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My mind is always busy

Do you find that when you try to be still and quiet and hope to relax that your mind gets busy and won’t be quiet? It can be very frustrating. People often tell me that “it is hard for me to be quiet and ‘switch off’ when my mind is always busy”. If you are trying to develop the practice of meditation this can prove to be a deterrent, if you let it.

What people don’t always realise until they try to relax is that they do in fact have a busy mind, like they are always thinking, always on the go, always looking for something that needs attending to. There’s an old expression, “the devil makes work for idle hands”, and today that seems to be haunting us big time. The work ethic, often praised for being behind successful economies, can also the be the bane of someone’s life. It’s like we “can’t” stop. Or so it seems.

For one thing it is actually very healthy if you’ve become aware of how busy your mind is. At least you know what’s really going on. You could ask yourself what the drivers are. When you notice your  busy mind, just pause, ask yourself what today’s thinking is really about, breathe in deep, breathe long and relax, and let go and see what answer comes to your mind.

For example I might be actually thinking about the things I need to do during the day. If that’s the case, I could have a notepad next to me and pause and write down a list, and then go back to my stillness or my meditation. I could also ask myself what’s behind the thinking about “things to do”. Do I notice that I believe I “must” do these things, like it’s compulsive? I could remind myself, re-mind my self, that I have choice and that it’s OK if certain things didn’t happen and that I could let go of being attached to them happening. So I could give myself freedom.

I could also ask what’s behind the “must” in my example above. Maybe I’m afraid of what might happen to me, let’s say, if I don’t do these things. Maybe I’m afraid of failure, or of not being liked by others I things don’t happen, or that that people will be angry, or that I won’t have any money. There’s likely to be something unique to you, some core or root thought you often have, like “I’m no good”, or “not good enough”, etc, if you allowed yourself to be aware of it. This root thought is what it can serve us to challenge and think differently about, as it is our ego and not who we really are.

So our quiet time can be wheh we hear our ego at work. Good time to notice it, be aware, of it, step back and rest in your centred state of being.

Meditation is what happens when we sit with the intention to meditate. We get to be aware of our process, and it’s a good time to use the tools we have to let go.

However, you might just have a busy-mind session. It happens to even the most seasoned practitioners. Stay with it. It does not last. As Buddhists say, “this too shall pass”. All is impermanent. You will have a quite time. But you need to stick to the path and not give up.

I coach people in developing their mindful way of being in the world and to let go of busyiness, through my life coaching. To contact me, click here

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Do you keep Sunday special?

A news report today is suggesting that the UK government is considering the temporary suspension of the Sunday trading laws.  These laws limit the hours shops can be open that day, and they are proposing suspending them because it is thought advantageous to have the big shops open over the period of the summer Olympic and Para-Olympic games this year. Immediately the “Keep Sunday Special” lobby has sprung into action in defence of limited opening hours and there are accusations of more anti-Christian behaviour in government.

For those outside the UK who might be bemused by all this, once upon a time shops were closed all day on Sunday and generally the streets would be fairly empty of people and traffic. Going back even further in time, large numbers would file into their local church for their dutiful hour or so of worship. People would consult their bible on their soul’s current needs and it was supposed to be a time of prayer and sobriety, in the good old Puritan tradition of “observing the Sabbath”. I can remember not being allowed to go out and play because, I was told, people wanted “peace and quiet”. Curiously, however, nobody in my immediate family went to church.

The decline of such observance is perhaps testimony to the decline of traditional religion in the UK. As has been argued before in this blog, this doesn’t mean spiritual life has somehow been extinguished. Far from it. But it does show how differently we now behave in terms of how we use the traditional “day off” from work.

For those who are concerned at the utter busyiness and drivenness of contemporary life however, it might be worth pausing to reflect on quite how you use your time off and how much time you devote to inner awareness and reflection. Arguably one trend of modern life in the West has been to squeeze out awareness of the inner life and to focus us on material trappings and the pursuit of more. Interestingly, as we have grown more prosperous, church attendance, to use one measure, has steadily fallen. Other means have arisen to help us manage the existential dilemmas of life and the possibilities of eternity. We can instead go shopping and a bit of retail therapy can usefully serve to postpone such issues to another day.

Thus, if you are concerned about the pace and obsessions of contemporary life, and even more your own inner state, it can still be worthwhile to develop and sustain your own practice of giving yourself time to be still and contemplate silence and stillness and find what utter peace and beauty can be found there. For example, an hour at the start of each day, or even half and hour, in which there is a regular practice of being still and silent, and aware.

Then we can allow in the total love and comprehension of universal presence.

And then go shopping.

An hour each day like this, perhaps also with some reading of something uplifting, can transform your day.

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Try just being and not doing for a while

In an activity-orientated society such as ours, the thought of not doing very much might seem a bit strange. Which begs some interesting questions.

This came up recently in a conversation I was having. “What do you like doing?” I asked, to get the reply, “Not very much. I just like being.”

Now I guess a lot of people would find the prospect of that a bit uncomfortable for them. We’re all very busy, so much so that it’s a pretty regular question to ask, “How are you? Keeping busy?” So, to say “No”, would put presumably put you in the Not So Well category.

You could test it out for yourself. Let go of whatever you are doing and just sit or stand and wait a bit. See how you react after a while. Does your mind start to run off on something you are working on, or something you feel you ought to be doing, or something that’s coming up later on? Check it out.

If you meditate, do you find your mind gets very active and you need to address your mental busyness in order to get the benefits of meditation? If you have have an “idle” few moments, do you get fidgety?

To spend your time not doing very much but just being therefore might seem crazy to many people, but to those interested in perhaps the quality of their aware, conscious life, it’s a very different matter. To them, to not “do” very much would be something to be almost envied. How about not being under any obligation to earn money, for example, and to have no family commitments, and no targets and deadlines and obligations to others? How about just spending some time sitting in a park, or walking down a country lane, or sitting in a room contemplating the view?

The key to this is the quality of your inner life and the meaning you derive from it, and what is important to you, your values.

One who for example likes to be present, in the moment of Now, could be deriving great bliss from that very moment. The more you stay with That, you more you get That.

I would suggest that we don’t do enough of this, and we have lost the art of contemplation of stillness, silence and presence.

So, when you next get a “spare moment”, use it to be present, in the moment, just Being, and allow the very richness of Being to come to you.

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Do Mondays really get to you?

I don’t know if you find it difficult to re-focus at the start of each week, but people often talk about the Monday morning syndrome, the challenge of re-adjusting to the weekday routine after the relaxation and distractions of the weekend. So Monday is often a day when things seem to get off to a bad start, particularly if you aren’t really getting the best out of your job, or a problem crops up and it really hits you when you come back off your weekend, or things seem to go wrong on Mondays, or you are not in the best of moods.

Continuing our theme of the pace of life seeming to distract us from who we really are, Monday can serve as a useful example of how, despite our best intentions, when we get back into the so-called “real world” all our best efforts to be connected, centred, in touch with our inner state of peace and calm, all that seems to go “out of the window” in the face of the challenges and upsets and sheer drivenness of today’s living.

Another can be coming back from holiday. I’ve just got back from my month-long sojourn in France and there’s already a big pile of correspondence, meetings coming up, arrangements to make, courses to sort out and the various needs of my life back home that have been on hold. People often come back from holiday to find all sorts of changes at work, new things happening, things to catch up with, that they often say they almost don’t feel they’ve been away.

A common experience connected to my work is how people can come on a powerful personal development program and yet feel a big wrench when they go back home and to work. I call it the “re-entry experience” because the adjustment can be a big one.

Yet what is key here is that this life is what there is, whether we’re blissed out in some retreat or busy at work. There’s no more a “real world” here than there, only that which we perceive through our particular coloured glasses, through our filter system of our egos. It’s how we deal with what occurs, both what happens in us and how we respond to what happens “out there” around us and in relationship with others. As stuff goes on, in each moment we get another challenge to connect, to reinvent ourselves, to be present and aware, to see into things rather than replay the old “record” (CD/mp3) of our programming. Developing your ability to connect, and not be thrown by what happens, to be more and more who you really are moment by moment, is today’s challenge.

And it’s possible. We do not have to be the victim’s of what life seemingly throws at us, but what is of our own creation but we haven’t got it yet. In every moment, including a very busy day, on the train, in the airport lounge, in the midst of a lot of noise, when there are multiple demands on your attention, you can be connected to who you are.

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It’s hard to stay connected with all that’s going on

Do you feel you live in a nano-second world? Lots to think about, lots going on, feeling pressured, too much to do, no time?

As one who is used to encouraging people to slow down and really get into the deeper meaning of something, this can sometimes be a challenge!

I was having what I thought was an interesting conversation with somebody, in which I thought they were engaged, and I was making what to me was an important point – and I was really getting into it – when I became aware that they were no longer “there”. Their lights were on but they had distinctly gone somewhere else, and in fact started talking to someone else. I at first continued talking but quickly stopped since I was aware of just talking into nothing. I suspect they had completely forgotten what we were talking about – and they are very polite people and weren’t being rude. Their mind was elsewhere. Have you had this experience?

The sound-bite society: “Just get to the point, and then move on. Just nail it for me. Give me the News at 10 headlines. I don’t have the time to stick around. You’ve lost me. I’ve moved on to something else.”

No wonder we have children who suffer from ADHD. Modern technology, the fast-paced society with multiple stimuli, and the drivenness of the ego today, among other things, can make it very hard to get to the deeper meaning of something. Instead it encourages a partial, incomplete understanding. No more so than the ability to connect with the deeper, more profound parts of ourselves. Instead, it encourages a split in awareness, a crucial disconnection from awareness of Who we really Are.

The result? Profound unhappiness.

As an awareness check, how often do you find yourself flitting from webpage to webpage on websites, bombarded with short-lived stimuli? How often do you find that you don’t stay on one thing for long in life, but feel the need to move on to other things? What then would it be like for you to pause, breathe deeply…and breathe two of three times deeply again…and allow yourself to let go of all thoughts…and be very present in the moment…being very aware simply of breathing…being very aware of the sounds around you…of the sound of the air as it comes in through your nostrils…and out again…being very aware of the stillness…like it was everything?

How would that be?

Would it be a huge effort to slow down and pause the endless flood of stimuli, of rapid thinking, of always being on the go, and just rest awhile in the your awareness of the eternal Now?

It might be an effort, and your ego might resist it, but you can give yourself a moment of heaven. It’s in your grasp.

Through this week we’ll be discussing how hard it is for people to connect and stay connected in today’s world and why it is so important today to deal with this issue.

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To sleep or not to sleep

One of the most draining effects of pressure, worry and anxiety for many at present is sleeplessness. Those who sleep well at night may have no idea what it can be like for another to lie awake for hours at a time, unable to drift off and then crawl through the day drained of energy and with poor concentration. The effects don’t stop there. Believe it or not but there’s a good chance that they’ll get it again the next night, and then the next. And they feel the cold more and find it difficult to engage with people. And their resistance is lowered, so that they become more prone to infections.

It’s as though the worry that lack of sleep engenders has a self-perpetuating aspect. The more they can’t sleep (note the use of the word “can’t”), the more they are thinking about it. It’s as though the mind has become active thinking about not sleeping. Which is the cue, although not obvious. And we get wound up it about it, the mind even busier, stressed, worried.

And this is without going into why one might be awake in the first place. Which can be a lot to do with what’s on one’s mind in general.

Like what is the cause of the worry. For example a threatened job loss, problems at work, or a relationship issue, or financial problems, etc. At the moment, a lot of this is recession-related. It is estimated that between 8 and 10% of the population suffer from chronic insomnia, as this article reveals.

One might distract oneself during the day, but when one lies down then there’s no distraction and the worries crowd in and the mind is away on its trip. Or one wakes up after 2 or 3 hours sleep, after the first deep-sleep phase, and then the mind starts thinking.

You may have noted the comment above that in part it is caused by mental activity, “what’s on your mind”. This provides a vital clue. Learning to relax and to stop the mind thinking, mind management, has a crucial part to play. Thus CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is often used, as is mindfulness training.

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Consciously managing the mind

Anyone who has spent time being quiet, such as in meditation, will probably say that sometimes their minds will be very active, with lots of thoughts going round in their heads. It can seem as if the outer noise that they might want a break from will continue on the inside.

For example, if you are having a busy day, you might pause for some quiet time, go within, and find as you try to settle for meditation (or silent prayer), that whatever is preoccupying your thoughts will continue in the meditation. Whatever you do, focusing on the breath or repeating a mantra, the thoughts keep coming back.

To avoid something that is going on, without dealing with it, can actually heighten it. There is an expression: “What you resist, you get.” The more you avoid something, the more entrenched it can get.

So the mind needs to be managed.

To manage our minds, to keep our focus on what is uplifting for us, we need to actively look at, become aware of, whatever is going on. Meditation is a good time for this, or silent contemplation or prayer. It is worth examining what the content of our mind is at any moment.

So, look at it and get it.

However, the art is to then let go. This is an intentional act of the will. Once you’ve got what’s going on, then you can breathe into it, so to speak, and as you breathe out imagine yourself relaxing and letting go of the thought and then turn your focus to your breath. Whenever the thought returns, bring the mind deliberately back to awareness of the breath, breathing away that thought. And use the mantra or whatever other technique you use.

This is where personal development requires effort. It doesn’t necessarily happen on its own (and it can). We are seeking to change habits of a lifetime and it takes practice and regular effort, the idea being to discipline the mind to focus more one-pointedly on that which uplifts it.

This also applies, of course, to life in general.

So we need to pay attention to what the mind tends to focus on, and deliberately guide it. Where awareness work comes in here is that you need to get the patterns, habits and tendencies of your mind and what that’s about, so that you know what you are managing.

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Having trouble getting time out

How much do you get caught up in the culture of busyness? Always doing something, not enough hours in the day, too much to do, must hurry, can’t stay long talking, I’m late, can’t afford it, need to get more time-smart, etc. And if it’s not you, it’s around you. However, we collude with it one way or another, even by accepting that that’s how it has to be.

So, if this is true for you, then this weekend just say “stop!” Pause, take in some deep breaths and relax a moment. Stop the mental activity. Come into the Now. Tune in.

Notice how your body’s feeling in all this? Tune in a moment or two. That’s not easy as we get desensitised and don’t notice, or we forget. Maybe sit somewhere, close your eyes, take a few deeper breaths, as I said, and tune inside. Scan through your body, notice any tension or unease. Ask yourself what that sensation is about, what it has to tell you. Then in a sense imagine yourself breathing into the tension and letting it go. Do that all around your body.

Now become really aware of the moment. If any thoughts crowd in, notice them. Don’t get absorbed in the train of thought but instead get off it and let it pass. And do the same with any other thoughts.

Notice the moment. Really notice it. Take a good look around you and notice your environment. Again, don’t get into thinking about it. Just notice it.

This is being aware of the moment. It is being present in your surroundings.

Just allow yourself to enjoy it. En-joy. Take in joy. Give yourself joy. It is your birthright. It is you, part of your Self.

You might find yourself feeling or thinking about what you are doing, like you should be doing something, you haven’t the time, you look ridiculous, what if your partner/friend/parent walked in, etc. This is the ego. So, notice that too, and come back to being present.

Practice this a few times and see how you get on.