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  • Writer's pictureSharon Bryce

Building Resilience through "Noting"

Welcome to this meditation series on building resilience. We are developing a bit of a system to the flow of these meditations. If this is the first time you have dropped in on this series you might find it helpful to go back to the start . There will be a little more silence with this meditation with regards to the grounding skills so if you find you don’t know how to proceed it might be useful to go back to the “Altogether Now” meditation where we practiced 3 grounding practices.

But hey you can make it up. That’s the point. Meditation is a fancy word for exploring your inner world. How you manage your thoughts, feelings and sensations is your business. Get creative. Find out what works best for you. These meditations are structured to give you basic skills, and one aim is for you to be able meditate independently without guidance if you so choose. 

The first few weeks we learned ways of becoming present and still. Then we settled our attention on the breath as an anchor to the moment while we watched thought clouds drift past the “sky” of our awareness. Coming and going. We are now taking little peeks at our thoughts. Investigating them from a safe distance - like watching exotic wild animals prowl across the savanna of our mind. This is called "Noting". Our first layer of noting assessed whether each thought was set in the past or the present or the future. Today we add a new layer by noting what emotions are attached to our thoughts. Try to be as specific as you can at naming the feeling.

The covid pandemic provides a good incentive to do this inner work. We feel anxious about what might happen but if we want a measure of contentment and peace we have to learn to deal with these feelings. Otherwise we can lose the capacity to siphon joy from the present. We may also neglect what needs to be done well now - the one moment in time we do have control over. 

We often invent potential catastrophes in our head imagining the very worst possible scenarios of future events. I know I do. Investigating our thought processes from time to time helps us become more aware of our tendency to do this. Being aware of the predisposition of our brain to imagine catastrophes and recognizing these catastrophic thoughts as they arise helps us reign in this unhelpful habit. As we detect the catastrophic thought and see it for what it is - not reality but the tendency of our brain to embrace negative thoughts - the anxious feeling dissipates and we learn to moderate the thought. This reviewing of our thought processes helps us develop emotional sobriety - the ability to tolerate our feelings. So we observe our thoughts lightly without becoming immersed in them and re-centre our awareness on the breath. 

There is no need to judge ourselves harshly if we find ourselves distracted or swept away by a difficult thought or emotion or sensation as we meditate. Meditation is a practice not a performance and there is no right or wrong outcome. Some days it is easy. Others it is not. I find it easier if I meditate regularly. We need to learn to talk to ourselves in an encouraging way when we digress. “Oh there I go, thoughts going off like fireworks. Wait where’s that breath, found it - good job.”

Every time we practice the simple skill of noticing that the mind has wandered, identifying the thoughts, feelings and sensations that have taken it hostage and bringing our attention back to the breath we change neural networks in the brain. We step out of the loop of repetitive thoughts that fuel difficult emotions. We stop rehashing things over and over again. We are able to let stuff go more easily, focus better, feel happier and more content and this has a positive impact on our relationships with all those we share life with.

If you have been following along with these meditations - having a go at each regularly and then moving on to the next and you find no improvement or the sitting in stillness with your thoughts is becoming increasingly distressing you may want to consider seeking professional help. These meditations are an emotional aid. They don’t replace professional counselling. If we are anxious or depressed for long enough it can rewire the brain and you may need more help than meditation practices can provide. Sometimes the slings and arrows of life are overwhelming and the sensible thing to do is to get the support of someone you feel comfortable with who has been trained to do this kind of work. You could choose to tell a trusted health care provider about your struggles. They may be able to refer you to someone reputable in your area. Studies show that being able to establish a good working relationship with a counselor you feel comfortable with is more important than the particular style or school of therapy you choose. This can take time. 

Next week we explore another layer of noting before moving on to explore some other meditation practices that build resilience.

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