Tag Archives: Meditation

Chronic Illness and Vital Acceptance

If you’ve developed an illness that is now invading your every day life in a way you can no longer ignore, it can begin to gnaw away at our sense of justice.

You’re a good person, you work hard and try to get by in a difficult world. People can treat you badly and not bat an eye, but you’re not like that, and if you are, your awareness ignites you to apologise or make peace with your victim.

And yet, even so, you’ve been stricken with bad karmic juju. You’re suffering, but you feel that suffering is unjustified.

Our health is so important to our quality of life that we often get wrapped up in the ‘why?’. ‘Why is this happening to me?’ ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ ‘Why couldn’t I be someone else?’.

The ‘why’ is fine when we are dealing with the things that we can change. There are so many good ‘why’ questions that can really change the world. To some extent, a little ‘why’ can be good even in exploring chronic health problems. After all, a better understanding of our ailments can mean we can better address them and find some balance.

I’ve even written on the ‘why’ myself, exploring how a largely vegan or plant based diet can reduce inflammation in the body and improve overall health and wellness for those with chronic illness.

But, the ‘why?’ only goes so far. At some point, it yields less and less, becoming an exhausting obsession of diminishing returns. When we personalise our why’s and make them existential, we lose more and more energy, time, and happiness, to an unanswerable set of questions. When we reach this stage, we need to consider how we will accept the things which we cannot change and work on making our realities manageable, even joyful.

Acceptance is vital to living with chronic illness. We cannot continuously snarl at our illness, hoping that eventually it will subside or diminish. We cannot keep it in a box away from visitors, a morbid little secret out of the public eye. Our illness will live with us and we must accept that it continues, as do we.

Illness is unpleasant. It makes our lives hard, sometimes unbearably painful, both mentally and physically. It can be isolating, desperate and cold when so few understand how painful it is. But acceptance is part of changing that story. Don’t try to push it under the rug or pummel it into submission, but try to accept it as a part of you, aim to no longer fight with yourself.

In some respects, accepting chronic illness can make it easier to live with and tolerate. It can even contribute to recovery or partial recovery. The stress we cause ourselves when we are fighting our illness can inevitably strengthen it. The more you fight a thought, idea or perception of reality, the more power it gains over you and the more fear, panic and despair it generates.

Your reality needn’t be one of fear or aggression directed at disturbance and chaos. When you choose to allow or accept chronic illness to exist with you, rather than against you, you can begin to change your relationship to it. You can begin to be happier and lead a more fulfilling life.

We all want that, right?

J

5 Signs Your Life has Become Overwhelming and How to Begin Restoring Balance

You wake up, having not slept restfully for a week now. Your thoughts are dim and dreadful. They simmer at first, then a slow-boil turns to froth and foam and flying spit in your mind’s pot.

How will I get everything done today? There is nobody to help me. What is happening? How do I stop it? The world is out to get me. I am struggling. What can I do?

Splish, splash, schloop, go the thoughts inside your head as you watch from above. There is no saving this soup now, spoiled for good. Let it all burn.

Many can relate to that boiling pressure underneath the surface. It can lead to outbursts, uncharacterful behaviour and alienation, both for the person experiencing the feeling of being overwhelmed, and for the people close to them. Here are five signs that you’re not coping well, and some suggestions to fix it.

1. You’re Acting ‘Out of Character’

We are all creatures of particular habits. Some of us are quite reserved and don’t go out very much, others are very much the opposite, seeking social events everywhere they can and many opportunities to be the centre of attention. When you notice your typical behaviours are reversing and flying to the polar opposite of your ‘normal’, you know there’s something up. As in the examples above, someone who is quiet and calm, with a smaller social circle, might decide to get drunk every night and meet strangers. This can sometimes be hard to spot from the perspective of the person who is feeling overwhelmed, but family and friends should make every effort to monitor this behaviour and offer support where possible.

2. You Don’t Care Anymore

Generally, you’re empathetic, kind, a listener and someone who is compassionate to the needs of those around you. Lately though, you’ve been feeling kind of ‘meh’. You see people in strife and it’s just not twanging on that cardio banjo in there. You know you should be feeling something, but you’re struggling to get that emotion to translate. No, you’re not a sociopath, you’re just going through a rough patch and sometimes this can make you appear distant, callous or unfeeling. It’s the people who care the most who tend to lose this ability most drastically under pressure.

3. You’re Getting Irritated by the Smallest Things

Did your housemate eat your last banana? Did someone take your usual seat on the bus? Are you about to burn to ash over the news that petrol prices are going up? Do these questions make you feel like wielding a sledgehammer of destruction, like a malevolent Thor, brimming with spite and rage? Thinking about how proportionate our responses are to the perceived inconvenience, of course, at a time when we have calmed down, can sometimes give us the opportunity to reflect on how overwhelmed we feel.

4. Australian Animal Syndrome

Like the black widow, who hides in people’s toilets to bite their buttocks, and the koalas climbing from the bush below, we begin to do one of two things, bury ourselves, or attempt to escape out of our situation. Are you hiding from your problems, getting poisonous when people enter your personal space? Or, are you fleeing up into the canopies? Hiding or running can be a surefire way of knowing you’re overwhelmed and in need of intervention.

5. Your Opinion Of People Begins to Change

People you have held dear for years can begin to become ugly in your mind’s eye. You begin to create gargoyles where angels once stood, and by the end, you are surrounded by warped caricatures of the people you once loved. This is a very disturbing and unsettling mechanism related to being in a state of overwhelm, that can begin to unravel your sense of identity, purpose and happiness. If the people you cared about are no longer friends, loneliness can set in and begin to eat away at your joy.

So, now you have a few ideas about what being overwhelmed looks like, here are some important interventions to think about, so that we don’t continue feeling this way.

Be Honest

Speak to the people around you that you feel you can trust. Tell them that you do not feel that you can cope and ask for any guidance, support or assistance they can give you. If they cannot, try not to take this personally, it may be that they have a lot on their plate too. Try to approach people who you feel will be compassionate and understanding to your plight, as some people can make their problems seem more important, which will only make you feel worse.

Seek Support Networks

At school, work or university, make sure to access any available resources. For work, it might be some time off sick, or booking a few days holiday. At school, seeing the school counsellor or speaking to a teacher you trust might help you on the path to improvement. At university, try to utilise the university counselling services and student support networks. If you’re not sure, bring it up with your personal tutor. Speak to a GP about how you are feeling and see if they can refer you for assistance. And, seek the local charity networks to see if they can help you with additional funded support.

Meditate

Meditation can be a great way to relax and calm down, but it is also an excellent tool to make breakthroughs with seemingly insurmountable life problems. One of the best techniques I find with this, is to visualise a pool, dropping in a question at the height of relaxation and inner calm, without the expectation that it will return an answer. You are trying to submerge the question into your subconscious, so that it can naturally provide you with an answer in a more intuitive way. I find the headspace app is really incredibly useful for this, so go ahead and try it out.

Are You Looking After Your Health?

One thing I begin to notice immediately when I am overwhelmed, is how it so often correlates with slipping into old dietary habits which are not good for my sense of wellbeing. If you are lucky enough to know what kind of diet works for you, then make sure to reflect on this when you feel overwhelmed. Am I cutting some corners? Can I try and cook a proper meal this week instead of dropping into a convenience store for a cheap ready meal. Often our bodies just need that little bit of extra support so that we can deal with what life throws at us.

Give it Time – Like, A ‘You’ll Still Be Here When The Sun Explodes’ Amount of Time

So, now you’ve heard me whittle on about this, that and the other, and it’s either helped you, or left you more enraged than you began (absolutely not the intention, but a hypothetically plausible outcome). Start asking yourself some questions, without demanding desperate answers. Try to give yourself time and the love and support from those around you, even if you feel that they do not always understand. Look after your body and meditate without expectation, as if answers can come between now and the squashification of the universe, which scientists are referring to as ‘the big crunch’.

I wish you happiness, fulfilment and the ability to overcome anything that life throws at you.

J

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How Meditation Can Help You Become a Better Writer

Many here will be into the art of writing.

Chances are, you clicked through to this article because you are interested in writing better content, in becoming a better communicator. And if you’re passionate and open minded, you clicked through because you can see how practising other skills can benefit your writing as well.

I am, technically speaking, a good written communicator. I have a big vocabulary, I have a knack for constructing sentences and I’m an excellent speller. Great, right?

Well, actually, no, not really.

You see, being a good writer is not about being able to spell or use fancy words or even primly perseverate your grammatical constructs (oh the artistic license).

It’s really about direction, meaning and flow.

Direction, the ability to pursue a destination tenaciously, often a thought or an idea we wish to explore. Meaning, being the ability to convey something that resonates with people. Something people are longing to understand, either about the world itself or about themselves. Flow, especially relevant to the practice of meditation, is the ability to allow your spirit to pour out onto paper without your mind putting a word in and interrupting you.

Direction is so relevant to meditation. When we meditate, we are often asked to enter our meditations with a thought or question which we are to ask of our subconscious and observe any thoughts or ideas it returns. We approach meditation with a controlled and intended trajectory. We want to know something and are ready to ask the questions we need to in order to listen to our subconscious for answers. Writing is the same. We write on a topic or an idea and as we begin on our path, our writing reveals knowledge we did not know we had to give. Our pen is a powerful exit point for the subconscious in much the same way that meditation is. Stretching our minds through meditation can allow us to claim even more direction in our writing than we may have already trained ourselves to create.

Meaning is why so many people enter meditation in the first place and often why we turn to writing too. We want to understand why we are here, who we are meant to be, why the world is the way that it is, and what we can do to make it better. Our search for meaning, the gargantuan existential questions we seek to address in meditation, will also help us tap into the meaning in our writing. When we meditate, we are constantly asking, ‘what can I discover? what can I learn about myself?’ and when we apply that to our writing, we can start to really dig into the stuff that makes writing so powerful, the meaning behind the words.

Finally, and arguably one of the things I have noticed has most greatly impacted my ability to write well, flow. Flow is the ability to focus on the task at hand and to acknowledge, but quietly and calmly relieve ourselves of interruptive thoughts. Being a naturally anxious person, I had a tendency to over analyse everything I wrote. I would scrutinise so intensely the authorial choices I had made, that often I would gridlock myself onto an island of misery. I began to hate writing because I was a perfectionist. I wanted everything, down to the last synonym, to be perfect. As with anything where we expect too much, it had the opposite effect, making me miserable in the process.

Meditation has allowed me to acknowledge my reservations about my writing. To acknowledge, but also to let them rest in the lay-bys of my mind as I drive to my destination. I now focus on what I am trying to say and not how I am trying to say it. I let my sense of direction, purpose and flow guide me as I write, where before I struggled to map my direction, find the meaning or write without my own thoughts interrupting, and even sabotaging me. I am a better writer because meditation has allowed me to let go of the finer details for the pursuit of the bigger picture. It is liberating and transformative, and I strongly recommend anyone who has the time and loves to write, take ten minutes out of their day to try it.

I hope you find direction, purpose and flow in your writing and may these principles allow you to achieve the joy in writing that I have.

J

 

Reflecting and Mood States

Some of us are naturally more introspective than others.

We can spend a great deal of time inside our own heads. This can be both an opportunity to explore ourselves and, at times, our undoing.

Part of my journey with meditation has been about reflecting when you should, but not always, when you can. What I mean is, we can sometimes choose periods of time where our mind is unsettled or turbulent to focus on what we are doing on this planet, why we are here and how we will proceed. This is almost always disastrous.

I personally struggle with many aspect of anxiety and depression chronically and only through meditating, have I begun to realise when I am in a state of mind that self-reflection can help me achieve or ascertain some wisdom about myself. Often meditating, breathing, being present with your surrounding can soothe depression and quell anxiety. Even just ten minutes a day can be enough to bring an ever-spiralling mind back from the brink.

So what can meditation teach us about our state of mind?

The answer is, everything!

It teaches us to sit with our feelings and understand them better. It teaches us when to engage with the feelings. To choose when to allow a feeling to manifest a thought, and when a series of thoughts may better be subdued and our focus returned to our calm and quiet bodies. It is this ability to tune in and out of feelings, thoughts and sensations, which effectively teaches us to better manage our emotions. When we can do this, our reflection can work to our advantage to produce something. An idea, a piece of wisdom, a sense of fulfilment or purpose. Whatever it is, it is best reached by training our focus to settle where it needs to be, so that we are not taken away by our thoughts and feelings.

So meditation teaches us that we are in control of how we feel. Like changing gears on a bicycle, we choose which pace to go with. We can choose our hills and shift gears to meet them. Meditation is the gear shift and breaks that can teach you to control your emotional brain.

As previously stated, turbulent reflection can often lead to catastrophising thoughts. Negative reflection can lead to rumination. When we learn to sense where our head is, we can choose when it is productive to enter into reflection. And often, as we have discussed, positive reflection can come from short meditations as we synchronise our brains and bodies through deep breathing and attuning our senses to our surroundings. Meditation can both bring us out of negative or agitated head spaces and allow us to learn how to switch gears better between emotional states. Reflection that gives wisdom can only come from introspection in a positive or neutral state, so the more we practice meditating, the more often we can make reflection a positive task that allows us to learn and grow.

Taking time to sit with our feelings is ultimately wonderful for our sense of inner emotional rest and for learning how to shift states in a more controlled way, allowing us to get the most out of the time we spend reflecting.

Happy meditating, I wish you the focus and control to make the most of your reflections.

J

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Falling Asleep During Meditation

Most of us will remember a time when we meditated in an evening and started to drift off.

Meditation takes a concerted amount of mental energy and focus and falling asleep during the process can be an extremely frustrating issue for some people. In my last post, we talked about implementing meditation into a busy schedule. This post is about the dreaded drowsiness that follows your jam-packed life and how you can tackle its impact on your focus training!

Here are five ways to make sure you don’t let falling asleep ruin meditation for you.

1. Forgive Yourself – We’re human, we fall asleep when we become relaxed and this is only natural. Award yourself the positive thought that you had a nap and this is good for your body. If you were tired enough to fall asleep, you needed a break anyway. Part of the process of learning to meditate is allowing your body the space and time to understand itself. To feel the tiredness and listen to it. We are trying to give our bodies what they need. Falling asleep can be a form of listening and that is positive.

 

2. Meditate in the mornings – This one is easier said than done, believe me, I know! But waking up, having your morning coffee and taking just ten minutes to concentrate and focus, can set you up for a productive and meaningful day. Meditating before the day begins is a good way to focus the mind on the tasks ahead. Think of it like the time it takes to delicately string a bow before the marksmen shoots.

 

3. Make your sessions shorter – For some people, twenty minutes is just too long when they first start meditating regularly. Starting out with just ten minutes and working up to longer periods is the best way to make sure you don’t become tired and put off by the process.

 

4. Sit up and maintain good posture – Some people lie down to meditate and this may work in some cases, but when you come up against sleep, being so comfortable can be unhelpful. Remember, this activity is about maintaining that connection with your whole body. When your body is not engaged in some form of movement, it can switch off and we can find it difficult to connect with the sensations as well as we might when we are using it to stabilise our upright selves.

 

5. Limit the number of sessions – As has already been explained, meditation is taxing on the mind. When we first start out, meditating every day can be daunting. Like any new exercise, physical or mental, it is best to stagger the progression of time you do it. As your endurance increases, we may eventually work up to meditating every day, but for those just starting out, you might choose to meditate three days a week or only on the weekends at first. Don’t make meditation a daunting experience. It is supposed to be useful, not a chore.

So there you have it! Five easy to implement ways to reduce sleepiness and sleep associated self-chastisement during your meditations. Enjoy learning about your body and mind, but do not pressure yourself into more than you are comfortable with. Meditation is not a regime, it is a tool, and we can enjoy it on our own terms.

Happy focus, warmth and joy to you all.

J

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Meditation in a Busy World

It’s been a while since I last blogged about anything on my blog.

I have to admit, my passion for writing had all but dwindled to nothing in recent months, as I battled ever declining levels of physical and mental health. This isn’t the first time I have experienced problems with my mental health, and I am very open about it because I believe that talking about pain, heals. If you’re new to my blog, take a look at some of the background articles which explain why I’m writing.

My joy, my light, was going out.

I always imagine that there are two ways to go when you hit rock bottom. You can either give up and let the darkness take you, or you can make some drastic changes.

I couldn’t bear the next few decades in this state, so I have committed to many things, including radical diet changes. I am now essentially vegan, with the occasional lapse in having a bit of fish or meat at a special meal. I’m working on exercising, really slowly and carefully. I have quite flexible joints, especially in my legs, and so I have to be really careful about how much exercise I do in case I injure myself. The final thing I have committed to, and the topic of this post, is practising meditation, both at home and in the busy world where we spend so much of our time these days.

Keeping these pillars of well being at the top of my priority will be hard, as they are for anyone with a busy, full time job. However, they are necessary, as anyone who has struggled with their mental health knows, the alternative is much worse. I have been to some really dark places because I have not taken the time to look after myself, and it is amazing how much I am beginning to enjoy things lately because I have taken time for self-care. Neglecting our needs and accepting this as the status quo is the road to ill health and misery. With that in mind, I want to talk, briefly, about some of the ways we can employ meditation in our daily lives, when we are at work, or learning or practically anywhere.

Let me give you a recent example that can illustrate the calming benefits of meditation which can, without doubt, become a part of your busy schedule.

Yesterday, I had booked into the hairdressers for a cut and finish. For someone like me, a hair cut can be an uncomfortable experience. Often bustling, busy, loud, raucous places, filled with glaring lights and extroverts, my withdrawn and quiet presence can often curl up, further shrinking from its sizzling energy.

However, I’ve been following some meditation techniques on Headspace, an app for your phone which teaches meditation with a soothing voice and easy to follow instructions.

One of the most powerful things I picked up, were the techniques of listening to the sounds, smells and sensations of nearby space. The sound of your breathing, the rising and falling sensation of your chest. The soft pressure of the cushion by your side, or the mattress, if you decide to lie down.

It helps ground you in space. It makes you focus on now, as opposed to the fear of the future or lamenting the past. To centre yourself is to experience absolute calm. I really recommend trying a little of this out if you suffer from anxiety or depression. It can really help to bring you back to baseline if you are starting to spiral.

And this is something you can do absolutely anywhere.

Going back to my story about the hairdressers. For anyone with social anxiety and a largely reserved personality, these can be daunting places. However, I found myself naturally starting to use the techniques I had learned through meditation, to turn an experience which could be anxiety provoking, into a pleasant and calming 30- 40 minutes.

I found myself breathing steadily and deeply, staring loosely into the mirror in front of me. I started to sense the sounds and sensations around me. The gentle snipping sounds that scissors make by the ear, as my hair dresser carefully shapes and styles my unruly curls. The brief, warmth of body heat as the hair dresser brushes close by, adjusting their position to get at my tangled ends. The sound of foot steps on the hard floor, hurriedly clopping past and the ambient drone of hair dryers near and far.

I slowly began to fade away and lose myself in all the sounds and sensations. I was no longer on the defence against some perceived threat, very much imagined. It is like becoming a piece of furniture in a scene, totally blending in with an orchestra of noise, becoming silent and calm and completely malleable. The sense of you versus the world falls away, as if you were a piece of wallpaper, newly pasted on a busy background. You can become paper thin. Not literally, but in the way that you identify with what, or who you are, against what, or who, anything that isn’t you, is. It’s the active practice of dissolving the ego, a very important task for those who tend to spend too much time in their own heads.

You can really practice this anywhere, especially trying to work with this method in instances where you feel that anxiety may cause you problems. This can be busy places, or during stressful events in life, or perhaps even something like an interview waiting room, where the suspense of waiting to present yourself, can often times seem unbearable.

So there you have it, a little story from me about how observing and attuning our attention to the world around you can turn potentially unpleasant experiences into an opportunity for relaxation and a sense of ‘being’ with your environment, rather than against it. It just takes a little meditation and concentration, but we are all capable of reaping the benefits of calm and quietude, in the turbulence and chaos of modern life.

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