The Crazy Chimp

Hello December ūüôā hope you are all enjoying some peace and calm in the run up to the Christmas holidays. What a perfect time to talk about the crazy chimp…

I am reading a book someone recommended me to called, The Chimp Paradox, by Prof Steve Peters, an English psychiatrist who works in elite sport. I am probably only 10% in, but the premise of the book is that our minds are basically operated by two key drivers. Our human and logical self and then an emotional chimp. That in itself sounds crazy, however, it is a simplistic and brilliant way in helping us to understand and manage the way our minds work. 

It is one of those books that you relate to so much that you find yourself nodding or saying out loud how much you agree with it. So relatable and so relevant to our every day thinking and behaviour.

In my meditation recently I have been reminded of the sense of self and the fact that we all interact and experience through our own perceptions. Through the practice of meditation it can become possible to see yourself separately, so that you are almost getting a birds eye view a situation to see that your own perception is often skewed. When you can detach from a situation in this way on a day to day basis, you become much more able to see the perceptions of others in the same way. It isn’t that one person is necessarily wrong or right over another, it is just their perceptions are different. We each come from our own place of thinking, feeling and experiences.¬† However, understanding this and considering the theory that Steve Peters outlines in his book about the chimp and the way that ‘it’ operates, means you can begin to interact with others in a totally different way. You begin to think and, therefore, act, more on, ‘what is’, rather than what you ‘think’, is. Two very different things; the latter coming from your own skewed perception of what is, which you learn is controlled by the crazy emotional chimp.¬†

Meditation breathes space, not just into the moments you are practising, but throughout your day. Allowing for pause where you would ordinarily respond and enabling you to consider how to respond to someone or perceive a particular situation. Your perception becomes based on fact, rather than fiction – which is created by our chimp running the show.

When we are present we are not acting on emotion (which is truly what the chimp controls) and causing a REaction. Being present allows us to respond instead or sometimes just choosing not to respond at all, indeed, there is great power in silence. 

Having the choice is the key. We do have control over our perceptions and the way in which we interact with others and experience our world, once we realise how our minds work and our thoughts and perceptions are formed. It doesn’t matter what our understanding is now, or even if we never reach a point of understanding, simply meditating will unravel an inner understanding all of it’s own…we just have to begin and I quote my sister who said, ‘be where your feet are planted.’ The only place that can be is here and now, in the present moment.¬†

[I’ve had this image for years…bought for a website project I was doing at the time. It depicts being free…when you walk through the door that meditation opens, freedom awaits you on the other side…]

noticing the transition

If you meditate regularly you’ll most likely sit and practice for a set period of time each day. This might be just a few minutes, half an hour¬† or maybe more. We see this as our ‘meditation practice’ and a specific time when we sit to do that.

I was reminded recently about the transition from meditation practice and into daily life.

When I talk to other people about practising mindfulness during their day, it’s simply about bringing your awareness to the present moment and noticing. Noticing the sights, sensations and sounds around you as they are happening.

This morning, as I finished meditating, I noticed the transition. The point at which I stopped meditating and opened my eyes. There is a moment, a split second of transition; from sitting in silence to jumping into life and starting my day. I’m up and moving. I make the bed, go into the bathroom, brush my teeth, take a shower and on it goes.

What if there is no transition. What if I don’t ‘finish’ meditating and instead, open my eyes and continue on in my day being mindful – as if performing a moving meditation.

Now I know it is impossible to meditate continually while going about your day, and I am not suggesting this at all, unless of course you are Dynamo…[hmm, now there is a thought]…What I am suggesting though is to take the awareness and mindfulness into the rest of the day as much as possible. Erase the transition.

So as you are brushing your teeth, taking a shower, making coffee, walking the dog, driving the car, interacting with others, working and so on, you are mindful. Mindfulness takes some serious practice at the best of times and often means having a cue or reminder to bring your awareness to the present moment. However, if there is no transition then are you still meditating?

Perhaps it is that simple…I like to think so and am going to try that tomorrow…

[Image was taken in Tomales Bay, California on a hazy, warm October afternoon ….the stillness reminds me of meditation practice and then when you start your day you create simply ripples in the water.]

Are you distracted by sounds during meditation?

I doubt there is a single person who isn’t distracted by sound during meditation. Recently, however, I started a meditation course with Sam Harris, which you can find on your app store by searching for Waking Up with Sam Harris.

Even meditating early in the morning you will find you are subject to sounds, whether it be dogs barking, distant traffic or birds singing. I have often meditated on birds singing which I find quite peaceful but add a barking dog or someone leaving their house in a car and I find myself distracted. I’ll bring my focus back to the breath and resume.

Sam Harris teaches that rather than be distracted by sounds, no matter what their origin, to simply focus upon them. Just in the same way that you would the breath.

I was actually surprised at how easy this was and the difference it made. Rather than being distracted by sounds, they simply become a focus of the meditation itself.

Previously I deemed birds chirping to be pleasant, whereas dogs barking to be distracting. Now it doesn’t matter what the sound.

“If you can’t meditate in a boiler room, you can’t meditate.” – Alan Watts

The sound simply permeates consciousness just in the same way breath does. And sound comes and goes, just like the breath does.

So the next time you meditate and hear the kids shouting, dogs barking, cars starting or neighbours chatting, simply focus on whatever sounds come into your awareness and follow them until they disappear.

This totally changes your meditation. Try it.

 

[This image was taken (clearly on the roof of a car!) close to Point Reyes, California – if you can meditate on the top of a car you can meditate anywhere, right?]

He loves me, he loves me not

I wasn’t sure what to call this post and the title of the game, where one person seeks to find out if someone loves them or not by picking the petals of a flower; taking it in turns between he (or indeed she) loves me, he loves me not, seems apt. The line that goes with the last petal picked is the true answer. Oh if life were that simple!

How many times have you wondered whether someone likes you? Not just in a romantic way, but anyone you know. It might be a friend, work colleague, sibling, parent or yes, partner. Are you cursed with the dreaded self limiting belief that people don’t like or love you? This most likely stems from feeling not good enough, but the belief that you aren’t loveable or likeable is one that can completely mar your every day life.

This topic has come up in conversations I’ve had with three different people during the past week and so thought perhaps it was worthy of a little prose.

Just because we believe something to be so, doesn’t make it true. In the case of not being liked, most of the time we are completely wrong in our estimations. However, because we believe it, so to do we think it, which means we feel it and we begin to behave in such a way that we attract it! This cycle of conscious creation is what makes the world go round. The universe does not differentiate between good and bad, it simply is, and so the cycle works just as well for the negative as it does for the positive. What we think we become.

‘What you think you become.

What you feel you attract.

What you imagine, you create.’

– Buddha

Ultimately, this means we end up attracting into our life the very thing we are most afraid of – people not liking us! The problem is that when you grip something too tightly you don’t allow it to flow and often we try too hard. We believe someone doesn’t like us and so we try hard to make them, which only pushes them further away.

I have found in life that the solution is always to be found in the problem and in this case it is simply to let go. It is quite freeing and just in using that word it sounds so light and breezy and easy to do. I realise, however, that the reality of it is very different and many people find it incredibly difficult. The reason? They worry and worrying is what gets in the way and certainly what gets in the way of letting go of the need to be liked or feeling that you are disliked or unloved.

Worry begets worry. The more you worry, the more you will worry.

Practising mindfulness can help, both in terms of breaking the worry cycle and letting go of the belief you are not liked or loved.

Establishing a regular meditation practice is always the foundation of mindfulness practice because it sets you off on the right footing and starts your day in the direction of being more mindful. Even if this starts out as just a few minutes each morning, the benefits are greater than not meditating at all.

To get into the habit of being mindful throughout the day I always suggest cues. My watch reminds me to breathe often, not that I stop breathing of course, but I use these lovely prompts as a reminder to be mindful. It might be on the hour each hour, when your next client arrives or in the case of the problem we are discussing here, I suggest you use your worrying as the cue to be mindful. In this way you are not only practising mindfulness, but you are actually interrupting your worry cycle and over time, with persistent and consistent practice, you will break the habit of worrying. The cue will form a habit and your reward will be breaking that worry cycle and becoming present.

You cannot ruminate over the past or worry about the future if you are present.

Remember, to be present is simply to bring yourself back to now – the moment you are in. Engage all your senses in each moment; what can you smell, hear and feel? The more you practice mindfulness the more you begin to notice and the more your senses heighten.

This doesn’t have to apply to just worrying about whether people like you or not, it can relate to any worry.

Through meditation and mindfulness practice we begin to see things as they truly are, not how we see them. We begin to see that much of our belief about not being liked isn’t true and if it indeed¬†is true, we can choose to move away from that situation or simply not respond.

Truly it comes down to liking and loving yourself first. When you do, the same rules apply. You cannot like yourself and not begin to attract that in others; it’s simply how the universe works – like attracts like after all.

There is a humorous twist on the, ‘love me, love me not’ game, that is, ‘he loves me, he loves me lots’ – let that be your mantra.

 

 

 

Learning to stay [in meditation]

I have found that when you need meditation the most it is the hardest time to practice. Those times when you feel frustrated, stuck, down, off balance, irritated, displaced, angry or sad. It is easy to meditate when life is on the up swing. When you’ve got a spring in your step, feeling balanced, well and healthy, but when your life has taken a downturn and you are feeling generally out of sorts, it can be difficult to sit, even for a minute or two. What to do during these times?

I once listened to a podcast with Tara Brach and she talked about working with people who were extremely challenged when it came to being able to sit and meditate. People who, for a myriad of reasons find it nigh on impossible to be present. She talked about ‘staying’. The moment when you sit and meditate but want to get up again or leave the present moment. Silently repeating ‘stay’ in each moment can help. Even if you are sitting in the present moment for just a minute or two, it is better than not sitting at all.

The key is being present, no matter what you’re feelings. Accepting them in each moment and being present with them, not forcing them away or inviting them in, simply noticing in each moment what you are feeling within your body. Practising kindness toward yourself (which again during these moments can be incredibly difficult) will also help.

‘The wound is the place where the light enters you.’ – Rumi

Tara Brach has a Learning to Stay meditation that I particularly enjoyed. It is only a few minutes long. During this, notice how you feel when you rest your hand on your heart. Notice how your feelings soften toward yourself and how that feels. You might want to move your hand away, but ‘stay’ with it.

Visit the guided ‘Learning to Stay’ meditation on Tara Brach’s website

 

[This image was taken walking on the Conwy Suspension Bridge, once the gateway to Conwy, and the Toll-Keeper’s House, heading into Conwy Castle, Wales.]

How to meditate

In my book, Maldives for the Mind, there is a whole section on how to meditate….which I hope you will read when it is published. For now, I thought I would write a post on that, because after all, it’s one of the most fundamental questions people ask.

Some time ago (2008 to be exact) I went to visit a Buddhist monk a couple of times at his beautiful Japanese garden. Pure Land is just outside of Nottingham, but when you enter the walls, it is as though you’ve gone through the gate to a secret garden and transported somewhere else. Over years and years he has cultivated the garden, working on it every day. It reminded me of meditation practice – the garden representing your mind, where the practice cultivates it every day. Instead of creating plants and trees, you clear space instead and your mind expands and grows.

After walking around the garden, we went into the house and around to the meditation room. Buddha Maitreya teaches a simple mantra; ‘just sit, just be.’ He elongates the word, just, so he will chant…’juuuuuuust sit, juuuuuust be’, in such a soft and rhythmic voice that it is as though you have been hypnotised. Sometimes when I meditate I say that silently to myself.

Meditation is not difficult, but the act of doing it often is. We are not used to sitting and doing nothing. We always have something to gain, an expectation to arrive at or a desire to fulfil. Simply sitting with no expectation does not come easy. Sitting and relaxing does not come easy and as human beings, we tend to gravitate towards what is easy and not what is difficult or uncomfortable.

For this reason I always say, just sit for a minute or two. Otherwise you will find the practice becomes a chore before you have given it time to begin.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. What we do with them is of our own making. You will come up with lots of excuses why you can’t meditate and not having time will most likely be top of your list. Make the time. This is time for you and time to be at peace before the madness of your day begins.

I meditate each morning after my yoga practice (and after a cup of tea in between too). Morning and evening are the best times to meditate because it is when our mind is more open and receptive. It is a time when it is usually quieter too. It doesn’t matter what time of day you meditate, but if you can make time for morning or evening, you will find the practice easier to form a habit.

Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Don’t feel you have to sit in lotus position or cross legged at all. Sit in a position that feels comfortable for you – even if that is in a chair with your feet on the floor. If you need to support your back to be straight for a few minutes, that’s ok too. Sit and settle in for a moment or two. Wriggle around and do whatever you need to do to just be sitting comfortably.

You will most likely find that you are tense or your shoulders sitting far too close to your ears. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose and when you let the breath out through your mouth, allow your shoulders to drop and your body to relax. Do this for several breaths until you feel more relaxed. On a side note this is a good exercise to do if you feel stressed – just breathing in through your nose, breathing out through your mouth and relaxing your body, letting go of tension.

Once you have relaxed a bit, allow your breath to just fall into its natural, even rhythm and start to follow your breath. I don’t mean get up and run after it, I mean just notice it as you breathe in and as you breathe out. Your mouth should be closed and you are just breathing normally in through your nose and out through your nose. Indian sages say your nose is for breathing and your mouth is for eating. This is also how you breathe in yoga too.

You can close your eyes or open them, whatever feels comfortable. I do both. If you open them, have them half open and let your gaze settle to the floor a few feet in front of you.

If you struggle to follow your breath, just count 1 as you breathe in, 2 as your breathe out, up to the count of 10 and start again. You could also say silently to yourself, ‘SO’ on the in breath and, ‘HUM’ on the out breath, or as Buddha Maitreya suggests, ‘juuuuust sit, juuuuust be.’ Something will just resonate with you. Try the counting first and see how you get on. Over time you won’t need the counting, but to begin with, it helps.

One of the biggest myths about meditating is that you are meant to be clearing your mind of thoughts. Let me tell you now, that’s impossible! In Buddhism we refer to the mind as the mad monkey, because it jumps around from one thought to the next.We all think around 64,000 thoughts a day and most often when you begin meditation you will find you have more thoughts than you usually do, or at least you notice more of them. The practice of meditation is to bring your focus back to your breath. If that is literally every other second then so be it.

You will be counting as you breathe and you might get to 2 before a thought pops into your head. Simply notice the thought but take your attention back to your breath – counting again as you breathe in and out, or saying your mantra, ‘so – hum’. There will be times when before you realise it you have been sitting for a few minutes thinking about something that had popped into your head. That’s ok too. Thoughts will lead you off on a rabbit trail. Just notice them and always return your focus to your breath. Again, it is the practice of meditation to bring your thoughts back to the breath – the bringing back is the practice.

People often ask what happens during meditation, when you are focused on your breath. I don’t have a definitive answer for this because it is different for everyone. Let whatever comes up, just be and return your focus to the breath.

If you always remain a beginner you will find you always have something new to learn and meditation will become a great teacher. Be where you are in the moment, just sit, just be, focusing on your breath. Start there.

Buddha Maitreya wrote a little yellow booklet called Poems for Peace and here is a paragraph from one …

SITTING

everything is sitting…

tree is sitting

mountain is sitting

flower is sitting

Meditation is flower

is mountain

is tree

You can find out more about the Pure Land Meditation Centre & Japanese Garden…and Buddha Maitreya at the Pure Land website

[Image copyright Pure Land]

Noticing Joy

Joy is all around you if you notice it.

I had not experienced joy too much in my life. It was one of those fleeting emotions that came and went, but not often and I can’t think I ever really noticed it. It is difficult to experience joy when you are unhappy most of the time. My kids of course have brought me joy and continue to do so every time I am with them. Aside from them, however, joy was always very fleeting.

When I first started yoga, I remember leaving a class and feeling what I can only describe as being in a bubble of joy. For no reason, other than how the class had left me feeling. I was floating, elated and uplifted. It was so overwhelming that I could hardly contain the feelings and wanted to burst.

Over the years I have come to notice joy more and recently as my meditation seems to have supersized, joy is everywhere. It’s in the sky as I drive along and then when I notice that, I find I turn a corner only to see the sky again from a different perspective and yet more joy. It’s in the kid waiting at the crossing with his mum, doing a funny dance, or the lady hoisting up her dress at the cash machine (ATM) because it got stuck in her underwear (the dress, not the ATM). It’s in the flowers being sold off in the shop because they are dying, but then I get them home and they look like they were picked fresh yesterday. It’s in my garden, as tired, cold and worn out as it looks, hibernating in this freezing cold weather. It’s hearing the son my son is playing on his keyboard or hearing my daughter singing in the shower. It’s the smell of fresh air when I walk out of the house, the stars in a clear sky when I look up to let the dog out at night. Joy is literally everywhere and the more you notice it, the more joy there seems to be to notice. I smile at things throughout the day that before I would never have even noticed. I laugh out loud at things that before I would never have been in a place to laugh about.

Why is this?

The act of noticing something truly enables you to notice more of it, but it is more than that. It is being mindful to notice in the first place. Meditation breathes life into your day and what flutters along with that is joy.

Tomorrow, be mindful. Expect joy….notice joy and experience joy.

 

[Today’s image is my talented nephew, Cory (aka San Francisco hip hop artist, Rezyl Azzir¬†]