Mindfulness: week two

This post refers to the 8 week mindfulness course in Mindfulness, a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic work. The book also has a website and blog: Frantic world

If you haven’t read them already, you may like to read these two posts first:

Week two: “Keeping the body in mind”

Me, enjoying the sensations of being barefoot

This chapter is all about tuning into the body with the help of the guided meditations on the cd. We often ignore or push aside feelings such as tiredness, stress and unhappiness in order to get through the long list of things we need to get done. However, in the long run this isn’t helpful and actually slows us down. If we can learn to tune in to our bodies, we can pick up when we need to take time out, time to relax, time to stretch, time to look after our bodies instead of our to-do list.

The chapter also explains the connection between the physical sensations that we are learning to tune in to, and our thoughts:

The body often detects our thoughts almost before we’ve consciously registered them ourselves and frequently reacts as if they are solid or real, whether they accurately reflect the world or not. (p.92)

It is during the week two meditation, the body scan, that we learn to focus on different sections of the body. This is where I tend to spot the different parts of me that hold tension, particularly in and around my shoulders. The meditation doesn’t ask you to change anything, just to notice, to be aware. These meditations differ from others that I’ve tried because there is an emphasis on “not being wrong”, which is very reassuring for someone as self-critical as me. For example, if you notice your mind wander, this is good because it means you are aware of your thoughts and can use this as a prompt to bring your attention back to your breath. All these years I’ve thought that you were meant to try and stop your thoughts, blank them out, how wrong I was!

Lightbulb moment:

This week’s lightbulb moment is that all the years that I’ve been putting my mind into “Doing mode” (p.28) in order to solve my problems, I have been doing exactly the opposite of what my mind and body have needed.

When in Doing mode we are trying to analyse what is wrong with us, how can we get from where we are to where we want to be, how we can narrow the gap. Doing mode is about focusing on the gap, focusing on what is missing, and so results in us feeling more down, even further from where we want to be. Instead we need to learn to step outside of Doing mode into a more curious mode, noticing thoughts, not judging them, looking at them as an impartial observer. When in this mode we are less critical, and can see thoughts as just thoughts. As a chronic over thinker, someone who felt that if I just tried that bit harder I could make everything right, this was a huge revelation. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf”. This discovery was such an eye opener for me that I decided to make the picture below, I hope you like it.

waves

Next week, week 3: the mouse in the maze…

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‘Cause maybe we’re all fireworks?

The moment I saw this I couldn’t wait to share this inspirational video with you – Katy Perry singing “Firework” with Jodi DiPiazza. The video explains why music is so important to Jodi, and Jodi’s story makes this duet all the more moving.

I had never really stopped and listened to the lyrics before – this video really brought them to life for me. I’ll admit, I shed a tear. It made me think about all the wonderful people I know who haven’t yet realised their potential to be beautiful fireworks, to light up the sky and bring happiness to themselves and others.

Fireworks come in all different shapes, sizes and colours. Some shoot quietly up into the sky and cascade down in glittering showers, others make us jump with their loud whizzes and bangs, filling us with adrenalin. I think the best fireworks shows are when all these different types come together, each has their part to play. If you ever feel like you don’t fit in, remember, the loud fireworks make us appreciate the quieter ones, and vice versa. Life is all about contrasts.

What sort of firework would you be? “It’s always been inside of you, now its time to let it through”.

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag

Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?

Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin

Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?

 

Do you ever feel already buried deep?

Six feet under screams, but no one seems to hear a thing

Do you know that there’s still a chance for you

‘Cause there’s a spark in you?

 

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine

Just own the night like the 4th of July

 

‘Cause baby, you’re a firework

Come on, show ’em what you’re worth

Make ’em go, oh, oh, oh

As you shoot across the sky

 

Baby, you’re a firework

Come on, let your colors burst

Make ’em go, oh, oh, oh

You’re gonna leave ’em falling down

 

You don’t have to feel like a waste of space

You’re original, cannot be replaced

If you only knew what the future holds

After a hurricane comes a rainbow

 

Maybe the reason why, why all the doors are closed

So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road

Like a lightning bolt, your heart will glow

And when it’s time, you’ll know

 

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine

Just own the night like the 4th of July

 

‘Cause baby you’re a firework

Come on, show ’em what you’re worth

Make ’em go, oh, oh, oh

As you shoot across the sky

 

Baby, you’re a firework

Come on, let your colors burst

Make ’em go, oh, oh, oh

You’re gonna leave ’em falling down

 

Boom, boom, boom

Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon

It’s always been inside of you, you, you

And now it’s time to let it through

 

‘Cause baby you’re a firework

Come on, show ’em what you’re worth

Make ’em go, oh, oh, oh

As you shoot across the sky

 

Baby, you’re a firework

Come on, let your colors burst

Make ’em go, oh, oh, oh

You’re gonna leave ’em falling down

 

Boom, boom, boom

Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon

Boom, boom, boom

Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon!

Songwriters

DEAN, ESTHER / ERIKSEN, MIKKEL STORLEER N / HERMANSEN, TOR ERIK N / PERRY, KATY N / WILHELM, SANDY JULIEN N

Published by

Lyrics © Peermusic Publishing, EMI Music Publishing, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Mindfulness: week one

This post refers to the 8 week mindfulness course in Mindfulness, a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic work. The book also has a website and blog: Frantic world

I don’t want to go into too much detail and give away the content of the book because I want you to experience it for yourselves (plus the librarian in me is very aware of copyright and the importance of respecting all the hard work the author has gone to). Here is my experience of the first week…

saved

Week one: “Waking up to the autopilot”

This chapter is all about developing an awareness of the things that we do on autopilot.

Here are a few examples of things I regularly do without thinking:

  • Eating (breakfast on the go, lunch at my desk, tea in front of the tv)
  • Travelling to and from work
  • Housework

What would you add to this list? For me they tend to be things that I do frequently, things that I do so often that I have stopped paying any attention to them, things that have gradually disappeared into the daily routine.

The next step is to notice what you are thinking about while you are on autopilot. Chances are you will be thinking a million and one things without even realising it. Where did you leave your keys?  Did you say the wrong thing to someone yesterday? What are you going to have for tea tonight? Must remember to get a birthday card at lunchtime. All this and more while you’re brushing your teeth (maybe your thoughts are slightly different?!) The important thing is that you aren’t noticing / enjoying the moment, you are living in the past and the future, all muddled up together. The problem is that when these constant thoughts become a habit, you don’t notice all the little stresses that build up until you reach breaking point.

When you reach the point where overload has seized up the conscious mind, it’s very difficult to reverse the process simply by thinking your way out, for this is like opening yet another program on the computer, overlaying it with yet another window. Instead you need to find a way of stepping outside the cycle almost as soon as you notice its begun” (pg 72)

Lightbulb moment:

By paying attention to the moment, I have been able to notice when thoughts start to get out of control or, more often than not, start to take a negative turn. For me this has been so helpful – by being able to spot the first negative thought, I can choose whether or not to pay it any attention. This has helped me to break out of the cycle of negative thinking – the type of thinking that goes a bit like this:

  • “You’re feeling a bit jittery”
  • “It’s probably because you have to get an earlier bus to work today”
  • “A sure sign that you’re not really coping at work”
  • “Probably won’t be long until you’re signed off again”
  • “If you get signed off again, you won’t have the courage to go back in again”
  • “If you lose this job you’ll never have the courage to get another one”
  • “You’ll end up agoraphobic”
  • “And what kind of life is that?”

All these thoughts can happen in the blink of an eye. The trick for me is to notice the first thought, e.g. “You’re feeling a bit jittery”, and then stop and ask whether this is true, and why this really might be. It could be that you’re tired, had too much caffeine, had too little caffeine… (And I’ve written my thoughts in the third person because these aren’t my thoughts, they are the whisperings of the anxiety monster).

I can now see that a thought is just that, a thought. It isn’t necessarily true, it is just something that has popped into my head. The trick isn’t to stop the thoughts, it is merely to notice them. It is my choice whether I decide to pay attention to it and act on it, or whether to decide it is an unhelpful thought and can be left to disperse. All thoughts come and go, like clouds, I don’t have to let them rule my life.

In the words of Gru from Despicable Me – Lightbulb!

And here is week 2.

Mindfulness for sceptics

Source

I didn’t start off as a sceptic. I used to be first in the queue for anything that promised to change my life, and there have been a lot of books making a lot of promises. There was the 365 day stress-less challenge*, the 52 weeks of positive affirmations*, the 10 steps to instant confidence*, you name it, I’ve tried it. And when they didn’t work, I’d feel even more of a failure, and then buy the next book with a cover full of promises…

A decade later and a lot more anxious (but with a bulging bookcase) I have become a bit sceptical of the latest craze. I see a book with a title like “Think happy, be happy”* and yes, I pick it up (or click on it), I look at the reviews on Amazon, and I put it back down again. I figure that I won’t be happier, just £7.99 worse off, which just rubs salt in the wound. If it was that easy, I’d have succeeded years ago, wouldn’t I?

And then a friend sent me an email about how mindfulness had worked for his anxiety, and posted me a copy of this book, “The art of happiness” by Matthieu Ricard.

I had heard of mindfulness, a friend’s counsellor had recommended it to help with depression. She described it as noticing the little things that we usually walk straight past, and so I had tried this on my daily trudge to work. I noticed a Siamese cat watching me from an upstairs window, flowers growing in the gaps between concrete slabs, the way the sun caught the chimney posts in the morning. It gave me a little lift, but like most things, it wore off. Or, more accurately, I forgot to keep doing it, and so it wore off. (Now I realise that observing our surroundings is just a small part of mindfulness).

I couldn’t help but be intrigued by this book that arrived on my doorstep, by the fact that it was written by a Buddhist monk (which made his promises sound a lot more trustworthy than most) and by the heartfelt recommendation from a school friend I hadn’t seen in years. I’ll admit, I was too drained to read it there and then, but I looked up the author and found his TED talk, “The habits of happiness“, and I was captivated. I spent all afternoon watching talks, lectures and classes on mindfulness, wanting to know more. The video below stands out as a particular favourite from that afternoon because it explains mindfulness so well, both the practice of mindfulness and the science behind it (and the fact that the talk is given by the University of California helps me to believe that it isn’t another craze!). It is long, but it is well worth the watch:

And that was it, I was hooked, in no small part because of the scientific evidence that showed that mindfulness physically changes your brain. Carla Shatz coined the phrase “cells that fire together wire together” (Carla Shatz), or to give it its scientific name, synaptic plasticity. So here was medical proof that I could actually reprogramme my brain to be more positive. Wow. My inner sceptic was suddenly feeling a lot less sceptical. (NB the mindfulness that I practice has its roots based on Buddhist principles and meditations, but minus the religion. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a medical professor, fused Buddhist practices with Western psychology and brought us a non-religious version of mindfulness).

I wanted to get started as soon as possible, so I found a book that came with a CD: Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. It’s written as an 8 week course, a course that I could do at home, at my own pace. I even checked out the author’s voice to make sure I found it relaxing. Perfect.

The first chapter was so well written that even in my frazzled state I quickly understood what Mindfulness is, what it isn’t, and why I should do it (the scientific evidence mentioned earlier).

Mindfulness doesn’t include:

  • Sitting cross legged (unless you want to)
  • Chanting (I’d be too self-conscious!)
  • Attending a class (unless you want to)
  • Trying to stop all the thoughts that pop into your head (impossible, surely?)
  • A large commitment of time (if you can fit in 3 minutes a day, you’ll be fine)
  • A large commitment of money (you can borrow a book from the library)

Mindfulness does include:

  • Learning to accept (not change) whatever emotions you are feeling
  • Appreciating what you already have
  • Noticing your thoughts, not trying to stop them or change them
  • Exercises that only take a few minutes
  • Exercises you can do almost anywhere (I do mine on the bus)
  • And yes, it really does re-wire your brain!

My next post will give an outline of the 8 week course, and what I gained from it. I warn you, I am bowled over by this book, it really has changed how I view things, or more accurately, how I think. And trust me, I overthink! (And no, I’m not on commission).

*The small print – titles marked with an asterisk are titles I have made up to illustrate a point. They are not a reflection on any real books that might have these names!

The upside of rock bottom

thought bubble*Please note that this post briefly describes my lowest point. I have included it to help put this blog in context, but please skip this post if it could upset you.

So here goes…

When you’re in your darkest place you find yourself faced with two equally frightening paths to choose from: to carry on fighting, each and every second

or

give up, give in and check out.

A 50/50 choice. I am fortunate, I chose the first path. The truth is that at that moment I didn’t choose to carry on fighting for me but for those around me, I just couldn’t bring that kind of pain to people who love me so much. I am glad that my rock bottom wasn’t low enough for me to lose sight of others, particularly because I know only too well that other people aren’t as fortunate. (Please know that this is very hard to for me to write).

Continue reading “The upside of rock bottom”

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