When we are stressed we are most likely to drop into a default mode of crowded thoughts and frantic rushing. We often let our thoughts and emotions dictate, without stopping to actually assess what’s helpful. The greatest present we can give this Christmas is being present to ourselves and present to others. So here’s how to clear your mental clutter and actualise your mental well-being. 

Actualise –  stop, assess and determine what’s needed. 

The penultimate blog in this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally.

Family Busy at Christmas

A is for Actualise

If you’re anything like me you may be asking, “But how do I actualise my mental well-being?”

So often my thoughts race away with me.

My mind chases everywhere but where I want to be – enjoying the moment.

How To Train Your Mind To Be In The Moment

Here’s the SPACE acronym  – the declutter solution from the experts. We can adapt this to clear the stress and clutter from our minds:

Sort

Purge      

Actualise   (assign a home) 

Containerise 

Equalise 

Let’s look at each of these:

SPACE - the acronym to clear the clutter in your head

How to Create Mental SPACE

Sort

Sort your thoughts. Not all thoughts are true. See “Stress Less this Chrismas – Thought Minding” for more on this.  Some thoughts aren’t kind, or helpful. They erode our well-being.

Purge

If you’ve sorted your thoughts, you can purge those that aren’t helping you be the person you want to be. Is what I’m thinking true? Is it kind? Is it helpful? If you can’t say “Yes” to  all three of those questions, purge the thought! Bin the thoughts that aren’t working for you. If you don’t entertain them they won’t hang around!

Actualise

Be aware of what you actually choose. Either you are in control your thoughts or your thoughts are in control of you. Choose thoughts that help you be the person you want to be.

Containerise

One way that our thoughts stress us is through seepage. We let work thoughts drip into our downtime. We let unhappy past memories pollute our present joy. We let future worries ooze into our time of relaxation. These thoughts clutter our minds and cause stress.

Some need purging.

Others need containerising.

Work thoughts need to be containerised for after the holiday. (If it’s important and you’re worried you’ll forget it, note it down, so that your brain knows you have created a reminder, and can let it go).

Haunting past memories and future worries can also be containerised. Maybe you recognise you need to do something about them. In your mind containerise them so you can return to them at a more desirable time.

Sad memories of the loss of a loved one may also seep into your Christmas. Hold your memories gently in the crucible of your mind. What is there to celebrate about this person’s life? What would they want to be telling you now? Rather than letting your grief ooze into the day and pollute the joy, hold your pain carefully in a container where it can over time be transformed into joy and wisdom.

Equalise

Using SPACE to Sort, Purge, Actualise and Containerise our thoughts can help regain a calm equilibrium – to create balance in our lives.

SPACE acronym to clear the mental clutter

Why Create Mental SPACE

Why would we take time to create mental SPACE when life is already so hectic?

It’s like clearing the kitchen clutter before you start the Christmas meal.

It’s easier to get done what needs to be done.

You can focus on what matters.

It avoids unnecessary upsets.

Things go more smoothly.

Things are more enjoyable.

Things usually turn out better.

When we create mental SPACE there is more room for joy.

It opens our minds to what’s needed now, in this moment. So use SPACE to actualise what’s needed and what matters.

So what might it take to actually have a more joyful Christmas?

Join me for the big “S” of Christmas in the next blog!

So it’s over to you:

What thoughts do you choose to Sort, Purge, Containerise and Actualise that will help you to Equalise this festive season? 

Last edited December 22nd 2018

Why Mindfulness Matters

Chrismas and Stress seem to have become synonymous.

Life is frantic. Stress levels scream ever higher with alarming pressure.

Why the madness!

But there’s a swing back to a calmer way of being.

Medical Science and especially Neuroscience are recognising the power of the ancient art of why mindfulness matters to create calmer happier lives.

The sixth blog of this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally:

M is for Mindfulness

Imagine doing one thing differently that would open the door to being the person you would love to be.

The hinge that opens that door is mindfulness.

Mindfulness swings open the doorway to enjoying the moment, to greater understanding, to being tuned in to what is there before you. it opens our minds to what’s needed. Another word we could use to describe that mindfulness is awareness.

Choosing Mindfulness in Your Everyday Living

Paying attention in a particular way:

On purpose

In the present moment, and non-judgementally. Kabat-Zinn

Perhaps you’re thinking,

“But I don’t have time to stop and meditate.”

The good news is we can choose mindfulness in the everyday moments of our lives  – it’s about choosing to be conscious, even in the run-of-the-mill events at a busy time like Christmas.

Small hinges swing big doors.

Small hinges swing big doors

We can swing open the habit of mindfulness in the regular moments  –  whether we are peeling the potatoes, changing a nappy, opening a present, or whatever – just becoming more conscious of what we are doing in the moment.

Mindfulness as a Way of Being

 … our life is the path, and we no longer rely merely on the forms of practice.  Thich Nhat Hanh

When we are mindful we become more conscious of what we are doing, what we are feeling, who and what is around us and with us. We notice our intentions. We become more conscious of the thoughts that wind us up and how we can let them go and choose a more helpful response.

Instead of a “knee ‘jerk” reaction that is triggered by feelings of anger, fear or envy, we can respond with compassionate curiosity, that helps to create the quality of relationship we desire.

Why Mindfulness Matters for Parents

Whether the house feels like world war three broke out or a home where you’re all glad to live can depend on whether we, as parents,  choose to react or to respond. And our reactivity or calm response will depend on our mindfulness.

If you’d like the chance to develop key insights and practical skills to mindful parenting click here to discover “Stop Yelling – nine steps to calmer happier parenting” with Val Mullally guiding you through this live online course.

As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well. That means that integrating and cultivating your own brain is one of the most loving and generous gifts you can give your children.  Daniel J. Siegel 

The Mindfulness Path

Choose to respond rather than react.

Take a few breaths to calm yourself. Focus on choosing connection.

Ask yourself, “What’s really needed here?”

This is the way we can keep our selves well: with regular exercising of our attunement to ourselves through mindfulness practices.  Daniel J. Siegel

In the next blog discover how to clear the mental clutter that adds to our stress and causes us to react, rather than respond in a way that builds healthy relationship.

Small hinges swing big doors

So it’s over to you: 

What small doable step will you take today to become more mindful in your everyday living? 

Last edited December 21st 2018

Escape the Christmas stress by developing the mindful habit of “wait a little”. When we take time to slow down it not only improves our well-being it can also make life more enjoyable for those who are with us. The fifth blog of this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally.

S is for Slow Down

When I think back to my childhood in the Africa “bush” so many images come to mind. The huge red sun dipping slowly over the horizon in the evening, swimming in the river with fish nibbling your legs, raucous birdlife of amazing colours, moths and spiders as large as saucers, dry dusty soil – and thorns.

African sun at dusk

Thorns of all shapes and sizes, each inflicting its own type of pain. People who haven’t lived in that climate cannot imagine the variety of thorn:

  • large, spear-like woody acacia thorns that cause your foot to ache for days after an unfortunate encounter
  • the annoying little paper thorns that pepper your bare feet
  • the wicked devil’s thorns, like singular wooden marbles with vicious spikes in every direction, making it impossible not to get spiked
  • And the “wag-n-bietjie” thorns – “wait a little” because when you are caught by a string of these sharp, curved thorns which hook into your flesh and clothing, you have no choice but to “wait a little” and disentangle yourself.

Wait-a-Little As a Daily Habit 

Often it is the unpleasant things like illness or injury that hook into our lives and force us to  “wag-n-bietjie”. What if we choose to slow down and notice where we are in life, rather than waiting till circumstances force us to stop.

When we slow down we become mindful –  we become more aware of new information, we notice how one thing impacts another and we become more sensitive to the intricacies of situations.

Between stimulus and response there is a space… In our response lies our growth and our happiness.” Stephen R. Covey

Within the bustle of Christmas, let’s create pleasant slow-down moments.

Time to stop for a cuddle.  To go for a walk.  To watch children playing. To do nothing. To reflect.

 

Slow down this Christmas and enjoy peace joy love

Make space for the things that breathe life into your being 

Wait a little –  in an inner place of quiet stillness.

Each of us needs periods in which our minds can focus inwardly. Daniel J. Siegel

One simple way is to notice your breath. Stop the rushing. Just notice your breathing – in and out. Take time to notice the beauty around you. Open the door of awareness to experiencing awe.

Awe puts on the brakes, and keeps us still and attentive. Hedy Schleifer

The word “awesome” has become an overused superlative that has lost much of its meaning. Awe is not about “cool” – awe is much deeper. It touches our souls. Awe shows up when we slow down.

Why slowing down matters

Slowing down matters for our own well-being and it matters for those who are with us. We become more aware, more attentive, and we take stock of our lives. When we slow down, we open the door to awe.

Only that day dawns to which we are awake. Henry David Thoreau. Walden 

Paul Piff says awe makes us nicer and happier: “Awe causes a kind of ‘Be Here Now!’ that seems to dissolve the self, and as a result makes us act more fairly, more generously, more ethically.”

escape Christmas stress - slow down

So over to you: 

  • What helps you to slow down? 
  • What do you see are the greatest benefits when you slow down?

Last edited December 19th 2018

Hope in the Darkness

In the second blog of this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally

H is for Hope

What a strange year. Global chaos, and for some the turmoil is much closer to home. 

Perhaps every generation has years where the future looks incomprehensibly bleak. 

Yet there are glimmers of hope – of what is possible when people pool their resources and respond with compassion.

Stories of hope and courage, like the amazing international response to rescue a huddle of Thai boys, who would have been doomed to die, if people had not been inspired by hope. 

Light In The Darkness

Many years ago I visited the Sudwala Caves in South Africa, which also tunnel many miles into the bowels of the earth. There are caverns so huge that music concerts have been held underground.

When our tour group had walked some distance into the interior the guide warned us she would turn off the lights for a few minutes for us to experience the darkness.

We think we know what dark is. But unless you have been in that situation without even a twinkle from a star, you cannot comprehend a darkness that feels stifling in its totality.

So intensely black that nothing is visible. Not even your finger right before your face.

A cold fear begins to rise, even though you know this darkness is only temporary.

And then the guide lights a match.

The light of one little match flickers into the darkness.

I can see my hand. I can see my husband next to me. I can see the tour group members and the guide and the cave walls beyond. My anxiety melts away.

How amazing that in such extreme darkness the light from one little match can make such a difference.

Hope Lights The Darkness

Hope Lights The Dark

Yes, there is darkness.

And light dissipates darkness.

Every time you and I hate, fear, compete, attack, judge, separate—thus avoiding the necessary letting gowe are resisting the full flow of Love, the energy which is driving the universe forward.   Richard Rohr 4/11/16

The rescue of the Thai youngsters is a narrative of hope. Somehow those youngsters did not give up – they had hope. The task to rescue them seemed impossible – but those involved had hope.

Not a vague, wishy-washy hope – but a hope that takes action. A hope that makes the difference.

Collaborating. Cooperating. Drawing from collective wisdom. Ingenuity. Determination. Giving of oneself. Experiencing hardship and discomfort for the greater good. Taking action despite fear. Forgetting differences of religion and culture. Creating a different outcome.

Will we be light? Will we be hope?

Hope is what inspires us to keep going, to have courage, to find a solution, in our own families, in community, and at a global level.

Hope

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If you are battling with post-partum depression, or want to give hope to someone who is,  here’s a true story from a guest blogger.

Mindfulness, hope, and compassion enable us to be resilient and function effectively even in the face of challenges   (Boyatzis and McKee, 2005, p. 63)

So over to you.

Are you seeking a narrative of hope?

Who inspires you? 

 What stories inspire you? 

How do you model hope in your own situation? 

In the next blog in this series, you’ll discover the 20th-century deception that erodes Relationship.

Last edited December 02nd 2019

The first in our CHRISTMAS series.

How can we offer Charity without undermining a person’s dignity?

Here are two words that can make a huge difference: 

C  is for Compassionate Curiosity 

“All I want is a room somewhere…”

I hum along to the familiar tune on the radio.

And suddenly I notice the words in a way I never have before.

“Far away from the cold night air.”

 Eliza Doolittle is homeless!

My Fair Lady - Eliza Doolittle with Henry Higgins

I’ve never thought about it. I’ve known this song as long as I can remember but I’ve never seen the situation through Eliza’s eyes.

I watched the film “My Fair Lady” years ago.

And what I most remember are her amusing mismatched interactions with ‘Enry ‘Iggins.

I’ve never stopped and seen her as a person who has suffered.

A person who has had to face the dangers and the freezing conditions of sleeping rough. Nowhere to call home. Nowhere to be safe.

What is it like to have so little that your life’s wish is to have just one room where you can be out of the cold?

To wish you had just one chair!

What Can We Learn From Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle?

Yes, we want to make a difference.

We want to ease the other person’s suffering. But how do we offer charity without undermining a person’s dignity?

The secret to offering help without damaging a person’s self-respect can be found in two words: compassionate curiosity.

We need a curiosity that goes beyond a scientist’s passion for discovery. We need a curiosity that is infused with compassion – a genuine desire to understand and respond to the other person’s unique situation and experience.

It’s much more than dropping a few coins into the bowl, or writing a cheque.

We need to see the other person.  We need compassionate curiosity for the vulnerable people in our own communities, and also the people we see through the television screen, who may be on the other side of the globe.

We need to see the humanness of the other. We can fall into the trap of  Henry Higgins mindset that we must clean them up, and make them look and act like we do.

Let’s stop. Let’s stop and recognise their need for human dignity, as well as their need for food, shelter and safety.

Compassionate curiosity - the path to Charity

 

When we want to offer charity let’s recognise we’re in danger of seeing the other who is in need as our ‘project’ – like Henry Higgins did. He demeaned Eliza by not seeing her as a person in her own right.

Yet ultimately it was Henry himself who was probably most impacted.

It was Eliza that made him confront his own shortcomings, and the shortcomings of the system of which he was a part.

 

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.  (attributed to  Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson)

Isn’t it time that we see the other with compassionate curiosity –  to seek to envisage life through the other person’s eyes.

And, like Henry Higgins, we often are oblivious to the systems that keep people trapped in poverty.

Power systems that replicate fear and war.

Isn’t it time we address the real issue of systems of power that seek to hoard humanity’s privileges for a limited few.

Starting From Home

I believe that the solutions start in the home and in our school systems.

It starts with viewing ourselves with compassionate curiosity rather than with critical judgement.

If I want to be a kind, connected and compassionate person it begins with being kind, connected compassionate to myself.

I’ll only be able to give to others what I give to myself.

“Charity begins at home.”

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world

Charity in our communities will grow from having a compassionate curiosity for those closes to us; we need a compassionate curiosity for those in our care.

What is life like when we see it through their eyes?

Eliza, like so millions of others, was a victim of her circumstances.

She didn’t choose poverty.

We overlook the huge disempowering impact of the systems of society.

CAN we make a difference?

If we want to change the systems of power it starts with changing those systems in the very first environments our children experience – our homes and our schools.

So often, with the best intentions, we have a Higgins’ mentality towards those in our care. We expect them to “behave” as we think they should, rather than seeking to understand and support them in ways that are meaningful to them.

We expect the other to behave as we think they should

 

I perceive the systems of power in the world will only be transformed when we model compassionate curiosity and mutual co-operation in the very earliest interactions in life, rather than impose our agenda.

It’s an old adage, but we often overlook the potential within it:

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

If you’d like to perceive what this looks like in the practical day-to-day living with a young child,  read my book, “Baby and Toddler On Board – mindful parenting when a new baby joins the family”.

Isn’t our culture still  immersed in a Victorian “Henry Higgins” mentality that we have to “fix” the other  person, whether it’s our own child’s behaviour that we don’t like, the child in the classroom,  people who’ve taken different life choices to our own or people’s situations that threaten our own  level of comfort.

Higgins wasn’t able to make a difference, no matter how good his intentions were, as long as he saw the other person as a project.

He had to come face-to-face with Eliza’s humanness – and that transformed him.

My awareness challenge today is to notice when we slip into a  Henry Higgins’ mindset.

So over to you,  is there any way in which these thoughts on compassionate curiosity have challenged you?

Last edited December 01st 2019

It’s timely with news re the worryingly high  level of Domestic Violence that Santa has written two letters to Parents:  ‘When Sad /Bad Things Happen at Christmas’ and ‘When Grown Ups Fight’    The bottom line is parents need to be aware of what they can do to prevent children being traumatised by adult conflict in the home. Blog posts by Parenting Expert and author Val Mullally

Last edited December 09th 2014

Christmas isn’t always happy and fun for families.  We saw this series of letter from ‘Santa’ to Parents  was  hugely popular – so here’s DAY ONE from our Koemba Archives ‘What to do With Children’s Great Expectations’

Last edited December 03rd 2014

Christmas - What Really Matters

Dear Santa

Great to see children thinking about what will make other people happy at Christmas. I know we’ll be flat-out with preparing the sleigh from Christmas Eve, so any final seasonal thoughts for Parents?

PercyPostElf

 

Dear  Parents

Percy Postelf, Mrs Claus and I all agree that Mark’s dad will appreciate a present that’s been carefully chosen. We started talking about the madness of Christmas shopping.

Remember the lyric ‘The fox went out on a windy night’.

As parents, you know that a fox in the hen coop can go on an unsatiated killing spree.

I sometimes think children can be a little like that when there’s an overabundance – ripping through everything without taking time to savour anything.

Maybe this festive season feels like a crisis time for some.

Here are two key thoughts  that might be helpful:

1) Somewhere I read that the Japanese word for ‘crisis’ also means ‘opportunity’.

What would happen if we saw our current situation as an opportunity?

What if we all asked ourselves:

‘What’s the opportunity for our family in the current crisis we’re experiencing?’

2)  ‘Less is more’ and ‘slow’ have become global movements. Reflect on how this might be true for your family this Christmas.

Let’s choose “less presents and more presence”.

“Happiness does not come from having more, it comes from loving what you have.”

If you’ve enjoyed these posts you’ll want Val Mullally’s parenting book Behave – What To Do When Your Child Won’t 

BEHAVEbook - treat yourself this Christmas

Enjoying other people’s pleasure at receiving gifts, is one way our children may benefit when there’s less.

Christmas is the time for recognising what really matters in life.

Despite challenging circumstances, may this be a wonder-full and joy-full Christ-mas for each and every family.

Love and God bless to everyone.     Christmas - what really matters

Santa, Mrs Claus and PercyPostElf

P.S. To see my other Christmas letters:

Day 1  What to do with Children’s ‘Great Expectations’?

Day 2  Christmas Gifts Without a Huge Expense

Day 3  Dealing with Disappointment

Day 4  Christmas Surprises

Day 5  Three Key Questions Regarding Purchases

Day 6  No Money This Christmas

Day 7  Christmas is for Giving

Day 8 When Sad or Bad Things Happen

Day 9  When Grown Ups Fight

Day 10 Making Magical Moments at Christmass

Day 11 Can’t Forgive at Christmas 

 

 

 

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Last edited December 07th 2018

Hard to Forgive at Christmas

Choose to Forgive this Christmas

Dear Santa

Here’s another letter from Daniel. So glad his parents are sorting things out.  (Maybe they read your letter about ‘When Grown Ups Fight’!)

It makes sense that it’s hard to forgive, even at Christmas, when someone has deeply hurt you. Many people are stuck in a place of anger/unforgiveness regarding an ex, their own parent, someone else, perhaps they are struggling to forgive another group of people who have injured those we love. And sometimes it’s ourselves that we find hard to forgive. 

What would you like to say to parents who find it hard to forgive?

PercyPostElf

 

Dear PercyPostElf

It makes sense that when people hurt us, it’s hard to forgive.

What we often overlook is the cost of unforgiveness –  to our physical and emotional health but we also often forget the huge price that unforgiveness can cost our children too.

Let me share with you an African tale on how to catch a monkey.

Find a tree with a very small hole in the trunk.  Take a handful of peanuts and while the monkey is watching you, push the peanuts into the hole in the tree. Now move away and wait. The monkey will soon come for the peanuts. But when he puts his hand into the hole and seizes the peanuts, his fist is now too big to get out the hole. He doesn’t want to let go the peanuts – so he’s stuck. Now you can catch your monkey!

That’s what happens to us when we hold onto unforgiveness. It’s hard to forgive because we think we’re punishing the person who hurt us but actually, we are keeping ourselves stuck in one place. Sometimes we avoid forgiveness because we don’t want reconciliation with a particular person or situation. But forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. We can choose to forgive, even if reconciliation isn’t desirable or advisable.

Forgiveness is choosing to let go of the ‘peanuts’ of anger and bitterness. These uncomfortable feelings are emotional termites that eat away our family’s happiness if we don’t deal with them.

‘Peace on Earth’ doesn’t just happen. Peace happens one relationship at a time. Peace happens when people choose to be peace-makers. And sometimes part of peace-making is forgiving.

Did you know that our way of living is hugely influenced by the thoughts of the past four generations and that the thoughts we think will affect the next four generations? This Christmas let’s consciously choose the emotional legacy we leave to our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great, great-grandchildren.

It can be helpful to take time to reflect:

‘Is there a situation where I  am finding it hard to forgive?’

‘On a scale of 0-10 what example of forgiveness am I modelling to my children?’ (0 equals holding tightly to bitter, angry and unforgiving thoughts  and 10 being  free of those).

This Christmas I ask parents to get the help needed to let go of unforgiveness – for their children’s sake as well as their own.

The word ‘forgiving’ is actually two words.  What do I choose to give: to myself / my loved ones / that other person?

Christmas is a time a time for giving and for for-giving.

Reconciliation is not always advisable but we can choose to let go of our bitterness or anger and move forward.

Now it’s over to you – how will you choose to be a peace-maker this festive season?

Choose to forgive this Christmas

Love

Santa

P.S.  Check in tomorrow for  my final letter this year.  After that, Rudolph and I will busy with present deliveries.

P.P.S. Here are my other letters:

Day 1  What to do with Children’s ‘Great Expectations’?

Day 2  ‘Need’ or ‘Want’

Day 3  Dealing with Disappointment

Day 4  Christmas Surprises

Day 5  Three Key Questions Regarding Purchases

Day 6  No Money This Christmas

Day 7  Christmas is for Giving

Day 8 When Sad or Bad Things Happen

Day 9  When Grown Ups Fight

Day 10 An Attitude of Gratitude

Day 12 Christmas – What Really Matters

 

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Last edited December 07th 2018