Category: Uncategorized


mindfulness: calming your worried mind

Nina was 27 years old, an Argentinian student reading engineering at Newcastle University. Her smile-radiant and enchanting- bellied her perpetual toe tapping and squeezing of her hands and fingers. “You see” she said “I’m worried, worried all the time” then she fidgeted in her seat. “Nina, I wonder, can I ask what it is you are worried about?” I replied. She stared into the middle distance, then looked straight at me. “Nothing, I’m just worried all the time. I’m worn out by it, I’m so-so sensitive about things. At least that what people tell me, the tell me not to be so sensitive Nina but I’ve always been like this. My while life. Well, all the time I can remember anyway…” her voice trailed off.

Anxiety about “nothing” or generalised anxiety disorder (known as GAD) is a common condition, estimated to affect up to 5% of the UK population. The NHS says “People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. As soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another may appear about a different issue”. There is also serious research that strongly suggests we are becoming more anxious as a Nation, with low but chronic threats filling our inboxes and our lives.

Nina had become low and often isolated in her anxiety, which in turn had become socially isolating, robbing her of a network of support she desperately needed.

She paused and looked at me. I said “where is anxiety?” The question can often discombobulate folk a little, since it’s not a question we get asked a lot. Most people are asked what they are anxious about, yet in my experience this is often a fruitless question around GAD; the anxiety is global. So I invite folk to inquire into where the anxiety is and what it’s like, a sort of mindfulness of anxiety, if you like.

Nina put her hands over her body, her right hand gently landing on her chest. “Here” she simply said. Where you feel or experience anxiety shifts the therapeutic inquiry from a purely cognitive and quite heady inquiry into a somatic one. Nina paused once, twice, as if she was checking to make sure she was feeling what she was feeling. “Here and here…like a knot, also in my belly, tight, twitchy feelings…and my hands clammy wet, as if all over energy”

I asked Nina if she would like to bring a mindfulness practice to her anxiety and she said yes.

We brought a mindfulness of breathing exercise to her stomach, inviting and allowing her to touch deeply and over time her feelings, bringing the outbreath to the knotty feelings. Then we did this with her chest and hands. The whole practice took around 30 minutes, and we kept pausing to check in on the experience.

Mindfulness of breathing with Nina was bringing a deliberate attention to anxious areas of her body with an open, non-judgmental sense of soothing. Nina was used to supressing or fighting her anxieties but now she was actually soothing and beginning to befriend them. The astonishing thing is that when we calm the body, the mind follows. Nina asked if we could calm her mind the same way we calmed her body, then her eyes widened: “worry gone!” she said.


NHS website

We are becoming more anxious


mindfulness: which moment should I be in?

There’s a phrase used a lot in mindfulness: when in difficulty, just be in the moment.

By being in the moment we’re essentially no longer caught up in habitual thought patterns that might pull us into depressive rumination in the past, by being in the moment we’re no longer on automatic pilot, by being in the moment we’re no longer lost in daydream or fantasy, running our lives blindfolded, by being in the moment we’re no longer propelled into an anxious array of thinking about possible futures: the moment opens out to us like a flower radiating wholeness and joy.

This is an excellent idea.

How can we beset with our habitual hang-ups and unprocessed issues when actually they don’t exist right here, right now?

A simple idea, but quite a difficult practice with a potential problem: which moment are you being in? is it an angry moment? A moment of hate, of despair? Is that moment when I’m just the biggest jerk on the face of the earth?

The ontological partner to being is becoming. This is a little different to being’s opposite which is doing. Of course, there is nothing wrong with doing, but it can get problematic when it becomes a kind of habitual striving, stressfully leading us to burnout, or a doing that operates from a psychologically difficult part of ourselves. This is akin to being trapped in repeating cycles of thinking and feeling. Becoming is very different.

Becoming might rely on having a certain insight into ourselves. This results from a sustained inquiry into what it that we’re doing, as the Mindfulness Scholar Rob Nairn calls mindfulness “knowing what’s happening while its happening” to which he adds “without judgment”.

It’s often this judgment -on ourselves and others-that trips us up. Gaining insight into the moment that we’re in requires a self-compassionate inquiry into ourselves, a warts and all look inside ourselves. This self-inquiry seeks to unpack and liberate blocked and disabling patterns of self-relating. This insight leads to becoming.

Becoming what?

That, what we don’t know. That’s what is so exciting. Becoming more you, integrating the disowned parts of you into a healing collective, allowing you to align with new moments struggling to become you.

Can you be in a moment of becoming?

calm down!

I liked this post that my colleague Chris Penlington of Resilient Mind Training created so much I’ve posted the link here-and the text

ResilientMind Training Mindfulness Whitley Bay Newcastle 

Do you remember when somebody last told you to calm down?  Chances are it didn’t help.  We often feel that we, or others need to calm ourselves down in difficult situations but it can be hard to know how to do it.  In fact, one of the most common questions I am asked at my mindfulness classes in Whitley Bay and Newcastle is, how do I calm myself down when I feel very emotional?  Many of the people who attend these classes have been used to keeping themselves very busy and coping with high stress situations by physical activity of one sort or another.  However, when ill health comes along often these strategies are no longer available.

Mindfulness is about being in the moment – however that moment is.  It is not about deliberately trying to feel, or stop feeling a particular way.  So we would not try to change or control what we experience.  However, we can still look after ourselves by choosing where to place our attention.  The present moment includes many experiences, some of which we will be more aware of than others at any one time.  When we are feeling agitated, angry, anxious or upset the chances are that we are focusing on our thoughts about the situation that has triggered these feelings.  At these times our thoughts can have a very strong pull and will probably move very fast.  They may or may not be true – it doesn’t matter.  It is almost impossible to continue to focus on our thoughts without adding fuel to the fire of how we are feeling.  So instead we can choose to take care of our needs in the moment by directing our attention towards another aspect of our present moment experience.

We could choose something about the environment around us, and do our best to direct most of our attention on to an object that we can see or hold.  We would do this without trying to ‘block out’ any thoughts or feelings that kept coming back to us (which they certainly would).  We would simply keep redirecting our attention gently back to our chosen object, without giving ourselves a hard time.  Choosing to focus most of our attention on the solid feeling of the feet on the floor, while we are standing, sitting or walking can be a really helpful way of calming our minds when we are in danger of being overwhelmed.

Or a really helpful way of dealing with and processing difficult emotion is to pay attention to the feeling of the emotion in the body.  So when we notice that we are feeling angry, we can ask ourselves ‘how do I feel this in the body?’  We might notice some tension in our chest or arms.  We can then try to explore this with a really gentle attitude and an intention to simply look after our needs the best we can.  We can imagine using our breath to gently explore the detail of what we are experiencing in the body.  With practice this can help us to acknowledge and look after our emotions without getting carried away by them to the point where we automatically keep adding fuel to the fire of how we feel.


Saltwick Bay, Yorkshire, England, Great Britain

the mindful workplace

We’re always busy, always at our iPhones and always stressed. Job insecurity and Brexit shadows us with uncertainty. We often take our work home to stay ahead of the game and we’re turning into a culture of workhorses, governed by the threat of redundancy; more and more we plan every minute and are proud to be multitasking. If we check our work emails on a Sunday we’re no longer surprised to receive a message or a report from a work colleague. The higher up you go, the more work saturated it becomes; the message here is that if you want to succeed you must pay by losing your free time. This tidal wave of tasks creates a work-based attention deficit trait where the workhorse can become literally “under siege”

Mindfulness as a predicator of wellbeing, psychological health and workplace productivity has been well researched and documented. Mindfulness is about your life. It isn’t about the time you meditate on a cushion or chair. It is about learning to be awake and bringing our distracted and often stressed minds back to now with a fresh quality of attention. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention – in the present moment – to yourself, others and the world around you. Derived from the Buddhist meditative traditions it is now increasingly finding its way into secular and workplace contexts. Anyone can train in mindfulness and we now know that such training literally re-sculpts your brain.

Paul Gilbert in Mindful Compassion writes about three major neurological systems, those of drive, safety and threat focused systems. Workhorses will typically perform (and underperform) under threat/drive, and their sympathetic nervous system will be chronically activated; stress, anxiety and depression are often consequential outcomes for the workhorse.

Practicing mindfulness in the workplace will help alleviate this threat/survival system. Mindfulness helps deactivate the threat system and activates the self-soothing of the parasympathetic nervous system which is associated with feelings of secure attachment, safeness, and the bonding neurochemical oxytocin. The best workers are those who practice mindfulness in the workplace, taking pauses to both reflect on their work and become more grounded and resilient.

Google were so impressed by the connection between mindfulness and a nourishing workplace that they created their own mindfulness programme called “Search Inside Yourself”  ( . By September 2009 over two hundred people had gone through the programme, becoming more mindful, more connected less stressed and better communicators.

Michael Chaskalson ( ) found that

  • Mindfulness training increases concentration
  • Workers who practice mindfulness make more rational decisions
  • Mindfulness training can reduce burnout
  • Mindfulness training can raise the level of emotional intelligence
  • A more mindful workplace actually increases productivity

The good news is that you can bring mindfulness into your workplace without adding any more demands on your already too-packed schedule. I like to call these moments Mindful Pauses. It isn’t just about stopping; it is about noticing what’s happening both outside and inside you while it’s happening; thus you are to bring a more mindful awareness into the workplace and to your tasks at hand.

This is attention training; and these mindful pauses allow you to step off the daily treadmill and perhaps find some spaciousness in the day to make more conscious choices, bring more resilience into your day.

Mindful Pauses

With each Mindful Pause, practice noticing when the attention drifts and redirect it back to where you are now.

  1. Decide how you start your day rather than letting the day start you—begin each new day by noticing the sensations of the breath for a few breaths before jumping out of bed.
  2. Use your journey wisely—choose some days to drive to and from work without the radio or phone. When you arrive at your destination, allow yourself a few moments to sit in the car, mindfully noticing your breath.
  3. Nourish yourself—mindfully eat your lunch; take time out.
  4. Walk between meetings –feeling your feet on the floor, the air on your skin, grounding yourself between tasks or meetings
  5. Sit upright, raising your spine at your desk while your computer is turning on, noticing the sensations in the body as you sit.

See also a guide for the superbusy at

Saltwick Bay, Yorkshire, England, Great Britain

seasons of mindfulness 5 practices to align to the seasons

When September arrives we know things are changing, we are moving from summer and towards autumn.

This time of year both provokes and evokes a set of feelings, often constellated around resistance to the cold setting in. Taking time to reflect on how we are in our outer and inner seasons as these seasons change is a kind and mindful activity. This dharma of nature can teach us much.

5 seasons of mindfulness practices

  1. Take time to be in nature – sitting in the garden or walking in a beach or wild place; savour this experience
  2. Notice how the light is changing, we get some quite beautiful sunsets as the season change; notice fruits and berries as they bloom
  3. There are many small changes around us as we move towards a change of season. What do you notice around you-look with new eyes as leaves fall to the ground
  4. Try to be in the here and now as changes occur, using your senses to be fully present.
  5. Reflect on how this is for you as an embodied being, what changes occur and repeat in you?

tigers above, tigers below

One day a young woman was taking a walk along the sides of cliff. She fell, but stopped herself by clinging onto a nearby branch. She was about to let herself down gently but caught sight of two tigers prowling below. So she looked up, preparing to climb up, but saw another two tigers at the clifftop, waiting. Not able to go down or up she looked around her and saw at the end of the branch a wild strawberry growing. She ate the wild strawberry.

Tigers and above, tigers below. This, some say, is essentially the human condition. Caught between extremes of terror.

Part of our problem is that we become so threat saturated we lose sight of the wonder and preciousness in our lives, the tigers of taxation, targets, email demands and performance indicators, of having to be good and yet telling you you are never going to be good; you can’t kill these tigers-they keep returning-but you can notice the branch you forgot that still grows by your side and taste the succulent wild strawberries in your life.


the two wolves: how to feed your loving heart

There is an old Native American wisdom story. A Cherokee Grandfather is talking to his grandson, telling him that he has two wolves in his backyard. The grandson says “wow grandfather, what are they doing?” and the Grandfather says “fighting-one is the wolf of love, the other is the wolf of hate”. The boy then asks the grandfather “which one is going to win?” the grandfather simply replies “the one I feed”

How often have we fed the wolf of hate inside us? This is the wolf that appears to actively-and often savagely- dislike and hates what it might start perceiving as all the injustices and issues and immoral acts in the world, but we as feed it grows into a raft of elaborate defences. We begin to identify with this wolf, we who hate become hatred itself. In turn, since we find dislikeable (sometimes hateful) aspects of ourselves-anger, jealously, greed, resentment, ego- we create a situation where we have to suppress, repress or deny aspects of ourselves, projecting those hateful aspects on to the world.  This starts in a very small way, but before very long those rickety little roads in the human brain have turned into huge neurohighways.   The very thing we wanted to rid ourselves of we fed.

What of the wolf of love? At its heart there is welcome and acceptance; it knows that nothing will change with resistance (the phase “what you resit, persist” rings true here) so this is the part of us that meets our experience to the fullest, allowing it to be exactly the way it is, in turn allowing quite disparate parts of ourselves to soothe and integrate. The wolf of love does not suppress or repress but says “welcome” to the world with great compassion for self and other. Those aspects of ourselves that are scared or scary, lonely, anxious or sad and depressed, fragile or denied it meets with tenderness and love, encouraging the layers of our suffering and pain to subside, greeting our inner and outer worlds in a tender embrace, teaching us we can learn to accept and love our messy and broken selves.


breaking old habits that keep us stuck

 “freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns” Tara Brach Radical Acceptance

“the curious paradox is that when I accept myself Just as I am, then I can change” Carl Rogers

Being human we have a set of instinctive drives hardwired within us and centuries old. We have the drive to protect (ourselves and our kinfolk) and the drive to grow. Our drive to protect-often manifesting in the first instance as automatic and unconscious defences such as fight, flight or freeze-become activated without choice. They keep us alive and our species intact. The drive to grow, to develop and evolve, often called the drive to self-actualise or entelechy, appears to be most prevalent in human beings. Other animals build, but we appear to have a profound need to realise in some way our inner potential; we can this express in art, music, dance, literature and so on.

Older -and we could say stronger- than the evolutionary drive is this self-protection drive. It is so strong that when it goes online it can subvert or hijack the finer, loftier drive of self-actualising. It is not so much that the drive to evolve is sabotaged, rather it can become suppressed and frustrated, taking very different turns and routes out. This, for us, can result in us making what appears to be the best decisions in our lives out of an unconscious self-protection, but then “Velcroing” to these defences and patterning our lives by them.

The psychotherapist Carl Rogers wrote about this in his book A Way of Being, comparing human growth to the potato shoots he saw as a child in the family barn. The old potatoes were thrown away into the corner, yet still would shoot but without care or nurturance. The shoots would be twisted, feeble at times and subverted, yet still they reached out to the sun. Rogers compared this to the human need to grow; we still reach out, even though our life circumstances and layers of defences subvert skilful growth, allowing old strategies and redundant patterns of behaviour and relating to direct us. We literally become stuck in neurological grooves that will never allow us to fully grow, caught up as we are in the hope or belief that if we just keep going down this road something will change and we will find our happiness.

Take Molly for example. Molly was 24 years old and angry. Her mum died when she was 14 and her dad couldn’t cope, losing himself in drink and despair. It was left up to Molly to do her mums job, so she looked after her dad and her 10-year-old brother. For Molly parental love vanished at the age of 14, yet still into her adult live she hungered for it, believing that if she kept appealing to her now-alcoholic father she might just get it. In her adult life this meant that her relationship history became patterned by abandonment and rejection; she would seek out partners who would most likely reject her or she would find fault in, creating a confirmation bias that proved she was unlovable.

In my consulting room we explored this. Molly began to explore what it would be like to loosen the self-defeating and largely defence led belief that in order to find what she needed she was required to get it from her father. Over weeks-and with difficulty at first, for it is hugely difficult to rerelate to old patterns of behaviour, we resist change since the old patterns have served us so well in the past and they habitually reassert themselves-Molly reached into herself, accepting her inner fragility with kindness and self-compassion. It was the gradual awakening of her self-acceptance and development of her self-compassion that allowed her to move past her defences, not by ridding herself of them or suppressing them but by befriending them, allowing them to loosen their force.

Molly never stopped loving her dad, but was able to rerelate to her father and herself, accepting that she could find love and what she needed elsewhere, which she did, waking up her own heart and finding a lover she could trust, letting go of those old patterns of resistance that blocked growth.

In my consulting room we used an adapted version of RAIN practice, popularised by Tara Brach.

  • R is for recognising the stuck patterns that are blocking growth
  • A is for allowing and accepting these patterns to have whatever emotional of cognitive tone they have
  • I is to investigate with kindness these patterns
  • N is to nonidentify with them, allowing growth to occur

This does not define you

Around two and a half thousand years ago the Buddha made an important distinction between pain and suffering. He suggested that though we are unable to prevent pain from occurring in our life, our suffering is optional.

The undeniable fact is that we cannot prevent ourselves experiencing pain, whether it be physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual pain, pain happens. The Buddha called this the “first arrow” and suggested that we are shot by that arrow time and time again. But then-being clever humans-we do something with this arrow of pain: we resist it.

We resist the fullness of experiencing this pain by either fighting it, flighting it, or freezing from it. This might take subtle or not-so-subtle forms, such as suppression, denial, distortion, repression or projection, the latter being where we project the difficulties we have of meeting this pain onto another thing or person (“It’s your fault”).

This disowning of our experience builds up and becomes reified into a fixed narrative of suffering, whereupon we identify with the resistance as “us”-it literally defines us. So this is the second arrow, shot right into the tender wound made by the first, yet enlarged and made more wounded.

So we might walk through life habitually conditioned with and by this narrative of suffering. But it doesn’t stop there.

Because our human minds are so tricky we do something else. We fire a third arrow. This is the arrow we fire into ourselves, and if it spoke it might say “I deserve this” or “I’m not good enough” or “there’s something wrong with me.” If you google “I’m not good enough” there are 64 ½ million results.

Now the world can rest. Nobody need hurt us because we are carrying within us a narrative, a repeating cycle of self-attack that we fire into ourselves again and again. In a very basic way we are subjugated within a reactive self, split off from our authentic being. This, we let define us.

This does not define us.

Neuroscience has known for years that within the human brain “neurons that fire together, wire together” and from the perspective of mindfulness an oft repeated maxim suggests “where attention goes, energy flows and something grows”. It’s clear that what we bring our attention to, either by holding onto it or attempting to reject it, this actually reinforces the very thing we’re trying to rid ourselves of.

We need a different approach.

We can pause, we can literally stop firing these arrows. Mindfulness practice tells us we can become more present to the moment, right here and right now rather than being caught up in old and disabling story lines. And we can send deliberate, conscious messages of kindness to ourselves allowing us to open and deepen into the disowned parts of ourselves.

Kirsten Neff has worked extensively in the area of self-compassion, and suggests that we need to evoke a sense of mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness to halt the firing of these arrows. Neff created what she calls the self-compassion break as a way tending to ourselves. The instruction is to pause, take a breath, let your mind settle, relax, then say to yourself (perhaps putting a hand on your heart)


this is a moment of suffering

everybody has moments of suffering

may I be kind to myself in these moments of suffering


The first line is mindfulness, recognising without denial the difficulty or suffering, the next common humanity, it tells us we are all in this together as part of our human nature and the last line self-compassion, which is a prerequisite for meeting those difficult parts of ourselves we have rejected.

Taking back the arrows of projection, of reactivity, and pausing our narrative of suffering allows us not only to get closer to our pain but also find our authentic selves. Fight, flight or freeze, a life defined from a narrative of suffering can flow and grow: but so can kindness.


Kristen Neff Self Compassion

water 4

the places that grow me

There are not many of us that live without being hurt in some way. Being hurt evokes our fight-flight-freeze response which is hardwired into us; it establishes a thousand subtle and not so subtle defences, shields and justifications for needing those shields, such as “better safe than sorry”.

We defend in so many ways: we deny, distort, suppress and repress what threatens and hurts us. In order to maintain our shielded selves, we espouse a particular narrative which, by its very nature closes a part of ourselves off. Mostly, since we don’t want to feel our pain, we don’t just reject and disown that which is painful and dark in us, but the light, too. We reduce our experience of pain, but so too our potential for continued growth. To a greater or lesser extent, we’re then all operating from a place of arrested development. Yet we can “grow up.”

We’ve become used to identifying and relating largely from what is called our mental-egoic self, mostly a cognitive, problem-solving, strategising self. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but we’re capable of much more.

There are more stages and levels available to us. Exploring briefly the work of Ken Wilber, he suggests that there are three distinct levels or stages of human growth: preconventional, conventional and postconventional. Most of the world population operates from a conventional level and constellate largely around the mental-egoic set of preferences we have. But what, or where, are the places that grow me?

One primary way of moving from conventional to post conventional is by relating from what Buddhism calls bodhicitta, often described as “awakened heart”. It is interesting that in many Asian tongues the word heart is the same as mind; there is a sense of a fuller presence here. Pema Chodron calls bodhicitta “the soft spot…as vulnerable and tender as an open wound” and equates it with compassion. The awakened heart-this is not mere emotion or feeling, but an embodied and awakened compassion and self-inquiry-shines a light that connects and releases our defences, defences that hold us in aversion and grasping; in that release, we grow.

We discover a fixed sense of self we have constructed and maintained from our defences. This conventional self, structured as it is around certainty and separateness falls away; we then relate to a self coordinated by impermanence and interdependence, connected to the flux and flow that is life living through us.

The awakened heart is then free to rest in awareness itself, light and dark are reconciled and we grow.


Pema Chodron The Places That Scare You

Ken Wilber Sex, Ecology, Spirituality





Covid 19 blog #12: can you take a risk? Dare you eat a peach?

“Do I dare disturb the universe? /Shall I part my hair behind? /Do I dare to eat a peach?” T.S. Eliot The Love Song of …


Covid 19 blog #11: you gave away your power. What comes next?

“Mr Duffy lived a few feet away from his body” -James Joyce Dubliners “true spiritual realisation, authentic enlightenment, …


Covid 19 blog #8: a time of loss and a time of adaption-to what?

“do not go gently into that good night/old age should burn and rage at close of day/rage, rage against the dying of the …