It is inevitable that life will throw both personal and external changes and difficulties in our path and that we will need to navigate these challenges because they are unavoidable. How skillfully we navigate these moment or events often flavours of our lives. Approaching difficult experiences, mindfully can help.
In the last month, I have faced 2 challenges, one personal and one shared with many of you.
Who on earth goes trekking near Everest in the middle of winter?
Well, we did. Just a week ago, I was trampling through snow and ice on a World Expeditions trek with my partner and 15-year-old son.
Being at high altitude was hard, and I woke up several times each night gasping for air - a frequent occurrence when sleeping at high altitude. At times walking was difficult. Sometimes I had a sense of walking through treacle, and at other times the air felt too thin, making it was hard to stand solidly on the ground. Often we walked along narrow icy paths with snow-masked edges and a sheer drop to the side. Despite being mind-blowing scenery, it was often so uncomfortable that it was difficult to take it in.
After day 13, we began to descend due to extreme and unsafe weather conditions. At our last stop...the tea house had run out of the yak dung used for fuel and were burning their chairs to keep warm.
I feel very grateful that I had my meditation practice to fall back on during the more difficult moments. The felt sense of the air that was coming in, reorientate, be self-compassionate, and self-soothe. This left me with an unpleasant experience, but the panic diminished. I now have a new appreciation for all of us humans who struggle with anxiety and panic.
When walking along paths that inspired fear, I dropped into my walking meditation practice. I found myself walking slowly, paying attention to each step and each breath. Like in meditation, I consciously moved my attention away from focussing on a goal. My automatic reaction was to focus on keeping safe; getting to a destination; not falling; avoiding the steep edges and the enormous drops. Instead, I chose to focus on being aware of each breath and each step. This very narrow focus of attention on the present moment experience helped. I noticed my fears dropping away, leaving me more confident to negotiate a difficult path. In these moments, I had a sense of flow and found a heightened sense of joy in walking.
The Australian fires
Locals on the trek all asked from where we came. When we answered Australia, they almost always answered, "our prayers are with Australia and hope the fires stop soon". Each time they expressed support, I found tears welling up inside.
These fires have led to such a loss of biodiversity, life and homes. They feel like a historical turning point and have a kind of finality. I find myself asking whether things will ever be the same again? I am sorely touched knowing that nearly all the places I have holidayed, camped and walked, the places that hold my memories have burned. I wonder what sort of lives my children an possible grandchildren might have as the years pass by.
How mindfulness can help
Mindfulness is a helpful skill when approaching what is physically and emotionally difficult. Mindfulness implies a turning towards what is difficult in a compassionate way. Mindfulness is a way of being with what is difficult and a way of doing this skillfully. It is the opposite of avoidance - an automatic flight into behaviours that distract. Mindfulness takes courage.
Meditation practice provides training in mindfulness- just like the gym can provide training for growing physical strength.
When we are mindful, we pay attention to our experience, and as we ease into this, we can make informed choices about our response. Being mindful does not make our experiences easy, it does not mean there will be no pain, but it does encourage responsiveness rather than reactivity.
I've returned to Sydney with lots of questions about how to be responsive. I'm wondering what extra things I can do in light of the fires and climate change. It does seem like a critical time for a change.
MBSR courses teach formal and informal meditation practices and integrate these practices with ideas from western psychology. MBSR courses began teaching meditation as a tool stress reduction in 1979 and have a solid research base.
MBSR is a psycho-educational group, not therapy. MBSR courses don't focus on trekking and climate change, but you will find that the course will shed light on areas of challenge for you. If you would like to know more about MBSR check out the website or some of my other blog posts https://www.headrest.com.au/blog
The next 8-week HeadRest Mindfulness Based Stress reduction course begins on Zoom on Tuesday, Oct 27, 2020, 6.30-9.00pm. This extra-ordinary year has taken us away from face to face and on to Zoom- but it still works well. If you are interested, help ensure we have the numbers to get the course up and running and book soon.
Book through www.headrest.com.au or https://www.trybooking.com/BKURB If you'd like to have a chat, find out about the course and decide whether it is for you please give me a call 0431842950.