From Stress to Resilience – and why cavemen didn’t get ulcers!

Have you ever had a moment – perhaps on a particularly bad day – that you’ve thought ‘This can’t be right! A human being was never meant to live like this!’ There’s a lot of truth in your bewildered observation; it may or may not be some consolation to know that the world’s leaders in trauma therapy are coming to the same conclusion!

Because trauma is rampant in our world today an enormous amount of work has been done, and helped along with new insights in brain science, a lot more is understood about the brain-body mechanisms that lead to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and it’s many debilitating symptoms.

Naturally someone who had been through a horrific event – like a serious road traffic accident, a violent assault, or a natural disaster – will experience after effects. The worrying thing is that many who have been through fairly minor events are being diagnosed with PTSD. An example might be someone who seemed to be functioning perfectly well is tail-ended on the way to work one morning, and their lives fall apart! Someone who would be no means be perceived as a ‘wimp’ may suffer years of sleep disturbance, chronic pain and inability to hold down a job – the result of a 5mile an hour collision!

So what has gone wrong when someone (as in the example above) appears to have so little resilience – how can a minor event have such devastating consequences? Leaders in the field of trauma therapy would say that the underlying problem is accumulated stress: stress responses that are meant to fire up, help us through crisis, then disappear, have actually stacked up in the system. These accumulated stress responses mean that a person who appears to be functioning perfectly well might actually be living very close to their tipping point; due to the backlog of stress in their system, they are working really hard to ‘function perfectly well’. Sadly, it’s not going to take much to push them beyond their tipping point.

The other possible reason for this apparent lack of resilience is developmental trauma – conditions in the person’s early life were not sufficient to lay down the basis of resilience and somehow they have not sufficient inner resources to roll with the punches.

If you want to learn more about the fascinating new developments in trauma therapy, why not investigate ‘From Stress to Resilience’ a new 6 week course starting in Monaghan Wellness Centre. While the bad news is that trauma and accumulated stress are so rampant in our society, the good news is that an amazing amount of work is being done to understand and to discover ways to heal this modern plague. Hence the course will not only present some fascinating information about how trauma messes us up, but also lots of ways in which we can reduce our own backlog of accumulated stress, thus restoring resilience and aliveness.

But coming back to your thought at the beginning ‘This ain’t right. Surely this isn’t how a human being is meant to live!’ One of the most fascinating lines of enquiry that the experts in trauma are following – is that indeed this isn’t right. While life has changed enormously since our human ancestors came down from the trees and started to live a two-legged live on the ground, our nervous systems have not actually changed very much. Our nervous systems are designed for a life of the hunter-gatherer – a life lived in tribes of about 50 to 150 people, where we knew everybody, everybody looked out for everybody else; we hardly ever met a stranger and crises – such as a visit from a man-eating tiger, or aggression from a neighbouring tribe – were intense but short lived. The important thing is that crises were spaced out – there was time for life (and our nervous systems) to get back to normal, to a state of relative ease, before the next crisis.

 So from this perspective, it seems that modern life itself is a ‘trauma’ for a species meant for a much quieter, slower existence. Unless you’re living as a hermit, you may well have the sense that there’s always something else – you’ve just sorted one crisis and there’s another half dozen waiting! This is a recipe for accumulated stress, a recipe for living dangerously close to your tipping point – the edge of your resilience. But, please don’t despair – there’s a lot that you can do –  just to understand how your nervous system and stress responses work is a great first step; and then practising yoga and mindfulness are great ways to restore order and resilience within your system, no matter how overworked and chaotic it has been.(Yoga in particular is recommended by leaders in the field of trauma and it is taught as an integral part of the recovery programmes in many of the world’s leading trauma treatment centres.)

If you’d like to hear more, do please come along to a free information session in Monaghan Wellness Centre on Wed 17 September at 7pm.

Details: Mairead Flynn 086 8120332

Watch this Space!

It’s been so long since any activity here!

But at last there’s lots of new stuff on the horizon…
I’ll be posting fuller details over the next few days/weeks, but can’t wait to flag up what’s coming down the line – strange that I haven’t put anything up since January, and now I can’t wait! I have to admit I am a little bit excited about what’s on the way, so here it is……

First of all, I always love starting new MBSR courses – every group is so different and even thought more or less the same material is covered, it always seems new, thanks to the uniqueness of each participant…

MINDFULNESS BASED STRESS REDUCTION (MBSR)
new 8-week courses starting 
Monaghan Wellness Centre on Mon 22 Sept
Free Information Session ∼ Mon 15 Sept at 7pm
and
Cavan Crystal Hotel on Thurs 25 September
Free Information Session ∼ Thurs 18 Sept at 7pm

for full details and Registration Details, download Mindfulness Information – Sept 2014

Next…I am so happy to be doing a number of one-day workshops this term with my friend and fellow mindfulness teacher, Mairead Heaney – some of you might have met Mairead before. Very conscious of the value of follow up and on-going support for people who have already done MBSR, we are offering a number of themed workshops in venues which might suit folks who have done MBSR either in Monaghan, Cavan or Dundalk. For starters…

Mindfulness and the Body

The Magnet, Dundalk on Saturday 20 September
Ballybay Wetlands Centre on Saturday 27 September
Both will run from 10am to 4pm
Much more detail will be posted very soon

Mindfulness and the Emotions

Dundalk on Sat 18 October (venue to be confirmed)
Ballybay Wetlands Centre on Sat 25 October
Both will run from 10am to 4pm
Much more detail soon, but you might want to pencil in….

And yet further excitement –

From Stress to Resilience, reducing stress, restoring balance, rediscovering pleasure!

A new course I’m working on based the latest research findings regarding the human nervous system and how it’s wired to handle stress. Some of you may know I have been studying Somatic Experiencing over the last 2 years. Somatic Experiencing is a body-based approach to healing trauma and accumulated stress. Over the last 30+ years, I have worked with many approaches to manage and reduce stress but somehow Somatic Experiencing is bringing all this experience and learning together. It is very exciting for me to put this material together (with the help of a mentor on the Somatic Experiencing faculty)…here’s a bit of blurb about what the course will entail…more to follow

A 6 week body-mind journey to combine the practice of Yoga and Mindfulness with the latest research findings on the human stress responses.

You will learn:
How accumulated stress responses get locked into the body
How many physical, mental and emotional problems are caused by nervous system dysregulation
How to use yoga, mindfulness and a range of easy, enjoyable awareness exercises to work directly with the body and restore nervous system regulation
How presence and pleasure and key to restoring inner balance

A blend of fascinating input and nourishing practice, the course aims to be informative, entertaining and deeply encouraging – a genuine step towards living with greater ease and resilience in our pretty crazy world!

Free Information Session: Wednesday 17 September
Course Begins: Wednesday 24 September ~ 6 Wednesdays, 7 to 9pm
Venue: Monaghan Wellness Centre

More to come on all of these – so do watch this space!

 

Thinking outside the ‘8-week’ box

After a mega-slump of energy around the New Year (anyone else feel that?) thankfully I bounced back and got the spurt I needed to put the show on the road once more!

Getting excited about new 8-week MBSR courses starting in Monaghan and Cavan over the next few weeks. But I’ve also been doing some thinking about other ways people can learn Mindfulness. The 8-week courses are of course tried and tested – there is no doubt that if participants make a reasonable commitment to the programme there is a lot to be gained. But not everyone can invest the time and energy  – and indeed the money – needed. So I thought it only fair to offer other options….

To begin with, between now and September I’m offering a number of one-day workshops – these will offer some general background and introduce the core practices of MBSR. For some it might be all they need – they may find the day is enough to launch them into a regular personal practice, they may enjoy the day as a welcome and nourishing respite from something they are currently struggling with, or indeed they might discover that it’s not quite what they’re looking for. For others, the one-day workshop will be a good opportunity to ‘dip in a toe’ and if they decide to commit to an 8-week course they will have a clear sense of what they are committing to.

I’m attaching a document with details of these workshops Ways to Wellness 2014
I do hope you have time to check it out.
You will also find details  of one-day workshops on Yoga and Mindfulness – these are intended for folks who have already done MBSR, but students of Yoga are welcome as well. Been thinking a lot lately about how Yoga has been somehow ‘upstaged’ in recent times by the tremendous popularity of Mindfulness. Of-course its not a competition, and I have nothing to gain from taking sides …. but I may be about to climb onto a soap box, so I think I’ll leave it for another post!
Watch this space…

Singing Meditation!

We had a lovely day yesterday in The Station, Belturbet – mostly attended by the group from Cavan who have just finished MBSR, also a few folks from Clones and previous MBSR groups.

We ended the day with a lovely guided Meditation from Thich Nhat Hanh, which to the surprise (even horror!) of some, included singing. In fact it was a really good way to end, was enjoyed and well received by all. Some wanted to know the words, so I promised to put them up today. Here is the full version of the guided meditation

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out
Breathing in, my breath grows deep
Breathing out, my breath goes slowly
Breathing in, I feel calm
Breathing out, I feel ease
Breathing in, I smile
Breathing out, I release
Dwelling in the present moment
I know it is a wonderful moment

And the simpler version which we sang…

In, Out, Deep and Slow. Calm, Ease, Smile, Release. Present Moment, Wonderful Moment.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen monk and one of the world’s greatest meditation teachers. An absolutely charming man, he was in Ireland last year and led a 6-day family retreat in Kilarney.  He is praticularly fond of teaching meditation to families and children. He often uses little songs like we sang yesterday. There are many benefits in this way of working – as you probably experienced, it makes the meditation very memorable – like a jingle, it tends to follow you around! As you can imagine, children love a simple little song, but it can also lead adults to a very profound experience (if we can get beyond our adult ‘sophistication’ and allow ourselves to enjoy something so simple!). Meditation can also be a lonely activity – we may have very profound experiences, but they are in splendid isolation – so using voice and song helps to build community – reminds us that we are not alone as we tread this path.

Thich Nhat Hanh is also a poet and peace activist. He has written many books including the little gem   ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’, which first brought the world’s attention to the word ‘mindfulness’ 
The meditation which we used yesterday can be found in a CD set called ‘Calm Ease Smile Breathe’. It can also be found in the book ‘The Blooming of a Lotus’
Although in his 80’s Thich Nhat Hanh still travels all over the world giving talks and retreats to those interested in learning about meditation and mindful living. He is base in France in a meditation centre call Plum Village. If you google his name, or google Plum Village, you will find lots of information.

Finding your feet again in practice…

A follow up day for MBSR has been a long time coming – thank you for your patience.

Maybe it’s a bit like waiting for a bus – you wait and wait and then 3 come at once!
Why 3?
I was planning a day in September – Saturday 14 – and then a friend reminded me that just because evening classes stop in July and August, not everything comes to a standstill. Not everybody is away and for those who are at home, this might be an ideal time to take a little time out for personal nourishment.

Hence, with a little shove from friend,
I decided to offer 2 possible dates in August as well – Sat 10 and 24th
I am putting all three dates out there and will run with whichever suits the most people. Who knows maybe 2, or even 3 will run!

‘Finding your feet again’ seemed like a good title for a number of reasons. I’m sure I’m mistaken but for just a few of you practice might have got a little sidelined since finishing MBSR. Difficult to keep going when life is busy and at times practice might seem dry and not particularly rewarding – a feeling that you’re ploughing a lonely furrow. We all need an injection of inspiration from time to time and a reminder that others are also walking this path. Hence the first aim of a follow up day is to help you find your feet again in practice. Just in case you’ve fallen by the wayside, the day will be an opportunity to revisit the Core Practices of MBSR (Sitting, Body Scan, Breathing Space and Walking Meditation) and to catch up with others who share your commitment to letting these practices find a place in their lives.

It’s also helpful if each follow day offers something new, or puts extra emphasis on some aspect of mindfulness  – body, emotions, thoughts etc. For this first day, I’d love to offer some input on mindfulness of the body in everyday posture – and where better to start than the feet, the foundation of posture. We will do a very simple self-assessment of our normal ways of standing and walking, (did you know that on average we take about 10,000 steps a day?), and a series of delightful exercises with feet resting on the wall. Of course we’ll do some formal walking meditation, but the emphasis will be on mindfulness of the feet as a doorway to being present to life as it unfolds moment by moment, step by step…..10,000 opportunities a day!

But grounding all of this in practical details:

PROPOSED DATES: August 10, August 24, September 14 (all Saturdays)

VENUE: Ballybay Wetlands Centre. TIMES: 10 am to 4pm

GUEST TEACHER: I am hoping that  Mairead Heaney a Mindfulness Teacher / Psychotherapist from Dundalk will be able to join us for these dates – some of you have met Mairead before: she has a particular interest in Mindfulness and Self Compassion and hopefully will share some this with us on a later follow up day…

REFRESHMENTS: Tea, coffee biscuits provided; please bring your own lunch

COST: €35 

BOOKING: please let me know by Monday 22 July whether you are interested in one of these days, and which one, so I can confirm the booking with the Wetland Centre

FURTHER DETAILS: delighted to hear from you if you want to give me a ring for more information…

Practising Presence…

My friends and family know that I have a penchant for starting new blogs but I’m not all that good at maintaining or adding content. I’ve done it again – started a new blog/website the other day called Practising Presence.

Over the holidays I had recorded a short practice called ‘Practising Presence’ – sensing into the body, breath and senses – simply being present to life unfolding moment by moment. I had in mind to put this up on-line as a taster practice for those who are exploring Mindfulness Meditation for the first time, and also for experienced meditators who want to do a short guided practice once in a while. Since this site can’t upload audio files I decided to start up a new one which does. Then I realised that because I have upgraded my new WordPress site to carry audio – this one can now do so as well – it seems the one upgrade applies to all my WordPress territories – I don’t really understand, but won’t complain! You can’t possibly be interested in my tentative explorations into cyberspace – suffice it to say that I may begin to use the Practising Presence for further practice material,both audio and written, and continue to use this site for occasional reflective pieces and for news of up-coming courses and events. We’ll see…

The thing about Mindfulness Meditation is that we’re not trying to achieve any special state – we’re not going after anything esoteric or sublime. The aim is just to be here – present to things exactly as they are. You could say that rather than having an ‘out of the body’ experience, we’re actually trying to be present right here in the body! You might think that you already live in your body – watch out for a later post on Automatic Pilot….

I hope you take time to listen to this short practice – it’s home made, so not perfect quality – but bear with me, I hope to get around eventually to making more professional recordings. Meanwhile, a simple practice like this is a very good way to not only practice formally  but also to begin creating the habit of being there ‘practising presence’ wherever you are. enjoy!

Please click here for Practising Presence, a 20 minute practice of just being wherever you are…

Thank you YFNI!

I enjoyed my day in Belfast yesterday so much – I feel rather guilty – is one supposed to enjoy work so much? Did I work hard enough? It was a lovely day and thank you so much, both to those who did the work of organising and to those who were so graciously present. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
As promised, I am putting up rough outlines of the practices we shared – hoping these help to jog the memory of those who wish to remember. I hope also that if you do the practices again, you will have a living experience – once more, allowing each moment to be born afresh…..
Opening Practice ,   Midday,   Closing Practice
(Suggestion – after viewing any of these files, I suggest you press the back button to return to the page. If you press close, you leave the site –  I’ll have to find out how to sort this.)

That’s it – I hope I have up-loaded 3 files.
If you have any problem accessing these, please let me know  (maireadmflynn@gmail.com) and I can send to you by email.
If you have questions – I’ll be delighted to elucidate…in fact, I eagerly await your questions!

Warm wishes to all,
Mairead

PS: I hope you are remembering your ‘I am here’ mantra!

How was your shower?

One of the big themes in the MBSR courses is Automatic Pilot and its opposite counterpart Being in the Present Moment.

For newcomers it is entertaining to gradually realise that we are very rarely present – just doing what you’re doing, being where you are. Doesn’t seem like a big deal and yet we spend so much of our lives time-travelling – rehearshing the future, rehashing the past. How often have you finished a cup of tea and the only evidence of having drunk it is that the cup is nearly empty, just a dreg of cold tea in the bottom! Nobody else was in the room, so you must have drunk it! Like I say, this kind of realisation is amusing for beginners and humbling of the more experienced – yes, no matter how long we practice mindfulness, yoga and meditation, most of us find that we still have frequent and long lapses in our awareness.Nobody – I’ll guarantee – is mindful 100% of the time!

The other morning I had a ‘eureka’ moment getting out of the shower – is there something about water that leads to realisations?
As I stepped out a little voice asked ‘How was your shower?’ You know what – I hadn’t a clue! I was wet all over, so was the shower, but I hadn’t really been there at all. I hadn’t enjoyed the gush of warm (expensive!) water – I hadn’t smelt the gorgeous shower gel my sister had given for recent birthday, nor did I feel the ‘rich luxurious foam’ of carefully chosen shampoo. I hoped that I had washed all the important bits and hadn’t used body wash on my hair. Most likely I hadn’t – I guess most days I shower on automatic pilot – very skilled at washing myself while I sort out the big issues of my life, or more likely lose myself in daily trivia!

So, the little voice was a wake up call. While the long-term aim is to be with our experience while it is happening – wake up and smell the coffee, shower gel or whatever – sometimes it’s easier to do it in retrospect. Try tuning into a recent experience… For example as you get up from the table ask yourself  ‘How was your lunch?’ Perhaps like me getting out of the shower, you haven’t a clue. But you know, the more we ask ourselves, ‘How was your drive?’ of ‘How was your cake’, ‘How was your walk?’  the more our attention might just perk up and begin to notice more and more of this wonderful life as it is actually happening!

Warm wishes,

Mairead

What’s the 8-week course about: Part 2 – Doing and Being

Last week in the course, we talked about ‘doing’ and ‘being’ – two different modes of mind.

You can probably guess – Yes, the ‘doing’ mode is when you’re just focused on getting the job done – it was on your to-do-list and whatever the cost, you’ll get it done today. Jon Kabat-Zinn tells the story of  man on one his courses who found himself at 10pm turning on the floodlights and going out to wash his car – it was on his list of things to do that day, and who cares that he had a heart attack couple of months ago – he was going to do it today!
On the other hand in ‘being’ mode, you also want to get the job done, but you stay tuned to how you are. If you realise that the to-do-list was a tad over ambitious you are willing to review your timescale- you are capable of stepping back and thinking ‘this might take a bit longer’ or ‘I might need some help with this’ or ‘I need a rest now and I’ll come back to it later with fresh energy’. There is also the possibility that you might enjoy the task rather than waiting for the satisfaction of completion!

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with doing!  We all need deadlines at times to get the job done, and sometimes the deadline is not within our control. Problem is that we can become slaves to just getting things done. At the extreme end of ‘doing’ mode there is the tragedy that our lives might become reduced to just getting things done. A great book on this topic is ‘The Art of Effortless Living’ by Ingrid Bacci. In her opening paragraph she refers to our goal orientated society where we judge ourselves and others on our achievements:

Why is it that life often seems to be more like a treadmill than like a pathway to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? As we go about our daily lives, many of us are dogged by feelings of emotional and personal dissatisfaction. We have a nagging sense that there must be more to life than we are getting. We apply ourselves to reaching our goals, only to find that even the best achievements seem thin relative to the price we pay in the form of tension and stress….What keeps us travelling down a road whose rewards carry such a cost?

Her book describes a society in extreme ‘doing’ mode and she offers ways in which any of us can step off the treadmill and find a more human and satisfying way of ‘being’

You probably already know which mode you tend to inhabit, but here are a few pointers….

In doing mode, you  do things with effort and haste – the goal is to get things done
In being mode you are more likely to feel at ease and to take pleasure in whatever you are doing

In doing mode you are focused on the outer achievement- getting the job done is the priority
In being mode you are in touch with your inner experience, energy levels, tiredness, hunger – priority is to look after yourself

In doing mode you are driven by external pressures – what people / colleagues expect of you
In being mode you maintain your composure – your inner wisdom overriding external pressure

In doing mode, you are likely to multi-task – getting the job done is good; getting several jobs done is even better!
In being mode you do one thing at a time – whatever you choose to do deserves your full attention

In doing mode, you are living in the future – what’s next on the agenda once this is out of the way?
In being mode, you are in the present moment – in touch with what’s going on within and around you

This is all very well you say, but what if we all become mellow and relaxed, listen to our bodies, rest and all that stuff – when will we ever get things done? You may be surprised to hear that the link between effort and success is a very tenuous one!  I’m going to leave you with a further quote from Ingrid Bacci where she identifies to characteristics of effortless performance the kind that sets  apart the truly great musicians / sports people – what sets the truly high-achievers apart from the ‘no pain no gain’ brigade…

The 4 characteristics of effortless performance:

  • First, we focus more on how we feel inside than on the results we want to achieve
  • Second we keep our attention on maintaining inner calm and not giving way to anxiety
  • Third, we refuse to lose our composure in the face of external pressures
  • Fourth, we assume that performance is intimately connected with pleasure and keep our attention on finding enjoyment in what we are doing

Sounds a bit like doing mode….

More next week

What’s the 8-week course about? Part 1

With wonderfully good intentions I started this blog, but afraid I am disappointing myself by hardly ever making an entry! I could use the excuse that I am overwhelmed by the response to the 8-week Mindfulness programmes I started to offer in April… I have been amazed by the response – so many people looking for ways to reduce stress and live with greater ease and enjoyment – but I can’t blame that.It’s really just my usual pattern of loving to start things and finding it a bit more tricky to follow through – sound familiar?

S0, just in case anyone is following (and hopefully there might soon be something to follow) I resolved today to post something at least once a week. A good place to start might be to share something of what goes on during the 8 weeks of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Courses….

Without further waffle I will offer a few words on one of the very first themes THE AUTOMATIC PILOT….

THE AUTOMATIC PILOT is pretty self explanatory. It is the wonderful human capacity to do routine things without thinking about them. Wouldn’t it be terrible if we had to work it all out every time we tied a shoelace, or got into the car everyday and had to seach for where the ignition key should go…and then what to do next? Yes, it is wonderful that you can drive to work and rehearse your new strategy for dealing with a difficult colleague; you can eat lunch while mentally totting up your current account balance; you can go for an evening walk and relive in minute detail the near-triumph you had over the difficult work colleague – regretting slightly that you missed delivering  the barbed comment that is now so obvious – hopefully you can use it tomoorw!

But is all this so wonderful? Who is actually here? Who is living your life? Who is tasting your lunch… who is driving your car….who is enjoying a peaceful evening walk??? No one it seems!

I think the message is clear. Jon Kabat-Zinn (who pioneered the original Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses) talks of an empty feeling that many of us experience – a sense that there is something missing in our lives. That ‘something missing’ he suggests might be YOU!

Think about it. Without going into long detailed instructions (I could give you those also, but don’t think they’re necessary), might I suggest that for the next couple of days you experiment of just being where you are, doing what your’re doing….like when you drive, so what it’s like to just drive; when brushing your teeth, see what it’s like to just brush your teeth; when you’re eating your lunch see what it’s like to just eat your lunch.

‘Easy peasy!’ you might think. ‘ What has this got to do with meditation?’ you might ask.
Maybe not as easy as you think! But give it a try –
Who knows, to actually be present in your life might gradually seem like very good idea!
More next week….