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‘Enoughness’ as True Happiness

I’ve always felt a little bit of resistance to the word ‘happiness’. It can feel like a concept that is defined by someone else’s idea of what I should achieve, and then sold to me via magazines and social media.

It’s easy to forget there’s a powerful consumer industry that needs us to feel a sense of ‘not enough’ so that we’ll attempt to buy our way to happiness (some statistics estimate that the modern person sees about 5000 ads per day).

But true happiness, for me, comes from a feeling of ‘enoughness’. Admittedly, this isn’t actually a proper word, but I feel like it conveys a quality of appreciation which isn’t quite there when I hear the word ‘enough’.

This quality, a kind of quiet and steady wellbeing, is actually not all that elusive if I stay open to it. I’ve been reflecting on how it shows up in everyday life, and this is what I noticed…

Enoughness means I don’t always have to get what I want to be happy.

Enoughness means I can let go of trying to prove myself or get somewhere, and actually just be content right now.

Enoughness means that nothing I do has to be perfect.

Enoughness means I don’t have to fill my diary to feel fulfilled.

Enoughness means I can appreciate what I already do have that I’m grateful for, instead of chasing something more, or something else.

Enoughness means I can open to the wonder of just being alive (as trite as that may sound), every day, without waiting for something ‘big’ or impressive to happen.

Enoughness means that the way I live reflects my own values, even if they don’t match those of contemporary culture.

Enoughness means I can connect deeply with the people I care about, because I haven’t got half my attention on the mental pursuit of goals.

Enoughness means I’m more immune to the marketing strategies that want me to believe I need to buy happiness, or chase an unrealistic lifestyle (which also often seems to mean buying what someone is selling).

Enoughness means I can step back from Doing mode, and feel confident that it’s ok to leave those minutes unfilled by busyness. And realising that just Being can sometimes create more positive change than Doing.

Enoughness means that even when life feels uncomfortable, I know I’ll cope because I’m ok at a very basic level: my needs for oxygen, nutrients, physical support and shelter are rarely not met. As Rick Hanson puts it, I’m ‘alright, right now’.

A feeling of enoughness can also be the most reliable clue that I’m engaged in mindful living. So when I feel like I’m losing my way, if I look for a sense of enoughness, however ‘small’, it can make a big impact.

I’ll leave you with an Albert Camus quote that pretty neatly sums up what I mean by enoughess.

“Four Conditions Of Happiness:

Life in the open air

Love for another being

Freedom from ambition

Creation”*

Sheila runs mindfulness workshops in Heaton Moor, South Manchester, and also provides Mindful Living coaching by Skype.

*I believe the correct description is ‘Poe’s 4 Conditions For Happiness’.

JUNE TIPS: Foundations For Mindful Living

For many people, learning mindfulness is life-changing. But how do we consistently bring the benefits of this practice into our lives?

In a very basic way, I might define mindful living as balancing Doing with enough time just Being. This balance tends to lead to greater connection with ourselves, other people and our environment, a feeling of being more fully present in our lives. (For more detail see the Mindful Living page).

This month I’m taking a look at laying down a foundation for mindful living, on an ongoing basis.

Perhaps you’re at the start of your mindfulness journey, or looking to refresh your commitment to living more mindfully. In either case, it’s likely you’ll meet a few challenges along the way. Here are a few supports I fall back on when I need to feel more grounded in mindful living.

You could use some of these as journaling prompts, or just give yourself some space to reflect on what mindful living looks like for you.

Awareness of Intention

Everyone’s reasons for wanting to develop mindfulness may be different. Why is important to you personally? What made you want to learn about it in the first place?

If this is brand new, maybe there’s a change you’d like to see happen in your life. If you already practice mindfulness, perhaps you’ve already experienced some benefits, or cultivated some positive habits that you don’t want to ‘forget’.

Mindful living isn’t always an easy path to stay on – remind yourself often why it matters to you.

Remove ‘Doing Triggers’

Even if you’re not sure what mindful living really is, you might already have some awareness of how the opposite feels: rushed, distracted, overly busy, scattered and in constant Doing mode.

Think about what sort of things trigger these states and therefore undermine mindful living. Again, this is personal. In my case, it’s the devices that lure me into online time, books that I feel driven to ‘get through’, and excessive input from TV, podcasts and articles.

(My starting point with this approach was years ago when I began switching off notifications, one of the best ways I’ve ever discovered to protect my own mindfulness).

Once identified, we can think about how to reduce these triggers. Using my examples above, this means leaving my phone switched off and out of sight whenever I can; reducing how many books are left lying around; and designating times and spaces in my day as ‘input-free zones’, such as a meal at the table or some quiet time cooking.

Your examples may be different. And you don’t have to stop at ‘Doing’ triggers: there may be other conditions in your life that undermine mindfulness. What could you do to reverse that impact?

Maximise Support

When we think about what could help us to be more mindful in daily life, meditation practice might be the obvious thing that comes to mind.

But we can also consider other conditions that support mindful living, and maximise those where possible.

Perhaps that means seeking out like-minded people, being outside more, or even getting more sleep.

Think about what conditions would help you to bring more mindfulness into your life. Which one would make the biggest difference right now?

Mindful Corners

Something that I find really supportive is to incorporate ‘mindful corners’ into my life.

Writer Pico Iyer talks about the “adventure of going nowhere” – I love how this phrase speaks to both the benefit and the challenge of spending more time just Being. He goes on to say that “Nowhere has to become somewhere we visit in the corners of our lives, by taking a daily run or going fishing or just sitting quietly”.

I’ve created literal corners of my everyday life that give me a nudge to drop into just Being. When I get caught up in busyness, or feel like my head is getting too full, these are the places that invite me to pause and connect to more stillness.

Some of mine include:

– my garden bench which has become a regular ‘sit spot’

– the family photo I use for a screensaver on my phone

– the pot-plant I put next to the armchair with the good view

– the mini nature painting that sits above the washing-up sink

They function as a frequent reminder of my intention to live mindfully.

Additional resources

If you would like to be notified when I add new monthly tips – you can ‘follow’ this blog and you’ll receive an email whenever I post tips and blogs (to follow, use the button at the bottom right of the footer). I also post updates to Twitter and Facebook (I am no longer sending the tips out by monthly mailing list).

On the Mindful Living page of my site, I explore in more depth what this might actually look like in practice.

Pico Iyer’s 15-min talk The Art of Stillness has a great take on how finding pauses in our life can support intentional living.

Short meditations are one way to build pauses into your day, to help grow the awareness needed for mindful living – find mini-meditations (of 5 minutes or less) at the bottom of my Meditations page.

If you would like to work with me to support your own mindful living journey, I run mindfulness workshops and classes in Heaton Moor (South Manchester).  I’m also opening up some slots in the autumn for ‘Intentional Living’ sessions – these are 1-to-1 by Skype.  You can find out more on the Coaching Programme page.

 

Slow Meditation: Releasing The Pressure

There’s a lot of buzz about Slow Living at the moment, and it would seem natural to look to meditation to support this. But I’m wondering how many of us fall into practising what I think of as ‘fast meditation’.

This post was inspired by a brief online exchange I had with Carl Honore: when I mentioned this sense of haste in meditation, he astutely noted that “people are in such a hurry that they even want to slow down fast”.

So thank you to Carl for writing his book In Praise Of Slow, and for prompting me to reflect on my own journey towards slow(er) meditation. I’m not sure I’ve totally slowed it down yet, but I’ve definitely eased a lot of the pressure I’d been inadvertently bringing into my practice.

Meditation teacher Reggie Ray observes that when meditative traditions are adopted into contemporary cultures, they can take on the flavour of the dominant values of that environment. I recognise this from my own experiences.

When I’ve practiced in settings informed by ancient traditions, I noticed myself trying to get on the fast track to peace, growth or wisdom. I swapped chasing the goals of consumer culture for those of the meditative path: trying to master more complicated meditations, or get enough experience to go on increasingly intense retreats. There was a definite sense of trying to get somewhere, and as rapidly as possible.

Like many people, I started my meditation journey with an 8-week mindfulness course. Eager for change, I don’t think I realised that it was just a starting point – two months seemed like a long time, and if someone had told me that meditation is a path that can unfold over many years, I’m not sure I’d have given it a go in the first place. So the courses are a great place to start, to ease us into meditation. And it’s also really helpful if we receive encouragement to see the practice as an ongoing one, with no particular end point.

For me, meditation is about being with life more deeply. Bringing a sense of hurry to meditation can echo how we rush through life itself.  As is often pointed out, the ultimate finish line we are racing towards is death. We can think of meditation as a journey, but as Pico Iyer explains, it’s ‘an invitation to the adventure of going nowhere’.

As we become more present to our embodied experience, we reduce the urge to constantly be somewhere else – in our thoughts, in the meeting we’re having next week, in the situation we screwed up yesterday, or in our fantasy future of ‘I’ll be happy when…’

I’ve been reflecting on how my own practice has developed over the years, shifting from quite a driven pursuit of trying to get somewhere, to something slower, more relaxed and somehow more deeply sustaining.

In the beginning, I needed to feel held by structure in meditation. I felt motivated and supported by having a weekly plan to do say, a 10-minute practice every day, following the guided recording. Meditation was so different from my usual mode of being that without these resources, I’d have abandoned it pretty quickly.

I did notice however that if I clung too tightly to structure, I started evaluating my performance, putting pressure on myself to ‘succeed’ in meditation. This success might look like practising daily in an unbroken run, or sitting for longer periods, or achieving a particular quality of awareness. I might look for evidence of results, to see if my meditation was paying off.

When this pressure got too much, my practice would lapse: it felt too hard, so I’d fall off the wagon for a while. And always, to start back up again, I’d need the wisdom of going slowly, to ease myself back in without putting high expectations on myself, or on the practice.

I’d remind myself that it’s fine to start with 5-minute practices, or to return to them if that’s more workable. I’ve found that five minutes of true presence is more restoring than slogging through half an hour just so I can tick it off my list, or give myself a gold star for achievement.

At one point, I noticed I’d become attached to a particular breathing meditation because I believed it would unlock the secrets of ‘advanced’ practice, and that was creating a sense of impatience. So I gave myself permission to go back to my beloved self-kindness meditation, which always feels less like making something happen, and more like deepening an ongoing relationship with myself.

I also began to explore some of the slower somatic meditations (which means body awareness). As I let go of goals and speed, I discovered I could access a ‘deep listening’ to the body which is subtle, but somehow restorative and transformative.

Somatic approaches tell us that the nervous system needs to go slowly, as it adjusts to gradual shifts – it may even reject fast changes by becoming overwhelmed. Going slowly is another way to bring self-kindness to the practice. As with all learning, it’s a balance between expanding your comfort zone, and not pushing yourself too hard and too fast.

I’ve also eased the sense of pressure by gradually letting go of some of the structure, as it began to feel natural to do that. Once it felt more familiar to spend time just sitting still, and noticing the constant flow of thoughts, emotions and body sensations, I found that I didn’t always need the guidance of a recording, or a particular focus of meditation, like the breath.

Eventually, the meditative qualities of awareness and presence began showing up in my daily life more, and so the line between ‘life’ and ‘meditation’ started to blur. Where I felt this shift most strikingly was in my experience of family holidays. While hanging out on the beach for a week with my husband and our son, I was dropping into the same meditative state I’d had a taste of on retreats – but without the hours of daily sitting meditation.

All my experimenting has helped me to build a practice that supports me and feels appealing, from day to day. Not measuring my progress has also meant I’ve learned to embrace every meditation experience as valuable, even if I don’t enjoy each session, or feel calm & thought-free. Without those expectations, there’s room for a whole dimension of aliveness that I was cutting myself off from, in the pursuit of something different.

I didn’t get to these experiences of meditation quickly, at all (I’ve been practising for over 10 years as I write this). Reflecting on the value of slowness in this practice, I’m so grateful that I’ve stayed with meditation even through the periods of wondering whether anything much was happening.

My journey has resulted in a huge amount of personal growth, and brought me to a much deeper sense of peace – but only because this process has unfolded slowly, over a period of years. And I’m still in that process. Now that I’m discovering the quiet thrill of being fully alive, I’m in no hurry to get to the end.

If you liked this blog, you might also like:

Quitting The Quick Fix: Mindfulness as a Lifelong Practice

3 Things We Can Unlearn To Boost Mindfulness

Keeping The Flame Of Mindfulness Alight

My collection of Meditations includes some short ones of around 5 minutes.

Pico Iyer’s TED talk The Art Of Stillness, and his book by the same name.

MAY TIPS: Slow, Simple, Local

These three words have become something of a personal mantra recently.  You may have heard of the Slow Living movement, and it has much in common with mindful living.  Every so often, I find myself called to slow down some more, to create time and space for what’s most important in life.  Here are three ideas for slower living, if you feel inspired to join me.

Slow

In the Aboriginal culture, there is a practice known as dadirri, or ‘deep listening’.  Hank Wesselman (drawing on Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann’s well-known reflection) describes it as ‘a special quality which allows each of us to make contact with a deep spring that lies within us.  To connect with that spring requires that we achieve a state of quiet, still awareness.’

Fast living just doesn’t seem to allow enough room for this natural inner wisdom and wellbeing to emerge.  However, when we pay full attention to our embodied experience, we get a taste of this quality of deep listening.  And living more slowly really supports that.

When I notice I’ve become disconnected – from myself, from loved ones, or from my environment – I know I’m not leaving enough room for deep listening to happen.  But re-connecting doesn’t have to mean spending hours in meditation – it can be as simple as leaving something out of my schedule for the day or week, to create the needed space.

Simple

In modern culture, there is so much on offer that it’s easy to get drawn into craving ‘bigger, better, more’.  Recently I’ve been re-evaluating the simpler experiences in life.  I noticed that I wasn’t fully appreciating things that happen frequently, simply because I was chasing after novelty.

I found that it’s possible to re-engage with these familiar occurrences – like hanging out with friends, cooking, family downtime – and discover just how rich these experiences are.  Choosing the simple life, far from being boring, can actually create a wonderful feeling of ‘enough’.

Local

I was very inspired by Melanie Warnick’s book This Is Where You Belong – in which she explores the theory of place attachment and how it can boost wellbeing.  She outlines a plan to help you learn to ‘love where you live’.  It really reminded me of the mindfulness practice of taking in your local environment as if you were visiting on holiday.

Practicing ‘loving where I live’ has encouraged me to see my local area through this illuminating lens of unfamiliarity.  Making an effort to spend my time (and my money) in my local community has brought an unexpected sense of joy and connection.  It’s become a habit to ask myself ‘where can I buy this locally?‘, or ‘what can we do for fun nearby?‘, and I feel a lot more content and rooted for it.

Sometimes, I just return to those 3 words – slow, simple, local – as a kind of anchor, to catch myself from coming adrift.

Additional resources

Meditations that complement this month’s theme are ‘Breathing With The Body’, ‘Support Your Self’, or ‘5 Minute Breathing Space’ – which can all be found on the Meditations page.

Blogs that relate to slow living:

Committing To Self-Kindness

Hurry Up, Get More Done and Die by Mark Morford

Podcast on slow living from Brook McAlary & Tsh Oxenreider – On Ignoring What Slow Should Look Like

If you would like to be notified when I post new tips and blogs, you can ‘follow’ the blog to receive emails (using the button at the bottom right corner of the footer). I also post updates to Twitter and Facebook (see Contact page for links).

If you would like to work with me, I run mindfulness workshops and classes in Heaton Moor (South Manchester). I also offer 1-to-1 sessions via Skype – see the Coaching Programme for more info.

Committing To Self-Kindness

I’m a big fan of slow living. The world we inhabit seems to speed up more all the time, and the more I try to keep up, the less well I feel.

So for some years I’ve been following a practice of catching myself ‘in the act’ of doing too much, too fast – and putting the brakes on. Slower living, for me, is where I can actually find peacefulness and freedom.

It occurs to me that we often approach wellbeing practices in the same way – as something to be ‘mastered’ as quickly as possible. I’ve written before about mindfulness and giving up the quick fix, and I’m continuing that exploration here. I think our desire for instant success (understandable as it is) can make it harder to access the powerful benefits of self-kindness meditation.

I’ve been there: initially, I thought that the goal of these practices was to (quickly) experience some lovely peaceful feelings, and that if I didn’t achieve that result, I’d be failing at it.

Like many of the approaches I’d tried to help me feel ‘better’, I wanted self-kindness to make difficult feelings like anxiety and shame go away. And fast. Of course I did, no one wants to prolong their suffering if something might help to ease it.

But it’s interesting that the things that have helped me the most – ie self-kindness and mindfulness – have taken longer to take effect than other things that have helped to a lesser degree (and believe me I’d tried many!). Fortunately, something made me hang in there with my self-kindness practice, even though initially it didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere fast.

I think that thing may have been something one of my meditation teachers said. What she shared was that it had taken her about 18 months of daily self-kindness meditation to really start to feel an impact. And that her teacher had told her the same thing.

Because I was so inspired by this teacher, I decided to give it a go, to actually commit to a long period of exploration, rather than writing it off as yet another approach that didn’t work for me. Looking back, I think I decided that I was worth the effort. I made self-kindness my main practice for the time being, and I stopped looking for other solutions. I did kindness meditation as close to daily as I could manage, whether I felt like it was ‘working’ or not.

And sure enough, I did start to notice a profound shift in how I was able to cope with difficulty. Not immediately. But after 18 months sounds about right. By then, I had discovered a reliable way to manage uncomfortable emotions without getting quite so triggered into limiting behaviours. I no longer felt afraid of anxiety, or crippled by shame and self-judgement. It was deeply liberating. It began to feel spontaneous to relate to myself with loving compassion in difficult moments, instead of self-criticism, or escaping into futile problem-solving attempts. Around this time, I found myself in an extremely stressful situation, and was so thankful that my foundation of self-kindness had become strong enough to support me through it.

I should say that I’m not being prescriptive here. I’m not saying ‘do this practice for 18 months and you’re guaranteed this result’. I’m just saying that in a world of quick fixes, we might need to adjust our expectations if we want to experience real, deep change. One person might feel a change more quickly than me; another person might say it was more like years before they felt things shift. I’m saying we need to give ourselves time.

I always found it helpful to bear in mind that these practices were gradually changing the neural pathways in my body and brain that created struggle, in the form of anxiety, shame, or whatever other unwanted emotion I was wrestling with.

And more importantly, that these pathways had been laid down over decades – throughout my life as I’d collected experiences that had shaped my way of being in the world.

So if it took decades to build those original pathways, it would also take time to build new, different ones.

These days, I think of self-kindness as less of an ‘intervention’, and more of a practice of self parenting. It’s ongoing, not a short-term project with an end point.

It’s about being in relationship with myself, not doing something to myself.

It’s a way of being there for myself, not as the parent who ‘keeps me in line’, but the deeply attuned, responsive parent I can turn to for support, love and acceptance, whatever I’m feeling. This hasn’t exactly come naturally to me, so I’ve had to invest time and commitment to build this relationship with my ‘little self’, instead of ignoring, invalidating or criticising her.

In my experience, self-kindness practice isn’t so much about trying to switch on certain feelings, as getting to know myself better. Through these meditations, I’ve gradually opened up to more of what I’m actually feeling, and this greater attunement seems naturally to help me meet my own emotional needs. This responsiveness is not dissimilar to how a mother’s loving presence helps to regulate an infant’s nervous system.

Self-kindness can be transformative and deeply healing – but we can’t rush it. As we now know from the field of somatic (body-based) mindfulness, the nervous system needs to go slowly when processing difficult emotions, to avoid being flooded by sudden contact with overwhelming feelings.

It can feel challenging and deeply unfamiliar to connect with ourselves in the way I’ve been describing, and it’s not uncommon to experience resistance to this practice. It might conflict with coping strategies we’ve adopted, or an identity we’ve assumed. A hurdle for me was to be willing to acknowledge my vulnerability, and to accept the presence of feelings such as sadness or fear. It takes courage to allow ourselves to fully experience these feelings. In my case, I was scared that if I let go of my strategies for disconnecting from theses feelings, they would overwhelm me.

Given all this, it’s really important to find a style of practice that feels supportive. If things feel too intense when we’re doing a particular mediation, we don’t need to force ourselves to keep going. We can give ourself permission, at any point in meditation, to move awareness away from something that feels too overwhelming – this too is an act of kindness.

It’s worth exploring to discover different meditation recordings, or varying the practice depending on how robust we feel on any given day – I’ve written about that previously here We may also need to work with a therapist to support the development of self-kindness, especially if we’re experiencing strong emotions or intense resistance, and that’s no sign of failure or inadequacy.

Pacing ourselves is part of how going slowly helps to build self-kindness. We don’t need to look for a big catharsis that will ‘resolve’ everything all at once; instead, we can ease ourself into closer contact with a range of feelings, a bit at a time.

It’s also important to recognise that not all self-kindness meditations are the same. There are so many different ‘ways in’ to the practice, because we’re all different! The recordings on my site include a range of approaches – for instance, some people resonate with the ‘parts of self’ approach, whereas imagery or the breath may work for someone else. My own practice keeps evolving to meet my changing needs, so I don’t just stick with one way of doing it myself.

Kristin Neff’s website is a great resource that also includes written exercises, if meditation isn’t your thing.

Personally I’m so grateful for all the teachings and resources that helped me to learn this practice, and my sincere hope is for others to find their own way in to self-kindness, taking as much time as is needed.

If you’d like to read a bit more about what self-kindness looks like in practice, and the benefits, you might like some of my other blogs on the subject:

How To Be Happy, Just As You Are

Human, Not Broken

Why Mindfulness Needs Kindness

For info on my workshops in Heaton Moor, South Manchester see the Workshops page.