Three Paths to Let-Self-Change, and Learning to Breathe

Third Way 3Three Paths to Let-Self-Change
I‘m reading, and trying the exercises in, Indigo Ocean’s book on meditation (and much more) Being Bliss. One of the things I like about it is her candour and humility — she does not suggest that hers is the only or best way to meditate or achieve inner happiness, peace or enlightenment, and she recounts astonishing stories of her own agonizing life struggles that will convince you that if she can find bliss, anyone can.

Her pathway is, like that of most meditation teachers, a spiritual one. But her book accommodates those who are of more rational or intuitive bent, so that whether your ‘centre’ is your heart, your head or your body, you can use her exercises and methods.

The four-stage process she uses to achieve Bliss/Peace/Understanding is: Attention (alertness), Choice (discernment, decisiveness), Self-Empowerment (through practice) and Surrender (“leaving space”). This maps extraordinarily well to Otto Scharmer’s rationalist “U” process outlined in Presence:

  • Attention maps to Opening and Letting Come, 
  • Choice maps to Expressing and Clarifying Intention, 
  • Self-Empowerment maps to Creation and 
  • Surrender maps to Letting Go.

Both Indigo’s and Otto’s processes are Let-Self-Change methods that embrace complexity by focusing on personal awareness (at both conscious and subconscious/intuitive levels) and self-adaptation, rather than trying to impose change on others and on the external environment. In my recent article I generalized these processes (taking the liberty to put a bit of a naturalist spin on them) in my four-step Let-Self-Change ‘taskonomy’ for dealing with complex systems:

  • Sensing and Probing: Listening, observing, paying attention, reading, intuiting, appreciating, and opening ourselves to information, sensations, ideas, and our own instincts.
  • Learning and Discovering: Using the results of our sensing and probing by ‘making sense’, playing, imagining, speculating, entertaining (=holding ourselves open to), interpreting, synthesizing, integrating, creating models, trying stuff out, letting ourselves believe and be empowered, and in the process developing new capacities (for sensing, learning and responding).
  • Reacting and Responding: Using the results of our learning and discovering by understanding, letting-ourselves-change, acting (rationally, emotionally, instinctively, and both consciously and subconsciously), realizing (=making real), allowing to emerge, collaborating and innovating.
  • Relating (=bringing to): by telling stories, showing, helping imagine, informing (=adding meaning to), bringing attention to, entertaining (=holding others’ attention), contextualizing, adding insight, inciting, provoking/persuading, synthesizing, suggesting, creating models, enabling and facilitating (and combinations of these activities such as teaching and coaching).

I find it intriguing that such consistent models can be produced from very different starting-points and perspectives: the spiritual, the rational, and the intuitive/natural. While the spiritual pathway may entail prayer and meditation and speak of God and Blessing, the rational pathway may entail working for others and speak of Truth and Intention, and the natural pathway may entail compassion/connectedness and work in community and speak of Gaia and Emergence, all three pathways lead in the same direction — towards a better (and surprisingly consistent) way of understanding the world and of living than the destructive, stressful and unsustainable way most of us live now. This cannot be a coincidence.

The exercises in Indigo’s book are both novel and accessible. She starts with a meditation exercise that plays to those (like me) who have the most difficulty with meditation — it is selfish and short-term focused. Every hour for three days, she suggests, ask yourself “What (realistically) do I want right now” and then visualize yourself being, achieving or getting whatever that is, and experiencing the joy that comes from that. This is an intentional exercise, to demonstrate the power of passion, positivity and determination. Subsequent exercises teach and draw on compassion, self-transformation (“but don’t become addicted to self-improvement”, she wisely cautions), conviction, self-knowledge and conflict resolution, and innocence and identity.

The next section of the book outlines a variety of more advanced techniques: creating useful habits, overcoming resistance, meditation and yoga practices, discharging negative emotion, and several spiritual practices. Her 12-step process for discharging negative emotions when they arise (ground, breathe, centre, scan, select, experience, visualize, name, appreciate, receive, act, savour) sounds like a powerful stress-buster — just what the doctor ordered!

The final section of the book is about relationships — to others, to higher powers, to oneself, and to place and time. Much to think about, and lots of very practical, simple, and powerful exercises to practice. I challenge you to read this book and not find something profoundly useful that you will keep with you for a lifetime.

Learning to Breathe

Drawing in part on the ideas in Indigo’s book, and in part on the advice from my physiotherapist yesterday (she said if I’m going to achieve real improvements in my posture, musculo-skeletal wellness, and resilience to stress, I’m going to have to deliberately and regularly force myself to pay closer attention to my bad habits, and work tirelessly to correct them), I’ve concluded that I need a short hourly routine to re-learn to do things that most (?) people do automatically — breathing properly, sitting and standing properly, staying in touch with my emotional state, looking after my body.

It’s kind of humbling to have to admit, at the age of 55, that you don’t know how to breathe (I breathe shallowly, through my lungs not my abdomen, 19 times a minute rather than the ideal of only 8), that you don’t know how to sit or stand properly (I hunch, sway-backed, and my posture is the sad result of weak muscles and over-compensation), and that you neglect your body’s critical needs (rest, water, etc. — despite my exercise routine, my at-rest heart rate is an alarming 90 bpm). These are the consequences of living inside your head instead of in the ‘real’ world, and 55 years of bad habits won’t be undone overnight, and will require sustained effort to prevent recidivism.

So I’ve come up with this 4-minute exercise that I do hourly (5 minutes before the hour). Tell me what you think:

  • Self-awareness: check and correct your breathing, your posture; assess your physical comfort, your emotional happiness, your level of intellectual engagement for what you’re doing, and your energy level. Let-Self-Change as appropriate. (1 minute)
  • Nourishment: drink a glass of water, and whatever other nourishment you assess you need. (1 minute)
  • Attention: pay attention and open yourself to where you are, all your senses, and what’s going on around you; make sure you’re paying appropriate attention to the people and animals in your presence; make sure your current work/play environment is healthy. (1 minute)
  • Flexibility & Resilience: do three cat stretches (upper body) and three hamstring stretches (lower body); slow yourself down, let go of whatever you were doing, be in the moment, and ensure you are simply enjoying the passage of time. (1 minute)

I need to do this because, as Indigo says, bad habits are hard to break. I need to keep correcting my breathing and posture and doing these other things until they become second nature to me. This is my way of making my Let-Self-Change permanent and self-sustaining.

To do this, I’ve started wearing a wristwatch again. I don’t use it to check the time, but for the (annoying to others, I confess) feature that ‘beeps’ once on the hour every hour. I’ve set it five minutes ahead so that at five minutes before every hour I get a reminder to stop whatever I’m doing and go through the routine above.

It’s sobering. Not once have I not had to correct both my breathing and posture. Often I become aware of some stresser (noise, a vexatious person, an uncomfortable chair, something I’ve been putting off) that I realize was subconsciously bothering me but because I was not conscious of it, I did nothing about it. I’ve become aware of how much my mood and energy level varies over each day, and some possibly reasons for this fluctuation. As a result, I’m varying my diet — I’ve already reduced my caffeine and alcohol consumption by 90% and eliminated sweetened drinks and trans fats completely, and I’ve added a lot more variety to my menu, while eating more ‘whole’ (unprocessed) foods. But I’m not punishing myself — I still indulge my taste for ice cream (often low-fat, sherbet or frozen yogurt), chocolate (plain, dark semi-sweet), berries (on cereal and in smoothies), nuts (unsalted and unprocessed) and potato/corn chips (organic). I drink a lot more water, and eat smaller amounts more often.

I’ve started working outside, standing up. I’ve set up a 9’x12′ dining-tent with a standing-height drafting table, a large footpad to stand on, and a step to shift weight while I work. Seth Roberts found this improved his posture and helped him sleep better at night, and it seems to be working for me too. Plus I love the fresh air and the antics of the local wildlife, and it gets me away from the environmental contaminants that are present in every house. The hourly ‘beep’ reminds me to make sure I’m not hunching, straining, aching, or staying too long in one position — I get so caught up in my writing, reading, research and correspondence that I need the reminder. Sometimes I realize that I’d been spinning my wheels unproductively for much of the last hour and wasn’t even aware of it.

In a typical weekday in the past, I’d spent about 12 hours in purely intellectual (sedentary) activities, 1.5 hours in physical activities, 1 hour in recreational activities, and only 1 hour in F2F social activities. Now I’m spending an average of only 3 hours in purely intellectual activities (and more productively), 6 hours in physical activities, 5 hours in activities that have both a physical and intellectual component (like working standing up — if you don’t think that’s physical, try it), and 2 hours each in recreational and F2F social activities. Yeah, I know I’m over-analyzing again. But this is a much better balance. It’s more like the mix of activities ofindigenous people. Or birds.

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3 Responses to Three Paths to Let-Self-Change, and Learning to Breathe

  1. MatthewJ says:

    Wow Dave!What an adventure!

  2. anon says:

    Dave: Beyond standing while working, have you considered the “walk while you work” approach? Researcher sees future where people walk at work While Working… Join the Movement… to a Cubicle Near You: Treadmill Work Stations

  3. Frank says:

    Go for it, and best wishes.

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