On a Mindful Christmas contentment. Why can’t we just ‘be happy’?

trolleyLots of Christmas shopping was done over the weekend. We woke up in the knowledge that money needed to be spent,  car park spaces must be battled  for and crowds coped with. It was daunting, but ’tis the season…’ and all that – jolliness is required of us. Here at The Terrace we do like to offer support to readers over the festive season, but in the rush of consumer madness that is challenging.

So it was good to come across a piece by our own Miranda Bevis, mindfulness practitioner and leader of many of our workshops and courses. She recognises that the real world makes living in the moment (the basis of mindfulness practice) tough, but maintains that with work we can achieve a peace and level of contentment in many of those situations that threaten to overwhelm us. Here she offers some wise words on becoming content. How much of the ‘stuff’ we accumulate over the Christmas period do we actually need? We have written on here about looking at our rituals and making a decision to change. No more three for two gift sets, over indulgence and post Christmas strain on relationships – and perhaps creating new ways to celebrate the things that are important to us.

This time of year should be reflective, a time to take stock, but we have to admit that major changes  to seasonal celebrations are best planned rather earlier than mid-December when many of our presents are bought and paid for and meals planned etc. So, take a look at what Miranda writes below, and have a think about how we can appreciate the things we have already. Then perhaps we can take steps this year to enhance our Christmases to come.

Scanning the weekend newspaper supplements, I find so many articles and advertisements telling us how we could (should?) change: How to get fitter, thinner, look younger; give your garden a makeover, re-design your interiors. Revitalize your love life, spice up your cookery and your sex life (because you’re worth it). There is no end of things that we could change for “the better”. And of course, change is supposed to be good for us; after all, we wouldn’t want to be bored or get stale, or allow ourselves to get into a rut, would we? We “deserve” more, we “have a right” to more. We should seek out new excitements, discover new thrills, acquire new things, visit new places, meet new people.

“Now and then it’s good to pause in ourAnd there’s nothing wrong with any of this, except, perhaps, the overall message. Which seems to be that, if things were different, in terms of our looks, our possessions, or our experiences, we’d be happier. That there’s a better place to be, a better way to be, than where we are right now. And that surely breeds dissatisfaction. It’s all too easy to get caught up in disgruntled thoughts, and end up not noticing what we’ve actually got.

When we practice Mindfulness, we explore being with whatever is, without immediately trying to change anything. Sitting with our sensory experiences alone, and allowing them to be exactly as they are, while letting go of thoughts and desires for things to be different. We begin to realize that often it’s not so much what is actually happening that is the problem, but rather the thoughts about it. Realizing that the mutterings of “I don’t want it to be like this”, “It’s not fair”, and “I deserve more” breed discontent.

Letting go is not the same as giving in. It’s not a state of hopeless resignation. But it gives us the space to fully appreciate what we already have. It can help us to discover what really does need changing, and teaches us to develop a different relationship with what we have no control over.

The art of contentment and well-being is being good at noticing what you have, and wanting what you’ve already got. In the words of Guillaume Apollinaire: “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy”.

Miranda is offering more taster sessions and courses in the new year. See our ‘What’s On’ page for further details.

 

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An introduction to Mindfulness – the first of a new series on ‘let’s talk!’

miranda

Miranda Bevis

Miranda Bevis, our expert Mindfulness practitioner has prepared some articles on how we can all take advantage of the benefits the practice of Mindfulness offers. As she will make clear in teh coming weeks, it does take practice, it is no quick fix. But that is what it is all about – taking that time to add it, gradually, into our lives….

Mindfulness is very much in the news these days, as means of finding a bit of tranquillity in our increasingly stressful world.  We are all subjected to pressures from many different sources, including work, relationships, family, money worries and information overload. Often the strain may prove too much, and problems arise. A high proportion of illnesses are now thought to be stress related, and there are no ‘quick fix’ medical answers.

Many people struggle with anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Social isolation, lack of confidence and low self esteem are common and they may leave us feeling exhausted, trying to find solutions in our lives, and feeling powerless to change things. A lot of time is spent wishing we were somewhere, or someone, else. Energy may be invested in ruminating over unwanted thoughts.

The idea behind mindfulness is very simple. It is just to be fully in the present, moment by moment. We learn to focus on what is happening right now, and cultivate a kind and non- judgmental attitude to ourselves. This is not an intellectual exercise, but requires a fair amount of practice. Over time, we develop a different relationship with what distresses us. What exactly are we focussing on? It is often the breath, an anchor for our attention. It may be our body sensations, or what we can hear or see. We learn to be aware of what we are doing, while we are doing it. We observe thoughts and emotions, and learn to let them pass by, instead of getting hooked into them. Gradually, we realize there are different and more constructive ways of responding to difficulties, instead of reacting in old, often unhelpful, automatic patterns.

The approach was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970’s. It draws from ancient eastern philosophies, but is delivered in an entirely secular way. Research, over three decades, supports Mindfulness, and it mindfulness_oneday_6_1_1_1_1_1_1_2_1_1has been shown to increase feelings of well being, and decrease the impact of living in a stressful world. It is now taught widely in many different settings including schools, the mental health services, hospitals and hospices, prisons and government agencies

Over the next few weeks I am going to explore what we mean by Mindfulness, and how we can use it to navigate whatever stresses may come our way, not be blown away. I will also include some wonderful poetry, which can help focus our minds and support our practice.

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work,

and when we no longer know which way to go,

we have begun our real journey.”

Wendell Berry

Miranda has some new Mindfulness workshops and courses starting in the New Year. Follow us on Facebook to find out more or see www.the-terrace.co.uk

Philotimo – ‘let’s talk!’ about a Greek word for our times…

thalesLast week we watched a video that really spoke to us here at The Terrace. Released by the Washington OxiDay Foundation it takes just 15 minutes to explain the Greek concept of Philotimo – something considered to be the highest of all Greek virtues and which determines and regulates how someone should behave in their family and social groups. It is a word that Greek children are still brought up to understand and an idea that they are taught to respect and use as a guide when making choices in their lives.

It is difficult to translate literally, but the very famous faces in the video describe how for the Greek people it means, broadly, ‘friend and honour’. It means duty, compassion, sacrifice. Doing what is right, even if it not in your own best interests. It means something larger than yourself and is about opening your heart and doing things for the good of your community. It has been credited with some of the greatest advances in culture, but with no direct English word to encapsulate its meaning the sens of the word has been lost to all but Greek speakers.

Here at The Terrace we would like to find a way to support what the Foundation seeks to achieve with this video. At a time when we seem to see nothing but horror and injustice in the world, this is a message to take forward to show how humanity can come together for the greater good. Do take a look and let us know how you feel when you have heard what everyone on this film has to say about ‘philotimo’. Since ancient times the Greeks have always been a very special people and despite recent economic struggles this concept remains a strength as the country rebuilds. Is this the time to learn from Greek philosophy once more?

Let’s talk! about Mindfulness…

Meditation-garden-mindfulness-imageMindfulness is very much in the news these days as a means of finding tranquility in our increasingly stressful world. Big business too is beginning to take it seriously as a way to ensure the well-being of their staff (although it is to be hoped that they are approaching it from altruistic motives, rather than as a way to add even more to their frenetic daily life).  The idea is very simple: Mindfulness means merely to be present in the here and now, paying full attention to whatever is happening around you and within you, free from distractions or judgement, with a soft and open mind.

In our modern lives we are subjected to many pressures; work, relationships, money, heath worries and information overload to name but a few. And it is not only what happens outside that causes problems. Merely thinking about what’s happening to us can cause stress. Ruminating about our circumstances, regretting the past and worrying about the future inevitably makes us feel worse.

The result of these internal and external pressures is that the brain’s reaction to real danger, the “fight and flight” mechanism, can be switched on all of the time. This isn’t good for us, and can lead to stress related illnesses, both physical and psychological. Once we become stressed, ruminations can become even more negative, and stress ends up producing yet more stress.

Mindfulness gives us a way of breaking out of this vicious cycle, by repeatedly turning gently away from thinking, and towards our sensory experience. Research show that these simple techniques dampen down the reaction to stress, and enhance activity in areas associated with well-being.

Evidence over more than three decades supports Mindfulness. It has been shown to have a positive effect on physical and psychological health, and to enhance focus, memory, creativity and compassion. It decreases the impact of living in a stressful world and helps us to be the best we can be.

Miranda Bevis Mindfulness GroupsWhy not try mindfulness for yourself, at the taster sessions we hold here at The Terrace? Dr Miranda Bevis  offers a mindfulness stress reduction programme (MBSR) which is designed to help you learn new ways of managing difficult physical sensations, feelings and moods and to live life more in the present moment.

Taster Sessions (£5):

Tues 14th Oct 6.30pm – 8pm or
Weds 15th Oct 9.30am – 1pm

8 week course dates will run from Tues 21st October 6.30pm-8pm and Weds 22nd October 9.15am – 11.30am, costing £225.

Post-exam stress: Be mindful with poet William Stafford..

examsOver the past two weeks we have been offering exam tips over on our Facebook page, and here on the blog. At last the exam season is drawing to a close and those who have been under immense pressure over the past few months can begin to unwind and resume their routine. Of course the results may not yet be in and until then it is hard to completely relax, but we thought today we should just offer some suggestions to support you over the next few weeks and help you to enjoy the summer.

Firstly, don’t keep dwelling on the result, or what might have been. You can’t go back and take the exam again and if you feel you chose the wrong questions focus instead on the fact that you completed the questions you did answer to the best of your ability. If you have checked and found you gave an incorrect answer, again, don’t beat yourself up about it. You can literally do nothing to change it.

So secondly, try to relax. You may say this is easier said than done, but remember finishing  a time-consuming piece of work takes us into a period of transition when  we do not really know what to do with ourselves. This is a time people are vulnerable to getting drunk or other potentially dangerous behaviours. So give yourself some time to unwind and take good care of yourself.

And finally, try to visualise something totally unrelated to the exams. Visualisation is a very powerful tool for relaxation, but if you are constantly imagining the grades that may or may not appear when you log in to the school or college website, or pick the letter up off the mat, it can only continue the stress response. It is tough, we can’t pretend it isn’t, but if you can practice some mindfulness meditation and focus on the present rather than on what might happen in the future you will enjoy the summer and ensure you meet the results head on, healthy and able to deal with whatever happens next.

To help you take yourself into a more relaxed frame of mind, we offer another poem for mindfulness and wish you all the very best for the future, which for the present is exam free!

“You Reading This, Be Ready”

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life.

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

William Stafford

Can you measure happiness? And should we even try?

Two-old-people-laughingWe recently published a post on ‘let’s talk’ by Rin Hamburgh, a regular contributor to the Positive News network, which aims to  ‘inform, inspire and empower our readers, while helping create a more balanced and constructive media’. We are happier if read more positive news it seems; if we appreciate that despite what many journalists would have us believe, the world is full of good people, doing positive things to encourage global social and environmental change.

This has sparked a lot of interest on the blog, and here at The Terrace and we want to find out more. When the current UK government came into power in 2010, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated his aim that Britain should be happier and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) now produces analysis based on National Measures of Well-Being. These measures, including economic, environmental and social measures also includes a measure of ‘personal well-being’. The latest figures, for 2012/13 were released last month and showed that overall, 77% of us are satisfied with our lives overall and that around 70% of us would describe our happiness levels as ‘medium to high’. You can find links to all the latest data here.

There is a concern that if politicians and civil servants are measuring happiness, they will ask questions that skew the results in favour of their policies, or choose a sample that includes people they know to have relatively ‘happy’ lives by any standard. So here on ‘let’s talk’ we wanted to canvas your ideas about what constitutes well-being. Is happiness our ultimate goal? If so, what is it that makes a human ‘happy’. Can any of the questions be the same for everyone?

For an analysis of happiness, should we measure things like self-esteem, number of friends (real rather than online), engagement with and kindness to, other people, love of laughter and jokes. Or should we look to practical things like money and health?

The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire was developed by psychologists Michael Argyle and Peter Hills at Oxford University and includes such questions as:

  • I am intensely interested in other people.
  • I have very warm feelings towards almost everyone.
  • I find most things amusing.
  • I am always committed and involved.
  • I find beauty in some things.
  • I feel I have a great deal of energy

Alongside statements such as:

  • I do not think that the world is a good place.
  • I don’t think I look attractive.
  • I feel that I am not especially in control of my life.
  • I don’t find it easy to make decisions.
  • I don’t have a particular sense of meaning and purpose in my life.
  • I don’t have particularly happy memories of the past

Each statement is answered on a scale of 1 to 6, strongly disagree to strongly agree. You can take that questionnaire yourself here.

carouselimage1803_tcm77-356741Do the positive statements better measure our levels of happiness? If faced with a negative statement, are we more likely to respond to it in a negative way? There are so many questions and endless answers – surely we cannot all be grouped together under such an amorphous heading as ‘happiness’. Or can we?

We find this a fascinating subject, linking as it does to our commitment to overall well-being and physical and mental health. We also love to laugh, and find it therapeutic.

Do please comment and let us know what you think. We would love to publish your ideas about what makes you happy and how you think it could best be measured.

 

On positive news – and why scaremongering can seriously damage your health…

bkph-3-2-SMALLToday we are lucky to have a guest post on ‘let’s talk’, written by Rin Hamburgh,  a Bristol-based journalist specialising in psychology and well-being, green living and other lifestyle subjects. You can visit her website and blog at www.rin-hamburgh.co.uk. She writes here of the positive news movement, which is gaining in popularity as an alternative to the sensationalist news reports we are frequently faced with on a daily basis. It offers a new way of problem solving; one that supports our well-being instead of undermining it….

I hate reading newspapers. That probably sounds a little strange, coming from a journalist, but it’s true. It’s not that I don’t want to find out what’s happening in the world, it’s just that it’s all so relentlessly depressing. People are killing each other. The economy is in tatters. Your favourite food is going to kill you.

Often it is not the facts of the stories themselves that are so terrifying, but the way they are reported. Driven by sales figures, editors choose attention-grabbing drama over less colourful but more worthy stories, so that our papers are filled with terrorism and political scandal and celebrity sex, and we don’t hear about the rise of the sharing economy or how volunteers are making a difference in flood-ravaged Somerset.

Scaremongering headlines convince us that the end is nigh, even if it’s just a remote possibility, and since most of us don’t get past the first few paragraphs of any story (if that) we tend to miss the balanced argument (if indeed there is one). And so our view of the world is shaped by negative soundbites, and we either become discouraged and apathetic, changing the channel or flicking through to the lifestyle pages to avoid the bleak ‘realities’ of the news, or we become addicted to the endless stream of hype.

Neither option is ideal. The apathy that comes with a diet of stories about terrible things we can’t change makes us passive; we no longer believe we can make a difference, and so we don’t even try. On the other hand, if we keep feeding our obsession with the Oscar Pistorius trial or the ever fluctuating (but always doomed) economic situation, we can actually do ourselves psychological and physical harm – a story in The Guardian last year stated that “news is toxic to your body”, triggering the limbic system and releasing cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone”.

Thankfully, there is an alternative. The positive news movement is gaining ground – albeit slowly – as people begin to search for a way to stay informed without the need for antidepressants. Rooted in positively psychology, this new style of media calls for a solutions-focused approach that doesn’t skirt the issues but does avoid sensationalising them. It also seeks out stories that highlight the people and initiatives making a difference to the world.

One of the leading publications in this campaign for a more balanced viewpoint is Positive News, which was founded in 1993 and aims to “inform, inspire and empower our readers, while helping create a more balanced and constructive media”. Despite not being able to pay as well as the nationals (there’s a reason why the big boys print the stories they do), I write for this dedicated and passionate team, and recently took part in a short promotional video about them, because I believe that we need more headlines like Brazil takes steps to save threatened tribe and New reforms for children in care ‘most significant in a generation’.

Next time you pick up a newspaper, or flick over to the evening news, be aware of the effect it is having on your well-being… and then make a change. Challenge the views you are being presented with, dig deeper into a story and find out what the truth of the matter is, get hold of a positive news publication in print or online, and remember that no matter what the media tells you, you can make a difference. Oh, and rest assured – the odd teaspoon of sugar probably won’t kill you.