Category Archives: noticing beauty

Finding calmness through swimming outdoors

We are entering the last week of the school holidays, I started this holiday feeling incredibly worn down and tired and I wasn’t sure I could see myself starting a new term. Thankfully now, I feel ready. I have mostly spent my holidays with a rhythm of swimming, writing, reading and a summer of spending time with friends and family, an opportunity to reconnect with myself, activities and people that I love.

Looking back over my summer, I have mostly been writing and thinking about silence practice, contemplative and meditative practice and how we support children in this, with a particular focus on how the church can do this. Alongside this I have been swimming lots, I love swimming and it is part of my daily routine, but this summer I have been finding as many opportunities as I can to swim outside. I have swum in lidos, sea lochs, the sea and rivers. I have swum in Scotland, England and next weekend I am planning on swimming in Wales, on a final weekend away before the term starts back, for my wedding anniversary. For me, the time I often feel most calm, still and peaceful is when I am swimming outside. There is something particularly meditative and mindful about swimming outside. When I swim outside I generally swim breaststroke, so that I can really notice the environment around me. Having great goggles enables me to really see what is under the water, being aware of the colours and patterns, watching the beauty of the sun rippling through the water. As my head rises above the water, paying attention to the small details of the ripples on the water, flies over the water and sometimes swallows diving to catch the flies; once a seal watching me. When I am swimming outside I feel incredibly peaceful. I have become really aware this year, how the act of swimming outside is a meditative act for me. I will, of course, continue to swim every weekday morning in my local pool, this is my routine and the people there are part of my community and I love it. But as we enter the new term and the autumn I am aware that as I enter back into the nurture role, with all its stresses and fullness, I am going to need to put in place some more chances to swim outside. I am currently looking for lidos that open all year round and wondering if somehow I can find an outdoor swim at least each month over the autumn and winter.

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The joy with large, wild and deserted spaces

 

IMG_0005I have just spent the last week with my family visiting three islands Arran, Islay, and Jura. It has been a week of slowness, exploration and wild swimming. All 3 islands are beautiful and abound with wildlife. Significant amounts of time were spent watching and noticing, looking for golden eagles, trying to spot otters, laughing at seals playing, noticing hares run by, seeing highland cows on the beach and family swimming in freezing cold water and loving the experiences. This week I have really enjoyed the wide open spaces that the islands provide and I have loved the quietness and lack of people!.

I spend half of my working week supporting children in school who are finding life challenging. This is a wonderful but also at times intense job, involving lots of emotional regulation, being present for staff and children. By the end of the school year, I am aware that I long for space, quiet, fewer people. I also spent a lot of time talking and writing about wellbeing. By the end of July, I know that for my own wellbeing I need to be outside, fully embraced and surrounded by nature for an extended period of time. I have learned over the years how restorative being in nature is. Florence Williams in her the book The Nature Fix: Why nature makes us happier, healthier and more creative, explores evidence from across the world on how being in nature helps our mental and physical wellbeing. She talks about a recent increase in the idea of Forest bathing in Japan, this is basically about people spending time in forests. It is viewed in Japan as a preventive therapy, as a way of counteracting ‘karoshi’ which means death from overwork. The effects of being in forests have been measured with hundreds of people by Chiba University researchers. Their research showed that a casual walk in a forest had a 12.7% decrease on the participant’s cortisol levels and 103 % increase in the parasympathetic nervous activity ( Relax state) (Williams 2017).

Over the next few weeks I will be writing, planning, thinking and dreaming about the next academic year and beyond. I hope that this time spent in truly wild places has helped my creative thought processes.

Finding what brings you joy

 

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In my nurture work, it’s the start of a new term, after a badly needed Easter break. The nurture consultant role can be an emotionally challenging job and one in which you need to be fully present to the children and staff. Holidays are a vital time to take some time to replenish. Over the last two weeks, I decided to spend a lot of my time reading. The books I have read have all been around wild swimming, perseverance, finding silence and the joy of nature ( Find a way, one untamed and courageous life:Diana Nyad, The Salt Path, Raynor Winn, The Moth snowstorm: Nature and joy -Michael McCarthy and Silence in the age of noise- Erling Kagge).

At the start of the holiday, I was feeling fraught, stressed and edgy, I was aware I was catastrophising more than I usually do. The term hadn’t been particularly challenging but I was feeling less able to deal with the usual challenges. Looking back on my choice of books I can see how my body and soul were craving to read and experience things that I know are good for me. I have spent two years writing about wellbeing for children and adults. I know the things that help my wellbeing, but looking back over the last term I can see I hadn’t been doing them enough.

Going into this new term I am planning ways I can incorporate more time outside and exploring nature with the children, using mindful and listening walks with them. I have been thinking again about how I best experience silence, which I know I need every day; being outside, gardening and swimming are the best ways for me. For this I am thinking about how I can increase these opportunities, I am hoping to do some gardening each week; I already swim ever Monday-Friday, but I am also thinking of ways I can fit in open-air swimming into some weekends and end of the days. In the holidays I did my first open air swim of the year in the Cornish sea, I felt so alive and full of joy, it reminded me of how good I feel when I am combining two loves, swimming and being outside.

Being intentional to stop, slow down and notice what is around us.

 

This weekend I have been having conversations with my husband about wellbeing. There is a joke in our family that he and the girls have lived all my wellbeing stuff, they don’t need to read the books! ( although he has recently started reading it and commented with an air of surprise that it is very good!). Our conversation was around how busy he is, he is a self-employed letter cutter, and has some great jobs with tight deadlines over the next few weeks. He knows what he needs to do, he knows he needs to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, rest, spend time outside, intentionally do things that make him happy, and take time each day to stop and notice. But knowing something doesn’t mean we always put it into practice. He decided he needs to put it into practice a bit more.

 

During this week I delivered listening to young children training, I now always include staff wellbeing within any training I do. The exercise I got people to do was a noticing exercise, we went outside for 10 minutes, and I challenged them to look around, see what grabbed their attention, notice something which made them smile, maybe something of beauty and to take a photo of it, on their phones. We spend so much time rushing, not noticing, the aim of this exercise is to help people to slow down, for a moment and just notice what is around them. The staff all commented on how helpful they found this exercise.

This morning I went for one of my long walks, I knew I needed some time to encounter silence, I wanted this walk to be a slow, intentional walk, a walk of noticing and I was hopeful I would be able to do some early foraging. It was such a beautiful morning, cold but bright and sunny. I did find early nettles and some early wild garlic. For me the smell of wild garlic is a sure reminder of spring, I love the smell. The joy of foraging is that you need to be very mindful, you have to really look and notice, and be very careful about how your picking and how much your picking. I then came home and made wild garlic soda bread and nettle soup. All good for my wellbeing.

There are more ideas on enhancing wellbeing in my book Promoting emotional wellbeing in early years staff.

 

Slowing down, bringing stillness and silence into our lives.

 

 

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I have recently been delivering training, to children center workers in the Wirral, children’s workers from Churches in Cambridge and parents and teens at a local school. In each of the training sessions, I talked to the groups about having times of slowing down, encountering stillness and silence. This is still so often viewed as counter-intuitive, especially in our work with young children or teens. So often as adults we presume that children and young people need noise, lots of doing, lots of activity. A growing amount of research is showing us that children and young people need times of being still, encountering silence, having time when they are not being entertained or busy.

However, if we are going to help children find times of stillness and silence we need to embrace this in our own lives. We need to recognise in ourselves when we are too busy when our lives are too cluttered. We need to find ways to seek out stillness. This can make some adults feel deeply uncomfortable, and it does take practice. I am aware that for myself I need this increasingly, this may be because the work I engage in is often emotionally intense and so I need to find a place which is quiet and still, to help my wellbeing. I firmly believe if we engage in the practice ourselves we can then help children to feel comfortable in being still and finding silence.

For many  people the practice of mindfulness and yoga is really helpful in creating good practices, I use mindfulness a lot, but for me, the practice of mindfulness and being outside is the place where I truly feel I can embrace silence and stillness. This morning I knew I needed a longer time of this, I knew my usual short Sunday morning walk around the meadow would not be enough, so I went on the long walk, down a lane called Stoneage lane, into the Cam valley and up to our village. This walk is a couple of miles; it takes me past Cam brook and along country lanes, it is such a familiar walk for me; it is one I have walked for the 20 years we have lived here. It is the walk I did to quiet my babies, it is the walk I did to grieve over losing jobs and death of friends, and it is the walk I do to find peacefulness and space. I always find this walk gives me the space and time to breathe and enjoy the moment, enjoy just being.

In training, I encouraged people to think about what stillness practice they have or what stillness practice they could develop and to think about the spaces they can use to help them find stillness. When we regularly engage in a time of slowing down, noticing, just being, then we are able to share this practice with children.

There are many books and apps on mindfulness, stillness practice and examples of how we can use this for ourselves and with children. Some of the ones I particularly like are:

Mindfulness: a practical guide to find stillness in a frantic world

Headspace app

Mindful monsters to use with children

The mindful child

Finding what brings you joy

 

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It took me a while to figure out what brought me a deep sense of joy, I realised a few years ago it is swimming, especially swimming outside. At the start of this summer, I hoped to have more opportunities to swim outside. Thankfully I have been fortunate to swim in some fantastic places. Swimming in a river with dragon flies in June, swimming in the sea on the Isle of Mull and Iona, swimming in a lovely outdoor pool in an avenue of Beech trees at Ammerdown and then today swimming through the arch at Durdle Door and then also at Stair Hole, Lulworth.

Swimming outside feels quite adventurous, I am not a natural risk taker, but wild swimming gives me a major kick of endorphins, leaving me feeling alive and thankful and a little bit adventurous. I am always a bit concerned that I am not a very strong swimmer; due to a few scary experiences in the sea in the past I am quite cautious and very wary of dangers. However today I realised I am a stronger swimmer than I had thought and spent quite a long time happily swimming around and through the arches, enjoying the sun on the sea, admiring the beautiful rock formation. Clearly, five years of swimming each week day in my local pool have paid off.

So much of my work and focus is on wellbeing, such an important aspect of wellbeing is finding what makes you happy and brings you joy. This final week of the summer holidays I will be pulling together ideas and resources, preparing for the new term and new children, thinking about their individual needs and how to enhance their wellbeing. I feel very thankful to be going into the new term feeling rested and with some great memories of brilliant swims.

 

Photos from North beach Iona (Iain Cotton) and Stair hole, Lulworth

Nurturing your soul

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This last weekend I have been taking time to stop and reflect, I attended a retreat led by Ian and Gail Adams, the retreat was very spacious with lots of opportunity for stillness practice. Some of my favourite times were sat in silence with my feet in a pool and also swimming, silently, with others. Attending a retreat, at this time of the year gives me the space to think about the year ahead ( I still think in school years as that is now the bulk of my work). It is also a valuable time to nurture my soul, to be fed and nourished. I noticed this year that many of the people attending were therapists or worked in a caring role. I think all of us in this position knew that we need to have time to be nurtured ourselves if we are to go on and give out to others.

One of my thoughts from this weekend has been around self-love.

In my nurture role, the underpinning principle that I encourage the Ta’s and teachers to understand is that the children we work with need to feel that they are loved, they are special and they are safe. We all know that to be loved is a fundamental need that everyone has. Until the children know this, they are not in a position to develop and thrive.

Supporting children who are scared and overwhelmed can be challenging. It is so important that the adults are in a good place themselves, that the adults have a good wellbeing. I believe an essential part of having a good wellbeing is by loving ourselves. This can happen in many different ways, through taking time to do something we enjoy, resting, eating well, exercising but also we need to think about how we nurture and love our soul, our spiritual wellbeing.

In my book on adult wellbeing I have a chapter on spiritual wellbeing, this is something which is often overlooked when we think about our wellbeing. An element of spiritual wellbeing is about feeling connected, feeling part of something bigger than ourselves. For some spiritual wellbeing is about engaging in religious practices, for others it is about contemplative practice outside of religious practice. There is growing evidence that spiritual practices are linked with an increase in better health and wellbeing.

The retreat this weekend was excellent to help me refocus on my spiritual wellbeing, it reminded me of some important practices and taught me new ones. With all of these things, we need to keep practising, keep engaging, noticing our wellbeing and how we are feeling. When we can see that something is out of line, we need to address that. I know, to be able to work at my best in September with my nurture children I need to spend time caring for myself and allowing myself to be nurtured by others, and Ian and Gail did this very well.