The beauty of Silence

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King Jr.

I love when the extended family gets together. The vibe and the feeling of being together is wonderful. As a family of daughters – I have two and my brother has three – this means that there is always lots of chatter, discussion and often happy laughter. Generally, at the dad’s expense!

This Christmas, was the first opportunity for all of us to be together over a few days and the atmosphere was relaxed, gentle, but at the same time very, very noisy. I am not sure if it is modern trend, but teenagers tend to talk “at one another”, rather than “talk with one another”. Group talks tended to be noisy, rowdy affairs. With little, or no possibility or reflective dialogue and discussion, I felt that topics tended to be glossed over, rather than understood and agreed with. But, hey, that’s only my opinion. And the girls loved being together.

Whilst, I loved having all of the family around, it also made me appreciate the quiet times when everyone was out of the house doing “their thing”.

The near complete silence.

No one talking. No TV. No music. No radio. No phones ringing. Strangely, even my grandmother’s chiming clock that hangs in the dining room  had stopped.

I had no desire to fill up the silence with noise. Rather I was able to sit and practice mindfulness. Focusing on my breath, I even was able to “hear” my heart beating. It does not happen often, but when it does, it is amazing. The time seemed to flow by.

Then people came back into the house, chattering away. Noise levels returned to normal.

When was the last time you were in an environment where there was complete, total, silence?

Apart from our lives being full on, with so many distractions, I have come to realise that, we have even filled up our worlds with noise. Perhaps we are afraid of the silence? I am not sure. But if you do get a chance to “turn down the volume” on your life’s noise, give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

I was out walking and reflecting on this article, when  I realised that it reminded me of one of my favorite songs from the 1980’s by Depeche Mode – “Enjoy the Silence”. Here is a YouTube video of the official video from that era.

I leave you with the following quote…….

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”

Robert Frost


Play – What type of Play Personality are you?

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” ― Plato

I have recently finished reading a fascinating book about Play, entitled:

Play: How it shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, written by Doctor Stuart Brown and the founder of the National Institute for Play.

Children, as they grow up, play alone, with friends and in larger groups, Play to them is innocent, fun, and carefree. Then all of a sudden, normally in the early teen’s we tend to drift away from play into more adult activities. As adults, we tend to think of play as a guilty pleasure, a distraction from the real world of work, away from social responsibilities; a distraction of getting on with our lives.

The start of Chapter Two caught my imagination. He mentions talking to a bunch of engineers in Silicon Valley from Hewlett-Packard, a company I used to work for. He defines the properties of play as:

Apparently purposeless: play done for its own sake, which is why as adults so many people think of it as a waste of time….

Voluntary: You do it because you want to, not because you are forced into it

Inherent attraction: It is fun, it is not boring, you get enjoyment from it

Freedom from time: When you are doing something you really love doing, you lose track of time. You become completely engrossed in the activity.

Diminished consciousness of self: When you are playing, you forget perhaps how silly you look or act. Think about face painting with the kids. You end up looking like something has escaped from a nightmare – as the kids have painted your face – but you don’t care.

Improvisational potential: In play, there is the element of chance, you never know what is going to happen next.

Continuation desire: We want to keep doing it and when it is over, we want to keep doing it.

I love the following passage at the end of Chapter three – We are built to play.
When we stop playing, we stop developing, and when that happens, the laws of entropy take over – things fall apart. ………

Dr Brown then goes on to define Play Personalities. The definitions are described in adult terms. So what type of Play Personality are you? You might be combinations or multiple types. Are you:

The Joker – most of us will know someone who is a joker, normally at the centre of the crowd at any social gathering.

The Kinesthetic – those people who need to move to be able to think. My daughter has a very strong kinesthetic tendency, always dancing, moving about, even to the extent of having music playing, the TV on, texting on her mobile phone and doing her homework – all at the same time!

The Explorer – People who constantly seek new places, new adventures, or even new feelings, emotions or mental stimulations.

The Competitor – we all know someone who is ultra-competitive, who wants to win. Win always.

The Director – someone who wants to lead events, meetings, and loves organising. We have a friend that is so organised, every aspect of their lives is planned. Try meeting them for coffee and it is organised with precision, timing and you get the feeling that there is no impromptu moments in their lives.

The Collector – someone who collects objects, One person at work collects Star Wars figures. Another collects cars. Each one is happy, Each to their own I say.

The Artist Creator – this person loves to create; whether it is cooking, gardening, painting, writing, music, poetry, etc. I love to garden and find great pleasure in working outside to create a wonderful place to relax. I also enjoy planting seeds – normally vegetables – and watching them grow; looking after them and nurturing them. Finally, harvesting and eating the fruits of my labour. Finally,

The Storyteller – this person has a vivid imagination and can either be a writer of books or a reader of books. This is me. I have such a vivid imagination and loved nothing more than sitting down with the girls; when they were little; when it was bedtime and reading them stories, using accents and different tones to give life to the characters. I went into the primary school on more than one occasion to read to the whole of a year one year group – 80 young faces looking at you as you read them a story – wonderful.

The central question that gets posed throughout the book, is why do we play? What possible benefit is there to play?

Well, it would appear that it is one of the most effective ways to implant memories; social norms; learn new skills; connect abilities long ago learnt with new scenarios and in doing all of this, learn what works for us to deal with the world around us.

I leave you with the closing words from chapter three…….

When we stop playing, we start dying.

How to introduce Mindfulness to Children AND Adults…..

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”  Charles M. Schulz

Further to the previous post where I set out the basics for teaching Mindfulness to children, listed below are examples that you can use with children, teenagers, and even us adults, to introduce Mindfulness. I would recommend you try each of them with different groups, as there will not be a single exercise that works for every individual:

1. Taste: The Single Cube of Chocolate Exercise
Children normally grab a bar of chocolate and after unwrapping it, tend to stuff squares as quickly as possible into their mouths [well all the ones I know!]. Instead, I suggest that you take a single square of chocolate and hand one to each child. You then ask them to smell it, feel the texture [lightly otherwise it melts!] and say what it smells and looks like. Then gently place it on their tongue and get them to close their mouth, BUT DO NOT chew or swallow it! Let it gently rest on the tongue and let it slowly dissolve. Get them to concentrate on the feelings, thoughts, textures, and tastes of the chocolate. Trust me, they will never have tasted chocolate like it before. Go on your adults, try it as well….. it will be amazing!

2. Smell: Smell & Tell Exercise
Pass something fragrant out to each person, such as a piece of freshly cut orange segment, or a slice of lemon . Ask them to close their eyes and breathe in the scent, focusing all of their attention only on the smell of that object. I find this difficult as I do not have a great sense of smell, but some people have a really sensitive nose and can really get lost in the moment.

3. Sound: The Bell Listening Exercise
I have a meditation bowl I have used in practices before and the sound is amazing, but even if you do not, you could have some form of hand bell or cymbal. Ring a bell gently and ask the people to listen closely to the vibration of the ringing sound. Tell them to remain silent and raise their hands when they no longer hear the sound of the bell. Then tell them to remain silent for one further minute and pay close attention to the other sounds they hear once the ringing has stopped. Take note and try to remember the other sounds they might hear. After the minute is up, go around the group and ask them to tell you every sound they noticed during that minute. This gets them thinking about better listening skills as well as being aware of other noises around them.

4. Movement: Breathing Buddies
For younger children, hand out a stuffed toy to each child. If you do not have a toy, you can even get them you use a rolled up sock or a small stone. Ask the children lie down on the floor and place the item on their stomachs. Tell them to breathe in silence for one minute and notice how their “Breathing Buddy” moves up and down, and any other sensations that they notice. Tell them to imagine that the thoughts that come into their minds turn into soap bubbles and float away. Its amazing how quiet the children become, watching the motion of the buddy.

5. Movement: The Squeeze & Relax Meditation Exercise
This is one of the adult exercises that is an alternative to the traditional body scan. Ask everyone to lie down on the floor and take their shoes off and close their eyes. The objective is to squeeze as tightly as possible and then relax every muscle in their bodies in turn. First, starting at their feet, get them to squeeze as hard as possible their toes. Some will be able to do so, some will not, it does not matter. It is the effect you are after. Next, tighten the muscles in their legs all the way up to their hips, and relax. Next suck in their stomachs and bottom as hard as possible and then relax. Next, squeeze their hands into fists and relax; then their arms and relax; then their shoulders and relax and finally their faces. The face one is wonderful as they make some great expressions! This is a wonderful way to get everyone to start to understand the idea of being present with your body.

5. Touch: The Art Of Touch Exercise
For younger children, give each child an object to touch, such as a ball, a feather, a soft toy, a stone, a piece of lego etc. Ask them to close their eyes and describe what the object feels like to a partner. Then have the partners trade places. This starts to give them the focus on concentrating on a particular object and focusing on the now.

6. Touch: The Heartbeat Exercise
Have the people jump up and down as quickly as possible for one minute.Ask them to do it in silence. Then have them sit back down on the floor and place their hands on their hearts. Tell them to close their eyes and feel their heartbeats, their breath, and see what else they notice about their bodies. Ask them to count their heart beats for one minute. This gets them to focus on the now.

I leave you with the following quotes……

Children are happy because they don’t have a file in their minds called “All the Things That Could Go Wrong.” Marianne Williamson

The other is for us adults………….

“May your life be filled, as mine has been, with love and laughter; and remember, when things are rough all you need is … Chocolate.” Geraldine Solon, Chocolicious

How to introduce Mindfulness to Children – part 1

“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.” ― Ann Landers

I have been practicing Mindfulness for a while now and it has become more and more a core part of both my daily life as well as how I am trying to live my life in terms of behaviour and regard for others. People have noticed the change and when I share with them the journey I am on and still travelling, they can sometimes be sceptical, but still recognise the benefits.I was out walking with a friend and her daughter the other day and she mentioned that the local primary school was going to have a “Mindfulness Day” to introduce the concepts of mindfulness to the teaching staff. The reason being to share the concepts and ideas with the staff and to get them to then use some of the techniques with the children. The reason, is that they have a behaviour issue in the school and this is one of the things they want to try to help manage the levels of aggression amongst the children. Aggression in 6 to 11 years olds? Yes. Including bullying, name calling and throwing things about.

I was asked “How would you do this?” which sparked a lively discussion. The first point is this…. You can not do mindfulness to people!

My concern was…. unless the teachers themselves are practicing mindfulness, how on earth are they expected to be able to teach it, or share the benefits with the pupils. Its like asking a maths teacher to teach art or visa versa.

The second point, I pointed out was that the idea of being able to share mindfulness practices in one day is possible – I have attended a one day taster course before as a mindfulness practitioner to help the programme leader by sharing best practices – but to really start on the journey, you have to either do the 8 week MBSR [Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction] programme, or something similar. You then have to start to practice it as often as you can, ideally for at least 15-30 minutes every day.

People come to mindfulness through many different routes; some through formal training; some through group work; some through activities at their work place or even, as in my case, following the Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world book written by Professor Mark Williams and Doctor Danny Penman. This is the same 8-week programme that is run at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre [run by Professor Williams and the programme that Ruby Wax did].

Anyway, back to the walk and discussion. Our friend’s ten-year-old daughter, Alice, piped up and asked “What is Mindfulness?”. I thought for a moment and answered with “Its just being aware; aware of your thoughts, feelings, how your body is feeling, and anything that is happening around us and to us right now.” I think she understood, but was not too sure.Trying to get children to understand theoretical concepts is always hard. It is far easier to get them to try things. To experience instead. So, I suggested a few ways to be able to get the children to experience Mindfulness. Children respond better to some of the fundamental senses – movement, sight, sound, taste and touch. Which is key to getting them engaged.

In my next post, I’ll share the examples we talked about.