Stuck in a cave

Thai Cave Rescue Highlights the Value of Teaching Children to Meditate

The coach of the rescued boys taught them techniques to stay calm, and any parent can use meditation to help their children deal with stress

Meditation techniques can help children manage stress.
Meditation techniques can help children manage stress. Photo: IStock

The miraculous rescue of the Thai soccer team this past week left many of us wondering: How did those 12 boys manage to stay so calm while trapped in a cave for over two weeks?

One answer is that their 25-year-old coach, a former Buddhist monk, reportedly taught the boys to meditate, to help slow their breathing and quiet their nerves. He credits the practice with helping them to ride out the long days of confinement and discomfort.

One particularly effective technique that they are likely to have tried is mindfulness meditation, a practice widely used in Thai Buddhism. Practitioners train their attention on the present moment, dispassionately observing their thoughts and feelings without judging or reacting to them.

“For the boys trapped in the cave, practicing mindfulness could have helped them stay calm in a very stressful situation, by keeping them focused on the present rather than fretting about the past or worrying about what might happen in the future,” says mindfulness researcher Kristen Lyons, an assistant professor of psychology at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Dr. Lyons points to research on adults that suggests practicing mindfulness helps people to stay centered in moments of stress. It dampens our fight-or-flight response, so that we can respond to emotional situations constructively rather than reactively.

Our children may never know the terror of being stuck in a cave, but all of them will have moments of feeling trapped and threatened, whether it’s taking a math test or dealing with a bully on the playground, says Amy Saltzman, a holistic physician and mindfulness coach in Menlo Park, California. “With mindfulness, the intention is to have your feelings—whether it’s sadness, fear or anger—without those feelings having you,” says Dr. Saltzman.

Even toddlers can be taught how to be mindful. A good place to start is with a feelings meditation. Begin by lying down together and bringing the child’s attention to their breath. Place a small object on their stomach and have them notice how it goes up when they fully inhale and down when they fully exhale. Next, help them to label what they’re feeling, and ask them to notice where those feelings manifest in their body: Is there a warmth in their chest, a pain in their head or a tight feeling in their stomach? Explain that mindfulness is not about erasing those bad feelings but about acknowledging them, even befriending them, and then choosing how we respond.

Teenagers can start by downloading apps like Insight Timer, Headspace or Calm, which offer guided meditations. You can explain how mindfulness will help them respond to stressful situations in ways that will make their lives simpler and make them less likely to be buffeted by events. It will leave them with less of an emotional mess to clean up later, says Dr. Saltzman.

Even moments like putting on shoes, taking a shower or brushing teeth can serve as informal practice in mindfulness. For example, ask children to pay attention to how it feels when they squeeze the toothpaste tube, how the toothpaste tastes in their mouth and the sensation the bristles make on their teeth and gums.

Families can carve out small moments to be mindful together, says Dr. Lyons. At dinner, pay attention to those first few bites of your meal, or when you’re all walking to the car, notice how the sun feels on your skin.

Be aware of moments of distracted parenting, too. When you greet your children in the morning and before bed, practice being fully present for 15 minutes without distractions: no electronics, no cleaning up, no making a to-do list.

The more we incorporate mindfulness into our daily lives, the better it will serve us when we need it most. For some of us perhaps, it may also be a lifesaver someday.

You are what you think

Byron Katie’s work, what she calls “inquiry”, has been one of my favorite tools for questioning my thoughts or another way to look at it is questioning my beliefs. I really think her work and the general work of questioning your thoughts is priceless for greater freedom from our minds that think all sorts of crazy things. We certainly can’t control what we think, but we have the choice to believe them or not.  Some of her quotes below give a lit insight into her philosophy. Check out her u tube talks if your interested or go to http://thework.com.

“A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.”

“As long as you think that the cause of your problem is “out there”—as long as you think that anyone or anything is responsible for your suffering—the situation is hopeless. It means that you are forever in the role of victim, that you’re suffering in paradise.”

“Hurt feelings or discomfort of any kind cannot be caused by another person. No one outside me can hurt me. That’s not a possibility. It’s only when I believe a stressful thought that I get hurt. And I’m the one who’s hurting me by believing what I think. This is very good news, because it means that I don’t have to get someone else to stop hurting me. I’m the one who can stop hurting me. It’s within my power.

What we are doing with inquiry is meeting our thoughts with some simple understanding, finally. Pain, anger, and frustration will let us know when it’s time to inquire. We either believe what we think or we question it: there’s no other choice. Questioning our thoughts is the kinder way. Inquiry always leaves us as more loving human beings.”

Byron Katie, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life

Imagine It Happening To Someone Else

This is from the Daily Stoic:

 

When something frustrating happens to you today—a flight gets cancelled, a pen breaks and spills on your shirt, you get jostled by the crowd, painfully, on the subway—and you feel that immediate, instinctive anger rising up, just stop.
Try this: Think about it happening to someone else. Imagine the thing that happened to you, happening to someone else. What you’ll notice then is that you don’t feel anger, you feel sympathy. I’m sorry that happened to you. It’s alright. No need to get upset.

When it happens to us, we feel wronged and aggravated. When it happens to someone else, we feel a desire to comfort or help. Yet are we not a person just like them? Do we not deserve sympathy and comfort ourselves?

Well…don’t wait for someone else to give it to you. Give it to yourself. Give it to yourself as a gift instead of anger. Remember Marcus’s quote from Euripides,

“Why should we feel anger at the world?
As if the world would notice.”
Anger is worthless. It only makes the world a worse place. It only makes the holder of it feel worse. Stop the cycle. Treat yourself how you’d treat someone else.

How to live and learn from great loss

Julia Samuel specializes in helping people cope when a loved one dies. Joanna Moorhead finds out how we can stop feeling awkward and uncertain about death – and why we should talk honestly about grief

Phil and Annette were on their way to the mortuary when Julia Samuel phoned. Their daughter Amber, aged four, had drowned in a swimming pool, and they were going to see her body. Not many people would have called them at that moment; not many people would have dared to encroach on such raw and traumatic grief. But Julia, a friend of a friend of the couple, is a psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with loss. She knows that, when people are in the throes of overwhelming grief, sharing the pain is the only thing that can make even the tiniest difference.

But being a grief professional does not endow special powers. When Phil answered the phone, Julia would have liked to be able to say something that would make it all better. But she knew nothing could do that, so she said the only thing she could. “I am terribly sorry to hear that your daughter, Amber, has died; I’m sorry that such a devastating thing has happened to you. How can I help?”

Twenty-five years as a grief psychotherapist has taught Julia a great deal about the human condition – because when you focus on grief you focus on life, and loss exposes everything that matters about a person and their strengths and weaknesses. When someone dies, it reveals the faultlines in the bereaved family, even the deepest, most hidden ones. If you know about loss, you know about family, and about love, survival, resilience and strength. If you know about loss, you know about life.

But there is a paradox at the center of loss, and it is this. Grief is the most intense pain there is, and we will do anything to avoid pain. So we run away from it; we run away from our own grief, and we run away from others’ grief.

And yet, says Julia, running away from it means we will never recover from it. Embracing it, moving through its agony, and allowing ourselves to just be while it washes over us, is the only way to survive it; because we have to feel the worst of it in order to let it change us, and then we can start to find out who we are going to be in the wake of it.

This is the message at the heart of Julia’s new book, Grief Works. “If you ignore grief and push it down, you can live and you can even function, but you will live a very narrow emotional life because you are using so much emotional energy to cope,” she says when we meet.

“Everything in your psyche will be squashed down, and that means small things can trigger a much bigger kind of effect. The fact is, you have to do the work of grieving. You have to let it run its course. Pain is the agent of change; pain is what allows you to change, it’s what enables you to reach a new reality.”

Her book traces the journeys of many of the bereaved people she has walked alongside; she describes how she has wept and mourned with them. “I let clients know that what they’re saying has an impact on me: I tell them when I feel shocked or sad or upset,” she says.

“I talk about our relationship: the relationship I have with them is in service of them. I say what I feel when I think it’s useful to share it.”

One of the many moving stories in her book is that of Bill and Sally, whose 13-year-old son, Matthew, died of a rare virus. Sally tells Julia that losing her son has made her, too, feel dead. She no longer has any expectations of life; she does not want to go on living. “I said quite plainly that, although she was giving up on herself, I refused to; I would fight for her. I held the whisper hidden somewhere within her that said, ‘I want to live’.”

Julia, in her 50s, a mother of four grownup children and a grandmother of four, is slight, vivacious and fun: time with her feels charged with life, and you can’t help feeling that must be helpful for those clients who, like Sally, have lost sight of the joy of being alive. Julia is as interested in asking questions as in answering them; and her questions to me surround something that I have experienced but she never has, which is a traumatic loss.

There are two sorts of loss, says Julia: expected loss and traumatic loss. And perhaps strangely, for one in her profession, her own losses have all been expected ones. Her father died, but he was 87 (“I was sad and I grieved, but it was not a traumatic loss”); her interest in bereavement sprang from her involvement with the charity Birthright, now Wellbeing of Women, which made her aware of the pain of losing a baby, although she wonders whether she was unconsciously influenced by the fact that her parents had lost three parents and three siblings by the time they were 25. “Everything seemed OK, but now when I think back I’m aware of some unresolved grief.”

Almost her only personal experience of a shocking, out-of-nowhere, loss was that of the figure whose death brought loss closer to millions, and perhaps even changed how the British deal with it: Julia was a close friend of Princess Diana, a connection that was echoed when she was asked by William and Kate to be a godmother to Prince George in 2013. That is, she says, a very joyful role – lots of fun, and the chance to enjoy the little boy as he grows up – but she doesn’t want to say much about it or about Diana, save that she agrees that her death did make a difference to the nation’s approach to grief.

So, too, she says, did other major shifts of history, especially the first and second world wars. “Our parents, the parents of people of my generation, were the generation that couldn’t afford to grieve. They were parented by survivors of the first world war: they simply had to survive, whereas we have the luxury of being able to deal with it differently.”

Having said that, and despite the public outpouring of grief after Diana’s death, she doesn’t think most people are sufficiently aware of the impact a traumatic bereavement has, the ripples it leaves or how long they persist. As someone who experienced a traumatic loss at the age of nine, when my three-year-old sister was killed in a road accident, I have to agree with her analysis. It is 44 years since that death, and the shockwaves still reverberate in my family: everyone is different because of it, and the next generation has been touched by it in ways that are too subtle for them to fully understand.

How traumatic losses shape the future of a family is a subject of great interest to Julia; so, too is the way men and women deal with loss differently. Men, she says, tend to want to move on, to make plans, to focus on new horizons. Women, on the other hand, want to spend more time remembering the person who has died; they want to immerse themselves in the pain. But the fact is, she says, that each can learn from the other. “You have to do both things: you have to have time when you grieve, and time when you have a break from the grief. You can create circumstances where you grieve, and circumstances where you move on; so men and women can help one another. He can help her go for a walk to the park or to a gallery, and she can help him talk about how he feels and express some of his loss.”

The problems set in when one individual fails to understand the pattern of grief in the other; they think of them as selfish or that they don’t care enough, but it isn’t about that – it’s about different ways of coping. Grieving is an intensely individual and usually incredibly lonely experience, which can make it a particularly difficult time in a family, where a group of people will be going through something sparked by the same event, but is in each case very different.

The way to cope, says Julia, is to be open in communicating how you are feeling to others in your family. “The families that fare best are able to share their feelings openly. Death disrupts the complex and finely tuned balance in a family, so everything has to be reorganized – and being open helps with that process.”

At the beginning, and this is especially true of a traumatic loss, the grief is all-consuming: but over time, says Julia, you find you are starting to live again. The mistake some make, though, is believing they can go back to being the way they were.

“Some people say, ‘This isn’t going to change us.’ But that’s not how it is: and it’s when you recognize that bereavement is a life-shattering experience, and that you have to grieve and rebuild, that you can move on positively into a new phase of life.

“You don’t forget the person who’s gone; you can never do that, and you should not worry that you’re going to. But you fold them, and their loss, into the new person you become; and maybe that, in the end, is the greatest tribute any of us can make to anyone who has died.”

 

Eight ways that family and friends can help Listening. Be a friend who is prepared to give their time, to listen and to acknowledge the extent of your friend’s loss. Listening is the key. Bear witness, and allow your friend to be upset, to be confused and contradictory, or to say nothing at all. Every time they tell their story once more, or are allowed to say how important the person who has died was, the burden of carrying their pain on their own is incrementally a little lighter.

It’s not about you. Follow the mourner’s lead: they may not want to talk about their grief right now, or even with you. It is good to say something to acknowledge their loss, but then let them have the control they need (they had none over the death), to choose to talk or not. If they ask you to come and be with them, and want to talk openly to you, go. If they truly do not want you to visit, and do not want to deal with it at that particular time, don’t force it on them. Don’t confuse your need to speak or call or be in contact, with your friend’s need.

Acknowledgment. Death isn’t catching, but those who are bereaved might think so, judging by the fear they see in other people’s eyes. People are frightened about whether to come forward, about what to say, about saying the wrong thing – so, in the end, they say nothing. All of that comes from a belief that whatever you say should make things better, that you should have enough wisdom to make the pain more bearable. But you can’t. Nor do you need to. Being kind enough to dare to acknowledge them and their situation is good enough.

Offering to be there if they need you, suggesting that they should be the one to ring you, is probably asking too much of your friend at this time. It is better if you take the initiative and make contact, and then follow their lead: they may want to see or speak with you – or not. Often, people don’t make contact because they feel they don’t know the bereaved person well enough. If you are erring one way or the other, better to err on the side of making contact.

Practical help. Doing practical things is often what really makes a difference. Don’t say, “Let me know if I can help”; actually do something helpful. At the beginning of a bereavement, there may be a lot of people around, so bringing food may be the best thing you can do. Taking food around for longer than the initial crisis is rare, and therefore particularly appreciated.

Honesty. Be honest. Honesty is comforting and easy to deal with. There is a direct cleanness to honesty that cuts through much of the complex messiness of grief, and this can come as an enormous relief to people.

Also, be honest about what you actually can do rather than covering up because you feel guilty about what you can’t. Be specific: say, “I’m going to come round for half an hour” or “I’ll come on Tuesday”; don’t say, “I’ll come whenever you want, tell me, and I’ll be there”, and then find you can’t deliver on that offer.

Be sensitive. While being honest is important, so is being sensitive. Promiscuous honesty is not a good idea. Be aware of showing too openly that your life is trotting along happily, as that can feel like rubbing their nose in your happiness.

Be in it for the long haul. Try to remember to make contact and be supportive after everyone else has gone. Usually three months following the death, people get back to their lives, as they should. But it is by no means over for the person who is bereaved. Sending a text or popping by can be hugely supportive.

Writing. Letters, cards, texts or emails: it doesn’t matter what you write – all are extremely helpful. It is better, however, to say that you don’t want a reply, because some people simply can’t respond. And it is never too late to send them. It is a welcome surprise to receive a card much later, because it is when everyone else has forgotten and your friend is still grieving.

When you do write, try to make it personal and avoid tired cliches such as, “She’s had a good innings” or “Better to have loved and lost”, because they are trite and in some way diminish the personal importance of this very loved person who has died.

You don’t need to go into long explanations of why the person has died or theological explorations about death; just be loving and personal, warm and acknowledging.

Extracted from Grief Works by Julia Samuel

Quote

It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than it is to think your way into a new way of acting.

Founder habit of humanity

 

Negative emotions

“Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.”

Gretchen Rubin

An interesting take that maybe some have you heard. I guess the common thing for many of us to do when those “negative” emotions comes up is to get out of the uncomfortable emotions as fast as we can. I know I’m good at that sometimes by stuffing, deflecting, blaming others or distract myself in one way or another.

One practice when I can think of it, is I try to fully feel the emotion coming up, kinda just being with it for a bit if I can. Get an awareness first.  Then, I’ll sometimes see if there is a particular place in my body I feel the emotion. A tool I use is to take a couple of deep breaths into the area or if I can’t feel a specific place, just take a few deep breaths, maybe for a minute or so. Sometimes this can at least slow or lessen the emotion. Sometimes I might just “feel it” for a number of minutes, not trying to change it or make it go away (not so easy all the time).

A next step could be to check if this is a more frequent emotion you have been feeling and the hard part…….is there something I’m doing in my life I could look at doing differently? I often think some belief I have is being “challenged” so to speak. Challenged by who? or is it whom? My best guess is its our inner self, whatever that is, maybe something a bit more unconscious than conscious. Now, we getting in murky waters, but my thoughts agree with the quote above a message is likely in that emotion somewhere. Can you get a sense you have when feel/think about the emotion during or more likely when the emotion is not as present what that emotion maybe saying? Just try asking yourself and see what you get.

For example, If you’re feeling envy or lack in some way a lot, can you look at the envy and see why your having it. I desire this or that and I never get it or why does she have this or that and not me? We all do that at times and we know comparing can cause a lot of stress and its all self imposed stress likely based on some belief we have that we more than what we actually have in this moment is better.  Although you might need some help peeling through the layers sometimes, one idea could be to do a practice of being grateful for what you have now or even more challenging, being grateful for what that snooty neighbor has. Of course, you can’t change what you have in that particular moment and  there is always something to be grateful for and that looking can often lessen, even if a little bit, those feelings of envy.

 

Take a step

From the Daily Stoic website:

 

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Action is what counts. Especially when it comes to improving yourself and your character.

You could spend the rest of your life reading books to improve yourself—and be stuck in the same place. Why do you think that is? Why do you have friends who seem to know every name of every book that’s designed to change us overnight…but their lives always seem to be in shambles?

It’s simple: They don’t do anything with the knowledge they have. There’s an urgency to acquire more information and facts, but no similar urgency about actually getting something done.

This matters even more when the “project” is your character. Marcus Aurelius put it like this: “Get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue—if you care for yourself at all—and do it while you can.”

That’s a good way of thinking about this: You’re rescuing yourself. You’re saving your soul and your life and your character. But that’s only going to happen if you take action.

So what are you waiting for?

Mindfulness

My sister passed this article from a teachers website of good reminders to me and thought I’d pass it on. I thought it was an interesting idea when our minds get focused on fear and uncertainty in the future to focus on five things outside of you and try to look at them as “newly” as possible. I tried it and it for me was a kinda of reset. It may not necessarily make the issue go away, but the goal is to feel a little bit better or lighter.  Our minds are really powerful about spinning their stories of fear and worry sometimes, so any little tricks to help us not get to attached to our thoughts the better!

Thanks, Cathy.

 

Mindfulness
Much of the distress in our lives comes from anticipating negative or dangerous events that might happen in the future and as a result failing to be in the present moment in which those events are not happening.  Such worry not only undermines an accurate assessment and preparation for what might go wrong as well as undermining the enjoyment of life as it is in the present moment.

Mindfulness is a natural human capacity to pay attention to our experience as it is happening in real time. When we intentionally cultivate this capacity through practice we enhance our ability to focus, to regulate our emotions and to extend compassion and kindness to ourselves and others.  When we infuse mindfulness throughout our day we not only reduce our stress and worry, finding better ways to respond to the challenges of life, but we also expand our capacity for joy and wonder.

During non-teaching times throughout the day, instead of checking your phone and email between classes or during lunch or an off period, try taking a mindfulness break using one of these simple strategies:

  • Notice five specific things out your window – clouds, students, a kite, birds, cars –and try to see them with fresh eyes and without telling yourself a story about them.
  • Take three deep, long breaths inhaling in through the nose and out the mouth to help reduce stress hormones in your body.
  • Eat a snack slowly, keeping all your attention on just relaxing and eating.
  • If you have a favorite quote, poem or a piece of writing, take a few moments to re-read it to refresh your sense of inspiration and connection to what’s important now.
  • Take a “five senses” walk outside. Notice what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel. This sensory awareness will help you return to the present moment.

Remember: This Is Not Your Problem

This is from the Daily Stoic.  Always a good reminder…

 

“The affliction of so many people? Other people. We’re driven mad by the mistakes, the comments, the rudeness, the lifestyle choices of people who are not us.
We have to be able to remind ourselves: My problems are my problems, other people’s problems are their problems. As Marcus wrote, “Leave other people’s mistakes where they lie.” That is, in their own bed.

You’ve got plenty to deal with on your own today. Don’t waste a second judging other people, or gossiping about them, or getting involved in their business. It’s not your problem.”