heather grace: mindfulness & self-compassion

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

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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

Summer Holiday Survival Guide (using mindfulness) – Part 2

Is this the summer holiday that you qualify as a Zen Master, wafting around in a state ofKids fighting in the back of a car complete equanimity even while little Johnny puts a solitaire counter up his sister’s nose because she annoyed him and he wants to see how far it can go?  Probably not. There will be moments, particularly during a long trip, that will get emotions rising, and so in this section of my Summer Holiday Survival Guide I’m aiming to share some tips that will hopefully help you to cope with a long trip with your child(ren). The ideas here are not just centred around mindfulness – I’ve aimed to make this a really practical bunch of suggestions, because you want practical stuff rather than me just telling you to breathe, right? Although breathing’s good, don’t forget to do that.

On the road …

You’ll no doubt have packed plenty of things for kids to keep themselves occupied with in the car, but there may still be times when boredom kicks in or when kids start arguing.

Snacks. Make sure you have plenty of low-sugar snacks with you. Feeding sugary snacks to a child in a confined space can be like lighting a firework in your hand and hoping it won’t go off! You probably keep sugary snacks to a minimum anyway, but sometimes service stations don’t stock anything particularly healthy, so having a box packed with things such as hard-boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, little cheeses, fruit, nuts etc. can help to prevent emotional outbursts due to low blood sugar.

Make regular stops. Stop regularly so that the kids can stretch their legs and move about a bit. Perhaps even schedule a stop at a play-park or other attraction along the way so that kids can let off a little steam. Even if you don’t have time for a long stop, a brief stop to stretch legs at a service station can be enough to change the energy in the car completely when you all pile back in.

Be the peace you want to see. OK, the phrase is usually, “Be the change you want to see” so pardon me for switching it up a little, but your own energy on the trip is really important – if yours is peaceful then the journey will tend to be much more peaceful, if you’re feeling tired, on-edge and impatient then your kids are much more likely to play-up. If you notice yourself starting to feel a little wound-up, see if you can take your attention to your breath and maybe deepen it a little, then intend to ‘zoom-out’ from the situation; see if you can remind yourself that whatever you’re feeling or thinking in this moment is just an experience that’s moving through you. Perhaps you could even say to yourself in your mind’s eye, “softening” a few times, and invite your jaw to soften, your shoulders, your belly.

Flying …

The suggestions above about snacks are still pretty relevant for plane journeys (except for making regular stops, obviously!) but it’s perhaps also worth mentioning that if you’re flying with young children then you may also have to deal with other passengers who are not sympathetic to your child’s crying (if your child, like I used to as a child, struggles with pain in their ears on take-off and landing).

Grumpy passengers.  Firstly, please be aware that you’re not alone.  Thousands of parents will be dealing with exactly the same kind of situation, right in the same moment that you’re dealing with it.  And you don’t want to be contending with grumpy passengers, you want to be focusing on your child.  Please remember that most passengers (many of whom will be parents themselves) will be absolutely on your side, but sometimes there’s the occasional other passenger who doesn’t deal well with your child’s crying or fidgeting, simply because it triggers something uncomfortable in them and they reject that uncomfortable experience rather than just allowing it.  If a passenger is bothering you, please get an air stewardess to deal with them, and then you can concentrate solely on your child.

Helping your child (and you).  You’re probably already aware that regularly sipping water throughout the flight as well as sucking dried fruit or a sweetie can be helpful in equalizing the pressure in your child’s ears, but if you don’t usually find these tricks work for your child then you might want to consider investing in flight ear plugs for them.  They’ve certainly made my flights with my children a much more pleasant experience!

Wishing you wonderful travels and gorgeous adventure, wherever you may be heading to this summer.

Next time. You may be an endlessly patient parent or are perhaps lucky enough to have children who get on really well together, but for those of us who are not or who don’t, in the next part of this Guide (released in a few days) we’ll be looking at how to add to your ‘piggy bank of patience’ so that you feel better able to weather any difficult moments you encounter.  I’ll also give you a preview of my BE.LOVE method for dealing with difficult moments, that I write about in my book ‘Awakening Child: A journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness and compassion’ …

#SummerHolidays‬  ‪#‎Parentingtips‬

<- Part 1                     Part 3 ->

 

Summer Holiday Survival Guide (using mindfulness) – Part 1

OK, so looking after children during typical British summer holiday weather would try the patience of a saint, right? As parents, we tend to look forward to school holidays so that we can have a couple of months free of homework and school runs, but then quickly find ourselves a little adrift with no routine and with increasingly fractious children who seem to know only a few phrases, such as “I’m bored!”, “He/she started it” and “I’m hungry” (what, again?).child-raining

As I write this, the skies are grey, with more rain forecast, my partner is at work and I have 4 children in the house (2 teens and 2 youngsters), and so I feel your pain, I really do. I wanted to share how mindfulness, with a healthy dollop of self-compassion, is helping me right now, and if you find that information helpful in your own situation then that’s awesome.

In this four-part Summer Holiday Survival Guide, that will be released over the coming week or so, I will share my tips to help you keep your sanity, covering:

  1. Dealing with boredom (here, in Part 1)
  2. Coping with long trips (Part 2)
  3. Adding to the piggy bank of patience (Part 3)
  4. Not just surviving, but thriving (Part 4)

Perhaps the most useful thing to know about boredom (drum roll here) is that there’s nothing wrong with it. Children, and indeed adults, have grown very used to almost constant stimulation in an age where omnipresent technology can satisfy our need for entertainment instantly and so we’re even more susceptible to feeling bored if for some reason we’ve been parted from an electronic device for more than a few minutes.

You most likely do your best not to allow your child too much technology-time, but it’s so tempting, particularly when the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor play, to allow relatively unrestricted access to TV or some other device to keep your child occupied. If nothing else, summer holidays are the perfect opportunity to practise being really firm with our boundaries, giving our reason for saying “no” and then sticking to our decision. What helps us to do this is to remember (and forgive me for saying it again) there’s nothing wrong with experiencing a moment of boredom.  Once we’ve made it clear that there’s nothing wrong with feeling bored, and ask them with curiosity how it feels for them, it’s perhaps a great moment to direct a child towards activities such as reading, art or making music, if they’d prefer to find something to do rather than to feel bored.  A child will often announce that they’re bored as if it’s one of the worst things in the world to be experiencing, and our ability to model an OKness with feeling something difficult is what will really set the scene here. In fact, a willingness to feel difficult feelings is one of the most fundamental lessons a child will learn from us.

In a blog post, it’s hard to really give a full sense of what I mean by ‘modelling an OKness with feeling something difficult’ so feel free to comment or message me if you’d like some clarification. Alternatively, it’s something I write about in great detail in my book, ‘Awakening Child: A journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness and compassion’ which has just been released. It’s available on Amazon if you’re interested.

#SummerHolidays‬  ‪#‎Parentingtips‬

Part 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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Three steps for helping your child deal with strong emotions

tantrum image

One of the questions I’m asked most often is, “How do I help my child when they’re in the grip of <insert strong feeling here>?”  Despair, anger, rage, disappointment, anxiety – these are perhaps the most common.  First of all – and this really is key – there’s nothing wrong

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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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