Self-care for Sensitive Souls
Reconnect with your inner resources
When we’re overwhelmed or depleted, the ideal solution is to curl up and have a good rest.
But what about when we have to keep going, and resting’s not an option? We have commitments that we can’t just drop, a stack of things we have to get done.
It might seem that we just have to grit our teeth and push through.
At times like this, compassionate self-care may not sound powerful enough for the job.
It’s as if that's great for when all is well and we’re skipping through sunlit fields of daisies and unicorns, but not for when we’re a hot mess of aching and exhausted.
But is that true?
When we’re in pain, we naturally try and do whatever we can to make it go away.
Sometimes that works and then great, we’re back to normal.
But stubborn pain that won't go away is another thing altogether.
It can make us feel burdened and frustrated with the way the pain is affecting our everyday life.
This calls us to a deeper level of self-care.
Fortunately we have just the thing: an innate source of relief for pain and distress.
It's profoundly soothing, freely available to us, and works better the more we use it.
There’s plenty of evidence that the simple practice of meditation can free us from the hold that pain has over us, and bring ease and comfort whenever we need it.
Here's how it works ...
There’s something that often surprises people on our retreats.
As you might expect, we start by sitting quietly … we do the familiar things … we practise settling in our body, resting in our breath, bringing our wandering mind back (lots of times), and opening ourselves to a deeper truth within.
And this isn’t always easy. We know that meditation for all its rewards, can be challenging.
But what’s unexpected is how much easier - and yet deeper - our practice becomes when we’re outside, in nature.
Some of the most beautiful surprises and aha moments can come from a simple walking meditation.
The experience is profound yet readily accessible.
So what exactly happens?
You know how it is.
Sometimes we just need some compelling ‘what’s in it for me’ reasons to get on with our meditation practice.
When we feel the benefits are a bit patchy or hard to pin down, it’s nice to have some encouragement from scientific research.
If you’ve been around meditation for any length of time, you’ll have come across loving-kindness meditation.
Loving-kindness is the practice of cultivating the feeling of universal love - in other words love for all beings, beyond personal or romantic love. Typically in meditation we do this by directing compassionate wishes towards ourselves and others.
You would probably expect the research to show that loving-kindness increases positive feelings of goodwill and empathy, and indeed it does.
But researchers have turned up some other, unexpected benefits ...
Do you ever feel that your life consists of getting through the day?
Many of us spend our energy and focus on an endless to-do list.
We have family, bosses, bills, the relentless inbox and other assorted demands to manage.
We’re constantly responding to these demands. Prepare for tomorrow's meeting, pick up some milk, fill up with petrol, read the meter, go compare (again), make a massive chilli to freeze, answer the important email I should have answered yesterday, clear out the spare room.
And if all that gets done (good job with the spare room), we’ve made it through another day. Till tomorrow.
We know we’re in a hole, but we can’t seem to dig ourselves out of it.
So we tell ourselves we’re busy and productive. The more ticks we have on our list, the more productive we feel. (Anyone else write down completed jobs just for the satisfaction of ticking them off?)
The same routine follows day after day, week after week.
The big snag is that eventually, months and even years can go by like this.
And almost imperceptibly, the opportunity for a deeper life slips away.
But a beautiful remedy is already right here with you.
Spring is open season for experts on decluttering. The internet is crowded with articles about the hideous psychological mess you are in if your house is untidy.
So should you just take a deep breath and cleanse your soul with the help of a dozen black bin bags?
Well you could, but you'd be missing out.
Here’s a way to make the whole thing a lot more light-hearted, with the bonus that you’ll be practising mindfulness ...
When you’re in the thick of it, and you need to slow down from feeling like a billion banshees are shrieking all at once in your head (or whatever stressed-out feels like for you), you need something that works now.
Well, good news. You have just the thing for the job.
You may not be able to change the situation you’re in, and you probably won’t find it helpful in the heat of the moment to give yourself a stern lecture about how you shouldn’t get so stressed.
But you can pull some helpful tools out of your meditative medicine bag to help you deal better with what’s happening.
So today I thought I’d just remind you of what they are …
It's another new year, and with it comes the impulse to make promises to ourselves about a fresh start.
But just in case you were longing for something that doesn’t involve abdominal crunches or a losing a specific number of pounds from your perfectly lovely body, here’s my take on New Year resolutions …
Many of us approach Christmas with a mixture of pleasure and apprehension. It can seem to us that we can barely enjoy it because it feels so loaded with demands and the weight of expectation.
We’re meant to be having a great time, yet everything that habitually stresses us out gets magnified, and there seems to be lots more if it, all focused into this short period of time.
So how can we cope with the strain and make the most of the positive experiences?
The good news is that what works at this time of year is the same as the rest of the year, except that we may need to be more conscious and deliberate about it …
Do you ever think to yourself, ‘I’ve got all these techniques from mindfulness and meditation to make my life better, yet somehow, I don’t have the motivation to actually get on and practise them.’?
Even with all the teachings and tips out there, there’s very little guidance on how to keep going when we don't feel inspired.
This is where the rubber the meets the road – it’s one thing to learn about meditation and browse all those articles on the internet about mindful living, but when it comes down to actually doing it, our good intentions tend to peter out.
There is a way of keeping up your momentum in your meditation practice, that doesn’t get talked about very much. You just have to look around you ...
Our culture tells us that ‘faster is better’.
But do you ever feel that you’re running to keep up, and that something precious is getting lost in the process?
Our modern life is geared to help us go faster. We can get almost anything we want with just a click, we can access limitless information in less than a second, and we can communciate with each other instantly and at any time.
We’ve learned to be productive and to multi-task.
Yet in spite of rushing to get loads of stuff done in as little time as humanly possible, our lives continually feel incomplete and lacking ‘something’.
We feel exhausted and diminished.
What's going on here?
Have you ever had the experience of someone listening to you?
Really listening, with love and kindness, giving you the space to be exactly as you are. Not judging, not interpreting, not cutting you short with advice.
And their attention is completely with you. (They’re not checking their phone or anything.)
It feels good. It’s relieving. It soothes your pain and heals your heart. Your Big Problem seems smaller and a solution starts to appear of its own accord.
But we don’t always have a compassionate friend to be kind to us when we need it. We don’t always have someone to hold that space where our own wisdom can naturally arise.
Or maybe we do ...
You’d like to try out a meditation retreat, but you have some questions about the practicalities. Do I need to be an experienced meditator, can I get a lift with someone, do I have to bring anything, will I be ok if my body hurts …
We've got you covered. Here are answers to the practical things people ask us about retreats.
Many of us know how challenging it is to keep up a meditation practice, even with the help of a regular class. (Or even to try meditating at all.)
Oh, the distractions.
So is it really worth it to take a whole day out to retreat into silent contemplation?
You’re highly intelligent, creative and accomplished, yet you’re easily overwhelmed and stressed.
Thanks to our culture’s bias towards being controlled and logical, you may have learned to see that sensitivity as weakness.
Sensitivity is out of our rational control. It can make us feel vulnerable, and because it’s not encouraged, we don’t learn how to be with it.
As a result we judge our sensitivity and try to suppress it, instead of celebrating it as the gift of caring, empathy and awareness that it is.
Is loud noise overwhelming to you? Is time alone every day as essential to you as the air you breathe? Do people call you ‘over-sensitive’? Does it break your heart when you see suffering?
You may be a highly sensitive person – someone who feels intensely and is unusually intuitive, aware and perceptive.
Our sensory system is like an antenna, receiving information from our surroundings. Some of us have a body that is naturally more highly tuned to stimuli in our environment – things like bright lights, confusion, strong emotions or energy – that other people barely notice.
As a result we may feel easily overloaded and need to retreat.
If you have stubborn pain in your life that's not responding completely to treatment that's aimed at the physical level, you may be wondering whether there’s more going on than just a physical problem.
Perhaps you suspect that your headaches, low back pain, pelvic pain or other chronic symptoms have something to do with stress or anxiety or some kind of emotional upset.
But you don't really know what exactly. Or what you could do about it, even if you did know.
Pain is complex and rarely 'just' physical. This doesn’t mean that pain is all in your head, nor that it’s your fault.
What it means is that your pain is trying to tell you something.
A few decades ago, back in the dark ages when patients knew their place, I had a brush with my doctor.
I asked her whether changing my diet might help with an intestinal problem I was having. ‘No,’ she said firmly, ‘and I will tell you what to do, not you.’
I was just a bit ahead of the curve. These days, taking an interest in and sharing responsibility for our own health is welcome in the doctor’s surgery.
But there’s a 21st century version of that conversation that can still be more prickly than purposeful, if not handled diplomatically …
February has come and gone, we’re well into March … and we're still waiting for Spring.
Since Mother Nature is holding out on us, I’ve decided to light up the bleak-dreary-cold slog with some home-made happiness.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been (mostly complaining but also) asking people how they’re getting through the unending chill.
So here’s the collective wisdom of Cheltenham folk and beyond, for bringing on our inner sunshine …
Cosying up in comfort is one of the pleasures of winter.
By the same token, spending more time indoors brings us energetically closer to our home. We become more aware of how our surroundings make us feel.
And that opens up the chance to do some energy-boosting that will take you right through to spring …
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