I assume that anyone reading this material is seeking some change. The inverted tree can be helpful here. The material on the inverted tree and body scanning will not be of interest to anyone wanting to stay the same.
To organise my own material I am using the key-words SPACE, TIME, BODY and SPIRIT as headings.
All of us have bodies occupying a given space and time, with a past, present and future. When and where we are born, and our place in our community, all shape our identity; beliefs and experiences. indeed, Dan Siegel suggests that each and everyone of these elements shape our ‘Mind’ (a tricky word to define!).
If I can mangle Einstein’s observations: our bodies distribute energy, and our relationships tell our bodies where to go. The whole process shapes the world we believe to be real.
Humans appear to be highly driven or motivated to remain alive. To do that seems to require something I will call spirit.
Humans are not trees. The way we move into tomorrow is worth examination!
So let’s begin with a key visual from my header:
AN EXPERIMENT for a starter
What sense, if any, do you make of this diagram?
Did you gather any information when you read about the scenic route safe experiment on my Welcome page? If so, recover it now. If not, make a return visit and have a go now. Both safe experiments are intended to illustrate ‘typical’ nudge.
What are you first reactions to the diagrams?
When you’ve gathered some of your own thoughts about it, be aware of any feelings or sensations that you notice. Feelings and sensations provide potentially very important results as you will see in other parts of this web site.
Label these results “My First Body Scan” and keep them in a safe place. I think you may find it helpful to add a second, third etc over time. This information provides an important example of the small, safe experiment of ‘just noticing‘.
When you have something written down, then please read on.
Make your sense from [potential] nonsense
That’s one reason for writing down your immediate reaction – feelings of excitement, rejection, love or hate; those experiences are likely to change unpredictably.
This diagram of the inverted tree hints that we can dwell on the past and anticipate many strands in our future. Today, the potential direction may be varied, but we can only follow one at a time – so which is to be! Who decides? You, your partner, your parents, your boss or the person next door?
Because humans can remember and construct things, a lot of our time is spent in yesterday and tomorrow. Often this is at the expense of today.
We are wired to make sense of our history and our future. Sadly, we may take more time to worry about that, rather than planning and getting on with shaping it. It is possible to become depressed about what we did not do in our past, and worry about our inability to put it all straight tomorrow.
As we make that link between past, present and future, we create a Script for our life – a story – often called a ‘narrative’. This story ‘explains’ to ourselves why our ‘today’ emerged from our ‘yesterday’. That same story speculates on what is likely to happen tomorrow. This may create continuity and meaning: or confusion.
One definition of a human being is a meaning-making creature
Sadly, that search for meaning is not always very helpful.
It is not helpful when we interpret the past in one way only – particularly if it is a way that promotes negative or depressed feelings in us. It is equally unhelpful when we project into the future and become weighed down by the possibilities. Other times, we may see only one or two possible outcomes, and miss other intriguing possibilities.
Sometimes we can see many outcomes – so many that we become anxious about the actual result. It is too easy to worry about the many possibilities, and fail to adjust to the actuality.
Meditative traditions – Yoga, Mindfulness and martial arts provide small, safe experiments by encouraging us to be ‘present’, in the here-and-now. That is rather more difficult to do in practice and there is a cost when we do it. Bills still have to be paid and relationships maintained – with our family and friends and our work-place.
The inverted tree infers that it may help to take the past as a ‘given’ – a way to inform today’s actions only. In doing so, you are now, at this moment, playing an active part in generating your future – your ‘new normal’. You can always change it again, if necessary.
For example, I am a product of the 1940’s and 1950’s and I would be a different Robin had I arrived fifty years before or fifty years after. A brief view of modern British TV – Downton Abbey, War and Peace or Poldark – demonstrate this point even though each is a drama – a fiction. When I watch 21st Century programmes such as Inspector George Gently, Call the Midwife or Endeavour, I realise that, in the UK, in my life-time, the laws on capital punishment, race relations, abortion and homo-sexuality have altered considerably. With them have come visible changes in attitudes even if a lack of compassion has shifted its attention elsewhere.
A FIRST EXPERIMENT: a gateway to so many more
Stop reading this web page for a minute and find a place to sit comfortably.
As you do so, start a fundamental experiment – to think about your breathing! Use CONTROLLED BREATHING so your in- and your out-breaths are more even – gentle but a little longer than normal. The in-breaths, taken only through your nose, and the out-breaths, taken to a slow count of three. If that is a practical help, consider the phrase: thinking-about-breathing. As we breathe constantly, and there are only 24 hours in a day, most often we go on auto-pilot to stay alive.
This attention to breathing can provide a focus for some helpful small, safe experiments. Therefore, it is a vital experiment to get us up and running. When we stop for this brief moment and ‘think about breathing‘, we are automatically changing our behaviour.
That is a most simple experiment provided you notice what happens as you make that alteration.
There is no experiment without noticing the result (or outcome)
SO TO CONTINUE A EXPERIMENT
After a short period of time, say, just 30 seconds of CONTROLLED BREATHING, complete a BODY SCAN and note the ‘result’. What is the Body Scan?
A body scan involves attending to any thoughts, feelings or sensations you notice inside your body. Do this body scan systematically; as you think-about-breathing notice your thoughts, then your feelings and, in due time, attend to any sensations, e.g. in your feet – any hot, cold, tingling, stiffness, soreness etc. Slowly move your attention up your body until you reach the top of your head.
This may be familiar experiment to any-one used to meditation methods. That said, most instructors in meditation are likely to encourage you to notice the moment-by-moment changes, and not fight to hold on to them. For my part, I’m asking you to record all that you notice, as soon as you can – even as you go along with the Body Scan.
If you are not being distracted by the outside world, and you have relaxed enough to notice what your body is doing, it is highly likely that you will be able to discern small experiences; a yawn and a gurgling stomach are common. A persistent thought, an itch; some warmth or cold somewhere would be normal. A smell, a tightness of your chest or muscles or the feel of your clothes on your body, sitting in the material on your chair are pretty unavoidable.
It does not matter what you notice, but now you have become aware of an experience. It was probably around before, but now you are just noticing it. That’s a result. Write it down.
Under other circumstances, you may not have noticed such ‘small’ experiences. So make a note of the significance of what you are noticing: a gurgling tummy may say you are hungry, or relaxing, a tight chest may say you are not as relaxed as you thought you were, and so on. You can scan from top to bottom, or bottom to top, as you want!
Notice …. just notice. If you feel impatient you may well ask if you’ve found it a useful experience. Later on I will refer to this common tendency to be impatient and seek to hurry on in life. Have you got impatient with my blog yet!! For now …. can you do the safe experiment that is just slowing down yourself, NOW. Slow your breath, slow your movements, slow your talk with other people, slow your thoughts by watching them travel in and out.
A FOLLOW-UP EXPERIMENT: Return to a more relaxed state by the CONTROLLED BREATHING I have just described. As you continue to close your eyes, and reduce your rate of breathing, you may notice an improvement in your own ability to go ‘inside’ yourself.
This time, when you are ready to do the body scan, attend to your thoughts only. Inside our heads there is a constant ‘INTERNAL DIALOGUE‘. We talk to ourselves all the time (though best not do it out loud too much). Write down your present and immediate thoughts. Then, in your own time, add a new thought with this uncompleted question:
“In view of what I now know, the one small thing I can do differently this afternoon/morning/evening is …….. “
Write your answer down as briefly as possible. When tomorrow comes, note down the outcome of the one small thing you chose to do differently. This – the outcome – is a vital part of experimenting.
Sometimes we think doing nothing will help us over a hump in our lives. Indeed, it can – as long as we do not use this small, safe experiment as the answer to all, and everything. Any one experiment is merely a ‘one-trick’ pony. Progress requires many small, safe experiments linked together.
Keeping a record can help sustain those links. Maybe, by the next day, you will have forgotten today’s intentions, so a link is lost or broken. Often the unpredictable is pushed away – just an odd thing, a coincidence. Like many TV detectives, I do not believe in coincidences; too easily they can become a lost opportunity.
That said, not doing something can provide helpful information. It invites the question ‘why‘ and a more useful question “what do I want to do about this outcome“. Maybe it will be easier next time around. Maybe you’ve noticed something you needed to do beforehand; some small step that needs to be identified before you can progress further.
Making such changes is a key part of re-designing your experiments. It may be helpful to re-do it if you are going to get a noticeable outcome you can work with. If you completed the experiment, maybe you were chuffed (that’s a small victory). All this, and anything else you can recall about the ‘result’ is relevant information to note down.
Review your notes and results again later. Consider what you can about your readiness, now, to make other small, visible changes in your life. How easy, or difficult, does it appear to do this? A specific area that you might want to consider is your ‘Stroke Economy’.
If it feels daunting, how might you re-design even smaller steps into the experiment to make a change more likely.