heather grace: mindfulness & self-compassion

Helping adults and children to create a more joyful and harmonious life…

Category: General (Page 2 of 2)

Hearing and caring

Beautifully put. I don’t know how this translates into restructuring politics in a different way, but a different way we must find!

BREXIT thoughts…

Fearful times. Confusing times. Let me be clear here that I don’t intend to wade into the political debate and make an argument for supporting one political stance or the other, but I would like to offer some thoughts on how we can steady ourselves to ride out the storm ahead from the point of view of bringing mindfulness and compassion to the situation we find ourselves in.

Feels like the world has gone mad? Well, yes, the outer world is certainly reflecting insanity at us right now, as Donald Trump marches on in the race to become the 45th President of the United States and the United Kingdom is drifting in an effectively rudderless fashion towards the rocks with no meaningful leadership following the EU Referendum (although an argument could certainly be made that Nicola Sturgeon has shown strong leadership qualities in these past, particularly uncertain days). We wake this morning to news of yet another terrorist attack, this time at Istanbul airport, and the grip of fear holds us even stronger, practically paralysing us. When we’re fearful, we don’t exactly do our best thinking. We retreat off into reptilian brain that’s really just concerned with survival – eliminating threats by fighting, running away, or (if we think survival is unlikely) freezing. The anxiety is palpable in the UK right now. I can literally feel it in my body, and perhaps you can too; an increased level of tension in the body, a slightly fluttery feeling in the chest. And the country is frozen, completely unsure of what to do next.

Problem no. 1: This is all too scary! I don’t know what this all means for me and my loved ones.

Solution: Be kind to yourself. Yes, these are difficult times. It’s OK to acknowledge that you feel anxious and/or fearful. Take opportunities to soothe yourself and take your attention into your body (we feel more connected when we do this, instead of disconnected lollipop-heads where all of our thoughts are racing around our heads like hamsters-on-wheels). For example, do some gentle yoga, go for a walk in the park, take opportunities to savour the good stuff such as the taste of a lovely drink or food, the sound of a friend or loved-one’s laughter. In a moment of noticing anxiety, it can be profoundly soothing to place one or both of your hands over the centre of your chest with the intention of self-soothing.  This gesture, proposed by self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff and psychologist Christopher Germer who together created the ‘Mindful Self-Compassion’ training, tends to be pretty successful at bringing us into our soothing & contentment system. This is an oft-neglected mode of being as we tend to reside mostly in our threat system (surviving) or our drive system (getting more).  Take a moment to feel any sensations of warmth or coolness emanating from the touch of your hand(s), and remind yourself that you’re not alone in your difficulty.

In soothing ourselves we will restore control to the higher-functioning parts of our brain, and therefore think and express ourselves more clearly.

Problem no. 2we don’t trust our politicians or business leaders. Never before have we had an overwhelming number of key figures in politics and business warning us of the devastating impact of a choice, with the majority of the population choosing to ignore the advice. Politicians from all parties presented us with a confusing array of conflicting opinions that were presented as ‘facts’, and as a result it was hard to know who to believe.

Solution – perhaps it is time to create an independent office to monitor political campaigns and ensure (as far as practical) that claims are truthful. Josh Babarinde has created a petition if you wish to get behind this idea – https://www.change.org/p/restore-truthful-politics-create-an-independent-office-to-monitor-political-campaigns.

Problem no. 3we believe our thoughts and identify with them as if they’re fact. We think we’re making quite logical arguments and decisions but in reality we’re very emotional creatures filled with ancestral, cultural and other cognitive biases. This makes it hard for us to see and really open ourselves to the views of others. Every dispute in history has emerged from rival factions seeing their position as absolutely right, and the other party wrong.

Solution – An awareness of our thoughts and a zoomed-out perspective of the conditioned mind in which they are held requires mindfulness. Because this being human is a messy business and our minds produce conflict and suffering, we must learn to bring kindness towards this suffering. This is self-compassion. In addition, we must be willing to be wrong. Bear in mind that we tend to seek out information, and other people, who confirm our views rather than challenge them. We see what we believe, rather than the other way round. Key in moving forward is a willingness to come to a new point of view, by being open to views of others and engaging in reflective, non-egoic dialogue that recognises the needs and cares of all concerned. We need politicians to usher in a new type of respectful, reflective politics where name-calling and school-yard tactics are absolutely unacceptable, and they won’t do that unless we demand it of them.

Those in education today are our politicians of tomorrow, and because I am a student of education, I make comment here on where I see merit in educational reform. It is imperative that we teach children mindfulness and self-compassion (we can only be compassionate towards others to the degree that we can be compassionate towards ourselves) so that they can become reflective and compassionate members of society, and we must also give some attention to filling the spiritual vacuum within schools that are now primarily non-denominational. The kind of spirituality that I refer to is perhaps simply a sense of wonder and interdependence – a recognition of the interconnectedness of all things – something that nature shows us again and again, over and over. Holistic education fosters balance, inclusion and connectedness, and these must surely be our priorities for the future.  John P. Miller’s ‘The Holistic Curriculum’ is a very interesting read, if you’d like to find out more.

 

I don’t have all (or indeed many) answers to the situation we find ourselves in, I simply present the thoughts above as humble offerings, and wish you peace in your heart in these troubled times.  We’re all in this together, and together we’ll find a way through. X

What’s your antidote?

The last 24 hours have been really difficult, and as I write that I’m noticing that I feel a little apologetic – as if it’s selfish to admit that I felt like I was struggling when others face challenges in their lives that are so much bigger than mine.  I uncovered a ‘little white’ lie that had been told to me, and the teller of this untruth had been quite unaware of the consequences of not being fully open.  I felt manipulated.  It was really a small thing, or so I kept trying to tell myself, but that’s not how it felt.

Pills

The more I allow myself to really be with my difficulties, the more I am aware of the complexities of how I relate to my experiences.  Not only was I intensely experiencing this difficulty in a physical way – an ache in my chest and my throat, a ‘jangly’ feeling in the pit of my stomach, feeling angular rather than soft – I was:

(a) hearing a running commentary in my mind about how I should be able to find a more helpful way to relate to my difficulty, and

(b) predicting and worrying about what other people (my family, friends, teachers) might think of the way that I was relating to my experience.

Over and over again I tried to regain my perspective with logic, telling myself that it was silly to feel so wounded over such a small matter and that I should just “get a grip”, and each time I was unsuccessful because bringing logic to an emotional response is a profoundly futile endeavour (this generally doesn’t stop us trying though, frustratingly!) and also because I was speaking to myself in a really unkind way, which just made me feel worse!  Perhaps you recognise this kind of behaviour in yourself?  We feel bad, then beat ourselves up for not being able to shake the feeling off, then end up feeling even worse.  Tricky things, our minds.

Before I was able to have a non-blaming discussion about how I was feeling, I had to deal with what had been triggered in me.  I found myself asking, in my mind’s eye, “Heather, what’s your antidote?” A curious question, I thought.  Three pills: the words,”soften, be authentic, be love” came as an automatic response, arising from somewhere deep in my body.  My mind immediately interjected with a, “don’t feeling like being love right now” response, and that was OK.

My mantra of ‘soften, be authentic, be love’ was repeated over and over and held as an intention.  The words didn’t need to feel like my reality, they just needed to be held as a direction of travel that I would like to go in.  They did their work, like a salve applied to an open wound, slowly and with care.  This is the power of words, and how we speak to ourselves and indeed others is so very, very important.

Today I’m pinning some words on my small home-office noticeboard as a way of reminding myself to choose my antidote, my salve, in response to what I’m feeling.  Not because I’m trying to get rid of what I’m feeling, but because I want to respond kindly to my difficulties rather than with all the self-criticism crap that it’s my tendency to react with.Female hands in the form of heart..

So now let me ask you, do you feel bad when you notice a difficulty but can’t seem to pull yourself out of the quick-sand?  Do you recognise self-criticism in the way that you respond to experiences?  If so, what’s your antidote?

A Journey to ‘Perfect’ Parenting

Nearly sixteen years ago I found myself thrust most unpreparedly into parenthood and determined to do a much better job than my own mother had; while Mum possessed some wonderful qualities, she chose to hide them often in her quest to find whatever it was that she sought at the bottom of the whisky bottle. I resolved to become the perfect parent.

I immediately proceeded to feel dreadful every time I noticed that knot of dread in the pit of my stomach that was triggered the moment my colicky little bundle started yelling. And he yelled A LOT. I fretted A LOT. I beat myself up A LOT. As well as trying (and in my view, failing) to be a good mum, I was trying (and again in my view, failing) to be a good wife. This was not how it was supposed to be.

My mother grew up in the light of harsh criticism from her own parents; she, in turn, having internalised this voice of criticism, would often direct this voice at me and my sister. She thought that this would make us better, stronger, more resilient, more motivated, keener to succeed. She was so very wrong. I too had internalised this critical voice, and this inner-critic was giving me a running commentary on all of my failings. The voice was pulling me down into crushing darkness.

The more I strived to do a good job, the worse I felt when I evaluated my performance to be catastrophically sub-standard. Perfect parenting – to my mind anyway – involved copious amounts of patience (after all, perfect parents do not raise their voices or get frustrated), serene scenes of contented little-one breast-feeding, immediately burping and falling into a blissful sleep in my arms at which point I would transfer the sleeping little angel to his cot and proceed to do the housework, the laundry and make delicious and nutritious home-cooked meals. My reality was starkly different – I struggled even to find the time to brush my teeth in those exhausting first six months!

The difficulties that I experienced around that time, along with the departure of my husband into more-welcoming arms, conspired to make life so uncomfortable that I was forced to find a new way to journey through life. What I did next surprised some people. I left my well-paid job. I became a Reiki Master, and then a meditation and mindfulness teacher. The process took some years. Along the way, I started to have a new sense of the ‘perfect’ parent.

And here I am, my eldest child due to turn sixteen in a few weeks’ time, presenting a very different idea of the perfect parent to you. You see, I’m a mess. A compassionate one. I parent the four amazing boys in my care from a place of presence, as best I can, and oceanic love. But amidst this is a willingness to be vulnerable and to sometimes feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark wishing that someone would please turn the lights on. At times I don’t know the best way forward, and do you know what? It’s really very OK not to know – in fact, it’s heroically brave! Resting in that not-knowing and taking time to pause and reflect, we often find that a different path – one that responds more skilfully to what is required – is the one that callsperfect_parent us, rather than the habitually trodden path of reactivity.

I get it wrong, and I do my very best to speak up and admit it as soon as I realise that I got it wrong. I don’t see these moments as mistakes but as growing pains – the path of cultivating self-awareness is often not a comfortable one.

My children are not always full of joy, perfectly confident, perfectly content, perfectly at ease. This, as I point out in my forthcoming book, Awakening Child: a journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness and compassion, is completely OK! In fact, it’s more than OK; the practice of cultivating mindfulness and self-compassion invites us to let go of thoughts of ‘not enough’ and shows us that we, and our children, are always enough – always were and always will be. We come to realise the glorious perfection of this oftentimes messy and imperfect life.

________

Awakening Child: a journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness and compassion will be in bookstores and on Amazon from 29th July 2016

 

A tricky word, acceptance…

I’m in the final weeks of writing my book, ‘Awakening Child: a journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness’ and realising how much of the time I talk about acceptance.  At the heart of all healing is accepting ourselves just as we are, meeting ourselves wherever we’re at.  All change proceeds from there. 

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Syria and the evolution of mankind

On Wednesday night, the UK government took us into war against an invisible enemy.  Intelligence on this invisible enemy is, by all accounts, rather slim and tentative.  When we send those RAF tornadoes to drop their bombs, we harden our hearts and disconnect from our humanity.  This is the price that we are willing to pay to try to protect our ‘freedom’.

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From alcohol to mindfulness…

Ok, so I haven’t blogged for AGES. I don’t think I’m a natural blogger at all. But sometimes words just kind of rise up from my heart and feel like they need to be spoken, at least in the written form of ‘speaking’. This is a story of an insight that arose a few months ago, but it was still a little too tender to share back then.  In June of this year I was on retreat on the Holy Isle, blessed to be in the presence of amazing mindfulness teachers such as Rob Nairn, Choden, Heather Regan-Addis and Fay Adams. It was quite a turbulent time in my life, as I had just taken on the role of nearly full-time stepmother to my partner’s 13 year-old son, in addition to mothering my own 3 boys. At the end of the retreat I was feeling a deep spaciousness, as if life had really slowed down and felt ‘manageable’ again.

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Time to let go…

Standing in the rain...

Standing in the rain…

Feeling a little raw today if the truth be told, and it feels good to admit it.  No need to put on a game-face and pretend.  The Buddha taught of how deeply our human suffering is bound to the Universal law of impermanence, and how true that is!  ALL forms (be they physical forms, thought forms, emotion forms, sensations, events) arise and then fade away, arising from the unmanifested, the Source, and returning back to it.  Learning to let go is one of the hardest lessons; yet it is essential work to be done if we are ever to allow inner-peace to find a foothold within us.

We are a couple of days post full-moon, and we are being buffeted by high winds and heavy rain.  Tomorrow my youngest starts primary school, my middle son starts high school and it is the anniversary of my father’s death.  I took this picture just moments ago whilst standing outside in the rain; something I used to do as a child after my father passed.  Yes I feel raw, but at the same time incredibly supported by the Universe; it almost feels as if the skies are crying with me, holding me in my pain.  My children are growing up, and they need me less now.  My youngest revels in doing things for himself and spends much more time gazing adoringly at his older brothers than being with me.  So the hour approaches when I must wave goodbye in the school playground and let go, staying intensely present and allowing life to unfold just as it is.

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