Skip to content

Quitting The Quick-Fix: Mindfulness As A Lifelong Practice

This year marks my 10-year mindfulness anniversary, since I first went on an 8-week ‘Mindfulness for Stress’ course. And I think I’m learning more now than I ever have.

When I embarked on the course, dedicating a whole 2 months to something felt like quite a big undertaking. We live in such a quick-fix culture, and with so many approaches that promise instant stress relief, I guess I thought that an 8-week mindfulness course must get me sorted by the end of it, right?

Well, thankfully I had access to great teachers who helped me realise that to really get the benefits, I’d need to approach mindfulness as an ongoing practice, not a quick fix.

As a mindfulness teacher now myself, I realise that we don’t believe that anyone who comes to a class needs ‘fixing’ anyway. It’s about becoming more human (not less so), and finding ways to live this human life with greater ease.

In my case, I’d tried so many quick fixes for anxiety during my 20s, but mindfulness is the only thing that’s stuck, and continues to ‘work’. It’s a total gamechanger.

And it doesn’t just ‘work’, it continues to develop, as I deepen my meditation practice. Even after 10 years, I’m still learning so much. About myself. About life. It’s helped me enormously so far, and yet in some ways I feel like I’m only just getting started, and I’m eager to keep exploring.

The first big shift for me was finding freedom from anxiety. Currently, my practice is helping me to open to a more joyful life. Looking at all the positive changes in me over the last decade, who knows how the practice might change me even more deeply, given another 10 years?

So I think it’s important that mindfulness doesn’t become something that we tick off and forget about. While an 8-week course is a great starting point, it’s definitely not an end point: mindfulness is a life-long practice. Remembering this can be really helpful once the course stops, because life doesn’t stop.

While there’s no defined end point to reach in our practice, there is a constant development. We don’t talk about ‘getting better’ at mindfulness, but rather ‘going deeper’ in our practice… getting to know ourselves more intimately, so that we can find increasingly greater ease and freedom, even when life is difficult.

This ongoing development is why I teach classes throughout the year, to support a growing community of people who continue to explore together and make new discoveries.

Some of these insights are that mindfulness isn’t about controlling our feelings, fixing ourselves, or getting rid of so-called negative emotions. Instead, it’s about becoming more comfortable with the full range of our human experience. This is a gradual – but transformative – process. It’s profoundly freeing. But reversing the patterns we’ve built up over decades can’t happen instantly.

So, if you have the courage to keep exploring, to commit to going deeper in your practice, then you’ll discover this freedom for yourself. If you ask me, it’s totally worth it!

If you liked this post, you might also like:

10 Ways Mindfulness Has Made Me Happier

4 Ways To Make Meditation Easier

For more writings, guided meditations and more, visit my resources site Lollipop Wellbeing

Making The Most Of Messing Up

Today didn’t go quite how I had planned.

I had planned a day trip with our son to a geology shop and museum in a nearby town. It would be – I thought – a nice easy short train trip and a chance to explore somewhere new.

What actually happened was that I didn’t check the trains beforehand and there was a rail strike, which meant far less trains were running. Then I miscalculated the walking distance between stations and we just missed our train. After waiting an hour for the next one, it got cancelled. By this time I’d also realised that the packed lunch I’d been organised enough to prepare was not in my bag, but left behind at home. Oh, and the kid-friendly restaurant I thought would be a good plan B had closed down…

My initial response was anger – at myself for messing up, at the rail company, at whoever I could blame. I managed not to say the f word out loud (though I may have said it silently to myself), and I may have actually stamped my foot in frustration. But it took less than a minute for a more mindful response to kick in. I could make a choice. I could either let the day be ‘ruined’, or I could open myself up to something unplanned.

As we wandered out of the station, my son practically squealed with delight to find that we’d emerged by his favourite city water feature – some streams with mini-waterfalls. Who says leaf racing is only for summer days? Following his lead, I quickly let go of any lingering disappointment, and found the joy in cheering on my leafy competitor. After that we headed into the nearby football museum for some air hockey, followed by lunch at the science museum, and what the boy described as some ‘quality time’ building with construction toys together.

Today didn’t go quite how I planned. It was much more fun that I could ever have planned.

For more writings, guided meditations and more, visit my resources site Lollipop Wellbeing

How I Eliminated My To-Do List

I’ve been fantasising about life without a To Do list for a really long time.

It’s not so much the actual things on the list that I find tricky. It’s the drive to try to get to the end of the list. When I’m in that list-conquering mode of powering through, ticking things off, I’m feeling physically clenched & tight, as I grasp for that elusive end point. The one that never comes.

For years I’ve used that well-known system of having 2 lists – one for Later, which is pretty massive, all the things I want to get to at some point. I don’t look at that one very often. And a much shorter one for Priority tasks – this is pulled from the big list, and only has about 7-9 things on it at once. And yet, something about this small list was still bothering me.

Then I had a bit of a lightbulb moment. I also have another To Do list that doesn’t weigh so heavy. One that works with me, not against me. That list is a small whiteboard where I keep track of things I want to do with (or for) our son – buy a particular resource, research a potential day out, find an activity idea related to an interest of his. It’s a grid of 9 boxes, and in each one I write one thing I want to do.  Whatever I’ve put in each box gets rubbed out and refilled as one thing is done and the next idea comes along to fill its space. And here’s the thing. I don’t resent filling up those spaces again, and it doesn’t make me feel defeated. Why? Because for one thing, it’s not organised as a list, with a top and a bottom.

That struck me as pretty radical. And it also made total sense. In a hugely outcome-driven culture, a list is yet one more way that I was staying hooked on getting somewhere.

I began to wonder, what if my Priority list was arranged more like my family activities board, so that it didn’t have a top and a bottom?

Sure enough, there’s an app for that – and now I have a ‘list’ that looks more like a wheel, or a flower, (or a wonky kind of grid): it says Next in the middle, and has tasks written around that in a kind of circle. Maybe it’s a To Do sheet instead of a list.

And it feels different. It doesn’t matter so much if I don’t clear anything off it. I can do one thing, and not feel quite so driven to get to the next thing down on the list – which makes it easier to let go and take a break. I also put less time & energy into deciding what should be at the top.

It’s been very freeing. I haven’t got rid of things that I need or want to do – it’s the list format that I eliminated. And without that, I just don’t have to get to the end of anything before I can relax. It’s helped me to shift my mindset from the product of a crossed-off list, to the process of a fully-lived life.  When I do complete something, I’m not crossing it off, so much as opening up a spot for something else. I’m not trying to make it shorter, I’m keeping it full with things that matter.

I once read a great quote about how the only time we will have no To Do list is when we are dead. It really made me appreciate not only the futility in trying to get to the end of the list, but also the vitality inherent in that collection of intentions, tasks and ideas – the evidence of a life being lived, day by day. And not rushing to get to ‘the end’ of that life.

For more writings, guided meditations and more, visit my resources site Lollipop Wellbeing

Meeting The Warrior Within

I’ve been reflecting recently about a certain type of loss. When you lose a sense of ‘who you are’. It happened to me 6 years ago, and it was scary. But I also discovered the renewal that’s possible when you embrace it.

For me, this experience was triggered by the last in a long line of pregnancy losses. As I began to accept that our son would never have the sibling I’d hoped for, there was a kind of grief that I really struggled to meet. Eventually I realised I was mourning a certain version of ‘me’ – the one whose life had turned out a particular way, how I’d imagined it.

Until that point in my life, how many times had I not achieved something I wanted? Or not fixed my pain by filling the hole with something else? None.

Initially, I tried to fill the hole left by this loss of ‘who I was’ with work – falling back on achievement as a possible antidote, a way to shore up my tattered identity. Thankfully I saw pretty quickly that it wasn’t working, and took refuge instead in my mindfulness practice.

And it was here that I met the warrior within, via the practices of ‘turning towards’ and self-kindness.

The title of this post comes from a line in one of my favourite poems, Jennifer Welwood’s Unconditional:

“Turning to face my fear, I meet the warrior within;

Opening to my loss, I gain the embrace of the universe”.

It takes a massive amount of courage to accept feelings of loss and sadness, without trying to fix them – to open to them instead, fully feel them and let them transform you. At first I feared that turning towards these feelings would keep me stuck in them. But I discovered the opposite: it freed me to move forward, into something new and unknown.

As Donald Rothberg puts it, “if we can have the courage to stay with the not-knowing, stay with the difficult, something quite beautiful can come out of that, something creative and generative and fertile… there can be light that comes from being with the darkness…”

For me, an experience of deep loss was painful, but has also been the doorway to an awakening – I’ve learned so much, and I’ve grown so much. I’d never have thought I’d have the patience, courage and energy to be the kind of parent that I am. Nor could I have predicted the immensely deep joy I experience with every step in the adventure of raising our incredible little boy. Or that I’d have the skills and the confidence to be helping other people to find freedom from stress and anxiety. And all of that has unfolded because loss opened that doorway to something unknown, and I walked through it.

This isn’t a tale of ‘everything happens for a reason’ (personally I’ve never found that view helpful when dealing with loss). But it is a tale of the power of acceptance and trust – that life may not always go the way we’d like, but that we can learn that we’re so much more than we think we are. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says “To be a good warrior, one has to feel sad and lonely, but rich and resourceful at the same time”.

Ultimately, loss opened me up, instead of shutting me down. I thought I’d lost ‘myself’, but it made me more than I was, not less than. More human. More present. More committed to making a positive contribution. And so much more alive.

For more writings, guided meditations and more, visit my resources site Lollipop Wellbeing

If you found this post helpful, you might also like these pieces where I described how I practised ‘turning towards’ and self-kindness during those difficult times:

How To Be Happy, Just As You Are

Making Friends With My Anxiety

Human, Not Broken

I was at the cinema recently, watching an extremely emotional film that featured a number of scenes that I found very sad and moved me to tears. What interested me was that in the audience was a large group of teenagers, whose response to these moments was to laugh.  I wondered if this was because they didn’t quite know what else to do, faced with this emotionally charged story in front of their mates. I might well have done the same when I was younger.

It got me thinking about my own journey with mindfulness, how the starting point for me was finding myself in a life situation that confronted me with deep sadness.  And not having a clue how to respond to that.  Not knowing how to feel sad.  Because it had never been modelled or encouraged in a healthy way.

These days, I see that I had often mislabelled my sadness as depression.  I was fixated on fixing things, and calling it depression opened the door for a treatment plan to fix it. It was easier to believe there was something wrong with me than to accept that being human comes with emotions that can be deeply uncomfortable. But when I began experiencing recurrent miscarriages in my 30s, I experienced a sadness that I didn’t want to fix, because grieving was needed. And sadness can be beautiful.

Similarly, in my younger years I’d picked up the idea that the feeling of anxiety is somehow wrong or bad.  I went through a few years of experiencing intense anxiety and in retrospect, one of the things that made it particularly difficult was that I was convinced that experiencing anxiety was proof that there was something wrong with me.  I don’t wish to belittle how debilitating strong anxiety can feel, and at times the support of a skilled therapist is helpful to navigate the terrain when it gets rough (I’ve been there).  But it was only once I stopped seeing anxiety as some kind of defect or failure that I began to free myself from this distorted demonising of feelings that are a completely natural part of the human experience.

I’d spent my teens and early 20s trying to be some sort of robot that only experienced shiny, happy ‘positive’ emotions. And that’s how I felt – like a robot going through the motions, not fully alive somehow. When I discovered mindfulness in my 30s, I began to broaden my emotional repertoire, and become fully human. I learned that I could cope with feelings of anxiety, sadness, shame… and open to much greater joy, beauty and gratitude.

I learned that feelings are not facts.  They are not who we are.  They are emotional energies that are part of being human.  They go with the territory.

Feelings arise.   And they pass.  If we let them.

This is an area that is ever-present for me as a parent.  Like any human being, my son experiences strong emotions at times.  And for me, also being human, it’s uncomfortable to witness that.  But I have learned that in those moments, the most unhelpful thing I can do is try to ‘fix it’ for him.  This is where I lean into the practice of compassion – for my son, for myself, and for the feeling that is arising and needing to be felt.  When I can make space for my son to feel whatever he is feeling, without labelling it as ‘bad’ or unwanted, and without trying to fix it, something magical happens.  It passes on through, like a wave that rises and then breaks.

I know that my son will have to tread his own path in life, and learn to find his own response to difficult experiences.  But I hope that I can give him a foundation of meeting those experiences with compassionate awareness, and emotional confidence.  I hope that he will grow up knowing that no emotion is a defect.

As the poet Linda France puts it, ‘we are not broken; we are alive’ (thank you Singhashri for that quote).

If you found this post helpful, you may also like:

‘Meeting The Warrior Within’

How To Be Happy, Just As You Are’

For additional blogs, guided meditations and more, visit my resources site Lollipop Wellbeing