Tho other day I caught a train in rush hour. Admittedly I hadn’t been on a train for a while but doing what I do I spent the time looking at my fellow travellers curious as to how this seemingly lost time was being used. It interesting how time spent coming and going to work can feel like time being wasted, especially if you are stuck in traffic or being pushed and prodded on a crowded late bus home. Here are 10 ways to turn these moments into mindfulness practice and arrive at home or work less stressed.
- Lets start with making physical contact with the world. Having a sense of physical engagement with your surroundings helps us to bring the mind into focus and root us to our environment. Bring your attention to how your feet make contact with the ground, or the pedals on your bike. Notice your hands on the steering wheel or how the wind feels on your face.
- Pay attention to your breathing. This can relieve the stress associated with travelling and deliver a sense of space and wellbeing among the crowds. Focussing the mind on the gentle in breath and outbreath helps calm the body and diffuse anxiety.
- Don’t always fill your commute with technology. It passes the time but only serves to clutter your mind more. Observe the world around you and your place in it. See how the trees that you pass everyday change with the seasons. Notice new buildings or old ones. Are your fellow passengers the same every day or are they different? Can you feel empathy for some of them? Why not help some one by a little kindness by giving up your seat or maybe smiling at a child.
- Leave plenty of time to get where you need to go. If you arrive early use that time to clear you mind.
- If possible take a different route. Seeing new things can help develop our sense of curiosity and creativity, and help to stay out of autopilot.
- Walk if possible. Get off the train or bus a stop earlier. Walking, especially slowly, calms and settles the mind.
- Use the movement of the bus or train to engage with your aliveness. Allow your body to surrender to the rock and roll.
- Check into your body and see how it is. Are your shoulders rigid? Are you restricting your breath? Is your neck tight? Are your fists clenched? Use your breathe to breath into these parts of the body and relax them on the out-breath. Do this a few times until your body becomes softer.
- Play with changing positives to negatives. This isn’t easy but fun once you get the hang of it. Firstly notice when you are feeling negative towards something. Queues are good for this. Use them as an excuse to rest and to look at the world around you. People watching can be a wonderful experience and make you more empathetic to others.
- Work out how much time in your day is taken up with the daily commute and decide to do it differently. By adopting a more peaceful, positive and thoughtful mindset while travelling to and from work you will probably end up getting the best out of your work day and come home being a more present partner friend or parent.
The three questions an awakened person asks at the time of his or her death are very simple:
“Did I love well?”
“Did I live fully?”
“Did I learn to let go?”
They don't usually ask “How much is in my bank account?” or “How many books did I write?” or “What did I build?". Not surprising.
When we consider loving well and living fully, we can see the ways our attachments and fears limited us, and we can see the many opportunities for our hearts to open.
At the end of our life, we may have what is called a crash course in letting go. Sooner or later we have to learn to let go and allow the changing mystery of life to move through us without our fearing it, without holding and grasping.
Letting go and moving through life from one change to another brings maturity. In the end we discover that 'to love' and 'let go' can be the same thing. Both allow us to touch each moment of life and be there fully for whatever arises next.
There is an old story about a famous rabbi living in Europe who was visited one day by a man who had travelled by ship from New York to see him. The man came to the great rabbi’s dwelling, a large house on a street in a European city, and was directed to the rabbi’s room, which was in the attic. He entered to find the master living in a room with a bed, a chair, and a few books. The man had expected much more. After greetings, he asked, “Rabbi, where are your things?” The rabbi asked in return, “Well, where are yours?” His visitor replied, “But, Rabbi, I’m only passing through,” and the master answered, “So am I, so am I.”
To love fully and live well requires us to recognise finally that we do not possess or own anything - our homes, our cars, our loved ones, not even our own body. Joy and wisdom do not come through possession but rather through our capacity to open and love more fully.
One great teacher explained it this way: The trouble with you is that you think you have time.” We don’t know how much time we have. What would it be like to live with the knowledge that this may be our last year, our last week, our last day? In light of this question, we can choose a path with heart.
Adapted from A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield
Holiday activities can add stress in many ways. For example, there are likely to be more things to do, more disruptions of your usual routines of life, more disturbances of rest and sleep, and changes in what you eat and drink. While many of these are enjoyable, they can take a toll on body, mind, and spirit. And don’t forget “time stress”.
What can you do to gain freedom from this seemingly endless round of busyness?
- Take time each day to stop and to be present with yourself and life, just as it is. For example, for 5 minutes 4 times a day, stop and practice “being” instead of doing. Bring attention to the sensations of your own breath and body and allow them to flow naturally as you simply pay kind attention to the experience. See the exercise at the end of this article for more instructions. Practice for longer periods than 5 minutes if you wish.
- Give yourself time each day for rest and play. You may need to schedule this, just as you would schedule a meeting or a lunch date with a friend. Also, learn to use the time you are waiting for something or someone as “free time.” Practice being mindful and connecting and being present through paying gentle attention during these times.
- Give yourself permission to say “no” to invitations, or to leave events early. This will result in more time and flexibility for you. It also leads to a feeling of being back in control of your life.
- Look for ways to simplify your life, not only during the holidays but afterwards as well. For example, review your holiday patterns of gift giving, card sending, or party going. Look for ways to simplify without losing the essence or meaning of what you are doing. Apply similar review to other aspects of your life. Be willing to let go of anything that is no longer important or meaningful for you.
Above all, have kindness and compassion (a little “holiday spirit”) for yourself. Especially when you don’t do things “perfectly.” Or you forget to do any of the above or anything else you meant to do. Remember, inner peace exists outside the domain of time. Learn to connect and “be” with what is here. This will lead you to dwell more in your own inner stillness regardless of the outer circumstances. As you do that, you will surely be “home for the holidays."
While most of us find the holiday season a relaxing time when friends and family come together, for some people the idea can been less than pleasant. If this sounds like you, here are a few tips to help you through.
- Don't feed your boredom with unhealthy non stop treats. Savour every mouthful mindfully.
- Dodge the dog fights. Stick to topics everyone can agree on. Cute baby, how's the golf swing, wow its hot!
- Practice kindness with estranged family or in-laws. Families can be complicated. How others see things is not necessarily the same way you do. Everyone wants ease.
- Don’t feel obliged to eat everything. Take a dainty bite say thank you and move on.
- Find some quiet time. Press the pause button and take some time for NO-THING. Disappear for a while - a solo walk, a nap, a meditation.
The holidays are a time for gratitude, celebrations, family, friends, and, of course, gifts. Bombarded with advertising it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters and overlook the art of thoughtful gift giving.
As we consider the process of gift giving, it's possible to swap the stress and anxiety of purchasing the perfect present for the true pleasure of generosity. Here's 13 ways to make your gifting easier this holiday season.
1. Give to Yourself First
It’s a busy time. How can you possibly give with generosity to others when you fail to nurture your own needs? When you become depleted, you are less present and being less present you cannot mindfully give to others. The best gift you can give your loved ones is the gift of your healthiest and most nurtured self.
2. Plan Ahead
Carefully think through your gift choices - it doesn't need to take up a lot of time, it just need to be considered . Consider these questions to dig into the meaning behind your giving:
- How do you measure the value of a gift?
- What do you hope to convey to your loved ones?
- How can your values be transformed into holiday gifts?
- How do you want to share your energy with people you care about?
While it's likely that you’ll end up purchasing at least some gifts, it's important that you don’t spend more than you have. Maxing out your credit cards may let you afford more purchased gifts, but the stress, anxiety, and depression that comes with debt isn’t worth it. Gifts don’t need to be expensive to be meaningful. Your favourite gifts to give may be ones you make. Homemade Rocky Road, your favourite biscuits or a poem that you love (or write) can be a beautiful gesture.
4. Give Experiences
Offering someone your time and expertise can be a truly thoughtful gift and also deepen your connection. Material items provide instant gratification but fade quickly. The memories of sharing an experience together or learning something new can last a lifetime. You could offer to teach them how to:
- Play music
- Take photographs
- Practice yoga/meditation
5. Give Lessons
These are my favourite gifts ever! Maybe a flying lesson, a vegan cooking lesson, a watercolour class, photography class, an hour of private instruction in yoga, or a massage gift certificate with your favourite massage therapist.
6. DIY Gift Certificates
Why not give a coupon offering:
- House cleaning
- Meal preparation
- Organising closets
- Lawn mowing
7. Craft Your Gifts
The key is small-scale production. In an afternoon, you and/or your kids could make potato stamps and “mass produce” a hundred colourful, homemade gift-card sets with scrap cardstock from a local printer. Any similar homemade craft, including cooking (see below), can be accomplished in a day or two. If you have children, getting them involved is a great way to come together as a family in the spirit of generosity. For example, placemats for the celebratory meal. Each year, they may become more artistic, but the early scribbles will be just as appreciated.
8. Cook Your Gifts
It’s not necessary to wear yourself out baking a dozen varieties of cookies, rocky road, jams. Consider making one item that you can give to everyone,
9. Compose Your Gift
A heartfelt note can be a gift in itself. Offer forgiveness, gratitude, or love to remind someone you care about them and that they are cherished. I am a HUGE fan of writing notes to people. Every year, my husband gets me a great gift but forgets the heartfelt note part. I always lovingly remind him that I would rather have just a heartfelt note than anything bought from the store. Letters are cherished. Especially those that touch the heart
10. Shop Your Home
“Re-gifting” things from last year’s pile can be great — an unused item taking up space in your house finds its purpose in more appropriate hands. Look for items in your home that have a personal meaning to you and the recipient. Family heirlooms, favourite ornaments, treasured dishes — all of these provide a more meaningful gift than something picked up on the fly at the mall.
11. Buy Presents in Bulk
If you balk at the impersonality of bulk gifts, just take some extra time to choose a gift that truly reflects your values. For example, if you have a nonperishable food that’s local to your region, like maple syrup, you may be able to purchase it directly from a farmer or producer; include information about the source in your gift package.
12. Give to Charity
The holidays can serve as a wonderful catalyst for sharing your resources and a great opportunity to teach your kids about generosity’s rewards. Research links acts of altruism to better health, happiness, and a strengthened sense of purpose for the giver. Find out what causes your recipient finds particularly meaningful and make a donation in their name. This will have deeper significance and will last longer than something you might buy at the store.
13. Create Mindful Traditions
Gifts that let your loved ones know you see their true self or honour their inner beauty deepens your connection with them. Create holiday traditions that bring ease instead of stress. You will find that a little mindfulness adds tremendous value to the holiday season. Or you could give the gift of Mindfulness - the next MBSR course begins 7th February, 2017 :)
Creating simpler, more ease-filled holiday rituals starts with practical strategies to avoid overspending and shopper exhaustion. By returning to the altruistic impulse that is the source of gift-giving, you can trade your gift-related anxiety for the true pleasure of generosity. The actual gift itself is just a symbol for the energy you are offering them. The true gift of giving is how you make someone feel.
We have all done it, dashed into the shops at the last minute, grabbed stuff, threw it on the credit card, without thinking about the financial consequences — or even what the recipient really wants or needs.
Gift giving has been around since the beginning of time. But as technology developed, marketing and advertising have convinced us that we need to be buying the latest and greatest. We look for the best deals and the hottest trends. We may have lost the art of giving.
This December I invite you to make your buying intentional. Presents with Presence. Whether it’s Christmas, Chanukah, a wedding or just a social gathering, take a moment to ask yourself (maybe pick one that resonates with you the most):
Am I on autopilot here, creating more junk that gets passed around?
Am I buying this in order to avoid feeling uncomfortable?
Am I just getting caught up in all the hype and spin of commercialisation?
Am I just doing what’s expected?
How do I feel taking out my credit card yet again?
Do I really even like this person?
What are the consequences of this purchase?
What has gone into making this product?
Am I spending my time, energy and money here out of habit, obligation, or guilt?
Do I truly want to gift something that benefits this person, our beautiful Planet and me?
When you first hear about the technique behind mindfulness meditation it sounds really simple: focus on an object like your breath and when your mind wanders observe where it's gone and gently bring your attention back to the object.
Easy peasy. Well I guess it’s the same as trying to lose weight. Simply stop putting too much stuff in your mouth.
Of course, if it was so easy we would all be healthy svelte yogis.
The truth is that a formal practice of meditation takes grit and determination - a lot like losing weight! It can be a hard habit to establish.
So lets have a look at what can get in the way. These obstacles are nothing new, they commonplace and have existed for thousands of years. It's not just you, believe it or not!
Doubt. This is all about uncertainty - whether meditation is really for you, if you'll be able to do it, and if it will “work”. Perhaps you are the one person in the whole wide world who just can’t meditate. Maybe mindfulness it’s just another passing fad, it does sound a little cultish doesn't it? To look closely at things before we buy and to be curious and questioning can be very healthy. But if doubt takes us away from an experience before it even has a chance to teach us anything, that's not so healthy.
Consider this. If you have a body and you can breathe, and you can sometimes pay attention - then you can meditate. We have to remember that thoughts are just thoughts; they’re not facts (even the ones that say they are). When we notice this doubt slipping in, just take note of it, perhaps even notice the fear that is often underneath it, and then gently return back to the practice.
Restlessness. Yes it’s hard to sit still when the mind is so busy. It may rebel while learning how “to be.” You might catch it running through a million to-do lists and counting the minutes until the end of the practice. This is all completely natural.
Consider this. Restlessness and boredom are just sensations like any other. If you look deeply at restlessness or boredom, underneath it is often some form of anxiety or fear. You don’t have to do anything about it; just naming it and getting curious about the sensation of restlessness itself, can reduce its impact. You could try getting curious about the sensation of restlessness itself.
Irritation: Irritation comes up for many reasons. Maybe you don’t feel like you’re having a good meditation experience, there’s an annoying noise in the room or it’s a secondary emotion that comes after feeling restless. In other words, we’re irritated that we’re restless.
Consider this. Remember “what we resist persists.” The work here is to include the irritation as part of the mindful experience. “It is what it is, while it is.” Our work is to recognise the irritation, allow it to be there and watch as it naturally comes and goes.
Sleepiness. We are a sleep-deprived nation so when we stop and sit down to meditate our body does what it naturally wants to do - rest. We can also feel sleepy when an experience is overwhelming so it’s good to be curious whether the tiredness is telling you that you need more rest or that there’s a feeling that needs to be expressed.
Consider this. If you fall asleep when meditating, a good nap may be exactly what you need. However, if this is happening often you might try sitting in a more upright posture, standing up, doing some mindful movements, having your eyes slightly open or maybe splashing some water on your face before starting. Be curious.
Wanting. Maybe you find yourself wanting to be somewhere else - anywhere other than where you are. Or maybe it’s even more innocent like just wanting to go get something to eat. Or your mind wants the conditions to be perfect (but it's never perfect), so you don’t even get to practice.
Consider this. If you notice this state of mind before you practice, you might consider doing a walking meditation or a mindful movement practice like yoga. If the mind is busy wanting to be somewhere else during your practice, be easy on yourself, simply continuing to notice and naming the desire and wanting, and gently bringing your attention back.
Having a regular meditation practice seems so simple, but practice isn’t always easy. We have our brains to contend with. Just being on the lookout for these obstacles and apply the antidotes as best you can would be an extremely beneficial practice in itself.
REMEMBER to be gentle and forgiving - you can always begin again.
Do you sometimes feel like you’re a human doing rather than a human being, always running to catch up with a general sense of anxiety? Your emotions and physical sensations are yelling for your attention, your minds are working harder and harder to find a way out.
Even just writing and reading that last sentence my heartbeat quickens and my temperature rises. This is definitely one form of suffering, as if I had to tell you that. You see yourself here (uncomfortable, stressed, anxious) and you want to be there (at ease) so your mind analyses the gap between and tries to bridge it. Good old rational critical thinking.
The mind uses the doing mode to break problems into smaller bits in an attempt to find a solution. It then assesses if you are any closer to your goal. The doing mode is activated whether you're trying to catch a train or file your taxes. Thank goodness we have it! It's one of our most important assets.
BUT, if the gap can't be closed, because you've tried everything, you become fixated on the gap, torturing yourself with harsh criticisms like, What started it this time? What have I done to put so much pressure on myself again What I should have said, done? Why does it hurt so much? Maybe it'll never get better? What if I fail?
These open-ended questions can increase anxiety depression and stress, burning up your energy and leaving you feeling fragile and broken. It gives the mind free reign to catastrophise. One fear leads to the next and before long you're spiralling into a dark and scary place. It’s a vicious, exhausting cycle.
But there is an alternative.
You can’t stop the triggering of unpleasant sensations in the body but you can stop what happens next. The spiral of negative thoughts, feelings and emotions.
You can learn to take a mountaintop view that is unclouded by thoughts, feelings and emotions. Psychologists call it the being mode.
You can become aware that you are thinking. This metacognition allows you to experience the world without your thoughts acting like a distorting lens. You can learn to see things as they actually are, not as you expect or fear them to be. This interrupts the cycle that leads to anxiety stress and depression.
Awareness allows you to step back from your pain and suffering by breaking free from the tendency to overthink. It takes practice, but you will gradually begin see thinking as only one aspect of your daily experience. Unpleasant yes, but not all of who you are.
BEING MODE IS NOT BETTER OR WORSE THAN DOING MODE. IT'S JUST DIFFERENT.
It’s bigger than thinking, kinder than thinking and often wiser than thinking and it has been cultivated for thousands of years. And we can learn this by the practice of mindfulness meditation. The only way to know if this works for you is by carrying out the practices. Belief is irrelevant but it’s certainly worth a try. Isn’t It?
Do you jump out of bed in the morning revitalised, refreshed rushing to get into another day? Big smile on your face and hugs all round; the cat, your partner, your barista.
Or is it more like this.
The way we greet the first few minutes of our day can have a profound affect on how the rest of it will unfold. It makes it possible to be more mindful, self-compassionate, connected, and resilient throughout the day.
Try to do the following 3 simple things EACH morning for one week and be curious about the outcome.
- HEARING. Rather than starting the day off tense and startled by loud alarms choose one that’s gentle and soothing — chimes, bells, more relaxing music. Instead of hitting the snooze button or peeling yourself off the ceiling take the time to indulge in three mindful breaths… or maybe even five (radical!). Deep in-breath, long slow out-breath till you can no longer exhale. And then another, and then another.
- TASTING. Drink a BIG glass of water. You will be dehydrated after the long night. The coffee or tea can wait a few minutes, even if you think it can't. Your gut will be grateful.
- SEEING. This is the biggest but most profound. Before grabbing your phone, computer etc. go outside or open the window wide. Look at the sky, a tree, a pot plant. Observe something natural. Most likely your day will hold plenty of technology and I promise you won't miss anything in these few minutes.
Give yourself a moment giving these a try. Then move on to the rest of your day.
I have been spending time lately looking at my impulses. I am learning to watch when desire takes over and I become grabby. I must have that, this or whatever. NOW. I am trying to being more responsive and less reactive. It’s a wonderful skill but easier said than done.
It’s tough but I’ve learnt a lot. I am less reactive around family. Not all the family but hey I am seeing growth. I am eating more mindfully, unless there is alcohol involved. If there’s alcohol I can eat anything. EVERYTHING!!! I have limited my coffee intake from four a day to one and realise I don't actually like coffee that much. And I am trying to not get up from my meditation cushion on impulse because I remember something I need to do NOW. I’ve found that one of the ways to tame an undisciplined mind is to watch an impulse arise and take a pause, check in with your quiet mind and watch what happens to the impulse if you don't act upon it.
But here’s my downfall. Ask me to sign up for any summit, teaching, new online course and my fingers hit that keyboard as fast as I can get that credit card out of my purse. Ah now I am about to do something constructive, learn some new skills. Grab grab grab. Gimme gimme gimme. The problem is I don't actually log on to do it, BUT I feel like I’m doing something.
On the good side though I used to do the same with books. So many impulses, so many unread books. But at least I HAD them on the bookshelf. Again I felt like I’d done something! I rarely buy a book these days. There is so much good stuff online and my bookshelves can now breathe easier. My kindle on the other hand…
So why am I writing about this. Well this week I decided to attend to my wardrobe. Younger sons’ birthday present was to sort out my clothes, get rid of stuff and then take me shopping. Great present. So there was younger son texting on the phone on the floor in my bedroom directing me to chuck, keep and more than a few times asking ‘What were you thinking?!”
I need to paint a clearer picture here. This son is seriously cool. I know he won’t read this so I feel very safe saying so. He has hair half way down his back, one of those awful beards, wears black t-shirts, torn black jeans, worn R. Williams boots and rides a black Harley. I am telling you that guy is gorgeously cool. So he is telling his mum what to dispose of and I am left with a very spacious wardrobe of black white and denim. Happy Mother.
I had so many clothes in there that I never wore. Boots that weren’t made for walking but looked great in the shop. Dresses that were fine when I bought them but could never be worn because I never had the right shoes. There was my denim period, my primary colour lets-be-happy time, my corporate outfit that I could never wear because it was so uncomfortable. My three pairs of exactly the same coloured sandals in case they ever wore out. I was over them before the first one left the house. My hippy summer beach cover ups that never ventured onto any beach. And lets not go anywhere near the swimming costumes! The list could go on and on... All bought on impulse, all gave me that retail therapy high, for a few moments at least. All now ready to give away.
So the next step was to fill in the empty spaces. YAY! This time I will be more discerning. No impulse buys.
And then same son sends me a link to a documentary he had just finished watching - The True Cost. A good documentary will make you stop and think, a great documentary will make you change your behaviour. I urge you to take some time to watch this. Sometimes we just need to be exposed to the right thing at the right time to curb our impulsivity. I think this was it.
As the word ‘Mindfulness’ becomes more mainstream so is another, related word - 'autopilot’.
What is autopilot?
Being on autopilot means that you are able to do things without paying any attention to what your doing. It’s like driving a car. When learning how to drive our senses are heightened to EVERYTHING… our hands on the steering wheel, the brake, the mirrors, the cars around us… it's a wonder with so much information we can learn anything at all! But with practice it all becomes more familiar, driving becomes routine and we are unaware of what’s going on unless something out of the ordinary calls for our attention - like a child on the road or a very big truck. Eventually we can end up driving on autopilot.
Autopilot can, in certain situations, be a useful skill by enabling us to bring our attention to other things. The trouble is when we live most of our lives on autopilot. We are aware of when things are fabulous or terrible but in between we are off some place else. Daydreaming about the future, regretting or remembering the past while ignoring what is happening now – our current slice of reality is lost. It’s a seductive mind pattern.
We spend time about 95% most of our thought-time either rehashing the past or rehearsing for the future, and only 5% in the present.
To cope we often like to get preoccupied with projects. Putting things into boxes. For example, if we have a big project on we tend to put aside the things that we normally enjoy, promising ourselves that when it’s over we’ll do all the other nice stuff. But the end of one project is just the signal to the start of another one. And we never truly start enjoying the life that we promised ourselves.
So the question is, how can I nourish myself in the next hour? What can I do, some small thing, in the next hour or two that will actually make a difference? How can I practice at attending to my life in a more wholesome way? Not just giving my thinking a break but actually switching on a different mode of being.
If you are interested in exploring a new dynamic for living and changing life draining habits, comejoin the July Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course.