Creating a retreat at home

Every year I spend the equivalent of over a month on retreat. I am very fortunate that I get to volunteer at a retreat centre where I do two of the things I love the most – hang out with like minded, positive people who are committed to their own growth and cook! This enables me to go on far more retreats than I would otherwise, and although I am working, I get to hang out and learn from some of the best meditation teachers. I also go on one retreat a year as a punter so I can participate fully. I also get to spend more time than I would usually in nature, especially around trees.

I should have been away last week so now I am feeling in the need of that opportunity to reflect and go within. When I went on my first retreat 11 years ago, in 2009, I worried about being disconnected from the world. This was only a weekend! The longest retreat I have done so far is 12 days. Even a week doesn’t always seem long enough now.

As soon as I arrive on retreat I sense a slowing down. My mind stops racing, I stop worrying about messages and emails I haven’t replied to. There’s nothing that can’t wait. I rarely read on retreats now because that is just more input which is what I am trying to reduce, to detox my mind. It’s not easy because the mind always wants to be busy. It’s also tempting to find things to do to avoid being with my thoughts.

Sometimes a retreat will go swimmingly and I feel as if I’m on cloud 9 all week and could meditate for hours. Other times I will be dealing with difficult emotions – stuff that is happening in my life or has come up from the past. Over the years I’ve learned to use that as my material to work with. If something is presenting itself to me then unless I face it it’s only going to resurface at a later date.

When I came away from my first retreat I felt so blissed out I just wanted to hold onto that feeling for ever. However, trying to grasp onto pleasant emotions is only going to cause suffering because nothing is permanent. Sometimes it could be quite jarring to return to the ‘outside’ world among people who haven’t been on retreat. I would get frustrated at their lack of self-awareness. That presented more material for me to work with; developing compassion. After all you don’t know what you don’t know.

It’s now nearly 5 months since I was last on retreat so I feel I am well overdue. To that end I’ve decided to create my own retreat, here at home. Over the May bank holiday weekend I shall turn off my phone – or put it in airplane mode so I can still use the Insight Timer app. I shall start at 7pm on Friday evening and continue to lunchtime on Monday morning. I won’t watch TV, check my emails, make any phone calls, read anything other than poetry and definitely no social media!

I’ve planned out the schedule as follows:

Friday 1 May
7pm –  dedication ceremony and short meditation
Saturday 2 May
7.30 am – bodywork and meditation
10.30 am – meditation
4pm – relaxation and meditation
7pm – inspirational readings, meditation and chanting
Sunday 3 May
7.30 am – bodywork and meditation
10.30 am – meditation
4pm – relaxation and meditation
7pm – inspirational readings, meditation and chanting
Monday 4 May
7.30 am – bodywork and meditation
10.30 am – meditation and closing ceremony.

The body work will consist of either yoga, EFT or a do-in, depending whether anyone joins me. Each session will last between one and two hours.
If you like the sound of this and would like to join me I am happy to stream the meditations over Zoom, do some q&a to help you with your meditation whether you’re a beginner of if you’ve been doing it for years. If it’s the latter come and join in the power of collective meditation.

So how will I feel at the end of it? Of course that is unknown because I don’t know what will surface over the 4 days. One thing I do know though is that I will definitely feel better afterwards. My head will be clearer, I will feel refreshed and cleansed. I also won’t be drinking any alcohol or caffeine – I rarely drink these days anyway. I will still go for my daily walks and I may do a bit of gardening because that is my way of connecting with nature.

I’d love to invite you to join me. To make it affordable to everyone just pay what you can afford.

Click the link and pick your price! https://www.paypal.me/happyteachers

See you there!

 

 

 

 

What are your triggers?

One of the joys of meditating and mindfulness is that you get to know yourself better. It’s not always easy because we have to face the dark side too! As we start to live more mindfully we become more aware of our thoughts and feelings and start to act on them less (hopefully!). We also start to notice patterns and how particular situations can trigger a strong reaction and leave us feeling hurt, upset or angry. We are only human and it can be dangerous to suppress these feelings because they will only resurface at a later date. However we can choose how we respond.

So what to do? As I try to live more ethically I always try to respond with love; firstly to myself and then to the person who may have done something that upset me. It’s usually the ones closest to us, our family and friends, who push our buttons the most anyway. It’s not easy because my first thoughts are usually to start blaming them for how they have acted. I try to remember that everyone is doing their best and it’s not personal even though it may feel like it. Everyone is a result of their conditions and if something upsets me I can look back and see how similar situations have provoked the same reaction. However I know that if I do respond skilfully in a loving way I will feel better about myself and I’m creating a better world for those around me too. If someone does something that hurts us the chances are they are hurting too so don’t they deserve love too? We all do. I still allow myself to feel what I’m feeling and by acknowledging the negative emotions it takes the power away from them.

Here’s to creating a more loving world one step at a time. Compassion is a radical act. The people or situations we have difficulty with can be our biggest teachers. Look at how the Dalai Lama responds to the way his people have been treated by the Chinese. What a wonderful example.

Meditating with crystals

I have been using crystals for over 10 years now. I have also been meditating for almost as long and yet it was only today I thought of combining the two so I appreciate this is not a new idea. It’s just a new experience for me.

I am by no means an expert on crystals – I just know they work. I don’t even know the names of them (apart from rose quartz) let alone their qualities. I bought the ones in the picture above yesterday and have forgotten the names of them already.

The person who first introduced me to crystals told me choose the one(s) I liked and trust they were what I needed. And really that’s all you need to know. Pick up whatever you are drawn to and they will provide the healing you need.

I’ve had a difficult few weeks dealing with hurt and emotional pain. I was away in January visiting a friend and my meditation practice had slipped. So yesterday I went crystal shopping. The blue heart is to help with communication and protecting my aura. The others are for grounding. I definitely needed that as I am very good at spending too much time in my head and overthinking things. I walked around all day yesterday with the crystals in my pocket and felt their effects immediately.

So today when I sat down to meditate I was still very much in my head. Then I thought why don’t I hold the grounding crystals. I realise I may be preaching to the converted here but sometimes we overlook the most simple ideas.

The result? Difficult to describe sometimes but definitely miles better than before. My third eye is open again after having been shut for a few weeks now. I had completely forgotten about it and how much better it feels to have the chakras open again. I would just add though that I wouldn’t expect this kind of thing to happen all the time. It happens to me quite a lot but only recently because I have built up a depth of practice. It’s like paying into a bank account – of course it’s best to keep it topped up regularly – but if you miss a few payments the reserves are there already.

The power of being vulnerable 

The more you give the more you get back. It’s scary opening our heart sometimes but I urge you to try it. If you have the courage to be vulnerable, especially if you’re in a leadership role, you empower others. 

I arrived in India 2 days ago to do a yoga course and didn’t know a soul. I hadn’t slept for about 30 hours or had much to eat due to the fact that airlines don’t seem to understand the concept that you can be coeliac and vegetarian. Added to that there are currency problems in India and I had very little cash. I reached out to the group that had been set up for our course. It was a heartfelt and emotional post but it has received the biggest response out of any other in the group. I have connected with so many people since because I can simply introduce myself as ‘the crazy woman who wrote that post!’ Not that anyone has said I’m crazy they’ve all been very kind. The chances are most of them were feeling the same way and by opening up I’ve given them permission to do so too. 

So if you’re a leader in a school or elsewhere do you have the courage to be vulnerable? It’s a lot easier, albeit a lot more painful, to erect barriers around ourselves. But just imagine how your organisation could be transformed if you dropped them. 

Helen Pengelly is a coach who is passionate about helping school leaders create coaching and mindfulness cultures. Visit http://www.happyteachers.co.uk for more information about how she can help. 

The true cost of not taking care of your staff

While I worked as a supply teacher for 10 years on and off I became aware that more teachers were going off sick for longer. Many schools now have trouble recruiting and retaining staff. It is not unusual now for teachers to leave in the middle of the academic year – something that never used to happen. A BBC News report tells us that each school in the UK spends £168 a year on average on each pupil for extra staffing and this can be as much as over £500. According an NAHT report schools can spend as much as £10,000 on agency fees to recruit teachers.

However there is a simple solution. By investing in your staff’s well being your school can save thousands of pounds. A primary school in London gave coaching to all their staff and they all stayed – no one resigned last year. Another in Bristol recognised the benefits of coaching and created a coaching culture in their school. Their following two OFSTED inspections were outstanding. We are waiting with bated breath for the result of the next one.

Last year I was facilitating a workshop when teachers reported back that they had the 3 minute breathing space I taught and they were sleeping better within a few days. So if only one of your teachers has a better night’s sleep and has one fewer absence our mindfulness course has paid for itself. I know finances in schools are tight but can you really afford not to?

Are you being short-changed?

More and more schools are embracing mindfulness training but if you are new it can be a minefield. Look for a teacher who had a daily spiritual practice and trust your intuition. Do you feel comfortable with them? Don’t be afraid to ask questions and walk away if it does not feel right.  There is no regulation and some organisations are gaining a hold despite only requiring minimal experience from people before going on their training courses. You cannot learn to teach mindfulness in six weeks – it is a lifetime’s practice.

I would love to talk to you about the benefits mindfulness can bring. I am authentic and speak from the heart but if you don’t like me I will not be offended.

Find out more on my website Happy Teachers.

Celeb death maths

So two more ‘celebrity’ deaths have been reported in the media this week – Victoria Wood and Prince, and probably a few more that slipped my notice. There’s been a lot on my news feed on Facebook and Twitter with people saying ‘Oh no not another one.’ It seems as though there have been a higher than usual amount of celebrity deaths this year starting with David Bowie in January. Or have there?

Being a mathematician I thought about this in terms of numbers. Firstly I am of a certain age, about 5 years ago in my mid-forties I realised that more than half the population of the world are now younger than me. People under 40 don’t seem to be overly concerned about these older people dying because they have not had much influence on their lives. Growing old is a privilege denied to many so once you get past 50 your chances of dying increase rather a lot each year. Thinking about how many films, TV programmes and musicians there are around these days statistically a few are going to die each week. Look how many obituaries there are in the papers each day – 3 or 4? And I bet some of these people did stuff that probably increased the likelihood of a shortened lifespan like David Bowie and his drugs, Victoria Wood and her weight. That’s not being judgemental – it’s a fact – they weren’t bothered they just enjoyed life.

So party like it’s 1999 or something like that and live like you’re going to die tomorrow. Because you might.

Adventures in the Blogosphere

Do not read this if you have a weak constitution. The Blogosphere is a very scary place unless you have a certain level of resilience and ability not to take others’ views of you personally.

There is a murky world lurking in the nether regions of the World Wide Web called ‘The Blogosphere’. The creatures that live there may bear a passing resemblance to humans but they lack an important characteristic of conscious beings and that is their ability to recognise their own reflection. They have a certain set of rules and if you unwittingly break any of them they will be after your blood. Ignorance is no defence here (nor is having a life).

So if you come across a – wait for it – *hushed tones* (a recipe) and decide you would like to share it and give full credit to the author, in their world this is akin to plagiarising a novel, sharing a sensitive state secret or some ground-breaking research that has not yet been revealed to the world. Never mind that there are only a very limited number of ingredients to make a certain dish and you could have quite possibly come up with it yourself but instead you are quite happy to give someone else the glory.

The trolls who permanently loiter in the swamps of the Blogosphere are waiting to pounce. They could have sent a cheery note that says: ‘Hey that’s my recipe’ (err yes I know I gave you credit for it and a link to your website) ‘I would rather you didn’t have it on your blog. I don’t want anyone else to know about it.’ and then you would delete it, no further bother. But instead they threaten you with contacting the almighty Google (I didn’t even know you could do that) to destroy your website and filing an SMCA (or some other random letters, again something I had never heard of) with your website host. Yes they really have nothing better to do. They also try and scare you by saying it will affect your SEO – another feature of these creatures is that they manage to live in a parallel universe that is 10 years behind ours and yet still communicate with us. They also do not understand that some people actually enjoy sharing theirs, as well as other people’s ideas that they like, for the fun of it to help make the world a better place and are not bothered about making a dollar out of it.

Then comes the really scary part – here you need to be resilient and to believe in your own innate goodness. Let’s say you reply to the passive aggressive message you have received explaining that you meant no harm and maybe the sender is over reacting a tad. (Remember at this point the wrath of the swamp dwellers has not yet been invoked.) Being highly intuitive you are good at picking up on emotions and are surprised at the anger behind the message, thinking it to be out of the ordinary – as it would be in our world – you then put a comment on your blog expressing that surprise but do not reveal the messenger’s identity. Now instead of replying to your message they call on their fellow swamp dwellers. You see, I had not realised up till now that the messenger was a troll in disguise. They then bombard your blog with comments. Luckily they are not that intelligent as they make reference to the fact they are the messenger’s friends or some of their characteristics so you know he/she is behind this tirade of abuse. Refer back now to that lack of ability to recognise their own reflection. They also have no concept of irony – so if they are reading this post they will not get that this is ironic too.

Now because you are a resilient, self-actualised human you can see the irony in their comments such as: ‘you’re a bit of a bitch,’ ‘you’re very immature and need to grow up,’ (no thanks I’d rather not) ‘the law is a real thing and was not made up by someone,’ ‘the messenger was being reasonable I would have blown up your site without giving you any warning,’ – and now for the scariest one of all, be careful here because you could end up getting sucked into that swamp with no hope of escape – ‘you need to make friends with your fellow bloggers (i.e. swamp trolls),’ etc. Yes I am paraphrasing here but you get the drift.

If you are still reading this and not hiding behind the sofa I can tell you there is good news and hope for the future. You see these swamp trolls could become emotionally intelligent human beings if they engage their will. It may be a few lifetimes away yet but if they wanted to work on their own personal growth perhaps they could learn to meditate or get some coaching, who knows?

 

 

Reflecting your inner world

The internet is a funny place. I don’t tend to comment or post much and I’m not really bothered whether people like me or not and I prefer to make friends in the real world rather than with other bloggers. When I do I put a lot of thought into what I write and my intention behind everything I write is to be kind and helpful. It still comes as a shock though when people you don’t know and will never meet make unkind and judgemental comments. I know not to take what they say personally as it says far more about them than me.

We live in such a litigious society and people are so suspicious of other peoples’ motives. I find that very sad. I am used to being with people who are happy sharing – isn’t that what used to happen before we had libel, copyright and other laws? Does it really matter? We are all going to end up dead anyway.

So the point of this post is, and my learning for today, people will always be unkind whatever your motives. Remember whatever you say is a reflection of your inner world. I am grateful that I am not living in their world, imagine what that must be like!

May all beings be well and happy.

The trouble with mindfulness

I am writing this post in response to an article ‘Is mindfulness making us ill’ that appeared in the Guardian magazine at the weekend. It was written by a writer on ‘politics, social affairs and economics.’ Her name is Dawn Foster and it appears she has had one bad experience of meditation and found a few others who have too. Suddenly everyone is an expert because they’ve been to one meditation class or on a 6 week course. Last week I heard Leicester University have jumped on the bandwagon and are now offering a Masters qualification in ‘Mindfulness and Compassion.’ This in my view is the real problem – that people teaching mindfulness do not have a regular practice which is more important than all the ‘study’ in the world.

This would have been a good opportunity for Dawn to investigate what really happens in meditation with experienced practitioners. Painful stuff comes up more often than not and mindfulness alone will not fix the problem. Because you are sitting with your bare experience there is no chance to suppress it by being busy or pretending that you have ‘dealt with it.’ It may be that counselling or therapy would be appropriate in some cases and a good teacher would know this. In my experience mindfulness helps me with difficult times because I know the only way is ‘through’ or it will come back to bite me later. I have also learned that you never deal with anything. Stuff from the past will always come up unexpectedly and each time it does I gain a greater insight one way or another.

I am by no means an expert, my first meditation experience was in only in 2006 and I have been practising ever since. There is still a long way to go and the further you come it would seem the less you know! It is a lifelong journey and to dismiss meditation, mindfulness or whatever you wish to call it after one disappointing experience seems crazy to me. Would you give up eating after a bad meal?

Shame on you Dawn, it would appear you are an experienced journalist but why let the facts get in the way of a good story?