Mindful Kind Blog

Inspiration through Serenity for Kids CIC

14470579_1797159487199589_3007967187517420512_n14485037_1797161230532748_5072405501097756260_n

I have recently be asked to teach mindfulness in local primary schools by Clare Hales, director of Serenity for Kids CIC. Clare has managed to secure funding via the ‘Big Lottery Fund’ through her Community Interest Company status, which means that the sessions are free to schools. I have been so impressed by Clare’s knowledge and passion to make a difference in her local community and I am over the moon to be helping her to support more children to discover mindfulness.

Clare also has links with Wigan Council via ‘The Deal’ which is another innovative scheme to help people in the Wigan area, who want to make a difference in their community. I attended a local meeting of ‘Social Enterprise’ representatives and it was very inspiring and humbling to learn about all the good work going on under our very noses. One group in particular caught my attention and they were called ‘True Colours CIC’, who work closely with families, and other professionals supporting people with individual programmes of needs.

I think the CIC structure is a great way for us to all get involved and have a go at tackling some of our communities more challenging issues. Good luck to all the CICs out there! You are an inspiration.

Homework Horror Help – Growth Mindset

10-Growth-Mindset-Statements

Having recently delivered parents’ evenings for my class, I reflected on the most common questions that parents ask when discussing their child’s progress: How are they getting on? Are they ok? What can we/I do to help them?

Teacher Viewpoint:

The answer to these questions is varied, but usually involves giving the parents some sort of curriculum work to practise with their child or highlighting targets that the child is working on to help them make academic or behavioural progress e.g. ‘They need to ensure they know their times tables and could do some practise at home,’ or the classic,  ‘They really need to focus on their work instead of chatting to their friends.’ With standards in schools steadily on the increase and much more challenging curriculums, our children are under so much pressure to perform at school, and parents feel the same pressure to make sure their child ‘achieves’.

Parent Viewpoint:

As a parent, too, I know that generally, we are keen to support our children in school and the wider-world, and we want to help, but working on these targets is often easier said than done, especially if our child does not see themselves as academic or has difficulties with behaviour. On many occasion, I have told myself that it will be different this time; I will remain calm, open and helpful – a perfect balance between supportive facilitator and independence promoter. This time, will not descend into childish arguments about the ‘best way to present research on coal mining’ (a recent homework project set for my 8 year-old sons) or ‘you’d find it easier if you did it likes this!’. After a bout of optimistic self-talk I have taken a deep breath and steeled myself to ask the questions, ‘Do you have any homework to do?’ or ‘Can I help you with that?’ only to end up minutes later with nerves frazzled and tears after a heated debate about which coloured pen is appropriate to use for writing a report or whether the challenging maths problem is worth getting into such a state about.

‘Doing homework is a nightmare,’ is a story I hear over and over again from parents. It can be so frustrating that we can decide it’s better to just ‘let them get on with it’ and sometimes I imagine that it is for the best. On the other hand, as hard as it can sometimes be when our children are getting stressed, pushing against our help or sulking because we’ve told them to do something differently, we need to remember that we as parents, are our child’s primary and main teacher. We need to try and make sure that our children can take constructive instruction and direction, whilst maintaining their self-esteem and without feeling like it is criticism from us, as this will help them to make more rapid progress, even though the mere thought of it makes us want to run for the hills.

One useful tool that is popular in schools at the moment for promoting academic resilience – the ability to be successful in education despite facing difficulties, as well as being able to make mistakes, learn from them and bounce back – is work around ‘Growth Mindset’. This a set of beliefs and practises that promote skills for learning in children and adults that were developed by Professor Carol Dweck, who is a psychologist.

Her work ensures that children understand that learning is a process and intelligence can be developed. I find this can be applied to all kinds of intelligences, including emotional intelligence and the change in viewpoint overcomes a lot of the frustration and difficulty that comes with challenge. If we all see that anything can be learnt with effort and by learning from our inevitable mistakes, the pressure somehow diminishes and homework can be seen as a less daunting task.  Check out her work, as it is truly mind growing!

https://www.mindsetkit.org/growth-mindset-parents/learn-about-growth-mindset/what-is-growth-mindset-parents

Connectedness, Retweets and the Amazing Tara Brach …

 

So far, my experiences on twitter and blogging have been pretty solitary affairs. I know that there are people out there busily reading, tweeting and blogging away, but honestly, I haven’t managed to connect with many of them, as of yet.

I’ve decided to start this blog as a tool to share some of the things I’ve found interesting and to record steps on my journey as a Mum and a teacher, as I develop my mindfulness practise. I think this is because I don’t know very many other people interested in the same stuff as me. Sure enough, I have lots of friends who are supportive and ask how things are going, but I don’t like to ‘go on’ too much about stuff I’ve been doing for fear of boring them to death!

When I did the MiSP course last year, I met lots of like-mindfulness people for the first time since the 8-week MBSR course. Lots of us expressed how we’d felt a bit like ‘lone wolves’ before the course, but now we all regularly communicate via a What’s App group and it is nice to know we are sharing lots of new experiences.

So last night, when I was experiencing my usual Sunday night angst:’What am I doing wrong?; Why is it so tough?; Am I making the right choices?; Am I wasting my time?’ instead of sulking in front of the TV in a bad mood, I reached out to my lovely MiSP group. I shared some difficulties I’ve had in the classroom and within minutes they had shared some lovely insights into things I could try to support my teaching and the children’s practise. They reminded me to be kind to myself and to allow whatever experiences occur to unfold with curiosity and without judgement.

Inspired by their lovely collective wisdom, I did a connection mindfulness practise on Insight Timer  by Dr. Colette Power, (who was the teacher that led my 8-week MBSR course) to remind myself that there’s lots going on ‘out there’ that I’m connected to.

Imagine my excitement, when I finished the practise and saw that Tara Brach – the one and only – had retweeted one of my blog posts! Honestly, I was so excited I woke my husband up to tell him, although he must have wondered as I gabbled on about ‘connectedness, retweets and the amazing Tara Brach’ how such a thing could have happened at 10.30pm on a Sunday night, when all I seemed to be doing was sitting still in the spare room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks Tim Ferris & Co.

This podcast http://tim.blog/podcast/ has been my companion on many a journey to work. I discovered Tim Ferris through an interview he did with the amazing Tara Brach , a psychologist, buddhist and meditation practitioner, who I was already a big fan of.

Tim is an experimentalist, who interviews exceptional performers to try and uncover the key to their success. He is a pretty exceptional person himself, having his own varied history of extraordinary accomplishments, as well as his experience having tried and tested so many of the tools that his interviewees recommend – see his recently published book: https://toolsoftitans.com/. I wasn’t surprised to hear that meditation is one of the commonly used tools for lots of successful people.

 

Through Tim’s podcast, I have got to meet so many interesting and remarkable people, who I had never heard of before (having come from a small town in Lancashire, England) including: the author and philosopher – Alain de Botton; Matt Mullenweg – Entrepreneur, inventor of this very website (wordpress) and all-round good guy, to name a couple.

To sum up, I am so grateful for Tim Ferris, for his constant curiosity and how it has allowed me to meet lots of genius types on my way to work. Anyway, enough of my warbling on about how great they all are – I’m hoping flattery will get me everywhere. Check out his podcast. You won’t regret it.

 

Blessed vs Hard Luck

When I my twin sons were born, my husband and I were living in Los Angeles for a few years. As I was pushing their ‘stroller’ down the street one day, an Angeleno lady stopped me and said, ‘Oh my God! Twins! You are so blessed!’ You can’t help but be impressed by the enthusiasm of some Americans. I think I mumbled some kind of agreement, but in my sleep-deprived fog, feeling like a milking machine, ‘blessed’ wasn’t at the forefront of my mind in that moment.

When my sons were five months old, we all moved back to Wigan. Anyone who knows Wigan, knows that it feels a very long way from Santa Monica in California. This time, pushing my ‘buggy’ down the street, a middle aged-lady looked over and saw me. Without hesitation, she winced at me and exclaimed with concern, ‘Oooh! Twins! Hard Luck.’ 

My initial reaction was to laugh and think, ‘I’m not in LA anymore.’ There was also a strange feeling of relief in the recognition that not every waking moment should be motherly bliss. What I was going through was emotionally and physically draining at times, as well as beautiful and wondrous. The pressure to ‘enjoy every moment’ was proving to be an impossibility and somehow I had thought I must be ‘doing something wrong’. It was nice to have an acknowledgement of that, even though I thought the lady must be a bit of a misery guts!

But in those two encounters, I had experienced the polar-opposites in perception and viewpoint. Two completely opposite reactions to my situation as a twin-mummy. If it was me who was dishing out those ‘pearls of wisdom’, I could well have been socially shunned at the West LA parents of multiples meetings for telling an enthusiastic twin-mamma it was ‘hard luck’ that she’d experienced a twin birth, in the same way that I’d have had a few funny looks telling my Wigan mum friends that they were ‘So Blessed (add unwaveringly positive American accent)!’

The way we perceive the world has such a massive impact on our mental health and when I started my mindfulness practise, I started to understand that somewhere in the middle was the best place to be. The pressure of knowing that I was ‘so blessed’ yet feeling ‘so exhausted and so grumpy’, made me feel guilty at times but it also helped to recognise that I had been given the most amazing gifts. To think that it was ‘hard luck’ that I had had two babies at once was a rather gloomy outlook and far from how I felt about my circumstances, but it took the pressure off and helped me to smile through the tough times, acknowledging that things could be difficult and that was ok, but also short-lived and transient.

Since starting my mindfulness practise, I have learned that allowing the difficulties or hard-luck to be there and being kind to ourselves as we experience them, allows us to more clearly see the blessings when they are right there in front of us, too.

Here are some good articles on mindful parenting that I have found interesting:

http://www.mindful.org/mindful-parenting-may-keep-kids-trouble/

https://www.servicespace.org/about/cubs/?op=arch&nid=194

 

 

 

Respite from Reaction and Finding Peace

It really is astounding when you start to be more aware of your habitual reactions, and even more miraculous when you start to be able to pause and respond – rather than react – before those habitual patterns kick in. When I read ‘Finding Peace in  Frantic World’ by Professor Mark Williams and Danny Penman, and discovered that my thoughts were not always true or real and therefore did not necessarily need to be acted upon, I felt like I’d literally had the veil lifted from my eyes; like I’d been let in on some strange joke that everyone else must have known the punchline to.

As a teacher, Sundays can easily be over-taken by a feeling of foreboding doom about the upcoming week. This feeling was not unusual to me a couple of years ago as I struggled with the incessant workload and stress levels associated with wanting to do your best for approximately 30 children, day in, day out. When I started my mindfulness practise, I started to notice my weekly patterns of reactivity: the thoughts that accompanied the feelings and emotions each Sunday went something like this: My job is so hard; I’ll never cope; I will never get it all done; I’m the only one that can’t do it! The thoughts and feelings were so negative, no wonder I was becoming overwhelmed. So, imagine my surprise when I first started to consider whether they were true.

Yes. My job was and still is stressful. Being responsible for 30 young souls for 5-6 hours a day, will always have its challenges, but I started to notice how I was focusing on the difficulties and wasn’t registering the lovely moments I was guaranteed to witness and be part of, each and every day. I realised that I wasn’t alone in the workload and actually, that I had a group of wonderful colleagues, who were there with a hug and a cup of tea,if only I’d ask. I recognised that I was actually quite good at what I was doing and that lots of people would give their proverbial right arm to be in the job I was in. My mindfulness practise had given me a new pair of glasses and with these glasses I could get some respite from mu usual Sunday evening thoughts and reactions. when they would arise, I would recognise what was going on and simply think: there are my worries, before letting them go. I literally did start to find a bit of peace.

I can’t recommend the book at the end of this link enough http://franticworld.com/ and I hope more people out there are able to use mindfulness to give themselves some respite from their reactions.

 

 

 

 

 

Starting with TED and myself

TED talks are one of those rare modern phenomenas, that demonstrate the great positive power of the internet. I love listening to the talks and there’s so much inspiration to be found on this website (see below for some of my favourites). There isn’t too much else that can be said about it, other than anyone who is interested in anything should check it out at some point. There really is something for everyone and I guarantee many of the speakers will make you feel more connected to humankind and glad to be alive – a big promise, but one that I believe to be true.

In contrast, I have found that it is increasingly easy to become disheartened and disenchanted by the 24 hour news that is broadcast everywhere, often showcasing the worst of human nature. Reading articles such as ‘News is bad for you …’ by Rolf Dobelli made me think twice about spending my time consuming the stories that make up the news, as they just confirmed what I already felt and experienced. It is hard to ignore the pull of the media, though.

My new iPhone constantly has headlines flashing up from news outlets all over the world and those clever snippets sure do their job alright, enticing me into reading the whole article, even though it has no real significance or bearing on my life in that moment other than to feed the ‘OMG! What is the world coming to?’  reaction. Then there’s the inevitable, ‘The world is turing to *!@$! We’re all doomed!’

As you can tell, I generally err on the side of drama; yet another reason why the news is probably not the best reading material for keeping me rational and sane. Conversely, one of the first lessons I learnt as part of my mindfulness practise was to stop worrying about the whole world and it’s problems and focus on myself. A concept which is alien to most of us in this day and age.

At the start of my MBSR course, our fantastic teacher –  Dr. Colette Power – asked our group, ‘Why are you doing this course?’

A life time of conditioning kicked in and my honest response was, ‘So I can eventually teach the children in my class and help them with the stresses that come with growing up today.’ The rest of the group also shared various ways in which their practice could benefit themselves, but also their wider family, community or work-place.

She then asked the group members to do something that no one had asked us to do in a very long time. She asked us to do the practise just for ourselves initially, to take some time out of everyday to be kind to ourselves. I have to say, that it was difficult at first to not feel guilty, selfish or undeserving of the time it takes to develop a mindfulness practise. After all, there is so much to do and so many problems in the world that need our attention to solve them, but it didn’t take long before I started to feel the benefit of doing the practise for myself. I also noticed the affect a calmer, happier Mum/teacher/wife had on the people around me.

The wonderful thing is, that I am still in touch with lots of the people from that group and we have all fulfilled our wishes to develop our mindfulness practise and share it with other people, to help them in some way, but it all started with ourselves. In one of my favourite TED talks, Andy Puddicombe  describes the transformative power of taking a short amount of time out each day to stop and do nothing. No news, no headlines, just you.

The Journey to Being Mindful …

My journey with mindfulness started about 18 months ago, on a pretty uneventful spring evening. My husband was away with work and my two children were asleep in bed, and what should have been a rare opportunity for some peace and quiet from my busy, hectic lifestyle, turned into a feeling of dread for how I would cope the next day and being completely overwhelmed.

As the realisation hit, that I had had this feeling before and it was becoming a more frequent visiter, I did what any modern woman in turmoil does; I switched on my laptop and started typing my question into google, in the vein hope that the God of the internet could solve my woes. ‘How can I cope with stress?’

After perusing the NHS Direct website’s ’10 Stress Busters’ and other links, I came across a website through The Mental Health Foundation http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/ that would prove to be a game changer: https://www.bemindfulonline.com/

I had heard of mindfulness in association with Buddhism and meditation – even having tried meditation classes whilst doing my degree and reading ‘Buddism Without Beliefs’ by Stephen Batchelor many years ago, but I had always thought of it as inaccessible and difficult due to the false perception that I needed to ’empty my mind’. Listening to the introductory videos on the website I was reassured that this wasn’t the overall aim and felt compelled to delve deeper.

That night, working my way through the introductory information was – without being too dramatic – a revelation to me. Straight away, I felt an unburdening, as I read that I was most likely suffering from chronic stress and that some simple exercises for a 15-20 minutes a day might help me to cope. I signed up to the online course for learning and practising mindfulness and I am not ashamed to say that I shed tears of relief and wonder that night, at the prospect that I may have found something to help with the inevitable highs and lows that life throws at you.

Since completing the course and subsequently reading/following the course that comes as part of the book ‘Finding Peace in a Frantic World’ by Professor Mark Williams and Danny Penman, I have become a regular practitioner of mindfulness meditation and I have recently trained to teach mindfulness to primary aged children.

All I can say, is that it has made a big difference to my life and how I view the world. I still have days when I feel that I can’t cope, but they are much fewer than before and pass more quickly. Mindfulness, I have learned is a practise that takes time and quiet determination, but the benefits are well worth it and I feel that the https://www.bemindfulonline.com/ website a good place to start if you are curious about what mindfulness can do for you.

I hope you enjoy it. Let me know how you get on.

 

 

Glimpsing a change?

trained-to-teach-paws-b

I have recently taught lesson 6 of 12 of the ‘Paws B’ Mindfulness in Schools Project or MiSP – https://mindfulnessinschools.org/ – to my boisterous and lively class, who are aged between 8-9 years old. It has taken me 18 months of developing my own mindfulness meditation practise and training, to build up to qualifying to teach these lessons, and I have to hold my hands up and admit that it has been harder than I anticipated.

When I started to feel the benefits of beginning a mindfulness practise approximately 18 months ago, one of my first instincts was, ‘I wish someone would have taught me this when I was younger.’ I could instantly understand the benefits of a greater awareness of ourselves and our minds for young children, being a mother of young twin boys and a primary school teacher. All to well, I understood the stresses and demands of growing up and going too school – as a teacher or a pupil – in modern Britain and as the practises helped me to better cope with these pressures, I naturally wanted to share this invaluable tool with the children in my care. Luckily, my supportive headteacher, who recognised the difference it had made to me, was interested in what MiSP could potentially offer the pupils in our school. Her encouragement spared me on to pursue a teaching qualification.

Fast forward, 18 months later and I began my training course to teach Paws B; a 12 week course to introduce mindfulness to 7-11 year olds. The course was run in Liverpool by: Tabitha Sawyer -the founder of the course (for the first morning), Kate Norfolk and Emma Naisbett. These amazing women were truly inspirational and the course was probably the best training I’ve experienced as a professional, not least because my fellow trainees were an awesome group of people from many corners of the globe. Without going on about it, I left the course feeling excited and fully prepared to take what I had learned back to share with my class.

I decided to dive straight in and sent out the letter that accompanies the teaching of the course to the parents of my class. A few days later, I started the lessons. The subject knowledge section of the lesson – introducing some basic neuroscience to help children understand how their brains and minds work – went pretty much as expected and the children seemed genuinely engaged and interested. ‘Amazing!’ I thought, ‘I will have a class of mini Mother Theresas and Dalai Lamas before I know it.’

Then, to interrupt my Nirvana like fantasy – came the part of the lesson when the children were supposed to supposed to ‘go into their bubble’ and focus on counting their breaths. This is a relaxed sitting posture that we had been taught on the training course that could help children to maintain their attention on themselves, rather than whatever is going on around them. The instruction involved the children sitting in a relaxed upright position, with feet flat on the floor, hands on thighs and eyes closed or lowered to look at the table. The idea was that if they were sat like so, they would not burst their own imaginary bubble or anyone else’s. Put it like this, if the children did in fact have bubbles around them, that could be burst by movement, sound or distraction, not one child would have had a bubble left within 5 seconds of starting the practise.

Undeterred, my training and practise kicked in, and I reminded the children that it is natural for their minds to wander. I told them that as soon as they noticed their attention wandering, they could return it to their breath, which acts like an anchor and start counting again. At this point, I wondered if there was magnificent fireworks display going off above their heads that was visible to all of the children, but invisible to me. The staring at the ceiling and all around, continuous fidgeting and wriggling was not what I had anticipated, at all. When the trainers on the Liverpool training course had told us that it was time to go into our bubble, like obedient pupils, we had obliged; sitting quietly and motionless. I mean, I knew that sitting still wasn’t a speciality of my class, but I thought with my embodied calmness and stillness they would be all drop into a zen like peace at a words command.

As you can probably guess, they continued to not sit still. They barely even sat. With their feet writhing up and down the chair legs as usual and heads spinning around so they could see what their friends were up to during this few minutes of down time. I persisted in giving the instructions I’d practised and took heart from the one or two children who did manage to settle down, even for just a short time.

As the lessons have progressed, I have learned a lot. For example, that they are much more able to settle down in the morning than the afternoon, they are far more self-conscious about trying something new than I had previously noticed and leaving my expectations at the door on the way into the lesson, has served us all better in the subsequent lessons. Slowly and almost imperceptibly, they have begun to change. The smallest differences, from the odd pair of feet staying rooted to the ground for an extra few seconds to the sudden wondrous engagement of a child, who up until now hadn’t paid a blind bit of notice, have started to happen and the other day, both myself and my teaching assistant both commented tentatively on the way the children were much more ready to stay in their illusive bubbles.

So, as Kate and Emma – my wonderful trainers told us – I am trying to have faith in the course and the potential that it has to provide young people with an important life-skill. I will continue to try and teach with my eyes and heart firmly open as I go forwards, in the hope that what I have glimpsed so far, is the beginnings of being able to share an amazing practise with children.