Adjusting a few screws…

by Berenice Boxler

Recently I burned three fingers on the hot pot. I had been lost in thoughts, the day had been full of deadlines and time pressure, no eye for details such as that I had forgotten to put out the stove. A short cry, a lot of water and a wound cream with plaster – well, the complete programme. Then it was interesting to feel the wave-like pains and how they weakened throughout the day.

What does the body need to work well?

Since I had a meeting with the little ones at the Maison Relais at noon, I talked about it: the tremendous healing powers of the body, the coming and going of pain, taking care of an injury, and „What can you do to support the body, so that it works fine for as long as possible?“ The 4- and 5-year-olds outbid themselves with „eating vegetables, eating pineapple, moving, eating apples“. We then talked about exercise, about nutrition – but nobody was aware of the importance of sleep, although many of them are often very tired. Maybe one should be tackling this issue a bit more with the children?

Self-care is not easy

Young or older, everybody knows what‘s right for the body. Why is it so difficult to do it? Why is everything else more important than taking good care of yourself?

„I have no time.“ is probably one of the most common obstacles. „Oh, that‘s alright. I do not feel like doing it right now.“ is another. And why not prefer some chips and TV at the end of a stressful day, rather than a meditation or a yoga session? That worked out fine so far, right?

Time passes, and the body changes. Everything changes. And even if you‘re okay, it does not hurt to think long-term. How can we support the body as well as possible so that it will carry us for a long time? How can we stay (or become) agile and resilient? How can we care for ourselves mentally so that we are prepared for more difficult times? Because, you know, they will come, the difficult times, because that is just part of life.

1 tool, many screws

No one has to sit down and meditate for 20 minutes each day (although that would actually not be too bad an idea). And it‘s not about suddenly training for a half-marathon.

But there is one tool and many small screws that can help us to better keep our everyday life and body in good shape:

 

The tool: pause and ask: „How am I doing right now? What does my body need now?“

The more regularly we do that, the more of an expert we become for our condition and our very individual needs. And hey, who would not like to be an expert in the field of keeping yourself in good shape?!

The screws:

– go out in nature more often (for example to a workshop on forest bathing on 19 October, more information here), take a walk, let your mind wander, open your senses to the wonders of nature, etc

exercise the body regularly: yoga, walking, fitness, chi gong, football, jogging, cycling, club sport, swimming, HIIT, muscle training, etc. Find something that suits you individually.

– get used to eating something green on a regular basis (like salad or green smoothies)

de-normalize sugar: the body does not need artificial sugar, and ripe fruit can be a wonderful substitute – So maybe save the ice cream and cake for special occasions and then really enjoy it?

– grant the body enough sleep (everything, really everything, works better with a rested body)

– and much more…

 

It‘s not about turning your entire life upside down. Take the tool in your hand, turn a small screw here and there and just watch how you feel.

Gratitude

by Berenice Boxler. 

“Thank you.” Probably more than once a day we use this little word, but it quickly becomes a phrase, a polite necessity. We are brought up to kindness and learn this little word – in connection with “please” – in early childhood. I too pay attention to whether my children express their appreciation when given a taster at the cheese counter. Gratitude is much more than a friendly acknowledgment.

Gratitude, one of the nine qualities of mindfulness according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, is not just an answer to someone or for some gift. Genuine gratitude needs no impulse and no receiving something in advance. Gratitude is especially nurturing when we feel it for what we already have.

I can be grateful for the ability to see and to feel the sun on my skin. I am grateful to my body for carrying me through life every day. And so much more… A meditation teacher once said he is currently deeply grateful for the absence of toothache.

Gratitude is a superpower:

  • Gratitude makes you happy. There are studies that show that a conscious practice of gratitude makes optimism stronger, inspires more and makes happier. But even without research, it is clear that regular feelings and expressions of gratitude increase the inner contentment and appreciation for what we have – and therefore we are less concerned about what we do not (yet) have.
  • Gratitude improves relationships. Honest and sincerely expressed gratitude for the small and large gestures in a relationship can greatly improve the general atmosphere, be it with love partners, in the family or in the professional life.
  • Gratitude helps against sleep disorders. This is the result of a study by Alex M. Wood of the University of Stirling, one of the world‘s most respected gratitude researchers. He and his team were able to show that people who feel and practice gratitude, sleep better and fall asleep more easily. Tip: If next time in bed in the evening, your head starts rolling its worrying slope again, maybe try a gratitude exercise? It certainly cannot harm…
  • Gratitude reduces stress and promotes well-being. Studies such as those by Martin Seligman and Tracy Steen have shown that exercises such as gratitude help reduce stress levels. Put simply, anyone who considers what he is grateful for cannot think about problems or fears at the same time. Further studies show that we feel less alone, have fewer physical stress symptoms, and have more energy.

Gratitude for being alive

Gratitude allows us to wake up to the wonders and richness of the present moment and not take things for granted. We breathe, we are alive, we have eyes and ears, etc. – This is usually not worth mentioning for us, but it should be. Mindfulness and gratitude go hand in hand: we can‘t be grateful for things that we are not aware of. As with all emotions, there is no black or white, it is a mixture. For example, I can be grateful for the new opportunities I have after having moved countries, and – at the same time – be sad at the friendships left behind. The one feeling does not exclude the other. Everything is allowed, even at the same time.

To notice good things, when and wherever they are, always brings us out of this dangerous vortex of thought, in which we quickly see the world as a place where bad things happen or where nothing works out the way we want. In reality, life consists of good and bad, but our brain is designed to pay more attention to the bad (so-called “negativity bias” of the brain). Mindful gratitude helps us to appreciate the beautiful moments of life, while on the other hand we are better able to create such moments for others.

Practices for more gratitude

There are many ways to practice gratitude and thus to nurture and strengthen the inner sense of fullness: e.g. journaling about things you are grateful for, consciously opening the eyes and perceiving the beautiful, honestly saying “I thank you” for a friendly gesture, thinking of 10 things you are grateful for (everything is fine here, be it “delicious breakfast”, “my healthy children”, or “having been in time for the bus”), or using imagination and 5 fingers for this exercise:

Thumb: What strengths and talents am I proud of?
Pointer finger: What in nature inspires and excites me?
Middle finger: Whom can I be of benefit today?
Ring finger: Who do I love from the bottom of my heart?
Little finger: For what in my life am I deeply grateful?

(Source: https://karrierebibel.de/dankbarkeit/, last loaded on 14.4.2019, 13:54).
As with any practice, the secret is regularity. The more often we practice it, the stronger it will get in us. Gratitude does not cost anything while it gives us so much. So what are you waiting for?

I thank you very much for reading this article!

The secret of nature

by Berenice Boxler.

Winter is almost over, the first buds have been searching for a way out in the warm days of February. The end of the cold season is always an invitation: an invitation to notice the blooming of life, to observe the growth of plants and flowers, to look at the changing greens of the grass, to greet the morning light. It‘s not that winter is unwanted or less valuable. But spring makes it easier to waking up to life.

Look at a tree, a flower, a plant. Let your awareness rest on it. How still they are, how deeply rooted they are in being. Let nature teach you the silence. Eckhart Tolle

What nature teaches us

In observing and perceiving nature, so much can be learned.

  • The permanence of change: The weather changes, the flowers grow, the trees sprout. Human life, too, is constantly changing, and our bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings have as the only constant their impermanence. This can sometimes create a sense of anxiety or stress, knowing that nothing lasts forever and that, eventually, everything has to end at one point. However, nature show us the beauty of change and can smooth the way to accepting: Life is change. No moment is like the other, no feeling lasts forever, and also thoughts come and go (if we let them) like the clouds in the sky.
  • Patience: The meditation teacher Jack Kornfield once said, „You cannot grow carrots faster by pulling on them“. Nature follows its own laws of growth and decay, and we can only watch and wait patiently. As much as we may wish that it was summer, vacation, the big party, graduation … we can‘t control time. The moment is just the moment, and our mind can form the nicest caprices and lose itself in wishful thinking, but it will not go any faster. To cover up this inner insecurity, we try to distract ourselves, to stay busy. The practice of patience is a very helpful and deeply calming one. The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson says: „Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.“
  • Trust: Closely connected to patience is a sense of trust in the nature of things. When we exercise patience, we strengthen our trust in ourselves and in our environment. Eventually leaves will be on the trees again. Eventually it will get warmer. Eventually the holiday will start. With this knowing, grown from experience, knowledge and deep insight into the way of life and the guarantee of change, life can become much easier and more satisfying. It also gives us confidence that we can be with this time of transition and can live with patience and awaken curiosity – without waiting for something to arrive. Now is good enough.
  • Joy of Life: It can be very enriching and fulfilling to watch nature blossom. A walk in the woods, a deliberate view of the treetops, special care for the houseplant, an awakening for the twittering of birds – there is so much to discover when we open our senses. Opening the eyes again and again, widening the gaze (and releasing it from the square technical devices under our noses), letting the silence of nature affect us. Many studies prove the calming effect of nature on the state of the human mind.

Mindful savoury walks in springtime

I am looking forward to a new spring and to accompany this process with awakened senses and heart.

In collaboration with the Natural Park Our and the Ministère de l’Énergie et de l’Aménagement du territoire, I organize „Savoury Walks” to experience nature at different times of the day with an open mind:

  • Sunday 19 May at 7-9 in the morning
  • Tuesday 25 June at 19.30-21.30

You can find more information here.

Speech is silver…

by Berenice Boxler

We communicate countless times every day. Face to face or in writing by mail, SMS or otherwise. People share what they have experienced or what matters to them, be it just with their best friend or an anonymous crowd of followers. Without our ability to communicate, social interaction is difficult to imagine.

The question of why

Why would I like to tell my relatives that I am spending a wonderful holiday in a grandiose winter residence? Why do I call a friend and pour out my love broken heart? Why do I ask my children every day what their day was like?

The question of the „why“ of a communication or a conversation leads into our inner being, into our inner landscape. There are innumerable reasons why we would want to communicate: to be heard, to feel the other‘s compassion or compassionate joy, to be understood, liked or recognized, to feel better than others (need for superiority), community, closeness, etc. Every action has at its core one or more needs that need to be met – even if we are often unaware of this.

This is where mindfulness comes into play: recognizing why I want to talk. Am I lonely? Do I burst with pride and joy and want to let it out? Do I need understanding? This awareness of the inner state of emotions and thoughts (and physical well-being) can greatly affect how and with whom we speak – and if now is the right time.

Sometimes the needs of some people will oppose our own core values. Do you know people who like to brag about their accomplishments or always put themselves in the best light? Also, it is not easy to hear harsh criticism of one‘s own behaviour or work. But even these individuals fulfil an inner need: to uphold recognition, self-esteem, personal perfectionism, or something completely different. With a mindful attitude, we can easily observe this without judging it.

The conscious recognition of the inner landscape in the present moment holds the great opportunity to be more awake for our speaking and to be more skilful in our choice of time, listener and content.

The content: what do we say?

There is a story of Socrates asking another person to first send his story through three strainers: truth – kindness – necessity. When the story fails the test, Socrates says, „Well, if it is neither true nor good nor necessary, let it be buried and burden you and me not with it.

There are other traditions with contemplations about „wise speech“. When we check our speech habits to see if what we want to communicate is true, friendly, and indeed necessary to tell, then there is simply no need for gossip, accusation, and meaningless talk. That may not be easy to implement in practice. This question („Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?“) has often helped me not to talk about others only by hearsay, impulsively express the harsh word or to gab when the other simply wants some quiet.

Where are we coming from: How do we speak?

The way we speak is no less important than the content. If I speak out of a state of anger or disappointment, then people won’t like listening to me. The other gets into a fight-or-flight mode and is hurt, ashamed or annoyed – and I achieve nothing, certainly not understanding or cooperation. A meaningful communication is not possible and distance is created.

Especially the children have the finest antennas for how we are. Our body language and our tone of voice tell them directly. My lesson („Now clean up your room!“) will fizzle out and be met with resistance. But if I‘m aware of my mood and I have the strong intention not to speak out of anger, then I‘ll wait – and apply some self-care and self-compassion – until I‘m able to combine clarity and friendliness. That might look like this: „Wow, what a creative play! Do you want to take so many suitcases on your trip? Where are you going? … When you‘re done playing, please put the suitcases back, otherwise the room can not be cleaned tomorrow.

It is not easy – but very worthwhile – to commit yourself never to speak when you are angry. At most something like „I am very upset and need some time for me now. We‘ll talk about this when I am calm again.“ is helpful, but everything else does not help us to what we need. A proverb says, „Anger is like burning coals: it burns us and the other“ – when we throw the coals to the other with our words or deeds, we burn ourselves with our rage.

Mindful communication needs practice

Our communication is characterized by habits, conditioning and thought patterns. But we can learn to slowly but surely navigate this huge ship of speech into a calmer sea, where there are not so many icebergs and pirates. It takes time and practice, but it‘s worth it.

Not knowing

It’s a day like any other. Routine determines the rhythm of the day. Getting up, having breakfast, taking care of the children and bringing them to school, working, picking up the children, bringing them to swimming lessons or whatever else is on the agenda. Every day is somehow similar and of course unique. It is an endless sequence of duties and tasks, fulfilled or unfulfilled desires, cravings and avoidance, feeling good and being annoyed. This is life. Each person rides every day on the rollercoaster of emotions, driven by the never-ending thought factory.

Recently, one of my children was caught up in an emotional tornado of anger and aggression, and it took a very long time to get through the hot phase, after which she no longer physically attacked others but raged only for herself. During the storm I tried to respond with mindfulness, compassion and kindness, but it was hard. I became aware of my own anger rising, but the situation left no time for a pause, for breathing – and the situation turned into a vortex of increasing anger, incomprehension and helplessness. It was very difficult for everyone involved.

The challenge of “Not knowing”

In hindsight I realized the real reason for my anger: I did not know what had triggered my child or the underlying story. I did not know what to do to stop it. The storm came out of nowhere, no dark clouds or thunder rumble before. It simply rolled over us. And unlike before I could not do anything, I could not understand it. It will certainly not be the last time … The hardest thing in this situation for me was the not knowing. Not knowing where it came from. Not knowing how to connect to my raging child. Not knowing how I could help.

The inner urge to understand a problem or present a solution is often so strong that we get into a tunnel vision. But all that this is about is the difficulty and unpleasantness of not knowing. Feelings of powerlessness or failure overwhelm us, and out of our inability to be with these feelings, we generate anger and externalize our discomfort.

Trusting in our abilities

Mindfulness teaches us that there is something in us that can be with all that life offers us – be it sadness, joy, pain, anger, or powerlessness. Just as we can observe bodily sensations, thoughts or emotions, we can also learn to feel uncomfortable. It’s not pleasant to feel helpless. It is not enjoyable to feel like a failure. But we can practice recognizing that as part of life as well, coming and going, just as everything in life is constantly changing. Not knowing is a big challenge, but it is possible to be with it.

We can also see that we do not always have to find solutions or master a difficulty. We can’t talk down the lovesickness of our children. We can’t stop the tears of a grieving person. We can’t prevent the storms of life. We can’t always have a clear picture of what is going on. Sometimes we can’t do anything but just be there – for others and for ourselves. Actually, very often it is enough to just be there.

Acceptance

It’s just like that, accept it at last!” Who has not heard that before, from parents or annoyed friends? This “advice” is given very quickly, but it is not easy to follow. It’s hard to accept that someone else’s carelessness has knocked down your favourite cup. It is hard to accept that no one of the old friends replies to the party invitation at the new place of residence and then you sit alone in a foreign country. It is very difficult to accept that a friend, a pet, a family member is suddenly gone or has fallen seriously ill.

Resistance

What prevents us from accepting something is an inner resistance. “How could she / he just do that?!” “Why does this happen to ME?!” We don’t want to acknowledge reality and therefore fight it. This resistance, which often manifests itself in a lack of understanding, annoyance, or blame, is actually just a protective mechanism. The real reason is  often the irrational hope that everything will turn out well in the end – if we just close our eyes and do not see the misfortune, maybe it’s not even there, right? Ignoring reality is supposed to protect us from profound emotions, from sadness, disappointment, loneliness. In order not to feel this pain, we unconsciously flee quickly into outward emotions: anger, blame, ranting. This way of dealing with reality is very tedious and can become a pattern that pulls us down and lets us fight everything all the time. We suffer from the reality of life, and yet we have to live in this world.

Acceptance

There is another way of dealing with situations or people who do not act the way we would like or expect: acceptance. Acceptance is at the heart of the mindful attitude. It demands that we actively turn to a situation and realize that it is exactly what it is right now. Acceptance does not require that we especially like what we see or experience. It only requires the willingness to accept reality. As long as we are unable to do so, we will constantly try to change things the way they suit us better. This distance between wishful thinking and reality creates suffering and stress. Actually, it’s not life that’s bothering us – misfortune or difficulties are just part of life – but our unwillingness to come to terms with reality as it is. Acceptance has nothing to do with resignation or being passive at all. It is a deeply active attitude to life that enables us to perceive reality and the way we handle it. It is a feeling of openness, of non-striving, of appreciation instead of rejection. It does not stop us from wanting to change a situation or to improve the world if that seems important or possible to us. But by training acceptance, we create a space in which we can make our own decisions in clear awareness of reality.

Acceptance in everyday life

By accepting, I can acknowledge that the cup is now broken, and then allow the sadness or disappointment of carelessness to be there. I can accept the reality that my friends – for whatever reason – are not ready or able to drive the slightly further way to visit me. I can allow the sadness, the pain, the disappointment to be there and feel them in the body. I can also accept that illness and death are part of life, and that it can also fall on me and my friends and neighbours. I can choose to feel the pain and the fear, letting them be there and leaving again, just as everything comes and goes.

 

The more we allow ourselves to accept reality, and thus all the feelings that are caused by events and people, the more can we learn – step by step, without going beyond our limits – that we can be sad, anxious and lonely, without the world breaking apart. We are allowed to cry, to mourn, to feel the knot in our hearts. We can allow the whole range of human emotions and experience them in the body. All this trusting that everything will pass again (and will come and then go again); trusting that we can be with everything. This gives rise to resilience, confidence and inner stability.

 

For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining, is to let it rain.

Henry Wadswort Longfellow

Beginner’s mind

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programme, has identified nine aspects as the core of mindfulness practice. By practicing these qualities and cultivating them within us, they can help us to live a more mindful and alert life, a life in the “here and now” and with all that comes with it: the ups and the downs and the in-between.

The beginner’s mind

The beginner’s mind or the explorer’s mind perceives everything as if it were for the first time: getting up, taking a shower, eating breakfast, greeting the partner, seeing the sun, decorating the Christmas tree. This attitude to life carries with it a unique kind of magic that acknowledges that every moment is indeed completely new and fresh, that it has never existed before and never will exist again. Now, just at that moment, the fullness of life unfolds before us, and this allows us to break out of the autopilot, of old thinking patterns and boredom. With a beginner’s mind, there are countless possibilities open to us, and wonder and curiosity become the gateway to this present life. When we welcome every moment as fresh and new, we open our hearts to the miracle of “life”, to the extraordinary in everyday life.

Being amazed and curious

If we are wide awake at each and every moment and if we are curious about what is coming, then we step away from expectations and desires and can live our lives like an explorer discovering foreign lands. Thus, the daily sports programme becomes a real and therefore unique experience of our body and our attitude towards the latter. The evening meal with the family becomes a very special get-together of different personalities and their current moods. If we allow ourselves to be open and curious and to drop our own agenda and our idea of ​​how things should be, the pure life – in its fullness and as it is – unfolds before our eyes. Like a little child, we can open our eyes and be curious about this big world and our life, as every moment is exciting and unique.

Our everyday life makes it difficult for us

This attitude to life requires being awake and aware. In fact, it is really difficult to apply this, and it requires practice and a clear intention.

For example, if my son has been grabbing the same book to read before going to sleep for weeks, and his sister is moaning “Not this story again!”, then she is only saying out loud what my mind is thinking. If my children are arguing who gets their teeth brushed first – even though the cause of the dispute is actually a pleasant one – then my thoughts revolve around “Not again … Every evening the same fighting. I can’t bear it anymore.” When the washing machine is beeping for the third time today and is waiting to be emptied, I am at first annoyed by the renewed interruption of my activity. Doing the laundry again, how boring.

Our everyday life has in the word itself how it usually feels: every day is the same.

The power of mindfulness practice

When we consciously choose to look at the moment with a beginner’s mind, without waiting for the desired or expected result to come true, we can cultivate an inner curiosity, calm our judgmental mind, and experience the day with more joy. An open attitude, which, of course, also perceives states of mind such as boredom, annoyance and impatience, allows us to stay in the present moment and perhaps be surprised. Only in this way can I perceive with what enthusiasm and daily deeper understanding my son absorbs the bedtime story, and enjoy myself being there with him. Only in this way can I demonstrate the children with patience and understanding how to resolve a conflict (Who is “first” today? Why is it not important to be “first”?). To show them how to resolve a conflict peacefully and hopefully they will soon do it on their own. Only then can I make the conscious decision to use the laundry as a mindfulness exercise for coming back to the senses (What does the texture feel like? Which colours and shapes do I see? What does it smell like? What sounds do the clothespins actually make?).

It’s not easy to train the beginner’s mind, but it’s always worth remembering and trying it out. Then maybe the day and the moments will be different than originally thought. In addition, a day full of curiosity and openness contributes to feeling not so exhausted at the end of the day and frustrated by everyday – supposedly meaningless – tasks, but feeling awake and inspired by the abundance of this life.