Inspiration from prisoners

Every so often I receive a newsletter from the Prison Phoenix Trust

It is the least glossy, showy newsletter imaginable and every time I receive it I feel a little leap of joy in my heart. The Prison Pheonix Trust supports prisoners through providing resources to help them develop meditation and breath-focussed yoga stretches. I always feel inspired by reading the words of the prisoners. Here is a sample:

“One of the new attendees of the meditation group was spotted telling his wife how to do the breathing exercise over the phone to help her with stress! prisoners not only helping each other but even those outside of prison. Awesome!”

“The only reason I stick to yoga and meditation is because I feel changes in me so much…The guy I used to be couldn’t listen to people for long without starting to think of myself and judging,even though the other guy talking had not finished what he meant. A couple of days ago someone was telling me a story and I was really listening to him. I felt everything he said and could smile with him. He is not very liked by the other inmates. My old self wouldn’t have the joy to listen to him…Now I smile at people and they smile back. It feels honest and warm.”

Mindfulness: A Kindly Approach to Being with Cancer

Mindfulness: A Kindly Approach to Being with Cancer is a book written by Trish Bartley.

It has been a source of great inspiration and down to earth reminders particularly of the need we all have for  being kind to ourselves. I recommend it.

Here is the link:


You can hear Trish talking about it on a recent episode of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour:



For well over a month, I have forgotten to write a reflection and post it  here.

So in recent days I have been reflecting on forgetting.

It seems I lost connection with my intention for writing.  I wasn’t clear. I had some doubts. For whom am I writing? What is needed? And if no one reads what I write does it matter?

Forgetfulness can be a big part of a mindfulness journey. The fruits of mindfulness practice can be subtle, elusive and certainly not instant. Why practice?

Becoming aware of these doubts can be a useful reminder to reconnect with my intention.

What matters to me and what draws me to practice mindfulness?

What really matters to me? What do I really know, deep down, that mindfulness offers to me?

And when I ask these questions, I remember.

And remembering I can open to simply what is here, now.

It is a bit like the return of catkins and snowdrops in spring.

Mindfulness is always available- awareness, here and now. Practice can begin again in just this moment.


Christmas tree practice

When I succumbed to a viral infection during the festive season, the Christmas tree supported my  mindfulness practice.

The Christmas tree happened to be in my line of sight as I  lay on the sofa. I chose to practice mindfulness with my eyes open to help me to stay awake.  The Christmas tree lights (which have 8 different flash speed settings) were set to “slow fade”. As I tuned into my body, feeling the contact with the sofa and feeling the movement of my breath in my belly, I discovered that the fading and brightening of the Christmas tree lights corresponded to the rhythm of my in breath and my out breath. Whenever my mind wandered and I noticed thoughts such as  ” I feel lousy”; ” I don’t want to feel this way “; “Am I getting better or worse?”  I brought my attention to the feel of my breath, to the fading and brightening of the lights and I let the thoughts go. As best I could,  I allowed myself to be as I was in that moment.

The Christmas tree, a symbol of life in the midst of winter, offered me peace.

When my weather meets your weather

Isn’t British weather just great? It’s so unpredictable that we have a ready source of conversation. We can commiserate together in the downpour, or verbally bask together in the sunshine. The challenge comes when the experience of weather is not shared. Actually you might be enjoying this rain and the sunshine may be a bit hot for my comfort. So the weather metaphor for mindfulness is also a reminder to ask “How is the weather for you right now?”

When I have got into a mess in communication with other people it’s usually because I haven’t been checking my weather or theirs. This happened recently and was costly and led me to a lot of heart searching since. Looking back I was not  honestly in touch with my feelings and motivation at the time. I was not clear about my intention and nor was I noticing the effect of my words and tone on the other person. I had set out without being clear what my internal weather was. I had ignored the signs of a storm and carried on regardless.


I have always found the metaphor of weather really useful in mindfulness practice. It reminds me that there is no point in fighting experience. And it is well worth taking a weather check. This morning as I put my head out of the front door I discovered how much colder it is than yesterday. I can’t change that. I can choose to put on a thick coat and gloves and a hat when I go out. In the same way, regular internal weather checks throughout the day are so valuable. Pausing long enough to discover how my body feels, what thoughts and emotions are here, helps me choose wisely. What’s going on for  me? What do I need right now? A lie down? A walk ? Solitude? Company? Do I need to write that tricky email or wait until I am calmer and clearer? How do I best take care of myself?


What really matters to me?

Today, making Christmas cake.  I wasn’t sure there would be a cake this year. Today brought me a  gift of energy and I set to.  It’s the same recipe I use every year and every year I make it a bit differently. One year I included dates  instead of the glace cherries. This year, apricots and all the various fruits seemed particularly jewel-like.  I was glad to include Palestinian almonds and as I weighed and added them I thought of our Palestinian friends and a visit to Bethlehem a few years ago.  As I write I can smell the fruity, rich, spicy scent of baking.

I remember lines from the poem Grace by Alice Walker

…This, I think,

Is wealth

Just this choosing

Of how

A beautiful day

Is spent.

Cat kindness practice

Whenever I look at our cats curled up asleep by the fire, they seem completely at ease and peaceful. In those moments I feel a welling up of tenderness towards them and naturally, spontaneously, wish them well. This is what we are invited to offer to ourselves. Somehow it seems so much easier to offer this kindness to the cats rather than me. I am working on it. In mindfulness practice I touch in from time to time on a gesture of well-wishing towards myself, inviting myself to rest in kindness and well being, trusting that kindness is as available to me as it is to our cats.

Kindness is key

My lovely colleague Trish Bartley sent me a copy of her new book “Mindfulness: A Kindly Approach to Being with Cancer”. In her personal message to me she said “Kindness is key!” I have been shown a huge amount of  kindness   in recent weeks. Friends, doctors, family members, neighbours, nurses, radiographers, hairdressers and benefits advisors have through their words and their actions reminded me of the power of kindness.

Trish refers to the kindness which is fundamental to mindfulness practice and can be so hard to offer to ourselves. When I had an MRI scan recently I took my attention to my feet to help me anchor to the present and to steady myself. I noticed the angle at which my feet were lying and I appreciated the comfort of the soft, spongy foam cushioning my feet. I let my feet ease into this comfort. I noticed how my relationship to the loud sounds of the scanner changed- from finding them scary and unpleasant, and not wanting them to finding the sounds just something there.

Kindness can transform our relationship to experience.

Letting go

One of the attitudinal foundations of mindfulness is letting go. Finding myself with a health challenge gives me an opportunity to practice this regularly! Recently I took a step to let go of a responsibility I had been carrying and with letting go of this responsibility (which was not really mine to take on) I found I let go a little of my fear. So responding-taking responsibility just in this moment and letting go of the rest, is perhaps connected with letting go of fear. Certainly letting go of fixing which is so subtle and all pervasive.