Category Archives: silence

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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Be kind to yourself this bank holiday weekend.

 

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For those who work in schools or term time early years settings, we are part way through term 5. I always think of term 5 as being an easier term, with my nurture work the children are usually in a good place, they are more settled; often by now the school and children have reached a point of understanding one another. The children often feel safer and happier. But this term hasn’t quite been the usual pattern for a whole variety of reasons. This term I and some of the staff I work with are counting down the days to the next break. For this reason, the bank holiday Monday is a joy!. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, I wouldn’t change it for any other, it brings me so much delight and hope and satisfaction, but this term I am feeling tired.

The question I often write about and put to others is what can you do that will make you happy? and the extra day that the bank holiday brings us is a perfect time to think about this. It doesn’t have to be big, expensive things. Early this morning I walked around the community meadow, I often do this on a Sunday morning, but this morning I walked barefoot, through the morning dew. By walking barefoot it forces you to slow down, it connects you with the earth, you notice more, you become mindful. The coldness of the morning dew was at first a slight shock, but it soon became really enjoyable. By the end of the walk I felt so happy, the endorphins had really kicked in, in the way I feel when I swim, particularly when I swim outside.

I know from experience putting in place small things that make you feel good, that bring you joy, these really help us to look after our wellbeing.

For more ideas on looking after you well-being look at my book Promoting emotional wellbeing in early years staff.

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.

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

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.

Embracing stillness and slowness

 

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So much of the nurture role I do is helping children and the staff who support them to find a place of calmness and safety. There are many tools my colleagues, and I use to do this, it’s not rocket science! But it does need practitioners who can be calm and secure themselves. When you have a child who is throwing, kicking, biting, running, etc. because they are scared and frightened and have overwhelming feelings, they desperately need an adult who is solid and calm to help them feel safe and to come to a place of calmness.

Over the last three years of doing this work, I have realised increasingly how important it is for me to have space and encounter stillness outside of work. I firmly believe it is from a place of stillness and silence that I can become nourished to do my role. Daily swimming and gardening are important aspects for me in nourishing this. In the last six months, I have been writing a book about adults wellbeing, an important section in this book is about being comfortable with silence and stillness and be able to slow down.

This week we are away on the Isle of Mull, it’s not a very large Island, but many of the roads are narrow with passing points. If you are driving around the island this forces slow driving, also the scenery is so stunning, so you end up stopping regularly to watch an Eagle, look for Otters, or stop for the many Highland Cows and Sheep that are on the road. Although Mull has many visitors, it is easy to be in the hills or a beach and encounter nobody. What I have loved about this week away is embracing the stillness, at home I regularly walk around the community meadow at the back of our house and I love the stillness this brings, but here on Mull, it is another level of stillness and slowness and silence. To be able to spot Otters or watch for the Sea Eagles or Golden Eagles you have to sit and be still and watch, I have learnt how wildlife watching is such a mindful exercise.

The summer break from the nurture work is a time for me to take stock, reflect, have space to think about my writing and training, to be creative and plan. It is also a time to read, to nourish myself, to feed my soul. I feel this week of slowness, of big open spaces, of stillness and silence is a good starting point.

Where do you find silence?

 

 

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In my work with children and my training, I often explore about how we can help children to have times of stillness and silence. In my recent book Promoting young children’s emotional health and wellbeing, I have a chapter exploring this. Currently, I am writing a book for Jessica Kingsley Publishers about promoting the wellbeing of adults who look after children, and recently I have been reflecting a lot on how as adults we need to have times of silence and stillness. If as practitioners and parents we want to help children to be able to manage a time of silence, then we as adults need to practice this exercise ourselves.

Our lives are often very busy and noisy, particularly when we work with children, we can often encounter a lot of noise each day. How often do we have background noise of TV, radio or music in our homes and sometimes work place, our streets are noisy from increasing traffic, living with and working with children is inevitably noisy. Silence can be difficult for some; it can lead people feeling uncomfortable and awkward, many people seek to fill the silent spaces.

Over the last few years, I have been interested in seeking out silence and reading about silence. Several years ago I was inspired by Sarah Maitland (2009)  A book of silence. Since reading this I actively put rhythms into my life which enable me to be in silence. One of these is my early morning swim each weekday morning, the process of getting up in a silent house, while everyone else is sleeping is very precious, during the swim there is an agreement with the regulars that no one chats, the focus is on the swimming. On a Sunday morning, I walk around the community meadow at the back of our house, this is often at a time when no one else is around. Of course, there is rarely complete silence, on the walk this morning I could hear several different varieties of birds singing and the gentle noise of hot air balloons above me, but the lack of other noises allows me to notice and appreciate the sounds in the meadow.

Research shows that lots of noise can have a negative impact on our mental health, it can lead to high blood pressure and cause people to feel increasingly stressed (Gregoire 2017), in my experience children are also vulnerable to this and can become increasingly agitated with an increase in background noise levels. So my question this morning is when do you encounter times of silence?

Image of the meadow this morning.