Tag Archives: life

Learning to meditate

I have been an advocate of meditation for years. I used to love dropping into the London Buddhist Centre whenever I got the chance, just to soak up the atmosphere if nothing else. I held the thought of finding that inner peace, that inner silence, on something of a pedestal.

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When I started teaching I quickly became interested in holistic approaches to helping teenagers cope with the stresses of school, and enthusiastically read reports of daily meditation transforming students’ experiences. I tried to find ways to feed it into the school day – created resources featuring links to guided visualisations for my colleagues to use in tutor time. It seemed to make such perfect sense: take the time to breathe, to reconnect with yourself, and suddenly everything would be so much easier to cope with.

I have a confession to make, though: I had absolutely no idea how to actually do it.

I still don’t.

There was a leadership course I went on that sticks in my mind. It was about Project Management I think, and there was a whole section of it focusing on Work Life Balance. I’ve always struggled with that. Once I get stuck into something I find it almost impossible to let it go, only to collapse in a heap when it’s finally done. Harder to take that approach with a kid to look after mind… The thing I remember about this section of the course, other than being told by the facilitator that I really needed to work on my Work Life Balance (thanks) was being led through a guided meditation at the end of it.

Being a Teaching Leadership course, this was as with everything couched in its potential in the classroom. That I could totally get behind. But to do it? To actually stop moving and quiet my brain enough to attempt the meditation myself? That kind of scared me a little bit.

I’d never really stopped to think about how odd this all was. How I can be completely won over by something both in theory and through the positive impact I’ve seen it have on other people, how I know that this thing is probably exactly what I need to help me deescalate my tendencies towards stress and anxiety, and yet how I have never, in the twenty years or so that it has been on my radar, made the effort to include it in my life, for me.

I guess ultimately reaching for a glass of wine at the end of the day is a whole lot easier to get my head around…

But part of my ‘kick 2017’s ass‘ plan of action is to change that. January is proving a little bit extreme in my efforts to jumpstart this year of productivity – I’m going for a full-on no booze, no caffeine, no dairy, no gluten, no sugar (etc) detox, upping my activity levels with more walking, swimming and yoga, doing all sorts of life-organising, goal-setting, motivation-boosting work related stuff AND trying to find the time to meditate, every day.

And mainly it’s working.

Almost every single day I’m managing to fit in ten minutes of guided meditation. I don’t think I’m very good at it – stilling my mind is perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever really tried to do – but I’m giving it a go, and I’m learning.

I’m learning what kinds of meditations work for me, and which ones don’t.

Visualisations, for example, are really tough. I think it’s the writer in me – I find myself either judging the narrative for its plethora of cliches, or else getting drawn in just enough to begin to flesh out the story around the scenario. Why am I in this secluded cabin in the woods? Am I really alone? Is that safe..? This beach… Where is it exactly? Can I swim? I’d like to swim… And so on. It’s a real effort, trying to stop my mind from riffing on the words. And as for being able to turn them into images that’s really not working for me so far.

Stuff focused on my breathing is better. I like breathing – consciously. It’s a bit of a hangover from my acting days I reckon. And as long as I don’t get too competitive about it it seems to work to chill me out.

There was a new meditation I tried tonight, on cultivating kindness and compassion. I was a little sceptical I admit, but actually there was something incredibly healing about all of those positive vibes. (Especially when directed towards the people who have been monumentally stressing me out over the past 48 hours, but I’m not going to dwell on that…)

Basically this is a journey that is worth continuing. And possibly one I should have started a lot earlier… But hey – we have to let go of the past, right? Focus on the present, and build our resilience for the future.

That’s what I’m going with anyway.

 

 

Seeking inspiration

Having successfully got a lot of my antsiness out of my system last week, I have found myself since embracing the space left in my days by not currently having any writing or editing to work on. I still have milling around in the back of my brain the intention to write some short stories, but before I do I am going to enjoy gathering some inspiration.

I’d forgotten, actually, how pleasant this phase in the whole writing cycle can be.

Instead of focusing inwards on the worlds laying down roots inside my head it is a time to reach out, into the ‘real’ world and the imaginations of others, and build up my bank of ideas. It is a time to listen, and to breathe; to watch, and to consider. It is a time to learn, consciously and hungrily.

Autumn feels a particularly apt time to be doing this. It is as if I am gathering food for the winter ahead, squirrelling away supplies in my den whilst the ground is still soft enough to break through. I am looking forward, too, to the moment when I can light the fire and curl up in the darkness to nourish my creativity with the embers of my explorations, but I have no fixed intentions yet.

Lots of this preparation has involved reading. I’ve read two whole novels this week – more than I’ve managed in the past couple of months, embarrassingly!

The first is one I’ve been eagerly anticipating for months, Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith. It didn’t disappoint: I loved the dystopian premise that was woven through it, found the characters flawed to just the right degree and relished the startlingly accurate depictions of motherhood (even if the context itself was highly unconventional!) It is inspiring on so many levels to read a novel written by one of my blogging friends and to love it as much as I did, and it has made me curious to read more from Mother’s Milk Books, the independent publishers who put it out into the world.

The second novel was one I picked up at the airport in Boston in January and had never found the time to read. How to Start a Fire tells the story of three friends as they grow from college students into middle aged women, weaving a complex web of misdemeanours and mistakes along the way. I think I was initially drawn to it because of the promise of strong female characters: they were brilliantly drawn, and the fractured narrative was compelling. I appreciated too the sensitive exploration of mental health issues, something which I am discovering is a recurrent theme in my own writing.

There is also a non-fiction book that I’ve been dipping into, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which through its particular philosophies is giving me a new lens through which to look at life and the ways we make it mean something.

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Outside of books, I have found myself watching the world intently.

Generally I have been tuning into other peoples’ conversations far more than I probably should, guiltily seeking treasure like a magpie that I can take back and hide away in my nest.

I was moved almost to tears by a family I observed on a bus the other day, and found myself scribbling down their narrative – what I’d seen and what I imagined was behind it – at the earliest opportunity.

The experience reminded me of a blog post that has been ringing in my ears since I read it, a scathing analysis of modern Britain by the brilliant Cash Carraway. I have often found myself paralysed by anxiety in recent months fuelled by a complete disbelief at the mess our society seems to be descending into, but this post reminded me that I could use that anxiety, and the anger that inevitably follows.

I’m still not sure how yet, or in fact where any of this will take me. But for now I am savouring the time I have until, from the spoils of all my scavenging, inspiration strikes.

 

Writing Bubble

Just a matter of time

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Time is a weird thing. On one level it should be pretty straightforward: seconds and minutes and hours and days that are clearly defined, easily comparable and impossible to argue with. Except it never quite works like that.

There are days when time seems to stretch out endlessly before me. When it seems to bend to my will, allowing me to squeeze out extra drops of possibility long after the well should have run dry. Those days were especially frequent when I was teaching. I’d look at my to do list in the morning, scrunching up my nose with the conviction that this would be the day that had me beat. And yet I’d find myself in the evening, exhausted with a glass of wine in hand, marvelling at all I’d managed to achieve. And I’d get up the next morning and do it again, continuing on repeat until the end of term finally appeared. Those days still happen now that I’m a work at home mum, though they’re coloured by the knowledge that not for a long time will I have a real holiday to collapse into. I’m wary when I feel myself straining against my limits as I know I cannot afford to break.

There are other days when time seems to eat me up. When everything seems to take forever, and the simplest tasks balloon out of my control. There have been more of those since I’ve been a mum: having a baby in hand makes rushing almost impossible, and the fog of sleep deprivation has much to answer for in its ability to mess with the very fabric of the universe.

My least favourite days are when time scares me. When it looms up out of nowhere and laughs at my dreams. In many ways I think I’m still extremely sheltered and naive: I haven’t yet had to cope with loss on any grand scale, and I’m only just surfacing out of that teenage belief in invincibility to realise that my time on this planet is not in fact infinite. I look at my son, think of all the things I want to show him, to experience with him, and sometimes I am filled with a sense of dread. What if there just isn’t enough time?

I chastise myself for the hours and days and weeks I wasted when I was younger – time spent on trying to make time go faster, to get to a place where I would be happy, where I didn’t have to try so hard any more.

Because now I’m here, and I want to savour every moment. I know that I can’t really change the amount of time I have left, but I also know that if there are days when ten minutes can feel like forever then I want to strive for that rather than let them pass in a flash. Everyone says that time speeds up when you have kids, but I’m not sure I’m willing to accept that.

So I will continue on my mission to bend time to my will, to see it less as a set of shackles I must comply with and more as a challenge to be overcome. The Doctor put it well when he spoke of ‘wibbley wobbley timey wimey’: certainly nothing to be taken too seriously, not when there’s just so much to do.

Thank you to Sara at Mum Turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt: ‘I wish I had more time…’

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Making deals with the universe

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I often catch myself doffing my hat to solitary magpies, not able to take the chance that they won’t otherwise find a way to let their sorrow seep into my life. No-one’s yet picked me up on it, stopped and enquired exactly what it is I think I’m doing, and if they did I’m not entirely sure what I’d say.

It’s not the only superstition I buy into. Unless I absolutely have to, I’m really not fond of walking under ladders. I try to convince myself that I’m being ridiculous, that it’s no big deal if the pavement and scaffolding are configured in such a way that avoiding it’s impossible. But I can’t ignore the fact that my heart quickens slightly and I apologise silently to whoever or whatever it is that might be offended by my actions. For ages I had a thing with drain covers too, adjusting my path to avoid walking over three in a row. That was pretty tricky to keep up in London, though not as tricky as avoiding stepping on the cracks between the slabs, something which I have felt compelled to try to adhere to during the more anxious periods in my life.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, exams have always been a bit of a magnifier for this irrational behaviour. I can’t remember the exact details of the little rituals I’d enact to maximise my chances of success, but I still have the tiny, intricately decorated wooden elephant my Granny gave me as I was about to sit my GCSEs. It became an essential addition to my exam pencil case, watching me from the corner of my desk. I didn’t dare to see what would happen if it wasn’t there, though I knew deep down that any power it held was all in my mind.

I find it strange that I get sucked into this kind of superstitious behaviour, as on the whole I’d consider myself to be pretty rational. I’m not religious, feeling no presence of a greater being beyond humanity. And yet there must be something in my core that fears that the universe may one day turn on me, may decide that my luck has finally run out.

Because I know that I’m insanely lucky. Even on the days when I feel like everything is going wrong – maybe especially then – I cannot help but reflect on all the things that I am blessed with. If I did believe in a god, perhaps it would be him who I would thank. But as it is I’ll just go on making my little deals with the universe and trying to make the very best I can of this wonderful life I’ve been given.

Thank you to Sara at Mum turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt: Calvin: You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help (Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes)

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