How many beautiful things do we miss in a day, simply because of the pace of our lives and the intense focus on getting to the next thing?
by Natalie Hodgson
The skill of noticing our lenses, having the courage to remove it and seeing the true beauty of life and yourself.
We are all experts of some kind, filling our lives with our specialty to prove our self-worth and external recognition. Controlling our days with what society says is growth and prosperity. And from this clutter of daily life we prevent ourselves from noticing the beautiful and miraculous world all around us.
In session 2 of the Mindfulness Stress Reduction series we look at perception and creative responding. How we see and think about things (or don’t) governs how we will react or respond to them. In this way, our minds, through our intentions and thoughts, are the creators of our own happiness and unhappiness. This is not positive coach training dribble. This is scientifically proven.
Session 2 is really about understanding what it is we call ‘awareness’. Learning to cultivate a greater degree of it through the practices called The Body Scan, Sitting Meditation and reflecting on your experiences in your daily life. The practice of paying attention to how you are, what you are thinking and how you are feeling at any point of the day is the practice.
Delving down into how our body feels in different circumstances provide clues on our changing mind states in every situation, giving us options to change it. Changing the way, we perceive and respond to things makes a big difference to the short- and long-term effects of stress on our mind and body.
Take some time to read over this progression and reflect on it:
- Intention shapes our thoughts and words.
- Thoughts and words mold our actions.
- Thoughts, words, and actions shape our behaviours.
- Behaviours sculpt our bodily expressions.
- Bodily expressions fashion our character.
- Our character hardens into what we look like.
We could substitute the word intention with perception and it also makes sense.
Perception is how we see things, and this is bias. It is filled with our past experiences, attitudes, our likes and dislikes, class/society pressures, current goals and desires and even daily moods (just to name a few). It is our perception that dictates how we respond. In times of danger we need our perception to keep us safe. However, do we really know how much weight they influence our daily thoughts and actions?
So, the challenge in this session is to bring a ‘beginners mind’ to everything you do. In this way we become more aware of perception and how we experience events. We start with pleasant events. A walk through the park, a sip of the first morning coffee, a hug from a child/partner. Experiencing them as if for the first time. This seems strange and silly at first but if you genuinely do the practice and have a go, you will start relaxing and it will become enjoyable.
With repetition each event is more and more new, with so much more to see. You realize that there is less of the lens of your ideas, opinions and goals and you view it through the amazing nature of what it is or who they are.
Mahabharata said, what is here now, is everywhere, what is not now here, is nowhere to be found’.
With this beginner’s mindset there are infinite possibilities. There is a freshness and joy to the even mundane events such as washing dishes, ironing and brushing your teeth.
This is a practice, and the test of any good practice isn’t so much what happens in the practice as it is on how it impacts you as you get up from your practice and move into your life. It is a discipline to bring into every aspect of your life. Getting out of the specialist viewpoint you loosen the reigns of how much you already know, the predicted outcomes, the judgements of others and yourself and see so much more of what the situation really is.
This viewpoint has tremendous transformative qualities. With this openness you enable a new platform to arise for each experience, so that everyone and everything is seen truly as they really are and not what you expect them to be.
The above optical illusion is an example of how our perception can be deceiving and clouds what is really present. There is always a fresh, new way to see things in life that can bring opportunities and insights for everyone. Even the worst of situations and failures are chances to learn.
So now it’s time to keep practicing. A longer sitting meditation. Read through this section and try it out for yourself. Start with sitting in a comfortable position, in a quiet and undisturbed place. Light a candle or sit in the garden or somewhere that makes you feel peaceful. Sit upright and on something that you can be there for some time. Then place a timer for 10-15 minutes.
Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. This is a time for non-doing. Lower your gaze under your eyelids and allow them to get heavy.
If you are genuinely committed to being more peaceful and relaxed, you might ask yourself why it is that your mind is so quick to be bored with being with itself and why your eyelids are still restless. You might wonder what is behind your impulses to not want to be still after such a busy day; what is the obsession of always wanting to be doing something?
Don’t try to answer such questions, rather observe the impulse to get up or the thoughts that come into the mind. And instead of doing whatever the mind decides is next on the agenda, we gently but firmly bring our attention back to the breathing and just continue to watch the breath, moment by moment. We are practicing accepting each moment as it is without reacting to how it is. By doing so you are training your mind to be less reactive and more stable. Giving your mind and body more room to leave our perceptions behind and take in what is really here. You are making each moment count.
So now notice the connections between what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling physically and emotionally. Spend a few moments observing thoughts, emotions, and the body (tension, twitches etc.) and consider how they may relate to one another. Try this for 15 minutes sit every day with a kind and gentle intention to yourself. Then take this practice with you into your daily life. For example, notice your initial reactions when you’re in traffic, receive that annoying email or phone call, confronted or tense and how bringing mindfulness to the situation offers the opportunity to respond differently.
Try it out.
The black vase is another good exercise.
We start with focusing our attention on the vase shape. Then you may notice the white faces interrupt seeing the vase (may symbolize our perception). However, with focus, you can bring the black vase back to the foreground as the faces temporarily recede to the background.
In our mindfulness practice, we set our attention to the present moment (black vase) and notice every time our attention wanders into thoughts (white faces). Don’t panic or struggle but gently and intentionally return our attention to the present moment (black vase).
Understanding that both the vase (present moment) and faces (thoughts) are the yin and yang of life, they cannot be separated or disappear and need each other for the brain functions. Knowing that the goal is not to get rid of the faces (thoughts), there is then no need to be disappointed or upset when our minds wanders into thinking.
The point is simply to practice the ability to choose where to place attention. These strengthens the muscle of the brain and power to be in the present moment whenever we want too. Like an elegant dance, we simply notice when thoughts are in the foreground and intentionally repeat. This returns us to the present moment anchors us there each time for longer and longer, as we improve our “mindfulness muscle”. The notion of the wandering mind and deliberate re0directing of it is much as part of the practise as staying on the object of attention. Noting (without analysis) where the mind goes and what is on one’s mind. This is a new way of learning and of being. The best way to get somewhere is not to try and get anywhere, not even ‘relaxed’. So, let be or let go and be aware of your breath every time the mind takes you away.
Enjoy and good luck.