Using mindfulness to focus on ourselves

Mindfulness_within

BY JANE REDFERN JONES

When I feel upset or worried I remind myself that I must not look elsewhere (a glass of wine, food, other people) to free and soothe myself. On the contrary, I should observe what is happening inside me. What is this emotion that inhibits me? Which way is it pushing me? This may seem simple, but of course, it isn’t. Our emotions are as inescapable as our thoughts. In other words, they don’t appear as subjective phenomena but as obvious facts – indisputable reality. So I shouldn’t try either to change what I feel or to console or calm myself. I must just be present to it. I must breathe properly and not try to do anything other than focus on my breathing and observe what’s happening inside me.

We can use mindfulness to focus on ourselves as well as the world around us.

Mindfulness is different from relaxation because it runs counter to our natural tendency to retain what is pleasant and reject what is unpleasant. In mindfulness, we notice negative and painful feelings and simply allow them to be there. Instead of trying to get rid of unhappiness and worry, we start by accepting their presence.

Allowing sadness or worry to be there means observing how we feel, but not necessarily believing what sadness is telling us, “I’m not worthy, life isn’t worth living”.

People who are anxious or depressed don’t like being told to start by allowing their feelings to be there because they are used to always trying to do the opposite. They find it frightening and fear becoming overwhelmed. They hope that getting a prescription from the doctor will take their pain away. This isn’t what happens.

Think of your negative emotions as being like animals or people you want to calm down. The more we try to drive them away, lock them up, sedate them, or tie them down the more they fight back and can hurt us.

Likewise, if pain is chased away or sedated it just returns another time.

So it’s better if we make space around our emotions and allow them to just be. This also allows us to observe them. Ask yourself ‘how do they make me feel? What thoughts do they lead to?’ This way, we are not inside the emotion, but noticing and experiencing it so that we are less dominated by it. Sometimes this in itself is enough to calm us and enable us to decide what to do.

The habit of calm, curious introspection begins in moments of calm and rest.

Observe your feelings several times a day, between doing other things. Instead of rushing from one thing to the next and feeling stressed,  take time to feel what is happening inside yourself, and gently connect more with your emotional state.

“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” Hermann Hesse.


Gratitude is the key to happiness

Gratitude Rock

When gratitude is practiced regularly and from the heart, it leads to a richer, fuller and more complete life. If you focus on things you are grateful for then suddenly you'll start seeing things to be grateful for everywhere. Take the time to acknowledge them all. Start small - a smile, the sun breaking through the clouds, the breeze on your cheek. Gratitude also opens your eyes to the limitless potential of the universe, while dissatisfaction closes your eyes to it.


A billion years in the palm of my hand: Gratitude Stones

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By Jane Redfern Jones

Where did this strange stone come from, all pockmarked with little craters? Did it fall from the moon, or maybe from a star like you and me?

This stone sitting in the palm of my hand could be anything from several million to a few billion years old. That’s hard for me to comprehend. Our time here on this earth is so short in comparison. It seems crazy to be worrying about the past or the future. It reminds me that it is not time that we should worry about, but that the ‘Now’ is the most precious thing.

“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.” Eckhart Tolle.

Stone Meditation

We may think that we are only made of our bones, organs, blood, and muscles but we must remember that we also have our consciousness, emotions and many other things.

I will often choose a special stone to help me return to my breathing and body and connect with the world around me.

Gratitude stones are so simple yet so effective. I find they help me enormously. They are a simple way to remind ourselves to be grateful for what we have in our life.

Stone meditation is very simple and can be done anywhere anytime (to meditate is simply to think about something).

You may want to assign certain qualities to your stone such as gratitude, love, compassion, joy. The stone could also represent a loved one such as a mother, father, sibling or anyone close to you. Holding our stone we can send our love to that person as we breathe in and out three times.

The idea is that you put the stone in your pocket or bag and through the day you keep finding it there and do a little meditation. When you do it reminds you to be grateful for all you have in your life. I find that it serves as a reminder to keep my spiritual focus.

We have such busy lives it’s easy to forget how good our lives are and how lucky we are.

Any stone will do and it doesn’t have to have any writing on it. I collect stones from special places that have happy memories.

Pop your stone in your pocket with a quick ‘thank you’.

Alternatively, try putting it on your bedside table, so that you see it before you go to sleep at night and when you wake up.

Each time you see it or feel it in your pocket, pick it up and say a quick thank you for all you have, for someone special, and for the good things you experienced that day.

Don’t forget about your stone. Aim to use it every day. It will help you stay focused on the spiritual aspects of your life. After using it for a while you might find that you don’t even need to feel or see the stone because it becomes such an integral part of your day to be grateful for what you have.

A positive attitude can change our behaviour and thinking in a way that can bring peace to our lives.

So go out in your garden, down to the river or beach and find yourself a stone. Choose one that isn’t too big – ideally, it should sit in the palm of your hand.

If you would like me to send you a stone...

If you’d like one of my stones, message me with your email address, a short paragraph about yourself, and how much you’d like to give for it (including postage) and I’ll set up a Paypal transaction. I’ll choose the stone which I am most drawn to for you. I’ll put the word ‘gratitude’ on it unless you tell me you’d like something different (just simple words such as ‘love’, thank-you, or someone’s name). I’ll also add a little note.

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Facing a challenge and personal growth

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When something in my life takes a turn for the worst I have come to see it as a challenge rather than a disaster.

My boiler broke at the weekend and we had no heating or hot water. It was cold and inconvenient but it also reminded me: ·

How much glossier my hair is when washed in cold water. 

How nourishing to the soul a pure wool blanket feels.

How much deeper I sleep when I breathe cool, fresh air. 

The previous weekend my car broke down and that reminded me of how good I feel after going for a long walk.

Sometimes we come to see things as ‘luxuries’ that we can’t do without and our minds become closed to other realities.

"We are nature for all our sophistication...we are still wild, and the recovery of that vitality will itself set us right in the world." Thomas Moore.


There is something simply beautiful about the light of the moon

Full Moon
Tempted by the almost mystical light shining through my window I go into the garden. I feel a sense of awe and gratitude as the moon floods the garden and calm fields beyond with light.

I marvel at the magnificence of the full moon, but find it hard to fathom the magnitude of the universe that surrounds us.

We may have a tacit understanding of how our solar system works, but watching the full moon disappearing over the horizon reminds me of the vastness of space and the enduring mysteries of the universe we inhabit.

The sense of gratitude we have when looking skyward at night – where does it come from and to what or whom is it directed? Nature? Luck? God?

Teilhard de Chardin, a twentieth century palaeontologist and mystic, wrote in an essay ‘The soul of the world’: “There can be no doubt that we are conscious of carrying within us something greater and more indispensable than ourselves. Something that existed before we did, and could have continued to exist without us; something in which we live, and that we cannot exhaust. Something that serves us but of which we are not masters…”
It is to this unknown entity that we give thanks, whether we name it or not.

Our lives are transitory. We look up at the night sky, and we respond by giving thanks for the gift of the moment. It is good to catch that glimmer of gratitude, which is a lovely state to be in, and to fan its flame.

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Walking mindfully

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I’m walking through the woods.

Or am I?

Who is it that is walking?

I’m thinking about something someone had said to me earlier, worrying about something I'd forgotten to do, and I have fleeting thoughts that undermine me.

But my feelings and thoughts come and go like the dark clouds I can see in the distance.

It is a great relief to realise that none of them are ‘me’.

Science tells me that the ‘self’ is just a ‘construct', an invention of the brain working to hold together all of our experiences in a meaningful way.

I find that going for a good walk is a great way of letting go of the burden of ‘me’.

It gives me a rhythmical time for sorting out my thoughts; for coming to terms with my humanity - mortal, afflicted with doubt, feelings of vulnerability and clouded with confusion.

I don't walk away from my problems, I simply put them in perspective. I see them for what they are, and don't allow them to dominate my life with guilt, worry or anxiety.

When walking mindfully I can sometimes find it to be a challenge to let go of my thinking. 

So I concentrate on just walking, one foot after the other.

So long as I let my head and heart become clear I know that, later, things will begin to sort themselves out naturally, without effort.

I look outwards, noticing the sounds around me: the rustle of leaves as a squirrel searches for food on the ground; a barge on the canal revving its engine in the distance.

I stop and watch a robin flit from branch to branch.

My head and my heart become clear.

I consciously breathe the air and feel it give life to my  body.

The practice of mindful walking, says Thich Nhat Hanh, is a profound and pleasurable way to deepen our connection with our body and the earth. We breathe, take a mindful step, and come back to our true home.


Thoughts floating by...

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I’m out walking and I stop. In doing so I silence the sound of the heather and dead bracken being crushed by my feet, the almost soothing, familiar sound as I walked. I stop near a lake and watch the movement of the clouds reflected in the water. I think about how it is getting dark and that I should get back to the car.

I’ve stopped and I’m thinking...no...it’s not me that’s thinking...my mind is chattering to itself. I listen and notice this chatter: ‘Beautiful scenery’, ‘The colours are lovely’, ‘What’s the time?’, ‘I must remember to call at the supermarket on the way home’, ‘What time do they shut?’ ‘I should’ve brought my coat, it’s very cold’.

Gradually my jostling thoughts fall silent. I become aware of my own breathing and heartbeat. My attention is held by a cloud reflected in the water. I simply see it. I also see all the other clouds. I have no desire to move. I just stand there. Every now and then a new thought crosses my mind. I hear it in the same way as I see the clouds. Presence and distance. One thought whispers “Your thoughts are like the clouds, there are a lot of them, let them pass you by and float away, that’s fine. This moment is perfect. You don’t need or expect anything more than what you are experiencing here and now.”
 
Then my thoughts fall silent.
 
A glimpse of eternity.
 

Staying calm and open to the world

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I'm sitting watching the world go by. I see it change second by second as the mist moves along the valley. I hear sounds in the distance...a car...a magpie...the wind in the trees. I’m reminded that mindfulness is not relaxation (where we need silence, or quiet at least), but meditation (where we are trying to cultivate a calm relationship with the world).

In the meditative state of mind one is simply aware of being conscious at the very moment, or, to be more precise: one experiences oneself as this very moment of consciousness.

There are many definitions of consciousness and the simplest is simply ‘being aware’. 

So, as I sit here my mind flits from one silliness to the next, the same as the bird in the tree next to me flits from branch to branch. It can do nothing else. The main thing is not to feel stable on any one of them. Our minds need transitory certainties, just as birds need branches. 

I am aware that I (the real ‘me’) sit behind the voices in my head, silently listening. 

The Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, ‘Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.’ This serene encounter with reality cannot be had to order. We must consciously use our breath to calm ourselves and patiently examine our experience of the moment, with gentleness and determination, even if that experience is painful, complicated and confused. We just keep on breathing and looking into ourselves. We accept that which we do not clearly understand or control, but we keep on feeling and observing. In this way we learn to look more clearly outwards, at this world that is also painful, complicated and confused. We learn to think better, more accurately and clearly. If we were all to test these fleeting thoughts we have against interdependence, emptiness and impermanence, we would suffer less, and cause others less suffering too.

And so I stay calm and open to the world.


We are nature

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“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”  Albert Einstein.

In a world that is becoming increasingly noisy and fast-moving, with technological advances promoting virtual worlds, fast food and sedentary lifestyles, I believe that a new breed of human is developing and countering this way of life. They are part of a movement that invites us to reclaim our place in the universe and remind us that we are organic rational beings who influence, and are profoundly influenced by, the natural world. They recognise our essential quality as a part of nature and that any separation we have from nature is no less than a separation from ourselves, leading to a sense of disconnection and feelings of loss and loneliness. 

For all our sophistication we are nature, we are still wild, and I believe that the recovery of that vitality will itself set us right in the world.

The interdependence of everything reminds us that nothing on earth has absolute existence as a fixed, isolated entity. I don’t exist as an autonomous subject, independent of my environment. I owe my life and its continuation to an infinite number of other people, along with many other natural phenomena including plants, the sun, other animals, the universe. The acts and judgements I call mine and which seem to me to stem from my own will, are in reality determined by many other factors. There is a dance between dependence and interdependence as my impulses and initiatives, in turn, influence the world around me. Unless I can understand and recognise all these relationships of interdependence, and embrace them, I will be unable to see things clearly and will regularly fall into the traps of ego, pride and suffering. Accepting them will teach me humility in relation to my own undertakings and beliefs.

 
Many aspects of modern life have distanced us from the natural cycles within and around us. Technology has reduced the amount we have to do to adjust to, for example, the seasons. Our lives have become more consistent over the course of the year with food that used to be seasonal now available all year round, central heating and heated cars meaning we barely have to brave the elements, and online communities making us feel that we no longer need face-to-face human contact or time in nature. While this might seem to make life easier in the short-term, in the long-term it can cause problems with both our mental and physical health.
 
Rediscovering our ‘natural self’ and recognising our dependence and interdependence on the world around us can nourish our mind, body and spirit, and Nature can be our wise teacher on this journey.

A brand new day

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“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” Marcus Aurelius.

I love the early mornings when things are very still. I stand outside my door and look out across the fields, over the house roofs and treetops, at the glorious colours in the sky. Behind all the worries we have, the things (and people) we complain about, and the disapproval we have in our minds, the sun is always coming up in the morning, it always moves across the sky and goes down in the evening. The birds are always there collecting their food and flying overhead. The grass is always being blown by the wind, or it is still. Even now, in wintertime, flowers are blooming in my garden. There is so much abundance all around us. As I breathe in the early morning air I appreciate being alive. Some people overnight will have taken their last breath. They will not have realised at the time that it was their last, but their lives will have silently ebbed away. We are so fortunate to have another day here on our beautiful planet. 

The Navajo teach their children that every time the sun comes up, it’s a brand-new sun. It’s born each morning, and each evening it passes on, never to return again. As soon as the children are old enough to understand, the adults take them at dawn and they say, “The sun has only one day. You must live this day in a good way, so that the sun won’t have wasted precious time.” 

Acknowledging how precious each day is, is a good way to live, a good way to reconnect with our basic joy and appreciation.

“The fastest way to bring more wonderful examples of abundance into your personal experience is to take constant notice of the wonderful things that are already there.” Esther Hicks.