The writing I’m most proud of – #MentalHealth

Recently I was asked in an interview if I have a piece of writing I’m really proud of and I didn’t have to fumble around for an answer.

I’m massively proud of my three novels, of course, but writing the Mindfulness course for Teamwork Trust was such a privilege and a real heart and soul project for me. It’s no secret that my mobility was severely impaired after an accident which resulted in clinical depression. Learning Mindfulness and later, after years of practice, subsequently completing my Mindfulness teacher training was really my salvation. Learning the tools to enable me to take charge of my own mental health was invaluable and something I feel passionate about passing on.

Budget cuts are rife, many mental health services disappearing. Charities such as Teamwork Trust go some way towards bridging the void that has been left. It frightens me to think where some service users would be without access to counselling and wellbeing programmes. During my time teaching this course (now expertly delivered by Tim Elliston Holistics) I heard stories which were harrowing and heart-warming; triumph over tragedy.

It was a privilege to attend a charity event last Friday and celebrate with them their success in securing Local Sustainability Funding, the only organisation in Northamptonshire to do so. It was inspiring and impressive hearing how they will implement this funding to continue to run and enhance their programmes for vulnerable adults.

Teamwork are always seeking volunteers. If you’ve a small (or large) amount of time to spare each month you really could make a huge difference in supporting vulnerable people in achieving their goals. Alternatively there’s lots of opportunities for donating or fundraising if you fancy a skydive or running a marathon?

Mental health services are vital. Please pay if forward if you can, when you can. You never know when you or your loved ones might be the one in need.

Kindness is contagious – Be a carrier #NationalKindnessDay

When my boys were small we would start each day sitting at around the kitchen table and over breakfast we would each list 3 things we were grateful for. We also kept a notebook and after school we would discuss as a family ways in which we had been kind and jot them down. On days where they were feeling low, too much homework, squabbles with friends, lost PE kits, we would read back through the book and would feel uplifted. Of course true acts of kindness aren’t contrived, and shouldn’t be carried out in the hope of ‘getting something back.’ But after a while of consciously practicing kindness and gratitude it becomes second nature and my children have grown to be compassionate, appreciative and positive.

Never underestimate the transformation a simple act of kindness can have on someone’s day. When was the last time you smiled at a stranger? Let someone go in the queue in front of you? Praised good service?

Studies have shown people who mindfully practice kindness and gratitude have improved mental and physical health, stronger immune systems, reduced stress and depression, are happier and cope better with difficult situations.

In honour of National Kindness Day, The Diana Award are inviting people to carry out a random act of kindness today and share it on their website. Will you take part?

 

Embracing Change # Mindfulness

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‘The only thing we can rely on in life is change.’

I like to think I’m spontaneous, open to new experiences, adventures, but at the same time, I like my routine. Structure. My little bit of normality.

My life has altered enormously over the past few years and more change is steamrollering towards me. My best friend is moving to Wales on Monday, my son leaving home, exciting things happening career wise. A real mixed bag.  Emotions are heightened. There’s a sense of waiting. Waiting until things settle. Longing for the stillness. The quietness that comes when you know where you are; feet planted on the floor. But that quietness only comes through acceptance of present circumstances. Things are what they are, not necessarily what we want them to be; and that’s not always a bad thing. How often has something happened and we’ve thought it the end of the world at the time, only to feel relief later as we look back?

I often tell the story of the Farmer and the Horse in my Mindfulness classes. A little reminder to hang-fire with judgements. Things aren’t always what they seem.

And so I wait.

And I choose to believe the fluttering I feel in my stomach is excitement, not anxiety. That my future will be bright, because ultimately we get to choose how we feel and today, I choose to be happy. How about you?

 

The Farmer and the Horse (origin unknown)

 A farmer had one old horse that he used for tilling his fields. One day the horse escaped into the hills and when all the farmer’s neighbours heard about it, they sympathised with the old man over his bad luck. “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” said the farmer.

 A week later, the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills and this time the neighbours congratulated the farmer on his good luck. “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?” said the farmer.

 Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone agreed that this was very bad luck. Not the farmer, who replied, “Bad Luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

 Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and forced every able-bodied young man to go fight in a bloody war. When they saw that the farmer’s son had a broken leg, they let him stay. The neighbours congratulated the farmer on his good luck. “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?” said the farmer.

 And on it goes….

 

The Museum of Happiness

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There’s nothing quite like the first hot day of the year. There’s something about the sun beating down that makes strangers smile and nod as they pass, as though part of some great conspiracy, as they scurry to the park to eat their sandwiches. Sleeves rolled up, ties loosened, tights removed.

Despite the icy weather, it was the same atmosphere this weekend at the UK’s first pop-up Museum of Happiness. Spitalfields Market in London may have had sub-zero temperatures but the fuzzy warmth radiating from the cluster of gazebos could heat the chilliest of hearts.

My Mindfulness teacher, Shamash Alidina, co-created this event so I couldn’t resist visiting, not quite sure what to expect, but knowing it would be awesome – and it was. Small, but fabulously organised, it was well worth the trip. Where else can you dance at a silent disco, meditate on a beach via virtual reality, try origami, practice gratitude and get creative at the arts table?

When the sound of laughter drowns out the thrum of shoppers you know it’s been a success. Open until Monday 18th January – pop along if you can.

Mindfulness and Writing

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Mindfulness is a huge part of my life and has really enhanced my writing. Being present not only allows me to feel the often tiny physical sensations that accompany emotions I might otherwise miss, but I also have a connection to my environment that has really enhanced my prose. Noticing colours, smells, the feel of air against my skin, those little nuances that really do make a difference.

Of course, Mindfulness also keeps me centred, focused and calm, it’s more than sitting in formal meditation, it’s being fully absorbed in the task in hand, not engaging with distracting thoughts. Yesterday I didn’t want to do a long meditation, I wanted to spend some quality time with my son so I got my creative on and we transformed a pair of his socks into Morris the Mindful Monkey. It’s hard not to be present when doing something expressive.

Morris will now sit on my desk and judge me when I don’t reach my word count in a non-judgemental, encouraging fashion.

 

Join me on the Peace Path

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Those of us that have been blessed enough to have spent time around children will recognise the look of utter contentment babies have as they observe the bright, shiny new world they have been thrust into.

Fast forward a few years, throw a career, a home, financial stress into the mix (aka real life) and those once serene babies look as frazzled as the rest of us.

What happens to that inner peace we are born with? Where does it go?

It doesn’t actually go anywhere, but as we grow and get busier we lose touch with ourselves. We come defined by our relationships, our job titles, always busy, always striving for more, waiting for the right time to be happy. Happiness won’t come when you are 14 lbs lighter, when you have a different job, financial security. Happiness isn’t a destination.

When I lost my mobility the physical effects were hard to deal with, the emotional effects almost impossible. I see-sawed between depression when I thought about all I had lost and anxiety when I thought of all the obstacles I would face in the future. I was completely missing the present moment. Through mindfulness I have managed to make peace with the past. I take time each day to meditate and reconnect to that place inside, the place were we are enough, whatever our circumstances.

Inner peace isn’t an absence of emotion, it’s being comfortable with whatever we are currently experiencing, even if that emotion is uncomfortable. It’s about releasing the need to be in control, to let go of judgements, relearning self compassion.

The Dalai Lama once said. “We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” 

I am privileged enough to teach mindfulness now. If you want to try one of my short mediations click here to listen or download. Ten minutes a day can make a significant difference to your physical and emotional health.

Join me on the peace path.

 

Written for Streams of Consciousness Saturday. This weeks prompt is Peace/Piece.

 

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Healing from loss

How do you even begin to heal from a loss? How do you start to move forward when your bruised and fragile heart wants to stay in the past. How can you contemplate a future when your exhausted mind is stuck in a loop, reliving memories and replaying conversations? How can you contemplate integrating with the world when you feel so alone?

The truth? I don’t know. It is very early days for me and just as we all have unique fingerprints, our grief is never comparable to anyone else’s.

What I do know, is that while we are grieving the person we lost, loving the person we lost, we must make sure we love ourselves too, show ourselves the same compassion and understanding we would offer our best friend.

My mindfulness practice enables me to explore my feelings in a kindly, non-judgemental way, not an easy thing to do, but grief is not something I want to repress, resist or try to get over. Grief has no time limit.

Through self-compassion we can once again feel connected to the world, not isolate ourselves in a bubble of hurt.

There is a story about a woman called Kisa Gotami. She lost her only child and desperately asked if anyone could help her. Buddha told her he could help if she could bring him some mustard seeds from a household where no one had died. She went from house to house but could not find a home where no one had suffered loss.

Grief. You are not alone.

Written for Streams of Consciousness Saturday. This weeks prompt is heal. No editing allowed.

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