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 …

 

 

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.

 

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

 

STOP! Stress Avoidance Trap

STOP! Stress Avoidance Trap

At the time of writing, we are coming to the end of the COVID restrictions – at least for now ….

Whilst we have enjoyed, or been challenged, by this change in our normal routines of life, we have also been in a place to pause from life as it was. Busy! So, with vaccines rolling out and as we continue into a full-on going everywhere, doing everything, type of lifestyle again – it’s a good time to re-evaluate stress.

Stress is both useful and not useful. To think about stress as a bad thing is both factually inaccurate and counter-productive to your well-being, research shows that short term stress (not chronic stress) is a useful thing. So, before try to ‘get rid’ of stress it’s important to know that aversion is not the best therapy.

Countless studies and clinical trials have ascertained that regular practice of mindfulness mediation will help you lower stress levels and manage stress more appropriately, but the practice is not about ‘getting rid’ of stress, it’s about awareness of it, and whatever else in happening in your experience of life as it unfolds in that moment.

The aversion trap is closed every time we try to avoid, get rid of, bury, or divert our unwanted thoughts and feelings.

We all like to feel ok and if we feel good and we experience a happy mental and emotional state we try to hold on to it. In the same way we feel not so good about something we use aversion tactics to push away the mental and emotional states we don’t like.

Our likes and dislikes are formed due to the causes and conditions of our life experiences, and they help form patterns of the mind and the emotion that drive our behaviour. If we continually use the aversion trap rather than learning from our felt stress, we can become ill. Chronic, or ongoing, stress is related to mental ill health and life-threatening conditions and disease.

In mindfulness meditation there is a core principle of cultivating a non-judgemental awareness – allowing all thoughts, sounds, sensations, and all other perceived experience to come and go just as it is.

The aim is simply to be aware, to ‘be with’ whatever is happening, at the time it is happening – because it IS happening.

With regular mindfulness practice we can learn to stop trying to avoid or get rid of stress but instead use our awareness of that stress to change our mindset and patterns of reactional behaviour. We do this by applying an open and gentle curiosity to what’s happening in our mind or emotion, through awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and any places in the body we feel the experience of what is happening.

With this gentle, inquiring, attention we can build awareness and begin to get insights and understandings that can help us understand some of our behaviour drivers.

Regular mindfulness practice builds a mental, emotional, and psychological resilience which, in time, will allow us a mind spacious enough to choose and respond with what to do next in stressful situations, rather than behave out of an unthinking, habitual reaction.

So, where to begin?

There are many aids, apps, mindfulness programmes and meditations on offer on the net to help you manage more and stress less. You can start here by accessing our resources page with free or downloadable meditations. If you are new to mindfulness a short starter practice is this simple STOP technique to ‘check in’ and what’s happening in you. It’s particularly useful at times of felt stress.

S.T.O.P.

S.            Stop, find a quiet place or space, close your eyes if your comfortable to do so.

T.            Take a few slow breaths gathering your attention to your body, let the outbreath be longer.

O.           Observe what’s happening – in your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Name it.

P.           Pause, breathe slowly while bringing your attention to the belly. Proceed.

See more awareness and mindfulness practices on our meditations page.

AL