A fruition of my compassion practice over the years is an increased ability to care for my physical and mental wellbeing. While I was away on holiday, I recognised – again – that the physical and mental stress of working too hard is damaging my health. My husband has been telling me this for years and I ignore him. I find this really hard to admit because part of me is always telling me that I don’t work hard enough. However, my practice of self-compassion is resulting in an embodied recognition that more compassion and self-care is needed to find a harmonious balance.
I went on holiday with my usual winter cold, always looking for an opportunity to morph into bronchitis. I was well for a while but came home with another cold and I am again doing all I can to avoid bronchitis and the anti-biotics and steroid inhaler, that I have needed in the past. I am supporting my immune systems with a raft of well researched herbal remedies and supplements. My hope is that even if they don’t work, the placebo effect will!
So my intention this year is to prioritise my wellbeing.
I am writing to you standing up at my desk. This is something I have tried before, but never persevered with. I feel the toll of a sedentary life, my buttocks feel flat with all that sitting! Sitting to practice meditation, sitting to work at my desk, sitting to travel and sitting to sew, read or to watch TV in the evening. My body has been sending me messages, I have been noticing all the sitting and my body is now fed up with it. My embodied compassion practice is urging me to respond by moving more.
The last straw was an article in the Guardian, posted by my friend Jan on Facebook, about the life limiting effects of being sedentary. It is not so much the early death that I am afraid of, it is the myriad of life limiting illnesses that beset us in our modern age of excess food and a diminishing need to move about. But as well as being afraid, I long to thrive in my life and have recognised over time the benefits of activity on my mental and physical wellbeing.
As I am working at my desk (heightened for standing in front of by a coffee table) I have set an alarm for 45 minutes and then will potter about a bit or do a bit of yoga – mindfully of course. There are also opportunities in my daily meditation practice for mindful yoga and the prostrations I still haven’t completed to add movement to my usual uninterrupted sitting.
I have made several attempts over the second half of last year to re-start my stalled yoga practice and I am determined to increase my fitness levels this year. Several years ago I trained for and completed – slowly, but without stopping – a sprint triathlon. Thinking about it, I also tried this last year, but was defeated by the scarcity of swimming pools and the effect of chlorine on my hair. I will try once more – once I am recovered from my cold. I can swim in the evenings instead of sitting.
My challenge now, is going into a five day teacher training retreat, with this cold. These retreats are full on and tiring. I hope that my voice holds out – I have throat spray! I hope no one brings along another virus to add to this current one – I have echinacea! I hope that I don’t become bad tempered – something that has happened in the past – not a good state of mind when giving feedback to beginning mindfulness teachers – but I have my mindfulness practice to help with this!
What is wonderful, is that with my mindfulness based compassion practice, I know all of this about myself and I have a choice not to take myself too seriously and move with curiosity and self-care through this next week. I will take every opportunity to move, to laugh and relax, to smile with my eyes, to rest and eat well – and of course there is my raft of remedies!
I am delighted that I have not blamed myself for being poorly, which was always my default habitual pattern. I am so grateful for my self-compassion practice, for the wearing away of this damaging habitual pattern, that always got in the way of me looking after myself. After all if I caused the illness, I deserved to suffer it! How brutal that seems now.
What is truly wonderful, is in this difficult week for the UK, I am blessed with the chance to make a difference – to help another group of beginning teachers to develop the skills and confidence to share the Mindfulness Association’s compassion based mindfulness approach with their communities.
In this difficult week for the UK, maybe spend a few moments reflecting on what you can do – one thing simple and practical – to care for yourself in what you are doing this week. Then once resolved on a course of action add another reflection on what you can do – one thing simple and practical – to care for at least one other person in what you are doing this week. Then spend a moment revelling in gratitude – gratitude that you have the inclination and opportunity to take such actions in your life.