This week we will:
Hi all, and welcome to the last week of our four week course together. I hope like myself you’ve been able to enjoy the throes of spring these last few weeks. I find the changing seasons particularly special times of year, with spring itself bringing with it a heightened sense of energy that the other seasons can’t quite compete with. At this point in time, with the earths energies at their most active of the entire year, we experience the wonder of plant, bird and animal life at its most fertile, all bursting forth in an array of fresh lush greens, florals, and birdsong. The energy of all this new life undoubtedly brings a ‘spring’ to our step, with the days having become warmer and brighter, the birds singing louder, and the plants seeming to grow so fast, that if you stop for just a minute you’ll catch them inching that little bit further right before your eyes.
A favourite author of mine, Glennie Kindred, www.glenniekindred.co.uk describes the importance of tuning into the energies of seasonal change, and how consciously and unconsciously these energetic patterns affect us. When we learn to understand these subtleties, and to flow with these energies as the year progresses, we can begin to cultivate a deeper sense of belonging and understanding on all levels of our being; growing, moving and shifting with the natural rhythms of the earth.
As we have slowly progressed through the course, my hope is that by utilizing some of the mindful practices and nature connection activities we’ve offered, we can together tune a little further into the rhythms of nature as Glennie suggests, and begin to better understand how deeply connected we all are to each other and the wider world around us. When we begin to see this more clearly, our sense of separation and worry can slowly dissipate. When we learn to deepen our sense of place within the cycles of life, and realize we are all one and the same, we can begin to take positive steps towards more joy, compassion and kindness in our hearts.
If you haven’t already, please check out Jess’ beautiful blog entry last week on birdsong, and her wonderful recording of the dawn chorus by the River Wye. Now is a great time to truly enjoy the fullness of nature, to be inspired by springs energy and to explore and find your own inner creativity. I myself love the medium of photography, and so have shared below some of the moments of spring I’ve captured recently on my daily walks with my dog Sadie.
“Nature is not a place to visit, it is home”
Mindfulness Practice 4 – Moving Forward Mindfully
Throughout the course we have addressed the basics of formal and informal practice, of sitting and walking meditation and of learning to eat and drink with more mindful attention. So how do we continue our mindfulness, and build on these practices so that they can become a natural part of our being? This is where I’d like to talk about embodied presence. In all of the practices described so far we have been looking at becoming more bodily aware. Bringing more mindful attention to our lives happens when we train ourselves to have that embodied presence. By regularly returning our attention to our bodies, what we are sensing, thinking, feeling and what is arising around us in the wider environment, we are cultivating embodied presence, and in doing that, we begin to create the habit of mindfulness.
Earlier in the course I mentioned a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh that said ‘the breath acts like a bridge between our body and mind’. By bringing attention regularly to our breath, we make that connection to mind and body and very quickly and simply ground ourselves back in the moment. In this way we can mindfully follow our breath with any activity we are doing throughout the day, from taking a shower, to buttering your toast, we can notice the breath and then tune into what is arising in that moment for us. Is there any striving or worrying occurring? Is there a desire to ‘get this out the way’ or are you perhaps lost in thoughts about the day ahead or worries in the future? By learning to be more embodied and improving our quality of attention, we can transform our experience moment to moment, and begin to cultivate a deeper sense of ourselves and how our minds are navigating us throughout the day.
So, in the final part of our mindfulness offerings, I’d like to share here some simple suggestions that I found useful during my own training, with the lovely Ros Sandhu of Brecon Mindfulness www.breconmindfulness.com. These easy to approach ‘mindful moments’ can be introduced into your daily routines, and work perfectly alongside the more formal practices we’ve already covered in the course:
Pause to Breathe: Stop, Look, Listen
A simple way to begin cultivating more mindful daily moments is to practice pausing. As often as you can remember try to take more moments to just pause throughout your day. When you catch yourself in a moment, just pause there, take a few breaths and really notice what is arising for you at that time and in your environment. Can you bring your attention to the sensations you are experiencing, the contact points of your body whether sitting or standing, how hot or cold you may be feeling and what your overall bodily sense is in that moment; tiredness, happiness, stressful? What’s occurring around you in your immediate view?
Ros summarises the activity in 3 simple steps:
Stop – pause and stop whatever you’re engaged in at that moment
Look – notice what is arising around you at that time
Listen – to what’s occurring in your body without judgement or trying to change anything
Finish by taking a few deep breaths and then return your attention to the activity you were doing.
Bells of Mindfulness
In this second suggestion you’re invited to find something in your day to day environment that could be used as a ‘wake up’ bell to the present moment. This could be walking through a particular door each day, hearing a dog bark, getting into your car, anything that is fairly unobtrusive but that could be utilised, as Ros describes, as a kind of ‘mindfulness buddy’, to help bring you out of your autopilot and back into yourself for a few mindful moments.
In this third and final exercise, select an activity that already forms part of your daily routine and then choose to do this mindfully. This could be walking your dog, brushing your teeth or making your first cuppa of the morning. When you do the activity, consciously choose to do it in a mindful way. Tune into your breath, notice the sensations of breathing and then watch, listen and feel your way through the activity. How do you move your body, how does it know what to do and where to move, notice your hands and feet, whatever it may be just notice it and breathe.
“Unless we seek to integrate mindfulness into our daily practice, we will hinder its potential. When we can combine daily formal practice with the intention to be mindful as much as possible throughout the day, we enable mindfulness to flow into our life and into our habits of mind, offering the opportunity for transformation and growth”
Ros Sandhu, Brecon Mindfulness
Nature Connection Activity 4 – A ‘Natural Self’ Vision Board
Time: as long as you like
Items you may need:
NB. All of the above items are optional as it depends on the approach you want to take with your vision board. You could do this on your laptop with your own photos or googled images to print out, or you may want to work straight onto your card or paper using art materials and/or collected items from nature. Depending on what materials you have to hand, its entirely up to you how you choose to execute your final board vision.
Firstly, find somewhere comfortable and begin by grounding yourself as practiced in the sitting meditation. Take 5-10mins and begin to soften the mind and its thoughts, relax your body from head to toe and allow yourself just to be. Quiet, noticing the breath, still.
You’re now going to take yourself off for a walk, preferably to a place you can reach close to home, or you can just take yourself to a nice a spot in your garden where you can sit for a while. You may want to have your journal and smartphone/camera with you to capture thoughts and images during your time out.
As you begin your walk, or take your seat in the garden, take some deeper changing breaths and begin to feel yourself ‘arrive’ in the space and just be with it for a couple of minutes. What do you see, what can you feel and hear? Just breath and allow yourself to embody the space and all that is arising around you. Once you feel settled and calm (walking or sitting) begin to ask yourself the following questions:
As the picture of your wild self emerges, begin to note down your thoughts and the images that come into your mind. Really allow your imagination to be free and feel into this wild being. There are no restrictions or rules, no right or wrong ways to think and no expectations. As in previous activities, allow the child within to engage with the activity and just be playful with whatever comes to mind naturally.
“You were wild once, don’t let them tame you”
Take as long as you wish with the exercise. Your wild self may project itself quite quickly, or it may take time to simmer and reveal itself slowly. Go with your instinct and enjoy the time for as long or as little as you wish. Once you feel ready you can get creative with your board. This can take shape in any form as I mentioned above, either by finding imagery online or through magazines, or even sketching or drawing your visions and ideas. You can also cut out words that you’re drawn to, or collect and add items you’ve found in nature to give your board a more 3D effect. This is all about your own expression, from the heart, from your feelings, from your instincts.
Once you’ve finished your board, perhaps keep it somewhere you can notice it regularly, as a gentle reminder of what helps you to connect more deeply with your true self and the world around you.
Thank you for participating in the course. We hope you’ve found some of the practices and activities useful and would love to hear your feedback or for you to share any of your experiences with us. You can email us or leave a comment via the link below.