Mind Clouds

Thoughts on mindfulness in daily life


Leave a comment

Mindfulness Emergency Kit

breaking point

 

Jon Kabat-Zinn is often quoted as saying that through your daily mindfulness practice you weave a parachute you can use when the going gets really tough. There is a cumulative effect of practice where gradually we begin to find it easier to stay grounded and calm in the midst of life’s daily stressors.

But there are those heightened, extra stressful moments when we feel we’re in danger of ‘losing it’. At these times, we need the mindfulness equivalent of a dose of rescue remedy.  So with this in mind, here are some easy-to-slot-in practices you can try when the going gets really tough.

  1. FOFBOC

This one was originally thought up for stressed teenagers in the examination hall. It stands for Feet on Floor Bum on Chair and can be done anywhere. Sitting in a chair, you consciously shift your attention to noticing sensations in the feet and their contact with the ground. This immediately takes you away from the whirl of anxious thoughts in your head and is in itself very grounding.  You can then take your attention to the sensations of contact with the chair felt in your buttocks and backs of thighs and an awareness of the support of the chair. If you like you could then spend some moments focusing on your breath as well.

  1. Take a Mindful Pause

This is also very simple. You just stop whatever you’re doing – typing a report, mowing the lawn, or generally rushing around trying to multi-task – and take 3 mindful breaths, feeling the movement and sensations of breathing in the body. Then carry on with your activities, perhaps noticing what a difference simply pausing can have.

  1. Walking Mindfully

Sometimes we feel very agitated and restless to the point where sitting still even for a few moments seems impossible. At these times, taking a mindful walk, whether slowly up and down the hallway or outdoors in the garden or more briskly out and about, can really help to bring us back into a sense of groundedness and greater connection between mind and body. As you walk particularly focus on the sensations in the soles of your feet and your contact with the ground beneath.

  1. Acting Mindfully

This involves noticing and labelling what’s happening in your moment by moment experience which can help to de-centre your focus away from ruminating or speedy anxious thoughts. For example you could lightly say to yourself, “now I’m walking down the stairs, feeling the bannister with my right hand, now I’m turning the door handle and now I’m walking into the kitchen” and so on until you notice your thought processes have settled. You can also choose to really focus on an activity you’re involved in, by opening up to sensory awareness – what you can feel, see, hear, smell, taste – as you engage with whatever it is you’re doing. There’s always a lot more to notice than we realise and this can vivify our present moment experience as well as helping to ground us.

  1. Taking a Break

When we feel time’s against us and there’s so much to do, we often think we need to just keep soldiering on. But common sense backed up by lots of research tells us not only will we feel better, but our productivity will improve by taking regular breaks. You can even make a lovely mindfulness practice from first making and then drinking your cup of tea or coffee, or even a glass of water. There’s so much to appreciate in the aroma of the tea or coffee, the warmth the cup in your hands, the flavours and taste sensations.

And if you’re too stressed and overwhelmed to even contemplate doing any of the above, simply stopping for one conscious breath can be surprisingly effective.

Save


Leave a comment

Writing, Meditating and Integrity

DSC_0002

This year, I’ve hardly posted at all. Something’s been holding me back. So I’ve started writing Morning Pages again, as devised by Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way fame. Many of you will be familiar with the concept, but for those who aren’t it involves free writing, without pausing to think too much or edit anything out, covering 3 sides of paper, or about 750 words. She recommends writing out in long-hand too, as opposed to typing it onto a screen and it’s true there is something more visceral and immediate about writing by hand. The goal isn’t to produce a piece of wonderful polished writing, but just to write for writing’s sake, though it’s fascinating to see how unexpected little nuggets of an image of an idea or a memory surface amidst the more mundane stuff. Julia Cameron promises that this daily act of writing will get the creative juices flowing in all areas of our lives and it’s the underpinning of her Artist Way course (which I’d also recommend, above many of the huge array of books on creativity out there).

Out of this,  I thought I’d begin to share some of my morning page writing, some selected passages, edited and embellished, because they do arise out of the immediacy of my day to day life and often relate very directly to mindfulness practice. Today, though, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts on my current practice here.

One of the curious aspects of mindfulness practice is how different facets of it come into focus seemingly at just the right time. And recently, the focus has shifted to my integrity, as a practitioner and teacher of mindfulness yes, but more generally also, simply as a human being. I’ve just returned from a week’s holiday with my mum, two sisters, 9 year old niece and son aged 15. It was wonderful to be reunited with my Northern family and  great fun. However, my meditation stool gathered dust in the hallway of the Norfolk cottage we were renting and I over-ate and indulged in a couple of glasses of wine most nights. Of course, this is usual “holiday behaviour” – we let go and indulge ourselves. But it does carry a price tag, for me anyway. On returning home I realised that I felt quite untethered and ungrounded, low in energy and a bit depressed – the post-holiday blues. Was this just sadness at being parted from my family again or also the effect of not taking care of myself better, specifically through abandoning my daily meditation practice through the week? Probably both.

Since then, I’ve been listening to an excellent series of talks by Mark Nunberg available through the generous Dharma Seed website called The Practice of Integrity. They’re recordings from a 6 week course he led very recently at his centre in Minnesota. They explore the Buddhist teachings on ethical behaviour, the traditional 5 Precepts: to not take life or harm others; to not steal or,  more subtly, to not take the not-given; to refrain from sexual misconduct; to practise wise, loving  speech; and to avoid the use of intoxicants. To go into these would take a whole separate post, but just to say these are guidelines rather than strict commandments and range from avoiding the clearly gross acts like murder to more subtle ones like being aware of and containing tendencies towards aggressiveness in our speech. The key is awareness and noticing the effect of what is termed “unskilful” behaviour on our own well-being – our mental state, emotions and physical health – as well as on others. Put simply to behave with kindness, awareness and good intention actually makes us happier. It’s definitely not about judging ourselves when we inevitably trip up or about looking down on others’ behaviour. I particularly liked Mark Nunberg’s taking it right down to the essential inner feeling of when we’re acting with integrity or not in any given moment. Something only we ourselves know. Often we look to others to validate us, but if deep down we feel it’s not in tune with our own understanding of our deeper motives then it doesn’t feel authentic. I really like this, though I’m aware that we have to be careful of not going to the opposite extreme and becoming very self-vigilant and critical, as many of us have this ingrained tendency anyway.

Mindfulness is crucial to this complementary practice of integrity, because if we’re not aware of the effect of our actions on our hearts and minds we can’t see what’s happening and don’t then have the choice available to us to take a different path.

For me, writing too helps in this, crystallising my thoughts and bringing into the light some of the underlying themes and issues in my daily experience, both the positive – which can often get drowned out by the niggly, unsatisfactory stuff – and the negative, seen in greater perspective. Ultimately I then understand that my “slip-ups” are all ok, I can learn from them and they help me to clarify my sense of direction and intention, so strengthening that inner compass of integrity, arising out of the heart’s sensitivity.

Save


Leave a comment

A reason to unroll that yoga mat first thing

yoga-1482810-1598x1078

Photo by Martin Louis

This morning I’ve risen a little earlier so I can do a longer meditation practice. I also usually follow that with a half hour of yoga – one of the benefits of working from home is I am able to do this most days. However, I sometimes wonder if I should skip the yoga – do it later in the day – so I can get on with other “important” things. I was thinking that today, then I read this on the Ekhart Yoga website I go to for my online classes:

“Giving yourself an extra hour or half an hour in the mornings to wake up and practice will allow your nervous system to begin the day in a far more relaxed state. Our levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) are already high in the mornings in order to give us the boost we need to wake up. If this level of cortisol is quickly increased with added stress however, we’ve set ourselves up for an equally stressful day. Making the practice of yoga a habit each morning allows the body to get into the habit of switching off the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ stress response, and instead able to finally tap into the healing benefits of the parasympathetic nervous system – increasing the health of both body and mind immensely. “

 


1 Comment

To walk is by a thought to go

DSC_0465

Walking

By Thomas Traherne 1637-1674

To walk abroad is, not with eyes,

But thoughts, the fields to see and prize;
Else may the silent feet,
Like logs of wood,
Move up and down, and see no good

Nor joy nor glory meet.

Ev’n carts and wheels their place do change,

But cannot see, though very strange
The glory that is by;
Dead puppets may
Move in the bright and glorious day,
Yet not behold the sky.

And are not men than they more blind,

Who having eyes yet never find
The bliss in which they move;
Like statues dead
They up and down are carried
Yet never see nor love.

To walk is by a thought to go;

To move in spirit to and fro;
To mind the good we see;
To taste the sweet;
Observing all the things we meet
How choice and rich they be.

To note the beauty of the day,

And golden fields of corn survey;
Admire each pretty flow’r
With its sweet smell;
To praise their Maker, and to tell
The marks of his great pow’r.

To fly abroad like active bees,

Among the hedges and the trees,
To cull the dew that lies
On ev’ry blade,
From ev’ry blossom; till we lade
Our minds, as they their thighs.

Observe those rich and glorious things,

The rivers, meadows, woods, and springs,
The fructifying sun;
To note from far
The rising of each twinkling star
For us his race to run.

A little child these well perceives,

Who,tumbling in green grass and leaves,
May rich as kings be thought,
But there’s a sight
Which perfect manhood may delight,
To which we shall be brought.

While in those pleasant paths we talk,

’Tis that tow’rds which at last we walk;
For we may by degrees
Wisely proceed
Pleasures of love and praise to heed,
From viewing herbs and trees


1 Comment

Practice Pieces: Talking to Myself

WP_20150209_09_44_53_Pro

My breakfast I was dreaming about as I meditated

I’d like to share an interesting experiment I tried out in my meditation practice today. It was a bit like an elaboration of the labelling thoughts practice – you know – where you notice what kind of a thought you’re having, like worrying, or planning or remembering. I was practising what is termed “formless meditation”, very much like choiceless awareness, where you are simply being aware of everything that arises in your experience, with eyes open rather than closed. At a certain point in the practice I spontaneously began a sort of inner commentary on everything that was arising in my experience, or as much of it as I could encompass, which actually helped me to become aware of it, like I was drawing it out from the shadows.

So with my eyes softly focused I first noticed and mentally commented on seeing the meditation timer in my field of vision on one side and the glass of water on the other, then the sound of some heavy machinery which reminded me of the sound of ski lifts and all the pleasant associations with being in the mountains, then of an ache in my right shoulder and of hunger in my belly and of all the thoughts I was having like how much I had to do later on and how much I would enjoy eating my breakfast. It sort of went like this “now I’m noticing the green and the shape of the money plant and now there’s the sound of an airplane. Now I’m feeling the weight of my hands on my legs, sort of warm, heavy and fizzy, and now some slight tension in my forehead and a stingy feeling round my eyes. And I’m thinking about this commentary and that’s making me want to laugh because it’s sort of funny.” What it also showed me was how rapidly one “object” of awareness would be succeeded by another and of course so much going on at the same time it was hard to keep up with it all, so I had to let go of even attempting that, but there was a lovely sense of the fullness and richness of it all going on.

This wouldn’t be something to do all the time, but trying it today it was quite remarkable how it vivified my experience and made it more fully present. So I thought I’d pass it on. It could help when you’re feeling very restless or distractible. You could also try this kind of inner running commentary when you’re feeling stressed or anxious going about your daily life, to bring you back into your body and the present moment, so something like “now I’m getting out of the chair and standing up… now I’m moving towards the fridge and opening the door…now I’m turning the tap and filling the kettle”. It may feel a little strange at first, but might just help you to climb down out of ruminating or racing thoughts.


Leave a comment

A place for letting go of ideas

This poem really spoke to where I am in myself this morning. Thank you Karl Duffy.

Mindfulbalance

File:Barrow Towpath - geograph.org.uk - 1201066.jpg

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened.

Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Rumi

photo kevin higgins

View original post