My Journey Into Mindfulness – Part 4

16 May 2014 Uppa_047 V2webLast Friday, I spent the day with my sister on a Garden Photography Workshop run by Emma Davies at Uppark House. I booked our tickets weeks ago with no idea that I’d be on a journey into mindfulness by the time the workshop finally rolled around.

I began thinking about mindfulness after a frustrating photography session, so being able to go on a photography workshop so soon after starting to practice mindfulness was perfect. And it was perfect.

16 May 2014 Uppa_012 V2webMy sister and I were the only two people on the course, and Emma was lovely. She quickly assessed how much we knew about both the technical and artistic aspects of photography, gave us some appropriate tips and exercises and then let us get on with it. Together, we wandered around the gardens, meadow and outhouses, and, although we checked in and chatted a bit here and there, we gave each other the space and time to really look at our surroundings and capture what we were seeing on camera.

16 May 2014 Uppa_027 V2webIt was absolute bliss being able to take the time to see what was there, to frame an image, to think about the subject and its surroundings and to think about what it was I really wanted to photograph. As much as I love my kids, it’s virtually impossible to take that kind of time when they’re around which is why I usually just take pictures on my iPhone when we’re out and about together. It did take me a while to get into a mindful frame of mind though. It felt like changing down a gear, but eventually I managed to go from ‘busy mum’ to ‘mindful photographer’.16 May 2014 Uppa_068 V2web I let my thoughts scud in and out of my mind without judging them and simply looked at what was in front of my lens … not for the whole four hours though, just when I wanted to.

I’ve only been practicing mindfulness for a short time, but already it’s had a positive effect. I feel that my senses of smell and hearing have been heightened – I’ve been stopped in my tracks by the scent of a flower, and (although I have to be careful not to tune into my tinnitus) I hear and attend to all sorts of sounds that would hitherto have gone unnoticed. I feel calmer and less stressed even though life hasn’t become any less stressful, and I’m not jumping at unexpected sounds.

IMG_7128The greatest benefit though is that, on Friday, I felt as if I were actually there, in each moment, walking around a beautiful garden, looking at the flowers, listening to the birds, feeling the breeze and the warm sunshine on my skin and learning, laughing, living.

(You can see more of my photos from the day here, and you can see my sister’s photos here.)

My Journey Into #Mindfulness – Part 2

And so, my quest for a more mindful life has begun. I’ve read two books, numerous blog posts and am at the beginning of a 40-day study guide.

Mindfulness, it seems, is both simple and difficult.

It is simple in that it is nothing more (from a psychological point of view) than intentionally paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgemental way. Our thoughts are not who we are. They might be an expression of who we are, but they are also just habitual patterns of the mind. When we are being mindful, we not only notice the present moment through what we are sensing, we notice too the thoughts that pop into our minds, but instead of critiquing them, or criticising ourselves for thinking them, we just let them go by bringing our attention back to the present moment – what we are seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting, smelling. We let our thoughts be clouds that are scudding across our mind’s sky.

It is difficult in that this is easier said than done. I’ve done a few exercises now (from Sane New World by Ruby Wax) and am finding it hard to stay in the present moment. My mind is so used to analysing, processing, ruminating and rehearsing. But … I’m doing it. Slowly, but surely I am noticing those distracting thoughts and letting them go, and I’m focusing on being in the here and now, not exploring the past or future.

Dusty anthers. I noticed them while I was walking around the garden with my camera.

When I’m walking back from dropping Little S off at school, I’m taking five seconds here and there to focus on what it feels like to walk. I’m noticing the crows flying across the sky, the starlings yelling at me from the ridge tiles of the houses I pass. I’m feeling the wind burn my cheeks, tug at my hands and whip my trousers around my legs. When I’m out in the garden, I’m feeling the warmth of the sun on my back and seeing the pollen on the anthers of the fuchsias that I hadn’t previously noticed poking over the fence from next door.

This is going to take perseverance. It’s something I know I’ll get better at with practice. What I want from this type of mindfulness is to learn how to live my life in the present.

Which brings me on to the other type of minfulness I’ve been reading about: mindFullness. In his book, A Book of Sparks: A Study in Christian MindFullness, Shaun Lambert explains how being mindful (or watchful) is a universal human capacity, something that God wants for all His people and something the followers of Jesus should take seriously. Here are a few snippets:

The central insight of mindfulness – and Buddhists, Christians and psychologists all agree on this – is that we are bigger than our thoughts and feelings. (Loc 374)

In Romans 12:2, Paul tells us, ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ Our thoughts and feelings are often shaped by our culture into narcissistic, competitive, fearful or consumerist patterns. This verse enables us to witness our thoughts and enables us to decenter from them … Paul follows this us in 2 Corinthians 10:5, where he says, ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’ (Loc 381)

Christian mindFullness is awareness of the presence of God at work within our own God-given capacities for attention and awareness. (Loc 489)

There is so much wisdom in this book that I could happily quote the whole thing, but I won’t as that would be an infringement of copyright! Instead, I’ll leave you with one last pearl:

The way we take our thoughts captive is to disarm them. That’s Christ’s method, as with disarming the powers and authorities (Colossians 2:15) … We make our thoughts obedient to Christ by treating them much as Jesus treated people … We notice them with compassion and love, accept them for what they are, and then let them go, send them on their way saying, ‘Go and sin no more.’ (Loc 629)

As well as general mindfulness practice, Shaun Lambert advocates the mindful reading of Scripture à la lectio divina. Now, I’ve been a Christian for most of my life (I turned 40 last year!) and didn’t have a clue what that meant, so that’s something I’ll be exploring and reporting back on.

13 May 2014 Bird_012 V2web
This morning’s birdie visitor: a young starling. I noticed him as I was letting my breakfast go down.

There’s so much more I want to write about today – I want to talk about eating mindfully, about teaching my kids to be critical of adverts that ‘tell us we are empty unless we fill ourselves with their product’, about offering our bodies as living sacrifices, about using mindfulness to help Little S with her anxieties, about replacing icons of grace with idols to fill the space within us that God is supposed to fill, about writing mindfully, about using what I’ve mindfully noticed in my writing – but I’ve gone on long enough and my tummy’s rumbling again. It’s time for lunch.

My Journey Into #Mindfulness – Part 1

FroxfieldIt’s funny how things come together.

A couple of weeks ago, I organised an HBC Photographers trip to Froxfield. One of our members has an aunt who lives in half an acre of woodland there, and she kindly invited us to visit so that we could take photos of the bluebells growing in the wood. She’s moving home soon, so this was our last chance to go. How could we say no?

FroxfieldIt’s a beautiful place. Magical even. As well as bluebells, there are shacks and sheds and sculptures scattered throughout the woods. The cottage is thatched and surrounded by vegetable and fruit gardens. There’s a pond, a pagoda, and a bridge stretching over a patch of marshy land. It’s not hard to imagine the famous five having an amazing adventure there.

Unfortunately, we were up against the clock a bit, and as we walked through the woods snapping away, we chatted away to one another too. I left with a few nice pictures but also with a feeling that I’d just been skimming the surface of what was there.

FroxfieldDespite the rain and grey skies, I would have loved to have spent all day in Froxfield, wandering around with my camera, crouching amongst the foliage, taking pictures, and looking … really looking at what was around me. I’d loved to have had the time to smell the leaf mould, feel the drizzle on my skin, listen to the birds and the squelch of soggy soil under foot.

Froxfield
Don’t get me wrong. I had a lovely time with my friends, but I almost ache to go back there on my own, to just spend time there, to just be there.

This experience got me thinking. For a while now, I’ve had this feeling that I’ve just been skimming the surface of life, bobbing along fairly happily, but not really taking the time to stop and appreciate things.

FroxfieldI don’t lead a particularly busy life; I’ve slowed down a lot in recent years, but I have a butterfly mind and often have so much going on in my head that I don’t pay attention to what’s right in front of me, or what’s going on inside of me. I’m better at this that I used to be though. By paying attention to my moods, I’ve learned to spot depression’s advance and can usually head it off at the pass.

FroxfieldBut I’d like to slow my mind down even more, to stop thinking about so many different things at the same time, to stop flitting from thought to thought, to stop and smell the roses more than once in a while.

Which brings me onto mindfulness and how it’s funny how things come together. Last week, I saw a tweet about a course in mindfulness for writers and was reminded that mindfulness actually existed! I think I’d read something about it a while ago, but hadn’t looked into it any deeper.

FroxfieldThis reminder came just at the right time, just after the trip to Froxfield and that skimming-the-surface frustration I’d felt there. So, I looked into this course and had one of those light bulb moments. It sounded right up my street, although it wasn’t. It was in Brighton which is over an hour and a half away. I tweeted the instructor to ask if they ever ran courses near me, but they didn’t.

FroxfieldOh well, I thought, I’ll just have to read about it then. So, after a couple of days being distracted by life, I downloaded a copy of ‘Sane New World’ by Ruby Wax onto my Kindle. Why this book? Because I’d heard of the author and know Ruby is the ‘poster girl’ for mental health.

 

25 Apr 2014 Frox_028 V2webI wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found the book inspiring. I really like the idea of mindfulness (a way of paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way, a way of mastering your mind instead of being a slave to it). I loved all the science that explained how the brain works – it took me right back to my university days and my degree in Biochemistry.

FroxfieldAnd I could relate to much of Ruby’s own struggles with depression. There are lots of exercises to try too, and I’ve already given some of them a go. The first thing I noticed is how judgmental I am about my own thoughts and how much time I spend rehearsing conversations that I might have in the future and ruminating over things I’ve said and done in the past. So much of the present is passing me by because I’m focusing elsewhere.

So, what next? Well, I’ve already downloaded my next ebook on mindfulness: A Book of Sparks: A Study in Christian Mindfullness by Shaun Lambert, a Baptist Minister from NW London. It’s a 40 day (We Christians do love our 40 day programmes!) journey into Christian Mindfulness based on Mark’s Gospel (which I’m currently studying using NT Wright’s Mark for Everyone – another funny-how-things-come-together moment) so I’m going to work through it, one day at a time.

Expect more posts on mindfulness in the near future!

(You can see more of my Froxfield visit photos over at Flickr.)

#atozchallenge: P is for Photography

A photo taken by my sister of me and my brother taking photos. We all caught the photography bug from our dad!

I caught the photography bug from my dad. One of my earliest memories is of playing with a light meter and being mesmerized by lumpy-bumpy light-detecting bit. I’ve always had a camera, first a cheapie 110, then a couple of cheapie 35mm’s, then a digital compact and now a DSLR and an iPhone. Until I took a course in photography a few years ago, I wasn’t actually very good at it, but now that I’ve learned about the art of composition and the importance of lighting and point of view etc, I can turn out a half-decent picture.

Photography isn’t just about the end product, though, the final picture. For me, photography is about the moment, about stopping and looking – really looking – and then capturing something more than an image; it’s about capturing a memory.

PenguinMy memory is rubbish. I only have a few childhood memories and those are fading. I’ve forgotten so much, but photography helps me to remember. For the last year, I’ve been taking a photo every day and publishing it on blipfoto. It’s been a way to record the good things that happen, not just for me, for my children as well. One of our favourite things to do is snuggle up in bed and look through our photo albums. The kids love seeing themselves as babies and hearing about all the silly things they did, the cute little words they made up. Sophie’s early years are a blur to me – the years I had depression – but sitting there with her and laughing at the pictures in her album reminds me that it wasn’t all bad; there were some wonderful moments too.

Wonderful MomentsLinkidinks:

An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

Barefoot Prayers: Disappointment – A Response

2013 22 Sept iP_098Disappoint:

  1. to fail to fulfill the expectations or wishes of.
  2. to defeat the fulfillment of (hopes, plans, etc.); thwart; frustrate.

Resilience:

  1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
  2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

Tenacity:

  1. holding fast; characterized by keeping a firm hold (often followed by of ).
  2. highly retentive.
  3. pertinacious, persistent, stubborn, or obstinate.
  4. adhesive or sticky; viscous or glutinous.
  5. holding together; cohesive; not easily pulled asunder; tough.

When I am disappointed, may I also be resilient and tenacious.

Inspired by Disappointment by Stephen Cherry (Barefoot Prayers: A Meditation a Day for Lent and Easter).

Barefoot Prayers: Loneliness – A Response

Loneliness

There have been times when I have experienced intense loneliness, when depression has put up a wrought-iron gate between me and the rest of the world. Right now, though, that gate is swung wide open, and I am free to mingle amongst my loved ones. Today’s prayer is going in my treasure box, so that I can take it out again should I need it in the future.

Image inspired by Loneliness by Stephen Cherry (Barefoot Prayers: A Meditation a Day for Lent and Easter).

Barefoot Prayers: Bodies – A Response

BodiesThere’s no doubt about it: I’m getting older. My hair is going grey, and my skin is going wrinkly. Two vertical lines have taken up permanent residence between my eyebrows and there’s a pillow crease on my cheek that’s still there every bedtime. Not to mention that everything that could head south is. On top of that, there are the stretch marks; I look as if I’ve been wrapped in crepe paper.

But you know what? I really don’t care. In fact, whenever I look at myself in the mirror I smile. I smile because I’ve earned each and every mark, each and every wrinkle, each and every grey hair. They are my battle scars, and bodies only develop battle scars if they’re alive!

Today’s prayer is Bodies by Stephen Cherry (Barefoot Prayers: A Meditation a Day for Lent and Easter).

Barefoot Prayers: Mindful – A Response

ButterflyI have a butterfly mind. Thoughts constantly flit around inside my head. They might settle for a moment or two, but they always flutter off again. Writing pins them down; it allows me to look at them closely, to interrogate them, to understand them. For that reason, I often hand-write my prayers using two pieces of paper: one for pinning down what I really want to say and one for pinning down all the distractions.

 

 

Today’s prayer was Mindful by Stephen Cherry (Barefoot Prayers: A Meditation a Day for Lent and Easter).

Barefoot Prayers: After a Holiday – A Response

Holiday“… let me take a flight
of gratitude.

And so I give thanks: for opportunity,
for time,
for the efforts of others, for companions,
for encounters,
for everything that delighted
the eye,
for each moment of peace,
for inspiration from art and nature,

for the cool of morning,
for the warm of evening,
for food and drink,
for laughter and smiles,
for safe travel,
for a home to return to.”

Image inspired by the words above from After a Holiday by Stephen Cherry (Barefoot Prayers: A Meditation a Day for Lent and Easter)

Barefoot Prayers: Moving House – A Response

It's OfficialTuesday 19th March 2013

It’s official. The sign’s gone up. We’re moving.

 

 

CleaningSaturday 23rd March 2013

Today has been a day of cleaning. Our house is on the market and we had our first viewing at 3pm, so the morning was spent scrubbing and wiping and dusting and hoovering. Our bedroom has never looked so clean and tidy.

The house feels strange now though. The kids are away on various camps, so there’s no noise – apart from the cooing of the collard doves who are nesting in the tree outside the window – and there’s no mess: no Lego to tread on, no teeny-tiny slivers of paper to pick up, no cuddly toy mountains to wade through.

I’ve already stopped thinking of this house as home. We’re selling it, passing it on to someone else. We’re taking all that we are and all that we have somewhere else and making a home there. Truth be told, I don’t think I’ll miss the place. It’s been a staging post for the last six years, bought because we needed to find somewhere to live, not because we fell in love with it. Our next house will be the place we stay, the place we make our own, the place we invest more than just money in.

SoldMonday 1st July 2013

The ball is finally rolling! We’ve just accepted an offer on our house, and the offer we made on the house we’d like has been accepted too! The chain seems to be short with everyone in a position to proceed, so it should all go smoothly from here. Hopefully!

Just the small matters of the mortgage and survey and conveyancing and removals etc etc etc to sort out.

Feeling positive but trying not to get too excited!

I was thinking about this house today and about how I’ve never really been all that attached to it. I’ve decided to remember it as the House of Healing. When we moved here I was very much in the early stages of recovering from postnatal depression, and while we’ve been here I’ve certainly had my ups and downs, but now I feel as if I’m whole and healthy again, able to cope with the stresses and strains of life. So I shall remember this house as a place of rest and recuperation. Must make sure I have plenty of photos to remember it by.

flowerFriday 9th August 2013

I keep thinking I need to get on with some sorting/packing in preparation for the impending house move, but there’ll be plenty of time for all that once we have an actual date. A deadline always helps me focus. We should hear from the mortgage company within the next few days, and we’ve a chap coming on Monday to give us a quote for removals. Best make the most of the calm and quiet while I have it!

mortgageThursday 19th September 2013

Mortgage offer received. Finally! Another step closer. Yay!

 

bookThursday 26th September 2013

Spent the day getting quotes from removal companies. Still haven’t had final conformation from the solicitor that Monday is going to be the day, so it probably won’t be. It’s all getting a bit stressy and lastminute.com! Taking deep breaths and trying not to get too stressed.

Put together a photo book for Sophie. She’s having a bit of a wobble about the move. She’s too young to remember moving here, so, for her, this is the only home she’s known. I suggested we create “The Book of Happy Memories” so she’s got something to remember the house by. After gaining her approval, I went through all my photos and printed out about twenty pages of images with spaces between so she can write down her own memories. Hopefully it will help her with the transition.

boxSaturday 28th September 2013

Today has been spent packing and cleaning. I cleaned all the downstairs windows, inside and out. It’s amazing how much extra light is coming through! Matt bought some packing boxes, and we’ve done the dining room and part of the lounge. It’s hard to know what to pack as we don’t have a firm moving date yet, but every box packed today is a box we don’t have to pack next week. Plus it’s good to get rid of all the rubbish we don’t want to take with us.

Sophie’s had me wrapping up her Lego models in bubble wrap and has commandeered a special packing box all of her own for them.

Right. Time to get back at it. Those boxes won’t fill themselves.

bootTuesday 1st of October 2013

Another boot-load of bits and bobs for the charity shop.

 

 

boxesTuesday 10th of October

Nearly there. Just the last few bits to gather and put in boxes. The movers come at 9am tomorrow. Hopefully they’ll empty one room at a time so we can follow them around and clean. I’ve just done the oven, and I did the windows earlier in the week, so that just leaves the bathrooms and then dusting and hoovering. The kids are staying with Matt’s parents tonight, and they’re taking them to school in the morning for us, so we’ll be able to crack on bright and early. Absolutely shattered. We’ll sleep well tonight.

nembow_2013-10-11(1)Wednesday 11th of October

Aaaaaaand we’re in! We finally got the keys at 3pm. Two hours later the vans have been unloaded and the removal men are leaving. Now to unpack …

 

GardenFriday 21st March 2014

We love our new home. It feels as if we have never lived anywhere else. We have so much more room here, and we can do all the things it was so hard to do in our old place – like walk from one room to the next without tripping over each other. There’s room for the kids to grow, room for all Matt’s instruments, room to invite more than two people around at a time. I love the light here; there’s so much of it – even when it’s cold outside, I can sit in the conservatory and soak up the sunshine. We now have a west-facing lounge at the back of the house which means I can watch the birds feeding and flitting in and out of the hedge at the bottom of the garden. We also have a kitchen-diner which means I can help the kids with their homework while I’m getting tea ready. Most of all, I love that this house is a perfect venue for our youth group and that we have the freedom and flexibility to be able to open our doors to them at any time. They can loll about in the lounge, rustle up snacks in the kitchen, make music in the music room, and, come summer, they’ll be able to muck about in the garden. I knew thus house was ‘the one’ the moment I walked into it. The process of buying it was pretty stressful at times, but it was so worth it.

Excerpts from my diary in response to Moving House by Stephen Cherry (Barefoot Prayers: A Meditation a Day for Lent and Easter)