Undertaking a Life Review

In a previous post I discussed the life review process when it occurs during a near-death experience or when a person is dying.  While millions of people have reported near-death experiences (NDE’s), not everyone has the privilege of having this experience.  If we wait till we are dying, we may find that we are overwhelmed with regrets, rather than experiencing the joy of having created positive ripple effects in our life, especially in our latter years.

It is possible to undertake a life review at any point in our life and to benefit ourselves and others we interact with as a result.  The life review process, even self-initiated, can be a forbidding task.  People find that early in life (especially as teenagers) we tend to be more reckless and less sensitive to the needs of others.  Jeff Janssen, in his video podcast interview with Kirsty Salisbury offers two questions which may be too daunting as a starting point:

  1. Which events/situations would you look forward to seeing and feeling again?
  2. Which events/situations do you dread seeing and feeling again?

We can build towards a situation where the events/situations we look forward to re-visiting (in all their visual and emotional elements) dominate our life review towards the end of our life.  This can be achieved by beginning on the path to a complete life review – taken in your own time and own way.

Chunking to manage the life review task

You might adopt a process of chunking up the life review task – breaking it into manageable chunks.  Shelly Tygielski, in her online course on the Power of Showing Up,  decided to focus on self-care in her life review after receiving a diagnosis which indicated that she would go blind without radical medical treatment – which subsequently failed.   She adopted the process of chunking up the self-care life review by looking at the different spheres in her life, e.g. work, home, social and community.  Community was included because she believes strongly that self-care is ultimately for enabling one to participate in a unique way in community care.  The result of such a review could be a comprehensive self-care plan that serves our needs and, at the same, time contribute to the wellbeing of others that we interact with daily.

Using role reversal to access others’ perspectives.

Jeff also adopts another approach to a life review by using a role reversal process.  He suggests for example, that if he was in his son’s place, how would he view his father?; or if he was in his wife’s place, how would she view him as a spouse?  We can ask similar questions in relation to our colleagues, family members or clients/customers.  This can be enlightening in terms of the ripple effect of our words, omissions and actions and can identify ways to ensure that we are choosing to create positive rather than negative ripples.  

Life purpose review

Consistently we are told that pursuing a life purpose beyond ourself adds meaning to our lives and is foundational to achieving happiness, joy and self-fulfilment.  In a life review, we can explore how we are pursuing a life purpose that engages us in community care.  We can ask ourselves two basic questions:

  1. What is my unique combination of experience (including trauma), skills, knowledge and abilities?
  2. How can I better use these to advance community care in my immediate environment and/or the wider community?

If we answer these questions honestly and pursue the insights gained we can begin to generate more positive ripple effects in the lives of others (and our own life).

Questions from lessons learned through near-death experiences

In the summary of his book, 10 Life-Changing Lessons from Heaven (based on reported NDE’s), Jeff provides a series of questions around each chapter that addressing a separate lesson or recommended way of living our life.  Even without reading the book, you can use the questions as a form of life review (of course, if you read the book, you will gain so much more meaning, insight and “how to” information).  You could for example explore these sample questions or others provided by Jeff:

  • How have your fears held you back and limited you?;
  • Where in your life do you need to summon the courage to jump?
  • Can you think of any situations where the Ripple Effect of your actions have had a negative effect on others? What was this effect and how far did the ripple effect extend?
  • Which individuals or groups might you not fully understand or accept?

Reflection

There are many approaches we can use to begin on the path to a life review.  Undertaking a life review is a massive task and can be managed through chunking up the task by choosing a manageable focus and starting point (e.g. self-care plan, role reversal reflection, life purpose review, or specific lessons from NDE’s or from death and dying).

We can engage in self-pity and get lost in the adversity caused by our past words and/or actions, or offer ourselves self-compassion and forgiveness and move forward with a life review process that engenders a commitment to creating positive ripples in our life and that of others in the community.

As we engage in mindfulness practices, we can grow in mindfulness in every aspect of our daily life, gain self-awareness and insight into our impact on others and have the courage to change for the better.

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Image by Public Co from Pixabay

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

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

Showing Up for Community Care

Shelly Tygielski is an advocate for translating mindfulness practices and related self-care approaches into community action.  Shelly herself epitomizes this translation, being a trauma counsellor for surviving victims of mass shootings in the US and for refugees from Ukraine in Poland.  She advocates strongly for both self-care and community care and argues that you cannot do the latter without the support of the former, otherwise you will suffer “compassion fatigue” and burnout.

Shelly sees meditation and other mindfulness practices as central to self-care.  She is a meditation teacher and herself practices meditation and what she calls “micro-practices”.   These are brief mindfulness practices that can be employed by anybody throughout the day, particularly at times when you are time-poor and feeling stressed, distressed or anxious.  

Shelly indicates that these micro-practices can be linked to some action you already undertake during the day, e.g. she employs the yogic technique of 4-7-8 breathing  when washing her hands.  This involves breathing in through the nose for four seconds, holding the breath for seven seconds and breathing out through the mouth for eight seconds (there are various combinations of these breathing processes, but basically the outbreath is longer than the in-breath or holding your breath).  This breathing practice can be used when waiting for traffic lights or waiting for the jug to boil or food to cook on the stove.  Richard Wolf in his book, In Tune: Music as the Bridge to Mindfulness, offers alternative breathing practices that are linked to the different times in music, e.g. ¾ time.  He also offers deep listening approaches that can be employed as micro-practices.

How to show up for community care

Shelly provides the answer to this question in her new 10-day online course, The Power of Showing Up.  I recently purchased this course and I am very impressed with the way she has structured the course to literally “take you by the hand” and lead you to self-empowerment and the capacity to undertake community care.  She is not only a very inspirational speaker but totally transparent, sharing her own struggles and ways she overcame them.  It is not as if she immediately fell into the practice of community care.  She herself had to overcome the scars of being kidnapped at the age of two and inheriting “intergenerational trauma”.  

Shelly provides support for developing our inner landscape and overcoming negative thoughts such as “I am not good enough” or “I don’t know enough” or “I feel like an impostor” (“impostor syndrome”).  She strongly encourages us to overcome these obstacles (that she herself has experienced and overcome) and offers knowledge and pathways to develop a community of care – epitomized by her own creation, Pandemic of Love, which has matched the needs of 2 million people with other people who can provide concrete help and support.

Shelly’s course offers ways to help others in need so that they feel valued and appreciated.  In the process, she helps us to understand our own inner world and what is holding us back.  She offers a way to live a more meaningful life, aligned to our values and utilising our core knowledge and skills for community care. 

Reflection

I was very inspired by Shelly’s presentation at the Self-Care Summit and since then have joined a community of care, ExtendaTouch (Caregivers Supporting Caregivers).  I joined this community after receiving an invitation following publication of my blog post, Conscious Aging: Reframing for Health and Happiness.  

As I participate in Shelly’s course, I am working on developing an online Community of Care that will involve people sharing their mindfulness practices, approaches to self-care and strategies for overcoming daily challenges.  I hope to progress this community to a stage where we share our “self-care plan” and hold each other accountable for its implementation and ongoing refinement.  As we grow in mindfulness together, we will be able to develop the necessary self-awareness, courage and creativity to overcome our life challenges and help others (in our online community and elsewhere) to do so.

Shelly also provides added inspiration and insight in her book,  Sit Down to Rise Up: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the World.

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Image by fernando zhiminaicela from Pixabay

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

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

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Self-Care for Community Care

Shelly Tygielski – activist, author and mindfulness teacher – was recently interviewed by Fleet Maull as co-host of the Self-Care Summit.  Shelly’s lifetime focus is on self-care with an emphasis on transforming self-care into care for the community.  She is a living example of her beliefs and has worked with trauma sufferers including refugees from Ukraine and provided trauma-informed counselling and healing to victims of the Buffalo supermarket shootings

Shelly is accredited as a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) facilitator.  The creator of this intervention process, Jon Kabat-Zinn, describes her as “the real deal” – she genuinely and uniquely practices what she preaches.  Her commitment to community action is also reflected in her creation of the Pandemic of Love – a global, mutual aid community that connects people in need with people who can provide help and resources.  It has grown from one person, Shelly, posting a simple matching process online to more than 3,000 volunteers.  Shelly was inspired by the fear and traumatising needs arising from the pandemic, such as the fear of one’s young family running out of food.

Shelly provides a range of resources to assist people with self-care, including a weekly guided meditation that is conducted with thousands of people.  Her podcasts and webinars also provide insight into her philosophy and approach and the inspiration to engage in self-care for community care.  Shelly’s experiences, insights and practices are also capture in her online course, The Power of Showing Up: Learn how to best support yourself and others.  

Shelly acknowledges that she herself suffers from intergenerational trauma which involved, in part, the way women were treated in her own family line.  She readily shares that she herself has had to deal with a lot of issues but has found that this makes her more empathetic to others and helps to build rapport and authenticity with the people she is attempting to help in whatever context she is working in.

Principles and practices

Underpinning Shelly’s approach and dedicated community service is a set of principles and practices that she shares generously with others in her writings, workshops and speaking engagements.  In the limited space provided in this post, I can only hope to scratch the surface of what she provides elsewhere as a source of inspiration for others:

  • Self-care is self-preservation: self-care is not self-indulgent.  We all need to care for ourselves so that we can manage the ups and downs of the waves of life, including the “dumpers” that leave us floundering.  Without self-care, we can “go under” – drowned in the misfortunes, setbacks and failures we experience in everyday life.  Carers and people in the helping professions tend to ignore self-care at the expense of their own physical and mental health – they identify with their role of care giver, not care taker.  They see self-care as self-indulgence and in their view can ill afford the time to attend to their own needs. 
  • Self-care is community dependent: we cannot survive without the support of others. One of the main causes of depression and addiction is disconnection from others – being isolated from the “helping hand”, the thoughtful word and the kind action.  GROW, a peer-led mental health program, reminds us that “You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone”.  We need the support of others – we may be “down” and de-motivated when they are “up” and providing energy and inspiration by their example, enthusiasm, commitment or encouragement.  Shelly recommends having a personal self-care plan that we share with a “community of care” that can keep us accountable for our planned actions.  She suggests that this is the way to achieve “sustainable self-care”.
  • Self-care is for community care: we are all interconnected and interdependent.   The pandemic has highlighted our dependence on doctors and nurses, transport workers, farmers and farm workers, shop assistants and anyone who provides products and services.  It deepened our sense of the pain and grief of others who experienced illness and/or loss of friends and family.  Shelly’s Pandemic of Love provides a constructive way to help those in pandemic-driven need. She leads by example and asserts that self-care in isolation does not recognise our connection to others in all walks of life.  Shelly argues that self-care for the community is what is ultimately important.  She maintains that if we are depleted, cynical or depressed we cannot show up for others in need.  Self-care re-energises and re-builds us to provide the help and support that members of our community need.  This lesson was particularly brought home to Shelly after leaving behind the devastation of the lives of refugees from Ukraine whom she had been helping – besides experiencing emotional and physical exhaustion, she felt shame and guilt on returning home to peace, access to the healing power of nature and support of family and friends.  She found that her self-care, micro-practices helped her to restore her perspective and energy.

Reflection

Kelly’s message is not only to engage in self-care but to transform this into community care through caring for others within our capacity and in accord with our knowledge and skills – the theme of her course, The Power of Showing Up.  She acknowledges that many of us are “time-poor” and often feel guilty for taking time for ourselves, particularly if we are in a carer role.  With this in mind, she highly recommends micro-practices which she utilizes extensively herself.  Shelly shares her insights and practices in her podcasts and her recent book, Sit Down to Rise Up: How Radical Self-Care Can Change the World.

Shelly contends that we have a moral obligation to show up for others in need.  We can create “ripples of influence” by joining with others to create social movements.  The recent example of the success of TEAL candidates during the Australian Federal election shows how community activism around a shared set of values can cross the divide of location, socio-economic status and prior conditioning.  TEAL is a loose connection of independent political candidates (not bound to any political party) who share a commitment to the common values of climate change, political accountability and gender equity.  This solidarity led to unseating previously-elected members of the ruling political party who failed to demonstrate true commitment to these values, and, in some instances, had actively worked against them.

My takeaway from listening to Shelly and observing her vast array of actions and activism is my need to join or develop a community of care.  To this end, I have purchased her course, The Power of Showing Up, so that I can engage more actively in community care. I also need to maintain my self-care activities in the form of Tai Chi, mindfulness activities, micro-practices and the reflective writing of this blog.  As we grow in mindfulness through these kinds of activities, we can gain the necessary self-awareness, emotional regulation, self-care and courage to show up in the world and use our gifts to support others in their daily lives.  

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Image by Angela Huang 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.

Simple Steps for Self-Care

These are challenging times that place stress on every aspect of our lives.  The natural human tendency is to go with the flow and try to keep up with all kinds of commitments – family, community and work.  We can succumb to the pace of modern life and the expectations of achievement that we place on ourselves and that we think others expect of us.  However, there are real physical and mental costs associated with engaging life at an unnatural pace.  Psychologists, for example, warn of ‘emotional inflammation’ resulting from the pandemic and, more recently, from the war in Ukraine.  Self-care is now more important than ever.

In these times of endless challenge, self-care becomes critical for our mental and physical welfare. The Self-Care Summit (May 10-16) sought to identify the issues involved, the personal and social barriers and ways to achieve self-care in everyday life.  The first speaker at the Summit, Renée Trudeau, provided a solid foundation and strong motivation for self-care.  After more than 20 years working with individuals and organisations on self-care approaches, she was able to distil the wisdom of her research, of workshop participants and of her own practice, into simple steps for self -care.  Some of her suggestions are discussed in this blog post.

Self-care in everyday life

Renée asserts that self-care is “not about self-improvement or self-indulgence” but “meeting yourself where you are” at the moment by “pausing, tuning in and asking, What do I need ?”.  It entails having the courage to break out of the expectation bind that locks you into unhealthy pursuits and giving yourself “what you most need” at the time.  So, for Renée, self-care is a moment by moment endeavour, not a ritualised practice developed by someone who is peddling self-care products. Renée is the author of two books including Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday LifeIn her books, blog, workshops and presentations, she offers many simple steps for self-care that you can undertake at any time in the midst of everyday life.  Some of her suggestions include the following:

  • Monitoring your self-talk: we often talk harshly to ourselves when we make a mistake or fail to realise an outcome.  We can denigrate ourselves in an uncaring and unkind way.  Negative self-talk includes the harsh tone of voice we use when we speak to ourselves about our shortfalls.  Renée maintains that we would not talk like that to a 3-year old child.  She suggests having a picture of yourself when you were between the ages of 3-5 years and think about how you would talk to your young self in the picture.  Being conscious of our inner dialogue is very important for self-care – kindness begins at home!   Self-care includes not putting yourself down.
  • Cultivating a desired way of showing up: Renée alluded to Michael Phelps’ rigorous routine before starting a swimming race at the Olympics.  His established routine included eating a set breakfast, stretching, mix-style swimming and listening to music – all designed to enable him to show up for his race in his very best condition and frame of mind.  Renée suggests that you could establish a morning routine so that you can “cultivate a state of being to show up the way you want to” – in other words, having the presence of mind, focus and calmness to be the best you can be for your day’s endeavours.  Your routine may entail mindfulness practices such as yoga, Tai Chi, meditation or mindful walking.  Whatever you choose needs to be practised consistently to achieve the desired benefits. Interestingly, I have adopted the practice of Tai Chi as a preparation routine before I play social tennis so that I show up in the right frame of mind and with my body and mind attuned to concentration, bending, balance and conscious breathing.
  • Starting your day intentionally: forming a clear intention for the day can shape your words and actions and have very positive effects on your outcomes.  The catalyst for this intention-shaping can be a prayer, inspirational reading, mindfulness practice or gratitude journalling (so you turn up from a place of appreciation).  The practice of intention-shaping can extend to your work by forming a clear intention before a meeting – How do I want to show up for this meeting?; Should I go out of my way to include a team member who always seems excluded?; Can I relate to the person I tend to ignore?; Can I consciously practice active listening during the meeting?.
  • Giving and receiving morning hugs: Renée also suggests that giving and receiving hugs in the morning with your partner, other family members or your favourite pet, can have a very positive benefit for your wellbeing.  This tends to reaffirm to yourself that you are lovable and loving.  The hugs with family members can be accompanied by words of endearment, encouragement or well-wishes for the forthcoming day.
  • Early morning body scan: Renée indicated that she undertakes a body scan before getting out of bed of a morning.  A body scan enables you to locate points of tension in the body and release them through consciously paying attention to them.  The process increases body awareness by identifying how your body is manifesting any felt stress or challenge.  This practice can enable you to start the day in a state of calm rather than being uptight from anticipatory stress.
  • In-the-moment journalling:  Renée describes this as “quickie journalling”.  The idea is to tap into your feelings, needs and wants at any moment of time, particularly if you are feeling stressed, out of balance or upset.  She suggests that you ask yourself the following three questions to get you going with your self-insight journalling and then choose one thing to work with:
  • How do I feel?
  • What do I need?
  • What do I want?
  • Really listen to your body:  You may often notice when other people are stressed when they sigh, loudly exclaim something like “Damn!” or throw something down heavily on the desk.  But how often do you monitor your own bodily signs of stress?  Renée encourages you to really “listen to your body”.  She stated that sighing is a signal for her to attend to her needs to de-stress and recover her calmness.
  • Monthly intention: At the start of each month, Renée reviews her physical, emotional and spiritual needs at the time to identify one simple thing to do for the month to act out of self-care.  The process involves tuning into yourself and identifying “what is calling you to do” for your own self-care. One of her decisions was “to do less” which resulted in an “expanse of unscheduled time” and more time for self-care.
  • Personal Planning Retreat: Every 90 days, Renée takes a full 9 to 5 day to step away, move to a different environment and identify what is draining her.  She offers hints on how to undertake such a personal retreat in a place that you find inspiring and energising.

Reflection

It is so easy to be captured by the to-do list, work and family pressures and the social “shoulds”.  Taking time out for self-care is essential for our wellbeing.  As Renée points out, the way forward does not require big steps or expensive options, but simple steps for personal self-care, taken in the moment.

A nutritionist recently advised a member of our family that they are not digesting their food properly and need to chew each mouthful of solid food up to 30 times to aid digestion.  I have started to adopt this practice as a form of mindful eating and nutritional self-care. I’m finding I am more conscious of the different textures and flavours of the food I eat when I adopt this practice.

As we grow in mindfulness through consciously exploring self-care we can enrich our self-awareness, expand our response options, regulate our stress and emotions and increase our calm, confidence and courage.

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Image by Frauke Riether 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 and Training in Compassion

The Science and Wisdom of Emotions Summit conducted online from 2-5 May 2021 provided access to 30 of the world’s experts in the areas of compassion, mental health, well-being, wisdom, neuroscience, emotional intelligence and trauma counselling.  Access to the full recordings and transcripts are thoughtfully provided on a sliding scale, generosity-based pricing structure – with all levels of purchase receiving the full package together with the gift of free access for a friend, colleague, or family member.

There was so much covered in the Summit that is relevant to mindfulness.  However, in this post I want to look at compassion from the perspective offered by a one of the presenters.

Research into developing compassion

I have mentioned earlier in this blog the work of Richard Richardson and Daniel Goleman, authors of Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, whose review of research studies confirmed that compassion meditation developed the traits of kindness and compassion.  In the Summit, Dr. Sona Dimidjian, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, shared her own research work on the development of compassion. 

Sona had been concerned about the lack of research into the transfer of compassion training to the practice of compassion in daily life and set about establishing a participative research project to find out what works and for whom.  She was particularly interested, especially in our current environment of racialism and inequity, to establish what are the “barriers and facilitators” of bringing compassion into everyday life.

Fundamental to Sona’s approach, was engaging participants in her research in every phase of the research process – formulating questions, deciding the methodology and collaboratively undertaking the research.  She involved educators, young people and those experiencing mental health issues.  One such collaborative study led to the conclusion that brief compassion training (20 minutes a day compassion meditation practice) increased participants compassion while daily exposure to images of people suffering actually led to a decline in compassion.

One unexpected result from the study was that teachers, one of the core groups that Sona sought to help, became particularly concerned about the impact of their daily exposure to the suffering of their students and their parents.  The teachers indicated that they lacked training in self-care and care for their student children and yet they aspired to be kind and compassionate.   

This concern of the teachers led to another collaborative research project with educators to co-design a course in compassion that would lead to compassionate action on the part of the teachers.  The resultant program, Masters in Teacher Leadership, is available through Colorado University and incorporates a Certificate level component on Cultivating Compassion and Dignity in Ourselves and Our Schools.  Sona’s hope is that teachers become true models of compassion while teaching their students to be compassionate.

Compassion and dignity

While the abovementioned course incorporates self-compassion, fundamental to the content and approach is the recognition that compassion involves “honouring dignity within each other” – recognising the dignity of each person, irrespective of their race, religion, skin colour, gender (or identification as non-binary or non-gendered), sexual preference, culture or country of origin.  Compassion is inclusive and non-discriminatory.  It actively works against the prevailing ethos, created through “systematic conditioning”, that fails to see our common humanity and connectedness.

Compassion involves deep listening and the capacity to hear the perspective of another while seeking to understand and value the learning and diverse experiences of other people.  It involves curiosity blended with tenderness and caring.  Compassion training through mindfulness incorporates “mental training’ (involving both thinking and emotional elements) and serves to preclude reactive responses to those who are suffering (which Sona points out sometimes aggravates the suffering of others through a lack of understanding).  The mindfulness training involved in compassion training, on the other hand, enables the participant to “act more skilfully” and take compassionate action in their day-to-day interactions.

Compassion involves “seeing one another in our fullness”, in all our diversity and complexity.  Surprisingly, Sona found that the digital world, accessed through programs like Zoom, enables participants to have greater access to each other’s life – you get to see the bookshelves, dogs coming in and out of a room, children demanding attention or partners moving about undertaking their daily activities, the room layout and house surrounds (in some cases).  Sona points out that this is a much richer perspective than the perception of a person created by the role that they occupy – you get to see and engage differently through a more complete perception of a person in their natural environment.

Reflection

Reading something of Sona’s clinical research history and work on the ground with educators, new mothers and expectant mothers and youth experiencing mental health issues, you begin to appreciate that her life and work epitomises compassion-in-action.  In fact, one of her personal goals is to strengthen her own mindfulness practices to enable her to pursue compassion in her own life by avoiding the interference of her own biases and living with integrity and congruity with the compassionate values that she promotes.  Sona generously shares her research and insights through her Mind & Life Podcast.

Sona’s life and dedication pursued in a spirit of humility, openness and curiosity provides an exemplar for how we could pursue compassion through our own life and work and daily interactions with others.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop the insight and commitment to enhance our deep listening skills and build the courage to take compassionate action in a skilful way.

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Image by Juanita Foucault 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.

Cultivating Kindness through Meditation

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

Meditation as kindness to our self

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

Meditation as kindness to others

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

Guided meditation on kindness

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

Reflection

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

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Image by Kirill Lyadvinsky from Pixabay

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

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

Befriending Yourself and Others through Mindfulness

Allyson Pimentel in a recent MARC weekly podcast spoke about the power of meditation to enable us to befriend ourselves and others.  Her guided meditation is titled, Meditation as a Path of Friendship.   The meditation does not focus on self-improvement per se but on how to improve our relationship with ourselves, a relationship which impacts on our interactions with others.  If we are down on ourselves, for instance, it is difficult to be open and accepting of others.  When we are not at ease with ourselves, it is easy to be envious of others and resentful towards them.

Befriending yourself in meditation

Being kind to yourself in meditation begins with such simple things as ensuring that you adopt a comfortable position during the meditation, whether lying down, sitting, or standing.  It also involves undertaking a body scan to identify tense points in your body and to relax them.

Allyson suggests that you begin initially with a slow deep breath to help relax your body and open yourself to relaxing breath meditation.  This form of meditation entails focusing on your in-breath and your out-breath without any attempt to control them – just letting them be, while observing how they feel in your body with the rise and fall of your abdomen or chest or the smooth passage of air in your nose.  It involves appreciating that no matter what is going on around you or where you are, your breathing-on-auto is keeping you alive.

Jon Kabat-Zinn stresses the need to be non-judgmental when we are purposely in the present moment while meditating.  He suggests that self-acceptance begins with acknowledging that as human beings, we are constantly engaged in thinking – whether planning, analysing, criticising, judging, or evaluating.  The act of thinking is perfectly human, and we can befriend ourselves by accepting that we will have distracting thoughts when we are trying to focus during meditation.  However, by constantly returning to our meditation focus, our anchor, we can progressively build up our attention muscle. 

This refocusing requires us to notice that we are planning or evaluating, to name what is happening (“I’m evaluating again”) and to observe our thoughts as passing clouds, not entertaining them or dwelling on them.  This simple process of refocusing (that is hard to do) is a way to befriend ourselves through self-acceptance, to value ourselves enough to want to increase our capacity to pay attention and concentrate (to activate our highest potential) and to free ourselves from negative self-judgment.

Allyson suggests that you can befriend yourself by choosing an anchor that is comfortable for you and that does not trigger any negative physical or emotional reactions.  Each one of us has our own preference for an anchor – whether it is our breathing; sounds within our room or externally; or some form of bodily sensation such as the sensation of warmth and tingling as our fingers are touching or the feeling of being supported as our feet are firmly on the ground or floor.

Our anchor helps us to develop the capacity to be in the present moment, appreciate what is good in our life and grow in mindfulness – being increasingly self-aware, better able to manage our difficult emotions, becoming more patient and tolerant, and learning to accept what is.  As we develop self-forgiveness and self-care, we can experience ease and tranquillity and become more sensitive to the needs of others.

Befriending others

The more we can befriend ourselves through meditation, the better we are able to befriend others.  We will be more aware of our own limitations and more accepting of those of other people, better able to control our reactions to the words and actions of others, more willing to listen and build relationships and more able to find joy in the achievement of others (rather than envy).

Through meditation we develop a deeper sense of our connectedness, of our common humanity.  We also begin to appreciate the importance of connectedness for our mental health and wellbeing, as well as for that of others.  We can see in others what we value in ourselves – including our common appreciation of nature and all it has to offer for our well-being. 

Reflection

As we develop self-compassion, our compassion for others also grows and we become more willing to take compassionate action, including deep listening in times of another’s need.  Self-understanding and self-acceptance, developed through meditation and other mindfulness practices, are foundational to befriending ourselves and others.

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Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay

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

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

Self-Forgiveness and Self-Care for Health and Happiness

There is a growing consensus around what we need for self-healing and this convergence is supported by neuroscience and scientific research into the process of aging.  In a recent HEAL Summit, international holistic health expert Danette May presented her insights gained through her traumatic life experiences and her journey to international success – a journey she has mapped through her book, The Rise: An Unforgettable Journey of Self-Love, Forgiveness and Transformation.

The HEAL Summit is produced by Hay House and the free presentations and resources are offered over one week by more than 30 experts in holistic health.  The presentation by Danette May covered the topic, Self-Love Rituals to be Happier and Healthier Now.  Her recipe for success in life involves healing foods, healing movements and a healing mindset.  Fundamentally, it entails self-love expressed through self-caring activities undertaken regularly to achieve wellness.

The rise from depression

Danette suffered severe depression and grief following her failed marriage and the death of her infant son.  Her story is one of achieving transformation in mind, body, and heart.  She became a best-selling author, leading expert in developing a healthy lifestyle, creator of a highly successful international business and a significant influencer through her social media presence and speaker engagements.  She was featured in the life-affirming documentary, WeRiseUP, which exhorts people to connect and take action to make a difference in their sphere of influence, whether in education, work, or the community.  Danette’s suggested approach represents an integrated, holistic way to achieve self-healing.

Healing foods

One of the world’s leading experts on aging and healthy living, David Sinclair, who is author of Lifespan, confirms through his research and that of his colleagues that what we eat, as well as how much we eat, has a major influence on our quality of life and longevity.  Danette contends that if we remove certain foods from our diet and include other more beneficial foods, the “wiring in our brain will change”.

Danette’s recommendations re healing foods include the following things to avoid:

  1. White sugar – because of its toxicity for mind and body.
  2. Gluten – causes inflammation in the whole-body system, including the brain (individuals may have more visible symptoms than others from these inflammatory effects, e.g., skin problems, headaches and/or digestive issues).
  3. Oils such as canola or vegetable oils (olive oil is widely recommended as a substitute).

Her recommendations re what to eat include:

  1. Avocados – identified by the Mayo Clinic as the superfood of the month.
  2. Blueberries
  3. Leafy green vegetables
  4. Fish
  5. Nuts

It is interesting that these latter foods are among the 10 superfoods identified by the Harvard Medical School as sources of a healthy diet.  Danette elaborates on her healing foods recommendations in her abovementioned book.  She has also published another book focused on recipes that are gluten-free and vegan friendly and provide a welcome resource for those who are trying to move away from mainstream consumption to a more healthy diet. In essence, she encourages us to be more mindful of what we eat and knowledgeable about its effects on our body and mind.

Healing movements

Danette identified inertia as one of the problems associated with depression and grief.  She strongly encourages movement particularly walking and maintains that movement is the quickest way to change your mental state.  Walking releases emotions and assists clarity in your thinking.  Danette especially advocates walking bare feet in nature as this enables you to become grounded. 

Healing mindset

Neuroscience research supports the view that positive thinking leads to better health outcomes, both bodily and mentally.  In line with her philosophy of small movements towards a goal, Danette recommends the use of personally appropriate affirmations for thirty seconds to one minute, at least each day.  Affirmations reinforce what is good in ourselves and helps to supplant “unconscious negative beliefs”.  What we focus on mentally becomes our new reality, our new mindset and perspective on the world.

Daily rituals of self-love and self-care

Danette suggested a wide range of daily practices that if maintained can create a ritual – a regular practice of a particular group of activities .  Here are some of them:

  1. Spend time in nature
  2. Write a gratitude journal   – writing can release self-limiting beliefs/negative self-stories, increase our self-awareness, and build a positive outlook through appreciating what we have.  You can reflect on where you are with your partner, family, career, life purpose or finances and appreciate the positive influences and influencers in your life.
  3. Eat something green and leafy
  4. Practise meditation, however briefly – even, for example, taking a few mindful, deep breaths.
  5. Read inspiring success stories that provide the motivation to realise, and exercise, your own power to make a difference in your arena of influence.
  6. Walk for health and wellness.

Overcoming procrastination

We can be full of good intentions to develop a daily ritual or to undertake something significant.  If we delay through procrastination, we enable our negatively biased brain to think up all the reasons why we should not proceed.  Danette suggests that we have 17 seconds to take action before our self-sabotaging thoughts take over.  Like Seth Godin, she suggests that you start small – begin with some step towards your goal, however small.

Self-forgiveness and forgiving others

Anger and resentment over our sense of personal hurt by another can only consume us and damage us physically, mentally, and emotionally – we can experience physical pain, unhealthy self-absorption, and emotional stunting.  Danette suggests that self-forgiveness and forgiving others is like “cutting the rope” – releasing yourself from negative emotions that hold you back.  She herself had developed a daily ritual of saying, “I forgive you, I love you”, to overcome her resentment towards her former partner – the process took five years!  Louise Hay offers a very pertinent affirmation for forgiveness, “As I forgive myself, it becomes easier to forgive others”.

Professional support

Sometimes our self-sabotaging behaviour becomes entrenched and difficult to shift.  It is times like these that professional help can provide the impetus to move forward.  Danette provides a range of services to assist anyone to make the necessary shift to achieve overall wellness and happiness:

  1. 3-day emotional detox – to work with people where they are currently at.
  2. 30 days challenge
  3. 6 weeks premium coaching to identify self-sabotaging behaviour, develop a positive mindset and take the first steps towards personal recovery and making a difference in the world.

Reflection

There can be a lot of things and experiences holding us back from realising our true potential.  The starting point is awareness – followed by deciding what we want to be different in our lives.  Daily rituals including meditation can help us to move forward and actively engage with what is holding us back.  As we grow in mindfulness through our rituals and daily mindfulness practices, we can develop profound self-awareness, a strong motivation to make a shift and the courage and creativity to realise our life purpose.

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Image by dae jeung kim 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.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Disconnection from the Present Location

One of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease that is not often spoken about is “disorientation” – an “altered mental state” where the sufferer loses track of their identity and location and/or the time and date.   Disorientation can have multiple causes but with Alzheimer’s sufferers it can be part of the confusion arising from “abnormalities in the brain structure or functioning”. 

Disorientation in layman’s language is about making associations amongst events, time and location that do not exist in reality, but only in the brain of the Alzheimer’s sufferer.  It is as if neural pathways that usually connect data, information and emotions become cross-wired or mixed up so that unassociated events become wrongly associated.  The Alzheimer’s sufferer, for example, may hear something mentioned in conversation (e.g., a past event, location, or time) and relate that to the present moment as if it was real now.  

Being exposed to this disorientation by an Alzheimer’s sufferer makes you appreciate the wonder of the brain when it is functioning properly – the ability to make order and sense of millions of stimuli and associations in the passage of everyday life.  We take so much of this for granted and exposure to Alzheimer’s disorientation reminds you that you really do need to “mind your brain”.

Impact of disorientation on the Alzheimer’s sufferer

There really is not enough space to traverse the full extent of the impact of disorientation on the Alzheimer’s sufferer.  Suffice it to say that the disorientation can be very disturbing for the individual involved.  They may be firmly convinced about what they are thinking and experiencing as reality and become upset when others contradict them.  They may start to lose confidence in their ability to understand what is going on.  This can lead to increasing anger, frustration, and hostility.  Poet, Mark Doty, in his poem, This Your Home Now,  reminds us how unsettling the “loss of the familiar” can be even when the loss relates to something as simple as the routine of visiting a familiar barbershop.  There can be a real sense of grief associated with disorientation.

People like Professor Deborah Reed-Danahay have made a lifetime study of what identity and “home” mean to an individual and their capacity to become grounded and at peace.  Her ethnographic study of the concept of “home” for Alzheimer’s sufferers reinforces the influence of context and continuity to enable a person to transfer the concept of “home” from their normal place of living to that of a nursing home.  She discusses an individual in a nursing home who is constantly asking for her car to go “home”.  The Alzheimer’s sufferer may confuse previous homes with their existing location and may constantly ask for someone to give them “a lift home” – sometimes, resulting in a well-meaning visitor to a nursing home inappropriately offering them a lift.

Confusion about time and place can be compounded by recent events and newspaper reports.  Stories can be mixed up in terms of time and place and people affected, e.g., stories about beach accidents can be wrongly associated with close relatives.   Even the presence of a dementia clock can be a source of confusion – an easy-to-read clock designed to overcome confusion about time and date can be misinterpreted as a medication schedule (possibly precipitating unintentional overdose of medications).

Impact on the carer

When a person is caring for an Alzheimer’s sufferer, they can experience the sufferer’s disorientation as deeply disturbing and a constant source of disruption and agitation.  The Alzheimer’s sufferer may constantly ring them with misinformation about their location or what is happening around them.  They may imagine that they are someplace else other than the aged-care facility, and seek a lift to return “home”.  They could ring up frantically seeking assistance with lost young children (a situation that is a total figment of their imagination).  However, negative emotions are contagious, no matter how much you tell yourself that the situation described by the Alzheimer’s sufferer does not exist.

What also makes it very difficult for the carer is the constant change in the condition of the Alzheimer’s sufferer.  They may be incredibly lucid at one moment and in touch with current events and, in the next moment or day, be totally confused about events, location and timing.  They may have a very clear recollection about some past event or location and yet be unable to remember what they said a few moments previously.  The impact of this constant change and confusion can itself be disorientating for the carer.

The carer needs to develop endless patience and tolerance while maintaining self-care practices so that they are able to continue to provide effective support and help to the Alzheimer’s sufferer.

Reflection

The experience of the disorientation of an Alzheimer’s sufferer really makes us appreciate what our brain actually does for us on a moment-by-moment basis as we take in millions of stimuli and sensations.  It makes us appreciate our brain and motivates us to want to properly care for it through mindfulness practice and avoiding obsession with the news and social media.  It also reinforces the need for a carer to consciously strive for effective self-care.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can progressively become more self-aware and be really grateful for the functioning of our brains whether at work or home or when participating in sports.  Mindfulness becomes a way of being really grounded in the present moment, of finding a refuge that provides calm and tranquility amongst the turbulence of daily life.

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Image by Muhamad Suhkry Abbas from Pixabay

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

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

Self-Care for Mental Health Professionals

In his book, Trauma Informed-Mindfulness With Teens, Sam Himelstein stresses the need for self-care for mental health professionals dealing with traumatised teens.   His final chapter is devoted to self-care and professional practice.  Dr. Cirecie West-Olatunji, counsellor educator,  also stresses the need for self-care for professionals working with people experiencing traumatic stress.  Her video presentation is available as part of the courses provided by the Mental Health Academy.   Both experts in the area of counselling for trauma highlight the impact of vicarious trauma, especially the risk of mental health professionals experiencing compassion fatigue.

Mindfulness for self-care

Sam himself experienced trauma in his early 20s when he lost his sister through suicide. He makes the point that most health professionals will have experienced trauma of some kind and that this experience leaves them open to triggering their own traumatic response through exposure to the trauma stories of other people.  Cirecie highlights the fact that the trauma stimulus can be exacerbated where the professional has previously experienced combined or cumulative trauma. 

Sam emphasises the role of mindfulness in helping the professional to deal with their own re-traumatisation as a result of interaction with others and their emotionally draining stories.  He stresses the role of a personal mindfulness practice in helping him deal with the trauma of his sister’s suicide.

Sam  suggests that a personal approach to mindfulness as a protective mechanism could involve the following:

  • Silent retreat(s): Sam found these exceedingly helpful because they enable you to fully experience your emotions, gain a deep insight into your inner landscape and develop strategies to maintain or regain your equilibrium.
  • Formal practice: this entails inculcating a regular mindfulness practice (either sitting, standing, or walking) where you engage in some form of formal meditation.  This helps to build your concentration to enable deep listening, empathetic response, and the ability to promote wise action.  It also assists you to deal with your own difficult emotions (such as anger, resentment, or frustration), challenge self-defeating narratives and develop resilience in the face of challenging interactions.
  • Beyond meditation: Sam suggests that bringing mindfulness into your everyday life (in daily activities such as walking, washing clothes, eating, shopping), is effectively “mindfulness-in-action”.  It is particularly relevant to your relationships and interactions with others, especially in times of conflict.  One way to develop the necessary calmness and equanimity in the face of emotional challenges is to practice reflection-on-action to eventually cultivate the capacity to reflect-in-action, in the course of something adverse happening to you (whether that adversity is real or imagined).  Sam stresses the importance of daily mindfulness practices in controlling the “ego” which can get out of hand when  it perceives a threat (physical, emotional, or intellectual).

Professional development

Both Sam and Cirecie stress the importance of professional development to build competence and confidence to enable you to operate effectively within your chosen arena of professional practice.  For Sam this is the arena of traumatised youth, especially those who have been incarcerated.  He offers specialised training for health professionals through his Center for Adolescent Studies.  Cirecie’s professional arena includes trauma stress service delivery and training professionals who provide counselling in different countries following disasters such as earthquakes and pandemics.  She conducts research and training through her Xula Center for Traumatic Stress Research.

Cirecie stresses the need to gain control over your workload and, where necessary, seek to negotiate a lighter load (for your psychological welfare and that of your clients).  She maintains that every mental health professional, irrespective of their level of experience and training, has their window of tolerance beyond which they are unable to function effectively.  She gave an example of how a racist client triggered her and how  her experience in working in South Africa with a community where people were consistently dying from AIDS took her outside her window of tolerance and led to a severe illness.  In both cases, she sought professional counselling and recommends this form of professional development for other mental health professionals.

Cirecie highlights the importance of self-knowledge and self-awareness as critical factors in professional counselling, particularly understanding your own negative triggers.  She encourages too the development of your own professional support network that you can draw on for knowledge, experience, resources, and emotional support.  

In Cirecie’s view, personal and professional development extends to conscious awareness of the physical and psychological health risks inherent in the role of a mental health professional.  She urges appropriate preparation for the role through education which will provide motivation for health self-care (e.g., exercise, stretching (to release physical tension), diet, and drinking water).

Reflection

There are many reasons why mental health professionals do not undertake adequate self-care.  When working with clients who have suffered trauma or are currently experiencing trauma, it is critical that the health professional takes time for self-care to enable them to function at their best for the sake of their clients, as well as for their own welfare.  Mindfulness practice is recognised as a key component of this necessary self-care.  As mental health professionals grow in mindfulness, they are better able to identify personal triggers, develop resilience for their challenging work and build the capacity to engage in deep listening.  However, mindfulness practice needs to be supported by an appropriate lifestyle. 

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Image by Vanessa Kenah 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.