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Things change - know this well

It never ceases to amaze me how deep the reality of knowing change goes. We might think we know it, but then as we get older it keeps getting deeper and deeper into our view things until it seems totally incredible that we never saw it in the first place. Change messes with our well-being:

- We cannot control our experience
- We rely on constancy
- We are thrilled by change and the havoc it brings
- Our efforts to contain experience bring struggle
- Things happen
- Life goes on because it does

When we experience sudden change first hand, it is like having a hole ripped in our view of the way things should be. We are forced to grow up in an instant and we are left with a pile of disjointed realities. A world of hurt people opens up and our heart is wrenched into a multitude of sorrows. There is no hiding place. We become 'one of those unfortunates'.

How to feel good in the midst of change? That's not so easy. Perhaps that is the wrong question to be asking.

The sun is shining (and other gratitudes)

I am above the water
I have my basic needs met
I have enough
I know what happiness is
I can look after myself
Pleasure is not reliant of circumstance
I have enough to eat
I have enough freedom to relax
I have the chance to begin again

Purify the mind

I'm not going to attempt to explain what purification of the mind is because:

a) it's not simple
b) we have our own idea of what this is

All I know is that when I have a clean, smooth running mind then:

a) I have more energy
b) the days are easier to get through

The trick then is to aim to purify the mind everyday and keep it from getting clogged up and generally muddy. Hold moments of purity and stillness in the mind and then soak them into the body. Use the calm, relaxed body to soak into the mind. Gently move between the body and mind. Focus on the clean sensation of effortless presence and take your next moment from there.

Chronic fatigue - forward, forward, backward, backward

One thing I'm slowly learning is that it takes a long, long time to make progress with a chronic fatigue illness and that any progress you do make can be wiped out in a moment - tricky to live with you might muse. So, we go forwards a bit and then we go backwards a bit, and we have our minds and emotions to deal with. I remember a quote from Thoreau (I might have misremembered) where he states that he was "perfectly ill" - meaning his illness was his illness and it was perfect just the way it was. A lot of the trouble comes with the mind resisting the illness. You know the score: it shouldn't be like this, not this again, I'm not sure I can take much more of this. This is reactivity and makes things a whole lot worse than they should be.

This is the thing to look out for then. Your illness has flared up again - how are you reacting to it? What assumptions has it upturned? Was is it saying about you? What life had you been building around your magical recovery? Ke…

Right mindfulness

Relaxed, attentive, kind, warm awareness.

Not judging.

Awareness that is detached from the actual goings on of my thoughts and bodily sensations - not me, not mine, you beautiful thing.

Awake without seeing.

Onset, struggle, letting go, emptiness and back again

I thought I was making progress but I guess I forgot myself. Here's a list of words that I'm working through right now (having worked through them many times before).

So then:

Onset

Struggle

Yielding

Emptiness

Balance


Why do I struggle so much?

Chronic fatigue and the wheelchair

I've had a problem going for a wheelchair since my illness began - mainly because I was physically fit when I started and the problems I had were all centered around mental fatigue and cognitive failures of various kinds. It also happened suddenly and I thought I could tough it out.

Years later, after not considering the wheelchair option (mainly because I didn't want to admit total defeat), I was on holiday and it was clear that people wanted to do things that I couldn't possibly keep up with, unless I went in a wheelchair. So, I could either stay at home or go along and use a freely available wheelchair. I decided to try it out and I was amazed that I could enjoy going out and about without the usual constant struggle to find resting points or coffee shops - I could just relax and enjoy the ride. This transformed the day for everyone and we all had a good time.

Since then I've used a wheelchair several times and it is generally successful. I can rest and go out at th…

Is your mind inside or outside?

Do you live in a world entirely inside your head? Do your thoughts go round and round? Do you only think about yourself? Or, is your mind open and receptive? Is it expansive? Are you taking in your surroundings? Are you wide like the sky?

I know which one I keep getting stuck in ...

We rely on things staying the same

I didn't really appreciate this until someone told me yesterday. There's nothing wrong in our reliance on things and people being the same as they were yesterday; it's quite comforting. The trouble is that the world we live in seems to be counter to this notion - indeed, we live in a society that is driven by constant change and innovation. No wonder we feel uncomfortable all the time.

The tools of Buddhism

I'm a bit of a scientist and I thought I could science my way through life and somehow deduce a suitable outcome without life getting too bad. However, then I became ill and science let me down really - "you're ill, there's nothing we can do, it's a complex business the human body". I tried a few things and they made me worse (although I am grateful for the opportunity to at least try some treatments). So then, the science let me down.

Once you have no faith that the modern world is going to provide you with relief, you're a bit stuck - there's not much else out there, the system has run out of magic beans. Luckily, I had a casual interest in Buddhism and I gave some of its techniques a try. Here's some of the tools I found particular useful:

- mindfulness meditation
- breathing techniques and meditation (although this goes into yoga)
- concentration meditation - this is particularly healing for a tired mind
- awareness of the body
- awareness of …

Worrying is optional

I've been a worrier all my life and it's always fascinated me to see the amount of things that I worry about. Then, when I became quite ill, I didn't worry about anything and life just seemed to tick along just fine without the extra fretting. Now, as I've recovered a little bit, the old habit patterns are starting to re-emerge and there's a sense of pointless worrying starting to return.

However! I've also deepened my meditation over this time and there's a definite optional nature to thinking these thoughts. They arise, they seem believable, if I am aware enough I leave them alone, something else comes along, I go with that, I try to steer towards calmer waters, and so on.

Don't presume to understand your body

This is some wisdom I could have done with right at the beginning of my illness. There's a kind of implicit assumption when we are well that we are in control of our body - we drink too much alcohol it feels rough, we take pills for pain, we exercise to make it fitter, we feed it, preen it and admire it in the mirror. It's our body. However, when it goes wrong we would do well to respect the healing process that it needs to go through - processes that can take years to complete. It's a hugely complicated organism and we would do well to leave it alone. The body is part of the iceberg that lies submerged beneath out conscious mind - it wears the accumulation of life on the inside. How? Why? Where? Who knows? Some things are not quite within our grasp.

Anyway, as I go through another healing process I am amazed to find the pain in my neck moving (after several days) into my shoulders (and then after weeks) blossoming across my whole back. Clearly, it has its own agenda, and …

Silence and emptiness

Feeling a bit more circumspect today - good days, bad days. One of the great things about Buddhism is that it tackles the idea of emptiness head on and comes up with some joyful results. We are all aware of emptiness to some degree - the sense of pointlessness, that feeling when something terrible has happened and yet life goes on, unacknowledged pain, that kind of thing. It's right there in front of our noses and yet we turn away from it and crack open another chocolate lollipop hoping it will go away.

So then, if we look into the heart of emptiness we find silence and contentment. Emptiness is not nothingness, more like continuous emptying - an empty bowl is still a bowl waiting to do its bowling. We can admire the bowl, use the bowl, keep the bowl clear so it is ready for the next thing.

Give your positive voice some air time

Hello beautiful people. Have a nice cup of tea and relax. It's not so bad. We can measure our lives in many different ways but there is no correct way - everything is good in the end. On and on and on, like rolling stones.

If you are reading this, may your life be filled with happiness.

Catching the good waves

I've been thrust back into the hurly burly of society, and, boy, it's a bruising experience; it's like sitting on a beach being battered by one heavy wave after another. I'm not sure it really achieves much being stuck in this mind-set of stress reactivity and fear. It's kind of mesmerising but ultimately irrational.

Anyway, that's the sludge. Out in the ocean there are good waves to be had and it seems useful to think that each day is a good day inspite of the fact that we cannot have back what is already gone or stop what might never happen and remember that time does not expand to allow us to do everything at once.

There is relief in awareness and joy in the simple act of frying an egg.

Find the happiness in each day

It's in there somewhere.

It's good to remind yourself of this, especially if you're feeling stressed (which we are at the moment) and have lost contact with the idea that there is happiness in life. The best way to connect with happiness is to:

a) practice finding it when life is normal
b) enjoy it when you find it
c) if you've lost it, remember what it used to feel like and then amplify the goose feathers out of it
d) remember, your mind=your life

Chronic fatigue and the afternoon nap

This is something I wanted to write about mainly because I have been struggling with it for a few years. I tend to be a morning person and I like to get out in the mornings to get things done. This leaves me with a long day and, as part of my pacing schedule, it was highly useful to have a good rest in the afternoon. However, after a while I came to see this afternoon rest as something problematic - it was consuming a large part of my day and preventing me from doing things. So, I made various attempts over the years to try and eliminate it and shorten it, but these efforts caused a lot of frustration because I would always feel worse afterwards. Bummer.

Then, over the last few months, I changed my attitude to the afternoon nap and decided to accept it as part of my life - it is a good thing; it refreshes me and gives me a chance to recharge my batteries before the evening. This acceptance has freed me from the struggle and as a result I feel much better in general. Hurray!

I explaine…

Life is a scarring process

Having been in a serious incident recently, it never ceases to amaze me what life will throw up - just when I thought I was getting to point A, a whole new set of difficult conditions blows in to take me away to some unpleasant place. It feels as if this 'being' is getting battered and bruised by circumstance and I have to learn to live with the scars. Perhaps it is my expectation that life should be comfortable that is causing me the most hassle - I don't want to be injured, but injured is what has occurred.

Am I thinking too much? Probably.

Just as it is

Identify the natural poise of being - not forcing, not drifting, but the supple middle ground. Things come, things go. We are up, we are down. Good days, bad days. Life marches on regardless.

Just sit

There's a lot of variations on how to do meditation practice and what to focus the attention on, and this can lead to a kind of overloaded mental approach where the mind is filled with questions. This leads away from meditation. Indeed, what we practice when we sit there thinking is the ability to sit there thinking!

So then, abandon conceptual thoughts and just sit instead. Follow the breath in, follow the breath out. Sit, sit, sit. If you sit for long enough you might be aware of a place in the mind where there is "no language". Aim for "no language" and infuse your whole presence into your sitting posture. Be proud of just sitting. Empty the mind of concepts and let the sitting posture flow through you.

When I am breathing there is just the breath

You might like to try this thought out when you take your next breath, which I am confident will be within the next minute or so. See if you can let go of the person who is thinking the thoughts and be there for the breath - in and out, like a bellows on automatic pilot.

I tried it and managed a momentary fragment of peace.

We are all looking for relief

After putting myself through the mincer for a bit, my thoughts fell upon the word 'relief'. The question was:

Relief from what?

The answer seemed to be:

My mind.

Then I realised that I spend a lot of my life trying to getting relief from one mind state or another and that there's something great about eating a chocolate cake to get some relief but that's a bit like hiding a hole in the wall with a pretty picture.

No peace in stillness

I guess I'm learning that I'm never going to arrive at a place where something is ever finished. I find that with art, with this blog, with meditation, and with my illness situation. Things are just on going. Done is never done, it's just a moment in a process that keeps chugging along. We can't deny that life is happening.

So then, a bit more feel good blogging. The sun, the spiders, and well being from the beginning of time.

Finding happiness even when things are difficult

Life is never easy and I've spent a good long while finding that out for myself. However, that doesn't really seem to be the issue. Assuming that there is a point at which life can be easy seems to be a main cause of the difficulty. Now, this is just a way of thinking (a point of view), and, since thoughts are just our personal play things, we can open ourselves to the idea that if we change our thoughts then lots of other things will change too.

A short breathing meditation experiment

I keep trying to write a final post but I keep coming back for more. Perhaps I should look into that ...

Anyway, here's an exercise I've been doing over the last few days to try and stay connected with a sense of ease in the body and mind:

- Set up a timer for 3 minutes. You can use mine if you want.
- Aim to do 4 breaths a minute. You can either track your progress per minute or close your eyes and do 12 (or less) in three minutes.

That's it. Short and sweet.

A simple practice for feeling good

Follow the breath.

It's not as easy as it sounds, but if you do follow the breath (come what may) then all kinds of things happen - many of them quite pleasant.

Obviously it's a meditation practice but it goes something like this:

- Sit down to meditate, what should I be doing?
- Follow the breath
- Get lost in thoughts, what do I do?
- Follow the breath
- I feel calm, what should I do next?
- Follow the breath

You get the idea. Clearly, you may get overwhelmed by your thoughts, and you may find this advice a bit non-sensical, but there it is. Follow your breath.

Remember,

Cultivate happiness

Winding down

I feel that there's not much more I can add to this blog. I've not found any miracle techniques but then I didn't expect to. It's all down to working with the mind:

Find what makes your mind happy and contented, then stick with it.

Clearly this is not an easy task, but that's my final summary of my last few years. We're all different; some like apples, some like pears, some like brussel sprouts. Our tastes even change as time rolls by. Things come and go and disappear. New things pop up to replace them. It's an endless adventure of change.

Good luck!

Relax the muscles in your face

I've noticed during my many attempts at relaxation that the area of most tension for me is in the face. In an attempt not to have my life etched into my face, here some exercises that I like to do to try and undo some of the tension:

- Firstly, close the eyes and notice the tension in the face and head area. Contrast this with an area of the body where there is less tension - the legs or belly. Notice the difference between tense and unwound. Imagine a tension free face.

- Scrunch your face into a grimace and let it go. Take a breath.

- Open your face in a gesture of amazement and let it go. Take another breath.

- Notice if your face is less tense.

- Quite often (for me) there's a kind of mental fog behind the forehead. This fog manifests in my face as a kind of heaviness. Notice the fog and breathe energy into it. If there's some openness in the body, breathe into the openness and then move that energy up into the head. Then let the effort go.

- Try breathing lightness and ener…

Let go of control

Being in control is one of things we can pride ourselves with, but it's easy to get a bit over the top and try to exert control on things that are basically uncontrollable - this leads to stress, which in turn leads to a draining of energy. This is not good! In this exercise, reign back your natural instincts to get what you want and tell yourself:
- we can't know everything
- we can't stop the things that happen
- we will never get what we ultimately want (it's a kind of mirage)
- life goes on fine even if we are not there
- we can't fix people

So, we learn the skills of patience and appropriate response, and then go with flow.

Would I be a different person if I had been born a week later?

Well, here's a thing to consider if you're wrestling with the Zen koan - 'what is your original face?' Or, the snappier, 'who am I?'

Also worth considering - 'a human birth is an extremely lucky thing'.

Or even, 'who were you before your mother was born?'

'We' are not there. Are we?

Chronic fatigue - what is sensible for me right now?

I ask myself this question a lot and I find it quite helpful when I'm about to do something that:

a) I used to be able to do as a fit person
b) Seems to be stretching myself in my current state

Usually when I ask the question, the answer is generally 'not really' because I know in my heart that I'm pushing myself too hard. It's a kind of a grounding question, bringing me back to reality rather than allowing myself to dwell in a deluded view of myself as I used to be.

This tension between 'how I used to be' and 'how I am now' is an interesting aspect of this illness - perhaps I am still in denial of some kind. Perhaps I always will be, but I guess it is part of life to live with these old versions of our self grumbling away.

Chronic fatigue and having the confidence that bad moments will pass

This is something quite important I think. There are many bad times with chronic fatigue - times that are quite humbling for active, getting-things-done kind of people. Quite often there are periods when things are going well punctuated with sudden collapses in energy for no apparent reason. There's a lot of mental struggle that can happen when it goes wrong yet again, but after a few years I've grown to respect these bad times and let them play themselves out. This "letting go" state of mind helps me more than trying to fight with the symptoms as they get worse and worse. Part of this "letting go" is having confidence that these bad moments will pass.

This confidence or internal faith is an important mental idea and it also crops up in Buddhist psychology as part of transcendental dependant origination. Transcendental dependant origination is a logical set of steps that lead from suffering to enlightenment, with various nice things along the way. The messa…

Who is in charge of who?

It seems fairly clear that there are multiple agencies at work in our minds making us do things in the world. I have a fairly strong intention in my life which goes something like this:

- Keep it steady, don't overdo it, stay within your limits

And, I also have fairly severe feedback if I stray very far from this intention. So you'd think that it's pretty clear that this sensible, take-it-easy chap is the one who is in charge on a day to day basis. However, this is rarely the case. Within minutes (seconds even) of waking up, a whole host of other 'important' voices make themselves heard, and, if I'm not paying attention, I can end up doing things 'I' didn't even really want to do.

Now, here's another thing I've noticed. I might be innocently sitting in a cafe minding my own business when I hear a conversation at the next table that seems innocuous enough. Then I might hear one phrase that triggers something in me and I forget my relaxing intent…

Get out of the head and into the body

We spend a lot of our time in our thoughts without even realising we are doing it. There's nothing wrong with this but we may find ourselves in difficult mental states that seem tyrannical and burdensome without any real way out. Luckily, we are more than just our prefrontal cortex and if we expand our perspective to include the awareness of other parts of our being, then we may find some relief after all.

Here's something to try through out the day:

- Notice: thinking, thinking, thinking.
- Take a deep breath: follow it into the body.
- Relax into the body.
- If you can, notice that the awareness has shifted from the front of your head to a more spacious place.
- Try to hold the spaciousness in the body. How many breaths can you sustain it for?

The difference between being somebody or being nobody

The brain (and mind) is a multi-modal machine that is capable of operating in different ways and being many different people. It's greatest trick is that when we are being a certain way we don't even realise it; we think this is the way we always are. That's how delusion operates.

One powerful delusion is the sense that 'I' exist and that 'I' control how 'my' life is. Now, this person requires a lot of energy to 'be' in the world - we kind of pause reality and route it through a tight mental contraction that says 'does this affect me' or 'how am I looking' or some other self reflective cognitive filter. Mostly we have enough energy to sustain this without even thinking about it but, when our energy falters, this surge of mental effort can be quite tormenting.

So, what to do instead? There's no easy answer other than to find the place where you don't need to be anybody and recognise what that feels like (spend some time…

Some simple meditation intention instructions

Meditation is quite an interesting skill to master; one day we might be in the groove, the next day we might be all over the place. It seems that we are easily blown around by what happens in everyday life and, since there is an act of remembering about meditation, we easily forget what we are supposed to be doing, especially when we haven't needed to remember for a while.

Here's a few simple pointers that help me reset my intention when I've lost my way:

Remember:

- Abandon bad mind states (and avoid them)
- Cultivate good mind states and stay in the good ones. (Don't feel guilty about it, it's the right thing to do).
- Open the forehead, cultivate spacious mind, and relax the body.

I can usually find my back from there. You can also try gladdening the mind, but I'll talk about that some other time - it comes under cultivating the good.

(Note, the first two point comprise the four right efforts of Buddhism).

Does meditation help with chronic illness?

Well, I'd say a definite yes. As we go through our life, our bodies and minds get bent out of shape. We hold stress contracted in our muscles and thought patterns that have adapted to cope with life. This chronic stress depletes us and, if we are unfortunate enough to fall ill, everything comes home to roost - the body has nothing left, and what we used to rely on (energy, our youth, being tough, working till we drop, worrying things to death) doesn't work anymore. So then, meditation is coming home, unravelling our bent out of shape lives. It allows us to taste a different sense of who we are - relaxed, spacious, flexible, patient - qualities that help out minds to come to terms with a long, life altering illness.

Good decision

Whatever you decide, give yourself this feedback. If any other feedback enters the mind, then gently replace it with this feedback instead. If something comes to your attention that seems to undermine your original decision, accept it, and then gently remind yourself that it was a good decision when you made at the time.

Or keep it simple:

always, good decision

Simple common sense nutrition tips

I'm not a nutritionist but here's what helps me feel a little bit perkier and it also helped me to lose two stone in weight over a few short months.

- Avoid sugar. This will smooth out sudden drops in energy level once the benefit of sugar has passed.It's generally considered to be a bad guy by those who know.

- Avoid wheat. It interferes with digestion and absorption of food. Also, you'll eat less bread (very salty) and commercial cakes as a result.

- Avoid caffeine. It messes with my system big time. Let your body perk itself up naturally.

- Avoid alcohol. It has its place but not when you're looking after your body.

- Buy a blender / smoothy maker. This has increased my vegetable intake considerably - especially beetroot.

- Plan all your meals. This will make it easier to stick to a healthy diet.

- Eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. Turn yourself into a goat (basically). I try to have a balanced meal with protein and starch for food combining reasons.C…

Have some alternative thought sequences ready

Mindfulness is the big pyjamas when it comes to observing the mind and trying to steer it in a different direction. However, seeing your own relentless thought patterns is one thing and changing them is another; it's not easy and requires dedication and effort. It's good to come well prepared with some alternative thought sequences to help salve the annoying, contracted, obsessive thoughts that roam through our heads. Here's a few I like to try:

1. Go neutral. You see someone, you judge them, the mind revs up, your mindfulness notices, you introduce some neutral statements. I am breathing, the car is red, the sun is warm, the wall is full of bricks; that kind of thing.

2. Let go. You're driving along, someone cuts you up, pushes in, you want instant revenge, your mindfulness reminds you that it never does you any good, you let it go. Say 'yes', 'it's OK', 'I forgive you', 'this is the way it is'.

3. Be unconditional and expansive. A fam…

The mountain pass

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We can't always see what lies ahead. Sometimes we have to trust.

We are never more than one thought away from happiness

If you buy into the fact that our minds go round in endless loops driven by sense contact and thoughts, then it's only a short step to believe that one thought (or sense contact) can change the whole shape of our minds in an instant. (Indeed, it seems that the consumer world is driven by this desire to find pleasure in an instant). We might like to try this "pleasure in an instant" experiment for ourselves:

1. We are feeling glum.
2. Everything looks glum. It's cloudy, we're chronically ill, we have nothing to do.
3. We go to the shop. Someone smiles at us, we smile back. Things are looking up. There's a change.
4. We walk down the street. We meet a friend and they are generally nice to us. The change gathers momentum.

And so on. Nothing changes in the world but some pleasant interactions have done something to our mood.

Now, the trouble is, that random chance for mood enhancement is a bit random, but if we go looking for it or try to force pleasant sense contact t…

Chronic fatigue - the going backwards state of mind

Chronic fatigue is an up and down illness, probably because something is wrong with the body - like a broken car, we can drive it around if we are careful but then at some point smoke starts pouring out of the bonnet and we know it's time to stop. One of the psychological difficulties I find hard is when it all starts going backwards after a sustained spell of seeming progress. When this combines with some other difficulty in your life, it can feel quite challenging to maintain a compassionate perspective on things. All the demons come out; all the regrets, the guilt, the remorse, the 'what could have beens', like an endless litany of demoralising home truths - this is what I call the going backwards state of mind. Couple this with feeling like poo and it's a fairly challenging set of conditions.

I find I have two options - I can face the gruelathon until the storm blows out - going backwards feels like this, but it's nothing personal. Or, I can hope I have enough e…

Life - this is what it's like

I'm a great fan of meditation and learning about mind states through the medium of the Buddhist dharma (the teachings of Buddhism). Of all the things I've learned about coping with illness, these dharma teachings provide something useful and positive to try, while at the same time respecting that being ill is an incredibly difficult process. There are lots of sites where you can listen to teachings and build up some knowledge and practices. Anyway, one message that comes up from time to time goes like this:

1. We are experiencing something difficult, like anxiety.

2. It's not very pleasant. We experience a lot of reactivity and difficulty with it.

3. It will not go away. We cast around for some other strategy to deal with it and we remember - it's like this. Anxiety (or whatever) is like this.

4. Now we have a perspective that is outside our difficult state. We are watching it. We observe - this is what anxiety is like. It's like this. When anyone gets anxious, th…

The Buddhist washing machine

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This is my attempt to bring some clarity to a part of Buddhist psychology that caught my attention and opened a window into something I'd been pondering about for a while - namely, why do we become what we think? Also, why does a difficult thought lead to even more difficult thoughts? I've used the honeyball sutta as my basis and added a feedback loop.

So, I've been itching to do a diagram and here it is:




1. Imagine we start from a clean, neutral position (sometimes we wake up like this, or we can get there by using meditation techniques). Nothing is going on, there is stillness. 

2. We hear a sound (or other sense impression). In Buddhism this is called contact - there is the object (the form) and our corresponding consciousness that is generated by contact with the form. A sound is heard.

3. The sound is either pleasant, unpleasant or neither. We don't think about this - it's an instinctive reaction. This is called feeling tone.

4. Along with feeling tone comes perc…

Focus on the space in your head

This is a good exercise to do if your head is a bit foggy or contracted. It's also quite a good one for deepening meditation, especially when you get to the point where you want to switch from 'trying' to meditate to clarity and spaciousness. So, what is it?

1. Take a moment and then close your eyes.
2. Connect with your breath going in and out for a few moments. Be aware of your breathing.
3. Now focus your attention on your head; the muscles in the face, and the flow of energy inside your skull as your breathe.
4. Relax any tension in the head.
5. Notice any space there might be in the head and connect with the feeling of spaciousness. Space seems empty and refreshing. Connect with the feeling of clarity.
6. Do this clarity attention for a few minutes.
7. Now, focus on the space in the middle of your head. It might feel clogged up, and if this is the case just imagine the breath coming in and cleansing that space. Keep focusing on the space and cleaning out any fog that …

Connect with your psoas muscle

The psoas muscle is right at the core of your body running down from behind the belly button to the hips. It's quite an interesting muscle because it used by your body in stress response and while contracted it has a distorting effect on your posture and leads to subtle energy usage. For many years while under stress, I had trouble with front thigh numbness which I now believe to be caused by a constantl;y tight psoas muscle. The only unfortunate thing about the muscle is that it's not easy to sense because it's right in the middle of your body.

One easy way to stretch this muscle is to lie on the floor and bring both knees to the chest. Then allow one leg to straighten out on the floor. This stretches one side. Now repeat the exercise by bringing both knees to the chest and allowing the other leg to straighten out on the floor. Co-ordinate these movements with your breath and you will have quite a nice relaxation exercise.

Another way to relax this muscle is to imagine the …

More methods to deal with a contracted mind and compulsive thinking

There are many things I have tried over the years to stop myself going wrong. Here's a selection of ways that I like to try when I want to break the contracted mind state:

1. Stay with the breath for 10 breaths. This requires some effort and little bit of forcing, but it can break through habitual thinking.

2. Total mindfulness of the body, including the head. Observing the tension in the head and the clarity of the mind - are there blocked places?

3. Get the mind to hear sounds as a continuous flow at the bottom of the head - in one ear and out of the other. Useful once the mind is a little bit open, but listening to music in this way can be a good way to begin.

4. Remain still until the body shakes out the tension - this usually means keeping the mind out of its habitual mode of operation and focusing on the body as a mountain occupying space. There's a kind of reversal in the mode of thinking that goes on - like reversing the current. Things go the other way.

5. Find somewhere e…

Chronic fatigue - what is your relationship to your illness?

There are the symptoms and effects, and the way we relate to them. Ask yourself, what is my relationship?

The struggle, the fight, the hopelessness, the denial, the friend, the destroyer, the wake up call, the gift, the dance, the anger, the bringer of truth, the master, the king that crushes, the teacher, the enemy, the unwanted guest. We can be any of these things.

Chronic fatigue - letting go of outcomes

I may have written about this before but it keeps coming up in my daily life as I try to get things done. Invariably, 'trying' when you're ill quickly leads to a situation where you know you're doing something that isn't helping you but you do it anyway because 'you have to'. On the flip side, if I don't think about what I'm doing and just do things then I do get things done but without the sense of struggle.

So then, what's going on here? Well, quite a lot, and it all seems to center around the interaction between the body and the mind. When I want to get something done this creates a goal in my mind (an outcome), a mental objective that is posed and held in the multi-layered areas of my thinking. I have thoughts like: 'I need to get this done then it's out of the way', 'I need to do this, this and this', 'it will be great when I get this done', and, like it or not, my mind can't stop thinking about it (even when …

Positivity - an introduction

So then, here's a big topic. As part of being ill, I was instructed to stay positive and look on the bright side. This seemed quite difficult given the list of challenges I was facing but I'm not one for giving up before trying it out first. So I tried being positive and noticing positive things that happened in my life but it all seemed a bit fake and I struggled with it for a while - yes, the sun is shining but what about the wreckage of my life.

Then, after hanging round some positive people, I realised that 'me' trying to be positive wasn't going to achieve anything; something more was needed. I realised that it was my point of view that needed to change. I needed to experience postive feelings fully and live life through those positive feelings, as opposed to simply willing myself to think positive.

Being positive isn't pretending everything is all right when it isn't. It's not even going there in the first place. Not an easy feat, but the alternativ…

I kneel before my anger

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It is what it is, marbled into me. I tried to bury it but there you go. It sits there, mainly directed at myself.

Disappointment, a bow

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A bow to my disappointment



It teaches me well my own limitations

Ultimately, it doesn't matter

We try to hold on to our choices but it doesn't matter. Do one thing or another, see what happens. We flow like water to where we are supposed to be.

Is that true? Always ask yourself that question.

Did anything important ever happen?

Heartfulness as opposed to mindfulness

I know when people see the word 'heart' the hackles go up and we assume something lightweight is going on, but in this case I am refering to the spatial location of awareness rather than a love heart situation. It's also interesting to note that in Buddhist circles heart and mind are interchangeable words, which seems incongruous but it does point to something. Anyway, disclaimer over.

Mindfulness implies some form of mental activity which inturn implies that we are actively doing something. This leads to the situation where we actively watching ourselves not doing anything which is kind of paradoxical. Heartfulness is mindfulness but our attention comes from the heart area. This leads more naturally to relaxed, attentive, awareness as we sit with our body watching the stream of events arise and pass away. There is less opportunity for striving and analysing as we are not using that part of our mind to be with experience.

So sit in the heart and see what happens. Make your h…

Having belief in feeling good

Life's a bummer but there's a part of us that knows that it's all a bit of nonsense, albeit rather painful at times. Knowing that there is a possibility of viewing life differently opens a chink of light in the darkness, and this is what allows us to believe that we can find happiness or contentment just as we are. As we search around for tools to show us the way we need a guiding star to illuminate the path, a core belief. Here's what I came up with:


There is always a place in the mind and body where contentment can be found whatever else might be going on.

And:


Most of the time we are dealing with issues that agitate us away from the natural state of contentment.

Do I believe this all the time? Is it possible? Is it true? Who knows? The proof of the pudding is in the tasting.

Chronic fatigue, mental proliferation and the cycle of doom

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I had an outage recently and managed not to get too sucked in to the mire. Here's a picture that explains it (it gets bigger if you click on it):


Briefly:

wake up -> feel bad -> think down thoughts -> more bad feelings -> down thoughts invites friends; more difficult thoughts -> then you're stuck in the s**t.

So then, it's best to try to not engage with this process, although almost impossible because the physical evidence is telling you something else and the mental associations happen very quickly.

Where is the way out? Friendly thoughts have friends too.

Today is a good day because ...

Well, it's up to you to fill in the blanks.

Here's a few suggestions:

- the weather is sunny
- we are all together
- we have pleasant things to do
- I know where I am

and so on. The important thing is to take a moment to think about it.

The mind is like a small dog

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To effect any change it needs regular training. When it strays, bring it back. Eventually, over time, it will learn. We want things to be quick and easy, but these things take a while to sink in.

Chronic fatigue - efforting versus allowing

Some days just never get going - it's just a brain with sludge in it. When this happens (as it has been doing recently) then it's time to take another approach. There's a difference between trying to get going (efforting) and giving yourself the room to get going (allowing). Efforting is contracted, forcing, a pressure to reach a certain level of functioning. Allowing is finding somewhere pleasant and letting things rise in a more natural fashion - we drift on the currents of our wellness. We stay open, we stay relaxed, until we have reached an accommodation with our day ahead.

Thoughts are just thoughts but they do have effects

It's comforting to know that thoughts are just thoughts and we can leave them at that, but they are still quite difficult. Particular thoughts have quite substantial impacts on our feelings and emotions. If I said I saw your partner kissing someone else in the window of cafe, then, if you believed me, you might experience a series of difficulties. If you have an underlying illness then these difficulties can lead to all sorts of problems that leave you feeling quite helpless.

So then, thoughts are just thoughts but that's just one part of the process. They still have the power to hurt like hell.

Live in the moment

The past is full of regret, the future is full of forboding, so sometimes it's best to hang out in the present moment. Give yourself permission, say 'I am only interested in right now.' Have a look, see what's going on. The birds are singing, the cat is grooming its belly, the sky is blue, the body is breathing, the computer is humming, and there's a whole pile of moments cascading one into the next. Problems are somehow somewhere else.

Go the whole Buddhist hog. When you are sitting, just sit. When you are walking, just walk. When you are breathing, just breathe. Sounds easy? Erm, give it a go.

What thought am I believing right now?

This is an interesting exercise to try, especially when you're getting a bit frazzled. Simply ask yourself:

What thought am I believing right now?

You might struggle to see the point of this (as I once did) because it seems irrelevant - stuff is going on and that's that. However, you might modify it a bit and ask:

What thought am I believing right now that makes me feel uncomfortable?

Assuming you once knew what being comfortable was, you might realise that something in your mind is drawing you away from feeling at ease. Have a look and see. Is there some level of thought belief driving your inner world? Are you driving yourself crazy?

Chronic fatigue - good days and bad days

I guess everyone in life has good days and bad days, but when you have a chronic illness there's an extra bit of sauce to the experience. Bad days are very frequent and there's a whole plethora of mental struggle when they happen - how bad will it get? Good days are surprising and the mind gets carried away - I'm cured!

In reality, we are not entirely in control of what is happening. Our body is on a mysterious, undulating journey filled with ups and downs, and our 'self' is a helpless passenger on that journey. Things go well and we think our journey is pleasant (and coming to an end), then things go badly and our journey is a nightmare. Perhaps, instead of being a victim of circumstance, we should learn to observe the reality of what is going on and our reactions to it. To a certain extent, we can control our reactivity and see the bigger picture - just a bad day, just a good day, just a normal day, no reaction, no reaction, no reaction. Then, if we are lucky, we…

We are not responsible for the happiness of another

This is an interesting realisation if you like to please people or keep life on a happy course. You'll know you're this way inclined if you find unpleasant situations difficult, e.g. you are in a room full of arguing people and you take on the role of peacemaker to try and cheer people up. Perhaps we think that we are in some way responsible for keeping things nice for everyone. Eventually, after years of effort and discomfort for ourselves, we realise that something is amiss

Ultimately, we are not responsible for the happiness of another. We can be there for them, we can care about them, but we cannot prevent people from experiencing difficult situtations. When we experience difficult situations for ourselves we realise that the only transformative way to face up to the difficulty is to find some strength from within. And so it is with other people. We should respect them, be there for them and give them room to find their own inner resources.

There is a complicated balance to…

Enjoy a beautiful breath

This is quite a simple experience and can be had any time of the day. Take a moment to compose yourself and then set the intention to be present for your breathing. Now, allow everything to stop for a moment - all your breathing, thinking and general gnarled up go-getting. Just stop. Rest in a perfectly still moment. Now, allow your in breath to start all on its own. Notice the mild feeling of relief to be breathing again, notice the sweet flood of pleasure as the breath rushes into your body - expand this pleasure by pushing this pleasantness into your feet and right up to your head.

Now, hold the in breath for a moment and take a moment to notice your discomfort. Then let the breath come out of your body. Notice the mild feeling of relief to be letting the breath out again. If you can, allow your whole body to deflate with the breath and notice how pleasant that feels. Allow yourself to sink into the moment and feel the pleasantness of relaxation.

And that's it! One breath.

Vipassana (insight) meditation explained

Vipassana (or insight) meditation is another form of meditation that you might come across - it's a kind of "what next" after you've been meditating for a while. Initially I was confused by vipassana because people seem to interchange between using the term "mindfulness" and "vipassana", and there seemed to be no specific intructions on what it was. I'm going to attempt to explain it here so I can get it straight in my own head.

In general, we start meditating by using tranquility or mindfulness to bring some steadiness to our minds - a form of samadhi/concentration. In this state, the mind is settled and we no longer get drawn away from our calm abiding by compulsive thinking - our mind isn't racing about here, there and everywhere. This in itself is a pleasant place to hang out in, but we might notice that although we are calm in meditation, we are not so brilliant when we resume our everyday lives.

So, there must be something more to ex…

Chronic fatigue - damned if you do, damned if you don't

Bad days are going to happen whatever we try to do - even if we try to pace ourselves into a 100% scheduled robotic existence. Here's one thing that I've noticed:

- I wake up and I can't seem to get going.
- I feel rubbish. I can either a) rest it out, or b) do some things I had planned (in a careful kind of way).

Now, I've had plenty of practice at feeling quite unwell so I've tried both (a) and (b), and I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't really matter which one you pick. If I try to rest it out, I lie there in a contracted state feeling awful and it's an unpleasant time. If I do (b) then I walk round in a stupor doing what I can until I can rest again - still an unpleasant time.

Conclusion: when I feel rubbish I naturally restrict my engagement with the world, whether I'm lying down or pottering around. It's this that helps my cognitive difficulties, not what I'm doing (as long as I'm not doing anything major). Indeed, if I can p…

My top 5 ways to feel good

Obviously any list like this is going to be entirely subjective, but I've spent a while trying to cultivate a sense of pleasantness in my life and these are the things that have helped. I've avoided putting any sensual pleasures in there, such as sex or eating chocolate or drinking beer, as sensual pleasures are fleeting and suffer from a lack of longevity. It should also be noted that my top 5 changes quite a lot - this is not an all time list.

Here they are in no particular order.

1.Hang out with friendly people.

Nothing influences us more than the people we are with. If we associate with vagabonds and judgemental people, we naturally feel threatened and slightly ill at ease. If, on the other hand, we spend time with open friendly people who are supportive and smile a lot then we immediately fall into that groove. So, find some warm, friendly beings and let it all soak in.

2. Deep breathing.

Breathing is the gateway to relaxation and a sense of calm. This is because deep breath…

Chronic fatigue - mindfulness of energy

This is something I do a lot, especially when I know I have something to do near the end of the day or if I have a major day planned. Basically, when you have limited energy resources it's good to keep an eye on where your energy is going. Are you using it going up and down stairs, walking into the wind, worrying too much, chatting to people, having the television on, browsing the Internet, cooking, getting up from a chair and sitting down again, listening to people talking too much, being round children, shopping, walking round a shopping mall (a lot of sensory overload in these places without me even knowing it), and so on. The good news is that if you pay attention (mindfulness) to what you are doing when you are doing it then you tend to use less energy and, curiously, if you get it right you might even feel energised afterwards.

How does this work? When we pay attention to things as we do them, we stop the mental straining that accompanies the sense of 'getting things don…

Feel good breath refreshment

Feel good breathing is a quick way to tune into the heart of pleasantness any time of the day.

Sit purposefully, and set the intention to have three deep, full breaths. Breathe in deep to the belly so that you feel the pressure in your tummy and then allow the breath to fill up your lungs so that the chest expands. Hold the full breath, and let it out slowly. If you like, you can visualise the out breath going through the whole body and out of the feet. Relax. On the next in-breath, imagine the whole breath coming into your lungs and permeating all the muscles in your body - you might notice how pleasant this feels. As you breathe out this time imagine the breath coming out from your head in all directions. Relax. For the final in-breath, take a more gentle breath and notice how nice it feels. Release this breath gently. Take a moment before resuming your day.

Who is in charge of your mind?

Is it you? Do you like to think the thoughts you think? Where do they come from? Would you rather be thinking something else? Can you think different thoughts instead? How much of your thinking is determined by what people tell you? Many questions, much to ponder. How can we think beautiful thoughts?

Concentration meditation (samadhi) explained

Here's my attempt to clarify concentration meditation in my own mind. This is in contrast to an earlier post on mindfulness meditation. I won't try to explain all the different techniques you might use to get concentrated as this would take too long, so I'll focus on using the breath and deep relaxation.

The first thing to understand about concentration meditation is that it has very little to do with everyday concentration as we know it, i.e. focusing on a task intently, thinking hard about something. It has more to do with tranquility and letting go of contraction and allowing a new kind of experience to arise - altered mind states known as jhanas. The intention is to generate a unity of body and mind.

Anyway, first things first. We begin concentration meditation by placing attention on a single object, such as the breath, using mindful awareness. We use mindfulness as a technique to stabilise our attention (this is probably why people get confused between mindfulness an…

Mindfulness meditation explained

Here's my attempt to explain it, mainly so I can clearly differentiate for myself between mindfulness and concentration meditation (explained here). The first thing to note is that there is no specific mindfulness meditation; it is a technique used in both concentration meditation and vipassana meditation (commonly refered to as mindfulness meditation (confusingly)).

Mindfulness, then, is using awareness to observe the activity of the mind (and the impressions of the world on the mind) directly. Most of the time we rely on our brains to interpret reality for us so that we don't need to make any conscious effort ourselves. This is quite handy because our brains screen out a lot of junk that we don't need to know about, but it also leads to problems because we can live in a totally distorted view of what is really happening. This is not good. It's like we form an opinion about the weather by watching weather forecasts rather than by looking out of the window to see for ou…

Chronic fatigue pacing - we're only human

Sometimes it's good to give yourself a little perspective and accept your limitations. I fail at pacing all the time and sometimes it's a bad thing and sometimes it's a good thing. It's all too easy to criticise yourself when you don't adhere to the pacing plan but I've learned that this is not helpful (and quite unrealistic).

We are all human and we all make mistakes all the time. We try and we fail, and that's what we do. While we're failing, we learn from our mistakes and that's probably more interesting than getting things right all the time. So, life is full of difficult things and being ill for years on end is a fairly large difficulty to get your head round, but there it is. We try pacing, we make mistakes, we move on, we try again. If you expect to succeed at everything all the time then you're setting yourself up for future difficulty. Accept your humanness from the very beginning.

Chronic fatigue pacing part 1 - why is pacing difficult?

First and foremost, a strong will is necessary. Luckily, feeling dreadful all the time was incentive enough to make me want to do it. Here are some other points to note:

- It requires effort to plan a routine and effort is in short supply when you're wiped out.
- It's boring. Sticking to a routine lacks excitement.
- It's frustrating. You have to deny yourself constantly, even when you are feeling bouncy.
- Guilt. If you don't stick to your routine you feel bad and we don't want that.
- More guilt. Pacing is restrictive for you and the people you live with. They don't generally enjoy it.
- It's a struggle. Trying to rest even if you don't want to rest is a bit of a tussle.
- Resting is difficult. Unless you're trained in the arts of resting and meditation, having a lot of resting time is difficult to fill. How do you rest?
- It's a long term thing. It takes a long, long, long time to get lasting results.
- You're trying to alter your habitual mind. I…

Chronic fatigue and pacing - introduction

I've decided to do a series of posts on pacing since I seem to have a lot of notes about my experiences with pacing and what I've been doing with it over the last few years. If you see a chronic fatigue specialist in the UK, or even a therapist who knows what chronic fatigue is, they'll recommend you do pacing. It's also one of the NICE guidelines for treating the condition. If you have another condition, such as lupus, that has a massive fatigue component, I would recommend pacing to help with that. I'll be writing from personal experience and it will be informed with my love of psychology, science, behaviour therapy, life and Buddhism (a laymans form of Buddhism).

So what is pacing? Pacing means planning your day so that you have plenty of rest between any activity you choose to do. In short, you do an activity, rest, do an activity, rest, and so on. It also means not doing activities that are beyond your abilities, i.e. not planning a 10k run (as if!) followed by…

The persistent desire for comfort

Here's a thing a noticed when I had a tooth go wrong. Having toothache was annoying and I wanted the pain to go away, but I also noticed that there was an implicit assumption in my mind that I should always be comfortable. When something unpleasant arises in my mind, there is this instant need to get rid of the uncomfortable feeling and return to a state of comfort. I assume that I should be comfortable all the time.

Then I realised that this can never be true. There is always something arising that takes me away from this place of comfort, especially given the constant problems of illness. So then, what next? Perhaps comfort is not all it's cracked up to be, perhaps there is something more satisfying. Who knows?

From a Buddhist perspective, this is an example of greed, aversion and delusion all operating merrily away in my mind. It's easy to be caught by these things, but it's nice to know that Buddhism has a vast toolkit of techniques to pick through the details.