Expat Backup mindfulness meditations journey for aid worker wellness (www.expatbackup.com)Welcome to the final week of our eight-week mindfulness journey together, based on the course outlined in Professor Mark Williams and Dr. Danny Penman’s book “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.” If you’re just reading along for now, that’s fine – but when you’re ready to begin, start at week one, here. To sign up to receive all 8 weeks of the course by email, click here.

Enjoying Completion

I am so deeply proud of us for completing this journey. It hasn’t been easy to stick with the daily practices, in the flurry of my work schedule, but I’ve managed most days – and now have a foundation for a practice I intend to continue for life.

In our modern culture, we rarely take time to acknowledge what we have done before we start something else. How often do you finish one task on your to-do list only to rush off to the next thing, without enjoying your job well done? When we deprive ourselves of relishing our accomplishments, we lose out on the simple pleasure of reflecting and feeling the rewards that come with completeness.

Here, we are taking a pause to reflect and enjoy the accomplishment of completing our eight-week mindfulness course. Taking daily action to increase our ability to be present in the world has had a direct impact on our health and happiness, so we deserve to be pleased with ourselves.

What Does Mindfulness Look Like for You?

As we cultivated the practice of mindfulness over the last eight weeks, we traveled varied and often challenging terrain. In the beginning weeks, we started to recognize when we were acting on autopilot and in the “doing” mode instead of simply being present. We experimented with cultivating the sense of grounding in our body and our breath, allowing our emotions to process and allowing any feedback loops that came up in our minds to be present without trying to change them. We became aware of how our lack of mindfulness detracted from our enjoyment of the present moment, and rather than opposing our habits of disassociating, we approached them with empathy, compassion and a gentle sense of inquiry. Instead of trying to think our way through whatever came up, we allowed it to simply be.

In our later practices, we turned to expanding our sense of awareness of the body, the breath and our focus, playing with experiencing presence in new ways. By making space for ourselves where before, habit would cause us to feel frantic and constrained, we introduced new avenues of approaching challenge and developed our capacity for staying present, even in the most challenging of situations. Of course, our practice is far from perfect, but chances are that after eight weeks you’ve had a glimpse, like I have, of the delicious space that is possible when we introduce the simple practice of being present for ourselves through mindfulness.

Emotions as a Guidance System

One of the key realizations for me that I’ve gained in this journey was the sense I now have of feeling like I don’t need to react to my emotions at a moment’s notice. Rather, I can feel them deeply and allow my body to process them, locating where I experience them and allowing more breath and relaxation around that place. By keeping them company, they tend to lose their sense of urgency and are less likely to compel me to action. By listening to them, I often uncover the message that they are pointing towards, usually of some imbalance or disturbance in my larger system.

Treating my emotions as valued guides to whom I pay respectful and quiet attention is a shift from the stressful way I would react to them in the past. I’m far from perfect and still have my moments of short-temper, fear and anxiety, but now I am in the habit of taking a Breathing Space (a 3-minute meditation you can download here) whenever I start to recognize the signs of strong negative feeling: tightness in my stomach, tense shoulders creeping towards my ears or shortness of breath.

By accepting where we are right now, instead of trying to dull and dismiss our feelings, it slowly becomes safe to be fully present. Most of us carry old traumas in our bodies that are hard to dislodge, but by building safety into our daily experience of strong emotions, we create the space for ourselves to process naturally and heal. As we move into a sense of our own self-created and self-sustained safety, we become safe spaces for others who seek the same peace and deep healing. In this way, mindfulness has brought me great blessings.

You’re likely asking, now that we’re on the last week of the journey, what happens next? Where do we go from here?

What Does Mindfulness Do for You?

Before we dive in to the last practices, I invite you to take a moment to think about what these mindfulness practices have helped you to cultivate in your life over the last two months. By getting really clear about what mindfulness does for you, you are more likely to sustain your practice long after this last week of our journey together ends.

Let’s be honest: we don’t need another “should” or thing to do in our life. What we are arriving at with these practices is a way to connect to what truly is real for us, and how we can enjoy this exquisitely beautiful and unearned gift called life. For me, that’s what mindfulness does, and each of us will have our own answers.

I’d like to share another beautiful poem that the authors included, an anchor into the “why” of mindfulness. It’s by the poet Roger Keyes, who was inspired to write this by the paintings of a classical Japanese artist named Katusushika Hokusai:

Hokusai Says

Hokusai says Look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.

He says keep looking, stay curious.

He says there is no end to seeing.

 

hokusai-ocean-waves-expat-backup-mindfulness-journey

Ocean waves, by Hokusai.

He says Look Forward to getting old.

He says keep changing,

You just get more who you really are.

He says get stuck, accept it, repeat

Yourself as long as it’s interesting.

 

He says keep doing what you love.

 

He says keep praying.

 

He says every one of us is a child,

Every one of us is ancient,

Every one of us has a body.

He says every one of us is frightened.

He says every one of us has to find

A way to live with fear.

 

He says everything is alive –

Shells, buildings, people, fish,

Mountains, trees. Wood is alive.

Water is alive.

 

Everything has its own life.

 

Everything lives inside us.

 

He says live with the world inside you.

 

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,

Or write books. It doesn’t matter

If you saw wood, or catch fish.

It doesn’t matter if you sit at home

And stare at the ants on your verandah

Or the shadows of the trees

And grasses in your garden.

 

It matters that you care.

 

It matters that you feel.

 

It matters that you notice.

 

It matters that life lives

Through you.

 

Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength

Is life living through you.

Peace is life living through you.

 

He says don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid.

 

Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

 

– Roger Keyes

 

Mindfulness for Week 8 and Beyond: Crafting a Daily Practice

Chapter 12 in “Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World” provides many beautiful suggestions for how to structure a daily mindfulness practice for our last week and after. Remember, whatever you chose to do, that the most difficult part of practicing meditation is sitting down in the first place!

Here are some of the authors’ suggestions for daily practices:

Waking up mindfully: When you awake, take five deep breaths or so, feeling your body and perhaps stretching a bit, bringing mindfulness to your morning. Notice emotions or thoughts that may come up without reacting to them. Accept them and allow them to be present with as much compassion as possible.

Breathing spaces: I love these 3-minute meditations (download the audio here) and practice them easily without the audio now. This is simply the best way I know to reframe whatever I’m experiencing in the moment to create a mindful and empowered perspective.

Daily mindfulness practice: Whatever meditations you choose to continue with, for however long you chose to meditate, carry a daily sitting practice with you after this journey to nourish and cultivate deeper mindfulness.

Be present for your feelings: Befriend your feelings with empathy and compassion, using them as a guidance system for things that may need attention or adjustment in your life. When thoughts or feeling become painful, allow them to be present, breathing to create spaciousness around an expanded sense of your potential choices.

Mindful activities: Try to bring the practice of mindfulness to your daily activities, staying present for as much of the day as possible and living your life fully in the now.

Exercise: Mindful movement encourages us to connect to our bodies and move through any tension we might be carrying in our system. When things get intense, stay present with your breath and don’t shy away from intensity – but be mindful not to take on too much, as well!

Breathing: The breath anchors us in the present moment, always. Awareness of this constant companion brings us back, again and again, to the gift of the present.

I am so pleased to have accompanied you on this mindfulness journey. Please do send me an email (elie@expatbackup.com) to let me know what results you saw over the eight weeks, or to share things that were challenging for you. And if you know someone who might benefit from the topics I shared about here, please do send this to them. If you’re not getting Expat Backup as an email, I suggest you sign up for Inbox updates here because it’s unusual for me to post so regularly!

Blessings to you, on your mindfulness journey.

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