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Living with CFS - establishing a baseline of activity

This has been THE most useful exercise for me as I progress through the illness. A baseline of activity is a level of activity that allows you to exist with ease, i.e. you have a stable routine that doesn't leave you completely wrecked, allows you to have a normal sleep pattern, or otherwise cause you to experience anxiety that can't be easily processed. You're looking for a level of activity that leaves you with a sense of 'I can cope with this.'

The baseline of activity doesn't have to consist of much and indeed my baseline is quite basic. It involves an activity in the morning, an activity in the afternoon, and an activity in the evening (when I say activity I mean something that is not resting, I don't mean hiking up a mountain). I also try to schedule some 'outside' time once a day even if I don't feel like it. In between activities, I have different modes of resting - cup of tea resting, radio resting, TV resting (not for long), meditation resting, sitting outside resting, staring into space resting, and so on. At some point, as I live in my baseline routine, I establish a level of existence that gives me a sense that I'm recovering and not making my symptoms worse, while at the same time being active.

It's not easy to live a baseline existence. I've had to cut a lot out of my life - working, socialising, doing anything that requires commitment, most activities that require concentration, exercising rigorously, indeed, many activities that are deemed normal everyday things. It seems extreme to live like this but it could not be any other way. After struggling to accept this as my baseline, I realised that this was all I could do to feel OK. Thankfully I have had sufficient support in my life to do this. It's also worth remembering that this is the baseline - this is the starting point for beginning again.

Living at a basic level for a while and knowing that you can sustain this basic level is a tremendous source of confidence. Once you've done it once and seen it work then you always know that there is a level of living that doesn't cause you harm and that allows you to start rebuilding your life. It becomes a safe haven in your mind, a place of being OK, and this is invaluable as you go through the ups and downs of the illness. You always know in your heart that you can be OK.

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Ingredients

3 carrots, cut into chunks
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1 clove of garlic, mashed
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Method

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Here is a diagram of the Jhana states as they are generally explained. The first row consists of the Jhanic factors (I have compressed the first two, applied and sustained thought, into one called "Settled mind" to make the diagram more consistent). The second row are the first four Jhanas, and the bottom row are the formless states of mind. (If you click the image, it gets bigger).



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Generally, I like to use these states not as a list of achievable things but as a conceptual map of what is possible with the mind. As you meditate, it can be useful to incline the mind towards contentment and wide open space rather than simply counting 10 breaths. Even though the depth of the actualized Jhana states is tremendously profo…

Meditation is simple

Here are the simplest instructions I know for meditation. It's a good place to start:

1. Find somewhere quiet and comfortable.

2. Pick something you want to rest your mind on: your breath coming in or out; staring (eyes half down) at an object; listening to a steady sound. As you breathe in and out, maintain relaxed attention on the object. Maintain attention on the object as you breathe in, as you breathe out and during the gaps in between.

3. Your mind will wander off.

4. Cultivate a laissez faire attitude to what is going on. Let things come and go. Return to gently to your object.


Do this for 10-15 minutes to begin with. Observe any relaxation that may occur: your body giving way, the mind calming.

From here, you can begin to investigate what is happening, but this is where you start.

A nice exercise in whole body awareness

It all starts with the body. Your body is your greatest asset.

Take a seat somewhere. Go inside your body and take a relaxing breath. Become aware of your body. Start at the feet and then expand from there. Sense your awareness of the body growing - become aware of the feet and legs; then feet, legs and torso; then feet, legs, torso, arms and hands. Have a sense of energy growing through the body.

Finally, as you breathe, hold your entire body in awareness - feet, legs, torso, arms, hands and head. Feel into a sense of openness and clarity. Notice any blockages in the flow of openness. Then enjoy three or more clear breaths. Nothing outside the present moment, you and your body.

During the day: try it standing up, or in everyday situations. Notice what undermines your attempts to do the practice.

Quick fix: attempt one full body breath before you begin your next task. Do it as often as you can.

How do I fix myself with mindfulness

This appears to be a common pattern. We do our mindfulness course expecting to be transformed, we feel a bit better on the course, a week after the course we find that nothing has changed. There's also the case of people who have been doing meditation for ages and yet they still feel as depressed and angry as they did when they started.

So then, what is going on?

The mind is a tricky beast. It is used to taking action and seeing immediate results. Mindfulness is more subtle than this. It is about seeing the relationship between body, feelings, mind and thoughts and how they come and go. There is no explicit result to be found, just an on going relationship with the thing that is us. However, the longer we observe ourselves the more likely we are to see wisdom arising. That is to say, we begin to see what is beneficial and what is harmful to us. We begin to take responsibility for ourselves and our own happiness - we are no longer simply victims of circumstance. We know what we nee…

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I like to have a crack at this every now and again because my appreciation of it seems to change as the years go by. This time I'll do it through a series of questions.

How do I know I'm being mindful?
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Is that it?
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Why does it come and go?
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