Mindful Living Course
These are challenging times indeed, in the context of the Covid 19 situation. Many of you may be facing all sorts of challenges. While we can’t solve these directly for you, we want to help you to support yourself through it.
So we've put together this special Zoom course just for Open Book. It's designed to help you cultivate wellbeing and learn fundamental skills to manage yourself during the current situation. This page includes an introduction to mindfulness. We will also add summaries of what we cover each session. You can also download or stream here the meditations that we invite you to practice in between each session.
What the course covers
The course runs live on Zoom on six Wednesdays from 10 June to 15 July, at 2.30-4.00pm. The details for joining the Zoom sessions have been provided in our emails to you. It is a course, so each week builds on the previous one:
Week 1 – Introducing Mindfulness
Week 2 – Establishing The Ground Beneath Your feet: positive routines, self-care
Week 3 – Working With Your Mind: patterns of thoughts, dealing with difficulty, sadness
Week 4 – Deepening Self-care: compassion, nourishing and depleting activities, your environment
Week 5 – You're Not Alone: managing relationships, non-violent communication, mindful parenting, compassion fatigue
Week 6 – Putting it all together: your owner's manual for life
Session 1: Introducing the ABC of Mindfulness
At times of challenge or stress it’s easy to get stuck in ‘automatic’ repetitive thinking, which can make us feel stressed and exhausted. It can also block access to the wiser and calmer parts of our mind. This is where mindfulness comes in, because the best way to open up access to the wise mind is to create a gap or space for awareness and reflection. This is what mindfulness trains us to do. We use a simple ABC model of mindfulness:
Awareness: paying gentle attention in the present moment to your experience in your mind, body, and environment, without judgement.
Being with: having created space, this allows our brain and body to process our experience. The mindfulness approach here is to notice thoughts, emotions and body sensations, and to allow them to run through us without getting overinvolved in them.
Choosing wisely: by doing the A and B we open up access to the wiser parts of our brain where we can see things more clearly, and what’s in our best interests. This can include how to understand and process our current challenging reality and all its implications, and to make good decisions about what to do with our time and energy.
Session 2: Establishing ground beneath your feet
Building positive routines and structures
Our current covid 19 times are challenging, of course. We may feel like our freedoms are being curtailed. Despite the anxieties the current situation creates, it does present a great opportunity to introduce useful structure and routine into your life. This is about forming positive mental habits that can serve you well not just now, but in the long-term too.
This is in fact an ideal time to establish or rebuild a regular mindfulness practice. In our experience, and for many other people, it’s really helpful to start your day with some meditation, mindful movement, or walking – even if only a few minutes. This can get your mind in the best shape for the whole day ahead. Of course, each of us has different rhythms of the day, so you may prefer a different regular time of day for your mindfulness practice. Whatever you decide, stick to this for at least 7 days at first to build the habit. Then feel free to experiment with different times of day.
Another way to make mindfulness an integral part of your day – and a new orientation to life – is to use lots of mini practices (three step breathing space and the mindful minute). You can use these every time you transition from one activity to another. They are also really helpful when you notice yourself getting triggered by current anxieties.
Also, bring a mindful approach to more of the regular activities in your day – like we encouraged you to do on your course. This can include things like brushing your teeth, having a shower, making a cup of tea, etc.
Routines and structure in general
Having good, regular routines and structures helps create more of a sense of control which can be very stabilising for the mind at times of uncertainty. So it’s worth spending time thinking about the regular shape of your day, to allow time and space for you to do what has to be done, and to relax, rest and enjoy interesting pursuits.
At the beginning of each day you can use your mindfulness skills to consciously plan your day ahead. You can also set aside brief moments for relaxed reflection throughout your day – giving your mind a chance to process what’s already happened, and checking in with yourself how you feel. Based on that, you can amend your day’s plan (where possible) – responding flexibly to your experience and energy levels.
There’s always a balance to be struck when building a new routine, including mindfulness. On the one hand, you need a bit of discipline and will to get some momentum going. On the other hand, you need to adopt a kindly approach if you don’t stick totally to your plan. You need to find your own way with this balancing act.
Alongside forming positive routines and structures, it’s really helpful to pay some conscious attention to the ‘basics’ of self-care. In our experience, there are three critical things to pay attention to. We’re not here to give detailed advice about each of these, as it’s not our field, and you can find this advice elsewhere. However, we do have our ‘mindfulness’ take on them:
Exercise: Mindfulness places a great deal of emphasis on the connection between the mind and the body and exercise of any kind, no matter how short or gentle, raises awareness of our bodies in a good way. Our bodies can be stuck just like our minds. So think of exercise as a way to challenge your body to move with a somewhat greater intensity than usual. That makes it personal to you rather than about achieving set goals.
Food: Being mindful around food is also about being more tuned in to our bodies. For example we often eat on autopilot. Our brains tell us that we need something that provides a quick fix when our bodies actually need something else. For example sometimes we eat when we’re actually thirsty. Or we’re hungry and need foods that satisfy the hunger rather than foods which give us a hit of pleasure but require a lot of calories to fulfil the body’s needs. Or we aren’t well attuned to when we are nearing fullness because we aren’t focused on our bodies when we are eating.
Sleep: Being mindful about our energy can help us to draw a line between activity and rest. What time you wake and sleep is personal to you and your body clock but the process of winding down to bed time and having a relatively fixed time in the evening to begin the wind down creates an expectation in the brain, slows down our ‘active brain’ and gives us the best chance of a good night’s rest.
Forming positive habits around these basics
All of these basics work best when they have become habits. Just as our autopilot can be so powerful in directing our behaviour, so we can take these positive choices which are grounded in mindful awareness and turn them into powerful habits.
But remember, old habits take time to break and new habits take time to form. So don’t beat yourself up if these new habits aren’t formed overnight. The trick is to try a little each day so that the old habits weaken and the new ones strengthen.
Suggested home practice
1. ‘Waking up to yourself’ meditation: using the audio meditation on this page (every day, or as close to this as you can manage)
3. Do a routine activity ‘mindfully’: Pick a routine activity that you do every day – for example, brushing your teeth, or making a cup of tea. Instead of doing it on ‘autopilot’ as we normally do, try and get into more of a ‘being’ mode by bringing awareness to the physical sensations of the movements your body makes. Notice anything else coming into you through your senses: sounds, textures, light and colour, smells and so on. Bring curiosity and interest to how this routine activity feels different each time you do it, when you pay this special kind of attention.
Session 3: Working with your mind
Managing your mind
During these challenging times, you may be experiencing all kinds of difficult thoughts and feelings. You wouldn’t be alone. You may remember from your course that mindfulness has a really helpful perspective on all of this. It’s worth refreshing your memory on this, and finding new ways to apply it in your life. So, here’s a really short reminder of what you learnt.
Noticing and changing patterns of thoughts
Your thoughts may feel like they are ‘the truth’, including the really unhelpful and difficult ones you may be having at the moment a lot. But, remember, thoughts are not facts. They are merely events happening in your mind: they come and go. This doesn’t mean that everything you think is wrong, or has no truth in it all. Rather, it’s a cue to help you start to relate to your thoughts in different ways.
Confronting unhelpful thoughts with cool logic often doesn’t work – it doesn’t get rid of them, but just puts them off for a while. The mindful way to loosen the grip of thoughts is to step outside of them, and simply watch them come and go in their own natural way. This is far more effective.
Here are some other tips for working with difficult thoughts right now:
Write them down
Ask yourself where this thought takes you.
Remind yourself that your mind is like a good story teller
Imagine your thoughts as leaves floating down a stream.
Repeat the thought using a silly voice
The good news is that if you can simply notice these thoughts patterns, and get some distance from them, it’s easy and natural to encourage new and different thoughts to take their place.
Dealing with difficulty: acceptance
Alongside difficult thoughts, you may also be experiencing difficult emotions and feelings. Again, you wouldn’t be alone. A lot of people are finding this at the moment. This truth can in itself help somewhat.
Mindfulness again has something vital to teach us about difficult feelings. The key here is gentle, kind and curious awareness of those feelings – allowing them to be there, without totally getting lost in them. This is all about acceptance. It doesn’t mean resignation, giving up or suppressing your feelings. Rather it’s about noticing how things actually are, then choosing to turn towards them and feel them deeply in your body. This strengthens your ability to withstand difficulties and to recover from setbacks. This process of fully turning towards your feelings requires both courage and kindness towards yourself.
Loss, grief and sadness
There are no quick fixes for these emotions and efforts to obliterate them won’t work. To be human is to live with the full range of emotion and at times one emotion is going to dominate. The best we can do for ourselves is to acknowledge that we are processing our experience and in time the sadness, grief or loss will be less dominant even while it remains present. Allowing ourselves to feel more pleasant emotions can help with this rebalancing. And that’s what it is: rebalancing. To allow ourselves happy feelings is not to deny the validity of the other feelings. Guilt about pleasurable emotions places a block on the process of healing.
Suggested home practice
Alternate each day between two meditation practices using the guided meditations on this page:
1. ‘Working with your thoughts’ meditation
2. ‘Acceptance’ meditation
Session 4: Deepening self-care
Hopefully the first two sessions have helped you feel more steady and grounded, and to work more effectively with the grooves of your mind’s patterns of thought and feeling. This can be the foundation for the really important and deep work of taking the very best care of yourself. That’s the focus of this session.
Self-kindness and compassion
The current conditions – though challenging – provide an opportunity to develop a really nourishing relationship with ourselves. This is an integral part of mindfulness. To be precise, in our experience, it’s actually a natural process that extends out of mindfulness. In other words, when you practice the core skills of mindfulness, this naturally leads to a more open, generous, and kindly approach to oneself (and others). But it’s also possible to consciously encourage and cultivate this way of being.
And BEING is the key word here. That’s because one of the most effective ways to be kinder to oneself is to take the pressure of oneself to have to constantly do or achieve things. There’s plenty of time for that, but often this comes at the expense of time to rest and just be. This is where meditation – among other things – is so valuable, because it teaches you to be more comfortable in the pure and simple ‘space of being’. The ‘open awareness’ meditation is particularly good for this.
The other meditation that’s helpful here is the ‘Kindness meditation’. This starts with cultivating positive feelings of kindness and wellbeing towards yourself, and then extending this to others (more on this next session). In our current circumstances, many people feel alone, and are missing direct contact with loved ones. If you can cultivate direct kindly contact with yourself, this can help mitigate this sense of loss.
Doing these two meditations can feel taking a long, warm bath that is healing, relaxing and life-affirming – and all without the need of any external support from anyone. We strongly recommend practising this approach right now. We know from direct experience how helpful it is at times of challenge.
Nourishing and depleting activities
Meditation and mindfulness are not the only tools available for developing a good relationship with oneself. This can also happen through all sorts of activities we can do throughout our day. In the current situation when many of us will have so much more time at home, and away from social gatherings and events, there’s a great opportunity to cultivate or rediscover home-based interests, hobbies and pursuits that you find really enjoyable and sustaining.
Generally speaking, when we look at the things we fill our time with – other than the stuff we absolutely have to do – we can divide them into two kinds:
1) ‘Up’ activities that energise, interest and sustain you. These are different for everyone, but common ‘up’ activities include: reading, writing, taking a long bath, playing or listening to music, study and learning, arts and crafts, puzzles, gaming…the list is endless of course!
2) ‘Down’ activities that deplete and drain you. We’re not sitting in judgment, so we’re not going to list these here – and you’ll know, if you’re honest with yourself, what they are for you. Some activities are actually ‘up’ ones for a while, but if you do them for too long then they become ‘down’ ones. The classic example being watching TV.
So you may find it useful to spend a bit of time reflecting on which ‘up’ activities you could do more of, and which ones you could do less of.
Mindfulness and your environment
The current situation has a useful consequence for mindfulness practice. The environment around us is different. The soundscape has changed. We must wait in socially distanced lines. We must be mindful of others. This is an opportunity to heighten our noticing skills and particularly to notice things that enhance our curiosity or give pleasure. It could be the architecture of a doorway or the sound of a bird or the rustle of leaves. And if we have some nature at hand, in a garden or park, we can notice the growth of plants and flowers, reconnecting us with the certainty of the cycle of life.
Suggested home practice
Alternate each day between two meditation practices using the guided meditations on this page:
1. ‘Kindness’ meditation
2. ‘Open Awareness’ meditation