Moments of Silence and Peace

 

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”  ― Harvey Fierstein

This week at work has been exceptionally busy, with meetings; deadlines and commitments that had to be met; and a major project coming to fruition. Outside of work; there were a number of major social crises that had to be dealt with and evenings spent constantly on the phone. It felt as if every waking moment was filled with “effort”.

We all get caught up in the patina of life. Rushing from one event to another. From one crisis to another. From one person’s issues to another. Work. Home. Social. A feeling as if it is all full-on and relentless. You might even feel that your sleep and dreams are full on as well as you replay the days events in your head.

Our reliance and use of technology does not help either. E:Mail, Facebook, WhatsApp, Tumblr, text messages, phone calls, LinkedIn, and anything else you might use. From the moment we wake up in the morning; to the time we go to bed; possibly even in bed; we are “connected” to the rest of our world.

It is becoming really difficult to find those moments of silence and peace in our daily lives. Some would say it is impossible, but I would disagree.

So how do you make time and space to experience silence and peace?

Resting the Technology tips: I am not suggesting that you throw away your technology, far from it. I would simply suggest that you put it down for a while.

  • When the next notification that you have a “text, e:mail, SMS, or whatever come through” don’t immediately reach for your phone to see what it is. I have got into the habit recently of putting my phone on silent mode in the evening. That way, when I am with the family, I am not distracted by the constant “bleeping” of the “it’s arrived notifications”. 
  • When was the last time you left your phone at home when you went out? I did recently and after the initial panic attack of “where the hell have I left my phone”, it was a really refreshing experience to just leave it behind.
  • Don’t have your phone, tablet or other technology device by your bedside. Leave it in the kitchen, as I do. That way, I am not disturbed by it “pinging” away at night. Too many people have got into the habit of having it by their bedside and then get worried and wake up in the middle of the night.

Resting time tips. Likewise, I am not advocating you take a wholesale “virtual knife” to your working and social life; cutting out chunks of time that you can then spend in silence. What I am saying is, that it is possible; even in today’s frantic world; to find moments of calm and peace. I tend to find the time  by going for a short walk along the office between meetings. Also, I try to spend 5minutes after teleconferences, focusing on my breathing.  

Space in the morning tips. I generally, get up early. Since taking up Mindfulness, I tend to get up 30 minutes earlier than what I used to. Why 30 minutes? To allow me to share the three things I do nearly every morning:

  • A few minutes of yoga based stretching. I try to concentrate on the movement and the feedback feeling that I get from my body as I move. Followed by 5 to 10 minutes of cardio exercise, be it steps or plank exercises. Finally, 15 to 20 minutes of mindfulness practice. It is not always just 30 minutes. It depends on my mood, my thoughts and if I am at home working; going to be travelling to an office to work or in a hotel away from home.
  • Can you get up slightly earlier in the morning? I tried to practice mindfulness at the end of the day, but kept falling asleep as I was so tired. That is why I take the time in the morning. If you are an evening person, fantastic. Do it in the evening. I even know someone who takes their 1 hour lunch break and goes to the first aid room to practice there.

During the workweek tips. When I travel to work or from work; I take a moment of peace during the drive, generally in the traffic jam. I will sit and not listen to the radio and practice a breathing meditation.

  • During the day, I try to take moments to walk away from my desk, go outside and experience the world out of the “work bubble”. At lunch time, I’ll go for a walk. Even if it is round the office car park. Even the walk to the coffee machine, gives me an opportunity to just breath for a moment. Anything to break the cycle of “effort”.

Finally, the weekend arrives and we all suddenly slow down. The “effort” of the week becomes a distant memory. Well until Sunday evening, when you might start to think about revving up the engine of “effort” for the week ahead. Before you do, just remember, to find those moments of silence and peace in this frantic world we create for ourselves.

As we enter the summer holiday season, I hope you all have a pleasant and wonderful time off work, if you get a chance to. To recharge. To reflect. Possibly to even think and start the journey to a more peaceful world.
I leave you with the following quote:

“Quiet is peace. Tranquility. Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life. Silence is pushing the off button. Shutting it down. All of it.” Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

A Pebble Meditation on a silent retreat

“We become so absorbed in our flaws and faults that we forget that it is better to be a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” ― Forrest Curran,

When is see that there is a silent retreat being offered I try to attend. Recently, a silent retreat day was planned at a small village on the banks of the river Thames at Hurley. It is a beautiful little English village, with the main pub going back to the early 1300’s. The main street going down to the river is lined with mansions and large houses.

Now, before I lose you entirely, you are going to have asked yourself, what on earth is a silent retreat? It is an opportunity for you to spend some time, normally a day, without the trappings of the modern world. No TV. No radio. No mobile phones. No books, magazines or even newspapers. In fact. Nothing, but you and a group of other like minded people spending time in silent contemplation. There is a facilitator who leads the day, but mostly, it is in silence. Total. Absolute. Silence.

Have you ever spent time with other people in silence? It can be a very disconcerting thing. One of the pieces of advice is to not look at other people; not to acknowledge them; or indicate a gratitude if for instance, someone holds the door open for you. I know you are thinking, “how weird”, but trust me, when you have experienced a retreat day, you do get a completely different perspective on life.

There are breaks during the day and a lunchtime break as well, but for the whole time, you are supposed to not speak at all. The facilitator leads mindfulness practices, both spoken and silent. At the end of the day, you come together and share your experiences of the day before you leave.

Halfway through the morning, we took a break and since it was a sunny day, most of the group went outside in the garden of the hall we were in. One of the observations we all shared at the end of the day was how intense we felt. How focused. Someone talked about looking at the bark of a tree. Another commented on how beautiful a butterfly was. I sat against a wall and observed a fallen fig from a fig tree. The colours. The texture. How it felt. Mindfulness helps you to focus, in the present moment, and the practices of the morning had certainly helped.

During the afternoon, the facilitator shared a practice I had never experienced before; “The Pebble Practice”. Some people sat in chairs, some, including me, lay on the floor.  The practice involves the facilitator describing placing a pebble in a well, and you observing, as the pebble slowly descends. Not at what you would consider to be a fast speed, but slowly, observing the pebble turn in the water, noticing its colours and textures. Then you are asked to imagine the pebble pausing and observing your feelings and emotions at that point. You do this three times and each time observe how you feel and your emotions. After the practice, we were asked to write down what each of us had felt. It was lovely to see that nearly everyone wrote similar words. Words such as “peace”. “Trust” and “Love”.

The day concluded with small group discussions on what we had experienced during the day; how we were feeling and the effects of the various practices. I would throughly recommend that you experience a silent retreat day, both to help deepen your experience of mindfulness, but to also to help you feel more connected and in the present moment.

If you have experienced a silent retreat day, do share your experiences.  

I leave you with the following quote:

“There are moments in life, when the heart is so full of emotion

that if by chance it be shaken, or into its depths like a pebble

Drops some careless word, it overflows, and its secret,

Spilled on the ground like water, can never be gathered together.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

The Divided Self

““All of us have two minds, a private one, which is usually strange, I guess, and symbolic, and a public one, a social one. Most of us stream back and forth between those two minds, drifting around in our private self and then coming forward into the public self whenever we need to. “ ― Scott Spencer

Continuing the theme I started recently, I’ve come to realise that we all seem to create divisions in our lives. Divides between work and home. Divides between family and friends. Divides even in the personal and close relationships that we have.

These divides are not physical entities that exist. Rather they are our own personal mental approaches to life; the work that we do and the way in which we interact with the people around us. Often, these divides feel hard. Rigid and fixed. Sometimes they are created, naturally, but often, they are “artificially” constructed in a way to help you individually, deal with a particular situation. However, the artificial often gets noticed.

You know that feeling. You meet someone for the first time and you walk away from the encounter, thinking “Is that the real person?” or as Alan Watts says, “…perhaps they are a genuine fake!”.

The difficulty we all face is that it is hard to maintain these divides. The effort can sap your own strength and ultimately, people, even subconsciously, notice that you are putting on a “false persona”.

Why do we create these divides?

The prime reason that I see is to protect ourselves from being hurt. We feel that if we can compartmentalise our thoughts; feelings; approach to people; based on a set of self-defined rules, that this will protect us and guide us through the day-to-day interactions we have.

Let me tell you, it does not.

Trying to lead a divided life, is like trying to walk with just your left foot. You might be able to take one step, but then you will fall over. The only way to lead your life is to be Genuine. Whole. Complete. You have to be true to yourself. The true, inner self that is you.

How do you do it?

There are many different paths you can travel. You can try counselling. Self-help books. Group therapy. Prescription drugs. You can even come to realise it naturally through life’s changes that come upon you. My path was via Mindfulness practice. What ever path you take, you have to be brave and true to yourself. Once you realise that and start living your life in this way you will notice a huge change and a weight will lift from you.

You will be more natural in your dealings with people. More genuine. Yes, there is a risk. After all living a life has risks. You will get hurt. People will take advantage of you. But in the end, you have to live your life to the full undivided self.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”  Dalai Lama XIV