Could Emotional distress and Spiritual development be linked?

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A fundamental question at the heart of psychology that is often overlooked relates to the link between emotional distress and spiritual development. What is it that links psychological with spiritual?

Could it be that deeply painful and traumatic experiences shift our awareness. Dr Russell Razzaque, author of “Breaking down is waking up,” describes how we are all functioning at an “ego” level, one in which we are pretending to be a series of characters and forms engaged in a dance. He goes on to describe a world with different levels, where it’s possible to move from one level to the other, from our solid everyday tangible life to another more spiritual level. He describes it being a bit like a sea, where above, the planet looks like a series of unconnected islands and continents but, below exists a different reality, where we see that none of it is separate at all – it’s just part of one giant land mass that makes up the Earth’s surface. It’s all a matter of perspective.

In order to experience this deeper level requires an expansion of awareness, and thus can occur through practices such as meditation or can happen spontaneously, perhaps, he suggests as a consequence of psychological distress. The difference being that it is not a conscious choice but a spontaneous experience. As such it can sometimes be somewhat frightening when it does.

Because we move through the world with our ego constructed “self” a self we create in our minds to make sense of “our world,” changes to this perception can be hard to comprehend as our reality is shifted. People talk of “peak experiences” where just for a moment a different reality is experienced. Peak experiences are often described as a heightened sense of wonder, awe or ecstasy, moments that stand out from everyday experiences (Cherry). Other such mind altering experiences can be, so called, “out of body experiences,” the consequence can be that people see life very differently afterwards. Similarly, some drug takers may glimpse “another world,” quite often a surreal but sometimes spiritual world.

Finally, returning to psychiatrist Dr Russell Razzaque, he leaves us with this interesting statistic, and that is, that 74% of people who have suffered a major mental illness describe themselves as ” deeply spiritual” – a figure many times higher than that of the general population.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com

Ask us your mental health questions anytime @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

References:
Cherry. K. “What are peak experiences – psychology overview.” www. psychology .about.com [Accessed 7/7/14].

Razzaque. R. (2014). Why Breakdowns Can Also Be Breakthroughs, in Watkins Mind, Body, Spirit, Issue 38, Summer, pp 52-53.

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Managing really upsetting thoughts and feelings

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As a CBT practitioner I would be the first to point out that avoidance of upsetting thoughts and feelings only serves to perpetuate and strengthen the power they have over you. There are times however, when the sometimes overwhelming nature of these thoughts and feelings can simply be too much. Having intrusive and upsetting thoughts while your taking your child to school, or when faces around you become distorted, due to a painful flashbacks, is not to be recommended. I hope to give you a few tips to help you manage, so that you can go about your life with relative ease, until such time as you can address the causes of these upsetting thoughts and feelings safely in therapy.

The first technique I would like to share is adapted from the “Drop Anchor” exercise by Russ Harris (Harris, 2009).

This exercise will help you centre yourself and connect with the world around you.

1. Place your feet firmly on the ground.                                                                                   2. Now push them down firmly.                                                                                                 3. Become consciously aware of the floor beneath you, feel it supporting you.                       4.Notice the muscle tension in your legs as you push your feet down.                                 5. Become aware of your whole body, as if your whole body now is engaged in pushing.     6. NOw look around you, notice what you can see and hear.                                                  7. Notice where you are and what you are doing.                                                                     8. Breathe!

Grounding techniques

These are very helpful techniques to learn, particularly if you are prone to upsetting intrusive thoughts, memories and images. THey are also good to employ if you are feeling detached and unreal.  Rather like mindfulness, focusing all of your attention on sounds in the environment e.g. birds in the trees, waves on the beach or even the sound of your breathing can be very helpful.

There are many different grounding techniques and I have listed some of my favourite “sensory” grounding techniques below:

Visual: Select an object or perhaps a photo, picture or landscape to focus on.  Study it intently; describe what you see out loud or in your head.  You may choose to focus on something around you, like the wallpaper or even a spot on the carpet or ceiling. Really focus on the detail, shape, colour and pattern.  Counting the grain in wood or fabric will really heighten your “in the moment” awareness.  Use flashcards, with a message to yourself such as, “these dark days will pass” or “I can tolerate this.”

Touch: Carrying round a stone or crystal that you can get out of your pocket when you need to ground yourself is an easy way to bring yourself back to the present. Find yourself a special object to use at such times.Look at the colour, the shape, how solid it is, the temperature of the object and its texture, and whether it is rough or smooth.  You can even use foodstuff like a sultana, banana or mushroom.

Look to your environment, for example by feeling the grass under your feet or the bark of a tree. Take a shower and become aware of the stimulation of the water on your skin, or perhaps slap your hand on the surface of bathwater.  Pinging an elastic band on your wrist, rubbing a comb over your arm or an ice cube over your face can be helpful.  The latter are particularly helpful as an alternative to acts of self-harm.

Sound:  Use your voice, making different sounds and shapes with your mouth.  Select a piece of music, preferably something up-beat, and listen to the sound, in particular, paying attention to the beat, rhythm, the different instruments and vocal harmonies and become aware of any feelings evoked.  Listen to the sounds of birds, the ticking of a clock, or simply listen to the sounds around you, noticing how loud or soft they are.  Notice those in the foreground, mid-ground and distance – now categorise these into groups.

Scent: Scented candles, oil burners and incense are all good for grounding.  I burn incense before I see my first clients each day to help me to focus and put me in the “zone”, ready to attend to the issues they bring me.  It can be helpful to carry round a small bottle of perfume, or putting a dab on your wrist to smell.  A particular favourite of mine is the scent of patchouli, however, my Granny used to carry round a bottle of smelling salts to ward off the “vapours.”  I can only think that this latter, rather pungent scent would be good for managing panic attacks!

Taste: Take a glass of water (with or without ice cubes) and drink it very slowly, savouring the taste, imagining it cleansing and washing away your tension or distress.  A selection of herbal teas with different flavours can stimulate the taste buds.  Be aware, however, that herbal teas have certain therapeutic properties and so should be taken with this in mind.  If you want to find out about the beneficial effects of herbal teas consult your local health food store.

I hope you find these helpful.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com

Ask us your mental health questions anytime @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

 

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Sources:

Russ Harris – “Simple Ways to Get Present” – 2009. www.actmadesimple.com 

Steve Clifford – “50 Tips to Beat Depression” – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tips-Beat-Depression-Steve-Clifford-ebook/dp/B00ILV965A

Create a Garden Sanctuary – Beat #Depression

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Tip 2 – Extract from “50 Tips to Beat Depression” available on Amazon

When you are depressed and the whole world can seem too much, sometimes just getting out in the garden and away from it all can help.  Whether it is clearing a weedy corner or sitting in a tranquil place, inner calm can come from immersing oneself in nature.  Sitting quietly in the garden can enable you to slow down and escape the rush and hurry, which may have contributed to your present condition.  Studies have shown that gazing at greenery produces a rise in alpha wave activity, which indicates increased mental relaxation. Taking time to reflect is all part of the healing process.  Tidying and pruning an overgrown garden can symbolically help us to create a sense of order, as we thin out and rid ourselves of the unwanted “overgrowth” in our lives, in the same way that watering and tending new seedlings can help us develop the nurturing aspects of ourselves.  Even the smallest of spaces can be transformed into a healing oasis by just adding a few pots and some greenery.

With best wishes, Steve

Please feel free to email your blog posts for “Your Mental Health Matters” to stevecliffordcbt@gmail.com                                                                                         Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com                                                                                      Like us @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters                                                Tweet us @ cbt4you

Informal mindfulness Practice

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While many of you reading this will be happy practicing mindful meditation in a formal setting, others may want to expand their daily practice. Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine at home really is the start point to embracing mindfulness as a way of life.

Start by picking an activity that do on a regular basis such as brushing your teeth or having a shower or bath. These activities are good because they encourage you to focus on your senses. Engaging in either activity with full awareness will help you to learn how to temporarily step aside from the constant chitter-chatter of the thinking mind.

Totally focusing your attention on what you are doing, with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgemental openness will help you to develop a more intimate relationship with yourself. Try to tune in to the senses: notice the movement of your body, the taste, the touch, the smell, the sight, the sound, and so on.

For example, being mindful when taking a shower, notice the sound the water makes as it leaves the nozzle, perhaps the sound of the spray. Notice the way the sound is different as it hits the hard surface of the bath or shower tray. Notice the way it sounds as it touches the skin. Now feel the water itself, the temperature, the force of the water against your body, the way it feels in your hair, on your shoulders. Now notice how it feels with the water running over your body, does it feel different on your shoulders compared to your chest, or down your back.

Now shift your senses to the smell of the shampoo or soap you are using, experience the lather and the way it feels as you rub it into your hair or your body. With the soap on your body, try to notice the subtle plane of contact between the soap and your skin. Imagine that contact as it is happening, really feel it. Notice how it feels as you rub harder or softer.

Now shift your attention to the water again, this time becoming aware of the way the water droplets cascade down the hard surfaces of the walls, shower curtain or screen. Notice the way the droplets form and drip. Notice the way steam and condensation create a vapour, an atmosphere around you.

Notice the movements of your arms and the way you wash your body. Connect to your experience. Does the act of showering have a sensuous quality? Are you rushing or are you savouring and really enjoying the experience? Or is showering merely a chore you want to get out of the way? How do appreciate the water itself? Can you see the way nature provided rain and how this gas been transformed into the water you are now using? Can you appreciate this great gift, the luxury of a shower when many in the world are devoid of precious water? Can you give thank for the water, or indeed being able to shower yourself without assistance?

What of your thoughts? You will find that many thoughts arise and particularly if you are just learning to be mindful, staying focused is hard. When you catch yourself getting caught up in your thoughts , simply acknowledge them and gently let go of them, bringing your attention back to what you’re doing. As you will soon realise, again and again your thoughts will wander, this is completely normal. Simply, acknowledge, shift focus and attend mindfully once again to what you are doing.

So here we are, a practical exercise to help introduce mindfulness practise in everyday life. Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations as you go about your daily tasks is a first step to bringing mindfulness into the centre stage of your life.

Until next time,

Steve

Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation

Weekly Group

Wednesdays      6 -7pm

Free Admission 

Venue:

The Bexhill Mindfulness Centre

Meeting at: Parkhurst Hall, Parkhurst Road, Bexhill, TN39 3JA

This weekly gathering is an opportunity to engage in simple mindfulness meditations with others. There is no commitment to attending each week. As well as meditations there will also be a talk or discussion on aspects of mindfulness in daily living or the philosophy of mindfulness. The groups are suitable for all ages irrespective of background and no experience of mindfulness meditation is necessary. Meditation takes place on chairs, you do not need to wear special clothing or bring anything with you.

Love to see you if you can make it

 

Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com                                                                                      Like our page @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters                                              Also @ www.facebook.com/bexhillmindfulnesscentre