Three mindfulness practices that really work!
My previous article looked at the practice of mindfulness based on the work of psychologist and best-selling author Rick Hanson in his book (co-authored with Richard Mendius) “The Buddha’s Brain”. This article gives you the low-down on three mindfulness practices that really work:
1.Internalise the Positive
When things go wrong for us we can find that the pain or humiliation sticks with us for hours, days, or even years afterwards . Rick sums this up as: “The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” It seems that pain today breeds more pain tomorrow – even a single episode of depression can reshape circuits of the brain to make future episodes more likely. So how can we overcome it? He has spent years exploring how we can overcome our brain’s natural “negativity bias” and learn to internalise positive experiences more deeply—while minimising the harmful physical and psychological effects of dwelling on the negative.
He says that the solution is not to suppress negative experiences when they happen but rather to foster positive experiences:
Turn positive facts into positive experiences – we tend not to notice when good things are happening all around us – someone is kind to you, you pass a beautiful garden, the smell of freshly baked bread, a great night out with friends, a minor success at work etc. He suggests that whatever positive facts you find, you bring a mindful awareness to them, open up to them and let them affect you. Really take time to savour whatever it is. Try to stay with it for 5, 10, even 20 seconds – the longer you hold it in awareness, and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons will fire together and wire together, the stronger the trace in memory. Focus on your emotions and body sensations – perhaps feeling a warmth in your chest – and really feeling it entering deeply into your body.
2. Set Your Intention (to be more mindful when you need to be extra focussed)
This practice harnesses the power of the pre-frontal cortex, the rational part of the brain. Before you dive headlong into a task, just take a few moments to establish a deliberate intention – say to yourself something like “May my mind be steady” or just call up a silent feeling of determination. Get a bodily sense of being someone you know who is extremely focussed – this uses the empathy system of your brain to stimulate within yourself the mindful nature of that other person. Keep re-establishing that intention – for example if you are in a meeting, every few minutes renew your resolve to stay focussed.
3. Feed the Wolf of Love not the Wolf of Hate
Rick Hanson says: “I once heard a Native American teaching story in which an elder, a grandmother, was asked what she had done to become so happy, so wise, so loved and respected. She replied: “It’s because I know that there are two wolves in my heart, a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. And I know that everything depends on which one I feed each day.” He says that this story always gives him the shivers when he thinks of it as “who among us does not have both a wolf of love and a wolf of hate in their heart? I know I do, including the wolf of hate, which shows up in small ways as well as large ones, such when I get judgmental, irritable, pushy, or argumentative. Even if it’s only inside my own mind – and sometimes it definitely leaks out.”
Every one of us has these two wolves because we evolved them – both wolves were needed to keep our ancestors alive. For millions of years primates and early humans lived in hunter-gatherer groups that bred mainly within the band while competing intensely with other bands for scarce resources. Therefore, genes got passed on that promoted better cooperation inside a band and better aggression between bands. The wolf of love and the wolf of hate are stitched into our human DNA.
We can’t kill the wolf of hate because hating the wolf of hate just feeds it. Instead, we need to control this wolf, and channel its fire into healthy forms of protection and assertiveness. We also need to stop feeding it with fear and anger. At the same time we also need to feed the wolf of love. This will make us stronger inside, more patient, and less resentful, annoyed, or aggressive. We’ll stay out of needless conflicts and treat people better – and so be in a stronger position to get treated better by them.
Rick says that there are lots of ways to feed the wolf of love:
We can feed it by taking in the good of everyday experiences of feeling seen, appreciated, cared about, even cherished and loved.
- We can feed it by practicing compassion for ourselves and others, and by letting these experiences of compassion sink into our heart.
- We can feed it by recognising the good in other people – and then by taking in the experience of the goodness in others.
- We can feed the wolf of love by sensing the goodness inside our own heart, and by letting that sense of truly being a good person – not a perfect person, but a good person – also sink in.
- Finally we can feed the wolf of love by seeing the good in the world, and the good in the future that we can make together – in the face of so many messages these days that are dark and despairing.
Need some advice and support?
If you are interested in finding out more about how the practice of mindfulness can help you with your everyday life, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!
A great article by Rick Hanson: