At the base of the brain, near the spinal cord, there are several parts that deal with and process incoming information, collectively known as the Reticular Activating System (RAS). It is like a filter, letting through certain bytes of data from the myriad of sensory information. The filter is programmed through practice of pattern recognition. Repeatedly thinking, embodying or expressing stress-associated thoughts, words or actions creates that imagery in the mind. Repeatedly focusing on pain programs the RAS to look for patterns that match that programming. (Eg. if you keep saying ‘the world is messed up’, your RAS looks for evidence to support that and filters out opposite evidence.) This is the very simplified neuroscience, but it helps to think about how our language influences the pathways of the brain and our perception of reality.
Language is a tool. First we make the tool (choose your words) and then the tool makes you (affects the patterns of your mind).
Tony Robbins recognised this in his book ‘Unleash the Giant Within’ outlines three ways one can affect the emotional state:
ENCHANTED BY WORDS
Words have power, like magic spells (hence the word spelling). We can conjure up an image in the mind simply by stating a key work (like the classic exercise - don’t think of a pink elephant). The magic of language was outlined beautifully by Don Miguel Ruiz in ‘The Four Agreements’ - which uses lessons from the ancient Toltec societies. The first agreement Ruiz suggests is to: ‘Be Impeccable With Your Word.’ Impeccability means ‘not against yourself or another’, in other words ‘positive, instead of negative’. Ruiz suggests that bitter gossiping is a unskilful use of language, and he compares it to a computer virus. By adopting the first agreement, we may become more resistant to the 'word spells' that others may try and cast upon us, but more importantly we are cleansed of the emotional poison in our own minds. The Toltecs called this the ‘Mitote’ - the fog and illusion created by the chaos of a thousand different voices all trying to talk at once in the mind.
TEND YOUR GARDEN
I like to see our words as seeds, sown in our own minds.,They grow into images, feelings, beliefs and then reality. The more often we sow. the more they grow. We are surrounded by the influence of words in today’s mass marketing culture and social media, full of the seeds of unwanted and pernicious weeds. So it becomes more important to raise awareness of one’s own words and the words we hear and thus tend the garden of any unwanted weeds.
MINDFULNESS CREATES SPACE
At its simplest level if I keep allowing my words to be spoken without pause then I often fall into the trap of negativity programming - perpetuating the confusion of ‘mitote’. If I complain and bicker, regularly, then I fill my mind with judgements and blame and my RAS seeks to look for reinforcement of that. It becomes automatically energy-sapping (through held bodily tension) and without awareness creates all kinds of negative associations (Eg reading the newspaper feels bad, because it saps our energy when we believe and express ‘the world is so messed up!)
AFTER AWARENESS PRACTICE PLAYFULNESS
I’ve decided to experiment with this in my life and change my use of English language to connect to reality and personal power. I did this through the following:
I am / You are / They are (Labels)
I first had some awareness that I often use the ‘I am’ to identify myself as many negative or grandiose things (eg. selfish or sexy). I noticed I was thinking about ‘I am’ or ‘you are’ as a ‘fixed’ label. It doesn’t recognise the influence of my own judgements and experiences and it closes me off to seeing things from the other person’s perspective. So I did two things to replace this:
Never or always
Phrases like “You never listen to me” or “You always act that way” are inaccurate Crude approximations and faulty statistics weaken trust and create tension. It may seem pedantic, but clearly nothing is forever, or always. Even words like ‘Frequently, Sometimes, Occasionally and Rarely’ can be ungrounded assessments - they may provide a little more openness, but are rarely accurate. They are still disowned judgements, not based on acknowledged examples. Perhaps better to use:
I Should, Ought to
With awareness one soon realises that most suffering arises from painful (and false) mental and neural associations - embodied expectations of ‘who we are supposed to be’. The word ‘should’ has connotations of these assumed expectations, leaving us with the tension of not meeting our own mental expectations. Stating a ‘should’ about the past (Eg. I should have woken up earlier!) is even worse, because it’s a judgement of something unchangeable! Luckily it’s easy to fix with:
“Shoulds are sadistic. Don’t should all over your life! Own your language!”
Need, Must, Have to, Got to
Whenever one says ‘I / you need’ or any of the other ‘ultimatum’ language, then one discounts choice and sets up an urgency mindset. The mind often unconsciously imagines terrible and unrealistic consequences of needs being unmet. Whenever the RAS perceives a ‘need’ the amygdala of the brain activates the ‘Fight/ Flight/ Freeze’ survival system - sometimes known as ‘the chimp mind’. This part of the brain is highly emotional, reactive and problem focused. To change that we use awareness to pause and recognize that what we perceiving as a ‘need’ may actually be a less urgent ‘desire’. The reality of not having our desires met is often not as bad as we imagine. This can be achieved by using:
I can’t / I don’t have time
Disempowering language like this is often spoken out of politeness. We don’t want to hurt others feelings so we dress up the language and make it seem like we are in some kind of poverty. Guess what - the more you do that the more you see this pattern attract it and create it in your mindset. I chose to change this pattern and replace it with:
“Can’t is the cancer of happen”- Charlie Sheen. Saying ‘I can’t’ regularly creates a disempowering story of our lives. Be careful how much you say ‘I can’t’ and try and replace it with more positive language or a truthful understanding of what you are making more important.
The word ‘but’ often negates what precedes it. When used in speech, particularly giving feedback it can create a lot of tension. Eg. You did a great job, but…. Can you imagine that?
However, when we replace with ‘and’ it relaxes the tension and it also acknowledges the complexities of two conflicting ideas that can co-exit. Eg. “You did a great job and I still need you to change something.” That sentence would have a lot less recognition and more tension if the ‘but’ was used.
It’s a nightmare, It's terrible. What a disaster!
When we use gross negative labels we over exaggerate and create strong mental imagery and associations with the situations. This can be simply seen, with awareness and then relaxed by asking ourselves: Is it true? It this really ‘terrible?’ Or is it ‘interesting, useful, or painful’. These words are either rooted in optimism - seeing the situation from a positive and constructive perspective, or more truthful - if something is seen as painful then we can take positive action, and change it. If something is a nightmare we will naturally feel less empowered to affect change.
‘It’s not my fault’, ‘Why me?’, ‘They don’t deserve’ ‘It’s not fair’ or ‘the problem is’ (Blame/ Deserve based language)
Words like this put us into a victim state, looking to focus on problems. When I hear myself or others say this and I want to reframe it in my own mind, because I know that the moment we label something as a problem then we just created a problem! Before that it was a situation - the ‘problem’ is in the mind (as worry). We all know that every situation can be a potential learning opportunity.
Cleaning ourselves of this old pattern of problem seeking can be tricky, but by owning our internal reactions and then choosing the positive opposite it is easy to play with clearer language like:
That’s a lot of words to take in. I am still experimenting and playing with this and if there is one thing I have learned it is to only take on one at a time. Make it a game, play with it - see it as it is, a challenge for you to try one of these a week - see what results you get and decide if you like it or not. This is the only way to really decide if something is true for you - to experience it.
You are here to enjoy the journey of my life and to get stuck into the adventure by playing with the learning edge. I invite you to recognise the negative power of worrying, falsehoods and confusion in your words and know that you can choose to let go of worry, speak with clarity, truth and openness. Take some playful risks today. Keep expressing and keep learning. With Love.
Have you ever felt that you just don’t have any more energy to keep on working? Have you then blamed it on stress and started to make associations, reasons and story about why you might feel this way. That’s normal in this culture of intensive analytical thought.
Mindfulness is awareness, with less judgement. It is used to connect us to our senses in a calm, observing way, so that we can 'tune in'. Once we are more tuned into our bodies we can understand them more and take calm, appropriate action. One example of this is meeting your ‘needs’ by first ‘feeling’ into the body and then using intelligent thought to ascertain what it might be.
Maslow gave us a useful method of deduction - the hierarchy of needs. Here I have taken his pyramid of needs, added to in the 1990s by various commentators. I’ve use the resources at Business Balls to inform my research. When we use this we can take a moment from our work and check in with each need, to see if that allows us to re energize and come back afresh. I have broke this down starting at the bottom of the pyramid.
1. Biological and Physiological needs - If you have 15 minutes, take a break from work and try this:
2. Safety needs - if you have a further 15 minutes try these:
3. Social Belongingness and Love needs - work group, family, affection, relationships, etc. Approach this if you have another 15 minutes free (like on a lunch break)
As we go down the list the breaks from work take longer. For fullness I have added them all in with suggestions for ways to check if the needs are met. Mindfulness and ‘full body listening’ will tell you if you need to do these things.
4. Esteem needs - self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
5. Cognitive needs - knowledge, meaning, etc.
6. Aesthetic needs - appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.
7. Self-Actualization needs - realising personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
8. Transcendence needs - helping others to achieve self actualisation.
Clearly you won’t have time in your work day to go through all of these and you don’t need to. Awareness (reading this) and checking in with the body is the first step. I often notice that the physiological needs, once taken care of, free up enough energy to work again. This will also give you better health and les emotional reactivity.
Try this - take a break at work and do some of the suggestions. Let me know how you get on.
Ever wondered about inspiration and how to keep being inspired by life? This Blog is a simple philosophical discussion about enjoying inspiration in your life - a skill that can be learned and how it might start with awareness and acceptance of the end.
The culture we live in is complex and is comprised of millions of people, each with their own vivid imaginations and interpretations of life, partly informed by their experiences (nurture) and partly by their genetic makeup (nature). Each person is trying to be happy in their own way.
A MODEL FOR WELLBEING?
There are infinite ways in which one might feel a sense of well, but largely people equate this with happiness. At the root of this is a sense of connection with something in life that feels enriching and fulfilling. This is unique to each individual.
Happiness is a tricky word because everyone sees it differently. My friend Mark calls it ‘have-peace-ness’ to imply that happiness is more than just a fleeting emotion. Theories of happiness, like the PERMA model (Positivity, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishments), propose that by focusing on certain attributes of life, in a certain way, happiness will more likely occur - it states:
“Find the things that make you happy and can make you fully engaged. You could even put goals to achieving more and challenging yourself in the activities you enjoy. Focus on your relationships with your family and friends by finding ways to connect and enjoy each other's company. Find the meaning to your life and what gives you a sense of purpose, it’s different for everyone.” - PERMA model website
This is not quite as simple as it sounds. Humans’ primary needs are always around survival. After that it depends on the unique and individual nuances of psychology to find a sense of belonging, self-esteem and self-actualisation, which is where a sense of meaning to life becomes important.
“As each individual is unique the motivation for self-actualisation leads people in different directions. For some people self-actualization can be achieved through creating works of art or literature, for others through sport, in the classroom, or within a corporate setting.” (Kenrick et al., 2010)
Maslow (1962) believed self-actualisation could be measured through the concept of peak experiences. This occurs when a person experiences the world totally for what it is, and there are feelings of euphoria, joy and wonder.
IS IT WORTH IT?
If one struggles to find ‘meaning’ it could lead to a focus on problems, pessimism, hopelessness and negativity. This mindset will then look for ‘earthly value’, instead of a deeper meaning - a sense of ‘what’s it worth?’ This is where the ego comes into play (the part of the mind that forms the image who you think you are - your identity). The ego sometimes thinks that being perceived as ‘important’ (by oneself or by others) is a good indicator of value, because of the positive emotions it gives in the short term. Yet in the long term this can lead to a life based only on achievement, future thinking or being externally validated, which can be very hard indeed. At some point one will be forced to ask deeper questions about the purpose and direction of one's life.
“Life ... is a tale
Alan Watts notices how music is all about the ensemble and celebrating all parts. However, because the human mind loves drama and story it will seek it by looking for deeper complex story, meaning and to establish a hierarchy of what is ‘important’ and what is no. What is good and what is bad? This is reflected in our culture and people around you. These will be about self interest and largely based on fear, insecurity or worry that they won’t be ‘successful’ or that we are doing things in the ‘wrong’ way.
LOVE VS FEAR
The opposite of that is love - to have gratitude for what is, to appreciate each other and celebrate differences. To let each other experience and express themselves as they are. This doesn't mean we let people do things that are harmful to one another, no - that’s why we have laws and communities, to protect each other from actions borne from fear, which in turn fuels anger, grief and shame.
The collective fear is the impression that our deep desires for beauty and love are liabilities -they are dangerous, selfish, indulgent and stupid. If we put them first then we will ignore the needs of others and the practical requirements for a life. We will be lazy slobs! These are legitimate concerns, yet we can also balance that in remembering that fear can be easily disguised as practicality.
STAY IN LOVE
Jim Carrey suggests that if we find the balance,by letting our inner selves shine, by finding what is inspiring inside, if we choose things more from our playful hearts, then we might find a nice surprise. if we stay in connection with what we love then we will naturally develop compassion and the desire to help others, because happiness is more vivid when shared and we can only be partially happy if we are not including the world around us in it. When we look out into the world and see others in pain we will be inspired to help. Organically created, this derives from an inner sense of inspiration, instead of external sense of egoistic value or importance.
WHEN WE ARE STRESSED
Depression, apathy, limiting self-beliefs, anger or anxiety can hinder inner connection, intuition and inspiration as much as thoughts of greed and expectation can. Yet at the same time these emotions are helpful - they are signposts that require you listen carefully. And when opened up and looked at skilfully the thoughts of need and expectation can also be teachers, gifts and helpful. The trick is to ask good questions of the body and the mind (which are of course all part of the same single being). The unskillful way is to become impotent by thinking his is important, that one needs to do something.
HOW TO WIN AT LIFE
So we’d like to relax this need, right? Because acting from a state of emotional overwhelm is always problematic, or egoic thought , which is all based on fear for survival, - it is incredibly draining for you and or others, it creates negativity and a world of ‘needs/should’,or fear, obligation, guilt - a FOG of confusion. Positive thought is fuelled on creative endeavours, with a letting go of need. When we act from this we gain energy, inspiration, appreciation and love. So my theory of winning or success is the realisation of asking the question, in each moment, What’s Inspiring Now (WIN)., or what do I need, how do I feel, how do you feel, what might they be needing… this is empathy and it can be directed inward or outward. Asking these questions repeatedly leads you to reprogram the mind to focus on being the change you want to see in the world, rather than running from the things you hate or fear. On some level it requires an inner confidence, a trust, which can only be created in feeling inside, for a length of time, whilst letting go of negative thought. Only then may one express honestly.
One can wait for life to threaten our life in order to see this truth, through stress or pain or illness, or one can delve inside to discover it before that happens - to take preventive care, in the same way one brushed your teeth before you experience tooth decay. Meditation is this kind of practice - is is the art of listening, in non-reaction and non-judgement. It is designed to cultivate the art of intuition, which leads to more inspiration. When we are in contact with our bodies, with a calm mind, we can better realise, What’s Inspiring Now. We can also notice our emotions, like fear, with more curiosity and perspective. This leads to the ability to respond, rather than react. The ability to channel emotions positively and to adopt positive attitudes, even when one thinks ‘life is pointless’. This is a simple choice to feel into each moment of the dance, or the journey, to see that the journey is the destination - the moment is the point. When we keep returning to it we can more successfully stay in love, stay connected and stay inspired.k
If you are interested in learning more and practising mindfulness please contact me and arrange a drop-in to one of my classes, or set up a one to one session.
Executive summary, for those short on time:
1. A word, created by a thought
2. A transient, powerful and intangible beauty
3. Connection to the open intelligence of being
Since we compulsively over think we create a world of problems and suffering. By connecting to your being will put you in touch with inspiration, instead of external validation, but only when you are ready - when you really want it and are prepared to let go of the things you think you need. You can’t force it, so for now just enjoy where you're are and relax in the knowing that you can either indulge thinking or begin at once to re-balance your mental state towards being - either way you’ll be ok, in a spiritual sense.
The full article.
I ask myself regularly ‘who am I?’ ‘What am I doing? And then I realise I am seeking the answers to these questions with my thinking mind, which goes outward, searching for external validation, through my work, or my social networks, through art or through sensual delights. Inspiration is what I’m looking for and the clue is in the word: IN-SPIRATION. It’s about going inwards towards spirit. But what is Spirituality? Here is my long-winded definition, in the hope that it reminds us why it is useful to revisit, from time to time.
1. A WORD, CREATED BY A THOUGHT.
First we must have awareness that this is simply a word - a human mental concept and creation. It is NOT reality, it is a map of reality, a representation using the English language. The term spirit comes from definitions like "animating or vital principle in man and animals". It is derived from the Old French espirit, which comes from the Latin word spiritus (soul, courage, vigor, breath) and is related to spirare (to breathe). But Reality is more than words, it is vibrating matter, felt through experience. Any concept like 'spirit' is only an idea. All ideas stem from an ideology -with inherent beliefs. Each person sees the idea with their own set of background beliefs and understandings, so the word is interpreted slightly differently each time. Thus reading this article will only give you a mental understanding of spirit. To really understand you must experience it. Nonetheless I will attempt more words to express how I see spirituality.
2. A TRANSIENT, POWERFUL AND INTANGIBLE NATURAL BEAUTY
An ever-moving beauty that, if captured, squeezed or forced to act differently, either destroys vanishes (although It is still there, but it is no longer tangible or visible by your mind or senses). If one wishes to experience the beauty one must let it flow and arise in its own time. I love the idea “You cannot capture a river, for it is always moving.” Once you contain and control it you change it - it is no longer a river, it is now, a lake of still water, with less life force. A wild phenomenon or animal has spirit, partly because it is in the wild, it is untamed. You can watch and appreciate the beauty, get even closer and you can be touched by this river, but get too fixated by its beauty and you will be overwhelmed.
The main beauty of that river is only experienced when it is in its natural setting, flowing and interconnected with the wildlife and landscape - if you try and stop it or change its course too harshly you will destroy its transient beauty (as shown in the LA river). You may also want to appreciate the wildlife within the river, watching the life of nature. An example of this art form is ‘fish tickling’; which requires an openness, a stillness, a letting go of 'grabby' need and a moving towards play and trust - one hopes a fish will come along and one knows that the most skillful thing to do is remain still and open and to enjoy the waiting, in the knowing that even if a fish doesn't tickle me today there is always tomorrow and the old adage “there are plenty more fish in the sea.” This is an attitude of gratitude and abundance, which will create patience and joy. Whereas If one is agitated and forces oneself to wait it is likely this will manifest tremors in the hand, and the fish will see this as a trap, they will feel the expectant mind and they will swim away. Same with the river - we can trust that it will change in flow, over time, but that it will continue to flow, finding the path of least resistance, and in that is beauty.
POWER IN SPIRIT
If one wants to harness the power of this life force then one must first study it closely, consciously (The word ‘con-science’ means 'with study' in its original Latin). It is essential to know the history of the river by studying its banks and changing flows. The river can be fished with these observations and with skills learned by spending time with the river. Its raw power can be be directed and influenced to help us in life, but not without care and understanding. Any natural phenomenon like this is in a complex interdependent relationship with life and so one must proceed slowly if one wants to respect these organic relationships. If we lose touch with the nature of this wild force, or if we forget about its inherent beauty then we will eventually destroy the life that makes it beautiful and valuable or it will destroy us with its suppressed natural power. Either way we suffer if we force the spirit to comply to our will.
3. CONNECTION TO THE OPEN INTELLIGENCE OF BEING.
With practice we develop mastery. If you practice appreciation of transient and intangible beauty through feeling and enjoying (rather than controlling, or just talking about it and thinking) then you master the art of inspiration - the ability to more easily connect with the spirit inside yourself. Spirituality is often thought of as connection to something greater than ourselves, but what if that 'greater thing' was insider you?
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
This poem hints at where we can connect to truth, power, beauty and understanding - in the felt experience of the moment, inside. This is where intelligent life flows from - somewhere at the centre of your being. Not a place but a connected movement. The intelligence that constantly emerges from the synergy - the collection of multiple interconnected parts that work in harmony, with no master. It is more than the sum of its parts.
This kind of intelligence is less about mental knowledge and more about wisdom (experiential knowing). Any attempt to represent or record it will be inferior to the direct experience of it. It can only be known in brief moments. In those moments a skillful way of being emerges; a power to trust, to have compassion, presence, vitality and love. This cannot be documented or proven, only experienced. Isolating variables to create models of happiness always fall short because they lose touch with the artful nature of spirit. But with practice we can dip in and out of this knowing with growing ease. Much like a skilled naturalist we are more able to connect with spirit when we understand it - and it will then be more available to us, because of awareness, practice, appreciation and trust.
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO THINKING
When we encounter difficulty we are conditioned to turn to the rational mind to make a decision. Where spirituality is concerned the 21st century mind will often choose from one or the other (a binary); to move towards more either thought (analysis, ideas, judgements and quantifiable evidence) or towards spirit (which has no evidence, because it is transient. It doesn't take any credit for creation).
Developing balance is something that requires experiencing each side of something. It is only through the contrast that we find the right balance for oneself. Which is why each individual explores thought - goes round in circles of analysis, philosophy, moralising and trying to be right. Eventually one will come to the conclusion that thought is useful for creating external things (like cars or houses) but that it cannot connect is to the reasons to live, it cannot provide the deep inspiration to live a beautiful life, with wisdom. Similarly, relying only on a deep inner connection to spirit, without practical knowledge will be unbalanced with the nature of social and physical reality and lead to physical problems.
BEING GOOD VS BEING YOURSELF
Once one finds a balance that feels good one does not need to ‘try’ and be good or compassionate one can just let it flow naturally from connection to spirit. Written down that may appear incredibly naive and perhaps dangerous. Again, one can only experience it.
THE COLLECTIVE BALANCING
Modern life has been dominated by thinking, recently. That dominance (unbalance) has fixated us on the creation of external stimuli with the belief that ‘technology and mental intelligence will be our salvation’ and continue the 'race'. This belief fuels all the systems of living we now experience. We use rigid rules and words based on quantifiable things. We consume or create things to feel good. We do things, rather than simply be in our selves. Thinking is generally being over used and compulsive. Eventually this creates distrust, problems, fear and more rigid beliefs. The mind becomes sick with compulsive negative thinking and we drive ourselves gradually towards self destruction. Or towards a re-balancing...
OPTIMISTIC OR OPTIMISING
Perhaps though our nature will in out and we will reach a threshold where we naturally choose to rebalance the spirit/thinking equation (one way or another). This is an individual journey that then feeds into a collective (general) state. Because life is all about balance - homoeostasis. Is this optimistic or just a recognition of the optimising nature of life? What goes up must come down. We are finding the balance in this dance and so when we are ready we come back into being and connect with spirit once again. This will happen for as long as feels right and then we will get lost into thinking once again, then spirit, then thinking... in, out, in, out... until, death.
Death will happen and it will either return the spirit to the ether, ready to be reformed again into transient beauty (f that's what one chooses to believe) or it will just the end of life, in which case, no worries. The eternal sleep will be nothing to experience so cannot be good or bad. In the meantime, during your life experience and balancing, if spirit is something you are curious about then come and play with a spiritual practice like mindfulness - drop me an email. If you are enjoying your thinking mind then great - learn and create some awesome words, art or things in the world. Either way it's all good and life will find the balance for you, so you can simply enjoy it.
If you have been to my classes or read some of my other blogs you’ll know that mindfulness is not just about attitude of the mind, but it is all informed by the attitude of the body, and especially the most fundamental aspects of physiology; like the breath.
This blog is written to give you a breakdown of the techniques, but also the background philosophy - why would you bother to undertake a breathing practice? After all, it’s a natural bodily function that doesn’t require any conscious effort. I’ve notice that when people in my classes initially regulate the breath, interrupting the automatic function, they say it seems clunky or feels awkward - like we’d be better off leaving it alone. Yet, with mindful noticing they also sense changes in the body - calming and releasing of tension. I have found profound learning from playing with the breath - So here are my experiences and research.
BREATHING FROM THE PAST
Unconscious / automatic breathing is largely doing a good job for you (keeping you alive) and you can still potentially improve it, because it is inevitably conditioned by some experiences in your life that have formed mental associations. For example, you may notice your body / mind going into panic over a misspoken word with a colleague, which may unconsciously remind you of being rejected by an old friend - a painful memory buried in the subconscious.
These memories are not conscious, so you only know something is out-of-sync with reality by noticing the physical reaction first. We tend to be unaware of the changes in our breathing that dramatically add to our emotional state. These daily occurrences of disproportionate reactions are fuelled by negative mental associations, and if we do not become aware of them and start working with then we add to them, gradually reinforcing the embodied reactions.
If you continue to act unaware of this, the body will eventually create pain or attain disease, which forces you to pay attention and change something. Continued ‘stressful breathing’ (like short sharp breaths, or shallow breaths) releases adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream unnecessarily, which stresses the body.
Much like looking at your teeth and then brushing appropriately reduces the stress of tooth decay we can reduce stress by watching the breath, becoming more conscious of what situations or thoughts are associated with ‘stressful breathing’. This will tell you a lot about you mind and areas of ‘fear’ or avoidance. We can then alter the way we breathe.
If we remain unconscious of the breath patterns we often act on impulse. Here our reaction to rising emotional panic might be to ‘act out’ (including blaming something / someone else) or ‘retreat’ (which may include shutting down and therefore retreating inwardly). This is known as the fight or flight function of the instinctive and emotional brain (the amygdala). Indulging this can lead us into a T.R.A.P. of our own ignorance, where the following happens (and may have been happening for some time):
LEARN FROM EXCITEMENT, INCLUDING SPORTS
We can learn and develop the ability to reprogram positive patterns in the mind and body. A good way to do this is to bring presence to any situation where breath changes due to excitement. As an example I’ll share where I first learned about conscious breathing - rock climbing!
I learned this the hard way - trial and error in extreme situations. I would get to a dangerous moment on the rock, where, if overly focused on the dangers, I began to panic, then I’d be in serious trouble! (I had a couple of nasty falls).
So I learned in these moments that the best initial response to the rising panic was to purposefully breath longer and smoother breaths. I would then direct my focus to my feet and hands, and my immediate surroundings, checking things were okay. Then I could more accurately assess the risks, from a place of relative calm objectivity, rather than emotional panic. At times I added more confidence boosting strategies like a mantra (a mind affirmation repeated over and over), or by verbalising ‘It’s ok, I’m ok” and telling myself what I was going to do next. I would literally talk myself through it!
Early warning signs that panic is rising can be found in the sensations of tension and the change of breath. By noticing breath when it becomes short & sharp or shallow, and respond with a little playfulness and presence we can program a reaction to any stress trigger. This is what I learned - to program in the following response to stress; I slow down for a moment and become B.O.L.D:
"The trick is to keep breathing" - Janice Galloway
PERSEVERE WITH SOME OBJECTIVE PERSPECTIVE
This can apply to normal life as much as it can extreme situations; imagine you are at work and you are trying to make headway with a difficult project, but you feel frustrated. Take a moment and notice your bodily sensations and your breath. Then, play with it; control your breath. This is essentially about changing something simple, partly to break the existing pattern. The simplest thing to change is focus and breath. However, changing your physical location and posture can also aid this transition to calm, so if it helps, get up from the desk and do this in a different place. This will give you better perspective to objectively assess and then refocus. At first it might seem to make things worse. This is for two main reasons:
TAKE IT EASY
The trick is to bring in an element of playfulness and ease - don’t try too hard or you will simply add to the panic. Gradually the automatic response to the trigger of shallow / holding breath patterns becomes more healthy Shortly after you can create a habit of opening up or dropping negative thinking with mini moments of objectivity - meditation, for example. This calms the physiology of the body, lowers adrenaline and cortisol level and oxygenates the blood, ready for refocusing on calm action. This will also help the body and mind stay healthy and balanced.
LOOKING AHEAD: IT’S NOT WHAT YOU DO, BUT HOW AND WHY YOU DO IT.
The psychological aspect to breathing well can be as important and the physiological (depending on your background beliefs and attitude). You could create a nocebo effect as a result of cynicism - that is, you may counteract any positive effect the breathing may give you by giving too much weighting to your opposing concepts and beliefs, rather than being willing to try the experience. In this instance conscious breathing will probably result in wasted energy and perhaps even more negative thinking and emotion. So don’t do it if your mind is in resistance - don’t force it.
PLACEBO OF BELIEF
Conversely a placebo effect may give you some short-term benefits, but if you assign too much weighting to this one thing then you are in danger of becoming fixated on one tool as a ‘magic bullet’. Placebo is a powerful product of mind beliefs, yet without presence (noticing & objectively) of the mind and body you could become ignorant of the changing reality of your life situation and hide other useful truths from yourself. A good example is rock climbing again - if one becomes overly confident through the use of breath, visualisation and boldness, one may go too far and take on a challenge that exceeds ones ability, and then have a nasty accident.
MY EXPERIENCE - FIND THE BALANCE
For me an approach of openness, awareness and playfulness yields good results. I like to imagine the breath healing me (which it does, scientifically proven) and I imagine warm feelings as I breath - visualising the oxygen enlivening my cells. These are things that may not be real, but which are helpful. I may imagine light pouring in, or a mantra as I breath like “It’s ok, I’m ok.”
I can then more clearly imagine what I want - visualising it, whilst being sensitive to my body (which will tell me if what I am imagining is unrealistic, by manifesting tension). This is an ‘intuitive’ way and for some people the ‘logical’ way makes more sense. A highly scientific and sceptical mind may require more quantitative research before integrating a new practice - which may (or may not) remove mental barriers to trying this willingly. This is neither good nor bad and I always encourage thinking for oneself and I try to present these blogs not as facts, but as experiences and opinions.
“Remember to breathe. It is after all, the secret of life.”
It’s hard to disentangle this subtle level of placebo that the positive thinking adds, so I don’t worry too much and I enjoy the benefits, aware that my psychology is partly responsible, and occasionally questioning myself or being open to other perspectives. I have researched and found the potential benefits that regular practice of relaxed yet conscious, slow breathing can have:
All of these are potential, because there are a lot of factors at play, not least of which include diet, mental attitude, hydration levels, nuanced context of external stressors. For example, when at the office and noticing the breath during a break t may also be useful to notice if you are thirsty, hungry, sleepy or need the loo. These are important physiological needs that may also be affecting the breath and negative thinking. Nonetheless, as a simple and effective tool I have found breathwork to be invaluable.
IS IT EMBARRASSING?
It can be, depending on the environment you are in. It may be inappropriate to meditate at your desk and start breathing deeply. So take yourself elsewhere to do this. There is a theory by Dan Harris that the in the next decade meditation (which often involves breathing in stillness with your eyes closed, noticing the breath and the body) will be as accepted as jogging is (in comparison to how it was viewed 30 years ago - as a fad). So for now, find a place to do this where you feel safe.
CAN TECHNOLOGY HELP?
Yes - one of the great modern devices, the smartphone, now has access to thousands of free apps, that really help. I have done a quick review of the top 10 free iPhone apps:
5. Nirvana Fitness: breathing fitness to music. The idea is nice, breathing in different timings to music, which can work, but I found it a little clunky and has a lack of options on the free mode.
4. 3 Minute Mediation: A mix of breathing styles, but only 1 or 2 offered on the free model and the timer is, in my opinion, unattractive and difficult to follow.
3. Pranayama Free: An interesting concept with a 3d model of the body and lungs to show you exactly what should be going on inside as you breathe. I quite liked it, but again had very limited options.
2. Deep Breathing Exercises: This had a funny star shaped timer, which was ok, with nice back music and lots of options. It had more ads than other apps, which bugged me.
1. Breathe Deep: My favourite of the apps with lots of options and personalisation. Simple graphics and quick to load.
I use this last app occasionally when I’m working, in my breaks, because it takes away some of the energy input required to do the breathing work and trains in accurate regulation. The downsides are that sometimes I’m not really paying attention to my body as I breathe and I think that presence is helpful to optimize the process and get the most benefit.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON BREATHING METHODS?
Below I have outlined some popular techniques, all of which I’ve tried, some of which for more than a few months. Feel free to skim them at first to see the breadth of possibility. Some of these have been pioneered by the practice of yoga
Prāṇāyāma is a Sanskrit word alternatively translated as "extension of the prāṇa (breath or life force)" or "breath control." The word is composed from two Sanskrit words: prana meaning life force (noted particularly as the breath), and either yama (to restrain or control the prana, implying a set of breathing techniques where the breath is intentionally altered in order to produce specific results). This is well used and researched and utilises the concept of Chakras (energy point or nodes in the body, of which there are though to be seven major chakras, which are arranged vertically along the axial channel, from the base of the pelvis to the top of the head). These are not conclusively proven in science. There are several techniques but these are the most common:
Ujjayi breathing "the ocean breath". Unlike some other forms of pranayama, the ujjayi breath is typically done in association with asana practice (varied postures designed to stretch and exercise the whole body). Ujjayi is a diaphragmatic breath, which first fills the lower belly (activating the first and second chakras), rises to the lower rib cage (the third and fourth chakras), and finally moves into the upper chest and throat. The technique is very similar to the three-part Tu-Na breathing found in Taoist Qigong practice:
Kapal Bhati Pranayama or Skull Shining Breathing Technique is about calming and bringing your focus into the present moment. It goes like this:
Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique (Nadi Shodhan Pranayama) which is supposed to bring balance through alternating sides and it works as follows:
SOME WESTERN STYLES I'VE TRIED
Whilst yoga uses the belief structures or concepts of Chakras other techniques have been pioneered in the west using scientific research. Remember we are unique and what works for one person may not be universal. Self- experimentation is key, in my opinion.
Wim Hoff method. The Dutch man Wim Hof is a charismatic teacher of mind-body techniques and a record breaker for endurance, commonly nicknamed "The Iceman" for his ability to withstand extreme cold, which he attributes to exposure to cold, meditation and breathing techniques (similar to the Tibetan technique Tummo). He worked closely with scientists around the world to prove that his techniques work. A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) claims that by consciously hyperventilating, Wim can increase his heart rate, adrenaline levels and blood alkalinity. The report concludes “These results could have important implications for the treatment of conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation, such as autoimmune diseases.” The breathing element is as follows:
Box/Square Breathing (or other timings): origin unknown, but used by well researched practitioners like Dave Asprey
Buteyko Breathing is something quite different, that I experimented with this year. It was developed in the 80’s in Russia by Dr Konstantin Buteyko, as a cure for asthma, based on the premise that one of the causes of asthma is over-breathing (hyperventilation), particularly through the mouth, which, according to the theory, causes too much O2 and then inflamed airways as the body’s defence. So therefore the system involves shallow breathing through the nose in order to promote increased clean air intake and increased carbon dioxide in the lungs, and therefore improving the balance of O2 in the blood.
This process can be quite stressful and it is not recommended to try this alone and without expert help, for fear of passing out. The independent did an interesting article on it, which shows successful cases, but also discusses the the reason it isn’t popular is partly due to some scientists dispute the physiological claims that the Buteyko practitioners teach. www.buteyko.co.uk/
Anger is like a storm rising up from the bottom of your consciousness. When you feel it coming, turn your focus to your breath. - Thich Nhat Hanh
Whatever you decide to do, take it easy. I would suggest giving a few slow, deep breaths a go next time you notice you are stressed or stuck. Changing one thing can alleviate stress just long enough for your mind to think clearly again.
My practice has evolved by trying all of these and now do a mixture of the Wim Hoff breath to energise me, the box breathing to calm me into focus and just simple deep, conscious breaths whenever I notice I’m stagnant or tense. Being B.O.L.D (Breathing, Objectivity, Looking up ahead, Doing it) has reprogrammed my mind to more easily come back to the present moment and then into a clearer focus. Give it a go, with care, playfulness and presence.
An inspiration - a long, deep breath of the pure air of thought - could alone give health to the heart. - Richard Jefferies
Welcome to this third and final blog, all about procrastination, which seems at first, a simple thing, but when looking deeper it presents insights into the very purpose of why we bother to do anything. The three parts of this series are:
Part 1: Understanding Procrastination invited us to recognise, investigate and understand procrastination in a new way
Part 2: Just do it now looks at how we can see it at a deeper level and how we can head it off, quickly.
Part 3: Turn the ship around (this blog) looks at addressing the source of our procrastination - habitual fear that we don’t know where we are going. This is formed by our associations and values, for which we need safe harbour to analyse and work on. This will involve training, time, awareness and forgiveness. It may seem to ‘take too long’ or ‘not worth it’ but my experience is that it is! And you may as well try and do what you really, really want anyway!
WHAT DO YOU WANT?
How we find out? One way is to deeply embrace ourselves; repairing consciously, to make ourselves shipshape and resilient in the long term, against procrastinating, and then choosing a course that is both more adventurous, interesting and simultaneously easier, because it feels right. To do this I propose burning new principles into our everyday habits so that they slowly integrate into our lives. Eventually everything we do will reflect the quality and direction that we have consciously chosen.
“How you do the little things is how you do everything.” Justin Hughes
PREPARING FOR ADVENTURE (FROM A SAFE HARBOUR)
Much like a ship, getting ready to sail on turbulent waters, we can prepare whilst in calm waters. If you don’t know what calm waters looks like then try getting away from your immediate environment and find somewhere hidden from the bombardment of daily life - get some real perspective! The myth of Orestes finding his cave is a good metaphor. There we can focus on:
1. CHARTING YOUR COURSE
Want to have fun and be true to yourself? Want to get to the treasure of life and enjoy the adventure throughout? Well I think Ghandi left us a treasure map with clues:
"Your beliefs become your thoughts,
In preparing, we can simply follow this treasure map in reverse order,starting with: Values- ‘The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something. Principles or standards of behaviour; one's judgement of what is important in life.’ So our first step is to decide what you are for.
Dreaming vividly, whilst feeling can be like a compass towards real experiencing. We have the magical power of imagination and we have the power to create beliefs, visions and desires that feel like reality. You can call this delusion or you can call it dreaming, this is just a choice of perception. If you don’t know what you want then allow yourself to dream and work backwards from there. If you want to go to space, what could be the easier dreams, the steps on the way to the cosmic dream? Allow playful imagination - get comfy and dream as if you were 10 years old!
Start by writing it down. This brings it one step closer to reality and we can begin the process of discovering of reading it back, tweaking it, making it believable, more plausible and open to scrutiny. Eventually, with repeating this process we might discover or even create the reasons why we are here. If you’re interested in doing this now, you could start by answering 5 easy question - 2 minutes on each question - then once you are done Blu Tack it on the wall. Answer these ambitiously, but within the realms of possibility - you’ll just have to gauge that for yourself. The 5 questions:
What do you want to…
"You gotta be before you can do, and you've gotta do before you can have." - Zig ZigIar
This begins to shape up a Vision, Mission, Reasons and Legacy for you. You can tweak and adjust them, but at least you’ve begun to make sure you are going in a good direction. You know what you want and why you want it. You can elaborate on this every few months - make tiny course corrections. Then you can really start to think more clearly about the specific 'how', this forms the plan of action. I like to read back my mission and values every day. This burns it into my memory and allows me to ask myself “is this in line with my vision” whenever I spend time on work.
I have my own mission, vision and reasons, which I laid out in my online manifesto. My personal ones are kept in my private files, some of which are part of the links at the bottom of the blog.
2. TRAIN THE CREW WITH HEALTHY HABITS AND CHECKLISTS
“Excellence is not a singular act, but a habit. You are what you repeatedly do.” - Aristotle.
If you want to set in any healthy habit, I suggest:
Once the habits are set in they will serve you for a very long time. Make sure you tweak them occasionally - review them to make changes once every year. We also want to build your values into your habits. We can do this using affirmations and in the wording of the habits.
3. CHECK THE MANIFEST OF TOOLS AND RESOURCES:
In order for our journeys to go well we must make sure we have provisions and tools. Tools help us fix things when they go ‘wrong’ and provisions are there to keep us going. They are our fuel. Your main resource is your presence and your passion, and those things emerge effortlessly from your habits and from the meaning you assign to this work (steps 1 and 2).
Your other essential resources are the basic physiological needs on Maslow's hierarchy of needs: air, food and fluids. For this reason make sure you have healthy foods and begin your work day by drinking plenty of water. Perhaps you can work these into your checklists, habits routines? (I use a tiny bowl of fruit/nuts to keep me going every day). Also take a breath before you start (part of the FLIT, described in Part 2). The importance of breath in bringing in the second need; a sense of safety, cannot be overstated. The breath tells the body ‘I’m safe’ if used well. If used unconsciously it often emits the opposite signal to the body. Control the breath for a moment and calm the mind.
This is one of the tools I pack on my voyage. Tools are important for when you get into trouble, but they therefore require practicing using them ahead of the time you need them. An effective tool in the hands of a practiced user cuts through the stress and recalibrates the machine. The most powerful machine in our work is our mind-body. The most common faults of the mind-body are stress from compulsive negative thinking - thoughts that get lost in fear-based fantasy. Here are three tools I use to combat this common problem:
If you are interested to learn any of these tools or want me to help you create your own please contact me. With these tools and resources we are establishing a sense of safety, working our way up the hierarchy of needs. When we have met more of these there is less resistance to starting our work and working well. The next need tops off the safety level and creates love and belonging, where you really start to enjoy your work.
4. ESTABLISH YOUR TRUSTED SUPPORT NETWORK
Establishing who you can trust when in troubled waters or during a mutiny is essential because if we allow ourselves to vulnerably share in our process and set up friendships where we can be seen, for whom we really are, this whole thing becomes a lot easier and lot more beautiful. Human connection is really what it is all about, after all. We are all in this together and if you can include others in your work, in a sharing, giving and loving way (not a demanding way) then you may find the saboteur of procrastination (which is trained and fueled by fear) may be eased and perhaps even dissolved by love. You may even begin to LOVE THE WORK!
Part of this is thinking about the roles you have in life. I know I have 10 key roles, ranging from a mindfulness practitioner to a son and brother. I consciously think about and write down what kind of person I want to be in those roles, eg. ‘A caring mindfulness practitioner’, ‘a loving son’ and ‘a playful brother’. This seems simple, but it gets you to think about how you want to be in each role in your life. You can elaborate later, but start small - have a think now about your roles and write them down.
YOUR FRONT ROW FRIENDS
You will also have lots of friends, but amongst those friends we all have a front row - the few friends that you would trust your heart to and the ones you feel close to. It can be useful to remind yourself which ones these are. Write them down now.
ESTEEM: BE YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND, FAN AND COACH
The penultimate need is SELF esteem. With the list of roles and your front row friends you can internalise some of the things your friends are telling you, to encourage you. These are some methods I use:
Coming back to Ghandi’s treasure map - we follow the line that values and habits leads us to and we start to realize that our subconscious and conscious mind now take care of things for us - we can relax and live through our actions, words and thoughts, safer in the knowledge that we have done all we can and we are on the right course. This all comes down to trust and confidence. Mindfulness can keep us noticing what we are doing that we don’t stray too far off course and once mindfulness becomes a habit that is as easy as brushing your teeth, then self expression flows into your work.
Imagine the present self can thanking the past self for getting all this sorted. Right now, in fact, could you envision your future self-thanking yourself (as the past self) for preparing even ONE of these steps? Do it, now.
Let me know how it goes and what you thought of this post. Feedback helps me. Bon Voyage!
Archilochus - "we do not raise to the level of our hopes, we fall to the level of our training".
Finally some links I promised you:
http://productivitygame.com/routines-morning/: A resource of inspiring blogs and self-help/productivity book reviews (with brilliant short videos). I use this often.
The pomodoro technique: is similar to FLIT and allows to to measure your day differently.
www.mariposacoaching.co.uk/workshops: Bristol locals can talk to Sarah if they are having trouble managing time and making better task lists. She runs courses and coaches individuals.
http://sarahprout.com/start-here : If you want to set your intentions (be,do,have, feel) Sarah has created an amazing worksheet to work through. Takes a couple of hours (if you go quickly).
The Miracle Morning book suggests 6 areas of focus for you morning routine, he calls Life S.A.V.E.R.S.(Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, Scribing (journaling)
https://www.neilstrauss.com/neil/healing-trauma/ if you feel severely traumatised and want to develop understanding see what you think of Neil Strauss’ look at trauma.
My resources: A sneaky link that gives away all of my secrets. Don't tell anyone.
ATTACHMENTS - THE HIDDEN TIES
The Buddha said “The root of suffering is attachment.” What did he mean by this and how can it help us to understand how we can live differently? This blog is all about how to live life with a better relationship to suffering. Like I’ve said in many other blogs you can’t avoid suffering it’s part of love, but you can 'enjoy' the process, rather than just suffer it. This elaborates on my blog about owning your shit.
So, first of all, by attachment I think the Buddha was referring to ‘need’, ‘craving’ and ‘identification with a fixed idea’. The best expression I know for this is 'Limiting-Self-Beliefs'. For example, the elephant in the picture believes it cannot break the chain, because it was chained from birth. After trying so many times it gave up, even though as an adult it probably could break them it believes the story of 'I can't move further than my TIES allow'. My theory of this is devised to help me remember how us humans generally become attached to:
SO, TAKE A SEAT
When we view them in this order they form TIES, which I find is a useful reminder that they bind me to a rigid and painful way of being - a complex web of TIES requires gradual and persistent loosening and here is my main method - it’s called taking a SEAT (flipping the priority of our awareness). This is a simple process of meditation, where we allow ourselves to slow down and connect with the senses first and see:
When we look at it, sit with it, in non reaction, we naturally reduce the fuel that is energising the story. We also reduce the adrenaline and cortisol in the bloodstream, released as a mind-body connection that is created by psychological stress. So let’s take a deeper look at the TIES so that we can understand and recognise them. Only then can we begin to loosen them.
TIES TO THOUGHTS
Firstly we often identify with our thoughts, as roles and stories, naturally. As the author of Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, describes:
“Our massive brains have a vivid imagination. Human beings are the only animals that can see and feel complex things that don’t exist - like the idea of a heaven, or the collective idea and agreement of money. This ability has helped human beings thrive, by working together in millions, unified by common stories of accepted truth. Humans live double lives - one in the reality of natural law (like the animals) and one in the stories we tell ourselves - our collective social laws, etiquette and conditioned behaviour. Stories give us a sense of purpose and drama, which can seem more important than reality, which seems mundane and unimportant, in comparison. The more we get involved in the stories and rigidly ‘believe’ the more we fight against others or the reality that challenge them. These ’beliefs’ lead us to wars and sacrifice of our own lives and create immense suffering.”
But of course Shakespeare said it best:
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”.
THOUGHTS AS ROLES
So perhaps you see yourself a certain way - you have undertaken a role that is so important to you that the values of that role become the driving force in your life. That’s what we ALL do. Examples could be that you see yourself as:
The list goes on - there is no problem in having these roles with some awareness, but most of the time we don’t even notice because we are reacting impulsively to thoughts - these are the invisible TIES. We cannot be enlightened (free, easy-going, open) if we are bound to our roles tightly. Notice if you present your ‘image’ a certain way. If someone challenges you by saying “you are not a very nice person”) do you launch you into defense mode? If we didn’t hold onto these strong beliefs then we wouldn’t react to the challenges so much - they wouldn’t really touch us. And then we can respond as we wish, in an enlightened way. This might be defensive, but it would have a light touch and energy, because it is not needy.
EGO - WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE
Ego is part of nature - it helps us navigate social structures. Too much ego identification prevents us from remembering our true nature and from remembering that we are lucky to simply be alive, to have the gift of life. We might feel burdened by our roles so much, trapped by the compulsive thoughts and beliefs that we feel disconnected from our truth and from other beings. So this is what happens when we become identified with thought.
LOOSEN THE TIES TO THOUGHTS; TAKE A SEAT
So an invitation - sit down, take a few longer breaths, feeling into the body and watching the busy mind, then ask yourself these questions:
TIES TO IMPULSES
We often live on autopilot and sometimes we become reactive - you’ve been there, right? Itching every itch, nervously, feeling agitated and needing release? Or, on a more subtle level, you may notice a background tension of craving - wanting experiences, like needing to eat, or needing a cigarette or even needing to orgasm. You sense that without it you’ll become grumpy or frustrated - the emotional reaction tells us it is more than just a desire (want), it is a craving (a sense of need). I think of this as a ‘want----need’ spectrum.
Craving creates tension in the body, a sense of disempowerment and, if indulged regularly, it will create an identification with a small, separate sense of self that always needs something more. Chemically we can attribute this to the dopamine cycle - which means that hormones in the brain feed the pleasure sensors (release of tension) and then raise our threshold for more tension, meaning that if we want the same dopamine feeling again we have to take it to the next level. This could be based on work, shopping, computer games, sex, sport - anything! Building this pattern we become impulsive sensation-seekers - fixated on getting gratification, or to the next level but missing the scenery of the moment, the beauty of the process. We are focused on the fear of missing out (something I am very familiar with). This means we temporarily lose the ability to enjoy anything we do.
This needy pattern TIES us to the momentum of our greed or ambition and we will get dragged along until we are damaged enough to let go. The delaying of gratification (through getting on with our work, for instance) seems irritating and unpleasant. So we want to develop patience again. My method? Taking a SEAT, breathing well and witnessing it all play out. By doing this we challenge the mind’s assumption that you ‘need’ the experience and that not having it will be ‘unpleasant’. This way we slowly develop trust that we are ok without it and we can trust ourselves to handle difficult experiences. You can also use an exposure tool to experience reality - like cold-shower therapy, for example.
LOOSEN THE TIES TO IMPULSES; TAKE A SEAT
So an invitation - Imagine yourself in the midst of this wanting self..... exaggerate it... what's your body like? Feel it? Restless tension? Heart and emotions? Nervous and fearful of angry? Then ask yourself these questions:
Then.., come back to the body - take a SEAT and meditate. This process of meditation and self-enquiry will naturally loosen the TIES. Trust that the insights will come.
TIES TO EMOTIONS
When we are in our reactive self, tied to thoughts and impulses it is inevitable that emotions will overwhelm us. Think of it like being in the sea, tied to a heavy weight. It’s hard to swim and so when the energy of the sea picks up and we get waves we will be battered around - overwhelmed and engulfed. By now you are getting the method I use - I take a SEAT and reflect where my emotions have become overwhelming - where am I reactive? Ask yourself:
In these areas we are not facing the truth - it seems too big of a ‘problem’. That is until we loosen the TIES - and again the way to do this is by taking a SEAT - stop struggling and watch the waves of emotion, connecting to the very thing you are avoiding connecting to:
Sensations can be intense. We then label them as pain or problematic, but look closer and you’ll see that all sensations are simply different intensity of movements, or vibrations. When you relax the labels and start to just breathe with them, experience them and accept them then you change your relationship with them, gradually and naturally. The old story loosens - they are no longer ‘awful’ or ‘frustrating’ or ‘unbearable’ but they might become ‘interesting’, ‘fascinating’ or ‘wonderful’ and then sometimes… just ‘sensation’. No label required - they just are. This is what we are cultivating in mindfulness; objective seeing.
In order to get into this temporary perspective we must first open up to the sensations, without reaction, or even with a gentle and passive welcoming - we then reverse engineer the whole thing and start to accept the whole lot from the root of sensations. This frees us from the TIES and we start to take a SEAT and ride out the waves of emotions, with consciously chosen actions and focused thoughts - positive thoughts - that create what we want. We can be in it and choose how much we get involved in emotions, impulses and thoughts.
ASK QUESTIONS, DO NOT CRAVE ANSWERS
When we take a SEAT we realise how much the mind compulsively judges, reacts and anylises and we are invited to let it be, not resist, but also not add fuel. We allow it to play out and in doing this we use the breath and we use an attitude of calm, loving kindness. We can pose some questions as we do this:
Don't rush to answers, ask these question internally and stay with the curiosity for a few minutes. In this way we feel the depths of our SEA (Sensations, Emotions and Actions) without engaging too much with thoughts. This is you - the feeling, experiencing you, that is deeper than all the analysis and opinions and stories. Those things are simply the tip of the iceberg - the consciousness.
There is a beautiful poem hints a bit deeper at the truth at which I write about here. Ultimately it must be experienced and poetry allows a taste of experience by stimulating emotion.
The One Deep Inside Your Chest
As the Part 1 said - Fear manifests as resistance and resistance is the body’s natural response to pain. Apathy, distraction, procrastination and confusion are all tools of resistance, designed to stop us from facing the truth and doing our work. Somewhere in our subconscious we have associated work with ‘pain’, so now we procrastinate, to avoid the pain. But why have we made this association in the first place and how can we overcome it? We will address these questions, later, but let’s start by addressing the issue at hand - overcoming procrastination, here and now.
If we are procrastinating then we are leaking energy and time. It’s like we are a ship in a storm - with lot’s of holes because some of the boards on the hull don’t align - we are leaking and becoming heavy. If we’ve been really disorganised or a disaster has struck, then the ship might even be on fire. This is like when you have a series of ‘really urgent’ things getting in the way of your longer-term fulling work. Those things you will just need to deal with - as my friend Tom Robinson used to say:: “Run towards the fire” which I later found out came from the last page of the book: Salty Dog, by Gloria Rand.
But then there are times where the problems are not apparent. Your ship is ok, but you are confused, procrastinating and adrift - slowly letting on water. This is almost more dangerous than a fire, because it will sneak up on you. Quick fixes are needed to address this leaky ship - patches. Tape them to your desk or just use them now. It helps to have a to-do list and know roughly what one wants to do. (if you don’t, check my links at the bottom.) Here are my top 3:
1. Set a timer and turn off distractions. At the start of your work time set a timer, get focused on the task at hand - even if that task is writing your to-do list. Set 25 minutes. Turn off your devices and distractions for that time and just do one thing. Then, when 25 minutes is done, progress to no.2.
2. Next, get up and FLIT to something else for 5 minutes, regularly. Flitting is what hummingbirds do - (and I like to imagine a repair team flitting between repairs on the ship) skillfully and gracefully moving and changing location, easily and calmly, looking up every now and then to survey the situation. Be like this. Get off your bum, come away from the desk and practice this simple thing. BE STRICT - don’t cheat yourself by turning the timer off. Just get up now and try this.
FLIT stands for:
This process involves first moving into your senses - to allow a reset between jobs. Moving your attention consciously from analysing to being, which resets the mind and places a punctuation between work and rest. Make sure you do this, exactly when the timer goes off, don’t put it off, even for a minute - get into the habit of standing up and doing a FLIT. It is often better to put something down whilst in the middle of it - so you will have motivation to come back and so that when you come back you can connect again easily. You may find you have to overlap your work, so you revisit the start of a chapter or take a minute to survey where you were - this is also very healthy, as it promotes wider awareness.
This whole practice lubricates your ability to slip between work/rest states and stay in flow. Longer, smoother breaths, witha clear focus has been proven to calm the nervous system and longer outbreaths reduce CO2, further calming the body. Do this regularly and your stress levels stay balanced and you think clearer. This 45 minute video explains.
3. Take a single, tiny step. If you are finding this hard or overwhelming th that is because you are facing a seemingly ‘big’ task (like fixing the whole sinking ship) it can be daunting and starting is always the hardest part, so when you come back to work just commit to doing 2 minutes of something - a ‘tiny’ task! Do it solidly for two minutes (write one page, email one email, call one client). At the end of that congratulate yourself and tick the item. Celebrate and then do it again… this might get the ball rolling. This is a trick of the mind to overcome the starting energy. If the mind associates only 2 minutes of pain it will be more able to handle it than 2 hours of writing your thesis and trying to complete it this week! Just commit to 2 minutes - then celebrate! You will be making progress, just keep going.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” - Lao Tzu
Turning off distractions in work mode is a big help; turn off all phone/email/facebook notifications for each 25 minutes segment. This is focused work time. Remove all distractions possible for these short chunks. If you are worried that people expect an immediate response, you can add a signature line to your email, informing you only check emails 3 times a day. This focuses you and seals some of the energy leaks. You can even measure your time in these 25 minute chunks and this is known as the pomodoro technique. Doing less and achieving more is all part of mindfulness.
YOU ARE OK
Before we continue, a caveat. All of this is, of course, all a metaphor. I want you to understand that you are perfect as you are - you are growing and learning, but you are already a success, because you made it here to enjoy the human experience. Nonetheless, we all have a play to take part in, if we wish to, a journey that we can choose to undergo. Our minds like to think in analogy, metaphor and story, so I have presented these ideas to help you (and myself) out to get a handle on your life and start to consciously steer the ship, if you want to. These tools might give you that ability faster. Caveat over.
If we have a struggling ship and you have been in rough seas for a while then you need to get that ship into a safe harbour so that we can look at it without the bombarding waves of your everyday demands. Then we can address the long-term questions like ‘where we are going?’ and ‘why?’ (bringing associations and values to our conscious awareness), train your crew (embedding healthy associations via routines), build up resources and tools (preparing for the long voyage) and connect with others, who might be able to help next time (building a support network). This may take time, so allowing for this introspection an hour in your day, or a few hours each week may be the starting point. If you can dedicate several hours over a weekend - get out of the house and treat yourself to this, it could be really beneficial. I’ll cover this more in Part 3: Preparing to voyage.
PROCRASTINATION: HIDING FROM PAIN
Before that it is important to think about the sources of our procrastination - which are mainly: our self- beliefs, worldview and associations & values. All your current habits and addictions are not the source of your procrastination - they are the symptom. In a very psychoanalytic way, let me explain;
Growing up we learn to notice the sources of pain by looking for consistency in the things we were doing or thinking at that specific moment that we felt it (or leading up to it). We make associations from those observations. However, the severity of the pain combined with less awareness and coping resources (like that of a child) can lead us to draw conclusions faster, in a more confused way.
If we can’t recognize the source of the pain then we might panic and make a rash association, which, until disproven, will create fearful internal reactions of tension around the object of our association. A good example of this is is a ‘phobia’, which is ‘a disproportionate internal fear response to something’, like if a child feels in danger when experiencing a confined space. This could potentially lead to claustrophobia in a later stage of life - and avoid small spaces. It is even more complex with the nuances of fear that lead us to procrastinate from our cherished work.
I’ve been asked by a few people what happens in a mindfulness session. Most people now understand what meditation is - they’ve seen enough meditating buddhists to know that roughly it is a sitting practice of paying attention to one's inner world - the world of breath and sensations in the body. Until experienced however watching and talking about meditation can only take you so far. Like any skill it must be experienced and practiced to yield results.
To facilitate this I tend to start with a 15 minute sitting meditation, in the classic Vipassana (insight) style. This is sitting in a posture that represents ‘self-respect’ (most people opt for sitting upright, but for some the body requires lying down or leaning) and closing the eyes to invite in stillness of body and mind. In that time we listen to the language of the body - Sensations, Emotions and Actions (the SEA). I guide as we explore breath, sound, feelings and keep noticing when the wandering mind goes off into thoughts. These moments are a critical part of the practice. To notice where the mind goes, to observe and allow, and then to choose to let go and turn the attention back to the body, again and again. Gradually this becomes easier.
We talk and share after meditation and this usually brings up a discussion of how we can use mindfulness in our everyday lives. I have a host of tools that I sometimes share or we simply listen to one another, continuing to practice mindful listening.
The final 15 minutes is also dedicated to meditation - but this time I go with the energy of the group. Sometimes we will sit, other times a walk or standing meditation, or to music, or some other movement. We have even brought in food or smells. Sometimes we use the imagination more to practice a compassion or gratitude meditation.
These sessions are designed for new or experienced meditators. They help establish a regular practice and explore concerns. The Tuesday class (4pm) I created is donation-based, making it very accessible and the Wednesday evening (7:45pm) has some slightly longer meditations and is priced normally. I hope you manage to make it along soon and experience mindfulness first hand at Breathe Bristol Yoga Centre - located on 20 Upper Maudlin St, BS2 8DJ (book via MoveGB too) or check out my other courses.
“Many of us have two lives. The life we present to the world (which looks dandy) and the and lived life within us. Between the two stands ‘resistance’. We have all left something gathering dust in the loft, hobby or sport we were determined to start but never really did. Late at night you have experienced a vision of the person you might become, resistance stops us from embracing that future.”
LIFE AS AN ARTIST
Personally I lived many years following the advice of others, in the rat race, and I got ‘fed up’. I no longer live my life in survival mode. I’m done with that. In 2012 I decided to live from love and joy, otherwise what is the point? I believe an artist is simply someone who chooses to create from their higher mind - in touch with their highest joy - in service to an inner calling. This can often be an unpopular endeavour, because the world is run on fear. That fear can make it dangerous to be an artist. The War of Art compares the rat race to a bucket of crabs: “The highest treason a crab can commit is to leap for the rim of the bucket. If you see yourself as an awakening artist then you must be present and strong willed.”
SHARING AND SELFISHNESS
I know that, for myself, only once I have latched onto the rim (analogy for your leading edge of self-actualisation) then I can reach back and help others, if I wish to. And I do - I like to have people join me on my journey of growth. I like helping others. But that cannot be my primary aim, or I will fail - because I’m focused outwardly and not leading from my core. It is generally a good idea to decide what you are for before engaging in things - otherwise you might fall for anything.
“Self-awareness is not self-centeredness, and spirituality is not narcissism. 'Know thyself' is not a narcissistic pursuit.” (Marianne Williamson)
What will convince you to go ahead, in the end, is knowing that you will be unfulfilled if you do not go for it. If you’ve hit this point you know what you need to do. We hardly ever regret doing things, but we very often regret not doing things. To overcome this practice forgiveness - to yourself and to others. This will help you relax your hold on mistakes.
RESISTANCE IS FEAR
Because resistance needs forgiveness - like all sensitive parts of you - They need TLC (including tough love). Resistance is fear, but so cleverly disguised.you won't even know it hit you – resistance counjoured up this ninja in the dark recesses of your mind to protect you. YOU trained it, by indulging your fearful thoughts, to stop you feeling vulnerable - to stop you chasing your dreams. Real resistance is far too cunning to show itself as naked ‘fear’.It shows up as ‘rationalisation’, - the self-deluding spin doctor, presenting us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn't do our work.
PROCRASTINATION IS THE RATIONAL CHOICE
Rationalisation can breed victim mentality (it can also be very useful in life). The way out of victim mentality is to take personal responsibility for your life and be the change you want to see in the world, despite the odds - because you know the destination is not the point. It is the process and the being seen as inspiringly vulnerable in that process. Over time you will relax into that vulnerability. It will expand your comfort zone.
Procrastination is easy to rationalise. We don't tell ourselves – I'm never going to write a symphony – instead we say – I'm going to start writing my symphony tomorrow. Procrastination comes from the Latin 'Pro' (forward) 'Crastinate' (belonging to tomorrow). It literally means ‘the repeated forwarding on the belief that this endeavour belongs to tomorrow’. To defeat this we realise that ‘tomorrow never comes’. We remind ourselves - “This moment, right now - this second - we can sit down and do our work – and take the first step in changing your habit.”
The opposite of Pro-Crastinate? Pro-fessional. Professional comes from 'profess' (to declare openly) and 'fateri' (past participle fassus "acknowledge, confess,"). Hence it is the going into honest, open declaration of something inner.
RUN TOWARDS TROUBLE
Trouble and strife, stress and cruelty – these could also be resistance shrouded in or as external stimulus. The professional will not tolerate or be distracted by the threat of trouble - professionals prevent these things from interrupting their flow. They learn how to respond to inevitable, uncontrollable stressors and cut out stressful situations and people from their lives, as much as practically possible. This means when they do procrastinate they rename it as 'creative exploration time.'
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
If you think your alone - don't worry, you're not alone in this concern. As an individual we fear that if we embrace our dreams we must prove worthy of them. That scares the hell out of us – we think we might lose friends and family and wind up even more alone. Even though this is possible (but not likely) you can choose to convince yourself that you are never alone. Each of us is tapped into an unquenchable, inexhaustible source of wisdom, consciousness, and love. Sometimes we lose some friends, but we find different friends, sometimes in places we never thought to look and the best place to look is inside, seek inside long enough and you will find not only a body of trillions of cells each working to help you but also a highly creative imagination - this can become your best friend or your worst enemy in times of trouble. Also, the more we become our true selves and express that, the more we attract the people that really like the true us, instead of the facade, and repel the ones that are not right for us. Overall I suggest cultivating friendship- both within and without as the start of your process.
By now we are beginning to understand the enemy within - fear of being alone, fear of not being good enough and of causing trouble - all dressed up as rationalisation, procrastination and inner resistance. The next Blog will reveal some of the specific skilful approaches to befriending the resistance by starting our work skillfully.
Hate is a type of anger that burns hard - it's like a poison acid, burning from the inside out. Just like an acid it can be used skilfully - energy can be channeled into electricity, when used with loving intention and acts of kindness. It can power you to do great things and purify your heart, as we learn from this old story (which I've adapted).
Marion's Magical Hate-Filled-Kindness
Marion could not stand her mother-in-law’s bad temper and dictatorship any longer, and she decided to do something about it.
Marion went to see her father’s good friend, Dr Guld, who sold herbs. She told him the situation and asked if he would give her some poison so that she could solve the problem once and for all. Dr Guld thought for a while, and finally said,
“Marion - I will help you solve your problem, but you must listen to me and obey what I tell you.”
Marion said, “Yes, I will do whatever you tell me to do.”
Dr Guld went into the back room, and returned in a few minutes with a package of herbs.
He told Marion, “You can’t use a quick-acting poison to get rid of your mother-in-law, because that would cause people to become suspicious. Therefore, I have given you a number of herbs that will slowly build up poison in her body. Every other day prepare some delicious meal and put a little of these herbs in her serving. Now, in order to make sure that nobody suspects you when she dies, you must be very careful to act very friendly towards her. Don’t argue with her, obey her every wish, and treat her like a queen.”
Marion was so happy. She thanked Dr Guld and hurried home to start her plot of murdering her mother-in-law.
Weeks went by, months went by, and every other day, Marion served the specially treated food to her mother-in-law. She remembered what Dr Guld had said about avoiding suspicion, so she managed her temper, and treated her like her own mother - with kindness, patience and fair boundaries (after all, love is about looking after oneself too). After six months had passed, the whole household had changed.
Marion had practiced kindness so much that she found that she almost never got mad or upset. She hadn’t had an argument in six months with her mother-in-law, who now seemed much kinder and easier to get along with. Marion was even able to talk about her difficulties with her mother-in-law, and show how hard she was finding life. This vulnerability opened up the love within the connection between the two women.
The mother-in-law’s attitude toward Marion changed, and she began to love Marion and developed an empathetic understanding. She even declared her love to her friends and referred to Marion as her own daughter, with appreciation.
When calmness and kindness entered the house she could see that she was bitter in the past, and vowed to change her ways from now on.
Marion's family were very happy to see what was happening too and the kind acts inspired even more loving and compassion within her partner, brothers and sisters. She went to see Dr Guld, saying, "Thank you Dr Guld - I realise now that the herbs were not poison, just nutritious, to improve her health. The only poison was in my mind and my attitude toward her, but that has been all washed away by the love which you inspired me to give to her.”
She was still angry at the Doctor for tricking her! She realised she could channel that into something more useful and loving too.
Can you make a conscious choice to feed your love, rather than hate - to see the good qualities of the person in relationships , act it out, if necessary and gradually and surely let time heal relationships.
Having recently been trained in Radical Honesty and Non-Violent Communication I wanted to look at how they stack up.
This weekend I was trained by Tullia Syvanen in a workshop about Radical Honesty - a concept conceived in the USA by Dr Brad Blanton,which I will try and sum up here, whilst also giving my personal experiences, in the hope of passing on knowledge and inspiration.
WHAT IS IT?
RH is a language tool which encourages us to communicate directly and stop lying,. The website says the aim is “to gain freedom from the jail of your mind and then get over shit and be happy, developing more true and intimate relationships.”
My interpretation: It seems to me to be a way of processing one's emotions aloud, and in the doing of that one can cultivate extreme ownership of one's choices of attention, imagination, language and actions - one is invited to drop the story and to express present emotion, especially anger, directly to the person ones is feeling angry with, whilst relating it to real (not imagined) actions, words or things.
“Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.” ― Thomas Jefferson
HOW DOES RADICAL HONESTY WORK?
The theory is that people usually avoid being angry at someone else for years, holding it in the body and mind as resentment. This pent up energy weakens connections and takes a toll on the body, weighing us down and creating disease. The theory goes that if people actually allowed themselves to get angry at them, they’d probably get over it in half an hour, especially if people are trained to work with their emotions, rather than suppress them. Therefore anger is one of the primary emotions explored within RH.
he process is described more fully below. First, there are some simple, but very unusual language tools within that which are intended to clean up the language so that we can clean up the mind, to expose our projections. These language tools are:
Other tools include:
The theory is that with time and direct, truthful expression of difficult emotions and judgements, then appreciation we can trust more in ourselves and each other. It is important to be willing to give the process some time. By talking about these things more often they can become more commonplace and perhaps we can show each other our genuine emotions, so that we can process them more quickly and openly. We learn not to take any of this this personally. When we focus on facts, rather than interpretations and beliefs we can see that we have all living on an imagined fear. In fact the very word belief holds the word ‘lie’ right in the middle of it! if we relax our story and beliefs for a moment, concentrate on facts then we can have ‘real’ and intimate connections, easily and beautifully. Apparently it is a lot easier and less destructive than it might seem.
“It's discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.” Noël Coward
So this was a 2.5 day workshop and the start was messy! The facilitator immediately got us to explore any unexpressed resentments about our lives and then to each other. There was shouting and lots of projection (blame). I was feeling confused at what was going on but on Saturday, after introductions, Tuulia introduced some of the language rules, concepts and we all committed to:
We then continued talking, and reacting at each other’s stories. We would confront one another with long silences as we felt into our sensations and emotions. I was often confused and uncomfortable, but then I realised it was my imagination causing that - I was imagining people thinking I was stupid, arrogant or (fill in the blank). It was these thoughts that were fuelling my emotions and reactions. I was having a lot of judgements too and the more I stayed with sensations the more I realised the judgements were ridiculous, and more about my insecurities and I was able to ask people if they were true, without worrying if they would take it personally.
As an example I judged one man in the workshop to be frail, and expressed it (as I was invited to) and we got into a conversation about ageism and that helped me see that I’m attached to the story of being youthful and scared of being a responsible adult, with duties and obligations. It was heated at first, but quickly turned to appreciation.
On Sunday I got the chance to take the hot seat. I would be having a conversation with someone in my life with whom I have unfinished business. This is therefore called a ‘Completion Conversation’ but I think of it more as a healing conversation. I spoke with an empty chair - imagining someone in my life (I won’t go into details) and I cried throughout, as I spoke honestly, owning my bitter judgements for about an hour. It was very helpful having a facilitator to keep me on track, away from story and to really feel what was happening. I learned a lot of insights and it helped me to prepare for the REAL conversation - which I’ve committed to complete before Christmas.
This was an intense workshop and it also included a lot of love and appreciation. One of the exercises included a 5 minute discussion of everything we liked about ourselves, to which we all agreed to post a video of on Facebook! Mine is at the bottom. It is part of dropping the shame and opening up to truth.
“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
BALANCING IT WITH NON VIOLENT COMMUNICATION
Non Violent Communication is something I use in my life - it is sometimes referred to as compassionate communication and the aim is to communicate in a way that makes natural giving possible - through the use of empathy, to yourself and to another. I trained in NVC a year ago.
NVC is about connecting from the heart, with empathy and from a place of compassion. The creators of RH don’t seem to like NVC - the two communication styles have similarities, but very different approaches. RH seems to be about expressing angry truth and getting it off your chest so that other emotions can come in and you can see past your imagined bullshit.
NVC invites you to process things inside yourself first, whilst maintaining ‘heart connection’ with another, never seeking to blame, diagnose or demand change. RH might call this passive aggressive, but my experience is different. NVC has the potential to negotiate conflict and create a lot of love, and I would also agree that there is an inbuilt weakness - that the structure of NVC diminishes the ability to express emotion in raw form. Expressing raw emotions can bring a deep acceptance and truth to relationships.
Here are the two models, or my interpretations of them, side by side:
Also, here is how I see them fitting into my idea of the Drama Vs Presence Triangles of transactional analysis:
INTIMATE VS GENERAL RELATIONSHIPS
Authentic expression is best used on the dancefloor and in intimate relationships.
Kind, open, empathetic and positive expression can be used everywhere - in our general life.
Taking the best elements of both styles, I think that using empathy and sensitivity (when we have capacity) will allow us to choose the appropriate style, but when we don’t have capacity, but we want to take time to create honest relationships I think the skills of RH can be invaluable. They can provide catharsis and truth, as well as the ability to re-align your imagination and expectations.
In summary I believe RH is designed to bring an element of authenticity to intimate relationships but is not so well suited to general ones, whereas NVC is actually about connecting generally from a kind hearted place. Both are self awareness tools that can empower us.
Ultimately I want to be an artist and I want to have ‘real’ relationships and drop facades, so I see a lot of value in RH, especially within intimate relationships. Relaxing my moralism (expectations beliefs and shoulds) also helps me to relax my anxiety, helps me to be ok with making mistakes and to get over them, even if that triggers emotions in some people. The point is to stop being a perfectionist and suppressing everything in the process. Balancing it with a mindful approach allows us to choose what to express (and therefore release) and what to internally process. As Brene Brown describes, we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and at times that means processing stuff aloud, together with others - to be seen as imperfect and beautiful. RH is one such process, but perhaps somewhat of an aggressive one. Maybe in the balance we can all learn to get over shit and be happy, even if that means we have to piss each other off a bit in the process. I'm still working out how I use these tools.
What do you think? Please let me know your thoughts from this blog or your experiences with balancing honesty and empathy. How can we sensitive, kind and truthful?
PS... I committed to doing this in the workshop - so I thought I'd do it in my PJs, no grooming and just the brutal, honest, shabby me (this is an example of my story/excuses by the way!) :
Do you struggle to deal with criticism or unsolicited feedback? Do you want to react skilfully? Do you want to find a balance in needing things to change and letting go? Read on...
There are always at least two ways of response to negative feedback and I’m going to refer to one as Skilled and the other as Unskilled. Feedback is essential for negotiating life and social relations - much of our growth and development depends on interactions and other experiences that feel 'bad'. Feedback has a role in nearly every area of human endeavor, as well as every other system. Criticism is simply one type of feedback.
A while ago I wrote on the ‘Importance of Feedback", focusing on ‘positive reinforcement’. Yet this morning I woke up feeling heavy with the weight of negativity. I’ve had so much feedback recently from heady debates, in real life and on Facebook, around controversial subjects. Some people tell me that they love what I do and other people aggressively express that they think I’m ‘being irresponsible’ or even ‘damaging’ at times - which I felt hurt and shocked by. I realised I was taking a lot of this feedback personally, which is very heavy and tiring. My reactions were causing my own fatigue!
This post is about how to address that, skilfully - in a way that creates a win-win, less stress and more positive, long-lasting action and inner peace.
I'm going to talk in i-statements - in my own perspective to make this point. After some heavy criticism my reactive mind, left unchecked, will start to attach a lot of meaning to the situation and resulting sensations (which my mind interprets as ‘worry’). I may begin to ‘catastrophize’ and strategize to protect myself (or others). When this happens from a panicky place, or where emotions are high I get the sense that things need to change, now! Thus starts a cycle - I project blame onto them and then they fire it back at me and I feel shame. We can play this game until we separate from one another. This can be people, systems, behaviour etc, but in each case I label the problem as external. Something else needs to change for me to be ok.
Sometimes we cannot help be a bit unskilled. If we are convinced that we 'need' to protect or control then we 'must' follow those impulses. It takes time to see the facts and weigh those up with out intuition, experience and skills of judgement. I believe the first of these skills is self awareness, because this builds our ‘capacity to respond from calm’. We might even realise one of the other conditions may be hampering our judgement:
Neuroscience research suggests that when we are in a negative place emotionally we are in comparatively more physical pain that when we are feeling positive. So what can we do?
By breathing and sitting with these reactions (sensations), watching the thoughts and taking a moment, then I can see that this reaction is disproportionate. I look deeper and see the source. This takes some extra time, so the first thing we can do is slow down.
If it isn't physical then it is in the mind - in memory - somewhere within me there is a wounded, childlike and fragile Neil, who needs to feel safe. If I am skilled I will use the gas-mask analogy and; attend to this first and then deal with the feedback after. I will take my time. This blog will explore a few ways to do this.
“I’ve had a lot of trouble in my life—most of which never happened.” - Mark Twain
Choose your SEAT
I use this acronym to help me remember what to look for, in myself:
Get comfortable with they movie, watch how the story changes. Then you can practice directing, with skill.
I use this practice sometimes as part of a ‘Stoic’ style of meditation. When I start to notice feelings in my body associated with a catastrophic imagined future, I take my mind into the theatre - I sit at the back, watch and then direct.I watch it on repeat and get used to the discomfort. I start to realise it isn’t real, it’s actually quite far-fetched. I can even laugh a bit! It’s a farce! In the rehearsal of the play I see I can change the genre, simply by changing my attitude, then my words and actions. I can skilfully shape the play.
Sit back, in the body
In meditation we place the mind (attention) into the body. In this way we can 'inhabit' a part of the body. By placing the mind at the back of the body and watch events in your life unfold, from that place, then you can gain real perspective - you can see the body react, as you live. Hence, you can become the director of your own life. See how the body lights up when you receive feedback - vision, touch, words etc. When you receive ‘harsh’ words, criticism, judgement, diagnosis or demands it can become an 'interesting experience,' rather than a 'gritty and hurtful drama'. You can even being to see some truth or useful lessons in the feedback. From this place we are able to talk more calmly, if we want to, and that is the point - to recognise that we have more choice in our responses.
“Worry pretends to be necessary ” - Eckhart Tolle
We all worry, but it is dwelling in that worry that allows the mind to create catastrophic fantasy, creating a 'feeling of need'. So we seek to interrupt that process in mindfulness, using loving awareness. Sometimes though our instinctive patterns of feelings/reactions may be stuck deep in the habitual mind-body - even since childhood. This can 'lock up' our beliefs unconsciously in the mind and prevent us from accessing other perspectives.
Using memory to calm reactivity and access the theatre
We can be triggered, emotionally, by similar situations, movements or words that remind us of a traumatic memory. In order to start the healing process we must first connect to a feeling of safety, support, unconditional love. This sooths and calms the mind-body allowing us to respond. This can often be a challenging part of my work - helping people to connect to that feeling, particularly if they haven’t had many or any of those experiences, or have difficulty in accessing memory. I use touch/rhythm practice like EFT, dance or EMDR to help soothe the mind and help people access a feeling of safety. Other times dance, movement or Yoga can be helpful. Once we connect with that 'feeling' we can use the imagination in a more useful and positive way. If you notice strong emotional trauma in your reactions, to the point where they are involuntary and damaging, it may be helpful to explore your past with a counsellor in CBT, psychotherapy or other therapies that explore the mind. Or simply explore movement and meditation on your own.
Take an emotional Poo!
In each moment internal sensations are happening, as part of the emotional system, working away. Our mind sometimes labels them as 'negative' or 'positive' - and then attaches meaning and story to them. Jamie Catto talks about how we can see a different perspective to allow them to flow, without attaching anxious story and meaning:
“I believe that our genius body/mind system, or Life itself, is daily sending us difficult and challenging situations and people DELIBERATELY to trigger the body into releasing that stuck emotion….difficult people (in our lives) are like WALKING LAXATIVES! It may sound radical but it's true. When someone upsets us we experience a totally disproportionate reaction. We feel the pain of everyone who ever treated us that way back to our childhood. This is the body's genius finding ways to self-clean, self-mend all that accumulation.”
"A man convinced against his will Is of the same opinion still" - Dale Carnegie
If we force change (or poo) we force ourselves or other people to suppress feelings, actions and thoughts - and that will only cause them to hold resentment (even if they do actually change). That resentment will emerge later (when they shit all over you or others).
Some claim that anger, aggression and violence are necessary for change. My belief is that if we force things to change (at the pace we fantasise is necessary to stave off catastrophe) then we will only suppress the problem deeper down and give ourselves a hernia in the process! Aggression breeds aggression - every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Therefore if you catch yourself saying “I need to sort this out… now” or “we should be better at xyz…” recognise that the language is based on fear, and that fear is fuelling the fantasy, the force and perpetuates damage. In the short term it may create change - you might shed some problems - it may give you short-lived motivation, but beware dwelling in that anger and the results it will create. Can we instead be with the process and pace and see what is useful in this for me, now? Can we be the source for calm? Sometimes we have to sit on that toilet SEAT for a while and position your attitude in readiness for the flow!
“It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.” - Alfred Adler
Decide from a place of calm
Individually we can decide on the world we want. If we want a world where people treat each other well we have to ‘be that change’. Treat others as you wish to be treated; If you want people to listen, try listening - first to yourself and then to others. That is owning your shit. Every time you receive feedback that hurts, stop and take a moment to recognise your situation, because caring for your emotional resiliency can help. Be quiet and sit in the theatre of your mind-body, and listen - that is taking a SEAT.
It can be challenging, so take your time, be gentle. If you are giving feedback, be honest and sensitive, and
expect some defensiveness as a first response to criticism; a change in performance or attitude may come later. I think it is worth the effort, even if you only achieve some connection - if that is what you want. Thinking about what you want may be a useful starting point - then focusing on the intention with non-attachment will allow it to flow. Personally I want a connection and flow which feels ‘fun, loving, honest and easy,’ so I try to be that. I can only be that to myself first, and then to others (like the oxygen-mask-on-an-airplane analogy).
Whether I am conscious of it or not I AM being the change that I will start to see in the world, We all are. Choose the genre you would rather be watching and playing in, sit back and enjoy. You can direct far better with some perspective.
Id you want more about TAKING A SEAT and how it can LOOSEN YOUR TIES TO SUFFERING read on!
In July I went to Free Harmony Festival and participated at Buddhafield. These events provided a lot of learning, connection and insight. I taught morning meditation at Free Harmony with an emphasis on connection with the environment - inviting people to explore the natural environment and pick an object and bring it back to the circle, where it was examined and shared - everything from pine cones to rocks. We then went into sitting meditation and then gratitude sharing. It was a great way to start the day.
I was feeling really grateful and happy after that. I treated myself to two swims in the lake. I played with bubbles, dogs, children and did some dancing. I even got to walk on the slack line. I received a massage before my final teaching class of the day - Laughter Yoga. We had a group of 20 people, from 15 years old to 50! Over the course of 40 minutes we mixed yogic breathing with childlike connection and laughter, grounded in occasional meditations. I love the contrast in these classes - afterwards we always feel alive, connected and joyful!
In July I went to Buddhafield as a participant and I was kicking myself at first for not getting my act in gear and sorting out workshops in time for the deadline. I felt that dancing and laughter yoga would fill a gap at Buddhafield. Perhaps also the sensual touch workshop too. Nonetheless I forgave myself and soaked up the sunshine, learning and connections. My favourite moments were in the mindful communication classes I attended - one was taught by Erwin Tielemans of Human Matters. - who provided clear ideas about working with teenagers and a handy pack of feeling/need/emotion cards, which I'll be using in my own classes. The other mindful communication class modeled by Jayaraja - a buddhist monk and chair of Buddhafield. His style was simply to engage with the class in a fun way and model Non-violent, compassionate and heart connected communication. In my opinion it was extraordinary and inspiring.
I came away from these workshops and the whole experience of buddhafield full of love, insight and inspiration to sort my own workshops out for next year so that I can pass on my gifts.
After Buddhafield I ended a loving relationship in my life, because it wasn't feeling right. It wasn't quite in line with what I needed and wanted and I think this is one of the tough parts of self love and self-awareness - realising what we want and fear and then acting to change things. It creates pain, but in that pain is growth.
Over the summer I've worked with clients ranging from pain-mamagement focused people to people wanteing to expand their skills and productivity. This is where my work ranges from counselling, to coach, to teacher. I love this range. I also got to offer some outdoor sessions which often sees me working with families and children, which is extremely rewarding. Pain and tantrum management has been a big part of this work!
The sweetest session from my summer came from a Hen Party! Originally they had asked me to provide a laughter Yoga session. After some discussion they decided to do some meditation instead, which I presented as a 'Mindfulness Recharge Morning'. We gathered the group of 15 women in a circle, laid down with their heads near the centre of the circle. I led them on a meditation using words and sounds from my singing bowl, bringing them into their body and in observation of thoughts, feeling and sounds. I then invited them to raise their hands over their body and explore the hands of the group. It was a magical morning and we ended with a gratitude share and energising power pow (you'll have to ask me what that is!). They came away feeling grateful and energized!
I had some beautiful feedback from my workshops including:
"This morning's meditation really helped me arrive at the festival and in my body. I loved the exploration of the area and it helped me to appreciate the little things both inside and out. (Niall, Free Harmony Festival, July 2016)
"I booked the Mindfulness Recharge for my sisters hen do as a lovely relaxing end to a full weekend. Neil was so welcoming, understanding and made me feel relaxed immediately. Doing something new can sometimes be daunting but I felt totally safe and trusted Neil straight away. He was calm, friendly, warm and kind. We had an hour session and wish we had booked for longer. The session was relaxing and energising all at the same time. The sounds from the singing bowl were a wonderful experience and something I would like to do again. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend. I hope Neil does some sessions in London soon!" (Phoebe, Hen Party Session, August 2016)
"It was amazing, really connected with the world around me, felt really secure and held. I have never eaten anything so mindfully! It was the most amazing experience and the perfect end to a lovely weekend in Bristol, connecting with lovely ladies! I would definitely recommend it!" (Coralie, Hen Party Session, August 2016)
I'm about to leave to teach morning meditations at my next festival, The Summerhouse Weekend. I'll also be teaching dance with Gina and enjoying the decadent party. I go with an intention to be relaxed, present with my feelings and authentic in my interactions. I have really seen in the last two years how fear of missing out has led me to be rushed, distracted and subtly dishonest with myself and others. This year I'm giving myself permission to be a bit crap and alson totally me, totally wonderful.
I'll be running more courses in September - take a look here to find out more!
“I don't count my situps; I only start counting when it starts hurting because they’re the only ones that count.” - Mohammed ali
No pain - no gain! Is this true?
Well, one way of looking at this is looking at the way we physically gain strength. Our muscles get stronger by continually stretching, to breaking in tiny amounts and then repairing. For muscle breakdown and growth to occur you must stretch and challenge your muscles to adapt by creating stress that is different than the previous threshold your body has already adapted to. Conscious exercise is a way of choosing the games and stress that you enjoy, or that has a function - or both!
So it is the same with love. A broken heart is an open heart.
We’ve all been through emotional pain - through the love of our parents or partners or friends - we’ve all felt a ‘broken heart’. With perspective we recognise this 'heart breaking' is an essential part of melting the walls that we sometimes put around our hearts. These metaphorical walls are tension in muscles and belief systems in our mind - they protect us from more emotional pain. But those walls also keep us separated, to some degree. Ideally we want to be able to open our hearts again, once we are ready, when we have healed old wounds and feel strong enough. This strength comes from learning that we have internal resources and a support network of friends and family.
Then, if we’re willing and lucky, our hearts will break repeatedly to reveal new perspectives and ways to be compassionate to ourselves and thus to others. This will grow the capacity for quality connections, friends and lovers.
“Behind every beautiful thing, there's some kind of pain.”
And our minds?
Self-enquiry is the process of continuously questioning our beliefs often seems to set us back in our ‘learning’. So often the buddhist advice is to stop questioning, accept and let go. Whilst I agree that this is ultimately where we must arrive it is our natural human nature to question and try to understand. Therefore the art of asking better questions of ourselves is one which we can all learn and enjoy - to break down our self-limiting beliefs and assumptions. This process can be emotionally painful and confusing - but with that pain we can maintain connection with our natural curiosity, beginners mind and a growth mindset.
I believe it is only when we are ready, when we have accepted that safety and life is an illusion, can we loosen our 'needs' and therefore our fears. This is a painful process of growth and mind opening.
Each break allows our hearts, our muscles and our minds to heal bigger than the time before.
Yes, there is pain every time we are growing - Immeasurable pain. That is the growth and strengthening of our capacity to love, create and include more and more. Each time we break mind, body or heart we must rest and let them heal if we are to grow the capacity to live and love. This process is, for me, the point.
I try and remember this when exercising, when practicing and whenever I make a mistake in life (which can be frequent!) I believe that we never stop growing and the pain of creating and healing of wounds is the point of life - it is where all the beauty lies. In forgiveness and mourning we rest our hearts and minds and in physical rest we allow our bodies to heal.
Yet without pain, if we avoid it, we lose touch with this process and our imagination can make the pain very daunting. We forget that the pain is okay, we can handle it and life is worth the effort, even if we make mistakes. Even if we are not perfect. Therefore the sooner we embrace our pain and turn towards our fears instead of running from them the sooner we grow and heal.
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
This, of course, takes time. It is a gradual process of continual growth. So called 'quantum leaps' of thought, lifestyle or artificial means, like chemical steroids may lead one to take on more than you can handle and damage you beyond the point of growth. In order to balance pain we must be willing to experience it - to feel into it - and we can then develop our intuition to set the appropriate timing, and boundaries if we want to grow in an organic and healthy way.
The Navy Seals of the USA have a general belief that people can usually push themselves 40% more than they actually think they can - do you think there is truth in this? I certainly found from my cold shower adventures and study of Wim Hof that when we integrate ‘feeling’ and ‘belief’ into our work we can do more than we ever thought possible. I have also experienced healing in my body that I thought was impossible. Perhaps there is also truth to the old adage "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
I believe in 'no pain, no gain'. If things are too easy it is a sure sign that your muscles are starting to entropy and your heart - mind connection is starting to close.
How does this relate to mindfulness? Well mindfulness for pain management is something I’ve been exploring more and more. I’ve helped people recover from operations and helped young people manage physical and emotional pain by facing it in controlled ways. For me it is something quite personal after recovering from spinal surgery, social anxiety and personal heartache - I use it everyday as a source of solace that pain has a purpose.
If you are interested in mindfulness to change your relationship with pain please get in touch.
“People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.”
People often say life is like a mirror - it reflects back to you what you put into it. Relationships are a mirror. You get what you give.
I think this is a nice analogy that can really help us to remember to give well and to treat others as we wish to be treated. However for me I like the analogy that life is like an echo, down a deep cave. Whatever you shout into the cave is shouted back at you, after some time delay.
Life is like an echo - what you send out reverberates back to you and to others. Echos tend to multiply.
I was thinking about this as I said one of my morning affirmations: “Life - Is that the best you can do!? Rubbish! Today give me everything you got!”
If this is what I am projecting out into the cave then that is what shall be asked of me later by my returning echo… but multiple times.
“Neil - Is that the best you can do? Rubbish! Today give me everything you got!” "Rubbish... Rubbish..".
“You do not see the world as it is. You see it as you are.” - Anais Nin
Wow! What a strong message. I now think carefully before shouting out what I want. We live in closed system. What you put in at one end will come out at the other. So what I intend as I shout is as important as what I shout. What I read will affect me. What I eat and do affects that. I can therefore make good choices about what to input and then what I output. This helps me choose what to do, eat, read and say... they all inform my thinking.
So here is today’s shout:
“I love you - thank you for doing your best. Keep going - you can fulfil your dreams! You are already enough, but feel free to help yourself to more.”
We never really find out what is at the end of the cave - it’s a bit like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. It is full of wonders and probably ends up back where we started. What we put into the cave comes back around and may smack you in the ass!
In one of m.y classes I run an exercise in mindfulness I call 'GRAPE-FULNESS' and 'ORANG-INS' of things:
Appreciation, through seeing, tasting and appreciating the origins and effort that is embodied in something as simple as a grape or an orange. We take time to appreciate where something came from, how many hours and work and people went into delivering it to my mouth. Then we savour the thing - taste it, explore its textures and notice how we feel before-during-and after the experience. This can create natural, un-forced gratitude - a lovely state of mind to be in.
I love how when we delve into the origins of things we discover new things we never saw before. The same is true for words. I love the etymology of language. Our language of words is our main way to communicate and there are two quotes that remind me why it’s so important to appreciater and be conscious of the words I use, and how I think about them
These point towards how valuable it is to examine our language and our self-talk. The voices in your head and the words you say to others.
This morning I had another revelation - and I’m excited. I teach mindfulness and dance. There are four types of connection in dance, as well as dance as a metaphor for life:
I first was turned onto these ideas by Justin Riley - a dance teacher from the USA who teaches that dance is a form of connection - which is what we are all seeking - but if done consciously, in this order, can ensure our dances feel great!
When I look at some of these words I love the hidden meanings I glean and how they relate to meditation, to the simple things we need and do and then the whole of life. Here I've explored the latin root of some of the key elements of good connections:
As Brene Brown says: Your power is actually in your vulnerability. Let yourself be seen as the imperfect being you are and you can discover a new level of appreciation, even for things that seem unpleasant.
Whatever you choose to Connect (bind with) to; whatever words you use - if you do so with conscience, contact, confidence, contribution and adventure you will probably find the dance of life flows well and is fun. You always have a choice to speak the words you 'want' and to notice how you are interpreting something you see and hear - and decide if you want to focus on and maintain that thought, or if you want to explore other ideas, perhaps ones that bring less stress, more gratitude, appreciation and connection to the things you love.
Therefore mindfulness of language is not only important as I mentioned in this blog, but also fun and can help reveal different ways of looking at anything!
Mindful communication is something I'm passionate about. It's much more than language - but that's a part of it. Interested. Come along to the workshop!
"Thanks Jim - great words from a man who created his own life story. "
Do you want to live a life that is an incredible adventure? But do you find yourself paralysed by confusion, worries or lack of self-belief?
Do you want to see beauty and fascination wherever you go? But do you find stress, to-do lists, deadlines and ‘time’ ruining your experience?
This is all a result of the story you are living in. You know you have within you the ability to write your own script - to be the the hero in your own life story. Your thoughts are your choice (even if they don't seem to be sometimes) - and if you are choosing thoughts based in fear, obligation or guilt then you are actively creating a horror, a drama or a tragedy.
Of course you don't have choice as to ALL of your thoughts or ALL of the things that happen to you or ALL of your emotional responses, but if one learns a)self awareness b)to step outside of oneself metaphorically and see those passing thoughts, before you respond, then you can decide to let them pass or go with them. This is called Metta Cognition.
LIFE 'SHOULD BE' FAIR
The world is full of ‘unfair things’ - suffering, pain, torture, rape, death…
… but it is what we choose to focus on and respond with that shapes our world. So even if your intention is to do good in the world but you are propelled by fear, by unconscious self-talk of ‘should’s and need’, based on the interpretation that 'the world is a pretty terrible place' - then life will feel a whole lot less fair and harder.
We all want to be noble and make a positive change, and we are all going about it in our own way - but let's question ourselves to see if somewhere, underneath that intention is the feeling that we 'have a right to be here - and that we all have a right to be free from suffering.' This can lead to attachment to ideas, instead of reality.
The truth is - the world doesn't owe you, or anyone else, anything.
You already got the grand prize - life. Life includes lots of suffering. Love is suffering.
You lucky little devil - you got to live and love and learn - you wanted to be here and so you beat millions of sperm and came into being. Who knows what came before or after life?! No one! So don’t worry about that - enjoy this. Jamie Catto calls life ‘the after party’. I like that, but personally I see it differently - this is the play. This is the play that you struggled and worked and auditioned to be in and you got the lead part! You are the lead role in your own movie and every day you get to wake up and write a new chapter.
One way I like to remember this is whenever we get a crappy scene, a disaster or a death, I just think: “PLOT TWIST!” Wow! What is wonderful about this scene .
This is of course, after the emotion - the struggle - the work that is required to MAKE it beautiful.
But at the end of it all it comes down to a simple choice. Do you want this experience that we call life to be awesome or choresome? Do you want to focus on what’s good or the negative, fear-based story and situations or can you also really appreciate the beauty and focus on solutions? Can you visualise and inspire yourself - or would you rather you wait until the desperation sets in to such a point whereby you are ‘forced’ into action by the survival instinct?
Tony Robbins calls this INSPIRATION or DESPERATION.
Difficult things are always going to happen to you - they did to me too. I was hoping that something would happen that would change my life for the better. Eventually, after a very, very long time I realised that I have to create the conditions for change. When you change everything will change for you - If you want compassion, show compassion. If you want wealth, be like a wealthy version of you - practice gratitude for your wealth and be generous. Start small, where you are - start to see the beauty in the thing you have labelled as 'work' or 'chores' and start to dream up an awesome life for yourself.
Make it more awesome and less choresome!
This is harder than it sounds because it requires TRUST. Or a word with more spiritual connotations: FAITH. It doesn't matter the word you pick - as long as it resonates for you. Trust that life is happening for you and you have an opportunity right now to decide to welcome in whatever is deep within you. Welcome every experience - you never know which one is going to teach you the lesson that will really show you what you are here for.
What do you have to lose anyway?!
I wrote this blog entry to inspire myself but also to inspire you to come to my workshop on Saturday: COMFORT ZONE CHALLENGES! It's the first time I'm putting on this workshop - so I'm keeping the price super low. Book your tickets here, now!
I've always wanted to work with children, for the simple reason that the lessons I have learned from Mindfulness were the kinds of things I could have really used when I was between 9-18 years old:
Think about it - school is tough. These days social skills are on the decrease, thanks to social media and computers and stress is on the increase, thanks to exams from as early as 10 years old. We are piling on the pressure for young people in class sizes 20% bigger and playtime 20% shorter than 10 years ago. The curriculum is slow to catch up with the modern world and is seriously lacking in areas around well-being, emotional and mental health and sex /relationship education.
Mindfulness offers help in three ways:
1. Awareness of choice of thought - reducing worry, stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness teaches us that thoughts are not 'truth', but that they are mental reactions, generally based in fear-responses - and linked to stimulus from the body and from memories. We can interrupt troubling thoughts using mindfulness techniques of breath and body awareness and allow us to regain some control over where we put our attention and then how we 'choose' to respond to situations.
2. Awareness of body and emotion - helping people to act responsibly and calmly.
The more we become aware of the body, its sensations and emotions, the more we learn to accept it and listen to it. Our bodies are made of trillions of highly evolved cells, each trying to support growth - giving constant feedback via sensations. Mindfulness teaches us to listen, interpret and respond to these sensations with more wisdom, through sheer practice.
3. Practices and tools to cultivate gratitude, focus and reliance - increasing well-being and happiness.
In the lessons I teach I give tools and practices not only to help with awareness and focus, but also to cultivate one of the most enriching and resilience building states possible; 'gratitude'. When we learn to befriend and appreciate ourselves and the world around us anything is possible and we shift away from negative thinking.
This is highly rooted in neuroscience as well as contemplative ancient arts and historically in the contemplative religions of the east and west. However I teach secular mindfulness - focused only on individual exploration of the self - mind and body, not the spiritual, philosophical or moralistic elements of ancient meditation.
The lessons I teach take simple principles and make them fun and accessible, with easy to use practices. The idea is that they plant a seed that can take root and give young people resilience and resources in times of stress.
Certified in teaching mindfulness
I recently became an accredited teacher of Mindfulness in Schools (run by the Mindfulness in Schools Project), on a course called .b (dot-be) which have empowered me with 10 highly researched lessons to teach to children aged 11-18. I have already been teaching younger age groups at Compass School in Bristol and I have taught outdoor education to young people aged 14-18
The course I recently completed is detailed here. Or click on the link below. I'm offering reduced price taster sessions, for a limited time only. Please get in touch.
This is the second Blog regarding ‘Gamifying’ life and how helpful that can be. In meditation there are lots of games we can play. Buddhists call this ‘Skilful Means’ - ways which make the useful practice of meditation accessible - to make it meet you where you are. To do this here is a game I sometimes play:
"I imagine my feeling body is a 'deep ocean' and the thinking mind is the 'sky'. Every time I meditate I am taking a voyage of discovery into the feeling body; into the depths. I'm deep sea diving!"
This analogy is striking to me because of some common understandings about the Ocean. This quote from NOAA describes it well:
“The ocean is the lifeblood of Earth, covering more than 70 percent of the planet's surface, driving weather, regulating temperature, and ultimately supporting all living organisms.Yet for all of our reliance on the ocean, 95 percent of this realm remains unexplored, unseen by human eyes.
In the same way as we have only about a 5% knowledge and understanding of the great interconnected oceans we also feel and really intimately understand or ‘know’ our feeling body to about the same measure (give or take… feeling is a very hard thing to quantify into a statistic!) So if each time you meditate you are taking an exploration into your depths there is always something new, interesting and beautiful to discover.
In my imagination I see the mind as like an iceberg in the ocean - the surface of the mind, above the ocean, is consciousness - this is where we (the being that is you, which is more than just a mind) launches from. Below is subconsciousness.
Above water your thoughts reside, where they can easily take off and fly - like a bird or a cloud - they can go off into the sky… but in meditation we bring the attention back to the ocean - meditation is a practice of focusing on feeling, not on thinking. So we are not here to follow the clouds and birds - we let them continue to fly and swirl be and we take some time to explore the depths.
Taking the plunge
I imagine the attention is like a diver - using his hands and a spotlight to experience all the depths have to offer. This reminds me to pay attention to my breath, much like the diver does, and to the body - the ocean full of life: which includes slippery fish of all shapes and sizes (emotions), old wrecks at the bottom of the sea (physical and psychic wounds / traumas) and of course, hidden treasures within them.
If it is your first time, it can be a weird idea to meditate. It’s a very simple thing, but also a skill, that requires practice just like diving. Until we have tried it we can only imagine what is under the surface. The reason we meditate is the same as we dive - to explore, to know oneself and one's environment. Here I’m going to look at some of things you might expect to encounter in that environment and one way to deal with them:
Fishy Emotions (and learning the art of fish tickling)
Emotion is energy (E) in motion – like a school of sardines – they can be very fast and slippery fish –and if I approach them too fast they slide away. I want to observe them, understand them, and feel the very essence of them - even ‘make friends’ with them... but in order to do so I have to become an expert in the subtle art of emotional ‘fish tickling’. This is very different than using a hook, net or harpoon to catch a fish - which are brutal methods and often damage or kill the fish, in the same way that trying ‘too hard’ to catch a thought or emotion often kills it. If I kill it I can’t study it, appreciate it in its living form and then let it go. In exploration we want to study and appreciate the environment in a respectful way.
One method is to learn the art of fish tickling, sitting patiently and is open and waiting for the emotion to move into my presence – and then I can tickle it, kindly; touch it be with it - see it for what it is – just a little fish moving around my body. Sometimes this fish feels like heavy or warm or spiky - when I see this and practice ‘feeling’ it I come to realise that all emotion is just sensation - energy moving and tickling me in various ways.
So here are my tips for learning to appreciate emotions, via emotional fish tickling:
Spiky Urchins, Jellyfish and Electric Eels (Pain)
Not all fish are pleasant to feel - some sea creatures require careful study - they can give us pain. If we experience pain as ‘bad’ and then either swim away from it or suppress it - force it away. In doing this we miss the beauty and the understanding of this part of the ocean. So when it comes to meditating on pain I sometimes imagine it as a spikey fish, and again I can come to it slowly, with patience and tickle in a different way - You can pick up a sea urchin if you do it delicately, same with a Jellyfish or an Electric eel. Come at them skilfully and cradle it. Then examine it, watch it, I listen to it; really see it for what it is.
With Urchins the only way to do that is to really try and see the centre of that pain, which is constantly moving - it undulates along with the spikes of the creature. After a while and with practice we can approach pain in a new, more appreciative and understanding way. Whatever pains you have in your body if you examine them carefully you can transform them into something interesting, beautiful and maybe even useful.
Murky depths, old wrecks and lurking sea monsters
(Exploring the obscure parts with memories)
When we explore places we are not familiar with it is sometimes difficult to ‘feel’ sensation , or to see through the murkiness (instead we experience numbness) - and it can feel uncomfortable to stay at these depths for long. These are parts of the body that we haven’t visited in some time or have been disturbed - perhaps there is an old wreck lying on the seabed or the perception of a monster here?
To me, these represent forgotten and difficult memories, wounds or traumas - the ‘feelings’ left behind from an event. Physiotherapists define a trauma as ‘a deeply distressing or disturbing experience’. This could be something seemingly very small (being told you were stupid and you adopting a posture that expressed your feeling at the time) or something very strong (a physical abuse or damage).
Traumas and wounds sit at the very depths and require skill and care to explore - we often need to come back to the safety of the shallows or even to the surface. It can take many dives to explore these uncharted and murky depths and doing so can reveal unexpected and unusual emotions that further disturb the seabed and cloud the water with murkiness. This is all metaphor for what happens when we explore difficult sensations, emotions or parts of the body. There is usually a reason why these parts are difficult. In mediation we are not looking to the thinking mind - back on land - for the cause, but we are patiently and physically exploring the depths - the sensations of this part of the body.
Sometimes we stumble across an old wreck - perhaps a memory that you forgot or a sensation that you relate to a specific time. Sea monsters are the ‘imaginary creatures’ our mind has created that stop us from going into these depths or wrecks. Sometimes they seem very real and therefore the mind feels them as real - your body creates sensations and responses. A good example would be my shoulder blades - I experienced uncomfortable emotions and bodily shaking and tears when I explored my shoulder blade areas. In regular life I felt numbness and pain across my back. I realised, on some level, that this was to do with my back operation, but when I explored it more I was fearful of a monster - this was the reminder of the physical and emotional pain (including shame) that I experienced within the operation. With time I took lots of little excursions to explore these areas and it was tough - it’s not easy to stay at these depths… at first.
When we have explored the shallows for some time and built up our skill at diving we feel ready to the depths, knowing that no sea creature can really harm us. Until then it is wise to practice caution in mindfulness - to face these creatures only when we feel ready to do so.
In my case it took me 6 months of kind, gentle meditation before I became more comfortable with exploring these parts. It was a time of my life I found difficult to accept. Why couldn't I meditate!? This is all part of the process of treasure hunting! Soon after I began to dive deeper I could see how fascinating this all was. In amongst the wreckage I found something - treasure! The treasure was that of ‘discovery’ - this area was transformed from a painful, scary, murky and numb place to a beautiful, interesting location. This old wreck has history and depth and soon became an attraction for regular excursions. Nowadays, whenever I meditate I find it a pleasurable and interesting experience to explore the sensations of this part of my spine and back, but I know that there are many more treasures to find, as I’ve only really begun to explore.
My current areas of exploration
I’ve got several regular expeditions on the go - the pelvic and genital regions of of great interest (lots of traumas there no doubt, in all of us). I’m also currently exploring the ocean when it is movement - when I move my body. This makes it much easier to ‘feel’ but harder to notice subtlety. I have found that when I rotate my body the areas around my lower spine are in mild pain and there is emotional schools of fish flashing across my body. I wouldn't have noticed them before, but as I become more attuned as a diver/mediator I’m able to see and experience more subtle and smaller creatures and life within me.
Have a go - see how your body feels when looking at it like a vast ocean, ripe for exploration via meditation.
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com