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Smiling feels good

Smiling feels good. Laughing feels even better. We might wonder why and we can even analyse all the muscular movements and associated pleasantness that comes with a smile, but sometimes there is just stuff that feels good and this is what we can learn to recognise. Life has a degree of pleasantness built in and a smile takes us right there. Smile now and see what happens...

You are not a machine

It's easy in this world to treat ourselves badly - we work too hard, we exercise hard, we tear strips of ourselves for the tiniest mistake. There are complex reasons why we do these kind of things but let's not get tied up in knots trying to figure out why we are like this or that. We are not machines - we need to take care of ourselves in some way. Once we lose this connection with taking care of ourselves then we become lost in these other behaviours. 
Are you taking care of yourself right now? Do you even know what that is? 
Perhaps you think you don't deserve it. What kind of thought is that? Who doesn't deserve a little comfort and care in this world?

What the mind looks like

Obviously, I've taken some artistic interpretation here but you get the idea. The mind is a pulsing flux of activity. The constructs we put on that flux becomes us and we take this as something real. If you relax far enough you experience something called the default network - the mind just ticking over. Spend long enough here and you will see ideas emerge from the chaos like ghosts and suddenly you are you again. Where were you when you were not there? 
These are all mind bending ideas. The best thing about experiencing the mind as a flux is that it is very relaxing and refreshing. It can lead us deeper but that's for another time. It could mean something but that is for others to debate.

Maintain an infinite gaze

The mind and body are wound together like the wind and the ocean. You might like to spend a few moments exploring what happens to your body when you are lost in thought - my body constricts all over the place. Another thing that happens is that the visible field disappears  - we go into a thought world that hijacks the process of seeing. A fairly reliable measure of how stressed you are is to see how long you can maintain your vision on an object - if we are stressed then we lose focus fairly quickly.
So then, here's the trick. If we practice staring at an object and relaxing our gaze into infinity then we are inhibiting the wandering mind - perhaps this is why zen monks encourage this practice. Once we aware of the relaxing power of gazing into space, then we can apply the technique through out the day to calm ourselves down. Then, if we are especially practiced, we can couple gazing with our breathing and create an even more powerful relaxation experience for ourselves. If we the…

Calendula November

I'm a fairly inept gardener but it's always pleasing when something good happens even when you ignore conventional wisdom. So, for the last month or so I've been enjoying lots and lots of calendulas. I'm hoping they will last until Christmas which would be quite unusual - which is nice.

The mind massage

It goes something like this:

- Our mind is busy. It wanders off all over the place. We become familiar with this by trying to fix our attention on one subject. Try counting breaths - see if you can count three.

- At some point, the mind calms down. We notice that there are gaps in our thoughts. If we are lucky we spend significant moments in these gaps.

- Now, when the mind wanders off we notice it because of the contrast with the calm mind. There's an ebb and flow. We wander off, we come back to clarity.

- This is the mind massage. We observe the ebb and flow from the perspective of awareness. We are not caught in it (too much), but gently buffeted from one state to another. Like we are floating on the surface of the sea. We feel the rhythm and enjoy the ride

It feels good to let go

I think that is one of the things I have been trying to explain over the years. So:
- find a comfortable place - sit back - relax - breathe in some clean air - feel the pressure in the body - and let go!
Feel free to make a noise as you let go, it tends to enhance the experience.

Only the right question can give you the right answer

There is nothing. Something happens, perhaps we hear a noise. A question arises, "what was that?". And we find the answer.
Everything works like this - it's cause and effect. Now, the really interesting part is where we try to find meaning in this. The truth of the meaning is in the process itself, not the details.
And what are the details? Us, life, we are the details.
Do you know what I'm suggesting here?

Decouple feelings and thoughts

You may like to observe this yourself or you can marvel at the sheer idea that it might be true. The idea is this:
When a feeling arises, we attach an arbitrary thought to it from our stock of standard thought patterns. The true nature of the feeling may be completely different to the thought it generates.
(This is similar to the notion that we attach random explanations to events after they have happened - something that has been demonstated many times in scientific experiments.)
So, for example, a feeling of emptiness arises. Our habitual thoughts may latch onto it and start generating "fix it" actions - emptiness is unpleasant, we must avoid it. These very thoughts are a window into the reason why we might be feeling unhappy in the first place ... Or emptiness arises and we allow our initial unease to pass, and we left with nothing but emptiness - which as we abide with becomes something quite pleasant. 

Love life by letting go of your self

I have thus far resisted the urge to talk about the self in this blog, mainly because it is a bit of a side show distraction. Is there a self? Is there no self? It's like asking ourselves whether we exist or not. We clearly do exist but perhaps not in the way we would like to.
Anyway, life gets more enjoyable when we loosen our grip on what we see as important to us. These important things are not really important at all - a bower bird will collect all kinds of rubbish for its display (things it classes as important) but to us they are not important at all. In fact, in a similar way, everything we assign value to has no lasting value - they are the transient expression of our inner desires. The misery starts to set in when we defend or attach to these so called important things - we lose our perspective. 
So, it turns out that we can start to enjoy things more if we loosen our grip on them - we can begin to appreciate them for what they are. The same goes for our self. We can love w…

The mind is deep, life is shallow

There's not much more I can add to that. The pleasure in life is felt by the depth of being alive - the mind and all it's layers - rather than the surface act of living. Life seems to perennially push us towards shallow things because they are easy to quantify, but we all know that money, possessions, status are fragile and a poor substitute for living a fully immersive life, experiencing everything as it comes. It is saddening to see the way we are tricked into spending our lives chasing our tails in the workplace. The great dream of the 70s was that technology would help us work less, giving us more time for leisure. It appears to be having an opposite effect, feeding our insecurities, driving us faster than ever before. I appear to be rambling...
The good news is that we are intrinsically born to want pleasure and experience happiness. If we know that this is within us then we can turn towards the deep, felt sense of being alive and start to wake up to something very nice.

Nituke

I'm not even sure if nituke is a proper word - it's a dish I came across when looking at macrobiotic cookbooks. Anyway, I like cooking things with weird names and this side dish has become a regular fixture in my meal plans. It's basically braised vegetables and it's very easy to do. I like to cook it with carrot, celery and Chinese leaf. Here's what I do:

Ingredients

3 carrots, cut into chunks
4 sticks of celery, cut into chunks
1 clove of garlic, mashed
1 red onion, cut into chunks
1/2 a whole Chinese leaf, chopped up
some chilli sauce
olive oil
soy sauce of some kind
toasted sesame seeds (if you can be bothered)
a splash of water

Method

1. Put a splash of oil in a saucepan or casserole dish.
2. Add the garlic, onion, carrots and celery
3. Turn the heat on, put the lid on
4. Let the vegetables fry gently for a minute or two
5. Add all the other ingredients apart from the Chinese leaf and sesame seeds
6. Let the vegetables steam gently for 10-15 minutes in the pan …

Remembering to remember

Having rejoined the modern world, it is easy to see why meditation and mindfulness is a difficult skill to maintain. We get sucked in and the mind has a way of launching itself into "constantly performing" mode. This is hard to switch off, mainly because we forget that we need to switch it off at all. So, the first step is remembering to remember.
Once we have this hook or call back, the next step is remembering what to do. This is not easy either - this is why we rely on teachers and other people to tell us what to do. Remembering what to do relies on having belief in something and having experience that something works. This relies on practice and effort. Without this background we end up in the fridge looking for something nice, or relying on someone else telling us what to do. 
If there is one thing we should always remember to do, it is relax the body. This should be everyone's fallback feel good technique. Do whatever it takes to relax the body. Then let all the othe…

Are you enjoying your life as it is?

This might seem like a perverse statement if your life is filled with difficulties,  so we need to tread carefully here. Life is not easy but, if you look hard enough, is there some part of our experience that is unaffected by what is going on. If we tune into this feature of our minds then we can give ourselves the choice to enjoy anything that arises in experience. This is no cakewalk, but perhaps the possibility of accessing it is enough to give us hope.

Cultural attitudes

We all inherit a given cultural attitude to life - our attitude to work, family life, that kind of thing. I have moved from one cultural outlook into another, so called social mobility, but there feels like there is something not quite right about this modern life I have moved into.

This article on the bbc sort of describes it 

Can you detect the cultural attitude that is being transmitted through the modern, middle class british outlook? Can you feel the strands of expectation stretching back through time?

The mind is rapacious

Following my last post suggesting the mind may take care of itself, I have had all my buttons pressed and realise that the mind is a rampant elephant when it wants to be. The riddles of the mind run deep and long in our beings and only something special can uproot these things. What is that special thing?     Well, that's a puzzle isn't it.

This is it - how to feel good

Every now and again I like to come up with a pith feel good approach, and today is one of those days. So here it is - after a lot of personal research, lived experience and seeing what works for other people. If you want to feel good:

Eat a nutritious diet - cut out the crapRelax and exercise your body regularly - look after it It may not sound ground breaking and that's because it isn't. It works but it takes a long time to work, and therein lies the problem. We want a quick fix because that is what we are used to but there is no quick fix. It's also tremendously hard to change the habits of a life time and this means that trying to do these things to feel good feels like a challenge - this makes us feel bad.

A quick word about the mind. You might think that I have ignored the mind in this summary, but this is not so. The body and mind are inextricably linked in an amazingly, symbiotic relationship. Everything your body does involves your mind - you can't move without …

The psoas and the hara

The longer I go on exploring, the more I keep coming back to the belly and the felt sense of contentment that comes from this area. It happens in meditation, it happens in yoga, it happens when you walk down the street. This core zone is dominated by the psoas muscle and if you tune into it and start to relax it, nice things happen. Try it and see.

Peony petals

I am still enjoying the peony.

Patience

After 15 years of trying, it seems as if my peony is going to make a flower. I never thought I'd live to see what flower it would make - another thing to tick off the list.


Seems like I'm have a good year in the garden, which is remarkable given my gardening skills...

Life is a stream of moments

There's lots of them. We have the ability to choose which moments to focus on and build them into our view of the world. The media chooses to focus on problems, things that are not right, and the sense that everything is going to fall to pieces if we don't keep our eye on it. It's kind of wearing after a while.

I'm getting back into twitter again after a bit of a break and it's quite refreshing to tune in to non-media minds for a bit. There's a different vibe to the world - people are people; happy, sad, enlightened, delighted.

You will find me drifting along on these sorts of hash tags

#happymoment
#contentmoment
#pleasantmoment
#positivemoment


Think of them like drifting currents of positivity in the river of our collected consciousness.

Iris flower

It has taken three years but it is finally here. It is an amazing flower if you get the chance to inspect one.

Why self help books don't work most of the time

Without wishing to undermine the self help nature of what I do here, it is useful to know why it doesn't help to simply read information and expect your life to become miraculously better. The first reason is this:

The mind that reads the self help book cannot understand that it (the mind that initiated the reading) is the problem

Another way of saying this is: the mind that wants to fix itself is already broken.

Luckily, the joyful conclusion we might eventually realise is: there is nothing wrong with me just as I am.

Reaching the point where you realise that there is nothing wrong with you is the mind that is already fixed. If you think you have problems, then you most certainly have problems. If you don't, then you don't.

So, you might not find this helpful because:

a) you're looking for a way out of your torment
b) you need help doing it
c) you feel certain that you need to do something to fix it

In reality what you should be fixing is the idea that these three thin…

Livening up quinoa and buckwheat

If you embark on a healthy eating regime you will probably encounter these grains. I can eat rice as plain as it comes but I find that these grains require a little bit of help on the flavour front. It's quite a simple process of cooking the grain and adding your flavour.
Here's a couple of ideas:
- gently fry an onion and some garlic until they are soft - add some cumin, coriander, salt and pepper (perhaps even add some curry powder) - mix it into the cooked grain
- gently fry an onion and some garlic - add some cumin, coriander and a tin of chickpeas - add some raisins, salt and pepper - mix it into the cooked grain
You can also try it with a vinegar and sugar combination. Experiment with different flavourings and other tinned pulses. You could also add freshly chopped herbs and some lemon juice.
Once the grains have been enhanced you can keep them in the fridge and use them as a salad for the next day.

You are never more than three breaths away from feeling good

Try this out:
- take a comfortable sitting position - place your attention in your belly - breathe in, breathe out - maintain your awareness of the belly - repeat a further two times
If you manage to hold your attention on the breathing then something starts to release and open up. You might find a sense of exhilaration, ease or pleasure. This is the gateway to deeper things.

A feel good sequence

We all have bad days where we feel a bit bummed out. String a few of these together and then the whole world can seem a bit dreary. It's handy to remember that it is our view that is at fault - not anything about us or the world we live in. Our view is shaped by our thoughts and feelings, and these in turn are shaped by what we are exposed to and what we focus on. This means we have the opportunity to change our outlook by becoming aware of things that will induce positive feelings and thoughts. It's as simple as that really.
Here is a handy sequence I like to explore:
- I am feeling oppressed - I become aware of this fact - I know that I am more than my thoughts and feelings. These are just a product of certain circumstances - I know that the situation is temporary - I know that I can feel good in spite of the inclement circumstances - I turn my mind towards the good - I relax my body - My mind begins to relax - I connect to open, spacious awareness  - Pleasant sensations begin to arise …

Life, meditation, jelly and fruit

At a certain point you might notice that life occurs within meditation. Or, to phrase it differently, our daily concerns occur within the fabric of a larger system - the laws of the universe. Perhaps you can guess where I am going with this - we might like to imagine our lives as the fruit and the wider awareness of those lives as the jelly that suspends the fruit. You might like to tell yourself:
- I am the fruit, awareness is the jelly
You can move your focus of attention from the fruit to the jelly. This shift of perspective can be quite useful when you find your mind locked into some difficulty or obsession.
We can go even deeper with this once we get familiar with it. Awareness is a fabrication of the mind, a kind of magic trick. Jelly is not really jelly - it is fruit syrup, water and some jelly making substance. Fruit is not really fruit - it is water, fibre, sugars and other stuff. There's an underlying fabric of reality to everything and if we turn our minds towards it we go…

The meaning of life in three simple words

Handling reactivity with the mindfulness mind

Reactivity is a big deal. Something happens, we react to it. If we have chronic fatigue (or other issues) this reactivity can wipe us out completely - especially if the reactivity is to the fatigue itself. I've spent years watching it happen time after time after time.

Reactivity is so deeply embedded in us that we have to go very, very deep to observe it and figure out how to cope with its effects. In Buddhism (if you want to find out more), there is the teaching of the two arrows - the first arrow is the thing that happens, the second arrow is our reaction to it. Interestingly, the reaction causes more trouble for us than the thing itself. Catching the chain of events from initial onset to reactivity is one of the deeper Buddhist teachings that we can explore.

So then, how to use this information. Firstly, we have cultivate enough awareness to know that:

a) something has happened
b) we are reacting to it
c) this reaction is entirely within our own minds
d) we are almost powerl…

The MuWu process

Here it is in a nutshell:

Body - is it tense or relaxed?
Mind - can I let go of my habitual patterns?
External - are we balanced?
Internal - is it beneficial?

There are vast worlds of exploration beneath these four things so don't take them lightly or think of them as trivial. Use them as starting points for deeper enquiry.

The MuWu self healing system

I've spent the last seven years studying the methods used in self healing, and I have now reached the point where I understand what it is from a rational perspective. Surprisingly (to my old gnarly point of view) it has a great deal of merit and, given certain exceptions, it works. That's the good news, the bad news is me trying to explain it so I've come up with the "MuWu self healing system". Look at the above diagram - this lays out the territory - it is what is known as a meta system.

To summarise, we have four bases to work with:

- the body
- the mind
- what we do
- what we take in

We can pick any of them as a starting point but they all eventually lead to each other. We can even use any type of method within each of the bases; that is not what is important. The key to it all rests in:

- the lived experience of any method
- putting the work in
- awareness of the process
- and the learned wisdom
- then understanding the bigger picture

This might all sound a…

The origin of you

Imagine this: a machine that creates a label for everything. You feed it information and it automatically creates a name for it. There's no way to turn it off. Sensory information creates patterns of activity, these patterns of activity are automatically given a label. If no satisfactory label can be found then the mind will keep churning until it gets one. We think we are in control of this process but, if we look closely, we see that it happens all by itself - a self sustaining cycle of labelling.

What purpose does it have? Labelling closes a loop so that the rest of the machine does not have to deal with it explicitly anymore. It can move on. This may seem unremarkable until you realise the machine has started labelling itself and this label has created a sense of consciousness, of self. This might seem a bit far fetched but if you look closely you will see it for yourself. The labels have created a life of their own - they have run away with the show. They have made something…

An exploration of thoughts

We all have them and they won't go away, however we can learn to work with them and find a greater space of freedom. Here are some of my explorations:

1. We learn that we have thoughts.

2. We learn that no-one else can hear them, that they are just what goes on in our head.

3. We recognize familiar patterns - anxiety, wanting, planning, reviewing, disliking, judging, aversion, impatience, plus some more.

4. We notice that as we think the muscles in our body tense up.

5. If we relax our bodies, our thoughts kind of ease up - the type of thinking is different.

6. If relax a lot, sink into our bodies, we recognize the difference between awareness and thinking. We can know sensations but we do not need to analyse them.

7. Now, we begin to notice that there is more to our minds than the compulsive thinking and doing. There are other ways of being in the world.

8. We learn more about relaxation and the different mental components that come with it - delight, rapture, contentment, peace,…

Watercress and blueberry smoothie

Here's a smoothie with a bit of pep in its loins. Watercress has marvellous properties and blueberries are a handy blue frozen fruit to add to your smoothies. Here's how to make it:

Some apple juice
Some orange juice
A handful of watercress
A handful of blueberries
Some cooked beetroot
A chunk of cucumber

Put it all in your blender and zap it. Personally, I think this one needs the apple juice to tone down the effects of the watercress - it went down a bit easier than a purely orange juice version. Enjoy!

Notice Spring

I've been around for a few Spring seasons and there's no doubt that, for me at least, it feels good. The combination of light, sound, warmth and memories through the years combine to create a sense of good times past. Perhaps the birds and other creatures feel it too. Perhaps this is part of the magic. Perhaps there is something more going on. What could it be?

Sweet potato and pepper chilli

One of the hard things about giving up tomatoes entirely is the fact that it makes simple pasta sauces a bit more difficult and it rules out this chilli I've been perfecting over the last few years. I doubt I will be able to give it up altogether.

This chilli is a vegetarian alternative to chilli con carne which I am now unable to digest properly. I like to put as many spices as I can into it and there is no set rule for what goes in. Use about a teaspoon or so of each of the spices. Use the amount of chilli heat you are comfortable with.

Anyway, here's the ingredients:

1 onion, chopped up
2 cloves of garlic, chopped up
1 red, yellow and green pepper, chopped up
oil for frying
some paprika and / or smoked paprika
some ground cumin
some ground coriander
some chilli powder and / or chilli seeds
a couple of finger chillies with all the seeds
some oregano
a grind of nutmeg
a dash of cinnamon
a dash of cayenne pepper
a tin of tomatoes
a couple of tins of kidney beans
about 350 ml o…

The macrobiotic diet

I've noticed for some time that diet has a particular effect on me, some of them mild and some of them more extreme. Here's what I noticed:

- I feel better after eating brown rice rather than eating white rice
- Potatoes make me tired and a bit bummy
- Quinoa and millet seem easy to digest and they have no negative effects
- Tomatoes are kind of upsetting in large amounts
- Cabbage and carrots give me a lift
- Large amounts of meat make me tired
- Oily fish seem to perk me up
- Fat, sugar and processed foods make me go downhill and have laxative effects on me
- Eating smaller meals keeps me alert

So I was going to formulate a diet based around these findings but then I discovered the macrobiotic diet, popularised by George Ohsawa. Although it's a bit extreme in places, the principles seem to overlap nicely with what I've been experiencing. Doing this diet would mean taking my food habits to whole new level and it will probably take a long while to adapt to it, but I wi…

Spend some time with the still point

It's there all the time within us, a point of unique stillness. If you get five minutes, try to tune in to it and enjoy a few moments abiding there. Then, perhaps notice that the mind begins to mould itself to the stillness -  we experience stillness and then we become shaped by it. What does it feel like? Who are we when we are completely still? Interesting questions that lead us deeper within.

As an aside, if we spend a few minutes every day focusing on relaxing nature scenes then, according to research, the functioning of our brain improves. I've not personally run my own scientific study to verify this, but it seems quite sensible -we sit in the park, we feel better afterwards. Perhaps this what stillness is all about - giving our brains time to recover and function better in the long run.

Experience stillness, experience more. Perhaps that should be the tag line for this post.

Chakras, posture and meditation

There is something magical about the spine and the way, if you align it just right, things start to flow. You can try it now - allow the vertebrae to find their natural position, connecting one after the other, and then allow the body to relax. You might find a sense of energy flowing and, if you look closely, you might be able to detect little energy spots inside your body otherwise known as the chakras - you find them at the base of the spine, somewhere near the belly button, at the solar plexus, the heart, throat, forehead and crown of the head. If you tune into these areas then there is a sense of the energy lighting up within the body.

Scientifically speaking the body is a bundle of fibre optic cables and muscles all wrapped up in a bag of skin. Now, if you imagine the muscles and fibre optics all sharing the same space, then tightening a muscle has the effect of cutting off information - perhaps that's why we tense up when we are in pain. Anyway, chronic tension in the body …

Meet my two new friends

Time to work on the arms ...

Do you have something positive in your life?

Can you identify it right now? Does it bring you lightness, delight? Perhaps you feel that you don't need it. What does that suggest?

Where do you go for refuge from the world? Perhaps you don't have anything like this. What does this suggest?

It can be a relief to have something positive to return to when you need it. Something non-threatening, enjoyable, refreshing. Should we feel guilty about having something like this in our lives? Absolutely not. Find your oasis and lavish yourself in its rejuvenating essence. There are no prizes for doing things the hard way.

Using the "so what if" response

This is something I find useful every now and again. Let's say we become tangled up in a difficult mental state or situation. Perhaps we feel that we have lost control and we are being subjected to something that is beyond our ability to fix. So, for example:

- I feel ill
- I have all these symptoms
- it seems kind of impossible
- then, we might say to ourselves "so what if I am ill"
- perhaps the answer comes back, "I can't do what other people do"
- "so what if I have to rest all day"
- and so on, until we reach the conclusion that there is no real reason to feel oppressed at all. It's just a judgement that you've holding against yourself.

You get the idea. It gives the mind a little way out of a corner. You have to be careful not to over use this technique though - "so what if I pissed you off", etc. There's a kind of aggression when used in this manner.

The pursuit of the pleasant

If we do CBT or practise Buddhist techniques, we will be invited at some point to notice whether experiences are pleasant, unpleasant or somewhere in between. After a while we might notice that this sense of "how pleasant something is" is a continuously shifting field of experience - it is like a dancing candle inside of us, connecting our mind to more visceral sensations. It's even there when we are not conscious of it, driving us to do things we might not otherwise do. It underpins many of our impulses, desires, behaviours and actions. In short, it controls how we behave.

You might think you know why want something, but even that is not as clear cut as you might think. Perhaps we reach for a biscuit because we feel like something nice. Quite often, we already feel quite good but we don't know why so we try to attach some real world event to the feeling - so I now feel good because I ate a biscuit, not because I was feeling OK. Indeed, if we sit and do nothing we fa…

Some homebrew meditation instructions

Someone once asked me what I was doing at the bottom of the garden all these years and it was difficult to explain in five minutes so I did some guided meditations instead. Here they are:

Body scan meditation
Gladden the mind
Mindfulness/awareness meditation
Cultivating tranquility (jhana / samadhi)

Or, you could just sit somewhere for a bit and see what happens.

These are basic instructions and the only way to learn what happens is to do it for yourself. We go round the loop of relaxing the body, cultivating awareness, dropping into tranquility, and staying generally positive a few thousand times. After a while we may notice that we end up in the same empty, pleasant place and then we can explore further.

Here's my homebrew analysis of how things might progress:

Tier 1 - we learn how to meditate, we explore what happens in the mind
Tier 2 - we see what comes and goes, we get into the four foundations of mindfulness
Tier 3- we explore the arising of awareness, and the fabric of reali…

Pamoja - delight

I wanted to write about Pamoja because it's a nice word and it indicates a pleasant state of mind known as delight. (Pamoja means delight in Pali). I have a choice of course - I could write about how difficult my life is, but today I am in the mood for delight. (In some ways, this is our mental choice with regards to thoughts everyday, but let's not go there just yet.)

So then, Pamoja or delight. Delight occurs when the mind gives up on it's usual gropings, dislikings, annoyances, wantings and generally uncharitable thoughts. It's that moment when the sun comes out, and we stop to admire the warmth on our cheeks. Or when we drive to the seaside and see the sea for the first time. Our minds stop and we are momentarily free - it just feels nice.

Luckily we don't have to wait for the sun to come out to experience Pamoja. It occurs quite readily when we start to meditate. We sit there, the mind settles down, we let go of our concerns and, pling, we feel a sense of plea…

Guided meditation through Jhana factors

This is a quick run through the factors that lead to absorption. Although, in practise they arise by themselves it is handy to know what they are so we don't become too excited. Also, it is quite relaxing to do them like this.

Lose your attachment to the way things should be

That's it really. If you can do this then a different world opens up as if by magic. You realise that everything you were holding to was like some kind of trick. Nothing really happens. It doesn't really matter. In a good way of course. Let's not get nihilistic.

Notice what happens when you release your grip on the way things should be. Notice how smooth things become; relationships, your shoulders, the day at work, the smile on your face and on the faces you encounter. It all kind of works by itself.

Chronic fatigue - adventures with a pedometer

I have found the pedometer to be an immensely useful device for regulating my physical exertions. Here's a chart of my steps using my old pedometer before I dropped it in the toilet last week.

There's a definite improvement in the number of steps, but it is hard won. The graph below shows a measure of my well being during the same period. You'll notice that when I increase my steps, my well being takes a bit of hit for a while and then gradually goes back up. I like it when my well being correlates to some form of activity as, for many years, it was basically all over the place, so although it is unpleasant I can take it for a little while.

I use a rolling average technique for my graph - I also discount the highest and lowest number of steps for a particular week, as this prevents me from over doing it and also gives me a chance to do nothing one day in every seven.

Finally, I wish had been told to wear a pedometer years ago. It has been extremely helpful.

Results of spirulina smoothie test

Well, the result of my spirulina smoothie test is:

inconclusive

There was no noticeable buzz or improvement to my day after adding it to my smoothies for about a month, but then again it had no adverse effect so it might have been working at some subtle level. Whereas, if I have a spinach and watercress soup, there is a definite lift to the rest of my day. I also "feel better" after eating a bowl of cabbage, or eating stir fried vegetables for a few days or weeks.

So, on to my next smoothie additive - something called "Clean greens". This contains powdered up green bits so this might identify whether it is the green essence that helps, or some other aspect of these vegetables that my body enjoys so much.

Guided mindfulness meditation

One thing you might like to take from this is the difference between knowing something and thinking about something.

Chronic fatigue - a year of improvement

Here's a graph showing my activity over the last year


It might not look like much but it's an effective doubling over the year. It wasn't easy; and it still isn't easy - there's a lot of difficulty here. I've been trying to increase my activity over the years and this is the first sign of any improvement. I guess it's just a question of persistence, once the time is right. This level of activity is way less than half of a what a normal person would do, so there is still some way to go yet.

Chronic fatigue - measuring activity

Those lucky normal people in the world get up, do what they fancy, get a bit tired, have a rest, do something else. Not so for this chronic fatigue sufferer - everything needs to balanced and measured to make sure it won't "do me in". Initially, this seemed like a difficult task - that's when I did pacing for a long while - using my acceptable baseline as a reference point. Now things have moved on a bit and I have a reasonably flexible approach to my morning and lunchtime activities. However, I still need to be careful - it's still quite easy to over commit and get a bit wiped out.

Here's what I find useful:

- I keep a log of my activities using METs and a pedometer - a pedometer is highly useful device as it tells you what you have actually been doing
- activities that stretch me can have an effect three days later (so called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS))
- activities that involve an increased heart rate situation have a greater impact, so I like to…

Guided meditation to gladden the mind

Attitude is one of those things that is so ingrained in our minds that it is difficult to imagine that is there at all. After all, how we see and respond to the world is because that's how the world is. This is further complicated by the fact that our views are self reinforcing - the world is miserable because we see misery everywhere - and because soceity reinforces a harsh view point through media and marketing (these messages are then further pushed at us by the people around us).

Luckily, we are able to change our deep, automatic view of life but it happens as if by magic. We kind of reprogram our automatic thoughts by focusing on positive things and feeling generally friendly within ourselves. So, this then is what this meditation is all about. It make take a few listens, but eventually you'll hear these thoughts informing your attitude and point of view. It will build a positive voice within the mind.

Catch the first thought of the day

Here is something that I like to do more often than not. The moment when we wake up is quite an interesting one. We move from a seemingly unconscious state to a more wakeful state when we are thinking and controlling operations. The transition from one to the other can be a useful time to catch ourselves 'before we start being who we are'. Occasionally, we wake up and we feel as if there is no-one there; a kind of empty, thoughtless wakefulness. Then, an urge kicks in to remember who we are and the thoughts begin. Try to catch these first thoughts; what are they about, where do they come from, why do we buy into them so easily? At what point do we become lost? Don't be afraid of the thoughtless gap - keep it open as long you can.

Chronic fatigue and the problem with deconditioning

Here's my graphical attempt to explain it.

This seems to be what is happening with me.

 We start out with some underlying illness that knocks us for six. It lasts for a long time. We try to deal with it but we can't, and so we reduce our activity (to very little). We become physically deconditioned. Perhaps the illness wears off (there is no way of measuring this unfortunately - although my immune system blood tests are still wonky), but we still feel ill for two other reasons:

 - we are completely deconditioned and any effort triggers exhaustion symptoms
 - we have become psychologically habituated to our illness response at a very deep level

 And the nightmare continues. The illness feels almost the same as it always did, (perhaps we get signs that we can do more) and we struggle on. This occurs over years.

 My main point is this: it is tremendously difficult.

Chronic fatigue - a recovery path

Over the next few posts I'll be detailing what I have been doing over the last few years to try and recover from significant chronic fatigue symptoms. In my case, the development of the illness has been:

- I became very ill overnight
- I tried to carry on
- I was too ill to carry on, I struggled to do anything, even basic stuff
- I stopped normal life. I had to
- I spent ages like this. I tried various treatments like steroids and anti-depressants; it felt like I had been poisoned.
- I had to deal with psychological issues due to the tremendous change in my circumstances
- I stripped back my life to basically nothing
- My body became deconditioned
- I tried pacing over a couple years. The deconditioning was significant.
- I gradually moved over to an intensely healthy diet. It took time
- I used pacing to gently do more from a baseline functioning I could cope with
- I was backwards and forwards for a long time
- Finally, there were gaps in the fog
- I used deep relaxation techn…

Guided body scan relaxation meditation

A body scan is a great way to start meditating - the interaction between body and mind is a key aspect of going deeper.

Some feel good tricks for your lunch hour

Sadly, these will not be easy things to do, like eat a donut. There are reasons why eating a donut does not work but let's not get into that now. Suffice to say that these ideas are a little more sublime.

1. Lose your sense of self importance

You know how it is at work. This happened to me, I did this, me, me, I, I. Work is a seriously self conscious business and we can become blinded to our self obsession. So, try and get over yourself:

- do something for someone else
- be in awe of something (art, architecture, nature, the Universe)
- remember, nothing is personal
- be generous, crack a smile at someone

2. Break your compulsive thought stream

Work demands us to be a certain way but we are more than this. Our brains have many different modes of operation other than the work mode. Try this:

- breathe in and imagine the breath entering your whole body
- repeat, and imagine the breath going in to the whole body and head
- feel yourself as one, continuous being

Or, doodle a picture. …

Explore simple, effortless mindfulness

I've probably written about this before but this is an important element of what I am working with at the moment so I thought I might write about it again. If you go on a mindfulness based stress reduction course then you'll probably be given a raisin and told to eat it mindfully. This means paying attention to each sensation of taste and feeling as you munch the raisin in your mouth. Then you might be told to explore various revelations about the raisin - how it tasted, what thoughts it evoked, and so on. You might be surprised about what you can discover when you wake up and pay attention to what you are doing.

Now, if you explore mindfulness as a practice you will come across people who recommend continuous mindfulness throughout the day. This might seem like a lot effort - after all paying attention to the raisin took a reasonable amount of effort - imagine doing that all day long! Well, luckily, after a while you might notice that the awareness of the sensations of the ra…