Mindfulness practices help you stay balanced

Practical applications of mindfulness

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to benefit from mindfulness. One of my passions is to de-mistify and secularize concepts that would otherwise be out of reach for anyone who may not belong to or be interested in understanding a specific religious affiliation.

It is now well known that certain Buddhist concepts can be very helpful in aiding us to be more happy, balanced, and in control of our emotional responses. One of these concepts is that of ‘equanimity’.

Equanimity is the capacity to see our own suffering and that of others with compassion without becoming either overwhelmed by it or indifferent to it. It is the capacity to look at all that surrounds us with the eye of a curious and compassionate observer. It is watching what goes on within us and outside of us with an open heart and without judgement, remembering that all that exists rises and passes away, all is impermanent, including joy, sorrow, pleasant and painful events, people, buildings, animals and nations; It is being able to let yourself rest amid everything that is impermanent while remaining balanced and peaceful; It is the capacity to extend loving kindness to all living beings without becoming enmeshed in their own drama, accepting the things that cannot be changed, having the courage to change those we can and cultivating the wisdom to know the difference.

Imagine being a judge at a court case: you are not indifferent to what you witness but you are not personally invested in it either. You are even and balanced. You are not disturbed by either chasing after pleasure or avoiding pain. You are simply present to what is without having to change it adjust it or control it in any way. Another word for this is ‘detachment’.

When we practice this capacity to lift up and “abstract’ ourselves from ourselves, it is as if we could look in on ourselves from the outside; in this way we stop identifying with our own emotions thoughts and feelings and we can choose how to respond consciously, rather than ‘react’ automatically to what we experience. This is the basis of emotional intelligence.

Create the life you want

If we want to create change in our lives we must first accept where we are right now and take responsibility: we need to realize that we are creators. We can either be created by our unconscious thoughts words and behaviors or we can consciously choose to create what we want to experience more of. We are the inheritors of all the causes and conditions that have brought us here now. The thoughts and actions we have engaged in your life have created the outcomes we are now experiencing in our lives.

So what if we stopped wasting our energy blaming others or alternatively giving ourselves a hard time and putting yourself down ? What if instead we chose to be compassionate with ourselves , forgave ourselves and learned whatever we can from our experiences ?

Perhaps this way we could put our energy and focus to better use. We could be helping ourselves to become more aware of our automatic reactions,  thoughts and emotions; we could then be practicing to focus our intention and attention towards conscious choice so we create the life we want.

Find inner balance

As creators of our own ‘karma’, we need to learn how to care for others without becoming overwhelmed and developing empathy fatigue (and subsequently indifference). If we clearly look at the world, the struggles and suffering we see will make us sad. If instead of trying to avoid this we stay with the discomfort we will experience the wish to be of help to others.

If the need to be of benefit to others is rooted in love, we can learn to relax with the discomfort we experience and as a result we will be able to use the sadness to motivate us to help others whether through art, prayer, activism, charity or simply by being kind to those around us.

It is important to remember that no matter how much we may care we cannot live other people’s lives for them. So while taking the “three thousand year” view of things we must practice remaining with an open heart, practice loving kindness towards all living beings and remember that  our responsibility in making the world a better place ends there.

We can wish fellow humans to learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance, while being as much as possible an example to them of such an attitude and perspective.

One of the practical ways to cultivate this quality of being ‘a witness’ to life is  to practice being internally flexible, curious and learn how to focus and concentrate.

Four exercises that foster concentration and presence

  1. Mindfulness of breath, body, sounds thoughts and feelings meditation” to develop self awareness
  2. Sitting of strong determination meditation” to  develop concentration and focus
  3. Being a mountain visualization” to develop absorption , riveting attention  and to establish a sense of presence
  4.  “Investigating our experience reflection” to gain insight into what’s pulling us off balance, by examining our beliefs.
  5. “Calming the emotions self suggestions” to find a balanced mind and a peaceful heart to ourselves and others around us.

You can find some examples of these in the video on equanimity or you can get in touch to experience them first hand with me.

If you are interested in knowing more on the link between Mindfulness and psychotherapy you read this mindfulness buddhism and psychology article

Social Anxiety – what to do ?

February 12, 2015

social anxietyWhy am I socially anxious ?

One of the things that I have been noticing in my practice is how often people come to see me for social anxiety problems. I also have been aware of how reports seem to indicate this malady to be on the rise in recent times in the western world. So what can we make of this ? I have started to question how much of this excessive amount of anxiety is societal and how much is learned behavior coupled with genetic predisposition.

Even without delving into how our societal values vastly influence the importance of social status and its representation through social and traditional media, and even putting aside personal history I am starting to think that a fundamental part of the problem comes from being stuck in the teenage developmental error of assuming and believing that while everyone else is worth knowing and/or has a wonderful life we are not. This makes us feel insecure (and deepens our preexisting insecurities) and puts us in a position  of being at -1 in social situations.

Let me explain: if we all realized that we are in the same boat and that everyone is as ‘messed up’ and as fundamentally OK as everyone else the way we relate would change. We would stop trying to impress others or being impressed by their seeming social success and we would relate to them as equals; as a result when talking / meeting a new person we would both start at level 0, not level +1 or -1 (better or worse than them).

The first step to beat social anxiety

Step number one then would be to question the fundamental assumption that others are better than us and decide to take a position of fundamental equality. Every time you realize you are putting yourself down when comparing yourself to someone else ask yourself the question: how do I know this is true ? Can I prove it ? What is the evidence against it ? And actively look beyond the surface.

Question your own values. What makes you worth knowing is not how much money you have or how thin you are (among other common concerns) but the unique flavor of the way you experience the world. There is no right or wrong way to experience it . There is only genuine communication of your experience and genuine interest in other people’s experience. When we genuinely tell others how we  feel about anything we connect as equals, it is easier for others to accept us and as a result our anxiety assuages.

A practical exercise to overcome your fear

Finally: think about someone who seems at genuine ease with others. What are they doing ? Model yourself after their positive qualities you wish to acquire. And when in a difficult situation ask yourself : what would this person do ? Now take a leap of faith and do it . Notice what’s different. Persist. Change takes time and effort. You will get out of it as much as you put into it.

Secular Mindfulness Meditation Course in Edinburgh

START DATE : to be advised (October 2014)

END DATE : 8 weeks after start date

TIME : to be advised

WHERE :  to be advised

HOW MUCH : £ 50 in advance

How to join : email me. Then go to our Facebook page for Mindfulness Meditation in Edinburgh and ask to join  . Here you will also find recorded meditations of previous sessions and other info.

Please arrive 5 minutes early. Wear warm clothing and bring a mat and blanket / pillow if you wish to lie down. There are no chairs in the room. Bring your own meditation stool / pillow if you want to sit down.

mindfulness meditation

 

How to Change Limiting Beliefs

stuckA Practical Cognitive Behavioral Approach

In a previous article I have explored how our negative core beliefs keep us stuck. If you are not familiar with this I suggest you read “How to get Unstuck” first.

Now before going ahead make yourself comfortable. Take a pen and paper and get ready to do some very valuable work that will make a real difference in your life. Take your time with this. The more you put into it the more you will get out of it.

Ok, let’s get down to work: start by writing down the first restrictive negative belief you want to change. Then proceed with the following steps:

21 Steps to Positive Change

1) On a scale of 1-10 how true does this belief subjectively feel ?

2) On a scale of 1-1- how true is this belief in reality ? (be as neutral and objective as possible)

3) When does this belief the most emotionally convincing ?

4) When does it feel the least emotionally convincing ? Take your time answering this question as this will reveal to you what conditions exasperate the issue and what make it better.

5) What actual evidence do you have for this belief ? what supports it ? Be realistic and as neutral as possible

6) What actual evidence contradicts and challenges this belief ? What evidence is there to show you it might not be necessarily true ?

7) What possible advantages are making you want to hold on to it ? In what way could this belief be serving you beneficially in some perverse way ?

8) What disadvantages are there in holding on to it ?

9) Now remind yourself of a circumstance in the past when you had doubts about a belief . Go back to that time and recall what it felt like to experience doubt. How did you know you were doubting your previously firm beliefs? what were you experiencing ? what made you change your mind?

10) Recalling and staying with this doubting state start doubting your current belief. Ask yourself those questions again : does this belief really fit with what is truly important to me? In the past, when did this belief interfere with what I wanted to do? What would it be like to be free of this old belief?

11) After rolling these questions in your mind for a while focus again.

Is this negative belief an over generalization ? Is it the result of catastrophising ? Is it just a personal attack against your person or others ? Does it label you or others into something fixed ? Is it the result of demanding of yourself something unreasonable, such as ‘you SHOULD be or do such and such” ?

12) After careful consideration how true does your old belief feel now on a scale of 1-10 ? Now comes the fun part: relax , take a few deep breathes and close your eyes. Imagine that there’s a furnace somewhere deep inside yourself.

If you really want to permanently destroy that old belief imagine throwing it into that fire and watch it burn away into ashes. Take pleasure in doing this.

13) Now ask yourself: what would be a more helpful and realistic alternative belief  to have? State it positively (say what you want not what you don’t want!) .

Make sure you are happy with it. Word it in the present tense, as if it was happening now. (i.e. I believe I am good enough as I am, or, I believe I deserve love just as I am)

14) On a scale of 1-10 how true does it feel right now?

15) As you did before ask yourself , when does the new belief feel the least and the most emotionally convincing.

16) Examine the evidence against this new belief ? Is there any problem with it ? Then find evidence that proves its correctness and usefulness. Write it down

17) Write down any disadvantages there may be for holding this new positive belief. Be as objective as possible

18) Write down all the advantages of holding this new positive belief now.

19) Now go inside yourself again. Recall a time in the past when you felt receptive and willing to learn. Remember what it was like to be open to change and new beliefs.  How did it feel ? Re-live that time in as much detail as possible. Where in your body did you feel those feelings ? What were you telling yourself ? Do all it is possible now to achieve that same state again now.

20) Staying with that memory of feeling receptive and open focus on your new belief. How would it feel to accept this new belief ? How is it better than the previous one? How different would your life be if you held this new belief as your own ? What would you be doing that you were doing before? What could you achieve and overcome that you weren’t able to before? Think about all this and engage with your new belief.

21) Now evaluate your new belief.  Do you need to make any changes? Can you improve on it in any way ? How good do you feel holding it ?  On a scale of 1-10 how true does it feel now?

Now Take Action !

Now decide to take some action. What can you do differently right now, today, as a result of having acquired this new belief ? If you truly believed in it, what would you do differently?  Set yourself a task based on this belief being true and decide what action you would take.

Start doing things differently right now so that your new belief gets empirical support and you experience it in your life. This way it gets verified, enhanced and supported and therefore embedded in your new behavior patterns.

Have fun with it, experiment and watch your life change and feel great as a result !

How to Get Unstuck

unstuckFeeling Stuck in your Old Ways ?

When we are blocked in an area of our lives it often is due to the fact that we feel safer that way. We may feel unhappy but that is easier to deal with than our fear of the unknown. We begin to change when the pain we experience in staying stuck is bigger than the anticipated pain of change.

A lot of fear comes down to our negative core beliefs : deeply held beliefs acquired some time in the past due to painful experiences. Becoming conscious and challenging these beliefs is the first step in the process of change.

For a moment, think about something you would really like to do or be right now but don’t feel able to. When you’ve got that, write it down. Do that now. Maybe you have always wanted to be an artist so write down “I am a capable and talented artist”.

The Trouble with Positive Affirmations

Now, in all probability a voice in your head has just emerged to criticize this statement bringing up all sorts of reasons why this is either impossible or a bad idea. Positive affirmations can give us a sense of safety and hope if we let them but at first you will probably feel they sound fake, embarassing or not right. No surprise there.  If you have spent all your life bludgeoning yourself with negative beliefs such as “I am worthless” or “I am not good enough” or “I must be perfect to deserve success” anything else will sound unfamiliar and syrupy or cheesy . So saying to yourself ” I am lovable just as I am” or “I am capable and confident” will surely sound untrue at first.

The problem with not accepting a belief because it doesn’ t sound right though is that feelings are a result of thoughts and if you want to change a feeling you have got to change the thought first. It’s a bit like the idea of “fake it til you make it”. You can’t wait to feel it to believe it, you gotta believe it to feel it! Luckily there are some ways to get around this obstacle, but all of these do involve a certain willingness to suspend judgement and take a leap of faith, as well as engage our rational mind doubting limiting old beliefs.

Seek out the Monster in your Head

So what is that critical monster in your head saying when you tell it you already are what you want to be ?( After saying your affirmation: i.e. “I am ok just as I am” )

Listen to the objections that come your way. What s the cruel voice saying inside your head ? “so you’re ok as you are… ah ah sure you are!”, “who are you kidding?”, “You are ugly”, “You will never change”, “You can’t do anything right”, “No-one will ever love you unless you are perfect”, etc etc… You will be amazed at the rotten things you can come up with. Write them down.  These are your personal negative core beliefs.

Become a Mind Investigator

Once you have written them down you can start having a good look at where these beliefs come from: Mom and dad? Your school bully? The boy/girl you were in love with when you were ten? Teachers that pushed you too hard? Your little jealous sister ? Scan your blurts for possible sources. Time travel back into your life in five year increments and list by name who influenced you the most in each block of time.

Once you have identified these challenge their opinions. What self serving reason could they have had to have done or said what they did do or say? How did their own worldview influence them ? What did they believe about themselves ? What messages did they grow up with ? Remember this is not about blaming or condoning, just understanding and distinguishing their beliefs from what yours would be if you hadn’t accepted theirs as true. If there is still a lot of emotional energy involved in recalling these memories you might have to release it first so you can forgive them and yourself and move on.

Keep in mind that it is also possible your negative beliefs may come from subtle non direct messages received from your environment or from an experience of something that happened to you where others were not directly involved:

Maybe you felt different because of a situation you found yourself in; maybe you were abandoned by a significant other; maybe you fell ill and became isolated; maybe you were born with something that set you apart from others and you yourself came up with the negative conclusion that you were not Ok just as you were: the possibilities are endless and very personal.

Challenge the Critical Voice

Whatever your monster is, after it has been brought up to the light of day you can start working on challenging its critical voice and changing those negative beliefs that keep you stuck and unhappy. If you would like help with a practical cognitive behavioral approach to this, read this article about “how to get rid of negative core beliefs”.

Bring On the Crisis

bringitonWe all complain about having problems. But what would it be like to wake up in the morning and have absolutely no problems to solve, nothing to worry about, no vexations whatsoever? Having no problems can be a very serious problem and lead to the creation and yearning for any old dumb problem that will shake us from our slumber and generate some excitement.

It seems to me that creating problems in a real human need. It seems we define ourselves by the dilemmas we attract and struggle to solve. Usually it ‘s those who are most creative that ask the biggest and hardest questions and then put together resources to answer them.

It is often said that there is no gain without pain, and nothing of value is gained without effort. While this is mostly true and anxiety can be a valuable spur for getting things done it is also true that putting ourselves under a lot pressure to solve mediocre problems is not going to be useful or make us smarter. If we get too used to allow unimportant problems to fill us with nagging vexations we won t gain much except for a headache.

The other fact to consider is that when we are preoccupied with silly boring or demeaning annoyances we might miss out on asking the bigger questions and getting well into wilder, more interesting problems. These may be of the variety that pushes you out of your comfort zone in the direction of your personal frontier well before life forces you to do so when you are least willing to deal with it.

When we focus on the problems that matter we feel excited about our ability to deal with them because ultimately they will open the door to a better existence rather than dragging us down into the same meandering tunnels of meaninglessness.

So invite the real crisis in : it will be a time of destiny, a turning point, an opportunity to rethink what really matters to you so you take action to bring about the changes necessary to create a better present for yourself.

In other words: stop distracting yourself with minor irritations and ask yourself the question you have been avoiding.  Instead bring it on, delve in deep and get it over with : there is no time better than now !

Anxiety and Mindfulness

become observerBecome an Observer

Mindfulness is the art of being aware of your environment, your thoughts, your feelings and your sensations as they happen and  becoming their observer.

It is about training your attention to focus on the present moment, on concentrating on a task rather than thinking,  and on external rather than internal factors.

So what does all of this got to do with relieving anxiety?

Well, first of all let’s understand the role of thoughts in anxiety. I find it helpful to think of anxiety not as something we have but something we do, or even better, something we think and imagine and therefore feel. The assumption behind this is that feelings follow thought. So change the way you think and you will change the way you feel. Change the way you feel and your behavior will change. Change your behavior and your life will change.

When we have fearful (anxious ) thoughts, the problem is not necessarily to do with the thoughts themselves but with the importance and meaning we give them. Often we identify our thoughts as facts rather simply thoughts, and that is the problem. When you think ‘something terrible will happen if I get out of the house’ for example, it is the fact that you are viewing this as a fact rather than simply a thought that causes trouble.

In fact if you distanced yourself from it and treated it as simply another thought among others and refused to assign it more importance than that, you would lessen its impact.

Also, I find it useful to remember that for every negative thought there is always an opposite positive thought. Both are just thoughts, not facts. And their importance depends on how much attention you decide to give them.

You decide what to pay attention to and what to accept or reject. This you can do by challenging negative thoughts as not helpful and asking yourself what would be more helpful for you to think in order to feel better about whatever situation is causing you concern.

indexYou Are Not Your Thoughts

First though , you need to believe that you are not your thoughts. You need to believe that you are more than your thoughts, that you are an awareness aware of itself and that although you have a mind  you are not your mind. Another way of understanding this is to imagine that your thoughts are like unruly teenagers in a house where although you have always been the master you have never exercised your authority.

Of course, the first step to do so is to believe that you are the master and that you can exercise your authority successfully because if you don’t the teenagers will act as if they are the masters and they will have power over you. Once you shift your belief it may take some time and practice to learn how to take charge effectively but if you believe you are the one who makes the decisions and train your attention with patience you will succeed.

Train Your Attention

The first step in training your unruly mind is to practice redirecting your attention away from yourself and what you feel / think / are imagining , and concentrate by choice on something external : something that is happening outside of yourself or a task you are doing.

Starting with situations that you don’t find particularly scary or challenging this active practice will help you counter balance your tendency to over focus on threats and on yourself when you feel anxious.

For example:  rather than worrying about yourself and how you are coming across during a conversation with a new acquaintance focus on the other person and ask them questions about themselves, paying attention to their answers and becoming curious about them.  

Later practice in situations that are more challenging and progress gradually from the least to the most anxiety provoking situations, getting out of your comfort zone and facing your fears head on. If you cannot attend to a specific task, for example if you are sitting in a crowded waiting room, direct your attention to your surroundings, noticing people, the features of the room, sounds an smells.

presentFocus On the Present

Finally, bring your attention back to the present. Anxious thoughts are thoughts about an imagined catastrophic future that exists only in your head. It is a big castle in the sky.

It cannot exist in the now. So get back to now, and remember not to take your fearful thoughts seriously.

They might be trying to help, but they aren’t really helping are they?

So, say no to the negative fears that have only held you back til now and say yes to the voice in your head that says : no matter what I will survive !

Your anxious thoughts are as real as an imaginary friend. It is up to you to make up what that friend says. Make it say encouraging things. Make it work for you.

Relax

And most of all, observe how much easier life is when you relax into existence and trust in your abilities to deal with whatever challenge life throws at you, no matter how hard it may seem at first.

The most truly accomplished and successful people in life have a relaxed attitude. Some might have been predisposed to be like that but most of them have honed their talents by practice and dedication. Practice relaxing into existence and learning to expect the best out of situations. And when life throws you something you cannot change accept it and make the best of it.

relWorrying is a mostly a learned habit and we can do away with it by becoming aware that we are simply scaring ourselves to death by believing in our fearful thoughts; Instead we can take a deep breath, focus on the present and remind ourselves that we have all the resources we need to survive.

After all, if you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got. So do something different !

You Are What You Believe

What do you believe in ?

Your beliefs shape your life.

Are your beliefs serving your best interest ?

This is what I happen to believe. Read through if you like, and compose your own list.

I believe in giving people a fair chance.

I believe in taking responsibility for my own well being.I believe in being honest and true to myself.

I believe that the most difficult, painful and challenging experiences life throws at us can end up being
the most enlightening rewarding and meaningful.

I believe that being different although not easy is something to celebrate as a blessing.I believe in the power of laughter to help us lift us from tragedy.

I believe that an enormous amount of wealth lies in reading and learning. I believe sometimes the best thing you can do is switch off and have a good night sleep. In the morning new solutions and insight may come.

I believe in learning to let go of the need to always having to “do something”.

I believe that most problems come from tension and not giving ourselves permission to relax.

I believe that believing in myself is the best investment I could ever make.

I believe that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. No success is ever possible without making mistakes. What’s important is to listen to the feedback.

I believe genius is not something we re born with but something we make with practice, dedication and determination.

I believe that not letting people get to me is sometimes hard but essential.

I believe in learning to let go of whatever is bothering me by first expressing my feelings and then examining my thoughts and gaining perspective.

I believe in not paying too much attention to those who do not have other people’s best interest at heart. To do so would impair my faith in humanity.

I believe in choosing to listen to the part of myself that encourages me rather than to the part of me that wants to put me down.

I believe in expecting the best and accepting the rest.

I believe there is nothing wrong with people who do not like me. The fact they don’t tells me more about them than it does about me. They might have something to teach me, or they might have something to learn. You cannot please everyone all of the time…

I believe in allowing myself to like what I like without shame. I believe in not denying myself the things I feel attracted to, no matter what others may think of me as a result.

I believe in making time for fresh air, social interaction and being creative.

I believe in self reflection as a path to self healing.

I believe that focusing on things we are grateful for is the key to happiness.

How To Be More Confident

confidentSimple Ways to Improve Confidence

When you say to yourself : “it’s easy for others to be confident but I am just not that kind of person…”  what a powerful statement are you making, telling yourself and the world who you are…. !

When you speak (saying to yourself that you are not good enough / not confident / shy or any other negative statement)  effectively you are deleting all opportunities to be anything other than those statements . So say STOP to those statements . Tell yourself this is simply how you used to be and think, not what you are choosing to be and think now.

What people often forget is that genius is made not born, and skill is the result of discipline and practice. Talents are learned and honed with determination and discipline, so make a decision to start honing yours now. Start to begin taking control of your thoughts instead of allowing your previous programming to control you.

Learn to Become Confident

Begin to imagine people who you believe are confident. Hold your body like them. Think like you imagine they would think. Talk to yourself like you imagine they would.  Most of all, pay attention to the voice in your head and get it talking in a tone and manner that you find motivating and reassuring instead of insisting using the same internal dialogue that you used to convince yourself that you are not confident.

Imagine yourself as you would like to be and step into that confident version of you. Do things differently, consciously. If you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got. So stop those old thoughts in your head. Say the word STOP to those old thoughts. Then take a deep breath, relax, feel good, play confident sounds in your mind, see confident pictures in your head.

Remember a time when you felt confident and then imagine yourself to be now like you were then. Make those images brighter, larger  and bring them nearer and wrap them around you.

Now that you believe in your ability to be more confident , how you think is how you allow yourself to be. What you believe to be truth is the truth for you. You are the most powerful influence in your life.

As you start consciously changing your thoughts grab the thoughts by scruff of the neck and think: I am going to choose how I feel and what I think from now onwards and notice how good it feels to feel so good.

Start Feeling More Confident Now

Now, do this practical exercise to start getting rid of your old conditioning:

Imagine you are standing in front of a mirror. As you look at yourself in it you can see yourself  and all your past experiences reflected back. Now imagine this mirror is magical : it has a liquid surface and when you step through it, it immediately removes the past and on the other side all you know is present and future.

Here the past view is gone and you you look forward to the future.  Infinite possibilities are contained in it. Anything is possible. Notice what you can use to start making that future come true now.  And notice what new ideas come into the present about the future.
Trust your unconscious, allow it to help give you sensations, feelings, images, ideas that inspire you and motivate you to create that future now. Feel the ideas become a fuel that propels you towards that future so you just naturally want to move closer to that compelling future.

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