The story of Little Miss Mindful…

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Have you ever heard the story about Little Miss Mindful? No? Well it starts some years ago, when she was still known as Little Miss Autopilot….

Back then she lived in a flat that didn’t really seem big enough to accommodate all of her belongings – although she always said she was definitely going to tackle all the piles of clutter one day when there wan’t something more important to deal with first… – and she worked in the City in an admin role. It wasn’t a bad job but it certainly didn’t set her soul alive. She had just sort of drifted into the position but, in between filing and typing up correspondence, she would often daydream about finding her true vocation.

She had to commute daily on the tube and she didn’t enjoy it. All the people pushing and shoving, reading newspapers in her face or elbowing her to try and make more room in an already sardine-filled carriage. But that’s just life, she thought. Most people get up and do the same tedious things every day, don’t they? I mean, nobody ever said adult life was going to be easy, did they…. She could hear the voice of her parents in the background: “You have a good job and a roof over your head…what more do you want?”

Yes, she should just be grateful and count her blessings.

Then one evening at home she was watching the film Groundhog Day on TV and the next morning she couldn’t get it out of her mind. The alarm going off at the same time every day, the same cup of coffee every morning, the same trudge to the station, the same stressful commute, the same daydreams at work about finding a more inspirational job or winning the lottery…

As she shut the door that day to leave the office, she decided to walk a different way to the station. Along the way she passed a little bookshop and noticed a small book in the window entitled Mindfulness: a guide to not living a “groundhog day” existence. Curious, she went in to have a look.

She opened the cover and found a list of questions…

Do you feel like you are existing rather than living?

Hmm maybe…

Do you feel like your life is over-cluttered?

Er I guess so…

Do you ever drive somewhere but can’t remember the journey when you arrive at your destination?

Yes!

Do you spend all your spare moments fiddling with your phone or checking Facebook?

Yes!

Do you want to make changes to your life but that thought scares you?

Yes!

Then this is the book for you…

She carried on reading, scouring through the tips and advice, and decided to buy the book. Buoyed up by the thought of improving her life through small changes she made her way home but, before she had even stepped foot into her flat, the self-doubt had already started creeping in.

She was too busy.

She didn’t have time.

She had tried to sort her life out before but nothing ever came of it.

Remembering the image from her little book, of the mind being like a restless monkey jumping from branch to branch, she acknowledged the thoughts and then let them go.

The next morning she walked a different way to the tube station, taking in the sights and sounds, and that was the only change she made for a while. Then she decided to tackle the clutter in her flat…and it wasn’t as bad as she had thought. She did a little bit each day until one day there was no more clutter to clear. It made her feel so much lighter and she realised that she had never needed all that stuff in the first place.

Eventually she was brave enough to consider looking for another job and now, many years later, though she still has to work daily at being mindful, it has become a habit.

The moral of the story is that there is a Little Miss Mindful (or Mr Mindful!) inside all of us if we give them the chance to come out.

No amount of security is worth the suffering of a mediocre life chained to a routine that has killed your dreams. -Maya Mendoza

How broken is beautiful…

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There is an old saying

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”

and I have experienced this myself on numerous occasions throughout my life…most recently with my 2 year old son Matteo.

Like many 2 year old boys, he has a thing for objects with wheels and, at the moment, a particular penchant for a toy car that is actually missing a couple of its wheels and has a rather ugly cracked and broken bonnet. He doesn’t seem at all fazed by this though and still adores the car. I, on the other hand, am rather embarrassed by his love of carrying it around when we go out and find myself excusing it to people we meet. “Oh dear, we must throw that away mustn’t we…”, I say to him within earshot of those around while thinking there is no way I can really throw it away because he will be so upset.

Anyway, the other day while Matteo was happily playing with his broken car at home, I was rushing around trying to get jobs done and clean the house up before it was time to go and pick up his older brother from school. I was overwhelmed by the amount of things to do and wondered if there would ever be a day when I truly felt that I was on top of the to-do list and that the house was really clean and tidy, with everything in its rightful place. I decided to make myself a cup of tea and, while the kettle was boiling, I flicked through Pinterest. Suddenly and randomly a pin about Kintsukuroi came up….

Kintsukuroi (or kintsugi) is a Japanese tradition of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powered gold, silver or platinum. The philosophy behind it is to treat the break and repair as part of the history of an object which ultimately makes it more beautiful rather than just damaged and broken. The repair is, therefore, not hidden but actually highlighted to show how the breakage has enhanced the object.

This concept really resonated with me and I thought immediately of Matteo and his broken car. That little toy had given him so many hours of enjoyment that he didn’t mind that it was no longer looking its best. I realised that, if anything, the fact that it didn’t look perfect any more was testament to the amount of joy it had given him and something to regard with happiness rather than scorn and embarrassment.

This lead me to think about my house and the fact that I rarely felt at ease with it; the clutter, the piles of laundry, the handprints and scuffs on the walls, the children’s toys etc. Yet all these things were part of the house and our family…these were the things that made our house a home and brought it alive. It simply wouldn’t be a family home without them.

Then I started to think about two of my favourite things to do in my spare time…to walk in nature and to visit old, historical places. I reflected on why I enjoy these activities so much and it is because they both feel soulful somehow…alive and brimming with stories. The old tree with missing branches, the ruins of a former castle….these are not perfect but so much more beautiful and interesting because of their imperfections.

I decided to patch the toy car up with coloured tape and thank my little “teacher” with a big hug.

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. (Leonard Cohen)

 

 

Letting Go…

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So, the summer is gradually drawing to an end and the autumn is slowly creeping in, with its spectacular hues and cascades of leaves. For me, it is always tinged slightly with sadness at the thought of another summer over, but I do rather love the colours it brings, as well as that warm and cosy feeling of starting to wear hats and scarves and drinking cocoa by the fire.

Whilst browsing the internet the other day, I came across the quote

Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go (unknown)

and I realised that I had never really considered the season that way; as a very vivid and glorious “laying to rest” part of nature’s ever-renewing cycle rather than just a “coming to an end and dying” part; as nature adding one final and magnificent burst of colour to its palette before putting things to sleep for the winter so that they can rest, restore and eventually renew. That really is very beautiful and also, I think, rather more positive than sad.

The very essence of “letting go” does always seem to be sad somehow but it is something we have to do all the time and the sooner we become comfortable with it, the easier we will find our daily lives. I know that I certainly find things easier when I am more fluid and less resistant to change. But when I dig my heals in and refuse to go with the flow, that is when I start to have problems and feel frustrated.

By clinging on to situations, people or thoughts that do not help us, we stop ourselves from being open to numerous other possibilities. Life will always continue to move forward, however much we may want to stop it and try to keep things as they are or once were. The seasons will change, whether we want them to or not, and we can fight that (and make ourselves extremely miserable in the process!) or we can go with it and take the good from each one…but change they will. And it is necessary that they do so. And by looking at the seasons this way I think we can find it easier to adapt to changes ourselves and to have more trust in the rhythms of our own lives. I hope so anyway….

When she finally learned how to let go of the things that didn’t matter, she discovered all the things that really did. (unknown)

What my children have taught me about mindfulness…

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If you want to witness true mindfulness at play just observe children; they really know how to live in the moment and we can learn such a lot from them.

I have certainly learnt a lot from my boys, for example:

  • when they are really enjoying their food, nothing else matters. They devour it with all their senses, fully taking in all the smells, the colours and the feel.

I had to smile the other day when I watched my 4 year old eating an ice cream as he was clearly in ecstasy and feasting on that delight was the only thing that mattered to him at that very moment. Of course,  the same goes for when they don’t like a particular food and the reaction is often quite candid (and perhaps even embarrassing if you are in public) but, in some ways, it is quite nice to see such brutal honesty when we grown-ups are all dancing around each other and often hiding our true feelings.

  • when I watch them fully absorbed in play it is truly a thing of beauty; their imaginations run wild and their is no limit to what they can do and see. It’s a pity that the same can’t be said of us adults, with all the daily chores and deadlines. When do we stop playing and start getting so serious about everything?
  • they say what they feel, truly and openly. Ok, so having my oldest son announce that “his bum was itchy” while over at a friend’s house the other day was slightly cringey but it was also very funny and, again, I admired his openness. He is teaching me to be less embarrassed and to give less importance to what other people think (…not that I plan to start making such announcements any time soon!).
  • they view the world with such excitement and without the judgement that older people do. Everything offers the possibility of a new adventure or experience and they fully embrace that with openness and positivity.
  • they don’t hold on to feelings. One moment they can be in the midst of a full melt-down and the next very happily playing again. They truly show us that each day offers the chance of a brand new start.

For me,  William Blake captures the purity and enthusiasm of childhood perfectly in the opening of his poem Auguries of Innocence

To see a World in a grain of sand.

And Heaven in a wild flower.

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand.

And Eternity in an hour.

– William Blake –

Can you find a silver lining…

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So, in my last blog post I wrote about getting out of a rut and doing simple things to make life feel less monotonous. Did it work? Actually yes, I tried out a couple of things which worked well…. and then I tripped at home and fractured my shoulder which could have been disastrous but, actually, in a funny way it has aided me with my goal.

How so?

Well, I currently can’t drive so, instead of using the car to save time, I have had to walk the school run and it has actually been easier and more pleasant than I had realised. I will definitely be doing it more even once my shoulder has healed.

Since I am having to walk everywhere now, I am getting out in the fresh air more and, fearing that I could fall again since I am slightly off balance with one arm in a sling, I am actually walking very mindfully too! One thing I have really noticed is how many people are walking around glued to their phone screens and it makes me wonder how more of us aren’t stumbling and hurting ourselves because of it!

Having the use of only one arm means that I am doing daily tasks more slowly which, though at times frustrating, is also helping me to be more mindful as I have to really concentrate on the task at hand.

Having to rely on others to help me, though equally frustrating at times, has helped me work on my patience and also realise how much I take my independence for granted. Washing my hair is now really tricky, for example, and it is actually a job that I usually don’t really enjoy (the blow drying rather than the actual washing) but now I can’t wait to be able to do it properly again and I think it will be quite some time before I moan about that particular job!

Whilst I have typed this post up myself, I do find it a lot more tricky currently with the shoulder situation so I have had to resort more to pen and paper for my notes (thank goodness my dominant hand/arm is ok…another silver lining). All this pen-writing is bringing back fond memories of my time as a student and the days before we all relied so heavily on technology.

It has also made me think about letter-writing. Why don’t we write letters any more? It was such a wonderful way to communicate and I always felt such excitement at the sight of a hand-written letter on the doormat. It makes me sad that our children may never experience that joy…so I have decided that I will write some letters to my boys for them to open when they are older. Right now I am not quite sure what I will write in them but I will think of something and keep them stashed away for a day in their future.

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I don’t know if you can find a silver lining for every situation but, if you look hard enough, I am sure you can gain something positive from a great majority of them. I certainly wouldn’t have thought a fractured shoulder could do me so much good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you stuck in a rut?

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I love being a mum but, like many parents, I can find myself stuck in a rut sometimes with the same routine repeating itself daily. Don’t get me wrong…I am extremely grateful for my family and my life, but I have to admit that I do feel a bit like I am living in the Truman show sometimes.

Just recently I came across this quote:

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

and it really got me thinking. I couldn’t answer it and it made me realise that this was probably the biggest thing that had changed since I had started a family; no longer really trying out new things and living almost entirely within my comfort zone.

Whilst it’s true that children need a routine, I think it’s also easy to use that as an excuse to keep doing the same thing every day….it can just feel like too much effort to branch out and try something different. But then I got thinking that “something different” didn’t have to mean huge, life-changing or immensely time-consuming activities but could simply be small changes incorporated into daily life…so I have come up with my own personal list of 7 things to try next week:

  • taking a different route on the school run
  • trying a new meal during the week
  • watching something I would never normally watch
  • buying a magazine on a subject I know nothing about
  • wearing colours I don’t usually wear
  • styling my hair differently
  • going for a mindful stroll once the kids are in bed

I remember when I was still working in the City how I often felt like a penguin, getting off the train and marching to the office along with everyone else…all of us in the same black/greyish attire. It doesn’t matter which direction your life has taken, you can still find yourself in a kind of “groundhog day” situation, where you take the same journey, eat the same food, wear the same sort of clothes and follow the same routine daily. I think finding little ways to break that monotony and inject some colour can make a big difference. Well, I plan to find out if that is the case by doing my little experiment next week…I will keep you posted. And maybe you will think of some little changes that you can make to your own daily routine to bring a greater sense of fun and pizzazz to your everyday life…..let me know if you do and we’ll have to swap notes!

What’s the rush?

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Day dreaming is one of my favourite hobbies (when I have the time, which is rare these days!) but just recently I found myself imagining another dimension where people still live the way we did in the 80s and early 90s. Just consider if those people suddenly found themselves in the world as we know it now, with all our modern cons and technology. What would they make of it?

First of all I expect they would probably wake up on a Monday morning to the buzzing or pinging of a smart phone and wonder what on earth it was. Upon being told that it is a portable telephone which they can use, among other things, to ‘surf the web’ and ‘keep up with Twitter’, they would probably think they were still asleep and dreaming. Surf the web? Keep up with Twitter? It would have sounded like a different language to us nearly 30 odd (30?? gulp!) years ago! Imagine their faces then at being told that you can not only call people with this portable gadget but you can also take very good quality photos, video special moments, store all your favourite music, send messages to people all over the world, pay for your car insurance, book your holidays, watch films etc. etc.

You just need to consider Back to the Future II’s vision of the future to see that we had very different ideas of technological advancement back then…we thought we would still be using fax machines now for one thing. (And I have to say that I am not really surprised that the dehydrated pizza idea never took off, though I am still quite taken with the idea of proper hoverboards).

Anyway, after coming to terms with smart phones, our friends from the past might be introduced to Facebook and question why people are posting things on there like photos of their dinner or information about their sleeping habits. On boarding a train or a bus they might be bemused to find that nobody looks up since they are all glued to the screen of their phones and, upon entering the office, they might have a colleague inform them of the question they just sent by email and wonder why this colleague didn’t just speak to them about it since they sit at the very next desk!

All these thoughts made me realise not only how much we rush but also how little we savour these days, compared to back then. It’s all now, now, now, in today’s world. We are reachable everywhere 24/7 due to mobiles and when people send texts or emails, they expect immediate answers (never mind what you happen to be doing or where you are at the time!). But, if like me you grew up in the 80s and 90s, you will probably remember:

  • calling your best friend on their landline and really hoping they would be in (and if they were, having a chat with their mum or dad first)
  • excitedly waiting to collect your developed holiday photos (despite the fact that half of them would either be missing heads or would have come out blurry)
  • making sure you were always on time to meet up with friends (since there was no way of letting them know you were running late)
  • delightedly discovering that your local video store had a copy of the film you wanted to watch (no downloading movies at the touch of a finger back then)
  • waiting with anticipation for your favourite group to release their latest album and then making a special trip into town to buy it (iTunes???)
  • only having 4 channels on TV but still managing to find something to watch (while now, with Netflix, there is never anything good on)
  • everyone staying in on Saturday afternoons to watch their favourite TV shows…and then discussing them at school on Monday (no catch-up TV!)
  • having to invent games and things to do on Sundays, since nothing was open (I remember how full of food our house was over the Christmas period when shops shut for days!)
  • …actually talking to people when you sat down to drink a coffee or eat a meal with them! (no comment!)

There is no doubt that technology has brought us lots of great things but a part of me is sad that our children will never know the less frantic world that some of us were privileged to grow up in. I guess all we can do is try to replicate some of it in their childhoods so they get to understand the joy of the simple things and the pleasure that comes with actually having to wait sometimes too!

 

Funny mummy musings…

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Before having children I had no idea what a baby Bjorn was and I thought a ‘travel system’ was a mode of public transport. Four and a half years into motherhood and I have wised up……a lot!

Here are just a few of my favourite funny mummy musings that I have either borrowed (with permission!), read or simply discovered myself:

1. ‘I used to wear Gucci Gold (perfume), now I wear SMA Gold’.

When my friend Nikki posted this as her FB status just a few months after becoming a mum, I felt that she had neatly summed up the culture shock that comes with motherhood in one nifty little sentence. I also remember the days when I had more time to get ready in the morning, to style my hair, put make-up on (have a shower….clean my teeth….go to the loo….you get my drift!). I love my boys so much and I would never want to go back to a time without them in my life but I do sometimes think back nostalgically to the more ‘styled’ me; a woman who never left the house with baby-food-encrusted or dribble-soaked tops on and who always had an array of smart and clean clothes hanging in the wardrobe to choose from.

2. Poonami

The tidal wave of poo that usually comes at the most inconvenient moment…..like when you are out and about and just used your last baby wipe or when your little one hasn’t been for a couple of days and decides to have a poo explosion when you have just nipped out with no spare set of clothes and are nowhere near a toilet. “We are only going to be out for 5 minutes, it’ll be fine”…sound familiar??

3. The “mummy-no-eat” radar

Until I had a child of my own, I never realised that new-borns come fully equipped with an in-built feature to try and help you lose your pregnancy weight. Though they may be sleeping deeply while you prepare your meal or while you are waiting for it in a café, the minute you put fork to mouth a special wave of information seems to be transmitted to them which wakes them up instantly and makes them cry. This feature then evolves as they grow up and continues in the form of toddlers who never let you eat biscuits, cakes, sweets etc. and who always find your food far more enticing than their own…..even when it is exactly the same!!

4. Threenager

As Luca approached his second birthday, Paul and I braced ourselves for the ‘terrible twos’…..but they never really came and we congratulated ourselves on having a child who was obviously just ‘too sweet’ for such a thing. Then he hit 3 and we truly were not prepared for some of the outbursts that made scenes from the Exorcist look quite tame. Stomping of feet, slamming of doors, strange and scary tone to the voice…..if we hadn’t been so taken aback by these unexpected tantrums from our ‘little angel’, I think we might have actually found the drama quite funny.

5. I’m the mummy

My own personal threenager then turned four(ty) and, for a while, it was like having a little police officer following me around at home telling me what’s what! ‘No mummy, you don’t hold the train like that.’ ‘Well done mummy, you can have a sticker for being a good girl’. He is now four and  a half and at school and, while we may have survived and surpassed the threenager stage, we actually now look back at those times with some fondness as that was when our oldest was definitely still a little boy, while now he is starting to look (and sound!) all grown up…..it’s ok though as we have our other son (Matteo, 21 months) to remind us of those beloved tantrumy times since he seems to have started the “terrible twos” a few months early!

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(image from Pinterest; main image from http://www.123rf.com)

What I have learned (so far!) as a mum….

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I have been a mum for nearly 1700 days and, in that time, I have learnt the following:

1.You never stop learning….

So never get too cocky and think you have this mother thing all sussed out!

2.Life as a parent is both extremely predictable and extremely unpredictable…

The meals, the wake-up calls, the bath times, the school runs etc. take place every day but things like unexpected moods or illness can happen out of the blue, with no forewarning whatsoever (and often just before a big event or holiday)!

3.The days really are long and the years are short (quote by Gretchen Rubin)…

A day can seem to go on forever sometimes (especially when you’ve had little sleep!) but then suddenly your child reaches another birthday and you wonder where on Earth the year has gone.

4.Being a mum can really hurt sometimes….

Like when you see your child having to struggle with something or when you are fighting exhaustion and feeling a bit overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being a parent.

5.The little moments make the best memories….

Those funny things that kids come out with, the way they dissolve into fits of giggles over something silly or how they come and sit next to you and lean their head on your shoulder. When I look back at my own childhood, I realise it wasn’t big parties, expensive gifts or holidays that I particularly remember with most fondness, but simple things like us all eating dinner on trays in front of the TV as a special treat or being allowed to stay up a little later at the weekend.

6. The best way to deal with parenthood (in my experience) is…

One day at a time and focussed on the present. We mums tend to worry about all the things we didn’t do in the past and/or all the things we need to do in the future but it means we can miss an awful lot of good stuff in the here and now. It probably also means we are often beating ourselves up and not seeing all the good that we do.

7. Sometimes you miss the old (pre-kids) version of yourself….

And then you remember that having kids has, in many ways, made you stronger, more determined…..and more loving!

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(image from Pinterest/ main image from http://www.123rf.com)