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.

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, 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, Wise things

Suck It Up!

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Sometimes meditation rubs your nose in painful but ultimately helpful truths.

Inescapable realities:

  • Your mind talks rubbish: anyone who tries to focus on their breath for five minutes knows this.

  • You’re insatiable: have you had enough food, sex, praise, comfort, holidays? Has anyone?

  • Because everything changes, you can’t rely on anything.

  • Your chimp-based evolution has wired your brain to see threats everywhere.

  • You’re going to die (okay, meditation doesn’t show you this directly but it’s true anyway).

You were shielded from most of these certainties when you were young but if you ignore them when you’re an adult you’ll create problems for yourself.

Gimmie the numbing distractions!

Popular methods for avoiding awkward truths include: working too hard,  taking drugs, over exercising, procrastinating, pornography, self-loathing and checking your phone every two minutes.

Meditation removes some distractions so you are gently forced to see how things really are. This can be daunting but sometimes your coping methods cause more problems than facing the truths themselves. Late night drinking to avoid the fact that you chose the wrong career might be causing you more difficulties than actually changing your job.

Of course in many ways drinking will seem like a much more fun option than acknowledging that you’ve wasted time in a job you don’t like.

But before you throw your meditation cushion in the skip…

Remember you can only deal with something if you acknowledge it exists in the first place.

When you accept How Things Actually Are it will be much easier to find a happier way to solve your problems. In the same way you don’t become furious at gravity when you fall off a ladder, accepting that life is a bit shit sometimes, helps you come up with better solutions.

You can also take comfort in the fact that everyone you know, and will ever know, also has to deal with the same crap. It might even bring you closer together.

Meditation can feel a little brutal sometimes but life is tricky enough without deceiving yourself.

meditation, not being a twat

Be Kind To Yourself When You Meditate, You Numpty!

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If you’re not being nice to yourself, you’re flipping well doing it wrong!

There are great skills to learn from meditation: the ability to concentrate, emotional calming techniques, equanimity and how to flap your ears (kidding!) But if you try any of these without being kind to yourself you have missed the point. Because we’re all really good at beating ourselves up, most of us become easily annoyed or disenchanted with our efforts. Even monks who’ve been at it for 30 years get cheesed off sometimes.

But here’s one of the nice things about meditation – there is no doing it wrong. 

Just noticing that you’re distracted is meditation gold. Getting to know how your mind works is what it’s all about. When you appreciate how downright bonkers it is in there, you are in a better position to deal with what’s going on with some grace.

You’re not alone if think if your meditation would go a lot better if your mind would just shut up at your command. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that, but the chatter will settle down eventually if you keep realising you’ve got distracted and refocus your attention. It’s important that the noticing should be done with some kindness, or at least a sense of humour at how crazy your mind is!

If you want to be kind to yourself during your mediation, here are some suggestions…

  • Actually allow yourself five minutes to meditate.

  • Are your shoulders up by your ears? drop ’em cowboy.

  • If you feel a bit strung-out or anxious just accept it and lower your expectation that you should be calmer.

  • Put a sock under your ankle if it hurts a bit when you sit.

  • Don’t hurl insults at yourself when you get distracted.

  • Smile when you hear yourself grumbling.

  • Have a cup of tea after.