Beginnings

One summer day, when I was minding my 12 year old nephew, he asked me:

“Hey, Uncle Dave, how old is the universe and how did it all start?”

“What’s with you, Tom, you’re on summer holiday and you still want to learn?”

“Yes Uncle Dave, it would be fun and I know you’ve done some study on the subject.”

I knew the kid was curious but not this curious to want to learn on holiday!

“Well, Tom, if you want to learn lets do it. I’ll tell you what I know.”

Tom sat looking at me wide-eyed.

“In the beginning there was a “dot” of compressed infinite energy. This “dot” was very heavy, dense and hot and when the pressure built up from the energy inside it, it burst!

That explosion was the “Big Bang”, which happened 13.7 billion years ago. Bits of matter spread over billions of miles which is probably still expanding.”

“Wow! Uncle Dave! But how did scientists know it happened 13.7 billion years ago? We weren’t around then!”

I laughed.

“Of course we weren’t. With our modern telescopes scientists can calculate the speed at which galaxies are spreading outward. From this data they project backwards and work out when these objects were all in one place.”

“Oh boy, Uncle Dave! What happened next?”

This kid was going to wear me out!

“From the blast of energy a force of gravity was created, a kind of glue that makes matter want to stick together. Gravity made the hot fiery stars group together into clusters called galaxies. Our galaxy is the “Milky Way”. Gas and dust clouds formed our “Sun” from burnt out stars, 4.6 billion years ago.”

“What about the first life?” Tom was getting demanding now!

I went and got myself a glass of water, my mouth was dry from talking.

After a long gulp, I continued:

“Well Tom, the first life were single celled creatures, these merged to form more complex forms of life which multiplied in the sea. Sea creatures came on land and started reproducing enormous lizards called dinosaurs and they ruled the land until a meteor wiped them out!”

“This is exciting, Uncle Dave, what happened next?”

“Well, the meteor hit about 65 million years ago and many life forms became extinct. The ones that survived evolved into different types of mammals, bears, monkeys, apes, etc. In the sea there were whales, walruses and seals. It was the period called Eocene, meaning the “new dawn”. This period was from 56 to 34 million years ago.”

“What about us, Uncle Dave, when did we start?”

I took a deep breath.

“Well, the apes came down from the trees and learned to walk on two feet. We are supposed to be closely related to the chimpanzee. The earliest ape to walk on two feet was probably about 3 million years ago.”

“Oh, Uncle Dave, the planet of the apes!”

This kid was a million laughs!

“Homo Erectus had great advantages over the animals in the wild, their hands, brains and the control of fire made them the boss.

Fire scared away the large animals plus, about 70,000 years ago, the cave men figured out that food heated over a fire released more energy and tasted better than raw meat. They made fire by hitting stones together to get a spark.”

“Did they talk, Uncle Dave?”

“The first communication was sign language and grunts.”

“When did they come over by us?”

“Well, they started moving from Africa about 50,000 years ago to Europe and beyond. They were the “Homo Sapiens”, the hunter gatherers.”

A knock on the door revealed Tom’s parents.

“Oh, Uncle Dave, this is so interesting I don’t want to stop!”

“Come on, Tom, your uncle is tired,” said the mother.

“When I see you again, Uncle Dave, I want to talk about human civilizations.”

“So long Tom,” I said, exhausted.

My Thought For The Day:

The advantage of studying history is that it keeps you from feeling too important!

 

Do We Live In An Illusion?

I began thinking about the subject of illusion after re-visiting some literature I read years ago to see how the authors treated the conflict between illusion and reality in their writing. We humans are caught between illusion and reality.

I re-visited: The Great Gatsby, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Gatsby lived in an illusion. He created a false reality. He pretended to come from high social class and wealth. In reality he changed his name and he came from a poor background. He made his fortune from bootlegging. He pretended he went to Oxford to impress the elite. He held the illusion that Daisy loved him, when she only loved money and the easy life.

She uses money to escape reality. Daisy and Gatsby turned their illusions into their own reality.

Gatsby’s illusion destroyed him in the end.

***

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams: The characters failed to adjust to the real world so they constructed their make-believe worlds around them in the form of illusions.

Laura lives in a world populated by glass animals. She is crippled and fragile.

Her illusion of getting together with her boyfriend is destroyed when he tells her he has a fiancé. He breaks the horn off of her unicorn and it becomes a regular horse, the illusion is broken.

Tom, Laura’s brother, works in a shoe warehouse to support his mother and sister. He is an aspiring poet and immerses himself in movies.

Amanda, Tom and Laura’s mother, tells her children of the many men that pursued her but her husband ran off! She lives in a dream world. She lives her illusion through Laura. She hopes she will find a man to marry her.

Their illusions all break down.

***

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams: The main character, Blanche Dubois lives in her delusion of luxury, grandeur and high social class. She lost the family home and her job. She became a prostitute. She goes to her sister’s house only to find her illusions broken. She ends up in a mental institution.

***

People find it hard to accept reality, so they live in an illusion.

Reality—The state of things as they actually are, not an idealized version.

Illusion—A false belief, a misinterpreted perception of things, what we want to believe.

***

The Reality Gap leads people into illusion.

The Reality Gap is the SPACE between the reality that is and the reality you would like.

***

During a human’s limited existence, the individual has to ADAPT to the outside world and it’s HARD! So, they retreat into illusions which are perceived as reality. The tendency is to distort reality to make it more endurable.

***

The human mind steers itself toward illusions that are adaptable to one’s needs and desires.

Is everything a figment of your imagination?

What’s in your imagination is probably very different from reality. We live our lives in a narrow patch of circumstances, time, geography, culture, etc. We never see the whole picture!

***

Another way of putting it is that we live in a world of our “Thoughts”. This is a different world from the one that IS. We perceive the world in a limited way. We see a limited spectrum of light. Our hearing and smell is limited. Our perceptions are limited and then we interpret those perceptions through limited thoughts.

This limited perception is an ILLUSION.

***

Life exists on many levels, Real and Illusion.

Here are some examples:

Take a stone, you feel it and see it, it seems solid and very real. But it’s appearance is an illusion. It is actually made of countless individual atoms, none touching but all are tightly bonded. So, it’s solidity is an illusion.

How about sound? On one level your brain tells you it’s sound but it’s really vibrating particles of air that the ear detects.

We all want love, when we experience it, love feels real and it impacts on our feelings. But really it’s a biochemical process taking place in our brain. A trick of evolution to make us feel good. It feels good, most of the time, and it feels real whether it is or not.

***

We need our illusions because we cannot bear too much reality!

Maybe reality is NOT an illusion but OUR version of reality is an illusion!

***

What we experience and perceive is a reflection of what we allow into our consciousness based on our thoughts. So, we live in a THOUGHT WORLD.

We see what we allow ourselves to see!

We are always thinking and we embrace our thoughts and feelings as something separate from everyone and the world. A delusion of our mind restricting us to our desires.

***

The question arises: How are illusions created?

Some are built to hide our weaknesses and build ourselves up. When the illusion emerges, the person no longer talks and acts as themselves, but as a fabricated image.

Ex—Jay Gatsby, in The Great Gatsby, pretended to be someone he wasn’t.

***

People create an illusion when they don’t understand or accept the facts and replace them with their opinions. Then you fabricate thoughts or concepts that you think explain the facts.

***

A person’s self-centered viewpoints create an illusion. When they look at events from self-interest, they cannot see the whole picture.

***

Illusions are created when people try to appear like something which they are not. Ex—Blanche Dubois in Streetcar.

***

Illusions are created when a person distorts or lies about a fact.

I will leave you with this thought:

Imagination was given to humans to compensate for what they are NOT, and a sense of humor to console them for what they ARE.

Appreciating Life

Welcome to the final instalment of my Mindfulness Journey.

***

How can we appreciate what we have?

As you read this blog, notice how your eyes move from word to word without any conscious effort; how they go at the right pace for you to pick up the information. The world comes to you through your eyes and other senses. How much would you miss out on if you lost your eyesight? So, you appreciate your eyesight.

***

Next time you take a drink of water, savour the first sip. Move the water around your mouth and then swallow. Notice how it relieves your dryness.

***

Next time you’re eating a meal, savour the first mouthful, your tongue does the tasting, your teeth do the chewing, and notice how the food slips down your throat to swallow. It’s a wonder and you need to appreciate it.

***

We take so much of life for granted, there is so much wonder outside the reality space. Remember, the reality space is the gap between the reality that is, and the reality you want.

***

We must appreciate our life even in our darkest hours, when it seems the entire world is maximizing our distress and is driving us to exhaustion.

At these times remember your breath. Your breath is there for you as an anchor. It’s like a friend, reminding you that you are okay as you are.

Take a deep breath, hold, exhale slowly through the mouth.

***

To appreciate something is to recognize its value. All our valued things will eventually be lost in the future. This is a fact of life. So, as long as we are alive, we need to appreciate all that we have, temporarily.

***

Is the secret of appreciation NOT to look beyond the present?

I’m not so sure. Past and Future have a place in our reality. Although it’s a fact that your consciousness is in the Present and the reality that counts most is in the Present, the past does influence the present and the future is a need that is essential to present morale. So, although the present is the most important, the other two are needed also. We should appreciate all three.

***

I appreciate the fact that my Mindfulness training has taught me, “How To Feel Good Again”.

I feel good because I now understand that I can live with painful thoughts as long as I separate from them. I am free to reach out for positive thoughts.

***

I now understand that all the moments in my life are CHOICE POINTS. I have a choice of ATTITUDE. After you ask yourself these questions you should come to a decision about what choice to make about your feelings.

How do I feel about this situation?

How would I like to feel about this?

How do I choose to feel about this?

How do I feel about this NOW?

***

I also have a choice of ACTION.

What am I doing about this situation?

What would I like to do about this?

What do I choose to do about this?

What am I going to do about this NOW?

I want to reinforce my Defusion and Acceptance skills. I will try to live in the Here and Now. And maybe Resignation has a part to play…

***

A word about Resignation:

A woman I met at the U3A (University of the Third Age) told me how she used resignation to counter her anxiety feelings concerning her husband’s illness, it also could be used if you, yourself, had an illness.

What is Resignation? It’s the reluctant acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable.

She thought, “Why my husband? Why my family? Why, why, why!

***

Fighting her anxiety feelings was making her physically sick. So neither her or her husband could enjoy the time they had left. She decided to accept the grim reality of her husband’s illness and all the debilitation that went with it plus the care that also went with it.

***

What did this mindset of resignation do for her?

Her anxiety feelings and bad thoughts were lifted and she felt her mental pain was gone and the struggle with destructive feelings over.

She realized it was her thoughts about her husband’s illness that was creating her emotional disturbance, NOT the illness itself. By accepting the illness her physical and mental storm became much calmer.

With resignation, she accepted the predicament and both her and her husband began to live each day to the fullest possible under the circumstances. Each day was like a new lifetime!

***

Acceptance is the willingness to have the bad thoughts and feelings as they come and go, but the struggle isn’t there.

Stop wasting your energy and turn off the struggle switch.

How?

By defusing from the anxiety thoughts and feelings. Separate yourself from them. Don’t give them much attention.

Defuse—“I’m having that anxiety feeling in my abdomen.”

“I’m noticing I’m having that feeling again in my abdomen.”

“I’m accepting the feeling but I’m not struggling with it.”

“I’m separated from it”

***

Live in the Here and Now!

If you were asked, what’s the best time of your life and you answered, “NOW”, you’ve arrived at a moment of insight. When we are fused on bad thoughts and feelings, we miss out on enjoying and appreciating life.

***

So, here we are, at the conclusion of my Mindfulness journey

Lets summarize the basics:

ACCEPT your thoughts and feelings and be in the Present.

CONNECT with your Values.

TAKE EFFECTIVE ACTION in line with your values.

***

My Top Values:

ACCEPTANCE: to be open and accepting of myself and others.

ASSERTIVENESS: to respectfully stand up for my rights and request what I want.

COMPASSION: to act with kindness toward myself and others.

COURAGE: to go forward in the face of fear or difficulty.

HUMOUR: to see and appreciate the funny side of life.

MINDFULNESS: to be conscious of and open to, the Present experience.

RESPONSIBILITY: to be accountable for my actions.

SELF-AWARENESS: to be aware of my thoughts, feelings, and actions and defuse from the negative ones.

SELF-CARE: to look after my health and get my needs met.

SUPPORTIVENESS: to be supportive, helpful and encouraging to myself and others.

LOVING: to act affectionately toward myself and others.

***

I try to follow each value but I sometimes fall short! I’m only human.

***

If your problems can be solved, take action.

It your problems can’t be solved, accept and defuse from them.

No matter what difficulty you encounter, there are two courses of action:

Accept it.

Take Action to improve it or resign yourself to it.

***

What’s in your control?

Your Attention and Your Actions.

You act in accordance with your values, because your values are reflections of what is important to you, what is meaningful to you, and they provide direction in your life.

***

Last important thought to remember:

APPRECIATE what you have in your life right now, because NOW, is the ONLY time you ever have!

 

Healthy Mental Functioning and Mind Flexibility

This is the 6th instalment of my Mindfulness journey.

***

The lesson started off with telling me about something that was at the core of my being. It’s always present when I’m not engaged with my “thinking” mind. Your Healthy Functioning is where your common sense and wisdom lies, plus your feeling of wholeness and your satisfaction in life. I was feeling good just thinking I had this wonderful thing at my CORE.

***

This Healthy Functioning gives you mental equilibrium and buoyancy. It sees beyond your difficult circumstances.

***

But when you’re fused with bad thoughts it gets buried and disappears from you mind. You need to ACCEPT bad thoughts and your difficult circumstances. Then as the negative thoughts are dismissed and you separate from them, your equilibrium will return.

***

This Healthy Functioning is NOT concerned with what happens in your life, it is concerned with How You Relate to what happens. You have to take your extreme attention off your problems and allow your mind to rest. Using your Healthy Functioning allows you to see things differently and make productive decisions.

***

Your Healthy Mind Functioning can help when trying to cope with your illness or an illness of a loved one. It’s how you think about the illness that creates your emotional disturbance, not the illness itself.

***

Of course you don’t like or want to deal with the painful parts of life but when they come you have to be able to cope. Thoughts come and go, but when faced with illness you feel angry and frustrated.

***

The important thing is how you relate to the difficulties. You must face the truth. When someone hears regrettable news about their health or a loved one’s, you must tap into your Healthy Mind Functioning. It will tell you what to do, such as accept your predicament and live each day to the fullest. Your Healthy Functioning helps you not to become panicked and frustrated with self-pitying thoughts. It won’t take away the illness but it will make you feel better about it.

***

In the midst of physical and mental suffering you know there will be times when your mind is clear and you are free to enjoy your present. In this session I was reminded that life is nothing more than a constant series of present moments to be experienced one after another.

***

You must appreciate the moment, you have no time to lose. You realize the present is the only time you have to live, so enjoy. Whenever we fuse with negative thoughts, we stiffen up, we make ourselves experience the bad effects of those thoughts and to feel the destructive emotions tied to them.

***

But, and this is a BIG BUT, when we learn to dismiss and separate ourselves from the bad thought we begin to feel better. So you have to enjoy the present as best you can. Remember the NOW is all anyone has.

***

Now, we get to the nitty gritty, the principles to develop flexibility in your mind. The greater your flexibility the better you can cope with painful thoughts and feelings.

DEFUSION—Separate, defuse and dismiss your bad thoughts, they are just words and pictures. Allow them to come and go without fighting or running from them.

Example of the Defusion process:

Put your bad thought in a sentence:

“I’m fearful of the future and my anxiety feelings.”

Now, replay the thought with this phrase in front:

“I’m having the thought, that I’m fearful of the future and my anxiety feelings.”

Replay the thought again but add this phrase:

“I notice I’m having the thought, that I’m fearful of the future and my anxiety feelings.”

What happened?

“I felt a separation, a distance from the thought.”

“It lost some of its sting.”

“It didn’t bother me so much the last time.”

“It was as though I dismissed it.”

“I feel better already!”

***

Live In The Present—Bring awareness to your here-and-now. Focus and engage in whatever you are doing.

***

Values—What’s important to you, what do you want to stand for in this life?

***

Commit To Action—Take mindfulness action so you can cope with difficulties.

***

In conclusion: I learned to appreciate what I have right now, because NOW is the ONLY time I have. I have this moment, so I have to make the most of it.

***

Coming up: The final instalment of my Mindfulness Training. It’s titled,

“APPRECIATING LIFE”

 

 

 

 

 

Anchor Yourself and Take A Stand

I’m combining the fourth and fifth instalments of my Mindfulness training.

***                                                 4th

Negative thoughts are often the source of sadness and fear, and if you have no training in getting your attention away from them, you’re helpless. The capacity to separate (defuse) from them is essential for us to be fully in the present.

***

Live in the Present because there is no point worrying about the past or being fearful of the future. Dwelling on the past and future will only DRAIN your energy so you miss out on the only life you have, the Present.

***

Be Here, Now! Be psychologically present, engage in what’s happening in this moment. When you are in the present, you are aware of the physical world around you and the world within you.

***

Life happens NOW!

***

When you are living in a storm of emotional distress you can’t connect with the present. So, what do you do?

DROP ANCHOR! BREATHE DEEPLY AND EXHALE SLOWLY!

The larger the reality space, the greater the emotional storm it unleashes within. Remember, the reality space is the gap between the reality that is and the reality you would want.

When this space is large, two emotions show up: ANGER and FEAR. These two emotions can dominate your life, if you let them. Your “fight or flight” response is triggered.

The fight response turns into anger. The flight response turns into fear.

***

So, as the storm waves are rolling over us, here is an interesting idea:

When we have discomfort and suffering in our body and mind, instead of reacting to it we must respond to it and then a change takes place.

We begin to experience the suffering, fear, and pain NOT as “our” suffering but as “the” suffering. So, we then are experiencing the personal pain in a universal way.

***

When I say, it’s MY pain or MY depression, I am isolated and locked into MY suffering and unable to give it any succor (support, compassion or separation).

But when it’s “the” pain, I take it less personally and I’m not threatened to investigate it. The pain is shared universally, it has the whole world to float in and I’m NOT standing alone in it.

***

So, how do we drop anchor and calm the fury?

Push your feet hard on the floor and straighten your spine. Take a slow, deep breath and exhale slowly through the mouth. Look around and notice five things you can see. Notice where you are and what you are doing.

***

This exercise brings us back into the present so we can engage in life. During hard times we will have to drop anchor many times.

***

When you face the storms of life you will have good days and bad days, strong moments and weak ones. But when you persevere with mindfulness you will not do much running from the reality space and you will stop fighting it.

***

You must try to live in the present and ask yourself these questions:

“What do you stand for in the face of trauma? What values do you have?”

We will cover this in the next instalment.

***

Concluding thought:

Keep Your Chin Up and Persevere With Your Mindfulness Skills.

 

5th Instalment

At the start of this session I was asked some questions to reflect on:

What matters to me?

What do I stand for?

What sort of human being am I?

What are my values?

Values are how you want to behave in relation to your purpose and relationships.

Some values are:

Acceptance: to be open and accepting of myself, others and life itself.

Assertiveness: to stand up for my rights and request what I want.

Courage: to be courageous in the face of fear, threat, or difficulty.

Mindfulness: to be conscious of, open to, and curious about my here-and-now experience.

I was told to think of life as a huge network of relationships:

Relationships with our body and mind, with family and friends, etc.

How can you make your relationships flourish?

You need to Connect, Care, and Contribute.

Connect- in any relationship means to engage and participate in the here and now.

Care- do we really care about the relationship? We need to act in caring ways.

Contribute- to nurture and give to the relationship.

****

Then there is “Taking A Stand”.

When life hits us hard, we tend to run and retreat. But, what we need to do is:

Take A Stand. Stand up to the difficulties.

There are 4 approaches to problem situations:

  • Leave the situation. Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t!
  • Stay and change what can be changed. The reality gap sometimes can be closed but many times it can’t. But, we still have to do something. We are still breathing and life goes on! We need to activate all our mindfulness skills to steer our life in a meaningful direction.
  • Stay and accept what can’t be changed. You have to ACCEPT all the painful feelings and thoughts and DEFUSE from them, separate from them, distance yourself from them, give them the space to come and go, engage in the present and choose to live by your values, and live each day fully despite the hurtful challenges you face.
  • Stay and give up. Worry, rant and rave, cry, turn to alcohol and drugs, all of which make your problems worse. This option sucks the life out of us.

A Thought To End With:

Through mindfulness skills you can acquire what we all want:

Psychological Flexibility.

Handling Difficulties

This is the third instalment of my journey into Mindfulness. This is where we try to re-orient our lives so we can enjoy them fully. But, to live life enjoyably we have to learn how to handle difficulties.

Many times in life reality SLAPS us in the face, where we experience disappointment, frustration, loss, illness, and aging. It’s a shock and it hurts, it knocks us off balance and we struggle hard to maintain our equilibrium. Some people get very upset having to exert all their energy to maintain their foothold in life.

But, after the SLAP, what comes next is even more shocking. This is the space between two realities, the one we have in the present and the one we would want. We have to reconcile ourselves to this space which could last days, weeks, or years. We are ill-equipped to deal with this. And this is when you need your mindfulness skills, deep breathing, etc.

***

When we are faced with a difficulty, whether it’s extreme stress, illness in ourselves or in a loved one, exhaustion or sadness, it’s natural to try hard to eliminate it or push it away. We might even go into denial and pretend it’s not there.

But, eventually these strategies no longer work and our miserable feelings persist. We must find a different way of relating to ourselves and the world.

***

This is the hard part, we have to ACCEPT whatever is troubling us. It means turning towards it. ACCEPTANCE means to grasp and understand how things really are. Many people stumble at this point.

Acceptance means dropping the struggle and letting go. Mindfulness teaches us it’s easier and more effective to live with our troubles than to pour extreme energy into battling them and trying to suppress them.

By accepting the negative thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations we prevent our mind going on a downward spiral. We sap the momentum from the negativity and we calm down.

***

So, we want to keep as many breathing spaces as possible during the day to anchor ourselves in the present.

One of the weapons we have against difficult thoughts and feelings is Defusion, which turns OFF our STRUGGLE SWITCH.

Our negative thoughts FUSE together, like sheets of molten metal fuse together. When we are fused to bad thoughts they have an enormous miserable effect on us. They are threats that pressure us to try to eliminate. But, that voice in our head keeps talking! But, when we defuse from our negative thoughts, they lose all their power over us.

***

Here is an example of a Defusion exercise:

Put a negative self-judgment into a sentence, for example:

“I’m fearful of the future.” Repeat it a few times.

Now say the thought with this phrase in front of it: “I’m having the thought that,

I’m fearful of the future.” Repeat.

Then, lastly, add this phrase: “I notice I’m having the thought that, I’m fearful of the future.” Repeat.

Did you notice after repeating the last line, a sense of SEPARATION and DISTANCE from the thought?

You did! Well, you’ve just had an experience of Defusion.

So, what happened?

When you hold on to a negative thought and let it dictate how you feel, you will be stuck and struggling in misery.

But, with Defusion, you learn how to let a bad thought come and go without being pushed around by it.

***

Mindfulness focuses around two processes:

Developing ACCEPTANCE of unwanted thoughts and experiences which are out of our personal control.

And, a commitment of action to live a valued life (we will discuss this in another instalment).

So, to sum up: To handle life’s difficulties you need to:

FACE YOUR DEMONS and DEVELOP MINDFULNESS SKILLS

 

Body Scan and Walking

Welcome to the second instalment of my journey into Mindfulness. We’ve been concentrating on breathing to begin with, now we will combine breathing with the body. We will integrate the mind and body into a powerful whole.

Many people get to the second instalment expecting to clear their minds immediately. They want to get rid of their troubled thoughts and soothe their frayed edges.

But it takes time and practice. In the body scan we put our attention for longer periods of time on something we usually ignore, our body.

So, here goes the body scan:

This meditation will take about 20 minutes. Lie on your back, eyes closed or open. I almost fell asleep while doing this scan, it’s so relaxing!

Start breathing mindfully. Bring your awareness to the sensations in your belly and abdomen as you breathe in and out, feel the rise and fall.

Now, bring the spotlight of your attention to your feet and legs, wiggle your toes, feel the sensations.

Move your attention , as you breathe, to your thighs, groin, hips, buttocks, lower back, upper back and shoulders. Focus on your hands and then your face. Go through your entire body. Twenty seconds on each part. Direct your breath to each part of your body, almost like you were breathing into each part.

After you have scanned your entire body, spend a few minutes being aware of your body as a WHOLE. Wiggle your toes and fingers and move your legs and arms.

At times your mind might wander with other thoughts. Make a note where your thoughts went off to, it could be revealing!

As far as your mind wandering, you may find that you are unable to control this. And many thoughts are unwholesome, thoughts you don’t want.

The mind is a double-edged sword: It is capable of doing us great benefit as well as injury.

The untamed mind jumps from thought to thought. But, we do have a choice through meditation which thoughts to entertain and develop and which to observe and dismiss.

Replacement is a weapon you have against unwholesome thoughts. When a bad thought arises, you can replace it with a good one. Like weeds in your garden, when you see one, pluck it!

***

Walking is a great exercise and a wonderful stress reliever plus a mood booster. I go to the woods near my house for an hour walk, one mile into the woods and one mile back. I take my time and sit on a bench at the halfway mark trying to notice everything around me.

When I’m walking, I focus on my feet as they land on the ground and I feel my muscles and tendons in my legs stretch and contract. I notice my whole body moving as I walk. I try to pay attention to all the sights, sounds, and smells. I see how the patterns of light and shade shift unexpectedly. It doesn’t matter what time of year, every moment of every season has many sensory delights.

Enjoy every moment of your walk, life only happens here, at this very moment. The birds are singing. Enjoy the here and NOW.

When I’m walking, I say to myself:

“Just NOW is enough! Just NOW is all there is!”

Remember, life is just a series of present moments. If you don’t show up for these moments, you’ve missed your life.

***

Walking is a great way to “let go”. Envision you are leaving your worries behind and taking a step into a new moment, a peaceful moment.

I was left at the end of the second instalment with this thought:

When you remember some time you enjoyed in the past, do you feel sad that that time is gone forever? Do you wish you could bring it back?

But, you can’t bring it back!

All the moments in life are fleeting, that’s why you have to ENJOY the present moment and pay attention to it.

See you for the third instalment.

 

 

 

Autopilot, Habit, And Deep Breathing

Welcome to the first instalment of my journey through mindfulness training. I am embarking on this course and I intend to write a blog on each step along the way. These are the points I was told about at the start:

Just as our lives have many difficulties, so too does our mindfulness training and practice. Our problems come and sit with us during our meditations. We hope to CONFRONT them rather than AVOID them. We might be able to escape a few unwanted experiences, but we cannot avoid them all, particularly the most unpleasant ones: sickness, old age, and death.

Problems turn out to be stepping-stones to mindfulness mastery. To face and accept difficulty requires COURAGE.

What is courage? It’s NOT the absence of fear. Fear is a component of courage. You feel fear and then you stand your ground, this is courage.

Dealing with concentration and discouragement are musts if you are to succeed in mindfulness.

Focusing your attention on your breathing is the basic exercise for maintaining concentration.

We have to remind ourselves that the only way to fail at meditation is not to do it. So, you don’t want to get discouraged. Discouragement is just an emotion. It will pass.

You have an AUTOPILOT that kicks in when you are thinking about ordinary concerns, you then are oblivious to things happening elsewhere.

The autopilot allows us to extend our working memory by creating habits, such as brushing your teeth. You do these things without thinking. But if you are constantly on autopilot you lose your awareness of the present.

What do you do to regain your innate mindfulness? The answer is to focus your awareness on one thing at a time.

***

Here’s an exercise I did: It’s sort of a Grape Meditation.

Take a grape and hold it in the palm of your hand. Can you feel its weight? Do you see its shadow on your palm? See its shape and touch it to explore its texture. How does it feel? Smell it, does it have a scent?

Now, place the grape in your mouth, explore it with your tongue. Start chewing it, notice the taste of the juice. Finally, swallow it and be aware of the swallowing process.

***

You’ve just tasted this one grape more than the bunch you usually stuff in your mouth without thinking!

How many times in the past have you paid so much attention to what you were doing?

The main point here is: You only have the present to live. But we tend to live in the past or the future. We hardly notice what’s happening in the present moment.

***

You need to focus your scattered mind on a single object like your breath. Be aware of your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Take a deep breath and hold it for 1-2-3-4-5 seconds and then exhale slowly. Do this for 5 minutes and you feel relaxed and your mind won’t wander so much because you’re focusing on your breathing.

After moments of clear awareness with your deep breathing you may slip back into your streams of random thoughts. What to do?

Just notice your thoughts as thoughts and bring your attention back to your breathing.

Congrats, you’ve just taken the first step back to full awareness.

Doing your breathing exercises at different times during the day will provide you with a quiet refuge from the noise of everyday life.

When you’re feeling stressful and anxious just do your 5 minutes of deep breathing and you will feel better right away. With your deep breathing, you will have your anchor to hang on to always.

With each breath of air, you obtain oxygen and release the waste product carbon dioxide. Good breathing habits can enhance your psychological and physical well-being.

The best breathing pattern is deep diaphragmatic breathing. This breathing is slower and deeper than shallow chest breathing.

As you breathe sometimes your mind wanders. If you count your breaths it will help your mind and body calm down.

Inhale—exhale (one), continue up to four and start over. Make sure that your exhale is always longer than your inhale. This will prevent you from taking short shallow breaths.

Continue counting your exhales in sets of four for ten minutes.

This exercise can also be used to help you go to sleep!

WOW! I FEEL BETTER ALREADY AFTER ONLY ONE TRAINING SESSION!

GREAT!

HOW ABOUT YOU?

Coping With Traumatic Events

My neighbor, Jim, who is 70 years old, asked me if I had any ideas on coping with his wife’s death because he felt so depressed, even after 6 months of grieving. They had been married for 40 years.

He was naturally shocked and it left him feeling hopeless.

“Jim, this subject of coping came up in my Discussion Club and some answers came forward.”

Jim had a far away look in his eyes.

I continued, “How do you feel now after the 6 months.”

“I feel like I’m in a perpetual crisis,” he said, soberly.

Tears ran down his cheeks.

Wiping the tears away, Jim continued, “I feel overwhelmed by my wife’s death and it seems like my world has collapsed. I don’t have any hope for my future alone.”

He hesitated for a minute then he said:

“What can be done about my mental state?”

“Well, Jim, the answers are the same for any traumatic event that you have to cope with.

Resignation to the situation is a great help. Say to yourself, “I’m going to live through this and I’m going to endure it.” In other words, you are accepting your depression and not fighting it. You might behave like a walking zombie for a while but time does heal.”

“But, I feel like I’ve lost everything. This grief is getting to me,” Jim said, hopelessly.

“Jim, disruptions in life are a regular occurrence. We attach ourselves to people and things so letting go isn’t easy, the more we try to hold on the more pain we feel. Death is a loss we can’t control.”

“But, how do we cope and overcome depression?”

“Grieving is the way we come to terms with loss. Life involves a string of losses, death of friends and loved ones, loss of possessions, money, job, hope, confidence, our dreams, and loss of health.”

“But, what’s the answer?” Jim shouted.

He started wringing his hands. I waited a minute to let him calm down, then I said:

“Acceptance is the answer. Acceptance of the trauma is what is needed. Having to let go of what we have is sometimes unavoidable. You need to accept the inevitability of loss. Once we accept and stop fighting loss, healing can start.”

“What do YOU do in the face of trauma?”

Well, Jim, my wife died of cancer within 6 months. The shock was almost unbearable. Mindfulness training helped me cope and face life again.”

“How did YOU feel about the loss?’

“Loss is traumatic. All areas of life involve loss: childhood, adolescence, middle-age, and old age. But these losses can create new life if we accept the sorrow. Eventually, the suffering subsides and we experience, in the present, heightened awareness and joy. Throw yourself into each moment, for it is the only life you have.”

“Tell me more about this mindfulness stuff,” Jim said, with a glimmer of hope in his voice.

“Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the Present Moment, while calmly accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. You need to be consciously in the Present.”

“Do you mean we spend most of our lives in a semi-conscious state?”

“That’s right, we dwell on the past, and think about the future. We aren’t making positive choices about our lives.”

“So, you’re saying that we can change the operation of our own minds?”

“That’s right. I cannot stop getting old or dying. I cannot control your opinion of me, I can’t change the past. But, and this is a big BUT. I can choose how I will REACT to getting old and to your opinion of me, and finally I can decide how my past will influence me and the person I will become in the future. I have CHOICES.”

“So, what’s the final conclusion? Can you tell me?”

“Jim, I will try.”

I could see eagerness in Jim’s eyes.

“We have to ACCEPT the loss of EVERYTHING in life. In the end, we will be separated from everything we hold dear. Throughout life, we have to say “so long” to loved ones, to possessions, to our dreams and hopes. Mindfulness helps us to PREPARE for that inevitability and to ACCEPT it with joy and contentment and live what life we have left fully.”

“Boy, that was a mouthful,” said Jim, smiling.

“Glad to see you smile again, my friend.”

I waited a minute to have all that I had said sink in.

“Finally, mindfulness reminds us that life is ephemeral and denying that only brings unhappiness. Accepting the impermanence of life is liberation and allows us to be happy and appreciate life.”

“Is that it?’ Jim said, seriously.

“One more thing, remember to punctuate your day with the anchor of breathing exercises. Deep inhale, hold, and slow exhale through the mouth. These breathing spaces during the day will calm you and re-establish your focus on the here and now, the only life you have.”

My neighbor was smiling from ear to ear.

“Jim, good luck with your exercises and your choices.”

Breathe In New Life!

I was sitting with my eyes closed. I took a deep breath through my nose and held it for three seconds. Then I exhaled through my mouth. I observed my chest expanding and contracting with each breath.

I was doing this for five minutes, when a voice from behind me said:

“What the hell are you doing?”

My eyes popped open. I turned around and there was my next -door neighbor. He sat down on the diner stool next to me.

“I’m practicing mindful breathing,” I said, smiling.

“Does it do any good?”

“Oh yes, it calms me down and gives more oxygen to my brain, which makes me feel good.”

My neighbor didn’t look convinced. He ordered a cup of coffee glancing at my yogurt.

“It also helps me stay in the present moment,” I continued, “I just started mindfulness training.”

“Mindfulness! That’s all that meditation stuff isn’t it?”

“Yes it is.”

“Do you sit cross-legged on the floor?”

“No, I don’t. I stand or sit in a chair.”

What’s mindfulness all about?”

“Living in the Present, the only life we have. Our minds have two ways of relating to the world, the Doing Mode and the Being Mode.”

“Oh my, I hope we are not getting into the Twilight Zone?” My neighbor pretended to be afraid.

“Relax, Jim,” that was my neighbor’s name.

“The Doing Mode automates our life by using habits, like tying your shoelaces. It’s also our problem solving mode, but sometimes it over thinks and ends up compounding our difficulties.”

Jim was a study in concentration.

“The Being Mode is a shift in perspective. With mindfulness we experience life through our senses more. It uses the senses to live in the “NOW”.

“Wow! Dave, you’ve got my head whizzing around,” Jim laughed.

“Well, lets get it whizzing around some more,” I said, smiling.

“Jim, do you live a lot in the past and future?”

“Oh yes, I’m always ruminating in the past and thinking about the future when I’m under stress.”

“See Jim, you’re lost in mental time travel at the expense of your precious Present. You create stress for yourself by RE-LIVING past events and then you RE-FEEL their pain. And if you live in the future, stress makes you think disaster is around the corner. So, you’re PRE-LIVING the future and PRE-FEELING its impact!”

“So, Dave, you’re saying mindfulness training is the answer, is that right?”

“Yes, my friend, you need to train your mind so you can live your life as it happens in the Present. You can still remember the past and plan for the future, but you will “see” memory as memory and planning as planning. Then you go back to the only life you have, the Present.”

“Makes sense to me,” said Jim, “But, I always thought people either had a happy disposition or a miserable one! It was encoded in the genes.”

“With mindfulness you can escape that emotional set point and alter your moods. It’s all good stuff, Jim.”

Jim looked quizzical.

“Lets do some breathing exercises:

Deep breath in and hold, 1-2-3-4-5 and exhale slowly through your mouth.

Can you feel the extra oxygen in your brain?”

“I feel something. I feel more relaxed. Why is breathing so important?”

“Jim, the breathing exercise is your anchor to the Present. The best way to keep calm during the day is to have regular breathing spaces.”

“Why breathing?”

“Because breathing is always with you. You can’t live without it. You can live without food for weeks, without water for a few days, but you can’t survive without breathing for more than a few tens of seconds. It is LIFE!”

“Anything else?”

“Yes, breathing doesn’t need us, the breath breathes itself. Your breath is a moving target to ground you in the Present. Finally, it provides an anchor for your attention.”

We continued breathing exercises for 15 minutes and then we left the diner smiling!