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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[Scintilla Day 03] Where’s your mama gone?

The Orthopaedic Hospital, Gobowen.

Where’s your mama gone? (Where’s your mama gone?)
Little baby Don (Little Baby Don)
Where’s your mama gone? (Where’s your mama gone?)
Far, far away

It’s 1971.

British Leyland have launched the Morris Marina, Margaret Thatcher schemes to abolish free milk for school children, and in a hospital in the middle of the countryside on the border between England and Wales, I’m in hospital. Despite being a mere eighteen months old, I’ve spent a large part of my life in hospital having corrective surgery on my left hip, which was congenitally dislocated but not spotted initially because they didn’t do a postnatal check for ‘clicky hips’ in those days.

In addition to surgery, they’ve put me in traction, hung me upside down on a special bed made by the young apprentices at the local Rolls Royce factory and tried all sorts of experimental remedies, all without any degree of success. One of the latest things they’ve tried is ‘frog plaster’, where my legs are forced out at unnatural angles and plastered into place. For months at a time – and it’s going to need regular replacements because in addition to growing, children of my age need nappies and well, I think it’s safe to say that things down there must get pretty ripe.

Luckily – for me at least, I don’t remember any of it. The sole memory I have of the whole ghastly process is of a tall, dark man coming towards me with what I’m guessing must have been a tool they used to cut off the plaster. In my head it’s whirring with all the high-pitched and anxiety-inducing sound of a dentist’s drill. My mum says that for years afterwards I would scream and hide if I heard a vacuüm cleaner.

My mum, though – she hasn’t forgotten. She doesn’t talk about it much. She told me – just the once – about how she felt when she discovered I had to go into hospital aged what? four or five months, maybe? She told me how the sight of the empty nursery had distressed her so much she had to give the baby equipment away. She told me how she used to drive to the hospital, a fifty mile or so round trip, to visit me in the afternoon. If your baby was in hospital in those days you didn’t get the option to sleep over on a camp bed at the foot of their cot. There were no Ronald McDonald houses or twenty-four hour vending machines. The wards were ruled by old-school nurses, the kind that wore starched cuffs and intricately folded caps. On one occasion my mum turned up and someone had cut off all my baby curls; apparently the hours spent lying on my back had caused them to become matted. Another time she arrived to find the all other babies wearing my clothes – and I know she bought me beautiful things back then: velour all-in-ones in scarlet and navy stripes bought mail-order from Sweden where people dressed their children in bright and stimulating things, a world away from dreary seventies polyester.

I don’t know how she coped with all that. The photograph above is shocking for all kinds of reasons, but what makes me saddest is how harrowed my poor mum looks. She’s always been slim but I’ve never seen her as gaunt as she is in that picture, and that smile… is it a smile? It’s hard to tell. She used to leave late in the afternoon, always telling me that she had to go now, to buy some potatoes for Daddy’s tea. Apparently when I started talking, one of my first sentences was, ‘Daddy eats lots potatoes.’

I don’t know where I heard the song first. Did they play the radio on the children’s ward, I wonder, or did my family or one of the nurses sing it to me? I guess a cheesy yet catchy song like Middle of the Road’s Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep was always going to be popular with a child, and I know that singing it became one of my party pieces when I was a little older.When I listen to it now, the song horrifies me. All I can think of is my poor mum hearing it on the radio, driving all those miles in the dark in a knackered old car, and leaving her baby behind, day after day after day.


This post is in response to a prompt from The Scintilla Project: Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.

[Scintilla Day 02] All grown up

Baby's hand.

I went into labour at about half past midnight. I breathed through the contractions for a few hours, distracting myself by watching ABBA: The Movie on late night tv.  At a little after three I woke my dad. It took him a few moments to understand what was going on.

‘I need to go to the hospital. Now.’

The drive there was awful. Every chipping and  pothole on the road sent huge waves of pain up through my perineum towards the centre of my being. The only way I could cope was to squeeze my hands under my thighs and suspend my torso in an endless tricep dip. The hospital was locked up and dark when we arrived, and  it took the porter ages to answer the bell; he had a wheelchair with him, and insisted I sat in it, despite my protests that I was fully capable of walking, thankyou-very-much.

After that, it all becomes blurred. I know there was a deep, deep bath – long enough for me to lie down fully in, too – and an enormous plastic jug, like the one I had in my kitchen, and at the height of each contraction my son’s father poured jugful after jugful over my belly, and I surrendered myself to rhythms which were of me but not mine as my body took over, leaving me a mere passenger along for the ride.

Night became morning, and outside the frosted windows of the delivery room a pair of workmen listened to Radio One on their scaffolding, silhouetted against the glass. One was much taller than the other: funny how I can still see it so clearly. In a haze of endorphins and entonox I laughed to myself about two strangers – two men – being so close to me as I writhed and squatted and panted on the bed with my nightshirt hoiked up around my armpits. In the distance I could hear a fearsome, terrible noise. I once found myself outside an abattoir, and the sounds were reminiscent of that –  a long, keening wail punctuated by guttural grunts. As my head cleared briefly I realised it was me who was making those noises, and that I had no control at all over what was happening to me and that nature was at the helm, steering the great wreck of my body with its priceless cargo safely into harbour.

The second stage of labour was fast. Nineteen minutes from start to finish, although it felt like hours. And the baby was at least two weeks late – four, by my calculations –  and when he came he was huge and I tore and we spent our first minutes together with him propped on my chest, still covered with blood and mucous, while a student midwife practised for her handicrafts badge in my nether regions. They showed me the placenta; it was big and liverish and dotted with calcification.

We just stared at each other. He didn’t cry at all, just fixed his beady eyes on mine and kept looking. The front of his head was bald and his forehead was so stern and wrinkled. I don’t think the midwife could have been a Star Trek TNG fan like I was back then because she didn’t laugh when I said he looked like a Klingon; she scolded me and told me he was beautiful, and I think I started to cry a little then because it hit me like a slap round the head, he was infinitely beautiful and he was mine, and I was a mother: his mother.

I thought I knew it all. I was just twenty-one.

All grown up.


This post is in response to a prompt from The Scintilla Project: When did you realise you were a grown up? What did this mean for you? Shock to the system? Mourning of halcyon younger days? Or the embracing of the knowledge that you can do all the cool stuff adults do: drink wine, go on parent-free vacations, eat chocolate without reprimand?

[02 my children will do it differently]

This year I’m taking part in #reverb11, an online initiative that’s all about reflecting on 2011 and looking ahead to 2012. Each day in December will bring a new prompt to reflect on. You can find out more here.

Day 2 – My Children Will Do it Differently – If you could choose one thing that your children will do or experience in a different way than you have, what would it be and why?

I have one child. He’s nineteen, so barely a child at all, really, and very much a young man. He just passed his driving test, so he’s already managed to do something differently – and I guess when I say differently, what I mean is better – than I have. I’ve had lessons in sporadic bursts since I was seventeen, failed one test and managed to convince myself that I’m a public transport kind of girl.

Over the past nineteen years I’ve tried very hard to manifest the things in his life I wanted to be different from mine. Things like being sure of himself, of knowing who he was and what he thinks. This is the boy who, at the age of five, happily told the head teacher of his Church school that he was an atheist; he became a vegetarian a year later. He’s vociferous about equality – he simply doesn’t get why differences of any kind result in all the –isms that abound. He knows what he thinks, and he’s proud of what he thinks. He’s proud of himself. Not with a sense of assumed privilege or entitlement, but with a fundamental solidity. Of course, that makes him a stubborn pain-in-the-ass sometimes – and please, no comments about apples not falling far from the tree here.

He lives with Asperger syndrome, although you might not notice that at first. He refuses to view himself as having ‘special needs’, referring to them instead as ‘special powers’. He thinks it’s great that he has a cavernous memory, that he knows everything anyone ever needed to know about buses. He loves that he’s super-organised and happily cleans and tidies around the house. Well, mostly – this is a teenage boy we’re talking about here. Life has thrown a vast amount of challenges at him, from teachers who just couldn’t be bothered to educate themselves to situations none of us could foresee would be distressing. When he was finally excluded from mainstream school he sobbed as I led him out of the building, crying that he needed his education. He has reserves of strength and bravery that are quite remarkable.

I have vague memories from when I was pregnant, thinking about the baby inside me, this little person-in-waiting. I had big ideas about what I was going to teach my child, but over the years I’ve come to see that, actually, it’s your children who teach you about life, who make you see things differently, and lead you into doing things you could never imagine, from shouting right back at the woman in the supermarket who complained about their behaviour, to picking up worms and spiders, because you suddenly realised you don’t want them to have silly phobias.

If ever there was a thing that was user-led, it’s parenthood. The manuals and websites and tips from helpful relatives go right out of the window, and you end up making it up as you go along. And then one day you look, and that scrappy, red-faced thing that you could pick up in one hand has turned into a handsome chap with size thirteen feet who’s waving a driving test pass certificate at you. I’m proud of him, and he’s proud of himself. I think I did well there.

[01 one word]

This year I’m taking part in #reverb11, an online initiative that’s all about reflecting on 2011 and looking ahead to 2012. Each day in December will bring a new prompt to reflect on. You can find out more here.

Day 1 – One Word. Encapsulate the year 2011 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word.  Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2012 for you?

I lay in the bath last night and tried hard to think of a good word that sums up the year, something that was a little more eloquent than ‘bloody awful’, which was the first one that sprang to mind and technically doesn’t count,what with it being two words and all that. I settled on arduous, although it felt a bit dramatic and not entirely accurate. There are lots of positive things that have happened in the past year, and I don’t even have to think that hard to remember them: I’ve met new friends, went to a brilliant festival with my son and acquired the world’s naughtiest kitten, but despite that it feels like it’s mostly been one long slog.

I put out the call on my Facebook wall, to see if my friends had any good ideas, only to find them posting words like challenging and harrowing and sisyphean. I think 2011 has been a difficult year for a lot of people. Amongst my close friends there has been illness, bereavement, financial worries, job problems and a whole host of other things which just tend to make life crap. Some of these things are ongoing, without there being any sense of a light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite that, we’re all still here. I’m still here, a fact which surprises me, sometimes. It’s easy to forget that while you’re thinking you’re weak, and that you can’t cope, the non-thinking bits of your body are soldiering on, fighting all those pesky infections that gang up and pick on you when you’re run down.

Your body keeps blinking, keeps breathing: somehow you keep going.

My word for 2010 was perseverance – I acknowledged my inner strength, and tenacity. I like the word tenacious, it literally means ‘not easily pulled apart.’ I know I started off saying that my word for 2011 was ‘arduous’, but I’m going to scrap that.Every time I say it to myself I’m seeing myself in a theatrically tragic, woe-is-me pose, complete with back of the hand wafting my fringe of my forehead, so it has to go. Tenacity is a much better word.

~

This time last year, my word for the year ahead was embrace. I said, “I want to swim hard against the tide and jump into waves instead of treading water and slowly getting water-logged and heavier.” I think I squeezed every last drip out of that metaphor, didn’t I? Flowery prose aside, I can put my hand on my heart and say I really pushed myself to take risks, and embrace new opportunities this year. I reached out of my comfort zone and did things that were unimaginable a year ago, but if I tell you what they were you might not come back and read any more, which would be very sad indeed because I’ve spent all morning when I should have done the laundry grappling with graphics and layouts and buying a domain name. See – I am tenacious to the core!

~

Edit: I’m trying not to read anything Freudian or symbolic into the fact that in my original draft of this post I completely failed to choose my word for 2012. I’m not sure I can pull one out of the hat at this stage, but I promise I will revisit this as and when one comes along. It needs to be a good word, a word that encompass change, and freedom, and movement – I’m sure it probably exists in some other, more ambiguous language. When I find it, you’ll be the first to know.

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 27 – Ordinary Joy

Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?

(Author: Brené Brown)

 

Cinnamon Cupcakes

 

I’m not sure I can narrow it down to one single moment. I find joy all the time, often in the most unexpected places, and yes, usually during quite ordinary moments. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • Making cupcakes, and watching people enjoy them
  • Hearing my son belly-laughing to himself
  • Travelling from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth on the Cambrian Coast railway line, and seeing the sun set over the Dyfi Estuary
  • Remembering that I live at the seaside
  • Laughing with my patients
  • Painting my nails and not smudging them
  • Surprising my best friend’s little girl by picking her up from school when she’s not expecting me to
  • Having a day on my own in the house, just pottering
  • Having hot rosy cheeks on a cold day
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