Tag Archives: being present


My quiet peaceful life has recently been totally disrupted – I got two kittens! Well, they’re called kittens, but they sound like baby elephants galloping across the floor, and they can scatter litter tray contents, food, and objects off shelves as if they were a horde of monkeys. They take turns to run between my legs as I’m walking and climb up me when I’m getting their food ready – or on the computer. They lose their toys under chairs, and play with my knitting wool, pens and electric wires instead. They chase my feet and hands when I get into bed, and yowl piteously at the door if I shut them out of the bedroom. Oh, and they love climbing up curtains, on to the toilet seats – on fact anywhere that looks impossible.

At first I wondered why on earth I had decided to put myself through this again – morning routines disrupted, attention distracted, flowers and plants chewed, things knocked over. I should have known better – after all I have had kittens before.

Then I began to notice the gifts they bring.

  • They lie on my lap, warm and trusting
  • They greet me with loud purrs when I’ve been out
  • They make me laugh out loud with their antics
  • They tempt me to stop and play with them rather than ploughing on with whatever I’m doing

And they have prompted me to re-examine what’s really important: routines, habits, objects. Some are being adapted to include them, and some are staying, but the review is useful and needed to be prompted.

Above all, they are constant reminders of what being in the moment really means. They don’t hold grudges or sulk, they ask for food if they’re hungry, they sleep if they’re tired, they come for fussing when they want attention, they walk away when they’ve had enough. And we think we humans are evolved!!

Disruption comes in many forms: a child, a pet, a new relationship – a change of some sort in your circumstances. It took me a couple of weeks to realise that it’s a gift, and I chose to take it on! When it’s not something you’ve chosen – an illness, a break-up, a job loss – it may take longer. Nonetheless, when we look back, most of us can see that it was a good thing in some ways, that it helped us to revise our lives and really recognise what is important.

Oh! Smokey has just decided that stroking him is more important than carrying on writing – time to stop!!



When I visit Maui, it is impossible to ignore the free gifts we all get offered every day, because they are there in front of me – and maybe that is because I am not being busy with my life, and therefore take the time to notice them. I’m talking about the weather that enables our plants to grow. I’m talking about the fruit and vegetables we have to eat as a result of that weather – OK, I know that in the UK we have to pay for them unless we grow our own!

Then there are trees and flowers with their individuality, beauty and changing nature, there are hills and mountains, beach and sea – landscapes of all types to delight the eyes. And what about the birds that sing, the butterflies that dance around the flowers, the bees gathering nectar – so many beautiful things that we can appreciate at no cost.

Just spending a little while noticing what the world offers us to enjoy for free is a great way of feeding our soul, and there is always something available. I watched a lovely little video where people in a not very pleasant neighbourhood were given an empty picture frame and asked to find something beautiful to frame with it. By looking around and up instead of just walking through, they all found something to frame. (This group does lots of great things like this. If you want to take a look, here’s the link to their site: https://www.youtube.com/user/soulpancake ).

Noticing these free gifts gives us a little space in our hectic lives, a chance to regain some perspective. When you watch the birds, the plants, the stars, they exemplify the natural way of being in the world. They don’t rush, they don’t struggle against how things are, they don’t worry about what might happen next! They remind us that we are natural living beings too, even if we are not conscious of it.

There is also something calming about the rhythm of nature: rain on the window, wind in the trees, birds flying – it all has a soothing effect on us and quiets down our bodies and minds.

So give yourself five minutes every day just to notice and appreciate the gifts of the world around us, and allow yourself a little break from the pressures of everyday life.


‘What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.’

By William Henry Davies


Have you done it all? The presents, the cards, the food – all the paraphernalia of Christmas… It is easy to forget what it’s really supposed to be about: ‘ peace on earth, goodwill to all mankind.’ Whether you are a Christian or not, these are surely good sentiments to bring to the fore at this time. And if we want them to be a truth in our world, we have to look at how we can create peace and goodwill in our own world.

It starts with ourselves: do you feel goodwill towards yourself? Be kind to yourself during this time, allow yourself to relax and indulge in pleasurable activities. When you are treating yourself with kindness and respect, you are far more likely to treat others in the same way.

And add a little more kindness, just to celebrate the season. Begin with those you know and love: stop and play with the children for a little while; phone a friend and tell them how much they mean to you; invite a neighbour for coffee.

Then spread your goodwill a little further, to strangers you come in contact with: give a homeless person some money when you’re in town; thank someone properly for the way they serve you or deliver something to you; give some attention to someone you are usually too busy to speak to.

And are you feeling peaceful? Let your mind relax and give yourself a break from all the busyness. Just for a day or two, don’t worry about what else you should have done. Write it down on a list somewhere and leave it for when you are ready to pick up the reins again.

And as you create a little peace for yourself, being quiet and at ease, imagine your moment of peace as rays of warmth and calm, gently spreading out over those around you, at home, in the supermarket, in the street. Just stop for a moment and imagine you are enveloping others in that peace blanket.

And maybe in a quiet moment in the morning, or before you go to sleep, you can transmit your peace towards all those who are suffering disruption, war, misery, anger, and imagine them receiving just a moment of calm, of hope.

Let’s remember what this season is really about this Christmas, and celebrate our ability as human beings to find joy, love, peace and kindness in the midst of chaos.

Have a wonderful Christmas!


‘God gave us a gift of smiles and laughter – use them.’ The Dalai Lama.

Oh, isn’t it lovely to laugh wholeheartedly! I was watching an interview with the Dalai Lama when he said the above quote, and boy does he live what he preaches – he is constantly smiling or laughing. And I realised that every time he smiled or laughed, I did too – his joy was so infectious.

It feels as if our whole body is grateful when we laugh: our muscles relax, our hearts open, and it feels as if we let go of all our tensions. And of course we do! There is a saying: ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ It automatically sets off the positive health-giving chemicals in us, it makes us breathe more deeply and oxygenate our bodies, and it releases tensions in our muscles. What an easy way to enhance our health!

And it does more than just enhance our physical health. At the same time as letting go of our physical tensions, we stop, for a moment, holding on to our mental tensions. Our minds go quiet, that damn voice in our heads shuts up, and we just allow ourselves to be in this moment of joy. Mentally we become whole again, leaving behind our fears and worries.

Those moments of laughter free us from being caught up in our story, giving us space to regain perspective and remember who we really are. So thank God for those who make us laugh: the comedian, the pet’s antics, the small child, the friends, and the Dalai Lama!

And remember that laughter is infectious. If you see someone laughing, it is hard to resist joining in: our facial muscles automatically copy those of someone we’re watching – we mirror them at a micro-muscular level – so you’re already halfway there. It doesn’t take much to go all the way and join in, and it is a really enjoyable thing to do.

So for goodness’ sake, find reasons to laugh every day, allow yourself to be infected by the laughter of others, and actively use this gentle, God-given gift to keep yourself healthy.


Over the last few weeks, I have watched my beech hedge turn from looking dead and bare to being filled with new life, firstly as buds, and then green leaves that almost seem to glow. I don’t have to go anywhere to observe this miracle of nature – I just have to be still for long enough to notice. This is one of thousands of examples of the wonder of our natural world, and spring is a great time to be reminded of that, as so many things come back to life.

I like the word wonder, and the adjective, wonderful. They mean amazement, astonishment, and imply that we are reacting to the magic of our world. We may be able to explain some of these things scientifically, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose our sense of wonder.

As children, we are amazed by lots of things that adults seem to ignore or take for granted. We notice all those things in the natural world: how clouds change shape; the different songs birds sing; the colours and patterns on butterflies. And we also see magic in man-made things: how light goes on and off at the flick of a switch; how we can talk to someone many miles away as if they were in the room; how sheep’s wool can become a colourful sweater. All this wonder gives us a sense of possibility and creativity, as well as delighting us, making us smile or laugh.

This awareness of the magic and wonder of our world is also something that people often come back to when they know they are dying, or have narrowly escaped death. I remember Dennis Potter, the playwright, movingly describing his delight in blossom on the trees, the feel of sunshine on his skin.

Yet in between our childhood and the end of our lives, we seem to be too busy or ‘practical’ to allow ourselves just to wonder. We may occasionally feel that sense of delight – most people I know can’t help but go ‘Ooooh!’ when they see fireworks – but most of the time we don’t take advantage of the many things we have to wonder at, we don’t take the moment it takes to feel that amazement at the world we have.

It seems to me that the sense of wonder is part of the essence of the human spirit, intended to give us delight, reminders of possibility, and help us make this world a better place. So let’s re-find it now, and enjoy it for most of our lives, not just at the beginning and end.

Take a few minutes to be amazed and delighted every day.

  • Look at the sky outside your window – how big is that! And how beautiful!
  • Notice how perfectly and uniquely nature has shaped that tree
  • See the exquisite perfection of that butterfly and its movement
  • Be astonished by how that combination of metals and mechanics you sit in can transport you from a to b so easily
  • Notice how often the flick of a switch gives you power that has come from an unseen source

Let’s not take for granted all the wonders in our world, let’s appreciate and delight in them, and recognise their value. We would be lost and bereft without them, so let’s remember how much they really mean to us.


Anyone who knows me will know that I’m not a Christmas enthusiast. I used to love it as a child, because it was a couple of days when we spent time together as a family, playing board games and enjoying the treat of special food that we didn’t have the rest of the year: turkey, Christmas pudding, oranges, chocolate. My parents weren’t rich, so we had just one main present, and a stocking with fruit and sweets and a few bits and bobs from them, plus a few presents from relatives. But it wasn’t about the presents – it is the family fun that I remember.

We went to the local church for the carol service, although we weren’t a religious family – after all, it was Christmas. So as a child, I was aware of the link between a child being born who represented love and light and joy being brought into the world, and the love and fun we had as a family at that time of year.

What happened? Over the years, Christmas seems to have turned into a consumer event: too many presents to be bought, too much food being eaten or wasted, too much drink, and Christmas songs that don’t even mention Christ being born.

The message of Christmas, I believe, is love. It is a reminder that the greatest gift we ever give to another is our heartfelt love and attention.

So this Christmas, let’s concentrate on showing love to the world.

Show your love to your family and friends. Call them and wish them peace and joy if they are not at home with you. Hug them and laugh with them if they are: it will mean more than any of the other gifts you give.

Remember those who do not have the good fortune to be surrounded by love. How can we walk past a homeless person with bags full of presents and food? They may not even have a bed for the night. Give them something instead of buying that extra thing to put under the tree. Show a stranger that love and care still exist in our world. Go and wish that neighbour who is on their own a happy Christmas and have a cuppa with them before you cook the Christmas dinner.

And don’t forget to show yourself some love too. Make sure that you have a little time where you do exactly what you feel like doing during the festive period. Relax, enjoy yourself, give yourself permission to be selfish for an hour or two, because then your love for others can shine through clearly.

We may no longer be a religious culture, but that doesn’t mean that we no longer believe in love. If we are going to celebrate Christmas, let us do it by showing that we love and care about other human beings. Christ came into the world to remind us about love – let’s continue the tradition and celebrate love this Christmas.

And thank you for reading these blogs – it means a lot to me to know that you are there. Have a great Christmas break and may 2015 be a year of joy and peace for you.


Where are you now, at this moment? I expect you are in front of your computer or tablet, physically. But the physical you is only one part of the story: where is your mind, your heart?

It wasn’t until I started Tai Chi classes that I really got how often we are all a split personality! The teacher, Alan, described a scenario which was all too familiar to me – you may recognise it too.

You get in from work on a cold winter’s day, and realise that you have run out of milk. As you reluctantly set off for the local shops, your heart is back at home, sitting in the warm, your head is already in the shop, picking up the milk and a couple of other things that you have thought of, and your body is left untended, walking down the street.

I not only recognised the scenario, I also recognised the feeling of being in several places at once, and just how uncomfortable that is, like a kind of emptiness, lack of connectedness to anything. When you stop and consider it, you realise it is unpleasant, but we come to accept it as normal, and don’t even notice we are doing it. After all, for many of us, our lives consist of a lot of duties and responsibilities, with not enough time for all of them, let alone anything we would really like to do. And it becomes habitual to be a ‘split personality’ with our heads and hearts often somewhere different from our bodies, and even from each other.

Now it may seem that this ability to be in 3 places at once could be very useful in our busy lives! However, we are not a multi-function machine, we are designed to work as a whole if we want to be at our best. The effect on us of this splitting is not useful: it is an extra drain on our energy, because these different parts are pulling us in different directions, instead of working together co-operatively, as they were designed to do.

So this habit of not bringing all of us together for the task in hand is tiring for us, because we are using extra energy to manage these conflicting demands inside us, as well as doing whatever we are doing. And it’s not great for our relationships with others either: we all know when the person we are interacting with isn’t really there with us, and it creates a gap between us. It doesn’t even work well if we’re just doing something that doesn’t involve human interaction: this is when we forget the thing we went to the shop for in the first place, miss out the spell-check phase in that important document, or drop and break our favourite coffee mug. We may feel like we’re doing lots, but none of it is really effective or heartfelt, and it is certainly not enhancing our lives!!

So what’s the alternative? To commit ourselves 100% to what we’re doing now. Simple, but not always easy!

When we do this, when our heats, minds and bodies are all focussed on the same thing, we feel very different. Everyone knows this experience: we have all had those moments when we were completely drawn into something – a movie, a great conversation, planting some bulbs in the garden – and we forget about everything else for a while. Imagine if life were always like that!

Now, maybe if I were a Buddhist monk, who had practised being mindful since he was a small child, I would be able to stay in this state more often. I do know that, when I remember to bring all of me into whatever I am doing, it does work better for me: I have more energy, I am more effective, and I often enjoy things that I wouldn’t have expected to be enjoyable. So I need to find ways to help myself to be present more often.

So how do we choose to be present more often?

Firstly, notice what automatically keeps you present, and do those things more often, so you become more familiar with how much better it feels. We all have some activities that ‘entrance’ or ‘enchant’ us – these are when we are naturally and easily present. It may be being out in nature, or dancing, or doing your yoga or exercise class. It may be ‘getting lost’ in a book, a play, a movie. It may be doing a simple activity that you enjoy for no particular reason: cleaning the car; tidying your desk; folding freshly washed clothes. And notice how you feel during and after these activities where you are naturally present, 100% there.

Then you can start adding in small extras, by saying to yourself: ‘ For the next 10 minutes, I’m just going to immerse myself in this activity.’ Don’t expect yourself to do it for long in the first place – and don’t beat yourself up if you lose it! If you realise that your mind has wandered off, or you are wishing it were over, then just tempt your mind and heart back in by noticing what you can see, hear, feel, in this situation that makes you feel good.

And keep collecting the evidence that being 100% in one place at any one time is easier on us, and elicits more positive responses from others, as well as being more effective.

As I’m writing this, I’m wondering why I don’t practise this more often – there’s no downside to it!! So I’m off to be present with whatever I do next – how about you??

Being present more often

  • Notice how uncomfortable it can be to be a ‘split personality’
  • Notice the times when it comes naturally to you to be 100% present, and become aware of how it feels and the effect it has on you and on others around you
  • Practise consciously to be present, bring all of you into a situation for small lengths of time
  • Gently bring your heart and mind back into situations when they have wandered off, by noticing what you can see, hear, feel in the situation
  • Keep collecting evidence that being fully present works, for you, for those around you, and for bringing out the best in you without effort