Hokusai Says by Roger Keys

Hokusai Says by Roger Keys

When I started discovering mindfulness and Buddhism practice, this poem made so much sense to me and helped me through some really tough days. I hope you enjoy it, and get as much out of it as I certainly have.

 

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Hokusai Says

Hokusai says look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.

He says keep looking, stay curious.

He says there is no end to seeing
He says look forward to getting old.

He says keep changing,

you just get more who you really are.

He says get stuck, accept it, repeat

yourself as long as it is interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,

every one of us is ancient

every one of us has a body.

He says every one of us is frightened.

He says every one of us has to find

a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive —

shells, buildings, people, fish,

mountains, trees, wood is alive.

Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,

or write books. It doesn’t matter

if you saw wood, or catch fish.

It doesn’t matter if you sit at home

and stare at the ants on your veranda

or the shadows of the trees

and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength

is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid.
Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

– Roger Keyes

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Anxiety Superheroes

Anxiety Superheroes

I have two cats, Teacake and Cinzano, and I love animals. In fact, when I haven’t had animals I find something is really missing in my life. My cats, along with so many other things, help me with my anxiety and mindful practice. Below are some of the things a pet can help you with if you’re having a tough time.

Animals are amazing at being mindful

Yep, animals are an incredible inspiration to me when trying to stay in the present. My cats don’t care about what happened in the past, and they certainly aren’t worrying about what will happen in the future. They live in the moment, and I try and take some tips from them when I’m struggling. “What would Teacake do?” She would probably just chill out and go to sleep.

Teacake

Animals never judge you, or try to fix you

My cats have never said to me “you’re worrying over nothing”, or “there’s nothing wrong with you, everyone feels like this”. I can have a good rant to them, and just saying something out loud makes me feel better. I don’t necessarily need any advice. For those times, the cats are my perfect flat mates.

Animals are an incredible distraction

Have you ever played fetch with a dog, or watched a cat chasing a laser pen, and worried about something at the same time? No, me neither. Just interacting with an animal takes my mind off everything else and I am able to be in the moment. Providing for, and taking care of an animal is also a great way to conquer anxiety. The world may be completely falling apart around me, but Cinzano really wants her milk, and that is now more important than anything else. When I get a dog, I’ll have even more to do that I just won’t have time to worry! (Here’s hoping…) Your pet needs food and love, which really can distract you from everything else.

An upside down Cinzano

Animals are always home

Sometimes the world can be a lonely place. When you have a pet, someone is always around. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t a human being (in fact sometimes this is a bonus), it’s just nice to have another living thing sharing your space.

 

The best thing about our cats is that they love me, no matter what I am feeling. I will always take care of them as well as they take care of me.

Antidotes to Anxiety

Antidotes to Anxiety

I saw a quote this week which said that appreciation is the antidote to anxiety. Ever since, it’s had me thinking – what have been my antidotes? My anxiety has definitely improved in the last few months, but what have I done to make this happen?

  • Being present

Easier than it sounds..! If you practice mindfulness already then you’ll know how hard this can be. I keep reminders on my desk at work, in my car and at home which nudge my mind into remembering to live in the present. Even a post it note can do the trick, as long as you know it is your reminder to stay mindful.

I also note my thoughts and feelings when I notice they are there. By gently saying “thought” or “feeling” to myself when I notice them, and changing my focus of attention to whatever is happening in the moment, I don’t follow them which is what my anxiety feeds on.

flower
Seeing this in the car reminds me to come back to the present
  • Saying No

This is personal to me, because historically I have had such a hard time doing this. I am a people-pleaser, and will do things for other people at the jeopardy of my own happiness or well being. This also covers making decisions which involve other people, for example choosing what film to watch in the cinema. The first challenge was making decisions for my partner and I, which felt uncomfortable at first but I now feel more at ease doing this, without feeling guilt. I am now working on saying no to things I don’t want to do socially, with no excuses or panic.

  • Keeping a Gratitude Journal

This is something I decided to do myself after reading that appreciating the good rather than dwelling on the bad is a habit we should all be getting into. I use the journal app Day One on my phone, which means I can update it whenever I feel like it. I use this to journal every day, but just before bed I make a list of three things I am thankful for that day. It means I go to sleep with these thoughts in my head, and I feel happier.

3 things
My daily gratitude journal puts things in perspective
  • Swimming

On Friday 18th March, I took part in the Sport Relief Swimathon. I signed up for the 5k swim challenge back in January, just after starting therapy.

When I went back to work in February, swimming gave me a focus on something other than anxiety. It gave me a feeling of being me, a feeling of achieving something that existed outside of the office. Before diagnosis, the only identity I had for myself was my job title, and the only thing which seemed of any importance to me was whether my work was done. Now, I had something else which mattered.

When I get in the pool after work, I literally feel the weight of the day wash away. I have also started using it to practice mindful meditation. I count every length, and if my mind wanders easily I count every stroke, timing myself each time. All I think about is getting to the end of the pool, before starting again. Once I’ve finished, I head home and feel amazing. Not only because I have exercised, but because I’m not worrying about work. At all.

swim
Half way through the 5k
  • Smiling

Sounds strange, but when I feel stress or anxiety, I try and smile. It eases my mind and helps me relax. Along with some appreciation for what is good in my life, smiling goes a long way. Try waking up with a smile too. It seriously works.


I think as long as something works for you, keep doing it. There are so many ways to divert your mind from those anxious feelings, but remember that you can’t get rid of it completely. Don’t be hard on yourself if you have an anxious day, I still have them and I just try to ride it out, wake up the next day, and start a fresh. Oh, and don’t forget to look at your Me List if you need to.

Meditation Hurdles – The Top 10

Meditation Hurdles – The Top 10

This week in Tricycle’s Meditation Month, I asked if people minded sharing what their biggest hurdle was to consistent meditation practice, and how they manage to overcome it (if at all!)

Here are the top 10 answers I received:

  1. Distractions

    Emails and to do lists are my biggest hurdle. I have a daily reminder on my phone to alert me to meditate at my preferred time. When it shows up on my phone it helps me let go of my distractions and sit.

  2. Finding the Time

    I remember to choose quality, not quantity. This morning I had a lot to do so I took 5 minutes. Some days I take longer when I have more time.

  3. Hot flushes

    That will yank one out of meditation like nothing else! But I have found breathing through hot flushes, provided I’m wearing clothing that’s not too hot, has helped me deal with them.

  4. Chronic pain

    I know from when I did have a very regular practice in the past, consistent meditation helped me deal with the pain better. I’m recommitting myself. Difficult emotions are also hard – I just left an abusive relationship so I have lots of those.

  5. Disruptions

    I’m OK if I get a routine going, but I have difficulty handling disruptions to my routine; for example, travel.  I now try to treat meditation like brushing your teeth, I have to do that first thing every day, so I hope that will encourage my new habit.

  6. My Own Expectations

    I am my biggest obstacle. Wanting to do a “full sit” (40 min) plus 25 min of pranayama (breath work) before, and some yoga, keeps me from feeling I have the time for my practice. Recently, I have set the bar low. 7 minutes to start, increasing 1 minute a day, with just 5 minutes of pranayama. It makes it accessible and gets me back in the routine.

  7. Am I doing it right?

    For me, it was always lack of time and lack of direction – I felt unsure about what I was doing when I sat, was I doing it right? I overcame this by choosing a length of time that seemed manageable (10 minutes to start), a time of day that was tied to routine not actual time (I sit before breakfast, no matter what time that is) and seeking support. Joining a local insight group has been a great comfort, and I told my friends and family about my plan to commit to daily practice and asked them to help me if I started to lose motivation. 1 year and 2 months in, daily sitting now feels natural and habitual.

  8. Doubt

    Sitting is no problem when life is smooth sailing, it’s sitting when life is stormy that gets me. I start to doubt my ability to change and grow, and in a self-fulfilling prophecy I then start avoiding the very things that lead to growth (like sitting, healthy habits, avoiding substances etc). I’ve grown more aware of my patterns, which helps me notice them and not get sucked into them… still a work in progress!

  9. Clock Watching

    Have I been sitting long enough? When I use a timer I find myself distracted by thinking it should ring soon. I stopped using a timer and now just sit for however long is right for that moment. Sometimes it’s 10 minutes, sometimes 40, but I’ve let go of worrying about it. However long I sit is right for me.

  10. The Imaginary Hurdle

    The biggest hurdle is thinking there’s a hurdle to overcome – just do it – 10 minutes a day – be consistent and the “hurdle” will soon fade away.


Personally, I sometimes find it hard to get up early enough before work to sit. However, when I don’t practice, I really notice it later on in the day! I also have a habit of self punishment when I miss sessions which I am really working on. This week, if I’ve been running late, I’ll meditate at my desk – even 10 seconds of breath work is enough before I kick start the day. It doesn’t have to be obvious either, just some mindful breathing with a cup of tea.

Keep up your practice, and rest assured that you aren’t the only one who faces meditation hurdles. 😌🙏

From Disorder to Order

From Disorder to Order

As I said in my first post, I was recently diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder. What this basically means is that I was constantly living in fear of what was going to happen to me in the future. Constantly.

Most of my thoughts were negative. There was no way I was good enough to keep the job I enjoy, there was no way I was lucky enough to have the partner I now have. People definitely thought badly of me, and I was always a disappointment. There was certainly no way that I was lucky enough to be happy; something bad was definitely about to happen, and I wasn’t prepared for it. So obviously the most logical thing to do was to lie awake all night, every night, planning for what I would do should something terrible happen in six months time.

I was exhausted. Cue winter months, dark mornings and dark nights – it was a recipe for disaster. Everything was going wrong.

After a bout of panic attacks, usually associated with travel, illness or self doubt, I finally found the courage to talk about it. I went to the doctor; a tired, matted mess; and told him exactly what I was feeling, snot and all. It was the scariest and most liberating thing I’ve ever done. I was signed off work, given some medication to try (on my request), and referred for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I went home and slept.

I started CBT in January and was incredibly anxious about it (obviously). My goals set at the beginning of my sessions were centred around worry, and how to control it. I was skeptical. Surely this was just what I was like? Wrong!

The fears I hold are connected to a thinking or belief process which I have adopted after certain events in my life. I can easily pin point them with a little prodding, and it’s getting to the bottom of these which is the key to overcoming the disorder. That, and a complete change in my outlook on life.


Below are some of the methods which I found most useful at the beginning of therapy:

Defusing:

Defusing involves seeing thoughts and feelings for what they are (streams of words, passing sensations), not what they say they are (dangers or facts).

STOP, STEP BACK and OBSERVE the thoughts and feelings:

  • Notice what’s happening – your thoughts, physical sensations, emotions, images, memories.
  • Notice the way you’re interpreting what they mean, and how that’s affecting you.
  • Notice the unhelpful thoughts. What am I reacting to? Perhaps say the thoughts very slowly, or very quickly, or write them down. I started a journal at the beginning of CBT, and found it incredibly useful to get the thoughts out onto paper or into my phone which made them easier to deal with and label.

More here.

Labelling:

Identify the emotion you’re feeling, and label the unhelpful thoughts. In my case, unhelpful thinking habits are the majority of reasons I become anxious: mind-reading (believing we know what others are thinking) and catastrophising (imagining the worst) are my constant barriers.

Check these out for some really good tips on unhelpful thinking habits.

Metaphors:

Use metaphors to see your mind and thoughts differently.

The Playground Bully (our thoughts can be our own internal bully):

  • Victim 1 – believes the bully, distressed, reacts automatically (bully carries on)
  • Victim 2 – challenges the bully (bully eventually gives up)
  • Victim 3 – acknowledges then ignores the bully, changing focus of attention.

Mindfulness:

My biggest achievement was practicing mindfulness every morning when I got up. It helps me to identify when I am in the present moment, or if I am living anxiously in the future. Eventually, you will find living in the present a much happier place to be! If you are just starting out, try Headspace for 10 minute daily guided sessions, or log into www.freemindfulness.org.

The “Me” List:

Make a list of things you enjoy doing for yourself. Things that make you happy, things that nourish you and make you feel like you again. When you have a bad day, pick one thing on the list and do it! I found a mix of small and big activities worked best, that way I could do something no matter what time of day it was. I doodled mine for an extra mindful activity:

 


These are just some ideas to begin with, and I will look deeper into some other methods which have worked for me throughout my therapy. I’d like to thank the NHS Living Life service  and www.getselfhelp.co.uk for providing me with these fantastic new techniques. Some further information on CBT can be found here. If you would like to ask me about my experience with CBT, I’d be happy to talk about it.

Spending a day thinking about what could, should, might have been (past) or what may, perhaps, might happen (future) is a day missed. – Headspace

 

Pizzen

Pizzen

I promised pizza in this blog, and so I will now deliver. This is a Morrisons ham and pineapple.  What a specimen!

But it’s not just the pizza I’m here for. This weekend, I practiced mindful eating for the first time. I read about this in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Miracle of Mindfulness. If you haven’t read it, I thoroughly recommend it.

In modern life, it’s often really hard to practice mindful eating because of all the distractions we may have around meal times. Television, music, even negative discussions can lead us to be absent from the moment of eating and enjoying our food. How often do we eat our food and remember every bite? How often do we have a snack, and only savour the first and last bites, because these are the ones we take notice of?

So on Sunday, I made a pizza and ate it mindfully. I know it’s not the most sophisticated meal to try this with, but just go with me…

It felt so strange at first; trying to notice every sensation from how warm the pizza was, to how it smelt and the texture as I put it in my mouth. Once in the mouth, noticing how the texture changed, the temperature, the different flavours. Finally, when swallowed, how it felt once it was gone. Every bite I tried to do this. Obviously, being a beginner, my mind wandered and I had to gently bring it back quite a few times to the act of just eating. I found that I was full quicker, as I was eating slowly. I also enjoyed the meal so much more, appreciating each morsel as I usually do with my final mouthful. Eating in silence was also a very positive and reflective experience, which I didn’t think it would be.

If this sounds bizarre, why not try imagining it in the classic Buddhist way of enjoying a tangerine! Probably a nicer image than me and my pizza.

Of course, I won’t always be eating alone and neither should you (it’s worth noting that I did not eat the whole pizza to myself…) It is possible to practice mindful eating with others, but I would switch the television off to do this successfully. Thich Nhat Hanh also suggests steering conversations away from anything which may cause discomfort to you or others; this will only cause them or yourself to be away from the present and not able to enjoy a mindful meal. Positive conversation and regular reference to the food is the best way to ensure a truly present meal. Once I’ve tried these techniques out, I will write again and see if it’s as easy as its sounds!

So, for now, I’ll just leave you with this. Have a great week everyone! 😌🙏

Self-Compassion

Self-Compassion

This March, I am taking part in Tricycle’s Meditation Month. If you struggle with anxiety, you’ll know that self-compassion can be a really difficult practice to perfect, and since starting to meditate it’s been my main challenge.

My anxiety stems from thinking I’m not good enough, and therefore always seeking approval, to the point where it can be quite destructive. This also rears its head when I miss meditation sessions, skip swim training or even forget to write in my journal. I feel guilt, and am not very kind to myself.


On social media, I asked those taking part in Meditation Month with me the following questions:

Does anyone give themselves a really hard time if they miss a session? I seem to punish myself if I don’t sit one day, even though I know I can start again tomorrow. Any tips on how to overcome this feeling?

Here are some of the great responses I received:

  • As with your breathing meditation , when you realise you have wandered, you gently come back and start again. This is the training. When you realise you have not meditated, be it days, weeks or years … gently come back and start again.
  • Meditation is a practice of discipline as well as kindness. To be gentle with yourself is important. I try to accept whatever I am able to do – if that means taking a few breaths on some days instead of completing my full practice, then I acknowledge that that is good enough. The main thing is one’s intention and commitment to keep coming back to the cushion.
  • I used to judge myself terribly, but my attitude seems to have improved since I started this practice. Whenever I notice I am judging or berating myself, I label it as something like, “Oh there’s Judging Judy again.” Don’t make it bad, just something that happens. I learned that from a book by Jack Kornfield. It helps me to be more gentle with myself.
  • The key is to relinquish the effort to “overcome” any of our feelings. Feelings/emotions arise and pass away; we need not feed into or exacerbate them, but neither should we try to get rid of them. Instead, our practice is to notice these feelings, name/label them, direct kindness toward them, and then re-focus on something else.
  • I have found that practicing loving kindness (metta) meditation have helped me a lot when it comes to calm down the inner critic. There are five different stages; cultivating metta towards one self, towards a friend, a neutral person, a difficult person and all sentient beings. Even if it is five stages, you can of course choose to start by practicing only the first stage for a while.

When I’m focused, I often try to think of self-compassion as watching my thoughts and feelings arrive and leave, but never chasing them up an unhelpful thinking path. I try to notice when I go down this path of self berating, take a step back, and observe the thoughts and feelings exactly as they are – just thoughts.

Speaking to my CBT therapist, she also gave me the following advice; if you were to say the same things to a close friend, how would they feel? If the answer is “not very good” then you could do with adjusting the way you speak to yourself.

As an added Buddha Bonus: to show compassion to oneself means you can truly show compassion to others, and you deserve it:

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”
Gautama Buddha

Put away your doubts and worries and concentrate on the present. You will truly be there for others and this can only be a good thing!

So if you do miss a session, or your day hasn’t quite gone to plan, show yourself some compassion. Tomorrow is a whole new 24 hours to play with!

tea

If you have any tips on self-compassion, I would love to hear about them!  😌🙏