Living the Present Moment

The present moment is all we have – this very moment is our life.  Yet we spend so much time being someplace else.  We are thinking about what we have to do or wishing that our life was different.  We can be caught up in the emotions of envy, disappointment or regret and overlook what is happening now.

So often we look forward to an activity with a friend or colleague and yet when the moment arrives, we are thinking of something else – our focus is elsewhere other than the present moment.  When we can be really in the present moment we can savour being alone, being with someone we value and appreciate, experiencing the joy of our child’s development and happiness, or the beauty of the nature that surrounds us.

The role of meditation practice – bringing us back to the present moment

In one of her many meditation podcasts, Tara Brach coaxes us to show up fully for our life experiences, instead of being absorbed by our busyness.  She encourages us to be with our mind and our body in the moment.

Meditation practice trains us to bring our attention back to the present moment again and again.  It helps us to develop the discipline to stop our minds wandering or entertaining thoughts that take us away from the moment that we are experiencing, whatever form it takes.

If we can maintain meditation practice over a sustained period with a degree of frequency, we can begin to find that we tend to stop ourselves in the course of some experience and remind ourselves to savour the moment.  This present-mindedness can grow and develop and embrace more of our life and our interactions with others.  We can learn progressively to be truly present to ourselves and others.

As Tara points out the starting point is often getting in touch with our own bodies and our bodily sensations – whether it is the sensation of warmth or cold, tightness or softening, retracting or expanding.   What we develop through being in the present moment is gratitude and appreciation and we can experience joy and happiness through the process.  Tara describes what we develop through meditation practice in these words:

The art of appreciation and showing up for our life and living with more connection and gratitude. 

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, we can appreciate each moment and savour more of our life, instead of letting the present moment continuously pass us by.  Through regular and persistent meditation, we develop the art of bringing ourselves back to what we are experiencing in the moment.

 

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

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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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The Freedom of Possibilities Versus The Tyranny of Expectations


John Moffitt, author of Emotional Chaos to Clarity, writes comprehensively in a blog post about the tyranny of expectations.  He suggests that expectations lock us into a limited future with a fixed view of desired outcomes.  We have expectations of ourselves and of others and they, in turn, have expectations of us.

In contrast, possibilities arise in the present moment if we are tuned into what is happening in the here and now.   If we are present to our situation, whatever it may be, we are able to tap our imagination and intellect, achieve clarity about the situation and come up with creative options.

Expectations can tie us to a particular outcome and lead to disappointment when that outcome is not realised.  Even when the desired outcome is achieved, we can feel dissatisfied that it did not meet our expectations in terms of happiness, joy or success.  This results in what John describes as the tyranny of expectations and he illustrates this by giving an example of a woman held captive by her expectations:

Our discussion revealed that she repeatedly experienced being disappointed whenever she actually got what she sought.  In response, she would create new expectations, and the cycle would repeat itself.

No one is free from expectations, even yogis who can become trapped by their expectations of what they will achieve through sustained meditation practice.  They can become attached to a desired outcome, so much so that they defeat the very purpose of meditation which is to be in-the-moment with whatever is present in their lives.

John suggests that some people go to the other extreme and give up on expectations for fear of being disappointed – they do not pursue their values in day-to-day living.  They can experience depression as well as anger and frustration.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditating on our expectations in any given situation, we can learn to understand ourselves and to realise the very powerful role that expectations can play in our lives.  Working from the possibilities of the present moment, we can reduce the power of expectations and realise true happiness.

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

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Meditate with Intention

In the previous post, Replacing Shame with Kind Attention, I introduced the IAA model of mindfulness developed by Shauna Shapiro and colleagues.  The model depicts a  process incorporating intention, awareness and attitude, with each element reinforcing the other two.  In that post, I focused on “attitude” and explored the fundamental stance of “kind intention”, that Shauna relates to caring, gentleness, trust and compassion towards ourselves. Thus “attitude” in this model relates to the “how” we need to meditate to develop mindfulness and realise its benefits.

In the current post, I want to focus on the “intention” component of the IAA model.  Shauna describes this as foundational to the Model.   In a video presentation about the model, she quotes the definition of mindfulness that she developed with Linda Carlson in 2006:

The awareness that arises out of intentionally paying attention in an open, kind and discerning way.

Meditating with intention is basically being conscious of the “why” – the intent or purpose for your meditation.  She describes “intention” as “setting the compass” of the heart – not a destination but a direction.

 Jon Kabat-Zinn reinforces the importance of intention when he states that “your intentions set the stage for what is possible”. He explains that he initially thought that the act of meditating was sufficient in itself, but soon came to learn that for personal growth and change to occur, we need to have some aspiration or vision that provides the purpose for meditation practice. Shauna Shapiro, in her own 1992 research, found that intention moves along a “continuum from self-regulation, to self-exploration and finally, to self-liberation” (which, in turn, leads to “compassionate action”).

Shauna’s study confirmed that intention determined the outcomes of meditation, so that if your focus is self-regulation that is what you will achieve.  Hence, we need to meditate-with-intent, so that our personal vision and underlying values can be manifested in our words and actions.  This then enables us to “rest in the moment” and have stability and clarity about our life.  We meditate to realise our personal aspirations in our day-to-day lives, from moment to moment.

As we grow in mindfulness, we sharpen our intention in meditation which progressively becomes an evolving, dynamic motivation for a desired way of life.  The more we develop mindfulness, the more we can consciously pursue what we value and realise it our life.

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

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Strategies to Handle Restlessness During Meditation

Restlessness during meditation is experienced by everyone, even the advanced meditator.  It is important to be with the moment and be non-judgmental with ourselves, avoiding the temptation to “beat up on ourselves”.  So, part of dealing with restlessness during meditation is accepting what is and what is happening to us without self-censure.

Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), reminds us of the essence of mindfulness:

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

Diana in a meditation podcast on restlessness as an obstacle to meditation offers four strategies to deal with this restlessness which can be experienced in our mind and manifested in our body in the form of tightness/tension or the need to keep changing our posture.  These strategies require a consciousness about what is happening in our mind and/or body during meditation and a willingness “to be with what is”.

Strategies to handle restlessness during meditation

The strategies discussed by Diana incorporate a change in the focus of your meditation or a momentary change in your posture:

  1. Narrowed focused – you can narrow your focus so that you are concentrating even more closely on your breath.  You can observe the beginning (in-breath), the middle (space between in-breath and out-breath) and the ending (out-breath).  You could narrow your focus like the child in the image above who is totally absorbed in their play with a bucket at the beach.  This response to restlessness entails stillness combined with a narrowed focus.
  2. Widened focus – an alternative to narrowing your focus during meditation is to do the opposite, widen the focus of your attention.  One thing that you could focus on is the sounds that you hear, bringing your attention to listening.  Your focus could shift from the sounds that are nearby to those that are the furthest away.  Widening your focus entails changing your attention away from the mind’s relentless activity to what is happening aurally in the present moment.
  3. Focus on the restlessness – you can focus on the restlessness itself.  This involves paying attention to what is going on in your mind and your body.  You could name the mental restlessness by saying something like, “There you are again Mr. Restless drawing my attention away”.  You could then get in touch with your body to feel the impact of the restless mind and to notice “how” and “where”the restlessness is being experienced in your body.
  4. Change of posture – this involves a slight change of posture to re-focus your mind.  You may find, for example, that your shoulders have slumped slightly, so you could straighten them.  You may have crossed your feet and no longer have the soles of your feet on the ground.  Correcting your posture can bring you back to the present moment and what is the purpose of your meditation.

As we grow in mindfulness through the regular practice of meditation, we can more easily adopt strategies to deal with restlessness during meditation.  Persistence with meditation practice brings its own rewards.

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

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Mindfulness and Response Ability

Mitra Manesh, in her podcast on Mindfulness and Responsibility, noted that the word “responsibility” has two components – “response” and “ability”.  Her discussion and guided meditation are aimed at expanding our ability to respond rather than react.

Mitra maintains that mindfulness meditation, encompassing mindful breathing and body scan, can increase our response options so that our life is not governed by reactivity.  To this end, she leads us in a guided meditation on two occasions throughout the podcast.

During her podcast, Mitra Manesh defines mindfulness as ‘kind awareness and acceptance of our present moment”.  She notes that mindfulness has three essential elements – kindness, acceptance and the present moment. As we grow in mindfulness, we increase our response choices so that we are not held captive to our habituated, reactive responses.

We can more readily accept the present moment with kindness towards ourselves and others.  Kindness towards ourselves requires self-compassion and self-acceptance.  Kindness towards others involves consideration and compassion – being thoughtful and empathetic towards others and their needs.

Reactivity

Typically, in a wide range of situations, we react without thinking or being aware of the consequences of our words or actions for ourselves or others.  If someone “steels” our parking space during busy Christmas shopping, we may have some choice words to say and/or gestures to make.  If someone’s behaviour sets off a trigger for us, we will often react in an inappropriate way, usually with a response whose intensity does not match the seemingly, insignificant word or action that triggered the response – we are in a heightened reactive mode.

Reactivity taps into habituated behaviour that we have developed over time in response to various stimuli in our lives – stimuli such as disturbing situations, annoying  people or frustrated expectations.

Mindfulness and response ability

Mindfulness enables us to identify the negative triggers, isolate our reactive response, name our feelings and provide us with a choice space between stimulus and response.  We are able to expand our choice of responses and maintain calmness and clarity despite the disturbing nature of the situation.

Mindfulness helps us to show up differently in our relationships.  Instead of reacting to conflict with our life partner or colleague by our habit of withdrawal, sullenness or hurtful words, we can have the presence of mind to avoid inflaming the situation and, instead, show consideration and kindness.  Habituated reactivity fractures relationships, mindful responsiveness enriches them.

Our response ability develops with meditation practice because it helps us to grow in self-awareness and self-management.   Mindfulness practice expands our response choices as we “walk the streets of life”.

Note: Mitra Manesh’s podcast is provided as one of the weekly mindfulness podcasts provided by the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC) at UCLA.

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

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Finding Yourself Through Mindfulness – Start Small, Start Now

The music world and fans are mourning the death of Avicii, Swedish DJ, who died recently in Oman at the age of 28.   Tim Bergling, known as Avicii, suffered ill-health for many years as a result of alcoholism and retired from touring in 2016 because life on the road did not agree with his introverted nature.  He found he was so nervous before a performance that he would turn to alcohol to overcome his nervousness and to give him encouragement and confidence to perform.   During his short life as a music producer, he inspired millions of other producers to explore their potentiality.

Two of his songs had a profound impact on me, not only because of their musicality, but also because of their lyrics.  These songs are Wake Me Up When it’s Over and What Are You Waiting For?  There are many interpretations of the lyrics of these songs, but recently I have come to interpret them in terms of mindfulness.

Wake me up when it’s all over

The lyrics of this song and the music are haunting and leave an indelible impact through the words, “All this time I was finding myself, and I
Didn’t know I was lost.”

So many of us have lost our way as the pressures of modern living close in on us.  Mindfulness is very much about “finding myself” – getting to know your real self and not the narrative you carry in your head.   So many people do not know that they are lost – that they have lost meaning in life because they are caught up with the unrelenting flow of expectations, their own and that of others.

Kabat-Zinn often quotes the words of James Joyce, “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body”.  Because our lives are taken up with thinking instead of being, we spend so much of our time in our heads, disconnected from our bodies and the world around us.

Kabat-Zinn urges us to “reinhabit our bodies” that we have become disconnected from.  His book, Coming to Our Senses, stresses the need, both literally and metaphorically, to reconnect with our senses and the world around us by growing in awareness through mindfulness meditation.  He reminds us that we have only one life to live and we are living it now in the present moment.

Somatic meditation – incorporating practices such as mindful walking, Tai Chi and body scan – enable us to become grounded in what Kabat-Zinn calls our “embodied presence“.   Different forms of somatic meditation, for example, are used to help trauma victims to find themselves after the devastating and disorientating impact of the trauma experience.

What are you waiting for?

There is never a perfect time to start to grow in mindfulness and to reconnect with yourself.  Avicii asks us the penetrating question in his song –  You’re only livin’ once so tell me?  What are you, what are you waiting for?

Seth Godin, marketing guru and renowned, innovative author, urges us to “start small, start now” with any new endeavour.  There are many simple starting points to develop mindfulness that can lead to self-awareness and self-management and the associated benefits of calm, clarity and creativity.

Chade-Meng Tan, co-creator of Search Inside Yourself (Google’s course on mindfulness and emotional intelligence), urges us to “do less than we can imagine” but do it daily and consistently, even if it is  only “one mindful breath a day”.

In the hectic pace of modern living and the constant intrusion of disruptive marketing, we are beginning to suffer from the inability to focus and bring our attention to the present moment.  Neuroscience confirms the very lasting benefits for mental and physical health of growing in awareness of the present moment through mindfulness.

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

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Developing Mindfulness through Playing Tennis

I have enjoyed playing tennis since I was about 10 years old. It is only recently that I have come to realise what an opportunity playing tennis represents in terms of developing mindfulness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness in the following words:

Mindfulness is awareness that grows through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.

Paying attention

With tennis, you learn to focus and concentrate on the tennis ball and to tune out other distractions – planes flying overhead on their approach to the airport, voices from other courts, the sound of tennis balls being hit on courts, near and far.

If you entertain distractions – stop paying attention – you lose concentration and invariably mishit the ball, or worse, miss the ball entirely.

In this day and age, with “disrupted attention” and the decline in our capacity to focus on a task, practicing paying full attention to a tennis ball is a great way (and enjoyable means for some) to redress that declining capacity.

On purpose

Well, even in social tennis which I play on a weekly basis, the purpose is to win the point or the game for yourself and your partner.  There are times when you are more mindful, the purpose is the sheer enjoyment of playing the game.

It is only when you lose something that you really appreciate having had it.  Many years ago, when my back collapsed and I could not walk, let alone play tennis, I began to really appreciate the opportunity to play when I was fit enough (18 months later).  So now I remind myself what a privilege it is to be able to run and hit the ball and just enjoy the act of playing tennis and its associated pleasures – the conviviality of other social players, the new relationships that are formed, and the sense of satisfaction from the exercise and demonstration of some aspect of skill and competence in the game of tennis.  This certainly develops a sense of gratitude.

In the present moment

Sometimes when you play tennis, you become very aware of your surroundings – the feel of the wind, the freshness of the air and the smells of flowering plants and trees and freshly cut grass, the sound of birds flying overhead or the laughter and enjoyment of others.

You are really in the present moment in terms of your external environment. At other times, your focus on the ball makes you really conscious of what is happening here and now.

There are times when I just marvel at my mind’s capacity, almost instantaneously, to read the spin and speed of the ball coming to me, to get my body into position to return the shot, to assess the balance and positioning of the opposing players and to determine and execute a responding tennis shot with the right spin, angle and speed – certainly an instance of unconscious competence and a cause for delight in the moment.

Non-judgementally

On the tennis court, as in life and work, we can experience negative thoughts and doubts, emotions that distract us from the task at hand and cause us to lose concentration and focus.  You might be undermining your confidence and competence by the thoughts that pass through your mind – “I’ve missed three returns in a row!”, “What will my partner think?”, “The other players seem to be so good, can I give them a decent game?”.

So, you have to learn to let these thoughts pass you by and not entertain them or they really negatively impact your game.  You gain self-awareness about your anxieties and concerns, your self-evaluation and your assumptions about others and their needs.

You also learn self-management in terms of not getting upset or “sounding off” (or, in the extreme, smashing your racquet), when you miss a shot or fall behind in a game.  You have to learn to control your emotions – disappointment, frustration or even anger – and to channel the negative energy to a more positive focus.

In my situation, where I am older than most of the other social tennis players, I have to learn to deal with the negative impact of their assumptions.  Some people who have not played against or with me before, assume that being older I am slower to the ball and not able to hit a decent shot, so they will not hit the ball to me because they think that I will “muck” up the rally.  Others, who have played with me or against me on a number of occasions (or who know that I played competitive A Grade tennis for years), will not hit the ball to me in a rally because they are concerned that I will hit the winning shot and finish the rally.  The net result is the same – I feel excluded from some rallies.  I have had to learn to stay focused, to enjoy the moment and stay uncritical about these assumptions and how they play out for me.

Being mindful

What served as a catalyst for this post, is a description of being mindful during tennis which was recorded in a novel, Purity, by Jonathan Franzen.  Purity, or Pip as she was called was having an extended hit of tennis with her hitting partner, Justin.  Franzen describes Pip’s mindful experience in these words:

Pip was in an absolute groove with her forehand…They had impossibly long rallies, back and forth, whack and whack, rallies so long that she was giggling with happiness by the end of them.  The sun went down, the air was deliciously cool, and they kept hitting.  The ball bouncing up in a low arc, her eyes latching on to it, being sure to see it, just see it, not think and her body doing the rest without being asked to.  That instant of connecting, the satisfaction of reversing the ball’s inertia, the sweetness of the sweet spot…she was experiencing perfect contentment.  Yes, a kind of heaven: long rallies on an autumn evening, the exercise of skill in light still good enough to hit by, the faithful pock of a tennis ball. (p.545)

Playing tennis can help us to grow in mindfulness if we maintain our attention and focus, be conscious of our purpose in playing, experience and enjoy the moment and learn to manage our own negative self-judging and associated emotions.  It is a great learning opportunity for mindful play and the development of skills that can transfer to other arenas of our lives.

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

Image source: courtesy of skeeze on Pixabay

Awareness and Happiness

Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield, when talking about the power of awareness, identified happiness as a very significant outcome of awareness training.  They explain this outcome in terms of three elements of awareness:

  1. being present
  2. overcoming negative bias
  3. appreciation and gratitude

Being present

If we live in the present, we are not encumbered by anxiety and fear about the future or disappointment and depression about the past.  “Now” is the focus and source of our wellbeing.  Both Jack and Tara point out the Dalai Lama as a prime example of happiness and joy (despite suffering as a result of the loss of culture, freedom and religion by his beloved country of Tibet).

After publishing his book on happiness, the Dalai Lama was asked what was the happiest moment of his life, and he replied after considering the question, “I think now”.  There is a stillness and calm and associated happiness with being able to be “in-the-now”.

Overcoming negative bias

Neuroscience has established that part of our genetic make-up is a negativity bias – we tend to see the negative in a situation and perceive threats even when there are none.   In the past, this has served the human species well and helped our species to survive.   Nowadays, it works against our happiness because we can easily overlook the positive and be blinded by a focus on what is wrong or not working out as we had planned.

As we grow in mindfulness and awareness, we are more readily able to focus on the positive in our lives and overcome our negative conditioning.   We are also better able to evaluate potential stressors and see them for what they are.   This opens us up to enjoying our life more and experiencing happiness more regularly.

Appreciation and gratitude

Awareness opens our minds and hearts and enables us to appreciate the good in our lives and express gratitude for what we have in terms of fitness and health, relationships, our lifestyle and our environment.  We become increasingly conscious of what surrounds us and become more open to joy and happiness.

Appreciation and gratitude serve as barriers to envy and resentment which can so readily diminish our happiness and destroy joy in our lives.

Jack Kornfield explains how mindfulness practices and awareness training increase the capacity for happiness in our lives:

These practices and trainings are really an invitation to allow not only well-being, but the innate happiness that appreciates the sunset and the reflected colors in the windows as the sun goes down, or in the puddles there on the street and the splashes and the smiles of the children as they stomp in the water and the mystery of life.

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

Image source: courtesy of AbelEscobar on Pixabay

Grow Mindfulness Through The Present Moment

Andy Puddicombe argues that the present moment is so underrated and yet it shapes our life.

Jon Kabat-Zinn exhorts us to live as if our moments really mattered. He suggests that instead of worrying about the future which we can rarely influence, we should shape our future through the healing and creative power of the present moment.

Our lives are made up of moments.  It is difficult to comprehend that our future is shaped by what we do in the present moment – our choices today shape our future tomorrow.

Jon Kabat-Zinn maintains that we grow mindfulness through paying attention in the present moment:

Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, but non-judgmentally.

In the following video, he talks extensively about the power of the present moment:

There are so many ways to BE in the present moment – somatic meditation is one of the more readily accessible mindfulness practices.

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