Misconceptions about Mindfulness

Standard

In each book I write, I write about mindfulness. It becomes difficult not to repeat myself, so in my latest book, Coping with Change – A 10-Step Strategy to manage Stress Successfully during Transitions, I decided to write about mindfulness from a different perspective. Instead of explaining what mindfulness is, I explain what mindfulness is not:

  1. Mindfulness is not easy, but it is not complicated. Mindfulness is simply about being present in the moment, observing our thoughts and emotions without judgement and without allowing our thoughts and feelings to dictate our actions.
  2. Mindfulness is not effortless. Mindfulness requires work: an investment of time, effort and energy.
  3. Mindfulness is not a religion, though being mindful is fundamental to several faiths, incl Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Taoist teachings. Mindfulness is a mental practice unrelated to any specific religion.
  4. Mindfulness is not meditation. Meditation is just one mindfulness practice.
  5. Mindfulness is not about disconnecting from the world around you. It’s about being fully aware of what you are thinking where you are right at this precise moment.
  6. Mindfulness is not just another item to add to your to-do list. It is a mindset, a lifestyle, an integral part of your every day.
  7. Mindfulness is not just about stress reduction, although it can significantly reduce stress. Mindfulness enables you to cultivate awareness, tolerance, acceptance, kindness and compassion. Mindfulness increases resilience by rewiring your brain to respond to experiences positively and productively, instead of reacting in a way that can increase stress.
  8. Mindfulness is not a waste of time. Yes, it takes time to master, but as it involves being present in the here and now, it saves a lot of time, time we usually spend ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.
  9. Mindfulness meditation is not about escaping reality. Mindfulness is about being fully aware of our reality without our views being influenced by our emotions, assumptions or preconceived ideas.
  10. It does not take a long time to benefit from mindfulness. You can make significant progress in just one week of daily mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness can make you feel more relaxed, sleep better, worry less and cope better with challenges after only one session.
  11. Mindfulness is not time-consuming. If you can find 10-15 minutes/day to practice mindfulness, you can make significant progress and dramatically reduce your stress levels. Even as little as 5-10 minutes a day will yield noticeable results.
  12. Mindfulness is not for everybody. Mindfulness is not a “one-size fits all” approach. Although anyone can be more mindful, not everyone finds mindfulness useful. That’s fine; there are other ways to increase well-being.
  13. Mindfulness is not therapy. It can be an adjunct to a variety of treatments, but it is not a cure for all ills.
  14. Mindfulness is not about emptying your mind. Mindfulness is about noticing, accepting and letting go of your thoughts.
  15. Mindfulness does not always make you feel better. It is about noticing your thoughts, even the distressing ones, without judging yourself for having them. It is about acknowledging and accepting your negative thoughts, without allowing them to alter your mood or induce you to act in unhelpful ways. Mindfulness enables you to work through your feelings, positive as well as negative.
  16. Mindfulness is not something you do; it is something you are – an essential and intrinsic part of you.
  17. Mindfulness is not a shortcut to happiness. Mindfulness can help reduce and even eliminate depression, anxiety and stress but only if we are willing to work at re-training our minds so that we can cope with whatever comes our way.
  18. Mindfulness is not the only method you can use to cope with change, but it is one of the most effective ones. Mindfulness enables you to see more clearly what is happening in your life. It will not eliminate stress, but it can help you respond in a stress-diminishing way. It helps you to recognise and avoid habitual, often unconscious and unhelpful reactions to everyday events, thus improving your quality of life.

Extract from Coping with Change – A 10-Step Strategy to manage Stress Successfully during Transitions

If you were empowered, educated or entertained by this post, please show your appreciation with a $5 (or more!) monthly donation:

Become-A-Patreon

My latest book has not been published yet, I will let subscribers to my mailing list know as soon as I publish it. Have you subscribed to my blog’s mailing list yet? If you are already a subscriber, thank you so much! If not, please do. My blog aims to assist you in making the most of yourself and in providing you with the tools to do so. The blog has a distinctly French flavour, as I also share with you our life here in the south of France. You can subscribe by clicking here, and you will receive my 10 Steps to Instant Self-Confidence guide – straight from the horse’s mouth! as well as a copy of the Cope with Change Cheatsheet and Checklist.

Walking, Writing and Stress Management

Walk to cope with change
Standard

After the operation, my surgeon told me that I had to take things easy for a while, so no long walks, no running and certainly no horse riding. Since I was quite determined that the 4th operation in 18 months was going to be a success, I decided to keep to the rules.

I missed not riding, especially as I have only recently started to ride one of the bravest Lusitano stallions I have ever had the privilege of knowing, at Le Domaine de Passage, a Lusitano Stud not far from where I live. I also missed running. I can no longer see well enough to run outside, so I run on my treadmill 4/5 times per week, for about 30 minutes. It keeps me fit. I could, however, survive without walking or riding.

What I really missed, more than anything else, is my long, slow walks. I walk nearly every day, on my own, with a friend or with one of my horses. I don’t walk for fitness; I get enough exercise from running.

  • I walk to spend time communing with nature, to feel the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, the fresh air flowing into my lungs…
  • I walk to get out of my head and away from demands upon my time and attention.
  • I walk to spend time with someone who is important to me.
  • I walk as an exercise in mindfulness. When I walk with one of my horses, the horse teaches me how to be mindful in exchange for regular pitstops to sample the tastier-than-in-their-paddock grass along the way.
  • I walk along the edges of the horses’ paddocks, to check the fencing.
  • But mostly, I walk because walking helps me to think.

Ask Aristotle, who insisted that he did his best thinking while walking, if you don’t believe me. Ask Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote, “all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Walking improves not only my thinking but also my writing. Just ask walking-writers Rimbaud, Dickens, Woolf, Kant, Hemmingway, Rousseau, Blake, Thoreau, Wordsworth and Jane Austen if it isn’t true.

“Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “my thoughts begin to flow.” Orson Scott Card said that it’s “worth the time to take an hour’s walk before writing. You may write a bit less for the time spent, but you may find that you write better.” According to Charles Dickens, “The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy.” Hemmingway wrote in A Moveable Feast, “I would walk along the quays when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out. It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something…”

Two Stanford walking researchers, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz* found that students tested showed markedly heightened creative abilities while walking. Walking increased their creative output by an average of 60 per cent. Oppezzo and Schwartz speculate that “future studies would likely determine a complex pathway that extends from the physical act of walking to physiological changes to the cognitive control of imagination.”

As I could not walk while I was getting better after the operation, I had the impression that writing was much more difficult. I got stuck more frequently, and it took longer to get unstuck. I did manage to put the finishing touches to my latest book, Coping with Change – Ten Steps to Successful Stress Management during Transitions and I wrote an 11-page Coping with Change Cheatsheet and Checklist, but it took much longer than it usually does.

You may not be an artist, so why is it useful to you to know that walking increases creativity? It is because creativity is an essential part of practical problem-solving. Author and athlete Christopher Bergland wrote, “Exercise allows your conscious mind to access fresh ideas that are buried in the subconscious.” So next time you are struggling to cope with a challenge generated by desired or undesired change, consider going outside for a walk of at least 5 to 15 minutes. That’s the length of time Oppezzo and Schwartz found most useful.

I live close to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrim’s route. It is one of my favourite places to walk for inspiration. I am very much looking forward to going there for a walk again! For this very reason, walking the Camino is an integral part of the Walking, Writing and Wine Tasting Workshops I host here in the south of France. We have two 5-day residential spring workshops scheduled this year:

  • 26-30 April 2019 and
  • 20-24th May 2019

You are, of course, very welcome to join us! You can find out more about the benefits of walking and about these workshops here: Walking, Writing and Wine Tasting Workshops in the south of France.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you were empowered, educated or entertained by this post, please show your appreciation with a $5 (or more!) monthly donation:

Become-A-Patreon

*J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2014 Jul;40(4):1142-52. Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Oppezzo M1, Schwartz DL

Need help to cope with the stress caused by Change? Subscribe to my Mailing List and receive my Coping with Challenges and Change Cheatsheet and Checklist as well as monthly updates about new books, blog posts, courses and last-minute or early-bird special offers on my workshops. Simply click on the image below to subscribe.

Embrace Change and Boost Resilience

Standard

I had my eye operation one week ago. I had come to the end of the road, there was no going back, and the only way forward was to have the eye removed. It was.

The surgeon warned me that it would be the most painful eye operation I had ever had. It was.

Possible complications after the operation were mentioned, all to do with the surgery itself. Possible post-anaesthetic complications were mentioned too, in passing. After all, I had had many operations before and never had a reaction. This time I did. I started vomiting on the way back from the hospital and was sick for the first 36 hours. Bringing everything back up meant I could not keep any pain killers down…not an experience I would wish on my worst enemy.

The worst is over now. I have a new eye. It needs some more work before it will be ready for public viewing, so I shall be wearing a patch for the next couple of months.

Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be said, “Change is inevitable in life. You can either resist it and potentially get run over by it, or you can choose to cooperate with it, adapt to it, and learn how to benefit from it. When you embrace change you will begin to see it as an opportunity for growth.”

So I have decided to embrace this dramatic change in my circumstances.

Because I can.

Because

  • Change is something I know I can handle. I have dealt with the challenges generated by both expected and unexpected change successfully in the past. When I feel overwhelmed, I look back through my gratitude diary and remind myself of the challenges I had encountered and navigated in the past – when I retired from medical practice, when I started my own business, when I got divorced and remarried…
  • I know that I do not have to face this change on my own. I have friends. I have family. I have a mother-in-lieu who nursed me physically and mentally through those first two horrendous days and through the days that followed, I have a mother-in-law who rang and sent messages from deepest, darkest Africa daily, I have heart-friends who phoned, visited and sent e-mails and texts from far and wide. Change of this magnitude forces me to acknowledge my inability to cope on my own and thus enriches and strengthens my relationships.
  • I believe that change incites personal growth and personal development is important to me. I shall have to find new ways of doing, new ways of being. I shall have to accept my new physical limitations and redefine my identity (more about this in Chapter 2 of my book Self-Confidence made Simple,) from a two-eyed person to a one-eyed person. I shall have to set firm boundaries and learn to say “No” more frequently to protect the eye I have left.
  • I have discovered that even significant changes can be broken down into smaller sections to make it more manageable. There are only so many waking hours in each day, and in those waking hours, I only have to deal with as much of the change as I can manage. I can handle this change: I can prioritise and choose to cope with the most urgent challenges first while ensuring that I also make time to recharge my batteries regularly.
  • Change makes me stronger. It forces me to develop new coping strategies, strategies that I can later share with participants in my personal empowerment workshops. Change teaches me to be more flexible and more willing to compromise when there is no other option. Change inspires me to I reassess and improve my problem-solving skills; it makes me more resilient. Change requires that I unearth and eradicate possible limiting beliefs that I may have acquired during the last two years. It brings unhelpful habits to light, enabling me to break these habits and form more helpful ones.
  • Change allows me to grow spiritually; it refreshes my faith.
  • Change extends my horizons. I learn more about myself, about the people around me, about coping in challenging circumstances. Before, during and after the operation, I have met inspiring people I would otherwise not have met, kind and considerate strangers who give without expecting anything in return. Change reminds me of all I have to be grateful for in my life.
  • Change reminds me to be mindful, to acknowledge my emotions without allowing them to dictate my actions. Leading up to the operation, the consuming emotion I felt was anger. Incandescent rage, actually. Mindfulness allows me to observe and acknowledge my anger (as I explain in my book Mindfulness and Meditation Options,) without allowing it to propel me into the next stage in the process of coping with loss and grief:
  1. Immobilising shock
  2. Denial
  3. Anger
  4. Depression
  5. Development of a coping strategy
  6. Acceptance

Embracing ChangeMuch better to focus on developing a plan that will enable me to cope with this change. Along the way, change teaches me to be patient, to have realistic expectations and to adjust those expectations daily, hourly, even moment-by-moment, when required. Patience is a virtue I still do not have enough of, no matter how much change I have successfully negotiated in the past.

When I look outside, I see spring everywhere. Spring is a great time to have a life-changing operation. A time of new beginnings, of new opportunities, a time of firsts – for the first time in 2 years, I shall be pain-free, and for the first time in 27 years, I shall have a nearly normal-looking (albeit artificial) eye – time to be creative: as I am not earning an awful lot at the moment, I have created a writer’s profile on Patreon, where you can support me through all this for the price of 2 cups of coffee per month. I have also nearly finished editing my new book Thriving on Challenges and Change – I will let all my mailing list subscribers know as soon as I publish it.

Become-A-Patreon

You are very welcome to subscribe to my mailing list by CLICKING HERE. You will receive my 10 Simple Steps to Instant Self-Confidence Guide immediately – for those very difficult days – straight from the horse’s mouth! You will also receive notification new life-enhancing blog posts, new book/e-course releases and early-bird discounts/last-minute special offers on my workshops, available only to mailing list subscribers.

Choosing a Niche for a Blog

Standard

After 153 blog posts and 4 years of blogging, I have finally decided on a niche for this blog. Empowering women (as well as all the men who read this blog anonymously) will remain the overall objective, but I have now decided to narrow the focus of this blog to a specific subject: coping with challenges and even more specifically, with change, whether planned or unplanned.

Interestingly enough, a huge number of my previous blog posts fit snugly into this category. I have decided to write more or less exclusively about coping with incessant change without losing the will to live because that is what I have been doing, more or less exclusively, these last 10 years. I am well are truly qualified to write about this subject. I have learned a lot this last decade and I have distilled what I have learned into my workshops and books, so it only makes sense to share my discoveries and experiences on my blog also.

To celebrate the fact that I have finally gotten a grip on where I want this blog to go, I have given it a proper name of its own. I have two websites, my author website MargarethaMontagu.com and this one, EquineGuidedGrowth.com, aka Empowering Women, book by book and workshop by workshop. The blog never had a clear identity, it was just a collection of musings, after all. Now that it has finally got direction, I decided it deserves a name as well. From now on, my blog will be called SemperEquus, which means “always horses.” You may wonder what hoses have to do with coping with change…to me, absolutely everything. My horses have stood by me through thick and thin, these last 10 years, and a lot that I have learned about coping with change, I have learned from them.

They have taught me a lot about self-confidence, effective communication, maintaining friendships, mindfulness, gratitude, generosity, resilience, patience, assertiveness, determination, perseverance – all useful attributes to anyone who has to cope with the challenges that often accompany change. All subjects that I have written about in the past.

You may remember If you want to be Happy, be Grateful from November 2015 and I am writing a Gratitude Journal,  from December 2016. I was so surprised when I stumbled across this post this afternoon, a full 2 years old! I have only just now finished the book I mention in the post, a book I started in December 2016. The current working title of the book is Thriving on Challenges and Change with Gratitude and Generosity. You can follow (and even take part) in its creation at Patreon. Gratitude is not Enough, in 2017, was a very popular post and so was How to connect with a Horse in 2018. I wrote several posts about writing: the Challenges of an IndieAuthor in 2015  and A Writer’s Life in 2016, and I will most likely continue to write about writing, as it is such a huge part of my life.

A couple of blog posts are a bit off-subject but so popular that I cannot regret having published them, like this one from December 2015: What is wrong with the south of France? And this one from September 2016: Don’t forget your fur coat, diamonds and high heels!

How far I have come since those early days…

Choosing a Niche for a Blog.jpgWordPress informs me that this blog now has, via Twitter, 12 388 followers. The mailing list has more than 3000 subscribers, via Mailchimp and MailerLite. It seems to me that while I was distracted by coping with the debilitating challenges that came my way these last 2 years, this blog has come of age. It is only fitting that it should now have an identity of its own.

From now on, my blog will be accessible here: SemperEquus

If you were empowered, educated or entertained by this post, please show your appreciation with a $5 (or more!) monthly donation:

Become-A-Patreon

You are welcome to subscribe to my mailing list by CLICKING HERE. You will receive my 10 Simple Steps to Instant Self-Confidence Guide immediately – for those very difficult days – straight from the horse’s mouth! You will also receive notification new life-enhancing blog posts, new book/e-course releases and early-bird discounts/last-minute special offers on my workshops, available only to mailing list subscribers.

Surviving as a Writer #IWSG

Standard

“I am not what I think. I am thinking what I think.”
Eric Butterworth

I have been thinking (watch out for the flying sparks.) I am writing a book about gratitude journaling, because I profoundly believe that reminding ourselves what we have to be grateful for, on a daily basis, will attract more to be grateful for into our lives. I also believe that journaling can be a therapeutic exercise, that can help us identify our fears, our limiting beliefs, our incorrect assumptions and our blind spots.

Practising what I preach, I keep a bullet-point gratitude journal. I also use my journal to write about anything that is upsetting me on a given day, and once I have written it out of my system, I look for something to be grateful for.  No matter how dark the clouds overhead may seem, there is always a silver lining to be found. I am quite convinced that it would have been impossible to survive the trials and tribulations that came my way these last two years if I were not in the habit of using my journal as a confidante. Putting my distress into words on paper first, has also made it easier for me to talk about it to my closest friends, something I found very hard in the past.

Journaling enables me to capture my thoughts, emotions and perceptions so that I can examine them and evaluate their worth. Rationally. Exposing my thoughts, emotions and perceptions to the light of day allows me to take a hard look at them and instead of reacting mindlessly, I can adjust my reaction to ensure an outcome that does not cause more distress.

Lately, while writing my book, I have been thinking about how journaling can help us survive as writers.

Personally, as a writer, I find journaling an indispensable aid. The writing I do first thing every morning, my morning pages to use Julia Cameron’s expression, serve many purposes:

  • It jump-starts my writing day. When I wake up, I do not immediately start writing brilliant prose (if ever,) it takes me a while to get into (writing) gear.
  • It is an exercise in mindfulness, when I redirect my wandering mind time and again to what I am writing about in my journal.
  • Journaling, for writers, is much like physical exercise, it builds our “writing muscles.” Writing for 10-20 minutes without worrying about spelling, grammar or even making sense, is liberating.
  • It stimulates my creativity. My journal is a veritable treasure chest of creative musings, captivating ideas and personal anecdotes. For inspiration, I use the Q&A a Day Journal by Potter
  • I used my journal for research. When I am writing, I often look back at past entries in search of coping strategies to add to a book I am writing.
  • Writers, by nature, are an introspective lot, more given internal pondering, than a steady outpouring of our innermost thoughts and feelings to a counsellor. Journaling can be a writer’s therapist. As Susan Sontag said, “In my journal, I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.”
  • Journaling can cure writer’s block. Daily journaling can help me to work out how and where I got stuck. Journaling provides with a record of my writing efforts and routine. I can look back and try to work out how and why I got stuck. My journal also shows me where I was and what I was doing during my most creative periods so that I can recreate a particularly productive environment to get rid of writer’s block.

It is so easy to keep a journal these days, there are even apps that you can download to your phone like Day One, Dario and Narrate.

Following fast in the footsteps of my thought about the use of journaling to authors, came another thought: I host walking and wine tasting workshops for writers here in the south of France, especially for writers who suffer from writer’s block. I do not presume to be able to teach anyone how to write, I depend entirely on the inspirational effect of walking the 9-century-old Camino de Santiago de Compostela to inspire, as it did Paulo Coelho, my visiting writers to start writing again. For that reason, it is a short workshop, a maximum of 4 nights – half-a-day to arrive, 2 days to walk the Camino, one day to sample some of the delectable wines of this region and half-a-day to leave.

Surviving as a WriterNow I am thinking (duck the striking lightning) that I might be able to teach writers something after all – how to use mindful journaling and vision boards to improve their writing. Madeleine L’Engle advised, ‘If you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you,’ so I am thinking about creating a 7-night workshop, alternating walking, wine tasting and journal writing, with one or more equine-guided mindfulness meditation classes thrown in for good measure. I think I would love to host a workshop like that.

Before I ignite my mind to spontaneously combust, I think I had better stop thinking and get on with the morning’s “serious writing,” so back to the chapter about the physical benefits of regularly expressing one’s gratitude in my new book.

 The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.
Joan Didion

If you were empowered, educated or entertained by this post, please show your appreciation with a $5 (or more!) monthly donation:

Become-A-Patreon

My Mailing List
For early-bird discounts and last-minute special offers on workshops, book giveaways and new book releases, available only to mailing list subscribers, and notification of new life-enhancing blog posts, subscribe to my mailing list by CLICKING HERE. You will receive my Instant Self-Confidence Guide immediately – straight from the horse’s mouth!