heather grace: mindfulness & self-compassion

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

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Don’t Stay in School?

student stressIn February last year I embarked on a journey of study for a PhD in Education, studying mindfulness and self-compassion in schools. My quest has led me to ask questions about the very nature of education… when we send our kids to school, what is it that we are hoping for? The preoccupation with ‘effectiveness’ of our education system (and there are those who ask, “effective for what?“) has obscured the bigger questions such as what it is that we hope for our education system to achieve – what’s important to society, and what’s important to the pupils themselves? Our schools test pupils to the point of overload, such that teachers are leaving the profession in droves and pupils are suffering increasingly from anxiety and depression, among other disorders.

I live with 3 teenagers and I’m only too painfully aware that much of what they learn in school will most likely never be of any use to them in their lifetime. Learning the anatomy of a frog via dissection will – I suggest – be of no use to my 15-year-old son who wishes to become a quantum physicist.

A YouTube video by Dave Brown called ‘Don’t Stay in School’, brought to my attention by my 17-year-old son, captures the irrelevance to pupils of much of what is taught in schools.  The video has had over 15 million views – this suggests there’s a message here that resonates with many!

“Could we discuss domestic abuse and get the facts
or how to help my depressed friend with their mental state?”
Ummm… no but learn mental maths
because, “You won’t have a calculator with you every day!”

Schools teach simultaneous equations, how to play the recorder and tongue taste maps (does anyone actually care which part of the tongue is responsible for recording sweet tastes, and which is responsible for salty and sour?) but rarely teach our kids how to hold their thoughts in a balanced awareness or how they might direct kindness towards difficult inner-experience.

If aliens from outer-space are watching humankind with all of our deep divisions and suffering, they must quite justifiably think that we’re utterly insane!

As part of my PhD, I’ve created an adolescent version of the Mindfulness Based Living Course – it’s called ‘Mindfulness Based Living Course – Young Adults (MBLC-YA)’.  I had been teaching mindfulness in some of Scotland’s more forward-thinking schools and the curriculum that I was delivering was well-received, but there was a notable absence of the compassion element and an emphasis on training the mind rather than getting in touch with the deeper wisdom of the body – most especially the heart.

I recognised, of course, that talking to teens (particularly early teens) about the deep wisdom of the body would likely result in sniggers and yawns, and so the MBLC-YA approaches kindness and compassion in a way that I think all of us can approach it – with humour, gentleness and a real recognition that our ability to grow kindness can help to make the world a better place.  Teens really get this, and if the sessions engage them and meet them where they’re at, then their natural passion and enthusiasm to create real change in the world can be harnessed.

learning to love ourselves imageThe MBLC-YA is the only secondary-school mindfulness curriculum in the UK, at the present time, that specifically aims to increase pupils’ levels of self-compassion as well as mindfulness.  In research-terms, teaching self-compassion in schools is promising in the potential benefits it may confer, but it’s very, very new.

Teaching self-compassion in schools and other youth organisations is a radical act of creating the world we want to see and I feel deeply privileged to be part of this movement.  Why not join me at the cutting-edge?!

Click here for more information about training to teach the Mindfulness Based Living Course for Young Adults (MBLC-YA)

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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,

signature-heather

 

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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Grieving Mindfully

Recently I’ve come face-to-face with a strong sense of loss, and I’ve needed every ounce of mindfulness and self-compassion that I could muster to allow the feelings of sadness and loss to be there, and to go gently with myselfrainbow_bridge.  My beautiful wee border terrier, given to me by friends after my last dog passed away, was put to sleep last week due to age-related illness.  It hurts.  Life feels fundamentally different and the lights seem dimmed.  I don’t compare my loss to that of others and indeed no comparison is necessary, for each loss is painful and no loss less worthy of attention.

For those of us whose lives have been touched by a relationship with an animal, it may have been the first time that we have truly encountered the experience of complete acceptance.  We don’t judge our pets and they don’t judge us.  They have no expectations of us.  They simply invite us to open our hearts.

A relationship with an animal is so simple and yet so profound.  Bowen was the best companion a family could ask for and the most incredible gift to receive.  I shall always feel deeply honoured to have been able to walk awhile through the journey of life with my furry wee friend, and for all that he taught me.

Rest in peace, my sweet, and if there is indeed a rainbow bridge, I’ll see you there.

signature-heather

 

‘Holding Space’ – what does that mean?

Perhaps the most important gift we can give someone is our presence, and when a person is experiencing what I call ‘a storm’ then perhaps the most important thing we can do for them is to ‘hold space’; in essence, this means to be their safe harbour in the storm.  When we hold space for a child, they grow up knowing how to do this for themselves and others.

What exactly is the storm? This bonkers world that we live in causes ample opportunity for a person to experience a storm.  Some are caused by the inevitable difficulties that life presents us, such as loss (relationship difficulties, loss of health, loss of a loved one etc) and many of the storms are entirely self-created – imagine a moment when you smile at your boss in the morning as you arrive at work, and you don’t get a smile back.  Your mind goes into overdrive, analyzing your recent performance at work, looking for signs that redundancies may be coming up, convincing yourself that your boss is about to deliver the bad news that you’re surplus to requirements at the firm.  We seek sabre-tooth tigers everywhere, and evolutionary psychologists tell us that this is how we evolved to keep ourselves alive, but the negativity bias that we’ve developed can cause us great strife. The important thing is to hold space for any storm in exactly the same way.  It’s not helpful at all to point out to someone that they created their own storm (even if it’s true)!  When we hold space for someone, we do it in a completely non-judgmental way that allows for the unfolding of experience and allows them to come to their own insights.  This is deeply empowering.

We offer our presence – this means our complete attention – grounded and rooted in this moment and we listen deeply.

We don’t try to fix them, or make things different.

We don’t try to change them.

We don’t try to tell them what to do.

We hold the attitude of allowing, non-judgement, patience, and a willingness to just bear witness to the thoughts, feelings and emotions that are arising and moving through both ourselves and the person we’re holding space for.

This is completely transformative.

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My BE.LOVE method is a way of holding space for and empowering a child, with a particular set of steps.  You can read about this in my book, ‘Awakening Child: a journey of inner transformation through teaching a child mindfulness and compassion’, available on Amazon.

For now, wishing presence and joy for you,

signature-heather

5 Strategies to Tame the Mind

My mind has been keen to run away with me these past few days, and it took a lot of mindfulness muscle to keep pulling myself back, over and over again.  I hadn’t expected that three days of camping with three children would be challenge-free, but I didn’t expect (in any way) most of the challenges that arose.  Call me naïve, but I didn’t expect the very drunk young lady in the tent next to us to be up until after 4.30am shouting about how she “f’ing hates camping”.  I didn’t expect that a gentleman would be so keen for all of us campers to have access to his music that he parked his car in the middle of the field, put his music up full volume and (presumably so that his car battery wouldn’t be drained) left his engine running for several hours so that he could enable us to ‘enjoy’ his musical taste.  The bad moods of the tired children combined with gale-force winds and torrential rain on our final night were literally a breeze compared to this!

As a mindfulness teacher I spend a lot of time observing how quick our minds are to move into judgement and how that keeps us from being aligned with the present moment.  Even knowing this, it took monumental effort and the use of every strategy that I’ve learned to endeavour to hold on to some sense of equilibrium.  The situations described above may or may not seem that outrageous to you, but we all have our triggers and it’s our job to work on them when they’re flushed to the surface. I thought that perhaps it would be helpful to share some strategies for restoring equilibrium that I’ve learned over the years…

Strategy 1: Practise recognising judgmental thoughts.  Mindfulness is all about knowing what’s happening, while it’s happening, and so our starting point is to become the observer of our thoughts.  After all, we are not our thoughts – our thoughts are simply movements of energy rather than solid, factual things that many of us are very identified with. When we start noticing our thoughts, we can then start to see how much of our thinking is generated in response to judgements that we’ve made, and these judgements come out of our beliefs, expectations and assumptions.

In my camping scenario, much of my unhappiness was stemming from the belief that ‘people should be considerate of others as well as the environment’.  My suffering was arising from this belief, and noticing this was the first step to freeing myself.  The unavoidable discomfort of feeling very tired and being unable to get to sleep, or loud music that I had no control over, was made into something so much more painful by the way that I was internally reacting.  Recognising that our thoughts are heaping extra suffering on top of something that’s already painful is really helpful, but if you’re strongly triggered then you may find that your thoughts are churning around too much and that your emotional response to these is gaining in intensity – if that’s the case then head straight to Strategy 2!

Strategy 2: Stay with the Physical. When strongly triggered by an event, one of the most helpful things that we can do is to stay with what’s going on in the body, rather than be concerned with our thoughts.  Because rest assured, our thoughts are having a BIG effect on our body, and the mind is keen to analyse its way out of the problem (which actually often tends to make things worse).  Mindfulness invites us to stay with what’s here in the present moment and pay particular attention to the layers of sensation that we can drop into when we’re really present.  With each physical sensation that we notice, we can invite the body to soften.  I say ‘invite’ because we notice a tightness, a tension, a heaviness or some other sensation that alerts us to an opportunity to soften, but we let go of expectations in relation to what will happen as a result of asking the body to soften. We don’t need for things to go a certain way and for relaxation to result, we’re just relating to what’s here in the kindest and most helpful way that we can.  Practise this strategy with little difficulties so that you can remember to engage it with the big things, and watch what happens.  Prepare to be amazed.

Strategy 3: Practise loving-kindness.  It’s a bit tricky to summarize loving-kindness practices in a sentence or two, and for many of us they can feel very challenging, but in essence they invite us to grow our ability to offer loving-kindness to all sentient beings, recognising that each of us is deserving of loving-kindness.  As I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the young lady shouting and swearing (and my requests for her to please be quiet were ignored), I brought to mind a person for whom loving-kindness naturally flows and who I have an uncomplicated relationship with (my youngest son, in this instance) and tuned into the sensations in the centre of my chest (my heart centre, energetically) for a while, literally charging-up my heart!  I then imagined a pink light surrounding our tent, surrounding us with love and support, and after a while I then imagined this pink light expanding until it surrounded the campsite – like a mother’s love enveloping all of her children.  In the same way that we were perhaps soothed by a parent or carer when we hurt ourselves when we were little, this soothed my anger as well as helping me to feel comforted and to remember that everything would be OK.

Strategy 4: Zoom-out and try to see the bigger picture.  Rumi’s famous Guesthouse poem invites us to see that each difficulty has been sent to teach us something; Eckhart Tolle invites us to see each moment as having been chosen by us (on a subconscious level) as perfect for our spiritual growth in that moment.  In a moment of difficulty, we might ask ourselves whether this event will feel important in a week, a month or a year from now.  Zooming-out, we find ourselves back in our seat in the movie theatre, watching the story of our life play out on the screen in front of us.  As we gain some perspective, we can even start to see the humour of the situation!

Strategy 5: The Big Daddy – Surrender to the moment.  This is not a one-off thing, i.e. we internally stop resisting what is and all is fine-and-dandy; we surrender to the moment over and over again.  “What we resist persists”, Carl Jung once wisely said, and so resisting and bracing ourselves against what is here anyway is not the most helpful way to be in relationship with the present moment.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t take action and ask people to change their behaviour, or we can choose to leave (if this is an option) but we do so out of a place of non-resistance, letting go of a need for things to be a certain way.  We might say to ourselves, in our mind’s eye a few times, “I surrender”, and observe what happens in the body.  Something quite profound happens when we allow ourselves to relinquish the illusion of control, opening ourselves up to the flow of life in all of its glorious messiness.

I write a lot more about many of these topics in my book, ‘Awakening Child: A journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness and compassion’ if you’d like to read more…

For now though, in joyful surrender and wishing the same for you,

signature-heather

 

Teach a child mindfulness – the ‘No Ordinary Moments’ game

The game that I’m going to describe can be a complete game-changer if you play it often enough – both for you and for any child you play it with.  It’s really the game of life as it is supposed to be played, and it really harnesses the power of a child’s mind (and yours too).  It’s not a traditional kind of a game where there’s a winner, but if the idea of a game where there’s no winner leaves you cold, then perhaps you can make the winner the person who’s judged to have best found the extraordinary amidst the seemingly ‘ordinary’.

So here goes.  The rules.  Because you probably want rules, right?  Well there’s really only one in this game, and it’s that we’re just describing what we notice rather than making things up.

Before you begin. Assemble whoever is playing – it may be just you and a child or you and a whole classroom of children.  Drop anchor.  By this I mean invite everyone present to move their attention down into their body, perhaps noticing the contact between any parts of the body and the floor.  Spend a few moments noticing the movement of the breath in and out of the body.  You’ve now moved into a more experiential mode of being, and so you’re ready to begin.

Take turns describing.  Each person takes a turn to describe why this moment is a special moment.  Each person starts by saying, “This is no ordinary moment because I’m noticing…” and then proceeds to describe in glorious detail whatever they’re noticing.  An example may be helpful here, and is part of my experience right now:

This is no ordinary moment because I’m noticing the branches of a tree moving out of the corner of my eye.  As I turn my head towards it, I’m noticing how the light is reflecting off the shiny surface of the leaves and some raindrops falling between the leaves each time a breeze moves the branches. I notice a moment of feeling thankful for this tree outside of my window because it’s so beautiful, and this thankful feeling right now feels like a lightness in my chest and I notice that I’m smiling a little.

You may be thinking, “Ah, but I have no tree handy”.  Fear not, you’re having an experience, right?  Here is another example, so you get the picture and see (hopefully) that there really aren’t any ordinary moments.  The extraordinary is to be found everywhere!

This is no ordinary moment because I’m noticing the sensations in my back right now as my body moves a little to keep me balanced.  I’m noticing how my chest moves outwards as I breathe in, and how I can feel the soft fabric of my top moves slightly against my shoulders as I breathe.  I’m noticing some strands of hair touching my face very lightly, and it tickles slightly.

Keep taking turns, getting more and more detailed in your quality of noticing, until the child cues that they’ve had enough – trying to continue past that point will most likely result in not wanting to play the game again.  You might want to start the game by noticing the big things, i.e. a really broad awareness of the whole environment, and then start to home in more and more on the little things.  This is so helpful in teaching children focusing skills, and the ability to move between broad awareness and narrow focus.

The idea for this game was inspired by this YouTube video clip of part of the wonderful Peaceful Warrior movie by Dan Millman.  The idea that, “There’s never nothing going on” is incredibly powerful, and what this game aims to teach.  I’d love to hear how you get on with it!

Wishing you so much joy and happiness on your journey.

Heather x

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Summer Holiday Survival Guide (using mindfulness) – Part 4

Thriving frankly sounds a lot more joyful than surviving, doesn’t it?!  And as a very wise person once said, “If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, then you’re doing it wrong!”

In Part 3 of my Summer Holiday Survival Guide we looked at feeding the rather malnourished piggy bank of patience and wellbeing so that we’re in a better position to weather the challenges of the summer holidays; and challenges there will be, because kids will be kids, the summer holidays are long, and British weather will be… um, British?  In this final part of the four-part series, we look at whether there may be ways to add a little old-fashioned magic to your summer.

I’m going to suggest something a little controversial here, depending on your own experiences and the meaning that you attach to the word ‘learning’; I’m going to suggest that you make this the summer of learning.  And by learning, I’m not talking about the three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic, I’m talking more of real-world skills that are a little more immediately applicable.  I’m talking about helping your child to make connections, learning more about themselves, learning more about relationships with others, and learning more about the world around them and their connection with it.

Let’s start with routine. Whatever the weather, kids tend to feel a little safer with some routine in their lives.  I’m not suggesting for a moment that we get all military with our organisation of the day, but my kids know that during the summer holidays I get a little work done in the mornings, because PhD study does not do itself and neither does the housework.  During this time, pyjama-clad offspring tend to watch cartoons, make lego creations, make dens etc (see below).  Letting go of any guilt in relation to having a couple of hours to get things done is essential to my own well-being, and the kids know that this is how things roll during the holidays.  In the afternoons, we do something.  It can be something simple like walking the dog somewhere nice, or heading to the play-park.  The cost of taking children to museums, soft play, farm parks, cinema etc. can really add up quickly during the holidays, so here are some inexpensive (or even free) suggestions:

Den-making.  Children never tire of making dens.  I still really enjoy a den.

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Image: theinspiredtreehouse.com

A whole day can be enjoyably be spent turning a bedroom, dining room or living room into a really wonderful den and your child will learn much from the experience.  You can even dig out your fairy lights to make it extra-pretty!  Actively promote getting your child to make decisions about how it is to be built, and afterwards in a quieter moment ask your child how they feel in the den, (as well as perhaps checking in with how they feel at various moments through the day). You may need to suggest some possible emotions to them if their emotional vocabulary is still developing.  Getting in touch with emotions, both pleasant and not-so-pleasant, can really help to build self-compassion and empathy for others.  If your child worked with you or another child to build the den, ask them to reflect on how it was to work together to get a job done, how they made decisions, and what they might do differently next time.

Baking and cooking.  Many children no longer learn the skills with food that previous generations had instilled in them from an early age.  As a result, and also because it is so easy to buy and prepare food with the minimum amount of effort, children grow up with almost no knowledge of how to prepare food with love.  We can teach a child to prepare food mindfully, bringing gratitude to the ingredients and taking a moment to appreciate the food as well as the amount of work that went into bringing the food to a shelf in a shop for you to buy- sunlight, earth, water, harvesting, packing, transporting, unpacking, shelf-stacking.  We can teach a child to move into the more experiential being mode by using all of their senses to explore ingredients, noticing their aroma, taste, texture, appearance.

Picnicking.  Everyone loves a picnic.  If the weather’s not conducive to outdoor-picnicking, have an indoor floor-picnic and take the time to really enjoy preparing the food.  It can be the perfect time to practise appreciation and savouring, and also caring for the needs of others by paying attention to whether another person’s glass is empty or if they need something passed to them.

So you may be thinking that there’s nothing new in what I’ve suggested above, and you’re right!  People have been building dens, cooking and enjoying food in a variety of ways for a very long time, but in years gone by those who were engaging in such activities would most likely have been a lot more focused on what they were doing, because they weren’t part of the distracted, ‘unmindful’ generation.  I haven’t suggested loads of different activities above because by now I’m sure you get the picture – it’s not about what we do, it’s about how we do itAs Edward Monkton illustrates so beautifully in his Zen Dog cartoon, life isn’t about the end result, it’s about the ride:

zen_dog

If you would like a few more ideas of mindful activities to engage in with your kids this summer, this is a really gorgeous blog post by Sarah Rudell Beach:

http://leftbrainbuddha.com/10-mindful-summer-activities-to-do-with-your-kids/

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Happy holidays!  Heather x

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#‎SummerHolidays ‪#‎Parentingtips‬

<- Part 3

Summer Holiday Survival Guide (using mindfulness) – Part 3

The piggy bank of patience is a thing that must be well tended. Usually, you see, it’s a rather sad and dejected little piggy bank that’s always nearly empty. In this section of mythin_piggy Summer Holiday Survival Guide I shall start to set the scene for a really joyful summer holiday – the kind that you and your kids will remember forever, for all of the right reasons – but first we need to pay some attention to the piggy bank.  As the summer holiday wears on, your energy and enthusiasm for dealing with bickering and boredom may wane a little.  The piggy bank, as I see it, reflects our inner resources; our inner well of wellbeing. As parents, friends, siblings, daughters and sons, we find ourselves trying to tend to other people’s piggy banks, but seldom our own.  Tending to our own is like coming back to the centre of the court after every shot during a game of tennis.  We’re ready for whatever life throws at us next.

Savour the moment. Mindfulness is all about bring a certain kind of attitude to the present moment, and savouring the moment really reflects the quality of the attitude that we aim to cultivate when learning to be more mindful.  As you make a cup of tea, for example, use all of your senses to really inhabit the moment; notice the sounds that the kettle makes as it comes to the boil, the aroma that starts to reach your nostrils as the contents of the tea bag begin to infuse the hot water, the sensations of the mug in your hand as you lift it, the flavour of the liquid as it moves across your tongue.  Bring appreciation, using your senses, to the little things.  This is like adding what my littlest son calls, ‘flat money’ (his favourite kind) to the piggy bank.

Meditate. Even a few minutes a day will make a huge difference to your piggy bank – your inner resources of strength and patience to deal with whatever arises.  Here’s a soothing practice to try.  It’s one of the short mindfulness practices that accompany my book, ‘Awakening Child’.

Gratitude. Keep a gratitude diary. Before you go to sleep at night, perhaps bring to mind 3 small things that you’re grateful for, e.g. grateful to have a comfortable bed to sleep in, grateful to have bed covers to keep you warm at night, grateful for feeling sleepy. Studies show that those who take time to experience gratitude are much more likely to be happy, and that happiness increases when we express our gratitude. So take every opportunity to express gratitude.  If you’re grateful to somebody for something they’ve done for you, thank them in person and let them know how much you appreciate what they did and why, or write them a letter.

Nurturing Activities. We can spend our day tending to others without remembering to intersperse the day with small things that can make a big difference to the piggy bank. For example, taking some time to read a good book (even if you only manage a few pages before you’re interrupted!), engaging in a small task that gives you a sense of mastery or control (e.g. clearing out a shelf of a cupboard that’s been accumulating ‘stuff’ for years).

Also, ask yourself whether you take time regularly to do what makes your heart sing (other than tending to your little one(s) of course) because you need some time for you – it might be something creative, maybe you love to write or draw or paint or make music; it might be something physical such as a sport you love, maybe running, yoga, netball, horse-riding, indoor-climbing, origami even. Maybe you used to love doing something but somehow it’s been squeezed out of your schedule over the years. Parenting will be so much more joyful when you build in a little time for yourself. Taking some time for you is not selfish, it’s skilful, because you will have so much more patience in the piggy bank for others when you top up your resources by tending to yourself regularly.

Use BE.LOVE.  I write about this method in much more detail in ‘Awakening Child’ but in brief, you may find this method helpful when in the midst of a difficult moment wibeloveth your child; for example, they’re tired and upset and don’t want to go to bed even though it’s bedtime, and you’ve had a long, tiring day, and you just want bedtime to go smoothly so that you can finally put your feet up.  One parent who I shared this method with loved it so much that she had it tattooed on her arm so that she would always remember to bring mindfulness to a difficult moment. The steps are as follows:

  1. Breathe – yes, that old chestnut.  Take your attention to your breath, which will tend to have the effect of deepening your breathing which activates your parasympathetic nervous system, thus helping you to stay calm and focused.
  2. Enquire – notice the thoughts that are floating around in your mind.  Are you telling yourself a story about how things ‘should’ be going here.  Shoulds and shouldn’ts are just stories we tell ourselves and ways that we create suffering for ourselves by resisting what is.  Allow yourself to feel whatever feelings are here right now.
  3. . (pause) – literally just stop whatever you’re doing for a moment.  Remind yourself that there is space here, if you remember to create it, and remind yourself that when you create space you will respond to the situation rather than simply react out of habit.
  4. Listen – take a moment to really listen with your whole body to what your child is telling you with their whole body, and try to suspend logical mind.  Your child will most likely be in right-brain mode and simply expressing how they feel, which may not make logical sense.  Connecting to the feelings will allow a right-brain connection to be made between you, which will help to diffuse the situation.  Bringing in logic to an illogical situation will only further inflame the situation.
  5. Open – intend to open your heart to your child and let go of expectations and needing for things to be different from how they are in this moment.  Your child needs you, more than ever, to be present in this moment and to really hear them.
  6. Validate – having listened deeply to your child, show them that you understand how they are feeling and that it’s ok for them to be feeling this way.  There are no ‘wrong’ emotions to have; some are more difficult to experience than others.
  7. Empower – give your child choices, if you can, even a little choice (e.g. red pyjamas or yellow ones).

Although I’ve given you a bit of a whistle-stop tour of BE.LOVE, I hope you get the general gist of the steps and that this gives you some food for thought in terms of responding with presence to some of those difficult moments in family life.  Many people have told me that they’ve found it helpful in their working lives too, although (clearly) giving a colleague a choice in colour of pyjamas would be a bit weird.

Next time. The final part of this Summer Holiday Survival Guide, which will be released in a couple of days, will look at really thriving this summer rather than simply surviving …

#SummerHolidays‬  ‪#‎Parentingtips‬

<- Part 2

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