1. Power

The last thing a ship wants to do is get stuck in the trough when dealing with a storm. The trough is between the waves. Sit in the trough long enough and a wave will come over the ship, or the ship may just roll over due to the size of the wave. You will sink. What you want to do is get your ship pointed in the right direction so that you can power up and over the big waves. Power will take you over the wave before it comes over you.

This is an important point. If your ship has turned over and you are suffering emotionally or physically please get professional help and be patient, we will be working on your repair skills in later lessons. You will need this power in order to do the repairs.

If you are going to develop and use this power effectively you have to be tuned in, just as a captain is tuned into the feel of the boat, the water, the wind, and the course he or she wants to take. You will have to learn how to handle yourself under all kinds of stressful conditions, not just when the weather is sunny and the wind is in your favor.

We all accept that no one controls the weather. A good captain learns to read it carefully and respect its power. They will avoid storms if possible, but when caught in one, they know what to do. They will control what is controllable, and they accept what they cannot control. Developing skill in facing and effectively handling the various "weather conditions" in your life is at the heart of  living artfully.

Keep in mind that the storms of life will strengthen you as they teach you about living, growing, and healing in a world of change and at times great pain. This art involves learning to see the world from a more enhanced and positive perspective. Thinking artfully also involves learning to work with your body and your thoughts and your feelings in new ways. You will learn to laugh at things a little more, including yourself, as you practice finding and maintaining your balance.

Let me now give you a little history into the realm of where you are about to go. In 1980 Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center embarked on an ambitious program to help chronically ill patients using a new medicine called behavioral medicine, which believes that mental and emotional factors, the ways in which we think and behave, can have a significant effect on our physical health and our capacity to recover from illness and injury. It was and is very successful. The techniques are now applied to all sorts of mental and physical disorders, stress and pain being the major issues. The world of psychotherapy and medicine have embraced and improved the techniques over the years. It is now used to treat problems such as high blood pressure, headaches, heart disease, phobias, and a wide range of emotional issues. There are several terms used to describe the different methods; we are going to simply refer to it as mindfulness.

My first encounter with mindfulness was about 6 years ago when I read the first popular book that was written on the subject by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1990, Full Catastrophe Living. Now there may be a hundred books and even more experts on the subject. I have experienced first hand the benefits and have been studying the subject so that I might be able to teach it. What I have discovered in my studies is that in all the books, and with all the experts there are the same basic techniques, they just present them in a different light from a different angle.

The fact is you just need to learn the basics techniques and then tailor your practice to fit your needs. That is what makes it an art, you use your colors, your angles, and you experiment and explore to find what works best for you. No one on earth has the same set of problems that you do. Your problems are yours; you need to become your own expert and your own therapist in order to handle them artfully.

Here is an excellent example of how mindfulness works. You get an itch and what is the first thing you want to do? Scratch it of course. You punish the itch with pain, but that is OK because the pain was self-inflicted and the itch was the enemy. Think for a moment, who feels the pain you or the itch? What if you could defeat the itch mindfully without any self-inflicted pain? This is not an easy skill to learn because of the constant temptation to scratch, but it can be done and it does get easier as your skill and confidence improve.

The fact is we naturally punish ourselves with pain every time we have a mental itch we get offended, irritated, angry, and frustrated. Even physical pain becomes worse due to self-inflicted frustration, and irritation. Some scientists would say that these emotions were necessary for survival at one time, but the fact is that these negative emotional reactions serve no positive purpose today and need to be defeated. At first this may seem like a large and impossible wave to power over but as your skills improve you will get to the point that you did not even realize that you did it.

Mindfulness is very close to the state of mind you are in when watching a good movie or televisions show. It is the same place you are when reading a good book. You are the observer and you are captivated by your observations. The only difference is between mindfulness and entertainment is that you decide what to observe and your mind is not being controlled or programmed by someone or something else.

Ready to get started? The purpose of this exercise is simply to build up your ability to become the captain of your observations.

Here are the rules, memorize them.

  •  No expectations allowed, be patient with your self, you are not trying to "go" anywhere.
  • No judging allowed. Accept your thoughts, feelings, and sensations for what they are just part of the experience you are just an observer.
  • Be gentle with your self. If you break the first two rules and get a mental itch do no not scratch just observe it and gently move on.

The following steps are an outline for your mindfulness practice. You can do whatever is comfortable for you. The objective is to become a nonjudgmental "observer" in  moment to moment awareness. Do this in a quiet space where you will not be disturbed.

Step 1. Breathe Out.

This is a very common step actors and athletes perform before any event. Take a deep breath in and hold it for a moment, as you tense your body. Now breath out forcefully. With that outflow of air, take note of the release of your physical and emotional tension.

Step 2. Center Up.

Find a chair you can sit straight in. Stand in front of the chair and place your feet shoulder length apart. Sway in different directions and find your center of balance. Then sit in the chair. Do not move your feet; keep them in contact with the floor.

Center the spine. This has a direct influence on your state of mind; you feel more attentive and positive when your spine is straight. With your shoulders back and your head up and move your body in different directions until you find your center. Hold that position and do not rest your elbows on the arms of the chair. Do not get too rigid or tight. Make sure your muscles are relaxed and not trying to hold you in position.

Step 3. Widen Out.

 You do not want to go into a formal mindfulness practice with a narrow point of view. To open your mind you only need to open your eyes. Look at an object directly in front of you and focus on it. Without moving your eyes notice how many other objects you can see, and how far to the left and right you can see, take your time. Now take a big mental snap shot of the whole picture and hold it for a few moments.

Step 3. Take inventory

Close your eyes and take an inventory of all the noises in the room, mentally check them off as you find them. As you do this feel the temperature of the room, and any air movement. Remember no judging allowed.

These first three steps should take 1 to 3 minutes, but you can take as long as you like with each one. You can use any of these steps during normal daily activities to adjust your state of mind. Breathe out to release tension. Center up to become more attentive. Widen out to become more creative. Take inventory to focus your thoughts and avoid distractions.

Step 4. Breathe

Take the state of mind you have just cultivated and focus on only your breathing. Breathe with your diaphragm and listen carefully to each breath and count softly each time you exhale. When you get to 10 go back to 1. Eventually you will not need to count to maintain you focus. Give your attention to all the aspects of your breathing, the sound, the sensation, the body movement

Your thoughts will drift, that is OK, just treat them like you would a stranger that you are passing on the street, take not of what you are thinking about and then give your attention back to your breath. If you drift a thousand times just gently go back to your breath a thousand times, listening and counting softly each time you exhale. Do not be concerned with how long you have been drifting.

If you can, do this for 10 minutes or more. Find the amount of time you are comfortable with and extend it as you can.

Eventually the strangers give up trying to distract you and you are in the moment. The past is gone and the future simply does not matter. Do not worry if this does not happen right away, getting there is half the fun.  Each time you do this it will be different.  No judging allowed, there are no good sessions or bad sessions. 

Step 5. Release

When you are ready to finish take your attention to your feelings right now; spend a few moments with them, describe them to yourself. Open your eyes and recall those pesky thoughts that kept coming in trying to take you away from your moment-to-moment awareness. You may have met a new thought, a new idea, or a new discovery.

You may have met a thought that may point you to the source of any emotional problems you may be dealing with. We will start to use your new skills to tackle those problems in the next lessons.

Try to do this exercise twice a day. Reread the the exercise and adjust them so that you are comfortable with the process.
You are about to become the captain of your ship and not the stressed out passenger.

I should point out that this is not spiritism or occultism. It is a proven science. It will not allow any unwanted influences into your mind. In fact,  studies have shown that the conscience improves with practice and people develop a stronger desire to act with their conscience and not against it.  If you are a spiritual person, your spirituality will grow as you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and those around you.

There is a short 20 minute guided program you can listen to online or you can download it from the free downloads page.

Food for Thoughts
  • Why does time move so much faster while we are being entertained?
  • Why is it important to "accept" our thoughts?
  • Why is it so difficult to "control" our thoughts?