Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour

Ep. #58 The Power of Mindfulness and Presence with Helen Williams

June 19, 2023 Jean Balfour Season 2 Episode 58
Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
Ep. #58 The Power of Mindfulness and Presence with Helen Williams
Show Notes Transcript

To truly change the culture at a workplace, we must embark on an inner journey of self-transformation, and mindfulness. As the saying goes, "If you want to change the world, first change yourself." But how can we cultivate self-kindness, self-compassion, and self-empathetic awareness so that these qualities can radiate toward others?

In order for empathy to flow from the top down, it is crucial to equip leaders with the tools of mindfulness and self-awareness. By guiding leaders to understand the depths of their own hearts, they can effectively embody the qualities they wish to see in others.

Join Helen Williams, mindfulness coach, Emirates Woman, Woman of the Year, and  50 Most Inspirational Women of the UAE as she shares the power of cultivating mindfulness and presence from within. 

Jean and Helen discuss: 

  • What if the word “Stress" ceased to exist in our vocabulary? 
  • How does mindfulness help us in our working lives?
  • How can leaders bring mindfulness into the workplace?
  • Different types of mindfulness that help with stillness 

Meet Helen Williams 

Helen Williams is a New Zealander with a lifetime’s experience in personal and self-development, spiritual direction and in training people from all walks of life in her chosen field of Mindfulness and Meditation. Helen was awarded Emirates Woman, Woman of the Year for her visionary work in the field of personal development in 2014 and in 2017 was honoured as one of the 50 Most Inspirational Women of the UAE by Stylist Arabia as well as one of Arabian Business’s 100 Most Influential People in Dubai.

Book recommendation:

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose :

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself:

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Connect with Jean Balfour here:


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Hi everyone, and welcome to Making Sense of Work. I have a real personal treat today in the, joining me for a conversation is my sister Helen Williams. Oh, Helen, welcome. Oh, Jean. How lovely to be asked. I'm really happy to be here. Oh, I really feel that we will be able to have a gorgeous conversation. Helen is originally from New Zealand, as of course am I, and has just moved back to New Zealand after living in Dubai for 15 years and prior to that, living overseas in other places. Helen has a lifetime of practical experience in self-development, focusing mostly on our core search for meaning and authentic conscious growth. She's worked consistently in the field of personal and spiritual development and has participated in and taught many groups involved in the search for mindful authenticity, meaning, and conscious connection. For a long time. Helen has been teaching mindfulness and we are going to talk about that today. That will be our focus, and that includes her work in helping people think about mindfulness in their working lives and in their organizations. So once again, Helen, welcome. Thank you, Jean. I remember saying to you, I'm happy to talk if we yet to talk about mindfulness. Yeah. Well that's, I'm glad. So important. Yeah, it's, it's interesting cuz in preparing for today, I was thinking about. The role that you've played in my own mindfulness journey and how mindfulness is so integral to my work, to my coaching practice, particularly in how we approach teaching, coaching, how we approach the concept of presence when we are coaching, and so I'm so excited that we can talk about all of that today. As always though, let's just start with how's work at the moment. Well work at the moment's. Astonishing for me because for the first time in my life I'm not working, I, I don't like the word retired from because I know that I'm constantly having conversations with people about working. But an actual fact, I'm retired now. And how is that? This morning I went on a walk with my niece and three dogs. We walked nearly five kilometers in beautiful New Zealand, and I thought, how blessed am I? Yesterday I knitted for three hours and thought again, I love this. I'm adjusting to it. Mm-hmm. Yeah. I'm sure it's a period of change. Mm. When you were working, which was until very recently, what did a good day look like for you? Oh, that's a lovely question. Isn't it filled with people? Because I work essentially as a psychotherapist during the day and teach mindfulness practices and other workshops in the evening. A really good day is of positive connections with people. When I can see them understanding what presence really means, and if that happens over and over and over and then we have a very present workshop where people are learning mindfulness practices and showing that they love it, then that's a good day. Mm mm It's really curious, this concept of presence, we'll come back to it later in the connection to mindfulness. And I shared a little bit about your journey. And the work that you do, but it would be lovely if you could just share a bit about your pathway through work and your career. There's always, for me, been about taking the lessons that life has given me. And in converting them into ways that I can help other people. It came from, um, experiencing a lot of grief really early on and recognizing that I could sink with it or I could learn how to be with it and the teaching other people how to be with it too. So I started right back at the beginning of learning how to do grief counseling. And then that led into every kind of other field you can imagine, until eventually I discovered that I had a great love for working with couples, and that is how I began working in the uae. I found that there were very few people who worked with couples. It's a very difficult field there because most of the relationships are cross cultural. Um, and I also. Oddly enough had just done another degree at university where I'd studied Islam because it was the only big religion that I hadn't actually studied. So I took psychotherapy, couples work, working with Islamic marriage and the teaching of mindfulness and put them all together. The greatest joy has been following that thread all the way through with, so I've essentially worked with people from about 200 different cultures and come to this conclusion that it doesn't matter where you work, who you work with, or how our hearts all beat the same. Our deepest yearning is for connection both with ourselves and each other. And that's what I feel I've been working with, connecting with myself and helping people connect with themselves and with each other. That's bliss. Really? Mm-hmm. It's so beautiful. Mm. There's such a. Beautiful thread through your own story, your story and the work that you've done and how that's come. And I, it's so beautiful to hear you say that. And I think that for so many of us in our careers, if we can step back and look for those threads, it's easier for us to find meaning and work because the threads are there. That relationship between my own experience, my own learning and those threads is so important in, in how we express ourselves in our work. Well, if you're thinking about mindful authenticity, then it's actually taking all of the things that have hurt us or broken us open or touched us deeply, finding the healing for ourselves, and then recognizing that this unique experience. has a grounding that will help other people understand how they also can connect to the threads of their own journeys and use those. So I think that anything that makes us feel, this is what I want to do, this is me, this is what I want to do, this is my career structure. Comes from the early threads of either some kind of trauma wound or some great passion that we've discovered. Yeah, yeah. Oh, I couldn't agree more. Yeah. Mm-hmm. Let's, let's just step back a bit before we go in, and it would be great if you could share your understanding of what mindfulness means to you. So there's a difference between what mindfulness means and what mindfulness means to me. Ah, okay. Yes. Mindfulness for me is always about the word awareness, so it's awareness. In this moment. Now what is actually happening at the moment? Once I worked out, if I could say, what is happening here? This is what's happening right now. What's happening right now is what's here. Not the stories my mind is making up or the terrible self damning things that you don't like me. You don't want me, I'm not. Welcome here. I don't belong. I'm not good enough. Mindfulness is the awareness that the voice in my head will tell a story about what it thinks is happening, whereas presence is what's actually happening without the story. So mindfulness defined as presence and this moment, and choosing to be in this moment as clearly as possible without the story that constantly takes me away. Hmm. Wow. I'm, I'm loving this connection between, um, and I can't believe I've never quite made it, so I've always made a connection between mindfulness and presence. And particularly in coaching, because I believe that in order to be the most effective coach, I, I need to be very present to myself and to the other. And what you are doing is completely weaving those, and that's, that's about inviting myself to be present to what's coming up in the moment, and inviting clients to be present to what's coming up in the moment and to be aware of the story. But to be more present to what's happening in the here and now. Mm-hmm. Well, I often say to clients when I'm working with them, I don't want to hear the story. I want you to talk to me about the impact of what's just happened with you. What did you just notice was happening right now? What happened to your body when you suddenly moved the way you did? What was the impact of that inside of you? Because when you can connect with that, then you can be aware of not only yourself, but all the other people who are here too. Mm-hmm. So it, to me, mindfulness is about paying attention on purpose to myself and making the choice to stay there. My attention to me pulls other people's attention into themselves, and that's how it works really well. If I'm not aligned and present and connected, if my mind has already gone 50 feet ahead of the person, then they're not pulled into this moment for themselves. Yeah. That's so powerful. It can almost seem, a bit of a paradox that it's important for me to be present in order for the other, to be present because in coaching or as a leader, I am taught that I need to be present to the other. But what you are saying is in order to do that effectively, I need to be present to myself first. And that's the difference. So if you carry that onto what is mindfulness at work? That is mindfulness at work. It's pointless me being present to what's happening to everyone else that's living from an external locus of control. But if I know where I am inside of me right now, and that's actually gear towards what's happening in this moment. Then I'm doing everything from an internal locus of control with awareness. So my awareness is what creates awareness in anything else that happens that's back to front to do it the other way. So where am I now? Yeah, no, it's the where am I now? And it's that openness I think to. Reflecting because if I, if I sit with where am I now, then I also have to own where I am now. And I can't avoid it. I have to see my part in whatever's going on in this situation. But it's incredible when you think about distractions, or something difficult happening when you're busy doing something. So I think about, um, a personal piece. Usually when I'm working, I always have my phone nearby in case someone needs to send a message. I'm going to be running late or whatever it is, but I have it upside down so that I can't see, and I can feel if it vibrates, I don't usually look. One day I was working with someone who was talking. It actually sobbing hard and telling something difficult When my phone flashed and I realized I could see the screen. And I had it up, so, and a message came in. It was from one of my children saying something dreadful has just happened. And I saw it and I registered it and I recognized it. I felt it in my body. I turned the phone over and paid full attention to the person, and I realized for the next 40 minutes, my body knew it was going to have to tackle something big that may have an impact on me. And yet the person sitting opposite me was totally with me and I with her. And afterwards I realized that what mindfulness brought me in that moment was the ability to choose to stay present to what was actually happening rather than being distracted by this other thing. It didn't lose anything by not immediately replying, no. And I remember thinking afterwards, the joy of being able to be present to what actually is here. I wouldn't, if the phone had been upside down, I wouldn't have known. Mm-hmm. And it would've waited and it didn't, it would've waited and it didn't take me off my path. Now I noticed that all the time. Mindfulness helps us to notice what could distract us and helps us to choose to be present to what's happening. To keep things in the right lanes, as it were. So it makes our working life much more effective, I find. Yes. And. Well, so many things are coming up for me here. Let me, let me kind of listen. The first is actually focus because one of the big problems in our working lives is our distraction and doing many things, and I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading books around this idea of deep work and there's, now I see, of course, a direct connection between mindfulness and deep work because in order for me to do deep work, I need to be able to notice my mind wanting to be distracted and to bring it back to the deep work that I'm in and to just notice that and come back to it, notice it, and come back to it. So it's, it's directly connected, therefore, to productivity actually, or to my ability to do, perhaps not productivity, but my ability to do meaningful work in a deep way. It's so interesting when you think about the essence of mindfulness is literally the realization that my mind has wandered and I need it to return to now. So one of the things I want to say about that is that the practice of mindfulness makes that possible over a long period of time. I'm aware that I can stay present. I work in 75 minute increments. So I can stay present for 75 minutes without leaving at all for a second. I prefer to work continuously all day so I can stay present continuously. If you'd asked me could I have done that 20 years ago, I said no, but I can see where I need to come back. I can see where I've left. I can see where I need to pull myself back. Nowadays, I don't leave. Hmm. And I'm sure that's, and I know it, it's the truth and I'm sure it's because I have practiced for such a long time. And when you put that in the context of work, to me, the most precious part of that is recognizing in order to get any kind of work done well, I must focus, so I must be here. And so therefore, I need to recognize I've left, come back, I've left, come back again. Mm-hmm. It's like walking the dog. Every time I pull the dog back to heal and the dog learns how to do that. We have a better walk every time I bring my thoughts back and I learn to stay here, I have a better life. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, I, I really see that. I see in, in myself and in, um, in the work that I'm doing that the more. I practice and I, and I really get why it's called mindfulness practice is the better I get it. It is like a muscle and I'm, I'm more able to dial it up in that moment. When I need it, I'm more able to bring that back. I ask that. Yes. Coming back is one of the basic things in week one of mindfulness teaching, we ask the question, what percentage of you is actually here right now? And I don't have to outline what I need as an answer. I just ask out of a hundred percent, give me a number. What percentage of you is actually here? And the vast amount of people in a class, obviously, let's say 15 or 20 people will start with something like, 60%. 75%. 40%. Oh, no, look, I'm 20%. No, I, I'm really about 85. And when we finished all those numbers, it intrigues me that people actually know they can choose their number just like that. And then we ask this question, actually, we're not really interested in how much of you is here. I want to know whether part of you. That isn't here has gone, because really it's either gone backwards into, father, I should have finished that, or it's gone forwards into, are the children asleep yet? Um, and tomorrow I should, all I need to remember on the way home, I must, right? It's where your mind went. So the question is not what, how much of you is here, but where have you gone and how often do you leave? What do you think it feels like if you can maintain presence sitting in a room full of people who constantly feel as though their soul has gone out the door? What do I need to do to call you back? How can you learn to come back here and be with me instead of leaving all the time? Mm-hmm. That's, that's the basis of it, I think. Mm-hmm. I'm, I'm noticing thinking about meetings here, and it's not something we've talked about much on the podcast, but this idea that, well, first of all, one of the things that happened during Covid is that we've seen the number of meetings go up. There's quite a bit of research to show that people are in meetings more often, and. I'm curious about the meaning of those meetings and how helpful they are. A lot of people are very frustrated because they're saying, actually they're not meaningful. I wonder what would happen if we decided to come into a meeting and, and bring ourselves fully into that meeting. What would happen in the quality of that meeting? Meeting? When I think about a meeting in the context of a family sitting around the dinner table. You know, if the parents use their phones the whole time they're eating dinner, Um, they're not present at all, so the children have no leadership or no context for being there. If the parents put their phones down and they are present to the children, then all sorts of questions and the glorious curiosity of mindfulness. Now, put that into a meeting room. Even a meeting room on Zoom. Are you here? How much of you is here? Can you hear me? The appreciation when someone actually listens to me is the nearest thing to be, to really feeling liked, but love to me is I hear you. I see you, right? I value you. I understand you in a meeting when you know you are speaking and nobody is listening, and no one even wants to be there. It just constantly feels like rejection. So even in, um, a meeting of a whole group of people who are at the top of their industry, they are still, they tell me this. They are sitting there feeling rejected by their c e o, by the coo, by the people who matter to them because they're not. Present and they talk about it like that. It reminds me of how my father never ever asked me what matters to you or how my mother was never consumed with anything except, so that comes into at meeting level a sense of, you don't want me. And that gets in the way in our minds, I'm not needed here, I'm not important. And it makes people, act differently. They try and try to prove themselves. They become. For instance. Yeah. Or they get lost in the corner. Because the whole feeling of non presence is actually rejection. Mm. On a deeper level. That's so powerful. Mm-hmm. And if that's going on all day, in our meetings, in our organizations, as we are recording this, plenty of people will be in meetings. We are. Losing so much. So much, and especially at the moment things, people tell me that life in organizations is really hard at the moment. Mm-hmm. And if we bring in that idea that I'm in these meetings where I'm feeling ignored or rejected, or I have to prove myself or whatever, then I'm losing my best self. I'm losing my ability to help us through this challenging time. Hmm. It's very tough when you think about it that no one actually speaks about it. At this level we call that, there's just a lot of stress. I'm just full of stress all day long. I'm under stress all the time. The work is so stressful. My life is so stressful. Meetings are so stressful, and we say, yeah, it's just stress. it isn't, it's so much more than that. If we really understood what we mean when we say work is so stressful, and what's your sense of how we could talk about that differently? Well, the, um, if we were to abolish the word stress completely from our vocabulary and never ever use it, then we'd recognize this. Um, because I'm so old now, Jean. I remember when many words weren't in our natural working vocabulary, so I remember first being taught that to stress actually means the amount of pressure you put on something like a sheet of iron, metal, steel, or a piece of wood to allow it to bend or change shape. So you stress the middle. Of a cushion track to make a bend in it so that you can make hang the cushions around the corner. That's meant to be the use of the word stress. Now it's become in our vocabulary, I am so stressed and we don't stop to talk about what that actually means. So if in the company we say we are never going to use that word, we abolish it from our vocabulary, then I would say to you, when you tell me you're experiencing stress, tell me another word that describes it. And that person fiddles around for a minute in their minds and says, well, I feel like I, I'm not important. Or my input here is not significant. So well, so that's not stress, is it? If you call it stress, you can't work with it. Let's instead use the word pressure. To describe, stress. And then let's use the words that are actually adequate for the situation to describe what I'm feeling in my body. So right now I'm feeling, a bit lost because I recognize I don't really know what I'm doing and I'm too scared to ask for help. That's not stress. If I say I'm really stressed, someone will say, yeah, me too. And then that's the end of that conversation. But if I stop with the word stress and think there's so much pressure on me right now to perform and I feel inadequate to the task, now I've got something to work with. And I could actually ask my manager, can you help me with this? Yeah. But if I just tell you I'm stressed, we won't move at all. Mm-hmm. That's how I see it. Yeah. Oh, no, I'm, I really love this. I actually did a podcaster a couple of weeks ago about the idea of describing emotions in a granular way. And curiously didn't really talk about stress or maybe a little bit, but what you are describing is exactly that. It's about both, um, working out what is, what is the feeling that I've got. And as you are talking about, you are also talking a lot about in my body. Mm-hmm. So it's not just what do I think is happening. Mm-hmm. It's about what is my body telling me about what's going on here? What's that information? I think that's one of the blessings of mindfulness, body awareness. So awareness happens in your body, you know, it's beyond your mind when you think about it. If we stay stuck in, what am I thinking? We absent ourselves from the other 90% of our working system, which is so full of information, you know? So if I use the word stress, Um, to describe the impact of it in my body, I would say my neck and shoulders. So if I stay aware that my neck feels quite tight right now and I'm in the middle of bending over my laptop, then that's information for me to recognize, even if I just sit up straight, do a couple of shoulder rolls, and take several really deep breaths and turn my head for a minute. I recognize that there was something that I was doing that was so full of pressure in that moment, my body was indicating it to me. So if I stop right then and deal with that, I will change something that I'm working won't be just physical. It'll be an emotional plus of thought. At the same time, my body, which knows before I do lets me know. And awareness from a mindfulness perspec perspective is. What language is my body speaking to me right now? Hmmhmm change everything in the moment. Mm-hmm. It's important. It's, um, it's critical actually. I think it's more than important because we are in, such a challenging time at work and it feels to me that this is really critical that we learn to do this. So how can people build. Mindfulness into their lives. How can we learn to do this? I think there are two parts to it that one of the questions that people ask me a lot is, what's the difference between mindfulness and meditation? Yeah. Mindfulness is the practice of choosing in the moment what I'm watching in my thinking, what my thoughts are doing, what my feelings are telling me, and what my body is showing me. Meditation is the practice of choosing a piece of time to be with myself every day, to check in, to learn to settle, and still my body, so that my mind learns to become still as well. That practice to me is the pivotal anchoring or grounding that I need on which during the day I can practice mindfulness of thoughts, feelings, and actions, and awareness. But if I cannot, I don't believe have one without the other. Right? So mindfulness isn't taught as normally taught as a series of breathing practices, and we're usually taught if you do this practice. So now we need to do mindfulness of body awareness, so that body scan, or we are going to do this breathing technique for focus. So we're going to do a breathing technique. That's so much more than that. It's choosing, have the relationship with myself every day. Preferably would say morning and night book casing, my day of work. So I begin to put in my bookcase. The stand at the beginning of the day, which says, I am with me. I notice what's happening in my mind, my thoughts, my feelings. This is my practice, and when I stand up from a meditation cushion, I go into the day of checking in. I do it by tapping my chest. Where am I now? What's happening at the moment? What am I bringing to this situation? Where am I now? Like, oh, my body is telling me it's time to eat or drink something. Where am I now? My shoulders are telling me to sit up through, where am I now? What's happening? Where's my awareness now? And as you continue to do that throughout the day, it just becomes a very quick check-in. At the end of the day, it's a really good idea to stop, again, ground the practice into not thinking, but learning this deeper connection within my whole system, which anchors me to the beginning and to the end. Yeah. I think it either anchors my sleep or anchors my waking life. So mindfulness practice to me is choosing on a regular basis to pay attention. Yeah. To the depth of the practice and then all the pieces throughout the day till in the end, you don't have to keep choosing it. It actually just becomes, it is. And now we just, that's what we are doing right now. Yeah. I, I'm, uh, I know for me that when I don't have some form of mourning practice, which is. Is mostly some form of meditation and journaling, but sometimes it's one or the other. It is harder for me during the day to be mindful in the moment that the two are inextricably linked for me. They are completely, really, I have a, an exercise I offer clients, which, which you'll probably laugh at, but often people say, oh, it's really harder. How will I do that? I'm really busy. How will I remember? And so I invite them to set a timer. For several times a day just to, so it buzzes on their rest or on their phone and that, that's the moment where they come into the, where am I now, question. And well see. I do that though too. I teach people that as well. But I would say the easiest part is to choose the heaviest piece of work first, which is the sitting practice, the discipline between every morning I will. There is no excuse for it. I don't care if it's one minute. When I say to my body for one minute, we are going to stop for one minute. I'm going to notice the sounds that account, the sounds that I can for one minute I'm going to pay attention to me. I prefer to sit into a posture because I'm saying to myself, I matter enough to do that. And I discover that the consistency of the one minute, two minute, three minute becomes five minutes becomes 10 minutes practice because my body longs for that in the end. But to begin with, one minute is all it takes. Put that aside. Then your body will do the work for you. It will call you into presence. It does. When you see it that way around it, it actually cooperates with itself. We are made up of presence. That sense of inner connection to all is part of who we are and it calls us back to itself. We don't have to make it hard work. It isn't the white knuckle approach. It's because I care to connect with myself. I seem to care to connect with everybody else. Yeah. Because I do that first. So the first piece of discipline is the morning practice. When we can put that in, and it always stays with us, then we can trust that our body will call us into itself as regularly as it needs. It then becomes the awareness of, I can feel my body is telling me I need to move, walk. I could do with a water cooler moment. You know, I could just take another deep breath, I could stretch. Yeah. And then it becomes quite simple. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I noticed, I was thinking about it this morning, I guess, cuz I was, I knew we were gonna have this conversation and, and sitting into my practice, my morning practice and, and just noticing that, that it's taken a while for my body to become used to it, but it really is seconds now I sit down, I start. Breathing and I'm present. I'm just there. Yeah. And, and, and it is actually, as you describe it now, I realize that I saw it this morning. I hadn't noticed that. It is, it is embodied. It's not a mind thing now, it's just, it's felt. It's like, oh, okay. This is what I'm doing now. Yes. And so when you get to that, you recognize this is our natural state. So the fact that we fight against being with ourselves all the time has always been curious to me, because once we learn that, Helen, what's the most loving thing I can do for you right now is to just attend to yourself like I see you. I see, I can see what you need. It just becomes our natural embodied state because that's who we really are. That is us being authentic. We don't have to struggle against it. No. You know, it was Victor Frankl who wrote in his book, man's Search for Meaning, which I try to read about every two years. I try to read that book. Um, over the years, that's a lot of reading of it for me. It was published in I think, 1946. So I like that. Yes. The thought that his statement that he's most renowned for is between the stimulus and the response. There is always a space. Did I translate that to between anything that happens and my reaction to it. There is always a breathing space in which one deep breath in. Actually gives me the power to choose what I'm gonna do next, how I'm going to respond. That's a brilliant piece of mindfulness teaching when you think about it. And when I say that, Jean, I'm reminded of this piece. It's really important that people recognize that's the out breath that soothes the nervous system. Mm, on the in breath. The glorious piece of teaching that Victor Frankl left us with is between any event that happens and your reaction to it. There is always a space in which which you can choose to take one deep breath. Did you know that while you're taking one deep breath in thoroughly. You cannot speak on an in breath. It is the most brilliant thing. I did not know that that is so good. If you take one deep breath on a very regular basis throughout the day, you cannot say anything. So you won't retort, you won't react. You won't actually be rude. Because you cannot speak while you're breathing in. Mm-hmm. And then take a very nice, long, slow, deep breath out. Yeah. And choose at the same time what you say or how you respond. That to me is one of the pillars of mindfulness practice. Doesn't it make sense? It makes huge sense. Makes huge sense. The thing I was just pick up on there, which is something that I learned, from my dear friend, Serena, from her, all of her career as an actress, is this piece about the out breath. Because we are so often taught about the importance of taking the big, deep breath, that actually the out breatha is like a cleansing breath on our system, and that it's both that ADUs and they're both, they both hold such deep value. My most beloved mindfulness breathing practice that I would teach a two year old and I can teach someone who's a hundred that I can do at any moment during the day is to hum. You know, in order to use a really good hum you have to have a very big in breath. So if I have no time to do anything at all except just hum, then I have connected with myself in a way that's unbelievable, you know? And just as a sideline, it actually does a great deal for your nervous system. So when you think about humming, You're actually operating the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in your body too, because it's connect is connected here in your body to your throat. So think about the out breatha. In order for me to hum nice and long and slow, I need to breathe in as deeply as I can first. Can I do it? Can I show it to you? Mm-hmm. Please take taken. This is a mindfulness practice, so simple. Do it anywhere. Take a nice, big, long breath. Mm. Now I can tell you that I can just keep on going with that sound over a long period of time because I'm releasing the outbreath in tiny little increments, and when I can hear it coming through that sound, pick any sound. Mm. High or low. It's astonishing how long you can make it last for, so you end up breathing to the very, very, very bottom of your breath. So therefore you have to take another deep end breath. Mm. That in itself, done over one minute soothes the nervous system more than you can possibly imagine. If you're in a state where you can't make a sound, then can you imagine? You can hear the sound in your mind and you just slowly do the out breath. It's perfect when you think about it and so simple. Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's great cuz I, I wanted to ask you about what people can do if they're really struggling with the idea of stillness or some sort of meditation practice. But actually I think what you're describing now is the answer to that. And, the notion about stillness. I love to walk and I love to hum while I'm walking. So, you know, if you passed me walking along the beach, you'd hear me coming because I often, I find a really low sound once I was on a boat trip. And the sea was really rough, and I discovered that if I used humming, no one could hear me because of the sound of the motor that I droned low in my body, the same sound as the motor. And the boat trip was about 40 minutes, and I thought I was gonna throw up, and I recognized that if I just stayed connected, I touched my hand to my belly and my other hand to my chest, and I just breathed with my eyes open. But what I was actually doing was taking a deep breath in and humming. And the boat was bouncing, and I did it solidly for 40 minutes and got off at the other end and thought not only was I not sick, I also discovered I wasn't frightened because I'd soothed myself. Now that in itself, If you conducted that during a scary moment in a meeting with someone where you're being, when you are being offered feedback that's really painful and hurting you, when you are with a partner who's telling you some very unwelcome news, whatever it is, that happens a great shock. If you learned to harm on a regular basis, then you would automatically go there. To soothe and settle your system. So active, mindfulness, walking, mindfulness, noisy mindfulness is a great place to begin. I know that our, our bodies actually yearn for stillness and when we can learn to keep our bodies still, our thoughts follow. They slow down and so do our emotions too. So I teach people start off with movement. Yeah, it's beautiful. You don't have to be still. Yeah. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I mean, I, it's very effective. I love to swim and swimming isn't, People are always saying to me, oh, it's so boring. I'm like, oh, it's so fantastic because it's an opportunity to practice mindfulness because actually it is boring if you are just going up and down. But there's always that opportunity to come back to the present moment. Look at the blue and the tiles and the bottom of the swimming pool. Notice the water around me. Um, I love it. Be here now. Be here now. Swimming. Mm-hmm. Mm. Helen, we could talk about this for a few hours and I suspect I will invite you back. Um, as we come to close. I wonder if there's anything that you haven't shared. Do you think it would be nice to share? We were, um, interested in the conversation of empathy and mindfulness. How it would really help in this very difficult time in our working lives if there was a more empathetic approach. I think about empathy is the words, kindness and compassion. And all I really want to say about that is I cannot give you kindness, compassion, and empathetic understanding if I do not have it for myself. The place to begin is, first of all, how can I practice self-kindness, self-compassion, and self empathetic awareness so that within me, it will come flowing out in spades towards you. you can't teach it to someone. It has to come from the inside. And the only way to do that is actually just stir it up inside of myself. And the sentence that I was taught many years ago is literally, Helen, what is the most loving and kindest thing I can do for you in with you right now? So that I can be that for someone else. Mm-hmm. Yeah. I think it would make an enormous difference. Yeah. Yeah. So if you think about empathy at work for others, it's comes back to, you know, Mahatma Gandhi saying, if you want to change the world first, change yourself. Yeah. If you want empathy to flow out from the top down. Teach the leaders how to be mindful and aware of what their own hearts mean first. Mm-hmm. If you want to practice empathy, first of all, learn how to be kind to yourself. And mindfulness teaches us to notice all of the dreadful judgments and poor self-concept we have and turn it into, I care about you, you're a person, you matter to me. I will not let. Difficult, hard, judgemental conversations take place in my mind against myself, I will not Hmm. That well. I think that is a beautiful place for us to begin to draw to a close. Um, and actually it's, the thing I'm taking away from our conversation today, more than anything is this relationship between. My own presence, awareness, compassion for myself, empathy for myself, and my ability to lead, coach, be effective in my work. I really, really struck by it. I wonder before you go, if there's a book or a podcast or something or a TED Talk that has influenced you that you would recommend. With my go-to book, um, when I begin to teach mindfulness always is Ekhart Tolle's A New Earth. There's, you know, he wrote the Power of Now and then he wrote a new Earth and in a New Earth. The teaching about what happens with our thinking is so apparent and how he connects it with our feeling tone, the body of pain that we carry around and our unmet trauma. That to me, ties. Mindfulness practice and therapeutic practice together and the sense of truth. So I would say a new earth. I think it needs to sit beside everybody's bed and that we dip in and outta it and alongside it. I've always loved. Michael Singer. Yeah. Michael Singer's. Beautiful book called The Untethered Soul. Yes. Speaks exactly the same language, but in a different way. Yeah. And, and the main takeaway from his book is, how do I keep my heart open? How can I be open to the world if my own heart is closed? How can I keep my own heart open? So those two books for me would be pivotal. Great. We will put links to them in the show notes. I'm actually listening to Michael Singer's new book at the moment. Yeah, lovely. Living. Living An Untethered Light, I think it's called. It's very, it's very heart opening as a book, let's just say. How lovely. Oh, Helen. Um, I'm really smiling. I've loved this conversation. I've loved our conversation, I should say. and. I'm inspired to keep working on my own mindfulness practice and my own sense of self-care in service of caring for others, uh, because I can't do it. I'd have one without the other. No, you can't have one without the other. Mm-hmm. So thank you so much. I loved it. Actually, I loved being invited to talk about mindfulness. I really do. Good. Thank you. Thank you, Jean.