The Challenge of Finding Silence

I have been reading Christine Jackman’s book, Turning Down the Noise: The Quiet Power of Silence in a Busy World, which inspired me to write about the power of silence and to offer a guided meditation to quiet the mind.  I had expected that the book, a personal journey written from the perspective of a very busy and much-travelled journalist, would be a quick and easy read.   It is very easy to read given Christine’s mastery of the written word and her skill in storytelling.  However, it is quite a profound, personal exploration into the challenge of finding silence in a busy world (internally as well as externally “on-the-go”).  Trent Dalton describes this exploration as “treading bravely, beautifully into the wonder of silence”.

Barriers to silence

Christine describes in humourous detail her visit to a health retreat on the Gold Coast in Queensland.  While humour is her tool to disarm the reader, the description of her stay at the retreat is very honest and personally disclosing as she lays bare the barriers that she experienced in attempting to find silence.  She had to find her way through a labyrinth of thorny issues to achieve some insight into silence and its transformative power.

Christine had decided to observe silence during the retreat (where no one else was observing such a challenging discipline).  She even had a sign on her clothes explaining that she was observing silence.  The barriers she encountered were her own self-doubts and negative messages, her projection of the expectations of others and her habituated behaviour.  So, the barriers included a lifelong accumulation of negative self-evaluations, living up to the expectations of others and learned responses to negative stimuli. 

As Christine progressively worked her way through these issues that are not readily overcome, she emerged, however briefly, in a clearing where she was able to experience silence – achieved through a bush walk during which Christine held “a soft focus “ on her senses.  By tuning into her senses, she was absorbed in savouring the present moment.  She was able to let go of the busyness of her life – both internally and externally.

In the metaphorical clearing, Christine discovered a heightened awareness, a state in which her senses became “more acute’ – a state arrived at by doing nothing , including internal commentary.  She had already asked herself how comfortable she could be when confronted with being alone in silence – “Stripped of the ability to curate and present myself to others, who was I really?”

After experiencing the power of silence, Christine wanted to be able to sustain the deep tranquility and peace she had enjoyed . However, after returning to her normal, busy life she found that she was “no closer to working out how to build silence into my daily life”.  

Sustaining the silence

After several years of re-absorption into her busy life, Christine set out on another personal journey.  This time her journey took her to a Benedictine monastery because she had learned that a central rule of the Benedictine tradition was “the pre-eminence of silence”.  She visited New Camaldoli, a Benedictine monastery situated in a remote area of the Californian coast.  The hermitage hosts guests who want to participate in a residential retreat.  Christine participated in communal prayer in the mornings and Vespers and meditation in the evenings and filled her days with hiking and reading. 

In her book, Christine shares something of what she read – she found she resonated with Thoreau’s Walden, particularly where he describes the “quiet desperation” of people’s lives and the reason he went for walks in the woods was because he “wished to live life deliberately”.  She found that her experience at Camaldoli confounded her when she experienced something “both familiar and foreign” – including the fact that the sun seemed to sink into the ocean in the evenings whereas on the East coast of Australia where she lived, the sun rose from the ocean in the mornings.  Christine found that the silence and reflection afforded by the environment enabled her to experience serenity but she had realised that these feelings did not stick – she was unable to sustain them.

I look forward with anticipation to reading about the next chapter in her life of her exploration, titled “contemplation” – an interest that was stimulated by her reading Michael Casey’s book, Strangers to the City.

Reflection

In many ways , Christine’s book is a story of a journey that we all experience in some form or other – the quest for peace and tranquility in a busy world.  We find that silence, which is the gateway to this world of serenity and ease, is both elusive and ephemeral – and Christine’s story is a personal account of this journey and accompanying experiences.  For me, however, her story precipitates a number of personal recollections that are very strong to this day – it is as though I have shared something of her journey.  For example, I had also visited a heath retreat on the Gold Coast and could relate, in part, to her experience.

Christine’s description of the view from the Camaldoli monastery on a mountain top to the water below reminds me of the time that my wife and I attended Vespers at Eibingen Abbey, a community of Benedictine nuns, founded by Hildegard of Bingen (a true exemplar of stillness and silence and the creative genius that lies beneath).  At the time, we were staying on holiday in a friend’s place at Bingen on the Rhine in Germany.  The image above is a photo I took from Bingen looking across the Rhine towards Rüdesheim with the monastery in the background .

Christine’s description of monastic life brought back to me memories of my five years of silence as a contemplative monk in the Whitefriars Carmelite monastery at Donvale Victoria during the late 1960’s.  This involved a balanced life of prayer, meditation, Gregorian chant, physical activity on our dairy farm and extensive study (including reading and discussing the mammoth work of Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy)

Christine through her disarming honesty, transparency and clarity of writing takes each of us on a journey with her.  We can each see in our own lives, reflections of her struggle with the busyness of life and her search for serenity through silence – which she describes as “a space in which I could finally stop”.

As we grow in mindfulness by finding the silence and stillness in our own lives, we can develop an intimate self-awareness, learn to manage our difficult emotions, and achieve self-regulation in terms of our habituated behaviour.  In the silence if we persist, we can find tranquility, resilience, and creativity.

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Image Source – Photo by Ron Passfield, Looking from Bingen to Rüdesheim

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.

Quieting Your Mind to Bring Silence into Your Life

Allyson Pimentel, psychologist and mindfulness teacher, recently provided a guided meditation podcast on Keeping Quiet.  In the meditation, she stressed the importance of silence in our lives, particularly in these challenging times when people are experiencing fear, anxiety, uncertainty, worry, concern for their children and anger.   Allyson explained that mindfulness meditation involved “quieting the mind” while “opening the heart” – opening to compassion towards ourselves and towards others.  She maintained that by quieting the mind and experiencing the ensuing stillness and silence we can access our creativity and choose wise action.  In the silence of our inner landscape lies insight, strength, resilience, and the courage to take innovative action.

Allyson pointed out that by quieting the mind, we can deal with difficult emotions – we can stop ourselves from revisiting the past (our mistakes and inadequacies) and the associated depression and regrets, and we can stop predicting a negative future and the associated worry and anxiety.  In quietness and stillness, we can find the ease of the present moment, of being with “what is”.   Allyson drew on the words of  Pablo Neruda in his poem Keeping Quiet to envisage the outcome of each of us being quiet and doing nothing in the moment:

…perhaps a huge silence might interrupt the sadness of never understanding ourselves.

A guided meditation to quiet the mind

In her meditation podcast, Allyson offers a guided meditation designed to help you to quiet your mind – a mindfulness meditation characterised by extended periods of silence.  She suggests at the outset that you take a deep in-breath and enjoy an elongated out-breath as a way of settling into the present and the meditation.

Once you have settled, Allyson suggests that you begin to focus on your bodily sensations.  She encourages you to find a sensation in your body that you find pleasurable and to stay with the pleasure of the moment – quieting the mind and returning to your focus whenever distracting thoughts or emotions interfere.

You could focus on the pleasurable sensation of placing your fingers together – experiencing the sensation of touch and being touched, the tingling in your fingers, the feeling of warmth and energy coursing through your fingers, the sense of connectedness, the feeling of strength and power as you press them together and the sensation of gentleness as you lighten your touch.

Alternatively, you could focus on your breath, not trying to control it but just tapping into your process and sensations of breathing.  Here you might notice the coolness of the breath in your nose as you inhale, the sounds as you exhale, the sense of being alive and a sense of connection to every other living, breathing human or animal.

Reflection

The intensity of our pleasurable sensations can deepen with frequent practice. If we can quieten our minds often enough and for extended periods, we will experience the ease of being with the present moment and the power that this give us to manage our day and our life.  As we grow in mindfulness, our very presence can positively influence others and help them to deal with the waves and vicissitudes of their lives.  Our mindfulness can be for others as well as for ourselves.  We can not only bring the benefits of quieting the mind to ourselves but also extend them to others through our daily interactions.

Pablo maintains that if we can collectively quiet our minds and resist the urge to “keep our lives moving”, many of our global issues would be open to resolution as we moved together in an unfamiliar way:

It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines…

The weekly meditation podcasts conducted by MARC at UCLA provide what Allyson describes in her guided meditation as “companionable silence” – a way of regularly being quiet together and experiencing the power of silence.

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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.

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.

Developing Intentional Imagination

Mitra Manesh introduced the concept and practice of intentional imagination in a guided meditation podcast produced by MARC, UCLA.  Mitra has been practising and teaching meditation for 35 years and combines Eastern and Western approaches to meditation particularly for application within the corporate world.   She has developed the Inner Map app to enable people in the workplace and elsewhere to readily access and practise meditation and mindfulness.   Mitra also provides mindfulness approaches in her brief videos on Vimeo©.  In an earlier podcast, she provided an insightful meditation on the meaning of love.

Mitra points out at the outset that we all have and use imagination all the time.  The very act of worrying involves imagining an undesirable future.  In our dreams, our imagination holds sway and is not censored by the light of day.  Everything that we see around us – the buildings, bridges, tables, computers – were firstly imagined by somebody.   Imagination is what exists beyond our senses and yet it can create the reality that we see, feel, taste, hear and smell.  The power of imagination, then, is that it can make things happen.  As Napoleon Hill is quoted as saying, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve”.  Intention, focus, and imagination together can create a new reality in your life.

Intentional imagination meditation

Mitra introduces her intentional imagination meditation by combining sensation with imagination.  After becoming grounded you are encouraged to feel the sensation of your feet on the floor or ground and then imagine drawing the energy of earth up through your feet, through your legs to your belly.  While resting in this sensation of strength, you can engage in conscious breathing, noticing the movement in and out as your belly expands and contracts with each breath.   You can return to your feet again at any time, imaging that you are drawing up more energy into your belly and drawing on the connection and support that surround you.

After a period of silent and restful meditation, Mitra encourages you to envisage some current difficulty (that is relatively small) that you have in your life.  You then imagine placing it in the corner of a very large room – thus reinforcing your perception of it as small and insignificant.  Now imagine moving to another spacious corner and sensing the feeling of resolution of that difficulty.  You can even smile if that helps you to tap into the sensation of resolution, success and achievement.

Imagination can free us from false beliefs, enable us to see possibilities and enhance the power of mindfulness practices such as Tai Chi.  We can integrate imagination in many forms of meditation, e.g. in mantra meditations.  Imagination can take us outside of ourselves and help us to develop loving kindness and compassionate abiding.

Reflection

We so often overlook the power of imagination to create a better life – we let it control our thoughts by imagining a harmful future.  Particularly in these challenging times, we need to draw on our imagination to create new possibilities that are adaptive and life-enriching.  As we grow in mindfulness through mindfulness practices, intentional imagination meditation and reflection, we can access our creativity and build a better future for ourselves and those we interact with.

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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.

Insights Into Meditation Practice

Tami Simon from Sounds True interviewed world-renowned meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg, about the nature of meditation.  The interview podcast titled, Beginning Anew, provided some valuable insights into meditation practice and its outcomes.  By way of illustration of the many applications of meditation, Sharon spoke of her meditation work with the Garrison Institute helping to develop a “culture of wellness” amongst domestic violence health care workers.  She also mentioned her meditation work with nurses and international refugee workers who experience vicarious trauma because of the trauma of others that they experience every day and feel isolated because of their inability to talk about the truly disturbing things they encounter.  Some of the insights into meditation practice from her interview are summarised below.

Insights into how we can become renewed through meditation practice

Sharon’s interview podcast provided considerable insight into the nature of meditation and its personal impacts – the longer and more consistently we practise meditation, the more profoundly we will experience these impacts:

  • Seeing possibilities – when we are caught up in our difficult emotions and seemingly trapped, we tend to experience “tunnel vision”.  In the face of disruptive change, which is ever-present, we tend to focus on the “endings” rather than the “new beginnings”.  We can also become obsessed with projecting an adverse future onto our mind’s screen.  We become locked in, unable to see possibilities and the potential for new beginnings – the ability to “begin anew”.  Meditation stills the mind and enables us to identify creative options – it releases our creativity in times of change and challenge.
  • Gaining understanding – Sharon highlights this dimensionof meditationby focusing on the difference between guilt and remorse.  Guilt in her words is a form of “lacerating self-hatred” where we beat up on ourselves for our mistakes, deficiencies and harmful behaviour.  We convince ourselves that we will never change but will continue to be hurtful towards others.  Remorse, on the other hand, is genuine sorrow for causing hurt to others together with the ability for self-forgiveness.   Understanding, developed through meditation, releases us from being “mired in the pain and exhaustion of guilt” and enables us to have the energy, motivation and will to change.  Sharon describes understanding as “a tremendous tool”.
  • Changing our perspective – if we focus only on the things that are wrong or missing in our lives, we will miss the things in front of us that generate well-being and possibilities.  If we get locked into a pattern of negativity, we will lack the ability to “see clearly” – we will not be in a position to “serve ourselves or others”.  Research at the HeartMath® Institute demonstrates that negative emotions creates chaos in our nervous system while positive emotions “can increase the brain’s ability to make good decisions”.  Sharon points out that focusing on the negative in any situation disables us while insight gained through meditation can “create change and the context for change”.

Reflection

We can become trapped in a created, negative reality with the perception of no way forward, and become trapped in guilt about our past words and actions.  Sharon maintains that as we grow in mindfulness through meditation, we can open our eyes to possibilities, gain a real understanding of the difference between disabling guilt and enabling remorse and develop a perspective on change that enables us to move from negativity to positivity and sound decision making.  Sharon’s Insight Meditation Kit, developed with Joseph Goldstein, provides the tools and resources to help us remove hindrances to personal growth and develop the energy for personal change.

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Image by Ioannis Ioannidis 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.

Finding Equanimity through Meditating on the Elements of Nature

Allyson Pimentel offers a guided meditation podcast focusing on five elements of nature – earth, water, fire, air and space.  Her meditation, The Elemental Nature of Equanimity, is available through the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) where she is a meditation teacher.   In her guided meditations, Allyson highlights equanimity and a strong sense of connection as key benefits of mindfulness, whether focusing on the elements, our breath or our body.   In the elemental meditation she grounds us in the present moment through nature.  She speaks of equanimity as “the steadiness and responsivity of a mind that is settled”. 

Allyson states that equanimity provides us with balance when encountering the waves of life, however turbulent.  Being connected to the elements of nature calms us and gives us access to creative resolution of our problems and issues.  She refers, for example, to Ruth King, author of Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out, who in a recently published article emphasised the power of meditating on nature to develop equanimity in a “racialized world”.

Equanimity through five elements of nature

There are many ways to connect with nature.  However, Allyson’s approach can be followed anywhere.  You do not have to go for a bush walk or visit the ocean, you let your mind and body embrace the elements wherever you are.  By reflecting on the elements of nature, you can sense their “strength, fluidity, heat and softness”.  Her process involves a number of steps that move you deeper into connection with nature and a sense of equilibrium:

  • Grounding – Allyson begins by encouraging you to become grounded through your breath (a few, conscious deep breaths) and your body (sensing your body on your chair).
  • Connecting with the element of earth: this element can be experienced inside and outside your body.  You can sense the solidity of your body an its integrated form, the sensation of pressure at different points on your chair and the sensation of your fingers resting on your lap or touching each other, providing a conduit for heat and energy.  Moving your awareness to the earthiness outside your body, you can sense the form and strength of the earth – the mountains, trees and ground. 
  • Connecting with the element of water: again, water can be experienced within and without your body. So much of the composition of your body is water and other fluids such as blood coursing through your veins.  You can move your attention to water existing outside your body – the trickle of a stream over rocks, the power and incessant energy of waves crashing on the beach or the majesty of a waterfall.  You can sense the fluidity of water both within and without, encompassing you in the flow of energy and care.
  • Connecting with the element of fire:  you can start by sensing the heat in your body – the warmth in your hands and feet, your out-breath warming your in-breath, inner “combustion on a cellular level” and your whole body radiating the energy of heat.  You can think of your passions in life and how they ignite the heat in your body and generate the propensity to act, change and transform the external world.  Switching your attention to outside your body, you can marvel at the life-sustaining heat of the sun – radiating light, warmth and energy.
  • Connecting with the element of air: this brings us the full cycle to your breath – your in-breath and out-breath.  You can immerse yourself in the connectedness of the reciprocal exchange of air between your body and your external environment, “offering and receiving”.
  • Connecting with the element of space:  You can sense the space between your in-breath and out-breath and rest in this space.   You can immerse yourself in the limitless spaciousness that surrounds you.
  • Being absorbed in your connection:  Allyson suggests that the last 10 minutes of your meditation could involve revisiting one or more sources of connection with the elements of nature and absorbing the deep sense of connection, tranquillity and equanimity that arises through this awareness and absorption.

Reflection

This elemental meditation induces a sense of calm and connection with everything around us.  It reinforces how little we observe about ourselves and nature that surrounds us.  It brings into sharper relief the energy, tranquillity and equanimity that is readily accessible to us if we slow down to fully experience the present moment. An alternative version of this form of meditation is available from Ayya Khema’s article, The Elemental Self: Connecting with earth, fire, water and air within us, connects us with all of existence.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation on the elements of nature, we can more readily access the balance of equanimity, the energy within and without and our creativity to accept “what is” – whatever form it takes, including the grief, pain, anxiety and anger brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic.

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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.

Using Meditation to Let the Light In

Lynne Goldberg presented at the 2020 Mindfulness & Compassion Global Summit on the theme of Leonard Cohen’s words, The Crack is Where the Light Gets In.  Lynne spoke of her life experience where meditation enabled her to find joy, happiness and holistic success after a dark period of pain, grief, and anxiety.  The “crack” was the fracture of her external, projected veneer as the perfect wife, mother and businesswoman (Vice-President of a retail store).  Lynne epitomised what Harriet Braiker called The Type E Woman who had to be “everything to everybody”.

Lynne’s world fell apart when she lost her mother through cancer, her marriage through divorce and her twin daughters who died two days after their birth (after she had tried to conceive for six years).  Despite the turmoil in her life, Lynne tried to keep it together and be the perfect executive but lost her position.  Lynne numbed herself to the physical, emotional and mental pain she was experiencing.  It was only through meditation and improved nutrition that she was able to restore her equilibrium and find peace and happiness.  Up until then, she was full of self-loathing and self-recrimination.  She had to acknowledge to herself that “position and possessions” do not guarantee happiness – they were only the external trappings of “success”.  Meditation enabled Lynne to loosen the hold of false beliefs and let in the light of self-belief and self-esteem. 

Meditation to let the light in

Through meditation and nutrition Lynne found her balance and love for life and others.  She became a certified meditation teacher and described her odyssey in her book, Get Balanced, Get Blessed: Nourishment for Body, Mind, and Soul – a life journey that shares strategies and tools to overcome the stress of trying to be perfect and “control the uncontrollable”. Lynne is also a co-creator of the Breethe app.

In a recent interview with Beau Henderson discussing meditation’s role in challenging times, Lynne offered five steps to help us overcome fear and anxiety and achieve mindfulness and serenity:

  1. Set your intention – be very clear about why you want to develop a meditation practice and find ways to remind yourself of this intention.  Clarity of intention energises the discipline to maintain practice.
  2. Stay present – avoid wandering into the past and the uncertain future and practise restoring your focus to the present.  Some simple mindfulness practices such as mindful walking, focusing on the sensation of your fingers joined together or deep listening, can be helpful here.  You can also monitor your own words, e.g. when you say, “I can’t wait till the weekend!” or “I wish it was Friday”.
  3. Practice non-judgment – be with what is happening rather than judging it to be good or bad, e.g. the weather. 
  4. Let go of control – give up on trying to “manage the unmanageable” but do what you can to the best of your ability, given limited resources, time and understanding. 
  5. Go from “me” to “we” – help other and in the process help yourself to overcome fear and self-absorption. Compassionate listening in times of anxiety and uncertainty is a bridge to self-compassion and compassionate action towards others.

Lynne offers a 5-minute meditation that can be used at any time during your day to let the light in and bring peace and tranquillity to your life.

Reflection

There are many simple meditation practices that can help us to become grounded and to rest in equanimity.  The starting point is a clear intention to undertake a core meditation practice on a daily basis. Starting small enables us to build the discipline of consistency.  The core practice, even five minutes a day, can be supplemented by other mindfulness practices to build and sustain the momentum. 

Revisiting the benefits of our meditation and mindfulness practices helps to reinforce our intention and reward our discipline.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and mindfulness practice, we can overcome false beliefs, experience serenity, access our creativity and achieve holistic success.

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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.

Managing Remotely: Challenges and Opportunities

Managing remotely brings many challenges and these are compounded in the current uncertain times associated with the relentless march of the Coronavirus.  Managers like their staff can be ill-prepared for the sudden change in their work location and circumstances.  Managers who are used to seeing their staff daily and being able to observe what they are working on, lose that “line of sight” and can become anxious about their perceived loss of control.  Workers themselves can experience a sense of social isolation and can lack access to timely information and adequate technology.  These difficulties can be aggravated by distractions, particularly where there are young children at home and other children who need to maintain a school study program while being unable to attend school.  Managing remotely demands increased flexibility and adaptability on the part of managers, the willingness to “cut their staff some slack” and the emotional agility to manage themselves in times of crisis.

While the challenges of remote management are personally demanding for managers, particularly in times of uncertainty, there are also opportunities inherent in the remote circumstances.  These include the opportunity to develop stronger relationships with individual staff, to build effective teamwork and to promote creativity and capacity development.

The challenges of managing remotely

Staff working from home and/or in remote locations can lose their sense of belonging very quickly and become withdrawn and disengaged.  Managers on our Confident People Management (CPM) Program report that some of the other challenges that arise are:

  • Things can get out of hand quickly
  • Staff can become demotivated because they often do not know “what is going on” (compounded by the absence of the informal, “drink fountain” conversations that often entail sharing, “Did you know that…?”)
  • Misunderstandings and conflict can arise because of the lack of information and/or communication
  • Staff can feel a lack of support because the normal supports (presence of mentors, technical experts and resources) are not readily accessible
  • The working space and/or technology of staff working from home may not be ideal
  • The potential for negative cohesion and “groupthink” to arise in the absence of the physical presence of the manager
  • Staff can experience feeling isolated and this sense of disconnection from others can compound, or be the catalyst for, mental health issues such as loneliness and depression
  • Managing poor performance can be more difficult because of the loss of “line of sight”, the lack of face-to-face interaction and the extra demands of communicating and problem solving on a more regular or routinised basis.

People ideally suited to working remotely are those who are self-reliant, strong communicators, self-directed, resilient, trustworthy and outcomes/results focused.   Unfortunately, in these times of enforced working from home arrangements, managers do not get the opportunity to decide who is personally suited to working from home and whose work is adaptable to a working from home environment.  This situation of lack of control over a critical aspect of decision making can be particularly challenging for a manager and also make performance management even more difficult because some people will not be suited to these quickly implemented, new working arrangements.  The current need for social isolation and social distancing for both managers and staff can place an added burden on the manager and can make it difficult for them to maintain a positive mindset when faced with the added challenges of complexity, uncertainty and anxiety (their own and that of their staff).

The opportunities of managing remotely

Managers on our current CPM Program report that the remote management situation has surprisingly improved their communication with individual staff when they use video as apart of remote communications technology (such as Zoom© or Microsoft Teams©).  Both managers and staff are finding it easier to share openly and with some degree of vulnerability in this new context.  They put these relationship improvements down to the lack of workplace distractions, the absence of an open office environment where privacy is sacrificed in the misguided pursuit of efficiency and a mutual sense of vulnerability (occasioned by the Coronavirus).

With the right strategies for managing remotely, managers can create opportunities for staff to develop new skills, build resilience, improve teamwork and collaboration and gain more enjoyment and motivation in their work.  As the oft-quoted English-language proverb goes, Necessity is the mother of invention – the need to do something imperative about something that is significant to working effectively, generates creativity and innovation.  Both managers and staff are forced to find new ways of working and communicating to maintain their own sense of agency and to achieve the desired team outcomes.

Reflection

There is a tendency to see only the challenges inherent in remote management because of our natural negative bias when we feel threatened or forced to go outside our comfort zone.  However, there are very real opportunities involved in managing remotely, not the least of these being the catalyst to involve managers in accelerated self-development.  As managers grow in mindfulness through meditation, mindfulness practices and reflection they can build their personal resilience, enhance their capacity to make “adaptive change” in their behaviour and more readily access their creativity and innovation.  With every challenge there is an opportunity for personal growth if the manager has worked at creating fertile ground, through mindfulness, for their own flourishing.

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Image by Anrita1705 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.

Working from Home and Staying Mentally Healthy

Many people have been thrust into the situation of working from home because of the Coronavirus and related Government restrictions on movement and contact.  As a result, numerous people are ill-prepared for the challenges and opportunities involved.  However, there is plenty of advice available through blog posts, videos and podcasts to help us acquire the necessary information to work effectively from home.  There are also specific suggestions for particular groups of people, e.g. teachers working from home and working from home with kids. Many of these sources of information stress the need to stay mentally healthy as well as look after your physical welfare.  Here are some strategies to achieve both effectiveness and sound mental health.

Strategies for working from home healthily for mind and body

The pattern you create needs to meet your personal preferences (e.g. a morning person vs. night person), your lifestyle, family situation and location.  Here are some suggestions that may help you to make choices that are relevant to your needs and those around you:

  • Negotiate arrangements – this entails reaching at least a tentative agreement at the outset with other affected parties such as your boss, you partner and your colleagues – having some clear understandings and groundrules at the outset can pave the way for a relatively smooth transition to working from home and avoiding unnecessary conflict at a time when everyone is feeling stressed.  If you have a partner living at home with you, it pays to negotiate arrangements about working space, quiet time, coffee buying or making and eating arrangements (e.g. getting your own breakfast and lunch but sharing dinner preparation and eating).  It is often the little things that can bring daily angst if they are not sorted out early.  If you have had an extended marriage or living together arrangement, groundrules get established unconsciously and it pays to explore how these might change with one or both of you working from home.
  • Establish a routine: this gives you a sense of agency, the feeling that some aspects of your life are under control when everything else is changing constantly and creating uncertainty and anxiety.  It is strongly suggested by many authors that you maintain your daily routine of getting ready for work (e.g. showering, getting dressed well, and beginning work at a set time).  I think some flexibility here can be healthy without jeopardising your ability to work effectively and not waste time.  You might, for example, wear more comfortable clothes, introduce a morning exercise routine (to take advantage of the time saved in not having to travel to work), occasionally sleep in when you feel tired from the extra stress created by the Coronavirus) and take time for conscious reflection (e.g. writing a journal about what you are experiencing and how you are responding). Sleep is particularly important at this time to enable your body and mind to recuperate from the stresses that you will be experiencing.
  • Develop an exercise program: physical exercise reduces stress and builds positive mental health.  It is wonderful to see so many people making the most of their additional time at home to walk, run or ride in the open (particularly along the bayside where I live).   Yoga and Tai Chi, offer physical, mental and emotional benefits in these times of stress and anxiety. Getting some fresh air is important – there can be a tendency with social isolation and safe distancing to become stuck in your home and not take in the benefits of time spent mindfully in nature.  Activity is a great antidote to anxiety and depression.
  • Don’t sweat the news: in times of uncertainty, there is a strong tendency to become obsessive about news reports (via newspapers, emails, social media or podcasts).  This not only dissipates your focus but also exacerbates difficult feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness.  Obviously, some information is important to know (e.g. available relief packages for individuals or businesses and Government advice/directives/legislation relevant to the Coronavirus).  Experts in the area of mental health suggest that establishing a set time or times during the day for catching up on the news can be a useful way to proceed (do you really have to be the first to know?).   It also pays to take note of the positive news, e.g. the many random acts of kindness that are occurring everywhere in the world as people struggle to cope with the present crisis.
  • Stay connected: with your work colleagues and boss – establish a routine for checking-in (preferably daily) as well as strategies to effectively employ electronic communication for planning, sharing and product/service development.  There is a need here to maintain the balance between work and task – not oversharing social information but not being overly focused on work alone.  Some work-from-home groups institute a set time each week to share recipes, a virtual lunch experience or happy hour, a sing-along or coping strategies. 
  • Undertake special projects: there are often work-related, home-based projects that have been put off because of lack of time or prioritising.  These projects can improve your work-from-home situation and enhance your productivity.  They could involve, for instance, clearing up the clutter in your “office”, strengthening the security of your computer system, improving recycling in the home (including disposal of sensitive work information) or establishing a home-based coffee-making machine or a filtered water system such as the Zanzen Alkaline Water System.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, recently participated in a Ted Connects© interview and provided deep insight and very sound advice about dealing with the overwhelm of the current Coronavirus crisis.  She advices strongly against substituting the busyness of the workplace environment with a new form of busyness in the working from home environment.  Elizabeth argues that we spend so much time running away from ourselves, not fronting up to ourselves including our fear and anxiety.  She argues that the present situation of enforced or voluntary working from home creates a wonderful opportunity for developing self-awareness and self-regulation through meditation, mindfulness practices and reflection.  Often our greatest, unconscious fear is being-alone-with-our-self.  We seek distractions and fill up our time with multiple tasks only to find that we have no time to truly find ourselves. 

Reflection

The current working from home situation that many of us face has inherent challenges and opportunities compounded by the requirements around social distancing, safe distancing and avoidance of unnecessary travel (local and international).  Clarifying working arrangements, establishing a routine, developing an exercise program, avoiding obsessing over the news, staying connected and undertaking special projects that enhance a sense of control over your environment, are all important for a healthy mind and body. 

However, the real challenge and opportunity lies in developing self-awareness and self-management through meditation, mindfulness practices and reflection.  As we grow in mindfulness, we enhance our focus (at a time of intensified distraction), our resilience (at a time of extreme mental and emotional stress), our creativity (when we appear lost for personal and community solutions) and our compassion (when so many people worldwide are suffering and grieving).  In all of this turmoil and uncertainty, there lies the opportunity to truly find ourselves.

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Image by Igor Ovsyannykov 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.

Turning Fear into Resilience in the Time of the Coronavirus

Rick Hanson recently produced a Being Well Podcast focused on Fear in the Time of the Coronavirus.  He provided strategies to deal with fear (both rational and irrational) and to convert fear to resilience by drawing on our inner resources – determination, true grit, courage and creativity.  Rick is the author of Resilient: Find your inner Strength and provides numerous resources on his website to help us develop resilience, wisdom, happiness and mindful relationships.  

His emphasis is on building personal agency.  With the Coronavirus impacting every facet of our lives and reducing our sense of control over our home and work environment, we are experiencing a loss of our “sense of agency”.   We often try to redress this lack of a sense of agency by adopting ineffective ways to regain control over our environments, e.g. panic buying of water, toilet paper and sanitisers.  We can feel helpless and, in consequence, resort to ways of coping that result in misplaced and unproductive effort.

Anxiety can operate on a number of dimensions – e.g. unhelpful or useful anxiety.  At the extreme, we can be too anxious (disabled by our fear) which is unhelpful and harmful to our mental health, overall wellness and our relationships.  Useful anxiety, the mind’s warning system, can create a sense of urgency/intense focus and stimulate constructive action and a strong sense of agency which, in turn, cultivates resilience.  Alternatively, we can be consumed by our sense of helplessness and end up “marinating in it” – to the point where we experience depression and the associated inertia.

Turning fear into resilience

Rick suggest three processes you can adopt to move from helplessness to a sense of agency and personal resilience.  The basic steps involve:

  1. Being fully with your current experience – facing your difficult thoughts and emotions and the reality of the challenges both present and ahead.  This means naming your feelings (such as anxiety, pain, fear, frustration) and being with them, not denying them out of a need to appear totally in control.  It means not giving into your “shoulds” that come with your absolutes.  It is human and normal to be anxious and fearful when confronted with the reality of the Coronavirus.  The choice lies in deciding whether to maintain a sense of helplessness or to move towards a sense of agency and control.
  2. Release thoughts and emotions that are harmful – This includes letting go of obsessive thinking and the endless cycle of “what if” (catastrophising).  It means to treat our emotions as data informing us about a threat to our wellbeing.  We are more than our thoughts and emotions.  It means avoiding absorption with the latest media posts and news, when we cannot do anything about the reported information, or the situations involved.   The reporting is typically sensationalist, alarmist and distorted and is designed to induce fear and dependence.  Don’t sweat the news for your own personal welfare and mental health.
  3. Shift your attention to what would be beneficial for you and others you interact with or service – this means focusing on what you can do in the situation, given all the constraints that you are experiencing.  It means moving from inertness to being creative in the way you spend your time – finding things to focus on and do that are helpful to yourself, your family and those you interact with.  This could involve rethinking your workday, using online communication technology (such as Zoom) or reengineering your business (adopting take-away options, providing delivery services, or switching manufacturing to a much-needed resource in the current crisis, e.g. rum and gin distilleries producing bottles of sanitisers).  The oft-spoken saying – “necessity is the mother of invention” – is particularly true at this time.  The opportunity exists to use this time of social isolation, social distancing and business lockdown to develop new horizons and new skills.  Adopting activities that promote a positive mindset can be helpful here.

Tools to overcome unhelpful anxiety

Rick offered a range of suggestions that can enable you to overcome harmful anxiety and move to proactive action to do things that are beneficial for yourself and others.

  1. Use your breathing to calm your body – Rick suggests taking three breaths (exhalation longer than inhalation, giving a resting state of the body).  There are multiple ways you can use your breath to calm yourself and restore your equanimity, e.g. the somatic awareness approach recommended by Jill Satterfield or “breathing in time” suggested by Richard Wolf.
  2. Tune into your inner strength – revisit your determination, courage, and resilience to strengthen your inner reserves.  It can be helpful here to visualise success in your adaptive endeavours and/or reflect on past experiences where you have drawn on these personal strengths to overcome adversity or seemingly impossible challenges.
  3. Social support – appreciating the care and support that others show towards you, including your partner, family, friends and colleagues.   It also extends to caring for others and engaging others in the process of caring and providing social support to the less fortunate.
  4. Plan and act – appraise the situation and plan some action, however small, that will move you forward.  Rick reinforces the view that “action forces out anxiety”.  Positive action can change our mental state.
  5. When you feel okay, internalize the feeling – we tend to take it for granted that we will feel okay.  However, in times of stress and uncertainty, it is important to notice when you are feeling okay and internalise this feeling of coping well to strengthen it.  This positive self-feedback builds self-efficacy which means that you are building up your belief in your capacity to manage stressful situations.

Reflection

Fear can be disabling if we let it grow unabated.  It is natural to feel anxiety and fear when things are so uncertain, and everything associated with our normal life seems out of our control.  Fear, however, can be harmful unless we look at it fully in the face and understand what it is telling us about the situation we find ourselves in.  There are ways to calm our mind, emotions and our body if we choose.  There are also constructive things that we can do to manage our situation and our emotional response.  As we grow in mindfulness and self-awareness, we can turn fear into resilience by being able to regulate our response and draw on our inner strength to meet the challenges with determination, courage and creativity.

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Image by JamesDeMers 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.