Building Your Emotional Strength

When we are faced with challenging obstacles, we all cope in different ways, some face them head on, whereas others buckle under the pressure. It’s important for us to find ways to build up our emotional strength. We spend a lot of time focusing on getting our bodies into shape or practicing healthy habits, but very little time working on improving our mental wellbeing. Building emotional strength requires daily exercise, just like building physical strength.

It’s perfectly normal for us to have moments of stress, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed, but if you regularly feel like you’re drowning in your emotions, you need to improve your mental wellbeing.

What is emotional strength? It’s a type of response when reacting to emotional events in an open and vulnerable way, which allows us to find ways of dealing with the emotion and not getting all tangled up in it.

Do you have emotional strength? Here are four indicators:

  • You can respond in an open and vulnerable way.
  • You are emotionally responsive.
  • You use vulnerable language when describing your situation.
  • You engage in action and don’t shy away from it.

There are many situations that emotionally strong people avoid and actions they never take. Here are just a few:

  • They don’t seek attention or let others get them down.
  • They believe in themselves and don’t hold grudges.
  • They don’t shy away from saying ‘No.’
  • They don’t sit around dreading what may or may not happen in the future.
  • They prefer action, rather than words.

So, looking at these two lists, ask yourself, ‘Are you emotional strong?’

Don’t worry if you’re not because there are things you can do to change that. Here are a few tools that will help you build your emotional strength.

Setting Boundaries – We can start by setting yourself boundaries. Whether it’s with friends, family, your partner, or even your co-workers, boundary setting is extremely important. When you know what is tolerable or not, acceptable or not, reasonable or not, you will have a solid foundation of emotional strength. Boundaries should be based on your values, or the things that are important to you. Remember, they are your boundaries, and yours alone. So, spend some time on setting up your red lines and stick to them.

Many of your boundaries might align with those who are close to you, but others will be unique. It is important to let others know what your boundaries are, so they don’t inadvertently step over them.

Let’s Get Physical – Looking after our bodies is another good way to build emotional strength. The mind and body are inseparable, by taking good care of your body, your mind will reap the benefits. It could be as simple as a brisk walk around the block or going for a jog. It doesn’t have to be a full workout at the gym. What is important is you do it regularly and you get a sweat on.

We Are What We Eat – Eating a healthy diet can help reduce your stress levels, improve your self-confidence, combat depression, and alleviate anxiety.

To have a healthy, balanced diet, people should try to eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day, base meals on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta, and try to reduce your meat and dairy intake – there are plenty of plant-based alternatives out there these days.

A Helping Hand – Reaching out to others is a great way to help build your emotional strength. Some may see this as a sign of weakness, I see it as a sign of strength. The person who doesn’t share their problems could eventually buckle under the weight of their own struggles or become isolated and resentful. It is well known that the people with quality relationships and strong social support systems show signs of greater happiness.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. People who open themselves up to others learn what real friendship, trust, and sincerity feels like. When your heart is closed, it leads to scepticism and insecurity, but when it is open, you have hope and clarity.

Alone, but not lonely – When you enjoy your own company, you help build your emotional strength. There are times when we inevitably are alone, and we need to be able to make the best of those moments. If you feel some resistance to spending time alone, you really need to work on that. Ask yourself, ‘Why do I hate to be alone, what am I afraid of, what do I think will happen?’ Start off slowly by spending a few minutes alone and then slowly start to build on that. Remember, when you are spending time by yourself, turn off all your devices, so you can limit any distractions. We can’t really claim to be alone if we are chatting on WhatsApp or sending photos on Instagram.

We also need to be careful how we talk to ourselves. Turning negative self-talk into positive thinking can help reduce your risk of depression, lower levels of distress, and improving your coping skills. If you are a person that tends to be critical of yourself, it’s important you change that inner dialogue. Counter your critical inner voice by speaking to yourself in a positive way that is kind, caring and, above all else, supportive, as this is a pillar of emotional strength.

Bring Awareness to Your Day – Practicing mindfulness is another way to build your emotional strength.  Knowing yourself, paying attention to your responses, and practicing settling your body down when feeling overwhelmed is going to make you emotionally stronger. By bringing yourself back into the present moment you will have a full awareness of your thought process, your emotions, body sensations and your immediate environment. When you are armed with this full awareness, you will be able to consciously face up to any challenges you may be facing.

When faced with difficulties, take a moment to watch your breath. No need to change the way you are breathing, just become aware of it. Leave your full awareness of the breath flowing in and out of your nostril. This will give you the space to calm down. Once you are calm, you will be much better placed to deal with your present situation, and you will be strengthening yourself emotionally.  

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Eliminate What is Holding You Back

The more we get caught up in negative patterns of behaviour and mental states, the more they become engrained. This means they become stored in our subconscious, and we act in certain ways without consciously thinking and we become overwhelmed by our mental states, such as anger, jealousy, pride, without noticing it.

It is said that most people spend 70% of their lives living in the survival mode, the fight or flight mode, which means they are living in stress. They are always anticipating the worst-case scenario, based on a past experience, selecting the worst possible outcome and beginning to emotionally embrace it with fear and conditioning their mind into a state of fear.

This conditioning becomes a pattern of behaviour, a habit, which is a set of automatic unconscious thoughts, behaviours and emotions that’s acquired through repetition. A habit is when you’ve done something so many times your mind now knows how to do it unconsciously.

If these habits, behaviours, and mental states are positive and helpful, there’s no problem. But if they are negative and counterproductive, they can cause us untold problems. We need to be aware of our actions and mental states, so we can make changes, and become the best version of ourselves. It will also ensure we have a peaceful state of mind and find true inner happiness.  

We can start to change by following the process I have called ‘Eliminate what is holding you back.’ This consists of seven steps, which are realisation, study, conviction, determination, action, effort, and time.

Realisation: we first need to realise our actions and mental states are causing us, and others, to suffer. This is a key point because if we don’t know we are sick, we won’t go to the doctor. So, if we are unaware of negative behaviours and mental states, we will not try to find a solution.

Buddha’s very first teaching was the four noble truths, and the first truth is life brings about suffering. He then talked about the causes and the path out of suffering. So, to be able to make changes in our life we need to first understand that things do not have to be like they are. There is a better way to live our lives. That is the realisation we are looking for here.

We have to become aware if we are living in the survival mode or the creation mode. The survival mode is the fight or flight mode, and the creation mode is the rest and digest mode.

Living in stress is living in survival. Now, all of us can tolerate short term stress but when we turn on the stress response and we can’t turn it off, we are headed for disease because no organism in nature can live in emergency mode for an extended period of time.

living in creation is when we are conscious of our actions, behaviours, and mental states. It is when we can make changes and become the best possible version of ourselves. We begin to utilise our huge frontal lobe, which is 40% of our entire brain and it’s where we plan, organise, become productive and creative. So, living in creation means using our frontal lobe to make conscious choices to change. 

Firstly, we need to understand when we are in survival and when we are in creation mode. Once we understand the damage we are doing to ourselves and people around us by following old patterns of behaviour, we can start the process of change.

To bring awareness to our lives it is important we remain with a calm mind. Here are 10 ways we can easily do that.

Study: now we need to learn about how we can change, such as learning about impermanence to stop our attachment to people and things or learn antidotes to our anger. Studying is going to show us that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is going to help us move on to the next stage of this process. It will also help us to keep our goals and aspirations realistic. So, I would suggest you study Buddha’s foundation teachings, especially the four noble truths.

Do not over study, as that will make the process of change an intellectual one, which it certainly is not. We need to study so we can practice and not just to make ourselves more intelligent. So, we need to strike the right balance between study and practice.

Conviction: we then need to be convinced that what we have studied will work. This will give us hope that the change will help us become the best possible version of ourselves. If we have doubt, it will stop our conviction. So, doubt needs to be cleared up during the study stage. There is nothing wrong with doubt but left unattended it will sit in our minds like a poison. It will hold us back. So, clearing up any doubts will give us the conviction to move on.

It is at this stage we have some type of expectations. We need to be careful here. If our expectations are too high, we are going to set ourselves up to fail, and none of us like failure. If our expectations are too low, we will not be challenged and will not work hard to achieve our true potential.  

Determination: we need to be determined to carry on no matter what obstacles appear.  We will probably come up against these five at sometime during our journey on the path.

  1. Sensory desire: seeking pleasures through our five senses. This

means we would become distracted, and our focus will be disturbed.

  • Resentment: feelings of hatred and bitterness.
  • Laziness: our actions will be half-hearted and lack focus.
  • Worry: our energy will not be focused, and our minds will not be calm.
  • Doubt: if we didn’t clear up our doubts at an earlier stage or new doubts appear, we will lack conviction.

This is why we require determination, as that will motivate us.

Psychologists talk about three types of motivation, namely biological needs that must be met for survival; stimulation and information; need for success, power, and status. But I am talking about a spiritual motivation, which is not based on worldly pursuits but in pursuit of higher goals, such as compassion, inner happiness, peace of mind, kindness, and spiritual development.

Action: Before we can learn new patterns of behaviour, we must unlearn the old patterns, which means, before we relearn, we have to break the habit of the old self, so we can reinvent the new self.

The best way to start this process is during meditation. We need to sit down, close our eyes, focus on the breath, and disconnect from our outer environment. This means we will be having less sensory information going to the brain, so there’s less stimulation. We have to inform the brain that we will answer the emails, post on social media, eat lunch, watch Netflix after the meditation, but for now, we are just sitting.

During this time our mind will want to go back to its emotional past, it’s old way of thinking, and we will become aware that our attention is on those emotions and thoughts. Our minds are taking us out of the present moment and back into the past. Every time we become aware that we’re doing that, and our minds are craving those thoughts and emotions, we bring our awareness back to the breath and settle it back down into the present moment.

If we keep doing this repeatedly, just like we are training a dog to sit, the mind will eventually surrender and just sit.  

We can then mentally isolate different aspects of our negative behaviour or mental states and engage in a dialogue between the person you are and the person you wish to be. The negative behaviour is rooted in our subconscious mind, so actually the dialogue is between our conscience and subconscious mind. The more we bring our subconscious into the conscious, the more we will change.

For example, we may be a person that becomes angry very easily. So, during meditation, we look at what triggers our anger, what it feels like when we are angry, imagine what others feel like when we are angry towards them and so on. That is our old pattern of behaviour. Now, look at the person we want to become. A person that does not react to the triggers, that feels good because they are not constantly angry and a person that does not harm others with their anger. This will, after some time, become our new way of acting and feeling.

Our lives are not going to change very much if we keep having the same thought process, as that just leads to the same choice, the same choice leads to the same behaviour, the same behaviour creates the same experience, and the same experience produces the same results. So, the act of becoming more aware of how we think, how we act, and how we feel is called metacognition. That is important because the more conscious we become of those unconscious states of mind, the less likely we’re going to go unconscious during the day and those old thought patterns are not going to slip by our awareness unchecked.

So, the more we become familiar with the thoughts, the behaviours, and the emotions of the old self we’re retiring, the more we wire new thoughts and condition the mind into a new emotional state.

Effort: we need effort and commitment to keep moving forward, no matter how difficult or frustrating the process becomes. We all know change is not easy.

Once we start to make a different choice, we don’t feel the same way. Our mind is telling us we have been doing this for so many years and it’s going into the unknown, and that’s scary. It will try it’s hardest to return to familiar territory. It starts to try and influence us by telling us we can start tomorrow. If we give in and listen to the mind we will never change, as the same thought will lead to the same choice, and we slip back into old patterns of behaviour.

This is why we need to put in great effort, so we can override the old way of being and build a new, more beneficial way of being.

Time: this is an extremely slow process, and we shouldn’t expect quick results. Change is never going to come easy, so we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are in this for the long-haul.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and our patterns of behaviour and mental states will not miraculously change overnight.

So, in a nutshell, if we want to change, we first need to realise there is a better way to live our lives. This will then encourage us to study and find out what that change looks like and how we can make that change a realisation. We then need to have conviction and determination, so we do not get side-tracked. After that, we need to put what we have learned into action, and we do this through meditation. Finally, we need to put in an enormous amount of effort and time, so we get the results we desire.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations by visiting my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Making Friends with Your Emotions

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honourably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

The Guest House by Rumi

Rumi was talking about emotions in this poem. He is suggesting we welcome our emotions in like an unexpected guest, because each has been sent as a guide.

What we usually do is try to fight against our strong emotions, suppress them or get totally tangled up in them. None of these are going to be helpful. The more we fight against the emotion, the stronger it becomes. Acting this way, we will eventually make the emotion into our enemy. But emotions are not our enemies, they are our teachers. They don’t just suddenly appear for no reason. They come to inform us that something is happening, and we need to deal with it.

There are two types of emotions: connective and protective. Connective emotions are compassion, gratitude, happiness, contentment and so on. Protective emotions are usually the ones we fight against and they are anger, frustration, jealousy, pride, etc.

When we are in the grips of a protective emotion, we need to stop what we are doing and ‘welcome and entertain them,’ as Rumi put it. This means we need to investigate why the emotion has arisen and what it is trying to teach us. We can do this by following the ‘Six-Steps to Making Friends with Your Emotions.’

Firstly, we must calm ourselves down. When the protective emotion is strong it can activate our threat system and we could very easily go into the fight or flight mode. To prevent that, we need to do a mindfulness practice, such as becoming aware of our breath. This will bring us back to the present moment, calm us down and help us focus. A great practice to do is Rhythmic Breathing.

As you inhale, count to 4, hold for the count of 2 and then exhale for the count of 4. Keep doing this for some time to get a nice rhythm going. Then, inhale and count to 5, hold for the count of 2 and then exhale for the count of 5. Again, get a nice rhythm going. Finally, inhale and count to 6, hold for the count of 2 and then exhale for the count of 6, and get a good rhythm going. Do this for 2 or 3 minutes, or until you feel calm, focused, and present in the moment.

Secondly, we need to acknowledge we have the emotion. We can do this by labelling it. So, name it to tame it. By doing this the emotion will already start to lose its power. 

The third step is to accept that the emotion is there. This is a very important step because if we don’t accept the emotion, we could end up suppressing it or trying to ignore it. When we accept the emotion is there, it is important to not identify with it.

If we say, “I am angry,’ or ‘I am sad,’ we give ourselves very little room to work with the emotion. We are telling ourselves that we are the anger/sadness or whatever emotion we are experiencing. What we need to say is, ‘At this moment there is anger.’ This separates us from the emotion and gives us space to be able to work with the emotion. Remember, an emotion is a process in the brain and so, comes to go. By identifying with it, we stop it from going.

Step four is to investigate why the emotion has arisen. We can do this by asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Why has this emotion appeared?
  • What is it trying to teach me?

We need to answer these questions as honestly as we can. While answering the first question don’t blame others for the emotion arising. Playing the blame game is never helpful. Look at the emotion with a curious mind, as though we have never seen this type of emotion before. The emotion may be painful, so ensure you observe with a sense of kindness and compassion for yourself.

Once we have answered these questions, we can move on to step five. Now we know why the emotion is here and what it is trying to teach us, we can ask ourselves this:

  • What do I need to do to learn the lesson and let the emotion go?

If it is sadness, maybe we need to speak to someone. If it is anger, maybe we need to get some fresh air. If it is loneliness, maybe we need to meet up with a friend. Whatever it is, think of a plan that will help you let the emotion go.

The sixth, and final, step is to put the plan into action.

Throughout the whole of this process, ensure you are being kind and supportive towards yourself. Emotions can be painful and overwhelming, but by following these six simple steps you can learn from the emotion, put it behind you and move on.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Coping with Change

Change is never far from our door, whether it’s breaking up with an ex, moving to a new city, the death of a relative, a pandemic, or the loss of a job. Even good changes, such as having a baby or getting a new job, can be stressful.

Change isn’t easy but here are some ways to help you cope with change and make it feel less scary.

Acknowledge your feelings. 

If you feel resistant to change, then it is important to acknowledge your feelings. Don’t avoid your emotions, listen to them. Emotions are part of self-awareness. They help to tell a story. When you acknowledge and accept an emotion, you stop fighting it and are able to understand it and learn from it.

  • Often, change brings up feelings of anxiety, worry, uncertainty and fear. You have to tell yourself that ‘It’s okay to feel worried and fearful.’ It is all part of being a human.
  • If you need to grieve, then grieve and take care of your feelings. Even if the big change in your life is a happy one, accept that there will still be some emotional losses and work through them.


Remind yourself that you can’t control the outside world, but you can control your attitude and actions.
 

Change may turn your world upside down, but you still have control over how you respond to the situation. You can choose to approach the situation with anger and become frustrated or take your feelings out on others, or you can choose to see the situation as a new opportunity and approach it with an open and curious mind.

Journal about your worries. 

  • Change can bring about lots of insecurities, worries, and negative thoughts. Especially if you feel overwhelmed by change, start writing down all the things that contribute to you feeling overwhelmed. Writing things down can help you see that things are less negative than you first imagined.
  • Firstly, write down what has changed in your life and what is challenging about it. Then, write down possible solutions.

But don’t just write down the negatives, write down the positives that have come from this change. There are always going to be pluses and minuses.

  • Maybe due to this change you have met new people. Maybe you started practicing healthier habits. Maybe you became more positive or confident. Maybe the change helped you prioritize what is most important in your life. Change presents us with the opportunity to grow, and it’s important to acknowledge how things have become better as a result.  

It is always helpful to talk to others who have had similar experiences. 

It can be comforting to talk to someone who’s going through a similar change as you. Talking to someone who’s “been there” can be really helpful, knowing that he or she got through it okay.

  • Ask for advice on what you can do to get through the change.
  • Don’t bottle your feelings up; talk to someone. Talking always helps.

Try relaxation techniques 

Relaxation can help decrease stress and increase emotional wellbeing. Techniques such as meditation, mindfulness and pranayama can help you relax and cope with stress more effectively.

Do light exercise. 

Exercising two to three times a week has been found to significantly decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Even just walking around locally can help you feel better. I am not necessarily talking about going to the gym or doing a workout. You could swim, cycle, walk the dog or go jogging – all of these are going to help you feel more positive.

Let go of what has happened and move on. 

Focusing on the past will not help you to move on with your life. We cannot move forward when we are constantly looking back. It’s no use wanting your ‘old life’ back or spending all of your moments wishing things would go back to what they used to be. That type of thinking is just going to hold you back.

  • Instead of focusing on the past, anchor yourself in the present moment by doing mindfulness practice.
  • Try not to rehash the past or rehearse the future. Each time you find yourself doing this bring yourself back to the present moment by using mindful breathing practices.

Keep up your regular schedule as much as possible.

  • The more change that is happening, the more important it is to stick to your regular schedule. Having some things that stay the same, like walking the dog every morning or waking up at the same time, gives us an anchor. This anchor is a reminder that some things are still the same, and it gives your brain a little bit of a rest. The brain loves routine, so try to stick to a daily schedule.

Calming Self-Talk

The way we talk to ourselves during times of change is so important. If we talk in a harsh and negative way, we are going to make ourselves feel worse. But if we talk to ourselves in a calm, positive and supportive way, it is going to help us go through the change easier.

Here are some supportive phrases we could use:

  • Change is a part of life
  • Everyone finds change challenging
  • I am not alone in the way I am feeling
  • I acknowledge and accept my feelings
  • Things change and that’s ok
  • I will get through this challenging time
  • I will learn and grow from this change
  • Change is a part of life

Finally, give yourself a break. Everyone finds change challenging. You may feel a little out of control – and that’s ok. You may feel like you are not living up to your expectations – and that’s also ok.

My last piece of advice is to make a point to laugh more. Laughing increases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins—and that makes you feel good. Laughing also decreases cortisol—a stress-producing hormone. So, times may be challenging but there is always time to smile.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Four Foundations of Mindfulness – The Buddha Dharma Series

Mindfulness is traditionally based on the four foundations and that is what I want to address here, but before I do that, I want to discuss an issue I have with the modern mindfulness movement. To be more specific, their definition of mindfulness. People who know me will tell you that I am not a traditionalist and my issue is not about secularism versus traditionalism, it is solely about their interpretation.

Mindfulness cannot be summed up in a single statement, it is too vast for that, yet that is what has happened. Their definition is:

Mindfulness is an awareness of what is happening in the present moment, brought about by purposefully paying attention in a non-judgemental way.

Mindfulness was never meant to be a standalone practice. It was part of the three basics of the path, namely ethics, awareness and wisdom. The above definition only covers one of these basics of the path; awareness. A thief breaking into your house, a solider on the battlefield about to kill someone and a person putting poison into someone’s food are all examples of being aware of what is happening in the present moment. All of them lack ethics and wisdom.

My next gripe concerns the part that reads, ‘Paying attention in a non-judgemental way.’ I wonder if that is even possible and I certainly think it is not beneficial. We make judgement calls all the time, from what we wear, what we eat, the job we do and so on. It is impossible to live without some form of judgement.

If I am harming someone and I bring myself back into the present moment and I don’t judge what I am doing, how am I going to change my behaviour?

If mindfulness is going to be affective it needs to cover all three aspects of the basics of the path and that is why I have devised a practice called AWARE. I feel this can be a bridge between traditional and secular mindfulness.

You bring yourself into the present moment by using a breathing exercise, focusing on your senses or bringing your awareness back to your body. Once you are in the here and now, you can start the AWARE practice.

AWARE stands for Attention, Why, Assess, Reality, Examine

A – bring your clear attention to what you are doing. Are you on autopilot? Are you being led by unconscious habits, behaviour or biases? This covers the awareness aspect of the three basics of the path.

W – ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing it. What is my motivation, what is my intention?’ This covers the wisdom aspect.

A – assess if your behaviour is beneficial. Is it ethical, is it helping me to be the person I want to be? Is it compassionate or hurtful to myself and others? This covers the ethics aspect.

R – is it based in reality? Or am I generalising, catastrophising or letting my imagination run wild? This covers the wisdom aspect.

E – examine a more mindful, beneficial and compassionate way to act. A way that is based in fact and not fantasy. A way that helps support me and others. This covers all three aspects.

I personally believe by adopting the AWARE practice once you have brought yourself back into the present moment, you will be able to make changes to your behaviour, you will be able to change and grow. That, I feel, is the whole purpose of mindfulness. So, now let’s look at the four foundations.

The four foundation practices of mindfulness are of being aware of our bodies, of our feelings, of our minds and of our mental states.

The purpose of these practices is to get to know ourselves better. It will help us understand what is working for us and what isn’t. This will allow us to change more effectively and positively.

Awareness of body   

The first practice is for the body. We need to be aware of our body and all the actions carried out by it. But we do not need to see it as ‘my’ body. If we think of it as ‘my’ body, it could lead to attachment and give us a false sense of identity. Reflect on the time and effort we spend on this body just to look good. Imagine how much money is spent each year on plastic surgery and beauty products. It would appear we are completely obsessed with our bodies. We might be mindful of how the body looks but very rarely spend time on observing the actions it carries out. 

There are many ways of contemplating the body, but a simple and effective one is doing a full body scan. You can find guided body scan meditations on my website.

In today’s world, we always seem to be running from pillar to post, so this meditation will help you get back in tune with the body and calm your mind at the same time. I am sure you will be surprised at how much tension you are carrying around with you and what different sensations you have in various parts of the body.

The full body scan is one of my favourite practices and I am always surprised at the sensations I am carrying around. Over the years I have noticed certain sensations correspond to different emotions and experiences. When I was young, I started to have asthma and I noticed that 10 to 15 minutes before an attack I would start to get an itching sensation under my chin. This gave me ample time to take my tablet and prevent the attack from taking hold. Many sensations in the body are there for a reason, but unfortunately, we have lost the art of reading our bodies and rely too much on our minds. This application of mindful awareness will bring you back in touch with your body. 

As we become more in touch with our bodies you may ask how can we integrate this awareness into our daily practice? Whatever you do with the body affects you and those around you. So, this is where a daily reflective practice will help you. Look back on the day and see what actions you have carried out with the body. The ones that are conducive to responsible living should be noted. This will ensure that, through repetition, they can become spontaneous. The ones that are not conducive to living responsibly should also be noted and a clear effort should be made to refrain from doing them again. It is through staying mindful of our bodily actions that we will be able to live responsibly.

Awareness of feelings

Another application for mindful awareness is feelings. Now, I am not talking about emotions here, many people get the two mixed up. Emotions are mental states whereas feelings arise when our senses coming into contact with something. There are three types of feelings, namely pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. One of these three are present during every moment of our experience. They may be strong or weak, but they are always present.

Here are some examples of how feelings occur. You may be walking down the street and you pass a good-looking person; this brings up pleasant feelings. As you walk further, a dog barks at you and unpleasant feelings arise. A bit later, you walk past a group of people you do not know, none of them are of interest to you, so you have a neutral feeling.

If we are not mindful and leave our feelings unchecked, pleasant feelings can lead to clinging desires, painful feelings to hatred and neutral feelings to apathy. When paying attention to feelings, the important thing is simply to notice them, become aware of them, without either clinging to them or pushing them away.

Here are two ways we can mindfully get in touch with our feelings. Firstly, during meditation, after you have spent some time watching your breath, notice what comes into your mind and observe what feeling is attached to that experience. Don’t try to change or judge the feeling, just become aware of it and then let it go on its way. Then do the same with the next object that comes into your mind. You can do this for as long as you like and then return back to your breathing awareness. This practice helps you notice how you feel and what’s going on with you. It also helps you to understand that a feeling is present in every experience you have.

As with your awareness of your body you can also review your feelings during your daily reflective practice. When you think of an incident that happened that day, check to see what feelings it invoked in you. Did it bring up pleasant, painful or neutral feelings? Don’t try to control the feelings, just be mindful of them.

Being watchful of our feelings helps us see what desires we are chasing when a pleasant feeling is present and what is being invoked by our unpleasant feelings. We can also learn to simply observe an experience, without getting all tangled up in it. This will help us to form neutral responses, instead of getting attached to pleasant feelings or repelled by unpleasant feelings.

Awareness of mind

The next area of focus is on our minds. We can apply mindful awareness to explore deep into our minds. If I am honest, this was always the most difficult for me to get my head around. How can the mind look at itself? The answer that came to me is that we look at the mind as though we are looking in a mirror. When we talk about the mind we tend to think of it as a single thing, but it is actually a sequence of instances that arise from moment to moment in response to the perceptions coming to us from the six senses – things we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch and from internal mental states. The mind is a process and cannot exist alone. So, when we look at the mind, we are actually looking at the processing going on in the brain.

We rarely stop and spend time observing our minds. We just let thoughts, hopes, fears and dreams come and go unchecked. But our minds, if left unrestrained, can lead us into all kinds of situations. So, we practice simply observing our minds. We do not engage with what we see – we just allow it to arise and go. I understand that this is easier said than done, but with practice, patience and effort, it is achievable.

During your meditation or a daily reflective practice, observe your mind and see what state it is in: is it tired, lazy, angry, happy or disturbed? Note the state, but don’t try to change it. Ask yourself, “How is my mind at the moment?” “Is it full of desire, full of anger, or full of ignorance. Is it present in the moment or distracted?” We need to look at our mind in this way, and just see it as it is, not pass any judgement or think of it as ‘my mind’.

You can also focus your awareness on the way each thought arises, remains and then moves away. This helps us to stop blindly following one thought after another. We gain insight and understand that we are not our thoughts and we do not need to chase after each and every one. In fact, we cannot find any part of our mind to identify with, it is just a constantly changing process.

Once you have learned how to dispassionately watch your mind, whenever your mind is disturbed, you should firstly examine it and then, with calmness, act in a proper way – a way that is not going to harm yourself or others. Developing awareness of the mind will help us lead a life where we are not becoming disturbed or disturbing others. We come to know the mind as it really is – a process.

Awareness of mental states

The final application of mindfulness is concerning mental states. A mental state is an awareness of objects that come in contact with our senses, which occur on a moment to moment basis. As we bring awareness to these moments of consciousness, we begin to strengthen our ability to take mindfulness into our daily lives.

There are pleasurable mental states, such as happiness, compassion, empathy, contentment, and painful mental states, such as greed, apathy, anger, selfishness and so on.

We are not looking to oppose these mental states, but just become aware of them, acknowledge them, learn from them and let them go. There are several ways of letting the mental states go and here are the ones that have worked for me.

You can change the painful into a pleasurable, such as replacing greed with generosity or hatefulness with compassion. Thinking of the consequences of the painful mindset can be another way of letting go. If we understand that this mindset is leading us down a wrong path, we should not follow it. We could for example bring to mind the insight that all things that arise are impermanent, the painful mental factor is not going to last, so just let it go. All of these practices are not easy, but they are doable, it just takes effort.

Reflection

We should also look to reflect on mental factors and here is a suggested practice.

Sit comfortably and place your awareness on your breath.

When a mental state arises, and it will, if it is strong enough to disrupt your focus on the breath, rest your awareness in that new state, allowing yourself to be aware of what the state is, such as joyful mind or angry mind, fearful mind or contented mind, until it naturally subsides. If the mental state is strong, notice what it feels like in the body. Is there tightness, discomfort, pain? Where is it located?

Now look at the consequences of this mental state. Will it lead to a sense of peace in your life or lead to more difficulty?

If another mental state arises and is strong enough to hold your attention, continue to practice with it. If one doesn’t, then return to watching your breath until your meditation session has finished.

This brings us to the end of the four foundations of mindfulness. If we are going to be mindful and live a responsible life, we have to be fully aware of, but not tangled up in, our bodies, our feelings, our minds and our mental states. By being mindful, we will be able to take full responsibility for all of our actions. This will ensure that our minds become calmer and we spend more time in the present moment, not being tossed backwards and forwards from past to future. Being mindful means being conscious of every thought, feeling, emotion and action. Repeatedly during the day, take a few moments to bring mindful awareness to your breath, body sensations, mind, feelings and mental states. Then use the AWARE practice as this is a good way of helping yourself to settle down into the present moment and to expand your formal meditation practices into your everyday life.

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