Today was Teacher Training Day at my school.
I've sat through dozens of them in my ten year teaching career ranging from the highly stimulating to the mind-numbingly dull. I regret to report that the large majority would slot rather nicely into the latter category. It was little wonder, therefore, that I was less than excited to attend today's session and had to psyche myself up as I drove to school, chanting over and over again in my head: "must stay awake GW, must stay awake..."
It turns out that I did almost fall asleep at one point but it's ok. I was meant to.
The concept at the centre of today's session was Mindfulness, an attentive awareness of the here and now, the practice of focusing your energies and attention on the present moment and accepting all thoughts and feelings, without judgement. According to the lovely German lady who was delivering the session and whose name escapes me, Mindfulness helps us to achieve balance, adaptability and resilience at work and at home. She had me and my undivided attention at the word "balance". I constantly seek it and have as yet, to find it, elusive little devil that it is! Such is my desire to acquire a greater sense of equilibrium in my life that I am willing to give anything a go, so long as it's (semi) legal.
To help us get our heads around just what it meant to be Mindful we were asked to turn to our neighbour and, for one minute, talk about our journey to school that morning. With over 100 staff present the hall was soon filled with noisy chatter. We were then asked to sit in silence for another minute and to do nothing but focus on our breathing. The contrast, as you can imagine was stark. We were reminded that the silence is always there, it's what the noise comes from, and we can tap into it whenever we feel the need. Blatantly obvious, perhaps, but this truly resonated with me. I fill my life with so much noise and distraction - music blaring from my iPad/iPod, the t.v., the radio, chatter (my own and that of others) - that I rarely give silence the opportunity to bring a much needed sense of calm and clarity to my life. Does this sound familiar to you?
To delve deeper into the art of developing Mindfulness we were introduced to The Three Step Breathing Space:
Adopt an upright, alert sitting or standing posture. Bring your attention to what is going on for you right now in your mind and body. Notice what thoughts and feelings are present. Do not try to change or control anything, be open to how things are right here, right now.
Shift awareness to your breath, closing your eyes if it helps. Notice where your breathing is strongest. Is it in your stomach? Your chest? Listen to each breath that you take and be aware of the physical sensations of breathing.
Expand your awareness from your breathing to the rest of your body. Be aware of your posture, be aware of your feet on the ground, the hands on your lap. Hold your entire body in awareness just as it is right now.
Now re-engage with the world around you, ensuring that you bring with you the focus you found whilst meditating.
What do you think? Does it all sound a bit wishy washy and new-age? Mindfulness does have its roots in Bhuddhism yet since the 1970's clinical psychology and psychiatry have developed a number of therapeutic applications based on Mindfulness for helping people suffering from a variety of psychological conditions. It's also interesting to note that Mindfulness is endorsed by the NHS (the UK's National Health Service) and is considered by NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) as playing an important role in improving our physical and mental health. Sure enough, during my most serious bout of anxiety in 2006 I saw a therapist who taught me several techniques to deal with my then worrisome thoughts, one of which I now realise was a form of Mindfulness (there are many forms and you need to find the one that is right for you). And did it help me? Without a doubt. When I felt the storm of anxiety rise within me I would look at my surroundings and fixate on an object, a table for example. That object symbolised the here and now and would slowly draw me back into the present and the anxiety would eventually subside.
For the vast majority of people, GW included, Mindfulness is not easy to practice, at least not at the beginning. As with any new skill it takes effort, perseverance and TIME - yup, we need to take time out of our busy lives to learn how to relax. Who amongst you is saying right now, "but GW, I don't have time to relax!"? Then you, my friend, are the perfect candidate for Mindfulness and I would urge you to give it a go. You have nothing to lose and only a greater sense of well-being to gain.
And that is something I wish for all my Warriors.
GW, over and out.