“I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the ‘monkey mind’ — the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

I don’t know about you, but my mind can be a jumble of disconnected thoughts on a daily; hourly or even minute by minute. If you consider that per day, we can have between 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day, this means between 35 and 48 thoughts per minute, your mind is a constant jumble of thoughts.

What is a thought?

A definition that I came across suggests that a “thought” is a “sporadic single-idea cognitive concept resulting from the act of thinking, or produced by spontaneous systems-level cognitive brain activations.”

What I tend to believe is that a thought is those individual images; movies or silent conversations that we have. I have a mixture of these. Not sure if this is normal or not, so I would be interested to hear what your thought process is.

However, one thing I do know is that apart from the normal random thoughts that occur during the day including – “Why is that driver pulling out on me”; “what’s for lunch?”; “what is next to do?”; there are those reoccurring self-doubt thoughts.

“Why did I do that?”; “Why did I say that?”; “Will anyone notice I made a mistake?”; “Why do I continue to make the same mistake”; “Is so-and-so happy? Have I upset them?”; “Will I lose my job?”; “What about my health?”  – those types of thoughts.

These are associated with an expression called “Monkey Mind”. I love the idea of your mind as a tree and that each thought is a branch, and you, or at least the attention of your mind, is like a monkey, swinging from thought-branch to thought-branch all day long.

These self doubt thoughts drive irrational fears, made real by our own constant attention. Left unchecked you can literally come to believe that these thoughts are real!

The result of the monkey mind of self doubt, results in mental as well as physical fatigue. We’ve all had days where it feels like we’ve achieved nothing and there’s a mountain to climb tomorrow. You feel exhausted and completely worn out.

So what is the answer?

The first step is awareness. Are you aware that you actually have self doubt thoughts and all they are is thoughts. Not real, but purely your own self consciousness? As an experiment, set aside a notepad and for a while, every time you have a self doubt thought either write it down, or even make a mark on the paper. You will be amazed how many you can get in a short period of time.

Secondly, find a way to quieten those thoughts. You will never get rid of them, but you can find ways to reduce their intensity. You can try meditation; mindfulness (which is what I practice); yoga; or some other form of contemplative pursuit. You can try exercise, as it is very difficult to have many thoughts when you are pounding the treadmill, cycling, swimming or doing something physically taxing.

You could try event try a technique called the A-B-C Technique. A lot of the time, the monkey mind is caused by your thoughts disagreeing with what’s going on around you. When the present moment situation doesn’t align with what your personal beliefs are, your monkey mind begins to spit and howl. The A-B-C technique can help you deal with the disparity between what your monkey mind thinks should be happening, and what is actually happening. Here’s how it works:

  • A is for “activating event”. That is, something happens.
  • B is for “beliefs”. Your monkey mind starts interpreting what’s happening based on your beliefs.
  • C is for “consequences”. As a consequence of the thoughts that you’re having about what just happened, you feel certain emotions.

The key to taming the monkey mind by applying the A-B-C technique is to question the beliefs that the your mind is relying on in order to reach the conclusions that you are having.

I leave you with the following quote.

“We have the choice of two identities: the external mask which seems to be real, and the hidden, inner person who seems to us to be nothing, but who can give himself eternally to the truth in whom he subsists.” ― Thomas Merton

The dark mind of fear

“The mind of man is capable of anything.” ― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

The time after the Christmas break always seems to bring with it the darkest part of the winter season and also the darkest time for many people.

The seasonal celebrations are over. The presents have been put away or exchanged. The decorations are down and put away for another year. The striving for the winter sales is on in the high street and people are out trying to get bargains. The return to work after the festive break always seems to bring with it a sense of dread. The office festive fun is over and there are no holidays or breaks in the near future.

Then there is the annual bout of flu, influenza and other bugs that seem to strike the populus at this time of year. Reports this year of the Auzzie flu and the Japanese Flu viruses, were widely reported, with people being struck down; waiting times at hospitals getting worse and all of the scare stories.

For me personally, this year, there was a moment in all of this where I truly felt the dark mind of fear. Let me explain.

We had a wonderful christmas period as a family, but between Christmas and the New Year, I came down with a serious case of “man flu”. I did not go to the doctors, but felt so bad, that I dosed myself up with paracetamol and went to bed. I am not sure if it was flu, but I have not felt so bad for many years. Headaches; sweats; aching legs and joints; uncontrolled shivering; coughing and spluttering; runny nose and no appetite at all.  I found light hurt my eyes and noise hurt my ears. All I wanted to do was to drink water and rest. I was a complete mess.

The Friday after Christmas was the worse day.

As I lay in bed, I felt the struggle as the breath came and went. I could hear the sound of my breath as it went in and out. The raw rasping. I could actually feel the movement of my chest. So unusual. It felt frightening that I was reliant on the mechanical movement of my chest and the struggle that I was having, even breathing. My mind wandered and I felt as if I was in the bottom of a dark place and the weight of the darkness was pressing down on me. Every breath felt a struggle. A dark and fearful struggle.

Then I realised that at it’s very centre, was my thoughts around the practice of mindful breathing. Allowing the thoughts to come and go. The simplicity of just being with the breath. I concentrated on the practice of the breadth and it helped. The moment to moment breath. I became less frightened and fearful. I lay there are truly rested.

Since that Friday, I have slowly recovered. I returned to work after the New Year and then promptly had another “man flu” episode and ended up in bed again. I am not asking for sympathy, after all it was just “man flu”.

The hacking cough has been with me for the past three weeks and physically it has been a slow process to get back to normal. Did I have the flu? I have no idea. Did I feel terrible that Friday – yes – absolutely. But I can say, that even in that darkest of moments, the practice of focusing on the breath and just the breath, really helped.

I hope that you are well and at this time of year, darkness of the mind does not descend upon you, physically or mentally. I hope that you have time to think and to practice whatever techniques help you to be grounded and feel alive. For some people it is sport; for some it is exercise; for some it is mindfulness; and for others it is being with those they care for. Remember, every day is a great day, even if you don’t feel it at the time.

I leave you with the following quote which really struck a chord with me,

“The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” ― Thomas Paine, A Letter Addressed to the Abbe Raynal on the Affairs of North America

Simple steps to help develop a “Now Mindset”

“Forever is composed of nows.” ― Emily Dickinson

One of the biggest questions people ask about Mindfulness, is all around being the in “now”. What on earth is it about? What does it mean and why even think about it?

Practicing Mindfulness helps you to focus on being present in the now. Present moment awareness brings calm, peace and sanity to your life. It exposes your ego and puts you in touch with your true self. It helps you be more connected to both yourself and also to everyone around you.

The present moment is all there ever is. Still, most people ignore it, imagining the future or the past, stuck in their thinking minds.

The present moment is so simple. Its simplicity is masked by the egoic mind – wanting to get to some imaginary point in the future (as if the future will bring more happiness than anything could now), or reliving the past (as if this is more important than now). So many of our problems, traumas, anxieties, fears etc. are all based in our minds. Dwelling in the past, or conditioned by the past and then negatively anticipating “the future”.

Time exists only in the mind. It keeps you from the conscious presence that is who you already are, only available within the present moment.

So how can you become more aware? It does take some time, so be prepared to take a few minutes out of your day to try one of the following:

  • Be aware of what you can see, hear, smell, feel. Take a moment to really concentrate on looking at an object or listen to the sounds going on around you. Perhaps sit outside and feel the breeze on your skin or the smells in the air around you.
  • Be aware of your breath flowing gently in and out of your body. The breathing exercise is one of the fundamentals of Mindfulness practice. For a blog post I wrote on the breath practice, go to: https://martinsummerhayes.com/2016/04/20/the-mindfulness-tool-the-breath/
  • Experience and feel your body from within – for example can you be aware of your legs – as if you are feeling the inside of them? This might sound strange, but try it, and you might be surprised by the results.
  • Can you hear the silence behind any noise that may be there? Listen to the background, as well as the foreground noises.
  • Be aware of space around all things you can see rather than just the things themselves? Look beyond the foreground and look to the background.
  • Finally, can you feel yourself as the awareness behind the thoughts that arise? This is probably the most difficult one to try.

 

Practicing any of these approaches on a regular basis will help put you within the present moment and somewhat out of your mind. Of course the mind may well pull you back in again with some thought, or emotional resistance may arise, but that is the challenge with the mind.

You may notice that as you stay in the present moment, you might become more aware of deeper feelings, thoughts and emotions that you were not aware of before. This is fine, and they are as they are. Allow them to be as well, do not name any emotion or thought – let them be, be the space for them, and see what happens. You may notice as you do this, a sense of peace, aliveness, awareness, however subtle or strong is arising in the background

This practice of present moment awareness and acceptance puts you in touch with what you really are, and sets you free from all the negativity you may be carrying in your mind. There is only this moment, and it is as it is.

I leave you with the following quote.

“Live in the present, remember the past, and fear not the future, for it doesn’t exist and never shall. There is only now.” ― Christopher Paolini, Eldest

Attitude 6 – Acceptance

 

“Some lose all mind and become soul, insane. Some lose all soul and become mind, intellectual. Some lose both and become accepted Charles Bukowski

This is the sixth of the seven attitudes that Jon-Kabat-Zinn believes are the basis for Mindfulness.

So what on earth is the idea of Acceptance?

Definition: Simply put, coming to terms with things as they are.

Some of the key things you can try include:

  • Seeing things as they actually are in the present. If you have a headache, accept you have a headache.
  • We often waste a lot of time and energy denying what is fact. We are trying to force situations to how we would like them to be. This creates more tension and prevents positive change occurring.
  • Now is the only time we have for anything. You have to accept yourself as you are before you can really change. 
  • Acceptance is not passive; it does not mean you have to like everything and abandon your principles and values. It does not mean you have to be resigned to tolerating things. It does not mean that you should stop trying to break free of your own self-destructive habits or give up your desire to change and grow.
  • Acceptance is a willingness to see things as they are. You are much more likely to know what to do and have an inner conviction to act when you have a clear picture of what is actually happening.

Practising non-striving leads us directly to the next attitudinal quality of mindfulness which is acceptance. Sometimes we confuse acceptance with approval or resignation.

Accepting something means seeing things as they are right now. It doesn’t mean we aren’t going to do something about it. See if there is something you feel challenged to accept, and what resisting it feels like.

Does it help? Does it make you feel stuck? Just notice. The attitude of acceptance can have a quality of compassion and understanding to it. These qualities actually make it easier to change something. I once heard someone say with regard to weight loss, “No one ever changed by hating themselves into it.” When I reflected on this statement, I found it to be true for myself. See what is true for you with respect to acceptance.

The video where Jon describes the Acceptance attitude can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOGsj0Aklx8&list=PLkgahhWgJW97ADlyc2BYMwOD8wZjcBZ8D&index=9

I leave you with the following quote.

“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

 

Attitude 4 – Trust

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them” ― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

This is the fourth of the seven attitudes. Trust is talked about is so many different guises, how does it reflect on mindfulness? Trust is important in mindfulness because you can’t expect mindfulness to give instant results. Trust me, when I started the formal eight week programme, it wasn’t until week seven that I realised that something was changing and growing. Without genuine trust, you may not put your heart into the process of developing a mindfulness practice and thereby reduce the chance of enjoying your journey into mindful living.

So what is Trust?

Definition: Trusting in your intuition and your own authority.

  • Developing a basic trust in yourself and your feelings.
  • Trusting in your own authority and intuition, even if you make some ‘mistakes’ along the way.
  • Honour your feelings. Taking responsibility for yourself and your own well-being.

The foundation of Trust encourages us to look deeply at trusting ourselves. Many of us have given our power away to an outside authority, or to a system or institution. Meditation takes us back to ourselves, where we can access our own wisdom, and trust ourselves. Pay attention to self-doubting thoughts when they arise and look deeply into where they really come from, instead of just believing them. One of the gifts meditation can offer is that of authenticity.

  • We aren’t meant to be like anyone else, we can only be ourselves.
  • Looking at our thoughts and feelings can lead us to a more authentic life.
  • Finally, can you trust yourself?

The video where Jon describes the Trust attitude can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9HhURnnlh4&list=PLkgahhWgJW97ADlyc2BYMwOD8wZjcBZ8D&index=5
I leave you with the following quote.

“When you’re surrounded by all these people, it can be lonelier than when you’re by yourself. You can be in a huge crowd, but if you don’t feel like you can trust anyone or talk to anybody, you feel like you’re really alone.” ― Fiona Apple

 

Attitude 3 – Beginner’s Mind

 

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.” ― C. JoyBell C.

This is the third of the seven attitudes that Jon-Kabat-Zinn believes are the basis for Mindfulness. This one is probably the most difficult to understand. When I first heard this phrase, I thought to myself “Beginner’s mind? Shouldn’t we strive to be an expert?”.

So what is a Beginner’s Mind?

Definition: Seeing things with fresh eyes, with a clear and uncluttered mind.

The idea of “Beginner’s Mind” comes from a Japanese concept called Shoshin (初心). It is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. Now, this sounds counter-intuitive but, in fact it is not. The issue is that too often we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we ‘know’ stop us from seeing things as they really are. That is the core tenet behind “Beginner’s Mind”.

So what are some of the key tips that will help you to have a “Beginner’s Mind”?

  • Cultivate a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time.
  • Be receptive to new possibilities, not getting stuck in a rut of our own experience or expertise.
  • Be open and engaging with each situation.
  • Treat each situation as if it is the first time you have encountered it. How many times do you go into a situation with a preconceived idea of the outcome? Don’t. Even if you have experienced it many times.
  • Each moment is unique and contains unique possibilities.
  • Try it with someone you know – next time, ask yourself if you are seeing this person with fresh eyes, are they really that person?
  • Try it with problems… with a work situation… with your partner at home… with the person you see every day.

Is it possible to approach life with a fresh view? Is there something new to be noticed in the world around us? Sometimes our beliefs and assumptions about the way something is, cloud our judgements and prevent us from experiencing the richness of the present moment right in front of us. That is why the “Beginner’s Mind” is so important. Taking that view, helps us reframe our view of the world in a fresh, new, way.

So what is “Beginner’s Mind”?

It’s dropping your expectations and preconceived ideas about something and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner. If you’ve ever learned something new, you can remember what that’s like: you’re probably confused or unsure of what to do, because you don’t know how to do whatever you’re learning, but you’re also looking at everything as if it’s brand new, perhaps with curiosity and wonder. That is what “Beginner’s Mind” means.

But imagine if you could apply this to every activity. One of the simplest is to imagine eating food. After all, for most of us, eating is almost automatic. We rarely think about the food; take the time to appreciate the flavours, and textures and appreciate the experience. So why not try the following exercise:

  • You start by seeing the act of eating with fresh eyes as if you don’t know what to expect as if you hadn’t done it thousands of times already. After all, we were taught as little children how to eat and it has become automatic for most of our life.

  • When was the last time you really looked at the food on the plate in front of you and really notice the layout, structure, textures and form of the food laid out before you.

  • Now you take the first bite of the food. Having placed various parts of the dinner onto the fork and brought it to your mouth, notice the smell as you open your mouth and start to eat. Notice the texture, the taste. Perhaps the sweetness or bitterness or saltiness. Everything seems new, perhaps even full of wonder.
  • Don’t take anything for granted. Appreciate every bite as a gift. It’s temporary, fleeting, and precious.
  • As you can see just from this description, the practice of beginner’s mind transforms the activity.

Why does it matter?

When you practice beginner’s mind with an activity you get better experiences of the activity. It feels fresh, new and alive. You are less likely to feel negative and more likely to enjoy the activity.

How do you practice it?

Beginner’s mind is what we practice in meditation. Instead of sitting in meditation and thinking you know what your breath will be like, or the present moment in front of you will be like … you pay attention. See it with fresh eyes. Drop your preconceived ideas and just look clearly at what’s in front of you. A daily meditation practice is useful in developing this beginner’s mind. However, it is not the only way to develop it.

Here are a few practices courtesy of Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen that I came across that also might help:

  1. Take one step at a time. Don’t try to strive out. Just take one step at a time.

  2. Fall down seven times, get up eight times.

  3. Don’t pre-judge.

  4. Live without shoulds.

  5. Make use of experience. Don’t negate experience, but keep an open mind on how to apply it to each new circumstance.

  6. Let go of being an expert.

  7. Experience the moment fully.

  8. Disregard common sense.

  9. Discard fear of failure.

  10. Use the spirit of enquiry.

  11. Focus on questions, not answers.

With a Beginner’s Mind, you will be more open to possibilities and more creative. You may also form closer bonds with others in your life as well.

The video where Jon describes the Beginner’s Mind attitude can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssqclf52ZpY&list=PLkgahhWgJW97ADlyc2BYMwOD8wZjcBZ8D&index=4
I leave you with the following quote.

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ”  ― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice

 

Attitude 2 – Patience

“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.” ― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

This is the second of the seven attitudes that Jon-Kabat-Zinn believes are the basis for mindfulness. We all talk about patience, but what does it mean in the context of mindfulness?

It can be really really hard to be patient. It is really hard to wait in general. In fact, many of us get antsy or even angry at having to wait. For instance at traffic lights; in traffic queues; waiting at the supermarket; in fact almost anywhere. There are times, even, when we just wished time would go faster; when we hurry to make it feel like it does. But when we do have to wait for something, time really seems to slow down, and we can feel our emotions heat up, both in our minds and in our bodies. Of course, there are times when we wish time would, in fact, slow down to a crawl, as when we are filled with feelings of joy, relief, or even calmness. How can mindfulness help with our very human tendency to be impatient?

So what is Mindful-based Patience?

Definition: An understanding and acceptance that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.

Do we practice patience with a feeling of long suffering and endurance? Or can it be practised with a feeling of deep faith in ourselves, in life and trust in others to come through for us?

Mindfulness patience means that we have developed enough wisdom to accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time, in their own pace.

So what are some of the key tips that will help you to have more patience?

  • Don’t try to hurry things along. Everything has it’s own time. This feels obvious, but we try so hard to force things through that we forget that for many activities, there is a natural rhythm or pace to it. 
  • Practice patience with ourselves. Why rush through some moments in order to get to other ‘better’ ones? Each one is you “living your life in that moment.”
  • Be completely open to each moment as it happens, accepting its fullness, knowing that things will emerge in their own time.

I have noticed for instance in meetings, where-as in the past I would rush in with ideas, comments and suggestions; now I try to find the flow of the meeting. The pace of the conversation and allow myself to match it. Often, I do not even make comments or suggestions; but rather stay silent. This can feel counter-productive; but trust me, I feel more grounded and focused.

How do you practice patience?

Practising patience in the midst of a stressful situation is not an easy thing to do. In fact, it seems to be completely counterintuitive. At it’s heart, it really means acknowledging that you don’t have control about all the aspects of your life. Look, none of us do. This can feel very scary, and for some, this means they can become angry, anxious or depressed in response to this sense of “non-control”.

But by practicing patience at these times, by allowing yourself to “be in this moment”, knowing that this moment (and all of the other moments that you are going to experience) is not in your control and that it cannot be otherwise, you will be re-regulating your mind-body, and strengthening your inner self.

There is a technique I came across that does seem to help.

STOP!

When you find yourself in the middle of a situation; be it at work, at home, with loved ones or friends; where you feel your impatience rising, think: S-T-O-P

  • S = Stop. Stop talking. Stop shouting. Stop whatever you are doing.
  • T = Take a breath. I try to breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of seven and breathe out for a count of eight, but whatever works for you.
  • O = Open yourself up to self-compassion. Realise that you in the moment. Just this moment and it will pass. Just like every other moment you have ever had.
  • P = Pause and reflect on what the context of the situation is that is making you feel impatient. I can assure you, that it will feel a lot less by this stage.

Try practising, the “STOP” technique. This in turn, may encourage your brain to “turn down” the heat and adjust itself by having you feel less reactive to the stress.

Patience is about accepting “what is”, knowing that “what is” will change, that everything is impermanent; the bad as well as the good. It is about self-compassion, knowing how hard it is to acknowledge the limited control we all have in our world. It is about knowing that we really will feel better by being less reactive to the “issue” or to the “situation” we find ourselves in. Finally, and probably the most important aspect is, that cultivating patience for yourself will allow you to be more patient with others.

The video where Jon describes the Patience attitude can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkW27a8m1mY&list=PLkgahhWgJW97ADlyc2BYMwOD8wZjcBZ8D&index=3

I leave you with the following quote which is really wonderful.

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden