meditation, selfhelp, wellbeing

Why Working Your ‘Attention Muscles’ Makes You Happier

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This frog may look serene but he has a marble stuck up his bum to stop him falling over

It’s the noticing that matters

Every time you notice you’re distracted and bring yourself back to what you’re meditating on, you exercise and grow the ‘attention muscles’ of your mind.

So what? 

If you meditate regularly, the area of your brain that you use to pay attention to stuff, changes. How? Well, the more you realise how much of your thinking is ridiculous, repetitive or reactive, the less you’ll do it. You’ll think, “Christ on a bike, I’m still finding ways to make myself feel bad about what happened last Saturday! This has to stop.” The annoying thought will probably return, but you will give it less credibility and will shrug it off easier than you did before.

Watch yourself

When you’re flexing your attention muscles your thoughts become more rooted in what’s actually happening around you, and less focused on your own grumbly musings. And when you’re more present and engaged in the moment, you will spend less time worrying about stuff you’ve fucked up – or might fuck up in future. That alone will make you feel better.

Your concentration levels will also improve when you notice how easily distracted you are. This means you’ll be more immersed and focussed on the things you enjoy doing. And you’ll handle the things you hate with more awareness, which should help you put some space between your unpleasant experience and your thoughts about it.

Remember you’re not trying to clear your mind during meditation, you’re returning your focus to your breath. Noticing stretches the muscles that will make you happier and less anxious regardless of how often you behave like a complete twonk.

meditation, not being a twat, Wise things

Kindness Kicks Arse

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Showing affection isn’t something you talk about much in the pub

But bring to mind when someone decided to do something nice for you. Maybe a friend sent a text message to make you giggle before a interview or your brother gave an earful to someone who bullied you. Maybe a pal made you a cup of tea just the way you like it, even though to them it’s disgustingly milky.

They were thinking about you and it helped. That kind of thoughtfulness probably opened you up a little – allowed you to peep over your wall and lower your drawbridge. Do you care what they look like? How well off they are? Do you think about how well they have done in their career? Nah.

That’s because kindness kicks everything else’s arse.

All anyone really wants is to be happy. Even appallingly arrogant merchant bankers are in desperate need of kindness most of the time. But the fear of your actions being misinterpreted or rejected often stops you from reaching out. So maybe start small, include it in your meditation practice, then look for teeny opportunities to lift someone’s spirits.

Little bits of goodwill…

  • Be patient with someone who bores you.

  • Ask more questions.

  • Remember people’s preferences.

  • Stop thinking they dislike you.

  • Don’t read the Daily Mail.

  • Give the bus driver freshly-cooked sausages.

  • Remember everyone does things for a reason they think is okay.

Planting small seeds of kindness in your day builds momentum and releases you from the pressure of being a total tube the rest of the time.

fun, meditation, wellbeing

Grimly determined to feel calm?

See meditation as a game…

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A playful attitude to meditation stops it becoming a task

Signs that you’re taking meditation too seriously are: beating yourself up for getting distracted, worrying you’re not making enough progress or that it should be different to how it actually feels. It’s common to bring a work-like attitude into meditation and this can suck out all the joy from your practice. If you’re gritting your teeth through it, reframing your session as a game could turn it into something more enjoyable.

Why having creative approach works best…

  • You forget about time when you’re playing: doing something fun makes time zip past.

  • You don’t have big expectations – you’re meditating because you want to and not hoping to gain anything in particular from it.

  • Playing is relaxing and enjoyable, there is no big effort to get it right. 

  • It’s voluntary. You’re not meditating to impress the Dalai Lama or to make you seem more windswept. 

  • You won’t bad about not meditating. Do you feel guilty if you don’t throw your Frisbee around? (professional Frisbee players aside). It stops it becoming a chore.

  • Playing is the best way to learn anything. If you take the pressure off to achieve, it becomes a place where you can try things out and experiment a bit.

Next time you’re concentrating on your breath remember it’s not meant to be hard work. Relax, let your curiosity take change and just see how it feels. When you get distracted thinking…

“Must remember when the recycling gets collected… hmm, have to do the walk of shame to the bottle bank. That party was too loud… neighbours hate us. Should I be worried about drinking Tequila from that rubber chicken?”

Notice yourself spinning out and smile. It’s not a big deal. It’s kind of funny and when you laugh at your own ridiculousness you’re winning the game!

 

 

 

meditation, Stark Reality, suck it up

Why Meditating With A Raging Hangover Is A Life-Enhancing Skill

IMG_1535 2 2.jpgMeditating with a hangover takes balls

You really won’t feel like doing it, but you’ll learn so much more about yourself than you would from a more ordinary session.

Being properly hungover is a vivid experience. You’ll be acutely aware of your physical symptoms and your mental state is unusual. It’s best to meditate before your preferred damage limitation choices: full English, hair of the dog, painkillers… The more raw you feel, the more material you’ll have to work with!

Get right inside the pain

Sit down in a quiet, comfy place and set a timer for ten minutes. Be brave and focus on how you feel. Place your attention on your body. Where are the strongest sensations? What about the nausea your stomach? What is that really like?  Is there a crest? Does it flash or it is more lurching? Are you clenched around your stomach, trying to control it? Can you make a little space around the feeling? If it’s too strong, back off a little to a more manageable place; maybe focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Then if you can, bring your attention back – has your experience changed at all?

If at anytime you need to go throw up, go right ahead. Try to make it to the sink first though. If you feel dizzy, maybe keep your eyes open and gently focused on a stable spot in front of you. Keep breathing.

Mentally, you’ll have a bunch of stuff going on. You probably have a headache or find it particularly difficult to focus. And there may be some emotional trickiness to deal with, too. Maybe you’ll be worrying over what you said about Brexit or there could be some ominous blank spots in your memory.

There might be some excitement going on – elation that you finally told someone you liked them or some enjoyable booze-induced bonding. You might still be drunk.

Put a little space around these feelings if you can and try to hold them with some gentleness.

There’s a tendency with hangovers to punish yourself because it’s ‘self-inflicted’. Bugger that nonsense.

It’s really important to see being hungover as an opportunity to be super-kind to yourself.

Get up carefully when your timer goes off.

Hungover benefits

Meditating with a hangover teaches that you can deal with your really unpleasant and uncomfortable feelings when your first instinct is to escape them.

Being present with yourself when you feel like shit means you’re less likely to resort to numbing or self-pitying behaviour, like drinking loads more or beating yourself up for getting so drunk.

Creating that space, becoming interested and kind to yourself, means you’re processing the feelings instead of storing them up and letting them fester. It’s a major life-enhancing skill.

Now go and eat a plateful of sausages and drink lots of water. 

 

 

meditation

Sunrises, Waterfalls And Piles of Balanced Stones Have Bugger All To Do With Meditation

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Serene-looking people on Photoshopped beaches give a false sense of what it’s like to meditate.

Meditation has something of an image problem. It’s either for monks in orange robes or beautiful people cross-legged in tranquil settings. It’s hard to imagine them holding down demanding jobs, dealing with sticky children or privately worrying about how much they’re drinking. They all look so calm and well-adjusted

Your life may be more Sainsbury’s carpark than sunset beaches

You are unlikely to have a blissful experience of serenity when you meditate. Even if you were in these lovely locations, you’d probably still be thinking about work and wondering where you can get something for your urinary tract infection.

Meditating in everyday life is far more likely to be plonking the kids in front of the TV for three minutes while you sit on the loo and try to be mindful. At this point you would be forgiven for thinking that meditation isn’t living up to its Photoshopped ideals, and so you think you’re doing it wrong.

You’re not.

Meditation is noticing what is happening right now with interest and kindness. This is your real life and so it’s worthy of your full attention. Over time meditation can help you feel clearer and a bit more steady,  regardless of any unglamorous events that try to put you off.

So, breathe deeply, savour that you still can’t find a fucking parking space and enjoy the moments of calm that do appear in your wonderful, and tragically flawed, life.

Namaste (just kidding!)

meditation, selfhelp, wellbeing

Brains Like To Worry About Stuff…

IMG_0800.jpgBecause you’re basically still a caveperson.

One of the more amusing things you will notice in meditation is your brain’s ability to escalate wildly. Your mind has an amazing capacity create much bigger problems. Say, for example, you feel a slight twinge in your back when you’re focused on your breath in meditation. Left to its own devices, your brain will be off and running like this:

Fuck! My old sports injury is back! It took years to recover the last time. My physio is really expensive too, he put up his prices last year. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! I’m going on holiday next week and I don’t want to have to put up with serious back pain when I’m in Greece. That will be shite.

All this will take a fraction a second.

Dealing with this in meditation is simple. Notice your mind has wandered off, and gently shift your focus back. But it’s worth noticing the exaggeration process. You’ve gone from a tiny fleeting sensation to an expensive, debilitating condition that’s going to ruin your life. This is what brains do because…

Mentally – you are Stone Age

Your environment has changed enormously in the past few thousand years, but your mind is still wired to think everything is out to kill you. It was a good survival instinct at the time but Captain Caveman still rules your mind today. He’s always scanning the horizon for things that might go terribly, terribly wrong.

Given enough practice, you will get good as spotting when this happens. If you walk into work and your boss is unusually formal with you, you may notice that your brain is running away with itself thinking up reasons to explain why that would be. You can spot the daft theories about your boss not being happy with your finance report, or that HR has somehow caught you binge watching Great British Bake Off when you were working from home.

Catching your mind doing these bonkers somersaults and cheerfully ignoring them is one of the great skills to learn from meditation.

 

meditation, Stark Reality

Are You Waiting To Feel Better Before You Meditate?

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You want to meditate, but not today because everything is rubbish.

You got turned down for a job, you’re worried about money and your go-to behaviours for handling this sort of anxiety are in full swing. You want to overeat, blame, booze, imagine nobody cares, watch porn – choose your weapon.  The thought of facing all that anxious, itchy, tension in your meditation session is not appealing.

Make a cup of tea.

It’s never a bad idea. While the kettle boils, notice the pattern on the mug and watch the steam rising in an effortless swirl. Then make yourself this promise:

You can do all the destructive crap you want but only after you sit and meditate for 15 minutes.

For a simple meditation technique try this.

Drink your tea then sit and meditate. It won’t feel easy, you will be aware of all tension and edgy thoughts  – all that stuff that you’re feeling anyway.

But it will help and here’s why…

If you can sit with your experience and watch yourself squirming away from your feelings, you become a bit larger than them. You make a tiny space between you and your rubbish day.

That space holds the key to you making better choices. And reminds you that’s how you want to live.