Tag Archives | stress

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 need to change your lifestyle before stress does?

Are the warning signs flashing that you need to change your lifestyle before stress gets the better of you and brings about some unwelcome change? In fact are you heeding the signs? People don’t always see that the signs are there, that what was previously OK about how they were living and working is now no longer OK. We think we can cope and assume things can be as they have been so far, when in fact the body is protesting and the style is draining it of the ability to be able to cope. What is important is that we make the necessary changes before we are not in a position to choose.

Our bodies are designed to cope with short-term stress, such as an emergency, where the body generates hormones to enable us to respond appropriately. However what many of us do is live at a pace and pressure that makes the stress response more of a norm. It can even be addictive, the “buzz” of the hormones powering through us. It might be OK when our work is going well and we are enjoying ourselves, but when the stimuli get more negative, the body starts to react negatively too. Over time this can store up illness and eventually be dangerous. Little signs like catching colds, sleeplessness, aches and pains, excess of smoking, alcohol and eating, tense muscles, irritability, out-of-character behaviour, are just the early signs. You want to take action before you find you have some serious health condition.

It’s not so easy since we have often conditioned ourselves to tolerate a certain lifestyle that makes stress part of the architecture. For example we set ourselves expectations for our housing choices, where we live, or schooling for our kids and accept certain kinds of travel and types of jobs, or we want particular kinds of careers and these have consequences for our lifestyle, or we find it difficult to get the right balance between work and free time and/or family time. For some of us we treat stress as part of the territory, not realising how it can over time harm us.

Then we wake up and realise that all this doesn’t work. Then there’s the issue of how to change it, before it’s too late. That too can be stressful, which shows how caught up in all this we can get! We run up against the conditions or expectations we set for ourselves, like we believe we “must”have certain things in our lives for it all to work, conditions which are actually costing us.

It’s all about stepping back from it all, pausing and letting go, and then asking ourselves what we really want.

People often say what asked that last question that all that really matters is love, relationship, peace and the timeless little things, seemingly of little consequence when busy and stressed, and which we therefore forget about, but which actually have real meaning for us. Like sitting and looking at some scenery just down the road, a walk in the park, holding hands with your loved one, being still…

Today’s life has disconnected us from who we really are. It’s time to reclaim it.

I give coaching to people who want to re-balance their lives, get off the stress treadmill, and find a calmer, more meaningful life. 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

 

What stops you being in present moment awareness more often?

If you are having a lot of stress at the moment, now is a good moment to pause and take some deep breaths, deliberately, consciously and in full awareness of the present moment. Notice a difference? Just taking some deep breaths, then breathing steadily and in present moment awareness, letting go of what’s going on. It’s so simple. So why don’t we do this, what comes naturally, more often?

One of the great values of mindfulness practice is that it is such a great way to manage and reduce stress. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR) is well-known and has stood the test of time and much scientific investigation. I discovered the techniques by chance well before I had heard of Jon’s work, once I became aware that stress was part of what was messing up my life, and I sought out mindfulness meditation, yoga, the body scan, doing some courses and meeting new people as a means to moving my life on.

What was clear to me was that doing mindfulness meditation and yoga on its own wasn’t enough. I needed also to understand and shift the underlying issues that drove my stress response and could make me sick if I didn’t do something about it. The fact that people around me had become unwell, in this case from cancer, and the dawning realisation that my life as I was living it had something major to do with it, was a key driving force. I wanted to truly change my life. And I did, a new person in my life, moving to Wiltshire, a new business, new friends, new ideas and insights to inspire me, lots then changed.

The use of the practice endured. I have meditated ever since, and learned more about the practice, and of key underpinning concepts and understandings that informed and sustained it. Just to go off and meditate a bit, do stretches, walk, and the other things people do, were not in themselves enough – at least not for me.

I needed to understand more why and how I was reacting as I did, what that stuff was that was sustaining the maladjustment I had experienced and was letting go of. It’s like you need to know what it is you need to let go of.

Thus my mindfulness practice served as an invaluable anchor, something that brought me back to being connected to my self, one that helped me while I learned much more about who that self was and is, both at the ego level and at essence, and what I needed to know to sustain me going forward. This knowledge is absolutely essential.

The material world is very good at obscuring the path of truth, your truth, my truth. People can do versions of the “spiritual by-pass”, or whatever other name you care to give it like denial and avoidance. At any moment down can come the veil of illusion around material values. I think a lot of the personal growth “movement” has got sidetracked with this at the moment. To sustain one through such distractions needs knowledge, so that you can always make distinctions, discriminate, and re-cognise the essential truth beneath the layers of the veils of illusion.

Thus, so informed, you can go back to your meditation and be aware once again of your truth, using the knowledge you have acquired about yourself to part the veils of illusion – in whatever ways that’s meaningful to you.

You can learn more about this transformative ability on our programs, starting with our one-day event on 8 March 2014 and developed in much more detail and taken further on our retreat in southern France on 21-28 June 2014.

Do not believe everything you think

Do you wake up with a list of “got to’s” buzzing through your head, like a shopping list of things that “have” to be done? If so you’d be like very many of us, with multiple things claiming our attention. It’s like the moment we wake up, there is the sheer drivenness of our lives, right there in the flood of often chaotic thoughts. Then the body responds, with racing heart, sweaty hands, butterflies in the stomach and so on. For some of us, our sleep has been like that, and we’ve even gone to bed with it, if not stayed awake part of the night on the smart phone or iPad, or with bouts of insomnia and repeatedly going over some issue. Yet these are all thoughts, flooding through our system, thoughts we believe. So why say, do not believe everything you think?

One essence of mindfulness is to step back and create space between our thoughts and our reaction. It is the thoughts that nine times out of ten we’re reacting to, ones we believe. Yet they are just thoughts. Stress reactivity however is a pattern, driven by such thoughts and the associated feelings. It is hyperarousal driven by thoughts that we participate in outside of awareness, often ones we’ve held for very long times and have become automatic. We see a perceived threat and go through an emotional response which churns out stress hormones for survival, very often when the perceive threat is very far from being actually of that order.

With mindfulness, when you learn and practice it over time, you can disentangle your thoughts. You can disengage from them at one level while being able to focus more accurately and problem-solve without all that stuff. You can “dis-identify” from them, so that they no longer seem “you”, but just thoughts. Crucially they aren’t facts. Having had a negative thought can then be seen as lets say an old thought based on old, outdated programming, and as the wise observer you can let it go. In a sense you know so much more: “This too shall pass.”

You can still work on your thoughts and replace negative ones with positive ones, use affirmations etc., but with mindfulness you’ve created a wholly different relationship with them.

This is very important. What we believe, we are. What we think we create, at some level. Thoughts become realities. Stressful thoughts beget more stress and so the cycle goes on. In that mode we can’t distinguish between our stress-created world and alternative, more constructive and more healthy perspectives.

Our teaching in mindfulness helps you learn to calm your mind, disentangle your thoughts, and be able to step back and make far wiser choices that truly heal your life and put you back on purpose.

You can learn more about this transformative ability on our programs, starting with our one-day event on 8 March 2014 and developed in much more detail and taken further on our retreat in southern France on 21-28 June 2014.

Do you love life or do you hate it?

Do you find that sometimes you love life and sometimes you hate it? Like at this time of year? In January, many of us in the Northern hemisphere can feel at our lowest ebb. It’s a time when the daylight hours are still short. It can feel dark and our moods can be dark too. The weather can be adverse too. It can feel like we’re pushing water uphill. It’s not surprising that people get more stressed and depressed.

Yet they also say the darkest hour is just before the dawn. The daylight hours are getting ever so slightly longer, the shadows are shortening, the sunrise is just that bit earlier, the faintest signs of spring flowers are edging upwards to the light, and frosty days can also be sunny days.

So, which do you notice, the dark bits or the sunny ones? Do you see the mud all over the place or the first snow drops appearing?

It can be hard at times to reframe our thinking, to see hope where there’s despair, to let go of pessimism in favour of new possibility, to make that effort once again to stop ourselves going round another spiral of negativity. In this age of hype, we’re supposed to be optimistic and yet so many actually find that hard. It can even feel that more and more we’ve fallen out of love with life.

Among the great benefits of the mindful approach are how we can more and more feel able to deal with negative emotions, to detect harmful patterns of thought and let go of them, and in fact develop more positive emotion and happiness. Like we feel able to love life more.

Many of us I believe work hard on focusing on what our thoughts are doing and try to change our thinking. Thus we try to change the content of our minds and lives. Instead of thinking it’s dark out there, we’ll try and think that the light is getting stronger. But the mind can seem like it refuses to oblige. When you’re in the midst of some downward spiral, the possibility of changing your thinking can seem remote.

This is where the ability to step back from the content of the mind and from what’s happening, or seems to be happening, in our lives is so invaluable. When we can learn to interrupt the cycle, step back, and observe what is occurring, we can then see into what it’s really about. We can instead make contact with a calm self within and be at peace. We can leave behind us our view of the world, and be still. We can notice what our minds have been doing, but we’re no longer engaged in it. Instead we see it as the wise observer, compassionate with ourselves and others and yet at peace.

Instead of trying to “fix” things, we instead change our relationship with them by stepping back and re-focusing. Then we realise that these negative thoughts are not who we are.

It sounds simple and yet it needs teaching and practice to really embed these abilities, those of “attention regulation”, “metacognition” and “reperceiving”, to use some jargon. That’s why we have this year so far put together two important programs:

1. “Being Mindful”, on 8 March 2014, on the core skills, and
2. The “Live Mindfully, Love Life” retreat, our new program to focus on growing those skills, in sunny southern France, from 21 to 28 June 2014 (where I’ll be working with my wife Akasha)

To help you love life once again!

Stress makes it difficult for you to think clearly

Do you find that when you’re living under pressure you find it difficult to think clearly and structure your  thoughts. In fact do you lose your words? People talk of feeling like their brain is scrambled and say they are “losing it”. People who meditate by contrast, and thus become mindfully aware,  find that while they might beforehand be struggling for ideas, they come out of the meditation thinking much more clearly and have often got the idea or solution they needed. Of course meditation isn’t the only way this happens: try having a shower or notice what comes to you just as you wake up or drift off to sleep.

Now I wouldn’t want you to become an insomniac in search of solutions to problems, since sleep can be a great facilitator. However it’s worth noticing what happens when we get these insights and understandings. It’s like we may need to completely let go for our mind to do its thing.  As a result of taking our minds “off it”, so to speak, we enable the creative process to work.

In the stress response, the body takes energy away to focus on fight or flight. Thus the rational side of the brain is sidelined, with preference given to the emotional side, and hormones are generated in order to take action. No wonder we find it hard to think! When we relax, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks back and we start start to recover from the stress hormone dose, and calming hormones are released, with the effect that social bonding improves, blood pressure is lowered, the immune system strengthened, memory gets better, and new learning becomes possible, one starts to feel happier, and more positive, and there’s even a burst of creative insight, and your performance can even be greatly enhanced. If by contrast you are hooked on a stress response you don’t get the benefit of this.

In meditation, we take our awareness away from what we are thinking and focus instead on the breath or other focus that we use and allow ourselves to observe the mind rather than be “caught up” in thinking. Instead we let go of being caught up, and centre ourselves in a calm awareness, present to the moment. Neuroscientists have observed changes in brain patterns that occur as a result. Thus, activities like mindfulness practice enhances present-moment awareness, and thus with a present-moment awareness of what is going on, you can train yourself to more easily let go of the pressure you feel and shift back into the parasympathetic response.

We offer trainings in mindfulness to help people learn this vital, life-changing ability. To learn more, click here.

Did you find it hard to switch off this holiday?

It’s seemingly a necessary function of taking a break for a North European to go where the rhythms of life are slow, the climate warmer and the day’s activities seem better organised for serving the senses. Being in South West France it was for me therefore good to take time out to observe and be present with the process of its life, to enthuse at the rising of the sun, read in the cool of the morning air, shop in the local market, eat out in a welcoming cafe, indulge a bit where it’s been necessary all year to mind what’s eaten, come home and retreat indoors in the heat of the afternoon, before emerging again in the late afternoon to sip a drink on the terrace and watch life drift past in the valley below. The fast pace of today’s northern European living can seem very far away. Sounds a bit too ideal? Especially if you’re now back at work a while and that holiday can suddenly seem very far away? Or you find it hard to switch off anyway. If so, join the current state of the human race.

Yet to write like this may seem to suggest that going away is easy and all you have to do is metaphorically hang up the suit, get out the sandals, grab a beer, chill out and the metamorphosis is complete. Maybe it’s just you and me that feel guilty about it, and the rest, well they just have a great time! Except many people don’t find it so easy, and we’d kidding ourselves if we think it is. Recent statistics have shown that on average it takes people over 4 days to calm down, let go and reach their desired equilibrium. And it can be even longer for those who can’t quite let go and keep checking their emails! Many who are stressed don’t know it, such can they be disconnected from their bodies or are in denial about it – till it catches up with them.

It’s even more  noticeable when they come back off holiday and it seems like they’ve never been away. In fact it can seem even worse. There’s the pile of emails to attend to, mostly one’s cc’d to you, and then there’s that catching up to do with what’s being going on while you were away and things others have been running with that you now need to take over. And there’s the changes being implemented while you were away. And so on. It can make you feel breathless just to contemplate it.

Here’s where it’s so important to set some intentions about doing things differently, and getting some support to stay on track with them, ideally planned when you’re away. Thus it’s invaluable to start paying attention to your body, since you can get disconnected from it and a function of survival. That’s where these patterns can get locked in. Taking up some exercise, doing yoga, meditation, taking up a mindfulness practice, regular body relaxation, eating healthily, letting your mind switch for stretches once a day: you name it, there’s plenty of options available.

What’s often also needed however is the commitment and discipline to sustain it, even when the demands can get high. That’s often where the real challenge lies, since we are then brought up against the patterns of feeling, thinking and behaving that led us to live such a fast-paced life in the first place. That’s where it can also pay to invest in some form of personal support such as coaching, to identify these patterns and make some changes at this more underlying level.

You can learn more about my coaching here.

Having a web detox to help you find what is really meaningful

As so many of us are habitually connected to the web, it might seem strange to suggest that we would benefit from internet/mobile “holidays” or detoxes. Just in case at this point you might be strongly tempted to click out, just pause on this as you might miss out on something important for your health and well-being.

Yes, I felt I had to write that last bit as that is exactly what people do, quickly move on from something that doesn’t have instant interest. Stickability, perseverence, seeing it through, isn’t a habit the net exactly encourages. Yet, this is how we’re, very many of us, living right now: fast, now, instant, mobile, flitting. It’s a norm, such that it doesn’t occur to question it. Yet there’s lots of evidence that it can actually disconnect some of us from others, since the contact is online rather than face-to-face, a very different experience psychologically, and faciliates a form of stress that we aren’t aware of until it has really got us: tense, twitchy, irritable, sleepless nights, etc.

Thus, a web detox is useful periodically just to get a sense of what it can mean to be “off-line”. On this matter it’s worth watching this video. The journalist concerned concluded by saying he couldn’t wait to get back online, so compulsive I would suggest is his addiction, although as a technology correspondent he might have difficulty with that perception.

The point about compulsiveness, addiction if you like, is that we aren’t aware we’ve got it. “It” just runs us. However, if you read between the lines of the accompanying article to the above-mentioned video, you’ll see that he gets time to play the piano, which he usually misses, and has more time for conversation.

When I first tried a web detox, I found I needed to really focus on relaxation. That was perhaps no surprise, given my kind of work, but what I was more struck by was feeling bored. Suddenly there were whole gaps in the day that I was accustomed to filling with the myriad data of the net, and all that online interaction.

Now boredom of course is healthy, potentially that is, as it presents one with a challenge as to how to change the experience into interest. Of course I could simply be in the moment, and be present and aware. This in itself is immensely rewarding, but might perplex very many people not used to doing that and unaware of the whole background conversation around awareness and mindfulness and how useful it is. Another might be to go and meditate, also hugely beneficial. However there was for me a bigger issue to address. What were the most meaningful aspects to my life that I miss out on through being hooked up so much of the time? Like the journalist it could be neglected interests of a non-web kind and of course that vastly missing part of today’s culture, human physical interaction.

It’s worth pausing and thinking about what personal relationship you are neglecting (What are the excuses? eg.”don’t have the time”). Then there is the whole relationship with life, people and engagement. What activities could you do, involving others, that you don’t do and leave you perhaps a bit isolated.

What if the internet was suddenly unavailable to you for an extended period? And what is your life really about? Here’s the really beneficial reflection: what are you doing with your life that gives you meaning? And what could you do about that?

Feeling driven and needing a break after a holiday

For many a holiday can feel like a well-earned rest but for others it can be a much-needed break after very pressured work. Some even feel guilty to take time out. Yet breaks are necessary pauses for us, especially if we’re feeling driven.

Today is classically when large numbers of people return to work in the UK after what seems to some of us like quite an extensive Christmas. For many it’s also when the children go back to school. Yet I wonder how many of you collapsed in a metaphorical heap this Christmas and still found that time flew by, such that you wondered what happened to that break. No doubt many succumbed to the winter flu bugs and colds, since our immune system can get worn down by stress and we are more vulnerable to infection.

Then coming back to work can seem like they’ve never been away and people can feel tired and depressed and wonder why. No wonder so many plan their summer holidays at this time. We need something to look forward to.

Taking time out is one way of pausing the system, giving oneself a break from the seemingly endless flow of everyday activities. We can feel so driven and even say to ourselves and others that “we have no time”. Yet time is an illusion. It can expand and it can contract. Time can even seem endless. In our current culture we need to give ourselves time, to “give to our self time”.

Very driven people can lose this sense of time and space, the endless present moment. Yet it’s always there, here.

Take a moment now. Yes, just pause, right now, in the moment….Take a deep breath and breathe out long. And take another. As you breathe out…let go….and relax….and as you breathe in and out now more gently, notice your in-breath…and your out-breath…being aware of your breathing….and notice the present moment…Just allow yourself to be very aware of the present moment…and the next moment…and if your mind wanders, come back to noticing your breathing…and be aware…Nothing to do…nowhere to go…let go of thinking and be aware…and enjoy this moment you are giving yourself…and you can continue like this…or start to come back to this article you are reading.

What was that like?

It’s a practice, pausing and giving yourself space and time. Do it regularly from now on. Take breaks in the day. Maybe go for a walk and do this. Sit at your desk and do it. Do it at the beginning and at the end of the day. It’s a quick five-minute re-charge. Enjoy!

We have lost the ability to give ourselves space and time and slow down and be present. It’s time to give ourselves back this precious right.

 

 

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