Respect for the journey

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The joy she gives us, especially my cat whisperer daughter.

They had a bond the first time they met; both sensitive and a bit broken from life’s experiences. The cat hid and the girl just sat, attention focused on the cat, and quietly waited… then extended a gentle hand so slowly and earned trust…

Now they help each other day to day in seeming harmony and with respect for each other; no pushing or pulling, no judgment, no criticism.

They teach me that in modern life we so often push our wounded and sensitive parts and people to ‘get better’ too quickly, or change to ‘fit in’, with little regard or allowance for time’s natural pace or the purpose which that journey may have, unseen from our restricted perspective.

Healing and growth is always happening but may sometimes be a glacially slow process imperceptible to those of us living at a hundred miles an hour!

I humbly endeavour to surrender to that natural pace for the sake of myself and others I live and work with. Expanding my watchful and sensing awareness in each moment and each encounter, rather than giving over to the part of me that thinks it, or another, knows best, is helping me achieve this. It also requires a slowing down and relaxing into things which is not an easy action to take in our fast and driven world, but so very worth it if we can make that effort to break out of the mould.

So thank you to the cat, to the girl and to the others who have taught me, sometimes painfully, this lesson.

With love and respect,

Sarah

 

Wild Horses

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Some days sitting in meditation can feel like really hard work, letting go of tension can feel like really hard work, not engaging with thought can feel like really hard work… and I feel it’s important for us as adults to understand and experience this deeply if we are wishing the children we care for, in whatever capacity, to engage with mindful and mediative practice; in this way we can hold an empathic and none-judgmental space for them when they are finding it hard to relax and focus.

This morning my mind and body were excruciatingly fidgety (an actual, almost unbearable physical sensation in my torso), still whirling after a hectic afternoon yesterday and full of tension and pressure around wanting to get my finances straight in my head for the coming months. I felt mentally unclear and I knew, from experience, that the best way for me to get clarity was to meditate, let it all go and allow the uncomfortable sensations to be fully experienced so that they could move through my system.

Often these days I choose to meditate without any noise, just to sit in stillness and silence with the sensations of my breath and body, noticing thought and emotion as it comes… and goes. Today I felt so agitated that I decided to listen to Palouse Mindfulness’ body scan as I knew the voice would act as an anchor for me. It was a good decision because even with this anchor I still felt like my attention was a wild horse that desperately wanted to bolt taking my body with it!

But I stuck with it patiently, pulling on the reins gently each time that horse made to leap away from what I was hearing. That took a lot of discipline and I applaud myself for not reacting with movement in these moments, for letting the energy of the impulse to move flow through me with my breath, as ‘itchy’ or as ‘crackly’ as it felt. It was really difficult… but I did it… and by the time the script was leading me to awareness of my upper torso (it starts with the feet), I was starting to experience less agitation…and by the end I felt more relaxed… my mind chilled out significantly; the urgency behind the finance thing completely dissipated!

So when the children I work with struggle to settle and relax, I get it! I understand that they may be feeling some really uncomfortable sensations and experiencing some very strong impulses that they are simply not practiced, or developed, enough to tame, and bless them, that really is ok, they are only ever doing their best, as are we given our complicated human make up and busy lives! Lets give ourselves and others a break for a moment and appreciate how well we are all doing 🙂

 

 

 

winter solstice light; a mindful poem

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I stand in humble stillness with reverent, patient trees.

Low Midwinter sun slips gracefully from trunk to auburn leaf, to damp green moss, to bare branch, to trunk.

Time slows.

There is no ‘need’ in this space, no ‘want’; simply a knowing, an understanding and peace.

As the light’s grace touches each tree it opens itself to receiving the blessing, absorbing all it can, basking in the gift before the bright fingers leave it once again.

It cloaks itself up around its own essence then, turning in on itself, to preserve the treasure, using it wisely and well, until the next time;

For there will be a next time, of that we can be sure.

(Sarah Salmon, Brilliant Beings)

Read for you on YouTube with photo illustration 🙂

 

 

good things emerging from chaos

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Being open to learning from those chaotic moments life throws us can bare delicious fruit and learning for the better if we are watchful and go with the flow.

For Brilliant Beings Tuesday mornings herald Mindfulness Breakfast Club at my local primary school. The format of our club has changed in the past as a response to the needs of the members of the group. In the early days I tried a directive approach of ‘this is what we’re doing today…’, but my head (and spirit) strong charges soon showed me that this was NOT what they needed at the start of a day that would be approached in the same vain! I spent so much time ‘trying’ to get bodies where ‘I’ wanted them which I soon realised was a waste of our time and energy, not mention that it did not result in the ‘positive-start-to-the-day’ I wished the club to promote!

We loosened things up by creating separate areas in the school hall where the children could go if and when they felt drawn. We had Creative Corner for colouring, freestyle art, building blocks and story making; Sensory Corner for the encouragement of engaging with our senses in the present moment; Relaxation Corner for silent, prone relaxation and breathing focus; Yoga Corner for, well yoga obvs 😉 and lastly a central circle of cushions for pow-wows and massage. This worked really well for a long time until one member of the group started to show anxiety at the noise and fast movement that would sometimes erupt in the large space despite our calming range of activities.

I thought, and still think, that this was ok as it gave us an opportunity to talk about how different everybody is and how we have a choice as to whether or not we modify our behaviour (if possible) to help others; also to offer the little chap some tools to help him cope with his anxiety. Then we were thrown an interesting curve ball this week which may have set us on another path to learning something new…

If anything, working in schools teaches you to expect the unexpected and go with the flow! We were asked to hold the club elsewhere as an exciting dinosaur dome was being erected in the hall for a STEM week activity. No problem, lets use the foundation classroom instead; it is light, airy, cosily carpeted…and a lot smaller than the hall…hmmm…

(Welcome to my mind); ‘Ok, so we’ll take less mats, blankets and activity equipment, that’s fine…but will they get restless and bored? Will I need to start ‘directing’ again if so? I don’t want them to feel ‘penned in’…and so on!

With disengagement from these thoughts we set up a much smaller version of our club – and it was wonderful!

There was a beautiful peace in the cosy room; everyone was comfortable, calm and still able to do a bit of yoga, massage, self-expressive art and self-directed, communal finger knitting (which they decided, btw, is excellent for de-stressing!). The foundation teacher and Head watched with smiles and commented that ‘wouldn’t it be lovely if we started every day like this?’ YESYESYES!!

So I’ve asked if we can move from the hall for now and we’ll see where that takes us…. 🙂

 

 

supporting overwhelm

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My daughter and I both experienced overwhelm this morning.

This familiar territory feels like a fog descending over a spaghetti-like jumble of thoughts in our minds and results in various physical manifestations which can greatly hinder our ability to cope and work with the experience.

With 5 confusing pieces of homework seemingly crowding in on her, my daughter went into a negative lock-down, struggling to organise them into a manageable feast. This sense of overwhelm manifested physically as a curling in on herself in an attempt to hide away and not deal with it. This curling in also restricted her breathing which obviously limited the amount of fresh oxygen she was bringing in as well as preventing her from effectively calming her nervous system. Her verbal communication also became aggressive.

I was feeling the pressure of needing to straighten my spaghetti-like thoughts surrounding my new workshop, knowing that getting my ideas down in a list would help me feel clearer and calm again. I noticed that my tension was manifesting as an uncomfortable ache in my upper stomach which has caused health issues in the past.

In my less conscious days the combination of both of us being in this state would have equalled explosion, but we had a much more positive and constructive experience today!

Upon noticing my own tension I was able to consciously relax my stomach, easing the muscles with a gentle massage and breathing deeply into my tummy (this only took a minute or two btw). From here I was able to help my daughter open herself again and even to laugh off the negative slump. Despite her resistance to reaching out to her friends for help I showed her that they were all feeling the same by persuading her to send a group message; this helped her no end and saw her relieved and smiling again! I helped her find manageable ways of organising her homework and she even finished two pieces there and then – yippee!

I was then able to get my work done swiftly and we were able to move on happily to do the thing we had really been wanting to do all along…..painting 😀

As a parent, being self aware not only models great self management to our children but also helps everyone in the family to traverse life’s challenges with less drama and more love.

 

mindful photography

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Photographing what we notice around us can be a very accessible and enjoyable mindful practice which can take us out of our heads, and right into now… all you need is awareness and your camera phone or tablet!

Having trained in art and photography in my pre-children era, I’ve always had my eye in as they say, but training in mindfulness and becoming more aware of myself and the world around me has helped me become more conscious of why I find photography such a fulfilling practice. I believe that, at it’s core, simply noticing the beauty in a thing, person, place or creature, is in itself a giving of gratitude. The more we focus on what we’re grateful for, the more of it we notice, the happier and more content we become – this is my experience at least.

I’ve had great feedback from sharing my mindful moment photography on Instagram and Facebook; people have commented that the images make then feel good, see the world from a different perspective and help them remember that the world can be beautiful. The children at my local school took to this like ducks to water, making some really beautiful images; and I love that they also discovered a different use for their devices other than chatting and gaming!

So I have created a workshop for families that introduces camera phone and tablet camera photography as a mindful practice – if you’re interested, keep an out for dates on the ‘Where and When’ page, e-mail me, sarah@brilliant-beings.co.uk, so I can pop you on my contacts list and/or like the facebook page linked at the bottom of this page for event posts.

To see some of the images I make you can visit; Instagram

Also you might like to visit the ‘brilliantbeings’ page at Redbubble  where you can buy home products, clothing, stationary, device covers and more with my images printed on 🙂

Do you see?

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Maybe as busy adults, with heads often full of our own agenda, we miss seeing when our children are mindful.

Today I was delighted when my 8yr old daughter showed me what had totally absorbed her attention for a whole hour (!). Whilst I’d been preparing for a job she had quietly been setting these crayons out one by one. ‘I’ve been very resilient Mummy!’ (they kept falling over…a lot!) – well done school for getting that message across 😉

I fed off her joy and exclaimed happily that she had also been very mindful as she had totally focused her attention on her self given task for so long. It interested me to note my response to how she had chosen to spend her precious time; I recognised that the ‘old’ me would have got a bit cross and agitated at the thought that the floor might get messy (my agenda), which would have completely deflated my daughter’s enthusiasm I’m sure! That didn’t even occur to me in the moment. Instead it was lovely to be able to share in her triumph, to help her understand mindfulness in a meaningful way and to give validation to her activity.

Btw, the work I was preparing for was focusing on mindful listening in relationships funnily enough! I can really recommend the following videos (especially the 2nd one – ‘The Sacred Art of Listening’ by Tara Brach) if you wish to understand the art and improve the quality of attention you give to your child/ren. I think one of the things humans most desire is simply to be seen and heard…

dropping anchor

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In yoga and mindfulness meditation a core teaching is the practice of ‘grounding’. Bringing our awareness, consciousness or spirit, what ever you wish to call it, fully into conscious connection with our whole body and the Earth beneath us is vital to our feeling safe and functioning effectively and constructively with our bodies, minds and our community. I feel so passionately that so many children are not given the time and space they need to ground themselves effectively in modern life. I believe this lack of connection to body and Earth causes a sickness of spirit which can affect their physical and mental workings, resulting in behaviours that often earn children the diagnostic labels that seem to be handed out more and more frequently. During my recent training with Special Yoga for children with ADHD and Autism the emphasis was largely on bringing the child’s energy down into the body with grounding postures, anchoring them in the here and now in a safe and non overwhelming space, connecting their awareness with their body, breath and the Earth. When this takes place children literally feel more at home, safer, more peaceful and better able to deal with the challenges life will inevitably throw at them.

In 2012 the US Journal Of Environmental and Public Health published an article about the importance of ‘earthing’ as they call it; ‘…emerging scientific research has revealed a surprisingly positive and overlooked environmental factor on health: direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth. Modern lifestyle separates humans from such contact. The research suggests that this disconnect may be a major contributor to physiological dysfunction and unwellness. Reconnection with the Earth’s electrons has been found to promote intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being.’

Whilst science is bringing welcome new understanding to the knowledge of the ancient wisdom traditions, how we feel in our own experience can not be denied, and when we trust these feelings, we come into right relationship with ourselves and creation as a whole ….which feels good, natural and healthy ….which reflects in our physical and mental health.

When I take my daughters into the woods (sometimes despite their protests which you might relate to if you are a parent or work with children 😉 ), I see them relax; I see them feeling at home, exactly where they need to be, revelling in the moment’s freedom. We don’t go with a plan other than to explore with our senses and play. We give our thinking selves over to our deeper parts, to curiosity, instinct and intuition. We follow our hearts in the woods, rather than our minds. We are always delighted; literally feeling lighter and more ‘right’ within ourselves. We arrive ‘home’ with smiles on our faces.

 

 

Concentration and Self-esteem

 

Shine article 2018

So hopefully, if you follow the link below, what you read may be helpful in understanding how mindfulness can help children develop their concentration skills, and also how we, as carers, can use our own awareness to help them along the way too.

Happily, being invited to write this article also provides me with material with which to talk about another benefit of mindful practice – that it can do wonders for self-esteem and confidence.

Seeing my words in print is a wonderful thing for me. I was a shy child and the thought of ‘being seen’ in the world turned my insides upside down! This continued into adulthood as a lack of faith in my abilities, a shying away from attention and a limiting feeling that I was never really fulfilling my potential.

With continued mindful practice over the last 8 years however, much has changed!

This can be explained neurologically as research is showing that mindful meditation activates and strengthens the areas of the brain responsible for self image and personality (a function of the prefrontal cortex) coupled with the revelation that the thoughts we experience need not be listened to.

Sitting in stillness and watching the experience of thinking shows us the range and volume of attention grabbing thought our brains constantly create…it’s just what they do! Meditation does not stop thought but it can train us to pay less attention to it, so that we are in charge rather than the thoughts themselves leading us through life. Mindfulness has helped me recognise that I am not my thoughts, they are something I experience but don’t need to cling too or believe if they make me feel bad or worthless.

So these days if I notice myself going into an old ‘I can’t do that’ thought, I simply choose to notice the effect it has on me, breathe and then reaffirm that ‘I can’. When our patterns are very set it can be a challenge to untangle ourselves from what we have believed is true for so long in order to forge new pathways AND it is absolutely possible none the less. The result of my endeavour to change my relationship to my thoughts is a flourishing of self belief. It still takes courage to say ‘yes’ to new opportunities (like writing an article!) but understanding that I don’t need to listen to fearful thoughts that would have  discouraged me in the past has opened me up to embracing my limitless potential, enhanced my contentment and helped me feel at home in the world…. this is what I endeavour to pass on to the children I work with.

https://www.perform.org.uk/shine/2018/03/hocus-pocus-everybody-focus/?utm_content=Marketing&utm_campaign=Sendgrid%20Marketing%20emails&utm_source=Sendgrid&utm_term=Marketing%20emails&utm_medium=Email

PS – For parents this video of Tara Brach talking about thought and meditation is very insightful; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kNXhJf6jOM

 

Meeting a fellow passenger

 

 

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I had an opportunity recently, whilst on a train journey into London, to observe a deeper kind of journey occurring within myself; one that took me to an unexpected inner destination, one which illustrated to me how mindfulness is helping me become less reactive and more compassionate.

If the physical journey is one we make every day, the novelty of it diminishes as our body and brain integrate the pattern; the usual sights and sounds cease to engage our attention as they become more familiar and we become less and less present with the journey itself and our experience of it. Our mind takes the opportunity to snatch our now wandering attention and we might spend the entire journey in our heads, concerned with the tense conversation we had with our partner before we left or leaping ahead to speculate on, and plan, the day’s work. In this way so much of our actual lives pass us by and we miss countless opportunities to engage in meaningful relationship with others and our environment.

Whilst participating in Special Yoga’s training course to teach yoga and mindfulness to children with Autism and ADHD, we were invited by our wonderful teacher, Jyoti Jo Manuel, to undertake a piece of homework at the end of the 2nd day; to simply notice our reactions to any situations that presented themselves as we travelled between then and the next day’s training, in essence to be fully present in our journey.

Oh boy, did I get a chance to do just that!

That last day of training held the possibility of heavy snow fall and right from the start I was aware of the fearful though ‘Will I be able to get home if it snows today?’, lots of deep breathing, feeling my feet on the ground and affirming positively, ‘All is well, I am safe and all is well’, helped ease my jangle of nerves and quickening heart rate…

As the train I was due to get into London was cancelled I noticed the doom laden internal mutterings of ‘Oh no, I’m going to be late’ the tension this bought to my shoulders and a sort of plummeting of my emotional state. This time I reassured myself that it really didn’t matter if I was late, as others would be too and the day would continue non the less…

Accepting my now inevitable lateness with another deep breath I boarded the very slow train and, feeling lighter of heart, found gratitude for the fact that I had a seat and marvelled at the beauty of the snow flakes as they glistened in the intermittent rays of the low morning sun (contented sigh).

Of course the train was packed as we pulled into Paddington. I had been aware of the smartly dressed chap in the seat next to me as he boarded but had not paid him any further attention through the journey, until the automated female voice punctuated the thick and loaded silence of the crowded carriage. I smiled with a mixture of disbelief, sadness and amusement at the company’s attempt to make the voice sound jolly and bright; it sat so desperately at odds with the commuter’s annoyance at yet another disrupted trek to work, sounding disingenuous and ridiculous.

For my neighbour, however, this was the straw that broke the camels back. As he started to agitatedly verbalise his obviously deep seated anger to no one in particular I watched as the fight-or-flight fireworks instantly started to explode inside me.

I forget his words apart from the last part of his rant; ‘It makes you want to hit someone, I want to hit someone.’

My nervous system believed him and prepared me to RUN! I could feel the blood racing to my heart and muscles, a feeling of lightheadedness, shaking limbs injected with adrenaline, loosing awareness of my feet and the ground beneath me, utterly ungrounded, utterly panicked…

…and yet…

…some other part of me, my awareness, remained fully present with that beautiful fellow human being who was feeling so lost, so broken and so hurt beneath his anger.

In the past I would not have engaged with him. I would have cowered in my reactionary state praying for the doors to open, for the man to move, for someone else to save the day.

But in this moment, I turned gently to face him. He met my eyes and I held his gaze, my acknowledgment of his pain as mine being communicated from the depths of my heart to his and said softly ‘Please don’t’. And he didn’t retaliate because I wasn’t afraid. My words didn’t come from the reactive, fear based part of me, but from the compassion that mindfulness is helping me cultivate and the knowledge that we are not separate entities, but that we are all connected and sharing this human experience together.

He seemed to deflate, sighing heavily and smiling sadly. I asked him what he did for work and we had a brief exchange during which he revealed his hurt at being treated unfairly by an old boss, part of the root of his anger at least.

He asked what I did for work and upon hearing I taught yoga to children remembered  how he had loved doing Hot Yoga and how he wanted to take it up again. Whilst his journey and how he travels are up to him, I did notice that I hoped he does return to a physical practice, for himself and for all of us, as a way of letting go of emotional tension whilst relieving the physical, for how much lighter he, and we, will be!

The value of being fully present within this recent journey of mine helped me notice not just how mindfulness is helping me become less reactive, but also how deep the inner journey can be within the physical one; and that if we are sensing a deep and undefinable unsettlement within, a knowing that something isn’t quite right, it’s this inner journey we need to navigate if we wish to find our peace.