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.

Integrating Gratitude with Loving Kindness Meditation

Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) UCLA offered a guided meditation podcast integrating gratitude and loving kindness.  Her guided meditation, Extending Loving Kindness & Gratitude Practice, is designed to use the energy and warmth of gratitude practice to extend our loving kindness beyond ourselves to others in our life to whom we are truly grateful. 

Diana’s meditation is one of the weekly meditation podcasts offered by MARC with a view to helping participants grow in self-awareness, develop emotion regulation and attain an overall sense of wellbeing and ease.  The approach of the MARC meditations is to enable us to focus fully on  “present moment experience” while adopting an open and curious perspective and accepting “what is”.

Guided meditation incorporating gratitude and loving kindness

At the outset, Diana encourages us to adopt a comfortable position, whether sitting on a chair, lying down or adopting a cross-legged siting posture.  She makes the valid point that is difficult to extend loving kindness to others when we are not physically comfortable.  She suggests that we begin with a few deep breaths to ease some of the tension in our bodies and to ground us in the moment.  Associated with this is the encouragement to be with what is – to acknowledge and accept our mental state, our feelings of reluctance or enthusiasm for the meditation or our agitation about something external to the present moment.

The anchor for this meditation is initially focusing on something that we are really grateful for – whatever that might be in the physical, intellectual, emotional, relational  or financial realms of our lives.  Because so many of my friends and family lack physical mobility at the moment (owing to illness and/or aging), I focused with gratitude and appreciation on my ability to walk, run on a tennis court, and play tennis well.  I began to appreciate that I had been coached in tennis very well at an early age and that I now had a range of tennis strokes and strategies that I can use to really enjoy my social tennis.  I thought of how much playing tennis had become a positive, grounding part of my life through fixtures, competitions and social tennis groups (both intimate and broad).

The next phase of the meditation focuses on someone in our life we really appreciate – a partner, child, friend, colleague, mentor or anyone else who is a positive influence in our life and a source of joy.  I focused on my life partner of forty years and expressed appreciation for her sustained love, kindness and warmth;  her intellectual and problem-solving capacity; her generosity towards others in need; her courage and resilience in the face of difficult situations; her willingness and ability to listen for understanding; and her desire and ability to be a very strong support for our two adult children. 

Diana encourages us to allow the feelings of gratitude to flow through our body – to capture the embodiment of our appreciation in the moment.  These feelings can then energise our desire to express loving kindness towards our chosen person.  The loving kindness can be expressed in many ways but often includes a desire for the person to be protected and to be safe from harm of all kinds (both internal and external); to realise a state of happiness and contentment; to achieve improved physical and mental health; and to experience a deep and abiding send of ease (a rare occurrence in these challenging times). 

As we extend loving kindness to the person we have been focusing on, we can begin to imagine this loving kindness being reciprocated – we can envisage ourselves as the recipient of loving kindness being extending to us.  We might mentally revisit a recent experience where the person has shown love and warmth towards us (e.g. by placing their arms around us, holding hands or offering a hug of appreciation or empathy).   Again ,we can focus on our embodiment of these reciprocated feelings – how do they make us feel in our body in the present moment?  What is that the other person sees in us and what else should we be grateful for?

Diana asks us to think of another person to whom we are grateful and begin to identify what it is about them that we are grateful for.  It may be that they nurtured us in a time of challenge, came to our rescue when we were in need, or became the person to offer “a shoulder to cry on” when we were suffering and/or experiencing grief.  At this stage of the meditation, I thought of my colleague of 15 years.  I expressed appreciation for her wisdom and calmness; her flexibility and understanding; her courage and willingness to meet challenges head on; her work ethic and persistence; her active commitment to fairness and equity; her genuine care and concern for our clients; and her kindness and generosity to anyone in need (often at great personal expense).

The reflection made me realise how lucky I am to have such a colleague and to know that in any situation we encounter I can rely on her for her considered and apt response.  Diana suggests that after this experience of appreciation and gratitude, we again express loving kindness towards them in our own words as befit the individual involved.

The final stage of this guided meditation is to focus on people who might be suffering – experiencing chronic illness or fatigue, addiction, the COVID19 virus, or the extreme challenges of war/refugee experience. We can extend loving kindness to our chosen group of people – wishing that their suffering be alleviated; that amidst the pain they can have moments of peace; that they are able to meet their challenges with acceptance, resilience and courage; and that they are eventually free from their suffering so that they can experience wellness and ease.

Reflection

There will be times when we cannot feel loving kindness – particularly to those who have hurt us or whose words and actions are continually challenging.  In these situations, instead of indulging in self-denigrating thoughts and feelings, we can extend loving kindness to ourselves

We can also explore an internal form of compassionate curiosity – whereby we envisage what traumas a person with an addiction has experienced in their lives and what might be the messages they are giving themselves about their “worth”.  Gabor Maté explains this approach in his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction.

As we grow in mindfulness, through gratitude and loving kindness mediation, we can begin to appreciate the many people and things we take for granted in our lives, grow in kindness towards others and ourself, and move beyond a self-referential and self-centred world to engage in compassionate action.  Loving kindness meditation helps us to appreciate what is good in others as well as in ourselves.

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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.

Understanding and Developing AWE

Jason Silva maintains that whatever we find that is awe-inspiring extends our “perceptual frameworks” , expands our comfort zones and builds compassion and creativity.  When we experience wonder and awe, our “mental maps” are challenged and our mind is expanded to accommodate “land beyond the maps” that we have in our head.  We encounter boundarylessness, mystery, and the majesty of creation.  Through his Shots of Awe video podcasts, he encourages us to move beyond the “banality” and disengagement of our lives, to open to emotional and aesthetic experiences and to awaken to awe. He suggests that, in the final analysis, we have a “responsibility to awe”.  Jason offers ways to understand and develop awe through his free video, Find Your Awe.

Developing awe through nature

Louie Schwartzberg, time-lapse photographer and filmmaker, presented a TEDx Talk that focused on Wonder, awe and the intelligence of natureLouie explains that he often makes the invisible visible through his slow motion photography.  He opens us up to a sense of awe in the light of the ineffable beauty, power and interconnectedness of nature.  He maintains that nature takes us beyond ourself and our limited, self-absorbed focus and develops gratitude, compassion and wellness.  He argues that our sense of awe and wonder is heightened when we develop an intimate relationship with nature.

Louie, through his awe-inspiring, time-lapse photography, brings us visual sources of wonder by capturing the beauty, intricacy, expansiveness and grandeur of nature.  His photography unearths the incredible cooperation and coordination between plants and trees and the mind-boggling cycle of life.   He captures in slowed-motion the pollination of plants by birds, bees and bats; the development and emergence of fruit (such as strawberries); and the incredible internet-like network of fungi beneath the earth (captured in Louie’s film, Fantastic Fungi).   The wonder and awe experienced by people viewing his photography is clearly illustrated on the faces of people seeing his time-lapse photography projected onto St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Developing awe through sound and sight

Louie captures other sources of awe through his Wonder and Awe Podcast.  Some of these podcasts focus on auditory sources of wonder and awe, e.g., the wonderful compositions and singing of Lisbeth Scott; the soaring, healing sounds of violinist Lindsey Stirling; and the productions of Cosmo Sheldrake, musician and composer, who reinforces the “power of sound in nature”.

Rebecca Elson, dedicated poet and astronomer, left a legacy not only of scientific discoveries but also her poems and personal notes/musings captured in her book, A Responsibility to Awe.  One of her poems, Antidotes to Fear of Death, is shared publicly through readings by different people and captured visually by the accompanying deep space photography of Scott Denning.

Louie also interviewed Anna Bjurstam as part of his series of podcasts and explored energy science beyond the immediate realm of visibility.  Anna is a pioneer of wellness through Six Senses Spas of which she is Vice-President. These luxury resorts stimulate the senses through the incredible beauty of nature and experiences that are meaningful, empathetic and enhance well-being.  Anna mentioned her near-death experience which led her to understand “how beautiful, amazing and what a gift this life is”.

Reflection

Jon Kabat-Zinn encourages us to develop wonder and awe through our senses.  His book Coming to Our Senses, e.g., ways to fully enjoy our “tastescape”, “touchscape” or “soundscape”.   He suggests that mindfulness meditation creates the doorway to be consciously in the present moment in a non-judgmental and open way. 

Being curious about what we are experiencing in all its dimensions opens the way to develop wonder and awe in our lives.  As we grow in mindfulness, we become more aware, increasingly focused on the present, and more attuned to nature and the world around us.  Jason Silva maintains that we often forgo the present for the future and we need to reverse this tendency if we are to awaken to wonder and awe.

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Image by finix8 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.

Guided Meditation to Develop the Awareness Muscle

Allyson Pimentel provided a guided meditation podcast through MARC UCLA titled, Begin Again – a process designed to develop concentration and build the “awareness muscle”.   This meditation builds increased awareness of the present moment because it requires us to pay attention as the meditation unfolds – in particular, noticing when our mind wanders away from our primary focus.  Allyson suggests that we need to be “curious about being curious” – that we approach the challenge of paying attention with openness, a sense of wonder, curiosity and exploration.

Allyson emphasises the point that our minds are designed to think, imagine, envision and dream.  It is natural for us to “wander off”, lose focus and entertain the “blur of the past” or the anticipation of the future.  She suggests that no matter what the level of our experience with meditation is, we can alternate between “wakefulness and sleepiness” – which can be interpreted both literally and metaphorically.  

Allyson reminds us that the meaning of the word “begin” is “to come into being”.  She suggests that we are so focused on “doing” that we lose sight of “being” – of appreciating and valuing our present moment experience.  Her guided meditation encourages wakefulness – being fully aware of the present moment and noticing when our attention wanders.   The process of continually returning to our focus – restoring our attention – builds our awareness muscle.  Developing this skill is particularly critical in the digital age which is becoming characterised by the “loss of attention, consciousness and awareness” through online marketing and the role of social media and social influencers.

One of the key things to be aware of during this meditation is the tendency to judge ourselves for our “failure to concentrate” or “stay in the moment”.  We can become critical of our performance, disappointed and angry with ourselves, and frustrated with our lack of progress.  Our current “performance culture” tends to cultivate this judgmental stance.  Allyson stresses the need for loving kindness towards ourselves to overcome these negative thoughts and assessments.

Guided meditation for developing the awareness muscle

Allyson’s guided meditation (which begins at 9 minutes, 20 seconds) has a number of stages that can be followed in sequence or changed to suit your situation:

  • Posture – after taking and releasing a few deep breaths, the aim is to adopt a posture that is conducive to wakefulness to the present moment.  This may entail closing your eyes (to avoid distraction) and adopting an upright posture (as Allyson suggests, as if a sturdy, straight, “big oak tree is behind your back”).  She maintains that this is a way to achieve an “embodied sense of wakefulness”, so that your body posture reflects what you are seeking to achieve in your meditation.  Noticing your posture throughout the meditation can enhance your wakefulness – and may require you to correct a slouch if that occurs.
  • Focus on sounds – one way to achieve an anchor focused on the present moment is to pay attention to sounds both internal and external to your room.  It is important to let the sounds come and go and not entertain them by trying to work out their source.  For some people, sounds themselves may be distracting and this step could be omitted.
  • Focus on breathing – here it is important to become conscious of your breathing – its strength, speed, evenness and regularity – without trying to control it.  As you drop into your breath, you can experience calmness, expansiveness and energy as you open to the life that is within you. 
  • Notice the “tone of your mind” – throughout the meditation you are encouraged to notice what is happening in your mind.  You might find yourself engaged in self-criticism for wandering off – a state that can be overcome by loving kindness and patience.  It also pays to remind yourself that having to “begin again” to re-focus, is progressively building your awareness muscle – which will enrich your life in all its spheres. No matter how many times you have to start over, you are building towards awareness and its inherent richness.

Reflection

This meditation can be challenging, especially in our early stages of adopting meditation practice or if we are feeling agitated about something that is happening to us or others who are close to us (or to others who we know are experiencing terror elsewhere).  The real benefits of this meditation can readily flow over into our daily life and help us to achieve calmness and equanimity in the face of life’s challenges.

 As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and beginning again when our minds wander, we can begin to discern patterns in our wandering – e.g., planning our day, preparing a shopping list, indulging resentment or stressing about possible, future challenges.  This increased self-awareness can help us to develop specific strategies to strengthen our capacity to concentrate and focus our energy.

Allyson suggests that we take to heart Carl Jung’s comment:

Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.

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Image by Josep Monter Martinez 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.

Bodily Awareness: Movement and Stillness

The UCLA meditation podcast at the end of April 2021 was conducted by Tom Heah who has particular expertise in movement meditation and offers a range of Mindfulness in Action courses.    Tom’s guided meditation on Awareness in Movement and Stillness offers a way to pay attention to bodily sensations with openness and curiosity while moving and keeping still.  He makes the point that our body is always in the present moment through our senses while our mind is often consumed with thinking about the past or the future, e.g., planning, analysing, categorising, criticising, or summarising.  Tom describes the mind as a “thinking machine” while he sees our body as a pathway to the present moment and mindfulness.  His podcast meditation has three core parts – seeing, moving, being still.

Paying attention to what we see

As Tom’s meditation was conducted online via Zoom, he encouraged participants from around the world to turn their videos on and look to see who else is present in the collaborative meditation.  He maintained that through our sight we can reinforce our sense of connection to others wherever they may be in the world.  He suggested that “separation” is really a “conception of the mind” – ignoring the reality of our connectedness to every living thing.  He encouraged participants to spend a short time as they were looking at others to check into their own bodily sensations.  Tom reinforced the fact that our bodies enable us to experience our connection to the earth as well as to others.

Paying attention to our bodies while we move

Tom encouraged participants to stand or sit to undertake a number of conscious movements involving the arms, neck, and shoulders.  He offered stretching exercises for the arms, neck and shoulder rolls as forms of movement.  His main focus was on the bodily sensations experienced while undertaking the movements – encouraging the identification of points of ease or tension.

On completing the movements, Tom suggested that participants choose an anchor to be able to refocus the mind if wandering occurs – e.g., room scanning, focus on sounds within and/or without the room, focusing on the breath or remaining with bodily sensations.  He indicated that like a lot of other people his mind has been racing with the advent of the pandemic, as everything in life is impacted – work location, availability of work, physical and mental health, relationships, shopping patterns, income flow and capacity for free movement within a State or outside a country.

Tom suggested that focus on our body and body sensations is a way to still the mind and recapture peace, ease, and tranquility.  Movement meditations such as Tai Chi provide an excellent means to build bodily focus and concentration as well as to realise physical and mental health benefits. 

Paying attention to our bodies while being still

Tom suggested that the stillness meditation can involve sitting, standing, or lying down – whatever is comfortable and facilitates your ability to get in touch with your bodily sensations.  One of the easiest ways to pay attention to bodily sensations is to focus on our feet – observing sensations of touch, tingling, heaviness, connectedness to the floor or ground or other sensation.  I find that joining my fingers together from each hand also provides me with easy access to bodily awareness – to a sense of energy flow, warmth, connection, tingling and stillness.

Mantra meditations involving generation of bodily energy through voice and vibration, can still the mind and body. Lulu & Mischka, exemplars of the art of mantra meditations, maintain that in times such as the pandemic, mantra meditations can enable us to achieve both stillness and joy despite the pervasive challenges in our lives.  Their stillness in motion mantra meditation epitomises becoming grounded and connected through observing whales and singing while sailing close to these majestic marine mammals.

Reflection

Our bodies are the immediate and accessible pathway to being in the present moment.  We can readily still our minds and grow in mindfulness through body scans, chanting, mantra meditations and movement meditations such as Tai Chi.  The benefits are enhanced through daily mindfulness practice whatever form it takes according to our preference and however much time we can devote to the practice.  The increasing benefits over time serve to provide positive reinforcement so that what may have once been a chore becomes a pleasant and rewarding experience.

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Image by Ria Sopala 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.

Valuing the Present Moment

Allyson Pimentel provides a meditation podcast on the topic, The Beauty of the Present Moment.   People from around the world participated in the live, online event which was conducted and recorded via Zoom.  During the podcast, Allyson stated that mindfulness involves “paying attention with intention” to the present moment in a way that involves openness, curiosity and acceptance of what is, whether pleasure or pain, happiness or sadness, understanding or confusion.  She suggested that as we develop the capacity to attend to each moment with heightened awareness, we can develop a deeper appreciation of beauty, compassion (towards ourselves and others) and a “love for the moment”.   If we are always consumed by thoughts of the past or the future, we will miss the richness and power of now.  As Alan Watts comments, “Life exists at this moment”.

Awareness of beauty

Allyson introduces a brief process to raise our awareness of the beauty that surrounds us in the present moment.  She asks that we pay attention to something we consider beautiful, however momentarily.  If we are inside a dwelling, we could look at a pleasing painting, observe the clear sky through our window, listen to the early morning songs of birds or touch something that is smooth or rough as we appreciate its texture. 

If we are outside, we could listen to the wind rustling in the trees, smell the aroma from freshly opening flowers, feel the softness of the grass beneath our feet or admire the shape and stature of the trees in the mist.  Beauty as they say is in the “eye [and other senses] of the beholder”.

Allyson reminds us that beauty is around us all the time and by tapping into the present moment, we can learn to be aware of beauty and to increase our capacity to cope with life challenges, whether they be illness, grief, loss, confusion, or the slow decline of a parent through Alzheimer’s Disease who is becoming disconnected from the present..

A present moment meditation using body scan

One way into appreciating the present moment in all its import is to undertake a body scan meditation.  Allyson provides a guided meditation in her podcast as a way to do this.  She begins by having us take a deep breath and exhale deeply to clear any bodily tensions and to bring us more fully into the present moment.

She then provides a progressive body scan beginning with your feet and moving through all parts of your body, noting any points of tension.  As we become grounded in bodily sensations, we become more attuned to our thoughts and feelings as they arise spontaneously.  Allyson encourages us to accept whatever is our human condition at this point in time and to show ourselves compassion.  From this base of self-compassion, we can extend empathy to others and offer them loving-kindness.  Attunement to, and acceptance of, our current reality strengthens our connection to the world and to others.

Allyson Pimentel holds up Tina Turner as a model of present moment awareness, acceptance of her condition and the capacity to take compassionate action towards others.  In her documentary, for example, Tina reveals that in a period of five years she experienced cancer, a stroke and kidney failure.  Despite having daily dialysis for four hours, she was not depressed but appreciative of the fact that she had more time to live.   Tina encapsulated her philosophy on life in her book, Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good.

In Allyson’s view, Tina epitomises what Rumi describes as The Guest House – “being human is a guest house” for pain, meanness, joy, happiness, sorrow, and every other manifestation of the human condition.  Rumi encourages us to appreciate whatever comes our way because each experience is a “guide”.

Reflection

The challenge of the present moment is also its power.  If we can truly be with what is and accept what we cannot change, we can develop an appreciation of being alive, strength and resilience to meet life’s challenges and a deep-seated sense of ease and equanimity.  As we grow in mindfulness though meditation and awareness of the present moment, we can tap into the power of now and the richness of a life fully lived.

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Image by Luca Finardi 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.