What’s in a Raisin?

“Sometimes the world slows and you notice every small thing, as if you stood between two beats of eternity’s heart.”Mark Lawrence

Following on from the activities at work where we ran an event focusing on Mindfulness that supported World Mental Health day; a number of people have been talking to me about how you practice it and its effects. A few people have even bought the book that I mentioned at the event, keen to learn more and start practicing themselves.

However, it was the strange conversation by the coffee point that really made me smile. One of my colleagues came up and asked if I had watched a recent episode of Cold Feet?.

For those of you who don’t, know, Cold Feet is a drama series in the UK, that focuses on the lives of three couples experiencing the ups-and-downs of romance. Cold Feet’s cast and crew are frequently praised for their depiction of real-life social issues on the series. When Cold Feet began, Christine Langan (Cold Feet’s producer) stated, “The real challenge was to overcome the traditional view that many of the issues we cover—jealousy, guilt, money, sexual problems, parental death—are ordinary issues, hardy perennials and, as such, not interesting enough for drama.”  The episode that had aired on TV on the previous Monday, featured one of the characters, Jenny. She was being concerned about Pete’s mental well-being, Jenny persuades him to attend a mindfulness class. So very typical

The comment from my colleague was about one part in the program where Pete tries to show Jeny and another character, David, a simple example of mindfulness. The exercise involves using a raisin.

Yes, a simple raisin.

My colleague was laughing his head off and thought that the episode was really funny.  I had not seen the program, so decided to watch it on catch up. If you would like to see, it, check out the episode in question at: http://www.itv.com/hub/cold-feet/1a2292a0040

I watched the program and the part of the program that concerned the raisin was really funny. Pete is trying to follow the raisin exercise and Jenny, just picks up a raisin and eats it straight away, rather than following the exercise. Again and again, she just picks up a raisin and eats it, missing the point completely.

Why practice it?

I have done the raisin exercise a number of times and each time, I have found it fascinating and thought provoking. The practice for me focuses my attention on the moment. On the object right in front of me. I have always done it as a group exercise, with a small follow up conversation, afterwards. The level of intensity you get theough the exercise is wonderful.

Anyway, back to the conversation with my colleague. I did point out that the raisin exercise is one of the first things you do when you start to learn about mindfulness. The great thing was, I suggested I bring in some raisins and we could do it as a group exercise in the office. Suffice to say, I have bought the raisins and am planning to do the exercise soon. I’ll let you know how it went.

So, what is the Raisin exercise?

If you would like to take the exercise, please read on:

  1. Holding: First, take a raisin and hold it between your finger and thumb.
  1. Seeing: Take time to really focus on it; gaze at the raisin with care and full attention—imagine that you’ve just dropped in from another planet and have never seen an object like this before in your life. Let your eyes explore every part of it, examining the highlights where the light shines, the darker hollows, the folds and ridges, and any asymmetries or unique features.
  1. Touching: Turn the raisin over between your fingers, exploring its texture. Maybe do this with your eyes closed if that enhances your sense of touch. For me they often feel rough to the touch.
  1. Hearing: Bring the raisin up to your ear and as you hold it against your ear, really listen. If you are in a quiet place, you may hear a gentle crunch as you roll the raisin about in your thumb and finger. These are the sugar crystals inside the raisin. I have to hold it to my left ear as I am slightly deaf in my right. It was though doing this exercise a couple of years ago that I noticed the difference in hearing between my ears.
  1. Smelling: Hold the raisin beneath your nose. With each inhalation, take in any smell, aroma, or fragrance that may arise. As you do this, notice anything interesting that may be happening in your mouth or stomach. For me, i often get the smell of toffee and it makes my mouth water.
  1. Placing: Now slowly bring the raisin up to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it. Gently place the raisin in your mouth; without chewing. Spend a few moments focusing on the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue.
  1. Tasting: When you are ready, prepare to chew the raisin, noticing how and where it needs to be for chewing. Then, very consciously, take one or two bites in to it and notice what happens, experiencing any waves of taste that emanate from it as you continue chewing. Without swallowing yet, notice the bare sensations of taste and texture in your mouth and how these may change over time, moment by moment. Also, pay attention to any changes in the object itself. The smell of toffee intensifies for me and I get the gritty texture of the sugar crystals.
  1. Swallowing: When you feel ready to swallow the raisin, see if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that even this is experienced consciously before you actually swallow the raisin.
  1. Following: Finally, what are the sensations left afterward. Sense how your body as a whole is feeling after you have completed this exercise.

I leave you with the following quote:

“The problem with people is they forget that most of the time it’s the small things that count.” ― Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places

What is a silent retreat?

 

“We went down into the silent garden. Dawn is the time when nothing breathes, the hour of silence. Everything is transfixed, only the light moves.” ― Leonora Carrington

What on earth is a silent retreat? Is this something related to soldiers fighting? A war? A conflict? This is a question I got asked recently.

No, it is a mindfulness activity that you attend. The definition of a mindfulness silent retreat is:

“…where you take time out from your normal daily activities; to spend time reflecting and in silent contemplation; at a peaceful and quiet place; with like minded people.”

The silent retreat is a unique event that you may never have experienced before. Let me explain by sharing my experiences of the most recent silent retreat I attended last Sunday.

  • Technology – one of the main purposes of a retreat is to enable you to reconnect with your thoughts and also yourself. Technology such as mobile phones, TV’s radios, etc, does not help but causes constant distractions. It is recommended that you turn off and ignore all technology for the day. Even reading a book or a newspaper during a break are discouraged.
  • The retreat was held in a small village hall near to the river Thames. The hall itself is peaceful and is very old, with beams holding the roof up and a traditional tiled roof.
  • As this was a one-day retreat held on a Sunday, the event took place from 10am and ended at 4pm.
  • The whole day is spent in silence. Complete and total silence. No talking or acknowledgment of others – even eye contact. Even during the breaks, the idea is to avoid as much as possible even looking at other people or acknowledging them as they might hold open a door for you or switch on a kettle for tea / coffee, etc. This is probably the most difficult element of the whole day for people to deal with. However, after about 30 minutes, you become so focused on the present moment, that the awkwardness disappears.
  • The guided practices are led by a qualified mindfulness practitioner, who is the only person that talks during the whole day
  • During the breaks, you can walk about; leave the hall; even make tea and coffee in the kitchen area. However, whatever you have to do, it has to be in silence.
  • There are a series of guided practices in the morning, with a silent break of 30 minutes during the middle of the morning.
  • Lunch is taken for an hour. You could stay or go for a walk down to the river .Again the expectation is that it is in silence.
  • There are further practices in the afternoon – with a further silent break of 30 minutes.
  • Finally, the retreat finishes with “breaking the silence” at around 3:30, with a small group discussions on the day; your observations and how the retreat felt.

 

Finally, let me share some of my observations:

  • More alert – I felt more alert both during the event and also afterward. I felt as if the “lights” of the day had been turned up bright enabling me to see more clearly.
  • More present, observant and focused – After the first two practices that happened in the morning, during the break, I went outside for a breath of fresh air. It had been raining earlier in the morning and whilst the rain had stopped, the water was still coming off the tiled roof, down the drain pipes and out onto the courtyard. There were a number of leaks in the guttering and I noticed a leak dripping onto a leaf. The sound of the splash of the water was very intense. I continued to experience this type of focused observation during lunchtime and also during the afternoon break.
  • Notice the small things – Other people shared their experiences of feeling more present and focused, often focusing on small things. For example: the water drips; the falling leaves form the trees; the colour of the fallen leaves or even the movement of the ivy on the courtyard wall.
  • Finally, breaking the silence and returning to busy world – At the end of the day when we got together in small groups (2 to 3 people in each group) we shared our experiences of the day, taking it in turns to talk. We all had similar observations to those I have described above. Getting in the car to drive home, I turned the radio off and just enjoyed the drive itself. When I got home, I forgot to turn my mobile back from “airplane mode” to normal for the rest of the evening; only turning it back to “normal” on the Monday morning.

What are some of the longer term effects of the day itself?

I have continued to feel grounded and alert this week. Despite the level of pressure at work going on around me, I have generally been more focused; calmer and collected and I have felt more centred. Despite some really intense discussions, I have been able to be more observant of the situation and people’s actions; something that I know has come about as a direct result of the retreat. I have felt more able to deal with the speed of the day, strangely enough doing more “stuff” but feeling at the same time as if I was working more slowly. 

Taking time out to do any activity; be it exercise; a walk; a sport; or even time with friends and family is always precious. To take time out to spend it in silence may seem weird to some, but hopefully what I have described might give you an insight to want to try it. After all, what have you got to gain? Six hours of quiet contemplation…….

Many thanks to IanH for posing the question, I hope I helped to answer it. I leave you with the following quote:

“Listen to your being. It is continuously giving you hints; it is a still, small voice. It does not shout at you, that is true. And if you are a little silent you will start feeling your way. Be the person you are. Never try to be another, and you will become mature. Maturity is accepting the responsibility of being oneself, whatsoever the cost. Risking all to be oneself, that’s what maturity is all about.”

Osho

 

Silent Retreat Definition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retreat_(spiritual)

Mindfulness at work – how to practice?

 

“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Essays, Letters and Miscellanies

Earlier this week, I took part in an event for World Mental Health day, where we hosted over 385 people on two webinars to talk about Mindfulness. It was great to talk about what mindfulness is all about, but the biggest part of the discussion and questions from people was how you can practice mindfulness at work.

How do you practice Mindfulness at work? Does your work environment encourage you to practice? I was given the opportunity to describe how I practice.

Think about being present and not just on auto-pilot

  • Make a clear decision at the start of your workday to be present as best you can. Pause for a few moments before you start your work day to set this intention in your mind.
  • Focus your attention on the people and the discussions you have. Don’t just nod and agree. Really try to listen.
  • Don’t skim read emails, articles, and documents. I read from the bottom of emails back to the top to make sure I focus on the content.
  • In meetings, don’t do your emails at the same time.

Use Short Mindful Exercises at Work. I use the Three-minute Breathing Space meditation during the day, normally at lunchtime. 

Use short breathing exercises before or after meetings; telephone conversations or when you feel stressful

  • The exercise we shared this week was the 4,7,8 exercise. You place the tip of your tongue against the back of your top teeth. Breath in at your normal pace for the count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Then exhale for a count of 8. Repeat this at least three times and you will feel less stressful and more relaxed.

Use Mindful Reminders

  • Use some form of reminder to be mindful to take you out of auto-pilot mode. I use a reminder in my Outlook diary and set an appointment every day.Mine is set for 12:30 every day. It just gives me a little nudge, “have you been mindful so far today?”. Perhaps place a picture on your desk to remind you to be mindful. I have a mindful workplace mat that I glance at during the day.

Be a Single-Tasker

  • Single-tasking is doing one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is trying to do two or more tasks at the same time or switching back and forth between tasks. Nobody can actually multi-task. In reality, your brain is madly switching from one thing to the next, often losing data in the process.
  • Group tasks in categories. For example, put together emails, phone calls, errands, and meetings. Then you can do them all together in one block of time rather than switching from emails to calls to running an errand.
  • Switch off as many distractions as you can. Silence your phone, log off from your email account, and so on. Then set a timer for the amount of time you need to work, and record how much you get done. Do what works for you to focus on one task for a fixed period of time.

Pay Attention to the Small Stuff

  • When you are working, focus on the immediate task and the single element in front of you. Don’t worry about all the other tasks around you. Being present on.

“Pause, Reflect, Act” rather than “Fire and forget” on emails

  • We live such a reactive hectic work live that we have a tendency to “fire and forget”. When that email comes in from a colleague asking for help; raising an issue; complaining; or whatever, we have this insane habit of reacting immediately to the email. Get it done and out of the way. I see it all the time. People do not take the time to either read the email or to fully understand the context. You can end up in an email war of words. Instead, “Pause, Reflect and then Act” before responding. Take time. Even 24 hours before responding. I will even pen a response but hold it in my “draft items” for up to 24 hours before responding. It tends to take the heat out and you can more calmly review what you are writing.

Feel and Share Gratitude

  • Humans have a “negativity bias.” Essentially, this means that you’re much more likely to focus and dwell on something that’s gone wrong than on things that have gone well. Behaving in this way every day means that you ultimately adopt an excessively negative and unbalanced way of thinking.
  • Gratitude is the antidote. Plenty of evidence suggests that actively practicing gratitude makes you feel better and has a positive impact on your creativity, health, working relationships, and quality of work. Express gratitude to those around you, even if they do not respond. It is amazing how much a simple thank you and smile impacts others.

Cultivate Humility

  • Value other people’s opinions: If someone makes a point that challenges yours, suspend judgment. You can easily jump in and argue—but that implies that they’re wrong and you’re right. How can you be so sure? Stop and consider in what ways they may be right, too. This is true mindfulness in action—non-judgemental awareness together with curiosity and respect.
  • Show appreciation: When someone helps you out, in whatever way, show appreciation. Say thank you and really mean it.
  • Consider who has helped you right now: Spend a few minutes thinking about the number of people who have helped you at work today.
  • Humble people have a quiet confidence about themselves and don’t feel the need to continuously remind others of their achievements. Humility is attractive—no one enjoys being around those who continually sing their own praises, and most people enjoy the company of those who are willing to listen to them rather than talk about themselves all the time.

Finally, Make a Habit of It

  • For mindfulness to work at work, it helps to have both a formal practice of mindfulness – such as the 3-minute breathing space meditation as well as informal practices that you can do during the day. What is more important, though it to practice some of the elements I have mentioned every day. A little and often is far better than one practice, one day every month.

 

I would love to hear from you on how you practice Mindfulness at work. Do share your thoughts, practices, tips and advice.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” ― Studs Terkel

385 mindful people

 

“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. (…) You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” ― John Green, Looking for Alaska

Yesterday was World Mental health day and at the company where I work, the HR lead for wellbeing hosted two webinar events on Mindfulness, called “Mind full or Mindful?”.

The webinar is a Web-based seminar, that is transmitted over the Web using video conferencing software to share presentations, videos, and audio. A key feature of a Webinar is its interactive elements: the ability to give, receive and discuss information in real-time.

The webinar was an opportunity to share what world mental health day is all about; a brief overview of what Mindfulness is and a personal view of what Mindfulness is.The HR specialist knows I practice Mindfulness and asked me to come along and present my own journey into mindfulness.

Little did I know what I was letting myself in for. I just thought it was going to be a local event, with a few people dialing into a conference call, such are most of the calls that I have. No, it was not. The event was published across the whole of the UK organization; with emails out to all the staff; an advert on the internal web portal and flyers at major offices. By the end of last week, there were over 200 people registered for the two events.

Come Monday and I traveled to the office to be with the other two presenters for the events. I have spent the weekend thinking about the content for my section:

  • How I came to Mindfulness.
  • The Programme that I followed and the benefits.
  • How I practice on a daily basis.
  • What does Mindfulness mean to me and finally,
  • how I use Mindfulness at work.

Come the time, come the people.

Over 182 for the first event and 203 for the second. Over 385 people in total tuning in to hear about Mindfulness. The hour for each session flew by. Many people asked really positive questions during the webinars. I have continued to get feedback and corridor conversations a day later. It just goes to show the level of interest people have on the subject of Mindfulness. I plan to blog some further details of what I shared later in the week.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Do you manage boxes or live a life?

“We put labels on boxes.  All thoughts, all words are labels on boxes; therefore we feel we have to get everything boxed, and so we put ourselves in boxes. Everything is put in boxes,  but actually everything in nature doesn’t go that way.” Alan Watts

Someone challenged me the other day that I was living a life in a series of boxes. Now before you think to yourself, what on earth prompted that conversation, take a moment, as I did to reflect on the context.

Do you?  Manage relationships? Manage family situations? Manage to get your work done, or not at your place of employment? Manage your finances? Manage social interactions? For each of these and many more, we have a habit of constructing a mental box around yourself and that particular element of your life and then manage within the “mental box”.

For years, I separated my “work life” from my “personal life”. Reflecting now, I have no idea why, but I did. It is only in the past five years or so, that I have stopped worrying about any interaction between. In the past few years, I have come to accept many more of the “mental boxes” that I have are just that, “mental boxes”. Personal constructions of how I have created a life. I have come to realise that it is me that turns up for work every day. Just as it is me that goes home at night. And more importantly, how you carry your thoughts and feelings across your day.

As someone commented to me the other day “I don’t think I had any idea who you really were. You have changed so much from what I thought you were.  It reminds me to be aware that there’s always more to people than you know.”

For some people, living their lives in a series of boxes works for them. For others, like me, it does not. If you are in the second camp, there are many different ways to bring aspects of your divided life together. Some people have friendship groups that span work, family and friends. Some use counselling or other talking therapies to help. I happen to use mindfulness.

Not the sitting in silence, meditation version.

HELPFUL TIP: I use the present moment practice. This is a short, 3 minute practice that you can use throughout the day to bring yourself back to the present moment. I have no idea why this works to bring about a more unified perception. Perhaps it is because it is more about the present moment. If you would like to give the practice a go, the instructions are as follows:-

Step 1: Becoming aware

  • Deliberately adopt an erect and dignified posture, whether sitting or standing. If possible, close your eyes. Then, bring your awareness to your inner experience and acknowledge it, asking: what is my experience right now?
  • What thoughts are going through the mind? As best you can, acknowledge thoughts as mental events.Don’t judge them.
  • What feelings are here? Turn towards any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings, acknowledging them without trying to make them different from how you find them.
  • What body sensations are here right now? Perhaps quickly scan the body to pick up any sensations of tightness or bracing, acknowledging the sensations, but, once again, not trying to change them in any way.

Step 2: gathering and focusing attention

  • Now, redirect the attention to a narrow ‘spotlight’ on the physical sensations of the breath, move in close to the physical sensations of the breath in the abdomen . . . expanding as the breath comes in . . . and falling back as the breath goes out.
  • Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out. Use each breath as an opportunity to anchor yourself into the present. And if the mind wanders, gently escort the attention back to the breath.

Step 3: expanding attention

  • Now, expand the field of awareness around the breathing so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture and facial expression, as if the whole body was breathing.
  • Aware of the whole body, moment by moment.

And that is that. Go on give it a try and do let me know how you get on.

I leave you with the following quote.

“Often, it’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming the person you were meant to be, and already are, but don’t know how to be.” ― Heath L. Buckmaster,