Disappointment

Looking at my 15 month old son try to put the hose into the watering can to then be able to water thing, and watching him get frustrated and throw the hose. And then pick up the hose again, try, get frustrated and throw it away again. This scene repeated for about ten minutes. As I sit with him in his frustration I realize that though he is young, he is acting out the same way I have seen adults act out. He just does not use his words, but his voice is raised, he throws things, he cries, and he throws more things. 

Learning how to deal with disappointment is a milestone for adults, in fact mostly it is something we strive to learn how to work through. In times of disappointment having a basis in mindfulness is helpful. Breathing through the moments of frustration, knowing the emotions will pass, knowing the self-deprecating thoughts will move on, and feeling my body respond to the emotion and thoughts. 

As I watched my son, I was reminded of all the times that we as adults have raised our voices, have thrown something in frustration, not let people in, hurt someone, and the list goes on. Mindfulness allows us to remember that this will pass, this emotion will pass, and to make a decision looking at the situation can be changed, and if there is nothing to change, then it allows us to accept things as they are, knowing that life will change soon again. 

Mindfulness and Parenting

Any parent can attest to  moments where they are unsure if their child will live to see another day. This can be when they are younger and have cried for hours, toddlers whining, kid who will not follow direction, teenagers who are dead silent, even adult children who know it all. 

Meditation is nice and having 30 minutes of silence to yourself would be bliss. However, when you have a newborn or a teenager, 30 minutes to yourself may not be realistic. So what can you do instead? In times where formal meditation does not work relying on informal mindfulness can be a life saver. 

Learning how to breathe while paying attention to your thoughts, sensations, and emotions are life savers. The first step is to stop yourself when overwhelmed, and observe your body, thoughts, and emotions. Then taking three to five deep belly breaths. The last two steps are to expend your awareness to your body, thoughts, and emotions again and notice if anything has shifted for you, once you have done that you set your intent on how you want to respond to the situation. 

 

Homework for this week; try to do the breathing technique three times a day for seven days. Doing the exercise at meal times makes it easier to remember.  

 

Be Well.  

Doubt

This is the last of the series of the common challenges. Doubt, doubt that it works. In this society where we want a quick fix, where we have medications to help overnight, if not immediately, we want our behaviors to change, now, yesterday. Change takes time, whatever behavior you now want to change, did not happen overnight. It takes time to get to where we want to go, both literally and figuratively.

Doubt is hard to work with, it can make us change decision, make us take an entirely different paths than we would have. Doubt will cause us to start on the path of change, and at times cause us to go back. Meditation works, it takes time. Paying attention without judgement, and on purpose is a muscle that takes a work out. In order to get to your final goal you need to work out that muscle and upkeep it. Think of it as a marathon training. You start with walking and running, then running for 3o minutes, and you progress up to being able to run a marathon. You will get there with determination and training, but at times you will doubt if this is worth the effort.

Meditation for this week: When the doubts come up, notice them. What are they telling you? Can you let them float on by, they will come up, you get to chose on whether to act on them. Doubt is normal and part of life. There is no need to judge the thoughts, they are just thoughts. They will pass. When things get too intense, remember that you can always go back to the breath.   

Drowsiness/Sleepiness

Falling asleep during a formal meditation can be embarrassing, and hard to admit. However, this is one of the most common experiences. In a society where we need to produce and be productive, we have this idea that we do not need sleep, we can just power through our days, and then go to sleep without needing help. No down time, just straight to sleep. It does not work very well in my experience, and have not heard this working well from clients in the past. When starting Meditation it can be hard to do it in the morning and notice how tired you are. One of the biggest complaints I have heard when leading morning meditations always revolve around falling asleep. 

So what do we do with it? Well, we notice it. If falling asleep occurs, it occurs, this has happened to a lot of people. You are not alone, the body scan has been one of my sleeping aids for years. To this day I will still use it to help my brain shut down at night. It is beneficial to notice if we are tired, how much coffee do you drink in the morning? Throughout the day? Noticing that you are having drowsiness while you are meditating can lead to you possibly changing some behaviors that you wanted to change or did not even know you did. Caffeine intake being just one of them. Noticing you might need more sleep can help you make choices at night to go to bed a little earlier, if it is available to you. Again when we encounter a resistance, greeting it with a sense a curiosity will help with no judging the thoughts or physical sensations, and letting them go as they come. Always knowing that you can return to the breathe. 

 

Meditation for the week: During a formal meditation, notice your physical sensations, specifically if you notice yourself falling asleep. If you are able to, notice the sensations, the thoughts of it, and the emotions that arise as you get drowsy. Remembering that you can always go back to the breathe. 

Restlessness and Agitation

This week we will are on the third of the five common challenges to meditation/mindfulness, this week is about restlessness and agitation. Restlessness and agitation can be both physical and mental. Making it hard to work with both, and want to continue meditation. Let's talk first about the physical restlessness.

Physical agitation and restlessness can be anything from having a hard time settling down, and starting to have "ants in the pants". When limbs go numb from sitting it can be absolute torture to sit through it. My brain will go into survival mode often and try to tell me that if I do not move I will not be able to make it, whatever make it means. My body will usually lead my mind to start being restless; once the mind joins the party it tends to be hard to not judge the thoughts and to just observe my experience without adding to the hardship that it already is. 

Most times all I need to do to work through it is to breath, focus on my breath, and let the thoughts go through me like waves; they will come and they will go, but they will change. Once I found that I needed to change my physical position, I got up and changed the area I was meditating and things seemed to adjust well after that. I do not recommend to get up and move, it is good for the brain to know that it will be okay with just sitting, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. 

 

This week for mindfulness practice: 

When you are sitting and breathing, notice if your mind starts to be repetative. It could be a song, a thought, self-talk, or whatever comes up. When the thoughts occur, notice if your body has a response to it, it could be to move, to shift in your sitting position, to scratch something, when these things occur, notice if you can sit through it and let the impulses and thoughts pass through you. Congratulate yourself any time you notice it, and that you are able to let it pass. In the times you are not, notice that too and congratulate yourself for having noticed it. 

Desire and Craving

This week we are continuing to talk about resistance to meditating and mindfulness. Last week was about aversion; the yuk face children make. This week we will talk about craving and desire. 

When I was first introduced to meditation/mindfulness I had this image of sitting cross legged on the floor, eyes closed, and imagined this peaceful feeling… and then I started meditating and realized that it is rare and far in between. Due to the nature of our world, Western society specifically, we are always on the go, and we want things to be different immediately, I did. Mindfulness makes us aware of what is, it will not change it. It does not mean that we as individuals are not feeling the desire to be more peaceful or energized or awake or calmer…..the list will go on. 

I have worked with many clients who report mindfulness does not work, when asked to elaborate they report that there minds was racing and they were unable to feel the feeling they wanted. I reminded the clients that it appeared that the mindfulness worked because they became aware of their current state. It takes time, and meditation will not change someone's emotional state immediately. If you started running today, you would not be able to run a marathon tomorrow, it will take dedication, work, and intention to training for it. Meditation/mindfulness is similar, this is a muscle it takes practice. 

Some meditations will be peaceful and some will not. You are not doing it wrong, you are noticing what is. 

 

Mediation practice for the week:

If you are practicing formal meditations, spend some time focusing on your breath and naming the emotions that come up. Try to not attach to them when they appear, instead name them and let them pass. 

If you are not practicing a formal practice, spend some time naming your desires for meditation and what you hope it will bring to your life. If you are able to know your desires it will be easier to work with them when they arise, you will not have to attach to them. 

Aversion

When first starting meditation many of us are looking for inner peace and have this idea that once you start being mindful one will be peaceful. This has been the furthest thing from the truth. Meditation is many things to me, but rarely is it peaceful, especially in the beginning. Learning how to sit with what comes up takes practice, patience, and kindness. Just like any workout, meditation takes practice and at times perseverance.  

There are different kind of resistance and I will explore all of them with their own posts. The first will be about aversion. According to the Merriam-Webster the definition of aversion is “a feeling of repugnance towards something with a desire to avoid or turn from” and “a settled dislike”. I often think of the face little children make when they eat a food they dislike while exclaiming “YUK!”.

In regards to mindfulness, aversion can manifest in many different ways. It can come in thoughts “I don’t want to do this”, emotions like disappointment and distraction, and physical distractions like pain or discomforts. All of these things can make it easy to not start a meditation practice or to stop quickly. Aversion can be hard to work with, especially when our judging thoughts start. Worries about doing this wrong, and not being perfect at meditation or mindfulness. I find aversion to be one of the harder challenges to work with in meditation. It preys on my insecurities as a person.

How to work with this? With kindness, compassion, and curiosity. What is happening that I am having aversion to meditation? This is an opportunity to explore and to practice bringing yourself back to the breath when you get distracted. There is no need to judge the thoughts, emotions, or physical sensation. They are normal, typical, and they will come up. The idea is to bring it back to the breath, to allow for the person to not attach to the thoughts. They will come and they will go away. Again allowing yourself to roll with the aversion, there is no need to attach to the thoughts, nor judge them.

 

 

Mindfulness Practice for the week:

When you sit down to meditate and you find yourself having aversion thoughts, congratulate yourself on having noticed them, and then bring your awareness to your breathe. There is not need to judge when your thoughts drift back again to thoughts, rather just congratulate yourself again on having noticed it, and once again bring it back to the breathe. Do this as many times as necessary.

Aversion. In Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aversion

I am back

Life happens for all of us and mindfulness is a wonderful way to deal with change. I recently had some big changes in my personal life and am back to start blogging every week. Thank you for your patience. 

How to Sit 101

Sitting for mindfulness/silent meditation can seem difficult at the best of times, but when your thoughts are already racing, sitting still is not comfortable. Most people have the image of sitting cross legged for a meditation, however there are other ways and this post is about those ways.

A little bit of backstory about me, I injured my lower back a while back and since sitting down is uncomfortable and will lead to some numbness in my legs. Because of that I have had to learn how to sit in order to focus without being so uncomfortable that it becomes a distraction, which is difficult to do. When I first started doing seated meditation my lower back would start hurting, leading to my upper back, and then this game would start of how to get it to stop. WIth a few adjustments I was able to make sure that I could sit for longer and longer, even with the injuries.

The first adjustment I needed to make while sitting was to have my hips higher than my knees. Currently I use a Zafu cushion (big round meditation cushion that is usually filled with some kind of stuffing that allows for your sit bones to settle) to ensure this. Sitting on the edge of the cushion my knees are lower and my lower back does not feel pressure. I then adjust my shoulders and back to be able to sit with minimal amount of support, the idea is to let your spine do most of the heavy lifting. If being on the floor is too hard/does not appeal to you/ not available, you can always sit in a chair. Same principle in the chair, make sure that you sit a little forward from the back of the chair so that your spine is doing most of the heavy lifting if you are able to.

Another way to “sit” is to kneel. There are matts called Zabuton, they are usually rectangular and large allowing to kneel with either a kneeling bench or a Zafu on its side. This tends to be my favorite way to meditate. The thing to look out for is to make sure your thighs are not being stretched, as this is not yoga or stretching. Making sure that your hips are high enough, and supported enough that this is a comfortable position.

The last big way to meditate is to lay down. This one is tricky as it leads to falling asleep easily. Historically I have done body scans laying down, but realized I needed to be seated to do them due to falling asleep too easily. When physical pain acts up to highly this is a good way to meditate, often it will relieve pressure on what hurts.

At the end of the day, you can chose to meditate in whatever form works best for you. Make sure that you are in a position that is conducive to being able to paying attention to your thoughts, breaths, and emotions.

Paying attention and listening to your body is important, do not sit in a position that you think is harming you. At the end of the day do not worry about it too much; sitting, kneeling, or lying is not as important as doing it.

 

 

Meditation Exercise for this week:

This week, try the three different poses to see which feels the best for you. Sit for five minutes at a time and observe the breath as it comes in and out of your body, much like last week.

Finding Mindfulness

I started my Journey of mindfulness about seven years ago. I was given the opportunity to take Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction at my work and I jumped on it. At the time I had a torn quad, if you are unfamiliar with a torn muscle I envy you, or I did at the time. When that muscle is injured you start to notice how much of your movement is automatic. Sitting, standing, and shifting became excruciating parts of my day. My attention was always on my quad, my thoughts revolved between pain and self-commentary, and the strongest emotion was disappointment.

Going to group involved me hobbling in, precarious balancing positions envied by the most experienced yogis to sit, with the loudest groans or sharp inhales to stand. All the while believing I was present with my emotions and my situation.

With good intentions, my instructor would remind me to breathe, only causing the negative self-talk to continue the myriad of colorful adlibs to continue dancing in my head. But then someone said “Be thankful for the toothache”. Surely I must have misheard, why would I be thankful for my torn muscle, now crippling me forever more. The person continued to explain; the idea, from Thich Nhat Hanh (a Vietnamese Buddhist) is that the toothache reminds us of when we do not have a toothache, and when we bring awareness to the non-toothache we can then be thankful. In other words, be thankful for my torn quad in the present moment, knowing it would change, and then be thankful for when it healed.

The eight weeks passed, during those eight weeks I learned to regard my injury with compassion, I started to see the progress that I made. I started to feel the muscle knit itself back up. I also noticed that my judgements started to fade away, well not fade, but I started to not attach to it.

After the eight weeks I understood why mindfulness was helpful. I continued using it in my personal daily life, and also started using it in my professional life. I worked with clients to help them learn how to be in the present moment, breathe, and chose their next action.

 

Meditation Practice for this Week

    Do this sitting or lying down. If it feels comfortable to you close your eyes, if you chose to keep them open, keep a soft gaze in front of you. For five minutes take natural breaths in and out. Notice the slight pause at the top, the temperature of the air as it enters your nostrils and when it exits. When your mind wanders away, congratulate yourself on having noticed it, and gently bring your awareness back to the breath.

When you have finished, notice if your body feels different, notice your mood, and notice your thoughts. There is no need to judge any of it, we are just noticing things.