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.

Compassionate Action through Grief

Rosie Ayliffe in her book, Far from Home, tells the story of how her grief after the murder of her 21 year old daughter, Mia, in a hostel in Queensland in 2016 energised her to fight for legislative reform for Australian backpackers.  She tracks the early life of her vivacious daughter who loved people and travel, shares the rawness of her grief and exposes the exploitation of backpackers who engage in the 88 days farm work requirement to qualify for a visa to stay in Australia for a second year.  Rosie describes her work to uncover the extent of the injustice towards backpackers and her campaign to redress the lack of registration and controls over the farm work scheme.

Rosie’s research fuelled by her grief and her fury over the widespread exploitation of backpackers from overseas came at considerable personal cost, not the least being reliving the nightmare of her daughter’s savage murder and that of Tom Jackson who tried to come to her aid.  In her quest to right the unspeakable wrongs, she left no stone unturned to seek justice for her daughter, Tom and the countless backpackers who had suffered as a participant in the scheme.  She met opposition from farmers, union officials, politicians and others with a vested interest in maintain the status quo.

Rosie, an experienced journalist who had travelled the world, was not put off by this opposition but was inspired by the love she had for Mia and the endless expressions of love and grief from Mia’s friends around the world.  Rosie built a network of support in Australia including the parents of Tom Jackson and organisations like the Salvation Army who had been working to support backpackers and redress the wrongs they experienced.  She also built alliances with people in England, her home country, where many people had agitated for, and achieved, a modern slavery act. 

Rosie Ayliffe on Australia Story

Rosie’s grief permeates her story and is never far from the surface.  She recounts the arduous task of creating Part 1 and Part 2 of Long Way from Home for the TV show Australia Story.  There were not only the exertions involved in filming and retakes but also the energy and effort for the additional research required and the unsettling visit to the hostel in North Queensland where Mia died.  Rosie was able to create the expose through the support of her friends, colleagues and the creators and film crew of Australis Story.   The TV show gave increased exposure to the issues for backpackers including the psychological, financial and sexual exploitation.  This, in turn, led Rosie to make a contribution to an inquiry underpinning moves for a modern slavery act in Australia.

Reform and Compassionate Action

Rosie’s efforts and determination contributed substantially to the development and promulgation of the Queensland State legislation known as the Labour Hire Licensing Act 2017 and the Federal Legislation, The Modern Slavery Act 2018.   Rosie’s story is one of love, loss and unrelenting courage written with the exemplary writing skill of a journalist, compassion of a mother, and resilience to unearth the adverse circumstances contributing to her daughter’s death.  Mia herself is never far from the surface nor is the rawness of Rosie’s grief.  As Rosie points out, grief and its expression are different for everyone and cannot be quantified or compared.  She maintains that grief for the loss of a  child is especially traumatic and enduring for a parent because there are “so many painful reminders, so many missed moments, so much wasted potential”.

Despite her grief and her anger, Rosie was able to rise above the debilitating effects of her loss, learn again to be grateful for life and show compassionate action towards the parents of the mentally ill person who murdered her daughter through her expressions of forgiveness and understanding and desire to build a relationship with them.  Therein lies the true character of Rosie, her love of others and deep, abiding compassion.

Reflection

Rosie’s story is moving, challenging and inspiring. It moves us to share the grief and sense of loss, it challenges us to take compassionate action towards others who may have hurt us and inspires us to appreciate life and the present moment, because the human condition is fragile and life is transitory.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, expressions of gratitude and reflection on our life and friendships, we can develop a deep sense of appreciation and the courage for compassionate action.

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Image by fotografierende 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.

Growth through Mindfulness in the Moment

n a recent interview podcast, Tami Simon of Sounds True interviewed Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul Guided Journal: Writing Practices to Journey Beyond Yourself and The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s PerfectionMichael made his teachings available in the form of a series of podcasts covering his perspective on spirituality and being in the moment.  The podcast I want to focus on in this post is one Michael titled, Giving Meaning to the Time Between Your Birth and Your Death.  Michael offers several insights that can enable us to experience the moment, live life fully and joyfully and realise what he terms “spiritual growth”.  His insights revolve around our “acquisitions”, our conditional “okay inside” mindset and our tendency to be “bothering” about life instead of experiencing it.

Our tendency to want to acquire

Michael’s salient point here is that whatever we acquire with our short life on this planet, we cannot take with us at our death – whether it be our house, money, car, marriage, status or personal looks.  Yet we spend so much of our lives trying to acquire more.  We look to have a bigger house in a better location with more comforts; to make more money to be able to purchase the things that we desire to own; to have a newer car with more comforts and features.   As Michael points out, these desired “acquisitions” do little to resolve the issue that we are “not okay inside” – they do not provide lasting satisfaction or happiness.  The reality is that we spend much of our life in fruitless pursuit of what we want to acquire – none of which we can take with us when we inevitably die.

Our conditional “okay inside” mindset

Often we believe that we will be “okay inside” if our life was different to what it is.  If we were someone who was brighter, more educated, better looking or married to someone who was eminently flexible and available.  We are not okay because we cannot accept “what is”.  He points out that we carry a lot of “garbage inside” that impacts our experience of the world.  Some of this is related to our expectations and our perception of the expectations of others. Part of it relates to a false belief about what brings happiness and fulfillment.  He makes the humbling point that we are fortunate to live on earth with all its richness in nature, people, places and beauty– even though it is a speck of dust in a vast universe that is mind-boggling in its magnitude. 

Being “bothered” by life instead of experiencing it

Michael maintains that a lot of our ”not-okayness” relates to the fact that we let a lot of life “bother us”.  We are bothered by the slowness of the car in front of us, by the lack of our favourite dessert in the supermarket, by the annoying habits of our partner, by the lack of comfort of a chair, by the fact that a restaurant meal did not turn out as well as expected, by…  Because of our “bothered” frame of mind, we do experience life as it is.  Michael maintains that each experience has personal growth potential – we can learn and grow through every experience, no matter how small. 

We just need to “work on ourself” and recognise that we are bringing to each situation a pre-set idea of how it should be.  We seek to have others be like we want them to be so we don’t have to change the way we are.  We become locked into our way of doing things and stay like we are, unwilling to evolve and be what we are capable of being.

Experience, according to Michael, is a teacher but often we do not want to learn the lesson that experience brings. He argues that “every moment is designed for our growth” and part of the meaning of life is to realise this growth by “getting rid of why we are not okay”.  Often current experience can be a catalyst for memories of past bad experiences that we linger over and sometimes build resentment about.   Michael argues that these can leave a “scar” unless we learn to let them go – so much of what he suggested related to “letting go”.  If we can let go of the “garbage inside”, we can truly experience joy in the moment and free ourselves to feel the beauty that surrounds us and our own openness to life and living.

Reflection

Michael’s podcasts offer real insights into the ways that we block our own happiness and the realisation of our true growth and potential.  He offers an online course through Sounds True that inculcates his teachings and cultivates the mindset and habits that enable us to be “okay inside” so that we can experience the world as a place of growth and joy.  His course, Living from a Place of Surrender: The Untethered Soul in Action, incorporates video sessions and journalling for self-reflection.

Throughout his podcast, Michael illustrated his points by making frequent reference to tennis, my favourite sport.  He suggested that the experience of playing tennis has growth potential embedded in it.  If we make a mistake and hit the ball into the net, we could rail against the wind, the court conditions, the unpredictability of our opponent’s game or the tension of our racquet strings or become bothered by what others might think of us and our competence as a tennis player. 

Alternatively, we could experience gratitude for the opportunity to play tennis (which millions of people in the world do not have); appreciation that we can run and hit the ball (which many people in the world can’t do); acceptance that mistakes are an integral part of playing tennis (despite how competent we are at tennis);  wonder at the capacity of the human mind to rapidly process all the information required to execute a tennis shot;  and learning from what we did wrong in trying to play the shot (positioning, stroke choice, speed and direction of our tennis shot).

As we grow in mindfulness by working on ourselves through meditation, self-reflection and insight courses, we can be more open to experience and less bothered when things don’t turn out as we expect them to.  We can feel joy instead of disappointment, gratitude instead of envy and wonder instead of feeling uninspired.   

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Image by Antonio López 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.

Managing Our Response to Uncertainty

In these challenging times, we often experience uncertainty and ambiguity which, in turn, leads to anxiety and depression.  At the very least, these conditions can make us feel uncomfortable, annoyed or ill at ease.  We normally want to be in control of our lives and have some certainty about our future.  We try to create some sense, order and meaningfulness for our future by developing our plans for our career, family interactions, travel and personal development.  In times of uncertainty like the present, we can become disoriented when these plans are disrupted, put on hold, deferred or cancelled altogether because of lockdowns, border closures, ill-health, international conflicts or major natural disasters.

We need some strategies to help us cope with this uncertainty and ambiguity. Over time, we have to develop ways to tolerate these setbacks and anxiety-inducing conditions.  The reality is that uncertainty and ambiguity are part of the human condition and cannot be avoided.  Diana Winston offers one way of addressing this uncertainty and managing our response to challenging times.  In her guided meditation podcast, Opening to Uncertainty, she provides a mindfulness meditation approach which she describes as “advanced practice” – not only is it challenging but also requires repetition and practice to enable us to widen our window of tolerance in the face of ever-increasing uncertainty and ambiguity.

Guided meditation on managing our response to uncertainty

  • Diana begins the guided meditation with an initial focus on body posture which should be relaxed and comfortable but involve conscious choice that enables freedom of breathing.  She begins the meditation practice encouraging multiple deep breaths that facilitate release of built-up tension and stress.  Diana encourages us to “relax into the present moment” and become conscious of our bodily sensations – especially pockets or points of uptightness.  As we wind down, we can progressively release specific points of tension. 
  • The next phase involves choosing an anchor that truly grounds us in the present and is unlikely to act as a trigger for heightened negative emotions or a trauma response.  We each have our negative triggers and varying levels of tolerance to specific difficult situations.  Our meditation anchor enables us to return to a chosen focus when we notice our mind wandering or when we experience strong challenging emotions. 
  • When negative emotions take over, we have the choice to work with the difficult emotion and its intensity (if we are at an advanced stage of meditation practice) or to use our anchor as a way to return to being grounded in the present moment. 
  • After addressing emotions around experienced anxiety, Diana moves the meditation to another stage where she encourages us to recall an occasion when we successfully dealt with some level of anxiety and ambiguity.  Associated with this, is recalling the feeling of dealing positively with the stress – we can try to recapture those positive emotions to strengthen our belief in our own capacity to deal with current challenges.  I found this activity particularly useful, because it is so easy to overlook past successes in dealing with anxiety when you are feeling overwhelmed with present challenges.
  • The next stage of the meditation involved loving-kindness towards ourself.  To begin with it is important to acknowledge that it is natural to feel anxiety in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity.  Diana recommends that once we acknowledge this naturalness, we can express a positive desire such as, “May I meet uncertainty with grace and ease.”  This request can be repeated as a way to reinforce the belief that we are able to manage uncertainty in whatever form it takes.

Reflection

I undertook this meditation on the day that I was due to receive my first COVID-19 vaccine.  I was uncertain about what vaccine I was going to receive and concerned about the after effects, given that I suffer from a wide range of sensitivities and allergies.  There was ambiguity to deal with as well – surrounding the availability of the different vaccines, their relative effectiveness and their after effects.  However, I found that Diana’s guided meditation helped me to become grounded and prepared for most contingencies.

In her meditation, Diana encourages us to approach uncertainty and our response with openness and curiosity and a “willingness to be with that experience”.  She stated that life has its “ups and downs” and sometimes terrible things happen as well as wonderful things.  She maintained that it is illusionary to believe that life is an even, untroubled flow – we will be challenged at times and be able to cope to varying degrees with what confronts us.  

Diana asserted that as we grow in mindfulness through meditation, we will be better able to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity and manage our response to challenging stressors and associated emotions.  However, she asserted that managing our response to uncertainty is a long-term process. Her guided meditation can help in that regard. 

Diana mentioned the availability of other MARC meditation podcasts via the UCLA  Mindful App.  Previously I have identified activities to maintain a positive mindset in the times of uncertainty and anxiety.  In this blog, too, I have covered other meditation approaches to managing our response to uncertainty:

  • Jill Satterfield provided a meditation on using breath as a restorative process in challenging times.
  • Diana Winston offered an approach which focuses strongly on gratitude.
  • Kristin Neff and Chris Germer provided a range of self-compassion practices to enable us to manage in challenging times, including the pandemic.  
  • MARC meditations incorporate a range of other meditations that can reduce anxiety in times of uncertainty and challenge.

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Image by Gerd Altmann 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.

Balancing Compassion with Equanimity

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

Guided meditation on balancing compassion with equanimity

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

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

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

Compassion meditation

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

Equanimity meditation

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

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

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