Letting go

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Hello, 3am. I’ve been sleeping like a baby these past few weeks – waking up every two hours, that is. There’s a lot that’s been going on in one of the places that I work which is having a considerable impact on me and my team.

Many of you won’t share my faith (I’m a practising Catholic). Goodness knows I’ve been neglecting it myself. But it’s part and parcel of my blueprint, at 3am as much as it is any other time.

So I’m thinking about a few things that I talked about yesterday with a friend of mine. We find meaning in hindsight, even if we don’t like or completely understand what we’re going through in the present. I’m reminded of what I often discuss with coaching clients – finding the locus of what we can control and doing what we can with that, and realising that what we can’t control, we need to learn to respond to in a way that is constructive. My anxiety about things at 3am helps no one. I’m keeping in mind the saying “let go and let God”. We can’t always see the bigger picture. Pre-living potential futures through worrying what might happen is unhelpful. Do the best you can, and leave the rest to unfold as it will. Respond by making the best choices you can in the present. That is all any of us can do.

Whatever you find most helpful for you – prayer, meditation, running, yoga, getting outdoors – I hope that it will give you some peace this weekend. Take care of yourselves.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Leaves on a stream meditation

Try this meditation the next time you need some headspace.

1) Find a comfortable, quiet space where you won’t be disturbed, and sit down and close your eyes. (Don’t lie down because you might fall asleep and that isn’t the point of this exercise.)

2) Imagine you’re sitting by the side of a gently flowing stream. Picture this in your mind now, and use your senses to really make the scene vivid. What can you see? Smell? Hear?

3) Now, for the next few minutes, sit by this stream and for every thought that pops into your head – positive, negative, unformed – imagine that you’re placing that thought on a leaf and letting it float downstream.

4) If your thoughts stop, just watch the stream. When they start again, carry on with the exercise.

5) If you get distracted and forget what you’re meant to be doing, that’s ok. Just bring back your attention when you realise that it’s wandered, and start placing thoughts on leaves again.

6) Let the stream flow at its own rate; don’t try to wash away the leaves. Let them float away in their time.

7) If a leaf – or thought – gets stuck, let it hang around. Don’t force it to float away. Let it float away when it can.

8) If a difficult feeling arises, just acknowledge it. Just say “here’s a feeling of anger/impatience/frustration/etc.” Then place those words on a leaf, and let the leaf float away.

9) Again and again, your thoughts will hook you and you’ll get distracted. This is normal and natural and will keep happening. Just keep returning to the exercise when you realise this has happened.

10) When you are ready, bring the exercise to an end. Tune back into your surroundings and open your eyes. Welcome back.

– Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Walking in the rain

rainroom_sharjahThis is a photo of the Rain Room in Sharjah, taken by my friend Laura. This previously touring installation by Random International has found a permanent home in the desert and is a space of pouring rainfall that lets you experience up close and personal the sounds, humidity and visual experience of rainfall – except you don’t get wet. I’ve never experienced it personally – alas! – as I missed the exhibition, but I absolutely love the concept.

You may have heard the saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing”. Have you ever gone out in the pouring rain? You probably didn’t possess the wizardry required to walk through it without any protective clothing, keeping utterly dry and untouched. So perhaps you let yourself get drenched. Perhaps you changed your plans to avoid it. More likely, you groaned a bit and wished you could stop the rain, but then you got out your wellies and jacket or umbrella and got on with your day. Maybe you factored in a bit more time to get the bus instead of walking, or changed your route to a more sheltered one. In other words, you altered how you acted in relation to the rain.

I really like this as a metaphor for difficult thoughts or emotions, or the scary stories we tell ourselves. Do you ever have problems achieving your goals because your mind is keeping you stuck? Maybe you tell yourself I can’t do it. Or I’m freaking out. Or I’m going to fail spectacularly. Pick your own favourite. 

If this strikes a chord with you, try this short exercise (adapted from Blonna, 2010).

  1. Imagine you’re about to go out but it’s just started pouring with rain. You don’t want to change your plans, but neither do you want to get drenched, and you know you can’t control the rain. So you get out your umbrella and your wellies, and you head out, and you get to where you need to be and do what you need to do. All the while the rain keeps falling, but it’s ok, because you’re shielded and the rain is bouncing off your umbrella and puddling around your boots.
  2. Now imagine that the thoughts that your mind is giving you about this task are just like the rain. You feel the drops starting and you say to yourself, I’d better get out my umbrella and my wellies.
  3. You open your umbrella and instantly you are protected from these thoughts. Like the raindrops, they bounce off your umbrella and wellies, and don’t interfere with your doing what you need to do.
  4. As you continue ‘walking in the rain’, tell yourself: Just as I can use an umbrella to shield me from the rain, I can use my metaphorical umbrella to help me live the life I want even though I am experiencing unhelpful thoughts and feelings.

The fact is, most of us would prefer to live our lives without having to walk in rainstorms. Unfortunately, life will be full of lots of bad weather, which we cannot control or get rid of. All we can really do is accept it and be willing to live our lives in the middle of it. And just like we do with the rain, we can move forward with our difficult thoughts, observing and accepting that they are there, and that that’s normal.

Here’s some rain. Here’s some fear. There’s no need to judge it or control it. You can be, and do, despite.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Blonna, R. (2010). Maximize your coaching effectiveness with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Lemons, lemons, lemons

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Are you ever really mean to yourself? Do you judge yourself with words like ‘useless’, ‘fat’, ‘stupid’, ‘bad mother’, etc.?

Here’s an idea for today. Pick a simple word – the classic is ‘lemon’ (Titchener, 1916). Say the word out loud once or twice, and notice what happens in your mind when you say it – thoughts, images, memories.

Now repeat the word over and over again, *out loud*, as fast as possible, for thirty seconds, until it becomes just a sound. Do this now before reading on.
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Now run through the exercise again with the word or short phrase you judge yourself with the most.
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What did you notice? Most people find the word or phrase becomes meaningless within about thirty seconds. Those judgements? They’re just words. That’s all they are – just words we decide to imbue with so much negative meaning. Once you can expose that ugly word for what it really is – simply a sound, a movement of your mouth and tongue – you begin to be able to separate yourself from it. This isn’t you.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd