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Is practicing mindfulness something you don’t get round to?

The hard bit about mindfulness is the discipline of practicing it every day, particularly when we don’t feel like it. It’s one powerful way the ego has of deflecting us from what we need for our path. Thus it can be very easy to drop the practice after a while because it seems like “it isn’t working”. Practicing mindfulness needs to be regular to see the benefits.

Lets say your practice includes an early morning meditation. You’ve committed to this time to give yourself some space before the day starts for you to go within, be still, let go of thoughts and enjoy your inner calm. Maybe you’ve been told it is a good time to do this, and certainly seasoned meditators affirm the value of the quiet of the early morning, particularly just before sunrise.

The busy mind

Yet one day you find your mind is really busy with the day’s activities and your schedule, like you’ve already started work! So you find it difficult to settle and have a mediation where instead of focusing on your breath you get all these thoughts buzzing round your head. It’s not easy because one reason you took up the practice was to still your mind. On another day you get ready for your meditation but you realise you are a bit late, and so you have the worry of being late and it “spoils” your meditation, like it didn’t come up to your expectations and you feel stressed. Another time, you feel hungry and want a good cup of coffee to start your day. This day you badly need that coffee, and so you decide that has to come first and then you’ll meditate. But you don’t because its late and your mind is busy. Then things slip more and before you know it you haven’t been doing your meditation a while and it seems no point. Then you decide “it doesn’t work” and give it up.

Now I’m not saying that you the reader are like this. I’m just giving a list of common reasons why people find the sustained, regular practice difficult. You might like to check through the reasons above and look at what is common amongst them. There’s the busy mind, lots of thoughts; there’s feelings, like worry in this case; there’s the list of what to do; there’s expectations about things being as we want; there’s stress; there’s the desire for something; there’s our excuses. I could go on.

The ego distracts us

These are aspects of how the ego operates to distract us from our true goal and keep us safe in our limited state because that is what it beliefs enables us to survive. But we know how to survive and we want to grow further and move beyond the ego to know who we really are. The ego resists this and uses techniques like deflection, to shift our attention to things like desire and attachment, what we believe we want and what we are attached to and don’t want to let go of. Yet through mindfulness you can get to see how your ego gets in the way.

Steady practice

Mindfulness involves the steady practice of using the breath or a mantra to help us focus or concentrate, to step back from the activities of the mind and observe our process. In this we notice what occurs, rather than be caught up in it, and be in the state of non-attachment, where we let go of the ego’s ways, and rest in our inner stillness. Here the mind can still chatter on and we rest in our stillness within. Each meditation is another chance to practice, and to notice the ego at work, let go and rest in our stillness. This is ongoing as we gradually find our stillness more and more.

Being patient is not something many of us do very well

Being patient is not something people seem to do well. On the contrary, we pile on the pressure, push the boundaries and demand results, impatient to get what we want. It can be self-limiting since it sets up resistance in the universe and the more we push, the harder it gets. The cycle of impatience is resisted by others and within us too. There’s another self inside crying out for attention and not getting heard.

We’re all in a rush to get somewhere, get something done, short of time, too much going on, on a deadline, other people demanding something, feeling guilty for not delivering, afraid we’ll be late, can’t stop, must get on, sorry not now, I’m too busy. You can hear the excuses. Think about the person tailgating you in their car or walking down the street with someone breathing down your neck. Or you doing it to someone else. Why don’t they hurry up or get out of the way?! Breathing expletives under your breath, muttering curses to your environment.

It’s a lot of pressure that we put ourselves under, mainly at our own expense in the end, as our bodies suffer long-term from accumulated stress.

Patience by contrast means allowing things to be, giving things time, waiting knowing all will be well, being present rather than in the future. It includes acceptance or tolerance. We don’t get into negative emotions like irritation, annoyance, or anger, nor be anxious or worry. It’s not an impatience being held at bay, since that’s an inauthenticity because the real underlying sense is impatience. It involves letting go of negativity and any thoughts that cut across patience.

It’s counter-cultural since so much of current society is bound up in multiple requirements done at speed and in being driven to achieve, which many people place as virtues.

Mindfulness practice involves being patient. Acceptance and allowing are central. If we are to let go of incessant thinking and be present, and if we are to make contact with inner stillness of being, we have to find a way to let go of impatience. We need to give ourselves time for the practice. Allowing things to be enables us to gently explore within. We become more able to make contact with our subtle experiencing, and very slowly and gradually this subtle level of being opens up to us.

Placing pressures on ourselves undermines that. Being still caught up in stuff and feeling the anger or fear of all that pressure cuts right across the subtlety of being, and drives away all the accumulated merit of the practice.

Someone who knows patience is unattached to what happens. They are able to let go and be. They can thus experience the joy of being.

Living like we do in our society we lose the real joy of life. Thus do we suffer.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. We can just be, if we choose.

I give coaching to help people manage stress and learn and practice mindfulness. To contact me, click here.

Do you worry about when you can practice mindfulness?

People often ask, when is a good time to practice mindfulness, or to meditate. It’s tempting to answer, when you feel like it, but there are practicalities! Like not when you’re working or traveling or cooking or being with family and friends, in other words when there are lots of distractions. Yet, it’s not as crazy an answer as it seems.

First of all, we’re talking about pausing, being in the moment, aware, present, in your body, focused on your breathing, letting go, noticing thoughts rather than caught up in them, being the observer or witness. You can do that anywhere and at any time. You can have a quick five-minute meditation even. The thing is, most people don’t do that.

It should be said right away that dealing with distractions is part of the practice. We need to learn to manage how we let the rest of our life get in the way.

Busy minds

The mind gets powerfully seduced every other moment in the stream of ego consciousness. We go off on one thing after the other. You might notice this even when specifically meditating at your appointed hour. A few breaths, feeling a bit more still, and then you’re off on some tempting line of thought or reverie, even without noticing you’re doing it, till say 5 minutes later you suddenly become present again, notice what’s happened, and return to your breath. Which is excellent, by the way, because you’re practicing being mindful. Yet, most people don’t see it like that and beat themselves up instead.

So, the point here is that you can practice mindfulness at any time. In fact this is invaluable since it helps you maintain your self-awareness, check negative thoughts and feelings and return to a centred state. The practice is key, since it helps reinforce the discipline that we need. Practice, practice, practice.

Thus in the middle of a meeting, if you’re feeling stressed, you can just breathe, become aware, and focus on your breath, or on a train or in a noisy, crowded airport while waiting for your delayed flight.

A practical time

However, from a practical point of view, to really help develop an effective grounding in mindfulness, it pays massive dividends to dedicate a specific time of day to the practice. Find a quiet place, ideally a room of your own, where you won’t be interrupted by others, the phone, etc., get a comfortable, upright chair, sit in an upright posture, perhaps with a small cushion in the “small” of your back, your lower back, and with your feet gently placed flat on the ground and your hands facing down on your thighs or on top of one another facing upwards on your lap. Breathe in deep and breathe out long, and repeat two or three times, relax, let go, and then as you breathe normally, allow yourself to focus your awareness on your breath. And keep doing that, bringing your awareness back if it has drifted off on some line of thought. Give yourself 10 or 20 minutes, or more if you can.

Do this regularly at a particular time of day to suit your rhythm, which might be after you have got up in the morning and washed but not yet eaten, and before work. Or it might be when you get home, in the early evening, before eating. Those are two of the most common times. It might be at lunchtime, but again before you eat as your stomach will otherwise be very occupied managing that food! Some people even get up early to meditate, and find that the meditation compensates over time for the sleep.

It is the regular practice that is crucial, and giving yourself some dedicated space and time absolutely fundamental to really anchoring the practice – and in coming home to your self! Then over time and with practice, you can come more and more to those quiet, silent, still points, the gap in the stream of consciousness expands, and you notice more and more the bliss that lies within! Isn’t that tempting!

I coach people to develop their mindfulness and meditation practice. To contact me, click here.

How to be present when others are losing it

Do you struggle to know how to be present with someone when they are upset or angry, or when you are tired or going through it yourself? I’m very often struck by how people can lack the ability to “be with” people emotionally, especially those who work professionally with people in challenging situations. It’s like our buttons get pushed or we feel inadequate or lack the resources we need. Somehow, people say, they “aren’t qualified” to handle it.

It will be all right

It will be all right

When people kick off

I remember once on a Gestalt training course unpacking a whole load of grief around the impact of divorce on my contact with my younger son, and how I verbalised it to the group in a way that the facilitator later said she was “out of it” for the duration of my work. I recall she was a parent herself. So this can challenge even seasoned professionals. Luckily I had another who  worked with me.

Yet this doesn’t just apply to professionals. Anybody can face this at times. What about when your partner kicks off about some hurt or pain and it’s you that happens to be there – and they need you to be there? What do you do? Do you do what so many do, and shift about uncomfortably, tell people “not to mind” and “it will be OK”, and not get upset, etc? Who are you really helping here, the person kicking off, or actually you yourself? Are you really telling them to stop?

What we don’t like is being faced with powerful emotions that tap into our own stuff, especially if it touches our own doubts and inadequacies. Yet, there are resources available, if you choose to access them.

Being resourceful: self awareness and self management

One is self awareness and self management, in this case the ability to be aware of your own process and how your buttons can get triggered by other people’s stuff. It helps to know yourself enough to know what is your stuff in this situation, of course! This is often all about personal development – that doing your own journey bit, dare I say, that many of us are today afraid to do. It is also about how you self manage, in this case choose not to get caught up in your own stuff but put it on one side, the rule of epoché in Gestalt terms.

Presence

Another is the ability to be present, to be right there in the moment, thoughts and feelings on pause (I’ll say more about that in a moment), in the “here and now”, still in yourself, centred, at One as I keep writing on this blog, connected with some energy  centre or chakra within like your heart centre region or, in the case of powerful emotion, perhaps your power centre in the  solar plexus region. So that you are aligned with  Source as you are “with” another. “Being with” is all about being present with them. So you are truly “with” them, in support, with mind, body and soul, right there in the moment.

Empathy and respect

Your stance matters hugely too. So think about  it. Here is needed Carl Rogers’ empathy and unconditional positive regard. So you respect utterly the  other person right there where they are and what is going on for them. No judgement (this can be tough, but it really matters). No conditions attached. In fact  you  are unattached to everything, including how you feel. You have to let go of all that. And you empathise with them, which is to seek as far as humanly possible to see things from their perspective, although  you cannot “know how they feel”. Thus you can hear their story. And you hear it like you get it. So that they feel heard, which is what so many people need. They may not need to be fixed (which is what so many men try to do  with  women, by the way!). Here’s where you truly stop and be with them in their pain.

Then they will feel supported. You don’t have to take their side, or agree with them, or blame them. Just be there. In peace, bringing peace. Om shanti.

I coach people and give training in these core skills. To contact  me, click here

Hope and possibility are always there

When in the midst of winter the snowdrops start to flower, as they are here now, there’s a sense of the first shoots of spring whilst it’s still being cold and grey, like an image of hope and possibility for us. It can seem for some that all there is is grey when in reality new beginnings are already there. Spring buds are already forming. Daffodil shoots are growing. The cycle of nature is already in action for the next opening to its own magnificence. As they say, behind the clouds the sun is always shining.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Having hope and possibility is a shift of perception, a change in our thoughts. When things seem bad, there is always another way of seeing the situation. What we can lack is the ability to let go of our concern and regard how things might be from another perspective. This is not to say that winter is a bad thing, but that it is common in winter for difficulties to seem more real and present. Depression, for example, can be particularly strong at this time. Outside is cold and dark and we shrink within and if within is not a very happy place we can feel that more.

Losing hope can bring us to the pit of despair, where it can seem like nothing can be done and nothing can change. People in relationships that aren’t working, or in jobs they don’t like, or with health conditions that seem constantly bad, or money worries or faced with the prospect of undesired possibilities coming up – all these and more can leave us depressed and unhappy.

Life will throw up these challenges and yet the human spirit endures. We do get through these things. Circumstances change. Nothing in life is constant. We have the capacity to feel great or immense sadness. Awful though it can seem, we do have choice as to how we deal with the situations we encounter. On the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I am reminded of how inmates had to endure immense privations and some of those used for slave labour or other hideous activities did survive. In Man’s Search for Meaning, a former inmate Viktor Frankl showed how although we may not be responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves, we are responsible for how we deal with it. Whatever is going on for us, life’s purpose is the meaning we make of it. We can either have despair or we can change how we see it, and make even the more unsatisfactory seeming situations part of the joy of our life! It is all about the thought we have, the meaning we make, our state of being.

So, in the midst of winter, the spring shoots are already there. There is always hope and possibility. There is always another meaning.

When you adopt a mindful perspective, you learn to let go, witness your thoughts, be present with what is, and know within you the joy that is always there.

I give coaching to help people change their mindsets and build a more hopeful and positive outlook and attitude to life and to create more positive outcomes. To contact me, click here.

Do you worry that your mind keeps you awake?

It’s a dilemma when you can’t sleep at night because your mind is busy, and then you start to worry that your mind is keeping you awake. Your mind might be churning things over and then you’re fearful that it is doing this and stopping you sleeping. Worrying that we can’t sleep is a major factor in insomnia, and having a busy mind is a major contributor to the problem. It’s a very good reason to learn to manage your mind and is where mindfulness can be so powerful.

You might for example lie down after a busy day in which you have been very mentally active and then find yourself staying awake, unable to sleep, or so it seems, your mind going over certain issues that are concerning you. Then, as time ticks by, and the thought that you need to be up early comes to you, there’s that stabbing feeling in your gut as you feel the anxiety that this thinking is keeping you awake, that you’ve got a sleepless night ahead and that you still have to get up early. It’s like that deadline gives you an imperative that you must sleep and you believe you need that sleep, and still you’re thinking things over, and you’re worried that you’re doing it!

Time to pause and get what’s going on! And let go!

Not so easy until you’ve done some work on all this and can see the pattern, what you’re doing to yourself, and can interrupt that pattern and work to manage your thoughts and let go. It takes, in a sense, training and practice.

The idea that we can manage our thoughts can be a challenging one to people who feel they are prisoners to their thoughts. Yet this is precisely what we need to do. Very often it is about becoming aware that your mind is busy, catching yourself doing it, challenging the pattern and stopping it in some way. It is something that can be consciously done, but as I said, it needs awareness – and coaching.

Mindfulness practice plays a big part, learning to be aware of your thoughts but not caught up in them. With mindfulness you can become the aware witness of your thoughts, but unattached to them, so that they can pass you by. This too takes practice, and meditation is a very valuable tool to help you learn to do it effectively.

Then you know you have inside you a calm, steady, centred place that you can go to. You can learn to let go of thinking and be still and in the moment. You can let go of thinking and of anxiety too, and be present. You can be unattached to deadlines, and to how things “ought” to be, and just let things be, just as they are.

As you calm yourself and let go of thoughts, you can then let your natural sleepiness to come to you, of its own accord.

Just as we can have bliss be present too, our natural joy and contentment.

I give coaching to help people manage their minds and practice mindfulness. To contact me, click here.

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

To take time out for yourself can seem really hard to do

To take time out for yourself is something that is always instantly available. Yet to take time out for yourself isn’t that easy for lots of us in our busy existence in a modern urban-oriented economy with lots of commitments and demands on our time. We can feel like “there’s no time”, and we feel far too busy to even give it a thought. It’s a real trap, if you think about it, not having the time to give yourself some space.

Busy minds can for many of us seem a good thing, lots of buzz, activity, things going on, the right results occurring. For others of us, we might have gone beyond the peak of the performance curve and be getting towards burn-out, though we might not know it. We shift from being masters of our destiny to being victims of it. Life seems to control us. There’s so much going on, both in work and out of it, multiple things seemingly occurring simultaneously. It’s got so addictive that huge numbers of us don’t take our full leave entitlement, being content, it seems, to surrender it to the work machine.

Yet taking some space for ourselves isn’t in itself difficult. We just think it is. It’s right here, in the moment. Often we lack the understanding and the practice or experience which can make the difference. For example, you can take some space simply by taking a breath, and then another, becoming present and aware, and letting go of thoughts. A space opens up in your awareness. Right there, wherever you are.

To really see how invaluable this utterly simple practice is, you will need the benefit of practice, so that you know what you are applying when you do it. Otherwise you might not notice anything, since the mind will go crashing back to where it was in busyiness seemingly in an instant. “I can’t do it”, will be the thought. Hence the practice of mindfulness requires the understanding of what you are seeking to do, as well as having practiced it a bit in order to know what you are dealing with.

In the stream of consciousness, there are gaps. We are so focused on the next thought and the next thing, and those other things, that we don’t allow ourselves to focus on gaps. You can however create space by having a pause between each breath. Breathe in, pause, breathe out, pause, and so on. Just very small gaps to begin with. Allow yourself to focus on the gap, the space between breaths. If you’re focused in this way, there’s no conscious thought as such, just awareness. What you are doing is shifting your awareness from busy thoughts to your breath and then to pure awareness.

If you practiced mindfulness a lot you could then apply this at any time when you chose to. You could be in the middle of a big meeting, others are talking and you aren’t needed to contribute right there and then, and you could give yourself a few moments of precious time for yourself, being aware of your breathing and being simply present and aware. Just like that.

I give coaching to help people let go of stress and develop mindfulness. Click here

 

To practice mindfulness means seeing it through

Mindfulness is not a quick fix, however tempting it can be to use it as such – a bit of relaxation, feeling calm and more in control, and suddenly things seem different. To gain lasting benefit, it needs to be practiced over time and consistently, which is what people don’t like to do because they are used to instant gratification in other areas of their lives, and perhaps because of what they then might have to deal with. To practice mindfulness, and its associated activities, means seeing it through, both when it seems to be working, and when it doesn’t, and encounter and work through the resistances that can come up.

As regular meditation practitioners will say, one meditation is not like the next, and you can get periods of, for example, restlessness, boredom, floods of thoughts, or uncomfortable emotions, as well as periods of stillness, peace, wellbeing, or contentment. Our minds are very easily distracted, and we can go off of flights of reverie, and only notice later that we’ve been doing that. We might keep bringing our minds back to our focus, usually the breath, only to find the mind is back on some thread of thought the next instant. The key in all this is to keep bringing your mind back to your focus, but that is not how many people see it and they may well pull out thinking it isn’t working.

With mindfulness we get to see our ego at work. The key discipline of being present, aware, and mindful is facilitated by the attention focused on the breath. We develop metacognition, the ability to step back and witness our mind in action but not be engaged or caught up in it. Our ego doesn’t like that and wants to pull us back into its preoccupations. The ego is about survival. It is, if you like, our conditioning acquired when young about ourselves, life and other people. It contains our belief systems which keep us going but no longer serve as we grow psychologically and spiritually. Thus in meditation, when we are silent and still we get to meet face to face with our preoccupations, our worries and anxieties, our feelings, and our persistent thoughts. This is really going on within us in everyday life but it is when we’re still that we really get to meet it.

Mindfulness teaches us to step back from these patterns, to be self-aware, to see what’s going on inside, and develop skill in being the witness, aware but not engaged. Then we can challenge these patterns and choose other ways of being. We learn to be centred and calm, to know our inner space of peace, and then be differently with the world. We then know inside who we really are.

This takes time, persistence and dedication. It’s a commitment to you, your life and the life you can really live once you give it to yourself.

To get coaching to find how to apply mindfulness to your life challenges and deal with what get’s in the way, contact me here

How fear keeps you from the wellbeing you long for

Fear and being fearful, being absorbed with fear, is the great disconnect, keeping us from what we truly want, and keeping what we truly want from us. It is often said on these pages that love and fear are opposite sides of the same coin. From being absorbed in fear, you let it go, turn your attention, and you can have love instead. One obscures the other.

By love of course I also mean contentment, joy, enthusiasm, positive passion and any one of the different ways our heart-centred connection manifests itself, if we put aside that oft-felt discomfort at saying “love”. Interesting that it is often a discomfort. It can be embarrassing to say the word, so much is it associated with passions we can be uncomfortable with and stay separate from. Perhaps it is really a source of pain for us.

Fear can seem like the other polarity, also manifesting let’s say with anxiety, worry, a vague unease, or just not feeling quite right with the world. Some say fear lies behind anger and upset too, a bottom-line, deep-seated emotion that helps hold in place our ego’s survival behaviour and drives the flight-fight-freeze stress response. Fear lurks in the shadows of the seeker, plaguing our meditations and our sleep, and keeps us from the joy we long for.

The function of polarity is interesting, light and dark, black and white, positivity and negativity, faith and despair, wellbeing and illness, upliftment and depression. I could go on. As humans we flip between one polarity and another. In Gestalt we say there’s a lack of middle ground, which could in these examples be balance, equilibrium, equipoise, centredness. When you are centred, there is calm, peace, contentment, evenness of spirit. You aren’t “caught up” in the flings of emotion. Your mind doesn’t go off to places you don’t want to go. You aren’t stuck but have freedom. Things are easy. Anything is possible. Nothing “matters”. Life is, you are, I am.

A key outcome, many would say, of the cultivation of the mindful state is that centredness. When you let go of attachment to polarities, and being stuck in, say, a negative, fearful spiral, become mindful of it, the witness of it, and return to your alert awareness, you are no longer the victim to fluctuations of thoughts and feelings.

Letting go is of course a practice all of its own, and very vital. You can, for example learn to dissolve negative emotion and release yourself from your thought/feeling cycles. We teach this on our upcoming retreat, by the way. It is liberating when you find you are no longer the prisoner of your stuff in this way.

Then in the centred state you can make contact with a far more profound love, if you so choose, one not prone to “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Hamlet ,Shakespeare). It is always available, round every corner. But we ignore it and fly on to the next bout of negativity. That’s one reason why having a regular mindfulness practice is so important, to help you re-connect on a regular basis with who you really are.

If you struggle with gaining and retaining this equipoise, then that’s a very good reason for coming on our retreat and finding your inner state of balance, and then, when you authentically know that state, you can bring yourself back there again and again.

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