Mindfulness 24/7

I do not want the title of this post to be misleading. It is impossible to practice mindfulness 24/7.  We sleep for several hours out of every 24 and I do not know of anyone who can practice mindfulness during their sleep. What I am implying with this title, is that mindfulness is at our disposal 24/7 to help us cope with difficult situations.

We all have to face adversity from time to time: a challenging job, a demanding boss, an unsettled relationship, a treat to our health, a financial crisis…mindfulness can help us cope with adversity, especially in it is of an ongoing nature.

Mindfulness is all about focussing on one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time. When we face adversity, our thoughts tend to travel either into the future – we worry about the possible outcome – or into the past – we dwell on past failures, our past inability to cope with and overcome a similar situation.

Even if we are in a very stressful situation, we can take pleasure in a single moment. All we have to do, it to focus 100% of our attention on this very second and on everything that makes this single second precious, on everything that we are grateful for in this moment in time. There might be trouble ahead, but in this specific instant in time, all is well.

To handle a difficult situation, we can take 5 minutes out to remind ourselves what we are grateful for. Gratitude, profound and intensely felt, defuses stress. We can choose to be happy during these 5 minutes. We can choose not to let our fears about the future destroy our happiness during the next 5 minutes. Or the next hour. Or this afternoon. Or today. Or this weekend. If there is nothing that we can do to resolve our difficulties till Monday, we can choose to mindfully enjoy everything that the weekend has to offer, instead of miserably fretting the whole weekend long.

The funny thing about concentrating on making the most of each moment, about enjoying each minute of your life consciously and on purpose, is that it gives your creative brain the time to come up with an original solution, in its own good time. This solution is often more effective than any solution you may have tortured into life by worrying about a situation. There is a lot to be said for making time to breathe deeply and slowly during stressful periods, not only does it calm our nerves, it also re-oxygenate our brain, making it easier for our brains to come up with solutions to our problems.

For me personally, mindfulness is also an expression of my Christianity. When I face a challenge, I pray to God for help. I then leave the problem with him and focus on enjoying the next five minutes of my life. I thank Him for everything that I have that I am grateful for. I resolve not to let my current difficulties destroy the whole day’s happiness. It is not easy, my mind travels back time and again to my problem – I am only human after all – and time and again I have to stop and re-direct my thoughts to what I am grateful for and enjoying at this moment in time.

Mindfulness has very practical applications. Mindfulness can help you cope with a variety of problems that may initially look like insurmountable obstacles. This is why mindfulness is an integral part of our Connect with Horse Mindfulness Meditation Workshops.

“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

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Mousse au Chocolat Noir in Minutes

Our region has many famous and favourite desserts, like the Croustade aux Pommes et à L’Armagnac, a fruit tart that is not difficult to make but does take a fair amount of time. For our mindfulness and meditation retreats with the horses, I prefer something quick and easy that can preferably be prepared beforehand. Mouse au Chocolat is one of my favourites. I use chocolat noir, usually the Cote d’Or variety and I flavour it with mint leaves from the herb garden.

Ask ten French people how to make mousse au chocolat, and you will end up with ten different recipes. En plus, everybody has their own ideas when it comes to adding flavourings and toppings, but the main ingredients in a chocolate mousse always include chocolate, eggs and sugar. Some recipes also require cream, butter and your choice from a variety of flavourings.

As with any recipe that includes chocolate, the secret is using only the very best chocolate you can. Your mousse is only as good as your chocolate. This basic French chocolate mousse recipe is remarkable in its simplicity.

Ingredients
350g chopped bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 cup of strong coffee
3 eggs
1/4 cup of caster sugar
1 tablespoon real cocoa powder
300ml thick, heavy full-fat cream

Chantilly (whipped cream), fresh mint leaves and grated chocolate to garnish

Instructions

Place the chocolate, butter and coffee in a glass heat-resistant bowl over a pan of boiling water. The bowl should not touch the water. Stir slowly until all the butter and the chocolate has melted. Remove the bowl from the stove and set it aside to cool.

Place the eggs and the sugar into a large bowl and beat with an electric beater for 3-5 minutes until mixture is pale, thick, lemon-yellow and twice the volume. Carefully fold in the cocoa powder. Add the cooled but still liquid chocolate. Mix well.

Whip cream until thick but do not overdo it. Carefully fold the cream into the chocolate mixture,  keeping the mixture as light as possible. Divide mixture into 6 portions. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours. (The mousse can be refrigerated for up to a day.)

Top with chantilly, a mint leaf and grated chocolate to serve.

This recipe is included in my book Secure Your Promising, Purposeful and Prosperous Your Future.

Secure Your Future ebook

More recipes on my Recipes for Retreats Pinterest Board

Leo’s first ever Equine-assisted Psychotherapy session

Some of you may remember: Leo is the horse we rescued a couple of years ago, who on arrival here was little more than a bag of bones. Leo has been with us for three years now. He has made tremendous progress.

I thought the time was right to see if Leo, so traumatised and abused himself in the past, would be interested in helping our workshop participants resolve trauma they experienced previously. You can read more about Leo’s past here. So I asked my Belgian friend Kat if she would be interested in doing an equine-assisted psychotherapy session with Leo. Kat, herself a healer, and Leo, were both a bit nervous in the beginning. Kat is not familiar with horses and Leo has never worked with anyone else but me. Leo was a STAR, and so was Kat, working together to find common ground, both nervous, but both eager to find a way of communicating and helping each other. It was pure magic. It has taken me near three years to get Leo this point, to rebuild his trust in people, so much so that he would actually be willing to help them with their own problems. 

Here is Kat’s take on the experience:

Just follow your heart, Margaretha said…

I’m used to following my heart, when I work with adults, with children – when I teach, when I coach and when I heal. The only thing is that I’m a bit (read a whole lot) scared of horses. When you’re afraid, following your heart is not that easy.

The week before, Margaretha told me that she wanted to introduce me to Leo, so that I can work with him the following week. I tried to give him a carrot. As I reached out to him, he shied away and fled as if I was going to hit him with an axe. Equally sacred, I took a huge jump backwards.

With the assistance of Margaretha, whom I trust, and more importantly who Leo trusts, I managed to get him to eat a few carrots out of my hand, which Margaretha had to hold!

I could only imagine that during the following week, Margaretha had a good many nights of doubting, about her idea of me working with Leo. After almost three years of patience in trying to win his confidence and showing to Leo that people can be trusted, you do not want a nervous person to undo all of your achievements in a split second.

I, on the other hand, was prepared for the worst. In my mind’s eye and in my dreams, I saw a horse jumping and shying away from me. Anxiety is an emotion and mostly a product of our minds, so I decided to just be and breathe and see what happened. The worst thing that could happen is Leo jumping all over me.

The day we planned me working with Leo, I felt a bit nervous, so I grounded myself and did my full walking heart meditation. Without expectations and without a plan I entered the school.

Just follow your heart…. and so I did, I opened my heart for this wonderful being, let down and hurt by people. I just tried to establish a loving connection, kept my energy low, my movements very slow and calm.  I kept my distance and tried to make Leo curious. What happened I will remember the rest of my life. The pictures speak for themselves. I am so honoured to have attended this healing experience for Leo and for myself.

Thankfulness, Love and Joy. The power of the Hearth is the greatest Power in the World!

Thanks, Leo, thank you, Margaretha
Kat

I posted Kat and Leo’s adventure on my Facebook page and was completely overwhelmed by the encouraging response. You can read the comments here – the post is available for public viewing. I also recently wrote a blog post focusing on what Leo taught me about the pros and cons of mindfulness.

If you would like to meet Leo, please join us for a Connect with Horses Workshop here in the south of France. If you would like to follow Leo’s progress, please subscribe to this blog and to my newsletter at the top right of this page.

How do you connect with a Horse?

By being present in the moment…
and by not being present in the moment.

The older I get, the better I understand that living a happy life is all about keeping things in balance. In my 50 years, I have seen fashion come and go, even in the self-improvement world. I have lived long enough to see the pendulum swing from one end side to the opposite side: the exact opposite of what is fashionable today may be fashionable in 10 years’ time.

Mindfulness is fashionable now. I am all in favour of mindfulness as a counterbalance to multi-tasking and living in the past or the future. So much so that my day-job is running mindfulness and meditation workshops.

However, as is often the case, my horses have once again taught me that jumping on the latest bandwagon, no matter how convinced I am about its effectiveness, may not be the perfect solution to the  stress of modern day living that I had hoped it to be.

My teacher on this occasion was Leo, the 14-year old ex-bullfighter that we rescued at the gate to the abattoir three years ago. Before Leo came to us, he had been very badly abused. You can read the story of this scared but courageous horse here. In the first year that Leo was with us, I asked next to nothing from hm. I spent a lot of time with him, as close as he would allow – in the beginning, 20 m was way too close for Leo – just being present in the moment with him. Over time, this tactic worked. He got used to me being there and gradually allowed me to come closer and closer.

It was during this period that  Leo taught me the importance of alternating being present with him in the moment…with not being present with him in the moment.

It was a concept I had some difficulty taking on board. Mindfulness is supposed to be good for you. It IS good for you, my clients and retreat participants thrive when they incorporated mindfulness into their busy schedules.  Horses are by nature mindful animals. As prey, they have to be present in the moment at all times, to detect the approach of a predator. So why could Leo tolerate it only in such small doses?

When you are standing right next to a horse that has been mistreated by people in the past, in the field or in the school, it is not particularly difficult to remain mindful. You quickly learn that one too sudden move could result in a very painful kick. As Leo used to be a bullfighter, he moves extremely quickly, and even if you can see the kick coming, you rarely have time to get out of the way. So you pay acute attention to what is happening at the moment, while at the same time, staying as calm as you possibly can.

It was on a day that I have loads of other things on my mind that I discovered the effect of not being mindful had on Leo. As time went by, the kicking stopped and I one day found myself making a shopping list in my head, as you do, while scratching Leo’s favourite spots. Until then I had always been very careful to remain mindful in his presence. The effect on Leo was interesting. No doubt I was now more relaxed in his presence, relaxed enough for my mind to wander into the future, and he responded by relaxing as well.

I thought about it afterwards and decided to alternated mindfulness and multitasking while I was with Leo. The effect was noticeable. When I was present in the moment, he was alert, when I was not, he was relaxed. As I spend a lot of time trying to find ways of communicating with Leo, a horse that was mentally totally shut down and unreachable when he came to us, this was a precious new way of getting through to him.

For example, when I work with Leo, I remain present in the moment. When our work is done and I am grooming him, I let my mind wander. He is used to this pattern now, so much so that it can be used in threatening situations to calm him down. Recently, while out on a walk, we suddenly found ourselves in a position where we had to confront an aggressive, wildly barking dog. Luckily the dog was no real threat as it was behind a sturdy fence. Leo went into hyper-alert I-am going-to-bolt-back-home-any-moment-now mode and I calmly went into I-wonder-what-I-should-cook-for-supper-tonight mode. Leo noted my distraction and calmed down somewhat. We managed to walk past the hysterical dog without too much prancing and eye-rolling.

Obviously, mindfulness is not the only factor at play here but in my opinion, being mindful and not being mindful does have a noticeable effect on Leo’s behaviour.

What I am really trying to say is that mindfulness is good as long as it is balanced by non-mindfulness. There is nothing wrong with spending time in the past, some of our memories are pleasant after all and from others, we may learn something useful. Nor is there anything wrong with spending time in the future, we do after all have to plan our days. Problems arise when we spend too much time rehashing the past or when we spend too much time worrying about the future. Multitasking is a useful skill to have, as long as we do not spend all our time multitasking.

The trick is to keep everything in balance and this includes mindful and less mindful periods.

If you would like to meet Leo, please join us for a Connect with Horses Workshop here in the south of France. If you would like to follow Leo’s progress, please subscribe to this blog and to our newsletter at the top right of this page.

Bestie Beasties

There is something to be said for internet friendships, and more specifically, Facebook friendships. Friends whom I have never met and probably never will, friends from other cultures who live thousands of kilometres away have enriched my life in more ways than I could possibly count. The internet has made it possible to stay in contact with these virtual friends of mine on a daily basis – friendships that would, in the past, before the internet, have been very difficult to nurture.

The internet has also made it possible for me these people and I feel immensely privileged to share their lives, their joys, their sorrows, they wisdom, their experience and their adventures. Henry David Thoreau said something that makes a lot of sense to me. He said, “Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”

I can now even talk to and admire pictures of those of my friends who live within driving distance of us. The only things I miss are the hugs. For that reason, I have chosen to feature my most huggable friends in this post, my horses. (with apologies to Melchi and the cats, who are very huggable too.)

There is one thing I miss though. Not eye contact or facial expressions, when I miss those, we can always Skype. I miss the physical contact. The hugs, especially. For that reason, I have chosen to feature my most huggable friends in this post, my horses. (with apologies to Melchi and the cats, who are very huggable too.)

Luckily, some of my most huggable friends live on the same 8 hectares that we do. I only have to walk out the front door and whistle, and hey presto, 800 kilogrammes of huggable friendliness strolls up to the paddock gate.  Meet them below and if you are interested in exchanging a hug or two with these gentle giants, join us for an equine-guided workshop here in the south of France. (with apologies to Melchi and the cats, who are very huggable too.)

The theme of this week’s photo challenge is “friends.”

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If you prefer words to pictures, you can read more about friendship here: If you need a friend…

If you would like to follow our adventures, please subscribe to this blog and to my newsletter at the top right of this page.

Guided Personal and Professional Growth – Reformed MD, assisted by six talented Horses, hosts Stress Management Mindfulness Meditation Workshops in the south of France

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