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. 😌🙏

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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!  😌🙏

In the beginning, there was chaos.

In the beginning, there was chaos.

Hello. How are you? I’m fine, thanks. But hang on a second… back up the truck… am I fine?

I wasn’t fine for a while. Years, in fact. Ages of time. Loads of things built up and created the anxiety bully that lived in my head, and I listened to what she said and obeyed her every command until late last year, when I couldn’t do it anymore. I was diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder, and was off work for 2 months while I stared at a wall and took medication. (OK, it wasn’t that bad, but it was pretty awful.)

I blamed everything: work, my long commute, tiredness, the dark mornings, cold weather. Whilst these were definite triggers, I didn’t attribute my breakdown to my long standing feelings of unaddressed guilt, my unhelpful thought patterns, negative labelling of myself, and catastrophizing anything I could. I wasn’t actually aware I was feeling any of those things; I just looked outside for the causes and not in.

Of course, it’s not all my fault. I can’t help my thoughts or the feelings I feel. But I had never owned them, faced them, or understood them. I just let them treat my mind like a marionette. This is an incredibly brief background to what I’ve been standing up against since December 2015.

I’m now a meditator, a Buddhist in training and a mindful minion hoping to live a completely different life in 2016. What I want to concentrate on now is the future, the positives, the little bits of sunshine in every single day that bring you right back to the moment you are living in. But it’s not easy, I fail a lot, I’m only a beginner and it’s my ups and downs I’ll be sharing.

Can I do it? How did I even get here? What led to my diagnosis? Can we eat pizza now? All in good time.

meditate