Category: Uncategorized

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What happened to you? Are you more than this?

“People are having wounds open for the sake of having wounds to point to” Heather Heying[1]

What happened to you?

You probably-most definitely I would say-experienced some pain in your life, perhaps recently, possibly long ago in the past, so long ago that the detail of the pain lies shrouded, obscured by the living you have done since then, sublimated or buried in somatic memory.

But our pain-essentially that which first happens to us as we are born-does not just stay as pain. It becomes suffering. It might have been the Buddha who first saw this with any degree of insight in the Sutra of the Second Arrow, when he described our pain as a first arrow that, well, causes us pain, physical or psychological. Into that wound of the first arrow another arrow falls (and then more) until we build up a story, a narrative of suffering.

The suffering did not happen to you. Pain happened to you. So how is that you carry this narrative of suffering, how is that you came to believe, grasp onto and identify with this suffering, as if to say this is me, I am what has happened to me, however much this is lost in time and shrouded in the past. I suffer and will hold onto my suffering, in spite of any evidence to the contrary, this is me.

Perhaps we worry that if we lose our suffering, we will have nothing to call our own, to call us? Perhaps can see this played out in current culture, where identity politics creates multiple sects and tribes of victims, many of them attempting to be the tribe that shouts the loudest and therefore claims themselves as the biggest victims.

The issue here is that the shadow of the victim is a persecutor, and in order to keep the victim energy going, contemporary tribes have perpetuated the story of their suffering; interestingly-ironically-they seem quite happy to do this. Douglas Murray has called this a kind of culture of masochists, who have in truth never really engaged with true sadism. Perhaps there is a suggestion that there is a kind of faux suffering at work here, what Carl Jung called illegitimate or bourgeois suffering? Or perhaps this is too harsh?

What happened to you?

Did you hold onto the story of your suffering, whether born from real pain or foisted onto to you by the world until you became married, not to your spouse or lover but with reciprocal stories of suffering that find some solace but not true meaning in this arrangement; only further suffering, suffering spun into fine gold garments, yet suffering all the same?

You are not your suffering. You can mindfully reverse engineer your suffering, notably through psychotherapy to unpack your story, and mindfulness to drop the story.

You are more, much more that your suffering.

You are no more your suffering than the clouds are the sky.

What happened to you, is not you; it’s what happened to you.

You are a case of mistaken identity; you think you are your suffering-and it’s in that thinking where you make the biggest mistake; you are not your suffering or the clinging thoughts that say this is me.

You can be the awareness of what happened to you and begin to dis-identify from your suffering, slowly, gently.

Mindfulness has a potent practice to facilitate this, called RAIN practice[2], where we can

  • recognise what’s happened to us
  • accept and allow it
  • inquire into the heart of this
  • non-identify with it

We can break free of the false chains of our suffering and become what are truly meant to be: fully human.

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[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xUisjHoB_8

[2] https://mrsmindfulness.com/r-n-four-step-process-using-mindfulness-difficult-times/

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BBC 2’s Winterwatch and mindfulness: take notice!

“Who affirms that crystals are alive?/I affirm it, let who will deny:/Crystals are engendered, /wax and thrive,/Wane and wither; I have seen them die.

-From Snow by John Davidson

 

Like many folks in the U.K. I enjoy following the seasonal wildlife programmes on BBC 2 presented by Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan. Packham, of course, became famous in the 2009 Springwatch series when he slid a few references from the songs of David Bowie and The Smiths into the programme, but it is his decade old devotion to the wildlife of the Nation’s woods, fens and fells-and back gardens-that strike me as most remarkable. Packham and the programme really make me take notice of the wildlife right outside my doors.

Of course, Chris Packham is also known for his courage and openness around his mental health, being, as he is, a person who was bullied at school, has experienced severe depression with thoughts of suicide and has Asperger’s Syndrome[1].

Winterwatch late January 2019[2] contained an interview between Chris Packham and Joe Harkness, whose book Bird Therapy will be published in June 2019[3]. Around the subject of mental health and wellbeing, Packham called the book a “natural cure” whose activity-bird watching-heavily promotes mental and emotional wellbeing.

Joe and Chris stood and talked at the edge of a lake, counting ducks as they glided by. I was struck by these two courageous men, wholly open and yet balanced in their self-acceptance, discussing their shared experience of thinking about taking their own lives. Both had been dark places and in dark times, and when Joe remarked “I will extol the virtues of those undervalued and underrated birds” I couldn’t help wondering if he was subtly telling us to take notice of behaviour, thoughts and feelings we also might undervalue or underrate.

Joe talked about how he valued the notion of “start at the bottom” and perhaps it’s true, we need to take notice of the ground or foundation of all things to ensure we are well rooted into life; we’re so inclined to be top heavy with thinking, at times it’s a wonder we don’t fall over!

During his dark days Joe had received therapy from Mind[4] with input from some medication and mindfulness. He pointed out Mind’s 5 Ways to Wellbeing Programme: connect, be active, take notice, learn and give and then talked about the birds, and flocks of birds having “freedom and fluidity” in their flight.

Reflecting on this, I was struck by how much of this intersects with my own experience, work and practice in mindfulness with the Mindfulness Association[5] and mindfulness in general.

Take notice. There is so much around us that we often don’t take notice of: at this time in late January the soft flakes of snow silently fall on my back lawn, a tiny robin, red breasted in anger pecks and dances; two collar doves court in the frost, tiny droplets of ice cling to the tangled and leafless branches of clematis as the day further breaks open. In my own back garden, in your park or through our windows we can take notice of another life, a life of nature. Being with nature is much like being with the natural rhythm and movements of the Earth; being with nature is being with a body vast and yet inexplicably personal in nature, for in taking notice of the outer we can also turn inwards, noticing the inner nature of our bodies, our breath and the feeling of our being.

In this spaciousness our thoughts, feelings and concepts can have the same freedom and fluidity of birds in flight, and live in this spaciousness itself, which is so often underrated and undervalued by our craving to do and be distracted.

Joe and Chris could be right: rest at the edge of your own lakeside and take notice, perhaps count, and mindfully observe what passes in the current, being present and being presence itself. As the popular Buddhist teacher and nun, Pema Chödrön says: “If your mind is expansive and unfettered, you will find yourself in a more accommodating world, a place that’s endlessly interesting and alive. That quality isn’t inherent in the place but in your state of mind.”[6]

Take notice: you owe it to your own wellbeing.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Packham

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0c1wf97/winterwatch-series-7-episode-2

[3] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bird-Therapy-Joe-Harkness/dp/1783527722/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1549098534&sr=8-1&keywords=bird+therapy+joe+harkness

[4] https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/mental-health-at-work/taking-care-of-yourself/five-ways-to-wellbeing/

[5] http://www.mindfulnessassociation.net/

[6]Pema Chödrön Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

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I’m having a panic attack! how can mindfulness help?

For over 10 years I worked at two G.P. Surgeries in the North East of England. Common themes and issues that patients brought to my clinic included low mood, relationship problems, anxiety and bereavement. Around 2010 things changed, perhaps it was part of a social phenomenon, but incidences of panic attacks spiked. By 2012 it was unusual if 40% of my caseload (up from 10% in 2007) was not panic-related therapy.

But what is a panic attack? There are a number of ways of defining or describing panic attacks, but most agree that a panic attack is a sudden and very intensely gripping experience of fear, it includes shortage of breath, palpitations, shaking, sweating and numbness. The attack might last 15 to 30 minutes itself, though the after affects might last considerably longer, and though they are not typically fatal, having a panic attack can feel like you are about to die.

Here’s a fuller list from the DSM 5[1]

  • Palpitations, and/or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or being smothered
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control or going insane
  • Sense of impending doom
  • Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
  • Chills or hot flashes

Wikipedia says they affect 3% of the U.K. population (that does not gel with my clinical experience, I’d say it’s larger, but then I would do, I see these folks rather often) and impacts more on women than men.

There are a number of “causes” of panic attacks, for example the trauma of loss or a marriage breakdown, a road traffic accident, phobias, negative self talk or a habituated response to a threat (e.g. having a panic attack sets up the habit-response of having a panic attack) -these are just some of the ways that a panic attack might be triggered.

Essentially a panic attack is our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) being triggered. This is often more colloquially known as our fight or flight system (there is also a more primitive aspect, freeze). It’s no surprise that our nervous system is, well, a “nervous” system; we can get triggered by threats, real or imagined (to the brain it makes little difference) and our hypothalamus recalls this and gleefully allows us to trigger and trigger again. Whoopee.

Okay, but what is a panic attack, beyond the pain and symptoms?

There is an increasing school of thought[2] (and I belong to this school) that a panic attack is your body’s way of waking you up (okay, it could try a beep alarm not this nightmare wakeup, but you would probably not take as much notice) to its presence, that it’s really time to become more embodied[3]. You see, a lot of us try to fight panic attacks by thinking or battling our way through, but practices in mindfulness have shown that if we pay attention and stay with the experience of panic (okay, much easier said that done) we can treat panic attacks, and treat then quite quickly, too.

When we are treating panic attacks, we are fundamentally bringing back on line the PNS or parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes called the relaxation response or soothing system; the panic throws you into fight and flight, the “para” calms you down, most effectively by bringing you back into your body, safely and grounded.

How to get back to the body?

There are a number of methods used. They can be collated, I believe under the heading of mindfulness of the body:

  • Breathing: practice deep breathing into the belly. Breathe in to the count of 4/5 and out again. This should be done proactively, for around 3-5 minutes of the day, it’s a great way to start and energise your day
  • STOP practice: stop (pause), take a breath, observe what’s happening (perhaps naming, touching the world around you), proceeding
  • Learning about what a panic attack is. Go back to the top of the page
  • Medication: see your G.P. for advice
  • Therapy: a cognitive behavioural type of therapy to you help challenge beliefs, lifestyle and any cognitive distortions that are skewing your life
  • Mindfulness: to help you bring self compassion to you and ground back into your body
  • Walking in nature, the beach, gently getting back into the body

Panic attacks are seriously debilitating, but they can be worked with and though: there is an effective treatment path, don’t suffer needlessly, get help!

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm

[2] E.g. https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/10/how-i-completely-healed-my-panic-attacks/

[3] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Calming-Rush-Panic-Mindfulness-Based-Reduction/dp/1608825264/ref=sr_1_34?ie=UTF8&qid=1546964939&sr=8-34&keywords=mindfulness+panic+attacks

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5 great tips for Christmas Presence

Christmas is still a few days away, but after 3 hours shopping for all my family and friends I’m frazzled. Where is my mindfulness practice-actually, where is my mind?

I know that the trainings say that mindfulness is all about losing it and getting it, but sometimes I just feel I’ve really lost it!

Keeping our practice alive at Christmas can be a real challenge. Gratitude, pausing and savouring are great ways to keep us on track. Here are 5 Great Tips for a Mindful Christmas

1.   The Sound of Music

Take the opportunity with Christmas Carols and festive muzak around, to take time out to listen and give all your attention to one or two favourite songs or pieces of music that speak to your heart. See if you can fully focus on the sounds and the physical feelings. You might discover layers of sound -or layers of you-you didn’t realise were there. Be present to the resonances in the music.

2. Find your refuge of calm

Connect for 10 minutes into a refuge of calm. Stop. This could be in your car parked out in the carpark, a cosy window-seat, lying on the floor for a 10 minute bodyscan (yey, try it in Sainsbury’s!) or even a mindful walk. Respect your need for topping up moments of sanctuary.

3. Seasonal Scents

Enjoy the seasonal smells as you are cooking in the kitchen, shopping or walking in nature. We often take our sense of smell for granted – be mindful of all those astonishing fragrances at this time of year – from rich, spicy mince-pies to pine cones, spiced oranges, cinnamon and cloves. Savour the scents!

4. Gratitude practice

There is so much to be appreciative of at this time of year. Having hearth and home, being healthy, meeting up with friends and family, plentiful food and beautiful surroundings; the list is endless. Say it to others, say it to yourself or write it down: Thank you!

5. Mindful breathing

Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into and out of that spot, filling your abdomen with air. Let the air in, then let it out, like a balloon inflating and deflating. With every long, slow exhalation, deepen into the feeling and let go. Try this any time you’re feeling off-track or overwhelmed, bit by bit letting go of Christmas tensions.

Happy Christmas!

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Try this STOP practice to help with Christmas panic!

Last weekend I walked into a store in Tynemouth. A gentleman waited outside while his family went browsing inside. I looked inside and found nothing suitable for a gift. Walking out I passed the man, who said “I’m fed up with this already”; I thought it’s December the 2nd, there’s a long way to go yet. Isolated incident?

This week, though, I’ve had a record number of clients who are into the first week of December, and like my gentlemen friend, already fed up, sick to the back teeth of Christmas, sick of being sold things, fed up of averts with mince pies and faux Christmas tables, bracing themselves for the next 20 odd days.

What’s happening here? Have we reached “peak Christmas” or are we experiencing post consumerboom, for want of a better word?

Without wanting to go all “bah humbug!” I can appreciate why folks might find Christmas not “the most wonderful time of the year” but the most stressful, and I am reminded that the first two weeks of January will, if they are anything like the same as the last 15 years, be filled with new clients at odds with their partners and their partners families over the “festive” time.

But dispel the misery! How might we survive Christmas?

There is a practice called STOP practice, which I’ve been suggesting for years to clients experiencing panic attacks, so the practice itself might be useful in lowering Christmas “panic”.

Let’s find out….

Imagine you are in the middle of a busy shopping mall and have been for two hours. The lights are bright, the music at times is blaring, it’s now lunchtime and the office traffic looking for gifts and food has swelled the artificial streets; it feels as if the air, the good fresh air has been sucked out and you are stressed and quite irritable, more so knowing that you have another 2 hours to go at this hurried and harried present buying lark.

STOP!

Literally, stop.

  1. Stop and take a pause. Sit down of you can, if you can’t, find a store front or a nook and cranny where you can take a step back. Just stand there.
  2. Take a breath. Breathe, slowly in, slowly out. Feel the air collect in your lungs, ballooning your lungs outwards, then letting go of your breath down to your belly (with practice you can do this without anybody noticing; anyway, folks are probably far too interested in their stuff to really notice you). Feel your feet on the floor, feel your self grounded, rooted to the earth.
  3. Observe. Watch, witness both what’s happening around you, and then inside you. What are you feeling? Notice how this changes, even just slightly over a short time. Breathe some more, on the outbreath let go and let be.
  4. Proceed. When you feel calmer and more relaxed, more grounded, go about your shopping again, refreshed.

And repeat if needed.

Happy Christmas all!

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the simple feeling of being

“we are not only living at arm’s length from each other, we are living at arm’s length from ourselves”

-Christina Crook The Joy of Missing Out

It’s Sunday morning. I’m sitting with a book in my lap looking out at the garden. It’s raining; it’s the first of December 2018 and it’s been raining now for nearly two weeks solid. Rain is natures’ white noise, here and now and yet Jurassic in feeling. Actually, looking out at the rain it’s…percussive, soft and soothing, the lawn is wet right through; russet coloured autumn leaves are turned and gathered, clustered around the trees at the far edge of the garden. Everything seems more, well, intense and statured with colour and though it’s a dismal day the textures and colours seem to radiate with life, even though at this time of year life is tending to slow down.

Perhaps that’s it; everything slows down at this time of year (except us!)

The spiritual teacher Aydashanti in his book Emptiness Dancing invites us, at this time of year, to explore “what you are without your leaves,” for we have the habit to pick up our past, our anxieties about the future and our often-errant stories about ourselves as if they were fallen leaves that we refuse to let go of and hurriedly try to stick back onto our lives.

What if we just let things fall away? What would we find? What can we do without?

Aydashanti suggests that we might find ourselves “naturally cracked open… [into] the compassionate heart”.

For me, a lot of this is about time. I’m very timebound and usually see this a good thing-probably because my days as a therapist are carved up into 50-minute hours, the 10-minute spaces in between are then toilet break-check email-phone-make new appointments so my days are structed and regimented.

But this Sunday the time is different. It’s akin to my experience of spending time (whoa! When did time turn to currency?) at Samye Ling. Kagyu Samye Ling is a Tibetan Buddhist Centre in Eskdalemuir in Scotland[1]. You drive past Langholm and into the rolling hills, and there it is, a huge white stupa and a red and gold temple. For me this is a mark of difference, a demarcation that signals I’m stepping onto another domain, it’s as much about the inside as the outside; I’m now turning inwards, moving into the right hemisphere of my brain, out of the data driven left.

Time is different at Samye Ling, slower, paced, it’s breathable and open, time is heartfelt at Samye Ling, and you miss out on everything, and nothing at all.

I’m watching a robin on the lawn, picking and pecking, undisturbed by the sprinkling rainfall.

There’s really nothing else here at this time and there’s no need to be.

In her book The Joy of Missing Out Christina Crook reverses the insatiable need that FOMO (the fear of missing out) produces in us with its hyper anxious drive for the next this-and-that and suggests we put down our phones and devices, disconnect from all that and connect with us instead. Albert Borgmann writes “technology is a systemic effort to get everything under control” [2] but often we are better suited to letting go of control, and practice falling back into our root nature than swinging like a distracted monkey (ala monkey mind[3]) from one stimulated event to another.

I hear a sound; looking out the French doors, high in the sky, cutting through the murmuration of rainfall like a hundred grey darts, wild geese in formation are flying southward. It’s beautiful.

It’s time like this, here, now when it feels that whereas somebody or something in the hurly burly digital world tinkered with my brain, in moments like this I reset; immersed and embodied in a sense of natural awareness.

This winter could be a chance, an experiment, to stop and experience what it’s like to stay with what is, to simply be in our wintertime without leaves, alive in our own radiant core and open.

[1] http://www.samyeling.org/

[2] In Christina Crook The Joy of Missing Out also see https://monkeytraps.wordpress.com/page/8/?pages-list

[3] https://www.pocketmindfulness.com/understanding-monkey-mind-live-harmony-mental-companion/

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Shoot that poisoned arrow!

A man gets shot by a poisoned arrow. A doctor rushes to his side to pull out the arrow, but the man resists the life saving treatment. He wants to know the name of the fletcher who made the arrow, the type of wood the arrow is made of, the personality of the man who fixed head to shaft and shot him, the horse the man rode, and a thousand other details that have little bearing on the here and now of living.

The man’s commitment to thinking, thinking, thinking gets in the way of his essential predicament: often our life’s issues are not resolved by more thinking, but often by being in the here and now, getting help and taking action.

 

Another parable: every body gets shot by an arrow, an arrow of pain. Pain happens. But then we shoot ourselves, with another arrow, right in the soft spot, the already wounded spot. This is the arrow-the story-of our suffering.

We have no choice regarding the first arrow: pain happens. The second arrow of suffering, we have a choice about, whether to live in a story of suffering, which is gasoline on the fire of pain, or stay with the pain, a pain which is impermanent.

Our choice!

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some of these days: beach mindfulness, or I disappeared!

“I am in the music. Globes of fire revolve in the mirrors; rings of smoke encircle them and spin around, veiling and unveiling the hard smile of the light”-Jean-Paul Sarte Nausea

I’m lucky. I live about five minutes from the beach. The Northumbria coastline can be bleak and cutting at times, but this year its been a constant source of surprise and heat. Every day I’ve been to the beach there’s been a new beach there to greet me.

Today the sea was grey, the sky felt low and seemed draped with moisture as if preparing to rain. It’s November, and at this time the wind can be cold and strong, lifting the sand in its swirl. As I walk, I can feel the sand fall to either side of my feet, I can smell the salty air and I can hear the perpetual low roar of the waves in their watery crashing on the sand. Seagulls screech and take flight. I stand still, breathe.

Moments like this, when there is nothing to sell or buy, nothing to give or take, nothing to do but stand still and savour the experience, moments of letting thoughts fall away.

For one moment, perhaps one nanosecond, I disappeared. Thoughts fell away and there was no me, no person here at all, just this, an open empty beach and the dull roar of the waves, the sea extending out to the horizon, towards the grey curvature of the Earth. And then I’m back, so fast, as fast as the snapshut of a camera’s aperture; I’m back, this person is back, mediating the purity of the experience with concept, idea and thought.

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This reminds me of the Buddhist Dzog Chen notion of “one ground, two paths[1]” where it is suggested there exists a foundation of grand potential within us known as the ground being. On one level, (one path) we are already awakened and already aware of our true nature. We glimpse Truth (and what might that be?) At the same time, however, (the other path) that true nature has been obscured or forgotten. We catch glimpses of it, but for the lay practitioner (such as I) the glimpse is very quick to end. Essentially our conceptual self -thinking, thinking, thinking-gets in the way.

This ground is completely Awake, replete with play and luminosity. We are separate from this until we-essentially-construct the idea that we are and attempt to control our experiencing and our world. We live reduced and veiled from what is.

Perhaps this is akin to finding what Eckhart Tolle calls presence[2], a grounding unmediated by thought or emotion, where thought and emotions are simply regarded as waves that fall back into the sea and we are a vast sky of awareness.

How many hundreds of years have I been doing this?

I walk on the path, I stray off the path. And so it goes on, a crooked beach path less travelled.

I’ll keep practising.

beach shoes waves

 

 

[1] https://beherenownetwork.com/mindrolling-177-one-ground-two-paths/

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-MuVB5f8pA

burntout

how to get out of reactivity

There’s an old adage, often attributed to Buddhism but very appropriate to modern life: don’t trust your feelings.[1]  It’s fitting for modern life because at this time we appear to privilege with a somewhat urgent primacy our feelings[2], but our feelings come and go, and in reality are perhaps no more real that leaves being caught and transported in a stream, the rushing water being our stream of conscious awareness.

Its also long been pointed out that we don’t just have feelings, if they are very strong they, in effect have us-we live and behave caught up in triggered emotions. These triggered emotions or nervous states[3] impact on our thoughts and our actions; when we are triggered by unprocessed or powerful emotions or feelings we act in ways we would not do normally, we react and are often stuck in reactivity, at least for a while. This, essentially, is the world of social media, a world that exists to get your attention and harvest your data: we are perhaps getting more and more stocked up and reactive, turbocharged by the flash of our digital lives.

So, because this is essentially a reaction of the nervous system we can get stuck here, becoming more and more reactive.

But we can change.

Both practice in mindfulness and good counselling offer ways to challenge and change this “stuckness”.

There are connecting areas to explore here, but perhaps the most important thing to do is to stop, literally pause before you go further so you can observe what’s happening. Ask yourself

  • What am I feeling?
  • What am I thinking?
  • What are my bodily sensations?
  • What do I believe I should do next?

All of the above are linked, and it only by exploring and unpacking how they are linked that we can begin to see how are behaviours are often caught up in these “shoulds” in our life, as in “this is what I should do next” when we actually have choice, we can choose to respond rather than react to life events by gently challenging our beliefs.

So

  1. Pause
  2. Unpack: what am I thinking, feeling, what are my bodily sensations
  3. What should I do next?
  4. What could I do next?

Moving from a should to a could is a simple yet powerful step, a step that takes us out of our triggered feelings and into a wiser way of living.

[1] https://www.amaravati.org/wisdom-emotions/  and https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/return-stillness/201712/dont-trust-your-feelings

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/08/high-anxiety-how-feelings-took-over-the-world

[3] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nervous-States-Feeling-Took-World/dp/1787330109

 

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the power of presence

Oh, this life, The now, This morning, Which I can turn into forever By simply Loving What is here

-David Budhill

Identity has been called one of the most pressing issues of the 21st Century[1]-just try typing self-identity into Google and you get around 5 million hits. Who, or what, we identify with, how we root or fuse to that identity and then create or maintain the person we are-however brilliant, wild or dysfunctional that person might be, however full of insight, wisdom, blind spots and barely thought through drives and issues-this is identification, and it becomes the story we hold onto and the story we tell to the world.

The content of our identity might be different between persons and peoples, tribes and nations, but the action and result are very much the same. Our identity is often a set of preferences (what I like, what I don’t like and what I am neutral to) that help us get by, but in doing so can cut us off from growth and potential; it is not always the healthy that we identify with, it is more often the unhealthy familiar (as in difficult families). Identification forms bonds that last for decades and battles that could rage for centuries, such as the ongoing culture wars of the 21st century[2].  My Dear Story is what we tend to hold onto for dear life; our dear lives becoming synonymous, predicated onto and with My Dear Story.

But what happens when my dear story ends up costing me dearly? The story that I have might-probably will have- anchors me most fervently into the wounds of the past. If this happens, and it usually does, I’m directed by my negativity bias[3] (bad is stronger than good[4]) and lost and locked into a time of psychological pain; the story that I hoped might help has become a millstone around my neck, keeping me anxious, tense, sometimes anticipating imaginary future catastrophes. We can and do become attached to our past pain and project it into the future: dramatically attached to it.

nathan-dumlao-305489-unsplashIt’s as if, at times, we develop through different identities or “things” we identify with (class, gender, culture, religion, sexuality etc) and at some point, notably in our adulthood, this stops. It fixes into me, myself and mine, a kind of permanent self until this self meets a crisis such as a great loss or trauma. This is a problem inherent in Western culture; (D.H. Lawrence said our Western culture is like a tree with its roots in the air.) Even a constant development into further, more subtle identification is, in reality, endless iterations of the self, a kind of selfiness. It’s still the same operation, and yet there is more that we have in our creative and nested potential.

So we could be locked into a narrative that identifies us as a victim, a hurt one, a persecutor or reactive rescuer; we can live for decades acting out these roles on a kind of autopilot, the unprocessed and unresolved patterns of our lives running us, like a tail wagging a dog.

Is this how you really want to live?

This is akin to seeing clouds that perpetually roll by in the sky and fixating on them only, without noticing the sky that holds them, contains them and wraps around them. Ever seen a wound in the sky? No matter how bad the weather is, sky remains untroubled and untouched- yet we become content (cloud) based when there is so much more to us.

Part of the problem in this identification, this “this is me” is the reduced, contracted, tense and largely unconscious living “me” creates and maintains. Furthermore, we often don’t really know with any kind of intimacy and clarity these unconscious drives, where they come from and what they really mean. We settle for living in our heads, entertained and distracted and we treat the body as a donkey which we punish or try to keep in line. “People say they spend 5-15% of their time in awareness, 50-60% of their time in absorption, and 25-35% in abstraction”[5]. That’s a lot of time not here.

We can spend so much of our “clock” time lost in “psychological” time; of our mental and emotional states Traleg Kyabgon[6]  says “nearly all of them concern the past or the future” and in these states we lose our lives in a kind of disembodied “trance of unworthiness and alienation”[7]. We need to come to our senses: literally come back to our bodies, our sense of touch, taste, what we hear, smell and see and what is known as proprioception[8], the feeling of embodied being.

Having spent so much time in our heads this will need to be approached with care and compassion, as if we are meeting a long-lost friend, a friend who will help us dissolve the notion that life is a mind driven, cognitive experience, only and that we “have” a body-we don’t, we are a body. This shifts us considerably: you are no longer fighting yourself, you are being with and befriending your deepest most authentic self, defusing from all narrative. Bring your attention here and you bring yourself to the life that’s here.

Nonidentification, defusing from our cherished, yet contracted stories brings us away from the endless clouds that obscure our living to vast sky, to the life that’s here, an embodied life where head, heart and soma-our embodiment- become integrated and in balance. And when they tip out of balance-which they will-then it’s time to rebalance. Smalley and Winston[9] write “with nonidentification you have come to a point with your emotions where they have stopped being your emotions that are causing you so much suffering and become instead the emotions-that is, something that is passing through you.

treeThis is the power of presence. This is placing your attention to the here-and-now of embodied living. I direct my attention to the present, to being. What I put my attention onto or into is, in essence, my life. Not rooted or fixated in mind I can turn my attention to my embodiment, feeling the body from within. This is akin to waking up to a sunset or the shimmering ocean at noon, or indeed a vast sky of empty radiance. Traleg Kyabgon[10] writes that this is like “snow falling gently onto rocks and settling easily on the ground […] or waves crashing back into the stillness of the ocean.” This is dropping our story, like a tree drops its leaves in autumn. Does the tree feel fearful? No, it remains present in its authenticity: this is presence.

This has been called a “second tier” level[11] of living. Ken Wilber, who strongly promotes the notion of second tier says it best: “any emotion, sensation, thought, memory, or experience that disturbs you is simply one with which you have exclusively identified yourself, and the ultimate resolution of the disturbance is simply to dis-identify with it. You cleanly let all of them drop away by realising that they are not you–since you can see them, they cannot be [….] Since they are not your real self, there is no reason whatsoever for you to identify with them, hold on to them, or allow yourself to be bound by them”[12].

This is presence and this is the power of presence, of embodied attention, awareness, creativity and play.

 

Identification fuses, presence defuses. Presence wholes us.

With practice we can allow our thoughts and emotions to drop into our body and allow an integration of thoughts-emotions-body. This in turn allows us to be with our experience in a fuller way, owning what we have come to disown and come to reject: the life of the body and the power of presence. If this experience is held cognitively or emotionally only, then it often gets stuck, for it is not lived through and let go of (passed through you) and hence we remain stuck: at best we are given a kind of respite from our difficult thoughts and thinking, but they return.

Notice your minds tendency to wander, its compulsive habit to slip into the past and the future, into autopilot and distraction. Come back to your senses, to your body breathing here and now, notice the sheer presence inherent in your felt experience, the simple yet powerful feeling of being here; the past falls away and you live the life that’s here.

Bring your attention here. Ask yourself what’s happening right now, inside and outside me? Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but right here, right now. Not your idea of what could be happening-that’s merely a concept or construction and takes away the reality of the life that’s here, but your actual felt experience of right here, right now. Being here is being attuned, aligned to your senses, your embodied living. Presence is not identification, presence is a direct, embodied experience that compassionately embraces all; that is its power-it shifts us into a vast sky of freedom[13].

Jon Kabat-Zinn[14] calls this “a moment of pure presence, beyond striving, beyond mere acceptance, beyond the desire to escape of fix anything or plunge ahead, a moment of pure being, no longer in time [….] a moment in which life simply is”

So:

  • You are not your past or future
  • You are not your pain or suffering
  • You are not your thoughts, emotions or beliefs
  • You are not what you identify with

You are the awareness of these things, you are being, you are the power of presence.

simplt being

See

Aydashanti The End of Your World

Loch Kelly Shift into Freedom

Jon Kabat-Zinn Coming to Our Senses

Traleg Kyabgon Mind At Ease

Reginald Ray The Awakening Body

Eckhart Tolle A New Earth

 

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/mar/19/yuval-harari-sapiens-readers-questions-lucy-prebble-arianna-huffington-future-of-humanity and https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/16/francis-fukuyama-interview-trump-picks-racial-themes-to-drive-people-on-the-left-crazy and Francis Fukayama Identity: Contemporary Politics and the Struggle for Recognition

[2] Ken Wilber Trump and a Post Truth World

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negativity_bias

[4] Roy Baumeister et al http://assets.csom.umn.edu/assets/71516.pdf

[5] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-darkness/201504/bringing-yourself-back-the-present

[6] Traleg Kyabgon Mind At Ease

[7] Tara Brach Radical Acceptance

[8] https://www.painscience.com/articles/sixth-sense.php

[9] Susan Smalley & Diana Winston Fully Present: the science, art and practice of mindfulness

[10] Traleg Kyabgon Mind At Ease

[11]http://integralleadershipreview.com/2521-what-is-second-tier-powers-and-perspectives-available-to-leaders-at-second-tier/

[12] Ken Wilber No Boundary

[13] Loch Kelly Shift into Freedom

[14] Jon Kabat Zinn Coming To Our Senses

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