Give to Live!

Give to Live!

GIVE TO LIVE! – the benefits and ways of generosity.

Generosity is good for you.

Generosity and life expectancy are among the six variables scientists look at when making the World Happiness Report, which is released annually by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations.

Giving, or true generosity, can be described as the act of recognising the mutual dignity inherent in all life, and then working to balance the evolving empowerment of life.

Put simply, giving from the heart.

We are biologically ‘wired’ for generosity – in our childhood we are reliant on the giving of others, as we grow older generosity to others is a good way to balance and ‘give back’.

Being generous does more than benefit the receiver, it has a big impact on our well-being and, not surprisingly, studies show that one of the biggest benefactors of ‘giving’ is the person who gives – YOU!

The feel-good effects of giving begin in the brain. The effect is  called “giver’s glow,” its the response being triggered by brain chemistry in the mesolimbic pathway, which recognizes rewarding stimuli.

Philanthropy “doles out several different happiness chemicals,” says Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at New York’s Stony Brook University of Medicine, “including dopamine, endorphins that give people a sense of euphoria and oxytocin, which is associated with tranquillity, serenity or inner peace.” Generosity also lowers the risk of dementia and reduces anxiety and depression. As Post says “If you were somehow able to package this into a compound, you’d be a billionaire overnight”.

As well as making us feel good, giving and being generous can reduce blood pressure and the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol – helping provide that ‘lift’ in mood. And that’s not all – giving can enhance our sense of purpose and increase the givers life span.

That’s right, giving and living longer are connected.

The good news is that we all have something to give, and giving allows us to align our actions with our values.

It doesn’t matter how large or small the gifting is, or the nature of it. What does matter is that we recognise the need to give, and care enough to do so, even if it’s just a smile.

Hopefully having read this you are inspired to give giving a go. Here are some inspirations for you:

 Participate in a community cleanup day.
 Become a mentor for a young person.
 Serve meals at a local soup kitchen.
 Help at the local hospital.
 Visit an elderly neighbour.
 Donate items to a homeless shelter.
 Donate clothes and household goods to a thrift store.
 Give to charities or ‘profit for purpose’ groups like Ability life.
 Shop or clean the home of a sick friend.
 Organize a fundraising morning tea for a local charity.
 Put your change in a jar and donate it next month.
 Volunteer some time at your church or community centre.
 Practice random acts of kindness.
 Create a SHAREBOX by your letterbox and invite neighbours to put in their spare produce, used books etc.
 Visit a nursing home – chat or take your dog along if you can.
 Offer to pay someone’s bill next time you’re buying coffee.
 Cook someone a meal.
 Give time or money to a local charity.
 Call family or friends you haven’t spoken with for a while.
 Give a stranger a compliment.
 SMILE at people – anywhere, anytime.

So let’s give to live, give to be healthy, give to be happy – and give abundantly, simply because it’s a good thing to do.

AL
P.S. Read our page on Giving here …

 

 

Mindfulness – focused or unfocused explained

Mindfulness – focused or unfocused explained

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits

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

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

But back to forms of mindfulness, focused and unfocused.

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

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

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

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

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

Mindful Mouthful / Single Sip exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Informal movement

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

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

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

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

Informal Movement meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be active. Be well.
AL

Access meditations … here …

 

 

Sound and Silence

Sound and Silence

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

How comforting sounds can be.

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

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

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

Sounds and Healing

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

Listening to particular sounds can alleviate stress and expedite healing.

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

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

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

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

Silence

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

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

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

Silence and Spirituality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AL

Pillars of Purpose series – Forgiveness

Pillars of Purpose series – Forgiveness

Forgiveness is good for us. It is a voluntary process of letting go of feelings of offence, anger, hurt, and resentment – whether the person deserves it or not. Forgiveness releases the victim (that’s you) from being a carrier of bitterness and suffering. It is a natural resolution of a grief process.

 If I develop bad feelings toward those who make me suffer, this will only destroy my own peace of mind. But if I forgive, my mind becomes calm. Dalai Lama

Forgiveness is an act of love, undertaken by the mind as an act of will as much as love and compassion, and is a tool for growth and development. As such, forgiveness is a ‘pillar of purpose’, and a powerful resource in our lives.

Most religions of the world offer teachings on forgiveness.

In the Christian church forgiveness plays an important role as the basis for acceptance by God with Jesus asking in the last moments of his life “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. (Luke 23;34). The phrase to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us” in the Lord Prayer offer a teaching of both asking and giving.

In Judaism a whole day is dedicated to forgiveness every year – the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. During this time a person is to reflect and atone for any wrongdoing. On receiving an apology, a person who is wronged is religiously bound to forgive the offender and forgiveness considered a pious act (Deot 6:).

The word Islam has root in the word ‘peace’ with forgiveness as a prerequisite position to obtain ‘real peace’. The Qur’an holds that “those who pardon (forgive) and maintain righteousness are rewarded by God. He does not love the unjust” (Qur’an 42:40).

The Baha’i faith believes all human beings are equal in God’s creation – “forgive all, consider the whole of humanity as our own family, the whole earth as our own country, be sympathetic with all suffering, nurse the sick, offer a shelter to the exiled, help the poor and those in need, dress all wounds and share the happiness of each one” (Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy).

Hindus believe in karma and reincarnation and that forgiveness should not only be asked for and given, but that proper reflection and acts of charity, meditation and purification have place in the process. Forgiveness embraces the concept of mercy, compassion and grace with unbound unconditional love.  Forgiveness is seen as a restraint on the power of intolerance and hatred.

Traditionally Buddhism does not recognise that human dealings are ‘transactional’ so the idea of being in debt or needing to atone are not directly applicable. However, an interpretation of Buddhist forgiveness is to ‘let go’ of an offence, be released from suffering and increase harmony in life, rather than asking forgiveness from a person or God.

It can be argued that the inclination to forgive is present in us all – but is it? Morally we are brought up in this world of dualism … the sacred and the profane, saint and sinner, right and wrong. But surely it is in the wisdom distilled from the learnings of our lives, the experiences, understandings, and the compassion of forgiveness found, that gives us perceptions and insights into the purpose of life itself.

Our perception of right and wrong is subjective as Tolstoy said:

 It’s not given to people to judge what’s right or wrong. People have eternally been mistaken and will be mistaken, and in nothing more than in what they consider right and wrong.

Through the challenges of life, we come to realise that none of us are perfect, we are all affected by the conditions and experiences we face, and we all make mistakes. So, though the ability to forgive is in us, it can be challenging to identify the need for forgiveness in ourselves, and then bring together the ingredients and skills of what is necessary to enact it. It can take will power, emotional energy and effort to dig deep and find the reason why you do what you do; or to find the willingness and compassion to begin the necessary reflection to enter the forgiveness process.

Once we can ‘enable’ forgiveness in ourselves we can strengthen it by meditating on the reasons ‘why’ we should forgive, and when this achieved, we are able to bring the strength of this reasoning to the fore in times of weakness more readily.

So why forgive? Well, the main beneficiary is you and your well-being. It’s hard to live with unforgiveness and it can be very damaging. On a physical level it can disrupt eating and sleeping, and it can also affect you mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well as damaging other relationships around you. It can eat away at your peace causing suffering and bitterness that can affect your mental health, even changing the way in which you view the world at large. In the long term unforgiveness takes far more emotional energy, causes far more stress and unhappiness, than forgiving.

Learning to forgive, and letting go, is, as the Rev Martin Luther King, Jn said “…  not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude”

An analogy that helped me personally to identify a constant attitude toward forgiveness arose from Taoist story about the river of life, and ‘going with the flow’.  Recognising that unforgiveness blocks the flow of life energy, I began reflecting on the ‘wrongs’ of life that I held on to as bits of flotsam. With that came recognition that flotsam catches twigs and branches, which in turn snag or become a bed for stones. Following on from that, those stones build walls, walls become dams, and dams hinder or stop the flow of the river.

It is now a regular practice for me to catch things by noticing my internal reaction to people and things, so that I can let it go. Reflection, meditation and journaling practices have helped me uncover some ‘stones’ of hurt or resentment from the past and I use conscious awareness practices, contemplation, prayer and meditation as a bridge toward deeper understanding. I have found that acceptance and letting go aid forgiveness and help build the bittersweet territory of wisdom.

 It is the confession, not the priest, that gives absolution so, ‘if you don’t forgive sins, what will you do with them?’ (John 20:23)

As forgiveness is about becoming the person you want to be, or your perception says you ought to be, here are some practical suggestions to help relieve the suffering of the future, by remedy today.

  • Consider your own behaviour – was it childish or adolescent in the light of you age and experience – are you thinking and acting out in an age-appropriate way?
  • Bring empathy and compassion into your pain, work toward insight and understanding it
  • Find something good about the person or situation that offended you, then add to it
  • Stop taking offence – discern what it is in you that needs attention, and then give it
  • Stop blaming others – about anything at all
  • Refuse to be critical or negative – if you can’t say something neutral or nice, don’t say anything
  • Practice being thankful anywhere anytime – for your health when visiting the doctor; for the food when in the supermarket; for the provision of education when at college; the fresh air in the outdoors and so on.
  • Be more aware, practice contemplation and mindful meditation
  • Do small acts of kindness – start with one per week
  • Believe in yourself, and then believe in something more than you

In closing consider that receiving forgiveness carries a responsibility to change behaviour. Its ok to make mistakes, but the response is to take the necessary actions to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

For how can we not forgive when we are part of a creation that gives us all we need to flourish?

How can we not ‘go with the flow’ of the rich experience of life, loving, living and forgiving, within the unity for which we were created?

AL

Helpful meditations on site here ... Loving Kindness, Working with Challenging Emotions, Reframe with RAIN, Gratitude of Body, Big Blue Sky – and why not try one of our contemplations…

A Personal Experience of Meditation

A Personal Experience of Meditation

The timer goes off and you slowly start to move away from the meditative state, momentarily carrying a blissful sense of the stillness and silence within you and the flicker of pure happiness or joy.

You smile at the anomaly that all the circumstances surrounding you, from your own personal situation to the state of the world on the news, have not changed.

But you have.

You have opened your eyes and, just for a short time, see things through a slightly less clouded veil of habit and ego.

So for a while you remain in this deep well of well-being; perfectly poised in the balance that “nothing matters” and yet “everything matters profoundly”.

You understand the sages’ advice that time is so short we should all move more slowly. In fact for a few more moments, it will be impossible to do anything but move in a much more measured way.

Even though you are often aware right up to the moment the timer goes off that your mind is still getting periodically dis-tracted by a ‘treeful of monkeys’ throwing random thoughts, emotions and desires into the mix, you have slowed down.

You have gone deeper.

The demands of daily life and the issues of the day are fast closing in on you, but you still feel that lingering connection to your, gradually receding, meditative state. Somehow you understood the wise words of the mystics, although you neither know how or why, that:

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”.

Although, as your rational mind tells you, in the material realm, they are most clearly not.

You know of the fear and despair the scientists feel, and the frustration and anger of the young. You have felt it too.
How can you not when you really think things through? But you sense too the antidote contained in acceptance of the statement, “This too shall pass”.

Everything, shall pass, sooner or later. And the acceptance of that fact brings settlement.

Without doubt, in the not too distant future, our little planet will have changed so much that it will become increasingly inhospitable to us guilty humans, as well as to many other much more innocent creatures.

Yet in another realm of understanding you feel the strange hope in the words of the Desiderata and know that:

“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and stars and whether it is clear to you or not, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

Your human life has a purpose, it has meaning; for the short time we are able to remain on Earth, we have to connect into that and be as … and do … what we can to fulfil it.

Despite the weight of the encroaching future of the world you ‘re-member’, you link back to the feeling of being momentarily totally happy and at peace.

You touched the one thing that all a human really needs, as the yogis say, to unfold the spiritual life is to be patient in all circumstances. And then the cheerful monkey in your mind makes you laugh at the fact that “patience” anagrams to “peace tin”.

And what is meditation, (or gardening, or painting, or poetry writing or even washing up with awareness,) except the practice of being patient, for however long you are able to keep faithfully paying attention. Allowing a mantra to help clean out the chambers of the soul and, as Mirabai Starr so sweetly puts it, “Wait for the grace to come.”

So you wait. Stay calm. Put on peace and hope to get some spiritual wisdom.

And sometimes in those peaceful moments you do just ‘get it’.

You are suddenly part of that greater whole. The one underlying current of the energy of peace gently throbbing in the heart of all.

And you stay a moment, you pause in time, realising you are in it now…

 

Guest Blog by Amanda Brown, Yoga Practitioner and Teacher UK

Access meditations … here …

AL