Mindfulness expert Frank Liddy: While we live, let us live – and do some gardening

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Belfast mindfulness expert Frank Liddy

Belfast mindfulness expert Frank Liddy
Gail Bell

Up and at it – what is your new morning routine? How has it changed?

I'm up at 5am and I practise my mindfulness meditation for 30 minutes. It is really important to start my day centred. Usually I then go for a walk around Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park in south Belfast for about an hour to get my mind and body moving for the day ahead. On returning, I have a shower then I have breakfast about 8am. After that, I'm on my laptop, ready to go at 9. To be honest, the only change that I now enjoy is less traffic and that's a treat.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

I tend to be a creature of habit for my meals. I am also a vegetarian, so my meals are very green-based. Breakfast is grapefruit juice, porridge made with jumbo oats, banana, raisins, ginger and yoghurt. I'll finish with a herbal tea.


Lunch is usually soup and a roll – it's quick and simple.

Evening meal?

Tofu veggie stir-fry. I try to be as healthy as possible and vegetables are delicious, so it's a win-win.


Have you been able to work from home – if so, how have you found it?

I'm working from home and I'm finding that I'm turning into a Zoombie... Too much zooming is not good for anyone, which is why I like to go for long walks ahead of my day to get that essential fresh air burst. I'm missing real time with folk and that sense of connection. In my line of work, the best part of my job is speaking and interacting with people and helping them on their mindfulness journey. It is hard to do this virtually. With the fantastic success of the vaccine – credit to our health service – I cannot wait to get back to in-person sessions again.


Best/easiest lockdown meal?

Mouthwatering pesto pasta with Italian tomatoes. This is a delicious treat – and the Italians do it right.


Weekend treat?

Soya ice cream with fresh fruit. Again, this is a simple dish, but a real indulgence for me.


How have you kept physically and mentally fit during lockdown?

My mindfulness practice brings me to my senses and is my mind gym. My physical fitness is achieved through a daily 1,5000-step walk, through the park or by the sea, or a good cycle. Fresh air is key, both physically and mentally. As the summer months roll in, I can't wait to get out and discover more of Northern Ireland's great walks. It is true that we have incredible outdoor resources that are stunning.


What has been your daily outdoor exercise?

My morning walk through the park and an evening walk by the sea.


How do you relax?

Listening to jazz, enjoying a good game of chess or doing some gardening. Jazz music is so beautiful and can be heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. A good jazz beat while out in the garden is definitely my new love – simple but effective.


Teetotal or tipple?

Teetotal – I'm a herbal tea-ist.


What book are you currently reading?

The Essence of Zen by Sekkei Harada which is a gem of a book. Zen master Harada wields the life-affirming sword of Zen, cutting through even the slightest movement toward self-centredness. A compassionate book that deserves to be read and re-read.


Best Netflix?

It has to be Schitt's Creek – the humour is second to none.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?

I've green fingers! We've recently moved into our new home and I'm enjoying redesigning the garden and – wait for it – I will be a proud owner of an allotment very soon. I can't wait to taste home-grown vegetables. Being out in a garden is a wonderful activity and I would encourage anyone who is lucky enough to have access to one to get gardening.


On a scale of one to 10, where have you been in relation to cabin fever and where are you now?

In the beginning, I was about an eight with denial and disbelief, but now I would be about a two as lockdown had opened me up. It is getting easier, with the longer stretches in the evening and life starting to slowly open again. For example, meeting a friend for a coffee is now an option which is helping.


What are the three things you missed most during the beginning of lockdown?

It has to be restaurants, cafés and St George's market... the small pleasures of going out and socialising.


Where will you go and what will you do when restrictions are fully lifted?

Visit my good friends up in Portrush and Portstewart and learn to paddle board.


Biggest gripe?

Lockdown on, lockdown off... the complete cycle of the past year.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Definitely. And for the better. Dum vivimus vivamus is my mantra: While we live, let us live.


Any new skills or hobbies?

Has to be gardening and feeding our feathered friends – the birds.


What would you like to see change for good when this is all over?

That we become a more compassionate city, realising that less is more and that we move forward together as one, with kindness for each other. To know that there is enough to go round and no-one should be hungry and homeless.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

I'm definitely living one day at a time and knowing what's happening now is the most important thing. I was told once by my Zen teacher that I had two lives and when I asked him when do I get my second life, he told me that I get my second life when I realise I have only one and this is it. Dum vivimus vivamus.

Frank Liddy, practitioner with Inspire Wellbeing (formerly the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health), launches a new series of mindfulness podcasts for this week's Mental Health Awareness Week in a joint initiative with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and conservation charity, MyNI. The podcast can be found on Apple Music and Spotify.

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