Realising Our Full Potential

Kimberly Snyder recently released her new book, You Are More Than You Think You Are: Practical Enlightenment for Everyday Life.  While the book is replete with practical everyday advice and personal anecdotes, it is essentially a call to realise our full potential.  In this sense it resonates strongly with Kute Blackson’s call to take the next step to your life purpose.

Kimberly’s focus is on becoming your “True Self” in line with the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda – Hindu monk, guru and yogi who spent his last 32 years in America. He became incredibly influential in the US, so much so that Steve Jobs ordered 500 copies of his book, Autobiography of a Yogi, for distribution at his own memorial service.  Yogananda is famous for teaching people globally about meditation and Kriya Yoga. 

Early in her book, Kimberly offers a simple definition of “True Self” as the “stable, loving, honest, courageous, peaceful, and creative intelligence” that each of us has within us.  She then proceeds with insight and humour (reminiscent of Yogananda’s wit) to unravel what it means to live our True Self and offers practical ways to achieve this state.  Along the way, she reinforces the power of meditation and mindfulness to build courage, generate peace and tranquility and release creativity.

Steps along the way

Kimberly offers steps to achieving our True Self and provides a series of practical meditations/reflections to aid us on the journey.  The steps act as a series of reinforcements of  Yogananda’s message and a way to put his teachings into practice.  She asserts that his teachings respect all religions, irrespective of their geographical or traditional origins, and, at the same time, respect agnostic belief systems.  In Kimberly’s view, Yogananda’s teachings (centred on yoga) can lead to enrichment of anyone’s life – providing a holistic approach to elevating mind, body and soul.

Central to Yogananda’s teaching and Kimberly’s practice is Kriya Yoga that she describes as a scientific method that involves not just the physical but also the mental, emotional and spiritual arenas.  It is an integrating force that enables a person to achieve energy alignment – aligning external activity with an evolving inner landscape.  In her book, Kimberly addresses the key principles of Kriya Yoga and provides practices to help the reader internalise the desired “soul qualities”.

Fearlessness: taking the first step towards our full potential

Kimberly describes fearlessness as a foundation principle enabling us to move inexorably towards our full potential.  She maintains that “fearlessness lets you walk in a straight line through the forest of life” – avoiding detours, byways or dead ends that result from fear.   It is often fear that prevents us from realising our potential – initiating an endeavour, making a contribution to our community or providing a service to others in line with our core knowledge and skills.

We can be disempowered by our fear of failure, of the unknown, of uncertainty and/or of our inability to control outcomes.  Fearlessness enables us to rise above these fears and tap into our innate qualities of insight, courage and resilience. 

Kimberly describes how she accessed Yogananda’s teachings and other sources to enable her to move beyond the panic resulting from her separation with the father of her first child.  Fear of not being lovable and of being unable to cope disempowered her until she immersed herself in these teachings and practices, particularly meditation.

She argues that if you spend time in meditation you can get in touch with your inner voice that is aligned to your True Self and provides the inspiration and energy to move forward.  She also maintains that the more you are aligned to your True Self, the greater the likelihood of positive outcomes for your endeavours.  However, if you are acting out of fear, anger, revenge, envy or obsessive ambition, then your energy will not be aligned with your True Self and your endeavours will ultimately prove  unsuccessful, creating all kinds of adverse consequences, both personal and interpersonal.

In her book, Kimberly provides a range of practices to get in touch with our underlying fears – a process she describes as “getting the fears out of the shadows”.  She argues that fearlessness creates freedom and enables us to realise “the best version of our life” and our most significant dreams.  One particular practice Kimberly encourages involves journalling, starting with writing down your fear.  The journalling process then proceeds as a conversation between your Fear and Your Truth and Wisdom (inner voice).  Countering the disabling fears with true and wise retorts has the effect of quieting your fearful mind.  Kimberly illustrates this with an example conversation.

The conversation could go like this:

Fear: I’m not sure what will happen when I run the mindfulness workshop.

Truth and Wisdom: You can only control the process, not the outcomes.

Fear: But what if the process does not work?

Truth and Wisdom: It will work for some people; others may not be ready for the honesty and self-awareness involved.

Fear: What if some people do not turn up for the second workshop?

Truth and Wisdom: That is a decision that they are free to make; you can only provide the opportunity, review your process and get feedback so you can improve what you are doing (taking their needs into account).

Reflection

Kimberly offers processes and practices to enable us to realise our full potential.  She highlights the fact that fear holds us back from achieving what we are capable of – in her words, “we are more than we think we are”.  She contends that mindfulness practices, especially meditation and yoga, enable us to identify, confront and overcome our fears so that we can free up our intuition, creativity and courage to align our words and actions with our True Self.

Kimberly asserts that following the teachings of Yogananda, in particular the practice of Kriya Yoga, enabled her to move from totally disabling fear to achieving her potential as a writer, mother, partner and influencer.  Before the book discussed here, she wrote other books such as Recipes for Your Perfectly Imperfect Life , The Beauty Detox Solution and Radical Beauty: How to transform yourself from the inside out (with Deepak Chopra).

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Image by jplenio 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.

Take the Next Step to Your Life Purpose

Kute Blackson, presenting during the 2021 The Best Year of Your Life Summit, spoke energetically and insightfully about following your life purpose.  His inspirational video podcast was very well received because of its practical and down-to-earth character.  People could relate to what he was saying irrespective of their stage of life and their level of clarity about their life purpose.  On his website, Kute offers free video training on how to find your purpose.

Key messages

In the video presentation for the Summit, Kute provides several key messages to enable us to be free of negative self-talk and self-doubt and to take the next step for finding and following our life purpose:

  • Overcome the lies we tell ourselves: Kute suggests that we lie to ourselves to prevent us from taking a step into the unknown.  Fear of failure causes us to think of all the things that might go wrong and we take these as givens.  As a result, we tend to cling to our comfort zone and procrastinate, and so we fail to take the next step on the road to our life purpose.
  • Challenge expectations: sometimes what holds us back from realisation of our life purpose are the expectations we place on ourselves or that others, such as our parents, place on us.  Kute tells the story of how he tried to live up to his father’s expectations that he become a preacher only to find it was not aligned to his heart’s purpose.  He left his father’s ministry to move to Los Angeles with two suitcases and the courage to move beyond other peoples’ expectations.  He found his life purpose in helping people to transform their lives by finding their life purpose that aligns with their true self and deeper inner life (what he describes as “soul”).
  • Let go of the need to know: Kute encourages us to let go of the need to know everything – what will happen if we start on the path, how we will manage if difficulties arise, what we will say and do in particular circumstances.  He argues that we do not need to know everything about where our life choices will take us – we need to “trust our soul”, our inner conviction of what we are meant to do and contribute to the welfare and wellness of others.  Kimberly Snyder reminds us that we are more than we think we are
  • Be conscious of the pain of not taking action: Kurt encourages us to be fully aware of the pain and suffering that we experience if we fail to take action to align with our true purpose (e.g., leave a job or a role and/or begin a new endeavour).  Sometimes we hide from this pain and attribute it to what we have to put up with.  The pain of not being aligned with our true purpose can take many forms including physical illness (e.g. headaches and fibromyalgia), boredom, a sense of ill-ease, or other emotional reactions. Kute strongly believes that we need to be honest about this pain of inaction as well as face up to the fear that holds us back. 
  • Don’t wait for clarity about life purpose: people can spend their whole life trying to formulate their life purpose with perfect clarity, only to take no action towards realising it.  Kute argues that our life purpose will be slowly revealed as we live our lives. If we realise the potential of the present moment and focus there, rather than a idealistic or unrealistic future, we will begin on the path to our purpose.  He describes this as “living into life’s purpose”.
  • Take the next step:  Kute maintains that our life purpose unfolds as we live each moment fully.  Everything we experience is preparation for our life purpose, including the challenges and difficulties we experience as well as the highs.  He encourages us to take the next step in line with the direction of our purpose – “even when you don’t know where you are going”.  He suggests we “trust our innate intelligence” and contends that that our soul is pulling you when you “move in the direction of your joy, of what lights you up, of what you love”.  So, his exhortation is to set out on the journey of following our life purpose by aligning with what is joyful, energising and rewarding in our life.  He contends that “life reveals the next step in the process of living”.

Reflection

Kute asks us to reflect on a number of questions:

  • What gives you joy?
  • What are your core skills?
  • What is stopping you from taking the next step to achieve alignment with your joy and your skills?

At the heart of Kute’s approach is encouragement to surrender – surrendering to our inner voice.  He explains this process in his book, The Magic of Surrender: Finding the Courage to Let Go.

Lulu & Mischka capture the essence of this process in their mantra meditation, Metamorphosis from their Horizon Album:

Don’t give up, keep letting go, simply show up, surrendering to the flow

Let yourself be broken, fall into pieces, Trust in the process, your metamorphosis

Let yourself be broken…stop resisting.  Relax into this moment, healing unfolding.

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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.

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.

Authentic Connection and Friendship through Vulnerability

In a previous post, I discussed Hugh Van Cuylenburg’s book, Let Go: It’s time to let go of shame, expectation and our addiction to social media.  In that discussion, I highlighted Hugh’s very strong conviction that vulnerability leads to authentic connections, which are essential for positive mental health.  This conviction led to the creation, with his brother Josh and Ryan Shelton, of a podcast titled The Imperfects.  Interestingly, the first episode of the podcast involved an extended interview with Missy Higgins.

Hugh chose Missy Higgins for this first episode because he had noticed on her Instagram that she was reading Johann Hari’s book, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression This choice proved a masterstroke as it set the foundation for subsequent episodes where people were encouraged to share their vulnerabilities and struggles.  Missy Higgins proved to be disarmingly honest, open and highly vulnerable.

Missy Higgins – disclosing vulnerabilities

There were a number of key areas of her life that Missy Higgins explored with Hugh in the podcast   (August, 2019), which was titled, Quitting Music, Depression & Connection.   Here are some of the vulnerabilities she discussed:

  • Depression – Missy Higgins explained that she had suffered from depression, on and off, for most of her life – she started seeing a therapist in year 11 after she became paralysed by overwhelm and collapsed.  This led to her medically-prescribed use of anti-depressants which she needs to go back to occasionally.  Missy Higgins explained that the medication enabled her to continue to do things that are good for her health such as practising mindfulness, exercising and connecting with friends and family (rather than isolating herself, a tendency reinforced by her introverted personality).   Johann Hari reinforced the value of connections and showed that there are seven social factors that exist today that represent lost connections and lead to depression and anxiety.
  • The images portrayed in magazines and social media – Missy Higgins found that the messages from social media, such as “you are not good enough”, contributed to her depression.  She indicated that women are particularly prone to these messages that communicate unrealistic and contradictory expectations, such as “you must be fit, curvy and thin”.  She felt under incredible pressure to “look good” all the time, stay thin and avoid going grey as she aged.   Missy Higgins referred to the absence of authentic role models to counteract the influence of perfect women portrayed through filters and “Photoshop”, which enables subscribers to “retouch and remix pics”.
  • Journalists’ pressure to expose her sexuality – Missy Higgins is an introvert and by nature a very private person.  However, journalists insisted on her disclosing her sexual preferences which was detrimental to her mental health and quite traumatic at a time when she was trying to work out her sexuality herself.   She noted that they were trying to “squeeze this vulnerable, personal information out of her”.  The constant harassment by journalists took its toll on her mental health.  Eventually, when she was ready, she disclosed that she was “bisexual”.  In a recent interview with Anh Do she stated that discussing her sexuality now was “really easy for me, because I don’t have anything to hide”.
  • Parenting challenge –  In a follow-up podcast interview (June, 2021) Missy Higgins spoke earnestly about how “emotionally exhausting” parenting two children was for herself and her husband, Dan.  She admitted that her children don’t like the food she cooks and hate to hear her sing at home (her source of sanity and happiness in the house!). Her son dislikes her favourite song, Special Two, and does everything possible to disturb and distract her when she is trying to compose songs on the piano.  Missy Higgins noted that “you don’t get much back” in “appreciation and reciprocity” from children, especially when they are young.  She stated that the difficulties with children and their behaviour are compounded when parents bring different “parenting styles” to a marriage so much so that she and Dan “can’t stand to be around each other” when the children are playing up.  Missy Higgins also observed that the “emotional overload” of parenting was exacerbated by the pandemic lockdown in Melbourne, leading to what has been described as “emotional inflammation”.

Turning points in Missy Higgin’s life

In the podcast, Missy Higgins described a number of key turning points in her life when she was at her lowest level of energy and mental health:

  • Touring in the US: Missy Higgins toured America for two and a half years in her early twenties to promote her songs on behalf of her record label at the time, Warner Brothers.  The experience, which included performing 260 concerts in a year, left her miserable and lonely.  Her loneliness resulted from loss of connection to family and friends in Australia and the pressures from her recording agent who were focused on achieving higher rankings for her songs on the music record charts and resultant increased revenue.  Added to this, was the pressure to write songs that were not true to her preferred type of music with its authenticity and openness.
  • Missy Higgins returned to Melbourne but found she was ill-at-ease in her home town.  She needed to escape from “prying eyes” and the artificiality of her life in America.  In 2006, Missy Higgins moved to Broome in Western Australia, the gateway to the Kimberley considered one of the great wildernesses of the world.  Broome is noted for its multiculturalism, camel rides on the beach at sunset, thriving foodie scene, natural wonders and a pearl farm.  Missy Higgins found that people in Broome were non-judgmental, treated each other “as humans” and were very linked to nature through their language and behaviour.  She stated that the constant exposure to the elements, such as monsoons, made you realise “how small your are”.  She was able to nourish herself through pursuits such as camping, bushwalking and “sitting on the beach under stars”.  After 8 months, she was able to return to Melbourne.
  • Experiencing writer’s block: After returning from Broome to Melbourne, Missy Higgins hired a flat and set up her piano and guitars to concentrate on writing songs.  She had experienced writer’s block and was trying to find a way to regain inspiration and energy for writing.  So she adopted the approach of people like Nicholas Cage and dressed for work each morning and worked a nine to five day on her writing.  However, this approach did not work for her.  She told her manager that she could no longer compose songs and that he was not to bring performance offers to her.  However, after 12 months of this imposed silence, he took the risk to present her with an offer that was too good to refuse.
  • Missy Higgins had received an offer from Sarah McLachlan to join her on a resurrected “Lilith Fair” tour in the US in mid-2010.  The Lilith Fair tours were a massive hit from 1997-1999, involving all-female festival performers and generating millions of dollars for charities.  Missy Higgins decided to join the tour and found that her positive feelings about composing songs came back to her.  She had dismissed writing songs and singing as a selfish pursuit that did nothing to make a difference in the world.  However, her fans reaction to her performances with Sarah in the US, provided endless “gratitude stories” and appreciation for how her songs over the years had made such a difference in their lives.  Missy Higgins realised then and there that her life purpose and contribution to the world flowed from writing and performing songs that communicated down-to-earth, honest feelings.
  • Avoiding criticism on social media – Missy Higgins admitted that she has always been sensitive to criticism.  There was a period before she went to Broome where she would spend a lot of time on social media and become obsessed about people leaving negative comments about her band, its composition and related decisions.  She became overwhelmed by the negativity because she tended to ignore the compliments and focus only on the negative (our brains have a negative bias).  Missy Higgins was so devastated by the negativity towards her that she did not leave the house.  Her manager, however, insisted that she had to get away from social media and stop looking for negative criticism.  He told her, “You are going to keeping reading until you find something negative” and reinforced the view that she had a tendency to hold onto the negative.  Missy Higgins stated in the podcast interview that she has “never read anything since” and this commitment was reinforced through her time in Broome.

Reflection

Missy Higgins contended “it’s a very radical act to show yourself and to love yourself” in the current social climate where everything and everyone is curated to show their “best self”.  She stated that as a performer she still has a “persona” that she puts forward in her performances.  Hugh suggested that the lyrics of her songs expressed vulnerability.  Missy Higgins responded by saying that “there is a huge difference between vulnerable in your lyrics and being vulnerable in person”.    She commented that lyrics can be shrouded in metaphor, mystery and abstraction.

Missy Higgins suggested that over time you can develop a mindset of “I have nothing to be ashamed of”, which opens the way to mutual sharing of vulnerability with another person.  She maintains that mutual vulnerability results in a “beautiful communion where both of you are recognising that you are just human” – thus acknowledging the shared human condition, vulnerability and the inability to keep everything together all the time.  Her friendship with Hugh is one example of this “beautiful communion”.  I found that being exposed to her vulnerability through The Imperfects motivated me to listen more often to her songs.  I started with the video of her live performance on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House in 2019.  I immediately found that her songs, performance and commentary had new meaning and significance for me – a new level of communion and understanding between artist and fan.

People have commented that one of the things that appeals about The Imperfects podcast is the deep friendship that is evident between Hugh, Josh and Ryan.  This comment reinforced Hugh’s conviction that vulnerability builds authentic connection and friendship.  Each of the key hosts of the podcast series have individually shared their own vulnerability in addition to adding self-disclosure to the interview responses of guests.  Hugh strongly encourages anyone to find someone to share their vulnerability with – a friend, family member, colleague, therapist – whoever they can trust with this precious, personal sharing.  Missy Higgins stated that being personally vulnerable overcomes the exhausting task of avoiding disclosing anything personal.

We can increase our self disclosure and vulnerability as we grow in mindfulness because we are able to develop a balanced perspective that recognises that we all share a vulnerable human condition that is uncertain and somewhat frightening.  Missy Higgins wrote a song about this common condition and the fact that everything is going so fast.  In introducing the song We Run So Fast during a TED× Talk, she advocated “just sitting still” and “letting time envelop you”. 

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Image by Terri Sharp 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.

Conscious Aging: Reframing for Health and Happiness

Maria Shriver – author, journalist and activist for healthy aging – recently spoke to Tami Simon about the Radically Reframing Aging Summit that they are collaborating on to promote a balanced view of aging.   Maria is the founder of Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM) which she established after her mother died of Alzheimer’s and following her awareness that two thirds of people living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia in America are women and the same percentage of carers for these sufferers are also women.  Maria was conscious that there was a lack of research and education about women’s Alzheimer’s and she set out to address this deficiency by funding research and education about Alzheimer’s management and prevention through the Movement which also engages in advocacy.

In the interview podcast with Tami Simon, Maria discussed several topics that will be covered in the Summit and explained some of the background to bringing together a range of “groundbreakers” drawn from many fields including performers, neuroscientists, medical professionals, psychologists, and entrepreneurs – all of whom have broken through the mythical “age barrier” to achieve outstanding results in work and life in their later years.

Fundamental to the Summit is the realisation that there are lots of myths about aging and unhelpful “narratives” that disempower people from achieving a healthy and productive life as they grow old.  While numerous narratives exist for early life up to and including age 40 (e.g. establishing a career, getting married and having children), there is very little in terms of positive narratives about aging and the later years of life.  One of Maria’s goals is to establish new “aging narratives” through the words and example of “groundbreakers”, some of whom are presenters at the Summit.

Some lessons from the groundbreakers

In the course of the podcast interview, Maria highlighted some of the key insights and lessons gleaned from the groundbreakers and she identified Tami Simon as one of them [Tami established her multimedia company Sounds True in 1985 to promote mindfulness, mental health and spirituality in business and now has over 600 podcast interviews with leaders in these fields].   The insights and lessons cover areas such as the following:

  • Reframing the aging narrative – the problem with the mainstream aging narrative is that it induces fear and prevents proactive actions to live later years in a meaningful, healthful and optimum way.  The focus on deterioration with aging, instead of potentiality, induces fear about the future and the possibility of chronic ill-health, Alzheimer’s and loneliness.  People become fixed in their ways, lacking initiative in dealing with their health and happiness.   Maria is determined to promote positive stories about aging and change the dominant narrative.  She points out that the groundbreakers presenting in the Summit proactively work on their mind, their body and their overall frame of mind.  They age consciously – reframing aging so that they experience health and happiness.  They work to achieve a designer future.
  • Reframing retirement – the old narrative about retirement involved finishing a career and engaging in some hobbies while leading a relatively sedentary life.  Reframing the retirement narrative involves a change in mindset that views the best years of life ahead, rather than behind. Groundbreakers live a life that inspires themselves and others.  They choose to work on what matters to them (something that they are passionate about); what “speaks to them” at the time (given their life experience, skill set and lessons learned); and what brings them joy, happiness and fulfillment.  They are able to flourish, enrich their life and deepen their life experience.  Pursuing a purpose that energizes them and enables them to tap into their creativity.  My brother Pat was an example of this when in his early 70’s (until he was 81), he started “virtual walking” (covering more than 25,000 kilometres) to raise funds for his aged care centre, Sinnamon Village.  Maria also shares the story of a woman who was retired by her law firm (because she was 60!) and went on to become a full-time art instructor at an Art School (a long-held dream of hers).   We are able to rewire and, like super-agers, pursue a life energised by a purpose and mission, access our creativity by challenging ourselves and adopt a mindset that sees ourselves as active and healthy.  The principle of changing the retirement narrative is also captured in Bob Bradshaw’s book, Don’t Retire to Expire: “Once you wake up, everything else is optional”.
  • Alzheimer’s prevention – given her family history, Maria was very determined to prevent Alzheimer’s, not only for herself, but also for the wider community through her Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM).  She recognised that the presence of Alzheimer’s in your parents is not a major determinant of whether you will experience Alzheimer’s or not – there are other factors such as the way you live that have a greater influence.  The Harvard Medical School in their report, Alzheimer’s Disease: A guide to diagnosis, treatment and caregiving, confirms the view that the major determinant of Alzheimer’s is lifestyle, not family history.  In the podcast, Maria shared what she does personally to ward off Alzheimer’s in line with current research into Alzheimer’s prevention and what is beneficial for a healthy brain and heart.  She explained, for example, that she exercises, tries to get adequate and quality sleep, reduces stress in her life (where possible), sets about learning new things and watches her diet and nutrition (no longer for weight-loss reasons but for the health of her mind and body).
  • Reframing life transitions – Maria highlighted the constant need for adaption in life as we experience periods of transition, e.g. marriage breakup, loss of a job, children leaving home, extended marriages or establishing a new relationship in later life.  Many of these transitions involve reframing one’s identity (e.g., identity changes because you are no longer a carer, paid employee of an organisation, or a provider of a home for your own children).  There can be a feeling of loneliness with the “empty nest” or a sense that you are “not needed anymore”.  The feelings of loneliness can be compounded by the death of a partner, close relative or friend.  Maria suggests that to make the transition we need to respect our feelings and face them while trying progressively to figure out a way forward for ourself.  She maintains that grief is a real challenge as we age because we lose people and, as a result, grief is an inevitable accompaniment of the aging process.  Jenée Johnson provides some sound advice on coping with grief.
  • Reframing death and dying – as we age and get closer to our death,it is natural to fear dying and to avoid conversations about this inevitable experience.  However, many mindfulness experts encourage meditating on death as a preparation for dying.  Maria informs herself about the dying process through her journalistic stories on near death experiences and the Hospice Movement.  She maintains that it is an ongoing challenge for all of us to work out “how to live well and how to die well”.  Maria contends that regrets are normal when we die and that we should die with as few regrets as possible through feeling that we have made the most of our life and used our gifts to enhance our own life and that of others.  Franks Ostaseski, an  expert in the process of dying and death, suggests that we go one step further when thinking about past regrets. He argues that we should replace regret with remorse so that we are motivated to do, and say things, differently when we reflect on what we have done or said, or failed to do or say.

Reflection

Maria points out tha t different cultures (such as African Americans) have a much more positive view of aging than Western society and respect the wisdom of their elders and, accordingly, treat older people with much deference and a wholesome respect.  I found even in Italy, for example, that older people were highly respected (to my surprise, having men and women of all ages offering their seat to me on a tram, even when they were sitting further away from me on the tram – I was in my early 70’s at the time). 

Maria suggests that it is critical that we have the conversation in public about aging and its attendant challenges and opportunities. People in Western society  have suffered in silence in the past and been subjected to the limiting, prevailing mindset about aging.  For example, Maria’s interviewer, Tami, mentioned the challenge of going grey as a woman and the pressures to die her hair a different colour (which she resisted, being a groundbreaker in lots of ways).  Maria also encourages us to write about our fears, to get them outside our head  and onto paper.  She has found that this serves to reduce the fear and related stress and enables her to take appropriate action.

People in chronic pain have additional challenges as they age.  Maria expressed empathy and compassion for people in this situation.  She stressed the need to express gratitude at each stage of life for what we have and are able to do.  In being grateful for our current capabilities, both mental and physical, we are more likely to care for them and develop them, rather than take them for granted.  We are also more likely to be compassionate towards others who lack our capabilities because of some form of disability.

Maria shares her own life experiences, lessons and meditation practices in her book, I’ve Been Thinking…:Reflections, Prayers and Meditations for a Meaningful LifeShe also expands on the book’s insights through a regular podcast, Meaningful Conversations, where she interviews people she admires and explores life’s challenges and the “art of self-invention”.

 As we grow in mindfulness through listening to podcasts, reflecting on our own life and engaging in meditation and other mindfulness practices, we can become more aware of our limiting narratives, be more proactive as we age and tap into our creative energy to pursue a meaningful and fulfilling life purpose.   

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Image by annayozman 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.

Changing Our Inner Landscape to Achieve Freedom

In her book The Choice: A True Story of Hope, Dr. Edith Eger tracks her journey from imprisonment in Auschwitz, to her physical liberation and, finally, her personal freedom from the imprisonment of her “inner landscape”.   She had been transported to Auschwitz by cattle train with her parents and sister and had experienced unbelievable maltreatment through torture and starvation following the murder of her parents in the gas chamber the day after they arrived at the concentration camp.

Edith contends, in concert with her mentor and friend Viktor Frankl,  that “our worst experiences can be our best teachers”.   In her later book, The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life, she has detailed practical steps to overcome the mental imprisonment that can occur through grief, anger, guilt, shame and other difficult emotions and experiences.  Edith does not sugar-coat the reality of daily life.  She maintains that traumatic events, setbacks, disappointments, illness and the resultant suffering are part and parcel of the human condition with its uncertainty, ambiguity and challenges.  In alignment with Gabor Maté, she argues that it is not what happens to us in life that determines our mental health, but how we relate to these experiences and their impacts  – and this is a matter of conscious choice.

Choosing freedom over victimhood

One of the 12 lessons Edith writes about in her book The Gift is freedom from “the prison of victimhood”.   She asserts that playing the victim rewards us by enabling us to blame others for our situation and avoid responsibility for our own response to our adverse experience.  This is in line with Judson Brewer’s concept of the habit loop (trigger-reward-behaviour) that provides reinforcement for habituated behaviour such as addiction and cravings.  In the victimhood context, the trigger can be any recollection or trauma stimulus event; the reward is avoidance of responsibility (not having to do anything different); and the behaviour can find expression in depression, anxiety addiction, or any number of self-destructive behaviours.   

Edith maintains that a sign of victimhood is continuously asking, “Why me?”.  In contrast, the road to personal freedom requires the question, “What now?” – given what has happened what do I need to do to survive and what do I want to achieve in the future.  This goal-directed response builds hope and energy to move forward.  The alternative is to wallow in the continuous self-story of “poor me!”.   Edith who has extensive experience as a clinical psychologist and trauma counsellor provides many accounts in her book of people, including herself, who have been able to make the choice to exchange victimhood for energetic hope and achievement. 

Edith reinforces the view that the pursuit of inner freedom is a lifetime task and she commented that even as she wrote her book, The Gift, she still experienced “flashbacks and nightmares”.  She told Gabor that his Holocaust experience would always be with him because of the embodiment of trauma.  They both agree from their own personal experience, their work as clinical psychologists and trauma counsellors and their underpinning research, that what is required to find freedom is inner work.

Edith also contends that the pursuit of inner freedom is a never-ending process of finding your “true self”.  It is a journey of self-discovery – of unearthing our inner resources, enlisting our creativity and clarifying our purpose in life.  It ultimately involves identifying the ways we can make a contribution to the welfare and wellness of others.  Edith found her path in her writing, her counselling work helping others who have experienced adverse childhood experiences and trauma and public speaking such as her TED talk, The Journey of Grieving, Feeling and Healing.   In her book, she also describes the journey to freedom from victimhood of her eldest daughter who experienced brain injury as a result of a serious fall.  Edith points out that her daughter, at one stage, actually challenged her for treating her daughter as a victim.  As Edith comments, we can assign a victim role to other people as well as ourselves, thus locking in a negative and disabling self-belief.

Reflection

I am confident that we can each identify a period in our lives, even the present day, when we felt like, and talked like, a victim.  Very few people have lived their lives free of adverse childhood experiences or other traumas – whether they involve a  relationship breakup, hurtful divorce, death of a loved one, serious injury and disablement or diagnosed life-threatening chronic illness. 

As we grow in mindfulness, we can explore our inner landscape, grow in self-awareness, identify our negative self-talk, and develop the insight and courage to pursue our personal freedom and our life purpose.

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Image by Petya Georgieva 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.

Solitude and Silence in Nature – A Pathway to Self-Awareness and Resilience

We can have an approach-avoidance attitude to solitude in nature – being alone in silence away from other people.  It can at first generate fear and tap into all our negative associations with “being alone”.  Solitude is different to loneliness because it involves choice – choosing to be by ourselves or to make the most of being “forced” to be alone.  It involves developing a positive perspective on being alone – seeing it as an opportunity for increased self-awareness and empowerment rather than a deprivation of company.

Ruth Allen, author of Grounded: How Connection with Nature Can Improve our Mental and Physical Wellbeing, maintains that when we are in nature we are never really alone – we are always in the presence of other living things that are around us that we often do not see.  Our natural environment is teeming with life.  When we choose solitude in nature, time away from other people, we can become more connected with nature and every living thing.  We can be more open to the vibrancy and beauty that surrounds us.

Often, we can be fearful of being alone with ourselves – facing up to who we really are (rather than who we project to others).  It means confronting those parts of ourselves that we may not like – it might be our character flaws or personal weaknesses, our past history of unkindness or thoughtlessness or our self-indulgence.  Many of these traits can be hidden away from consciousness because they appear too painful to confront.  The power of solitude in nature is the gift of silence and quiet reflection – time away from the distracting influence of noise and the pollution of expectations (our own and those of other people).

Gaining self-awareness and clarity

Solitude in nature offers us the opportunity to become increasingly self-aware – to understand who we really are and what we are truly capable of.   In his TED Talk, photographer Benjamin Powell argues that solitude in nature gives “our inner voice the opportunity to speak” and reveals our life purpose to us because it unearths our “latent gifts and talents” and cultivates unselfishness.  We can move from being self-absorbed to being absorbed in everything around us.

Often when we are experiencing challenges we say, “I need to go for a walk to clear my head”.  Solitude in nature gives us the opportunity to develop clarity, restore perspective and find creative solutions to issues that are causing us stress.  We can gain insight into our own way of perceiving the issues as well as develop an understanding from other people’s perspective.  Reflection through solitude in nature can help us, for example, to understand residual resentment that we may carry after an interaction (even if that was a long time ago).  It enables us to step back from the noise and clutter of a busy life and self-indulgence in hurt feelings and to find the insight to balance our perspective on the interaction, including understanding how our own sensitivity has contributed to our hurt feelings and appreciating the influences that contributed to the other person’s behaviour.

Strengthening relationships

When we return from solitude in nature, we are in a better place to engage with others, whether partners, family, friends, or colleague.  We can be more self-aware (particularly of our sensitivities and our habituated behavioural patterns), more patient through absorption in the quietness and stillness of nature, more in control of our own emotions and more ready to appreciate others in our life through experiencing gratitude for nature and its freely-given gifts.

Building resilience and self-reliance

When we spend time alone in nature, in stillness and silence, we have to fall back on our resources and resourcefulness.  We have to tap into our inner strength as we explore our “inner landscape” with openness and curiosity.  Meeting this challenge head on builds our capacity to meet the challenges of everyday life and to learn the depth and breadth of our inner strength.  Solitude in nature can provide us with an experience of bliss that flows over into our daily lives and strengthens us when we are confronted by adversity.  We know, too, from experience of solitude that we can seek refuge in nature to restore our groundedness and self-belief.

Reflection

If we have an aversion for solitude in nature, we can explore the feelings we are experiencing to better understand the source of our fear.  It might be that such solitude is a trigger for a traumatic reaction because of prior adverse experiences.  It could be that we are very reluctant to look too closely at our lives and what we have done in the past.  Sometimes, we may need professional support to engage with the challenge of solitude.

Ruth contends that we can train ourselves for solitude in nature and offers activities that we can undertake when alone in nature and ten strategies to employ when planning solitude in nature.  She also cautions against trying to move too fast or too far when we are not used to spending time alone.  Ruth points out, too, that we can progress from a short period to longer periods in solitude as we expand our comfort zone.  She also recommends that we reflect on our solitude experience and learn what natural places are more conducive to wellness for us as well as what is an ideal amount of time for us to spend in nature alone.

As we grow in mindfulness through solitude in nature and the resultant self-reflection, we can grow in self-awareness, self-reliance, and resilience to face the challenges of life.  We can also gain clarity about our life purpose and what we can contribute to helping others achieve wellness.

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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.

Finding Your Life Purpose

In his book, The Human Quest for Meaning, Paul Wong maintains that finding a unique purpose that transcends yourself and realises your full potential as one of the pillars of a meaningful life.   Identifying and pursuing your life purpose is a key ingredient to experiencing happiness in your life.  People often experience dissatisfaction and unhappiness if they are not able to use their core skills, knowledge, and experience in the pursuit of something that is meaningful and transcends themselves.  Each of us is attempting to create a meaningful story for our life that is not constrained by limiting, negative self-talk.

There are many pathways to identifying and pursuing your life purpose and each of us has to find our own path.  For some, the catalyst for finding their life purpose is a life crisis experienced by themselves, e.g., a life-threatening illness or major job loss; for others, the catalyst can be observing others experiencing extreme or destitute conditions.  Some people consciously pursue their life purpose through meditation and mindfulness practices and find the strength and sensitivity to pursue their life purpose.

Discovering and pursuing life purpose through nature

Ruth Allen, author of Grounded: How Connection with Nature can Improve Our Mental and Physical Wellbeing, tells the story of how she was totally absorbed by nature as a child and loved being amongst trees and wildlife.   Motivated by this love of nature, she decided to complete a degree in geology and undertake related PhD research.  However, she found that she ended up further and further away from nature as she pursued her research and work in a laboratory studying tiny samples through a microscope.  

Ruth lost the sense of the expansiveness and the interconnectedness of nature and her own connection with it.   She decided that to identify her true purpose in life, she had to get back into nature which she did over a number of years in forests and the wild.  She had lost her way and sought to rebalance her life through her immersion in nature.  She eventually discovered her life purpose as a counsellor and eco-psychotherapist helping other people to regain balance in their life through connection with nature.  She is able to use eco-therapies in her outdoor practice and to motivate others to connect to nature through her speaking, writing and adventure modelling.

Discovering and pursuing life purpose through meditation and chanting

Tina Turner tells the story of how she overcame the various traumas in her life through meditation and chanting.  She felt totally disillusioned with life and distressed by her abusive relationship.  By persistent, daily practice of Buddhist meditation and chanting, she was able to find the energy, insight, and courage to pursue her life purpose as a singer who moved people and a social activist through her work as co-founder and contributor to the Beyond Music Project which seeks to develop connectedness and unity through the celebration of cultural diversity. Despite her adversity, she was able to develop resilience and happiness in pursuit of a meaningful and rewarding life.

Motivated to a life of compassionate action after observing the desperate plight of other people

There are numerous instances where people have discovered their life purpose by observing the destitution, desperation, or debilitating life of others.  Here are some examples:

  • Nicolle Edwards and husband Gareth set up the domestic violence support service RizeUp Australia when they observed the plight of women fleeing domestic violence with their children.  Their focus is on providing the set-up requirements for emergency housing and they have established the charity to gather donations (money and furniture) to support their work in helping domestic violence victims transition into a different housing environment.  They have been surprised by the level of support that they have been able to muster through unified action in pursuit of what has become their life purpose.
  • Isabel Allende, in her recent book The Soul of a Woman, recounts how through her research of violence against women (including a visit to a small community of women in Kenya whose lives had been devastated by war and AIDS), she was moved to establish the Isabelle Allende Foundation whose mission is to empower women to “to secure reproductive rights, economic independence and freedom from violence”.  Isabel’s poignant and soul-searching memoir, Paula, written during her daughter’s fatal, porphyria-induced coma was an outstanding success and generated the income which Isabel used to create the Foundation.  She sees her life purpose as enabling women to be safe, valued and loved and to have empowerment through control over their own bodies and personal resources.  Isabel pursues her life purpose through her Foundation and her writing – she has written 26 books selling over 74 million copies.
  • Olga Murray, a highly successful and widely respected lawyer, was moved by the impoverishment of children in Nepal when she visited Kathmandu and observed their destitute conditions, including young girls being sold into slavery and prostitution during a Festival.   She established the Nepal Youth Foundation in 1990 to provide children who were the most impoverished with “education, housing, medical care and human rights.”   She has continued to work to support the Foundation in her 90’s and the Foundation continues to save girls from slavery through their “indentured daughters” program.
  • Goldie Hawn, through her own experience of panic attacks as a child, developed a very strong empathy for children suffering unhappiness and depression through mental illness.  She had used meditation throughout her own life to develop self-awareness and manage her own emotional stress and she became acutely aware of how mindfulness enables children to manage the stresses of their lives.  This led her to establish the Goldie Hawn Foundation which developed the MindUP program which employs educational programs to facilitate the well-being of children.  The programs for both children and teachers are soundly based on “neuroscience, mindfulness awareness, positive psychology and social-emotional learning (SEL)”.

Reflection

Many things can be a catalyst for discovering our life purpose and providing the energy and motivation to pursue it with courage and focused action.   As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, mindfulness practices and reflection on our life experiences, we can develop the insight to identify our unique purpose and the resilience to pursue it through compassionate action.

Hugh Van Cuylenburg developed the GEM pathway to happiness and resilience – gratitude, empathy, mindfulness – after a visit to a poor village in India.  He now pursues his life purpose as a motivational speaker and writer working with multiple organisations, including elite sport’s teams.

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Image by Vikramjit Kakati 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.

Insight Meditation for Peace and Happiness

Mark Coleman offers an insight meditation podcast as part of the extended bonuses of the upgrade version of the Nature Summit.  He introduces the guided meditation as a mindfulness practice that is in line with the Vipassana tradition which seeks to develop deep personal insight to gain a peaceful, happy, and productive life.  The Vipassana meditation approach involves in-depth insight practice over ten days in a residential training environment with a rigid discipline code designed to remove all external distractions and facilitate sustained awareness.

Insight meditation focuses on exploration of  our inner landscape by paying attention to aspects of life as it is experienced – whether that is our breathing, our listening, or our bodily sensations.  It seeks to enable the practitioner to “see things as they really are” and not be blinded by self-delusion, difficult emotions, negative thoughts, or intense bodily sensations.  This intense self-observation and self-exploration highlight the interdependence of mind, body, and emotions.

Guided insight meditation

Mark’s light-touch, 30-minute meditation utilises some of the principles of Vipassana without the rigidity of the discipline code or the residential requirement.  His approach in the guided meditation is intended “to bring awareness to every aspect of your experience” as you are experiencing it.  It builds on and deepens mindfulness of breathing and extends paying attention to sounds and bodily sensations.  It has a similar slow-burn focus to Vipassana meditation to enable receptivity to what is occurring and how it is being experienced.  It takes “awareness” to another level.

At the hear of Mark’s approach is the desire to help you fully understand the mind-body connection and identify and eliminate patterns of thinking, sensing, feeling, and interpreting that cloud your connection to self and the world around you.  It is heavily embedded in your bodily experience and awareness of that experience.

Mark begins by having you focus first on your posture and any tightness in your body – encouraging you to progressively release tension in your jaw, neck, shoulders, stomach, and the muscles in your face and around your eyes.  Throughout the meditation he encourages you to not only be aware of aspects of your experience but be conscious of this focused awareness – being conscious that you are being aware, paying attention not only to the content of your awareness but also the process of being aware.

A graduated approach to paying attention

Mark begins the actual guided meditation by having you focus on the sounds that surround you and being conscious that you are actively listening.  He discourages interpreting the sounds, evaluating them as good or bad or thinking about the sounds (e.g., trying to work out where they are coming from).  He suggests that you “stay with the direct experience of hearing” so that you can be not only aware of the sounds but also the inevitable silence that occurs between them.

He then moves on to have you shift your attention to the experience of breathing, noting the qualities of your breathing – hurried or extended, smooth or stilted, deep or shallow.  As part of this intense but relaxed focus, he then gets you to pay attention to each breath as it is occurring – through a sustained focus on each in-breath, out-breath, and the pause between.  He suggests that you maintain a general awareness of your body as you await the next in-breath entering your body    through your nose.  At this stage, he reinforces his intention to help you “know what’s happening as it is happening”.

There will be times when you become “lost in thought” and lose your focus – this provides the opportunity to build awareness of your habituated thinking behaviour and become conscious of any pattern in your thoughts.  Constantly returning to your desired focus progressively builds your “awareness muscle”, something that is a widespread deficit in this era of incessant, intrusive, and sustained interruptions and distractions.

In the latter stages of the guided meditation, Mark addresses the issue of bodily sensations.  Again, the aim here is to build awareness through direct, conscious experience of what is happening for you.  So, Mark has you focus not only on the nature of the bodily sensation (unpleasant or pleasant) but also your relationship to it – how you are relating to the sensation, e.g., with avoidance, resistance, rejection, or persistence.  Strong feelings, including pain, will arise at different stages but this is natural as the inner barriers are removed and the sensation is experienced and explored directly.  Mark maintains that this level of engagement can lead to “ease”, no matter what you are experiencing.  Ultimately, it involves being honest and open with yourself about what you are experiencing.  This personal truthfulness underpins the GROW approach to overcoming mental health issues and a “disordered life”.

Clarity about your life purpose

The benefits of insight meditation include the experience of peace and happiness and clarity about your life purpose.  As the clutter of thoughts, sensations and emotions reduce, you are able to gain greater clarity about how you can contribute to making life better for other people,  You become clearer about your core skills, extent of your knowledge and the breath of your experience and can identify ways to contribute from this position of increased self-awareness.  Happiness is intensified when you can utilise your core attributes in pursuit of a purpose beyond yourself.

Reflection

Insight meditation uses our breathing as the anchor to enable us to explore our inner landscape – our thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations.  The discipline of constantly returning to our breath when distractions occur helps to keep us grounded in the present experience.  This self-exploration highlights our personal barriers and how we react to what we are perceiving and experiencing in life.

As we grow in mindfulness though insight meditation, we gain a deepened self-awareness, heightened self-regulation and clarity about our life purpose.  This, in turn, engenders sustainable peace, happiness and productivity.
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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.