You may be watching summer draw to a close and sense a time to pull in, create a schedule or get organized. This is a natural rhythm of life. We have daily, monthly and seasonal rhythms that govern our sleep, our energy and even our food! Fall in the Western hemisphere is typically cooler, more grounded and darker, and less lighter fruit and veggies and more earthy food like squash and root vegetables.
First of all, I have a short, simple video for you if you have ever doubted the power and effectiveness of breathing and mindfulness practices. Here it is:
I have had a few projects on the go this summer and this week I am excited to share with you a sneak peek of a chapter from my book Mindful Breathing: Simple, Powerful Practices to Heal Anxiety, Stress and More that is being released on Amazon this September. It is a collection of practices that I have found to be essential and effective to help people calm anxiety and other conditions. I hope you like it!
Thursday Mindfulness Classes begin Thursday September 14th, 12-1pm at Askews Uptown Community Room. This class now has a $5 drop-in fee, after much deliberation. Hope to see you all back.. I’ve got some great stuff I’ve been thinking about….
I have been thinking a lot about people who suffer with chronic pain and I know how helpful mindfulness and relaxation can be for pain. If this is you, please let me know if you might be interested in a class just for people in pain. Maybe gentle, restorative yoga and mindfulness? Let me know your ideas in the comments below.
Chapter 3: Watch the Breath, Watch the Mind: Mindfulness
“Life is 10% what happens and 90% how you respond to it”. Charles R. Swindoll
What causes all this stress? As well as the many interruptions and stimulation to attend to during our day, it is the thoughts that arise, the stories we tell ourselves that continue the suffering long after the stressful event has happened. You may have noticed that everyone reacts slightly differently to events based on their personality, conditioning, history, beliefs, perceptions and so much more. Your perception is yours and may not be the same as others, in fact it rarely is. Buddha called it the ‘second arrow’. You get shot by the first arrow. This is the real life situation that you are facing. It hurts and it causes real pain. It might be a hurtful exchange, a job loss, or a physical injury or illness. The second arrow is all the thoughts, stories and interpretations that follow such as “Who did that?” “Why did they shoot me?” “What’s wrong with me?” “I’m going to get them back” “This is awful” “Why me?” and so on. It is natural to react in an effort to protect or prevent further injury, but as time goes on we tend to tell and re-tell the story therefore prolonging and re-living the painful event.
It is our perceptions and interpretations of events that cause stress, not the actual events themselves. For example, if you happen to see a good friend in the street and she walks right by you without acknowledging you, how do you interpret that event? If you notice yourself following up with thoughts such as “I guess she doesn’t like me. I’m sure it’s what I said at that party. I must have done something to offend her” and the like, you are likely to experience the stress response.
Psychologists call this thinking pattern ‘catastrophizing’, I have a client who calls it ‘awfulizing’, and it contributes significantly to depression and anxiety. If you are able to come out of the protective stress response and see broader possibilities, you might interpret the same situation as “Maybe she didn’t see me. She must be in a rush’, “I’ll have to call her later and check in”. You simply note is as a fact and continue on with your day. When we start to become aware of our perceptions without reacting, we might find a gap that can see that there are many more possible interpretations of the same event and they are simply that: an interpretation, or thought. It can get easier with practice to widen that gap with a mindfulness practice.
We all have what is called ‘primary pain’ which is the first arrow, in our lives. This is the reality of circumstances, emotions, illness, that cause us real physical or emotional pain. It might be a serious physical pain or illness, or a relationship or a delayed flight. It is real and happening in our life as it is unfolding in this moment.
This pain in itself is usually out of our control. It is the ‘secondary suffering’, or second arrow, that we overlay it with that causes the suffering. Bear with me here. How do we respond to the pain in our lives? Is it with contraction, resistance, fear, holding on or pushing away? This usually comes in the form of physical tension, and repetitive thoughts such as shoulds, shouldn’ts, ‘why is this happening to me?’ or ‘I hate this’. This secondary suffering that we create in our reaction to our lives causes a great deal of tension, anxiety and depression. It’s like piling brick upon brick onto an already stressed system. We retell ourselves the secondary stories that keep the suffering alive and keep our bodies tense and unable to heal. You may be thinking ‘but of course I am not going to like and accept my situation.. can’t you see how painful it is?’. Yes, I hear you and I know that life is more than difficult sometimes. It can feel unbearable. Yet it continues, and we continue to choose our response to it.
Let a breath give you the space between your primary pain and secondary suffering. Let it create the space that enables you to pause, to relax, to see clearly with compassion, to understand the many ways you can choose to respond. In that space, you can make choices to respond that support health, peace and life. Being able to see and watch our thoughts is a life-long practice but we can usually see recurring patterns.
Breathing into the relaxation response allows us to move out of tunnel vision to a wider lens of the world where we see facts as facts, in this ever-changing, always moving flow of life. We always have the choice of our attitude in how we will respond to any given situation.
Try it now: Is there something in your life you are worried or stressed about right now? Let your mind wander there and notice how the stress shows up in your body. Now take a moment to observe what stories or thoughts come up that continue the stress right now. Pause and breathe and ask “What are the facts? What do I really know for sure?” Now come back into the present moment by noticing your surroundings, this very moment you are living in.
Have a wonderful week,