Stepping back at Christmas

“In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are at its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of people be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless of those who have never achieved integrity. Do not lose your knowledge that our proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads.  Ayn Rand

Christmas has been traditionally in our household, a time of roast turkey dinner; Christmas tree and a houseful of decorations; presents opened on both Christmas day as well as Boxing Day (* see note at the end as to its meaning) and the girls working at the horse yard on Christmas morning.

This year was slightly different; for the first time ever, we were not going to be celebrating at home as a family, but we were invited to our neighbours for the traditional Christmas meal.

It felt strange not having to prepare the basics of the meal. Cooking the turkey the night before and allowing it to cool before separating all of the meat into different parcels and placing the remaining carcass into the soup pan. Yes, one of the extra chores over the period is the making of the turkey soup to be consumed leading up to New Year. Preparing the various veggies, chopping, dicing and peeling, before placing into the myriad of pans on the top of the cooker.  Finally, the laying out the dinner table ready for the big day with all of the table decorations. Most of these tasks I have done over many years on my own, as everyone gets ready for Christmas.

Additionally, for the past three years, I have not eaten meat, so it is a challenge to be involved with the traditional turkey dinner. I still help, as I do not wish to impose my beliefs on the rest of the family. This year, it was even more strange as we did not have to prepare anything for the main meal; rather we had to prepare and bring along a selection of deserts, which we duly did, to our neighbours.

It was our neighbours who prepared the turkey dinner, with all of the veggies and traditional extras (bread sauce, stuffing and the like). For my dinner, they had kindly cooked some fresh salmon, with lemon and dill.

I don’t know whether it was the level of stress at work, leading up the the festive holidays; or whether it was the change of routine; but this year felt really different.


Strangely, more relaxed and tempered on my part.

I felt as if I had stepped back and allowed things to “flow”. Even with the normal angst on Christmas morning of the mountain of presents or the girls having to go to the yard, it all felt less important. Maybe, it was a series of guided mindfulness exercises I was helped with leading up to the day.

Or, maybe, just maybe, stepping back and allowing the moments to arrive; as they did over the festive days, and just enjoying each moment as it happened, was a new approach to Christmas.

I truly hope your festive season was one of joy, happiness, time with family, friends and loved ones. That you were able to take some time out for yourself; to reflect and to renew.

The next big event will soon be upon us, New Years eve. I have no idea what this year will bring, but will let it flow, whatever it is.

I leave you with the following quote.

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it’s yours.” ― Ayn Rand


P.S. What is Boxing Day?

The origins of Boxing Day lie not in sport, but in small acts of kindness. I thought it was from a Victorian tradition of giving small presents in boxes out to servants and the poor on the day after Christmas. The following article from the Guardian newspaper gives some fascinating insight into some of its meaning.


Do you have just 3 minutes spare today?

“I don’t suffer from my insanity — I enjoy every minute of it.” ― Sherrilyn KenyonDance with the Devil

It has been a little while since I posted something. Work has been absolutely manic with a major change programme in full spate. Add to that the week’s holiday at the end of October, and it feels as if I have skipped the end of the summer and have landed with both feet in the middle of winter; looking around thinking where did that month go?

Anyway, I have been continuing to practice mindfulness, even in the midst of the pressure and work. With everyone rushing about, trying to deliver against deadlines, it has been difficult and at times; I have had to take only a few minutes during the day to be present.

Even 3 minutes, yes, 3 minutes are enough to bring yourself back to the present moment.  And this is where the three-minute meditation came into its own. I have practised this in the office and even first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, whilst in the car driving – through stopped in a traffic jam I might add.

So what is the exercise?

The Three-minute Breathing Space meditation

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. Just see them as thoughts.
  • 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 stiffness, 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, maybe even your facial expression or how you are sitting as if the whole body was breathing.
  • Aware of the whole body, moment by moment.

And that is that as they say.



So go on. Give it a  try. What have you got to lose in that busy; hectic; full on the day ahead of you. 3 minutes is all it takes.

I leave you with the following quote:

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.

If you are anxious you are living in the future.

If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

Lao Tzu

Are you feeling Life-Tired or lebensmude?

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”  ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday’s and the start of the week can make people feel worried, upset or even depressed at the prospect of the week to come. I came across a phrase recently that really struck a chord with me. The phrase is:

LEBENSMÜDE  or Life-Tired. It is a German phrase that struck a chord with me.

We believe ourselves to be firmly attached to the effort of daily life, but some of our behaviours attests to something more; an occasional longing to give up our hold the life we lead. When this happens, we suddenly feel low; possibly distracted from the task at hand; even possibly wanting to give up and walk away from the situation. This could be the work environment, a situation at home or even something to do with friends or family.

For many people these days, this feeling can be complete almost overwhelming. Almost like a tidal wave of doubt and angst suddenly hits you. I am sre we have all felt this at some stage.

Some turn to drink. Others to drugs. Some feel anxious and try to run away. Others, even start to feel depressed. You may turn to sport or exercise, but for me, I turn to my thoughts and feelings, expressed through Mindfulness. Having practiced mindfulness now for coming up to three years, it still amazes me, how a simple breathing exercise or a mindful walk can change my whole outlook. Even a brief loving, kindness meditation can work wonders.

I am currently going through a four week mindfulness programme , sponsored by the place where I work. Part refresher; part to help me develop as a mindfulness coach at work; we were encouraged to read an article on how to be more mindful at work. In fact almost every one of the ten tips, not only apply to work. But also apply to re life you live. They include four of my favourite tips:

Be Consciously Present
Mindfulness is about being aware and awake rather than operating unconsciously. Be aware of what’s going on around you and what’s going on within you.

Be a Single-Tasker
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 your train of thought in the process. Why not try single-tasking by trying to do one thing at a time.

Mindful Reminders
I, like most people who’ve undertaken training in mindfulness, appreciate the benefits of mindful living. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting to be mindful!  I have to use a reminder. In fact, it is the bracelet I wear next to my watch which I bought when I started practising, as my physical reminder. What is yours?

Cultivate Humility
Humility comes from the Latin “humilis”, meaning grounded. Humble people have a quiet confidence about themselves and don’t feel the need to continuously remind others of their achievements. I have come to feel humble as part of my journey through my mindfulness practice.

It is also useful to have a sense of fun and pleasure as well. Maybe even useful to have this word, lebensmude,  to hand on days when it feels as if nothing will ever work out.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following quote.

Don’t exist.


Get out, explore.


Challenge authority. Challenge yourself.


Change forever.

Become who you say you always will. Keep moving. Don’t stop

Brian Krans


If you want to check out the article on 10 ways to feel mindful at work, go to:

Hear, Listen and Attend

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”  ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

When I was young, I was partially deaf. This was due to a number of problems with wax and my sinuses. A couple of operations later and I could hear. Not perfectly, but well enough not to consider it a disability throughout my life.

As a result, it has made me very aware of the sounds around me; the conversations that take place and the discussions that I am involved in. Does this mean I am good at hearing things? I try very hard to hear and can on occasions ask for something to be repeated if I fail to hear what is said. This most often happens in a crowded place with multiple people chatting away.

Does this mean I am a good listener? Nope!

I know that on occasions, whilst I might be hearing what is being said, I can zone out of the conversation; perhaps thinking of the answer I want to give; perhaps thinking of a parallel topic, or sometimes my mind just wanders off. Then all of a sudden, the person that is talking will stop and you realise that they have asked a question and you have no idea what was asked.


The comment “Were you listening to what I was saying?” means they know you were not listening.

There is a distinct difference in hearing and listening. The dictionary definitions are as follows (via Oxford English Dictionary):

hear (verb)   perceive with the ear the sound made by (someone or something)

listen (verb)    give one’s attention to a sound

There is a distinct difference between the two:

  • “I hear you” to me means I understand the emotion you are trying to convey.
  • “I am listening to you”  to me, means taking in what the person is saying. Really, hearing what is being said i.e. “listening and understanding”.

I think back to the comment that was made to me “Were you listening to what I was saying?”, actually, means more than just hearing what was said. It really means, did I take in what was being said and did I understand its underlying reasons.

The next time you are involved in a conversation with someone, really listen to what they are saying, rather than just hearing the sound of the words floating around you.

You might want to try active listening. Active listening is a set of tools and techniques to help you be more effective. Some active listening techniques include:

  • Building trust and establishing rapport.
  • Demonstrating concern.
  • Paraphrasing to show understanding.
  • Nonverbal cues which show understanding such as nodding, eye contact and leaning forward.
  • Brief verbal affirmations like “I see,” “I know,” “Sure,” “Thank you,” or “I understand.”
  • Asking open-ended questions.
  • Asking specific questions to seek clarification.
  • Waiting to disclose your opinion.
  • Disclosing similar experiences to show understanding

Here are some examples of statements and questions employed with active listening:

  • Building Trust and Establishing Rapport: “Tell me what I can do to help.”
  • Demonstrating Concern: “I am eager to help you; I know you are going through some tough challenges.”
  • Paraphrasing: “So, you are saying that the uncertainty about who will be your new supervisor is creating stress for you.”
  • Brief Verbal Affirmation: “I understand that you would like more frequent feedback about your performance.” “Thank you. I appreciate your time in speaking to me.”
  • Asking Open-Ended Questions:  “It’s clear that the current situation is intolerable for you. What changes would you like to see?”

Give one of them a try. You might notice a difference.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following quote.

“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

Work will not set you free, your attitude might

“It was sad, like those businessmen who came to work in serious clothes but wore colourful ties in a mad, desperate attempt to show there was a free spirit in there somewhere.” ― Terry Pratchett, Making Money

A recent article prompted me to reflect on the way we work today and our attitude to work.

The article talked about one of the leading entrepreneurs today, a chap called Elon Musk. You might not have heard of him, but you might have heard of the Tesla car, which is one of his companies. Anyway, Elon was asked about the ups and downs of his life and Elon Musk was asked about the ups and downs of his life – in particular of setting up and growing an enterprise. He replied “The reality is great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress. Don’t think people want to hear about the last two,”

Although Elon was talking about setting up and running companies, I think that the phrase also applies to many people in the world of work today.

I completely concur with Musk about the ‘great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress’ as I reflect on the world of work that I have lived through over the past 30 years.

I have experienced fantastic highs. Standing in front of 1,000 plus people sharing my experiences of designing and implementing a global Performance Measurement and Management System that supported 2,000 users and was used across a global business. Oh and then being presented with an award, which came as a complete surprise. By the way, to many people standing in front of that many people presenting would be a nightmare. But I enjoyed it.

I have experienced terrible lows. Having to go through a European wide organisation restructure, which meant that colleagues were let go. Having to design the selection criteria and then choose who was to stay and who was to go. Going through the selection process and then watching people being asked to leave a company they cared about and were doing a meaningful job.  To some, a number exercise, but not to me.

Finally, unrelenting stress. As the result of a major change programme that did not go well; having to work 7 days a week with long hours; with exceptional pressure to keep the “boat afloat” and continue to deliver to the customers. Unrelenting. Unforgiven. Harsh and pressured to turn around a terrible situation. 

Reflecting on all of these experiences, I have come to realise that you have to care – and care deeply – about the work that you do and more importantly, the people you work with. Else, why would you put yourself through the pressure, stress and heartache? When you can walk away.

This then poses the next question; work time. If you consider the amount of time you spend in the world of work, both travelling to and from work, as well as actually working itself, it makes up the majority of your adult life. Almost four million employees are working at least 48 hours a week. The average working week in the UK is now 43.6 hours compared with a European average of 40.3 and limits of just 35 in France. If you add on the average 3-hour commute per day, then you are talking about over 58 hours per week working.

Our adult lives are work focused.

Please feel free to say they are not but the truth is, they are. We will never break away from the work world until we get to the nivara of a non-work society where everyone is free to enjoy what they want to do and “work” is carried out by robots. Till then, we will have to work and be tied into work customs and outcomes.

Back to the question I posed at the start. Work will not set you free. You will set yourself free through your attitude.

Whatever work you do, and I have experienced some of the most “interesting” – suitcase porter; soiled bed linen clearer; snooker attendant; multi-vendor service engineer; technical escalation manager,  and even prisoner mentor (yes inside a category B prison with “lifers”); every role, in the end, is carried out by someone.  You will all come to realise that there are very few if any, opportunities to be content in the world of work. Work will not set you free from the grind and effort of delivering a service/product / solution, or whatever.

What sets you “free”, to use a phrase, is how you approach the “work” you do. Your mind set. How you want to serve the customer or the people in the value chain. Your own passion and ethos on serving people.  Even in the most recent challenges I have had, my approach has always been how to serve. In some cases, ignoring the politics of the organisation and focus on the customer and the people involved.

Am I right? Wrong? Will work set you free? Not sure. How you approach work might.

If you want to read more about the tweet and the dialogue that prompted this article, go to:

I leave you with the following quote.

“God might work in mysterious ways, but hell worked on efficient ones.” Richelle Mead, Succubus Shadows

P.S Do not put into google “work will set you free”, else you will get the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” (German). A phrase meaning “work sets you free”. The slogan is known for appearing on the entrance of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.

Simple steps to help develop a “Now Mindset”

“Forever is composed of nows.” ― Emily Dickinson

One of the biggest questions people ask about Mindfulness, is all around being the in “now”. What on earth is it about? What does it mean and why even think about it?

Practicing Mindfulness helps you to focus on being present in the now. Present moment awareness brings calm, peace and sanity to your life. It exposes your ego and puts you in touch with your true self. It helps you be more connected to both yourself and also to everyone around you.

The present moment is all there ever is. Still, most people ignore it, imagining the future or the past, stuck in their thinking minds.

The present moment is so simple. Its simplicity is masked by the egoic mind – wanting to get to some imaginary point in the future (as if the future will bring more happiness than anything could now), or reliving the past (as if this is more important than now). So many of our problems, traumas, anxieties, fears etc. are all based in our minds. Dwelling in the past, or conditioned by the past and then negatively anticipating “the future”.

Time exists only in the mind. It keeps you from the conscious presence that is who you already are, only available within the present moment.

So how can you become more aware? It does take some time, so be prepared to take a few minutes out of your day to try one of the following:

  • Be aware of what you can see, hear, smell, feel. Take a moment to really concentrate on looking at an object or listen to the sounds going on around you. Perhaps sit outside and feel the breeze on your skin or the smells in the air around you.
  • Be aware of your breath flowing gently in and out of your body. The breathing exercise is one of the fundamentals of Mindfulness practice. For a blog post I wrote on the breath practice, go to:
  • Experience and feel your body from within – for example can you be aware of your legs – as if you are feeling the inside of them? This might sound strange, but try it, and you might be surprised by the results.
  • Can you hear the silence behind any noise that may be there? Listen to the background, as well as the foreground noises.
  • Be aware of space around all things you can see rather than just the things themselves? Look beyond the foreground and look to the background.
  • Finally, can you feel yourself as the awareness behind the thoughts that arise? This is probably the most difficult one to try.


Practicing any of these approaches on a regular basis will help put you within the present moment and somewhat out of your mind. Of course the mind may well pull you back in again with some thought, or emotional resistance may arise, but that is the challenge with the mind.

You may notice that as you stay in the present moment, you might become more aware of deeper feelings, thoughts and emotions that you were not aware of before. This is fine, and they are as they are. Allow them to be as well, do not name any emotion or thought – let them be, be the space for them, and see what happens. You may notice as you do this, a sense of peace, aliveness, awareness, however subtle or strong is arising in the background

This practice of present moment awareness and acceptance puts you in touch with what you really are, and sets you free from all the negativity you may be carrying in your mind. There is only this moment, and it is as it is.

I leave you with the following quote.

“Live in the present, remember the past, and fear not the future, for it doesn’t exist and never shall. There is only now.” ― Christopher Paolini, Eldest

Your toes are good reminders of now!

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Question for you.

It is funny, but how often do you think about your feet?

Go on, take a moment and try to remember the last time you really thought about those things at the end of your legs. Unless you have recently bought a pair of shoes and are wearing them in; like I did; or you have a bunion or a pain in your feet; or have gone for a long walk; it is unlikely you have spent some time thinking about them at all.


Now I have got your attention on your feet, I’d like to say that you can use your feet in a Mindfulness practice that helps focus you on the now. Yes, both a Mindfulness practice as well as practising being in the now. Plus it is something that is fun that you can try at home, in the office, on the train, almost anywhere….

The invitation begins by gently bringing your attention down the legs into the feet. Sensing your feet directly without looking at them. Allowing your awareness to sink into your feet and fill them from the inside to the outside. From the bones, right out to the surface of the skin. Perhaps sensing the many small bones within the feet. Maybe feeling the sensations of touch on the skin; the sensations in the soles of the feet; the sense of touch and pressure where the feet make contact with the floor. Perhaps exploring with your awareness the boundary between the feet on the floor. Next……

Can you Wiggle Your Toes
Seriously. Our toes are anomalies from the rest of our bodies, for they’re one of the movable parts of our bodies that we don’t reflexively move or incorporate into the rest of our normal movements. Our toes are just there, not moving. Rather than over-thinking this one, trust me and try the following:

  • Scrunch your toes up to make a toe fist
  • Wiggle them
  • Stretch them out
  • Focus on moving your big toes without moving the rest of them
  • Now do whatever feels right for your toes
  • Now allow your awareness to sink into your feet and fill them from the inside to the outside, perhaps sensing the sensations of touch on the skin
  • The sensations in the soles of the feet, the sense of touch and pressure where the feet make contact with the floor.
  • Perhaps exploring with your awareness the boundary between the feet on the floor.
  • Perhaps the weight of the feet on the floor
  • Finally, allow your attention move away from your feet.
  • You have been experiencing “the now”

Did you notice that you couldn’t really think about anything else while you were actively moving your toes? You might also suddenly notice other parts of your body. It can be really weird when this happens.

The act of being present is, in a sense, a meditation without meditating. With it comes a sense of stillness. For a few moments in your busy, 24*7 lives, you feel at peace. At one with yourself and the world around you.

Finally, the photo I used is of my wacky striped socks. I came across a set of weird and wonderful coloured socks, bought them and have enjoyed wearing them both at work and at home. The look on some of my colleague’s faces when they see them brings a smile to them and me. The photo is a collage of four days of sock wearing at work last week!

If you look closely, you may notice that my left ankle is larger than my right. This is the long term outcome of being run over a few years ago. I have three screws in my left ankle and have five degrees less movement; hence the swelling. Oh and sometimes it does hurt, but that is life.

I love whacky socks and please feel free to share photos of your wacky socks!

Finally, if you would like to do a more formal practice to shift out of doing mode, then try the following link:

I leave you with the following quote.

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” ― Mahatma Gandhi