Five misperceptions about mindfulness

Every moment matters

1: Non-judging means we have to be passive and just accept everything

A: No. Non-judging is accepting the current moment. We can’t be fully present if we’re judging a situation. Judging is a ‘head’ thought process and takes us to the past, i.e. through criticism, blame and often negative words that make us feel heavy the longer we’re in the ‘judging’ mode. Instead of judging, mindfulness encourages us to practice non-judgment, which is letting go of the thoughts of a situation and tuning in to our awareness of it instead; we can then use our intuition, wisdom and discernment to decide on our next action (right action).

For example, if there’s a fire in our home, we don’t judge it as being ‘bad, horrible, a nightmare etc.’ but we also don’t sit there and let the flames engulf us. We’ll act, call the fire brigade, throw water on a fire, or run (or all three) because that’s the ‘right action’ to do. We don’t need to judge in order to do something, but we do need to ‘accept’ that things have happened or are happening. That’s going with the flow. Judging just keeps us stuck and blocks us from the flow.

2. Mindfulness is just a distraction from reality – we’re zoning out, stopping our thinking!

A: No. You’ll never stop your thinking, but mindfulness will make you more aware of what you think. Letting go of thoughts to become present is what mindful meditation is about. We don’t need thoughts to just ‘be’. Being gives us calmness, patience, joy and ultimately happiness. Thoughts do not. It is the experience of the present that fulfils a life, not mental formations. Moreover, using awareness on what we’re doing isn’t zoning out, it’s paying more attention!

3. Mindfulness isn’t going to solve my problems. What’s the point in ‘just being’ when there’s stuff to do and fix?

A: Mindfulness isn’t about doing nothing. It’s about doing things ‘with being’. We are present for what is in front of us. This includes eating, drinking, going to the loo, cleaning our teeth, walking, driving a car, having a bath and so on. We can be mindful of all these things. By being more present, your awareness improves, which in turn helps you notice when you’re suffering more (i.e. you KNOW you’re anxious, for example) and by being with these emotions (and not judging them) this can change your relationship with such emotions. Problems will come and go but they’ll be different, and you’ll be more able to see your suffering and other peoples’ suffering too. That leads to kindness, compassion and brings us back to our inherent human goodness, which is always there if we choose to see it. Paradoxically, not thinking about yourself and your problems so much will actually improve your situation than if you were to dwell on them or strive to eradicate them. Accept, forgive, move on.

4. Mindfulness discourages the use of technology.

A: No. Again, there’s no judgment! We just notice if we’re using our mobile phone 3000 times a day with our awareness. It’s an interesting fact that awareness can change our behaviour and our inherent wisdom of what’s good for us tends to overcome habits once we observe ourselves doing the same thing over and over again. This way, many mindful people CHOOSE to use technology less if it’s distracting them too much.

5. Mindfulness is only for certain people. I’m way too busy to do it. Anyhow, it’s only being selfish anyway. What about the world – climate change, etc? Shouldn’t we be working on that instead?

A: Being ‘too busy’ is thinking about time which brings in past and future. If you’re engaged in what you’re doing right NOW, you’ll be finding the present moment. Being in the present moment is something everyone does from time to time, so we could say mindfulness is actually universal. The practice of mindfulness is catching yourself leaving the present moment and choosing to come back to it. It’s no more selfish than any choice, whether it’s eating chocolate or not, or staying at home or not. One finds with mindful practice, and meditation in general, that one becomes more selfless, bringing about increased compassion, loving-kindness, love and understanding. Imagine a world where more people are this way. Perhaps mindfulness could help things like climate change, after all, if it changes peoples’ outlook on life. We certainly would evolve into more conscious beings, acting out of wise counsel, not subconscious thought patterns based on ‘fear’ based judgments.

The delight of foxes

On January 1st, I did a wonderful mindful walk with my wife Caren. We had stayed the night at a friend’s house in Ladybank for Hogmanay, and as there were no buses back on Jan 1st, took it upon ourselves to have a leisurely, slow walk through the Fife countryside from Ladybank to Falkland, via Kingskettle and Freuchie.

Mindfully walking is an amazing thing, because it concentrates your mind and body to act as one. Rather than thinking about past or future issues in our lives, we focus in the present at our surroundings: the feel of the ground under our feet, the ever changing weather, the sights and sounds of wildlife. We use our awareness of the moment to keep coming back, again and again, when our mind wanders off.

We decided, also, to explore some woods we’d walked many times before, but moving off the track and through the trees, just out of curiosity. In doing this, we had to walk ever slower, stepping over root, lowering under branch, and generally watching our footing.

Portals in the woods…

This slowness made us more quiet, and then, lo and behold! We spotted five deer. Nature wasn’t content to leave us with that; we then heard sounds above, looked up, and spied a red squirrel munching at the top of a tree. Amazing what can be seen when one slows, leaves public paths, and ventures into the land.

We rejoined the main track, heading through woods towards the village of Newton of Falkland. We had stopped to inspect some strange markings on a tree, when Caren grabbed my shoulder and turned me around. She’d heard a noise behind, and then had spotted it first. I turned and before us, thundering down a track just opposite to the one we were standing on, was a fox.

I’ve never seen a fox do such a thing before: it plunged through the undergrowth, not quietly (as I felt foxes did), but with rapturous presence. It stopped briefly just up a slight rise in the path, looked back at us as if to say: ‘Did you see me?’ then plunged into its lair.

An amazing walk, not to mention all the birds we saw, and the ever changing cloud formations on a windy day. This highlights to me that when we take our time to slow down, to just be, to not fill our head with incessant thinking, we begin to see more visually what is happening on the ground. In fact, I’d go as far to say that we’re not sending out brain waves into the landscape; we’re calmer, and so wildlife tends to be less afraid and comes more into view. This is speculation on my part, but in the current state of being I’m in, I’m curious about such matters. Certainly, what we think can manifest into reality. Perhaps by being calmer, we’re influencing the world around us into being more calm.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Honouring the magic

The miracle of each moment; that we are here at all,

Fully conscious elementals of light;

as pure as stars, as hot as suns,

we feel and touch each strand of time,

we follow a journey with purpose,

each seed in us is watered every day,

and we transform:

we become different to our past,

we evolve, rising to the stream of collective thoughts

and dance into our new, effortless wizardry.

As we end 2019, I felt this new poem fitted my current views. It has been an incredible year, full of change and portent for the future. I keep coming back to how the end of the year feels very different to the beginning of it; how things have transformed for me, for others and for our planet.

2020, the start of a new decade, will see all the efforts of humanity continue to tackle climate change and old ‘fear based’ processes, with our consciousness re-awakening to knowledge of what’s going on and how to face these challenges. No longer are we content to sit in the shadows, watching things unfold without action – I firmly believe we are changing as a species, rising up to awaken to all the issues we face on Earth, with continuing movement towards kindness, compassion and insight.

This then, feels like the magic – the blossoming, new energy, this collective view that is starting to pervade everything and everyone. I can feel this change in my body; there’s a moment of pause, before we plunge into something very exciting. I wonder if others feel this way too?

Often the news can give us depressing items, or fuel our fear through the fears of others, but I’m believing our self-reliance and inner wisdom is filtering these stories, unearthing what is really true and what is really helpful for us going forward. There’s always hope, and I feel 2020 will provide us with even more for us to feel hopeful and grateful for.

I am truly glad to be alive, in this ever changing climate, with a degree of excitement to what is in store. Next year will see changes in where I live, what I do and how I continue my practice of mindfulness. I plan to write a lot more, and am hopeful for five book projects to be released. There’s like a build-up of creativity just waiting to be unleashed.

The time to start, as always, is now…

Wishing everyone a peaceful Christmas and a very happy New Year.

Mindful Walk, Riverside Park, Glenrothes – 1pm-3pm, Sunday 23rd February 2020

A 2 hour mindful walk, beginning at Riverside Park car park, and then a gentle amble on some of the paths beside the river at Riverside Park, before an optional visit back to Glenrothes Shopping Centre for refreshments. Cost is £10 per person. If you’re interested in attending, please contact Craig Gilbert via private message to this page, or text: 07846 399594 or e-mail: info@craig-gilbert.com – thank you.

Letting things be, the insight of splinters

Splinters…

I received a splinter the other week, which neatly embedded itself in a finger just under the nail. It was quite small, but it pushed deep enough that any amount of trying to extract it with tweezers just couldn’t work; the nail was in the way and I couldn’t quite get a hold of it. So, I did the only thing I could do – I left it.

What happened over the following days was a revelation to me. First, my finger swelled slightly, and went red. Then it appeared that a circle had formed around the splinter. Then this circle went black, then rough to the touch (like dry skin), then this healed away…and there was no splinter.

My body had consumed the splinter, eradicated it, and left me with a lovely healed finger.

Don’t we just force things in life, sometimes? Don’t we try and fix things, especially body illnesses, with buying lots of pills/tablets, or getting expensive therapies done on us, in an effort to ‘be over there nicely healed’ instead of accepting ‘we are currently ill, need rest, and we’ll heal naturally’. The body is miraculous, it truly is. I was astonished when there was no splinter. I suppose it makes sense the body would do this, it heals a cut finger after all with no need for us to think about it.

This, for me, is another mindfulness insight. That just by ‘letting things be as they are’ the universe incites the change anyway. Of course, I was conscious of the splinter, and I think that’s the key: being aware of what’s occurring, that’s when the healing starts.

So, knowing we have a cold, for example, causes us to reconsider, to pause, to rest, or have a hot lemon/ginger drink to help our sore throat. If we ignore it, or fight it, or force it to go away (normally in our thoughts: i.e. ‘I wish I didn’t have this cold’, ‘I’m fed up that I get ill all the time’, ‘My body is rubbish’, ‘I just wish I was better’) this tends to make the thing last all the more. Why? Because we’re getting in the way of the natural healing process.

Moreover, by going into our head like that, we’re triggering the ‘stress response’, the bit of us that goes on fight/flight mode when there’s a threat nearby. Our thoughts are making things like a cold a threat. So our body is on high alert, and diverts the healing energy into keeping us alert, ready to run at a moment’s notice. This slows down the healing.

So, if we’re calm, relaxed, mindful, and letting things be just as they are, we’re not in the ‘stress response’. So our body can do its job of healing the areas it needs to heal. A cold, if welcomed, accepted and given love and friendship, will leave pretty quickly.

So, it all comes down to ‘letting things go’ or ‘letting things be as they are’. If we can accept everything that is thrown our way, with kindness, without thinking it’s a threat to our life, without wishing it away, then it’ll go away once we’ve seen it. Try this with your emotions too. Try it when you get anxious. Don’t fight it. Don’t tell your anxiety to ‘do one’. Breathe with it, accept it, be curious about it, be a friend to it. You’ll find your anxiety leaves you a lot quicker.

My insight is that our thoughts make illnesses worse. Of course, if you’ve got something painful or life-threatening, then getting treatment is recommended/essential! But what I’m saying is that by accepting what is, you might find things begin to heal quicker. At worst, you’ll find you’ll be happier – because you’re not dwelling on the past or wishing for a better future. You are present! You are concentrating on the moment. That is a source of huge happiness for us all.

Mindful Walk: Ravenscraig Park to Dysart, Sun 24th November, 1pm-3pm

A mindful walk, beginning at Ravenscraig Park car park, and walking through the lovely park to the shoreline. From there we’ll pause to enjoy the sea and the beach, before continuing through the tunnel to Dysart harbour. We’ll wander around the harbour to the Dysart beams, before finishing at the Harbourmaster’s House for refreshments. Approx 2 hours. 1pm-3pm. Cost £10. To book, please message Craig via this page, text 07846 399594 or e-mail: info@craig-gilbert.com

A year in…how goes it?

Ladybank woods

I’ve been running mindfulness groups, classes and one to ones now for over a year as my main income stream, so felt it was a worthy topic to reflect upon. How has it gone?

People who know me well, know that the practice of mindfulness has transformed my life. In the five or so years since starting this journey, I have changed my personality (who knew that was possible!), become more peaceful and continue to learn, learn, learn. When I think of who I was five years ago, I blink bleary-eyed at that past, wondering in abject awe how things have changed in me and for me. If I’d been able to look into the future back then, I might have practised mindfulness even more diligently! Still, mindfulness is all about letting go, non-judging and coming back to the moment, so in that way, everything has flowed perfectly. I am enough, each and every day.

I’m not an ‘expert’ in mindfulness; what does that even mean? I’m not striving for becoming any more important, or impressive, or anything as it goes – my main aim, and has always been, is to know myself better so I can ease my suffering, and to know others better so I can help ease theirs. Being able to ease my own pain in life has led me to deeper connections with so many people. I’ve learned in this year not to try and force change in people, and accept people as they are. Any forcing on my part was just more learning – I’m also trying to stop ‘preaching’ about mindfulness as this amazing cure for everything in an effort to change other peoples’ views on it. If I preach too much, then I’m judging those who don’t do this practice, and that in itself stops my own mindfulness. Acceptance; letting be, these are the ways. So I continue to work on myself.

Each day is a gift, a new learning, a new approach, a curiosity that needs adventuring. Any sign of ego, the voice in my head that thinks too much, the emotions that come from that kind of thinking, ALL of it goes into the melting pot of conscious learning. What comes out is something I could never have conceived of. This something feels inherently more peaceful. Of course, sometimes I miss the gift, sometimes I still hurt, or have strong feelings about something – but in it goes, into that melting pot. Sometimes it takes a while to come out of the other side in its alchemy. I sometimes want it to be a bit quicker, to ‘get somewhere’, but again, that’s just not the point!

So, how’s the year gone? Incredibly rich, diverse, learning. Insight after insight! More kindness, joy and happiness; more able to stand on my own two feet and just be without too much emotional disturbance. A constant, changing, flowing journey – with no goal other than to survive, to be, to actually enjoy this precious life. In these challenging times of climate change and systems beginning to fall apart, mindfulness is my torch, carrying me onward, to give me permission to have joy when so many people are without it. Joy generates more joy, peace generates more peace. In this way, by changing my own personality, I become a practising ‘peaceful warrior’ to gain wisdom to ‘do the right thing’ for everyone in my world (including myself).

What’s next? Well, a book on mindfulness and some mindfulness practice cards will become props when they’re ready; more groups, courses and one to ones with people, and working with organisations to bring more mindfulness to Fife (and beyond) should it be asked for. I’m even contemplating doing a series of online videos – I might need some help with the technical aspects of this – but it’s all in that melting pot…

Can one person make a difference?

Wooden panel on Fife Coastal Path

I really liked this phrase etched into a wooden panel on Fife’s coastal path (just by Dalgety Bay) following a recent mindful walk there. It made me think of the difference that just one person can do to make a place beautiful.

In mindfulness, we start with ourselves. How can we start anywhere else? Through the practice, I’ve seen clearly what’s been in my mind, what’s made me my own ‘unique blend’ of life, and I see that my life has gone through lots of suffering: I’ve had illnesses, I’ve been mentally depressed, I’ve gone through anxious times, I’ve had relationship break-ups and numerous other human interactions that have wounded me or caused me pain. These, have, over the years, manifested in me as anger, frustration, shyness, nervousness, anxiety, sadness, loneliness…you name it, I’ve had it.

With the wonder that is mindfulness, all of these things are treated without judgment. So, whatever I’ve endured, whatever I’ve done, I can wipe the slate clean and look at how I’m doing right now. In fact, every time I get challenged or feel an emotion, I look at it with the light of mindfulness, bathing each challenge/feeling with loving-kindness for myself. Once I accept these things are part of me, have been part of me, and are continuing to be a part of me, then I start to change.

No longer beating myself up, or judging what comes, I let it be, give it warm affection and it passes (as does everything). In doing so, I transform my mind from a head filled with suffering, hurt, anguish etc. (all related to thoughts and memories from the past that no longer exist except in the mind/body) to simply being with what is happening now. My mind starts to ease its thinking, its patterns, its holding on to the past, its judgments. Freedom starts to coalesce and form. This is truly beautiful, and joy ensues as a result.

Then, because I’m in more a place of joy, a place of stillness and calmness through my mindful practice, I start looking outward, away from just myself, into the situation of other people, events, even the planet.

Yesterday, I saw thousands upon thousand of people, young and old alike, take to the streets to demonstrate about the Climate Emergency we’re all facing, and the whole thing gave me huge hope for the future: that we’re not restricted by our own, internal mind chatter, but that we’re working together as a community to help save ourselves. We are the planet.

So, this echoes for me the path with mindfulness at its core. If we are all joyful, happy humans, letting go of our past suffering, learning from the past to enable peace in the present, then we can have peace in our future. If we were all living in such a way that we took away OUR THINKING of how awful we are, how horrible we are as a species, how corrupt and despicable we all are, but came back to what’s going on now and how we can help solve that, then we will solve it without all the anger, sorrow and blame that we inflict on each other (and especially, ourselves).

And a world without anger, blame and judgment? That is truly, truly beautiful. By making ourselves beautiful, we make the place beautiful too. In this way, one little action we do for ourselves – letting go of an old thought pattern, letting go of blaming someone, letting go of our own internal struggle, is an act of real courage and brings us closer to our real self – a being of love and understanding. That is making a huge difference not only to our own life, but to those in our circles.

Formonthills Woodland Walk, Glenrothes – Sun 22nd Sep – 1pm-3pm

Starting at the Pitcairn Centre car park, we will walk into the Formonthills Woodland, where we will pause and investigate the various features within, such as the totem pictured. Various parts of the woodland offer striking views of Glenrothes and also the Lomond Hills. We will then return to the car park for approx 3pm, where there will be an option to travel to a cafe for refreshments in Glenrothes itself. Cost £10 per person. If you’d like to book on this event, please contact Craig Gilbert via text on 07846 399594, e-mail: info@craig-gilbert.com or private message on this page.

Moving house mindfully?

Heavy thoughts about the future?

I’m in a house move process. For the first time in my life, I’ve got mindfulness to help me with such a thing.

It is acutely aware to me of our need to rush, of our need to make sure we have a concrete buyer so we can move quickly, efficiently and with as much ease as possible.

Only, this is often not the reality of it. So, how do we help ourselves in a labelled ‘difficult’ time?

I’d been doing very well, up until the last few days, where I was anticipating a call from someone who had been interested in the house. I became aware of losing my power, of going into my head and repeating phrases like: ‘why haven’t they rang me yet?’, ‘please ring, phone’, ‘sigh – they’re not ringing, they don’t want the house’ etc etc etc. In fact, it became such that my mobile phone became a thing of derision; a thing I didn’t want to keep staring at, but stare at it for long moments, I did. Until my mindfulness kicked in. It took longer than normal to come in, which I found interesting in itself.

However, there we have it – mindfulness: being aware of the present moment without judgment – has saved me once more from all these tenacious thought patterns we find ourselves in. There I was, thinking about an outcome. There I was was, thinking about the future. There I was, with anticipation, expectation and hopes. All of this made me feel on edge, nervous, frustrated, even a bit sad. All. Started. With. Thoughts.

Once I’d realised I was in these thought patterns, it was time to let go of them. It was time to tune back in to what is, where I am right now, which is sitting in the house. I’m not ‘awaiting a phone call’, I’m just sitting. Then I’m reading. Then I’m typing on a computer. Then I’m drinking my tea. That’s it. This simplicity immediately relieved the tension.

From there, curiosity has taken me beyond the need for a quick sale of my house. It does not matter one jot when I move house. I’m still sheltered, I still have food on the table, I still have a place to sleep etc. It matters not which roof I’m under. What matters is I’ve made a conscious decision to move. It’s trusting the universe to make it happen. Trusting means not thinking about the future. It’s all going to be OK, but the when of it, the time (which is just a construct anyway), is irrelevant. When I’m meant to go, that’s what I’m meant to go.

So no amount of worrying, fussing, hoping or even coercing the future from me. As always with mindfulness, we’re tested every day to remember to arrive back at each moment, because these are the moments that are truly real and existing. These are ALL we have.

I’m meant to be where I’m meant to be, and that’s OK.