丑A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 20. Embracing your inner weirdo丑

What things do you avoid because you have become attached to a particular label or idea that you have about yourself?

I always label myself as shy and awkward. I get nervous infront of large crowds and I stutter when I am under pressure. 

These labels and ideas can become part of who you are- how others see you and how you view yourself. This can prevent you from growing, from shedding out-of-date dislikes, habits, and behavior.

Exercise:

What is on your list of things to avoid? Choose something from the list and try experiencing it as if it for the first time. 

Giving presentations to large crowds and any other form of public speaking. 

Explore it with as many of your senses as possible. Pay attention to any resistance that arises in the form of thoughts, memories, emotions, and bodily sensations. Tease out your experience. What do you notice? This not about forcing yourself to like it- you stil may not- but rather to see it with fresh eyes. 

Thoughts:

 Everyone is staring at me and judging me. Why am I so awkward and cringey. 

Memories:

 I stuttered handing over in that meeting. I forgot the words of a prayer on my confirmation. I always go roaring red in the face and can’t make eye contact. 

Emotions: 

Embarrassment, anxiety, nervous, apprehensive, overwhelmed. 

Bodily sensations: 

Tightness in chest, short of breath, nauseous in belly. 

This weeks exercise was about viewing the label or view you have of yourself in a different light. I decided to go the extra mile and face the label head on. On Wednesday I had to speak infront of an audience and tell them about myself and my single life. I done a lot of yoga and meditation in the weeks leading up to this event to keep me grounded. I done a million and one deep belly breaths beforehand and decided not to say out loud that I was nervous, even though I was. I didn’t want to feed into my emotions but I did acknowledge them to myself. Sometimes I find if you tell a friend you feel nervous, they feed into the emotion with you. “Don’t worry, no need to nervous, it’s ok, it is a scary experience……” They just help you overthink the whole “I feel nervous”, instead of just acknowledging the emotion and letting it pass. I try not to zone in on my emotions because I don’t want to magnify it and bring it to a head. It works for me anyway. 

This event was something I had never done before and naturally I felt apprehensive about the whole thing. I tried to stay away from coffee as this can heighten my anxiety levels. I organised and planned everything in advance i.e. Hair and make up. I made sure I was ready a few hours early so I wasn’t running around making myself sick with anxiety. I ensured I done everything at a slow pace and done my belly breaths all throughout the day. I know from past experiences that I tend to speak faster when I feel anxious. Therefore, I decided to focus on speaking slower and taking breaths throughout my sentences. 

Right before I walked on stage, I felt very overwhelmed by all the bright lights and I could feel anxiety raising just a little. I got to the top of the steps, walked towards the stool, sat down, had a giany belly breath and instantly I felt at ease. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone in the audience and just pretended I was a lot more confidence than I was. IT WORKED. Of course there were times when I got a bit awkward. A few years ago I would have given myself a hard time of this and spoke very negatively towards myself during and after the awkwardness. The whole event went great and I didn’t stutter once. I was as calm as I have ever been. 

I did also put some more ground work in. I find researching new ways of viewing myself and getting tips for building self esteem very useful. I found a video on YouTube and watched it while I was waiting around before the event:

https://youtu.be/0Tk82hEHNnY

It spoke about the Deutsch scholar and philosopher Erasmus and his view on humans. He believed that everyone, no matter how important or learned they might be, is a fool. He even viewed himself as a knit-wit. He described himself as shy, awkward, makes bad decisions, lets things fall at fancy dinners, says the wrong thing at the wrong time. It helped normalise these traits. 

“Being weird and awkward doesn’t make us unfit for society, it makes us just like the greatest scholar of the Northern European renaissance.”

The video also spoke about Pieter Bruegel, who painted the picture ‘The Deutsch Proverbs’. The painting shows many different parts of the human being. He wanted to send out the message that “We are all deranged”. 

“The key to greater confidence is not to reassure ourselves of our own dignity. It is to grow with peace of the inevitable nature of our ridiculousness. We are idiots now. We were idiots in the past and we will be idiots again in the future.”

I remember I spoke to my friends about the event a few days before and I explained I was worried that they would make me out to be weird and stupid. One of my friends responded “Julia, it will be you who will make yourself out to be a weirdo because you are a weirdo. I don’t think you need help with showing the audience that you are one”. This strangely made me feel at ease. It really didn’t matter if I was made out to be a bit foolish or weird. Naturally as a human being, I am weird and foolish. This experience will not make me more or a less a fool. Being weird and foolish is the norm. Each and every one of us is a complete fool. This gave me greater confidence that day. 

Message: Self acceptance is key. Accept your weirdness and accept the fact that no one is prim and proper and everyone makes mistakes and acts absolutely ridiculous sometimes. 

Reflection: This weeks exercise has helped me immensely. The event was obviously a bonus but my god I have learned so much about myself. The label I had of myself as “shy” and “awkward” has completely lifted and I now see myself as a weird, confident, complete freak and I absolutely love it! 

J x


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A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 19. Being Present in Mind and Body

BEING PRESENT IN MIND AND BODY

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Technology has taken over basic human interactions. Instead of admiring a sunset with a loved one, we take a picture of it and upload it to Instagram. We watch movies with friends and spend half the movie with our heads in our phones updating our news feeds. When we are somewhere else mentally, we might as well not be present physically. When we are not present with someone, they may feel neglected and ignored. 

At Christmas time, my phone got robbed and I was forced to use an old block of a phone with a grey screen and a memory that could hold 20 messages in my inbox at a time. But it had internet access….. NOT. I spent 3 weeks without internet access on my phone. If I needed to check emails, I logged onto my laptop and done it the old fashioned way. I spent a lot of time in my own head. I learned a lot about myself during those 3 weeks. I realized how much I “thought” I needed my phone and how much time others spent on theirs.

One evening my best friend came to visit and we sat down to watch a movie. She stared at her phone for the first 30 minutes. I could feel my blood boil. I asked politely for her to put her phone away as I thought it was rude of her. She laughed it off and continued watching some random Snapchat story on her phone. I didn’t understand why she even bothered to come visit and watch a movie if she was going to sit on the couch on her own for most of the night. I never felt so alone. That was me before my phone got robbed. It made me realize how many amazing opportunities or memories I had missed because I was on my phone or I was busy taking a picture of the memory. From that night on, I always tried to make more of a conscious effort to put my phone down when others were talking or when I had allocated a time to do an activity with someone.

This weeks exercise wanted me to stay present with friends, family and colleagues with these simple steps: 

  • Turn off your phone and put it out of sight. Having it on the table next to you gives a message that something may take precedence over your time with this person.
  • Notice where your mind goes. Every time you are aware of it drifting off, bring it back in the same way as you do when you meditate.
  • Notice whether any particular emotions are arising- perhaps restlessness or the wish to be somewhere else. Whatever comes up, acknowledge it, tune into the body, and explore any sensations that accompany it.
  • Practice Listening Mindfully (Week 10’s exercise).
  • Reflect on how being present with someone both physically and mentally affects the encounter and the relationship. What do you notice?

Reflection:

The same friend came over again the other night and I purposely left my phone upstairs. We didn’t watch a movie, we just sat there and chatted and it was amazing. We laughed loads and spent genuine time together. At one point I had to go grab my phone so we could double check a date for the next time we were planning to spend time together. We just sat there an listened to each other. I was nice not having any distractions for a while and I felt grateful that I had someone who wanted to sit there and be present with me. I was worthy of their time and they were worthy of mine.

Work colleagues on the other hand, I just cannot stay present with. It is much harder to stay present and actively listen when you and the other person and worlds apart and you have genuinely no interest. That’s kinda mean but that’s what goes through my head. I do try stay present as often as a I can but my mind drifts off and I get easily distracted or reach for my phone. I must try this exercise with a work colleague and report back. It is hard though when you’re working a 13 hour night shift and the same person is speaking to you the entire night. How can someone hold concentration for that long? ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………………….

Goal: 

Must try stay present at work. Stop being rude and staring at my phone in the company of others.

 

J x



 

蚊 Year of Living Mindfully: Week 18

訊HE POWER OF ATTENTION

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In school I was always given out to for day dreaming and not paying attention in class. These days my friends call me Dory from ‘Finding Nemo’ because I have the attention span of a fish most of the time. I have also been called a magpie because I get easily distracted “Oh look something shiny”. When we are bored or disinterested in something, we tend to zone out and retreat to our thoughts about the activity or something completely different. When we feel sad, we are more likely to switch on negative thinking, which then compounds the low mood, and so on.

This weeks exercise wanted us to choose an activity we habitually zone out of and start paying attention to it.. For example a chore you have to do around the house. I chose cleaning the dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher).

Begin to ask yourself the following questions about the task:

What emotions are present? (acknowledge how you are feeling)

I feel dread. I feel exhausted. I feel frustrated. I feel lazy.

What story are you telling yourself about the task? (Notice any connections between the story and emotions) Acknowledge whatever is arising (even if you think you “shouldn’t be having” such thoughts). 

My mam will probably go mad if she sees a sink full of dishes when she comes home from work.  Why did no one wash their own dishes as they used them? This is going to take forever. I am always the one who ends up cleaning up after everyone. This is such an effort.

Pay attention to your breath and any sensory experience that arises: smell, taste, sight, sound. Use the sense to bring you back to the present moment when your mind begins to wander off. 

I can smell fairy washing up liquid. The water feels warm against my skin. I can hear hear the water coming from the tap and the noise of the dishes hitting off each other. I can see the dirt being removed. I can feel the sponge in my hand.

Investigate whether there is another way to relate to the task. Perhaps think about who benefits from this activity. Try to see what you can do as an act of love or affection for someone you care about.

My Mam will really appreciate seeing a clear sink when she comes home from work. It saves her having to do it herself when she comes home after 11pm tonight. It will give her one less task to do before bed.

We don’t have to enjoy what we are doing, but we can choose to relate differently to it.

Reflection:

By relating to the task in a different way, it made the experience more positive. Now instead of moaning about washing the dishes, I now see it as an act of kindness for my Mam for when she gets home from work. Give it a go yourself and see if you can begin to relate differently to a task you find difficult.

J x

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儭A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 17 儭

WRITING AS PRACTICE: EXPLORING INTENTION 2

This weeks exercise was a check in on how my mindfulness practice was going to help encourage learning and motivation. It began by a simple breathing exercise to help ground me and keep me focused during reflection. I used a quick body scan technique I learned at my medication course in the Dublin Buddhist Centre. I then began to ask my self “How does my practice serve me?”. I allowed my thoughts to come and go and repeated the question every so often for the next ten minutes. I jotted down whatever words or sentences came to mind for the next 30 minutes. I set my alarm for 30 minutes time. I didn’t judge what I was writing or think about it too much. It was just words jumbled together on a page. I didn’t read what I had wrote until the alarm went.

One must endure the caterpillar if ones is to become acquainted with the butterflies

-Antoine d Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince, 1943

Sooooooooo HOW DOES MY PRACTICE SERVE ME?

During the writing up of my thesis, I lost my USB stick. Any normal person would absolutely sh**t themselves. I didn’t. I knew if I freaked out I would make things ten times worse. I stayed calm and collected. I went straight home from the library and searched my laptop for the last draft I had saved. I found bits and bobs from here and there. I knew I was weeks ahead of myself so catching up would be an effort but it wouldn’t impact me as much as it would have if I wasn’t as organised. My calm reaction to this situation was definitely influenced by my mindfulness practice, yoga classes and new mind set.

Some words that popped into my head during this reflective piece were

RELAXED

PEACE

CALMNESS

HAPPINESS

CONTENTMENT

SELF AWARENESS

COPING SKILLS

ORGANISED

REFLECTION

Appreciation of life

Improved sleep

Yoga helps a lot

Opened my eyes to the world around me

Helped me appreciate the little things in life

Keeps me focused

Less sad, frustrated or angry moments- when I do feel these emotions they only come for small periods of time now

I can overcome stressful moments maturely and more grounded


If you have ever tried any of these mindful exercises yourself, HOW DOES YOUR PRACTICE SERVE YOU? Give it a go and see if anything comes to mind. You might be surprised as to the what words come pop up. The benefits of mindfulness practices can sometimes go unnoticed so its  important to check in with yourself every so often. I didn’t realize how much I have benefited from it and how its changed my outlook on life and my reactions to negative situations.

 

J x

 

括 Year of Living Mindfully: Week 16

Creating a Space

By taking a Breathing Space we pause and take a moment to acknowledge what is happening in that moment.


 This exercise helps bring us into the present moment by noticing and acknowledging how things really are. Being honest with ourselves and not thinking about how we would like them to be. Following this we decide what to do next- if anything at all.

 It recommended becoming familiar with The Breathing Space exercise that I have attached below. Try schedule this into your daily routine. Set an alarm or write it into your diary. I usually set my alarm titled what my intentions are for that day. For example: ‘Breath’, ‘Thoughts become things’, ‘Gratitude’, ‘Forgiveness’. The book recommends attaching this breathing practice to meal times. We always have to eat so by making it part of this daily activity we are more likely to remember it. Over time it will become part of your regular day. They say it takes 30 days to break a habit. I also believe it takes 30 days to pick up a new habit. I gave myself the challenge of setting my alarm with the word ‘Breath’ during breakfast, dinner and tea time. Obviously my meal breaks vary from day to day so sometimes my alarm was too early and I completely forgot to do it when meal time came around. You will also forget and that’s o.k but don’t beat yourself up over it. The more you realise you have forgotten the more you will remember the next time. Each time you remember that you have forgot to do it, DO IT THEN. Do it as soon as you remember!

 When doing ‘The Breathing Space’ exercise it is important to be self aware that if you have negative feelings or thoughts or whatever come about, your automatic response will be to try and fix them to make yourself feel better. Sometimes this happens when I meditate. I notice my t shirt is a little bit uncomfortable around my neck and I try to fix it. It has taken me months to be able to sit with these discomforts or negative emotions and not react to them. Practice makes perfect and all that jazz! I have learned to acknowledge these feelings etc. and let them go. Literally with an out breath, let them go.

 

 Once you have experience watching the breath, you can expand this to mindfulness of the entire body. Personally I find it difficult to do this on my own and prefer guided meditations or sometimes I attend a mindfulness yoga and meditation class. It all depends on how I am feeling. The more anxious or stressed I am I usually prefer to book into a class as I tend to think “I don’t have the time to be mindful”. By booking into a class and paying in advance it means you kind of have to go. That’s how my brain works anyway. The following exercise requires a dedicated 10 minutes or longer to complete. I think setting your alarm 10 minutes earlier in the morning is the best time to do it. Start your day as you mean to go on! Usually as the day progresses you are more tired and not a***d.

 Mindfulness of the body allows us to change our relationship with discomforts or pain. As I have spoke about in previous posts, we notice narratives we create around pain and discomforts, we can feed into these feelings and we can learn to let it go. By doing this the discomfort is reduced. We learn how to live with things that are not how we would like them to be. As I was saying up above usually when I meditate I find it hard to not react to a tight fitting t shirt or an itchy nose. By pausing before reacting to these feelings and sensations we allow ourselves time to react differently. My yoga teacher always tells us to breath into the discomfort or pain. Literally visualise your breath inhaling and exhaling through the area of discomfort. It took me a long time to be able to do this. Our automatic responses are built into us. As children our parents ran straight to us when we fell and rubbed the area that was painful to relieve the discomfort. It takes time to change these automatic responses. Practice pausing before reacting every time you remember. Set a reminder on your phone titled ‘Pause’. Eventually it will become a habit like everything else and you will naturally react this way. Give yourself 30 days!

 Through this practice we learn to be with physical sensations. We practice tuning into our bodies and noticing what is arising within them. Those who experience periods of great sadness (depression) due to chronic pain will use things such as avoidance to cope and deal with their discomforts. This approach is the complete opposite. Through using this mindfulness technique we are zoning in on the pain and being with it as opposed to avoiding it.

 J x

A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 15

Noticing the Narrative

Meditation teaches us how to observe our thoughts from a different angle. During meditation practice we also start to notice the same old stories that come up time and time again. These may be things like “I am not good enough”, “I need to get a new job”, “Why am I still single?”- the list goes on. 

Whatever story we tell ourselves will be influenced by our frame of mind. If we feel a bit down in ourselves the story will be negative, whereas if we feel happy then the story will have a more positive story line. This fact alone tells us we can’t take our thoughts as facts. This weeks exercise asked for us to pay attention to the stories we tell ourselves by using the following guidelines:

  1. Notice how your mood influences your interpretation of an experience.

  2. Become aware of your posture, paying particular attention to your jaw (is it relaxed or clenched?) and your hands. How are your shoulders? Notice expressions: are you frowning?

  3. Tune into your body and become aware of any sensations that are arising in response to the story (and then notice if new thoughts arise about those sensations). Of course, there may be none.

  4. When you become aware of a recurring thought, it can be helpful to bring some lighthearted humour to naming it: For example, thinking “ANXIOUS ANNIE IS HERE AGAIN!” will help you to distance yourself from your anxiety.

  5. Are you feeding a particular story, maybe playing sad songs when the story is negative and encouraging feelings of sadness to manifest? We may not be able to control our thoughts but we can control how we respond to them.

  6. Notice the feeling tone of your thoughts as these can be helpful indications of your current state of mind.

Exploring the body and physical manifestations of the thought and/or emotion can be a helpful  to disengage from the “doing” mind. We can also use the breath as a way of shifting our attention away from a particular focus. We do this all the time when we meditate, but we can do it when we are doing about our daily life, as well.

Personal Reflection:

  1. I felt a bit stressed out and my mood was a bit all over the place. I was texting my friend and they replied to a message with a very short response. I interpreted that as “maybe they’re angry with me?”, “why are they being so short?”.  I started to jump to conclusions and make up a scenario in my head.
  2. My posture at the time: I was frowning.
  3. I started to feel anxious and my breath got a little faster.
  4. “JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS IS HERE AGAIN”
  5. By not asking my friend if anything was wrong I was feeding into my story and giving myself more time to make the story even bigger. I responded by sending even more messages as I was starting to become even more anxious. With every message sent and no reply received, I was feeding into my story. If I had changed my response and asked if anything was wrong then waited for a reply, I would not have become as anxious.
  6. The next time this scenario arose I waited for a response from my friend and focused on my breath until they responded. There was nothing wrong with them in the end. They were busy driving and could not reply in big essays.
  7. The feeling tone of my thoughts were anxious. This reflected how I was feeling all day. I was a bit stressed out with college work and it definitely showed in the story i developed inside my head.

What story is headlining within your head this week?

 

J x

潃儭A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 14潃儭

MOVING OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

As we get older and morph into old grannies we develop habits and routines. We can tend to do the same thing day in day out. We’ve conquered our own particular way of doing something and continue to do it that way because “we’ve always done it like that”. It is easier to stick to what we know, what we are used to. Change can petrify people. The unknown can petrify people. The brain uses less energy when it sticks to a routine. It becomes lazy. By staying within its comfort zone it means few less unpleasant surprises. However, when things do not go according to plan we can experience great amounts of unhappiness.

How do we prepare for the unexpected?

Building up resilience! Deliberately get out of your comfort zone and prepare yourself for the unexpected. Allow yourself to become more adaptable to change. Build up your tolerance levels by practising small inconsequential things.

This exercise asked me to make a list of things I always do the same way:

  1. I always have a coffee first thing in the morning.
  2. I always check the train and bus times a million times before it is due.
  3. I always check all social media apps before I go to sleep and when I wake up.
  4. I always sleep on my stomach.

Then I had to choose one thing to do differently each day. I chose not to have my morning coffee first thing when I woke up. I approached it with a ‘beginners mind’ and allowed myself to be ‘curious’ throughout the experiment. These are two very important attitudes to attain to improve your mindfulness practice. We spoke about these in more detail in ‘Week 3: Cultivating the Attitudes’.

Personal reflection

What did you notice that arising before?

Thoughts: I am going to fall asleep on the train to work. I will not be able to function. I can just imagine how irritable I am going to be.

Emotions: I feel tired already. Irritable.

Felt sensations in the body: Heaviness in my chest.

What did you notice arising during?

Thoughts: Ok, I’m still awake. I can make it to work. Its not the end of the world.

Emotions: I feel tired. I feel anxious. I feel asleep (is that even an emotion?).

Felt sensations in the body: Headache

What did you notice arising after?

Thoughts: I didn’t fall asleep. It wasn’t actually that bad. I completely over-rely on coffee. I need to change my morning habit to something less addictive. Maybe I can get my caffeine buzz from a healthier green tea? I think I still need coffee though? I am an addict.

Emotions: I feel tired and sleepy. I miss coffee. I feel sad.

Felt sensations in the body: My body is a bit drained.

The book recommends using your breath to keep you anchored during this exercise. I thought I would be a bit of a drama queen if I started to do deep breathing exercises because I missed my coffee. BUT I DID. I COFFEE. OK, so my experiment was not extremely ‘out of my comfort zone’ but it did bring up some nasty feelings and made me become more aware of my over reliance on coffee. Am I addicted to coffee or am I addicted to the routine? I was certainly out of my comfort zone sitting on that train, day dreaming about coffee beans. I felt anxious and uneasy. Usually I am quite content on the train to work. My poor brain is usually slowly sipping my coffee mug day dreaming about nothing. But there it was on overdrive having unnecessary nightmares about coffee. Maybe next time I’ll do something a bit more spontaneous like walk to work instead of getting the train? Confuse my little brain up completely.

 

 

J x

 

A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 12

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Appreciating the Good

They say we can ‘redress’ our natural bias towards negativity by focusing on the pleasant and positiveexperiences. Because there is no survival benefit to enjoying pleasant experiences, they usually happen momentarily and are gone.

Mindfulness is all about being able to bring that small experience into awareness for as little as 60 seconds in order to save it in our long term memory. (Have we all seen ‘Inside Out’ the children’s movie?). These small pleasant experiences are usually appreciated and made more aware of by the young. In the movie ‘Inside Out’ they explain how aware children are of small happy moments and how such small things can impact on a child’s development. These happy moments are stored in their long term memory until bigger emotions take their place. This could be as simplistic as when the first time their Mother made them laugh or the first time they tried to eat jelly. The feeling of happiness children experience usually sits with them a lot longer than in adults. As we grow older these experiences go unnoticed because adults are usually preoccupied with more ‘important’ things in life like how they are going to pay the bills or who’s turn it is to take the bins out. The minute happiness occurs in an adult they have already jumped onto a new feeling or a new thought. Children are the most mindful of us all.

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BANKING THE GOOD

Sometimes people are surprised at they way a seemingly insignificant experience creates a strong sense of pleasure, which they experience again when they reflect on it- an added bonus. Our natural negative bias means we usually forget a transitory pleasant experience- the warm sun on our face, the scent of a flower, the smile that lights up a child’s face when they see us- but if we pay attention to the experience, noticing its different elements, we “bank” it in our long-term memory and life starts to feel richer and more fulfilling.

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This weeks exercise wanted us to make an intention to be more aware of those fleeting moments of pleasure. Do it every day for a week (or more). At the end of the week reflect on any new discoveries or insights.

What was the experience?

What thoughts occurred to you?

What felt sensations did you notice in the body?

What emotions were you aware of?

What are you experiencing now as you answer these questions?

This week I reflected on several positive experiences, one of which was particularly positive. Now its not every day or week I do this but as its coming close to Christmas I felt a bit emotional and giving. During the week I was shopping in Marks and Spencer’s and when you spend over 75 euro you get a free gift (a box with wine, Christmas pudding, biscuits, sweets etc.). I was delighted and immediately imaginedmyself and my best friend sitting on the couch having a nibble and a glass of wine. I was bombarded with shopping bags that day. I walked by sooooo many homeless people sat on the cold ground looking miserable. I decided F**k this I have enough treats at home, I’ll give this gift box to the next homeless person I see. So that’s what I done. And Wow. I have never seen someones eyes light up as much as this man’s did. “Thank you so much, you don’t realize how much I appreciate this. Seriously, Thank you”. My god I certainly would not have appreciated it as much as he did. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude (I had a little cry, as usual. I am an emotional being). I felt so happy that I had made someone look and feel the way he did.His happiness with the gift lasted a lot longer than mine would have. He sat there staring at it with joy, whereas I would have had the whole thing eaten at that stage. I reflected on how much I take for granted in life and how I need to start appreciating the little things more.It was a positive experience that will certainly be entering my long-term memory. Even reflecting back again writing this, all the same emotions I felt that day come flowing back. I received great happiness and pleasure from this small act of kindness. I also reflected on other small moments of pleasure throughout the week but this was one that stuck out for me.

What small moments of pleasure can you remember from the week past?

J x

A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 11

What Attitudes are you Feeding?

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Usually when we feel a particular emotion it leads us to having thoughts about the feeling and sometimes finding evidence to support it. We may also describe it with language like ‘what a nightmare’. It can be hard to figure out which came first. Did the thought come first? The emotion? The feeling?

When we catastrophe an experience, we allow the emotion to build up like an angry fire. The emotion then becomes out of control and we experience an unconscious mind/body chain reaction leading to usto feel even worse.

This exercise speaks about how we have the potential to control our emotions. Now obviously we can only control our emotions to an extent. But as I always say, self awareness is key! By bringing thoughts or emotions into our awareness, we can watch our thoughts span out, become aware of the physical effects they have on our body and how overwhelming they can be. The first step is becoming self aware. We cannot change or do anything differently without becoming aware of it. Makes sense really. By acknowledging that a particular emotion is present, it allows us to react differently and puts a halt on the negative reaction you would usually take. This whole exercise reminded me of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. We become aware of how our thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours are interlinked. By changing one part of the chain, we cause a domino effect thus changing the automated response. For example, when I am feeling sad I listen to sad music thus making me feel even sadder. I then start to think negative thoughts and might even have a good cry. This negative cycle has become a built in automated response. I am basically feeding into my feeling of ‘sadness’. To break this negative cycle, I might listen to happier music when I feel sad in order to help lift my mood.

Mindfulness teaches us how to tune into our experiences on a regular basis, enabling us to tune into negative behaviours as they arise. We become aware of thoughts, emotions, feelings or behaviours and explore them. The book recommended using a gentle breathing exercise to bring ourselves back into the present moment. Again refer back to my post on Breathing or simply use my ‘Breathing through the feet on the floor’ (my fav). Obviously when you are feeling a bit angry, the last thing you are thinking of is doing a quick breathing exercise. But if we refer back to my post on changing automated responses, you will see how we easy it is to start a negative response but just as easyto start a positive response. Practice makes perfect. For something to become an automated response, it must be practiced. It must become part of your routine. It will take time and it will not happen over night.

How about thinking of what you like to do when you are feeling sad? Now have a think about those actions. Do they make you feel better or worse? For example, I might have a glass of wine if I feel a bit down or stressed. The wine will usually make me feel even shittier and the next day I am even worse with a hangover. What was so positive about that? That is most defiantly a feeder behaviour. What could I do differently that might help me more? I could watch a comedy. I could go visit a friend. Things that could actually lift my mood as opposed to bringing it further down? Makes sense doesn’t it?

Practicing Patience

Be patient and remind yourself that to begin with you may notice only after the event and wish you could have responded differently. This is perfectly normal; just continue practicing and noticing the emotions that you feed.

J x

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Tai Chi: An early morning I spent pretending I was a bird

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 Recently I attended a free introduction to Tai Chi session in The Dublin Holistic Centre . I was recommended by a friend to try it out as it was “calming” and “right up my street”.I YouTubed it and instantly I was attracted to it. Like minded people, standing in a small group, slow moving, in a deep relaxed state. I HAD TO TRY IT!

So what is Tai Chi? 

 Tai Chi is known as a mind art which combats stress, tiredness, sadness, anxiety and addictions. It focuses on posture, breathing, awareness and powerful whole body movements. It’s basically an internal Chinese martial art that is practiced for both defense training and its health benefits. You may have seen it in movies such as Jackie Chan or the Karate Kid. It is comprised of 37-postures, or movement patterns, which are repeated to the left or right to create the 108-movement sequence.

 Supposedly, it came about when a crane (a type of bird) and a snake came into contact with each other. The snake attempted to attack the crane. The crane remained still and gently moved away from each attack the snake made. Eventually the crane wore the snake out and he was able to kill the snake. The aim of Tai Chi is to become the crane. 

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 So off I went at the crack of dawn, one cold Wednesday morning, to see how I could become a Crane. Beforehand I had pictured myself in slow-mo dancing around a room with old men in white clothing and long white beards becoming at Awe with the universe. When I arrived, I was greeted by a very pleasant man man dressed in navy and no beard. He explained the benefits of Tai Chi and what exactly the introductory class would entail. There were four people in attendance. The room was smallish but cozy and appropriate for its use.

 We started off by doing some meditation exercises to relax our minds and bodies. This included slow hand movements and breathing exercises with our eyes closed. Once we had all become grounded and calm, we began the Tai Chi exercises.The more relaxed your body and mind are, the more abundantly your energy can circulate. This is the first stage, known as Regulating the Body. Eventually, if you are interested in following the traditional path, you can progress through the stages of Regulating the Breath, the Mind, the Qi (the energy), and the Spirit. It can take up to three years to achieve full energy enhancements and full health benefits (a very long time).

 I was informed that it would take around 6 weeks to learn one movement but today he would explain a few different movements to give me a taster. SIX WEEKS TO LEARN ONE MOVEMENT. The thoughts of this was off putting. We started off with slow arm movements and different movements to shift our energies. He played relaxation music in the background which is fav! Eventually after 1 hour and 30 minutes, we had completed one complete move. One move contained several different movements. Each of these movements would take up to 6 weeks to conquer. Good posture is the main component of Tai Chi. If you are aware of the 7 Chakras (the wheels of energies in our bodies), you will know how important it is to have your spine straight and in line with your pelvis and head. Energies are transferred (Qigong – energy work) from the Crown Chakra (crown of your head) to the Root Chakra (base of your spine).

I will dedicate a future post to Chakra’s alone but in the meantime here is a brief overview of what each Chakra represents, its location and the emotional issues they bring about:

1. Root Chakra Represents our foundation and feeling of being grounded.

  • Location: Base of spine in tailbone area.
  • Emotional issues: Survival issues such as financial independence, money and food.

2. Sacral Chakra Our connection and ability to accept others and new experiences.

  • Location: Lower abdomen, about two inches below the navel and two inches in.
  • Emotional issues: Sense of abundance, well-being, pleasure and sexuality.

3. Solar Plexus Chakra Our ability to be confident and in control of our lives.

  • Location: Upper abdomen in the stomach area.
  • Emotional issues: Self-worth, self-confidence and self-esteem.

4. Heart Chakra Our ability to love.

  • Location: Center of chest just above the heart.
  • Emotional issues: Love, joy and inner peace.

5. Throat Chakra Our ability to communicate.

  • Location: Throat.
  • Emotional issues: Communication, self-expression of feelings and the truth.

6. Third Eye Chakra Our ability to focus on and see the big picture.

  • Location: Forehead between the eyes (also called the Brow Chakra).
  • Emotional issues: Intuition, imagination, wisdom and the ability to think and make decisions.

7. Crown Chakra The highest chakra represents our ability to be fully connected spiritually.

  • Location: The very top of the head.
  • Emotional issues: Inner and outer beauty, our connection to spirituality and pure bliss

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 Tai Chi is all about the movement of energies in order to remove negative energy and increase positive energies. This energy in our bodies is derived from the food we eat and the fat we burn, combined with the air we breathe through the metabolic process. In addition, with every breath you are inhaling air, which is a gas, which is made of molecules, which are made of atoms, which are made of energy. You inhale positive or negative ions all day long. We also receive some percentage of our body’s energy from the sun and moon, and our body’s energy is influenced by the radiation of our surroundings, both natural and manmade. In fact, the human body is a living bioelectromagnetic field.

The next bit I have just copied and pasted off a website that explained how energies move within our bodies. I tried to rewrite it in my own words but I found it very difficult to explain.

When you want to move your body, your mind generates an electrical impulse through the spine to the muscles, and suddenly you are Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail. Your intention to move first creates a brainwave – this is an electrical frequency usually between 1 – 20Hz.  The impulse then transmits instantaneously throughout the body in a complex process that utilizes your body’s energy to facilitate movement. A typical modern way of measuring your energy is with an EEG (Electroencephalogram), which distinguishes brainwaves by measuring the speed with which neurons (nerve cells) fire in cycles per second. Alpha brain waves range between 7 12 Hz, which relates to deep relaxation. The Alpha range is also the base frequency of the Schumann Resonance, which is the vibrational frequency of the earth’s electromagnetic field. When you are deeply relaxed, your Alpha brainwaves resonate in sympathy with the earth’s EMF, producing “constructive interference” which amplifies the vibration.

Qi circulation
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Whether you view the body’s energetic activity from a chemical, spiritual, or purely mechanical viewpoint, understand that this energy within the body is the Qi we are referring to; Qi is not some special “other” kind of energy. This subject has been widely misunderstood, sometimes because of the limited understanding by students of these concepts since Tai Chi came to the West, and largely due to cultural and language barriers.

Don’t keep searching for your energy when you practice. Realize that you are energy.

You are not a human body experiencing a spirit. You are a spirit experiencing a human body.

Thus, when you understand a Tai Chi posture clearly, your will mind generate the correct intention, and you will energize your body all the way to the fingers and toes more efficiently. This will gradually improve your circulation to the extremities, and help to permeate your body with healthy circulation of blood, energy, and nutrients.

 The class ended with a guided meditation exercise following with a closing of our energies. We basically inhaled positive energy and moved it into our bodies with arm movements then we closed ourselves up again.

Tai Chi Tips

  • Practice out in nature and get some fresh air, preferably near mountains, forests, or water for an increase of negative ions.
  • Close your mouth loosely, and touch the tongue to the roof of the mouth gently.
  • Breathe naturally. Don’t worry about your breathing until later in your practice.
  • Tai Chi is whole body exercise. Movement is initiated in the legs, directed by the waist, and manifested in the hands.
  • Upper body is light, the middle body is flexible, and the lower body is solid and heavy.
  • Energy follows consciousness, or as its put in qigong study, “The Yi Leads the Qi.”
  • Stay relaxed and don’t frown from concentrating too hard. Tai Chi is fun!

Overall thoughts:

 I found Tai Chi was not for me. It was waaaaay too slow. I love meditation and yoga but this was completely different all together. Maybe I need to slow myself down a bit more? Maybe I should not have went before college as I had a lot on my mind that day? Small groups do sometimes make me a bit anxious. I had to repeat some postures a few times as I was not doing them correctly so this also put me off. Another thing may have been that I attended with my friend. BIG MISTAKE. Awkward silences led to me and him looking at each other and giggling. He would stand in front of me and we would have to move at the same pace with our eyes closed by bonding our energies together without looking. I opened my eyes a few times and seen him doing the postures and found it hilarious. We would glance at each other the odd time both thinking ‘WTF are we doing here?’. Overall I don’t think I will be going back. Yoga and light meditation is as far as my inner ZEN will be going.

J x