Three Day Fast – Fourth Day

Hooray it’s Thursday morning and I can eat!

I started this fast on a Monday morning so I am now on my fourth day of fasting which is the day that I’m going to break the fast. I’m going to have breakfast at Carluccio’s to celebrate.

That isn’t counter-productive, it’s what I promised myself to help to keep me going! What I will do is to avoid any carbohydrates.

Yesterday, I began to really notice some unhelpful mental effects of the fast. I taught three times for about seven hours in total yesterday and did a couple of hours of admin on the energy equivalent of about 1 innocent smoothie which is 86 calories. What happened is that on the last of my three teaching sessions I found myself lost for words by not remembering a specific word twice, though they both came to me when I stopped trying to retrieve them of course. In addition I was almost lost for words once. These things aren’t entirely unusual but to have three memory retrieval problems in one 2 1/2 hour session is a first.

Meditation was also interesting. With the teaching and my personal practice there was quite a lot of meditation. Probably two or three hours in all. Mystics use fasting as a way of bringing them closer to mystical experiences. During one of my meditations yesterday which was with with a student, and because of the company is invariably extremely powerful, I found that my mind was slipping into something like a dream state which actually wasn’t a dream state… I know what it feels like to drift off into semi-sleep whileI’m meditating and this wasn’t it.

Images arose that were like fast forwarded still photographs taken over time. A bit like amateurish time lapse. In addition, there was a moving images of crowds and so on. Not an experience that I can say I remember having, even during deep meditations.

However, putting those minor hiccups to one side, I didn’t feel hungry at all yesterday and I felt that I had sufficient energy.

Today, interestingly, I feel even less hungry. Eating breakfast this morning, although in a relaxing enjoyable way, will be an addition of nutrients and not a fulfilment of need.

Last night at about 3:45 I woke up with two solutions in my mind. One was a solution to a minor problem which is just something that I haven’t confronted yet and the other was a complete solution to a problem I didn’t even know I had! It would have arisen over the course of the next few days though. I was able to lean over and type the solutions into my mobile and go back to sleep. It was as though my subconscious mind had decided those things that I most needed to smooth out my next couple of weeks and provided me with clear and actionable solutions to them. One for the most urgent thing, and the other for the highest priority thing.

I also had some incredibly deep insights. I was talking through a problem and talked my way into the solution to it. It was a very, very big problem.

I also only had about 7 1/2 hours of sleep last night which is fine but I’m aware that I usually sleep longer during a fast so I feel a little sleep deprived.

Lessons learnt

Fasting clearly changes the nature of the operation of the mind.

On or after the third day the lack of energy is noticeable with poor memory retrieval.

The nature of deep meditation can change on or about the third day. Could this be the mystic visions or is it too early?

It is possible that fasting is a source of incredibly useful insight.

All in all, this fast was a fascinating and useful exercise and something that I absolutely will repeat at some point.

Before you make any new year’s resolutions, read this

Why we do new year’s resolutions

Probably the main reason we feel a need for new year’s resolutions is that the holiday season is memorable and easily compared with the previous year which gives us a sense of perspective. A year also seems like a long time and there is a feeling we can achieve our goals in that time no matter how ambitious they are. The reality is that sadly, according to research, 88% of new year’s resolutions fail. [1]

Another reason for resolutions is that we can often look back over the year and feel that in some way, our achievements aren’t enough, that we could have done more, or that something is lacking. This can happen even in a successful year.

It is difficult not to compare ourselves with others. Comparison is an attribute of our genetic inheritance designed to encourage us to compete socially. This comparison is massively accelerated by the images we can project of ourselves in the 21st century. Facebook being the ultimate example of course. [2]

What is the alternative
So how can we make the most of our energy and desire for change without making rash promises or setting ambitious and unlikely goals? There is a very real desire for change that we should harness to our benefit.

My suggestion for making beneficial change is to ask yourself this question: “How much conflict has there been in my life in 2015?”

Conflict is counter-productive compared to it’s alternative which is collaboration. Conflict is evidence of our failure to convince or persuade. Relating smoothly proves we are successfully integrated in our community. It shows how much respect we are held in and whether we are viewed as hostile or collaborative by our peers.

How much conflict we experience is the only authentic and realistic measure of progress in our self-development practices. Nothing else can possibly be as authentic or as useful.

Measuring our progress
Here is an example end of year progress audit.

“Have I experienced more or less conflict in 2015 with my:

  • Partner
  • Family
  • Partners family!
  • Friends
  • Colleagues
  • Partner’s friends…
  • Neighbours
  • Acquaintances
  • Business contacts
  • Others”

Write less or more next to the category and give yourself an overall score. More conflict or less.

You can make up your own categories or do it thoroughly person by person, but we will all know pretty quickly, just by bringing to mind those people or groups, whether we have had more or less conflict with them in 2015 than we did in 2014.

Our new year’s resolutions then become simple, achievable and sustainable.

If there was less conflict in 2015 than 2014 for any group, identify why that is and your resolution will be to ensure that trend continues and grows in 2016.

If there was more conflict in 2015 than 2014 for any group, identify why that is and your resolution will be to try to reduce the level of conflict in 2016.

If you’re fortunate enough to have not experienced ‘any’ conflict in 2015, then your resolution will be to help others to also experience that in 2016.


Happy New Year to you all!

References

  1. A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7162692.stm
  2. Facebook makes us feel worse about ourselves (surprise!). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23709009

Mindfulness tip of the day – turn mobile data off by default

Being bombarded with a constant stream of messages is a First World Problem but it is a very real one.

Not only endless notifications but more importantly the pull of the Twitter and Facebook streams is a real issue for some of us. It is difficult to tell people to turn our phones off in this day and age, but turning off data means you can still be contacted by your nearest and dearest, but the lure and distraction of the alternative digital world is abated for a while.

When you *really need* to tweet or check Facebook, you can just turn it back on again.

Have a mindful day…

5 quick wins for reducing anxiety

5 Quick wins for reducing anxiety

Here are some quick wins for you if you are in a difficult place. They will take two weeks to really work, which in the world of chronic anxiety is lightning speed!

1. Stop wearing a watch unless it is utterly essential

If you don’t have a busy schedule you don’t need to constantly be aware of the time and if you have a mobile you have access to the time if you really need it. Checking the time constantly keeps you thinking of some future event and moves the focus of your attention away from the present moment.

For most of us, for most of the time, the present moment is overwhelmingly good. The future is always unpredictable and full of potential threats, so it becomes a source of anxiety. leave the watch in a drawer.

2. Stop drinking caffeine

Caffeine from tea, coffee and various soft drinks promotes anxiety by releasing adrenaline or epinephrine as it is also known. This promotes a fight or flight response in the body promoting alertness and suppressing sleep.

The effects of caffeine are prolonged and it takes two weeks for the body to return to normal.

3. Reduce your news consumption

If you have every wondered why the news is full of bad news then take a look at this link:

This post explains to marketeers how using negative superlatives such as ‘never’ and ‘worst’ outperforms positive superlatives such as ‘always’ and ‘best’.
http://www.outbrain.com/blog/2013/07/headlines-when-the-best-brings-the-worst-and-the-worst-brings-the-best.html

Each newspaper competes with every other newspaper for the worst possible news. The news media scours the globe for bad news. Viewed through the lens of the news, the world soon becomes a scary place which feeds into our personal beliefs. We all have enough challenges and limitations in our lives without adopting ones that are served up to us by the media.

Discovering bad news is a survival trait that we are programmed for. Our ancestors ‘needed’ to know whether there was plague in a neighbouring village and those that were motivated to move by this bad news would have been the ones that survived. Now that we are no longer in a life or death environment this morbid fascination with bad news works against us.

Ask yourself when was the last time that something you learned from the news changed your life or even, when has anything you read in a newspaper materially benefited you in any way?

We feel we need to ‘keep up with current affairs’ but as someone that stopped reading newspapers several years ago, I still find that there are so many people reading the news all around me that I am aware of the major news anyway and do you ‘really’ need to know about the rest?

Here are a couple of links that may help you to see all of this in a newer perspective:

Why no news is good news from the Guardian
http://www.theguardian.co m/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-rolf-dobelli

4. Detox from the TV and if you can, stop watching it altogether

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.Groucho Marx

The TV is a parody of reality. I agree that some programmes are educational but the information they provide is largely available through internet research with the difference that you are in control of what you learn and where you go to learn it. Enough to satisfy your knowledge without the baggage of knowing intimately  who is going to get kicked out of the Big Brother room next!

5. Digital detox

I think that there is far too much emphasis on how carrying mobile devices is bad. In itself it isn’t bad. What is bad is the significance we place on the messages we receive. We fail to filter them and so they continually grab our attention dragging us into some unpredictable future event from the overwhelmingly good present moment.

There are a number of strategies that help such as turning off notifications but if we need to respond instantly then we need to find the time to ourselves.

Here are some strategies:

  • Put all of your devices in a drawer on one day over a weekend
  • Put all of your devices away after a certain time in the evening
  • Filter out notifications so you only get the ones that really matter
  • Go on a digital detox holiday

To read about my recent solo retreat and digital detox go here:

http://bromleymindfulness.org.uk/tag/retreat/

 

12 simple quick Mindfulness techniques – Micromeditation

Meditation - Grim Santo@flickr_1440x960

This is a list of articles that I have written to date that will help you to find mindfulness in your daily life and that all take anything from a second to a few minutes.

Read through them and find the ones that work for you.

Feel free to comment below

Namaste

trying too hard

Mindfulness meditation practice is not a competition, with yourself or anyone else, to try to spend as long as possible with no thought.

The benefit of the practice of mindfulness meditation is the process of bringing your focus back from your compulsive background thoughts so each time that you do that you progress in your mindfulness practice.

Experienced meditators with any honesty admit their thoughts intervene. Experiencing compulsive thought and refocusing ‘is’ the practice so while that happens you’re doing fine.

An example I use is learning to ride a bike. It’s the falling off that actually teaches you how to ride. With mindfulness meditation it’s the practice of continually releasing your thoughts that enables you to be mindful in everyday life.

Namaste…

one second mindfulness

There is no moment in life, no matter how harrowing it is, where we cannot be mindful.

In fact, for the most critical life-and-death moments, our minds block thought. Our body goes into emergency mindfulness mode. We ‘know’ what to do instinctively and do it without thought.

Try the one second mindfulness exercise.

Simply breathe in mindfully. Move your attention to your breath from whatever is happening.

The key is just to focus on the breath while we are breathing in. This momentarily clears our minds of whatever we are hooked into at that moment. Even if we are concentrating on something that needs focus, it is good to have a brief energising pause.

This single second of mindfulness can return us to what we were doing with a renewed energy and a new perspective. We have a level of presence and present moment awareness that we didn’t have previously.

silencing the inner iPod

Have you ever had a piece of music going round and round in your head that you just can’t get rid of?

Irritatingly it can be the jingle from an advertisement or something that was playing in a cafe or shop. I don’t know about you but sometimes with me, it is a piece of music I don’t like!

It could be something that you heard a few days back or even a tune triggered by a few words that you associated with the lyrics and then started the internal band/singer/orchestra playing.

A while back, in order to try to humour her old Dad, my daughter tried mindfulness meditation and told me that the music in her head was one of the things that was stopping her from focusing on her breath. She named this her “inner iPod” and asked me how she could stop it!

Without realising it I had been able to stop my inner iPod for quite a while, so the next time I experienced it, I was aware of how that happened.

What I do is to listen to ‘where’ it was coming from. In the same way that can be aware of the location of the source of a sound in physical space, I allowed myself to be aware of the physical location of the source of the sound of my inner iPod. When I do this, for me, it stops.

I hope it helps you.

Mala beads for everyday mindfulness

I was recently in Watkins Books. While I was there I noticed some mala beads. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_prayer_beads

These are normally used when reciting a mantra but I decided to try them out as a way of counting my breaths when doing the breathing meditation.

It works out really well as they act as both an anchor to the present moment (see my blog article here) and as a way of counting breaths.

I hope this helps your mindfulness practice.

Namaste

the three second rule for mindfulness

You can find a number of three second rules if you search for them on the internet.

This one is about staying mindful.

As we progress in our mindfulness training, we become mindfully aware of our conditioned responses earlier and earlier in our experiences.

An example is:

Before mindfulness

I get onto the train for my commute and someone pushes in front of me to take the only seat left on the carriage. I get angry and stand glowering all the way to my destination resenting him and thinking to myself how rude people are. I am a good person living in a world full of rude and selfish people!

While learning mindfulness

I get onto the train for my commute and someone pushes in front of me to take the only seat left on the carriage. I get angry and stand glowering most of the way to my destination resenting him and thinking to myself how rude people are. I am a good person living in a world full of rude and selfish people. But then I realise that the way I feel is because of my conditioning and that he behaved the way he did because of his and maybe the world isn’t so bad after all…

When mindful

I get onto the train for my commute and someone pushes in front of me to take the only seat left on the carriage.
I smile realising that the feelings I can detect just below the surface of my experience are my ancient conditioning at work. I feel compassion for the rude guy because he so desperately needs a perceived victory to get through his day.

The three second rule

While learning mindfulness, the three second rule comes in handy

What we do is this:

Whenever, and that is *whenever* we experience a negative emotion:

  • take in a breath (second one)
  • hold it for a moment (second two)
  • breathe out (second three)
  • allow yourself to be aware of how you feel

You will find that you have punctuated your flow of emotion and train of thoughts, stopping you from possibly descending into a negative feedback loop of thoughts and emotions.

Try it, let me know how it goes?

mindfulness and insomnia

Having difficulty sleeping is a common thing in our society. Even if you sleep well most of the time, what happens when you need to get up at 4AM to get an early flight or train?

What happens to most of us is that we don’t sleep well enough. There is an old wive’s tale that to help us sleep we should count sheep. This is sage advice. What that does is to take our mind off of the desire to sleep which is what actually keep us up. Mindfulness meditation worked better for me than counting sheep did!

Just do a simple mindful breathing meditation or a counting breaths meditation and see how it goes.

If you’d like to know a bit more about mindfulness and sleep take a look at this study: How mindfulness changed my sleep: focus groups with chronic insomnia patients which was published in the Official journal of the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research and was authored by A. Hubbling et.al of the College of Pharmacy & School of Nursing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

 

making use of the commute

Do you hate queuing or waiting? Do you get impatient or maybe even angry?

Queuing and waiting are opportunities for mindfulness practice and in time you may even look forward to them.

When you’re in a queue you’re simply stuck there. Learn to accept it and rather than letting compulsive thought take over, use the opportunity to meditate for a few minutes. Even a few calm breaths in a short queue or delay will be of benefit.

This is a perfect example of how we can release our old conditioned emotional and mental responses and replace them with mindfulness and presence.

We need to take any opportunity we can to find the stillness and calm that underlies the busy content of our lives.

Eventually, as we become more mindful, we will find that boredom, frustration and impatience will dissolve. Queues and delays are some of the most frustrating kinds of experiences that can cause us impatience. By using them for mindfulness practice, we find that over time we become more mindful and less impatient in *all* of our experiences.

In that way, queues and delays will end up benefiting us. You may even discover that you become grateful for the opportunity to stop in a queue because you’ll then have an opportunity to be calm and mindful for a while.

Happy queueing!

mindful walking

Any activity for which you don’t need full concentration, you can use as an opportunity to be mindful.

Walking is a perfect example. Without the intervention of distracting thoughts or emotions, a walk opens up. We can become aware of more of our surroundings as our brain relaxes the filters that it uses to limit our sensory perceptions because it is busy endlessly churning the problems of the day.

No problems means we have a richer experience.

We observe more, we feel more, we see more, colours are brighter, we smell and see things we would not normally notice. We experience our surroundings in a clearer manner than when we are preoccupied with our inner dialog.

This is what is known as transcendence. It isn’t a mystic state of mind or trance, it is how our ancestors would have experienced their natural environment as they travelled through it open to all and any sensory perception.

This is our natural state. Enjoy it…

anchoring to the present moment

As we go through our day-to-day life, we find it very difficult to find a time and place to stop and be mindful, even if only for a few moments.

Mindfulness is being in the present moment. So anything that brings us back to the present moment long enough to become aware that we could/should/can be mindful for even a moment or two is helpful to our daily practice.

An example of this could be, for instance, a stone you keep in your pocket or a strategically placed plant.

We call these things an anchor because it anchors us in the present moment.

When you feel or see the anchor it serves as a present moment reminder.

7 easy practices that will help you build mindfulness into your day

meditation-1024x640

There are a number of useful techniques that will help to bring mindfulness to your daily living. Here are a few of the ones I found, and still find, useful.

1. Mindful eating

It is easy to get in the habit of eating quickly and absent-mindedly which causes us to miss out on taste, smells and texture our food. Eating mindfully is a great way of bringing ourselves into the present moment.

I was in a cafe earlier today and as I looked around while waiting for my meal to be served, I noticed that everyone was either chatting, reading or viewing their mobiles while they ate. When I was served, instead of distracting myself, I ate slowly and tasted every bite. It was delicious. Try to eat alone yourself at least once per day and when you do focus on the taste and texture of the food. It adds another dimension to life.

2. Mindful commuting

Over the years, commuters have slightly changed their habits from all being buried in a newspaper, to being glued to mobile phones or tablets. Here is another situation where, if you look around, you will find yourself being the only person not focused on the communal activity. This “dead time” of commuting you can use to your benefit by focusing on your breath and experiencing the journey.

3. Mindful queuing

There was a time when I dreaded queuing. I found it stressful. I was one of those people that is constantly looking for a faster moving queue to which I would swap if I thought that I could be served faster. The ultimate frustration was when after swapping queues, I found myself behind somebody with a complex customer service issue requiring the attendance of the supervisor and much discussion. I would watch despairingly as my original queue moved forward and the people that were standing behind me left the premises!
For a while, queues became an opportunity for spiritual practice where I could take a few moments to meditate and learn to deal with the cruel unfairness of a slow queue with a sense of equanimity. Since then,  as my patience has grown, queues have progressed to become not in the least bit remarkable.

4. Look out of the window

It is interesting how, when we are busy, our confinement in a room becomes almost absolute. We seem to forget that we are part of the world outside. Just looking out of the window for a few moments can help us to return to the present moment for a while. This works particularly well if there is some nature outside such as: trees, plants, flowers or birds.

5. Present moment anchors

For a while, when I was practicing very hard to bring mindfulness into my everyday life I used what is called an anchor. In my case, these were small stones that I would put in my pocket. As they are out of place they tend to cause our chain of thoughts to pause and enable us to become mindful at that moment. Any object can be used for this provided that it is something that is in someway unusual and that will cause a momentary pause in the train of thought enabling mindfulness.

6. Mindful walking

To initially practice mindful walking, it is best to get away for a solitary walk. Meditating or praying while walking is an ancient practice characterized by pilgrimage. Focus on your feet, the feeling of your feet on the floor and your breath entering and leaving your body. Once you have spent some time doing this on a few occasions, you’ll find that as you walk around in daily life the memory of mindful walking will prompt you so you can make it a part of your daily practice,

7. Take your breaks

Whatever it is you’re doing, you can retain your focus better and be more productive if you have some breaks. Often, we will use our breaks to chat to friends, colleagues or family but if we take some of our free time and use it for mindfulness meditation then we will have found a useful way to introduce mindfulness into our daily lives.