If you’re anything like me, you have worries. You worry about your health, your finances, about the way the world is and, of course, about how much you worry! I've managed to find a way to reduce my worries, using a tool we call: The STOP technique. This blog will tell you all about it and help you to try and relax your anxieties.
THE LOGIC BEHIND THE STOP TECHNIQUE
This version is an excerpt of the full STOP technique that we teach in our 6 week course. Both Mark and I have adapted it over the years, experimenting with the best wording. Regardless of the prompts, there are four main stages or 'principles' that we are trying to cultivate in our relationship with life:
HOW WE FORMED COPING STRATEGIES
We all have a worldview of belief systems from our past experiences, culture and education. Deep within these are lots of unconscious expectations about how ‘I’ should be and how ‘others’ should be. These result in patterns of behaviour that are designed to help us fit in and survive. We call these ‘coping strategies’. Some coping strategies work well in the modern world. Others create larger problems than the ones they were originally intended to solve. This is because they are leftover from a different phase in life, from a different context, where survival meant using tactics of aggression, avoidance, anesthesia or appeasing others (Fight, Flight, Freeze, Appease). I call these ‘problematic coping strategies’.
MY PROBLEMATIC COPING STRATEGIES
In my case I experienced plenty of bullying at school, from both boys and girls, which led me to believe:
THE SUBTLE USE OF THE TOOL
What you don’t see in my written text is the mindfulness work behind the tool. At each stage I’m stopping to check out how it feels in my body. I’m finding the root of any resistance. If something doesn’t seem right I ask, why? This will get me to the ‘root belief’ and reveal unknown shoulds, which I can work on instead. We teach a more in-depth version of this tool in our 6 week course at Bristol City Yoga, and I teach my own course online, (starting 14 May) which you can read about here. I also made a video of the STOP technique here.
IT TAKES TIME AND PRACTICE
When I first used this tool it was clunky and slow and I got too obsessed with the words, but after some practice I internalised the desire for learning and for inner peace, and prioritized those traits over the need to be right, or impressive, or afraid. I now live life as an adventure, full of curiosity, and with a very simple awareness:
It is not situations that cause us problems, it is our internalised beliefs. If we explore our beliefs we come to realise that all problems are opportunities for growth... If we are willing to dig into them.
If you’d like to let go of anxiety and find more peace, focus and clarity then consider coming to one of my *pay what you feel* online classes. I have a different theme each day. Each Tuesday I use the STOP technique in a group, to help people process stuck thoughts and instead: TAKE THE TIME TO FREE THE MIND. Want to come? Click here to register for free.
YOU STILL HERE?
Ok, so if you want to read more...
WORRYING IS USEFUL
The truth is worries normal and natural. Worries demonstrate care and they draw your attention to potential dangers. Worries, like all emotions, can be positive and useful, if we let ourselves ‘feel them’ and choose to interpret them positively. They can then give us the awareness and energy we need to make effective and peaceful action.
However, we often interpret emotions, like worries, very negatively. We deeply believe the thought: ‘something should be different!’ We miss the truth, that the very thought itself creates an internal conflict, expends our energy and misses the learning potential. Thinking negatively about emotions themselves often ends up creating the very thing we were worrying about. I battled with this for many years. I WAS A CHRONIC WORRIER
MY EVOLVING STORY WITH THE STOP TECHNIQUE
My turning point happened when I first started a meditation practice. My verst meditation showed me strong emotions hiding in my body, and belief systems in my mind that I wasn’t even aware of. I met Mark Dunn, of Positive Meditation, who crafted a tool that he called ‘The STOP technique’. Working alongside body awareness this tool used the strong emotions and situations in life to highlight what I was believing, and then showed me how to change it. I studied with Positive Meditation for two years, working through my inner pain, and then worked with Mark for the last five years, honing the STOP technique for myself and my clients.
FINDING THE NEGATIVE FEEDBACK LOOPS
My work was mainly about spending time listening to the body and catching the ‘shoulds’ of the mind. These hidden expectations led to the ‘gold’ of learning about myself and changing my responses. So I began to ‘celebrate the catches’. For example, I often catch the belief “I shouldn’t worry so much!” When I get curious I see that this ‘should’ creates a reaction of ‘more anxiety’ and a mild addiction to social media, which I use to distract myself from the anxious feelings in my body. The belief that I shouldn’t worry makes everything much worse!
But how the hell do we change an ingrained belief?
I STOPPED FIGHTING
Rather than trying to avoid or get rid of my anxiety, I learned to acknowledge and accept it as a feeling, whilst questioning the background thinking. This helps me to discover what my mind and body want and need. Over time old beliefs and reactions become weaker and new responses become stronger. This is called neuroplasticity. We can train the mind to change the brain and nervous system! Thing is, it’s a lifelong pursuit, because like any part of the body, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Old programming can and will resurface. So now I use the STOP technique and meditation daily, to stop any internal fighting with my mind.
HOW IT CHANGED MY LIFE
I’ve found that I catch things much earlier now. I often perceive a challenging moment in life as a kind of playful test, and difficult people as ‘my mindfulness gurus’ (Thanks to Jamie Catto for that insight!). Inspector Clueso (pictured below) hired 'Kato' to jump out at him. This was to train his reflexes to be sharp and ready, 'at all times'. When I practice the STOP technique I am able to be more ready to notice and respond to my own mind and emotions with this mentality. I learn something each time. I grow my calmness and clarity of mind. I use the STOP technique verbally, in quick questions to myself, and in journalling. I can now reduce my worry much easier.
Whilst you may not be able to make this 'perfect' kind of space, don't let that stop you. Setting up a beautiful, peaceful and sensual space adds pleasure and meaning to practice. These things help habits stick, because they make you feel good. It is well known that the environments we are in have a huge effect on our mental and physical well-being.
So let's have a look at how you can set up a meditation space at home!
Things to consider:
It doesn't have to be perfect!
You can see in the photo I'm meditating with a group of teachers, in the school. I often bring my beautiful blanket with me. It's enough to say to the people 'you are special' or 'this is a special time and place'. It prmes the mind to focus on what is important. Here & now.
Let me know what your space is like
I'd love to see pictures and hear about it. If you don't have a space yet feel free to come to any of our classes and courses, or a weekend workshop, or a retreat.
Teaching mindfulness in schools
I’ve just finished teaching a 10 week course to the children of three seperate classes in year four and five at The Dolphin School in Bristol. I absolutely loved the experience, and I also found it really challenging.
Adults generally give lots of feedback and understand the complex ideas behind the work, and are able to practice for 10 to fifteen minutes. It is a totally different ball game with children. I often came away from sessions questioning the value of my work. Now, at the end I have a different perspective and real data from real students. Read on to see what they really enjoyed...
9.46 out of 10!
I asked each student to rate the course and there were so many wanting to give it 11, that it made my heart sing. The lowest score was 5 and given the comments on the survey I think it was an error of understanding of the scoring system. Nonetheless I’m really pleased that most students loved the course.
What happens when we drop perfectionism and admit our mistakes? I discovered something profound…
My coach, Claire Higgins, invited me to, once again, step into courageously accepting and expressing myself. This time I realised I had been obsessed with perfectionism and I was pretending to others that I found life ‘easy’.
Can I own and accept my mistakes, publicly, as a way of helping myself and others, accept our imperfections? What other gifts will that bring?
I like to proceed with a plan, based on purpose and pleasure.
The purpose was clear — self acceptance, but the pleasure?
l found it liberating to admit I get things wrong and also I worry, I make mistakes, get irritated and it’s not always easy to re-correct and forgive myself, returning to a balanced ‘mindful’ state.
So the pleasure was — smiling and saying “today I have cocked up X and that’s OK!”
I would begin as I taught the evening’s meditation class. I shared three things I cocked up today (and that’s OK) and then one thing I was worrying about. I invited everyone else to do the same. At the end everyone could feel their shoulders relax and the atmosphere was completely different. We meditated in acceptance of our imperfections for the remaining 40 minutes. It was wonderful.
‘I’ became M.E
A realisation occured during the week. I keep saying the words "'I' am..." or "'I' feel..." but the 'I' doesn't reflect all of me. I can often be simeltaneously happy, sad, worried and calm! So why is this word ‘I’ indicative of my whole being as one thing?
My housemate, Mareike, uses language from the ‘Focusing’ practice of meditation to talk about ‘something in me’ or ‘a part of me’. Inspired by this I realised I = M.E (Multiple Entities). Is it possible to change my language and therefore my identity?
Changing "I feel...." to "A part of me feels..." changes how I see myself and opens up a wider possibility.
Parts of me
Identification is overly simplistic. It is often Binary. 'I' am either this OR that.
Well, let’s shift that now....Let’s honour the multitude of parts. In the same way your body is made up of multiple parts; two hands, 10 fingers etc, so is your mind. Some body parts are ‘in recovery’ like when you have damaged a finger. Instead of calling it a ‘bad’ finger, let’s re-label it as a ‘recovering’ finger, so it is with your mind, which is comprised of many painful memories, happy memories, concerns, loves, dislikes, curiosities and urges.
A multitude of living entities inside you and me!
Develop the language in three steps
So I began to experiment. I began thus and you can try this at home.
1. Say ‘I can be…’ instead of I am, throughout your day. This will get you started. Bonus points for when you notice outward projected blame or opinions of others. For example if I say or think “They are so stupid."... I can add..."I can be so stupid sometimes!"
2. Say 'A part of me is..." and develop more layers.
Once you’ve practiced that for several times I’d like you to switch from saying ‘I’ and instead start saying ‘A part of me’ or ‘something in me’.
For example; "a part of me feels annoyed. A part of me thinks they are so stupid. A part of me can be so stupid. Something in me is confused."
3. Declare the healthy, happy parts too!
We are often drawn to noticing problems, like the part of the body that is in pain. We often get drawn into labelling them with a negative thought, like ‘bad’. For the third part of the exercise start to continue to notice other parts, after noticing the problematic parts. For example: "A part of me is annoyed and another part of me is amused. Another part of me is enjoying this exercise. A part of me is wondering how this can be helpful."
Why are we doing this?
‘This is about releasing the singular identification and therefore the singular comparison and holding onto a particular identity. This in turn allows more freedom of choice and more self-acceptance, which feels empowering and loving. It also grows my empathy. The more I realise both how imperfect and how wonderfully diverse I am the more I see that in others.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to catch yourself labelling yourself or others as a single story. Can you notice that, take a moment, check if it’s OK to start appreciating how ‘parts of me’ can be and then how we are only seeing a small part of them.
Fancy giving this a go? Go for it, but remember — find pleasure in it as you experiment. Let me know how you get on!
“I am a beautiful fool, just like everyone else.”
This is what I learned from the 5 day ‘fools school,’ back in 2017.
When I was looking at this year’s retreat options I was excited to see that Holly Stoppit, one of my favourite facilitators of inner work, was running a 4 day retreat - THE FOOLS RETREAT - in deepest Dorset, October 2019, I booked it immediately.
The week running up to it, I thought, “why the hell did I book this? I’m supposed to be going on a retreat to retrain my presence of mind, not run around like an idiot!” However, I also knew the little vulnerable parts of me were scared to be seen. They often do this - they try and criticise in order to remain hidden. This blog post will give you an insight into my lessons and what happens at this unique retreat.
If you’re anything like me you can’t be bothered to read it all, so here are the 5 key learnings:
So what was so good? Well here are some of the highlights in a little more detail:
Sitting, sharing and being
A key part of the weekend was arriving each day and meditating. This was followed by sharing what was visiting each of us, some wonderful sharing by Holly from her fabulous books (which she often kissed in admiration) and then she would put on some music and allow us time to just ‘be’ in our bodies, without talking or interacting with each other. I really enjoyed this structure and felt the ‘being’ time loosened me up ready to do some ‘fooling’.
Disidentifying from feeling by how we speak about them
As the Germans exclaim ‘I have hunger’ we can use this way of speaking to break the identification with our fleeting feelings. I am (feeling) implies it is who we are. I feel / have / notice (feeling), speaks more accurately of it as a fleeting visitor in our guesthouse. Then we remain mindful and able to handle it.
Exploring the shadow
The point of the weekend was to play, take risks and explore what Carl Jung refers to as ‘ The shadow’. This is the place where we hide or suppress parts of ourselves, which began in childhood, in order to confirm, to be safe. This can be anything, not just things like ‘anger’ or ‘fear’ but also ‘joy’, ‘pride in oneself’ etc. Until we become aware of the shadow these elements show up destructively. If we become aware, accept and reintegrate elements of our shadow, we can live in a healthier, more functional way. This is a process. The way that Holly facilitates this is by encouraging us to explore what ‘mask’ we are wearing as we stand in front of a loving audience - which I call the’ Fooling Arena’.
So what is fooling? Expressing the shadow through ‘masks’
In the ‘Fooling Arena’ we find all kinds of social masks coming up - the need to impress, the inner critic, the good one, the rage, the shy one…the list is as deep as your soul. We express them to the audience, allowing masks to interact. Through this ‘show’ the individual learns how the parts relate and are perceived. I love the process of amplifying the masks, like allowing a tantruming child to vent, before we engage with it, we fully allow and embody the language and emotion of the mask, as a process of acceptance, before we seek change. This often allows it to come and go quite rapidly, but also to be seen fully. We learn what it needs and how it affects us. The audience reflect positive feedback which helps the ‘fool’ to understand the process from other perspectives.
Acknowledged vulnerability leads to empowerment
Gradually patterns emerge and these realisations can lead to strong, emotional outpourings and then revaluation. Much like the work of Brene Brown points to, I believe the sharing and expression of these vulnerable parts of ourselves is an important part of the process of empowerment. As we are seen, exploring openly, we learn we are OK, even in our darkest places, and we learn how to re-organise our inner parts, so they all serve the same purpose.
A safe space to be wild and curious
On this retreat we were all daring to explore ourselves, whilst also taking great personal care and treating one another with love and respect. Holly reassured us that we could bring it all out, it is all welcome, and we could therefore interact from these suppressed ‘masks’ whenever we choose to (including during lunch!) We knew this meant that we would be sometimes ‘triggering’ each other. People might feel angry or hurt, and so we were encouraged that if we had a particularly nasty mask that we should redirect that energy towards objects, not other people. The golden rule was:
“Become curious about what it's like when we are triggered, allow it and express it safely, in order to explore it.”
I want to give my perspective on this piece in the Guardian: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality by Ronald Purser. Adapted from his book ‘McMindfulness’ it poses many controversial statements. I’ve extracted some and I'll address each in turn. I read it last night with laughter, worry, shock, anger and awoke this morning with eagerness to set the record straight.
The main argument in the article is that mindfulness places the onus of responsibility on individuals for their unhappiness and ignores possible societal causes and enables individuals to remain passive. It looks specifically at MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) created by Jon Kabat Zin. That 8 week course has become worldwide as a basic starting point for many peoples exploration into mindfulness. Mark Dunn and I (Neil Morbey) teach Mindfulness and Positivity at Bristol City Yoga. We want to help people explore mindfulness and change the way they think so that they can create positive action.
Clarity of vision is the key to achieving your objectives.
In response to some excerpts:
- Yes. If we are to take clear action we must first step out of the story fed to us by society and our past. We must feel, as a step towards gaining perspective. It's taking a step away from magic thinking and even physical or metaphorical steroids and towards ‘reality’, as closely as we can experience it. I am a zealot too, just like the journalist who wrote this and just like you. When we get passionate we act with zeal! Mindfulness practice helps me to acknowledge that fact without reacting from over-eagerness. I find if I act without this awareness I often make situations worse.
"Mindfulness is nothing more than basic concentration training…(it) is a tool of self-discipline, disguised as self-help. Instead of setting practitioners free, it helps them adjust to the very conditions that caused their problems. A truly revolutionary movement would seek to overturn this dysfunctional system, but mindfulness only serves to reinforce its destructive logic."
- Yes! The ability to concentrate and to choose what to concentrate on is a valuable skill that is being stripped from us by a world of distraction and stimulation. We train to be more self-disciplined in focusing on how we are, what we want and what we can do to create it. If we feel discomfort we feel it fully. This allows us to 'appreciate' it, realise the underlying physical need and then act to change it, or accept it, based on the context. The illogic of irrational fear is what we seek to dissolve; mindfulness therefore empowers people to create positive change, whilst feeling peaceful in the body.
"By failing to address collective suffering, and systemic change that might remove it, they rob mindfulness of its real revolutionary potential, reducing it to something banal that keeps people focused on themselves."
- Yes. I think all mindfulness practitioners, like myself, recommend working alone and then with others, stepping out of individual comfort and into collective sharing. In order to do that one must first gain clarity on what one feels and thinks. This is a part of the process called meditation and self-enquiry. Some parts you can only do by yourself"
- Sadly not - this is part of the fake news myth of mindfulness. Some of the first myths we dispel are childish notions of 'pure awareness' and that we might live in those spaces. Another myth is that meditation should relax us by stopping thought. No way! I love to think! Instead we seek to slow the mind down and look at it with clarity and relate to ourselves with kindness. Through this process I’ve learned to love my thoughts and channel them creatively.
In contrast many modern habits aim to help stop people thinking through distraction and momentary pleasure or even drama. I’m talking about
- sensationalist news headlines and ‘opinion pieces’ (ahem),
- formulaic movies,
- endless internet TV series
- infinite social media scrolling
- drugs like tobacco, alcohol and sugar
“...most teachers of mindfulness rule out a curriculum that critically engages with causes of suffering in the structures of power and economic systems of capitalist society”
- Yes. One aim of mindfulness is to focus on one thing at a time. During the practice we don't get drawn into endless analysis, as this is part of inaction. We step back and come back to the senses. There is a time for discussion of socio-political systems, and that is not in a mindfulness class or during a meditation. Afterwards we can look afresh at the topics of today and be inspired to give our truth.
"Mindfulness has been oversold and commodified, reduced to a technique for just about any instrumental purpose. It can give inner-city kids a calming time-out, or hedge-fund traders a mental edge, or reduce the stress of military drone pilots. Void of a moral compass or ethical commitments, unmoored from a vision of the social good, the commodification of mindfulness keeps it anchored in the ethos of the market."
- Yes that's all correct. I believe that when one truly feels inside, ‘ethics’ emerge. Niggling doubts become self evident as we raise awareness. We listen to them and question them. This often leads people to change careers, finally, after years of ignoring niggling doubts and pains in the body. Or activists learn to pause and reconsider what causes they are fighting for and the most effective actions. It is a very wise thing to relax for periods of time and reflect. Not all activism is protest, as Gil Scott Heron pointed out:
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and drop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip
Skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised…
You see I believe the revolution is live. Now. It won’t be on TV. It’s here between you and me. Anything else is a distraction. I believe it is great that we have people offering guidance in exchange for money. Mindfulness is priceless! So what we offer is incredibly valuable.
- Yes, correct. Being a human mind and body is not political or moral, it is, as its basic form, organic and natural. We teach people to reconnect with that level, as it is often forgotten. This allows a greater clarity. Once we are more aware of ourselves we naturally face the pertinent topics of politics, ethics and society. We learn to be nice, appropriately. We also learn to be firm and put boundaries up, practicing self-care. It's all about balance; ‘giving’ - ‘receiving’, ‘taking time out’- ‘stepping into action’. This is only possible when you develop some inner peace.
"Mindfulness is easily co-opted and reduced to merely “pacifying feelings of anxiety and disquiet at the individual level, rather than seeking to challenge the social, political and economic inequalities that cause such distress. Mindfulness is being sold to executives as a way to de-stress, focus and bounce back from working 80-hour weeks. A truly revolutionary mindfulness would challenge the western sense of entitlement to happiness irrespective of ethical conduct."
- Yes again. We see so many people frustrated and anxious about these issues, yet impotent to act. When the human body lives in this state of frustration it crumbles. We teach techniques of peace and balance. In the long run this allows for greater, more effective action. In the short term it looks very still and calm (almost ignorant). Nothing could be further from the truth. We are empowering people to not react, but to respond.
We so often judge people and their motives. Yet every person is on their own journey and has their own struggles and life choices. I work wjth the staff in corporate groups. I'm hired to help staff well being. People sometimes worry that corporate mindfulness work is just a box ticking exercise or a way to get ‘more productive’. No problem! Because even if that was the intention of upper management the practice of going inside is universal and opens up hearts and minds to new perspectives. Perhaps an inner exploration helps the executive realise they don’t want or need to work so hard. This can be good for business because as people reorient themselves based on inner (intrinsic) wants and needs they become happier and healthier, which in turn means working more efficiently in less hours. Win Win!
Other times the executive might quit. If this happens enough businesses will realise that the systems they have need to change. They need to be more focused on staff well being, or on being more ethical in their practices. A revolution can happen gradually, which is more peaceful, more long lasting and perhaps even faster than a forceful revolution. One of the classic mindfulness reminders is: What we resist persists. When we look and see, the mind is set free.
- Not quite. We let people decide for themselves what is wholesome, by tuning in, instead of believing journalists who tell people what they should/shouldn't think and do. ;)
"To change the world, we are told to work on ourselves — to change our minds by being more mindful, nonjudgmental, and accepting of circumstances."
- That's right! Great first step, don't you think? If we try and take action from a place of self-confusion guess what? We create more confusion.
"All the promises of mindfulness resonate with what the University of Chicago cultural theorist Lauren Berlant calls “cruel optimism”, a defining neoliberal characteristic."
- Yes. it seem cruel to be kind sometimes. Rather than regurgitate the negative stories of society we seek to step away and find our personal truth. Perhaps we may return over-enthusiastic, optimistic and even naive. That can be just as problematic as a pessimistic story of blame (presented by zelous journalists ;). Gradually we find the right balance, through tuning in first, then appreciating now, and experimenting by taking action from the heart, not just the head. We choose to be kind and truthful. As Mo Gawdat says “The truth will set you free but first it’ll piss you off!”
Ultimately I believe the journalist has done a great job of stirring things up and inviting us to reflect. By practicing some mindfulness my hope is that readers keep open yet questioning minds, pausing and reflecting before they respond. Individually and together we can make wise chooses and transform internal emotions into creative action for positive change. I tried to do that here. I hope you enjoyed this.
Nature has calming benefits
If you have a big garden, you can create circular paths that will allow you to do some walking meditation. But if you have a small garden, you can fill it with aromatic herbs instead as the calming scent can help you relax more during your mindfulness practice. RHS Health & Wellbeing Garden Designer Alexandra Noble recommends you plant flowers and herbs like yarrow, fennel, chives, and chamomile in your garden. These plants are great for anxiety and stress and you can even use some to make a relaxing tea.
Nature allows you moments of solitude
There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by plants and the sound of wildlife. Wandering through your garden on your own or sitting in a small enclosed space can give you a sense of peace. There’s a certain calm and serenity that you only get when you’re alone in your garden. However, it is not always possible to be outside.
Ideal Home notes that a garden room or a conservatory can provide a tranquil bolt hole from your everyday life. These allow you to enjoy nature without the need to leave your home or even go outdoors. The conservatories featured on Screwfix show how some designs can reach 3 metres in height, which allows you to have a wide range of tall plants indoors. Your garden room or conservatory should also let in as much light as possible so opt for wide windows and high ceilings. Not only will this help the plants grow, but it will also improve your mood. This will allow you to create your own indoor nature getaway, perfect for rainy days and the colder months.
Nature can help you be more positive
The Guardian explains that growing your own food can be one of the most gratifying things you can experience. You are rewarded with the knowledge that you have provided for yourself, and planting, harvesting, and tilling the soil are great moments to include in your mindfulness practice. The article also notes that the sounds that nature makes, like birds singing, trickling water, rustling leaves, and even the crunch of gravel, can bring out a lot of positive emotions.
Nature grounds you
Psychology Today defines being grounded as the ability to be completely aware and conscious of the present moment. When you’re grounded, you are able to practice a deep sense of mindfulness. This means you very rarely think of “what ifs”. It’s having the sense of being whole and balanced in yourself and your relationships. It’s a deeper connection with your authentic self. Nature helps you achieve this feeling through the tasks you do in your garden and the surrounding environment. Being outdoors or surrounded by plants allows you to experience what’s happening right in front of you, minus the distractions of technology. Perfect for this screen obsessed age.
Colour and space matter
When it comes to designing your mindful garden, choose elements that stimulate the senses. Go for colours like blues purples, and greens. Keep your garden feeling spacious and cool by leaving pathways free of obstructions. Add colours like reds, oranges, and yellows if you want your garden to be warm and welcoming.
We agreed three days, Monday to Wednesday. I was excited! Time for some RADICAL COACHING in the form of 'Shadowing'.
(All the photos here are by him, as he shadowed me teaching a group.)
In preparation Thomas asked me to set an intention and give him my schedule - something I do with my own clients. His main difference was that we would then just hang out and follow the flow of interaction to see what would arise. I would describe Thomas as a coach that has an embodied faith in the wisdom of emotions. Our first interaction revealed that to me.
We met in the park, on a sunny Monday afternoon. We played around and talked with passers by and I realised that Thomas was very open to connections. I noticed the contrast in myself, the desire to get him alone and get ‘working’. So I bought him a smoothie and we found a quiet patch of grass to talk. I noticed my inner grumpiness and acknowledged it, trying to change the dynamic of things. Thomas invited me to feel into my mood and reveal, what he called, ‘the need underneath’. I realised that I had a strong impulse to move, so I stood up and climbed a tree as he watched me, and then I felt something new - aggression. I told him that I’d love a play fight. He was up for it!
So it was that at Two O'Clock on a Monday afternoon in Castle Park two grown men began grappling and throwing each other around, whilst people watched and ate their lunch. It was incredibly cathartic and we sat down, catching our breath, laughing. The emotion had moved through me and left space for us to connect. We made our way back to my place by bicycle.
Our conversations went this way a lot, following emotion and impulse into action - and this was very revealing. We talked about this word 'need' a lot - could we gently exploring soft edges of ‘neediness’ by spending extended amounts of time without food? We decided to do it together - 3 days of fasting, allowing 1 afternoon meal per day! For me this was unnerving, and fascinating.
Rather than direct coaching this was more of a two way ‘skill share’. We would learn from one another. Thomas came with me to my evening meditation class, which I teach. I taught about expressing emotion, through voice ('oming' meditation), sharing (I feel… I imagine…) and movement (shaking and sighing). This was a reflection of things I had learned in the play fight today!
Then I took Thomas to his first blues dancing class, taught by Tristan Brightman and followed by social dancing to live music (The Blues Happening). This was my community and a skill I had cultivated. At the time I thought this was out of his his comfort zone but after checking in with him I was surprised to see how comfortable and happy he was in that space. I was pleased to see him get stuck in, and we both had a lot of fun.
here is something about revealing oneself to one and another that enables trust to develop. We had each shared a part of ourselves with the other and now we were relaxing into being with each other, more naturally. Thomas led me through a morning movement meditation, which I loved. Rocking and stretching as we sat cross legged and observing emotions and thoughts. He then joined me as I taught a group in what I call 'Mindful Positivity' at the local NHS clinic. He was kind enough to take photos of the session. Thanks to Simone Davies for allowing him to come along.
The afternoon came - we ate veggies flavoured with basil in the sunshine and talked at length. What arose was a belief in me - “I need to do something, I can’t expect things to come to me”. Whilst this may seem rational it also came with an emotion which Thomas picked up. He probed me with questions and I noticed the emotion shutting down. That was no good - I wasted to catch it and build it up to discover what this was about - to ride the wave! I remembered that Thomas had done work with touch and breath so I suggested we switch gears and try those methods. I laid down and he pressed on the area I felt was the centre of the emotion - the chest and forehead. Here the work became more intuitive. I asked him to repeat some words and he encouraged me to see myself as ‘land’ and the emotion as ‘crashing waves of sea’. I cannot be harmed by them, and I can even build them up to an intense amount, as I observe from the land. This resonated and I was able to build and explore the emotion with safety. I explored bodily shaking, crying, memories and it revealed that fear was lying underneath the 'need to get things done’. The instinctive desire underneath all the thoughts and emotions was for friendship.
Something had moved through me and settled down to leave a beautiful oceanic depth. I asked Thomas “what’s the point of all this?” as I couldn’t cognitively grasp the process. He simply said “to connect you to yourself so you can feel good and realise the real inner need”. He was right - all this work is about feeling good, and connecting to myself - the scared, vulnerable and ultimately beautiful inner me. The me which simply wanted friendship. That emotional work was tiring and after a nap I finished the day by teaching with Mark Dunn at Bristol City Yoga. During these sessions I sometimes get nervous and lose my calm presence, however, today I was able to calmly listen and take in the emotions of others and even had the presence to see my own fears and impulses, without ‘needing’ to react. Mark lead with lots of words and enquiry of the students, and I listened. He had to leave early and I held the last 30 minutes. I was able to shift the energy of the room with movement and then gentleness and I think this had an enormous effect on everyone. I felt great about it.
Another sunny day and another movement meditation, before Thomas went off to teach his own yoga practice. I channelled my inspiration into my morning routine (MORNINGS - Meditation, Outlook, Reach out, Nourish, Inspire, Nature, Gym, Stretch). I spent a good hour of ‘inspiration’ writing my book (work in progress) and when he returned we continued my morning routine - Nature (we went for a run and slack line practice in the park) and then Gym. I showed him my HIIT practice, which I do regularly. He particularly enjoyed the rice bucket challenge.
We spent the afternoon talking and eating, ending the three day food fasting. I helped him learn the guitar. We shared a lot of information and we explored the work again, in review of the past few days. We came to these conclusions:
- Western culture is overbalanced in prioritising ‘mental’ intelligence. To me the brain is a fantastic organ at looking for an solving problems. Perhaps there are also other, more beautiful ways to meet our instinctive desires and find a balance of productivity, purpose and peace. Thomas believes that there are 5 main intelligences (mind, breath, emotions, belly, and body) who communicate in their respective languages with us. I prefer to simplify it down to perhaps 4 main intelligences that can be part of this process:
- S: Sensations (bodily nervous system)
- I: Impulses (movement of muscles toward or away)
- T: Thoughts (analytical mind)
- E: Emotions (heart, breath and gut movements)
- We created a ‘water company’ analogy: A CEO in a high office reads that some customers are receiving empty water containers. She panics and hires an expensive team of critical analysts to expend a lot of time, energy and money in developing an elaborate alarm system to solve the problem. However, down in the factory the workers get annoyed by the alarm and demand the CEO to come down to the factory floor. When she finally does she observes them voicing emotion, and clearly pointing at the window! Confused, but recognising their obvious urge she permits them to take action and watches their relief as they unlock the window and cool air rushes in to blows over any empty containers. The workers breathe a sigh of relief. Alarms stop and the factory runs smoothly again.
This more elegant and efficient solution was found only when the CEO (consciousness) had tried the analytical ways (thought), and listened to the emotions of the workers in the factory (body) to experience the reality (sensations) and allow simple, clear action (impulses) to be followed, even if it was not cognitively understood (thoughts). This led to expression of an instinctual desire, which was trying to reveal a way using wind (breath) to heal the system with ease (emotional release).
- Thomas called this “Being in the environment of the emotion” where feedback is felt, where impulses are clear. Often we try and over-think solutions, when we could instead observe the body, follow impulses and get fresh air (breath) to release problems and soothe emotions.
- This led me into a simple realisation of the system: Feel, Revel, Heal:
- Feel: bring awareness to the body and acknowledge feelings in their locations
- Reveal: explore the SITE of feelings and reveal the instinctual desire underneath
- Heal: follow the impulse to allow bodily healing to occur. This might include:
- Sensations: Observing and allowing them to guide you back to your senses, and to the environment of instinct
- Impulses: Observing and creating a safe space to take physical action to allow them to heal the body.
- Thoughts: Witness memories and dispel negative thoughts to prevent over-thinking, leading to simple and truthful self-expression.
- Emotions: Reconnect to the truth and beauty of your instinctual desires to release emotions and find peace.
- In practical terms these ‘healing’ solutions could include a variety of means, as you saw in my examples from the week (fighting, climbing, talking, questioning, breathwork, touch practice, affirmation and friendship). There is no single solution, which is often the way we ‘think’ about things. The 21st C conditioned brain tries to intellectualise everything and make life overly complex, or instead find quick fixes, urgent for relief, without appreciating the true nature of the issue. Instead we can choose to observe the context of the present moment, get in touch with instincts and trust in the body and breath to show us elegant solutions, when the intelligence of the mind does not work.
We chatted and Thomas shared his photos, and I felt close to this person who was but a stranger three days ago. I relayed how,the fasting process had been a microcosm of the ‘feel, reveal, heal’ method. Throughout the week I had found hunger arising and I would not react, as I have done in the past, with filling up. Instead I observed it and felt into the deeper drive, realising it was often an impulse to move, or to dispel a story and come back to my senses. I now know that the hunger waves don’t last long and I’ve discovered more energy when I channel my focus into revealing and healing the underlying drive and emotion. This is just another example of the insight revealed by working in a different way with an interesting person, like Thomas.
I feel grateful to have experienced Thomas directly. I intend to continue to develop and research the new modes of exploring that he has inspired in me. Overall the biggest takeaway of the week was friendship, which it seems was the underlying desire all along. :)
Check out Thomas here:
Do you ever get stuck or end up arguing because of miscommunication in your relationships?
The problem: is that both people get so frustrated that they interrupt and don’t really listen. This leads to resentment and frustration.
The method: Schedule 30 minutes to connect without interruption in a comfortable space. You’ll need a timer and you might need writing material each. Begin in silent contemplation of our intentions (which may be written down as an aid). We then take ‘timed’ turns - one person speaks and the other listens. The listener’s first words before changing roles should be ‘ thank you’ to show respect for honest sharing. We repeat this for 3 rounds, with a shorter final round.
- SETUP: Make sure everyone is comfortable. Tea/water is onhand. Ensure you are in a distraction free zone for the next 30 minutes. If you need to do anything else within that time attend to it first. Place the timer between you. Ensure you both have a comfortable distance.
- INTENTION: Set the timer for 3 minutes and then sit in silence with your eyes closed and ponder the question: What ‘state’ would you love to create within the relationship? Writing it down may help you later. Eg. Connection, understanding, calm, clarity, friendliness etc.
- DECIDE WHO STARTS: Flip a coin and the winner goes first as ‘speaker’. The speaker always starts the timer.
- SHARE INTENTION: 30 seconds each: Speaker will share intention as the other listens, then change roles. The second speaker can say exactly the same if they wish, but try to remain focus on starting your own intention and not just responding to the other.
- ROUND 1: 5 Minutes each: Speaker is free to talk and look where they want and to spend time in silence. Listener tries to maintain eye contact and practice whole-body-listening, not filling any silence. No suggestions, or advice. At the end of 5 minutes the listener says ‘THANK YOU’, then you swap. The second speaker is free to respond to points raised or talk about their own ideas. It is always up to you what you say.
- ROUND 2: 5 minutes each: Remembering your intention, and to say ‘thank you’.
- ROUND 3: 3 minutes each: Remembering your intention, and to say ‘thank you’.
- ENDING: You may wish to hug or continue talking, sum up or simply finish.
- What you now realise and understand (that the other person was saying). “I’m realising you thought…”
- What you appreciate (about yourself and the other). “I’m appreciating that you took the time to…”
- What you want (sharing a plan or requesting something). “I’d like… would you be willing to…?”
Having a real conversation with actual listening takes courage and feels vulnerable. Remember to practice healthy self care by finding your own balance of boundaries and empathy. In the end you will know if it is worth it, because experiencing this kind of honesty and intimacy can feel incredible and reconnect people through seemingly impossible arguments. Good luck, keep breathing and listen to yourself too. x
Keep your mouth shut frequently. Instead of talking endlessly:
- Listen. If you're mouth is open your not learning. No one ever 'listened' themselves out of the job. Listen to yourself too! Breathe.
- Be as brief as possible and try not to repeat yourself - it's boring and condescending. Remember that you don’t have to say everything, right away, or even in this conversation. There will be more opportunities to speak. .
- Trust they care about you so stay out of the minutiae of detailed data to prove a point.
- Remember that people need time to process before changing their mind. Sometimes they need to sleep on it.
- Don't multitask, stay present, allowing thoughts to come & go by bringing your attention back to the breath as you listen.
- If you don't know, say that you don't know.
- Use open-ended questions.
- Recognize their experience as unique Don't equate your experience with theirs. and let go of the opportunity to brag.
- Speak without blame, if possible, using ‘I feel’ and ‘I imagine’. Don't pontificate and moralize. If you want to state your opinion (without another arguing back) write a blog.
1. "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
This was the most common regret! People realised late on that their life is almost over and with that perspective could see the dreams they gave up on. They realised they had a choice, but kept telling themselves they didn't. The choice wasn't easy, so they pretended there wasn't one and made no choice, which let to hiding. They weren't able to find peace and clarity amidst the noise of external and internal expectations.
In old age they saw how lucky they were to have a healthy body, which brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. "I wish I hadn't worked so long and hard, sacrificing what I loved."
This came from every male patient. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Females from an older generation felt this too. People realised late on that they could have enjoyed work more and found more balance by prioritising their values
This is particularly relevant now as we work behind screens and become sluggish in our bodies. This is why I created the DO-BE-DOTS system.
3. "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings."
Fear, shame and guilt led people to suppress their feelings in order to be functional and keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and felt they missed out on the joy of real feelings and connection. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried. They realised too late the stories of the mind kept them trapped in suppression. They worried if they felt their feelings everything would be unbearable and fall apart. They realised in old age that the stories weren't true, and we all fall apart in the end anyway, so may as well feel the ride!
4. "I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends."
The full benefits of old friends were not seen until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over time. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying and the realise how easy it would have been to maintain a friendship, and to bring their honest selves towards others for real friendship, instead of superficial connections.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier."
Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice that each individual has the responsibility to make. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits, giverned by the stories they entertained in the mind. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity stifled them. Fear of change had led them pretence both inward and outwardly. "I'm fine" they would say, whilst inside they longed to laugh properly and have silliness and joy in their life again."
- What's your greatest regret so far, and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?
- What's stopping you? (The cost of action)
- What's the cost of INACTION?
- What's the cost of inaction in 1 year and then 5 years?
ADLIB: Let’s start with ‘Why’, how do you think can mindfulness help with workplace stress?
People work most effectively when they have good focus, which requires a clear mind, so one can move the attention effectively from one task to the next, and with an overview of the whole purpose. This requires a balance of attention.
21st Century education and society has filled our waking moments with busy-ness of pinging smartphones, marketing, unreasonable expectations and endless information. The modern worker is lost in a world of confusion and therefore mentally creates stress - a mind full of ‘stuff’, instead of clarity, focus and balance. Anxiety, burn out and apathy are the inevitable result and businesses foot the bill for recovery.
Mindfulness is both preventative medicine and helps people to ‘hit reset’ when they’ve gotten themselves into a hole; to pause and reflect, connecting with what is simply beautiful - the experience of being here and now. This is the beginning of awareness, acknowledgement and appreciation, which allows us to refocus, as a clear and balanced choice.
The how is simple - make space for learning, practice and for integration of ‘moments’ within the fabric of the way we work and interact. Mindful communication quickly follows mindful self-awareness. Inspiration keeps it moving
Neil Morbey: Yes.
- Schedule a meeting with yourself. Let that be time to reflect, and set an intention on how you’d like to do that. Do this every day.
- Put pressure on management to create a darkened, comfortable and quiet room, with space to lie down, if possible. Or allowance for quiet time. Afternoon naps or mediation have been demonstrated to aid productivity. At the same time ask them to get CPDs from inspiring practitioners. Whatever interests staff - yoga, meditation, singing - whatever inspires and gives people space to ‘be’.
- Go outside every day, without your phone, and breathe in the fresh air deeply. Smokers have the advantage of this habit, but with the addition of toxic death-sticks. Just relabel them ‘fresh air’ breaks, instead of fag breaks. Better still go for a walk and notice the trees, the sky and something beautiful and stay with it a few seconds longer than feels ‘normal’.
ADLIB: In your opinion, how can mindfulness improve the way that people work?
It allows us to move our attention from one thing to another with more ease, and therefore let go of resentment and speak more assertively and compassionately. At the end of the day it allows us to shift modes and leave work at the office so we can balance our lives and manage our ‘human’ priorities. This will help us feel that work is not a chore, but a nourishing activity that is integrated with our lives. People who feel in control of our lives worry less and are more productive, with less passive aggression. It also opens us up to creative possibility. We become more positive in our outlook, which drives innovation and inspiration.
The leaders must first recognise the importance of mental health in their duty of care. However mindfulness cannot be forced on employees, it must be inspired. So I think the best way is to involve people in that question and to bring in people that can inspire. Regular refreshment of inspiration is key to keeping the practices fresh and ‘reminding us of why, and with new styles of ‘how’. No one wants to repeat the same stuff every single day. Ultimately every individual is responsible for themselves, but it usually takes a few to lead the way and create momentum.
If that’s you, reading this, I suggest practising what Gandhi preached: Be the change you want to see in the world. Be vocal about it and enjoy it. When others hear and see you you’ll be giving them permission to do it too, because you show it’s possible, fun and the risk is worth it. Encourage them and get the ball rolling. Leaders inspire the people around them. Be the change.
About Neil Morbey: Neil specialises in helping people become emotionally resilient and work with schools, businesses and individuals to facilitate people to find their sense of happiness, confidence and connection.
More information via the positive-mindful (LINK http://www.positively-mindful.com/) website.
Adlib: Creating teams. Shaping futures. https://www.adlib-recruitment.co.uk/blog/
There is a lot of bollocks on the internet about posture, featuring attractive young men and women sitting on rocks overlooking water, or on steps (!?) as if they've been sat there for hours contemplating wise enlightened attention. Utter marketing drivel. Please don't buy it or anything you read here that make you think you're not good enough.
The aim of this blog is to dispel that claptrap and keep it simple, concise and useful.
HOW SHOULD I SIT IN MEDIATION?
Firstly let's get it clear - meditation is a practice of mindfulness (paying attention to the present moment without judgement). Therefore there is no 'right' as that is a judgement. The aim is to sit in a way that is comfortable for your body, and which also represents the attitude you want to carry inside as you meditate. What you 'want' not what you 'need' to do.
This chosen attitude will dictate your posture. Interestingly there are theories that the external attitude is related to an internal attitude. One is affected by the other. That means your current posture is a reflection of your internal state AND you can affect your internal state by changing your posture. My experience is that by choosing a posture to reflect an attitude that I deeply enjoy I have created that inside and out as an automatic pattern. :)
Intention: Why are you here? What are you hoping to feel, have or do within this meditation? You don't have to think about this every time, but for the first few it's worth considering. Generally my intention is to love myself, to be diligently focused and peaceful & loving towards what I find.
Attitude: What attitude would I like to bring to create that intention? Again, I'll get into the swing of this and barely think about it most day, but I'll often remind myself: I'm going to choose an attitude of 'self respect' and 'alertness'. Attitude and intention are nearly the same thing, but attitude is more of a feeling and way of 'being', whereas intention is more a 'doing'.
Visualisation: What image could help create the attitude? I like to use either, the image of wearing a cape, like superman, and tying it on creates a shoulder roll. Or the image of a string at the crown of my head getting lightly pulled up so that my spine hangs naturally. Another is to imagine a cushion of air between each vertebrae and then as you breathe in deep it inflates and as you breathe our some air is released, leaving the spine well adjusted and stacked. You can hold the visual image for 10-30 seconds to make it stick. You don't have to physically change anything, the body will do the work for you.
Bodily Feedback: What would this look like in posture? Let's give it a go and find out as we tune into the body. I start by choosing to kneel, with a straight back, relaxed face, slightly dipped chin. I then realise my shoulders are hunched and chest is collapsed so I correct this with a rib cage lift (engage the core muscles!) and roll my shoulders behind my back.
Posture: Many people like to sit cross-legged. I usually like to use a stool and kneel. I can change my posture in small ways (or completely) as I meditate. Moving doesn't mean I've failed. I've gradually learned when to tune in to discomfort, to watch and wait. Now I rarely move, but that is a natural product of years of experimentation. I've been meditating a long time and I'm used to this posture. Sometimes I try a different posture once in a while to shake things up. These could include:
1.Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
Basically legs crossed sitting with feet under the knees. Some all it Burmese.
2. The Lotus positions (seductive name!)
Quarter is basically legs crossed with feet on the calves. Half lotus would be one leg on top of the other thigh and one leg extended (awkward!) and full lotus is both feet resting on top of the opposite thighs. Pali term: Padmasana.
Tips: Structure of checks for an aligned posture
1. Allow the floor to support your weight with lots of contact
2. Allow a natural tilt of the hips and curve of the lower back
3., Use the internal muscles to raise the rib-cage and then relax it, especially the belly
4. Ease the shoulder blades back together and then relax slightly
5. Align to centre yourself forward/back and left/right
6. Imagine a pull up from the crown of the head and thus allow the chin to naturally dip a few millimetres.
7. Keep the alignment and allow all other unnecessary tension to soften away.
** IN ALL POSTURES TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY AND NOTICE PAIN. ADJUST AS NECESSARY
3. Kneeling / Stool (Seiza in Japanese Zen)
Kneel on cushion between your legs, or use a kneeling stool. I make these and sell them for £20. Let me know if you want one. They have cool hinges. The stools have a tilt to encourage the hips to tilt, so there is a natural bend in the lower back and the spine is stacked comfortably. Geisha used to sit for hours like this, without a stool or cushion! I don't recommend it for your knees.
If you use a chair I recommend putting the feet flat, or if the chair is too low for that, cross them. If the chair is too high find a book or cushion to support the feet. Sit right back, but don't lean back into the back rest. Come off it. You can always use if if you get tired. A little cushion under your butt can help, and even a rolled up towel to support the lower back.
5. Lying Down
You can lie on back or front, but try and use a posture that doesn't promote sleep, unless you want that. The hands can help with this by placing one on the chest and one on the belly, or both on the ground, palms up. Support the head and neck if you experience pain.
These are the overall postures, but remember the attitude is more important than the specifics. Do what feels 'right' (with the context I describe above) for you.
In all of these postures the hands can relax as you wish. Some prefer palms open or fingers together as that has mental associations to energy moving or to openness. Ok, if that works for you do it.
That is the general rule. So if you find lots of pain, give it a little time, breathe with it and see if it shifts. Only you know the difference between a little pain of muscles stretching and adapting vs damage occurring. Listen closely and adjust as necessary.
A - K: from Attitude to Kindness. A method to learen the steps of body scan meditation that will start with an intention, but lead to natural joy and kindness (I hope!) Here's the guidelines:
1. With each step repeat the word in your mind as you follow the breath. I sometimes combine it with 'here' and 'now'. Eg. thinking in time with breath: "Breathing...(in)...Here...(out)...Breathing...Now
2. Spend the most time on sections F,G and H. This is the 'peak' of the mediation. If you wanted to you could count breaths. I prefer not to.
Attitude, Breathing, Curious, Deep-breathing, Effortless, Feel-in, Gradually explore, Heart, Joy, Kindness
A: ATTITUDE - choose and observe the attitude of body posture, using visualisations. Adjust with feedback.
B: BREATHING - connect with the sensation of breathing, without changing it.
C: CURIOUS - cycle through common three senses (sounds, sight, smells)
D: DEEP-BREATHS - Take two reps of 5 deeper breaths and feel the difference in your belly, then chest.
E: EFFORTLESS - Feel contact with the floor, allowing it to support. Notice & soften tension in the face, shoulders and back.
F: FEEL-IN - Tune the attention into small areas inside your body, the pelvis, the belly, the chest, the throat and then the nostrils. Stay with that soft inner focus for some time, feeling the subtleties.
G: GRADUALLY-EXPLORING - Move the attention slowly, around the face and down the body, spending at least three breaths on each part. You could switch the mantra to replace 'here/now' with 'exploring'.
H: HEART - After you complete the scan spend some time at the heart. Many spiritual and scientific people consider this to be the powerhouse of the body and mind. I imagine the heart beating, or a light, flooding my system with loving life-force.
I: INCLUDE-ALL - Tune into the whole inner world allowing it all to be there. From there you could include the senses of the room again - sound, smell etc. Then you could go wider and imagine the body of another person near you - include them in your imagination. I imagine their heart beating. I go wider and wider, until the bell rings. This often feels amazing.
J: JOY - Open your eyes to enjoy colour and form, staying with the first thing you see, then expanding as you move your eyes. Keep with the breath and mantra to help: JOY...(in)... HERE...(out)...JOY...NOW... To me this reminds me that the world is her to be enjoyed and colour and form are part of that.
K: KINDNESS - Perceive your first movements as kindness to your body by giving it what it wants and by thanking yourself for taking your time. KINDNESS...(in)... HERE...(out)... Once you bring your attention up and into normal living you could decide how you're going to bring kindness today.
This is a basic structure and it is malleable. Make it fit you rather than crushing yourself to fit it. The principles are simple - keep it simple, relax your judgements and enjoy. Find what works for you through playful experimentation!
I am a coach and I use the services of a coach to keep me working well. I coach using mindfulness practices to help people untangle worry and confusion, pain and suffering and rediscover clarity, inspiration and confidence. Coaching is not counselling and I'm not a qualified counsellor. The main purposes of coaching is:
- Discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve
- Encourage client self-discovery
- Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
- Hold the client responsible and accountable
DO I NEED A COACH?
No. 'Need' is a strong word. You don't need - you are a capable human even if you have lost your way a little. You can work on yourself and you will arrive at the right place. A coach will facilitate that process to make it smoother, faster and easier. It's a choice. But here are 7 clear reasons you might choose a coach to help you, even if you feel fine:
1. COMPLACENCY: When you think you’ve tried everything you get complacent and can fall into the trap of belief that “it’s hopeless” or "I know what I’m doing." This is a stagnation. Coaches challenge knowledge, and will encourage you to learn, by asking “what may I be missing?” If discovered this can shift your entire worldview and help you enjoy and acheive more than ever before.
2. BLIND SPOTS: The longer you live and work the more blind spots you develop. Coaches point them out and help you plan to clear them.
3. UNBIASED HELP: Unlike friends and family coaches are unbiased, honest and skilful communicators. Coaches say it as they see it and try and remove their prejudice. They're not invested in your choices, so they won't be tainted by them. They’ll just aim to help you find the right path for you.
4.EXTRA ENERGY AND COMPUTING POWER: You haven't always got the energy and courage to ask pertinent and difficult questions of yourself. A coach will. With the energy boost comes another human to direct it at solving issues - two heads are better than one!
5. CONFLICT RESOLUTION: A coach supports you to manage conflict effectively - to walk the line between empathy and boundaries, from a detached perspective, and with the skill of their training and practice.
6. OPENING UP: You can be more open with a trusted coach than any other business relationship, and at times, even more than intimate relationships. This is helpful, to get stuff off the chest and stop wasting energy holding it. It can also be helpful to encourage us to open up vulneraby with those you’d like to be more intimate with; to build real connections.
7. EXPAND OPTIONS AND FOCUS DECISIONS: The Coach helps you significantly expand your options, and also your decision-making ability, by facilitating you to remind yourself of what is important and what isn't.
Ok, you like the sound of that, yes? Confused about what will happen in the session?
- A sessions usually last 75 minutes.
- Beforehand you’ll be asked what your intention is - what is it you’d like to work on and what is the outcome you’d like to achieve.
- The coach will help you arrive and welcome you with a guided meditation to clear your stressful mind and body.
- Some questions will be asked to get thoughts stimulated. The coach is there to guide you to help yourself.
- It may be that you need space to be heard, reflected and encouraged.
- It may be you then need some tools to help cope or to transform the suffering into productive and positive action.
- The coach will have an array of these available, but instead of advising and teaching, they will offer you the choices. The aim is that the client feels supported and has a plan of action at the end of the session.
- The coach will check to see if you are happy with the session and how close it was to meeting the aim you specified at the start.
- We usually end with a short meditation to help embed the work.
Ok, here are 6 questions for you to consider, if you are thinking coaching might be helpful:
1. Do you have the courage to acknowledge that you may need or could be helped by a coach?
2. Are you ready to question your limiting beliefs, biases and assumptions that may be stopping you from achieving your full potential, or your organization’s full potential?
3. Do you and/or your organization/relationships lack a clear vision of where they want also lack inspiration and motivation?
4. Do you need to be shaken up out coasting and slumber, to get excited and refreshed?
5. Are you working hard, and yet not achieving all of your desired results?
6. Are you ready to make a learning commitment, and then build a learning culture?
If your answer 3 or more as 'Yes', then time has come for you to get yourself a skilled coach.
Next, ask yourself - “what areas do you want to be coached on?” or even better "what is the outcome you want from these sessions?"
Often this is straightforward, as you are aware that there is unhappiness or ineffectiveness in certain areas or situations of your life. But remember, everyone can benefit from a coach so even if life is going pretty well, we can still use a coach to iron out blind spots and improve connections.
DETAILING THE INTENTION
If I’m a little stuck I can choose to look at my lifestyle in more detail. For me I think of 10 core roles (I call them roles, because I choose to act them, and put on a slightly different persona and set of values for each). I look at each and decide how I'm doing and what issues I'm facing.
10 Roles to consider:
1. PERSONAL GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
2. SPIRITUAL BEING (connected to something larger than can be understood)
3. FINANCE MANAGER
4. CAREER/ BUSINESS MANAGER
5. A ROMANTIC PARTNER
6. A JOYFUL PLAYER OF RECREATION
7. A CONTRIBUTOR TO COMMUNITY
8. A FIT AN HEALTHY HUMAN
9. A CARETAKER OF MY HOME/ENVIRONMENT
10. A FAMILY MEMBER AND FRIEND
Take 15 minutes now to rate yourself out of 10 and then go through the issues on the ones that are lowest. Make two lists:
Positive (+) = All the things I'm doing well in (Generating well being)
Negative (-) = All the things I'm avoiding, have resistance or confusion about (Depleting energy)
here's my one to show you how it might be done:
1. PERSONAL GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT MANAGER: (7 /10)
+ I'm reading loads and writing.
- I'm avoiding more retreats and investing money in new training, my writing is unfocused and sporadic, I'm indulging in isolating myself, and in addictions like youtube/movies/fb a little too much.
2. SPIRITUAL BEING: (10 /10)
+ I'm meditating and opening up to trust life
3. FINANCE MANAGER: (7 /10)
+ I'm making money and accumulating wealth
- I'm not doing accounts as much as I'd like, I'm not creating systems, I'm not investing money wisely, I'm not planning for my future
4. CAREER/ BUSINESS MANAGER: (7 /10)
+ I'm busy, with plenty of appointments, I'm writing my book and self-learning
- I'm not responding to emails quickly enough (within 8 hrs), I'm not planning for growth, I'm not systemizing enough (invoices for example), I'm not sure where I'm headed and if the sums add up.
5. A ROMANTIC PARTNER: (8 /10)
+ I'm in love and being honest and open, I'm suggesting next steps...
- I'm not sure where it's going / if it'll work, I've not visualised enough to make sure I definitely want it.
6. A JOYFUL PLAYER OF RECREATION: (9 /10)
+ I'm playing guitar sometime, I'm climbing sometimes, I'm playing with slackliners, I'm dancing, playing board games
- I'm taking dancing too seriously,
7. A CONTRIBUTOR TO COMMUNITIES: (8 /10)
+ I'm helping a lot with BM and I'm thinking about putting together more intimacy spaces
- I'm not finding the courage or time to action the intimacy spaces, I'm avoiding social spaces a little
8. A FIT AN HEALTHY HUMAN: (8 /10)
+ I'm eating well, sleeping well, keeping fit, hydrated and stretching. I'm balancing screen and sitting time.
- I'm not as strong or flexible as I'd like, I've damaged: my shoulder blade a little
9. A CARETAKER OF MY HOME / ENVIRONMENT (6 /10)
+ I'm cleaning up efficiently, my room is tidy, my g-drive is in good order, I'm recycling and being mindful
-I'm not staying on top of mobile phone/laptop/car maintenance, I'm still making lots of trash
10. A FAMILY MEMBER AND FRIEND: (7 /10)
+ I'm in regular contact with family, and friends, I'm having dinner with friends,
- I'm avoiding going out in evening, or phone calls, I'm not relaxing and being myself as much as I'd like, I'm not being as generous as I'd like
So when I look at this I see my areas of lower score are Caretaker and Finance, followed by Family/friends, Career and Personal Growth. So to delve in and prioritise by only looking at the lowest ones first.
This analysis has helped me see that a lot of my time is wasted on worry, addiction/ procrastination and not planning ahead for the future. So these are the areas to work on, within the lowest two roles:
Caretaker: I want to get my maintenance items done because they weigh on my mind. To do this I want to make a list of those items and use the 'swallow the frog' method to knock them off one-by-one. The outcome I want is to feel my house is in order and I have routines scheduled to make it easy.
Friendships: I want to be myself more, relax and be honest, generous, and make time to connect. To do this I want to think about what values I cherish, why I want these values and who in my life do I want to see more of. Then to consider how to communicate this and facilitate it happening. The outcome I want is ease, fun and honesty in my friendships.
I can then choose to look deeper at my other items in the same way, but not until I've addressed these two action points with a coach. If I slow down and take one step at a time, instead of tackling everything at once I am more effective and less stressed.
WANT A COACH?
I hope this inspires you to have a think about your life and if you want a coach to help you. If you think this is for you please get in touch - there are three ways I offer this:
1. PERSONAL COACHING: I coach people from all walks of life - some with trauma, and others who want to just enjoy life more and learn to connect to what they love, just like I am showing here. I do this in-person, at my home, or via skype, or going out for a walk-and-talks (which is the most cost effective!) Taster sessions are available now.
2.CORPORATE SESSIONS: I work in offices in groups and with individuals who'd like to improve their flow, their inspiration and their headspace, so they can work happily and effectively. Email me now if you'd like a taster session.
3. GROUP CO-COACHING TEACHING: I also offer courses in co-coaching. Sign up alone or with a friend and over a single session we can teach everyone in the group how to coach, and we can create a network of co-coaches, so that we never have to pay another penny to coach. I have used co-coaching and co-counselling over the last 5 years to help me. If you think this might be for you email me and I'll add you to the email list to let you know when the next session will be.
Ciao for now!
We've confused Happiness with Pleasure
If I were to ask you the difference between happiness and pleasure I'm guessing you'd struggle. That's because modern capitalism has conflated the two. I'm here to suggest we can't' do', 'take', 'get' or 'buy happiness (which means we have to ignore the marketing and social lies), because it is a balance of two things - pleasure and contentment and contentment is something trickier to get hold of. Sure there is a little more to it (meaning for one) but by realising the balance we can start to understand why we might be unhappy, when we see we are chasing our tail, so to speak. If we choose to balance serotonin and dopamine in our system then we may be on a happier track. Let me explain...
How do we find balance?
- Understand what creates Dopamine and Serotonin
- Begin to change habits to bring in more of what is lacking and stop tricking our systems.
- Don’t demonise either - both are useful for living well, when we make more choices. None of the activities I suggest in this post are 'bad' , but they do have risks.
Let's start by looking at the two neurotransmitters that Robert points out...
- Ticking items off to-do list gives mini bursts of pleasure,
- Taking part in sports, especially competitive sports can generate lots of pleasure.
- Sleeping well allows receptors to be open, so we look forward to the day of pleasure.
Lack of sleep makes the system slower, therefore less internal rewards of pleasure.
- Sex and orgasm gives us big rewards, exciting the body and mind with rushes of pleasure.
- Eating foods with amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy and legumes will help us regulate dopamine, but they may not provide the immediate pleasure of the items below.
- Substances like sugar, tobacco, alcohol give short-term pleasure, long-term addiction, because they give the illusion of food or medicine, but are often toxic or not nourishing for the body. This confuses our senses and mind.
- Addictive activities like gambling, on-demand TV, Facebook, over-working etc can give us the illusion of connection and reward, which can create loneliness and isolation.
- Negative thinking, when we anticipate a pleasure/pain we are using our imagination to trick our senses. We also stimulate cortisol and adrenaline, which adds confusion and further craving for pleasure. This includes rumination and criticism, which can create anxiety or depression. This is critical to understand in our re-balancing.
Serotonin: is the down-regulator of neurons, which is a necessary component in relating, resting and digesting (food and information). If dopamine is ‘doing’, serotonin is ‘Being’ - like the sloth - slow, calm, content. Or a Cat purring nicely. We can generate this via:
- Eating slowly and green, fresh, unprocessed food, which contains high levels of tryptophan. Fish can be useful too, especially those with high levels of Omega3 fatty acid.
- Resting - which could include sleep, or closing your eyes and relaxing.
- Exercise - is good for general body regulation.
- Sunshine and fresh air
- Mindfulness and meditation: As serotonin is linked to inspiration, slowing down and appreciating, by regularly practicing mindfulness as a habit, we reform the structures of the brain to be able to create serotonin more easily.
Doing something dog-like: to chase and control a pleasurable outcome risks falling into our innate bias towards negative thinking, which could negate our efforts to find pleasure. The mind may jump to negative stories as expectations are rarely met, creating confusion & craving.
Some activities encourage contentment - meditation, reading, walking, whereas others discourage contentment, like gambling or gossip. The more we ‘choose how to be’ with mindfulness the more activities can be contented.
Doing something cat-like, or sloth-like: mindfully, slowing down to to connect. This will lead us to more long-term rewards. Sex, sports, and productivity can all be a contented if we slow down and reduce our ‘need’ for pleasure and ‘avoidance’ of pain. Then we can balance our desires and find happiness in the mix.
Byron Katie is an inspiration to me. She realised, after years of depression and anxiety, that her imagination was making assumptions, & beliefs that were full of negative self talk. This alone was the cause of her immense suffering. The funny thing was - when she took a moment to stay with the thoughts she often came to see something - they were completely inaccurate! She saw that these painful thoughts we opinions and predictions, based on fear; expectations and judgements seated within a story of catastrophe, based on no real evidence, just emotional confusion.
“A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.”
― Byron Katie, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life
The more she meditated the more she saw that her mind was always trying to tell her stories, to make sense of the world. Many of these were ghost stories and spectres - images and words (which is all imagination provides) creating a nebulous feeling of hopelessness, pain, depression and hate. Upon the new realisation she wondered how to address the ghosts, the painful stories, beliefs and assumptions. At first she tried to just ignore them. Then she tried to cover them with positive speak, but her mind was still believing them, so it never felt safe enough to believe a new story - it just created inner conflict. The old stories had been presented to her so often that she was convinced that they were true.
So she decided to meet all the thoughts with kind questioning, with time and space, leading to a simple understanding; when our beliefs argue with reality we suffer. She treated it as meditation; allowing each question to be held, without forcing answers. Almost as if the ghost thoughts were like children - they just wanted to be heard and understood before they could move on and transform. She began to see that reality was just fine and it was only her beliefs that were causing her pain. With inquiry they evaporated like the fictitious ghosts that they were.
“When we stop opposing reality, action becomes simple, fluid, kind, and fearless. An unquestioned mind is the world of suffering.”
― Byron Katie
I have used these techniques of self enquiry to great effect. BK calls it THE WORK, and I have translated the questions of the work into an easy to remember acronym. I think of this as ghostbusting! It makes it fun. My ghosts are funny, silly and after some practice they are never painful, because I see they are not real and I no longer believe what they show me. With inquiry I go inside and meet them with kind questioning, loving laughter and acceptance, freeing me from any negativity. Positivity is an natural response. It floods in and I get on with enjoying. I can move on more easily and smoothly by combining meditation and inquiry. Ghosts still appear and that's ok. It’s taken me 2 years of THE WORK to reach a threshold where I catch 80% of the ghosts within a minute. If you’re just starting, go slow, take your time and know that it will get easier with practice.
“As long as you think that the cause of your problem is “out there”—as long as you think that anyone or anything is responsible for your suffering—the situation is hopeless. It means that you are forever in the role of victim, that you’re suffering in paradise.”
Ask yourself “what am I thinking that is making me feel this way?”Write it down or speak it. Then inquire if it’s true.
Eg. I’m thinking “Tom is so selfish! He shouldn't be so offensive”. I think that’s true, yes.
H: HUNDRED PERCENT: Can you absolutely know, one hundred percent, it’s true?
We may be so convinced, that our honest answer for now is yes. So let’s get really clear. Only facts are true - is this fact or opinion? It can only be one. It’s either a yes or no, in this situation.
Eg. It’s not 100% true. I guess it’s an opinion.
E: EMOTIONAL REACTION: How do you feel and react when you believe the thought?
Take a moment and see how you physically react and what emotion is stirred up. Write it down.
Eg. I get really pissed off and defensive. I tell him to “shut the hell up.” It’s interesting to see my reaction and I already see how hypocritical this is… let’s keep going.
W: WITHOUT: Who would you be without the thought?
This engages our higher imagination to picture ourselves free of the belief. How would we feel and act?
Eg. I guess I’d let his comments go and I might even find a way to question them in a friendly way, without emotional upset.
O: OPPOSITES: What opposites can I find?
Thought statement can be turned around to the self, to the other, and to the opposite meaning. Try them on for size and see how they feel.
Eg. 1. I’m so selfish! He should be offensive”
2. Tom isn't selfish or offensive.”
R: REAL EXAMPLES: What genuine, concrete examples can you find to support these?
List 3 if you can. Use your memory to see what really happened and to think laterally, outside of the box, not just literally.
Eg. 1. I can see how judging is selfish, I’m taking it personally I can see how when we are honest we are sometimes offensive and that’s how it needs to be - I like his honesty.
2. I remember he was nice to me when I met him, he helped me last week and he was considerate when he and I got together yesterday. This is evidence that he’s a rounded individual who sometimes is a bit too aggressive and direct for my tastes.
K: KIND, OK?: Is it OK to be how you are? How can you be kind to yourself and others?
How could you talk kindly to yourself, as if you were someone else that you cared for?
What kind advice, plan or reframe could you offer? Write down how you are ok, you are good enough.
Eg. It’s OK for Tom to speak his mind and to look after his needs. It’s also OK for me to be upset. The kind thing to do would be to tell him, and maybe to own my feelings, as my responsibility at the same time. I can try and understand what he meant and tell him how I interpreted it and felt.
The beauty of the work is that it allows us to see the thought and break it down to see it’s origins are usually in a self-judgement. You might be surprised how often the judgement we have of others are about ourselves and visa versa. When we exhibit shame - judging ourselves harshly - it is often reflected by someone elses judgment of us a long time ago, when we were young. We internalise that programming as a ghost - a voice that repeats. Until we slow down and do THE WORK of ghostbusting it will keep making us feel terrible and acting from emotional upset. With some work done we soon find that every situation that triggers the painful feelings and thoughts ( the belief inside), is a gift of self learning. We become more wiling to experince that pain and difficult situations.
My advice when using this?
- Deal with one situation and one thought at a time. Don’t skip any - the fearful mind will try and trick you to do that.
- Don’t censor yourself. If a thought is there express it. You are not your thoughts - they are the ghosts of your childhood and so they are like children. Meet them with honesty, kindness and humour. When you get experienced at this meeting thoughts this way becomes a fun game - ghostbusting and ghost befriending!
- Get help to begin with, otherwise we can slip into shame. Having another to reflect will validate your experience and offer perspectives that a cortisol fuelled brain will be to blinkered to accept. The work requires us to get still, inquire within, listen and write it down or tell someone. Externalising a thought makes it solid, rather than nebulous. It gives us perspective on it - we can see it and it's no longer in our head.
- Take is slow - this is a form of meditation. Let the answers come.
ASK FOR HELP
I teach these methods in 1-1 sessions, so if you are interested please get in touch. I run Skype sessions for just £15/hr, so if you'd like to run through some of the mental projections with some help please get in touch! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“When they attack you and you notice that you love them with all your heart, your Work is done.”
― Byron Katie
You can type this question into Google and get a surprising variety of answers - not all of them are 'positive'. Some critics think mindfulness may be 'a waste of time' and others that say it may even be harmful! The scientific evidence tends to be positive. Yet Mindfulness is an art, more than a science, so it isn't black and white: on the one hand promising results about anxiety are clear - where existing anxiety exists it is reduced and focus and enjoyment increases. But on the other hand some studies suggest that mindfulness may not perform any better than other forms of education or therapy (Eg. exercise, massage, exercise, muscle relaxation, or cognitive behavioural therapy) and there is some fear of pathologising children and creating fear where it doesn't exist.
So what’s the truth?
Mindfulness is designed as a way of training the mind to be present (and playful). In the 21st Century this is a skill under threat through compulsive negative thinking, driven by mass marketing, cell phones, internet technology and old fashioned teaching and parenting, that isn’t keeping pace with the information age. Instant gratification is only one factor of these. Simon Sineck spoke provocatively about how this creates first impatience and entitlement, and then fragility of ego, emotions and mind. These problems do exist, even if they do not seem apparent in a young person, at the present moment.
- Mindfulness is not taught, it is offered and planted, like a seed. It takes time and willingness for that seed to grow in the minds of students. For some it may lie dormant for some time. For others it blossoms quickly.
- The seed is not only about eliminating stress and making us happy. It is a experiential encouragement to explore the mind safely. To help students study the feeling and thinking mind - which some argue is our most important resource - and discover for themselves what they want, what challenges they wish to take on and where their balance lies, in any given moment. It helps us discover and influence our openness and closedness to an experience and how emotion and imagined fear plays a part. The more we practice this ‘self-awareness’ the more we can choose appropriate and healthy choices.
- Mindfulness can be used to train the mind for resilience, agility, focus and sensitivity. It helps students realise that only they can do this. It is the only subject to focus on empowering students to realise that they are not their wayward thoughts or entrenched beliefs, and they can exert influence on their behaviour by practicing perspective and self-empathy.
- Mindfulness cultivates appreciation, joy, wonder and kindness. There is no other subject that does this so directly. There are hundreds of scientific reports relating these practices to increased happiness and harmony. And you’ll know yourself, by feeling into the truth of this - when we practice kindness, gratitude and generosity we become happier and more enthusiastic for life.
- INTENTION refers to the inner decision to be mindful. This relies on motivation, from a core understanding of WHY. Simon Sinek wrote about this in his book, (and resulting movement): ‘Start With Why’.
- ATTENTION and how to train their attention to be present is where the course move to next. This is ensures the students have a grounded mental and experiential understanding that they can choose where to put their attention and those tiny choices have consequences.
- ATTITUDE is key, and is covered in lessons 4 and 5, exploring reasons behind values and establishing more practice, so that the fundamentals are understood in the body, not just the mind. This then leads into cultivation of the following attitudes:
At the end of the courses young people and teachers have had the following to say:
“When I was nervous at an athletics tournament being mindful helped me.”
“My brother was annoying me and I was getting really angry but then I realised that I was angry and I focused on my breath.”
“I am more confident when learning new things, and I have learned to be grateful for life.“
“These students love mindful moments and I love them too!”
“The class has become quieter and more interested in the subjects and each other. It seems there are ways to teach empathy! Bullying is starting to reduce too.”
“I’m grateful to the teacher of mindfulness for helping us come together in a different way”
“I can see how this can have huge effects from tiny changes”
There are dozens of reports into emotional wellbeing and mindfulness, including the government's own paper on wellbeing. The Youth Mindfulness website shows a study conducted at the University of Edinburgh in 2014, exploring children’s experiences of the Youth Mindfulness Kids Programme. The results included:
- 98% of children report benefits from participating in the Youth Mindfulness Kids Programme.
- 92% of children reported an enhanced ability to regulate their emotions and tolerate strong affect.
- 72% of children reported that mindfulness helps them to focus, pay attention, and concentrate.
- 72% of children report an enhanced ability to be less reactive towards others, being less aggressive and engaging less frequently in physical and verbal confrontation.
- 77% of children report improvements in peer and family relationships.
- Over 55% of children report that mindfulness helps them to enjoy life more, demonstrating enhanced gratitude, happiness, optimism and quality of life.
Help me teach more young people and teachers:
I am now looking for schools to teach to in 2018, so I have a favour to ask: Please could you spread the word and pass this blog onto someone you know in education. If you believe children could use a hand with emotional intelligence and cultivating skills mentioned here then please help me to facilitate that.
Mindfulness Practitioner, Positively-Mindful.com
You can check it out here: NLP Centre - Mindfulness.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
- Viktor E. Frankl
Psychologists theorise that the ‘personality’ is formed by the time we are four or five as the mind’s primary method to survive, manage and thrive in a world of confusing social interactions and experiences. (others believe the mind remains neuroplastic throughout life). The ‘Persona’ (from the Latin for “mask; character”) is the external face of the ego (who we ‘think’ we are) and it helps us to stay safe from external social and physical harm during this vulnerable period. The persona is made of a set of beliefs, governing the behaviour. We form beliefs through testing thoughts (maybe once or twice) and then believing the resulting observation and feeling
"Once you convince yourself of something it is very hard to change your mind. Especially if you've been reinforcing that belief for years!" - Guy Winch
Here’s an example from my life: I noticed sometimes when people pushed me away and I then had this internal thought: “My friends don’t like me,” So I tested:
Test 1 = I wanted share something difficult, they told me to piss off.
Test 2 = They didn’t like me when I was crying,
Test 3 = I asked to play with them and they laughed at me,
Concluding (tragic misinterpreted) belief = I’m not likeable and I shouldn’t share or ask for help.
FORMING REACTIONS (WITHIN THE NERVOUS SYSTEM)
Now we can clearly see the fallacy in that, but if the tests were painful then the belief is formed to protect them from future pain and it’’s lodged in the nervous system. The irony is that the belief just delays and draws out the pain, over a much longer period and it is often based on misinterpretations. The 4 year old me, in the example, may well now form impulsive reactions whenever that thought arises - actions like aggression or crying. This behaviour will affect future interactions - the child hides pain, because of shame, and those actions will in turn get misinterpreted by others. The cycle of miscommunication and reactivity continues. If some key people in that child’s life join the party of reinforcing voices (mum/ dad / close friends) then it’s likely that the unmet needs embed reactivity even deeper, in the following ways:
- Physical safety by defence or distance = Fear / tensing body OR Anger / pushing away
- A need for emotional safety by comfort and reassurance = sadness / crying / introversion
FORMING TRIGGER POINTS
During that ‘conditioning’ of the nervous system perhaps a key word, sentence or way of looking was associated with child’s internal reaction. In which case the brain will, upon seeing/feeling a similar situation, tell the body to react in a similar way.
Perhaps 10 years later the same child still reacts with sadness and anger when hears any similar message (eg “Piss off!”) even if the context is very different, This is known as ‘A Trigger’ and in some instances the trigger can be mild (a rising emotion of anger or defensiveness) or it can be overwhelming, (including shaking, panic attacks and even seizures).The script of this part of the Persona is faulty, much like that of a computer program on old software. The script is an outdated survival tool, based on incorrectly tested beliefs and is played out unconsciously via the nervous system.
The Greeks wore many persona masks for theatrical roles, as I learned from clowning. For social beings like humans it is essential to have an array of personality traits and masks to protect us and help us thrive in many situations - they are brilliant mechanisms. Though, if we forget that we are wearing one, then we may identify ‘who we are’ as ‘the role’. We become the mask/persona - and we confuse drama as real life, temporarily losing the ability to step back from the role when it becomes overwhelming, especially if we are wearing masks based on ‘faulty’ scripts that have dysfunctional behaviour reactions. If we want to relax these reactions we need to first fully become aware of the mask, realising it’s based on false interpretations and it is not who we really are.
"The Roles Are Not Real!"
SEEING THE MASKS WE WEAR
A useful model to conceptualise the roles within drama is The Karpman ‘Drama Triangle’ - originally conceived by Steven Karpman, based on the Transactional Analysis work of Eric Berne in the 1950’s. These models inform my model, outlined below, which provides a tool to recognising and then transforming the masks we wear, through a process of Enquiry & Empathy to gain ‘Perspective’ (discussed later).To begin let’s look at the three main roles of ‘Drama’ and link them to the internally triggered reactions (which could be any of the TIES; Thoughts, Impulses, Emotions and Sensations) but also look at how the reactions can be directed outwards and then inwards:
When we think the world is against us, feel hopeless and cannot see a way forward. We believe that life is unhelpfully happening TO us. This thinking gradually saps our energy - like an energy vampire, or parasite, which is akin to sadness and later, depression. Internally we all have an inner victim, born from our childhood injustices
Thoughts are usually blank (as are words), but could include things like “It’s awful”, “It’s hopeless” “The world an ugly.evil place” “I can’t…” “I’m fed up.”
Impulses include shallow, quiet breathing with occasional sighs/yawns, retreating away from others/work, tiredness, staying in bed etc.
Emotions include hurt, sadness, hopelessness and shame (mixed with fear). This may include flare ups of anger.
Sensations: Numbness, but subtle sensations in the eyes/tear ducts, low feelings in the heart and belly.
Outwardly, This often begins by seeing the world as working ‘against’ us in some way, and relating in a way that is meek and powerless, which only serves to further dis empower us. We may get angry and move to the Critic role.
Inwardly we might just feel terrible and continue with inaction, reinforcing the role. We might feel pity for ourselves and Rescue ourselves, at its most extreme by becoming depressed or suicidal.
When we see something unjust or that doesn't fit with our beliefs about the way the world ‘should be’ then we might re-actively criticise. On a low level we offer advice from a sense of urgency, need and even panic, which often comes across as ‘condemning’ and persecuting. The high end of the spectrum behaviour could include alienation, oppression or even violence. This can be directed inward or outward too.
Thoughts are usually judgmental, defensive or instructive: “Idiot!” “Stop it!” “Get on with it!”“You should/shouldn’t…” “I need to/must…” “You can’t…” “They (other) are wrong and should change…”
Impulses include forcing something to stop or change, forming fists and shaking with faster, forceful breath. A sense of needing to do something.
Emotions include frustration, exasperation, anger, rage, injustice, offence (mixed with fear).
Sensations: Intensity in the fists, jaw, eyebrows, sternum.
Outwardly: We name, blame and shame others to get them to change as they remind us of something we hate to see (and perhaps repress within ourselves). Sometimes others get hurt in this process or we see others as victims in some way - then we might switch roles to that of a rescuer.
Inwardly: The ‘Inner Critic’ can be a powerful force to motivate us, but when it become ‘condemning’ we begin to blame ourselves and quickly switch back to a Victim or we cover it up with Rescuing, reinforcing the role and proving to ourselves that we need more criticism!
Everyone loves a hero and we secretly all want to share in that glory. The rescuer barely stops for a breath and tries to fix things to avoid others from feeling pain.
Thoughts are usually appeasing, diminishing or heroic / noble, like: “You’re right!” “It’s not that bad….” “You deserve better…”
Impulses include trying to cover something, appease, hold hands up, hug, connect or talk over.
Emotions include guilt, pity, embarrassment, anxiety, pride, panic or even sexual arousal (depending on the sponsoring thought)
Sensations: Blushing, throat closing, stomach dropping.
Outwardly: We get involved in situations that are not our business - we offer advice or reassurance, without it being asked for. We do things for others, without consent. This comes from an energy of fear, guilt and sadness. This behaviour often feeds victim mentality in others. We forget that their pain is ultimately their responsibility - their work. Until they ask for help, or it is obvious that it is needed we only dis empower by rescuing. They may become ungrateful for that, in which case we will become the Critic or Victim again.
Inwardly: The part of us that binges and uses addictions to mask emotional discomfort. It prevents us from self-reflection and facing up to the consequences of our actions, because, like the Victim we perceive this as an unjust world, which needs to be fixed so as not to be seen or felt.
Within this concept, whenever our words and actions are governed by an emotional reaction we are expressing from a dramatic role. We judge internally first and then we judge others based on what we suppress in ourselves.
Eg. If I interpreted the belief (from when I was younger) “I shouldn’t show off” when I was regularly told to ‘shut up’ then I might learn to suppress it. Then when I observe others acting expressively I might judge them, covering up my own pain by judging them - projecting a false image onto them by:
Naming: I give them a label, either negative (eg. Stupid) or positive (eg. amazing). Undue admiration can be a form of rescuing, whilst most negative labels are usually part of...
Blaming: I see them as at fault, as wrong, as an ‘other’ (known as othering) - perhaps even an ‘evil’ other. I might feel annoyance and may begin advising as the Critic (eg “They should shut-up!”) or I turn blaming inward, leading to…
Shaming: Internally I use my Critic and Victim in negative comparison = “I can’t do that, I wish I could. Outward shaming may also occur from the perspective of a Rescuer (eg. “I need to celebrate this person and tell others to leave them alone!”) or Critic (eg. “I’ll make a joke about them”)
OTHERS NEED TO CHANGE
Ultimately all roles are based on a victim mentality - believing we live in an unjust world, that is hopeless - a constant, never-ending struggle. When this philophy and the corresponding behaviour is supported by rescuers it becomes a source of small power. We can use victim strategies to get some small needs met. Letting go of that small leverage can seem crazy, even impossible, so we may cling to it, to our identification as a victim and how others need to change, to make us happy. We use othering to forget that we are all similar in this regard.
BEGIN WITH SEEING IT - SPOT THE SQUIRREL
Alcoholics Anonymous have a saying: “If you spot it you’ve got it”. Once we consciously name what’s really happening we have the power to pause and then act positively. These games of naming, blaming or shaming are ways we get distracted from the reality of the feeling senses. It’s like in the film ‘Up’ when the dog gets distracted by a squirrel. So we simply play a game of ‘Spot the Squirrel’ or ‘Spot the reaction’ that the body and mind has, before we could consciously respond. These could be:
- Strong Emotional Reactions (fear, sadness, anger, pride, shame. The emotion will hint at the role.)
- Repeated Accidents (repeated clumsiness or forgetfulness may indicate the body/mind is confused, perhaps because it is in a victim mindset).
- Compulsions (Things that seem like addictions eg. facebook can be a form of self-rescuing).
So to begin with see if you can spot the Thoughts, Emotions, Impulses or Sensations of one of the roles and then we can spit the role we are playing and maybe even the role we are casting onto others (including the world around us!)
The basics of this are:
- We each created beliefs, roles and reactions based on painful experiences and interpretations that now form ‘triggers’ within us.
- We react to triggers, like a computer reacts to scripted programming.
- By seeing the programming or feeling the reactions we create perspective and empathy, which loosens the mask (or at least our identity to it.
- The three main roles of drama are:
- Victim Vampire
- Condemning Critic
- Reactive Rescuer (of Responsibility)
- In ‘Drama’ we switch roles rapidly between these, and we move from inward to outward focused naming, blaming and shaming, which form dysfunctions in the way we relate to ourselves and others. We use ‘othering’ to support this.
- By pausing at the naming, spotting the distraction (emotion, impulse or compulsive thought) then we regain a moment of power. We can spot specific triggers and internal responses of Thoughts, Impulses, Emotions and Sensations, which are unique to each role.
In Part 3 I’ll discuss ways in which ‘Presence’ can put us in touch with different roles, which we can influence and choose. Stay tuned, or if you’d like to reduce the drama in your life now, contact me today for a 1-1 session.
I wrote once before about changing the game we play - the drama triangle. I have since reflected upon this concept and refined it, adding useful tools to help us come back to balance and step out of drama whenever desired. I believe that life is ‘play’ - be it a drama, a romance, or a comedy of errors! Yet perhaps it is simultaneously a perfect single moment, when we are in ‘presence’. The processes described in this blog provide ways to remind us of that presence and step back into the moment, any time we choose, using empathy and perspective.
“All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts”
William Shakespeare, As You Like It
We do this with the stories we tell ourselves, which we have interpreted and embodied from years of social interactions (which we call ‘conditioning’). Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) is a type of cognitive therapy first used by Albert Ellis. It focuses on resolving stressful emotional and behavioural patterns, much like the beautiful ‘Work’ of Byron Katie. The goal of these therapies is to help the person reframe their personal truths - changing painful and irrational beliefs into more truthful, kind and rational ones, through the process of self-enquiry.
UNDERSTANDING HOW WE DO THAT
Ellis gave us the ABC model to show us how simple it is! He recognized that when a single stimulus, or ‘Act’ (A) happens there can be many Consequences (C). For example, a man walks past a crowd, smiling to himself. This simple ‘Act’ results in the following: Observer (1) smiles back at the man, with a sense of happiness. Observer (2) feels offended, and frowns at the man. These different ‘Consequences’ (C) demonstrate that A is not necessarily directly responsible for C. That’s because different individuals have their own subjective ‘Beliefs’ (B) at play. In situations involving the mind (that’s pretty much all observed situations!) the Belief is the cause of the Consequence - because it is the lens we see the world through.
- Act (eg. smiling man)
- Beliefs (Observer 1 believed smiling = he’s happy) (Obs.2 thought smiling = he’s mocking me)
- Consequences - these could be Thoughts, Impulses, Emotions and Sensations (TIES)
(Observer 2: Thought “He’s mocking me”, Impulse: Frown, Emotion: Anger, Sensation: Tension)
Most of our actions in life are based on ‘unconscious’ beliefs, embedded in the body and nervous system. Stress reactions, like in Observer 2, tend to activate the amygdala and reduce the functions of the higher, open and optimistic mind, through the release of cortisol and adrenaline into the blood. So it will be even harder for that person to recognise that a ‘Belief’ within themselves was responsible for the reaction. This means Observer 2 may then blame the ‘Act’/‘Actor’. If we go through life unaware of these beliefs, due to stress, we identify as a role and we get caught in ‘Drama’. If we practice mindfulness we wake up to more consciousness of our thoughts, and we can then exercise choice. So I’ve added a bit to the end to show a way back out through the process of Empathy and Enquiry.
D: Drama: the play of scripted roles, which we believe are in ‘society’ but are actually in us.
E: Empathy & Enquiry: the feeling into emotions and questioning of our thoughts.
If we challenge our Beliefs in a kind and loving way then we can learn something about ourselves, we can let go of damaging emotions and come to a peaceful understanding and conscious actions. This process would take us back through a reframed alphabet:
E: Empathy & Enquiry - pause and ‘feel’ into the emotional reaction. This may require having a SEAT, and listening to the body. Asking it what it is ‘feeling and needing’ (as in the work of NVC)
D: Decide - making a choice to ‘Bin it’ (let it go and move on), ‘Bag it’ (record the experience for processing later) or ‘Bring it’ (address this right now).
C: Curiosity - the enquiring mind asks: “What am I believing? Is it true?” (Check out ‘The Work’ of Byron Katie).
B: Befriend - remember that this is a friendly universe if we act and think it so. This is optimism - creating an optimal outcome through choosing thoughts that are true and feel good. We can start by befriending ourselves, and if we have the capacity, we can befriend the triggering Act (or Actor) This is covered more in Part 2.
A: Act/Ask: we can now act from a place of wisdom and love, which often involves asking questions for clarity or to help get needs met. Or a more simple question might be “Would I rather be right, or happy?’
That is a lot to remember, but really all you need to remember is:
- We create our own suffering through our Beliefs. No external Act or Actor is responsible.
- Every belief is a lie - in fact it contains the word Be-LIE-f. It is an assumption based on old data, usually something we created during childhood to protect us when we were more fragile.
- Empathy and Enquiry begins our route back to the truth and to peace. This requires we pause and look within.
This is the first part. Next week in Part 2, I’ll show some more techniques to come out of drama by identifying some of the main categories and characters our beliefs take, and then in Part 3 a simple way to change the scripts! Part 4 will go deeper still. Stay tuned, or if you’d like to reduce the drama in your life, contact me today for a 1-1 session.
- Breath Works: practices to program BOLD focus.
- Procrastination part 3: TURNING THE SHIP AROUND
- Loosen your TIES to suffering.
- Understanding Procrastination Part 2: Just do it now.
- What happens in a 1 hour mindfulness class?
- Understanding Procrastination
- Transforming Hatred with Kindness - Storytime!
- Radical Honesty and Non-Violent Communication
- When Feedback hurts - Own your Shit - Take a SEAT
- My Summer So Far
- No pain, no gain?
- Life is like an echo... echooo... echooooo...
- Etymology and Mindfulness of Language
- An Awesome or Choresome Life?
- Mindfulness for Young People?
- Explore the depths of your ocean.
- Let Go and Be - escape the Drama triangle!
- The Importance of Self Expression
- THE IMPORTANCE OF FEEDBACK
- Don't Mindfill
- Love is messy, scary, risky... Love and need?
- Awareness of the road!
- Dealing with the emotional drop
- Tools for patience in meditation and in life.
- Useful language and tools for creating healthy discussion.
- Craving the crux: 10 lessons learned from my rock climbing addiction
- PLAYFULNESS AND PRESENCE: TEDX BELFAST 2015
- Orestes, The Furies and The Eumenides (Kindly ones). A story of vengeance, guilt and forgiveness
- Learning barefoot: feeling more
- Musings on Choice and Obligation
- What is enlightenment and what's the process of getting there?
- What is Mindfulness and Why Practice?
- My Vipassana Retreat Experience
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com
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