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Mindful Monday - Start Your Week Mindfully With The Central Student Advisory Service

The 2018/19 winter term has started and so has our new mindfulness blog, brought to you by the Central Student Advisory Service. Every Monday we post a mindfulness impulse for the new week. To try, to meditate, to share. Enjoy our new "Mindful Monday" Blog!

Need more mindfulness? Come to our open meditation group!

February 2019

18 February 2019
Mindfulness Impulse #17: Challenging Emotions and Mindfulness III
"No mud, no lotus."
- Thich Nhat Hanh -

Not wanting to have an experience that challenges us, that is unpleasant or even painful, is more than understandable. All the more important, therefore, that we value our baby steps and treat ourselves kindly when our old and familiar avoidance strategies have kicked in before we have even realised what has happened.

But "no mud, no lotus" promises more than learning to cope a little better with challenging emotions. It promises that something unique and beautiful can develop, especially in the difficult, unpleasant, "muddy" places. That does not mean that the mud turns to gold dust - it is still disgusting brown sludge. But the more familiar we become with our emotional "mud", the more we can connect to others, who are all too often stuck in the mud as well - and the more we will be able to react with genuine empathy and true compassion.

SAM_1636_resized ©Meggy Hübner

11 February 2019
Mindfulness Impulse #16: Challenging Emotions and Mindfulness II
Mindfully dealing with challenging emotions - what exactly could that look like? The mindfulness teacher Michele McDonald has developed the R.A.I.N. model, which will be introduced here in a slightly modified version. The acronym R.A.I.N. stands for Recognise – Acknowledge – Investigate – Non-Identification.

R: Recognise: First, we recognise that we are experiencing a challenging emotion in the present moment and we name the emotion: "This is anger." "Oh, sadness." "There is loneliness." 

A: Acknowledge (Allow): The next step is to acknowledge that this emotion is currently part of our experience. We do not have to be happy about it, but we allow the feeling to be there and do not try to fight it, repress it or get rid of it in any other way.

I: Investigate: Then we explore our experience of this emotion - with as much kindness, curiosity and openness as possible. We "investigate" the emotion by turning towards the bodily sensations that accompany it. As best we can we feel the sensations in our body directly, like heaviness, warmth, tingling or muscle tension. Perhaps we can even observe how our thinking contributes to the emotion by watching our inner film or listening to our inner monologue. However, we are not trying to think about the feeling or to analyse it. When we notice we have got lost in thoughts, we return to our direct bodily experience. 

N: Non-Identification: Finally, we appreciate that we are having this emotion, we are not identical to this emotion. We have just investigated the emotion, so there is a part of us that can perceive the emotion without being angry, frightened or sad itself. The body sensations and thoughts that are connected to this emotion, maybe we can even see these as phenomena that move through our experience and that we can react to - or not.

It is impossible to overstate that R.A.I.N. - just as mindfulness in general - is not about getting rid of anything or manipulating experience in any way. We only adopt a different position from which we relate to our experience and allow everything to happen that is already happening in our body and mind. 

Johannes Plenio pixabay_Regen_resized © Johannes Plenio

04 February 2019
Mindfulness Impulse #15: Challenging Emotions and Mindfulness
"Whatever you repress goes straight to the basement to train weightlifting."
- Anonymous -

Each and every one of us knows feelings they would rather not have. Some find sadness particularly challenging, others anger, yet others loneliness. Shame is very hard to stand for most people. Only natural and totally understandable, therefore, that we will try anything not to feel these feelings - or at least not as frequently, with such intensity or for so long.

On the other hand, there are times when we plunge into an emotion completely until it has taken full control and we do not exist outside of this feeling anymore.

When we turn to an emotion with mindfulness, we realise that what we call "anger", "disgust" or "guilt" consists of two parts, a physical and a mental one. When we are sad, for instance, we might feel a heaviness in our body, anger may be accompanied by bodily sensations of warmth and muscle tension. And our thoughts provide the matching soundtrack by judging external events accordingly: "Outside it is only ever grey and miserable.", "He is such an idiot!" etc.

When we feel these sensations and notice these thoughts without avoiding them and without getting carried away by them, we see how they change by themselves after a while. To keep an emotion alive over a longer period of time we have to replay the situation that triggered it again and again in our mind's eye. (Paradoxically, that applies even when we try to convince ourselves that we do not have to feel or should not feel guilty, sad or disappointed in this situation.) 

This is not to say it is useful just to let feelings pass by every time they arise. They can be valueable as a signal and show us that something is not good for us and we should take action. But it is a lot easier for us to receive this "message" when we recognise and acknowledge the emotion instead of pushing it aside or drowning in it.

Which emotion is especially difficult for you? How do you normally react when it comes up? Which bodily sensations and thoughts does this emotion consist of? What could be its message? Which inner images and thoughts keep it alive?

Peter Grubbert pixabay_Seil_resized © Peter Grubbert
January 2019

28 January 2019
Mindfulness Impulse #14: Mindful Writer's Block
I will admit it: It was hard for me to write this post. I was racking my brain for something I could write about, but all the topics I could think of felt forced and artifical, not like "lived experience". I started thinking about other things I could do instead and began persuading myself that these other things were much more important and urgent and that I could write this post later. Then I felt into my body and noticed tension in my jaw and neck and an unpleasant clenching in the pit of my stomach - fear.

When we notice an emotion, it is tempting to analyse it and think about where it might come from. I decided just to feel what was happening in my body and my thoughts and I realised that this mix I was experiencing is called "writer's block" - a good old friend of mine. Then I got curious. I had never observed writer's block closely before; instead I had always used one of two strategies: ignore it and fight through it or cave in and do something else.

When I started investigating this block, the fear and the unpleasant sensations in my body increased. After a while they lessened and then came in waves, their intensity decreasing a little with each wave. As I am writing this sentence now, there is still a bit of fear, the clenching in my stomach is still there, the tension in my jaw and neck is gone, my thoughts revolve around how to phrase this sentence.

I absolutely do not mean to say that this experience is normative in any way, much less that it is a clever "trick" to get rid of writer's block. "Feel it and heal it" requires that we truly get in touch with what is there instead of opening to it "strategically". "I will feel you in order for you to disappear" will not work and has nothing to do with mindfulness. Perhaps we could allow whatever appears within us to surprise us and meet it with curiosity and kindness.

Have you ever experienced writer's block? Which body sensations, thoughts and emotions did it entail? What did you do next? Could you try and bring mindful awareness to writer's block next time?

SAM_1648_resized ©Meggy Hübner

21 January 2019
Mindfulness Impulse #13: Drinking Tea or Coffee Mindfully
For many of us a cup of coffee or tea in the morning is a must. Since habits are, by definition, something we do frequently and often under similar circumstances, they tend to be carried out automatically, on "autopilot" as Jon Kabat-Zinn calls it. We perform the action without awareness of what we are doing.

That does not mean that habits are a bad thing. They help us simplify our life and reduce the need for decision-making; this way we save energy. Imagine having to decide every morning whether or not to have a shower, brush your teeth, have breakfast, wear shoes. The bigger part of your energy for the day would be used up before you even leave the house. But there is also the risk that we sleepwalk through our life habitually, hardly ever really present for what is happening.

By bringing mindfulness to our habitual actions we interrupt this "sleepwalking while awake". We are taking part in our life again, awake, aware and attentive (which does not limit the energy-saving capacity of habits because our decision-making skills are still not required here).

The mindfulness impulse this week is to drink the tea or coffee that you habitually consume with mindfulness. Use your senses: How does the mug feel in your hands, how does the liquid feel on your lips or in your mouth? What are you seeing, smelling and tasting? See if you can notice a difference between thinking about these questions and directly experiencing this (unique) coffee or tea. How does drinking mindfully change your experience?

Jill Wellington pixabay_Kaffeetasse_resized © Jill Wellington

14 January 2019
Mindfulness Impulse #12: New Year's Resolutions And Mindfulness II
Perhaps you identified a resolution last week that is rooted in a friendly attitude towards yourself and that truly fits your life. Maybe you would like more health, flexibility, relaxation or presence for yourself. If your intention is infused with kindness, chances are your resolution will not fizzle out, but become a new habit in the long run. Here are some tips that might support you on the way there:

1. Start small - and celebrate small successes. Taking the stairs instead of the lift, meditating for a minute in the morning, having a coffee without sugar - aim for small triumphs rather than big unreachable dreams.

2. Allow for failure. Genuine change without setbacks is extremely rare. Think about how to deal with failure appropriately, without dramatising and abandoning the whole project.

3. Acknowledge your needs. Your past behaviour had nothing to do with stupidity or laziness but with your needs. Binge-watching some series may have been an expression of your need for solitude or relaxation, unhealthy food may have been an attempt to reward yourself and meet your need for approval. Which needs has your previous behaviour been connected to and how can you make sure these needs will be met in the future?

4. Find the fun. What we like to do, we do more and more frequently. Ask yourself what might be fun about your new habit. "Healthy" and "sensible" activities might have unexpected sides to them that mean fun, joy and pleasure for you. Allow yourself to be surprised.

SAM_1641_resized ©Meggy Hübner

07 January 2019
Mindfulness Impulse #11: New Year's Resolutions And Mindfulness
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
- Carl R. Rogers -

Many people make resolutions for the New Year: more exercise, healthier food, losing weight, less stress or something similar. On New Year's Day they are highly motivated, but motivation has often faded by the beginning of February - at the latest. By then, their cookbooks are gathering dust and only cardio they get is by giving the fitness centre a particularly wide berth.

If we want to bring mindfulness to this process, we can ask which emotions accompany our desire for change. Are we feeling bad because we do not measure up to some ideal image we have of ourselves? Are there feelings of dissatisfaction, inadequacy or anger, self-recriminations or even self-loathing? Or is our desire to change fuelled by a positive intention for ourselves and our life?

Whatever ideas for change we may have: Now, in this moment, things are what they are. We have not yet become fitter, slimmer or smarter. And yet, this moment is a moment of our life, the only one that is truly our own - not just a transition period on the way to our goals.

To acknowledge the situation as it is now is a prerequisite for change. But this tends to involve unpleasant feelings, which we try to escape - often automatically and therefore subconsciously. And so we take comfort in the thought that everything will get better soon. Paradoxically, this is exactly how we maintain the current situation. Only when we get acquainted with our experience and immerse ourselves into all aspects and facets of it, are we truly able to decide what to do with our desire for change. 

Which New Year's resolutions have you made? What does the situation feel like now, as it is at the moment? Which thoughts and feelings accompany your desire for change? Can you be kind and supportive towards yourself regardless of whether or not you decide to change? How could you do that?

SAM_1653_resized ©Meggy Hübner
December 2018

Merry Christmas from Us at "Mindful Monday"!
We at "Mindful Monday" wish all our readers a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2019, filled with many "mindful Mondays" - and Tuesdays and Wednesdays… :-)

In the coming year, we will continue to post a mindfulness impulse every Monday, the next one on 07 January.

20181205_144222_resized ©Janine Behrendt

17 December 2018
Mindfulness Impulse #10: Mindfulness at A Family Gathering
"If you think you are enlightened, go and spend a week with your family."
- Ram Dass -

Christmas - and particularly celebrating with the family - is overloaded with ideals hardly any family can reach: Ubiquitous peace and joy, sparkling lights and glowing faces, happy family harmony. Aspirations that are near impossible to fulfil and that make reality only seem harsher, more depressing and filled with even more conflict.

Mindfulness invites us to try and loosen the tight grip of these ideals and become familiar with our reality: How do I really feel about Christmas and about my family? What am I looking forward to, what am I afraid of, what am I dreading? And how do I want to deal with the inevitable conflicts and annoyances? How could I support myself in these situations? If you answer these questions for yourself in advance, it will be easier when conflicts appear.

Having a "safe haven" within the body can help not to get dragged down by challenging emotions: You could be aware of one breath before you react to what has just been said. Or feel the floor beneath your feet and how it supports you no matter what. Or notice how your spine keeps you upright - "this is where I am standing, this is my 'stand-point'".

What could support you at your family gathering over the holidays? How could you take care of yourself during that time? And what could be the "safe haven" in your body that you could return to as needed?

SAM_1646_resized ©Meggy Hübner

10 December 2018
Mindfulness Impulse #9: Giving Presents Mindfully
Christmas time - the time of giving presents. Finding the right presents and completing the shopping marathon that goes with it can be stressful and frustrating. Therefore, today we bring you four tips for buying presents mindfully:
1. Connect to your intention. Presumably, you buy presents to give joy to others. Try to bring this intention deliberately to the hustle and bustle of the high street when you do your Christmas shopping. Does that make a difference in how you experience the situation?

2. Ask yourself how it could be easier. Is there a less stressful way to express your positive intention? By asking this, you are showing generosity and kindness to yourself as well as to others.

3. Look for the common humanity. In all probability the other shoppers feel like you do. They also want to treat others to some nice gifts and they too are stressed, annoyed and under pressure. How does looking at others in this way, aware that they are just like you, change your experience?

4. Observe what is happening within you and around you with mindfulness. Mindfulness can let everything be as it is. Notice with openness and curiosity how rushing and stress - or whatever else you might be experiencing - are feeling in your body.
SAM_1628_resized ©Meggy Hübner

03 December 2018
Mindfulness Impulse #8: "Kindfulness"
Being mindful means perceiving things as they are. If our experience is pleasant or neutral, that is not very difficult. We do not have trouble perceiving how the aroma of our favourite food reaches our nose or how our body relaxes on the sofa after a long day. We might not want these perceptions to stop, but to be aware of them is easy and pleasant. Neutral perceptions might bore us, but we do not feel inclined to fight them.

Unpleasant experiences are different. It takes courage to turn towards the unpleasant, which we would normally ignore or fight. And yet, sooner or later we will be confronted with such an experience in our mindfulness practice - maybe our foot gets numb during meditation, maybe we are surprised by challenging emotions during a mindfulness exercise. When that happens, kindness (or "kindfulness", i.e. kindness and mindfulness combined) towards ourselves becomes our indispensable companion. It helps us determine when we can turn towards an unpleasant experience without its overwhelming us and when we had better change our position or focus our attention elsewhere. And it warms our gaze when we have decided to stay with a slightly unpleasant experience mindfully for a short while. As a result, we do not look upon our experience coldly and clinically, but with interested curiosity and with compassion.

SAM_1655_Ausschnitt_resized ©Meggy Hübner
November 2018

26 November 2018
Mindfulness Impulse #7: Beyond the Concepts
In a flash and without our being aware of it, our brain compares new sense perceptions to previously stored information and labels them: "This is a tree." "This is a fence." "That is a man." "That is a woman." "This is pain." "This is joy." This categorising is useful for us, it saves time and helps us deal with the wealth of information flowing in through our senses.

But the categorisation also has its downside. We look at the world through our concepts. We do not see what our senses actually perceive, but we see the concept that is already in our mind and that matches these perceptions to some degree. That also means that we only see what is familiar, that we do not have eyes for the new and unexpected. We have already subsumed our perception under a concept before we have really seen, heard or felt what is there.

Mindfulness tries to slow down this automatic process and dive into the direct experience, inquisitively and curiously: "What am I perceiving right now, what are my senses receiving?" "Which are the actual (bodily) sensations that I call 'pain' or 'joy'?" This way we see beyond the concepts and (re)discover the richness contained in our "ordinary" everyday experience.

IMG-20181108-WA0003_Ausschnitt2_resized ©Franziska Boll

19 November 2018
Mindfulness Impulse #6: Meditation "on the Go"
A young woman is sitting on the ground in an impressive place in nature, her legs artfully folded like a pretzel. This is what many would imagine a "typical" meditation setting to look like. They would be mistaken. After all, it is possible to meditate anywhere and in any position (and, naturally, for any individual, regardless of age or gender).

Maybe you would like to try a walking meditation this week. Walking meditation can be done formally by picking a stretch of road and walking it up and down, back and forth, for the time of the meditation. But it can also be done informally, any time you are walking somewhere anyway. In informal walking meditation, you walk just how you would walk in any case - only your whole attention is on the act of walking: You notice how your feet switch places - first, one of them is in the air, then the other one, and so on. Or, if you are walking more slowly, you feel how your foot lifts from the ground, moves through the air and, finally, how your heel and then your whole foot are placed on the ground. For both feet alternately, step by step. When you notice your mind wandering, you kindly bring yourself back to the sensations in the soles of your feet.

Which short stretch you are walking regularly could you use for informal walking meditation this week?

20181018_134315_Ausschnitt_resized ©Marianne Tatschner

12 November 2018
Mindfulness Impulse #5: Mindfulness and Judgements
"Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing there is a field. I will meet you there."
- Rumi -

We often carry an "inner measuring stick" around with us, which we use to compare our current experience and our actions to an ideal: "This is the right way." "This is the wrong way." "That was good." "That was not enough." In a lot of situations this measuring stick is useful. Without it we would have no successes to celebrate, we could not improve and our learning would be confused and disoriented. But we also need spaces in which right and wrong do not matter, in which we can simply be who we are. Otherwise, our lives become constricted and all too demanding.

It is surprisingly difficult not to judge our experience. Quickly we start judging our judgements. We might even start to judge the fact that we are judging our judgements. At this point our head is probably spinning and our brain starts to hurt. Instead of getting caught up in this spiral we could notice our automatic judgements when they arise and return - again and again - to what we perceive through our senses, to our direct experience.

What helps you let go of judgements? Which spaces in your life are nearly or entirely free of judgements? Where is your field "out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing"? And are there people you would like to meet there? What could that look like?

20181009_143007_resized ©Marvin Süß

05 November 2018
Mindfulness Impulse #4: Mindfulness Anchor
"80 percent of succes is just showing up."
- Woody Allen -

With everything else that is going on in life, it can be a big hurdle to more mindfulness simply to forget the intention to be mindful. The more frequently we remember our intention to practise mindfulness, the more opportunities for mindfulness we will have and the more mindful moments we will experience. How can we remember to "show up" for mindfulness in our everyday life?

One way to be reminded of mindfulness regularly is a "mindfulness anchor", e.g. red traffic lights. Every time you wait at red lights this week, you could deliberately feel your body: What position is it in? What can you notice? Tension or relaxation, warmth, coolness, points of contact with the floor? What else is there for you to feel, what shifts to the foreground when you do not look for anything in particular? Be present in your body whenever your mindfulness anchor appears - curious about what you will find there in this moment.

20181031_155836_resized ©Marianne Tatschner
October 2018

29 October 2018

Mindfulness Impulse #3: Mindfulness in Autumn with A "Mindfulness Leaf"

IMG-20181015-WA0008_resized ©Linda Giesel

Mindfulness means meeting any experience with the same open, friendly and inquisitive attitude. Where we direct that attitude, the "objects" of mindfulness, can vary. On way to practise mindfulness is to choose an external object and to notice mindfully all sensory perceptions that arise in connection with that object.

As long as autumn has not yet fully given way to winter, a suggestion to practise in this way that fits the season: Maybe you would like to take an autumn stroll this week. While you walk, you could look for a leaf you like. When you have found one, retreat to a quiet spot and take 5-10 minutes to look at your leaf. Use all of your senses: What does your leaf look like? What is its form, its colours? Can you see through it in some places? What can you feel when you touch it? Does it feel rough, smooth, thick, thin, brittle or solid? What is its smell like? Is there a sound when you move it between your fingers? Let your leaf surprise you with the many things you can discover.

22 October 2018
Mindfulness Impulse #2: The Mindfulness Power Move

Mindfulness asks: "What is my experience like, right now, in this moment?" - with openness, curiousity and kindness. This question is a "power move" because it helps us to get out of our usual reactive patterns we might not be aware of. When we realise we are angry and we are able to acknowledge our anger, we can look for an appropriate way of dealing with it - instead of snapping at the next person that crosses our path. An experience we are fully aware of does not control us.

The simplest way to practise this is to ask ourselves regularly: "What is there, what can I notice in this moment?" With this question we can approach our body and our emotions. We can ask ourselves (and you can do this now while you are reading this text if you like): "What am I noticing in my body in this moment?" There might be warmth or coolness, tension, relaxation, tingling, itching, movement - or something else entirely. Maybe the sensations are sharp or vague, stable or fluctuating, maybe hardly anything is noticeable. What if all of this were equally valid, equally welcome?

20181009_143225_resized ©Marvin Süß

We can also ask: "What is happening now, in this moment, in my emotional experience?" There might be a strong emotion we can name with certainty, like anger, fear, sadness, joy or relief. There might be a vague mood or a mixture of different, blurred emotions. Or we might not be able to notice anything in particular. What is the difference between noticing your emotions and thinking about them? Are you able to switch back and forth between the two?

Try to be curious about the answers you find when you ask about your present moment experience - no matter what these answers look like. The more we practice turning to our experience with kindness and interest, the more we will be able to do this "power move", even in challenging situations.

15 October 2018
Mindfulness Impulse #1: Mindfulness - What could that be?

IMG-20181015-WA0000_resized ©Linda Giesel

To be mindful means to see things as they are - without trying to get rid of them and without clinging to them. Recognising what is there. For most of us, this is a very unusual thing to do. We are stressed out, tired or annoyed and we try to change how we feel and get rid of our unpleasant feelings - often without realising we are doing it. Or we might enjoy the moment and we try to extend it and get more of the nice feelings. Mindfulness is the space that opens up when we become aware of what is happening - including all our efforts to change our experience.

It is not possible to use mindfulness strategically. To accept the moment in order to make it change is not possible. Instead, we try to find the place inside of us that allows us to observe everything and let it be just the way it is. This is not a skill that we can learn, master and utilise but an ongoing process. You are invited into the practice, the experience, the moment. The journey, the adventure right here, right now, in this breath, in this sensation. To come to this place of "just noticing" again and again, no matter how often you leave it or forget it, means to practice mindfulness. Why you should do that? If you set out to find that out for yourself, you are already right in the middle of the mindfulness adventure.