Focus by being mindful – Positive Vibes Series

“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.”Jon Kabat-Zinn

How can you focus on being mindful of the external activities around you while the busy buddies in your head are jumping on different time machines traveling from the past to the future and mostly making long stops at unpleasant stations along the way? At times, your head’s turmoil becomes worrisome that you need to ship magic bullets in the form of sugar cravings or any other substance abuse to quiet them. It is a challenge to be present and mindful, but it will be amazingly rewarding if meshed into our daily life. Remember when you were a child, delighted to look at an object with your eyes wide open without expecting anything from it. You were absorbed in the experience without any preconceived idea. Just a “beginner’s mind,” no clutter, no concept, no meaning, no assumptions, no color, or shape. You were just fascinated. As Psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion said, “being mindful is like taking photos; we learn to see without memory or desire.”

Stephane Barbery Photography

Precisely, a photograph captures a moment in time, and you will see things as they are, and mostly you see something that you usually ignore. This is to be mindful. You are being immersed in the experience without any distortion by your perceptions. By being mindful, you become receptive and see endless possibilities that exist within the world. As Monet said, “to see, we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.”

Stephane Barbery Photography

Focusing to be mindful is to learn how not to rush and wait, which involves letting go. “Great understanding is broad and unhurried; little understanding is cramped and busy.” Chuang-Tzu

Stephane Barbery Photography

So how to focus on being mindful? Imagine you are a photographer exploring and embracing every opportunity. You want to seize the moment and see things around you. Don’t bother about the techniques, the light, or the subject; you adopt a “yes” attitude pushing away the blocking emotions. You just let go! You let go of expectations, perfectionism, comparing yourself to others, and be open! By letting go, you don’t rush into judgment. As in photography, you accept the scenery without labeling or categorizing.
With practice and dedication, you will find harmony between your concentration and being mindful. A process that allows you to be highly sensitive to your surroundings, interested, approachable, and open. Your field of view is expanded, and you become aware of something new. Something that you can zoom in, investigate, record it, and zoom out.

Featured image by STÉPHANE BARBERY

Beginner’s Mind – Foundation of Mindfulness # 3

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

Shunryo Suzuki

Past experiences and preconceived ideas have great value when it comes to making decisions about everyday activities. However, they are tainted to the degree that we cannot absorb the new reality of the present time or the face value of an action, a discussion, or a situation. It is always comfortable to skim through the information to support and validate our previous experience; nevertheless, we tend to lose the possibility of learning a new way of doing things or transforming our ideas for the better by seeing things with fresh eyes.

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Art by Magritte – The Human Condition

Everybody knows that some things are simply impossible until somebody who doesn’t know that makes them possible. - Albert Einstein

The real problem starts when you are an expert, one who has more assumptions than questions. Fending off new ways of doing things or not being receptive to new ideas happens to the experienced. An apprehension swishes and contaminates the mind, which in turn will end up either with cherry-picking to justify the established rules and practices or simply dismissal of the new approach.

When we adopt the mind of a beginner, we endeavour to look at things as if for the first time, free from the influence of the past or speculation about the future. We open ourselves to what is here now, rather than constructing stories about what we think is here. Much like a scientist who observes without bias, beginner’s mind allows us to collect raw data. This opens us up to new possibilities, rather than being confined by habits and conditioning. — Tracy Ochester.

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Art by Magritte – The treachery of images

A beginner’s mind is keen to meet a new person, have a fresh outlook on familiar people, or learn a new skill. Practicing beginners’ minds (or shoshin in Japanese Zen Buddhism) feeds a growth mindset. An outlook that refuses to have more of the same for the rest of its life knows well that the safety zone is not always the right place to be. It stales the mind and prevents you from growing and reaching your potential. By default, we prefer to stay in our comfort zone, yet adopting a growth mindset requires courage to embrace vulnerability and humility. To acknowledge that there is always a better way of doing things or when it comes to human relations, we give people the benefit of the doubt.

Ways to Cultivate a beginner’s mind

  • Adopt the notion that endless possibilities exist.
  • Switch off the autopilot mode. 
  • Be in the present moment.
  • Listen carefully when a familiar topic comes up; you don’t have to rush to express your opinion or add value; observe and ask questions like you didn’t know about the subject.
  • Explore something to re-experience the feelings; it can be basic as eating your meal or making your bed.
  • Stop labeling and notice that you are on auto judgment – Ask yourself why you consider things as bad, good, right, or wrong? Is it out of habit? Integrate seeing things in your life as they are!
  • Learn a new activity to integrate challenges to your comfort zone
  • Mingle with people who have a different view of life and explore their perspective and lifestyle.
  • Change a routine in your life, your walking route, exercise, or things you eat. 
  • Practice gratitude and appreciation – it weakens the habit of taking things for granted.

 

For more information, read “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Featured Image by aykutaydogdu

Non-Striving – Foundation of Mindfulness # 5

One of the pillars of mindfulness meditation is based on non-striving. An attitude that helps us disconnect our energy & emotions to the outcome of a task at hand or a pursuit. What it means is that the only thing worth striving for is to be in the moment. Like in a meditative state, you seek to stay calm and reach the highest point of being; the non-striving approach shifts your focus from the result to the action.

The idea is not to abandon your desires and goals in life. On the contrary, it is about you pushing that boulder up the hill and not looking at the peak of the mountain but have your eyes on the rock while using your energy to push it forward. Recognizing that you and your diligent efforts are good enough, no matter the outcome.

 

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Igor Morski Art

Nike’s slogan “Just do it!” is the perfect example of a mental state that has set a goal, is fully immersed in the performance, and is not controlled by the result. To give you a clear image of how to practice a non-striving attitude is to partner your goals to your intentions. Let’s say you have set a goal to complete a project at work by a particular time. Now, if you integrate your goal to expand your knowledge and nurture your team, then the stress will be reduced, challenges will be seen as opportunities, and the exchange of ideas and support will be welcomed. The reason is that intentions within you set the tone to move towards your goals and life in general. Once you are clear about your intentions, the focus on the course of action will drive you to do your best without anxiety or stressing over the unknown future.

Non-striving takes patience and a non-judging mindset. Every day choose an activity to loosen the grip to an outcome. For example, you go for a walk every day to lose 10 pounds. The goal is clear; now add the intention to enjoy the scenery and greet everyone you meet along the way. Pay close attention to your body and emotions when tension arises every time you think about your goal, and when you let go of the outcome. The exercise will cultivate the strength to detach and learn the non-doing attitude.

On the final note, the ability to stay focused is the driver to reach your goals. Never allow the feeling of worry or the uncertainty of an outcome derails you from materializing your dreams.

For more information on mindfulness meditation, read “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. 

Acceptance – Foundation of Mindfulness #6

The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.

Carl Jung

Developing an attitude to accept things as they are, makes life less complicated. Challenges and pains happen and how we shape our relationship with them is important. The process of healing or to find solutions starts with accepting reality. Indeed is not about tolerance or denial but the willingness to see things as they are. When you have pain, the feeling is real. You will not remain passive to the sensation, you feel it, and you do something about it.
We tend to abandon a distressing aspect of a situation and cling to nicer ones or withdraw from a tedious experience or look the other way to our conduct. This kind of attitude suggests that we refuse to see reality because we obviously do stumble upon dire circumstances or infuriating individuals. That being so, we cannot walk away or ignore every time there is an irritant. Acceptance is to acknowledge your emotions and not to avoid but to explore.

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Crystal Morey

Changing the habit of non-acceptance

  • Let the sensations come and go
  • Do not take things personally
  • Acceptance is not choosing over your preference
  • Let go of control; not everything is what we imagine nor what we believe
  • Do not react to the unwanted situation
  • Take your focus away from what you agree or disagree
  • Recognize that flaws do exist in life, in people, and your doings and point of views
  • Detach yourself from distressing thought by not giving too much weight to it
  • Create a supportive slogan for yourself to accept things as they are in challenging moments

Ultimately, by allowing things to be as they are and staying neutral, you will learn to cultivate an acceptance attitude to reduce your anger, remain calm, and eventually find solutions. Remind yourself that the sensations that you feel are magnified. Just like in a horror movie, the knife is on the kitchen counter, but it does not mean that you will be stabbed with it. Being mindful is to know that you don’t have to solve everything nor to change it at once.

To learn more refer to “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Letting Go – Foundation of Mindfulness #7

Changing the habit of non-acceptance

  • Let the sensations come and go
  • Do not take things personally
  • Acceptance is not choosing over your preference
  • Let go of control; not everything is what we imagine nor what we believe
  • Do not react to the unwanted situation
  • Take your focus away from what you agree or disagree
  • Recognize that flaws do exist in life, in people, and your doings and point of views
  • Detach yourself from distressing thought by not giving too much weight to it
  • Create a supportive slogan for yourself to accept things as they are in challenging moments

Ultimately, by allowing things to be as they are and staying neutral, you will learn to cultivate an acceptance attitude to reduce your anger, remain calm, and eventually find solutions. Remind yourself that the sensations that you feel are magnified. Just like in a horror movie, the knife is on the kitchen counter, but it does not mean that you will be stabbed with it. Being mindful is to know that you don’t have to solve everything nor to change it at once.

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Art by Alex Gross

How to let go

The body

  • Observe your hurtful and discouraging thoughts
  • Practice diaphragmatic breathing and imagine that the frustrating emotion flows away with your exhalation

Emotions and feelings

  • Instead of ruminating on the story and inflating the situation with fear and panic, take it at face value
  • Sometimes it is best to engage with the negative thoughts and to confront them with counter argument
  • Know that if something doesn’t go your way is not the end of the world, not necessarily other bad things will continue to happen
  • Set an intention to realize the root cause of the negative thoughts, tension and frustrations
  • Journalling your feelings is helpful and sometimes physical venting like yelling off into a pillow works
  • Recognize that you have a choice to bid farewell to the hurt
  • Create peaceful images to call to mind as a support system
  • Realize that you are not in the centre of the universe
  • In frustration ask yourself is this who you really are? Then align yourself with your peaceful and intelligent self

When you cultivate peace in your attitude towards life, you are diffusing fear. Instead of kicking yourself and others over mistakes, past hurts or old injustices, learn to detach and let go of the anxiety that is brewing from the fear, criticism or offence.  It is satisfying to expose with rage the wrongdoers, vicious people or storm over unfairness but letting go with compassion and forgiveness makes you stronger. The idea is not to ignore nor to tolerate or to yield to unjust but to see things as they are! Your strength to analyze the situation with its risks and being able to shut off the anxieties which cripple and bring you to a depressive mood gives you the control over your emotions and allows you to accumulate the best possible outcome.

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Art by Merelle Fabien

For further information refer to “The Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Feature image by Michael Bergt

Tell Your Brain To Shut Up and Listen!

As promised, I embarked on the practice of mindfulness meditation to learn useful techniques on how to change our state of mind deliberately. The practice serves as a navigator through the ups and downs of life, transcending the fear and seeing things or the problem as they are. Meditation takes you to a place deep within yourself, a bridge to your inner wisdom that helps you stabilize distress—the optimal formula to nurture the best version of yourself.

At its core, the concept of mindful meditation is nothing more than being aware of what you are doing while you are doing it. It is not always about sitting in the Burmese position (mind you, it does help) and chanting a mantra but to be present at the moment. As Jon Kabat-Zinn writes in “Catastrophe Living,” unless you change your way of looking at things, no type of meditation will be useful in the long run. He frames a set of 7 fundamental attitudes that will help with the practice of being present. Non-judgingpatiencebeginner’s mindtrustnon-strivingacceptance, and letting go are to be part of your frame of mind to channel your energies and reach an alpha state. I will dive deeper into each of these attitudes in my upcoming “Mind Series.” 

The practice needs commitment! In the beginning, it will be very hard to include the above attitudes in your thought process, but merely keeping them in mind and applying them in small increments in your day-to-day ways, from eating habits to rituals or working systems, will eventually be ingrained in your thinking.

  • A good place to start is to take notice of your daily habits. For instance, pay attention to what you are eating as if it is for the first time that you are seeing or tasting that food. You can try with just one fruit or any other produce that you like. This exercise involves minding one moment to another and can be extended to other tasks and routines. 
  • Intentionally, build up your efforts and set aside a time during the day to quiet your mind and focus on your breathing.
  • Taking notice of the breath is the anchor that shifts our battling mind and anxieties to a relaxing and calming stage. The turbulence is still there, but even if it’s for a few minutes, this exercise enables you to reconnect to your ability to stay calm.

 

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Photo courtesy of rafyA creative art designs
  • Diaphragmatic breathing – the idea is to intentionally contract the diaphragm muscle and relax your belly during the inhalation to rise and deflate on exhalation. Lie down on your back or stretch out on a recliner put one hand on your belly. Bring your attention to your hand and feel it move. Practice for 15 minutes every day. (“The power of Breathing, Jon Kabat-Zinn) 
  • The other way of practicing mindfulness of breathing is to be mindful of your breath during the day.

 

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Photo courtesy of designrfix.com
  • Kindly observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment and turn your focus on your breath each time you start dwelling on them.
  • Note the persistent thoughts, detect the emotional threats of the self-centered sentiments, anger, hate, or different moods.
  • Recognize that what comes to your mind is only a thought. By redirecting your attention to your breath, you will detach any value to the lingering thought, and gradually, you will have the strength to intentionally let go of the negative emotions and calm your brain.
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Photo courtesy of designrfix.com

The whole process is not about pushing the unwanted emotions or thoughts away but cultivating the courage to see as they are. Meditation is about accepting the contents of your mind, regaining calm to reach the peaceful brain wave, and finding clarity.

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Photo courtesy of designrfix.com

Explore your rhythms and pulses, and in concert with your restyled thinking at the same time integrating gratitudecompassionkindnessforgivenessgenerosity, and tolerance, steadilyyou can lead a robust lifestyle.

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Art of Alex Gross