New Zine! Staying with feelings

A topic I’ve written about on here quite a lot is the idea of ‘staying with’ feelings. After the Pixar movie Inside Out I wrote all about how important it is to get in touch with all our emotions. I’ve also written about the value of noticing how we feel with kindness and curiosity, and about how to stay with other people’s feelings.

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In this new zine I discuss both why we get so shut off from our feelings in a wider culture which values some emotions far more highly than others, and how we can go about shifting our patterns of avoiding and fighting some feelings, and craving and grasping for others. It covers both therapeutic and spiritual practices for staying with our emotions.

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You can download or read the zine here.

 

Dealing with the tough stuff: The value of noticing

This blog post has been bubbling away for a while. I want to write about the process that I’ve found helpful when struggling with difficult feelings. This week it’s been so useful that I almost wanted to give this post a ridiculously bold title like ‘Noticing: The answer to everything!’ but I restrained myself because I’m aware that different things work for different people at different times and it might not be for everyone. I’m putting this out there now in the hope that it could be useful to some readers as something to weave into your life, or as a way of thinking through what you’re already doing.

I’ve come across different versions of this process in a number of places. It forms the basis of several therapeutic approaches (particularly many existential, humanistic and psychodynamic forms of therapy) and it’s also fundamental to the Buddhist mindful approach which I find so helpful, and to various other kinds of meditation. But I’ve also noticed that many friends and clients have developed something along these lines more spontaneously, without necessarily following a particular approach.

I would summarise the process something like this:

Noticing -> Understanding -> Engaging

The core idea is that before going on to attempt to understand a situation, or to engage with it, it is important to fully notice it. Another way of putting it is that any time you find yourself struggling, you just go back to noticing.

Why is noticing so important? One of my favourite authors, Pema Chödrön, uses the metaphor of a glass of dirty water. This one particularly connects with me because I often start my days watching the Thames, which is, as we know from The Kinks, a ‘dirty old river’! I imagine a glass of Thames water in front of me. It is murky and unclear because it’s all churned up with mud and silt and rubbish. We can’t see anything clearly when it’s like that, so what we have to do is to let it be still for a period of time. That allows the dirt to settle at the bottom of the glass and the water on top to become clear.

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Pema suggests that part of why we often don’t want to allow this to happen is the fear that we have of what we might see once it all settles. I imagine that the bottom of the Thames is a pretty scary place with all the junk and slime and probably even skeletons that have accumulated there over the years. What might loom at you out of the murky gloom if you gave it the chance? But the point is that any kind of understanding of our own accumulated mess – and the things we’ve tried to bury in there – is only possible if we allow the water to settle.

Read more of this post

A very mindful 2014

Telegraph agony aunt Petra Boynton has put together a great set of suggestions going into 2014, drawing all many of the people who’ve advised her on her excellent column over the year. Here’s the bit I wrote about approaching the new year mindfully, rather than trying to force it:

At this time of year it is easy to embark on quests for self-improvement: planning how to make the next year perfect, and attempting to ensure the success and happiness which may have eluded us in the past. An alternative approach is to think critically about the pressures that we put on ourselves, and are put under, at the turn of the year.

Perhaps, instead, we could aim at a more mindful approach to 2014. We could commit to gently noticing what the year brings and how we respond to it, rather than insisting on only good things and positive feelings. We could recognise the impermanence of everything that happens – triumphs and tragedies – and the ways in which both can spin our lives in unanticipated directions.

We could take a little time alone each day to sit and breathe, appreciating this unique story that is unfolding through our year.

You can read the full article here, and more on new year resolutions from me here.

Mindfulness and Mental Health – London, 1st November

Call for presenters/facilitators/attendees
Mindfulness and Mental Health Day – 1st November 2013, London Camden
Dr. Meg Barker will be running a free event on 1st November for practitioners and academics who are interested in mindfulness and mental health, to coincide with the publication of their new book on the subject. Please get in touch with Meg if you are interested in attending or getting involved (megbarker@gmail.com). Confirmed speakers include Steven Stanley, Duncan Moss, Rebecca Barnes, Many Bazzano, and Jyoti Nanda.