Habits

  • Embracing Impermanence

    Through practicing mindfulness we discover many things about ourselves and life that we may not have given much thought to previously. We may become aware of strengths we didn’t have the confidence to acknowledge before, and we may find a new honesty and acceptance about our weaknesses.

    Practicing mindfulness can also lead to us seeing life in a different way, sometimes bringing a harsh clarity that can be hard to deal with. For example, when we become more mindful of our moment to moment existence, it becomes strikingly clear that nothing is permanent; thoughts, emotions, relationships, and ultimately life itself are all destined to change or end at some point.

    This awareness can be a double-edged sword. It shows us that grief, pain and heartache will all eventually pass, and this gives us hope. Yet it also reminds us that all that we cherish will one day fade; hardly a joyous prospect! We may feel panic or depression; it may throw our whole life into question – the choices we’ve made, the things we have given priority to. But it may also gift us with the ability to appreciate each precious moment, rather than forever projecting our happiness into an imagined future.

     

    Impermanence

     

    Fear of Connection

    Opening our hearts can be challenging at the best of times, but knowing that everything is impermanent may make it feel too hard to bear. If everyone is bound to die, if feelings change, if loves comes and goes unpredictably, then we may feel like, ‘What is the point?’ It’s a difficult question. But mindfulness may help us come to our own answers.

    One of the many benefits of mindfulness is that it can help us focus on what is truly important to us. Cultivating self-awareness helps us put aside what we think society wants from us, what our parents expect of us, what our education has taught us to believe, and allows us to reach our own heart. It gives us the space to ask ourselves, ‘What is really important to me, in this moment?’

    This simple question can help us cut through fears and insecurities, which often distort our true values and wishes. We may have told ourselves over and over that it is too dangerous to open our hearts to other people, to situations, to new experiences, so much so that we live from that story and lose touch with what we want for ourselves deep down. So, what is the point of opening our hearts in the face of impermanence? If we look deeply enough we may find that actually we’re willing to face the possibility of losing something for the opportunity of connection.

    The Art of Gratitude

    Perhaps the most profound discovery we will make through exploring impermanence is a sense of gratitude. In any beautiful moment, no matter how simple or spectacular, we can reign in our attention and think ‘So, this moment is fleeting, but how lucky I am to be here to experience it.’

    Being fully in the moment won’t always necessarily be joyful. At times this presence may feel bitter-sweet. Appreciating a beautiful scene alone may bring with it as much sadness as it does happiness, or saying goodbye to a sick loved one who we may not get the chance to see again is bound to break our heart. But at least we will know that we did not let the moment pass us by without honouring it.

    Knowing that we do not have forever to make the time to enjoy special moments, that appreciation and happiness do not exist in the future but in the here and now, we can start to lead more fulfilling lives. Whilst we may want to capture a moment and live in it forever, knowing that we can never do that makes those moments more meaningful. Because they will pass, they are worth our attention.

    Facing the impermanence of life is not easy. Many of us will battle with the range of emotions that impermanence brings. Yet if we can accept this as a shared battle, something that all human beings have to face and traverse, it can bring great humility, compassion and fierce presence into our lives.

     

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  • Stories Like These ...

    Depending on what we have experienced in our early childhoods, we hold certain beliefs about ourselves and the world and these ‘stories’ then become firmly established as we grow up. As an adult, we may, for example, hold the belief that bad things are going to happen to us, so (perhaps without realising) avoid tricky situations or anything that might present a risk.

    Or we may believe everybody will eventually abandon us or let us down, causing tensions in our relationships or even a tendency to avoid getting close to others. We all have such painful 'Achilles Heels' - our soft spots that can hold us back in life or even cause us suffering if we believe them to be true.

    A psychologist called Jeffrey Young of Columbia University has identified 18 themes - what he calls personal ‘schemas’ - that can help us recognise our sore points.

    While reading through them, you might try bringing a mindful awareness to the thoughts and physical sensations you experience when you come across ones that you identify with. Try not to judge yourself or beat yourself up, but just kindly observe any physical reactions you have to the thoughts.

    Abandonment / Instability: My close relationships will end because people are unstable and unpredictable.

    Mistrust / Abuse: I expect to get hurt or be taken advantage of by others.

    Emotional Deprivation: I can’t seem to get what I need from others, like understanding, support and attention.

    Defectiveness / Shame: I’m defective, bad, or inferior in some way that makes me unlovable.

    Social isolation / Alienation: I’m basically alone in this world and different from others.

    Dependence / Incompetence: I’m not capable of taking care of myself without help on simple tasks and decisions.

    Vulnerability to Harm / Illness: Danger is lurking around every corner, and I can’t prevent these things from happening.

    Enmeshment / Undeveloped Self: I feel empty and lost without guidance from others, especially from people like my parents.

    Failure: I’m fundamentally inadequate (stupid, inept) compared to my peers and will inevitably fail.

    Entitlement / Self-centeredness: I deserve whatever I can get, even if it bothers others.

    Insufficient Self-control /  Self-discipline: I have a hard time tolerating even small frustrations, which makes me act up or shut down.

    Subjugation: I tend to suppress my needs and emotions because of how others will react.

    Self-sacrifice: I’m very sensitive to others’ pain and tend to hide my own needs so that I’m not a bother.

    Approval-seeking / Recognition-seeking: Getting attention and admiration are often more important than what is truly satisfying to me.

    Negativity / Pessimism: I tend to focus on what will go wrong and mistakes I’ll probably make.

    Emotional Inhibition: I avoid showing feelings, good and bad, and I tend to take a more rational approach.

    Unrelenting Standards / Hypercriticalness: I’m a perfectionist, am focused on time and efficiency, and find it hard to slow down.

    Punitiveness: I tend to be angry and impatient, and I feel people should be punished for their mistakes.

    Once you’ve identified the two or three schemas that are most resonant for you, see if you can notice when they reveal themselves in your life. You might find noticing them easier if you have a think beforehand of how these schemas manifest for you - the kind of thoughts, emotions and behaviour they trigger.

    Then, when those schemas or beliefs appear, see if you can recognise them for what they are: simply stories swirling around our heads. And although these stories might at times feel very real and can bring us much suffering, they might not always be true.

    Do also remember that we all hold such beliefs and can therefore suffer at times. So don’t judge yourself for having them; instead, when they show up, be kind to yourself. By recognising the stories as simply stories and by holding them in a loving space, they will eventually loosen their grip.

     

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  • Random Acts Of Mindfulness

    Some of the most simple activities - from having a beer to taking a shower - can give us opportunities to develop our practice. Another way to develop mindful awareness is to bring a bit of the ‘random’ into our lives and see if it gives us a new perspective...

    Now, we aren’t suggesting that you should stop that daily shower (those close to you will not thank you for that!) but by doing things differently or trying something new, we can naturally become more mindful and present. So, using the shower example, you could use a different hand to grab the soap than you do normally, take a bath, or even take a short, brisk walk before you start your morning routine.

    Mark Williams and Danny Penman, in their bestselling book ‘Mindfulness: a Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World', suggest these ‘habit releasers’ as a way of cultivating our innate curiosity and awakening the ‘child’s mind’ in us. We open up the opportunity to see the world with fresh eyes, finding joy in unexpected places. By breaking free from tradition, and the daily routines we go through (often unconsciously), we can also potentially free ourselves from any negative thinking patterns we might be stuck in.

    Even tiny changes can make a big difference. Here are a few suggestions…

    Change up the commute: Take a new route to work or to somewhere else you go to regularly. You may discover a whole new part of town (or, admittedly, you may get very lost as I did when I was trying it the other day!).

    Play musical chairs: If you have a set place that you sit every day, whether in the office, on the bus or at the dinner table, try somewhere else and see what the world looks like from your new perspective!

    Talk to a stranger: Instead of buying your groceries and counting out your money in silence, why not strike up a conversation with the person on the check-out or behind you in the queue, or the person sitting next to you on the bus? In London, we can see the same people every day without ever even acknowledging their existence. Who knows what you might have in common?

    Go for a wander: As Penman and Williams say, having a good walk, “can put the world in perspective and soothe your frayed nerves.” Even if you’re walking a route you go regularly, see if you can see it with new eyes. Take in the little details, the sounds and the smells. Feel the sensations of walking in your feet and your legs, and the air on your face.

    Do a random act of kindness: Bake a cake for an elderly neighbour, stop and have a conversation with a homeless person, send a handwritten letter to an old friend, leave a good book that you’ve finished reading on the bus with a note in it to whoever finds it... There are countless ways we can do something for someone else, just for the sheer joy of giving.

    You could choose a different habit releaser each week, try it every day and note how it makes you feel, whether it brings up new thoughts or emotions. Who knows what exciting new landscapes await!

     

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