Awareness is different from self-consciousness, focus or positive thinking. It is the idea that one can simply BE AWARE. The reason I’m writing about this is that many people ask me:
“If I’m aware of feelings or even just sensations which originate because of a fear or sadness, aren't I perpetuating them and making them all worse?”
To these people I ask questions inspired by Andy Puddicombe’s Head space teachings:
"Is the world a dangerous place?
What is the probability of getting hit by a car?
Are you aware of the dangers?
Yet you still go outside and conduct your life - why is that?"
Because we have learned to balance the awareness of risk with the reasons why we choose to risk our lives - because we enjoy life more when we engage with it, when we risk pain, failure, embarrassment and even death.
“So why focus on the sensations?”
To this question I ask:
“Can you be aware of the road unless you look both ways?”
“Can you have improved awareness by looking carefully, without judgement or attachment?”
“Can you focus on the immediate stretch of road, but with awareness of things on the periphery, like where you are stepping, if your shoelaces are tied, where you are going, what’s on the other side?”
Only if you take the time to pay attention. Stop, Look, Listen, Think (see picture above)
This is the same as with the body. If you take small moments to pay attention you can become more aware of the subtle sensations and emotions. These signals are the language of the body and of the intuition. If you observe carefully, calmly, easily, like crossing the road, you can navigate them easily and understand.
“But I want to know why I’m feeling this tension in my chest, which I think is anxiety (THE ROOT CAUSE)!”
To this I ask:
“Do you focus on one noisy car, passing by, speeding and causing problems, when observing the road?
Sometimes, yes, but FOR HOW LONG? How long does that car hold your attention?
If it is hurtling for you then it is wise to give it your full attention and MOVE, but otherwise, does it help you to question 'why' as it hurtles down the street?"
Analysing each thought or feeling to the nth degree is blinkering off the wider awareness, it is useful for a moment, but then one must return to the wider awareness or one may be in risk of ‘rubbernecking’ - getting attached to a thought and losing focus on where one is going. It also requires we SLOW DOWN, and who is prepared to do that on a busy day?
To try and analyse each thought or sensation would be time consuming and exhausting. Some thoughts or feelings do require a bit more attention, but then, each time, we must return our attention to the wider area, let go of the passing car and move on. Self reflection is important, but in the appropriate time.
This is a skill, that can be learned. It is called forgiving. It is an essential part of learning.
As Matthew Child’s says in his own lessons from rock climbing: "Fear Sucks. Fear means you're focusing on the consequences of failing what you are doing." I also learned this a lot from rock climbing and wrote my own blog about it here. If you don't let go of the fear, anger or sadness at some point it will cause you pain and then harm you. If you continue to hold on to it, it will consume you.
But don't worry, it's not all hard work!
I’m a proficient climber now as well as an experienced car driver and crosser of many roads! I have reached the fourth stage of learning in these endeavours: automated awareness. Where I have built in the pattern of coming back to awareness after every troublesome moment has had some attention. I no longer even need to consciously think about this more because I have practiced it. If I drop my practice I sometimes become less proficient again and it takes more effort.
"An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
As it is with mindfulness meditation - it is the practice of returning to awareness, or presence. When one combines that with playfulness one can venture to the inner world or the outer world with a sense of ease, fun and awareness more often.
That’s my experience, anyway. I'm still practising and getting better. With mindfulness I'm sometimes still lingering around the third stage... but try it for yourself!
EMOTIONAL DROP EXPLAINED
After all the emotional highs of a workshop, the return to normality can have a profound effect on participants. There can be a period of transition that offers even more growth space, but isn't always easy to deal with.
We call this ‘The Drop*’; the coming down, the return to what we have identified as 'normality'.
(*This term, and article was inspired by London Faerie, who is an expert in such matters and is acknowledged at the bottom of this page.)
It can happen quickly, or slowly. It can be a nice experience, or a bad one. And the effects, good or bad, can last almost no time at all, or they can go on for hours, even days.
I like to think of a surfing analogy - we ride a wave of experience - if it is profound the wave takes us high and we skilfully manage it when we pay attention, with presence, which happens in workshop spaces, where the participant is guided. When that guidance is removed we find ourselves somewhere near the crest of the wave and are left to our own devices to navigate the surge down the barrel and back to normality. If done with care this can be a beautiful experience, but if we don’t pay attention or are feeling wobbly this can be scary, painful or difficult to handle.
“The higher the wave goes, the deeper is the wake that follows it. One moment you are the wave, another moment you are the hollow wake that follows. Enjoy both – don’t get addicted to one.” - Osho
So here is a guide to dealing with the drop.
It helps to understand the mechanics: Dropping is the emotional and physical affects of the release and drop of endorphins in the body after an intense experience. The endorphins and other hormones released during the experience leave your body in such a way that it takes time to rebuild the balance of hormones in your system. Physiologically we can often feel that we have exposed some parts of ourselves (weakness/vulnerability) and that can unmask the hidden shame - the judgement that our weaknesses mean something deeper - that we will be seen as the small beings that we perceive ourselves to be. This emotes a fight/flight/freeze response, so feelings of anger, fear or sadness become prevalent and override our higher brain functions of rational thought. Brene brown talks about the thoughts she experiences in her 'Vulnerability Hangover.'
"Vulnerability is the most accurate measure of courage" (Brene Brown)
Drop can come in many different forms. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
REDUCTION / PREVENTION
These steps may reduce the chance of dropping.
A drop kit can be helpful to deal with feelings of loneliness, mental and physical exhaustion, confusion, insecurity and many other possible physical symptoms. It is important to take care of yourself during times of drop. This kit will put all the things necessary at your fingertips.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, please feel free to add your own personal selections.
WHAT TO DO WHEN DROPPING
Well, it's a possible reality, so let's discuss the best way to deal with it:
NOTICE YOUR THOUGHTS - VULNERABILITY
If you've just been in a space where you may have shared difficult things and learned new things about yourself it is often a big challenge to our sense of safety and identity.
We are all growing and it inevitably comes with some self doubts when we feel the discomfort. Take time to recognise the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts - give them space to settle and for the fog of stress to clear. Struggle and discomfort is an essential part of growth. Brene Brown realised this after her first TED talk as she says here.
WHY THIS IS ALL POSITIVE
We are always growing - whether we enjoy it or not. With practice it gets easier to enjoy. The more times we go in and out of spaces which stretch our comfort zone, the easier it becomes. The first few times are always hard - when we begin practice. Over time the mind and muscles become more supple and we can push ourselves further, do things with less effort.
We also learn what tools work for us - we learn about ourselves. For me, I like to make sure I connect with one or two of the people from the workshop afterwards, perhaps the day after and relive some of it. This is my strategy and it works for me, but it’s not for everyone. But you may have also triggered emotions that were caught up in an old memory (trauma) and it may be prudent to seek help if you are struggling. Click on the trauma link for advice.
This is important work - we must acknowledge that it is important for us to work on ourselves before we can really help others. So every time we spend some time in fantastic highs and uncomfortable drops we can see that we grow and we can also see that this will enable us to help others more in the future.Sometimes we plateaux for a while, but rest assured, the game will always be challenging - but without challenge life would be pretty dull!
I hope these tips help you to grow less painfully and with more acceptance and happiness
Love and hugs
As well as Brene Brown my biggest inspiration for this post is London Faerie, who created Sacred Pleasures - a place for authentic transformation, which includes working with sexual desires (Trigger Warning), so may not be suitable to view at work - but his article is available here.
"Happiness shared is happiness squared" is, to me a lovely phrase.
Okay, so that’s not exactly true, but it is a little quote that I like to use to help me in meditation sometimes, when they I'm having trouble letting go of negative feelings or thoughts, or when I'm latching on only to the positive, ‘feel good’ thoughts and emotions.
We all do this - it’s totally natural. But sometimes we can’t fully enjoy the pleasant feelings if our mind chases them - we create fear of losing good feelings or good ideas creates tension. Or we create tension in resisting negative situations, feelings and emotions.
Negative resistance breeds persistence.
That’s because it’s all down to attachment. When we allow ourselves to become over attached we lose our subtle dance and playfulness with life. In meditation we sometimes ‘try’ to recreate a 'peaceful, warm, and focused meditation' (like the one yesterday) and if it turns out to be a busy or heavy meditation we can sometimes feel frustrated. At times like these I remind myself that I am meditating to simply observe - building awareness of ‘what is’ - taking time notice the body.
A nice analogy is like pulling up a chair to look out the window at a sunny, blue sky - but sometimes there are dark clouds, sometimes there are light clouds, but nothing we ‘try’ will change that. But there is always blue sky waiting for us, if we chill, sit back and observe. Let go of attachment and things will flow easier.
Yet still, it is difficult to sit with the dark clouds of heavy emotions, pain or busy thoughts, and to stop trying to recreate calm and pleasant sensations. Impatience is part of the issue, so one tool that I developed from Andy Puddicombe's book ‘Headspace’ is to start to try the following:
What I find with this technique is that pleasantness is no longer craved or clung to - and so it is allowed to flow. Therefore pleasure often lasts longer and can be enjoyed more. Impatience (of unpleasant feelings) dissolves, because compassion and love become part of the equation. Have you ever noticed it is much easier to be kind to others than it is to yourself?
In this way we are training patience, awareness and compassion all simultaneously.
When you integrate this mindfulness outside of the meditation it's possible to share positive things more freely - to give them away - and therefore enhance your appreciation of them - happiness shared is happiness squared. (This also works on Facebook). And when you practice empathy with yourself, as if you would to others, you start to take it easy on yourself a little more and then naturally extend that out to others. Some things that are truly made of ‘love’ will never run out anyway - like hugs or music or kindness. The more you use them the more they spread and grow.
So please share! ;)
I cover more about self empathy in my classes in mindfulness which are coming up soon. Please see these links for more information and to book your places.
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com