Book Review: The Mindful Manifesto

The Mindful Manifesto: How Doing Less And Noticing More Can Help Us Thrive In A Stressed Out WorldThe Mindful Manifesto: How Doing Less And Noticing More Can Help Us Thrive In A Stressed Out World by Jonty Heaversedge & Ed Halliwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In an ever faster-moving world, moving beyond the demands imposed by increasing workloads, omnipresent technology and time-starved relationships and taking time to just ‘be’ can seem impossible, but the antidote to these problems – and more – is in The Mindful Manifesto. In this new and updated edition, the authors distil the essence of mindfulness meditation with compassion and skill, demonstrating its roots in ancient teachings and reinforcing this with reputable scientific research. Buddhist philosophy is explored without proselytising and is reframed in a psychological context: questioning, rather than passive acceptance is always invited.

Engagement with mindfulness is encouraged through practical exercises, and their benefits explored through case studies and the personal experiences of the authors themselves as we learn to contemplate a more present, compassionate way of living. Understanding the difference between thoughts and facts facilitates a reconnecting of mind and body and acceptance of our selves, giving us the tools to feel more in control of our lives and learn to manage chronic conditions like depression, anxiety, addiction and pain with greater insight. Modern holistic treatments endorse caring for the mind in conjunction with the body and the book emphasises the value of mindfulness in treating physical conditions – as always backed up by research data.

The big question, though, is does it work? Having read and worked through the first edition of The Mindful Manifesto, I realised I was feeling calmer and more awake to my daily life. Practising mindfulness seems to relieve the pressures of modern life – juggling emails and Facebook and text messages becomes less important, and rejecting the dastardly twin cults of perfection and speed an easier task. And despite the book’s eagerness to present mindfulness as ‘mental technology’, unencumbered by new age or hippy associations, I’ve been surprised to discover that mindfulness, whilst presented as a practical, functional activity, has quietly nurtured in me a lighter, more spiritual way of being.

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A Conundrum

 

Sometimes it feels like all I do is moan about not having sufficient time to do all  the things I want to do, but when I do have the time I struggle to work out what it was I wanted to do.

I’m trying to keep mindful about this, to observe the frustration and the boredom and the indecisiveness and just be with it for a while, but it’s not easy. I am so much more organised now than I’ve been in a long while, but I don’t especially feel like I have anything that important in my schedule to organise. I have a natty Filofax and stacks of index cards (which are my default to-do list receptacles) but all my ideas and creativity seem to have flown out of the window.

I was in a grump this morning, about all of the above and a few more things, I’m sure. I did fifty-five minutes of Wii Fit Plus which certainly helped -and eased the horrid sluggishness that has been increasing exponentially with the hip and back pain – but the grumpiness is still hovering like a carrion crow in my peripheral vision, ready to dice down and peck at me.

Tomorrow is another day: this mood can’t last for ever.

My good intentions were lead astray

Stairs to nowhere, Llandudno

I’ve had a funny old week.

 

I’m not quite sure where it went. True, I did spend three days of it training to be a workplace manual handling assessor (and I learnt some good tips and tricks to preserve my skeleton) but as to the rest of it, I don’t know.

The course facilitators were telling us it takes 21 days to make a habit. I thought it was a bit more than that, but more crucially, I’ve realised that this has been a week when habits have slipped, and maybe that’s why I’m feeling somewhat detached right now. For the past few weeks I’ve felt grounded and alive and present like I haven’t for a long time, but this past week something seems to have slipped slightly, and I’m finding myself sluggish and lacking vitality.

That happy, zingy feeling I was enjoying waking up to seems to have slunk off somewhere.

I know I’ve missed a few days taking my wonderful B Vitamins, and I made a point of buying some more in the supermarket this morning. I wasn’t sure they were that effective, but the slump that’s following their absence is noticeable.

I haven’t been as organised this week. My lists have been a bit half-hearted and I don’t feel like I accomplished much. This is partly, I believe, due to my routine being disrupted by the training course – although, ironically, I actually had a proper 9-5 routine for three days, instead of silly all-over-the-place shifts. Anyway, today I have helped my son clear his list, so something has been achieved.

I haven’t really done any meditation, either. I try to remain mindful as much as I can, but it’s funny, there are a few daydreams that insist on niggling their way back into my consciousness. I want to shout, ‘Emma! Will you STOP thinking that!’ but then I remember that I have to be kind to myself. The Guardian gave away a little book about meditation yesterday as part of their Start Happy campaign; I intend to read it later, and check out some of the recipes and videos on the site, too.

My dreams have been weird, too. I did have some cheese on toast in bed the other night, and then woke up exhausted, like I’d lived another whole life while I was sleeping. Do you ever get ‘cheese dreams?’

On a positive note, I have been to the beach (although it was a week ago) and bought some khaki trousers and a turquoise cardigan, and kept my book list up-to-date (I’ve read at least six books this year so far – is that normal?) so my resolutions continue to have an impact on my life.

Right. I need to go and shake myself, I think.

I hereby resolve…

You know, I’ve had every good intention of writing about my New Year’s resolutions.

We’ll ignore the fact that one of them was to write and blog more often and concentrate instead on the reality of my new year so far which has mostly revolved around an evil viral infection that’s taken up residence in my respiratory system.

Anyway – better late than never. Here goes:

  • Visit the beach at least once a week. It really is criminal that I live so close to the sea but never seem to spend enough time enjoying it. The smell of ozone, the sound of the waves – all these things are good for me, and free.
  • Wear more colour. This is actually one of last year’s resolutions which I’m recycling, because it was effective. I have bought more non-black things over the past year, but I still end up taking black as the easy option. I do quite fancy having my colours done, but there’s always the terrifying possibility that I might discover that I should be wearing oyster or taupe or mauve, which would distress me horribly. What I really fancy is a pair of amazing red shoes!
  • Do something with the novel. I wrote a good two-thirds of the novel last year. Most of it happened during NaNoWriMo, and all of it came as a complete surprise, seeing as I’d started believing all the negative self-talk and practically convinced myself I would never write again. Anyway, I need to print it out and read it and then  start moulding it into a more robust shape. Oh, and finish it, too.
  • Make a poetry book. I’ve been wanting to do this on Lulu or Blurb for ages. I want to make something tangible and special to give to people close to me at Christmas. Of course, this means I will have to write some more poems, so this is in fact a resolution within a resolution.
  • Grow three friendships. I think I have enough room in my heart and space in my life to share with more people. I am actively scouting for my new friends right now. Until recently this kind of thing would have terrified me – and also probably earned my scorn – but no more! Now, I’m incredibly excited about meeting new people and strengthening old alliances and I’m not sure I have much to lose.
  • Cook a new recipe every week. I can cook, and I love cooking, but I want to extend my repertoire beyond my staple Italian- and Mexican-based recipes.
  • Catch my ideas. I have good ideas all the time. I have brainwaves and flashes of inspiration daily, but I have a bad habit of not writing them down for further action. I’ve been reading Mind Performance Hacks and picking up some good ideas about how to do this.
  • Meditate. One of the best books I read last year was The Mindful Manifesto. I only picked it up to take advantage of a 3 for 2 offer, but was quickly hooked. I downloaded the mindfulness meditation mp3s that accompany the book, and I’m enjoying using them. I’m taking baby steps onto the path, but already I’m understanding the value of what I’m doing.
  • Record my achievements. I’m planning to review my resolutions here monthly. EDIT – I’ve signed up to the Happiness Project Toolbox to keep track of how well I do!

Did you make any resolutions, or set yourself any goals or challenges for the new year?

Reverb 10 – Dec 31 – Core Story

What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world? (Bonus: Consider your reflections from this month. Look through them to discover a thread you may not have noticed until today.)

(Author: Molly O’Neill)

Heart, South Beach, Aberystwyth - Dec 2010

Gosh. My last #reverb10 post.

I started something, and then I finished it
.

And in between those two important achievements I put in a fair bit of work. It was hard, sometimes, fitting in posting around preparing for Christmas and doing a job which has a tendency to sap both my mental and physical energy, but I chose to keep going, because I believed in the project – and crucially, I enjoyed it.

I’ve just spent some time quietly reading back through every post I made, marvelling at the way my posts developed. I began to find places where I could use photos that I’ve taken over the past year: photos that sat seemingly forgotten on my hard drive were given a new lease of life through being shared with you.

My writing has loosened up and become tighter at the same time – does that make sense?

Taking part in reverb10  led me in new and unexpected directions: now I’m reading about the intersection between productivity and creativity and communication and having flashes of inspiration about how these ideas could be applied to my day job to improve the quality of patient care. The more I stimulate my mind, the more it works in exciting and surprising ways; I’m one of the Ideas People again.

One of the things I love about writing is that however measured and deliberate you are, every single word also exists in the much larger context of everything else you’ve written. Reading back through the larger whole – as I have done with my #reverb10 posts – has thrown up some interesting patterns that I wasn’t aware of when I wrote them. I’ve made some connections which seem blatant in hindsight but to which I was oblivious at the times.

It struck me how often I’ve written about being blessed with wonderful family and friends.

From the nucleus of myself, Leo and my son, to my extended family, and my friends – who I like to think of as my ‘chosen family’ –  it’s been the people who have made this year worthwhile. I used to think that having too many friends or a large and bustling family would be overwhelming – too demanding and too much pressure on my time. I’ve changed my mind. I want lots of people in my life – loads of them, in fact! – what I have to give I have in abundance and there’s enough to share with everyone.

This last year has been one of looking at what worked in my life, and what didn’t. And then working out how to make things better. I decided I didn’t want to be an angry person any more.

I worked out that trying to be in control – and inevitably failing, because being in control of everything ever is simply not possible, no matter how much time and energy you devote to trying- was at the root of a lot of the generalised, but exhausting, day-to-day crossness and niggledness I was feeling. This was a massive revelation!

But, you know, allowing events to take their own course, letting situations develop in their own organic way is OK. Nothing got broken and nobody died, and the time and energy saved allowed me to step back a little, to find moments of  stillness where there was no need for frantic mental chatter. When things got hairy, I knew that my instincts – which I’d allowed to flourish – would guide me safely.

It’s been a funny old year. Micro-analysis suggests I had more than my fair share of challenges to deal with, and yet the resounding memories are of learning and growing and feeling proud of myself for getting through them. I don’t always believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger –   it might not destroy you but it can still leave you feeling battered, broken and sorely disillusioned – but I feel curiously self-contained and capable right now.

I’m moving into the New Year with a feeling of purpose and direction
.

Note that I said ‘a feeling’ there – I’m not entirely sure what my purpose is or which direction it’s taking me in; I have some ideas – and one of my resolutions is to make sure I start capturing all these ideas – but I’m excited, you know?

The possibilities are endless, and I’m looking forward to all of them.

Reverb10 – Dec 24 – Everything’s OK

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

(Author: Kate Inglis)

I’m not sure that this year was a year of big events and grand gestures. I think the moments when things felt like they made sense of the bigger picture were quite small, almost serendipitous.

There was the day when I’d been reflecting on being more open, more approachable, and letting more people into my daily life, and then I went on a walk just a few hours later and bumped into someone I knew down at the beach, and instead of making my excuses and running away I let myself be carried along by the situation, and we sat and watched the sea, and chatted and smoked some cigarettes, and I went home realising that it was OK to do that – more than OK, and actually pleasurable and meaningful.

There were a few times when I had to stand by – and sometimes fight for – my beliefs and principles in the knowledge that I was going against the flow, whether it was popular opinion I was spurning or my own internal anything-for-an-easy-life-ometer. Not only did things work out OK, but I found more respect for myself from others, and more importantly from myself.

Every time my son passes a module, or gets another competency ticked off in his driving lessons, I’m reminded that things are going to be OK for him, too. His journey through life is going to be different to most kids his age, slower at times and with different challenges, but he’ll get there.

I don’t get stressed about people not washing up straight away, or being as obsessive about housework as I am any more; I’ve trained myself to examine priorities – mine and other people’s – more, and be more empathic, and look at the whole picture because, you know, it’s OK to leave the dishes until the morning. The worst that can happen is that they might need soaking a little longer but that’s all: there’s no deeper meaning, they’re just unwashed dishes.

 

Vision Map for 2010

You know, it’s funny. The ‘Future Tool’ included in this prompt is How to Create Your Own Personal Manifesto, and one of the things Gwen Bell suggests is to make a vision map.

By freaky coincidence, I made mine a few weeks ago; I used pictures and words cut from magazines to make my own personal collage which now hangs in my study. I stuck various words and phrases on it, but the first one I found was the one that says, ‘Hey, it’s OK…’



Reverb10 – Dec 19 – Healing

What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?

(Author: Leoni Allan)

 

 

Anger is incredibly destructive. It’s one of those feelings that gathers its speed and grows exponentially, like a snowball pushed downhill: in a short space of time something small and ostensibly manageable has expanded into a dangerous and uncontrollable force which has the potential to squash everything in its path.

And do you know what my own personal bugbear with anger is? It’s that the negative energy you expend on anger leaks out and spoils everything else. One minute you’re angry with the bus driver who wouldn’t let you off at the corner of your street, and the next you’re having a ‘completely hideous day’ because ‘nothing ever goes right for you.

It can take a lot of strength to step back from the victim mentality that anger spawns, a lot of positive energy to neutralise all that negativity. I know, because I’ve done it.

The old saying is true – anger really can eat you up. What the adage doesn’t mention is that anger spits out the indigestible bits in a mangled, chewed up heap: things came to a head when I realised that the anger I was harbouring – towards a variety of factors, both intrinsic and extrinsic – was turning me into someone I neither liked nor recognised.

The long and inevitably arduous process of ditching the anger started with me digging deep for a bit of compassion when day-to-day things like the afore-mentioned bus driver, or the over-ebullient schoolchildren riding on said bus royally pissed me off. I had to remind myself that there were a myriad of reasons why these annoying things were happening around me, but the likelihood that they were actually anything to do with me was quite slim.

Another thing that helped me was treating anger like it has a physical presence
. I imagine it like a heavy cardboard box. When something happens that cheeses me off, I imagine that I’m being given that heavy box to hold. I don’t want to be weighed down with the box, so mentally I just say, ‘No, thank you,’ and refuse to take the box. It’s all part and parcel of choosing your battles, of being selective about which parts of other people’s feelings and issues and hidden agendas you’re ready to shoulder the weight of. When I’m having one of those internal spats with myself then I imagine that it’s my emotions who are passing that box my way. Again, I say, ‘No.’

Am I healed? Well, not quite. I suspect it’s going to be a lengthy process, and I’m Aries – in fact I’m pretty much a textbook fire sign, if you know about that kind of thing – and I know that inevitably I’ll blow my top at some point. To be honest, I’m not sure a serene and beatific saint is the kind of person I’m trying to become; in fact, the idea is making me giggle a little – I can see myself sitting cross-legged on a cushion with downcast eyes and a reverent smile on my lips! Which isn’t really me, is it?

As for next year, well, I think I’m just going to keep plodding on with this one, really. I’m not sure ‘healing’ is something that can ever be fully realised – to me it seems more like a destination to keep aiming for, and not a finite task to complete by a set date.

 

Also, I’m inclined to think that if we ever achieved ‘fully healed’ status, then maybe we’d lose the battle scars – inside and out – that remind us of where we’ve been and what we went through to get to where we are today.

Reverb10 – Dec 17 – Lesson Learned

What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?
(Author: Tara Weaver)

I know I’ve mentioned this several times already, but it’s worth repeating: trust your instincts.

I used to have an ongoing struggle with my gut feelings; I was never sure whether or not they weren’t just a symptom of my over-active imagination, or some kind of paranoia based on magical thinking or narcissism. This year I learned that, most of the time, none of this is true, and that, actually, my instincts are very often spot-on and utterly reliable.

Taking time to just be with your feelings helps; taking a moment’s breather to stop, shut out all the white noise and truly listen to your feelings whilst scrutinising the available facts. I believe that gut feelings – especially those inexplicable ones which pop up from nowhere and nag, nag, nag at you – are the product of your mind and senses working in harmony – cutting out ‘the middle man’, if you like – and presenting you with a fully formed answer. Of course, the fun often starts when you didn’t even realise you’d been pondering a question…

Knowing that my instinct is a powerful tool, and not the product of catastrophising or dramatic thinking, has been liberating; I no longer feel like I’m at war with my mind, instead I’m friends with my thoughts.

Reverb10 – Dec 12 – Body Integration

This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present? (Author: Patrick Reynolds)

South Beach, Aberystwyth

South Beach, Aberystwyth

Whenever I was down at the beach. In fact, that’s usually why I go down to the beach.

Reverb10 – Dec10 – Wisdom

be nice

What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?
(Author: Susannah Conway)

One of the biggest decisions I made this year – as a belated New Year’s resolution – was to wear more colour; more specifically, it was a direct intention to wear less black. Wearing so much black stems partly from being a teenage goth, and a whole lot more from the myth that black is slimming (it isn’t, by the way – it just makes you look like a black mass as opposed to a blue mass or a pink mass), all garnished with a soupçon of fear that if I didn’t wear black the world wouldn’t know how rock’n’roll I am.

Silly? Maybe. Plus, I really like wearing black. I like the way it makes my silver jewellery and leopard print accessories stand out. But some days I’d look in the mirror and see how drained and sallow it made my face, and I realised things needed to change. I bought a pink cardigan, and some maroon tights. No blue, because I don’t wear blue. I nearly bought a white coat, but it was one of those puffy nylon ones, and even with its belt I was scared I’d look like Mrs Michelin. the only other option was black. In my defence, though, the fur trim is brownish-grey, so it’s not totally black.

But I digress. Choosing to wear more colour was a hard decision, but not particularly wise in any way.

Many of you will have seen that bit on Facebook profiles where it asks you about your political beliefs. Mine just says: Be nice to each other: it’s not rocket science, is it?

The wisest move I made this year was to try and live this; to stop judging people in every way I could, and try to be compassionate instead. It’s not easy, and sometimes I have to gently scold myself when I catch myself doing it again. Sometimes people can be really annoying, or harsh with their children in supermarket queues, or drive like idiots, and at times like that it can be horribly difficult to rein in the mental megaphone that’s blaring, ‘A$$HOLE!’ at them.

Especially when you’re someone like me who has a reputation for thinking up smart comebacks and witty put-downs. My two favourite phrases were, “Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be…” a seal clubber/ a turnip/ Big Bird/etc” and, ‘Not so much of a hair do as a hair don’t.” I’m making a big effort to stop all that. And I like the side-effects: when I’m nicer about people, people are nicer to me. Weird that, huh? It’s not infallible – because none of us are perfect, are we? – but it’s made a difference that’s encouraging. And on the plus side, if I do lapse and have a moment of meanness, I’m just mean, and not a big black mass of meanness.

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