Developing Natural Awareness through Observation and Listening

On New Year’s day, I was sitting on my deck at home and immediately thought about Diana Winston’s discussion of natural awareness.  All I wanted to do was sit there, observe and listen.  It was as if I was being transported into a different world where nature was supreme and everything else faded in the distance.

As I looked out from the deck I could see the waters of Moreton Bay in the distance through a gap in the trees that afforded a glimpse of the bay and the island not far from the shore.  It was one of those days when the sun was warm, the sky was blue and there was an eerie stillness in the air.  The trees glistened with drops of water after many days of rain.  There was a clarity about the view and a coolness in the air despite the summer weather beginning to warm up.

I could hear the birds in the foreground and background –  Doves cooing persistently, Butcherbirds stretching their necks to break into song and raucous Rainbow Lorikeets breaking the silence with their fast flapping wings as they sped by screeching.   The air was suddenly filled with loud sounds as a Kookaburra landed nearby to let out its laughing call.

I began to observe more closely my pot plants on the table, cupboard and floor of the deck.  I was able to notice new growth with emerging leaves and buds, the thickening of stems and the increasing individuality of the plants as they matured in their pots and took in the air and sunlight.  Some succulents had very shiny leaves, others were tall and imposing, while a small group hung over their pots and extended their reach to the floor.  Another variegated plant that was previously close to death now displayed its bright colours and scalloped edges in a new location on the deck that afforded lots of air, light and access to light rain.

The sky was a bright blue with light, passing clouds moving slowly and forming unusual shapes.  The many birds that surrounded me seemed to rejoice in the clear skies, the gentle breeze and the brightening sunlight.

Reflection

I am reminded of Costa Georgiadis exhortation in his book, Costa’s World: Gardening for the SOIL, the SOUL and the SUBURBS, that we should become more mindful of our immediate environment as we move through it and around it, often totally unaware of its beauty, variety and earthiness and its ability to make us grounded.  Deepak Chopra reminds us of the healing power of “earthing” – consciously grounding ourselves by walking barefoot on the earth or grass.

Diana, in her book The Little Book of Being, also offers ways to develop natural awareness and encourages us to monitor our sensations throughout the day, engage in deep listening and avoid unnecessary aggravation either of our emotions or our microbiome (through the ingestion of inflammatory foods).

As we develop natural awareness and grow in mindfulness through meditation and conscious observation and listening, we can achieve a sense of tranquility, gratitude and peace amid what is increasingly a turbulent world.  Our own backyard can be where we earth and become grounded.

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Image by Perez Vöcking from Pixabay

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

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

Meditation on the Power of the Present Moment

Allyson Pimentel, UCLA meditation trainer, provided a guided meditation podcast focused on the power of the present moment.  Her meditation, titled Mindfulness and Lineage explores the present moment as the encapsulation of all that has happened in our past along with the potentiality to shape our future.  The present moment provides us with the opportunity to reflect on our words and actions, to engage in reflection-in action and to envisage our future.  It enables us to begin to appreciate our ancestors and all that has gone before us while looking forward to what we ourselves can contribute to future generations.

When we think of the people who have gone before us, our ancestors, and realise that we are today the inheritors of their efforts, sacrifices, challenges and perspectives, we can begin to feel gratitude for all the positive things that we have inherited.  The SBS TV documentary, Who Do You Think You Are?, explores the ancestry of well-known Australians from sport, politics, music, film, stage and television. Invariably, the exploration highlights incredible courage and resilience of forbears and their vision to create a better future for those who were to come after them.  They often endured unbelievably harsh living conditions, undertook dangerous and arduous journeys and lived with uncertainty as the reality of daily life.

When we reflect on the past and the people who have preceded us we have  a lot to be grateful for – our freedom, innovations, insights, discoveries, technologies (including medical processes and medications).  We acquired knowledge through our predecessors trial and error endeavours and risk-taking.  We have come to better understand our bodies, minds and spirit through their explorations, including neuroscience research.  The inheritance from our forbears is endless, enduring and engaging.  If we reflect on our lineage and explore our family history, we come to appreciate even more our connectedness to people, places and history.   We can be grateful for the mindfulness tradition which had its origins in Buddhism but has broadened from a religious base and, in Western countries, morphed into a secular tradition informed by neuroscience.   

Guided meditation

Allyson focuses initially on our bodies, encouraging us to be really grounded our body in the way it takes up space, its textures, height and width, weight, lightness and heaviness and interactions with its external world through the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.  She reminds us that mindfulness involves being fully in the present moment and apprehending the present with its potency and potentiality through curiosity, openness and willingness to be with what is – accepting our here-and-now experience, including our limitations (physical and mental), our lived experience shaping our perceptions and habituated behaviour, and our emergent self-awareness.  

Allyson encourages us firstly to explore the back of our body – our spine running down the length of our back as well as the back of our head, neck, buttocks, legs, arms, and heels.  She suggests that this process can activate our conscious link with the past, with what has come before us but is now behind us.  As we breath in and out gently, we can express appreciation for our lineage – what we have inherited in our world that contributes to our health, happiness and overall wellbeing. We can value our inherited natural environment and the connectedness to nature that we enjoy.  

The next stage of the guided meditation involves focusing on the front of our body – our eyes, face, jaw, chest, stomach, thighs, calves, feet and toes.  This process helps us to focus on the future – on the fact that our present moment is shaping our future.  This is not only as a result of the immediate benefits of meditation but also the way we begin to develop our world view, heighten our perception, enhance our self-awareness and clarify our life purpose. 

Reflection

We take so much for granted in our lives.  This guided meditation on our lineage opens our minds to the people who have gone before us and what they have made possible for us.  It builds our sense of appreciation and gratitude and enables us to deepen our self-awareness through understanding our origins and its influence on our daily lives.  The meditation also develops an openness to the potentiality of our future.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection we gain increasing insight into our inner landscape and our outer environment and the forces that have shaped us and continue to influence our life and our individual paths.

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

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

Meditating on Nature and Gratitude

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

Paying attention to the elements of nature

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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Image by Anh Lê khắc from Pixabay

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

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

Being Mindful of Our Immediate Environment

Costa Georgiadis maintains that a return to the simple things of life, such as a home garden, is essential in these challenging times.  Costa is an environmental educator, TV presenter, landscape architect and host of ABC’s Gardening Australia.  His passion for sustainability has its origins in the care and concern for the environment instilled into him at an early age by his grandparents.  His recent book, Costa’s World: Gardening for the SOIL, the SOUL and the SUBURBS, is more than a wonderfully illustrated and informative gardening book – its is really a book about living and restoring, replenishing and re-invigorating our immediate home environment.  He argues for achieving biodiversity, reducing waste and living mindfully in our immediate environment.

Costa contends that at the heart of sustainability is the ability to separate needs from wants – something we do when we go camping.  He uses the analogy that we are “campers” on this earth and we need to be conscious of our imprint day to day, while being able to create an environment that nurtures, protects and sustains us .  His book is imbued with his enthusiasm, humour, energy, conviction and down-to earth practicality.

Getting to know our microenvironment

Costa is a great believer in diaries and logs for getting to know our microenvironment – he argues that grounded data is pure gold.  He also maintains that we really need to get to know microclimates – to understand the climate of our neighbourhood in terms of the variability of the temperature, the timing and volume of rain, and the extremes of heat and cold.   Costa argues that we have to inform ourselves of our local, grounded seasons not just the four traditional European seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – that we are familiar with.  He suggests that we can draw on indigenous knowledge  and descriptions of seasons to better inform ourselves.  He reminds us that seasons shape our lives – they influence what we eat, what we wear, how we spend our time, and the amount of time we spend indoors or outdoors.

Costa has a series of questions that we can ask ourselves to better understand our immediate environment.  They cover issues such as the source of prevailing winds, the physical landscape, tree placements and impacts of fences and structures.  He argues that developing awareness about these environmental elements and the location of our living space can helps us to prevent waste, save energy and invest time and energy in productive, sustainable practices.

Sustaining and regenerating our microenvironment

Throughout his book, Costa provides multiple ways we can restore, replenish and enrich the biodiversity of our immediate environment – the source of life and sustainability.   Here are some of the areas that he explores with practical hints on how to progress them:

  • Composting – Costa contends that in composting we are “bringing dead things back to life”.  He argues that anyone can compost as all the required materials are readily available – kitchen food scraps, leaves, grass clippings, used newspapers, paper & cardboard, twigs and sticks.  He provides detailed instructions with clear illustrations to get us started and practical ways to make the ongoing process easy.  He contends that in composting we are reducing waste and landfill, developing great soil and “making new friends in the community” by inviting worms and multiple insects to break down the composting ingredients. Birds too will happily visit to feed on the worms and contribute their droppings.  He also recommends the ShareWaste app as a way to engage a wider community of people in your local area in the composting process.
  • Enriching our soil – Costa maintains that “healthy soil is teeming with life”.  He encourages us to really observe our soil – its colour, texture, feel, and smell.  He offers multiple ways to test our soil and to enrich it, all the while raising awareness about the soil needs of different plants such as native and indigenous plants.  Costa encourages us to develop a partnership with our soil which is critical to our survival individually and as a species.  Composting has a key role here as it not only increases organic matter in our soil but enables us to get closer to the soil by investing time and energy in regenerating it.
  • Reducing water usage – being conscious of our consumption and waste of water.  Costa suggests that a salutary lesson is to observe the number of times in a day that we access a water outlet and to ask ourselves how we can reduce our water use. 
  • Plastic-free initiatives – here Costa encourages us to start “breaking up with plastic” by reducing our dependence on it.  He offers ways to achieve this “breakup” which include avoiding the use of plastic straws, drink bottles, and cutlery.  He also encourages us to influence others to overcome the habit of single-use plastic which has become so much a part of our lives in modern times..
  • Conscious consumption – Costa suggests that we become conscious of the origins and ingredients of our consumable items such as coffee, tea, clothes, soaps, detergents and toilet paper.  He provides a series of questions we can ask ourselves to increase our awareness of the impact of these consumables on our microenvironment.  

Reflection

I feel that I have not done justice to Costa’s book in this brief review.  He achieves a wonderful balance between depth of information and practicality of application.  His book is replete with examples, activities, projects and guides as well as reinforcing illustrations and quotes.  His enthusiasm for replenishing our immediate environments is motivating and energising. Costa shares a lifetime of study, research and education in his book and maintains that activism for us is “performing day-to-day actions” in our microenvironments.

As we grow in mindfulness through time spent in nature, gardening and observing our immediate environment, we can better appreciate our world, contribute to sustainability and develop an improved environment for succeeding generations.  Gardening can enhance our awareness, give us greater access to the healing power of nature and enrich our lives through increased texture, colour, feel and interest.  It also gives us the opportunity to learn as we try out new plants, locations and soil enrichments – we can learn through doing and reflecting on the outcomes both intended and unintended.

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Image by phamphuonglinh 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 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.

Exploring the Spectrum of Awareness through Fish in an Aquarium

Diana Winston previously introduced the concept of the spectrum of awareness – moving from a narrow lens through a wide lens to a panoramic view.  In a recent guided meditation podcast, Diana illustrated how to practice these different types of awareness through meditating with fish in an aquarium.   She suggested that observing fish in an aquarium with varying focus enables us to develop our understanding of the different ways we can pay attention – from a very narrow and sustained focus to a totally open awareness that takes in all that is occurring in our range of vision as well as what is happening internally.  Diana used the Aquarium of the Pacific webcam to enable participants to practice these different types of awareness.

Adopting a narrow awareness

Diana progressively introduced a range of awareness practices after having participants relax and adopt a comfortable, upright (if possible) position.  This can be preceded by slow, deep breathing to bring awareness to the present moment.  In the narrow awareness stage, Diana suggests that you focus on a plant at the bottom of the aquarium where there are a number of bright, green plants.  The chosen plant serves as an anchor throughout the meditation with the fish.  Once you have chosen a plant, she suggests that you maintain your focus on this particular plant and, if distractions occur, return your focus to the plant.  This practice of returning to your anchor builds your awareness muscle.  It is natural for your attention to wander, particularly where you have a lot of movement in front of you as in the aquarium.  A brightly coloured fish, a ghostly stingray or a sleek shark may pull your attention away – you can then just restore your focus to your chosen plant.

Widening awareness to movement of particular fish

Diana explained that this form of widened awareness can be activated by an investigative stance – e.g. exploring the movement of a fish as it passes in front of you from bottom to top, diagonally from corner to corner or from side to side, eventually disappearing from view.  Sometimes this widened focus can take in the synchronised swimming of a group of fish, moving artistically in pairs or threes.  Diana encourages you after following the movement of a particular fish or group of fish to return to your plant focus, again strengthening your capacity for paying attention and concentrating on a particular object.

Taking a panoramic view

Diana recommends that before expanding your awareness, you allow your body to soften and settle back to facilitate taking in the full screen, taking in everything that is happening in front of you in the aquarium.  As you observe the totality of the scene in front of you, you can notice the different colours of the fish (ranging from black to a bight orange), different shaped bodies and heads, varying speed of movement (from fast to very slow).   You can take in the ease and smoothness of movement of the different species in the aquarium, including varying movement of fins and tails.  You can extend your awareness further to take in the water itself, including the disturbance of the surface of the water as the continuous movement causes motion in the water itself.   Diana suggests that if at any time the scene and broader focus becomes overwhelming, you can return your focus to your plant anchor within the aquarium (e.g. some people may experience a sensation of giddiness with all the movement, colour, and glistening scales).

An addendum to this panoramic focus is to notice what is going on inside you, your own throughs and feelings.  This is in line with the definition of mindfulness used by MARC in their online and drop-in meditation sessions – paying attention in the moment with openness, curiosity and acceptance of what is occurring for you.  Your emotions may include calmness and peace, a sense of wonder and awe, or appreciation and gratitude. You can also check in with your associated bodily sensations at the time.  Diana encourages you, too, to become conscious of “who is noticing” being aware of your awareness – a uniquely human property as illustrated by clinical psychologist Noam Shpancer in his book, The Good Psychologist, when he compares the capacities of a human being to that of a zebra .

Reflection

I had become aware of the spectrum of awareness through a previous post I had written based on one of Diana’s earlier guided meditations.  Coincidentally, I recalled this practice when I was having my lunch on the deck at my home.  When I finished my lunch (which I did not eat very mindfully!), I decided to take a panoramic view of what I could see from the deck, including the far away waters of Moreton Bay.  I noticed the trees and plants, the different shaped leaves, varying movement with the wind in the trees, newly formed and colourful spring growth and the sounds and movement of birds penetrating my visual space.  This process of widened awareness was very calming and peaceful.

As we grow in mindfulness through observation, meditation, reflection and other mindfulness practices, we can build our capacity to focus and concentrate, to appreciate and savour what is around us and to get in touch with the healing power of nature.

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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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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.

Life After Grief

In a previous post, I discussed how Rosie Ayliffe converted her grief and anger after the murder of her daughter to the reform of the Australian visa system that was contributing to manipulation and abuse of overseas backpackers.  Evonne Madden, in her book Life After: A Testament to Human Resilience, recounts the stories of 60 Australians who have experienced grief after the loss of a loved one.  Their stories illustrate that grief is very individual and plays out in distinctive ways over time.  It also confirms the view that in most cases grief is not a straight-line experience – there are ebbs and flows often occasioned by trigger experiences, words or actions that lead to flashbacks and emotional pain.  

The stories in Evonne’s book reaffirm the resilience of the human spirit and confirm how many people who experience grief find healing by going outside themselves – their anger and pain – to help others in need through compassionate action.   Their grief becomes the driver of their energy to ensure that others do not experience their level of pain.   As Katherine Woodward notes, trauma can be a trigger for self-awareness and self-realisation.

Exemplars of compassionate action through grief

Evonne details the heart-breaking loss experienced by the people in her stories.  Their sadness and grief is palpable but relieved by their strength of character and resilience and by how they have managed their grief by turning to the needs of others.  There are too many stories to recount here, but the following exemplars give you some sense of the resilience and courage of the people involved and serves as a teaser to encourage you to explore Evonne’s book yourself.

  • Lushani Hewage (age 26) lost her parents and one of her sisters in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.  Her account of the day the tsunami dramatically changed her life, when the wall of water hit the bus they were travelling in, is very traumatic and heart-wrenching.  Lushani and her two surviving sisters were initially cared for by relatives in her local area in Sri Lanka.  However, she was subsequently sent with one of her sisters to live with an aunt in Melbourne.  So there was not only the loss of her parents and a sister whom she had a special relationship with, but also the subsequent separation from another sister and having to adapt to life in a totally different part of the world.  Lushani now lives in Melbourne with her partner Sankini and they are both social workers.  She makes the point that “getting over” the trauma is not really an option but life does get easier, although people become impatient with your grief and ongoing sadness.  Lushani was determined to do something good after her experience and is very committed to the idea of doing social work in the child protection area.
  • Ajak Kwai (age 51) experienced the loss of her ill mother when she was a child and as a young adult experienced the loss of many relatives who were murdered in Southern Sudan by militia.  The civil war also took her father, siblings and fiancé.  She finally moved to Australia as a refugee and is now a singer and musician and her soulful music is available on Spotify and YouTube.  She stresses the need for modern society to learn from the practice in Africa where everyone drops everything and visits the bereaved family to provide emotional support…and they don’t stop visiting.  She maintains that what the world needs today is for us to “go back to the basics of caring for one another”.  She argues that forgiveness is important because hatred and revenge not only harms other people but also yourself so that you pay a “double price”.  Ajak believes “life is incredible” and “life is a mystery” and she gives expression to these beliefs in her songs.  She is a supporter of many organisations catering for women’s rights and refugees. 
  • Gavin Blue (age 52) and his wife Kel experienced the pain and grief of losing a child to stillbirth at 33 weeks.   While the hospital staff were very caring and concerned, the photographer seemed to be going through the motions and produced photographs of the Gavin, Kel and their stillborn baby that were “very graphic and forensic” and added to the trauma of the loss of the baby, Alexandra.  Kel was not coping at all afterwards so Gavin threw himself into protecting her and getting everything done, including a video of Alexandra’s life.  Despite people unwittingly making hurtful comments, Gavin and Kel decided that they had to look beyond the words and “listen to people’s intentions” which were designed to be helpful.  Gavin found that the photos he took himself of Alexandra helped him and Kel and made people comfortable talking about the situation “which helps immensely in grief”.  This experience inspired him to start Heartfelt which involves volunteer photographers providing free photos for people who have lost a child through stillbirth or have children with very serious or life-threatening illness.

Reflection

I listened to Ajak’s soulful music while I wrote this blog.  It reminded me of the healing power of music.  So many people have expressed their pain and grief through song and instrumental music, including the great composers and modern day songwriters like Lindsey Stirling.  Gratitude journalling too plays a major role in the healing process and is a pathway to resilience and happiness as demonstrated by Lindsey’s daily journalling process.

Grief is a complex mix of emotions fluctuating constantly and expressed in very individual ways.  The depth of pain and sorrow described by Evonne can at times feel numbing but the resilience and hope demonstrated by her generous interviewees shines brightly and is overwhelmingly inspiring. 

Ajak’s song Love Not Bitterness illustrates the depth of character of these people and their commitment to life and peace.  Olivia Gilewski, who lost her mother in a train accident when she was 12 years old, advises us to choose our words and actions wisely because they will be always with us especially after a loved one dies.  Her advice is that “You’ve just got to make the best of every day.”  As we grow in mindfulness though music, meditation and reflection, we can experience healing, health and happiness and learn to appreciate the beauty of life and nature

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Image by riyan hidayat from Pixabay

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

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

Balancing Compassion with Equanimity

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

Guided meditation on balancing compassion with equanimity

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

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

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

Compassion meditation

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

Equanimity meditation

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

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

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

Ways to Engage with Nature

In a previous post I explored the benefits of solitude and silence in nature.  Cultivating the practice of being alone in nature can help us to develop self-awareness, patience and self-regulation.  It can be useful for gaining insight into the limitations of our perspective on issues such as personal conflict and can provide clarity and insight by enabling us to access our “inner voice”.  With increased engagement with nature, we can better understand our life purpose and find creative ways to employ our skills and experience for the benefit of others.  But how do you engage effectively with nature to access these benefits?

Ways to engage with nature mindfully

Ruth Allen, in her book How Connection with Nature Can Improve our Mental and Physical Wellbeing, offers multiple suggestions on what we can do to increase the frequency and intensity of our engagement such as:

  • Mindful photography – this had immediate appeal for me because I love taking photos of sunrises and sunsets, rainforests, beaches, and birds that inhabit waterways, such as ducks, pelicans and water wrens.  Adopting a purposeful approach to photographing nature enables us to be fully in the present moment, to notice the detail and attractiveness of what we are trying to capture and to clear the noise and clutter in our head.  Ruth suggests too that we can employ the photographic images as a way to represent our emotions and, in the process, increase our self-awareness.  Ruth’s book is full of illustrations of mindful photography as well as her wisdom about nature and its connectedness that she has developed through personal practice, experience as an adventurer and  her professional endeavours as a geologist and eco-psychotherapist.
  • Gardening – whether you are pottering around in a garden or cultivating plants in pots, you can gain the experience of the smell of the earth, the sight of the different plant species and the touch and texture of both soil and plants.  Developing a herb garden gives an even wider range of aromas, textures and taste.  Gardening gives us access to intense sensual experience covering not only sight, taste, touch, and smell but also the potentiality of listening to birds as they traverse our space or reside in our bird-attracting trees and plants.  Consciously cultivating plants, shrubs and trees that attract birds, bees and butterflies increases our sensory experience of nature in our own yard.  Often nature is literally at our doorstep and we fail to engage effectively with it, just taking it for granted as a backdrop to our busy, noisy lives.  
  • Notice the small things in nature – often the large aspects of nature such as clouds, mountains, sky and oceans capture our focus at the expense of observing the small things in nature.  While the macro aspects of nature are indeed awe-inspiring and give us a sense of expansiveness, the micro level provides its own fascination through its diversity, intricacy and connectedness.  We can observe at the micro level by close observation or by what Ruth calls, “soft fascination”.  Close observation entails focused attention on something micro like a leaf, insect or stone and closely observing its features and marvelling at its distinctiveness whether that be its colours, patterns,, textures, shape or some other feature.  Soft fascination, on the other hand, involves letting our eyes “float” across a section of landscape while allowing our mind “to drift into a state of reflection and introspection”.

Reflection

Engagement with nature brings countless benefits and Ruth draws on the scientific evidence of these in her book, including the work of Stephen and Rachel Kaplan.  There are many ways we can practice this engagement extending from close physical observation to mindful photography.  We just need to form the intention to maximise our engagement with nature to harness these benefits.  We can meditate on nature and as we grow in mindfulness, we can enhance the benefits that accrue. Through mindfulness cultivated by mindful observation of nature and nature meditation, we can develop stillness and silence, attention and concentration, awareness and insight and a deep sense of connectedness and interconnection.

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Image by Hai Nguyen 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.