It’s good to take a few minutes each day to unwind, but I include Sunday evenings to my daily unwind time.
Every culture uses something that pleases the senses to help in their prayer or meditation practices. Incense or some kind of fragrance is helpful, because it alone can set the tone of a room. And smells are one of the things that we remember and associate experiences with often. Lamps or candles are often used too; I prefer oil lamps because the flame is steadier than the flicker of a candle; inviting the witness to slow way down and come home for a little while.
Early on, I developed a way to learn by just observing. What to do, what not to do.. Observing is a way that I try to use to see things around me. Something that I learned about a long time ago has been coming up a lot for me lately; in all areas of life. It’s a statement that goes “People don’t see the world as it is, they see the world as they are”.
I see this showing up all over the place. Mostly between people. One of my favorite exercises to help slow down involves going into the woods and noticing how different all the trees are. And realising that we don’t judge the trees for being tall or short, straight or crooked, thick or thin. We just accept the trees for what they are and move on. We don’t get hung up on the fact that one tree might not have gotten enough sunlight and therefore grew a certain way, we just accept the tree for what it is and we move on.
I think that this is a practice that is desperately needed now with how we’re seeing each other. Chances are, we don’t know someone’s story and how they’re managing their life as a result of their story. All we see is how they’re managing their life.
I think we need to see people more like trees, and less like how we think they ought to be.
She’s the only American Buddhist nun, a renowned speaker and teacher. But she started out as typical as you and I.
Born Deirdre Blomfield in New York, she grew up a 60’s girl, and experienced life the way that many others did; marriage, children, divorces, substance abuse… After her last marriage had failed, as she searched around for some answers, she stumbled across an article written by a Buddhist monk, that was talking about using emotions for growth rather than trying to get rid of them or shut them down. That struck a chord with her, so she got interested and followed that path and ended up Pema Chödrön.
While doing a project yesterday this particular talk came up on rotation on my music. I’m glad that I keep stuff like this because I can listen now and have a different interpretation as opposed to years ago when I first caught wind of her and her lectures.
It’s about practicing remaining present enough with yourself during a highly emotional circumstance so that you can recognise that brief 1 or 2 second moment before you react.
In this split-second, you can as yourself, ” Wait a second.. I feel that I’m getting upset”. I’m feeling anxious, or triggered or whatever it is. It’s about taking that brief moment and noticing that you’re about to react.
Its in that moment that lies your choice. You can just stick with whatever you’re experiencing and ride it out, try to separate yourself from what you’re experiencing or you can fly off the emotional handle and go unconscious about it. Just the few seconds that it takes while you’re registering this process can be enough to begin to gently dissipate those high-energy emotions and allow a much clearer response to whatever the situation is.
If you’ve ever noticed a stone dropped into a lake; the initial “plop” it makes is one thing; but the subsequent ripples that the stone being dropped in the water make can actually be bigger than the initial stone created in the first place. If the stone is large enough, the ripples it makes can rock a rowboat on the other side of the lake.
Something that I thought I’d share in case it resonated withsomeone else. Your inner peace is definitely worth preservation.
Raising awareness within oneself is often the first step taken if one wishes to become more aware to one’s surroundings and to life itself. Can’t know anything outside of us if we’re out of touch with our own selves.
A simple way to begin a practice like this is to just pay attention to, and switch up routine things about ourselves.
For example, if you are right-handed, begin to do some things with your left hand; such as brushing your teeth, combing your hair or shaving. Reach for things with your non-dominant hand, and just notice what it’s like to do that and how it feels.
Look at how your feet are pointed as you’re walking or standing still. If necessary, gently correct the alignment by re-positioning your feet so that they are pointed straight ahead as you walk or stand still. Your hips and spine will thank you for this, too. Just notice, and gently correct and then see how it feels to walk and stand in this adjusted manner.
Last but never least is the breath.
Notice the depth of your breath throughout your day. Especially during any anxious moments. Can you notice your breath?
The breath is both a barometer/indicator and a tool that can be used to calm the nervous system. If you notice that your breath is shallow, simply make a point to pay attention to the length of your breath and try to lengthen your exhale to be double the time of your inhale. For example, if you count your inhale at four seconds, lengthen your exhale to eight seconds. And then see if you can notice what its like to do that, and how you feel after watching your breath and lengthening your exhale for a few minutes. Do this throughout your day, especially during anxious moments and just notice what its like and if there is any difference in how you feel during and afterwards.
These are some basic steps to become more self-aware.
As these are practiced, see if you begin noticing any difference in your awareness within yourself, and also outside of yourself; of your surroundings and of other people.
“A group of prestigious and internationally recognized leaders in physics, biophysics, astrophysics, education, mathematics, engineering, cardiology, biofeedback, and psychology (among other disciplines) have been doing some brilliant work over at the Institute of HeartMath.
Their work, among many others, has proven that when a person is feeling really positive emotions like gratitude, love, or appreciation, the heart beats out a different message, which determines what kind of signals are sent to the brain.”
Because the heart sends signals to the brain, feeling gratitude consistently can actually re-wire your brain; creating more receptors for such emotions and can be a great tool in overcoming depression and anxiety.
Controlling your anxiety and nervousness can be helped by simply lengthening your exhale.
Hacking your Vagus Nerve simply by using your breath and a lengthened exhale can help against stress responses, and will improve your Heart Rate Variable.
During an inhale, the sympathetic nervous system stimulates a very brief acceleration of the heart rate. During an exhale, the Vagus Nerve secretes a transmitter substance which causes a deceleration of the heart rate via the parasympathetic nervous system.
For example, a yoga practice instructs us to focus on the breath; specifically on the exhale. Using just the breath alone, one can lower one’s heart rate, which will in turn help to bring down anxiety levels, and help with agitation and general stress. Pranayamic breath work has been in use successfully in many ways for thousands of years around the world for the exact same reason. Almost every couple of years, fresh research corroborates that each of us can trigger our “rest and relax” parasympathetic nervous system to bring about a relaxation response , simply by focusing on the inhalation-to-exhalation ratio of our breathing and consciously extending the length of each exhale while doing breathing exercises as we go about our day-to-day lives. This allows us to focus more clearly, pay closer attention to someone or something, and allows us to be much more “present” in our lives with others. Immensely helpful in any situation.
Using these respiration patterns frequently (slowed and with longer exhalations) can explain a significant part of the efficacy found within contemplative activity practice. Though contemplative activities are diverse, they have shown a similar pattern of beneficial effects on health, mental health, and cognition: mostly in stress-related conditions and performance. This pattern can be explained by these controlled breathing exercises.
An easy way to test this and integrate it into your daily life is to use the 4:8 breathing cycle.
Inhale deep and long for four seconds, then exhale deep and long for 8 seconds. This should come out to about 5 cycles per minute.
Any time you’re feeling stressed out or anxious, try 2 minutes of Vagus Nerve Breathing, or about 10 rounds of the 4:8 inhale/exhale cycles. Just see for yourself how you feel afterward.