Mindfulness – what is all this fuss about?

It’s been really interesting watching the explosion of Mindfulness over the last few years, I don’t know about Mindfulness it’s been almost mind dazzling!   it’s gone from the book on the self-help bookshelf and week-end workshop, to the workplace, the school, even into mainstream health care including the NHS and Parliament.

So what is it?  It is, according to a recent report by the BBC, defined as the following  –

The word “mindfulness” seems to be everywhere. Parliament has even started using it. But what is it?

To many people, mindfulness just means “the state or quality of being mindful”. That’s the first definition the Oxford English Dictionary lists.

But the second meaning of the word, taken from Buddhist philosophies, is proliferating rapidly. Search Amazon’s book section and you’ll see many titles about mindfulness and how to get it. A quick search of a database of British newspapers shows that in April 2004 it was mentioned just twice. In April this year, the figure was 150.

This other definition of mindfulness is “with reference to yoga philosophy and Buddhism: the meditative state of being both fully aware of the moment and of being self-conscious of and attentive to this awareness; a state of intense concentration on one’s own thought processes; self-awareness”.

A part of BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer questions behind the headlines But the dictionary also notes that the term is “in weakened use”. It’s been diluted from its origins to now encompass all manner of meditation techniques, treatments for daily stress, even ways to lose weight. The word is everywhere. An all-party parliamentary group on mindfulness will be launched on 7 May, city workers are said to be adopting it and even theNHS offers information about how to practise it.”


candle flameI first came across Mindfulness in my teenage years through some simple Yoga introductory practice, but honestly didn’t know it as such back then.  I then came across it through some basic “Learn how to meditate” classes in the 1990’s when I was living in Cambridge and then explored it more deeply as part of my Shamanic Training, which to be fair was based a lot on the Toaist philosophies and traditions.  I have to say at this point just to be clear, I have always remained rather on the Spiritual as opposed to the Religious path.  For further clarity it is important to also note that Mindfulness as it is generally written about and taught in the west for use in the workplace, schools and health system is totally stripped of any religious biased and is totally about simply centring the mind and body to relieve stress and to become present in the moment.

More recently I’ve found myself giving short talks and exercises as part of evening workshops or groups.  For me it is the heart and the tip of the iceberg of meditation.  It is the place of being and learning to be present.  It is the place to let go, to stop, to ground, to be and to centre.  In our seemingly frenetic modern lifestyles it is becoming more and more essential to embrace this practice.

I was shown to me by life and frankly quite brutally, that when we are not centred, when we don’t stop, when we aren’t present or cannot just be, we cannot then do, discern, choose, stand firm or act.  It is one of these amazing dynamics of life that if we are not still at times then our movement becomes unbalanced.  It is in many ways our night to our day, our inner to our outer.

For some reason this stillness and this being and this inner work has been something that has if not actively then certainly steadily been discouraged from our western societies for a long-time.  Too much focus placed on the outer world and its appearances, our outward achievements and standing.  This imbalance in many ways has caused a lot of stress, destruction and misuse of resources and in some cases caused illness. So perhaps it’s not so surprising that now the balance has to be restored and this simple, not to be confused with easy, practice of Mindfulness is becoming so popular.

As with everything that becomes popular or a household term there are always those for whom it does not work or has caused difficulties, this is natural as we are all unique.  There have been accounts about how Mindfulness where it has been apparently detrimental or has actually caused people to become unstable in someway.  There have been reports were people have found they have begun to feel too zoned out, suffered panic attacks, depression or traumatic memories from their childhood return following a Mindfulness course or session.

Speaking from personal experience, it is true that these practices open us up to ourselves and sometimes the effects can be traumatic and life changing.  It is essential that if this happens, the process is held and what is coming up is embraced and understood rather than run from or shut down.  It is importantly to understand that it is not necessarily the meditation itself that is at fault but it is actually simply allowing space for what was already stored within us to surface.  If it hadn’t come out in this way, then it would surely come out in some other way in that person’s life.  In many ways by having these issues, whatever they are come to the surface in this way it is an opportunity for the person to fully face them and move beyond them.

None of us ever choose to be ill, or at least we don’t choose it consciously.  So when either illness comes or uncomfortable emotions are stirred we are unlikely to welcome them and we are even less likely to want to make time for them; or have to change our way of life for them.  However, if you ever find yourself as the “unfortunate few” where this does occur for you, here are some basic pointers you may find helpful;

  • Firstly ground – feel your body, feel your breath, be very present about where you are. Perhaps eat something nutritious, go for a walk in nature, even if this is just a pocket park or tree lined boulevard for the city dwellers among us.
  • If you are likely to feel spaced out when meditating, only do it for a short while a day. 10 mins a day rather than leaping into an intensive workshop or week-ender.  In many ways this is about you growing your internal muscles, just like going down to the gym, you don’t do a 10 miler on the first day!
  • Keep well hydrated. De-hydration can make us feel spaced out and when we are stressed we don’t always realise how de-hydrated we are.
  • Simplify your life. Start to live and think more simply.
  • If you wish to keep up a meditation practice, up your vitamin, mineral and nutrition intake, if you are taking in rubbish, when you stop and listen to yourself inside you are likely to find rubbish!
  • What-ever has surfaced needs facing and transmuting. Depending on what’s coming up for you, it might be time to get some counselling, and learn some techniques on how to face and transmute and let go of those bad feelings or memories.
  • You might find a physical meditation practice is better for you – tai chi, qigong, yoga or even simple activities like gardening, walking or cycling. Or a creative one; drawing, writing, or cooking.   Or if it’s anger or confidence issues try a martial art class, to focus and transmute the energy into a punch bag rather than into a person or your life!  You can be Mindful in how you do all or any of these activities.

Mindfulness is all about being present, centred and in the body.  If any of us is struggling with that, it is because there is something getting in the way, that something needs to be understood and then it can be let go of or addressed.  We can shift from habitual reacting to pro-active living. IMG_1834

“Breathing in I establish myself in the present moment.  Breathing out I know that this is a wonderful moment”.  Thich Nhat Hanh.

Thich Nhat Hanh, writes beautifully about the power of the present moment, for this is all we truly have at any one time, in his book “The Power of Now”.

Above all, be gentle and kind with yourself, but don’t run and hide.  Be honest and be courageous, this is about you getting to know you, to centre in being you and can help you let go of the internal “rubbish”, so you can be a clearer and brighter you!



What’s the point of Releasing the Past? After-all it is the Past!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAUnderstanding, facing and releasing one’s past has always played a key part in therapy .  There seems to be lots of very confusing messages about how the past can or cannot help us in developing a better way of living today.  Some say the past must be faced, understood, released or accepted to bring peace to a person.  Others focus on the present as being the most important and that it is far more important to focus on the today on the Present.  So does the Past even have any relevance for us in our daily lives?

Toaist philosophy seems to put it most succinctly in identifying that the past has brought one to where one is today; the present is the only thing we have any direct control over; and the future is welcomed in by the present.

So what is the thinking about the past and the therapeutic approaches?  Broadly there is;

  • Trace your ancestry, to find out who and where your people come from. Perhaps even find some long lost pot of gold or perhaps more likely some old scandal (as most things beyond “taking tea with the neighbour” was probably considered scandalous back in the day).
  • Various types of counselling which enable us to look at our past, or past events and how they have affected us and continue to affect us today. These approaches enable one to move closer to releasing unhelpful belief systems and detrimental reactive behaviour patterns.
  • Deeper therapies, such as hypnotherapy or trance states help to unlock memories which are buried so deeply we don’t consciously remember them, perhaps from childhood or are locked into a traumatic event we find difficult to remember. These hidden memories often result in unconsciously skewing our reactions and effecting our behaviour today.  This can often result in some way blocking us from developing good relationship behaviour; or causing unnecessary emotional unrest and anxiety.
  • Letting go of the past, through mindfulness and/or affirmations focusing on the now, as the Present being the only time frame we truly have any real control or influence over. Hence the lovely story “The Precious Present” by Spencer Johnson and powerful sayings such as “The past has no power over me.  I know that it is over, and I live solely in the present.” Hay House.
  • Past Life Regression – for those who believe or just know that something sits deeper and stretches beyond this life time – something that is holding them back that is sitting deep in the subconscious and needs to be witnessed, understood and released.

So where does that leave us between these messages which seem to contradict each other, broadly boiling down to two broad scenarios of either forget your past, it no longer matters, be empowered now to move into a brighter future; or until you release your pain you will be held by your past and cannot be fully in present and therefore can’t embrace your future.

Although these may seem confusing and conflicting messages, I have found from both personal experience and that of others these different approaches all have their important role to play in helping a person heal and come to terms with difficulties in their lives. There is no doubt that past events can have a significant impact on our behaviour and well-being.  Identifying these and understanding them and releasing them from our mental and emotional being can have a profound effect on improving a person’s well-being.

What I have experienced is that by releasing pain, past injury and getting to a place of forgiveness and peace is not done just through mental thought processes or pills.  It has to be from one’s very core, physical, energetic and soul core, for healing to be complete.  Only then will  health, freedom, detachment and wholeness be once again be restored.

Dadi Janki writes about forgiveness in her delightful book “Wings of Soul”.  She says that to forgive you have to forget and that to forget you actually have to first remember.  It is in the remembering and asking, why am I still held in this moment, what is it that still holds me here you can start to let go and start to forget.  Personally I have found the Shamanic techniques particularly powerful for this type of work.

So how does mindfulness assertions that it is only today that matters; and the affirmations to not let the past rule one, because it is just that, the past, fit into all of this?

Mindfulness practice and other similar meditation techniques are incredibly powerful at retraining our minds away from churning over what has been, they enable us to centre and be clear, be really present in the now and thereby make discerning decisions about how we want to move into the future.  It is a key mind-set for anyone either battling with issues from their past, with current worries, undergoing or having completed therapies which have worked on facing and releasing their past.  Why?  Because it helps us learn, retrain and retain new patterns of thought and behaviour, so we can truly change our lives from the inside out. walk into the future

So if Mindfulness and similar mental disciplines are so powerful, do we actually need to delve into our past?  Sometimes YES, so we can actively cut ourselves free from the emotional “ball and chain”.

To conclude, yes there are clearly two broad schools of therapy with regards  the importance of “the past” – one states only now is important; while the other states we need to face and come to peace with our closet skeletons.  Are they at odds?  No – they work hand in hand to ensure those “skeletons” are not pulling on your hand as you walk into your future.

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.”

—Lao Tzu

“Everything in moderation!” so our grandmothers would tell us, is it still relevant today?

I was interested to find out more, about the rise in eczema and allergies at the February Neal’s Yard Organic Team Meet.  Did you know that there has been a 42% rise in Eczema between 2001 and 2005?  Did you know that by 2005 one in nine people were suffering from the condition?  The Eczema Society states “Atopic Eczema effects 15-20% of school children and 2 – 10% of adults its incidence has increased significantly in recent years.”

One of the singular reasons for this has been the increased use in chemicals.  Dr Ballie-Hamilton states “In the last 25 years, individuals are being exposed to unprecedented levels of synthetic chemicals, such as organochlorides, organophosphates, carbamates, toxic metals, solvents and plastics” in 2005 book “Stop the 21st Century Killing You.”

There are many ways that exposure can be reduced, such as drinking filter water, using eco friendly cleaning products, reducing the amount of chemicals used on and in our bodies though health, beauty products and in what we eat.

eczema-0Of course NYR Organic can help substantially with regards the health and beauty products and has some remarkable products to help with the more serious complaints such as Eczema, which not only can help eleviate the condition but also reduce the number of chemicals being introduced into the body through treatment, see info and link below.


The discussion got me once again reflecting that there is an apparent theme running through all areas of life at the moment, whether it’s health, work stress, land and resource requirements, food industry.  In the bid to have plenty we have headed down a track that constantly requires more chemicals, almost a battle with nature often resulting in increased drug or chemical use which in turn causes more problems in terms of environmental impact as well as on our own health and needs, producing results which are often actually counter productive in the long term.   It seems like a potentially ever decreasing circle.  Yet we are constantly bombarded in the media with how much we need stuff, or how we need to get the lastest, the fastest, biggest.  As a result not only is our relationship with our world based on supply and demand, it becomes a supply and demand based on wants as much as genuine need. Underlying it there is a genuine fear of scarcity, and a world where the 1980’s concept of the “Alpha Male” is calling the shots, addicted to competition and adrenaline, attempting to push the system along with everyone and everything in it to its max.  It really does feel like it’s time to disconnect from that ever decreasing cycle and return to something which takes a more respectful and more rounded view on things.

It is so far removed from the relationship our ancestors had with their environment.  Nothing brings this home more to me than the Native American story of the Antelope where Antelope teaches the people who are faced with cold climates and cannot rely on fruits and vegetables alone that they have to turn to meat for their food to survive, but also how to survive with grace and with nature.  Antelope teaches of practicality of using its meat for food as well as every part of the animal is to be used; the bones for needles and glue; the skin for clothes and coverings and most of all that its to spirit remain free on the plains.  The message of this animal was about appropriate action, quick decision and never letting things go to waste and never to use more than one needs.

drum-0This teaching story was particularly upper most in my consciousness as I made my Stag Drum in January with Heron Shamanic Drums www.herondrums.co.uk who ran the work shop and enabled the birthing.  Johnathan Weekes, gave us some of the history of where the stag and horse skins come from.  These particular hides came from Scotland, where they are the result of on going wildlife preservation in the highlands, but the animals are also sometimes culled; the meat often finds its way into the venison trade, yet the skins are still today, often left to rot, with no onward sale or market for them.  So it was fantastic to not only have the chance to make my own drum, in ceremony, but also be part of actually completing the use and life cycle of the materials from this noble animal.  There was a real sense of reconnecting once more with the eternal life cycle, through this powerful and creative process.

So yes we need things, yes the economics we have got ourselves into over the last 200 years plus are not just going change overnight and yes currently at times we need chemicals and drugs, however, perhaps our grandmothers had it right “everything in moderation” and as long as we aim for extremes and obscene profits and satisfying all wants – not even needs – we are more likely to experience imbalances in our bodies, societies and our environment.  There is a better way, and it is apparent our ancestors and nature can teach us a lot in that regard.