Just recently I have become very aware of stress. It’s a bit sneaky is stress. It just crept up on me when I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy to notice.
When I did notice it – my body began to send me signals. It usually lurks between my heart and solar plexus – an uncomfortable fizzing feeling. Then my shoulders take the opportunity to be particularly naughty and start creeping up towards my ears. My tinnitus suddenly becomes much worse. With me it’s rarely anything in particular that has triggered it. I seldom know. But that really doesn’t matter. It is the way I am responding that matters. It can be the little things that build up. Then I suddenly feel overwhelmed in my body, even though my mind is telling me I’m perfectly OK. I feel calm, in control, but my body has been triggered into an old habitual behaviour of flight, fright, freeze.
My Mindfulness practice always comes to the rescue. At first I need to just be aware of what is going on. I feel calm but my body isn’t listening. So I take the first step of becoming aware of what is happening while it is happening. It’s like my body has disconnected from my mind and is doing its own thing. All I can do is sit and watch it. The second step is to be kind to myself. This isn’t my fault and I just need to bring a sense of compassion to this human body I inhabit which didn’t arrive with a manual. Or if it did, it was hidden from me or lost in the mists of time.
The third step is to allow my body to soften, using my breath and the Soften, Soothe Allow meditation practice that is part of the Level 2 Compassion Training. In this meditation we notice what is uncomfortable, we allow it to be there just as it is without judgement, but we bring a sense of softening around the edges of the difficulty, giving it space and gently say “soften” to ourselves. With a kindly, soothing gesture of a hand on the heart we then recognise that we are not alone in how we feel and that others, all other human beings, suffer too. As we feel the warmth of the hand connecting with the heart, we softly say to ourselves “soothe”. In the final phase we rest in awareness, allowing ourselves to feel what we feel – kindly saying to ourselves “allow”, as we recognise fighting how we feel just brings tightness into the body and wastes time and energy. Simply allowing everything to be just as it is allows ourselves to give ourselves permission to be ok with everything we are feeling.
You might want to try the practice – click here if you do.
In this practice, noticing my body racing and fizzing, I relax into allowing this experience, knowing that it will soon pass.
There is a freedom that comes with this awareness. It gives me the choice not to fight, to take it easy, be kind to myself and nurture for a while it all passes through.
This provides me with a new opportunity, to react differently. As I sit in awareness, I realise I have been triggered and it feels like my body has gone back into the past, to a difficult time when I was juggling so many things, responsible for so much, with no Mindfulness or Compassion skills to help me through.
Rather than allowing my self to get stuck in a rut, I choose to be different, and not react to the stress my body is feeling. I recognise that there is no point in behaving how I have always behaved when my body feels stress. Going round in circles and ending up at the same point seems futile to me now. That’s when I noticed that there is a real freedom in awareness, which allows us to take a new view of ourselves, as if we are outside looking in, just observing.
In this new found awareness I am finding little tricks to help my body relax. I can take moments out for myself to just breathe and soften my body. My mindful movement practice of Yoga, Qigong and Tai Chi help with this. I can also focus on my breathing with a three minute breathing space meditation, and also just taking in the goodness from the beautiful, uplifting things I see around me, no matter how small, like the sound of the sea, birds singing and the view from my window.
There is also a simple, ancient technique which was re-introduced to me recently, called trataka. Trataka is the practice of focussing intently on a single object, such as a candle flame, for around 30 minutes without blinking. Occasionally you might pause (as I have to often as seemingly I blink a lot) and in this moment of a blink, visualise the object. I tried this practice again for the first time in a very long time, and noticed that it had the same impact as my Mindfulness meditation. After all, in our Mindfulness we use the breath, body or sound as a place to remain in the present moment. In Trataka, we are being mindful and resting in the moment by using the object as a place to remain present. It’s not rocket science, but training the mind does take time.
I find myself feeling like I am a complete Mindfulness beginner again. This happens a lot. But I realise that I am stronger than I give myself credit.
I recognise that we are constantly bombarded by the outside world, with its chaos. Even the news is full of doom and gloom, and we can start feeling that we want everything to be different. Wanting everything to be different than it is can be ‘anti-allowing’ and ‘anti-acceptance’, and can bring us discomfort as we are pulled into our habitual behaviours. But if we recognise this, then this is the first step of allowing everything to be, can set us on a path to peace.
When we are really busy in our lives and the world feels chaotic, we can pause to gaze at the candle, or commit to be present, in the moment, just for a while. This can help us to find our centre, and rest in the midst of it all.
I have noticed that when I am super busy with life, my practice suffers, and yet this is the time when I need it the most.
Another opportunity to make a choice therein presents itself as I notice the seeming chaos inside my body and deliberately choose to override old patterns of behaviour. I then find the time to practice Mindfulness meditations or movement that I have learned over the years. Even 10 minutes helps. And I can always find 10 minutes.
My insight from this new level of awareness is that I can create a little calm space inside myself, right at the centre, even though my body and the world around me feels chaotic.
It helps to know that I don’t even need to understand why I am feeling the way I do. I can just rest in it all. Not trying to change a thing, but just allowing everything to be part of my present moment experience. And that’s ok.
Do you know when you are stressed or overwhelmed? Where do you feel this? Does your body sometimes react in a way your mind cannot understand? I invite you to pause and sense deep into the body and see where you are feeling any discomfort or strange sensation in the body. Imagine breathing into the discomfort and out from it into the space around it. You might want to say soften, soothe and allow to yourself, or do the Soften, Soothe, Allow Compassion practice. Then see how that feels. How is it not to fight how you are feeling and allow everything to be just as it is. With kindness.
I’d love to hear how you get on so please do write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment after this post.
Jacky is teaching the new Mindfulness in Movement Course on 8th March, 2022, and a practice day of Just Being on 29th December.
She will also be guiding the online Mindfulness course which runs on a Wednesday evening, starting 12th January, 2022.
She has contributed a chapter to the Mindful Heroes Book entitled “Turning Empathic Distress into Compassion – A Hero’s Journey for Family Carers”. You can hear an extract from the chapter where she talks about the results of her MSc Studies in Mindfulness on Compassion & Family Carers. You can download a free sample of Jacky’s chapter here.