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being like a mountain

It came as a surprise to me initially that the ongoing work we do in mindfulness training involved so much bodywork or embodiment (why is it called mindfulness? I found myself asking). This kind of training comes on the back of the settling the mind practices and this “somatic descent” is akin to touching the ground or being earthed -or touching earth-literally allowing our awareness to drop down into our body and explore what we find within the field of our experiencing.

So, the metaphors of “grounding” or “touching earth” become very real and felt, creating what Reginald Ray in his recent book The Awakening Body calls “a strong, reliable, open and profound relationship with the earth beneath us”.

This anchoring in earth becomes akin to experiencing our primal body, our soma in its most rooted and energetic way, where our emotional and cognitive weather comes-and then goes.

Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are suggests that when we are anchored and deeply connected this way our being is like a mountain-rain, winds, snow and sunshine come, yet being like a mountain, we stay present as it all moves on.

In meditation, we might come to a sitting posture, letting our mind settle as we attune to our breathing, feeling deeply the posture we now inhabit as a mountain, as if we bring the sense of being, like a mountain into our embodiment. Being, like a mountain, winter, spring, summer and autumn, all the seasons in life come and go in their endless cycling and recycling, yet our being, like a mountain, remains.



are you driven by these 7 myths of success?

I want to be a success, but I’m not sure how to be one. What would it look like?

Am I going about it all the wrong way?

Perhaps I’ve bought into a set of ideas about success without really reflecting on them. It could be that these ideas have all had their day, but it’s just…all around me people seem to be modelling them.

They can’t all be wrong, can they?

They must be very successful.

Is it just me?

Look I’ve put all these together-how folks seem to be- and come up with 7 pillars of success. See what you think-they seem to very popular:

  1. Judge: listen deeply and adhere well to the critical voice within that tells you what a complete failure you are and there’s something wrong with you
  2. Hurry: through everything. Don’t wait, don’t stop, just run at full pelt through the world and don’t worry if others are left behind; they will either catch up or not, but don’t make it your concern
  3. Facts are real and true and thoughts are facts and you are an expert
  4. Don’t trust: anybody. Nobody. Get them before they get you. This keeps you safe
  5. Strive: just keep your shoulder to the wheel and work on; don’t look out the window it’s just a distraction, achieve, outcomes, your performance is all that matters you augmented human you
  6. Stress is success: stress and worry and low mood means you are experiencing reality s it is
  7. Grab what you can and hold onto to tightly, it belongs to you and you belong to it

And then I came across this guy called Jon Kabat-Zinn.

A lot of years ago, he wrote about mindfulness in a book called Full Catastrophe Living and he came up with what are now known as The & Pillars of Mindfulness. They are

  1. Non-judging: cultivate an impartial witness to your own experience
  2. Patience: things often must unfold in their own time
  3. Beginner’s mind: we let what we “know” prevent us from seeing things as they really are
  4. Trust: develop a basic trust in yourself and your own experience
  5. Non-striving: non-doing, being, no goal, no outcome
  6. Acceptance: see things as they are, but not resignation
  7. Letting go: being Velcro for bad, Teflon for good; releasing identification with tings


Maybe I should give this mindfulness stuff a go…. I might find success…. I might find happiness….



couples water

want a more mindful couple relationship? 3 great tips how to

Mindfulness is often portrayed as an individual practice, whether in its formal habit of sitting, walking or bodyscan, or even in the co-called informal practices of tea meditation or turning queue waiting into a breathing meditation; the “going solo” aspect is often privileged.

But there comes a time when we all get off the cushion, so to speak, and get into the world, relating to the people around us.

Here is where our troubles can really begin, for probably the biggest emotional investment and most brittle at times, is in our couple relationship with all of its affordances and constraints.

It is here, in our marriages and romantic partnerships that we reveal our very best-and at times our worst-sides; the psychological and emotional intensity that is the crucible of marriage triggers both our shadow and light.

In this arena, relational approaches to mindfulness can lower reactivity and foster greater connectivity in couple relationships. Here are 3 tips from 3 mindful domains: mindfulness itself, compassion and insight into couple partnership

  1. Be here now: in couple relationships, we can get so easily lost in the accelerating thoughts and story-the past-in our shared history. We can get literally entangled up in resentments and what we perceive as unfinished business from the past. If we take what Tara Brach calls a “sacred pause” where we can just be present with our experience right now the story begins to fall away, and we are able to relate to one another without getting tangled up in what appears to be unfinished business
  2. Listening with care, speaking with care: bringing a sense of compassion to our couple relationships often means soothing ourselves, lowering the threat based system that Paul Gilbert and Choden talk about in their book Mindful Compassion. This fight or flight system means that it is very difficult to relate and connect with our partner while our shields are effectively up. Precisely what we need to do is reach out with compassion to the other, step into their shoes, but before we do we need to calm ourselves first and move from reactivity into a more responsive place. Partly, this also begins with attentive listening skills, putting yourself to one side while the other speaks.
  3. Knowing me, knowing you, knowing us: in his book Love and Awakening John Welwood writes about recognising what he calls “unconscious setups” or exploring conflicts that couples recycle. Welwood suggests that this will often be setup from past drives originated in both partners’ upbringing (it’s a mutual drive or setup) and exploring this, unpacking the layers underneath your couple relationship, brings it out of the darkness and reveals its richness and true potentials.

There is a further mindful relating practice used by the Mindful Association.

Partners sit softly gazing at one another, they bring to mind and heart the many years of their partners’ living, their trials and tribulations, their success and failures and in their hearts, feel into their lived experience, wishing them loving kindness. This is repeated between the couple, sitting in meditation, fostering greater empathy, love and connection.

For Sacred pause see

For Gilbert and Choden

For John Welwood


are you one of the Worried Out? 5 signs you are, 5 ways to help

You know that feeling you get, your mind’s frazzled after what seems to be just the normal activity of the day: work, shopping, socialising, relationships; just living and this living has got you worried out. It’s a low but quite chronic sensation, not quite an anxiety or deep seated angst, it’s not panic, but it’s still very real and it leaves you worn out, as if you want to run away or burst into tears (if you’re a male you might want to lash out).

Stress, anxiety, panic, trauma, they all exist on a spectrum from the normal stresses that we all experience as part of day to day to living to the extreme sense of agitation and anxiety that prevents any kind of useful functioning.

What’s becoming clearer in the digitally driven 21st Century is that there is a kind of gap between high anxiety-as-such and low stress. I call this the “worried out” and lately in my clients I’ve seen it more and more; it tends not to get in the way of workaday functioning (it’s a sort of functional anxiety) but is it is pervasive and it is a signal that it might be a slippery slope of worse to come.

Here’s some signs that you might be “worried out”

  1. You experience a sense of repeated distraction; it feels as if you can’t fully concentrate on tasks at hand
  2. You have begun to snipe or pick fault with your partner; you’ve gone off sex or your libido’s fallen dramatically
  3. You feel more emotional that you have done in the past and yet you can’t quite locate this emotion or name it
  4. You feel disconnected from life and the things that you previously enjoyed
  5. Your resources and resilience are failing you

What’s happening here?

Thousands of centuries ago when we existed and lived on the bright but dangerous savannah we developed, in common with our reptilian ancestors what we now call our “old brain”-essentially this is our threat and drive system and it activates our fight and flight that in turn helped protect us from lions and tigers. In the modern would, of course, we don’t have to face the tigers of the savannah, yet the paper tigers of emails, targets and performance indicators and the thousands of digitally driven stressors that impact on everyday life take their toll; quite literally our threat-drive system ends up locked in fight and flight, moving forwards and backwards at the same time; we’re like a car trying to be driven with the accelerator and the brake on at the same time.

Luckily there is a way out; we have this old brain system, but to combat the “Worried Out “part of us we also have the new brain system, which, when we consciously activate it, can actuate our resources and rebuild our resilient selves. This is called the soothing system, and basically to work with feeling Worried Out we have to bring it more online.

Here’s how to help: 5 tips

  1. Pause: take a pause or just stop what you are doing and get into a more being
  2. Breathe-sounds simple, but breathing out, a deep-felt exhale activates the soothing system and releases tension, stress and worry
  3. Talk in the good around you; look around you and develop a curiosity about all the things around you you can be grateful for-there’s more than you think
  4. Get a massage (or give one) from your partner; the act of human touch promotes feelgood chemicals that relax you from the inside out
  5. Look at self-care: start reflecting on what really nourishes you in your life and get more of this

And let worry out!



burnt out? How to rebuild resilience with loving kindness

This is a variation of metta or loving kindness practice to bring more resilience into your life. Resilience is thought of as our “bouncbackability”, the energy or resources we have within ourselves to respond to the slings and arrows of life with renewed vigour.

The problem is, when we’re burnt out we often just plough on, running on fumes until a crisis or something critical happens. Before that occurs, we need to metaphorically put more fuel in our tanks. Here is a practice that can help:

  • Find a relaxed and stable position, either seated or lying down, and just start to being your attention to your breath, to your breathing; perhaps breathe in to the count of 4, then exhale to the count of 4, slowly grounding into the rhythm of your breathing body
  • observe the next few breaths. Let go of any sense of striving or effort to feel anything different. Don’t force yourself to feel or be relaxed, just bring your attention to your bodily sensations and the sounds around you, bringing you back into the present
  • as you continue to sit (or if you are lying down) say to yourself

May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I feel safe.
May I live my life with ease.

See if you can get a felt sense of these words as you softly repeat them

  • After several minutes, imagine a friend or somebody for whom you have almost entirely positive feelings. This person also just wants to be happy. (If no one comes to mind, that’s okay, just continue with the practice for yourself.)
  • Finally extend the same wishes to the world. Send this compassionate wish for well-being and kindness to anyone you imagine, anywhere; imagine your loving kindness rippling outwards, reaching and touching the world.

As you begin to embody this practice more and more, you can use it to reduce everyday stress and increase your resilience.


mindfulness: words fail me!

I imagine I’m not alone in this, but in my sitting practice I have come across a powerful problem: I really don’t have the language to describe -or capture-some of my experience; quite literally, words fail me!

Let me explain: my mind settles, (okay, it approaches settling, there’s always ambient neural activity i.e. chatterboxing going on) it feels like I sink into grounding and my breathing body and the sounds in the environment bring me out of distraction and anchor me into the present moment, into presence. I rest, resting with the experience as it is, acknowledging and accepting it, just being with it what arises.

Judith Blackstone (2007) writes of “a process of gradually letting go of one’s grip on oneself and one’s environment-as if opening a clenched fist” and suggests this is an effortless experience.

Experiences arise, yet I have found that more and more I really don’t have the language to be able to describe these experiences, they seem to exits past language, somewhere or somehow on the periphery of my linguistic skills, as if there is a whole territory in me without a map.

This could analogous to the story of those explores who came across the Intuits decades ago, and discovered that Westerners had one name for snow that the indigenous population had hundreds; the story illustrates the significance perhaps of those who more closely inhabit the territory itself.


Should I develop a language for these on the edge of words experiences?

I reflected on this, and suddenly realised something quite powerful about what I was doing (and I was doing something here). The desire within all of us-perhaps it is not just me? -is to understand, conceptualise, catalogue and contain our experience in word, idea, notion, data and so forth. I remember sitting in a lecture of Rod Nairn’s a few years ago, Rob said (words to the effect of) “when we conceptualise our experience, we kill it”

What to do, in my practice, when words fail me?

Perhaps it not about doing anything at all, perhaps it’s about re-relating to experience or cultivating a different attitude.

It seems habitual to reach out to experience and grasp it and in that clenching of self, hope to hold onto it, but if I simply turn towards it, stay with it with curiosity and openness and allow the felt sense of this experience to resonate through me, if I can sit with that change of attitude then words no longer fail me and the clenched fist opens some more.


Judith Blackstone The Empathic Ground Suny 2007


caught up in your own thoughts? 4 ways to have a more mindful 2017

When I look objectively at my working day it’s something like this: I wake up, I have breakfast, I drive to work, I sit at my computer and I drive home.

It’s pretty dull, seen that way.

So, why is that in my mind it’s like James Bond? It’s just a great big drama in here!

If we had to describe what we do, you know that caught-up-in-my-drama thing that whirls around our minds, Velcroing us to the past or future with rumination or worry, we might call it thoughting (we might not have an actual word).

Mindfulness teaches us that thoughts have a kind of threefold nature, they come, they make a show of themselves and they go. It’s what we do in that middle bit that matters most, that’s where the thought becomes thinking, or thoughting and a drama ensues.

Here are four practices you can do in 2017 to lower the impact of your thoughting.

  1. Remind yourself that thoughts come and go, and that what you are doing is thoughting, getting caught up in (often) involuntary thoughts that we Velcro to. This gives us the opportunity to create a separation between us and that flood of information that we call our thoughts.
  2. Recognise your self-critic. We are hardwired through thousands of years of evolutionary history to have a self-critic that keeps us in check or “better safe than sorry” which in turn feeds our dramas; at the extreme, this can lead us to feel threat saturated. Give your self-critic some time off by practicing messages of self-care and self-compassion; accept yourself just s you are
  3. Shift your attention to your body, practice walking a short meditation; your thoughts will come more to rest the more you focus on bodily sensations
  4. Notice the good things and feel gratitude for them. Whatever the New Year brings, it will bring a mixture of good, bad, happy and sad; taking time to appreciate the good lowers anxious thoughts and promotes a more grounded you

letting go of the year: how to have a more mindful 2017

We all know that feeling: between the chimes of Big Ben and the kisses on the cheek falls a shadow, a nagging drive and doubt. We ask ourselves, just how do we have a better New Year?

For many of us-myself included-2016 was a year significantly marked by change and loss; artistic loss (David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Prince, to name just a few) and political change on a seismic level. Change and loss can leave their mark on us, and we can carry this grooved sense of discomfort into the next year, causing us to neglect the promise and wonder of 2017.

So, can we have a more mindful New Year?

We can. We can all develop this faculty of mindfulness within us, that practice of bringing our life back into focus in a vivid and meaningful way.


Here’s how-by cultivating 5 of the best mindful habits that can, with practice, generate a more mindful and compassionate 2017:

  1. Pause: stop what you are doing, even if it’s just for a minute. Pay attention to the increasing sunlight as January moves forwards
  2. Breathe: as you breathe feel into your breathing body; the delicious new air oxygenates your body and brain, flooding you with healthy neurochemicals
  3. Sow seeds of care: take time to wish all those around you peace, ease and happiness (and the bonus is that by offering them your compassionate wishes, your self-compassion grows too!)
  4. Open to the present: explore all the golden opportunities around you that allow you rest mindfully in the moment, turn queue waiting into mini meditations, a walk from the train to work into mindful walking; let the past and the future fall away
  5. Take it as it comes: practice acceptance and start to befriend change-thoughts, emotions, feelings all change; attune to the inner season and rhythm of your life

Happy New Year!


Mindfulness in Newcastle

Graeme Armstrong, Ani Tselha and Chris Penlington

are co-delivering the Level 1 Mindfulness Training: Being Present for the Mindfulness Association in

Newcastle upon Tyne at Northumbria University


8th and 9th April 2017   24th and 25th June 2017 23rd-24th September 2017 & 4th-5th November 2017

10am-5pm costs £140.00 per weekend including manual

Mindfulness is an inherent capacity we all have to be aware of our present moment experience in a kind and non-judgmental way. It can be developed through systematic training and promotes a way of being that helps us take better care of ourselves and others, and lead healthier lives. It enables us to access inner resources for coping effectively with stress, low mood and illness.

The Mindfulness Association offers a training pathway that begins with a one-weekend Foundation Course and is followed by the three weekends of the Mindfulness Practitioner Certificate Course.

The full Mindfulness Training is strongly experiential and offers a step by step journey into a deepening experience of being present and accepting ourselves as we are.  It has been developed by Rob Nairn, one of the world pioneers in presenting mindfulness practice in a way that is accessible to the Western mind. The training therefore includes teachings in Western psychological language that provide a context for understanding what is happening in our minds as we practice and work with the challenges that arise.

Ani Tselha, Chris and Graeme have taken great care in deciding on the venue and decided on The Business School in Northumbria University. This means that when delivering the course, participants will be right in the academic heart of student life in Newcastle, yet snuggled far enough away to provide calm and reflection. The University offer nights from £30 pp-a bargain, and for any folk who want to stop over, a warm Newcastle welcome awaits.

We would love to see you on this course and invite you to book going to

Warmest regards

Graeme Armstrong Ani Tselha and Chris Penlington

you can find out more about Northumbria University Business School at

you can find out more about Newcastle here


5 Great Tips for a Mindful Christmas

For many of us, the season of peace and goodwill has become a time of stress and indulgence. Here’s 5 Great tips for a more mindful Christmas

  1. The Sound of Music

Take the opportunity with Christmas Carols and festive muzak around, to take time out to listen and give all your attention to one or two favourite pieces that speak to your heart. See if you can fully focus on the sounds. You might discover layers of sound you didn’t realise were there. Be present to the sounds.

  1. Find your refuge of calm

Connect for 10 minutes into a refuge of calm. This could be your car parked out in the carpark, a cosy window-seat, or even a mindful walk. Respect your need for topping up moments of settling; amidst all the busyness of Christmas find time away from the family.

  1. Seasonal Scents

Enjoy the seasonal smells as you are cooking in the kitchen, shopping or walking in nature. We often take our sense of smell for granted – be mindful of all those astonishing fragrances at this time of year – from rich, spicy mince-pies to pine cones, spiced oranges, cinnamon and cloves. Savour the scents!

  1. Gratitude practice

There is so much to be appreciative of at this time of year. Having hearth and home, being healthy, meeting up with friends and family, plentiful food and beautiful surroundings; the list is endless. Say it to others, say it to yourself or write it down: Thank you for your loving kindness!

  1. Mindful breathing

Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into and out of that spot, filling your abdomen with air. Let the air in, then let it out, like a balloon inflating and deflating. With every long, slow exhalation, deepen into the feeling and let go. Try this any time you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, bit by bit letting go of Christmas tensions



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