MINDFULNESS AND REFLECTIVE PRACTICE
Welcome to this page on mindfulness and reflective practice. Glad you’ve landed here to find some tools to help you get through perhaps a situation that is really taking a toll on you, or to learn how to maintain focus and wellbeing. I hope you find the below helpful.
Our workplaces, our lives and the larger global context are moving at much faster paces where minutes have become essentially nanoseconds. For French philosopher Michel Onfray, this context of our modern time is a result of virtual reality. He and other philosophers, before him, refer to various forms - war, political upheaval, and the faster pace we live in - as ‘Dead Time,’ while referring to the space of calm we might inhabit, being not just present, calm, aware, but purposeful, in the ‘eye of the storm’, as ‘Alive Time’.
For Onfray, we need to create ‘counter-time’ systematically, deliberately and consciously - that is countering living in ‘Dead Time’ by expanding the space of ‘Alive Time.’ This, he says, is an imperative. And this approach is the springboard from which I understand and work towards supporting your wellbeing and any concept of mindfulness.
If we are to survive the daily challenges and navigate sustained stress to achieve the goals and changes we want to see, and not get sick, our wellbeing is priority. Throughout my work over the past few decades, I have seen enough activists lose a lot in their ambition to make the world a better place - their families, their health, joy. Most people in the workplace are barely surviving. Most of us are on the brink of burnout and, for some, there is no recovery after it. Yes, it is an imperative to create ‘Alive Time’ by learning the core tools and techniques to expand that time.
This space we (most of us) inhabit is felt as real, a paradigm that is making us sick.
we require attention to wellbeing not to pacify ourselves and numb ourselves from a much bigger issue. That is becoming aware of the larger realities and larger system in which we as a collective are operating and continue to sustain, too. Onfray, and others, call also for attention to a larger movement - starting with just awareness of the larger political, social and economic systems which are holding humanity hostage within this ‘Dead Time’. I hope to offer some thoughts for reflective practice, too. Some deeper thinking that will help you in the long-term.
By becoming more resilient, adapting better, doing work more efficiently and more effectively, we may not end up as a civilization where we want to be. In fact, Onfray calls our attempts for adapting “suicide”. From a systems and political viewpoint, unless we succeed to change the paradigm of ‘Dead Time’, I am becoming more anxious than anything about what kind of world we are setting up for the next generation. In view of our fast-paced workplaces, the growing gap between rich and poor, and more complex global challenges that come with a post industrial neoliberal era, resiliency and adaptability aren’t for the long-term. The short-term. Critical. But not enough. It will require a total transformation with awareness and the tools, techniques and acts of refusal. If our civilization should succeed, it will be, for one, because we chose to co-expand ‘Alive Time’ (co-!), and consciously and deliberately co-create and innovate a new paradigm of refusal (cough… revolution).
Reflective practice means learning from what is working and what is not working, and changing course in our future iterations. This applies to the approach we take for socio-political change, which I believe includes the tools for immediate wellbeing, and future thinking and collective wellbeing. In my research and writing, I include refusual, understanding a different take and approach towards “civil society activism,” and networking for ‘undesirable’ activism, showcasing how various organizations and activists are achieving this, for some more to reflect on. In the meantime…
The Three Mindfulness Tools below are to help you create and innovate more ‘Alive Time’ in your life and work:
The Pebble Exercise: For grounding, relaxing, letting go of stress, with a focus on the state of the body.
The States-Check Exercise: For becoming conscious of your emotional and mental state; to reflect on how your state might be impacting your quality of life, productivity, and those around you; and choose to change it, where needed.
The Deep Listening Exercise: For helping those we live with, work with and serve, to create connection, healing, harmony, better collaboration, more effective teamwork - and enhance our own emotional maturity, wellbeing, and capacity to empathize.
PEBBLE EXERCISE FOR MINDFULNESS
Beginning: First, take a pebble/crystal into the palm of your hand. If you are right handed, best to hold in the left palm and vice versa.
Breathing: Take in three deep breaths for a count of four, holding for a moment after the inhale, and then exhale slowly for a count of four.
Reminder: It’s ok if your mind wanders away from your pebble at any time. With kindness, bring your attention back to your stone.
Seeing: Look closely at your pebble and keep your focus on it. Give it your full attention and take your time observing its colour, shape, any ‘imperfections’ or asymmetries, how it may shine or refract light, any other nuances. Take your time exploring, noting mentally, and just being with your pebble. Look at it as if you had never seen one quite like this one before, because you haven’t. How is it unique?
Touching: Turn the pebble around slowly in your palm. Feel its texture. Is it slippery, or rough? Do your fingers slide over it easily or more slowly, given its texture? You may use your other hand to help. What else do you note about how it feels? Any sensations? What are they? Does it feel somewhat warm, cold? Is the temperature changing? How heavy is it? You may close your eyes if you wish and sense if you can feel anything else.
Being with: Close your eyes, if you haven’t already. And just be with your pebble. Remember to keep focused on it to train your brain to let go of all else, all worry about the future, the past, and just be in the now.
Assign a metaphor: The pebble will symbolize something you need to go even deeper in with focus, presence, and awareness. You can either choose what you think you need at this time (greater peace, wellbeing, grounded-ness, wisdom, insight, faith, hope, knowing all is well and in perfect harmony). Let go of needing to understand anything right now. Wisdom and insight go beyond, if that’s what you feel you need. Or, to go one step further, you might ask what it is you need right now, not tomorrow, in the now. And let that answer come to you, and then work with that answer.
Focusing on the essence: Assign what it is you need at this moment in time to the pebble in your palm. Bring your attention to it now being imbued with that essence. This pebble now holds and symbolizes that which you need.
Expand this essence: Now slowly breathe the essence contained in your pebble into your palm, imagining with each breath that the essence is moving, with the next breath to your elbow. Breathe it slowly up your shoulder. Spend a few moments on the sensations it might have. Color. Does it feel relaxing, calming as you breathe it in? Supporting? Continue. Breathe this essence into your heart. Let it fill your heart, embrace it and expand it. Let it expand all around. Take a strand of it and breathe it into your abdomen, and let it expand, into the base of your spine. Breathe it into your knees, your feet, all the way to all your toes. Bring your attention to your heart, and from there bring a strand of this essence – and what you need – up through your chest, into your other arm, into your neck, slowly up your to the top of your head. And bathe in the expanded essence of what is represented just for you. Stay present. If your attention goes to anything else in the room, with kindness bring it back to your whole self.
Ending: Count backwards from 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. You may open your eyes.
You can record the above and play your recorded voice to guide you in this exercise.
1. Set an alarm on your mobile phone or other device for at least two times and best three times during the day (i.e. 10:36 am, 3:42 pm, 7:51 pm) for a daily practice of a states-check in.
2. When your alarm goes off, no matter what you’re doing (unless it’s something that requires your undivided attention, such as, driving or operating machinery), ask yourself what emotional and mental state you are in. Are you happy, energized, calm, relaxed, hopeful, focused, clear, grounded, doing negative talk to yourself, self-doubting, fearful, sad anxious, mad, etc.?
3. Observe. Be kind to yourself if your state isn’t your ideal.
4. However, is this state what will enhance the Being-ness that you need to live in and expand ‘Alive Time’?
5. Assign a number to the level of where you found yourself from 1 (very mad, very fearful, very stressed, etc.) to 10 (very energized, very joyous, very grateful, very loving).
6. What state would you want in order to feel good? Happy?
7. Your body state is connected. Get up, stand tall, shoulders back and take four fast breaths in and out.
8. Your mind is connected. Bring your focus to an object (i.e. a pebble you have assigned a metaphor to) and keep focus on it, observing it.
9. Think of something you are incredibly grateful for in your life and hold your focus on that thing, memory, or thought.
DEEP LISTENING EXERCISE
1. Invitation: create a space of safety for deep listening by inviting the participant(s) to engage in a process of sharing, where they will be heard and where what they share will be held in confidence.
2. Process: Allow for some predictability by explaining the purpose and process: a) making time to be listened to and the opportunity to offer the same – to listen deeply and be fully present; and that maybe something transformative might result through deep listening;
b) each person will think of something they are feeling stressed about and are willing to share, and one thing they are feeling abundantly grateful for that has happened or they will have the opportunity to do.
c) before the participant shares, ask that they focus their attention to what is coming up for them, whatever it may be, such as, the areas in the body where there is tightening or expansion, how it feels to be speaking. They will pay attention to while speaking about the stressful thing and then the exciting and happy thing.
d) each person (best from a group of two or three) will take turns after 3-5 minutes of speaking on both the stressful and positive event.
e) the listener will also keep bringing their focus to listening, and also pay attention to what is coming up in response for them.
f) reflection time will follow after the process of deep listening with the larger group of participants using a set of five questions.
*Deep listening is letting go of all distractions and holding heart centered focus on the person you are listening to. You remain grounded, present, clear, attentive, open, observant, and curious. When listening, drop down from thinking to attention on your heart and listen from this space. Any time you feel a response come up to what the person is saying, any assumptions or judgements, envision it leaving and bring your focus back to your heart and the speaker. Listen to the tone of voice, the feelings discernable (without interpreting) behind what is being said. Let what is being said affect you. You may nod, hold eye contact, and allow for silence. Hold that space, and listen into that silence and whatever else is. When the person is finished, acknowledge with a gesture of gratitude for having the opportunity to have listened.
3. Group Questions:
a. How did it feel to be heard during the exercise?
b. What was the experience of listening with the heart?
c. If you judged while listening, did you notice? And did you notice any constrictions anywhere while judging?
d. If you empathized while listening, did you notice? And did you note any changes in your body, and if so in which ways?
e. How will you bring this practice into your relationships, your workplace?
* You might set an intention to start practicing listening deeply by writing out a reminder to listen with openness and curiosity where you will view it.