A couple of weekends back, I took part in an Adventure Race. It’s one I’ve done a few times over that last couple of years through beautiful parts of Kerry starting and finishing in Killarney and it excellently run by the team at Quest. After having some bulging disc issues earlier this year, it was great to be back out there, albeit a little nervous in fear of an injury setback. One of the most gruelling parts of the race is the cycle through the gap of Dunloe and then onto Moll’s Gap. The road zig-zags seemingly forever and, in many parts, it’s near impossible to keep the forward momentum going. For those that have scaled it, on bike, foot and even car, they’ll know what I’m referring to. It’s tough.
If you’ve ever tackled something similar in your own adventures, either cycling or running up a steep hill/mountain, you might have found yourself looking up to see where the finish point was, or where the incline levelled off, hoping it’s not too far in the distance, and longing for the pain to ease. This was definitely something I’ve done in the past. Thinking that once I got there, the torture I was going through would subside and I’d be able to enjoy the freewheeling downhill on the other side, wind in the face and all that! Unfortunately, by focusing on the peak, and realising that the end is not so close, the pain seemed intensify. The thinking and grasping of the release at the summit only made it worse.
Strangely, this time round, it was different. As I began to move up these inclines, and looked up way into the distance, seeing dot-like bodies slowly moving towards the top, and just about to feel the familiar pain kick it, I stopped myself. In that second, I had a great sense of awareness of what that thinking and grasping would result in. Nothing good. More Pain. Definitely not benefiting me in that moment. In a fleeting instant, it dawned on me that putting my focus on what was ahead, up the winding road, and how tough it would just make me suffer more.
The next thing that happened was very interesting. I had a bit of a realisation. I’m not calling it a moment of enlightenment, as it probably seems pretty obvious now looking back, but at the time it was something new for me. In the next second, it was if my subconscious served up a suggestion. Something deep within emerged, maybe from a something or someone I’d listened to, or read at some point in the last few weeks, about dealing with grasping for an object (in this instance the top of Moll’s Gap). An urge to ‘stay with the now’ came to me (probably in the voice of Eckhart Tolle if I’m being honest). My awareness overrode my thinking. An idea came to mind to count to ten. Follow my breath and count to ten. Reflecting back now, I recall at points in my running days, while out jogging and struggling hard, I’d count to sixty over and over. I think I read it was something Paula Radcliffe did when she was feeling the pain. So, I decided to count out to ten pedals. Five each side. One to Ten. Again, One to Ten. Again, again and again. It had an immediate impact. It brought me right back into the present. Kept me focused. And I felt nothing (almost). The pain was gone, practically. The grasping disappeared. Just focusing on one pedal after the other. Over and over. Up and up. Over the next ten minutes, I overtook many others who had decided to walk up the last few twists and turns to the top. I just kept going and counting. As I was doing it, so much of the reading and listening on meditation, mindfulness, and present moment awareness became so clear and made so much sense. Once I stopped grasping for the future state, and just concentrated on the right now, things became easier and calmer.
As I carefully descended Moll’s Gap back towards Killarney (I crashed on this part last year), I felt that I had just experienced a very practical benefit of meditation and mindfulness. One that came to me when I was in a tough spot. Twelve months ago, I did the same race, the same hills, and didn’t have the presence of mind to try that on the way up the Gap. I was focused on the top. Striving to get there. Not enjoying the journey as much. Focusing on the destination. This time round, it was different. That’s progress.
Since then, I’ve been reflecting on how many other situations in my day to day life have improved or benefited since becoming starting to practice mindfulness and meditation. There have been a lot so I felt the urge to document it and share. All you have to do is Google ‘Benefits of Meditation and Mindfulness’ and you’ll find a plethora of information that detail on the physical and psychological positives. And taking a quick glance at any that come up, I’d have to I agree. Most of it is scientifically proven, so it must be right!
From my personal perspective, since starting a daily practice of mediation, lots of things have improved. I’ve reduced my anxieties levels, I catastrophize less, my self-awareness and self-confidence have improved (no way would I have shared this a couple of years back), and my reaction response to tough and frustrating situations have become much more controlled. Situations like road rage, extreme anger at people not indicating in time or at all, or that feeling you get when you realise you’ve put a door on wrong way on an IKEA wardrobe way too late in the process, these are much easier to deal with! Don’t get me wrong, I still have bad days, I still get worked up, anxious, and sometimes even wonder what am I doing practicing mindfulness when it’s not WORKING. But, I’ve noticed that these days are less and less frequent. When they do occur, or when something annoying or frustrating happens, I don’t get lost in negative thoughts around it to make it worse. I do become aware of it quicker and, I manage to return to a more balanced normal (whatever that is) state much quicker than in the past. I can vividly remember some days, getting up to face the day, knowing that it would involve multiple meetings back to back with high pressure and competing priorities, and I panicked. Or instances when something minor like a throwaway comment would piss me off leading to me ruminate on it for the rest of day, and generally just let things get on top of me. Thankfully, I’m find myself not wasting time or energy on these scenarios as much these days. Much like what happened in that instant on the climb at the weekend, I notice that I become aware of my thought pattern quicker, can see what’s unfolding, and allow time to accept it. I’ve come to learn that the Ego is at play lot here and there is a lot of egoic activities happening when we are experiencing these frustrations. The ego is that part that wants you to react. It’s an area I’m doing a lot of reading on and becoming more aware of (mainly thanks to Eckhart Tolle’s Audiobook, I’m getting there. Check out the book ‘A New Earth’, it’s great). Everything is still a work in progress for sure.
So, I’d like to be clear, if you hadn’t realised it already, I’m far from a guru on this subject. I’m really only scratching the surface on this world. Yet, I’m seeing more and more positive signs. Week by week, I’m sensing progress. I’m getting better at understanding the ego, consciousness, connection to objects and the like.
One other thing I did want to touch on before finishing up. I’ve been talking a lot about this subject over the last year and really enjoying hearing from others on how it’s working (or not) for them. One thing I hear a lot from others when starting to practice mindfulness is the ‘I’m not doing it right’ observation or frustration. I totally get it. I’ve been there and sometimes still find myself wondering if I’m doing it right (by the way, that’s your egoic mind again messing with you… it’s just trying to sabotage your enjoyment). It’s totally normal to have that feeling at the start. When you begin, it’s tough not to get distracted by your thoughts. Your mind is in the habit of thinking (way too much probably) for years and years. You’re not going to slow it down that much after a few five-minute sessions of meditation. In fact, it’s almost impossible to focus on one thing for any length of time. Even for the most seasoned meditators. The fact is you’re not in control of what you think. You might think you are but for the vast majority of time, you’re not. I’m stealing from Eckhart Tolle again here. He compares the mind to the digestive or circulatory systems in your body. Autonomous. It’s working without your help. So, give yourself a break there. If you can notice yourself thinking and wondering off at all, that’s a great first start. Bring things back to your focus point and start again. The more you do it, the more you’ll notice the wandering and the quicker you’ll notice it. Then just bring it back, and back again, and again. And that’s it. Just do it. Don’t expect rapid results. It’s a marathon, not a sprint- or in my case an adventure race.
I’ll to leave you with a few bullets that help me keep this whole mindfulness and meditation practice in perspective:
• Try to have a Daily Meditation Practice – you need to keep building up the strength of your meditation muscle like any other part of your body you’re working. It will tone up!
• Try different approaches (some examples here) but stick with each one for a couple of weeks at least.
• YouTube has endless amounts of free videos you can try – I like Jon Kabat Zinn as a starting point for guided meditation or Vipassana (Breathing) meditations
• Don’t put yourself under too much pressure – just stick with it and things will start happening. Others might notice it in you before you do yourself
• Start small and build up the duration of your practice – 3mins, 5mins, 10mins, etc.
• Reflect on things you notice – improvements, reactions, calmer in situations – start a journal to keep a log of what you notice, progress you’re making, what works and doesn’t!
• Immerse yourself in the topic – read, listen, understand
• You will still have tough days where you feel it’s a waste of time. These days will become less frequent. Keep at the daily practice.
• Commitment – Set yourself a goal of doing it every day for more than two weeks
I know I’ve left out a lot here, even though it’s a lengthly post! Perhaps in a follow-up post, I can dig more into specific areas if there are some questions that come up. I genuinely hope you enjoyed reading it. If you even get one small takeaway from it, that would be great.
I’d love to hear your feedback on the above and if there are other areas of interest you’d like to discuss.
I discuss Meditation and Mindfulness with almost every guest I have on my weekly podcast. Some episodes have it as the main them. Check out list of episodes already released on my site here www.robofthegreen.ie/episdoes
Have a great day,
So, I’m one quarter into the 2017 12 challenges in 12 months. So far, I’d give myself a 6/10 (It’s Friday and I’m drinking some wine so I’m feeling generous). I nailed it with 100% score in January. February was the email challenge (not to read work emails till after 10am and get stuff done with that time instead) and was about 75% on that….not reading email before 10am is harder than not drinking. Jaysus. Didn’t think that would be the case but the data doesn’t lie. And as for March, well….that was a bit of a strange month…had aimed to run 5km every day to achieve a much better stage of fitness….but the auld back isn’t what it once was :(. and the disc issues got in the way a wee bit. So, I had to adopt a different challenge. I opted for a bit of a muscle challenge. Putting to good use the Pull-up bar in my bedroom (picture illustrating same). The goal was to start with 5 pull-ups and increase by 5 every day for the month. In hindsight, this was ridiculous and overly optimistic. Doing the math (intentionally left out the s – sounds way better), it would have meant I’d be doing 155 today (it’s 31s March as I write this). I lost my way somewhere around the 10th March. Through a combination of laziness and will power, I just couldn’t keep going. And, having the dodgy back to start with probably didn’t help. Things also stuttered a bit around the time of the official launch of the podcast so maybe that’s another excuse. March was a 30% success. Must try harder!
Licking my wounds, I put my thinking cap on in mid-March to see what I will target for April that would actually have a positive impact on me if I adhered to it. When you start to put out good things into the world and open your awareness up, you start to notice good stuff coming back and that answers can be right in front of you. I’ve really started to see this in the last few months so I allowed the universe tell me what choose. This brought up my two challenges for April.
Share the Love 🙂 (not in that way!!)
The first is to give gratitude, in a very honest and genuine way, to others. At least one person every day for April. Either an email, a call, a text, whatever. Just with intention and purpose. This one is not unique, nor does it have to be but it works. One of the many magnificently positive takeaways I have gleamed from the coaching diploma over the past six months is that, through a lot of good will and gratitude between the class, I feel better. Getting emails at 7am from a classmate, for helping them out with one thing or another, had a big impact on the day. I want to bring this more into my own behaviour. When you help out another person, the gratitude comes back and it feels great. Not only to receive it but to give it. So, that’s my main target for this month. If you’re reading this, know me personally and haven’t got anything yet, don’t feel left out :)! Instead, maybe give gratitude or say thanks to someone you know and see how it feels!! FYI – I’m not losing it….it’s true!
65% of the time, Intuition is right, EVERY TIME!
This one is a big one and is an area of research and interest for me for a while. As I write this, I’m reading a few books on this topic and learning how it all works (The power of intuition – Gary Klein is one that I’d recommend). Again, nothing overtly new with the idea of going with your gut but how often do we do this? How often do we even connect with our gut to see what it’s telling us? What’s really happening here is that our ‘gut’ is made up of our experience over the years and it’s trying to tell us what way to go based on that insight. We’re probably way to up in our heads to notice it. If you really want to know more about the power of our intuition, check out the Iowa Experiment detailed by Malcom Gladwell. It tells you more about the power of our senses.
Anyhew, I’m going all over the place here…what I’m saying is that for April, I’m going to try to and go with the gut a little bit more. Not every decision, every day. That would get me in trouble …big time I’d imagine but with go with it with a minor filter. It’s more to bring my attention out of my head and into my body. To take a second before reacting and sensing what’s going on inside. And if it’s feeling right and strong, then just go with it. See how it goes. I’ll try to keep a log daily to have some sort of measure of success. It’s a fun one.
So that’s April planned. Should be interesting. Love to hear if you found this interesting, or if you’re doing any challenges yourself.
Thanks for reading!
PS – This is not an April Fool! You maybe thinking I am however. Whatever 😉
PPS – More feedback on the podcast please!! They can’t be that good.
God, it’s March already. The first two months of this year have literally been a blur. Well not literally but it’s been hectic. But it has all been worth it. As I type this, I have 11 shows recorded and am days away from releasing the first few shows to the world!! It’s been such a great learning experience. Not only learning from each guest but the amount of stuff I’ve had to learn to produce a podcast to a half decent standard has been an eye opener. But 100% worth it.
Just an update on my 12 months, 12 challenges. After scoring a 10/10 for January with booze resistance, I have to report not reading email till 10am each day proved harder. Even writing that makes me feel ridiculous. But it’s true and a sign of the times I guess. I would give myself a solid 7/10 for the month. Started off really well but slipped into the habit a little bit towards the end of the month. I made excuses up for myself to make it seem better and more acceptable….to myself. How fucking stupid is that. Anyway, not to allow the negative talk win out, I’m relatively happy with a 7/10. Proved that I can do it and as i type this note, on a Friday morning in March, I have yet to look at email and it’s 9:34am. That said, I am on a half day from work so shouldn’t really be patting myself on the back!
Anyway, on to month three. What I had hoped for was to run 5km every day this month (at least) but with back spur issues currently making walking a victory, I’ve had to rethink things. Right now, I’ve started the month with 5 pull-ups on the pull-up bar on day one, increasing by 5 every day. So, today, it being the 3rd of March, I’m due to do 15. As of now, I’m still in my PJs but it will happen! We’re also currently in ‘lent’ so trying to give us stuff too. But not sure…I’ll stick to the pullies and see if I can achieve that one.
Last note – First shows will be launched in the next few days. Can’t wait to do this. I’ll blog later in the month about podcasts in General as I feel it’s still such a vague media form for so many so want to explore that a little bit more!
Have a great day.
12 Challenges in 12 Months
So, for 2017, entering into my 40th year on planet earth, I’ve decided to test my own resilience, will power, sanity and other dark dog like voices in my head and try to take on a challenge each month for 2017 to help me improve myself. Making myself 1% better one might say.
For January, I decided to go ‘dry’ and by ‘dry’ I mean not drinking any alcohol whatsoever. Not ‘dry’ as in drinking dry gin, wine or other booze of a dry nature. For 31 days (in fact it was 33 days), I didn’t touch a drop. Literally a drop. Not since I started drinking (at 18 of course) have I resisted for that long before. Truth be told, the weeks went by fast and it wasn’t that difficult overall. To my surprise. Other factors that made it easy:
•No birthday of any friends during this period
•Not replying to friend’s text messages
•Throwing myself into Podcast work at the weekend
•Going to bed very early on Friday and Saturday nights
So, Month One down. Successful. Good start.
At the time of writing this, I’m 10 days into the February Challenge which has me not reading work related email until after 10am daily. This has been tougher than the drink one. Honestly, the habit of reading and reply to email before even getting out of bed is one I really need to overcome. It can have an impact on the rest of your day negatively and stifle productivity for the rest of it. So far, I’ve found that focusing on real work (or deep work as Cal Newport calls it) is more easier and rewarding in the early hours of the morning/work day and I’m trying to make this a habit.
Hopefully I’ll be two for two by the end of the month. Thinking about what Month 3 has in store and have a few ideas but open to suggestions.
Feel free to leave a comment, feedback or anything else you might like to share!
Have a great day,