Holiday favourites – planting seeds

‘Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.’

Robert Louis Stevenson

It’s so much easier to be aware of our failures than successes, but becoming more conscious of little moments of efficacy is a simple but effective way of increasing the feeling of agency in our lives. As the quote by Robert Louis Stevenson implies, we tend to be focused on harvesting ripe juicy apples, somehow expecting these to appear on a daily basis, when in reality it’s the patient planting of seeds and the nurturing of growing plants which sets our life in a good direction. For example, many parents have found skillful ways of containing and redirecting their children’s erratic energy, in a way which is incredibly beneficial to their children (and society at large!). Yet they tend to do this automatically, not even realising something special is going on, and only remember that time in the supermarket on a hot Friday afternoon when their toddler did have a melt-down and everyone stared at them judgmentally.

Years ago when I did some training to teach music to young children, we were told to always look for the small improvements in their playing and comment on these before going on to suggest other ways to make the playing better. It’s easy, as a music teacher, to notice what’s wrong and needs fixing. Yet the look on a student’s face when you say to them, ‘I can hear you’ve really worked on that left hand passage, it’s sounding much better this week’, is priceless. It’s empowering for the student to feel that their efforts have been noticed and acknowledged. Needless to say, they are also more likely to practise what you suggest this week, if they feel their hard work will be appreciated. Yet with ourselves, we are often more like the horror piano teacher who whacks their students on the knuckles and abuses them every time they make a mistake.

The practice of mindfulness helps us become more attuned to those moments when something did go well. It’s easy to notice the apples (our major achievements) but ignore the young plant which is simply there, quietly growing. Through mindfulness we might be aware that we’re able to think clearly in a stressful situation despite feeling a bit anxious. Or we might be able to take a deep breath and be more patient with a difficult colleague or relative. Each time we pause for a moment of mindfulness, we’ve planted another seed of efficacy. I recently sowed some salad seeds, and like to go out in the morning to see how the seedlings are going. We can do this in our own lives – celebrating the many tiny seeds we’ve planted, instead of wishing they’d all turn into salad or apples overnight.

Weekly practice idea:

This week, each day, write down three examples of being effective. It could be remembering to water the pot plant, or single-handedly restructuring your workplace to make it more efficient. Whatever it is, write it down, and allow yourself a few moments to feel good about what you achieved.

Anja Tanhane

The greenhouse

One of the most common questions people ask when they are first introduced to mindfulness is ‘can I practice mindfulness without having to do a formal practice, such as sitting meditation?’ The answer is, ‘yes, you can’, and ‘no, you can’t’. It depends on why someone became interested in mindfulness in the first place. Some of the mindfulness practices, like eating a meal in silence and tasting every mouthful, or walking down the street and feeling the contact between the soles of the feet and the ground, or pausing every now and then and tuning into the different senses, are easy to do, and they do have a positive cumulative impact over time. Even just slowing our life down by 10 percent, or learning to take deeper breaths from the diaphragm rather than shallow ones from the chest, will improve our wellbeing.

Just taken by themselves, however, these practices aren’t really what mindfulness is about. If we think of mindfulness as non-judgmental awareness of the present moment, we can see that simply noticing that the birds are singing as we walk to the station isn’t going to help us develop this non-judgmental attitude. In fact, we might get caught up in the idea that only the birds should be singing, and that the car noises and lawn mower have no place in our walk to the station. We might get precious about our ‘mindful lunch’, and become annoyed when someone interrupts us. Simply stopping to smell the roses isn’t going to help us develop some of the core attributes of mindfulness such as non-judging, non-striving, letting go, patience, trust, and so on.

In order to develop these qualities, we need the protective setting of a formal mindfulness practice such as sitting meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, or the body scan. The formal meditation practice is like a greenhouse where the tender young shoots of these qualities can be nurtured and protected before being exposed to the more challenging weather conditions of our everyday lives.

Because of how we have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, our brains don’t just naturally become more mindful simply because we’d like them to be so. Trying to be mindful in the midst of a crisis without having done a regular practice is like facing championship point at Wimbeldon as an amateur tennis player. It’s only the years of hitting forehands and backhands in training which give a tennis player any chance of hitting a winning return under that pressure.

A greenhouse is an artificial environment, just as sitting still in the meditation posture for half an hour is a purposefully-created space. The encouraging aspect is that it doesn’t take long for meditation students to notice the benefits of protecting and nurturing the mindfulness qualities in the greenhouse setting of formal practice.

Weekly practice idea:

If you already have a formal meditation practice, take a few moments to appreciate the protective nurturing this offers you. If not, make a commitment to spend at least twenty minutes this week in a formal mindfulness activity such as meditation, yoga or Tai Chi.

Anja Tanhane

Efficacy

‘Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.’

Robert Louis Stevenson

It’s so much easier to be aware of our failures than successes, but becoming more conscious of little moments of efficacy is a simple but effective way of increasing the feeling of agency in our lives. As the quote by Robert Louis Stevenson implies, we tend to be focused on harvesting ripe juicy apples, somehow expecting these to appear on a daily basis, when in reality it’s the patient planting of seeds and the nurturing of growing plants which sets our life in a good direction. For example, many parents have found skillful ways of containing and redirecting their children’s erratic energy, in a way which is incredibly beneficial to their children (and society at large!). Yet they tend to do this automatically, not even realising something special is going on, and only remember that time in the supermarket on a hot Friday afternoon when their toddler did have a melt-down and everyone stared at them judgmentally.

Years ago when I did some training to teach music to young children, we were told to always look for the small improvements in their playing and comment on these before going on to suggest other ways to make the playing better. It’s easy, as a music teacher, to notice what’s wrong and needs fixing. Yet the look on a student’s face when you say to them, ‘I can hear you’ve really worked on that left hand passage, it’s sounding much better this week’, is priceless. It’s empowering for the student to feel that their efforts have been noticed and acknowledged. Needless to say, they are also more likely to practise what you suggest this week, if they feel their hard work will be appreciated. Yet with ourselves, we are often more like the horror piano teacher who whacks their students on the knuckles and abuses them every time they make a mistake.

The practice of mindfulness helps us become more attuned to those moments when something did go well. It’s easy to notice the apples (our major achievements) but ignore the young plant which is simply there, quietly growing. Through mindfulness we might be aware that we’re able to think clearly in a stressful situation despite feeling a bit anxious. Or we might be able to take a deep breath and be more patient with a difficult colleague or relative. Each time we pause for a moment of mindfulness, we’ve planted another seed of efficacy. I recently sowed some salad seeds, and like to go out in the morning to see how the seedlings are going. We can do this in our own lives – celebrating the many tiny seeds we’ve planted, instead of wishing they’d all turn into salad or apples overnight.

Weekly practice idea:

This week, each day, write down three examples of being effective. It could be remembering to water the pot plant, or single-handedly restructuring your workplace to make it more efficient. Whatever it is, write it down, and allow yourself a few moments to feel good about what you achieved.

 

Anja Tanhane