Bringing Intention to Your New Year Resolutions

Diana Winston offers a meditation podcast in which she provides a way to deepen intention when making New year resolutions. The meditation combines both reflection and goal setting and aims to replace the usual beginning-of-the -year wish list with a firm, focused intention on making a real change in your life.

Diana begins the meditation with a process for becoming grounded. In this meditation practice, she focuses first on a body scan that involves paying attention progressively to the points of contact of your body with the chair that you are sitting on and the floor you are touching with your feet. The body scan is followed by mindful breathing as a way to deepen your inner awareness – noticing your breathing, but not trying to control it. Diana suggests that the mindful breathing approach can be supplemented by paying attention to the sounds around you – without judgment or interpretation. Once you become anchored in either your breathing or through tuning into surrounding sounds, you can move onto the next stage of the meditation practice, reflection.

Reflecting on the past year

Diana proposes that a reflection on the past year should precede goal setting for the new year. The reflection has two parts – (1) what was good about the previous year and (2) what was not so good. In relation to the first – the good aspects – the idea is to focus on what brought you peace, joy or happiness. Here you can express gratitude for all that you experienced as good in your life.

In the second part, you can identify what was not so good in terms of what you did that impacted negatively on yourself or others. This begins the process of identifying what you want to change in your life. The not-so-good aspects may have resulted from not appreciating what was good in your life at the time or they may represent an unhealthy habit that has adverse effects on your life. Diana maintains that it is important at this stage of the meditation to treat yourself with loving kindness and not become absorbed in self-blame and self-denigration.

Bringing intention to your new year resolution

The final stage of the meditation practice is to focus on what you want to change in your life – choosing one thing that will have a significant effect on your life and those you interact with. Just building mindfulness through meditation practice itself impacts positively the people around you as you are better able to express loving kindness towards others and yourself.

The important point here is to focus on one thing or aspect of your behaviour that you want to change in your life. Too many resolutions dissipate energy and weaken intention. Focusing on one thing at a time builds intention and resolve.

Once you have a behavioural goal clearly in mind, a way to strengthen your intention is to envision what your life will be like when you achieve your behavioural goal – what will be happening differently?; what positive impacts will it have on your stress levels/ experience of equanimity?; and what will it mean for the quality of your relationships? The more you can focus on the envisioned positive outcomes, the stronger will be your intention and resolve to achieve your goal.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and developing our focused intention to create change in our lives, we can progressively remove the unhealthy habits that are negatively impacting our lives and those around us.

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

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Meditation: Noticing the Sensations of Your Body

Often, we live so much in our thoughts that we lose touch with our bodies and yet our bodies are the means to ground ourselves in the present moment. John Kabat-Zinn offers a meditation that helps us ground ourselves through our bodies. The meditation is described in Mindful.org and provided as a meditation podcast, titled Bodyscape Practice to Notice Sensations.

The purpose of the meditation is to develop your awareness of the sensations in your body. This includes focusing on the nature of the sensation, e.g. tingling, aching, throbbing, and extends to noticing how the sensation is experienced, e.g. as discomfort, pain or resignation.

You can also expand your bodily awareness to encompass your skin, the largest organ of your body. This may involve noticing the cool or heat of the air flowing over your body and sensed by your skin. It extends to getting in touch with the variation in the sensations of your skin in different parts of your body – heat, chills, or dryness. Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us of the marvellous organ that the skin is and how it mediates our experience of the physical world and how we breathe through our skin.

The core advantage of noticing your bodily sensations is grounding yourself in the “now” -in your present reality as experienced through your body. The following meditation helps to achieve this groundedness.

Noticing the sensations of your body

Jon Kabat-Zinn provides a number of steps in his bodyscape meditation and these can be summarised as follows:

  1. The meditation begins with physical grounding through a focus on posture while sitting or lying. Holding your fingertips together while adopting a comfortable position for your hands and other parts of your body, can add to your awareness of bodily sensations – it is often easy to experience tingling in your fingertips as bodily energy flows in the course of a meditation. Touching your fingertips together can also serve as an anchor to enable you to experience energy flow in your body at any time and to become grounded very quickly.
  2. Focus on your breath – get in touch with the ebb and flow of your breathing by noticing your in-breath and out-breath while observing the gap between them. When you get in touch with the gap, you can rest in the peacefulness and equanimity that can be experienced in this space.
  3. Move your focus to where your body contacts the floor, the chair or a table/desk. Notice the nature of the contact and the different levels of pressure experienced at various contact points.
  4. Now shift your focus to a body scan – seeking out any bodily sensation that is a particular source of discomfort or pain. Let your awareness, aided by your grounded breathing, focus on any particular point where the sensations are strong. Sit with awareness of this part of your body, noticing the nature and intensity of the sensation and how you are reacting to it.
  5. You can progressively deepen your awareness to your very joints, muscles or bones – opening up to whatever the sensation is at the moment. John Kabat-Zinn, in his meditation podcast, takes this bodyscape meditation to a deep level and helps you to enter more fully into the depths of the “bodyscape”, just as he does in creating awareness of the depths of “touchscape“.

As we grow in mindfulness through bodyscape meditations, our awareness of our bodies expands, we become more easily grounded in the present and more able to accept what is.

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

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Movement and Mindfulness

Often meditation techniques involve sitting still in a relaxed, grounded, upright posture with your hands in a comfortable position; alternatively, they can involve lying down on the floor or the ground. In either case, these mindfulness approaches involve immobility – they are designed to create stillness in both your mind and your body. However, one can make a case for supplementing these immobile meditation techniques with mindfulness practices that involve movement.

The need for movement

Much has been written about the impact of a sedentary lifestyle on our physical and mental health and overall wellbeing. There is also increasing research about the health benefits of walking. Movement exercises our muscles and activates the various systems of our body, e.g. cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems. So movement is essential for good physical health. Physical exercise, too, helps to reduce the symptoms of depression.

Another consideration as the population ages, is that physical capacity declines progressively as we age. For example, the Harvard Medical School recently released a report on Preventing Falls and highlighted the fact that from our 50s onwards, our balance can be adversely affected by a number of factors. They highlight the impact of aging on our gait (the distinctive way we walk – encompassing aspects such as pace, weight transfer, stride length, swing of the leg and foot placement pressure). According to the report, our gait is considerably affected by the time we reach 70, even if fit:

Gait often changes with age. For example, healthy people in their 70s generally have a 10% to 20% reduction in the speed of their gait and the length of their stride compared with healthy people in their 20s.

This physical decline is accelerated where no movement or exercise is undertaken on a regular basis.

Combining movement and mindfulness

Two key ways to achieve the combination of mindfulness and movement to help redress physical and mental decline are mindful walking and Tai Chi. While mindful walking in the open brings the added benefits of engaging with nature, mindful walking on the inside (indoors) can be more readily accessible, especially when the weather is inclement and uninviting.

Earlier in this blog, I discussed the many physical, mental and emotional benefits of Tai Chi, including enhanced mind-body connection. A recent Harvard Medical School report, An Introduction to Tai Chi, reinforces these benefits and highlights the research showing that Tai Chi develops a “sharper mind”, offsetting the natural decline in your mental faculties, which can lead to dementia.

Whether you engage in mindful walking, Tai Chi or yoga, these practices have in common “meditation-in-motion” and strengthen the mind-body connection. So, combining movement and meditation, simultaneously strengthens our mental and physical capacities and their interconnection.

As we grow in mindfulness through combining meditation and movement, we can supplement and enhance the many benefits of sitting, standing or lying meditations. We can reduce the mental and physical decline that comes with age and improve our overall capacities, especially the connection between mind and body.

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

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Developing Kindness through Meditation and Imagery

Diana Winston in one of her weekly meditation podcasts introduces a kindness meditation that employs guided imagery.  The key approach is to create a positive image and mentally invite others in to join you in that place.  This immersion in the present moment not only reduces stress and anxiety but develops a kindness orientation that can flow into your daily life.

Paying attention with kindness – cultivating a kindness orientation

Fundamental to this approach is paying attention with kindness – a form of mindfulness that envelops others through our care and concern.  Often, we are unaware of others, even those close to us, because we are absorbed in planning the future to reduce anxiety or ruminating about what might have been in the past.  We can become absorbed in disappointment over unrealised expectations

Guided imagery meditation proposed by Diana can take us outside of our self-absorption and open ourselves to kindness towards others.  Neuroscience, through discovery of the neuroplasticity of the brain, has reinforced the fact that what we actively cultivate in our minds will shape our future thoughts, emotions and actions.  Regular practice of kindness meditation creates new neural pathways so that we will find that we become more thoughtful and kinder – we become what we cultivate.  This principle is embedded in the story of The Grinch.

The Grinch in Dr. Seuss’ book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, cultivated meanness through his thoughts, words and actions and became progressively meaner to the point that he stole everyone’s Christmas presents and trees.  He was ultimately undone by the kindness of little Cindy Lou and her community who invited him to a Christmas meal despite his meanness to them.  At the meal, he shared his realisation of the value of kindness by making a toast, To kindness and love, the things we need most.  Kindness meditation practice shapes our orientation and is contagious, infecting those around us.

Developing kindness through meditation and imagery

In her guided meditation podcast, Diana leads us in an approach to meditation that incorporates guided imagery.  First, however, she guides us to become grounded through posture, focus and bodily awareness.  This state of being in the present moment can be anchored by focusing on our breathing or sounds around us (without interpretation, being-with-the-sound).  

Diana uses the imagery of a pond as a metaphor for kindness (starting at the 20.44mins point of the podcast).  The pond contains “kindness waters” that surround anyone who enters the pond.  The meditation involves progressively picturing people entering the pond and being embraced by the waters that spread happiness, protection, well-being and contentment.

As we grow in mindfulness through the practice of kindness meditation aided by imagery, we can become more kind and caring through cultivating a kindness orientation.  Our words and actions, in turn, influence others so that kindness grows around us. 

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

Image source: courtesy of MabelAmber on Pixabay

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Identifying Our Blind Spots through Mindfulness

One of the realities of human existence is that we all have blind spots – what others see in our words and action but we can’t see ourselves.  Our blind spots may be obvious to other people who can see patterns in our behaviour.  The problem is that we can never eradicate our blind spots completely but we can learn to identify them and learn to better manage our responses – to effectively reduce the hurt to others and to ourselves.

Kelly Boys, author of The Blind Spot Effect: How to Stop Missing What’s Right in Front of You, suggests that our blind spots have a number of dimensions:

  • Visual– we actually have a physical blind spot in our eyes. You can check out your physical blind spot in each of your eyes through this link.
  • Attentional – we can suffer from an attentional blind spot because of our lack of ability to truly focus.  Daniel Goleman suggests that the capacity to focus involves the triad of awareness – focus on ourselves, focus on others and focus on the wider context.
  • Cognitive – these are the fixed thoughts we carry about the world and ourselves in the world – “I’m not good enough”, “The world is not safe”.  These may have worked for us over time but will lead us to diminish ourselves and devalue the energy and support of others.  Cognitive blind spots can cut us off from experiencing the world as it is and limit our opportunities.
  • Behavioural– we may be totally oblivious to persistent patterns in our behaviour that are very obvious to others.  It may be the way we respond to criticism or attempt to please others all the time -what Harriet Braiker calls, The Disease to Please.
Identifying the core blind spot

Kelly, in her interview with Tami Simon, offered a simple exercise to help people identify their core blind spot – “the way we hold our perception of ourselves and the world around us together”.  Identifying the core, which often relates to a sense of separateness, can lead to a major transformation in our lives.

Kelly suggests that being still and open to the present moment is a key way to access our blind spots and to understand the underlying pattern in our perceptual, cognitive and behavioural responses. In the exercise she led during the interview she encouraged people to become grounded; be open to, and aware of, their senses (sound, sight, breath) and to notice any tension, tightness or contraction in their body.  Staying with this bodily feeling is a way into understanding the underlying blind spot – “Where does this tension come from?’ “What am I saying to myself about my looks or capacity?’ “How am I perceiving the world or the actions of others?” “How am I planning to respond – why?”

As we persist with this kind of exercise, where we use our bodily awareness as the gateway to our blind spots, we can delve deeper into our core blind spot and open up the way to respond very differently – we can better understand our reactivity in certain situations and increase our response ability.  This self-awareness and self-regulation are key outcomes of mindfulness practice.

As we grow in mindfulness we begin to recognise patterns in our thoughts and behaviour and what we pay attention to.  If we persist in the relevant mindfulness exercise, we will come to understand our core blind spot. This growing realisation opens up new possibilities for us as we free ourselves from the limitations in our perceptions and responsiveness that arise through our blind spots.

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

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Developing Choiceless Awareness

In the previous post, I discussed three dimensions of awareness in meditation – the narrow, broad and “choiceless awareness”.   In this post, I want to focus on the latter form of awareness that, to some degree, requires foundational skills in narrow awareness or focused awareness.

Choiceless awareness is a recognised form of meditation that has developed over time to increase self-awareness and self-regulation.  For example, Tara Brach offers a free, guided meditation on choiceless awareness which incorporates the use of the mantra “OM“.

Choiceless awareness is not directed to a specific focus as in narrow awareness focused on breath or sounds; it is open to whatever enters your inner awareness.  You might become aware of bodily sensations – pain, tightness, tingling or warmth – in your arms, legs, back, shoulders, feet or chest.

You could become aware of your thoughts as they enter your mind and notice whether they relate to analysing, planning, critiquing, estimating, organising or summarising.  You could ascertain whether your thoughts relate to the past or the future – whether they are concerned with past situations/events or anticipated situations/events.  The main thing is not to entertain the thoughts but to let them pass you by, like bubbles floating to the surface and bursting.

You could become aware of your emotions generated by your thoughts or sensations and become conscious of anxiety, fear, joy, peace, disappointment, hope or any other positive or negative emotion.  You could name the emotion and acknowledge it, e.g. I am feeling sad, and then move your awareness to what else is happening for you.

With choiceless awareness, the focus shifts constantly, and this can become disorientating.  What is recommended if this happens is to turn to focused awareness of your breathing to ground yourself again.  This is why it is suggested that even with choiceless awareness, the starting point should be some form of focused/narrow awareness so that you can return to the grounding offered by the narrower form of meditation.

As we grow in mindfulness by engaging in different forms of meditation, including choiceless awareness, we can increase our self-awareness and self-regulation and be better able to manage situations that are stressful.

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

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Being Grounded

So often we can be off-balance, caught up in concerns about the future or worry about the past.  Alternatively, our minds can be racing from one thought to another.

If we lack awareness in the present moment, we will miss opportunities, make poor decisions, create work and  stress for ourselves and find that our productivity, either at work or at home, suffers.

If we are grounded, small annoyances and setbacks do not disturb our equanimity and we can manage larger challenges more effectively because we are able to choose an appropriate response, rather than be caught up in the whirlwind of our thoughts and activities.

Ways to develop groundedness

Being gounded is important and underpins mindful living.  We need to stop our frenetic activity and  take time to get connected with nature or tuned into our body.  Another form of groundedness is to engage in mindful walking where we get in touch with the ground, or the floor if we are walking inside our house.

We can tune into our body through mindful breathing, a body scan or other form of somatic meditation.  Breathing is so fundamental to living that most mindfulness experts praise the benefits of mindful breathing – it has a calming effect, can be undertaken any where and is  a good way to begin most meditations.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Another form of meditation that enables you to become really grounded focuses on the energy that surrounds us – in the air, in nature, with people and animals.      Through this approach,  you are able to get in touch with the energy of the universe and experience the connectedness this entails.

As we grow in mindfulness through regular practice of different forms of meditation, we can become grounded more easily when we are in a stressful situation, or exposed to a negative trigger, or are becoming nervous when we have to perform.

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

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Creativity through Mindfulness

Over several blog posts I have explored the relationship between mindfulness and creativity.  In this post, I want to bring these ideas together to provide a more complete picture of how to develop creativity through mindfulness.

Mindfulness creates the internal environment for creativity through the following:

Stillness and silence

We discussed previously how creative people use stillness and silence to access their inner resources including their imagination.  The busyness of life and constant thinking means we are rarely still or silent.  In the process, we cut ourselves off from creative insight.  Jon Kabat-Zinn and Reg Revans also remind us that exploring what we do not know or understand is the beginning of learning and creative solutions.   As we practice mindfulness through meditation, we engage in stillness and silence and open ourselves up to what Jon Kabat-Zinn describes as “deep interior capacities” that lie within the “spaciousness” of our minds.

Turning down negative thoughts

Mindfulness can make us aware of the negative thoughts that often block creativity and constitute self-sabotage.  Creative people like David Lynch, Amanda Sinclair, Elizabeth Gilbert and Seth Godin report the importance of turning down, or turning off, thoughts about potential failure or deemed personal inadequacy.  Seth even ascribes this self-sabotage to the “Lizard Brain”.  Sam Smith, singer-songwriter, during a recent interview while performing in London, spoke of the internal demons that beset him and almost prevented him from pursuing his highly successful songwriting and singing career.

Mindfulness enables us to address negative thoughts and stories and defuse their strength to release creativity.  Boy George in a recent coaching session with a very nervous performer on the TV show, The Voice, encouraged the singer to let go of preoccupation with what others might think of their performance:

I think you are someone who really thinks about what people think about you.  We do that as performers – it’s just one of those things, it’s like a default setting in out make-up.  We worry too much about what other people think of us and that can get in the way of what we do.  Don’t think about it too much is the key.

Positive anticipation instead of disabling fear

In a previous post, I discussed the research of Anna Steinhenge and her demonstration of how positive anticipation can overcome the disabling effects of fear and enable us to access clear thinking and creativity.  In this discussion, I explored the R.A.I.N. meditation process that enables us to face the fear within and conquer it so that we free ourselves for new insights and creative endeavour.   Through mindfulness meditation we learn to name our feelings in order to tame them.

Calming the busyness of our minds

Mindfulness enables us to calm our minds and free us from mental busyness or what Haruki Murakami describes as “convoluted waterways of my consciousness” that result in a “restless aquatic organism” .   Even experienced meditation practitioners will sometimes find their mind racing and being invaded with endless thoughts.  Kabat-Zin reminds us that this is part of the human condition and we will not be able to stop the thoughts.  He suggests that instead of entertaining these thoughts, we view them as bubbles in boiling water floating to the surface and bursting on reaching the extremities of the container – our minds.

Being present and grounded

Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, co-authors of The Mind of the Leader, stress the importance of leaders being present and grounded.   They argue that being present in conversations gains respect and facilitates open sharing of ideas.  Being grounded before beginning a conversation or meeting can enhance a leader’s capacity to listen, take in ideas and access their own creative potential.   Practicising somatic meditation, which incorporates many approaches to being grounded in our body, will strengthen our capacity to be present in the moment, stay grounded in the conversation and be open to creative ideas.

Acting on creative ideas with boldness and bravery

It is one thing to have creative ideas, it is another to have the necessary  boldness and bravery to implement creative ideas.  Amanda Sinclair points out in her book, Leading Mindfully, that creativity involves breaking with tradition, taking risks, trying out something new and having the self-esteem and resilience to be able to persist in the face of opposition – especially from those who have a vested interest in maintaining things the way they are.

Mindfulness helps us to maintain focus, to remain calm, build resilience in the face of opposition and setbacks, and to become braver and less fearful of the difficulties, dangers and risks involved in implementing creative ideas.

As we grow in mindfulness, we are able to access our inner resources through stillness and silence of meditation, overcome our fears, stay present and grounded, remain calm in the face of difficulties and develop boldness, bravery and resilience as we venture beyond “the tried and true”.

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

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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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