Befriending stress

Let Go

 

When we feel stressed, we can feel very uncomfortable…

…and there is often another secret struggle happening. The resisting or fighting of our experience. This is sometimes referred to as ‘the second arrow’.

BAM! The first arrow of suffering lands… something happens that triggers our feelings of stress.

BAM! The second arrow of suffering… we fight feeling this way.

So how can we work with this?

First comes awareness, we actually have to notice that we are feeling stressed. This means paying ourselves attention, with kindness. It can help to make a regular habit of checking in with ourselves and taking time to ask, “How am I feeling right now?”

How to form this habit? Try setting a timer on your phone, or using an app like Mindfulness Bell or Aura to ring randomly. We can also anchor check-ins to a daily activity, like ‘every time I take a drink of water’. Whatever works for you!

Second comes acceptance… telling ourselves it’s okay to feel like this, and breathing out, letting go of resistance and struggle.

We can use the breath to help trigger our relaxation response in this way… breathing in acceptance of our feelings, breathing out and letting go of struggle. Continuing at our own pace, in our own time, for several minutes.

There’s a guided practice of Befriending Stress, to coach us through these phases and transform our experience of stress, on my Aura channel, You Unlimited.

Would love to hear how you go with this, or any other tips you have on befriending stress!

Advertisements

Relaxed and alert

673041c1c2c0a29b763b4be5491213a2.jpg

In mindfulness practice, like most things, we are looking for balance.

Too drowsy, and our mind will be prone to daydreaming, a kind of zombie-state. If we are too alert, we will find our minds busy, agitated and even anxious.

There’s a traditional story of a musician who is frustrated in his meditation practice. He either falls asleep or concentrates so hard he gives himself a headache. So he goes to visit the Buddha and asks for his advice.

The Buddha says, “Well, weren’t you a vinaya player before you started meditating? A vinaya is a stringed instrument, like a guitar.

“Yes,” said the musician.

“And how did you get the best sound out of your vinaya?” asked the Buddha, “When the strings were very tight or when they were very loose?”

“Neither,” said the vinaya player, “When they had just the right tension —neither too tight or too loose.”

“Well,” said the Buddha, “It’s the same with your mind.”

And the musician understood.

Sounds like good advice for most things in life, neither too tight or too loose, doesn’t it?

So how do we balance these two, practically?

1. Create the conditions to support us feeling both relaxed and awake.

In the morning, if we wake up feeling sleepy, we might need to stretch, take a shower and have a coffee before we practice. Personally, I enjoy qi gong (like tai chi) as a way to get my body, breath and energy flowing before I sit.

In the evening, some people find that after 9pm, they feel drowsy and don’t concentrate so well. So it might be better to reschedule practice to earlier in the day, maybe when we get home from home, for instance.

Going outside in the fresh air can also help. Some practitioners I know drive to the park for a practice, on the way home.

2. Exploring the feelings of sleepiness or alertness. Rather than resisting, we can bring a kind attention and a spirit of inquiry into our experience.

Where in the body do you feel sleepy or alert? Is it warm or cold? Heavy or light? Moving or still? Tense or relaxed? Pleasant or unpleasant? Do these sensations change or stay the same?

What thoughts do you notice about these feelings?

Noticing what is actually happening and its component parts can help us engage with the feelings, without fusing with them.

3. Adjusting the breath, posture and eye gaze in practice can also help.

As we practise mindfulness meditation, it can be good to check in with ourselves and ask if we feel too relaxed or too alert.

If we feel dull or sleepy, opening the eyes, or even lifting the gaze can help. As well as straightening the spine and increasing the sense of uprightness in the posture. It can also help to focus slightly more attention on the in-breath. The heart rate accelerates as we breathe in, so this is naturally energising. You might also like to breathe in through the nostrils, which can have the affect of alerting us.

If we feel anxious or agitated, closing the eyes or lowering the gaze can help. As well as checking that the posture is comfortable and relaxed. You might like to ‘ground’ yourself, spending a few minutes feeling into sensations of contact between yourself and your seat or the floor. Focusing slightly more attention on the out-breath can also help, as well as exhaling through the mouth, with a sense of letting go.

Like everything, to find what feels natural can involve a little trial-and-error.

Here’s a guided practice of Relaxed and Alert to help you, on my Aura channel.

 

A professional-quality home recording studio for under $275 USD

A few people have asked me to share how I’m recording audio. 

Before I became a mindfulness meditation teacher, I trained and worked as an actor, so have a little experience in working with voice and recording professionally at home.

Please note, this information refers to recording for spoken voice and podcast only.

SOUNDPROOFING

No matter how much money you spend, if external noise is leaking in, this will disrupt recording.

How to create a simple DIY soundproof environment at home?

1. Create a sound screen in front of you like the green one I made (see image). This is soundproofing material glued to a folding wooden screen. I made it myself for less than $50.

An alternative DIY-sound screen can be made with a clothes drier and a thick blanket or duvet! (see image).

2. Deaden sounds from behind by sitting with your back to an open closet full of clothes (see image).

3. Close all doors and windows, and record when it is not raining heavily. 

4. Pause recording when unavoidable sounds intrude.

I used to live right next to the train station (honestly!) and I could still make excellent recordings. I would listen out for trains and pause during the arrival and departure of each train. No amount of soundproofing or editing could get rid of this. 

You’ll also find things like birds or animals jumping on the roof are uncontrollable, so listen out and just pause ’til it’s over.

This can be an excellent mindfulness practice in itself.

 

YOUR VOICE

No matter how well-equipped your studio is, your recording quality can only be as good as your voice.

It can help to warm up your voice and speech properly before recording.

How to do this? Voice coaching or singing lessons can really help, and a voice professional can show you a range of exercises suited for your voice.

My warm up routine consists of: 

1. Breathing exercises, although a breath meditation using abdominal breathing is pretty much as good.

2. Singing in the shower, and doing scales through the whole vocal range. 

3. Doing a facial massage, exercises for the lips and tongue and tongue twisters.

4. Reading several pages of text aloud, using the high, middle and low parts of my vocal register.

This takes me about 20 minutes in total.

 

RECORDING AND EDITING EQUIPMENT

1. In all pictures above, you’ll see a pop screen. This is the black circular thing in front of the mic. These can be bought off Ebay for $15 or less. They are used in professional studios to block excess air from the ‘popping’ sounds made by your lips like ‘p’, ’s’, ‘b’.

2. Get a studio quality uni-directional mic. I use an Apogee Mic plugged straight into my Macbook. The Apogee Mic also comes with a cable to plug direct into iPhone. An Apogee Mic costs around $200 USD.

Charge your computer fully before you record. Why? Charging during recording can create unwanted electrical background hiss. This cannot be removed from recordings during editing.

A mic stand can be helpful, I just use the small one that came with the Apogee and rest it on some books.

3. If you’re looking to use editing software, Garageband on iPhone or Mac is really simple and free when you purchase the hardware. Another great free software for computer (not so user friendly, I find) is Audacity

Why uni-directional? It will only pick up the sounds coming from one direction. 

 

 

 

 

 

…sorry, couldn’t resist that one!!!

Happy recording, Everyone.

Making space for practice

IMG_6934

 

Creating an inspiring outer environment for practice can help inspire the inner environment of our mind.

Simple, cosy and settling is best. No need to shop, shop, shop for ‘just the right stuff’. This can be a distraction.

A comfortable cushion or chair and a blanket to stay warm are useful.

Those with chaotic home lives may find it easier to sit in a park, or stop the car somewhere for a few minutes to practise.

We also need to make space in our diaries too; perhaps by setting a reminder on an app like Aura, a calendar reminder or linking practice to a task, e.g. straight after a shower.

Regarding your inner space, it can be good to stretch first or do some light yoga or movement before sitting, if we feel wound up.

Cultivating a daily practice in a supportive space can help you stay stable, aware and present during life’s ups and downs.

Any questions? Feel free to get in touch.

 

 

The four qualities of mindfulness, P.A.R.K.

What are we training, when we practise mindfulness?

There are four main qualities of mind:

  • presence,
  • awareness,
  • and relaxation
  • with an attitude of kindness¹

We could say P.A.R.K.

P.A.R.K. 4 qualities of mindfulness.png

 

Presence is sometimes referred to as mindfulness, by itself. It means paying attention, on purpose, to moment-to-moment experience. It is our ability to focus on the breath, the sensations, the sounds- whatever the object of our practice is. 

Biting into a juicy apple… feeling the gentle breeze on our skin… this quality of mindfulness can help us feel present and alive. With curiosity, we find our experience interesting, and this quality of attention can settle the mind and allow us to listen effectively and work skilfully and joyfully. 

Awareness is our ability to watch over, to check. The mind does not just think, it is aware that it is thinking. This helps us notice when we are distracted and choose what to do next.

With awareness, we can notice what is going on around us, as well as what we are focusing on.

Awareness is clear and open, like the sky, and is unclouded by thoughts and emotions. 

We are not our thoughts and emotions, we are the one who is aware of our thoughts and emotions.

Relaxation allows us ease of practice. To be, to rest and to let  go. Our attention should not be highly-strung or over-absorbed, but a balance between alert and relaxed. Here we are referring to relaxation of our mind —but equally important too, in our body.
We can also practise with kindness towards ourselves, accepting whatever thoughts and emotions arise. Thoughts are emotions are a normal occurrence, not something to banish. Neither do we want to get lost in a spiral of worry. So we train to notice, gently accept and come back to our focus.

This allows us to open to our experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant.

Not judging our experience, not striving towards some special state of mind as a goal. Judging and striving can cause more, rather than less noise in the mind.

As we learn to accept whatever arises in our practice, we find ourselves becoming less critical and more loving.

Presence and awareness make up 50% of our practice. Kindness and relaxation make up the other half. 

When these qualities are well-balanced, we feel balanced. And after we finish sitting, we can allow these qualities to come with us, into our everyday lives.

How to work with these four qualities? 

We can check on our P.A.R.K. as we practise. If we find ourselves easily distracted, we can ‘tweak up’ our presence and awareness by becoming more curious, perhaps paying more attention on the in-breath or to our object. 

If we find our mind busy or critical, we might like to try saying yes to our experience, and relaxing and releasing on the out-breath. 

Working with the eye-gaze can also help. With eyes open, we can drop the gaze if we feel agitated, or lift the gaze if we feel drowsy.

“Don’t concentrate too much on the breath… the masters always advise not to fixate when practising the concentration of Calm Abiding. While you are supposed to be watching the breath, after only one or two minutes you can find yourself playing in a football game or starring in your own film. So another 25 percent should be devoted to a continuous and watchful awareness, one that oversees and checks whether or not you are mindful of the breath. The remaining 50 percent of your attention is left abiding, spaciously.” ²

How not to work with these four qualities? 

Don’t let them become a distraction in themselves! It’s no good if these qualities stir up more thoughts in your mind, rather than allowing it settle. 

We are defining an experience quite beyond words. So if you find yourself nit-picking over whether openness is actually a feature of relaxation or kindness… or wondering whether you are only 47% present and aware, forget about it!

These qualities are naturally present, when we are undistracted.

So it’s rather a letting go of what hinders us, not so much adding anything.

Simply notice the thoughts, notice the feelings, and return to the breath, the sounds, the sensations or simply being.

As mind settles, like a jar of muddy water, these qualities will arise naturally. 

 

 

Sources:

¹ Mind With Heart, mindwithheart.org

² Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying