Wellness Hub

Kate Oliver – Passing Clouds

Creative mastermind behind Passing Clouds, An Album of Mindfulness Songs.

Have you ever wondered what drives people to lead a life full of mindfulness? Perhaps you haven’t yet had that life-changing moment where you realise the profound benefits that meditation and yoga have on one’s mind. Well, for some it might have been an easy life choice, something to complement their bustling lives. For others, it’s the result of having their entire world as they’ve known it, almost collapsing in on itself. Kate Oliver, creator of the album Passing Clouds: Mindfulness Songs for Kids (and their Grown-Ups), sat down with us over Zoom and detailed her emotional yet uplifting journey to meditation.

To understand Kate and her adoration for meditation and mindfulness, you must understand her life’s twists and turns. Approximately 10 years ago, both Kate’s parents and in-laws passed away within the space of 14 months. With so much incomprehensible grief tipping her life’s balance upside down, Kate decided to stop reading books about meditation and finally take a six-week Mindfulness of the Breath course at a Buddhist centre. Kate quickly found that “just meditating for 10 minutes a day, really impacted the day in such a positive way.” Her sense of emotional wellbeing and ability to respond to little day to day occurrences improved immensely, giving her some of the tools she would need to take on for what would be her most difficult life-changing experience yet.

Practicing mindfulness not only helped her process her own grief and find some calm amidst the chaos, but inspired Kate to teach her own three children, and other kids how to do the same. With an educational background of a theatre-infused Arts degree and then Drama School in London, Kate began working with the kids in her daughter’s prep class, teaching them how to meditate by incorporating aspects of her training - voice, breath, movement and improvisation. The next step was to enrol in a 14-month meditation teacher training course. However, as fate would have it, the next hurdle arrived two months later, in the form of a diagnosis of stage three bowel cancer. Something that would leave most speechless, her resilience shines through as she exclaims, “There really is no better time to be doing meditation teacher training than going through something that intense!”.

In the weeks and months that followed, Kate found herself delving into the extremities of what she was feeling. Naturally there was strong fear - “Like this abyss had opened up in front of you and you have no idea what’s going to happen”. Researching the neuroscience behind mindfulness, as well as her own deepening practice, however, allowed Kate to stay present with the fears and the catastrophic thinking, yet not be carried away by them.

“I could feel it in my body and notice the thoughts that were really fearful. With chemo there was the nausea, but also the physical sensation of the liquid platinum going straight into my body. It just felt like everything was on fire. Emotionally, this felt like white rage. Mindfulness could help me ride those waves.”

Amongst all this physical and mental change, she tried to make sense of what she was feeling and learning in her studies, which found their expression in her songs.

Thus, the Passing Clouds album was born. “I just started writing songs. Sometimes I would just be keeled back on the couch off my face from chemo noodling on my guitar, just writing. I couldn’t stop until they came out”. Kate recorded these songs at first on her iPhone and sent them in to her six-year-old daughter’s teacher, and discovered a warm reception from students in her daughter’s classroom. An influx of messages followed, with parents claiming their children would listen to her songs at night if they couldn’t sleep or insist on playing the songs during dinner time. The songs kept coming, and the album itself was recorded in 2018 with Joe Hammond at Pots and Pans Studios. Since its entrance into the musical world, Passing Clouds has generated a ripple effect in the local and global community, with families, therapists and yoga teachers constantly reaching out, telling Kate how the songs were positively impacting their lives.

The album itself isn’t just for children. It’s called Passing Clouds: Mindfulness Songs for Kids (and Their Grown-Ups), emphasis on the ‘and’ in the title. Kate explains that she was really writing (the songs) for herself.

“The power with music is that it’s such a universal experience that by-passes the thinking mind. I love the idea that a child can learn to manage their big emotions from listening to a song with their parents or teacher, and that because our central nervous systems are designed to attune to each other, their systems ‘drop in’ and they all ‘get meditated’ together”.

Ultimately, Kate’s coping mechanism for such a difficult time in her own life has now provided others with a positive outlet to help steady the tremors occurring in their own worlds.

With a story of such emotional upheaval, perhaps you’re wondering how Kate managed to find enough peace in order to sleep. Often, the discomfort of switching off at night is known all too well by those that lead busy lives, have anxious tendencies or simply can’t unwind easily. For Kate, she found that practicing meditation throughout the day and mindfulness during those difficult hours at night, helped quell the fear that could come up in the quiet hours before sleep.

“When we’re about to fall asleep, the mind will naturally kick straight into this default setting of analysing everything you did today, should have done today, what you are supposed to do the next day, and what could possibly go wrong with it all. There’s this real kind of flavour of anxiety or low-grade fear to our rumination and planning. I do find that mindfulness is very valuable and can soothe ourselves and allow us to come back into the body and breath. We can just notice it as ‘Thinking’, we can offer kindness to the fear, and we can slow our breath right down. This has a very powerful effect on quietening down that thinking, narrative, freaking out story mind”.

Often, it can be easy to think that there is only one way to restore restless sleep or to train a wandering mind. This is not the case. Kate explains how meditation is often compared to sport – there are so many different kinds, and all with different training. For Kate, her practice switches between meditating on the breath, loving kindness, gratitude, or ‘open awareness’.  She says,

“Meditation is taking our mindfulness muscle to the gym. So, I’ll sit for a set period of time like 20/30mins, or whatever I have time for, then starting to consciously tune in to the breath, like narrowing the lens of a camera and really honing in on it. After a while I broaden the lens, to include my physical sensations, sounds, and the emotions that come and go. The mind always starts to wander. But in a gentle way, you can lead your mind back to the breath and back to the body. People often think that because they’ve got distracted that they’re no good at meditating, but it’s not true! Everything time we notice the mind has wandered off and then bring it kindly back, we are strengthening that mindfulness muscle.”

As most things in life take continued work and persistence, it’s clear from Kate’s experience alone that it does work and you can enhance your life through practicing meditation and mindfulness. Take it day by day, step by step and be kind to yourself on your journey. Each little victory or repeated practice is a win. Now cancer free, Kate is thrilled to be writing a manual that goes hand in hand with the album, teaching kids to establish their own meditation practice based around the songs. A Passing Clouds Mindfulness for Kids podcast is being planned too.

Kate’s story and journey really is inspiring and encourages a lot of us to rethink how we can incorporate more positive changes into our everyday. Through all that she’s learnt in her years of practicing meditation and mindfulness, Kate reiterates that fear does not have to run our lives. We can learn to thank our fear for trying to keep us safe, but we can also soothe it and help it chill out. In her consistently uplifting manner she concludes that,

“I want to empower kids and their grown-ups to not blame themselves or each other for their negative, fear-based behaviour, but to realise that it’s an intelligent stress-response. That they don’t need to take themselves so personally. That’s my heart’s wish. It’s about realising that our fear is not who we are, finding a bigger space to be with it, and learning to flood it with kindness”.

If you’d like to listen to Kate’s wonderful album Passing Clouds: An Album of Mindfulness Songs for Kids (and their Grown-Ups), click here.

With thanks to Kate Oliver for taking the time to tell us your story. It is an inspiring journey.

Photography by Kirsty Argyle.

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