heather grace: mindfulness & self-compassion

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

Mindfully Lost and Found

In the midst of what feels a little like Armageddon, I find myself feeling intermittently lost and found: what was once relatively stable ground has been pulled away like a rug from beneath my feet and I feel sucked into a vortex of swirling confusion – it’s quite a nauseous kind of a feeling.  It’s also quite dark here and sometimes rather hard to see

As I walk to the chemist’s, the broad smile of a fellow human – a stranger – illuminates my way as they kindly cross the road to enable a ‘social’ distancing. I am found.

In the supermarket, I feel my heart pounding in my chest as someone comes close and then reaches in front of me to grasp for a product.  I swerve my trolley and hold my breath.  I am lost.

As I take my daily exercise, birds hop a foot or two away from my head in the hedgerows along the country roads, quite unphased by my passing.  Deer graze openly in fields at the side of the road.  I am found.

I read the news and discover yet another healthcare worker has died – this time a pregnant nurse.  I am lost.

On a Thursday evening at 8pm I leave the fortress of my home – just a few feet – to stand outside with other family members to bang pans with wooden spoons.  The clattering and clapping that fills our street brings a tender lightness to my chest and a surge of gratitude.  I am found.

As I sit here writing this, with the sun shining outside my window and a masked gentleman walking past the house with his shopping, I feel both lost and found.  I feel that I am resting like a fool in the midst of it all – the stillness and the storm.  It feels like being aware of a deep unsettledness and at the same time being OK with it.

However your life is unfolding right now, I hope very much that your moments of feeling found are at least equal to – if not more than – your moments of feeling lost.

With so much love in these very strange times,


You whisper tentative words with a scared look in your eyes, and I know that you can feel the fear rising up in you like dark smoke.  You think that your words will disconnect us, that you might be judged and found wanting… that finally you will show me there’s something wrong with you – that you’re not good enough, broken, tainted.

And yet it’s quite the opposite, my love.  Nothing you can say could make me love you any less.  In fact, in the sharing of your vulnerability, I love you even more.  I will always be there for you, like you’ve been there for me.  Your steadiness, your warm and loving gaze no matter what I’ve shared, your vast capacity to simply allow – all have taught me what is possible in a friendship; how we can create the conditions for another to heal, not by guidance but through presence.  It is a blessing indeed to know you, friend.  May we continue to support each other in growing our capacity for compassion and wisdom.  May we journey together to become ever more deeply human.

torchlight of attention

Educating ourselves with our attention

I have just spent the day at the Mindfulness in Schools Project’s ‘The Future of Mindfulness in Education Conference’ in London, and had the rare privilege of hearing Jon Kabat-Zinn speak, alongside other inspirational speakers such as Rohan Gunatillake (creator of the ‘Buddhify’ app), Chris Ruane MP (the ‘driving force’ of mindfulness amongst MPs), Cathie Paine, Oren Ergas and Katherine Weare.

flowerThe adult speakers each spoke with heart, presence and hope for the future, and I shall write more once I have fully integrated all that I learned through the day, but I wanted to share what I shall remember most clearly about the day: the voices of the children and young people – the youngest only 7 years old – who brought us to tears when telling of the difference that mindfulness had made to their young lives.  Sixteen year old Emily told of how her mindfulness practice had helped her to come through the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in 2017 .  Seven year-old Maya explained that she’s no longer nearly as arrogant as she used to be and that she has learned to manage her anger.  She led us in a petal practice, where we opened and closed our hands in time with our in-breath and out-breath, and afterwards she noted that it made little sense for teachers to tell pupils to be in a good mood and to listen well when they weren’t actually doing this themselves.  Proof, if it was needed, that the role of a teacher is not that of expert disseminator of knowledge, for this little human being had discovered wisdom all of her own.  As teachers, we are simply midwives, helping to bring forth the innate wisdom of those we guide.

May we grow in our ability to rest in not knowing, not knowing it all, and perhaps not even knowing anything!

May we grow in our ability to let go of the need to be ‘right’.

May we let go of expert’s mind and embrace beginner’s mind, recognising the dedication required to practise this over and over again, in each moment.

May we have the wisdom to learn from our children.


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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.

alive image

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,



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.

spring image

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,



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.


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.



‘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.


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,


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,



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