What can we do when our minds are too frazzled to focus on our breath to even begin to be mindful?
I was so fortunate yesterday to have 50 mins in the car -a perfect time to listen to a podcast from Zencast.org. My mind was feeling really scattered and by chance I listened to a talk by Gil Fronsdal, (Zencast 427, July 2013) labelled ‘Here’ that really resonated with me.
Gil shared a simple practice he uses to calm his mind down. He gently repeats ‘here’ to himself, and each time he says this he has a moment to just notice, without judgement, what is happening right now externally and internally. On a really frazzled day this might only last a moment but then you say it again, and what I found really effective is you might say ‘Hear’ for a different focus, what can you hear right now? This is a beautiful mindfulness practice that can be done in a meditation while your mind settles but it can also be done as you drive, sweep, listen to your children, wait in a queue….I tried it this morning and loved it!
What was so powerful in this talk was that Gil insisted that if your mind isn’t calming down as you would like then this is the perfect start to beginning to understand your mind, observe without judgement, where does it wander to? Does it wander to ‘there’ and ‘then’? He really emphasised the need to sit with where you are at – as if you were holding something precious in both hands, just watching it, OR as if you were sitting with your best friend in comfortable silence, just allowing them to be whoever they are in that moment! I found both of these images very powerful in being gentle with myself and just sitting with what is rather than judging myself or chasing a ‘better’ mindful moment or a better meditation!
So I’ll leave you with 2 words to take a moment to sit and reflect on…
‘here’ & ‘hear’
What do you notice?
I’ve had a long break from writing this blog….but it hasn’t been far from my thoughts so here goes again….maybe this will help me to internalise some of my more mindful thoughts and learning!
I’ve just had a bit of a revelation, after moving house, moving states, busily unpacking, setting up house, applying for work etc and feeling REALLY stressed and overwrought… that I can choose to enjoy my life right now OR choose to be caught up in the obligations, expectations and pressure that I place on myself (more than anyone else does)! This revelation came after a friend in the desert texted ‘ you must be enjoying the beach!’ And I realised no….I wasn’t enjoying my new lush coastal surroundings…..instead my head was caught up in a whirl of jobs to be done, stresses to endure! I started to question WHY wasn’t I enjoying this new life and it came to me ( so simple! but so hard to realise!) that I really CAN choose to take some time out each day to enjoy the beach….to clear my thoughts, to nurture myself, to find inner joy…..and most of the jobs still get done!! Most of the stresses and pressures were self created – I don’t need to be a slave to my thoughts/unrealistic expectations…I can take a break from them….they’ll still be there when I want to face them! It is as easy and as hard as that! And as I began to open up more to allowing myself to take time out…..I realised that it had been a long time since I had cherished myself and that Buddhist saying ‘that to cherish others you must first cherish yourself’ rang true as I began to enjoy hanging out with the kids again. It felt transforming to realise it was all a matter of choosing to change my thinking….yet all week I have still struggled to make that choice! The guilt / worry / concern about what others will think and if I am being selfish or self indulgent means that it is very easy to put pressure on to DO more….rather than taking some time to BE! I’ll keep you posted as to how that learning goes……how to cherish yourself in order to cherish others?
I was in a lot of pain recently, waiting for the pain relief to kick in when I realised I was fighting it with my mind ( ‘oh no what if I can’t…..I don’t want to feel like this…..this is so unfair…..why me?…..will this make it go away? ‘ Etc). Suddenly I remembered mindfulness so I allowed myself to label the pain ‘I am in pain’ and to sit with it, accept it and it was amazing to feel the shift, to really feel the space around the pain widen and expand, to feel that there was more to the situation than just the pain, to feel that it was impermanent and that it would be OK! Of course I couldn’t be so zen about it all of the time….my mind would kick in and resist but just to have a few moments of peace, of going back into thinking ‘it is as it is’ made it more manageable!
I also remembered something a friend once told me re: childbirth which was the pain will always ebb and flow so that you can follow the peaks and troughs….manage the peak of pain and then allow yourself to relax in the trough….and keep this cycle of manage and relax! This worked really well in my daughter’s birth but also this morning too….watching for the peak, relaxing when it ebbed even though the pain is continuous….
Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long for the pain relief to work so my suffering was short….and I am not sure I could do any of this in severe pain…..but it was good to see some of those mindfulness strategies at work? Are there other strategies that you have used?
Phew….it’s tricky getting back into getting everyone (including me!) to work and school on time! Something I have found so useful….especially when we are running late and I want to deliver that all-time lecture to the kids!….is to breathe out to the very last bit of air I have at least 3 times! For a more effective calming (&funnier) effect I will even buzz like a bee for 3 full breaths out! The effect of this is amazing….I feel calmer and the whole car atmosphere is alot calmer too (generally kids are laughing)!
These strategies come from an amazing parenting programme called Bringing Up Great Kids where they use the research from Dan Siegel that reflects that just 3 breaths can calm us down enough to begin to respond creatively and calmly to our kids rather than from our usual fight / flight / freeze highly charged response!
Google Flipping the Lid or Brain in the Hand for some great short video explanations of how our brains work and how we can calm them down! It really works! My aim this year is to teach my kids more about how their brain works so they too can learn how to calm them selves down! I’ll keep you posted!
Have you noticed that mindfulness helps you deal with strong emotions? Occasionally in the last couple of months I have been overwhelmed with a strong unpleasant emotion……and I have to say initially disappointed that mindfulness didn’t help me to AVOID feeling that bad!!!
So the strength of the emotion is still there…..but somehow all of that mindfulness practice helps me to observe it, to go with it, to express it ( privately), to let the tears out, to label it, to empathise with it, to reduce how much analysing and thoughts spin around in my head about it AND to do something with that emotional energy (guided meditation, walk or ride).
And even though I am ALWAYS disappointed initially to have even felt that bad…..I feel cleaner / clearer afterwards….I have thought more constructively and said less so that the bad feeling seems over and done with alot quicker than the old days when I would hang on to it and fight it!
It’s a small step forward but a significant one…..with so much more growing ahead!