The Nourishment of Water: Mindfulness Week #7

swim meditationI swim.

Actually I swim a lot.

As some of you may remember from my exploits in Las Vegas a couple of years ago.

I’m totally addicted to that wonderful feeling of gliding through the cool, clear water.  Washing all my stress and the chaos of my day away with each stroke.

I swim at least 5 times a week.  Every week I swim around 6 miles / 10km / 200 minutes / 400 lengths.

My goal is to change my life so I can swim every day.

I can’t claim to be lightning fast, but neither am I a dawdling, middle-aged lady breast stroker.  I can do killer crawl, slightly lack lustre tumble turns and I have biceps that would put quite a few men to shame!

But why do I keep it going week in and week out?  What was it that had me cheering in a hospital corridor last week (much to my husbands embarrassment) simply because I had sprained my ankle and hadn’t broken it so I didn’t have to have a cast?  It meant I could get straight back in the pool.

When I’ve been stressed, anxious, miserable, overworked and lost in my frantic life – the one thing I’ve never given up on is swimming.

There is something therapeutic, even meditative, about swimming up and down and up and down, focusing on nothing but counting the lengths and being aware of my breathing.

If you didn’t already know, over the past 6 weeks, and continuing over the next couple of weeks, I’m practicing the mindfulness course laid out by Mark Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology, in his book co-written with Danny Penman – Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world (quotes from the book are shown in italics). My aim is to learn how to absolutely thrive in this frantic world.

This seventh week focused on ‘… taking action to redress the balance between the things that nourish you and those that deplete you.’

Some activities nourish the soul and others deplete it – sapping time, energy, motivation and happiness.

If I ever hit rock bottom then I know the key question to ask me will be – when did you stop swimming?

The more stress we have in our lives the more we give up the nourishing activities we love, as they often seem ‘optional’ or even unnecessary luxuries, to focus on things we perceive as ‘important’.  Gradually we fall down something called The Exhaustion Funnel until nothing, but work and other stressors remain.

Research suggests that those that fall the farthest down the funnel tend to be the conscientious ones.  The people perceived to be the hard workers.  The ones whose self confidence is often tied to their performance at work.

I know from personal experience the feeling of the funnel.  The ever shrinking view of only the ‘important’ stuff and the anxiety created if I had to do anything outside of that which I perceived to be optional, frivolous or surplus to requirements.  I had no time for nourishment, no time to care about myself, no time to think.  Sometimes I felt I didn’t even have time to empty the dishwasher!

I stopped writing and blogging.  I stopped reading – particularly fiction that I love.  I dropped coaching and mentoring.  I begrudged spending time with my family.  I postponed training sessions that I was meant to run on subjects that fascinated me. Mole hills became mountains the size of Everest.

I panicked every time someone tried to ‘take’ my time for something I saw as optional or non-essential.  My creativity dried up.  I even tried to stop thinking as that just seemed to make everything worse.  The only thing I didn’t stop doing was swimming.  I thought that if I stopped that, then the world might as well end.

It was a miserable existence.

‘In time, if we don’t re-balance our lives, we will become less effective at everything we do.  We will become joyless, sleepless and witless.’

This week was all about redressing the balance and working out what were nourishing activities for me and which were depleting activities.  How to be sensitive to the balance and how to handle those depleting activities you simply can’t avoid.

In terms of MEDITATIONS this week I had a free rein to pick from those I’d done in the preceding weeks.  I had to pick one I’d done that had appreciable nourishing benefits and a second that I didn’t fully got to grips with first time around.

I had a really hard time picking which meditations to do this week.  I’ve gained something from all of them in different way.

I finally decided on the BEFRIENDING kindness mediation from week #6, as I felt I got the most out of that one each time I finished it and the BODY SCAN from week #2 as though I found it relaxing (and had an incredibly hard time staying awake every time), I didn’t feel I really connected with it.

I also debated the EXPLORING DIFFICULTY meditation as I found that challenging, but decided instead to actively practice that on an ad hoc basis when something challenging came up.

And I also considered the MINDFUL MOVEMENT meditation as I found focusing on the words and movement so calming.  But I decided I’d throw that in a couple of times during the week when it felt right.

Then I also had to do the 3 MINUTE BREATHING SPACE twice a day at set times and then whenever I needed it.

Did you know that research has shown that usually in normal life we’re motivated to do something and then we do it.  But when your mood is low then everything gets reversed.  You have to do something and then the motivation follows.  So when you’re tired, miserable, anxious, worried or even stressed, then waiting until you feel motivated may not be the wisest course of action …

So this week each time I finished the 3 minutes when I had needed it, then I had to ask myself these two questions:

  • What do I need for myself right now?
  • How can I best take care of myself right now?

Then I had three options:

  1. I could do something pleasurable for myself – stress and exhaustion affect the brain to take the pleasure out of life.  This option reignites that centre in the brain.
  2. I could do something that gave me a sense of satisfaction or mastery over my life – stress often leaves you feeling helpless and out of control.  This option gives you chance to take little steps to show you have more control than you thought.
  3. Or I could continue acting mindfully – focusing my attention on what I am doing right now and reconnecting with my senses.  What can I see, hear, smell, feel?  What’s my posture?  What’s my facial expression?  What physical sensations are there?

So OVERALL how was week #7?

It was an interesting week.  A much more flexible week.  Even though I planned which 2 meditations I’d do each day, I swapped it around depending on what I felt I needed.  So day 1 I did MINDFUL MOVEMENT and the BODY SCAN.  Day 2 was BEFRIENDING and the BODY SCAN.

The practices really got me thinking about what nourished me.  What gave me inspiration and energy?  Which activities triggered my creativity? How was it that some activities seemed effortless?

Which activities depleted me?  Which ones could I avoid?  How could I best deal with the ones I couldn’t avoid?   How could I achieve the optimal balance between nourishing and depleting to activities to ensure the scales were always tipped in the right direction?

One thing I’m sure about.  I won’t be stopping swimming anytime soon.

The takeaway for this week is summarized perfectly in the book.  Small steps lead to giant leaps:

‘Tiny actions can fundamentally alter your relationship to the world for the better.’


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