Pillars of Purpose Series – Stillness

Pillars of Purpose Series – Stillness

The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.

‘Purpose’ is defined as the reason something is done or created, or for which something/someone exists. The ultimate purpose, the purpose for human life itself, has been the subject of enquiry down the millennia. Modern-day individualistic schisms and behaviours put us at distance from the equally commonly held belief that everything and everyone is connected. Within that, most people still adhere to the idea that purpose is attached to the character and call of God, the Creator, and follow a path of enquiry, belief, faith system, or set of principles and values, to hold the boundaries of our lives.

The following are a sample of sayings and directions handed down about the importance of stillness for our well-being.

“Be still and know that I am God’ Psalm 46:10 The Christian Bible.

“To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher and founder of philosophical Taoism

“Listen to the silence. The scriptures declare that our fundamental error is wrong identification. It means, so to speak, that we have left the silence and been caught up in the noise”. Hindu Swami Atmaswarupananda

“My heart is tuned to the quietness that the stillness of nature inspires” Sufi philosopher Inayat Khan”

“The soul has been given its own ears to hear things the mind does not understand.” Poet and Islamic Scholar, Rumi.

No matter what the faith system – or lack of it – purpose offers meaning and direction in life and can shape our character and direct our actions as we live.

So how do we achieve the silence and stillness necessary for the revelation and nourishment of that purpose?

First, be still.

Silence is the Mother of the Spirit, a warm place in the heart, a place of clarity and insight. Silence protects us, and prepares us to hear beyond our own noisy selves. The stillness derived from silence opens us to the possibility of having a purpose driven life.  

As silence is the absence of sound, so stillness is the absence of movement. To still the mind is not to be absent from it, but fully present to it. If we are present to mind rather than the thoughts that continually arise and pass away through it, a sense of deep stillness of being can be achieved. A stillness of being that fully encompasses the moment-by-moment experiences of the mind and body, but without being caught up in it.

From the standpoint of mindfulness, this state is recognised as being aware.

For all faiths and beliefs, the nature and practice of a life of purpose can often be revealed by being still and allowing awareness from within and without; hence stillness is a pillar upholding purpose.

How will you find stillness today? How will you find the silence in which to heal and restore your connection to self, to the Creator, and to transcend and transform life itself?


AL
Mindful  meditations and contemplations here …

Firm Focus, Soft Gaze

Firm Focus, Soft Gaze

Ways of developing a firm focus, and soft gaze.

In Vipassana meditation, we open ourselves in a wide awareness of senses, with a soft mental gaze that allows us to notice whatever is happening. If something catches our attention, we then turn toward whatever it is – thought, sound, sensation, emotion and, with gentle curiosity, investigate it.

With the soft gaze of vipassana meditation a special vulnerability and openness develops that facilitates insight, acceptance, and compassion.

In a meditation that has a firm focus, for example a specific focus on the breath or sounds, when something else catches our attention, we note/acknowledge it, then allow whatever it is to fall into the background of our attention, allowing our focus to remain firm on the chosen object.

A focused meditation helps develop resilience, fortitude, and builds a form of mental clarity.

Recently speaking to someone in the throes of fear, I wondered which way they would choose to go, softly opening to it, or acknowledging it and gently but firmly letting it go.

Both ways of working with fear, or whatever else arises, are open to us all the time, the trick is to start at the same point, acknowledgement of what is present in you.

In our busy everyday life if something has triggered a negative thinking pattern or emotional reaction, we are operating on autopilot or under the motivations of the amygdala.

But, if we can learn to be aware of when our thinking changes, or our emotions rise, the very act of noticing, of acknowledgement is enough to bring the pre frontal cortex into play allowing the ability to consciously think and choose which direction to go.

There are many books and meditations available to help develop both the clarity of firm focus and the insight of soft gaze, including how to navigate challenging emotions and re wire mental patterns as you begin to uncover your unique triggers and motivations.

Right now is always a good time to start – so why not check out our awareness and working with challenging emotions meditations  in Health and Well-Being.

AL

 

Hope

Hope

Hope can sometimes challenge us – can we, will we, accept hope in times of despair?

How do we manage the unmanageable, that thing, person, or circumstance that gives rise to emotional exhaustion and hopelessness?

To be without hope is to be without optimism, expectation, or desire for the possibility of something more, something better.

There are many conditions and situations that can lead to a sense of hopelessness – mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, disorders such as bipolar and schizophrenia, substance addiction, PTSD, a history of abuse, ill-health, the list goes on.

So called normal behaviours, such as negative attitude, reactivity from underlying stress – blaming others, anger, threats – emotional manipulation, acceptance of verbal disparagement or abuse arising from an underlying sense of not being good enough, being challenged by a crisis of relationship, health, or faith, can also all lead to a diminishment of hope.

Often at these times we ask the unanswerable question ‘why? – why is this happening to me?’

The circumstances and challenges of life are often not personal, they are simply a condition of living, of being alive. No one is promised a life of happiness, we all know that in life we will experience times of unhappiness, a time when we, or someone close to us, will become ill, be in a situation, or develop a condition, that makes living testing.

We also all know that no matter how much we pay attention and look after ourselves, our hair, skin, clothes, and try our best to eat a healthy diet and exercise, we are still all going to depart this life, and lose it.

So how to think about this sense of hopelessness that can arise from living life. It begins in the mind. Our brains run on cycles or patterns of thoughts, as do our emotions and the associated behaviours we enact at these times. Without something to change or break the cycle, it will continue through to its end. Without options to intercept, giving the possibility of something else to take place, we are doomed to continuously repeat the cycle that can lead to hopelessness or despair.

In these times it’s important to recognise that your perception is not necessarily the reality.

Your thoughts can be distorted and inaccurate. Becoming more aware of your thoughts rather than engaging in the usual cycle, can help you identify the patterns, and with practice, the mental and emotional triggers that start the cycle off.

Here are some other things to try if you are feeling a lack of hope:

• Challenge your inner belief, and argue the opposite
• Instead of asking yourself ‘why?’ ask ‘what?’ – what can I do?
• Problem solve your situation, either to change how you feel about it or to solve it
• Develop and plan – then take the first step on it
• Talk to a trusted person or a therapist
• Consider faith.

Faith is a wonderful antidote to hopelessness.

The benefits of religion to mental health are known and are consistent across age, race, gender, nationality, and socioeconomic status. Human beings through the ages have constantly sought things to deify. There is a great comfort in knowing that everything is not just up to you, you don’t have to, nor can you, control life, that when you are fearful or call for help someone is there – you are not alone.

Spirituality and faith are a mystery, a mystery imbued with hope.

Movement is also a practical and potent way to help free up the feeling of being ‘stuck’ that can lead to hopelessness. Taking up the practice of Tai Chi or Yoga can help free up fixed mental structures/patterns. By creating more fluidity in your space, an openess of mind can occur more easily. 

The Ability Life website exists to offer encouragement toward a deeper inquiry into the mystery of life and to nourish well-being. Thanks to neuroscience, eudaimonic well-being has been proved to have a positive and healing effect on human genomes. Greek philosopher Aristotle spoke of eudaimonic well-being as ‘central to reasoning, happiness and a rich fulfilling life’, and ‘a start point for thinking about the nature and purpose of human life, its virtue and its ultimate fulfilment’. It is our hope you will find our blogs, contemplations, and mindful meditations beneficial to yours.

AL

Note: This information is a helpful guide only and not as a replacement for seeking professional advice and assistance.

Coping with Death and Loss

Coping with Death and Loss

Death is inevitable.

There are nearly 8 billion people on the planet at this time and every one will meet an ending of this life be they old or young, sick, or healthy. No one knows how long their span here will be, for hundreds of thousands every day their time is up now, and one day it will be your turn.

This is a reality of life.

We live in an impermanent world and, depending on your belief system, it’s a world that is a part of your journey in life, rather than the end of it.

Humans are hard wired to change and change is a natural process. However, grief is one of the changes in life that can be incredibly hard to navigate and adopt.

We can read articles about how normal change such as death and loss is – even as we read this we are losing cells in our body as they continually die and regenerate – and we can read about the planets cycles of nature, all of which demonstrate the impermance of life. But we also know that changes such as endings or new beginnings are usually accompanied by some level of anxiety or pain. Whether it is a change of house or job or the loss of a friendship or a loved one, pain can be felt.

The pain of grief or loss can be accompanied by an intense, and sometimes devastating, sorrow that can be challenging to be with mindfully. It can also cause our systems to become overwhelmed and go into a protective shock that effectively shuts us down until it can process what’s happening.

The effects of shock can last for days or months and still be in process years after.

Suffering grief affects the body, it can increase inflammation and blood pressure, dampen our immune system, our appetite, and rob us of our energy. The disruption to our chemical and hormonal balance can increase fatigue yet affect our ability to sleep properly. These symptoms are all ‘normal’ bodily responses to the process of grieving.

As with any trauma or issue that stops or hinders our internal processes, it may need remedial action to get things moving again.

One of the best ways to begin coping with death and loss is to accept and allow this grief process and, as much as possible, to be with it and let it happen.

By owning and allowing our feelings of grief to flow through us we can open to and move on with the process which, like any other process that passes through the body, goes through stages until its complete.

Knowing something is quite different to processing it. I remember seeing a recipe that looked delicious, knowing the ingredients and what it would taste like, my mouth watered as I imagined eating it and my digestive system responded. As real as it felt reading about it however, I was missing out completely on the experience of engaging in eating and digesting and benefiting from the physical and emotional process.

We are processing machines in that we are designed to process our food, our thoughts, and our emotions by being with them, experiencing them. My senses and mind missed out on smelling, tasting, touching, feeling, savouring, thinking and feeling the satisfaction of being replete. My system missed out on digesting, processing and most importantly retaining the nutrients needed for a healthy body, before getting rid of what’s not required.

Emotional process is just as vital, as is taking things as slowly as necessary, in your time. We gradually begin to move out of shock and into gentle action, spending time as we move through and be with our thoughts and emotions as the stages of grief pass through. Being careful to not shut out or avoid our feelings of grief to lessen the risk of placing blockages in our being that will, eventually, either need to be processed or cause problems later.

Gentle and compassionate awareness of this process, awareness that encompasses the body, the emotion, and the mind in these times, is a strong feature of healing and continuance.

With the right effort the grief process will allow you to retain the essence, the bits wanted and needed to aid your eventual recovery and well-being into the future.

This usage of emotional ability and skill to be present is there for us to use when needed, and yet, just like any other skill, learning to be proficient with it takes time.

Emotional ability is enhanced and enriched with awareness and is a critical part of the ability to cope when facing death or loss. In practising awareness with self- compassion, we can often reach, recognise, and accept the ultimate feelings underneath our grief. This is the key to release of any blockage and the natural flow of the grief process.

As you progress you may find it helpful to notice the way each feeling is expressed in the body – perhaps aches or emptiness in the stomach or a heaviness in the chest – and in time you may notice how your mind is responding to these feelings, perhaps pushing away, or holding on to things as they flow past.

One of the many benefits of mindfulness meditation is the ability of the breath to be an anchor for our attention as we gaze deeply into the process of death or loss. Our thoughts and actions in this time of suffering can make our lives miserable or help us shape our future. When we can reach awareness and acceptance of the ongoing changes in life around us, we can find the gratitude and resilience to become reconnected to our own life journey, held safe in the trust that we have been made for it.

For now, to help cope with the grief of death or loss, or any other challenges in life, access Awareness of Challenging Emotions, Reframe with Rain, and Loving Kindness on our meditations page or, if you prefer to start gently, try a few relaxations or breathing meditations first.

With encouragement
AL

*Note: This article is a complimentary support to the grief process and should not replace reaching out to others or undertaking professional counselling.

Self Compassion

Self Compassion

We are born into a social species, being cooperative and caring for others is hard wired into our DNA. So, it’s not surprising that when we see suffering, sometimes that suffering has caused compassion to rise in us for others. And when our hearts are touched by suffering, we often do what we can to alleviate it.

But what if it’s US that’s suffering?

And what if, because we are not aware of this suffering, we respond in an unthinking way with emotive feelings of guilt, frustration, self-criticism, anger, or sadness? or perhaps we ‘self-medicate’ with potential health threatening and destructive habits…

So how can we encourage compassion for ourselves?

Try this: when you become aware of those feelings and your habitual responses in thinking and acting out, pause, take a breath … question yourself – what’s happening here? What’s triggered this reaction?

Take some time and make space in yourself, by using a relaxation technique or simply focusing on the breath for a minute, to be open to whatever is going on.

This easy practice is available to everyone, anytime – to simply BECOME MORE AWARE of what’s happening.
It can be very helpful to use regular awareness practices such as mindfulness to help regain your inner balance, build resilience and encourage insight.

You can also get feedback of your moods and behaviours from someone close to you. There are lots of books and resources to help you discover your personal inner patterns and the hurts and motivations that drive them.

Only by being aware of what’s going on in you can you begin to recognise these repeating behaviours and moods as you experience them when triggered, and you will come to recognise and be aware of the triggers too.

With awareness comes insight, with insight comes understanding, with understanding comes self-compassion.

The wisdom of this ongoing practice cultivates an equanimity that will allow you to be with, to abide with, whatever is going on without habitual reaction.

Applying self-compassion, a gentle acceptance and warm understanding of yourself is an ongoing process that can help you to achieve not just a life of more balance, but a life of well-being and happiness.

Check out our relaxation techniques on our health and well-being meditations HERE
AL

Pause, Reset, Play

Pause, Reset, Play

A simple technique for self regulation.

Anything and everything in life can be stressful, even playing. Whilst there is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ stress, we all know that extended, ongoing stress can become chronic which can be extremely harmful to our body, mind and well-being.

Dr Walter Cannon, who is credited with creating the term ‘fight or flight’ as the ultimate automatic reaction in an extreme stress situation, defines stress as anything that requires us to expend energy to maintain a stable, regulated internal environment.

Hidden stress, stress that is present in our bodies but that we are mainly un-aware of, can affect us adversely at work, and in our children at school. Hidden stress is one of the factors that prevents the energy needed for self-regulation being available. Without self-regulation stress can become exacerbated and, ultimately, chronic.

How then can we help ourselves maintain an internal balanced state? How can we lay down a track toward inner stability and calm?

Bringing mindful awareness into our lives is one. Try this short awareness technique virtually anytime, anywhere and as often as possible to help form a new and useful habit …

  1. PAUSE. Take a moment to stop whatever we are doing, thinking or emoting about; if you can, gently close your eyes. Now breathe deeply, right down into the body; follow the breath with the mind, feeling the sensations in the body as the breath flows in, down, lifting the abdomen and belly, then collapsing as the breath flows out … If you feel to, allowing the outbreaths to flow just a little longer …
  2. RESET. Now, just staying with the breath, but not trying to change it in any way, allowing it to fall into its own natural rhythm, giving time for self-regulation to begin … noticing any thoughts, sounds or sensations and simply letting them go … no irritation, no frustration, just noting and letting go, then gently bringing your attention back to the breath as it flows in and out of the body, moment by moment …
  3. When you are ready, PLAY on …

You can vary or extend the reset by simply allowing your awareness to flow out to the sounds around you; knowing that as sound occurs, hearing happens automatically, no effort or striving needed, just open to hearing sound as it happens, naturally…

If your someone who can’t bear to be still, then try walking, experiencing in a real way the flex and placement of the foot – heal, pad, toe, the shift, balance and movement of the passage of the leg before the flex and placement of the foot again …

Children find finger movements to a piece of gentle music a great way to bring awareness and rebalance, also drawing or defined movement …

See our meditations page for awareness and walking meditations – have fun.
AL