If you’re going to hack your own (in)sanity/soul then doing some desk research is the best first step. In my journey through the dark times I’ve tried a good few things. They all work in different ways. Pick the one(s) that work for you. This is an evolving article so I’ll update it as I find new techniques in my travels.
Taming the voices: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Like many (I think) I have voices in my head berating me for mistakes I’ve made, things I’ve not done, imaginings of all the bad things that would happen if I didn’t let them scream louder. Most days they’re in the background, some days they’re screaming loudly.
I’d tried CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) when my kids were very young and I was struggling to cope but it didn’t stick, and I really needed something that took a step backwards before launching me into full-blown mindfulness. I discovered ACT either by accident or because the universe arranged for the book to be left where I would find it. Some love it, others hate it but I have to say it was the first thing that was effective in giving me back control of my sanity.
The crux of it is this. When you get a thought, the first thing you do is label that thought and then dissociate yourself from that thought. “I name thee anxiety! And it’s the same old story. Thanks Mind…”. Russ calls it “de-fusing”. The second thing you do is allow the thought to continue what it’s doing. Don’t try and stop it. Stopping it causes more anxiety and you end up doing something silly. Like binge or drink or do something self-destructive. So let it have its say and breathe around it. Breathe deep, breath slow, and let the thought burn itself out. Accept that the thought is there, accept that it is uncomfortable and breathe. You could try the 478 trick: In for 4, hold for 7, out for 8, until your heart beat slows and you feel more in control. The funny thing is, the thought seems to vanish almost instantly when I give it room to vent. It only gets bigger and more damaging if I tried to suppress it.
Once you’ve moved into full responsibility and acceptance, you can ask yourself some questions. Assuming you’ve identified your core values (and if not I’ll be doing a blog about it later), you can ask yourself if the course of action you would have taken (eat more, smoke more, drink more) is in line with your core values. Give yourself some time, and you will find yourself making better choices than the ones that immediately jump at you when you’re stressed. Commit yourself to living by those core values and the habits you need to maintain those values will grow.
I guess you need to read the book for the full detail but I really took the advice on board. Now I had a technique to stop the ongoing damage from eating me whole. But I still didn’t feel at peace with myself enough to love myself. I needed something else…
EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique (aka tapping)
I’ll admit this looked nuts. I’d found youtube videos of people tapping themselves and saying words and simply couldn’t imagine doing the same with a straight face. But… my anxiety was getting the better of me and I gave it a go. I won’t go into the technique – if you google the term you’ll find many sources on it. But I will say that it did reduce my anxiety for stressful situations or memories I had. It combines self-love-self talk (total responsibility and completely loving and accepting yourself) with affirmations and acceptance of the current situation. Similar principle but with a tapping technique you wouldn’t do in public. No books required – just check youtube for people you tap along with.
Verdict: It worked while I did it, but I couldn’t find the time for it in a house full of young kids bursting in at inopportune moments (hell, even going to the loo on my own was a challenge!!). I needed something else, something I could do in the car, walking on the street, before I went to bed… in silence. I made my wish and the next day a link jumped out at me.
The Ho’oponopono Technique of self forgiveness: “I love you I am sorry please forgive me thank you”
As the title suggests, Ho-oponopono is a method of self-forgiveness and release. The story behind the technique can be found all over the internet. It found me in my facebook stream but in essence it is about healing yourself so your own healing in turn heals your reality. I’ve added a link here:
We take responsibility for our own reality, we love and forgive ourselves and reach in to make contact with our inner gratitude for all that we have already. I’ve found it a very rewarding meditation, where I’m far more aware of good stuff when it happens. If you want to read about it then there are a few good plates to start:
It’s a form of mindfulness, and certainly an easy second step. But if you’re ready for the whole thing then here’s…
Mindfulness done proper-like (as they say in the West Country)
I’ve read many books on mindfulness now. The one I liked the most is the most recent one: Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”. Again this found me through being left in our company library for my husband to hand to me. He had been listening to Tolle’s podcasts for a while. I tried the podcasts but thought he was way too calm in his talking voice for my liking. I prefer my gurus fiery (yeah, I know, that’s half my problem!). He is really good at explaining concepts however, once you get past that annoyingly calm, quiet voice. I got on far better with the books:
And there’s an exercise book too. I’ve ordered it and will let you know once I’ve had a chance to put it into practice:
<edit> I don’t think you need to buy this book if you’ve got the actual Power of Now. It’s simply the same book but written slightly differently and I think there’s enough in the original to get going with. You might feel differently though! </edit>
The point made quite succinctly is based on this: most of our pain comes from either dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Or both. The chances are, if we stay rooted to the present, we are more likely to be content. Happy even. Having dipped my toes in, I’m willing to give this thing a go. See you on the other side, I hope!
The Other Side
So I’ve been coming at this mindfulness thing from a number of angles now. I’ve learned the following that I hope will help save some hours of going around in circles.
- When in Yoga they say “Come into your breath” What I actually think is meant is “Come in <to your body> WITH your breath”. This is a subtle but important distinction. Your body is your focus in this reality. If you are, like me, filled with fear/anxiety about the future, or shame/guilt from the past then the moment you make yourself PRESENT, that anxiety vanishes. In the NOW, for most of us*, there is no immediate danger or threat of death, failure, harm or loss. So by breathing, our focus should not actually be on the breath itself but on our bodies through the path taken by the air, in and out. If there are limiting beliefs they are all almost always about the past or the future. Never in the NOW. The moment. Consequently the NOW is a good place to chillax 🙂 (and a place I’m working towards being comfortable in).
- Our bodies are the manifestation of the whole of our experience in this reality. They deserve our respect and gratitude, i.e. (by my definition), HONOUR. Honour is a loaded word for those of us brought up in cultures where virginity and purity are treated as synonymous with honour. The trouble is that from this misunderstanding, a whole tsunami of shame and guilt gushes, wiping out your self-worth. It is really important that we, as human beings, recognise this and treat this damaging definition of “honour” with the contempt it deserves.
- Really feeling the happy moments: when something goes right, when you’re moment is happy, take time to really feel it in your body. Stuart (my husband) had read about this one. I find this one hard because my self-sabotaging mind is focussing on when the happy moment will end rather than experiencing the happiness. If you find it hard too, then it’s even more important to remember to do this. Our bodies and minds needs to know what happiness feels like. It makes the Patronus charm far easier to cast…