There’s Nobody Telling You What To Do

hippie-age

The scene is something along the lines of how I imagine a pretty intense sixties LSD experiment might be…

A couple of people are rolling on the ground, some making distinctly inhuman noises, roars, screeches and hisses sound through the tent. Some other people seem to be dancing ecstatically, their bodies moving instinctively… the faint sound of hypnotic African drums drift in from somewhere beyond the tent. A few children are running in circles in and out of the moving bodies – they’re shrieking and laughing, sticking their tongues out at everyone.

A couple of them have yoga mats on their heads. Oh yeah, they’re my children.

It’s a little crazy.

But this isn’t some out-there party, and you’ll be glad to know there were no mind-altering substances involved. This is the yoga camp workshop I innocently joined that was called, rather vaguely and kind of misleadingly, “Fun Yoga”. Lovely, I thought, that sounds like a nice jolly class I can enjoy along with the the kids. Ha! I did not know what I was letting myself in for (and probably would have been too scared to do it if I had known) and would not have guessed that I’d soon be roaring, shrieking and rolling around with the best of them.

It happened like this…

Our rather brilliantly mischievous and inspiring teacher, Amanda Hamilton, started with the premise that yoga, and indeed everything else, can always be fun, but mostly it is we who stop ourselves having fun, always living by the ‘should’ – choosing what is expected, over what we want.

There’s nobody telling you what to do, her voice begins to chant, insistently. There’s nobody telling you what to do. There’s nobody telling you what to do.

The words are repeated, rising, urgent, playful, over and over…again and again. Suggestions of what we might want to do, how we might want to move, to feel free. My mind resists: she’s telling me what to do, even whilst she’s telling me that nobody’s telling me what to do! I don’t want to be free and crazy because of an instruction!

But I DO want to be free and crazy, and I go along with it… It’s embarrassing, awkward and then pretty liberating, hilarious and then (dare I say it) really fun. A kind of magical madness descends on our tent. The kids, initially completely confused by the fact that an adult is telling them they can do anything they want, look to me for reassurance, and then after some tentative miaows and woofs, pretty much go batshit (in a good way). Maybe seeing and hearing me channel my inner lion after rolling around on the ground like a drunken loon helped them let go?!

Our kids (and before them, us) are so used to being pushed into docile obedience from an early age: sit still, don’t talk, this isn’t time for playing, do what everyone else is doing… It’s drummed into us so much at school that it becomes our ‘normal’. The path to success is clearly defined and at your own risk be it if you dare to stray from it. Before we know it, we’ve been bundled through the school system and become locked in by jobs, mortgages, possessions, home improvements, more possessions… and the weight of our responsibilities can sometimes hang so heavy that we forget to have fun (or not having as much fun as we could be having anyway – speaking for myself here, I WANT MORE FUN!)

Instead we’re often moaning about something or other – too much work, shitty commute, bills so high, can’t afford that new kitchen, really need a new phone etc. etc. At those moments, it’s good to have a little reminder that Nobody’s telling you what to do – you’ve chosen this path so change it if you don’t like it, or choose to take it more lightly if you don’t want to change it. It’s always good to remember that perception is everything.

Kids can be our teachers when it comes to taking it lightly. If there’s one thing they’re good for, it’s comedy value. Pants on heads, endless poo jokes, marathon tickling sessions, toddlers falling over – there’s a lot to laugh about when you’re around little ones and they certainly do – have you heard the statistic about children laughing 300 times a day while adults only manage 17? Well unfortunately that’s apparently that’s an urban myth (and would mean children laugh approximately every 2 minutes the whole time they’re awake) but whatever the number it’s safe to say they laugh a lot more than most adults, and they have a LOT of fun, so why don’t we just take a leaf out of their little books on this one.

“Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.” said Eckhart Tolle – in fact  have you heard the one about life? Yes of course, the whole thing is just one big cosmic joke. All that stuff you worry about and take so seriously, it’s completely insignificant in the grand scale of things…ha ha ha! Well I suppose you could either laugh or cry.

Laughing is probably the better option, so here’s to lightening up, having more fun with and without kids, more rolling on the floor, more crazy dancing and many more ridiculous yet enlightening yoga classes.

cosmic-joke-einstein-e1422029816899

 

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I’m scared

baby

Right now I’m feeling a little bit Baby-Dirty-Dancing, you know the one: I’m scared of everything. I’m scared of what I’ve seen, I’m scared of what I’ve done [and not done] and I’m scared of who I am. And most of all I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you! Ok, maybe not the last one, but it would have been a bit criminal to leave that bit out*.

I am scared, I think it’s hard not to be when the systems that have held the world together for the last few centuries appear to be unravelling before our very eyes. People say that every generation thinks that they are the ones at the crucial moment, the point where history turns a sharp corner, and it’s true that the last few generations certainly have seen some pretty huge changes, but in our case it appears we really are going to have face up to a pivotal moment.

We as a species will need to decide whether to give it all we’ve got to get out of this mess we’re in, or whether we keep going with our eyes half closed, and let the political chaos and consequent environmental destruction continue until the point of no return (which according to some reports could be 2042. To make that real for me, I only need to think about my daughters who will be 34 and 32 then, and I’ll be 68. SHIT).

As if the world falling apart is not enough to worry about, my own little world is feeling pretty shaky too right now. 18 months on from a sudden and devastating separation, I’m wavering between positivity, ‘everything will be alright’ and deep fear of losing my children, and on a lesser level losing my home, my security and of course my shit.

It’s really hard when some other woman is kissing your children goodnight, plaiting their hair and making up stories with them. Even harder when they happily tell you about it when they get home and you have to pretend with a big fake smile plastered to your face that, wow that is sooo great!! It’s even harder when that woman is the one who had an affair with your partner. So yes. Although I know, in the big picture, my kids are going nowhere, and I will always be their mum, there are primal fears at work here that just get me all the time.

And the personal fear somehow is echoed by the fear for the world and it all swirls around in a big unpleasant murky mess. What to do? Some ideas…

  • Face the Fear – yes that old chestnut. Not as easy as it sounds. But if I really face the fear of losing my children, I can stop letting that fear influence some of the scared choices I am still making now. I can stand strong in my own truth and let that be my guide instead. If we truly face our fears about the world, that would involve extricating ourselves from the very complicated system of denial in which we’re all entangled (as spoken about very eloquently by musician Anohni on Radio 6 today ) and if we managed that we would be compelled into action.
  • Stand in Hope – as Anohni said, despite all the atrocious stuff that is going on, the global situation is still hopeful and that is exciting. I am hopeful too about my own personal future with my girls.
  • Believe in Action – ditch the apathy, action (by us, not someone else) can work and it’s the only way to change anything. Not sure how this works in my personal situation, never mind.
  • Bury your head in the sand – always tempting. So tempting…

There you have it, my thoughts for the day. If you can, please do listen to the Anohni clip, it’s incredibly interesting and inspiring.

*Purists (most women aged between 39 and 42) might have noticed this is not quite word-for-word, sorry to mess with a classic. Poetic licence.

 

 
Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Whales and stuff

blue whaleL brought a book home from school the other day which was an unassuming little number called My Friend Whale by Simon James, a sweet but powerful book which combines a very simple story with fascinating facts about the magnificent blue whale: bigger than any dinosaur which ever lived yet the largest fish it eats is the size of your hand… The sounds they make travel THOUSANDS of miles across oceans… and they have different dialects, depending on where in the ocean they’re found! Truly awesome.

The power of the book lies in the surprising ending, where the whale with whom the little boy has been having fun adventures with just doesn’t come back (spoiler! Sorry…) The kids are so used to resolution of some kind in almost every story that it hit them quite hard: they demanded to know where the whale was and when I put the question back to them, they sadly but wisely said he might have been killed by humans. Maybe he got away, I suggested in an adult-trying-to-soften-the-blow kind of way but they’re old enough to not quite believe me and we talked about hunting, human nature and disconnect from nature.

M declared it the saddest book she had ever read and didn’t want to read it again. Both kids were affected – by sadness yes, and incomprehension of human behaviour, but also the desire to act, help and change things. When faced with the facts and the question ‘Do you want to help?’ the answer from children will almost always be Yes, giving me a little more faith in the essential goodness of humans, and a little more hope about the future.

By the time we’re grown up most of us have become quite expert at convincing ourselves not to stand up and take action: What can one person do? It won’t make any difference anyway…Other people (politicians, scientists, activists) will sort it out… that’s their job not mine. Or my usual tactic: taking action to a certain level and then putting it out of our minds – I’ve signed that petition, that’s my bit done. Excellent now can I get back to some mindless drifting around Instagram feeds of people I’ve never met…

But it’s experiences like our blue whale conversations that are there not just to help us guide our children towards conscious living, loving the earth and all who live on it, but also for our children to point our own selves back in the right direction.

If we can shift our view on parenting from it being a one-way transmission of education to it being a two-way learning experience, we can really benefit from the qualities and strengths our children show us. I felt inspired by my children’s desire to act. The responsibility of nurturing that enthusiasm feels particularly heavy in the light of everything that is happening in the UK and the world right now, and it’s more important than ever.

Jo Cox’s sister said in her statement to the press their parents had always instilled in them a glass half-full mentality and encouraged them to see the good in people. If we can do the same for our kids, we’re halfway there. And then we need to take our cues from them to avoid the apathy or selective blindness that it’s so easy to fall into.

It’s clearer than ever that we’re all going to need strength, determination, courage, hope, optimism and belief in the essential good-ness of humans, not only to survive and thrive in the world, but to help to preserve that very world. Whether we’re are working to save the blue whale (or the countless other species threatened with extinction), or for equality or peace or democracy, we need to know – and raise our children to know – that all beings and every thing is connected and if we hurt others, we hurt ourselves. We can’t save ourselves without saving others.

But as filmmaker Louie Psihoyos says in this inspiring little film ‘Every single one of us has the power to change the world in a profound way. When we come together we can do extraordinary things’. Let’s come together in hope.

 

 

The Gift Shop Challenge

kruger-selfridges-buy-me-2007

We had a lovely time at the Tate. Alexander Calder’s wire sculptures and mobiles were clever and gorgeous and… yes, there were a couple of tense moments that involved the kids boinging up against the security cords around delicate pieces of carefully preserved exhibits, but all in all the four children we’d brought along were very interested in and genuinely appreciative of the art.

Shame then – although not a huge surprise –  that it all had to go wrong on the way out, in the gift shop… Isn’t it annoying how they’re strategically placed so you can’t get out without being visually bombarded with stuff that’s not exactly tat (actually Tate tat is pretty good) but it’s just EXTRA stuff that we don’t need. When did shopping become an obligatory part of the experience of going to a gallery or a museum anyway? It’s hard not to get drawn in by the whole business: I want the thrill of the purchase even though I know I don’t need anything, but for this time anyway, I resist.

The children on the other hand succumb completely to the desired effect of the shop: wanting – no, needing! – this pencil, that rubber, that magnet, that silk scarf! Nothing wrong with a souvenir every now and again but our pen pots are already overflowing, the fridge door is crowded and our bookshelves are loaded with exhibition catalogues we never look at. So, as usual I say the kids can choose a postcard each; always useful, biodegradable and I love seeing which ones they choose, sometimes a real surprise.

But May also has her heart set on a nondescript rubber and Lulu wants a £35 scarf (expensive taste, that girl). I stick to my original offer: a postcard or nothing. Cue cries of unfairness and some good old-fashioned stomping but eventually May chooses a postcard. Lulu would rather have nothing; I’m briefly impressed by her strength of will but that’s quickly replaced by frustration at her bawling her eyes out at the injustice of it all.

Sometimes their lack of understanding of how fortunate they are drives me a little bit crazy. How could they tantrum over a rubber when they’re being treated to the kind of day out that many children will never experience in their lifetime? Don’t they understand how lucky they are?!

But of course they don’t, they can’t. All they’ve ever known is abundance. An abundance of abundance. Toys, food, clothes, gifts, sweets – there is an almost constant stream of new things flowing their way, from generous grandparents, aunties, uncles and friends, on birthdays, Christmas, Easter (Easter presents! Noooo) or just because…

I don’t want to sound ungrateful; I’m incredibly thankful for all these wonderful people we have in our lives and their kindness, and many times the gifts are great and very useful, but the fact is that what all their combined generosity results in is simply is too much stuff. So, sometimes it’s good to say no.

We don’t like to see our children upset, but actually those moments of saying no can be a brilliant opportunity for observing feelings and being mindful of them. It can be interesting to wait until a neutral time (when no-one is feeling tired, hungry or emotional) and then dig into what feelings arose and what happened. So asking the child, without judgement or criticism, what it feels like when you really REALLY want something in a shop but you don’t get it (hey, we’ve all been there) and gently drawing attention to the fact that although it might feel really bad, or painful, or like you might actually die if you don’t get it (yes that’s how dramatic my child is), the feeling passes and it’s all OK.

Life will always throw disappointment, pain and stress our way – it’s how we deal with it that counts. Can we acknowledge it, feel it and let it go? Or do we hold onto it, feel resentful and hard done by? I know plenty of adults in both camps and it’s obvious which makes for an easier, happier life so I’m building up the kids’ resilience by letting a few disappointments filter through.

Sorry kids, I feel your pain! You might hate me for it in the moment, but this is your training not just for becoming independent-minded consumers who can resist the temptation that will be thrown in your path, day in, day out when you’re just a little older than you are now, but also resilient human beings who can navigate the choppy waves of life with as little seasickness as possible.

P.S. As a final thought, a line which stuck with me from this great post on Raised Good: ‘[We have now] entered a unique period in which, rather than struggling to provide enough parents are unable to resist providing too much.’ Check out the article for some very pertinent arguments for simplifying childhood.

 

 

Meditation Corner

Anyone want their kids to sleep better? Er, that’ll be a yes. Throw in less stress, greater happiness, less illness and improved brain function and I don’t think there’s any parent who would say no to all that for their little darlings. The benefits of meditation are so far-reaching and now well documented, it makes total sense to get your kids in on it. It’s just the actual doing it that can be tricky – especially if you’re knackered, have no time, kids have the attention span of a goldfish and so on… Also I used to be put off by the fact that I didn’t have any experience of meditating myself – but really that is no barrier, in fact what a beautiful opportunity 🙂

So I thought I’d share some of things we’ve been doing and resources we’ve been using, with varying degrees of success and some unexpected developments – naked meditation anyone?!

Sitting Meditation with audio track

On a recommendation we tried Sitting Still Like a Frog, Eline Snel’s book and CD for introducing kids (and their parents) to mindfulness. The book uses simple imagery – like the very still yet very aware frog of the title – which children can easily relate to. The CD is a series of short tracks of about 5 minutes each, which variously introduce the concepts of focusing on the breath and the body and then give you lots of opportunities for practice.

Probably a bit above and beyond, but I suggested to the girls that we have a dedicated space for meditation and got their input on where it should be and how to prepare the space. My two love a bit of crafting and embraced this challenge wholeheartedly, immediately making decorations, signs and a little over enthusiastically hanging blankets all over half my bedroom. The chair in the corner of my bedroom is now known as ‘Relaxation Zone’, two spots on the floor at the end of my bed have been named ‘Open Meadow’ and ‘Free Field’ and an enclosed space under some shelves has become ‘Floaty Boaty’ (my fave).

floatyboaty

After their hard work creating the space, M and L  were super keen to actually use it, so M claimed Relaxation Zone and L  hopped into Floaty Boaty, both hidden behind hanging blankets. I was lumped with the less exciting Free Field (but tried not to dwell on it) and we all focused on the relaxing first track of the CD. It was refreshing and very enjoyable to sit quietly with them both and I came out of it feeling calm and connected. They seemed to enjoy it too… so far, so good.

Next time, slightly different. Auntie was round so she joined in, in Open Meadow. L was keen to show off her expertise with some loud and enthusiastic oms. Giggles from M gave her all she needed to take it up a notch by grabbing a fan from the meditation table – the girls had decided our meditation area needed a special table with props such as books, water, a fan (?), a ruler (??) – and fanning herself theatrically and then moving on to fanning all of us in her winsomely silly way. A great exercise for staying focussed on our breath (quite hard while you’re laughing. Or gritting your teeth).

The time after that, M decided naked meditation would be a good idea (not for me – just too cold) and L remembered how much fun she’d had fanning everyone and thought tickling might be even more fun, so pretty much chaos. Not a bad chaos though, it was fun and the girls now love ‘meditating’! We haven’t done it for a couple of weeks now but will definitely come back to this CD and book.

Bedtime Guided Relaxation Meditation

For a while now, the last part of our bedtime routine has been for me to read the kids a short meditation after lights out. We’ve been using a couple of books by Marneta Viegas of Relax Kids which M and L like: Aladdin’s Magic Carpet and The Magic Box. The meditations are actually short guided visualisations, take just a minute or two to read and are based around fairy tales or imagined scenarios. Each one focuses on a different quality and ends with an affirmation, e.g. ‘I am peaceful’, ‘I am unique’, ‘I am calm’ etc.

The theory was, it would help them switch off and they would then easily drift into a wonderfully relaxed sleep… ok, that was optimistic. Getting to sleep has always been a challenge for these kids. I didn’t really think the meditation would actually make them drop off but I hoped it would help, and sometimes it does. But other times, they mess around until I eventually snap at them ‘BE QUIET! IT’S TIME TO RELAX!” in possibly the most unrelaxing tone of voice ever. In any case I think it’s all going in at some level (!) and they’ve usually calmed down a little by the end of it. And it’s another positive experience of meditation for them with nice visualisation practise – a great tool for improving focus and boosting self-confidence – so what’s not to like?! For the time being, we’re continuing with this every night.

Teddy Breathing Meditation

On the nights that M can’t get to sleep after bedtime stories, reading time, meditation, and more reading (the most drawn-out bedtime routine in the world ever? Probably), she sometimes gets scared and a bit panicky. Lately I’ve been trying the Teddy Breathing Meditation with her, which is just getting her to hold a soft toy on her belly, then feel the toy rising and falling with her breath, then imagining her breath is rocking the toy to sleep. It’s a good way to get your child to breathe deeply, focus, and switch off. It works well for M if she’s really tired and I talk through it with her and I’m hoping she might start using it as a technique herself. Could also be a good one to use in the day time with a tired or grumpy younger child.

Whatever the technique it’s got to be good to make relaxation a part of every day. More than the immediate benefits of allowing a child to really feel what it’s like to be quiet and still, it’s also about helping them truly feel their feelings, and see that all feelings, good and bad, come and go. Anger, sadness, frustration – they’re all ok as long as we just let them do their little angry, sad or frustrating thing… and then let them go. Happiness is the same, it comes, does its little happy dance, and at some point gives way to sadness or inbetween-ness again. And that of course is life, in all its wonderful and ridiculous glory. Most of us adults haven’t fully grasped that yet – as we go through our lives suppressing the ‘bad’ and trying desperately to cling on to the ‘good’ and make it last forever – so lucky children who might get a head start! Like these gorgeous beings:

justbreathe

https://youtu.be/RVA2N6tX2cg

I would love to hear about any experiences you have of meditating with your kids.

Peace out!

 

The only way to do it is to do it

Welcome to my blog. I have a blog! Well, as I’m writing this I don’t yet have a blog but the idea is that if I just start writing, then the blog will magically follow (and if you are reading this on my actual blog then it worked. Abracadabra!).

One thing I’ve come to learn along the way is that if you’re stuck and you don’t know which direction to take or what to do then just do something. Anything. Action creates reactions and results, and sometimes the exact nature of that action is not so important because it will stir things up and move things around and eventually you will find yourself flowing in the right direction. It works with little things, like trying to think of how to start your first post on your new blog, and also wonderfully for big things, like deciding to have a total career change with no idea about what you’re going to do (more on that another time).

As aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart said: “The most effective way to do it is to do it”.

the most effective way to do it,is to do it

So, I’m doing it: this blog is about trying to live a more conscious life – with a couple of kids along for the ride. Whether it’s yoga or meditation, greener living or healthier eating, for me it’s about unravelling the truth about myself, being present to the now, tuning in to intuition, making a contribution and standing up for the change I want to see in the world.

I would love to give my children the gift of being truly aware of themselves: knowing on a deep level that they are loved and worthy and good enough just as they are; not being afraid to shine their light; able to access the stillness inside; knowing that they have the potential to be a powerful presence in the world, and understanding their connection to other beings and the earth. Ambitious perhaps, but got to be worth a try!

Let’s face it, kids these days are up against it. They’re dealing with an increasingly complex world where packaged fun and entertainment are everywhere but happiness seems to be more elusive than ever. Stress levels in kids and teens are up with increased pressure to keep up, look good, be cool and, at a certain age, show constant proof of supposedly perfect lives on social media. My girls, 5 and 7 years old, aren’t at that age yet but are ripe for developing an early addiction to technology (thirteen is the official age that you’re allowed to join the virtual fray but 78% of 10-12 year olds have at least one social media account so we’re not many years away).

Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely not of the technology-is-evil persuasion, it’s a big part of my work and life, but I do worry that kids don’t have a chance to switch off and spend much needed ‘quiet time’ with themselves. We bombard them with stuff and gadgets and other distractions, just as we do ourselves (quite hard not to especially when you are fighting your own burning desire to check your email, again, oh and just one quick look to see if you have any new Twitter followers*) So yes, let’s say it’s work in progress, for me as much as for my children.

One thing’s for sure – in these times of increased stress, it’s more important than ever for kids to be able to connect with their own inner being; one day that’s going to be the anchor that keeps them steady. To become emotionally resilient adults, they need to be comfortable feeling their own feelings, rather than being protected from them by us and/or distracted from them by all that STUFF, actual and virtual. And for them to do that, it would help if we as parents can be in touch with and at peace with ourselves.

That’s the theory anyway… I’m giving it a go and hopefully opening the door for my kids to do the same, so whether through mindfulness, meditation, yoga, connection with nature, conversations or activism, if it’s creating the space for conscious living, we’ll be doing it! I’ll keep you posted.

*after I typed that I just HAD to have a quick look to see whether I had any new Twitter followers on the account I just started the other day. I had one. Instant momentary gratification, yay! Work in progress as I say.