Shine a light on your thoughts through mindfulness

flash_light_by_el_sobreviviente

Imagine you are walking down a dark street alone at night. Suddenly you hear a noise behind you. Your sympathetic nervous system kicks into action getting you ready to run away or turn around and fight the stranger who you believe to be following you. Your heart starts to pound, your pupils dilate to search your surroundings for a safe place to run too and all your blood redirects away from you internal organs an towards your limbs to help you run. You are in a state of stress and so you should be, this is our innate reaction to danger. It’s the clever way we humans are designed to protect ourselves.

Now imagine that you stop walking, switch on a torch, turn around and shine the light behind you to find that it is just a young woman walking alone, looking as nervous as you are to be out alone in the dark. You feel a great sense of relief and now that the danger has passed your parasympathetic nervous system takes over to return your body to a state of equilibrium. Your heart rate slows, your blood pressures drops, the blood begins to circulate to your vital organs again and all is well

When we have a fearful or stressful thought, our bodies have the same (if slightly less pronounced) fight or flight reaction. We think about the interview we have tomorrow, a deadline we might miss, or the public speaking event we have planned and the stress response activates in our bodies. A lot of the time we are lost in stressful thoughts without being aware of it and so our poor bodies are in a low-level stress response for much of the day. The anxious thoughts are like the stranger following us down the dark street.

We can over come this by using mindfulness practice as the torch-light that we shone on the stranger. When we bring our awareness to our thoughts, and question them, we are shining a light on them and they are no longer a threat to us. They are just thoughts.

Developing a mindful meditation practice helps to develop awareness of the thoughts and emotions that are with us throughout each day. We can learn to observe the thoughts without getting carried away by them. We become masters of our minds rather than being mastered by our minds, and ultimately we feel the benefit in our bodies as our stress and anxiety levels diminish.

Advertisements

Lessons from a speed awareness course

slowdown

If I were to describe mindfulness to you, I would say it is an awareness, a noticing of what is happening right now. So when I received a letter recently explaining to me that I had been caught speeding by a camera positioned close to my home, I realised I had not been practising mindfulness recently. I had not noticed the camera and I had not even realised that I was speeding. I was in such a rush to get where I was going, my thoughts were half an hour ahead imagining being late to meet my friend and the possible outcome of that, or in the past, why hadn’t I set of earlier, I should have finished work on time. So I had clearly proven to myself, that when you move through the day mindlessly it tends to make life more difficult. So this was my first lesson in mindfulness taught to me by the speed camera.

I was offered the opportunity to attend a speed awareness course rather than have 3 penalty points of my drivers licence. I reluctantly attended the course expecting it to be dull, however, I was pleasantly surprised. Apart from learning a lot about road safety and feeling embarrassed at my lack of knowledge on the highway code! I heard words of wisdom which by can be directly transferred to the practice of mindfulness in day-to-day life. And so I got my second lesson in mindfulness from the speed awareness instructor.

The instructor asked “how do we feel when we are speeding in our cars and driving erratically?” We responded that it can feel stressful and frustrating, we make mistakes and miss turn offs. “So” the instructor then asks “how does it feel to drop back, take it a little slower, leave more space between us and the next car?” After some thought we all admit it would feel more relaxed, we would have more space and time to respond appropriately, we would probably, actually get there quicker and more safely.

It struck me that this is exactly what we are achieving when we live mindfully. It is allowing more space and time. We have time to respond calmly rather than react hastily to life events. Things “go right” more often because we are not rushing or cutting corners. By taking more time we probably are more effective and achieve things in a more timely manner. So since my speed awareness course, I have been mindful of my speed when driving and I have to admit that driving is a much more relaxing experience. I have also tried to bring this reduced pace into my life, and so far so good. I still get my work done on time, I am more effective and the stress is lifted. The only way I can describe it is that I have more “space” in the day in subtle ways that make me feel better.

Challenge yourself to consciously slow down in everything that you do for a whole day and see how it feels. I promise you, you will like it.

A taste of mindfulness

image

 

One of my favourite speakers, authors and thought leaders about mindfulness is John Kabat-Zinn.  He is the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts and he has written many books on mindfulness.

He wrote this poem which to me, totally embodies what mindfulness is, and how mindfulness feels. It is impossible not be moved by the possibility of feeling the essence of what is captured in his words. I hope you enjoy these words as much as I do.

‘Poem’, by Jon Kabat-Zinn,
A Taste of Mindfulness
“Have you ever had the experience of stopping so completely,
of being in your body so completely,
of being in your life so completely,
that what you knew and what you didn’t know,
that what had been and what was yet to come,
and the way things are right now,
no longer held even the slightest hint of anxiety or discord,
a moment of complete presence beyond striving,
beyond mere acceptance,
beyond the desire to escape or fix anything or plunge ahead,
a moment of pure being,
no longer in time,
a moment of pure seeing,
pure feeling,
a moment in which life simply is,
and that is-ness grabs you by all your senses,
all your memories, by your very genes,
by your loves,
and welcomes you home,
that is a taste of mindfulness.”

 

5 Habits of mindful people

 

image

 

If you want to become succesful at something, a good place to start is to find a role model and examine their habits.

On my recent Enhancing Mindful Resilience training I was impressed and in awe of the trainers who seemed to embody mindfulness and exude the serenity that mindfulness can bring. So I have spent some time watching people who I consider to be “mindful masters” to compile a short list of habits that promote mindful living.

1. Meditation

Mindful people prioritise their meditation time. They don’t wait to see if they get everything done and then if they have time, squeeze 10 minutes of meditation in. They meditate (usually as part of a morning ritual) and then begin the rest of their day. If you feel like you don’t have time to mediate, set your alarm just ten minutes earlier, when it goes off hit snooze. Then sit up in your bed and meditate for the 9 minutes until your snooze alarm sounds. You will feel the benefits for the rest of the day.

2. Conscious Listening

How often are you involved in a conversation and whilst the other person is talking, you are planning your answer, wondering if you will finish work on time or wishing you had bought those shoes in your lunch break? You are not in the present moment, consciously listening to the other person, you are in the past or the future.

When I observe mindful people in conversation they are calm and you can sense that they are present and listening fully. They don’t rush to provide answers or respond in the conversation. Their speech is unhurried and considered. They creat space to engage fully in the present moment. Being in conversation with a person who is mindfully aware is noticeably different and a much more enjoyable experience.

3. Mindful Eating

How often do you eat your sandwich at your desk or eat your tea whilst watching TV? You are not concentrating on your food. You are not enjoying the tastes, the textures or the smell of the food. More importantly you are not paying attention to when you are full, and so you mindlessly eat until the plate is clear. Experiments have shown that when a person is blindfolded during their meal, they eat less. They are not distracted and cannot see when the plate is empty, and so they stop eating based on their sense of feeling full.

Mindful people will treat their meal times like a ritual. Preparing the food and eating the food without distraction. Try turning the TV off and sitting quietly to eat your food. Savour each bite, chew the food for longer and take some time between forkfuls. Listen to your body and stop when you feel full rather than when the plate is empty.

4. Uni-tasking

I often find myself checking my emails on my i phone whilst I am walking round the supermarket. Or writing an email at work whilst I am on hold on the phone. By multi tasking we are doing neither task to the best of our ability. Rather than save time, we are probably causing more problems for ourselves and wasting time. I might forget half of my shopping list due to being on my phone and have to go back to the supermarket. I might make a mistake in the email because I am concentrating on the phone call.

Mindfully completing one task at a time will save time. Look at each task like a ritual. Give it your full attention and do it to the best of your ability then move on to the next task. Try to remain in the present moment. When your thoughts wonder to the next thing on your “to do” list, notice this and gently guide your attention back to the task at hand.

5. Self Compassion

One of the key principles guiding mindfulness and mindful people is self compassion. Being kind to ourselves as much and as often as possible. Don’t judge yourself for your thoughts, actions or lack of action. If your mind is busy during meditation, don’t get frustrated,  just notice the thoughts, acknowledge the busy mind and guide your attention back to the breath and the present moment. It is not possible to do a mindful meditation incorrectly, just a moment of quiet and stillness will benefit you. Don’t stop practicing because you fear you are not meditating correctly.