Daily reflections to inspire

We are in interesting times at the moment with the Coronavirus affecting our day to day and social interactions. Five years ago I shared the following 24 daily practices with my students as a Christmas advent gift to dip into. I thought it might be nice for anyone perhaps needing a daily reflective practice to inspire finding some moments of peace in these challenging times. Some of the entries were written for December days but maybe you can see how the changing seasons can be incorporated into these.

Day 1

Follow your steps:

Whenever you find yourself walking today, take attention to how you are walking. Notice how your feet touch the ground, what touches first, how does the movement travel through the foot. Does the left foot touch the ground in the same way as the right? If you could see your footprints, what shape and direction would they take?

What is the quality of your walk, is the pace hurried or measured? Heavy or soft? What are the sensations through the legs and up into the body as you walk? Where in the body does the movement of walking begin from?

Take note if the sensations of walking differ throughout the day, from morning through to night. Consider what affects the changes in your gait at different times.

If you can find the time to play, explore different ways of changing how you walk. See what effects there are by altering the pace, the contact of the footprint to the ground and the sensed quality of the movement.

Day 2

Lift your gaze

Winter can draw us into hibernating indoors and leave us feeling enclosed sometimes. Today is about expanding your view from the winter cave.

At any opportunity you have today, stop for a moment and glance upwards to take in the magnitude of the sky above. The backdrop of the sky can change dramatically from day to day and throughout the day. Look up when possible and see what is on offer. Even if you don’t venture fully outside take a few moments to look out through a nearby window…

Maybe there is a clear and bright sky to be enjoyed. Perhaps there are clouds crossing the landscape to be watched for their changing shapes and movement. Even a grey sky can be variable in its texture and have more fluctuations in light and shade on closer examination and it is worth remembering that the preferred blue sky still remains beyond and is only temporarily obscured.

Look up in the darker hours too, what is on offer as the light is gone? Can any stars be seen, is the moon on display?

Take some moments today to lift the gaze upwards, notice the scenery overhead and connect with the world around you.

Day 3

Do you have a minute?

The benefits of meditation are widely reported but few of us feel we have the time, self-discipline or know how to develop a meditation practice.

Could you spare one minute today…just 60seconds only? One minute alone can make a significant difference.

Find time today to set a one-minute break for yourself. You might even set a timer (preferably without an alarm sound that will make you jump.) Before you start, make sure that you feel comfortable and supported and that you won’t be disturbed for this one minute. Then simply close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. For this one minute keep your awareness on your breath, quietly observing the in and the out breath. Your mind may wander…this is normal and to be expected. Each time you notice that the mind has drifted from the attention to the breath…without judgement or frustration just return your attention once again to observing and following the breath. When the minute is up take notice of how you are feeling.

Below is a short poem, author unknown, that I came across from an old edition of OM Magazine which seems appropriate:

Brake for a break

Taking just a minute, I stop, I take a break

Just to be still, and to fill my life with quietness

Is all I need in this moment

A break on the doing, the thinking and the speaking

Gives me space and time to be attentive, to observe, the traffic of my daily life

In the silence break, I re-align myself and with clarity, re-enter my day

Effectively coping with the jams, the shouts, the busyness

Now, several times, during the day, I take this break for silence

Day 4

Seasonal colour

This time of year can often feel drab in colour as the winter light is low and nature’s array of colours are in hibernation. We dress December in tinsel and fairy lights to brighten and colour our world for a time but maybe we can still find colour in the everyday.

When outside today look around and notice what are the predominant colours you see around you. Whatever the colours are, take a moment and see if you can discover the varying shades of each colour. Whether it is the greens of hardy winter vegetation, the variety of orange to brown of the last Autumnal leaves or greys in the sky and of man-made features; consider the different shades of any chosen colour (cue a 50 shades of grey joke….).

When indoors look and appreciate colours around you in the everyday, notice what effect different colours have on how you feel. Perhaps a certain colour lifts your spirits more than others…could you find ways to bring that colour into your December?

Day 5

Tasteful surprises

Will there be a chocolate treat from an advent calendar today?

Today is about taking a moment to bring your full attention to the food that you eat. You may want to practice this once, on one item of food, or to spread this attention to all that you eat or drink.

Before rushing in to eat that chocolate, snack or meal; spend a little time first bringing your full attention to the food or morsel before you. Take time to notice how it looks: the colours, textures and shapes. Look at it from differing angles… notice if there are variations in the colour…is the shape uniform and symmetrical or irregular and what would it feel like to touch and handle the food. Touch and find out (use your discrimination if hot food!). Notice the smell coming from it, what does it evoke in you? Does it create an impression of the impending taste to come? Consider the origin of the food in front of you…where it might have started and the journey and preparation that has brought it before you.

Now, take a first taste…but take a moment to hold that first bite in the mouth…savour the flavours…what do you notice? Sense the texture of the food...the temperature...the shape…immerse your awareness into the sensory experience of this item of food. When you are ready then finally swallow and bring yourself back to your immediate surroundings…ready for another bite.

Bon appetit

Day 6

Sounds of Christmas

Are the shops and buildings you visit, and maybe your home too, filled with the sound of Christmas music?

Today, find moments in the day to tune in to your hearing senses to observe what other sounds are around you. Our brains are inundated with constant sensory information which they have to sift through and choose what is important enough to be noticed. Listen to the sounds about you, observe the most obvious sounds that come to your attention and then seek further for those which are more subtle. Reach out with your hearing for sounds ranging from the furthest distance. Draw that attention closer to detect sounds in the nearby environment. Finally focus to the closest sounds, such as from your own body as you breathe. This can be done in busy, noisy environments and at quiet moments in the day.

Day 7

Tadasana

It is one of the biggest challenges for everyone to find a regular practice of Yoga outside of the dedicated class time. There is one Yoga posture though that can be easily practiced each day without any preparation or extra time set aside. In fact, it can be slipped into the day at any point where you find yourself standing and waiting for something; maybe when you are next waiting for the kettle to boil, standing in a queue or waiting to cross the road. It is Tadasana; the Mountain posture.

As you stand still for a moment, take your attention throughout your body and find an energetic connection throughout:

Find the contact of your feet to the floor…settling the weight evenly through the heel and through the base of the big toe and of the little toe.

Sense the energetic support of the legs through the calves as they gently engage and follow this attention upwards in the inner and outer thighs.

Notice the alignment of your pelvis; does it feel balanced and level so that the sit bones are directed downwards?

Bring a little support to the core of the body by gently drawing in the lower belly and pelvic floor.

Have the sensation of creating space and length through the spine from its base upwards. Allow a little more space between the lower ribs and the hips

Check that the shoulders are not lifting towards the ears and let the arms softly lengthen, through to the fingertips, reaching down towards the floor.

Feel the head settling easily at the top of the neck, finding the perfect point of balance and ensuring that the chin is not jutting out.

Imagine you could reach the crown of your head just a fraction higher.

Mentally scan through the body…be conscious of the entire body from top to bottom, from front to back and into the sides. Be aware of your breath….

Day 8

Mountain – part two

Yesterday was about embodying the mountain posture. This posture is about strength, stability and of lifting up from strong foundations. Today I would like to suggest a meditation idea on the theme of a Mountain.

Sit quietly for a few moments and bring to mind a picture of a mountain…consider how strong and stable this mountain is. Have a sense of its solid foundations and resilient structure…

Picture the exterior of the mountain…noting the harder rocky surfaces but also soft grass and moss growing. Visualize wildflowers and trees sprouting leaves.

Now consider the seasons and the weather over this mountain. Picture the effects of the varying weather upon the mountain…the sunshine and rain of spring bringing growth to the plant life, the comforting warmth of the sunshine in the summer months developing the vegetation. Notice the changes to the surface as the seasons change to Autumn bringing strong winds, rain and shorter hours of sunshine. The further changes through the winter with the drop in temperature and harsher weather conditions. Then cycle through again to the spring changes and regrowth.

As you contemplate these changes in the mountain, notice if these changes are merely on the exterior surface. Reflect on how the mountain itself remains unaffected, remaining solid and resilient throughout. Consider whether, as life challenges you with its varying highs and lows, you can embody the mountain knowing that your inner self remains unchanged beneath the surface.

Day 9

Smells

There are certain scents which are evocative of the Christmas season…new Christmas trees and decorative foliage or the warm spices of mulled wine and seasonal recipes.

Of all the senses, the sense of smell is possibly the one we consciously perceive the least. The ability to smell helps us to detect warning of dangers and it contributes to our appreciation of food and drink. The way we process incoming smells is linked directly to the primitive part of the brain, the subconscious and instinctive region, and this is why certain smells can arouse memories and emotional responses.

Awaken your awareness of your sense of smell throughout the day. Bring your attention to all the subtle smells of the outdoors and indoors. Breathe in the air and notice what is carried in it. Notice the pleasant, the unsavoury and the bland.

Consider the familiar scents that you are accustomed to and less conscious of; those of your home, close family members or friends and even the scent that you project.

When you prepare or eat food and drink today, take time to be attentive to the aromas of the cuisine prior to tasting.

When your mind wanders into memories, notice if you can associate a remembered fragrance with the pictures.

Certain perfumes which have memory associations can transport us back to a contented state of mind. Is there an accessible scent that you can call on to provide this moment; perhaps smelling an essential oil or you might burn a candle or incense stick.

Day 10

Sit like an Egyptian

There is a Yoga pose, referred to as the Egyptian pose, which is an upright and supported seated position on a chair.

Bring your attention today to all the times you find yourself seated today and consider how you are placed.

Does your upper body find its own support or does it slump backwards into the backrest of the furniture? Do you hunch forwards onto the furniture in front of you? Consider the natural alignment of your back and the spine within….is the spine curving in the lower and upper back or does it find its natural shape? Are your shoulders dropping forward and pulling your upper body downwards? Are you facing forwards evenly or leaning into one side creating a twist in your body?

Notice if your pelvis is level so that the base of your pelvis is balanced neatly on the ”sit bones” and not rolled forward or backward. Look for the right point where the so called “sit bones” are the base of your seated position, the pelvis feels level and the upper body is neither tipping forward or slumping back. Make the necessary adjustments until you find that the front and back of the upper body feel equal, neither side requiring more muscular effort to remain upright, so that there is a sense of ease and steadiness.

Notice also the placement of your lower body. Do you regularly cross your legs, and if so, do you cross them the same way each time potentially creating an imbalance into the hips and pelvis? If you do have the legs un-crossed then do the feet lay flat to the floor or are the feet pointing away so that the heels are slightly raised. Placing both your feet to the floor so that the heels, as well as the base of the toes, are fully in contact with the floor ensures that the muscles and tissues in this region are not regularly shortened leading to tightness.

Take a moment to review your general seated habits at varying points of the day. Notice if the activities performed in different seated positions affect your posture and alignment; whether you are at a desk or table, driving or a passenger in a car or resting on the sofa.

Take this enquiry to the different places you settle into a seated position; At desks or tables, in a car or other form of transport and as you settle to rest on the sofa. Sitting in perfect alignment of Egyptian pose at all times may be a little ambitious but allow some reflection on whether certain postural habits could be refined bringing with it more ease and comfort in the body.

Day 11

Hands on

Consider your hands today. Bring attention to the magnitude of actions they perform without any conscious awareness. The detailed manoeuvres they are able to complete through developed muscle memory. Note that if we had to think about each individual muscle we need to engage to create an action we would probably come to a near standstill in that action.

How much do our hands do all day? What repetitive daily movements do they perform, creating regular patterns of hold and shape? What activities do you perform with only one hand and how many with both? Are there intricate activities your hands perform or actions requiring strength and grip? Notice how many times they are immersed in water and how they are dried.

Notice also the sensory aspects of the hands…our sense of touch and how much information is quietly received through this sense. Connect more fully to this sense today, exploring and embracing the sensory information. Notice the feel of the world around you as you touch and experience the textures and shapes of the objects you come into contact with. Observe also the warning sense of temperature of surfaces you touch.

Note how your hands feel during the day. Be aware of the needs of your hands; whether they are cold or warm, feeling tight from rigid actions or tired from constant activity.

Offer your hands relief through gentle, easing out movements. Circle softly through the fingers, gently curl and uncurl the hands and ease through the wrists. Give yourself a gentle massage to each hand by softly pressing or palpating into all the areas of the hands; the palm and back of the hand and along the length of each finger.

Finally, try to reward your hands at the end of the day by applying a moisturizing cream to offset some of the effects of the day’s experiences.

Day 12

Foot work

At the beginning of the month we considered the feet as part of the awareness of their part in movement through walking. Following on from yesterday’s consideration and care of the hands, let today be a reflection on the feet in the same way.

Take your attention to the feet at different intervals of the day. Notice how they feel within the footwear they are enclosed in. Is there room for movement of the toes? Are they comfortably cushioned? Does your chosen footwear bring a sense of support or constriction? Do you remain in the same footwear all day or are there changes (slippers are included in this enquiry) and if so do you sense a change in ease for the feet? Are there opportunities in the day or evening to be without footwear?

Are you on your feet, either still or moving, for long periods of the day? Consider whether you can find opportunities to rest the feet and even elevate them occasionally?

At the end of the day, find a few minutes to give yourself an easy foot massage. Remove all foot coverings (including socks) and take your weight into one leg at a time so that you can lift the other foot slightly.

Press the base of the toes into the floor circling around the ball of the foot gently in one direction and then the other.

Roll into the back of the foot pressing the heel down with the toes lifted, then roll forward so that the heel lifts and press the toes into the floor. Gently ease forwards and backwards through the foot.

Tilt the foot and find the outer edge of the foot pressing into the floor and tilt the opposite way to press softly into the inner edges of the foot.

Finally, take the foot slightly behind you so that you can carefully roll over the toes and press the upper side of the toes gently into the floor feeling a stretch across the upper side of the foot (This one you either love or hate in Marmite style!)

Repeat all of these with the other foot.

You might also want to fully treat your hardworking feet and end the day by massaging them directly with a foot cream or moisturiser before settling down to sleep.

Day 13

Mindful living

There are so many daily activities that we do with barely a conscious thought. The mind is often elsewhere; considering the next “to do” item, musing over recent events or imagining different past and future scenarios. Then there are activities or seeming chores that we rush through to move to the next activity…and the next. There may be particular “jobs” that you even feel resentful towards as you do them. When the mind is not engaged in the task in hand then we are either being held in the past or pulled into the future and we have lost the chance to be living now.

Today, instead of performing these tasks in automatic mode or with the sole intention of having them simply completed; look at whether you could perform any of them with fuller attention, without rush and with an attitude of wanting to do them to the best of your ability. Turn each chore into an activity of interest.

Notice how it feels to look at tasks, that you would normally dash through, in a different way. Does taking the time to work with focus and attention make you feel that you are losing time or does it remove the feeling of rush? How does this feel in your body?

Day 14

Finding your smile

Which facial expression comes more naturally…a smile or a frown? Which of these expressions remains longer?

Strangely more facial muscles are worked to create a frown than for a smile and yet sometimes it seems harder to bring a smile to the face. Take a few moments to explore how it feels to deliberately scowl and frown and then sense how it is to smile. Observe the changed sensations in the face. Notice whether there is a different impression felt into the body; travelling your attention down through the neck, shoulders, chest and back.

Bring your awareness to your facial expressions today, noticing if the effects of moments of concentration and mental activity bring tightness to the face or softness. Look at releasing any tension found in the face and body by inviting a smile. It might only be the gentle beginning of a smile; the slightest essence in the style of the Mona Lisa.

As you move through the day, notice the effects to your body, breath and mind that a smile produces. Observe whether it elicits positive responses from those you encounter.

Day 15

Sankalpa

In the drive to meet our own and others’ expectations of us we can often be overly critical of ourselves. When you look in the mirror is there an instinct to find a fault. When complimented for something does an inner voice question the praise?

A Sankalpa is a resolution or positive affirmation which reminds us of an inherent quality in ourselves that we can acknowledge and cultivate. Traditionally it is used in a form of meditation to realise one’s goals.

Instead of dwelling on perceived deficiencies, substitute them with an inner confirmation of an inspiring characteristic within you. Reflect on a positive quality that you perceive in yourself that you would wish to recognize and cultivate. Construct a simple statement in your mind that reflects this intention (such as “I am compassionate” or “I bring joy to others…”) and bring it to mind in moments of quiet.

Day 16

Gift of giving

One of the concepts in traditional Yoga is that of Ahimsa, which refers to the practice of living and acting in a compassionate way, extending kindness and of not causing harm. This concept is extended not only to the world about us but also to how we treat ourselves.

Earlier this year I came across a challenging interpretation of this; consider how often do we internally criticize others?

Notice your thoughts today and check for those passing moments where you find yourself internally critisizing an other’s actions. They may be brief, fleeting and unexpressed but reflect on how they affect your own state of mind. Enquire how often do you sense disapproval and whether you can soften these responses and instead extend acceptance and even empathy?

Day 17

Metta Bhavana meditation

There is a meditation practice which is based upon the cultivation of positive emotion towards ourselves and towards others. It begins with the idea that when we have good feelings towards ourselves then it becomes more likely that we can start to have the same feelings for all others.

The practice is divided into separate stages and begins with expressing a wish for yourself to be well and happy. Usually a simple phrase or set of phrases such as “May I be content” or “may I be well” or “may I be free of suffering.” Repeat one or more of these statements quietly to yourself, with the intention of encouraging a feeling of kindness towards yourself.

The next stage is to bring to mind a good friend and again explore this wish for wellbeing by directing these thoughts now outwardly towards your chosen friend. (Do not think too hard about your choice of friend, simply choose someone whose company you enjoy and who springs to mind). This stage helps to develop our positive feelings towards others, is an opportunity to enjoy having good feelings towards another person and gives us the skills to wish for another’s happiness without it being related to our own. If you struggle with holding your attention to this stage, then return back to the first to develop the feeling sense.

The next stage is to bring to mind a person whom we feel neutral about. Someone we know in passing but have no strong feelings towards. It is about broadening our emotional awareness to allow an empathy with others that they too share the same range of emotions as we do.

The stage that follows can be more problematic as it asks us to now bring to mind someone that we have more negative feelings towards. This stage can feel false or turn to negative feelings as we drift into internal disputes. It is better to choose someone who has not caused deep anger or hurt for this developing practice and if the practice does slip away then find acceptance that overcoming negative feelings may take time and may need to be worked up to. One viewpoint though is that if that person whom we are trying to wish happiness towards was happier, spiritually, then would they be easier to like?

The final stage of this meditative practice is to expand these feelings of well beings outwards to all beings. You might start with extending the wish to all in your street, then to the town, out to the whole country and thereon. Let go of limitations of the mind and take in a sense of all beings and the wish for their well-being.

Day 18

Now or later?

How often do you find yourself thinking “I will do that later…?” As you notice something that needs to be put away, that email to reply to or that Christmas card to write before the last posting date?

The mental “To Do” lists that circulate around the mind can loop relentlessly leaving you frustrated at the end of the day to still see unfinished tasks nagging for attention.

Look for those moments that you hear yourself thinking that you will do something in a minute, or when you next go upstairs or other reasoning. Consider whether you could instead complete that intended task there and then. If possible, take the time to stop and attend to that activity with mindful attention before continuing with the flow of your day.

Notice if it feels less effort to physically undertake a small task and complete it than to mentally return to it at repeated intervals. Consider whether the feeling of achievement and relief overrides any sense of time constraints or exertion.

Day 19

Be one with your actions

A few days ago we considered mindfulness in our actions. A way to explore that further is by extending that idea to include how we handle the varying instruments at our hands.

When you drive a car the usual thought is the final destination. The primary goal is to reach this destination and the time leading to that can sometimes be seen as tiresome and frustrating. Consider how do these feelings affect the way that we perform this activity?

Generate a mindful appreciation that the car, when driven, is no longer a separate, inanimate object but is instead an extension of yourself as it is solely responding to your physical controls. If you rush, the car rushes. Be attentive to how you operate and direct this instrument in your control, knowing that you and the car are one. Bring your full awareness to the moments of driving rather than to the final destination.

Even if you don’t drive this can be explored in any activities performed where we handle objects…even the simple, smaller acts such as brushing the teeth, hoovering the floor or chopping the vegetables.

Day 20

Stop and look

Find moments in your day to simply stop and look about you.

Pause and really look at the scene before you. Notice details in your surroundings that the mind has overlooked. Use fresh eyes on your surroundings to notice everything before you: observing both the mundane and the beautiful. Consider the entire panorama as if recording every detail for a photograph or painting. Observe what changes you discern in the picture around you when you pause to absorb more of the view.

Stop for these observations both indoors, in the home or workplace, and in the outside world. Survey familiar scenes with a new interest as well as places you might be moving through without seeing. Perhaps even take time to peruse the people in your life with a little more interest.

How does the world differ when you are able to observe it in greater detail and do these pictures remain longer in your memory of the day?

Day 21

Just breathe…

Our breathing happens unconsciously 24 hours a day. Whilst we can alter it consciously, the majority of the time it occurs without our direct awareness.

The breath is constantly happening although it can change in quality and rate depending on varying factors. Physical activities or mental/emotional disturbances can affect the breath. Equally, breathing techniques which lengthen and calm the breath can positively affect the nervous system.

Check in with the sensations of your breath today. Observe the qualities of your breath at quiet times. Notice the depth of your breath when concentrating or deep in thought. Witness the breath when engaged in active physical moments.

Be attentive to the breath and consider whether your breathing accurately reflects the situations and your body’s needs?

Day 22

Scan inwardly

Just as the breath can reflect how we are affected by events and our inner emotions, our body can hold the effects of our moments and encounters.

Review how things are at different times of the day. Mentally scan through your body to observe if there are areas holding tighter than the occasion requires.

Take a look from top to bottom as if shining a metaphorical torchlight;

Observe whether you hold tension in the face, across the forehead and in the jaws.

Sense into the shoulders, are they drawing up to the ears unnecessarily? How does the neck feel? Is there ease in the chest allowing the breath to be full and soft?

Check for clenching in the hands.

Is the belly area held in resisting the movement of the breath?

Can you sense any areas in the body where you consistently store your emotions?

Notice also how you hold yourself in different activities. We can develop habitual body patterns which create imbalances and strain in areas of the body. Consider the alignment of your whole body in differing movements or postures. Look at the areas that maybe work harder than needed when walking, standing and sitting. Is it possible to find a balance of steadiness and support with comfort and ease?

Day 23

Savasana

It is sometimes suggested that the hardest pose to achieve in Yoga is that of Savasana. This is the posture we adopt at the end of the practice for relaxation. It may seem simple, but when we start to look more deeply, it can become apparent how difficult we find it to completely relax all our muscles and to quieten our thoughts.

You may approach this at the end of the day as a preparation for sleep or, if you are able to treat yourself, take a few minutes during the day to lie down on the floor (maybe even on the yoga mat!).

Lie down on your back, releasing into the support of the floor or bed beneath you. Ensure that you are comfortable, using any props such as cushions where needed and blankets for warmth.

Extend out through your body comfortably, fully lengthening out the spine and allowing your arms and legs to drop away from your centre. The palms of the hands can be open facing upwards or flat to the earth. The important idea is to feel comfortable, supported and without niggles of distraction.

Begin to scan through your entire body, choosing to start from bottom to top or vice versa, identifying all the areas that you might consciously relax and soften a little more. You might want to mentally identify all the individual areas with the internal thought of letting go and relaxing. Alternatively, you might deliberately and momentarily introduce the opposite sensation of tensing an area and then observing the sense experienced as you let go of that tensing action.

Consider the whole body; the front, the back and the sides. Consider the facial areas as well.

Take a few minutes here…

If this was not a bedtime routine, begin to introduce gentle movements back into the body. Begin to move through fingers, toes and letting those movements expand and grow instinctively. When you are ready to move upright, roll gently over to one side and carefully unfurl back up to sitting.

Day 24

Wrapping up

To wrap up this Advent journey, reflect back on this month and any practices that you have been drawn to and which may have given you insights. Consider those that would be worth revisiting or those that you may not have had the opportunity to explore but would keep in mind for another day.

A final thought or two about nurturing yourself and finding balance in your life. I was once presented with a metaphorical idea of finding balance in life with the 3 legged stool in mind whereby each leg represents an aspect of our daily life; time for work, family and ourselves with the idea that we should find an even distribution in our lives for each. This is a pleasing reminder to give ourselves equal care and attention but perhaps brings with it an idea of compartmentalising our time. Rather than labelling time for yourselves as separate from time spent on work or with family, instead incorporate mindfulness of yourself and the present into all of your day to find unlimited time for yourself.

Wishing you all peace, wellbeing and happiness

Featured Posts
Posts are coming soon
Stay tuned...
Recent Posts
Archive
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square