Everyone is Up and Running

Last week I had a meeting with my fellow trustees of the new Everyone Project Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO): Vin Harris, Chloe Homewood, Jan Major and Barbara Reid. You couldn’t wish for a more talented and effective group of people to launch a project with. We signed the articles, which brought the Everyone Project Charity into existence! We had a brief birthday celebration. Then got on to the work of starting up!

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This project started when Barbara and I met for lunch about two years ago and shared our concern that those on our mindfulness courses already knew about mindfulness and were able to pay for their courses. It felt exclusive. But wouldn’t it be great if we could be more inclusive and offer courses to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access one. The Mindfulness Association (MA) has a network of 100s of trained Mindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC) teachers who were looking for meaningful work and there were many charities or other organisations looking for mindfulness courses for their staff , volunteers or client groups.

A plan was emerging and I took this back to develop with Vin, who is brilliant at developing a business plan. His Charity the Hart Knowe Trust partnered with the MA in this venture, with both parties providing most of the funding for our courses so far. Chloe joined us at this point, as she was so passionate about the project and we started with our first round of 11 courses in autumn 2016, then honing our process for a second round of 25 or so courses in spring 2017. Our third round of 20 courses are just about to begin.

An excellent team to get things going. If you run your own organisation, are a sole trader or are just interested, and would like to learn from Vin and Chloe, then they deliver an Enlightened Enterprise course, which you might find interesting (click here for more info).

Generally the organisations we partner with in the Everyone Project, provide a venue for the MBLC course, recruit the course participants and provide other support, such as copying course material. This means that the costs for funding the courses is mainly the tutor fee, which is pretty efficient for taking up to 15 participants through an 8 week course.

So far, over 350 people have benefitted from attending an MBLC course who otherwise wouldn’t have. How wonderful is that!

Alan from MAHQ and Julie McColl joined us to evaluate the outcomes of the courses. Moira Harris, who is a graduate of the MSc in Mindfulness (click here for more info)) is taking on the research role from now on, as the MA have sponsored her to do her PhD at the University of Aberdeen on evaluating the Everyone Project courses.

When we decided to set up the Charity we invited Barbara on board (as she helped come up with the idea in the first place) and Jan, as both are passionate about the project and have extensive experience working in charitable organisations and fundraising and are all round excellent people to work with.

So now we are developing a website and beginning to fundraise. If you wish to make a donation, enquire about running a course as a qualified MBLC teacher or take part as an organisation, then please get in touch with Chloe at everyone@mindfulnessassociation.net. We are looking for new applications for courses from the beginning of March and these courses will then run in the autumn of this year.

Once the bank account is set up, we are beginning with an online crowd funding campaign and with a sponsored sit at our Joyful Club membership weekend (click here for more info) in the hope of raising £20,000 by July so that we are able to fund even more courses next time round. So I will be in touch!

It feels a bit surreal what we have achieved so far with this project and the prospects for the benefits to communities across the UK are phenomenal. I can’t quite believe it has been possible.

But we continue together with our next steps, as we have done so far, without expectations or assumptions about what might unfold and in this way the possibilities are endless. It makes me feel amazingly joyful that we can reach out to so many people, especially when the times feel quite dark. A beacon of hope.

It’s a good way to live – choose a direction that is meaningful to us and is in line with our values – and keep going step by step in that direction – a recipe for a happy life.

So what’s your direction?

Kind Wishes

Heather

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Books, Books, Patience and More Books!

To my delight, this week I received my 3 author copies of the Mindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC) book that Choden and I have written together. We finished writing it just before Choden did his one year retreat, in October 2015. So it has taken a while!

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It took time to find a publisher.  After being turned down several times, when we were almost ready to publish, the arrangement with our first publisher fell through.  It has taken patience and bloody minded commitment to keep going! Then we found our current publisher, O Publications (an imprint of John Hunt publications), who published MA tutor Heather Grace MacKenzie’s (now Bond) book ‘Awakening Child: A journey of inner transformation through teaching your child Mindfulness and Compassion’. She gave me their details and they welcomed us with open arms. However, it has taken a while to get to this stage and the publication date is not until the end of November – so I will have to continue to be patient! But what an awesome Christmas present for all our friends and family!

But seriously, it is an accompaniment to the MBLC 8 week course and a self help version of the course to help those who can’t attend an MBLC class. We hope it will raise the profile of the MBLC course and bring more people to the 8 week course.

Now, I haven’t had a book published before and so am pretty excited, especially after such a long wait, and keeping going despite all the set backs. So I am going to be carrying a copy with me and showing it to all the friends and family I meet – I am resisting showing it to those sitting next to me on the train! So if I show the book to you, please indulge me – I am working on finding a balance between celebrating this accomplishment and working on not letting it go to my head! Not easy!

At the moment Choden and I are working on the final copy of the second book we have written together and this time with Rob Nairn. It is called Mindfulness to Insight: The Seeing Is the Doing. Shambala are publishing this book, which we are due to hand in by the end of the month. So that takes care of the presents for Christmas 2019!

Then after the current review of our Compassion curriculum, I am hoping that we can write a book about that – completing the trilogy of Mindfulness, Insight and Compassion – albeit out of order! Christmas 2020?!

At this time there are two other books arising from the Mindfulness Association’s work in partnership with the University of Aberdeen on the MSc in Studies in Mindfulness (Click here for more information on The MSc: Studies in Mindfulness). The first is a book by the MSc Programme Director Graeme Nixon about the rise of Mindfulness in relation to different aspects of our current cultural context. The second is about the experience of the Mindful Heroes – graduates from our MSc who are at the forefront of implementing Mindfulness in their field of work. If any of you have heard the conference presentations from our MSc graduates, they are pioneers and their work is truly inspirational!

Our motivation is to get the material out there to as many people as possible who may benefit from it and to demonstrate the value of long term Mindfulness training, over years and not weeks; and of Mindfulness training imbued with the qualities of Compassion and Insight from the start, ie. Our MA approach.

I am curious to see how it continues to unfold! It been a pretty magical journey up until now, but the potential for the future seems wonderful!

I’ll let you know when the MBLC book can be pre- ordered!

Kind Wishes
Heather

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Something Difficult To say

I had something difficult to say this week. I didn’t want to say it, but nevertheless it had to be said. I reflected and made notes on how to say it and after several iterations felt it was sayable. It troubled my sleep the night before and I was still undecided about whether to say anything the following morning. Then I listened to the Coldplay song ‘Miracles’ and after that I knew I would speak.

The lyrics for the chorus are:

Now you could run and just say they’re right
No I’ll never be no one in my whole life
Or you could turn and say no wait they’re wrong
And get to keep on dancing all life long

I spoke and it all went fine and the connection between those of us in the conversation is, I think, stronger.

My upbringing has made it very hard for me to say the difficult things. My habit is to avoid conflict and instead fuel resentment. I don’t want to rock the boat and I want to be liked the best. But not speaking my truth disempowers me and stepping up and speaking it keeps me dancing!

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I can only do that now through my Compassion and Insight training. The Compassion training has given me the resources of self-kindness, strength and wisdom to face my fear and do what I think is right regardless of the consequences. My Insight training helps me not to buy into the stories I tell myself about what people will think of me and how I will be disliked and isolated from the group. Generally, it goes a lot better than I imagine, people value the honesty and respect emerges.

Last weekend I taught on the first Compassion weekend of the MSc in Mindfulness with Aberdeen University (click here for more information). We saw significant breakthroughs where some of our course participants saw how some of the habits that they had used to protect themselves when they were young, were limiting their lives now. There were tears of hope and relief that they didn’t have to continue to follow these habits any more. Habits that had limited and disempowered them in their life. A powerful catharsis we experienced together as a group – safe in each other’s presence. This is the Miracle of Compassion and we can all benefit from it.

The practice that really seemed to help was the Compassionate colour guided practice, which is available on our completely free Compassion Based Living app.
When I experience a difficulty, I may shed an odd tear. It is the kind response to a difficulty from myself and from others, or the joy and hope of our human potential that really touches me and has me in tears.

Jane and I are leading the Compassion course at Samye Ling this year and you are very welcome to join us (click here for more information).

And in preparation, why not join us for our ‘Joyful Club’ membership weekend (click here for more information) and build with us the resources required to face the difficulties on our Compassion journey. The difficulties are where it’s at when it comes to personal growth through practice.

If we have practiced we can bring our Compassionate colour to mind to give us the courage to face what needs to be faced and to respond with kindness and wisdom and a heartfelt desire to connect authentically with ourselves and those around us. Give it a go!

Kind Wishes
Heather

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Cultivating Loving Kindness

The week just gone I have spent at the Purelands Retreat centre teaching a Compassion Based Living Course (CBLC) teaching skills retreat (click here). It was a coming together of fifteen teachers of the Mindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC) who had also completed our Mindfulness Level 2 Course: Responding with Compassion and who wanted to learn to teach Compassion.

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We started on the Tuesday evening with a reflection on why we wanted to teach Compassion. For me quite a strong response arose with the message ‘Because compassion is the only antidote to the pernicious culture in which we find ourselves’. I was quite surprised by the strength of my response, but it does feel like the culture in which we live is separating us from each other and is not conducive to us flourishing as human beings. We see a widening gap between the haves and the have- nots, between North and South, and an ever accelerating rise in mental health problems. There is constant coverage of war and political fighting on the news, setting us against those from other countries, religions or cultures or against those with other views. I hear stories of many distressed friends, family members and colleagues, struggling to deal with the challenges that modern life is bringing them.

I believe that the only thing that will bring us together is Compassion. A heartfelt understanding that we have more in common than separates us, in that we all suffer and that we all want to be happy. Compassion trains us to step into the shoes of the other, so as to understand their suffering and from there we can develop a possibility of mutual understanding and communication. I think Mindfulness is not enough – there also has to be Compassion.

So the definition of Compassion we use is the sensitivity to the suffering of ourselves and others, with a deep desire to relieve that suffering. And boy was this present in the wonderful group of people training to teach Compassion. This group had the courage to face and come to terms with their own suffering, so as to gain the understanding from which to authentically be present with and help others.

The act of having to face our suffering, can put a lot of people off training in Compassion, but I have to say that training in Compassion also requires us to cultivate a resource of joy, loving kindness and equanimity from which to face the suffering. Much of the training is about cultivating these resources and a real feeling of workability emerges as we gradually come to feel and understand that we have the resources to face the difficulties in our lives and to thrive and flourish as human beings regardless of what we face. 

Our membership weekend this year is all about building the resource of joy in our practice and in our daily life. I have found this so very important in my own practice and life and it is quite nice to live life joyfully, being grateful for all the wonderful people and opportunities I have in my life and appreciating the world around me. And why not? If I am happy, then those around me are happy and I am in a much better position to help others. If I get bogged down in the suffering of the world and become distressed I am no use to anyone and I am miserable. Easier said than done. Why not come and explore this with me at our July membership weekend ‘The Joyful Club’ (click here for more details).

By the end of the retreat we had been through the CBLC course together, teaching and giving feedback, exploring rationales and teaching points for the different practices. The final feedback session was wonderful to hear, with many people experiencing significant insights. For me the insight was the importance of loving kindness practice and an intention to make this a focus of my practice for the next few months. Recently I have been experiencing quite a lot of anger and a sense of separation from those around me. I know from previous experience that, for me, loving kindness practice will help me with this. There is a real value in doing the practice for myself and for those towards whom I feel anger, to remind me of my intention to be loving and kind and patient, even when my buttons are pressed. I realise that I won’t always be able to do this and that’s OK to – I am far from perfect – I am happy to be a compassionate mess of a person!

Jane and I are leading a Compassion training (click here for more details) at Samye Ling later this year and I am very much looking forward to it. It always benefits me to go through the theory and practices again – I always learn something more about myself. Some rough edge is always smoothed. It is painful to experience and feel my own anger, but well worth it, if I can use this experience to cultivate more resources of loving kindness. 

You can practice the ‘Widening circle of loving kindness practice’ as well as the ‘Limitless Joy practice’ and the equanimity practice of ‘Aspiring Dissolving and Equalising’ on our Compassion Based Living app, available for free from the Google play store and the Apple app store for Android and Apple devices.

Why not join me in these practices and in cultivating loving kindness this next few weeks.

Kind Wishes

Heather

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The Joys of Lethargy and Pottering!

slow moving

I am still getting over the flu and although I feel tonnes better, I am overcome by lethargy in the afternoons, especially if I have the audacity to actually do something in the morning! I am not moaning. It is so unusual to have such a prolonged period of doing so little. Usually I am highly motivated and doing such a lot. However, I am not bored. I am just experiencing a mild frustration from time to time that my activity level is limited. Overall it feels good to rest. At 4.30pm, I am lounging, cozy & warm in bed writing this to you. I am munching through a small bowl of nachos, with melted vegan cheese, hummus & guacamole that my daughter has just brought me. She and my husband have just cleaned the house. What’s not to like?

I have been enjoying pottering about – cooking the odd meal, a bit of washing up, hanging up some laundry, the odd email. I realise that I am enjoying the fruition of my mindfulness and compassion practice. I notice the relaxed slowness of my pottering compared to the usual rush with which I do things, with precisely thought through logistics to get it done as fast and efficiently as possible. I don’t experience that at the moment and to be honest it’s a relief.

I particularly love feeding the birds. Crunching through the snow, filling up the feeders and then watching them feed. I notice their attentive eyes, checking out that the coast is clear, their skilful hovering to get into position on the feeder, their feathers puffed up against the cold. They seem to have a system, where they each wait their turn, watching what is going on and then joining the feast – sharing what’s on offer.

We ran out of peanuts today and my husband reported seeing three of them in a line on the kitchen windowsill, tapping on the window to alert us to the fact. The feeders are full again now! I marvel at how such small delicate creatures can survive the snow. Happy that I can help.

The fast business of my normal life is highlighted sharply by my current relaxed, can’t be bothered, lethargy. I am grateful for this time. I am glad to see the contrast and curious if it will change things when I am fully well again. Will I pitch at full tilt into speediness again, or will some of this slowness remain?

I am reminded of Vidyamala Burch of Breathworks talking about ‘over-efforting’. I heard this talk year’s ago, but the idea has stuck with me. How we generally put in more effort than usual into every task, even such mundane tasks as grasping the handle of the kettle too tight, or lifting things too quickly. If we stay present we can observe this and put in just the effort required and no more.

I hope I remember not to rush when I am able to again.

What I enjoy is this sense I have had these last few weeks of experience just moving through me, as I allow things to be as they are – not fighting them and so not getting caught in feedback loops of resisting or thinking about experience. It feels like letting go!
I have asked for help, which is a fruition of my compassion practice and help has been given to me. I never used to ask for help, believing it was a sign of weakness. I am very grateful to my family and my colleagues who are graciously taking up the slack, as I am letting it go.

I am going to do a bit more pottering now!

Kind Wishes
Heather

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In Bed with Flu

This last week I have been ill with the flu – a wonderful cornucopia of alternating symptoms – head ache, shivers, overheating, ear ache, sore throat & a chesty cough that prevents sleep – doubly amplified compared to my usual experience of such symptoms. I guess that’s the Australian element! I’ve even lost my appetite, which is very unusual.

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I haven’t done any formal practice, but have stayed in touch with how my body feels – breathing in and out of particularly painful sensations. I have pleasantly distracted myself. At times when I have been too poorly to sit in the living room & watch a box set (Stranger Things on Netflix), I have laid in bed drowsing to my Harry Potter audio books – I’ve just started on book four!

For me, I have been very patient and have taken time off to rest. Thankfully Choden had taken over from me on the teaching skills retreat at Samye Ling this week and I am very grateful for this. I did have a marking deadline for the MSc, but everything else I have rescheduled.

My husband says I have been a bit grumpy and bad tempered. My brain is working so slowly and he talks so quickly that his conversation seems overwhelming at times.
What has helped me most is a sense of an overview – not getting caught up in thinking about being poorly, but simply allowing the symptoms to move through. I have been able to observe and not buy in to my usual patterns of thinking – that there is something wrong with me that I’m ill; that getting my work done this week is essential; and that I am letting the team down by being ill. Instead I am just observing it all with a relaxed sense of what will be will be.

So I have been able to enjoy the stillness of resting my body as it is working hard to defend itself from this virus. I have been able to relax my body when it tenses against pain. I have been more curious than distressed by the seemingly endless campaigns this virus is waging. So I think I could probably say that while I haven’t consistently enjoyed being ill – it’s not been too bad and ibuprofen helps when it all gets a bit too uncomfortable.

Practice is so important when things are going well, so that when we hit a rough patch the benefits of practice are available to us.

Also important is reflecting on our habitual patterns around being ill. Do we beat ourselves up and blame ourselves or do we relax and rest to give space for our bodies to recover. It’s all an opportunity for practice!

Hopefully, by the time you read this, I will be back in my usual routine, building resources for next time!

Kind Wishes
Heather

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Walking My Talk

I would like to live a long and healthy life, free of the main health problems that beset us in the West: heart disease, stroke, degenerative brain diseases, cancer and lung diseases. Would you?

I would like to protect the environment from the effects of greenhouse gasses, deforestation and ocean dead zones. Would you?

But more than that I would like to see the creatures we humans have domesticated be treated with love and respect rather than being tortured and brutally murdered. Would you?

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Once I came to understand the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence that the best thing I could do to solve these problems was to become a vegan (eating plant based whole food) that’s what I did. I walked my talk and became a vegan over two years ago. I try not to be preachy about it, but I feel so passionately that we have all been lied to for so long, that I would like to give you the opportunity to look at the evidence and make your own decision about how you want to live in the world and what kind of footprint you want to leave on the Earth.

If you are immediately alienated by my blog this week – take a moment to reflect: why? We have a strong attachment to our lifestyle and changing it is a pain in the arse. I know, I’ve done it. But I feel so much happier and healthier for it, more energised and very joyful not to be contributing to the horrors of animal agriculture. My husband is a fell runner; when he went vegan his run times improved by 10%! Many top athletes are now vegan and see their well-being and performance improve.

The best source of evidence for the health of a whole food plant based diet is Dr Gregor’s website – NutritionFacts.org, or follow this link for a summary: Click here  or watch the excellent documentary film ‘What the Health’.

The best source of evidence for the damage to the environment is the excellent film ‘Cowspiracy’. For a summary: Click here.

If you have a strong stomach and want to see some of the common practices in animal agriculture within the UK, watch the film ‘Land of hope and glory’: Click here

Otherwise you might want to watch the fiction film ‘Okja’:Click here to get an insight into how the animal agriculture industry operates.

For an overview of what has been happening in the world of Veganism recently watch ‘Vegan 2017’: Click here.

The main thing that helped me in making the change and sticking with it was hearing the following phrase – ‘It is hard to be a vegan when I think about myself, but it is easy to be a vegan when I think about the animals’ – I would amend this to say – ‘the animals, the planet and my health’.

For those of you who like to be hip and trendy, veganism is the new black! History will look back on the madness of animal agriculture with horror and disbelief. What is happening now is so much worse than the way the Tobacco Industry misled the world about the dangers of smoking. For a wry and witty mockumentary of a vegan future watch Simon Amstell’s excellent film ‘Carnage’ on BBC iplayer: Click here 

There is no need to be black and white about it – start slowly with the aspiration of moving gradually to a vegan diet. Try Dr Gregor’s ‘How not to die’ cookbook or look at the great selection of recipes on the Vegan Society website. It may taste more delicious and be easier than you imagine!

Kind Wishes

Heather

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