A day in the life of . . .

A day in the life of Maggie Farrar

Mindfulness has been such an important part of my life for many years. I have always been attracted to meditation and particularly the roots of contemporary, secular mindfulness in Buddhist psychology. When I came across mindfulness 20 years ago it seemed to show me a way of integrating meditation and mindfulness-based practices into my everyday life.

It has taken me a long time to build the habit of a ‘formal practice’ into my day but as with so many people, I have commuted and travelled much less over the last two years, and finding 20/30 minutes in the early morning to practice has become easier. I do find this makes a difference and mindful awareness is now more likely to show up day to day. That can mean noticing when I am doing one thing and pulled to do another. I can be half way through writing a paper and think ‘oh I must just check my emails’, then before I know it I am flitting around from emails to twitter and back to writing. Mindfulness helps me notice when my attention is scattered in this way, lean back, take a breath and go back to my intention to finish what I started writing!

I have also noticed how much it has helped me during zoom calls

I now remember to take an upright posture and be aware of when my mind wanders, which is easy to do when online. I have also found how strong my own ‘inner narrative’ is on zoom where I can get drawn away from what someone is saying into my judgment or analysis of what I am hearing or not listening at all, and instead busy rehearsing what I want to say next. Although I am still staring at the screen, I am now more aware when I am not really there. I then straighten my posture, feel my feet on the floor take a couple of deep breaths and come back to the present moment.

I used to have a very strong inner critic.

I was always beating myself up for mistakes or for falling short of my own high expectations of myself. I now have a much healthier relationship with this critical voice. I notice it, I welcome it, I tell it that I’m OK and don’t need it right now, then breathe until it loosens its hold on me. It was a revelation to me when I realised that these voices in my head were not real but a mental fabrication that I could choose to take notice of or not. This is an area of mindfulness practice that many school leaders I work with find really helpful. It’s also a revelation to them when they realise so many of their peers feel the same way – it normalises it and helps them to work skilfully with this critical inner voice.

I have many less than perfect moments!

Mindfulness has really helped me to live in a way that accepts that ‘nothing lasts’, and therefore all moments, even those that feel tough, are to be welcomed. I have learned to ‘let go’ of the day at the end of the day. The practices of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village community have helped me immensely, especially the breathing practices which I lean into at the end of the day especially if I have been commuting. To sit in the car for a moment, breathe and note ‘I have arrived, I am home’ is a way of bringing myself back to being ‘whole’ once again, regardless of the day. I have begun to understand that this doesn’t mean I don’t care about what went on during the day – but that by returning to the most authentic sense of myself, and by practising ease of being by breathing and coming into stillness, I can let it go.

My ‘go to’ practice during the day is ‘grounding myself’.

I call this ‘throwing down my anchor’, when the world threatens to knock me off course. This can happen through an email, an overheard remark, a news headline, or a ruminative thought and worry about that which has not yet happened, and probably never will. Simply stopping, feeling my feet on the floor, and breathing, then noticing my thoughts and using my breath and my body to ‘tether them’ a little really helps. No one knows I am doing it and it only takes a micro moment. Ending these little grounding practices with a smile helps me to lighten up too!

The more I practise, the more I see that other activities I love are also opportunities to practise mindfulness. Swimming, walking and knitting, for example are in themselves embodied activities that offer a slowing down and a natural way of ‘going to ground’. Getting into the local pool in the morning which is usually very cold is also a good way of practising an appreciation of cold water on skin!

I have had the opportunity to develop the practice of mindfulness with hundreds of amazing school leaders. The benefits they have experienced have helped deepen my practice also. So many of them experience self-doubt and tend to down play their incredible and heroic leadership, particularly over these last two years. This quote by Jon Kabat Zinn says something about why the practice of mindfulness has been so helpful to them and to me:

‘Maybe our fear is that we are less than we are
When the reality is that we are far, far more’.