Slow Down for Gratitude

In the previous post, I discussed being mindful at work.  Among, the suggested ways to be mindful in this environment were slowing down and being grateful.  If we slow the pace of our life wherever we are, we can focus on gratitude and develop not only a positive outlook on life but also the resilience to bounce back from setbacks, challenges and difficulties.

Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), maintains that mindfulness is very much about living more in the present moment.  In line with this view, she explains the nature of mindfulness in the following way:

Mindfulness is about paying attention to our present moment experiences with openness and curiosity and a willingness to be with what is.

Diana provided this explanation when introducing a gratitude meditation as part of the UCLA’s free, weekly Mindful Awareness Podcasts.   In this podcast she highlights the value of being grateful for the small things that make up our daily lives, from moment to moment.

Gratitude for the small things in life

It is not a big deal to be grateful for the small things in our life that we take so much for granted.  We can overcome this lack of appreciation through overfamiliarity by slowing down what we are doing and expressing appreciation for the small things in our lives.  This can be done as part of a meditation process or “on-the-go-slow”.

Firstly, we can focus on our senses and the wondrous world that is open to us through sight, sound, touch, taste and hearing.   With sight alone, we have access to colours, shapes, lightness and darkness and the never-ending variety of the sky, the flowers and trees, the birds and the animals we encounter in nature.

With hearing, we can access a very wide variety of sounds, the nuances in people’s voices, the chorus of birds and the buzz of life around us.  Recently, I was playing a game of tennis against a young man who was deaf and his sister, and it prompted me in the moment to be grateful for my hearing.  He communicated with his sister by sign language but was unable to communicate with myself and my partner except by hand movements and limited facial expressions.  His hearing impediment clearly affected his game.  On reflection, I am now conscious that he could not hear the sound of the ball leaving the racquet and be able to judge the speed and distance of the ball that comes with hearing this sound.  So, there is a lot to be grateful for with the sense of hearing.

On another occasion, I was playing tennis with a male partner who was becoming increasingly agitated and frustrated with losing points because of his lack of timing and coordination.  The temptation was to join in with him and express my own frustration at my own lack of timing – negativity is contagious.  However, for once, I just expressed gratitude that I could be playing tennis after a long layoff, that I could run and still play some good shots.  I sensed, too, that my partner gained better self-control by the end of the game through the influence of my calmness and focus – positivity is contagious. If we slow down, and savour the moment and what we have, we can achieve better self-management through control over our emotions and our responses.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can more often be-in-the-moment, and develop our positive outlook on life and build our resilience in the face of setbacks, whether at work or play.

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

Image source: courtesy of dh_creative on Pixabay

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What’s Stopping You from Meditating?

In his presentation for the Mindfulness & Meditation Summit, Dan Harris discussed Tackling the Myths, Misconceptions, and Self-Deceptions That Stop You from Meditating.  Dan is the author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Really Works – A True Story.   He wrote this book after exploring meditation following a panic attack on live TV.   Dan also produced a series of free podcasts with leaders in mindfulness and an App, 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.

This presentation was based on research that Dan undertook on a road trip with meditation teacher, Jeff Warren, for their new book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.

Dan identified a number of barriers that people put up that stop them from meditating.  We will explore some of them here (the names of the barriers have been changed for this post – the essence is the same):

1. My mind is too full

This is a myth based on an unfounded belief that you will never be able to clear your mind sufficiently for meditation.  It assumes that you are different to everyone else who is attempting to meditate, but recognises the challenge of endless thoughts impacting your meditation (a situation experienced by everyone who meditates, even the most experienced meditators).

2.Time poor

This is the belief that there is no spare time in your life for meditation.  It assumes that your time allocation is immutable and that you have your priorities right.  There are clearly special challenges for some individuals such as parents with young children who persist in destroying any routine that you attempt to develop.  However, even in this situation, it is possible to grab some time here or there to do mindful walking, mindful eating and/or mindful breathing.  It may mean that your meditation practice is initially broken into small chunks throughout the day.  As Chade-Meng Tan suggests, one mindful breath a day will “start the ball rolling”.

3.Lacking self-compassion

Some people, especially those lacking in self-compassion, see time spent in meditation as being selfish and experience guilt if they allocate time for this activity.  This is particularly true for people who suffer “empathetic distress”.  Self-care really enables the carer to better provide for others and to sustain their effort on others’ behalf.

4.Don’t want to stand out

Some people create a barrier to meditation because they think that they will be seen as soft or weird – they are frightened to stand out as different.  People in occupations such as the Police Service/Force, may fear that they will be called a “softie”.  There is a lack of recognition that the capacity to be present in the moment, to deal with stressful situations with calm and clarity and to develop creativity are outcomes from meditation that enhance a police officer’s capabilty.

5.Fear of losing your “edge”

This baseless fear comes from observing the “laid-back” nature, persistent calmness, of some experienced meditators.  As Dan Harris argues in his book, meditation helps to reduce stress while maintaining, and in fact, strengthening your “edge” – whatever that may be.  This is why famous actresses such as Goldie Hawn, as well as leading CEOs and professional people, meditate on a daily basis.

6.Fear of what you might find “within”

This is a serious concern about exploring your inner landscape for fear of what might turn up in terms of anxieties, distrust, hatred, negative self-perception or any other negative emotion.  Mindfulness experts would argue that i is better to surface these issues so that you can deal with them, rather than having them undermine you on a daily basis because they are hidden and potentially out-of-control.

7.I can’t maintain the habit of meditation

You need to build in some form of support system to enable you to sustain the practice of meditation.  This could be a routine (starting small), joining a group who meditate regularly, working with a buddy, stimulating your interest and motivation through reading, practising with audio tapes/CDs or developing a meditation habit attached to some other thing that you do regularly such as boiling the jug for a cup of tea or coffee.

Meditation enables us to grow in mindfulness and to realise the attendant benefits.  Persistence brings its own rewards as we deepen our meditation practice.

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

Goldie Hawn on Meditation

In an interview with Tami Simon, Goldie Hawn explained why she has developed a 10-year habit of meditation and the benefits she gains from this practice.  The interview is one of a series of podcasts, titled Weekly Wisdom, available free from Sounds True.

Goldie was introduced to meditation when she was challenged by her quick success – in a direction she had not planned to go career-wise, as she had intended to be a dancer and ended up as a famous actress.

This new-found and unexpected fame put a lot of pressure on her and resulted in continuous anxiety.  Her initial challenge was to live up to the expectations of her fans and the carping criticisms of her critics.

Expectations of others can create enormous pressure on anyone who is highly visible in any sphere of life.  Yesterday, for example, I watched live a soccer match between AC Milan and a lesser ranked team at the former team’s home ground.  The expectations of the thousands of AC Milan’s fans were very loud and clear.  They clapped any show of skill of their own team, but were hyper-critical of any mistake particularly where a player lost possession of the football to the opposition.  Their critique was vocal and expressive and left no doubt as to their displeasure.

Others’ expectations can be a very real stressor in the life of a famous person as it was in Goldie’s early career.  It can also be a stressor in our own lives – the unrealistic expectations can come from parents, in-laws, children or peers.

People think they know you and project onto you capabilities they think you have, along with the expectations that go with their assumptions.  It is not only the adoring fans who create this expectation stress, but critics who can often revert to cruel, unkind and unfounded criticisms.  So it is easy to lose your way and  to lose who you really are.

For Goldie, a key benefit of meditation was to achieve separation by finding her true self, not an image projected by others.  She was able to know herself deeply through meditation so she was not caught up in the never-ending trap of trying to live up to others’ expectations.  She not only realised what Meng had explained – that you are not your thoughts or emotions – but also that you are not the projection of others’ thoughts and, sometimes, needy emotions.

in finding out who you really are at a deep level, you achieve a groundedness and a strong sense of self-worth that is not captive to the expectations or opinions of others, whether fans or critics. Achievement of this inner calm and solidity is a lifetime pursuit through meditation and mindful practice.

However, as Goldie explains, the starting point is to overcome the fear of exploring your inner self – of gaining insight into you own inner landscape and who you really are.  This can be really scary but the benefits are enormously rich and empowering.  The  challenge, in her terms, is to explore “the Univerity of You”.

As Goldie explains, the benefits of meditation are deep, profound and life-changing because you are able to experience inner calm and clarity when you begin to realise that you exist independent of other peoples’ expectations of you:

…what I was experiencing then was obviously peace, a sense of calm, and an amazing ability to become more of a witness, rather than engage in things that actually I could not change.  That  was one of the, I would say, very positive effects of meditation for me.

… Beginning to separate that is really important, I think, in terms of where we go in life and how we help ourselves become more clear and more able to make much, much better decisions, when we take ourselves out of the centre of it.

As we grow in mindfulness through mindful practice, we gain a deep insight into our real selves and are able to achieve this separation of our self-identity from the perceptions and expectations of others – and, in the process, experience inner peace and calm.

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