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

 

Overcoming Depression through Resilience

Overcoming Depression through Resilience

Many of us will unfortunately suffer depression at some time in our life. The ending of a relationship, being made redundant, severe illness, these are the kinds of events that can throw us off balance, robbing us of our self-esteem, motivation, and enjoyment of life.

A friend of mine who is a psychiatric nurse said recently that she had concluded that empowerment is often more effective than anti-depressants. I believe this to be true. So, I want to share with you the resilience model that I used in the hope it may also be of benefit to someone-else.

In the late 90s I became deeply depressed. I felt physically and mentally exhausted and the world became a small, dark place flooded only with an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness. I was having suicidal thoughts. Yet within 2 months I had managed to turn this around, though it was the hardest thing I have ever done.

Previously, I had read about a workshop entitled “Strategies for Balancing a Complicated Life”, led by Dr. Marjorie Blanchard. In this workshop she introduced participants to a resilience model based on research on stress survivors (psychologically resilient people) and research on peak happiness experiences. The same ingredients were significant in both cases that is:

Perspective, Autonomy, Connectedness, Tone.

Though designed for a corporate workplace setting, over the years I modified and added to those ideas to be more generally relevant. This tool was the keystone of my recovery from depression.

PERSPECTIVE

The definition of perspective according to the Oxford English Dictionary is “a particular way of regarding something”, “an understanding of the relative importance of things”.

It is guaranteed that in the closed world of depression our thinking/feeling life will be out of balance, and we will not be seeing things in perspective. Taking a bigger picture view can help us keep things in context.

One way to do this is through finding our life direction, mission, or purpose – something deeply meaningful and of great value that can help us weather the down times. For me, it was trying to get a sense of where my life was going, and I looked to my core values for guidance before asking myself “what do I really want for my life?”.

Victor Frankl, a Viennese professor of Neurology and Psychiatry who survived the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp subsequently wrote in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, that he believed this to be man’s greatest need, greatest desire.
He also observed that the single most important factor in who survived, and who did not in the camp, was attitude.

Looking For the Positives

The attitude of looking for the positives was a vital factor in my recovery. I came to the view that everything that happens, even trauma, is an opportunity for growth and the need to search relentlessly for those opportunities. I continually asked myself “What can I learn from this situation? What can it teach me?” It may be hard to believe in silver linings when depressed, but this is a simple and effective tool to use.

A friend of mine had to experience homelessness, estrangement from family, major illness, inability to find work, and poverty, to eventually shift her thinking away from black and white, judgmental thinking to becoming a more understanding, caring and compassionate person.

Some positives we can only discover after the event, so it’s important to stay open to the possibility. There are countless examples of people whose trauma has triggered a major change in life direction in a positive way. In Australia two high profile examples are Rosie Batty and Grace Tame who have respectively made domestic violence and sexual abuse national conversations.

Believing in ourselves and our possibility is also relevant here. We may have reached a low point where the outlook is bleak but examples from the natural worlds can encourage and give hope. Think of the caterpillar that becomes the chrysalis in dark, limiting confinement and then emerges as the wonder of the butterfly. It says we are meant to ultimately live in beauty and freedom and that transformation can happen through dark times.

A great human example was famous ex-cricketer Shane Warne. He once told how he had been absolutely shattered as a teenager when he was rejected for the AFL. It had been his life dream. But “you have a choice” he said, “you can either become a victim and blame everyone, or you can use that loss to become more determined to achieve”. Working hard to perfect his bowling skills, he certainly did, ultimately being named as one of the top 5 sportsmen in the world!

Acceptance and Commitment

This was another aspect of perspective that was instrumental in my recovery. Firstly, accepting the situation (loss and depression) but then immediately asking the question “So what can I do to help myself?”

I realized I had more resource tools that were right for me, gathered over decades of personal growth and healing work, than anyone I could possibly go to, and I decided now was the time to truly test them. I also had to accept that when I found myself in a very dark place, sometimes I just had to go to bed, and I would sleep as if drugged. It was as if my being had to knock me out for a while. But there would always be some point in the day when I felt just that little bit better, and I committed to seizing that moment to do something, however small, to help myself.

Resilience to me doesn’t necessarily mean being unaffected, but rather that after each relapse you pick yourself up and try again. The important thing is to keep nudging forward.

Gratitude

Gratitude is a very healing and strengthening emotion. Even in depression there will always be something to be grateful for. I felt gratitude for the resources I had and for the opportunities in my life that had exposed me to those resources. And even with the ending of a close relationship or the passing of a loved partner, we can be grateful for the time we had with that person and the good things we experienced.

Grateful in registering life and existence as an incredible gift; valuing being born human with all its extraordinary abilities and living on this amazing, beautiful, and bountiful planet Earth, a rarity in the cosmos.Re-linking to these things in times of major stress helped me deal with day-to-day challenges.

AUTONOMY

Autonomy is about being in charge of your life, being self-determining, a sense of having choices. It is here you can create a toolkit of resources to help you in stressful times and to help maintain balance ongoingly in your life.

Everyone will be in different situations, and everyone will be open and responsive to different methods so it’s important to find what you are drawn to and what works for you. For me it was the attraction to right brain techniques, which include things like bodywork, movement, creative arts, personal imagery, creative visualisation, meditative states, intuition, and connectivity.

As depression is a form of ‘stuckness’ – the mind is stuck in habitual, repetitive, negative patterns – we need to create fluidity and space in the mind to loosen structure and facilitate positive change. I used flushing techniques like free flow writing, ‘gibberish meditation’, shaking meditation, and Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation to clear the mind and energy pathways.

The mind and body are connected so negative mental patterns can play out into the body in the form of patterns of tension. When we begin to free up these holding patterns through physical shaking or witnessing, we also begin to release the related patterns in the mind.

I found Free flow writing especially beneficial, but it takes commitment. Every day for at least a month I wrote whatever came into my mind for half an hour when I woke up in the morning. It’s a ‘stream of consciousness’ kind of long handwriting where you empty your thoughts in the moment, without judgment or censorship. As no-one else would read it, I just let it flow – the important thing is just to keep the pen moving! I found some of the writing trivial, but it can also be healing, insightful and profound.

Julia Cameron in her bestselling book The Artist’s Way uses something similar in her Morning Pages exercise towards creative freedom and inner growth.

Positive Affirmation

Another positive pattern I created was to say something to myself before bed, and then straight after waking up to reinforce it. There are many affirmations you can do and its especially useful to make one up for yourself too.

In my depression, listening to the book Conversations with God also helped to remind me of my purpose, and who I truly am beyond my everyday persona. It was very affirming. The book is about God talking with someone at a very low point in their life. He discusses a range of relevant topics with fresh viewpoints, tough love, and a sense of humour. I hope you try it.

CONNECTEDNESS

Connecting with others, talking to others, are important thing to do when you are down: being prepared to be vulnerable where appropriate and practicing respectful communication of innermost thoughts and feelings. Expressing these things through communicating can mean that, ultimately, there are no loose ends, nothing more to be said. Subsequently there is less likelihood of ‘living in the past’ with regrets.

Selecting a few close friends or family members who are caring, understanding and supportive can be critical in helping us deal with major stresses in our lives.

After about a month of struggling with my depression I began to see a glimmer of light, and at this stage I was able to consider being part of a group. I felt very vulnerable, but two things that helped me enormously were a gentle, nurturing yoga class that soothed and uplifted my bruised spirit, and joining a small choir that focused on songs about the ocean.

There has been a lot of research on the benefits of choirs for mental health. As well as being uplifting, singing stimulates the production of oxytocin which is important for bonding and a sense of belonging and connectedness.

Connecting with the Environment

Connecting more deeply to nature, whether it’s sitting by the ocean or gazing at a starry sky also helps, allowing us to find peace and balance and a greater sense of wellbeing. Dr Blanchard in her original workshop stressed too the importance of a nurturing home environment where a person feels ’at home’.

Connecting with the Breath

I found that regular breath work released stress and helped me find a place of inner quietness and calm. Using a simple practice, at least half a dozen times a day, just stopping completely, then taking a slow deep breath in through the nose, down to the belly and out through the mouth. On the out breath totally letting go throughout the whole being.

Every morning I used The Three Breath Entry – relaxing the body on the first outbreath, then emptying the mind, then letting go of everything on the third. This was followed by 6 breaths using alternate nostril breathing – pressing against one side of the nose and breathing through the other – and then taking 6 slow deep breaths through both nostrils. Finally, I’d just spent a few minutes focusing on sounds, in my body, in the space I was in and then the world outside.

There are lots of other breathing techniques you can try to see which one will be best for you such as the 4, 7, 8 (in 4 breaths, hold 7 breaths, out 8 breaths) and the square breathing method (in for 3, hold for 3, out for 3, hold for 3).

Connecting with Self

Connecting with our natural self, our true nature, is a significant factor that can take us away from depression. There are many pressures to conform in modern society that may take us away from who we truly are – our natural inclinations, abilities, and possibility both as an individual and a human being. I have concluded that perhaps the greatest pain someone can suffer is being separated from their true nature.

Japan has been a country with very strong traditions and pressures to conform. Today there is a social crisis with an increasing number of young people being unable and unwilling to function withing those limitations. Many feel a sense of shame and ostracize themselves. In one case a man had lived in his bedroom for 20 years.

If you are open to Astrology this can be a good place to begin to explore ‘Who am I?’ as you try to find and reconnect with your own nature and qualities.

Dance and Movement Therapy was also an important part of my healing and connecting with self. In western culture we tend to worship the rational mind, but science now realises that we function best when we draw on the capacities of both hemispheres of the brain.

I believe we experience and learn things with our whole being, not just the head! So, including the body as we strive to change can aid our progress. The form of dance and movement explorations I used were very much about self-discovery, connectedness, empowerment, and the bigger picture of life.

Separation

A word on separation. Sometimes we can become too bonded to another person making it difficult for us to be true to ourselves, or to let go of a relationship which is no longer working. I found the following simple exercises helpful:
Imagine you are walking up a pathway towards your goal in life (however you see that). Along the way you meet the person you are needing to separate from and you say “If I can help you let me know, but otherwise I’ll see you later” and then you keep walking away and up the path.

Another separation technique is to image strings connecting you to the other person, and then visualise taking a pair of scissors and cutting the strings.

TONE

Tone refers to our physical health and fitness and incorporates diet, exercise, sleep, and things like not smoking and limiting intake of alcohol. Scientific research has expanded enormously in these areas and found strong links between physical and mental health.

We are hearing a lot nowadays about the gut microbiome, the community of microbes that live in our gut, and how toxins from the gut can travel via the vagus nerve into the brain itself, significantly affecting mood.

Some activities that we thought occurred exclusively in the brain have now been proven otherwise. For example, 90% of Serotonin (the Happy Hormone) is actually produced in the gut.

The health of the gut microbiome depends to a large degree on microbial diversity so eating a wide range of wholesome foods is highly beneficial. Healthy gut bacteria love prebiotics like fibre so eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is also a good idea. I have found that eating a fermented food like sauerkraut (a natural probiotic) daily has had a very positive impact on my health.

The ‘stress survivors’ took care of their physical fitness, as well as maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Exercise can be anything from regular walks to workouts at the gym to dancing. Yoga and Pilates are also popular choices these days.

Scientific research has shown that exercise directly affects brain health, sending more oxygen to cells and stimulating the production of BDNF, a growth factor that builds more connections between cells. And it improves mood. I remember decades ago going to dance classes sometimes feeling a bit low and being positive, energized and almost jubilant by the end of the class!

A word on sleep. Many of us suffer from poor quality and inadequate sleep which has been shown to have a detrimental effect on mental function and mood. Our modern way of life has a lot to answer for! There are some good sleep meditations and relaxations around, also keeping the bedroom totally dark, getting rid of electronic devices from the room (and not sitting at the computer for at least half an hour before bed) can all help toward better sleep.

Finally, I come back to acceptance and commitment. The degree of depression you are experiencing will impact what you are able to do. Deep depression can mean loss of interest in food and inability to exercise because of exhaustion. Sleep can happen but be unrefreshing. So, this I had to accept in the earlier period of my depression and not berate myself but commit to doing something positive as I felt more able.

You will find your own pace. Be kind to yourself, patient and persevere. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Guest Blogger  Maggie Poole-Johnson, Stress Therapist

Spend some time with our mindful well-being meditations – Breath and Relaxations, Gratitude, Sleep, and Loving Kindness here …AL

ITS IMPORTANT to note that this blog is not a replacement for professional assistance. There are many professionals offering their services and organisations such as Beyond Blue, Head Space, Psyche Central just waiting to support you.

 

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 …

Nostalgia, Harmony and Belief

Nostalgia, Harmony and Belief

What happens when the past takes on an intensity that shapes our present behaviour? A backward-looking life, whether shaped by good or bad experiences, spells trouble, because your thoughts and feelings are the tools that will craft your personal world, both now and in the future.

You can’t drive forward looking in your rear-view mirror.

An anagram for nostalgia is ‘lost again’. Indeed, we can become lost and disconnected from what the future holds for us when nostalgia gains a deep grip on us; and we become lost down a line of time. In this form it can become the precursor to severe depression, distorting reality. Nostalgia is a lens that simplifies many of the complexities of the past; it is not a holistic or integrated perception of the times. Nostalgia is a shallow emotion that can deny, in the present, the necessity for transformative thinking and action.

Whatever our past, we need to learn how to escape nostalgia’s gravitational pull, at least in the space where dark emotions lurk. Failure to do so affects our potential as participants in a greater existence. This being so let me metaphorically illustrate what happens when nostalgia or past hurts and disappointments begin to govern our lives.

This metaphor involves ‘God’. Unfortunately, the one concept in our English language over which wars are fought and communities split is the differing concepts of God. However, the reality is that in every mainstream ‘God-believing’ religion on earth, one of the core attributes of God is that God is an entity that one way or another touches or even permeates our existence.

For the purposes of this metaphor, I ask you for a moment to imagine God as creator of the universe, emitting a vast array of musical frequencies, notes and rhythms of life of which we are the potential receptors if we allow ourselves to tune in.

As babies we can receive and play back the odd note; as we grow older the notes become riffs[1] and melodies and then, growing into adulthood (with all the personal development that is implied), we begin to form a quartet and then an orchestra (although some of us may have more violins and others more drums). So we progressively become better able to resonate with the creative emissions of God and the universe in our lives; but then deep nostalgia or past experiences captures us and we go back in time to when we were just a string quartet or played solo.

In so doing we are reducing our capacity in ‘the now’ to play God’s song for our lives and be the fantastic orchestra we have the potential to be.

Yet, when playing in the full resonant and harmonic way that we are designed to play, our health, spiritual, relational and material prosperity and wellbeing soars.

As an internal condition, nostalgia may at times be a subtle but insidious obstacle to our reflection of the universe’s true harmonic. Another such internal condition lies in the challenges of our past. These challenges may have resulted in a legacy of bitterness or hardship, or poverty, or, more frequently, rejection. For many of us this can mean that we are now cautious about opportunities and relationships that lie in the present. We have all heard the expression ‘once bitten, twice shy’. As we respond to such sentiments we tune out of the musical frequencies of life.

Such emotional flotsam from our past becomes our baggage, a baggage of wounds, hurts, and outdated beliefs. Its legacy needlessly, and often unconsciously, causes us to drift in a metaphorical Sargasso Sea[2] of our own making, wary of repeating the same ‘mistakes’. As a result we increasingly become non participants in the construct of our future.

With a bit of self-reflection we can all recognize how often we allow the baggage of the past, with its pain, rejection, suffering or nostalgic moments, to create chains that hold us to a place, to a person or to a circumstance long since faded from the present. Such baggage reaches out, down through time and into our present world, eating at our dreams, denying our possibilities and binding our future with their legacy.

Back in the 1960s Paul Simon, of Simon and Garfunkel, wrote a song I am a Rock, which reached the charts in their Sounds of Silence album. It expresses the way in which we all can become self-limiting and emotionally insular, as we retreat from past hurts.

‘I’ve built walls,

A fortress deep and mighty,

That none may penetrate.

I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.

Its laughter and its loving I disdain.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

Don’t talk of love,

But I’ve heard the words before;

It’s sleeping in my memory.

I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.

If I never loved I never would have cried.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

 I have my books

And my poetry to protect me;

I am shielded in my armor,

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb,

I touch no one and no one touches me.

I am a rock,

I am an island’.[3]

But consider for a moment that the world is also filled with successful people who refused to allow the hurts and baggage of their past to impede their future.

People like Oprah Winfrey who overcame a childhood of abuse and molestation to become the world’s first African American billionaire; or Walt Disney who went bankrupt several times before building his successful entertainment empire. People like Thomas Edison, who, when a reporter asked him how it felt to have failed 25,000 times in his effort to create a simple storage battery, replied ‘‘I don’t know why you are calling it a failure. Today I know 25,000 ways not to make a battery.’’ Notably Edison also made over 2,000 attempts at creating a light bulb before perfecting it.

Other examples might include Helen Keller who became the first deaf and blind person to graduate from college and Franklin Roosevelt who contracted polio as a young man and refused to allow his subsequent paraplegia to have an impact on his life, becoming President of the United States of America. In the process, he became a powerful symbol of an individual’s ability to overcome the ravages of one’s past.

History is filled with ordinary people, no different to you or me, who refused to allow their past and outward circumstance to dictate their future.

The baggage of our history and culture affects and shapes our beliefs and thinking. Beliefs are those things you hold to be true that change how you behave and so creates paradigms of our reality. These paradigms can keep us closed and unexpectant, blind to the opportunities of life around us. In a brilliant illustration of what happens when we are blinkered, my favourite poet, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, once wrote:

‘Earth’s crammed with heaven

And every common bush afire with God:

But only he, who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,

And daub their natural faces unaware’[4]

Most of us tend to be blackberry eaters, missing the fire of God (however defined) all around us, with its generative possibilities for a fulfilled life, as we live in our self-limiting sensate world, leaning into the past, unbelieving that life holds more for us. To see the burning bush in our lives we need to believe that it exists in the first place. Such celestial burning bushes tend to only exist on the periphery of our vision.

We need to enlarge our paradigms. 

Paradigms are based in what we hold to be true; what we hold to be possible. In other words, they are based in our beliefs. We must create paradigms of reality that are bigger than our experience and more than wishful thinking. We need paradigms that allow us to recognise the unseen universe, the nature of being and weaving the realities of the seen and unseen into a practical philosophy of daily living.

Much is made of the Law of Attraction and its alleged premise that thoughts manifest, or make tangible, a new reality (health, wealth, prosperity, opportunity etc.). This is a casual, if not sloppy, wording. Thoughts do not manifest so much as ‘beliefs’ manifest. Beliefs are those things you hold to be true that change how you behave. Thoughts are mental processes. Dominant beliefs manifest, or make tangible, a changed reality. The belief that because you have been hurt once you will be hurt again will preclude you from opportunity. A belief that life was so much better ‘way back then’ leaves you locked up in a past that can blind you to the present.

But a belief that you can move mountains, shape your destiny, unlock riches, achieve new heights whether creative, spiritual, relational or temporal, such a belief will change your future and take you into a new dimension. Such a belief, as will be demonstrated, calls down the intervention of forces in your life that are greater than you; forces that are drawn, or are attracted, by your belief as it signals to the universe.

‘What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve’, (Napoleon Hill – Think and Grow Rich).

Belief gives an emotional quality to our thoughts, and that emotional quality has much more power for change than our thoughts alone. This is so because such belief will also encourage you to take the steps you know are necessary in your life to realise your dreams.

Beliefs are broader than material facts.

Beliefs give us confidence where the presenting ‘facts’ might lead us to doubt. It’s been said that if you want to attain your dreams, work with ideas, not facts. Dwell upon the end result, not the ‘hows’ of it. Do not worry about the logistics, the people or the money you need to make the result happen; but think of the end result you dream of. The ‘facts’ of apparent difficulties and lack of resources will be overcome by the creational storehouse of the universe.

Our subsequent actions, which actualise our new life, are the tip of an iceberg, the hidden base of which is formed by our beliefs, and between the two are our values layered with thoughts and emotions.

Beliefs form the foundation and bedrock of our being.

Change your beliefs – and you will change your life.

Do not be afraid to recognise your ability. Move past nostalgia, or saudade, rejection, bitterness and fear and become the destiny that is yours.

Guest Blogger: Dr Brian Gordon, OAM

[1] short, often repeated series of notes in pop music or jazz

[2] The Sargasso Sea is famous in mythology for its images of fleets of derelict sailing ships, crewed by bleached white skeletons, and trapped in dense mats of clinging seaweed.(http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2000/05/11/125857.htm?site=science/greatmomentsinscience)

[3] Lyricsfreak Retrieved 17 July 2008 from http://www.lyricsfreak.com/s/simon+and+garfunkel/i+am+a+rock_20124809.html

[4] Browning, E.B. 1856 The Complete Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning Thomas Crowell and Company New York p134

Health and Well-Being meditations here