Being present: Key to Effective leadership

Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, in their Harvard Business Review article, If You Aspire to be a Great Leader, be Present,  reinforce the necessity for a leader to be present, especially when they are engaged in conversation.   They demonstrate how being present contributes to effective leadership and draw examples from the experience of leaders.  Rasmus and Jacqueline are the co-authors of the recently released book, The Mind of the Leader.

Rasmus and Jacqueline in doing research for their book, surveyed in excess of 1,000 leaders “who indicated that a more mindful presence is the optimal strategy to engage their people, create better connections, and improve performance”.

Being grounded

The authors explain how Loren Shuster, Chief People Officer at the Lego group, grounds himself before an important meeting or a presentation that he has to give.

His grounding is achieved by focusing on his body and imagining every part being alive with energy.  This enables him to listen effectively, show respect for the views and opinions of others and access his own creative ideas and solutions to problems.   This practice only takes five minutes but if affects the way he stands, sits and addresses people – his posture demonstrate that he is present and “with” the people with whom he is conversing.  He automatically adopts a posture that is seen as respectful, attentive and engaged – characteristics that build connections and improve performance.

Silence the inner voice

The authors argue strongly that a key element of being fully present is to silence the inner voice – and this takes discipline.  We cannot be actively present when we are saying to ourselves things like, “Oh no, here he comes again!”; “I wish she would ask someone else!”  What have I done to deserve this?’; “I wish he would not get so emotional about things”.  If our inner voice takes over, it is impossible for us to “tune in” to the other person.  People easily sense that you are thinking your private thoughts and are not present – in consequence they feel unheard, devalued and frustrated that they cannot get their message across.

Be open to the needs of others

Our influence as leaders is very much determined by our capacity to meet the needs of others – whether they are sad, in pain, need more challenge, feel letdown, experiencing grief, or are fearful of pending changes to their role. A leader who is present and attentive to others’ needs will be well received and be very influential.

Mindfulness develops our capacity to be present, to be grounded in the moment and to acknowledge and act on the needs of others.  As we grow in mindfulness through the stillness and silence of meditation we can access our creativity and bring that to bear in the present moment in our daily encounters with people and challenging issues.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Be Brave, Be Creative

In the previous blog post I discussed the need for boldness to take action on a creative idea – to be willing to break with tradition and act on a different way of conceiving something, e.g. Karen Quinlan’s innovations based on a new conception of an art gallery.  I also explained how mindfulness can help us to be bold enough to initiate action on a creative idea – by helping us to build calm, clarity, focus and self-belief.

To sustain creative activity, however, also requires bravery.  It takes courage to explore new terrain, persevere despite setbacks and maintain your energy and enthusiasm when the going gets rough.

Creativity and bravery

Bravery can be defined as “having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty”.   Invariably, there will be setbacks when you set out on a creative endeavour.  For instance, Karen Quinlan found that some gallery directors she approached refused to loan her artwork for her gallery.  However, she was able to persist with her creative ideas and enlist the help of others who supported her ground-breaking ideas.

While Karen was prepared to take risks, like many successful entrepreneurs, she took only calculated risks.  This required considerable research and planning.   Amanda Sinclair explained that Karen, for example, knew that women make up 80-90% of visitors to art galleries in Australia and that very few of the male-dominated, art gallery directors made any effort to satisfy the interests and needs of this demographic group.  So, she was able to draw on her own interests, training and experience to identify these needs and develop creative ways to meet them.

When you encounter a setback, you often cannot see the way forward but you are able to persevere because of your strong belief in the creative idea, its potential contribution and your capacity to see it through to completion.  Mindfulness builds the persistence and resilience required to overcome difficulties and fears along the way even when the way ahead is becoming increasingly unclear.

As you progress your creative ideas and implement your new approach, you will encounter increased resistance from those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.  Reg Revans, the father of action learning, who met considerable opposition to his creative approach throughout his life, quoted the German philosopher Nietzsche to explain how new ideas are opposed:

If you think you have a new idea, see what happens.  Unless it is opposed by the stupid and ridiculed by the clever, it can have nothing new in it.

In the face of this kind of irrational and emotive opposition, you need support to sustain yourself and your energy.  Karen was able to gather a creative team to support the development and implementation of her ideas.  This collaboration helped her to maintain motivation, develop creative solutions to problems encountered and build external support.  Karen found, as often is the case, that local businesses came on board with her ideas with cross-promotions when they started to see the increase in tourist traffic and international acceptance and accolades for the Bendigo Art Gallery being developed by Karen.

Bravery and mindfulness

Mindfulness helps you to be more conscious of, and grateful for, the internal and external support you receive and to develop the relationships involved through awareness, empathetic listening and loving kindness.

Mindfulness develops calm and clarity in the face of stressors that would undermine confidence or cloud your vision.  It helps you to strengthen the courage of your convictions, overlook sustained opposition of fearful people, build resilience and develop new ways around roadblocks and impediments to the way forward.  As you grow in mindfulness, you become braver in the pursuit of creative ideas and less fearful of the risks, dangers and difficulties involved.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Be Bold, Be Creative

In recent blog posts, I have identified how mindfulness opens the way to creative ideas through:

However, it is one thing to generate creative ideas; it is another to act on them.   Being creative requires boldness.  The very definition of creativity entails “inventiveness” and “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something” – going beyond traditional ways of conceiving things and acting on that insight.

Creativity and boldness

Creativity entails action – going beyond the creative idea to taking action to realise the potential of that idea.  As Amanda Sinclair points out in her book, Leading Mindfully, being creative requires boldness which is defined in the online Oxford Dictionary as “the willingness to take risks and act innovatively”.  Starting out on a new venture requires this boldness – a willingness to initiate action to create a new response to the micro- and macro-environment.  This requires the calmness and focus generated by mindfulness and the ability to still the inner chatter as you set forth on this new journey with an uncertain end.

Breaking with tradition

A further explanation of creativity suggests that it involves “the ability to transcend traditional ideas” to “create meaningful new ideas”.  It takes boldness to break away from established ways of conceiving and doing things.

In her chapter on “Opening to Creativity“, Amanda discusses the creativity of Karen Quinlan, Director of the Bendigo Art Gallery, and her bold and very successful endeavour to break away from tradition.  Her success was been encapsulated in the term “the Bendigo Effect” and its alternative, “the Quinlan Effect”.

Her first break with tradition was to take on the Director’s role where leadership in the area was typically male-dominated.  She also broke the mould by conceiving of high-end art as incorporating fashion – an inclusion that was a blind spot for male Directors.  In pursuit of this expanded perspective, Karen put on exhibitions such as Marilyn Munroe and Grace Kelly-Style Icon.  She also incorporated topics and art forms that fell outside the normal realm of established art galleries, e.g. Australian Women Photographers.

Karen was open to ideas from any source and this openness and awareness led to the development of an Imagining Ned exhibition based on the story of Ned  Kelly and artefacts from Ned’s life (including his armour).  Her vision of an art gallery incorporated a strong focus on education and relaxation (with the development of an art gallery cafe).

One has to be bold to make such a major departure from tradition – to take innovative action rather than be frozen by fear.  It also takes a very strong self-awareness and self-belief to ignore the naysayers who are always present to “throw cold water” on a new idea to discourage your eagerness.  Mindfulness strengthens self-esteem and builds resistance to the unwarranted assumptions of others.

With bold action comes uncertainty about outcomes – the road ahead is not always clear and can become quite cloudy and fogged in.   Mindfulness helps to maintain focus, remain calm, build self-control and achieve clarity of purpose and vision.

To reinforce her boldness and maintain her energy, Karen undertakes regular exercise (walking & running) and relaxation through gardening or a quiet restaurant lunch.  She gives priority to her family, does not work in the evenings and “loves to enter a zone of quiet contemplation”.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can be bold and creative, knowing that we are developing focus, clarity and calm; strength of conviction and self-belief; and the ability to ignore the negative comments of others who lack our vision and perspective.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Creativity Lies in Stillness and Silence

In 2015, GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland) displayed 200 visual works of David Lynch including lithographs, photos, paintings, video art and photo collages.   David epitomises creativity – he is an American  filmmaker, artist, actor, musician and photographer and is considered by The Guardian to be “the most important Director of this era”.

The creative power of silence

In an interview on ABC Radio National in March 2015, David spoke about creative control and in the course of his interview, he stated that “the silence within has infinite dynamism”.   In his view, creative ideas come from within.   You start with an intention to develop an idea and then, if you are patient and focused, you suddenly see it and feel it as it reaches full consciousness.  He discusses open awareness (for instance, focusing attention on the beauty of a cherry tree) that stimulates wonder and the incessant desire to understand your world.

Jane Dawson in an article on reflection and creativity, contends that creative expression is thwarted by the busyness of life, especially in educational institutions.  She argues for the need for  “space for silence” to cultivate and pursue creativity and suggests that meditation provides that space.

The creative power of stillness

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his 2011 interview with Krista Tippett, maintains that “spaciousness is already in the mind”.  The way to access this spaciousness that is the fountain of creativity is to develop intimacy with it – to be open to its power through the stillness of meditation.

Jon argues that one of the real barriers to developing creativity is our lack of training in the “deep interior capacities” of attention and awareness.  He argues that all our training is focused on thinking, so that we cut ourselves off from imagination and creativity by focusing on only one aspect of the mind’s capacities.   Whereas the real gateway to creativity is “the stillness of awareness of not knowing” – of being aware of what we do not know and what we do not understand.  Creativity is not achieved by being contented with the knowledge that we already hold.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and openness to our life and our world, we can cultivate the power of silence and stillness to access our innate imagination and creativity.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Opening to Creativity through Mindfulness

Professor Amanda Sinclair, in her book Leading Mindfully, devotes a chapter to the theme, Opening to Creativity.   She argues that one of the ways that mindfulness releases creativity is through “turning down” the self-judging function of our brain which invariable acts to thwart creative activity.  This negative self-assessment is a major blockage to creativity.

Amanda writes about the negative thoughts and stories that were circulating in her head as she contemplated writing her book – “no one would be interested in reading it”, “it will be just another management/leadership book”, “academics will view it as lacking rigour because it will include anecdotal information”.  These negative messages blocking creativity delayed her writing, and even as she wrote, they took on different forms in a sub-conscious attempt to undermine her creativity.

Once Amanda started writing, she was able to quiet this internal chatter through mindfulness and give herself permission to create the book.  She was able to tap into her research, life experiences and the experiences of her friends, contacts and colleagues to craft a book that was a different contribution because of her original integration of her perspectives developed over a lifetime of insights.

For instance, Amanda was able to draw on the seemingly devastating experience of Jill Bolte Taylor, who suffered a stroke at the age 0f 37.   Jill, a brain scientist, gave a TED Talk, My Stroke of Insight, about how her brain had changed physically because of damage to parts of her brain, including the areas that controlled speech and “self-talk”.   In her presentation, she explains how the stroke and resultant physical damage to her brain gave her the freedom and permission to be creative.  She no longer had to manage the negative thoughts and stories because her brain could no longer produce them and thus they were not able to impede her mind’s creative endeavours.

Amanda’s experience in starting out on her new book writing venture, after having successfully written other books,  resonates with the experience of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love.  In her TED Talk, Your Elusive Creative Genius, Elizabeth spoke about the fear-based, negative talk that almost immobilised her writing following the stellar and unexpected success of this earlier book.  Her internal message, reinforced continuously by others, was fundamentally a concern that she could never match the success of Eat, Pray, Love and that her life would be a failure.   Elizabeth described her succeeding book that was about to be published  “as the dangerously, frighteningly, over-anticipated follow up to my freakish success”.

Elizabeth, through developing her insight and self-awareness, found a unique strategy to quiet her negative thinking to enable her to create the follow-up book.  She ascribed her creativity to some divine genius within her that she could blame in the event of failure (as long as she did her bit of daily, disciplined writing).

Seth Godin, author and entrepreneur, considered one of the most influential thinkers in business, maintains that we each have to find a way to quiet The Lizard Brain, the amygdala, which sabotages our creative efforts through fear-based messages.  Mindfulness is one way to address these negative thoughts and to become open to creativity.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can release our creative capacity from the capriciousness and irrationality of our internal negative messages that assault us whenever we risk creative endeavours.  Mindfulness enables us to “turn down” the internal chatter and be open to creatvity.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Engaging With and Accepting Death

Annie Robinson, in her article, How Mindfulness Can Ease the Fear of Death and Dying, asserts that there is a strong movement in the West to reengage with death, encourage open conversations about death, and to pursue choices in dying that respect the values and vision of the dying person.  This is also the theme of Lucy Kalanithi’s TED talk and Paul Kalanithi’s book,  When Breath Becomes Air, which he wrote while suffering from terminal cancer.

There are a number of characteristics of this movement and approach which involve dying mindfully:

Acceptance of death

Acceptance involves not only acknowledging the onset of death but all the feelings and thoughts that go with it.  This includes denial, sadness, suffering, anger, fear, grief and sense of loss associated with declining mental and physical capacity as well as the ultimate separation from loved ones.  It also includes accepting the loss of our old identity and an envisioned future and progressively forging a new identity and vision of dying.  Mindful acceptance does not remove the suffering but can reduce the pain and fear of death.

Being attuned to sensory experience

This involves paying attention to our senses – touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell- and experiencing the sensations such as a beautiful scene or sweet-smelling flower to a heightened degree.  It involves resting in these sensations while we can still experience them.  Some of these sensations will be intensified as we focus on them with our waning energy.  Annie suggests that being attuned to our sensory experience can develop joy and mindfulness.  Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Coming to Our Senses, has demonstrated that focused attention on our senses can alleviate pain and help us to rewrite the narrative in our heads (including the narrative of fear and depression).

Finding balance through openness to love

Remaining open to love and caring of a partner, parents, children and relatives enables the dying person to find some level of balance as they alternate between pain and joy.  This requires vulnerability as their faculties decline and dependence increases; it also means that bitterness over loss on every dimension is not permitted to gain a stranglehold on emotions.  In his book, Paul Kalanithi was able to talk about marriage difficulties arising from his extreme workload as a neurosurgeon resident, working from 6am to late at night, 7 days a week.   His wife, Lucy, in the Epilogue to Paul’s book acknowledged that the cancer diagnosis enabled them to reinvigorate and deepen their love for each other and, in the face of  Paul’s dying, “to be vulnerable, kind, generous, grateful”.

Lucy wrote about the balance that emerged through their complete acceptance and trust in each other:

Although these last few years have been wrenching and difficult – sometimes almost impossible – they have also been the most beautiful and profound of my life, requiring the daily act of holding life and death, joy and pain in balance and exploring new depths of gratitude and love (p.219)

Lucy acknowledged that as you grow in mindfulness, you can find joy amidst the pain and grief, meaning when all seems lost and a profound gratitude that engenders fortitude and courage.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Dying Mindfully

Lucy Kalanithi, in her Ted talk, What makes life worth living in the face of death, shared the story of her last 22 months with her husband who was suffering from terminal cancer.   Her husband, Paul, a young neurosurgeon, was able to continue his practice for a while after his cancer diagnosis owing to his oncologist’s management of his chemotherapy.

After Paul was unable to continue as a neurosurgeon, he turned to writing which he continued to do until the last months of his life.  Paul’s book is titled, When Breath Becomes Air.   The book is a reflection on the task of transitioning from doctor to patient.  It describes the challenge of facing his own death –  a challenge that both Paul and Lucy had assisted their patients to face.

Lucy explained in her talk that together they accepted that suffering and death were part of life – but this did not remove the pain and suffering involved.  When reflecting on life and its purpose she said:

Engaging in the full range of experience — living and dying, love and loss — is what we get to do.  

Lucy said that instead of fighting against fate, she and Paul learnt together how to deal with the here and now of suffering and loss – they worked together to help each other through.

Part of their approach to Paul’s dying was to talk with each other openly and honestly about their feelings and the difficult decisions that they faced progressively:

  • whether to have a child (with Paul’s uncertain life expectancy)
  • whether Lucy should remarry after Paul died
  • what level of medical intervention they would accept at different stages of Paul’s illness
  • when to turn off life support.

Lucy commented that talking through the options, helping each other make those decisions and accepting the pain and loss involved at each stage, gave her a new insight into the meaning of resilience – because it could not mean, in their circumstances, “bouncing back” to a prior state.  Paul had to redefine his identity throughout the illness as he lost physical and mental capacities and Lucy had to find a new meaning in her role as “caregiver”.  Together, though, they showed the resilience of facing dying mindfully, of being present to the current reality confronting them and not meeting it with denial.

Paul also used his final months to reflect on what he was experiencing in the hope that his written reflections could help other patients going through what he was experiencing and help clinicians to understand the dying patient’s journey from the inside.

In her final comment, Lucy stated that exercise and mindfulness meditation helped her a lot.  As we grow in midnfulness, we can help each other during the experience of dying and develop a new resilience in the face of an inevitable, changed reality.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Mindfulness Lessons from Reported Near-Death Experiences

In the previous post, I introduced meditating on death, discussed its benefits and shared some examples of this meditation approach.  Here, I want to discuss the lessons we can learn about mindfulness from people who have reported a near-death experience (NDE).

The ground-breaking research in this area was conducted by Dr. Raymond A Moody who first published his book in 1975, Life After Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon – Survival of Bodily Death.  This research in the USA led to people all over the world reporting near-death experiences and opened up a whole new arena of research which continues today.  A research foundation has been established by Jody and Jeffrey Long to collect individual NDE stories from around the world and share research about NDE experiences.

Some scientists challenged the NDE stories and their associated conclusion of an afterlife – they considered it to be some form of aberration of the brain.  However, neuroscientist, Dr. Eben Alexander – originally one of the strongest opponents of the meaning of the NDE experience – had a near death experience himself when he suffered a seven day coma and his pre-frontal cortex shut down.  His documented experience and conclusions have challenged the scientific community.   His recent book records his initial doubts, his own NDE experience, his new understanding of consciousness and his life transformation, Living in a Mindful Universe: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Heart of Consciousness.

Mindfulness lessons from reported near-death experiences

One researcher decided to conduct research of NDEs in Australia as the focus of her doctoral research.  Dr. Cherie Sutherland PhD, interviewed 400 Australians who had a near death experience and published her results in a book, Transformed by the Light: Life After Near-Death Experiences.

Cherie defines a NDE experience as follows:

The near-death experience (NDE) is said to occur when a person is close to death (or in many cases actually clinically dead), and yet is resuscitated or somehow survives to recount an intense, meaningful experience.  (p.3)

Cherie found that most of the reported NDE experiences have some things in common – a compassionate life review, out-of-body experience, feelings of peace and well-being and a sense of timeliness.  This mirrors the NDE research results from elsewhere in the world.

The findings that were most common relate to the after-effects of an NDE experience, and these have particular relevance for mindfulness practice.  People who encounter a near-death experience typically have initial problems with “re-entry” into everyday life.  However, over time, they begin to reassess their values, the meaning of their lives and their priorities. They tend to transform themselves, and their life changes accord with mindfulness practice and the attendant growth in awareness.  People who encounter a near-death experience typically report:

  • profound self-awareness, equivalent to a series of in-depth psychoanalysis sessions with a therapist
  • increased sense of control over their lives and self-management
  • very strong desire to use their latent talents and abilities for the benefit of others
  • growth in self-concept, self-confidence and self-efficacy (belief in their capacity to achieve things)
  • increased patience and tolerance (not controlled by assumptions)
  • heightened appreciation and respect for nature
  • greater appreciation of others and “love for humanity”
  • greater understanding and insight
  • growth in compassion and a strong desire to work with those who are disadvantaged and “the grieving, the elderly and dying” – many made career changes including working in hospices for the dying
  • profound desire to learn – to gain self-knowledge, to develop their talents and to be a greater source of help to others
  • different attitudes to death and a loss of fear of death.

As we grow in mindfulness, we move closer to the life transformation displayed by people who have encountered a near-death experience and we begin to realise the benefits that come with sustaining mindfulness practice.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Meditating on Death

This has been one of the hardest blog posts for me to write.  It is difficult to write about death when there are so many different views about death from various philosophical, spiritual and religious perspectives.  It is even more difficult to confront the reality of your own death – accepting its inevitability and the impermanence of life on earth.

Our concept of death develops as we grow older and its inevitability becomes part of our consciousness.  However, there is a real taboo about talking about, or thinking about, death.   We fear death and avoid it – but we cannot avoid its inevitability despite the stories we might tell ourselves to stave off the fear of death.

The benefits of meditating on death

One of the primary benefits of meditating on death is to overcome this fear.  Annie Robinson, for example, suggests that mindfulness can “ease our fear of death and dying” – it can also help to reduce the pain, anger, grief and denial that occurs with dying.  Other authors support this view and add that meditation on dying enables us to better assist those closest to us with the process of dying.

One of the really strong and lasting benefits of meditating on dying is appreciation for the life that we have to live – valuing each day as the first day of the rest of our life.  This encourages us to live mindfully in every aspect of our life – to value nature, our freedom, our friendships, our gifts and talents and our close relationships.  This was the very clear message of Holly Butcher as she confronted her imminent death from cancer.

What people value when dying

Mathew O’Reilly, a critical care, medical emergency technician, spoke during a TED talk about his experiences in helping people who were very near death as a result of an accident or a natural disaster.  In his early career, he felt that he needed to lie to these critically ill people who had moments to live to protect them from the fear of death.  Once he decided to tell the truth about their impending death, where there was nothing that he could do for them, he found that the majority of people faced their death with peace and acceptance.

What he found too was that three things were important to different people at the time of death:

  1. wanting forgiveness
  2. wanting to know that their life had meaning
  3. wanting to be remembered (even by Matthew and his team).

Meditating on death

Pursuing three questions

One form of meditation on death is to pursue the above three things for yourself.  You could ask yourself one or more of these following questions, thinking about how you would respond at the time of death, if you knew it was imminent:

  1. Who do I need forgiveness from – who have I neglected or caused suffering to?
  2. What meaning does my life have? What have I actually contributed to make this world a better place for others, near and far?
  3. What will I be remembered for?
Writing your own obituary

Some mindfulness experts suggest a form of meditation on death is to write your own obituary.  Lux Narayan, in his TED talk, shared his experience of reading 2,000 published obituaries of people who died.  What he found was that both the famous and not-so-famous did extraordinary things to help make society a better place – “they made a positive dent in the fabric of life”.  He asks that we consider how we are using our talents to help society so that our obituary will reflect the “positive dent” also.

Buddhism Nine Points Meditation
Buddhism  offers Nine Points Meditation on Death which reflects the foregoing discussion of what people value at death and what obituaries say about people who have lived a meaningful life:

It is vital that when we die, we will have as many positive imprints—which will bring good experience and as few negative imprints—which will bring suffering—on our mind as possible. Also, we should aim to die at peace with ourselves, feeling good about how we lived our life, and not leaving behind any unresolved conflicts with people.

The nine points meditation on death explores this rear-mirror perspective after helping us to confront both the inevitability of our death and the uncertainty about the timing or means of our death.  It concludes by reminding us that, as we live, we still have time to live a life that is “meaningful, beneficial and positive.”

Mindfulness of Death Meditation

WikiHow provides a detailed Mindfulness of Death Meditation that covers the potential distractions (in part, generated by discomfort with the topic of meditation), explores the reality of death and your feelings about it, and assist you to identify ways to improve the wellness of your life here and now.

A Death Meditation method

This is a detailed meditation on death that involves relaxing your body in the first instance, then imagining the dying process with energy progressively leaving all parts of your body, then identifying the real self that remains and following this with reintegrating with your body.  This can be a confronting meditation initially but lead to a sense of peace and relaxation.  The author suggests that you first read about preparing for the death meditation.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditating on death, we can achieve a level of peace and acceptance and, at the same time, increase our motivation to live our life in a positive, helpful and meaningful way.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Overcoming Cravings and Addictions through Mindfulness Practice

In my previous blog post, I discussed Melli O’Brien’s interview with Judson Brewer, an expert in the use of mindfulness for overcoming cravings and addictions.  Jud, as he is called, is the author of a number of books, including The Craving Mind.

In the earlier blog post, I wrote about how addictions are formed and how mindfulness undermines both cravings and addictions through breaking the link between our addictive behaviours and our perceived rewards.

In this blog post, I will focus on the barriers that prevent us from using the power of mindfulness to break the shackles of cravings and addiction and present a mindfulness practice, recommended by both Melli and Jud, that will help to overcome those barriers and shackles.

Personal barriers to using mindfulness to overcome cravings and addiction

During the interview with Jud, Melli suggested that sometimes shame gets in the road of our recovery from addiction.   Craving and addiction feels so very personal that we are reluctant to own up to ourselves or others about its existence.  We want to avoid the pain of self-realisation.

We may be reluctant to give up the rewards associated with the addiction because they have become our crutch, e.g. to deal with stress; and we might be fearful that we will not be able to cope.

Melli also asked Jud what he personally experienced as barriers to daily mindfulness practice.  In his response, Jud identified three key things that made it difficult for him to sustain his daily mindfulness practice:

  1. growing in self-awareness that was painful – it became progressively clearer to Jud that he had caused suffering for other people in his life and this was difficult to face on an ongoing basis, and was humbling;
  2. being too intellectual in his practice – intellectualizing about some of the practices rather than just being-in-the-practice;
  3. doubting the efficacy of loving-kindness meditation; but finally, after a number of years, overcoming his assumptions and bias against the practice.

A four-step mindfulness practice for overcoming cravings and addiction

During the interview, Jud introduced the R.A.I.N. process as a mindfulness practice for breaking the habit loop of cravings and addiction.  The four-step process involves the following:

  1. Recognise – that you are caught up in a habit loop through a craving and recognise the addiction it creates when you give into the thoughts and emotions associated with the craving;
  2. Accept -that you have this craving and related addiction which, as Melli suggests, is a part of the “human condition”, that is part of being human;
  3. Investigate – what is happening in your body when the craving appears; what are the body sensations you are experiencing? what triggers the craving? what are the real outcomes/cost of the addiction (challenge the behaviour-reward link); experience the pleasantness of exploring your curiosity about yourself and your personal reactions to various triggers; enjoy the experience of getting to know yourself and who you really are.
  4. Non-identification – acknowledge that your cravings and addictions are not you; that you are not your thoughts; that you are not your emotions; and that underneath it all is you growing in awareness and becoming-in-the moment.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, we gain a better understanding of the personal barriers we create to stop ourselves using mindfulness to break the shackles of our cravings and addictions.  We can also learn mindfulness practices that can break through these barriers and the shackles that hold us captive to our own unhealthy habit loop.  In the final analysis, we learn to trust in the power of mindfulness and the resultant awareness.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

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