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Williams and Penman nail it… DEEPER MINDFULNESS holds true to its name: the authors expertly point out how to identify those critical driving forces in our lives – feelings, and how feelings feel – but importantly have provided a pragmatic path and clear steps that we can take to leverage our minds to live better lives.
Dissolve anxiety, stress and unhappiness, enhance your mind and unleash your creativity with these simple breathing exercises.
A flock of paragliders are soaring like eagles on powerful currents of rising air. Far below, a group of children watch in amazement as the pilots practise their aerobatics silently above their heads.
Then, suddenly, something starts to go wrong. One of the pilots loses control of his wing and starts spiralling like a leaf towards the earth.
After what seems like an age, the young man smashes into the hillside. He lies face down on the hillside. Broken.
But he is alive. After a moment of stunned silence, he begins screaming in agony. It will be at least 30 minutes before the paramedics arrive and another hour to reach hospital. Alone, he knows that he cannot afford to lose consciousness in case he never again awakens. So he begins forcing himself to breathe.
Slowly. Deeply. With a supreme effort of will, he focuses his mind away from his broken body and onto his breath. In. Out.
Inch by inch, the agony recedes. Before, finally, he reaches a state of calm tranquillity. Of pure mindfulness.
I was the young man who crashed his paraglider.
And the art of mindful breathing saved my life.
For thousands of years, people have used the art of breathing for equally profound effects on the mind and body. Some have used it for relief from chronic pain. Many more to cope with anxiety, stress and depression. Some claim it led to spiritual enlightenment.
But I’m as spiritual as a housebrick…. so I use it to help me stay calm in a chaotic world and to better appreciate the bittersweet beauty of everyday life.
Breathing seems so ordinary that its true significance can easily pass us by. It is so mundane that many of us have even forgotten how to breathe correctly – and this, as I found out after my paragliding accident, has huge implications for overall health and happiness.
Correct breathing enhances the immune system and helps rid the body of toxins and pollutants. It calms the mind and wards off anxiety, stress and unhappiness. And focusing on the breath with the mind’s eye is the heart of mindfulness meditation, which has been clinically proven to beat depression, and enhance overall happiness, wellbeing, clarity of thought – and even decision-making and creativity.
To gain a sense of its power for yourself, try this little exercise with me: Lie flat on the ground with a cushion under your head. Place your hands on your stomach. Spend a minute or so feeling them rise and fall as you breathe in . . . and out. Submit to the natural rhythm of the breath. Feel the air as it flows in and out of your body. Allow yourself to relax into the breath’s fluidity.
As the breath waxes and wanes, oxygen and nutrient-rich fluids are pumped through the abdomen, flushing out toxins. The physical movement of the breath in the body also massages the liver, kidneys, intestines, joints of the spine, indeed everything, so they’re kept healthy, supple, and well lubricated.
But there’s also a hidden – and equally important side to breathing. Your breath actually reflects and amplifies your emotions. So incorrect breathing can cause anxiety, stress and even depression.
It works like this: momentary stress causes the body to tense and you begin to breathe a little more shallowly. A shallow breath lowers oxygen levels in the blood, which the brain senses as stress. Breathing then becomes a little quicker and shallower. Oxygen levels fall a little more. The heart begins to race. The brain feels a little more stressed.
It’s a vicious cycle….
But there is an alternative. A gently rising and falling breath stimulates the parts of the brain and nervous system responsible for creating a sense of calm tranquillity. Soothing hormones flow through the body. These calm negative thoughts, feelings and emotions so you begin to breathe a little more slowly and deeply. You begin to relax.
It’s a virtuous cycle….
Unfortunately, most of us breathe incorrectly. This is especially true in the modern world where we often sit slumped at desks for far too long each day while being bombarded with work, emails, calls and messages. This can become even more of a problem if we are under any kind of stress. This disturbs our natural breathing patterns which in turn creates even more stress. It works like this.
Breathing relies on the big, powerful muscles of the diaphragm, the abdomen and the intercostal muscles that lie between the ribs. It is helped along by the smaller secondary muscles of the neck, shoulders and upper ribs.
When you are upset, anxious or stressed, or spend too much time sitting in one position, the abdomen tenses and prevents the big primary muscles from working. Instead, they begin tugging against each other, leaving the secondary muscles to do all the work. But the secondary muscles are only designed to shoulder 20 per cent of the burden, so they become stressed.
If this continues, it can lead to chronic tension in the shoulders and neck, to headaches and fatigue, and to increasingly shallower breathing.
Thankfully, to breathe correctly, all you need do is relearn the art of breathing.
The art of breathing lies in paying attention to your breath in a very special way. It’s the heart of mindfulness and as old as meditation itself. You can learn the basics in just a few minutes. Mastering it takes somewhat longer.
Breathing meditations are actually very simple but people often make them unnecessarily difficult and complicated. Firstly, meditating cross-legged in the lotus position is very uncomfortable. You can’t meditate if you’re not comfortable. Take a deep breath . . . and ask why the chair was invented.
Secondly, you don’t need any equipment, mantras, incense, fancy bells, apps, or even a quiet room. In fact, all you need is: a chair, your body, some air, your mind – and that’s it.
Try this little mindfulness exercise with me.
1) Sit on a straight-backed chair. Place your feet flat on the floor (with your spine one inch from the back of the chair). Be comfortable (with a relaxed but straight back). Place your hands loosely in your lap. Close your eyes.
2) Focus your mind on the breath as it flows in and out. Feel the sensations the air makes as it flows in through your mouth or nose and into your lungs. Feel the rising & falling of your chest and stomach.
3) Where are the strongest feelings? Nose, mouth, throat, stomach, chest, shoulders? Pay attention and explore the feelings, especially the way they rise and fall. Don’t try to alter them in any way or expect anything special to happen.
4) When your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath. Be kind to yourself. Minds wander. It’s what they do. Realising that your mind has wandered and bringing it back to the breath IS the meditation. It’s a little moment of mindfulness.
5) Your mind may eventually become calm for a little while…. or filled with thoughts or feelings such as anger, stress, or love. These may be fleeting. See them as clouds in the sky (simply watch them drift past). Try not to change anything. Gently return your awareness back to the sensations of the breath again and again.
6) After five minutes (or longer if you can manage) gently open your eyes and take in what you can see, hear, feel and smell…
7) Repeat twice a day.
You can stream this Breathing Meditation here.
As that short meditation will have begun to reveal, your breath is the greatest asset you have. It’s naturally meditative and always with you. It reflects your most powerful emotions and allows you to either soothe or harness them. It helps you to feel solid, whole, and in complete control of your life while grounding you in the present moment, clarifying the mind, and unshackling your instincts.
The art of breathing kindles a sense of wonder, of awe, and curiosity — the very foundations of a happier and more meaningful life. It grants you the courage to accept yourself with all of your faults and failings. To treat yourself with the kindness, empathy and compassion that you truly need, and helps you to look outwards and embrace the world.
And when you do this, you’ll discover the secret to living mindfully.
You can find out more in my new book The Art Breathing: The secret to living mindfully. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes it as ‘A marvellously beautiful and sensitive book.’
‘This book is inspiring. Against a backdrop of beautiful art, Danny Penman’s gentle words explain clearly how breathing, known since ancient times as the foundation for living mindfully, can become, for any of us, a way to reclaim our lives.’ Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford.
Sometimes you receive one single message that makes writing a book worthwhile. This is just such a message:
“Good Morning Dr. Williams and Dr. Penman
I feel like your programme was designed specifically for me. You couldn’t have made a more accurate treatment designed specifically for me and the predicament which I found myself in.
See, I am a stutterer. And thus meaning every speaking situation used to be a feared and dreadful situation, until I finally retreated to within my shell and enclosed myself from the world. I escaped from speaking situations like an ostrich would stick his head into the ground, in this way I retreated into my thoughts whilst I would be talking to someone. The anxiety became unbearable.
It became so bad that it crept into my private life and when I was on my own as well. I was stuck in this closed loop of ever repeating self-criticism and negative thoughts for what seemed like an eternity. I was jealous of people being able to talk fluently which would lead to further self-criticism. There was no escape.
But then I started your MBCT course. During the first week of starting your course one of my friends was sick in hospital and asked me to come and visit him. When I returned to work after seeing him, I had an overwhelming feeling of sympathy. Out of nowhere and for the first time in my life I could feel someone else’s pain. The reason being that I was no longer in my head, I was no longer enmeshed in my own problems. I suddenly started to cry. It was the most wonderful feeling I have ever had.
Since then I have discovered that I am an extremely creative person. I have started to write poems for no apparent reason, just because I want to. I love being creative! And what’s more my stutter is starting to dissolve. I no longer feel anxiety when I speak to people and my stammer is improving each day. I have truly discovered a jounevoire for life.
I cannot thank you enough. If it wasn’t for your amazing scientific discoveries I would still be hiding away in my room stuck in a negative, self-defeating closed loop of thoughts. You have saved my life in more ways than one.
May all the good things that possibly can, come to you
Many, many good wishes
What can I say other than we’re truly delighted to have helped?
In case you missed this first time around, here’s the BBC Breakfast ‘special’ on mindfulness meditation. BBC Culture Correspondent David Sillito tries out a mindfulness course and finds it transformative. He even has his brain scanned before and after the course to see if it made an objective difference. And it did. I appear after about 7 mins. Very interesting programme.
A traveller to a small Greek island once watched as a young boy tried to persuade the family donkey to move. The boy had vegetables to deliver and he’d carefully loaded up the animal’s panniers. But the donkey wasn’t in the mood for moving. The boy became more and more agitated and started to shout at the donkey, standing in front of him and pulling hard on the rope. The donkey dug in his hooves firmly. Very firmly.
This tug of war might have gone on a long time if it wasn’t for the boy’s grandfather. Hearing the commotion, he came out of the house and took in the familiar scene at a glance – the unequal battle between donkey and boy. Gently, he took the rope from his grandson. Smiling, he said, ‘When he’s in this mood, try it this way: take the rope loosely in your hand like this, then stand very close beside him, and look down the track in the direction you want to go. Then wait.’
The boy did as his grandfather had bade him, and after a few moments, the donkey started to walk forward. The boy giggled with delight, and the traveller watched as animal and boy trotted off happily, side by side, down the track and round the far bend.
How often in your life have you behaved like the small boy tugging on the donkey’s bridle? When things aren’t working out as you’d like them to, it’s tempting to try a little harder, to keep pushing and pulling in the direction you want to go. But is it always sensible to keep mindlessly pushing in one direction? Or should you follow the advice of the old man in the story and pause, before simply waiting for things to pan out as they will, spotting opportunities as they arise?
For most of us, this attitude is almost a cardinal sin because it suggests passivity – and yet, often as not, it might be the best course of action. Pushing too hard at a problem, at a stubborn donkey, might just make things far worse. It can close down the mind and prevent you from thinking creatively, all the while driving you round in ever-decreasing and exhausting circles.
For many years, psychologists have known that:
The spirit in which you do something is often as important as the act itself
So today, why not try approaching your difficulties at work or at home in a different way by adopting a different spirit?
Before you face your difficulties, pause, breathe deeply, and try our Three Minute Breathing Space Mindfulness meditation.
You can download it from HERE.
Last summer I went to a ‘life extension’ conference at Cambridge University in the UK. Scientists from around the world had descended on this small English city to discuss ways of making immortality a reality.
Some claimed that we could be genetically engineered to make us live forever while others insisted that progressively replacing worn-out body parts with new ones grown in a lab was the way forward. Dr Aubrey De Grey, the organizer of the conference, even claimed that science was advancing at such a pace that some children born today might live for several centuries.
Although the field of human ‘life extension’ is making rapid progress, it struck me that the scientists at the conference had missed one of the most obvious ways of extending human life – Mindfulness meditation.
Although Mindfulness extends human life by reducing anxiety, stress and depression, it also lengthens subjective life span. That is, because Mindfulness helps us ‘live in the moment’ rather than being trapped inside a foggy daydream, we fully experience more of life, and therefore our lifespan is effectively increased.
Let me explain. Without realizing it, most of us spend much of our time trapped inside the ‘busyness’ of daily life. We are effectively unconscious to the world and sleepwalk through our days. Being locked inside such busyness can erode a vast chunk of our life by stealing our time. Take a moment to look at your own life:
• Do you find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present?
•Does it seem as if you are ‘running on automatic’, without much awareness of what you’re doing?
•Do you rush through activities without being really attentive to them?
• Do you get so focused on the goal you want to achieve that you lose touch with what you are doing right now to get there?
• Do you find yourself preoccupied with the future or the past?
In other words, are you driven by the daily routines that force you to live in your head rather than in your life?
Now extrapolate this to the life you have left to you. If you are thirty years old, then with a life expectancy of around eighty, you have fifty years left. But if you are only truly conscious and aware of every moment for perhaps two out of sixteen hours a day (which is not unreasonable), your life expectancy is only another six years and three months. You’ll probably spend more time in meetings with your boss!
If a friend told you that they had just been diagnosed with a terminal disease that will kill them in six years, you would be filled with grief and try to comfort them. Yet without realizing it, you may be daydreaming along such a path yourself.
If you could double the number of hours that you were truly alive each day then, in effect, you would be doubling your life expectancy. It would be like living to 130. Now imagine tripling or quadrupling the time you are truly alive. People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars – literally – on expensive drugs and unproven vitamin cocktails to gain an extra few years of life; others are funding research in universities to try to extend the human lifespan. But you can achieve the same effect by learning to live mindfully – waking up to your life.
Quantity isn’t everything, of course. But those who practice mindfulness are also less anxious and stressed, as well as more relaxed, fulfilled and energized, so life does not only seem longer as it slows down and you begin to ‘show up for it’, but happier too.
In our book Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Professor Mark Williams and I map out a path to living a happier and more harmonious life using mindfulness meditation. It’s based on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, which was developed by Professor Williams at Oxford University in the UK and his colleagues at the Universities of Cambridge and Toronto. It’s built on the foundations of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s research at the UMass Medical Center. The technique is now endorsed by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and numerous American doctors and health bodies. In other words, it works.
Although the full program lasts eight weeks, here’s seven steps that will help get you started:
1) Go for a walk: Walking is one of the finest exercises and a brilliant stress reliever and mood booster. A good walk can put the world in perspective and soothe your frayed nerves. If you really want to feel alive, go for a walk in the wind or rain!
2) Take a Three Minute Breathing Space whenever you feel tired, angry, stressed, anxious or unhappy. It acts as a bridge between the longer formal meditations in our book and the demands of daily life. See it as a breath of fresh air. You can download it from HERE:
3) Change chairs: Stress tends to drive us in ever-decreasing circles. It’s easy to end up like a hamster trapped in its wheel, forever running but never getting anywhere. You can step outside such stressful cycles by consciously breaking some of your most ingrained habits. So why not see if you can notice which chairs you normally sit on at home, in a café or bar or at work (during meetings, for example). Make a deliberate choice to try another chair, or alter the position of the chair you use. You’ll be surprised by how different the world looks and feels.
4) Appreciate the here and now
Happiness is looking at the same things with different eyes. Life only happens here – at this very moment. Tomorrow and yesterday are no more than thoughts. So make the best of it.
Which activities, things or people in your life make you feel good? Can you give additional appreciative attention and time to these activities? Consciously write them down and gently resolve to pay them more attention. Can you pause for a moment when pleasant moments occur? Help yourself pause by noticing:
• what body sensations you feel at these moments?
• what thoughts are around?
• what feelings are here?
5) Set up a mindfulness bell
Pick a few ordinary activities from your daily life that you can turn into ‘mindfulness bells’, that is, reminders to stop and pay attention to things in great detail. Here’s a list of things you might like to turn into bells;
• Preparing food: Any food preparation is a great opportunity for mindfulness – vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Focus on the feel of the knife as it slices through vegetables of different texture, or the smell released as each vegetable is chopped.
• Become a model citizen! When crossing the street, use the pedestrian signals as an opportunity to stand quietly and focus on your breath, rather than an opportunity to try to beat the lights.
• Listening: When you are listening, notice when you are not listening – when you start to think of something else, what you are going to say in response, etc. Come back to actually listening.
6) Do the sounds and thoughts meditation
Sounds are as compelling as thoughts and just as immaterial and open to interpretation. For this reason, the Sounds and Thoughts Meditation is my personal favorite as it elegantly reveals how the mind conjures up thoughts that can so easily lead us astray. Once you realize this – deep in your heart – then a great many of your stresses and troubles will simply evaporate before your eyes.
You can download it from HERE:
7) Visit the movies
Ask a friend or family member to go with you to the movies – but this time, with a difference. Go at a set time (say 7 p.m.) and choose whatever film takes your fancy only when you get there. Often, what makes us happiest in life is the unexpected – the chance encounter or the unpredicted event. Movies are great for all these.
Most of us only go to see a film when there’s something specific we want to watch. If you turn up at a set time and then choose what to see, you may discover that the experience will be totally different. You might end up watching (and loving) a film you’d never normally have considered. This act alone opens your eyes and enhances awareness and choice.
And when you watch the film, forget about all this and simply enjoy yourself!
The gloomy days of February can be the most miserable and stressful of the year, but it doesn’t have to be this way… If you follow this ten step guide to ‘de-stressing’ your life, then the next few weeks just might become the most serene and fulfilling ones of the year.
One step should to be carried out on each of the next 10 days. They’re based on the ideas found in our bestselling book ‘Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. The book uses a unique program based on mindfulness meditation developed by us at Oxford University in the UK to relieve anxiety, stress, exhaustion and depression. It’s been proven by countless clinical trials to be at least as effective as drugs or counseling for dealing with these conditions.
Day 1 Eat some chocolate
At this time of year, it’s easy to eat too much chocolate and other high-carb ‘comfort foods’. At first, all that lovely rich food is packed with flavor and totally irresistible… but after a while, you hardly notice it at all. And if you are in a rush, it tends to be wolfed down by the handful.
When you eat without thinking you miss out on so many wonderful flavors, textures and aromas. A single bar of chocolate, for example, has over 300 different flavors. How many of them do you normally taste?
Reconnecting with your senses is the heart of mindfulness so why not try this chocolate meditation to help you enjoy your food again?
You can listen to it here:
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is quite simply paying full whole-hearted attention. A typical meditation involves paying full attention to the breath as it flows in and out of the body. Focusing on each breath in this way allows you to observe your thoughts as they arise in your mind and, little by little, to let go of struggling with them. You come to the profound understanding that thoughts and feelings (including negative ones) are transient. They come and they go, and ultimately, you have a choice about whether to act on them or not.
Mindfulness is about observation without criticism; being compassionate with yourself. When unhappiness or stress hover overhead, rather than taking it all personally, you learn to treat them as if they were black clouds in the sky, and to observe them with friendly curiosity as they drift past.
Scientific studies have shown that mindfulness not only prevents depression, but that it also positively affects the brain patterns underlying day-to-day anxiety, stress, depression and irritability so that when they arise, they dissolve away again more easily. Other studies have shown that regular meditators see their doctors less often and spend fewer days in hospital. Memory improves, creativity increases and reaction times become faster.
Day 2 Go for a short walk
Walking is one of the finest exercises and a brilliant stress reliever. A good walk can put the world in perspective and soothe your frayed nerves. It’s the ideal way of taking a break from all of that work that built up while you were away over Christmas.
So today, why not go for a 15-30 minute walk? You don’t have to go anywhere special. A walk around your neighborhood, taken in an open frame of mind, can be just as interesting as a hike through the mountains.
There’s no need to feel that you have to rush anywhere; the aim is to walk as mindfully as you can, focusing your awareness on your feet as they land on the ground, and feeling the fluid movements of all the muscles and tendons in your feet and legs.
Pay attention to all of the sights, sounds and smells. You might see the deep red color of the berries on the trees and bushes – or perhaps the inky greyness of slushy ice and snow. See if it is possible to be open to all your senses: smell the mustiness of the winter leaves; feel the rain on your head; the breeze on your face; watch how the patterns of light and shade shift unexpectedly.
Day 3 Take a Three Minute Breathing Space
When you’re becoming angry, exhausted, anxious or stressed, it’s difficult to remember why you should remain calm. And at such times, it can feel as if the whole world was created just to bait you.
The Three-minute Breathing Space was created to deal with such feelings. Its impact is twofold. Firstly, it’s a meditation that’s used to punctuate the day, so that it dissolves negative thought patterns before they gain control over your life. Secondly, it’s an emergency meditation that helps ‘ground’ you when your thoughts threaten to spiral out of control.
When you are carrying out the meditation you may find that your mind repeatedly runs away with itself. This is entirely natural. It’s what minds do. They leap around and offer up thoughts to your conscious self, much as a child hold’s up its toys to an approving adult. When you find that your mind has wandered, gently escort it back to full awareness and continue following the instructions on the track as best you can.
You can listen to the meditation here:
Day 4 Do something pleasurable
At this time of year, exhaustion, stress and unhappiness can easily dominate our lives. You can start to experience ‘anhedonia’ – that is, you can’t find pleasure in life. The things you used to enjoy now leave you ‘cold’ – you feel as if a thick fog has put a barrier between you and simple pleasures, and few things seem rewarding any more.
You can counteract this by taking baby-steps towards the things that you used to like doing but have since forgotten about. You can make a start by choosing one or two of the following things to do (or perhaps come up with your own ideas):
• Be kind to your body. Have a nice hot bath; have a nap for thirty minutes (or perhaps a little less); treat yourself to your favorite food without feeling guilty; have your favorite hot drink.
• Do something you enjoy. Visit or phone a friend (particularly if you’ve been out of contact for a while); get together what you need so you can do your favorite hobby; take some exercise; bake a cake; read something that gives you pleasure (not ‘serious’ reading); listen to some music that you have not listened to in a long while.
Day 5 The Intensely Frustrating Line Meditation
Sometimes life can seem like one big long line… You have to line up to buy gas, to pay for the food in the supermarket, and all of the bars and restaurants are crammed with people waiting to order.
Next time you feel like screaming ‘why don’t they just get on with it!’ try carrying out our Intensely Frustrating Line Meditation instead.
When you are in a line, see if you can become aware of your reactions when something holds up your progress. Perhaps you joined the ‘wrong’ line, and are obsessing about whether to make a dash for another one that seems shorter? At such times, it is helpful to ‘check in’ with what’s going on in your mind. Taking a moment to ask yourself:
– What is going through my mind?
– What sensations are there in my body?
– What emotions and impulses am I aware of?
Mindfulness accepts that some experiences are unpleasant. Mindfulness will, however, help by allowing you to tease apart the two major flavors of suffering—primary and secondary. Primary suffering is the initial stressor, such as the frustration of being in a long line. You can acknowledge that it is not pleasant; it’s OK not to like it. Secondary suffering is all of the emotional turbulence that follows in its wake, such as anger and frustration, as well as any ensuing thoughts and feelings that often arise in tandem. See if you can see these clearly as well. See if it’s possible to allow the frustration to be here without trying to make it go away.
Day 6 Set up a mindfulness bell
Pick a few ordinary activities from daily life that you can turn into ‘mindfulness bells’, that is, reminders to stop and pay attention to things in great detail. There’s a list below of things you might like to turn into bells. You don’t have to turn them all into ‘mindfulness bells’ – they are just suggestions.
• Preparing food: Food offers a host of opportunities to become more mindful. If you’re preparing food, particularly if they are rich in flavors, smells and textures, then try and pay full mindful attention to all that you are doing.
• Washing the dishes: This is a great opportunity for exploring physical sensations. If you normally use a dishwasher, do them by hand for a change. When your mind wanders, shepherd it back to the present moment. Pay attention to the texture of the dishes, the temperature of the water, the smell of the detergent etc.
• Listening to friends: If you are planning to meet a friend, or bump into one unexpectedly, it’s easy to lapse into the same tired-old conversations. So why not turn a friend’s voice into a ‘bell’ that’s a signal to pay full attention to what they are saying? Notice when you are not listening – when you start to think of something else, what you are going to say in response etc. Come back to actually listening.
Day 7 The ten-finger gratitude exercise
To come to a positive appreciation for the small things in your life, you can try the gratitude exercise. It simply means that once a day you should bring to mind ten things that you are grateful for, counting them on your fingers. It is important to get to ten things, even when it becomes increasingly harder after three or four! This is exactly what the exercise is for – intentionally bringing into awareness the tiny, previously unnoticed elements of the day.
Day 8 Do the sounds and thoughts meditation
Sounds are as compelling as thoughts and just as immaterial and open to interpretation. Certain songs might cheer you up – or send you into an emotional tailspin. Sensing the power of sound – and its relationship to thoughts and emotion – is central to mindfulness and to becoming a happier, more relaxed and centered person.
Today, why not try our sounds and thoughts meditation? This elegantly reveals how the mind conjures up thoughts that can so easily lead us astray. Once you realize this – deep in your heart – then a great many of your stresses and troubles will simply evaporate before your eyes.
The Sounds and Thoughts meditation gradually reveals the similarities between sound and thought. Both appear as if from nowhere and we have no control over their arising. They can easily trigger powerful emotions that run away with us leaving us feeling fragile and broken.
You can download the meditation from here:
Day 9 Reclaim your life
Think back to a time in your life when things seemed less frantic, before the time when some tragedy or increase in workload took over your daily existence. Or it might be more recent than that, before the run-up to Christmas say, or perhaps a relaxing break in the summer. Recall in as much detail as you can some of the activities that you used to do at that time. These may be things you did by yourself (reading your favorite magazines or taking time to listen to a track from a favorite piece of music, going out for walks or bike rides) or together with friends or family (from playing board games to going to the theatre).
Choose one of these activities and plan to do it today or over this weekend. It may take five minutes or five hours, it might be important or trivial, it might involve others or it could be by yourself. It is only important that it should be something that puts you back in touch with a part of your life that you had forgotten – a part of you that you may have been telling yourself was lost somehow, that you could not get back to. Don’t wait until you feel like doing it; do it anyway and see what happens. It’s time to reclaim your life!
Day 10 Visit the movies
Ask a friend or family member to go with you to the movies – but this time, with a difference. Go at a set time (say 7 p.m.) and choose whatever film takes your fancy only when you get there. Often, what makes us happiest in life is the unexpected – the chance encounter or the unpredicted event. Movies are great for all these.
Before you go, notice any thoughts that may arise such as, ‘I haven’t got time for pleasure’, or, ‘What if there is nothing on that I’ll enjoy?’ They undermine your enthusiasm for taking action and discourage your intention to do something that might nourish your life in important ways. Once you’re inside the cinema, just forget about all this and be consumed by the film!