Featured in

Featured in: Tiny Buddha, Halifax Media Coop, Fine Fit Day, Simplify the Season, La Presse, Filles, Le Canada-Français

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mindfulness - Meditation

Moyan Brenn, Flickr

"In practicing meditation, we're not trying to live up 
to some kind of ideal - quite the opposite. 
We're just being with our experience, whatever it is."
(Pema Chodron)

Practicing mindfulness, welcoming awareness, slowing down, finding stillness... all prepare you for the practice of meditation.

Imagine a simple, free habit that brings about clarity, focus, lowered levels of stress, and an improved physical health - those are all proven benefits of meditation. 

Meditation is only one letter away from medication and in some cases, it has at least as much power, minus the side effects.

Meditation is a tool that makes it possible, or at least easier, to be in the moment, centered, grounded, which in turn helps you feel and tackle life with more lucidity and serenity. 

Meditation is almost magical in that it allows you to experience a rare luxury, the pause between two thoughts (usually referred to as "the gap"). For most of us with minds working overtime, this constitutes a welcome break.

All that with the bonus of the occasional "epiphany" or blissful moment.

More importantly, meditation is accessible to all.

Contrary to what Madeleine Somerville thinks, meditation is not akin to "sleeping upright". In the beginning, especially, meditating can actually feel like a lot of work. Sitting still, allowing sensations to arise and welcoming them without any judgement, letting your thoughts drift instead of holding on to them, isn't something we are used to do. It's uncomfortable.

The body resists: you feel tense, restless, itchy. You readjust your position many times.

The mind resists: no matter how much you try to just "let them drift away", your thoughts come back circling over your head, insistent, discursive. You might also feel drowsy, which can be another way for your mind to resist the peaceful alertness of meditation.

It takes time. Getting the most out of meditation is similar to getting the most out of a healthy diet or an active lifestyle: it requires dedication and consistency. 

Eventually, the discomfort diminishes and makes way for the wonderful benefits of meditation. 

The daily recommendation for beginners is to meditate for twenty minutes. You might dislike the idea that "nothing gets done" during those twenty minutes or so. But I think that a lot gets done during the time spent in stillness. I even like to say that everything gets done during meditation, since it sets the tone for the rest of your day.

Will you try it?

Mindfulness this Week

This week, you could sit for a few minutes every day, close your eyes, and see what happens.

For more on meditation, click here.  

Be part of the process: 

Submit your comments below

Become a follower of the blog/subscribe by email (top left corner of this page)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Mindfulness - Stillness

h.koppdelaney, Flickr

"If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, 
live in the moment, live in the breath." 
(Amit Ray)

Did you slow something down this week? I hope you were able to give yourself the gift of a more reasonable pace. As we slow down our movements, the hamster wheel in our head also tends to slow down. That allows a growing awareness to come to the surface, which in turn helps us make better decisions: 

  1. We finish one thing before moving on to the next (in our actions but also in thought), which brings about better results and lower stress levels
  2. We feel a simple need before it becomes overwhelming, and fulfill it right away: thirst, hunger, fatigue, and even the need to use the washroom
  3. We notice that we are feeling tense, uneasy, and that it translates into our mood (irritable), body posture (furrowed eyebrows, clenched jaws or fists, raised shoulders), and breath (shallow and fast) - we regain power over those manifestations of stress, the next step being the recognition and tackling of what caused that stress (A thought? An event? The presence of a person?)
  4. We realize that we need a break before things get worse: we go to bed earlier instead of carrying exhaustion from one day to the next; we apply ice to an injury before inflammation sets in; we tackle a budding migraine immediately; we allow ourselves a moment to reflect on a stressful situation
  5. We avoid conflict by being present to the real issues at play instead of reacting impulsively and "taking things personal": we know it's not always "about us", but rather about an unfulfilled need or a discomfort that belongs to our interlocutor - seeing things from that angle helps us keep our calm

The magic thing about slowing down is that it eventually leads to the ability to experience stillness. That stillness itself doesn't have to last very long. What matters more than its duration is the quality of that stillness. Here are some examples:

  1. We can pause during a conversation and really listen to what others are saying instead of planning our next response
  2. We can pause during a meal and really savour what we're eating
  3. We can pause when interacting with nature and appreciate its beauty - it can be as simple as the song of a bird as you step outside, the colors in the sky, the smell of a flower, or even a ray of light coming into the house - nature is right outside the window but we often ignore it
  4. We can pause while music plays, and give it our full attention
  5. We can pause during a hug and feel our "heart melt"
  6. We can pause during a stretch to feel how good it is for our muscles
  7. We can simply pause for a few deep breaths

Even a short pause, if it is made of true stillness, is often enough to "reset" our mind and body. Will you try it this week?

Mindfulness this Week

This week, find moments to take a real pause and be still, even if it was only for a minute or two. If you give yourself that gift, I am certain that you will feel the difference. Then share about your discoveries!

Be part of the process: 

Submit your comments below

Become a follower of the blog/subscribe by email (top left corner of this page)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mindfulness - Slow Down

smlp, Flickr

We have been paying more attention to our lives, and noticing our internal state as well as the external circumstances, whenever possible. We have made interesting discoveries (go back to the previous posts for some examples, both in the text and in the comments). 

Despite those efforts to apply a mindful attitude to our daily life, I am willing to bet that in most circumstances, most of us are still operating on auto-pilot. We are oblivious to many of our own feelings and sensations. We react more than we act, based on past experiences, habitual patterns, and assumptions about what constitutes the right way to live our life. If we stay on this path, no significant progress can be made. We will continue to feel tense, frustrated, inadequate, guilty.

Time to deepen our awareness.

But why "waste our time on awareness", some will think, when there are more urgent matters to take care of? Our lives are unsatisfactory (and, for many, rather hectic). We don't want to use our precious time for reflection. We want results. It's understandable.

The truth is, no real awareness, and thus no true change, is possible without first slowing down. It's hard to see clearly when your mind and body are rushing. A while ago, I had this conversation with D: 

Me: I feel like I'm running all the time, without making any progress
D: You must be running in the wrong direction

Those sage words left me pensive. Running in the wrong direction sounds like a deplorable waste of time and energy, doesn't it? I have a feeling it is precisely what most of us are doing. But how can we really tell unless we first slow down?

I will admit that slowing down is hard, especially in a society like ours. Being busy and/or rushed is worn like a badge of honor. Don't we feel somewhat suspicious of people who don't have much to do? Don't we look down on them? Even if it was out of envy?

Add to that the speed technology has gotten us used to (the speed at which images change on TV and in movies, the speed at which we access information and each other), and it's no wonder our minds and bodies feel so frantic. I have stopped counting the number of friends and family members who have told me that "yoga is too slow" for them, let alone meditation. I don't think it's an idiosyncrasy; I think it's a reflection of our society's hasty pace. It takes time to get used to go slow.

"But I don't have time to slow down", many will say. I get that. Believe me, I do. I work full-time on top of trying to kick start my freelance writing business and training for races; I have two kids, three pets, a house and a big yard. If you asked me how often I feel on top of things, I would reply without hesitation: "never". But I have also noticed that rushing made no significant difference. Worse, it sometimes creates additional problems.

Driving fast, for example, will save you one or two minutes at best, but will raise your stress level and put you more at risk for accidents. The same applies to most daily activities: eating fast, talking fast, brushing your teeth fast... it doesn't really give you more time, but more importantly, it's stressful for your mind and body. What happens when you rush all day? Eventually, you collapse. You collapse on your couch each night, bag of chips in hand, and mindlessly surf the channels until bed time. You collapse mentally and can't focus at work or can't handle daily stresses (e.g. your kids drive you crazy). A burnout is around the corner. You collapse physically and get ill. 

Here's my long-distance runner piece of advice: pace yourself so you can lastWhen you slow down, you don't accomplish less. In fact, you may very well accomplish more; by doing things at a realistic pace and paying attention to what's going on, you don't get to the exhausted state (mentally, physically), which in turn means that you don't need to "compensate" with your usual addictions, whatever they are (eating, drinking, smoking, shopping, gaming, etc.)

In addition, most things benefit from being done slower:

  • eat slower, drink slower (so you know when you're full)
  • talk slower (so you have time to think it over; also, listen more)
  • read slower (so that ideas make their way to your mind)
  • walk slower (so you notice the beauty around you)
  • make love slower (so you enjoy it better)
  • etc.

If speed was what matters the most, we wouldn't take the time to sip on coffee. We would pop a caffeine pill and go on with our day. 

How does this apply to other aspects of your life?

Mindfulness this Week

This week, do something slower. It doesn't matter what it is. Pick something and systematically do it slower, with more awareness. Tell us how it felt!

Be part of the process: 

Submit your comments below

Become a follower of the blog/subscribe by email (top left corner of this page)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Mindfulness - First Impressions

Tim Green, Flickr

Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized, and treated on an absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves. The tangerine I am eating is me. The mustard greens I am planting are me. I plant with all my heart and mind. I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness, compassion, irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are all sacred.” 
(Thích Nhất Hạnh)

Mindfulness is like a dimmer light: as soon as you turn it on, even if it's at the minimal setting, you begin to see more clearly. Examples of the realizations one may come to once the mindfulness light is turned on include:

  • Taking note of your own bad posture at work, which might explain the mysterious chronic pain you've been struggling with.
  • Noticing that you are eating not out of hunger, but out of an unpleasant feeling, such as tiredness, sadness or boredom.
  • Acknowledging that you might be more stressed than you thought, and that it has an impact on your sleep, your mood, your habits.
  • Realizing that someone in your life is the source of a significant amount of stress, as their mere presence (in person or on the phone) seems to drain your most precious energy.*

(*All of the above are actual examples that were spontaneously shared with me by readers, family or friends this last week - for more examples, see last week's comments.)

As you may have noticed, some of the realizations brought about by mindfulness are not joyful. They are nonetheless very real. For that reason, mindfulness can be rather disquieting at first, which contributes to making it hard to achieve and implement in one's life. Noticing that you've been sweeping things under the rug, accepting to take a hard look at them, can be (and will likely be) unsettling and confusing. This is why you will want to turn on the dimmer light gradually. Allow yourself to get used to the discomfort.

The practice of mindfulness is like the practice of fitness training: You start where you are, and you progress at your own pace. 

How to tell if you are doing too much, too soon? The line lies between discomfort and pain. You can expect your budding mindfulness to make you feel uneasy; that is acceptable, and generally a good sign. Discomfort is normal, and even necessary. You have to ''feel the stretch''.

However, if your newly acquired awareness feels absolutely overwhelming and becomes unbearable, it means that you need to slow down. You would never push an exercise through excruciating pain. If such is the case, a break is called for. Getting help, possibly professional help, is recommended. Think of this within the fitness training analogy: You would not tackle a new training program without first making sure it is safe for you, and without adequate support. 

Start where you are, and respect your own pace.

Mindfulness this Week

Noticing the sources of frustration, stress and pain in our lives is crucial. Noticing the sources of well-being is just as important. This week, we will make sure that our awareness also applies to the good, the pleasant, the serene. 

Mindfulness will bring positive realizations to the surface, such as the fact that certain people, activities, foods or musics provide you with great joy. What are your ''I'm feeling really good right now'' moments?

Be part of the process: 

Submit your comments below

Become a follower of the blog/subscribe by email (top left corner of this page)

Monday, January 4, 2016

Mindfulness - Why?

BuzzFarmers, Flickr

''From a mindfulness point of view, 
we all have attention deficit disorder.'' 
(Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche)

Year after year, it's the same. We end the year reveling in excesses, we start the year making resolutions. Resolutions that, most often than not, will be reduced to distant memories just weeks into the new year - just look at how jam packed gyms become in January... only to quiet down by February. Even those of us who don't explicitly formulate resolutions could easily identify areas of their life where an improvement is called for, but fails to materialize.

This leaves us with two questions:

1) Why do so many of us feel the need to make resolutions?
    (Why do so many of us hope and plan to improve their lives?)

2) Why do so many of us fail at keeping those resolutions?
    (Why do so many of us fall short of implementing change?)

The reason we make resolutions is simple: Our life is not up to our expectations. We don't reach our goals. (Sometimes, we don't even know what our goals are.) We feel like we should have control over our existence, yet we keep steering it in the wrong direction, by making the wrong choices - big and small. We don't feel good about ourselves, or not often enough. Something is off. We want change. We want improvement.

The reason resolutions fail is more perplexing. We really do want to lose weight, stop smoking, spend less time in front of a screen and more time with our loved ones. We really do want to live a purposeful, fulfilling life in line with our values. We are full of great intentions.

The problem is one of mindfulness: we try to implement change but we fail to inspect our life genuinely to determine what, precisely, is at the bottom of our dissatisfactions and bad habits. Why exactly do we feel crummy? Why do we compensate with food, alcohol, shopping, or video games? 

This is where mindfulness comes into play. Mindfulness holds the key to a satisfying life that truly resembles us.  Embracing mindfulness might have a phenomenal impact on your life because it's been shown to make a difference in so many areas. For example, mindful eating would advantageously replace any diet. Implementing mindfulness in the workplace would significantly reduce stress, increase creativity and performance, improve interactions and decision-making, with the bonus of happiness and well-being.

Something tells me that mindfulness might be the ultimate resource and inspiration we need to tap into.

Mindfulness this Week

This week we will slowly acquaint ourselves with mindfulness. We will keep it very simple for now. Our only goal will be to pay more attention, to become more aware of what's going on. Every time we have a chance, we will ask ourselves: What is going on right now, outside of me and inside of me? We will welcome any answer that comes up. We will observe the sensations that emerge. There will be no judgement, no analysis, no further questions. We will simply state, for ourselves, how we feel this right moment... then we will continue with the rest of our day.

Let's begin right now. How do you feel at the moment? Take a moment to assess your internal state and the external situation. Then continue with the rest of your day.

Be part of the process:

Submit your comments below

Become a follower of the blog/subscribe by email (top left corner of this page)