Experiences or information?

Einstein once said “Whatever happens is experience, if it doesn’t actually happen then it is just information”.

Is your life filled with experiences or information?  What do you pay the most attention to – what is happening in front of you or your thoughts trying to explain what just happened or what might happen in the future?

Are you busy looking for your part in what just happened?  How are you to blame somehow, or perhaps why did that happen to you?

Mindfulness asks us to be more aware, present, here and now.  Something that you can already do, but due to being absorbed in your thoughts you are probably out of touch with.http://marianneskoglund.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/present.jpg

By paying attention to this moment we can notice when we are fragmenting the world into inner and outer, what we like or want and what we don’t.  All of this prevents us from experiencing the clarity and unity of true awareness. The information gets in the way of the experience and so we may interpret the experience differently to what it actually is.

When we are going along on autopilot just living our lives we are at the mercy of others and events as they happen.  When things are good, we often tell ourselves we are happy, we can cope, but when life takes a turn for the worse we tell ourselves we are unworthy, or we are to blame, or a story that there is no hope for us.  Mindfulness says that is just thinking – or in Einstein’s language – it is just information.

Sure we can find a basis for it.  Evidence is everywhere once we start to look, but is that really evidence or just more thinking?  Plus who is doing all this thinking anyway?  We become our own worst enemy.

Don’t allow Mindfulness to be one more strategy you need to implement when the going gets tough.  Then it just becomes a slogan that will ‘fail’ you because you haven’t developed it as a way of life.

Mindfulness is about being wise to this thinking, about being self-compassionate and understanding of ours and others’ suffering.

To be present we need to be more active in our lives and not just let it happen to us.

Challenge yourself to do more: living; exploring; seeing; cherishing; being; experiencing; savouring; sharing; honouring; touching; feeling; hearing; tasting.

Look for the magical; the wonderful; the special; the different; the beauty.

Start at the beginning of each day – notice the sunrise. Instead of rushing into the busyness of the day, welcome the new day, the new beginnings with opportunities.  Rise early enough to greet the sun as it creates a new day for you.

Instead of pushing yourself to fit more in or end your working day, notice the end of the day – the sunset.  Notice the changes as the day becomes night.  A time when you can let go and rest, not collapse into bed or in front of the television.  Choose to experience restfulness fully present.

Allow yourself to experience more and think less and notice the freedom it brings.

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Another change is that I am migrating this blog to my new website http://www.mindfulmoments.net.au. The subscriber list should come across and nothing much will change.

I hope you continue to join me developing mindfulness and enjoy Mindful Moments – Exploring every day life mindfully.

 

 

 

The Test of 3′s

How long do you hang on to hurt and harm?

A minute or two? A day or two? A year, or perhaps forever and ever?

Sometimes we don’t like to just move on.  We believe that hanging on to the hurt – “they weren’t listening to me”, or the harm “why did they do that to me?”, keeps our position justified.  Our hurt justified. But we don’t need to keep holding and reflecting on hurt or harm to have it justified.

If you feel it, then that’s it – it’s there, justified or not, you still feel it.http://tearmatt.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/hurt.jpg?w=340&h=227

The problem with hurt or harm, is that we don’t want to let them go.  We don’t want to move on and live the next moment as if it didn’t happen. But what would life be like if you did move on, not like it didn’t happen, but moved into the next moment as if it was just as important as the last?

Moving into the next moment isn’t dismissing things as if they didn’t happen and as if there wasn’t any hurt. Instead, if we move into the next moment we can acknowledge that we are hurt or harmed and recognise that we need to be cared for – if even only by ourselves.

Holding on without seeking some sort of closure with that person only causes you pain.  They are off living their life, whether they think about you and the pain they have caused, you may never know and probably will never know if you don’t address it.

I have heard people say, “it’s only minor, we don’t need to make a big deal out of it, I don’t need to ‘address’ it”.  Are your thoughts and emotions agreeing with that position or are they still going back to what happened and how bad you feel about it as if it wasn’t minor but something major?

Sometimes by addressing it we hear another person’s story, and the reason why they did what they did.  When we seek to understand their motives or at least watch them try to work out their motives, we come to a realisation that we can let go of clinging to this pain, this hurt, this harm.  We can move on and let them go.

It doesn’t necessarily mean we forgive them for that pain, but we can at least let it go and experience what life has to offer now with an openness and fullness.

And in listening to them, we can hopefully then explain to them how we feel.  We can then express our hurt, our pain.  We can help them understand that just as you drop a rock into  the water there are ripples, that people’s actions create ripples.  Sometimes good ripples, sometimes bad ripples.http://uploads.ronitbaras.com/2009/09/clip_image002_thumb4.jpg

We need to attend to the ripples so that they don’t keep us swimming around in circles. So that they don’t become tidal waves and wash us out of our own lives.

We need to have restorative discussions with those that have harmed us. We need to understand that “hurt people hurt people”.  That they may have been hurt or suffering in some way and so they have hurt us, and if we don’t want to hurt others, including ourselves, we need to deal with our own hurt.

Look out for possible ways that your actions could cause ripples of harm to others.

Look out for your own ripples that you are creating by not letting go.

Try the test of 3s: Will this issue matter in the next 3 days?  Will it really make a difference to my life or can I let it go?  Will it still be important in 3 months? Will I even remember this issue, this day in 3 years? If the answer is no, then recognise and acknowledge your feelings, and then let go of clinging to them and set yourself free.

Sometimes we may not feel we can address an issue with someone, then we really do need to assess it in terms of the test of 3′s.  If we don’t set the hurt within the context of our whole life then it will become our whole life, which is tragic.  We need to be able to leave pain, or at least find a place for it, and move ourselves on to the next moment as completely as we can so that we see ourselves as capable, whole and valued.

Free to explore the next moment with openness and curiosity.

Remember the dog who is left out in the rain.  When the owner finally comes home and lets the dog in, the dog is so pleased to see its owner, it jumps around in excitement, runs around in circles, barks ‘hello, good to see you’ and then after a shake, finds a nice warm spot to dry off.  But if you left a person out in the rain – a partner or a friend – what would their response be?  Would they be excited to see you?  How long would it take for them to move into the next ‘warm’ moment?

Sure they may go and have a shower, get dressed in warm clothes, but will they let it go?  Will they remind you of it? Will they still feel abandoned and neglected later, days, months even years? How would you respond if you were left in the rain?

Acknowledging the pain, hurt, harm and then moving into the next moment allows us to see the action more clearly.  It allows us to view it in line with our values.  It allows us to now act in accordance with our values and not out of the emotion of the harm.

Sometimes we may need to be more dog!!!

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Breathe in and know you are breathing

One of the basic, most natural things our amazing bodies do is breathe  We breathe in, we breathe out, however we pay very little attention to it.

The very first thing we do as we enter this world is breathe in, this is the beginning of an in/out cycle.  A cycle that continues until our final breath out.IMG_8049 - Version 2

In The Mindful Child by Susan Kaiser Greenland, she suggests that a child’s breath is like a swinging door between their inner and outer worlds.  I think this is the same for us as adults.

Our breath can be calm and measured if our surroundings are also calm.  If things get a bit challenging it is our heart and our breath that will sense this before our minds compute what is happening.

If we are rushing our breath supports our body to hurry, if we are ill our breath may be laboured, if we are sleeping hopefully our breath will be slow and peaceful.

I remember as a twelve-year-old child standing in the doorway of a room where my grandmother lay in bed dying.  My grandmother made it very difficult to form a close relationship with her, however my mother had been called interstate to help her siblings as their mother completed her final days and I had gone along with her.http://pool.hesperian.org/w/images/thumb/e/e0/HCWB_Ch4_Page_29-5.png/200px-HCWB_Ch4_Page_29-5.png

I remember standing in that doorway, physical distance between us, but breathing every breath she breathed.  Breath in, breath out.  I felt that it was my breath keeping her alive.  Breath in, breath out.  For that time there was no thought, no fear, just breath.  Breath in……………breath out……………….breath in………………………breath out.  It was probably the closest I actually felt toward her in my young twelve years. It was a time I have never forgotten.

I now know that everyone breathes and everyone dies.  I now know that the person I speak to today, it may be the last time I see them.  I now know that I need to hold this sacred space between myself and the other person as I don’t know what will happen.  I also know that knowing this changes the way I speak with people.

Jan Chozen Bays writes: Becoming aware of death opens our awareness to this single, vivid moment of life.

People can find these understandings quite depressing and try to believe that we are all going to live forever.  But we aren’t.  Imagine if you listened to someone like you knew it was your last conversation, how would this change your level of attention? How would it change your connection with that person, your level of impatience or anger perhaps?

An awareness of impermanence encourages us to bring our best to each and every moment.  To give each moment quiet attentiveness, to become aware of its awe, its beauty purely because we are here to experience it.            

Kaiser Greenland encourages us to slow down and tune into other people’s breathing to gain insights into their worlds that we might otherwise miss.  In doing so we can also gain insights into our own inner world.

Breathing is at the heart of mindfulness and meditation. In fact Jon Kabat-Zinn says that the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program has greater success with the living than the dead! This leads him to believe that no matter what is wrong with you, if you are breathing there is more right  with you than wrong with you.

Breathing is often the anchor which is used to train attention. We can choose to focus on the breath at any moment as it anchors us in the present, after all, the breath can only be here in this present moment and so by noticing it, we too, are being present.

For this week, notice your breath.  Know when you are breathing in and know when you are breathing out.

Tune in to others’ breathing, especially if you are around children or the elderly.  Be with them in their breath cycle for just a few moments and watch your connection with them change.

Try sighing.  We often sigh without knowing this is usually because we are breathing from our chest not breathing deeply enough into our diaphragm and belly, and our bodies need that extra breath.  For this week, consciously sigh, even out loud.

Sighing can break tension in the body.  Take a big breath in, open the chest muscles, then let it all go out.  Let go of control.  Let the body drop with the breath.  Then notice the pause at the end before the next breath comes in.  Do two or three deep sighs in a row.

You could try to use the exhalation of the breath to let go of tension.  With your eyes closed notice the out breath and focus on the body.  Start at the top of the head, on the out breath notice the tension you may be holding around your temples. On the next out breath notice the tension you may be holding in the jaw.  Each new breath notice on the out breath another part of the body.  The temples, jaw, neck, shoulders, chest, back, arms, belly, buttocks, legs, feet.  It  doesn’t matter if you were or weren’t holding tension in any of these areas, just by noticing them, by tuning into them on the out breath your body will naturally relax.

You might also like to try a mantra on the out breath such as “relax” or “release”.  Mantras are words or short phrases in our minds repeated on the out breath.  Again the breath and the mind working together in the present creates a sense of calm and stillness.

Of course you may just like to follow the breath as it moves through the in/out cycle.  http://www.mkzc.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/deep-breath.jpgFollow it without judgment on how it ‘should’ be, follow it without expectation of what you will feel later or at the time.  Follow it as it brings new oxygen into your system, feeding your organs, your muscles, your brain.  Follow it as it leaves your system and connects you to plants and the rest of the world.

Breathe gently and awaken to this amazing gift.

 

 

Be kind to yourself – there is only one you!

What type of things do you typically judge and criticize yourself for – appearance, career, relationships, parenting – anything else ……………?

What language do you use with yourself when you notice a mistake or a flaw?  Do you insult yourself, call yourself names? “How stupid I am” or “I never get things right” or “here I go again, typical.”

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When you approach or run into challenges how do you respond?  Do you get carried away by the drama or difficulty , making things bigger than they need to be?

Do you think everyone else is having a much better time that you are? Do you forget that everyone experiences difficulties, pain and suffering?

How does this make you feel?  What are the consequences of being so hard on yourself?

Do you feel more motivated to change? Unlikely.  Does it make you discouraged or depressed? Likely.

It seems that as human beings we are very good at this negative internal dialogue, however some of us do it much more than others.

Culturally we are not taught or expected to have self-compassion.  We are taught to look for flaws in others, look for their shortcomings to feel better about ourselves. To reinforce our beliefs and to feel we are coping.

Compassion to others and ourselves is a major element of mindfulness.  Being able to see the moment as it is, with awareness, openness and acceptance, encourages us to let go of judgments that keep us locked into viewing others and ourselves with dislike and intolerance.

Dr. Kristin Neff, the world leading researcher on self-compassion, writes that “self-compassion is an open-hearted way of relating to negative aspects of oneself and one’s experience that enables greater emotional resilience and psychological well-being” (The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology Vol 2, p 864).

Neff has identified three essential components of self-compassion: Mindfulness – noticing instead of getting emotionally entangled; Self-kindness – treating yourself with care and understanding rather than beating yourself up with harsh criticisms; and Common humanity – realising that suffering is part of the human experience and that you are not alone and others suffer similarly.

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Some people are naturally self-compassionate just as they are naturally compassionate to others.  But compassion and self-compassion can be taught.

People participating in research studies have shown that by practising self-compassion they had higher levels of wellbeing and became more resilient.  They were measurably happier, more capable, more curious and wiser in decision-making.  They felt higher levels of social connectedness and felt greater satisfaction with life in general.

Partners rated those who practiced self-compassion as being more emotionally connected, accepting and less detached, controlling or aggressive.

Self-compassion has also been shown to decrease levels of depression and anxiety, reduce rumination, self-criticism as well as reduce a fear of failure.

It used to be thought that to make people feel better we needed to bolster their self-esteem.  However, it is now known that self-esteem is often related to comparing oneself to others.  We need to feel ‘better’ than others to feel good about ourself.

Self-esteem is contingent on success and it tends to falter in failure situations, making it difficult to access when we are faced with difficulties, challenges and failure.  Whereas self-compassion is always accessible, and contrary to a commonly held belief, doesn’t lead to self-indulgence or self-pity.

In The Self-Compassion Diet, Jean Fain explores weight loss with a self compassionate focus.  A Harvard Medical School Affiliated psychotherapist, Fain believes that more self-compassion, not self-discipline, is the answer to dieter’s prayers.  She promotes mindfulness and self-compassion as a way to end the dieting merry-go-round and feel the power of self for successful weight-management.

Self-compassion is a powerful motivating force for growth and change.  With self-compassion we can develop mastery of our goals, and reduce our fear of failure.

You may like to try an exercise in Self-compassion: Grab three pieces of paper.  On the first piece write down the view of you from your closest. most compassionate friend.  Keep writing.  Write all the things they love about you, what they see, given all your flaws. The strengths they see in you.  What they like about you.  What you give back to them in your friendship.

On the second piece of paper write down all the things you criticise yourself about.  What you hear yourself saying about you.  Write down as much as you can, what it is, what you hear.

On the third piece of paper write down how you feel about that criticism you hear from yourself.  What it is like to hear that about yourself.

Now, go back to your first piece of paper and imagine what that person would say if they heard those criticisms of you and saw how hurt you are.  Write down what they would say.  How they would explain those criticisms, how they would comfort you.  What insights would they offer?

Neff suggests that when we experience warm and tender feelings toward ourselves we are altering our bodies as well as our minds.  “Self-kindness allows us to feel safe as we respond to painful experiences, so that we are no longer operating from a place of fear – and once we let go of insecurity we can pursue our dreams with the confidence needed to actually achieve them” (p. 52, Self-Compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind).

The Mindfulness Challenge this week is to practice self-compassion.

Notice your self-talk.  Don’t take your thoughts personally, they are only thoughts, they will come and they will go.

Notice when you are getting hooked into self-criticism, even arguing with yourself – you will never win!  Just notice it and move on with whatever you are doing at the time – whether that is ironing, driving the car, waiting for a meeting or even going to the bathroom.

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Notice judgment.  Are you judging others to feel better about yourself and confirm your beliefs about the world?  Is this necessary – no!

Notice if you are being critical about not being Mindful.  If you do that you will be being critical about yourself a lot!

Who you actually are is so much more than the narrative in your head.  Be open to yourself, to this moment, and see the boundless strengths you and others have to offer.

Let go of comparison, let go of the fear of not being good enough, let go of perfectionism and accept the gifts of imperfection.  Celebrate the challenge of being human and celebrate your own unique qualities – there is only one of you, don’t be afraid to share it around compassionately.

 

 

Moving from Illness to Wellness

In this week’s blog I thought I would look more holistically at wellbeing and see how Mindfulness is a core component of keeping us mentally well.

In 2008 the UK Foresight Challenge Report aimed to enhance the understanding of how to achieve the best possible mental health and wellbeing for people living throughout the United Kingdom.  It commissioned the Centre for Wellbeing at the new economics foundation (nef) to develop a set of evidence-based actions to improve personal wellbeing.

According to nef the concept of wellbeing comprises two main elements: feeling good and functioning well.

A positive experience in life is reflected through feelings of happiness, contentment, enjoyment, curiosity and engagement.

Unfortunately, it is estimated that only 14% of people in the UK have a high level of wellbeing – often referred to as “flourishing”.  The equivalent number, 14%, have low wellbeing (not including those with a diagnose mental disorder), what some would call “languishing”.

So what influences wellbeing?  Evidence is reliably pointing towards what we do and the way we think.  The consensus within the fields looking at wellbeing seems to be that a holistic approach to improving one’s wellbeing is important.

nef’s role was to develop a set of actions that enhance wellbeing, however positive psychology research has indicated we quickly adapt to repeated activities.  Therefore it seems that variety really is the spice of life as it keeps us fresh and interested, and more likely to continue to achieve success.

Acknowledging that different approaches suit different people, nef developed five actions that can be varied according to age, lifestyle and culture.

Those five areas are now known as the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, encouraging us daily to explore how we connect, be active, take notice, learn and give.

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Connect – social relationships are critical to wellbeing.  Social participation is the biggest factor between those with  and those without mental health.

Happy people have stronger social relationships than less happy people.  Life goals associated to a commitment to family, friends, social and political involvement promotes satisfaction with life whereas life goals associated with career success and material gains are seen to be detrimental to life satisfaction.

To Connect you can build connections with those around you; smile; make eye contact; greet others; share; enjoy – basically invest in personal relationships.

Be Active – physical activity is related to a greater sense of wellbeing, lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups.

Research is exploring the types of activity which is most beneficial, however it has already identified that physical activity increases perceived self-efficacy, sense of mastery and the perceived ability to cope.  Action is central to cognition.

Even small changes in activity levels of people who are sedentary and the elderly has shown to enhance wellbeing.

You can improve your activity simply by stepping outside more; moving; doing whatever energises you to continue to move.

Take Notice – this areas is an emerging field.  Increased sensory awareness has been shown to decrease stress and improve overall wellbeing.

Research supports that the practice of Mindfulness predicts positive mental states, self-regulated behaviour and heightened self-knowledge – all contributors to emotional intelligence.

Self Determination theory suggests that an open awareness is particularly valuable for choosing behaviours that are consistent with one’s needs, values and interests.

When we are aware and taking notice we are able to in turn savor moments that reinforce our life priorities.

You can Take Notice by encouraging your own curiosity; noticing beauty and the unusual; notice the changing seasons; savoring the moment; becoming aware of the world around you at any moment of the day.

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Keep Learning – learning is an important role in our social and cognitive development.

Life-long learning enhances self-esteem, encourages social interaction and a more active life.  It has also been linked to lifting depression in older adults.

Wellbeing is enhanced when goals are self-generated, approach goals and are congruent with personal values.  Formal and informal learning are highly desirable .

To Keep Learning you could try something new, rediscover an old interest; sign up for a course; take on a different responsibility at work; fix something around the house; learn to play an instrument; cook something new; set challenges you will enjoy; learn things that will make you more confident.

Give – neuroscience is contributing greatly to how we understand the impact of giving on wellbeing.

Wellbeing is considered to be greatly enhanced when an individual is able to achieve a sense of purpose in society, and contributes to their wider community.

Helping, sharing, giving and team-oriented behaviours are likely to be connected with increases in self-worth and positive feelings.

Offering support to others has been linked with reduced mortality rates.

What the research is saying – individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy.

It seems that to improve our own wellbeing we need to be outwardly focussed not inward.  We need to look to improve the life of others and in doing so we improve our own.

To Give you could do something nice for a friend or a stranger; thank someone; smile; volunteer your time; join a community or sporting group; perform Random Acts of Kindness often; look outward and see your happiness linked to the wider community; seek reward through giving rather than receiving.http://www.activeendurance.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Connection.jpg

So now you have 5 Ways to Wellbeing.  If you like apps you can download the 5 Ways to Wellbeing app, set goals and keep track of your wellbeing in the five action areas.

Remember that you can only achieve wellbeing through you actions in the present, this will set up how you view and act in the future.

Give the 5 Ways to Wellbeing a go and let me know how you go.

 

Changing sides

Recently I travelled (hence the delay in this week’s blog – apologies).

Naturally as a student of mindfulness I notice everyday events in detail, this happens when I travel just as it does every other day.

One of the things that I noticed again was how often people appear to be flustered when they travel.  Some even panicked that they might be doing something wrong.

Travelling creates a major break in routine which our minds need to deal with.  We need to be observant of new conditions such as traffic moving in a different direction,  or perhaps a different etiquette, carrying extra things we may need, noticing where services and supports may be, getting to places at scheduled times.

If we neglect to notice these things we can make mistakes and feel quite silly about ourselves when we would normally be quite competent.

We can also leave or forget things such as phone chargers, tickets, books or other belongings in hotel rooms; leave parcels on seats or on transport; or forget to carry cash in places that don’t have teller machines.

Breaking routines as we have noted in a previous blog in January, Changing Things Up a Bit,  creates an environment of flexibility.  Doing things differently can be challenging when our minds have created habits and expect things to go a certain way.

When things don’t go as automatically as we thought, panic can set in.  I have seen people at airports frantically going through their luggage checking for certain belongings.  I have seen people checking and double checking that they have got everything with them.  Our minds can be quite edgy when we think we might make a mistake and look silly in front of others. We can become distraught if we forget something, which we think at the time is really quite valuable, too valuable to lose.  If we do happen to forget it, we soon realise that we can either live without it or it is replaceable to some extent.

For this week’s Mindfulness Challenge you might need a sense of humour, as the challenge is to use your non-dominant hand for as many ordinary tasks as you possibly can each day.

Some things you could consider may be changing how you drink your morning cuppa, brushing your teeth, locking your door, picking things up, unpacking the dishwasher, opening the refrigerator, even scratching your head or folding your arms, handing something to someone, or changing the television channels.

You might try writing with your non dominant hand. Of course if you have an important certificate or document to sign you may want to use your dominant hand, but at other times give it a go.

You will of course notice how clumsy and awkward it will feel.  You may not remember but there was a time when using any hand was clumsy and awkward as you started out becoming independent as a child.  Your dominant hand has grown a skill that the non-dominant hand hasn’t.

This exercise can teach us many things. To appreciate our dexterity and our ability to use the limbs we have, to the ability we have.

To notice perhaps and develop compassion for others when they are clumsy or unskilled; or perhaps injured or disabled.  We can develop compassion and patience and not expect others to always complete things as we would do.

This task will challenge your determination as well as your ability to tolerate imperfection.

You may be surprised at how quickly or how slowly your mind and body adapt, this could be beneficial if you ever become incapacitated or injured for a period.

You may develop a confidence in your non dominant side and realise that you are not too old to learn new skills and you have many abilities lying deep beneath the surface just waiting for the opportunity to be revealed.

Mostly it will encourage you to approach daily tasks with the Beginner’s Mind I have previously blogged about (June 15th, 2014). To approach things without expectation, with an openness to what will happen, with curiosity and patience toward yourself.

With practice you will develop trust in yourself, a freedom knowing that you are capable of so many things that even you didn’t know about.

Stay present, flexible, and accepting with open-hearted spaciousness and watch yourself grow.

Gratitude – something to be thankful for

Yes life is difficult, challenging and demanding.  People at every turn seem to want that little bit more of us.  We can feel that we are being pulled in all directions and then our head steps in and pulls us in another one! So what is there to be grateful about?

It is easy to get caught up in the demands of daily living.  We know intuitively that we are grateful for lots of things.  If asked we can often rattle off a list of things we are grateful for – a place to sleep, food, warmth, people we love, perhaps a good job.

So what do you have to be grateful for and how often do you call it to mind?

According to research, (Park & Peterson 2006; Park, Peterson & Seligman 2004), gratitude is one of the strengths most robustly associated with life satisfaction, leading to higher levels of social integration (Froh, Bono & Emmons 2010).

However gratitude can look differently for different people.

Gratitude-appIt may be a sense of wonder or appreciation; it may be expressed through optimism or sharing; it may be thanking an individual, a group, a nation, a higher power.

Gratitude is savouring, a deep understanding that this needs to be noticed and not taken for granted.

Gratitude and its expression can become an antidote to envy, hostility, fear, irritation or worry.

How does gratitude fit into Mindfulness? To put it simply, in order to be grateful we need to be present moment focused.  We need to firstly notice how our life is today and express an appreciation to what has contributed to that.

Remember our minds are tuned to a negativity bias.  We needed this to keep ourselves alive, however, in today’s society this negativity can just bring us down.  It can keep us from experiencing the whole nature of our interactions throughout our day. It can keep us stuck on what’s going wrong and we can replay these things over and over in our minds.

Developing a focus on the positive and supportive things that happen to us in our day can tone down our negativity and help us enjoy life more.

In How to Train a Wild Elephant, Jan Chozen Bays suggests we “turn the unhappy mind toward discovering even one thing it can be grateful for.”

During the day you can notice and take mental notes of things to add to your gratitude list.  This develops a form of ongoing gratitude.

Gratitude is so much more than saying ‘thank you’ as it has multiple benefits.

People who show gratitude consistently are happier, more energetic, more hopeful and experience more positive emotions.  They are more helpful, empathic, more forgiving and less materialistic.  They are less likely to be depressed, anxious or lonely.

Letting people know that we appreciate what they have done also has untold impacts on their levels of wellbeing and also our own.

It is interesting how we feel better when we actually express our gratitude rather than just think it.  We need to actually let people know that we are grateful. We need to show them.  Most people I know, well actually all of the people I know, can’t read minds, so we need to let them know.

In her work on happiness and wellbeing, Sonja Lyubomirsky points to eight ways gratitude boosts happiness; grateful thinking leads to savouring positive experiences; showing appreciation boosts self-worth and self-esteem; gratitude helps us cope with stress and trauma; expressing gratitude leads to more prosocial behaviour; gratitude can build social bonds, strengthen existing relationships and nurture new ones; being grateful reduces negative comparisons with others that keep us unsettled and envious; because it is such a positive experience it is incompatible with negative emotions; and finally, being grateful reduces our adaptation to pleasant things so that we continually see when new events are positive and don’t become blase about events, relationships and life.

There are several paths to developing gratitude and finding your own pathway is vital.

If you enjoy writing you might like to start a Gratitude Journal where you can spend a regular time each day, week or month, reflect on your life and list perhaps between three to five things you are grateful for.  I always encourage people to look so much further than the immediate such as food and shelter, which of course we need to be grateful for.  But to look beyond, looking for what has helped you this day live your life to its fullest.  For example when we need to vote in Australia, I reflect on how grateful I am that I live in a country that encourages everyone to participate, including women, which doesn’t happen automatically in some countries in the world.  Immediately I am grateful to live in my country and lining up, waiting to vote doesn’t seem so onerous.

You might like to try a gratitude substitution – replacing an ungrateful thought (eg: my sister/brother/partner forgot my birthday) with a grateful thought (but they are always there to listen and support me).

You could find a gratitude partner and share gratitude lists with them.

If you are at work find ways to let others know how much you appreciate their contribution to the workplace, or your specific role or to the team

As a customer you may like to let someone who has served you well how much you appreciate their attitude and expertise.

Think more broadly, you may like to offer your home to help out with accommodation for someone; show people visiting your city around; offer a ride to someone to save them driving to the same venue as you.

Write a gratitude letter to someone who has been an influential person in your life.  Express what they have done that has impacted on you.  Describe in detail what they did and exactly how your life is the better for their part in it.  You don’t have to send it but imagine how it would feel to know you had made a positive impact on someone’s life.  If possible you may want to deliver the letter by hand.

A gratitude visit may be to take the time and visit a person you would like to thank and tell them in person, or call them via the phone or internet.

Whatever way you choose to show your gratitude, keep it fresh for yourself.  Choose a strategy that best suits you and you will enjoy, and will hold its meaning for you.

This habit has staying power, people who have practised gratitude lists of three good things each day for only a week have shown to still be reaping the positive emotions six months later.

Remember a new habit takes time to develop, so keep practising.  Train your mind to notice things and then it will become second nature to be grateful and therefore happier.

“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind” Lionel Hampton.

Be your own ‘best’ friend

Would you be your own best friend? Do you want to be happy but think your way out of it?

Do you hear things in your head about you that you would want others to say about you?

If your friend said what you hear in your head would you still want them as a friend?

Quite often our thoughts are not our ‘best’ friend.  In fact quite often our thoughts keep us stuck in depression, anxiety, inaction, self-hate even self-pity.

We may think we need to be critical of ourselves, to keep ourselves motivated or else we may become lazy or self-indulgent.

Because we think something does this make it true? Does it make it right? Necessary? Accurate? – Probably not. Ever had a thought that was wrong? I have!

Our thinking is very useful.  Thinking helps us problem solve, understand complex concepts, determine if we like or don’t like something – all very useful skills.

However when we believe something, we can assume we are right, this can get in the way of our listening to others. It may even put our relationships at risk as we move to defend our position.

Can you let go of the need to be right? Could being kind be better than being right?

Being Mindful means we can become aware of the type of thinking we have attached to.  Mindfulness can allow us to ‘view’ our thoughts just like waves on the ocean, coming and going with the deep, peaceful, calmness hidden below.

Becoming an observer of the words in your head is the first step to becoming aware of the power of your words on yourself and on others.

Our interactions with others start in our thoughts.  If we express doubt in ourselves we will likely restrict our contributions to others.  We can become angry and uncaring because our focus is turned inward not outward.

If you reduce self-criticism and develop self-compassion this will transfer into your relationships with others.  If you love yourself you will express that love in your interactions with others.

When we are aware we can become involved to ensure that our words manifest our true intentions.  That we are saying what we truly believe and we are being the person we want to be.

Our Mindfulness Challenge for this week is to notice our words.  Our words in our heads – our thoughts – and our words to others.

Be conscious to say only what you mean with gentleness knowing that our words ‘land’ on others.

Avoid using words to speak against yourself or others.  Be loyal to those who are absent.

Use your words to be kind to yourself – be your ‘best’ friend.  No need to point out your faults, you already know them! Look for when you are being at your fabulous best and honour that by taking notice of it and savouring it.

These may be small, seemingly insignificant moments that we often let slip by. Notice when you are bringing peace and calm to others and you will in turn feel that way as well.

Speak and act from deep within the ocean (your values) not being tossed about by the swell and the crashing waves (your thoughts).

Practice self-kindness – don’t beat yourself up for not coping, or not getting something right, or for not being perfect. Develop the ability to cope by comforting yourself when you are hurting or in need of care.

Relate to your mistakes or shortcomings like a ‘best’ friend would, with tolerance, understanding and love, understanding that perfection is not only unattainable but boring and over-rated.

Resist comparing how you feel on the inside to how others present on the outside.  We know that everyone suffers in some way.

Be kind to yourself and watch out for times to be your own cheer squad – but you will need to be present to notice it otherwise you just might miss it.

 

Changing seasons – Changing emotions

Noticing seasonal changes connects us to this amazing planet that we inhabit.

Autumn and the beginning of Winter here in Melbourne has been unseasonally mild, even warm.  Plants have re-budded thinking it is Spring.

But it is now turning cold and wet, more consistent with this time of the year, and yet we start to complain – “it’s gotten so cold” or “I don’t like winter”.  It is easy to curl up when it’s cold and become a hermit, confine ourselves to the indoors for the duration of the Winter.

Our moods are often connected to or influenced by the weather or seasons.

Ever wish it were sunny and warm every day?  Ever think you feel better when the sun shines? That’s probably because you do. Researchers are now investigating links between Vitamin D and depression, however these links are still unknown.

The sun does indeed help our health and mental health in many ways.  We use Vitamin D to strengthen our bones, to increase our uptake of other vitamins and minerals.

When it is sunny we feel we can venture outside more to exercise, play and socialise all good for our mental health.  But how would it be if we had the same weather day in day out?  How would nature survive without dormant periods, without rain? Would we really feel better?

The changing seasons demand for us to adapt our lifestyle and develop our flexibility, and increase our creativity if we want to exercise, play and socialise.

It seems appealing to want to experience ‘good’ weather on a more permanent basis just as we are seduced by the possibility of experiencing ‘positive’ emotions such as happiness on a more permanent basis.

But imagine for one moment if you were offered the ability to experience one emotion only for the next week.  You would experience it to its fullest. Which one would you pick?

Happiness? Joy? Gratitude?

What would determine the emotion you would pick? What would happen?  What would the impact be on your relationships if you could only express that one emotion?

How would others respond to you?  What would be good or not so good about it?

In Mindfulness we don’t view emotions as necessarily good or bad, positive or negative, they are all just emotions, useful in their own way.

The Mindfulness Challenge this week is to notice when you are clinging to certain emotions.  Notice your inner self talk about emotions and change.  Notice what you like or want it to be like, and move toward becoming more accepting of change.

Be observing of how you respond to emotions you experience.

Try to bring some curiosity to your emotions – ‘isn’t it interesting that this is how I feel about this experience’ rather than clinging to one emotion.

Just like the weather, your emotions will change.  Becoming more observing of our emotions allows us to step out of them, noticing that “I feel sad” or “I feel angry” rather than “I am sad” or “I am angry”.

Accepting that you will experience different emotions means that you will become more flexible and creative when difficult emotions arise.

Stepping back, noticing, accepting, gives us a greater ability to see ourselves as so much more than the emotion we are experiencing.

 

Beginner’s Mind

Ever felt that today is just another day?

Been here before, done that?

Or perhaps feel like nothing is exciting, challenging or worthwhile?

Many times our lives can appear mundane – we get up, go to work; come home, go to bed. Or we look after children all day; day in, day out; go to school – nothing seems to change; or many other configurations of everyday life and nothing is different.

As a result we can start to feel like we are experts in our lives because after all what is there not to be an expert in, everything seems to be the same.  We live it, we know it.

This is the development of what is often known as the ‘experts mind’.

When we feel this way we can try to distract ourselves by engaging in endless activities, looking for sensory experiences to help us feel alive, or by pursuing wealth, power and fame (and FB friends).

Eventually reality confronts us, and we can then become quite disheartened, depressed even anxious. Other mental health issues can settle in.

So why not look at reality in the first place and resolve to have a new perspective? Mindfulness helps us create our own happiness by exploring the present moment as if it hasn’t happened before – because it hasn’t.

When we come to the realization that the past no longer exists and the future hasn’t arrived yet, we can grow our understanding that the present is, at the same time, something we cannot hold on to for it is always changing, unfolding, revealing. The famous Matthieu Ricard writes “cultivating mindfulness does not mean that you should not take into account the lessons of the past or make plans for the future; rather it is a matter of living clearly in the present experience that includes them” (p67 The Art of Meditation).

We usually approach a situation with our ‘expert’s mind’. “I’ve been through this before, I know what is going to happen” or “I’m not going to let others determine things for me, I know what needs to happen because I have all the answers, I need to control this situation”. The expert’s mind closes us off to opportunities, opportunities for things to be different.

The Beginner’s Mind however is open.  Open to new experiences at every moment.  It sees opportunities and as a result becomes creative and excited by possiblities.

If we bring a ‘beginner’s mind’ to each situation, we open ourselves to options for how things may be.  A beginner’s mind says “I have never been at this point in my life before, be open to what is here and now, be open to what I can be and what others can teach me”.

It is like a child learning to walk.  The child falls down and gets back up, not one time but many times.  Even though the child is an ‘expert’ at sitting or crawling, it pushes itself to see what can be possible, to get up and walk.

A Beginner’s Mind resolves to not judge. To put away the word ‘should’.  I have a saying that I don’t ‘should’ on myself or ‘should’ on others!

A Beginner’s Mind says I have wisdom and know my values but I let go of expectations of common sense.

A Beginner’s Mind says I have never been at this juncture in my life with such awareness and ability, what can unfold, what can I do, what can I understand of this?

How exciting would it be to walk down your street for the first time again? To walk into a meeting and listen with fresh ears? To watch your children eat, play and learn? To truly be with a long term friend or partner and hear them for who they are today, here and now?

This is the challenge and blessing of the Beginner’s Mind – see what happens.