A Very Brief Guide to Using Mindfulness with Children and Adolescents

A Very Brief Guide to Using Mindfulness with Children and Adolescents

A Very Brief Guide to Using Mindfulness with Children and Adolescents

So you have heard about mindfulness, perhaps used it yourself, and you think it would help a child you are either parent to or work with. I have written here a very brief, step-by-step guide to using mindfulness with children, based on my experience using mindfulness in my work with children and adolescents for the last 6 years. Below are two definitions of mindfulness. The first is my own definition, and the second is the clinical definition. After this, you will find my step-by-step guide:

‘Mindfulness is listening to yourself and your environment with compassion, curiosity and acceptance.’

‘Mindfulness is the regulation of psychological and autonomic arousal by increasing perceptual distance from somatic pain and maladaptive thoughts and emotions.’

  1. The first most important step is that you ideally would not be recommending mindfulness unless you practise it yourself. If you are clearly struggling with an aspect of your own mind, be it stress, anxiety, low moods, et cetera, then the child will likely find your suggestions of mindfulness hypocritical, and they will resist. Children are much smarter and intuitive than most people give them credit. So, if you are interested first in learning mindfulness yourself, you can get in touch with me, find an MBCT, MBSR course near you, or use the excellent Headspace app. Here is a brilliant animation by Headspace which explains mindfulness practice.

2. Once you have a practice in place, and you can truly know from personal experience the benefits of mindfulness, you will be more able to mindfully check your expectations. If you are hoping that this is going to be a miracle cure, stopping tantrums, bringing A-grades at school, whatever, then you are likely to be disappointed. It is also very likely that the child in question will be picking up on your frustration with them, and internalising it, creating inner conflict. You may well find that simply practising mindfulness yourself will have the amazing knock-on effect of making the children you are concerned about more calm. I can tell you this is a very likely outcome.

3. Having said this, there is a large and growing evidence-base for the benefits of mindfulness with children. Here is a good overview.

4. It is vital to remember that children are naturally mindful. I am sure you have seen a child fully absorbed in sensory play with a simple object. Well, this is our natural state of mindfulness, our heritage.

 5. But children lose touch with their natural mindfulness, especially in the modern world, as their attention gets divided and their minds get clogged up with information.

6. To bring children back to their natural state, play is the way. It is not necessary, and is in fact counter-productive, for children to be forced to sit down for lengths of time, eyes closed, trying really hard to focus. This kind of approach just adds another layer of adult neurosis into their sensitive, rapidly forming brains. One of the most effective mindfulness tricks I have used in the last years has been the very simple and fun Noise Game. In this game, you simply have the child, the group (yes…that’s including you) jump up and down and make as much noise and movement as possible for one minute. After a minute, you shout STOP, and get the child/ren to be as still as possible for one minute. You can talk them through this second minute, getting them to notice their heartbeat, feet on the floor, sounds in the room. This is really a variation of musical statues, which again, can be turned into a mindfulness exercise in the same way.

 7. Most games can be turned into exercises in mindfulness if you ask the right questions in the right way.  Just getting the child to tune into their senses whilst playing any game makes mindfulness something fun to do, rather than another chore, like doing homework.

 8. This is especially true in nature. Simply by noticing things in nature with our senses, the children naturally learn from us, and we subtly encourage them to do the same. Of course phones will ideally be switched off.

 9. For adolescents, the only real difference is that they may not be so keen to play games with you. In this case, I have found it really helpful to engage adolescents through tapping into their own interests. Whether they like sports, dance, singing, reading, most interests and activities can be enhanced with a dash of mindfulness. Engaging their senses, or getting them to notice the rise and fall of their breath, before, during or after these activities they love will enhance their enjoyment of the activity, and is also likely to improve their performance.

 10.If you are very concerned about your child or teenager’s mental health, and these simple playful exercises are not enough, then please get in touch for a free consultation. At the moment, there are no mindfulness for children programmes that I know of in London, other than programmes delivered in schools by .b (I am a qualified .b teacher) and other similar organisations. I can offer a tailored mindfulness programme individually or as a group, depending on the needs.

 11. So, the key lesson from this very brief guide is that mindfulness is our natural state, and that generally children and adolescents can tune back into this state easily, if they are encouraged in a playful, accepting, and compassionate way, by somebody who practises mindfulness themselves.

I am very happy to offer an initial consultation to explore mindfulness further with you. Alternatively, should you wish to explore this in your own time, here are a couple of resources I can vouch for:

themindfulparent.org/

Elise Snel, Sitting Like a Frog

However you decide to implement mindfulness with the children you have in mind, may you all find peace in the process.

Louis

Life Is Precious, Treat It That Way: write your own obituary to fully wake up

Life Is Precious, Treat It That Way: write your own obituary to fully wake up

Life Is Precious, Treat It That Way: write your own obituary to fully wake up

“I am going to die.”

 

What happens inside you when you let that statement sink into your body? Many of us experience fear and other difficult emotions. Many of us brush those difficult feelings under the carpet. But as we grow, that pile of dust under the carpet inevitably gets bigger and more difficult to ignore. We start tripping up over it.

Writing your own obituary is one of the most powerful exercises you can do to liberate that pile of dust from under your carpet, and transform it into life glitter. And you don’t need to wait until you are knocking on death’s door to do it.

Zoom in on the real juice

If you have ever had a sense that you are confused about your life’s purpose or that you are wasting so much time doing meaningless stuff, then this exercise will help you zoom in on the real juice, on what is most important to you.

People often find that when someone close to them dies, or when they have been faced with their own death, they experience a powerful shift in their focus, focusing intently on what is most precious to them. Often this feeling of connection, purpose and focus starts off strong and can fizzle out as the years pass by.

Writing your own obituary is a most glittery gift to yourself, as it can not only help you zoom in on the juice, but also will function as a document that can keep you accountable to your heart’s purpose. Whenever you start to notice feelings of confusion, meaningless, or lack of purpose, you will always have this document to refer back to and to adapt as necessary.

Now to the real thing

The first step in writing your own obituary is facing up to the reality that one day you will die. Both the ancient Greek Epicureans and Tibetan Buddhists meditated on a simple phrase to help them remember: ‘death is certain – the hour is uncertain’.

Repeating this phrase over and over may sound morbid to you. We naturally prefer to focus on the good stuff. This can certainly be a very challenging exercise. Great fear may be experienced at first. But if we can practice stillness in the midst of this fear of death, amazing gifts and crystal clear dreams await us.

Once you have meditated on the certainty of your own death, the next step is to start writing. To open your imagination, picture the scene of your death. Who is there? Who is likely to be reading the story of your life? What song would you have playing? As you imagine this scene, start to jot down some of the things that people who care about you would say in your obituary. It might be recognition of your qualities. It could be celebration of your achievements. It could be remembering fun times. As you make notes, you may notice that there are some parts of your obituary that you are not happy with. There may be judgments about certain aspects of yourself, maybe you didn’t spend enough time with close ones, maybe you didn’t have the courage to pursue your dreams, maybe you didn’t treat some people so well.

This not-so-shiny feedback is where the real juice lies.

In 1888 Alfred Nobel’s brother Ludvig died while visiting Cannes and a French newspaper erroneously published Alfred’s obituary. It condemned him for his invention of dynamite, stating Le marchand de la mort est mort (“The merchant of death is dead”). The obituary went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” This not so shiny feedback of his life catalysed Alfred’s decision to leave a better legacy after his death. It brought him to establish the Nobel Prizes.

When you have jotted your notes, it is now time to pull it all together. At this stage, it is wise to write your obituary form the perspective of having lived exactly the life you want in your heart of hearts to live. This means that you are imagining having addressed those not-so-shiny aspects of your self that have held you back from being the change you want to see in the world. The obituary does not need to be long or detailed. In writing this, it can be super helpful to come up with the tombstone statement: what one phrase would people put on your tombstone, if you have lived the life you truly want to live? Let that phrase be your guide, not only for this obituary, but also for your life.

Living the story of your life

Once you have written your obituary, now the real work begins. Find a sacred place to keep your obituary. It does not need to be visible, although this can really work for some people. Revisit the obituary at least once a week. Make a ritual and meditation of this practice. Find a quiet space, light some candles or get some nice smells going, read over the obituary and let it be a constant guide in your journey. If it stirs emotions in you, this is good. Channel these emotions into your actions. You may at times want to adapt the obituary, and this is absolutely fine. It is a working document, quite possibly the most powerful one you have ever written.

How to Make Sleep Your Friend

How to Make Sleep Your Friend

How to Make Sleep Your Friend

Here is a fun article I wrote, originally for the Deliciously Ella Blog, about making sleep your friend. For anyone who has a troubled relationship with sleep, this one’s for you.

 

 

What kind of a relationship do you have with sleep?

Perhaps you are one of the lucky few, those sleeping beauties who can nod off at will, anywhere, any time.

For most us, we relate to sleep like a dog chasing its tail: we can never properly get a hold of it. We don’t get enough sleep. Our sleep is broken. We oversleep. We have bad dreams. We wake up feeling exhausted. A zombie nation. No wonder caffeine is the world’s most popular drug.

I have been that sleep-deprived zombie-dog chasing its tail. I suffered from insomnia for many years. The lack of sleep was breaking me.  But then I discovered meditation…and everything changed. Through meditation I learned that I was chasing the proverbial tail in all aspects of my life, and that sleep was just one particularly acute and painful manifestation of my spinning out of control. Nowadays I very rarely can’t get to sleep, and most nights I really enjoy sleeping.

These dramatic changes in my relationship with sleep brought me to look more deeply into sleep. Sleep is a universal aspect of life. Birds do it, bees do it. So why are we modern human beings so deeply neurotic about sleep? Part of our difficult relationship to sleep comes from the power of myths. When we are young (if we are lucky) we have parents who will tell us stories to help us get to sleep. The classic folk story about sleep involves a magical fairy-like creature called the Sandman who sprinkles sand or dust onto children’s eyes to help them sleep.The sleep we find in the corners of our eyes in the morning are, so the story goes, the remnants of Mr Sandman’s magic dust.

Sadly, the magic potential of sleep is lost to us as we get older. We start to tell ourselves different, less helpful, more neurotic myths about sleep.

One of the least helpful but most powerful myths has been that only 8 hours unbroken sleep constitutes a good night’s kip. This is not true. In a recent, huge international survey by Sleep Cycle of almost a million people’s sleep patterns, there was not a single country that averaged 8 hours sleep a night (the longest sleepers were in New Zealand, averaging 7hrs 27mins a night). So if hardly anyone sleeps an unbroken 8 hours sleep a night, this makes the 8-hour rule an extremely unfriendly yardstick with which we regularly beat ourselves.

Most animals on earth have polyphasic sleep; this means they sleep in shorter periods of time throughout the day and night. Have you ever seen a cat whingeing to another cat about not having had a solid 8 hours sleep last night? I hope not! Animals just sleep as and when they need to. But we humans have built up very different relationships to sleep over the course of our evolution, based on the different myths and stories we tell ourselves.

For example, we now know that in Medieval Europe people would sleep in two phases, commonly getting up in the middle of the night to read, smoke, pray, have sex, and even visit neighbours. The idea of 8 hours unbroken sleep simply did not exist then. But as Europe entered into the Industrial Revolution, a new myth was born. We came to believe that time-wasting was a sin, and that being productive was the highest ideal for mankind and the direct route to heaven. And the worship of productivity haunts us to this very day. We desire better sleep so that we can be more productive, more successful. Sleep has become a means to a practical, neurotic end.

But the good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. The great wisdom traditions of the world still sing to us of the mystical, transformative wonderlands of sleeptime. The Native American Blackfeet tribes believed that a butterfly (symbol of transformation) would bring us dreams in our sleep that could help us change. They would paint a butterfly on the door of their lodges, and sing lullabies inviting the butterfly spirits to come and guide their dreams.

In Kabbalah, sleep is a time when most of our soul leave our bodies to connect with the higher spiritual realms, where it receives nourishment, rejuvenation, and guidance.

You too can reconnect with that magical sense, that relationship with sleep as a friend you look forward to travelling with each night. Here are my top tips to bring back the magic of sleep into your life:

1)   Challenge your own unhelpful beliefs about sleep: you have a number of unhelpful beliefs about sleep. The best way to unravel these beliefs is to keep a thought diary the next time you don’t get ‘a good night’s sleep’. Write down the typical thoughts you tend to have when you don’t feel you have had a good night’s sleep. If you practice this observation, you will quickly see how powerful some of these beliefs are, often causing you to feel very grumpy, disconnected, ineffective.

2)   Stop time-watching: One of the most powerful beliefs we have around sleep is to do with time. Since I stopped checking the time when I wake up in the night, I find that I get back to sleep much easier. If you find yourself counting how many hours sleep you are getting, now is the time to let this time-watching part of you go. Keep your alarm clock out of sight, if you need one. When you enter the bedroom, note to yourself that you are entering into a timeless, magical zone.

3)    Bring the magic back into sleep: you don’t need to believe in the Sandman or other fictional sleep-aids to reconnect with a sense of magic about sleep. Sleep is truly a magical place, where time stands still, and the possibilities of creation are infinite. Cultivate this sense of sleep as a magical realm by looking for magic in your dreams. If you struggle to remember your dreams, you might keep a dream journal. But practice looking for the magic elements of your dreamworlds. As Albert Einstein said: “Logic will get you from a to z; imagination will get you everywhere.”

1)   Create healthy rituals around sleep: one of the number one worst things you can do to ruin your night’s sleep is to be surfing the net before going to bed. There is a highly addictive quality to surfing the net, and because we are skimming over things, often without real focus, we don’t engage in anything deeply enough. Also, the blue-spectrum light of digital devices limits the production of melatonin (a sleep hormone).


By contrast, when we read a good book, this allows our minds to enter deeply into another world, which is the perfect preparation for sleep. Whatever you find is a helpful bedtime ritual for you, whether reading a book, listening to radio, or watching a film, or tv show, just make it consistent. My personal recommendation for bedtime ritual is: i) have a long soak in the bath with no devices; ii) be in bed at the same time every night, apart from one night a week; iii) lower the lights and turn off all digital devices; iv) put some lavender oil on your pillow; v) read a good book (if you have a partner, engage in pillow talk – research has shown pillow talk strengthens relationships and supports sleep) vi) wake up at the same time every day, and don’t snooze! When you snooze you develop ‘sleep inertia’ where your body gets confused and you can carry on feeling half-asleep for up to four hours after you finally wake up. If you must use devices in bed, then download f.lux., a programme that makes digital screens less blue at night.

2)   Develop Sleep Discipline: many readers will be thinking that the rituals above are something you have heard many times before. If so, then we need to ask ourselves why we struggle to put these bedtime routines into practice? I believe that we all know deep down what conditions help us to sleep. But we consistently fail to put these routines into practice, because we get carried away on tides of excitement, especially with the internet’s promise of endless distraction. To become more disciplined with your sleep routines, ask yourself what you would prefer: to stay up flicking from one thing to another, or to wake up in the morning with a smile, knowing that your bedtime routine opened up a magical portal for your soul to travel into a delicious dreamworld.

3)   Nurture your mind: when we can’t get to sleep we quickly get frustrated with our minds for not switching off when we want them too. But we all know that frustration just exacerbates our insomnia. I have successfully taught clients with sleep problems to imagine that their mind is a baby. If a baby was not sleeping, would you get angry with it, shout at it, make it look at a million different web-pages? Or would you rather nurture it, sing lullabies, gently rocking it, until it drifted off into a deep slumber? Just as you would nurture a baby, so should you nurture your own mind by cultivating self-compassion.

4)    Meditation: I mentioned above that meditation transformed my relationship with sleep. One of the best tricks it taught me was to bring my attention away from my stressed out, overthinking mind, into my bodily sensations. One simple way to do this is to do a body scan, where you bring your attention up and down your body, from your head to your toes and back. It is important that you notice when your thinking mind starts to want to label and describe the physical sensations. When it does this, gently bring your attention back to the pure physical sensations. With your attention on your physical sensations, and not on your thoughts, you will easily drift off. However, on the rare occasion this does not work, I recommend getting out of bed, finding a quiet corner, sitting down and keep gently bringing your awareness into your physical sensations. Each time you notice your thinking mind getting hooked again, gently bring back your attention into your body and your physical sensations.

5)    Acceptance and gratitude: there is a very powerful psychological technique you can use when sleep is not finding you, but it comes with a great challenge. You have to give up on your desire to get to sleep. If you can let go of the part of you that is so desperately yearning for sleep, and instead invite a sense of radical acceptance for where you are in this moment of not sleeping, you will notice an immediate release of tension. With this release of tension, you create space to consider why you are grateful for being awake at this time. Write it down if it helps. I like to repeat acceptance and gratitude affirmations. Here are some examples for you (although I encourage you to weave your own magic into them): I am letting go of the need to control; I trust this moment is perfect and accept it unconditionally; I trust and surrender to the flow of life; I am grateful for this quiet time to myself; I am grateful just to be alive.

Blurred Lines: the rise and fall of Milo Yiannopoulos and the search for Truth in a post-truth era

Blurred Lines: the rise and fall of Milo Yiannopoulos and the search for Truth in a post-truth era

Blurred Lines: the rise and fall of Milo Yiannopoulos and the search for Truth in a post-truth era

Milo Yiannopoulos is hard to fit into a box.

And he likes it that way.

Self-described as ‘a gay Jew with a black boyfriend’, one vitriolic towards political correctness, feminism, the transgender community, Islam. He is a also a self-confessed troll, purposefully sowing discord on the internet by posting provocative, inflammatory comments. He calls Donald Trump ‘my father’.

He has been a hugely influential spokesperson for a new generation of white youth who have lost faith with traditional politics, institutions, and media, lost faith particularly with the identity politics of the Left.

Some lines however just can’t be crossed. An older podcast was unearthed lastweek in which Milo appeared to endorse paedophilia. Within 24 hours, he lost a £250,000 book deal, had several lucrative speaking contracts cancelled, and resigned from his job as senior editor at Breitbart News.

The rapid fall from grace of this agent provocateur brings up some vitally important questions about the blurring lines of human identity and our quest for Truth in this ‘post-truth’ era.

As our trust in traditional truth-producing institutions (Media, Science, Education, Law) reaches an all-time low, where do we turn for Truth?

As boundaries of gender, sexuality, political alignments continue to blur, where do we stand? Do we need to stand anywhere at all?

How do these blurred lines affect our inner worlds?

Truth is a North Star

Like the North Star, human beings use Truth to guide them in important moments.

When a man has Stage 3 cancer and chooses chemotherapy, this is because he believes the doctor is speaking the Truth that this is the best possible treatment for him.

When a mother doesn’t give her child the MMR vaccine, she believes it is True that these vaccines can cause autism.

When an Inuit hunter catches a seal and treats the body with ultimate respect, he believes it is True the animal has a soul.

Whether you read the BBC or Breitbart, you choose your News platform because this is a trusted source of Truth for you.

What the Internet did to Truth

“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.” (Rumi)

The internet has democratised Truth.

The outrageous ‘truth’ of Milo Yiannopoulos was in his previous job filtered by the Editor at the Daily Telegraph. Then he joined an alternative news channel. And his outrage was set free.

The democratisation of Truth is a good thing and a bad thing.

It’s a good thing because traditional institutions of truth-production have less power now. Imagine a white History teacher teaching a lesson on Slavery to an African student, the student armed with Google and a deep distrust of history-written-by-the-victors?

It’s a good thing because political correctness had until recently created a shadow, the shadow of the unspeakable. This repressed shadow has now emerged twisted and triumphant in the form of Donald Trump.

It’s a bad thing because now anyone with a laptop and internet connection can share their version of truth around the world. This leads to a Truth Tsunami, creating confusion, overwhelm, and a slow-burning anxiety.

According to Youtube’s company report from 2016, 300 hours of video are uploaded every single minute. The digital Tower of Babel is growing exponentially, and we are losing sight of our North Star.

With so many versions of the Truth, when the boundaries of our identity feel threatened, we become desperate, we look for anything that appears strong to hold onto. In this space, only the most provocative clowns and marketeers stand out above the noise (Milo, Donald Trump, Russel Brand).

Welcome to the click-bait Reality TV show that is 21st Century life. A highly entertaining one, for sure. But, consider for a moment what the impact of this 24/7 media circus is on our selves, on our capacity for empathy, on our common humanity, our North Star?

The personal is (still) the political

In my psychotherapy practice, I’m seeing increasing levels of anxiety in both adults and particularly in children. Rather than treating this anxiety as a symptom to be gotten rid of with meditation or medication, I see it as the body’s way of showing us that something is not right in the bigger picture. The personal is (still) the political.

Take Molly, 15. When Molly first comes to me, she has been having debilitating panic attacks for over a year. When I enquire into what the triggers might be, she tells me she worries constantly about Donald Trump, terrorism, and other people’s judgments. When she is on social media, her friends share clickbait articles with highly dramatic headlines like ‘FIVE WAYS WE ARE ALL ABOUT TO DIE’. When she is on Instagram, she worries about keeping up her digital appearance. She is able to curate an acceptable version of herself through her beautifully framed photos. These photos tell the world she is cool, she has good taste, she is lovable. But when she interacts with other kids at school, a panic builds up in her that she isn’t really cool or lovable. Instead of being comfortable in her own skin amongst her peers, she regularly chooses to avoid contact. This means the anxiety just continues to build.

Increased anxiety levels are to be expected when the designers of our digital addiction are driven by profit. Digital media channels are designed with one purpose: divide our attention and conquer. Let’s be absolutely clear: Facebook, Youtube, Instagram etc, get paid per click. The more you click, the more they make money. Yes, it is really that simple.

I was recently discussing with a colleague of mine — an expert in this area — how the Silicon Valley elite use ‘dumb phones’ because they know how addictive and distracting smart phones can be. He put it quite bluntly and brilliantly: ‘Do you think the CEO of Macdonalds eats a Big Mac meal every day?’

The attention economy, along with the democratisation of knowledge, together have created a new mental health phenomenon: Infobesity. ‘Infobesity’ defines our current addiction to information, and the pernicious consequences of that.

One of the greatest risks of our Infobese generation is that our will to committed action is weakening. The internet has no doubt made it easier than ever before to organise a protest. Indeed, many internet utopians had gotten carried away in what Evgeny Morozov calls the ‘net delusion’.

But true revolution requires committed action and consensus sustained over time.

For example, in 2010, Wael Ghonmin set up a basic, anonymous Facebook page — ‘We are all Khaled Said’. Kahled referenced a 29-year-old man who had been tortured to death by the police in Egypt. In 3 days, the page had 100,000 followers, and is credited with kickstarting the Egyptian Revolution. But as Wael says in this Ted Talk, soon “the euphoria faded, we failed to build consensus”. Social media transformed quickly from a revolutionary tool to a breeding ground for misinformation and trolls: “the same tool that united us to topple dictators eventually tore us apart.”

As we all become more infobese, as we succumb to attention-slavery, filling the coffers of the Silion Elite with our daily clicks and scrolls, our ability to commit to courses of action gets weakened. In the 1960s, post-Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse coined the term ‘one-dimensional man’, to describe how new forms of media technology (especially television) were deadening the radical potential of human consciousness:

“Our society distinguishes itself by conquering the centrifugal social forces with Technology rather than Terror, on the dual basis of an overwhelming efficiency and an increasing standard of living.”

In the age of digital media, as the number of channels increases exponentially, we are no longer one-dimensional man: we are the ‘fragmented human’. The end result is the same or worse: our radical potential is suffocated.

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard recognised the superficiality of our civic engagement in an entertainment-focused generation which he called ‘the present age’:

“essentially an age of understanding and reflection, without passion, momentarily bursting into enthusiasm, and shrewdly relapsing into repose. … There is no more action or decision in our day than there is perilous delight in swimming in shallow waters.”

Rediscovering Our North Star

In some ways, we can imagine life was more simple in the past. I have written elsewhere about how traditional social and religious structures emerged partly to provide a solid framework (‘a sacred canopy’ as sociologist Peter Berger describes it) within which humans could find and sustain meaning, a moral fabric through which people would weave their decisions. For some, the only book they would ever have had access to would have been the core religious text of their culture: Bible, Koran, Bhagavad Gita, etc. Even if they could not read, there would have been a much-reduced menu of values, assumptions, and beliefs about how to live life.

Today, we the ‘fragmented human’ are being called to rediscover our sacred canopy, our North Star. Without this common Truth, our attention will become ever more fragmented, enslaved. In Proverbs, we are warned: “Without a vision, the people will perish.”

So what might this North Star look like? What do all human beings have in common?

For one, we share the same biology and psychology. Yes, our bodies may be different shapes and sizes and colours, but the inner mechanics are largely the same. As the world becomes more virtual, we will need more than ever to return to the wisdom of our bodies. For example, human beings are born with a biological capacity for altruism. When we see another human being in suffering, something in our heart instinctively wants to reach out and help. Spiritual traditions have long recognised the heart as a powerful source of wisdom. This ancient wisdom is now validated by the science of neurocardiology. Our innate capacity to be kind can be either nurtured or blocked, by parents, by schools, by the social, political, economic system. My heart fills with hope when I meet pioneers using our understanding of our biology to build trust and bridge divides. Dr Rony Berger, for example, has been successfully using embodied compassion practices to cultivate tolerance between Israeli and Palestinian children. Imagine a world where evidence-based compassion-practices are at the core of education systems around the world.

Human beings are also uniquely aware of our own mortality. This awareness makes us uniquely terrified in the animal kingdom. We bury the terror deep, deep down. And to assuage the fear we build temples of permanence. These temples take on ever more imaginative forms: we build our love for celebrities, we become more punitive, we are more materialistic. My work with people at the end of life has shown me time and again that a more direct, compassionate confrontation with the reality of death can bring out the very best in people. Imagine a world where we talked about death more openly with each other, with our children. Death-ed: it may sound crazy, but we need a strong medicine to wake us up right now.

What really distinguishes us humans from other mammals are the twin powers of Reason and Imagination. Reason and Imagination allow us to create things like Quantum Physics, Christianity, Macdonalds, Facebook, the NHS. But applying Reason and Imagination without a North Star is like giving a chain-saw to a 5-year-old and saying ‘go play’. We need to ally Reason and Imagination to our innate Compassion, architecting new systems of trust and meaning that bridge superficial divides. We need to build systems that allow us to respect the politics of difference whilst also enabling us to see and feel in our bodies the truth of our common humanity. We need systems that create space for the messy, imperfect shadow of our human minds.

The increasing levels of anger, anxiety, and depression that I see in my practice is a wake-up call. Instead of medicating or meditating these symptoms away, I believe we need to channel the energy trapped within these symptoms towards systemic change. Gandhi had a name for this practice. He called it ‘truth-force’ (satyagratha).

In our age of blurred lines and weapons of mass distraction, we need truth-force to counter the shadow energy that is co-opting this digital revolution.

Jonathan Swift put it well when he said: ‘Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it.”

There is a limping truth buried deep in our hearts right now that yearns to be set free, and it is simply this: we are all one.

A Year To Live – Part 3: Tune In To The Infinite Love That Surrounds You

A Year To Live – Part 3: Tune In To The Infinite Love That Surrounds You

A Year To Live – Part 3: Tune In To The Infinite Love That Surrounds You

‘Newsletter, January 2017

  

Let’s be honest. Us connecting like this is simply never as good as the real thing.

After all, the real thing – positive, caring, face-to-face human connections – creates powerful biochemical effects and expansive states of mind. I’m hoping to encourage you via the inspirational power of my written word to stick more of these connections into your life, every single day. 

Your body needs it.

This is a lovely quote from Professor of Psychology, Barbara Frederickson:

Just as your body was designed to extract oxygen from the Earth’s atmosphere, and nutrients from the foods you ingest, your body was also designed to love. Love — like taking a deep breath, or eating an orange when you’re depleted and thirsty — not only feels great but is also life-giving, an indispensable source of energy, sustenance, and health.

So how do we tap into this source of energy?

Is it a finite resource, like fossil fuels?

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Before we look at the answer to this, a reminder for anyone just tuning into this conversation now that this is the third and final in a series of emails entitled ‘A Year To Live’. 

The idea is that by reminding ourselves regularly that life is definitively a finite resource we can make the most of our lives. You can read Part One in the series about Deep Appreciation here and Part Two here about Radical Forgiveness. 

So, if 2017 is going to be our Year to Live – a year so complete that if we were to pop our clogs on the 1st Jan 2018 they would be disco clogs and we’d be dancing contentedly to meet our maker – then we will surely need to be tapping into this indispensable source of energy called Love as much as we possibly can.

So many people’s last words are ‘I love you’. 

This says it all, don’t you think?

This is the ultimate gift of life: our ability to give and receive love.

Beyond this, nothing really matters.

Tuning into the energy of love may sometimes appear difficult. But this is simply a matter of narrow perception. As Aldous Huxley said: 

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.
 

Love is infinite. It is all around us. But we often don’t believe it’s real. Its like we are starving in a land of plenty. 

If we open our eyes, we can see gestures of love everywhere we turn.

Love is so much more than the grand romantic gesture.

Love isn’t just the number of heart-shaped likes you get on Facebook either.

Love is the openness and warmth that we show each other, even if just for fleeting moments, each and every day.

Love is a momentary yes to what is.

So how can we become ‘more permeable to love’ (John Welwood) in our Year to Live?

The key is to notice it.

When you consider the number of connections you have with other beings in any given day, consider that there is at least some openness and warmth in many of these connections: whether the bus driver stops to let you on, a stranger smiles at you on the street, someone listens to you in a conversation, you are greeted with a ‘hello’ when you arrive at work. 

As psychotherapist and all-round very wise being John Welwood says, “Add up all the interchanges you have with others every day, and you will see that your life is sustained by a flow of interconnectedness, which is the play of love at work.”

So my challenge to you in your Year to Live is to tune your consciousness into the Love that underpins everything. Notice this force at play every day in your life. 

Once you have read this, see how many times in the next 24 hours you can notice an interaction that contains even the smallest grains of Love. Let yourself be permeated by Love’s presence.

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By the way, a prize for spotting the place in this email where I reference lyrics from this highly relevant track, and one of my all-time favourites.

Keep your eyes peeled, because over the next week I will be sending you a mind and heart-focusing tool tool I have created based on this Year To Live practice.

Sending All My Love

Louis