The Change I Want To See

5 steps to trying meditation for the first time


If you ask someone who has never meditated what they think about meditation they'll picture incense sticks, prayer flags, chanting vegans and free dancing. While these examples might be a little extreme, and have almost nothing to do with meditation, they are associated by being pigeonholed as alternative or spiritual.  For a lot of people the S word is a big barrier, it initiates an involuntary cringe and immediate inability to take anything said afterwards seriously. I know all this as for 31 years I was a cringer. I gave mediation very little thought other than thinking it wasn't for me. This has all changed.

Nowadays, I rarely go more than a few days without some form of meditation. I've been doing this for almost 2 years. It has been an immensely positive thing for me to discover. While I am no expert, I wanted to explain a few things I've learnt along the way that, had I known, would have helped me get over the mental barrier and allowed me to try meditation sooner.

1. Don't call it mediation. Call it mindfulness. While some will argue that the two are different, ignore them for now. I think so many people are hung up on the word meditation that it makes them uncomfortable to think about trying it. Think of it as simply being mindful and that can help approach it in a different way.

2. Do nothing. That's it. That is the aim. It is harder than it sounds. In our hectic lives it is very difficult to truly do nothing. No listening to music, no reading, no daydreaming. Just being in the moment. The aim of being mindful is to be aware of what is happening right now. When you start to do this you realise it is actually quite a rare and special experience.

3. You don't need to close your eyes and sit cross legged.  While I'd recommend starting with your eyes closed and seated, it isn't essential. You can be mindful running, walking, even cycling once you learn the technique. It is a strange experience to try walking or running mindfully for the first time. This has helped me a lot with trail running.

4. It isn't about stopping all of your thoughts. I originally thought meditation was about switching off all my thoughts, having a completely blank mind and finding Zen, despite not knowing what it meant. None of these things have really happened. What has happened is I've learnt to understand my thoughts and emotions more and am able to have much better control of them. This has been an incredibly useful skill to learn.

5. It doesn't take long. You don't need to sit for hours on end. You can see a huge benefit from taking as little as 10 minutes a day to be mindful. I started at 10 minutes and now choose to sit for 15 minutes every day. It can easily be built into our busy schedules.


Why do it?

If you observe the natural world, animals spend a lot of time doing nothing. They have very few distractions. Years ago we wouldn't have been too different from this. Whenever we take time away from our busy lives we often seek ways to replicate this. Some of us sit on beaches, some go on retreats, some go camping and spend time in nature. While we are all different we all see the value in switching off and doing nothing. We have created a lot of distractions for ourselves in our modern world and while a regular mediation might not initially sound as tempting as sitting in the sun on the beach, it can help us to train our minds and disconnect on a daily basis which is so very important.


If you haven't ever given Meditation or Mindfulness a go I challenge you to try it for a few days. There are lots of ways you can get into it but if you're like me and want the simplest, quickest, no nonsense approach I recommend using the Headspace app. You can download the app on your phone and try it free for 10 days. (I am in no way affiliated to Headspace other than using it myself.)



If your still sceptical, watch this great animation about why you should meditate:

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and if you want a slightly longer explanation try this Ted Talk from Andy Puddicombe who explains it much clearer than I do.

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Why we must all learn from nature


Why we must all learn from nature

If we take the time to look, we can see time and time again that the natural world has a pretty good record for doing things in an efficient way. Take an old growth forest for example, it is a closed loop system where nothing is wasted, everything has a purpose and every single organism works towards the overall health of the forest. When everything serves the bigger picture like this we can see that both the individual species and the larger ecosystem thrive. It's not just the forests either, the oceans are the same, truth is, the whole planet's doing it. The whole planet, that is, except for one lonely species....humans.

The permanent, closed loop ecosystem of a healthy forest.
The permanent, closed loop ecosystem of a healthy forest.

On the surface it doesn't seem like we've done too bad from this tactic, the human population has, after all, surged to over seven billion people. The problem is, the more we have grown the more our ecosystem has suffered. As much as we try to pretend we aren't, we are rather reliant on that ecosystem to survive.

I believe that most people, if they are truly honest with themselves, will admit that the state of the world isn't great, that there is room for improvement. We don't need to go into all the details of what's wrong, we're all aware. We're all posing in a giant, worldwide, selfie, pretending life's #amazing, when away from the camera we all know something's not quite right. Our absence of action comes not from a lack of education about the problems, but from the fear of being the only one willing do anything about it. It's like we've all come to the end of a great party but no-one wants to start cleaning up until they see someone else do their share first. And that's just the problem, for some reason, living a greener, ethical, low impact, or whatever you want to call it, lifestyle is associated with making a big sacrifice. But is that really the case? Sure, it's hard to live a low impact lifestyle and have millions in the bank, but then, the happiest people I know are not the ones with the most money. The happiest ones are those who live simpler lifestyles, the ones who follow their passions and more often than not, the ones who spend the most time outside in nature.

The more time I have spend looking into this, the more I believe that it's not just about living a simpler life. That is undoubtedly part of it, but it's actually about living a life that is more connected to nature. If we allow ourselves to realise that we are part of the natural world, we can start to learn from it. Instead of trying to change our ecosystem to make it work for us, we can work with it. I know this may sound quite an alternative or "hippy" view but it really shouldn't be. After all, the natural world is really the only guide we have, its what some cultures have been using for thousands of years, observing the natural systems, learning from them and adapting to them.

There are many examples of this philosophy existing and being successful in mainstream society too. The Barefoot Running Movement is a direct result of noticing that the human body has evolved to run. Why spend money on the latest impressive cushioning and supportive shoe when you have a pretty good body that can do all that for you? The answer is that we don't, we just need to look at relearning a natural technique for running. Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centred on simulating the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. It has proved very successful as a way to create truly sustainable landscapes, communities and even businesseses.  Zero Waste and Tiny Home Living are growing in popularity from people realising that living a simpler, more natural way can lead to more freedom and more happiness. Further down the scale there are people like Ido Portal, and Wim Hof who are using natural techniques to make amazing progress in the fitness, health and well-being industries. Even the hugely successful Japanese Bullet Train's design came from an observation of the natural world. The shape of the train that allows it to travel at such high speeds is replicated from the beak of the Kingfisher. The engineers noticed that the Kingfisher was able to dive into water and create almost no splash. By copying it's shape the train became more fuel efficient, more aerodynamic and much quieter.

We can see this approach does work in a variety of ways, so why limit our use of it? What else could we learn from the natural world?

Movement: If you've ever taken a dog for walk you may have noticed a distinct difference between how dogs move compared to the person walking them.  They run, jump, stretch, roll, they are constantly moving, they rarely walk at the same pace everywhere. It's the same for all animals. Any animal that can perform a movement often does. We don't. We have the ability to swim, jump, climb, run, perform an array of somersaults, in fact, we're the most versatile movers on the planet. However, the majority of us do not utilise this ability. Observing the natural world in this way can emphasise how important it is to incorporate this varied movement into our lives. Running, climbing, swimming, stretching, dancing, balancing, acrobatics, by doing a wider range of activities you are replicating a more natural version of yourself which can lead to you becoming fitter and healthier.

Patterns: The natural world is made up of patterns. Seasons, weather cycles, symbiotic relationships, it is built on this foundation.  We spend so much time observing the patterns in the natural world but rarely look for patterns in our own lives. If we start to identify the patterns in our own lives we can use them to learn a wealth of things about ourselves, our passions, our efficiency, dietary issues, our energy and our moods.

Diversity: There is so much diveristy in a natural ecosystem. The more diversity the healthier the system. But yet a vast proportion of our society embraces segregation. This comes in many forms, from immigration, to class systems, to our friendship circles, even to our hobbies and the way we make money. If we use the natural worlds example it suggests we will be healthier and more sustainable by embracing diversity.

There are so many ways we can observe the natural world and learn from it. These are really just a random selection that I decided to write about today. I have been using this mindset privately ever since learning about Permaculture and I've found it to be extremely useful. It's easy too. You just need to start to ask yourself "What would nature do in this situation?"

It is a simple solution to a complex problem and it can be used for every aspect of our lives, if we have an open mind. It's a pretty effective bull-shit-ometer too. The next time you hear about a new diet or exercise regime, ask yourself "Is this a natural way for humans to eat/exercise?"  No? Ignore it and move on.

It might seem a little far fetched to think that by embracing something like natural movement we can help solve some of the world's problems. I would agree. But if we see that the natural way of doing something like this benefits our health and happiness, it can open our minds to try something else. The next thing could be eating real, organic food, reducing our waste, or working less hours. It's all connected. If we can show that working alongside the natural world allows us to thrive, then more people will be tempted to adopt this approach. We don't need to wait for others to make sacrifices before we change if by changing we become happier.


"Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”

Bill Mollison

The Change I Want To See - Changing our relationship with alcohol


I was recently approached by a friend to ask if she could write an article for this blog. When I started this blog I assumed that most people wanted to see similar changes as I. However, the reality and beautiful thing is that we are all passionate about changing different parts of society that are unique to us due to our experiences. This is the change that Amy Roberton wants to see . . .

I last had an alcoholic drink 5 months ago. I’m not an alcoholic in recovery… or am I?

Whatever I am, I can definitely say I’ve had a turbulent relationship with alcohol. I’m an all or nothing kind of girl in many ways, and yes I know that balance is important, but it’s something I’ve struggled to maintain in my life.

I’ve had two long-term relationships with alcoholic boyfriends and I’m from a family which likes a drink. Regular binge drinking has happened most weekends since I was a teenager, but everyone else I know has been doing this too. So what’s my problem?

Upon resettling to the UK last year I returned to my hometown to an unemployed, depressed, heavily drinking brother who was frequently experiencing blackouts. The worst of these being the time he woke up without his MacBook containing lots of his brilliant writing. I knew he was unhappy and needed help and compassion. I was extremely worried that if he didn’t turn his life around at that point, he may never do.

I’d previously given up on encouraging my ex-partners to stop drinking, as I realised that they might never change. I’d had to cut my losses, look after number one, and move on. But this was different. This was my big brother. He is amazing. Highly intelligent, creative, funny, loving and caring and I will never give up on him. I have always been in awe of him, and I always will be.    

I don’t want to talk too much about my brother because this is about my feelings towards my non-drinking. But just so you know, my family was able to get my brother into an awesome rehab centre, and nearly a year later he’s had his ups and downs but he’s in a much better place than he was. The centre teaches new routines, gives residents the tools to live a life of abstinence and delves into the self esteem, confidence, life and mental health issues which may be the underlying cause of addiction. On the day of his graduation from rehab (yes, this is what happens) I listened to the residents and counsellors speak one by one about my brother and how wonderful he was. We were all sat in a circle. I spoke, he spoke and we all wished him the best in his new life of sobriety. There were tears, fears, lots of hugs, lots of hope and lots of love. It was by far the proudest and most emotionally charged experience of my life.

As I said before my own drinking has never been very balanced. I’ve had months of sobriety followed by some serious bouts of binge drinking. I’ve passed out on the cold tiles of a pub toilet cubicle and experienced numerous occasions waking up in a strange place with no recollection of how I got there. Don’t take this the wrong way it’s not all doom and gloom. Apparently I’m absolutely hilarious when I’m drunk. I can be the life and soul of the party and I’ve had some great nights. Unfortunately, more often than not, I’ve had little or no recollection of what’s happened, a horrendous hangover and felt depressed, shameful and full of regret for days.

You see the change I want to see is that I’d love people to drink less. Why do we feel the need to constantly anaesthetise ourselves in the one precious life we have? It seems the social lives of most people I know are very alcohol focused, and this makes the process of becoming a non-drinker quite isolating. I’m constantly asked why I’m not drinking and people generally think it’s a bit weird, but I have the confidence to be social and sober, and I’ve never been one to follow the rules. In fact, I keep hearing that other people would love to do the same but for some reason or other they feel they can’t.

Perhaps they feel that without a drink in their hand they won’t be able to socialise and they’ll miss out on all the fun. Truth be told at times I wonder whether without alcohol I’m actually quite a boring person. In reality, when I’m out and everyone else is drinking, the first few hours are great, but once the booze really kicks in, the conversation gets quite tiresome and I’m ready to leave. Drunk people are not as hilarious as they once seemed. At times I would love to be able to tap into that comical life of the party me whilst sober, but maybe that just isn’t who I am, or maybe I’m at the wrong parties…

I’m writing this as it’s two days since my new boyfriend split up with me. I really liked him. One of the things that I found really attractive about him was that he never drinks, and he’s never been drunk. This is a very strange phenomenon in my world. The end of this relationship came out of the blue and it hit me hard. I rang in sick to work, sobbed in bed for a day and then just got up and got on with life. My first thought was that I’d go out and get drunk, because this is how I’ve previously dealt with emotional pain. But I realise this is not the best way to cope with life. It could be fun - just a few light-hearted drinks whilst moaning about men, or I could wake up with no recollection of the night before, a huge dent in my bank account, a horrible hangover and days of depression and regret. I am not willing to take the risk and have the 1 drink that may lead to 10.

I am sticking to my non-drinking and will see what difference it makes. I am feeling the benefits of a life without alcohol and I can take the full pain of the end of this relationship, pick myself up and move on. I will not get drunk, cry and make regretful phone calls or sleep with strangers. Without alcohol I have more respect for myself, control of my emotions, actions and finances. Most importantly I can remember each day and I’m making positive memories which are leading me to a brighter, more hopeful future.

If you would like to change your relationship with alcohol, cut down your intake, or have a short break from drinking here are a few ideas to encourage and inspire you:

  • Alcohol is very high in calories and cost! I can almost 100% guarantee you that if you stop drinking for a month you will lose weight and save money.
  • If you do go out, set a £10 spending limit for yourself (only take cash and don’t join rounds!)
  • Meet friends in a local independent café for coffee and cake. All those calories saved on booze can be used to eat more baked goods (yippee!)
  • Without hangovers, weekends can be spent sharing productive time with friends or family, perhaps exercising or waking super early and going on a road-trip.
  • To share your thoughts and hear other peoples’ stories, check out the online community - a movement towards a better drinking culture, which supports people to change their relationship with alcohol.

Big thanks to Amy for reaching out and telling her story. While I have a much healthier relationship with alcohol than I used to, when living in London, I can still see areas I can change for the better after reading this. 

Amy's article has inspired me to open up this blog to other peoples stories. If you would like to write a guest post on the change you want to see please get in touch. 


Escape the 9 to 5


Escape the 9 to 5

The majority of my life I have been a 9 to 5 er.

There's been a few periods of breaking this, working in bars, or other odd jobs but on the most part it's been start at 9, finish at 5, Monday to Friday, job done.

I've never enjoyed this, mind you. Anyone who knows me will no doubt have heard me rant about my lack of understanding for why society settled upon such a rigid, 5 day working week. It has never made any sense to me. Why do we allocate 5 out of 7 of our days as working ones? Shouldn't it be the other way around? We surely did not go through 3.8 billion years of evolution just to work all the time? That would be about the dumbest....sorry I'm ranting again.

So as I was saying, I've never really been the biggest advocate for 9 to 5. I looked at the working hours of the rest of nature and saw no-one clocking a 9 to 5 day. All other animals and plants adapt to the seasons. Humans are the only ones who plough on regardless. 9 to 5 come rain, shine, winter or summer. It all just seems very unnatural.

But despite my complaints I have, up until now, put up with this broken system. But this year I have finally attempted to look for an alternative to this lifestyle. I am pleased to say I am no longer a 9 to 5 er.

It was surprisingly much easier than I thought. I had avoided asking my employer about reducing my work load and working freelance for ages. In my mind there was no way they would allow me to do it, but when I asked and explained why I wanted to, they said yes. It was that simple. With the new found freedom I was able to look for new opportunities which led me to organise my own night at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival and I'm now helping to organise another Mountain Festival later in the summer. It's work that I enjoy and that is more inline with my values, encouraging and inspiring people to spend time outside enjoying nature.

The main benefit to this is not the work, however, it is the time I have won back. The freedom of owning your own time is invaluable. It is the one thing no-one can make more of. The ability to look out of the window in the morning and decide what I want to do with my day is really all I have ever wanted to achieve. I have got confused in the past and thought that making lots of money would provide this freedom but in reality it is all about owning your time. Sure, we need money to provide a certain level of security, but once that is achieved, then it should all be about earning more time.

It's early days still and there's still things I'm adjusting too. There are days of self doubt where I question if I will have enough money, or if it would be more sensible to take holiday pay, pensions and security. But for now I am going to enjoy the journey a little more and worry about the destination a little less.

The reason I am telling you this isn't to brag, it is to say that even though I had been thinking of doing this for a few years I always thought it would be too difficult to achieve. One thing I had never done however was taken action on it. This post is purely to emphasise that if you don't ask you don't get. If it is something you would like to try to, why not just ask your employer today, whats the worst that could happen?



What can nature teach us about our waste?


What can nature teach us about our waste?

If you have ever taken a walk in a forest, wood or fully natural ecosystem, then you may have noticed a significant difference between humans and the rest of the natural world.

We are the only ones who create waste.

No other animal or plant on the entire planet creates unusable, non-recyclable waste except for us. Take that forest you may have strolled through for example. Researchers have shown* that a healthy forest ecosystem recycles around 98% of all of its nutrients with only 2% leaving the forest each year through animals and water run off. 98% is an unbelievable level of self sufficiency. Especially when, if you look at the bigger picture, that 2% that escapes will only be used up by another ecosystem outside of the forest. So on a larger scale the natural world is in fact 100% sustainable. Well, that is until we arrived...

The average person in North America creates the following amounts of waste:

A day = 2kg (4.3lbs)

A week = 14kg (30lbs)

A year = 730kg (1,569lbs)

It's safe to say that we are a long way off the rest of the natural world. Even the most sustainable and environmentally conscious cities at present are only aiming to achieve about a third of what nature can.

Where nature recycles and reuses materials and nutrients again and again. We create waste that is on the most part unusable.  At its worst it is landfilled and takes hundreds, sometimes thousands of years to break down. At best it is recycled, requiring fossil fuels to transport and process, loses its quality and ultimately ends up on the landfill after a few uses. We are the odd ones out. It's a secret gang that us humans left a while back. While nature adopted a closed loop system we adopted a one way system.

Two examples of closed loop systems in nature. Copyright

The sad thing in all this is that we actually haven't been fully kicked out of this nature gang. Good old Mother Nature is a forgiving soul and is still trying to accommodate us despite our repeated abuse of her home. She is also secretly a bit OCD and likes to keep a clean place. So while we are operating on our one way system she repeatedly tries to tidy up after us and create a closed loop system. She still tries to process our waste in the same way she would with a leaf, or decomposing animal because that's what she does best. The only problem is she hasn't realised the nutrients we are adding aren't beneficial to any of us. That's why our plastic waste is now being discovered in our food chain and the chemicals we spray on our crops are starting to affect our health. Nature is simply breaking it all down and adding it back into the system. We're like the crappy guests at a diner party, when everyone else spends ages cooking organic, healthy food, turn up with a McDonalds.

So what does all this teach us? It teaches us that simply because we can't see the immediate result of our actions it doesn't mean they don't have consequences. It also teaches us that the solutions are really quite simple. All we need to do is stop adding toxic, unnatural items to the loop, and start using organic items that nature can process and use again and again without it damaging the larger ecosystem.

How can we achieve this? With each action you take simply ask yourself, "Will this benefit or damage our closed loop system?" If everyone starts to play their part and contribute to the system with healthy and beneficial actions we can start to create a much more vibrant system for all of us.


*Gaia's Garden - Toby Hemenway