The Arts Meet Meditation And Mindfulness: An Interview With Emma Mills

HOW POETRY AND THE ARTS CAN CONNECT AND CENTRE US IN THIS HECTIC WORLD

It's been a few months since the last interview here on the blog so today I'm excited to finally share a brand, shiny new one with you! An insight into the world and work of teacher and writer Emma Mills. With her expertise in psychology and training the field of mental health, Emma has uniquely combined her own passions for creativity, the arts and poetry with her continued work in wellbeing, meditation and mindfulness. With the world seeming like something of a turbulent place at times, I thought it would be a nice moment of peace to learn a little more about Emma, as well as pick up some advice on how to build a more peaceful foundation within our working and everyday lives. If this is an area you're interested in, or something you certainly feel that you need right now, then read on ...

 Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

Hi Emma, could you begin with an insight into your training and career to date as well as what it is that you do now?

From a young age, I had an interest in spirituality. During my school years, I was also particularly interested in politics, and psychology. I would read a lot of psychology books and go to political rallies and protests keen to find out about how life worked and how to improve it. I studied both politics and psychology and worked briefly at the Houses of Parliament before deciding that psychology was the field that allowed me the best chance to offer and understand something good. I took a degree in psychology and then began to work and train in mental health at the charity Mind.

At Mind, I trained in several therapeutic mediums one of which was the use of poetry and classic literature as a wellbeing device. I'd always been a bookish person, but this was the beginning of my love affair with poetry which deepens every day and keeps on getting better. During this time I set up my own private practice in the city of London and began working with people sharing what I had learnt in group classes and one to one sessions; I also began blogging about my experiences and ideas. Now I consult, write and teach on the topic of meditation, working with companies and organisations, with individuals and in small groups as well as sharing written articles with magazines and publications.

 Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

You're an expert in the practice of meditation how did you train in this area and what is it about meditation that you love that you feel can be so beneficial for us all in our working and everyday lives?

During my time working in formal psychology, I had my own private interest in meditation and spiritual life. I was also studying with a very lovely teacher. I found during my years in mental health that meditation wasn't accepted or admired and so I kept it just as something I did outside of work. Things have changed now, and it’s all the rage, but back then it wasn't du jour! Whilst running my private practice I found myself increasingly encouraging people to meditate and to explore the inner world.

I felt that meditation, and most importantly what meditation points to - the experience and exploration of our nature, to be something that was quite in line with both my interest and my work with people. I still love psychology and think it's beautiful, a lot of my work is informed by the work I did in that field too. Meditation helps you to understand who you are and how you work which makes it fitting and helpful in many corners of life.

 Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

How can mindfulness help people - especially in the workplace?

I think meditation and mindfulness have great effects on a persons' orientation to life, and as work is part of life, it transfers over quite nicely. Stress is a big factor at work, and meditation and mindfulness can help a person to cope with that stress and make choices that are to their benefit. Aside from stress, meditation is tremendous for creativity, new ideas and innovation. If we imagine our work as a something we are putting out into the world it can help us to make that contribution great. 

 Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

 Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

How can people with hectic lifestyles make time and space for meditation and mindfulness so that it can be a helpful tool rather than just another item to add to the to-do list?

If the person has the enthusiasm to do it, then I find they usually make time for it. Because the enthusiasm or interest is natural and spontaneous, they find the time. Not in a regimented way, each day, unless of course that's what they find themselves doing and they enjoy it. But they do it here and there. They find within themselves a natural turning towards those sorts of things, a book here, a little workshop there, a little practice at the weekend. Also, if people start doing it and it feels good and they see benefits, just like with fitness, this usually brings its own motivation, albeit in waves.

 Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

Where did your love of poetry and writing come from and how does this passion connect in with your work?

Poetry is literatures answer to meditation. I cannot invite enough people to explore poetry. I have always loved to read, but whilst working at Mind I was sent to study with Professor Jane Davis in Liverpool, to study this therapeutic application of literature. I then came back and set up a therapy system in Essex for Mind. We ran for several years, it took while to get going, as poetry is a bit niche, but eventually we won a lot of money, expanded the groups and served a lot of people. The people who came, as well as myself, benefited hugely from this type of work. It’s phenomenal.

I have carried this use of poetry into my meditation work because it fits well. Poetry, or certain poems, talk explicitly about the inner world, and those well-articulated poems offer people a route to understanding - a way of putting words around their own inner experience. Some poems offer wisdom, others are more about life, the bare bones of life. When it's hard, when it's ecstatic, and I find these honest poems help us to feel connected, part of life, to know we aren't an isolated person on our own.

What is it that you love most about the work you do and what motivates you on a daily basis?

I love to connect with people, to share and share life, improve our lives together. In myself, I find the expression of the creative spirit makes me very enthusiastic. I have an interest that I follow, and the following of it feels good, and that brings its own motivation. For example, there are a few poets I really like, and I want to go and sit with them to understand their work better, so I email them and ask, and try to meet them. I’ve not got any intentions really, for it to go anywhere specifically or become something pre-defined. I just feel drawn to do that, and thrilled at the thought of spending time with them talking about poems. It brings its own motivation. You just keep following the thread - like this poem: The Way It Is by William Stafford.

 Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

For readers interested in learning more about meditation and living more mindfully do you have any tips, tricks or resources that could help them to get started?

On my blog Emma Mills London there are over two hundred articles along with helpful videos and audio which you can begin using and exploring at home. Alongside that, I also have a new book entitled Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. In it, we explore meditation over the course of a typical working day. It has a section called ‘at the office’ where we explore work, creativity, co-workers and finding balance. I hope that sharing meditation in this way will make the insights very usable and relevant to our lives. I would also recommend reading books, visiting teachers you like and connect with, following your own path and interest in the subject.

When it comes to looking after your own work-life balance and wellbeing how do you like to unwind after a busy day and make sure you feel refreshed and refocused for the rest of your week?

I like having a bath or two, reading a book, going for a bike ride, doing a little yoga and being with my loved ones.  

 
 Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

Photo Credit: Emma Mills London

Thank you to Emma for sharing an insight into her career and her brilliant work. I hope you've found it as fascinating and inspiring as I have. As a lover of the arts I can totally understand the connection between creativity and our wellbeing. If this is a passion of yours, albeit an alive one or a lost one, I hope that this interview sparks in you the desire to seek out that creative, artistic side and in doing so, find greater expression, peace and understanding. For more motivation and ideas you can also find Emma over on Twitter and on Instagram.

Thanks for tuning in lovely people and see you again very soon.

Louise

 


Seeing The Colour When It All Feels Very Grey

"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness." Desmond Tutu

The world can certainly seem like a very unfriendly and unhappy place to be. In this post I don't want to dwell on the unsettling events and uncertainty that we all feel especially at the present moment. Neither do I wish to brush all that under the carpet in a frivolous way. However I have been thinking about how to face the world with a little more brightness and colour when it all feels a little too dark. Finding colour and positivity can be done - plus it even seems as if the sunshine is also on my side today as I get my thoughts together and start to write this!

 Image Source: Pexels

Image Source: Pexels

Here are some thoughts for staying on the brighter side of life despite what may be happening around you. I'd love to hear any further tips you have for staying positive and motivated even during difficult times.

 

1. Focus On Positive News Stories.

I'm not saying we should bury our heads in the sand and not take notice of world issues and events, but the truth is that we just weren't designed to be able to cope with all of our own ups and downs in life as well as those from each and every corner of the planet. There comes a time when enough is enough. You have to switch off the negative replays and focus on something more positive. If you need a daily dose of news in your inbox then why not seek out positive news stories to help you see more of the good in the world. Don't dwell too deeply on the sadness that inevitably grabs our attention on a daily basis. Why not try taking a look at these for something a little more constructive: Good News SharedHuffington Post Good NewsPositive News.

2. Reconnect With The Special People In Your Life.

We all get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and no doubt have many a friend or family member that we haven't caught up with for weeks, months or perhaps even years. Making an effort to reconnect with someone that you care about can be so uplifting and incredibly important. Maybe you've been meaning to head out with one of your dearest friends for a glass of wine and a catch up and you keep putting it off because you're feeling bogged down with other commitments. Get that date in the diary and spend some simple but rewarding time with those that know you best. The feeling of being truly known and connecting with people that mean the world to you can really help put the rest of the world into much better perspective. Don't be tempted to switch off from others and run and hide, make that all important connection.

3. Help Others And Give Them Something Positive To Believe In.

Helping others to learn and grow is not only helpful to that person but has a knock on effect for you too. You may not be able to solve all of the worlds problems but perhaps you can do smaller things either at work, home or within your community to bring a little colour and brightness into someone else's life - give someone else a reason to feel positive in this world. Perhaps you can help out a new colleague at work by offering them your time, training, support or advice without actually having to be asked or prompted. Maybe you can be a positive influence to a family member or friend, or could you do something useful within your community? Perhaps you have some items you no longer need that you can donate, or some time to offer on a voluntary basis. Or perhaps, just simply, you can remember to offer up a smile to a fellow human being as you walk home from work today. Even the smallest of things can have the brightest of impacts.

 

So please enjoy the rest of your Monday folks and don't give up on the brighter side of life. It's still there, you may just have to look a little harder at times in order to find it.

Louise

 


Making Time For Nothing New!

It's been a little while since my last post in this series, if you missed the previous editions you can have a quick catch up here. Now today's title might seem a little odd but recently I've very specifically been making time for absolutely nothing new! Just let me explain what I mean ...

 Image Source: Pexels

Image Source: Pexels

It's very easy these days to get caught up in a world driven by new ideas, constant hits of new and enticing content and the temptation to consume, consume, consume on each and every corner. Not only that but I also find that when you write a blog you can often feel the pressure to constantly be showcasing the newest thing and I know I've certainly fallen for that pressure in the past. Feeling I must write posts with lots of shiny new products and gadgets in it to stay on top of the game and demonstrate I'm aware of the newest trend - not that I usually am anyway! 

Now that can not only get incredibly expensive, it is also by no means a demonstration of any real meaning or connection to anything worthwhile. Plus it all gets a little stressful on the bank balance and the bulging cupboards or bookshelves hiding under the weight of all these shiny new but not exactly all that loved 'stuff.' 

Recently for me though it has been the overwhelming stream of content in my brain that I have decided to turn away from to try and find a better focus. Whilst making time for new things is amazing, making time to actually finish that book, or sit in the quiet for a moment and gather your thoughts in to one place, is incredibly important and I feel ultimately more rewarding.

So whilst I won't pretend I haven't still been getting excited by new ideas and don't still have a list as long as my arm of things I can't wait to try, share and do here on this blog and in my life in general, I've very much been focusing on finishing the task in hand first. Switching off when it all gets too much, being more careful about what I consume both in the physical sense and when it comes to what I'm allowing into my brain! When it comes to work I'm trying to live up to my post about the benefits of single-tasking and I'm also applying that in life as well.

 

THREE TOP TIPS TO MAKE TIME FOR NOTHING NEW!

1. Be Conscious Of What You Consume.

Here I'm really talking about two things - the physical clutter and items that we are purchasing, usually unnecessarily, and then cramming into our space when we don't really need to, as well as the online content clutter that we are overwhelming our minds with on a daily basis. I've addressed the physical before in this post about decluttering and the pain of so called 'retail therapy!'

I've seen and heard a lot in the blogosphere recently about being more intentional with who you follow and the content you are choosing to consume and I think this can be applied to all of us, blogger or otherwise. We all need to think about both how much content we let in as well as exactly what that content contains and whether or not it is helpful to us. So take some time to have a clear out of what you are exposing yourself to across social channels and other online activity. To get you started I'll turn here to some really useful tips laid out in this post: Be More Intentional With What You Consume by Jen Carrington.

2. Finish That Current Task, Project, Book etc FIRST!

You know all those half written emails, unfinished projects and other little jobs that you started but never quite finished? Those are the open ended details that can really drag us down. They keep us awake at night worrying because we know that we should have tied up some of those loose ends ages ago. Procrastinating and distractions drag us away from finishing things time and again. But at some point we have to tackle the issue. Intrigued to know why many of us find it hard to finish what we started? Take a read of this: Why You Can Never Finish Anything And How To Finally Change It via FastCompany

It can also affect our personal lives too, leading us to feel guilty about all those things we said we wanted to do, started, but never completed. When you do get some time to yourself and you want to spend it wisely, don't always turn to doing something new. Think about the things that you've already begun and find a way to focus back in on those. Go on, take that quiet time and go and finally finish that book or three that you first started reading months ago. 

3. Embrace 'La Dolce Far Niente' - The Art Of Doing Nothing!

If you've ever read the book or watched the movie 'Eat, Pray, Love' then you'll likely be aware of this Italian turn of phrase. Elizabeth Gilbert is sitting in an Italian barber shop describing her guilt at having spent her first few weeks in Italy learning little Italian and eating. Yet the Italians have this beautiful phrase for the pure sweetness of doing nothing - La Dolce Far Niente. 

Whilst I hear you all roar that wouldn't it be nice if you only had the time to do nothing, there are still a few ways that you can squeeze in a little cultivation of this idea even in the busiest of days. Turning off the TV that so mindlessly robs us of our time, sitting still for a moment and connecting to yourself and disconnecting for a moment from the noise of daily life, on and offline. Just being, not doing however brief can really bring you peace and is something you should definitely give a try every now and again.

 

So this month I'm focusing on embracing what I already have, finishing what I've already started and taking a short moment now and again to sit in the silence and just be without picking up a magazine, a new book, my laptop, phone and all of those other distractions. Do you have any unfinished business to which you could refocus your energy and time this month? What old things can you revisit and make time for, for the rest of the month of June?

Louise

 


How To Take A More Mindful Lunch Break

THREE SIMPLE WAYS TO REDUCE STRESS WITH A MORE MINDFUL BREAK

Do you eat your lunch at your desk? Whilst answering emails, checking Twitter, Instagram or doing your weekly online food shop? Are you really taking the time to take a true break and make sure you're actually witnessing your food and enjoying it? 

 Image Source: Pexels

Image Source: Pexels

We all do it! I have to physically restrain my hand from reaching for my phone whenever I sit down to eat. It seems like a reasonable thing to do, and a good point in a busy day during which to multi-task and get more done, or to catch up with the outside world. But it's a really bad habit that the majority of us have gotten into. If you put just a little thought into taking a considerably more mindful break, the impact over time can be incredibly effective, especially when it comes to managing stress levels and maintaining a greater sense of calm and wellbeing.

So here are three super simple things to do next time you sit down to eat a meal, especially your lunch during a busy working day. Try them out, give them a little of your time. If you're not convinced don't give up straight away. Over time the impact of such simple changes can really make a considerable difference.

 

THREE THINGS TO REMEMBER EACH TIME YOU GRAB YOUR LUNCH!

1. Step Away From Your Desk. Get some fresh air and find a quieter place, or at least a change of scenery, well away from your computer screen at which to eat your lunch.

2. Put Technology DOWN! And I really mean put that phone or tablet down. Push technology aside. Put your phone away. DO NOT spend your meal time browsing social media. This, for me, is one of the biggest challenges, my hand reaches for the phone and starts scrolling before my brain has even clocked what it's doing. But persevere. Resist the urge and concentrate on clearing the mind, breathing and reconnecting with yourself for a moment or two. Remove distractions, rather than add them.

3. Slowly Savour Those First Three Forkfuls. Generally we all need to take time to eat slower and with more thought. This is a great way to start but you'll be surprised how easy it is to forget to take time to notice those first three bites! This was one of the tasks we were set on the Search Inside Yourself Course back in February. If you can get into this habit, savour those first few moments at least, really take in the flavour, the texture, the temperature, everything that relates to what you're eating, it will help to calm your general approach to your meal. It's also vital for helping to understand when we're full to prevent us from over-eating. On another recent course I took part in, nutritional therapist Eva Kalinik discussed the fact that we should chew each bite a minimum of thirty times. Now this might sound extreme, but compare that to how you may be wolfing down your food in a rush right now and you may see that you need to strike a better balance. 

FURTHER READING: Mindful Eating: 5 Easy Tips To Get Started via Huffpost Healthy Living.

 

So what will you do this lunchtime? Why not take the time to appreciate that break and do something to really help bring those stress levels down. Trust me, the afternoon will seem a lot more bearable if you do!

Louise