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

 

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 …

Firm Focus, Soft Gaze

Firm Focus, Soft Gaze

Ways of developing a firm focus, and soft gaze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AL

 

Pause, Reset, Play

Pause, Reset, Play

A simple technique for self regulation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inner Critic

The Inner Critic

Most of us have one; that voice (maybe your voice) that is heard when you’ve made a mistake, not performed too well, or perhaps just set your expectations too high.
So, what can be done to help silence that voice?
Ignore it? Maybe, avoidance or suppression is a defence mechanism that can work for you however, a healthier way is to identify, befriend and investigate that inner voice.
How to recognise it? For most the inner critic appears as a voice, often with an attitude or tone that’s recognisable, or perhaps its more recognisable by a feeling – maybe a bit flat, anxious or depleted in energy – but however the inner critic appears in you, learn to recognise and get to know it for what it is, a Critical State.

How to befriend it? As with any relationship, it good to start with an acknowledgement “ah, hello! here you are again’, then take the time to get to know each other. How to respond to the inner critic? Having recognised and acknowledged your inner critic experience, ask yourself why. Why are you hearing this voice, feeling this way? The important thing is to question yourself gently, to be compassionate with yourself.


Once you become aware of why the inner critic appears you can begin to dig a little deeper into what TRIGGERS its appearance. No judgement on yourself, or others, just note what seems to be the case.

Each time you look or simply ‘be’ with conscious awareness about what happening in you, a little more resilience and understanding is built, a little more respite is earned.


What else can you do? Many people find using a journal to record and track your progress is useful. Reading out affirmations, or better still making up your own targeted positive affirmations, are helpful at these times. Taking up a mindful art hobby or body practice has good results too. Sometimes listening to talks or following a guided meditation are most useful.


The RAIN meditation, originally given by Insight teacher Michele McDonald and made famous by Tara Brach’s excellent work, was practiced and offered to us by Buddhist monks and nuns as a means of having tools to work with difficult or challenging emotional states. This meditation can be used to help strengthen your capacity to deal with these experiences and lead to a calm and steady state of mind and being.


My own adaptation of the RAIN meditation, called ‘Working with Challenging Emotions’ can be listened to here