Firstly, apologies for this very long post! I wrote it straight after the session and was quite inspired…
I’ve become aware recently that I need to take a bit of time to address the way I think, the way I work, and even just the way I spend my time away from the office. Working long hours in social media has fried my brain. The constant switching from task to task has shortened my attention span, broken up my thought patterns, and left me with this insistent tugging feeling at the corners of my brain, like there’s always something I’ve just forgotten to do. I have a screen in front of my face for most of the day, I’ll sit in front of the TV with my laptop out, balancing a phone in my hand and skipping from app to window to remote. I’m in so many different places at once, and yet not really in any of them. My thoughts are half-formed, always about to turn to the next thing to deal with.
I read a while ago that while you think you may be multi-tasking by constantly switching between what you’re working on, your brain actually stops and has to restart again to address the next thing. It’s harder to get anything finished, you’re overloading your brain with too much information, and you end up feeling overwhelmed. Growing up, I spent a lot of time outside or reading books. I could retreat into my own head for hours. These days, I watch as notifications pile up on my phone, emails flood into my inboxes, and I am further trapped behind screens. I’ve been trying to implement two hours without any screens every weekend, and the first time I tried it, it felt like days. Then it suddenly started feeling lovely, and I was conscious of everything I was doing, not numbing myself with a phone.
I’ve been questioning the way I do things for a while, and looking for a better path, but it was by pure coincidence that I stumbled across Calmworks. Last week, I’d just tried a Vivid Matcha drink, and was dancing around with giddy joy at how delicious the Pear & Rhubarb juice was, and how I couldn’t taste the unbearably grassy classic matcha taste. I took to Twitter to share my delight, and on the Vivid page I spotted something about mindfulness. I’d heard about it, vaguely, and admired the principles of slowing down and being in the moment. A few clicks later and I’d signed up for a very mysterious #SecretMonday event with Calmworks. This is due to be a monthly event at secret locations across London, features a talk and various exercises, plus a perfect opportunity for networking. Tonight we were at the House of St Barnabas, and the crowd included journos, techies, PR types, captains of industry etc.
Despite a childhood spent barefoot wandering around fields, reading poetry and whatnot, I’ve traditionally been very dubious about things like meditation and yoga. I’ll be the first person to yell BORING, running off to my fast paced cardio or my loud music. I’ve never had any inclination to look introspectively, and if anyone has forced me to meditate, I’ve spent the entire time thinking about what to have for dinner. Lifestyle improvement programmes, self-help and general surrounding jargon freak me out. The tiniest hint of patchouli oil and you won’t see me for dust. So let me be clear – mindfulness is not the same traditional meditation, and encourages you to pay close attention to what’s happening in the present moment. It’s more like an exercise for your mind, training yourself to think in a certain way, and taking a step back to reflect. The Calmworks website reassured my hardened, cynical heart, looking as it does like the beautifully designed homepage of some tech startup.
Even so, I was worried we’d be greeted by some tie-dyed, brain-fried old dude, telling us to imagine invisible threads and clear our minds. Thankfully not – there was wine on arrival, and two excellent chaps (Malcolm Scovil and Alexis John Bicat) to welcome us in. No one had the sheeny light of the born again in their eyes, no one was talking about chakras, and there was absolutely no incense. Instead, we were told to choose a coloured envelope, which contained a handwritten, uplifting quote, and a question to ask at least three people by the end of the evening. In case you were wondering, my question was ‘Growing up, what was your favourite toy?’
The atmosphere was inviting, friendly, and accessible, and Malcolm was a wonderful and entertaining host. I cringed at precisely zero moments. We had a talk from neuroscientist Dr. Tamara Russell, which was absolutely excellent, and dispelled any remaining fears I might have had about the hippieishness of the night. In short, she talked a LOT of sense, both in scientific and emotional terms. Alexis then took us through some mindfulness exercises, which were a million times better than normal meditation. For one thing, he explained that getting distracted was perfectly normal, and that the aim was just to try and slow your thoughts down. This got easier with each exercise, and I found myself getting surprisingly emotional at one point as I filtered through thoughts. It’s alarming how rarely most of us pause. Alexis was a brilliant teacher, not least because his final exercise involved eating chocolate. I can see why he’d be the ideal person to lead mindfulness sessions at various high profile companies.
I don’t want to reveal too much about the night, as I think it’s something everyone should experience for themselves – and after all, it is called *Secret* Mondays. But it’s so important to develop techniques like this to become stronger, happier and more capable in life, and to understand how to live in the moment.
A huge thank you to Calmworks, to Malcolm, Tamara and Alexis for a truly incredible experience. I feel very lucky to have been a part of it.