This is the question, but what’s the answer?

If by chance you’re job hunting and lucky enough to get an interview, you’ve probably researched on how best to present yourself. Bosses want to look deeper into your psyche so questions like ‘’what’s your biggest weakness?’’ throws a curve ball when you’re expecting ‘‘what’s your biggest strength?’’ Then there‘s the wacky abstract..’’if you were a colour what would you be and why’’?

Working with clients in therapy, one of my favourite questions is ‘’if you were an animal what would you be and why’?’’  At times I’ll get an odd look (and I’m guessing they’re inwardly saying ’really?… and I’m the one in therapy?’).  Mostly, however, they’ll think for a minute, then the smile starts, their face becomes animated, smiles become wider and eyes dance with imagination. It’s fascinating to watch the shift as they process and ‘sit’ with their chosen animal.

The first time I asked that question the work lasted for three sessions.  The client selected their animal, a specific breed of reptile, (ok  so not exactly an animal but that’s fine), they described a couple of reasons why they had chosen it and merrily left the session with my words following them out that they may like to do some research to read some more.

Back they came the following week energised and animated..’’wow I looked into my animal and you never guess what..it’s this…it does that…I’m this and I do that too!’’  With their research, and further discussion, the client drilled down and discovered that their chosen animals’ behaviour, characteristics and survival strategies was indeed almost a blueprint for how they were in life,  how they behaved and how they had certainly used their resources for surviving recent tough times.  For several weeks after it became the client’s favourite question to ask their friends, and made for some interesting, deep, but fun discussions down their local so I’m told.

Me? Well I did some creative journaling a few months ago and I’m an elephant! The more I researched the more I was amazed with the parallel process: elephants fall into four types, leaders, gentle giants, playful rogues and reliable plodders (there’s definitely a part of me in each of these). Elephants are one of the few animals where leaders are chosen for their problem solving and respect, and where the leaders work to get agreement amongst the herd, so in effect it’s not about the power and brute force like with so many other animals, (when I was a corporate manager I preferred to ‘take’ my team with me rather than adopting the ‘just do it’ mentality we hear about so often). Older elephants mentor the younger ones (I teach, I love training and hopefully inspire people to be who they want to be). Elephants are BIG on the outside but deep on the inside (many people think I’m an extrovert but I’m the biggest introvert and deepest thinker!).  They like cuddling, playing mischievously and are all about family, support, strength and compassion.

The last bit of my journal was how I could be more like my elephant? Well, in general they’re kind of slow movers, in the mindful here and now I guess, and I could definitely do with slowing down a bit, however slow they go though, they get to their destinations just like I will in my good time. My favourite is they flap their ears to cool down, so I’ve decided if I ever get in a tizzy, I’ll find a way to ‘flap my ears’ (metaphorically of course, they’re big but not that big!) to chill my boots a bit!

So, if you’re not already thinking about it, my question to you is…If you were an animal what would you be and why?

PS..and if you are going for a job interview,  apparently a darker shade of charcoal grey is a good answer to the question what colour would you be. Charcoal grey says you’re an efficient and quiet worker, a warm person (because darker colours absorb heat from the sun while lighter colours deflect heat), and grey is a chic, understated colour that can complement other colours, so a good team player!

To Hear or Not To Hear – What Was The Question?

I’ve been deaf all my life so I don’t know anything else. I’ve also always had tinnitus so the concept of a quiet world is just the wildest concept that I can’t even start to get my head around. When I started my counselling training on Saturdays and Sundays, my anxiety usually started around Weds/Thurs. Would I be able to hear? Would I miss something critical and would I look stupid? Shame was a big part of my childhood, of getting things wrong, of being laughed at, of laughing with, but behind the smile, the shame, oh the shame! I knew I had to sort myself out so getting over my (very real) phobia of wearing hearing aids, I got them. They’re brilliant but I still struggle and miss things.

Deafness affects 10 million people and is the second largest disability in the UK. You don’t notice us because it has the disadvantage of being an invisible disability. So my reason for this article is multi levelled. It’s to bring awareness to hearing counsellors about possible HoH (Hard of Hearing) clients. It’s to bring awareness to people in general with HoH in their families. It’s to say to other HoH people, I feel your pain; you’re not on your own. It’s also to raise the awareness to training facilitators, conference and public speakers that in your training groups or audiences you will have people who have a hearing loss and who want to hear you, so what can you do to help them?

To get some idea of what it is like to have a hearing loss, try putting your index fingers firmly in your ears and talk or listen to someone. Your voice sounds muffled and distorted and you feel a vibration in your ears/head. When you listen you can hear sounds but they too are muffled, perhaps you can’t hear anything, you can see people’s expressions but you can’t make anything out. (When I ‘take my ears out’, it’s like going underwater in a swimming pool!)

With deafness, tinnitus often comes along as its partner in crime. Tinnitus experiences can be wide and varied but most commonly it’s described as high pitched radio frequencies or a wind rushing noise. Certain foods, beverages and situations can exacerbate the condition and there’s a myriad of equipment that help mask all with varying degrees of success and failure. Sleep problems, depression and anxiety are common and at the extreme, suicide can, and has occurred.

Communication between hearing people and the HoH can be very frustrating and tiresome for both parties. Even if someone is wearing hearing aids, it doesn’t mean they can hear you perfectly. People with hearing loss often rely on visual cues for information. Some people have difficulty knowing where a sound is coming from. Others hear sounds, but may not be able to recognise the words that are spoken.
For the HoH it can be hugely tiring and hard work to hear. It is tiring being on alert just in case someone talks. People can think you’re aloof or antisocial and it can feel incredibly isolating and shameful not to be the same as everyone else – but it doesn’t have to be.

Following are tips for hearing and HoH people that can help minimise frustration and support more relaxed communication.

Get Their Attention. Make sure the HoH person knows you’re talking to them. Touch them gently on the arm (never their head); wave or say their name until you have their attention before starting the conversation.

Make the Subject Clear. Establish the subject at the start of the conversation and whenever you change subjects.

Don’t shout: Raising your voice doesn’t help and the HoH person may think you’re angry with them. It’s the consonants that most Hard of Hearing people miss, and shouting only makes the vowels louder.

Don’t exaggerate your Lip Movements: Speech reading is difficult; only about 30 percent of the sounds are clearly recognisable. Exaggerating lip movements just interferes with speech reading, however, try to make it clear when letters sound the same e.g. p/t, m/n, c/d and so on….

Use Appropriate Gestures. Your head motion can clearly indicate “Yes” or “No”. Shrugged shoulders indicate uncertainty; a pointing finger calls attention to something.
Use Appropriate Facial Expressions. A smile, frown, raised eyebrow, or a furrowed brow all convey meaning that can help.

Cut Out Background Noises. Try to avoid people talking at the same time and turn off the background noise like the tv. If you’re a counsellor and have a fan on in your room, you may just want to be aware its possible effect as HoH people are usually not able to filter those sounds out to hear your words clearly.

Face the Person You are Talking With. Even people with normal hearing use speech reading to fill in what they don’t hear and HoH people tend to be locked onto  faces and need a clear view of it. Talking and eating should be avoided and if you have a bushy beard and moustache, it might be trendy, but if your lips and mouth are camouflaged not only can we not hear, we can’t see what your saying either. Try not to cover your mouth with your hands and don’t start talking then turn your head to the side or look down.

Rephrase. Don’t just repeat slower and louder, try rephrasing in simpler words
Use Sub Titles on The TV. If you ask a HoH person they will usually say they don’t need them out of embarrassment. Avoid this by just putting them on (without them a HoH person will make up their own version of what they think is happening or being said in a programme!)

Ask for Confirmation. HoH people rely a great deal on context, sometimes they may not understand exactly what is said, but will not interrupt the conversation, hoping that what you say next will clarify what they missed. Don’t ask Yes/No questions, if what you said is important, use open ended questions for confirmation to get enough of a playback to assure that your message was understood.

Don’t Say: “He/she can hear when they want to.” That’s usually not true and it can be embarrassing or easily anger and upset someone who is struggling to hear as well as they can …also …please, please don’t ask ”have you got your ears in?” ..and while I’m at it try your best to refrain from going into  gobbledegook comical sign language – trust me, it’s really not funny 🙂

Don’t Talk from the “Other Room”. People with hearing loss, haven’t yet mastered the art of seeing and hearing through walls. They don’t just not hear loud enough, they usually have difficulty with directionality too so they may not know where you are.
Be Patient: Saying ‘never mind’ or ‘it’s not important’ can make a HoH person feel frustrated, that they’re not important and a burden.

Try Not Laugh or Ridicule: HoH people often have a great sense of humour and often laugh at themselves first; they’ve had to develop a soh to get through some of the mistakes they’ve made. Don’t underestimate though that laughter can often hide a sadness at not being able to do something ‘as normal and simple’ as hear.

And For the Hard of Hearing Amongst Us…

Don’t Bluff! This tip is important because many HoH people try to hide their hearing loss. This is a BIG mistake and doesn’t fool anyone. Most people are happy to help someone with a hearing loss.

Ask for Help. Tell people that you don’t hear well. If they forget (as they often do) remind them, don’t give up reminding them, tiring though it is.

Be Specific. Be specific when telling someone how they can help you better understand. For example:
• Tell them you can miss things if you don’t know who is talking.
• Ask them to get your attention before starting to talk.
• Tell them that you can’t hear if more than one person is talking at the same time. Ask that only one person talk at a time.
• Tell them that quick topic changes often cause you to lose the thread.
• Tell them that you read lips, so it’s important for you to be able to see their face.
• If you didn’t hear something, don’t just say “What?” or “Huh”. Tell them what you DID hear and ask them to repeat the part you missed. E.g. “I heard you are going on a trip, but I missed when you are leaving.”
• Say, “I don’t hear well in noisy situations, let’s move over to this quiet corner”.

Subtitles. Use them on the TV, everyone else will get used to them.

Pick your best spot. Choose a position that’s quiet, and has good lighting. If you hear better in a certain ear, consider that when choosing your position. Arrive at meetings or social situations early and sit where you can hear (and see) best.

Anticipate. Think ahead and plan for what is likely to follow. It’s easier to hear, when you expect it.

Have regular checkups. Even if you were hearing aids, have regular checkups, they may need re-tuning as your hearing needs change.

Pay Attention. Concentrate on the speaker. Even people with normal hearing use visual cues of facial expressions, body language and lip movement to help them understand better. As a HoH person, learn to use these as effectively as possible.

Show Your Appreciation. When someone goes out of their way to help you, be sure to tell them how much you appreciate their help.

Remember, It Takes Two People To Communicate…
It is the Hearing person’s responsibility to be heard and understood and the HoH person’s responsibility to say when they can’t, or haven’t been able to hear.

 

 

The Best Kind of Relationship

It’s that time of year again when shop windows are festooned in all things pink and red. Love it or loathe it,  Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us bringing with it a whole pot of mixed emotions, depending where you are on the relationship scale. On one hand when you’re in love to have a whole day dedicated love’s celebration makes us hopeful, expectant, gooey and dewy eyed. But if you’re single, or not in the best place in your relationship, you’re probably breathing a sigh of relief when the day is done.

Often the opinions we decide about ourselves, comes through the opinions of others. Crazily, we hand over our power to other people so they can tell us if we are good, valued, loved. If, and when they do, we feel better about ourselves, and when they don’t, we can feel worthless. In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day I often hear angst and dread. I hear harsh judgements of self. I hear the reinforcement of low self worth of not being loveable.

So what are the options?

Well I guess we could do a Bridget Jones in our pj’s with copious amounts of wine, blaring out ‘all by myself’ (but that doesn’t really solve anything), or we could start by loving, valuing and accepting ourselves more. It’s that old adage, you need to love yourself first before you can love someone else and be open to being loved in return. Life’s experience and years of therapy and therapy training have taught me when we’re connected and emotionally available to ourselves, we’re connected and emotionally available for others.

So what does a healthy relationship with ourselves look like?

It looks like self care. What we eat, how we sleep and take exercise reflects how we are. Liken that to a car that’s not looked after or serviced. If it’s got a burnt out old engine and dodgy wheel bearings and tyres you’re not going to get very far in it are you? You’re body’s the same. It’s the only one we’ve got so best look after it as best we can.

It looks like kindness. We unconditionally love others, family and best friends but not ourselves.  If loving ourselves is a step too far, start by even just liking ourselves. We’re not perfect and that’s ok, it’s liking ourselves warts and all.

It looks like doing more of what we like and what makes our heart sing. It’s a busy life at times and it’s good to balance this with down time, R&R, chillax, or whatever you choose to call it. For me it’s ‘wring out’ time, where I shake off, wring out, the days or weeks events. Whatever floats your boat, do more of it.. running, yoga, meditation, gardening, painting, walking, just do it.

It looks like acknowledging yourself. If you have faced a fear, done a job you’ve been putting off or think you just want a treat, then do it, treat yourself. Whether it’s a chocolate bar, a nice cup of coffee or a longer nap in the morning, a walk in the park, a bubbly candle lit bath, a favourite DVD, a catch up with a friend, acknowledge yourself with some sort of award.

It looks like taking the time to reflect and knowing yourself more.  Often we run on automatic pilot where we simply don’t take the time to notice how we are feeling or what we’re thinking. A couple of clients I’d been working with recently acknowledged they had made significant shifts after really getting into journaling. When we journal our thoughts and feelings we become more self aware. When we’re more self aware we can have a better relationship with ourselves and when we do that we can have better relationships with others.

It looks like taking time out for ourselves. Disconnect from computers and phones, take time out to sit and breathe, look at nature, listen to music, feel the spring time sun (hopefully soon!) on our face.

It looks like respecting ourselves. Decide whatever that looks like for you. It could be respecting your body with the food you eat or exercise,  or something many have an issue with is saying yes when they really want to say no. If we can respect ourselves more we cultivate healthier boundaries with others.

It looks like being our own best friend. If we treated our best friends the way we treat ourselves we wouldn’t have many friends. We can be so hard on ourselves, our biggest critic, our judge and jury. When you think about it the only relationship we are totally guaranteed to have is the one we have with ourselves, so when the negative committee meets in your head think about what you would say to your best friend and say it to yourself.

If you have somehow been touched by this month’s blog and struggle to like yourself, contact me by text, phone call or email to discuss how I can support you build a better relationship with yourself and others.

‘’To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself’’.    Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s a New Year….It’s your year!

The last few remaining hours of a now ‘old’ year are nearly through and a new year is in   the wings waiting to be welcomed in. It’s during these last few days of each December I think about the year almost passed. I reflect on what was good and not so good, what worked and what didn’t work. Friends and family who sadly are no longer with me, new friends and family gained.  Personal and professional highs and achievements and then there are the lessons (I try not to think of things that haven’t worked as failures, rather lessons). I decide to let go of things that weigh me down and no longer serve me. I think of what brings me positivity, fulfilment, joy, and I work out how I can build on that for my new year ahead.

Now around this time online media, magazines and the like are full of ‘New Year, New You’ articles. I don’t know about you, but ‘new’ you / me  doesn’t sit that comfortably with me because I’m not new, I’m me, and I’ve been around for quite a few years now, so to pretend I’m new, throwing out the old me, feels discounting in a way but I do like to let go of anything that I no longer need.  Googling the meaning of ‘new’ I’ve settled on beginning anew and in a transformed way’, I like that.

A few days ago I read an inspiring article which ended with a call to action inviting readers to create a single word that encompassed their ‘old’ year’s reflections and how they would like their new year ahead to be.  It took only a minute or two to come up with my chosen word and 2018 for me is focusing on BALANCE. There’s the old joke that a balanced diet is a glass of wine in one hand and a cake in the other, humour aside (and anyway I’m not a cake lover), I’ve decided that there will be more balance of my down time versus work and training courses, more balance of the food I eat, the exercise I take, the pressure I can sometimes put on myself versus letting myself off the hook, my needs alongside others needs. I’ve planned and written down how I will achieve my balance which will no doubt be a work in progress that gets adjusted when needed, for I’ve learnt to hold loosely ‘best laid plans and all that’.

So here’s my call to action for you.

What do you want more of and less of in 2018? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t? Are there certain people in your life that you want to be around more, or are there certain people that it would benefit you to be around less? What’s your word for 2018?

When you decide to go for counselling or therapy, you are investing in yourself and I would love to support you on your journey.  Feel free to send me an email, text or call. Very shortly you will have 12 new chapters and 365 new chances waiting for you to ‘begin anew and in a transformed way’.

Happy New Year Everyone!

 

 

It’s that time of year again!..Oh no it’s not!…Oh yes it is!

Coping With The Christmas Season When You Are Bereaved.

It’s that time of year again with panto’s and festivities in full swing and whilst many people around you are excited with the cheer and celebrations that Christmas brings, if you are bereaved, planning normal Christmas things doesn’t feel natural and the expectations of the  season can be daunting. The thought of going shopping, hearing carols and seeing others buying gifts can be overwhelming, and the decorations and sentimentally laden television adverts (of the ‘perfect’ family, which by the way doesn’t exist, well I don’t think it does) can be reminders of your sadness.

You may receive invitations to social gatherings that you wonder how you can brave the event on your own, or you may not receive the invitations that you once did and this can be hurtful not to be included. Between memories of Christmases past, and the expectations to act that you are ok, it isn’t any wonder that Christmas after losing someone you love, is very often an experience that you would rather forget.

Whether the missing loved one is a spouse, partner, parent, grandparent, sibling, child or friend, it’s normal to worry how you will handle that first Christmas season (or even the second, third or more).  You may even think you’d rather sleep through the whole of December and wake to the dawning of a New Year. Those feelings and fears represent a normal, healthy range of emotions about painful loss and our society’s expectations and limited ability to talk openly and honestly about grief.

 

So How Can I Get Through Christmas When I Have Such A Huge Hole In My Life?

Some Useful Things To Remember:

There is no rule which says you have to behave in a certain way at this time of year in order to make others more comfortable. However, if you can find it within yourself to acknowledge the Christmas season, (even just a little), perhaps it may help you to step into a new year ahead.

Christmas Is Just A Day. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Christmas is one day and often the build up and pressure is from commercial motives. Keep it in perspective and do not let it dominate your life.

You Are Not Alone. It can seem as though everyone is celebrating and excited about Christmas! This isn’t true. Scratch the surface and you will find that many people have individual reasons for dreading Christmas. There are also many people (not just those from other faith groups) who choose not celebrate it.  Don’t feel that you are the odd one out or a bah humbug!

You Will Survive. There are many strategies for surviving Christmas and the season will give way to a hopeful New Year and spring time.  It has been proven that the thoughts we think and the ways we react can have a positive or negative effect on our psychological and physical health.  It is challenging, (I know this from personal experience) but with that in mind, try to focus on what lies ahead and not what could have been or dwell on the past

Deck The Halls. Be prepared to feel upset or cry if you do decide to get out the decorations. This is natural and normal especially if it is your first season bereaved. Perhaps think of where differently to put the decorations and perhaps even make a little special display of a favourite photo of your loved together with some favourite decorations

Season’s Greetings. Be prepared for cards made out to the two of you, or to include your loved one’s name from people who may not have heard your news. Consider how you will respond and if necessary ask a friend or relative to deal with any replies for you.

It’s A Time To Be Jolly ? Those who are grieving often feel bad for not feeling good at Christmas, or if they do manage to have a good time, they feel guilty for laughing or feeling joy when they think they should still be in mourning. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle but don’t pretend that nothing has changed – it would be false to pretend that there isn’t a hole in your family or life.

So How Can I Get Through Christmas When I Have Such A Huge Hole In My Life?

Some Useful Things To Think About Doing

Take Things Slowly And At Your Own Pace.  You don’t owe it to anyone to fake cheerfulness if you’re not ready for it. You may get invitations from well meaning people to spend time with them because they hate the idea of you being alone. It’s important to remember that you’re allowed to be happy, you’re allowed to be sad, you’re allowed to whatever you need. It’s OK to be selfish with your own needs at this time, and it’s important to be gentle with yourself. It’s OK to turn down certain invitations to give yourself space, but it’s also OK to let people know that you need extra support to. Only accept if it’s what you want and perhaps do think to yourself how nice it may be to feel even a little joy, or smile even just once

Make A Special Memory Of Your Loved One.  This could be something you create yourself, such as writing a poem or letter, or it could simply be a drink to toast their memory. Or you could light a candle each day for a few minutes of recognition and remembrance.

Volunteer. Make someone else’s Christmas.  Many groups and charities put on special lunches for the homeless and those who would otherwise be alone at Christmas. They are always in need of volunteers and it is a great way to get out and meet new people. You could help to fill the huge hole in someone else’s life this Christmas perhaps?

You May Want To Buy A New Decoration This Year  To hang on the tree that will be especially for your loved one who has died. Perhaps you can have it engraved with a special message or their name.

Create New Beauty.  You could consider planting a tree, shrub or flower in their memory?

Make A Christmas Wreath.   Create in Holly and berries perhaps in the shape of your loved one’s initial you could place it on their grave, or somewhere that was special to them.

Shop Online.  You don’t need to put yourself through the ordeal of facing crowds of people or choirs in the High Street. Most stores and supermarkets have online websites with straightforward instructions on how to use them and if you need help to navigate their systems, just ask, people really do want to help you

Traditions.  Christmas is a very traditional time of year and it could be that you and your loved one had favourite traditions you enjoyed doing. You may well want to maintain those traditions, which after all have held so many special memories for you, or it could be that you are open to experiencing new things that you may not have considered before. Do whatever feels right for you.

It’s OK To Not Send Cards If it’s your first Christmas bereaved, you may want to contact everyone a while before to explain that you won’t be sending Christmas cards as it is too hard to miss out your loved one’s name. But you can still ask that they still send cards as you would like to hear from them.

Discover Hidden Talents! If you have the energy, make gifts of cakes, sweets, pickles or homemade wine, knit, sew and paint pictures or whatever your talents lead you to do. People will appreciate the effort more than an expensive gift and who knows you might discover a new pastime that gives you pleasure

Spoil Yourself  Spend time doing what you like, read a book, watch films, have a long lovely bubble bath, do whatever it is that helps you relax.

Furniture  Some people find it a great comfort to keep a room the same,  or keep how furniture was positioned exactly the same as a way of keeping their loved ones close.  It could be, however, that you decide that you would prefer to change furniture, or a room around, helping perhaps to reduce “absence” reminders. Do what feels right for you.

Avoid Sugar Highs And Lows Sugar can make things taste nice but the bad news is it naturally induces emotional lows. Also, steer clear of overeating and under-sleeping. Try to eat well-balanced diets and some mood enhancing natural foods such as oats which can be calming, turkey, chicken & dark chocolate which are the basis for producing serotonin – the feel good chemical!

Limit Your Intake of Caffeine and Alcohol They are stimulants and can create highs and lows of your moods. Camomile Tea is good for calming when you feel anxious

Accept Any Offers Of Help And don’t feel like a failure for doing so.

Find A friend Try to find friends to spend time with, where you can really be safe and you can all cry or laugh or do whatever feels right.

Consult Those Closest To You If you have children talk to them in advance about what they want to do and try and balance your needs with theirs. Remember that people express grief in different ways. They may be excited about Christmas when you are not or vice versa. This doesn’t mean that they are not feeling their loss; just they are coping with it differently

One Final Thing  Ask yourself …’’ What would my loved one want me to do this Christmas?’’.. If you feel a sense of guilt at the thought of enjoying even a small part of the season, give yourself permission on their behalf. It’s what they would want.

Christmas can be a highly emotional time of year with poignant memories and constant reminders of happy couples and families.

Remember Be Kind To Yourself –  you only have to get through today – one day at a time.

If you are struggling with the death of someone, whether recent or not, please don’t and know that you are not on your own, I’m here to support you. For available appts. email me on wendy@pathfindercounselling.com or text/phone on 07974 080249.

HELPLINES

Child Death Helpline 0800 282986 www.childdeathhelpline.org.uk Cruse Hastings and Rother 01323 642942 eastsussex@cruse.org.uk www.cruseeastsussex.org.uk Samaritans Tel. 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org www.samaritans.com

St Michael’s Hospice Bereavement Service 01424 456361 or email bereavement@stmichaelshospice.com www.stmichaelshospice.com

Mindfull to Mindful

The last few months of the year is normally the time I tend to take some holiday from all things work- like. This year is no different and after a busy few months,  the end of October saw myself and one of my very favourite people, take a drive up north to pick up a canal boat in readiness for a week of R&R, (if you’ve never tried it, it’s one to definitely add to your ‘bucket list’).  This time we were heading for that well known popular holiday destination of….. Lancaster! (well, a particular and limited stretch of the Lancashire canal to be a little more precise). Fresh air, autumn sunshine, few mod cons, limited connectivity,  all wrapped up in the fact we would be travelling no faster than a gentle walking pace means we would slow down, I mean, right down.

Standing up on deck on our first full day (does a canal boat even have a deck?) well if it does,  there on deck I was watching the world go by. I realised that although I was looking at my surroundings, I wasn’t really seeing things properly (if that makes sense.) So a second realisation was that this was a perfect opportunity to engage in some mindfulness, to really connect myself to what I was in the middle of by focused looking, listening, smelling, and sensing.

If you’re not familiar with mindfulness it has certainly become one of the buzz words and add-ons to talking therapies over recent years.  Regular practise has proven effective to reduce blood pressure, chronic pain, relieve stress and improve sleep amongst many other things.  It is also widely recognised as being an excellent and effective part of treatment plans within the Health Service and private therapy practices for many mental health presentations such as depression and anxiety.  People may think it’s a new happening trend, and yes it’s certainly has a lot of press, but this new happening trend has actually been around for 2500 years,  and comes from the early teachings of the Buddhist Vipassana tradition,  which is an ‘insight meditation’ practice, the other form being ‘concentration meditation’ (insight means that you learn to observe events of the mind, thoughts, and feelings in a non-attached way, whereas concentration meditation asks you to concentrate on something in particular, usually the breath, physical sensations, a visual object, etc).

And so I started noticing things in a more mindful way.

Within minutes I became aware that my breathing had slowed right down and with that a feeling of deeper calmness and stillness was now more present inside me. My body felt more grounded as I noticed how solid my feet felt on the surface I was standing upon,  and as I shifted my weight from foot to foot,  I felt various little twangs of tensions within my leg muscles, hips and lower back.

Then, with much more awareness I was absorbing my surroundings.

Gritty, sandy silt swirling beneath light and dark abstract reflections on the water’s surface; a single curled up leaf (the only leaf left on that particular tree) still attached to its spindly, twiggy branch. Single rain drops regularly spaced on another gnarled, twiggy branch glistening like little teardrop diamonds in the fading afternoon sun; the (almost hidden) squirrel sitting excitedly nibbling something in a tree; the contrasting smooth and rough bark of three neighbouring trees. Then there was a leaf starting to fall down that had broken free in the breeze, only to be captured at right angles by a still attached leaf below it. The juxtaposition of a grass field next to the earthy ploughed one; then, as we passed further, the surprising depth of the ploughed furrows that had looked so shallow just a few minutes before; the short sharp, little noisy cracks as rain drops started hitting my jacket; kingfishers playing tag with us; the slow motion movements of herons taking off from their near frozen stance..On and on…..colours, textures, reflections, noises, aromas and the sense of touch…

It was a week of chilling, reading, dozing and at times colouring, mindfully of course. Even with the colouring I decided to go with the flow. I had specifically started choosing complimenting colours but that was a little bit like hard work, so I threw caution to the wind closed my eyes and just chose whichever coloured pencil my fingers came to land on. My thought reactions to the colour I had picked was interesting in itself, , ‘’aah.. I like that green, blue, purple… that will go nicely’’ to ’’urgh.. that will clash!’’. Like some things in life we can be unsure of, it actually turned out ok, and if it hadn’t? Well in those moments that would have been fine too.

So my invitation to you right at this moment is to take a minute to be mindful yourself. Become aware of the surface you’re sitting, lying or standing upon, how does your body feel? Do you feel any pressure anywhere? Perhaps it’s the chair under your thighs, or the carpet or flooring under your heels, or the balls of your feet? Are you warm or can you feel any cool air dusting any exposed skin?  Next, start to become aware of your breath. Where can you feel it? In your nostrils as you breathe in or out? Or perhaps it’s at the back of your throat, your chest, or your abdomen? Are you breathing fast or slow? If fast, is your breath slowing down at all?  What objects are around you? Pick one and really look at it, its surface, colours, and textures. Now, are you aware of anything you can smell, or can you hear any noise? How do you feel immersed in the moment, in your moments?

If you would like any more information on mindfulness and how it could possibly benefit you, I would love to hear from you, but for now, perhaps take a mindful few minutes just to be…

 

 

 

 

 

Change… Seasons and Us

Autumn, one of my favourite seasons. Spring, summer and winter are all special in their individual ways but I do look forward to this golden, crispy-leaved time.  It being a favourite has probably got something to do with being an autumn baby and my childlike excitement as I looked forward to my birthday. To this day many years on, I can still remember the anticipation and joy of opening my birthday parcel.  One year it was my first grown up watch with its red leather strap and another year I remember feeling so proud taking my ‘new’ blue bike out for the first time.

For me now, Sept/Oct signals the end of summer which is usually a busy, busy time. I,  and many others like me pack in whatever we can, making the most of the longer sunshine hours, doing things we either want to do, or think we ‘have’ to do, whether that’s mowing the lawn, weeding, painting windows, dusting off the bbq or going to summer fetes. Air and ferry ports become huge magnets for armies of people (and stress!) as families walk quickly in line one behind the other like ants trying to avoid bumping into other ant-like families! (‘Ant-like’ families consists usually of Mum or Dad striding out first with an authoritative air of ‘‘follow me I know where we’re going’’… then a gap..Then a child or two whose legs are frantically trying to keep up as they wrestle with luggage doing 360 degree flips!) Summer’s a busy time in nature too as flowers and trees stand tall and proud showing off their best colours and nicest scents, each in competition to attract insects and bees as they go busily about their pollinating business.

And so as summer changes and transitions into autumn I’m also now aware of so many other different kinds of transition. In human terms it’s children starting school for the first time or graduating up to the ‘big’ school. Parents adjust to emptying nests as fresh faced teenager’s make their own way in life leaving home for college or uni. Plants and animals start to slow down, preparing for hibernation, nestling down for colder times ahead. The oncoming period of stillness allows a much needed ‘dying down’ of activity which then allows new strength and energy to build up, regenerate,  ready to burst forth again in Springtime.

Pondering life and the universe on a recent walk I looked at an acorn, such a small ‘insignificant’ thing, with fresher eyes. This small thing has so much potential inside itself; and with the right conditions of sunshine, rain and soil, this small thing is capable of growing into a mighty oak tree. That led me to thinking about people and how with the right conditions we too can become that mighty oak tree. So this autumn as leaves turn gorgeous shades of gold in the last of the summer sun, I’ll ask you the question, what conditions do you need to grow?  Are you who you want to be? And if not, what changes or transitions do you want or need to make?  If you’re someone who’s always busy and on the go, I offer you the option being like the nature, of kicking back a bit, taking the time to rest and recharge in order to be magnificent once again.

I for one am looking forward to the clocks changing although I know it can be an incredibly hard time of year for some. For me it’s time to ‘winter’ up my lounge with tartan throws on the sofas (my homage to a little bit of Scottish’ness on the south coast!) logs will be stacked at the side of the fire and I’ll be hunkering down for a bit of my own recharging.

pondering the universe…                                                                                   from little acorns…