It's Both



 I may be a slow learner, but I have come across something that has actually revolutionised my world – the idea of “and” as opposed to “or”. Very rarely is anything completely pure, it is usually a beautiful mixture of a whole lot of seemingly conflicting things – all mushed together in one big marbled messy stew of life.

 Now, this has been a very long time coming for me. I have always found it incredibly hard to work out exactly which “box” I fitted into. I never really seemed to fit anywhere, at its most basic level; this can be demonstrated by my taste in fashion.

 I remember growing up and being really torn between wanting to wear a tie-died petticoat and no shoes and a really lovely designer dress and Prada mules. I honestly thought I had to choose one style and stick with it. So, I did. I would flip flop between wearing twin sets one day and then opp shop gems another. Neither of these styles, in their pure form, felt authentic to me but I had no idea there was another option. Although, I felt, on a very deep level, like I was abandoning my true self to fit into a particular box and there was that gnawing sense of a lack of authenticity – or something akin to that, lurking in the pit of my stomach.

 And then one day, I realised, I am actually both. I can like both and I can combine both to create something completely new. I am the boss and I can create a whole new “box”. And, so I did. It started with fashion and now it has extended into other (waaay more important) areas of my life.

 So, working with the possibility that you too may be constrained by black and white, either/or thinking, I thought I would share some of my learnings across these areas. Of course, the general learning of “both” can go across pretty much every area of life, both personally and societally.

 Holding our emotions

We were holidaying one summer with friends. One day, the wife and mother of the other family was complaining about her husband (and father of the children). She felt he didn’t seem to be around much, he seemed to prefer to be at work or at the gym rather than with her and the children and when he was with them – he was distracted and snappy. I rather flippantly commented “so you don’t love him at the moment?”. She looked up from what she was doing and with a very serious look on her face she said:

“oh no, I never withdraw love, I always love him, I am just frustrated”

This was rather groundbreaking for me; it had honestly never occurred to me that we could feel two seemingly conflicting emotions at the same time. Love and hate. Happiness and grief. Gratitude and jealousy. It was some years later that I discovered mindfulness and then, it all made sense. I leaned that I am not my emotions – I am the sky and they are simply the weather (as the famous Pema Chodren quote goes). So, next time you feel consumed by an emotion, see if you can remember it does not need to take up all of you (or all of your relationship). By all means, let it be there, hold it, be curious about it, experience it fully but remind yourself that you can feel it all – the love and the hate, at the same time.

 Working with our mind

In my early 20s, at my quarter-life crisis, I read “You can Heal Your Life” by the wonderful Louise Hay. To be honest, my life wasn’t sick and really didn’t need healing, but I was not happy and felt a sense that something was missing. So, I studiously did the daily affirmations in front of the mirror. I would stand in front of the mirror and recite “I love and approve of myself” daily, for months. I imagined the life I wanted to be living, but it continued to feel artificial, as though I was forcing something. Then in my early 30s and, having abandoned positive thinking and affirmations as hippy dippy stuff that doesn’t work, I threw myself wholeheartedly into the idea that actually, we don’t have to “do” anything. I went from one extreme to the other! I now worked with acceptance (still getting the hang of this one) and non-judgement (always a work in progress) and spent many hours observing my thoughts and emotions, without doing anything in particular about them; all in the name of building my self-awareness. Then one day, this process of non-doing backfired. I had stopped actually listening to my intuition, my values and my heart and was just coasting along in a never-ending haze of acceptance.

As it turns out, we need both. We need both intention and attention. It is helpful to have a clear view of where we are going and what really matters (intention) but we also really need to stop and reflect on where we are first (attention). If all we do is manifest – we are never truly happy now, if all we do is sit contentedly in the now without assessment – how do we really grow?

We need to both work WITH our mind (accept where and who we are) and ON our mind (cultivate more wisdom, love and gratitude – or “grow the good” as Rick Hanson puts it).

Start where you are, pay attention, be present, be clear and keep your feet firmly on the ground. Practice mindfulness and meditate your little heart out if you are so inclined. Then, set your intention for what you would like in your life and watch for signs that you are heading in the direction (such as better sleep, improved relationships, clearer thinking etc) and change course when you need to. It is all good and the path, especially when it comes to the management of our mental health is incredibly personal. Finally, be wary of any teacher/psychologist/coach who tries to tell you there is only one way – I used to be one of these people (a slightly fanatical meditation teacher!) and honestly, we can serve you best by being a point of reflection and accountability – you are the only one who knows you, listen to you.

Managing our physical health

Health issues run in my family. My dear mum suffered with cancer 3 (or was it 4?) times and she struggled with a range of other auto-immune disorders. When, at 34 I was diagnosed with my own auto-immune condition (rheumatoid arthritis or RA) my own journey of healing and acceptance began. To be honest, getting RA was probably the thing that saved me, it was certainly the reason I took a deep dive into my own mindfulness and meditation practice. It was my body yelling (incredibly loudly) that something was not right, that the way I was living was not serving me well. Over the past years I have flip flopped between a 100% blaming attitude towards my genetics and early childhood (“it is just the way I am put together”) and a 100% blaming attitude towards myself and the way I have lived, thought or eaten (too much stress, too much negative thinking, too much sugar etc). After 9 years of exploration, and kind of tiring internal and external battles, I have pretty much come to the conclusion, you guessed it, that it is, indeed, both.

There is BOTH the genetic/early childhood learning component and the environmental/behavioural component and this realisation has allowed me to shift from blame to responsibility. Yes, some people can cure themselves with enough kale juice and deep meditation while others, need to add medication and deep interpersonal connection into their healing recipe and will still not slide into remission or be symptom free. Through this blossoming realisation of “both”, I have managed to make the massive shift from “fault” to “responsibility” – it is not my fault I have RA but it is absolutely my responsibility to manage it as best I can.

In conclusion, our very human tendency to think in absolutes, to be seduced by judgement, at the expense of inclusion, can create some real challenges for us – especially when it comes to managing our health. At the same time, if all we do is pay clear and accurate attention to what is happening, without weaving in a healthy measure of intention setting or effortful change, we may end up coasting along in a semi-superficial stage of fabricated bliss, missing out on all of the beautiful authenticity of being human. By accepting the marbling together of seemingly incongruent experiences, our world can open up and we can either create brand new boxes or get rid of the boxes all together. I vote for no boxes. Here’s to a box-free future for all!

Mindfulness and Meditation for Parents



How can we make space in our busy day for our own nourishment? 

Modern parenting is hard. We have so much information coming at us all the time when it comes to what we “should” be doing to ensure we raise balanced and well-adjusted adults. Sign them up for “this” extra-curricular activity, read “that” book, watch “this” TED talk, do more, be more. We are so inherently uncomfortable with the struggle or discomfort of parenthood (and any discomfort, to be honest) that we seem to be constantly seeking to fix or numb the situation by any number of antidotes.

Firstly, we need to become discerning when it comes to where we place our attention when it comes to how we parent. We need to choose the philosophies or experts that align with our personal values and then build on our inherent wisdom that way. We are wiser than we give ourselves credit for, often, we just need to learn to see clearly to access that wisdom. We know, there are many routes to the same destination (and in this case, the destination really, is children who are thriving – but not at the expense of broken parents) and for us to be prescriptive about which way is “right” is foolish. However, from my personal experience as a daughter, a parent, a psychologist and a meditation and mindfulness teacher, I truly and wholeheartedly believe the best thing we can do as a parent is to build our own capacity for self-awareness and then choose to live and to love consciously, rather than automatically. Meditation is one way for us to build this capacity. And yet, in our busy lives, full to the brim with so much richness and activity, it can be really hard to find the time to, basically, do nothing.

 So how do we do it?

Valuing it more than the laundry

So many of us barrel through our days so mindlessly, that we are not even aware of where our attention is at any given moment. This is absolutely not our fault. It is a small glitch in our evolution and one that can be worked with and even rectified. By becoming aware of where our attention is, we can actually choose where we would like to place it. This choice can become conscious and can be guided by our own personal value system.

 Imagine this, it is the evening, the kids have gone to bed, the house is finally quiet and you slump down on the couch to watch TV and attack the epic mound of laundry that has been piling up over the week. This point in time is a moment of choice, we can either watch TV and fold, we could go to bed and read (or sleep!) or we could mosey over to our meditation cushion and simply watch our breath, feel our body, open our heart or do whatever we do when we meditate. It is all about how much we value each activity. We might ask ourselves, what is the best way I can spend my time right now? Or What is the most important thing? Whatever it is, do that. Often we will actually find that the laundry can wait until tomorrow, the kids can even burrow through the mound and find clean socks in the morning.  Better still, leave it on the couch and see if someone else does the folding for you.

 The shift comes when we start to value our own self-care and our own ability to wake up and bring choice and freedom into our lives, over other seemingly urgent tasks that are simply calling to us with the voice of conditioning and habit. When we step outside of the conditioning we may have inherited or learned, we can choose how to spend our time, we can choose with wisdom and with heart.

 A radical act of love

Self-care is not selfish. When I make time to meditate, I am a more grounded and present and more loving parent. The same goes for physical exercise, cooking nutritious food or leaving the kids at home to go out to see friends or a film or play. When we become a parent, our need for nourishment doesn’t simply disappear – we are still human. I don’t know about you, but I certainly need more in my life than just my kids (as grateful as I am that they are in it). So, I will always remember the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“Meditation is a Radical Act of Love”

I can’t guarantee exactly what he meant by that but for me it means: meditation is an act of love for myself and therefor love for my kids AND love for the greater community. The more centered, present, loving and “mindful” I can be, the better I am able to contribute positively to myself, my family and my community. It all starts with us, we are the ones we have been waiting for, but to remember that, often we need to get out of our own way.

 Choosing a time that works for you and your family

The time of day I have meditated over the years has varied as my children have continued to get older. When they were little babies, I was often too tired for a long formal meditation practice (as I would nod off the minute I closed my eyes) and so I prioritized sleep in those moments I could steal. Now, they are much older and can entertain themselves for a time.

 When our kids are babies – 0-6 months

Sleep when you need to sleep, don’t meditate. When we have babies, we can use this time to really practice being mindful and present with them – both of us are nourished by this practice. Our baby can become the object of our typically distracted attention as we become engrossed in their eye colour, the shape of their ears or the wrinkles on their little hands. As our mind wanders to our “to do” list or other plans or worries, we can gently bring it back to our baby. When we do this over and over again, we start to learn the typical places our beautiful minds go and can start to become familiar with our own internal territory. This will till the soil for our growing consciousness as parents. “Mind the Bump” is a free app I helped create that has some great practical tools to help us through this age-group.

 6 months – 2 years

When my kids were in this age-group, I would meditate either before they woke up in the morning or while they napped in the middle of the day (if I was at home).

 2-5 years

As we sadly say good bye to our midday naps, we may need to either start getting up before our kids or asking a partner to watch them for us so we can sneak in our morning meditation practice before the day begins. I know what I am about to write is not PC at all but, we could even pop on a couple of episodes of “Peppa Pig” and sneak to our meditation cushion. I mean, they are probably watching it anyway so why not make the most of this time to nourish ourselves rather than do laundry?

 5 years +

I will never forget the time I wanted to sneak into the study for a midday meditation and I told my oldest son (5 years old) that he needed to entertain himself for 15 minutes. I think I set up blocks, puzzles, drawing or something for him to do. About 5 minutes into my meditation, I started to hear a gentle bump against the study door…bump….laughter….bump….laughter…I wasn’t sure what it was and everything in me wanted to get up from the cushion to see, but I continued to sit. So I decided to simply include the “bump…..laughter” into my meditation. These sounds were just like the thoughts that were coming and going in my mind or the dull ache in my knee that was starting to make itself known, they simply contributed to the moving landscape of my meditation. When the time was up, I gingerly went out to see what was going on – he had been making paper planes and throwing them at the study door and then falling into fits of hysterics. I was teaching a class not long after this experience and I remember including that insight into my teaching – everything that happens in our awareness can simply be included into our practice.

These days, with a 6 and 10 year old, I get up early-ish and meditate most mornings, either while they kids are asleep or waking up (they know not to disturb me unless someone is bleeding!). Sometimes my meditation happens after school drop-off or in the middle of the day, sometimes in the evening. I do find however, that my day tends to run more smoothly when I spend, even a few minutes, centering myself in the morning.

Parenting is wonderful and hard and tiring and exhilarating – all at once. Meditation is a wonderful addition to our kit of resources. To welcome meditation into our lives in a meaningful way, we need to be flexible with how we do it but value it enough that we prioritise it over the thousands of other tasks calling to us. And you know what? By modelling this nourishing activity to our kids, we can only hope that they build their own practice of stopping, of noticing of expanding and of loving – the world sure could do with more of that right now. More radical acts of love I say. 

Wonder Women


Modern women are just amazing. This is the first generation we have been told we can have it all – we can step up and have our fathers’ successes BUT we need to still maintain our mothers’ responsibilities (ref. Dr Libby Weaver). As a result, we are working tirelessly from the minute we wake up to breakfast to children to work to children to dinner and then often to work again on the couch with a heat bag and a cup of tea…we then fall into bed exhausted at night and get back up again to do it all again the next day. 

Dr Libby Weaver has come up with a syndrome to describe the lifestyle of the modern woman – she calls it “Rushing Women’s Syndrome” – where we are dragged from one demand to the next – not even allowing ourselves time out to do nothing in the car or on the train or bus – using that time to make phone calls, answer emails or listen to the latest podcasts.

Now, some of us can do this. There are some true wonder women who can and do, do it all with some ease. There are even some, I am sure, who love the busy and frenetic life they have. However, the vast majority and certainly the women I seem to meet in my line of work, are only just keeping it all together, but the cracks are starting to show: they are not sleeping well, their temper is flaring, they are moving further and further away from their partners or they are getting sick more and more often…..

 So what is going on?

The current climate is a result of so many factors, here are a few:

Feminism - It is a result of the great successes of feminism (while there is obviously still a long way to go when it comes to equality in many areas) that women are now sitting in boardrooms and running companies and even countries. Hooray for this, about time.

Technology - broadly has a lot to answer for – the fact that there is no clear division between work and home these days has helped to create an ongoing cycle of a 24/7 need to respond and deliver. We never really “go home” anymore – we are always “on” and for those of us who need to take some down time, it just is not there organically anymore.

Social Media – the habitual and mindless competition and comparison of what women are doing and how they are succeeding is RIGHT there – right in our face while we are sitting at home in our stained tracksuit pants with chocolate dripping down our chin, already feeling less than glamorous – only to have her there in her fab Prada suit and red lippy and then that little voice echoes to us “why cant I have that, be that, earn that?”

No Family or Village - The breakdown of the family system and the “village” means we are relying more and more these days on paid childcare of some kind to look after our kids – with that comes very little flexibility so when kids get sick or the date for a client’s workshop changes, it takes more effort to juggle everything.

 So, in summary, we are doing more, more often and with much less support than previous generations. Our beautiful bodies and minds just can’t keep up with this pace and something has to give. Often, sadly it is our health – be it mental or physical – or both.

In 2013, I was part of the team to set up Australia’s first mind and body studio, I went into partnership with 4 amazing people and we worked hard to set up a “mindfulness studio” where we offered mindfulness based yoga, fitness and meditation. We opened in April 2015 and were voted one of the best studios in Australia within months of opening, we were ON FIRE! The catch was that it was a 7 day a week business and, given I was the mindfulness and meditation partner and this was very new to Melbourne back in 2015, the workload was unforgiving. Now, I was terrible at setting boundaries and saying no… so I just kept taking on more and more and saying yes to more and more….all the while…my brain AND my body was talking too me….the thoughts were “Liv, this is too much, you need to slow down, you haven’t seen your kids in a week….” but, as I became so adept at managing my thoughts, I would “notice the thought and let it go”…what I didn’t do, was FEEL into my body, until it was too late. I completely burnt out and ended up in bed by Oct 2015. In Jan 2016, I listened to my heart and my body and decided to leave the partnership as I couldn't give the business what it needed and still be the present and engaged parent I wanted to be. It was the hardest decision I have ever made but, my body and my heart thank me every day – my ego is still recovering though….

What I learnt:

 Mindfulness and meditation are important but they are not all we need to be doing to look after ourselves in the current climate – we still need to exercise – often, we still need to see our girlfriends and we still need to sit down and eat (at least one meal a day!) to really get the nutrients out of our food.

 I needed to reconnect with my body – to listen to my gut and my intuition and treat myself like a “whole person” – not just a brain and then a body that is dragged around after it.

 So what do we need to do? 

1. Set firm boundaries

We need to stop saying “yes” to everything, we need to stop seeking approval of others and we need to stop, listen to our gut and from that place that is deep and strong within us – we need to say “no, thank you, but no”. This is new for many of us, as girls, we were never taught to listen to our own inner voice – we were taught to be quiet, to be pretty, to be polite and to seek approval.

2. Change the rules

This is brand new territory for all of us, we ALL (women and men) need to make it OK for men to pick up more of the family and domestic duties. We need to sit down as a family and divide the tasks – rather than leaving it all to the woman to manage. The other mummies in the park or at kinder need to include the daddies in the play dates and invite them over for afternoon tea too.

3. Stop Competing and Comparing and instead Connect and Collaborate

As humans, we part of us is wired to compete and compare, it has held us in good stead as far as our survival as a species goes however, these days with the added impact of social media, we may need to work at tempering this a little bit. What has happened to the sisterhood girls? We need to ask our friends and family for help, we need to reconnect with our community.

 4. Fall in love with ourselves again

We need to learn to trust ourselves again and maybe if we trust a little more we can try a little less. We can stop seeking approval from others and simply do our work and then step back. All of this trying is totally exhausting.

5. We need to let go of our own vision of ourselves as wonder woman

As I was sharing the outline for this article with my husband, he smiled in his beautiful supportive way and he said – “the other thing is, you need to allow yourself to let go of having to do everything yourself” – we need to let go of our own vision of ourselves as wonder women.

How can we do this?

Well, given I am a meditation teacher and a mindfulness educator, part of the answer for me lies in building our general levels of awareness. We need to build our awareness across two areas; the external world – what is actually happening?  And the internal world – what are we actually thinking and feeling?

External Awareness

We need to see clearly the actual external situation we currently find ourselves in – are we doing more than our fair share? Can we ask for more help from our partners/friends/family? What is actually happening here? Am I being taken advantage of or not?

Internal Awareness

We need to learn to really connect with our internal world. What is important for me? What is my body and my heart telling me in this situation? Of course we cant always be guided by our body and our heart but my general rule is (now!) if you get the same message a few times – you should probably listen.

 The rules and the landscape have changed my friends so we need to change too. If we don’t, we are just going to keep getting sicker, more marriages will break down and the anxiety rates in our beautiful children will just keep rising.

 None of us really knows the answers, we are all just making it up as we go along and we are really the only one who knows the answer for ourselves.  Just because she is working 5 days in her power suit and sits on all of the kinder fundraising committees and still makes organic bread with free range ham sandwiches for Jimmy for kinder – it doesn’t mean you have to keep up.

 Let’s cut the crap, if not for our health and ourselves, for our children.

 In all of this, I think the best gift we can give ourselves and our children is the capacity to come home, to come back to the place inside us that has always been there – the place that is clear, calm and connected. It doesn’t matter how we get there, what matters is that we get there – often. By living and working and parenting from this place of clear seeing awareness we can fall in love with ourselves again and come back to each other. We will all be better for it.



A Real Superpower



Originally posted 2016

We were holidaying in Queenscliff recently and the opportunity came up for me to have 1 hour to myself – my youngest took himself off to bed for a midday nap. Ahhhh peace, it must have been the 1-hour of running along the beach and the 1.5 hours of up hill scooting we had done in the morning. No, I really didn’t mean to exhaust him, honest……

During this nap time, my eldest (7 years old), was complaining he was bored…. And I tried to explain to him that being bored was OK and really, part of life. That he should practice being bored well as, when he is an adult there will be large chunks of his life that are boring but necessary, like putting petrol in the car, lining up at the bank and paying bills online.

Needless to say, he wasn’t really interested in my philosophy at that point and he snapped “its OK for you, you have that super power”….which one I thought? Gosh, I have so many! So I asked him…”what do you mean”….and he responded, “well, you have the power that allows you just to sit out here and watch the clouds and do nothing, I don’t have that power”.

I tried to explain that we all have that power; we just need to practice it. Again, he was really not interested in hearing mum rant on (again) about how accessing the natural clarity, calm and connection within all of us was a basic human right. After helping him to come up with an imaginary game to play with his Shopkins, I stopped and asked myself “what are we doing to our kids?”. The constant entertainment we are providing them today – the iPads and TV, the phones and toys. Are we robbing them of a basic life skill? Of knowing how to be bored and just doing nothing? Just playing for the sake of playing, with no agenda, hidden or otherwise?

Now, I am absolutely not saying that we should stop all technology – as my dear husband (who works in tech and TV) points out to me, it is here to stay now, we may as well embrace it and of course I agree. I just wonder, what is, or more accurately, what will be the cost of this 24/7 stimulation generation we are raising? Are we raising adults who will be so disconnected from their bodies and the present moment experience that they will have no way to understand or sit with less pleasant emotions like boredom? Will this generalize to other human less pleasant emotions like sadness or worry? Are we just teaching them to numb out from a very early age by shoving an iPhone in their face when they don’t get what they want? In later years, will the iPhone be replaced by something more harmful like drugs or alcohol? I have absolutely no idea, I am curious though. I do know though that time doing nothing does feed our spirit, it does nourish our body and it certainly feeds our creativity.

We are at a really interesting point in our evolution, both as humans and, more specifically, as parents. We are raising kids at a time where there are really no parenting rules, anything goes. We have access to books and research that pretty-much support any parenting model we choose to follow: strict rules vs. more lasaiz fair, full time day-care vs. full time stay at home – really anything is OK and it is up to each family to work out what is best for them. And this is how it should be.

One thing hasn’t changed though and that is our core job as parents, which is (among many many other things) to prepare our children to be citizens of the world, to be able to contribute to the world in some way and to support them to live to their full potential. As we know, the “dark” parts of life are often the bits that can help us to learn and to grow most profoundly (such an unfortunate phenomenon this one!), as the quote goes, “we cant get to day without going through the night”.

What will happen if we don’t give our kids the opportunity to experience sadness or disappointment or boredom?

Life is hard and beautiful and hard and we need to equip our kids with a whole tool kit to support them to thrive and feel strong, regardless of what is going on. So, in my effort to help myself and anyone else who would like to listen, I have jotted down a couple of tips to support us to allow our kids to experience the whole rainbow of emotions – rather than just the shiny bits and you know, that really is a super power.

 1. Explore it

When they are feeling sad or worried, ask your child to explore the feeling. Where do they feel it in their body? Can they make room for it rather than fight it? Can they breathe into it and really feel it? Can they allow themselves to hold it gently, as if they are holding a precious flower or gem? Can they see that they are not the emotion, that it is something happening to them? They may even like to experiment with asking the emotion or feeling what it needs right now.

 2. Colour it

Ask your child to describe their feeling in colours or shapes – this can help them to express how it feels using words they are more familiar with. The risk here is that they become really annoyed and just throw something at you!

 3. Celebrate it

When they express either “positive” or “negative” feelings (from a mindfulness perspective, we tend not to assess feelings as good or bad) say, “that’s great, you are feeling, that means you are human and you are alive” or “how lucky are we that we get to feel all of these emotions – lets explore them together”.

If you ask me, we all do have this superpower, in fact, I believe it is our birthright. Sometimes, however, we just need to be reminded and, so do our kids.

Self-Esteem Vs. Self As Team



Originally posted 2017

We can give our kids and ourselves something much more sustaining and enduring than self esteem – a connection to a wiser and broader self.

In my early 20s I did my postgraduate thesis on self-esteem in adolescents. The details of the findings are a little fuzzy now, but two things I do remember clearly is that the way girls viewed their body (their “physical-self”) and the way boys viewed their achievements (their “academic and career-selves”) were two of the strongest predictors of their overall levels of happiness.

My question is, what happens when we don’t meet these “desired” levels of beauty or achievement? Or when the “desired” levels are unattainable due to Photoshop or our natural skill level (or lack of it!). What are we left with? How can we “bounce back” from life’s setbacks?

In my late twenties I remember asking my beautiful Dad “What is the one piece of parenting advice you could give me?”. And he said “Help your child find something they are good at and then support them in it – it helps to build their self esteem and sense of identity”. I remember thinking at the time, “Wow, that is really smart and it has definitely worked for me”.

It has taken me another 20 years to realise that we may be able to develop this approach further. I wonder what happens when can no longer do what we are good at, due to injury, circumstance or just plain old interest? Where does our self-esteem go?

You see, I was a pretty awesome swimmer, in junior school I made the state championships and in high school I was always the last swimmer in the relay (for those of you who don’t know, the fastest swimmer always goes last!) – it became a key part of who I was and I pinned my self esteem to being the fastest in the pool. And then….(dramatic drum-roll), I dislocated my shoulder playing beach rugby (long story) and couldn’t swim for a year. I distinctly remember being devastated about this and asking myself “Who am I now?” and I am sure it sent me into a spiral of negative thinking and questioning my worth and place in the world. Where do I belong if not in the pool? I had nothing to fall back on, no safety net. If I wasn’t a swimmer – who was I?

 I believe we actually need to be teaching our children (and perhaps learning ourselves in the process) that we are much more than simply what we are good at. We are much more than the body, the friends or the career we have. We are more than the car, the house or the handbag we have. We are more than the achievements of our children and more the number of “likes” or “followers” we have. If we continually pin our sense of self onto these external factors, we are continually at the mercy of the constant changing nature of the world. Friends, “likes” and handbags come and go; it is risky to tie our sense of self to these.

So, how? How do we learn that we can experience all of these wonderful parts of our modern life, that we can enjoy and engage with all of them, but that they are not who we are?

I am sure there are other ways, but the way that I have discovered that continues to gift me with an immense amount of freedom, choice and comfort is mindfulness.

However, I have not been practicing mindfulness for longer than I have been practicing mindfulness. I spent the first 30 years of my life pinning my self worth onto my looks, my success, my achievements, the number of friends I had, the shoes I wore. This way of seeing and being had become automatic for me and with this way of living, I was constantly thrown around by the turbulent waves of emotions resulting from the events in my life. With almost 10 years of mindfulness training under my belt now, the waves are of course still there – the waves are part of being human, I just don’t get dumped quite as often anymore. And I have finally realised now that I am not the waves; I am the whole damn ocean, although I periodically forget that too! That’s why mindfulness and meditation is called a practise – we keep practicing and practicing, possibly forever.

However, if we can get this through to our kids from a young young young age, their battle will be much easier than ours. They will still have to deal with all of the challenges of life and of course, it is not our job to protect our children from pain, it is the pain that will make them stronger. However, with the knowledge and understanding we have now about mindfulness and meditation, we can give them the tools to ride the tumultuous waves of this human life with a little more ease. In doing this they may become more resilient that we have been – and to be honest, they will need to be with all of the change and madness that is part of our everyday existence today.

So, I think my dear Dad got this one half right, he got a lot 100% right (be kind, work hard, laugh a lot, eat with great gusto, greet everyone you meet with joy and sing sing sing) however we can build on his advice by supporting our kids to develop their own internal well of self-worth. By teaching them they are worthy of love and belonging, regardless of their achievements, is gifting them the freedom to be themselves and to live, love and work to their full potential.

Mindfulness does not protect us or our kids from the chaos of life; illness still happens, jobs will still be lost and our heart will continue to break – there will be pain, oh yes, there will be pain. Mindfulness however can teach us that we are bigger and more expansive than all of it – the good and the bad. We can hold the joy and the sorrow, the success and the failure in our broad and open awareness and know that it is happening to and within us, but it is not us. With that comes great empowerment and great freedom.



Acceptance is not Giving Up, it is Waking Up


Originally posted 2013

I feel like the term “acceptance” is deeply misunderstood in our modern world. And yet, it is such a wonderfully powerful attitude to develop and I am sure we would all generally have a happier and more fruitful existence if we were to nurture this skill. So, let me be really clear, from the perspective of mindfulness, acceptance….….is not:

·       Giving up or giving in
·       Dropping your standards
·       Liking everything
·       Tolerating injustice


·       Seeing things as they are and not wishing for them to be different
·       Waking up to the reality of our situation
·       A skill we can develop
·       Easier with practice

It could be represented in a diagram where Giving Up is at one extreme and Striving is at the other. Acceptance sits somewhere in the middle, it is not an either/or scenario; it is not black and white. While we may move across this spectrum throughout our moments, days and lives, the purpose of this article is to support you to spend more time in the middle zone and less time in the exhausting “fight” at either end.

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According to a well-known (and, in my opinion intuitively and experientially accurate) theory, acceptance is the final stage in the five stages of grief (Kübler-Ross). Grief comes in many shapes and sizes. We can grieve the loss of a loved one, we can grieve the loss of a dream or we can grieve the fact that somebody ate the last piece of dark chocolate without telling you.

The good news is, no matter how big or small your grief – acceptance is usually the end result. The bad news however is that in the early days, you may need to do some emotional gymnastics before you can reach this nirvana of acceptance.

According to Kubler-Ross, the emotional hoops you may go through are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance. While this theory gives us an awesome framework in which to place acceptance, and an understanding of where it can come in our emotional journey, the purpose of this article is to give you some tips to cultivate more acceptance in your life – in those everyday moments with which we are faced ….everyday.

Have you noticed we tend to spend a lot of time and energy wishing things were different? Wishing our boss were more caring, our children were better at maths or our husbands more interested in yoga? We spend a lot of time denying and resisting what is already a fact. When we do this, we are trying to force a situation to be different to how it already is, which, in turn just causes more tension and contributes to less room for real growth, happiness and healing.

Life is full of discomfort (the Buddhists refer to it as suffering) and, as humans; we are neurologically programmed to avoid this discomfort. This was an important skill to help us to survive as a species however; we are no longer running from the discomfort of tigers or lions and bears (oh my!). We are more likely to be running from the discomfort of our thoughts and feelings, the discomfort of our relationship dynamics or the discomfort of the incongruence between our actual and our ideal lives. This act of constantly trying to avoid these discomforts not only makes them stronger by creating more tension in us, it is downright exhausting. The key to managing these discomforts more effectively and thereby reducing our levels of anger, anxiety or depression is acceptance.

As detailed above, acceptance is not about giving up on your dreams and aspirations, or tolerating a life that is not in-line with your values. It is about seeing your life as it really is, accepting it and then having access to the skills to respond appropriately. How will we ever get to “there” if we never allow ourselves to truly see what “here” looks like?

Acceptance allows us to see things as they really are, rather than spending so much time being pulled off-course by our attachment to our desire that things were different.

So, how do we build this skill I hear you yelling?

Start small

Lets not launch into building this skill with the big ticket items in life, lets start small, after all, this is a new skill for many of us so taking baby steps is they key. You may like to choose a couple of simple unexpected scenarios to practice such as if a meeting you had been looking forward to was cancelled or a friend is running late for a dinner date. Use the following steps to cultivate acceptance in these scenarios.

The Steps
When you find yourself in a scenario where you are feeling frustrated, disappointed or angry, follow these steps:

1.     OBSERVE – Observe the thoughts/feelings that come up for you (be aware of any thoughts around wishing things were different)
2.    DESCRIBE - Describe and acknowledge these thoughts/feelings (do not judge them as good/bad or right/wrong)
3.    TAKE NOTE – Take note of the facts - what is actually happening? (not what you wish had or hadn’t happened) and use this information to respond skillfully
4.    BREATHE – Come back to your breath (your trusted anchor for the mind) and continue on with your day

 Self Talk
There are some handy phrases you might like to start to introduce into your repertoire to encourage this new skill. Just the process of saying these things will not make you truly accept but they can act as a prompt and a reminder and they are solidifying your intention to accept - that is part of the way there already!

·       “I am enough” – I accept me as I am
·       “It is what it is” – this can be extended to people as well as scenarios
·       “This is uncomfortable but it will pass”
·       “I do not agree with it or like it but I accept it”

The best thing you can do to develop any skill is to practice it. There are two types of practice, formal and informal.

Formal practice (Meditation) - One of the great benefits of meditation or any other contemplative practice is the opportunity to practice acceptance. To watch the thoughts and feelings come and go, knowing that they will always change and accepting them for what they are. This kind of formal practice does not need to happen only when sitting on a hilltop in the lotus pose – you can practice this while doing your daily chores. For example if you are folding the laundry, watch the thoughts come and go and accept them as they are, regardless of their nature. And then, gently and with compassion, direct your attention back to your folding. Through the repetition of this simple process, your “acceptance muscle” grows stronger and stronger.

Informal practice – there will be many opportunities in your life to informally practice acceptance. Your son dropped a whole jar of vitamins on the floor? Accept it, there is no benefit to anyone in taking the journey through denial, anger and depression – just go straight to acceptance and you will be able to develop a more effective strategy to get them cleaned up.

In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living, 2009) “If we keep our attention focused on the present, we can be sure of one thing, namely that whatever we are attending to in this moment will change, giving us the opportunity to practice accepting whatever it is that will emerge in the next moment. Clearly, there is wisdom in cultivating acceptance”.