Helpful Buddhas Meditation

This mediatation is brilliant for the end of a frustrating day, and it can actually be quite entertaining as well, and reminds me of the lighter side of life. I first came across it in Jack Kornfield’s book “A Path with Heart”.

image

Sit quietly and tune into your breathing. Imagine that the earth is filled with Buddhas (or whatever wise guides you prefer), and every person you have met today is one of these enlightened beings, there just to teach you a lesson. Each person exists entirely for your benefit and is acting to help you learn something new.

Your task in this meditation is to discern the lessons that have been offered to you today.

So, if you have just been to a job interview, and found they had a favoured internal candidate all along, perhaps there is some thing to learn about non-attachment or compassion.

If your boss has been piling the work on, the lesson could be around finding your wellspring of calm in the face of it all, or developing your assertiveness skills.

If you have been stuck in a heavy traffic jam on the way home, maybe all those drivers were there to teach you to accept your boredom and turn it to mindful acceptance.

A bullying colleague could be there to teach you to to find the inner strength to believe in yourself, ask for help or change your situation.

The more you use your imagination, the more you can see the ways all these wise beings are helping you. What I love about this meditation is that it can make difficult situations feel lighter and de-toxify difficult relationships.

If you have never meditated before, see my post onReally Simple Meditation to help you get started.

 

 

Fourteen Books That Might Change Your Life

image.jpegLike Hermione Granger, if in doubt I go to the library. Many times in my life, I have been full of doubt or negativity, and the right book has come along at the right time to help me turn things around.

So, these are the books which have changed my life at different times.  I’m not saying they are the best spiritual guides out there, just that they are the books that came and spoke to me at the right time in my life.  Maybe it is a right time in your life for one of these books!

Benjamin Hoff – The Tao of Pooh

I was given this book as a teenager, by my Mum, and it was my first introduction to Eastern philosophy.  It’s a simple book, but was very comforting at the time. It makes Taoism very accessible.

Anne Dickenson – Assertiveness

I found this book as a teenager, just as I was getting into feminism and political activism.  I was a very unassertive teenager, and this book helped me claim my right to express my point of view.

Carl Rogers – Client Centred Therapy

His concept of unconditional positive regard is a beautiful one, and learning to extend acceptance and warmth to others, we inevitably learn to extend it to ourselves as well. This book changed my relationship with m,y clients, but also with myself.

Thich Nhat Hanh – Peace Is Every Step

This is a beautiful and easy introduction to mindfulness and meditation from a Vietnamese monk.  He is super practical and gives mindfulness activities that you can do while washing up, in a traffic jam or answering the phone. This book helped me appreciate the beauty in the present moment long before I did any kind of meditation course.  I have to thank my step-father for this gift.

Martin Seligman – Learned Optimism

I read this whilst the organisation I work for was going through a major restructure and redundancy exercise. This book helped me to recognise some pessimistic thought patterns that were making me feel mildly depressed, and I was able to re-write my internal script with the help of this book, and feel a lot more optimistic. Seligman is a leading expert on cognitive behavioural therapy and positive psychology, and this book is very practical.

Patanjali – Yoga Sutras

I first read the Sutras when I was doing a Yoga Mind course with my yoga teacher, Ade Belcham.  This book and the discussions we had transformed my whole understanding of yoga and changed they way I think about my practice quite profoundly.  It’s often said that the Sutras are like an onion and you need to peel away the layers with each read, and I think that is true. Definitely one to re-read.

Martha Beck – Finding Your Own North Star

This is a career development book that both annoyed and challenged me. Beck’s book is a guide to finding your true calling or dream job, and I often find these sorts of career books slightly annoying, for reasons I will explain in a future post. But this book did really challenge me to identify what I really wanted to achieve with my working life. It’s career planning with a spiritual heart, and that is much needed in the modern world.

Donna Farhi – Bringing Yoga to Life

This is a wise guide to taking the lessons of yoga off your mat and into real life. A lot of what she says about yoga at different stages of life really resonated with me and inspired me to deepen my practice.

Tara Brach – Radical Acceptance

This book takes mindfulness and meditation a bit further, and talks a lot about acceptance (as the title implies) – of difficult emotions, limitations, loss – and gives brilliant guidance on how to sit with those difficulties and just let them be.

Carol Dwek -Mindset

Dwell has researched the difference between the fixed and growth mindset and through many experiments, has shown the power of the growth mindset. This book made me very conscious of the language I use, with myself, my kids and at work. It gave me confidence that it is ok to make mistakes and more important to focus on learning and getting out of my comfort zone.

Sheryl Sandberg – Lean In

Sandberg’s book was quite controversial when it was published, but it gave me  the professional kick up the backside I needed, at a time of self-doubt.  It’s a call to professional women to stretch themselves at work rather than hideout in the shadows.

Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Seagal and Jon Kabat-Zinn – The Mindful Way Through Depression

This was my introduction to structured mindfulness and I first did the eight week mindfulness programme from this book.  There is a great CD of guided meditations that comes with it, which I still go back to if I need some focus. Karat-Zinn has a lovely voice that instantly makes me feel peaceful. It’s also a very clear explanation of the theory of mindfulness, and you definitely don’t need to be depressed to read it.

The Charisma Myth – Olivia Fox Cabane

This sounds like it is going to be an awful book for people who want to make it in sales or as the next CEO, but it is actually a rather lovely book that is very rooted in mindfulness and body awareness.   She talks a lot about the power of “presence” and developing real listening skills, about developing more positive mental dialogue and being more aware of body language and how that both influences your own mental state and how others respond to you.  It’s more a book about how to be your best authentic self than how to perform for others. Great if you are training, chairing meetings, networking, or influencing people.

Eastern Body Western Mind – Anodea Judith

This is my current read. It’s a fascinating guide to the chakras, explaining them using concepts from Western psychology. The chakras are linked to life stages and developmental tasks as well as energy flows, and this book explains how childhood experiences can impact on the energy balance we experience as adults, and the behaviour and thought patterns we enact.

I hope one of these books speaks to you as well, at a time you need it.

Which books have changed your life? You are welcome to add to this list in the comments.

Sparkly Moments and Appreciative Inquiry

Traditional organisational improvement focuses on what has gone wrong – complaints, poor performance, failures – and then looks at how to improve. This is anxiety provoking for all involved and people learn to associate improvement work with negative emotions. Doing improvement work implies that something is lacking.

Appreciative Enquiry turns the traditional approach on its head, and uses questions from solution-focused coaching to find examples of where things are going well and then to amplify them. A good solution focused question could be, “Think of a time that things were going well, or customers/clients were particularly happy. What was going on then?” This helps people to focus on where things are going right, generates positive emotions so people want to do improvement work, and can lead to rapid improvements because people engage. After all, what you focus on, you tend to get more of.

A fun workshop activity to get started can be to ask everyone in the room to think of a “sparkly moment” from their working life, a moment that gave them pleasure and satisfaction. Ask them to describe it to a partner, while the partner uses active listening skills. The listener then notes down all the strengths that were described or implied by the story, and then feeds them back to the storyteller.

image

I did this recently with a team of careers advisers, and took note of all the strengths that were described and turned them  into a word cloud poster. They were reminded of all the times they have been resilient, passionate, caring, proactive, determined and helpful.  The activity also reminded them of the wide range of professional skills and knowledge they have. Reminding the team of the strengths they have on a good day is feelgood exercise, and by helping them to identify more strongly with their strengths, they are being helped to amplify them.

In yoga, we sometimes choose a sankalpa before meditating or doing yoga nidra. The  Sankalpa is a intention formed with the heart and mind. Although it is a statement of a quality or situation we want to bring about, we say it to ourselves as if it has already been achieved. So we might hold the thought “I am compassionate,” “I have abundance in my life,” “I am loved,” or “I am successful,” depending on what we want in our lives. By stating it in the present tense we are acknowledging that we already have this potential inside ourselves. The sankalpa is a tool to help us focus single-mindedly and at every level of our being on the situation we want to cultivate.

Appreciative Inquiry is an organisational development approach that acknowledges that the organisation already has the potential to become whatever it needs to become. There just needs to be a strong united focus on what the organisation wants to achieve and a determination to grow. A statement of intention left sitting on someone’s hard drive is meaningless, but a statement of intention genuinely owned by the people is powerful. The seeds of improvement are already planted, we just need to find them and water them!

 

Really Simple Meditation

image I talk a lot about meditation in my posts because it has transformed my life in numerous ways. I’m not particularly good at meditation – I often get bored or distracted – but that’s not the point. I do stick at it, and one thing I know for sure is that the more I meditate, the better my life gets. It’s not that bad things don’t happen, but I navigate them so much better.

When I meditate, I feel happier and find more joy in my daily activities. I walk around smiling for no particular reason. I connect better with other people and find myself starting conversations with strangers instead of being in my own world. I’m less irritable and more compassionate. And more good things happen!

Meditation can be really simple. Anyone can do it. You don’t any special equipment or a guru (although a teacher can really help). You just need a bit of quiet.

So, here is my simple guide to getting started:

1. Find somewhere quiet to sit and turn off your phone. Ask people not to disturb you. You can sit in a straight back chair or on a cushion, but be comfortable.

2. If you are in a chair sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor. If you are on a cushion, sit cross legged or kneel. Sit up nice and straight, so you feel alert rather than slouchy.

3. Start by focusing on your breath. Just notice it to begin with, and see if it is deep or shallow, fast or slow, even or irregular. Then start to lengthen your breath by counting slowly to 3,4 or 6 on the in breath and the same number on the out breath. Just keep going like this, staying focused on your breath.

4. Your mind will inevitably wonder because this is what minds do. They are very busy! When you mind does wonder, just notice what has happened, and take your focus back to the breath. Don’t criticise yourself, you are not doing anything wrong.

5. After a while you can let go of the counting and just notice your breath. Notice how it feels as it comes in and out, around your nostrils, chest, rib cage and stomach

6. Carry on for five, ten or fifteen minutes. It is helpful to set a timer, so you don’t have to keep looking at a clock. Or, if you don’t want to use a timer you could try this: the first time you a have a strong urge to stop, notice the impulse and come back to your breath, the second time you have an urge to stop, come back to the breath again, and the third time you have the urge to stop, then finish for the day.

7. Try to meditate every day to see the real benefits.

When you are are getting started, it can be really helpful to use a sound file to guide you through.  My favourites are the Danny Penman Frantic World files and they are freely available on his website.

Even better, try an eight week mindfulness course. You will need to commit to meditating every day, and you will get lots of support from the teacher and your group. It helps to keep you motivated and deal with any difficulties that arise. I did mine with Sue Weston but there are courses all over the place.

Above all, just keep practicing every day, even if it is boring and uncomfortable, and you feel too busy! It will start to make a difference.

Self Compassion as a Career Management Skill

Self-compassion is a skill that is often lacking in the workplace. We often drive ourselves very hard to achieve or simply to keep up, even when it damages our health. We don’t always cut ourselves a lot of slack when we struggle to balance our work life and family life or cope with challenging problems. Many people are dogged by a self-critical voice that pipes up every time a mistake is made with variations on the theme of “you just aren’t good enough” or “you should be ashamed to have made that mistake”. When faced with a new challenge, the inner critic reminds us that we probably won’t succeed and may just end up making a fool of ourselves.  Moreover, we often believe that we are the only people who suffer in this way.

Self-compassion is our ability to be kind, forgiving and accepting of ourselves.  It is our ability to care for ourselves in the same way we would care for a child or dear friend: with tolerance, warmth and nurturing. We can  be self-compassionate whilst recognising that we make mistakes and have many imperfections and limitations.

In that sense, it is different to self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence, which all invoke more evaluation of how good or bad a person we are (often in relation to others) or how good or bad at doing something we will be. There is a judgement involved and the positive evaluation of ourselves is often dependent on us achieving certain things.

Self-compassion is a warmth towards our selves simply based on the fact that we are human. We don’t need to be good at anything or successful at anything to be self-compassionate; we care for ourselves just as we are. In this respect, it is rather like Carl Roger’s concept of unconditional positive regard except it is directed towards ourselves instead of others.

There are many meditation practices that help people to develop self-compassion. One example consists of visualising a wise being who sees our inner most thoughts and secret actions and offers us warmth and acceptance just as we are.  You could also try this guided Befriending Meditation by Danny Penman.

In yoga, we learn to cultivate steadiness and ease in our bodies rather than strain, and learn to accept our physical limitations with kindness. It is a good lesson that can be taken off the mat and into our lives.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapists help their clients to be more aware of how their inner critic may be sabotaging them and teach their client to replace this voice with a more positive and encouraging voice. The client can learn to recognise where their internal narrative is critical, unkind or even abusive, and learn to challenge it. So if the inner voice says, “you are going to mess up this presentation” they can become aware of this thought, and consîder what evidence there is that the thought is actually true. There may in fact be evidence, perhaps previous successful presentations, that can be use during to challenge the inner critic.

So, why is self-compassion an important career management skill?  Self compassion helps us to be more accepting of difficult emotions, including fear, shame and anxiety. Most career changes involve some level of fear and anxiety, as we may worry that we could be making the wrong decision, that we might not be up to the job, that we might not be able to make a living, or that we will find it hard to adjust to a new environment. Self-compassion helps us to accept these difficult emotions as a normal part of life, rather than something to be avoided or hidden. If we accept them we can explore what they feel like rather than try to repress them or mask them as something else (possibly resentment, apathy, irritation or stuckness).

Self-compassion can also help us to take responsibility for mistakes,  be willing to listen to feedback and be more accountable for our actions. Instead of beating ourselves up for getting something wrong, we accept that mistakes are part of being human and we learn from them rather than hide them. This willingness to learn and develop helps us to cultivate the growth mindset which has been shown to be an important element for success. Wouldn’t any employer want to employ or develop the person who asks for feedback, takes responsibility for the outcomes of their work, and owns up to their mistakes whilst trying to put them right?

Self-compassion is also closely linked to compassion for others. Warmth towards ourselves is likely to increase feelings of warmth for others too, as we realise we are all on the same journey, experiencing the same range of feelings. Being able to form warm relationships with others is an important skill for networking, management and customer relationships. Warm and genuine relationships can help to generate opportunities, as others are more likely to approach us if they feel there’s is a genuine connection.

Imagine approaching a job interview with a genuine sense of both self compassion and compassion for others. We would accept that we were nervous and understand that everyone else probably is too. Maybe we could even extend that sense of compassion so that instead of despearately hoping that we’ll get the job, we offer the wish to the interviewers that they have the wisdom to pick the  best candidate for their organisation, and we offer the wish to both ourselves and the other candidates that we can all give our best performances. Sounds hard to do but it would probably lower the stakes and reduce our sense of desperation. And even when we make mistakes and don’t achieve our potential, self compassion allows us to forgive ourselves, learn from our mistakes and wish the successful candidate well. With self compassion the experience is less bruising, so we will be less likely to give up.

Self compassion can help us to be more resilient, more able to bounce back from setbacks and more able to ride out difficult challenges.

Listening with an Uncluttered Mind

As a trained counsellor and career guidance practitioner, I like to think I have very good listening skills. And put me in a quiet room with a client in need of support, and yes, I probably do. However, I am very aware that in other workplace situations, I don’t offer the same quality of listening, and I wonder what would happen if I did. I suspect that I would find work more rewarding, since the highlights of my week usually relate to connecting with people.  Maybe it is the same for you.

So how can we learn to listen?

There are several levels of listening that can be offered, from superficial listening (appearing to listen but not really paying attention) through attentive listening (listening carefully to the words) then active listening (reflecting back the thoughts and feelings) and finally deep listening (listening with all our five senses to tune into the emotions that lie beneath the surface).

In a counselling/guidance setting we are aiming for the deeper levels of listening, and we are trained to use active listening skills to help us get there. With practice we get better at noticing body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and pace, as well as the words that are chosen. Reflecting back what is heard and sensed without trying to steer the conversation is a discipline; it is much harder than it sounds. Listening without judgement can also be challenging at times.  However, listening without steering or judging frees us up to truly empathise instead of thinking about what advice to give, question to ask or information to share.

Deep listening gives the speaker the space the they need to really express themselves, but more than that, it is an experience of being emotionally held by someone who “gets” you, and it can be very moving and affirming. To open up requires trust and we are only like to do it if we are not being judged, if we feel there is a kindly acceptance of our inner most thoughts and fears.

Of course, there are many barriers to deep listening, and most of them have to do with thinking too much about ourselves and our own needs. All of the following can be roadblocks to listening:

– Thinking about how to respond

– Planning what direction to take the conversation in

– Thinking about how to persuade someone to change their point of view

– Thinking about other tasks that are competing for attention

– Feeling bored

– Evaluating what is being said (is it true, do I agree?)

– Managing the time

As soon as we start thinking about these thing we are no longer fully focused on listening, and the quality diminishes.  We are partly listening but we are not so tuned in to everything that is being expressed.

Generally, the more stressed we are, the more buzz and chatter is in our minds and the less we are able to listen. If you thinking about an email you mustn’t forget to send, you are not truly listening. If you are evaluating your own performance or criticising yourself, again, you aren’t truly listening.

Meditation has a lot in common with deep listening. When we meditate we are focusing our attention on one thing (often the breath, the body or an object). We are noticing the thoughts that pop into our mind, but trying not to latch onto them. We gently bring our mind back to whatever is the object of our attention whenever it wonders.

Active listening is much the same, except that the object we are focused on is the speaker. As we listen thoughts may pop into our heads, and we notice that but try not to get involved in our own thoughts. We may experience bodily sensations, especially if we have an emotional reaction to the speaker, and again we just notice and accept that without analysing at this point (we might want to do that afterwards!)

Practicing mediatation helps to develop powers of concentration, the ability to accept ourselves without judgement and it can free the mind of some of the clutter of thoughts and stories that prevent good listening. Likewise, practicing good listening us develop self-awareness and an open acceptance of others, listening without judgement.  It disciplines us to focus on another rather than ourselves.  For a really good listening session, it is essential to come with a clear mind.

Of course, it is not possible to be in deep listening mode all the time. If you are teaching or chairing a meeting, you have to give information and instructions, and manage the time. If your meeting has a purpose, then you have to think about how best to achieve that purpose.  You will inevitably be focused on tasks a lot of the time.

But there are many opportunities to use deep listening too, in both formal meetings and informal interactions.  A colleague may be offloading about their day or sharing a problem, an employee may be struggling with a new challenge or finding it difficult to accept change, or a group may be experiencing some conflict. These are all situations that benefit from a good listener.

Real listening can radically change workplace relationships by making people feel genuinely heard and cared for. In tough times, when everyone is stressed, deep listening is harder to do, but it it is even more needed. So, my mission this week is to see how many opportunities to listen I can find.

Childhood Dramas At Work

A story about my meditation journey

Meditation can bring up a whole host of negative emotions – anger, sadness, frustration, hurt – and sometimes all that seems to happen is you sit there with them.  You try to make the difficult feelings welcome, accept them, and experience them fully.  You notice that your throat is tight, your stomach is churning, your chest is squeezing, there are tears in your eyes and you try not to back away from these uncomfortable sensations.  When this happens over and over again, you wonder what the point is – nothing seems to be getting better. But then sometimes you have an amazing moment of clarity that is felt on a very different level to the moments of clarity that you might experience through more logical analysis.

So, here is a part of my meditation journey and my moment of clarity.

A situation arose at work where, due to a re-organisation, my position within my work team shifted.  I had been occupying what was really my dream job, and a very central position in the team.  Because of my role, I was often the first to be consulted by my senior managers and I had a lot of influence with them.  We would have little meetings without the rest of the team.  I also got on very well with them and they felt like friends as well as managers. They made it clear that they valued my work and my inputs. But with the re-organisation, a more senior manager was parachuted into that central role, and my role was changed, so that, although on the same grade, I was now on the periphery of the team working at much more of a distance from my senior managers and with no special relationships.  Suddenly, they were having little meetings, and I wasn’t invited.  Emotionally, it felt like a real kick in the teeth and I took it really hard, much harder than I should have done.

Every time I sat down to meditate, I felt overwhelmed with negative feelings of hurt, anger and sadness.  It felt like a really personal rejection, although logically I knew that there was no rejection intended.  I had been usurped and my position had been taken by this new manager.  Logically, it was hard to blame anyone – no-one had particularly chosen this situation, least of all the new manager.  But emotionally, I was in bits.  I just couldn’t get past it.  I found myself turning into a person I didn’t really like very much, full of negativity and bitterness.

Every time I sat to meditate, all these feeling arose, and all I could do was notice them.  They didn’t go away.  I began to feel a bit disillusioned with meditation since it didn’t seem to be turning me into the wise and compassionate person I wanted to be.  Sometimes I did loving kindness meditation, and tried to extend loving kindness to my work colleagues, but I couldn’t really feel compassion at a deep level – it was all my head rather than my heart.

But one day, as I sat to meditate, an image came to me that was so powerful it did transform how I felt.  I was suddenly a little girl again, on the periphery of my family.  My Mum and Dad and my younger sister (by six years) were close together and I was on the outskirts.

I think that this was a powerful emotion of my childhood.  I remembered photos of myself as a toddler, my Mum and my Dad together, so close before my sister was born.  Even when she was a baby, she was just a super-doll for us all to play with.  But as she grew older, she seemed in some way to replace me.  She was easy-going, compliant, cheerful and seemed to navigate her social life with ease.  I was awkward, spiky, shy and moody.  The more that my Mum seemed to prefer my sister, the more I did things calculated to annoy my Mum.  I felt uncomfortable in my skin, and different to every one else.  I never quite fitted in.

The image that came to me so powerfully in meditation was the three of them, posed as in the photos of my early childhood, but I am now on the periphery and she is at the centre.  I wanted to take my younger self in my arms, give that little girl a big hug and say, you know what, actually you are great just as you are.  You don’t need to change to fit in, you don’t need to pretend to be anything other than yourself, and you are of value.  You are lovable.  I sat for longer focusing all my compassion on my childhood self.  Other feelings seemed to soften and dissolve.

Later I extended that compassion to my sister who never asked for that role in the family. This wasn’t hard as my sister and I have always got on well and I always cared for her.

I also tried to extend that compassion to my parents, which was a little harder.  Now I am a parent myself, I know how frustrating children’s moods and behaviour can be, and that a parent can love a child and be frustrated by them at the same time.  I try to empathize with my mother who was probably doing the best she could.

I was also able to extend this compassion to my work colleagues in a way that felt more genuine than it ever had done previously.

I realised that in every job I have had, I have made great efforts to occupy a central position in my manager’s heart, by working hard, being excellent at my job, being helpful and being emphatic to my manager’s stresses.  It’s a pattern that I have repeated over and over with new managers – get my good work noticed, be super-helpful, then make friends.  It’s generally worked – my managers have rewarded me with challenging projects, praise, recognition, support and friendship.  But when my relationships with managers don’t work out like this, I take it hard.  It’s like they have reneged on their side of the deal.  That is not the ending I am looking for.

I began to wonder what it would be like to be different at work – less dependent on others for validation.  Less willing to please.

Transactional Analysis has a lot to say about how parent and child relationships get repeated in adult relationships.  The classic book, which I would recommend to anyone who is interested, is “Games People Play” by Eric Berne.  I read it a long time ago and I studied it again on my counselling diploma.  So maybe I already knew these things about myself and my relationships in an intellectual, analytical way. I probably did some kind of exercise in class about it.  But in meditation, I really felt them deeply for the first time.

I wonder how many difficult work relationships between managers and the people they manage are really the result of people bringing their childhood stories into work and re-enacting them, possibly hoping to achieve a different outcome.

Thinking of the people I have managed, some do really like to please.  One spent the first few months of our relationship greeting me with “what have I done?” as if she expected to be told off by the teacher.  Some like to make friends, whilst others expect a more hierarchical relationship.  They are probably all, to some extend, either repeating a comfortable pattern or looking for a happier ending.