Tag: mindfulness

Are you simply talking yourself into feeling busy and stressed?

Are you simply talking yourself into feeling busy and stressed?

Have you ever realized partway through a TV programme that you have no idea what’s going on because you’ve been distracted by your phone? It happened to me earlier today. This morning the lure of social media apps on my phone meant that I lost track of the British TV game show I was watching (a guilty pleasure that I’ve inherited from my mum). The effect was inconsequential, to say the least.

But what about when technology distracts us from engaging in the important aspects of our lives?

Phones, TVs, computers, tablets: they all provide us with constant sources of distraction. This ubiquitous distraction seems to be an ever-increasing characteristic of modern life. Sure, technology makes life easier, more convenient, and so on. There’s no denying that it has its place.

However, the benefits of technology rapidly wane when we are distracted from being present and mindfully engaging with what should be our priorities in life. And no, I’m not talking about game shows.

Consciously developing and nurturing relationships that, in turn, nurture us is an essential underpinning of happiness. At least, that’s what I believe. Unfortunately, all too often we are too distracted to give our relationships the focus that they warrant. More often than not this can be traced back to the modern lifestyle: not only technology in all its forms, but the all too common habit we have of repeatedly telling everyone (including ourselves) how busy we are. How stressful life is. That we simply don’t have time. That we have too many things to do. And yet, I’m sure we’d be appalled if we realized just how much time we devote to ‘screen time’ on a weekly, or even daily, basis.

This is precious time that is essentially wasted. It’s time that we could – and arguably should – be spending in more mindful pursuits. It’s time that would allow us to be properly present in our interactions with others: our spouses, children, family, friends, and colleagues.

It seems to me that we choose to be distracted, albeit on a subconscious level. I’m not saying that stress is not a real concern, or that we aren’t busy. I just think that we tend to talk ourselves into adopting the mindset of a stressed busybody. No matter how much we have to get done, no matter how much pressure we experience, the truth of the matter is that relationships need to be a priority. Spending time being mindfully present in our interactions with others will enhance our relationships and, ultimately, our happiness and sense of fulfilment.

And isn’t that what life should be about – feeling happy and fulfilled whilst enjoying meaningful connections with others?

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Parenting, anxiety, and smudged nail polish

Parenting, anxiety, and smudged nail polish

It happened. There’s no going back. There are certain moments and events that change your life. Irretrievably.

No matter what happens from now on, I have been forever changed.

Exactly five weeks ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. We’re parents. To be honest, it’s still a surreal experience for me. I still catch myself staring at my son in a state of disbelief. In a good way. A great way.

They say that nothing can prepare you for parenthood. And yet, we still attend antenatal classes, download the apps, follow the blogs, etc. Does it prepare you? I think that selecting the correct classes etc for you can help to prepare you to a certain extent.

The thing that best prepared me for being a mommy? My journey through depression.

And no, I’m not talking about postnatal depression here: on the contrary, I have found the first five weeks of motherhood to be incredibly fulfilling.

So just how on earth did the most trying and devastatingly dark periods of my life prepare me for the most overwhelmingly poignant experience?

Ironically, my journey through depression (“through” implying that you can in fact reach the surface and gasp the fresh air) has taught me many invaluable lessons. Not only have I gained insight into my own psyche, for want of a better word, but I have also come to understand what kind of life I want to lead, and the best mindset and approach to realise this.

The goal-oriented, perfectionist, compulsive nature of my anxiety just doesn’t wash with the daily reality of being a mom. I sat down last week to write a blog post. I got as far as switching on my laptop. That’s it; no further. There is nothing perfect about parenthood. Nothing. I decorated the nursery exactly as I had imagined: a perfect replica of my vision. Two days ago I found myself moving furniture into the centre of the room so that I could wash off projectile pee from a large section of wall and nearby furniture. As for being compulsive, it’s simply not an option. Especially when you have a newborn who has a finely tuned sixth sense that wakens him as soon you step into the shower, pour a cup of tea, or apply a fresh coat of nail polish.

My resultant level of anxiety? Nada. Why?

Before becoming a parent I decided that I would try to be as mindful as possible. I decided that I would not set goals. That I would not entertain ideas about being a supermom. That I would adapt my days to my child’s routine to the best of my ability. That I would not read a single pregnancy or parenting magazine. That I would take each day as it came. That I would trust Mother Nature to give me sufficient maternal instinct to ‘wing it’ for the most part.

So far, I’m managing. Of course, it’s only been five weeks. I might be singing a very different tune next week. Or at three o’clock tomorrow morning. Regardless, my point is that depression and anxiety have provided me with countless opportunities for growth. Sure, I did not grasp all those opportunities. But I did take advantage of some.

It is this ongoing process of reflection and growth that I hope will stand me in good stead in this new stage of my life – smudged nail polish, tepid cups of tea, and all.

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Are you disappearing? I think I want to.

Are you disappearing? I think I want to.

What on earth is this man saying??? Have you ever read something that really made you stop and think? That made you question ‘deeper’ issues? That stayed in your thoughts, lingering for several days? Where the meaning evaded you? That’s exactly what happened to me when I came across this quote on Impromptu Promptlings (the original source can be found here)…

The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability,

how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate

through our intimacy with disappearance. 

David Whyte

The first thing that struck me was the fact that it’s taken for granted that we are all vulnerable. And sure, that rings true when you think about it. We all have our insecurities, our vulnerabilities, and they affect us in different ways. But, as this quote says, we have a choice in how we deal with these feelings. Personally, I feel that in all our interactions – with ourselves and with others – we would do well to remember that everyone is vulnerable in some way. We need to tread carefully, with empathy and sensitivity and loving-kindness, with others and with ourselves. And, I feel, we also have a duty towards ourselves and those around us to learn how to process these unsettling emotions so that they do not damage or even wreck our relationships.

The second thing  that stood out to me – and the word that really made me pause and think – was the notion of ‘disappearance’. Just what exactly does this guy mean? To be honest, I was stumped at first. Maybe I still am! For what it’s worth, this is what I think is going on…

The act of inhabiting your vulnerability implies accepting it without judgement, without fighting against it. In other words: mindfulness. And that is definitely a practise that encourages compassion. I also feel more confident when I am mindful – perhaps this is what the author is referring to when he speaks of courage. As for growing ‘larger’, this definitely seems to tie in with the sense of an extended consciousness and connecting to the energy that surrounds us.

And that, dear readers, is where we disappear. Through the practice of mindfulness, we lose the egocentric and often selfish mindset that seems to pervade our modern individualistic society. The notion of ‘self’ as a separate entity wanes in light of an expanded consciousness. And again, we have a choice regarding how (and if) we embrace this.

At first, it struck me as ironic that focusing less on the self leads to an empowered sense of identity, courage, compassion, and confidence. But then again, you have to have experienced and practised mindfulness in order to truly understand the value of surrendering what you regard as your ‘self’ in order to reach a more actualized state of being.

I choose to embrace this disappearance. Do you?

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Ditch the blanket fort for some sunshine

Ditch the blanket fort for some sunshine

I love the sheer power of nature. Even in the most serene of settings, nature never fails to have a profound impact on me. To be honest, several hours before I wrote this post I felt awful. I felt that the only solution would be:

  1. glass bottle of Merlot
  2. Ferrero Rocher and Lindt chocolate
  3. a blanket fort.

But then I stepped outside and felt the warmth of the sun. A few hours later I realised that I had indeed needed three things to transform my mood. I had just thought of the wrong list. What really worked in the end was:

  1. a cup of green tea
  2. Autumn sunshine
  3. my hammock

This just reinforced my thoughts about nature that I’d had during a road trip… A few months ago whilst travelling through South Africa I had the opportunity to stay in many little towns along the way. There was one area, just outside one of these towns, that I found to be particularly magical. We stayed in a cottage luxurious unit in the middle of an ancient milkwood forest. We were surrounded by unspoilt fynbos as far as the eye could see. And where there wasn’t fynbos there were mesmerizing views of the sea and an incredibly beautiful bay. I felt truly immersed in nature. (No snide comments about the luxury accommodation, please.) In an incredibly short space of time we were able to completely relax and unwind. I really felt as though I was able to re-balance my body, mind and soul. It enabled me to be mindful, with remarkable results. Words simply cannot describe how my sense of wellbeing was completely transformed in this idyllic place. Whenever I enjoy spending time outdoors, I always have the same thought: we should do this more often. There really is a tangible healing power in nature. There’s some irony here too, because we wouldn’t need the curative powers of nature if our modern lifestyles didn’t take us away from nature in the first place. So we need nature to be a healing balm for the modern lifestyle, because this lifestyle prevents us from spending sufficient time in nature in the first place. Time for a change, methinks. What have been your healing and relaxing experiences in nature?

How tomatoes encouraged me to meditate

How tomatoes encouraged me to meditate

I love tomatoes. Weird perhaps, but true. But I never thought that tomatoes would show me the path to meditation.

I was first introduced to meditation a long time ago. And for those of you who think meditation is some sort of woo-woo practice (or worse), this occurred in a religious context. A Christian context, if you must know. However, it wasn’t something that I pursued (either the meditation or religion). Although I’ve always thought meditation to be a good habit, the true healing power was only really made clear to me when I started incorporating it into my life as part of mindfulness.

Like many things, I got out of the habit. You know how it goes: life gets busy and all these things fall by the wayside. Which is a pity. It’s also counterproductive because it’s when we get increasingly busy that things such as mindfulness and meditation are that much more crucial. Despite several concerted attempts to practice regularly, I just didn’t develop the habit. That’s where the tomatoes come in.

I was recently reading an article that mentioned the Pomodoro Technique in passing. Upon embarking on the inevitable Google search I discovered that this is not something new. Even though I’m rather late in getting the Pomodoro memo I decided to give it a try. Not because I struggle to procrastinate, but because I tend to focus so much when writing that I neglect to take breaks. Although this might sound like a thinly veiled attempt to sound smug, this pattern is just as destructive as procrastination, if not more so.pomodoro technique

And then, just like anything else in life, I discovered that there are several Pomodoro apps. Because who doesn’t need a desktop tomato kitchen timer? It even has all the sound effects of a traditional timer.

My 5 minute Pomodoro breaks typically involve green Rooibos tea. My daily consumption of the stuff is quite impressive. After four Pomodori I hit the twenty minute break. What to do? And then it hit me: meditate. It’s amazing what a twenty minute mindful meditation can do. I feel much calmer, more focused. And happier.

tomighty pomodoro app

Weird as it may sound, and bizarre it definitely is, as long as I use my desktop tomato kitchen timer, I find the time to include meditation as part of my daily routine. And I’m much the better for it. So you see, I have been right all along to love tomatoes!

What has been your experience of an unexpected source of motivation?

Trusting the Present

Too much of our time is spent mulling over the past or worrying about the future, which robs us of our present. The truth is that we need to just trust the process.

Even though I’m not particularly religious, I do believe that you need to have faith that things will work out. You need to have a sense of trust that things will in fact be okay. I’m not saying that you can simply sit back and let life happen. Obviously you need to do what you can to create the life that you want. But you need to do so in such a way that you can focus on the present. I really believe that in order to be happy, you have to leave the past behind you, have faith in the future, and be mindfully present in your life.

It is only in this way that you will be able to extract true enjoyment from your daily life. I think that the key to getting the most out of life is a combination of optimism and mindfulness.

On Finding Motivation

All of us, at one time or another, seek motivation. We try to find that elusive something that will inspire us. All too often it is our mindset that makes motivation so elusive. If we are truly open to it, motivation will come to us from all kinds of sources.

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There is such inspiration to be found in beautiful surroundings. We forget just how truly beautiful our world is, and neglect to see the vistas before us. I am lucky enough to live in South Africa, where there is every variety of natural beauty in our varying landscapes. For me, it is finding myself in inspiring surroundings that fosters creativity.

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The combination of beauty and creativity in turn creates a relaxed ambiance, one where mindfulness is all the more likely to occur. It is in this way that I am encouraged to take each day as it comes, to be mindful of the moments that constitute every day. It is only through being mindful that I become appreciative of all the little blessings that are scattered throughout my life: the daily things for which I should be so grateful.

Pictures taken on a recent trip around the Western Cape region of South Africa.