how's your mind holding up?


How’s your mind holding up? Right here, now? In this present moment? Can you check in with that? Read more

how mental states states become neural traits


If you want to know more about the neuroscience of your mindfulness, I recommend Dr. Rick Hanson’s ‘Hardwiring Happiness'. Hanson explains the practical science behind how you can take control of reshaping your brain, a process known as Experience Dependent Neuroplasticity. Read more

you are what you pay attention to


The simple reality is this: you are what you pay attention to. Or, to be more precise, you are what you do with what you pay attention to. Read more

rumination beyond the school gates


Rumination arises for the teacher at about 4 pm on a Sunday. Pedagogical miscellanies are mulled over, usually assuaged by a glass (or two) of (self-righteously poured)) bio-dynamic, low sulfite, Bordeaux. However, to my surprise, I’ve started attending a mindfulness class instead. 

And here I am, doing a sitting meditation on an early Sunday evening, causing me no little amount of bodily discomfort: sitting astride a cushion, lower legs and soles of feet tucked under my arse. There's a grinding discomfort at the cuneiform bone pressed against the impressively polished yoga studio floor. There's a dull intensity in the lower back, just above my right pelvic bone. 

I want to flinch, react. I want to get up. I wanna get out. Fuck this mindfulness malarkey!

But at this moment I choose instead to ‘settle into’ (would you believe it) the sensations, just noticing the particularity of their changing nature, or impermanence. I try to welcome them. Then I have a realisation: that my body doesn’t need my mind’s rumination; that the body (in this moment) is wiser than my thinking mind; that it can gently guide me away from such modes of thought as well as guide me through physical discomfort with simple, patient, awareness; especially when it is aligned to breathing with and into each arising discomfort. At this moment I find the mind’s ruminative tendency dissipates – albeit momentarily – and that it is replaced by an embodied intelligence that taps into something called 'kindness'. Kindness towards sensations arising, and kindness to myself for experiencing sensations in the way I am.

Bloody hell.

Way to go.

can I say "no"?


I am asked to attend an 8 am meeting on Tuesday mornings, in the interests of ‘team-building’, apparently. There’s irony afoot: cultivating collaboration through coercion. Nice. But I let that go. I don’t want to come across as a mindful smart-arse. However, the reality of my teaching day is 3 x 2-hour lessons with only a total of a forty-five-minute break. I see the request as enculturated (if you will) by performativity’s driven-doing mode. It will lead to no small amount of disequilibrium: not good for my well-being, and most certainly not good for long-term productivity, even when – especially when – viewed through the lens of performativity. To me, this managerial request comes from a place of reactivity – it is strategically unsound. My pre-mindful, conceptual, doing-mode response to this would have involved full mobilization of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS); with the amygdala doing its flighty thing.

But now I ‘find space’ to respond. In the words of Shinzen Young, I ‘track the components’ of my direct physiological response: there’s a throbbing sensation in my temples, a quality of pressure in the eyes. It moves into the shoulders before arriving in the palm of my hands as a kind of tingling moistness. I’m aware of a pounding heartbeat. None of this is good, and it all happens in seconds. I know I need to increase my heart rate variability to access higher cortical function. I breathe in on 6 seconds, hold the breath for two seconds, then breathe out to the count of eight. I repeat this until I feel a sense of embodied calm.

I can now give a response that politely re-articulates my initial interpretation:

Can I say “No”?

There you go: a mindful riposte, marinated in equanimity and reasonableness.

With due thanks to J.P. Flintoff.

bring mr Duffy back into the body!


I’m sitting in the classroom, laptop before me. It’s 8:54. The lesson starts at 9. An email pings through. Can I phone Cindy X's mother, asap? Suddenly, I’m in frozen mode: abstracted, dazed. I'm gazing at a 12-foot poster of Gavrilo Princip, his sunken eyes gloze back. There's a sensation at the back of my head like a throng of pins and needles. Hot. Prickling. Tingling. I make my way out of the classroom and down the corridor. It’s 5 minutes (less, now) before the lesson. My mind is goo. I’ve got Rick Hanson’s ‘the brain is Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon good.” reverberating in my head. I'm muttering it like some demented John Malkovich hamming it up as Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

For all the mindfulness training I can’t stop the ‘hair-trigger readiness’ of my brain's default to the sticky velcro stuff: it’s propelling me down the corridor. I've got a picture in mind of the student the email is referring to; there’s an assemblage of images here. They are the ‘lighted scrolls’ of Utterson’s dream. Why Utterson's dream? Ah yes, the Year 10 extract I’m teaching later today. Here it comes too, cavalier-ing to mind. Then it's Joyce’s Mr. Duffy, who lived a short distance from his body.

Just bring Duffy back into the body
! I scream inwardly. Bring him back into the bloody body!

But I can’t. He won't come back. He's doing a Magical Mystery Tour of Ruminative Locations.

The student’s name is Cindy. Yes, Cindy. I taught her yesterday, didn't I? We read Heaney’s ‘Mid Term Break’. God, she looked miserable. Did somebody die in her family? Is that it? Did I say something inappropriate? About death? Did I wax lyrical about the nature of impermanence? God, I’m always doing that! Bloody mindfulness! You’re supposed to be teaching them, not proselytizing, cross-legged, like a Lama in a monastery!

Now my mind’s going to the future. I’m on the phone with her parents:

Why are you teaching my daughter mindfulness, you’re supposed to be teaching her English?

By now I am - as the saying goes - a puppet being yanked on the strings of its impulses. 

I get to the Pastoral office. John faces me.

“Yeh”, he says, all nonchalant. “The mum sounded OK to me. Said she just wanted to ask some question about English.”

It’s a different Cindy. It’s not the Cindy I’m thinking of. It’s a different class group. A different Cindy from a different class group. Why didn’t I just come back to the body?

I reflect upon this moment with my Mindfulness Supervisor, Helen.

“It’s interesting”, she says, “ just how much your reaction is about how much you have been depriving yourself of just noticing what is in the body; noticing what has been there for you all your life. Noticing what you have been pushing away.”

anticipating difficult emotions


After experiencing a number of cumulative health concerns I decided to see my headteacher – on my doctors’ advice – to reduce my hours. I know that sitting in her office will induce a shift in my autonomic state. I will experience hotness in the body; perhaps a dryness in the mouth which will then impair my ability to articulate what I really want to say. I feel the heaviness of my body as I sit there. This is then accompanied by images of Year 11 students (for some reason two particular students are presented in my mind’s eye) who I will no longer be able to teach if I reduce my hours. This heaviness manifests itself in the jaw – it has the quality and weight of a yawning sensation that serves as a kind of prelude to a hot, stinging sensation of tears. The tears arise ever so briefly. I don’t know where this emotion has come from, but I accept it; I just let the tears be there: my own beaded bubbles winking at the brim. My body then relaxes – seemingly melts – into this sensation of sharp hotness. Then I notice a flutter of muscle movement in the jaw. Then heat and prickliness fade. No more than momentary, but a real healing submission to an energy wave.


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