Fancy trying meditation?

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Looking back at 2016, and I think one of my successes was maintaining a meditation practice. It wasn’t always perfect, but I did manage something close to 350 days out of the year – not bad!

I also hit a personal record ‘streak’ of 122 days in a row. And then I forgot one Saturday – argh! Not for an obvious reason, like being super-busy or stressed – in fact, I was probably too chilled out that day. Oops!

The silver lining to this, however, was that I was no longer tied to the app I’d been using – Calm – which, while good, was blown out of the water by the one I’ve since switched to: Insight Timer.

I’m not here to sell that to you (not least cos it’s free!), but one of the things I’m loving about it is the 365 Days challenge. I think there’s something like 140K people signed up already worldwide, which is pretty amazing! And yes, it’s as obvious as it sounds: try to meditate every day for a year 🙂

2020mfpTo help with this, each day has a new podcast. The first 20 were a series, 20-20 Meditate for Peace, which I finished this morning (having missed the first two days of January due to daft ‘traditions’ which don’t lend themselves to this whole idea of fresh starts!). While a little too ‘new agey’ for my tastes (yes, I meditate; no I don’t need to have chats with my own ‘higher self’. Hmm), I got a lot out of this. That’s perhaps surprising given I have been meditating for quite some time now, but there’s never a wrong time to go back and have a refresher on the basics.

More, I decided to use this building practice – it started with 1 minute on day one, 20 minutes on day 20 – as a way to get back into seated postures. I usually meditate in ‘corpse pose’, which is great for deep breathing, imo. But I’ve always looked at those pictures of folk sitting crossed legged for hours, and wondered how on earth they could do that. It’s not the legs that get me (although I decline the full lotus position of feet above knees!), but the back. So, 20 days of building up I’m hugely pleased to say my posture is WAY better!

There are a hundred benefits to meditation – and posture is now one of them, for me! – so if you fancy giving it a go, I do recommend the 365 Days challenge. The next couple of weeks are due to focus on different roots of meditation practices, and will then explore different types. So, an encouragement to stick to a routine, but also a great way of learning more about this whole thing. And I’d suggest that if it hasn’t worked for you before, trying out the different types – breathing, walking, or even eating meditations have been mentioned! – there’s almost certainly going to be something that suits.

Namaste, as they say!

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TIL 30: September Learning Challenge

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It seems appropriate to end this challenge by looking back over the month and what I’ve learned. Not just the javascript, or voice in writing, or stress management, but overall.

After the initial enthusiasm for the idea, I confess I was dubious about how sensible it was: did I really need the stress? And my ‘need’ to mix it up and do several topics – not sure that was okay (as if it matters!) or the best for me, tbh. Then again, I am a scanner after all 😉

But very quickly I was impressed about what a difference it made to my usual love of but scatter-gun approach to learning. First, there’s that push to keep going and not start skipping days. I’ve done some javascript before, for instance, but never leaving off for more than a few days powered me through the material fast enough that I hadn’t started to forget the beginning 😉 In fact, that speed of moving through things was quite impressive – I’ve covered a lot in the month, more than I would have without the challenge.

The real eye opener, though, was the daily blogging – not my usual thing, but it really focuses the brain when you know you have to explain things! I gained a few new readers, too, which was interesting!

I’ve also had to let go of a bit of perfectionism. Were all the blog posts brilliant? Hah! But they got done – and sometimes that’s the more important thing.

The last week has been tough, since I’ve had a cold and then Inktober starting – definitely know now to stick to one challenge at a time! But I’m really glad to have reached the end, with 30 posts to show that yup, this September I learned some things! 🙂

TIL 29: Stress Management 5b

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Each week of the course has featured handouts, which often include material not covered in the course. This week’s handout had a section on sleeping well.

Stress is a great thief of restful sleep. There’s nothing like the dark quiet of 3am to leave anxious thoughts whirring around your brain, when you’re too tired to give them any perspective!

Sleep problems can manifest in various ways, from difficulties getting to sleep, to waking during the night, to waking up early or feeling unrested. Stress, illness, pain can all cause sleep problems, as can overeating, alcohol or caffeine, lack of exercise, or a change in routine.

Advice – as well as trying any of the previously covered relaxation techniques (one I haven’t mentioned yet: to stop the repetitive whirr of unresolvable issues, try counting backwards from 500) – includes:

  • develop a relaxation routine for before bed, be that a hot bath, reading a novel, or some meditation, etc.
  • the stretch-relax routine is a good one before sleep, as well as ‘saving’ the other kinds of relaxation for non-sleep times.
  • avoid intense discussions or arguments before bed
  • don’t fret about not sleeping! This can be worse than the not sleeping itself. Even just relaxing – awake – is better. Accept that some days you will be tired, and know that you can cope with the occasional one of those. You might want to try doing something relaxing if you really can’t sleep – a jigsaw, or watching (non-action-packed!) tv, or reading or just anything you want to get done. That way at least the time isn’t wholly wasted, and that might help you relax a bit more about not sleeping.
  • avoid naps – they will upset your sleep rhythm
  • try getting up at the same time every day, including weekends and after nights when you haven’t slept well
  • if your brain is really whirring with anxiety, don’t just lie there – get up and go to a different room. Something like journalling might help calm your mind.
  • get enough exercise in general, perhaps some light exercise in the early evening
  • leave yourself at least 90 minutes of ‘wind down’ time before bed – do only undemanding (mentally and physically) during this time
  • [it’s usually recommended that you also switch off electronics during the period before bed, too – and try not to keep any in your bedroom]
  • even if you can’t sleep, try to enjoy relaxing.

TIL 28: FYWV 7

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Okay, rounding off the last few chapters of section 1 of Finding Your Writer’s Voice! Start at the beginning of my ‘TIL/FYWV’ posts here.

Chapter 18 – Using the Journal Dangerously

You might think a journal would be the perfect place to find your raw, natural voice, but generally you’re more likely to find ‘comfort writing’ – a “safety valve not a pressure cooker”. However, there’s an easy trick to making your journal a better source for interesting discoveries: rather than writing a ‘what I did’ the way that you might describe your day to someone else, focus on stand-out images and feelings from the day. Even trivial events might have left a strong picture – white sheets in the wind, for instance, or the discomfort of a bank teller seeing you sweaty and disorganised.

Chapter 19 – Writing in the Pressure Cooker: Leading Raw Voice into the Story

Focus on just two or three elements and allow the restriction to push you in good ways. Try improvising, but don’t feel that elements are fixed into the story if they stop you from freely writing. Limits act as a pressure cooker for writing; tension opens up to opportunity.

Exercises include: writing a story that takes place over just five minutes, using three images or events from previous free-writing exercises; take two of your characters into the same setting and give them an hour only to solve an argument (trivial or otherwise); write a story where the character isn’t allowed to leave the path.

Chapter 20 – If

I’ve more usually seen this referred to as ‘what if’, but it’s perhaps got a slightly different feel.

‘If’ allows the mind to accept that the following story doesn’t have to be constrained by reality. ‘If’ arouses action. From the first ‘if’, more and more follow. When you get stuck, try adding an ‘if’ or two.

TIL 27: javascript 8

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Random numbers:
  • use Math.random() function to generate a random decimal number between 0 and 1 (0 can occur, but not 1)
  • random whole numbers can be generated with a combination of multiplication and Math.floor() to round the number down to the nearest whole number e.g. return Math.floor(Math.rand\rom() * 10);
  • to generate a whole number within a range, you can use something like: Math.floor(Math.random() * (max – min + 1)) + min
Regular expressions:
  • Regular expressions find patterns within strings
  • start and end a regular expression with ‘/’, with the pattern you want to find between, e.g. if you’re searching for the word ‘dog’, it’d be: /dog/
  • add g to the regex to make it global – ie will return all the matches in the string, not just the first one
  • add i to ignore case e.g. /dog/gi
  • there are many special selectors in regex, to select a type of value
  • \d is the digit selector – it would find one digit in a string e.g. /\d/g
  • after the selector (eg \d+) allows the matching of one or more
  • \s is the whitespace selector – this will find ” ” (space), \r (carriage return), \n (newline), \t (tab), and \f (linefeed)
  • invert a selector by using the uppercase letter e.g. \s selects whitespace, \S selects anything that is not whitespace

TIL 26: FYWV 6

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Coming to the end of this September Learning Challenge (I started late, so it will run on into October), I find I have a couple of ‘extra’ chapters to cover from Finding Your Writer’s Voice to finish the first section.

Chapter 16 – The Writer as Presence

There can be value in imitation, especially to a beginner writer who has yet to find their own voice. But only writing as ‘you’ will ultimately be any good – no imitation, however great, will put your heart on the page. When you write as yourself, you might think your work sounds too ordinary – but the reader isn’t you, and isn’t numbed to your voice the way you are. You are unique in person and voice, and this is what you must put on the page.

You may want to mute some aspects of your personality – a tendency towards logic and over-analysis, for instance – or you might even want to exaggerate them for effect. If you have a trait or quality that you don’t like about yourself, put it in a story and find the ridiculousness to it. You don’t need to study psychology to write, but be aware that you will reveal your own personality even if you never write an autobiographical word.

Another reason why it’s so important to finish work – short stories, poems, novels – is that it’s only when you examine the finished result that you can start to see where your personality is missing from the text. Writing is an act of courage.

Chapter 17 – Becoming a Prose Thief

It’s easy to find your voice taking on echoes of what you’re reading: a nineteenth century binge will leave ‘nary’ and ‘whilst’ creeping into your work, for example. Trying on other voices can be a great learning tool, but ultimately you’re using them to find your own unique voice.

Exercises include: change a scene from one of your least favourite writers – as ‘artistic director’ what changes would you make? Or write a page or so in a parody of your favourite writer – really exaggerate the voice. Try writing the same scene in the style of another, very different writer.

Borrowing another voice for a little while can be a great warm-up into your own story. It might help you find voices for your characters, or a story line you might not otherwise have found, or just help you find the tone before your own voice takes over.

My ‘FYWV’ posts started here, and the previous installment is here.

TIL 25: Stress Management 5

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Today’s session was largely about relationships and communication.

The exercise was to pick someone who irritates you – someone close to you, friend or family, who can really press your buttons. This wasn’t just about putting yourself into their shoes, but to really really try to inhabit their skin. How would they sit? What facial expression would be ‘them’? Take a good five to ten minutes to try to feel being that person. Perhaps you’re finding yourself with facial hair, or hips, for the first time! 😉 This isn’t so much about putting yourself in their heads, although interesting to see if the physical leads to the psychological.

Have a moment before you’re done to imagine being them and yourself at the same time. Then, as you come back to being yourself, notice what changes. Do you sit up straighter, etc?

This exercise is all about empathy, of course, but with the slightly different slant of focusing on the physical rather than just the ‘how would they think/see this’.

We also covered the stages of communicating a difficult change to someone, from not belittling your own needs/wants, through compromise and restating the key points to ensure that both parties understand the same thing from the words!