My partner and I were driving back from a weekend away recently. It was dark, and suddenly in the middle of a winding twisty road, a huge huntsman spider (the size of my hand) decided to pop out a few inches from me, and scuttle along the inside of our windscreen, giving us both a bit of a surprise!
Fortunately, I don’t have much fear of spiders, which I think is partly due to being brought up in the UK, we didn’t have the big (or poisonous) variety, and I didn’t develop that fear, so I often find myself sitting with a Herman Huntsman, (as I affectionately like to call them) close by, looking at me with beady eyes. Of course, I don’t mess with them, but I do say hello and watch them with a kind of open curiosity – I’m genuinely impressed and amazed at our fellow creatures in this part of the world.
Luckily my partner isn’t the kind of guy to freak out either, especially since he was driving! Anyway, Herman disappeared, eventually, and we did the rest of the journey not quite knowing where he was, and trying not to give it too much of our attention.
The same could be said for the fears, uncertainties and obsessions we sometime get in our minds. If we can somehow give them a bit of space, view them with open curiosity and compassion, without giving them more attention than they deserve, then we often find they don’t have as much of a hold as we initially felt. We can then avoid some of the consequences in re-acting to them. Like freaking out, losing control of the car, and ending up in a ditch, with the spider scurrying off not knowing what the hell happened!
We can bring mindfulness into all aspects of our lives, and as we come to another change of season, it’s essential to adapt our practice to how we’re feeling in any given moment. This can be tricky if we’re feeling tired, busy and exhausted, especially coming to the year end. It’s tempting to simply let our practice and connection go, but that’s exactly the time when we need it the most.
This is where short practices really help, for instance; taking a few moments each day (or before something important) to simply ‘pause’ and check in with your body and your breath, this is really helpful, especially when we’re whirling around. Try stopping for a moment and notice your breath, is it steady, jittery, smooth or ragged? Check in with your body, how does it feel? Any areas that feel heavy or light, is there a feeling of pain, anxiety, ease or expansiveness in the body? – Can you bring kind awareness to those parts without judgement? Are you able to take a few moments to sense the movement of your belly in response to your breath, allowing yourself to rest in that rhythm for a short while?
This is all about re-connecting within and trying not to judge where we’re at. Instead of slipping into old patterns of thought and conditioning, we can bring our awareness into our body, and observe the passing emotional and mental states with curiosity, and a non-judgmental attitude. Then, see if we can bring a feeling of loving kindness, or compassion to the situation, circumstance or person. We often forget to include ourselves in this! When we speak or treat ourselves harshly or negatively, then it’s not really helping anything. Be honest with where things are at, but be compassionate too, it really does help to bring perspective, and dissolve obstacles that we struggle to let go of.
I know this is easier said than done, it’s normal for questions to come up as we try and cultivate this. As with anything, it gets easier with practice, we can read all the books we want, but it’s only in the daily practice that we begin to change our brain chemistry, and this can happen in a short time – 8wks. Mindfulness triggers the compassion and empathy parts of our brain – (the left frontal lobes), this area of the brain appears to switch off when we feel threatened, defensive or go into aggressor mode, we’re triggering our fight & flight response, so it’s harder to see other perspectives. As Tara Brach says in talking about mindfulness and relationships – The two most helpful practices (she’s found) are mindful presence, along with the intentional looking at another, and seeing the vulnerability. Then we can sense that we all share the same feelings of being in an uncontrollable world, the uncertainty and fear that we will lose love, or our safety & security. This is what connects us, and wakes up the part of the brain that brings a feeling of unity, compassion and togetherness. In order to tap into and wake up that part of the brain, we have to be present first, and in touch with what’s going in inside ourselves or another person.
You’re welcome to email me or find a good local meditation teacher if you get stuck or confused – I’ve often been stuck and needed guidance (still do – the learning never ceases). If it does get overwhelming at anytime, then try to approach that with compassion too. It takes time and practice to allow an emotion it’s space, without re-acting to it with our usual defenses, patterns or stories. When we do give space, and bring kind awareness to the place in our bodies where we sense the emotion, then often better alternatives arise, and the emotion doesn’t have as much of a grip as initially felt.
I’ve added a loving-kindness relaxation below, you can do this anytime, it’s about 16mins long so give yourself about 20mins if you do this during the day. Twenty minutes is about right to deeply relax and re-fresh, it’s enough time for the nervous system to re-balance, and not so long that we feel ‘out of it’. If you can’t practice this during the day pop it on before bed, to help you sleep well, even once a week is helpful.
There are lots of different practices we can use to re-connect with our truth and compassion. It’s about finding what works for each of us in the moment, and being open to changing that as we change. Along with the physical asana practice, we can explore different approaches to meditation, pranayama (working with the breath and prana or life-force) and sound practices, including mantra and chanting. All of these are wonderful for helping with anxiety, depression, chronic pain and fatigue, and are a big part of my own practice. I’ll be sharing some of these in future blogs. Until then, be well and be kind.
p.s. If you haven’t already do sign up for my newsletter, you’ll be able to download any practices that I send, along with any latest news, and other recommendations that will only be available in the newsletter. I’ll attach any links etc to new blog posts so you won’t miss anything. I hope you enjoy the relaxation.