Transmute!

As a 40-something generation X’er, one of my favourite cartoons as a kid was called Battle of the Planets.

One of the highlights was seeing the 5 characters join forces in a pyramid to form a whirlwind of strength when they couldn’t deal with the situation.

They came together in a way which was more than the sum of their parts – working together without conflict and transcending to a different level.

As an adult now and through the work that I do, I have come to realise that this is not dissimilar to the strength and potential released when we accept and integrate all of the parts of ourselves that make us who we are.: our intellect, emotions, sexuality, physicality and spirituality.

It involves welcoming and valuing all aspects of ourselves, our past, the bits of ourselves that we have pushed into our ‘shadow’, alongside that which we’re more comfortable with.

It also involves letting go of our conditioning – to stop judging ourselves and behaving in ways in order to fit in.

This frees us up to be more authentic and relaxed.

Any energy being used to manage internal conflicts and suppress aspects of ourselves can then be made available to live life more fully and congruently – our own internal whirlwind of strength!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=acOnskcyrtA

How being mindful can help with significant worry and anxiety.

As a generalisation, we can say that worry and anxiety is our response to fearing the future in some way.

It is our fight or flight system working overtime because we feel threatened and unsafe in the world.

So we’re continually scanning the future for danger, fearing the worst might happen. And our body responds by being on red alert.

Our reasons for feeling unsafe may be based upon past experiences or influences around us – what happened when we were kids, watching how our parents behaved, what we read in the newspapers, what’s happening at work, and so on.

What is common in all of this is that our attention is on the future for most of the time.

Mindfulness encourages us to place our attention on the present moment.

But what is mindfulness? And how can we use mindfulness for anxiety management and relief?

flickr:mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center gives this definition:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;

On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

This definition emphasises that the focus of attention is intentionally placed upon what is happening around us right now, and accepting it just as it is.

We intentionally direct our attention to our senses :

  • what can we see right now?
  • what can we hear?
  • What can smell, taste and feel right now?

We intentionally place more emphasis on the sights, sensations and sounds around us, be it the weather, nature, or even road noise. We give full attention to what we are eating or drinking. What is its texture, temperature, is it sweet or sour?

We also do this non-judgementally. We’re not wanting it to be a certain way. We accept and even enjoy that it is raining, for example. We take pleasure in experiencing the qualities of the weather, whatever they may be at this moment in time. In this way we accept it just as it is.

Not only does this enrich our everyday experience, but it takes our mind’s emphasis away from a fear-based future.

Where we are right now is generally safe and manageable. And we can practice trusting that when we get to some future point that will also be safe and manageable.

We’re then sending signals to our bodies to turn off the red alert. Over time this can move towards increasing relaxation and enjoyment of our current experience.

And the more that we gently bring our attention back from the future to the present moment, the more this becomes our habitual way of being.

Mindfulness has been a mainstay of Eastern religion and tradition for hundreds of years, and it is now becoming increasingly recognised and utilised in the West.

There have been many scientific studies proving its effectiveness for issues such as anxiety and depression, and is often recommended alongside other medical approaches.

There are a number of 8 week part time courses now being run across the World that teach mindfulness, as well as University trainings and qualifications.

For examples, see

http://breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/

http://www.bangor.ac.uk/mindfulness/

http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/home/index.aspx

As mentioned earlier, one of the leading instructors on mindfulness is John Kabat-Zinn. He has written a number of introductory books on mindfulness. See:

Mindfulness for Beginners

Mindfulness for Beginners

Full Catastrophe Living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation

Guided Mindfulness Meditation

Other mindfulness books include :

One-Minute Mindfulness: How to Live in the Moment

The Miracle Of Mindfulness: The Classic Guide to Meditation by the World’s Most Revered Master (Classic Edition)

Teach Yourself Mindfulness Made Easy: Teach Yourself a Practical Way to be Happier and Healthier

Mindfulness For Dummies

Once we’ve grasped the fundamentals of mindfulness, it’s down to practice and instilling new positive habits.

Each time we find ourselves spending too much time thinking about the future, we gently bring our attention back to the present moment and tune in to our senses and experiences right now.

I don’t want you to change

Great video forwarded to me by my course director at BeeLeaf.
The video is multi-layered, but for me what stands out is the paradox that when we stop trying to change ourselves or others, acceptance comes and this allows for wholeness and positive change to happen naturally.
Enjoy!

Life as Music

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This is a great video by Alan Watts with South Park style animation.

Alan Watts was a British philosopher, writer and speaker who specialised in Eastern philosophies such as Taoism and Zen Buddhism.

His books include Tao : the Watercourse Way and Become What You Are.

 

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The video is relevant to me, and I think it is useful to watch out for the conditioned view of life whereby we continually shift our attention into the future for a promise of some future gratification, driving and striving in the process.

The risk is that we miss experiencing life fully in the moment (the foundation of Mindfulness). It can also lead to disappointment and regret for lost time and opportunity later down the line.

When we can focus on being mindful and stay very much in the present we can enjoy the here and now, and trust that we will be able to handle and enjoy the future (which will also be the ‘now’).

I think the key to this is to have some plans for a future you would like; but make sure you enjoy the process in getting there and don’t be too focused on the outcome.

Anyway, enjoy the video!

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Spiral growth towards wellbeing

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Spirals – they’re everywhere! All of nature is built upon spirals; they’re the universal vehicle for growth.

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From the smallest to the largest, movement and growth flows using the stability and flow provided by spirals and vortices.

(Take a look at Spirals – The Nature of Existence by Geoff Ward for a wealth of information and ideas on this subject).

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The Way I Work…

One of the ways I work with myself and with clients is to consider how change happens in nature and the natural world. I’m not a scientist but I do take insights from belief systems such as Taoism. For more on Taoism, take a look at Tao :The Watercourse Way by Alan Watts and The Tao of Inner Peace by Diane Dreher.

From this perspective everything happens as a process. Plants grow from seed to bearing fruit gradually and over time. They then may break down back to soil gradually over time. Everything flows from one one state to another rather than ‘jumps’ from one form to another (unless pressure/charge etc. has been building over time).

And so it is with change in ourselves to a large extent. If we want to grow as a person, or move from a place of difficulty (anxiety, depression, low self esteem, low confidence, unfit, overweight etc.) to a place of wellbeing, positivity and health, then we can see this as an organic process that builds over time.

(Equally, unhealthy states in a lot of cases happen over time – we put on too much weight gradually, our level of fitness deteriorates over time, we can become gradually more depressed….).

This can lessen our expectation for instant results and equally our sense of hopelessness if things aren’t working as quickly as we would like.

 

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The Way to Change

If I want to change something about myself, rather than focus on how to get rid of whatever I don’t want (e.g. anxiety), I’ll focus on what I do want (inner calm, confidence and so on) and trust that I can build this gradually over time.

This helps because what we focus on grows. So I’m putting my attention and energy on what I do want rather that what I don’t. I’m also taking my emphasis off the end goal and trusting the process by focusing on small steps day by day that gradually move me towards that goal.

In this way I’m building and expanding an upward spiral towards goals such as personal growth, health, wellbeing, consciousness and other positive traits. And this has been proven to be effective by neuroscience. See Alex Korb’s book called..Upward Spiral : Using neuroscience to reverse the course of Depression, One Small Change at a time.

The other benefit of this approach is we are no longer looking for the magic solution that will ‘fix’ us. Having experienced anxiety myself, I know that I was driven to finding ‘the’ cure, or the one answer that would get rid of my anxiety. I bought loads of books, trawled the internet, and fixated on food solutions and the like.

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Magic Solution?

When I began to let go of the need to find the magic solution and began to embrace my anxiety I was free to begin building my upward spiral with trust and patience. Little steps and attitudes towards inner calm and acceptance have gradually built up over time. My attention has been increasingly on growth and enjoyment; not “Why am I still experiencing these anxiety symptoms?”

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Small Steps to Wellbeing

Small steps, such as gentle shifts in attitude, behavioural changes, building new habits and routines, emphasising the positive, practising gratitude…these are all part of the process of building your upward spiral. The nature of spirals is also that you may revisit a problem or an issue from before, but you’ll be seeing it from a higher perspective. You’ll have an expanded awareness of a nature of a problem or behaviour – making connections and developing insights that allow you to let these go gradually.

And the nature of upward spirals is also that they open and expand the higher you go without limit – so you can let go, trust the flow and enjoy the ride!

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