heather grace: mindfulness & self-compassion

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

Category: Mindful Living

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3 Ways to Help a Child to Live the Good Life

So what exactly is ‘the good life’?

good life sitcom imageThe 1970s sitcom called ‘The Good Life’ made an impact on me.  I was very young when it aired, but I realised when watching it that in many ways, as a family, we were already living the good life.  I had a fairly unusual upbringing on a farm on the Isle of Islay – I say ‘unusual’ because at any point in time our house was home to at least 4 different species of animal, plus my sister, my mother and me.  It was not uncommon to find ducks waddling around the house, lambs in the playroom, plus the more mundane  – dogs, cats guinea pigs etc.  We lived off the land – grew our own vegetables, ate our own meat (a concept I sometimes struggled with), and often bartered for whatever we didn’t have.  My sister and I spent our time, when not in school, barefoot and outdoors; we climbed trees and invented games.  This closeness to nature encapsulates some of what the good life is, but it certainly isn’t the whole story…

Recently I noticed a friend’s Facebook post, saying that she was “living the good life” on holiday. She was perhaps referring to ‘living it up’ with good food, drink and a lovely place to stay, but I don’t think that her idea of the good life is quite the same as that proposed by ancient Greek philosophers.  It reminded me that many of us may have lost touch with what the good life actually is, and may not be fully engaged with making our normal day-to-day work and home lives ‘the good life’.

Ancient Greek philosophers were onto something when they suggested that the good life is one that is concerned with the development of human potential – where each of us cultivate our innate strengths, abilities, virtues and passions for the good of others as well as ourselves.  The good life is one that promotes the greatest wellbeing for all.

The good life invites us to become the best versions of ourselves that we can possibly become and does not depend on our emotional landscape.  We can experience wellbeing at the same time as experiencing difficult emotions – it all depends on attitude.  The good life asks that we develop virtues such as wisdom and knowledge, courage, honesty, loving connection, a sense of fairness, forgiveness, humility, appreciation of beauty, gratitude, humour, hope and spirituality.  It also asks us to engage in pursuits that develop our natural abilities and interests.

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Where do your passions and natural talents lie, and do you nurture these passions?

Do you love to dance, paint, make music, climb mountains, play strategy games, write, sing, act, play sport… or something else?  What makes your heart sing? What makes you feel more alive?

Sometimes activities that we previously loved to engage in simply slip from our lives without us really noticing.  Life events can cause priorities to shift and we may find ourselves very much needing to focus on others, with less time for ourselves.  But the good life never forgets about us – it’s always there in the background, calling us to be all that we can be.

Ways we can teach a child to live the good life…

1. Model what it means

Perhaps the best way to teach a child to live the good life is to live it for ourselves – our actions speak so much louder than words.  To do this, we will require mindfulness (being aware of what we’re doing, while we’re doing it, with a certain kind of an attitude) so that we can marry intention with action.  We also need to start having conversations – lots of them – about living meaningfully.

We can go to school, get qualifications, get a job, raise a family, retire, collect a pension and grow old in a care home without ever having truly lived.

Living the good life is a process, not a destination, and is focused on promoting the wellbeing of both ourselves and others – but how often do we stop to consider whether what we’re doing or saying is contributing to anyone’s wellbeing? We must regularly take stock and check that we are staying true to our compass bearing.  If not, rather than beating ourselves up, we need simply to notice and adjust our direction.

2. Grow something

cucumber imageWhether it’s growing an ability or growing a cucumber, it doesn’t really matter (unless you’re looking for something to put in a sandwich, in which case the cucumber is probably preferable).  The point is, life isn’t meant to stand still… life wants to express itself through each of us, and that means movement and growth. Cultivation. Development.  Decide with a child what they’d like to grow, and plant the seed – either literally or figuratively. Then, crucially, remember to tend to it.

3. Talk about values

When teaching mindfulness to children, I find so often that children simply don’t have a language to explore value and it can be a completely alien concept to them.  When I asked a teenage girl recently what she valued in life, she replied, “Shoes”.  My heart sank a little, if I’m honest!

What do you value, and what does your child value?  Many clues will be present in what they say, and we can use these clues as ways in to explore values with a child. For example, we might say, “I noticed that you were very cross when your brother told you he didn’t take your marbles but then you found them in his room.  It appears to me that you value honesty?  I value that too.” This example obviously touches on related issues such as trust and integrity, but is also an opening into a discussion about compassion – when individuals behave in ways that aren’t very honourable, the root of the behaviour often relates to fear (of not having enough, or being enough) and when found out, fear or reprisal or being told off, which essentially confirms our fears that we weren’t good enough.

It’s important to work out what we value, attend regularly to prioritising our values, and have these kinds of conversations often with children.   With young children we can use the context of heroes or heroines as a way in, noticing the attributes that they value in characters they connect with and exploring this with them.  My eldest, when a toddler, loved ‘Bob the Builder’ because he could fix anything that was broken and he was really reliable.  You could depend on Bob if you were in trouble and this was clearly something that my son valued.


And finally…

More than anything, the good life asks that we don’t simply exist, but that we live life as fully as we can, engaged with life with energy and vitality and caring for the wellbeing of ourselves and those around us, including this beautiful planet that supports us.  The process of living the good life is, then, a powerful force for good, and one that we must engage in if we are to truly thrive rather than simply survive.

With so much love on your journey,

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Heather Grace MacKenzie is a mindfulness and compassion teacher based in Strathaven, Scotland, and author of Awakening Child: a journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness and compassion.

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Seeds of change… what are you planting?

Spring has officially sprung and our attention must naturally turn towards considering which seeds we wish to plant.  Not the horticultural kind of seeds, although they’re very worthy of consideration too, but the seeds of intention.  Our cycles of energy and our experience of life, despite society’s increasing disconnection from the natural world, move with nature; each in-breath an expansion, each out-breath a contraction, just as the first half of the day is more outward-looking, the latter half is often felt as more reflective, more inward-looking.  Spring and summer are like the in-breath, autumn and winter like the out-breath, each season with its particular characteristics.

butterfly imageChoosing to live in a way that honours the cycles of life, and the cycles of our energy, brings forth ancient wisdom – we remember how it is to live in harmony with the land, with which we are so intimately connected, rather than simply forcing our will upon it.

And so, as nature shows us it’s time to plant seeds, each of us must consider what we wish to grow this year.  What seeds of intention do we wish to plant?  What is it that we value, and what does our heart long for?  These are important questions, and some attention must be given to them if the seeds are ever to take root and grow.

May we feel the unconditional support of the earth beneath our feet.

May our heart’s longings take root and flourish.

May we become all that we can possibly become.

With so much love,

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Dying

Dying to this moment… it’s the only way to live

Years ago, I first heard the phrase, “dying to this moment” and wasn’t fully sure what it meant. Now, here I am inviting you to do it.  Die, that is, to this moment.  Surrender.  Let go. Open yourself completely.  Make way for the new.  This article is perhaps one of my more right-brained musings, but hell the world needs a little more connection with heart-guided right-brain energy right now – the energy of the symbolic, the creative, the emotive…

To live has become synonymous with holding on, clutching desperately at what we have, for fear of losing it.  We spend almost all of our time yearning for what it is that we don’t have, and if we eventually get it, we are terrified of losing it.  This isn’t living.  To be in alignment with life, we only have to spend a little time in nature, watching the cycles of birth and death all around us.  The earth that unconditionally supports our bodies, day-in and day-out – the rich and fertile ground from which all things grow – is itself death and decay – minerals, air, water and organic matter from dead birds, animals and plant matter.

Dying in Each Moment | only here only now

“No illusions in our mind, no resistances in our body,” as the Tao teaches.  But this way of being cannot be separated from non-being.   This communion with life itself is to embrace death itself.  To understand finally that life and death are one.

We have somehow pathologized death, made it ‘wrong’ – we are allergic to the very thought or mention of it!  Yet without death, life is meaningless – words are only meaningful because of the spaces in between them.   When we understand that life and death are part of one intimate whole, suddenly our tendencies to grasp at and cling to the impermanent are illuminated for what they are – illusions of the mind; an attempt to make the impermanent permanent.  The only thing that we can be alive to, and die to, is this moment.  This.  Incredible.  Moment.  Can you feel the faint beating of your heart, right now, as you read these words?  Can you feel the blood coursing through your veins; each cell tingling with the energy of being?  A descent into the body opens us up to the present; the body whispering its wisdom loudly to us, all the while.

The past and the future are just thoughts.  They have no reality.  Our heads are just halls of mirrors; drop into the body, allowing each in-breath to usher in and birth a new moment of loving presence, allowing each out-breath to be a surrendering and complete letting go, we are both dying to this moment and at once truly living.

May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you know peace in your heart.
May you be free from hardship and danger.
May you always feel loved and held.

May you die to this moment, over and over again, and live the life of a warrior of light, showing others the way.

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