Anxiety Management with Mindfulness

Diana Winston offers a mindfulness meditation podcast, Working with Anxiety, as one of the weekly meditations conducted by the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), UCLA.  As Director of Mindfulness Education for MARC, Diana frequently leads these weekly meditations.  She stresses that mindfulness enables us to be more fully in the present moment and to accept what is in our life (including anxiety) with curiosity and openness.

Diana maintains that mindfulness helps us to work effectively with anxiety because it, (1) enables us to be present in the moment, rather than absorbed in the past or the future; (2) facilitates reframing of our experience, and (3) provides a place of rest and ease from the turbulence and waves of daily life.  As Diana asserts, anxiety is part and parcel of daily life, given the human condition and the uncertainty of the world around us today.  The world situation with the global pandemic and devastating conflict between Russia and Ukraine add to anxiety-producing situations we experience on the home and local front.  In consequence, there is an increase in mental health issues along with restricted resources to deal with explosive demand.

Guided meditation for working with anxiety

Diana’s approach is consistent with trauma-sensitive mindfulness in that she allows a choice of posture, meditation anchor and overall focus.  She encourages us to find a posture that is comfortable with eyes closed or open (ideally, looking down).  At the beginning of the meditation, she has us focus on something that gives us a sense of being grounded and supported by something of strength, e.g. our feet on the ground/floor or back against the chair.  It is important to tap into something that enables us to slow our minds and calm our feelings

Diana then suggests that we focus on our breath as a neutral experience of the present moment.  For some people, breath may not be a neutral aspect and could in fact trigger a trauma response. So, she offers an alternative focus such as sounds in the environment, the room tone or rhythm in some music.  Whatever we choose as an anchor, we can return to it whenever we notice our thoughts distracting us and leading to anxiety-producing images, recollections or anticipations.

The next stage of the guided meditation involves focus on some source of anxiety and exploring the bodily sensations associated with it.  Diana suggests that if we are new to meditation we should focus on a minor source of anxiety rather than a major issue.  Whatever our focal anxiety source, the idea is to notice what is happening in our body, e.g. tightness around our neck and shoulders, quickening or unevenness of our breath or pain in our back.  By bringing our consciousness to these bodily sensations, we can work to release the tension involved and restore some level of equanimity.

Diana suggests that at any stage we could use imagery as a way to achieve an anchor that gives us strength and/or a sense of peace.  The image could be of a tall mountain withstanding the buffeting of strong winds and rain or a still lake reflecting surrounding trees and supporting the smooth gliding of swans or ducks.  Imagery can take us out of our anxiety-producing imagination and transport us to a place of strength and/or peace.

In the final stage of the meditation, Diana encourages us to offer ourselves loving-kindness, acknowledging that we are only human after all and that the world is anxiety-producing.  She urges us to extend positive thoughts towards ourselves, rather then beat ourselves up for our fragility.  We could focus on times when we have demonstrated resilience to overcome difficulties, extended compassionate action to those in need or expressed gratitude for all that we have. 

Reflection

There are many tools to help us work with, and manage, anxiety.  These include chanting and/or mantra meditations such as the calming mantra produced by Lulu & Mischka, Stillness in Motion – Sailing and Singing with whales.   As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, chanting, mantras or other mindfulness practices, we can learn to be more fully present in the moment, to manage our anxiety-producing thoughts, regulate our emotions and find the peace and ease that lie within.

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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.

Calmfidence: Developing Calm Confidence to Face Life’s Challenges

In the interview podcast with Tami Simon of Sounds True, Patricia Stark discussed some of the exercises and tools covered in her book that provide ways to develop Calmfidence – calm confidence in the face of life’s challenges. Patricia’s book Calmfidence addresses  barriers to confidence including personal past history, perfectionism and the issue of negative self-talk (or the “inner critic” as she calls it). 

Her book tracks her own journey to achieving calm confidence as well as provides very practical approaches to creating Calmfidence in our own life. The focus of her book is on situations where we are placed in the limelight such as public speaking, presentations, being interviewed for a job or performing in a public arena.  While these situations are the primary catalyst for her book, the principles and practices she shares are relevant to challenges in everyday life.  Fundamentally, in her view, you cannot have genuine and sustainable confidence without inner calm.

Exercises and tools to develop calm confidence

Patricia discussed several exercises and practices that could be used in a variety of situations to be able to approach the inherent challenges with calm confidence.  Some of these are:

Managing nerves – Patricia like many other authors and commentators contends that nerves help you be more aware and to prepare properly so as to reduce (but not eliminate) the unknown and unpredictable.  Nerves indicate that you care and care enough to be worried about the outcome for the people you are helping.  When we are not nervous, we may have stopped caring which may be the result of ”compassion fatigue”.  Even highly accomplished professionals become nervous before an event.  Alfie Langer, an Australian Rugby League legend, used to become quite nervous and nauseous before a match, even in his latter playing days.

So the challenge Is to manage your nerves, not eliminate them altogether. Patricia recounts the comment of a professional performer who told her that “our job is to get the butterflies flying in formation”, not to do away with them.   Patricia maintains that what is necessary is to have the courage to reflect on the uncomfortable feelings and what they say to you and about you.  She suggests that failure to address the fear and discomfort will “work against you”.  In her words, you have to “start to feel the butterflies” which can help you to become “desensitised” to their presence.

Simultaneously, with facing your nervousness and its bodily manifestation, it is important to reaffirm why you are undertaking the public activity and what people can gain from it.  You can reinforce this positive thinking by being grateful for the experience of helping others through utilising your unique mix of experiences, acquired skills and resources. 

Snow Globe exercise – during the podcast, Patricia led listeners in this exercise.  Basically it involves envisaging your mind as a snow globe and viewing your troubled thoughts as the snow flakes descending slowly to the bottom so that they appear as “fallen snow”.    This can be accompanied by taking a deep breath and holding it briefly and releasing it in time with the falling snow and the settling of your troubled thoughts.  Patricia asserts from her own experience, that this exercise can clear your mind and slow your heart rate so that you can “think straight” and respond to challenges more appropriately.

Visualising Success – this is not success in materialistic terms but with regard to achieving what you set out to do in terms of helping people.  Patricia suggests that you start with deep breathing and as you breathe in envisage absorbing calmness and confidence and as you breathe out envisage letting go anxiety and stress.  The next step is to visualise your public activity going really well and people providing feedback that is very positive and affirming.  She suggests too that you envisage our voluntary audience as ”allies” who are “eager to learn” rather than uninvolved critics with nothing better to do than critique your offering and/or performance.

Sack of potatoes exercise – with this exercise you envisage your body as a “sack of potatoes” with each lumpy potato (uncomfortable feeling) confined by the sack (the mind) that holds them together and contains them.  The next step is to envisage taking a pair of scissors and cutting open the lower part of the sack so that the potatoes (uncomfortable feelings) fall out “one by one”.  Then you can envisage the sack of potatoes crumpled in a corner, empty of its ingredients.  Tami from Sounds True reinforced the value of this exercise by sharing her own experience of undertaking the “sack of potatoes” practice.

Retreating when you hit a rough patch – Patricia describes a period during the pandemic where she was feeling overwhelmed by the book commitments/deadlines and the need to “protect herself and her family”.  She decided that she would “have to retreat” in order to “keep her head above water”.  She consciously made the choice to give herself some slack and “do nothing”.  Patricia was then able to emerge from this period with renewed energy and heightened insight.

Reflection

I have found in the past that what helped me to calm my nerves before a public activity such as a presentation or a workshop, was to revisit a successful prior event and recapture the positive feelings and audience response and use that as an anchor for a forthcoming event.  This taps into your sense of self-efficacy – your belief, based on experience, that you are capable of competently undertaking a specific task.

I also found when I was writing my PhD dissertation that I needed to take a break from it in the latter stages.  I achieved this by going away to Stradbroke Island with my family for a few weeks.  It was while I was sitting on the bank of Brown Lake, watching the boys play in the water, that I gained new insights in to a model that would effectively integrate the focus and findings of my doctoral research.  There are times when we need to take a break, change our focus (from self-absorption to other-focused) and absorb the calmness and healing power of nature.

Patricia’s book contains many personal stories of how “Calmfidence” has played out in her life and offers other exercises and tools besides those mentioned here.  If you access her book’s sales page, you can view and download the first 10 pages of her book (in PDF format) where she explains six “Calmfidence Boosters” to help you develop the calm confidence needed to manage life’s challenges.

As we grow in mindfulness through nature, meditation, reflection or other mindfulness practices, we can achieve a calm confidence, gain increased understanding and insight and manage life’s challenges more effectively.

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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.

Barriers to Communicating with Confidence

In a Sounds True interview podcast, Tami Simon interviewed Patricia Stark about confidence in public communication situations such as speeches, presentations, workshops, job interviews and various forms of artistic performance.   Patricia is an acclaimed executive coach and an expert in body language as well as having substantial experience as a presenter and producer on radio and TV.  She spoke extensively about her book, Calmfidence: How to Trust Yourself, Tame Your Inner Critic, and Shine in Any Spotlight

Patricia explained that she coined the word Calmfidence to highlight what her experience in communicating in the public arena has taught her – you cannot have confidence without inner calm.  She argues that an external show of confidence is not enough – you can be disarmed if something does not go the way you expect.  Under the pressure of the moment, you can easily lose track of what you want to say or experience an inability to “think straight”.  Physiologically, you can experience the shakes, blanking out, headaches or pain in various parts of your body.  Inner calm enables you to manage both your psychological and physical response.  It facilitates emotional regulation and provides ways to dampen your physiological response.

Patricia explained that calmness underpinned confidence and involved trusting yourself and having a very clear idea of who you are and want to be.  This enables you to develop less reactivity in situations that do not turn out as you expect and to communicate with genuineness and authenticity.

Barriers to confidence

We each have barriers that prevent us from communicating confidently and these barriers are highly individual in origin and intensity.  Some of these barriers relate to past experiences while others are generated by the circumstances arising at the time of communicating publicly:

Past history – we each bring to a situation our experiences from the past that can create issues for us in terms of our confidence.  We could have been bullied at school or work, made fun of by our peers face-to-face or on social media, made embarrassing mistakes or observed someone experiencing vicarious trauma during a confronting workshop.  These negative experiences can make us prone to fearing an unsuccessful outcome when undertaking a public speaking endeavour and can even cause us to freeze during a job interview. I recall interviewing a manager for a job and at one stage he was unable to speak and actually had difficulty breathing.  Through pacing, I was able to help him begin to breathe slowly and deeply and settle down for the rest of the interview.  Patricia suggests that these past bad experiences need to be explored through “inner work” to bring them more into consciousness so that you can be aware of how they are playing out in your public interactions. She also suggests that you remind yourself why you are communicating with others and what benefit can accrue for them.

Perfectionism – can prevent us from even starting a public communication endeavour for fear of making mistakes.  We will always be waiting for the right time which may never occur.  Perfectionism can cause us to question what we have done in a public communication situation and generate a continuous cycle of “shoulds” and “what if’s”, e.g. “I should have started another way”, “What if I had given more examples?”  We can beat up on ourselves for mistakes or alternatively see them as an opportunity to grow and develop our public speaking skills.  Patricia suggests that we adopt a “growth mindset” which involves seeking continuous self-improvement in our practice while viewing mistakes as a learning experience on the path to personal improvement.  She suggests that it is unrealistic to expect not to make mistakes because of our human limitations and noted that in the public media arena it is a given that you will sometimes make mistakes.  In her view, often “good enough” is what is required and perfectionism can cause us to “freeze”, prevent flexibility and impede our ability to get in the zone and experience “flow”.   Like Seth Godin, Patricia suggests that it is better to “start small” to develop the confidence and calmness required to communicate publicly than to not engage in public communication because the task we set ourselves is too big a challenge.

Negative self-talk – these are the thoughts that we are not good enough or that we have no right to put ourselves “out there”.  Tina Turner explained that these thoughts can prevent you from making your unique contribution to the world and to positive experiences of other people. Tina actively developed her “inner landscape” through chanting and meditation and this enabled her to move beyond her “comfort zone” and realise her potential in performing for thousands of people.  She was able to see the growth potential and “hidden treasures” that lie in life’s challenges, including public communication and performances.  Tina recognised that we are not our negative thoughts but have the capacity to let them go and replace them with positive thoughts and expectations of success.

Reflection

Patricia indicated that she had a “painfully shy childhood” – she experienced panic at school, had other people take her place in the line at the shop to buy her lunch and would be shaking whenever she had to do a public presentation at school or college.  She has developed many exercises and tools to develop a calm confidence which has helped her in her worklife and enabled her to help over 2,000 clients who have sought her assistance and guidance.  She provides these tools and exercises in her book which offers very practical approaches to overcoming fear and anxiety around public communication.

Most people experience fear and anxiety around public communication, even seasoned performers. such as Tina Turner. As we grow in mindfulness through deep reflection, meditation and other mindfulness activities we can gain the self-awareness, courage and emotional regulation to enable us to achieve “Calmfidence” when engaging in public communications.  Mindfulness activities assist us to expand our response ability.

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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.

Achieving the Benefits of Meditation Through Regular Practice

In his Mindful Monday podcast on the 9th of August, Marvin Belzer emphasised the importance of keeping meditation simple, especially when we are new to meditation – focusing on something that is simple and real such as our breath, ambient sounds, or bodily sensations.  He stressed that this simple focus enables us to experience what is happening now for us and leads to realising the many benefits of meditation such as calmness, clarity and concentration – each of which flows over into other areas of our lives such as family, work, sport and relationships.  He highlighted the need to relax into our meditation, not trying to force specific outcome.  The process of meditation that he described is similar to what I explained previously, though on this occasion there was more time devoted to silent meditation.

In a subsequent podcast on 16th of August, Marvin stressed the need for effort and patience to realise meditation’s benefits – we cannot rush the results.  He maintained that we are not aiming for perfection but need to recognise the nature of the human condition – a realisation that cultivates humility and the acceptance that we have very little control over much of our life.  However, what we can control is our ability to direct our attention – a skill that underpins much of success in life.  Controlling our attention is “doable” if we make the effort of regular meditation practice.  Marvin suggests that what helps here is humour as we recognise the frailty of our ability to concentrate for any sustained period of time without distractions.

The benefits of regular meditation practice

While sustained meditation practice can be difficult, the benefits that accrue are worth the effort and persistence involved.  These benefits include:

  • Creativity – we can develop creative solutions to our everyday problems and realise creativity in our work life.  Creativity is cultivated in an environment of stillness and silence – an environment where our mind is uncluttered and we are not overwhelmed by challenging emotions.
  • Clarity – meditation helps us to clear our minds and open ourselves to self-awareness and to insights into what we bring to a situation.  It also throws light on our life purpose – how we can utilise our life experience, skills, knowledge and values to create a better world, whether locally or globally.
  • Resilience – as we become more grounded through meditation, we can bounce back quicker and easier from setbacks and disappointments.  Meditation builds resilience because it helps us to clear false beliefs, regain perspective and overcome “emotional inflammation” that is prevalent in these challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Calmness and equanimity – as we become more grounded in our breath which is always with us while we are alive, we can experience calmness and face the vicissitudes of life with equanimity.  We can use symbolic actions, such as joining our fingers, at any time during the day to recapture this sense of calm and stability.
  • Compassion – as we come to accept our own frailty in the face of life’s challenges, we can become more empathetic towards others and more motivated to take compassionate action to alleviate the pain and suffering of others.

Reflection

Meditation requires effort but multiple benefits accrue if we can sustain regular practice.  If we are not too hard on ourselves – not seeking perfection in meditation practice – we can more readily sustain the motivation to undertake regular practice, no matter how boring the process may feel at times.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can become more tolerant of ourselves and others, appreciate our life and live it more fully.

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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.

Meditation as a Process

Marvin Belzer, meditation teacher and faculty member of the UCLA Department of Psychiatry, offers a guided meditation, Mindful Monday, as part of the regular guided meditation sessions provided by the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), UCLA.   In a recent Mindful Monday podcast, he focused on the process of meditation and as well as offering a guided silent meditation.

Marvin stressed that the process of meditation does not involve rush to get somewhere and is not about “doing” which is typical of our daily life as we seek to achieve things in family life, work and recreation.  While meditation does require “effort” it is a subtle process, unlike our exertions to achieve things in life.  To be effective in meditation we have to give ourselves permission not to aim for “getting things done”.

Marvin explained that the process of meditation involves directing attention to something specific that is occurring in our everyday life.  It can involve the sounds that surround us, our breath or our bodily sensations.  Marvin maintains that meditation cultivates concentration – a skill that can flow over to every area of our life and enhance our relationships, e.g. through deep listening.  Focusing on something that is neutral can be calming and provide clarity.  

Marvin’s guided meditation process

Marvin’s process began with several deep breaths to relax your body and ground yourself in the present moment.  It also helps at this stage to reaffirm your intention in meditating.  He followed this up with a focus on ambient sounds – the sounds that enter your awareness from outside your immediate location.  This can be difficult for some people because our natural tendency is to analyse sounds, identify their source and categorise them as good or bad, intrusive or relaxing, harmful or helpful.  In focusing on sounds, it is important to suspend intellectual activity and just experience the sounds as they are in the present moment.

Distractions such as planning the day’s activities or worrying about some future event are a natural part of the process.  Marvin stresses that the experience of meditation is a very personal thing that can be impacted by our emotions at the time, our intellectual preoccupations and our life conditioning.  There is no right way or perfect end result – there is a continuous process of focusing, being distracted, and returning to our focus – a cycle that builds our awareness muscle.  Jon Kabat-Zinn maintains that while mindfulness meditation involves “paying attention on purpose”, it also requires a non-judgmental frame of mind – not evaluating ourselves against some perfect model, process or way of “doing meditation”.

Marvin suggests that you do a light body scan at the outset to ascertain any points of tension and to notice your posture which should be relaxed but enable you to be alert to what is happening for you.  An alternative at this stage, particularly if you are feeling stressed, is to do a full body scan which can enable you to progressively release tension wherever it is experienced in your body.  Your body and specific bodily sensations can become the focus of your meditation, e.g. paying attention to the vibrations in your joined fingers or your feet on the floor or ground.  You can also tune into the physical sensation of experiencing fear, anxiety or sorrow – noticing where in your body a strong emotion is being manifested.  Marvin points out that this process of paying attention to the embodiment of an emotion can serve as a refuge from the disturbance of challenging emotions.

Another source of achieving calm that Marvin identifies is your breath.  He suggests that you can rest in your breathing – paying attention to where in your body you can experience your breath in the moment, e.g. the movement of your chest or abdomen or the flow of air through your nose.  This process does not involve controlling your breath but experiencing it as it is – slow or fast, light or deep, even or uneven.  We are always breathing as a natural process of being alive, so resting in your breath can serve as a refuge at any time throughout your day.  Through meditation practice, you can drop automatically into the calming influence of your breath – just as performers and elite athletes do when they are about to perform or compete. If you associate breath awareness with a bodily sensation such as vibrations when your fingers are joined during regular meditation practice, then the act of bringing your fingers together (e.g., when waiting for something or somebody) can activate breath consciousness and the calming influence of breathing.

Reflection

Meditation is a process, not a goal post.  Regular practice enables us to find calm in the midst of the waves of life.  It is important to remain non-judgmental.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation in whatever form we choose, we can develop calmness and tranquility and have a genuine source of refuge when times become challenging or we begin to become overwhelmed by emotions.  Our constant focus during meditation serves as an anchor in life when we encounter the turbulence of challenging times.

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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.

Balancing Compassion with Equanimity

Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at MARC UCLA, offers a meditation podcast on the theme, The Balance of Compassion and Equanimity.  This is one of the weekly meditations provided by the Mindful Awareness Research Centre (MARC).  Currently, the meditations are offered via the Zoom platform and are recorded and uploaded for ongoing access.  They are also readily available via the UCLA Mindful app which provides “meditations for well-being”.

Guided meditation on balancing compassion with equanimity

In these challenging times it is easy to experience “compassion fatigue” or burnout.  The pandemic alone has brought death and grief, pain and suffering, job losses, homelessness, suicides, mental illness, business rundown/closure, family separations and divided communities (around issues such as border closures, vaccination distribution, mask wearing and mandatory vaccination).  Many places are experiencing natural disasters including earthquakes, wild fires, floods and tornados.   There are international conflicts creating an endless stream of refugees as well as people who are trapped in a violent and inhuman environment.   We do not have look too far to be surrounded by pain and suffering in this world of conflict and challenge.

In her guided meditation Diana maintains that in these times, it is common for people to experience a lack of balance and overwhelm.  She suggests that one way through the dilemma of finding a balance between compassion and equanimity is to take refuge in meditation.  Her recommended meditation practice involves both expression of compassion and a retreat into equanimity.  This can be a once-off approach.  However, if we are dealing with considerable imbalance and/or overwhelm we can repeat the process on a regular basis.  This will also be necessary if we find ourselves in a state of compassion burnout where we can longer feel for others who are in pain and suffering.

Diana begins the mediation by having us take a few deep breaths to release tension we may feel as a result of experiencing strong feelings of compassion.  She suggests that we become conscious of our posture and the groundedness provided by our feet on the floor or our body on the ground (if lying down outside in nature).  Initially, she encourages us to identify physical points of tension so that we can consciously release them.  Diana then progressively moves us through the process of exploring several anchors for our meditation – our breathing (movement in our abdomen or chest), external sounds or some bodily sensation.

Compassion meditation

Diana starts with a focus on compassion and invites us to bring to mind a particular group of people or an individual who we know are in pain and suffering.  She suggests that we start with something that is not a source of overwhelm (so that we can manage the emotions involved).  Diana then encourages us to find some words that enable us to express our compassion towards the chosen group or individual, e.g., “May your suffering be alleviated”.  If we can find our own words to express compassion, it will enable us to genuinely feel that we are extending kindness to others.

Equanimity meditation

Following the focus on compassion, Diana suggests that we take a form of refuge in equanimity meditation.  In this context the retreat to equanimity is achieved by refocusing on our chosen anchor.  It might be our breathing or sounds or a particular bodily sensation.  I have frequently focused on my fingers joined on my lap during meditation – feeling the warmth, the tingling and the flow of blood and energy.   In times when I am waiting or experiencing strong emotions, I can resort to this practice and simultaneously tap into my breathing.  The combination of these anchors – joined fingers and breath – are achieved by regular practice creating the association between them.  Each person has their own way of becoming deeply grounded and restoring balance and equanimity.

Reflection

Diane calls the  meditation practice she facilitated, the “black belt of meditation” – it can be extremely difficult to deal with the attendant emotions, achieve balance and restore equanimity.  What we are trying to achieve is acceptance of what is, while offering genuine compassion to those who are suffering.  There are so many things that are outside our control that acceptance, along with taking compassionate action where possible, is the way forward.  As mentioned earlier, a “rinse and repeat” process may be required to achieve a consistent level of equanimity.

Allyson Pimentel, another MARC meditation teacher, offers an alternative guided meditation on focusing on the elements of nature to achieve equanimity – calmness can be achieved by connecting with the elements of earth, water,  fire, air and space.   Martin Brensilver, in a different MARC meditation, maintains that equanimity can also be strengthened by widening our perspective, reducing our focus on evaluative thinking (e.g., resorting to absolutes of right and wrong) and intensifying our sensory experience (which increases our groundedness).  Gratitude meditation can also help us to restore our balance and calmness. 

As we grow in mindfulness through alternating compassion and equanimity meditation practice, we can progressively gain emotional regulation, develop a balanced compassion and experience equanimity and the ease of wellness.  We can also find creative ways to provide compassionate action for others who are experiencing pain and suffering.  Meditation and mindfulness practices enable us to access the deep well within ourself to provide strength and support to others.

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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.

Widening Awareness Through Meditation and Singing Bowls

Diana Winston introduced the use of singing bowls in meditation when she provided a guided meditation podcast with Master Tibetan musicians Michael and Jahna Perricone.  Diana called her celebration with singing bowls Glimpses of Being and provided a way of developing “varying awareness” by moving from a narrow focus to a very wide focus of attention.  She maintained that the singing bowls are conducive to meditation and can take us deeper into the meditative state.

Guided meditation to widen awareness

Diana begins her guided meditation by encouraging us to take deep breaths and employ the out-breath as a form of release from any tension spots in the body.  She suggests that, besides grounding ourselves in our body (through deep breaths and sensing the groundedness of our feet), we consciously focus on our intention for the meditation – thus grounding both body and mind. 

The next step involved mindful breathing – being aware of how our breathing affects our body.  We can focus on where in our body we most experience our breath – through our nose, the undulations of our chest, or the in and out movement of our abdomen.  Once we are grounded in the bodily sensation of breathing, we can then focus on the breath itself and its pattern – slow/fast, deep/shallow, heavy/light – without trying to control it. 

The third stage of the meditation involved tuning into the Tibetan singing bowls and allowing the vibrations to penetrate our body.  With practice we can align our bodily resonance to that of the singing bowls.  Diana forewarns us that music and singing can unearth a wide range of emotions both positive and challenging.  These emotions can range from elation, relief or joy to sadness, grief or anger.  Being with the emotions without being overcome by them is a key to gaining equanimity.  Denial leads to submerging and intensifying emotions while acceptance and openness lead to release and freedom.  Diana maintains that it is important to experience the emotion as it is at the moment.

In the final stages of the guided meditation, Diana uses nature imagery to help us widen our awareness.  She suggests that we look at the sky (or imagine it) and notice its openness and expansiveness.  We can imagine the clouds passing by – sometimes light and fluffy and, at other times, wild and stormy.  Diana encourages us to “rest in awareness” – to take in the expansiveness and unboundedness of the sky and the sounds emitted by the singing bowls and the accompanying Tibetan singing provided by Jahna Perricone.   Diana maintains that despite the turbulence of the surface, beneath the waves lies stillness and silence – an analogy for our capacity to find refuge from troubling events through meditation and to build our resilience.   Tina Turner, through her chanting, demonstrated the power of music and meditation to overcome personal adversity, develop resilience and experience happiness.

Reflection

Michael and Jahna Perricone describe their workshops as “sound baths” where Michael’s playing of the Tibetan bowls is accompanied by Jahna’s singing of Tibetan songs.  I remember experiencing a sound bath when I participated in a singing residential retreat with Chris James.  We had been formed into pods and members of each pod began toning over a volunteer participant lying on the floor, effectively soaking them in directed sound.  The experience is very profound and moving – not only the sense of the loving kindness being extended towards you but also the resonance achieved in your body as the reverberations of the chanting flow over and through you.  This is a special experience and it would be even more enhanced with singing accompanied by the skilful playing of Tibetan music bowls. 

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and tapping into the resonance of music, singing bowls, Tibetan singing or chanting, we can access the stillness and silence within – a source of resilience, insight, courage and happiness.  Once we have discovered our own inner depths and expansiveness, we can revisit it at any time.

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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.

Guided Meditation to Develop the Awareness Muscle

Allyson Pimentel provided a guided meditation podcast through MARC UCLA titled, Begin Again – a process designed to develop concentration and build the “awareness muscle”.   This meditation builds increased awareness of the present moment because it requires us to pay attention as the meditation unfolds – in particular, noticing when our mind wanders away from our primary focus.  Allyson suggests that we need to be “curious about being curious” – that we approach the challenge of paying attention with openness, a sense of wonder, curiosity and exploration.

Allyson emphasises the point that our minds are designed to think, imagine, envision and dream.  It is natural for us to “wander off”, lose focus and entertain the “blur of the past” or the anticipation of the future.  She suggests that no matter what the level of our experience with meditation is, we can alternate between “wakefulness and sleepiness” – which can be interpreted both literally and metaphorically.  

Allyson reminds us that the meaning of the word “begin” is “to come into being”.  She suggests that we are so focused on “doing” that we lose sight of “being” – of appreciating and valuing our present moment experience.  Her guided meditation encourages wakefulness – being fully aware of the present moment and noticing when our attention wanders.   The process of continually returning to our focus – restoring our attention – builds our awareness muscle.  Developing this skill is particularly critical in the digital age which is becoming characterised by the “loss of attention, consciousness and awareness” through online marketing and the role of social media and social influencers.

One of the key things to be aware of during this meditation is the tendency to judge ourselves for our “failure to concentrate” or “stay in the moment”.  We can become critical of our performance, disappointed and angry with ourselves, and frustrated with our lack of progress.  Our current “performance culture” tends to cultivate this judgmental stance.  Allyson stresses the need for loving kindness towards ourselves to overcome these negative thoughts and assessments.

Guided meditation for developing the awareness muscle

Allyson’s guided meditation (which begins at 9 minutes, 20 seconds) has a number of stages that can be followed in sequence or changed to suit your situation:

  • Posture – after taking and releasing a few deep breaths, the aim is to adopt a posture that is conducive to wakefulness to the present moment.  This may entail closing your eyes (to avoid distraction) and adopting an upright posture (as Allyson suggests, as if a sturdy, straight, “big oak tree is behind your back”).  She maintains that this is a way to achieve an “embodied sense of wakefulness”, so that your body posture reflects what you are seeking to achieve in your meditation.  Noticing your posture throughout the meditation can enhance your wakefulness – and may require you to correct a slouch if that occurs.
  • Focus on sounds – one way to achieve an anchor focused on the present moment is to pay attention to sounds both internal and external to your room.  It is important to let the sounds come and go and not entertain them by trying to work out their source.  For some people, sounds themselves may be distracting and this step could be omitted.
  • Focus on breathing – here it is important to become conscious of your breathing – its strength, speed, evenness and regularity – without trying to control it.  As you drop into your breath, you can experience calmness, expansiveness and energy as you open to the life that is within you. 
  • Notice the “tone of your mind” – throughout the meditation you are encouraged to notice what is happening in your mind.  You might find yourself engaged in self-criticism for wandering off – a state that can be overcome by loving kindness and patience.  It also pays to remind yourself that having to “begin again” to re-focus, is progressively building your awareness muscle – which will enrich your life in all its spheres. No matter how many times you have to start over, you are building towards awareness and its inherent richness.

Reflection

This meditation can be challenging, especially in our early stages of adopting meditation practice or if we are feeling agitated about something that is happening to us or others who are close to us (or to others who we know are experiencing terror elsewhere).  The real benefits of this meditation can readily flow over into our daily life and help us to achieve calmness and equanimity in the face of life’s challenges.

 As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and beginning again when our minds wander, we can begin to discern patterns in our wandering – e.g., planning our day, preparing a shopping list, indulging resentment or stressing about possible, future challenges.  This increased self-awareness can help us to develop specific strategies to strengthen our capacity to concentrate and focus our energy.

Allyson suggests that we take to heart Carl Jung’s comment:

Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.

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Image by Josep Monter Martinez 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.

Body Scan Meditation – Being Present to Yourself

Gloria Kamler, stress-reduction expert and meditation teacher, provides a body scan meditation as one of the many UCLA weekly meditation podcasts.  Gloria has been a meditation practitioner for more than 30 years and talks enthusiastically about the many benefits of mindfulness meditation.  In the introduction to this guided meditation, she maintains that a body scan meditation can help us slow down, wake up to life and gain clarity about our purpose.  She suggests that instead of floating like a balloon on the winds of life, we can choose how we want to live and be able to “show up for your life”.

Gloria argues that focusing on the body via a scan helps you to develop “moment by moment awareness” that can lead to equanimity.  She maintains that our minds can lead us astray and delude us, while our body “always speaks the truth” if only we tap into it and pay attention to what we are sensing.  Through a body scan, we can access a different part of our brain, develop self-caring and caring for others and build emotional regulation.  

Body scan meditation

In her guided body scan meditation Gloria helps us to work progressively from our head to our feet dwelling on different parts of the body as we scan for tension, e.g. tightness in our neck, pain in our back, a tight furrowed brow, aching ankles or soreness in our knees.  Recognising these sensations puts us in touch with our own bodies – it makes us present to ourselves and grounds us in the present moment as we experience it.  Progressive releasing of tension as we bring our attention to different parts of our body, can create a sense of calmness and control.  It can lift our spirits and help us to be ready for the day’s challenges and opportunities.

Awareness of positive sensations as we undertake the body scan can heighten our mood, develop confidence to move forward and strengthen our resolve.  We could feel the firmness and solidity of our feet on the ground, energetic tingling in our fingers and arms and a calmness in our breathing – all of which portend and support our ability to surf the waves of life and make a real contribution to the lives of others, whether that is a simple smile, a random act of kindness, or compassionate action.   In caring for ourselves through our body scan, we can be open to caring about, and caring for, others.

We can begin to realise that everyone is at some time experiencing some form of pain – mental and/or physical.  We can feel connected to others just as we sense the deep interconnectedness of the parts of our body.  The process of the body scan, like that of Tai Chi, helps us to appreciate the mind-body connection – if we are not at one with our body, we can be “all at sea” with our thoughts and emotions.

Reflection

A body scan meditation can really help us if our mind is racing or we are distracted by anxious thoughts.  Becoming grounded in our body is the fastest route to being grounded in the present because our body is always present to us at every moment of every day – we just have to tune into it.  As we grow in mindfulness through body scan meditations, we can access our capacity for conscious choice, emotional regulation and equanimity.  We can approach life’s challenges with calmness, insight and openness to what is.

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Image by Dimitris Vetsikas 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 Awareness to Live More Fully

Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education, at MARC, UCLA offers a meditation podcast where she introduces a range of meditation practices.   Her guided meditation covers The Spectrum of Awareness Practices.  During the meditation, Diana likens the different practices to changing the lens and focus of a camera – from narrow to broad to panoramic.  Her aim is to open us up to the possibilities inherent in meditation practice so that we can choose a preferred awareness focus as a regular practice or seek variety by consciously “changing our lens”.   It is not her intention to provide an exhaustive list of meditation practices but to show that there is a broad spectrum in terms of what we can pay attention to and the resultant focus of our awareness.

The telephoto lens – narrow focus

The first meditation practice Diana introduces is what she describes as using a telephoto lens – homing in on a specific object of awareness and leaving awareness of other things in the background (as you would when you focus your camera on a bird in a tree in a distant location).  The focus can be your breath (the rise and fall of your abdomen), specific body sensation or a noise within your room.  As your mind wanders from this chosen anchor, you can bring it back into focus (as you would when adjusting a lens for greater clarity of an image).  This form of awareness meditation develops concentration, calmness, and clarity. 

Wide lens – broader focus

We can broaden our focus beyond our breathing to a particular body sensation or a difficult emotion that draws our attention away from our breath.   We could pay attention, for instance, to the sense of groundedness in our feet, the warm tingling in our fingers or the tightness in our shoulders.  With a difficult emotion, such as resentment, we could focus not only on the nature and intensity of the emotion but also its bodily manifestation, e.g., tightness in the chest, stiffness in the  jaw or pain in the neck.  We can name the emotion and describe its intensity to better tame it and bring it under control.  This broader form of awareness practice can help us to understand our emotions and our triggers, develop emotional regulation, build body awareness and increase our awareness of our mind-body-emotion connection.

Panoramic lens – being conscious of awareness itself

Here we broaden our attention beyond a chosen focus to what exists both within and without us.  It involves tapping into our natural awareness – a consciousness of what is going on inside us as well as around us, without any specific focus.  It requires opening up fully to our inner landscape and our external environment – taking in the sights, sounds, smells, touch, and taste of what we experience.  This is the spaciousness in which we become conscious of awareness itself.   Natural awareness helps us to cultivate openness and acceptance, curiosity and appreciation and a sense of wonder and awe.

Reflection

Diana introduces the spectrum of awareness as a way to broaden and enrich our meditation practice, increase our understanding of the nature of awareness and its pervasiveness, and enrich our daily life so that we can live more fully, engaging with ourselves and the world with heightened awareness and gratitude.  David Sinclair in his book, Lifespan, describes something of the richness of openness to natural awareness when he describes the experience of bushwalking with his family as “Searching for serenity.  Hearing stories. Finding Beauty. Making memories. Sharing wisdom.”

Diana describes natural awareness and other mindfulness practices in more detail in her book, The Little Book of BeingAs we grow in mindfulness through different forms of meditation, we can experience life more fully and enrich the lives of others from the fullness of our own life.

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Image by Manfred Antranias Zimmer 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.