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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Beyond Mindfulness at Work: Soul in the Workplace

Richard Barrett, author and business coach, presented at the encore release of the 2018 Mindful Leadership Summit which was presented online over 10 days from December 3-12, 2018.  Richard’s presentation, Soul in the Workplace: the Future of Mindfulness at Work, brought a new frame of reference to the discussion of mindfulness.  He argued that meditation and mindfulness constitute the journey, while “soul awareness” is the destination.  He puts forward a seven-stage development framework illustrating the journey and its destination.

After many years researching and writing about the evolution of human values in society and organisations, Richard contends that the next phase of the development of mindfulness at work is, “Soul in the Workplace”.  His insightful and integrative thinking has led him to reframe the proposition, “I have a soul” to “I am a soul”.  

Soul awareness

Richard drew on his experience at the World Bank where a “spirituality group” morphed into a mindfulness group focused on “soul awareness”.  He argues that beyond the three-dimensional reality that we all have access to, there is a fourth dimension of “soul awareness” which involves awareness of an individual’s existence within a universal energy field.

Richard argues that a person’s “soul” is the “individuated aspect of the universal energy field”.  In other words, we are each an incarnated soul that is an individual expression of the universal energy that surrounds us.  Many studies of human anatomy support Richard’s contention that our body, brain and mind are energy fields and that we are surrounded by energy fields, e.g. sound energy utilised in sound therapy,  or energy transfered through touch.  

The concept of the Seven Chakras, which has existed for thousands of years, identifies the location of energy centres in the body.   Similarly, the concept of Qi (Chi) in Chinese Medicine relates to the energy flow in the body that is activated by acupuncture through needling of specific points on a person’s energy “meridians” (pathways).

Personal development stages 

Richard suggested that our life journey involves seven stages involving different levels of consciousness.  The developmental stages are illustrated in the Barrett Model.  The model draws on the earlier work by Erik Erickson in identifying the stages of psychosocial development.  The stages identified by Richard can be summarised as follows:

Stage 1 – Focus: Basic need to survive – the reptilian brain (the most primitive part of our brain) is dominant.

Stage 2 – Focus: Conformity to achieve a sense of belonging and being loved -limbic system (where our emotions are centred) is dominant.

Stage 3 – Focus: Personal integration and group acceptance – designed to achieve recognition as an individual together with identity as part of a group.

Stage 4 – Focus: Personal identity (individuation) – breaking free of conformity to parental and societal controls to explore autonomy and freedom.

Stage 5 – Focus: Self-actualisation – finding meaning through self-expression utilising gifts and talents.

Stage 6 – Focus: Making a difference – through connecting with others whether spontaneously with other individuals or as part of an ongoing group.

Stage 7 – Focus: Contribution through selfless service – utilising unique knowledge, skills and experience for the greater good.

According to Richard, regression at any one of the stages can lead to ongoing problems as we seek to realise soul awareness and “soul activation” which can be interpreted as “living a values-driven, purpose-driven life”.

Developing soul awareness and soul activation

Richard suggests that our core problems underpinning maladaptation have their origins in the frustration of the needs pursued in the first three stages.  The resultant developmental blockage can be perceived as the “shadow” discussed by Robert Masters and explored in my previous blog post.  in contrast, stage 4 (individuation) places a person on the pathway to soul awareness in that it involves a person moving beyond a self-absorbed, ego focus.

The last three stages of personal development – self-actualisation, making a difference, and contribution – are about soul activation, pursuing our true life purpose.  In his book, What my soul told me (available as an inexpensive eBook)Richard identifies detailed processes to move beyond self-absorption to soul awareness and soul activation.

Soul in the workplace

Richard, through his writing, public speaking and consultancies, has worked tirelessly to bring soul awareness into workplaces around the world.  He has pursued this goal through a focus on developing values-driven and visionary leadership, organisation culture transformation and whole system change in organisation.  He maintains that organisations do not transform, people and leaders in them transform themselves and in the process change the level of consciousness in their organisation.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and mindfulness practices, we can move beyond self-absorption, progress in our psychosocial development and achieve a values-driven life that enables us to achieve our true life purpose.  Our positive energetic field can have a real impact on everyone we encounter throughout our day.

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

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Plumbing the Depths: Exploring the Shadow

Tami Simon recently interviewed Dr. Robert Augustus Masters, author of a number of books, including, Bringing the Shadow Out of the Dark: Breaking Free from the Hidden Forces That Drive You.  Robert explained in his interview that each of us is influenced by our shadow, born of early life experiences and associated conditioning.  We can access this shadow through observing our reactivity to the words and actions of others and exploring this responsiveness in terms of the forces underlying what is often our inappropriate behaviour.  He explains that it takes courage, patience and persistence to plumb the depths of our shadow.

A near-death experience leads to self-exploration

Robert explained the concept of the shadow and its impact by sharing his own experience of plumbing the depths after a near-death experience (NDE).  He had started a community designed to develop the spirituality of participants but what started out as an open community became a cult, closed in on itself and impervious to outside influence or internal dissent.  He became delusional, enamoured with his own power and importance, and blinded by pride precipitated by the belief that he had arrived spiritually.

His near-death experience resulted from a rash action – imbibing a drug that was immediately harmful, causing him to lapse into unconsciousness and to stop breathing.   In exploring the catalyst for this impulsive action, he discovered that his pride had led him to become aggressive and totally lacking in empathy.  

Plumbing the depths: exploring the shadow

The near-death experience forced Robert to plumb the depths of his shadow – a shadow that was characterised by a belief in shaming as a basis for spiritual growth and a blindness to the harmful impact of his words and actions on those around him (members of his own community).  He discovered painfully that this desire to shame, together with his empathetic blindness, had its origins in his early life experiences where he was constantly shamed by his father (for his own good) and protected himself by becoming aggressive (fight).  His alternative was flight – disassociate himself from what was happening and retreat into himself.

Through his exploration of his shadow and its origins from his early conditioning, he became aware of his reactivity and learned the difference between healthy anger and aggressiveness.  Healthy anger maintains a sensitivity and empathy for the person who was the trigger for the angry response; aggresiveness seeks to diminish them, attack them or belittle them to prove that we are right.   This aggressive response can be during the event (face-to-face) or afterwards, as we indulge our sense of hurt  and avoid letting go.

Robert explained that he had to become intimate with the pain of the shame that resulted from the realisation of how he had hurt people in his community.  He had to look at the pain in all its dimensions (colour, shape, depth), name the source of pain and expose himself to the vulnerability that this exploration of the shadow entailed.  As he explored the depths of his shadow, he brought to light painful memories of his childhood conditioning.  The sensations associated with these deep emotional experiences were also felt in various parts of his body.

Coming out the other side from deep exploration of the shadow enabled Robert to develop “emotional resonance” (empathy), a healthy anger response and the realisation that he, like everyone else, is a work-in-progress.  Based on his experience, Robert recommended that we face up to the pain beneath our reactivity, explore the depths of our shadow and move to free ourselves from the hidden forces that drive us.  As we pull the veil aside, we come closer to understanding our responses and the triggers that set us off.

To assist with the exploration of the shadow, Robert suggested that after we experience a strong reactivity in an interaction with another person, we ask ourselves, “How old do I feel when I act this way?’  This could help us to get in touch with the conditioning we experienced as a child.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection on our reactivity, we enhance our self-awareness, develop insight into the impact of our words and actions and learn to expand our response ability, including communicating a genuine expression of sorrow for the hurt caused to another person.

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

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Developing as a Mindful Leader

Bill George presented at the recent Encore of the 5th Mindful Leadership Summit.  Bill is a co-author of The Discover Your True North Fieldbook which explores ways to become an authentic leader.  He was formerly Professor of Management Practice (now Senior Fellow) at the Harvard Business School and Chairman & CEO of Medtronic.

Bill highlighted the fact that we are all leaders in whatever context we operate in – whether in work, family, community or in a nursing home.  We each have the capacity to positively influence others by our presence, our words and our actions.  Science confirms that even our smile can create a positive vibe in those we interact with throughout the day through the processes of mimicry and “emotional contagion”.

What is mindful leadership?

When explaining mindful leadership, Bill drew on the explanation of Janice Marturano, formerly Vice-President of General Mills and founder and executive director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership:

A mindful leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating four things – focus, creativity, clarity and compassion.

Bill stresses that these traits are employed by mindful leaders in the service of others through sharing clarity, modelling self-compassion and compassion for others and bringing focus and creativity to their endeavours to enable collaboration, inclusion and the achievement of desired outcomes.

Developing as a mindful leader

Janice Marturano, author of Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership details mindfulness practices that can be embedded into every aspect of our daily life to improve our overall wellness and enhance our performance in all our endeavours.

Bill argues that in this day and age the emphasis in leadership is on inclusion and empowerment of people to enable them to be the best they can be.  This approach of power with, and through, people engages their commitment and energy, supports mental wellness and achieves results far beyond that of the traditional approach of “power over” people which induces compliance and disengagement.  People need a sense of agency as a precondition for mental health and wellness – they need to know that they can influence their environment and the way things are done.

The mindful leader brings to any situation self-awareness (how they impact people and the situation) and self-regulation (the capacity to monitor their cognitive, physical and emotional reactions and to exercise flexibility in their responses).

Bill mentioned that he has been meditating daily for 40 years and that this has been transformational.  He argued that mindfulness meditation builds self-awareness and self-regulation and the traits that differentiate a mindful leader.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we can develop self-awareness and self-regulation along with the traits required for mindful leadership – focus, clarity, compassion and creativity.

 

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

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Identifying and Managing Harmful Beliefs

Tara Brach provides an insightful article on the nature and impact of harmful beliefs.   She explains the well-known fact that our beliefs about ourselves and others (that we hold to be true), influence our thoughts which in turn generate emotions that then shape our behaviour – especially our responses to what we perceive as negative triggers.   Tara points out that often our beliefs cause us suffering because while they are real, they are not true.  The negative bias of our brains serves to sustain these harmful beliefs.

Our false beliefs can take many forms:

  • I am not good enough
  • They are out to undermine me
  • I am not doing enough
  • I don’t deserve to belong to this group
  • They don’t want me to be a part of this activity
  • I am bad.

These negative beliefs can develop at an early age and be reinforced by our cultural environment and own life experiences.  Parental influences can play a big role, e.g. if we cannot live up to their expectations musically, academically or with sport.  We may have experienced early separation from one or both our parents either temporarily or permanently.  This can reinforce our natural inclination to separateness – seeing our self as separate from others- and develop a sense of what Tara calls, “severed belonging”.

Our negative beliefs about our self or others can lead to defensiveness and inappropriate behaviour in conflict situations.  Our beliefs act as a way to protect ourselves when we are feeling vulnerable.  These beliefs are often below the conscious level and can lead to unconscious bias.  The problem arises when we then use our experience, impacted by distorted perceptions, to confirm our beliefs, thus leading to “confirmatory bias”.  Tara suggests that our beliefs can act as a veil through which we see and interpret the world.

The reality is that our beliefs about our self and others are merely representations that serve as as “maps” to negotiate our interactions in daily life.  The problem, though, is that “a map is not the territory”.  Sometimes our “maps” are accurate and useful; other times they are flawed, misleading and a source of suffering.

Identifying and managing harmful beliefs

Tara provides an eight minute meditation podcast on how to come to grips with harmful beliefs and to manage them effectively.  The starting point after becoming grounded is to reflect on a situation where you were in conflict with someone else.

Tara draws on the work of Byron Katie, author of The Four Questions, to provide a series of questions that you can pursue as part of this beliefs meditation:

  1. What belief or set of beliefs was I entertaining during the interaction – what did I believe was happening? (identifying beliefs)
  2. Are these beliefs true or did I invent them to protect myself? (remembering that beliefs can be real to us but not true)
  3. How is my life impacted by this belief or set of beliefs – what is it doing to my day-to-day experience (am I feeling stunted, controlled or imprisoned by the beliefs?)
  4. What is the underlying vulnerability embedded in my belief/set of beliefs – does this exploration reveal a pattern?
  5. What would my life be like if I no longer held this belief or set of beliefs? (would I feel freed, better able to express compassion toward myself and others and able to develop my response ability?)

The process of identifying false beliefs and their impact on our thoughts, emotions and behaviour can create a new level  of self-awareness.  Once we have gained this insight, the process of managing our beliefs involves “letting go“, so we can progressively release our self from the distortions of reality involved, increase our openness, develop creativity and improve our relationships.

As we grow in mindfulness through beliefs meditation and reflection on our  less-than-satisfactory interactions, we can identify and manage false beliefs that bring suffering to our daily lives and achieve a new level of vulnerability, not higher levels of protectionism.

 

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

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Maintaining Calm After a Hectic Day

Elisha Goldstein, creator of the Course in Mindful Living, offers a brief mindfulness meditation designed to enable you to “relax and retune” after a day that has proved hectic for you.

When we have been “rushed off our feet”, we find that our mind is racing, and our body is uptight.  We can be assailed with endless thoughts that make it difficult to function effectively in our home environment – we take our work stress home.  We might also find that we are unable to sleep as a result of our many thoughts – about what we did or did not do, what we can do to rectify an adverse situation or how we can avoid such a situation in the future – our mind experiences continuous churn.   The day becomes a blur as everything goes out of focus.

We take our stress home not only through the busyness of our mind but also because our body is uptight.  We can feel tension in many parts of our body simultaneously – in our forehead, shoulders, back, chin, arms, legs and fingers.  We cannot escape the stress of our hectic day because its effects are embedded in our bodily sensations.

Maintaining calm after a hectic day

Elisha’s brief relax and retune meditation enables us to wind back our mind and body so that we do not carry forward our work stress and negatively impact our home relationships.  It is a brief mindfulness exercise designed to quickly destress us so that we can function more effectively in our home environment.

As with most meditations, relax and retune meditation begins with adopting a comfortable position and shutting out visual distractions – all designed to enable you to be grounded in the moment.  The early phase involves a few deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and while breathing out through your mouth imagining a release of tension in your mind and body.

This relaxed state is consolidated by focusing your total awareness on your breath and resting in the natural flow of your breathing, being totally aware of your in-breath and consciously letting bodily tension flow out with each out-breath.  It is important at this stage not to try to control your breath because this can lead to your body “tightening up” – you need to remain loose and let your body control your breathing.  This requires a degree of “letting go” – being vulnerable in the moment.

This relax and retune meditation can be completed in six minutes or it may take longer if you choose to extend the focus on your breath. As we have mentioned previously, it is important to let any distracting or disturbing thoughts float by – and not entertain them.  As you become more practised with this meditation, you will not remove your intruding thoughts all together but become more practised at letting them go, noticed but unattended – just like unwelcome visitors.

Even if your meditation efforts are not entirely successful at the start, it is important to acknowledge your concerted efforts to achieve self-regulation that is built on a foundation of self-awareness.  It is also essential to avoid “beating up on yourself” because of an imperfect result.  Mastery comes with the persistence and consistency involved in sustaining meditation practice.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practices such as the relax and retune meditation, we can become increasingly aware of the effects of stress on our mind and body and learn to develop ways to achieve self-regulation and, ultimately, self-mastery.  We can begin to practise ways to wind down after the stress of a hectic day.

 

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

Image source: courtesy of B_Me on Pixabay

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Managing Anxiety with Mindfulness

Bob Stahl, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, explains how mindfulness can help to manage anxiety in an article titled, Explore Anxiety with Mindfulness.   In the article, he explains the nature of anxiety and offers a mindfulness approach involving writing.  In another article discussed here he also provides a guided anxiety meditation.

The nature of anxiety

Bob explains that anxiety can arise at any time for anyone and can be episodic or chronic, mild or intense.  It can be precipitated by our family, work, relationship or financial situation.  Anxiety is not the sole province of people who are disadvantaged in some way – even the wealthy, the successful and elite sportspeople can, and do, suffer from anxiety.

Bob explains that anxiety is underpinned by fear catalysed by some event that caused you to worry and that becomes the focus of ongoing fearful anticipation.  Anxiety typically manifests in three ways – physically, mentally and emotionally.  Physically, anxiety can make you feel constricted, tied up in knots, smothered, having difficulty with breathing; mentally, you may be absorbed by thoughts that consume you with foreboding or restlessness; and emotionally, you may feel distress, lack the ability to concentrate and experience profound nervousness.  The physical, mental and emotional symptoms of anxiety can vary considerably for different people, as can their intensity and prevalence.

Managing anxiety with mindfulness

Mindfulness, in contrast to anxiety, can generate calm and clarity, the ability to be in-the-moment (not absorbed by the future), the capacity to develop self-awareness (of your body, your emotions and debilitating thoughts) and self-regulation.  Neuroscience has demonstrated unequivocally the positive benefits of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for anxiety , even for cases of extreme and/or chronic anxiety.

There are multiple approaches to developing mindfulness and Bob advocates two approaches that can assist in the management of anxiety, a writing exercise and a specific anxiety meditation.

A writing exercise for anxiety

In the abovementioned article, Bob explains his approach to using writing to alleviate anxiety.  It basically involves focusing on one experience of anxiety (that was not too intense) and exploring its impacts on you physically, mentally and emotionally.  He offers three core questions to explore a specific anxiety experience through writing your responses:

  1. What bodily sensations did you experience during the event?
  2. What thoughts or thinking processes were happening during the event?
  3. What emotions or feeling tones were present during that event?

Bob stresses the need to be grounded before you start reflecting and writing, be as specific as possible (to aid self-discovery) and to congratulate yourself for making the effort to explore the path to recovery (despite your uncertainty about the outcome).

A meditation for anxiety

In another article, Bob Stahl provides a detailed explanation and meditation podcast for a meditation on anxious emotions.  His written explanation of this meditation for anxiety provides you with step by step instructions on how to undertake this meditation.  His approach focuses on your bodily sensations and the associated feelings that arise as you reflect on an anxiety-inducing event/situation.

The guided meditation podcast that he also provides follows these suggested steps but also acts as an additional aid by enabling you to concentrate on your experience without having to read and supporting you through his calming voice.

Bob suggests again that you become grounded at the start of the meditation and that you acknowledge to yourself that you have taken an important step on the road to recovery.  This self-praise can be realised if you pause at the end of the meditation and take the time to bask in your achievement, rather than rushing off to do something else.

The writing exercise and meditation are complementary and can reinforce each other.  As you write you become more self-aware and this, in turn, enables you more easily to tap into your bodily sensations and feelings.

As you grow in mindfulness through writing and meditation, you can face your anxiety, increase your self-awareness and better manage your thoughts, physical reactions and emotions.   It takes courage and conviction to begin to manage anxiety through mindfulness, but many people have successfully walked this path, and this is in itself a source of encouragement.  Reading about these successes can help build your own courage and conviction.

 

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

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Loving-Kindness Meditation: A Form of Gratitude

Jon Kabat-Zinn provides an extended loving-kindness meditation that incorporates gratitude for the love of the people in your life who are close to you.  It also involves self-love and kindness towards others who may have hurt you in the past.

Jon makes the point that engaging in loving-kindness meditation on a regular basis equips us to deal with the ups and downs of life.  It especially enables us to tone down our anger or rage towards another person who may have hurt us.  Our expression of gratitude and kindness helps us to restore equanimity in our lives.

Feeling the love

The loving-kindness meditation offered by Jon begins with capturing the essence of the love that a really close person in our lives shows toward us.  It involves basking in the ways that this unconditional love is expressed towards us while appreciating what it means to be loved for who we are.  Once we have captured these feelings of being loved, we can express kindness towards this person by repeating Jon’s words in a conscious, meaningful and personal way:

May they be safe and protected and free from inner and outer harm. May they be happy and contented. May they be healthy and whole to whatever degree possible. May they experience ease of well-being.

Loving-kindness towards yourself

Jon’s meditation moves onto expressing loving-kindness towards yourself. This involves moving beyond any negative thoughts, self-criticism or self-loathing and being open to loving yourself as you are, taking your cue from those who love you unconditionally.

It is often difficult to embrace self-love and kindness towards yourself but the practice develops a healthy self-regard that enables you to rise above the thoughts that would otherwise drag you down.  The meditation involves recognition of your basic humanity.  By using the above-mentioned kindness phrases towards yourself, you are wishing yourself safety, happiness, good health and overall well-being.  In other words, you are  being kind to yourself.

Loving-kindness towards someone who has hurt you

In the meditation that Jon provides, he progresses to having us think about someone who has actually hurt us in some way.  He is not asking us to forgive that person but to acknowledge their basic humanity, just as we have done for our self.  This entails moving beyond the hurt to expressing kindness to the person involved through using the kindness phrases provided above.  This loving-kindness meditation helps to dissolve our hurt and anger and to see the person as connected to us through our universal humanity.

Expanding the field of loving-kindness

Jon suggests that the field of loving-kindness can be limitless.  We can expand our focus in the meditation to include people in the immediate world around us or in the broader world – focusing on individuals or groups, e.g. expressing loving-kindness to people who are experiencing the trauma of a hurricane or to volunteers helping to fight poverty.

You do not have to extend your field of awareness during this form of meditation – you can choose to restrict your focus at any point.  You may find, particularly with an extended meditation, that you become easily distracted.  In this case, as Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests, you can notice your distracting thoughts and imagine them as bubbles that burst as they reach the surface of boiling water or burst as a result of you popping them.

Loving-kindness meditation helps you grow in awareness of, and gratitude towards, those around with whom you come into contact on a daily basis.  It opens you up to appreciating the significant others in your life and to extending positive thoughts to the broader community, so that your awareness of your connectedness expands.  This form of meditation can also help to reduce anger towards others who may have hurt you – it enables you to expand your response ability in the process.  As you grow in mindfulness through loving-kindness  meditation you increase your awareness of others and empathy towards them.

 

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

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Some Simple Gratitude Exercises

The expression of gratitude does not have to be confined to extended gratitude meditations.  In fact, the more often you can find simple ways to express gratitude, the more readily will you achieve a brain makeover from negative thoughts to a positive outlook and impact positively on those you interact with.  It is a two-way street though – an extended gratitude meditation can deepen your overall sense of gratitude while regular expressions of gratitude can keep this positive emotion top of mind and impact your behaviour on an ongoing basis.

Simple gratitude exercises

If you have a suite of simple gratitude exercises, you are more likely to practise them and extend your expression of gratitude throughout the day as different gratitude prompts occur.  Here are some gratitude exercises to get you started:

Making your “thank you” a conscious act

Stephanie Domet suggests that we can improve the quality of our daily expression of gratitude to others by being really present when we say “thank you”.  We can often be distracted, mouth the words as a matter of course without real feeling behind them or become focused on our next action without being really present to the person we are “communicating” with.  The person receiving the communication can sense whether you mean what you say or are just going through the motions.  If you are not present when you say the words, your positive intent is lost as are the benefits for yourself and the other person.

Savour the moment through your senses

Elaine Smookler provides a comprehensive explanation of a 5-minute exercise that involves progressively engaging each of your senses in-the-moment.  She maintains that this practice builds personal resilience when the waves of life wash over you – when things don’t turn out as you expected.  Elaine also provides a guided meditation podcast within her article.  This approach helps to switch your brain from a deficit mentality to one of appreciating life’s small blessings.

Reflecting on your day with gratitude

Towards the end of each day, it pays to look back on the day and reflect on what you have appreciated about your day – the people you have interacted with and the friendships involved, the opportunities that have come your way, the ease of conversation, the chance to achieve something worthwhile, acquiring new skills or knowledge (or enhancing existing knowledge/skills), gaining insights, growing in awareness (both internal and external).  The list of things to be grateful for goes on endlessly once you set your mind to it.  This simple exercise of appreciating the small things in life on a daily basis helps us to break free of self-doubt or negative thoughts and builds our confidence and potentiality.

Building gratitude into your daily life – choosing a simple or extended gratitude exercise

You can build your appreciation and sense of gratitude very quickly through these exercises and deepen your gratitude with more extended meditation practice.  The secret is to head down this path of appreciation and its attendant benefits by choosing something, a simple or extended practice, that you can build into your daily life.  It needs to be something that suits your lifestyle so that you can sustain it over time and make it an integral part of your life.  One gratitude practice will then lead to another and change your outlook on life as well as your interactions.

As you grow in mindfulness through simple gratitude exercises and/or extended gratitude meditation, you will build your awareness of the positive aspects of your life, develop greater resilience and strengthen your relationships.  Time spent reflecting on the things you appreciate each day will bring a rich reward.

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

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The Benefits of Gratitude

Increasingly research into gratitude has highlighted the benefits of being grateful and expressing that feeling through thought, writing or action.

Neuroscientist, Glenn Fox, in his article, “What the brain reveals about gratitude“, argues that scientific studies have established that expressing gratitude can improve your health, your relationships and your overall happiness.  He also asserts that recent research demonstrates that gratitude alleviates depression.

In support of this view, Joel Wong and Joshua Brown established through their research that gratitude practice helps people who experience mental health issues as well as people who are mentally healthy.  They postulate that practising gratitude displaces “toxic emotions” such as anger and resentment through the cultivation of positive emotions such as appreciation.

Wong & Brown, drawing on their research, demonstrate that just the act of expressing gratitude has substantial personal benefits and that sharing the expression of gratitude is not essential to realise these benefits.  Their research entailed a control group of participants writing “gratitude letters”.  They established that the benefits of being grateful grow over time and that there are sustained, positive effects on the brain, including “greater neural sensitivity in the prefrontal cortex” which leads to improved mental health over time.

They comment insightfully:

Much of our time and energy is spent pursuing things that we currently don’t have.  Gratitude reverses our priorities to help us appreciate the people and things that we do have.

Robert Emmons in his ground-breaking article, “Why gratitude is good“, shares the results of research undertaken with his colleagues and lists the demonstrated physical, psychological and social benefits of gratitude.  He asserts that gratitude entails more than appreciating what is good in our life – it also involves acknowledging the people who have enabled that “goodness”.  This entails recognising that the source of what we experience as good is often someone outside of ourselves.

The researchers designing these research studies often had participants produce a gratitude journal – recording on a regular basis the things that they are grateful for.  We can generate the positive energy of gratitude by reflecting on what is good in our past life or in the present.

As we grow in mindfulness through gratitude meditation, we train our brain to recognise what is good in our life, to appreciate the contribution of others to our happiness and mental health and to express that gratitude often and spontaneously. Through this state of positivity, we are better able to handle the challenges and stresses in our life.

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

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

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