Managing the Natural Ripples of Life

Michael Singer provided a podcast discussion on the topic, Ceasing to be Caught in the Waters of the Mind. He uses the analogy of a bird floating on the waters of a lake, enjoying the smoothness and serenity of its existence.  When the wind whips up waves, the bird needs to ride them out, not fighting them nor imagining that they can control all the forces that create the waves.  So it is with us, Michael suggests that we need to relax in the face of the ripples of life when confronted with disappointments, setbacks, hurts over personal slights and grief over the loss of a loved one.  He argues that if we try to fight these ripples by suppressing the natural reactions of our mind and heart, we will temporarily suppress them and their effects, only to have them resurface in a more damaging way later on.   

Primary versus secondary ripples

Primary ripples are a natural part of the order of things and a natural consequence of our human condition.  We do experience disturbing thoughts in the face of the natural ripples of life but the major problem arises when we create secondary ripples by being caught up in anger, resentment, denial or any other emotion that takes us away from experiencing the primary ripple that set our response, of mind and heart, in motion.  Michael asserts that the real damage to our peace and tranquility is not caused by the primary ripples but by the secondary ripples that we create.  We can even become angry about our anger, resentful about our resentment or indulge in any other consequential emotion that denies the impact of the primary ripple and enables us to avoid our discomfiture.  Michael provides a guided journal for writing practices to enable us to experience the freedom of journeying beyond ourselves and our tendency to create secondary ripples.

Seeking comfort

When we are disturbed by the natural ripples of life, rather than resting quietly and relaxing so that the ripples pass by, we often seek out comforts that are designed to avoid the pain of our disturbance.  We can turn to food or drink, seek to have people say nice things about us, pursue our thirst for acquisitions, seek a better job or leave a relationship because the other party does not conform to our expectations.  We try to control our world, avoid the pain and hurt and seek relief in what makes us feel comfortable – all the while denying the reality of the primary ripples and their effects on our mind and heart.  We try to stop the ripples rather than riding them out and acknowledging that they will eventually pass.  Even grief or boredom too will pass if we accept the reality of loss or the momentary absence of stimulation.

Trying to manipulate the outside world to avoid discomfort

We can indulge in complaining; self-protective stories like, “Why me…what have I done to deserve this!’; wanting other people to change to conform to our expectations; or taking inappropriate action that aggravates the situation (e.g. road rage, harbouring hurt and resentment).   A recent example of trying to manipulate the outside world to restore comfort in the face of an uncomfortable situation was highlighted by Dr. Grant, an emergency department doctor in Victoria, Australia.

Dr. Grant wrote about the sense of entitlement driving construction workers to obstruct traffic in Victoria because they were now prevented from using their “tea rooms” because of concerns about potential transmission of COVID-19 infection.  She pointed out with a graphic photo of herself at the end of a day’s work, the physical toll and emotional drain of working with COVID-19 patents – causing personal deprivations for more than two years, including having no formal place to eat lunch.  The construction workers are trying to manipulate the outside world so that they do not have to experience the discomfort of losing their tea rooms. 

Reflection

Michaels’s core message is the “world is unfolding in front of us” and there is a lot of things and forces that we have no control over.  Instead of suppressing our discomfort, he suggests that we “become comfortable” with the different states we experience, both in our mind and heart, when we encounter the ripples of life.  This accords with the exhortation by Karla McLaren to understand and experience the wisdom of difficult emotions.

Michael encourages us not to be caught up in the waters of our mind – not to be caught up in turbulence of our own making, the secondary ripples that we can create through our own efforts to replace disturbance in our mind and heart with feelings of comfort that we create artificially.  He offers an online course, Living from a Place of Surrender: The Untethered Soul in Action, that incorporates journalling for self-reflection and training videos.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and mindfulness practices such as journalling, we will be better able to rest and relax in the face of disturbance caused by primary ripples, gain insight into how we personally create secondary ripples and become comfortable with the different natural states of our mind and heart.

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Image by silviarita 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 as a Pathway to Gratitude

Diana Winston offers a way to develop and express gratitude through a guided meditation podcast.  She reminds us that mindfulness is about being in the present moment and paying attention to what is, while being open and curious.  She maintains that being mindful in the present moment, no matter what is happening, can create the space and sense of appreciation to enable gratitude to arise.   

Gratitude can develop and grow as we pay attention to what we are grateful for – we become what we choose to regularly focus on, e.g., compassion, kindness or gratitude.  When we are present to the moment, not self-absorbed or lost in thought, we can more readily appreciate aspects of our life and our environment.  We tend to see things more clearly, not lost in the fog of emotions such as resentment, anger, or frustration.

Guided gratitude meditation

Diana provides this meditation as part of the weekly meditation podcasts provided by UCLA through the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC).  She takes us through a process of paying attention in the moment with a period of silence followed by a focus on being grateful.

The guided meditation has a number of steps:

  • Grounding – as with normal meditation practice, Diana’s process begins with being grounded through adopting a comfortable posture whether you are sitting, standing, or lying down for the meditation.  This is followed by taking a deep breath and using the outbreath to release any tensions, thoughts, or distractions.  At the same time, you can express gratitude for being able to breathe normally, something that we take for granted.  While expressing this appreciation, you could think of those who are suffering respiratory problems because of COVID-19 and offer compassion towards them, including a desire for their return to wellness.
  • Becoming aware – Diana suggests that you first focus on your body, then your mind and finally any emotions.  With your body, you can be focus on comfort, discomfort, aches or pains or any bodily sensation that you are aware of at the time.  You can pay attention to your thoughts and notice what your mind is doing, being aware of your tendency to plan, critique, analyse, evaluate or other regular mental activity that you may engage in.  Moving onto your emotions, you can become more conscious of how you are feeling – anxious, joyful, enthusiastic or sad – while accepting what is.  In this meditation, the aim is not to dwell on these bodily sensations, thoughts, or emotions, but to notice that they are with us at the moment.
  • Choosing an anchor – Diana offers a range of anchors such as your breath, bodily sensation (e.g., in your fingers or feet), sounds around you or an aspect of nature, such as a tree.  The anchor serves to bring your attention back once you become distracted by your thoughts.  The process of refocusing after distractions acts to strengthen your “awareness muscle”.

Focusing in on what you are grateful for

After a period of silence and practising stillness, Diana suggests that you bring to mind something or someone for which you are grateful.  This could be something you particularly appreciate in your life –  your location and its advantages, the opportunity to go for morning walks in a pleasant environment, the beauty of surrounding nature, the pleasure and comfort of your own home, the extraordinary capacity of your brain, the ability to move and engage in physical activity, or anything else that is a source of thankfulness.  

Alternatively, you could focus on a person in your life that you are really grateful for – in the process, paying attention to what you appreciate about them, e.g., their intelligence, thoughtfulness, support, kindness, sense of equity, willingness to share their feelings, openness, faithfulness, or any other traits that come to mind.

Whether you are focusing on someone or something, you can dwell on the sense of appreciation and gratitude that they are part of your life at the moment.  Keeping a focus on gratitude helps us to develop this very positive emotion that not only influences how we show up in the world and the nature of our interactions but is also great for our mental health

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness, especially through gratitude meditation and expressions of appreciation, we will become more positive and appreciative of our life and less likely to indulge negative emotions such as resentment, envy, or frustration.

Recently I was playing social tennis with a male partner who was a very good player but who became increasingly annoyed and upset that his timing was out of kilter, resulting in multiple errors.  As emotional states are contagious, I could have become very negative about my own game and tennis mistakes.  However, through the practice of mindfulness, I was able instead to focus on the fact that I was able to play; that my body was holding up for this activity despite my age; and that I was able to take pleasure in any good shots I played.  This led me during the next day to focus on the micro skills that I was able  to use while playing tennis, e.g., serve, volley, play a forehand or backhand, run to the ball, and also judge the speed, direction, and spin of the ball.

Gratitude developed through mindfulness can positively impact every activity of our life.

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Image by Sven Lachmann 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.

Diana Winston, gratitude, grow mindfulness, meditation podcast, appreciation, gratitude meditation, guided meditation, resentment, envy, paying attention, stillness, focus, COVID-19, compassion,

The Pandemic and Narrowing of the Window of Tolerance

David Treleaven and Liz Stanley discussed the current pandemic In their interview podcast on Widening the Window of Tolerance.  They both asserted that COVID-19 had effectively narrowed the window of tolerance of many people.  There are many people who are becoming increasingly stressed and traumatised by unfolding events, whether because of the death of relatives and friends, loss of a job, dislocation from their normal place of work (and way of working) and/or stringent “lockdowns”.

Narrowing the window of tolerance

In these very challenging times, people are becoming controlled by their “survival brain” – resorting to a fight, flight or freeze response.  Their window of tolerance is becoming narrowed, both in terms of their inner tolerance of challenges and external tolerance of differences.  Everything has been “thrown up in the air” so that they have lost their grounding in accurate perception and balanced body sensations. 

Polarisation , racism, and hate thrive in this disrupted state as people seek refuge in their “own tribe” (flight) and attack others who are different from themselves (fight).  Liz suggested that many people are “uncomfortable in their own skin” so that lockdowns and movement restrictions , creating disconnection, exacerbate the tendency to dysregulation (inability to control emotions).   The sense of hopelessness and helplessness in facing continuous and growing uncertainty adds to the incidence of anxiety and depression.

A compounding factor is that social media becomes what Liz calls an “echo chamber” – it gives unregulated voice to “dysregulated communications” that increase the tendency towards polarisation.  People retreat to social media and television only to find that these media are increasingly disorientating and disturbing.    

Further compounding the issues for individuals is the fact that we tend to make a “bargain” with ourselves – e.g. we can put up with lockdown for three weeks by adding some new routines such as working different hours, taking more regular breaks and expanding project timelines.  However, when other people blatantly and inconsiderately breach lockdown regulations or social distancing requirements leading to further lockdowns, conforming people can feel betrayed – intensifying a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

Hope and widening the window of tolerance

In the previous post I discussed trauma-sensitive mindfulness and widening the window of tolerance.    Liz provides several strategies in her book, Widen the Window: Training Your Brain and Body to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma.  In the interview podcast she shared some of her own strategies for becoming grounded during the current health and economic crisis – mindfulness meditation, gardening, walking and playing with the dog, and focusing on connectedness to others.

Liz’s Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT)® provides detailed strategies and tools to navigate effectively through times of trauma and stress.  She makes the point that whenever we are controlled by our “survival brain”, we are disconnected from our “thinking brain” and shut off from the opportunity to access our creativity and ingenuity. In discussing “hope” in the current challenging times, David noted that the tendency to “hyperfocus on what is not working” (as he has done at times) tends to narrow the window of tolerance and our capacity to cope.  He suggests that accessing stories of successful transition can help to widen our window of tolerance, e.g. successful career changes by people who have lost their jobs. Another strategy that he suggests is to effectively reframe what is happening.  By way of example, he draws on the comments of Adrienne Maree Brown in her article on living through the unveiling:

Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered, we must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.

Liz reinforces this view when she suggests that it is really only in times of turbulence when everything seems to be “thrown up in the air”, that genuine and sustainable change can happen.

Reflection

As David suggests, we can choose to stay in the fog bank by continuing to absorb negative messages, both external and internal, or we can free ourselves from this befuddled state by growing in mindfulness and developing our own strategies to build resilience and stay grounded.

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Image by My pictures are CC0. When doing composings: 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.