Surrendering to the Process of Shedding Old Beliefs

There are times when we have to shed something of ourself that we hold dear – our beliefs, our self-stories, or an aspect of our identity.   Sharon Salzberg, in her new book Real Life, describes this shedding process as “the movement from constraint, narrowness and limitation to openness, connection, and freedom”.   Shedding was the topic introduced by Jennifer Harris, the facilitator of our recent Creative Meetup.

Jennifer introduced the theme of shedding by sharing Harryette Mullen’s poem, Shedding Skin.  Harryette likens the process of shedding to stripping off “old scarred skin” and “sloughing off deadscales”.  In her view, it involves being open to vulnerability by “shedding toughness, peeling layers down”.   Jennifer also introduced the words of a song by Florence and the Machine in which she sings, “And in the Spring I shed my skin”.  These words from Rabbit heart (Raise Me Up) are interpreted to mean “shed timidity and become courageous”.

Shedding old beliefs

Neale Donald Walsch, in an interview with Kute Blackson for the Soul Talk Podcast, spoke at length about the challenge of giving up old beliefs.  He had been told by his father not to talk to black people because “they were trash”.  He sustained this belief for some time because he thought it would be disrespectful to challenge the authority of his parent.  However, his own life experience as a radio host caused considerable cognitive dissonance for him to the point where he had to shed his old belief about black people.  Neale found that when interviewing for his radio show the audience was predominantly black and he found that they were, in fact, “brilliant and incredible…nice human beings” and ended up having lunch with them and seeking a close friendship with one black person in particular.  He had to shed his old, wrong beliefs about black people to overcome his cognitive dissonance and sustain his relationships with members of his audience.

Neale also had to shed his beliefs about women (again taught by his father) – “women should take care of the house and kids and not being paid equally, not being as bright as men”.  This belief undermined his relationships with women and resulted in multiple failed marriages.  His beliefs about women were constraining, limiting and narrow.  It took regular relationship crises for him to challenge his beliefs and to learn to behave differently in his relationships with women.  So, disconfirming evidence and/or life crises can lead to shedding wrong or outdated beliefs.

However, some people continue to maintain firmly held beliefs despite disconfirming or conflicting evidence and will defend them with overt or covert aggression.  I learnt this at my own expense when I was a young manager in the 1980’s.  I participated in a national conference for State Managers of Training held by the Australian Taxation Office in Canberra.  At one stage in the process, an Assistant Commissioner of Taxation (2IC) joined us to provide moral support for the Central Office Training Team (who were “under fire” from the State representatives for trying to centralise all training).  During the Assistant Commissioner’s presentation, I politely challenged his statement that “The Taxation Office is at the forefront of technology in Australia.”  I explained that at a State level the opposite was true – in fact we were years behind the private sector at the time.  I was publicly abused for my challenge to his firmly held belief (which, while no longer true, was true in the 1960s and early 1970s).  His abuse was so memorable that I was stopped in the street 10 years later by a participant from another State who recalled the “abuse”.

I also learnt again painfully that people in authority can protect their beliefs by covert aggression as well as overt aggression   When I was an academic, I was introducing action learning into my university and using it as a basis for my PhD research.  My Dean opposed my endeavours by trying to prevent my appointment as a tenured academic as well as my overseas travel for a World Congress on action learning in Colombia (I was a member of the international organising committee).  He eventually prevented my promotion to a Senior Lecturer – in the feedback afterwards, telling me that “you had the best application [because of my experience and rating as a teacher], but you are using a non-mainstream approach in your PhD research”.  Action learning promotes the view that we are all “personal scientists” building expertise through life experiences and reflection on our experiences – a position that conflicted with my Dean’s belief in the expert role of academics and the role of Universities as being the “repositories of all learning”.  In consequence, he used covert aggression to try to prevent my academic advancement.

Shedding self-stories

Negative self-stories can develop through the influence of our parents, teachers, peers or colleagues.  These self-stories can shape our beliefs about ourself and our worth and influence our behaviours in the face of difficulties and life’s challenges.  Negative self-stories can arise through traumatic experiences and are often at a sub-conscious level.  Self-beliefs such as “I’m not good enough” can arise from behavioural messages of parents (e.g. through neglect, constant criticism, or extended absences).  The “need to please disease” as a hidden motivator can also arise from a belief that “I’m not lovable” and “I have to be nice to be liked and not rejected”.

It is difficult to overcome adverse childhood experiences that are often behind negative self-beliefs.  Tara Brach suggests that mindfulness practices (such as mantra meditation, writing and reflective conversations) can help us to loosen false beliefs about ourselves.  She offers a process for investigating and challenging false beliefs about ourself.   She argues that as we grow in mindfulness we can develop the self-awareness necessary to enable us to identify our habituated behaviour and to name and challenge our false beliefs.  In the process, we can loosen the hold of our false self-beliefs, restore our energy and engage more positively and creatively in everyday life.

Surrendering to the process of shedding

Participants in our recent Creative Meetup discussed the difficulty of letting go of old beliefs.  They suggested that the process takes time, patience and self-compassion.  They discussed the movement from the pain of shedding to the realisation of potential.  They suggested that the process of taking on new beliefs is uncomfortable, moving from the known to the unknown. 

The rewards of surrendering to the process of shedding beliefs were valued and highlighted.  They talked about “a new way of seeing”, removal of blinkers, experiencing release and empowerment, and accessing a “deeper self” and a “a new way of being”.  The challenge of surrender is real, but the rewards are great.

Tara Brach, with Jack Kornfield and colleagues, offers an online course, Power of Awareness, that is designed to help us “break free from negative thoughts” to realise balance, peace and joy.  They offer a mindful approach to achieving a quiet mind by bringing awareness and self-compassion to our “inner dialogue”.   I have undertaken this course and found it highly beneficial.

Reflection

Lulu & Mischka in their mantra meditation, Metamorphosis, capture the essence of surrendering to the process of shedding.  They encourage us to “keep letting go”, “trust in the process”, relax into the present and “stop resisting”.  If we can do this through mindfulness practices such as reflection and mantra meditations we can achieve healing and a metamorphosis that will enable us to spread our wings and fly higher.  This exhortation resonates with Sharon Salzberg’s encouragement to move from constraint to freedom, from narrowness to connection. from limitation to openness.  I have expressed these insights in the following poem:

Surrender to Shedding

There comes a time in our life when we have to shed old beliefs.
Slough off our limiting self-beliefs,
Remove constraints on our thinking,
Break down the barriers of our defence mechanisms,
Let go and stop resisting,
Surrender to the process of casting aside what no longer works for us.

The shedding process is painful.
Discomfort with the new,
Feeling lost,
Leaving behind the known,
Moving to uncertainty,
Open to anxiety.

The rewards of shedding are great.
Releasing from constraints and limitations,
Achieving a new sense of freedom,
Moving from pain to possibility,
Discovering a new creative self,
Flowing like a river, rediscovering “Flow”.

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Image by Jonathan 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.

Managing Life Transitions through Storytelling

Many writers and podcasters highlight the challenges involved in life transitions.  Some focus on specific transitions such as aging, menopause for women, or transitions precipitated by organisational change.  Their discussions frequently highlight the need to reframe specific transitions such as aging or job loss as periods of growth and creativity rather than decline – this means changing our mindset and our narrative about these transitional periods.  As William and Susan Bridges point out in their book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, many people become stuck in the “endings” phase of transitions because they focus solely on what is being lost, rather than appreciating the potentiality of “new beginnings”.

Bruce Feiler, in his TED Talk©, The Secret to Mastering Life’s Transitions, contends that one of the core problems people have in managing life’s transitions is that they have a linear mindset, a perception that life is always “onwards and upwards” with a predictable forward-moving pattern – schooling, job, home purchase, marriage, and children, and career promotion.  We are thus ill-prepared for “setbacks” or deviations that occur through job loss, ill-health, loss of a partner, or physical disability.  Bruce, who was diagnosed with cancer when he was a new father of twin girls, suggests that when we are “side-tracked” or things go “offtrack”, we can feel as though we are “living life out of order” – living a life that is totally unexpected.  In his TED Talk© and his book, Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at any Age, Bruce maintains that life is a series of “disruptors” and some of these are “lifequakes” that involve massive change and demand managing the transition to a new state. 

The role of storytelling in managing life transitions

Bruce, along with many other writers, podcasters and public speakers, offers tips for managing life transitions that we encounter.  He maintains that a key to transition is to explore our “life story” – this is the narrative we create about our own life. The solution to mastering transitions is often in our own narrative – false assumptions, self-deceits, delusions or denials (e.g. “it can’t happen to me”!).  Bruce maintains that a life transition, especially a “lifequake”, is an invitation to “revisit, rewrite and retell our life story”.  He offers a catalyst for this process through his Life Story Online Interview which provides an interactive form for reflection on, and  recording of, our personal narrative.  Bruce’s insights on life transitions have been gained through his own life experiences as well as through over 1,000 interviews with people about their life story.

Jon DeWaal, in his TED Talk©, Two Factors that Make or Break Every Messy Life Transition, stresses the need, when exploring our life story and the associated narrative, to adopt two practices to ensure that the exploration leads to a constructive outcome.  Firstly, he contends that we need to be honest with ourselves – to own up to our own part in contributing to our side track or offtrack experience.  This requires deep reflection, total honesty, self-awareness and avoidance of the tendency to blame others rather than look at ourselves.  Associated with this is what he calls “community support” – not the gentle, warm kind that confirms our invalid self-assessment, but the kind that offers “supportive challenge” which makes us confront our weaknesses, unfounded assumptions or persistent mistakes/oversight.  Jon is a learning facilitator and life transition guide at Liminal Space – a team of transition experts who can help us grow and thrive through difficult transitions.  Jon is also the creator of the podcast, Life Through Transitions, drawing ideas and inspiration from interviewees who have been able to make life’s “formative transitions” into opportunities for personal transformation.

Dr. Annie Brewster, MD, and journalist Rachel Zimmerman, in their book, The Healing Power of Storytelling, focus on the personal narrative as a way to “navigate illness, trauma and loss”.  Annie shares her own life experiences and transitions and, together with her co-author, offers specific guidance in the process of using storytelling for healing.  She is also the founder of the Healing Story Collaborative which provides shared stories and resources through a collaborative blog – processes that are open to anyone to engage with personal storytelling for the purpose of healing.

Reflection

We are continuously controlled by the narrative in our head and this is particularly true in times of significant life transitions.  We can become embroiled in negative self-stories, get stuck in the endings phase or be blind to the creative options open to us in a life transition.  We need to break this destructive cycle especially when confronted with what Bruce describes as a “lifequake”.

Using reflective storytelling, meditation and other related practices enables us to grow in mindfulness and can help us to increase our self-awareness and insight, to have the courage to move beyond our “comfort zone” and to creatively explore options to manage difficult life transitions and move forward to a new personal identity and reality.

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Image by Cristhian Adame 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.

Trauma Recovery: A Program for Resetting Your Nervous System

Alex Howard recently provided a five-part series titled Decode Your Trauma which is designed as an introduction to his groundbreaking online coaching approach incorporated in the RESET Program.  He also provides a free three-part video series to help people to reset their nervous system after the experience of trauma.

Alex is a world-renowned health specialist noted for his work in integrative medicine, his therapeutic work and his entrepreneurial projects.  He has created a real life YouTube Series, In Therapy with Alex Howard, where your are able to join him as he works with patients in therapy sessions.  Alex is also the Founder and Creator of The Optimum Health Clinic (OHC) – an integrative medicine clinic providing support to patients in more than fifty countries, especially those suffering from “fatigue-related conditions”.

The principles and practices of the Optimum Health Clinic – incorporating approaches such as mindfulness, developmental psychology and NLP – have been encapsulated in a Therapeutic Coaching Program led by Alex.  It draws on the extensive experience and research of the OHC practitioners who have worked with thousands of patients.

Alex has also established Conscious Life – an online video platform designed to help people unlock their potential through courses, workshops and interviews with the world’s leading health and wellness experts.  Through Conscious Life, Alex has hosted two of the world’s leading online conferences, the Fatigue Super Conference and the Trauma & Mind Body Super Conference

The ECHO Model of Trauma

In his video presentations Alex describes his ECHO model of trauma which has four components (the name reflects the fact that experienced trauma has its echo in our day-to-day lives):

  • Events – these are the significant life events that created a trauma response in our mind and body.  They can be quite overt such as the categories of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) – “abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction”.  Alternatively, the traumatising events can be more covert and subtle such as disrespect of your heritage or where significant others disown your lineage (a situation that Ash Barty describes in her memoir, My Dream Time – A Memoir of Tennis & Teamwork).  Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey put the spotlight on the traumatic events in our life when they ask, “What Happened to You?
  • Context – Alex described “context” in terms of whether our three core emotional needs were met or went unmet.  He describes these as a need for boundaries, safety and love. In the absence of boundaries in our early childhood we can suffer from the “need to please” – where we can’t say “yes” or “no” appropriately and where we make our own needs subservient to the needs of others.  Where a sense of safety was missing owing to a violent or turbulent/unpredictable home environment, we can find that we have difficulty in self-regulating.  Where love was missing – reflected in aspects of our early home life such as the lack of presence, interest, nurturing, respect and/or care – we can feel we need to overcompensate to earn love (to always achieve or accomplish something visible and significant).  Bruce and Oprah explore these emotionally deficient contexts by asking, “What didn’t happen for you?”.
  • Homeostatic Shift – “homeostasis” in this context refers to the human capacity to maintain equilibrium in the face of an external, fluctuating environment.  Alex highlights the fact that both the physical body and emotional body are constantly seeking to maintain a “stable internal environment”.  However, trauma can upset our internal balance and lead to emotional dysregulation.  This can be reflected in maladaptive stress responses or what Bruce Perry describes as a “sensitised stress response”.   Alex draws on the Polyvagal Theory of Dr. Stephen Porges to highlight potential maladaptive responses in the form of “fight/flight” or “freeze” responses.  He indicates that “to switch off the maladaptive stress response we have to get the nervous system back to safe and social” – described by Stephen Porges as the “ventral vagal” state involving social connection, openness, and groundedness.  Bessel Van Der Kolk describes the “homeostatic shift” in terms of the “visceral imprint” resulting from traumatic experiences.
  • Outcome – the outcomes from traumatic events and the resulting disequilibrium can take many forms – dysfunctional communication and relationships, anxiety and depression, addiction, sleep deprivation, mood swings and various physical health issues.  Negative self-stories and a distorted worldview can underlie addictive behaviour and other maladaptive stress responses.

The RESET Program

Alex developed the RESET Program after more than 20 years of therapeutic experience working with traumatised people.  The Reset Model involves recognising our mind-body disequilibrium, exploring how this is being created, stopping thoughts that are harmful and replacing them with positive energising thoughts, facing up to challenging emotions to heal from them, and transforming our relationship to ourselves (both mind and body).  The program employs multiple healing modalities including mindfulness, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), somatic experiencing and the S.T.O.P. process.   In the final analysis, the Reset Program is a pathway to achieving what Stephen Porges described as the “safe and social” stress response.

Reflection

I can relate strongly to Alex’s ECHO Model of trauma, having experienced multiple traumatic events in my early childhood and adult life. My early childhood context involved “household dysfunction” as well as separation anxiety.  I feel that at times I have over-compensated for the absence of love in periods of my early life and engaged in other maladaptive stress responses.  I discussed some aspects of my early childhood trauma in an earlier blog post, Reflections on Personal Trauma.

I have progressively drawn on mindfulness practices such as meditation and Tai Chi to regain my equilibrium and build emotional resilience.  As I grow in mindfulness, I am increasing my self-awareness, understanding my habituated responses, improving my emotional regulation and learning to deepen my relationships.

I found Alex’s five-part Decode Your Trauma series enlightening, thought-provoking and energising.  He draws on his personal experience of trauma as well therapeutic experience of helping numerous people heal from trauma.  His sincerity and keenness to help are manifested through his presentation style and his sustained efforts to explain complex concepts in simple terms. The free, three-part video presentation on his website is well worth viewing as an aid to self-reflection.

Alex is also the author of the recent book, Decode Your Fatigue: A Clinically Proven 12-Step Plan to Increase Your Energy, Heal Your Body and Transform Your Life.

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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.

Healing from Trauma

Oprah Winfrey and Bruce Perry address the issue of healing from trauma in their book, What Happened to You?  In a chapter on Coping and Healing, they explore the impact of relational deficit in the early years of a child’s life; what neglect and parental conflict does to a child’s development, their worldview and their stress response; and the importance of an understanding, nurturing and patient carer/parent/therapist for healing to occur.   In the process, they discuss, in depth, the nature of neglect, differences in the way individuals are impacted by trauma, behavioural manifestations of adverse childhood experiences, and the road to healing, including creating a new worldview.

This chapter of their book is very rich with stories, insights, principles and personal disclosure by Oprah – disclosures that are enriched by observations by Bruce on her life experiences.  Oprah, herself, and the vast work that she does in the area of trauma healing, is an exemplar for coping with, and healing from, trauma.  What she has learned through her own life experience and ongoing discussions with Bruce over many years, has led to her establishing the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG) in South Africa. 

The emotional environment in early childhood

Bruce maintains that the quality of the emotional climate in early childhood impacts our worldview and our stress response.  If there is stability, nurturing and predictability, our brains and our behaviour can develop.  If the opposite exists, this has an adverse impact on our childhood development and our capacity as an adult to deal with challenges and stress.  We can develop the mindset that we are not lovable or not worthy of people’s attention.    Dr. Gabor Maté utilises a process he calls “compassionate inquiry” to unearth these negative self-stories – vestiges of an early life lived in an environment of neglect.

Bruce highlights the fact that different, deficit emotional environments can result in very different traumatic effects.  He illustrates this point by an in-depth comparison of two boys who manifested their traumatic upbring in contrasting ways.  His explanation shows clearly why one boy became fearful and aggressive while the other “had no feeling at all” and engaged in threats and thefts.  His description of their respective adverse childhood experiences and their differentiated impacts brings into sharp focus the key role that quality relationships play in early childhood.

This discussion of the differences in personal development of the two boys led Bruce to assert that an important consideration is not only “what happened to you?” but also “what didn’t happen for you?” – in terms of the behaviour of a parent/carer who provides undivided attention (in lieu of distracted attention), gentle touch (rather than physical abuse), consistent nurturing (instead of an on/off approach) and regular reassurance (instead of a belittling attitude).  Not only does the quality of relationships in early childhood impact brain development but also the development of social and motor skills.   Bruce contends that “relationships are the key to healing from trauma”  because trauma often results from deficient relationships.

An environment of conflict

Bruce notes that if you are a young child and you are in an environment of parental conflict, you have limited options.  You are too young to flee and unable to fight as you are easily overpowered and may draw physical attacks from either or both parents.  Often in this situation, a child will dissociate – retreat to their inner world. Dissociation becomes a problem when it is prolonged or becomes a habituated response to everyday challenges – this can lead to what is termed a dissociative disorder.  I can relate to dissociation as a stress response  as my parents had frequent verbal and physical conflicts over my father’s alcoholism and gambling – my mother would berate him over his misuse of our family income.  This would sometimes escalate into a physical attack on my mother, on a number of occasions this put her in hospital. 

When I was young, my natural response would be to dissociate from the  traumatic experience, as flight or fight was not an option – fight was out of the questions as my father was a very successful professional boxer.  However, as I reached the age of 12, I used to get on my pushbike and ride into the night as fast as I could (flight response), hoping that when I returned the conflict would be over.  The physical exertion of bike riding at speed served to release some of my pent-up tension and fear from the conflict.

Both Bruce and Oprah make the point that there is a positive side to dissociation in that it could be a life-saving response in some situations but is also part and parcel of what each of us do every day – e.g., day dream.  Bruce contends that the “capacity to control dissociation behaviour is very powerful” – it underpins our capacity for reflection and focus and to achieve a “flow state”.   I experienced  a number of personal traumas in my early childhood and adulthood, including a serious care accident in the family car when our car was hit on the side by another car, rolled a number of times, went over a 10 foot embankment, and came to rest on its hood.  I have learned to control my dissociative behaviour and, as a result,  developed high levels of reflective cognition and focused behaviour – reflected in my PhD, Professorship and this blog (this is my 700th  published blog post for my Grow Mindfulness blog).

Reflection

“What Happened to You” by Bruce and Oprah stimulated a lot of reflection for me and in some instances, “flashbacks” as well.  I began to appreciate more how my five years spent as a contemplative monk (from ages 18 to 22) served to provide me with a highly structured, stable, reflective and meditative environment with high quality relationships that together enabled me to self-regulate after a traumatic upbringing in a conflicted parental environment.  In my upbringing, my mother’s unconditional love and support offset to some degree my father’s (PTSD-induced) behaviour.

I am sure my period of development in an environment of daily silence, meditation, prayer and study helped me to achieve a degree of peace and tranquility (sometimes punctuated by moments of panic over my deteriorating home situation). As I grew in mindfulness, I was able to develop resilience, a positive mindset and the ability to find refuge in meditation.

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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.

Identifying Our Blind Spots Through Observation and Reflection

Kelly Boys, author of The Blind Spot Effect: How to Stop Missing What’s Right in Front of You, highlights the fact that blind spots have multiple dimensions, including cognitive (the way we think) and behavioural (what we actually do in response to stimuli).   In an earlier post I explored these dimensions in more detail and shared Kelly’s approach to identifying our core blind spot involving a meditative exercise that focuses on our bodily sensations and the underlying cognitive message that we are giving ourselves.

Our blind spots can impact every facet of our lives, including our relationships, work endeavours, sport activities, exercise routines and our diet and nutrition.  Through mindfulness and employing observation and reflection we can gradually recognise our blind spots and work to overcome them.  This is a life-time pursuit that needs to be worked at consistently and persistently.  Our blind spots are often manifest in our reactivity to stimuli whatever form they take.  Underlying our reactivity can be negative self-talk, prior adverse experiences, assumptions or resentment.  Tara Brach offers a simple S.T.O.P. practice that can be used, particularly when we are anxious or agitated, to overcome our habitual behaviour  (whether fight, flight or freeze) in a particular situation. 

In a recent post, I compared playing tennis to day-to-day life emphasising the uncertainty,  the mental and emotional challenges and the constant need for adaption that they have in common. 

Reflection

Being a “tennis tragic”, I have been watching the Australian Open Tennis Championship, particularly the matches played by Ash Barty, World Number 1 Australian tennis player.  In the process, I have been able to observe the behaviour of players and reflect on their mental attitudes, especially when they were challenged by falling behind in the score.  Some players became despondent and were able to regroup, others let out their frustrations in a show of anger (e.g. by smashing racquets), while others succumbed to the weight of expectations – their own and that of others especially the World Press.

While watching tennis matches during the Australian Open I was able to reflect on my own tennis game and, despite having played tennis for more than 60 years, I learned two key things through observation and reflection that will enable me to improve my social tennis games and enjoy them more, even while aging.   One had to do with a behavioural blind spot and the other with a cognitive blind spot.

My first revelation involved a behavioural blind spot that related to how I had my hands placed on my racquet as I waited for a tennis serve from my opponent.  Having just learned the technical aspects of a two-handed backhand, after 60 years of using a single-handed backhand, I was curious as to how two-handed backhand players prepared to receive serves in excess of 180 kph.  It surprised me that they could be prepared to use a single-handed forehand or a two-handed backhand with little loss of flow in transition.  Through observation, I learned that when receiving a serve they held the racquet differently to what I had been taught when using a single-handed backhand.  It made me realise that instead of having the left hand loosely supporting the right hand like I have been doing, they were already prepared to play a two-handed backhand by having a firm grip with their left hand in the right position on the racquet. 

From this I learned why I was having trouble accessing my two-handed backhand when I was waiting for a serve.  With my usual way of preparing for a tennis serve, I had firstly to move from holding the tennis racquet loosely with my left hand to achieving a firmer grip higher on the racquet (above my right hand) – all of which took too much time and impeded my readiness to receive a serve.  The new stance for me will be uncomfortable for a time.  This experience reinforces the point that we can have behavioural blind spots in any aspect of our lives, even something as simple as how we hold a tennis racquet.

My second revelation involved a cognitive blind spot in relation to the “slice tennis shot”.   When I learned to play tennis the slice tennis shot was part of your tennis armoury, but not your primary shot.  I have often used the slice tennis shot when out of position or when I have difficulty handling the power of an opponent’s shot.  However, I always viewed it as an inferior tennis shot – one played from a position of weakness.

However, after watching Ash Barty’s dominance using the “slice shot” as a primary tennis stroke, I have had to change my mindset and elevate the slice to at least an equal part of my tennis armoury along with a flat or top-spin forehand.  This has been a mental block for me in the past.  But now I have realised that the move from an Eastern forehand grip to a Western grip (sometimes extreme) has meant that a lot of players are unable to effectively play or handle the slice tennis shot.  The reasons are explained by Jon Crim in his overview of the Western grip.  This means that times have changed yet again and that the slice tennis shot (mainly through the success of Ash) has now achieved a status equal to that of the top-spin forehand.   While the top-spin forehand gives the tennis player an advantage in net clearance and depth of shot, it has the inbuilt disadvantage of making it more difficult to play the slice shot which tends to go lower over the net and stay quite low on impact, as well as having a “shooting” effect.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, observation and reflection we can develop curiosity about our blind spots, enhanced self-awareness and the capacity to overcome our habituated responses.  The insights gained can open up the opportunity for more joy and success in our relationships, work endeavours and sporting activities.  As Kelly points out, unless we observe and reflect on our thoughts and behaviour, we can miss what is right in front of us because of our blind spots.

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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.

Cultivating Kindness through Meditation

In a recent meditation podcast, Diana Winston discussed Meditation and Kindness.  She maintained that kindness is “embedded in meditation” because to meditate we have to be able to do so “non-judgmentally”.  Even when our mind wanders, which is a natural human characteristic, we can return to our focus without beating up on ourselves.  We can acknowledge that in this era of disruptive advertising and the incessant pull of “weapons of mass distraction”, we are going to become “lost in thought” at times and lose our focus.  Our concerns and worries about the past or future will also intrude.  However, to be kind to ourselves and achieve the refuge inherent in meditation practice we have to avoid engaging in “negative self-stories” such as, “I am hopeless at meditation”, “I will never master the art of meditating” or “I’m bad at everything I do”.

Meditation as kindness to our self

The practice of meditation is itself an act of kindness towards our self.  When we meditate, we open a rich store of benefits, not the least of these is the increasing capacity to handle our difficult emotions and our destructive thoughts.  Meditation builds our “awareness muscle” and strengthens our capacity to pay attention.  It can serve to enrich our relationships by building our ability to engage in “deep listening”.  Kelly Noonan Gores, in her book, Heal: Discover the Unlimited Potential and Awaken the Powerful Healer Within, stresses the healing effects of meditation, especially meditation practices involving mantras, positive imagining, gratitude and forgiveness.  Mindfulness practices can help carers engage in effective self-care in the face of all the demands on their time, energy, and emotions.

Meditation as kindness to others

While there are specific loving-kindness meditations designed to offer kindness to others, the very practice of meditation brings benefits to others because of our improved awareness of our emotions, thoughts and actions and their impact; increased emotional self-regulation; and enhanced capacity for listening, empathy and compassionate action.

Guided meditation on kindness

During the podcast, Diana offers a guided meditation on kindness that extends beyond self-kindness to kindness towards others.  She begins with encouraging a couple of deep breaths to release accumulated stress and bodily tension.  As she describes the meditation process, she adopts a trauma-sensitive mindfulness approach by offering a choice of anchors such as the breath, sounds, and bodily sensations, to enable us to focus our attention.  Diana suggests that if very strong emotions or pervasive thoughts intrude on our meditation practice, we can temporarily turn our attention to them, explore their origins and significance and then return to our anchor.

Reflection

There are so many benefits to be gained from meditation, not the least of these being kindness towards our self and others and the capacity to heal ourselves.  There are many forms of meditation – we have only to explore what approach is best for our self and this may vary over time.  As we grow in mindfulness through regular meditation practice, we will realise the multiple benefits of meditation and this will be self-reinforcing.  However, we need kindness and persistence, particularly in the early stages, where we can be discouraged by our “conscious incompetence”.

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Image by Kirill Lyadvinsky from Pixabay

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

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

Self-Healing through Energy Techniques

Tami Simon of Sounds True provides a podcast of her interview with Amy Scher, energy therapist and author of How to Heal Yourself from Depression When No one Else Can.   The interview is part of the podcast series titled, Insights at the Edge.

In the conversation with Amy, Tami explores the origins of her interest in “energy psychology”, experiences a number of energy techniques, and discuses the implications and efficacy of the energy processes.

Amy’s interest in energy psychology

Amy was motivated to explore the whole field of energy psychology when she found that nothing worked in terms of being able to treat her own severe illness, including chronic Lyme disease.  She experienced all kinds of debilitating and energy-draining symptoms, including difficulty with walking, being bedridden and suffering from headaches, nausea, and other severe symptoms.  Amy even tried the risky procedure of an “experimental stem cell transplant”, which required her to travel to India.   While this latter treatment worked for a while, her symptoms started to reappear, albeit with less severity.   This symptomatic recurrence and the fear that her condition would worsen again provided the motivation to explore self-healing as an alternative to doctor-controlled treatments.

The mind-body-energy-emotion connection

Energy psychology recognises that throughs, emotions, and beliefs impact the physical systems of the body, e.g., the digestive system and nervous system.  Our emotions and thoughts can create ill-health and physical dysfunction.   So, the associated process of “energy therapy” works with the body’s own self-healing processes by stimulating the internal energy system of the body – an approach that is consistent with that of other healing modalities such as  acupuncture, Reiki, acupressure, and Japanese Seitai Massage.  While the latter treatment modality focuses on the musculoskeletal system to remove physical blockages to energy flow, energy psychology involves “working with the emotional landscape” and its connection to the energy system of the body, thus helping to “heal body, mind and spirit”.

Energy techniques

Fundamental to a wide range of energy techniques provided by Amy in her book is a recognition that our thoughts, emotions and beliefs impact our body’s welfare, e.g., we might say, “I’m feeling really uptight just thinking about what might happen”.  Negative self-stories about self-worth, how others view us and what we are capable of, all add to the stress experienced by the body and manifest in different ways depending on the emotions involved.  The challenge is accepting that we play a significant part, consciously or unconsciously, in our physical health.   This is a difficult concept to swallow and even Amy talks about the strength of her own resistance to this idea of personal contribution to her own ill-health.  The techniques she discusses primarily involve listening to your own body.

Listening to your own body

Amy indicated that the real breakthrough for her occurred when she started to be still and quiet and to listen to her own body and what it was telling her.  She maintains that physical symptoms are the “body’s communication system” and that emotions convey a message.  We just need to listen with openness and curiosity to begin the process of self-healing.  In her book mentioned above, she identifies the “most common subconscious blocks” to energy flow in the body, exploring the body’s messages, symptom by symptom.

Practising energy techniques

One of Amy’s own foundational energy blocks was the belief that “If I express my true self, I’ll be unlovable” – a damaging belief that had its genesis in her Jewish origins and the generational trauma passed down through her grandfather and father who lived through the Holocaust.  Both Amy and her father experienced deep depression – hence, the motivation for her recent book.

Amy provided a sample of energy techniques during the podcast and enabled podcast listeners to experience three techniques:

  • The Sweep – a particular narrative that is spoken or read to “sweep” unconscious, harmful beliefs from the mind.  Amy maintains that this process can lead to a shift, however small, in perspective or belief. 
  • Tapping – this is an increasingly recognised healing technique that is part of the repertoire of energy therapists and is described by Amy as one of her “micro-movements” – a recognition that a shift happens in small steps, especially for someone experiencing depression.  Amy provides a specific tapping technique that involves focusing on the emotion that you are experiencing in the present moment while tapping on your chest.  She suggests that you can strengthen the freeing effect of tapping by saying over and over, “let go, let go, let go”. 
  • Accepting yourself – Amy suggests that an approach you can use when you are tending to “beat up on yourself” is to challenge the thought that generated the emotion by saying something like, “Was I really that bad or unforgivable?”  She maintains that a shift can happen if you focus instead on “the next less shitty thing that you can think about yourself”.  Again, this practice constitutes a micro-movement.

Amy explained that her book provides a wide range of energy techniques that readers can practice to help them achieve their own energy shifts and self-healing.

Reflection

Research confirms the negative impact of stress and trauma on our immune system and the tendency of the body to experience various forms of inflammation.  The current challenging environment is contributing to “emotional inflammation” as well.  Amy highlights the impact of these stressors as causing “energy suppression”.  Her energy techniques are designed to release the trapped energy and enable the body to heal itself.  The process of self-healing generates a sense of agency for the person engaged in the relevant energy practices.  Some people have found that the vibrations involved in singing too can be a form of self-healing along with the positive emotions expressed in sung mantra meditations.

As we grow in mindfulness through energy techniques, meditation, and other mindfulness practices we can develop openness and curiosity, deepen self-awareness, and learn to heal our self.  Movement towards healing is possible if we sustain our practices.

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Image by Antonio López from Pixabay

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

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

Barriers to Silence: Discomfort of Others

In a previous post, I discussed the challenges Christine Jackman experienced in attempting to find silence as a retreat from the busyness of her life.  I explained then that she encountered a number of barriers early on in her quest – her own negative self-stories, her worry about the perceived expectations and thoughts of others and her own habituated behaviours.  She found silence in participating in a number of retreats at Benedictine monasteries but the challenge then was how to sustain the practice of silence once she returned to her normal life as an investigative journalist.  In her book, Turning Down the Noise: The Quiet Power of Silence in a Busy World,  Christine identifies another barrier – the discomfort experienced by others when she mentioned her pursuit of silence.

Discomfort of others as a barrier

Christine writes about her experience when invited by a friend to join a book club meeting.  As usually happens at such an event, people started sharing what they were doing.  When Christine’s turn came to speak, she debated with herself whether or not to mention her silent retreat but decided to go ahead.  The responses she received confirmed her expectations and the reason for her initial reticence.

Christine was met by a stunned silence when she mentioned her pursuit of a silence of a different kind.  The other participants were somewhat speechless – despite being intelligent and well-informed.  Her admission about seeking silence in her life was considered too left-field.  As Christine commented in her book, her pursuit of silence was unfamiliar and too challenging to those in “a world where being busy is considered a virtue”, or a sign of productivity.

This discomfort of people with being silent and “doing nothing” was brought home again to me in a recent conversation with a friend who has been a lifetime sailor, making extended sailing trips during her life such as from Australia to America.  In a discussion with friends, she mentioned that she had just returned (by boat) from a 3-months sailing trip from Brisbane to the Whitsunday Islands in the Great Barrier Reef (around 1,000 kilometres). 

My friend was met with a stunned silence and then the inveterate questioning, “But what did you do all that time? “How did you occupy yourself?”  They could not fathom spending anywhere near that amount of time being still and doing nothing.  My friend, being a very experienced long-distance sailor, was able to respond, “I was just being – taking in the water, the whales, the sunrises and sunsets, the fish, the horizon” – she had been experiencing the unfathomable benefits of silence and “natural awareness”.

Neither Christine nor my sailing friend were put off by the stunned silences or interminable questioning of others.  Christine noted that she was more perturbed by her inability to articulate why she was engaged in what was considered an “unusual thing” – the pursuit of silence.  She found that she could not muster a “compelling , rational argument” for something that “defies conventional description”.  So, someone lacking the deep experience of silence and/or having a limited conviction of the benefits of silence, can be easily put off by the discomfort of others who actually begin to wonder about your sanity – because your behaviour and commitment are so counter-cultural.

Reflection

The expectations of others and the associated discomfort can play on our mind whether they are expressed covertly (by looks or silence) or overtly (by words and actions).  To maintain our commitment to silence as with any other attempt to reduce the busyness of our life, we need to have the conviction, resilience, and courage to persist despite the discomfort of others who want us to “be like them” and not “stand out from the crowd”.

I recall working with a group of managers as part of our managerial mindfulness training program.  One of the participants, a nurse unit manager, indicated that she worked from 7am to 7pm every working day.  When undertaking a reflective exercise on what messages she was conveying by her behaviour, she realised that her own habit of working very long hours was contributing to an unhealthy work environment – she was conveying that “busyness and extended working hours are viewed as signs of productivity” and therefore desirable.

However, as soon as she implemented a plan to reduce her working hours, her staff were uncomfortable and questioned her about “why she had lost her motivation?”  In their view, if you were not continually busy and working long hours, you lacked commitment.  Fortunately, the positive benefits in terms of work-life balance and her unerring conviction of the benefits for her staff of reducing her working hours were enough to enable her to sustain her new practice of working reasonable hours.

The evidence is mounting that as we grow in mindfulness through stillness and silence, we begin to experience wide-ranging benefits such as clarity, calmness, and resilience.  The dilemma, however, is that thinking about silence will not realise the benefits – we have to experience being still and silent in our daily lives to achieve its benefits.  Without the reinforcement of the benefits, it is difficult to sustain the practice and commitment in the face of the incessant discomfort of others.  Meditation practice, incorporating stillness and silence, builds positive habits and sustained practice brings enduring benefits.

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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.

Ways to be more Productive and Content

Leo Babauta, expert in forming and sustaining habits, offers multiple ways to be more productive and more content with the way we spend our time.  His suggestions can help us to develop a greater sense of purpose, reduce anxiety and build our capacity to do meaningful work.  Our contentment can increase as we accomplish more purposeful and meaningful tasks.

Ways to develop productivity and contentment

Leo’s suggestions cover many aspects of our daily life. His ideas are particularly relevant where we find we are procrastinating or feeling unfocused, time-poor or unmotivated:

  • Put structure into your day: There maybe times when you seem to be just floating, not achieving very much at all, with time passing you by and leaving you with a sense of “What did I really achieve today?”  Leo recommends putting some structure into each day so that certain tasks are undertaken at set times and/or for a predetermined period.  For example, he sets specific time aside in the morning and the afternoon to process his emails.  Your work role may not permit this, but you can identify some aspect of your work that you can structure in each day, e.g. a period for reflection on the day’s work and the outcomes, intended and unintended.
  • Change your relationship to time: Leo has some very concrete ideas here including being conscious that your life has an endpoint and that your time on earth is limited.  Increasing your consciousness about this and reflecting on how you have spent the last six months or year, can help you to value your time and revisit your priorities.  He recommends that you see time as a gift not to be wasted but to be used productively and meaningfully. Leo maintains that you can change your relationship to time if you use it joyfully and intentionally and learn to create space to slow down and reflect on how you are using the abundance that time provides.
  • Dealing with your procrastination:  Leo offers strategies to deal with the rationalisations that stop you from undertaking meaningful work or that important task that you keep putting off.  He proposes that you face up to these rationalisations, record them and understand them for what they are.  He encourages you to fearlessly move beyond these blockages generated by your brain which has an inherent negative bias.
  • Do the smallest next step towards your meaning work:  Your mind can think up innumerable excuses why now is not the right time to take on this uncomfortable task which would add significant meaning to your life and help to improve the life of others.  Leo recommends that each day you take the smallest next step that will move you towards your goal of undertaking a meaningful role or task.  He also recommends that you revisit your positive intention to maintain your momentum.
  • Replace negative self-talk with self-praise:  You can so easily beat up on yourself for not doing something very well or avoiding something that you should have done.  Leo argues that negative self-talk is disabling and can be overcome through kindness to yourself.   He strongly encourages the use of self-praise to improve your overall wellness and capacity to make a difference in your world.

Leo’s Zen Habits blog contains innumerable ideas and strategies to build habits that are positive and improve your personal productivity.  His approach to dealing with uncertainty can increase your sense of achievement and lead to greater levels of happiness and contentment.

Reflection

Leo offers so many wise and practical ideas that he has developed to turn his own life around.  Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the richness of his ideas and numerous suggestions.  The starting point may be building in time each day for the smallest next step that will enable us to move towards our goal of meaningful work.  As we build positive habits, in small incremental steps, we can find that our relationship to time changes, our sense of accomplishment increases and our belief in our personal capabilities is enhanced.  As we grow in mindfulness through regular meditation and mindfulness practices, we can increase our awareness of our negative self-stories and begin to remove the blockages that stop us from moving forward and making a difference in our world.

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Image by Anastasiya Babienko from Pixabay

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

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

Self-Praise for Health and Wellness and to Make a Difference

In a recent email newsletter, Leo Babauta reminded us of the need to “train your mind with praise”.  So often we beat up on ourselves for falling short, for failure to perform to expectations (ours and others) or for an oversight or omission.  Our negative self-stories take over and cause us to procrastinate and avoid pursuing what is really meaningful in our life.  Leo argues that “shame is a bad teacher” – praise for our self serves to reinforce positive thoughts, emotions and behaviour and leads to good outcomes for others.  Leo readily shared how he uses self-praise to strengthen the good habits in his life.  Elsewhere he freely shared what enabled him to change his life when he was in a bad place.

Christine Wesson reminds us that the benefits of self-praise include growth of self-confidence. She highlights the fact that what we focus on develops and grows (whether positive or negative) and that, if we appreciate ourselves, others take their cue from our demeanour and appreciate us as well.

What can you praise yourself for today?

You can praise yourself for the numerous positive, small things you do in your day such as:

  • Stopping what you were doing and attentively listening to your child or partner
  • Being fully present when you give your partner a “good morning” kiss
  • Writing that piece for your blog or newsletter or service provider
  • Reading something about an act of kindness
  • Expressing genuine appreciation to someone – your partner, child, waiter/waitress, taxi driver
  • Responding promptly to an enquiry from a friend, relative, client or customer
  • Genuinely sharing your feelings with someone close to you
  • Making time to be with a friend
  • Offering to give someone a lift
  • Letting someone into the traffic line who was obviously at a disadvantage
  • Making good use of waiting time to focus on awareness (and not your phone)
  • Stopping to appreciate the beauty of nature – the ocean, sunset, sunrise, trees, flowers or birds
  • Helping someone in need
  • Expressing loving kindness towards someone or a group in your meditation
  • Taking time to exercise – Tai Chi, walking, gym work, playing tennis, going for a run
  • Resisting the temptation to do something else while taking a phone call – being fully present to the speaker.

Really, the list is endless – there is so much that you do during any one day that is praiseworthy – that makes life better for yourself or someone else.  You do not have to realise major accomplishments to make a difference in the world – it is the small things that add up to significant positive outcomes for yourself (and your capacity to be kind to others), your mood (which is contagious), your interactions with others and your close relationships.

Just as it is important to give ourselves praise, it is also vital to provide positive feedback to others in the form of genuine appreciation that is timely and specific – you can make their day with a simple act of praise.

Reflection

It seems to be anti-cultural to praise ourselves – it is a lot easier to be “down on our self”.  Self-praise builds self-confidence and helps to reinforce our positive thinking and behaviour.  It serves to push aside our negative self-stories.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can learn to appreciate and praise what we do that is healthy for our self and makes a difference (however small) in the lives of people we interact with. It does not take a lot of time to praise our self, but the effect is cumulative and flows over to all the arenas of our life (whether home, work or sports activity).

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Image by Foundry Co 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.