When in reaction to situations in life – consciously or unconsciously – we are often not reacting to what is actually going on, but to our own inner perception and interpretation of what is going on. This perception and interpretation is coloured by our conditioned beliefs and thought patterns as well as whatever emotional state we are in and any emotional charge the situation may trigger in the many layers of our psyche.
Tied in with our perception and inner reaction, is any investment we may have in the outcomes of the situation. Frustration, aggression, fear and other negative feelings come from concerns of loss in terms of our expectations, hopes and goals and our need or greed to have things our way for a sense of validation, power as well as some sort of emotional or material gain. Add to this, deep or subtle vulnerabilities about self belief, any compromised faith in variables of any situation in terms of what they mean about us or others involved, and we have the main basis for the elements in our lives becoming stressors and challenges that create a roller coaster ride out of our personal experience in dealing with things that matter.
Many personal resources and tools can be gained through insight, self work on conditioned thinking and developing skills in creating success in whatever areas of our life that are at stake.
However, the most foundational game changer is a simple though not necessarily so easy, ability to be consciously present in the moment and shift our identity from thoughts, feelings, self image and life situations so we can observe our own perceptual interpretations and create space to discern, refine and adjust them.
To establish our core identity in the essence of our own pure consciousness and life energy in the present moment, independent of the constant stream of content of our personal experience, creates a sense of freedom of being and greater choice in how to deal with life. More challenges can be transformed into opportunity to be creative, express or aliveness and cultivate positive outcomes.
Mindfulness practice, often subtle and even difficult for those commencing this path, is also best done somewhat differently from other achievements. It is subjective inner work to become more conscious of what is already present here and now, rather than achieving something we don’t already have. It is not so much something to be achieved in the future as it is a realisation then maintenance of attention on what is already here and now without our own separate effort.
Through the awareness of thought and feeling from a place of presence and observation, the space can be created to observe, gain insight and notice the subliminal narrative going on in our minds, which can have the following tangible results:
- to become aware of the mind content,
- to separate out the subtle mental dialogue or narrative from the situation occurring,
- “as is” the situation and our own inner reaction with non-judgement acceptance,
- be at choice to accept or release our inner narrative and its effect on how we perceive the situations,
- turn negative or limiting beliefs, decisions and interpretations into more positive and constructive ones, before
- being present with the narrative and the situation while exercising conscious spaciousness, stillness and silence of mindful presence in faith and trust, then finally
- seeing what comes out of simply being fully present throughout a situation and mindfully responding to it with open heart and mind in a truly proactive way that aligns with values and bringing out the best of the situation and those involved.
What is the difference between performing in life situations to consistently and consciously create our own life journey, versus acting reactively and unconsciously so that we are sometimes our own worst enemy and often slaves to conditioned thinking, compromising outcomes while battling to keep pride and a sense of being right intact.
Living in the universal flow from loving mindfulness depends on where your attention is directed in the moment and predominantly over time. It is a balance of conscious presence of being, in honesty with thoughts and actions. By consciousness, I am referring to that present awareness from which thoughts and experience arises and can be observed as practiced in many meditations and meditative activities.
Paramahansa Yogananda sometimes told a wonderful story of a King in India’s ancient past who was considered an enlightened guru to devotees and the kingdom he ruled. One day, one of his devout subjects asked him how the he could remain so transcendent and established in awakened consciousness as a King amidst the many duties and responsibilities of ruling a kingdom while living in a palace amongst extravagant material wealth which could easily become objects of desire, attachment and identity.
The devout subject had doubts about whether such wealth made it easier for the king to emanate such divine happiness or whether it was more a hinderance. Understanding this dilemma could better help him clarify his own journey of awakening and his relationship to the world.
The King observed the subject enviously looking around at the vast rooms and trinkets in the palace. He also recognised the sincerity of his question. So the King filled an ornate bowl to the rim with an oil and gave it to the subject.
The King said, “Please carry this bowl with you around the palace without spilling a drop and memorise every object in each room”. This task took a number of days for the subject to be able to recall all the objects in each room. Meantime, he held the bowl with great care as he stood and walked from room to room, knowing that it would only take a momentary lapse in concentration for him to spill a drop of the oil. Finally, he came back to the King and while still holding the bowl steadily he simultaneously recounted the many objects in each of the many rooms of the palace.
The King acknowledged him and then said, “Just as you have consistently maintained this full bowl of oil during your task, so does the awakened mind consistently maintain mindful presence throughout performing worldly tasks during each moment of life. Just as you have memorised each and every trinket in the palace, so have you learned non-attachment with your attention on the enormous task of memorising them all. Carry your inner attention as devoutly as you have the bowl without spilling a drop of open minded awareness. Attend to your life duties and relationships with the same devout attention as you have in memorising each and every item in this palace. In this way, you will be a King of your own Self and transform your heart and mind into a palace of wisdom, devotion and love”.
Photo Modified: <ahref=”https://visualhunt.com/re4/1e68e7f6“>VisualHunt.com
Hello – It has been so long since my last post!
While many articles on this site touch on health, longevity, performance and quality of life much of the content comes back to quality of consciousness and state of being. This requires meditative reflection and opening up to inspiration for the words to flow. However, the truth of the subject matter is not in the written words is where those words come from. My hope is they inspire being present in yourself. Time away from the words can also be important to keep some perspective.
To better establish living in multiple countries with a mobile income has been taking some focus from preparing books in progress and general writing. Now I’m back, may the writing here keep the channel of writing flowing and add some value to you – this one with a possible theme for the year.
Recognition of conscious presence is where I find personal empowerment and meaningful living arises, which includes communicating that aspect of living to others who resonate with the message and enjoy developing its potential in their own life. It is an aspect that raises us beyond the purely sensory and material world and life to address the most profound aspect of who we are.
Being consciously in the moment when still or in action empowers our doing in whatever activity is going on, making it meaningful and unavoidably an expression of our values. Complete absorption in doing and thinking requires a balance of conscious being, otherwise it becomes too easy to get drawn into identification and lost in that thinking and doing.
When we are completely surrendered, still and silent – mind and body – there is more space in our personal experience to open up to and notice the subtle essence of living reality or existence. The formless consciousness that is experiencing this moment discloses nothing beyond thoughts, feelings and sensory content that we can put our finger on, yet we can feel a shift when experiencing these things as a living consciousness that transcends them.
Spacious presence here and now is where we can feel closest to a sense of absoluteness and oneness of being. Through co-operative receptivity and conscious stillness the essence of who we are finds clarity in our awareness and expression of it. At the same time we can allow a deepening experience of who we are at any time and place by our choice to be fully present. From depth of presence we can open up with intent to the formless essence of living reality in and around us.
There is an accessible and tangible essence of living consciousness to be personally known and expressed through us. It is an evolving manifestation in all others and all things. Thus we can not only feel more connected within ourselves, but also to life around us, by consciously engaging in it. With practice, we can more consistently and deeply sensitive to feeling aligned with the creative and living essence of life.
Expansive and profound consciousness is subtle yet simple and accessible. It can draw us beyond the little self which is limited to sensory pre-occupations and worldly concerns.
Reaching beyond form and opening up to a greater subtle reality is the essence of any spiritual path. Applying oneself through a feeling of authentic attunement is primary to forming concepts or beliefs that can only be useful in partial and limited ways. Applying authentic attunement to meaningful values like our own sense of love and trust, goodwill and other qualities that invoke a sense of higher purpose in all we do, are examples of this kind of conviction.
Personal experience and application of such values is beyond our sensory and thinking minds, yet can be consciously cultivated and developed. We can find inspiration in our own stillness and spacious receptivity to a personal sense of our life and consciousness, because conscious volition is inherent in our living essence. So are the values that help us feel the richness and beauty of life. This is something we all share, albeit described differently.
Through success and disappointment, joy or sense of loss, our indestructible base can be gained from faith and alignment to what is there when all of the mind, body and heart are surrendered in wakeful, knowing love and trust. This space is unaffected by the content – what is going on around us and in our minds – it is deeper than where we are affected by such things, even things that matter a lot in our life. The power of love is in love itself. The power of consciousness is in consciousness itself.
Our need to being truly fulfilled, is a need beyond the animalistic need for food, shelter, company and security. It is the natural need to resolve the tension created by consciousness itself irrepressibly expressing itself more and more fully through us as our true nature, and our own conditioned developing sense of self based on separating and defining itself to survive or thrive. Progressively resolving this tension through surrender and conscious presence can be our path to be less limited and self defined, while consciously experiencing something greater living in and through us in whatever we do and wherever we are. The are no ordinary moments and countless opportunities for spontaneity and creativity within.
Suffering and feeling limited is a calling to break beyond our own attachments and aversions, mentally and emotionally. But what do we connect with as a means of letting go from within? Faith and trust in the essence of love, compassion and connective-ness, as we can most deeply feel it, is where the answer lies. It is given many names, yet beneath the responsibilities and needs of our human life is the hidden agenda that our true essence be embodied and expressed. When this is recognised, the form it takes or doesn’t take is less important. However partially we may feel and embody this essence in our daily life provides the assuredness of progression towards meaning and purpose, versus conditioned and unconscious grasping for things or others to help us feel fulfilled.
Meditative mindfulness in simple moments in stillness or conscious actions helps develop applying these ideals during life’s ups and downs. We can enjoy ourselves, life activities and others more fully when we bring in generous openness, a transcendent wholeness to them all in shared reciprocity as unique reflections of the same living essence in oneness. This is living in and from love.
May this year unfold to be one of dissolving obstacles and barriers to abundance and peace through living and holding the space of conscious presence.
Photo on VisualHunt.com (modified with quote)
How many times do you do you have a sudden realisation that you were not present at all when you were just doing something and now barely remember doing it? Common moments like this can be driving home or doing a domestic chore. Even worse, is having that realisation after doing something really important for someone, or only partially paying attention when a loved one was talking with you or doing something with you that could have been a special moment?
Allowing ourselves to get lost in our stream of thoughts too much of every day is even easier now with the cacophony of distractions in modern life on top of over-thinking and lack of time or care to just sit and be fully present. Not balancing ‘being’ with ‘doing’ means we can be cut-off from the most important aspect of who we are within ourselves and with each other – and that is love.
To help reconnect, there is a resurgence and redefining of ways to practice consciously being present in the ‘now’ on a daily basis. A specific chosen mindful activity serves best when it is a self-nurturing and quiet activity. A regular and particular time of day, is most effective when it is the start and end of each day.
One of the ways our thinking mind can draw us out of our deeper self, is through our unconscious acceptance of assumptions which come out of long term habitual thinking, as do our automatic or reflexive opinions and stance on things.
It is natural to categorise things as good or bad, right or wrong, important or not important, likeable or dislikable and even spiritual or non-spiritual because these dualistic points of view become part of our moral identity and character.
This is okay when we are open to adjusting and refining our boundaries and views as our knowledge and maturity develops. However, making them a rigid and unquestionable part of our identity, turning them into a universal truth everyone must agree to in order to be acceptable to us, is what can have our past conditioning run the show, so we are seeing old projections rather than what is truly before us. This can get in the way of our ability to listen more deeply to ourselves and others in the present moment.
When our points of view come into conflict with other people’s views, the inner tension can alert us to turn up our state of being present. With presence, we can review how to deal with even subtle tension and conflict in a way that maintains our own integrity to presence here and now, while being respectful and open to other people’s points of view. This is part of living from the heart and exercising wisdom. It is putting trust in our own deeper nature, rather than than identifying primarily with an opinion or belief which may have some merit, but is a projection of mind and not our true selves.
Treating our viewpoint as a universal fact leads inevitably to making other people wrong or manipulating them into thinking ‘our’ way as the only ‘right’ way, because no two people have exactly the same ideology. Many people have vastly different views on certain matters. When we are unconsciously judging and manipulating, we are removed from our innate wisdom and love.
If we are identified with the living presence that is doing the thinking, then we can loosen the hold and be free from the compulsion to take a strong position on every opinion and thought to defend our identity. This is because when our identity transcends our thoughts and beliefs, it is not defined by them. We can then take our view points and reality as relative and feel less threatened when they are challenged.
I imagine that you recognise certain conditioned beliefs and their matching experiences are your own and not necessarily the truth or experience of everyone. Yet many people have a mindset or have decided certain views are simply the way they are, things are and that is it. When we do this, we close ourselves to new positive experiences and awareness of new possibilities in relationships and life situations that are part of our life path and life lessons.
I have come to the point of view that the only way to truly bridge differences between people, and move through our own defences and unconscious walls, is to commit daily to coming from love with everything, including ourselves.
While there are many types of love in life, what characterises true love is a heartfelt sense of our own oneness with whatever or whoever inspires or requires our love. From the point of view of spiritual awakening, that means everything and everyone, but it does not mean becoming passive and easily manipulated to other people’s views.
It does mean looking beyond differences to a sense of common essence with others as a primary mode of operating, and then dealing with any issues only once that sense of oneness is found in that moment. Being centred there within our own hearts, then connecting with that essence in others as first base is required to then apply love in communication and engagement.
A person or relationship, an activity, an object or sensory delight that we may apply the word ‘love’ to is usually where we feel a bond, emotional investment or a strong sense of pleasure. On a deeper level where we become more identified with our universal self, the essence of ourselves as a living being, love becomes more broadly the sense of unity or oneness within our own inner essence, which is the same living essence expressed uniquely through all other living beings in a living and animated universe.
This love transcends, yet does not exclude romanticism, sentimentalism and pleasure seeking. Nonetheless, these can draw us away from real love when invested in from the conditioned and conditional mind. They are transformed to something beautiful when embraced with presence and essence.
From this view, oneness exists every microsecond whether we are dealing with pleasure or pain. Suffering comes when we cannot accept, when we struggle with or resist pain. Being in oneness means learning to have a sense of connection to life and reality no matter what is going on, so that good or bad, pain or pleasure, do not draw us into rejection or attachment. In this way, our depth of oneness and presence enables us to experience greater depths of pleasure or pain without being drawn away from its great breadth and strength.
We all have great reserves of untapped strength, wisdom and compassion. Only the vast spaciousness of presence can give us the ability to be open heartedly present with deep pain in ourselves and in others.
On this basis, it is helpful to be reminded or inspired to feel our love and oneness or connection to people and the world by tuning within to our own soul with heart and mind, having a conscious choice as to with whom, when and how we express or flow this conscious love and sense of being into the moment.
I often reflect on a principle that to a non-spiritually minded person, nothing is spiritual; but to a spiritually awakened soul, everything is spiritual. Spiritual here is implied by conscious presence that transcends the thinking mind. Much of the time, our hearts and minds serve us best when clear and reflecting our true essence like a still pond reflecting the moon. Clearer thoughts can then arise than when we are locked in our own stream of thinking and reacting to mind disturbance and mind content.
In this state, our own unique character and body are outer garments of expression to be used consciously to express our deeper essence. The living conscious essence that is experiencing the mind, body and character we have, is intimately with us every second yet impossible for us to really define intellectually. It is closer than our own thoughts. It is where we can find a profound sense of transcendence and authenticity of being while observing our life experience in the present moment.
Greater potential and challenge for pleasure and fulfilment arises when we can engage this consciousness in any situation with anybody, and in specific moments with a specific somebody. This requires equanimity and non-attachment to our own position and stance in life, so that many battles once fought over various points of view are no longer engaging us. Yet it also means living with conviction to whatever task, behaviour and principles are in alignment and engage us at the depths of our being with full consciousness.
Being more present, appreciative and open with conscious depth, enables exploring greater depth of experience and having the courage to meet challenges as well as many simple and special moments with an open heart. All experiences and actions can benefit everyone, including ourselves, when approached with a heartfelt and conscious intent.
It is our thinking mind that labels people, situations and things so that they become over-familiar and taken for granted. This happens when we are perceiving them through a conditioned mindset of associations that have become habitual. Being in the present moment tunes us in to even common or familiar settings as if we are there for the first time, enabling a timeless appreciation of things, like a long term relationship or elements of daily life, as a gift.
The conditioned and thinking mind cannot provide this because it defines everything into its own self image and time bound set of thoughts and feelings. Living presence experiences the living moment directly. The conditioned mind experiences everything through its own constructed content, narratives and conclusions. Even things that were once precious can become part of what feels like ‘ground-hog day’ to the conditioned mind. It is then we unconsciously become distant and only partially present while our mind goes into a blend of auto-pilot and distraction with unrelated streams of thoughts. Meanwhile, we miss being fully present in a relationship or situation.
It is a challenge to notice when we have a limiting thought and shut down. It is also a challenge when we are drawn into a thought stream, then realise we are not fully present, to then awaken ourselves with a deep breath and ‘re-set’ in the here and now. It is time for us to rise above our own conditioning when it is activated and decide to be present with our own love.
Open hearted presence is enough to transform a conditioned thought or feeling in ourselves that is causing a ‘shut down’ and distracting us from being more present, loving and embodying our authentic true selves. It is not the situation or person causing our ‘shut-down’ but our own inability to respond consciously.
When you notice you are taking a position against something, or else feeling mental, emotional or physical resistance with someone or a situation, see if you can use breath and body awareness to relax and become open from within to deal with the situation from a strong and open heart. Be open to whether the resistance or tension is arising from within yourself or is something you are picking up from around you. Transforming such moments requires self-honesty, being non-judgemental and trusting in the power of presence in the world before launching into any action or expression.
The power of presence is available once you have found the sense of oneness with self and all of life in the moment revealing not only love but that you are love.
Yoga asana’s and meditation is a morning ritual I follow most mornings. Of the many things I get from regular practice is a lesson about dealing with challenges in life that I find yoga continually teaches beautifully.
While meditation, Qigong and Taiji are practices I have done for a number of decades, one of the unique moments that yoga offers, is creating the space, stillness and time to relax and breath into specific discomforts in ways that gets more subtle, deep with progress.
It occurs in a way that really opens up mind and body energy for the day ahead. Forcing or processing physical, mental or emotional blocks and resistance, is not necessary.
The principle of relaxing into discomfort can also be applied to daily feelings of conflict or tension on emotional, mental and physical levels in daily situations. Yoga can help train you to notice even subtle disturbances or disharmonious feelings and sit with them, making them your friend rather than something to avoid, then using breath and observation with your whole being to enable a wonderful shift.
Bringing breath and consciousness to the exact point or edge of discomfort in a particular pose is all that is required to intimately feel and shift energy or tightness, releasing tension to gain clarity in the moment. It is about surrender with intent, allowing the dissolving of energetic resistance in body and mind in a way that takes you more deeply into a place of formlessness and freedom.
Practices that utilise breath and meditation in movement unite mind and body, allowing a real inward journey that opens up inner awareness. They also combine controlled exertion with deep relaxation, and both combined provide a powerful process of building resilience and depth of relaxation of mind and body.
Yoga presents an opportunity in many asana’s (prolonged postures and body positions) to find a point of resistance deep in a joint or soft tissue that is ready to let go. Traditionally developed systems of yoga work through all of the body and energy channels in a systematic way so a progressive process may unfold of balancing, stretching and strengthening the body in every nook and cranny.
Maintaining continual release of thinking for awareness of breath, while performing controlled movement and relaxed determination required to hold balance, strength or co-ordinated flexibility serve to calm and strengthen relaxed focus of the mind.
Often, in the beginning, there may be many points where there are obstructions to reaching the shape and position of poses or asanas. As practice progresses over time, asana’s that were once impossible or difficult begin to happen as movement and openings occur, the points of resistance becoming more fine and deep. Yet the level of physical performance is not the point.
By spending time breathing and consciously connecting to points of resistance while also maintaining a sense of how the whole body and mind are responding, is part of the art. Subtle shifts in resistance or discomfort takes you on a progressive journey long before a visible change occurs in range of movement and depth of balance.
What is apparent is correct practice and intent combine to activate usually hidden points of tightness, blockage or immobility. All it needs is continued gentle intent and practice to release, while the breath and light of consciousness do the rest. An unwinding of these historical and unique stress patterns then can occur also impacting shifts in perception, body awareness and state of consciousness.
We tend to judge discomforts and want to stop them and cling to feelings we prefer. In this process, there is no resistance to the discomfort, nor attachment to an outcome. It is about acceptance, surrender and being fully with what is in the moment and allowing a transition to spontaneously occur.
The results show that processing or judging issues are often not required to move through them. A calm and open heart and mind with gentle focus and acceptance are often enough. The light of consciousness itself provides all the transformation we need if we can get our own conditioned thinking and self image out of the way.
In the inner practice of yoga, while inner body experience, breath and synchronised movement bring you to a point of maximal stretch in a certain pose, the feeling of resistance may be on many levels. We can use this approach to more gracefully move through difficulties and enjoy the process within ourselves.
Being able to be present and calm with discomfort, allowing it to transform into something else is a learned skill. It need not involve any controlling or forcing. Instead working at the edge of the comfort zone is where we can be in discovery and change rather than suffering in a space we don’t want to be.
The willingness to allow shifts to happen is required. Old tensions reflect old survival mechanisms so tapping into abiding inner peace is where we can feel energetically safe to let old protectiveness go. It is powerful to let go of preconceived ideas of what shift or outcome we think we want, and be open to what presents itself in any moment or situation as the here and now process.
It is often tempting to want to hurry up and manifest what we want, and yet the greatest treasures lie in attuning to the process where we learn not just what we want but also what we need.
Enjoying and expressing ourselves more openly in the present moment is where our creativity and discovery can really happen. Conscious movement and breath can be a safe way to find and release unconscious patterns in ourselves. Through practice we can be better positioned to attune to that process as they are activated in relationships, emotional ‘ups and downs’ and demanding life situations.
Photo on Visual hunt (caption added)
You know those times when things are getting a little on top of you and then you notice your shoulders are slumped as if in a defeated posture, or when you are getting physically tired your breathing is not deep and open, then you start to yawn and feel like a good stretch?
Tiredness from mental and emotional workload can be shifted fast. For example, have you ever been really tired, feeling like there’s not much left in the tank, then when you relax and watch a good movie or get into an upbeat conversation or phone call with a good friend you suddenly have your energy back?
The speed in which that happens shows how much of the time our energy levels are tied in with mind as much as body. Much of our tiredness, stress and mental states are tied in with our posture, self talk and many ways we contract inside or shut down when we are resisting or struggling with something.
Underlying fear, stress, anxiety or anger and emotional battle readiness to deal with ongoing challenges are examples of emotional tones and psychological states that cause energy drain. They get worse when prolonged over hours, days or weeks. For some people, these states may even become part of their normal way of functioning from a difficult phase in their life.
Conscious breathing synchronised with simple simple body movements can be the fastest way to feel inner balance, peace and wellbeing. It is also the fastest way to energise and shift your state of mind.
Physiological studies support the experience we get when we get a big smile happening or straighten the spine and start breathing deeply. They show a massive amount of chemical reactions take place when we ‘strike the pose’ and the right stimulation to the nervous system releases the endorphins (the bodies happy bio-chemistry). Just try right now, one long deep inhale and exhale through your nose with a big smile on your face and see how that feels in your whole body.
Using the principles of qigong and physiology there is a simple sequence you can do to release stress, clear your head and energise yourself. Qigong is an ancient art developed and refined over centuries to get energy and blood flowing through the right channels and is used for health and longevity. It incorporates breath, movement and relaxed focus of mind.
Here’s a little sequence to try that feels good and shifts your energy before you get down to work, or when you need some energisation or stress release. Once you have practiced a couple of times, this takes less than three minutes.
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart, toes a little inward, and knees dropped in a slight relaxed bend.
- Tilt the hips and pelvic floor forward with the spine and neck straight. Arms are relaxed by your side with palms facing forward.
- Take a deep breath into your lower abdomen with a relaxed smile on your face and the feeling of a smile in your heart. Do this three times in through the nose and out through the mouth – long and deep.
- After the three breathes, breath in as you bring your hands into prayer position in front of your chest, then continue the arms and hands fully stretched over your head as you complete the inhale.
- Exhale as outstretched arms and open hands slowly come down to shoulder height.
- Inhale again into the lower abdomen, then flex your whole body – start with tightening the buttocks, pelvic floor and abdomen, then flexing torso, legs and feet, arms and hands. Hold for 3-4 seconds, then release the tension and breath, letting your hands slowly come down to your sides.
- Repeat steps 4-6 five times, bringing arms up and out, inhaling into the dynamic tension then releasing.
- Keeping hips and legs in the same posture, finish a relaxed deep breath into the abdomen, raising hands palms up to the sides of the chest, then\ timed with a relaxed exhale, turn the palms down and lower them to your sides. Repeat this three times.
- Finally, bring your feet together, arms by your side, hips still slightly tilted so there is subtle tension in the pelvic floor and do a couple of normal breathes engaging the lower abdomen gently. Chin is in, spine and neck long, straight as if lifted. Relax your mind and feel through your whole body down into the earth beneath your feet. Feel your hips relaxed yet stable and set, your upper body straight relaxed and light.
- Open your eyes and you are ready to take that relaxed and centred energy shift and mind-body awareness with you into whatever you are doing. See if you can keep a small percentage of your attention on your breath and inner body sensations as you engage in your next task.
In Part I of this article looked at a the shifts in consciousness associated with ‘the zone’ or ‘flow performance’ which are terms referred to in the sporting context. In this second part, I explore the relationship and transition of this conscious shift into ‘mindfulness’ or ‘conscious presence’, which are terms used in a spiritual context for a specific state of consciousness.
The conscious states in these various contexts can enhance wellbeing and performance not just in a demanding situation, but also in normal daily life. They are indicative of a deeper conscious state we can access that provides a deep quality of awareness and enables us to deal with life’s challenges without stress, pain and suffering. What are the elements we can incorporate into our physical activities and lifestyle to help us achieve these conscious shifts?
In this article, I cover three key elements that make physical activities most effective in shifting consciousness and releasing stress.
Shifting Consciousness and Releasing Stress
A different scenario to high acuity and elevated states of awareness during adrenaline sports and activities primarily activating the sympathetic nervous system, are the relaxing synchronised activities that activate the parasympathetic nervous system and train the mind to achieve subtle but sustained states of awareness to those discussed in Part I.
Activities like Tai Chi, Yoga, or Hiking in nature can provide prolonged experiences of this type of awareness. With the right practice and inward focus, they can provide a conscious release from the thinking mind with body movement and mind-body awareness as a transitional focus to get there.
In these instances, a ‘flow performance’ or in ‘the zone’ experience can also occur, albeit not as intense and brief, with gradual progression in stability and duration of the experience, beyond the activity that facilitates it, into normal daily life.
Nonetheless, occasional intense experiences arise at unpredictable times just as they do with more adrenaline oriented activities. I have had some peak moments of flow and awareness arise on days when I was not feeling so good and there was a need to draw more deeply into myself to focus and perform. Such unexpected peak moments may not have even correlated with an unexpected peak performance but left me with a shift that enriched more energised practice over the following days and weeks.
Three Key Elements
There are three key factors that provide a powerful combination for practicing and developing mindful awareness which are shared in a great range of disciplines like those mentioned above. They are:
- Controlled body movement or posture, synchronised with
- conscious and purposeful breathing, along with
- focused but relaxed attention with full inner-body awareness.
In adrenaline sports or dangerous activities, as in high concentration work and activities, the mind is highly focused in the immediate moment and every second. Training oneself to voluntarily be fully focused in the here and now and immediate experience, body awareness and activity at hand, with a mind clear of thought and heart open in presence is the key here.
To do so with a sense of alignment and harmony (the state of mind as primary to the experience as the activity itself) is a universal theme of philosophies and spiritual teachings like zen, buddhism and other approaches that make inward focus and personal experience their primary focus. This is why Tai Chi is often associated with Zen and Taoism, or Hatha Yoga and Pranayama breathing exercises with inner Yogic meditation and Indian Vedanta.
The basic elements however, can be applied to any activity or non-activity like simply sitting which is at the essence of zen practice, or pouring a cup of tea like the more elaborate tea ceremonies of China and Japan. This is simple but subtle, which is why it is hard to conceptualise and is better to be contemplated through practice rather than theory and intellectualising.
The dimension where such practices become truly spiritual, is in the consciousness that opens the practitioner to an authentic sense of deep peace and expansive presence that can overcome suffering (emotional and mental turbulence and pain) and putting the ego in its place as servant rather than master. Becoming immune to anxiety and stress through this transcendent state is coupled with access to a sense of unity with life with a feeling of abiding peace, love and even a consistent underlying blissfulness.
From Movement to Mindfulness
The key in all of this is the super high acuity of the present moment while the sense of self is replaced with an immersion in the entire experience based in the interaction occurring between self, the environment at hand and any interaction with others without separation between them. The experience of all three is occurring within, in the conscious mind. This is where the term ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ is relative. Sages throughout the ages have communicated deep insight into the nature of everything being an experience in consciousness itself.
In this state of high acuity, identification with a self image dissolves. It is replaced with a sense of being the space in which your enhanced experience is occurring, rather than identification with the content of the present moment experience. This comes with a sense of accepting connection or unity with it all. Mental narrative and thinking is replaced with a still open receptivity, that provides for spontaneity and responsiveness that is not consciously premeditated.
This is not a zombie-like state, but a surrender to an innate intelligence and consciousness that alert and full of life. When it is found repeatedly, there is a sense of returning to a home base of consciousness that is there whether we tune into it or not. It is the life and conscious essence of our existence.
Even when a brief insight and awakening is achieved, for example with some professional athletes as discussed in Part I, if the whole focus at the time (and following) for the person is on winning or losing or some external outcome, then it may not transform into anything more than a psychological zone for optimal performance. It either becomes part of the high of winning or is discounted and negated in the disappointment of losing and the conditioned identification with mind content is not transcended.
If the focus of the experiencer is on the pleasure, connectivity and fluidness of the experience as a primary outcome in and of itself, then such a peak state can be appreciated and recognised as a deeper state of being. Being lifted from the conditioned and mundane sense of being a separate self reveals or validates a profound sense of life that many describe as spiritual.
Such peak experiences can be a time when we drop our usual familiar mental constructs and ‘points of reference’ spontaneously. Just a few, or even one experience like this, can open up a new sense of what ‘conscious’ being and doing is. It is certainly a profound shift when a person feels irreversibly, albeit subtly and obscurely changed, and peak moments like these have produced this kind of impact for many.
A sporting challenge, prolonged or extremely acute stress and suffering or a spontaneous and blissfully perfect moment can all provide for a few, an portal to those peak moments when we spontaneously experience a shift in being and awareness that translates into a new level of perceiving and performing something in our life. In a sense, it could be perceived as the purpose for the challenges and struggles of life. Meditative movement or stillness can nurture and train mind and body awareness to be more attuned and prepared for such moments.
These moments can be termed as states of heightened mindfulness or ‘the conscious practice of presence’ as they can produce a recognisably high acuity of here and now consciousness. Other benefits of this sense of higher self is that it imbues life experience, beyond good or bad, with a greater appreciation of beauty, goodness and excellence as intrinsic qualities in nature, other people and life in general.
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Many people adopt long term, even life-long, practices of some physical activity because of the physical, mental effects of well-being as well as a love for the activity itself or the skill sets acquired by doing it. Long term practice and participation in a certain discipline or activity can provide a rewarding journey that contributes to self development and enrich your life.
In addition to many health benefits, the outcomes of focused and demanding physical activities provide many incentives such as muscle tone, cardio fitness, improved energy levels, a rewarding endorphin hit, a better body image or the experience of stress release. Outdoor activities have the additional rewards as a healthy and invigorating way to get out in fresh air, sunshine, sometimes in country-side, beach, river or ocean.
Can such activities provide even more profound benefits than those of health, wellbeing and life balance in terms of quality of life? This article and Part II to follow briefly explore how deeply these activities assist us in terms of quality of consciousness, and even transition into spiritual awakening and redefining ourselves. Also covered below are four factors identified by professional athletes and sport psychologists that are characteristic of the high or flow performance states referred to as being in ‘the zone’ or ‘the flow’.
Impacting Quality of Life
A common saying is “what you put in determines what you get out” and in line with that, the answer to the above question certainly hinges on intention and focus to make a physical activity more than, well … more than just a physical activity.
The experience and recognition of a deeper and more profound sense of self while performing a loved activity can arise in spontaneous peak experiences or can by a gradual and consistent part of something which has become an aspect of someones way of life. The personal rewards gained can then translate into other areas of their life.
Accessing or drawing on deeper levels of strength and endurance for example can translate into mental and emotional strength and endurance as well as physical. Similarly, tapping into deep and diverse personal resources to maintain training regimes and disciplines, simply because of the value gained by keeping them up consistently, can translate into being more prepared to face other life challenges and vice-versa.
It is facing and overcoming any life challenges that facilitate personal development on all levels, so having a regular practice that you enjoy can provide challenges by choice that help us with the challenges we don’t enjoy as much or for those unexpected challenges we face and don’t consciously choose.
The same applies to spiritual endurance and depth. Physical activities can be a great vehicle for awakening consciousness if the quality of consciousness while doing it becomes part of the practice and a purpose for the activity in and of itself. An outward outcome like competitive success or attaining prowess in a physical skill, that may have originally been a primary motivator, can become an added bonus or consequence when initial goals have been met and deeper value and reward from the discipline and practice begins to be revealed.
For example, striving for and at least partially achieving a level of excellence in anything in life can also have positive ramifications in other areas of life. When a level of excellence begins to be attained it can have the impact of transforming the outlook and mentality of the achiever. They now have a level of excellence and expertise in something to personally take ownership of that becomes part of their outlook on the world and other aspirations and lifestyle endeavours.
When personal values and qualities are developed and internalised, they can be incorporated into a person’s sense of life and self generally. When career success, long term competence in a hobby or personal pursuit is only externalised to that specific task or goal to measure oneself by, it can only have a limited benefit to the person and other aspects of life. Such transitory externalisations can be financial or competitive, attention or status seeking. These can provide validation, enjoyment, a sense of achievement or create more opportunities. Yet, without a context of internal values to ones sense of character and awareness, they may not deliver long term meaning, purpose and ongoing value to ones sense of self and life fulfilment.
High Performance States as Peak Experiences
Peak experiences among professional sportsman are often documented and discussed. Terms such as being in ‘the flow’, ‘the zone’ or psychological ‘sweet spot’ in sports is still associated in the mainstream with maintaining a state of being psyched up, challenged and goal focused while enhanced by arousal of the nervous system and mind.
However, from understanding associated brain patterns and endorphin releases along with athlete experiences, I do not think these specific states rely on being hyped up. This can help adrenaline release but is not an essential element of the four phases of ‘the zone’ below. The science developed around these states is relying more developing the skill to enter an alert meditative state while embracing outward challenges.
When you listen to more seasoned athletes who experience ‘the zone’ spontaneously and repeatedly to varying degrees as a result of their focus and natural state of performance, especially when doing something elite or even groundbreaking, their descriptions and explanations tend to be inwardly reflective and profound.
American basketball player Kobe Bryant set a record in 2003 with 12 three-pointers in a game with nine of them in a row without a mis-fire. He was quoted as saying about his state of mind during his high point that “It’s hard to describe. You just feel so confident. You get your feet set and get a good look at the basket – it’s going in. Even the one’s I missed I thought were going in.”
Like many players in the zone, Bryant was relatively quiet with a neutral expression going into the game and throughout. He displayed his optimum performance with almost trance-like composure, experiencing acutely high awareness of his body and his environment, the whole court and players as well as the rhythm and flow of the game without being self consciously focused on it all. These are demonstrative physiological signs of alpha brainwave states associated with ‘the zone’ among many sports psychologists and researchers.
Four phases acknowledged by American NFL sporting commentator Kevin L. Burke for athletic peak experiences of ‘flow’ or in ‘the zone’  are:
Firstly, that most athletes will say it is not predictable or controllable. [However, the science of training the mind are developing and this will likely change in the future.] Ironically, the experience itself gives a sense of being in control, due to a sense of being in harmony with the flow of the game or activity and a sense of knowing or certainty with each action.
Secondly, most flow performances occur when an athlete is feeling intensely challenged.
Thirdly, there is a clear understanding of what they are to do, even a clear image of the actions ahead which includes a lucidity of their objective and how they will achieve it.
Finally, they are not concerned about scores, trophies, fame or money from a win in the moment. What is most valued is the actual enjoyment of participation rather than any outward objective.
Many people have experienced everything happening in slow motion while in this space. Also of interest is that there are many instances in competitive team events of team mates thinking there may be something wrong prior to the peak performance, because the athlete had become unusually quiet and focused with a neutral expression rather than the usual hyped up aggression and determination.
After a few years of martial arts training, I have had a similar experiences, a stand out one when defending myself in a real situation. I responded non-aggressively but effectively in the same way some sportsman report paying their game in their peak state. The experience seems profound and lucid, the greatly heightened awareness including an experience of 360 degree vision and slow motion so I had a sense of abundant space and time as I observed my responses. The lucidity of the experience has remained with me in a positive sense in every detail even decades later.
Unconscious competence lends itself to this state also. Someone unskilled or inexperienced in an activity are not likely to perform highly in this state. Regular runners, tennis players, cyclists and many others have written about transformational states they have gone into during endurance training or in the intensity of an important event. The normal egoistic sense of self is gone, as super acuity expanding the senses and awareness takes over.
This is greatly facilitated by adrenaline sports that have an element of danger as they really require great focus in the moment and this can be quite addictive with the the rush of mood elevating chemicals along with mental sharpness. However, meditative activities can bring practitioners into the same state, so maybe it is not about the demands of the activity as much as it is about becoming free from identification with the thinking mind?
The next article will look at the key elements to activities that provide shifts in consciousness and awareness that contain elements of ‘the zone’ and ‘flow’ but go deeper in supporting conscious awakening.
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In addition to comments like “I can’t meditate, my mind is too active”, I also get many questions about how to deal with mental and lifestyle obstacles to practicing presence or mindfulness during daily life, as well as during meditation sessions. What I offer here is a very simple approach that I believe is the basis of good advice on mindful presence and meditation from many practitioners and teachers that I also apply on an ongoing basis.
The short and simple answer may sound basic but there a lifetime of refinement involved and once you practice this approach for a relatively short but consistent time, it takes out the frustration factor many experience in trying to force or use their will in controlling the mind. Frustration only compounds the mental obstacles to being present and enjoying relaxed deep meditation.
The key is to make any distraction or disturbance, thought pattern or other obstructions, your focus of observation rather than fight it or let it drive you. This is best done in combination with relaxed conscious breathing and inner body awareness to help centre and anchor you. In other words, include mental chatter or outside disturbances in your conscious field of observing with loving or non-judgemental awareness.
Especially in the initial seconds or minutes of resetting yourself, combining conscious breathing and fullness of inner body awareness not only helps relax mind and body but also provides an anchor for you be still and present (the eye of the storm) amidst mind activity, stressors and pressures of the moment or environmental disturbances. A dissociation then occurs between you as the observer and these active elements which helps train the mind in maintaining undisturbed presence while being amongst the continual flow and changes of form and activity of life in general.
A disturbance may be noise or activity around you, inner turbulence or mental activity, an emotional upset or a mounting feeling of pressure that there is too much going on at the time to pause and really be present while you deal with it. It can be a countless array of things that the mind hooks on to in its habitual mode of activity and having to have an ongoing narrative when your focus is away from the true essence of consciousness.
Once you have taken enough breathes combined with inner body awareness to begin to settle (even if you only have minutes for the exercise) you can then give yourself permission to observe your mind activity in a detached non-judgemental way as you continue. This helps the mind to settle further and can be done eyes open or closed.
Even if it mind activity remains agitated for a time, affirm you are not your thoughts and that this is only the activity of mind which will pass. When you continue to observe mind activity while present with breath and inner body awareness, a subtle shift of identity occurs. Consciousness of being as the thinker of thoughts becomes more primary to the unconscious identification with the effects of thoughts and feelings that are our inner reaction to a situation. Low energy levels and mood of the day can also require us to be more consciously present than usual in order to experience mindful presence, feel ourselves and be on top of things.
Whatever it is, the fact something is challenging you to feel stillness, calmness and be fully present in the moment means that ‘something’ is the training you have been gifted in that moment to go deeper and become more adept at mastering your psychology, awareness, effectiveness and wellbeing.
A semi-conscious allowance to be pre-occupied, distracted with inner tension, or waiting for something to pass before you take a breath and relax mind and heart into a conscious state of being, is a symptom of identification with, and being sucked into, the narratives, conditioned perceptions and mindset of the conditioned mind. It can also come from investment in an outcome so that we loose ourselves for a time in some mundane pursuit that seems vitally important in that moment.
The conditioned mind is based on past programming and future concerns. Our true consciousness or state of being is always fully present in the here and now. Being disconnected to that full presence is a sign of reactivity, avoidance or attachment to some aspect of what’s going on in relation to past experience and future concerns. The only true remedy is to let go of concerns and break the loop by practicing some mindful presence for a time. Then when you go back to dealing with whatever is going on you can feel more present, aware and bring that sense into your actions and way of dealing with things. Often, perspective and perception shift and we can then deal with things better, less reactively and with more awareness.
Another prompt to take a moment to practice conscious presence is when you find yourself taking a conflictive position on some matter, opinion or stance. This can take us out of presence and into our mental projections of beliefs, opinions and reactions. Whether these are right or wrong, good or bad, we are more empowered, clear and on track if our identification is not centred on an opinion or resistance to external matters and instead rests in timeless and non-judgemental consciousness while we deal with the relativities of life.
Internalising a sense of conflict and non-acceptance with something, even if it is not involving you, get’s in the way of feeling whole, balanced and open in the present moment.
Even at this moment take some deep breathes, being present and aware of your entire body from within. In the precise moment affirm all is as it is including yourself and you can be fully present in heart and mind. Does this simple intent and action help you feel more present and aware of yourself and your surroundings?
Consider the last time you got caught up in a situation or train of thought (it can be positive or negative). Continuing a few conscious breaths of body awareness here and now, imagine being more fully present with an open heart at that time you are recalling, so you can experience and respond to it with more of your deeper consciousness. It may mean enjoying a good moment more or dealing with a difficult moment better, feeling the empowerment of not losing yourself in it and applying yourself consciously.
Come back to any distractions or stressors that may be current in your day or evening and be present with it fully – observing with a relaxed, open heart and mind. Affirm that “It is what it is”. Simply by more fully illuminating our experience in any moment with a full and present consciousness not identified with it, choice and transformation become more possible within and through you. This is subtle yet becomes more and more empowering and awakening with practice.
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Are your living and work spaces conducive to the mind space and tone you want to develop in your life?
I was recently visiting an ancient Buddhist temple in Kyoto-Ohara, Japan. It is called Sanzen-in Monzeki and is beautifully maintained. It is magnificent in every season and this northern hemisphere summer setting meant I have now seen it in all four seasons – the spectacular red maples of autumn (or fall), snow covered beauty in winter, colourful flowers of spring and the incredible greenery of summer.
Having green matcha tea and serenely overlooking a garden that looked as if it was out of some celestial heavenly realm, made me feel like I was in heaven. I reflected on the beauty, harmony and peace it emanated and how conducive it was for attuning to the same qualities within. I could see some people who were also calmly present while others were less settled and preoccupied even in such a beautiful and sacred site.
Such places are so beautifully designed as places for meditation and cultivating conscious presence in every moment. The indoor-outdoor design of screens and walkways of beautiful timbers set amongst gentle water ways and many decades of detailed gardening have such a unique beauty.
There are many ways we can deepen and broaden our sense of living-being by cultivating qualities that become more meaningful as we mature and develop. Such qualities of peace, beauty, connection to nature, and harmony rate more with age for some, more so as modern life becomes more intrusive and busy. Reading or listening to inspiring people, quality time with friends or loved ones, inspiring or deeply resonating music are other delights that inspire such qualities, as can the environmental spaces we live in or frequent.
I am so grateful to people who create places that inspire a feeling in me that stays well after I have been there, because it appeals to a quality of experience that already resides in the presence and being-ness that we all share deeply within.
In any wilderness setting it is easy to feel such a harmonious connection with nature that also resonates with a strong inner consciousness of being in the moment. When we feel alert calmness of mind and heart, with a sense of connection without and with all things around us, such a moment reflects a happy state of presence.
In art, architecture and garden design there are some wonderful examples around the world of inspired human design and refinement of detail that invokes a similar sense of sacredness, beauty and harmony. Isn’t it great how ancient and modern, famous and unknown private finds can gift us a subtle and deep reflection from within the creator or artist through the medium of their trade, impacting all who experience it. We can all be universal consciousness expressing and enjoying itself through us. My favourite examples of art forms that combine human ingenuity and nature, are the many traditional gardens throughout Japan I have visited and are yet to visit.
In our modern world, we have even more means at our disposal to create and control our living environments. Blending natural elements into human design and manufacture that are conducive to spaciousness, calmness and peace are places that can make people stop and take note, take some breathes and become fully present in appreciation of the space they are in. It does not have to be extravagant. How many times has a simple inexpensive yet thoughtful setting inspired you to stop and reflect in appreciation for a moment? In truth, at such times people can be enjoying being brought out of their stream of thinking into conscious presence even for a just a few moments.
There are also countless examples of people who find simple small ways at home or work places to create an arrangement and space somewhere that is consciously or unconsciously there to connect them to a state of being while going about their day or evening. Does your living space reflect this to a degree or could you nurture yourself and others by addressing this more in your own space?
While some chaos and clutter can be unavoidable, it can also be contained as organised mess in storage and out of the way areas. Otherwise clutter can induce cluttered mind activity through association, the hidden anxiety that goes with accumulated disorganisation and the mounting neglect and ‘clean up’ it infers.
Most people set up and maintain their living spaces in a way that reflects how they want to feel and as well as the most practical set up for their belongings and space available. However, sometimes it can take on a life of its own until it reflects old aspects of yourself that can be good to move on from. Or maybe a refresh assessment and decision to transform a living space is timely and can be done simply with what you have access to already?
A simple flower arrangement can communicate a present time and changing element that communicates beauty and care. Some degree of empty space and simplicity punctuated with a few items that reflect your own taste and lifestyle themes can inspire calmness and creativity. It may not suit everybody right at this time, but simplicity is a theme that I hear again and again from those refining their living space as part of a positive shift in energy and mindset.
Yogic vedanta and ayurvedic principles contain useful concepts of the three gunas; sattva, rajas and tamas. They are applied to consciousness, health, environment, lifestyle and all aspects of reality.
Sattva reflects calm energy and refinement of spirit that invokes purity and balance. As it infers balance, any imbalance is associated with negative symptoms of the other two gunas.
The quality of rajas is activity and excitement. Imbalanced, rajas can be associated with attachment, excessiveness, fickleness, reactivity and compulsiveness.
The quality of tamas is inactivity and inertia. Imbalanced, tamas can be associated with depression or suppression, envy or infatuation, fatigue or stagnation, feeling stuck and unmotivated.
All three are required in a positive sense as we are human doers as well as human beings. High excitement and busyness can be embraced from inner stillness and with periods of inactivity. Balance is not getting lost in activity and attachment, nor is it indifference to things and others by tamasic detachment. A sattvic state embraces all three gunas if they are balanced – rajasic energy not becoming over-active and dominant, nor tamas becoming stagnant and obstructive.
It may be a helpful to assess the presence or absence of sattvic aspects of your own living and working environment. Does your living space inspire balanced energy with an aesthetic sense of homeliness? Do various objects or overall content and design refine and energise in a calming way? Does anything or any aspect distract or deplete your energy from being fully present and where you want to be in life? Is something there to make a statement or cultivate a genuine quality? Could disorganisation and clutter be further minimised?
Likewise, does your desk or work pace have elements to reflect being as well as doing in aesthetic ways? Is it organised with some area of space rather than cluttered and jam packed.
Bedrooms should invoke peace and calmness and be absent of stressful associations with work and activities as well as free of clutter and stagnant energy. They should be conducive to rest but also good to wake up rested and ready for the day. Lighting, colours as well as content and design can be considered this way rather than just aesthetic value. Living and work spaces can encourage a mood and mindset that suits you and your lifestyle inducing a sense of calm positivity and goodwill. Objects and images associated with negative, reactive or dysfunctional themes would not be sattvic.
Updating and aligning your personal and work spaces to reflect the quality of consciousness and results you want to cultivate, can be a powerful part of shifting energy and flowing more of who you are into your life and impacting others.