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Puzzling Times

I’ve often mentioned my love of jigsaw puzzles. Last night my partner and I finished a 6000 piece jigsaw puzzle representing one of the greatest masterpieces of the seventeenth century, Las Meninas  painted in 1656 by Don Diego de Silva Velazquez and now housed in the Prado Museum in Madrid.

As we put the last piece into place, my partner and I looked at each other with a twinkle in our eyes as a soft smile spread across both our faces. We stepped back to admire and enjoy the beauty – not just of the picture in front of us – but all the countless hours of quiet attention and effort we had put into piecing it together over the past two years.

And no. It’s not perfect. Our dog chewed on two of the pieces and three others are missing. Suspected ingestion by said canine. But even these imperfections I see with pride. They form part of the story of building this thing together.

What I felt was a wonderful warm sense of achievement and pride. But it was a quiet version of these emotions. A deep, anchoring feeling of satisfaction.

This experience also illustrates the importance of something called “savouring” – the act of stepping back and really being in the moment to enjoy or relish something – whether that be the moment of completion, the sense of achievement, or appreciation of oneself or another for efforts made.

Last night my partner and I sat back and savoured in all of these senses.

We reminisced about the day I opened the box and started sorting the pieces. Something that seemed an insurmountable task at the time. We laughed about the day my partner went to Bunnings to buy the wooden board to put the puzzle one. It was so big he couldn’t fit it in the car so he had to return to the store to have it cut in half. We remembered working on passages of the puzzle where we were convinced that we didn’t have all the pieces.

We also acknowledged one another’s efforts. My partner cracked the hardest parts of the puzzle through his consistent, calm countenance. Something I simply do not posses. Without his efforts the dog would not have formed, and the large monochromatic passages where every piece appears to be the same, would never have unfolded. They are all the result of his patient persistence.

We recognised the team effort too. Because we both have different strengths that we brought to the process. While my partner saw the puzzle in terms of the form and shape of the pieces, I have an acute eye for colour and texture. My close attention to these details meant I was able to sort and organise the pieces. A laborious step essential before any placement of pieces was possible.

So it seems one small project can bring so many meaningful experiences, lessons, insights and of course, rewards and results.

I share this story today because it’s a lovely reminder of the many, varied, and small things we can do to bring calm, channel our focus, and also create some sense of stability and structure, especially when we find ourselves in particularly puzzling times.

In particular, it’s a great example of the power of defining projects and working towards goals.

When we define and then work towards a goal, no matter what that goal is, we create the opportunity for ourselves to feel a sense of progress as well as that wonderful sense of achievement that comes with completing a project, achieving a goal, or working on something in partnership with someone over a period of time.

We are living in puzzling times amidst a pandemic with no easy end in sight. There are few tangibles to give us concrete answers to navigating what are truly unprecedented events for us in our local communities, and as global citizens.

What my puzzle reminds me of, is the importance of finding things to focus on and creating projects to build towards, in spite of the difficulties that surround us.

By creating our own tangible goals and objectives – no matter how small – we are establishing the opportunity to put in place more concrete, actionable strategies that can help us to deal with the uncertainty and ambiguity around us. This also helps to anchor, ground and calms us.

When we identify things that we can focus on and work towards, quietly putting each puzzle piece in its place one at a time, we find ourselves moving forward too, one step at a time.

Strangely enough a picture begins to emerge. One that we’ve created. Our own story.

What picture are you creating?

With gratitude,

The M.A.D. Team

Three reflection questions to articulate and position your value

Strengthen Your Core to Support Your Spine

Many of us sit slumped in chairs for long periods of time. This gradually starts to weaken the core. When this happens, we also lose essential support to help the spine stay upright and in a healthy position.

This video demonstrates a simple technique you can engage periodically through the day to re-build your core strength and start to support your spine again.

We teach loads of simple practical techniques like this as part of our Wellbeing & Mindfulness Sessions. If you’re interested to know more, we’d love to hear from you.

Moving Through – The Secret to Resilience

Moving through

I’ve had an utterly disastrous week. No one major thing, just a confluence of small setbacks which, as they piled one on top of the other, have tested my resilience.

It started on Sunday night with an acerbic email from my ex which left me awake most of the night worrying about lawyers, settlements and finances. So, I started the week somewhat stressed and seriously sleep deprived.

By Tuesday I had dropped my phone in the toilet. Yes. In the toilet. And no. Don’t ask. I have no idea how. No amount of drying, waving, patting or hoping was going to bring that baby back from its shitty demise.

Needless to say, my Wednesday was consumed by the painful process of getting re-connected with the modern world.

Thursday, I got locked out of the house with no handbag, no wallet, no phone. Grrrr.

Then my date for the evening cancelled on me. Mmm. Disappointing.

By Friday I thought surely its done. What else could happen right? But no. Those little frustrations just kept rolling on in.

When I went to drop the keys back to the agent. The office was closed.

When I went to drop my shoes to get repaired. “Sorry back in 15 minutes” read the sign.

When I tried accessing my invoicing system. It was offline. Aaaaah.

By Friday night when I really did think it was all done. I poured myself a glass of wine ready to deflate and chillax. No no no. Even that was too much to ask. The glass of wine slipped through my fingers shattering into what seemed like thousands of tiny shards across the kitchen and through the hallway.

Seriously!

When things like this happen, most of the time, we deal with it and move on. It’s when lots of them come flying at us that we start to feel stretched, pushed and tested. And this week certainly has tested me –physically, mentally and emotionally.

Yet what I found, was that in each moment, when something difficult transpires, we have a choice.

When I heard my phone plonk in the toilet bowl I could have yelled and cursed the gods. Or, I could take a breath in and a breath out and calmly fish it out, quietly dry it off and go to bed hoping it will work in the morning. When it didn’t, I simply rescheduled some meetings and got it sorted out.

When my friend pulled out of Thursday night at the last minute I could have got pissy and flustered. Or I could simply course correct and zip to the markets to buy some food, drop into a yoga class and come home to make myself a lovely meal and enjoy some peace and quietude.

When the glass shattered – yes I did say F*******k! Then I took a breath in and out and quietly got down on my hands and knees and cleaned the floor.

As I did I managed to smile to myself as I recalled a conversation I’d had with a student earlier in the week. She’d been away on holidays and come home to her fridge turned off and a ton of rotten food. She was going home after our class to clear it out.

“We can approach the crappy tasks in life with a sense of annoyance and frustration or we can choose to do them with sense joy and gratitude. Go home, crank the music and clean the fridge with joy” I said.

Kneeling on the kitchen floor at a point where I could laugh or cry, it was the moment to swallow a dose of my own medicine.

So, on my hands and knees at 9pm on Friday I cleaned the kitchen floor and chose to think of all the nice things that happened throughout the week.

On Wednesday, Amy the sales assistant at Vodafone had been positively extraordinary. She went over and above to get me a phone, to set it up and even helped me with my wifi too. I walked out fully functional and completely reconnected.

On Thursday when my friend cancelled, it created an opportunity to go to a yoga class instead. I focused my practice that night entirely on my mind set. On each inhalation, a positive affirmation. Each exhalation, a deliberate letting go of the negative self-talk.

Then on Friday morning I got an unexpected phone call. Suava and I had recently been on a training program together. She called to share some good news. When she finished her story she turned around and asked me to brag about something awesome I’d done this week.

I sighed deeply. “Oh Suava, it’s been a hell of a week. I don’t think I can answer that.” Then I paused. I took a breath in and a breath out and said “Actually despite the fact it’s been such an awful week I’ve done my best to work through it. So, I’m going to pat myself on the back for remembering to breathe. For staying calm. And moving through.”

We often mistake resilience for strength. Feeling a need to stand rigid and strong in the face of the storm. Weathering it like a cliff face naked against the thrust of the ocean.

We grit our teeth and tough it out.

This is not resilience.

Over time the cliff erodes, changes shape and gets worn down. Rocks crumble and crash to the ocean floor. As mere humans, we do the same thing. Eventually we too crumble and crash.

Resilience is the ability to more readily come back to equilibrium when we feel stretched and stressed.

Rather than standing in rigid confrontation with the eye of the storm, we effortlessly bend and adapt. Move fluidly through the experience a little more like bamboo. Accepting each experience and emotion. In each moment mindfully choosing how we wish to respond.

The best tool we have available to help us do this is our breath.

Each time you stop and take a purposeful breath in and a deliberate breath out you are finding your moment of choice.

To scream and yell and fight it. To swim against the tide.

Or.

You can choose a different response.

To move through it. To swim with the tide. Accept what has happened with a calm quietude. Mindfully choosing how you will respond now. And now. And now. And now.

Knowing this too shall change.

So, when the tide flows against you, breathe in and out. Fully posses your power to make a choice and move more fluidly through the rough patches.

If you’re interested to know more, let us know. The M.A.D. team would love to help.

With love and gratitude from all of us at M.A.D. Mindworks.

Happy International Yoga Day!

The Possibilities of Yoga are Infinite

International Yoga Day is a lovely reminder of the beautiful unifying force of this ancient and enduring practice. While I am unable to participate in some of the larger celebrations today, I will be celebrating yoga in my own small ways throughout the day.

Perhaps you can find a little yoga in your day too?

MOVE & BREATHE: My day has started with a simple flowing movement practice focussed simply on breathing and moving. It’s left my heart feeling full and my gratitude flowing freely – this is the discipline of yoga, the intentional practice we engage in on a regular basis.

It doesn’t have to take long or look like some frightening pretzel-like shape. It can be as simple as standing and breathing purposefully for a few moments before you step into your morning shower.

CONNECT: As I move into my day I’ll be running a workshop with a team focussed on tapping into the power of positivity. We’ll be examining how this can help us strengthen and deepen our connections with each other, as well as our resilience – this too is yoga. While it might not look like a regular yoga class, this purposeful focus on fostering balance and cultivating certain qualities to connect with oneself and the world around us is, in many ways what yoga is all about.

FEEL: By later this afternoon I will be attending my daughter’s school assembly to see her receive a special award, heart beaming with the pride of a mother. This too is yoga. Traditionally known as Bhakti yoga, it is the conscious practice of love, service and devotion. The role of parent naturally predisposes us to those practices where we honour and nurture a love for something much bigger than ourselves and we can tap into this in all spheres of our lives.

A little yoga while scooting. Why not?

 

OBSERVE: When I sit down to dinner with my daughter and some friends tonight, we will go around the table and share something that happened during our day for which we are grateful. This too is yoga. The deliberate, mindful cultivation of conscious feeling and observation.

So next time you say something like ‘oh I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible enough’, I encourage you to think more broadly and deeply about what this ancient practice really can be.

You might just find you’re already a yogi.

You just didn’t know it.

Happy International Yoga Day.

With Love and Gratitude from the team at M.A.D. Mindworks.

Lessons in Mindfulness from a 5-year-old.

Finding the fun

Finding the fun

My favourite days are the ones when I’m in charge of getting my daughter ready for school. She’s five and this is her first year at school. I love the mornings with her for a glorious raft of reasons. But there is one reason that has struck me quite powerfully in our change of routine this year.

It is simply this. Children it seems, are instinctively mindful.

Jon Kabat-Zinn (the father of modern western mindfulness) says that Mindfulness means paying attention is a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.

From a Psychological perspective, it is seen as the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience … an orientation that is characterised by curiosity, openness and acceptance.

Children are naturally inclined to be present. As I prepare my little girl for the school day, she reminds me of this in so many ways.

Eat slowly. Remember to chew your food.

Meal times with children can be painful. My daughter takes a terribly long time to eat her breakfast. I often find myself getting impatient and telling her to “hurry up”.

Then I remember how often I scoff my meals back, barely tasting them, because I’m in such a rush to get on with doing things.

One of the simplest mindfulness practices we can do is to pay attention to the experience of eating. Sit down. Eat slowly. Chew the food.

Take the time to savour the smell, the taste, the feeling of the food in your stomach.

This connects us to our bodies, enables us to receive feedback when we are feeling satiated and keeps us anchored in the present moment.

Accept it. You just can’t rush some things.

The school bell goes at 9.10am. My daughter gets up around 7.30am and we aim to leave the house by about 8.45am each morning.

All she needs to do is eat her breakfast, clean her teeth and get dressed in her school uniform. In between of course, she mucks about an awful lot – playing, goofing and looking for distractions.

Then there are the delay tactics. “I need to go to the bathroom” is a desperate plea I regularly hear just as we are about to step out the front door.

“You’ve just been!” I say through gritted teeth, but she insists she must go again.

So in we go. Again.

You can’t stop another person from peeing. And you can’t make them poo faster. Its one of those things that is simply beyond our control.

Now you can go and get all frantic and bang your head against the wall. Of course you can. I’ve taken that approach many times.

The alternative, I discovered, was much better.

Just accept it.

Cultivating acceptance of something as it is without overlaying stories, defences or rationale, is a key aspect of mindfulness practice.

Slow down. Notice what’s right in front of you.

We are fortunate to be able to walk to school each day. For an adult the walk is about eight minutes. For little legs it takes about twenty or more.

The pace varies and there are regular stops along the way. Every tree, bush, flower and blade of grass have their own fascination. Even the dead leaves on the floor have a story.

I feel my frustration mount as my daughter stops yet again to carefully examine a dead bug or admire yet another pink flower. “We’ve got to get to school!” I hear myself exclaim in complete and utter exasperation.

Then I remember, yes the bug is intriguing, yes the flower is beautiful. Yes, pause for a moment. Look. Notice. Take the time to really see what’s in front of you.

Children are very good at seeing. They are beautiful little reminders to be present so we can see what’s right in front of us.

You never know what you might notice or how that might change your day, your perspective, even your life.

Meander a little. Linear is boring.

To get to school we turn right out our front gate and walk straight up the hill. It really is that simple. Yet if you traced the path my daughter and I take, it would look like a squiggly, zig-zagging, circuitous, backtracking kind of path.

My usual approach to walking is rather determined. I step quickly. With purpose. After all, I’m going somewhere.

Children on the other hand seem to have a few natural speeds. Flat out running, skipping, hopping, jumping on one leg, or very extremely incredibly painfully slow walking. Whatever their speed, they are enjoying the experience of moving, of being in their bodies and connecting with their surroundings.

It takes concerted effort on my part to switch off my auto-pilot walking pace and step outside my determined mindset so desirous to get somewhere.

In fact, walking at my daughters pace is mentally uncomfortable for me.

But as I notice this tendency of mine, I’m fostering awareness of my doing mode and how dominant my linear left brain can be. From that place of awareness, I can start to flex into my being mode and switch on my right brain a little more.

Smile. Find the fun.

Since having a child I have realised just how serious I can be. The way I walk is rather characteristic of the way I approach many things in my life. I am dominantly left brain and very linear and structured in the way I work.

My tendency is to approach the walk to school as a functional task. A process of getting my daughter from a to b so she can start her school day.

But the walk to school is my favourite part of the day. It has become this because I have chosen to resist the urge to make it purely functional.

It’s an opportunity to be really present. To feel the sun on my face and the air on my skin, to observe the changing seasons, to connect with my daughter.

It’s also a time in my day where I can be childlike and have fun. It’s not uncommon for my daughter and I to be garden fairies flitting our way to school, magically zapping every plant we pass. Yes. Every single one.

And its really good fun.

Listen. Profound insights emerge in mundane moments.

It’s not uncommon for my mind to wander when I walk my daughter to school. I spend a lot of time in my head. It’s one of the reasons why I love practicing yoga and mindfulness so much – it helps me switch off the monkey mind and find some peace and quiet inside.

In spite of my best intentions, my mind still wanders off at times. The problem with this isn’t the wandering per se, rather it’s the fact that when I let my mind wander, when I drop into my head, I’m no longer present with my little girl. I’m no longer listening to her.

One thing that I have discovered about children is that they are not calculated in their communication like adults can be. If they have something important to say, they don’t plan how and when they will deliver the news. They just blurt it out when it comes to mind. This could be on the toilet, just before they go into class, or in between rather banal banter about the weekly visit to the library.

Some of my daughters most important stories have been shared as she’s scooting down the hill after school. They’ve always popped out of nowhere completely un prompted and without warning.

What strikes me most in these moments is the realisation that if I wasn’t paying attention, I would have completely missed her story.

So when I realise my mind has wandered, I remind my self gently to come back to the moment, to listen to my little girl. After all, you never know what sorts of gems will emerge.

Happy walking.

Katherine Mair, M.A.D. Creator

www.madmindworks.com

katherine.mair@madmindworks.com

For related sources see:

S.R. Bishop, M. Lau, S. Shapiro, L. Carlson, N.D. Anderson, J. Carmody and G Devans, Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition, 2004

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever Your Go, There You Are, 2005

I’m Not Busy.

Getting down to business.

Getting down to business.

I had a mild epiphany recently. I say mild because it wasn’t necessarily one of those oh-my-god lightning bolt moments. Rather it was a small thought that passed through my head. It quietly resonated. Then it stayed with me.

It was simply this – “I’m not busy”.

Since then, when my monkey mind revs into gear and thunderously roars something along the lines of “Oh dear. (big sigh) I’m just so busy. I have too much to do and not enough time to do it all” (replete with a good dose of self pity), this other simpler thought pops up and quietly reminds me that “No. I’m NOT busy.

Rather than fostering busyness I’ve decided to focus on getting down to business. And choosing to actually enjoy whatever activity I’m engaged with in that moment.

Quite simply;

I AM going to be focused on whatever I’m doing and enjoy it.

I AM NOT going to tell people that I’m busy.

I’m experimenting with this in all aspects of my life – whether that be meeting with clients, teaching teenagers, facilitating workshops, building a team, doing my taxes, or preparing my daughter for school.

Interestingly, what it’s creating is an opportunity to tell people something else like;

I’m focused on …

I’m excited about …

I’m engaged in …

What this does is materially change the conversation. Instead of exchanging small talk about how busy we both are and how everyone these days is just so busy – which contains an inherent inference of negativity, negation, absence or distraction – we start off on a different foot, one full of energy, positivity and engagement. The conversation is rich, meaningful and fulfilling.

I leave feeling more focussed. More energised. More connected.

Not to mention, it’s a load more fun.

The business of busyness is terribly time consuming and really rather unproductive.

Can you take the word busy out of your lexicon for a day?

Try it and let me know how you go.

If you’re interested to find out how you can help your team shift from busyness to business, contact us at M.A.D. Mindworks.

Katherine Mair, M.A.D. Creator

www.madmindworks.com

For more interesting articles that relate to busyness and productivity see:

11 Differences between busy people & productive people

The busier you are the more you need mindfulness

 

Change the Cycle.

Reflect. Plan. Do.

Reflect. Plan. Do.

As the year kicks into gear, the tension between planning and doing can leave us feeling a little torn. For many of us planning can feel exacting and tedious. The desire to just get on with things can present an overpowering and irresistible urge.

Planning can seem like its bogging us down, chaining us to the desk or holding us hostage to long boring meetings when the real action is out there building stuff, creating things, interacting with clients or working with our colleagues and students.

Herein lies trap #1 – JUST DO IT: We decide this planning stuff is just too dull, too difficult, too dry and decide taking action is best. So we dive in headfirst.

The problem is we failed to read the sign that said “caution, shallow water and dangerous rocks”.

Planning is positively fundamental to driving outcomes. As my Dad said to me, loosely quoting Benjamin Franklin, “Without a plan, you plan to fail.

Plain and simple, the time spent planning up front saves us that big headache down the track.

Yet herein lies trap #2 – PLAN THEN DO: This time we did read the sign. We decide to sit back and do the planning. We get together, we brainstorm, we talk. We’re all aligned at the start of the year.

Then we tick the box, file the plan and get on with things.

In spite of our best intentions, all the rara and inspirational talk, we default straight back to doing. Consumed with immediate and apparently urgent demands, we quickly become the hostage of reactivity, short-term focus and largely tactical activity.

Many of us fall into one of these two traps:

1) JUST DO – The analogy I like to draw here is that its akin to being stuck in our reptilian brain, working on autopilot, mindlessly getting on with things, ticking boxes and largely getting nowhere.

2) PLAN THEN DO – While our intentions are good and we aim to move into a state of more focussed activity, we ultimately get pulled back into just reacting to things. Symbolically, it’s the emotive limbic system that’s in the drivers seat here, pulling us left and right, lurching us here and there depending on who’s demanding most or screaming loudest.

The missing link in the planning cycle is REFLECTION.

It is in the state of reflection where we can more fully tap into a space where we can sit with a concept, objective or challenge. This is the space where our higher order capabilities of creativity, abstract thinking and problem solving can kick into gear. It’s akin to our human brain, the cortex, which when active, enables us to come up with new ideas, draw connections, make decisions and find clarity.

The mindfulness that comes with regular reflection cultivates skilful self-regulation and focussed action rather than unthinking reactivity.

Perhaps its time to change the cycle? Injecting a regular practice of focussed reflection into the cycle of planning and doing will help keep our plans alive and turn them into a dynamic guide that keeps us on track.

Like a lighthouse, it is the beacon on the hill, always there guiding the way, keeping us calm and focussed no matter how stormy, rough and rocky the waters get.

Katherine Mair, M.A.D. Creator

www.madyoga.com.au

Start Now.

Now is the time.

Now is the time.

In the wake of the New Year there has been much written about resolutions. Setting them. Not setting them. Questioning the fundamental concept of ‘new’. Exploring the unacceptable.

We’re all different. So it makes sense we all have a different take on the transition from one year to the next. It’s tenor. It’s meaning. Or lack thereof.

What resonated for me as I experienced the setting of 2015 and the dawn of 2016 was simple.

Now.

I read a beautiful book while on holidays  – The Art of Attention by Elena Bower and Erica Jago. Strangely enough and unbeknownst to me I had rented the beach house of the artist who had taken many of the photos in the book. I was fortunate to stumble across a copy in his bookshelf.

Aside from the wonderful sequences, the book revealed some lovely ideas through the use of quotations.

This is the one that has stayed with me.

 “We make a mistake when we wait for heaven, wait for enlightenment, wait for change. It is not going to happen in the future. It is happening. It is within our experience. Now is the time. (Peter Rhodes).

It was one of those light bulb moments that felt more like a thunderbolt. When I read these simple few words. Yes. Of course. The future is happening now.

All of a sudden it seemed silly to plan to be something down the track. Couldn’t I just be that now? It seemed pure madness to tell myself I will do that one day. If it was important, why not make the first step? Start now.

This notion of Now resonated so strongly with me. Choosing to make each moment really count.

So instead of wasting a bunch of moments abstracting about what I want to be or do, I’ve decided to keep Now firmly in perspective.

Each moment a valuable one.

And when this moment is embraced fully.

And this one.

And this one.

We find ourselves treading a mindful path that is fulfilling Now.

And Now.

And Now

Katherine Mair, M.A.D. Creator

http://www.madyoga.com.au

Thank You.

Foster an attitude of gratitude

Foster an attitude of gratitude.

The festive season has become such a busy time. Yet it’s also a time to pause, reflect and celebrate. That makes it a wonderful time to say thank you.

The simple act of expressing gratitude can make us feel better – and there is plenty of research to this effect*.

It doesn’t have to be complicated or profound, just one small thing you consciously choose to be thankful for and a practice you cultivate regularly.

  1. Think of something, anything, you feel grateful for – the sun shining, the rain falling, the food in your fridge, your friends, a helpful colleague, a new perspective …
  2. Make a conscious point of expressing your gratitude for that person, experience or thing – put it into words and say it to yourself, in your mind or out loud.
  3. You may wish to express your gratitude directly – with a card, text, email, a phone call or in person.

Who will  you celebrate this festive season?

Can you pause for just a moment to say … Thank you. I’m grateful that you …

It might just be the best gift you give them and you this Christmas.

So on that note, I’d like to say Thank You. For supporting me as a professional. For asking questions and spurring discussion. For sharing your research and ideas. For engaging with me and my work.

I sincerely wish you all the very best for the festive season and look forward to deepening our professional networks and connections through the coming year.

With Love and Gratitude,

Katherine Mair

M.A.D. Creator, www.madyoga.com.au

*For more information on the links between gratitude, happiness and wellbeing see;

Wire Your Brain for Gratitude in 30 Seconds

The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier

The Grateful Brain

The Science of Gratitude; More Benefits Than Expected