUSH, and I had our first conversation about the role of mindfulness at a bootcamp some time back in 2013.  PUSH was not yet conceived of, but several seeds were sown.  The fruits of which are now being devoured by the first participants taking part in the UK's first ever re-bootcamp!

Mindfulness has come to feature so prominently in my life:  personally, and professionally.  Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of the importance of my practice, and if life gets in the way of my practice, no matter how briefly, I know I'm in trouble.

There are no dramas or crises of the magnitude that once used to be a regular feature of my so-called life'style', but leaving the house of a morning without having touched base with my practice feels a little like leaving home having forgotten to put on my deodorant:  I am likely to feel slightly uncomfortable, ill at ease, and possibly out of sorts.

Mindfulness comprises a set of tools that, if kept sharp, can cut through the complexities life is apt to throw at us.  To look at any of these individually, you perhaps won't feel wow-ed, or overawed.  They are clean, and simple exercises - it's the effects that get people excited.

To be mindful is to be more present, more of the time, and to experience life more fully.  To be mindful is to notice those things that cause us difficulty, and to have a truly effective mechanism with which to rise above and continue 'as if' - thus enabling us to free ourselves from negative thinking loops that hold us back and get in our way.

Mindfulness is about the prevention of burnout and injury.  On a traditional bootcamp the emphasis is places within the physical domain.  At PUSH we have turbo charged and re-booted camp to explicitly incorporate mindfulness, alongside coaching and nutrition in order to address the whole body-mind.

I have, for some time, been interested in the relationship between mindfulness and resilience, and its role and effectiveness in preventing and treating burnout.  Those I have worked with to date quite often fall within the a self-described category of highly functioning (with an emphasis on the 'fun') who, despite success on lots of levels, feel their lives to be missing something...  Mindfulness has helped many address this sense of emptiness, and change a running-on-empty mentality and physicality into something more meaningful, more fun and more fulfilling.

At PUSH, mindfulness will be promoted alongside the burpees and lunges, and mixed in with the green sludge apple cider vinegar by Team PUSH who are committed to supporting those who attend to achieve their goals and realise their intentions this January.

I look forward to meeting you at a PUSH event soon!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

PUSHing mindfulness

We've launched!  It's jolly exciting and the result of no end of hard work by the Team headed up by Cate whose brilliant brainchild PUSH Mind and Body is now up and running.  

I was greeted this evening by a group of very tired but nonetheless charming clients who are participating in this week's inaugural re-bootcamp.  It is the first of its kind, and we're kinda proud of the truly holistic USP.

PUSH is not your average bootcamp.  Far from it.  The difference is in the attention to detail that has been paid to the recipe which makes, we think, for a great formula.  PUSH combines high intensity training with nutrition, coaching and mindfulness.

And that's where I come in...  This evening's talk was an opportunity to share a little about the journey I have been on since learning mindfulness, and subsequently training to become a teacher.  

It's a great fit:  mindfulness is on offer in this context, as a sealant of everything everyone will put in this week.  

It will, I hope, be something that can be integrated within the full-on activity schedule, providing people with an introduction to a lifeskill which, like the exercises they'll be meeting this week, they can choose to take home with them and continue in life after PUSH.


For more information about PUSH or to book your place on one of our forthcoming re-bootcamps which are running every month this year please visit:  

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


It was greenish brown and, whilst definitely not sludge, a little thicker than usual.  Usual being for the last three weeks.  I was delighted to be given a juicer for Christmas and the novelty has yet to wear thin.  But this was a slightly more adventurous concoction than I have been dabbling with to date.

Apple juice is a fairly regular occurrence in my kitchen at present.  Apples plus...  

Tonight's recipe (never to be repeated, not because I wouldn't want to recreate it identically, but simply because it will never happen) included watercress, spinach, cucumber, grapes, lemon and mint.

And it was, even if I do say so myself, rather delicious.

If life gives you lemons, make some kind of fruity juice.
Conan O'Brien

Juicing has intrigued me for some time.  I held off and listened intently whilst friends and clients told me of their love affairs with their NutriBullets.

I have a crush (no pun intended) on my L'Equip XL.  It makes light work of my breakfast juice, and finding Tropicana on offer is a thing of the past.  No longer do Tetra Pak cartons reside in my fridge door.  

And so, I juice on...

Oranges, carrots and ginger of a morning, and green juices at lunchtime and/or after dark.  It's great fun and the dishwasher and heaped compost bin are just about keeping up.

But the point of it is...

Well, it probably matters not.  Everyone knows juicing is good for you.  But, if you are interested, then it's my token effort to take slightly better care of myself.  There's probably little coincidence that I celebrated another year recently (my birthday being at the end of the Gregorian calendar) and with it I had another opportunity to thank my lucky stars for my so-far-so-good physical health.  

I am determined to no longer take for granted this asset I have, for too long, been rather complacent about.  And that's why, for me right now, it's all about the juice.

Take care of your body, it's the only place you have to live.
Jim Rohn

Friday, 16 January 2015

Resolve - Part 3

My practice has been both challenging and illuminating of late. It is always a challenge, making a commitment to carve out the time but the old adage still holds weight with me: When you have the time to practice, take five minutes. When you're short of time, take ten!

Don't just do something... Sit there.
Ho hum. And so, I have been giving more thought for a third and (for now, anyway) final post about goal setting, and how to increase our chances of 'success'...

Many of those who approach me to learn mindfulness, come to it having tried a great many other things along the way. Mindfulness has attracted a lot of attention in recent years, especially amongst those of us interested in self, or life, improvement.  

My own mindfulness practice has illustrated the paradox:  it's only when we meditate for its own sake, rather than trying to get something from it, that we find the results we're pursuing.

Goal setting is something we are encouraged very strongly to do - it is part and parcel of living in the relentlessly busy, task driven, Western world - everyone wants to know your aims and objectives. Perhaps too much emphasis is placed on what, and too little on how.

I am interested in the connection between the process of setting out a goal and then what happens when, for whatever reason, we might miss it. It seems to me that this not only affects the achievement of the original goals, but will likely impact our future chances of success, with a cumulative and corrosive effect on self efficacy that threatens our effectiveness.

Mindfulness contains a recipe which, whilst appearing very simple, can if explored fully, provide something of an antidote for self defeating thoughts and 'habits of mind'.  Mindfulness demands that we become more fluent at uni-tasking: i.e. bringing our full awareness to only one thing at a time. 

This has not only been something I have experienced for myself; but something I regularly see in those beginning to practise mindfulness: as we actually meditate (learning to remain present, opening ourselves to the fullness of our moment-to-moment experience, and returning again and again when the mind wanders, as it surely will), our battle draws to a close: we no longer need to go a-round and a-round the relentless loop of wishing things were other than they are, and can see with greater clarity where it is that we find ourselves. 

It is this process, I believe, that is essential to the achievement of goals that are important to us as it enables us both to see what it is that we most value which informs us of the 'what', and also recognise where we are, and the resources available to us, in order to become more familiar with the 'how'.

Mindfulness is therefore something of a radical paradox: in order to get 'there', we must first let go of where it is that we are going. This is why 'effort' is such a controversial word in the mindfulness world: there is something to do (quite a lot, actually); but what is required is commitment, and persistence - to find the balance between struggle and surrender. 

Setting your intention is like drawing an arrow from the quiver of your heart.
Bruce Black

Here it can be quite useful to distinguish between an intention, and a goal. 

Goals are things we tend to measure, and we judge our achievement of them using discrepancy based processing: am I where I want to be? The tension we happen upon when we find that we are not experiencing what we would like to happen usually leads us into a judgement of either ourselves, or our current experience, as not good enough, unacceptable, or to be escaped. It is easy to see how this can lead to feelings of defeat. 

Mindfulness is a good example of something that works far better when made as an intention, rather than a goal: intentions are discovered (and re-discovered) in the present, so in the very act of making one, you have already accomplished what you set out to do. An intention cannot fail, because it happens in the here and now. With an intention there is no required result: we are simply connecting to a course that we have chosen. We do so with an open mind, which liberates us to all possible outcomes, including success. In this way, we bring on board a sense of curiosity, and experimentation. 

Intention might be compared to an old oak tree: firmly rooted (in reality) and has both strength, and flexibility (meaning it can stand firm in changing and even adverse weather conditions). 

Makia ke ali'i, ehuehu ka ukali
Energy flows where intention goes.
Hawaiian proverb

Holding an intention means that we can adapt our course of action, depending on what we discover and encounter along the way. In this way, we are better equipped to deal with unforeseen circumstances, or re-plan our journey when we come across a dead-end. With a goal, we are very much more limited, and thus more likely to collapse when something doesn't work out as we'd planned. 

Intentions come from within us, whereas goals tend to be external. In connecting to an intention we hold for ourselves, we don't have to look anywhere else for fulfilment: whatever we desire is already here as a seed within us. We may of course need some support or guidance as seek to cultivate that seed, but it may be a great relief to realise that we don't need to try and be anything we're not.

There is nothing wrong, per se, with having goals, and holding them as important. The key to their achievement lies in the mindful creation of the conditions necessary for their successful attainment.

It is a bit like trying to fall asleep: there are a number of things that will likely help, but if you keep trying to drop off, oftentimes, it simply won't happen. At some point, you have to trust, and let go. It's the same with trying to relieve stress: if you try to relieve your stress, this is the experience you'll have (rather than the relief you crave).

The intentions I encourage those new to mindfulness to cultivate include giving themselves over to practising awareness and compassion, opening to, working with and learning from what happens as we do so - as best we can. 

 Intentions have an additional benefit, that they carry us when it seems as though little or nothing is happening. True well-being comes from a letting go of the struggle. And it is from this position that it becomes possible to reach the goal. 

When our actions are based on good intentions our soul has no regrets.
Anthony Douglas Williams

Monday, 12 January 2015

Resolve - Part 2

In my previous post, I began to think about the process of departing from an intended goal and how we might strengthen resolve to increase our chances of achieving something we set out to (rather than setting ourselves up, yet again). 

In this post, I hope to continue to explore similar territory, whilst getting a little more practical...  It seems to me that mindfulness can be very useful, as a tool to enhance and expand our awareness of what it is that is most important to us, which may make achieving our goals easier. 

To achieve a goal we need to be very clear about the value that underpins it. Unless we are clear about what it is that is important or meaningful to us, we run the risk of wandering off course, leading to a perpetuation of a vicious cycle (feeling like we've failed, and that we're a failure for having done so, resorting to punishing ourselves for this failure...)

Get clear - What is it that you really want?
Clarity is essential. Know exactly what it is that you're aiming for, and the changes you wish to see.
We need to know where we're going, but we also need to know how to recognise our destination when we get there!

Get focused - How are you going to get it?
Without focus, our attempts will come to nought. Commit to what it is that you want, and set in place strategies for avoiding negative thinking or external distractions.
It is best to envisage these before they happen, as you will be able to get back 'on track' more efficiently, should you veer off course for whatever reason. 

Find your internal motivation - Why do you want it? Why now?
Understand why this particular goals is intrinsically important to you.
The goals we are most likely to achieve are those that mean most to us, on a deeply personal level. Conversely, goals we attempt which mean more to someone else or for which we are looking for extrinsic reward, are often far more challenging to achieve. 

Translate ambition into action by changing your behaviour - it's an inside job
If you always do, what you've always done, then you'll always get what you always got.
Keep doing what you're doing, unless you want different results. 
This includes your thinking patterns. 

Observe your thoughts - conserve your energy 
Rather than engaging your negative thoughts in a relentless and exhausting battle, practise letting go of them, allowing them to dissipate without letting them get in the way of your goals. 
Remember that a thought is not the same as a fact.

Embrace the unpleasant - rise to the challenge 
Negative experiences are a non-negotiable feature of doing life on life's terms. Accept them. Expect them. Learn to deal with them by planning for their occurrence and meeting them head-on.

These simple tools can be used for any self-improvement goal you might want to work on including those relating to physical health, education, work/career, parenting, or intimate relationships. 

If you don’t have goals you might want to start by reflecting on what it is that's important to you in your life, what you can’t live without, or what you want to be remembered for. Your values begin to guide you like a compass, and goals are like the stepping stones. Every move you make and every decision you make in life will either get you closer or further from living your valued life.

You might find it helpful to identify a mentor (someone who can hold you accountable to your values when you’re working on your goals). A friend, coach, or mentor can help you recognise patterns of behaviour that are not in line with your valued life. Choose someone who is not quick to criticise or judge you; they may have achieved similar goals, and be willing to share their story with you. They can also help you celebrate success, which is important to positively reinforce the changes you make along the way.

Making a note of those things we are aiming towards is often helpful. Keeping this close to hand, or somewhere you are likely to see it regularly increases the likelihood that we will remind ourselves of the direction we are hoping to move in. 

All of us are worthy, and deserving of meaningful lives. Reaching goals is entirely possible using mindfulness.

The purpose of a resolution should be the process -
the infinite present moments in which transformation will occur -
rather than waiting for the single instance of its attainment.  

Friday, 9 January 2015

Resolve - Part 1

I was recently asked to contribute to a piece about New Year's resolutions, and what happens to them. 47% of us make these annual commitments, yet for all our resolve, less than 20% of our plans come to anything. 

So, what goes wrong? And, how might mindfulness help?

Why do we stray from the goals we set ourselves?

We need, I think, to be really clear about the motivations behind the goals we set ourselves in the first place. Why is it that we are deeming something to be important to us? And why now? Unless our motivations are genuine, we are apt to fail before we have begun. Classic examples can be found both within the personal domain (trying to please a partner) or at work (meeting objectives set for us by our boss). In either scenario, unless we are truly interested in the 'goals' we sign ourselves up to, chances are we will not pull them off.

Goals themselves can, ironically, set us up for their non-achievement. Expectations might be otherwise described as premeditated disappointments: if we attach ourselves too strongly to a goal (and make it an expectation we hold for ourselves), we are likely to fall hard indeed (and are likely to come head-on with doubt and self-criticism, crashing down into hopelessness and despondency) when we don't attain whatever it is we have set out for.

How might we adjust our goals, or the process we engage in when making them, to maximise our chances of success?

(Depends on your definition of success!) Success might be determined by the way in which we hold the goals we set ourselves. Can we hold our goals lightly, avoiding setting ourselves up with expectations which then run the risk of becoming painful disappointments. Inclining ourselves in a particular direction is helpful: so that we measure success from the perspective that we are moving in the direction we wish to, rather than arriving at a particular destination. This has built in flexibility, meaning that we are more likely to be able to maintain our goals, even should our circumstances change (as they surely will, from time to time). This approach has the helpful benefit of reducing the self-defeating obsession many of us suffer from: that of needing to measure progress (e.g. the horribly disheartening moment that you stand on the scales to discover that your punishingly restrictive diet has not, in fact, led to the weight decrease you'd hoped for). 

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next years words await another voice.
T. S. Eliot

We need to accept that change is rarely linear. We need to get more comfortable with the 'messiness' that change so often entails. Life is unpredictable. Most important is the acceptance that we are where we are: and this is the only place from which we can start from.

Un-coupling happiness or peace of mind from the goals we set ourselves will, ironically, allow us to feel a great deal more ease and contentment (both of which are likely to be helpful, if not essential, in the ultimate achievement of our goals). By becoming less attached to outcomes, we are better able to enjoy the journey, and appreciate what change actually entails, thus preparing ourselves to reap the rewards of success and minimising self-sabotage along the way (which is so often the product of a lack of readiness for success, and is far more common than we probably care to admit). 

When we are less ready to beat ourselves up when things don't go exactly to plan, we are far more likely to stay on course much more of the time, thereby increasing our chances of achieving the goals that mean most to us (which are usually those that also challenge us the most). 

More to follow...

Unless a man starts fresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. 
G. K. Chesterton

Monday, 5 January 2015

Starting over (again)

I was reminded, once again, that it is an inside job.  It never ceases to baffle me how quickly I am prone to forget.  I too have shelves full of books that claim to have the answers.  I've tried the fixes they prescribe.  I chase the dream, only to discover, as though for the first time, that are no short cuts. 

Whilst we have evolved in so many wonderful ways, we still know very little about the inner workings of the mind.  What we do know is that it takes a long time, and a lot of hard work, to re-wire patterns once they have become hardwired.  As creatures of habit, we like things becoming hardwired:  they enable us to process more, and quicker.  We do not engage with what it is that we are processing, thus freeing us up, to do more.  Efficiency is a priority for the modern brain.  But this comes at a cost.  We lose the ability to discern as effectively.  And so we are running on automatic.

Which might serve us well.  For awhile... 

Until it doesn't.  And we want to change.  

When you arise in the morning think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive, 
to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.  
Marcus Aurelius

Change starts from the inside:  if you want to change your psychology, change your physiology.  And this is why I meditate:  by changing the way in which I breathe, I can alter the way in which I perceive the world, thus enabling me to relate in a different, hopefully more positive, way.

Life will continue regardless whether I like it or not.  What happens in the world I inhabit can feel chaotic, and my thought patterns unmanageable.  What I retain power over is how often I come off-line, allowing my body (and mind) to drop into stillness and silence.  And from here, all sorts of things become possible.    

Thursday, 1 January 2015


Every new year brings with it a choice:  the decision as to whether we set out an intention - a resolution.  There are those that are likely familiar to many of us:  to lose weight, to exercise more, to drink more water (and less alcohol)...  

In reality, by the end of the first week of the year, many of us will have reneged on our pledges.  No one else may know of our small failure, but this pattern strikes me as hardly the best way to boost self esteem.  The truth is that many of us are our own harshest critics, and the annual new year's resolutions, no matter how well intentioned, can simply become harmful ammo we aim at ourselves. 

A better strategy might be to shift our focus towards the obstacles that we are apt to trip over, and get to know these more intimately both enhancing our chances of their successful navigation whilst cultivating a deeper knowledge of ourselves, and of the full meaning of the lives we are so busy living.  

What we sometimes forget (forgetfulness being something most of us are prone to) is that we are maybe not prepared for the obstacles we will doubtless encounter.  Whilst we may sense that it is time to move forward, and we may even recognise the obstacles as those we have come across previously, we perhaps lack adequate understanding of ourselves or of the options we have available to us.  It is far easier to set off on a journey or a resolution than it is to be truly conscious of our motivations, or to really envisage the journey's course whilst all the while holding our intention in mind.  

The challenge is one of living skillfully, or mindfully.  Firstly, we need to understand how the mind operates, by becoming more expert in our reactions and our habits in order that we might calm our reactions and learn how to respond to life from a position that is unaffected by the unhelpful memories.  Only with this clarity, are we able to really see what it is that we would like to perhaps change at the dawn of the new year.  

Secondly, we need to become more consciously aware of our objectives:  understanding why it is that we are setting ourselves a particular goal is vitally important to its fulfillment, as it will help us identify what it is that blocks us from attaining those things we desire.   

Lastly, once we know our goals and understand the objectives that underlie them, we must resolve upon a course of action (for awareness alone will rarely invoke the changes we seek).  In doing so we let go of the passing year and welcome the new year with a fresh perspective on our journey, and heightened awareness of the goals that hold meaning for us.  

Though no one can go back and make a brand new start 
anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.  
Carl Bard