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.

Turning Your Life Around – a Buddhist Perspective

In her book Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good, Tina Turner identifies a number of ways to achieve our full potential and realise happiness in our lives.  In a previous post I discussed how she chanted the Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo mantra as a way to tap into her fundamental Buddha nature which releases “limitless courage, wisdom and compassion” to overcome any obstacle or challenge in life. However, along the way she encountered the pull down to a lower life condition created by negative self-stories.

Tina experienced negative self-talk that saw her as not beautiful, not talented, or too fat.  These messages were reinforced by her interpretation of her mother’s behaviour – her neglect and desertion as well as her preferential treatment of her sister.  We can each develop specific negative self-talk through our experiences of the words and behaviour of our parents, our “friends”, classmates, teachers, or the community generally. 

When we entertain these thoughts, they begin to have a life of their own and can be a powerful pull away from the realisation of our potential and our happiness.  The strength of these negative thoughts, as in Tina’s case, can be reinforced by the press and/or social media which can be particularly unkind, hurtful, and damaging to self-esteem.  

Overcoming the negative self-talk

Tina’s Buddhist beliefs enabled her to see the good in everyone, including herself – to understand the inherent Buddha nature of everyone.  This strong belief in the core value and worth of everyone, which can have its origins in any philosophy or religion, can be a strong antidote to negative self-talk.

A key strategy that Tina employed and that is advocated by mindfulness experts such as Jon Kabat-Zin is to assert that “we are not our thoughts” – that we are much more than our limiting self-talk.  This recognition and constant affirmation are powerful ways to break free from the holds of negative self-perception.

Tina reaffirms the positive energy and self-talk that is generated by chanting the powerful Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo mantra or other forms of mantra singing.  The vibrational energy and resultant healing in mantra singing are confirmed by neuroscientists.   Tina maintains that we can each have our own preferred way of tapping into positive energy whether that be singing, listening to music, observing nature, walking or exercising.   The important process is to find a way to replace the disabling energy of negative self-talk with the powerful energy of whatever stimulates positive energy and resonance for us.

Reframing our difficulties and challenges

Despite our best efforts to generate positive energy, we can be thrown off balance by life-changing difficulties or challenges such as illnesses, loss of a job, death in the family, deterioration of another family member or other forms of emotional overload.  Workload and the challenges of being a carer can add to the tendency to lose our balance and develop negativity. 

Tina draws on the work of Nichiren and his restatement of the Buddhist concept of “changing poison into medicine” – turning challenges and setbacks as opportunities for learning and to grow stronger, enhancing our “courage, wisdom and compassion”.  When she was about to perform after a night of celebrating the close of a very successful music tour, she was low in energy and high in reticence but found the strength to do her chanting and remind herself that hidden treasures lie in life’s challenges.  She went on stage to conduct a highly successful event.  She did not let old habits and negative self-talk destroy her positive energy but overcame them through chanting and waking up to the beauty in her life, including the pleasure on people’s faces when they heard her sing.

Reflection

Tina presents a positive approach to dealing with negative self-talk and life’s challenges and setbacks and demonstrates in her own life how to turn your life around, develop resilience and achieve sustainable happiness.   There is a general consensus that chanting mindfully is itself a form of meditation that can enhance our capacity to be present in the moment, enrich our inner landscape and increase our inner strength.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can experience the ease of wellness, the energy of connectedness and the insight to pursue out life’s purpose and passion.

Tina’s book is enlightening, engaging and enriching. It’s readability and attractiveness is created by her rich story-telling, her openness and her vulnerability.

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Image by Kanenori 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.

Adversity, Resilience and Happiness: A Chanting and Meditation Pathway

Tina Turner experienced an incredible amount of adversity – an abusive marital relationship, stalled singing career, severe illness (including a stroke and kidney failure), all preceded by adverse childhood experiences (including parents who constantly fought, divorced and abandoned her).  At age 34, still in her destructive relationship, Tina discovered Buddhist chanting and meditation and this eventually changed her life, giving her the courage to break off her damaging relationship and launch her solo career.  Tina explains her journey in her new book,  Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good.

The chant that changed her life

Tina explains how she discovered the power of the Daimoku – the chanting of the Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.  This mantra is central to Buddhist practice and millions of people around the world practise it every day.  Orlando Bloom, the English actor, is also a strong advocate and practitioner of this mantra.

Tina maintains that chanting the Buddhist mantra generates vibrational energy and positive Karma in a person’s life.  She explains “Karma” as “the sum of all your actions – thoughts, words and deeds”  and suggests that it is like a “balance sheet” reflecting the net balance of the positive and negative actions of your life.  Karma “determines our dominant life condition”.

Tina maintains that chanting the mantra is doing a workout for your spirit and likens it to a physical workout that conditions you for physical exertion and sporting activities.  She suggests that the time spent in daily chanting should be influenced by the level of your karma limitations (excess negative over positive energy), your life condition and the magnitude of your dreams. 

Tina writes that she spent many hours a day chanting when she was in a karmic low and experiencing adverse life conditions while still holding onto very big dreams.  She found that the very positive results she achieved with her chanting acted as reinforcement to maintain her daily practice.  She was, however, able to modify the time spent on chanting as her life became more balanced.  Tina suggests that even 15 minutes chanting the Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo mantra each day, can be beneficial for your life condition and the achievement of your dreams.

Buddhist wisdom – the Ten Worlds

In her book, Tina introduces the “Ten Worlds” of Buddhism that describe our “life condition” and likens them to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. She explains that our life condition encompasses our thoughts, moods, and our overall wellbeing which, in turn, influence how we view ourselves and others, our emotional disposition, our decisions and actions.  Tina compares the lower levels of the Ten Worlds to the lower levels of the hierarchy of needs such as physiological needs, safety, need for belonging and self-esteem. 

In Tina’s view, the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-actualization, accords with elements of the top four Buddhist Worlds, namely Learning, Realization, Compassion, and Buddhahood (complete freedom, endless courage, wholeness, a sense of connection to the “life force” of the universe).  Both Learning and Realization are developed through learning and reflecting on our own experiences and insights and that of others.

Tina found that one of the attractions of the Buddhist concept of Ten Worlds was the idea that you can progress directly from the bottom level to the top levels through concerted inner work, working daily on enriching your inner landscape. Her pathway was that of Buddhist chanting and meditation.  She maintains that we each have to find our own pathway to live more fully.

Reflection

Tina has demonstrated throughout her life the capacity to bounce back from physical, emotional and relationship challenges – she has shown resilience in the face of adversity.  In the process, she has been able to achieve deep happiness.  As she points out, we all seek happiness but it is invariably “elusive”.  Sustaining a state of happiness is a challenge. 

Tina was able to grow in mindfulness and awareness through Buddhist chanting and meditation and found that her daily practice enabled her to rise above challenging emotions and circumstances, enrich her life, and achieve her wildest dreams.  For each of us there is a potential pathway to resilience and happiness and the realisation of our dreams and life purpose. 

As Tina states in her book Happiness Becomes You:

Each of us is born, I believe, with a

unique mission, a purpose in life that

only we can fulfill.

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Image by Наталья Данильченко 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.

Let the Energy of the Seasons Into Your Life

America is beginning to enjoy the warmth of Spring.  Mitra Manesh, meditation teacher with MARC UCLA, encourages us to align ourselves with the energetic influence of the seasons.  In her meditation podcast, An Invitation to Spring, she invites us to shed the hibernation and energy saving of Winter and embrace the new beginnings and new life of Spring.  With Spring we begin to hear the urgent cries of new-born baby birds as their parents frantically search for food; we see buds appearing and flowers emerging and opening as captured by the Moving Art of Louie Schwartzberg; we start to smell the aroma from new blossoms; and feel the vibrancy of new life as the warmth of lengthening days and light engender new beginnings on our sensory palate. 

Attuning with nature is both energising and healing.   As we absorb the light and energy of Spring, we can begin to envisage new beginnings for ourselves.  Mitra encourages us at the outset of her meditation to take several deep breaths to breathe in the energy that surrounds us and to begin to imagine a new beginning.

Throughout her guided meditation podcast, Mitra employs intentional imagination.  The focus of our imagination initially is drawn to our internal reality, not the emergent world around us.  Mitra encourages us to begin to progressively imagine comfort in a part of our body, calmness in our mind and contentment in our heart.  As we engender these feelings through intentional imagination, we can feel an infusion of energy and begin to imagine new beginnings in our life – whether that be overcoming addiction, breaking free of negative self-stories, opening to love, clearing clutter from our lives, bringing creativity to our work or any other endeavour that opens up a new world of possibilities.   Mitra suggests that we capture the essence of our envisaged new beginning by making a wish.

The energy of new beginnings

Napoleon Hill reminds us that “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve”.  The power of imagining a better future is brought home to us by the work of Nancy McGirr, former wartime photographer, who used her imagination and talents to envisage and create a better future for children in Guatemala who survived by scavenging for recyclable materials in the dump.   To realise her vision, Nancy established a not-for-profit organisation now called  Fotokids.   Her mission is “to help small groups of Central American young people from the poorest of barrios develop useful, employable skills as a means to self-exploration, expression, and discovery.” 

Nancy’s photography project has helped young children and their families emerge from the depths of poverty to improve their lives and financial situation.  Children involved in the project(s) learn photographic skills, creative writing and how to use computers.  The initial six children helped by the project through the generous support of Konica Japan has grown to more than a thousand children and 500 families.  Nancy realised very early on through a photographic project undertaken as an employee of Reuters that she needed to do more than just observe the plight of these children, she had to take compassionate action

Nancy has been able to align her core skills, developed over many years and photographic assignments in multiple countries, to her life purpose and bring hope and joy to impoverished children.  Her success is attested to by the many products the children’s photography generates such as cards, prints, Christmas ornaments and books, including the award-winning book, Out of the Dump Writings and Photographs by Children from Guatemala.  Profits from the book and photographic products go towards the children’s education, welfare, and the photography project itself.  The quality of the photographs is attested to by the exhibitions that have appeared around the world in places like Tokyo, Paris, California, London, and Amsterdam.

Reflection

Nancy has demonstrated the power of imagination and envisaging a new beginning for herself and others.  She left the security of a well-paid job with international travel and fame to work in the obscurity and insecurity of a freelance photographer in Guatemala.  She has been able to capture her dream and the dreams of the children involved through a new publication, To Capture Dreams, that shares the experiences and output of 20 years of Fotokids. 

As we grow in mindfulness through our meditations and the inspiration of people like Nancy McGirr, we can gain the insight, courage, and creativity to discover and pursue our own life purpose that will bring happiness and fulfilment as we align our core skills with needs beyond ourselves.  If we let the energy of the seasons into our lives through nature meditation, we can begin this lifetime journey that will bring connection to others and every living thing.

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Image by bernswaelz 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 Silence Amid Digital Noise and Overload

I have previously discussed the barriers to achieving silence in this busy world including the discomfort of others and internal barriers such as self-doubts and negative messages.  Christine Jackman, author of Turning Down the Noise, acknowledges that even as she wrote this book, she was beset with self-doubts including, “Who will read this?” Christine reminds us that it is not only internal noise that we have to deal with but also digital noise that causes overload, both mental and emotional.  “Information overload” has become vey much a part of our language as we struggle to handle the endless flood of information from social media, TV, and email.  However, as Christine points out, the real toll of overload is on the emotional level.

The emotional toll of digital noise and overload

The social media giants such as Facebook, Apple and Twitter aim to distract us by drawing our attention away to something they want us to spend time on or purchase.  Christine cites research that shows the effect of headline grabbing by Facebook and Twitter – identifying what particular headlines are best able to grab our attention and induce us to click through to the article or message.  These headlines use emotive words to capture our attention, employ high profile people, promote conflict, and engage “polarising emotions”.   The negative emotional impact of digital noise  is compounded by cyberbullying and trolling

Research into the negative impact of digital noise, intensified by the advent of the smartphone, demonstrates that the associated noise pollution results in decline of cognitive abilities, increase in sleep disturbance and development of mental health issues such as anxiety, disconnection, loneliness, and depression.  In stark contrast, Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman, in their book, Altered Traits, have demonstrated that the stillness and silence embedded in mindfulness meditation results in four positive outcomes, (1) increased concentration and focus, (2) improved self-regulation in the face of stress, (3) heightened self-awareness and (4) increased empathy and compassion.  The latter outcome is enhanced considerably by specific loving-kindness meditation

The need for supportive lifestyle changes

Christine explored mindfulness meditation as a way to quiet the mind and “counter the toxic effects of digital noise and overload”.  She decided to practice meditation for 30 minutes each day, split into two 15-minute sessions – one in the morning (when I find it best to meditate) and the other in the night before going to bed.  This level of committed mindfulness practice is sustainable in a  busy life and the evening session can prove to be an antidote to sleeplessness. 

Mindfulness practice needs to be supplemented by supportive lifestyle changes.  Christine chose to remove social media apps from her phone and introduced a range of other changes, some of which are discussed in her “Silence: A How-to Guide” at the end of her book.  She still had to deal with the negative chatter from her “Monkey Mind” when she was experiencing tiredness or boredom or feeling threatened.  However, she found that through her mindfulness practice she had quietened digital noise and overload and was better able to recognise the “noise” from her Monkey Mind as well as disarm the resultant self-doubts.

Reflection

Mindfulness practice, including meditation, can help us to maintain our stillness and equilibrium in the face of digital noise, overload, and the resultant stress.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop increased self-awareness and self-acceptance and more readily deal with our negative thoughts.  Associated with that is increase in the capacity to reduce our reactivity to negative triggers and to take wise action.  However, mindfulness practice needs to be supported by other compatible lifestyle changes which reciprocally are enabled by quieting the mind.

It is interesting that even in times of success, we can be assailed by negative thoughts that can impact our self-esteem and derail us from our life purpose.  Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the highly successful book Eat, Pray, Love, explains this dynamic in her TED Talk, Success, failure and the drive to keep creating.  Elizabeth suggests that the route to equilibrium is “to find your way home again” – and meditation can help us on this journey to “whatever it is that we love beyond ourselves” and to which we can dedicate our energies with “singular devotion”, our life purpose.  She explains in another talk that our current work-from-home situations created by the pandemic represent a great opportunity to confront our fears and use reflection, meditation, and mindfulness practices to develop self-awareness and self-regulation.

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Image by MeHe 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.

Domestic Violence: A Catalyst for Pursuing Life Purpose

The challenge we are confronted with during various stages of our life is to decide what is our purpose in life.  Finding that unique purpose can lead to a singular focus, total commitment and “unified action”, where your contribution to community – utilising your unique knowledge, skills, experiences, insights, and connections – becomes your unifying focus.  Trent Dalton, journalist and author of  All Our Shimmering Skies, tells the story of how domestic and family violence became the catalyst for Nicolle Edwards and husband Gareth to identify and pursue their life purpose in the form of RizeUp Australia, a registered charity providing concrete support to women and families fleeing domestic violence.

Trent’s story, Hands & Hearts in the Australian Weekend Magazine (12-13 December 2020), describes the practical help that RizeUp provides in terms of furnishing a house for domestic and family violence refugees.  With the help of a large social media following and a very large group of volunteers, Nicolle and Gareth provide home-making support for DV refugees when they move out of a Women’s Shelter to often-unfurnished, emergency  accommodation.  The list of furniture and accessories provided at no cost (or fuss), including bedding and basic appliances, is extensive and very impressive – all provided and set up for free through donations of goods and money and the donation of time and effort by volunteers in the RizeUp network.  Nicolle comments in the article that the “sigh of relief” of the recipient mother is motivation enough for her to dedicate herself to this life purpose.

Nicole realised that she could help domestic violence refugees and their children when she turned to social media to provide help to a DV refugee very early on (before RizeUp was created in 2015).  She was amazed at the response and with Gareth created the RizeUp network, which has now set up more than 980 homes for DV refugees and their families.  The RizeUp Facebook page provides many photos showing volunteers at work and the kind of practical home support provided by the network.   Nicole and Gareth demonstrate the strength and sensitivity required to pursue your life purpose.

My story – my experience of domestic and family violence

I experienced domestic and family violence as a child because my father, who was suffering from PTSD, had become an alcoholic. I heard the many shouting fights between my mother and father because he was spending so much of our income on alcohol.  I do recall our family at one stage living off food donations from the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  I also recall the times when my mother ended up in hospital after particularly violent arguments.   

I left home immediately after Grade 12 to study in Victoria and when I returned five years later the situation had not improved.  So, one day when my father was at work, I helped my mother pack her things and moved the both of us to a small house at the back of a shop.  The strangely happy part of the story is that after my parents divorced, my father remarried, gave up alcohol and walked every day for an hour for his physical and mental health.  He also used to drive my mother to church each Sunday after the separation.

It is only as I grew older that I realised how little support there was for my father whose nerves were shattered after serving in the Australian Army in Singapore in the Second World War.  He had been a prisoner-of-war in Changi prison for 18 months following the capture of Singapore by the Japanese.  Stephen Wynn describes life after The Surrender of Singapore as “three years of hell”.  Not long after my father’s release from Changi, he was deployed as part of the Allied Occupation Forces in Japan.

On reflecting on these early life experiences of domestic violence, I believe that they have unconsciously motivated me to work towards developing mentally healthy workplaces and communities both in my consulting and writing.  In my organisational consulting work, I have particularly worked with managers to build managerial mindfulness – consciousness about the impact that their words and actions have on the development of a productive and mentally healthy workplace.  In writing this blog, I have focused on mindfulness, mental health, trauma, and leadership as my contribution to providing individuals in the community and managers with resources, practices, and processes to create a mentally healthy life.

What is your story?

Recently, Tami Simon from Sounds True introduced a new publication written by Rebecca Walker and Lily Diamond who took ten years to develop and refine the reflective processes incorporated in their book.  The transformative and interactive journal, titled  What’s Your Story: A Journal for Everyday Evolution, provides a series of strategic questions to help you reflect on your life story (by theme and/or area of your life).  The deeply penetrating questions are designed to challenge self-limiting beliefs and throw light on a possible path forward.  The authors hope to enable you “to begin living your most authentic, creative, and meaningful life”.

Reflection

Sometimes the search for our life purpose is confounding and confusing – it seems to go around in circles before achieving some degree of clarity.  Our life purpose might prove illusive because it can be changing over time. As we gain greater personal insight and experience different catalytic events, we may find that what was truly purposeful and meaningful at one point in our life, is no longer adequate or energizing. As we grow in mindfulness through journalling, meditation and reflection, we can develop an expanded view of what we are capable of, build the courage to pursue our unique purpose, and positively impact others and ourselves. It is in achieving alignment with our life purpose that we find meaning and happiness.

Another useful resource is an eight-week course, Your True Calling, which is available online at Sounds True.  The author Stephen Cope, wrote the book, The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling.

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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.

Appreciating the Jacaranda

For a long time now, I have viewed trees as a source of meditation and of poetry.  The title of this post is really a metaphor for appreciating our own life and the uniqueness of others.   Jacarandas in Brisbane flower during October/November which is around exam time and their stunning display of purple flowers serves as a reminder of all we have accomplished in formal learning and all the people who have helped us in these achievements.  So, Jacarandas help us to appreciate our life and what we have achieved.  At the same time, they remind us that outward success is ephemeral – impermanent and quickly fading, which is a characteristic of the Jacaranda flowers.  

Savouring your achievements 

In a previous post I discussed in detail how savouring your achievements can be a mindful exercise in appreciating your opportunities in life and valuing what you have been able to achieve through the assistance of others.  Reflection on your study achievements can build confidence and a sense of self-efficacy – your belief in being able to achieve a particular outcome through focus and effort.  You can reflect on what it took personally to graduate at school, university and/or a TAFE College 

You can be grateful that you have acquired the knowledge and skills that come with your study achievements and that have opened the way for many other opportunities in life, e.g. the nature of the work that you do, the opportunity to travel or the ability to build relationships and interact effectively with others. 

Acknowledging the contribution of others 

Recognising that your achievements were accomplished through the support of others is a great leveler and a source of appreciation and gratitude.  Those who have contributed to your achievements could include your parents, schoolteachers, educators, lecturers, trade trainers, or professors. Some had a role to play in your formative years, others in your adulthood as you made your way in the world.  You can value their contributions to your personal growth in knowledge and skill.  

Of particular importance, is focusing on the people who played a significant role at different turning points in your life.  They could be mentors, coaches, friends, bosses, or relatives.  It pays to spend time to focus on a particular individual who has influenced the way you think, how you go about your work, how you relate to others and/or what you consider important.  It may be someone who encouraged you and supported you to believe in yourself and what you are capable of.  This type of reflection reinforces our connectedness and interdependence and can deepen our humility and gratitude.   

Radiant beauty, quickly shed 

A key source of insight when observing or reflecting on Jacarandas is the ephemeral nature of their beauty.  I once captured this thought in a poem about Jacarandas when I wrote, “radiant beauty, quickly shed”.  This is a reminder that external signs of success can quickly fade or disappear – as many people have found during the onset of the global pandemic.  Thomas Merton reminded us that what is important is the “inner landscape”, not externalities, when he wrote:  

If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for… 

Savouring our achievements is not designed to be an exercise in considering ourselves to be “better than” others; it is designed to help us to realise the gifts, talents, knowledge, skills and supports that we have to enable us to make a contribution to the welfare of others.  It is one way to help us overcome the barriers to achieving our unique contribution and life purpose.   We can be prompted to ask ourselves, “What am I doing with my life and all that I have been given in terms of opportunities, knowledge, skills and insights?” 

Frank Ostaseski reminds us that one of the lessons from death and dying is the need to cultivate a “don’t know” mind – a mind that is “open, receptive and full of wonder” and willing to learn from anyone, even young children.  He suggests that we need to develop our curiosity and instead of trying to prove that we are “interesting” or learned in our interactions with others, that we focus instead on being  “interested in” others. 

Reflection 

Savouring our achievements can be a source of appreciation and gratitude.  Remembering that our external success is ephemeral and that what is important is our contribution to the welfare of others, can be a source of humility and motivation to pursue our life purpose.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we can progressively develop our “inner landscape”, gain insight into our life purpose, and develop the courage and creativity to make our unique contribution. 

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Image by Christian Abella 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. 

Self-acceptance and Overcoming Negative Thoughts

Tami Simon of Sounds True interviewed Professor Steven Hayes co-founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  In the interview podcast, Steven focused on Self-Acceptance and Perspective-Taking.  Fundamental to the ACT approach is the capacity to “step Back” from the inner critic, notice the negative thoughts that are being generated and listening to those thoughts with a sense of curiosity to understand what is going on.  It involves being vulnerable to, rather than hiding away from, the hurt entailed in negative self-evaluation.  Added to this facing up to the inner critic are defusion techniques, such as perspective-taking, designed to create distance from the thoughts by seeing that they are not facts, only “streams of words” or momentary sensations.

Acceptance of thoughts and sensations

Steven explains that “acceptance” in the context of ACT involves acknowledging these negative thoughts as a gift to be explored, not something to be accepted passively or tolerated as if they were true and readily verifiable.  It involves recognising the wisdom embedded in our difficult emotions because they serve to illuminate something that we care about deeply. 

This involves the flexibility to acknowledge the gap between our thoughts and our inner awareness of them and the capacity to take what is useful in those thoughts to motive us to act on them to achieve a positive outcome that we value.   It is about regaining control over our inner world so that we can live our life “with meaning and purpose” – the core theme of Steven’s latest book, A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Towards What Really Matters.

Steven illustrates this acceptance approach by discussing negativity around body image and how to turn this into effective problem solving – rather than being trapped in the unfounded message of the inner critic that relates body weight to ugliness or lack of attractiveness.  He suggests as a starting point to revisit your past to see where the mental connection between body weight and ugliness originated, e.g. it might have had its origins in bullying at school by other students who were jealous of your academic or sporting success.  Following this exploration, you can use one of the many defusion strategies in ACT that can take away the power of this autosuggestion.  Russ Harris, ACT practitioner, provides a great set of defusion strategies in his humorous, illustrated book, The Happiness Trap Pocketbook – a very readable and accessible guidebook for personal change. 

Perspective-taking: a defusion strategy to create space and disempower the inner critic

Steven highly recommends “perspective-taking” as a defusion strategy to enable you to step back from negative thoughts and create enough space to disempower them.   There are many ways to undertake perspective-taking.  Steven describes one process in his interview podcast that he asserts will work even when you lack knowledge of mindfulness, ACT or any other related modality.  The steps he describes are as follows:

  1. Picture yourself struggling with the negative critic you are confronting (with your eyes closed or looking downwards to reduce distractions)
  2. Notice that it is a part of you that is noticing your struggle
  3. Now take that part of yourself that is noticing and tune into your body seeing yourself watching the struggle (you can even tune into the earliest occurrence of these negative thoughts) – in the process show self-compassion towards yourself
  4. Then ask yourself, “Is this person loveable, wholesome or empathetic?’ 
  5. Picture yourself sitting there observing this loveable, wholesome person from a short distance – as in a movie
  6. Imagine remembering 10 years from now how you looked as you struggled with the inner critic – picture yourself sitting in a chair or on the floor still struggling the same way
  7. You can ask yourself then, if you were observing this struggle in this future time, “What words of wisdom would you offer yourself?”
  8. Then bring yourself back to the present by grounding yourself in your body.

In this interaction, your wisdom will emerge, and you can offer yourself encouraging words such as “you can move on”.  According to Steven, research shows that “human intelligence in inherently self-compassionate” – the thought processes above enable you to tap that self-compassion.  He maintains that this form of perspective-taking is itself “very healing”.

Reflection

We can become overwhelmed by our inner critic if we give it free play, without challenge.  So often, we avoid facing up to what is painful.  The Inner MBA, developed by Tami Simon and colleagues, provides one avenue to explore our inner landscape, and defusing strategies offer many ways to break the hold of our inner critic.  Mindfulness practices provide a further avenue for facing up to our negative thoughts and related disabling beliefs.

As we grow in mindfulness through these processes, we can break the hold of the inner critic, gain a truer self-awareness, embrace self-compassion and emerge with a sense of freedom and alignment with our life purpose.

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Image by NickyPe 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.