Monday, 16 September 2019

COVER REVEAL!! The Last Gryphon by Linzé Brandon

Pre-order links:   SMASHWORDS     B&N      KOBO    Apple Books 
Release date: 29 September 2019

book cover image, The Last Gryphon by Linzé Brandon, fiction, romance
War destroyed everything they loved when the oldest race in the universe, had no answer for the machines that ravaged their new home planet, Xyridia.
The last words of their queen sent Galen and Richard on an impossible quest to find the Lost Gryphene to save their people.
But destiny had different plans for the two men when they crossed paths with the people of Zo'en and Xa'an.

Release date: 29 September 2019
  
Get your copy @  SMASHWORDS    B&N    KOBO   Apple Books

Friday, 13 September 2019

Book Feature: JUSTICE GONE by N. Lombardi Jr

About the Book:

When a homeless war veteran is beaten to death by the police, stormy protests ensue, engulfing a small New Jersey town. Soon after, three cops are gunned down.

A multi-state manhunt is underway for a cop killer on the loose. And Dr. Tessa Thorpe, a veteran's counselor, is caught up in the chase.
Donald Darfield, an African-American Iraqi war vet, war-time buddy of the beaten man, and one of Tessa's patients, is holed up in a mountain cabin. Tessa, acting on instinct, sets off to find him, but the swarm of law enforcement officers gets there first, leading to Darfield's dramatic capture.

Now, the only people separating him from the lethal needle of state justice are Tessa and ageing blind lawyer, Nathaniel Bodine. Can they untangle the web tightening around Darfield in time, when the press and the justice system are baying for revenge?

Book Links:

Goodreads * Amazon

  

Winner of Three Awards:

2019 American Fiction Award
National Indie Excellency Award - Best Legal Thriller of 2019
Silver Medal Winner 2019 - Readers' Favorites Awards
Chosen by Wiki.ezvid.com among their list of 10 Gripping and Intelligent Legal Thrillers

Reviews for Justice Gone:

The courtroom scenes are wonderfully written...the characters are well described and the author paints a picture of each in the mind of the reader...Strong plot, strong characters and a strong writing style that I really enjoyed. This one is a definite "thumbs-up." Strongly recommend! I look forward to reading additional works by N. Lombardi, Jr.
~Kim M Aalaie, Author's Den

One of my favorite suspense novels of the year. It will make you question the legal system.
~The Eclectic Review

The courtroom action is excellent, trimmed to the most gripping parts of the trial, with plenty of emotional impact...a fairly realistic portrayal of the way small-town US society works...a fast-moving story with plenty of dramatic moments, and a big twist in the final pages.
~Crime Review 

Read an Excerpt:


“Welcome, Dr. Thorpe. Meet our investigator,” Bodine said, obviously referring to the good-looking young man wearing a white short-sleeved shirt and baggy khakis.
He leaned over and offered his hand for Tessa to shake.
“Michael Bodine.”
“Ah, I should have known…I can see the resemblance.” “Handsome, ain’t he?” the elder Bodine quipped. “Keeping it all in the family, are we?” Tessa fired back.
“If you want loyalty in this business, leave alone reliability, that’s the way to go.”
The old man straightened out the recliner to a sitting position, with the footrest retreating inside the bottom with a muffled clang. “Well, we got everything the DA has to
offer: arrest report, scene forensics, autopsy and ballistics…we were just about to discuss the witness list. Your arrival was good timing.”
“What about Donald’s alibi? Did you get a hold of that bartender in Allentown?”
Michael shook his head forlornly. “Disappeared, scrammed. Nobody knows where he went.”
Tessa nearly erupted. “What! Don’t you think that’s just a bit morethan coincidence?” Nat Bodine held his hand up, palm outward.
“Stop that right now. I understand your paranoia of the State after all you’ve been through in your life, but we’re not going down that road yet…we won’t win that way…and maybe he just took off on his own, not wanting to get involved…course we’ll be sneaking behind the scenes to see if anything nefarious was involved, but we can’t be wasting time trying to prove such a serious charge, we got other fish to fry, so let’s get on with it.” He turned his head, his white mane flopping as he did so. “Michael, check out that Hoskers woman yet?”
“Hoskers woman?” Tessa asked.
Emily explained. “The prosecution has listed a witness who claims she saw Darfield in the vicinity of Fratollini’s house just around the time he was shot.”
“I’m still on it,” Michael said. “Going back right after we’re finished here.”
Tessa wore a puzzled frown. “Who is this witness?”
Bodine was growing annoyed at her interruptions. “She’ll testify that she saw a large black man with a rifle slung over his shoulder walking in a direction consistent with Fratollini’s residence. That little shit of an assistant DA will probably goad her into identifying Darfield right there in the courtroom. Now, Michael, what we got so far?’
“Well, she wears glasses for one. She answered the door with them on. And not for reading, she took them off to read my card. And when she read it, she practically plastered it to her eyeball.”
“She probably doesn’t like bifocals, has two pairs of specs, one for reading. Good work, son. I would imagine there’s no golf course around there.”
“No, but there is a pool hall. That’s what I want to follow up on today, have a few chats with the clientele.”
“Atta boy.”
“I don’t think I get you,” Tessa said.
Nat Bodine coughed briefly before speaking. “It’s easier to get someone to admit they made a mistake than to accuse someone of lying, and it goes better with the jury, I might add. Okay, she saw a large African-American man. How large? Was he really the same size as Darfield? Was he an African-American, or maybe a dark Latino, a Tamil from India…and was that a rifle over his shoulder, or a golf bag, or maybe just a black case holding a pool cue… now, let’s stop jabbering and review how the State is going to present its case. The reason I brought up this Hoskers woman is that most prosecutors prefer to start with a strong witness, someone who could put the accused in the same general location as the victim.”
“I’m afraid I disagree with you on that one, Dad,” Emily said. “Why’s that?”
“I’ve studied Fiske. He’s very methodical, likes to go from A to B…he’ll start off with the detectives on the scene, followed by the crime scene forensic people, I’m almost certain. Then, to gain sympathy early in the game, they’ll call the widow, Mrs. Fratollini. And to keep the emotional aspect up, they’ll call the coroner to go over the autopsy.”
“How can that be emotional?” Tessa asked.
“They’ll show photos of the corpses.”
“Oh.”
“Then come the experts: ballistics, and a psychologist to give testimony on PTSD.”
Tessa was alarmed. “Shit! Who’s this person?”
“Dr. Weibul. Know him?”
“Her. Yes, I’ve heard of her. You’ll call me as a rebuttal witness, won’t you?”
“We’re considering it,” the old man said. “You’ll at least assist me in preparing the cross-examination. But as a witness for the defense, perhaps someone else less involved in the public eye would be better, maybe your right-hand man, Casey?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea?” “Why not?”
“I’m not sure. I’d better discuss it with him first.”
“You do that,” Bodine said, a bit imperiously.
“I’m sorry, Dad, but again I disagree,” Emily said. “I think we should eliminate the gender factor here, you know, woman expert versus man expert…we need another woman.”
“Know of any?” Bodine inquired.
“Yes, a few,” Tessa said, “not closely associated with the clinic.”
“Contact them right away, arrange a meeting with Emily.”
“Oh, look who they have here?” Emily exclaimed.
“Donald’s small arms instructor.”
“Well, they have the motive,” her father said, “so they need to concentrate on the means, namely, was Donald Darfield capable of picking off those men at long range with a rifle.”
“Should we get an expert to counter him?”
“No need. They’re gonna shoot themselves in the foot with this one. No pun intended.”
His daughter resumed her analysis of the State’s case. “After all the discussion on PTSD, they’ll put the motel manager on the stand. Remember the motel where Donald smashed the television? They’ll be building a foundation of violent behavior, and once it’s laid, they’ll go with Lt. Colonel Calvin Gerhard of the New Jersey State Police Investigations Branch to talk about Donald shooting at the police.”
“So,” Bodine posed, “when do you think they’ll put the Hoskers woman on the stand.”
“I think Fiske will save her for last, makes more of an impression, easier to stick in the minds of the jury.”
“Anyone else?”
“That’s it, Dad. Nobody that looks like a snitch here.”
“Don’t be so sure. It just means they haven’t found one yet.” “So who do we have?” Tessa asked.
“We have our own ballistics expert,” Emily said. “A professor at John Jay Criminal College, worked with the NYPD for thirty years. And, as we just said, we’ll need a PTSD expert…”
“Who else?”
Emily looked at her father with a hesitant expression, and although he could not see it, the pregnant pause that followed told him the ball was back in his court.
“There’s only one other person,” he stated somberly. “No, don’t say it, you can’t put him on the stand.”
“If they do finally come up with a snitch, I’ll have to. Only he himself can deny the lies.”
“Look, he looks like this big tough guy, but he’s very fragile, he could lose it, especially when the DA butchers him in cross- examination.”
“Not if I butcher him first.”
Tessa was afraid to ask exactly what that meant. An awkward silence ensued. Bodine broke it. “Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“Dad, I think we’re through now. I’d like to take Tessa to Jerry’s Home Cooking and have her taste that incomparable cheesecake.”
Bodine became animated. “I tell you, that cheesecake could compete with the best in the country, even those fancy places you might be going to in Manhattan.”
Tessa didn’t feel like cheesecake, but she did relish some time alone with Emily, intuiting that their discussion would center on Donald having to testify. “I’ll let you know,” she said, getting up in unison with Emily.

About the Author:

N. Lombardi Jr, the N for Nicholas, has spent over half his life in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, working as a groundwater geologist. Nick can speak five languages: Swahili, Thai, Lao, Chinese, and Khmer (Cambodian).

In 1997, while visiting Lao People's Democratic Republic, he witnessed the remnants of a secret war that had been waged for nine years, among which were children wounded from leftover cluster bombs. Driven by what he saw, he worked on The Plain of Jars for the next eight years.

Nick maintains a website with content that spans most aspects of the novel: The Secret War, Laotian culture, Buddhism etc.
His second novel, Journey Towards a Falling Sun, is set in the wild frontier of northern Kenya.
His latest novel, Justice Gone was inspired by the fatal beating of a homeless man by police.
Nick now lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Follow the Author:

Website * Goodreads * Amazon


Mindfulness Week: Flow state by Melissa Adendorff


When I started to think about how to engage with this topic, I wanted to bring my personal experience into it, because it is practically valuable and I use it daily, but I also wanted to speak about it on a more formal level, because it is a practical tool that has promise in terms of the wellbeing of vocational dancers. This is my current research focus, and I deal with it in practice as an NLP practitioner, but I also deal with it in the studio where I dance every day. My focus is on mindfulness in terms of performativity and bodily esteem … which culminated in tremendous personal triumphs, and highlighted a professional challenge second to none.
To contextualise this, technically, I’ve been researching the specific value of a preventative intervention in terms of body-esteem which addresses the prevalence of the development of anorexia nervosa and anorexia athletica in the vocational ballet community, in addition to this community’s propensity to normalise pain in order to achieve a higher standard of technique execution despite the increased risk of injury and increased anxiety around the ballet class experience, as reported in 33 peer-reviewed studies conducted between 1966 and 2013, including a study conducted in the South African context (Arcelus, Witcomb, & Mitchell, 2014).
And I could do only do this research because of my personal investment in ballet and my own ballet body, and that makes the research process mindful in itself, because I work in the liminal space between objectivity and subjectivity, and it allows me to take care with my analyses and applications of my learnings.
Now, while I’m wary of labels, if I have to put a name to the thing that got me here, it would be “mindfulness” … but I prefer to call it “flow”.
I like to call it “flow” because there’s a continuity to this state that moves through every one of my areas of function, from academics, to dancing, to work, to diet, to sleep hygiene, and my post-operative recovery, and it combines an awareness with a motive and an action, leading to a motion toward an achievable goal.
I started working with my personal flow state just after a knee surgery in 2018. For a while, my flow state meant straightening my leg, and focusing ALL of my attention and energy into just performing that act, in that moment. And then doing it again.
And, as hard as it may be to believe that, looking at me now (not to be boastful, but I’ve made quite a bit pf progress in just over a year), that took ALL of my focus and willpower and determination and motivation and drive and vision. To do something so simple.
I did not want to do the leg-straightening, because it was tremendous effort and tremendously painful. But, flow isn’t necessarily about wanting to do a thing, because desire and motivation invariably peter out.
Flow has a discipline component, and that’s why flow, or mindfulness is so valuable in ballet, because with awareness, I learn my limits, and I learn which limits I can push safely and which limits to respect … and this has filtered into my life in general – changing careers, studying again (after attaining a PhD), and going back to an active pursuit wherein I feel at home, and yet so out of place.
My flow state helped me make ballet home again …
That said, when I started this dancing endeavour, it required a lifestyle overhaul. Primarily because I set a lofty goal of passing vocational levels … Vocational levels are distinguished from general graded levels as Intermediate Foundation through to Advanced Level Two are internationally recognised tertiary-level qualifications which are strictly examined through structured assessments recognised by the United Kingdom’s Regulated Qualifications Framework (Royal Academy of Dance, 2016) allowing for workplace entry as professional dancers, teachers, and choreographers. These exams are serious, and attaining a vocational grade is a big deal.
Vocational dancing requires a rather surprising time sacrifice, and it requires daily effort, in terms of learning the syllabus, performing the syllabus adequately, conditioning, strengthening, and incorporating the RAD’s “CCCLSD” as a mindful component to all dancing practice (correct placement and posture, control, coordination, line, spatial awareness and engagement, and dynamics). This couples with dietary effort, to find the balance between sustenance, satisfaction, and performativity, and still working on building a dancer’s body and deconstructing the body that I had worked with until that point ... And that was hard for me, but again a flow state regarding food made it possible …
Now, I have heavy muscles, so going by the number on the scale, my achievement is not really anything to brag about, but I have managed to transform my shape from a bulky martial artist to that of dancer, moving from a bulkier build to leaner muscles, even if they are still heavy, and dropping three-ish dress sizes in about 18 months … this was also not what I wanted to do, because I am the embodiment of an emotional eater, and yet, with awareness, and discipline, and flow, I’ve been able to maintain a 500 calorie deficit every day since February last year.
It helps that with intensive training, I burn enough calories that I’m not starved and miserable, I’m just keenly aware that a slice of white bread slathered in butter and covered with another layer of peanut butter (that has both salt and sugar) and syrup, while delicious, would throw all my progress out of kilter, and flow keeps me on kilter. Because I can have a banting treat, which turns out is pretty good when it’s all you choose to have.
And this is important, because I still have an “other” ballet body … (Now I have done rather extensive research into the issue of the ballet body, eating behaviours, and the pressure of performativity, and I am working alongside the organisers of the South African International Ballet Competition and its International Ballet Intensive to address this within the next year). A whole other novel aspect of an other ballet body is my tattoo collection (that’s a story for another day), which I got to feature here with a smile alongside Taras Domitro (a spectacular dancer from Cuba).
This bit might get a little bit technical, again, but the technicality matters, and brings back the flow of personal discipline and personal achievements.
The culture of ballet discriminates against any body which does not fit its predetermined idea. (Nolan, 2011). This ideal is based on the aesthetic qualities of being physically slight and slim, with a long neck, a shorter torso, long legs which are not hyperextended or hyperflexible, long arms which are not overly muscular, and feet with sloping toes and high insteps.
Any deviation from this ideal potentially risks breaking the body line. Any body of any race will face discrimination if that body is perceived as “big” (Campbell, 2018), because while the bigger ballet body may be technically proficient, it breaks the body line and the line of the corps. This has a similar effect on the bigger ballet dancer as it has for the black ballet dancer where the perception of the “wrongness of body shape” affects the person’s worth in terms of her dancer identity (Campbell, 2018). Olivia Campbell (2018) explains that not being thin and slight enough leads to severe embarrassment and humiliation when a smaller, but less technically proficient dancer would have a successful audition, while a bigger dancer is rejected. This ultimately impacts the individual’s self-concept, as it renders her feeling that she is not good enough because of her anatomy (Campbell, 2018). 
Without flow, I would lose myself in the ideal, and while I have done a lot to reshape my fighter’s body into a ballet body, it is not within the ambit of the preferred aesthetic. And yet, I maintain my flow, and work with my body, because it has achieved so much in a short time, and it dances en pointe and turns and jumps and looks beautiful in flow state on the stage … and maintaining a positive bodily esteem is necessary for a healthy self-concept, and while mine is not quite perfect, it is healthier now than it has been in a long time, and that keeps me motivated to stay healthy in my body, while it is on display in a leotard and tights every day of the week.
And that is maintained by flow, because I can’t know what goes on in anyone else’s self-concept and bodily esteem, so there is no point comparing, especially in the ballet environment where competition comprises height (and, I shit you not, knee circumference).

On that, here is another technical bit, but one that mindfully contextualises why mindfulness (or flow) around bodily esteem is so important …
The positive subjective appraisal of one’s appearance (Smolak & Thompson, 2009) is vital for sustained wellbeing of an individual’s dancing practice, as the dancer’s body is contextually constructed from childhood into an embodied identity, based on public bodily presentation and “performativity” (Pickard, 2015, p. 8). This bodily construction forms the basis of stress-management and performance-management in vocational dance, as the discipline of ballet, and the habits of the ballet community, the necessary commitment to ballet practice necessary to pass vocational levels, and the competition within the ballet community to attain recognition from instructors, company directors, examiners, and choreographers create pressure to function within the meritocracy of the ballet community (Pickard, 2015).
This especially pertains to adolescent dancers, as the adolescent’s identity as a ballet dancer is in the process of determination while he/she undergoes physical, cognitive, and psychological development during puberty, all while being exposed to criticism and scrutiny (Pickard, 2015) by teachers, examiners, and directors in the attempt to construct a proficient vocational dance body.
What does this amount to? Research suggests that working with a foundational practice of mindfulness in dance, and the lifestyle surrounding dance, allows for healthy holistic development … 
Sensory acuity and physical self-awareness of proficiency and general physical wellbeing (Linkenauger, Wong, Guess, Stefanucci, McCulloch, Bülthoff, Mohler, & Proffitt, 2015) are required in correlation with emotional self-awareness in order to manage the stress and discipline of the ballet curriculum (that’s a lot of technical language for “flow”). This requires awareness in terms of subjective distress, pain, anxiety, and the behaviours which are engaged in order to manage these emotions and sensations (Pickard, 2015). Based on this awareness, it is possible to create skillsets around accurate self-assessment (Nadler, 2011) in order to allow the individual to check-in with herself/himself and to prevent harmful coping mechanisms from being reinforced, especially in terms of preventing the normalisation of pain, and the normalisation of restrictive dieting to meet the balletic aesthetic requirements.
Flow keeps me going in a class where I am seen to be in competition with every other dancer on the floor (and every other dancer is at least 15 years my junior, in peak physical condition, and good), because when I focus on myself and my technique, I am able to count my victories. After an ACL reconstruction and meniscus debridement, in August 2018, I have managed to master a vocational syllabus to the point that I can be put up for examination. And pass. At 33, with an older and a little bit of a broken body (there have been ankle injuries and some noodle ligaments, and other bits that don’t really work as well as they used to), and I have to keep sight of what is “my” good, and my accomplishments. Every day.
If I didn’t do that, ballet would become unbearable, because of the nature of the beast that is the hypercompetitive world of vocational dance. 
My daily flow follows this basic trajectory … consistent time in getting up and a set morning routine – If I have a morning class, then I start the day with a stretching and limbering routine because my leg struggles to get going sometimes, and I have a breakfast that I know will keep me going ill lunch time, even if I am dancing. Whether I’m dancing, working, or going to an academic class, my discipline remains the same – and the flow is in the discipline. I don’t deviate from the plan, but the plan remains flexible. From ballet, I either go to work, or to an academic class, and then back to the studio, and again, I am disciplined in this. I don’t feel like it every day, but I know the benefit of following through. So I do, and I make progress, and hat keeps me flowing. And then I come home, and spend the quality time that I have left with my fiancé and the cats, and I sleep, and I get up and I do it again. It’s is a simple routine, but it is full, and fulfilling. And flow keeps it fulfilling because it gives me pause to reflect and count my victories and acknowledge my perseverance and dedication. 
Part of that reflection happens when I’m processing big thoughts or feelings, and then I blog about them, or use them as impetus for a research topic … I oscillate between personal and technical writing, even when they come to the same conclusions in different registers. I often blog before a ballet class, because it centres my thoughts and intentions. And energy flows where attention goes, as directed by intention, according to Michael Hall (2006).

About Melissa
Dr Melissa Adendorff is currently an NLP practitioner and performance coach, an aspiring returned vocational ballet dancer and instructor, and a student registered counsellor. This follows on from an established career in academia, with close to a decade of lecturing, course coordination, and curriculation, local and international conference presentations, journal article publications, and the completion of a doctorate focused on critical spatiality and bodily spatiality. 
Melissa’s current research focus is based on wellbeing and performativity in the vocational balletic paradigm, focusing on psychoeducation for dancers, their parents, and their teachers in order to prevent harmful behaviours including disordered eating and the normalisation of pain.




References for the technical bits of the post
Arcelus, J., Witcomb, G.L., & Mitchell, A. (2014). Prevalence of eating disorders amongst dancers: A systemic review and meta-analysis. European eating disorders review22(2), 92-101.
Campbell, O. (2018, May 28). 'She's good but she's big': My years as a 'fat' ballerina. The Guardian.Retrieved fromhttps://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/may/28/shes-good-but-shes-big-my-
years-as-a-fat-ballerina
Hall, L.M. (2006). Meta-NLP®– Accelerated NLP training. Clifton, OC: NSP – Neuro- Semantics Publications.
Linkenauger, S.A., Wong, H.Y., Guess, M., Stefanucci, J.K., McCulloch, K.C., Bülthoff, H.H.,Mohler, B.J., & Proffitt, D.R. (2015). The perceptual homunculus: The perception of the relative proportions of the human body. Journal of experimental psychology: General, 144(1), 103-115.
Nadler, R.S. (2011). Leading with emotional intelligence: Hands-on strategies for building confident and collaborative star performers. New York: McGraw Hill.
Nolan, B. (2011, July 20). The ideal ballet body. DANCE informa: Australian edition. Retrieved fromhttps://dancemagazine.com.au/2011/07/the-ideal-ballet-body/
Pickard, A. (20150. Ballet body narratives: Pain, pleasure and perfection in embodied identity. Oxford: Peter Lang.
Royal Academy of Dance. (2016). Specification: RAD level 2 and level 3 certificate in vocational graded examination in dance: Intermediate foundation and intermediate (ballet).London: Examinations Department; Royal Academy of Dance.
Smolak, L., & Thompson, J.K. (Eds). (2009). Body image, eating disorders, and obesity in youth: Assessment, prevention, and treatment(2nded.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Mindfulness Week: 5 Tips to take Mindfulness Practice to Your Next Level by Linzé Brandon


Today is international Mindfulness day and here on the Broomstick we have been celebrating this practice everyday this week. Some of the writers of the Pretoria Writers' Group are sharing their experiences along with me and I hope that you too will take a few moments of your day to celebrate with us.
Before I get into the details of my practice, let's take a step back at what mindfulness is and how it works in daily life.

Mindfulness vs Flow
Definition of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which one can develop through the practice of meditation and through other training. [1]

Definition of Flow
Flow is…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost. [2]

Practical Experience
To my mind, the two concepts are not exactly the same although I will concede that there is a significant overlap in the "state of being" between mindfulness and flow. Perhaps I could illustrate this with two personal and one general examples.
#1: When I am meditating my focus is completely inward. My concentration and focus are centred on my state of being. I am focused on letting go of the thoughts that are creating noise and chaos in my head and secondly meditation helps me to accept and learn about the state of me, physically and mentally, at that moment.
#2: When I am drawing, entering the flow state, my focus is directed towards controlling the pen in my hand. Drawing with ink is one of my favourite pass times and unless my concentration is on my fingers and the pen, there is the risk of making a mess of the end result. Fixing mistakes in an ink drawing is almost impossible and starting over is usually the only option.
I have a back problem and sitting in one place for longer than two hours, causes a lot of pain. When I was busy with a recent project, I would spend in the order of three to four hours at a time only focused on the drawing, completely unaware of my back, until I stopped. It was not fun to get up from that chair, I can promise you. Being in a flow state means that I was unaware of anything except the activity I was engaged in at that moment.
So you can see that mindfulness meditation (inwardly focused) and the flow state (action-focused) have different and separate states of mind. But being mindful is more than meditation practice. When you are focused and aware in the present, it can become a lifestyle instead of only a few minutes on a meditation cushion.
#3: Think about driving a car. It is by definition a mindfulness action. If your attention is not in the present, on the road, on your surroundings, you run the risk of being in or causing an accident. If all drivers were mindful, think how wonderful it would be to drive a vehicle. I love driving, but these days it is a stressful and mentally exhausting activity I have to deal with every time I get behind the wheel.
You can see that mindfulness is present during the flow state, but it is not only a single moment of focus. For the flow state to bring the enjoyment, creativity, and happiness people report, the state of being mindful has to be present for sometimes hours at a time.

Pros and Cons of Mindfulness
Concerns have been raised about the real benefits of mindfulness [3] in the way it is being sold as the quick fix for the problems of modern living. Mindfulness will not fix your stress levels with an app reminding you to breathe. Nor will it make you better human being when meditating for twenty minutes every day.
Mindfulness is not a fix, it is a journey of growth. Often the spiritual aspects of mindfulness meditation are removed from the modern practice and therein could lie the problem identified with the practice. Practitioners are accused of being self-centred and self-absorbed, and even more so than before starting the practice. You don't have to be a Buddhist to practise mindfulness meditation. Being more in touch with who you are does not distance you from any spiritual beliefs.
As a Christian, I find that the meditation practice strengthens my faith because of my increased awareness of my own limitations.
However, to me, the advertised benefits are there too, but I have been a consistent practitioner for almost two years now. I am calmer, even in stressful situations. I have found that I am less likely to judge people, and am much slower to anger. When I included some aspects of stoicism [4] in my life, the benefits grew exponentially.
At first, I thought that as I grew older it was purely for that reason that my temper has not been so quick to rear its ugly head, but personal observation of people around me has lead me to a different opinion altogether. Age has nothing to do with it, in some cases, it gets worse.

If you are already mindful, how can you take it to your next level?
Mindfulness is an individual journey. Mine cannot be the same as yours since your life's journey is not the same as mine. But here are 5 tips to help you figure out the journey you need to map to take mindfulness to your next level:
  1. Practice: There is a saying that says "practice makes perfect" which makes a whole lot of sense if you want to make the most of the mindfulness practice. Perfection is not what we are aiming for, but unless you practice daily you will not grow and become better at it. If you are a journal writer, use that to help you track your progress as you grow in your practice. If you don't use a journal, start a notebook and keep track of how and when you practice and your daily experiences. You will be surprised how quickly you will notice the difference in your life.
  2. Study: Many people stop learning as soon as they leave school or university to start "life". But learning is a part of life, even though exams don't have to be. Read about mindfulness, meditation, and stoicism then you will be more aware of all the aspects to each practice. The more you know the easier you will be able to adapt your practice and adjust it to suit your lifestyle.
  3. Meditation: Meditation is often cited as the way to mindfulness, and it has many benefits, but you don't need to meditate to be a mindfulness practitioner. Explore meditation practice as an option, and if you are unsure, do it with a guide to assist you. In the end, it is up to you to decide whether you like to meditate or not, but don't disregard it because you are not a Buddhist.
  4. Moving meditation: This may sound weird, but there are several methods of meditation practice where you don't have to sit in one position with your eyes closed, or staring at a burning candle. Tai chi is often called the practice of moving meditation and well worth exploring if you prefer a moving to a sitting meditation. I have been a student of tai chi for three years now, and I can confidently tell you that it takes real focus (in the moment) to learn the movements associated with the martial art. It is not difficult and you don't have to be in top physical condition to start, and it has the added benefit of moving so you also burn a few calories while you are at it. Walking meditation is also a meditative practice and there are lots of information available on the internet to learn how that is done.
  5. Stoicism: I believe that stoic practice can be the counterbalance to the perceived negative aspects of mindful meditation. Stoicism has an unfortunate name since it is believed to cause its practitioners to become emotionless. This is not the intention of stoicism, and practitioners will tell you that it is not the case.
    At its core stoicism encourages rational thinking, instead of emotional decision making. This has the benefit that the stoic practitioner will be aware of their own behaviour and always work towards a situation where other people are not hurt or taken advantage of.
    To my mind, the stoic practitioner takes the concept of mindfulness to the ultimate level of mindfulness: awareness of one's actions and behaviour and the effect this has on the world around us. 
(Note: Stoic week [4] is in October again, where you too can learn about the practice)

Going forward...
Like all mindfulness and mindful meditation practitioners you need to find your own way. Start with the small things: pay attention to what you eat, listen to someone speak, or notice the way the air smells when you walk outside.
We live in a world of distractions and as a result we are putting greater distances between ourselves and everyone and everything else.
Maybe it is time to bring yourself back into the present, and be mindful of every moment in your life, because we only have so many available to us.

If you want to learn more:
  • Flow - the psychology of optimal experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, ISBN 978-0-06016-253-5, 1990
  • The complete idiot's guide to short meditations, Susan Gregg, ISBN 978-1-592257-614-2, 2007
  • Seven secrets of mindfulness, Kate Carne, ISBN 978-1-84604-504-2, 2016
  • Meditation is not what you think, Jon Kabat-Zinn, ISBN 978-0-316-41174-5, 2018
  • Mindfulness for creativity, Danny Penman, ISBN 978-0-349-40821-7, 2015
  • The meditation handbook, David Fontana, ISBN 978-1-906787-65-3, 1992
  • The daily stoic, Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, ISBN 978-1-78125-765-4, 2016
References used in the text
[3] The Problem with Mindfulness, Gustavo Razzetti, https://medium.com/personal-growth/the-problem-with-mindfulness-7ceddf4d41c

About the Author
author picture, Linzé Brandon
After many years, Linzé left her full-time job to enjoy the challenges of self-employment once more. Now she spends her days working as a consulting engineer and competence trainer.
She is a mindfulness meditation and stoic practitioner, and a student of Yang style tai chi. In August 2019 she submitted drawings for her first, and hopefully not her last, art exhibition.
Linzé is the author of non-fiction books, novels and short stories.
Her life's philosophy can be found in the words of the stoic Epictetus - first say to yourself what you would be, then do what you have to do.
Linzé Brandon lives in Pretoria, South Africa, with her engineer husband and German Shepherd dogs who are convinced that the world revolves only around them.

Connect with Linzé:
On Instagram @linzebrandon
On Facebook @LinzeBrandonAuthor
On Twitter @LinzeBrandon

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Mindfulness Week: Daily Mindfulness by Andrea Vermaak


Being mindful is something I often struggle to achieve. I very often reminisce about so-called better days long gone, or think about the future, either making long-term plans or needlessly worrying about it. 
However, I seem to be most mindful when I am doing specific activities. During these times, I seem to be more appreciative of the little things that matter and I feel more relaxed which, in turn, helps me to feel more energised and ready to take on more challenging tasks.
After a busy day at school, not only teaching, but dealing with students’ problems, pushing admin deadlines, setting tests, planning lessons, printing, marking, marking and more marking (did I mention marking?), I find that the best thing to do to unwind when I get home and become fully conscious of the present again is to make a cup of tea, grab a snack and sit on my patio. 
At first, I had to make an effort to focus on the present moment, so that my mind did not return to school and all the stress that I made an effort to leave there. It is, however, becoming easier each day to enjoy each sip of tea, savour each bite of my snack and immerse myself in the sound of the birds, the shade of the two big trees outside my tiny yard and the orange palette of the sunset. 
After my snack, I water my garden, taking care to tend to my little herb planter, picking yellow, or dry leaves to discard, and big, healthy leaves to use in my kitchen. I admire and appreciate how well they are growing, and can’t wait until they are big enough to harvest a substantial amount from them. 
I’ve placed a plant pot dish on an old tree stump and make sure that it is full of fresh water every day. Though I haven’t seen any birds drink from it, I know that by being mindful of them, taking care to make sure that the dish is clean and that I’m not just filling it out of routine, may make a difference. 
It may seem like something of no significance to think about, but it refocuses my mind to the present moment and even reminds me that there are circumstances to each decision I make, no matter how small. Without water, life would not be possible; birds may not visit my garden. It takes a present state of mind to remind ourselves of the things we often take for granted.
I recently, watched as a little gecko sipped water from a leaf of my delicious monster. How could one not be mindful in a moment like that? It is not something you see every day. 
It is important to me to be fully aware of the life around me. It somehow reminds me, even if for a brief moment, that I am alive and I that matter.
Speaking of life, now that my sister has a nine-month-old baby, I fully immerse myself in the present moment when I visit my family. Every smile, every giggle, every gurgle, every “Ooh” is so precious. I try to capture these moments, as if they were tiny bubbles of joy, and store them in my heart. If I am not completely mindful in these moments, I feel as though the bubbles would pop and disappear. It is at times like these that I feel as if I were living life in high definition.
I am probably most mindful when spending time with family and friends. I have realised more and more how fragile and fleeting life is. Also, as so many of my friends have immigrated to countries all over the world, it is so important to me to be fully present while in their company. 
By being mindful while in the company of others, I’ve learnt so much just by listening and observing, even about myself; what I like and what I don’t like, as well as who I want to be and don’t want to be.
It has made my life richer and, believe it or not, my writing too.
Without realising it, I have included so many characteristics of the people around me into my characters, even those whom I have merely glanced on the street, being fully aware of their presence and taking in every inch of their somehow fascinating manner of standing out from the crowd. It is not surprising, as most writers will write about what they know, but it makes me wonder: If I were not mindful while spending time around people, even strangers, would I have been able to include what I observed in my writing?
I could say the same about reading. I am always relaxed, yet focused when I am reading, absorbing every word on the page like a sponge, soaking myself in the images created in my mind and wallowing in every new concept learnt. Subconsciously, what I read, especially if I am mindful when I read, inspires my writing later.
While reading for pleasure, I am both fully aware of my physical surroundings, as well as the fantastic, realising that every time I gasp out loud that others may look at me sideways with concern, yet so fully alive and alert in the created realm that I do not care for their glances.
Just as I love how reading takes me on a very real and present journey in my mind, I also love to travel in the real world. I would go so far as to say that I am probably at my most mindful when I travel. I am not sure whether it is because I somehow know that I only have one opportunity of which to make the most, whether it is because I am inclined to be highly sentimental, or because I really enjoy collecting as much sensual information as possible so as to share a very realistic version of my experiences with others. Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above.
While travelling, all of my senses are on high alert. For example, once left alone to my hotel room in Bali, the first thing I did was explore the entire room. I started in the bathroom, smelling every complimentary toiletry bottle and soap. When I close my eyes, I swear that I can still smell each different scent.
I opened the wardrobe and took my time to file every item in my mind: the softest dressing gown ever, soft slippers, a trouser press, an ironing board and iron, and a safe.
The mini bar was the best I had ever seen, packed with various beverages and local snacks.
The television was huge. The room was huge. The balcony, from which I could chat to my friends on either side of me, was the best. 
Being mindful of my hotel room and its surrounds was only the beginning of a ten-day experience in which I was present and alert in every moment, from simply walking on the beach and being harassed by hawkers while having philosophical conversations with friends, to savouring each bite of the local cuisine while overlooking an active volcano. There is nothing like the earth rumbling beneath your feet to make you feel fully alive!
Being mindful during experiences away from the routine of work and home, is one of the most fulfilling things in my life. Because I make an effort to mindful during these rare occasions, I appreciate and remember them better.
I also often write journal entries about interesting experiences, during which I need to be mindful in order to remember the finer details, such as feelings, which could fade or be embellished upon over time if not recorded as soon as possible and as accurately as possible.
Two other activities in my life which require accuracy are music and dance. I often tell friends that if I don’t go to my lessons, I will go mad because it is during these two hours of the week that I think of nothing else other than what I need to do in that moment. It can be no other way. These activities are my true escape from everyday life’s stresses. 
If I am not mindful when I play violin, I sound like (in the words of my teacher), “A mosquito with flu that hasn’t eaten for a week.” Playing a piece that does not grate the eardrums requires absolute mindfulness, focusing on each note of the music in front of me and keeping a consistent rhythm. If my mind drifts elsewhere, I make mistakes. I need to remain in the present moment at all times.
Once I know and understand a piece really well, I shift my attention to how my fingers feel on the fingerboard, the pressure of the bow on the strings and each tiny speck of rosin as it flies from the bow and lands beneath the bridge between the F-holes. To me, that is when the music really comes alive, alongside a surge of energy from within my very being.
Most of the above could also be said of ballet. If I’m not mindful of my posture, as well as the placement of my arms, legs and feet at all times, I could injure myself. Not landing correctly while doing sautés (simple jumps), cost me a minor knee injury which kept me from dancing for a month.
Yet, again, once I know a move well enough and understand what techniques to apply so as not to injure myself, I focus on the rhythm of the music and how I may be able to flow with it, feeling the beat and becoming part of the music through dance. It is then when I enjoy dancing the most; fully aware and alert, but with abandon, completely carefree of all else other than the present moment.
Even writing this piece has required mindfulness. It has made me focus on what is important to me; of that which I need to become even more mindful so as to experience life fully. 
Yes, I need remember the past, but not dwell on it. I need to plan for the future, but not get so ahead of myself that nothing else matters; that the simple pleasures of the present moment don’t matter. 
I need to be fully immersed in the present to be fully alive.

About Andrea
author photograph, Andrea VermaakAndrea Vermaak has been writing journals, stories and poetry since the age of eight. While studying a BA (Journalism) Languages and a BA (Honours) English degree, Andrea chaired the University of Pretoria's literary society, The Inklings, where she honed her creative writing skills at weekly workshops. 
After freelancing for a few years and gaining experience on a working holiday in Scotland, Andrea’s career in the publishing industry began in 2009 as a publishing assistant at a small independent publishing house in Pretoria, South Africa.
She was promoted to the position of editor of a children’s general interest magazine in 2013. While working as a magazine editor, Andrea edited several fiction and non-fiction books for self-publishing clients. She is currently a full-time English teacher at a Cambridge International school.
Andrea has published several magazine and student newspaper articles, as well as poetry and blog posts. Her debut short story, ‘Draca’ appears in The Flight of the Phoenix, an anthology published by Siygrah Books. Her short story ‘Break Away’ appears in Journey, an anthology published by Muses and Broomsticks. Andrea still enjoys writing poetry, and is in the progress of writing and editing several other short stories, as well as a young adult fantasy novel.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Mindfulness Week: Mindfulness and the Insanity of being an Artist/Author by Vanessa Wright

Photo by Emma on Unsplash

The practice of being mindful; completely present in the moment, truly allowing yourself the freedom to accept your feelings and thoughts, be they positive or negative has grown on me during the last seven years. It has been quite the journey. There are still times when I have to remind myself to let go of past injuries and hurts and move on, focussing my attention on what is beautiful and good with the world that we live in.
It is challenging to find that centre of calm within you and allowing it to radiate throughout your entire being. It is crucial to the process that you forgive yourself for backsliding or allowing negative thoughts to take hold of your entire day; it is a learning process after all. Consider the fact that we all learn at a different pace and in a different manner. I, myself am visually and audibly inclined. I learn through reading, YouTube videos, the natural world, people passing by, snippets of conversation, audio tapes. Be kind to the way in which you are made, the particular baggage you carry, the surroundings and people that give meaning to your life.
All of these variables affect who you are and the behaviour you choose to exhibit. And yes, behaviour and attitude towards problems is a choice, sad but true. 
This may seem like so much mumbo jumbo. I will explain exactly what I mean by giving you a run down of my daily activities and where I find time for my creative side.
06h00 the dreaded alarm goes off. I do not set multiple alarms, there is only one; no snoozing. I do the mundane things, get dressed, toothbrush, hairbrush; tools used to tame the wild child.
06h30 first cup of coffee, sadly decaffeinated. 
The next twenty minutes are spent in mindful meditation. Contrary to popular opinion it is possible for a Christian to meditate. I use a Bible text or simply the beauty and grace of the universe to focus my mind. Relax, be aware of your body and your breathing, find the quiet that exists within you. Noise, which we are constantly being exposed to has negative effects on our health.
It is important that silence, both external and internal, becomes an unnegotiable part of our daily lives. It is only by being completely present that our spirits become teachable. If I skip this step due to the business of life, it really does come back to bite me in my ample ass sometime during the day.
7h00 to 12h00 I do a twenty-minute exercise routine and feed my 7 pugs, yes there are seven, a rescue border collie and Kitkat my aged cat. This is the time where I have breakfast, clean, cook and iron. Boring to the extreme, but life as we know it would cease to exist at casa mia if I didn’t. An uprising, involving 3 males and 9 animals would cause havoc. 
12h00 to 14h00 I run errands. My bank manager sighs in relief when I practice restraint and walk past the book shops without going in. Oh, add any stationary shops as well. We run our own DVD rental/book shop and I have a list of mundane items to buy for said shop, which sometimes involves going into aforementioned stationary shop. I keep reminding myself that I do not need another journal or more pens or various art supplies. Show me a writer who does not have more than 10 journals which are still wrapped in their protective covering. Somewhere during this time, I remember that I need to eat.
14h00 to 16h00 I write, paint or crochet amigurumi animals. Sometimes this time is usurped by demands from my sons, who still life with me at the ages of 30 and 27 respectively. Perhaps I should kick them out of the comfortable nest soon. I am however slowly but surely turning into a demanding shrew considering the time I set aside for creativity.
I suffer from Bipolar disorder and if I skip these two hours on too regular a basis my brain shuts down and I become severely depressed. At times I am in my manic phase and I take on too many things at once, which as you can imagine takes its toll. I learned through trial and error what works best for me and what doesn’t.
This does not mean that the disease is conquerable; I believe that it never really goes away completely, but by being mindful I have learned to control it to some extent and to be aware of the signs that inevitably lead to either depressed or manic phases. You cannot change that which you do not acknowledge. Make peace with it, we are all flawed.
My favourite quote from Alice in Wonderland reads:
Mad Hatter: Have I gone mad?
Alice: I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.
16h00 to 16h30 get ready and drive to the DVD store.
16h30 to 20h00 work and chat to clients. I am an empath, which means that I get to know clients on a personal level and share their emotions. I have a degree in psychology. I never practised as my therapy flaw is that I get emotionally involved in people’s lives and cannot disengage. The store has become my ‘practice’. 
20h00 to 22h00 I arrive home, feed my animals and myself. Watch Supernatural or Bachelor in paradise; my two guilty pleasures. Bathing follows as I refuse to be a cave woman. 
22h00 to 24h30 I edit (yes, I am an editor on the side) or read. You have to read so that your writing improves. The last twenty minutes or so I read my Bible and meditate. This ensures that my brain is sufficiently ‘switched off’ to ensure a good night’s rest.
This is how I spend my days, with the variation of shifts spent in the store running from 13h00 to 16h30 or 10h00 to 15h00 on the weekends. Looking back at this, I suddenly realise how busy I truly am, but believe me, without meditation, none of this would be even vaguely doable. 
Mindfulness has helped immeasurably for my anger and anxiety issues.
I find that it has become easier to let things go. You cannot change the past, even if you had access to a time machine. Why then would you allow it to change who you are or change the way in which you see the world? Do you realise how much time is wasted on this very thing when you could have moved on to something better, something which challenges you and allows you to grow?
Being held back by past hurts or traumatic events ensures that you are trapped in a stagnant pool, slowly rotting away. 
Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more. Mother Teresa
What day is it?” asked Pooh. “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. “My favourite day,” said Pooh. A.A Milne
I addition to being mindful and meditating, I also practice stoicism. These practices seem to me to belong together as they overlap so much.
The final question remains- how has all of this this helped my writing and art?
Writer’s block: Meditation replaces the to do list which constantly runs in my mind. Ideas do not flow if your mind is constantly overthinking.
Do not struggle against it if you find yourself in this position. Accept it for what it is, become quiet and reflect on what you are feeling in the moment. Frustration, low self-esteem, anger. Acknowledge them and let it go, they do not define you, they are mere in-the-moment emotions which should not last. If it helps, journal about your feelings. This is also writing and should alleviate the blockage. You have words on paper! And remember even if you feel that you are writing the most atrocious rubbish, it remains the first draft. Silence the internal editor bitch!
Art: I have recently returned to embrace my love of creativity. Thanks to my friend and fellow author, Linzé Brandon for reminding me how much I love playing with different mediums.
Creating allows you to swim in the energy that surrounds everything we see and touch. I challenge you to experience the beauty of the world without feeling the urge to create or to leave it a better place than you found it. Create from the well of silence that you have gained from mindfulness and meditation; it rarely runs dry if you remember to feed it daily.
This has helped be to overcome many obstacles in my life and to become the best version of me, I sincerely hope it has meant something to you as well.
Love and happiness always!
Vanessa.

About Vanessa Wright
I am a 52 year old visual artist and author. Two of my Afrikaans short stories have been published in My kort vir jou sop available on www.amazon.com as an e-book.
I have my own blog appropriately named Humouring the dark, I am also active on Facebook and Twitter and am a member of a writing group.
I lead my own book club as well- I am a true bookaholic. Writing has always been my passion, however the timing always seemed incorrect as daily life interrupted more frequently than not.
Now, I have decided to go big or go home.

Books @ Smashwords


BOOK RELEASE: SOLANGE an ebook by Linzé

Will she get the future she wants? M/F/M Erotic vampire romance (18+ only)   Solange knows that she is not like the average woman who...