Developing Self-Love to Realise Our Potential

Often we are weighed down by our past actions, words and omissions.  In Lighter, yung pueblo offers us a way to “let go of the past” in order to expand our future.   Central to this lighter life is self-love.  To achieve genuine self-love, according to yung, we need to make three core changes to our life – (1) radical honesty, (2) positive habit building and (3) self-acceptance.

In the introduction to Lighter, yung shares his own story – an early adult life of drug abuse.  Addiction to drugs became the escape from his inner pain, sadness and anxiety.  It was a way to avoid spending time in dealing with challenging emotions and personal hurt.  It took yung several years to break the habits that were destroying his life and frustrating the realisation of his potential. 

A key turning point for yung was when he reached “rock bottom” physically and psychologically and simultaneously experienced gratitude for all that his parents had done for him. He began asking himself how he could behave the way he did after all the sacrifices, effort and encouragement they provided to help him reach his potential.

For yung, genuine self-love is a prerequisite to achieve our potential and build rewarding relationships.  He makes the point that the goal of self-love is not about diminishing ourselves, overlooking the needs of others or considering ourselves “superior” – it involves humility generated by acknowledging that we share “the fragility of the human condition” with others and are highly inter-connected and inter-dependent. 

Three core changes to expand our future

The core changes identified initially by yung lay the foundation for moving beyond our present blockages to realise our potential:

Radical Honesty – involves being fully present to our thoughts and emotions.  It requires us to avoid suppressing what is unpleasant about ourselves and facing up to our real self – no matter how much it hurts and pains us.  It means facing the truth and challenging the lies we tell ourselves about who we are or what we have done.  It means being open with ourselves to achieve authenticity.  The aim is not to punish ourselves but to honestly and calmly “look in the mirror” without distortion or veils.  Radical honesty is a life-time pursuit.

Positive Habit Building – radical honesty helps us to identify our habits that are harmful rather than helpful to our goal of achieving our potential.  These may involve any aspect of our life, e.g. angry outbursts with colleagues, failing to listen to our life partner, not having adequate rest or sleep, or eating foods that lead to inflammation.  We find these harmful habits difficult to change – they become habituated responses and ingrained over time.

yung suggests focusing on one or two habits that you want to change and consolidate them as habituated behaviour through frequent repetition over a reasonable period, e.g. three months.  Trying to achieve habit change on multiple fronts simultaneously can lead to dissipated energy, self-defeat and falling back into old harmful habits.  Narrowing our focus can lead to successful change and positive reinforcement in that we will feel better, have a sense of accomplishment and experience “moving forward”, rather than being “stuck”.

Being truthfully present to ourselves is a real challenge. yung found that meditation helped him to progressively achieve a radical honesty that was initially unnerving but ultimately rewarding.  He encourages us to find our own path to mindfulness and self-awareness.  It could involve yoga, Tai Chi, chanting or any one of a multitude of mindfulness practices.  He maintains that once we choose a single focus and practice, we should maintain it as a daily activity to build the desired new habit and realise the benefits.

Self-Acceptance – Inherent in the challenge of developing radical honesty, is the need to achieve self-acceptance, “warts and all”.  It is difficult to face up to our frailties and vulnerabilities and to own them, rather than deflect them because they are unpalatable. Failure to accept ourselves, can create a roadblock in our journey to true self-love.  It does not mean that we are complacent, but rather that we are willing to identify ways to heal from the past to live more fully in the present and the future.

Self-acceptance may not be an even road – there will be “ups and downs”, progression and regression.  We might come up against something about ourselves that we now find repulsive.  However, taking these deeper “cuts” slowly and with persistence over time, can lighten our life and heighten our integrity and resilience.

Reflection

Genuine self-love is necessary for lasting, deep relationships.  If we can be honest with ourselves and accept our frailties and vulnerabilities, we will be better able to accept imperfections in others and be more willing to acknowledge our inter-connection and inter-dependence.  We will be inspired to take compassionate action for those in need.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop the self-awareness, courage and resilience to achieve radical honesty, build positive and nourishing habits and achieve a genuine self-acceptance. 

Tina Malia, in her mantra meditation, In Sunlight, sings a relevant refrain:

Lead us from illusion to truth

From darkness to light

(Sanskrit translation)

Note: “yung pueblo” (meaning “young people”) is the author’s pseudonym chosen to acknowledge that humanity is not yet mature in realising compassionate interconnectedness.

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

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

Healing from Trauma in a Sustainable Way

Healing from trauma in a sustainable way requires three main conditions, (1) understanding the complexity of trauma, (2) adopting a holistic healing perspective and (3) providing social support.  Unfortunately, as trauma expert Dr. Jeffrey Rutstein points out, when we observe poor behaviours on the part of people who have experienced trauma, we assume they are thoughtlessness, ungrateful or carelessness and fail to see the person involved as a “profoundly wounded person”.  He maintains that people who have been traumatised need “tenderness or caring or empathy”(especially socially ostracized drug addicts).  Dr. Gabor Maté often adopts a process of “compassionate inquiry” which encapsulates these understanding and empathetic attitudes.  Jeffrey and Gabor are two of the presenters in The Healing Trauma Program provided by Sounds True.

Understanding the complexity of trauma

Dr. Elena Villanueva, drawing on neuroscience research, her work with hundreds of trauma sufferers and her own deep and prolonged trauma experience, asserts that when we are unable to process traumatic or heightened emotional experiences, “they get stuck in our cells, tissues and organs” and lead to debilitating conditions in our bodies.  Elena herself had a history of trauma extending from early childhood through adolescence to adulthood.  She was raped at ages 15 and 38, frequently isolated, kidnapped by her separated mother, constantly on the move in different houses and schools, and experienced financial stress and divorce.  Her resultant symptoms and conditions included loss of memory, panic attacks, inability to speak, and high blood pressure. She was depressed and extremely anxious resulting in suicide attempts on three occasions. 

Elena highlights the pervasive influence of trauma in terms of its distortion of our bioenergetic field.  She spoke of her own experience of being dissociated from her body until three years ago.  Elena found it exhilarating to “pop back into her body” and once again feel her muscles, the sun on her body and face and the in-out flow of her breath.

Jeffrey, a clinical psychologist, maintains that people experiencing trauma lose their sense of agency over their own body and their life – they feel at the mercy of their emotions, other people and their external environment.  Gabor states that emotional deregulation, that he himself still experiences, occurs when he recalls traumatic memories and related emotions.  He becomes another person who is perceived as “frightening” and “scary” – ironically, at a time when he feels “the weakest internally”.  Trauma-induced emotions take over and he loses both a sense of agency and emotional regulation.   Gabor argues that underpinning inappropriate behaviour is shame because “shame is the most dominant impact of trauma” and this leads people to try to deal with this unbearable burden by compensating through their divergent behaviour.  The related pain and unfulfilled needs often lead to addiction fuelled by negative self-talk.

The negative self-talk associated with trauma distorts our thoughts, emotions and biology as a result of the hijacking of our amygdala.  The lower level of our brain takes over control of how we respond to triggers – leading to fight/flight/freeze responses.  In the book, What Happened to You, Dr. Bruce D. Perry makes the point that the body stores emotional memories that can be activated by a song, the sound of a voice, the smell of food, or any other sensory experience or precipitating event.  He explains that these strong associations are “stored in neural networks” and even when the specific experience cannot be recalled, the negative association can impact any aspect of our life, including our capacity to achieve intimacy.   

Adopting a holistic healing perspective

If we understand the complexity of trauma, we can readily appreciate that a single modality will be inadequate to help people heal from trauma in a sustainable way.  For example, if the symptoms of physical ailments are removed but negative self-talk persists, recovery will not be sustained and traumatic memory will find another way to impact our physiology and bioenergetic field.  What is required is a holistic healing perspective and this realisation underpins the approach adopted by Dr. Villanueva in her Modern Holistic Health orientation and the recovery solutions incorporated in her Mind/Body/Energy Healing Program.

Numerous modalities have emerged for healing from trauma and aiding trauma recovery.  The following are some of the modalities that have been adopted around the world, often in different combinations:

Trauma is complex and its impacts are far-reaching and vary with each individual.  While individual variations occur in the pervasiveness, depth and intensity of trauma impacts, group activity (supported by individualised testing) can help people progress in terms of diagnosis and healing.

Providing social support

Social support has been shown to develop resilience in individuals in post-traumatic recovery.  This perceived support extends not only to their own social networks and frequency of supportive interactions but also to peer support, coaching and technical guidance through counselling and provision of resources.  Dr. V’s Mind/Body/Energy Healing Program  mentioned above employs multiple healing modalities in concert with group-based activities such as monthly healing sessions with qualified coaches supported by resources such as breath meditations, the 5-part Trauma Masterclass video recordings & transcripts and monthly Bioenergetic Tests.

Social support helps people to appreciate that they are not alone in experiencing trauma and its multifaceted impacts, provides encouragement to persist with the healing process, engenders vicarious learning and offers positive reinforcement of the possibility of recovery.  Social support generates a sense of belonging and connectedness so essential for positive mental health.

The GROW organisation is an example of mutual social support for the process of recovery from all forms of mental ill-health.  The peer to peer support process enables participants (Growers) to overcome mental ill-health issues and achieve personal development.  eGrow groups have emerged as an alternative to face-to-face meetings.  Testimonials of recovery by participants, in both face-to-face and online programs, provide the impetus for the sustainability of recovery for other participants.

Reflection

It is difficult to understand what impact trauma has had on our mind, body and emotions.  Trauma practitioners through their various modalities and group support help us gain insight into how trauma is affecting us, even late in life.  Mindfulness is consistently advocated by trauma experts as a way to help deal with the ongoing effects of trauma.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditations and other mindfulness practices including spending time in nature, we can gain self-awareness, build resilience, and access calmness and composure in difficult situations or when triggered by a sensation or an event.

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

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

Recovering from the Impacts of Trauma

Dr. Elena Villanueva, health influencer and international speaker and podcaster, provides a comprehensive insight into trauma and its health impacts in a 5-part Trauma Masterclass.  Elena adopts a unique approach to trauma recovery and healing by engaging a specialist team, adopting a holistic health perspective and employing multiple modalities (in excess of 24 tools/techniques).  She is the founder of Modern Holistic Health which adopts an evidence-based approach to holistic health, drawing on the latest scientific research.

In her Trauma Masterclass, Elena explains that trauma results not from an overwhelming event itself but our perception and interpretation of it, leading to “undesired responses” on the physical or mental level and the associated mistaken beliefs and thoughts and emotions that result from viewing the event as “dangerous, frightening, harmful, life threatening” or in any way negative.

Elena provides detailed illustrations of how trauma affects our physical and mental health, drawing on the latest neuroscience research and information.  She discusses the symptoms of trauma, including chronic pain, the impact of negative thoughts and the power of language to shape personal reality and physical/mental health.  Elena explains the potential impact of challenging emotions in hijacking the amygdala and resulting, over time,  in “atrophy of the frontal lobe”.

Of particular note, is the way Elena identifies the biogenetic changes that can be wrought by challenging thoughts and emotions resulting from trauma.  She states that one of the core issues is that trauma is experienced in the body and is easily triggered.  As Bessel Van Der Kolk illustrates in his book, The Body Keeps the Score, the impact of trauma extends to the mind, brain and body.  Elena elucidates the multiple impacts of trauma including distortion of energy, negative effects on heart health, biological changes and the lingering perception of powerlessness.  

Recovering from the impacts of trauma

Elena points to the power of neuroplasticity to aid the process of recovering from trauma – how the brain can adapt its structure, connections and functions to deal with various stimuli.  During the Masterclass she provided case studies of her patients who had made a considerable recovery from trauma in a relatively short period.  Elena explained that people who take out a monthly service subscription with Modern Holistic Health have ongoing access to the Masterclass videos and to members of her team who offer a wide range of healing modalities.

In the Masterclass, different team members offered diverse modalities that illustrated the effectiveness of Elena’s team approach.  For example, Rosita Alvarez led a process that involved “layered healing modalities” including sound and eye movement.  Karla Rodriguez facilitated a powerful process that involved an ever deepening identification of emotions underlying bodily pain such as grief, anger or resentment.  This mind-body-spirit process was identified as incredibly effective by many people in the online audience.

Karla also led a process called “resonance repatterning” which involved making affirmations that expressed positive intent and resonated strongly with the individual involved, e.g. “I reclaim the power to say, ‘yes’ and ‘no’, & to be heard”.  The exercise illustrated the power of language to shape our future and manifest our desired reality.  To this end, Elena suggested that statements such as “I want a loving relationship” should be replaced with “I desire a loving relationship”.  She emphasised that we have to unlearn bad habits that reduce our sense of what is possible.  Dr. V. offers a podcast series to assist people with understanding trauma and moving towards unlearning and recovery.

In the book, What Happened to You?, Oprah Winfrey describes her own adverse childhood experiences which occurred even when she was  as young as three years old.  In particular, she discusses receiving continuous “whuppings” from her grandmother which were administered as severe forms of punishment for even the slightest mistakes – often resulting in welts and, occasionally, bleeding.  The “switch” chosen was a branch (or a number of branches “braided together”).  Her grandmother had the mistaken belief in the philosophy of “don’t spare the rod” – today, her actions would be viewed as criminal. 

Oprah, like Elena, maintains that learning how the brain and body react to trauma helps us to understand “how what happened to us in the past shapes who we are, how we behave, and why we do the things that we do”.  Oprah is a firm believer in the “unique adaptability of our miraculous brain” – and she is living proof of this.  Because of her own early life experiences, she has dedicated herself to helping people of all ages, especially young  children, overcome trauma and its impacts. Her tireless work in this area was reflected in the drafting of the National Child Protection Act that, when it became law, was known as the “Oprah Bill”.

The book represents a series of conversations between Oprah and Dr. Bruce D. Perry on the topic of “trauma, resilience, and healing” – conversations carried out over more than thirty years.  Bruce explains in the book that the title, “What Happened to You”, reflects a conscious choice to take the focus away from “What’s Wrong with You” in order to change the narrative and facilitate the process of recovery from trauma.  As Dr. Gabor Maté explains, we need to understand the pain lying beneath trauma and its precipitation of addictive behaviour

Reflection

There are many modalities that can be employed in healing trauma such as “compassionate inquiry” used by Dr. Gabor Maté.  Dr. Elena Villanueva and her team offer diverse modalities that are used at different stages of healing from the multiple impacts of trauma.  The team approach of Modern Holistic Health adds a special dimension as patients can move between coaches to utilise different modalities as part of their overall case management. People can work with Dr. Elena Villanueva and her Modern Health team by joining the Mind/Body/Energy Program.

Trauma is a complex area with often hidden impacts on mind, body and spirit resulting in lingering mental and physical health problems.   Many of us have had “adverse childhood experiences” resulting in trauma.  As we grow in mindfulness through mantra meditations, other mindfulness practices and related healing modalities, we can achieve peace and calm and improved health outcomes.

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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.

Ways to Manage Ourself During Difficult Times

The Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) at UCLA offers weekly guided meditation podcasts on a wide range of topics and issues.  In one of the recent meditation podcasts Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at MARC focused on “Practices in Difficult Times” – providing several mindfulness practices designed to help us achieve calmness, manage our challenging emotions and express compassion to ourselves and to others who are suffering.

Diana highlighted the fact that challenging events such as the mass shootings in America and the war in Ukraine can generate “emotional inflammation” in us – we can feel strong emotions of anger, grief, rage or sadness.  We might feel overwhelmed by others’ inconceivable pain and loss and our own emotional response.  We might be confused and continually ask ourselves, “Why the children?”, “Why Ukraine?” or “When will this emotional and physical devastation stop?”

Diana draws on mindfulness practices to help us deal with these challenging times and the emotions they elicit in us.  She reminds us that mindfulness involves placing our attention fully on the present moment while being open and curious and accepting what is in our present internal and external reality. 

Three mindfulness practices for difficult times

The three mindfulness practices offered by Diana are described, in turn, in the following discussion:

  1. Calming Practices: Here we are encouraged to tap into the body’s own capacity to generate calm and ease.  The primary aim is to achieve groundedness in a way that is conducive to our present needs.  We could start by taking a couple of deep breaths and releasing them slowly to let go of the tension within us.  There is the option to find a place of ease in our body and focus in on it, e.g., our arms beside our body, our relaxed legs or our fingers joined and pulsating with energy.  Diana particularly stressed the power of “feeling the support of the earth” through our feet on the floor or the ground.  Our breath with its natural rhythm can provide a basis for experiencing calm and ease (unless, of course, focusing on our breath acts as a trauma stimulus).  If attention to our breath is calming, there are many ways to access a relaxed state through mindful breathing  practices.  We could adopt “micro-practices” such as the  4-7-8 breathing practice often used in yoga, the breathing in time practices (using our breath as a musical instrument) or we could pay attention to the internal physical sensations of our breathing – e.g., the rising and falling of our abdomen or the feeling of air moving in and out of our nose.  Diana suggests another alternative is to pay full attention to the sounds in the room or what is being generated externally (especially if we are in a natural setting with the sounds of birds, waves, or wind).  Sound can also be used as a calming mindfulness practice as we listen to and sing mantra meditations provided by people like Lulu & Mischka (such as their Rainbow Light song as part of their peaceful Horizon album).
  2. Holding strong emotions: Normally, people tend to suppress challenging emotions, deny them, or deflect their attention from them by numbing themselves with some form of addictive behaviour such as drinking excessive alcohol, overeating, taking illegal drugs or over-spending while shopping compulsively.  Mindfulness experts and psychologists remind us that we need to face up to our emotions or they will cause disruptions in our lives through some form of mental and/or physical illness.  Diana encourages us in this guided meditation to pay attention to our challenging emotions and observe how they are manifesting in our body, e.g. tightness in the chest, pain in the arms or neck, headaches, overall stiffness or fibromyalgia (non-specific whole-body pain).  Holding on to these strong emotions enables us to deal with them directly and use the healing power of our mind and body to dissipate them.  If we experience overwhelm while confronting our strong emotions, we can return to our meditation anchor which could be our breath, external sounds, bodily sensations or music.
  3. Compassion practice: Diana explains that compassion practice in this context involves ourselves as well as others who may be experiencing suffering and loss.  She encourages us to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion as we struggle to deal with our challenging emotions and our misguided attempts to ignore them or numb them.  She suggests, then, that we extend loving kindness to others in the world who are experiencing pain, devastation, grief and anger.  Diana offers  a possible expression of compassion for others in the form of a statement of desire, “May you be freed from pain and suffering and find contentment and ease”.

Reflection

We have a deep well of ease in our bodies that we can access at any time, if only we can let go of our damaging thoughts.  As we grow in mindfulness through calming practices, facing our challenging emotions and practising compassion towards ourselves and others, we can gain the insight, courage and capacity to manage ourselves during difficult times.  Mindfulness enables us to achieve emotional regulation, self-awareness and the creative drive to be the best we can be.  Challenging emotions, left unchecked or ignored, can undermine our endeavours at home or at work.

Over time we can develop a regular mindfulness practice that suits our make-up and that we can undertake on a daily basis (e.g., Tai Chi, mantra meditations, chanting or yoga).  This core mindfulness practice can be supplemented by micro-practices that we engage in throughout the day (e.g., when washing our hands, during waiting times, or when boiling the jug).  The compound effect of these core and micro-practices is a calm state of mind, enhanced patience and conscious presence.

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Image by ChiemSeherin 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.

Anxiety Management with Mindfulness

Diana Winston offers a mindfulness meditation podcast, Working with Anxiety, as one of the weekly meditations conducted by the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), UCLA.  As Director of Mindfulness Education for MARC, Diana frequently leads these weekly meditations.  She stresses that mindfulness enables us to be more fully in the present moment and to accept what is in our life (including anxiety) with curiosity and openness.

Diana maintains that mindfulness helps us to work effectively with anxiety because it, (1) enables us to be present in the moment, rather than absorbed in the past or the future; (2) facilitates reframing of our experience, and (3) provides a place of rest and ease from the turbulence and waves of daily life.  As Diana asserts, anxiety is part and parcel of daily life, given the human condition and the uncertainty of the world around us today.  The world situation with the global pandemic and devastating conflict between Russia and Ukraine add to anxiety-producing situations we experience on the home and local front.  In consequence, there is an increase in mental health issues along with restricted resources to deal with explosive demand.

Guided meditation for working with anxiety

Diana’s approach is consistent with trauma-sensitive mindfulness in that she allows a choice of posture, meditation anchor and overall focus.  She encourages us to find a posture that is comfortable with eyes closed or open (ideally, looking down).  At the beginning of the meditation, she has us focus on something that gives us a sense of being grounded and supported by something of strength, e.g. our feet on the ground/floor or back against the chair.  It is important to tap into something that enables us to slow our minds and calm our feelings

Diana then suggests that we focus on our breath as a neutral experience of the present moment.  For some people, breath may not be a neutral aspect and could in fact trigger a trauma response. So, she offers an alternative focus such as sounds in the environment, the room tone or rhythm in some music.  Whatever we choose as an anchor, we can return to it whenever we notice our thoughts distracting us and leading to anxiety-producing images, recollections or anticipations.

The next stage of the guided meditation involves focus on some source of anxiety and exploring the bodily sensations associated with it.  Diana suggests that if we are new to meditation we should focus on a minor source of anxiety rather than a major issue.  Whatever our focal anxiety source, the idea is to notice what is happening in our body, e.g. tightness around our neck and shoulders, quickening or unevenness of our breath or pain in our back.  By bringing our consciousness to these bodily sensations, we can work to release the tension involved and restore some level of equanimity.

Diana suggests that at any stage we could use imagery as a way to achieve an anchor that gives us strength and/or a sense of peace.  The image could be of a tall mountain withstanding the buffeting of strong winds and rain or a still lake reflecting surrounding trees and supporting the smooth gliding of swans or ducks.  Imagery can take us out of our anxiety-producing imagination and transport us to a place of strength and/or peace.

In the final stage of the meditation, Diana encourages us to offer ourselves loving-kindness, acknowledging that we are only human after all and that the world is anxiety-producing.  She urges us to extend positive thoughts towards ourselves, rather then beat ourselves up for our fragility.  We could focus on times when we have demonstrated resilience to overcome difficulties, extended compassionate action to those in need or expressed gratitude for all that we have. 

Reflection

There are many tools to help us work with, and manage, anxiety.  These include chanting and/or mantra meditations such as the calming mantra produced by Lulu & Mischka, Stillness in Motion – Sailing and Singing with whales.   As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, chanting, mantras or other mindfulness practices, we can learn to be more fully present in the moment, to manage our anxiety-producing thoughts, regulate our emotions and find the peace and ease that lie within.

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

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

Meditating on Nature and Gratitude

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

Paying attention to the elements of nature

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

Developing a Sense of Belonging through Mindfulness

In this era of widespread depression, loneliness and disconnection, it becomes critically important to rediscover and enhance our sense of connection.  Allyson Pimentel, in one of the UCLA guided meditation podcasts, reminds us that mindfulness can ignite our sense of belonging to ourselves, other people and the earth.  Mindfulness is a pathway to reaffirming our connectedness to everything.   In the podcast, Allyson draws on the book by Sebene Selassie, You Belong: A Call to Connection.  Selene makes a profound case for our connectedness, despite differences, when she writes, “although not one, not separate” and “although not separate, not the same”.  She affirms that much of life is paradoxical, but to deny this is to turn a blind eye to the reality of our human existence on earth. 

Allyson argues that the “delusion of separateness” contributes to depression and loneliness.  She states that we all belong “in every moment and to everything” despite our traumas, injustice and racism in the world, differences in language – culture – philosophy, the presence of hate and division, and the pervasive sense of disconnection and meaninglessness.  Building a sense of connection and belonging heals wounds and divisions, contributes to positive mental health and enriches our lived experience through joy, wonder, relatedness and consciously “being with”.  Mindfulness, with its focus on what is happening now and doing so with openness, curiosity and acceptance, intensifies our sense of belonging.  Paradoxically, being still and silent leads us to compassionate action towards others through recognition of our connectedness.

At any point in time, we can sense our connection to the community of people throughout the world who are meditating, doing Tai Chi or engaging in some other mindfulness practice; or experiencing chronic pain; or dealing with the impacts of adverse childhood experiences or other trauma; or trying to manage grief; or attempting to overcome an addiction or craving; or are experiencing anxiety and depression; or any other manifestation of the human condition.  We can also become more conscious of our connection to every other living being as well as our connection with nature.

Guided meditation on belonging

At the beginning of her guided meditation, Allyson encourages us to take a number of deep breaths so that we can feel the connection with the air and our surrounds as well as begin to become more grounded and connected to ourselves. At this point, I was reminded of Lulu & Mischka’s mantra meditation, Rainbow Light and the words:

When I breathe into my heart

I breathe into the heart of all beings

After this initial grounding, Allyson encourages us to connect with our breath, sounds in the room and beyond or our bodily sensations. In connecting to the sounds surrounding us, we can become conscious of what Jon Kabat-Zinn describes as the soundscape in his book, Coming to Our Senses.  Allyson reminds us to just absorb the sounds, not try to identify or interpret them or create a story about them – just be with sounds, another form of connection and belonging.  We can extend our awareness to our other senses or what Jon describes as the “lightscape”, “touchscape”, “smellscape, “tastescape” and, ultimately, our “mindscape” – “the vast empty spaciousness that is awareness itself”.

Allyson suggests that another way to feel connected and belonging is to focus on our bodily sensations related to being supported by our chair, cushion, bed or floor – whatever is connecting  our bodies to something solid and unmoving.  Being with these sensations reinforces our supported connectedness and sense of belonging.

Reflection

In the final analysis, we can choose to focus on our differences and what separates us or, alternatively, to increase our consciousness about our connection and belongingness.  As we grow in mindfulness through reflection, meditation, mantras, and daily mindfulness practices, we can gain an increased sense of connection and belonging and draw support and positive emotions from this growing awareness.

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Image by Eddie K 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.

Barriers to Overcoming the Anxiety Habit Loop

In previous posts I have discussed Judson Brewer’s concept of the habit loop underpinning anxiety, addiction and craving and his mindfulness processes for overcoming anxiety.  Central to his process for overcoming anxiety, is understanding the trigger-behaviour-reward process, the need to honestly and openly explore the realised rewards and costs of a particular behaviour and the willingness to update the reward value in our mind in the light of this learning.  In this post on barriers to using Judson’s process to overcome anxiety, I will explore further some of the ideas presented in his book, Unwinding Anxiety: Train Your Brain to Heal Your Mind.  I will also link this discussion to other ideas on barriers to mindfulness that I have written about earlier. 

Barriers to overcoming the anxiety habit loop

Below are some of the barriers I have identified in reading Judson’s book but supplemented by my earlier discussions:

  • Obsession with the news – we can feast on the news as if our lives depended on it.  At every opportunity, we might be seen accessing our mobile phones to find out the latest news.   We can do this while waiting, instead of using this down-time to build our awareness.   The problem is that the news is typically dominated by adverse events and people’s suffering as well as portents of disaster.  It is often unnerving, adds to anxiety and causes disquiet.  If we become obsessed with the news, we are not creating the space for stillness and calm that would enable us to be mindful about our habituated behaviour and its real rewards (outcomes). 
  • Closed worldview – pursuing the news is what Judson describes as “deprivation curiosity” where our motivation is to address a deficit in our knowledge where the reward is discovery of the up-to-date information.  However, this process constitutes a closed system because closure is achieved once the void (missing information) is filled.  We can also adopt a closed worldview by trying to protect ourselves from disconcerting or uncomfortable information, and related feelings, about our habituated behaviour and its impact on our wellbeing and the welfare of others.  Judson argues that what we need to pursue is “interest curiosity” where the process of curiosity is reward in itself because it is open-ended, never dries up and exposes us to the rewards of joy, wonder and awe.  He suggests that interest curiosity feels better when we compare it to “the scratchy, closed-down itch of deprivation”.
  • Review and regret approach – this habituated behaviour constitutes another closed circuit in that it leads us to self-flagellation and negative self-appraisal whenever we revert to our bad habit or make a mistake.   Judson suggests that what is needed here is “forgiveness and moving on and up”.  This reflective approach opens the way to real learning and sustained habit change.  We can beat up on ourself for mistakes but this only feeds the anxiety habit cycle and contributes to depression.  In contrast, If we adopt a growth mindset, we can see each experience, and attempt to overcome our anxiety habit loop, as an opportunity to learn and grow.  Our actions serve to give us feedback about outcomes, both intended and unintended – and this is the way we learn.
  • Lacking persistence – in this era of the desire for immediate satisfaction, it is easy to lose heart and give up before our goal is realised, even if we have made some progress along the way to reducing our anxiety level.  We can overlook the fact that our habituated behaviour has been developed over many years and, in some instances, has resulted from a traumatic event or adverse childhood experience.  It will take a concerted effort over an extended period of time to overcome an anxiety habit loop.   Judson suggests that it will take “short moments, many times” and a willingness to persist with the process of “kind curiosity” to unearth our anxiety habit loop and the underpinning reward system. 
  • Unchanged reward value – we can mindlessly accept the existing reward value that keeps our anxiety habit loop locked in thus creating a barrier to change.  Alternatively, we can actively seek to update our reward value with disenchanting information (which we typically ignore).  We tend to see only the positive aspects of a habituated behaviour (e.g. avoidance of discomfort, pain, embarrassment  or hurtful self-disclosure).  Judson likens this barrier to a “chocolate experiment” where people failed to realise when eating more and more chocolate turned an otherwise pleasurable experience into one that caused displeasure.  We can either not notice or ignore the “turning point” and fail to develop a real updated, assessment of a reward value.   This often occurs with people whose underlying anxiety drives a habit of procrastination.
  • Focus on reasoning rather than feeling – Judson argues that thinking and rationalisation will only go so far in terms of sustainable habit change.  While as humans we need thinking to problem solve, be creative and plan, rational argument has little impact on entrenched habits.  A more holistic approach of sustained personal inquiry is required to unearth not only our thoughts but emotions and bodily sensations that inform us about what is happening in the moment when we resort to our habituated responses. Focusing on our feelings in the moment gives us a way to understand the drivers behind habit formation and maintenance, and enables us to develop the requisite insight to update our “reward value” of the habituated behaviour.

Ways to overcome the barriers to unwinding anxiety

In his Unwinding Anxiety book, Judson discusses a one-week silent retreat that he and a colleague provided for members of the US women’s Olympic water-polo team (who were back to back gold medal winners).  He explained that a real breakthrough for members of the team in developing holistic, interest curiosity was achieved by having participants repeat the sound “hmm” as a mantra.   This sound when repeated tends to engender openness, wonder and awe while clearing the mind of its tendency to engage in worry and negative self-judgment.  Judson suggests that this practice can be employed whenever we become stuck in our meditation attempts, experience panic or encounter internal barriers to overcoming our anxiety habit loop.  It enables us to tap into bodily sensations, thoughts and emotions.

Judson also provides a process for experiencing a closed versus an open mindset.  This entails recalling in full colour and richness an anxious event followed by recalling a joyful event.  He explains that this process of observing bodily sensations generated by the different events forms part of the first day of his Unwinding Anxiety app.

Another source of encouragement to maintain persistence and adopt an open, learning mindset is provided by Lulu & Mischka in their mantra meditation, Metamorphosis.  The words of this mantra effectively describe the process of the sustained effort and open mindset required to achieve transformative change and encourages us to “not give up” but “trust the process” and be open to breaking with our old ways.  If we sing the mantra along with Lulu & Mischka, we can reinforce our desire to persist until we overcome our anxiety habit.

Reflection

Clearly the unwinding anxiety process proposed by Judson has application in many arenas, including in sports.   This got me thinking about an issue I am having with my tennis game when playing social tennis.   I have played tennis since I was about 12 years old (and probably earlier but I can’t think back that far).  I have used a single-handed backhand all my life but as I get older, my wrists and arms are becoming weaker (despite my occasional efforts to strengthen them with exercises).  So, for my 75th birthday, I requested three tennis lessons from a coach to learn how to do a double-handed backhand.  By the end of the third half hour lesson, I could manage a rally with the coach using my newly “acquired” double-handed backhand.  The problem is that I am experiencing an emotional blockage that is stopping me from using the new stroke at social tennis – I keep reverting to my single-handed backhand.

When I read about the habit loop and the need to change/update the reward value (in my mind) attributed to a particular behaviour in order to change the habit, I realised that what was keeping my old habit (single-handed backhand) in place was the failure to update the reward value of this behaviour.  I still seemed to be assuming that it was a reliable stroke preventing me from making mistakes and enabling me to keep the ball in play or win a rally.  The reality is that my single-handed backhand is no longer reliable and I do make lots of mistakes with it.  So I need to update the reward value that I attribute to this stroke and accept that in the earlier stages of a changeover to the new double-handed stroke, I will probably make more mistakes.  However, the bigger, better offer (BBO) is a stronger, double-handed stroke capable of winning a rally.  By being unwilling to use my double-handed backhand, I am adopting a closed mindset and depriving myself of the opportunity to learn through doing and reflecting on the outcomes.

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection, kind curiosity and mantra meditations, we can develop the persistence and courage to explore our anxiety habit loop and its reward value.  With a sustained concerted effort, we can begin to overcome our anxiety habit loop as we update our reward value and develop substitute rewards that are bigger and better than what we currently rely on, consciously or unconsciously.

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Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians 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.

Savouring Your Subconscious Mind

Paul McCartney in an interview for BBC Radio stated that the melody for the Beatles famous song Yesterday” came to him in a dream.  He literally heard the melody while asleep and when he woke he could not work out where the tune had come from.  He checked with his contacts and friends who had a comprehensive knowledge of songs that had been published and none of them recognised it.  While he had the tune in his head he made up some lyrics so he would not lose the song.  He indicated it was rare for him to use nonsense lyrics to memorise a song but on this occasion, he used the words, “Scrambled eggs, oh my baby….”   

It was a short time later after the dream that he was in Portugal on a car trip which took about three hours that the lyrics started to come to him, “Yesterday, suddenly…”  By the time he had finished the car trip, he had the complete song in terms of melody and lyrics. 

This story of Paul’s experience highlights the power of the subconscious mind, working away below consciousness to solve a problem, complete a song or piece of music, finish an unfinished manuscript or locate a missing object. 

How often have we given up looking for something and found some time later that the item “turns up” when we were not consciously looking for it but doing something else.  Meanwhile, the subconscious mind has created a new significance and a heightened level of awareness for the item so that when you accidently come into contact with the item, you become suddenly, consciously aware that “this is what I was looking for!” – all very amazing.

Reflection

I had been working on my PhD for about five years mentoring a change team in the University of Queensland and co-facilitating an action learning change program, when I got stuck trying to write up the mountains of data I had gathered through workshop processes, observations, submissions and multiple interviews.  At this time, we had planned a family holiday on Stradbroke Island.  It was while we were enjoying a day at Brown Lake on North Stradbroke Island that I had a breakthrough for my thesis,  I was sitting on the shore watching our children play in the shallow part of the lake when a model “came into my head” that integrated my research and insights. 

I had not taken any of my research material with me and was not consciously seeking to solve my writer’s block.   Yet an organisational change model “came to me” that integrated my data, a model for individual motivation at work and the nature of innovation.  I immediately recorded the model using charcoal sticks from a barbecue and pieces of butcher’s paper that I had in my car.   It was only later that I was able to articulate the full meaning of the model and complete my PhD thesis. 

There are times when we need to use sleep, peace and quiet, or stillness and silence to honour our unconscious mind and let it do its work.  I found on another occasion that I had difficulty writing the conclusion to a PhD chapter.  However, like Paul McCartney, it was during a long car trip (again about three hours) that the conclusion “fell out” and I was able to write it down when I reached my destination which was Lismore at the time.

In writing this blog, I will often listen to a podcast, undertake a meditation and/or read an article and make notes.  I will then “sleep on it” and when I wake up the following morning, the structure of a blog post, carved out of my notes, will “come to me”.  Again, it is the subconscious mind at work.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, connecting with nature, experiencing stillness or silence, listening to music, chanting or participating in mantra meditations, we can gain greater access to our subconscious mind and the integrative power and creativity that lies within.  We can continuously savour our subconscious mind through mindfulness practices. 

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Image by holdosi from Pixabay

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

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

Developing Mindfulness and Positive Mental Health in the Digital Age

In the previous post I focused on the challenge of the digital age with respect to developing mindfulness.  This earlier post was stimulated by a presentation of Jon Kabat-Zinn during the Mindfulness & Compassion Week (June 6- 13, 2021).  In his workshop, Jon also mentioned the benefits of the digital age for developing mindfulness and positive mental health, particularly during the time of the pandemic when people were becoming isolated through lockdowns and border closures.

There are many facets of the digital age that facilitate the development of mindfulness and positive mental health – the growth of global online, mindfulness conferences and seminars, access to online meditations, digital music and nature imagery, e-groups, and podcasts.   Many of these aspects have been enhanced by the emergence of streaming platforms and flexible technologies such as Google Chromecast and Bose portable speakers. 

Global online mindfulness conferences

The emergence of sophisticated web conferencing has enabled the growth in global, online mindfulness conferences, and the Nature Summit is just one example of this.  In this web conference, conducted from May 11-17 2021, more than 30 world experts discussed ways to connect with nature, access its wonder and wisdom and develop improved mental health and mindfulness.  The Science & Wisdom of Emotions Summit highlighted ways to cultivate mindfulness to gain an understanding of our emotions, deal with emotions in daily living and develop self-regulation to effectively channel our emotional energy. 

Online Meditations

During the pandemic, we saw increased access to online meditations, often conducted on a global basis.  The Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), for example, converted their weekly, face-to-face guided meditations to the Zoom platform to enable global online participation.  Often, lifetime access to digital meditations were also provided for paid subscribers of web conference resources which included videos, audios, and transcripts.  Many organisations now provide online meditations and some, such as Headspace, provide guided meditations via an app. 

Emergence of e-groups

Some organisations providing mental health services via face-to-face meetings had to develop e-groups – moving their group support services online via platforms such as Zoom.  One such organisation is GROW which provides supported, peer-led groups for people experiencing mental illness (Growers).  This organisation was able to transition their face-to-face meetings to eGROW Groups enabling online access nationally as well as on a State/regional basis.

Access to digital music and nature imagery

Developing mindfulness and healing through music and nature imagery has been facilitated by the emergence of online media such as that provided by Louie Schwartzberg’s Moving Art website.  His films and photography are enhanced by his Wonder and Awe podcast series.   Digital music platforms such as Spotify have provided ready access to a world of different genres of music and podcasts, some incorporating guided meditations and mantra meditations.  YouTube enhances access to mantra meditations by enabling visual imagery to support the meditative singing as in Lulu & Mischka’s Stillness in Motion video.

Another aspect of connection through music in the digital age is the growth of virtual choirs and the associated logistical, singing, and instrumental collaboration on a global and local scale.  On a global level, for example, 300 people from 15 countries participated in the singing/ orchestration of the highly pertinent song You’ll Never Walk Alone.  In another example,  people from 50 countries combined to sing Amazing Grace in their own language.  On a local level, the Morningsong community choir was able to provide warm-ups, practice pieces and group online singing during pandemic lockdowns.  YouTube provides access to multiple virtual choirs.

Reflection

Digital media has provided the means to connect with each other and with nature at a time when people are physically isolated.  The spin-off from the periods of lockdowns and border closures is that many people have come to appreciate more what they have in life, to savour their access to nature and increase their motivation to improve their physical and mental health. 

There are now increased mechanisms and avenues available to develop our mindfulness practice through the growth in digital media and flexibility of access.  It is important to savour and utilise these facilities to enrich our mindfulness practice and enhance positive mental health.

As we grow in mindfulness with the aid of digital media, we can increase our self-awareness and connection with others, develop gratitude and creativity and build the resilience and compassion we need to manage effectively in difficult times.

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Image by Inga Klas 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.