mindfulness triggers

Regard suffering as a mindfulness bell

Here’s a funny story for you.

One of the things we do to fund our activities at Wildmind is selling meditation supplies, which means that our office is also a mini-warehouse, stocked with incense, Buddha statues, meditation cushions — and mindfulness timers.

One day my work kept getting interrupted by a bell that would go off from time to time. The first couple of times it was no big deal. I thought that someone had perhaps jostled a wind chime, which will happen when stock’s being moved around. But as the sounds continued to happen, it became an annoying interruption.

The puzzling thing was that no one seemed to be doing anything that could be making this noise. I asked around to see if anyone, for example, had some app running that was creating a chiming noise, because I was trying to write an article and the interruption was really bothering me. It turned out that everyone else was also being disturbed and had been wondering what the noise was. In fact they’d all assumed it was the result of something I was doing!

Eventually we realized that one of the mindfulness timers we stock had somehow been switched on, and it seemed that the offending item was one that was boxed. The trouble was, which one? There was a pile of perhaps two dozen boxed meditation timers, and the bell would only ring once every few minutes. And by the time someone had dashed over to the place the timers were stored, the sound had already stopped.

It became my mission to find out which timer was ringing. This involved splitting them up in a process of eliminating non-offending timers. To cut a long story short, I finally tracked down and deactivated the timer that had been interrupting us, and we were all able to work undistractedly. The whole episode was very disruptive, not just because the bell had been interrupting our work, but because it had taken so much effort to switch the timer off.

The ironic thing, of course, is that the random bell was supposed to be an invitation to practice mindfulness — to stop what you’re doing and to spend a few moments tuning into the breath, to relax, and to let go! None of us had remembered to be mindful when we heard the bell ringing! In fact we’d all rather unmindfully been irritated by something that was supposed to me a mindfulness tool!

One trivial thing to learn from this is that something like a mindfulness bell only works when I have the expectation that it will. Unless, when I hear the bell, I have an assumption “this bell is intended to help me be mindful” it’s not going to function as a prompt for mindfulness.

But something I wonder is, why don’t I regard every annoyance as a mindfulness bell! Ironically, as I was writing this article I kept being interrupted by a co-worker who needed my advice on a number of questions. It dawned on me that I could use these interruptions to my routine to mindfully check in with myself. And the other week, when I found myself irritated by some software that didn’t function as expected, someone pointed out to me that I could be grateful to the company concerned because they were giving me an opportunity to become mindful of my impatience. I think that’s a brilliant idea, and something I need to work on.

Basically, I’d like to train myself to see the experience of annoyance as a mindfulness bell — letting it jolt me into a deeper awareness of myself. When I find I’m irritated by something, instead of going on a rant I can drop down to the level of feelings, recognize that the feeling of frustration I’m experiencing is a form of pain, and then send compassionate thoughts to that pain.

PS. Yes, I know that Quasimodo never said “The bells!” but I couldn’t resist the temptation to use a photograph of that character.

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Mindfulness means keeping things simple

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Most of us have no end of things to keep up with and sort out. In fact, life sometimes feels bitty, complicated and confusing, and we don’t know how to manage all the demands. Past a certain point we experience stress, feeling that we’ve lost the initiative. Here are some tips on finding an alternative with the help of mindfulness

1.     Come back to present moment experience

Mindfulness means coming back to our experience in this moment, starting with simple, observable sensations. That means letting go, for now, of thoughts about the past and the future that can easily feel confusing. Instead, we ask, what’s happening right now in my body, my thoughts and my feelings? What’s happening around me? Usually, that leaves us feeling clearer and more whole, even if what we experience is uncomfortable.

2.     Find your key

It helps to have a personal key that will help us settle our awareness in the present moment. For many people becoming aware of the body offers a way to do this, noticing the contact of our feet with floor and the support of the chair. For others, the key is becoming aware of the breathing and perhaps taking a slightly deeper breath. It’s good to experiment to find what works for you, and meditation is an excellent opportunity to do that.

3.     Reduce input

We’re getting better and better at increasing the input we receive from the media, social networking, entertainment and the general busyness of our lives. However, psychologists have learned that human attention is a limited resource, so if we want to attend fully to one thing, we may have to let go of others. This goes against the grain of our culture, which sometimes seems to be devoted to distraction!

4.     Leave gaps

Notice the tendency to fill the gaps in the day with some kind of stimulation. Gaps are important. That’s when we can settle down and absorb what’s happening. And it’s interesting to see what we notice in those gaps about our feelings and the world around us. A period of meditation is a kind of a gap in which we give ourselves time and space to simply experience; and the Breathing Space, which we teach on mindfulness courses, is a way of doing this throughout the day.

5.     Pay attention to transitions

Leaving gaps between activities is one way of making a steady transition between the things we do: finishing one thing properly, and then starting the next thing with full awareness. This is important in starting and finishing meditation, and it’s throughout the rest of the day as well. Making conscious transitions helps you feel to stay fresh and have a greater sense of satisfaction.

6.     Manage multi-tasking

Multi-tasking can be stimulating and energizing (for a while) and for many of us juggling social media with other activities has become a part of how we live. But research shows that multi-tasking actually reduces our effectiveness and productivity. So far as we can, it’s probably helpful to reduce the amount of multi-tasking we do. In practice, though, we often have to respond to multiple demands, and mindfulness practice may mean exploring how we can maintain our sense of balance and wholeness while we are multi-tasking.

7.     Remember that things change

The feeling that life is complicated is connected to an underlying truth: everything changes. People, our bodies, situations, our thoughts and our feelings are all changing all the time, whether we want them to or not. Coming back to our present moment experience lets us acknowledge change and let go of our unconscious resistance to it. Conversely, change and impermanence also apply to seemingly intractable difficulties: they, too, will pass.

8.     Let understanding emerge

Sometimes complexity isn’t an illusion: it’s just the way things are. We can’t always simplify the situation we are in, but we can find clarity by coming back to the present moment and what is clear right now. Sometimes, all we know is that things are baffling and difficult; but at least we can know that. Then, a deeper understanding may slowly emerge.

 

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Day 24 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 024We’re almost a quarter of the way through the challenge!

One thing I’ve been working on is cultivating more lovingkindness in daily life. I find that if I don’t deliberately do this, then my mind often has a bit of a hard and brittle “edge” to it that can come out in irritability and even in anger.

Lovingkindness meditation helps, but it’s not enough. There are still live, unexploded reserves of anger inside my being, and they need to be defused.

Practicing lovingkindness in daily life is like sending in the bomb squad.

So as I’m driving, or walking, or standing in line in a store, and even often when I’m working on my computer, I’ll be cultivating lovingkindness. Sometimes I repeat the lovingkindness phrases — things like “May you be well; may you be happy” — and sometimes all I have to do is to bring my awareness to the heart and remember to be loving. Often that’s all it takes.

There are times I forget, but that’s OK. If I forget to connect with lovingkindness while I’m walking to the post office, but remember on the way back, then at least some of my time has been spent cultivating lovingkindness. Any effort is better than none. I am setting up some “mindfulness triggers” to help me remember to connect with lovingkindness. Walking now triggers this action more often than not, as does driving. I find it a little harder to remember when I’m working, but that’s becoming easier as well. Often when I’m working I’m writing to someone or writing for a particular audience, and I find it enjoyable to connect with lovingkindness for those I’m communicating with.

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Day 16 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

100 day meditation challenge 016I encourage my meditation students to set up “mindfulness triggers,” by which I mean reminders to practice mindfulness. One of my mindfulness triggers is walking toward a pedestrian crossing, when I remind myself to have no expectations that the approaching cars will stop. Another is closing my car door and walking to my office, when I remember to walk meditatively in order to arrive at Wildmind’s World Headquarters mindfully and in a state of lovingkindness.

But some of us need mindfulness triggers for our mindfulness triggers, meaning that we read about these kinds of pracices and even plan to set them up, but then in the heat of daily action we forget to follow through.

If that’s you, then here are a few ideas to do right now. Stop everything and just do at least one of these things, otherwise you’ll forget. Habit is a very strong thing…

  1. First, change the ring tone and text message alert tone on your cellphone. When you hear the different sounds, you’ll be jolted into an awareness that they’ve changed, and this will remind you to take three deep breaths, and to notice what your current experience is before you answer the phone. So go grab your phone and do that now. I’ll wait.
  2. Second, if you spend much time on a computer, go to this site and set up a bell to ring randomly. When the bell rings, you’ll remember to take three deep breaths, and to notice what your current experience is. (There are mindfulness apps for smartphones that will do the same thing.)
  3. Third, put a band-aid on your finger. You’ll notice it throughout the day and it’ll remind you to take three deep breaths, etc. If it’s night time now, then set out a bandaid with your work clothes so that you remember to put it on tomorrow morning.

The more mindfulness we can bring into daily life, the better the quality of our awareness will be, and the more benefit we’ll be to others.

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