Saturday, 23 April 2011

Feeling Mind-full?

“ Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”. John Lennon

I saw this phrase written on someone’s T-shirt the other day after returning from Birmingham on the train. I had to chuckle to myself as at the time, I was eating a sandwich, listening to my ipod whilst making a list of all the things I had to do for work over the coming week.  Like many people, I felt I was being super efficient by cramming as much into that spare half hour as I could, otherwise I’d be ‘wasting time’!  Seeing that man’s T-shirt made me stop in my tracks and question myself; ‘what was actually going on for me in this moment?’  I noticed myself feeling really tense and tight in my head and my mind felt like it was racing ahead like a steam train.  Sound familiar? Well it may be a result of feeling mind-full.

The opposite of being Mind-full- a phrase I coined to describe the state of cramming as much as we can into our lives, without being present is ‘Mindfulness’.  Being mindful isn’t about trying to get somewhere or achieving something, it is about just being conscious of where we are, wherever that is, and creating a space for experiencing the present moment. James Baraz puts it like this:
"Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
In that situation on the train, It was only when I stopped, checked in with my body and took a few moments to actually feel that I realised how much stress I was holding onto. I was also aware of how many stressed thoughts I was having like “I’ve got to go and do this” and “what if I don’t get time next week to meet her”, which again created more tension and anxiety- all over things that haven’t happened yet!  When I moved my awareness from my body to what was happening around me I also noticed that the sun was shining and the trees outside the window were full of cherry blossom. Did noticing these things change my situation? Not at all, though it certainly brought me back to the awareness of it, without the need to project myself into the past or future and create more thoughts, and subsequently enjoyed my experience of it more.

An analogy that Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh uses is of feelings and thoughts being like “clouds in a windy sky”, just coming and going with the flow of our mind.  It is when we try and hook into these thoughts and allow our mind to create stress in our body-mind that we experience suffering or anxiety.  He suggests using the breath as our ‘anchor’ to the present though we can also use our experience of the moment.  For instance, the view of the train outside, the smell of the coffee I was drinking or even the sound of the man snoring next to me!  The question you might be asking when you read this though is “what if I want to escape the present when it is uncomfortable or unpleasant- surely that’s when I need to focus on the future!?”

The thing with Mindfulness is that it isn’t about making the present better or trying to get somewhere nicer in our experience- it is simply about being in this moment only, whether our minds judge it as being good or bad, it is just this moment.  Getting back into the practice of Mindfulness (rather than feeling Mind-full!) this week has certainly helped enrich my experience of life just within the last week.  Although I feel myself moving slower than I was before, I am actually more efficient, less stressed and noticeably calmer in even the most potentially stressful situations- even feeling serene in that traffic jam on the M1!  The beauty of Mindfulness is that is so simple and can be done wherever you are- here’s some tips on getting started.

Beginning to Be Mindful

1. Do one thing at a time. Single-task, don’t multi-task. When you’re pouring water, just pour water. When you’re eating, just eat. When you’re bathing, just bathe. Don’t try to knock off a few tasks while eating or bathing or driving. Zen proverb: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”

2. Do less. If you do less, you can do those things more slowly, more completely and with more concentration. If you fill your day with tasks, you will be rushing from one thing to the next without stopping to think about what you do. Even if you’re busy, it’s a matter of working out what’s a priority, and letting go of what’s not. 

3. Do it slowly and deliberately. You can do one task at a time, but also rush that task. Instead, take your time, and move slowly. Make your actions deliberate, not rushed and random. It takes practice, but it helps you focus on the task.

4. Create spaces. Related to the “Do less” rule, but it’s a way of managing your schedule so that you always have time to complete each task. Don’t schedule things close together — instead, leave room between things on your schedule. That gives you a more relaxed schedule, and leaves space in case one task takes longer than you planned.

5. Spend at least 5 minutes each day just being mindful. Just sit in silence. Become aware of your thoughts. Focus on your breathing. Notice the world around you. Become comfortable with the silence and stillness. If thoughts start coming up just say to yourself “this is just a thought” and gently change your focus and let it go.

6. Stop worrying about the future – focus on the present. Become more aware of your thinking — are you constantly worrying about the future? Learn to recognize when you’re doing this, and then practice bringing yourself back to the present. Just focus on what you’re doing, right now. Enjoy the present moment.

7. When you’re talking to someone, be present. How many of us have spent time with someone but have been thinking about what we need to do in the future? Or thinking about what we want to say next, instead of really listening to that person? Instead, focus on being present, on really listening, on really enjoying your time with that person.

8. Eat slowly and savour your food. Food can be crammed down our throats in a rush, but where’s the joy in that? Relish each bite, slowly, and really get the most out of your food. Most of us watch TV, read or make shopping lists (or all three!) whilst we eat.  Experiment with just eating and see what happens. 

9. Make cleaning and cooking become meditation. Cooking and cleaning are often seen as drudgery, but actually they are both great ways to practice mindfulness, and can be great rituals performed each day. If cooking and cleaning seem like boring chores to you, try doing them as a form of meditation. Put your entire mind into those tasks, concentrate, and do them slowly and completely. It could change your entire day (as well as leave you with a cleaner house).

10. Keep practicing. When you get frustrated, just take a deep breath. When you ask yourself, “What should I do now?”, the answer is “keep practicing”.  Remember there is no right or wrong way, there is just being where you are in that moment.

Alexandra Bacon is a certified Advanced EFT Practitioner, Counsellor, Bach Flower Remedy Practitioner, Wellbeing consultant and Trainer. To book your personalised treatment session please call Alexandra on 01629 825968/ 07950 568635.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Clearing the Clutter

Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.  Albert Einstein
Spring is the traditional time for cleaning and clearing out the old, allowing space for the new.  It is almost as if the world emerges like a butterfly from its chrysalis, and everything feels renewed and energised again.  This pattern of birth and death in nature is often reflected in our own lives in a continuous cycle.  If we don’t flow with this cycle and let go of the old, it creates clutter or stasis which is when we start feeling energetically stuck or blocked, and dis-ease results. 

Clearing clutter from our lives can be extremely therapeutic, and although sometimes difficult if we have a tendency to hoard, it can be uplifting and energising.  Clutter clearance doesn’t need to apply just to our wardrobes and shelves- it applies equally to how we spend our time, how we think, eat and work.  As writer Dr Lawrence J. Peter once said: If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is the significance of a clean desk?” 

Firstly, identify the source of your clutter. Is it made up of books and paperwork? Outdated old clothes, or new ones you’ve never worn? Anxious or worrisome thoughts? Maybe you’ve cluttered your life with acquaintances and people who really don’t need to be in it anymore; maybe your mind is cluttered with fears and obsessions that you can’t let go of; or your body is cluttered with extra pounds, aches or pains?

Many people who really want to clear up are full of motivation and raring to go- what a relief when it’s free from piles of papers, books and ‘stuff’!  No more will I lose my car keys or have to eat on a tray on the sofa as my table is full of junk. Motivated people see themselves living in an uncluttered environment, surrounded by order and feeling healthy and happy.  Goodbye depression and lethargy; hello joy and tranquil living. 

But is this realistic in practice? Sometimes, yes, if you are good at it and ruthless with your possessions or determined to change your mindset and be focussed enough.  Allowing yourself get bogged down or stuck in old patterns and the fear of letting go is the main hurdle when wanting to create space in your life. Doubts such as: Will I really be able to cope with out this object or person in my life?  What if I regret this decision later on?  Getting out of your comfort zone is the hardest thing to do sometimes though you need to ask yourself, what can I gain from taking a risk?  Often, when we take that leap, we feel a renewed sense of vitality and self esteem.

Claire, a client of mine discovered this when she decided to let go of her relationship with her long term partner of ten years.  Over the years, her self esteem and confidence was gradually eroded away by her boyfriend with his constant jibes and criticisms about everything from her accent to the way she looked.  She came to see me as she felt on the edge of a breakdown and was tormented by self doubt and guilt, with the belief that she must have been a ‘terrible person’ for him to treat her this way.  She wanted to leave this relationship as she knew it was the main root of these feelings, though felt too scared to be on her own.  Gradually, through having counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, she began to discover her inner strength again to the point where she was able to overcome her limiting thinking and transform her fear into courage, taking the action to get out of the relationship and over time, rebuild her self esteem.   

Action Points for starting to de-clutter your life:

  • Write down a list of your clutter under the headings of work, home, relationships, emotions, thoughts and your health or body.
  •  What purpose does holding on to this “clutter” serve in your life?
  • How would you feel if you didn’t have it any more?
  • What’s the “upside” of holding onto all your ‘stuff’?
  • What would be frightening if you let go of some of it?
  • What positive emotion does your clutter represent for you (love, security, comfort, warmth, wealth)?
  • What is the “downside” of letting go of some or all of it?
  • Prioritise the issues and choose 3 to work on this month.
  • Ask yourself, what’s the first steps towards changing these things? Make an action plan now on paper for each of them.  Commit yourself to taking at least one action a day. 
  • At the end of each week, review your progress and make another list for the following week, and so on.  This way, you will begin to chip away at the list and make progress gradually with de-cluttering your life.  
Remember with de-cluttering, it is important not to overwhelm yourself-making yourself feeling even more stuck is not the purpose of this exercise!  Some things are simpler than others to let go of though for most of us, we are prone to putting off when we feel as if it will be ‘difficult’ or ‘time consuming’.  The solution to this is to break it down into chunks and just do a little each day or each week and make clearing your life a life-long habit that you integrate into your everyday routine.  My first port of call will be my office desk- happy de-cluttering!

Alexandra Bacon is a certified Advanced EFT Practitioner, Counsellor, Bach Flower Remedy Practitioner, Wellbeing consultant and Trainer. To book your personalised treatment session please call Alexandra on 01629 825968/ 07950 568635.