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.

Exploring Awareness Without Boundaries

In a previous post, I explored Diana Winston’s discussion of the three dimensions of awareness – narrow, broad and choiceless. In this post, I want to explore “boundaryless awareness” which is often called “choiceless awareness“. I will be drawing on a guided meditation for resting in boundaryless awareness provided by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

The expansiveness of awareness

Jon reminds us that our awareness can take in an endless array of sensations, thoughts, and emotions as well as conscious awareness of the fact that we are observing, thinking or experiencing. Our awareness is like the unbounded expanse of the sky or the galaxies beyond.

With narrow awareness we hone in on a particular focus such as our breathing, sounds around us or a specific self-story; with broad awareness we open ourselves to all that is going on around us. With boundaryless awareness we progressively open to our total inner and outer reality without constraint – not choosing, entertaining or engaging – just being-in-the-moment. Jon reminds us that we are often extremely narrow in our awareness, just fixated on ourselves – e.g. on our addiction, our pain or our boredom. Boundaryless awareness creates a sense of freedom – moving beyond self-obsession to openness to what is.

A guided meditation on boundaryless awareness

In Jon’s meditation podcast, provided by mindful.org, he takes us through a series of stages that gradually open our consciousness to the expansiveness of our awareness – beyond depth, breadth and width.

In the 30 minute meditation, he begins by having you focus on the “soundscape” – the sounds that surround you and the space in between each sound. He encourages you to “be the hearing” – to rest in the very act of hearing, thus deepening awareness not only of the sounds but also of the fact that you are hearing them.

In the next stage of progressing in awareness, Jon suggests that you now move your awareness to the air that you breathe and the sensation of the air on your skin as well as consciousness of its progress through your body. You could even extend this to breathing with the earth, so that you are attuned to your participation in the “breathing globe”.

Jon points out that while all this is going on your body is experiencing sensations – aches and pains, pressure of the chair on your back and legs, the sense of being grounded with your feet on the floor. [As I participated in this meditation, I even had the sensation of movement in my fingers (which were touching) – lightening the pressure of touch, growing thicker and expanding outwards.] Jon suggests that you let your awareness float across your body sensations as you breathe, sit, hear and feel.

You can extend your awareness to your thoughts, not entertaining them but growing conscious that you are thinking – letting your thoughts come and go as they float away. This awareness simultaneously embraces feelings elicited by your thoughts and accompanying images and memories.

In the final stage of this guided meditation, that Jon calls “one last jump”, you allow your mind and heart to be “boundless, hugely spacious, as big as the sky or space itself” – an awareness that has no bounds like the “boundarylessness” of awareness itself in its uninhibited form.

Stability through narrowing your focus

If you find that you need to stabilise your mind as you experience the unaccustomed sensations of “weightlessness” or unbounded awareness, you can return to a narrower focus – your breath or the sounds around you. In returning to a narrow awareness, you can sense the limits of this focus within the broader field of unbounded awareness. Boundaryless awareness, however, is accessible to you at any time you choose to pursue it.

As we grow in mindfulness by resting in our awareness -narrow, broad or boundaryless – through meditation, we come to realise the expansiveness of awareness and the freedom and calm that lies beyond self-absorption, with all its various manifestations such as addiction, negative self-stories or depression.

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Image by O12 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.

Breaking Out of Our Belief Trance

Tara Brach suggests that we often live in a self-absorbed trance generated by our false beliefs about ourselves and our learned beliefs about others. She offers ways to address these beliefs and their damaging effects in her new course, Releasing Negative Beliefs & Thought Patterns: Using Mindfulness to Break Out of the Trance.   Her mindfulness course, involving 26 lectures and 2.5 hours of video, provides ways to identify and manage our harmful beliefs

How harmful beliefs arise

Harmful beliefs about ourselves and our self-worth develop at an early age through a range of influences – parental, peer and/or religious education. Our parents can sow the seeds for a diminished self-esteem by reminding us that we are not as good as some comparative child, a sibling or classmate. We might be told that our academic or sporting achievements fall below their expectations of us or what they themselves achieved. Our peers are constantly comparing us to themselves and other peers as they too are consumed by the self-absorption trance. Our religious education might reinforce our low self-esteem by telling us that we are inherently “bad” and sinful.

These influences on the formation of our negative self-beliefs can be compounded by traumatic childhood experiences such as getting lost in a store, being placed in an orphanage for a period or being left in the custody of one parent following a divorce. These experiences can deepen our sense of rejection and heighten our beliefs about our “unworthiness” or our sense of being “unlovable”. Over time, these beliefs can become deeply embedded in our psyche and confirmed by our unconscious bias towards a negative interpretation of events impacting us.

Impact of harmful beliefs

Our self-beliefs play out in our thoughts and emotions and impact our interactions with others. Negative beliefs leading to diminished self-evaluation can reinforce our sense of separateness and the need to protect our self from others who might further damage our self-esteem.

We may try to conceal our shame or project it onto others through anger and resentment. Underlying our interactions is a constant fear that we will be damaged by others – a fear reinforced by our past experiences. We may have difficulty developing close relationships (we keep trying to “keep our distance”), building motivation to take on new challenges or overcoming a deepening sadness or depression. We begin to see the world and others through dark clouds that distort our perception of people and reality and their inherent beauty.

Breaking out of the belief trance

Tara’s course is designed to help us to identify our harmful beliefs, understand how they play out in our life and interaction with others and develop techniques and strategies to limit the harm caused to our self and others as a result of these beliefs.

She offers, among other things, a brief guided meditation focused on a recent, conflicted interaction we have had with someone else. After taking time to become grounded, she suggests that you focus on the conflicted interaction and explore your self-beliefs that are playing out from your side of the conflict. You might ask yourself, “What nerve is the interaction activating? (e.g. a fear of criticism); “What am I doing to the other person in the conflict? (e.g. destructive criticism or calling them names); or “What am I doing to protect myself and my sense of self-worth (e.g. justifying my words and/or behaviour).

Having teased out what is going on for you in the interaction in terms of personal sensitivities and your self-protective behaviour, you can begin to explore the self-beliefs that underlie your part in the interaction. These may not be immediately evident as they are so deeply embedded and reinforced, but over time they will emerge from the mist of self-deflection. If you repeat the guided meditation on harmful beliefs following other conflicted interactions, you can gradually begin to see more clearly and notice a pattern of behaviour, thoughts and underlying beliefs. Once you have identified what is going on for you, you are better placed to manage your personal interactions.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation on our conflicted interactions, we can become more attentive to what is happening for us, understand our part in the conflict, identify our harmful self-beliefs and progressively manage our beliefs, thoughts, emotions and behaviours. We can become more connected to the world and others and less insistent on defining and reinforcing our separateness. In this growing self-realisation lies the seeds of compassion.

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Image source: courtesy of Skitterphoto 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.

Parallel Conversations: Hidden Assumptions, Thoughts and Feelings

So often we end up engaging in conversations that are based on assumptions that are never made explicit. Each party to the conversation assumes they know what the other person is thinking and feeling but does not make this assumption known to the other person. The result is a parallel conversation – a conversation lacking touchpoints, where both parties are on the same track, talking about the same things with open awareness about what they and the other person is thinking and feeling.

The catalyst for this reflection is a conversation between Paulo and Karla, his female companion, reported in Hippie, a biographical journey written by Paulo Coelho. The book is a fascinating revelation of Paulo’s early days before he became a famous writer (today he is the “most translated living author”, having sold in excess of 300 million books). In the reported conversation (pp. 178-181), Paulo and Karla each assume they know what the other is thinking and feeling and each withholds information that they could have shared to reach a common understanding (the withheld information is provided in italics as the hidden conversation going on inside each person). The net result of this parallel conversation is reported by Paulo in the following words:

They were, yet again, travelling in opposite directions, no matter how hard they tried to reach one another.

Being aware of your assumptions, thoughts and feelings

I find so often, that I am working off assumptions that subsequently prove to be wrong or, at least, inaccurate. This seems to become a more regular habit the longer you are in a relationship – you tend to assume that you already know what the other person is thinking and feeling, because much of your conversation is based on intuition and a lot of communication is unspoken – a nod, a smile, a shake of the head, a wave of the arms.

The starting point for avoiding parallel conversations is to become more aware of what is going on for you in the process of the conversation – becoming aware of your assumptions, thoughts and feelings. Assumptions can create a divide and unspoken thoughts and unexpressed feelings tend to precipitate assumptions by the other person who is a party to the conversation.

Reflecting on a conversation after it occurs can help to increase your awareness of your assumptions, thoughts and feelings, together with the impact they have on your relationship. Reflecting in the process of communicating (reflection-in-action), is more powerful but is an acquired skill and demands that you are fully present in the moment of the conversation.

In Western society, we have developed our thinking capacity to a very high degree, and we are continuously consumed by our thoughts – engaging in planning, analysing, evaluating, critiquing, justifying, summarising, synthesizing and comparing. The cost of spending so much time in thinking, is that we lose touch with our present reality or as Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, we lose the art of “being present”.

Sharing your assumptions, thoughts and feelings

While we continue to withhold our assumptions, thoughts and feelings, we are opening ourselves to the potential negative effects of parallel conversations – misunderstandings, resentment, time-wasting, energy-sapping interactions, disconnection and depression.

Through reflection on a conversation, we can become more aware of what was occurring for us in the conversation – what assumptions, thoughts and feelings we brought to the conversation. This growing awareness increases our capacity to share what is occurring for us and thus build the relationship rather than damage it. By practising this reflection-on-action (the conversation), we can progressively develop reflection-in-action (during the conversation), enabling us to share on-the-spot, our assumptions, thoughts and feelings.

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection and meditation, we can increase our awareness of our assumptions, thoughts and feelings and their impacts on our conversations and relationships. We can develop the capacity to be more fully present in a conversation and share what is going on for us rather than withholding information about our assumptions, thoughts and feelings.

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Image source: courtesy of MabelAmber 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.

Naomi Osaka – Mindfulness in Action

Naomi Osaka won the Women’s Singles Championship at the 2019 Australian Open on Saturday 26th January, beating Petra Kvitová (winner of two Grand Slam titles). In winning the championship, Naomi became the first Japanese tennis player to win the Australian Open and the first Japanese player to become No.1 in the world. In reflecting on her mindful approach to her recent matches and her achievements, I have become very conscious of the level of mindfulness she has attained at such a young age (21 at this tournament). Her advanced level of mindfulness is reflected in her resilience, capacity to handle negative thoughts and emotions and her strong sense of gratitude which enables her to stay grounded.

Resilience – capacity to bounce back in the face of setbacks or adversity

Naomi was serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set, having won the first set. Despite three match points in that game, she was unable to win the second set. Her disappointment was palpable – she left the court after the set with a towel over her head to hide her tears. However, she was able to settle herself in the break before the third set and to to resume the match with a new resolve and focus that enabled her to lift her game and go on to win the match and the Championship.

In overcoming the setback when she served-for-the-match at the end of the second set, Naomi had to deal with two conflicting challenges that beset the best champions in these circumstances – (1) anticipating the result (she so wanted to be No. 1 in the world that she could almost see and feel what it would be like) and (2) her negative thoughts and emotions resulting from missing her opportunity to close out the second set.

Her capacity to bounce back shows her resilience when having to deal with disappointment following a setback. This resilience was also in evidence when she was able to win the US Open five months earlier, despite the bad behaviour of her tennis idol and opponent, Sarina Williams – behaviour which was both unsettling and distracted attention from Naomi’s wonderful achievement.

Overcoming negative thoughts and emotions

Naomi was distressed at not being able to serve out the match at the end of the second set. It would have been easy to continue to entertain the negative thoughts that were going through her head, “I was so close and missed my opportunity”; “Why did I serve so poorly?”; and “I’m not going to win now or be No.1 in the world”.

Naomi took time to get centred again and to control her negative thoughts and emotions. She reminded herself that she had come back from being behind and that she could regain her ascendency (building on a very strong sense of self-efficacy).

It is so easy to entertain negative thoughts and emotions to a point where they disable us. However, Naomi reported that in the third set she put her emotions aside (self-regulation) and focused on playing each point. Even when she made mistakes in the third set, she used one of her anchors to shake free of her negative thoughts and emotions – she could be observed shaking her head from side to side, taking a temporary pause or a few deep breaths.

Naomi revealed in an earlier interview that she is an avid online gamer, a passion she enjoys with her sister. She described gaming not only as an alternative pursuit for up to four hours a day, but also as a way to reframe her tennis matches. She describes this unique anchor as follows:

I just feel like I know [tennis] is sort of my job and, like, if I were to say it, like, in a gaming term, then it’s sort of a mission that I have to complete. Um, so yeah. I just sort of tune everything out and just try my best to complete the mission.

Naomi demonstrated what it takes to be a mindful tennis champion through her demeanour, her self-awareness and self-regulation and her capacity to manage her inner dialogue. Her sense of gratitude is another trait that belies her youthful age and demonstrates her advanced level of mindfulness.

Gratitude – a way to stay grounded

Naomi mentioned in one of her interviews that she had visited Haiti, the homeland of her father. This visit had a significant effect on her, not so much for her treatment as a hero and a publicly acclaimed sports ambassador for Haiti, but more for the profound sense of gratitude she experienced after seeing the abject poverty of the Haitian people.

This strong sense of the deprivation of others in her father’s homeland, made her appreciate how much she herself had – not only her natural talent as a tennis player and the opportunity to develop it, but also having the basic things in her life (a home, loving and supportive family, food to eat and water on tap).

Naomi reported that her sense of gratitude helped to ground her and enable her to stay in-the-moment, to really appreciate everything she had and to be able to absorb losses. She indicated in an interview that her sense of gratitude helped her to deal with the disappointment of losing the second set. She reminded herself that she was playing a final against a champion tennis player in Petra Kvitová and told herself:

I can’t let myself act immature in a way. I should be grateful to be here and that is what I tried to be.

As we grow in mindfulness, through developing self-awareness and self-regulation, we can build the resilience to handle the stresses in our life, manage our negative thoughts and emotions and be truly grateful for what we have in life. Having simple mindfulness anchors can help us to be more in-the-moment and less controlled by our emotions that can sometimes blind and disable us.

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

Image source: courtesy of johnhain 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.

Inertia: A Sign of Feeling Vulnerable?

Previously, I explored ways to overcome our defence mechanisms designed to protect us from vulnerability. I’ve also explored how being vulnerable can improve our contribution and our relationships. In this post, I want to look at the relationship between inertia and feeling vulnerable.

Experiencing inertia

Inertia according to the Oxford Dictionary is a “tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged” – a trait often ascribed to bureaucratic organisations but experienced by most of us at some point in our lives. When I was an active academic, I used to be approached by potential higher degree students who would say, “I really want to do a doctoral degree, but I don’t seem to be able to get started.”

My first word of advice to them was not to start a doctoral degree – which involves study, research and concentrated effort over several years – unless they have a research topic that they are passionate about. Without the passion, research students are unable to sustain the effort and focus required to achieve their desired outcome, the award of a doctoral degree. This principle of passion and enthusiasm can apply to any endeavour requiring a sustained effort over a long period.

Behind inertia – feeling vulnerable

When the potential student reassures me that they have a topic that they are passionate about, I then explore with them why they have been unable to take action, to start on the path towards their degree. Invariably, their response identifies vulnerability as the source of their inertia – “I may not be intelligent enough to do the research.”; “No one may be interested in what I want to research!”; “I have not written anything lengthy before.”; “What if I fail the doctoral examination?”; “I don’t know anyone who could supervise me.”; “My writing may not be good enough.”; and similar expressions of feeling vulnerable.

Often the advice to people who are unable to make progress on something that they really want to achieve is to start somewhere, anywhere that will put them on the path to their desired outcome. In the case of a potential doctoral study, this may mean reading around the topic to explore the area, generate heightened interest or identify potential resource people. While this is very good advice, it may not overcome a person’s fear of feeling vulnerable, particularly if it is deep-seated – resulting from prior traumatic experiences or from being “wounded”.

Exploring the vulnerability behind inertia

Often, we need to deal with our deepest fears before we can move forward or take action on something that we really want to do. One way into this is to clearly identify the underlying sources of our sense of being vulnerable. This can be achieved progressively through meditation, but it will require complete honesty with our self. Excuses are often avoidance strategies, not legitimate reasons for not taking action.

You can start a meditation to explore your inertia by becoming grounded, through your posture and breathing in the first instance. You can gradually move to exploring the bodily sensations that arise when you focus on the endeavour you are trying to start on. You can notice these sensations – tightness, tension, nervous movements – and focus on them and try to release them through your breathing.

Once you have been able to settle down your bodily reactions, you can begin to explore the feelings behind the bodily sensations – fear, anxiety, concern, worried, wary, troubled, insecure, guarded, apprehensive or other associated feeling that indicates that you are feeling vulnerable. You need to be able to name your feelings to be able to reduce their impact and to release the hold on your energy. Once you have identified these feelings and faced them, you can move forward.

The next phase of this exploration of the vulnerability behind inertia is to identify the fear-inducing thoughts that you unconsciously entertain and that give rise to these feelings of being vulnerable. The thoughts could be, “I’m not good enough.”; “What if I fail?; “What if I make a fool of myself?”; “What If people see through me?”; “What if I get stuck and do not know what to say?’; “What if I have nothing really worthwhile to contribute?”; and so on. Invariably, you will be dealing with a lot of “what if’s” – betraying your mind’s negative orientation.

You can face these thoughts and deal with them by asking, “Is this outcome likely to happen?”; “What could I do to reduce the likelihood of it happening – how can I plan appropriately?”; “If it does happen, can I deal with it?” We tend to catastrophize – think of the worst possible outcome – which, in turn, blocks our taking action.

Once you have dealt with the sensations, feelings and thoughts associated with your inertia and sense of feeling vulnerable, you can move forward by planning and taking some action to move yourself towards your goal. It may take a number of practices of this meditation before you can move forward – the time and effort required will depend on how deeply embedded is your sense of vulnerability.

As we grow in mindfulness – awareness of our inner and outer reality -through meditation on our inertia and its manifestation (in our bodily sensations, our feelings and thoughts), we can release our blocked energy and gradually move forward to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

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

Image source: courtesy of MMckein 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. 

Focused Attention: A Guided Meditation

In this era of constant, disruptive distractions we need to be able to develop the capacity to calm our minds and focus our attention on what is important in our lives. Without this capacity, we are at the mercy of stress and anxiety as we try to deal with the incessant demands on our minds. One way to restore equanimity when we are stressed “out-of-our-minds”, is to develop a simple practice of focused attention.

Rich Fernandez, co-founder of Wisdom Labs, provides a guided meditation that enables you to train your mind in focused attention. Rich’s meditation podcast is under ten minutes and provides a way to quickly and easily regain calmness when stressed through attention to the act of breathing which is an undervalued element of a healthy life.

Focused attention on your breathing

The focused attention meditation requires, in the first place, that you adopt a comfortable position and reduce visual distractions by closing your eyes or looking downwards. If you are physically uncomfortable or visually distracted, you will not be able to focus on your breathing.

Rich then suggests that you bring your total attention to the act of breathing as you experience it in your body. This experience will differ from person to person as levels of awareness differ immensely. For example, people who are trained in focused attention are much more aware of their breathing than others who have not undertaken this training.

To focus on your experience of breathing you begin to notice the flow of air into and out of your body and you identify where this bodily sensation is experienced in your own body – e.g. in your throat, chest or stomach. You can notice too whether your breathing is deep or shallow, slow or fast, even or rough. The intention is not to control your breathing, but just notice it in a very focused way.

As you bring your attention to your breathing, you can become more conscious of your in-breath, out-breath and the gap between these movements of breath. You can also rest in the gap to enhance your level of calmness and bring your bodily stress sensations under control.

Rich suggests that you end your focused attention meditation with a few deep, controlled breaths as a way to bring your attention back to where you are and what you have been doing before the meditation practice. Some people recommend that this practice of controlled breathing can also be used at the start of a meditation (as a way to release stress and bring attention to the breath).

Managing thought distractions

Everyone experiences distractions during meditation, whether you are an experienced meditator or not. Our thoughts wander endlessly, thousands of times a day. The art of developing focused attention is to notice your thoughts and “gently but firmly” bring your attention back to your breathing. The practice of managing your thought distractions develops the discipline necessary to control your thoughts so you are not held captive by them.

By focusing on your experience of breathing and maintaining your attention, despite the intermittent distraction of your thoughts, you develop the capacity to quickly and easily drop into a calm breathing pattern that enables you to wind down your level of stress and anxiety.

As we grow in mindfulness through focused attention meditation, we develop awareness of the level of stress we are experiencing and cultivate a way to manage that stress. This trained capacity builds our personal resilience and ability to respond appropriately in situations we experience as stressful.

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

Image source: courtesy of Antranias 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. 

Creating a Journal to Declutter Your Mind

Ryder Carroll in a TEDx Yale Talk titled, How to declutter your mind – keep a journal, highlighted the role a journal can play in helping you to overcome the busyness in your life and lead what he calls an “intentional life” – a life lived with intent, focus and purpose. He maintained that we cause ourselves stress and anxiety by cluttering our minds with things that are not important and as a result lose sight of things that matter to us.

Our thoughts are discursive – one thought follows another in an endless stream. These thoughts and our busyness are often driven by expectations – our own and those of others in our life. As discussed previously, expectations can hold us captive and erode our freedom of choice. In some organisations, busyness has become a sign of importance – where the expectation is to be “seen-to-be-doing”, rather than being and achieving.

Ryder states in his presentation that today we suffer from “decision fatigue” resulting from “choice fatigue”. At every moment of the day we are confronted with choices and decisions – you only have to try to buy a simple product at a supermarket to experience this at a micro level. Decisions take time and energy and time is a non-renewable resource – the very words, “take time”, indicate that we consume time in our lives as we live out our choice-making and act on our decisions.

Create a journal to declutter your mind

Journalling has been shown to be beneficial for many reasons – not the least of these being to improve our overall well-being. Ryder, however, emphasises the necessity of a journal to help declutter our minds and free our thinking to focus on the things that are important to us. He suggests that a journal can serve the purpose of a “mental inventory”, where you record your tasks, events and notes as a way to better manage the present, track what has happened in the past and plan your future.

He provides a simple approach to journalling that he calls a “bullet journal” and provides a very brief video to explain this approach. The name derives from the methodology of creating different forms of bullet points to identify tasks, events and notes.

Ryder highlights the importance of reflection to underpin his approach to mind management. He suggests that it is not enough just to record the relevant information but also to review what has been written. He offers three considerations that can form the basis of a daily, weekly or monthly review of your individual journal entries:

  • does it really matter?
  • is it important to achieve or realise?
  • is it merely a distraction?

Recording without reflection is just reinforcing busy behaviour – without review there is little development of self-awareness and self-management. The review can be strengthened by consciously developing a focus for our time and energies.

Developing focus and productivity through small projects

Ryder’s approach to developing focus is to identify things that are important to us to achieve and to frame them as small projects (breaking down larger projects into smaller parts or milestones). He then suggests that these are incorporated in the monthly plan of your bullet journal, while the relevant tasks that make up an individual project can be collected in a project plan or what he describes as a “collection”.

The small projects act as a point of focus in any given month, serve as a way to channel time and energy, engage your curiosity and build a sense of self-efficacy through achieving identified milestones and project outcomes. Breaking goals down into achievable parts is a proven approach to increasing your productivity. Ryder suggests that the small projects should be something that is within your control – they are free from externally imposed barriers, they are expressed as achievable tasks/outcomes and can be done in the limited timeframe of a month (which lines up with the monthly planning cycle that he recommends). These small projects give us a sense of control and increased agency which serve as a foil to the sense of losing control which comes with endless busyness.

As we develop our journal to declutter our mind and manage our time and energy, we can free ourselves to grow in mindfulness through reflection and meditation and open our lives to less stress and more creative opportunities.

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

Image source: courtesy of raydigitaldesigns 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. 

Identifying and Managing Harmful Beliefs

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

Our false beliefs can take many forms:

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

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

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

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

Identifying and managing harmful beliefs

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Image source: courtesy of rawpixel 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

Maintaining Calm After a Hectic Day

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

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

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

Maintaining calm after a hectic day

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Image source: courtesy of B_Me on Pixabay

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.