I came across this quote recently and it seemed so relevant to what is going on - we all need some serenity in our lives at this uncertain time; to go within and find peace within the storm. Being physically separated from loved ones, friends, colleagues and life situations is hard but Mindful Meditation can help.
Mindfulness is all about experiencing the world that is firmly in the here and now; ‘being’ not ‘doing’. It offers us a way of freeing ourselves from automatic and unhelpful ways of thinking and responding. When we are not present in the here and now we are more likely to get “wound up.” Events around us, thoughts, feelings (some of which we may only be dimly aware) can trigger old habits of thinking that are often unhelpful, and may lead on to worsening our mood.
By becoming aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, from moment to moment, we give ourselves the possibility of greater freedom and choice. In increasing our awareness of the present moment, we can respond to situations with this choice rather than react automatically. We cannot control the thoughts that come into our mind but we can control what we do next – this was a revelation to me!
We increase our awareness by noticing where our attention is, and deliberately returning the focus when it strays - over and over again. In formal meditation we use the breath as this focus - an anchor, grounding us in the present moment. We approach this in a kind way, not beating ourselves up if the mind wanders, because it will - that’s what it does. Instead we notice the thought, label it ‘thinking’ and bring the awareness back to the present focus of attention. Informal meditation uses the same approach when carrying out everyday activities – having a shower, chopping vegetables, washing-up (the list is endless).
The more you practice the more mental patterns you recognise. After many years of practice there are still certain thoughts that occasionally come into my head but I can recognise them as old mental patterns that no longer serve me. Instead of grabbing the thoughts by the hand and running with them (to places I really don’t want to go) I smile “thanks but I don’t need to go there” and that’s enough for me to refocus on the now.
Also in Mindful Meditation we look at barriers to being fully present. A powerful influence is our automatic tendency to judge ourselves, other people and/or our experience as being not quite right in some way— not what should be happening, not good enough, or not what we expected or wanted. This could certainly be the case at the moment with Covid-19 in the world. These judgments can lead to sequences of thoughts about blame, what needs to be changed, or how things could or should be different. Often these thoughts will take us, quite automatically, down some fairly well-worn paths in our minds. In this way, we may lose awareness of the moment and also the freedom to choose what, if any, action needs to be taken.
We can regain our freedom if, as a first step, we simply acknowledge the actuality of our situation, without immediately being hooked into automatic tendencies to judge, fix, or want things to be other than they are. For example, many of us are doing a lot of queuing at the moment – to get into a store, to get to the item we want to purchase, to check-out. Next time you are in this situation, don’t see it as a bad thing, or an opportunity to list all the ways in which this is wrong or ridiculous, use the opportunity to ‘come to your senses’ and with curiosity, no judgment, no expectation:
- look around you and really see what is in your line of vision; go back to being a kid and see how many cars you can spot in the same colour; look around at the artwork – all those rainbows;
- listen to the passing traffic, birdsong; whatever you can hear;
- notice what smells are in the air (remember no judging as good or bad, just be aware of them);
- feel your feet on the ground, notice any tingling, throbbing, or a sense of heaviness as the weight of your body bears down on them;
- be aware of any taste in your mouth or on your lips.
A couple of years ago, we were in a queue for nearly 2 hours at Delhi airport. Some passengers were getting themselves in an upset state - moaning, grumbling, winding each other up. I decided to see it as an opportunity to check out if any of the passengers near us were on the same tour as us so as I could get to know some of the people we were going to be spending the next 18 days with. I also checked out the amazing mural on the wall, enjoyed stretching my limbs after a long flight and chatted to my husband. In fact, I mentioned the mural to a couple of people a few days later and they hadn’t even noticed it because they were too lost in the ‘unfairness’ of the situation. We arrived at the same time as another airbus, it was lunch time and a bank holiday. Nothing was going to change by getting angry and frustrated – apart from maybe the size of the ulcer of the complainer!
The pauses we cultivate through mindfulness and meditation provide an opportunity to simply bring curiosity, and a friendly awareness, to the way things are in each moment without having to do anything to change things. It works equally well with pain and discomfort.
The beauty is that there is no goal to be achieved during meditation. Meditation is it. Simply bring awareness to the body sensations that may or may not arise as you sit breathing in and breathing out. A special state of relaxation is not a goal of the exercise nor is ridding your mind of thoughts. As said previously, the more we see our thoughts as just thoughts, the more we learn to let the habitual, unhelpful ones pass by with a kind recognition and notice any creative ones which we can revisit and expand upon later.
Being aware, moment by moment is our reality, and that reality can be stormy. If you need help finding peace within the storm contact me now and take advantage of the 50% discount on a 1:1, 8 week Mindfulness Course if you book before the end of May 2020.
Author: Samantha Hall
Artwork also produced by me.
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