Silence Please; The Beauty of Switching Off and Shutting Up

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By the time you read this I will be switched off, electronically speaking. No phones allowed at the ‘Zen Bootcamp’ I’m headed to. No phones, no TV’s, no music, no reading of books, not even writing, no external stimulation – silence.

I remember my first silent retreat; the prospect filled me with dread, the fear of being bored, of being out-of-contact, of not knowing what was going on, of missing out on something. But once I settled into the silence, under the layers of boredom and frustration, anger and grief I found the ‘something’ I’d been missing all along.

So now I long for silence, I love and cherish it, I nurture it in my day-to-day meditations and I dive deeply into it on retreat as regularly as having a young family can allow for.

On retreat we draw back from the world so that we can see it, and ourselves, more clearly – like standing back in a gallery to witness the full wonder of a masterpiece. Up too close and we only see the marks and strokes, colours are dulled the beauty of contrast is lost; but on retreating back we widen our view and suddenly beautiful new clarity and focus is revealed. The big picture is right here all the while yet only when we are really here ourselves can we experience it with all of our being.

By turning down the volume of outside distractions internal commentary settles down too. Not at first of course whilst the head-monsters and gremlins are shouting out in protest. Some of them are shaken off violently and others gently dissipate as we let go. We let go and let go some more; who knew there was so much we’d been clinging on to? Layers and layers of it peel away with release and relief, tumbling and falling until we are stripped bare and out of a naked knowing emerges the laughter. I laughed so much on one retreat I thought my ribs might crack, it was as though joy was pouring out of me with such force it could have burst me apart. In a way it did.

By switching off the constant chatter of our inside and outside worlds we learn how to listen. When we listen we can hear the truth of ourselves. In disconnecting we create the breathing space to reconnect.

There’s peace in quiet.

 

 

 

 

If this spoke to you do let’s connect on Twitter @francestrussell

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With love, Frances x 

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How to Eat Mindfully

Frances Trussell, ITV1’s Sugar Free Farm Mindfulness Coach, gives us her top tips for Mindful Eating and how it can transform your relationship to food.

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Celebrities on Sugar Free Farm were all trained by Frances in Mindful Eating

For many of us food is an obsession. We think about it constantly; what we fancy eating, what we should and shouldn’t be eating; good food, naughty food – it takes us so much space in our already busy heads. Except, that is, when we are eating it. Suddenly we look down and it’s almost gone, that dish we’ve been craving has disappeared, shovelled in while our attention was somewhere else.

Mindfulness is the art of paying attention, having your mind full of what you are doing rather than lost in thought.

When we eat mindfully we focus on the beautiful act of eating and something quite brilliant happens; the autopilot chatter of our wandering mind calms down and we get to really experience the food. Mindfully eating we easily notice when our bodies have had enough and we can choose to stop rather than plough through until we are stuffed. It sounds super simple, and it is, the tricky bit is remembering to do it, but like any habit we can train ourselves and once we do we can make overeating a thing of the past. It is absolutely possible to get so much more from our food while still eating less; it’s win-win so give it a go!

Frances’ Top Tips on Mindful Eating;

  • Check In; before you start eating check how hungry are you? Are you eating through hunger or for another reason such as time of day, feelings of boredom or upset? Do you actually want to eat what you are about to eat or are you eating it out of habit?
  • Use all of your senses; how does it look, smell, taste? What is the temperature & texture?
  • Slow down; really pay attention. Take time to chew and swallow between mouthfuls. Rest your fork or put down food in-between bites.
  • Drink some water; often we think we are hungry when actually we are thirsty. Staying hydrated helps both with digestion and stopping us from eating too much.
  • Listen to your body; notice how it is reacting to the food. Stop when you are satisfied, don’t wait until you’re overfull.
  • Get OK with leaving food on your plate; It may go against what we get trained into believing from an early age but no-one ever saved starving children by overeating.

As with all mindfulness practices your mind will wander, this is fine, just gently keep bringing your attention back to the food. The more familiar we make this it soon embeds as a new habit.

Eating is one of life’s great pleasures – an experience worth showing up for, make the most of it!

For more tips and advice you can follow @francestrussell on Twitter and Facebook or download her free Podcast: Mindfully Happy Meditations with Frances Trussell.

To train directly with Frances see: www.francestrussell.com

You can see the episode of Sugar Free Farm featuring Frances teaching Mindful Eating on Tuesday 31st January at 9pm on ITV1.

Celebrities trained were, Ann Widecombe, Gemma Collins, Peter Davidson, Joe Pasquale, Alison Hammond, Lagi and Demi Demetriou of Stavros Flatley.

How to be grateful for depression

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I can look back on my episode in the depths of despair with gratitude. Without that period of madness, my mindfulness practice would have remained in the ‘should’ pile alongside many other I’ll-get-round-to-it-when-I-have-the-time projects. Broken into a million pieces, you tend to only pick up the bits that are truly important to take with you into the next phase of the journey.

I feel quite sorry for the mildly miserable, they might never be down enough to be forced to look for another way; sleepwalking through a life of grumpy discontent. No, I am glad to have been painfully depressed, stabbed and prodded into wakefulness. I had no other choice to commit to a practice, I could no longer be ruled by my thoughts. And, oh, the joy of contrast; in the moment of becoming the observer and recognising your own power to sit back, to watch, to choose, to bask in separation. How quickly our relationship with our thoughts can shift, and how remarkable this shift can be. Suddenly the world, once dark, appears in full beautiful colour.  It is like when you misplace your keys in your living room, you know they are in there somewhere so you really open your eyes and look. And with this new way of looking, really looking, something happens. Familiar items within the room suddenly appear to you with a vibrancy and clarity as if they are being seen for the very first time.

For me, meditation is like brushing my teeth; I just wouldn’t want to go out and breathe my un-meditated breath on anyone. An un-meditated me feels a bit gross, sloppy, unfocused, easily carried away by the rivers of thought. For those people that manage to feel sane without meditating I salute you, I am not sure how you do it. Meditation isn’t the only way of being mindful, but it is the best way to start cultivating it. I love to learn and during my first flushes of falling for mindfulness my appetite for knowing all there was to know on the ‘subject’ was ferocious. I devoured book after book at breakneck speed, it seems funny to reflect back on all that striving. What meditation teaches us when we sit and look is that we already know everything we need to know. Whilst we have a very human need to learn, it is in unlearning we find the being bit of ourselves. Like all things we try to attain, we can get lost in doing mindfulness, but quietly as we practice, we realise mindfulness instead. And with each realisation another layer of ourselves falls away, we see things a little more clearly and the subtle hum of happiness begins to beam through into every part of our being.

Being terribly depressed was one of the best things that could have happened to me. All pain is a messenger, and the message I had ignored for too long was that I was on the wrong path in my life. I see this time and time again with clients who come to me looking to overcome depression. So strong the pull of how we think we want our lives to look, we begin to override our internal sat nav until we can no longer hear the voice of truth within us, we become lost to ourselves. So the messenger of emotion ups the anti, louder and louder pain shouts, our heart beats faster and anxiety rings in our ears. When we really hit rock bottom there is no choice but to finally ‘get the message’ and from down there we get a chance to truly begin again.

How beautiful this principle of beginners’ mind, we really can give ourselves permission to start over, with each new moment comes a new beginning and each mediation a place to get familiar with beginning again and again. When in meditation we forget to begin again; frustration, anger and boredom arises as holding up a mirror to us until we see what we are doing to ourselves. To see that reflection is such a teaching, I am chuckling to myself as I write this because an old earworm has returned to sing the Radiohead lyrics to me; ‘you do it to yourself you do and that’s what really hurts’. This full human experience really does hurt sometimes, it can be so painful and yet so exquisitely beautiful all at the same time. It is so hard for the mind to accept these two opposing truths and that’s ok too – because not all things can be figured out on the level of the mind. If you are in pain you know you are alive, and being alive is certainly something to feel grateful for. So feel pain, but know that you don’t have to feed it with your thoughts. Instead of mindlessly scattering seeds for the crows to peck, we can consciously plant seeds that we gently cultivate.

Depression is a pushing downwards, low thoughts take us on their repetitive downward spiral into lower and lower mood, the body joins this journey like grabbing onto the back of a conga line – with each kick a release of stress hormones, a slumping of posture, a reducing of immunity, forwards and downwards we dance. We lose ourselves in the dance, we become the dance and the dance becomes us, smothering and suffocating in its embrace. In meditation we sit in separation, thought comes and goes and when we don’t engage we see this separation for ourselves. Thought only becomes thinking when we choose to get involved with it. In stillness, free will is placed right under the spotlight of our attention. As thought forms float through we begin to see them for what they are, they are just thoughts and they are not us. And so the grip lessens, our relationship with our thoughts changes and release arrives.

We have the power to choose to act in ways which lift us in an upward direction, to embrace more of those things which make us feel alive and move away from those that deplete us. I used to be very busy trying to control the universe, it was exhausting. These days I choose more carefully the parts I play and try to be playful in the playing of them. I particularly enjoy being DJ when it comes to choosing what song to play in my head, if you don’t like your thoughts you can always change the record.

That’s not to say that the cloud of depression never floats into my life to obscure the view, but nowadays I see it for what it is – just a cloud. Mindfulness has made me recognise my own innate strength, I feel content in the knowledge that whatever the storm it will pass and that I have the power to weather it. The sun is always shining behind the clouds.

This article by Frances Trussell was originally published on ‘everyday mindfulness’

You can now also follow Frances on Twitter @francestrussell and Facebook 

HOW TO BE MINDFUL IN EVERYDAY LIFE

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Life is in the little stuff; by showing up for the small we wake up to the big picture. As we let go of story and focus our attention we transform the everyday. Folding the washing becomes a sacred ritual, taking a shower a sensory delight, each step on a walk down the street a meditation of arrival.

Listen to the birds. Flying messengers of mindfulness, those birds, singing for your attention ‘notice me’ they call ‘be awake to the aliveness of this moment’. No App required, no text alerts necessary – just ears. It is always now as the birds are singing, we can use them to help guide us home.

Find your feet. Where our attention goes our energy follows, as we get lost in our heads we can feel a little ‘top heavy’ and out of balance. Sink the anchor of your awareness into your feet, feel your soles against the floor, relaxing the weight of your body into each foot. Breathe into your contact with the ground. As we dive into sensing we release thought, we release tension, we move from clinging on to letting go.

Meditate; if, as, and when you can. But know that mindfulness is much more than meditation alone. Be where you are. Meditation is at the heart of my life, I find myself there, lose myself and find myself again but it wasn’t always this way. We can only ever be where we are and meditation reminds me that there’s nowhere to get to.

Keep it simple; all of life is an opportunity to be mindful, the obstacle is overthinking it.

This is the summer of your life

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On childhood summer evenings I would sit by the breeze of my open bedroom window listening to the symphony of the season. The laughter of those children still allowed to play out, the kicking of balls in the park and shouting to friends. Birdsong soared high amongst the barbecue smoke whilst the clinking of glasses accompanied grown-ups chatter below.

How bittersweet those balmy nights, a loveliness and still a longing. A longing for a time when the days would be mine, the laughter my own in a no-bedtime, no-rules, me-time-all-the-time kind of way.

So now, I have arrived. And you have too. Here we are, exactly where we wanted to be back then. This day is ours, this night is ours and it’s us who makes those rules. We made a promise to ourselves that when we got here we would embrace those evenings with all our being, feel the warmth of the sun on our face, that now would be that time.

And yet, how easy it is to shift those jumper goal posts, lost in the mourning mind of summers gone or the longing mind of summers to come. But it is not going to get any better than this, now is the only place we get to experience anything because it is always now. There will, of course, inevitably be the perfect-house-bigger-garden summer that lives in our heads. The one where a slightly thinner and more attractive version of ourselves has our hair windswept whilst driving our top-down Aston Martin. The next holiday, the next job, the next relationship, next month or next summer, that elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The wanderings of the mind can trick us into believing that the next lick of the ice cream will taste better than this one. So remember to savour the flavour of this moment. There is little point saving happiness for best like Grandmas crockery.

Feel this summer, own it, squeeze the juice out of it. You have arrived at your destination; this is the summer of your life.

It is always the summer of your life should you choose it to be.

Building Sandcastles

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I love a new pair of shoes as much as the next girl but today I was shoeless, sand between toes and surrounded by the sounds of the sea and children playing. None of us can take ourselves too seriously on a trip to the British seaside. There is no glamorous way of hobbling over the pebbles to paddle in the freezing English Channel, or of eating sandy sandwiches huddled behind a wind-break. I will never forget jumping waves as a kid with my Nan, she let out such a yelp of excitement with one leap she lost her false-teeth to the sea. They might still be out there somewhere chattering away on the cold sea bed.

It is the things we do, not the things we have that make this life. So well trained we are in our principle occupation as consumers, like little ants we work away eyes down and focused on those prizes. It is easy to forget the ‘being’ bit of human-being until we allow ourselves the opportunity to be and to feel human again. Our culture places so much emphasis on the accumulation of ‘stuff’, yet what is the stuff that really matters when we look back over our lives?

Some things cannot be bottled or bought, the re-discovered pleasure of digging in the sand, the triumph of creating our moated island decorated in shells. The satisfied sadness when it’s time to say goodbye as the sea arrives to claim our spoils and the night to take our day.

All of our castles are made of sand and the tide of life will come to wash them away. When we are not so weighed down by stuff it may be easier to ride the waves.

Life is short

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So there you are, body walking along the road but mind somewhere else altogether. Wandering in thought, worries, projections of the future; predictions for how things might or might not work out, catastrophising. All of these ruminations are just bad guesses, terrible guesses in this case because BOOM there you are gone. You didn’t even see it coming – the bus that hit you. And so it is with life, and death, however we might try to map it out, we can’t ever know for certain what’s just around the corner. What a waste of life worry is. If only we’d been present for the walk, if only we’d showed up and paid attention to what was actually going on around us rather than being lost in the ‘if only’ of the mind.

A family friend died this week, too young to die by the expectations we set for such things, but death has no regard for expectations. My news feed swells with photographs and memories shared, the pain and beauty of how precious life is. We are remembered when we die not for our inner world of thought but for our outer world, for the moments in which we touched people. The laughter we shared, a look, a smile, the way that we held them, for the moments that we were alive for them.

Life is short, be alive while you are alive, make the moments count.