Put Some Spring In To Your Spring!

Ah Spring! The birds are chirping, bees buzzing, flowers blooming and life appears to be awakening from a cold winter.

There is so much visible change that makes Spring a great time of the year to practice living mindfully.

Longer days bring more of that much-loved daylight to brighten our mood. We fall in to believing that we have more time at the beginning and at the end of our days purely because there is more sunlight.

The sun tends to have more warmth in it. In winter I can tend to what I call cat-like behaviour where I move from one warm winter spot near a window or a fireplace to another. In Spring I find myself wanting to be outside more. Being outside brings fresh air in to our lungs and seems to offer a sense of freedom, choice and energy.

Tuning in to your senses

Spring is a great time to notice by tuning in to your senses. Tune in to not only what you can see, but also what can you hear or feel on your skin? Even notice the aromas and fragrances of spring and the colours and tastes of different seasonal foods.

The sounds of spring are often joyful sounds of connection. Birds and bees connecting, people talking and laughing, there is even more movement around our neighbourhood or workplaces. There is a buzz in the air.

Here are 5 things you could do to put a little spring in to your Spring!

  1. Notice the connections

    When you are out moving around, notice the sounds of your present moment. Without judging if you like or don’t like them, just notice the sounds around you. Notice that sounds means connections of some sort. Nature connecting – animals moving, birds singing, wind blowing. Notice yourself connecting with others. Smiling or making eye contact, sharing your space with others either on public transport or letting someone in when you’re in traffic. Take advantage of the warmer weather to get out and about.   Be active, walk, cycle or jog around your neighbourhood. Take the dog for a walk and watch her connect with the neighbourhood, other animals and humans. Notice connections.

    1. Make your bed in the morning.

    There is some research to indicate that making our bed is an indicator of good mental health as it shows self-care. Taking that time to straighten things up before you move in to your day can slow things down and start the day more peacefully. It also sends a message to your mind that you are worthwhile caring for. Make a mental note to be grateful to have a warm, safe bed to make in the morning, knowing that you aren’t one of the many sleeping rough.

    1. Notice the breath

    Take the time to do some ‘waiting’ meditations or a 3 Minute Breathing Space. Notice the breath moving in and out of your body when you are in a queue, waiting for a meeting, waiting for traffic, or waiting for children at sport etc. Waiting meditations are quick breathing spaces. Notice the pause as an in-breath changes to an out-breath and an out-breath changes to an in-breath. When you do this for 3-5 breath cycles things seem to slow down. Try stopping and breathe in for 4 counts and then out for 4 counts, in for 4 counts and extend the outbreaths to 6 counts. Gradually increasing the exhalation to being twice as long as the inhalation. Breathing out that little bit longer slows the system down, relieving stress and anxiety.

    1. Notice the sunrises and the sunsets

    Pay attention to the beginning of each new day. Note that you have never had this day before. You have never been this way before, purely because yesterday existed you, and the world, are different. Notice the sun setting bring an end to the day’s daylight. Reflect on what you have done today with compassion, rather than worrying about what is still on your to-do list. We often are so busy doing that we miss these times of the day. Noticing the natural rise and fall of the sun and the moon help us realise that we are part of an amazing system of nature. Our planet provides both day time and night time for us. We are part of a much greater system.

    1. Unplug

    Spring is a time when the planet is rebooting, time to do that as a human being as well. Unplug from devices and connect with people you maybe haven’t seen for a while. Make that phone call to see how a friend or family member is doing. Catch up in person rather than by social media with someone. Give your brain a rest from the blue light in devices like phones, tablets and televisions. Nourish your mind and body with activities that require you to step outside, breathe in the air and notice your surroundings. Your mind and your body biologically will be grateful. Try some tree/forest bathing. Go for a walk, ride, even a drive along the beach or in your neighbourhood.

    Let go of the demands 24/7 technology and society, and tune in to living as a human being not a human doing – it’s Spring!

 

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Meditation’s Dark Side – 4 Things To Consider

Meditation can increase sadness, anxiety, anger and frustration, but there are four things you can do to minimise these risks.

The current global mindfulness phenomenon suggests that if we stop, sit, and focus on our breath, life will be better, calmer and even stress-free!  Something we all want – a place to stop and smell the roses!

While some of these claims may be true, there is also a darker side to mindfulness that isn’t often spoken about.

Keeping busy in our daily life means we often don’t have to deal with strong and uncomfortable emotions.  However when we sit in silence these emotions can become very loud and overwhelming.  This can be very difficult to manage.  Self-doubt sets in and we give up because it is all too hard.

New Meditation Research

Earlier this year researchers Jared Lindahl and Willoughby Britton published their recent research examining ‘The varieties of contemplative experiences: A mixed methods study of meditation-related challenges in Western Buddhists”.

They found that meditation can have a dark side and can be very distressing at times. Even experienced meditators can face a range of meditation-related difficulties.  These may include out-of-body experiences, strong negative emotions, changes in perception and sense of self, even suicide ideation.

There is a complex set of factors involved in meditation processes that you need to be aware of.  Meditation can increase the role of our logical part of the brain and reduce the emotional response system. While this sounds great, it can lead to feeling disconnected and empty emotions rather than feeling calmer and less stressed.

1) Know Yourself and Choose Your Meditation Teacher Wisely

Do not to expect meditation to be the answer to all your mental health issues.  This study highlights the need for you to be very aware of your own mental health needs and past trauma when starting your practice.  It also suggests that you need to be aware of the level of expertise and the training of your meditation teacher.

The researchers recommend that you “be an informed consumer, choose wisely” when looking at taking up a meditation practice. The context of the type of training you choose is vital.

Ensure you have a trained practitioner to support you. While a meditation app or audio recording may be inexpensive and easy to access compared to a face-to-face structured program, carefully consider if this will give you suitable support.

2) Know Your Motivation – Why meditation?

Why do you want to meditate?  For most people in my classes they want to manage stress in their lives, feel a bit more in control and even be less angry at others.  Your own goals and motivations for taking on mindfulness or meditation are very important. Managing stress and emotions, or enhanced functioning in daily life may not necessarily happen just because you are meditating.

Sometimes we can want meditation to solve all our problems, which is highly unlikely.  Therefore you need to understand why you do certain meditations and if they are going to be the ‘right’ ones for you.

3) Accept That You Will Still Have Stressors In Your Life

Sitting still and focusing on the breath won’t change the demands in life.  There will still be deadlines, families, illness, financial stress etc to deal with.  Life doesn’t change just because you meditate.  Meditation allows you to change the way you respond to those stressors. This will take practice, time and exploration, patience and curiosity, and most of all acceptance and compassion.

During an ongoing course or program with a trained teacher you will have someone there to monitor and check-in with. This will ensure you have the style and process that matches your goals, intentions and emotional needs. You may recall in a recent blog I wrote about my concerns during my Vipassana retreat.  Not everyone is suited to all meditation styles.

4) The Importance of Social Support

Researchers Lindahl and Britton stress the importance of social support to help you to successfully cope with challenging experiences. Attending a regular group with a trained instructor can give you that support.

At my Monday Meditation group we regularly discuss our own experiences and challenges. We talk about physical agitations, avoidance strategies and emotional challenges. These discussions help to normalise these experiences. My group also know that, as a psychologist, I am able to also offer a trained response.  We may chat more after the class and see if this issue needs to be referred on or monitored.

Teaching Mindfulness in Schools

After reading Lindahl and Britton’s research on the dark side of meditation it is logical to question the ability of schools to implement mindfulness programs in classrooms.  If teachers don’t have formal training or a personal meditation practice themselves can they adequately teach mindfulness or meditation? After all, would you expect a teacher to teach swimming without ever having been in the water?  Without appropriate training and practice teachers may unintentionally increase anxiety, depression or trauma in students, rather than create the feel-good result they are hoping for.

I work with schools, community groups and workplaces to clarify their goals of introducing mindfulness and meditation.  My 6 week training program fosters a greater understanding of the science supporting meditation and grows personal practice.  With appropriate support and training they can achieve the reduced stress, peace and calm they aspire to, minimising the possibility of more trauma or difficulty.

If you would like to hear researchers Lindahl and Britton discussing this timely study, you might like to listen to podcast #79 with Dan Harris from 10% Happier. Dan is an experienced news anchor who experienced a panic attack on Good Morning America in front of 5,000,000 viewers! He has been on a quest to understand mindfulness and meditation. Now developing his own practice he often says “it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns”.

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Can I Add Monkey Tamer To My CV?

It seems my monkey mind wants to keep swinging.

I try to focus but it just doesn’t stop thinking!

Some days are worse than others, but I would have to say, most days I’m planning, reviewing, worrying, reminiscing, focusing everywhere else except in the present moment.

I can be walking through the supermarket focused on my list when I’ll find myself singing to the tune being played over the internal audio system.

I am immediately transported back in time. Music has an amazing ability to lodge us in time and place.

It seems they often play songs from my adolescence. I am transported back to being 16 again. My step gets a bit lighter, and a smile comes to my face as I notice myself humming, then singing along.

Ahh to be 16 again! My friend Karen and I had so much to talk about. We would go to each other’s houses and just talk and talk. Eggs, cereal, ♪la, la, la ♪…♪ I’m not in love♪ … must remember toothpaste.

Everything blurs into one. I remember Karen’s father was a builder, oh yes I remember his van he used to drive with the ladder on top……………oh dear! I must call the builder…………oh and pick up the dry cleaning…………and I’m off pin-balling from past memories into my ‘to do’ list and getting wound up in what needs to be done …………and the monkey continues to swing!

Even during my sitting meditation practice, some days I feel I have good focus with few thoughts swinging through and then some past dream comes up and I am caught up in trying to work out its relevance.

Or, I replay a scene from a television show or movie I may have seen recently – absolutely of no value to my life ………….. why does this happen, over and over again?

It seems that the mind gets bored easily with the present moment, which is what we are focusing on in mindfulness meditation. Unless we are fully engaged, in ‘flow’ as they call it, where we lose time and everything else is irrelevant, the mind can get bored very quickly. The monkey mind likes to jump around excessively ruminating on old wounds, pain, hopes, dreams, worries, everything gets recycled.

How to stop it? Well I think it is more a taming than stopping, and that’s where mindfulness and meditation teach us so much about our monkey minds.

Living more mindfully and developing a sitting meditation practice we learn the skills to focus even when the monkey wants to nibble at the past or swing towards the future. It takes practice, patience and compassion.

Of course noticing the monkey and looking to let go of its wandering can bring up lots of emotions. Some people can experience fear and anxiety because they are letting go of what they have trusted and a feeling of being in control, even though constant and compulsive thinking can be the cause of anxiety in the first place. This can be a real ‘catch 22’ situation, one that is difficult but worth persevering through to develop a different, calmer and more productive relationship with thinking and emotion.

Practice by formally sitting in meditation for about 10mins each day, makes a BIG difference. You require perseverance and a growth mindset not to get disillusioned by self-doubt – “I can’t do this” or “I’m no good at meditating, I just think too much to stop”.

You need patience to hang in there, because it does get easier. Compassion helps to not be so hard on myself because the monkey is swinging and “I should be able to do this”. Compassion towards old wounds, not dismissing another person’s actions and not condoning them, but coming to the realisation that they are past, and I need to be here in the present, fully here, in order to move forward into a productive and happier future.

Acceptance that the compulsive monkey swinging is there, and not struggling to change or get rid of it is vital.   Acceptance acknowledges that this is what the human mind does and so letting go of struggling with the monkey takes its power away.

My monkey can swing gently and quietly in the background now because I know how to be present, not all the time of course, but I now know when I’m not.

I know when I’m planning, I’m planning, and I don’t need to keep reminding myself of things to be done.

Such a relief, but being a monkey tamer takes time – I wonder if I can add it to my CV???

Image courtesy of John Hain @ pixaby.com
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Vipassana, More Than Meditation

This is my vipassana story, or as I remember it, boot camp for the mind, body and soul.

For many years I considered the idea of attending a vipassana retreat. For those of you who don’t know – a vipassana is a silent retreat. It can be different lengths, I chose a 10 day, rather than 30days! Many people repeat this experience and they are held all around the world.

You sit in meditation for most of the day, 11 hours in fact! Focus is on the breath for the initial 3 days, then on the sensations in the body for the rest of the ten days.

Before I left on this adventure, many people commented on how difficult they thought it would be to be silent for a whole 10 days. I thought that would be a challenge, but one I was up for.

Along with my regular meditation practice, I often have periods of silence in my life. I drive without the radio on; I work around the house without television, radio or music, or chatting to anyone. I actually enjoy those periods, so coping with silence wasn’t a concern I had, even though leaving all technology and reading materials behind did raise some interest in me.

Little did I know, that vipassana is code for boot camp for the mind, body and soul. Silence is the easy part.

Silence is a major part of the process. The teaching says it’s about not getting distracted by conversations. You know how you might go over and over in your mind what was said, while you are supposed to be focused on your meditation.

We know that conversations often get repeated in our minds – “why did I say that?” “What did they mean when they said ……..?” “I think they are ………..” “I wish I had said …………” because that is what minds do.

However the silence in vipassana has a bigger impact. Silence means that without external input, your mind is left to ‘chat’ with itself, and chat it does! Mind wandering into forgotten memories or preparing for the challenges of the unknown future.

In my daily meditation practice I have noticed my mind wandering is usually future-focused. Ideas of what I can do with teaching mindfulness in my classes pass in and out of my meditating mind quite often. This didn’t happen in vipassana. My mind somehow wanted to go back. Go back and resolve past issues, ones I thought I had long laid to rest, but quickly realised I probably hadn’t.

The teaching of the vipassana focuses on impermanence, everything changes. Nothing in our bodies are solid – breath, blood, muscles, organs, even bones are constantly changing, and so too are our thoughts. Focus on the body teaches the mind about impermanence – everything is changing.

Hanging on to a thought as if it is forever is quickly dismissed – impermanence – everything changes – and I have changed since that past incident. Time to move on and let it go.

The biggest challenge, at least for me, wasn’t coping with the silence, it was the pressure on the body. At the end of our 10 days noble silence others had said they found getting up at 4am ready to sit at 4.30am each day a huge challenge. So much so they even had a nap during the lunchtime rest break. I managed the early rises easily, for me it was the body.

Due to a recent foot injury, I had been unable to maintain my yoga practice and so my body was stiffer than usual. I think though, not as stiff and inflexible as many of my contemporaries. However sitting in meditation for about 11 hours a day for 10 days is excruciatingly painful, and yet pain in the knees, back, buttocks, and in my case, foot, would come and go – impermanence!

I would sit and pain would arise. I would notice it, want to move to relieve it , as we all do, but stick to the process of vipassana, and at the end of the sitting the pain would have dissolved somewhere along the way – impermanence!

This is a curiosity. The power of honing attention, of noticing without getting hooked into having to change anything, to sit with self-compassion and strong determination, enabled me to somehow cope with both body pain and emotional pain – impermanence.

In the end, my practice is undoubtedly stronger and my mind more flexible, generous and compassionate.

As a psychologist I did have trouble with parts of the teaching of the theory and philosophy of vipassana. I was challenged by some of the beliefs and talking with the assistant teacher unfortunately didn’t allay my professional concerns.

I would strongly advise anyone to consider why they are attracted to or going on their first vipassana. I would also urge anyone who has symptoms of anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder to speak to a professional before starting your vipassana journey.

Given that the teaching is all done on pre-recorded CDs and DVDs, because the master Goenka passed away in 2013, for me it was impossible to really gain a good insight into the fundamental ethos or hope any feedback may change the language used or approach.

I know that attending the vipassana has positively changed the lives of many people. I know that my life has also been changed in positive ways through this experience as well. However I would be alarmed if someone who is quite psychologically fragile saw this retreat as a means of getting to the bottom of their difficulties, considering there was no professional help available.

For me, I will continue to learn more about Buddhist psychology and hopefully I can reconcile my concerns in time.   For now I will continue my practice, maybe not the recommended 1hr morning and night, but nevertheless I will continue to develop my understanding of meditation, after all no matter how long you have been practicing, we are all beginners.

The concept of impermanence has always been central to my belief system and my psychological practice; I now have a more physical and emotional experience of it.

Here is a link from mindful.org on what you may need to consider before you attend any meditation retreat.

Namaste

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Meditation or Vacation?

Everyone loves a good vacation, right?

A chance to vacate normal routines, time out to read, perhaps a stroll along a beach, a walk in the bush, lunch with friends, time to do whatever, whenever!

There are good reasons as to why we all need a vacation – our health and wellbeing actually improves when we take a break.

It makes sense doesn’t it?

No deadlines, no emails, no office politics, no transport issues, only our own agenda for the day.

In my private life as well as with clients, I often hear people say, “I’m just hanging out until the holidays” or “I can’t wait to go on holiday and have a break”.

But what usually happens when we go on holidays? Often when people hang out for their annual leave, they spend the first couple of days of their holidays “catching up on sleep” – or they get sick!

Then they finally find a couple of days to relax, and before you know it they are thinking about how they have to return to work soon; what their inbox will be like, the ‘to do’ list waiting for their return, and without realising it, they shift back into ‘doing’ mode.

When they do return to work they feel like they have never been away! – Sound familiar?

So what does the science say about vacations?

Yes holidays/vacations are good for our mental health and wellbeing, with scientific studies showing improved scores in levels of stress, depression and anxiety. Good news!!

However recent research from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California compared three groups. One group of healthy non-meditating women going on a six-day retreat vacation was assigned to relaxing on-site and another was assigned meditation at the retreat. Both groups were compared to a group of ‘regular meditators’ already enrolled at the retreat.

Blood tests indicated all groups showed changes in gene expression post-intervention – so, going on vacation IS good for us!

Even better news was that the group who learnt to meditate on the retreat showed lower distress over time compared to the ‘relaxation retreat’ vacationers. However those who already had an existing meditation practice showed even greater cellular health benefits beyond the vacation effect.

So if you are hanging out for your vacation but you would like the vacation effect now, then there is no time like the present to start your meditation practice!  Each Monday night at 7pm you can join us for Monday Meditations; or join our next 6 Week Beginner’s Program.

Here is a simple 3 Minute Awareness Meditation to get you started.

 

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5 New Year Resolutions That Will Change Your Life

Week 3 of a New Year is about to begin; how are your New Year resolutions going?

They say it takes 3 weeks to set a new habit, yet by week 3 most of our well-intentioned resolutions have failed or been forgotten. We throw them away as a bad idea or confirm our fixed mindset that change is impossible anyway.

There is a way to achieve your New Year goals but not the way you think.

Instead of one, make 5 New Year Resolutions, that’s right – five!

Do them daily and see what a difference you can make to your 2017.

  1. Be Active – create some movement in your body. There is a huge amount of research identifying the many benefits physical activity has to our overall health and wellbeing. Perhaps take the stairs instead of the lift. Park the car a little further from work and walk a block or so. Get up earlier and go for a walk/run/cycle or do some yoga. You could call in to the local pool or gym on your way home, or ask a friend or work colleague to go for a walk at lunchtime. Do an afternoon stretch in your office. Instead of standing on the train platform, walk from one end to the other. Have a bit of fun with your body – do things you haven’t done for a while and feel your body move. Look for incidental activity; every step makes a difference to your metabolism, your heart rate, your oxygen intake, your mind and your outlook. What you will soon notice is that your sense of confidence and self-esteem will increase. Moving our body makes us feel good about ourselves, which in turn helps us reach those goals we want to achieve.
  1. Connect – disconnect from your digital devices and connect with others in real life. Get out and talk to people; it may be at the local cafe where you ask the person behind the counter how their day is going rather than wait for them to ask you. Lift your eyes from the pavement and say hello to someone as you walk down the street. Strike up a conversation with a neighbour about how their Christmas/New Year/ dog/ the weather/ sport/ local community is going. It doesn’t need to be anything too deep, just look for ways to connect with someone daily. Step outside the imaginary world inside your mind and connect with those in your real world. Share a laugh, or even just a smile with someone; you never know they maybe could use one.  We are social creatures and meant to connect with each other, however we are busy ‘connecting’ via digital technology rather than in person, and the research is showing our growing dependence on digital connection is leading us to feeling more disconnection. It’s easy, just remember to look around and connect with whatever is in your environment at the time.
  1. Take Notice – tune in to your surroundings. Take out your earphones and listen to the sounds of your environment.
    Bring an attitude of curiosity rather than judgement to sounds in your present. Every sound has a purpose whether it is mechanical, humankind or nature made. Sounds are how our world connects in some way or another. Tune in to others. Listen with an open heart and mind in conversations. Ask questions and contribute, seeking to explore and understand rather than judge and dismiss. Notice life through all your senses.
    What can you hear, see, feel, taste or smell at any one time? Notice what you are eating – the colours, the textures, smells. Consider before you eat, how that food came to being in front of you – how many people were involved in getting that bit of nourishment to you for you to enjoy. Feel the air on your skin. Notice the colours of your neighbourhood. Notice what nature is doing and how it is signalling change and cycles. If you are fortunate enough to have the gift of walking, tune in to your feet on the ground when you walk. Feel how the weight
    transfers along the foot. Tune in to music and rhythm wherever you are.
  1. Learn – be curious about your world. We often go about our day as if we know absolutely everything that surrounds us or is going to happen. This can prevent us from learning new things about people and our environment. Find a new walking or bike track around your neighbourhood. You could learn a new recipe, or listen to new music. Learn a new game. Take up a musical instrument or read som
    ething interesting like the creation of an invention or a biography. Perhaps learn something new about someone you know or someone you don’t know. Explore with creativity, curiosity and openness. The world is so much bigger than we know, we just need to get into it and explore.
  1. Give – human beings are socially connected creatures. Find ways to give your time to someone who may need it. Give your good humour and your generous spirit. Give your expertise to someone younger. Give your interest to relieve someone’s isolation and loneliness. There is growing body of science showing that in giving we really do receive. We gain satisfaction and an increased sense of self worth. We g
    ain insights into others lives and misfortunes, building compassion and understanding. When we give, we grow in gratitude and appreciation for our own fortunate circumstances and abilities. In giving we create community and a sense of belonging, with purp
    ose and meaning for others and ourselves. As the great positive psychologist, Chris Peterson once said, “other people matter”.

These Five Ways to Wellbeing are not that difficult.   When practiced daily they will create a more connected and satisfying you in 2017, able to achieve whatever goal you set at any time throughout the year.

New Year Resolutions don’t need to be about getting in to a smaller pair of jeans, you are so much more than that.

Use this gift of a New Year to express yourself, not through social media, but through the gift of your true self.

You may find that all your other resolutions will happen as an aside when you do just five small things for yourself each day.

 

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Is technology helping or hindering the human condition?

Technology is all around us.

As my family will attest, I am not a huge fan of digital technology. Yes, I have adopted or adapted to some forms of technology.

I have a smartphone, although I think I use a quarter of its capabilities. I have an tablet, which is old, so probably outdated. I have my trusty laptop, which of course I use to write, email and search. I am on Facebook, as I felt to be in the marketplace I needed to be there. I rarely touch twitter but it’s there, I have even adopted tap and go payments on my card – not my phone!

So is technology actually doing us good?

I sometimes succumb and use the self-serve checkout, which means I forego the human contact.  For me that’s not going to have too big of an impact because I meet and speak with people every day as part of my job and my social life.  If however I was living alone, with very few social contacts, the person at the supermarket checkout, just might be that one person I connect with today.

So is technology a one-way train that we are all on? Or, do we have the choice to decide what parts of technology are good for us and what parts are not?

Richard Watson, author of “Digital vs Human” in a recent interview with Radio National, suggests that the minds that create these technologies are largely on the Asperger’s/Autistic Spectrum, and so these developments actually suit them, and in the constant use of these technologies, we are all becoming slightly more autistic.

In his interview, Watson speaks about the way we are communicating is changing along with what we are communicating.

The growth in narcissism as well as hate can be directly related to the growth in our type of communications, being less accountable face-to-face and being more removed.

We are developing much more fragile identities, with less resilience.

We are dependent on how many ‘friends’ we have, even though we may never have met these people or had a conversation with them about what is important to them or to us, which is usually what gels friendships together.

We are dependent on the number of ‘likes’ we get when we ‘post’ something, rather than having a conversation/discussion/even an argument about liking or not liking something.

Just because a handful of people (often men in California with limited social skills if we are to believe biographies, biopics and Richard Watson) develop technology that suits them, doesn’t necessarily mean it will suit the rest of us, and actually it doesn’t.

Sadly, Watson’s book also refers to a Korean couple who let their own baby die of starvation, because they were too busy looking after their avatar baby online!

A more recent and topical example of technology changing the way we behave and how individually focused we can become, is that of the Pokemon Go craze. Our local highway signs now flash “Don’t Pokemon and Drive” – really????

As human beings we are social creatures. We need to connect on so many levels – physically, emotionally, psychologically, and socially.  Connecting online does not, and cannot meet all those needs.

I like to think that we can adapt and adopt, so long as we keep reminding ourselves we do have a choice.

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The Reason Why Masterchef’s Kitchen Rules

IMG_6860I am a self-confessed foodie!!  Well, probably not to the extent of a lot of others, but even so, I love food, for so many reasons.

For many years my friends and family have been the guinea pigs for many an untried dish and they have survived in good spirit.  Oh, how we remember the failed Kiwi Snow!!!

I am not though, a reality TV fan.  I can never understand why people are attracted to watch the worst in others.  How television manages to exploit our darkest side, and promote it as “competition”.

This is where Masterchef is different.  You don’t hear contestants bad-mouthing anyone else.  They actually acknowledge other peoples’ abilities.  You don’t see the death stares or the rolled eyes, or pumping themselves up to ‘take others down’.

Masterchef doesn’t do or encourage that.  So it is disappointing when fans take to social media and vent about the outcome of the finale, when Masterchef isn’t about that.

This year we saw the development of not just two amazing cooks and people.  We saw that generosity of spirit in the final moments of the finale when one contestant comes to the aide of the other.

What you see on Masterchef is a celebration of excellence and beauty – my favourite character strength.  Excellence is there because of their love of food, wanting to do it better and better, and the generosity of wanting to share that love with others.

Throughout this season we have seen this generosity time and time again.  We have seen people faced with their fears and their limitations, urged on to continue through fear by the master mentor George Calombaris.

We have seen strengths of courage and bravery, sure not in a field of physical battle, but facing internal battles.  So many of us choose not to pursue our dreams for fear of failure.  These amateur cooks put all their fears out there for us to see.  We watch their vulnerabilities and we watch their spirit fight through.

We see strengths of determination and perseverance.  We hear about commitment and love for family, lifestyle and our fabulous country.

We see strengths of self-compassion encouraged by the experienced panel of judges and guest chefs.  We see strengths of creativity in the food, the techniques, the challenges, the locations and of course in the inimitable style of food critic Matt Preston.

We see curiosity and love of learning.

When we listen to the panel of judges we hear words of gratitude, hope and optimism for these contestants who have given their all.

Yes, food shows have their downfalls.  How can we in a western society, seriously think that food is a spectator sport when there are countries in famine and people starving?

My understanding is that Masterchef teaches their contestants about food waste.  They look to use RSPCA approved animal produce and they also encourage using the whole animal nose-to-tail, and the whole plant tip-to-stalk.  I also believe that they donate left over food to a not-for-profit called Second Bite.

Our society is not perfect.  Should we have shows that promote food?  I think we should.  Australia is one of the leading countries in obesity and has one of the most unhealthiest diets in the world.  We do need positive attitudes towards food.

If we are to be subjected to reality TV, then my choice is one where people are encouraged to shine.  Where they are greeted with smiles on their faces such as chef Gary Mehigan.

I choose to watch a show where people are encouraged to draw on their signature strengths and find their own pathway to wellbeing.

For me, that is why Masterchef’s Kitchen Rules!

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Mindfulness brings happiness to Danny Frawley

Danny Frawley, is an Australian Rules commentator, an ex footballer and coach.  In a recent interview he spoke about the impact of not living in the moment and discovering, through mindfulness, that this is the most important moment in his life.

Danny FrawleyListening to Danny Frawley’s interview on Triple M, without specifying it, Danny was talking about the 5 Ways to Wellbeing. While Danny doesn’t use this language, unknowingly (most likely) he has discovered the 5 Ways – to be present, be active, connect, give and learn.

Be present – Danny spoke about previously not living in the moment, always considering what he could have done or should have done. Living a life full of regrets, and fears about what the future might hold because of decisions made in the past.  After attending a retreat, experiencing meditation, mindfulness and yoga, he began to reflect more positively on his life.

Being a competitor, Danny talks about “competing with myself,” measuring his success in terms of achieving premierships either as a player or as a coach. This unfortunately is often the case with elite athletes. Identity is commonly wrapped up in the external validation of winning, rather than their perseverance, commitment, skill-building, contribution and everything else they actually achieve.

Our athletes and their coaches can often fall into fixed mindsets, which can limit not only their sense of satisfaction in their craft, but also their appreciation for their achievements. A fixed mindset can bring about a strong sense of failure when we don’t live up to our own, and others’ expectations. We become susceptible to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, something Danny alludes to, identifying he was “struggling and needed time out from my life.” Something he says has been turned around by living in the moment – the practice of mindfulness – knowing that the most important time is now or as he says “the next 5 minutes”.

Be Active – Physical health has become more important to Danny. He spoke about cutting down his sugar intake, but also being more active. He has taken up yoga, a meditative form of physical activity that improves our connectedness with the present moment through the breath and allows the body to stretch and heal.

Connect – Danny emphasised his need for support, which he found in his mates. Being socially connected is one the key elements of good mental health.  We can never underestimate the importance of connecting with others, whether it is to laugh, cry, discuss, explore or just spend time with. Human beings are social creatures, we need each other, however we need to connect with others in a positive, non-judgmental environment with growth mindsets, imagining that anything is possible.

Give – Danny spoke about his commitment to broadcasting through various mediums; wanting to bring the best experience for the viewer or the listener. This is Danny stepping out of what he wants to achieve for himself and thinking about others. His job ceasing to be a job just for him, but becoming a job for others.

Learn – the fifth element of the 5 Ways – was how Danny was open to “looking through a different lens”. He expressed his curiosity for learning about his situation, seeing his life more positively, which takes a shift in awareness and openness. He has learnt that people are people, whether they are elite athletes or an everyday person on the street. He has learnt to accept others, without the judgment of ‘who’ they are by what they have ‘achieved’.  He appears more open to what he can continue to learn, increasing his expertise and ‘success’ in his broadcasting.

Danny Frawley grew up as a country boy. He openly talked about how men often don’t talk to their GP about their own mental health. Choosing to spend hundreds of dollars each year on their cars to keep them well-serviced, yet neglecting their own ‘servicing’. His honesty in the field of sport is refreshing and to be congratulated.   Unfortunately we only hear of major sporting stars’ battle with their life or their mental health and wellbeing after they have experienced major issues, more often coupled with a public exposure of their seen ‘demise’.

Life isn’t just what happens to us, it is what we make of it. Our success shouldn’t be measured in terms of outward achievement, but in our view or sense of ourselves. We all need that positive lens Danny talks about. Living through the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, while it can’t make us bullet-proof, it will undoubtedly minimise the intensity of mental health issues and give us a solid base on which to seek help. We need a growth mindset and a focus on connecting, giving, learning, staying physically active and living in the present, after all, what other time do you actually have?IMG_1976

Listen to Danny Frawley’s interview with Mark Howard on Dead Set Legends Triple M.

 

Danny Frawley Image: triplem.com.au

 

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Autumn Soundscape Meditation

IMG_4852As I wait for someone in a park in my beautiful city, I decide, as I often do in situations like this, to take the opportunity and sit in a soundscape meditation.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with meditation or soundscape meditations I will attempt to explain what I like to encourage when I teach it.

Generally in our day we divide sounds into those we like and those we don’t. The sounds we don’t like we usually describe as noise. This is particularly true when we are feeling the negative effects of stress. When our minds are in distress.

It seems the higher our stress the lower our threshold is to cope with the cacophony of everyday sounds.

By labelling these everyday sounds as ‘noise’ we limit ourselves.   We limit our tolerance, because noise is something that annoys us, grates on our nerves, and interrupts our thinking or sense of calm.

We also limit ourselves to see, or should I say hear, the connections that make up our world. Connections made by others perhaps going about their day. We limit our awareness of noticing, which is why soundscape meditation is very much a mindfulness meditation.

So as I sit with my eyes closed on this warm day early in Melbourne’s autumn, I start to hear so many sounds. I always find it amazing how when we quieten the eyes our sense of hearing seems to awaken even more.

Construction sounds are probably the most dominant sounds in my present, and so the ears are naturally drawn to them. Construction sounds are sounds of people working. Sounds of possibilities for the future for others to work or live in the city. Sounds of amazing machinery designed by engineers and creative inventors to help make our lives safer and easier. Machinery that someone else has also made, providing a job for them as well.

As I listen more closely to my city I hear the sounds of traffic. People moving. Looking to connect with others perhaps, possibly looking to leave the city for the weekend. Moving to jobs, for jobs. Moving to families or friends. Who am I to decide that this is annoying or unnecessary?

The ding of a tram bell indicates movement stopping or starting. A caution to others to be careful as they go about their life. Not all cities have this unique form of transport. Trams are synonymous with Melbourne, they are our history.

Suddenly the sounds of sirens. An ambulance followed by a fire engine. We can be tempted to think they are spoiling our serenity with their loud raucous bells, or we can understand that someone is in need of support and these people are doing everything they can to get there as quickly as possible to offer that support. Their sounds no longer offensive, more an act of selflessness, courage and compassion.

The wind is rustling the trees providing a touch of nature in this city soundscape. Birds are tweeting to each other as they either fly overhead or sit perched in the trees that create a softening of the city.

People are walking by. I hear their footsteps. Some are gentle, some scurry. Some push the autumn leaves along the pathway. Kicking autumn leaves always transports me back to childhood. Fallen leaves, a sign of the change in seasons. The earth in its continuous cycle of change, a change we can often be oblivious to as we go about the busyness of our day.

A soundscape meditation is a wonderful way to instantly become present. While I have talked here about the sounds, labelling them for the purpose of this blog, a soundscape meditation is actually a time when you don’t have to think. You don’t need to label, judge or assess the sounds of your present as good or bad, they just are.

A soundscape meditation can immediately ground us in the beauty of the world, a world full of connections that we may otherwise miss.

Soundscape meditation is easy to do and very portable, you can do it anywhere.

Give it a go and watch your mind attempting to label and judge, resist these temptations, allowing the world to be and you to just be in it.

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