Practising Mindfulness

I find it hard to focus.

Not because I can’t focus, but because I have serious anxiety about missing out. Or as the cool cats say these days – totes FOMO.

I have to try, really try, to just keep my head down. Even when I’m in flow and things are good with productivity, something in me wants to know what else is happening.

Even while writing this blog post, I’m flitting across multiple tabs mid sentence, at the end of each sentence, after I’ve deleted words – there’s no rhythm or rhyme to the flitting, it just happens.

At some points I don’t even realise I’ve done it, until I realise I’m not focusing on the one thing I was meant to be focusing on.

I don’t get disconcerted by it, and I certainly am not bothered by it, but it is something I’m highly mindful of.

Which gets me thinking about how I practise mindfulness.

I don’t.

As a concept, I’m totally bought into it. I get it, I understand it, and I’m with it.

It’s just I can’t motivate myself to do it alone.

I’m such a people person, I need alone time with other people. That is, I can sit quietly in a room full of other people doing the same thing, and be totally motivated to do what I’m meant to. Put me in a room by myself, and it’s hopeless. Before I even try and start my mind is actively finding ways for me to do something other than practise mindfulness.

That presents a real challenge then as a practitioner of all things people related. I advocate it, and am honest that I find it difficult. I wonder, then, if I have diminished the practise before it’s even begun, because I can’t relate to when I do it?

Because, you see, when I practise mindfulness, I’m active. Not in the ADHD sense – although part of me is now paranoid that it might be. But I’m doing something while I’m being mindful. For example, when I recite morning prayer (the Japji Sahib in Sikhi) – it’s when I’m on a train packed full of commuters all going about their hustle and bustle. I’m highly aware of my fellow commuters, and the busy-ness, but I can block it out because I am in their presence.

It’s complicated living my life.

Positively Emotionally Mindful

Last week at Learning Live, I was quite keen on hearing the talk on Being Brilliant, by Andy Whittaker. His business partner, Andy Cope, has studied positive psychology at PhD level, and so I was quite curious what the talk would help share. Most of my readers are aware I have a keen interest in this topic, and there are a good many practitioners developing this skill, so I enjoy hearing how people describe this field, and what insights they share.

I enjoyed Andy Whittaker’s style. On his Twitter bio, he describes himself as a “frustrated comic”. This came through in his talk, and gave it a lot of levity, and I thought he balanced it quite well in it not becoming a comedy act. He shared some useful insight into how positive psychology is about helping people live happy lives. Remember, traditional psychology is about helping people move from a position of feeling sad to ‘normal’, and positive psychology is about helping people move from ‘normal’ to ‘vibrant’.

Andy shared that in Andy Cope’s research he found that only 2% of people are capable of being happy and vibrant. The rest of us are caught up in life’s regular slog, and we have natural ebbs and flows that mean we experience good or bad days. Whittaker also talked about those people around us who are ‘mood hoovers’. I’ve heard this expression before, and it describes the kind of person that responds to most questions with a healthy dose of cynicism and negativity which leaves you feeling drained and your own mood being lowered. With this, I also found it helpful when he talked about people who are at times ‘too happy’ and don’t know how to keep a bottle on their enthusiasm they’re experiencing.

As I’ve been thinking about it some more, there’s some more aspects which I think are important, and lend itself to thinking about this are of self-development and self-awareness quite keenly.

I recall being on the Emotional Skills and Competence course last year, and how we spoke about the importance of having positive relationships in our lives. By recognising emotions in others, in particular micro-expressions, we can allow ourselves to moderate our own feelings and emotions, and respond in a way which helps us to get the best out of others. As we get to know others more intimately, we may also start to recognise which particular events trigger a certain emotion in the other person, and either we change our behaviour to ensure we don’t do those things (if it elicits a negative response) or we purposefully act in a way to bring out an emotion (if it elicits a positive response).

Remember, all emotions are useful, and they all help us to live a healthy life. Emotions themselves aren’t positive or negative, it’s our reaction to and experience of our own emotions which we interpret as being either positive or negative. For example, I might elicit the emotion of surprise in my wife by buying her an unexpected gift and her response is to give me a kiss. In another example, I might elicit the emotion of surprise by telling her something unexpected which annoys her and she becomes angry with me. (Both fictional I hasten to add!) The emotion of surprise is the same, but the trigger that lead to a subsequent action was different.

In Whittaker’s talk, when he talked about how people can sometimes be unaware of their impact on others, this for me is where we can learn to be skillful by understanding what it means to be emotionally intelligent. We use the information available to us to help us to determine what the other person is likely to be feeling, and then respond in a way which gets the best out of them. Some may argue we do this naturally. I would argue, only some people do this naturally. For many others, it is about learning how to recognise a set of emotions, interpret them, and decide on a course of action.

The final piece for me, which adds to the level of self-awareness we have, is in how we practise the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being present in the moment, and being aware of all the things your being can intake. Your surroundings, your thoughts, other people, the sounds, the quiet, your breathing, your movements, and so much more. When we can be mindful, truly mindful, we open ourselves to the possibility of opportunities which become immediately present. At the coffee shop, in a queue waiting to be served, where does our attention go, and where does our attitude focus? Do we urge the barrista to be more efficient? Do we see the people talking round a table? Are the food options the ones you want? Is the background music your style? Are you feeling hot or cold? In being mindful about such things, we are more likely to make a better informed decision for what is best for you, and you are more likely to feel positive about the outcome.

Mindfulness for me, then, helps us to understand that we are responsible for our actions. These actions are based on active decisions we have made, and therefore we can either be positive about them or regret them. If we regret them, then this dwells on the mind, and keeps us in a place which is not helpful, and may be harmful to the psyche if prolonged. If we are positive about them, we will be more likely to be positive about other interactions we make as our day continues.

In thinking about these three topics/subjects/ways of thinking, it’s helping me to remain conscious of the many things we learn in the L&D profession, and how we can either be purposeful in our understanding of them, or we blindly take the accepted wisdom.

I am here

Flow.

It’s a sense of things happening in and around you. That conversation you can hear, is summoning something inside you. Your commute you take, it’s driving you to choose your actions. What will they be? Let’s find out.

Actions.

When I choose to hear that voice speaking to me and I take action on it. When I hear that voice inside and I learn to have that internal dialogue. I learn from myself. Not because I must, but because I understand what I am telling myself. My experience and learning takes me on a journey to reach a point in my life. I take action based on this sense I have inside me.

Dialogue.

I have the privilege of hearing your voice. It speaks to me and I am moved by it. I engage with it and learn about you. You share something with me which reveals you to me. Did you know this? Did you know I am here for you? Did you expect me to enter your mind?

Sustenance.

Is a moment where I indulge my body. The choices I make to fuel my body are mine to make. I have full congnisance of the world around me. I am aware of what I place before myself. It helps me to reach a goal. It’s my goal. This is me being selfish.

Diversity.

I embrace the person I am with. They are complete human beings. This is, and always will be, awesome. I am but a ripple in the ocean, and I am the drop. You and I, we are here and I hear you. I see you. I understand you. I need you. I loathe you. I am who I am because of me. I am who I am because of you. Where does this take me? What journey am I on? How can I know unless I respect and walk with you?

Silence.

Taking a moment to hear nothing. To watch a bird take flight. To see a couple walking hand in hand. To see a homeless guy sit and beg for his money. To just be. To not be plugged in. To not be listening. To be calm. to find calm. To hear nothing. To hear only that which matters.

Life.

I live it. I live it with you. I live it for me. I live it for you. I live it for who I am. It is affirming. It is frightening. It is what it is. I thrive in it. I lose myself in it. I welcome it. I am life.

Time.

It flows. It doesn’t stop because it doesn’t know how. How do you take that concept and make it meaningful? How do you manipulate it for your wares? Are your efforts futile? Where are you going with this time? It’s there, forever moving. I can either move with meaning, or I can move with none. I move because the time insists I do.

Being moved

It’s not often you come across a piece of writing that moves you. Actually stops you dead in your track and makes you think about what you’re doing. Neil Morrison, has a knack for doing this with his blog (no matter the incarnation). His writing is such that you read it and – for me – feel motivated and energised to act. Only one other person I have felt does this, and that’s Joe Gerstandt. And it’s all for the right reasons. You act because you want to, because you read something and are moved to action. Whatever gift these two have, and it is a gift, it is something I’m glad to have found through Twitter and their writing.

Yesterday, Neil wrote about the courage to believe. This resonated with me a lot. Which is apparent from the comment I left on the post. And this morning I had cause to reflect on what was happening with me on my commute to work. As my journey grew and grew, my mood was lifting ever more until I was positively built up with so much energy I stood early to get off the train. I never stand early to get off the train, I’m lazy like that. But this morning, I had to stand. I had to move in order to start making the tracks I want to.

The build up to that is worth noting. Yesterday, A took ill at school. Not seriously, but he was sick, and has a stomach bug of some sort which is bringing out all sorts. He was fast asleep early last night and all through the night in our room. I checked on him before as I got up and he seemed to be ok. I got K from his room and brought him to our room. And I marvel at my family before I leave the house. Honestly, on a daily basis, it is a blessing I get to see them and have them around me.

I awoke this morning and read a series of messages sent to me on Twitter about the decision one person made to help others and how this changed their life. To say I was humbled doesn’t begin to describe the feeling I was left with. Someone should nominate that person for the Pride of Britain award. I don’t say this flippantly. If I could recount the story, you would think the same.

On the commute to work, I started by doing my Japji Sahib. It’s the morning prayer in Sikhi, and is the first prayer in the Guru Granth Sahib. I haven’t got there yet, so am still reading it, listening to it and trying to be good. That started to shift my mood considerably. I then moved to Twitter, and got involved in a number of conversations. Twitter continues to be a constant affirmation that online social behaviours are ubiquitous* with real life social behaviours.

And then there was the music I was listening to. I remain amazed by the power of music to move you, change your mood, increase your mood, capture your feelings, make you angry, make you laugh, and everything else music makes you feel and think. The ability to sing, play music, craft it all, is brilliance, and I love it.

There is a lot of pain in this world that I don’t see (and don’t want to see), and can only imagine how others tolerate. There is also a lot of beauty in this world that continues to force a balance against that pain. We will all experience varying levels of both of these feelings, and have the choice to decide how we move forward with, or without them.

*really hoping I used that word in the right way!

Sometimes, life is just life

Hello! Well, Friday comes around again, and so far this morning my Twitter stream has been full of chatter about an array of things. And that’s one of the things I truly enjoy about Twitter. Life just carries on. We all live in a bubble. And we choose to poke out and see what’s happening. Sometimes we interact, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we reveal things, and sometimes we’re just being apathetic.

So, today I offer you a chance to remind ¬†yourself of what’s happening. Not what’s important, but just what’s happening. Take this moment to be mindful. Don’t be cynical, don’t be positive, just observe.

There’s a lot to be said for being mindful. What’s my body doing right now? Where are my thoughts taking me? Who am I talking with? What is that person doing there? Is this commute really so bad? What’s happening at home? Did I read today’s news yet?

Do with this what you will. But remember, sometimes, life is just life.