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Posts tagged ‘mindfulness in daily life’

SEPTEMBER TIPS: Balancing Your Energy

As we head into Autumn, there’s a change in seasonal energy that I find can also trigger a shift of personal energy.

Mindfulness helps us balance our energy as we move through life’s challenges.

In this month’s tips I’m sharing 3 practices for working mindfully with energy in the flow of your day.

Alternate

Our embodied experience is one of alternating states: breathing is a continuous cycle of expansion & contraction; the nervous system constantly moves between activation and rest.

I’ve learned to respect this natural cycle in terms of how I spend my time, by alternating between opposing states. Some of the areas I alternate between are: social & alone time; movement & stillness; noisy and quiet; mental work and manual work; outdoors and inside.

If I’m feeling out of kilter, it can help to check if one of these has shifted out of balance, and then redress it by moving into the opposite state.

Investigate

One of the benefits of increasing your body awareness is that you become more sensitive to the energy in your body, and this helps to regulate the cycle between stress and rest. When we lose the connection with our body, this cycle can become dysregulated and we feel stuck in stress.

In my younger years, I tended to live so much ‘in my head’ that I wasn’t at all aware of the energy moving through the body. But I learned that by paying attention to body sensations, we can begin to feel this ‘aliveness’ directly. We can make the liberating discovery that no sensation is permanent – we don’t stay in unpleasant states forever: the flow of energy constantly shifts and moves on.

With this awareness, we’re free to meet our experience with fewer limiting preconceptions based on past stress. To build these skills, it can be interesting to explore ‘neutral’ places in the body where you think there is no sensation.

Begin to investigate by placing your awareness there to see what you notice, and make it a regular practice. For instance, I’m now in touch with sensations of aliveness in my feet that I never used to be aware of. This has given me the confidence to challenge other unhelpful assumptions what I experience in my body. There are suggestions below for body awareness meditations if you want to investigate further.

Pendulate

You may have come across the idea in mindfulness of ‘turning towards’ difficulty. It can be useful to explore uncomfortable feelings in small and manageable doses. However, if we are feeling overwhelmed, that may suggest we’d be better off moving our attention elsewhere for a little while.

This technique is called ‘pendulation’, sometimes described as using a tick-tick motion, moving your awareness back and forth between unpleasant and pleasant experience.

To help you do this, you can develop your own toolkit of ‘positive resources’ – these are aspects of your experience that feel good in some way. Then, when you feel stressed, you can choose to move your attention to that positive experience for a while, until you feel ready to re-engage with difficulty.

To begin with, you can even use the ‘neutral’ places in the body that I mentioned above. For example if I’m caught in stress-fuelled thinking, I might shift my attention to my feet and see what I notice there. This helps me realise that the difficulty isn’t the whole of my experience right now.

As we learn to direct the energy of our awareness in this way, we are better able to support ourselves through challenges.

Further resources

I explain a bit more about body awareness and it’s role in regulating the nervous system in this blog – Relaxing As Letting Go

There are a selection of ‘Body Awareness’ practices to explore on my Meditations page.

If you would like some personalised support in building up your own positive resources – my Steps To Freedom coaching series covers this approach, via 1-to-1 Skype sessions. See the Coaching Programme page for more info.

‘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 (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.

 

Quitting The Quick-Fix: Mindfulness As A Lifelong Practice

This year marks my 10-year mindfulness anniversary, since I first went on an 8-week ‘Mindfulness for Stress’ course. And I think I’m learning more now than I ever have.

When I embarked on the course, dedicating a whole 2 months to something felt like quite a big undertaking. We live in such a quick-fix culture, and with so many approaches that promise instant stress relief, I guess I thought that an 8-week mindfulness course must get me sorted by the end of it, right?

Well, thankfully I had access to great teachers who helped me realise that to really get the benefits, I’d need to approach mindfulness as an ongoing practice, not a quick fix.

As a mindfulness teacher now myself, I realise that we don’t believe that anyone who comes to a class needs ‘fixing’ anyway. It’s about becoming more human (not less so), and finding ways to live this human life with greater ease.

In my case, I’d tried so many quick fixes for anxiety during my 20s, but mindfulness is the only thing that’s stuck, and continues to ‘work’. It’s a total gamechanger.

And it doesn’t just ‘work’, it continues to develop, as I deepen my meditation practice. Even after 10 years, I’m still learning so much. About myself. About life. It’s helped me enormously so far, and yet in some ways I feel like I’m only just getting started, and I’m eager to keep exploring.

The first big shift for me was finding freedom from anxiety. Currently, my practice is helping me to open to a more joyful life. Looking at all the positive changes in me over the last decade, who knows how the practice might change me even more deeply, given another 10 years?

So I think it’s important that mindfulness doesn’t become something that we tick off and forget about. While an 8-week course is a great starting point, it’s definitely not an end point: mindfulness is a life-long practice. Remembering this can be really helpful once the course stops, because life doesn’t stop.

While there’s no defined end point to reach in our practice, there is a constant development. We don’t talk about ‘getting better’ at mindfulness, but rather ‘going deeper’ in our practice… getting to know ourselves more intimately, so that we can find increasingly greater ease and freedom, even when life is difficult.

This ongoing development is why I teach classes throughout the year, to support a growing community of people who continue to explore together and make new discoveries.

Some of these insights are that mindfulness isn’t about controlling our feelings, fixing ourselves, or getting rid of so-called negative emotions. Instead, it’s about becoming more comfortable with the full range of our human experience. This is a gradual – but transformative – process. It’s profoundly freeing. But reversing the patterns we’ve built up over decades can’t happen instantly.

So, if you have the courage to keep exploring, to commit to going deeper in your practice, then you’ll discover this freedom for yourself. If you ask me, it’s totally worth it!

If you liked this piece, you might also be interested in this one that emerged as a kind of ‘part 2’ – Committing To Self-Kindness

 

Meditation Practice For Real Life

I love my meditation practice. Well I do now.

For quite a number of years, I wouldn’t have said I enjoyed it, but I certainly got alot out of it.  I kept going regardless, because the more I did it, the better I seemed to cope with whatever life was throwing at me.  Even if I spent most sessions watching my thoughts on their usual loops, or sitting with uncomfortable emotions, overall I wasn’t feeling quite so overwhelmed by life’s ups and downs.

So by now, 9 or so years down the line, it feels quite natural do some kind of meditation pretty much every day.  And yes, I even enjoy it now (once, I’d never have imagined myself saying that!).

I’m often asked how much I meditate.  Here’s one answer to that question.

Some days, it looks like this:

  • Early morning awareness practice of around 10-20 minutes.
  • Plus an early evening practice of about 20 minutes or longer.

The practices I do depend on what is emerging in my life at that time, so it might be body awareness, self-kindness or breathing meditation.

When it’s possible to do that much practice, I definitely notice the positive impact on how I feel in the rest of my life.

But of course, the ‘schedule’ I’ve outlined above isn’t always possible.  I’d be lying if I said it was.

If I’m answering the question, ‘what does my meditation practice look like, really?’, then I also need to show you another kind of typical day.

So some days, my practice looks more like this:

  • Sleep in a bit and skip morning meditation in a rush to get out the door on time.
  • Remind myself I can practice on the train by bringing awareness to my breath, the motion of the train, the feel of my feet on the floor etc, without needing to close my eyes.
  • Become aware that I’m mentally beating myself up about a conversation I had yesterday… practice self-kindness by offering myself some words of comfort.
  • Have a mindful cuppa after lunch – looking at the sky, not at my phone.
  • Feeling stiff and scrunched up in my body… do a few mindful movements, possibly with my son joining in/offering his suggestions for variation.
  • Get outside for 5 minutes… take in the feeling of air against my skin, and the sights and sounds around me.
  • Realise hubby is working late which throws off my evening meditation sit… chop veggies mindfully (they call this ‘working meditation’ on retreat after all).
  • Squeeze in a short meditation like one of these, as a welcome (and do-able) little pause.
  • Notice I’m tempted to stay up late scrolling through social media… lie on the living room floor for a few minutes to bring awareness into my body, then decide an early-ish night is quite appealing.

And actually, that’s quite alot of practice in a day.  It can be so easy to get hung up on sitting meditation that we overlook how mindfulness shows up in our day – which is the whole point after all!  I find that the line between ‘practice’ and ‘living’ gets more blurred over time, so that a day without meditation isn’t necessarily a day without mindfulness.

And for me, finding lots of brief moments of awareness and kindness in the day can be every bit as sustaining as a meditation ‘sit’.

Where might you find those moments of living-as-practice in your own life?