I assume that anyone reading this material is seeking some change. The material 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.
So let’s begin by returning to the key visual in my Welcome section.
An early EXPERIMENT
What sense, if any, do you make of this diagram?
Did you have a go at the experiment in my Welcome to you?
Did you gather any information when you read that Welcome? If so, recover it now. If not, have a go now.
What are you first reactions to the diagram? When you’ve gathered some of your own thoughts about it, make a note, also, 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 ‘just noticing‘.
When you have something written down, then please read on.
Be aware that what I am about to say, now, is rather less important than the immediate impact this picture has had on you. It may well prove confusing and, in my experience, it is easier to reject something that confuses us! That’s another reason for writing down your immediate reaction – feelings of excitement, rejection, love or hate; that experience is likely to change.
This diagram – the inverted tree – hints that we can dwell on the past and anticipate many strands in our future; the potential directions we might take (but we can only follow one, so which is to be!).
Because humans can remember and construct things, a lot of our time is spent in yesterday and tomorrow. 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 making it so. 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 story – often called a ‘narrative’ – a story that explains why today emerged from yesterday and that same story speculates on what is likely to happen tomorrow. This may create continuity and meaning.
One definition of a human being is that we are meaning-making creatures.
Sadly, the 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. 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 – encourage 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. Even so, the inverted tree infers that it may be more helpful to take the past as a ‘given’ – a way of informing 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 re-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.
EXPERIMENT: stop reading this Blog 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 out-breaths are more even – gentle but a little longer than normal. The in-breaths, taken only through your nose, and the out-breaths, could be taken to a slow count of three if that is a practical help.
This is a vital early experiment. So what do I mean by ‘thinking about breathing‘? What I mean is that we do not normally think about breathing; we do it on auto-pilot. There is rather too much to do in life than to think about our breathing twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. So, when you do stop for a brief moment and ‘think about breathing‘, you will automatically change your behaviour. That is a most simple experiment provided you notice what happens as you make that alteration.
Remember, please, there is no experiment without noticing the result (or outcome).
CONTINUE THIS EXPERIMENT
After a short period of time, say, just 30 seconds of CONTROLLED BREATHING, complete a 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. Under other circumstances, you may not have noticed such ‘small’ experiences. So consider 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). Consider what your thoughts are and, 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.
Maybe, by the next day, you will have forgotten your intention altogether. Maybe you didn’t do it for some specific reason, or when you came to do it, you reacted in a way you did not expect. 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?
If it feels daunting, how might you re-design even smaller steps into the experiment to make a change more likely.