Accessing the Present Moment through Mindfulness Meditation

Diana Winston, Director Mindfulness Education at MARC, offers a guided meditation podcast on the theme, “Back to Basics”.  She reminds us that mindfulness is very much about the capacity to pay attention in the present moment and to do so with curiosity, openness and a willingness to be with what is, including our habituated distraction behaviours.  Without mindfulness meditation we tend to spend out time thinking about the past (replaying undesirable events/outcomes) or the future (worrying about possible negative events which rarely happen). 

Mindfulness meditation enables us to build our concentration by staying fully focused on the present. The beauty of the present moment is that it is always accessible to us if only we focus our attention.  However, our busy human brains are forever active – engaged in planning, categorising, criticising,  exploring, and many other mental activities that manifest our intelligence.  Diana notes that everyone gets distracted during mindfulness meditation but the power of the process lies in the ability to return to our anchor to restore present moment awareness and build our awareness muscle.

Diana suggests that if we become distracted by thoughts we can name what we are doing, for example, “planning” or “critiquing” and return to our anchor.  She reminds us of the research that demonstrates the benefits of mindfulness, including building relational resilience and relieving painNeuroscience research shows us how mindfulness can increase our capacity to manage stress, enhance positivity and happiness and even alter the physical shape of our brains.  Dr. Dilip Jeste, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, provides research to highlight the role of mindfulness in developing wisdom and compassion.  Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson in their book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body,  explain that mindfulness research provides very strong evidence that meditation builds self-awareness, self-management and social awareness.   

Diana maintains from her research and extensive training of others in mindfulness practice, that “people who practise mindfulness report more gratitude, more appreciation and more connection with themselves and other people”.  Sometimes, a particular location can provide us with the right environment to develop mindfulness.  It may provide solitude and silence or reinforce our connection to country and community as Brooke Blurton frequently describes in her memoir, Big Love: Reclaiming myself, my people, my country.  Nature has a way of developing mindfulness because it stimulates wonder and awe and all our senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste.

The guided meditation

In the guided meditation, Diana encouraged us to adopt a comfortable posture to enable us to sustain our focus throughout the 20 minute meditation.  She suggested we choose an anchor to enable us to restore our attention whenever we notice that we were distracted.  The anchors suggested were our breath, external sounds or bodily sensations.  I chose to focus on my joined fingers that were resting on my lap.  I find that I can very quickly sense the tinkling, vibration and warmth in my fingertips once I have them joined.  As I focused on the associated bodily sensations, I became aware of pain in my fingers and wrists which then became my focus.

Diana suggests that when you are starting out using meditation, it is best to maintain a focus on your anchor and not be diverted by strong emotions.  There are, however, specific guided meditations for dealing with challenging emotions

The guided meditation provided by Diana (which begins after 6.35 minutes of introduction) incorporates a 10 minute silent meditation.  Towards the end of the meditation, Diana encourages us to sense how we are feeling, e.g., whether we are experiencing ease or relaxation.

Reflection

After the meditation, I recalled that one of the first mindfulness books I read was that by Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now.   Also In an interesting occurrence of synchronicity, I had been listening to mantra meditations on Spotify (via a Janin Devi Mix) as I wrote the first draft of this blog post and Alexia Chellun starting singing The Power Is Here Now (a song I have never heard before).

As we grow in mindfulness through our regular mindfulness practice, we can access the power of the present moment to gain greater self-awareness, heightened creativity, improved emotional regulation and a deeper sense of happiness and ease.  There are many options available for us to choose, e.g., chanting, meditation, yoga, mantra meditations or movement meditations.  We just need to choose the modality that works best for us and enables us to sustain our practice.  I find that Tai Chi provides the greatest immediate benefits for me and that is my primary mindfulness practice (supplemented by other practices as well).

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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.

The Simplicity of Meditation

Marvin Belzer, PhD, provided a guided meditation podcast emphasising the simplicity of the process and the fact that its eminently “doable” – even if we have to fit it into a busy life by dedicating 3-5 minutes to focused attention on the present moment and our bodily sensations.  He emphasised that it does not have to be difficult or challenging but does require effort and regular practice.  He emphasised the need to avoid setting a goal that we pursued through meditation – this can create stress and distraction.  His emphasis is on keeping it simple while paying attention to some aspect of our everyday life. 

Marvin indicated that he has practised meditation for more than 30 years and has taught mindfulness for 20 years.  He offered the meditation as part of the free weekly guided meditations provided by MARC, UCLA.  His role in UCLA is that of Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences.  He has taught mindfulness to many groups including semester-length courses for university students and courses for teens.  We can gain some insight into Marvin’s mindfulness orientation by listening to his interview with Bob O’Haver on Bob’s “Why Meditate?” Podcast – the interview provides some insight into Marvin’s approach to meditation, mindful living, and the cultivation of compassion in our lives.

Guided meditation

In the guided meditation, Marvin maintains that by keeping the process simple, we can more readily access the calming effect of meditation and not be so readily distracted by complex or abstract thoughts.  The focus is on the present moment awareness as we are experiencing it.  His starting point is deep breathing to help us to ground ourselves – with a sigh on the out-breath. Marvin offers a choice of anchors – bodily sensations, surrounding sounds or our breath.  He encourages us to sustain our attention on one of these anchors so that we can experience a sense of calm, peace and stability.  Marvin emphasises that this simple approach to meditation can be a refuge in busy or turbulent times, if we make it a regular practice.

In his view, meditation enables us to pay attention to what is real in our life, not what we wished it would be.  Marvin encourages us to persist with paying attention even when thoughts, emotions or sensations distract us from our focal anchor.  He suggests that we adopt a playful approach to meditation not chiding ourselves, but noting something like, “There I go again, planning my day as if my life depended on it”.  He recommends that even in this busy time of the year, with Christmas approaching, we can adopt the habit of brief meditations – a process I employ when “waiting” for someone or something, especially traffic lights. 

Marvin encourages us to be non- judgmental towards ourselves but to “show up as we can”, given our commitments, health and family situation.  This is sound advice as I often find myself, when I am unwell or have an injury, being critical of myself for not doing my Tai Chi mindfulness practice.  His overall approach with his focus on simplicity and regularity is very encouraging.

Marvin also notes that sometimes we can be bored during meditation (I can relate to this!) but that boredom can be an important antidote to the endless stimulation provided by social media and invasive advertising.  Our capacity to pay attention is continuously eroded by the “firehose of information” – a term used by Johann Hari in his book, Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention If we persist with meditation despite our sense of boredom, we can reap the fruits of developing our awareness muscle and deepening our capacity to concentrate.  It is critical for our mental health and the health of our minds to protect our attention.

Reflection

Marvin, like accomplished practitioners in many fields, is able to make complex concepts and processes simple.  His approach encourages us to persist with meditation, no matter what is happening in our lives.  He suggests, for example, that if we are anxious, we can pay attention to the bodily sensations of our anxiety – we can release any tension we locate or stay with the sensation in a softening, calming way through a compassionate body scan.  As we grow in mindfulness through regular mindfulness practices such as meditation, we can access our inner landscape, enjoy tranquility, and gain clarity and insight.

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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.

Mindfulness Meditation – Being With Things As They Are

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

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

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

Guided mindfulness meditation

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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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.

                                                                                                        

Pathways to Gratitude and Joy

Neuroscience research has demonstrated that gratitude is a source of wellness and joy if we choose to practise it on a regular basis.  Louie Schwartzberg in his latest film, Gratitude Revealed, identifies a number of pathways that can develop gratitude and appreciation in our lives and lead to health, happiness and lasting joy.  Louie – time-lapse photographer, director and producer – takes us on a journey through nature, the eyes of children and lives of insightful people.  He comments in a subsequent panel Q & A video that the Gratitude Revealed film contains many wise “one-liners” from inspiring people as well as some stunning cinematography.  The music for the film is provided by Lisbeth Scott – singer, songwriter and composer – who Louie interviewed as part of his podcast series.

Pathways to gratitude

Throughout Gratitude Revealed Louie explores different pathways to gratitude with his guests and provides illuminating comments about each pathway, some of which I explore in the following:

  • Curiosity – is a basic human attribute that leads us to explore the world around us, the people in our lives and the concepts we encounter in our reading, discussions and games.  How often have we seen a toddler pick up a leaf or a stone and examine it, look underneath some branches to see what lies beneath, gaze into pools of water at the seaside to see if there are any living creatures there, or feel the texture of the grass or the ground to judge its softness or hardness?   Unfortunately, as we grow older we can lose the art of being inquisitive and curious about things.  However, if we can cultivate curiosity, we open ourselves to marvel at the intricacies of things in our environment, the power of our subconscious, the expansiveness of knowledge and the inexhaustible complexity of the human body (including the emerging understanding of the “brain-gut connection” and the heart’s intelligence).   Curiosity leads us to explore the ineffable, to seek to understand the mystery of life and to explore relationships with people we encounter.  Ultimately, curiosity leads us to appreciate what is and to be grateful for our discoveries as well as our capacity for exploration.  Albert Einstein was a strong advocate for curiosity and acknowledged that it lay at the root of his knowledge and wisdom – “The important thing is to never stop questioning. Never lose a holy curiosity”.
  • Nature – is a source of wonder and awe which leads us to be grateful that we can perceive its beauty, complexity and interconnectedness through our five senses – what Jon Kabat-Zinn describes in his book, Coming to Our Senses, as our sightscape, soundscape, touchscape, smellscape, and tastescape.   Louie encourages us to develop an intimate relationship with nature because nature, and nature imagery, can be incredibly healing and can develop a deep appreciation and gratitude for our interconnectedness and interdependence.  Louie’s Wonder and Awe Podcastexplores the intersection of science and art (the “why” of art and the ”how” of science).  There are multiple ways to engage with nature including gardening, walking in a rainforest or on a beach and mindful photography – we just have to form the intention to make the most of our natural environment that surrounds us daily.
  • Music – cultivates wonder and awe, healing and creativity. Louie highlighted the power of music to transport us beyond the present moment concerns and anxieties and to still the mind.  Music taps into our positive emotions and stimulates gratitude for the beauty, variety and nuances of sound.  Sound therapy can heal us from trauma and depression and help us to appreciate what we have that is positive in our lives.  Mantra meditations can promote calm, peace and stillness of mind and, in the process, open our hearts and minds to the power and energy of the present moment.  Music deepens our spirit and helps us to value our lives while expressing gratitude for all that we have.
  • Mindfulness – by definition, it involves being fully in the present moment and paying attention to something or someone with openness, curiosity and acceptance of what is.  Michael Beckwith reminds us in the movie that we should be “grateful for the challenges in our life” because they help us to realise our potential and develop resilience.  Louie suggests that mindfulness “is being present like the film itself” – open to wonder and able to “relish the mysteries of life” that are revealed by paying focused attention in the “now”.

Reflection

None of the pathways I discussed above are discrete – they are overlapping, reinforcing and compounding in nature.  Together, these pathways engender appreciation and gratitude and stimulate happiness and joy.  Louie and his presenters on Gratitude Revealed  highlight the fact that “busyness” in our lives can create a block to gratitude and blind us to what is happening within and around us.  In contrast, gratitude blocks out envy and self-absorption.  As Louie comments, “Focusing on what we do have, leaves little in your heart for what we don’t have”.

In the film, Brother David Steindl-Rast, developer of gratefulness.org, distinguishes between appreciation and gratitude.   He states that appreciation is an in-the-moment experience while gratitude is “what we remember that opens our hearts”.   Interestingly,  when I am playing tennis, I often internally express appreciation for being able to participate and play a good shot or two.  However, after watching Gratitude Revealed, I experienced a real sense of gratitude based on my memory of all the events and experiences that enable me to play social tennis at the age of 76. 

In particular, I am grateful for:

  • the opportunity to be coached in my teens by a tennis player who had been selected for the Australian Davis Cup Team
  • having practised tennis drills and played games of tennis with my brothers and my niece
  • having played competitive tennis over 5 years with a team drawn from members of my extended family
  • being trained as a sprinter in a GPS school (improved my capacity to move around the tennis court)
  • the opportunity to play tennis for my school, for Brisbane ((against Gympie) and for the Queensland Tax Office (in the annual Taxation Intestate Tennis Carnivals)
  • being able to play social tennis with a closed group of six quality players over a period in excess of 10 years
  • the opportunity to play tennis on different surfaces including bitumen, ant-bed, grass, clay and flexipave
  • being able to play socially in Port Moresby, Auckland, Lake Annecy (France) and Boroughbridge (Yorkshire, UK)
  • developing a wide range of shots through tennis coaching, practice and competitions, e.g., slice, topspin, back spin, under spin, side spin (out-swinger & in-swinger), volley, one-handed and two-handed backhand, half volley, drive volley, drop shot, lob, smash and, recently, half-volley drop shot
  • being able to play social tennis with an open group in my 50’s, 60’s and 70’s (now)
  • discovering the benefits of Tai Chi and how it improves my tennis game.

As we grow in mindfulness and gratitude, we enrich our lives, deepen our happiness and joy and build our resilience and capacity for creative endeavour.  Music and nature can inspire us if we are fully present to experiencing them and our natural curiosity can open our hearts to appreciating whatever we experience.

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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.

9 Strategies for Managing Cynicism and Negativity in Your Work Team

Negativity and cynicism can develop in a team and become contagious leading to a toxic work environment.  Rollin McCraty, PhD, in his online Heart Science Course maintains that attitudes such as cynicism and negativity, along with challenging emotions like anger, resentment and anxiety, deplete energy – they drain energy and lead to loss of motivation and productivity. 

Rollin explains that neuroscience has demonstrated that these challenging emotions have a direct negative impact on people’s physiology – impacting heart rate, the nervous system, blood pressure and overall performance.  In contrast, research in relation to positive emotions such as appreciation, gratitude and compassion shows clear physiological and psychological benefits.

There can be many factors that contribute to the development of negativity or cynicism in a work team.  An individual who is constantly complaining can affect the attitudes of those around them, even sucking the manager into their negativity.  Individuals can express negativity because of adverse prior experiences in an organisation or because of a current personal problem that is pervading their thinking and perspective on life.  A team may become negative when they have experienced a series of unbroken promises on the part of a manager and be increasing cynical when they have been “over-sold” on the benefits of an organisational or system change.

It is worth noting, however, that some degree of scepticism can be good for a team – so that a team does not just accept what they are told without some evaluation or critique.  However, individuals who constantly play the “devil’s advocate”, are cynical or negative can drain the energy of the team and frustrate the manager.  People who complain endlessly or engage in passive aggressive behaviour whenever change is proposed can become a contagious negative force if their negativity and/or cynicism is left unaddressed.

Strategies to address negativity and cynicism in a team

Managers often feel powerless in the face of negativity and cynicism or when confronted with team members who are constantly pessimistic.  Doing nothing is not an option as these kinds of behaviours only become more pervasive and disruptive without proactive intervention by the manager.  However, there are strategies that can be employed to address the negative impacts of such behaviour.

1.Set expectations collaboratively

Managers can engage staff in the process of defining values and identifying the behaviours that give effect to the desired values.  This collaborative process builds a sense of agency and lays the foundation for a strong, positive culture.  A manager can include “positivity” as a desired value of a team and introduce “unwritten rules” or norms that give expression to this value.  

2.Call the behaviour

If an individual persists in behaving negatively and obstructively, it is critical to address their behaviour directly and privately in a one-on-one conversation.  This should be up-front, stating exactly what behaviours are inappropriate as well as their negative impact on the team. It should also be done at a time when the manager is calm and in control, not when they have developed a “head of steam” as a result of allowing their frustration to reach boiling point before they act.   Early intervention is important once the manager has laid out the team’s groundrules and explained behavioural expectations of team members.  During the feedback session, it is important for the manager to engage in empathetic listening once the inappropriate behaviour is addressed.

3.Avoid negativity or cynicism in your own words and actions

Managers need to monitor their own behaviour and avoid expressing negativity or cynicism in relation to what is going on in an organisation such as system or structural change, appointment of senior management or changes in policy or direction.  Staff continually observe a manager’s words and actions and take their cue from what the manager says and does.  A manager who continually expresses negativity or cynicism, will generate a negative environment and then have to deal with a toxic culture that undermines their efforts to develop a productive and mentally healthy workp0lace.

4.Monitor your language

It is so easy to fall into the habit of making statements like, “I wish it was Friday” or “I can’t wait till the weekend” – everybody does it.  However, these statements communicate dissatisfaction with the present moment and the immediate work environment.  They unconsciously give staff messages that the workplace is not enjoyable or that the manager resents being there.   They can contribute to a negative environment, rather than one that is positive and based on appreciation of what is good about being employed in the particular workplace.  Jake Bailey who was diagnosed with cancer in his final year of High School reminds us that we often overlook the potentiality of the present moment because we are focused on the future.  In his Senior Monitor’s speech at his school’s prize night, he commented, I was dying for weekends, I was dying for school holidays,. Before I knew it , I was dying.  His speech challenges you to ask the question, “Are you dying for tomorrow or living today?’

5.Be open to solutions

Managers often think that they are the one who has to have the solutions to all workplace problems.  Being open to suggestions by staff and being prepared to experiment with alternative ways of doing things, can develop positivity in a team.  It also contributes to staff’s sense of agency – their ability to influence their work environment and the way their work is done – all of which contributes to positive attitudes.

6.Provide positive feedback

Staff can become very negative if they feel they are taken for granted and their contribution is not valued.  Positive feedback is one of the best motivators of people because it involves recognition and appreciation.  If it is given in a way that is sincere, specific and timely, positive feedback can deepen relationships, build team cohesion and trust, and develop positive feelings.  It can also become pervasive and an integral part of team culture as staff observe a manager’s appreciative behaviour and model themselves on what they hear and see. 

7.Be congruent

Ensure that your actions line up with your words. This requires constant personal monitoring and reflection. If you say something is important (e.g. innovation), and don’t spend time, energy or resources on developing it, staff will become cynical and develop the attitude that you “do not mean what you say”.  Congruence builds trust, respect and a willingness to contribute.

8.Use de Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats

The six thinking hats (represented by six different colours) provide ways of viewing an issue or change from a variety of perspectives, some of which are optimistic and creative while others are more pessimistic and tempered by realism and critique.  A manager can use the thinking hats approach to enable staff to explore their reactions to an issue or change and move from a negative/cynical perspective to one that is positive and energising.  The manager can start with “black hat thinking” to surface and publicly record staff’s reservations, concerns and anxieties about an issue or change.  This can be followed by exploring feelings (red hat) and, then, exploring potential benefits (yellow hat) as well as creative possibilities (green hat).

9.Explore gratitude reflections

Often negativity, cynicism or resentment flows from a focus by individuals in a team on what they do not have which can also be a source of envy.  A manager can develop a ritual of appreciation and expression of gratitude as a group and/or individual process.  This has proven psychological benefits for individuals and teams and can lead to displacing negativity with positivity.

Reflection

Many factors both personal and organisational can impact individual and team attitudes and contribute to the development of negativity and cynicism in a team.  As a manager grows in mindfulness through reflection, self-monitoring and observation, they can increase their capacity to recognise the signs of negativity and proactively implement strategies to address this enervating orientation to help develop and maintain a positive and mentally healthy team culture.

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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.

Accessing Doorways to the Present Moment

Vy Le, international meditation teacher, provided a guided meditation podcast on Doorways to the Present Moment as part of the weekly meditation series offered by the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), UCLA.  Vy is the Founder and Managing Director of the In Wave Group dedicated to developing a culture of well-being and resilience in organisations through mindfulness practices. 

In her MARC guided meditation Vy mentioned that she had qualifications in maths and computers and was heavily engaged in left-brain activities until she realised that she was “not really embodying her experiences” – being engaged in mental activity and not being aware of the present moment and all that it communicated.  She reinforced Diane Winston’s definition of mindfulness as paying attention in the present moment not only with curiosity and openness but also with acceptance of what is.

Vy explained that our breath, five senses and our body provide ready access and the doorway to the present moment – if only we pay attention to them.  We are so trained from our school days to pay attention to external sources, at the expense of “listening to ourselves”.   We need to tune into what is going on in our inner landscape – incorporating our sensescape, bodyscape, heartscape and breathscape.  Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Coming to Our Senses teaches us ways to access our senses.

Vy makes the point that at any moment we are breathing, experiencing the world through our senses, having bodily sensations, and feeling emotions.  If we just stop and focus on one of these doorways we can gain access to the numerous benefits of mindfulness, including calmness, ease and equanimity.    

Guided meditation – exploring the doorways to the present moment

Through her guided meditation, Vy introduces us to each of the doorways to the present moment – breath, senses, bodily sensations and feelings:

  • Breath – Vy begins with encouraging us to take a number of deep breaths and release our breath and related bodily tension through extended out-breaths.  During the meditation, she explains how to tap into our breathing by focusing on the undulations in our chest or abdomen or consciously experiencing our in-breath and out-breath through our nose.  She notes that at anytime or anywhere, we can access the natural flow of our breath through our body – always occurring in the present moment. 
  • Senses – as the meditation progresses, Vy encourages us first to tune into her voice then the sounds in our room and external sounds (our soundscape).  She moves on progressively to focusing on our sense of smell, sight, touch and taste – the latter may involve sensing the taste of a recent coffee or elements of a meal.   We so often overlook the sense of taste when we are eating – fixated as we often are on our thoughts and plans. Mindful eating can be one way to utilise the sense of taste to stay in the present moment rather than focus on the past or future.
  • Bodily sensations – Vy encourages us to feel the sensations in our feet such as warmth, connectedness to the floor or earth, or a sense of solidity/security through groundedness.  She then has us explore sensations in our own bodies – in our arms and legs (including the pressure of the chair on the back of our thighs), our chest and abdomen, and our face and forehead (releasing any frown or tightness).  She suggests that we note any areas of tension or ease as we go.  Vy also points out that by joining our fingers together we can sense the aliveness in our bodies through the resultant warmth, tingling and vibrations.  This practice can also help us to tune into our breath simultaneously and assist us to increase our awareness at times of waiting (for example, when waiting for traffic lights).
  • Heartscape – towards the end of the guided meditation, Vy encourages us to focus on our feelings, what is going on inside us. We may become aware of sadness, joy, disappointment, gratitude, resentment and even grief – emotions that have become clouded by the flurry of everyday life.

Reflection

Vy’s  guided meditation offers practical ways to access the present moment through the doorways provided by our breath, senses, bodily sensations and feelings.   We can grow in mindfulness by daily accessing these doorways to the present moment.  This will require developing a mindset about the value and benefits of mindfulness and engaging in micro-practices on a regular basis so that we can develop the habit of being fully present to our experiences.

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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.

Savouring the Wins of Others

I have been reflecting on Jeff Brown’s comments about the journey into authenticity and particularly what he had to say about savouring the accomplishments and wins of others.  He comments for example, “I love it when people accomplish something they have set out to do”.   My reflection helped me realise that I have been pursuing a path of authenticity in how I turn up for, and play, social tennis (although I have not previously framed it that way).  Like when playing competitive tennis, the inner game of social tennis is challenging but influences how you approach successes and failures. 

I realise that the journey into authenticity while playing social tennis has a number of dimensions for me and while I have started the journey, I have a fair way to go.  The journey entails confronting inner challenges that impact the way I relate to others on the court, both partners and opponents (I only play doubles tennis at my age due to exercise asthma – I turned 76 today!).  Some of the inner battles I have been addressing include the following:

  • Expectations: I have had to adjust my expectations.  I am no longer a 30-year old A-Grade tennis player playing competitive tennis in tennis fixture competitions. I have had to realise emotionally, as well as cognitively, that I no longer have the speed, mobility, strength or endurance that I had when I was half my present age.  This means that I have to control my emotional response when I am not able to execute tennis shots that I have been able to achieve previously.  This has led me to accept my situation without being captured by negative emotions.
  • Blind Spots: By watching competitive tennis and reflecting on my own social tennis game, I came to realise some of my blind spots, both behavioural and cognitive.  On a behavioural level, after I had some lessons (at age 75) on playing a two-handed backhand, I had to rethink how I held the racquet when I waited for a serve.  On a cognitive level, I had to reacquaint myself with my “slice shot” (both forehand and backhand) which I had “put away” because I thought that it was not a “real shot”.  My thoughts about this shot changed after observing Ash Barty achieve Number One world ranking in tennis.
  • Making Mistakes: Because I still carry “video-tapes” in my head of shots I have played competently over many years, I would often get upset when I made a mistake.  However mistakes in tennis are part and parcel of the game …and it took me quite a while to acknowledge this emotionally.  I had to deal with negative self-evaluation and find ways to develop emotional equilibrium even when making basic mistakes.  To assist this journey into authenticity, I try to savour the present moment – the opportunity to play, the capacity to run and hit the ball and my developed tennis competence. 
  • Savouring the wins of others: This is still my greatest authenticity challenge when playing social tennis.  I can fairly readily acknowledge and savour the good shots of my tennis partner.  However, to do the same for my opponents is a different matter.  Because of my conditioning over many years of playing competitive tennis, I want to win every point in a tennis game (although this is not physically possible).  After a long rally where I have hit a lot of shots, run a considerable distance and displayed some tennis competence, I get annoyed if my opponents ends up winning the rally.  It means effectively that I am not authentically focusing on the process but worrying about the outcome.   This is a considerable challenge because it involves rewiring – overcoming my competitive conditioning.  It is my current focus in trying to achieve authenticity when playing social tennis on a weekly basis. 

Reflection

The journey to authenticity in playing social tennis is a continuing challenge.  For one thing, I have to explore why I become annoyed when my opponent wins a rally and learn to savour the wins of others on the tennis court.  As I grow in mindfulness through reflection, Tai Chi and meditation, I  can learn to better accept my physical limitations, admire the achievements of others (even if they are at my expense) and manage my expectations and associated emotions.  This will require a major change in my mindset and help me achieve authentic transformation.

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Image by mohamed Hassan 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.

How to Develop Authenticity

Jeff Brown spoke recently at the Surrender Summit on the topic, The Power of Authenticity.  Jeff is an author, expert in personal transformation and a lifetime seeker of his own authenticity.  He does not only talk about authenticity; he pursues it relentlessly and tirelessly in his own life and work. Jeff experienced adverse childhood experiences but has explored his inner landscape mainly through writing to  enable him to take his place in the world and to pursue his unfolding life purpose.  He maintains that writing is therapeutic and a tool for developing authenticity. 

To this end, Jeff has created his online writing course to make his personal lessons and insights available to anyone.  The course,  Writing Your Way Home: Answering the Soul’s Call, is available as a six-week audio course that incorporates inspiration and encouragement along with practical writing and publishing tips.  Jeff describes this course and its intent to help the participant find their “deepest and truest expression” in his short video where he encourages others to undertake the “transformative journey” of writing.

In his book, Love it Forward, he recounts how he had a turning point in his life when he stopped to give some money to a homeless person in the street.  He realised that this was a token action so he found out the contact details of the homeless person involved and arranged to send payments to him each week.  This felt more authentic and heartfelt

In an earlier book, Soulshaping: A Journey of Self-Creation, he explored the traumas and successes of his life in search of his inner authenticity – what he describes as alignment with his “soul purpose”.   He was able to set aside external achievements such as becoming a criminal lawyer and move towards his life calling as a writer.  He established the Soulshaping Institute: A Center for Authentic Transformation to assist others to make this personal journey to authenticity – to identify and pursue their life purpose.

Ways to develop authenticity

In Love it Forward, Jeff provides a series of quotes and insights into what authenticity means in daily life.  His book is a call to authenticity through overcoming any “emotional debris” and setting out on the path to our “soul purpose”.  His written words identify ways to be authentic in our actions and interactions:

  • Learn to live in the present moment – not the future or the past
  • Have the courage to break the hold of our “comfort zone” which prevents us from realising our true potential – we tend to avoid new beginnings for fear of the pain of endings
  • Avoid connecting with people who diminish us, distract us from our path, or try to dissuade us from realizing our potential
  • Savour life, love, breathing, being-in-relationship, and the ability to see, talk, walk and run
  • Acknowledge that giving in service to others is reciprocal – they are giving in return by accepting our generosity and enabling us to honour our life purpose (it is not a one-way street)
  • Accept that chaos precedes clarity and that without confusion there is no movement forward beyond the present understanding
  • Recognize that when we actualize our gifts to serve others in need, we are paying-it-forward and backward (to the people before us who have not had the skills or opportunity to serve others or those who come behind who can walk in our footsteps).
  • Don’t take things personally – create a mental boundary between ourselves and the behaviour of others (it is not about us)
  • Let love blossom as we age – open our heart to everything and everyone (we will no longer have time for avoidance or envy).
  • Express gratitude for our mentors and elders who have helped us realize our potential and our calling
  • Acknowledge that sometimes people have to experience and express victimhood to be able to move to well-being
  • Develop a self-care plan that acknowledges our intrinsic value and worth
  • Measure our success not in terms of externalities but inner victories over unresolved traumas and our “inner critic”
  • Treat negative self-talk as a culturally-induced, false story
  • Maintain a vision of our purpose and its realisation so that we actualize it “when the time is right”
  • Value the success of others (avoid envy of other’s  achievements).

Reflection

Jeff reinforces the fact that personal transformation cannot be rushed and that the journey to authenticity is paved with setbacks (lows), as well as joy (highs).  There is excitement and exhilaration in the journey of unfolding and realizing our uniqueness and potential.                                                                                                       

Meditation and other practices can enable us to grow in mindfulness, be fully present and have the courage and resilience to embark on our own journey to authenticity.

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Image by Ke Hugo 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.

Take the Next Step to Your Life Purpose

Kute Blackson, presenting during the 2021 The Best Year of Your Life Summit, spoke energetically and insightfully about following your life purpose.  His inspirational video podcast was very well received because of its practical and down-to-earth character.  People could relate to what he was saying irrespective of their stage of life and their level of clarity about their life purpose.  On his website, Kute offers free video training on how to find your purpose.

Key messages

In the video presentation for the Summit, Kute provides several key messages to enable us to be free of negative self-talk and self-doubt and to take the next step for finding and following our life purpose:

  • Overcome the lies we tell ourselves: Kute suggests that we lie to ourselves to prevent us from taking a step into the unknown.  Fear of failure causes us to think of all the things that might go wrong and we take these as givens.  As a result, we tend to cling to our comfort zone and procrastinate, and so we fail to take the next step on the road to our life purpose.
  • Challenge expectations: sometimes what holds us back from realisation of our life purpose are the expectations we place on ourselves or that others, such as our parents, place on us.  Kute tells the story of how he tried to live up to his father’s expectations that he become a preacher only to find it was not aligned to his heart’s purpose.  He left his father’s ministry to move to Los Angeles with two suitcases and the courage to move beyond other peoples’ expectations.  He found his life purpose in helping people to transform their lives by finding their life purpose that aligns with their true self and deeper inner life (what he describes as “soul”).
  • Let go of the need to know: Kute encourages us to let go of the need to know everything – what will happen if we start on the path, how we will manage if difficulties arise, what we will say and do in particular circumstances.  He argues that we do not need to know everything about where our life choices will take us – we need to “trust our soul”, our inner conviction of what we are meant to do and contribute to the welfare and wellness of others.  Kimberly Snyder reminds us that we are more than we think we are
  • Be conscious of the pain of not taking action: Kurt encourages us to be fully aware of the pain and suffering that we experience if we fail to take action to align with our true purpose (e.g., leave a job or a role and/or begin a new endeavour).  Sometimes we hide from this pain and attribute it to what we have to put up with.  The pain of not being aligned with our true purpose can take many forms including physical illness (e.g. headaches and fibromyalgia), boredom, a sense of ill-ease, or other emotional reactions. Kute strongly believes that we need to be honest about this pain of inaction as well as face up to the fear that holds us back. 
  • Don’t wait for clarity about life purpose: people can spend their whole life trying to formulate their life purpose with perfect clarity, only to take no action towards realising it.  Kute argues that our life purpose will be slowly revealed as we live our lives. If we realise the potential of the present moment and focus there, rather than a idealistic or unrealistic future, we will begin on the path to our purpose.  He describes this as “living into life’s purpose”.
  • Take the next step:  Kute maintains that our life purpose unfolds as we live each moment fully.  Everything we experience is preparation for our life purpose, including the challenges and difficulties we experience as well as the highs.  He encourages us to take the next step in line with the direction of our purpose – “even when you don’t know where you are going”.  He suggests we “trust our innate intelligence” and contends that that our soul is pulling you when you “move in the direction of your joy, of what lights you up, of what you love”.  So, his exhortation is to set out on the journey of following our life purpose by aligning with what is joyful, energising and rewarding in our life.  He contends that “life reveals the next step in the process of living”.

Reflection

Kute asks us to reflect on a number of questions:

  • What gives you joy?
  • What are your core skills?
  • What is stopping you from taking the next step to achieve alignment with your joy and your skills?

At the heart of Kute’s approach is encouragement to surrender – surrendering to our inner voice.  He explains this process in his book, The Magic of Surrender: Finding the Courage to Let Go.

Lulu & Mischka capture the essence of this process in their mantra meditation, Metamorphosis from their Horizon Album:

Don’t give up, keep letting go, simply show up, surrendering to the flow

Let yourself be broken, fall into pieces, Trust in the process, your metamorphosis

Let yourself be broken…stop resisting.  Relax into this moment, healing unfolding.

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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.

Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Rachel Kable – author, podcaster, blogger and mindfulness coach from Victoria in Australia –  recently participated in a podcast interview with Dr. Justin Puder.  In the course of the interview, she explained that when she first started out practising mindfulness in the more formal way of meditating (e.g. focusing on her breath), she had great difficulty and did not like it at all.  At the time she lived very much in the past and the future, not the present.  She would review past performance and prepare to-do lists for future activities to the point where she would lie awake at night, not being able to quiet her mind.  To sit still and focus on the moment was a real challenge and counter-intuitive.

However, Rachel persisted with formal practice because she had heard of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and wanted to experience them for herself and to share them with others.  As she persisted in her more formal efforts, she found that mindfulness practice increased her ability to focus and concentrate, enabled her to sleep more restfully and fully, enhanced her relationships (e.g. through being present to the person speaking and listening actively, not distractedly) and improving her capacity to be creative in her career endeavours.

Rachel also discovered that she could bring mindfulness to everyday life and the things she already did each day, e.g. cleaning the house, washing the dishes, preparing the meal, driving the car, eating her meals, or sitting on her deck (which provided the opportunity for engaging in “natural awareness”, taking in the sounds, sights, and smells already present to her).  Consequently, she decided that the focus of her mindfulness coaching would be on helping people to bring mindfulness to the activities of everyday life.  To this end, she has developed her blog covering things like self-care, meditation techniques, and simple living.  Rachel’s podcast series, which at the time of writing has 322 episodes, provides lots of practical advice on how to be mindful in everyday life, dealing with issues such as challenging emotions, expectations, stress, decision making and negative self-evaluation.

Rachel has also written a book, The Mindful Kind Book, wherein she provides practical advice and tools to manage overwhelm and stress, enjoy life more, improve resilience to handle setbacks and to practise mindfulness as a form of self-care when engaging in everyday activities, including work.  Her interview is one of many conducted by Dr. Justin Puder who has developed the podcast series, Drop In with Dr. J.

Reflection

Tennis is a very important part of my life and my exercise activity and has been since I was in Primary School (about 10 years of age).   Rachel’s podcast interview reminded me that I need to bring mindfulness more to the fore when playing tennis.  I have certainly used reflection-on-action in the past when looking at how I play tennis.  Through reflection, I have become more conscious of the importance of savouring the moment when playing tennis; addressing my “habit loop” (and related reward system) when experiencing blockages to trying out new tennis strokes; being able to constructively manage mistakes when playing social tennis; and identifying the behavioural and cognitive blind spots that are impeding my tennis performance.

I am often conscious of the technical aspects of playing tennis, e.g. keeping your eyes on the ball, preparing for a tennis shot, choosing the right shot, deciding the stance and position to receive a serve, and identifying the gaps in which to play a shot.  I can become more conscious of when my attention strays to what is happening on one of the other eleven occupied courts and bring my attention back to my own tennis game.

What Rachel’s comments remind me to do is to face my emotions in the moment when playing tennis (e.g. anxiety, fear), name them and decide how to manage them – rather than ignore or suppress them.  It also means acknowledging to myself (and challenging) my self-imposed expectations that impede my performance and enjoyment of the game. 

Rachel reminds us that mindfulness can be practised in every aspect of our life, even having lunch.  For me, for example, that means eating my lunch mindfully, savouring the taste, texture and aroma of what I am eating – not processing emails or planning my day as I eat. 

As we grow in mindfulness through formal processes such as meditation, Tai Chi, or yoga, we can more readily bring mindfulness to our everyday life whether that is driving a car in traffic, sitting on our back deck, working in our garden or just taking a walk.  Mindfulness can accompany us wherever we go and whatever we do – if we only let ourselves drop into present moment awareness.

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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.