Tag Archives: Self-Help

Guest Article for Network of Wellbeing

Below is a guest article that I wrote for the wonderful Network of Wellbeing, a not-for-profit organisation based in the UK which works to support the development of wellbeing on a local and global scale, both with individuals and communities. The original article was posted on the 9th July 2015 and can be viewed here.

Living Attentively: The Bread and Butter of Wellbeing

By Florence Guest Posts,  Personal Development ,  0 Comments

In this guest post independent researcher Emma Kidd reflects on the importance of being present and giving attention to our sensory experiences. Emma explains how this practice can offer a foundational step towards a strong sense of personal wellbeing. Emma, a Schumacher College graduate, has recently published a book on this topic entitled, First Steps to Seeing: A Path Towards Living Attentively.

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

Italian Bread

Being attentive

Whilst exploring my own experiences of life, and studying human experience through science and philosophy, I have come to understand that it is not only ‘what’ we do that increases our sense of wellbeing, but also ‘how’ we arebeing when we are doing something. This is equally important whether we are engaged in a simple daily act of, for example, eating an amazing piece of home-baked bread with local butter lavishly spread on top, or whether we are engrossed in more complex tasks, involving thinking, speaking or working.

For instance, to experience a feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction whilst eating – which can contribute to a broader sense of wellbeing – it is not enough to just carry out the act of eating food; we can go a step further and give our attention to our sensory experience whilst we are eating.

We might think that carrying out the act of eating would automatically draw our attention tothe experience of eating. However, unfortunately this is often not the case. One of the reasons for this is that, in everyday life, our attention tends to be automatically drawn away from our sensory experience, and redirected towards a persistent stream of thoughts which pour into our awareness every waking moment of the day.

On an average day, instead of noticing our sensory experience during daily actions, our attention usually gets transferred to whatever our mind believes to be ‘more important’, such as reviewing our agenda for the day ahead, rehearsing difficult conversations, or fretting about the fact that our partner left their wet towel on the bathroom floor yet again.

This preoccupation with our thoughts then often leads us to spend our everyday lives in a kind of comatose state; a way of being which zones out from the world, either obsessing over the past or becoming fixated with the future. This stops us from paying attention to our experience of life in the present moment.

Living in the moment

However, we can change this at any moment by consciously bringing our attention back to our sensory experience. An everyday event such as eating breakfast, which is often ruled by monotony and constrained by our hectic schedules, is a particularly great opportunity to practice stepping out of this ‘automatic’ way of being.

Whilst eating breakfast we will usually only be vaguely aware of what the bread tasted like or the fact that our cornflakes crunched as we chewed them, and we end up left with a hazy blur of experiences that our mind bundles into one event and labels it ‘eating breakfast’. However, as a result of intentionally paying full attention to the flavours, textures and forms with our senses whilst we are eating, we can allow our attention to focus on one experience at a time, and we therefore open ourselves to a much more satisfying encounter.

First Steps Front Cover

A path towards living attentively

Paying full attention to our own, or to other people’s, living experience of the world also allows us to become more fully aware of life, in terms of itself. Though it is not necessarily possible to be fully attentive at all times, consciously bringing yourself back to living attentively on a regular basis can be extremely beneficial.

If we scale up this way of being attentive and apply it to broader aspects of living, such as personal or societal challenges, the deeper form of ‘living knowledge’ which emerges makes it possible for us to approach life with a more detailed, dynamic and authentic understanding of the challenges we are facing – which, in turn, organically informs us how to best proceed.

Today, in the twenty-first century, we are confronted with a rapidly changing world full of social, economic and environmental uncertainties, and each of these does bring a myriad of challenges to our wellbeing. As we are all inherently connected to this changing world, if we wish to create the best possible conditions to thrive, we must develop an inner capacity to respond and adapt to life in new, creative and innovative ways.

In my new book, First Steps to Seeing: A Path Towards Living Attentively, I offer a series of ‘stepping stones’ that help us develop the capacity to live life with full attention – to live attentively – and to thrive. These steps are delivered through a combination of personal stories, professional case-studies and practical exercises that are all related to everyday life. The intention of the book is to enable us to put the process of living attentively into action, straight away – no matter where we are, or what we are doing.

I see paying full attention to life as the ‘bread and butter’ of wellbeing; it is the internal prerequisite to getting the most out of life – both as a cognitive tool which can increase personal satisfaction and wellbeing, and also as the most fundamental skill involved in getting to know the world ‘as it is’, and in context.

By living attentively we can improve the ways in which we engage in our everyday tasks; we can more accurately get to know the subjects of our world, our work or our studies; and learn to be more sensitive and authentic in our interactions with other people, and with the world around us. In this way, living attentively can not only expand our own sense of wellbeing, but can also help us begin to see more possibilities for supporting others in the world to ‘be well’. And we can start putting this attentive way of being into practise with even the smallest of everyday acts, such as eating a piece of bread and butter.

Biography

Emma Kidd is an educator, writer, independent researcher and consultant. Her practice is centred around leading living inquiries into how we can co-create a happy, healthy, and peaceful world. She works with educational charities, third sector organisations and businesses. Emma has a Masters degree from Schumacher College, UK, where she specialised in Phenomenology and the work of Henri Bortoft.

You can visit Emma’s website athttp://www.sensinglife.net

Seeing Our Work As A Gift

Toucan

Photo credit: E. Kidd

Sitting at my tiny desk, looking out of the window at my small backyard, I have a rather large question looming before me; now that I have finished taking time out to write my first book, First Steps to Seeing, what should I do with my life? I learnt years ago that working just to earn money is not enough for me. I don’t want a job, I want a life, and a livelihood, that I love. And to complicate matters even further, not only do I want to do what I love, I want my work to contribute towards making a positive difference in the world.

For various reasons, both personal and ethical, I have forgone most of the accoutrements of a modern, western lifestyle, such as owning a car, a house, buying new clothes or gadgets, and going on regular holidays. Instead, I either walk or use public transport, I live with my family, mostly buy second-hand clothes and spend my vacations staying in the homes of my friends.

This change in lifestyle has decoupled me from the common, pressing need to be tied to a ‘9 ‘til 5’ job, or a guaranteed monthly salary, and means that I currently find myself profiting from a resource which is far more valuable, fleeting and finite than money; this resource is time. With my current schedule almost completely clear, I have time in abundance. This time is giving me the space and the opportunity to press the reset button on my life, and in so doing, I am finding that my attention is drawn to the unknown path ahead of me as if it were a fresh, new canvass – completely empty yet bulging with unseen possibilities, daring me to bring forth creations and ways of working that are not only new, but also different.

As I feel my way into the depths of this creative potential I am finding myself confronted with the tension between doing what I love, and doing what I feel would be of most help to the world. These two options, at least initially, seem fundamentally incompatible when held together, yet lacking when considered alone. On the one hand, I am naturally drawn towards ‘helping’ people, but I am also aware of how complex the world is, and the way in which reactive ‘help’ can often be misguided. On the other hand, I am intuitively led towards creative pursuits, such as writing and photography, which allow me to bring beauty into the world and, in return, nourish me during the process.

When I lean back from my immediate environment to contemplate the social, cultural and environmental destruction that is currently occurring throughout the world, the thought that I should be devoting myself to what I love – regardless of what is occurring around me – seems utterly absurd. Even as I write, as we continue push the ecological and ideological boundaries of what is humanly possible, war torn countries, communities and families are being ripped apart and the planet is unmistakably being destroyed.

In the face of this destruction, selflessly abandoning all interest in what brings me to life and devoting myself to a worthy social or environmental cause appears to be ‘the’ answer (and I do have great admiration for those who do so). However, I am very aware  of the way in which this approach can create an inequality between the individual and the world, one which elevates life-above-oneself. I have tried this approach of abandoning the self in favour of the world, and maybe I just wasn’t very good at it, but experience has taught me that I can not fully give myself to the world when I neglect my own needs, whether physical, emotional or mental, no matter how much I believe in the worthiness of the cause.

On the other hand, doing work that I love for no other end than to satisfy and enliven myself just seems to follow our current damaging consumer culture, which elevates the importance of the individual and creates a hierarchy of self-above-all-others. However, I believe a third possibility – or a middle path –  does exist, one which neither excludes nor elevates the importance of self or the world; this third possibility is the approach of seeing our work as a gift.

Successful gift giving is an art form, one which considers the giver and receiver to be on equal terms. The art of giving a gift requires us to notice, to pay attention and to be responsive to the needs and wishes of the receiver. However, it is also a very personal gesture, one which respects our individuality, our wishes and inevitably takes our own needs and capabilities into account. And the actual gift that we give is only part of the process; we also give the receiver the thought, time, love and attention that is necessarily involved in the contemplation, and the giving, of the gift.

In terms of satisfaction, gift giving is a circular (or hermeneutic) process – when we give a gift we offer the receiver something that we hope will be of value and meaning to them, and in the process we derive meaning from giving that which we wish to give.

To approach, to see and to create our work as a gift we must first take time to notice the world around us, to really see life as it is. We must then give the same level of attention to ourselves, to see ourselves as we are, noticing what inner resources we have to give and what kind of engagement we most derive meaning from or feel enlivened by. This information, or these ingredients, can then be mixed together to create our work, our gift. Similarly to a baking a cake or a loaf of bread, when combined these ingredients, which are derived from noticing and being attentive to both ourselves and the world, can come together to create an idea, a project or an organisation that is far more than just the sum of its parts.

Seeing our work as a gift values the self and the world, on equal terms, and aims to meaningfully satisfy both. In taking the time to notice not only what we think the world needs or wants, but also to notice what we would most like to give, or feel most able to give, we are respecting and honoring ourselves and the world.

Therefore, in response to my own question of what to do with my ‘post-book’ life, I will begin from the position of seeing my work as a gift. As the case studies in Chapter 8 of First Steps to Seeing demonstrate – such as The Nature Institute, Hiut Denim Co., the ‘Learning in Depth’ educational initiative, and the economic development work of Manfred Max-Neef – by seeing our work as a gift, and dwelling in the space between the self and the other, we are best placed to work and to act upon our hearts’ desires, with love and integrity, whilst simultaneously answering the call from a world which is unarguably in need of our help.

First Steps to Seeing: A Path Towards Living Attentively will be released on the 18th June and is now available to pre-order as an e-book  or in paperback