Kindly Remember: You are responsible for your own actions in all respects.
Always follow the protocols and rules of your government health departments, hospital, clinic or practice.
Advice by an experienced psychologist and trauma counsellor. Read more Here. (this will open in a new tab.)
Download contents here:
Throughout uncertain waiting and vital focus during emergencies, you may at times vaguely become aware that you feel vulnerable, unsettled, scared and groundless. However the groundedness you need is not in the space around you, but in the space within you. Start just there. That is where love, wisdom, grace, and compassion reside.What will keep you going throughout is to lean in often with open honesty about your difficult experience, but lightly…and to acknowledge your experience with grace and kindness for yourself.
Breathe in… lean in… and go…
1. Short & Easy Deep Breathing
- This deep breathing exercise is a more oxygen per breath exercise.
- Do this exercise as it comes to you (maybe every now and then when you wash your hands).
- If you can, sit or stand up straight, but body posture does not matter.
- Take a slow and deep in-breath until you feel the air in your neck.
- Hold for a moment, and exhale deeply and slowly through your nostrils.
- Do this for a few times. Notice the flow of breath and how your upper-body feels when you breathe very deeply.
- After the last exhalation, swallow the saliva in your mouth.
2. A Healer’s Mindful Walk
- You are walking to wash your hands, or to attend to the next patient.
- For one or two seconds, pause and try to shift your focus from your mind’s overthinking, to your body posture.
- Take a deep breath in, and when breathing out, relax your jaw, your neck and shoulders and your stomach.
- Just for the first few steps, become aware how you lift your foot and put in down in front of you – first your heel and then your toes.
- If you want to, do this short mindful walk for your previous patient. Every time you breathe out, let go of everything that is not yours to carry.
3. Putting On or Taking Off Healers’ Protective Gear
- Just before you put on or take off your protective gear, pretend that you have a pause button on the palm of your hand.
- As you “press” this button, remind yourself: “I am here for me now”. Try to be just in this moment.
- Breathe slowly in through your nose, and out through your mouth.
- While putting your gear on or off, try to do this a little slower than usual. Become fully aware of each bodily movement, each action.
- Do this knowingly with loving kindness towards yourself.
4. A Short Grounding Exercise during Chaos or Trauma
- When it is safe and possible, withdraw from the situation for one or two minutes, physically or in your mind.
- When you breathe in, think of the number “one”. When breathing out, relax your forehead. When you breathe in, think of the number “two”. When breathing out, relax your neck and shoulders. When you breathe in, think of the number “three”. When you breathe out, relax your stomach. Repeat if possible.
- Become aware of your surroundings, as if for the first time.
- Remind yourself: “I can be anxious/tired/upset and still deal with this situation.”
- Repeat your chosen mantra such as: Every day in every way I am becoming better and better .
5. Taking a Break while Handwashing
- Just before you start washing or disinfecting your hands, take a few seconds to give yourself acknowledgement for the reason why it is necessary: You tried to help, or heal. Make sure to give yourself a smile.
- While you focus on washing your hands, become aware of each part of your hands. Try to become aware of thankfulness – that these hands can make a difference.
- Before you go again to help with these hands, hold your left hand for a moment with your right hand while reminding yourself: “With these hands I am doing the best I can, and that is more than good enough.”
6. Being Able to Take a Mindful Rest during COVID-19
- Do a quick Breathing Howzit Exercise: Lean in lightly, and become aware of your thoughts, pleasant and unpleasant feelings, as well as your bodily sensations. Do this without trying to change them or judging them. These difficult feelings may just remind you that what you are trying to do is important to you.
- On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being the most difficult moment ever and 10 being the best moment ever), where are you now? Try to accept wherever you are with no judgment or expectations. You are doing the best you can.
- Then, return to mindful breathing. Breathe in through your nose for 3 counts, pause, and breathe out through your mouth for 4 counts. Do this for 3 to 5 minutes if possible.
- Become aware of your surroundings: what sounds can you become aware of… without having an opinion about them or judging them.
- Do the free Breathing Mindfully session which you can access HERE at 360Smartly.com if possible.(This will open in a new tab.)
7. Dealing with Difficult People during COVID-19
- Colleagues, clients or family of clients may act unfairly in these difficult times. Try not to make it about yourself. They are just desperate, worried or tired.
- Do the Mindfulness BOLD-exercise:
- B- Breathe consciously (three times in and out)
- O- Observe your difficult thoughts and feelings (“This is unfair. I did my best.” “I am so disappointed that they can’t see that I did everything I could.”)
- L – Listen to your values and needs. (I am usually professional and caring. I need some support or breathing space.”)
- D – Do what you need (not want) most! (Forgive. Focus on the task at hand. Give reassurance. Take a break. Seek support.)
8. Dealing with sleep deprivation during COVID-19
- Take a power-nap wherever you are- a few minutes of sleep will heal. Do one of these exercises before you you take the nap. Be the Mentalist.
- If this is not possible, when you can’t go forward, remind yourself: “I just need to give one more step.”
- Be aware that sleep deprivation can interfere with your mood and thoughts. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Remind yourself: “I am just tired because I am helping and making a difference. This is temporarily.”
- Any form of conscious resting will help: Three conscious breaths in- and out; relaxation exercise; prayer; being creative by means of drawing, journaling, etc.
9. When Isolated from Loved Ones and their Support during COVID-19
- It helps to remember during your struggling in the midst of necessary isolation, that your brain will keep on reminding you that connection with others helps you dealing with stress. Longing for loved ones is a good thing. Thank your brain every now and then for this reminder, even if it is uncomfortable.
- Every time you feel alone, breathe in reminding yourself: “I am not alone”. While breathing out, remind yourself: “We all are doing this…”
- When you feel isolated and alone, make sure to make some notes on what you would like to share if you connect with loved ones again. Make voice notes, write down high lights and challenges. Keep photos of loved ones on your phone or in your purse. Keep a journal if possible.
- During your every day, show yourself gestures of kindness: hold your own hand, or give yourself a hug.
- At the end of every day, write down three things you appreciate about yourself in doing this for yourself and our common humanity.
Take good, mindful self-care. As many times as you may need it, make the choice to stop, breathe, be, walk slowly, and keep on deciding to show up. You are in the thoughts and prayers of millions of people.
Trust your journey.
Mariki Smith (MA PhD Psychology)
Drk Joubert (Attorney and Mediator)
Rules Learnt whilst “locked down” with a tough, but mindful Teacher on a Survival Course
He took us boys down the rugged coast for a week without food. Maybe 80 kilometers. He taught us along the way about life and spirituality without saying much.
Rule 1 – Live Mindfully
The foundational survival rule is to live mindfully -fully satisfied in the moment, fully aware, full of compassion for yourself and others and therefore with acceptance and without judgement.
Any other way, any other thought, will lead to a waste of precious energy and resources.
In other words, do not make too much of an issue of your circumstances. Acceptance is good.
Rule 2 – Keep to routines
As far as is possible en where possible, keep to your normal routine.
Rule 3 – The Third Day
If your survival course is a week long, by Wednesday you will experience the lowest point psychologically and physically. You will feel bad in all respects. But this point comes to everyone in a unique way, so we just say that you will have your “third day” when you really feel miserable- from that point onwards, however, things should improve.
Rule 4 – Drink a lot of water
You can survive a week without food, but not water. Within a short time your stomach will shrink and you will not be hungry – believe it or not. However, since you are not really on a survival course, keep on eating. This is just an illustration of your endless capabilities.
Rule 5 – Keep Energy Bars in the bottom of your Back Pack
That is what the assistants on the real survival course did.
Keep a little bit of the difference somewhere.
Rule 6 – Always under all circumstances maintain good Hygiene
As a barest minimum, brush your teeth regularly. Look neat.
Rule 7 – This is where you meet Your God
Open yourself up to it. Do not fight the spiritual awakening. Accept it. Sitting in the veld or in the garden helps. Or just in the sun in your room. Mindfully aware and without the normal clutter of civilization.
Rule 8 – Light and darkness are one
Accept each in an equal manner with equanimity. Night follows day. It serves no purpose to fight the night. Accept it and learn from it. Then there will be a daybreak.
Rule 9 – Take everything Step by Step
He took us without food down a rugged coast. Rugged. Along the rocks. Fording rivers. Finding paths far above the high tide. Running before the tide. Roughing it badly. Sleeping in hollows.
There is only one way to do this, and that is step by step.
Rule 10 – Lean in
This is another fundamental rule, there is no turning around. There is no escape route. Back is bad, forward may be better.
There is only leaning into the future.
Rule 11 – Respect Nature
Have you noticed how nature just continues on its journey even though we are locked down in home shelter? There is irony here and a lesson to be learnt.
Respect nature and her abundance of resources. We do not have a right to it, only the privilege. We must respect nature.
Rule 12 – Work Together
It was tough learning how to work together with boys you do not know. We came from a lot of places. Thrown together. A rough mix.
It was made tougher because we did not know how to survive. The teacher did not help, but he did talk about the Rules (excluding 5), not calling them rules, but discussing the themes.
Otherwise he just pointed forward, asking us to Lean In.
Always a Decade of Hope and Resilience, being Mindful
The decade will always be with and about Hope and Resilience. This is 1. because we believe in the power of finding joy in the present (being mindful), and 2. because up to the outer edges of this decade and beyond are immense opportunities. In short, we have time, if we stay safe now. You can read that post HERE.
Mindfulness, Uncertainty and Covid-19
In this post, which you can read HERE, we wrote that “…we must have a clear knowledge that we are robust enough and have the resilience to survive this and thrive. We must know this on a personal level and as a common humanity.
How we think about this virus is extremely important. We must know that we are robust and resilient enough to survive if we follow the basic advice of washing hands, not touching our faces and lowering our expectations- what we have, where we are, for now, is good enough.“
Dr Émile Coué – an aware and compassionate man ahead of his time
How we think about how we are now, is extremely important. Dr Émile Coué, French pharmacist and psychologist, (about whom you can read more on the Wikipedia Page HERE) “…when asked whether or not he thought of himself as a healer, … often stated that ‘I have never cured anyone in my life. All I do is show people how they can cure themselves.’
Coué believed in the effects of medication. But he also believed that our mental state is able to affect and even amplify the action of these medications. By consciously using autosuggestion, he observed that his patients could cure themselves more efficiently by replacing their ‘thought of illness” with a new “thought of cure’ “. (Wikipedia)
Coué’s mantra was “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better.
Mindfulness and getting Better and Better
Modern research and approaches support Dr Coué. Dr Mariki Smith writes in her mindfulness course, Six Steps to the Joy of Nowness, (you can learn more about that HERE) in the chapter on Compasssion:
“Self-judgement, or criticising the self, is something we all do. For some reason we use it as a way to motivate ourselves. But … research shows that it doesn’t work.
If I “attack” myself with words like “you’re useless… you will get nowhere in life…” I am tapping into my reptile brain. My brain recognises that there is a fight which it experiences as dangerous, and as a result releases cortisol and adrenaline. When I am in fight-or-flight mode, I put my body in constant stress. My body then tries to protect itself, shuts down, and I become depressed. This kind of motivation obviously doesn’t work.
On the other hand, mammal babies are very dependent on their parents, and have to stay close to them to be safe. We are programmed to respond to a gentle voice and soft touch. If I recognise my negative self-talk, and I change to motivating myself from the mammal-brain, If I receive compassion from myself and others, I release oxytocin and opiates, which are the good-feel hormones.”
The Mindful Way to Healing
Have pro-active compassion with yourself and with others. Be nice to yourself. If you feel unwell stay nice to yourself. Tell yourself often that you are getting(feeling/being…) better (stronger…) and better (…) every day.
Do it often, every time you wash your hands.
Be nice to other people. I they feel unwell, stay nice to them. Tell them often how well they are doing. Teach them the Coué mantra and how to use it.
Teach others that a simple self-compassion exercise such as this has immense benefits.
Do not stop using prescribed Medication.
“Every time we are truly mindful, we nourish the precious intention to care for ourselves and for other people.” (Teasdale, Williams and Segal).
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama
“Mindfulness is difficult, not because it is hard, but because it is elusive.” (Dr Stephen Hayes, Get out of your mind and into your life, the New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, New Harbinger Publications)
Mindfulness requires guidance in the beginning. Other than the resources here at fsmindfulness.co.za, there are resources on our learning platform HERE.
Our short sweet experiential course on Breathing Mindfully, which you can find HERE, is free for the time being.
Stay safe, trust the journey…
1 January 2020 – 31 December 2029
Exploring the outer-reaches and far corners of this decade**
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all.”– Emily Dickinson
As we enter a new decade full of mystery, unexpected change, uncertainty and unknown challenges, we tend to become stuck in our maladaptive coping habits. We easily become busy and distracted. We ‘fake it till we make it’, instead of ‘face it till we make it’. We tend to live in avoiding-autopilot rather than becoming aware of the hope and resilience we daily receive.
The poem “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers”, written by Emily Dickinson in 1862, transforms hope into a bird that is ever present in the human soul. It sings, especially when times get tough. If we allow ourselves to become quiet enough amid our loud and busy days, we may experience and share this song so much easier during pleasant and unpleasant times. Then, although we still find ourselves sometimes lost and overwhelmed, we can get back on our feet so much sooner.
Resilience refers to the ability to remain determined and maintain positive affect and well-being despite failures and setbacks. The Japanese proverb “Nanakorobi yaoki” describes this well: “fall seven times, stand up eight”. When we become resilient, we adapt and make allowance for moments of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.
Daniel Siegel (2007) taught that mindfulness practice is scientifically proven to develop a long-term state of resilience by enhancing physical, mental and social well-being (2007).
Being resilient does not mean that we don’t experience difficulty. It rather refers to becoming aware of our emotional pain, fear and sadness non-judgmentally, with a kind curiosity. Research suggests that feelings can’t be changed by (positive) thinking, but only by awareness and regulation of feelings.
Emotions are possibly your greatest source of instincts, intelligence, and energy. All emotions contain genius, and our emotions are crucial for thinking, learning and understanding others. Therefore, it becomes crucial to practice daily leaning into feelings, by means of mindfulness.
Mindfulness takes us out of automatic doing-mode, so we can practice better hope and resilience by means of self- and other-compassion, connection with loved ones, awareness and regulation of our feelings, focus on in-the-moment planning and problem-solving, healthy self-care and acceptance of life as it is.
The practice of being fully present is a way to reclaim hope and resilience. It is a personal journey for all of us. By leaning into how you are feeling both physically and mentally, you can connect and accept life as it is, moment by moment.
Here at the Free State Institute for Mindfulness, and at our online learning platform, 360smartly.com, we don’t aim to generate mindfulness teachers. Our intention is to remind ourselves and our fellow human-beings in moments of uncertainty and change, that mindfulness belongs to everyone.
We were all born being capable of being aware in-the-moment, with a kind curiosity… whether we are drinking coffee, talking to loved ones, or facing a challenging moment. As we learn to embrace our pleasant and unpleasant feelings, the thoughts and bodily sensations they generate, we progress inch by inch on our journey with joy, hope and resilience.
In this decade we aim to remind ourselves and our fellow human beings to develop these affective intentions so clearly and purposefully that they overshadow any other intention or goal (especially materialistic ones) that we may have, and that all we do arise in the first place from and touch on our mindful being. It is in this manner that we will truly stay in control in moments of extensive change (when animal and plant species march, the climate becomes unpredictable, and water becomes either too scarce or too much) and overcome, and not fail in the face of challenges we will face.
“Human beings are remarkable resilient creatures. We are copers and problem solvers. We cope through sheer determination, through our creativity and imagination, through prayer and religious beliefs, through involvements and diversions that feed our need for purpose,meaning, joy, and belonging, and for stepping outside ourselves and caring for others. We cope and are buoyed up by our own tenacious love for life, and by receiving love, encouragement, and support from our family, our friends and our larger community”. – Jon Kabat-Zinn
**When we think (now in January 2020) of our immediate future in the light of the destruction wrought by Australian fires, the uncertainty of climate change and the inability of world leaders to grapple with this, it helps to think in terms of a decade.
It also helps to assign a definitive commitment, vision and strategy of Hope and Resilience to this decade.
Then we feel more comfortable exploring the journey to 2029 and the outer-reaches and far corners of the decade.
Hope and resilience will bring us there.
Take up this guiding light, take our hands, and walk with us all the way to December 2029 and beyond.
Dirk Joubert (040835720) & Mariki Smith (0832884393)
The Free State Institute of Mindfulness team.
On the brink of 2020, the one thing we can be sure of, is that aside from the countless blessings and the magic moments that lies ahead, there will also be changes, uncertainties and challenges… Sigh…
Obviously, it is normal, even common, for most people to be a bit uncomfortable with uncertainty. Although, according to research, people vary in their ability to tolerate uncertainty. That is, some people are okay with having a lot of uncertainty in their lives, and other people cannot stand even a small amount of uncertainty. If you ever did the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, and you are a “J”, you may understand this a bit better.
I learned a lot about dealing with uncertainty in one of FSIM’s CPD Workshops, presented by Prof Stephen Walker from the University of the Free State: Intolerance of Uncertainty (IOU). As uncertainty is frightening for most of us, we spend all our energy trying to remove or avoid all uncertainty in daily life situations. One thing we often do is to worry. We may even think that worrying is a way of preparing ourselves for the worst – getting us ready for anything that might happen. Worrying is seen as a way of attempting to predict life so that there are no nasty surprises. We believe it is our only strategy for making things in life more certain and more predictable – it helps us believe that we have more control. But, has our worrying ever made anything more certain or more predictable? By worrying, does it change the outcome of what will happen? Isn’t life still as uncertain and unpredictable as it ever was?
Some other behaviors we repeatedly try without success, are seeking excessive reassurance from others when having to make decisions; making long and detailed “to do” lists; double checking e.g. if our loved ones are okay; we procrastinate or try distractions. This can get to be exhausting, time consuming and unsatisfying. And unfortunately, none of these works. Unless we can see the future, we need to learn to accept that we will always be uncertain about some things.
Saki Santorelli, director and professor in Preventative and Behavioral Medicine at the Mindfulness Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts, calls these times of uncertainty, “groundlessness”. We are all seeking solid ground. But, needing to be certain about everything can often take the fun out of life. We might miss out on a lot of good opportunities in life simply because of a dislike of uncertainty.
In times of groundlessness, we need to become the inner inventor of our own joy. The groundedness you need is not in the space around you, but in the space within you. Start just here. Tune into your heart. That is where love, wisdom, grace, and compassion reside. With loving attention, feel into what matters most to you. “The true seeker needs to become a pharmacist of bliss”… in the words of Rumi. We need to step out of the worries, overthinking, automatic habits and unhealthy distraction and find enough peace within to learn the wisdom of our inner pharmacist. To do this, we need to acknowledge that we are in such a place, with grace and kindness. As Santorelli puts it, we need “ … a willingness to step into open, unbounded space one moment after the next, dancing at the edge of chaos while catching to the tendency to stray, to revert to old habits, to fill in the open spaces…”
To step into this unbounded space within you, you can do the following mindfulness exercise:
1. Just where you are, become aware of the present moment. Feel your feet touching your shoes, or your body making contact with the chair you sit on, or the bed you are lying on.
2. Then, become aware of your breathing. Notice your bodily sensations as you breathe normally.
3. Next, become aware of all your unsettling, unpleasant feelings. Notice the feelings of frustration, hopelessness, overwhelment or confusion. Just acknowledge them, without judging them or trying to change them. Become aware of your need of certainty. Sit for a while with all the worrying thoughts… all the plans of getting rid of the uncertainty, without reacting on them.
4. As you breathe in, tell yourself: “I am learning to accept that uncertainty is just part of life” As you breathe out, tell yourself: “I am learning to let go of everything that is not mine to carry”…. “uncertainty is part of life”… “letting go”… “it’s part of life”… “let go”…
5. While you are breathing in loving awareness, visualize your need for certainty floating past you like clouds in the sky.
6. Whenever your mind wanders back to needing certainty, because that is what minds do, just notice that with no judgment, and return to your breathing.
7. See if you can become aware of a willingness to trust the journey.
The Team of the Free State Institute for Mindfulness wish you a joyful, mindful 2020!
Mariki Smith (PhD Psychology) marikismith.co.za
Free State Institute for Mindfulness (FSIM) fsmindfulness.co.za
When we start living in our “minds” instead of our lives because of buzzy-ness, we judge our inner world as good or bad, right or wrong… We then start to avoid spending quiet leisure time on our own because the sense of emptiness may be so intense that it is just too painful to be in our own company. But, as spending quiet time is one of the most important ways (aside from physical exercise and connection with others) to deal with stress – according to the Centre for Studies on Human Stress – we might as well learn how to do that. It is good to keep in mind that we are bigger than our emotions and thoughts. They don’t fill us, they travel through us.
One way to silence self-judgement according to Tara Brach, an American psychologist is moving from head, to heart, to heart-space.
1. Moving from the Head
When you spend quiet time with yourself driving, trying to get to sleep or standing in a queue, the first step will be to become aware of any critical and judgmental thoughts. Then, make it your intention to unhook from these judging thoughts. Without believing or identifying with these thoughts, shift your attention to your senses (what do you see, hear or smell) or your breathing. Remind yourself that they’re just thoughts…Open up to your heart
2. Open-up to your Heart
What feelings are you experiencing…? Can you give them names? Shame… guilt… anxiety… anger or sadness? Maybe there are feelings of being overwhelmed, fragile or fatigue. How do you experience this feeling in your body? What are you unwilling to feel? Try to connect with this feeling, and to allow this while softening your heart a little.
3. Open to your heart-space
Put your hand on your heart, while saying kind words to yourself in this moment. “It ‘s okay, I am there for you.” Decide in what way you can take good self-care in this moment. Decide to enter these next few steps of walking through this difficulty with self-compassion and loving kindness
“Our heartspace is the ocean – it includes the waves – the vulnerability, the thoughts and all the different experiences that move through us. If we remember that we’re the ocean. We will not be afraid of the waves. It’s okay that they are here… This belongs…”
– Tara Brach
Mariki Smith (PhD Psychology)
When we take care of ourselves we give the world the best of us,
instead of what’s left of us…
“Compassion Fatigue is a disorder that affects those who do their work well.”
– Charles Figley.
Healing Space for Healers
The Free State Institute for Mindfulness had the privilege this month to present a Healing Space for Healers work session for the hero’s, healers and helpers of 2 Psychiatric Hospitals in Bloemfontein – both highly recommended mental health clinics. Being human, all of us can remember a moment in our job or home we could give the best of us to others. But, we can also can remember a moment we could only give what was left of us.
Compassion fatigue can sneak up on us. This happens especially when we neglect our own self-compassion, self-care and awareness of our own well-being. The one day we give our all, finding it easy to care, show compassion and to make a difference in others. The next day we suddenly find ourselves dreading to go to work, experiencing resentment, irritability, impatience and reduced empathy.
According to Christina Maslach, we know that we are in trouble when we start to experience extreme emotional and physical exhaustion, depersonalization (loss of compassion, cynicism, lack of empathy and care), as well as lack of personal accomplishment.
If we are not mindful or aware of our inner experience, we could easily miss out on the signs, and it may lead to burnout, depression or anxiety.
Aside from the importance of our own well-being, burnout and compassion fatigue may lead to ethical and legal implications if left untreated.
We are especially vulnerable to burnout when we have difficulty with healthy boundaries, when there are high expectations of performance from ourselves or others, when we work with those at the low point of their lives, and when we take on what is not “ours”. Another reason why we burnout is that we tend to avoid leisure time because the sense of emptiness is so intense that it is just too painful to be in our own company. Thus, we work just harder, or turn to unhealthy quick fixes or distraction to experience short-term relief.
Being in the Compassion Business, (whether we are healers or helpers for children, adults or the elderly), we have a huge responsibility to manage good self-care, so to prevent burnout or compassion fatigue. In this way we can keep on being there for others.
We can only do this by knowing ourselves with non-judgmental awareness. We need to stay aware of our own level of stress (1 to 10), our own triggers and stressors, as well as our own unique signs and symptoms thereof.
Research at the Center for Studies on Human Stress in Canada
“The first step is to recognize when you are under stress. There may be some clues that we are under stress, that we must become aware of.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Research at the Center for Studies on Human Stress in Canada implies that the three most effective ways to deal with a huge amount of stress are:
1. Relaxation and mindful meditation (mindfulness meditation, prayer, being creative)
You can find your own way to retreat e.g. mindfulness exercises, journaling, prayer, music or art.
The Being BOLD exercise is a simple quick way to practice mindfulness during your workday:
B – Breathe. Become aware of 3 deep abdominal in- and out-breaths.
O – Observe your inner experience: your feelings (name it, validate it, feel it), your thoughts and bodily sensations – not trying to change it in this moment, and trying not to judge it – lots of self-compassion.
L – Listen to your values and needs. What life values are important to me at this stage in my life? (respect, compassion, kindness, achievement). What do I need in this moment that is good for me, to be okay.
D – Decide how to take the next few steps and Do it…
2. Physical Activity
Write down your plan of action for your physical exercise and eating plan for the next three months.
3. Social Support and Connection
Write down who are the give-and-take loved ones in your life, and how you are going to strengthen the connection with them in the next three months. Stay aware of creative healthy boundaries.
“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” – Brené Brown
Mariki Smith (PhD Psychology) can be reached at email@example.com
by Jan Joubert
As I sit here to write this blog, I first suspend my thoughts and ruminations about my to-do list and I drop down into my body, I become aware of my somatic experience in this moment, I listen to my emotions and notice what I feel. I hear myself. Yes there’s some stress, beneath this, subtle fears. Noticing this, I accept this is my experience in this moment. This is who I am, now, this is what I have to offer this blank page.
And then, my mind prattles for a bit about how I should approach writing this article, theories I could describe or postulations I could make, skeptical thoughts about myself or creating. So, I follow this process again, feeling the familiar fear of being good enough or safely abundant enough to create. I recognize under that is a desire for self-protection, a need for safety and having acknowledged this too, I validate that this is a risk that I’m taking, yes, being creative is essentialy a leap of faith.
And like any relationally focussed family therapist would recommend, I feel that fear, I stay with it, I hold it, I witness it and thus, I console myself by acknowledging and validating it (yes it is scary to write something that will go public), as well as comforting myself with some compassion and empathy. A simple combination of faithful affirmations, self-compassion and critical thinking (I am good enough to write, yes it can be scary, I will survive this) is my antidote.
Having moved through the self protective layers of my ego and thoughts connected to emotions, I step into the opportunity to create.
Do you notice how the focus of my meditation was not to push my mind into stillness but the opposite?
Do you notice how my relationship with creativity challenged me to face my fears?
Art is as much a reflection of our psyche as thought is a (complexified) reflection of emotions, and of course, all of this can be felt through somatic reflection too. I will explain. In the above experience there are two modes of self present. The witness, which notices whatever happens, and the content of whatever happens or is witnessed. The witness stays an (ineffible) subjective experience. Then there’s the content, which for me today was some fears of the future and of being brave enough to let go enough to create. This content is felt in the body, is witnessed in the patterns of thought, and is equally present in whatever we create. Ranging from intentional art-making to unintentional creative choices, such as what we choose to wear on any given day, my world is an ever-present reflection of what I feel.
There is a thoroughly studied relationship between the unconscious content of our minds and hearts and our spontaneously creative choices. These are of course connected to relevant emotions, memories and behaviors.
Our feelings tend to appear in those choices as as metaphors, and this tends to click in when we describe what we’re doing or feel and hear the metaphors in our language. Think of how with children, we see their emotions acted out in play.
While I’ve made an effort to describe a subjective series of mindfulness related events, sometimes it is much easier for others to see this, or for yourself to see it more clearly, when it is expressed in a creative form, and art-making, especially when spontaneous and not pre-meditated, always produces metaphors that helps us see exactly how we really feel. Additionally, art acts as a container for our emotions that we can put them into, and a space for processing what we feel. Ask any child to put how they feel into an artwork and you’ll see it happen.
As an art therapist, I work with my clients and their artworks and often help them sink deeper into feeling things that are just out of sight. Emotional content that they can’t witness on their own, that the ego bars them from seeing out of a denial that comes as a result of self-preservation.
That is therapy, processing things, to release them, to free us from their grasp on our lives, broadening our consciousness. Often I find that when fears are too great the witness sticks to thought as a safe harbour and a persons emotions becomes acted out rather than taken charge of. The Art, and therapists training, helps these parts of self in shadow to be revealed and I frequently train clients in mindfulness to help them sit-with what they feel.
The essence of art-making is playful joy, witnessing people’s varying degrees of hesitation to step into that is witness a microcosm of how they relate to that through (often unconscious) choices they make in their lives, and always, regardless of the artists technical skill or creative accomplishments, brings these up.
To expand your mindfulness practice and come to know yourself more deeply, you must confront your Shadow. So make art. Yes, ANY art will do.
by Rolyn du Plessis
Dr. Daniel Siegel, founder of the Mindsight Instititute, in his book ‘The Mindful Therapist,’ writes: ‘Health in many ways can be seen as bathing in a wide-open pool of possibility.’ Mindfulness, he writes, allows us to navigate into the ‘plane of open awareness’ – a space free of prejudice and judgement, of habituated ways of thinking and doing. A space where anything might happen.
Recently I was making a vegetarian shepherd’s pie. My 5-year old daughter asked me if she could help me chop up the vegetables and I gave her the task of slicing up the mushrooms. I demonstrated to her what I had in mind: that she cut them into quarters. As she started cutting and singing as she worked, her uncluttered and creative being probably allowed her to see a multitude of other ways in which the mushrooms might be chopped. She said: ‘Could I cut them any way I like?’ I noticed an immediate ‘no’ rise up inside of me. A part of me definitely wanting the mushrooms to be cut into quarters. As that first, habituated ‘no’ dissipated, a more present and playful part of me contested: ‘Is there really just one right way to cut a mushroom?’ ‘You can cut them any way you like,’ I said. She cut them into halves, some straight and some diagonal. She cut them into small bits and large bits, into rings and slices. She even made a doughnut-shaped mushroom by cutting out the stem and making a hole in the top part! In that moment I became her student –experiencing first-hand what it looks like when one is bathed in a wide-open pool of possibility and suddenly understanding how one can express one’s own authentic being through a task as simple as cutting a mushroom.
I am reminded of the Chinese fable, as told by Jack Kornfield in his book ‘After the Ecstacy, the Laundry,’ in which a young man was observing a sage at the village well:
‘The old man was lowering a wooden bucket on a rope and pulling water up slowly, hand over hand. The youth disappeared and returned with a pulley. He approached the old man and showed him how the device worked. “See, you put your rope around the wheel and draw up the water by crancking the handle.” The old man resisted. “If I use a device like this, my mind will think itself clever. With a cunning mind I will no longer put my heart into what I am doing. Soon my wrists alone will do the work. If my heart and whole body are not in my work, my work will become joyless. When my work is joyless, how do you think the water will taste?”’
It is no wonder that the practice of mindfulness is, for the most part, an unlearning process. It is the practice of noticing when we leave the open plane of awareness, seeing ourselves getting stuck in all the habituated, ‘right’ ways of doing and thinking. It is realising when we have forsaken a whole heart and a whole body in favour of a cunning mind. It is letting go of the rigid ideas about what life should or should not be – letting go into the direct experience of life itself, as it arises moment to moment.
Edward Espe Brown, in his book ‘The Tassajara Bread Book,’ tells this story about mindfulness in his kitchen: (it seems an apt conclusion to this initial post)
‘When I first started cooking at Tassajara, I had a problem. I couldn’t get my biscuits to come out the way they were supposed to. I’d follow a recipe and try variations, but nothing worked. the biscuits just didn’t measure up.
Growing up I had made two kinds of biscuits. One was from Bisquick and the other from Pillsbury. For the one from Bisquick you added milk in the mix and then blobbed the dough in spoonfuls onto the pan – you didn’t even need to roll them out. The biscuits from Pillsbury came in kind of a cardboard can. You rapped the can on the corner of the counter and it popped open. Then you twisted the can open more, put the pre-made biscuits on a pan, and baked them. I really liked those Pillsbury biscuits. Isn’t that what biscuits should taste like? Mine weren’t coming out right.
It’s wonderful and amazing the ideas we get about what biscuits should taste like, or what a life should look like. Compared to what? Canned biscuits from Pillsbury? People who ate my biscuits would extol their virtues, eating one after another, but to me these perfectly good biscuits just weren’t right. Finally one day came a shifting-into-place, an awakening. “Not right” compared to what? Oh, my word, I’d been trying to make canned Pillsbury biscuits! Then came an exquisite moment of actually tasting my biscuits without comparing them to some previously hidden standard. They were wheaty, flaky, buttery, sunny, earthy, real. They were incomparably alive – in fact, much more satisfying than any memory.
These occasions can be so stunning, so liberating, these moments when you realise your life is just fine as it is, thank you. Only the insidious comparison to a beautifully prepared, beautifully packaged product made it seem insufficient. Trying to produce a biscuit – a life – with no dirty bowls, no messy feelings – was so frustrating. Then savouring, actually tasting the present moment of experience – how much more complex and multifaceted. How unfathomable.’