Making a Difference by Spreading Kindness

Diana Winston from MARC, UCLA, offers a guided meditation podcast on “kindness” and she maintains that we can make a real difference in the world by spreading kindness at a time when there is so much local, national and international conflict.  Her loving kindness meditation cultivates mindfulness and a gratitude mindset for the practitioner and helps to diffuse anger and unkindness in the world.  We know from experience that if we extend a smile or thoughtfulness to another person, it is often reciprocated, just as abruptness and rudeness stimulates a reciprocal response.  Kindness is contagious and has a momentum of its own that leads to diffusion.

Diana reminds us that mindfulness involves being open and curious while accepting what is.  Openness extends to being thoughtful towards people we find “difficult” or who constantly annoy us.  Diana asserts, with conviction, that kindness is a natural property of the heart that we extend to others and also our pets.  Kindness in her words is “the desire for another person t be happy” and has a mental, emotional and behavioural aspect.  Mentally, it involves thinking kind thoughts and positive wishes for others; emotionally, it entails feeling kindly towards others and appreciating their uniqueness; and behaviourally, it means engaging in “acts of kindness”. 

Diana’s guided meditation focuses on “radiating loving kindness” through our thoughts and emotions and involves creative visualisation, the use of imagery.  She argues that kindness is inherent in mindfulness practice because it involves being willing to show up, to accept what is (including individual differences) and acknowledge connectedness to everybody and everything.  In her experience, not everyone will warm to this form of meditation as it involves visualising a “lake of kindness” .  However, for people who are not particularly visual, she offers the suggestion to focus on the positive thoughts and emotions behind the process. 

Guided meditation

Diana begins the meditation in the usual way encouraging us to adopt a relaxed and comfortable posture and to take a number of deep breaths to enable us to relax and focus on the mindfulness activity.  One of the aims of mindfulness mediation is to really focus on the present moment, avoiding obsessing about the past or becoming preoccupied with planning future activity (my main source of distraction!).  Diana moves onto encouraging us to focus on our own breathing in an accepting, non-controlling way. She suggests that our focus can be on the up and down movement of our abdomen or chest or the in and out flow of air through our nose.  She follows this activity with a focus on the sounds in the room or external environment, again just being open to what is sounding not trying to identify the source or interpret the meaning.   Diana suggests that if we become distracted (everyone does, even the mindfulness experts like Diana), we can re-focus on one of the anchors mentioned, e.g. our breathing or sounds.

Diana begins the visualisation process after about five minutes of silent meditation.  She encourages us to visualise walking with a companion (someone we admire or a close friend) beside a scintillating blue lake, whose radiance touches everything around it.  She calls this the “lake of kindness”.  After a short while, we enter the inviting waters with our companion, experiencing sensations of gentleness, warmth and immersiveness of the “kindness waters” – sensations that elicit feelings associated with kindness.  Now, we imagine our friends, who are on the bank of the lake, joining us in the water so that they too are immersed in kindness as the lake expands through displacement.

The challenging part of the guided meditation is envisaging other people, who we are not positive about, joining us in the “lake of kindness” – dissolving to some extent our reticence to be with them and encouraging us to extend kindness to them.  We are then all enveloped in the “kindness waters”.   We can then envisage the kindness waters moving into the ocean; up the rivers of villages, towns and cities; and extending to all the waterways of the world thus “suffusing the world with kindness”.

Reflection

Kindness is natural but we become absorbed in our thoughts, negative emotions, stereotypes and sense of superiority – thus precluding us from radiating warmth and kindness to others.  It behoves us to reflect on times when we have omitted to show kindness and to consciously undertake acts of kindness, such as sharing a meal with someone who usually eats alone.  We can genuinely make a difference in the lives of individuals and everyone we come in contact with, if we approach them with kindness in our heart, even through the simple act of smiling or sharing a book.

As we grow in mindfulness and kindness through loving kindness meditation, we can make a real difference in our own lives and spread kindness in the world.  For example, you often see people who have been given the opportunity to enter a line of traffic, extend this kindness to someone else further along the road.

Mindfulness meditations help us to reflect on our words and actions and their impact and reminds us that we are all connected as we share the fragility and vulnerability of the human condition.  It is a useful practice to reflect at the end of each day and think about our “acts of kindness” as well as when we overlooked an opportunity to be kind to someone.

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Image by Pete Linforth 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.

Integrating Kindness with Mindfulness Meditation

In a recent guided meditation podcast, Radiating Kindness Practice, Diana Winston reinforced the view that kindness is integral to mindfulness – kindness to ourselves and others.  She maintained that being kinder to ourselves (e.g. overcoming negative self-evaluation) and to others (loving kindness towards both people we love and those we dislike), is embedded in meditation.  In the guided meditation, she integrates kindness with the meditation process by incorporating three different loving kindness practices that she describes as:

  1. “Dry loving kindness”
  2. “Wet loving Kindness”
  3. “Radiating loving kindness”

At the start of the meditation, Diana encourages us to adopt a comfortable position that will aid relaxed breathing and assist us to express kindness to ourselves and others.  She begins with taking slow breaths before engaging in a brief body scan to identify points of tension or tightness.  After encouraging us to release the tension/tightness by softening the point in our body, she moves onto undertaking the different kindness practices in the order indicated above.

Dry loving kindness

Diana explains that the idea behind dry loving kindness is repetition of words that supplant any negative thoughts.  The idea is to stop ourselves from engaging in unflattering comparisons, negative self-evaluations, caustic critiques or cycles of worry and anxiety.  The concept is simple and is easy to undertake.  Basically, you can repeat words like, May I be happy, may you be happy, may we all be happy.  The approach adopts the intention to change our inner dialogue from negative to positive, from denigrating ourselves and others to empowering each of us through the repeated expression of kind thoughts.   Karen Drucker, in her song Gentle with Myself, expresses this form of loving kindness when she sings, I will be easy on myself, I will be kinder with my heart.

Wet loving kindness

Wet loving kindness”, in contrast to the previous approach, focuses on feelings rather than thoughts.  Thus it involves a systemic approach whereby we extend feelings of loving kindness towards people closest to us and then to others from those we love to those we may ignore or actually resent.  Reflection on resentment that we carry towards another person could be a useful prelude to this meditation to free us up to express understanding and kindness towards the person we resent.  Diana suggests a series of expressions that could be used as part of this wet loving kindness practice, such as:

May you be safe and protected

May you experience peace and contentment

May you feel strong and healthy

May you experience ease and equanimity.

Diana suggests that you substitute your own expression of kind feelings as you work from envisaging the people you love to others who may present a challenge to you.  She provides some ways of expressing kindness to others by way of example, not as a prescription.

Radiating loving kindness

The idea here is to radiate kindness beyond ourselves to the broader world.  In the guided meditation on radiating kindness, Diana begins with asking us to envisage a glow or sense of warmth emanating from our heart.  Initially, we can envisage it extending within our room – to the left, right, below and above. As we capture the essence of this approach, we can expand our vision to envisaging our heart’s glow/warmth filling our house (and household) and extending to our immediate neighbourhood and beyond.  I found it useful in this radiating kindness practice, to envisage wrapping people in Ukraine with warmth, care and kindness, embracing Ukrainian refugees as well.

Diana suggests that you can radiate kindness to areas of conflict, disease, natural disaster (e.g. floods, fire or hurricanes) or alternatively to individuals or groups who may be in need of kindness and thoughtfulness.  For example, I focused too on extending warmth and kindness to the relatives of the Australian soldier, known as “Ninja” who died fighting as a volunteer for Ukraine in the current war.  “Heart-focused breathing™” promoted in the online Heart Science Course could be a useful prelude to the radiating kindness practice as it helps us to recognise and appreciate the energy field that emanates from our heart.

Reflection

I have previously written about barriers to expressing loving kindness, including self-absorption, disconnection from the outside world, distorted view of “love” and inability to recognise that compassion requires external expression, even in the form of loving kindness meditation.  An additional barrier can be the inability to understand and value the intelligence and energy of the heart which has been demonstrated in research and documented in the Science of the Heart (free book).

As we grow in mindfulness through different loving kindness practices, we can become more open to the needs of others, better able to express gratitude and appreciation, more willing to take compassionate action, and more ready to accept things as they are for us.

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Image by Elias 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.

Mindfulness Meditation – Being With Things As They Are

Allyson Pimentel presented a guided meditation on “Mindfulness” for the MARC, UCLA  meditation podcast series.  In the meditation, she described mindfulness as paying attention in the present moment with an attitude of acceptance and kindness and a  “willingness to be with things as they are”.   She suggested that mindfulness can be either formal (as with the UCLA guided meditations) or informal  (occurring  throughout our day as we focus on the present moment).

Mindfulness then entails paying attention in a kind way to things as they are occurring in our life in the present moment – not wishing them to be different or to go away.  In this regard, Allyson maintained that mindfulness meditation can serve as a refuge – a safe place to nourish, restore and renew ourselves in challenging times.  We can feel overwhelmed by external events (such as  storms and severe weather events) or internal experiences (such as challenging emotions, deprecating thoughts or painful bodily sensations).   Mindfulness meditation offers the opportunity to regain our equilibrium when faced with these challenges.

Allyson likens mindfulness meditation to a “wildlife reserve” where our own “animal bodies” are protected, kept safe and nurtured so that we can cultivate the “beauty” of kindness, gratitude, generosity and wisdom.  Mindfulness meditation, then, can be a place of quiet restoration, renewal of our sense of wonder and gratitude and a means to mind-body balance.

Guided mindfulness meditation

Allyson progresses through the meditation by focusing in turn on bodily sensations, challenging emotions, disturbing thoughts and the ease and calmness of our breath:

  • Bodily sensations – we are asked to focus on a part of our body where we feel tightness and to be with this bodily sensation in all its dimensions (such as soreness, pain, tension).  Allyson invites us to soften this part of our body and allow some degree of ease to permeate our bodily sensation.  This involves a process of recognition and acceptance of what we are experiencing in the moment, rather than rejection or fighting against the sensations.  After focusing on a particular bodily part and accompanying tight sensation, we are encouraged to undertake a process of progressive body scan and relaxation.
  • Challenging emotions – we now focus on any challenging emotion such as resentment, anger, frustration or annoyance.  This involves being with the emotion, not attempting to deny it.  It requires an openness to what is – in all its amplitude and disturbance.  Again the process involves recognition and softening towards what we are experiencing, not hardening our hearts.
  • Disturbing thoughts – we might be simultaneously experiencing disturbing thoughts such as negative self-evaluation and self-censure.  As we get in touch with these thoughts and their impacts on our body and emotions, we can learn to diffuse them by accepting their presence and being with their intensity, while acknowledging that “we are not our thoughts”.
  • Breathing – finally, we can take refuge in our breath which is ever present to us.  We can focus on our breath wherever we experience it in our body, e.g., our chest, abdomen or nose.  This involves acceptance of the nature of our breath, not trying to control it.  As we tune into and listen to our breath, we can experience ease and freedom.

Reflection

At the end of the guided meditation, Allyson invited us to observe any aspect of our body that still feels tense or tight and to be with the sensation.  At the time, I had a tightness in my right ankle from a bit of swelling there.   The act of focusing and softening eased the sensation of tightness and pain.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and informal mindfulness practices throughout our day, we can access the well of ease, experience a refuge from challenges we are encountering and restore our equilibrium and sense of balance.

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Image by Dominik Rheinheimer 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.

                                                                                                        

The Final Stages of the Hero’s Journey for the Frontline Midwife

In a previous post, I discussed the story of Anna Kent as a midwife volunteering in South Sudan in terms of the first 8 stages of the Hero’s Journey.  What I will discuss now is her Sudan story expressed in terms of the final stages of the hero’s journey (Stage 9-12).  I’ll be drawing again on her book, Frontline Midwife: My Story of Survival and Keeping Others Safe, in which she tells her story in graphic detail.

The final four stages of the hero’s journey – stages 9 to 12

The final four stages of her hero’s journey in South Sudan were deeply formative and life-changing and enabled Anna to develop a new perspective, skills and determination to help others in need wherever they were in the world:

9. Reward – there is no doubt that Anna emerged a stronger person as a result of overcoming personal challenges, including self-doubts and questioning of her obsession with volunteering.  The reward, too, that she experienced involved saving the lives of mothers, children and babies.  However, she had to deal with the sense of guilt she felt for the death of baby Mariam.  James tried to reassure her that she was not responsible for the death of the baby – in his words, “it was everyone in the world’s fault”.  She accepted intellectually that “every aid worker has a patient they carry in their conscience”.   Emotionally, though it was a continuous challenge to overcome the sense of guilt which pervaded her nightmares as she relived the traumatic event.  Unfortunately, our brains carry a negative bias – we see the negative much more strongly than the positive.  For a time, Anna found that her negative thoughts overwhelmed her rewarding thoughts – her personal satisfaction that she had saved many lives who otherwise would have died without her skilled and brave intervention.

10. The Road Back – this is both a physical journey and a metaphorical one.  On the physical level, it involves returning to her “ordinary world” – life with her boyfriend Jack in their comfy home in Nottingham.  The metaphorical aspect relates to being comfortable with her new self in an environment that is starkly different on every dimension to the one she was leaving in South Sudan.  It also meant dealing with the grief of leaving her mentor, James, her colleagues and the Sudanese people who she grew to love and admire for their courage, gentleness and stoicism.  Her short recreation spells during her volunteering in South Sudan forewarned her of the pending difficulty of the “road back”.  She found on her brief recreation trips that she could not share with Jack the horrors and traumas she had experienced and realised that she was totally lacking in libido.  Friends would ask about the exciting bits of her story but all she could share were her stories about snakes, not the reality of the poverty, harshness, and deprivation of the basic rights of women in South Sudan.  She found that she and Jack had so little to talk about, and their time together involved lots of silence as Anna tried to come to grips with crossing the threshold back into her former life. 

11. Resurrection – on her return home Anna broke off her relationship with Jack and moved to her parent’s home.  This created significant stress for her as she was unable to talk to her parents about her Sudan experiences or her reasons for breaking up with Jack – both these topics were too raw and traumatic.  In speaking with James her mentor, she shared her angst and he informed her that he had experienced similar dislocation and disorientation on his return from volunteering abroad.  James suggested that he made the mistake of “trying to be the person I once was when that person has gone”.  Anna recognised that everything changes with overseas service in a different culture and land where deprivation is rife – your values and perspectives change and you see “luxuries” and waste with new, intolerant eyes.  The way home for her involved a dying to the old person she once was and becoming a new, stronger, values-driven person. 

12. Return with the Elixir – another phase in Anna’s transition to her new persona began with entering a share house with two other nurses.  What she found was the ability to party together and share their experiences in a way that was cathartic.  Out of this period came a very strong resolution by Anna to build on her newly acquired midwife capabilities.  She enrolled in a midwifery degree at Nottingham University and had a very rewarding and enlightening work experience in Ethiopia as a student midwife.  She felt stronger and better prepared for subsequent volunteering missions involving Haiti following the earthquake in 2010 and Bangladesh working with Rohingya refugees – and these experiences entailed different journeys with new challenges and companions (as discussed in her book). 

Reflection

Throughout her hero’s journey in Sudan and beyond, Anna had to face her traumas which had “many heads” and in the process develop her resilience.  An experienced volunteer nurse, Anita, had told her “you’re gonna have to work out how to sit with these painful feelings without reacting to them”.  Like James, Anita suggested that meditation would be helpful as well as focusing on what has been achieved, not what her inner critic perceived as a “failure”.  James even suggested that Anna meditate for “an hour every day” and often encouraged her to be in the moment and experience what was before her – e.g., children playing with kites made from sticks, and the earth glowing from the setting sun. 

Anna demonstrated that as we grow in mindfulness through meditation (no matter how difficult we find it) and other mindfulness practices such as being in the moment, we can learn to regulate our emotions, deepen our self-awareness and develop resilience.

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Image by Steve Buissinne 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.

The Ripple Effect of Your Life – Choosing What Effect You Will Have

Authors who have reported research into near-death experiences (NDE’s) invariably describe the “life review” as an integral part of the experience, along with many other elements.  While researchers and writers in the area of NDE’s confirm that every near-death experience is different in its dimensions and intensity for everyone (no two are exactly the same), they consistently report on the high level of incidences of people experiencing a life review during their NDE.  The character of the life review is typically individualised also.

The nature of the life review is richly described by Jeff Janssen, author of Your Life’s Ripple Effect: Discover How and Why Your Life Really Matters.  Jeff has researched more than 3,500 NDE cases and reported in depth on their nature and their impact on the individual involved.   He discusses his research findings and his book in a video podcast interview with Kirsty Salisbury.  Jeff explains the nature of life reviews along a number of dimensions and provides illustrations of each dimension from actual near-death experiences.  The dimensions include microscopic focus, panoramic view of the ripple effect of a person’s life and the resultant profound understanding experienced by the individual involved:

  • Microscopic focus: Jeff describes the level of detail experienced by many people undergoing a life review during their near-death experience.  He explains that the life review can encompass a person’s life from birth to the present day (or periods within) and entail highlighting every thought, word, action and feeling experienced by the individual involved over the span of the review.  Not only does this involve vivid recall but what is also exposed is person’s reasons for acting (or re-acting) in the way they did.  This microscopic view means that the individual involved cannot hide the real reasons through self-justifications, lack of self-insight or unfounded assumptions – the underpinning motivations and precursors are in the spotlight.
  • Ripple effects: Not only are the individual’s words, actions and reasons exposed but also the impact that these have on individuals who are directly impacted by them.  This is experienced in high definition – feeling the physical impact of a slap or punch, experiencing the pain, anguish, frustration and anger of another resulting from the focal individual’s words and actions.  So not only do you experience your own thoughts and feelings but also those of people directly impacted.  The ripple effect is disclosed through being able to observe what the impacted individual does as a result of the interaction with you – passing on their anger, resentment or other feelings to family members, co-workers and anyone else they interact with.  Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. Mary Neal in her book chapter, Death on the River,  discusses her life review during her near death experience and explains that no event or words in her life were seen in isolation but starkly in terms of their “unseen ripple effects”.  She saw the impact of her words and actions on others “dozens of times removed” from the immediate situation and understood that “every human interaction” has a far more significant effect than we can possibly imagine with our limited vision and insight.  The effects of words and actions that express love and kindness towards another person appear in the life review as amplified feelings of joy, gratitude and appreciation by the recipients and others.
  • Profound understanding: people who report having a life review during their near-death experience also report that if there are witnesses present who can see the life review (in all its high definition visuals, e.g. in shared death experiences), they do not judge the person having the review.  Jeff confirms that this is true also of other beings who are seen by some people to be present, including the Supreme Being (or “God” for some people).  There is no external judgment as the life review proceeds, only one’s own evaluation based on full information, understanding and insight that is engendered by the life review process.  Kirsty and Jeff suggest that the life review serves to identify areas for learning and development – what they describe as “soul purpose”, e.g. to develop greater patience or empathy.  The life review can also throw light on one’s life purpose and may even show the way forward by identifying a unique way to contribute to the welfare of the broader community and the world at large.

Choosing the effect you will have

There is little we can do about our past words, actions and omissions other than seek and/or give forgiveness – a forgiveness meditation can be helpful here.  Research into life after a NDE and life review indicates that people affected by the experience tend to change their words and actions so that they will have a positive ripple effect in their interactions.  Jeff describes these changes on his website and I have summarised them here:

More of:

  • Focus on living a life of contribution and personal meaning
  • Courage and fearlessness to live authentically
  • Offering unconditional love
  • Purposely living life to the full
  • Peace, patience and joy.

Less of:

  • Being a victim and passive in the face of challenges
  • Focus on materialistic values
  • Hatred and envy of others
  • Being stressed and overwhelmed
  • Concern about what others think about them.

As a result of this changed orientation to a positive ripple effect in their lives, people left soul-destroying jobs, increased their connectedness with others (family, friends, colleagues) and ceased to gossip about or bad-mouth others. Some even chose to work with the dying in a hospice setting.

In his earlier book, 10 Life Changing Lessons from Heaven, Jeff identifies how we can increase the positive ripple effect from our words and actions – we can choose what kind of ripple effect we will have in the rest of our life.  The lessons include learning, loving, trusting, and appreciating without limit while fearlessly pursuing a purposeful life in the service of others.  These lessons from near-death experiences resonate strongly with what Frank Ostaseski describes as the “lessons from death and dying” – gleaned from providing end-of-life care to over a thousand people who have died in a hospice environment.

Reflection

Throughout his book on the 10 lessons, Jeff offers exercises to make us think about what we need to change in our lives.  He also offers a series of questions on his website that address each of the 10 lessons, including “accept non-judgmentally” and “appreciate regularly”.  He encourages us to explore these with our friends or a community of care.

Even small acts of kindness have a positive flow on effect and cause ripples that may improve the quality of other peoples’ lives.  One small example of this is the daily ritual of the “waving man”, Peter Van Beek,  who waved to everyone who passed him in a car as he stood near a roundabout with a broad and welcoming smile – the positive ripple effect of this small action was reported recently on his death.

The challenge as Kirsty points out is to avoid being obsessed with our past life and things that we cannot change but to look ahead and change our words and actions while pursuing a life of purpose, meaning and contribution.  As we grow in mindfulness through reflection, meditation and other mindfulness activities, we can develop the necessary self-awareness, insight, courage and fearlessness to make our life matter for others.

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Image by Peter H 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.

 

Building Resilience One Step at a Time

We all experience adversity and setbacks – it is how we deal with them that shapes who we are and what we are capable of.  Sometimes the setback is so great that it throws us completely off balance – at other times, it involves a minor and temporary dislocation.  Shelly Tygielski, in her course The Power of Showing Up, talks about how she was completely derailed by a painful divorce that left her as a single mother trying to raise her young son.   She found that she was unable to meditate or focus on anything because of her mental and emotional disorientation.

Eventually, Shelly through persistence with meditation (however dissatisfying because of her incessant distractions) was able to restore her balance and rebuild her resilience one step at a time.  She achieved this, in part, by “chunking” tasks to manage the challenges she faced with her endless “to-do lists”.   The determinant of the priority of her tasks was the degree to which they served her life purpose.

In her course, Shelly helps us to identify our thought patterns, emotional responses and habituated behaviours.  She provides ways to “deconstruct” ourselves and, in turn, “reconstruct” our sense of who we are.  The processes, including journalling, help us to break free of the ties that bind us and better align with our life purpose.  Releasing the hold of perfectionism, fear and expectations enables us to achieve personal integration and access our innate creative and fearless nature.

Shelly demonstrates through her own life history, experiencing traumas and multiple setbacks, that we can emerge with renewed strength, a laser-focus on our life purpose and the resilience to overcome whatever life’s turbulence throws our way.  Tina Turner, too, demonstrated a similar resilience through drawing on the power of meditation and chanting.

The road ahead involves taking one step at a time, confident in the hope that the journey provides its own rewards in terms of self-awareness, emotional regulation and achievement in line with our life purpose.  We can get ahead of ourselves too easily, expecting too much too soon – negative thoughts, such as “I should be further down the track” or “this process is taking too long”, will only hold us back.  We have to maintain our focus on the end goal – through mindfulness practices such as meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, chanting or journalling.

Chelsea Handler, in the Foreword to Shelly’s book, Sit Down to Rise Up, recounts the story of meeting Shelly backstage at a Wisdom 2.0 Conference.  Chelsea was immediately drawn to Shelly’s “vibrance” and to the fact that she was witnessing “someone who lives their life in purpose”.  Shelly subsequently invited Chelsea to join her at a meditation retreat for survivors of gun violence and family members who lost someone through such violence.  Chelsea immediately experienced negative thoughts about her own adequacy to participate in such an emotionally charged event.   Shelly assured her that she is “good enough” and has “personal agency” – messages she reiterates strongly in her book and her online course.   Chelsea participated in the retreat and learned a valuable lesson about dealing with people who were experiencing trauma and grief – “sitting and listening to people’s stories is sometimes all that is needed”.

Reflection

I was very recently thrown off balance by the fact that my three-year old car broke down. It lost power and displayed multiple malfunction messages relating to the engine, the transmission and the high level safety features.  This was particularly disconcerting and that meant that all the things that I had planned for the day were not possible, e.g. collecting a book from the library, dropping off clothes for dry cleaning, buying fresh seafood for dinner and purchasing other foods from a supermarket.  While this was a minor setback (that proved costly), I was blindsided by the fact that it left me so unbalanced.  However, I resorted to Tai Chi and persisted, despite feeling very unfocused and distracted by lots of thoughts and anxiety.  This proved to be the one step I needed to restore my balance and help me to refocus on my tasks and my writing. 

As we grow in mindfulness through practices such as Tai Chi and journalling, we can realign with our life purpose, restore our balance and build our resilience one step at a time (through one setback at a time).  It may take a short time or years (as in one of Shelly’s many setbacks) to restore our balance and alignment, but we need to persist in this process of metamorphosis.

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Image by Ralf Kunze 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.

Realising Our Full Potential

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

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

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

Steps along the way

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

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

Fearlessness: taking the first step towards our full potential

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

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

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

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

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

The conversation could go like this:

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

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

Fear: But what if the process does not work?

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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Image by jplenio from Pixabay

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

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

Developing Resilience through Trauma Recovery

Dr. Arielle Schwartz as the first presenter of the Rise Summit: Transforming Trauma demonstrated her wealth of experience as a clinical psychologist and deep insight into trauma recovery.  She openly shared her own early experience of traumatic events that left her dissociated and disconnected.  At the same time, Arielle provided hope for recovery as she addressed her chosen topic, Trauma and Resilience.  She drew on her clinical and consulting experiences through the Center for Resilience Informed Therapy where she provides an “integrated mind-body approach to trauma recovery”, informed by research on resilience.  Arielle’s presentation was so rich that you felt the need to listen to it again to glean more of the insights she offers from her personal and professional experience. 

Developing resilience: an integrated approach to trauma recovery

In an interview for New Snow Enterprises, Arielle explains that resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of trauma” or any adverse life events.  She also highlighted the fact that her strengths-based approach to therapy draws on, and reinforces, the research on post-traumatic growth which demonstrates that people who recover from trauma can become more of themselves, growing in confidence and capability – the opposite of the immediate effects of experiencing trauma. 

In her eclectic approach, Arielle draws on neuropsychotherapy which combines the concepts and practices of psychotherapy with the insights from neuroscience.  Not only does it acknowledge the mind-body connection but the relationship of this connection to environment, well-being and social interaction.  In a very real sense, it adopts a holistic approach to therapy.

This holistic approach is encapsulated in Arielle’s multi-faceted process of facilitating trauma recovery which includes:

  • Exploring family history: this involves identifying adverse childhood experiences, the passing on of intergenerational trauma and the resources and strengths gained through family interactions.  Arielle contends that identifying these elements of the “family legacy” underpins resilience.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – Arielle is a qualified practitioner in the use of this therapy and provides a case study on her website to illustrate successful use of this approach in the case of a person traumatised by date rape. The approach involves lateral eye movement that engages both sides of the brain in reprocessing a traumatic event and identifying the links to present-day reactions to triggering events.  The process requires skilful manipulation of re-exposure to traumatic events in short bursts that enable the traumatised person to manage their emotions. It also builds associations with positive adaptive techniques that the individual uses to manage stressors in daily life.  The net result is to reduce the impact of triggers, widen the window of tolerance, and build emotional resilience.
  • Somatic psychology – exploring the mind, body and behaviour through body awareness (in contrast to thinking-focused “talk therapies”).  Arielle provides a detailed description of somatic therapy that she employs in helping her clients recover from trauma.  She explains among other things how somatic therapy enables grounding, builds awareness of bodily sensations, helps to establish boundaries and to engage the innate calming and healing capacities of the body, especially through breath control.  She explains that the process of oscillating between feeling distress in the body and feeling calmness and safety is in line with somatic experiencing developed by Peter Levine.
  • Mind-body therapies – these include mindfulness practices and therapeutic yoga.  Arielle details a process she describes as Mind-Body Therapies for Vagal Nerves Disorders and explains how the vagal nerve impacts our sleep, digestion and level of calmness in our body.  She contends that these mind-body therapies can reduce inflammation and other physical illnesses and help with a range of disorders including depression and anxiety.  Arielle explains too that these therapies can involve a range of mindfulness practices incorporating movement (such as yoga and Tai Chi) as well as those involving stillness (such as relaxation and seated meditation).  In her website explanation of mind-body therapies, she offers a 4-part mindfulness practice designed to “recover from vagus nerve disorders”.  Arielle also provides a free e-book, Embodiment Strategies for Trauma Recovery, Emotional Health, and Physical Vitality, to anyone who subscribes to her email newsletters. This yogic approach to enhancing wellness is also available as a bonus gift for people participating in the Rise Summit: Transforming Traumathrough the upgrade option.

The six Rs of neuropsychotherapy

During her presentation, Arielle described the 6 Rs of neuropsychotherapy embodied in her integrated approach to trauma recovery:

  • Relationship – drawing on the concept of our being “wired for connection”, she reinforces the power of relationships in healing, including different forms of social support such as a therapist.
  • Resourcing – revisiting positive states (such as calmness and sense of safety) and savouring moments of positivity, satisfaction and happiness.
  • Repatterning – this involves establishing new patterns of movement so that established patterns (such as freezing in the face of perceived threat, e.g. someone touching you) are replaced by constructive responses, rather than triggered debilitating responses.
  • Reprocessing – especially through the EMDR process described above. Arielle reinforces the power of this gentle, managed reprocessing of trauma as a way to train memory and build resilience in the face of triggers.
  • Reflection – enables meaning making in relation to past events and habituated reactions to sights, sounds, smells, touch, taste or catalysing events. Mindfulness practices often involve reflection designed to facilitate this meaning making and emotional regulation.
  • Resilience – developing a sense of freedom, understanding personal stimuli and behavioural response patterns, becoming more integrated and coherent and broadening adaptive capacities.

The six pillars of resilience

On her website, Arielle lists the six pillars of resilience that she has drawn from research:

  • Growth Mindset
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Community Connections
  • Self-Expression
  • Embodiment
  • Choice and Control

 She suggests that we can develop these by undertaking practices that “support you physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually.” In the discussion with the Rise Summit creator and host, Nunaisi Ma, they identified practices to achieve this goal of self-support such as Tai Chi, yoga, singing (a favourite activity of Arielle), walking, meditation, mantra meditation, tapping, breathing exercises, body scan, touching (including self-touch), massage, dance and sighing.  Nunaisi elaborates on embodied healing practices in her book, Rise: Transform Trauma into Sovereign Power, Soulful Purpose, and Sacred Purpose.

Reflection

Arielle contends that one of the main barriers to post-trauma growth is fear of the discomfort of dealing with the reality of the pain and suffering resulting from the experience of trauma. Often people attempt to numb the pain through emotional eating or addiction to drugs or alcohol.  Forced solutions do not work because they take away agency (sense of control) from the individual involved.  Arielle’s approach is consistent with the core tenet expressed by the GROW podcast series that “You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone”.

Her multi-model approach also aligns with the approach adopted by trauma recovery expert, Bessel van der Kolk, who is the author of The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma.   Bessel too encourages the use of controlled breathing, movement modalities, mindfulness practices, singing and chanting.

Arielle offers numerous resources through her blog and through her book, The Post-Traumatic Growth Guidebook : Practical Mind-Body Tools to Heal Trauma, Foster Resilience and Awaken Your Potential.  

As we grow in mindfulness through somatic meditation, mantra meditations, Tai Chi or Yoga, we can gain the courage and energy to seek the necessary support for post-trauma recovery.  Sometimes, this may only involve building social relationships with people who provide “unconditional positive regard”; at other times, therapy may be needed to supplement these relationships.   

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Image by Stephanie Ghesquier from Pixabay

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

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

Natural Awareness through Nature

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

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

An experience of natural awareness

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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Image by Waldemar Zielinski from Pixabay

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

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

Overcoming Conditioning: The Road to Sobriety

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

The power of false beliefs

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

External influences reinforcing false beliefs

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

The road to sobriety

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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Image by pen_ash from Pixabay

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

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