Mindfulness of Boating

After two years of planning FIODRA was launched in July and is currently on the Kennet and Avon Canal. My long held dream of combining a canal life with my mindfulness teaching is close to realisation.

I have always felt that the peace and pace of canal dwelling goes hand-in-hand with mindfulness. The slow pace and unpredictability of life and travel on the canals seems to nurture a more accepting frame of mind. If you fight the canals and try and stick to timescales .. suffering is not far behind.

Fiodra has been built as a permanent home and a space for holding activities, including Mindfulness Meditation practice and teaching. After finalising all of the regulations needed to trade and have people safely on the boat, I will shortly be starting to offer activities. My hope is that other teachers will join me on the the way bringing their own teachings and their groups.

Fiodra provides a unique atmosphere. Close to water and nature it is an intimate space. Somewhere you can deepen connections with yourself and the environment.

To know more see my beta website: www.fiodra.co.uk

All the best


Being while Doing

Nifty bit of research that involved actually talking to managers who have a mindfulness practice. I can certainly identify with the outcome. Indeed much of my practice took place in busy organisations and teams. Not always succeeding but sometimes managing to achieve seemingly effortless calm in the midst of deadlines and expanding to do lists.. it is possible.

“Rather than Being or Doing, we described this condition as “Being while Doing,” an ideal state of mindfulness at work. This allowed individuals to harness the power of Doing mode while avoiding many of its limitations. In this way, mindfulness at work offers an array of crucial benefits that supports feeling and functioning well.”

See the article and research

Explaining how mindfulness consistently brings positive workplace outcomes

Learning to Float – poem by Lucy Mitchell

Lucy came along to our Spring MBSR course 2017. We try and read a relevant poem at the end of each of our classes. Now we have an original one to read from a participant. Thank you so much Lucy!

Learning to Float

As I step in the water it feels fresh on my skin,
It licks at my ankles and splashes up my legs,
I go deeper and stand still, apprehensive,
I can feel the fine sand displaced by the waves under the soles of my feet,
Deeper still,
It takes my breath away, the chill, the beauty, the unpredictability,
I wade further now, unbalanced on my legs,
Dragged by the force of the oscillating water,
Broken shingle cut into my feet, and weeds wrap around my calves,
Passed my waist, I’m pulled over by the waves,
Submerged beneath the murky water, not knowing which way to go,
I panic, but part of me is exhilarated,
I follow the light, break the surface, weather the storm and breathe again.
I am in control now, using remembered strokes to stay meaningfully adrift,
I set myself goals and challenge the waves – head on,
I dare them to floor me and roll me over,
Tease them into wiping me out,
I think I am invincible,
Until I find myself beyond the waves, above the swell,
And I realise, I have been swimming most of my life,
But I am only just learning to float.

Lucy Mitchell (MBSR participant March 2017) rights reserved

CBT and Brain Changes

This came up on the radio this morning. Fascinating new evidence that we can influence our grey matter through changes in thinking. Bob

A new study from King’s College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust has shown for the first time that cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) strengthens specific connections in the brains of people with psychosis, and that these stronger connections are associated with long-term reduction in symptoms and recovery eight years later.


Using mindfulness in health and social care

You can read the whole discussion here…


Bob Chase- Mindful in the City

I am heartened by having four young doctors coming along to my current public 8 week MBSR (mindfulness) course. Are they unusually enlightened or is this the start of a change in self care for medics and a desire to gain knowledge about something they might prescribe one day?


I love this question! I think it’s the start of a change. I was talking to someone from an NHS mental health team this week who wants to look more and more into how we can work holistically to address patients needs. In Leeds we are running a scheme called the Patient Empowerment Programme which means GP’s can refer people to “non-medical” options, such as my barefoot walking club for example! I have faith that the medical profession are moving towards prescribing things other than medication/talking therapies etc.

Vidyamala: co-founder, Breathworks

As mindfulness becomes more ‘mainstream’ it is becoming increasingly respected as a helpful and useful approach to managing one’s own well-being as well as something that can be offered to others. Wouldn’t it be great if future medics thought of offering skills such as mindfulness as standard practice. One way to think of mindfulness and associated approacges is as ‘mental training’ in the same way that we have learned to care for our physical health. 50 years ago there were very few gyms and now they are common in most of our communities. It has been suggested that the next big Public Health initiative will be around mental and emotional health and programmes such as mindfulness will become standard.

Emma Thornton

I am pleased to say most of the doctors I have met especially the junior ones have been so open minded to a variety of approaches and interventions and are always seeking to gain new insights and improve their own knowledge and practice.
I left the NHS to found my company due to be unable to witness the lack of self care in the system with high sicknes and poor retention rates due to workplace pressures and stress I am interested in how applied mindfulness can be used to build resilence in professionals. It would be interesting to find out of the doctors are attending to test out the viability of what they see as a potential model for treatment MBSR or if it really is somone wanting to embark upon mindul practice for the first time for their own benefit

Stupa at Amarawati

To bungee jump or not to bungee jump?

I’m lucky enough to live within cycling distance of the Realm of the Deathless!

Well actually it’s a Theravadin Monastery in Great Gaddesden, just outside Hemel Hempstead, called Amaravati which, in Pali I believe, means The Realm of The Deathless. I’ve biked up the hill today, Easter Sunday, and I’m writing this is the delightful little library.

Death rather that deathlessness has been on my mind over the last few weeks and days. My own elder brother died a few weeks ago and over this weekend the father of a dear friend died suddenly. There is nothing like a few shufflings off the mortal coil along with the presence of some more grey hairs and aches and pains to bring to mind the transient nature of our own little lives, as the bard would call it.

Yet what’s to be done and thought about it? Up on the Regents canal in London there is a huge chalk board. The passers by are invited to suggest things they want to do before they die. The list is long and varied with everything from climbing Mt Everest to swimming with dolphins. As we went past in a boat my friend Andy summed up his reaction. The “commodotisation of experience” he declared. He has a point. Its as though experiences have some marketable value.. that one is more worthwhile than another. They are to be bought, sold and accumulated or our lives cannot have been worthwhile.

I’m not saying that I would not prefer some experiences to others. A full stomach courtesy of a good restaurant over hunger for example. Its rather that this discounts most of our time spent in rather mundane or frustrating experience. It seems to implythat if you are not bungee jumping you are not living.

Mindfulness is about valuing ALL of your experience, moment by moment. The deliriously blissful as well as the painfully boring. Well it’s an aim – opening up to those things we would rather push away and noticing those things so obvious they barely get a look in to our consciousness.

Curiously bungee jumping does not figure largely in our top regrets when we die. They tend to be regrets like: not having lived life authentically, not having expressed our feelings enough and wishing we had let ourselves be happier. My brother would I think agree with this and told me how much family and friends were the real joy was to be found. He made the most of this in his last months.

So what I/do we do? and what is the Deathless Realm?

“Live every moment as if it were your last” some say. What a crazy and impossible notion I say. Do your best to remember to be in every moment is more realisable plus we have some practices to actually help us with that. However feeble any extra connection to the moment is a bonus. Oh! and don’t try to pick and choose experiences, we all get a mixed bag whether we like it or not.

The Deathless Realm.. well that’ll be where none of this matters very much.

In case you have not read it here is Clive James’s poem written in anticipation of death – he has terminal cancer. He captures one fleeting moment beautifully.

Japanese Maple

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable.
You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colours will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.

Thinking about thinking

“We speak not only to tell other people what we think, but to tell ourselves what we think. Speech is a part of thought.” Oliver Sacks.

And images of course.. jiggling around our mind in the most alarming way most of the time. Sitting helps to bring it into view and test the validity of it’s assertions. Thinking is neither good nor bad .. it just is. Its actually pretty useful too when you need to understand and make decisions! “Purposive thinking” is the phrase I like to use.


“No man (or woman) is lonely eating spaghetti; it requires to much attention” Christopher Morley.
I love this quote. I saw it first on the wall of a cook shop in Islington. I don’t know if Mr Morley was a meditator but his little riff  nicely illustrates the point we can only attend to one thing at a time. Whether meditating or eating spaghetti. Our attention may fly from one thing to the next and back again imperceptibly rapidly .. but it is only in one place at one time.

At work we call this multi-tasking.. the ability to manage many concurrent activities at “seemingly” the same time. I say seemingly because it gives the impression of thinking about many things “at the same time” In fact they are sequential moments of attention. Its a great facility to do this but its downside is the energy it takes and the quality of attention given in each area. The fact is we sometimes need to attend fully to one task and set aside other tasks to obtain depth of focus and quality. At other times we need to multi-task to cope with demands.

Can we multi-task in a more aware way.. knowing we are doing it and fully transitioning from one task to another and back again. Watching our attention switch and travel. There are times when I have experienced this, and it can actually be exhilarating and rewarding. It requires being in the moment .. albeit a busy moment.. entirely.  What is more mindful than that?

Chade Meng-Tan ..world peace in my lifetime!

Last Wednesday I joined a bouyant crowd Camden Town Hall to hear Chade – Meng Tan explain  about how he got the coolest job title in corporate (Jolly Good Fellow – in Google Corp) America and his mission for world peace “in my lifetime”. I had recently bought a copy of Meng’s book and was curious to hear him in the flesh so to speak.

The evening was hosted by Action for Happiness, a great UK outfit that’s put on some stimulating talks featuring speakers from across the globe. I must admit to an unease with the use of the “happiness” as a goal statement. I know it almost invites us to define it and question it, which is useful but I still find myself being resistant to it.

I must have been in a sceptical mood because I had found myself with similar unease as Meng bounced onto the stage with his well rehearsed banter, stories and amusing slide set. With some mindful effort I did my best to watch my judging mind as well as listen to Meng’s story and explanation of emotional intelligence.

It is an extraordinary story too. Meng has made a journey from software engineer to one of the best connected evangelists for emotional intelligence and mindfulness on the planet. His book is endorsed by no less than ex president Jimmy Carter and the Dalai Lama!

Meng gave a cogent explanation of his 3 stage programme for emotional intelligence and want on to explain his extraordinary goal of world peace “in my life-time”. His conviction is that the development of the mind through conscious effort and neuroplasticity will become universally understood as beneficial in the same way that physical exercise made a similar journey from the early 20th Century. He believes we are two or three generations away from meditation being a commonplace activity whose usefulness is no longer questioned.

As for “in my life-time” Meng just wants to set himself and others a challenge.

Meng left a lot of time for questions and clearly relished to opportunity to connect with his audience. For me this is when my reservations melted away as Meng listen carefully and compassionately to a variety of questions, some very general and some very specific and personal. In each case gave a skilled answer or declined when he had none. His experience, knowledge and compassion came through. He knows his theory and practice too. I warmed to this man with a whimsical and self deprecating humour who is also so serious in his intent.

When challenged about what difference his courses have made at Google he was realistic “not much” I think he said. “Google is too big”. When asked if he worries whether he is worried that individuals and companies are coming to meditation motivated by money and profit .. he says he believes that the practice itself will undermine and and reorientate the practitioner for the good. Just as good practice will enevitably give you and advantage in life and business even if you do not have those as goals when you start.

This is part of an interesting theme touched on in my other blogs. Are bankers going to meditate and cease to be motivated by bonuses? Will they become new philanthropists?

If you want to check out Meng’s new enterprise .. it’s SIYLI  (silly .. get it!)  www.syli.org

Thanks Meng

Groups in Mindfulness Based Training

Last week I made my first visit the Oxford Centre for Mindfulness. After a bleary eyed start at 5:30 I stepped of the bus close to Oxford Brookes University and made the short walk to the centre under the cherry blossom and in the company of Mark, one of the course participants.

This was to be a whole day in the company of other trainers looking at our work with “groups”. How they enhance learning, how they form, develop and dissolve. We were lucky to have one of the most experienced trainers in the field, Trish Bartley, leading the day. Trish works in groups with people diagnosed with cancer. She has literally written the book on the subject (see links) and movingly read out some quotes from her group members at a couple of points during the day.

Groups have always fascinated me. I have lead and taught them in work situations and in community arts contexts, and over time developed an some understanding of group work and game theory.  Whilst I’ve participated in mindfulness and therapy groups and lead many smaller mindfulness courses, I wanted to know more about leading larger groups.

Trish, of course, used the group itself to illustrate many of the points she was making She had us running/moving around at many points to emphasise how the body as well as the mind can be engaged in practice and learning. Regular “grounding” points brought us back again and again to our own perception of the moment.

The aha! moments, for me, were when she spoke about the “mutual” learning that takes place in a group. All too often we think of training as being one way transmission, but if the “trainer” is open and confident he or she is learning at every point too. Trish also asked us try and describe a group’s status as an animal: is it a plodding horse or an anxious meerkat? and what would it need? One for reflection but may be not sharing with the group in question.

Taking leave of the group Trish invited us to take a single bright red bead on a string bracelet away with us. Something she does with her groups to help the participants connect back to the learning and maybe prompt some practice. I wore mine on the way home and it now swings from my backpack a little reminder each time I zip and unzip my bag.



About Trish

Trish’s book

Master Classes