Simple Steps for Self-Care

These are challenging times that place stress on every aspect of our lives.  The natural human tendency is to go with the flow and try to keep up with all kinds of commitments – family, community and work.  We can succumb to the pace of modern life and the expectations of achievement that we place on ourselves and that we think others expect of us.  However, there are real physical and mental costs associated with engaging life at an unnatural pace.  Psychologists, for example, warn of ‘emotional inflammation’ resulting from the pandemic and, more recently, from the war in Ukraine.  Self-care is now more important than ever.

In these times of endless challenge, self-care becomes critical for our mental and physical welfare. The Self-Care Summit (May 10-16) sought to identify the issues involved, the personal and social barriers and ways to achieve self-care in everyday life.  The first speaker at the Summit, Renée Trudeau, provided a solid foundation and strong motivation for self-care.  After more than 20 years working with individuals and organisations on self-care approaches, she was able to distil the wisdom of her research, of workshop participants and of her own practice, into simple steps for self -care.  Some of her suggestions are discussed in this blog post.

Self-care in everyday life

Renée asserts that self-care is “not about self-improvement or self-indulgence” but “meeting yourself where you are” at the moment by “pausing, tuning in and asking, What do I need ?”.  It entails having the courage to break out of the expectation bind that locks you into unhealthy pursuits and giving yourself “what you most need” at the time.  So, for Renée, self-care is a moment by moment endeavour, not a ritualised practice developed by someone who is peddling self-care products. Renée is the author of two books including Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday LifeIn her books, blog, workshops and presentations, she offers many simple steps for self-care that you can undertake at any time in the midst of everyday life.  Some of her suggestions include the following:

  • Monitoring your self-talk: we often talk harshly to ourselves when we make a mistake or fail to realise an outcome.  We can denigrate ourselves in an uncaring and unkind way.  Negative self-talk includes the harsh tone of voice we use when we speak to ourselves about our shortfalls.  Renée maintains that we would not talk like that to a 3-year old child.  She suggests having a picture of yourself when you were between the ages of 3-5 years and think about how you would talk to your young self in the picture.  Being conscious of our inner dialogue is very important for self-care – kindness begins at home!   Self-care includes not putting yourself down.
  • Cultivating a desired way of showing up: Renée alluded to Michael Phelps’ rigorous routine before starting a swimming race at the Olympics.  His established routine included eating a set breakfast, stretching, mix-style swimming and listening to music – all designed to enable him to show up for his race in his very best condition and frame of mind.  Renée suggests that you could establish a morning routine so that you can “cultivate a state of being to show up the way you want to” – in other words, having the presence of mind, focus and calmness to be the best you can be for your day’s endeavours.  Your routine may entail mindfulness practices such as yoga, Tai Chi, meditation or mindful walking.  Whatever you choose needs to be practised consistently to achieve the desired benefits. Interestingly, I have adopted the practice of Tai Chi as a preparation routine before I play social tennis so that I show up in the right frame of mind and with my body and mind attuned to concentration, bending, balance and conscious breathing.
  • Starting your day intentionally: forming a clear intention for the day can shape your words and actions and have very positive effects on your outcomes.  The catalyst for this intention-shaping can be a prayer, inspirational reading, mindfulness practice or gratitude journalling (so you turn up from a place of appreciation).  The practice of intention-shaping can extend to your work by forming a clear intention before a meeting – How do I want to show up for this meeting?; Should I go out of my way to include a team member who always seems excluded?; Can I relate to the person I tend to ignore?; Can I consciously practice active listening during the meeting?.
  • Giving and receiving morning hugs: Renée also suggests that giving and receiving hugs in the morning with your partner, other family members or your favourite pet, can have a very positive benefit for your wellbeing.  This tends to reaffirm to yourself that you are lovable and loving.  The hugs with family members can be accompanied by words of endearment, encouragement or well-wishes for the forthcoming day.
  • Early morning body scan: Renée indicated that she undertakes a body scan before getting out of bed of a morning.  A body scan enables you to locate points of tension in the body and release them through consciously paying attention to them.  The process increases body awareness by identifying how your body is manifesting any felt stress or challenge.  This practice can enable you to start the day in a state of calm rather than being uptight from anticipatory stress.
  • In-the-moment journalling:  Renée describes this as “quickie journalling”.  The idea is to tap into your feelings, needs and wants at any moment of time, particularly if you are feeling stressed, out of balance or upset.  She suggests that you ask yourself the following three questions to get you going with your self-insight journalling and then choose one thing to work with:
  • How do I feel?
  • What do I need?
  • What do I want?
  • Really listen to your body:  You may often notice when other people are stressed when they sigh, loudly exclaim something like “Damn!” or throw something down heavily on the desk.  But how often do you monitor your own bodily signs of stress?  Renée encourages you to really “listen to your body”.  She stated that sighing is a signal for her to attend to her needs to de-stress and recover her calmness.
  • Monthly intention: At the start of each month, Renée reviews her physical, emotional and spiritual needs at the time to identify one simple thing to do for the month to act out of self-care.  The process involves tuning into yourself and identifying “what is calling you to do” for your own self-care. One of her decisions was “to do less” which resulted in an “expanse of unscheduled time” and more time for self-care.
  • Personal Planning Retreat: Every 90 days, Renée takes a full 9 to 5 day to step away, move to a different environment and identify what is draining her.  She offers hints on how to undertake such a personal retreat in a place that you find inspiring and energising.

Reflection

It is so easy to be captured by the to-do list, work and family pressures and the social “shoulds”.  Taking time out for self-care is essential for our wellbeing.  As Renée points out, the way forward does not require big steps or expensive options, but simple steps for personal self-care, taken in the moment.

A nutritionist recently advised a member of our family that they are not digesting their food properly and need to chew each mouthful of solid food up to 30 times to aid digestion.  I have started to adopt this practice as a form of mindful eating and nutritional self-care. I’m finding I am more conscious of the different textures and flavours of the food I eat when I adopt this practice.

As we grow in mindfulness through consciously exploring self-care we can enrich our self-awareness, expand our response options, regulate our stress and emotions and increase our calm, confidence and courage.

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Image by Frauke Riether 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.

Realising Our Full Potential

Kimberly Snyder recently released her new book, You Are More Than You Think You Are: Practical Enlightenment for Everyday Life.  While the book is replete with practical everyday advice and personal anecdotes, it is essentially a call to realise our full potential.  In this sense it resonates strongly with Kute Blackson’s call to take the next step to your life purpose.

Kimberly’s focus is on becoming your “True Self” in line with the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda – Hindu monk, guru and yogi who spent his last 32 years in America. He became incredibly influential in the US, so much so that Steve Jobs ordered 500 copies of his book, Autobiography of a Yogi, for distribution at his own memorial service.  Yogananda is famous for teaching people globally about meditation and Kriya Yoga. 

Early in her book, Kimberly offers a simple definition of “True Self” as the “stable, loving, honest, courageous, peaceful, and creative intelligence” that each of us has within us.  She then proceeds with insight and humour (reminiscent of Yogananda’s wit) to unravel what it means to live our True Self and offers practical ways to achieve this state.  Along the way, she reinforces the power of meditation and mindfulness to build courage, generate peace and tranquility and release creativity.

Steps along the way

Kimberly offers steps to achieving our True Self and provides a series of practical meditations/reflections to aid us on the journey.  The steps act as a series of reinforcements of  Yogananda’s message and a way to put his teachings into practice.  She asserts that his teachings respect all religions, irrespective of their geographical or traditional origins, and, at the same time, respect agnostic belief systems.  In Kimberly’s view, Yogananda’s teachings (centred on yoga) can lead to enrichment of anyone’s life – providing a holistic approach to elevating mind, body and soul.

Central to Yogananda’s teaching and Kimberly’s practice is Kriya Yoga that she describes as a scientific method that involves not just the physical but also the mental, emotional and spiritual arenas.  It is an integrating force that enables a person to achieve energy alignment – aligning external activity with an evolving inner landscape.  In her book, Kimberly addresses the key principles of Kriya Yoga and provides practices to help the reader internalise the desired “soul qualities”.

Fearlessness: taking the first step towards our full potential

Kimberly describes fearlessness as a foundation principle enabling us to move inexorably towards our full potential.  She maintains that “fearlessness lets you walk in a straight line through the forest of life” – avoiding detours, byways or dead ends that result from fear.   It is often fear that prevents us from realising our potential – initiating an endeavour, making a contribution to our community or providing a service to others in line with our core knowledge and skills.

We can be disempowered by our fear of failure, of the unknown, of uncertainty and/or of our inability to control outcomes.  Fearlessness enables us to rise above these fears and tap into our innate qualities of insight, courage and resilience. 

Kimberly describes how she accessed Yogananda’s teachings and other sources to enable her to move beyond the panic resulting from her separation with the father of her first child.  Fear of not being lovable and of being unable to cope disempowered her until she immersed herself in these teachings and practices, particularly meditation.

She argues that if you spend time in meditation you can get in touch with your inner voice that is aligned to your True Self and provides the inspiration and energy to move forward.  She also maintains that the more you are aligned to your True Self, the greater the likelihood of positive outcomes for your endeavours.  However, if you are acting out of fear, anger, revenge, envy or obsessive ambition, then your energy will not be aligned with your True Self and your endeavours will ultimately prove  unsuccessful, creating all kinds of adverse consequences, both personal and interpersonal.

In her book, Kimberly provides a range of practices to get in touch with our underlying fears – a process she describes as “getting the fears out of the shadows”.  She argues that fearlessness creates freedom and enables us to realise “the best version of our life” and our most significant dreams.  One particular practice Kimberly encourages involves journalling, starting with writing down your fear.  The journalling process then proceeds as a conversation between your Fear and Your Truth and Wisdom (inner voice).  Countering the disabling fears with true and wise retorts has the effect of quieting your fearful mind.  Kimberly illustrates this with an example conversation.

The conversation could go like this:

Fear: I’m not sure what will happen when I run the mindfulness workshop.

Truth and Wisdom: You can only control the process, not the outcomes.

Fear: But what if the process does not work?

Truth and Wisdom: It will work for some people; others may not be ready for the honesty and self-awareness involved.

Fear: What if some people do not turn up for the second workshop?

Truth and Wisdom: That is a decision that they are free to make; you can only provide the opportunity, review your process and get feedback so you can improve what you are doing (taking their needs into account).

Reflection

Kimberly offers processes and practices to enable us to realise our full potential.  She highlights the fact that fear holds us back from achieving what we are capable of – in her words, “we are more than we think we are”.  She contends that mindfulness practices, especially meditation and yoga, enable us to identify, confront and overcome our fears so that we can free up our intuition, creativity and courage to align our words and actions with our True Self.

Kimberly asserts that following the teachings of Yogananda, in particular the practice of Kriya Yoga, enabled her to move from totally disabling fear to achieving her potential as a writer, mother, partner and influencer.  Before the book discussed here, she wrote other books such as Recipes for Your Perfectly Imperfect Life , The Beauty Detox Solution and Radical Beauty: How to transform yourself from the inside out (with Deepak Chopra).

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Image by jplenio 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.

Developing Resilience through Trauma Recovery

Dr. Arielle Schwartz as the first presenter of the Rise Summit: Transforming Trauma demonstrated her wealth of experience as a clinical psychologist and deep insight into trauma recovery.  She openly shared her own early experience of traumatic events that left her dissociated and disconnected.  At the same time, Arielle provided hope for recovery as she addressed her chosen topic, Trauma and Resilience.  She drew on her clinical and consulting experiences through the Center for Resilience Informed Therapy where she provides an “integrated mind-body approach to trauma recovery”, informed by research on resilience.  Arielle’s presentation was so rich that you felt the need to listen to it again to glean more of the insights she offers from her personal and professional experience. 

Developing resilience: an integrated approach to trauma recovery

In an interview for New Snow Enterprises, Arielle explains that resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of trauma” or any adverse life events.  She also highlighted the fact that her strengths-based approach to therapy draws on, and reinforces, the research on post-traumatic growth which demonstrates that people who recover from trauma can become more of themselves, growing in confidence and capability – the opposite of the immediate effects of experiencing trauma. 

In her eclectic approach, Arielle draws on neuropsychotherapy which combines the concepts and practices of psychotherapy with the insights from neuroscience.  Not only does it acknowledge the mind-body connection but the relationship of this connection to environment, well-being and social interaction.  In a very real sense, it adopts a holistic approach to therapy.

This holistic approach is encapsulated in Arielle’s multi-faceted process of facilitating trauma recovery which includes:

  • Exploring family history: this involves identifying adverse childhood experiences, the passing on of intergenerational trauma and the resources and strengths gained through family interactions.  Arielle contends that identifying these elements of the “family legacy” underpins resilience.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – Arielle is a qualified practitioner in the use of this therapy and provides a case study on her website to illustrate successful use of this approach in the case of a person traumatised by date rape. The approach involves lateral eye movement that engages both sides of the brain in reprocessing a traumatic event and identifying the links to present-day reactions to triggering events.  The process requires skilful manipulation of re-exposure to traumatic events in short bursts that enable the traumatised person to manage their emotions. It also builds associations with positive adaptive techniques that the individual uses to manage stressors in daily life.  The net result is to reduce the impact of triggers, widen the window of tolerance, and build emotional resilience.
  • Somatic psychology – exploring the mind, body and behaviour through body awareness (in contrast to thinking-focused “talk therapies”).  Arielle provides a detailed description of somatic therapy that she employs in helping her clients recover from trauma.  She explains among other things how somatic therapy enables grounding, builds awareness of bodily sensations, helps to establish boundaries and to engage the innate calming and healing capacities of the body, especially through breath control.  She explains that the process of oscillating between feeling distress in the body and feeling calmness and safety is in line with somatic experiencing developed by Peter Levine.
  • Mind-body therapies – these include mindfulness practices and therapeutic yoga.  Arielle details a process she describes as Mind-Body Therapies for Vagal Nerves Disorders and explains how the vagal nerve impacts our sleep, digestion and level of calmness in our body.  She contends that these mind-body therapies can reduce inflammation and other physical illnesses and help with a range of disorders including depression and anxiety.  Arielle explains too that these therapies can involve a range of mindfulness practices incorporating movement (such as yoga and Tai Chi) as well as those involving stillness (such as relaxation and seated meditation).  In her website explanation of mind-body therapies, she offers a 4-part mindfulness practice designed to “recover from vagus nerve disorders”.  Arielle also provides a free e-book, Embodiment Strategies for Trauma Recovery, Emotional Health, and Physical Vitality, to anyone who subscribes to her email newsletters. This yogic approach to enhancing wellness is also available as a bonus gift for people participating in the Rise Summit: Transforming Traumathrough the upgrade option.

The six Rs of neuropsychotherapy

During her presentation, Arielle described the 6 Rs of neuropsychotherapy embodied in her integrated approach to trauma recovery:

  • Relationship – drawing on the concept of our being “wired for connection”, she reinforces the power of relationships in healing, including different forms of social support such as a therapist.
  • Resourcing – revisiting positive states (such as calmness and sense of safety) and savouring moments of positivity, satisfaction and happiness.
  • Repatterning – this involves establishing new patterns of movement so that established patterns (such as freezing in the face of perceived threat, e.g. someone touching you) are replaced by constructive responses, rather than triggered debilitating responses.
  • Reprocessing – especially through the EMDR process described above. Arielle reinforces the power of this gentle, managed reprocessing of trauma as a way to train memory and build resilience in the face of triggers.
  • Reflection – enables meaning making in relation to past events and habituated reactions to sights, sounds, smells, touch, taste or catalysing events. Mindfulness practices often involve reflection designed to facilitate this meaning making and emotional regulation.
  • Resilience – developing a sense of freedom, understanding personal stimuli and behavioural response patterns, becoming more integrated and coherent and broadening adaptive capacities.

The six pillars of resilience

On her website, Arielle lists the six pillars of resilience that she has drawn from research:

  • Growth Mindset
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Community Connections
  • Self-Expression
  • Embodiment
  • Choice and Control

 She suggests that we can develop these by undertaking practices that “support you physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually.” In the discussion with the Rise Summit creator and host, Nunaisi Ma, they identified practices to achieve this goal of self-support such as Tai Chi, yoga, singing (a favourite activity of Arielle), walking, meditation, mantra meditation, tapping, breathing exercises, body scan, touching (including self-touch), massage, dance and sighing.  Nunaisi elaborates on embodied healing practices in her book, Rise: Transform Trauma into Sovereign Power, Soulful Purpose, and Sacred Purpose.

Reflection

Arielle contends that one of the main barriers to post-trauma growth is fear of the discomfort of dealing with the reality of the pain and suffering resulting from the experience of trauma. Often people attempt to numb the pain through emotional eating or addiction to drugs or alcohol.  Forced solutions do not work because they take away agency (sense of control) from the individual involved.  Arielle’s approach is consistent with the core tenet expressed by the GROW podcast series that “You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone”.

Her multi-model approach also aligns with the approach adopted by trauma recovery expert, Bessel van der Kolk, who is the author of The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma.   Bessel too encourages the use of controlled breathing, movement modalities, mindfulness practices, singing and chanting.

Arielle offers numerous resources through her blog and through her book, The Post-Traumatic Growth Guidebook : Practical Mind-Body Tools to Heal Trauma, Foster Resilience and Awaken Your Potential.  

As we grow in mindfulness through somatic meditation, mantra meditations, Tai Chi or Yoga, we can gain the courage and energy to seek the necessary support for post-trauma recovery.  Sometimes, this may only involve building social relationships with people who provide “unconditional positive regard”; at other times, therapy may be needed to supplement these relationships.   

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Image by Stephanie Ghesquier 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.

Take the Next Step to Your Life Purpose

Kute Blackson, presenting during the 2021 The Best Year of Your Life Summit, spoke energetically and insightfully about following your life purpose.  His inspirational video podcast was very well received because of its practical and down-to-earth character.  People could relate to what he was saying irrespective of their stage of life and their level of clarity about their life purpose.  On his website, Kute offers free video training on how to find your purpose.

Key messages

In the video presentation for the Summit, Kute provides several key messages to enable us to be free of negative self-talk and self-doubt and to take the next step for finding and following our life purpose:

  • Overcome the lies we tell ourselves: Kute suggests that we lie to ourselves to prevent us from taking a step into the unknown.  Fear of failure causes us to think of all the things that might go wrong and we take these as givens.  As a result, we tend to cling to our comfort zone and procrastinate, and so we fail to take the next step on the road to our life purpose.
  • Challenge expectations: sometimes what holds us back from realisation of our life purpose are the expectations we place on ourselves or that others, such as our parents, place on us.  Kute tells the story of how he tried to live up to his father’s expectations that he become a preacher only to find it was not aligned to his heart’s purpose.  He left his father’s ministry to move to Los Angeles with two suitcases and the courage to move beyond other peoples’ expectations.  He found his life purpose in helping people to transform their lives by finding their life purpose that aligns with their true self and deeper inner life (what he describes as “soul”).
  • Let go of the need to know: Kute encourages us to let go of the need to know everything – what will happen if we start on the path, how we will manage if difficulties arise, what we will say and do in particular circumstances.  He argues that we do not need to know everything about where our life choices will take us – we need to “trust our soul”, our inner conviction of what we are meant to do and contribute to the welfare and wellness of others.  Kimberly Snyder reminds us that we are more than we think we are
  • Be conscious of the pain of not taking action: Kurt encourages us to be fully aware of the pain and suffering that we experience if we fail to take action to align with our true purpose (e.g., leave a job or a role and/or begin a new endeavour).  Sometimes we hide from this pain and attribute it to what we have to put up with.  The pain of not being aligned with our true purpose can take many forms including physical illness (e.g. headaches and fibromyalgia), boredom, a sense of ill-ease, or other emotional reactions. Kute strongly believes that we need to be honest about this pain of inaction as well as face up to the fear that holds us back. 
  • Don’t wait for clarity about life purpose: people can spend their whole life trying to formulate their life purpose with perfect clarity, only to take no action towards realising it.  Kute argues that our life purpose will be slowly revealed as we live our lives. If we realise the potential of the present moment and focus there, rather than a idealistic or unrealistic future, we will begin on the path to our purpose.  He describes this as “living into life’s purpose”.
  • Take the next step:  Kute maintains that our life purpose unfolds as we live each moment fully.  Everything we experience is preparation for our life purpose, including the challenges and difficulties we experience as well as the highs.  He encourages us to take the next step in line with the direction of our purpose – “even when you don’t know where you are going”.  He suggests we “trust our innate intelligence” and contends that that our soul is pulling you when you “move in the direction of your joy, of what lights you up, of what you love”.  So, his exhortation is to set out on the journey of following our life purpose by aligning with what is joyful, energising and rewarding in our life.  He contends that “life reveals the next step in the process of living”.

Reflection

Kute asks us to reflect on a number of questions:

  • What gives you joy?
  • What are your core skills?
  • What is stopping you from taking the next step to achieve alignment with your joy and your skills?

At the heart of Kute’s approach is encouragement to surrender – surrendering to our inner voice.  He explains this process in his book, The Magic of Surrender: Finding the Courage to Let Go.

Lulu & Mischka capture the essence of this process in their mantra meditation, Metamorphosis from their Horizon Album:

Don’t give up, keep letting go, simply show up, surrendering to the flow

Let yourself be broken, fall into pieces, Trust in the process, your metamorphosis

Let yourself be broken…stop resisting.  Relax into this moment, healing unfolding.

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Natural Awareness through Nature

Natural awareness is often contrasted with meditation focused on numbers, the breath, sounds or particular sensations or feelings.  Natural awareness is not goal-focused – it is more about being aware of awareness itself, noticing that you are noticing.  So much of what we do in life is goal-focused – natural awareness provides a desirable shift that can lead to less stress, more openness and a greater sense of calm.  Rachelle Calvert encourages us to take our mindfulness practice outside so that we can feel more connected to the world around us and not be totally absorbed in having to “try” or “do”.   She draws on research results that demonstrate that “practicing mindfulness in nature”, leads to many benefits including improved heart health, concentration, relaxation and stress reduction.  Mark Coleman reminds us that a natural outcome of being mindful in nature is a sense of gratitude as well as wonder and awe inspired by nature’s beauty and resilience.

By developing natural awareness in nature through observation and listening, we can become more grounded, experience tranquility and begin to notice minute aspects of our natural environment that we have previously overlooked.   Diana Winston in her book, The Little Book of Being, identifies practices we can use to develop natural awareness and offers what she calls “markers” to test whether or not we have experienced “natural awareness”.   These include feelings of timelessness and ease; noticing that you are noticing; completely aware with all your senses open to your environment; and a restful mind that is open to what is passing by. 

An experience of natural awareness

I was recently strolling along the Mooloolaba Beach Boardwalk noticing the people passing by – couples of all ages out for a walk, men and women pushing prams, individuals leading dogs on a leash and the perennial runners, both individuals and groups.  Occasionally, a bush turkey would cross my path on its way to greener pastures.  While being aware of these movements, I was totally unaware of the vegetation beside the Boardwalk.  Once I realised this lack of awareness, I began to scan the vegetation either side of the path.  I became aware of tiny wildflowers partially hidden amongst the trees and grasses, trees twisted sideways turning towards the sun and all different kinds of leaves (broad and large, thin and small).  This cultivated, natural awareness enabled me to broaden the horizon of my awareness and instilled a greater sense of calm as I walked mindfully along the Boardwalk.

Diana Winston offers an exercise to experience what she calls, “the spectrum of awareness” – moving from a very narrow focus to a more panoramic, natural awareness view.  She uses fish in an aquarium for this exercise, moving from focus on a single plant, to movement of an individual fish and, finally, to a panoramic view taking in the fish, the aquarium and the surrounding environment.  As she observes as part of this exercise, natural awareness includes noticing our own bodily sensations and feelings in the present moment as we are experiencing the world around us with openness and curiosity.

Reflection

We can develop natural awareness through our everyday activities if we adopt a mindset that involves consciously noticing what we are doing and seeing, as well as what we are experiencing internally.  Diana Winston suggests that we can develop natural awareness even when doing the dishes; when we expertly handle a distraction while meditating; when consciously avoid foods that lead to inflammation or when we monitor how we spend our time. 

Focused meditation helps to develop natural awareness as we become increasing able to concentrate and pay attention with openness and curiosity.  As we grow in mindfulness through developing our capacity for natural awareness and engaging in formal meditation, we can experience a greater sense of tranquility, freedom from anxiety and a more complete alignment of our words and actions with our values and life purpose.

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Image by Waldemar Zielinski 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.

Being in the Zone – Away from Social Media

Hugh Van Cuylenburg, in his book Let Go, encourages us to let go of expectations, fear of failure, shame and “addiction to social media”.  Hugh maintains that social media and related devices such as smartphones  are creating  “planet-wide chirping, beeping, vibrating, pixilated opioid”.  The addiction to social media and these devices has intensified with the pandemic and associated lockdowns and other movement restrictions.  Hugh draws on the work of Stanford addiction expert, Professor Keith Humphreys, to suggest that nowadays we need to take a “digital detox” for our personal productivity and mental health.

Hugh is adamant about the need to break the social media addiction not only for its adverse effects but also for its opportunity costs.  Research has shown that social media addiction, and/or obsession with the news, can lead to unhealthy comparisons, depression, loneliness and cyberbullying.   Performing artists Missy Higgins and Tina Turner have both spoken about the adverse effects on their life as a result of being addicted to social media and being unable to handle the negative comments and criticisms.

Hugh points out that one of the opportunity costs of social media addiction is the inability to access higher levels of productivity and happiness.  He discusses the concept of “flow” or “being in the zone” as a form of heightened focus, immersion and productivity, producing extraordinary levels of achievement and productivity.   Achieving flow brings with it enhanced (rather than diminished) self-esteem, happiness, and the pleasure of realising high levels of competence.  Hugh maintains that social media, with its manipulative and addictive character, is one of the greatest barriers to achieving flow.

Achieving “flow”

One of the features of flow is that when you are in the zone, time seems to stand still and you lose track of time.  Hugh points out that this warping of our sense of time is described as “transient hypofrontality”, a condition that can last brief moments or hours.  The transient nature of this condition in a flow context relates to the “temporary suspension of the analytical and meta-conscious capacities” of our explicit framework and system of knowledge capture and storage – in other words, the prefrontal cortex (our rational brain) gets out of the road of our intuitive, creative and spontaneous brain activity.  We experience effortlessness in performance of a task or sporting activity, access our intuitive and creative capacities (without logical intervention) and achieve a level of competence that is rare for ourselves (and potentially for others).   The flow experience enables us to act from a place of “unconscious competence” – a competence level typically achieved only after many hours of practice.

I recall one day playing a game of tennis at Milton with a friend who was a member of the McDonald’s tennis development squad.  We had played each other regularly and tended to alternate as winners of sets.  However, on this particular day that I experienced being in the zone, I won 6-0, 5-0 (he retired at this point).   It was an incredible feeling – all my lobs would land on the baseline; my first serves were often unplayable; and I could effortlessly hit the ball down the line on either the backhand or forehand side.  I was conscious of being in the flow and kept telling myself to enjoy it while it lasted (being such a rare occurrence for me).   A characteristic of flow is the ability to focus without distraction and some of the benefits include heightened concentration, clear and unimpeded thought processes (no negative self-evaluation) and positive feelings such as happiness, joy, elation and gratitude.

Hugh suggests that to access the flow state more regularly we not only need to undertake a digital detox or break from social media and smartphones but also to develop a “preparation ritual” and utilise our “peak and productive times” (e.g. early morning for “Morning People” and late night for “Night People”).  I find that mornings are the most productive time for me so I almost always write my blog posts in the mornings (I wrote a lot of my PhD in the very early hours of the morning before our infant children woke up).  The concept of a preparation ritual needs further elaboration.

Hugh points out that one of the activities that enabled him to achieve flow was running.  So he has a detailed warm-up ritual that takes about forty minutes and he finds that he slips into flow in the middle of his warm-up.  My ritual for writing these blog posts involves firstly seeking cognitive input in some form, e.g. reading an inspiring article, listening to a podcast, participating in an online conference/summit or watching a video presentation (TED talks are a great stimulus).  I will often make notes and sleep on the topic overnight.  I find that my subconscious brain works overtime and in the following morning I often experience flow when writing my blog post – ideas come to me spontaneously; I have a framework to write to; and I “see” cognitive and emotional connections to other things I have written, read or personally experienced. 

My preparation ritual for social tennis is the practice of Tai Chi – done on the day and a number of days beforehand.  Besides developing my reflexes, balance and flexibility, this preparation reminds me to bend my knees, breathe consciously as I play a tennis shot and maintain my concentration. To use a phrase of Bessel van der Kolk, “the body keeps the score” – the Tai Chi practice is embedded in muscle memory so that, for example, bending my knees when playing a tennis shot can happen unconsciously.  Body memory is very real – you can experience this when someone lowers the height of the driver’s seat in your car without advising you of the change, e.g. your very tall son (you go to sit down and find that you land on the seat with a thump as your body expects the seat to be higher – a similar experience happens when someone switches the location of the forks and knives in your cutlery drawer.)

Reflection

Taking time to experience calm and quiet away from social media increases our capacity to access flow and its attendant benefits such as creativity, happiness and fulfillment.  As we grow in mindfulness, through reflection, meditation and mindfulness practices we can experience Calmfidence, achieve higher levels of concentration, and be in the zone more often. 

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Image by MarieXMartin 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.

Manage Emotions through Savoring Life

Allyson Pimentel in a recent meditation podcast reminds us to savour life and the opportunities it presents to experience positive emotions such as joy, appreciation and love.   Allyson describes “savoring” as a form of mindfulness with a specific focus and purpose – in savoring we pay attention to the things that we enjoy and relish, lingering on the positive feelings that emerge spontaneously when we focus on what is good in our life.  While savoring is pleasurable, it does not deny the reality of what is difficult in our life such as challenging emotions.  However, this practice enables us to bring positivity to our life by paying attention to “what feels good, what provides relief”.

There are very clear benefits of savoring, including increased happiness, improved physical and mental health and better performance.    Research has shown that both older people and younger students experience greater happiness through savoring, not only from savoring what is present in their life at the moment but also what they have experienced in the past.  Savoring can lead to optimism about the future, improved self-esteem and greater resilience in the face of stress.  People who savour life bring appreciation and positivity to their relationships, enhance their performance through clearer focus and concentration, and gain greater access to their intuition and creativity – partly because they are not burdened or blinded by negative thoughts and an inherently, human negative bias.

Guided meditation

Allyson encourages us at the outset to make ourselves comfortable in whatever posture we choose as a prelude to the experience of pleasure through the savoring of sensations.  She begins the meditation practice by encouraging us to focus on a part of the body that brings ease or pleasure at the moment.  It could be the firmness of the feet on the ground and the attendant sense of security, the tingling and warmth in fingers that are joined together or the sensation of our thighs pressing against the chair.  She also suggests that this savoring meditation can be taken outdoors and enhanced by the experience of nature – its beauty, sounds, diversity and smells.

Once we find a bodily focus for the experience of ease, Allyson encourages us to bathe in the positive sensations associated with the pleasurable feelings.  This may mean, for instance, paying sustained attention to the tingling in our joined fingers while feeling the sense of relaxation and calm as our breathing itself slows and we become free from our continuous focus on our thoughts.  This process is fundamentally becoming grounded in the here-and-now experience of our pleasurable bodily sensations and bringing full awareness to their impact on us and our sense of ease and pleasure.

Next, Allyson asks us to recall a recent event that we found pleasurable and a source of joy.  It could be a recent interaction with someone new, an experience of competence when cooking or playing an instrument or any activity that we can recall as a source of pleasure.  She suggests that we recapture the feelings of the moment of that activity and bathe in the feelings and attendant bodily sensations – did we find ourselves relaxing, appreciating what we have, sensing a connection, enjoying conversation or valuing someone’s company and friendship?  I found for this activity that I recalled an interaction with someone I had not met before who was interested in what I do and have done, who shared some of their own story and rapidly built rapport through a communicated sense of curiosity, interest and shared common experiences.  It left me with a sense of warmth, strengthened self-esteem and feelings of connectedness.

Allyson then asks us to choose another recent activity/event that was a source of pleasure and again recapture the feelings of joy and ease as we bring the activity/event into focus, bathing in our positive feelings and bodily sensations.  For this second reflection, I recalled my recent experience of being able to play my tennis shots more consistently, to recapture shots I have been unable to play for a while and to feel more comfortable and at ease with my game.  I bathed in my sense of restored competence, the unsolicited praise of my tennis partners, and the comments from my opponents expressing appreciation for the extended and challenging rallies.  I recaptured my feelings of joy in being able to experience competence that has come from many years of playing and competing in tennis fixtures.  This flowed into an overall appreciation of the ability to play tennis that has enabled me to play social games in France, England, New Zealand and New Guinea – a passport to engagement and connection with others wherever they reside.

Reflection

Savouring the people, events and things in our everyday life enables us in grow in mindfulness through being mindful of the many aspects of our life as they occur – it does not require formal meditation (although the capacity to savour can be enhanced by guided meditations such as that provided by Allyson).

Our everyday life is full of opportunities to appreciate, and express gratitude for, the things that bring us joy and a sense of pleasure and relief – savouring can serve as an oasis amidst the busyness and challenges of life.  Over time, we can develop a growing awareness of the sources of pleasure in our lives and enhance their positive impact on us and our relationships.

There is so much we can savour – the development of our children, friendships, our achievements and rewards, the joy of others, and life itself.  Allyson quotes Adrienne Maree Brown, author of Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, who argues that there is freedom in savoring pleasure and that it “feels good to do good” in the world.  Blair Christie, in her TED Talk “The Simple Act of Marveling”, argues that this savoring activity can “take you on a journey that leads to action” that can change our world and the world at large.  Marveling, she suggests, is a great source of grounding and stress release.

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Image by pen_ash from Pixabay

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

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Rachel Kable – author, podcaster, blogger and mindfulness coach from Victoria in Australia –  recently participated in a podcast interview with Dr. Justin Puder.  In the course of the interview, she explained that when she first started out practising mindfulness in the more formal way of meditating (e.g. focusing on her breath), she had great difficulty and did not like it at all.  At the time she lived very much in the past and the future, not the present.  She would review past performance and prepare to-do lists for future activities to the point where she would lie awake at night, not being able to quiet her mind.  To sit still and focus on the moment was a real challenge and counter-intuitive.

However, Rachel persisted with formal practice because she had heard of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and wanted to experience them for herself and to share them with others.  As she persisted in her more formal efforts, she found that mindfulness practice increased her ability to focus and concentrate, enabled her to sleep more restfully and fully, enhanced her relationships (e.g. through being present to the person speaking and listening actively, not distractedly) and improving her capacity to be creative in her career endeavours.

Rachel also discovered that she could bring mindfulness to everyday life and the things she already did each day, e.g. cleaning the house, washing the dishes, preparing the meal, driving the car, eating her meals, or sitting on her deck (which provided the opportunity for engaging in “natural awareness”, taking in the sounds, sights, and smells already present to her).  Consequently, she decided that the focus of her mindfulness coaching would be on helping people to bring mindfulness to the activities of everyday life.  To this end, she has developed her blog covering things like self-care, meditation techniques, and simple living.  Rachel’s podcast series, which at the time of writing has 322 episodes, provides lots of practical advice on how to be mindful in everyday life, dealing with issues such as challenging emotions, expectations, stress, decision making and negative self-evaluation.

Rachel has also written a book, The Mindful Kind Book, wherein she provides practical advice and tools to manage overwhelm and stress, enjoy life more, improve resilience to handle setbacks and to practise mindfulness as a form of self-care when engaging in everyday activities, including work.  Her interview is one of many conducted by Dr. Justin Puder who has developed the podcast series, Drop In with Dr. J.

Reflection

Tennis is a very important part of my life and my exercise activity and has been since I was in Primary School (about 10 years of age).   Rachel’s podcast interview reminded me that I need to bring mindfulness more to the fore when playing tennis.  I have certainly used reflection-on-action in the past when looking at how I play tennis.  Through reflection, I have become more conscious of the importance of savouring the moment when playing tennis; addressing my “habit loop” (and related reward system) when experiencing blockages to trying out new tennis strokes; being able to constructively manage mistakes when playing social tennis; and identifying the behavioural and cognitive blind spots that are impeding my tennis performance.

I am often conscious of the technical aspects of playing tennis, e.g. keeping your eyes on the ball, preparing for a tennis shot, choosing the right shot, deciding the stance and position to receive a serve, and identifying the gaps in which to play a shot.  I can become more conscious of when my attention strays to what is happening on one of the other eleven occupied courts and bring my attention back to my own tennis game.

What Rachel’s comments remind me to do is to face my emotions in the moment when playing tennis (e.g. anxiety, fear), name them and decide how to manage them – rather than ignore or suppress them.  It also means acknowledging to myself (and challenging) my self-imposed expectations that impede my performance and enjoyment of the game. 

Rachel reminds us that mindfulness can be practised in every aspect of our life, even having lunch.  For me, for example, that means eating my lunch mindfully, savouring the taste, texture and aroma of what I am eating – not processing emails or planning my day as I eat. 

As we grow in mindfulness through formal processes such as meditation, Tai Chi, or yoga, we can more readily bring mindfulness to our everyday life whether that is driving a car in traffic, sitting on our back deck, working in our garden or just taking a walk.  Mindfulness can accompany us wherever we go and whatever we do – if we only let ourselves drop into present moment awareness.

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Image by Peter H 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.

Authentic Connection and Friendship through Vulnerability

In a previous post, I discussed Hugh Van Cuylenburg’s book, Let Go: It’s time to let go of shame, expectation and our addiction to social media.  In that discussion, I highlighted Hugh’s very strong conviction that vulnerability leads to authentic connections, which are essential for positive mental health.  This conviction led to the creation, with his brother Josh and Ryan Shelton, of a podcast titled The Imperfects.  Interestingly, the first episode of the podcast involved an extended interview with Missy Higgins.

Hugh chose Missy Higgins for this first episode because he had noticed on her Instagram that she was reading Johann Hari’s book, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression This choice proved a masterstroke as it set the foundation for subsequent episodes where people were encouraged to share their vulnerabilities and struggles.  Missy Higgins proved to be disarmingly honest, open and highly vulnerable.

Missy Higgins – disclosing vulnerabilities

There were a number of key areas of her life that Missy Higgins explored with Hugh in the podcast   (August, 2019), which was titled, Quitting Music, Depression & Connection.   Here are some of the vulnerabilities she discussed:

  • Depression – Missy Higgins explained that she had suffered from depression, on and off, for most of her life – she started seeing a therapist in year 11 after she became paralysed by overwhelm and collapsed.  This led to her medically-prescribed use of anti-depressants which she needs to go back to occasionally.  Missy Higgins explained that the medication enabled her to continue to do things that are good for her health such as practising mindfulness, exercising and connecting with friends and family (rather than isolating herself, a tendency reinforced by her introverted personality).   Johann Hari reinforced the value of connections and showed that there are seven social factors that exist today that represent lost connections and lead to depression and anxiety.
  • The images portrayed in magazines and social media – Missy Higgins found that the messages from social media, such as “you are not good enough”, contributed to her depression.  She indicated that women are particularly prone to these messages that communicate unrealistic and contradictory expectations, such as “you must be fit, curvy and thin”.  She felt under incredible pressure to “look good” all the time, stay thin and avoid going grey as she aged.   Missy Higgins referred to the absence of authentic role models to counteract the influence of perfect women portrayed through filters and “Photoshop”, which enables subscribers to “retouch and remix pics”.
  • Journalists’ pressure to expose her sexuality – Missy Higgins is an introvert and by nature a very private person.  However, journalists insisted on her disclosing her sexual preferences which was detrimental to her mental health and quite traumatic at a time when she was trying to work out her sexuality herself.   She noted that they were trying to “squeeze this vulnerable, personal information out of her”.  The constant harassment by journalists took its toll on her mental health.  Eventually, when she was ready, she disclosed that she was “bisexual”.  In a recent interview with Anh Do she stated that discussing her sexuality now was “really easy for me, because I don’t have anything to hide”.
  • Parenting challenge –  In a follow-up podcast interview (June, 2021) Missy Higgins spoke earnestly about how “emotionally exhausting” parenting two children was for herself and her husband, Dan.  She admitted that her children don’t like the food she cooks and hate to hear her sing at home (her source of sanity and happiness in the house!). Her son dislikes her favourite song, Special Two, and does everything possible to disturb and distract her when she is trying to compose songs on the piano.  Missy Higgins noted that “you don’t get much back” in “appreciation and reciprocity” from children, especially when they are young.  She stated that the difficulties with children and their behaviour are compounded when parents bring different “parenting styles” to a marriage so much so that she and Dan “can’t stand to be around each other” when the children are playing up.  Missy Higgins also observed that the “emotional overload” of parenting was exacerbated by the pandemic lockdown in Melbourne, leading to what has been described as “emotional inflammation”.

Turning points in Missy Higgin’s life

In the podcast, Missy Higgins described a number of key turning points in her life when she was at her lowest level of energy and mental health:

  • Touring in the US: Missy Higgins toured America for two and a half years in her early twenties to promote her songs on behalf of her record label at the time, Warner Brothers.  The experience, which included performing 260 concerts in a year, left her miserable and lonely.  Her loneliness resulted from loss of connection to family and friends in Australia and the pressures from her recording agent who were focused on achieving higher rankings for her songs on the music record charts and resultant increased revenue.  Added to this, was the pressure to write songs that were not true to her preferred type of music with its authenticity and openness.
  • Missy Higgins returned to Melbourne but found she was ill-at-ease in her home town.  She needed to escape from “prying eyes” and the artificiality of her life in America.  In 2006, Missy Higgins moved to Broome in Western Australia, the gateway to the Kimberley considered one of the great wildernesses of the world.  Broome is noted for its multiculturalism, camel rides on the beach at sunset, thriving foodie scene, natural wonders and a pearl farm.  Missy Higgins found that people in Broome were non-judgmental, treated each other “as humans” and were very linked to nature through their language and behaviour.  She stated that the constant exposure to the elements, such as monsoons, made you realise “how small your are”.  She was able to nourish herself through pursuits such as camping, bushwalking and “sitting on the beach under stars”.  After 8 months, she was able to return to Melbourne.
  • Experiencing writer’s block: After returning from Broome to Melbourne, Missy Higgins hired a flat and set up her piano and guitars to concentrate on writing songs.  She had experienced writer’s block and was trying to find a way to regain inspiration and energy for writing.  So she adopted the approach of people like Nicholas Cage and dressed for work each morning and worked a nine to five day on her writing.  However, this approach did not work for her.  She told her manager that she could no longer compose songs and that he was not to bring performance offers to her.  However, after 12 months of this imposed silence, he took the risk to present her with an offer that was too good to refuse.
  • Missy Higgins had received an offer from Sarah McLachlan to join her on a resurrected “Lilith Fair” tour in the US in mid-2010.  The Lilith Fair tours were a massive hit from 1997-1999, involving all-female festival performers and generating millions of dollars for charities.  Missy Higgins decided to join the tour and found that her positive feelings about composing songs came back to her.  She had dismissed writing songs and singing as a selfish pursuit that did nothing to make a difference in the world.  However, her fans reaction to her performances with Sarah in the US, provided endless “gratitude stories” and appreciation for how her songs over the years had made such a difference in their lives.  Missy Higgins realised then and there that her life purpose and contribution to the world flowed from writing and performing songs that communicated down-to-earth, honest feelings.
  • Avoiding criticism on social media – Missy Higgins admitted that she has always been sensitive to criticism.  There was a period before she went to Broome where she would spend a lot of time on social media and become obsessed about people leaving negative comments about her band, its composition and related decisions.  She became overwhelmed by the negativity because she tended to ignore the compliments and focus only on the negative (our brains have a negative bias).  Missy Higgins was so devastated by the negativity towards her that she did not leave the house.  Her manager, however, insisted that she had to get away from social media and stop looking for negative criticism.  He told her, “You are going to keeping reading until you find something negative” and reinforced the view that she had a tendency to hold onto the negative.  Missy Higgins stated in the podcast interview that she has “never read anything since” and this commitment was reinforced through her time in Broome.

Reflection

Missy Higgins contended “it’s a very radical act to show yourself and to love yourself” in the current social climate where everything and everyone is curated to show their “best self”.  She stated that as a performer she still has a “persona” that she puts forward in her performances.  Hugh suggested that the lyrics of her songs expressed vulnerability.  Missy Higgins responded by saying that “there is a huge difference between vulnerable in your lyrics and being vulnerable in person”.    She commented that lyrics can be shrouded in metaphor, mystery and abstraction.

Missy Higgins suggested that over time you can develop a mindset of “I have nothing to be ashamed of”, which opens the way to mutual sharing of vulnerability with another person.  She maintains that mutual vulnerability results in a “beautiful communion where both of you are recognising that you are just human” – thus acknowledging the shared human condition, vulnerability and the inability to keep everything together all the time.  Her friendship with Hugh is one example of this “beautiful communion”.  I found that being exposed to her vulnerability through The Imperfects motivated me to listen more often to her songs.  I started with the video of her live performance on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House in 2019.  I immediately found that her songs, performance and commentary had new meaning and significance for me – a new level of communion and understanding between artist and fan.

People have commented that one of the things that appeals about The Imperfects podcast is the deep friendship that is evident between Hugh, Josh and Ryan.  This comment reinforced Hugh’s conviction that vulnerability builds authentic connection and friendship.  Each of the key hosts of the podcast series have individually shared their own vulnerability in addition to adding self-disclosure to the interview responses of guests.  Hugh strongly encourages anyone to find someone to share their vulnerability with – a friend, family member, colleague, therapist – whoever they can trust with this precious, personal sharing.  Missy Higgins stated that being personally vulnerable overcomes the exhausting task of avoiding disclosing anything personal.

We can increase our self disclosure and vulnerability as we grow in mindfulness because we are able to develop a balanced perspective that recognises that we all share a vulnerable human condition that is uncertain and somewhat frightening.  Missy Higgins wrote a song about this common condition and the fact that everything is going so fast.  In introducing the song We Run So Fast during a TED× Talk, she advocated “just sitting still” and “letting time envelop you”. 

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Image by Terri Sharp 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.

Letting Go: Breaking Free of the Ties That Bind Us

In his earlier book, The Resilience Project, Hugh Van Cuylenburg discussed his search for the way to develop resilience to meet the demands of these challenging times.  In a previous post, I explained  Hugh’s  GEM pathway to resilience – gratitude, empathy and mindfulness.  This book proved to be a bestseller and Hugh has gone on to present talks to 1,500 schools, elite Australian sports teams and clubs (covering cricket, soccer, AFL and Rugby League) as well as presentations to numerous businesses and organisations.  

When reading The Resilience Project and/or hearing Hugh speak, you could be forgiven for thinking that he was one person who “had it all together”, that he was “on top of things” in his life.  However, in his follow-up book, Let Go, he exposes his own vulnerabilities and weaknesses and argues that “it’s time to let go of shame, expectations and our addiction to social media”.   Let Go could be subtitled, “The 101 Ways I have Stuffed Up in My life” or alternatively, “How My Human Foibles Have Undermined My Resilience”.   This is a disarmingly honest account of his personal vulnerabilities and how they have played out in his life.

Hugh covers a range of topics that highlight his vulnerabilities and offers suggestions on how we can address our own vulnerabilities and learn to “let go”.   Throughout the book, he generously shares what he has learnt from his therapy with Anita and discussions with Ben Crowe (famous mindset coach of people like Ash Barty).  Hugh covers  topics that are natural human reactions to the fragility and uncertainty of the human condition.   His key topics include the following that most people can relate to:

  • Shame: feelings of shame can arise from things we have done or failed to do, from negative self-talk (generated in childhood or later in adulthood) or from perceptions of what other people think or feel about us.  Hugh illustrates this by his own inaction in relation to his sister, Georgia, who suffered from mental health issues and the “shame stories” he told himself.  He reminds us that shame and associated guilt have been clinically linked to all kinds of psychological problems.  Hugh argues that we need to understand the nature of the shame that we feel and learn new, healthy ways to respond to it.  He offers a three-step process to address our shame, including sharing our shame with someone (as the hiding of shame, rather than the shame itself, causes us psychological problems).
  • Expectations:  Hugh shares stories of how his own “unreasonable expectations” caused him stress and worry in his life.  The expectations that we place on ourselves can cover any or all aspects of our life – our physical fitness, weight, academic achievements, professional life, home roles, house care or contributions to society.  We can create a living hell through these expectations that are self-fabricated and their effects can impact on others.  Hugh speaks with honesty and openness about instances in his professional speaking life where his unreasonable expectations almost derailed him.  One of the ways he was able to manage the situations was to share his vulnerability at the time and encouraged others to do likewise.  He drew strength from Frou Frou’s rendition of the song, “Let Go” and particularly the lyric, “There’s beauty in the breakdown”.  Hugh also discusses how we can become captive to the expectations of others and the freedom we can enjoy when we break free of what others have called “the tyranny of expectations”.  He offers a series of questions to address the expectations of others and the suggestion to write down the answers and then challenge the truth or otherwise of these recorded expectations. 
  • Perfectionism:  while Hugh provides a serious discussion of perfectionism and the “inner dialogue” that can plague us in every area of our life, he illustrates the hold of perfectionism by sharing a hilarious anecdote about “one (not so) perfect day”.   The story relates to  an invitation to Missy Higgins and family to join his family for a meal.  He had established a friendship with Missy Higgins who wrote the forward to his earlier book, The Resilience Project.  He was so anxious to make everything right for the day that he ended up creating a “disaster” where everything went wrong, Including his artificial grass catching fire.  He encourages us to overcome perfectionism through self-compassion and the honest exploration of all the areas of our life where our “perfectionism rules” and to challenge ourselves about “what would happen if these things weren’t perfect”.
  • Fear of Failure – Hugh illustrates this “phobia” with a humorous description of an embarrassing encounter with Hamish Blake at a café.  Hugh admired Hamish immensely and had been a long-term fan and so wanted the encounter to go well.  However, his “fear of failure” left him tongue-tied resulting in an embarrassing interaction (for both Hugh and Hamish).  Hugh goes on to discuss “atychiphobia” which he describes as “the abnormal, unwarranted and persistent fear of failure” which can result in all kinds of emotional and physical symptoms, including panic attacks.  He makes the point that some level of fear of failure can be healthy because it inspires sound preparation and conscious performance. However, an unhealthy level of fear of failure can lead us to procrastinate, avoid making an effort or miss the opportunity to pursue our life goals and make a contribution to the wellness of others.  Hugh offers an exercise on “how to let go of fear of failure”.

Reflection

One of the most profound things that Hugh asserts is that our vulnerabilities can build authentic connections.  We begin to realise that we all share the same fragility even though it may have different manifestations in each of us.  Throughout his Let Go book, Hugh explains his developing relationship with Hamish and Ryan Shelton.  It was the realisation that each of them experienced the struggle with “shame, expectation and the fear of failure” that led to the development of the podcast, The Imperfects in 2019.  Hugh and his colleagues (brother Josh and Ryan Shelton) also developed a sub-group of The Imperfect podcasts that they titled The Vulnerabilitea House which was designed to enable people to share, over a cup of tea, “something honest and a little vulnerable”.   Vulnerabilitea House interviewees included Peter Helliar, Martin Heppell and Missy Higgins, as well as Hugh, Josh and Ryan.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can become aware of what is holding us back in terms of shame, expectations, perfectionism and fear of failure. This self-awareness, along with self-compassion, provides the motivation to face our frailties and the courage and persistence “to do the inside work” necessary to “let go” and break free from the ties that bind us.

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Image by Сергей Корчанов 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.