The Challenge of Maintaining Your Meditation Practice

Brian Shiers suggests that one of the problems in attempting to maintain your practice is that creating new habits requires replacing old habits with the new.  He cites Neil Donald Walsh who maintains that, “yearning for a new way will not produce it, only ending the old way can do that”.  Brian draws on the neuroscience finding that our habits develop through neurological patterning, the development of new neural pathways reinforced by personally valued rewards.  The problem is that multiple repetitions are required to replace the old “habit-loop” with a new, sustainable pattern.  Often our rationalisations take over – such as “maybe I will do it later”, “it is not a good time now”, or “I am too restless at the moment” – and interrupt repetition of our practice.

To assist in the process of sustaining your practice, Brain offers a meditation podcast titled, How to Rediscover Your Practice, in which he offers a way to enrich your practice of mindful breathing and establish sense-based cues to regenerate your practice.  Brian’s guided meditation is part of the weekly meditation podcasts offered by MARC, UCLA.

A guided meditation for maintaining your practice

Brian’s meditation process involves several steps as follows:

  • Listen to the end of the gong from a meditation bell made especially for its resonance – this initiates the process of paying attention through activation of your sense of hearing.  A normal bell could be substituted for this initial step.
  • Notice what is going on for you in this moment – What are you thinking? How are you orientating your body? What are you feeling about what is happening for you as you begin your practice?  Brian maintains that self-observation is the essence of mindfulness.
  • Form your practice intention – focus on your intention in undertaking your practice.  This may involve a desire to build your concentration, to realise calm and tranquillity or to master the art of being still and silent.
  • Feel your breath in your body – consciously focus on one of the five places that you can feel your breath in your body – the rising and falling or your stomach or your chest, the movement of air through your nostrils or your open mouth or the sensation of breathing at the back of your throat.
  • Notice the thoughts that pass through your mind – thoughts come and go throughout our day and the time spent in meditation is no exception to this natural process.  Be conscious that your thoughts are drawing your focus away from your breath, but don’t entertain them.  Return to your intended focus and progressively build your attention muscle.
  • Accept what is – accept the fact that you may be tired, restless, easily distracted or frustrated by your attempts to maintain your focus.  Observing and accepting your present state is integral to mindfulness.
  • Extend your focus to seeing – add the sense of seeing by extending your focus to a single, egg-size object while simultaneously maintaining your focus on your breath.
  • Extend your focusing to include sound – while maintaining your focus on your breath and your external visual image, extend your focus to the sound in your room, taking in the room tone.

Reflection

This guided meditation helps to develop mindfulness because it not only builds the power of paying attention but also provides sense-cues that will prompt your meditation practice.  I have found, for example, that by focusing on the view of the waters and islands in the bay from my home deck, I can very quickly drop into a focus on my breathing.  This outer awareness acts as a cue to inner awareness.  The enriched experience of meditation from the focus on several senses also facilitates the maintenance of meditation practice and the capacity to progressively grow in mindfulness.

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Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay

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

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.

Mindfulness as Self-Observation

Brian Shiers suggests that underpinning mindfulness is self-observation, the foundation of self-awareness.  This means, in effect, that there is no one right way to meditate – that paying attention to and noticing ourselves, in whatever way, is essentially mindfulness.  While there is a tendency for people new to meditation to judge themselves against a presumed standard, the experience they are having in self-observation is what mindfulness is about, not some prescribed level of awareness.  Mindfulness practices are designed to stimulate this curiosity about oneself in an open, exploratory way.  Tara Brach describes this lifelong journey as “waking up” – a deep shift in inner awareness that leads to equanimity and increased empathy and compassion.

In a recent guided meditation podcast, Brian asked the question, “What is “Myself”? and he encouraged participants to activate their “observational mind” in a relaxed manner.  He maintained that the fundamental question, “What is the “self”? is both an ancient and a recent question (through the pursuit of neuroscience).

Is the “self” my body, my thoughts, my roles I undertake, my affiliations, my emotions or my mind?  Brian sited the work of Dan Siegel, a founder of the Mindful Awareness Research Centre (MARC), who believes that the “self” is not only what we are born with, but also the cumulation of billions of impressions that we are exposed to through interactions with others – thus shaping our perceptions and responses.  Dan’s perspective reinforces the uniqueness of our “self”.  Brian suggests, then, that the self is “intertwined in inter- relationships” – the direct and indirect influence of others throughout our lives.

Researchers have yet to establish what the “mind” is, even with the advent of neuroscience.   Brain stated that neuroscientists at Stanford University have estimated that we generate between 65,000 and 90,000 thoughts per day.  We are reminded of the admonition of Jon Kabat-Zinn that “you are not your thoughts”, thoughts that come and go like bubbles in boiling water.  Brain suggests that the “enterprise of mindfulness” is “self-observation”, including bringing to conscious awareness and guidance, the unconscious, spontaneously occurring thoughts that pervade our minds.  So, from Brian’s perspective, mindfulness is the pursuit of self-awareness through observation of the various domains of our existence, including our bodies and our minds.

A process of self-observation

Brian’s guided meditation podcast takes you on a journey of paying attention to your “self” through a process of self-observation of body and mind – noticing your body on the chair, engaging in mindful breathing, noticing your thoughts (but not entertaining them), undertaking a body scan while releasing tension, and participating in a reflection.

The personal reflection involves identifying a positive trait in yourself, e.g. wisdom. loving kindness, gratitude, thoughtfulness or resilience; and exploring how it manifests, its impact on others and how you could further develop this trait. Brian offers some guided questions for the reflection:

  • What is happening when you exhibit this trait? (you can visualise it happening)
  • What impact does it have on others?
  • Who is a role model for you in respect of this trait?
  • Who could help you develop it?
  • How can you further develop this positive trait?

As we grow in mindfulness through self -observation during the process of meditation, we can better understand who we are, how we experience the world, and what we bring to our interactions with others. We can also identify strategies to strengthen our positive traits and increase our motivation to use them to create a better life for ourselves and others.

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Image – Personal reflection during sunrise, Wynnum, Brisbane

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

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.

Accessing the Wisdom of the Body

Diana Winston, in her meditation podcasts through the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), often begins by defining mindful awareness as paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is.  In this context, openness and curiosity extends to our body as well as our thoughts and feelings.   However, we frequently take our bodies for granted and, more importantly, ignore our body’s signals.  The recent Wisdom of the Body Summit with 32 leading teachers and scientists, was designed to make us aware of the wisdom of the body and its innate intelligence.

In this post, I would like to explore some of the ideas advanced by Spring Washam who spoke during the Summit on Trusting Our Hearts, Intuition, Embodiment and Personal Power.  Spring is the author of A Fierce Heart: Finding Strength, Courage and Wisdom in Any Moment.  A central theme of Spring’s presentation was learning to access and trust the wisdom of our body.  She highlighted the intelligence of the body that is ever-present to us, if we would only stop and attune ourselves to its message.

Disembodied: out of touch with our body

Increasingly we live in our heads – engaged in endless thought processes, some of which lead to depression, others to anxiety.  We continually become absorbed by self-stories that lead to self-deprecation and self-recrimination.  In the process, we become disconnected from our bodies and cut ourselves off from the body’s intelligence, intuition and energy.  When we are disembodied, we are also disempowered.

Spring maintains that we should “press the pause button” so we can listen to our bodies, become conscious of what our heart is telling us is the right way to proceed.  We become numbed over time because we are constantly pushing ourselves to achieve, ignoring the signals from our body.  We need to become attuned to our body and the wisdom that resides within.

Embodiment: being in touch with the intelligence and wisdom of our body

Ways to tap into the wisdom of the body are mindful breathing, mindful walking, being in nature and feeling the earth through walking barefoot on the grass or sand.  Walking barefoot helps to develop proprioception – the body’s capacity (through its nerves, muscles and joints) to monitor its environment (e.g. the slope of the ground) and to make adjustments accordingly.  This is just one form of intelligence of the body – reflected in our capacity to know where our limbs are in space, even when we can’t see them.

Our bodies also store memories, including the emotions associated with memories – which is why people display unease and/or sadness when recalling a disturbing event or personal loss.  We can access these memories and emotions through getting in touch with our bodies through mindfulness practices such as a body scan.

Our bodies are continually taking in information from each of our senses at an astonishing rate (calculated to be around 11 million bits per second) and compressing the information to enable conscious processing and response. So, our bodies are incredibly powerful information processors that are also intuitive.  Sometimes our body can anticipate events before they happen – such as just before a car crash is about to happen.

Spring suggests that placing our hand on our heart is one way to access the heart’s intelligence, intuition and synchronicity.  She mentions the research done by HeartMath and the science behind the heart’s intelligence.  For example, the research has shown that “changing heart rhythms, changes emotions”, e.g. from frustration to appreciation.

As we grow in mindfulness through different forms of meditation and mindfulness practices, we can learn to tap into the innate intelligence, intuition and wisdom of our bodies. This will enable us to be grounded in the present moment, become more aware of our thought patterns and gain better control over our feelings that could be holding us back from living life more fully and meaningfully.

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Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

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

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.

Shaping Our Brains to Build Resilience

Richard Davidson, Founder and Director of the Center for Healthy Minds, recently addressed the Mindful Healthcare Summit on the topic The Science of Resilience. Richard, an internationally renowned neuroscientist, stated that his research and that of his colleagues has convinced him that we can shape our brains in a way that builds resilience and helps us to flourish rather than be tossed around “like a sailboat without a rudder on a turbulent sea”. Richard is the co-author with Daniel Goleman of the book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.

What is resilience?

Richard defines resilience as “the rapidity with which you can recover from adversity”. Linda Graham described this trait as “bouncing back“. Richard stated that neuroscience can actually measure the rapidity of recovery by exploring (through brain imaging) two key aspects of the brain that feature in dealing with stress or adverse situations, (1) the level of cortisol released by the brain and (2) the degree to which the amygdala is activated.

He highlighted the brain’s plasticity as proof that we can train our minds and take more responsibility for shaping our brains and determining the direction of our brain plasticity – which most of the time occurs unwittingly through forces external and internal to ourselves. The key is to understand how our brain develops resilience and to make a commitment to shape our brain in a way that builds wellbeing rather than diminishes it.

How to shape our brain to build resilience

Richard suggests that to actively build resilience we need to develop in four key areas through focused meditations and aligned action:

  1. Awareness – he describes this as attention to our own bodies and the tension within. Mindful breathing and body scan can help to develop this awareness and related ability to be grounded in our bodies. Calmness and clarity emerge from this aspect of shaping our minds.
  2. Connection – having and nurturing harmonious and supportive relationships that provide an effective buffer for us when we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Meditations that can help build social connection are the loving kindness and gratitude meditations. Positivity, expressions of appreciation and empathy can nurture these relationships.
  3. Insight – an in-depth knowledge of our personal narrative/self-story that generates negative self-evaluation and false beliefs that contribute to a lack of resilience and depression. We have to recognise these self-beliefs as merely thoughts, not reality. Meditations such as the R.A.I.N. meditation, S.B.N.R.R. process and reflections on resentment can help us shift this narrative from negative thoughts generating self-defeating emotions to a positive narrative that is enabling and builds resilience in the face of setbacks or adversity.
  4. Purpose – clarity about life purpose, and alignment of words and actions with this purpose, enable us to surf the waves of daily life and to manage the vicissitudes that inevitably disturb our equilibrium. Bill George describes your purpose as your True North and offers ways to discover it. In a previous post I offered a series of questions to help find your unique purpose and a path of action to pursue that purpose.

Developing a permeable self

Richard stated that the aspect of “insight” mentioned above is a key component of resilience. We tend to develop a fixed and stable view of our self which causes us problems in conflicted situations. It is this “fixed identity” that becomes challenged when our emotions overflow, especially when they “bleed” from one adverse interaction into another encounter. We need to be able to “shake loose the rigidity” by making our sense of self more permeable – open to new experiences, insights and feedback.

As we grow in mindfulness through exploring different forms of meditation on a consistent basis, we can develop a more balanced and permeable view of our self. We can build our resilience and wellbeing through developing awareness, connection, insight and purpose.

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

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

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.

Overcoming Procrastination by Building the Awareness Muscle

We can handle procrastination by adopting the direct approach of focusing on a task that we are putting off and exploring through meditation what is the self-story behind the procrastination. This involves bringing the story “above the line” – bringing the messages we are telling our self to the level of conscious awareness. However, procrastination may be a habit related to a range of activities and the habit will often be accompanied by inertia – a lack of energy to move forward. In this case, it could be useful to attack the problem of procrastination indirectly by building what I call, your “awareness muscle”.

Building your awareness muscle

Tony Stubblebine offers a meditation exercise that can progressively develop your awareness muscle (or what he describes as your “mental muscle”). His exercise is a variation on mindful breathing that takes distractions or mental diversions as a source of awareness strengthening. His argument is that every time that your focus wanders represents an opportunity to increase your awareness of what is going on for you and hence building your awareness muscle – both the mental element and the energetic element in terms of readiness/energy to deal with the feelings/emotions behind the wandering.

Tony sees the exercise involving restoring your focus to your breath, after naming your source of distraction, as a form of “reps” like you would undertake in a gym or a series of exercises with a personal trainer. The “reps” serve to build the capability to undertake a given activity when the demand arises e.g. running a race, lifting heavy weights, undertaking housework, handling a stressful job (or in our case here, dealing with a specific procrastination). The repeated action of bringing your attention back to your focus, after raising your awareness, is embedding a “focus-awareness-focus” mental cycle that can be applied anywhere to any activity. Tony describes this cycle as the “Awareness-Focus Loop”.

Utilising the “Awareness-Focus Loop”

Tony describes an “I Am Aware” meditation that can take five to ten minutes of your time. The basic four-step approach is as follows:

  1. make yourself comfortable and close your eyes
  2. Focus on your breathing by counting 1 to 50 (or more if you want to extend the meditation for mental endurance training)
  3. Whenever your mind wanders away from the focus on your breath, pay attention to what is happening and frame it as a “I am aware that…” statement. This needs to be a complete sentence to elevate the unconscious source of wandering to the conscious level e.g. “I am aware that I am thinking of a major meeting coming up later today”; “I am aware that I am getting anxious about what I forgot to do this morning”; or “I am aware that I am wondering whether I got the job I applied for a week ago”.
  4. When you have noticed and named your distraction, you resume your focus on counting your breaths from where you left off counting. I found that I lost track of where I was up to in my counting once a distraction set in. If this happens, you can restart your counting somewhere, without cheating to get to the end in a hurry.

Using your awareness muscle to deal with a specific procrastination

Having developed your awareness muscle, you can now apply this mental capacity, and associated energetic impetus, to dealing with a procrastination over a specific task. Once you notice yourself procrastinating you can use your highly developed awareness muscle to become aware of the anxiety underlying the procrastination, name the anxiety and related feelings (e.g. fear) and deal with the anxiety without seeking a diversion or some form of flight.

The mindfulness exercise serves as a form of mental training that can develop the self-regulation necessary to overcome your natural tendency to avoid what is perceived as painful or personally challenging. The awareness muscle has stored the history of your personal distraction tendencies and these can be more readily noticed and dealt with.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation exercises designed to build our awareness muscle, we can develop the consciousness, willingness and strength to deal with procrastination as it occurs in our daily lives. The “I am aware that…” meditation is designed for this specific purpose.

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Image by A. Debus from Pixabay

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

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.

Observing Thoughts

Our thoughts can be like a whirlpool and take over our lives – generating fear, anxiety and depression. A single event may catalyse a “looping” of negative thoughts that become an endless cycle. I found this happening when I was recovering from the shock of my relative’s recent car accident. One way to steady your mind is to notice your thoughts and see them for what they are. Jon Kabat-Zinn offers a penetrating, 20-minute Guided Meditation on Observing Thoughts, and doing so non-judgmentally.

Thoughts feed on themselves

I found when reflecting on my relative’s car accident that I became preoccupied with what might have happened. Fortunately – despite rolling the car at 70 kph and ending up on a two lane, major road upside down – he suffered minor injuries, just bruising and soreness and no broken bones or head injuries. He was assessed as okay by Ambulance officers and cleared by the hospital after a 3 hour stay.

Despite this extremely fortunate outcome of the accident, my mind began to race – I could not stop thinking about what could have happened:

  • what if he had suffered a serious injury or died in the accident?
  • what if he had a passenger who was injured or killed?
  • what if people in other cars or pedestrians suffered also as a result of his accident?
  • what kind of police charge and consequences could he face if others were injured?
  • what would be the possible impact on the rest of his life?

These thoughts can become like a whirlpool or an endless loop. In the guided meditation mentioned above, Jon highlights how easily we fabricate thoughts, how readily they proliferate and how frequently they morph into other thoughts – taking us downstream in the flow of a strong, thought current.

Meditation to observe our thoughts non-judgmentally

Jon’s guided meditation on observing our thoughts is a gentle approach to raising our awareness, bringing our thoughts into focus and releasing them. He uses various metaphors to enable us to see our thoughts for what they are – clouds blowing by, bubbles floating to the surface of boiling water, ripples on a vast ocean or eddies in a stream. He encourages us not to entertain these thoughts but to observe them passing us by – avoiding any form of judgment or censure of ourselves.

The meditation leads to the ability to separate yourself from your thoughts and to “rest in awareness” – a place of calm, peace and equanimity. Liane Moriarty in her book, Nine Perfect Strangers, captures this sense of release in the thoughts expressed by one of her characters. The woman involved is one of the participants in a health retreat attended by nine people. Following periods of silence, meditation, mindful breathing, yoga and Tai Chi, she was able to observe:

At first, without the distraction of noise and conversation, Frances’s thoughts went around and around on a crazy, endless, repetitive loop…but the act of observing her looping thoughts seemed to slow them down until at last they came to a complete stop, and she’d found that for moments of time she thought…nothing. Nothing at all. Her mind was quite empty. And these moments were lovely. (p.200)

As we grow in mindfulness through practices such as meditation, Tai Chi, yoga and mindful breathing we can observe our thoughts, distance ourselves from them and the emotions they generate, and to see them as passing fabrications. We can free ourselves from the bonds of associated emotions such as fear, anxiety and depression, and experience tranquillity instead.

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Image by skeeze from Pixabay

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

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.

Breathing with the Earth

Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at MARC (UCLA), offers a unique perspective on developing mindfulness through breathing. In her meditation podcast, she introduces the idea of breathing with the earth – expanding consciousness of our own breathing to connect with the earth’s breath. She encourages us to deepen inner awareness of our breathing and, from this foundation, expand our outer awareness to connecting with every living creature and the earth’s breath. The process develops a sense of connectedness, calm and wonder.

The earth’s breath

Diana begins her meditation podcast by playing a video from Chilean artist, Glenda Leon. The video artistically depicts (with an embedded breathing sound) the earth breathing. Glenda has titled the video Cada Respire (Tierra), which is Portuguese for every earth breath. Diana suggests that as you watch the video you attune your own breathing to the sound of the earth breathing as depicted in the video.

In an article titled, The Earth Has Lungs. Watch Them Breathe, Robert Krulwich (writing for the National Geographic) highlights the NASA time lapse video depicting an “unimaginably vast planetary breathing system” over the cycle of a year. As the seasons change around the world, the growth of trees and their leaves (numbered in their trillions) act as the lungs of the earth breathing in carbon dioxide and releasing life giving oxygen. Robert highlights the fact that every leaf on every tree has thousands of “little breathing tubes called stoma” which enable the leaf to take in air from the outside. He uses a photograph by Robert Dash to illustrate the stoma on the surface of a leaf which has been magnified 150 times.

John Denver in the song Tremble If You Must recalls that “the trees are just leaves on a big breathing globe”. Eva Cassidy, in her amazing rendition of the song What a Wonderful World, reminds us that as we reflect on the ordinary things in our life, we can experience wonder if we open our eyes and minds. As we expand our consciousness of our breathing to that of the earth’s breath, we can experience connectedness and calm through awareness of the reality that surrounds us.

Breathing with the earth

Diana’s guided meditation provides a way to focus on your own breathing that serves as a gateway to breathing with the earth. For a start, she suggests that you become aware of your own breathing, focusing on your in-breath and out-breath wherever you can experience the act of breathing in your own body. This may be the air passing through your nose or the undulations in your abdomen or chest as you breathe in and out. You can expand this inner awareness to lower-belly breathing with a little practice.

Diana guides you to explore your breathing further by doing two things, (1) focusing on other parts of your body as you breathe, and (2) exploring the path of a single breath. She suggests that this expanded awareness can begin with focusing on parts of your body other than your torso to observe the sensations that accompany your breathing to see if their movements are attuned to your breathing, e.g. tingling in your fingers or feet. This can then be followed by observing the movement of a single breath through your body (if you cannot capture the explicit sensation, you can imagine this flow).

If you find that you become distracted from your focus on your breathing, you can let the thoughts or feelings pass and return to your breath. This requires discipline but will increase your capacity to focus over time. Once you have become grounded in your own breathing you can expand your awareness to the earth’s breath.

One way to consciously breathe with the earth is to envisage the earth breathing (aided by the earth breath video introduced above). This will build a strong sense of connectedness to the earth. You can then expand your awareness to the breathing of other people and every living creature on the earth.

What can strengthen your capacity to connect with the breath of the earth is to stand on the ground outside your home and feel the sensation of the earth’s movement, being conscious of the trees and plants and their life-giving breathing.

As we grow in mindfulness through mindful breathing, we can develop our inner awareness, enhance our external awareness, learn to breathe with the earth and build a sense of calm and connection to every living thing.

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Image by skeeze on Pixabay

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

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.

Accessing the “Spaciousness Within” through Mindfulness

Often, we are at our “wit’s end” trying to solve problems, overcome challenges or address conflicts. Deborah Eden Tull reminds us that through meditation and mindfulness practice, we can access what she calls the “spaciousness within” – wherein lies peace, calmness, creativity and well-being. In a meditation podcast for the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), Deborah provides two guided meditations and commentary to help us to access this spaciousness while listening to her and to continue to do so beyond the specific meditations.

Initial brief meditation – arriving at the present moment

At the beginning of her podcast, Deborah provides a way for you to transfer your attention from what you have been doing to arriving at being present in-the-moment. This assumes that you still have some level of involvement in your previous activity despite changing your location or attempting to change your focus.

As part of the process of becoming grounded, Deborah suggests that you make yourself comfortable in the first instance through a conscious, restful posture and then begin with a few conscious breaths to help you to become centred. The next part of this centring meditation involves a progressive process of getting in touch with your thoughts, then feelings and finally the bodily sensations that have accompanied you to your meditation exercise.

Following the development of this inner awareness, she suggests that you get in touch with your personal motivation for undertaking the meditation or listening to her podcast – what is it that you are hoping to achieve for yourself? This initial brief meditation closes with taking a deep, full-body breath to open yourself to the experience of listening to her commentary and undertaking the subsequent meditation practice.

Reflection – observing people texting while walking

As part of her commentary on accessing our inner spaciousness, Deborah reflected on observing people on the university campus texting while they were walking between buildings/ classes. She observed that this practice actually builds our habit of busyness – the antithesis of developing the spaciousness within. This multi-tasking activity strengthens our conditioning to be always busy – thinking, planning, evaluating, dramatizing, revisiting the past (depression), anticipating the future (anxiety) – and builds on our overall penchant for distraction.

We can choose to cultivate a life of serenity, ease, calmness and resilience through developing present moment awareness or opt for a life that intensifies restlessness, dis-ease, agitation and fragility. Deborah reminds us that the quality of our life experience is determined by the focus of our attention.   

Her second meditation (beginning at the 14-minute mark) helps you to cultivate the spaciousness within through a focus on your breathing and exploration of the imagery of the ocean.

Mindful breathing and ocean imagery

Deborah’s second guided meditation focuses on breathing. She reminds us that this meditation process should be free of the everyday habit of striving or seeking to change ourselves for the better. It is very much about being rather than doing.

In focussing on your breathing in this meditation exercise, you learn to develop awareness about your breathing in the moment – whether your breathing is deep or shallow, fast or slow, even or choppy. You are encouraged to rest in your breathing and accept it the way it is – not trying to force a desired pattern on your breathing.

Following this focus on breathing, Deborah asks you to imagine an ocean – the turbulence of the waves above and the stillness and vastness of the water below. She encourages you to envisage the calm waters below the waves as the mirror of your “spaciousness within”.

Accessing the spaciousness within

You can choose to develop awareness of the spaciousness within through formal meditation or through informal practices such as mindful eating, mindful walking or stopping/ pausing in the midst of a situation to ground yourself in the present moment.

As we develop mindfulness through formal meditation and other mindful practices, we can access the spaciousness within and experience calmness, resilience, creativity, ease and well-being to improve the quality of our lives.

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

Image source: courtesy of Pexels 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.

Being Vulnerable: How to Improve Our Relationships and Contribution

In the previous post I discussed Tara Brach’s presentation on vulnerability and intimacy and ways to overcome our defence mechanisms. In this blog post, I want to focus on becoming vulnerable to improve two aspects of our lives – our contribution and our relationships.

Vulnerability is universal

Vulnerability is “part and parcel” of being human. When you think about it most people you encounter in life will have experienced at least one trauma – a significant frightening or disturbing event – in their life at one time or another. A traumatic event may take many forms and people will react differently to varying events such as the death of a child, partner, parent, sibling or friend; the break-up of parents through divorce; a major car or workplace accident; loss of a job; experience of chronic illness and/or pain; severe financial difficulties resulting in the loss of a home; break-up of an intimate relationship; a period of mental illness; addiction to drugs or alcohol; or any manner of distressing events.

Tara makes the point that “the more wounding there has been, the greater are the defences”. We each have been wounded at some time through various events, traumatic or otherwise, that have intensified our sense of being vulnerable and precipitated our defence mechanisms designed to protect us from such vulnerability. Ian MacLaren recognised that everyone experiences vulnerability when he wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”.

Because of our past experiences, we may feel afraid to speak up, to take part in a group activity, to perform publicly, to engage in conversation or to give positive feedback to another person. We may feel that we will be rejected, laughed at, or cut out of a group. We might be concerned about experiencing embarrassment, lack of control or overt emotions expressed as tears.

How we hide our fear of being vulnerable

There are many ways that we can camouflage our fear of being vulnerable such as:

  1. excessive criticism of others, constant judging (people never measure up to our expectations)
  2. projection of our own fears or anxiety onto others (“they are too fearful or lack courage”)
  3. aggressive emotions such as anger, blame (fight behaviour)
  4. withdrawal through depression (flight behaviour)
  5. inertia (freeze behaviour)
  6. overcontrolling others
  7. overconsuming – food, social media, goods and services, drugs
  8. hiding behind a mask/role – being the boss, the helper or the victim

The problem is that these ways of hiding our feelings of vulnerability are often subtle, elaborate, sub-conscious and developed over long periods of time. It takes a concerted effort and continuous training to be able to identify our defence mechanisms and overcome them through sustained, focused attention in meditation.

Being vulnerable to improve our contribution

Tara at one stage in her presentation tells the story of how a disturbed teenager’s life turned around when he heard a monk sing a song both loudly and off-key in front of an audience. He was taken with the courage required by the monk to do that and make a “fool” of himself. The monk showed bravery by placing himself in a potentially embarrassing situation.

I previously recounted a similar story of coach Mo Cheeks (who could not sing in tune) getting up in front of thousands of people at a NBA playoff and helping a 13 year old girl complete the national anthem after she was overcome with nerves.

Both these stories illustrate the power of being vulnerable (overcoming our natural defence mechanisms) to make a contribution to others and the community generally. Mo’s action, for instance, has been a source of inspiration for more than half a million people who have viewed the video of his compassionate intervention.

Improving a relationship by being vulnerable

Tara tells another story of a mother who was feeling very vulnerable because her daughter had become addicted to heroin and was continuously in and out of treatment centres for her addiction. The mother hid her sense of powerlessness and being vulnerable by her angry, blaming and controlling behaviour towards her daughter. Through psychotherapy the mother was able to let go of her defences and need for control and provide compassionate support for her daughter – to be with her daughter in her struggle, trusting in her daughter’s own wisdom to break free of the addiction.

The daughter did succeed and overcame her addiction and the mother and daughter built a deep relationship through this mutual experience of vulnerability. The mother was able to overcome her defence mechanisms to provide constructive support that enabled her daughter and the relationship to move forward.

A meditation on vulnerability

In her presentation (at the 35.45-minute mark), Tara provides a basis for reflection on your own sense of vulnerability and how it is impacting your relationships. She suggests you focus first on a relationship that you want to improve in terms of closeness or one that is bogged down in a pattern of behaviour that is not constructive. The focal relationship can be with anyone – life partner, friend, child, sibling or work colleague.

The reflection then revolves around exploring the ways that you are creating separation through your own thoughts and actions. Tara provides some questions to explore how your vulnerability is impacting the relationship:

  1. in what ways are you protecting yourself in these interactions?
  2. are you judging the other person?
  3. are you projecting on the other person some expectation of how they should be?
  4. are you withholding yourself and pretending to be who you are not?
  5. are you trying to impress the other person by constantly explaining how good you are at some endeavour or how much better your trip or experience was?
  6. are you operating from a low level of trust of people generally?

Once you have addressed these questions, the process then involves getting in touch with how you feel in your body when you are defending yourself – are you uptight?; does your face reflect your intensity?; are you physically rigid?; or are you looking distracted (as you search for a self-protective response)?

You next ask yourself how would you manage if you let go of one or more of your defences in your interactions with this person – how will you need to feel differently? A visioning question can be helpful here – “What if I reduce my armour, what will our interaction be like and how will I cope with being seen to be flawed or being rejected or looking foolish”? You can ask yourself, “How likely is it that these outcomes I fear will actually occur?”

The final step is to face your fear and sense of being vulnerable, acknowledge it and use your breathing to bring it under control. You can adopt a mindful breathing approach, deepen your in-breath and out-breath or envisage the fear as you breathe in and envisage its release as you breathe out.

As we grow in mindfulness through noticing and managing our vulnerability through meditation practice, we can open ourselves up to more creative contributions to our community and to deeper and more meaningful relationships. As the defence barriers we construct begin to come down or weaken, we are able to free up our creative abilities and let people into our life.

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

Image source: courtesy of geralt 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. 

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)

Image source: courtesy of TeamXris 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.