to think or not to think

After posing questions to the meditation session participants, inviting them to reflect on those questions, and then sharing in a silent group meditation practice, a participant asked,

“You give us lots to think about during the reflection time and then are we      supposed to stop the thinking during meditation?  I’m so confused about  when I should be thinking or not thinking.”

Great observation.

To think or not to think.  Is that the question?

There’s nothing wrong with thinking or not thinking.

The key is to have enough influence over your own mind so that your mind is not compulsively running the show 24/7 and dragging you along helpless for the frenetic ride.

 

Whatever you are doing, do it.

When you’re thinking, think.

When you’re meditating, notice the thoughts, notice the desire to think then train the mind to come back to the breath or the body while letting the thoughts go. 

porch solitude

 

I remember a time when I first started meditating, many moons ago, I was absolutely thrilled for some quiet time to sit and think during meditation. I had created no space in my daily life to think.

Clearly missing the point of meditation. But this view of meditation-as-permission-to-think viewpoint made training my mind to settle even more challenging .  I was filling the stillness and space with thinking.  Intentionally yet unaware...story of my life!  

 

But once I introduced intentional times of non-doing and constructive rest into my life and gave myself permission to indulge in as much relaxed-body and mind thinking time as I could handle.  This allowed the training my merry-go-round mind in my mediation practice easier. Not easy. Just easier.

To think or not to think is not the question.

Being aware of thinking and choosing when to do it and when not to do it is the practice.  It is your practice.  It is my practice.  Still.  Always.

It’s a question of who is ultimately in charge. You?  Or your mind?

 

coffee mates

Who do you have coffee with?

Who are those people you most regularly meet up with to have connecting catch-up conversations?

Those slow chats that are laced with lingering, easy silences and inside jokes.

When you meet up with these chat-buddies, what is the texture of these talks?

Is the talk flat and small?  Mostly about other people and their failings or unfounded fears for the future?  Or is the talk expansive, enlightening conversation about ideas, gratitude and still have room for some expression of vulnerability along with the excited plans for the next adventures in life.

Do the chats open you up to life or make you want to hide away? Do the people you regularly caffeinate with inspire you to be bigger or smaller?

I once heard a saying about how we become like the people we have coffee with.

What would change if you noticed the texture of your talk and chose your coffee mates wisely?

Thoughts to ponder over your next cuppa joe.

 

spring at the beach house

 

the centipede is mocking me and other cognitive distortions

The centipede was clearly mocking me.

It sat there, perched on top of the plug that was inverted over the drain in the kitchen sink. It was just sitting there all leggy. And entitled. Looking like a couple of false eyelashes twitching in anticipation for me to make the next move in our little stand-off.

Seeing those thousands of grimy feet right there where I do dishes and prepare food made me want to sell my house and start over. Still considering it.

 

 

A friend tries to comfort me by telling me that centipedes are naturally shy creatures. Like I care.  Hibernate like the rest of us introverts.  He also says that they help out by eating other bugs.  They are the only bugs I can see in my house so unless they eat themselves, again, I don’t care.

I have a perfectly good system to keep them in the damp basement where they belong and it involves keeping all the plugs in all the drains in the whole house. Might seem crazy to some but works extremely well until I forget to put a plug in or if I leave one inverted with the slots open for easy escapes.

But when I forget to plug, I pay. Then I get mocked.

Pretty twisted, huh?

Funny thing is that it may not even be one of my most distorted thoughts.

  • I pretty commonly catastrophize daily situations.
  • See things as black and white.
  • Blame others to avoid taking responsibility.
  • Use the words ‘should’ and ‘must’ much too often.
  • And I can throw mid-life tantrums with the idea that life is supposed to go the way I want it to.

Yet time to challenge the rapid-firing cognitive distortions is time I just don’t seem to have.

It is possible to challenge them. Not easy but possible.

sunset skiDisplaying 20151017_144152.jpg

It means harnessing the ‘power of the pause’.

  • Intentionally stop
  • Practice mindful breathing
  • Notice when thoughts have become pretzel-like
  • Consider how the thought may not be so beneficial when it’s so twisted

So, after a short pause, maybe, just maybe, the centipede wasn’t actually mocking me.

And maybe I won’t need to move after all.

Just a thought.

 

medication / meditation

 

Medication?

The casual statement over dinner was not tossed into the centre of the table as a controversial conversation starter. To the one saying the words, it was a matter of fact and as practical as leftovers.

“There’s no way we are meant make it through this life without self-medicating.”

Resistance bubbled up from somewhere deep inside of me.

Wait! That can’t be right. Can it?

And what does she mean by ‘self-medicating”? Does she think, like me, that self-medicating refers to anything that significantly distracts or numbs us to the way things really are? To take the edge off? To help us avoid dealing with the hard emotions and thoughts?

But should we not be able to make it through a day without having to numb ourselves to reality? I pondered this question as I filled my wine glass yet again. Yup.

How do I personally avoid feeling the discomfort of stressful challenges?

I over-plan. It borders on an addiction. Stress can’t get to me if I map out each day with detours around all the potential potholes. Seems reasonable to me except for the hangover-type reactions I have to predicting a smooth route during construction season.

 

Meditation?

But then, another day and another conversation with someone else resulted in my companion responding to the knowledge that I regularly facilitate “Meditation for Resilient Living” sessions with his own unique take on things.

“So you teach people how to sleep, then!”

Meditation as self-medication?

While sleeping is a common form of self-medication, what an interesting suggestion that a regular practice of sitting meditation could actually be a way to avoid feeling the discomfort of the bumps in the road.

Meditating in a seated position where the bones can be stacked on top of each other and your spine can be long helps with the desire to doze off during a sit but the real work is with sitting with whatever comes up.

 

Anything and Everything

Instead of avoiding the not-so-fun stuff, sitting is a chance to notice it, feel it, even get royally ticked off that you have to feel something uncomfortable but not have to do anything about it or to fix it.

So done with intention, clear instructions and lots and lots of practice, meditation is the opposite of self-medicating. There is no need for numbing, distracting or avoiding. It is all acceptable.

 

Now what?

Now what about my attachment to over-planning?  Self-medication?  Probably a proactive kind.  A preemptive attack on stress!

I think that some people are born planners. We are the same people who have not-so-hidden addictions to office supplies especially the ones that assist in keeping us organized. I’m thinking of starting a support group.

As a work in progress, I’ve decided to continue planning because, it reduces my overall stress levels and supports me tremendously in my life’s work.

But, the real work will be in letting go of my aversion to potholes and bumps in the road. I’m going to attempt to be aware of when I reach for my favourite self-medicating organizational tools and ask myself:

What am I avoiding feeling?

If I allowed myself to feel it, what would happen?

porch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step one is good for now.  I’ll keep you posted on the support group, though.

 

words in action — hidden beliefs exposed — part three

 

Richard Rodgers of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song-writing duo was the creative force behind the sentiments in the Sound of Music classic, Something Good, a song that was not in the original stage version but was written additionally for the 1965 film.

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

soemthing good

It doesn’t take a mind reader to see wisps of underlying beliefs and assumptions rising like a gentle fog from the lyrics of this refrain. The words suggest that “good things happen to good people” or at least a person who does enough good things will be rewarded. What does that mean when bad things happen? And what do the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ really mean?

The good-comes-from-good worldview is interesting but becomes a real mind-twisting, emotional roller-coaster when events are not in line with that particular belief.

Your unscripted words are the proving ground

for what you truly believe.

Beliefs that may be deep and dormant come to life in the following phrases:

“Don’t do that! What will the neighbours think?”

“This job will be the death of me!”

“She makes me so mad. I could just scream!”

“I give and I give and I give. He owes me big time!”

“I can’t believe she didn’t invite me. I must have done something to upset her.”

“This is so hard. If this relationship is really right then it should be easier than this.”

“Flat tire? Just my luck!”

“Don’t get too excited about this good news. The other shoe will drop eventually.”

 

 

 

black eyed susans
While it is easier to discern the beliefs of others through words like these, it is more challenging for us to hear our own words, let alone to understand what they reveal. This is especially true since most of us speak more than we listen. How could be possible be aware of every word we say?

 

To Thine Own Self Be Known

Get to know your personal filters through which all your experiences flow. How have your life events, personality, temperament, significant influences and preferences created those particular filters? How do your filters inform your worldview?

 

Notice and Note

Begin to notice your word choices especially those that are repeated or those attached to significant level of emotion. Keeping some method of recording what you notice handy will be helpful to notice just how often you reveal your hidden beliefs and underlying assumptions through your words.

For the truly brave and bold among you, give someone close to you permission to point out when your words reveal a distorted thinking pattern from part two of this series.

 

 Consider the Source

When you begin to notice pattern of distorted thinking revealed in your words, consider from where this pattern may have originated. Sift through family patterns, significant events and your personal temperament that may have firmly rooted this thought pattern into your belief system.

 

Next time, we will take one particular thought pattern through a process of review and revision to see how we can re-wire our brains to develop new, more useful thought patterns grounded on beneficial beliefs.  Discover one of your patterns to put through the process.

Be well, be aware and stay tuned!

 

 

distorted thoughts and twisted truths – hidden beliefs exposed — part two

 

Now that you have considered some of your beliefs around the larger issues of life and discovered the power of a pause for noticing thoughts from  part one of this series, it is time to look deeper into the twists and turns of a thought process.

You may recall the following breakdown of the hundreds of encounters we have on a daily basis:

Situation
Thought
Feeling
Action
Result

Knowing at which point, how and how often to pause in this process can be a challenging. We have so many thoughts in a day and cannot possibly stop at each one to consider the underlying assumptions lurking behind.

 

But some of our thoughts hold more weight than others. The work is to focus on the ones that move very quickly from a simple, fleeting thought to a full-length movies of epic proportions.  Sit.  Start small.  Look for patterns.

sidewalk cafe

 

Effective Hiding Spots for Funky Thoughts

The following areas are indicators of where twisted truths and distorted thoughts like to hang out and make up stories. Noticing when you are experiencing repetition or intensity in any of these areas is a good start.

 

1. Attachments, Obsessions and Addictions

Beyond some typical addictive activities used for numbness from some real or perceived
discomfort (substance abuse, eating too much or too little, excessive screen time,
compulsive sexual behaviour ), what would make your grasp tighten a little if it was pulled away from you?  The glass or two of wine each evening to take the edge off? A shortened deadline so your finished product could not be perfected? Being right at any cost? Notice.

 

2. Aversions and Avoidances

What do you ignore or avoid at all costs? Confrontation? Self-reflection? Taking
responsibility for your own actions and their consequences? Displeasing someone?
Collaboration? New experiences?  Old, boring experiences? Being alone? Notice.

 

3. Physical Symptoms
What is your body saying to you? Communication from your body could be in the form of pain, pleasure, numbness or a sense of not having any awareness of your body at all. Or it could be through repeated minor conditions, illnesses or even long-term, chronic diseases. What is your body saying in health, dis-ease, in motion and at rest? Notice.

 

4. Overwhelming Emotions
When it seems as if the emotions will swallow you up, what is hiding in that moment? When you find yourself swimming in an ocean of fear or terror, rage, jealousy, boredom, ecstasy or euphoria, obsessive desire, isolation and loneliness or despair, Notice.

 

5. Relationships Obstacles
No relationship is perfect. But what could be learned from looking at those messy sticking points, the raw-nerve moments, the chronic misunderstandings or the inelegant dance moves of two partners out-of-step? At home?  At work?  With friends?  Family?  Notice.

 

6. Feeling Hurt, Stuck or Incompetent
What lurks behind the reaction “what she did really hurt my feelings, how could she do that to me”? What is the “should” belief lingering behind believing that our present situation finds us stuck in a rut or trapped in our own life? What belief is getting its mail forwarded to the hiding spot behind your reaction of feeling incompetent or unqualified?  Notice.

 

Hidden Thought Patterns Revealed in Distortion

We are so competent at distorting thinking that we don’t even recognize we’re doing it. Once you start noticing where your distorted thoughts regularly hide, here are some common cognitive distortions from PsychCentral.com that you might discover there.

 

Filtering: Filtering out the positive and only seeing the positive

Polarized Thinking:  Seeing situations as black & white, with an all or nothing attitude

Over-generalization:  Creating a general outlook based on one incident

Jumping to Conclusions:  Assuming an outcome even without proof

Catastrophizing: Expecting that a disaster will be the outcome

Personalization: Taking the words and actions of others personally

Control Fallacies: Believing you are a victim of fate or that you life is externally controlled

Fallacies of Fairness: Assuming that everything in life is ultimately supposed to be fair

Blaming: Holding others responsible for our pain and discomfort

Shoulds: Having clear rules about how we and all other should behave

Emotional Reasoning: Believing that what we feel is the concrete truth

Fallacy of Change: Believing that people will change if pressured enough to do so

Global Labelling: Using emotionally-laden language to make a global judgement

Always Being Right: Thinking that being wrong is an unthinkable situation

Heaven’s Reward Fallacy: Keeping score of giving in hopes of getting back in return

 

That’s a boat-load of noticing to do!

sunday walk sights1

 

Self-care Homework

1.  Continue to practice the pause from part one of this series to help you with the noticing.

2.  Keep a small notebook handy to record what you notice will help you focus on the one or two thought patterns that are causing you the most concern and prevent getting bogged down with trying to deal with too many patterns at once.

 

Writing down what you notice will also help for the next blog post when we discover how the words we use reveal which distorted thoughts we default to most often. Then we will consider the impact of allowing these thought patterns to go unchecked.  

Still ahead, we will work through a process to re-wire our brains by flipping the distorted thoughts on their heads and creating a new result to the troublesome situation.

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll see you back here next time!

 

no chance of rain

 

You know that rare, unexpected moment when you look around you and notice that there are no major crises swallowing up your attention? You know the kind of event that seemingly hijacks your life and derails even your daily plans?  None.

In that rare moment, even if you’re experiencing some confusion, minor loss, life dis-order or chronic busyness, the things you’re facing apparently do not qualify for the master list of significant life stressors so should be more or less manageable according to the creators of the master list.

Quite recently, I realized that over a few weeks surrounded by the unremarkable stress of being a living, breathing conscious person, I became increasingly agitated.   And as my general uber-vigilant disposition was not picking up any external signs of an intense struggle to engage or an insurmountable obstacle to overcome, it seemed that I needed to create some concrete struggle internally.

Suddenly my own arbitrary deadlines rose to commandment status with the added pressure of “someone will be waiting on me for this”.  In my own gospel, Never Leave Anyone Waiting is the second commandment after Do Everything Correctly and followed by Everything Matters. My inclination to set regular goals and write lists became a firm attachment to perfectly imagined outcomes followed by an out-of-balance disappointment when they were not realized. My growing acceptance of “this is the way life is” was recklessly abandoned on the meditation cushion with my settled breathing and mind. Slow, mindful movements were replaced with jittery legs and fidgety fingers. Sleep was rest-less and stillness disappeared.

Remember, there was no genuine crisis. Bounty was all around me.  Relationships, life’s work, passions and creative outlets were all within much more-than-rich and satisfying range. Life, as they say, was and is good.

SAM_2124

On a clear, breezy day with no clouds or chances of rain, am I addicted to the chaos of panic and pressure? Do I need to create drama where there is none in order to feel engaged, relevant and meaningful? Does dis-ease become my default position especially when things are going well?

I don’t know.  Now comes the sitting and listening with a curiosity for what comes up and with no predetermined outcome.  If panic asks to take over, I’ll re-read “the “3 steps to pacify the panic” blog I wrote a few years ago and get un-stuck (again!) from this familiar place.

May your summer be full of self-accepting moments where you never give up on the places where you get repeatedly stuck!

 

 

 

 

the right tool for the job

 

I have a quirky trait of stubbornly “making do” when faced with a task requiring a specific tool. My resistance rises with even the thought of purchasing a tool when I think that I may have an object that was made for a different purpose but will do in a pinch within arms reach. This approach has always seemed simpler, more practical and oh-so-much-more efficient than the alternative of the time-guzzling acts of browsing, shopping, listing pros and cons of which one is the best to buy, spending money on then cleaning, storing and organizing all the tools until the end of time! Doth she protest too much? Methinks so.

 

Beyond my issues with the traumas of shopping, and my still firm desire to just get the job done effectively and efficiently, I am growing in my appreciation for the wisdom of using the right tool for the job.

Despite our love affair with our minds and the wonders they perform, when it comes to emotions and moods, the mind and its incredible ability to problem-solve external situations is precisely the wrong tool for this type of internal work.

Emotions are not problems to be solved. They exist to be felt. Why then do we feel the need to enlist our minds into action, to swoop in heroically and solve our problem of unhappiness, disappointment, fear, anxiety, anger or depression? The answer is because we don’t like to feel uncomfortable and will numb ourselves to these signpost emotions that we’re off our path.

Instead of feeling the emotions, we question why life is hard for us but so easy for everyone else. We wonder why we can’t seem to just get over our hurt and resentment quickly. We speculate on what we did to deserve the pain. And we ruminate on the darkness of our lives thereby increasing the gap from where we are to where we think we want to be.

Trying to “solve” emotional issues through thinking is like digging the trench deeper. The deeper we dig the trench, the more accustomed we become living in a trench and it then becomes a future platform for the unproductive process of thinking through our feelings.

There is a way out of the self-built trench that may include professional intervention but could also be supported by:

  • Taking our minds off the pedestals
  • Remaining keenly aware of our mind’s desire to be in charge
  • Developing a practice of sitting with overwhelming emotions
  • Noticing when our mind tries to hijack the process

Our minds have their place but our vulnerable yet resilient inner workings deserve the use of the right tool for the job.

Thoughts?

 

 

 

carved in stone

 

“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone

creates the urgency for you to prove yourself over and over”

Carol S. Dweck, PhD,

Mindset: A New Psychology of Success and Achievement

The image above is from a friend and gifted sculptor, Steve Fraser, who infuses life into stone with his work to the point that you can almost see the face he created in the stonework smiling, breathing comfortably, ever-growing in awareness and contributing to the world around him.

The reverse process of encasing life in stone does not work so well.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like to be on a firm foundation in life with some consistency, some continuity to rest in.  But creating a rock-solid version of the story you tell yourself about the way things really are leaves no room for potential, mystery, poetry, hope, distress, recovery or resilience.  If your truth is already carved out then what’s the point of getting up in the morning?

Resilience in the face of turbulence calls for the courage to be creatively flexible.

What could happen if you would:

  • Listen to the thoughts you think
  • Notice the words you choose to use
  • Become aware of the emotions that arise
  • Recognize how your story sprouts directly from the frequent repetition of these
  • Believe you are absolutely creative enough to re-write several possible story lines
  • Re-script the thoughts and words to craft a stellar ending with killer plot twists!

The story grows, changes, evolves and you have a key role to play in writing the ending.

 

 

the myth of living in the moment

There was time when I would easily fall into a stony-eyed stare around people who used the language of ‘living in the moment‘. Even as someone who had been meditating for many years, I would secretly rebel with thoughts like

“if you only knew what I was going through right now

or

if you could just spend one day at my job and with all my responsibilities, you would see that I don’t have time to live in the moment”.

Eventually, the chronic irritability, stress-aches, frequent illnesses and general dis-ease of my life led to me to question whether or not I was missing something.

Through continued meditation, yoga, the reading of wisdom literature from many traditions and conversations with others who were walking with the same questions and resistances, I found a place where I could consider releasing my cold, judgmental stare.  It was a micro-start.  A work in progress, to be sure.

The place I found was one where I realized that ‘living in the moment‘ does not mean bearing witness to every single moment as free of stress and discomfort. It does not mean a constant evaluation, categorizing, dissecting and cataloging of my moments to see how they could be made more livable, more acceptable and even easier to manage then share with others.

Attending to this moment means that I see it with soft eyes, not searchlight eyes. Receptive eyes to what is really in front of me and to sit with whatever response comes from it.

But living in each moment is not really reasonable. There are simply too many of them. They come too quickly and leap frog over each other as we tumble and stumble through our days. This reality calls for a bit of intention.  We can select a few moments each day when we choose to stop, sit, soften, notice and receive the moment just as it is.

Maybe the first moments of wakefulness in the morning. Or just before falling asleep. Or at a stop light. Or doing the dishes. Sitting quietly on a porch with a cup of coffee. Choosing to add some moments of meditation to your day.

This is as close to ‘living in the moment’ as I can get. Some moments. Some days. It is what it is.