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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More mindfulness practice: On eating that Christmas raisin……

a-mindful-christmasWe are in December now, and here at The Terrace we are keen to promote ways to ensure our well-being is protected in what is a busy, festive month. We have written many times on mindfulness, and have started a new series of posts on the subject. Our expert practitioner Miranda Bevis offers regular and popular taster sessions and courses here, to those interested in finding out more. Here, Miranda discusses an exercise that some of you may already have heard of, and perhaps even dismissed. After all – how useful can eating one raisin be? Read on and find out. Perhaps, as you eat your rich Christmas cake or pudding this year you can give it a try…..

“The first exercise we do in the Mindfulness course is to eat a raisin. It seems a bit crazy. Never mind. Just do it. Notice. What does it look like? How does it smell? What happens when you put it in your mouth? As best you can, try not put the experience into words, but just allow yourself the bare experience.

If the mind wanders, which it probably will, gently guide it back to the exploration of this small object. Let go of any thoughts or judgments.

The whole thing takes about 5 minutes. People are always surprised and I regularly hear comments such as  “I didn’t know I could get so absorbed in such a small and insignificant thing”, “I can’t believe how intense it tasted”, “I didn’t think I even liked raisins, but that was really enjoyable”; and there’ is always someone who says, “It’s really strange, but I feel so much more relaxed”.

This exercise is far from crazy, and should not be dismissed. It demonstrates a number of things, including how, a lot of the time, we don’t really notice what we are doing, but are functioning automatically. Now, that’s not always a bad thing to do. For example when we react to real danger, or the mechanics of driving. In this complicated world, there are many times when we have to multi-task.

But if we function without awareness, we miss out on much of our experience. How many meals do we not even taste because we are in such a hurry?

And sometimes it’s downright unhelpful, and can actually make things worse. Reaching for the biscuits or the bottle when we get stressed, or kicking the cat because we are feeling irritable – perhaps if we were more aware of our actions, we might act in ways that were kinder to ourselves, and to others.

raisinFinally, the person who noticed she became more relaxed whilst eating the raisin had touched on something of great importance. I never used the “relax” word, never say ‘chill out’. I just said, really, really notice what you are doing. So what we discover is that, just by becoming fully absorbed in a very mundane activity, the body relaxes.

Why not give it a try? For a few mouthfuls every day, switch off the radio, don’t read or talk. And just eat. And notice…”

Miranda Bevis is offering mindfulness taster sessions and a new 8-week course in January 2015. See our ‘What’s On’ page for more details.

Holidays are for relaxation, aren’t they? Some tips for really leaving stress behind…

holsOn our Facebook page over the past week we have been thinking about how we can make the forthcoming school holidays a time when the whole family can relax and enjoy really nourishing time together. How often have we looked forward to a one or two-week break for the first six months of the year, only to feel like we need a month off on our return?

There are many reasons why holidays don’t live up to expectations, but failures in the accommodation or travel plans aside, there are things we can do that make it more likely that everyone can come back refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the year.

Firstly, make sure you have all your travel plans to hand well in advance.  Many arguments start in the car before the holiday destination is even reached but can be avoided by making sure paperwork is to hand, routes planned and money for tolls in the glove compartment. Don’t travel when you are tired, but if you can start early to avoid the jams, it can make the trip so much less stressful.

Secondly, if you can take a day off work to pack it can reduce the last-minute panic that can cause arguments. If you can’t do that, start packing the week before and get the whole family involved, ensuring they choose what needs to be clean in time to get it washed and dry.

Thirdly, leave work behind. If you have to take work with you, limit the amount of time you are on your laptop; agree to have the phone on only during agreed times of day. You cannot expect your holiday companions to feel relaxed with you there on your Blackberry half the time.

beachFourthly, relaxing immediately will be difficult, especially if you have children with you, so wind down gently in the first couple of days with some energy-filled activities to avoid the mood swings associated with a drop in adrenaline.

Lastly, if you are travelling with children remember it is your time they will value, not the cultural trips you organise. If you are a couple travelling without kids for a break, don’t feel guilty and make the most of your time alone together; it will make your family unit all the stronger.

So relax and enjoy. If plans go awry , go with the changes and remember to be mindful every day. It will make the time go more slowly as you savour every moment….

 

Taking time out; taking charge

jk_timeout2Sometimes one wonders how we ever managed without social media. The new contacts we make; the opportunities to share our experience and to tell the world about things that are important to us; the learning experience and access to information that keeps us up to date with what is going on in the world and the speed with which this can be achieved – it is nothing short of a revolution.

But with the revolution must come the revelation – that we must ensure we make time for ourselves and to take charge of our involvement on the world wide web, rather than letting it take control of us. Twitter, Facebook, blogging etc etc can all become addictive. We fear we will miss something on one or other of our timelines. Perhaps, if we don’t post anything for a few days, people will think we have given up or gone out of business. Companies who write on using social media stress how much, how often and when you should post. God forbid you miss the right time slot, when all your potential readers are online!

Of course it doesn’t have to be like this, and more and more people and businesses are recognising that this 24/7 availability can be draining, and counter-productive. You must engage and offer people something they want to read – how can you do that when it becomes harder and harder and keep up with this mad virtual social whirl?

So here at The Terrace we are giving ourselves some ‘time out’. We will be quiet for a while, recharging, restoring and replenishing our stores of energy. A two week break is all we need to ensure we are here to offer interesting insights and content over the summer months. There are exciting things to talk about on our return, featuring film, poetry and reports on our well-being and mindfulness sessions and we will continue with our determination to highlight the dangers to our children and young people, and FGM. We appreciate those who read our blog and want to make sure our posts are informative and interesting.

Do let us know how and when you have ‘taken a break’ from social media. Many more are taking a break and taking charge and perhaps it is an option we should all consider.

Grump or Grinch? How to let in the Christmas Spirit without Marley’s Ghost

draft_lens2250991module12234196photo_1224646919christmas_spirit_apothecaryToday we have another Christmas thought from Jane Gotto here at the Terrace.

Firstly, we are not directing this at those who find Christmas a difficult time of year for reasons of  isolation, or depression and anxiety for example. It can be a hard, and sometimes life-threatening time of year. If this sounds like you, then please do seek help now.  There are wonderful charities out there who offer 24 hour support (such as Mind and The Samaritans for example).

But now we are speaking to those who might be, simply a ‘Christmas Grump’?

That’s ok, and you are entitled to feel that way. It can be overwhelming,  but you might want to think about what made you a ‘Christmas Grump’.    Usually there is a reason – either recent or back in your history- of being ‘made’ to feel the Christmas Spirit, or feeling you have to continue in a particular ritual without enjoying it. You may feel under an obligation to attend a regular event which evokes difficult memories.   These are all Christmas Spirit killers and understandably so.

But it is possible to lift that grumpy mood. You might want to create your own ritual – one that is personal – and connects you to who you are rather than joining the ‘Christmas Mad Rush’. This might mean paying particular attention to what is important to you; seeing special friend(s) or spending time with one or two members of your family rather than all of them.  Prepare a meal you enjoy, rather than feeling obliged to have turkey with all the trimmings, or create your own spiritual practise – meditation and or quiet time.  Take time to read a book, or watch a film that interests you. Certainly you should never feel guilty about saying you need to spend time alone if that is what you really want.

This is a time for coming together with others, cementing or building relationships but it is also about coming back to yourself, understanding what is important and getting it right for you.  In getting it right for you, it often gets it right for others too.

Anyone got other suggestions?

 

Guess who! Is a ‘Secret Santa’ a ‘stressbuster’ for the festive season?

santaSo – we are already on to Christmas Tip No. 3 and it isn’t even December yet – but have you seen how so many people are already looking frazzled, carrying bags full of gifts they are not sure anyone will even like? Have you already browsed the ‘3 for 2’ shelves in department stores, wondering who the third, ‘free’ gift might do for? Can you actually remember what you bought people last year anyway?

You wouldn’t be alone. Many people think that the best way to ease anxiety over the ‘Christmas present rush’ is write long lists and get started early. Trouble is – too many others feel the same way…..Many people aren’t present buyers anyway; some feel it is all too commercialised, or have little money to spare and are worried that their presents won’t meet expectations. What a horrible way to celebrate what should be a time for loving and giving – with the emphasis on the loving.

So – think about a Secret Santa. It may remind you of office parties but  it can be great fun, and everyone gets one present of greater value. It also means people have more time to think about what the person they have ‘drawn’ would really like. Or people can circulate a Christmas list from which the gift can be chosen.

If you are worried about the cost, discuss a price limit. When these conversations happen well in advance they can make people feel more relaxed.

How do you cope with present shopping? Is it a trial or is it an opportunity to really show appreciation for those you love? Do you get more enjoyment from buying and giving than getting anything in return?

let’s talk! & The Terrace would love to hear from you!