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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

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

What Does My Meditation Practice Look Like, Really?

I love meditation. Well I do now.

For quite a number of years, I wouldn’t have said I enjoyed it, but I certainly got alot out of it.  I kept going regardless, because the more I did it, the better I seemed to cope with whatever life was throwing at me.  Even if I spent most sessions watching my thoughts on their usual loops, or sitting with uncomfortable emotions, overall I wasn’t feeling quite so overwhelmed by life’s ups and downs.

So by now, 9 or so years down the line, it feels quite natural do some meditation pretty much every day.  And yes, I even enjoy it now (once, I’d never have imagined myself saying that!).

I’m often asked how much I meditate.  Here’s one answer to that question.

Some days, it looks like this:

  • Early morning 20-minute meditation – at the moment, usually a kindness practice.
  • Plus an early evening 30-50 minute practice – typically a version of a breathing meditation.*

When it’s possible to do that much practice, I definitely notice the positive impact on how I feel in the rest of my life.

But of course, the ‘schedule’ I’ve outlined above isn’t always possible.  I’d be lying if I said it was.

So some days, my practice looks more like this:

  • Wake up later (after being out the night before) and skip morning meditation in a rush to get out the door on time.
  • Remind myself I can practice on the train by bringing awareness to my breath, the motion of the train, the feel of my feet on the floor etc, without needing to close my eyes.
  • Become aware that I’m mentally beating myself up about a conversation I had yesterday… practice self-kindness by offering myself some words of comfort.
  • Have a mindful cuppa after lunch – looking at the sky, not at my phone.
  • Feeling stiff and scrunched up in my body… do a few mindful movements, possibly with my son joining in/offering his suggestions for variation.
  • Get outside for 5 minutes… take in the feeling of air against my skin, and the sights and sounds around me.
  • Realise hubby is working late which throws off my evening meditation sit… chop veggies mindfully (they call this ‘working meditation’ on retreat after all).
  • Listen to a short meditation together with my son as he settles before bedtime.
  • Notice I’m tempted to stay up late scrolling through social media… lie on the living room floor for a few minutes to bring awareness into my body, then decide an early-ish night is quite appealing.

And actually, that’s quite alot of practice in a day.  It can be so easy to get hung up on sitting meditation that we overlook how mindfulness shows up in our day – which is the whole point after all!  I find that the line between ‘practice’ and ‘living’ gets more blurred over time, so that a day without meditation isn’t necessarily a day without mindfulness.

Where might you find those moments of living-as-practice in your own life?

*Remember I said I’ve been practising for over 9 years, I certainly wouldn’t suggest that a beginner should aim for a 50-minute sit! 10 minutes is plenty to start off with…

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With much kindness,