Consciousness


What comes to mind when you hear the word Consciousness? Does it conjure up images of the brain, or a mystical spiritual energy?

It can mean different things to different people, so for the purposes of this article I will offer the dictionary definition:

“Consciousness is the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings.”

This means that we use our sensory perception to know and recognise things. Our sight, smell, and touch all work together when we are consciously aware. In effect we all have two parts to ourselves the conscious and the unconscious self. So if being conscious means being aware, the opposite would be true when describing the word ‘unconscious’, not being aware. 

To highlight this point lets explore a learning theory. Basically when we study or learn new skills we go through the following 4 stages of learning:

1. unconscious incompetence

2. conscious incompetence 

3. conscious competence 

4. unconscious competence

So an example we can use to illustrate the above in simple terms could be as follows.

A learner driver has Unconscious Incompetence when taking their first lesson as they do not know how to drive having never driven before.

After a few lessons they move to the Conscious incompetence stage- they realise or are conscious of how little they know as they continue to learn and practice driving.

Nearer to the time of their driving test after many lessons they become consciously competent as they have learned the skill of driving but are not fully aware of their ability hoping that they are skilled enough to pass their driving test.

Lets say this person then goes on to pass their driving test and has been driving for a few months- they move into the unconscious competence level. This is where they become so competent they no longer have to think about what they are doing when driving as it becomes second nature. The term ‘autopilot’ comes to mind. Have you ever got in to your car to go somewhere and arrived quickly without realising how you got there? Thats the brain performing at an unconsciously competent level allowing your conscious brain to attend to more pressing thoughts and leaving the body and unconscious mind to do the driving. 

People can become conscious of unconscious things. For instance in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder the brain has a habit of pattern matching- it puts together sensory evidence of the original trauma. So if during the original trauma eg. Being mugged- a car had been driving past at the time beeping its horn or a cat had been mewing in the background then in the event of these things occurring again at a later date a person suffering with PTSD could find that each time those sensory things are present they act as a trigger and can cause them to become traumatised again. This is because the brain pattern matched the original trauma to the current day event due to the similarities in sensory evidence between both events creating anxiety and triggering the flight or fight mechanism. 

This in turn heightens the anxiety and can cause a physical reaction as well as have a psychological and emotional impact. Constantly living in the fight or flight mode is exhausting for anybody and it is in understanding how this works and why we are stuck in these patterns that will eventually free us to change our patterns of behaviour and think/act differently in the moment. 

The past does not have to define our future but in some cases it can and does. It is our conscious mind that collects good and bad habits as we repeat them over time. Conditioning our brains to act, think and behave in certain ways. These things can be changed with conscious effort, time and awareness. Being mindful is one way of challenging our negative processes. Mindfulness is attentive practice and it can help if we engage in at least 10 minutes daily mindfulness practice which is to sit and reflect on the day and be here and now in the present. 

Being mindful is about teaching your subconscious how to function. Try practicing being present and mindful for just 30 seconds. Focus on what you are doing in this present moment-notice with all of your senses of sight, smell, hearing and touch the moment you are in right now- really focus on the present and notice your breathing. What do you see, smell, hear? How do you feel?

The truth is that you cannot be constantly mindful or present that is difficult but you can have flashes and moments of it. Be mindful of your present task, think of thoughts as a dandelion – once blown they scatter in the wind blowing around silently in the background. To be mindful you could choose one of those flying pieces (thoughts) to focus on and be mindful about.

So moving forwards how do you get motivated in a moment? 

Well there are five specific questions that you can apply to any scenario in order to plan ahead:

1. What would you like to have happen in your life?

2. What would need to happen for those things to be achieved?

3. Is there anything else that needs to happen?

4. Can you do what needs to happen?

5. Will you do what needs to happen?
Activities like this can help you get un-stuck and move ahead in life. 

Diseases of the Heart

low self esteem picDiseases can manifest at two levels within our heart. The more commonly attributed diseases cause a malfunction within the physical muscle and ailments often require medical intervention. I am not a doctor. The diseases that I am concerned with cause malfunction at a non-tangible level; within our spiritual heart.

I believe that all humans have a natural inclination to do good, and it’s when we go against this nature that we cause ourselves emotional and psychological distress. How we do this is by lying cheating, stealing, backbiting and causing upset to others. It hurts our soul and can create sickness in the spiritual heart. This can cause us to feel uneasy and not at peace with ourselves. Often such feelings can overwhelm us and develop into psychological conditions including stress, anxiety and depression.

The ‘7 deadly sins’. Everybody can relate to these and each one can cause physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual distress to individuals engaging in them. Lets examine each one in relation to the self:

  • 1 Gluttony-excess in eating and drinking/overconsumption

What is your vice? Chocolate? Cigarettes? Drugs? Food? Alcohol? We all have something in this we can relate to, examine what your vice of choice is and how it impacts on your life.

  • 2 Lust, fornication-to have an intense desire or need sexually and act on it. Adultery, infidelity, unfaithfulness.

We live in a culture of here and now- instant gratification of desires, how does this impact on your life? How has it affected your personal relationships?

  • 3 Avarice/greed– overindulging with a continual lust for more, financial miserliness and hoarding. Excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness.

Why is it that no matter how much we have we always want more? We live in a materialistic world and the consumer industry is constantly bombarding us with adverts showing us what we dont have and what we could own… for a price. How does this affect your life? Are you a slave to your whims?

  • 4 Pride, hubris– quality or state of being proud – inordinate self esteem

This is not the pride that one takes in themselves for achievements made through great personal sacrifice but a pride that is boastful, arrogant and makes one feel superior to others. Can you relate to this in any way? Have you been around such a person, if so how did it make you feel? Have you presented this way towards others- if so how did others react to you?

  • 5 Sloth-disinclined to activity or exertion: not energetic or vigorous

Are you active, or do you suffer with low mood and low energy? What is causing this? health issues/personal circumstances/ habits/ lifestyle choices? How can it be improved?

  • 6 Wrath- strong vengeful anger or indignation

It takes so much more energy to hate than to love. The power of hate can eat into a soul and destroy it like a fire through crackling wood. Granted nobody likes everybody. However it is when we are wronged that we become angry/hurt and may lash out and hate back. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse their behaviour, but it does prevent their behaviour from destroying your heart.

  • 7 Envy – painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage

Have you ever wanted something that belongs to somebody else? Wished it away from them or harboured ill feelings towards them because of it? How has this impacted on your life? Have you been the victim of another persons envy? How did that feel?

head-2032751_1280

Looking at the list above many can identify at least one ‘sin’ they have engaged in and as humans we are not perfect, we have all ‘sinned’ at one point or another. Interestingly if you were to take each of the above points and reverse them with the opposite meaning. For example Gluttony would be replaced with eating and living healthily, this would appear to have more beneficial effects on the human condition. Each has its place in the world just as there is darkness there is light, but its how we manage them that counts. Everybody has the capacity to do great good and great evil, its the free will with which we decide to act that makes the difference between good and bad. Ultimately we are all responsible and accountable for our own actions. In keeping with this we can also have a great influence over one another to promote or de-value things in life. It’s all a matter of perspective and how we choose to interpret matters.

So who’s version of ‘normal’ is acceptable and where do we draw the line when it comes to morals and values? Is it as simple as saying one thing is right and the other wrong just to create a level of order in society? Or is the prism of life so vast in colour that there is no real way to classify things? Culture, faith and upbringing all play a part and are factors in determining how we view ourselves and others. However it is the relationship we have with ourselves that matters the most.

How do you view yourself, what are your morals and values, and are you happy with who you are? Therapy can support you to explore these questions and help you to uncover your authentic self, so just open your mind to the possiblity of change and seek the support you need.

Please share your thoughts and comments on this post below or if you wish to book a session with me use the ‘contact us’ page.

The Secrets of Body Language

hand-1701971_1920Did you know that upon first meeting a person you form a judgment of them within the first 30 seconds? This means that first impressions are important, particularly for job interview situations. However when discussing body language it is important to recognise the person as a whole and take into account the environment and situation. There are also various types of signs such as:

  • The voice (tone, rhythm, volume)
  • Mimicry (Everything that occurs on the face)
  • The pose (posture)
  • The gestures (body language)
  • The distance (remoteness between people)
  • Social Signs (clothing and cosmetics)
  • The Skin (physical contact)
  • Automatic signs (Physiological reactions)

According to research only 7% of human communication is verbal. 93% of what we communicate with others is nonverbal. How amazing is that? Mastering the art of reading body langauge can be powerfully insightful and increase your awareness of self and others in an exponential way. Every moment you spend with others can be valuable whether thats in a business meeting, socially with freinds and family or around strangers in social functions. Every moment you spend with others can be enriching.

Before I go any further though I must explain that body lagnauge can often be complex and easily misunderstood, so please read this with an open mind bearing in mind cultural differences. For instance in the Middle East there is great cultural significance to who walks through a door first- it denotes power, status and importance to be the first through the door. This is not necessarily the case in other parts of the world. Also factor in the context of the situation. Dr. Paul Eckman studied whether there were universal expressions that crossed cultural boundaries. He found that there are 7 universal facial expressions:

  1. 1) Happiness, 2) Sadness, 3) Anger, 4) Fear, 5) Surprise, 6) Contempt, 7) Disgust. Micro-expressions come out quickly before we have time to think about them. Body language and voice tone have a large impact on how well one communicates. The higher one’s voice, the less credibility one has. Whenever there is a conflict between words and body language, believe the body language!
  2. If a person has their ankles crossed whilst sitting on a chair they may be frustrated and your arguments will not be considered on this occasion.
  3. An extrovert pose sitting with arms open stretched across two chairs and leaning back indicates a confident person who knows what they want and are ready for anything.
  4. Nail biting indicates confusion or anxiety.
  5. Clenching fists indicates latent aggression
  6. Biting on the upper or lower lip indicates a lack of control
  7. When a person puts their hand over their face when talking this indicates they may be lying or dishonest in what they are saying.
  8. Eyes moving side to side and not maintaining eye contact are also signs of dishonesty when in conversation.

fingers-1999781_1920

So to quote some of the sources I have researched on the topic here are a fair few pointers…

  1. Walking speed sends out messages about power. The slower the walk the more internal dialogue, as a rule of thumb, and the faster the walk the more confident the person is.
  2. A pat on the back is a way to demonstrate power.
  3. When world leaders get together, they know that the opportunity to demonstrate dominance is the “handshake photo opp.”
  4. Having the “upper hand” implies dominance. Grabbing by the elbow can show who is the leader.
  5. Hands behind the back indicate a person has nothing to hide.
  6. A self-touch gesture says, “Here we go. I can get through this.”
  7. When a person makes a definitive statement, and then retreats or backs away, it is likely that what they have just said is false.
  8. The “arm-cross” shows protection/defence.
  9. To unlock the secrets of body language, experts rely on an analytical system called “norming.” Norming analyzes body language in contrast to how a person responds normally to situations.
  10. It is believed that if people can see your eyes, they can also see your soul.
  11. One’s back is slightly hunched over when one feels threatened. Confidence causes one’s chest to stick out. Posture is important!
  12. When giving speeches, politicians wave hello to individuals. This gives the impression that they know a lot of people.
  13. Good salespeople smile. People buy products based on how they feel about the salespeople.
  14. Body language should not be considered in isolation.
  15. Gesturing on the beat as one speaks is the mark of a good speaker.
  16. Reading body language is an extremely important part of law enforcement. If you can recognize a threat, you can counteract it.
  17. Your pupils automatically dilate when you see something you like, this can be food, another person or an object you desire.
  18. A firm handshake with your hand above the other persons indicates power.
  19. Open arms indicate a confident, constructive attitude whilst crossed arms show defence and are off putting.
  20. Stand tall with your legs slighty apart to command power and respect, even if you are short you can indicate power like this and walk with purpose.

beach-1573213_1920.jpg

Personal Power

man-2037255_1280If I was to ask you here and now- “Do you feel you have power in your life?” How would you answer? What do you think of when the term ‘power’ is used? Is it a positive or negative feeling for you? What experiences of power have influenced your life? Do you see power as a destructive abusive force, or a strong and positive force for good?

Our personal experiences of power will often dictate how we feel about it. For instance a child growing up in an environment of domestic abuse may associate power as a negative term as the abuser was powerful over others. In contrast a child who grew up in a family wherein choice was offered and they were consulted during decision making for family affairs may feel power is a positive force. It nurtured their ability to feel valued, important and ‘powerful’ having their voice heard by the adults around them. Power means different things to different people and can be interpreted in various ways. For the purposes of this article I am exploring the concept of ‘Personal Power.’

What is personal power? The definition can vary from person to person but the basic premise remains the same. Personal power involves strength and confidence in oneself and the ability to pursue what really matters to you. So how do you know what really matters to you?…Well by filtering out other people’s influences on your life you can re-connect with yourself in a way that enables deeper insight.

Have a think about what makes you truly happy, what keeps you motivated, what do you value in life. This will help to focus you on your goals and promote your personal power to achieve what you want in life. Positive thinking, a good opinion of yourself and a willingness to learn and develop further encourages personal growth. This in turn increases feelings of self worth and will empower you.

The more you recognise your own likes, dislikes and act on making things happen in your life the more you will be able to deal effectively with adverse circumstances and start to see challenges as opportunities. We live in a highly competitive society that encourages ambition and in order to keep up its important to learn about our own strengths and areas for development so we can keep track of personal progress in every aspect of our lives. Knowing oneself is the key to success in life.

In order to really understand who we are and what we value there is an ancient Japanese Satori ritual that can help. For this exercise you need access to a clock and have two people sitting in a quiet space facing one another. It can be a freind, family member or colleague. Its up to you who you feel comfortable to open up in front of. Once seated you decide which of you will begin and act as the questioner. The questioner will then repeatedly ask the other person the same question  “Who are you?” for 10 minutes and the other has to answer saying different things about themselves and who they are. After 10 minutes you switch over and the person who was answering becomes the questioner for 10 minutes. Its amazing what people say in this time-you have to dig deep for answers and many have surprised themselves with what they share. The attention and focus being soley on you forces you to consider yourself in a way thats never been expected of you before.  Try it and let me know how it goes by leaving comments in the box below.

security-856168_1280

 

 

 

Mindfulness

sunset-473604_1920What is this new mindfulness malarkey I hear you ask, it seems to be everywhere at the moment. To help grasp what it’s all about I will attempt to uncover the veil of mystery that surrounds mindfulness. It is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, whilst calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It can be used as a therapeutic technique. Oringinally a Bhuddist concept it has been embraced by all as a potential source of calm and quiet that can be learned, taught and practiced.

From reading around the subject it appears Mindfulness is about remembering oneself – being in the moment and appreciating ourselves, beauty and nature around us. Being aware and conscious or ‘mindful’ of the environment we live in, being mindful of ourselves of nature and of one another. It’s a pretty simple technique when you take away all of the jargon it is effectively about being in the here and now feeling present and trying to focus on oneself. To be still and pause life’s distractions and meditate on what it is to be you. Tuning in to your inner self to become aware of your body, spirit and soul.

yoga-1787663_1920According to stillmind.com.au Mindfulness means to deliberately pay attention to whatever you are doing, right now. Mindfulness therapy means firstly to have a daily mindfulness practice and to use what we learn from it to remain aware during the difficult situations in life. In particular we become aware of our

  • thoughts “I must be stupid to do this”,
  • feelings: sadness, anger etc,
  • behaviour: aggression, withdrawing, doing a breathing exercise
  • physiological changes: fast breathing, weight in stomach, pins and needles, nausea.

These are the big four, we will be coming back to thoughts, feelings, behaviour, physiological changes time and again. A range of mindfulness exercises address the different areas.

Mindfulness therapy means to simply observe what is happening to us in those four areas, particularly with difficult emotions. You may express what is happening either in a journal or to someone else but there is no intention to change anything. The aim is more to become familiar with how the mind works and its habit patterns.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Your mind is like any other part of your being, there are benefits from  understanding how it works and you can train it to work better. Specifically a mindfulness practice has the following benefits:

  1. Stability of mind – maintaining your mind in an alert clear space rather than at the two extremes of a dull or agitated mind.
  2. Flexibility of mind – the ability to shift your mind to whatever object you choose, rather than having it bounce haphazardly between a number of issues
  3. Self awareness – being aware of the contents of your mind and understanding the typical patterns of your mind
  4. Acting rather than reacting –  Becoming less reactive, e.g. when you are angry and choosing how you will act.

It’s not called a practice for nothing. Like any other form of therapy real change will require hard work and commitment, in this case a commitment to maintain your practice six days per week.

How does it work?

While most of what we achieve is by “doing”, mindfulness achieves its ends by “not doing,” simply by observing. It seems to achieve its success by allowing us to see our thoughts and emotions for what they are, thoughts we are having at the moment and emotions we are experiencing.

Thoughts like “I must be stupid” are subtle and we generally believe them uncritically. By being mindful of our thoughts we gradually get the idea that they are just thoughts that we are having and there is no need to believe them uncritically. Similarly with a feeling like “anger” we start to realize that it is a feeling that is currently strong within us but no more than that, we currently have anger, but it doesn’t define us and it will pass. We stop identifying with the thoughts and emotions. Our mind ceases to be in the control of strong feelings and thoughts and slowly comes under our own control.

So lets take back our power and stop letting our critical minds control us, lets start to live in a more conscious and aware way, noticing life’s subtle messages and recognising our own processes so that we can become our own best freind and work towards achieving our true potential.

Try a few exercises courtesy of stillmind.com.au

mindfulness-of-the-breath

body-scan-meditation-orig

step-out-of-automatic-pilot-1

live-511556_1280

Conquering The Assassin Within

Have you ever wondered why sometimes you just cant get that critical voice out of your head. Y’know the one that tells you how useless you are and how you will never get anywhere in life?

Somebody once described it as having their own inner assassin that would murder any positive thoughts he had and replace them with doubt and fear of failure. This would prevent him from trying new things and forming new relationships. So who is this assassin, and what are they repeatedly whispering to you?

To understand this concept and break it down we need to identify what messages were passed on to us through significant people in our lives growing up like parents, teachers, siblings etc. Were they positive or negative? What impact did they have on us as children that have left a lasting imprint in our hearts and minds? Also we need to examine what we think of ourselves, do we like who we are, or are there aspects of ourselves that we dislike and if so how does this manifest itself.

It feels as if I have been writing a series of questions without providing any answers to help understand the issue. So in keeping with the person centered approach to therapy, here is my humble view on the matter. As young children we are hugely influenced by the significant adults around us and what they say has a lot of value and weight. We believe them, we internalise their views and thoughts of us until we form a concept of ourselves that is socially acceptable and pleasing to others in order to be liked and approved of. Sometimes this ‘self concept’ (public persona) is close to our ‘authentic self’ (true personality) and sometimes it is very different. The greater the difference between our true self and our constructed self the stronger the disharmony and inner conflict. So if you grew up being told you were stupid, ugly and useless by significant people around you- chances are they formed part of your critical inner voice as you internalised those negative views. Often our critical inner voice is mistaken for our conscience but it is not- the difference is our conscience is a moral guide and doesnt bully us, it reasons with us. The critical inner voice is always negative and hurtful, defensive and cruel to us.

It is the part of us that is turned against ourselves. The negative part of our personality that is against our personal development. The voice is highly judgmental and encourages self defeatist thoughts and behaviours. It revels in making us feel unworthy, unloved and have low self esteem. It sneers at us and sows seeds of doubt in our capabilities encouraging us to have a cynical and pessimistic view of the world around us. Teaching us not to trust others and keeps us in a state of conflict, anxiety and disharmony. We all struggle with our critical inner voice to varying degrees but if we “listen” to its destructive points of view and actually believe what it is saying to us, then we will fail to challenge it and instead will act on it. This process often has seriously negative consequences on our lives.

So how can you challenge your critical inner voice? You can take back your power when you become conscious of what it is telling you. Self awareness is key here, know yourself enough to understand when the voice is destructive – you can stop it from running your life. The challenge is to identify and eliminate this toxic internal dialogue. To do this, be mindful around times of sudden mood changes, upset and anger. Think about what caused this shift, what triggered this reaction and most importantly, what did you start telling yourself after the event? The fact that your mood shifted from feeling positive or relaxed to feeling upset or frustrated is probably an indication that you are interpreting the event via your critical inner voice.

Once you have identified that it is your critical inner voice that is advising you, reflect on what it wants you to do. If those actions would cause pain, hurt, upset or destruction then understand that you have a choice to not act on those instructions but take control over your critical inner voice. You can consciously decide to take action against its suggestions and do what feels right and better for you and your personal development. Its catching the thought as it tries to becomes a negative action and directing it towards a more positive goal acting in your own interest. For example- you are about to go out on a blind date- you look in the mirror and your critial inner voice pipes up “you look awful- you cant go out wearing that, you dont have anything to wear that looks nice, and anyway who would look twice at you- once they get to know the real you they will dump you anyway. Dont even bother trying its not worth it.” Imagine that was you- what would you do next? Could you recognise that was your critical inner voice or would you succumb to its toxic whispers?

Remember that you do have a choice and can choose not to be controlled by it just take your time, have some self compassion and patience to slowly undo those years of conditioning to become the person you want to be. What better time to start than a new year- make 2017 your year. If you liked this article or have any comments please share below..

25 Tips for Couples in Relationships

1. Build a friendship with your spouse, re-connect. Try to remember what drew you both together in the first place.

2. Conflict resolution- try to communicate without blaming, or harsh words. Listen to each others perspectives be open and accept your own part in the dispute.

3. Try to avoid fights by nipping things in the bud as they arise not let them fester and grow bigger. 

4. What to do after a fight- what is your pattern? Do you sulk, give each other the cold shoulder? Apologise and make up, or carry on as if nothing happened after some time apart? Explore what works for your relationship try talking about it when not in argument during a time of calm to decide what techniques work best.

5. Try to connect with your spouse emotionally and physically talk about happy memories and focus on hopes for the future. Show affection in gestures, through small gifts and kind words to one another and commit to fulfilling each others sexually. Share your likes and dislikes- get to know each other properly.

6. Remember men are more visually stimulated and women are more emotionally driven- this is not to say the opposite isn’t also true just bear this in mind. 

7. Reflect on what your actions are saying to your spouse- do they convey a sense of love, warmth, trust, respect? 

8. Learn to communicate effectively and How to listen actively- not just pay lip service. Listen to hear, not to respond.

9. Take into account all of the non-verbal communication going on between you. Body language, facial expression, positive or negative vibes. Address issues as they arise in a sensitive way.

10. Remember how important the role of humour is in a relationship and encourage this, laughing also releases feel good chemicals.

11. Remember the importance of spirituality in your marriage, do you both have the same faith, values, beliefs? Is that a source of conflict or peace in your relationship? Have an open discussion about this if its a problem.

12. Learn new ways to increase peace and cooperation in your marriage, let some things go, pick your battles and remember everybody is entitled to their own opinion. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree.

13. Accept that life is not all mapped out and both of you will have shortcomings and good points so tolerate the bad and celebrate the good. 

14. Continue in Self-development in every area of your life, dont stagnate. People change all the time so keep up with yourself.

15. Establish building strong self-esteem for yourself and your partner- support each others dreams.

16. Learn how to manage your emotions and share feelings so that you dont shut each other out and disconnect.

17. Establish trust and rebuild trust if broken- it takes time so exercise patience, caution and practice honesty.

18. Show and earn respect towards one another.

19. Learn how to cope with common conflicts about money- agree on if you both want a joint account or keep individual accounts to manage household finances. Money is one of the major causes of divorce so focus and discuss this early on in the relationship.

20. Learn to live and love with a higher purpose- ultimately the aim is to remain faithful and build a lasting relationship and family.

21. Bring out the best in your spouse- influence each other in positive ways and show appreciation for each others efforts.

22. Live up to your highest potential individually and together as a couple. Navigate as a team through life’s difficulties, share problem solving tasks.

23. Build your self-esteem and boost each others confidence with kind words, gestures and practical support.

24. Recognise and overcome your shortcomings- support your partner in doing the same. 

25. Improve your attitude and expectations about marriage- be realistic and contribute to the relationship fully. Mind over matter. A positive attitude can take you a long way in appreciating what you do have as opposed to focussing on what you dont.