Thursday, February 24, 2011

Towards The Still Point 6

Other Practical Exercises to help us on Our Way

River Liffey at night - 10 second exposure
Travelling towards The Still Point can be arduous, and some people either just give up on trying to achieve it (laziness is a good excuse here) or just succumb to exhaustion through working far too hard in anything and everything they do.  However, there are practical things we can do to help us on our journey.  So, if you cannot enter into the world of meditative practices in any way readily or with any ease, there are other things you can do before trying it.

1. Physical Exercise:

The importance of physical exercise can never be over-estimated.  For the stressed out, the worried or anxious person, adequate physical exercise can bring a fair amount of necessary relief.  As well as that, there will be the benefits of better health.  Physical exercise can, of course, include cycling, digging the garden, taking a walk in nature as well as something as obviously athletic like running, jogging, playing physical sports or swimming etc.  Walking to work, or even part of the way there, can also be good.

2. Other Pastimes:

There are almost as many pastimes as there are people - well maybe, not quite.  I hardly need to list these here, but playing chess, checkers and card games come to mind immediately.  Then there are many hobbies like collecting coins, comics, stamps, model cars and model buses etc.  The possibilities are legion.  Going to the cinema or theatre are other pastimes, not to mention watching DVDs of favourite movies etc.  All of these activities help the hassled soul to unwind.

3.  Sensory Focusing 

I have briefly referred to these in my second last post.  Using the senses in a focused way would include using stress balls or tennis balls, closing one's eyes and attending to the sensory feeling of these objects.  The use of examples of various materials (stuck to a large card) is also very effective to stimulate the senses.  I have seen teachers use this idea most effectively in class with our ASD students.  In fact most OTs and specialists in SEN recommend a sensory room and any sort or all sorts of sensory stimulation for this type of student.  Outside that, I have found it wonderful for the so-called "ordinary" or neurotypical student, not to mention for myself, the teacher, too.

4. Grounding or Anchoring the Self

In Arab and other countries in the East people use objects like worry beads to anchor or ground themselves.  These worry beads help them stay focused and to remain calm.  I personally have known persons who had a favourite stone they carried around with them in their pocket.  The stone (one they may have picked up from a beach when they went for a walk with someone who was/is very significant in their lives; when they were happy and alone; when they were relaxed and young or whatever) is most likely a very special one to them.  When they touch the object, be it worry beads, rosary beads, a religious medal or whatever, they are able to reconnect with the former calm and relaxed feeling or with a lovely memory they associate with the particular object.

One may, of course, ground oneself through some of the other senses too, e.g., the smell of certain scents - aromatherapy; the sound of certain types of music;  the sight of a wonderful scene from nature and so on.

5.  Being Alone: Aloneness

I have already written many posts on the question of tranquility or aloneness or solitude as Dr Anthony Storr calls it. (See Solitude Storr)  He has stressed that aloneness (a totally different reality to loneliness) or solitude is most important in the development of self acceptance and individuation.  He also stresses that it is an essential ingredient in the lives of all creative people.  Taking time away from others is an essential, especially these days when the world can be so noisy, demanding and stressful.

6. Practising Checking In or Mindfulness in the Here and Now

New Conference Centre, Dublin, 10 second exposure
A friend of mine who is an instructor in focusing therapy as recommended by Dr. Eugene Gendlin and also is an instructor in NLP recommends that when we get stressed we should check in with our body by noticing where the body is paining us at the moment, that is, focusing or giving our attention to where the stress is being held by the body at this moment.  As a classroom teacher I used always check in with my body when I went to the press to get something - in this way, it was never too obvious what I was doing.  I could have been just looking for something in the press.  Acknowledging the body always relaxes us, as it recognises the main symptoms of the stress.  One might also if one has the time or the opportunity to check in with the feelings as well.  However, sometimes one might not get that opportunity if one is dealing with urgent matters in one's work.

7.  Pretending One is an Alien

Years ago when I was a sixth year student at school, I remember that there was a textbook called The Moral Life which began with the conceit where the author invited his/her reader to pretend that they were a Martian coming to Planet Earth for the first time.  S/he invited the reader to then observe the behaviours of the earthlings and to infer moral values from those actions.  Professor Paul Gilbert in The Compassionate Mind (Constable, 2010) asks us to engage in the same game so that we may learn to become more aware, more mindful or more awakened in our interaction with the world.  I'll finish this post with that author's description of what pretending to be an alien can achieve for us:

Imagine that you come from a very different planet, maybe where there is little light and the sky is dark, and you're visiting Earth for the first time.  You are fascinated by everything you see and sense - by the sky and its ever-changing patterns, the smell and feel of the air, the sounds around you, the colours of the trees and grass.  Allow yourself to be amazed and fascinated by the greenness of living plants.  The idea is to begin playfully to experience the world anew, to bring freshness to your perceptions and senses.  (Op. cit., p. 266)

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