Saturday 1 November 2014

Tip 14: How to face something grim

In my Mindful Ice Bucket video, I talked about how to welcome life's experience, however cold or wet it makes you. Then, the very next day, I came down with acute appendicitis. Now this certainly raised the stakes. So this month I ask: how do you welcome experience which is decidedly grim?
1. This isn't all of me!
I'm lying in bed, holding my belly and groaning. It's the small hours of the morning, I'm all alone, and I don't know what's wrong. Suddenly, I'm swept by a wave of pain so intense it feels like the whole of me. At times like these, welcoming experience might seem like a daft idea. But actually, fighting it is much worse.

Saying "No" to what is happening is, of course, a logical thing to do. Who wants to be overcome by bad feelings? Whether physical or emotional, we naturally turn away from what hurts us or causes us stress.

But this 'turning away' itself creates difficulties - adding stress, anxiety and fear. So my first tip is:
  • However bad something feels, remember it is not ALL of you!

2. Saying hello
But here's the thing. When I tried to say 'hello' to my pain, it was hard to do - because I really felt as if the pain was all of me. How could I say hello to something that 'is me'? There was nothing (else) there to say hello to!

So I did something new. I pictured this person - Me-with-my-pain - and wondered what she was like. Immediately, I saw an image of a desperately bedraggled, rag-clad wretch; she could have walked straight off the set at Les Misérables

Although I knew my own plight was not so grim, the image spoke to me. From the point of view of my feelings, this is really how it felt! Now I knew what to say hello to - to that image, and all it represented. I could greet my feelings with curiosity and empathy.

My next tip, then, is to take a step back. When you do this, you become just a fraction 'bigger' than what you feel. You get a broader view by asking yourself, curiously:
  • What's this [pain] like ...?
  • What's it 'as if' ...?
  • What is this 'me' like, who is feeling all this ...?
The courage to be kind
So groaning pitifully with my acute appendicitis, on that eventful night, I started to greet the pain. At first, this seemed counter-intuitive. It even made the pain grow stronger, because now I was really agreeing to feel it - how mad is that!

And yet, by meeting it positively, something new emerged inside me. I felt bad, but I no longer felt so bad about feeling bad ... It's as if there was an extra energy surrounding the pain; the energy of care and kindness:
  • This is how it feels!
  • There you are!
  • No wonder it feels so bad!
As soon as you say hello, you become a little separate from what hurts - and at the same time, more warmly connected with it. Your perspective starts changing. Your attitude shifts, and your feelings follow. Warm understanding seeps slowly through you. You feel sorry for yourself - but in the best way! 

When you greet your experience like this, empathy and compassion flow naturally. Now, even the grimmest things feel more manageable and easier to hold.

thanksHospital BFTA's
'Big Friendly Thanks Awards'

I have worked with over 1,000 trainee doctors and consultants in the last 10 years, and witnessed their dedication behind the scenes. Now, for the first time, I see them from the other side as a hospital patient. I came away deeply touched by the care and expertise which surrounded me. It's great to have the chance to sing the praises of the NHS!

First, there was the Nuffield Road medical centre, and Dr Alderson seeing through my, "It's only something I ate, I'm sure!" I was certainly surprised to be packing my bag for the ambulance, and even more when Paul, the paramedic, began to treat me - to his personal recipe for blueberry muffins! (Tim, have you tried one yet?)

In hospital, the surgery given by Ms Anita Balakrishnan was superb; and the anaesthetists beneath Dr Sally Proctor amazingly kind and reassuring. Back in the ward, Vickie Jones and Ellie Bennett managed the team of nursing staff and assistants whose sweetness and care leaves me permanently enriched.

I may have lost an appendix, but much more has been added to my heart!

By Elizabeth English
(With thanks to Peter Kuklis)

Monday 29 September 2014

Q32: Want to change the world? (What are you doing this Thursday?)

This Thursday, October 2nd, marks the world's seventh International Day of Non-Violence. So here's an idea:
Perhaps you've already taken the Ice Bucket Challenge

- but if not, don't worry! You don't need to get wet to change the world. (See my MINDFUL ice-bucket tips here:The Mindful Ice Bucket!)

When one conscious person does just one significant action, the world changes. So let's ALL do one significant thing on Thursday 2nd October to support a non-violent world.

This month's tip is also here on video. Please share it with as many people as possible to promote International Non-Violence Day.

One Person - One Action!
One Person - One Action!

Monday 1 September 2014

Tip 13: How to carry on the holiday at work!

September 2014

My clever chiropractor brother says interesting things about relaxing your back when it's tight or tired - and I thought, "Well, what about tight or tired conversations?" So although your holidays may be over, here's a way to carry on relaxing - even in the middle of a stressful conversation ....

Friday 1 August 2014

Tip 12: Useless communication – and why it’s a good thing!

This week, a journalist writing in The Guardian newspaper questioned the Labour leader's 'politics of empathy', saying that it means nothing without effective policies. "I don't want a dentist who can feel my pain", says the journalist, "I want one who can remove it". In one way, I agree with him: empathy is always 'useless' - but THAT is the whole point!

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Q31: What can Marie Antoinette teach us about communication?

According to the popular story of Marie Antoinette, the Parisian mob was thronging at the palace gates demanding bread when the French queen appeared in the royal balcony and, with a wave of her delicately gloved hand, declared, 'Let them eat cake!' 
The starving peasants, intent upon survival not pleasure, did not take kindly to the charming comment - and promptly cut off her head.[1]

Making suggestions which don't match other people's needs can be so risky that I've given it a name: the Marie Antoinette Syndrome ...

[1] The story is apocryphal. The popular myth apparently conflates one of several bread-shortages prior to the French Revolution with the revolution itself; and the comment was almost certainly invented (or recycled) by revolutionary polemicists and others using a phrase earlier coined (or invented) by Rousseau. 

Sunday 1 June 2014

Q30: Can politicians speak mindfully?

This May, I had the privilege of attending the launch of a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on mindfulness.[1] Here I was, invited into the Houses of Parliament simply because I meditate! For many of us long-term meditators, this was an unexpected turn. When we started out (for me, in 1983) we were 'weird' or 'way out', we then graduated to being 'cool', and what are we now? Trend-setters! Even a force for change in the establishment!

I was surprised to learn that over 80 MPs and peers have learned mindfulness on courses at Westminster.
Having calm and resourceful politicians can only be a good thing, of course. So how soon will we hear the benefits in their communication?

[1] The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness was launched on 7th May 2014 in the Houses of Parliament to enquire into the role of mindfulness in public policy. The group is supported by The Mindfulness Initiative, a collaboration of three UK universities which are centres of research and training on mindfulness, Exeter, Bangor and Oxford. The Mindfulness Initiative, founded by Madeleine Bunting and Chris Cullen in 2013, is supporting the MAPPG. It is dedicated to advocacy of and research into the role of mindfulness in public policy. 
[2] Professor Mark Williams and Chris Cullen from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre have been running mindfulness courses in the Houses of Parliament since January 2013. To date, about 80 parliamentarians from both Houses have attended. 

Thursday 1 May 2014

Q29: What can great art teach us about listening?

I spent my Easter bank holiday gazing at the sea paintings of Turner, at Greenwich Maritime Museum. Apart from my love of Turner's seas and skies, I wanted to learn more about listening ....

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