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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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A meditation busy in body and mind is a meditation

When people try to take up some kind of silent practice like meditation, they can be surprised and alarmed by what they become aware of that they didn’t know was there before, like a busy mind or even a busy body. Recently I was listening to someone telling me how when she meditated at a certain time of day, she was still in “action” mode and felt she was too mentally busy and couldn’t settle because her feet were so busy! I thought how often people are aware of a part of themselves that seemingly “can’t” settle. So, how might you deal with a meditation busy in body and mind like this?

There is a way, among many, to deal with this which can seem paradoxical – and so much of this work is full of paradoxes – where you take your awareness to this busy part of you, in mind and in body. This is not about getting into the content of why you’re busy and engaging in the thoughts about it, since this is probably partly why you are so busy. This is about being mindful of this busy part of you. It’s like we come to observe the busyness.

Let’s say your feet are busy, as in the example above and which I personally know well. In your meditation, just allow yourself to become aware, as an observer, of your feet. Just notice them, lovingly not critically, and non-judgementally. It’s like here is more phenomena that happens. “Isn’t this interesting”, you might think (and again put on one side the instant criticism that comes up, that habitual leap to judgement). You can notice the feet being active. Are they twitching for example? Do they hurt? Are they uncomfortable. Let your mind explore your feet all over, from toes to heels. Breathe into them: imagine your in-breath travelling down to your feet and all through them. And when you breathe, imagine the air coming back up and as it does so the feet relax just a little bit. Or have the intention that they relax even if you can’t feel anything. Just continue to be aware of them. If you have any thoughts about them, notice that and return your awareness to simply breathing and being aware of your feet. You might notice the part of you that wants things to be different and gets impatient, and you return to your breath and being aware.

You could do this with other parts of your body too. Very gently, very patiently, in the moment, curious, non-judgementally aware.

You will note the use of the word “non-judgemental” in all this. A key aspect to meditation is acceptance. What occurs in meditation is what occurs. We are teaching ourselves not to be attached to it but accept it and let it go. A meditation busy in body and mind is still a meditation. It is just a busy meditation. Beating ourselves up about it, and saying it’s not a “proper” meditation for example is a microcosm of how we deal with life. It’s a nice exercise in letting go.

When we let go and shift our awareness from our story to the present moment awareness of something, we change the relationship we have with it. It opens up a possibility for a different experience of being.

You can learn more about our work with mindfulness on our courses and in having coaching. To read more about our courses, click here. And about our coaching, click here.

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Do you find mindfulness difficult to practice?

The benefits of mindfulness practice can often seem outweighed by their pitfalls in the eyes of many who “try” it and give up, seemingly deterred by for example their very busy minds and by all the things that come up once one pauses and attends to the moment. “It’s very difficult” is a comment I hear a lot, an odd one, you might think, when all you’re being asked to do, is do nothing at all, attend to your breath and let go.

Yet it’s when we do this, be still and become aware, that we get what’s really going on. Many report that what they get is a chaos of thoughts, and an urge to get up and do something, or intense guilt at “doing nothing” like we should be “doing something useful”, or a fidgeting like we think we “can’t” keep still. After several sessions they might give up believing they aren’t getting what they started the practice to get, such as calmness of mind, or relaxation, or less stress.

What is important to realise is that mindfulness, and meditation if you are also wanting to meditate, is about sitting still, going within, attending to the breath (and/or a mantra), and being aware. What happens is part of the practice (well, it is for many teachers anyway!) and you are seeking to become the observer of your thoughts rather than “being the thinker”. What you are doing here is letting go of “doership”, thinking you are the thinker and that you “do” your thoughts. Instead, you let go of this belief and allow yourself to observe your thoughts. You are not your thoughts. You can think (!) something like, “Isn’t this interesting!”, notice yourself being engaged in thinking, and then take a deeper breath, breathe out (in a sense) the thoughts, and return your awareness to your breath. And repeat this every time you catch yourself thinking. Gradually the thoughts diminish. Yet you might still have “busy” meditations, and a lesson can be to accept these too.

Thus, with mindfulness practice, you are being aware of breathing, noticing any thoughts that arise, and returning to being aware of your breath. It is a practice and the benefits accrue over months and years. It’s not instant. We live in a “have it now” society and so it isn’t easy to make the shift and to accept that it will take time. Yet patience, acceptance and letting go are all part of what is involved and what it teaches us. Treat your practice as a time to pause, regain your equilibrium, re-balance yourself, and re-connect with your essence. Over time you will learn more and more to centre yourself, which you can live out in your life in general, and to sense inside who you really are. We live such hectic, stressful, busy lives and we get so caught up in all sorts of dramas that we lose touch with our essence. Thus we need this quiet time, this reminder, re-mind-er, to get back in touch with who we are and our real purpose and intention in life. It’s a treasure.

I run a two-day programme that teaches these skills: to learn more, click here.

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To choose or not to choose

Pardon the Shakespearian touch, but do you find you can get so “caught up” in something that’s going on in your life that you forget you have other options as to how you might respond and deal with it, that you can choose again?

I’m thinking of how we can be so impacted by something that happens that, despite what we’ve learned, we are quickly back in the midst of our “knee-jerk” reactions, succumbing to the familiar numbers we can run. Then, like Hamlet, we no longer “be”.

Let’s say you not long ago left a job you had decided no longer fulfilled you and who you are and you moved on to something else. Then a while later, after the honeymoon, back comes some of those old patterns. Maybe you find yourself again in situations where your buttons get pushed and you flip back into your old “stuff”. We could say the same about leaving one relationship and starting another only to find the same stuff re-appears. Or moving house. It goes on.

Another way might be where you think you’ve learned something and for a few days it seems to work, and then something occurs that catches you unawares and there you are, doing “it” again. It’s a bit like your shadow following you around!

We always have a choice

What can be hard to see is that we’ve always got a choice. I’ve been often struck how we might need to remind ourselves to take responsibility and exercise choice. It can seem like we forget this when our “stuff” happens. It’s a kind of selective amnesia or a fog that takes hold, and blots out our awareness.

It’s an everyday occurrence, being presented with choices about how we deal with this or that situation. Yet we may not necessarily see that we have a choice in a particular situation and instead operate compulsively, in a sense “at the effect” of what is occurring.

It can take an effort, a real effort, to do this, to take responsibility and to choose. To choose whether to carry on being at the effect of “it”, of to take control and manage “it” differently, let go, etc.

This is one example of where I have found meditation so helpful, and the practice of mindfulness that is involved. In the process of settling in to meditate, and to focus the mind and let go of mental activity (or however you see it), we notice our mind getting absorbed in something and we return our awareness to the breath, a mantra or whatever technique you use to help you settle and centre yourself and be present and more fully aware. And keep doing this when the mind wanders.

In doing this, I might for example come into meditation with some “it” that is going on. The process of settling in to meditation, and the sustained practice of it, helps me let go of whatever “it” is. It’s like life in general. We can develop mental “muscle” this way, so that we learn we have power over our “stuff”, rather than “it” having power over us. Then over time and with practice you (or I), develop a greater ability to manage the mind, to be aware of our mental patterns and to rise above them, let them go, etc. That doesn’t mean it won’t come back, but that you know there’s a powerful tool you have available to use.

This is a decision we make, a choice we exercise. We use our will, and thus build up the power of the will. That too needs practice. The ego is so skilled in the art of selective amnesia and so we need to find ways to combat it. Thus some regular practice to “re-mind” ourselves is very important.
So just pause a moment, take a deep breath, and do a mental scan. What’s going on in your mind at the moment? What is “foreground”, close up to you? And what is “background”, further away, or running quietly? What can you feel? Is there some sense of unease, worry, sadness, depression, anger or even something else? Sometimes it is not in our minds, as it seems, but in our bodies. So tune through your body, till you sense it.

This can be familiar “stuff”, what we keep doing, but push away in order to cope day by day.

Now go and meditate, notice this pattern you’ve identified, and breathe it away, bringing your awareness to your breath and to being present and more fully aware…

Of the majesty of Who you Are.

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Meditate even when you don’t feel like it

If your mind is off on some trip somewhere and you aren’t feeling so good, it’s a good time to meditate. Yet this can seem a hard one if you don’t feel like that either. Yet many seasoned meditators will say that this is exactly where meditation can be so beneficial.

Let’s take the example of feeling dissatisfied or discontented about something. Somehow the problem keeps hanging around in your mind and you don’t seem able to let it go or change how you feel. The fear might be that if you go and meditate with this going on, you’ll just have a “bad meditation” or “won’t be able to meditate”.

Of course there can be a bit of victimhood with the problem, where we feel sorry for ourselves, “at the effect of the problem”, like “it” has got hold of “us”. So we separate ourselves from the problem and make “it” the cause” of our woes. With meditation, we make contact with our Oneness, our essence of Being, and us and the problem are at some level one. At that level, what can be the problem if you are fully surrendered to the One? Here we can potentially see that we are creating our problem and we can dissolve it.

There is a limiting belief that we “can’t meditate”, that when we’re in the middle of a problem “it” will get in the way. Yet meditation is what happens when we sit with the intention to meditate. Sitting still, going within, and being present with our Selves, warts and all, can include everything, including noise, distraction and busy, unhappy minds. In meditation we work with acceptance, which includes accepting whatever is going on, being mindful of it and returning our awareness to the breath – and a mantra if you use one. Being still, aware and present in this way enables the problem to just be there, with us mindful of it, the observer of it, as a witness, and return our awareness to our breath, etc. What can happen in meditation is that we loosen our attachment to the “problem”, which then becomes yet another manifestation of consciousness in its contracted, egoic state, which over and over we let go of as we meditate. Then your state can become inner stillness of Being, consciousness in its true state.

Over and  over we learn how we can let go of these things and they no longer exist as a reality, except as we choose to make it one. Thus going to meditate when you don’t feel like it, when your mind is caught up in stuff that you’re not happy about, is a perfect time to re-mind yourself of what it’s really all about.

You can download an mp3 of guidelines for meditation and 2 guided introductions to meditation to help you develop your practice of meditation. Click here.

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Use your mind to manage your ego

It makes a useful practice to deliberately use the mind to manage your state and focus on wellbeing, and in effect to manage your ego. I think we don’t always realise our feelings of wellbeing are something in our control. We don’t have to be the prey of upsets, sadness and anger

Today I was meditating on the awareness of love and contentment. For some reason I started my meditation feeling rather unsettled and anxious. This is a not-unfamiliar experience for me that readers of my blog and newsletter will know! The reason I am sharing this with you now is to use it as an illustration of the power of intentional self-regulation, delberately managing the mind. What I did was that, after settling into meditation using the breath, I allowed myself to focus on the feeling and used a technique of awareness to dissolve the feeling. After that, while continuing to be mindful of my breath I deliberately allowed the state of contentment to be there, so that I might be “present” with it, as we say. As I meditated, the feeling grew. At some point I found myself shifting back into a slight sense of anxiety, but again I breathed into it, dissolved it with presence, and returned my awareness to my breath and to my state of wellbeing. I finished my meditation with that sense, one of peaceful contentment.

The ego has very subtle ways of pulling us back into its habitual ways, and part of a practice of awareness is to catch it when it happens, challenge it and change it (The three C’s of awareness), and bring oneself back to equilibrium. The ego might manifest as a thought and it might just hang around as a feeling. If we allow ourselves to attend to the latter, and give it airtime so to speak, what we can often get is thoughts about it and away we go, caught up in ego. The ego is so powerful, because it is so ingrained in our system. Hence the importance of having a practice to challenge it. This flags up how essential it is to use awareness to spot your ego at work and seek to let it go. Meditation provides one admirable instrument for doing this.

You can learn more about the ego, how our addiction to ego is at the centre of so much human unhappiness and lack of success at gaining fulfillment and satisfaction, and how to get unattached to ego and more focused on who we really are: come on our upcoming workshop, Life Beyond the Ego. For more information, click here.

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Happiness may not be the best goal to pursue

Attempts by governments to foster happiness in the population seem to have been hitting resistance. This is not only because of the well-known tendency of the population to tire of particular regimes over time and look for a change but also that the very happiness agenda itself has been controversial. It’s been pointed out that an over-strong emphasis on happiness as a desirable quality can actually have a dispiriting effect on those for whom being happy is something they are really struggling with. Even the supposed champion par excellence of happiness, Dr Seligman, has in his latest book Flourish moved away from saying that happiness is crucial to wellbeing and instead classed it as one facet of “Positive Emotion”, itself one of five determinants of well being.

If for example you are one who is suffering from depression, it is possible that too much of an emphasis on being happy could tip you further into depression. You might for example feel you’re failing, that it’s beyond you. People who are depressed are even likely to avoid being around situations where you are supposed to be happy. It can just “miss it” for them. If someone comes up to them and says “Cheer up!” they might just be met with an expletive.

This can seem to fly in the face of so much cultural pressure to “be positive”, to at all costs keep a smile on your face. I’m always struck how in business today, when people talk together they often have a fixed smile on their face. I remember at one training course it was, with a Transatlantic reference, called a “PanAm smile”, a big, cheesy grin but no crows feet creases at the edge of the eyes. Look into the eyes and they aren’t smiling. The eyes after all are where truth lies.

Happiness can become a polarity, at the other end of which is sadness. Those who are bipolar will know this painfully well: you can flip from one state to the other very fast. Rather, I would suggest a re-framing of perspective. Happiness as a state can be a misleading goal for those on a path of personal growth.

In meditation, for example, before you settle into a meditative state you might first need to negotiate the Scylla and Charybdis pitfalls of the mind. All can play itself out when you confront your mind’s tendencies here. You might go off into some blank state and then you might be caught up in whatever is plaguing your mind that day. If you’re feeling down, you can get that in meditation. The art is how to become aware or mindful, to return your awareness to your breath (and perhaps to a mantra) and let go of what the mind is focused on. Instead you become the watcher of the mind, the witness.

In the aware state you might simply be aware. You might be very present. You might just be blank. You might feel at peace, calm, steady, balanced, centered. Then you might feel very contented. You might even feel love, or bliss, ananda. And then you might not. But you would seek not to judge it, not to have expectation, not to set yourself up in comparison, but be unattached. Once you set yourself up in comparison, you are setting up a subject/object separation and are no longer at One.

So, from this perspective, as Seligman says, happiness is just one state. But it’s not the only one, or necessarily a pre-condition for well being. So, perhaps it’s best not to get hung up on the search for happiness per se! Like so much of life, it is riven with paradox.

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Centre yourself to help you learn how to manage stress

Recently I’ve been designing a course for some people to help them learn how to manage stress and, as so often happens, I’ve been finding myself exploring how I handle stress for myself. It’s very useful to be challenged, in effect, to review your own processes in providing things for others. In fact I’d say it is crucial. One big lesson I got from training in Gestalt was that one’s own process in working with others was always up for review. This is inherent in self awareness. What you teach others, you must practice yourself. Otherwise it is inauthentic at some level.

Anyway, one element particularly stood out for me from my preparation work on Stress and that, along with the importance of self awareness, was that of having some practice that invited me regularly to centre myself, to find my own space of steady calm and peace within. To do that, I need to meditate, although I find that having renewed my own experience of being centred, I am then better able to embody it in daily living and hold a regular and sometimes a constant awareness of my inner state.

It’s like I develop an inner sensing, an inner knowing of what’s there and can refer to it when I need to. What can happen with the stress reaction is that we’re taken off by an emotional reaction to a stressor, some external stimuli and/or some inner re-activation of old stuff we carry, and we lose contact with our rational side. This becomes ingrained, so that we’re doing it even when there’s no actual external stimuli. Our body and our mind is caught up in a stress reaction which has its own inbuilt momentum. However, once you develop your inner sensing, your awareness of your own process, you are better able to catch the stress reaction and monitor it. Moreover, as you learn to centre yourself more and more  often, you can hold an intention for that, and even an awareness of it, even while the stress reaction is happening. Beyond that, you can also much more quickly activate your own stress management technique, such as breathing deeply and connecting with your Self within. It’s like you’ve built up an awareness of something so much greater than the “sweaty little ego”.

If you look at the tag here on meditation, you can read more about the value of using this practice in managing stress but also as a life skill in cultivating your own centre of awareness.

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Knowing how to deal with stress

Interestingly if alarmingly stress is now the biggest single factor behind long-term sickness absence from work. It may come as no surprise to many at work today, who report long hours, job uncertainty, re-structurings, lack of a pay increase and other pressures, let alone the demands now being placed on them by their work circumstances. So, if this is the case, the key question must be: how to deal with stress, what could you be doing about it?

As you will find a lot in this blog, we place a big emphasis on self awareness. This is the ability to tune inside and notice what’s really going on. As I’ve pointed out in previous postings, we can “normalise” our behaviour, make it what seems “normal”, and therefore at some level accept what is really not serving us. We can even get addicted to the regular hormone injection that becomes part of everyday living. We thus become de-sensitised to our own bodies, and not notice how we’re feeling. With self awareness, you can learn to spot the warning signs, feel how parts of your body are feeling, and pick up on when your stress levels are rising.

Then, as we teach in The Seven Proven Steps, it’s about learning to be self accountable, to take responsibility for what is occurring, using the will to choose differently, and take action to make changes. It requires effort, but it’s an effort that pays off over time with an increased feel-good factor, but needs to be sustained to see results. A powerful set of techniques to use is associated with mindfulness and deep relaxation, brilliantly described in the very influential book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living. Derived from meditation, you can train yourself to relax and over time let go of tension in the body, using a body scan technique, and also learn to let go of mental activity by focusing on the breath. Meditation practice goes very well with this, but, although it is a practice I recommend, you don’t have to formally meditate to do this. There is a video of a guided introduction to meditation, including guidelines for practice on this website.

With all this goes other very important changes that are well worth considering. One is to use mindfulness practice, what we call witnessing, to become aware of and choicefully manage the mind, learning to let go thoughts that you associate with feeling stressed, and instead focusing on a calm, centred state that you can develop with the practice outlined above.

You may also need to think of lifestyle changes that might support a more relaxed and healthy way of living. Looking at how you plan the use of your time, having relaxation activities, walking much more, taking time out, not working all hours, having more structure in your life that paradoxically gives you more space, attending to diet and exercise, and living in general more healthily. A read of the above-mentioned book will help with this. But above all, it involves a determined choice to make changes that enhance your well-bing, not a steady march to a certain breakdown of some kind. After all, it is in the end us ourselves who are accountable for how we choose to live.

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Being the watcher of your self

So much of the time, we’re busy, hectic, rushing, no time for anything, madly dashing to get somewhere, moving on to the next thing. So, this time, as you are about to plunge into your Monday morning of busyness, just pause a moment and give yourself some space.

The beauty of meditation is that it is like a microcosm of our lives. When we meditate, we potentially get to see what we do in life. This is one reason why it is such an excellent self-development tool. So, to pause and meditate a bit, you can detach from your busyness and just observe it.

It has been said that meditation is what happens when people sit with the intention to meditate. All our ways of being can be present and we get to see all our patterns. For example we expect meditation to be a certain way and get disappointed when it doesn’t work out that way. A bit like life.

Most people comment that they keep getting all these thoughts. So, what can you do when you get these thoughts? Well, there is the practice of attending to the breath as a focus, or using a mantra, which is a sacred phrase or vibration. However, another very useful technique is to be the watcher of your thoughts, as the silent witness. You sit and observe your thoughts, in a non-judgemental way. You just notice them. You don’t try to resist the thoughts, just notice them. They say that a watched mind becomes still.

The witness is not an inner critic, which is another part of the ego. It is a still, silence, observing state, an awareness. It has a great inner peace about it. You just allow yourself to be the witness.

You can apply the technique in the rest of your life. Just notice what you’re doing, being aware of it, rather than let’s say caught up in a pattern that doesn’t serve you. This way your carry your calm state with you as you go abaout your life. When you find yourself caught up again, remember the witness, breathe and allow yourself to just notice.