Being There

A transcript from Anxiety Depression | Meditation Mindfulness video by Nathan Cavaleri

 

Meditation and mindfulness played a huge role in getting me back up on stage. Not long ago it was an ordeal for me just to go down the road and have drinks with a mate. I didn’t understand the relationship between thoughts and biochemistry, and how they can skew the perception of any given moment. And that’s why a phase of burn-out expanded into years of depression and anxiety that corrupted so many areas of my life.

If I had understood the principles of mindfulness to begin with, I doubt I would have experienced those problems in the first place. I beat leukaemia when I was a kid, and I came out swinging with my guitar. I got to play with some of the world’s most amazing guitarists, and I never had to doubt my body or my mind – never. Challenges were potholes, not blackholes, and I had full faith in myself and the world around me. So it was a complete shock when I found myself later in life on a daily rollercoaster of dread and fatigue  –  challenged by the simplest things, and rendered too tired & wired to participate, and too scared to sleep. I was confused and irrational, and I didn’t understand where these feelings and states where coming from, so I branded every situation which triggered them as the problem. And I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

In one tiny moment of clarity I saw no logical relationship between these aspects of life that were being claimed by anxiety, and I wondered then if there was more to it than I thought.

My first meditation session helped to clear up a lot of misconceptions around mindfulness.  I believed meditation was primarily a tool to relax and calm the mind, which is pretty unattractive for a ‘type A’ creative wanting to take on the world – when all along it’s fundamentally a practice to help identify, understand and relate to the types of thoughts and feelings you wouldn’t normally be aware of … the ones that affect emotions and biochemistry, and which actually have more control over you than you think. 

Initially it was difficult to get beyond the intense feelings that would arise during a session -– sensations of feeling out-of-body and panicked -– and I almost believed that it was the meditation itself that was creating these sensations, until in one session I discovered the dialogue that lay beyond. This was a real ‘Ah-ha!’ moment for me because I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God! No wonder I feel so much fear, because just look at the shit that’s on constant rotate in the background. Look at what I’m believing.’ I can’t understand why I was believing such stories at the time, but they aren’t happening now. None of these stories was true, yet my body was walking around as if they were: I was on-guard and in fight-flight freeze while I was trying to go about my daily tasks. 

It was a profound realisation, and one that has inspired so much change. Through relating to my inner world I was able to reclaim joys of life that I’d thought were gone forever: socialising, exercise, sleep, travel. 

And now I’m trying to reclaim my relationship with music by going back out on the road and putting new music out there. It’s early days, but each run dissolves that little bit more fear by proving my worries wrong and leaving more room for joys to shine through – the type of joys that helped to heal me when I was a kid battling leukaemia.

I’m now starting to see that mindfulness is not just for those who are in an emotional pickle. It’s been great for my productivity and creativity. I’m more resilient for it, and my happiness and confidence are now becoming less hinged to circumstance. When I can see what’s going on inside, I can see more clearly what’s going on outside, and I just make better decisions for it. Now knowing what I know kind of feels like I’ve been living in half a world, because your inner world has so much influence over your outer world.

It’s a mentally-driven world, and unlike a muscle that fatigues and stops when it’s overworked, an overworked mind gets anxious and scrambled. It runs into overdrive, gets depressed and fires-off all sorts of unhealthy biochemical reactions. 

Our minds affect everything, and the principles of mindfulness and meditation can help us keep our minds healthy.

 

Nathan Cavaleri will be touring to New South Wales soon. See details here.

 

 

How to hack your pleasure pathways

Can you remember the feeling of coming back from a holiday? Feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and inspired. All of your neural pathways were reset, or at least rearranged. For those few weeks, you were out of your comfort zone, having new experiences, new sensations and new adventures which will change how you live your life and how you view your world.

We know that these experiences are part of what makes life worth living, and that new experiences are a wonderful antidote to boredom, frustration and stagnation that can sometimes set in. Our brains need these new sensory experiences every once in a while, and we need to be exposed to things that challenge us and immerse us.

A new concept has arisen with the rise of mindfulness-based interventions, which has been termed ‘sensory adventures’ – our growing awareness of the power of sensory experiences to impact how we feel. You might be able to remember the last time you felt completely immersed in a sensory experience, whether that be through smell, feeling, taste or sound. That incredible feeling of being absorbed or completely focused on a sensation or experience is something that we can rarely achieve, but when we do, it is profound.

A friend recently described a hand massage she received years ago; the sensation of the scrub being rubbed into her skin, and paying attention to the touch and slippery feeling of the water as it washed her hand and then the perfume of the lotion as it was rubbed into her skin. The years have passed, but the pleasure and enjoyment of that experience remain, as it was such a treat for her senses.

We often crave sensory-rich experiences like massages, spas and gourmet meals, but at least part of the enjoyment we get from these experiences is the fact that we are paying attention to the experience, and appreciating the effects on our bodies and taste buds. Mindful eating has been shown to be effective at improving health and wellbeing, and this also extends to other mindfulness activities which encourage us to focus on the enjoyment and sensation of the present moment.

Hack your pleasure pathways

How does this help us?

Well, the good news is that these sensory adventures are right in front of us, and we can go on a small journey simply by attending to the experience in front of our noses. The idea is to pay as much attention to these experiences as you might at a wine tasting, paying attention to the flavour notes, the colour, the residue of wine on the side of the glass, the different smells and tastes that come out of a single drop. Perhaps if we paid this kind of attention to every sip, we might have a very different relationship with alcohol.

So these are the reasons to have a sensory adventure, but what kinds of sensory adventures are out there? Just like you might put a lot of time and effort into planning and booking a real-life adventure, it can be a lot of fun to plan your next sensory adventure.

Here are some ideas to get started:

Sound Adventure: Curate a playlist that evokes a certain mood in you, whether that is melancholy, romantic, excited, relaxed, whatever you feel like at the time. Then choose a place in your city that really matches the playlist, and walk through this area while listening to the playlist. While you’re doing this, see if you can attend to the internal and external sensations that come up for you. Allow yourself to get swept away with the sensory experience and notice how that feels.

Smell Adventure: Go to your spice cabinet at home and take out all of the spices. Sit down, and one by one, open up each jar and take a moment to smell each spice. See if you can notice all of the scents that come up as you smell, and what they do to your sensory organs. What involuntary responses do you have? What memories come up for you with certain smells? What foods come to mind when you smell certain things?
Whichever spices you would like to taste, try some on your tongue and notice how different the taste and smell are. Here is a recommended combination of spices that you can try cooking with, to give you a full sensory experience:
Fajita seasoning: Chili powder, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and cumin powder
Herbs de provence: Thyme leaf, marjoram leaf, rosemary, lavender flowers, ground fennel, dried orange zest
Pumpkin spice: cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves

Taste adventure: Go to the supermarket and buy three items that you really enjoy the taste of. These can be things that go together, or are good by themselves. Do not buy large amounts of these, just enough for the exercise. They should be three things that complement each other, and that are quite high-value or tasty foods.
Some examples might be:
Crackers, sharp cheese, olives – make a plate with these and mindfully eat, paying attention to the sounds, sensations in your mouth, taste and sensation of the different textures.
Butter, brown sugar, banana – melt butter and brown sugar together, pour over banana. As the butter and brown sugar combines, notice the smell and aromas that arise, and as you eat the dish with the banana, notice the different textures and the different temperatures in the meal.
Peanut butter, honey, crackers – assemble these foods and notice the different smells, tastes, textures and sensations of the ingredients as you chew them.

Sight Adventure: Consider what kinds of things might stimulate you visually. What kinds of art or design has really interested you in the past? Once you have figured this out, set aside a morning or afternoon to absorb yourself with this. It might involve visiting a local gallery or museum to come face-to-face with the artworks, or searching on the internet for pictures that inspire or interest you. Take these few hours to give your eyes a treat, whether it is through colour, design or shape. Consider how immersing yourself in these images, colours or designs impacts you. You might want to curate a playlist to listen to at the same time, that fits with the images you are viewing and enjoy the feeling of becoming absorbed in this world. You might take this opportunity to change your living space or move things around, to make the aesthetic more pleasing, or go through your wardrobe to find inspiration in colour and design.

Some good websites to visit for inspiration are:
unsplash.com
contemporaryartdaily.com
https://www.artsy.net/

As you can see, sensory adventures are everywhere we look. In your typical day, you probably have a number of sensory-rich experiences, like patting your dog, drinking your morning coffee or having a shower. All of these are opportunities to have a fully immersive experience, diving into your senses and attending to the feelings and sensations that arise.

The key here is what we pay attention to, and the value comes from appreciating and making time for the sensations to arise, rather than thinking about something else, or rushing to the next thing. The science behind things like sensory adventures indicates that it is our perception of these experiences that matter, rather than how ‘good’ or ‘fun’ something is.

So there it is, next time the real world is getting to be a bit much, and that longing for a holiday arises, see if you can take some time out for a sensory adventure and enjoy being immersed and amazed by what these experiences have to offer.

How to drink mindfully

Mindfulness is a trend that has really taken off recently. This may be because everyone is just so busy, stressed and anxious that we have forgotten what it means to savour something or how to actually be present in a moment. Every second article you read on a Facebook feed or popular blog is about being more mindful in your day to day life; eating more mindfully, socialising mindfully or practising mindfulness, yoga or meditation. But how to drink mindfully is fast becoming an important part of the conscious movement and we are all aboard that train!

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is when the mind is fully tuned into what’s happening, the space you occupy, and the activity you’re engaged in. Living mindfully means that you are completely present in that moment, aware of everything that is going on around you, and not tempting yourself into reacting or being overwhelmed by these things. When we’re mindful, we reduce stress, enhance performance, gain insight and awareness through observing our own mind, and increase our attention to others’ well-being.

What does it mean to drink mindfully?

Can you recall a time when you arrived at a party or an event and went straight to the bar?

This may be because you were nervous, excited, or socially anxious, or you just bee-lined to the bar out of habit. Another thing to consider is that we constantly want to do something with our hands, so holding a glass and drinking is a way to keep our hands occupied while we are in a conversation and socialising. The result is that we find ourselves drinking and not even thinking about it, not to mention whether we really wanted that drink in the first place. Or the second drink. And especially not the seventh drink; by that point, the ability to drink mindfully is very hard to get a grip on, as may be the rest of your evening.

If we drink mindfully, it means we are experiencing the drink and deciding whether we like it, considering whether we would like another one, and maybe even tossing up whether it would be worth the headache tomorrow if we had too many. When we drink mindfully we are able to decide whether or not we will be drinking that night and it will be our decision. Not our friends’ decision. Not a cultural decision. Our decision.

It is common to turn to alcohol as a way to cope or deal with certain situations, whether that be stress at work, anxiety, relationship issues or a range of different emotional strains that we think drinking will help with. Sometimes it may relieve these difficult emotions in the short term. But if these issues are not resolved, a dependence on drinking may be added the list. So if we are mindful of how we are feeling or why we drink, we can understand that no matter what Homer Simpson says, drinking will not solve any problems. In turn, learning to drink mindfully helps us develop a healthier relationship with alcohol.

Homer Simpson doesn't drink mindfully

How can I drink mindfully?

Mindfulness is a practice and it requires you to be fully present. For example, if you want to drink mindfully, you need to first pause and ask yourself whether you want the alcohol or not. You may be going out to dinner with some friends and they are all planning on having a ‘big night’. But you have an early morning activity lined up the next day. So, you would check in with yourself to see if you feel like a drink that may lead to more drinks. Alternatively, you may just feel like a delicious meal and treating yourself with dessert instead.

Maybe you’re invited out to drinks with friends. In this case, to drink mindfully you wouldn’t order four of the cheapest house wines. Rather, you could order one delicious and expensive cocktail to enjoy for the duration of the night.

A third way to drink mindfully at parties and events is to just be present when you arrive for the first ten minutes, without heading to the bar. Suss out the crowd and the vibe of the place, greet your friends and then decide whether you feel like a drink. You may surprise yourself by realising you actually don’t need to drink to enjoy yourself. Remember that this takes time, so allow yourself the time and maybe a few practice attempts!

How can you incorporate mindfulness into other areas of your life?

Try this mindfulness technique from our ‘experiments’ list on Hello Sunday Morning’s app, Daybreak.

When experiencing an urge, it may be easy to feel overwhelmed by the internal experience. Mindfulness reduces the likelihood of getting caught up in the urge. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment and aware of our surroundings; noticing our thoughts and emotions as elements of our present experience and not the entire experience itself.

Five steps to live mindfully:

1. Practice

Set aside time each day to practice mindfulness. Practicing daily means that you will be in a better position to practice mindfulness when you need it. For example, when experiencing an urge or distressing thoughts and feelings.

2. Observe

Sit or stand still and observe your surroundings. Where are you? What can you see, hear and feel? Also, notice your thoughts and feelings in the present moment.

3. Let go

You will experience distracting thoughts and feelings. For example, you may notice yourself making a judgement or you may remember something you need to do. Do not engage the thoughts or feelings, but simply notice them and let them roll by.

4. Re-focus

Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and then return to what you were doing, which is noticing the present moment.

5. Show compassion

Don’t judge yourself or your thoughts and feelings as good or bad; just gently bring your mind back to the present. This skill takes practice, so go easy on yourself.

It is natural to have many thoughts going through our minds at any time. Remember, thoughts come and go and you are not your thoughts; you are much more than your thoughts.

Learning how to savour

taste-good.gif How often have you sculled a delicious beverage? Or scoffed down a tasty meal without even thinking about how the food was prepared or how the flavours complement each other? What we are forgetting to do when we follow this behaviour is savour. Even moving away from the experience of food, sometimes we’re so preoccupied thinking about what to do after a beach walk that we forget to watch the waves, listen to the sea gulls and really feel the sand between our toes. While savouring involves pleasure, it is in fact more than that. It involves mindfulness and conscious attention to the experience of pleasure. When we are more aware, we notice and acknowledge pleasure., whether that be through feelings and emotions or through a stimulation of our senses. What this allows us to do is filter out distractions, and become awed by being in the world.  

The savouring experience 

giphy.gif Ever experienced a moment that you will never forget? This is savouring! When we reflect back on a treasured moment, often we can remember exactly what we were wearing, the smell in the air and the temperature outside because our minds took a mental photograph and we savoured a memory.

Practicing savouring is practicing mindfulness

giphy.gif Often we don’t find satisfaction from mindlessly doing. We can appreciate something more when we take the time to savour the thing and therefore experience a deeper level of gratitude. Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the greatest mindfulness zen masters of our time, teaches us that “Each minute we spend worrying about the future and regretting the past is a minute we miss in our appointment with life – a missed opportunity to engage life and to see that each moment gives us the chance to change for the better, to experience peace and joy.” And like most things, it’s a practice

The health benefits of savouring

And if you weren’t already convinced, savouring is actually good for your health! For example, positive psychologists have found that savouring is protective against depression, while dieticians have found savouring food is both better for digestion and an excellent way to keep that bikini bod in shape.

So what can I learn to savour?

Often when we think of savouring, we think: wine. Sommeliers and amateur wine tasters are good examples of people who practice savouring. But as we’ve already mentioned, almost everything can be savoured. Bread can be savoured. The moment can be savoured. Even places can be savoured. So now we’ll consider how you can learn to savour what is lauded as the best drink of the day: tea. giphy.gif Next to water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. Although we often refer to the long history of alcohol in human society, tea is another substance that can compare in terms of cultural significance. We have a few ideas to get you on your way to becoming a tea connoisseur by practicing the art of savouring:

How to savour tea

  • Perform a tea ritual, where the process is not about actually drinking the tea but all about preparing and serving.

The best thing about savouring?

giphy.gif You can do it whenever, wherever. And if you happen to be around Sydney in October and want to put your new skills to the test, sink your teeth into Sydney’s Good Food Month and savour the flavours.