The man who wasn’t there

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”  Oscar Wilde

I don’t know about you, but some days I feel fully present. On other days, I feel as if I have somehow dissolved into the background.  

I can recognise the symptoms and also the feelings that come with it. When I am fully present, I feel in the moment; grounded; focused and alert to events and people around me. In effect alive.

When I feel dissolved, I feel disconnected from life around me; alone; weak and vulnerable. Existing from moment to moment. Reacting to the events around me. Feeling as if I am being battered by the winds and emotions of the people, events and life around me.

I am not sure what might trigger it, though I know of a couple of scenarios that can bring on the feeling. One is where I start to ruminate about the past and the future, rather than living in the present moment. Another is where I feel that I am loosing a friend or companion. That self-generated sense of impending loss can also trigger the feeling.

With 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day running around your head; it is no wonder that we can all get caught up in the feelings that they generate and can get trapped in a cycle of rumination, self-think, and stress. If you sit for a while and observe people, you can almost see the patterns of thought criss-cross their face. We all have the ability to take a thought and travel a journey into an imaginational thought journey. Something similar the following:-

“If I do this, then, that will happen”.

“Having done that, then so and so will be affected.”

So and so will feel angry / sad / hurt / afraid and….”

“…. and I will feel I should never have done this in the first place”

It is hard to describe explicitly, but hopefully you get the meaning.

Sometimes I do feel as if I am “The man who wasn’t there”.

What does this mean to me? Caught. Trapped in my thoughts and their associated feelings. a cycle of rumination. Thoughts going round and round, self-triggering physical feelings of fear. Yes, a physical sensation that pervades me. And don’t forget, this is just thought that is doing it. Nothing physical, like a physical shock or the sight of an accident. Just the thoughts in my head. Creating an imaginary world.

So what can I do to stop feeling as if I am “The man who wasn’t there”?

We can not escape our thoughts or stop them completely. What we can do though is we can try to dampen them. Some use drugs. Some use alcohol. Some use the adrenaline of sport or adventure.  Some try to fill themselves with the mundane of life.

There is an alternative, though. That is to try to recognise and accept them for what they really are. Imaginary thoughts. Thoughts of fantasy. Illusion. That is what Mindfulness teaches you and that is what I use.

I try to practice every day. Moment by moment. However, I have to admit it does not always work.

Last Friday, for example, was a challenge. The announcement in the morning of the UK leaving the Euro Zone [called the Brexit referrendum] and the ramifications; the prospect of a friend not being around for a long time and a series of time bound activities at work, all came together in one moment. It caught me completely unawares. I was I caught up in it for a moment. Then, having recognised it. I Held it and breathed into it. Recognising that the thoughts were just thoughts. Nothing more. It took a couple of minutes for me to turn myself around but I did.

I am not going to claim that Mindfulness is a cure all. Rather for me, it has certainly helped me over the past two years. What do you use to help you? If you want to know more about Mindfulness, do get in touch.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”  Oscar Wilde

The power of habit

“1 in 5 people have dandruff. 1 in 4 people have mental health problems. I’ve had both.” Ruby Wax

 

When I get the opportunity to meet someone who is a keen advocate of Mindfulness and who is also a personality, I jump at the chance. Last week, Ruby Wax gave a talk at an Action for Happiness event in London. She was promoting her new book “A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled.”

Ruby, in case you are not aware, has suffered from depression all of her life. As she shared during the evening, her quest has been to find ways to minimise the impact of depression and also to lengthen the interval between the depressive episodes. As the quote at the start of this article describes, 1 in 4 people have mental health problems and the number of people with issues continues to rise.

Approximately seven years ago, Ruby came across Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy or MBCT. The programme was created and is run by the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, by Doctor Mark Williams (the person who wrote the book, Finding peace in a frantic world, which introduced me to Mindfulness). Ruby graduated with a Masters degree in MBCT and has been practising Mindfulness every day ever since.

Ruby went on to talk about how “frazzled” we are. Thousands of years ago, we were more present, living in the here and now. Our focus then was hunting, gathering food and looking after our loved ones. Our current world is made up of so much more and is predominated by our thoughts and perceptions of the past, the present and also the future. We ruminate and continually go back over thongs, creating a negative spiral that can lead to anxiety, fear, worry and ultimately depression.

Depression is often kept going, from one moment to the next, by streams of negative thoughts going through the mind (such as “My life is a mess,” “What’s wrong with me?” “I don’t think I can go on”).

Redirecting attention away from these ruminative thought streams by becoming really aware of what we’re doing while we’re doing it can “starve” the thought streams of the attention they need to keep going. That way, we “pull the plug” on what is keeping us depressed, and our mood can begin to improve. That is what Mindfulness does. And that is how Ruby uses it every day.

One of the points that Ruby raised during the evening that made a real impression on me was:-

“If you repeat your thoughts, they become an action. If you repeat an action, it becomes a habit. A repeated habit creates a fixed persona. A fixed persona becomes your destiny.”

You have to ask yourself if we can create a physical habit – be it smoking, drinking, or driving for example – how long does it take to create a mental habit?

The time and the effort are exactly the same.

Mindfulness can help break the negative mind habit.

Both the MBCT Mindfulness programme Ruby was talking about, or the MBSR Mindfulness programme that I followed, is approximately eight weeks in duration. 56 days in total and you can start to say you have developed a mindful habit. In fact, modern scientific research seems to indicate that it takes about 66 days for a habit to stick. [Check out the following link for the scientific stuff – http://jamesclear.com/new-habit].

In mindfulness, we pay attention to our experience rather than being lost in it. This means that over time we develop a different relationship to difficult experiences. In particular, we can see negative and / or depressive thoughts for what they really are – just patterns in the mind, arising and passing away, rather than “the truth” about what kind of person I am, or how the future will be. In that way, we weaken the power of these thoughts to drag our mood down further and keep us trapped in the rumination and depressive cycle.

And, of course, getting into the habit of knowing what we’re doing as we’re doing it allows us to know more clearly what we are thinking and feeling in any moment. In that way, we put ourselves in a better position to deal promptly and effectively with issues that may arise.

Ruby’s honesty and humour made a real impression. And the results for her have been amazing. She has gone from a previous depressive episode lasting 3 months, to the last one only lasting 3 weeks. In addition, she was able to prepare better when she realised the depressive episode was approaching and the dive into the depressive episode was less deep.

I rarely recommend books but I would recommend hers.

 
I leave you with the following quote:

“I’ll say it again – mental illness is a physical illness. You wouldn’t consider going up to someone suffering from Alzheimer’s to yell, “Come on, get with it, you remember where you left your keys?” Let us shout it from the rooftops until everyone gets the message; depression has nothing to do with having a bad day or being sad, it’s a killer if not taken seriously.”

Ruby Wax

Present Moments

“Don’t let a mad world tell you that success is anything other than a successful present moment.” Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

 

The narrative: After a manic work week, the weekends come around and are gone very quickly. We try to cram into the space of two days, events and activities that we could take more time over. For this past weekend, I was determined would be different. After a very hectic and stressful week in the work world, I wanted to recharge myself and also take some time out.

So what was I going to do?

On Meetup [an online local group network], there was an advert for a sound meditation session in Oxford. Combining a trip to Oxford; which is only 20 minutes away from my home; with chance to experience a different type of meditation seemed like a great plan. A quick ten minutes on the internet booking my place and checking where I could park; nowhere local to the event it would seem; and I left.

These days, I am much more relaxed about doing things on the spur of the moment. Maybe, it is because with Mindfulness, I am trying to be more mindful and live in the present moment and do things on the spur of the moment. I don’t know. Anyway, back to the story.

Oxford city has been trying for a number of years to make it the city centre more environmentally friendly. As a result, cars are banned from the city centre and instead you are encouraged to park on the outskirts and get a “Park and Ride” trip on a bus into the city centre. Before you make the comment that buses are big polluters too, they are replacing the diesel busses with electric ones.

I got to the “Park and Ride”, paid the £2 to park and £2.60 for a return trip on the bus. Fifteen minutes later and I got off the bus in the city centre and walked for ten minutes to the meditation meetup.

The session was fantastic and a really different way to experience meditation. Rather than sitting in silence, you lie on the floor on a mat and experience the sound waves. It was over far too quickly for me, and I left feeling invigorated and really open and alive.

A quick walk along the high street to a local supermarket where I picked up some lunch was followed by a leisurely stroll to Magdalen Bridge where I sat to twenty minutes or so, eating my lunch and watching the world go by.

 

Present Moments: As I sat there, I felt each moment as it came. The couple walking together with an old fashioned Oxford style bike. The group of girls dressed up. The chap in a mortar and cape, with a pink carnation. It did not matter it was not sunny and it was spotting with rain. Nor did the sight and sound of the cars and busses going past disturb that moment. Moment by moment. Feeling alive and grounded.

Having finished my lunch, I then had to make a decision. Walk to the nearest bus stop to get the “Park and Ride” bus back to the car park or walk?

Without really thinking about how long it would take, I decided to walk back to the car park. It was a wonderful walk back. People would pass me, either walking or on cycles. Occasionally, one of the bus’s I was supposed to get a lift on would go past. At no point did I think about sticking out my arm to flag one down.

Approximately an hour later I was back at the car. Still refreshed. Still relaxed. And certainly in the present moment. Something so simple as a walk. Someone commented on the photo I posted with: “No city should be so big that you can’t walk out of it in a morning” Cyril Connelly. I would completely agree.

By the way. The photo I used for this is the famous “Flying shark”. If you want to read more, go to:

http://www.headington.org.uk/shark/

I leave you with the following quote:

“Do not look back and grieve over the past, for it is gone; and do not be troubled about the future, for it has yet to come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering” Ida Scott Taylor

RAIN – You can not eliminate negative thoughts

““One way to eliminate self negating thoughts and behavior is by gaining more understanding through realizing that you cannot force others to see that what you feel is real.” ― Iyanla Vanzant

 

Of the 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts that we have every day, approximately 70% of them of them are negative. Just the thought of those numbers would be sufficient to make you feel depressed. However, one of the most effective mindfulness techniques that you can use to help manage those negative thoughts is the RAIN method. It’s a 4-step mindful meditation activity that can help soothe distress; reduce the number of negative thoughts; help lift you from a bad mood, and generally reduce the number and frequency of negative thought patterns.

So what does RAIN stand for and how do you use it?


R= Recognize

Recognize the thoughts or feelings that are hurting you. You can even give a name to them. Having a name for your thoughts and feelings helps shine a light on them so you have something to work with. Strangely enough, I call my negative thoughts”cow” thoughts. I am reminded that as cows ruminate, so do we on the negative. Hence the name.

A= Accept

Acknowledge that negative thoughts are your present reality. This is a way to put the feelings in the spotlight, instead of letting them quietly fester and potentially worsen. I recognise that something has triggered those negative thoughts. Something from the past that has come to the present moment. Or a thought and fear for the future, where I feel unable to deal with the thought. These “past-future fear thoughts” come to me in the present moment and I have come to say that they do not have any effect on my present moment reality.  

I= Investigate

Use a childlike curiosity to delve into these thoughts or feelings. Answer the “Who, What, When, Where, Why?” questions. What caused these thoughts? Are these realistic to have? What actions are possible? Try to investigate the whole scope of the feelings involved with the thoughts. For me personally, I sometimes write down the “5 W’s” and try to answer them. Taking the time to do this, actually stops the rumination and escalation of feelings. It makes me step back and reflect.


N= Not Self

The negative thoughts and feelings you have are not who you are. They are simply an experience you are having and will arise and fall away if you let them. This happens naturally. Your thoughts and feelings are impermanent. Knowing this can help you step back from them and move more fluidly within the ebb and flow of the human experience we all share that includes negative and positive thoughts and emotions that endlessly come and go. For me, my thoughts are not a reflection of the real me. The real me is always present. Here. Now. My thoughts are self-actualised memories and fears and hopes for the future. Not what I represent in the present moment. I hope that makes sense to you.

Anyway, the next time you feel a wave of stress, give this a try!

I leave you with the following quote:

“Only in the world of mathematics do two negatives multiply into a positive.” Abby Morel