Grasping for more

Does this sound familiar to you? “If I complete this training I will be a better person.” or “When I got that car I will be happy.” or “When I finish writing my book I will be complete”.

We always have some conditions for our happiness that mostly lie in the future. If we have this or that everything would be better. In this way our striving to something else prevents us from being happy and satisfied in the present moment.

One year ago I started my first Mindfulness training for my own business Development Workshop (Ontwikkelingswerkplaats). In my first group I had two participants. Now in the meantime I have a Dutch group with four and an English group with five particpants. There is a lot of progress and I love guiding the two groups through the 8-week program. At the same time I sometimes notice some dissatisfaction. The amount of time I spend in marketing and necesary conditions as the room and administration are enormous. Sometimes I wish that everything would go a bit more smooth and that it costs me a little less energy.

A few weeks ago I spoke with a salsa friend David. We didn’t see each other for a while and he asked me about my company. As I told him about my effort and progress he gave me a compliment. He was one of my first participants for “Mindfulness in the park” last year and he saw how I got from 1 participant, to 1, to 1, than to 4 and than to 7. While saying this, he made me aware that I fell in the trap myself. Being unsatisfied because of comparing the current to an ideal instead of being satisfied with what there already is. Thanks again David!

Last week I was enjoying a cup of coffee on a sunny terrace outside a bookshop. A mother walked out with her daughter of about eight years old. The girl looked happy with her newly bought book. I was surprised when I heard the mother saying to the child “if you read this book quickly you may choose another book”. Impressing how we human beings tend to live in the future instead of in the present moment. Always looking for more and better, instead of looking at what we have.

Why do we seem to focus on what is missing? Instead on what there already is? Looking at evolution can help us to explain. If we overlook a beautiful sunset, it doesn’t matter. Overlooking the sunset won’t put ourselves at risk dying. However, overlooking any danger would put us at risk and therefore we learned to focus on the negative to prevent, instead of on the positive. Avoiding the negative is more important than seeing the positive in terms of survival.

Sometimes we wake up as a result of the death of a loved one or after a (natural) disaster. It makes us realize how short life is and the importance of focussing on what we have and spending and enjoying time with our loved ones.

Personally Uganda and Peru learned me more to appreciate my life and what I have. It taught me that materials are not important to create happiness and it helped me to stop striving for more in a material way. When it comes to personal achievement it becomes more difficult for me. As I know that I’m not the only one in this I want to share something that has helped me: Writing down three positive happenings, experiences or accomplishments every day at the end of the day. It doesn’t need to be anything big. It can help to train our abilty to focus on the positive instead of on the shortages and lack.

Do you want to know more about me and the services I offer as a psychologist and Mindfulnesstrainer? Have a look on my webpage (also in English).


Tumble doll

Earlier I wrote a blog “living in our heads”. The topic of this blog is related to it.

When I was in my first job as a psychologist I suffered from a lot of tension, sleeping problems and some depressive symptoms. I was very much living in my head and I was aware of it. To find a solution I was thinking about how to get out of my head, but that only made it worse.

Many people in the Western world are living in their heads. Thinking, rationalizing. And in that way losing the connection with their bodies. All day we are thinking and we have to be effective. If we have some spare minutes, rapidly we consider what to do. By the time we reach home, how often do we only want to lie down on the couch and watch television? Without energy to do anything else? I experienced exactly this during my first job. And this is how a burn out starts: we lose the balance between thinking, doing, feeling and being.

A tumble doll has a big base that makes it stable It won’t fall. It can resist some shocks. At the end it will be centered again, back to it’s base. Living in your head is the opposite. It’s like a pyramid turned upside down. There is no base to go back to and that makes us unstable. It gets worse if we try to solutionate this problem by thinking, as the head and the thinking part will even increase and cause more instability.

In the meantime you know that I like to make a bridge to developing countries. What I saw in Uganda were more centered people. They are very much grounded and don’t overthink as much as we do here.There is more space for creativity and spontanity. And in the end, everything seems to work out as well, with a lot less experienced stress.

Some weeks ago I spoke to a Haptonomist “Beate Langemeijer”. Haptonomy litterary means “the science of feeling”. As I was telling her about my experiences in Uganda and my theory, she pulled out a tumble doll! It had quite long arms and she demonstrated how the tumble doll, upside down (on its head), was able to prevent falling by using the arms. However, to maintain its stability costs the tumble doll a lot of energy.

Than what is the solution? There is nothing wrong with thinking, as long as it doesn’t start taking over from you. Mindfulness practice can be a way to become more aware of the automaticity of thinking and being more aware of thinking patters that are repeated. Mindfulness helps to switch between the doing mode (that includes ruminative thinking) and the being mode. By focussing on the breath, one can widen it’s experience and “the wisdom” of ones body will often be more effective in finding a solution than our ruminative mind.

However, in Uganda I haven’t seen one person meditating and still the Ugandans seem to be very centered and stable people. What is the secret? I think the balance between thinking, doing, feeling and being is kept because the work of people mainly consists of practical activities. Instead of a lot of abstract reasoning. Secondly, people take it “pole pole” what means “slowly”,  one step at a time, which creates more present awareness, instead of rusthing things as if it were a ratrace. Then thirdly, the feeling part is much more integrated in daily life of the Ugandans that is surrounded by music and dancing. Than last, but not least, even though meditation hardly plays a role in Uganda, there is a lot of spirituallity in the form of religion.

So now, what can we do here in the West to remain or become tumble dolls instead of living in our heads like pyramids turned upside down:

  1. Doing sports once or twice a week can help to strenghten the “doing” part. If you don’t like to do sports, this could also be going for a walk every now and than. Try to be aware of your movements and the surrounding while sporting. How does your body feel? What do you see? What do you hear? And smell? This helps you to be in the present instead of overthinking your next activities and by that being in your head again.If you want help in being present while moving, than you may find it usefull to participate in a yoga class.
  2. Meditate every day. This doesn’t need to be very long. You could set an alarm for 5 – 10 minutes (for example by using the app insight timer) and focus on your breath. You will notice that you get distracted by thoughts, sounds or emotions every now and than. This doesn’t mean that you are failing. Being distracted during the meditation is very normal and even a part of the meditation practice. Every time that you got distracted you kindly bring your focus back towards the breath. Other moments that might be a chance to meditate if you lack time are while you are in the cue (either in the supermarket or on the Phone), going to the toilet or while you are in a boring meeting.
  3. Bring rest in your daily activities by doing one activity at the time. Set realistic goals instead of aiming to high and never being able to complete.
  4. If you have problems to feel you might want to try haptonomy yourself.