No More Meditation

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Meditation is no longer working for me. Especially not sitting meditation, but then I had never taken to that. I used to practice two types of moving meditation: walking and writing, but I no longer find either of much use. I have practised meditation for many years now, I have even taught it. I know how to do it and I have listed the benefits of meditation on this blog time and again. I just no longer experience those benefits. Until now, my Connect with Horses Workshops were all about meditation. The workshops introduce participants to various different meditation methods, including meditation with horses, by far the most popular part of these mindfulness and meditation workshops.

Meditation – the end of an era

I stopped meditating at the end of the summer. Did the world come to an end? Not really. Am I worse off now that I no longer meditate? Cannot say that I am. The reason for this might be because I have replaced it with something else, something that works better for me, as a kinaesthetic interpreter and learner. I never took to sitting meditation, as to make sense of my environment, to interpret it, to understand it and to learn from my experiences, I need to move. I learn by doing, unlike most others who learn by seeing and talking, the visual and auditory interpreters. I can still meditate, I just no longer want to.

Morning Pages – starting something new

Looks as if I shall have to design a new workshop for summer next year. Instead of meditating, I know practice free writing. It is similar to writing meditating in many ways, different in others. I have been playing around with this idea since I first read Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, many years ago now. I could see the therapeutic benefits that this practice might have. That was before I started writing books. Now that writing is a daily activity, I revisited Julia’s book and decided that free writing might suit me better than writing meditation. At this stage of my life, it fits me like a hand in a glove. I love writing, so the activity is nearly effortless. It clears my mind at the beginning of the day. It helps me focus during the day, it helps me process my emotions, it helps me to make decisions. I have learned a lot about myself since I have started free writing. As Julia so eloquently says: “Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts [nebulous worries, jitters, and preoccupations] on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.”

Freewriting, and specifically morning pages, has boosted my creativity in a variety of surprising ways, more than meditation ever did.

You may be wondering what morning pages are. Julia explains, “Morning pages are three pages of longhand (about 750 words,) a stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. Morning pages are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand.”

Mindfulness – always present

Julia Cameron advocated mindfulness long before mindfulness became a buzzword. I entirely agree with her when she says, “In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me.” I will never tire of practising mindfulness. It is my number one coping strategy. When I feel overwhelmed, I attend to the moment and specifically to what I have to be thankful for in said specific moment. I also include a list of things I feel grateful for that happened to me in the last 24 hours when I write my morning pages. I have always believed in the power of gratitude to transform people’s lives, and I always will.

It is my intention to base next summer’s Connect with Horses workshops on writing morning pages, mindful gratitude and of course, on connecting with horses. Because this is what is working for me at the moment, in the run-up to yet another serious eye operation, a corneal transplant to my left eye. I can not teach something that I no longer believe in. Teaching what I do believe in, on the contrary, feels more or less effortless.

I shall keep you updated on my progress.

If you would like to try writing morning pages yourself, I would recommend you visit Julia Cameron’s website: JuliaCameronLive.com. Another website I found very useful is 750words.com – it will help you get into the habit of writing every day.

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Leo’s first ever Equine-assisted Psychotherapy session

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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.

6 Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation in Midlife

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Mindfulness Meditation can be beneficial to women later in life in several different ways. Mindfulness can be cultivated using a variety of methods, but for the purpose of this post, we will focus on mindfulness meditation.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that mindfulness and meditation are two of my favourite subjects. With good reason, as you will soon discover. En plus, our ‘Connect with Horses’ personal empowerment workshops are based on mindfulness and meditation.

But what IS mindfulness meditation? Mindfulness meditation is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment—and accepting this moment without judgment. By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness meditation find that they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past and are better able to form rewarding and lasting relationships with others.

Anxiety about the Future
As we get older, we may find that we fret more often about the future: Will we remain healthy in body and mind? Will we be able to cope if we lose our spouse/partner? Will we have to cope with loneliness in our old age? Are we financially secure enough in a politically and economically changing world?

Mindfulness meditation, if practised regularly, can reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, depression, exhaustion, loneliness and irritability. Mindfulness meditation reduces the production of stress hormones, so people who meditate regularly are calmer, more patient and more content. In this way, mindfulness meditation can help us keep anxiety about an unpredictable future at bay as we get older.

Memory Loss
Many of us worry about losing our memory as we get older, especially as the first signs of normal, age-related forgetfulness appear in our lives. Mindfulness meditation can improve your memory. It can protect our working memory, increase our creativity and extend our attention span. It can also increase our reaction speed and our mental endurance.

Mindfulness meditation can delay the thinning of certain areas of the brain that naturally occurs with ageing. Mindfulness slows the progression of age-related cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s dementia. Mindfulness meditation may also slow ageing at the cellular level by promoting chromosomal health and resilience.

Chronic Pain
Certain diseases that can cause chronic pain are more prevalent in older adults. Mindfulness increases our ability to cope with chronic pain. It increases grey matter in areas associated with self-awareness and self-control.

Mindfulness meditation can dramatically reduce pain and our emotional reaction to it. Studies suggest that pain levels can be reduced by 57 to 93%, depending on aptitude. In an effort to self-medicate, people with chronic pain often become substance (pain killers) abusers. Mindfulness can reduce addictions like the abuse of legal and prescription drugs and excessive alcohol intake.

Stronger Immune system
As we get older, our immune system that protects us against infectious and cancerous disease, becomes less effective. Mindfulness meditation can boost a flagging immune system. People who regularly meditate are admitted to hospital far less often for diseases like cancer, heart disease and a variety of infections. In fact, mindfulness meditation can reduce the risks of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease and it can decrease the severity of cardiovascular disease should it appear.

Restorative Sleep
We often have to cope with disturbed sleep patterns as the years go by. Restorative sleep is essential to the proper functioning our bodies and our minds. Mindfulness meditation can improve our sleep quality AND quantity. Stress is one of the most common causes of insomnia and sleep problems. Mindfulness meditation promotes calmness and helps reduce rumination that can disrupt sleep.

Rewarding Relationships
Mindfulness meditation can help build happier relationships by decreasing emotional reactivity. Couples who actively practised mindfulness saw improvements to their happiness with their relationship. The practice of mindfulness allows couples to be present in their relationships and to more quickly overcome stressful situations in the relationship. Mindfulness increases empathy and compassion, not only in intimate relationships but in all relationships, making relationships more rewarding and sustainable.

Mindful meditation makes it easier to savour the pleasures of life, especially as we get older. It helps us to be fully engaged in all our activities, and it creates a greater capacity in us to deal with adverse events. However, the beneficial effects of mindfulness meditation are dose-related – to be effective, it needs to be practised regularly. Prof Jon Kabat-Zinn, a world-recognised expert on mindfulness meditation and stress reduction, recommends 45 minutes of meditation at least six days a week.

Developing a mindfulness meditation practice can be a challenging exercise, especially on your own. That is one of the reasons we created our mindfulness and meditation workshops here in the south of France – to offer our guests instruction and support while they discover and experiment with different techniques, so as to enable them to find a way to practice mindfulness meditation that can be seamlessly incorporated into their lives. Since it is easier to learn by copying an expert, we use equine-guided mindfulness meditation to help our guests master this method.

dr_margaretha_montagu_v3All the knowledge and experience I have gained in presenting these workshops are now available in e-book form: Mindfulness and Meditation in the South Of France: Staying focused in a fast-paced World. The printed option will soon be available, also from Amazon.

What do you think about mindfulness meditation? Is it just another fashionable fad that will soon be out-of-date or does it have lasting value?

It has been said that mindfulness is the exact opposite of multitasking and that multitasking can be detrimental to one’s peace of mind. What do you think?

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Mindfulness and Meditation in France

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Did I mention that I have joined NaNoWriMo? I think I may have, about a hundred times so far. I am writing another non-fiction book. This one is called Mindfulness and Meditation in the south of France.

My aim with Mindfulness and Meditation in the south of France is to answer my readers’ questions about mindfulness and meditation and to present scientific proof of the effectiveness of both mindfulness and of meditation as stress management strategies. I introduce my readers to a variety of different meditation methods, to help each reader find the meditation practice that suits him/her best. Especially if, like me, the reader has tried traditional sitting meditation and has found that it just doesn’t work for them. In the book, I discuss

    • walking meditation,
    • working meditation,
    • writing meditation,
    • music meditation,
    • visualisation meditation,
    • contemplative meditation
    • equine-guided meditation
    • as well as traditional sitting meditation.

To help people choose a meditation method, I provide them with a questionnaire that enables them to choose a meditation method that they will be able to incorporate seamlessly into their lives.

Each chapter starts with a letter written to me by a potential participant in one of the mindfulness meditation workshops we host here in France. Each letter reveals a specific problem, or a set of problems, that readers will be able to identify with. The letter is followed by a detailed explanation of how to solve the writer’s problems using mindfulness and meditation.

This book more or less wrote itself. I have been teaching stress management strategies to workshop participants for nearly ten years, so all I did was to organise what I knew into book form. I think I should finish the book sometime this week. I had better, because the book is already available on pre-order at Amazon and is due to be published on the second of December. This time, I am much better prepared for the editing process. It should be a much faster and less painful process than when I edited French Women’s Confidence Secrets. Talking about French Women, I had to start writing a new book. It was the only way I could stop myself tinkering with the last one.  First time round I had to learn everything about self-publishing from scratch. This time round I am hoping that I can avoid pulling out as much of my hair as last time.

This is the cover of the new book:

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Now I only need to write two more books and then I will have written five in all. According to Joanna Penn, my self-publishing book writing guru,  one needs a series of books. Five sounded like a good number to me. Luckily a non-fiction book only has to have 45 000 words, although both these have more than 50 000. On the other hand, it is not so easy to condense a life-time’s knowledge and experience into a book of 50 000 words.

This week also heralds the publication of the November issue of my Mpower Magazine, so far standing at 3354 words and not quite finished yet. I have decided that my e-zine should also reflect our life here in France, so its full name now is: Mpower magazine: Living mindfully in the south of France. Each month, it contains the following:

  • Mpowering main article: With Thanksgiving and the Christmas season just around the corner, this month’s article is about Mindful Eating
  • Mpowering quote
  • Mpowering meme
  • Mpowering affirmation
  • Mpowering prompt
  • Living mindfully in the south of France – a short anecdote: this month my 93-year-old neighbour drives his battered old Citroen into a ditch
  • Photos from the south of France: Autumn in the vineyards!
  • News from the south of France featuring the Vendanges Tardives in Viella – last grape harvest on the 31st of December
  • Mpowering free download of the month: A chapter from Susan Albers’ book Mindful Eating
  • Mpowering Links including a link to a blog post by one of my blogging friends. This week it is a post by Molly Stevens.

If you would like to subscribe, please CLICK HERE. If you can think of anyone else who would like to subscribe, please share this post with them!

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Mindfulness of Mountains

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These are the mighty Pyrenées Mountains, the border between France and Spain that stretch from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Mediterranean in the east. Our Retreat Centre, Les Sources Sacrées, is 90 minutes north of this border, we literally live in the foothills of the mountains, sometimes also called Les Petits Pyrenées.

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On a clear day, should you look southwards, the horizon is filled from east to west by row upon row of majestic snow-capped peaks. We consider ourselves exceptionally blessed to have such beauty in our backyard.

At Les Sources Sacrées (the sacred springs), we host personal empowerment workshops. During our guided walking meditations, we often pause and encourage our guests to find a peaceful spot facing these magnificent mountains for a spot of morning meditation. Looking at the mountains often makes me think of a Bible verse I learnt as a child:

I will lift my eyes up to the mountains, from where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made Heaven and Earth!
PS 121:1

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