Friday, October 15, 2021

What did lockdown show you?

 


This is us celebrating the last weekend of a COVID-19 lockdown here that lasted 107 days. Yep, our idea of lockdown fun - champagne in the back of the van overlooking the ocean.

You know the lockdown experience, whether you were part of this one or not. So what did you learn about yourself? Many of you downloaded the Nine Needs Self-assessment the other week - which Needs did you find were lacking?

One of the Five Growth Superpowers is Commitment to Growth and that involves looking for learning from every experience. I learnt a bunch of things, but let me share three big ones.

1. Adventures are an important way I meet the Need for Pleasure. For ages now, we haven't been able to plan anything. Our international borders have been closed, our state borders have been closed, hell for the last three months we haven't even been allowed to leave our local council area.

Some of my pleasure sources were always obvious - for example massage services also stopped during the lockdown. But I learnt just how much joy I get from dreaming up, planning and going on adventures. Without them, life felt small - a bit like it was asleep.

Knowing lockdown was a drain on my Need for pleasure, I focused on what I could. I put scented reeds in the bathroom. I put more focus on the simple things like boiling a billy in the van at the beach with Matt. I relished my time training at the track. And because I know learning and novelty are big sources of pleasure for me, I found something new to learn .....I took up pole vault! (As you can see, I still have lots to learn!)


2. It's important to have local friends and regular catch-ups. We know the Need for Connection is vital for us humans, and I did my best to keep that alive by arranging Friday video-drinks with friends each week. That was terrific and it's something we'll keep doing.

But video catch-ups alone aren't enough. A member of my meditation group had just moved to a new suburb (on her own!) before the lockdown. She didn't know anyone in her new area, so she wasn't able to catch up with friends in person. She really struggled with this.

I remember (decades ago) in my Social Psychology class, learning that physical proximity is a big predictor of who is in your social network. Because we've been living here for a long time, I've made some good friends in my local area. During lockdown we were allowed to exercise with one other person. I have two good friends with whom I catch up regularly and we kept this up during lockdown. This was super-helpful for me! I live with my best friend (my husband), so how much more important is it for those who don't?

There's something really beneficial about having regular meetings with friends - catch-ups that don't need to be planned. That way, your default setting for weekly life contains friendship - connection - rather than the default setting being isolation.

In our modern lives it's also common to move house - move suburbs, cities, states, or even countries. This can really disrupt our network of Connection. So if we do it, we need to treat building a new local web of Connection as an important priority - an important project.

3. Limbo is only mildly unpleasant - what we do with it can make it suck! Another of the Five Growth Superpowers is Curiosity. Part of my personal growth practice during the lockdown was to bring this attitude to the experience.

For a long time, we we didn't know when the lockdown was going to end. This put us in a kind of limbo, floating in uncertainty. Certainty is another one of our Nine Human Needs - uncertainty makes us feel unsafe, so it's ripe territory for making a mess of things. By 'making a mess' I mean reacting to an unpleasant experience making it worse, rather than mindfully bringing curiosity to it and responding in a skillful way.

What I noticed was that the unpleasant feelings of limbo were actually a mild form of anxiety or restlessness. If I allowed those feelings to be there and didn't react to them, they'd pass. Next thing I'd know, I was enjoying the smell of the fresh laundry I was folding, or in flow doing a hurdles training session, or sitting down to a yummy home-made dinner. I could enjoy all of these things even with a mild anxiety lurking in the background.

It was really only when I started thinking about the fact that I couldn't plan ahead, and I didn't know when things were going to open up again, that the anxiety came to the foreground. When I allowed the mind to go there it was like pouring fuel on a fire.

So increasingly, when I noticed the mind starting to moan on about being in limbo, I'd just notice that, acknowledge to myself that there was an unpleasantness in it, and allow the mind to move on...which it naturally did if I let it!

Personal growth is a commitment to bring curiosity, courage, compassion and clarity to our experience - the whole kit and caboodle!

What did you learn about your patterns of experience from lockdown?

P.S. To assess yourself on the Nine Needs for full human flourishing, as well as the Five Growth Superpowers and plan an awesome fulfilling future for yourself, check out the Flourish Life Assessment here.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Mindfulness & Personal Growth


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Mindfulness is all the rage these days. That's mostly a good thing. I'd like to say a bit about the important role it plays in personal growth. But first, let's get clear on the terms mindfulness and meditation.

Meditation The word meditation tends to conjure up images of sitting on a cushion with your eyes closed. There are some common myths about what we’re supposed to be doing while sitting there, but the frequent assumption seems to be that we’re trying to calm our minds. Often this involves banishing thoughts, which turns out to be a pretty tough ask!

There are practices aimed at this, but that is just one aim among several. It’s only part of the story.

Meditation practices fall into two broad types. Let’s borrow from the Buddha and call them the two wings of personal growth.

Wing 1: Serenity The first wing includes practices aimed at serenity, that is, calming the body-mind. I use the term body-mind here because the body and mind are so interconnected that calming one, calms the other. A very common practice of this kind is paying attention to the breath,but it includes any practice that attempts to focus your mind on something.

Calming the mind is super helpful, partly because it dials down the stress in our lives, but also because it helps us with the other half of the story….

Wing 2: Insight The second wing includes practices aimed at gleaning insights about our experience, or our patterns of experience. They help us answer the question: what’s going on here. By here I mean in our inner world  our mind activity, emotions, and body. Many of these practices allow thoughts to go on, but bring curiosity to them to see and understand our own processes.

A lot of people start meditating because they want to reduce the stress in their lives. That’s great…. except if we adopt the idea that ‘good meditation’ is thought-free, calm meditation, we can judge ourselves badly when our mind is busy. Or worse  we can give up! Instead, try thinking of a 'good meditation' as one where you genuinely did your best to pay attention with curiosity and compassion.

By compassion I mean empathy, good will, and a desire to help. So if what you find is some kind of stress, or even distress, direct care towards yourself as you would a good friend, and just acceptthat what's coming up is coming up. We actually have no say in what arises a lot of the time. So allow it to be there and know that even if it's not pretty, it's probably your mind's attempt to protect you in some way.

And if you're seeing it clearly, then that's REALLY GOOD PRACTICE! So it’s important to know about, and be able to draw on practices from both wings (serenity and insight), so that if our mind’s not calming down, we have other options at our fingertips.

Also, if we only stick with serenity practices, we can miss out on building our insight  we need both wings to fly. More on that in a sec…

MINDFULNESS Strictly speaking, meditation is not just sitting on a cushion watching our breath. It’s the practice of bringing awareness and an attitude of curiosity and compassion to our experience, whatever that is.

This includes what we find on the cushion and off of it. Indeed, in the only teaching the Buddha gave about meditation (yep, out of the 5,434 recorded dialogues of the Buddha, only one of themwas about meditation practice!) he included all of our physical and mental activities as things we can focus our attention on in meditation. Focusing on the breath is just one possibility.

In today’s language though, the word mindfulness has come to mean awareness of our experiencesin daily life.  So, essentially, the two terms could be used interchangeably. We’ll use them this wayfor clarity:

Meditation = bringing awareness, curiosity and compassion to our experience in formal meditation (dedicated periods of sitting, walking or lying-down meditation)

Mindfulness = bringing awareness, curiosity and compassion to our experience in daily life (all experience outside of those dedicated meditations)

Their importance to personal growth Personal growth is about changing the way we receive and respond to the world  the way we experience it and act in it. To make changes, we need to see the process of our experience in detail. If we don’t know how it works, we’ll have a huge amount of trouble changing it.

The problem is, we live such busy lives these days, and have so many entertainments and distractions readily available, that we’re unlikely to see much of the detail unless we deliberately slow down and look. We need to slow down, because speed and mindfulness just don’t go together! This is why it’s important to join PAR (People Against Rushing).

For example, let’s say one of my personal patterns is that I get reactive if I’m ever seen to be wrong. If I’m not mindful of this experience, when someone questions my view on a topic, I can getdefensive, argumentative, maybe even unpleasant  perhaps belittling the other person.

However if I bring mindfulness to this I might see that this is a personal sensitivity that’s emerged in my body-mind from my family history. I’d see the association I have between being wrong and being seen as un-intelligent, or lacking credibility. I’d see the fear I have associated with these judgments because of my past experience that left me feeling disconnected and unimportant when Iwas ‘shown up’ as wrong. I’d see my fear around the human needs for Connection and Belonging  that’s where my pain is. This is insight!

As I grow, I’d recognise this as it happens, and with time and practice I’d be able to cultivate a different response  different thoughts, different behaviours, and methods of soothingthe outdated fears that have been stored as emotional memories.

There’s a lot of seeing and recognising going on here isn't there?! Mindfulness and meditation are essential tools for this. Without them, wejust continue our habitual reactive patterns.

So if you haven't already, I’d encourage you to start on the path of meditation and mindfulness yourself. With meditation you might want to start with a 15 minute meditation twice a week - someresearch shows thatas little as 12 ½ minutes can yield some stress-relief benefits!

You don't need candles or incense, and don't get hung up on which practice to use. Just find a quiet space where you won't be interrupted. Sit so that you're relaxed but alert. Try anything and notice how that is for you. There are loads of guided meditations available on the internet (one of my favorite apps is insighttimer.com) or you can try simply counting your outbreaths, and when you lose focus, just start again. You can try focusing your attention on sounds for one meditation, feelings in the body in another, or just let your mind roam and try to notice where it goes and what it does.

Whatever you do, if you're paying attention to your experience with an attitude of curiosity and compassion for yourself, then you're meditating. It'll be patchy at first, for sure. Expect that. It's no problem. Mindfulness is a habit, it'll take time for the mindfulness muscle to grow. Just accept it as it is, and keep going.

You might want to start a meditation journal and note down what each experience is like (what youremember of it). The goal is to build up your own toolkit of meditation practices so that over time you can develop skill in deciding which is most helpful for you in this moment.

With the more general mindfulness practice, simply try and bring the same thing to everyday experience. Whether that's your work, doing the dishes, interacting with people, your exercise or sport, your socialising - just pay attention with curiosity and compassion.

Soon we'll be releasing some short videos on common meditation myths, an overview of practices, and a simple 'how-to' - we'll let you know as soon as they're ready. Remember you can download a beautiful and FREE PAR card here. 

Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook Page to let us know how you go.