This moment

I never really understood mindfulness before. I just didn’t have the patience for it and couldn’t see the benefits of just ‘being’ in the moment.

It seemed like I’d be taking myself into a vacuum (and one I didn’t particularly enjoy for that matter) to purposely separate myself from the past and the future. It was far away from the adrenaline rush I could trigger and enjoy by keeping myself in action.

But I heard it was a useful thing, something that others had got a lot out of and so I attended some mindfulness training about five  years ago. I was aware of being often overcome by anxiety and I hoped it might be the silver bullet to help me cope better, the key to finding more calm in my life.

But to be honest it just really annoyed me and I didn’t stick it out. 

The pace of it was just too…mindful. A slow wander through understanding how my body reacts to stress and learning body scanning meditations that I’d then feel bad about not completing during the week because of being too busy but, most important, not enjoying being trapped watching my worries and anxiety unfurl around me.

But recently I was given to book by a friend.

A book about the power I’ve being quiet and still and connecting to what’s going on in this very moment (it’s called ‘silence‘ if you’re interested).

And I started to see the benefit of being more present in the moment. The benefit of not getting dragged into stories that I tell myself about the past or worrying about the future. 

Perhaps it’s made bearable because I’ve changed – I’m kinder to myself, I put less pressure on myself to attain some arbitrary, inhuman standard of perfection. And perhaps it’s because all I can do is surrender to and find peace in the moment in this world full of chaos, a world where things are absolutely outside of my control.

I think, looking back, pre-covid-19, I felt like everything was in my control.

If I just tried damn hard enough pretty much anything was possible.

But living through a pandemic where lives are being lost to such a serious illness has made me aware that all we have is this moment.

It sounds trite, but it was actually a revelation to realise and to keep on discovering the solidity that comes from being aware that all I have is this moment.

And this moment here with me now.

And this moment.

And so I started to practice my own cobbled together version of mindfulness, focusing on my breath as I lie next to my son at night when he was going to sleep.

Practicing not ruminating on past events or projecting into the future but instead just breathing in and paying attention to my senses. What I could hear in the moment, what I could feel physically in this moment, what I could hear, what I could smell.

Or sometimes I imagine myself as little girl Amy, sat on the same bench as the current version of myself. Just watching the moments go by, the thought patterns circle around like waves on the shore.

Knowing that I only have this moment shores me up against the batterings of anxiety and worry. 

This afternoon, just before coming to a late work shift, I was sat in a nook I’ve created for myself at home, meditating and having a moment of peace. 

In the middle of the meditation, I found myself feeling a weight of sadness and worry. It’s not something I can attribute to a particular thing, but it is a mix of anxiety about the future we’re facing and worries that I’m not doing enough. 

I could have cried or got sucked into the story of how I wasn’t enough and my impending future of being found out to be a fraud and ruining the world with my lack of ‘correct’ and ‘perfect’ action. 

But instead, I found myself being reminded by something greater than me to ask how I was in the moment I had. And I found the weight of anxiety and sadness lift from me when I realised in that moment that I was well. 

I was in a safe space, physically well, in a moment of peace and without the burden of any responsibility on me. 

What power, what grace, to be reminded that I only have this very moment in time. 

We only have this moment. 


I’ve been toying with recording my own meditations, here is a quick 4 minute mindfulness meditation in case you’d like to give stillness a go:

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A day without point

Last weekend I had a day by myself with my son.

It was the first time I had taken Jenson out for a substantial part of the day without his buggy and I spent a bit of last week mulling over the experience of moving at his pace.

These reflections come as I read some books on quieting myself – Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh (a buddist monk) who writes about mindfulness, and Active Hope by Joanne Macy about how to face the anxieties around climate change and biodiversity loss without completely feeling overwhelmed and paralysed or feel that we’re all doomed.

The principle tenants of what I have read in them so far (I haven’t read them both completely yet) is to be aware of what is happening in the moment, of reconnecting with the truth that we are all interconnected instead of being trapped in the story that we are alone.

This involves stopping and appreciating wonder of the beauty of this world to:

  1. appreciate what beauty there is outside of the story we’ve bought into that the only richness in this world is financial, when there is so much other richness available – love, community, beauty, appreciation, generosity.
  2. quiet my mind which is constantly pulled to the past and into the future instead of appreciating this present moment and the wonders within it

I shared about a year ago in a previous post that my son is like my little mindfulness guru – he is so in the present that I can’t help but appreciate the beauty of this world when I allow myself to see it through his eyes.

For example, he’s taken to saying ‘what’s that noise’? Listening out for birdsong, a car going by, the hush of the dehumidifier fan.

And he doesn’t need for the latest thing, the coolest product – he just wants to be with me and his father. Content to spend hours playing with cars.

He is aware of what is going on moment-by-moment and so, when I allow myself to concentrate on him, he brings me into the present moment.

So the Saturday that I spent with him without the usual buggy to strap him into and charge about, lost in myself whilst looking after him, I was swept away in mindfulness.

yYet, I achieved ‘nothing’ on that day.

Don’t get me wrong, I got so much from my time going at the pace of my son.

I walked among the trees and touched them along with Jenson who’d say ‘knock, knock, knock – hello?’ to see if they would answer him.

I ran along the street to hide from Jenson – both to hurry him along and also to delight in his squeal as he shouted ‘Boo!’ at me in my poorly conceived hidey-hole.

I sat and smiled in a cafe as Jenson terrorised an older child, shouting ‘tada!’ when he had finished drawing and rubbing out squiggles on the chalk board available in the children’s corner.

I exchanged words with strangers that Jenson interacted with, waved at a little girl in a restaurant that Jenson approached and smiled at.

But what did I do for eight hours of my life? Nothing I could tick off a list or say I’ve achieved.

I was going to say that it was nothing that added to my life…but that’s wrong. I smiled, I slowed down, I appreciated the time without purpose (to a certain extent), I surrendered to the present, I allowed myself to be. I smiled, I sang, I interacted with more people than usual, I felt my chest puff with pride at who Jenson is.

And yet I’m exhausted from a day on the go, a day where nothing much was achieved.

I’m writing this because I’m not sure what to make of the day.

A certain part of me is aware that I need more time to just ‘be’. Journeys to the station that don’t see me plugged into my phone – listening to something – and instead just enjoying the silence. More lunchtimes with a proper break, getting out of my head and into my body to calm my nervous system, less time trying to multitask, more time with my phone off so I can focus without distraction.

More time that isn’t ruled by outcomes, progress, development.

I can see that this is the way that memories will get made with my son too – by going on adventures, having no fixed purpose but to see what unfolds of the day, to unravel back to childhood as the day gets shaped and shifted by a young child.

And I can see that this is what might build a strong mother and son bond – not fancy holidays, the latest stuff or full-on extra-curricular activities – but being there. Available and willing to get swept away in the ordinary moment.

As I’m writing these words, I can see the benefit of having a shift in my life. At present, life feels like 65% of my awake time is focusing on accomplishing (working hard, organising life, writing/coaching/creating with purpose, parenting – reading books, engaging in activities to be ‘a good parent’), 10% is resting (personal time that I fill with reading, writing, doing), 15% is relational and 10% (if that) is ‘without point’ – not needing an outcome or productivity, just go with the flow.

But I can see the benefit of reshaping this. Not necessarily moving things around or changing the make-up of my life, but shifting my expectations and how I approach things.

In writing this and thinking about it, I’m feeling less terrified about the prospect of being more in the moment.

I see what today has brought me – building the foundations of my relationship with Jenson, interacting with people with more presence (I’m smiling thinking about the cashier who saw Jenson’s beam and said ‘he’s got the best smile, he’s incredible’ – my heart is bigger just thinking of this interaction), allowing myself wild moments of retreat back into my childhood as I surrendered to play and imagination.

And I can see that appreciating this mindfulness in the moment doesn’t have to be black or white – drop my job and be nothing but present in the here-and-now.

But I can see how richer my life might be through allowing myself to be more in the moment, if only a little bit more

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Hands in the earth

I’m someone who always used to think of gardening as boring and for the middle-aged.

I’d wonder why people would spend so much time working on something that I felt so little for. I didn’t see the point of pretty flowers or growing things you could get so easily in a supermarket.

It pretty much reflected my relationship with nature. I didn’t have one.

But things have shifted this year and I’m having to swallow my pride (or acknowledge that I’m entering an early middle age!) as I start to spend time gardening.

That’s what I did last weekend and I want to share with you here the things I noticed from my experience:

Noticing

I have never been one for paying attention to detail.

It’s just not that important to me.

A friends birthday party? Great, yes I’ll accept but only have a cursory think about how I’ll get there the moment I have to leave the house, which often leads to me being late!

But I found a real beauty in slowing down and noticing what was going on around me. The garden bed which I considered to be mostly empty was actually full of clever bind weeds that had tentacles spanning over the whole of the bed.

I suddenly saw how prolific they were – a lesson from Mother Nature that things are not always as they seem and how slowing down and paying attention can be worth it.

The web

Oh my gosh, the amount of roots I discovered as I dug around the patch of earth!

It was like the earth was webbed together with roots. The flowers woven with the honeysuckle, the weeds and the vine we have growing in there.

Little thread veins were EVERYWHERE and I loved the living metaphor for how much we too are connected. With each other, with nature and with something beyond us.

It was beautiful. And so comforting to think about the world beneath our feet. The wildness under our pavement and roads of tree roots and plant roots which network and co-exist together.

As I stare at the Level Park nearby where I’m writing this, I imagine the trees that have been here for hundreds of years and must have a web of interconnected life beneath us. A source of power and strength that we can’t see with our bare eyes but very much is there.

Shifting problems

As I attempted to clear the weeds from the bed, I soon realised why a gardening fork is needed for this work. Because attacking a weed front on – attempting to pull it straight up from the earth – doesn’t work.

The leaves snap off and the weed will soon grow back.

So instead you need to first loosen the weed’s hold on the earth. Wiggling and jiggling the earth around it until it is loose enough to pull out.

There again, another cup full of wisdom from the earth!

How often do we try to solve our problems face on and fail? Try to get healthier by dieting until we fall off the wagon as we haven’t addressed all the things around it –

  • The comfort we get from food
  • How we associate it with a past we haven’t been able to let go of
  • Our disassociation from the raw ingredients that make up our food in this fast-consumption society.
  • Our life that is too busy to take time for real self-care
  • The numbing that foods high in sugar, fat and salt gives us

But start to wiggle and jiggle these things and we might be able to let go of what binds us.

Being physical

My back ached at the end of my weeding session but I adored the focus on being physical. It’s not something I often get in my office job.

In the garden, I used the power in my arms to chop back the blackberry plant. I felt the wind against my skin as it whipped around me. My senses were heightened as I heard the birds calling in the skies.

It was a pleasure to get into my skin and just be there instead of living inside my head – being hijacked by the galloping pace of my thoughts and my emotions.

Being physical brought me peace.


So there you are – a few reflections from my time in the wonderful world of plants.

I’m sure there’ll be many more musings to come.

In a funk

I’m sat down, having just put Jenson down to sleep, and am reflecting on the intermittent funk that I was in yesterday. I had moments of joy – seeing a friend, going to a yoga class, time in a cafe by myself, time laughing about what Jenson was getting up to – but kept on falling back into a bit of a mood. An itchy, scratchy feeling that things weren’t quite right.

And, having reflected on it, I think I know why this was…because I haven’t let go of my old life.

I keep on thinking  about how I’d love to be able to sleep in until noon, spend all day marathoning films, go out to eat in the evening with friends, read a book in the bath for hours and hours…and on the list goes of what I’d love to do for just one day.

And while I would never wish to be without my gorgeous little one, who is one of the very the best things in my whole world, I’ve been keeping hold of what was and is no longer.

I don’t think this has been a problem up until now because prior to this stage Jenson was amiable and willing to tag along doing whatever I wanted to do. But with his new found crawling and his little personality coming through (he’s got my stubbornness!), he’s no longer content to be my little shadow. He wants to be centre stage.

But despite this, I’ve been trying to keep my life as it was. Going out to cafes where there’s nothing much for him to play with, wanting time to chat when I need to be occupying Jenson, wanting to come first when, for now at least, that’s not how things are.

In sharing this with you, it’s helping me to let go of what once was in order to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of what is. And there’s so much to appreciate – my healthy, radiant, cheeky little boy, my family of three who I love spending time with, the possibility of doing other stuff – autumnal walks, craft activities, coffees in soft play centres, dancing around the kitchen, dressing Jenson up in ridiculous outfits, trips to the swimming pool.

And I know that things will get easier. Jenson will become more independent and will need me less which will bring with it the possibility of hours to read by myself, trips out with friends, trips to the cinema, time to cook up a storm in the kitchen. But I’m sure that, when that day comes, I’ll also feel in a funk and will mourn the days when my little boy needed me so desperately.

So I’ll try to appreciate what I have, for I have so much to be grateful for.

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What he’s teaching me…

My little peanut is almost eight months old. I can’t believe it! He’s nearly been out in the world for longer than he was inside me growing. At times these eight months have seemed like a life sentence (sorry Jenson, but it’s true!) with sleep deprivation, inexplicable crying and endless rounds of nursery rhymes and distraction techniques to soothe him. But at times I look back and think “how can he already be two thirds of his way through his first year?!”.

One thing is for sure – he’s my biggest teacher. One I didn’t know I needed and couldn’t have planned for when he made his appearance known to me.

I was lying in bed yesterday morning, looking at my sweet boy as he slept next to me and I thought of all the things he’s teaching me…and here are the three things that spring to mind most keenly.

Patience

Oh I’ve had to be patient so often with my little one in these first eight months. When he’s up at 5:30 on most days and I want to shout to the heavens “why will my baby not sleep past daybreak?!?”. When he’s crying and I can do nothing to settle him. When I’m feeling a bit under the weather but have to bring it for him. When I cook a lovely meal for him only to have it rejected. When he wanted to be held in my arms to sleep for the first six months of his life.

Patience, he’s teaching me to have a bucketful of patience.

I’m sure there will come a day when I snap at him, yell with frustration and scream to who-knows-what about what a difficult life it is to be a parent, but for now I feel like my little guy is teaching me slowly what it means to have patience. The importance of taking a deep breath, the ability to look at the bright side of things I’m finding challenging (never have my days been so long with the early starts!), the joy of having him which makes up for all the inconveniences of parenthood.

He’s teaching me to go with the flow and let go of every notion of control I had before.

Presence

I’ve always been a planner. I’m first in line (or maybe a high second place) to plan my sister’s wedding when she meets Mr Right. I know where I’d like to be in 3 years time. I’m always looking ahead.

Too much sometimes.

And I quickly discovered that my little boy is the medicinal tonic to my future focus. He calls me to stay firmly in the present with him. Especially when I’m on my phone – how he hates it when I’m glued to the screen!

He drags me firmly into the land of now as we explore the world around us. Time speeds past as we examine our reflections in a doorknob, splash around in the bath, laugh at games we play together. When we’re together, there’s no thoughts of work or relationships or anything other than being with him.

And it’s beautiful.

Sometimes it’s frustrating too (see above for the patience he’s building in me!) as I want to gallop away to plan future stuff. But for the most part, being called to be present with him is a reprieve from how I’ve learnt to (dis)function and it’s brought so much peace to my life.

Some people pay hundreds of pounds on a retreat and in yoga or meditation classes to learn how to stay present…but I’m learning it from my baby who seems to be a natural, my own little mindfulness guru.

A different path

Becoming a mum has shown me what is truly important in life – my family, having a job that stretches me, being able to travel and explore this world. But it has also thrown so much up in the air for me as I question how I can contribute more, how I can leave this world in a better state for my boy and those who are growing up with him.

I can’t just go to work and return to be with him. It’s not my path to just do my job and return home to pour everything into my son. I feel the call to contribute more.

The weight of responsibility of being his mum has made me discover the responsibility of being a citizen of the world and has started me questioning what this means to me. Whether it’s playing a part in reforming local government and politics, the medical system, the environment or the education system, I feel something developing. A path just out of sight beyond my vision that I know I’m going to tread at some point in the future.

He has shifted my priorities and shown me a new path I never thought possible.


So here’s to my boy as he’s on the cusp of eight months old. I can’t imagine my life without him.

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Pace

So far I’ve loved the slow, dreamy pace of motherhood. I’ve spent hours lying on the sofa feeding Jenson, forgot about housework and done very little with my time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written about my experience as a new mum, gone out to lots of groups and met up with loads of people. So I haven’t done nothing with my time. But I’ve been a ‘human being’ instead of acting out my usual ‘human doing’ rush, rush, rush. And it has started to feel a bit uncomfortable.

Yesterday Gregg was off work and I had written a list of things that I wanted to accomplish during the day. Not big things but some things that I was looking forward to getting done.

  • Batch cooking some pasta sauce to have the rest of the week
  • Going to the GP
  • Sorting out my wardrobe and putting away my maternity clothes
  • Uploading shoes and other items I no longer wear onto Facebook marketplace
  • Doing my ‘break up with your phone’ activity of the day
  • Putting some photo frames up in the bedroom

These were things that would have taken me a few hours to accomplish in the past but I would have stretched them out over several hours, enjoying the feeling of de-cluttering and streamlining my life. I would have perhaps extended my cooking to include baking some cookies or cakes and then I maybe would have also used my busy energy to give our bathroom a well-needed clean or left the house to sit in a cafe for a few hours, writing a blog post or a letter to a friend.

But that was not my experience yesterday. I managed to accomplish some of the essential tasks – cooked the pasta sauce (a task left over from the day before), spent 45 minutes frantically clearing out my wardrobe and put a few of my shoes on Facebook to sell. But it was punctured by Gregg bringing me Jenson for a feed or taking him outside for a walk so Gregg could do some of the jobs he’d set his mind to in the day.

It felt so frustrating to be going at this slower pace. To not be able to get things done and instead just surrender to being with my boy.

I feel so horrible saying this – like a really undeserving mum – because it’s a beautiful thing to spend time with Jenson. To witness him feeding, sleepy and content or looking at the world with wide eyes.

But it’s also frustrating to have my wings clipped and to find myself unable to do all those small things that would have taken up a mere fraction of the day in times gone by.

And I’m also finding the ‘break up with your phone’ book hard to put into action. Because the premise of the book is to do something else with the time you would have spent on your phone. But activities I’m able to think of that are possible with a little 7 weeker in tow (especially one who wants to do nothing more than feed and sleep on me!) are near impossible.

So I suppose today I’m having a bit of a moment of feeling a bit down. Looking back on the ease of my pre-mum life and wishing I could be back there for just one day. And I’m also becoming aware that parenthood is going to teach me so much about just being – something which feels so uncomfortable for me when I’m used to rushing around and accomplishing so much.

I think this is one of the biggest lessons in my life – letting go of doing and allowing myself to just be. Relaxing into this moment, whatever it brings. Learning to adapt and let go of what I want in order to enjoy what is.

I know it’s good for me but I also know that it’s hard for me. So I will have hard days, and that’s ok. It’s all part of the experience of being a new parent and finding my feet in this new reality.