I have just had a few days on Stradbroke island seeking whales. As a few days of flourishing all the elements have been present, positive emotions, engagement, relationships and meaningful activity. I have also enjoyed winning the ladies monday competition at my local tennis club. We are are group of enthusiastic competitive women who in spite of the fact that our average age would be about 50 we are focused, enthusiastic and willing to win at all costs. When you come to the clinic you will see my trophy on display.
Mindfulness and flourishing go hand and hand. Flourishing rather happiness is a term now used in the scientific literature to measure well being. Martin Seligman has defined flourishing as containing five important elements (PERMA), Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships and Meaningful Activity. Mindfulness as a method also has these elements even when practising alone. So a regular practice of mindfulness increases your flourishing.
An important component of flourishing is positive relationships. Relationships do not always have to be with humans. If having a human relationship has resulted in sadness or harm then a positive connection with animals is also be a meaningful relationship.
Developing Wisdom and Compassion was a also s theme for this week. Wisdom and compassion were invited as I walked down to main beach I was greeted with rubbish and not just a few items but a whole beach of rubbish, small plastic items, syringes, bags, and more. I was shocked and horrified and all I had on me was a bag in my pocket usually used to pick up my dogs droppings when walking. And so I made a small attempt to clear some of the rubbish but my attempt was pretty minor.
My emotions were of disgust and sadness and my thoughts were of hopelessness and helplessness. If we can consider that my experience of main beach was a teaching then what comes to me is that this experience of main beach happens to all of us when we stop and begin to notice our mind. Many of us spend much of our time in distraction, just like unwanted thoughts and feelings, much of the rubbish found on the beach is simply the result of distraction. When we sit quietly and watch our thoughts coming and going mostly what we first observe is distracting thoughts.
The simple method of watching our thoughts coming and going is a profound method of purifying our mind of thinking. Not stopping or getting rid of thinking but of transforming our attachment to our thinking. It is far more effective than my efforts to clear some of rubbish from the beach. Being present, observing our mind creates the conditions for profound peace and calm it is our natural mind.
Animals are natural, they are simply being in their natural environment. To seek the Whales, I have had to be both focused, present and patient. When i watched them there was a profound sense of connection (relationship).
Previously i wrote about the benefits of retreat. This evening I want to expand on this and speak about forgiveness. Forgiveness can be very challenging especially when we have faced hurt and betrayal from people we trust and care for. However, forgiveness is necessary if we are to fully live in the present.
Forgiveness from a psychological view point means letting go, not necessarily condoning the actions of another or our selves but letting go in order to fully engage in the present and live a flourishing and valued life once more.
Letting go in this sense means to once and for all let go in order to regain being fully in the present.
When we have not forgiven we are forever trapped by the action that resulted in feelings of hurt, anger or betrayal. Emotion focused therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy have tools that aid in the process of forgiveness. The empty chair technique is a powerful tool for enabling the processing of strong emotions of betrayal hurt and mistrust. When we are faced with the empty chair we imagine the person who has hurt us sitting in the chair. We can then have a direct conversation with the person as if they were there. This technique is very powerful and can enable people to fully experience the hurt feelings behind feelings of anger and sadness.
Acceptance and commitment therapy invites us to imagine the person in front of us and offer them forgiveness for the actions that have hurt us. We do not condone but forgive. We then imagine that the person receive the forgiveness and thanks us. A simple statement while practising a meditation such as “in order to fully live in the present I am making a choice not to condone but do forgive”. With this we offer our forgiveness fully and completely. We may need to do this as a meditation once a day for the full effects of the meditation to benefit.
I had the good fortune to be able to enter a five day retreat this Easter. The retreat was an opportunity to spend time to simply take time to Be. The focus of the retreat was stages of training the mind with a particular focus on loving kindness and forgiveness.
A retreat whether it be a day,five days, 10 days or longer is a wonderful gift to give yourself and others. It is an opportunity to simply get to know your mind by spending time quietly observing your thoughts, physical sensations and action urges. The aim of a retreat is let your mind settle into its true nature. If you have never been on retreat, it is good to start slowly, by planning a morning or an afternoon for quiet time. As you become more familiar with taking time for retreat the time you spend for retreat can gradually increase. You can create a retreat atmosphere at home, by planning to switch your phone, ipad and computers off for a morning and setting aside a special place for meditation and awareness. You can use the time simply observing nature, writing in a journal or quietly sitting a watching your breath.
Coming out of retreat can also have its challenges. Even though I had five days of focusing on practices of kindness and forgiveness the stress of my work life quickly challenged me.
Meditation tools, such as creating a special space for practice, help to focus our busy minds. Photos of images reminding us to practice or helpful phrases or affirming books are also tools for enabling our mind to settle and focus.
Mini retreats or mini pause moments are also moments of retreat for our busy mind. Pause moments can be a mini vacation that returns our mind back its present calm state and can be helpful to maintain the positive effects of retreat.
This Blog continues to lay the foundations for future blogs. Recently I wrote about creating the conditions for mindfulness, This week I will be focusing on the Mindful Brain. That is, meditation or the practise of contemplation can switch on the frontal lobes which help to regulate our emotions.
I am a regular attender of the The Happiness and Its Causes Conference. Their most recent conferences focused on the impact of lifestyle factors on improving our happiness and well being and brain functioning. The results are strongly evident that meditation does change our brain. What seems to happen with a regular practise of meditation, just 20 minutes a day is that the structures of the brain for emotional regulation and happiness get switched on permanently. The grey areas of the brain ( the cortex) also increase. A regular practise of meditation not only makes us calmer, but happier and smarter.
Exercise also helps. 20 minutes of walking a day can improve our brain functioning, improve our immune system functioning and increase our life span. All of this for no cost other than a commitment to exercise and contemplation.
The good news is that we can transform our minds, our health and with this our lives with changing how we think and how we live. So lets do it. Just a simple step of making a small commitment to having small moments of stillness in the day can be the starting point for change.
This is even more important as a tool for helping us with managing depression, anxiety and stress. More importantly, regular practise creates the foundation in our brain structures for maintaining optimal emotional and physical health and can prevent future relapses of depression and anxiety. If sitting quietly on a chair or cushion seems to too difficult at present, then starting with keeping a journal can also be a helpful tool for raising awareness. With keeping a journal simply setting aside a regular time for recording your thoughts and mood and action urges helps with increasing your awareness of your mind and its functioning. With this commitment comes the opportunity for change and transformation through awareness.
Last weekend I had the good fortune to see the Australian Ballet perform Swan Lake. My earliest memories of this ballet was in Brisbane in the 1970s at her Majesty’s Theatre Queen St . I remember walking into the foyer, clutching my box of Darryl Lea chocolates in an outfit recently made for the occasion. I still have the programme for that evening, Kelvin Coe and Lucette Aldous danced the roles. .
This evening reminded me of the importance of tradition in our lives and how tradition and the honouring of the lineage enables our mind to be present and focused. Ballet can be likened to a school for kinetic mindfulness. Creating the conditions of mindfulness honours this understanding. Mindfulness is incorporated in many spiritual traditions and is the practice of being present, focused and letting go. Creating a space for therapy also honours this understanding. When there is an environment and space that is relatively unchanging it enables us to begin to look within without distraction.
My clinic space is on a busy road and because of this I have tried to create a spacious environment that is both calming and peaceful. We can all create the conditions for mindfulness in our daily lives by simply creating the space for this to occur in our homes and families. Having pause moments, having family traditions for meals and celebrations, creating a space in our home for simply resting and observing and being present all create the conditions for mindfulness.
When we have such busy lives it is important to create the opportunity to rest our minds. In doing this we give our minds a little refresher a little break from its business. It can be as simple as having a brief pause moment to just simply Be. You can do this while waiting at the lights, in between phone calls or just before you begin to eat.
Mindfulness and mindful living are a essential components for enabling people to live happier and healthier lives.
Meditation is simple, free and effective yet it is so difficult in our busy lives to meditate. That is why we encourage small regular moments of mindfulness that may one day become a full meditation session.
I did not always, meditate. I used to struggle to sit and contemplate. I would struggle with the pain and the strong emotions that would often arise. There were many days when I just refused to practise. So I just started one day at time, in the mornings for about 5-10 minutes. And after a while I noticed I was becoming less angry, more peaceful, more accepting and more energised and practising for about 20-30 minutes became very easy. Some of the benefits have been that I rarely need to go to the doctor. I tend to suffer the flu about once every five years, I used to have regular headaches and I think the last one I had was so long ago I do not remember what I headache is like. So the benefits have encouraged me to keep practising. Of course I am not perfect, I am human and I have all the strong emotions that most humans have. And so I intend to keep practising.
In my clinic I have been delighted when clients have shared that their practise of mindfulness has started to transform their way of perceiving themselves and their world. I would like to share the story of JB. JB came to me very low in their mood and overwhelmed by the “shit” that life had thrown at her. She had pretty much lost everything, her relationship, her home, and her friendships. She was low in her mood, low in her self worth and was contemplating suicide. She described being caught in a whirlpool of emotion that she could not get out of. The more she struggled the worse her feelings became, she felt overwhelmed and stuck.
But there was something within her that was stronger than her painful emotions and her unhelpful thinking. This part of her, her calm strong wise mind enabled her to sit quietly for a few moments to simply be. Talking therapy in particular emotional focused therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy, enabled JB to speak her emotions openly and expressively, and let go of some of those painful emotions. This therapy used a simple method of focusing on her body sensations and labelling the emotion that goes with the sensations to diffuse and let go. We also worked with speaking her thoughts and emotions to an empty chair. This empty chair representedthe person or persons who had betrayed her or harmed her. With talking therapy and contemplation she transformed her thoughts and her actions in a gentle and loving way.
When she first arrived in my clinic she was able to sit for five minutes and then over time the five minutes became 20. As these moments of mindfulness increased she became calmer, and more peaceful and more able to start again. She shared with me a powerful moment when she was driving home. She was caught in her thoughts and then she simply let them go. They went and she became more calm and present. She noticed a small animal crossing the road and was able to slow down and let it cross without harm. Time seemed to slow as she became more still and more present. And then a wave of calm became her and her anger left. This moment of stillness gave her the courage to continue and she is now living in a peaceful home, in a new job and environment and contemplating a new prelateship. She is evolving mindfully fully committed to her values and with more presence.
In May I will be offering an 8 week mindfulness based stress reduction. If you would like to participate please email me so that I can register you for the programme. People who would benefit from the course would be adults who would like to learn how to manage their mood in a mindful way. The course will be run with just 8 participants as the aim is to offer you a comfortable environment to learn some of the helpful tools and practice with others.
All the best