Mindfulness: Happiness is an inside job

You may have heard the buzz around the practice of ‘mindfulness’? Its use has becomes far reaching, with schools and even governments employing its use. Its origins lie in centuries-old Buddhist meditation practices and breathing exercises.

I was sitting over a latte trying to explain what mindfulness is to a friend and have to say I found it quite difficult to describe, I thought it would help to write about it, so here goes …

Put simply, mindfulness requires us to focus on ourselves, tuning into the here and now; stilling the mind and concentrating on the present reality.

I’ve discovered it is not something just for other people; we can all use it to help us concentrate better and reduce our stress. Life can be so challenging and complex and we all experience suffering in different ways; physically, emotionally or spiritually. This can lead to a sense of disconnecting from ourselves. Mindfulness can help us to tune in and reconnect with our inner space; that might be our own subconscious or simply the ongoing internal dialogue we have.water lily

INVITATION TO PAY ATTENTION IN THE PRESENT MOMENT

I’d like to invite you to stop what you are doing and give what is written here your full attention. For example, you could do this in a multi tasking, half hearted kind of way; whilst checking your phone, eating a sandwich or allowing your mind to wander off, OR you could read this blog mindfully.

If you’d like to try, reading with your full attention might involve:

  •          Pausing from anything else you are doing
  •          Becoming aware of the feeling to be ‘pulled’ to carry on with other activities … notice other thoughts and feelings creeping in and perhaps the need to rush.
  •          There may be something distracting you; a noisy environment perhaps? Allow yourself to observe how your senses are being stimulated and those thoughts and feelings as they crowd in. Try to let them go, think of them as just thoughts and sensations.

‘Mindfulness’ means ‘to remember’ or ‘to recollect’ the present moment. It can be surprisingly difficult to achieve staying in the moment for any length of time, and yet the benefits are well documented.

There is a plethora of information available on how to practice mindfulness; possibly too much to capture and keep your attention in one blog post! So I have compiled some links and book resources to help you decide an appropriate place for you to dive in, should you wish to.

PEACE, SILENCE & SOLITUDE

You might like to try a breathing exercise to help step out of the auto pilot state and reconnect with the present moment. You will need at least ten minutes but can take up to an hour if you wish:

Sit quietly, close your eyes and ‘go inside’. Allow yourself to become more aware of distractions. It is completely natural for your mind to wander, just notice this happening and take your attention back to your breathing.

Focus on the cool air coming in to your nose. You can think of your breathing as a mantra, counting up to six as your breathe in, and eleven as your breathe out (I found this quite difficult at first but learned to do it easily in a few days.)

Remember to be gentle and compassionate with yourself; being mindful takes practice and resistance is normal – humans are designed to be constantly thinking!

After a little while of focusing on your breathing you could ask yourself these questions:

  •          What am I thinking?
  •          What am I feeling?
  •          What is happening to my body?
  •          What inner sensations am I aware of?

Try to notice, acknowledge and stay with each answer.

Accept all your experiences, even the unwanted ones. You can have strong feelings but you don’t have to react.

Now gently re focus on your breathing, it is a constant in your life, always there for you, follow the breath all the way in and all the way out.  Do this for a few minutes; take as long as you can.

Notice when your attention wanders and again gently bring it back to your breathing.

Feel your awareness encompass your whole body; expand your awareness so your body feels as though it is breathing.

Allow any sense of discomfort, resistance or tension. Sense the space around you, hold that sense and imagine yourself being soft and opening up (your might find it helps to visualise your favourite flower opening up and blooming).

Did you know …

One of the best ways of developing

mindfulness is to start a regular

meditation practice.

Daniel Siegel

pebblesBy allowing ourselves to be still, anchored to our breathing, we learn to tune into our thoughts and feelings. In this way mindfulness can helps us to deal with negative emotions such as anger, fear & greed. It can therefore impact positively on our relationship with our inner self and others.

Mindfulness can be simply maintaining awareness in the moment, whether you are reading a blog or eating a sandwich (and if you are take notice of the taste, texture, smell and how your sandwich looks!).

I have found mindfulness most useful as a becalming tool, particularly when I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed, it provides a welcome opportunity to stop, rushing, doing, planning etc and generally going too fast. In the stillness I am free to tune in to what is really important and make more considered decisions and that must be a good thing.

RESOURCES

Guardian Articles:

Should we be mindful of mindfulness?

Julie Myerson: how mindfulness based cognitive therapy changed my life

Coping with stress: can mindfulness help?

Books

Loving What Is, by Byron Katie, 2002

For trauma: In an Unspoken Voice, Peter Levine, 2010

Videos

Thich Nhat Hanh – Ten Mindful Movements

Guided meditation: Guided Meditiation with Dan Siegel (Wheel of Awareness)

Quotation Reference

“Happiness is an inside job” ~ William Arthur Ward

Are you in transition? I hope my 15 survival tips will help…..

Presented at the 2010 Families in Global Transition Conference

www.figt.org

TIPS TO BOOST EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE

I have outlined some pro-active strategies for coping with losses.  Pick the ones that are most relevant to you.

Emotional Outlets:

  1. Try to make a conscious effort to think about how you feel.  Allow yourself 10 minutes to feel it before moving on with your day.  It may help to make time to remember people or places.  Ask yourself “What am I feeling right now?”  You could write about your feelings to help shift them or tell someone how you feel.
  2. Try writing a few lines before you go to sleep each night – keeping a journal of whatever comes into your head.  You might want to thinkabout a) how you felt as your reflect on the day and b) why you think you feel that way?
  3. Meditation– if you’ve no experience you could try one free on line; try Googling “chill meditation podcasts.”
  4. Creative pursuits are a time honoured way of relaxing and communicating.  Is there something you’ve always fancied trying? Why not try painting, photography or writing about your unusual life?
  5. Our sense of smell is most powerful where memories are concerned – bergamot always reminds me of family holidays in France.  Find out which scents energize you or make you feel good and keep them close by.
  6. Listen to music that touches your soul.  Ask yourself what mood you are in and choose something to match it.
  7. Studies have shown that prayer can help people heal, if you believe in a higher power then pray!

What can we do to help maintain a healthy attitude to attachments?

Practical Guidance:

1         Say your goodbyes before you leave to allow for closure, in doing so you will be providing your children with a great role model.  You can follow up by writing a note or call someone you wish you had said goodbye to but didn’t.

2         Take photographs of places which have been special or you have simply visited regularly.  Children will benefit from being able to see the images of the place where they once lived and the people who inhabited it.

Create a memory box or scrapbook and fill it with photographs, souvenirs and mementos.

3         If possible, make regular visits (at least annually for young children) to stay in touch with family/ long term friends, as well as the places and culture that you wish to be connected with.

4         Talk about important people, such as grandparents, to keep their presence alive.  Encourage correspondence – this doesn’t have to be a letter, try sending artwork, press cuttings, school magazines etc.

5         If possible stay connected by maintaining electronic/IT provision for yourself and your children with:

Telephone calls.

Email

MS Messenger and Skype allow use of a webcam so that the two parties can see each other while chatting (both are free).

Facebook  is a way of supporting networking, particularly amongst teens. You could help your child set it up to ensure appropriate use of security functions.

6         Teenagers

Teenagers are at an exciting stage of their life.  The changes are profound – being physical, emotional, intellectual and even spiritual.  It can be exhilarating and also overwhelming as they sit between their childhood and adulthood.

Accepting a major life change which has been imposed upon them can be tough and cause mood swings and a feeling of being out of control of their life.  They might be angry and feel lost or deserted, depressed even.  These are natural feelings that need expression.

If the move was unexpected or sudden, they may experience shock and disbelief as part of their adjustment process.

As for all ages of children, parents need to encourage an open dialogue with them and other trusted adults, possibly teachers or counselors.  Help arrange introductions to friends of a similar age group.  Expression through creative pursuits may be another outlet eg music, literature, writing, poetry and art.

7 Children Aged 6 – 12

Children will need to be ‘held’ emotionally as their world changes beyond recognition.  Chat to them about what might happen as the move is impending.

Once you know something for certain communicate it to them, for example, some facts about the kind of destination you are going to.  Be honest about unknowns and ambiguities; if possible offer some idea of when you will be able to tell them more information.  The objective is to encourage trust and a feeling that they are stakeholders in the move.

Some uncertainties can be discussed in an exciting way, for example, the opportunity to visit interesting places and making new friends.

When a child is sad or grieving allow them to express this fully without pressure to feel cheerful.  Acknowledge that there will be endings and losses for all of you.

8 Young Children Under 6

It is often said that young children and infants are easy to move around as they don’t really know what’s happening.   Perhaps because an infant’s communication skills are not developed and their ability to understand and express what is going on is limited.  But we now know through scientific research on the function of the brain, that bonds/attachments are formed after a baby is a few weeks old.  Infants may be aware of changes to their environment and feel unsettled and likewise young children may be experiencing losses but are unable to communicate their feelings to you.

In young children, making time for physical interactive play helps to stimulate the emotion-regulating areas in the brain.

When your child is distressed, prompt cuddling and soothing will calm them by releasing anti anxiety hormones (Gamma-aminobutyric acid).  This approach has been shown to help avoid oversensitivity to stress later in life, such as separation anxiety and panic attacks.

Maintaining habits and elements of predictability in their life will make the child feel safe and secure.