Ageing Gracefully

Ageing Gracefully

Ageing gracefully is so much easier if you are friends with your own body, thinking less about how you look and more about how you feel inside.

However, this is easier said than done, living as we do, within a society that glorifies youth and beauty.

We have entire industries who study and work to stop the signs and stages of the aging process through foods, cosmetics and skin care products, medicines and surgery. This is a response to the culture in which we live, unfortunately one that tends not respect or admire older people, and a society that sidelines and even denigrates them.

The World Health Organisation reports that ageism has a negative impact on physical and mental health, so it’s clearly something we need to address. 

Its said that ageism is experienced by everyone who lives a long enough to suffer it – and it can start very early! Ageism arises because as humans we ‘automatically’ categorise people as same or ‘different to us’ – the other main categories being gender and race. This stereotyping carries with it huge swathes of bias and conditioned responses that limit and effect how we think about and behave toward, those ‘different’ people to ourselves. This can lead to prejudice and outright discrimination.

Ageism is about being at ‘difference’ not only to those younger than the person, but also ‘at difference’ to the beliefs and behaviours of the particular culture we live in. In our case, it is a culture that upholds youth and beauty. 

Is it any wonder then that we all ‘fear’ or resent the perception of being seen as ‘old’?

Yet this has not always been so; historically older people, well older men actually, held positions of authority and stature. This influence was reflected out into the community and respect for the elderly became a society norm. Generally speaking this influence extended into this time through the patriarchal social structure and our legal systems. In the past (and the present for some cultures) women often had no authority or influence except through the male in the family, usually the father or husband.

This too is reflected into recent times in our western culture – for example the Equal Credit Act allowing a woman to open a bank account or obtain credit without the signature of her husband, or another man, only came into existence in 1970’s! Even today, women are often judged, and take or lose power, by the position and/or power of their partner – but lets be clear, both men and women are effected psychologically, mentally, and emotionally, by that cultural behaviour print and its associated expectations and paradyms. 

However, in the western culture things are changing rapidly in these last years in terms of gender and race, so let’s return to our subject of age now. 

As we grow old, the beauty steals inward. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Age is still revered in Eastern cultures, wisdom is prized and the older people who carry it, are respected. In Greece age is celebrated with the older members of family central to that celebration. In Japan older family members are offered the utmost respect inside and outside of the home, with major decisions still presented to them for their counsel. In China, respect for the elderly is a fundamental part of its deep history.

So, living in a culture, our western culture, that is riddled with ageism, its necessary and healthy for us to consciously take another perspective when looking at ageing, and ageing gracefully in the face of such opposition, even within ourselves.

So what does ageing gracefully mean?

Ageing gracefully means embracing age. Grace is a kind and lovely refinement. Grace is something that is freely given, even if unasked for or undeserved. An attitude of grace toward ourselves and others is key to healthy well-being as we grow older, and becoming more set in our ways.

We can extend that sentiment to the nature and quality of our thoughts, the things around us, the things we do, and the people we choose to be with. This doesn’t mean we become colourless, with no character or personality, no joking or being cross, cranky, or foolish – its more to just do it all, be it all, with grace.

Ageing gracefully means just that, as we move into different stages of life, let our behaviour match it –  learning to be comfortable within the maturity of your age is. 

Taking care of yourself.

We are all familiar with the general health advice of how to take care of ourselves as we get older: maintain a balanced diet, have regular medical check-ups, partake in social activities to keep the wider community connection, do physical and mental exercises to stay healthier and think sharper, and allow yourself more personal space and time to nourish your being and your soul.

So, what more can you do?

You can deepen relationship with you, using interoceptive awareness.

We are all familiar with external senses of sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing, the senses of balance and timing etc but what about interoception? What about the conscious or unconscious sense of the internal state of our bodies?

There is an ongoing connection and communication between our brains and the viscera – the soft internal organs of the body such as heart, lungs etc and the digestive and reproductive systems – and nourishing this interoceptive awareness, can make an enormous and positive impact on our lives.

Many clinical studies have been undertaken in this arena, particularly in terms of diet and mental health, and as organic, holistic human beings, there is great benefit to be gained by encompassing the whole being – mind, body and spirit.

By becoming more consciously aware of these internal communications, we can come to recognise, understand and regulate our physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Let’s take a simple example of how it works. We practice to become aware of clenched muscles in the body, we think about possible causes for this tension, we recognise it and begin the process of seeking to understand what’s at play. This process in turn engenders mental balance and emotional regulation, resulting in a relaxation of the clenched muscles in the body and overall increased well-being. 

It’s quite amazing to consider that what we think about in the brain communicates to the body, and vice versa. Unless you are self aware, it’s probable that you wouldn’t consciously notice a concern or emotion until you were aware of the clenched muscles – so here’s a challenge then: why not try a practice of consciously relaxing your shoulders, by letting them droop whenever you think of it, over the next days? You will be amazed how much tension is carried in the body.

The good news is that the more you are aware of your inner body’s communications, and the more you come understand your ‘feeling response’ to what’s happening, the wiser the choices you can make, and increase general well-being.

The treasure from this practice gets richer as by getting to know the inner self, or deepening that relationship. Interoceptive awareness cultivates resilience, compassion, equanimity, and wisdom – all true jewels of the ageing gracefully process – and it all begins with gentle curiosity, you to you.

People like you and I, though mortal of course like everyone else, do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born. Albert Einstein

AL
See more about well-being on our About page, and try our Awareness meditations HERE

Anger Energy

Anger Energy

Anger eats energy – your energy. Anger can range from mild irritations to a raging monster of energy consumption, and it can exhaust you.

When anger manifests as energy it becomes a mental formation, and this energy formation can cause lots of suffering if it’s not managed. Some things we act on or do feed into the anger energy, and some things can syphon it off or redirect the energy, allowing the system to calm down.

Anger is a natural response to ‘perceived’ threats – but not all threats are reality.

The amygdala, where the stress response leading to Fight or Flight begins, cannot distinguish between what is real and what is not – this is why you can get frightened watching a horror movie, even though you know it cant harm you.

As anger arises there are many changes in the physical body as powerful hormones are released and the adrenal glands stimulated, moving the body ultimately into that Fight or Flight preparation.

Breathing and heartrate increase to provide increased oxygen and energy, pupils of the eyes dilate to allow more light into the eye and improve vision, blood pressure rises, muscles tighten and can tremble or shake with the extra energy. The face can pale or flush as the blood flow and increased energy of the body rushes up to the brain; the muscles of the arms and legs are powered and other processes, such as food digestion, slows or stops allowing as much energy as possible to be available, to fight or run away.

It is a state of acute stress.

Anger is a state of the mind that is triggered and then powered by emotion, stimulating action. The passion of anger can be used to motivate into useful action but here the term anger is used to describe the potentially damaging aspect.

When moving into the anger state, psychological and emotional tensions are increased by physical tension, so relaxation is a key management tool in helping to reduce that tension, and thus reduce the possibility of enacted anger.

Relaxation can be used to help slow things down at any time during the build-up and experience of the anger state. Taking a few deep slow breaths is a good start. There are many relaxation practices available, and they flow easily into the introduction and practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, and calmly acknowledging and accepting any thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations that are being experienced and happening at that moment. The ability to invite mindfulness in to change a mental state during an emotional event takes practice.

Practice can begin through a number of things; being mindful of the movement of your body as you walk – the contraction and release of leg muscles, the balance as you step, and the heal-toe placement of your feet; eating a mouthful of food noting the smell, textures, taste, movement of teeth and mouth; being aware of sound or absence of sound; or mindfully breathing and noticing how the upper body lifts, the chest and belly expand, and on the outbreath the drooping and collapsing.

This sort of relaxed observation is critical to mindful thinking, whenever you are mentally aware with understanding, you are meditating. If you find observation hard to do, just start with getting comfortable about relaxing – in your walking , eating, listening or breathing – before engaging the mind. Introducing relaxation and gentleness into your practice right from the start will help produce the ‘right’ attitude and energy when redirecting the mind to invite awareness in.

It can take a lot of mental effort and energy to be aware, and to maintain that awareness, during an emotional event like anger, and practicing will ‘building the muscles’ of your mind to hold and use that energy when you need the strength. The more concentratation expended on an experience, the more energy is used, so practicing being observant and aware in a relaxed way is both useful and conserving.

Eventually, practising to ‘be present’ in times of emotional extremity rather than ‘losing it’, will save lots of energy, and more importantly, lots of suffering – of self and others.

As we move into mindfulness and observe what’s happening during the anger experience, we siphon off energy from it, deflating it as we introduce and energise a new mental state. The changeover movement creates a little pause or space between the experience and the self, a sometimes-momentary opportunity to get the mind out of the flood of emotion, and make a choice about what can happen next.

You can choose to continue in the wash of the current experience, or take a few breaths and use the introduced mindful state to observe what’s happening in your body and in your mind. How does the chest feel? the stomach? how is the breath, can you deepen it? can you slow it down? As the emotion begins to steady, you can gain more awareness and may be able to see what thoughts were/are passing through your mind during the event. ‘No one ever understands me”, ‘it’s happening again!’ “I can’t take this anymore”. You may also be able to recognise how you felt underneath the anger – sad, frustrated, confused, accused, deeply hurt …

When you are in the anger moment and you invite mindful awareness in, remember that is all that is happening. You are not trying to control, restrict or enforce yourself to do something. You are just observing what is happening, and perhaps finding opportunity to change the usual outcome. As you continue to observe each sensation as a sensation, each thought as a thought, mental activity as mental activity, will eventually come to see their nature, allowing you to recognise that nature in future to manage and avoid anger.

You are not your anger.

Recognising that, and understanding the nature of something, is the aim of mindfulness rather than wanting to make it disappear, is paramount.

When you observe whatever you are experiencing, and are aware of that observation, you are also aware of the observing mind.

When you are quietly aware, amazing insights can arise and hidden fears, expectations, and hopes can be brought into the light of understanding. You can begin to see that generalisations, negative thinking, and jumping to conclusions, don’t help you stay calm, and that challenging negative self-talk can reframe and change the way you think about self and others.

Throughout it all, it is important to maintain that gentle attitude toward both yourself and the anger, an attitude that wants to ‘take care’ of you, and it. Some people find it useful to think of challenging emotions like anger as a child. A child who is angry and upset needs gentleness, a cuddle not a smack; open arms, not suppression; and calm questions,  what’s happening? what’s hurting or causing this suffering? How can it be made better?

This gentle concentration of self to self is what invites the carefulness of mindfulness in.

Once the issues underneath the anger are found and identified, action can be taken to help ‘make it better’. Meanwhile, be patient with yourself and consider taking up the practice of generating the energy of mindfulness simply by being mindful and noticing what’s happening in and around you. You may also find it useful to undertake some of the many meditations on the internet, and on this site.

The practice of mindfulness can be entirely non-sectarian. It is a therapeutic practice that can help us to become aware of what’s feeding the ‘anger monster’ that arises from our suffering, by paying attention and understanding what is motivating it.

In the meantime, if you can, try not to avoid challenging situations that will give you the opportunity to learn and grow and, as best you can – don’t feed the monster, starve it!

Finally, it’s important to note that this blog is not replacement for professional assistance. There are many professionals offering their services and they are a resource to be used.

AL
Mindful meditations, relaxations and contemplations here …

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.