Overcoming the Obstacle of Restlessness During Meditation

In today’s post I continue to explore the theme of obstacles to meditation introduced by Diana Winston.  I have previously explored obstacles such as sleepiness, desire and aversion.  Here I want to focus on restlessness as a universally experienced obstacle to meditation.

Diana, in introducing restlessness as an obstacle in her meditation podcast, makes the point at the outset that “obstacles” can be viewed as part and parcel of our human experience rather than problems to be solved.  By reframing obstacles as integral to life experience and what we encounter in meditation, we can more readily face them with a positive, encouraging mind and avoid criticising our self because they arise.

Restlessness is a natural human condition as our minds are conditioned to scan our environment for threats or impending challenges.  Our amygdala, our fight/flight response centre, keeps us on the alert for anything that may stress or harm us.  So, our mind tends to wander from one thing to another scanning our internal and external environment.

Overcoming the obstacle of restlessness during meditation

Diana explains in her podcast that there are at least three possible ways to gain control over restlessness during meditation – (1) more precise focus, (2) wider awareness, and (3) paying attention to the experience of restlessness itself.

  1. Becoming more precise – for example, if your focus is on your breathing, then being more precise involves focusing more closely on the experience of breathing.  This entails observing not only the in-breath and out-breath but the space between.  It can also involve moving awareness to different parts of the body where you experience your breathing – your nose, chest, abdomen.
  2. Developing a wider awareness – make your focus more expansive by taking in the sounds around you, being conscious of your posture and its effect on your meditation, shifting your posture to change your focus, noticing where your mind is going to, e.g. today’s activities, future pleasurable activities, desires and wants.
  3. Focus in on the experience of restlessness and its bodily manifestation – shifting position frequently, wanting to get up from the meditation, feeling tense in the shoulders or back.  This focus involves being with what is at the present moment.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practice we can learn ways to overcome obstacles such as restlessness, desire and sleepiness.

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

Image source: courtesy of paco on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Replacing Shame with Kind Attention

Shauna Shapiro, co-author of The Art and Science of Mindfulness, maintains that mindfulness practice involves more than paying attention.  In 2005, Shauna published an article with her colleagues titled Mechanisms of Mindfulness.  In that article, Shauna and her colleagues shared a model of mindfulness that shows that the effectiveness of mindful meditation depends on more than attention alone – it requires a positive interaction of intention, attention and attitude.

In one of her TEDx Talks, Shauna particularly focused on “attitude” because the attitude you bring to mindfulness practice actually grows stronger.  She maintained that her 20 years of mindfulness research confirmed categorically that mindfulness generates clear benefits for our mind and wellness.  However, these benefits are mediated by the attitude we bring to our mindfulness practice.

Shauna’s research and her own lived experience bore out the fact that everyone has a tendency to feel shame for some of the things that they have done in life and that during mindfulness practice, shame can take over and shut down our capacity to learn and develop.

What Shauna discovered was that the attitude required for effective mindfulness practice was one of “kind attention“.  In her view, it takes a lot of courage to face the parts of our self that we are ashamed of.  However, instead of dwelling on negative self-evaluation, which only grows stronger with attention, we need to be kind to ourselves and express self-love and self-compassion.  She found that the simple act of saying, “Good morning Shauna” each morning with her hand on her heart (as an expression of self-love), can begin the movement towards self-love and the ability to say, “Good morning Shauna, I love you”.

Shauna explained that at first this process feels awkward and trite, but she found from her own experience and mindfulness practice that it gradually replaces self-loathing with self-care.  She explained that what we pay attention to grows stronger.  So if we spend our day consumed by shame, frustration or anger, we are only strengthening these attitudes.  Whereas, if we focus on kind attention and genuine self-compassion, we strengthen those attitudes and thicken the part of the brain that enables learning, growth and transformation – a process called “cortical thickening“.

What is interesting is that not only does our neo-cortex thicken but also its connection to the “fear centre” (the amygdala) of our brain is weakened.  So that through continuously practising kind attention, we are better able to view the world and ourselves positively and act effectively in our environment, whether at work or at home.

Shauna told the story of a veteran who was consumed by shame for what he had done in the war zone but when he shared his story with other veterans, their compassion towards him helped to dissolve his entrenched sense of shame (contributing to his PTSD) and enabled him to experience self-compassion.  So, our compassionate attitude to others can also help them move beyond the disabling effects of shame.

As we grow in mindfulness through mindfulness practice imbued with kind attention and self-compassion, we strengthen our ability to concentrate, remain calm and make decisions that enable us to function effectively in our challenging world.

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

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay.

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

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)

Image source: courtesy of lukasbieri on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Compassion Meditation

Sometimes it is difficult to show compassion when we are suffering or in pain ourselves.  When we experience pain, particularly if it is intense and/or constant, we tend to become self-absorbed.  A lot of our attention, energy and focus go into managing the pain whether by distraction or different forms of alleviation such as painkillers, acupuncture or somatic meditation.

What we then tend to overlook is that there is “pain in the room”.  No matter what we are doing with or for others, such as sitting in a hospital waiting room or conducting a workshop, there are always people in the room who are suffering physically or otherwise.  We do not know what pain people are carrying – we can be fairly confident that suffering and pain exist in the room as it is part of the human condition.

Interestingly, neuroscience increasingly confirms that, with both animals and people, compassion for others is a basic, natural inclination.  In contrast, it seems that self-compassion does not come naturally.  This is explained, in part, by the fact that our brains have a negative bias as a self-protection mechanism.  This safety bias plays out through our amygdala, the most primitive part of our brain.  As we experience life, this negative bias gets reflected in our negative thoughts which means that we are often self-critical and “hard on ourselves”.

So self-absorption, because of our own pain and suffering or through dealing with negative thoughts,  means that our natural inclination to demonstrate compassion to others is suppressed or blocked out.

This is why loving kindness and compassion meditation has a role to play in our lives.  In presenting a series of loving kindness and compassion meditations during the Mindfulness and Meditation Summit, Sharon Salzberg offered a series of meditations, each with a different focus.  The  meditations included loving kindness for a struggling friend, a difficult person, a benefactor and for a group.  These are all designed to take us outside of ourselves and sensitize us to the thoughts and feelings of others.

Daniel Goleman, in his recent co-authored book, identifies compassion as an “altered trait” – a sustained trait resulting from loving kindness and compassion meditation.  The authors contend that neuroscience consistently confirms that compassion meditation results in increased kindness and generosity, even with beginner meditators.

As we grow in mindfulness through compassion meditation, we are more able to move beyond self-centred preoccupation in our thoughts and actions, and manifest real kindness and compassion towards others.

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

Image source: courtesy of jia3ep on Pixabay

Why Kids Need Mindfulness

In her interview with Tami Simon, Goldie Hawn explained in depth why children need mindfulness training and what led her to develop and conduct MindUP™.

At one level, it concerned Goldie that American children rarely smiled – a stark contrast to children in Third World countries who smiled a lot despite experiencing incredible deprivations.

Goldie was also concerned about school-age children needing psychological help to deal with anxiety and stress.

School-age children have their own direct sources of anxiety – such as performance expectations of parents and teachers, peer acceptance and sibling rivalry.  Performance expectations can relate to academic performance, achievement in a sporting arena or meeting career expectations.

Self-generated anxiety in children can be compounded by parental anxiety and stress – generated by economic downturn and associated job losses, the threat of terrorism and career stresses.

Anxiety in parents is contagious and can contaminate  the emotional life of children.  They, in turn, carry their accumulated anxiety and stress to school and bring home anxieties from school experiences, including bullying.

The recent suicide death of 14 year old, Dolly Everett, because of online bullying, highlights the pressures that kids are under from peers.  Dolly was a bright, happy and caring child who was subjected to cruel, cyber bullying.

This form of devastating peer presure carried out via mobile phones and social media, is one of the many stresses that school children today have to deal with.

What Goldie has done through her MindUP™ program is expose children to brain science and enable them to understand their own emotions and reactions.  She has also given them a common language to express themselves via metaphors, e.g  the amygdala as a “dog barking”.

Another key feature of the program is “mind breaks” – a simple process focused on breathing that enables the children to learn how to calm themselves.  As they grow in mindfulness through mindful practice, they are able to attain calmness and clarity and better manage their lives at home and school.

As Goldie points out, she is giving  school children the tools to be positive and caring leaders of the future:

They are going to be able to manage their emotional construct, their reactivity, to become better listeners, ideate better, problem solve better, and have some dignity, some level of humanity that they have learned through their early education.

Children need mindfulness to equip them to better manage the stresses of day-to-day living and to have the resilience to handle bullying behaviour.

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

Image source: Courtesy of GoranH on Pixabay

 

When We Fear the Worst

So often we become anxious about something that is about to happen and yet our worst fear is never realised.

The problem is that our brains tend towards the negative as a means of self-defence.  The amygdala, that part of our brain that perceives threat, sets us up for a fight or flight response.  We either brace for a fight (physically or mentally) or we plan our exit strategy (our flight path).

What appears as a threat to one person may be perceived as a challenge or opportunity by another.  We perceive the same event differently because of what is going on in our heads.

This tendency to fear the worst can happen in the midst of our everyday lives – a call to the office of the boss, an interview for a job, a future encounter with someone in authority or a potential discussion with our partner.

We might be expecting a phone call and begin to anticipate the worst, so we get ready with our arguments to defend ourselves.  So often our worst fears are not realised and we have exhausted our energy being unnecessarily anxious.  Some wise person once said something like this, “I have lived many experiences, and only a few of them really happened.”

As we grow in mindfulness, we learn to manage our thoughts and anxieties and to develop calmness and the associated peace that comes with a still mind.

Image source: Courtesy of Engin_Akyurt on Pixabay