Natural Awareness through Nature

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

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

An experience of natural awareness

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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Image by Waldemar Zielinski from Pixabay

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

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

Coping with Grief During the Pandemic

Jenée Johnson, mindfulness trainer and visionary leader in the public health space, gave an enlivening and inspiring presentation during the current Healing Healthcare: A Global Mindfulness Summit.  In her talk, Honoring Grief with Your Whole Heart, she highlighted the collective grief resulting from the pandemic and offered processes and tools to cope with grief, whether pandemic-driven or the result of life’s normal circumstances.  She mentioned that she had been well equipped for the pandemic – having the solidity of a house, finances, nutrition, supportive partner, work and a relevant skillset – but she too found the pandemic “unmooring”. 

Jenée experienced the added personal grief of the death of her brother – an experience I can relate to with the recent death of my brother Pat.  However, her brother died not only from the isolation associated with the pandemic but also from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from 9/11.  Jenée spoke of grief, whether personal or collective grief, as depleting and “an energy expenditure”.  She maintained that the pandemic created a “tsunami of emotions” which Dr. Lise Van Susteren describes as “emotional inflammation”.  

Ways to cope with grief

While Jenée acknowledged that the pandemic and associated events impacted individuals differentially, grief was a common outcome – a sense of loss of people, a way of life and/or positive memories.   She contended, however, that there are ways to replenish ourselves, rebuild our energy and achieve emotional regulation.  Some of the ways to cope with grief that Jenée suggested are:

  • Firstly, acknowledge that the reactions of fear, anger and grief are natural human responses.  The challenge is how we manage or regulate these difficult emotions in a time that is constantly unmooring us from our established way of doing things and our regular supports.  The pandemic and personal grief impact our whole human system – our minds, hearts, body and emotions. 
  • Cultivate awareness of everything that has happened to you over the period of the pandemic and subsequently.  Jenée suggested that we need to attend to, rather than hide from, our emotional state.  There is a tendency to shut down and block out painful feelings and recollections but unless we face them, they can overwhelm us when we least expect.  She mentioned that there were times when she cried and wailed after her brother’s death, releasing pent-up emotions.
  • Central to Jenée’s approach is heart-focused breathing.  She stated that when we breathe deeply and release our out-breath we can let go of what is constraining us.  The HeartMath Institute that has pioneered research on the intelligence of the heart has promoted heart-focused breathing and developed a suite of tools, programs and videos to promote health and wellbeing.  They contend that heart-focused breathing contributes to heart coherence which helps to balance mental and emotional energy and activate creativity.  Jenée argued that this form of breathing creates space for energy, enables the pain of grief to move through us and opens us up to flourish and experience joy and pleasure once again.
  • Change our expectations about our capacity to focus and achieve productivity.  Jenee suggested that is not reasonable to expect that we can be as productive during the pandemic as we were before and the same applies to personal grief.  The pandemic and personal grief contribute to a depletion of energy and reserves.  Rather than overload our system with unrealistic expectations, it is important to modify our expectations in the light of our reduced energy levels.  For example, I have to reduce my expects about how many posts I can write per week given my recent grief and the accumulated effects of the pandemic.  Some people have gone so far as to change their expectations about he nature of their work and sought more fulfilling and rewarding work that is less depleting in terms of time and energy.
  • Pamper ourselves with things that relax us – spending more time reading novels or the paper, sleeping in when appropriate, enjoying a massage, purchasing aromatherapy oils or indulging in treats (Jenée admitted that coffee and almond croissants are one of her treats – something else I have in common!).  One of the dangers is to resort to alcohol to dampen our pain (alcohol sales have exploded during the pandemic) and we need to be cognisant of the impact of increased alcohol consumption on our sobriety goals and this may entail a reassessment of the “reward value” of consuming more alcohol in times of grief. 
  • Rebuilding social connections through our recreation and work activities. Resuming social activities such as social tennis or dancing (where permitted) along with walking generates movement which in turn builds up dopamine which makes us feel good.  Sometimes grief brings extended family members together and creates the opportunity to develop new connections or re-establish old ones.  In the workplace, we could begin our meetings with a grounding exercise followed by an emotional “check-in” to see how everyone is coping – putting people ahead of task in these challenging times.
  • Practicing gratitude can generate appreciation and joy even amidst grief and pain. Jenée suggested buying a beautiful gratitude journal and an exquisite pen to cultivate the habit of journal writing and expressing gratitude.  She recommended Robert Emmons’ book, Gratitude Works, for its insights on the benefits of gratitude and its tips on ways to foster gratitude. 

Reflection

Jenée quoted Jon Kabat-Zin when he said that “the challenge of mindfulness is to be present for your experience as it is”, not as you wish it to be or try to make it different by denying the reality of the experience and your related thoughts and emotions.  Mindfulness can build resilience in challenging times as has been proven by extensive research.   As we grow in mindfulness and enhance our self-awareness, we are better able to gain insights into the way forward, develop the courage to face our fears and increase our window of tolerance.  We can experience gratitude, joy, renewed energy, and heightened creativity.

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Image by SEBASTIEN MARTY 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.

Overcoming Conditioning: The Road to Sobriety

Veronica Valli and Chip Somers, psychotherapists and sobriety coaches, provide a video podcast which focuses on, “How to stop drinking without feeling like you are missing out”.   Both have recovered from extended substance abuse and share their knowledge, skills and life stories to help others experience recovery.  Throughout the video they explore the false beliefs that lead us to maintain our level of alcohol drinking and that serve to entrench our habituated behaviour.  They explore the outside influences that reinforce our false beliefs and unhelpful/unhealthy habits.  Veronica and Chip offer a way forward for anyone who wants to overcome their conditioning and achieve sobriety – a road to recovery that they have used to help many hundreds of people recover and achieve a truly successful life.  They also offer a Soberful podcast with more than 150 episodes incorporating success stories to help people sustain their efforts to achieve sobriety. 

The power of false beliefs

Chip and Veronica point out that underpinning our habituated drinking behaviour is a set of false beliefs that influence our thoughts and emotions on a daily (even hourly) basis.  These false beliefs relate to the nature of the rewards offered by alcohol drinking and the fear of exclusion through living a boring life if not drinking.  The fundamental false belief is that alcohol is the passport to a promised land – the land of fun, excitement, relaxation, a sense of connection and belonging, sex and romance.  The power of this belief is fuelled by our conviction that this is the desired land – the place we want to be.  Associated with that is the fear that if we stop, or even reduce, our alcohol drinking we will be seen as boring and be excluded from the desired land of personal fulfillment.

External influences reinforcing false beliefs

Television advertising with its ability to create colourful and exciting scenarios portray a culture where drinking is the road to inclusion and fun.  The images portrayed in advertisements entice us to sit back and relax with a drink or to party on with others who are having a good time.  Some ads even focus on the pain of exclusion for those who are not part of the drinking set.  Wine and beer advertising through social media, text messages and email is continuous and unrelenting, promising the ”good life” if you participate and partake.  Newspapers offer special advertisements that encourage you to sign up for weekly/monthly shipments of alcohol at special discounted prices. If you happen to join a wine club, they are very ready to make you “one-off offers” that are “specially designed for you” – and they can make this very targeted by tracking your frequent purchases.  A culture of drinking permeates our society and it is very difficult to break the hold of this cultural entanglement.

The road to sobriety

Both Veronica and Chip stress that the road to sobriety can be a long journey where the early stages can be quite difficult as we try to break the hold of our false beliefs and the influence of family, friends and peer group that can hold us back – sometimes with the disarming comment, “Oh come on, don’t be a bore!”   

One of the primary ways that Chip highlights to begin the road to recovery is a “reality check” or what is often called “a cost/benefit analysis”.  Chip insists that we face the reality of the costs of drinking alcohol for us personally and don’t downplay or overlook the negative impact on family, friends, work output, social relationships, health and wellbeing and overall productivity.  Facing the reality of our lack of sobriety can be painful and entails a thorough reassessment of the reward value that we consciously or unconsciously ascribe to drinking alcohol.   

Veronica focused on the need for social support to reinforce our efforts to achieve recovery.  She maintains that social support is necessary to reduce the likelihood of falling back into old habits or the stop/start pattern that can develop when we go it alone.  To this end, Veronica offers a Soberful Facebook group and a paid online Soberful Life Program with monthly workshops, support meetings, training videos, and podcast discussions – all facilitated by professional experts and established authors in the field of sobriety.   

In her latest book, Soberful: Uncover a Sustainable, Fulfilling Life Free of Alcohol,Veronica offers other ways to begin the journey to recovery and sustain a life of sobriety.  She highlights the emotional skills needed to sustain our recovery efforts and identifies effective strategies to manage the difficult emotions that we often try to avoid or numb through alcohol.  She discusses in detail what she describes as the Five Pillars of Sustainable Sobriety which she identifies as movement, connection balance, process and growth (this is also offered as a free Masterclass). 

Reflection

The road to sobriety is very much an individual journey and both Chip and Veronica have travelled this road over many years in their earlier lives.  They have experienced the challenges, the setbacks, pressures and the big and small victories.  Veronica found that journalling and meditation (undertaken over more than 20 years) have helped her to sustain her sobriety and Chip highlighted the positive influence of “expressing gratitude for what he has” as a sustaining force.

One of the ways to recovery involves a process of reflection on what “messaging” we give ourselves on a particular occasion when we chose to drink alcohol.   We can review, for example, whether our behaviour was motivated by a reward mindset – just one or two drinks to reward ourselves for overcoming a difficult situation, achieving a successful outcome, celebrating an anniversary or birthday.  Bringing awareness to our personal messaging helps us to identify the specific motivators that underlie our habituated behaviours. 

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection, listening to podcasts, participating in workshops/programs or meditating, we can grow in self-awareness and identify the drivers behind our habits, including the habit of drinking alcohol, and develop the necessary emotional regulation to enable us to achieve a desired state of sobriety.

I have personal experience of the damaging effects of alcohol through my experience of an alcoholic father who lacked any support mechanism for his post-traumatic stress syndrome resulting from three and a half years as a prisoner-of-war in Changi.  After a marriage breakup and a successful remarriage, he became a model of sobriety, giving up drinking alcohol completely, and keeping fit by walking for an hour every day.

This family history has motivated me to avoid alcoholism.  However, I still feel the pressures, internal and external, to have a regular glass of wine (a variable regularity governed, to some degree, by my life circumstances at the time – such as the recent death of my brother Pat Passfield).  My strategy to move towards my desired level of sobriety is to reflect on what motivates my behaviour in particular circumstances and to do a reality check covering the real cost of the occasional drink (e.g. on health and relationships). 

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Image by pen_ash from Pixabay

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

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

My Brother Pat: Compassion-in-Action

My brother Pat Passfield died at Sinnamon Village Aged Care on the 27January 2022 aged 81.  Pat joined the Jacob’s Court community in June 2012, having arrived in a wheelchair after brain surgery.  However, “Positive Pat” as he was often called, was determined to be up and about and walking again.  So, in January 2013, he began a virtual walk around Australia to improve his health and fitness and to raise funds for charities, including the Wesley Mission who ran Sinnamon Village.

Throughout his early and mid-life, Pat had been a very accomplished athlete – excelling in golf, tennis and squash.  Having played A1 Squash, he went on to represent Queensland at Masters level for 5 years and was immensely proud to tell anyone that the Queensland team won the Australian Championship in each of those five years that he played for them.  Pat learned early in life to savour his achievements and this contributed in no small measure to his positive attitude, resilience and capacity to bounce back from setbacks.

Pat brought the same determination and discipline to his virtual walking for charity as he did to his sporting endeavours.  He was incredibly determined that his kilometres covered were accurately recorded and he knew where he was on any virtual walk.  He would even study the towns that he would go through virtually so that he had a clear sense of travelling to a destination.  This was borne out beautifully in a video that shows Spencer Howson (612 ABC Breakfast Radio Show) on Pat’s virtual arrival in Cairns – with pictures of Pat crossing the finishing line at Sinnamon Village.   He used this particular virtual tour to raise sponsorship funds for Diabetes Australia and frequently mentioned how his walking endeavours resulted in his overcoming his own type 2 diabetes. 

Pat started off his virtual walking trips with a mobility walker and eventually a walking stick, and in the early stages was doing 4 kilometres a week, which he gradually extended to 10 kilometres a week and then to 12 to 14 kilometres per day.  Pat would start his day with early morning walks (5.30 am) along the corridors of Sinnamon Village and then progress to collecting and distributing the mail to residents, taking shopping trips for himself and other residents to Coles (a few hundred metres away) and walking the village dog.  He would also take trips by bus to other nearby shopping centres to meet the needs of residents.

Pat constantly expressed gratitude for those who had helped him recover his health and achieve what he had achieved in terms of raising funds for charity.  He was a living/walking example of the positive power of gratitude.  He was especially grateful to the medical professionals at Sinnamon Village – doctors, nurses, hydro therapists, physiotherapists and staff who provided day care and therapy – and often referred to how they had provided guidance and support.  He was grateful, too, to his many sponsors including Coles, Athlete’s Foot and the Jindalee Hotel (where he built up a strong relationship through his frequent visits for seafood lunches and the very welcome steak).  Pat frequently expressed gratitude for the little things through micro-gestures – e.g. when I visited him in hospital two weeks before his death, he thanked me a least three times over the course of an hour for “coming all this way” to see him (a 30 minute journey by car).

Pat was not reticent to approach politicians for support of his charitable works. Jess Pugh, MP for Mount Ommaney, recalls that Pat “beat a path to her door” to seek funding for a special project – a MOTOMED Exercise Machine for wheelchair-bound residents of Youngcare Sinnamon Village.  Jess was able to report that with assistance Pat was successful in gaining a grant from the Gambling Community Benefit Fund to purchase the machine. My sister recalls that shortly after the election of Milton Dick as Federal Member for Oxley, Pat was on his doorstep encouraging him to visit a “very special place”, Sinnamon Village.  When Milton did turn up at the Village, Pat gave him a guided tour of the complex, pointing out its special features.  Milton subsequently gave a speech in Federal Parliament about Pat’s “outstanding contribution” to community life and mentioned that the Shadow Minister for Ageing and Mental Health had given Pat a Certificate of Appreciation in recognition for his services to the community.  Milton subsequently became a friend of Pat and was very saddened by his death, reaching out to my sister to express his condolences.  Pat will be acknowledged further in the future for his contribution of thousands of dollars to the charities he supported.  His virtual walking and related fund-raising activities gave increased visibility to the plight of the aged and people with disabilities, especially youth.

Reflection

Pat was forever grateful to Sinnamon Village, CEO and staff, for their support of his charitable activities and his virtual walking. Their efforts reinforce the value of providing agency to people in aged care (that research has shown to be extremely positive in terms of mental and physical health outcomes).   Through his developed and supported sense of agency Pat went on to become a Resident Representative, to improve the health quality of meals in the Village, to engage residents in his gardening activities (by having them care for seedlings) and to successfully agitate for a level crossing outside the Village to enable residents to cross a multi-lane, busy road on their way to shopping or eating out.  In his last days, Pat’s doctor urged him to return to hospital.  Pat’s response was, “If I am going to die, I am not going to die in hospital, I want to die here [Sinnamon Village]”.

Pat demonstrated that focusing on a life purpose can build resilience in the face of setbacks and ill-health, stimulate happiness and joy, facilitate the realisation of personal capacity and creativity and enable the development of compassionate action.  He showed by his life in aged care that each of us, despite our physical and mental limitations, can make a contribution to others and the broader community – we each have a unique set of skills, experiences and knowledge that we can use in the service of others.  Pat drew on his salesman’s skills (he had sold forklifts very successfully in his earlier life) and his sport’s determination and resilience to engage others in his charity projects – people with power, influence, visibility and resources. 

Pat’s influence extended throughout and beyond Sinnamon Village, partly influenced by his extroverted character.   Because of his love of gardening and his “green fingers” he had been given responsibility for an acre of vegetable and herb gardens which he tended with considerable loving care.  He was very proud of the fact that staff would frequently visit “his” garden to gather tomatoes, herbs and leafy vegetables for their lunches.  He also built a relationship with the nearby Creative Garden Early Learning Centre at Sinnamon Park.  The relationship had reciprocal benefits – Pat established a children’s garden which the children from the Early Learning Centre would tend weekly and make their own and they, in turn, provided concerts for the residents of the Village.

As we reflect on our life and the lives of others and grow in mindfulness – awareness of the present moment and its potentiality – we come to appreciate all we have in life, develop an increased sense of our life purpose and capacity to contribute to the welfare of others and build resilience in the face of challenging times.

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Image by Larisa Koshkina 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.

Life is Like Playing Tennis

Daily living has a lot in common with playing tennis – this does not suggest that they are exactly the same, only that they have some features in common when observed from an effectiveness viewpoint.  As with any metaphor, to say that life is “like playing tennis” is to say that there are some aspects that are the same in each thing being compared.  Life and playing tennis are characterised by uncertainty and challenges, require constant adaption, are affected by our mental and emotional state and can be a source of happiness or disappointment.

When playing tennis, as in life, you are uncertain about the next ball/challenge you will have to face.  In tennis, the shot you have to deal with can vary in spin, speed, and direction and be affected by external factors such as wind and air temperature and the kind of surface you are playing on, as well as the condition of that surface.   In life, we are faced with all kinds of challenges such as financial and health issues, relationship problems or adverse work conditions as well as broader issues such as financial constraints or heath crises such as the pandemic.

I have to admit that I am a “tennis tragic” having played tennis for over 60 years and continuing to do so in my 70’s.  I only play social tennis now once a week (compared to in my youth when I played morning and afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays, including different forms of fixtures and coaching).   As with life, I have had to make continual adaptions as I age.   I have decided, for example, that I need a new tennis racquet to provide better support for my game.  I requested a new racquet from my wife for my recent 75th birthday –  a racquet that is lighter and has a larger frame (for failing eyesight).   This replaced my 20-year old tennis racquet which was badly in need of a restring to restore power and precision.  

They say that to ward off Alzheimer’s disease you need to exercise and learn a new skill that challenges you and provides you with mental stimulation.  Again to overcome the declining strength in my arms and wrists, I decided to learn how to play a two-handed backhand instead of the single-handed backhand that I have used for the last 60 years plus.  This is incredibly challenging for me, not only from a technical viewpoint but also from the perspective of incorporating it psychologically in my game, with the high probability in the early stages of making a lot more mistakes when playing a tennis game.  It means  that I have to take more risks, reflect on what I am doing wrong and manage my mental and emotional reactions to the higher level of mistakes

To help me start out with the requisite technical knowledge, I asked by my sons to pay for three professional coaching lessons (as a 75th birthday present) which gave me a good grounding in the technique required to achieve an effective two-handed backhand.  Now, I just have practice to acquire the technical competency of a two-handed backhand and learn to manage my fear of making a lot of mistakes as I learn to adapt my shot and my positioning to different balls that I will face in a tennis game.  Fear can prevent me from trying out the two-handed backhand in a real game and deprive me of the opportunity to learn as I go.  As with life, I have to learn to manage my fears if I am to achieve a rewarding level of competency and joy.  

Over many years, I have learned to develop a number of principles for playing tennis effectively – a set of principles that have relevance to achieving a life that is fulfilling and happy.  I describe these principles below and they may serve to reinforce a positive approach to life.

My six principles for effective and joyful tennis playing are:

  1. As I approach each night of social tennis, I decide on one micro skill that I am going to concentrate on improving during that night (usually over three or four sets).  There are so many micro-skills involved in playing tennis that it is not possible or effective to concentrate on everything.  As with making resolutions in life to improve your behaviour, focusing on a single goal can prove to be more achievable, effective and reinforcing.   This process employed on each occasion of playing, has served as the basis for continuous improvement, one micro skill at a time.
  2. When playing, I make continuous adaptions to my game to adjust to the circumstances – different players and different conditions.  If some particular tennis stroke is not working or getting me into trouble, I try something different.  Over the years I have developed multiple forms of spin such as top spin, slice, back spin, “out-swinger” (spins away from the body of my opponent) and “in-swinger” (spins into the body).  I adapt my spin to suit the circumstances, e.g. the type of players I am playing against and the external conditions.
  3. Over the last few years dealing with declining physique, I have had to change my mindset playing tennis.  Earlier on when I was much more physically able, I used to try to avoid making mistakes.  But increasingly now, mistakes are a part of the game of tennis.  So I have come to view playing each shot as an experiment – in the face of the numerous variables involved in a tennis shot (both received and hit), it realistic to view playing tennis as a process of conscious “trial and error”, with relevant adjustments for what is deemed to be an error in shot selection and/or delivery.
  4. Instead of dwelling on mistakes I make in a game, I try to savour my really good shots – those that were executed well with the desired effect.  Over time, I have built up a mental video playlist of really good shots which serve to build my sense of self-efficacy – my belief in my capacity to competently complete a particular shot (e.g. a backhand, half-volley lob). 
  5. The challenge when continuously making mistakes or doing the wrong thing, is to avoid beating up on yourself.  I am learning instead to appreciate the fact that I can still run, play a tennis shot, enjoy a game with friends, have ready access to tennis courts and be able to afford to play.  When I am tempted to chastise myself for a poor shot, I try to express gratitude for the things that I have and can do on a tennis court.
  6. Over time, as my physical capacities have declined, I have had to adjust my expectations of what I am capable of achieving.   In my secondary school days, I was trained as a sprinter and achieved selection at GPS level.  Now I am a lot slower off the mark.  I have had to change my expectations about my speed and mobility around the court and capacity to hit fast tennis shot (owing to weakening strength in my arms and wrists).  I do try to strengthen my wrists and arms through exercise but this can only serve to reduce the rate of decline.  In the meantime, I have had to adjust my expectations (though sometimes, I attempt to play like a 40 year old…and suffer accordingly!).
  7. I have taken up again the regular practice of Tai Chi which helps to build balance, flexibility, reflexes, coordination and overall energy.  I have learned that Tai Chi has quite remarkable benefits for playing tennis.  This form of meditation-in-action also suits my personal approach to developing mindfulness and helps to offset my declining physical prowess as I age.

Reflection

I have previously written about how tennis can build mindfulness if approached in an appropriate way.  For me, playing tennis involves a continuous process of reflection.  AS I grow in mindfulness through reflection, meditation and other mindfulness practices, I am increasing my self-awareness about my thought patterns and emotional states when playing tennis.  I am also learning to adapt and adjust my expectations and to approach my game more mindfully, enjoying the present moment without the contamination of continuous negative self-evaluation.  There can be real joy in savouring the experience of competency and being grateful for what I have and can do. Despite the aging process.  I am increasingly convinced that If you live a reflective and mindful life, wisdom becomes a natural outcome.

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Image by Tonny Nijkrake 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 Natural Awareness through Observation and Listening

On New Year’s day, I was sitting on my deck at home and immediately thought about Diana Winston’s discussion of natural awareness.  All I wanted to do was sit there, observe and listen.  It was as if I was being transported into a different world where nature was supreme and everything else faded in the distance.

As I looked out from the deck I could see the waters of Moreton Bay in the distance through a gap in the trees that afforded a glimpse of the bay and the island not far from the shore.  It was one of those days when the sun was warm, the sky was blue and there was an eerie stillness in the air.  The trees glistened with drops of water after many days of rain.  There was a clarity about the view and a coolness in the air despite the summer weather beginning to warm up.

I could hear the birds in the foreground and background –  Doves cooing persistently, Butcherbirds stretching their necks to break into song and raucous Rainbow Lorikeets breaking the silence with their fast flapping wings as they sped by screeching.   The air was suddenly filled with loud sounds as a Kookaburra landed nearby to let out its laughing call.

I began to observe more closely my pot plants on the table, cupboard and floor of the deck.  I was able to notice new growth with emerging leaves and buds, the thickening of stems and the increasing individuality of the plants as they matured in their pots and took in the air and sunlight.  Some succulents had very shiny leaves, others were tall and imposing, while a small group hung over their pots and extended their reach to the floor.  Another variegated plant that was previously close to death now displayed its bright colours and scalloped edges in a new location on the deck that afforded lots of air, light and access to light rain.

The sky was a bright blue with light, passing clouds moving slowly and forming unusual shapes.  The many birds that surrounded me seemed to rejoice in the clear skies, the gentle breeze and the brightening sunlight.

Reflection

I am reminded of Costa Georgiadis exhortation in his book, Costa’s World: Gardening for the SOIL, the SOUL and the SUBURBS, that we should become more mindful of our immediate environment as we move through it and around it, often totally unaware of its beauty, variety and earthiness and its ability to make us grounded.  Deepak Chopra reminds us of the healing power of “earthing” – consciously grounding ourselves by walking barefoot on the earth or grass.

Diana, in her book The Little Book of Being, also offers ways to develop natural awareness and encourages us to monitor our sensations throughout the day, engage in deep listening and avoid unnecessary aggravation either of our emotions or our microbiome (through the ingestion of inflammatory foods).

As we develop natural awareness and grow in mindfulness through meditation and conscious observation and listening, we can achieve a sense of tranquility, gratitude and peace amid what is increasingly a turbulent world.  Our own backyard can be where we earth and become grounded.

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Image by Perez Vöcking 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.

A Pathway to Well-Being

Deepak Chopra lays out a pathway to well-being in his multiple books (80 in total), his online courses and his many videos on Chopra’s YouTube Channel.  Chopra also provides a podcast focused on meditation and well-being with daily meditations grouped by weeks.  His approach is backed by current research and neuroscience – he is an active researcher and publishes research results with his colleagues on the  Chopra Foundation website.   The information that Deepak offers is comprehensive, combines the practical with the theoretical and is inspirational.  However, the vastness of this information can be overwhelming.  One way forward is his Radical Well-Being online course which integrates a lot of this material and provides meditations, practical exercises and a clear pathway to well-being.

Foundational to Deepak’s approach is the science-based recognition that our genes account for only 5% of our overall well-being – the remaining 95% is governed by lifestyle.  Hence Deepak states that “genes are not our future”.  Underpinning this recognition is the knowledge that our body while seemingly remaining the same is undergoing continuous change, e.g. our skin is replaced once a month, our skeleton once every three months and, over a year, 98% of the atoms in our body are replaced.  Deepak concludes “our suitcase has a longer shelf-life than our body”.

Deepak maintains that our “soul”, our core consciousness, creates our body.  While the soul is invisible it can be experienced through our memories, thoughts, feelings, sensations, and images.  While stress is often considered to be a perception of threat of some kind (physical, emotional or psychological),  Deepak argues that a wisdom perspective sees stress as “interference with the soul’s spontaneous expression” thus impeding creativity and generativity.

Practical steps on the pathway to well-being

Deepak’s resources are replete with practical advice and tips for well-being,  so I can only hope to cover a sample here and link them to resources that he provides:

  • Meditation – Deepak draws on extensive research that confirms the benefits of meditation.  In particular, he notes that meditation positively impacts our entire genome – the complete set of instructions/information found in the cells of our body.  Also, because of his abiding interest in aging and the impact of stress, he stresses that meditation increases the protection for, and length of, telomeres – leading to increased well-being and improved biological aging.   A core meditation that he proposes for inner peace is a form of meditation that explores the fundamental question, “Who am I”, and progresses through the various levels of consciousness that he identifies.  Deepak suggests that we can gain the benefits of meditation even by spending just 10 minutes a day in meditating, e.g. through focusing on our breathing.  Throughout this blog, I provide multiple meditation methods and links to sources of meditation processes.
  • Sleep – a minimum of 7 hours a night, ideally 8 hours.  Deepak draws on the science of sleep to  reassert its beneficial effects, including its capacity to “restore, repair and conserve energy”.  He also reinforces the power of deep sleep to consolidate our long-term and short-term memories and to connect us more fully with the natural rhythms of the universe.  Sleep facilitates the operation of our subconscious mind and its information processing capacity.  Deepak stresses the negative impacts of sleep deprivation, including confusion,, inability to concentrate and irritability.  He describes his daily process of aiding his sleep through “recapitulation” – by reviewing his day as if watching a video and then letting it go while saying to himself, “I don’t hold onto anything”.  He states that this process of daily reflection and review develops emotional freedom and well-being.   The day has become a dream and it is in our dreams that we process our daily emotions.  Deepak stresses the Buddhist principle of the impermanence of everything, including our experiences – a principle that is reflected in the fact that we cannot hang onto a single breath, we have to let it go to live.
  • Movement – movement generates energy and activates our brain.  Here Deepak is not just talking about exercise in all its forms but also yoga, Tai Chi and breathing techniques.  Movement leads to attunement with our body, self-awareness and overall well-being (both physical, mental and psychological).  The benefits of Tai Chi, for example, have been well researched and documented by the Harvard Medical School.  Locating movement in nature provides added benefits.
  • Managing emotions and stress – take responsibility for our emotions and proactively deal with the stressors in our life.   Daily we have choices about what we will watch and/or read – we can feast on the news with deleterious effects or do the things that engender happiness or a sense of satisfaction and achievement.  We can wallow in anger or resentment or develop our sense of appreciation and gratitude.   If work is a source of stress, we can explore our work stressors and develop strategies to address them or seek to change our job.   
  • Earthing – involves grounding through direct contact with the electromechanical field in the earth.  Earthing can be achieved by walking barefoot on the ground and/or sitting down with hands or feet on the ground.   Deepak has reported the research that shows the benefits of earthing including better balance, reduced tension and being more centred.   The Earthing Institute emphasises the capacity of earthing to reduce inflammation, the major source of many illnesses.  Forest Bathing is another form of earthing that can enable us to access the healing power of nature.

Reflection

One thing that Deepak stresses throughout his resources is the power of intention.  Through intention, we can shape our perception and our reality.  To achieve overall well-being it helps to form the intention to develop a “joyful, energetic body”, ‘a loving compassionate heart” and a “reflective, alert mind”.   The practical steps that Deepak identifies can put us on the pathway to overall well-being.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, earthing and reflection, we can identify the obstacles to our well-being, form positive intentions to take practical steps and progressively review our processes while maintaining patience and self-compassion (not beating up on ourselves for self-generated setbacks).  We cannot do it all at once, but we can work progressively on one thing each day that will contribute to our overall well-being.

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Image by SplitShire 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.

Meditation on the Power of the Present Moment

Allyson Pimentel, UCLA meditation trainer, provided a guided meditation podcast focused on the power of the present moment.  Her meditation, titled Mindfulness and Lineage explores the present moment as the encapsulation of all that has happened in our past along with the potentiality to shape our future.  The present moment provides us with the opportunity to reflect on our words and actions, to engage in reflection-in action and to envisage our future.  It enables us to begin to appreciate our ancestors and all that has gone before us while looking forward to what we ourselves can contribute to future generations.

When we think of the people who have gone before us, our ancestors, and realise that we are today the inheritors of their efforts, sacrifices, challenges and perspectives, we can begin to feel gratitude for all the positive things that we have inherited.  The SBS TV documentary, Who Do You Think You Are?, explores the ancestry of well-known Australians from sport, politics, music, film, stage and television. Invariably, the exploration highlights incredible courage and resilience of forbears and their vision to create a better future for those who were to come after them.  They often endured unbelievably harsh living conditions, undertook dangerous and arduous journeys and lived with uncertainty as the reality of daily life.

When we reflect on the past and the people who have preceded us we have  a lot to be grateful for – our freedom, innovations, insights, discoveries, technologies (including medical processes and medications).  We acquired knowledge through our predecessors trial and error endeavours and risk-taking.  We have come to better understand our bodies, minds and spirit through their explorations, including neuroscience research.  The inheritance from our forbears is endless, enduring and engaging.  If we reflect on our lineage and explore our family history, we come to appreciate even more our connectedness to people, places and history.   We can be grateful for the mindfulness tradition which had its origins in Buddhism but has broadened from a religious base and, in Western countries, morphed into a secular tradition informed by neuroscience.   

Guided meditation

Allyson focuses initially on our bodies, encouraging us to be really grounded our body in the way it takes up space, its textures, height and width, weight, lightness and heaviness and interactions with its external world through the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.  She reminds us that mindfulness involves being fully in the present moment and apprehending the present with its potency and potentiality through curiosity, openness and willingness to be with what is – accepting our here-and-now experience, including our limitations (physical and mental), our lived experience shaping our perceptions and habituated behaviour, and our emergent self-awareness.  

Allyson encourages us firstly to explore the back of our body – our spine running down the length of our back as well as the back of our head, neck, buttocks, legs, arms, and heels.  She suggests that this process can activate our conscious link with the past, with what has come before us but is now behind us.  As we breath in and out gently, we can express appreciation for our lineage – what we have inherited in our world that contributes to our health, happiness and overall wellbeing. We can value our inherited natural environment and the connectedness to nature that we enjoy.  

The next stage of the guided meditation involves focusing on the front of our body – our eyes, face, jaw, chest, stomach, thighs, calves, feet and toes.  This process helps us to focus on the future – on the fact that our present moment is shaping our future.  This is not only as a result of the immediate benefits of meditation but also the way we begin to develop our world view, heighten our perception, enhance our self-awareness and clarify our life purpose. 

Reflection

We take so much for granted in our lives.  This guided meditation on our lineage opens our minds to the people who have gone before us and what they have made possible for us.  It builds our sense of appreciation and gratitude and enables us to deepen our self-awareness through understanding our origins and its influence on our daily lives.  The meditation also develops an openness to the potentiality of our future.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection we gain increasing insight into our inner landscape and our outer environment and the forces that have shaped us and continue to influence our life and our individual paths.

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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.

Integrating Gratitude with Loving Kindness Meditation

Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) UCLA offered a guided meditation podcast integrating gratitude and loving kindness.  Her guided meditation, Extending Loving Kindness & Gratitude Practice, is designed to use the energy and warmth of gratitude practice to extend our loving kindness beyond ourselves to others in our life to whom we are truly grateful. 

Diana’s meditation is one of the weekly meditation podcasts offered by MARC with a view to helping participants grow in self-awareness, develop emotion regulation and attain an overall sense of wellbeing and ease.  The approach of the MARC meditations is to enable us to focus fully on  “present moment experience” while adopting an open and curious perspective and accepting “what is”.

Guided meditation incorporating gratitude and loving kindness

At the outset, Diana encourages us to adopt a comfortable position, whether sitting on a chair, lying down or adopting a cross-legged siting posture.  She makes the valid point that is difficult to extend loving kindness to others when we are not physically comfortable.  She suggests that we begin with a few deep breaths to ease some of the tension in our bodies and to ground us in the moment.  Associated with this is the encouragement to be with what is – to acknowledge and accept our mental state, our feelings of reluctance or enthusiasm for the meditation or our agitation about something external to the present moment.

The anchor for this meditation is initially focusing on something that we are really grateful for – whatever that might be in the physical, intellectual, emotional, relational  or financial realms of our lives.  Because so many of my friends and family lack physical mobility at the moment (owing to illness and/or aging), I focused with gratitude and appreciation on my ability to walk, run on a tennis court, and play tennis well.  I began to appreciate that I had been coached in tennis very well at an early age and that I now had a range of tennis strokes and strategies that I can use to really enjoy my social tennis.  I thought of how much playing tennis had become a positive, grounding part of my life through fixtures, competitions and social tennis groups (both intimate and broad).

The next phase of the meditation focuses on someone in our life we really appreciate – a partner, child, friend, colleague, mentor or anyone else who is a positive influence in our life and a source of joy.  I focused on my life partner of forty years and expressed appreciation for her sustained love, kindness and warmth;  her intellectual and problem-solving capacity; her generosity towards others in need; her courage and resilience in the face of difficult situations; her willingness and ability to listen for understanding; and her desire and ability to be a very strong support for our two adult children. 

Diana encourages us to allow the feelings of gratitude to flow through our body – to capture the embodiment of our appreciation in the moment.  These feelings can then energise our desire to express loving kindness towards our chosen person.  The loving kindness can be expressed in many ways but often includes a desire for the person to be protected and to be safe from harm of all kinds (both internal and external); to realise a state of happiness and contentment; to achieve improved physical and mental health; and to experience a deep and abiding send of ease (a rare occurrence in these challenging times). 

As we extend loving kindness to the person we have been focusing on, we can begin to imagine this loving kindness being reciprocated – we can envisage ourselves as the recipient of loving kindness being extending to us.  We might mentally revisit a recent experience where the person has shown love and warmth towards us (e.g. by placing their arms around us, holding hands or offering a hug of appreciation or empathy).   Again ,we can focus on our embodiment of these reciprocated feelings – how do they make us feel in our body in the present moment?  What is that the other person sees in us and what else should we be grateful for?

Diana asks us to think of another person to whom we are grateful and begin to identify what it is about them that we are grateful for.  It may be that they nurtured us in a time of challenge, came to our rescue when we were in need, or became the person to offer “a shoulder to cry on” when we were suffering and/or experiencing grief.  At this stage of the meditation, I thought of my colleague of 15 years.  I expressed appreciation for her wisdom and calmness; her flexibility and understanding; her courage and willingness to meet challenges head on; her work ethic and persistence; her active commitment to fairness and equity; her genuine care and concern for our clients; and her kindness and generosity to anyone in need (often at great personal expense).

The reflection made me realise how lucky I am to have such a colleague and to know that in any situation we encounter I can rely on her for her considered and apt response.  Diana suggests that after this experience of appreciation and gratitude, we again express loving kindness towards them in our own words as befit the individual involved.

The final stage of this guided meditation is to focus on people who might be suffering – experiencing chronic illness or fatigue, addiction, the COVID19 virus, or the extreme challenges of war/refugee experience. We can extend loving kindness to our chosen group of people – wishing that their suffering be alleviated; that amidst the pain they can have moments of peace; that they are able to meet their challenges with acceptance, resilience and courage; and that they are eventually free from their suffering so that they can experience wellness and ease.

Reflection

There will be times when we cannot feel loving kindness – particularly to those who have hurt us or whose words and actions are continually challenging.  In these situations, instead of indulging in self-denigrating thoughts and feelings, we can extend loving kindness to ourselves

We can also explore an internal form of compassionate curiosity – whereby we envisage what traumas a person with an addiction has experienced in their lives and what might be the messages they are giving themselves about their “worth”.  Gabor Maté explains this approach in his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction.

As we grow in mindfulness, through gratitude and loving kindness mediation, we can begin to appreciate the many people and things we take for granted in our lives, grow in kindness towards others and ourself, and move beyond a self-referential and self-centred world to engage in compassionate action.  Loving kindness meditation helps us to appreciate what is good in others as well as in ourselves.

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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.

Meditating on Nature and Gratitude

Mark Coleman provides a guided meditation podcast on nature and gratitude that reinforces the theme of his work which is to “bring awareness to every aspect of our experience”.  He maintains that this form of meditation is designed to cultivate “a grateful heart and appreciative mind”.  He argues that appreciation of nature is not just an intellectual exercise but involves a heartfelt engagement with nature and its beauty, variety and expansiveness.  In the meditation, he steps us through various ways of focusing on elements of nature so that we can express our gratitude and appreciation for all that exists around us.

Paying attention to the elements of nature

As he progresses through the guided meditation, Mark draws our attention to different elements of nature that are readily accessible to us but often overlooked or cursorily observed.  Below are some of the elements that he encourages us to pay closer attention to, with a grateful heart and appreciative mind:

  • Sunrise – we can look at a sunrise and marvel at its magnitude, the endless changing patterns and shapes of clouds and colour of the sky.  In my location, near the bay and a large marina, I have the additional opportunity to observe the outlines of boats and sails reflected in the water as the sun rises of a morning – something that is a continuous source of amazement.   The presence of photographers lining the foreshore with their tripods attests to the beauty of the morning sunrise over the water and its power to attract attention.  The sunrise heralds a day of potential and promise.
  • Sounds– we often experience the sounds of birds as background noise rather than something that we notice and consciously pay attention to.  We can distinguish the cooing of doves nestling and nesting in trees, the squawking of rainbow lorikeets, the enthusiastic sound of kookaburras welcoming the morning’s light and the penetrating call of the curlew piercing the stillness and silence of the night.  The eerie curlew’s call and its hypnotic effect are exquisitely captured by Karen Manton in her novel, The Curlew’s Eye.
  • Flight patterns of birds – we can learn to pay attention to the flight patterns of different birds. We can come to appreciate the speedy swooping and swerving of swallows as they skim across the water or fly rapidly around building structures, the quiet flight and landing of pairs of rosellas or the raucous, flighty behaviour of large flocks of lorikeets, especially at dusk near the seaside (or bayside, in my location).  We can also notice the tentative steps and flight of baby birds and their incessant cries for food.
  • Rain – we can pay attention to the sounds of rain and appreciate its role in invigorating plants, filling depleted dams and providing life-giving resources to communities of people and animals devastated by fire or drought.  In another podcast, Mark reminds us of the capacity of rain to increase our awareness of the interconnectedness of nature.  Rainbows that accompany rain are a continuous source of wonder. 
  • Our own body – Mark reminds us to notice and admire the miracle of our own body – its complexity, utility, inner connectedness and interconnectedness with nature.  He suggests that we pay attention (with appreciation) to the oxygen that we absorb from trees and plants, while acknowledging how valuable and mysterious is this interplay between humans and nature.  The recent research on the role of our microbiome and its connection to illness, inflammation and eyesight, reminds us that, despite the wealth of knowledge, scientific methods and technology, our experts are still trying to fathom the depths of the mystery of our bodies and minds and their interconnectedness.  We are just beginning to learn about the intelligence of the heart and of the gut.  The HeartMath Institute helps us to understand heart-brain science and to access “the heart’s intuitive guidance” through achieving “coherent alignment” of our physical, emotional and mental systems.   We can learn to appreciate and value our brain and our own special capabilities such as analytical skills, capacity to see patterns, attention to detail, creativity and/or strategic thinking.  Through appreciating these capacities, we will savour our subconscious mind and readily “mind our brain”.
  • Our breath – the breath reinforces the miracle of life.  We know that people who experienced the COVID19 virus often had severe difficulties breathing.   Our breath is normally so automatic (luckily!) that we take it for granted.  Mindful breathing can enable us to be grateful for each breath, to develop our self-awareness and access calmness and equanimity.  Richard Wolf, author of In Tune: Music as the Bridge to Mindfulness, encourages us to listen to the “sonic qualities” of our breath and offers ways to tune our breath to music beats – what he calls “breathing in time

Reflection

Meditating on nature and gratitude encourages us to open up our senses and consciously pay attention to the world around us.  It makes us appreciate that we can hear, smell, see, touch and taste (if these senses are intact).  Many things we take for granted such as smell and taste were lost to people suffering from the COVID19 virus.  It’s often through the temporary loss of things that we learn to appreciate them.  Ideally our sense of gratitude is always present and often expressed even through micro-gestures.

As we grow in mindfulness, through meditation, observation and reflection, we can more readily develop a grateful heart and appreciative mind, enhance our sense of wonder and awe, and savour what we have in our everyday lives.  Mantra meditations can be very helpful in enabling us to appreciate nature, our mind-body connection and the interconnection of everything.  Lulu & Mischka’s mantra meditation, Stillness in Motion, performed while sailing and singing with whales, reminds us of our connection with the earth, the stars, the waves and the light in other people’s eyes.

Environmental educator, Costa Georgiadis, maintains that our connection to nature and appreciation of all that it offers begins with gardening in our own “backyard”.  He offers multiple ways to get closer to nature and appreciate what it has to offer in his new book, Costa’s World: Gardening for the SOIL, the SOUL and the SUBURBS.

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Image by Anh Lê khắc 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.