Three Dimensions of Awareness

In one of her many meditation podcasts, Diana Winston discusses three different dimensions of awareness and leads a meditation that explores each dimension.

Diana suggests that no one dimension is better than the others – each is appropriate for a particular time.  It is also possible and desirable to be able to move from one dimension of awareness to another – this may help when you are encountering the obstacle of restlessness or boredom in your meditation.  Sometimes, too, when you are tired you might find that an open, less exacting form of awareness is useful to help you to pay attention in the present moment with openness and curiosity.

  1. Narrow awareness – Diana likens this form of awareness to taking a photo with a telephoto lens where minute details are captured.  The image for this post by MabelAmber illustrates this focus – providing a close-up view of drops of water on the leaves of a plant.  Focusing on our breathing is an example of narrow awareness – and it can be hard work as we keep trying to return to our focus when our mind wanders, and thoughts interrupt the flow of our attention.
  2. Broad awareness – is like taking a panoramic picture of a landscape or seascape with a camera.  Here you are not focusing on detail but breadth and impact.  Open awareness is a good example of this as you are opening your awareness to multiple senses – sight, sounds, smells, taste and touch. Compared to narrow awareness, this can be a more restful meditation, like coasting on your bike after expending much effort peddling.
  3. Choiceless Awareness – as we are meditating, we can notice things happening in our awareness, e.g. change in our breathing, tension release in our body or strong emotions.  The nature of our awareness can shift over a single period of meditation.  We could begin with a narrow focus, open up to a broader focus by listening to the sounds that are coming to us from different directions and then attend to the emotions that those sounds elicit in us.  This ability to consciously shift the focus of our awareness can enhance our capacity to be present to whatever is occurring in our world.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practice that employs the different dimensions of awareness we can build the skill to be really present in the moment of practice as well as in future situations involving interactions with others or undertaking a challenging and stressful task.  The capacity to be in the moment with openness and curiosity stays with us as we engage in our daily activities at work or at home.

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

Image source: courtesy of MabelAmber on Pixabay

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Being Mindful About Our Thoughts

Diana Winston in her meditation podcast, Mindfulness of Thoughts, explains the role thoughts can play in our lives and provides options for using mindfulness meditation to control our thoughts.

Thoughts have a powerful influence over our lives – they can be positive or negative with consequential impacts on the way we see and experience the world.  They can express our perceptions of others and our experiences.  Our thoughts can extend to our needs such as who I wish to marry, where I would like to live, my ideal job, what I want to study/research or what I am going to do with the surplus in my life.

We also have thoughts that contribute to our pain and suffering such as negative self-evaluation, anxious thoughts, thoughts about grief or thoughts that engender negative emotions such as rage, anger, frustration or envy.

Being mindful about our thoughts

Mindfulness can really help us to manage our thoughts.  Diana suggests that a fundamental rule is, “Don’t believe everything you think”.  Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us too, “We are not our thoughts”.  Thoughts can be seen as real but, in reality, they are just passing through our mind, unless we cultivate and encourage them.

We can be trapped by our thoughts or create some space so that we have times when we are free from them.  Freedom comes from just noticing our thoughts as they pass by rather than being enmeshed in them and acting them out, particularly where they are negative.

Diana uses the metaphor of a passing train as a way to illustrate how one thought leads to another, which leads to another…as if they are coupled or joined together.  They become like a “thought train that leads us down a particular track”.  Before you know it, a lot of time can elapse and you begin to wonder where the time has gone – you have been lost in your thoughts.

By being in the present moment through mindfulness, you can stop yourself from going down that particular track that your thoughts are leading you along. Diana suggests that an alternative position is to visualize yourself staying on the platform and watching the thoughts go by, avoiding getting on the thought train, just letting the train go past.

Meditations to control our thoughts

We can build awareness by focusing on our breathing while noticing when thoughts arise and then returning to our focus – our breath.  This practice of noticing, not cultivating our thoughts, and returning to our focus, is a powerful way to achieve equanimity and avoid being disturbed and captured by our thoughts that can lead to a negative spiral.

A second meditation practice is to actually notice a thought and pay attention to it for a brief interval – just noticing it briefly and returning to our focus.  It becomes like a temporary aside.  We could notice that we are engaged in planning, critiquing or other frequent forms of our mental activity.

A third meditation practice is open awareness – like noticing thoughts as if they are clouds in the sky passing by us as the wind blows them along in a hazy way.

Each of these meditation practices can help us to be mindful about our thoughts and to learn to control them so that they do not control us and the way we experience, and relate to, the world.  Diana, in her meditation podcast, leads us through each of these meditation practices to enable us to experience the sense of freedom and control that comes from release from the binds of our thoughts.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practices that address our thoughts, we can develop a sense of peace and control and free ourselves to show up for our lives – not being held back by the heavy anchor of negative thoughts.

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

Image source: courtesy of abogawat 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.

Mindfulness at Work

David Allan maintains that the best place to meditate is at work.  In part, this is because it is often in a work situation that you need to be calm and have a clear mind.  The cost of being frazzled at work is not only lost time through inability to focus but also lost creativity through inability to access the “spaciousness” of your mind.  You need to calm the busyness of your mind to access this creativity.

It is also very true that we spend so much of our time at work that a large part of our day (more than a third) is consumed with thinking and doing, not just being present.  This means, too, that we are not taking the opportunity to access the full benefits of our mindfulness practice developed elsewhere on a daily basis.

David Allan found that he was able to book a relatively underutilised room for 15 minutes a day to enable him to undertake some form of meditation at work on a daily basis.  He found that this short period of conscious mindfulness practice created real productivity benefits throughout his day and served to break the work stress cycle.

Ways to be mindful at work

In a comprehensive article, Shamash Alidina suggests ten ways to be more mindful at work.  I have identified four of these suggestions below that are readily implementable:

  1. Intent to be consciously present – this entails beginning your work day with the clear intent to be present as often as you can.  This intent extends to controlling your thoughts when on-task, maintaining focus even on mundane tasks, working a little slower when the opportunity presents (e.g. after a rush to meet a deadline) and reminding yourself of the very clear benefits for work and life offered by mindfulness.
  2. Use brief mindfulness exercises – there are many opportunities throughout the working day to engage in brief mindfulness exercises.  These could entail open awareness, awareness of our senses, mindful walking or a short compassion meditation.  Sometimes in the workplace we need to engage in a brief self-compassion meditation, instead of beating up on ourselves for a mistake or for unconsciously hurting someone else with our words  or actions.
  3. Overcome the temptation of multitasking – this means consciously avoiding distactions (such as checking social media or the news every few minutes), staying focused on a single task at a time and organising your day where possible so that you can do like tasks together.
  4. Use reminders of the need for mindfulness – Shamash has some detailed strategies here that are very helpful.  Some of these entail linking a work activity to a mindfulness practice, e.g. when the phone rings, taking a deep breath and reminding yourself to be fully present to the caller.   Gradually, with regular practice, these reminders can immediately elicit mindfulness.  Some people may find a mindfulness app an appropriate reminder or an aid to mindfulness at work.
Further ways to be mindful at work

Eckhart Tolle in his talk to Google staff suggested ways that they could be mindful at work, including mindful breathing at their workstation.  Another mindfulness practice that can be employed at your desk is to occasionally focus on physically grounding yourself by ensuring that your feet are flat on the floor and your legs and back are straight.   This can be combined with mindful breathing.  If you are facilitating a workshop you could practise mindfulness through a brief loving kindness meditation directed towards one individual who may be struggling or towards the whole participant group.

Grow in mindfulness at work

If we want to grow in mindfulness through our behaviour at work, we need the strong intent to make the most of the opportunities for mindfulness that work presents.  Regular practice of mindfulness elsewhere will help to build this intent as well as consciousness of the opportunities for mindfulness at work.  Starting small with a single mindfulness practice maintained over three weeks will mean that the practice, such as mindful walking, will become embedded in your daily routine.  You can progressively expand these focused practices so that you become unconsciously competent at utilising opportunities for mindfulness at work.

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

Image source: courtesy of FirmBee 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.

Standing and Walking Meditation

Standing and walking meditations have the common aims of helping us to get in touch with our bodies, to become grounded, to slow down the pace of our lives and to clear our minds of constant chatter.  I have previously written about mindful walking and here I want to talk about using standing and walking meditations together.

Standing meditation  

The idea in the combination approach is to use standing meditations as bookends for a walking meditation – that is, as you complete each forward and return leg of a walking meditation, you stop and complete a standing meditation.

The standing meditation begins with being aware of the feel of your feet on the floor, then being conscious of the muscles that support your upright position.  You can hold your arms in any number of ways – with your hands loosely in front of you, your arms hanging loosely beside your body or joined loosely behind your back.  I find that with my arms hanging loosely beside my body, I almost immediately find the tension draining out of my arms and hands.

The standing meditation can involve mindful breathing, body scan, inner awareness or open awareness – taking in sounds, sights, and smells.  The key aim is to be present in the moment, in touch with your inner and outer reality.

Walking meditation

There are many forms of walking meditation and what I will cover here is an approach that is used in combination with standing meditations.  Walking meditations are valuable because we spend so much of our day moving around, typically racing from one place to another in pursuit of our time-poor way of life.  All the time as we move, our minds are also racing – we become caught up in thinking about what needs to be done, planning our actions or feeling concerned about possible undesirable outcomes.

Walking meditation enables us to get in touch with our body and at the same time to notice what thoughts are continuously preoccupying us.  I found for instance that the thoughts that continually invaded my consciousness as I was doing a walking meditation all related to some form of planning or other related thinking activity – planning for the things that needed to be done after the meditation or the following days.

Tara Brach suggests that if you walk indoors, it is useful to have a walking space that is 15 to 30 steps in length.  This means, in effect, that there is no end goal in terms of where you are trying to get to physically – which counters our daily habit of being goal directed in every movement.  Instead, with the walking meditation we are very present to each step, each movement forward – not pursuing an end goal.  It also provides the opportunity to undertake a standing meditation at each end of the walking space to add increased stillness and serenity to our mindful walking practice.

The idea is to start to walk a little bit more slowly than you usually walk and, at the same time, to pay attention to the sensations in parts of your body, e.g. your feet, lower legs, arms, chest and thighs.  In contrast to your standing or sitting meditation, your breathing will tend to be in the background and your bodily sensations in the foreground.

The basic idea is to become conscious of lifting your feet, stepping out and landing your feet in front of you.  The standing meditation at the end of each leg of the walking space involves pausing and stillness and thus deepening your grounding and your awareness of the present moment.

As we grow in mindfulness through combining standing and walking meditations, we become more grounded, more conscious of our bodily sensations and tensions, more in tune with our present reality and better able to be still and silent and to open ourselves to the richness within and without.

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

Image source: courtesy of Skitterphoto 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.

Gratitude in Times of Difficulty

Having gratitude in times of difficulty can increase resilience and overcome depression, anxiety and despair.  Gratitude changes the quality of life that we are living as we gain better control over our thoughts and feelings and learn to accept what is.

As you develop this practice, you start to see things that you had not noticed before, the taken-for-granted things in your life.  Diana Winston recalls noticing the way sunlight reflects on a plant and the assorted colours that were in a painting on her wall.  She attributes this increased awareness and associated thankfulness to taking the time to slow down and meditate on the place where she was – very much a form of open awareness meditation.

So, mindfulness and gratitude go hand-in-hand, in a two-way reinforcement.  As you meditate, you become more aware of what you are grateful for and your growing gratitude, in turn, helps you to be more aware of positive experiences and people in your life.

Gratitude in times of difficulty

We so often miss the simple things of life that are before us and can act as a stimulus for gratitude.  In times of difficulty, it can be very hard to look beyond what we are experiencing and suffering from and, yet, the simple things in our life can be easily noticed and employed to pull us out of our self-absorption.   When we are experiencing difficulties, we often can’t see beyond what is challenging our equanimity.

Somatic meditation can be very helpful in times of challenge, whether the challenge relates to health of our body, our mental state or an external negative stimulus.  Adopting a meditative position, in the first instance, enables us to get in touch with our breathing and provides the stillness to observe our own body as we undertake a body scan and progressively release the tension within.

This physical grounding and release provides the foundation to turn our minds to what we are grateful for.  A recent experience may become the focus of your appreciation.  For example, in a recent meditation, the focus of my gratitude was a conversation I had the day before with a long-standing colleague and close friend.  I recalled the ease of the conversation as we were “shooting the breeze”, the deep connection through shared experiences and convictions, the exploration of new terrain, the supportive challenge to perspectives, the mutual respect and admiration and the challenge to identify what gives me a “buzz” at a time of semi-retirement.

Reflecting on this recent experience made me realize the warmth of the interaction and the things that I value about the friendship which lie below my consciousness because I have never attempted to express my gratitude for this profound connection.  Our meeting was not only a face-to-face conversation, but also a meeting of minds – a source of mutual enrichment.

As we grow in mindfulness through gratitude meditations, we start to see things that we have taken for granted, appreciate more deeply and explicitly what we value in our experiences and friendships and  strengthen our inner resources to deal with the challenges that confront us.

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

Image source: courtesy of dh_creative 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.

Creativity Lies in Stillness and Silence

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

The creative power of silence

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

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

The creative power of stillness

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

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

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

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

Image source: courtesy of jplenio 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.

Do You Ever Stop to Watch the Sunset?

In a previous post, I discussed the benefits of being still – stopping the rush of our busy lives.

Sometimes, there is beauty before us and we fail to stop and look – we often do not see the sun setting on our day.

Each sunset produces an astonishing palette across the sky – a unique combination of colours and shapes that are often awe-inspiring.  Every day we are offered a different vision as the sun sets.  How often do you stop to see what is offered to you so freely?

We are so caught up with things to do that even if we want to stop to look at the sunset, we feel the pressure to keep moving and doing – we experience time pressure that shapes so much of how we live our lives.

Paulo Coelho, in his inimitable style, catches this tension perfectly when he describes how the central character in one of his books, Brida, experiences this challenge:

Whenever she sat still, just looking at something, she got the feeling that she was wasting precious time when she should be doing things or meeting people.  She could be spending her time so much better, because there was still so much to learn.  And yet, as the sun sunk lower on the horizon, and the clouds filled up with rays of gold and pink, Brida had the feeling that what she was struggling for in life was exactly this, to be able to sit one day and contemplate just such a sunset. (Brida, 2008, p.112)

Therein lies the challenge for us each day.  We can stop and look at the sunset as a form of mindful practice or carry on with our busy lives.  Each sunset offers us the opportunity to grow in open awareness and mindfulness.

Image Source: brigitteforum on Pixabay

Do You See What I See?

It is highly unlikely that you see what I see or what other people might see.

So much of what we see is filtered by our past experience and our thoughts and emotions generated by those experiences. So, what each of us see when experiencing a scene like the picture in this post of the Manly foreshore at sunrise, might be very different.

If you are a runner you might focus on the runner in the foreground, the idyllic environment for their run and their running style. If you have recently visited Stradbroke Island, you could be looking at the island in the background and searching for the tell tale sandhills while remembering an enjoyable aspect of your visit there.

If you have experienced a tsunami, the water and its calmness might remind you of your horrifying experience that followed in the wake of a calm sea. Instead of calming you, the scene might generate fear in you.

If you love trees you might focus on the different varieties of trees along the shorefront or notice the bright aura of the fir tree in the foreground.  If you have an interest in photography, you might critique the photo itself and its technical aspects of shade and light, contrast, background and foreground, positioning of key elements or the impact of the rising sun illuminating the image.  A landscape artist could be deciding whether to paint the scene in its totality or to focus on the trees.

If you are inwardly focused and preoccupied with worry or concerns about the day ahead, you might be unaware of what is actually in front of you.

What we attend to influences what we see or don’t see.  Our attention, in turn, is influenced very much by what has happened previously in our life and/or what is happening now for us.

Jon Kabat-Zinn has this to say about our limited perception and the influence of our thoughts and emotions on what we actually see:

Instead of experiencing the bare actuality of our senses, we are more experiencing our life through our thoughts about our experience – our preferences, likes, dislikes, our worries, concerns or addictions, and in a sense not fully inhabiting the full spectrum of our innate capability.

This is one reason why open awareness is a very important mindful practice if we want to grow in mindfulness and reach our full potential. Otherwise we can be lost in our thoughts and miss the world around us, its richness and beauty.

Image source: Copyright R. Passfield

Some Environments are Conducive to Mindfulness

Some environments are conducive to mindfulness because of their natural beauty.  Stradbroke Island is one of these locations as the above image illustrates.

Stradbroke Island just off Cleveland in Moreton Bay has natural beauty, abundant bird life, large tracts of native trees and endless beaches. Whale viewing from Point Lookout is absorbing and causes you to marvel at the power and grace of these magnificent mammals.

Where else can you see Kangaroos grazing contentedly in the backyard or a Koala greeting you from a tree near the ferry terminal?

Dr. Bjarte Stubhaug, in an interview with Hanne Suorza, had this to say about nature and mindfulness:

Nature is always here and now. Your breath, your senses, anything around you. When you are being aware of the life within you and around you, you are being mindful of this present moment, and it will always calm you down. You can not do nature, you can just be there. Being is calming.

Whether we are on Stradbroke Island or somewhere else in nature, we can readily experience mindfulness, calm the mind and release negative emotions.  Open awareness when in nature can lead to inner awareness.

Image source: Copyright R. Passfield

Coming to Our Senses

Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book, Coming to Our Senses, observes about our sense of sight:

We see habitually, which means we see in very limited ways, or we don’t see at all, even sometimes what is right under our noses and in front of our very eyes.  We see on automatic pilot, taking the miracle of seeing for granted, until it is merely part of the unacknowledged background within which we go about our business. (p. 43)

He suggests that we are badly “out of shape” when it comes to understanding and using our senses, not only our sight. He argues that we need to practice to develop our awareness through our senses.

As we work to develop mindfulness, we become more aware of each of our senses.  We hear more consciously and see more purposefully, we become more aware of our sense of smell and more refined in our sense of taste, and overall more attuned to our sense of touch.

Isabel Allende illustrates this heightened awareness of senses exquisitely when she describes how a view of a particular landscape reminded her of her childhood experience of Chile:

The landscape, green, and rather somber, reminds me of the south of Chile: the same centuries-old trees, the sharp scent of eucalyptus and wild mint, the stream that turned to cascades in winter, the cries of birds and shrill of crickets. (Paula, p.238)

We can develop mindfulness through being consciously aware of our individual senses whether through mindful eating, active listening, mindful walking or some other conscious mindful practice.

One way to start simply is to observe something within our own backyard. For instance, the image for this post is a bird I noticed in a tree in my backyard when I was consciously listening to and observing birds from my back deck.  Initially, I could not see the bird as it was camouflaged in a leafless tree.  It was only when I moved my position that I saw my backyard bird against the background of the green leaves of another tree.

As Kabat-Zinn observed we so often do not see or hear what is in front of us unless we make a conscious effort to be mindful and focus our attention.

Image source: Copyright R. Passfield