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:



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!




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!