Mindfulness: the infinite value of each moment

I get up early every morning to admire the sunrise. I am a morning person, so this is no hardship.  I can never get enough of it, maybe because it never lasts longer than a few minutes. The extravagant beauty of the sunrise in this part of the world is evanescent. The good news is that even though it does not last, it will be back in its full splendour tomorrow morning. For that, I am infinitely grateful.

As you may know, I teach mindfulness. Not because it is the newest trend, but because I believe that mindfulness can make us happier. We spend so much time in the present, fretting about past failures and in the future, worrying about what may happen in the future that the present moment fades into insignificance. So I teach my students to be mindful of the precious present moment, now here, soon gone forever.

I often invite our Equine-guided Mindfulness Meditation workshops participants to join me for an early morning walk, to watch the sun come up over the majestic Pyrenées mountain range. In this breathtakingly beautiful part of south-west France, each morning’s spectacular sunrise remains one of the most compelling and profoundly meaningful sights of all.

Why do I find a sunrise here such an intensely emotional experience? Because it floods my whole being, every cell in my body, with gratitude.

Mindfulness is a million times more meaningful in the presence of gratitude.
Margaretha Montagu

 Being mindful of each individual moment can be beneficial in many different ways. Adding gratitude to the experience amplifies these benefits a million times. In each and every moment we can find something to be grateful for, even if we are simply grateful to be alive.

I do not teach mindfulness during our equine guided mindfulness meditation workshops by lecturing participants. Focussing alternatively and collectively on visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile, olfactory and gustatory mindfulness, we practice mindfulness together by taking part in a variety of activities: a tutored wine tasting, walking part of the Camino de Santiago, attending a typical Gascon fresh food market, eating a gourmet Gascon dinner, visiting a nearly 1000-year old abbey perched on a hilltop etc.

Mindfulness is a very important part of my workshops, but if these is one thing that I have learned living in this part of the world where inhabitants are famous for their long, happy and healthy lifestyle, it is that balance must be preserved in all things.

Mindfulness is beneficial only when it is balanced by giving equal amounts of attention to the present and the past. 
Margaretha Montagu

In my humble opinion, our problem is not that we are not mindful enough, but that we are unbalanced. We spend disproportional amounts of time in the future and in the past. The ideal is to spend equal amounts of time

  • in the past, to appreciate past events we are grateful for,
  • in the present, to appreciate the moments evanescent beauty and what we have here-and-now
  • and in the future, to manifest our dreams and desires.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Always hold fast to the present. Every situation, indeed every moment, is of infinite value, for it is the representative of a whole eternity.”

I am grateful for the infinite value of each moment.

I would also be very grateful if you would subscribe to my mailing list (see top right), so that I can share more moments of infinite value with you, once a month.

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Mindfulness Made Easy

One of the best online stress management with mindfulness courses is the free Palouse Mindfulness-based Stress Management Course. This course was a turning point for me, it helped me put mindfulness into practice, formally and informally. I finally understood what it was all about and was able to benefit fully from the extended list of beneficial effects that mindfulness can have on your physical and mental health. I highly recommend this course. If you are attending a Connect with Horses mindfulness meditation workshop with us, I suggest that you count the workshop as the first of the 8 weeks of the course and complete the other 7 weeks once you get home.

As a medical doctor, I did not believe in the value of these benefits without scientific proof. If you are like me, you will find ample proof of the effectiveness of mindfulness here.

You will not be surprised that I have incorporated a lot of what I have learned while taking this course into our mindfulness and meditation workshops here in the south of France.

The main benefit of mindfulness, as far as I am concerned, is that it reduces stress and thus significantly lowers your chances of getting stress related diseases like high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, heart attacks and strokes. It has many other benefits – Mindfulness is an awesome tool that helps us understand, accept and process our emotions in healthy ways. It helps us to change our usual automatic responses by enabling us to stop and think before we choose how we are going to act. It also

  • increases our ability to focus and concentrate, making us more productive
  • makes us more objective which helps us handle crisis situations more effectively
  • gives us more cognitive flexibility which can increase our creativity
  • makes us less emotionally reactive and more tolerant which enhances our relationships at work and at home
  • boosts our working memory
  • reduces rumination (worrying) and helps us to sleep better
  • increases our self-awareness which often leads to us taking better care of ourselves by getting regular health check-ups, getting regular exercise, eating healthily, using seat belts and avoiding nicotine, drugs and alcohol

In short, mindfulness can dramatically increase the quality of our lives.

It is definitely a habit worth cultivating. However, just reading about mindfulness will not enable you to benefit from it. You are going to have to start practicing mindfulness if you want it to enable you to cope better wth stress. Daily.

During our workshops, we divide mindfulness practice into two parts: formal and informal practice. We encourage our workshop participants to practice mindfulness formally for 20 to 30 minutes every day, using the body scan method as introduced by Prof Kabat-Zinn. We suggest to our workshop participants that they choose a time of day to do this practice that they will be able to continue with once they get home.

If you are participating in one of our workshops, to get the most from your workshop, you will want to answer each of the following questions:

Why am I starting this practice? (What do you hope to gain from practicing mindfulness? Have a look at the benefits listed above.)
When will I practice? (Be specific, e.g., 6:30am M-F, 7:30am Sat/Sun)
Where am I going to practice? (e.g., in my bedroom, sitting room, garden, study etc.):

This is the recording we use for formal mindfulness practice:

It is difficult (though not impossible) to start and sustain a daily mindfulness practice your own. It is easier to do so during a workshop, as you have all the time you need and there are few distractions to sabotage your efforts. In addition, we also create opportunities for you to practice mindfulness informally by taking you on field trips. Unlike the formal practice, you don’t have to choose a specific time of the day to do this. All you need to do is to decide to become more aware, first during the field trips and later, when you get home, to the activities that you already do every day. During the workshop, at the end of each day, spend five minutes reflecting on your informal mindfulness practice that day. Continue doing this once you get home. You will benefit most from this practice if you make a few notes each evening.

Although this may look less valuable than the 20-30 minutes of formal practice, it is by doing the informal practice that you will notice the benefits of practicing mindfulness.

If you can not attend one of our Connect with Horses Mindfulness Meditation Workshops here in the south of France, I suggest you give the Palouse Mindfulness-based Stress Management Course a go. In short, it is mastering mindfulness made easy and 100% free.

Wanderlust, Walking and Wine Tasting

As you may have deduced from looking at the photos on this blog, we are seriously into horses. Regretfully this means that, whenever we get an acute attack of wanderlust, we have to suppress it before it properly gets hold, because finding someone we trust to look after our 6 horses while we travel to the furthest outposts of the earth is not so easy.

Or we would have had to suppress it if we didn’t have something bordering our backyard that satisfied every urge we get to go off exploring the globe, whether acute or chronic.

According to the dictionary, one of the definitions of wanderlust is “an intense and uncontrollable desire to get away from one’s urban existence and explore and commune with nature.” When we get this urge, we pack our backpacks, put on some walking shoes, close the back door behind us and head off towards the Camino de Santiago, a nearly-thousand-year-old pilgrims’ route that passes not far from our farm. Thousands of people walk the Camino every year and thousands of people say that it was one of the most memorable experiences of their lives. I must agree with them, not only does walking the Camino quench my wanderlust thirst, nothing else recharges my batteries as effectively. We all know that exercise is an effective method to deal with stress and this is equally true of walking the Camino, even just for an afternoon.

We have already incorporated walking the Camino into our Connect with Horses Stress Management Workshops. A year ago, since we both love walking, we decided that we would also like to host walking holidays. We created our Walking and Wine Tasting Weekends, including two sections of the Camino de Santiago, on the Saturday and the Sunday. These are very popular, but we have had complaints that weekends are just too short. So we have just created our Walking and Wine Tasting Weeks – I have only added the web page with the itinerary today.

So you can imagine my surprise when I checked to see what the theme of the weekly photo challenge is this week and found out that it is “wanderlust.”  So if you feel the urge to wander this summer and explore nature along footpaths that exist since the twelfth century, join us for a weekend or a week here in the south of France!

Mental Path

The 22nd of April is Earth Day, an annual event first celebrated in 1970 and now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network.

Earth Day 2017’s campaign focuses on Environmental and Climate Literacy.

According to Eartday.org, “we need to build a global citizenry fluent in the concepts of climate change and aware of its unprecedented threat to our planet. We need to empower everyone with the knowledge to inspire action in defense of environmental protection.”

On our farm here in the south of France, we defend our natural environment by practicing sustainable tourism. We host Connect with Horses Mindfulness and Meditation Workshops and Walking and Wine Tasting Weeks and Weekends. Both these holidays include walking a section of The Way, the Camino de Santiago de Compostella, an 800-year old pilgrims route – an exceptional part of our environment certainly worth protecting.
You can find our more about how we protect our environment with sustainable tourism HERE.

Our entry for this week’s photo challenge, “earth,” is a picture of molehills, upturned earth, scattered around our horses’ paddocks.

As a single footstep will not make a path on the Earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.
Henry David Thoreau

Stress Addiction

I have been thinking a lot about stress lately. Mostly because I have recently been introduced to a new concept: stress addiction.

Those of you who know me, know that I have always considered stress as the number one enemy of my patients’ mental and physical health. After all, 75% of all GP consultations, in one way or another, has something to do with stress.

I have always accepted that a certain amount of stress is essential if we want to realise our potential. It is only when the amount of stress exceeds our ability to use it to our advantage that stress becomes our enemy rather than our ally.

Stress addiction, however, is a concept I have not come across before. It appears that there are now people who are getting high on stress. People who wear their high stress levels like badges of honor, drawing their peers’ attention proudly to how little sleep they are getting, how their downtime is spent racing to meet deadlines and how they are too busy to take time off.

When we find ourselves in stressful situations, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released and circulate our bodies. However, when cortisol and adrenaline remain present in our system for prolonged periods of time rather than reducing once the perceived threat has passed, this hormonal “high” can get us hooked — and looking for more. We find ourselves craving additional boosts of adrenaline on top of the adrenaline already chronically present in our bloodstream.

This lifestyle seems now to have reached epidemic proportions. In an attempt to escape boredom and make themselves feel more important, people are getting addicted to stress. The problem is that chronic stress causes a variety of long-term physical and mental problems, that much has not changed. The only difference is that where we in the past were the unwilling victims of stress, we are now actively chasing it.

Sigh.

Obviously, I shall have to adjust my stress management workshops with horses to address this new trend. I have no idea what our horses are going to think about this – hoses use the release of the stress hormones to help them escape dangerous situations – it is essential to their survival and in that sense more of a friend than an enemy. I have been teaching workshop participants these last 5 years how to manage stress so that they can use it to perform better than ever before.

This approach will certainly not help anybody who is addicted to stress, quite on the contrary!

So I have decided that it is time for a major and in-depth update of my knowledge of stress. I had barely formulated this decision when the perfect solution landed in my lap: attending The Global Stress Summit. According to the host, Dr Heidi Hanna, “during this summit, 35 thought leaders will teach you about the “new” science of stress.” I have to admit, she has gathered together a most impressive group of people who shared their knowledge with us from the 24th of April to the 1st of May.

I have attended many virtual summits in the past – there recently was an excellent mindfulness summit. My problem is that it is just too much information to take in at once, so for the first time ever, I am actually going to pay to have access to all the videos online so that I can listen to each in my own time and digest the information in bite-sized portions.

So everyone attending our stress management workshops with horses this summer is going to benefit from my up-to-date knowledge. I will be teaching participants how to

  • Recognize stress-related signs, symptoms and conditions
  • Understand historical and present-day stress/resilience research
  • Learn how stress can be harmful or helpful
  • Practice important stress-management skills
  • Gain simple, practical tools to build a more resilient brain and body

Stress Addiction

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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