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Relax the muscles … widen the attention … float the question ’What’s happening for me now?’
Acknowledge that. For a moment you’re watching or listening to what the question brought to light rather than engaging in what you’re thinking or feeling. Avoid judging your thoughts or moods. The main thing is that you have shifted to watching your mind. And with that you can sense what’s happening for you from outside the experience rather than by being engaged or immersed in it.
Once the shift has happened, check in with whatever your question ‘what’s happening for me now?’ reveals, give it a simple label and give yourself a few moments to feel ‘ busy’ or ‘eager’ or ‘irritable’ without doing anything about it. Remember to stay in touch with and try to keep your attention spread over the whole of your body – this will help you to stay balanced. Don’t act or react.
By avoiding actions and reactions you will allow a fuller and more helpful response to the mood to arise. You may sense calm, acceptance or clarity about what’s happening for you. So this shift into awareness is important; it gives you a chance to get an overview on what you’re feeling or doing, to change direction or to let things pass.
Listen to what the question brings to light …
Don’t act or react … allow a response to arise.
The main thing with Pause and Ask is to do it often. You could try ten or more times a day: when you wake up, before you get up, when you’re washed and dressed and before you get going, when you’ve finished breakfast, when you’re about to start the car, about to switch on the TV…
You could set a timer on your phone to go off occasionally to get you to Pause throughout the day. Above all, Pause and Ask is a useful exercise in situations such as the following: at the flashpoints of conflict; when you feel emotionally uncomfortable or furtive; or when there’s the itch to switch something on or munch or otherwise distract. Pausing at these moments can save you a lot of trouble. It gives you a chance to see things differently and to not get stuck in blind habits.
The limitations of Pause and Ask are that it is brief. You can’t sustain it without some other tools. In fact if you pause too long, you’ll probably find that you’ve moved into another gear and your mind is wandering. But if you find the practice beneficial, you may want to spend three to five or more minutes to Connect and Strengthen. These form the next cluster of exercises.
Connect and Strengthen
Recommended time: Three to five minutes. More if you like.
In these exercises, we’re going to connect to three sources (or channels) of awareness. I say ‘awareness’ rather than ‘mind’ because we may assume that the mind is in the head and is the organ that thinks. Actually as well as having a thinking source, awareness draws from a bodily source and a heart source – the bases that we’ve touched on in Pause and Ask. It’s through simply connecting and staying with each of these bases and being more conscious of them that awareness strengthens and becomes more fluent.
1 Connect to the body
The body is more than just meat and bone, and exercising it is easier than lifting weights or jogging. Your body can provide groundedness, balance and vitality quite naturally – all that you have to do is to connect to awareness. Through staying connected you get to feel balanced and toned up.
And if you lose an aware connection to your body – as in getting absorbed in taking a photo when you’re leaning over the edge of a canyon or conversing on your phone while you’re driving – the results can be fatal. More often, we lose our body-awareness in the hurry of the day and that makes us careless and stressed. But when we learn to maintain an aware connection to the body, we realize that the mind is in sympathy with the body and that bodily composure facilitates mental clarity and calm.
You can connect to the body through walking, sitting or reclining – but for now let’s start with standing.
Stand with your legs coming straight down from your hips. Soften your knees so that these joints aren’t locked. Then relax your buttocks so that you are letting the weight of your body be carried by your feet and the planet beneath you rather than resting your upper body on your hips. Let your arms come slightly away from the sides of your body (just enough to sense some space around your chest) and hang loosely beside you. Keep the arm-muscles relaxed so that the arms are in a very gentle curve rather than straight.
Similarly with the hands and fingers. Relax your shoulders as if you’re slipping a coat off your back; soften your jaw and your gaze. You may need to flex your knees and take a few deep out-breaths to get the fidgeting out of your system.
Tune in to balance
As you touch into that balanced state (and return to it over the course of the next few minutes) look towards widening your awareness to cover the whole body as if you’re about to dive or you’re modelling clothes. This is ‘gathering the entire body within awareness’; you acknowledge where in your body you feel most located (normally your face) and then spread your attention over your shoulders and down your body. Get down to your feet if you can. Aim towards sensing the whole posture and then towards finding and maintaining balance. As you widen to get the whole body in focus, you may feel sensations and energies. Your fingers may tingle as well as your feet. Acknowledge all that but don’t focus on any particular sensation. Instead, can you pick up the repeated series of sensations and energies that tell you you’re breathing?
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Find more exercises related to mindfulness at work here.