Our Inner Tribe and the power of relationship.

This podcast offers a different perspective for the ways we relate to our emotions, moods, habits of inner chatter and the impact it all has on us. Inner Tribe is a metaphor and a technique for working with our unconscious and the ways it directly influences. Each of us has so many different parts of ourselves that show up moment to moment. They can range from joy filled to angry to anxious, and anything in between. These parts of us show up based on a variety of internal or external stimulus. The key is noticing when they arrive and then knowing how to develop your relationship with them.

The Invitation

In this second podcast of the series I offer an invitation to explore our core resources. We each have these amazing super powers but we sometimes forget that they are there for us to access. In this podcast, I make the proposal for why each of us is more brilliant than we currently imagine.

The Journey Begins

This is the first podcast in the series and it took the shape of an interview between myself and Sam Fisher. He asks questions about this practice and why I began developing and sharing it. This podcast will explore our being human and offer tools and insights through the Sound Body Wisdom practice. It’s a space of possibility expanded by science, mind-body practices and personal wisdom.

The Brain on Love

The Brain on Love

 

Definitions on the table

Self Love can mean many things to many people and has been a popular topic in many self-help books. It is something we often know and observe as being of critical importance to our general well being and yet it still eludes a majority of the population.

Since love can actually be quite subjective and ambiguous I thought I would offer a platform of accepted ‘definition’ before diving in.

The Self LOVE I am referring to is generally a part of ‘unconditional love’ and is quite different than the more popular ‘romantic’ version.

Unconditional love:

affection with no limits or conditions; complete love.

By straight definition, unconditional love can still feel a bit unclear and lend much confusion.  So perhaps begin with an investigation of yourself.  When you ask yourself what it means to love without any conditions or any limits, what answers do you get?  Your idea might actually look different from somebody else because we have each had different experiences of love.  But unconditional Love can exist regardless of the circumstances and is as authentic as our ability to offer it with no strings attached.

Since I believe unconditional Love for oneself (self love) is integral in our construction of positive self-esteem I am going to go further and also give a ‘definition’ of self-esteem to aid in bringing self-love into tangible form.  Along with this, I would like to suggest that Self Love is a fundamental piece of the positive self-esteem pie. (They are actually synonymous to me so moving forward from the definition I will simply say ‘self love’ which will also include self-esteem.)

Self-esteem is the sum of self-confidence (a feeling of personal capacity) and self-respect (a feeling of personal worth).  Self-esteem is a term used to reflect a person’s overall emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. Thus, it affects the way we are and act in the world and the way we relate to everybody else. Nothing in the way we think, feel, decide and act escapes the influence of self-esteem.

People with a healthy (positive) level of self-esteem:  Tend to trust their abilities, consider themselves equal in dignity to others, admit and accept different internal feelings whether ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, find enjoyment in many activities in life and are compassionate towards others.

An article in the Oxford Journal said this about the broad spectrum of mental and physical health:  “The most basic task for one’s mental, emotional and social health, which begins in infancy and continues until one dies, is the construction of his/her positive self-esteem”

So, the Self Love I am speaking of is critical to overall health, wellness and balanced living and is not related to narcissistic or self-absorbed behaviors.  The above overviews of definition can hopefully offer a baseline from which we can understand its essence and move forward into personal exploration.

Bird’s Eye View

We can talk about macronutrients, micronutrients, supplements, balanced meals and how much water to drink in a day but self-love is one of the greatest nourishments and medicine we have.  I realize that my writing often returns to or boils down to this essential element but truly it is because I feel it underlies all things.   The self-love I speak about is not merely some warm and fuzzy or new age version but one that has all the elements of joy, sweat and tears.  It is not convenient nor one-dimensional but a building block that each of us has lost/reclaimed with greater and lesser degree throughout our lives.  It is an ingredient for health and well-being that is as essential as the air we breathe and food/water we ingest.

Love in this sense is not just an emotion but rooted in thought, genetics and the influences of history and experience.  Self Love cannot be separated from these or isolated as just an emotion.  It is part of the brain mapping that underlies most of our development on all levels.  This interwoven tapestry of our thoughts, experiences and emotions has direct and tangible affects on our health and how we live.

Research is helping us to understand the impact of these and specifically the role of positive emotions like self–love.  Our health and well-being are a complex web of influences of which self-love is one key ingredient.  In fact, empirical studies over the last 15 years indicate that self-love is an important psychological factor contributing to health and quality of life.  The protective nature of self-love is particularly evident in studies examining stress and/or physical disease in which self-love is shown to safeguard the individual from fear, uncertainty and buffer the impact of stressors (which are a major impairment to health across the board).  They found that the level of self-love was a consistent factor in predicting the outcome of a patient after a stroke or could enhance an individual’s ability to cope with disease and post-operative survival.  Even more recently we have been finding out exactly how self love/positive esteem changes our brains.

The affects of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ self-thoughts are abundant and varied so I am going to just give an overview of our brains ‘on love’. Needless to say there is plenty of data showing that self-love (positive self-esteem) is some of the best medicine/nutrition for us humans so I will leave you to do more extensive research on your own.

Our Brains On Love                                                                                               

Our development of self-love starts early, actually in utero.  From the time we are in our mother’s womb we begin to learn and absorb the deep sense of connection and love inherent in that relationship.  Our brains are actually ‘wired’ for love because of this deep connection with mother.  It is the essence of unconditional love and what we often refer to as maternal love. It also exists to different degrees regardless of our mother’s parenting skills post birth.  Brain scans show that there is actually a synchrony between the brains of mother and child enforcing our sense of this inherent bond (and bonding is part of feeling this basic unconditional love).

After birth, attachment and unconditional ‘parental’ support are significant elements in our development.  These early experiences imprint the brain and also set the wiring for self-love, impacting our lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of relationships.   This continues throughout childhood and adolescence to create our particular map of ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ self-relationship pathways.  And because we begin our lives neurally wired for love (from in utero), experiences later in life that are contradictory to this can end up concurrently causing feelings of profound disconnect (along with the impact and repercussions on our neural pathways).

There is ample evidence showing us our unconditional love is based in our neural pathways and showing that it stands apart from other types of love.  In one study they looked at the brain imaging of participants who were shown different sets of images either referring to “unconditional love” or “romantic love”. Seven areas of the brain became active when these participants called to mind feelings of unconditional love (three of these were similar to areas that became active when it came to romantic love but the other four active parts were different) Of the seven areas that lit up during unconditional love, it showed brain regions associated with rewarding aspects, non sexual pleasurable feelings and human maternal behavior. Through the associations made between the different regions, results show that the feeling of love for someone unconditionally is different from the feeling of romantic love.

images

(image shows differences between ‘romantic’ and ‘maternal’ love in our neural firing)

Even though our early childhood experiences can impact the wiring of our brain and our tendency towards more or less self-love and positive self esteem, we also now know the brain can be changed and these neural networks can be modified and re-wired all together.  We can actually make new choices for how we want to create our lives and our ability to experience love and positivity.  We also know that feeling connected and cared for (loved) remodels the neural architecture of the brain too.  Studies show supportive relationships are the most robust predictor of attributes in longevity, medical and mental health, happiness and wisdom.

JUST ENOUGH SCIENCE

Let’s try to simplify this so we can each appreciate and feel empowered around the essential mechanisms of our own brain/body.

Our thoughts and emotions decide whether and how neurons will fire and how they wire/unwire to produce structural changes in the brain. Needless to say, how our neurons fire and wire is the most essential function of whom and how we are.  There is no sidestepping or avoiding this.  Everything we are and become, not to mention basic motor (motion) functions, are based on our neurons and neural pathways.

Emotions are powerful influences activated by your perceptions/thoughts that then direct the processes of the body.  Every time you have a thought or feeling, your body releases tiny chemical proteins called neuropeptides.  (Neuropeptides are used by our neurons to communicate with one another.)  There are more than a thousand different neuropeptides….each triggering its own specific physiological effect.  Without neuropeptides, your body could not function.  Hormones, for example, are neuropeptides, as are endorphins and adrenalin.

Together, emotions and (interpretive) thoughts will:

~ Produce physiological sensations felt throughout the body

~ Can create an imbalance where the resulting neuropeptides can cause physical symptoms to appear.  Any prolonged negative mental state will weaken a correlating area of    your body.

~ Release hormones into the bloodstream that affect the balance of all the body’s critical systems (circulatory, digestive, endocrine, immune, lymphatic, muscular, nervous, reproductive, respiratory, skeletal, and urinary…for overview of the systems see the end of this article)

~ Stimulate the basic cells of the brain (neurons) to fire in specific patterns.

~Sculpt the important synaptic connections between neurons of the nervous system/ brain.

~ Can shape the actions you take in any given moment, if you take any action at all.

~ Affect the heart.  The heart generates the largest electromagnetic field in the body.  One of the most significant findings is that intentionally generated positive emotions can change the coding of the heart.  This ‘coding’ is transmitted throughout and outside of the body.

~ Love alters the brain most in stress response and immune function but also in many other ways.  It affects our physiological and neural functions towards balance and wellness.  Frequent episodes of stress and negativity can impair certain body systems the following 3 body systems in particular:

Cardiovascular system

Long term effects of stress on the cardiovascular system can result in increased heart rate, damaged blood vessels, high blood pressure, and increase in serum cholesterol levels. All of which lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Digestive system (Actually our 2nd brain and command center)

Stress virtually shuts down the gastrointestinal system (GI). During the acute stage of stress, blood is diverted from the GI tract to muscles, where it is needed much more. Stomach peristalsis is reduced and sphincters are closed. The body reduces secretion of acid juices and digestion slows down.  Needless to say this can lead to many illnesses and disease.

Immune system

Your body naturally produces immune cells, called T lymphocytes, that fight bacteria, viral infections, fungi, and cancer cells.  Elevated levels of adrenal hormones during stress suppress the body’s production of T lymphocytes and weaken your whole immune system. Not only does stress worsen existing infections, you also become more susceptible to immune system related health problems.

The above list gives a general overview of the very complex and important relationships between our emotions, thoughts and body.  While we have a wide array of emotions to add richness and scope to our understanding of our self and the world our body actually narrows these down.  Neurologically, your mind and body are generally in one of two overarching emotional states, either love or fear.

The number of nuances and intensities of these core emotions may be countless, but emotional responses and physiological sensations in the body are, in some way, rooted in love or fear.

Other labels can be used for love and fear. For example, for love, we can choose the words ‘empathy’ or ‘compassion,’ and, for fear, we can choose the words ‘anxiety’ or ‘stress.’  The point is that the label we use is … well…not the point.

What is essential to note is that these core emotions alter the physiological state of the body and mind in the overall direction of one or the other.  When we look at love and fear as core ‘felt’ states, the brain responds to them each uniquely.

WHY DO WE CARE ABOUT NEURAL PATHWAYS?

Many fields of science are showing us that the brain is constantly rewiring itself based on daily life.  This is quite exciting since the belief used to be that you couldn’t really change your brain because it was a static organ.  Now we know that there is brain plasticity….it can change and stretch and reshape….or it can be reinforced to maintain the same neural pathways.

The brain maintains or creates new neural pathways and associations that feed and fuel our opinions, choices, memories, skills, fears and passions (to name a few).  Everything we learn becomes part of our neural associations or pathways that we maintain or change through repetition.

Memories of your childhood can come back to you because they are all tied together or bundled together by these neural pathways or associations in the brain.  Anything you learn, regardless of what it is, becomes part of the vast neuronal associations in the brain, which contain over one billion nerve cells.

When you learn to tie your shoes, ride a bicycle, drive a car, use a computer keyboard, or learn a musical instrument, your brain gradually develops and arranges the neural pathways to make your “practicing” become automatic.  The more you practice, and the more quality time you put into your practice, the more that your brain pathways change.  Fairly soon, you know how to tie your shoes and you don’t think about it anymore.  This practice you have done has made tying your shoes become automatic.   And this is true for any activity that you do.

It is exactly the same way with cognitive or emotional learning.  As you learn, and then practice methods, strategies, and concepts, a new neural pathway begins to form.  The more you practice, the more this new neural pathway or association grows.

If you are repeatedly thinking negative thoughts (not practicing self-love), you are actually strengthening neural pathways in your brain that support continued negative thinking.  More so, speaking the thoughts out loud appears to compound the building of those pathways.  Alternatively, if we have thoughts that are positive, uplifting or based in Love then we can rewire our brains for stronger connections in these arenas. With repetitive practice, you can shift your feelings and begin a process of building unconditioned self-love and feeling more positive about yourself.  As with the negative processes, speaking positive thoughts and feelings out loud can reinforce them exponentially.  Like studying for any test, there are ways to get your brain on board to rewire and remember.

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(this image shows the differences in neural firing based on whether you speak, see, hear or think about words)

LOVE IS RELAXING

A feeling of self-love allows our bodies (especially our nervous system) to relax.  In case you didn’t know, relaxation has profound health benefits and self-love is a potent source.  Relaxation is defined as being free from stress and anxiety and a sense of love specifically addresses these issues.  Studies have shown that self-love and positive self-esteem create a sense of safety, an ease of anxiety and overall calm.

Relaxation research tells us that relaxation is our natural state of being and is connected to that feeling of love and safety in the womb.   We can unwire the neural pathways of stress we have learned and use self-love and positive thinking to support relaxation wiring. Once we begin to make new choices we will become more aware of circumstances that cause us to tense up and be able to stay more at ease rather than react to the stressors in our environment.

We spend a lot of our time in a state of mental and physical tension or dis-ease.  We tend to hold our breath, unknowingly clench our jaws, frown, and tighten our muscles.  The consistent contraction of our muscles drains our energy, causing fatigue.  Some research shows that 80 percent of illness is stress-related, that whatever your genetic ‘weak’ link (or challenge) is, stress will trigger it.

As the body starts to relax, certain physiological changes occur.  Your pulse rate lowers and muscular tension releases.  Relaxation brings mind and body into essential balance, reduces fatigue, releases and expels toxins and revitalizes many of our bodily systems.

And somewhat ironically, we are able to learn more when we are in a relaxed state too.  So once you begin to practice self-love and create a deeper sense of calm and relaxation in your body (inside and out) it becomes easier to keep learning more ways to increase this overall state.

Some possible affects of relaxation:

~Improves concentration, clarity of thinking, 
decision making, memory
, learning

~Calms your bodies stress responses while it maintains alertness

~Stimulates imagination, intuition and higher awareness

~Allows you to sleep better, fall asleep easily, stay asleep through the night

~Keeps you healthier by boosting your immune system
and possibly diminishes triggers of disease.

~Slows aging process

Self-love generates relaxation and these bodily responses as a by- product.  Again, we see that the affects of love and positive self-esteem are fundamental to our overall health and wellness and not simply icing on some intangible cake.  Each living person needs this basic nourishment and now we have science to ‘explain’ more about why we need it, offer us insight to the impacts of its absence and tools for shifting.

NOW WHAT

So, why not fall in love with yourself every moment of the day?  What gets in the way?

We know that one of our greatest obstacles can be our conditioned neural pathways but we also know we can shift these connections.  (How/what we ‘fire’ is how we ‘wire’).

There are so many tools to help shift old habits and create new ones.  Each of us is unique in which tools will serve us best so I have here a diverse list of suggestions for you to ‘riff’ on.  Many will perhaps sound familiar but see if you can connect beyond the caricature of them and more into how they might be of service to you personally.  See what appeals to you and sparks your own ideas as you grow this practice incorporating self-love language and existence into your daily life:

~ Awareness of your own thought and language habits is the key to this work.  If you accept that you can change your life by changing your thoughts and words, then paying attention to your thoughts and words is critical.  It’s all about awareness and shifting towards your version of unconditional love.  How can you bring more attention to your language and thoughts right now?

~ Pay attention to your thoughts, and whenever you notice yourself in a pattern that is less than kind or loving, simply interrupt it.  Break the pattern in some way either by speaking out loud your intention, drinking some water or even singing a song.  Try doing this for 5 minutes to help enforce the shift from the negative thought pattern.  This simple interruption has profound repercussions as it sends a message that change is in the air.  It also doesn’t allow for the reinforcement of the negative to play out as usual.

~ Allow yourself to believe (interrupt the beautiful naysayers inside you) that you can do this and it is your birthright to love yourself without conditions every moment of the day.  It is not about banishing these other voices inside of you.  It is about meeting them with love and kindness and allowing space for something different.

~Practice treating yourself the same way you would treat a friend or loved one with care.  In supportive situations would you scold or console a friend?  React or comfort?  Forgive or hold a grudge?

~ Practice forgiveness and be accepting of yourself even when it looks different than your conditioned expectations.  Move towards appreciating yourself now, in this very moment and not for something ahead in the future or a held ideal from the past.

~ Look into your own eyes in the mirror and feel unconditional love and appreciation for the image you see reflected.  Practice connecting the image of you with these feelings and eventually your own image will be a trigger for incredible feelings of positivity. (Studies have shown that a long love affair with the image of ‘self’ can calm sites in the brain associated with fear and anxiety.)

~  Healing touch.  Next time you are feeling a lack of unconditional love for yourself, try to shift this through your own healing touch.  Studies have shown that holding your own hand can reduce pain and touch in general can lower blood pressure as well as many other physical and emotional benefits. These benefits cannot be underestimated.  You can  simply hold yourself in a comforting hug, pat your chest/back or rub your arm…..anything you find soothing for yourself.

~ Start your day with an intentional vision. When you wake up say out loud your vision for how your day will unfold. One example might be: “My day is filled with unconditional love, positive interactions and activities that nourish me.”  You can get specific or stay general; whatever feels best for you that day.  If you want to super boost the affect of this you can go to a mirror and have this same conversation looking at your reflection.

~ Step away from or avoid situations that diminish unconditional love of self or others. If you notice you are in a situation or conversation that feels negative make a choice to step away.  There is no need to judge others who might continue this behavior (in fact it’s healthiest to stay positive across the board) but you can decide for yourself that it is malnourishing and actually reinforces negative connections in your own brain.   If stepping away is difficult perhaps try to shift the tone of the conversation by guiding it with gentle words of compassion and positive outlook as opposed to a sledgehammer of self-righteousness ‘I know better’ attitude.

~ Engage the power of gratitude. Several times a day, take a moment to look around you and verbally acknowledge what you are grateful for.  It can be something as simple as seeing a bird fly by, hands that touch, sun that shines through trees or a pen with ink.  These observations support your brain wiring towards the positive and towards self-love.  There is no hierarchy or measurement of gratitude for our brains, the expression is pure and simple and the affects follow this simplicity.

~ We all realize that life is sometimes painful.  There are times when we find we have to speak about negative, painful or unpleasant things. During these times, speaking about our pain can help us unburden ourselves from it and might even be a part of our healing.  Remember that even during these times, unconditional love can co-exist.  Let your practice of self-love be even stronger so you can learn that they are not incongruous.  Once the challenge or pain begins to lift, follow up with words and discussion around healing and action. Actually speak and envision feeling better even before you feel ready to do so. You will be paving the (neural) path for yourself as you continue to take steps on your journey of healing and building positive experiences even during life’s challenges.

~ Super charge any of these. If you really want to boost any of these practices, write down your unconditional love affirmations, words of gratitude or positive thoughts, before during or after you speak them. Engaging all parts of the body (physical, visual, auditory) sends even more signals to reinforce love and positive feelings.  Find as many different ways to engage these thoughts and feelings somatically (body, mind, spirit, emotions) and create practices that work for your own energy or creativity.

~ Be consistent. Transforming the neural pathways of the brain takes time, patience and practice.  Like any exercise the work must be done regularly to affect change.

Self -love has many benefits for us as individuals but it also teaches us how to express love in the most balanced and fundamental ways.  As we give to ourselves we are able to receive and also give more love to others in many forms.  It becomes an abundant resource that is a great investment in growing our unconditional self-love bank.

And remember, our habits and conditioning around self-love have been in the making for a lifetime.  The shift into total self-love might take a little time and patience.  Be gentle and loving without conditions as you find your personal way through the map of YOU.

Undeniable self love

“It’s undeniable how brilliant you are, in an unreliable world you shine like a star.”

These are the opening lyrics to a cheesy Pop song I enjoy. Listening to it today, I reflected again on the ease with which we give away such love and adoration to others…..but not typically to ourselves.
Generally speaking, when we sing a song like this we are singing about someone else.

I reflected further upon my own journey with ‘love songs’. Remembering that about 10 years ago I made a shift in my way of relating to songs like this.
At the time, I was going through some challenging events personally and I had such a focus on external love and relationships. (And yes, there had been a ‘break-up’ involved in this personal exploration.) And I realized that what felt like unbearable ‘suffering’ was my persistence in wanting to have someone be the focus of these ‘love songs’.
Since I couldn’t change the fact that there was no ‘somebody’ and I couldn’t change the radio playlist…..I had to shift my perception and focus.

It took some negotiating at first, but eventually I realized I needed to whole heartedly sing this to myself. Every time and without exception I needed to be able to put myself as the ‘somebody’ in the song.
It couldn’t just be the occasional ‘positive affirmation’ or lip service. I needed to have the same verve as if I was singing it to someone other than me.
(Don’t get me wrong, I am an uber romantic and I enjoy having someone to sing these songs to…..but now, I am equally able to sing them to myself.)

As I have shared this perspective with people there sometimes seems to be a hesitance; a worry that this could perhaps be seen as narcissism.
I find this fascinating……
How could unconditionally loving oneself be seen as ‘excessive self-love’?
(I would imagine a narcissistic personality would mean there are problems arising from an out of balance self- centeredness that disrupts other interactions.)

I am simply talking about the pure and unfettered loving of oneself that is our birthright.
No more, no less.
Why would we choose anything else?
And once we have this resource within ourselves…are we not even more capable of offering it without conditions to another person?

For this reason…… I sing loud and with a big heart…..
…….for me, for you and for the romantic joy in it all……

How is it that…..

I constantly come back to this same curiosity…..

”Why wouldn’t we love ourselves every moment of the day?”

Why not love authentically and unconditionally and how could this question ever get old or redundant?
When we love ourselves and live this inner experience of unconditioned Love it seems that what follows is that this love generates more love and ripples out to other people and situations.

It is quite simple and yet so complex. It becomes even more complicated when it seems we get confused about what is truly unconditioned Love. I have experienced people describing the ‘unconditioned Love’ they are enacting and yet there are so many subtle cues that perhaps it is not quite without conditions.
My way of cross checking myself is noticing if there is any ‘but’ or caveat attached to the love. For me, any ‘condition’ even remotely attached means there is still some refinement left for me to do. 
I generally then ask myself what the ‘but’ or condition means to me.
I also ask what possible reason I might have for not loving myself or another person without judgement?

Why isn’t the status quo more about meeting each person without judgement and reducing the habit of creating lesser than/greater than comparisons between us? Why do we write so many ‘stories’ that seek to limit people?
(When I say ‘stories’ I am talking about what we mentally ‘write’ about ourselves or others that somehow defines us or them. These definitions can then come to limit or ‘box-in’ ourselves or the other person. At times these stories can also incorporate a sense of us or them being ‘better’ than the other. What would happen if we saw everyone beyond the limitations of story? Can we do that?)

There are many factors for how we have gotten so entrenched in judgement, comparisons and a lack of self love….so many ways we have been conditioned to think these are healthy and normal human behavior.
In this mix is our general relationship with words and concepts.
Language can get fairly sticky when it comes to our ideas and stories about ourselves, others and the world.

A perfect word example would be the topic of this initial question: ‘Love’.
You could ask 100 people what it means and probably get 100 different answers or emotional responses. 
Try sitting with the concept of ‘Love’ for a few minutes and see all the different ideas, definitions and feelings that come to you. 
Now imagine that it is different for every person you might encounter in 1 day. And than multiply this times the diversity of each culture around the planet.
Where and how do we all meet on this fundamental word and concept? How can we use such a diverse and individualized expression in sweeping generalized ways?

We can apply this same exploration to other potent words/concepts:

Happiness
- Success
- Good
- Purpose

These and so many more are subject to the influences of the past and societal standards towards what is perceived as ‘normal’ and desirable.  Each has a ‘should’ attached to it in relation to our lives. And each one wields a heavy effect on our personalities, perceptions and the world we create.

How is it that we haven’t figured out that ‘normal’ is an illusion we buy into? How is it we are so readily accepting of criticism, judgement and competitive systems of coexistence as the standard?
When did this become the ‘norm’….and did it happen all at once or as a slow and quiet movement……

 

Self Care redux

Self care……
A topic revisited…..

This is something that means very different things to different people and manifests differently just as much.
I have heard friends speak about wanting to put more attention towards this and yet it becomes elusive for them. It’s clear that the desire for ‘self care’ tools is strong so why does it seem to evade us?

As I ask these questions I look within myself for as many perspectives as possible in the complexity of being human. I untether my fixed thinking and allow myself to get a broader view from many angles.

Each of us has our own individualized range of personal (and conditioned) perspectives. They can be simultaneously our blessing and challenge. Our unique conditioning is what allows each of us to discover our own particular insights and teachings in the world.
This discovery comes from personal reflection, questioning and being curious about one self.
What works for one person may or may not work for all. We can certainly be inspired by what others discover but I believe it is ultimately a personal journey of the individual to reflect and ask questions. It is amazing to be motivated by things and people outside of us but to remember that the spark of this inspiration is coming from within us. We could not see, feel or realize any of it if it weren’t first inside of us.

I mention this because I feel that many people detach from their insights of personal growth, giving it away to something/someone outside of them. It seems easier to assign wisdom to anything other than our selves. This balance is critical to me on the path of self-care.

In many ways, personal reflection and awareness can sound so simple in print but can be a bit more complicated to embody and integrate. It asks us to touch upon and inquire in areas that are not necessarily our ‘comfort’ zone. It can immerse you in vulnerability and places of uncertainty.
I believe a key companion to accompany personal reflection/awareness is an abundant dose of authentic compassion or non-judgment. It’s not confusing to me why many of our vulnerable or uncertain parts might not want to reveal themselves if they think they’re going to be beat up, invalidated or criticized.
We need to be able to witness and hold ourselves with deep respect, reverence and love for all that we are…..every part of us…..right now…..not some ideal in the future. Right now, this breath, with all the blessings and challenges that are part of us.

Perhaps now I might re-focus towards the practical.
It’s all fine and good to talk about loving oneself but sometimes all the talk keeps it a bit intangible. I think when it comes to the details of self care we all find those foggy places and are not quite sure what the next step might be. More often than not we can be inspired by something we heard or read….. but without practical tools it remains this lofty goal or a cozy notion for ‘some day in the future when I am an evolved person’.
My sense is that we are that evolved person right now and much of what we need is within us this very moment. Like riding a bike….we have the tools we need but we have to practice and get the feel for it.
As I have said before, I think what ends up serving the individual on their journey of self-care (aka: self love) will be ongoing and uniquely their own creation. Each of us has our own learning curves, our triggers and different needs. Discovering more about all of them can help you create tools for shifting your old patterns….in particular, patterns that limit your capacity for self-care. Only you can do this level of personal questioning and discovery.

I thought I might share a few tools that work for me and perhaps you might get sparked or inspired to improvise with them and create for yourself…….

-I ask questions…….

For self-care I ask myself if a situation, person or pattern nourishes me. Then, I listen with a soft heart of non-judgment.
The listening is equally as important as the asking in this.

I also speak to myself as a ‘tribe (see my other post about ‘inner tribe’), acknowledging that I have different aspects of myself that show up with varied opinions and needs at different times.

I compassionately listen to the diverse voices that sometimes emerge and simply honor and respect them …without judgment. (You might be surprised what you can learn when you listen without pre-conceived ideas of ‘right and wrong’)

The more I learn about the needs of these different parts I slowly gain insight about my personal behaviors and habits.

As we get to know ourselves more……we realize that one size does not always fit all. Through our self-awareness that comes from questioning, trial and error…… we can understand why some tools work for us while others don’t. We can let go of comparisons and make choices based on personal wisdom and our own unique needs.

Bottom line:
I question, listen without judgment and allow myself to gain insight into how I personally function so I can create effective new tools and technique based on this insight.

-I make lists and observe

Instead of trying to figure it all out ……I simply make a list of objective observations.
This might look like:
~Tightening in chest
~Rapid fire thoughts
~Sense of overwhelm
~Need to distract
~Swelling of anger
~Feeling of insecurity

Nine times out of ten there are all sorts of indicators or re-occurring behaviors that accompany periods of lacking self-care. Many of these are entrenched or learned and have yet to be interrupted.

I simply make the list and leave it until later.
Then when I am not immersed in the feelings/sensations I can connect to things on the list with curiosity.
This will then lead me back to asking simple questions and listening to what follows.

This simple act of listing helps me observe objectively. From there insights can emerge.

It is only through the guide of personal awareness that I am able to unwind the habits that deplete me. Lists teach me to be an engaged observer who is my own best ally.

-When steeped in emotions….
Try to notice the emotion and pause….create a little space.
Remind yourself that what you are feeling is just a moment in time and let it keep moving. Try not to let it get stuck or frozen. Every moment is completely fresh and new. Try thinking of each moment as un-fabricated. Next, look at the ‘entanglement’ and say to yourself ‘there is nothing wrong here’….and notice how that feels….observe whatever thoughts or feelings that follow.
Relax your grip on the moment…..relax the storyline and allow yourself to breathe back into open space inside. Open space without storyline can sometimes be threatening to the habitual pattern so it’s not always simple to manifest. There are many attachments to the image of ‘me’ …….looking and being a ‘right’ way and retreating into this familiar version of self can feel more secure than the wide open space. Space is threatening because there is nothing to hold onto or attach to there.

Play with these….and play with your own imagination and perceptions.
(I sometimes think we underestimate the role of imagination in our own self-discovery. It is a powerful ally when we let it be.)
Perhaps something in these tools might assist you on your discovery of learning yourself….wide-open.

……loving oneself without conditions and judgment IS self-care…..

Thanks for visiting!

Comfort

I am contemplating ‘comfort’ and pondering the many ways it may or may not influence our choices and behaviors.

How does each of us create and move towards or away from comfort in our lives? What role, if any, does predictability/the familiar play in this? To what lengths will we go to maintain and sustain our ideas of comfort?

That last question in particular really feels significant to me. I find myself so curious about what comfort means to us and the affect each of our own personal choices for comfort has on one another and the world…..the simultaneous blessing and challenge of it.

Comfort and creating patterns of predictability in our lives can be a way to create security perhaps especially in times when we feel a lack of it. This can take many shapes but some of the more obvious ways we design it is through the work we choose, the friends we keep, choices we sustain or emotional reactions and scenarios we play out. (We can also see within groups of people and communities how they seek to maintain the familiar and levels of comfort…..sometimes at the expense of others)

I think we have developed many different ways of how we relate to and design comfort for ourselves and it is truly a vast and nuanced realm. I feel our human condition strives for comfort and quite often we have found and maintained through more easily accessible and perhaps culturally conditioned patterns. We choose the familiar on many levels even when it might not nourish us on the whole. Along with this, I also believe our concepts of comfort are deeply informed by societal ‘norms’ and status quo in ways that are both obvious and imperceptible.
In what ways do you maintain your own level of comfort? Can you notice any ways that your ideas are shaped by society and social environment?

Comfort and the familiar somehow allow us to feel safe and offer stability (think of the phrase ‘going outside your comfort zone”). The flipside of this I find interesting…..it is the place of feeling discomfort or insecurity and it is not a place we like to linger. We generally find ways to move away from these experiences, sometimes by extreme measures and many times by maintaining patterns of familiar and predictable behaviors. Again, even when they might not nourish the whole.
(And sincerely I am always amazed at how resourceful and brilliant we each are in our ability to create a sense of safety and ‘survival’ through different techniques both conscious and unconscious.)
Generally speaking, I don’t see people consciously seeking out and moving eagerly towards ideas, emotions or places that might bring their world into question or put them in a place of discomfort. This makes sense as I think there can be a certain amount of fear that accompanies change. We like to rest assured that some things are ‘matter of fact’ and cannot be questioned. We count on these things as our foundation to build upon since we believe our foundation needs to be unshakeable. We learn that change, permeability and sometimes not having any answers are not typically desirable qualities of basic human security and comfort. These things are not synonymous with comfort.

But life and being human is truly filled with mystery and discomfort ……by nature they are inseparable. And to be honest I think we have given ‘discomfort’ a bad reputation, perhaps overlooking the potential within it if we can meet it with curiosity and openness.

We will all have times in our lives where we find ourselves in uncomfortable circumstances of upheaval or change without knowingly inviting any of it. Sometimes these are small blips on the radar and we can push through by holding steadfast to our patterns…..but other times they really wallop us and cast us into deep waters. During these more oceanic events, each of us will have our own unique experience. But the journey will likely include variations of trying to stay above water, finding familiar shores and returning to our pre-existing ideas of comfort.

Have you ever experienced something like this? Can you relate this to different times in your own life? How did you meet these events and where did the journey take you?

I know what it was like for myself during the most potent time of upheaval in my life many years ago. I felt like I was drowning and I would have grabbed at anything to stay above water and hold on to my designed concepts of safety and comfort……ideas of ‘me’ and life. But circumstances (and my unconscious self) conspired to challenge me on every level. I fought hard for my constructed ideals and at a certain point I realized I needed to try something radical. I had to surrender to the unknown. I had to stop clinging and allow something truly new to emerge. At first I was afraid of drowning….but the surrender that came gave permission to let the waters transform me and to make ‘peace’ with the unknown. The darkness of this unknown felt like ‘death’ but sometimes that darkness or what might feel like a ‘death’ is simply some part of us changing or evolving…..shifting.
(And just to be honest……while I was in this process it was unbelievably uncomfortable and not easy by any means. But through practice and time it has gotten easier to be with discomfort and the inevitability of accepting the unfamiliar.)

Those shifts are not always comfortable and quite often we are eager to get out of this sensation and jump to the next landmass or stable concept of self and life. We very quickly construct a new familiar and fill it with answers more often than questions. We sidestep the ‘void’ or mystery in our intricate map of creating ‘safety’ and avoiding vulnerability.

I know that if my circumstances hadn’t been a ‘perfect storm’ I would have gladly sidestepped and played it ‘safe’……probably not even gotten my toes wet. I would have totally chosen ‘comfort’ and the familiar……
………and I would be living a perfectly lovely life right now……just a different one. But there was no choosing at the time as I was thrown into the middle of an ocean with no land in sight. So here I am now and what unfolded for me was a new relationship to mystery and the unknown…..a personal landscape of questioning and being present with both elements of comfort and discomfort equally.

Which is what brings me to wonder……what would happen if each of us chose not to avoid discomfort or feelings of insecurity? What would happen if we chose to move towards our fear and simply be with our discomfort and the unknown? What if we moved towards vulnerability?

Well, it would simply be a different way of living our lives……not better or worse….. but different.

In many ways it is easier to continue with what you already know……to create and maintain comfort and a sense of security through holding on to what is familiar. We are quite skilled at distracting ourselves just enough to avoid addressing things that question the familiar and perhaps invite discomfort, insecurity or vulnerability

The interesting thing in taking this route is that we cannot deny the ever-changing nature of the world around us and the evolving nature of the self. When we try to maintain and stay attached, not allowing space for change, this resistance can create a tension that ironically generates more discomfort even though we were trying to avoid it.

So I have become curious as to how we might create core comfort……the comfort of being You in the world (and in your own skin), a relationship to the unknown and having a sense of fundamental security within yourself. This is a comfort and security that is not based on anything tangible since we know that all things change and are permeable. This different form of ‘comfort’ might actually allow us to simultaneously be with discomfort and the unfamiliar as we realize they too have something to offer us.

Questions and curiosities…..
In what ways do you notice you might avoid discomfort?
What would be some practical ways to move towards discomfort or invite change or the unfamiliar as a path of nourishing yourself?

Perhaps a place to start is to gently take a look at some of the ways we create comfort and security in our daily lives as a means for avoiding change and vulnerability. Can you meet these with curiosity and non-judgment?

Whatever the circumstance or unique quality of you, how does this self -awareness and un-conditioned love offer even more possibilities in this amazing journey of the self?

Thanks for connecting…..
blessings,
Jacqueline

short and sweet from the heart

…..we strive, yearn…..
for this Love……and it is here…..within us…..deeply and purely…..

I witness and take in this ‘being human’……so many people…..so many common threads riding along side the diversity……so many…….the desire for connection, being seen, to love and be loved…..whatever that means to us……
I weep such resonant tears……all the incredible beauty all around….right there with the challenges and the struggles….the beauty each of us is………

I see all of us and everything connected……so incredibly radiant……
and I see it fray too….the divisiveness of words, judgement, fear, conditioning…..all these and more that can limit, separate or numb us……

And I practice…..bringing myself back time and time again…..to see the radiance…….because it will never vanish even when I am temporarily without my vision……

Love……a rediscovery

The day will come when, after harnessing the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness the energies of Love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
-Teilhard de Chardin

This quote tickles me so much. And I must confess that I am at times also flummoxed by this world.

It seems so apparent and tangible to me….this natural wonder (and power) of Love. I can follow threads and see so many steps and human events that have unfolded causing us to disconnect from our own inherent natural resource. All of it helping to create a sense of powerlessness and encouraging us to act from smallness. And I know that every act of smallness/unkindness is likely an attempt to feel like we have our power…..all along not realizing that it is within us. That we never need to try and claim it at the expense of other people or the natural world.

I even realize that no matter what I put upon these pages that it will all likely remain words if individuals do not seek an authentic connection to the essence (their own essence) that lies underneath.  (That reconnecting to unconditioned Love within us is not a passive act……there is some consciousness and effort called for)
It is for each person to choose the world they want to create and it is truly a process of discernment. The template we are born into is a maze that we navigate every day. Every day there are possibilities all around me that I am not always able to see because they have not been a part of my living experience or the groundwork and familiar environment cultivated since my birth.  (I am also hindered by my places of smallness) But every day I reach into the unknown and clumsily search to make contact with the sense inside me that there are always new ways to act and feel from the power deep inside me. It is a power and truth that dwells in unconditioned Love.

I fall short constantly and it is not a comfortable feeling. But I think I have come to realize that this journey of being human is not always about being comfortable. It is a balance and mix of so many things. Where there is comfort I believe includes the blessing of discomfort……joy and sorrow……ecstatic and meditative…….rage and bliss……
As I have accepted the blessing of all of these energetic expressions within me and the truth of the unending source of Love within me…….the possibilities seem to morph and shift.
It is not about my experience of life becoming easier…….but truly one of discovering ‘fire for the second time’ every single day.

And ironically we all need one another on this journey. The famous quote ‘no one is free unless we are all free’ works on every level no matter how small. So I suppose that is why I keep questioning and writing…..because I need you. I need each of you….everyone on the planet (in a mind boggling equation of sorts). We each need one another to live from our Love and connection to our inner source of personal power and brightness. We are inextricably linked in this unfolding. And there is such potency in this truth.

So, here we are…..all relying on one another and deeply immersed in this journey of discovery…….
All I can do is keep breathing deeply and honestly…….

loving with disappointment

Recently, a good friend wrote to me about feeling hurt, angry and disappointed with her adult son. He has stopped being in touch, has missed birthdays, neglected to check in about health events and has not even given her the courtesy of letting her know when Christmas gifts arrived until finally emailing and at first joking they were damaged in the mail.
I feel and understand her hurt and I listen to all that comes up for her and the many emotions it stirs.
And along with listening I also offer perspectives and practice for this journey of relationship.

Relationships, whether they are family, friends, romantic or work, are intricate and complicated. They ask us to come into knowing ourselves more intimately than anything else.
I have arrived at a place in my life where I know I have expectations of people in my life. And the truth is that I want to have expectations of others and for them to have them of me.
The key here is the layers of knowledge for accompanying these expectations to prevent anger, hurt, frustration and the perpetual feeling of banging ones head against the wall.

First, comes the need for communication both with yourself and the other person. You need to be aware of your expectations and communicate them to yourself…..have a sense of their depth and what they mean to you. Then, you need to be able to communicate this to the other person, if not as a general practice, then certainly during the times where the nature of the expectation involved causes stress.
Second, you need to ask yourself if you would want to continue to have this person as part of your life if they cannot meet your expectation. You need to discover what the ‘line’ is for you. Ask yourself what you feel is essential in the relationship and for your overall health…..basically, what is a ‘deal breaker’. When you understand this in yourself you are more able to choose whether or not to participate in the relationship or how much to participate.
Third, if there is a not a ‘deal breaker’ involved then you to need practice gentle love and compassion for yourself and the other person. We cannot change the other person but we can shift our responses. This usually involves a widening of perspective and expansion of the heart. (Again, this is true when their isn’t a ‘deal breaker’ with your boundaries and needs. This is not about being self deprecating through imbalanced altruism.)
We get to practice not taking everything completely personally and realize that each of us is unique and complicated. We get to have our expectations AND if we ‘choose’ to have the relationship…. then we must also accept these expectations might not be ‘met’ and we might feel disappointed from time to time. That once we accept the nature of the ‘dance’ we have to let go of a sense of being ‘right’ and placing blame. (which we often like to do when we feel hurt or vulnerable.)

For myself, I figured out that I need to cultivate loving people ‘where they’re at’ while continuing to learn what my needs and boundaries are.
I need to stay clear in what I know about myself while loving them as they are….even if they never shift their behavior. (And that can be challenging.)
I also get to choose if I want to keep them an active part of my life and/or how much connection I might want.

People are complicated…
Hmmmmmmm……….
This example might help to illustrate……
If someone is bedridden can you honestly get mad at them for not taking a walk with you?

We all have certain ‘handicaps’……some are more obvious than others (whether they are physical, emotional or other).
If your immediate need is to walk with someone perhaps don’t choose to be with the friend who is unable to walk right now……
Honor your needs and honor their abilities….find where those meet.

And…..
Along the way we might need to release our emotions and let our frustration move through us before we can get there….great, then find out how to do it without pointing the finger at someone else. Know what you need to do to clear your path.
Let yourself hear all your feelings, listen to them, understand them and hold them lovingly…….
Then gently move into a widening circle of compassion as you find where you and the other person can genuinely meet……..perhaps with expectations that no longer create a setup for both of you feeling hurt, frustrated or shutting each other out.

Not always simple………. but insightful.
Why not nurture yourself and end any patterns that don’t serve you feeling fully enlivened?
🙂

equality

The act of putting someone (anyone) on a pedestal, elevating them above yourself or others, disregards the essence of ‘being love’. Anytime we do this we maintain the system of ‘greater than/lesser than’ in which there must be some who are above and others who are below. And how do we decide who is above and below in this social policy that is reminiscent of the caste system? Are we not continuously positioning ourselves on this scale through our actions, thoughts and perceptions? Do we not subscribe to it when we say something as benign as “I know I should just be happy because there are people worse off than me….” We comfort ourselves by reminding ourselves we are not at the bottom. We ‘mean well’ but it still feeds this system and allows it to continue.
But who does it serve?
The truth is we are all equal in essence and yet unique. We are all equal and also have our own challenges and our own strengths.
What would it take to behold your own radiance simply for breathing….no exceptions.

When you cultivate a space for authentically dwelling here….in the reality of your beingradiance whether or not you have moments of ‘falling short’ or rising up……you have found your own personal expression of ‘enlightenment’. A space without praise or criticism, judgement through comparison or greater than lesser than mentality. If you can embrace this space then all paths for honoring others as unique and equal are free from attachments, limiting stories or comparisons.
Who has defined enlightenment and doesn’t its potential and unfolding exist in each of us? Expanding and contracting from within……not a carrot dangling outside of us we are trying to grasp.

We have been taught from birth to be ‘better than’…… to compare, judge and certainly not believe that we are all equal.

I remember speaking with someone and sharing that I don’t believe that anyone is better than another and they had an example to offer. They said ‘what about a brain surgeon and an unemployed alcoholic that watches TV all day?’ My reply is still the same……it is not conditional. If we start making subjective exceptions I think it becomes a fast slippery slope as far as who gets to decide the ‘greaters’ and the ‘lessers’. And depending on the judges….each of us at one time or other might end up on a less favored ‘end’. We get to have our opinions and ideas but it all changes when we try to make our opinions right. Why would we be so attached to being ‘right’ when it comes to this?

I certainly don’t have all the answers and I don’t believe there are ‘answers’ for everything. But I believe we are all equal and yet different and it is from this place that I can love not only myself unconditionally…. but every single person. Sometimes it takes effort to remind myself but I arrive there none the less.

Try saying this statement out loud…….
‘everyone is truly equal, no one person is better than another’.
Sit with it and take it in……
How does it feel?
What thoughts and feelings arise?

All each of us can do is notice what arises. Notice what you are attached to as right and how you feel about it. Be a loving witness to this ever unfolding of you.

What is ‘self care’?

The topic of ‘self care’ seems to be coming up in conversations a lot lately and to some degree it can mean different things to different people. It can also be more or less affected by life situation and circumstances. But for so many people I speak with, the ‘basics’ such as sleep, nourishing food, non-‘doing’ time and water, take a back seat to hectic schedules….. and they acknowledge this. They reflect on their attempts at shifting it but the tone of their reflection tends to move towards a sense of ‘failure’ in the end or a temporary ‘victory’.

So, why is it that in our lives the first thing that seems to depart is basic ‘self care’?
And how is it that we have created a culture where this is so common and acceptable and in some arenas (such as jobs or academia) it is expected? Can you imagine if within job culture that ‘self care’ was viewed as a strength and encouraged?

Now, I understand that in certain circumstances like raising children there is a whole different set of needs and we make necessary sacrifices for our children. But I also understand that it takes a ‘village’ to raise a child and many of us have lost that ‘village’ sensibility. Our society has held on high the ‘merits’ of self sufficiency and privacy. We have become more independent and insular which can often bring on more stress due to lack of integrated support network. (When I say ‘integrated’ I am referring to a community of support that doesn’t just manifest in times of crisis but is ongoing.)
I also believe that self care and child raising can go together and that our cultural legacy has not offered us a strong models for this. (Sometimes we almost wear our exhaustion like a badge of honor or way to ‘show’ the world we are working hard and earning our merit)
And whether or not you have children are we not always taking care of all the growing aspects of ourselves even as ‘adults’? Is there not a growing, nurturing, learning and loving quality to each of our days as we navigate our lives and the many layers of who we are?
It also seems less common to see someone who grew up being taught or shown the unique personal importance of self care. So many children these days watch the adults around them rushing about, eating while on the run, driving while on the phone, ‘running late’, on their computers/smart phones all the time, distracted etc etc (to name a few). Where do we think young people learn self care? Where did you or I learn our knowledge of self care (and I am talking beyond brushing our teeth and basic hygiene)?
I am not criticizing these qualities of hecticity……some of these are a part of my life too. But……I think it is about balance…….we don’t need to choose all or nothing….we each need to discover and integrate balance.
If self care is such a reoccurring topic of conversation and point of reflection (or even the mirror for feeling bad about oneself based on comparison) than there must be something significant about it…yes? And if it is something so many people seem to desire and yet it is elusive perhaps there is something to discover.
So where to begin….?
For me it always begins with a question(s).
I suppose each person would need to start with honestly asking themselves what ‘self care’ means for them (because it is different for each of us although we will have common themes) and perhaps even ask why it is important.
And then perhaps gently ask without judgement, ‘what gets in my way of doing this care?’.

I believe so much begins from within……not from the outside in. You need to connect to your own ‘center’……that wise & grounded place in each of us. It is within this center that we can learn about what we need and what gets in our way. The key here is learning to listen and this takes some practice for many of us.

We also need to get out from within the pattern of viewing self care as this elusive quality that we have for a fleeting moment and then we ‘mess up’. This always seems like a set up for feeling bad about oneself. Perhaps know that it is already within you and you are simply allowing space for it to emerge. And any time you notice you weren’t able to allow it……gently question without judgement. Perhaps be curious and loving as a part of your self care. It might take time but it is truly there within you to cultivate.

(I don’t know about you, but I typically feel more willing to be vulnerable in situations that feel safe and nurturing as opposed to ones where it feels harsh and critical. In the latter I am going to protect myself and not open up. If you want to get to know the vulnerable and honest parts of yourself perhaps let go of the criticism and cultivate a compassionate and gentle approach. This is certainly not the model we have learned overall but why not try it?)

So, why not start right now and feel into what is self care for you.
Notice if you feel it is already integrated into your days.
Notice if you have any sense of lacking with it.
Notice what it means to you and the thoughts that tag along in this process.
Simply notice.
You will be your best guide in knowing what is true for you. Just open an environment in yourself for this ‘truth’ to emerge freely. Continue to cultivate unconditioned love for yourself…….believe that you are doing it with every breath you take.
Why not?

Thanks for reading and sharing.
jacq

simple exercise (part 2)

Here is a simple ‘meditation’ exercise that might help with the practice of
~awareness
~pause
~choice

-Set aside 5 minutes.
-Sit somewhere you are comfortable and without too many external distractions.
-Set a timer if you can so you aren’t thinking about how much time has gone by.
-Now just sit.

Set an intention to let go and not get attached to any thoughts that come to mind.
Thoughts will come for sure…..(it isn’t a competition to have the least amount of thoughts as possible.) The practice here is to stay committed to letting go of the thoughts that will likely come to you. To notice them as soon as you can and in that moment ‘let them go’. For that entire 5 minutes all you do is notice when you start thinking about something and when you do…..try to ’empty’ out. No matter how important the thought might seem or how entertaining it may be…..walk away from it.
A good technique is to let your breath fill your focus. Each inhale and exhale you bring your concentration fully to this simple act. After using the breath for some time, if you feel a sense of stillness, see if you can let go of following the breath and simply ‘be’ quiet. When a thought comes (as it will), perhaps return to the breath or let go of the thought and return to stillness.

See if you can have a soft and gentle heart/mind with this practice. No judgement about the fact that you aren’t ‘doing’ or ‘achieving’. No criticism on the amount of thoughts you have or awkward mental discomfort that may arise. No praise for doing it ‘right’ since you actually can’t do it wrong or right.

Here is a great visualization a teacher shared with me that helped me develop my practice.
Imagine that you are sitting underwater at the bottom of a peaceful river. Up above there are boats traveling down the river. These boats represent our thoughts…..a constant stream. Sometimes I find that I have risen up and jumped on a boat/thought and am half way down the river. Instead of getting mad or judgemental, I simply notice I have gotten attached to a thought and floated away on it. Then I choose to get off the boat/thought and I slip over the side and back into the quiet waters. The process of floating down down down helps me drop back into myself…..down down down. And then I come to resting again quietly below. There are times I would already be on another boat before I even reached the bottom. I would lovingly choose to get off once again starting the process of slipping over board into the quiet waters and sinking below.
You can play with this metaphor and any other metaphor that might work for you. As with any practice it is about what works for you and not about doing what everyone else is doing. Use any exercise as a springboard into yourself and your own needs.
Remember meditation can be enjoyable and fun. It doesn’t need to feel austere or punishing.
Just see what you find and how you discover it for yourself.


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