Mindfulness – focused or unfocused explained

Mindfulness – focused or unfocused explained

Mindfulness is a buzz word these days, the thing to do, but is ‘being in the moment’ doing? It can be.

The practice of mindfulness – the act of purposely paying attention and being aware of the experience of the moment you are living, without judgement – is an active thing in itself; focusing and paying attention takes effort and energy whether you are practising mindfulness in a formal sitting for a focused or guided meditation, or more informally while you’re doing things such as practicing open awareness whilst taking a walk.

Mindfulness has been defined as awareness, but its more than that. Mindfulness has been defined as paying attention, but its more than that. Mindfulness has been described as consciousness, but its more than that too.

Yet mindfulness IS awareness, IS consciousness, and it IS paying attention. But it is also about cultivating a quality of mind, a mental stance that notices, on purpose, and without judgement or attachment. It’s about cultivating a balance of mind that does not favour one thing or reject another. A mind that allows things to arise and pass away without trying to hold on or push away. It’s coming to see things, the experience of the moment, whatever is happening, clearly.

Mindfulness is an ongoing practice, not an end result. The intention is to cultivate awareness, the attention is on the experience of the present moment, and the attitudinal address is curiosity in a non judgemental way, with kindness. Mindfulness is a practice that, when coupled with the practice of Vipassana, the gentle open exploration of whatever arises, can bring about the real rewards of understanding, equanimity, and wisdom.

Benefits

There are many other benefits, particularly health and mental health benefits, that have been confirmed by numerous clinical trials. The results prove the efficacy, particularly in emotional, physical, and psychological wellbeing.

It’s worth mentioning here that the word well-being encapsulates a weave of things including what Aristotle had to say when referencing Eudaimonic well-being (as opposed to hedonistic), is was said to be central to … ’reasoning, happiness, and a rich and fulfilling life; and a start point for thinking about the nature of human life – its virtue and ultimate fulfillment’.

But back to forms of mindfulness, focused and unfocused.

Focused mindfulness, where the breath, mantra or object is the focus of attention.

Focused mindfulness is the best way to learn mindfulness – and it’s easy to learn and practice. Using an object, like sounds or the breath, for the mind to pay attention to helps keep other thoughts and emotions at bay, easing restlessness and steadying the mind.

If the mind wanders off as it tends to do, practising focused mindfulness will help you to recognise this and bring the attention back to the object. This is an active practice of concentration and focus, and it takes energy to do it.

Most focused mindfulness is practiced formally as a sitting or guided sitting meditation such as breath awareness, mindfulness of the senses or metta (loving kindness/compassion) meditation. There is also a focused formal mindful walking practice, more about that later.

If you are time or interest poor and want to try a short focussed practice, you can use any task, and just do it mindfully. My favourites are a ‘mindful mouthful’ or a ‘single sip’. These two activities happen all the time, the mindful mouthful takes longer than the single sip so I have written the practice out below. If you only want the quick single sip exercise, just cut out everything but the mouth and sip.

Mindful Mouthful / Single Sip exercise

First taking a breath – and if you can it’s good to keep a tiny piece of attention on the breath throughout this exercise – then pause to note to yourself that you are doing this practice.

To begin, be aware of the movement of the head and eyes in assessing where the cup of liquid is. Note the tension in the shoulder and arm as you begin the movement to reach out to the glass, then as the hand lifts let your focus settle on the movement of all the muscles.

Feel the stretch of the fingers to the glass. Note the contraction of the muscles as they grasp it, note the temperature of it, and the weight as your muscles contract and move to lift it.

Notice how the mouth prepares to receive the liquid, the relaxing of the jaw, the repositioning of the lips and mouth. Follow the continuing flex and movement of muscle in the arm and hand, the re-positioning of the head to receive the liquid, the feel of the glass and then the liquid on the lips as you take it in.

The inbreath sip, the temperature and taste, the tongue and jaw movement to swallow, the throat contraction and release, the mouth re opening, jaws dropping to release the glass. The sensations in the throat and stomach having received the sip.

The wrist tipping back, flexing, straightening the arm, the head turning and tilting while the arm and hand moves to replace the glass from where it came. The release of the fingers on the glass, the relaxing of the muscle tension in the shoulder, arm, hand and fingers, the repositioning of the head. Next note the intention to end the exercise, noticing any sensations, thoughts, or feelings about having done so.

This exercise can take moments or minutes, its up to you, each time.

Unfocused mindfulness, or ‘open’ mindfulness, is where we notice whatever it is that comes to our attention.

Unfocused mindfulness is to open the mind, it is a non directive meditation to allow a mental spaciousness and ease that can encompass whatever happens in and around you, without getting caught up in it.

A teacher once explained to me that he felt it as a gentle wise and caring person sitting on a bench in a playground, aware of the children and dogs playing, aware of the sights and sounds, the smells, noticing thoughts, reactions and emotions appearing and passing through as different aspects of sights and sounds happened, but rather than getting caught up in them, not responding to urges to be anything, do anything or go anywhere, just content to just be here, open and gently curious, fully aware and present.

Informal movement

Sometimes I practice both focused and unfocused meditation at the same time, particularly during movement practices or bush walks. Put simply I pay attention to my breath and muscles then hold them in semi awareness whilst practising ‘open senses’ awareness of whatever is happening in the creation around me.

For those who prefer a more overall practice here are some guidelines.

Before you begin take scan of how your body feels and make a point of noting it. Is your body feeling light, heavy, limber, stiff? Note your emotional and mental condition, is your emotion balanced or a bit wobbly? Your mind clear or cloudy? if you can, name what state is present in you (well, happy, upset, anxious).

When you’ve finished the scan let everything you’ve come to go, let it float away.

Informal Movement meditation

Now bring your attention to the whole body. As you do your warm up exercises, get an overall sense of how the movement feels then try and match your breath to your movements – not too slow, not too quick, just allow your body movement and your breath to synchronise naturally.

When you begin to move bring your toes and foot muscles into awareness, then the legs, knees, and lastly thighs. Notice the balance and movement, the rhythm and pace and the flow of the muscles as you move.

Next bring in your hips to awareness, noting the different tensions and balances in the lower body as the ground changes.

Next bring in upper body, noticing the arms, chest and the breath, allowing the breath and bodily movements to synchronise, finding the ease of rhythm.

Then open awareness out, allowing all the senses to flow in.
Noticing sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch … letting it all arrive and pass, come and go and flow. Inviting an awareness of the whole body in action and in harmony.

At the end of the exercise, stop and take time to scan the body again. Noting the changes in the body, emotion, the mind, and mental state.

For those who prefer to undertake the formal walking meditation, an introduction to the formal walking practice can be found on the website under the heading ‘In the Workplace’ and called ‘Walk the Block” from the link below.

Be active. Be well.
AL

Access meditations … here …

 

 

Sound and Silence

Sound and Silence

When I wrote this blog it was raining outside, mist sitting on the western hillside and a steady comforting hum in the air from the constant, gentle, deluge. It was early in the morning and the trees full of birds, each one calling into the new day to announce its aliveness and presence with their unique songs, trills, and whistles.

How comforting sounds can be.

Listening to sounds can induce many emotions. A friend of mine who could never conceive a child, cries even now at the sound of a baby’s gurgle, and who has not been moved by a song, connecting us directly to the feelings of the past, some sharp, some sad, some sweet, but always evocative.

As we grew up my sisters and I would put a particular record on the player (no ipods then) just to see our mother cry, which she did every time she heard this particular piece of music. We never did ask her why, and she never would tell us, perhaps a sign of the times when personal emotion was held private rather than something to seek attention from. Anyway, many years later when visiting her grave, we finally saw the reason for her tears. There on the gravestone of her younger brother buried next to her, was the title of that song ‘arrivederci darling’ – goodbye, ‘til we see each other again…

Sound itself is an energy transmitted by pressure waves; a sensation perceived by us as the sense of hearing. People with hearing loss can often ‘hear’ some sound, particularly the humming sound from a brass string or the boom of drums. However, as with any sense, if that sense is lost our amazing brain rewires itself to capture that under used section into the other senses, sometimes creating a ‘super sense’ such as increased sense of sight for the hearing impaired.

Sounds and Healing

Sounds have been used for healing for centuries to clear energetics blockages and reduce stress. From classical music and the sound of nature’s fauna, winds, and waters to percussive instruments like drums, gongs and singing bowls.

Listening to particular sounds can alleviate stress and expedite healing.

For some listeners, moving into a meditative state helps to calm the mind, and in turn the amygdala the brains emotion processor, allowing a cooling of process and a subsequent reduction of inflammation throughout the body. Turned outward, deep listening is a practice of deep connection.

It’s interesting to note that human beings only register the hearing of sound within a certain frequency, yet a person does not have to consciously hear something to be affected.

Watching a science based tv program on sounds that trigger fear recently, a low frequency sound was played to a group of people to (successfully) prove an increased fear activation, regardless of it being soundless. Interesting. On the other end, hearing sound from the so called ‘God Frequency’ – 963 Hz – activates the pineal gland, clearing brain fog, and giving cool clarity to thought processes and peace.

There is much more of the effects of sound on the human being to be discovered, but in the meantime the effects are certainly something for us to consider in our daily lives.

Silence

You would think that silence is the absence of sound, yet even silence can have a texture or resonance.

Who has not ‘heard’ the sound texture of a tense electric silence, perhaps with a felt potency within it that ‘anything can happen’, or experienced the awkward discomfort and tightness of a strained silence?

And what about the texture of silence after a stunning theatre performance before the applause breaks out to shatter it, or the deep dense quiet of a snow-covered mountain, the humming open silence of a dessert, or the full, soft silence of a rainforest?

Silence and Spirituality

For time immemorable people have used silence to connect with nature, the creation and the Creator.

I live on Whadjuk Noongar land in Australia, and Aboriginal people have a few words to describe silence, or deep listening. One of them, called ‘dadirri’, is practiced without judgement and with no expectation, it’s just about quietly waiting with awareness, and an inner open stillness.

Writing for Creative Spirits, Aboriginal Elder Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann described deep listening as “ … inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us … lived for thousands of years with natures quietness. My people today, recognise and experience in this quietness, the great Life-Giving Spirit, the Father of us all”.

Many spiritual practices include deep listening, such as the Budhist insight (Vipassana) meditation, or the Christian spiritual training of Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading. In all the phases of Lectio Divina – reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating –silence is practised, but in particular the last phase. In this phase a deep inner silence is mainatained, a open still awareness that is also an invitation to experience insights from the Spirit of God within.

As well as a deeper spiritual connection, many people use silence regularly as a mental and emotional health tool. Whatever form it takes, from long walks to quiet sitting, the practice of silence is about becoming more attuned and responsive to the inner life of ourselves, rather than reacting to the outer. 

An informal way of practicing silence – and one that quickly reveals the fruits of doing it – is to simply choose a time to practice it. Famously, Actor Steve Mc Queen practiced silence for a whole day each month for most of his life. If a day is too long for you, start with less, even a tiny 3 seconds before responding to anyone can reveal so much, not least that mostly our responses are either reactive or empty, or are often not needed at all.

So much energy and presence can be gained by consicous silence.

Silence is a significant part of many contemplation and meditation practices, with mindfulness bringing in awareness of the moment-by-moment experience to the fore, rather than seeking to silence it. If, however, you choose to be quiet or meditate to find inner stillness, know that deep silence can be hard to reach and hold against the ongoing internal dialogue and noise, regardless of how quiet or fitting the place of practice is. Hence the term to accept before beginning a silent or meditation practice is to note the term used, a ‘practice’.

Moving toward more inner silence in our lives helps us to channel our energies, meditate and rebalance from the noise and activity of the experiences of outer life. It can allow a new perspective, and within that an opportunity to recognise the paradigms through which we view the world. In turn this allows the freedom of choice, should we wish to change or expand them.

Silence is indeed golden, a golden opportunity toward achieving a deep inner quiet, and the path toward equanimity and peace.

Lectio Divina, Mindfulness and quieting Meditations can be found here …

AL

Unbearable Surrender

Unbearable Surrender

Sometimes life brings us a challenge that is fierce. It can be a deep sadness or an agonising truth, and it can induce absolute helplessness.

This helplessness is not about fear, and it’s not about passivity, it’s about feeling, and settling somehow, into an unbearable surrender to what is.

Whether this helplessness has arisen from life circumstances, or through the ongoing practice of mindful awareness meditation which can expose things deeply hidden, being held in a safe space whilst experiencing this apparently insurmountable pain and anguish, is incredibly helpful.

As a mindfulness practitioner, holding a safe space with the right attitude and compassion for the distressed person, can be both challenging and healing to us both.

Both?

Yes, when someone is in such degree of agony there is an internal struggle to overcome our own protection barriers to be open enough so that we can ‘be with’ them. Open enough to sit calmly near yet deal with our mind as it wrestles with the uncomfortability of not immediately ‘helping’, not speaking to push back or stop what is going on, regardless of our internal drive to ‘do something’.

We too must experience this helplessness, and face a smaller, unbearable surrender. To let it be.

Apart from settling the mind we can also open the heart, again challenging in this situation, but it is this openness, this willingness simply to ‘be with’ them, that will ultimately help the person who is suffering.

As we sit quietly by, things may be said ‘It hurts so much …’ ‘I’m so scared … ’ this underlines the uncomfortable truth, the truth that we cannot control life.

In time something else may be said that is an opening for a gentle question. For me that once came when a person in an unbearable surrender situation said “Oh please, I just want this pain to go away …’ it was an entry to hold their hand and quietly enquire about their pain. This, in turn, opened a conversation that allowed the person to form a new relationship with what was causing so much pain.

By becoming aware of what she was experiencing, she was able to see things from a different perspective, allowing her to move into identifying and talking things out rather than suffering within the feeling.

Let’s not underestimate for a moment that for a person to feel this absolute powerlessness is profound. It takes courage to look, be with, and accept this great loss to our control of life, our sense of self, and our ego. 

And yet it is, in the end, most  strengthening and liberating.

Being aware of the situation rather than within a state of mind or feeling, allows us to perceive the dissolvable, impermanent way of things.

If even for a moment, this perception can lead to true liberation.

The presence of an open and non-judgemental other, silently invites a person in pain into the ‘safe space’ held, and allows them the freedom to move into the territory of their pain, and explore it.

Awareness of self and ‘being with’ another can be a first step to processing an agonising truth – the unbearable surrender, made just a little more bearable.

Being open to the joys and the sorrows of life, and the surrender to the impermance of life, is deeply connective to life itself.

Sometimes surrender just means becoming comfortable with the unknown.

 

AL

Access helpful mindful awareness meditations here …

 

Listen to your Heart

Listen to your Heart

Listening to your heart can involve all of your senses, including intuition, balance, enviroment and sense of time or place.

Taking time to be with yourself, grounded through your senses into the land beneath your feet, the land that resonates deeply with your inner life and the creation of which you are a part, in and of itself, is deeply healing.

Life can be painful; it can leave scars in the mind and the body. Scars of thick, tight, squashed up areas of little or no sensation, where the area of past hurt is covered so completely, that nothing can get to it again. Ever.

Forgiveness

Protection is a natural response and has its place, but so often the many scars of life are simply left in place rather than turned to again, looked at, understood and, perhaps, forgiven.

Forgiveness is something that can be found by listening to your heart. Forgiveness is a deeply healing free-flowing river, washing away old hurts and gently cleaning the area of any ‘bad odours’ held there with them. 

Seat of Emotion

Anxiety and depression, job and relational stressors can also pose risks to the emotional balance of the heart. Finding ways to change habits and ways of going, mediate, and regulate to help ease these things, is paramount for heart health, and the wellness of your entire being.

The amygdala section of the brain is the main processor of emotions, but the heart has long been considered the seat of emotion. This belief has been made popular over the years by using the heart shape as a representation of love.

Aristotle believed the heart was the seat of the soul as well as emotion, and as such was the primary sense organ of the body. This belief may be related to the fact that, as we now know, at the height of strong emotion adrenalin is pumped into the heart causing it to increase the beats pace and strength – and this pulse can be felt throughout the body.

The Egyptians too placed great value on the heart. Their intricate embalming processes included drawing the brain out through the nose to throw it away, but they kept the prized heart for all to see in its own special jar of embalming fluid.

Medicinal practices throughout the ages have centred on the heart as the harbinger of well-ness or disease.

Greek physician Herophilus (c.330 – 260 BC) was the first to develop a water clock system for counting the hearts pulse rate.

Pulse practices of various kinds were used in many places over the world such as Greece and Japan, together with other early medical systems such as Ayurveda and Chinese Traditional Medicine. Some think these may have been influenced by the ancient Egyptian medical belief that ‘the heart speaks out of every limb’ and that the balance of the heart is of vital important to the life, and even more importantly, the afterlife of the person.

Heart Plasticity

Today, in times of the revelation of neuroscience and epigenetics, we know that brains have a certain plasticity and can change themselves, but perhaps less known is that the heart can change too. A finding in 2020* said:

 “The adult human heart has an exceptional ability to alter its phenotype to adapt to changes in environmental demand. This response involves metabolic, mechanical, electrical, and structural alterations, and is known as cardiac plasticity”.

The potentiality of this knowledge is fascinating.

If our thinking can change our brains, how does our emotion change our hearts?

As with most things, the balance of emotions is important to a healthy heart, life and, arguably, a healthy soul.

Severe emotional pain can have physical effect. For example in the Broken Heart Syndrome the left ventricle of the heart swells up and affects its pumping capacity. Interestingly however, the arteries are not actually blocked, and fortunately the swelling can be reduced by medication.

Time and Awareness

Time is also a healer, and to take time, spend time just using our senses to simply experience whats happening in us, we need some life balance. To be able to listen, we need to take time out.

Like the ‘in and out’ of the breath, your life needs the balance of both doing and being.

Maybe your senses call you to spend time with a particular person.  Another aspect of listening to the heart is to notice when an activity, person or place ‘calls’ to you. It may be an urge to take time out, to rest, or to engage in some artistic activity; it may be a pull to or away from someone or something, it may be that a part of the land, or a tree on it, that calls to you. 

Listening to the heart is about reconnecting to ourselves and in a way that allows us to understand, or at least be aware, of what we are experiencing. The act of applying awareness to any situation can allow rational thought, which is particularly useful in times of stress and emotional upset. With rational thought we can see things clearly. If we can see clearly we can begin to understand what’s happening in us, allowing the possibility to choose how to respond. If we can respond rather than react with our usual patterns or overload, we protect the heart, naturally.

As this article began, listening to the heart is about taking time to be with yourself, grounded in yourself, grounded to the land beneath your feet, the land that runs with the cycles of life, balancing and resonating so deeply with your inner life.

Opening the mind is key to opening the heart, and to be able to listen.

This can begin with the practice of awareness.

On this site and across the web there are many mindfulness based meditations to help you in this, including a Loving Kindness (Compassion) practice, which can help open the heart so that you can experience feelings in a guided and balanced way.

Listening to the heart can be enlightening, bittersweet, and lifechanging.

I encourage you to try it  …

AL

*Pitoulis FG, Terracciano CM. Heart Plasticity in Response to Pressure- and Volume-Overload: A Review of Findings in Compensated and Decompensated Phenotypes. Front Physiol. 2020 Feb 13;11:92. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.00092. PMID: 32116796; PMCID: PMC7031419

 

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 …