In the Beginning there was….

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” ― Aristotle

In the beginning, there was…..

A raisin.

“A what? What on earth are you going on about?”

Let me explain and it will all become clear.

One of the first; possibly the most basic of all mindfulness practices, is called the Raisin Practice. It is the first practice in the eight-week mindfulness programme written by Doctor Mark Williams that I completed a few years ago (a link to the book and programme is at the end of this blog post if you want to find out more). You can use a raisin, or you can use some chocolate – though that tends to get very sticky and messy as you have to hold the chocolate for a while! It is a fantastic and simple way for people to be introduced to the world of mindfulness.

So what is the practice and how can you do it yourself or with others? The Raisin Practice is a mindfulness exercise that requires you to focus your mind on the present moment using all your senses – what you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. The idea is that by focusing all your attention on the raisin, you help to bring your mind into the moment and train it to notice the present.

A favorite of children’s lunch boxes, handing these out and using them with adults in a mindfulness practice can sometimes come as a bit of a surprise. The technique may sound simple, but being still and present can be hard, especially with such a small thing as a raisin.

I am going to be holding an introductory session on Mindfulness; being held via video skype; to a group of work colleagues. I will be using the Raisin practice as the basis for the session. So how on earth am I going to do the exercise?

I plan to have a colleague hand out the raisins and then follow the steps below:

How do you practice the Raisin meditation? Before you begin, find a quiet spot where you can sit down and relax. You might find taking a few deep breaths will help you loosen the body and bring your mind to the practise. Once you’re ready, pick up the raisin and hold it in your hand. The next steps follow your senses.

1. Look at the raisin. Really concentrate. Let your eyes roam over the raison and pick out all the details– the colour, areas of light and shade, any ridges or shine from the crystalised sugars of the fruit. Before moving onto the next step, close your eyes, as this can heighten your other senses and help you focus.

2. Touch the raisin. With your eyes closed, place the raison into the palm of your hand. With your fingers explore the raisin’s texture. Is the skin waxy? Are there any edges? Is it sharp? It is soft or hard? Does it feel bigger that what you saw? Sometimes it can feel bigger.

3. Smell the raisin. Bring it close to your nose (don’t stick it up there!) and breath deeply. Concentrate on any scents and fragrances you can detect. Does the raisin smell sweet? Or perhaps earthy? Has this triggered your taste buds, saliva in your mouth or made your tummy grumble? Do you notice any other smells?

4. Taste the raisin. With your eyes still closed, place the raisin into your mouth. Notice how your hand instinctively knows where to go. Don’t chew yet, just spend some time concentrating on how the raisin feels on your tongue. Turn it over in your mouth and feel it’s texture on the roof of your mouth.Take a single bite into the fruit. Don’t swallow it yet. Focus your mind on the sensations just released into your mouth. How does it taste? How does this develop as the moments pass? How has the raisin changed? Do the smaller pieces of fruit feel different? Can you taste sweetness? Caramel? Any bitterness?

 

5. Finally, hear the sounds you make as you chew the raisin. You might hear the crunch of sugars; the motions of your jaws; the movement of your tongue as it helps you to maneuver the chewed raison and finally swallow it. Do you feel the remains of the raisin as it starts to travel down your throat?

Now take a moment to notice how your whole body feels. The calmness. The stillness of the moment.

When you are ready, start to awaken your mind. You might want to move gently, slowly open your eyes and take a few deep breaths.

With the meditation exercise now complete, you can carry on with your day. You will notice though a deeper insight into the day.

As mentioned at the start of the post, the link to the Book, “Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world” is below. I have recommended this book to numerous people and they have found it of benefit, by following the audio guided eight week mindfulness programme. Check it out at:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mindfulness-practical-guide-finding-frantic/dp/074995308X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Finally, as always, I leave you with the following quote.

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”  ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

…. Namaste ….

Declutter by 50% mentally as well as physically

“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.” ― Marie Kondō, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

With Spring in the air and the Easter break upon us; many people take the time to do what is known as a Spring Clean. Spring cleaning is the practice of thoroughly cleaning a house in the springtime. The practice of spring cleaning is especially common in climates with a cold winter and with this winter past us; it seems as if the spring clean bug has hit hard here in the UK.

Where does the term, Spring Clean possibly come from?

A possibility has been suggested that the origins of spring cleaning date back to the ancient Jewish practice of thoroughly cleansing the home in anticipation of the springtime festival of Passover; which they continue to do every year. Another idea is that it comes from the Iranian Nowruz, the Persian new year, which falls on the first day of spring. Iranians continue the practice of “khooneh tekouni” which literally means “shaking the house” just before the Persian new year. However, no one really knows.

What it does seem to be though, is a deep seated desire basic to de-clutter and clear up after the depths of the cold, dark winter, where we seem to spend a lot of time indoors.

I noticed over the Easter weekend that many people were out in their gardens, clearing leaves and dead items away; cutting the grass and planting new additions for the garden.

Others were cleaning windows; driveways and paths; or painting the outside of their properties.

Others were out running; cycling or in a couple of cases speed walking.

It seemed as if the mild weather, nature’s life bursting out and the holiday time, all coincided to give people the “Spring Clean & Declutter” bug.

Even in our house, we were tidying up; clearing the bathroom cabinet; taking unwanted items to the recycling centre and clearing the winter detritus from the garden. I also took the opportunity to clear up my laptop. After a recent rebuild onto Windows 10; I had not sorted out my filing; my browsing history or even the bookmarks that I had stored for up to two years, since getting the laptop new. This decluttering took an hour or so and in the process, I noticed, that I was clearing up about 50% of my files, my old history and past work.

It made me reflect that we also need to declutter ourselves as well; our minds as well as what those people were doing, exercising and running about.

So how do you declutter your minds?

There are many articles, even books written on the subject, but here are a list of tips I have found useful and continue to use:

Breathe: Slowly take a deep breath – counting up to six. Pause for a count of four. Exhale slowly for a count of up to six. Repeat. How does it feel? Great, right? Deep breathing is a simple yet effective technique to clear your mind, induce tranquility and improve your mood instantly. It lowers the heart rate, your blood pressure and helps your body relax. It is also one of the central practices of Mindfulness, which I practice and follow.

Learn To Let Go: It is important to let go of negative thoughts and emotions that make you feel bogged down. Eliminating negative thoughts, fears and concerns help reduce stress, boost self-esteem and frees up mental space. Monitor your thoughts regularly and try to replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. To help with this, try the next tip.

Keep A Journal: Journaling is a great way to relax your mind by crystallizing, analyzing and organizing your thoughts. Writing down what you are thinking can help eliminate intrusive thoughts about negative events and improve your memory. Think of the typical task list we all have written. Writing in a daily journal can also help manage anxiety and cope with depression, as it’s a healthy outlet to release bottled emotions, which you can not often express or share with others. It is your virtual counselor. You don’t have to be a writer to start a journal. For beginners, bullet journaling is one of the easiest techniques to use. As mentioned here, the next tip is….

Avoid Multitasking: Single-task as much as possible. Make a list of things you need to accomplish that day, that week and possibly even that month. Keep the to-do list simple and realistic. Start with what’s most important and make your way down the list, completing one task at a time. Don’t worry if you do not accomplish everything on the list. After all, for every set of tasks, you may only achieve 50%, and that is still an achievement!

Do a physical declutter: Go on have a go at a physical declutter. Is it a kitchen cupboard? Under the sink? Your clothes cupboard? The boot of your car? Part of the garden?  Whatever you choose, choose something where you can see clutter and possibly mess. Take it out, sort it out, choose what you want to keep and what you want to discard/give away / pass to charity. Put those items on one site and return the 50% (yes, it will be that amount). You will feel accomplished at the end of the exercise.

Finally, Take Some Time To Unwind: Last but not the least, take a break! Your brain needs to rest and recharge in order to perform smoothly. So switch off your TV’s, phones and laptops and do something that makes you feel happy. Whether it’s a long nap or a walk in the park. Do something that takes you away from the rush of your daily life.

If you have a tip or technique to declutter; I’d love to hear what you have tried. What has worked and what has not.

I leave you with the following quote.

“Accept yourself, love yourself, and keep moving forward. If you want to fly, you have to give up what weighs you down,” writes author Roy T. Bennett in his book The Light in the Heart.