Friday, February 27, 2015

Choiceless Awareness

Fuck! It is REALLY hard to stop your mind racing while you sit there in silence with your eyes closed. I'm trying not to worry about that and just take it as a nice break from busy body/busy mind mode that I'm in most of the day.

Someone said to me that sitting meditatively gives your mind the signal that you are going to prioritise quiet thoughts.. and that like a muscle your mind will get better at this the more you work on it.

Can't bloody wait.

My clever friend Sue just wrote a comment on my last post: "I reckon the very first step is just to notice our thoughts - notice that we have them, and what happens to our bodies when we have them. Once we are in the habit of noticing them, we can start to get a handle on them. I think it's fascinating that some thoughts are incredibly destructive, some are unbelievably intelligent and creative, and most are totally boring and repetitive! But the potential to know them, and begin to choose them and use them ... that's very cool"

I think I'm looking for some sort of 'magical event' to occur with meditation that is going to elevate me to a nirvana-like state that is completely out of this world...! But I hope I'm also realistic that this is unlikely to happen any time soon (if at all).

Dan Harris describes an experiencing amazing mental break-through when he was on a meditation retreat called 'choiceless awareness'. It's where you have built up enough concentration that you can drop your obsessive focus on the breath and just 'open up' to whatever is there. When it happened to him on Day 5 of a retreat (after hours and hours and hours of sitting meditatively) he experienced this 'choiceless awareness' and says it was "exhilarating ... like a curtain has been lifted ... and there's something about the act of being present and awake in this way that produces a gigantic blast of serotonin." He goes on: "It's like I'd spent the past five days being dragged by my head behind a motorboat and now, all of a sudden, I'm up on water skis. This is an experience of my own mind I've never had before - a front-row seat to watch the machinery of consciousness. It's thrilling....."

Shit! I want what he's got! I want to go on a meditation retreat!! Not sure how I'm going to get that one past Mr D but I will try. That is definitely a goal of mine for this year.

In the meantime I am going to continue with my goal of taking time out every single day (if I can) to sit quietly with my eyes shut and try to concentrate on my breath. And every time my mind wanders (which is constantly) I will bring it back to the breath. I managed 10 minutes yesterday. And maybe 10 minutes just now. Small steps in the right direction.

Love, Mrs D xxx

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

10% happier....

I managed 10 minutes of quiet sitting down today (note I'm not able to say 'meditation' yet!) and it felt nice. My mind kept wandering of course, and boy are my thoughts boring, but I kept trying to bring it back to the breath.

Bring it back to the breath.

Bring it back to the breath.

Bring it back to the breath.

Apparently the more you do that - shift your focus away from your thinking and concentrate (even for a nano-second) on your breathing - the more pauses you are inserting into the mindless chatter that goes on inside your head. And the more pauses you insert the more mindful you are able to be.

There are other ways to implement mindfulness throughout the day. I'm still working on trying to really focus on the moment. I was thinking today that when I am most miserable I am usually stuck in a thinking rut about something - i.e. not being in the moment at all.

I'm now reading "10% Happier: How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works - a true story" by Dan Harris. It's really really good. He's a work-a-holic TV newsman from the States who famously had a panic attack on-air and had to sort his shit out majorly. I'm just getting to the bit when he starts working on meditation and he is such a skeptic but slowly turns onto trying mindfulness etc and it did good things for him. I can presume it was more than just 'good' because his book is a best seller and has over 1300 customer reviews on Amazon and it was only released last December! Mine came out 2 months before his and has a mere 23 reviews sob sob (ha ha).

Anyway, I googled Dan Harris today and found this brilliant 14 minute clip from ABC news which is basically him reporting on himself, telling the full story of his public meltdown and his journey to being 10% happier. Worth a look.

Love, Mrs D xxx

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Two sit-downs in one day!

I don't know if it's a coincidence but I managed to sit quietly with legs crossed TWICE today and I've had a ridiculously happy day!! I feel so proud of being sober, so in control of my parenting and housewife-ing, so on top of my online work and just really happy.

Must be a coincidence.

First sit down wasn't much. I woke at 6.50am and all the house was quiet which is rare (boys still asleep) so I thought 'this is an opportunity to do a morning meditation!' and jumped out of bed, popped a sweatshirt on and went down to the living room to sit cross legged on a cushion with my hands resting on my knees and my eyes shut. Lasted probably 5 minutes then needed to go to the loo so that was that.

I then had a super busy (and satisfyingly productive) morning and made plans for a busy afternoon but factored in a sit down after lunch. Sat back on the cushion on the living room floor in my position and closed my eyes.

I'm still not entirely sure what exactly I am meant to be doing, although I think it's about observing thoughts and trying to let them pass, notice them without judgement, bring attention back to the breath or a body scan. I did all of that. It was nice actually. Peaceful. I was aware that my mind was busy ('I should open the windows before I go out to let the flies out' and 'must measure the shelves before I go' and 'check the ingredients for the Drink of the Week before I go as well' were the types of thoughts I was having - boooooring.) Honestly it's amazing how boring my thoughts can be sometimes.

This second sit-down probably lasted more like 12 minutes.

I read in my book yesterday that 45 minutes is good. Well that's something to aim for (gulp).

I'm also being way more mindful during the day. I keep taking stock of where I am and what I'm doing. And really noticing what is happening around me, the sun, the movement of my car, the sound of the cicadas, the chatter of my boys. I'm definitely being more mindful in general and I'm super-happy today!

Still unsure if the two are related because there is nothing glaringly 'wrong' or tricky going on in my life right now, so maybe I'm just in an easier phase of life. We shall see. I'm going to persevere with it all though. I think I'm on to a good thing.

Love, Mrs D xxx

Monday, February 23, 2015

Little energy bubbles in the mind...

I can see that this blog is going to keep me honest which is good (much like my sober blog helps keep me off the sauce). It was because I needed to be able to write something about my efforts in mindful meditation (or whatever it is that I am doing) that I actually did something of that nature today. Yes! I managed to sit cross legged on the floor quietly for 8 or so minutes at 7pm.

Well it was only semi-quiet because Mr D was on the trampoline outside the window with our 3 sons and they were all chattering loudly. But what else can I do? This is the environment I live in.

I thought about taking a moment to reflect (or whatever it is I am doing) this afternoon when I was home alone ... but I was trying to write a post at Living Sober about the things I work on in recovery and also the Oscars was on TV and I wanted to see what everyone was wearing (!) and before I knew it it was 3pm and I had to do the school pick-up.

But anyway, fast forward and I am sitting cross legged on my bedroom rug at 7pm with my eyes shut trying to calm my brain or at least be aware of what I am thinking about.

I read this in my library book (from the chapter by Joseph Goldstein): "A further part of the training is becoming aware of our thoughts and emotions, those pervasive mental activities that so condition our minds, our bodies, and our lives. Have you ever stopped to consider what a thought is - not the content but the very nature of thought itself? Few people really explore the question, 'what is a thought?' What is this phenomenon that occurs so many times a day and to which we pay so little attention? Not being aware of the thoughts that arise in our minds or of the very nature of thought itself allows thoughts to dominate our lives. Telling us to do this, say that, go here, go there - thoughts often drive us like we're their servants. Unnoticed, they have great power. But when we pay attention, when we observe thoughts as they arise and pass away, we begin to see their essentially empty nature. They arise as little energy bubbles in the mind rather than reified expressions of a self."

I liked this a whole lot. How utterly fascinating. A thought as nothing more than a little energy bubble. But I am my thoughts! Aren't I? What else am I if I'm not my thoughts???!!!

And so today when I snatched my little moment on the bedroom rug I wasn't overly concerned with trying to not let my mind wander or do a perfect body scan or anything. I was just observing my thoughts. It was interesting (the process.. not the thoughts. My thoughts are predictable, same old same old plans and pondering and worries and stuff).

Actually, if I'd had more time to do it that would have been nice, but as it was my 10-year-old started heading down the hallway to the bedroom (having had enough time on the trampoline) so my quiet contemplation of my thoughts was over. Until tomorrow .......

Love, Mrs D xxx

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fail

Not entirely, but pretty much a fail this weekend. Yesterday (Saturday) I did NOTHING of a sit-down-be-quiet-and-mindful nature.

I had a moment in the afternoon when the kids were downstairs watching tele and Mr D was in the living room watching tele (it was the quiet time between outings) and I had a brief thought that I could take myself into the study and shut the door and sit cross legged and listen to my breath and do a body scan ... but then the thought passed and I found myself at the laundry sink scrubbing stains out of white shirts and shorts.

I realise I spend a lot of time doing housework and cooking.. and generally just 'pottering about' moving objects back to where they should be and wiping surfaces. Being a housewife in other words.

I wonder... can you do cross-legged-sitting-being-quiet-and-mindful when there is noisy stuff going on elsewhere in the house? That's going to have to be the case for me on the weekend unless I get up before everyone else (not likely) or do it late at night when the kids are in bed (don't know about that one).

Anyway today (Sunday) I did manage to sit myself down on the bedroom rug cross legged and listen to my breath and start with a bit of a body scan but by the time I got from my feet to ankles to calves to knees I sort of gave up... but I did sit and breath a bit at the start so it was something...

And I have been reading my first library book 'The Mindfulness Revolution' and it's good because it's short essays by different people. Really short - like 3-4 pages each. They are all very passionate and persuasive about the ability that we humans have to quiet our minds, but that we have to re-learn how to quiet the thoughts, sit in peace with no judgement on our thoughts.. that it takes time to get good at it...the last chapter I read had a 'mindful eating' exercise.

I'll shorten it massively but it went like this: Sit on the floor or in a chair, relaxed yet upright, have two grapes or raisins nearby. Close your eyes, breath, think about the grape's history, someone planting the seed, it growing with the help of soil, sun, rain, water, the humans that helped it along , picked it, wrapped it, loaded it on a truck, drove it to the supermarket where I bought it. Go massively into the story at each step of it's life (make up stories of each person that did each job, the farmers, their parents and their parents, the truck driver etc etc...).

Notice your feelings. "How do you feel? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, which is a really important point with mindfulness. All we do is find out what is true in this moment for us." Then pick up the grape and look at it as if you are a kid seeing a grape for the first time.."See if you can look at the grape with the curiosity and wonder a child brings to a first experience - that is mindfulness." Then eat it but slowly of course thinking about every step of the eating process.

Then do the entire same exercise start to finish with the second grape. And that, my friends, is mindful eating.

Phew.

I just watched these two awesome short clips that a cyber buddy sent to me. This one and this one. I don't know who this dude Alan Watts is but he really really really really makes me want to learn how to quiet my mind.

Love, Mrs D xxx

Friday, February 20, 2015

They'd laugh if they could see me...

I have to be honest yesterday I did nothing towards my goal of pure blissful inner nirvana. It was a typically full day.. but I did have a 40-minute window in the middle of the day when I was at home by myself and could have taken the time to sit down and do something mindfully/meditation-y/whateveritisI'mtryingtodo-y..

But I didn't, I filled that 40 minutes with some fiddling around on the computer with this blog trying to get a photo to fit... replying to a couple of emails.... checking Living Sober...etc... etc...

So yesterday was a 'fail'. Am I trying to do something every day? Is that one of my goals?

Yes. I will answer that question myself right now. My aim is to do something of a mindful/meditation-y (?!) nature every day.

So today was also full but I again had a window of 45-minutes after I concocted, photographed and posted a delicious mocktail online, and when I had to do the school pick-up and head to soccer for 2 hours. So I once again got my printed out mindfulness newsletter and put my cushions on the floor.. sat down, then got up again to take my jeans off because they were super-tight and made sitting cross legged difficult, popped to the loo quickly then sat back down again and did the 3-5 minute 'posture practice' which just involves taking the time to sit properly, back straight but not stiff, arms by sides and hands resting where they fall on your legs, gaze lowered and relax.......

Probably only took 1 1/2 minutes to do that but it was nice to be back in that position (kind of). I still feel like if anyone was to look through the window they'd crack up laughing at the knicker-wearing housewife trying to go all zen in her living room.

So after I'd sat myself comfortably and got my posture sorted I started to do the 'body scan' technique where I swent slowly around all of my body bringing consciousness to each body part. I think I might have been 1.9% better at staying focussed each part when I was there (i.e. still crap).

I did sort-of ok going around each part (still a bit of an ache in my back when I got there so I straightened myself a little and it felt better). It did feel a little different doing this for the second time, like I knew a little bit what it was about. The trying-to-focus-on-your-knees feeling I was a teensy bit familiar with. I can't imagine what it will feel like when I've been doing it for days on end.

Anyway after about maybe 7 -9 minutes of body scanning interspersed with brain chatter I lay back on the rug and picked up the first of my library books to have arrived - 'The Mindfulness Revolution' edited by Barry Boyce. In the introduction he says "by taking time away from the pressures and needs of daily life to work only on mindfulness, with no other project at hand, we refresh our ability to be mindful when we return to our everyday activities." He says the only requirement in being mindful is to pay attention to your breath and your body. "This book is also about how just taking part in this simple practice can enhance all areas of your life and - dare I say - change how you approach life."

Well bring it on.

So what have I learned so far? I have learned that for now I don't have to think about my goal being 'emptying my mind' or some kind of far fetched meditation achievement. My goal can just be bringing attention to my body. Which is interesting because I've always said that I'm not very connected to my body.

Now it's the weekend and I'm going to have to try to find 10 minutes each day when I am in private and can sit and do the posture practice and body scan. Difficult when it's such a busy house. But I will try.

Love, Mrs D xxx

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Small steps....

Today I woke at 6.30 am and had an idea that I could start the day with the 'Body Scan' technique from the mindfulness newsletter I got yesterday - sort of lying still on my back and going around my body thinking about all the different areas, bringing awareness to each area.

Then Mr D rolled over and flicked the radio on, then a little boy arrived to snuggle in the middle, then another not quite so little boy joined in.. and my moment was lost.

Doing anything before the house wakes up is going to require me getting up and out of bed before anyone else. Not sure I want to do that. I treasure my lovely long sober sleeps so much.

Then stuff happened and suddenly it was 11am and I was at a point in my day where I could have sat down at the computer to do some work - but none of it was pressing - so I thought 'nows my time!!'..

So I got my printed mindfulness newsletter and sat on the sofa in the living room. Then I changed my mind and sat cross legged on a cushion on the floor with another cushion under each knee.

I started with technique #1 which is just a 3-5 minute exercise. The newsletter told me that meditation beings and ends in the body, that we need to take the time to pay attention to where we are and what's going on and that starts with being aware of our body. "That very act can be calming, since our body has internal rhythms that help to relax if we give it a chance."

They told me to take a seat, straighten my upper body (not stiff, just straight), position my hands and arms comfortably, then drop my gaze and lowering (or closing) my eyelids, then relax.

That's it! Just taking time to settle into a good comfortable seated position and relaxing. The newsletter said I could stop then or move into some mindfulness practice.

Given I'd only been at it for about 4 minutes I thought why not move onto the next technique which is the body scan one. For this one it's just as I said before - sitting or lying comfortably so you feel supported and relaxed, then bring awareness to the body as a whole and then beginning to focus on different parts of the body. Toes, feet, legs, pelvis, abdomen, lower back, upper back etc etc right around. Linger on each body part and notice the different sensations. If you find your mind has wandered bring it back to the last body part you were on.

So I did that but my mind was wandering like buggery, so I tried to pull it back each time.. and I think I managed some nice thinking-about-nothing-but-my-belly-button moments. I did decide by the time I'd arrived at my back the sensation I felt was an ache so I lay down to finish the scan. I think I got all the way around (can't remember actually)...

Then I jumped up and felt proud and got on with my day!

Did it make a difference? Yeah later on I was getting in the washing and the stones were hot under my feet and I noticed that and thought about my hot feet as I worked - I think my mind was a million miles away thinking about other things but then I noticed my feet were hot and I remembered the awareness thing so I focused on thinking about my hot feet and feeling the heat etc (sounds weird but it was actually quite nice...).

And then later when I was doing the dishes I started really noticing how my hands looked as they worked in the full, soapy sink. I wash dishes with my bright green rubber gloves on probably 3-4 times a day yet I've never properly noticed how they look moving away in the suds, holding either a red dish brush or a bright yellow cloth. Sounds weird (again) but it was cool, they looked really cool.

Is this mindfulness? I think it is. It felt kind of nice. Hhhhmmmm... small steps but at least I'm taking them.

Love, Mrs D xxx

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

False start..

I was excited about today because for the first time since the school term started (2 weeks ago) I had NO plans at all between 9am-3pm so I thought I could actually get some time to sit quietly and start trying to do some quiet contemplations (meditations??!! I don't know what it is!!!).

But then Mr 10 had a shocking night and morning and stayed home from school so I've not had the day to myself after all.


You see…?? This is the problem for us bloody busy mums (or any busy person for that matter)… actually getting quiet time to ourselves to spend time looking inward (or whatever the hell it is I'm trying to do??!!). I'm about to go to the supermarket then get the other boys from school then come home, deliver snacks, help with homework, chitchat, make dinner, take boy to Cubs, feed dinner, fold washing, tidy kitchen, get from Cubs, final update on website, settle boys into bed… by that time it will be 8.45pm and I won't feel like bloody meditating!!!!!


So anyway today I have managed to subscribe to a Mindfulness Newsletter which was kind of cool (not sure how I stumbled on this.. I am being swamped with suggestions and tips and ideas for how to get into this stuff..)


Anyway the first newsletter arrived straight away and it is called '5 techniques for a mindful day' and the intro says: Mindfulness is a natural human ability. It’s also something you can improve 
with practice. When you create ways in your day to slow down and be fully present, you can reconnect with this basic but transformative quality."

Ok bring it on! I want to create ways in my day to slow down and be present! I do! (I just printed the newsletter because it looks good and I want to refer to it on paper).


Technique One: takes 3-5 minutes and is about sitting and getting your posture right and relaxing.

Oooh these are good. I will try to stop and pause over the next 6 hours while I am busy...

Technique Two: takes 10-20 minutes and is about settling into a comfortable position and scanning your entire body slowly lingering on the different sensations as you go around each area..


Technique Three: is a 10 minute tea making ritual. Yes!!!!!! Slowly making a good cup of tea and being aware of every step, slowly being a part of it all even when the water is boiling just be with the water boiling!! Yes I love this!! and then sipping and really noticing the taste & sensation. I love this technique. 


Technique Four: takes 1-3 minutes and is a stress-busting technique which has you stopping, breathing, observing your thoughts and emotions. STOP, BREATH, OBSERVE, PROCEED. Nice.


Technique Five: is about when you're with others and mindfully listening, being fully present with another person…


AND I've just been on the library website and have reserved three books that have been recommended to me. 


1)The Mindfulness Revolution edited by Barry Boice (40 pieces by different people on how mindfulness works and how they've put it into practice in their lives).  

2) 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Blurb says "A spiritual book written for and by someone who would otherwise never read a spiritual book. A deadly serious and seriously funny look at mindfulness and meditation as the next big public health revolution"   
3) Mindfulness - an 8-week plan to finding peace. Blurb says "Oxford professor Mark Williams and award-wining journalist Danny Penman reveal the secrets to living a happier and less anxious, stressful, and exhausting life. Offers simple and straightforward forms of mindfulness meditation that can be done by anyone."

So it's a slow start but I am focussed and moving in the right direction. 


Love, Mrs D xxx

Monday, February 16, 2015

I'm going to do this…..

Mr D said I'm like an 'unstoppable force' and I think he means that I always need something big to focus on and direct my energies towards.

Obviously for the last 3+ years that has been getting shit booze out of my life.

I've poured my heart and soul into getting sober and not only blogged my way through the entire journey but also wrote and released a book about it, and then got Government funding to start an amazing new community website that I now run.

So yeah.. that all took a bit of energy.

But now I'm comfortably sober (in that I don't have to actively work on keeping booze out of my life), and the website is running smoothly and I've been feeling a bit 'itchy', low, in a funk.

The problem is life keeps happening. Tough stuff happens. A beloved family member tragically died, I have sticky people around me, parenting our three boys (often on my own) is bloody hard work, I think my hormonal moods are getting more intense the older I get, I'm still learning how to deal with anger and sadness etc in the raw (without my beloved wine in the way).

Mr D also said he was worried that I'm getting depressed.

I'm not. But some phases of life are tougher than others. And here's the thing. I've got 40 more years of sober living to do and big life stuff is going to keep happening and my moods are going to keep happening and I'm always going to be mothering three full-on boys (although there will come a time when it's not as intense as it is now), and I don't think my emotional coping techniques are very robust.

And everywhere I hear people talk about the power of mindfulness and meditation. I know that it is a skill that can be learned and takes a lot of practice but brings amazing results to many people's experience of life.

I know it's a thing that people can learn to do. Become mindful. Meditate.

Honestly, the thought of meditation terrifies me. I think it sounds boring, introspective, scary, did I mention boring, indulgent, hard work, boring and…… well frankly, a challenge.

But I'm up for the challenge. It's a bit like when I got sober. I knew other people could get sober and were happy about that - so I set out to achieve that goal. And I did.

And now I feel like this is the next logical step. I know that people achieve great inner calm from working hard at cementing meditation (& mindfulness - what is the difference?!) in their lives. So I'm setting out to achieve that goal.

What does that mean? What does that feel like? How does it change things? What can it do for me? Honestly, I have no idea. But I'm going to find out.

Fuck knows how I'm going to fit it into my life. I am busy. I run a website which has me online 7-days a week, I am also a full-time housewife and mother to three boisterous boys, I am back at the gym, I like watching TV and listening to pop music and catching up with girlfriends over coffee or dinners or movies. And I am a wife and like to spend time with my amazing husband.

This new blog I will use to chart exactly what I am doing to learn how to spend more time slowing down my mind and calming my thoughts. Books, podcasts, guided meditations, advice, whatever. This is my new project.

I will use this blog to keep me honest so that I keep working at this. And ultimately I hope that I'll get to a brand new place within myself. What might that place be???!!! Watch this space…..

Love, Mrs D xxx