• Mountain Solid: A stabilising tool for when you are feeling vulnerable or agitated
    -Thich Nhat Hanh-

    I’ve created a vivid mountain scene inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s wonderful meditation tool.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if nothing could rattle you? That’s definitely not me! I’m most definitely ‘rattleable’ ; just ask my children. But I am realising that very simple tools can have powerful effects if they are integrated into a daily practice. I’ve only just started using Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘Mountain Solid’, but I’m amazed by its capacity to quickly ground me. I only wish I had discovered it sooner, which is why I would like to share it here. I use it on-the-go, as well as doing it as a seated meditation, and I find it extremely powerful. I’ll give the suggested instruction here and you may like to adapt it to your needs too. If calling it a meditation puts you off don’t worry, this doesn’t have to take long. I prefer to think of it as a mindfulness tool. Use this tool when you feel agitated, vulnerable or fragile. It will help you to feel stable again.

    1. Take a stable seated position. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests the lotus position or half lotus position. The stability of the body will help to bring about the stability of the mind.

    2. Practise breathing in and out. Think:

    Breathing in I see myself as a mountain.
    Breathing out I feel solid.

    (You can shorten this to suit yourself. You may say just ‘mountain’ and ‘solid’.)

    3. Simply repeat until you feel more solid. I visualise a stunning, snow-capped mountain with an enormous base. I try to feel how absolutely unmovable it is and how that feels within me. Practise it daily and you will feel a stabilising effect. When you feel overwhelmed it will be there to ground you.

    Thich Nhat Hanh explains that when we are overwhelmed by a strong emotion we feel we are very vulnerable, but we are actually more solid than we think. He uses a beautiful analogy of a tree to illustrate his meaning:

    “When you look at a tree during a storm, you see that the top of the tree is not solid. You can only see the tiny branches and a number of leaves on the top of the tree swing back and forth. You have the impression that the tree is very vulnerable, very fragile; but if you see the tree is firmly rooted in the ground the impression that the tree is vulnerable will vanish. You will see that the tree is much more solid than it looked at the top.”

    He goes on to explain that we are like that too. We can connect with our stability by breathing in and out deeply into our ‘trunk’ (concentrate on the abdomen just under the navel) and repeating the Mountain Solid meditation.

    I like this tool for its simplicity and the ease with which I can use it on the go. Sometimes just a mindful ‘mountain, solid’ is enough to remind me of my strength, but I need to practise it daily for it to come to me in those moments when I truly need it.

    This is just one tool of several from Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Art of Mindful Living”. Another favourite of mine is ‘Flower Fresh’. I highly recommend this resource, not just for the tools offered but for the general spiritual wisdom. Extremely beautiful.

    The Art of Mindful Living by Thich Nhat Hanh
    (Available on audible at the time of this posting)

    Update on my weight loss program: I am posting my progress publicly to keep myself accountable! I’m doing well at 52.6 kg. I’ve lost 2.9 kg since January 12th. If you are interested in how I am doing it – using Tony Robbins’ 5 steps to change – click through to the original post.

  • A Little Advice…Or Not!
    Glennon Doyle Melton

    My latest experiment is with woodcutting. I’ve always loved woodcuts but never tried one myself. I designed this as a repeating pattern at a size suitable for homewares and interiors. The finished piece will appear in my next post.

    Irecently listened to the audio version of Carry On Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. My favourite excerpt is this small piece about advice. It stands out to me because I know that I need to be more mindful in this area with my friends and family. I think Glennon makes a point beautifully and succinctly about what people really need:

    “I don’t believe in advice. Everybody has the answers right inside her since we are all made up of the same amount of God. So when a friend says, “I need some advice”, I switch it to, “I need some love”, and I try to offer that. Offering love usually looks like being quiet, listening hard, and letting my friend talk until she discovers that she already has the answers. Since I don’t offer advice Craig and I find it funny that people ask me for it every single day. Craig once asked what I make of that and I told him that I think friends ask me for advice because they know I won’t offer any. People need a safe place and some time to discover what they already know, so I just try to hold space and time for folks.”

    Glennon Doyle Melton

    I know I have a tendency to offer advice, but I think Glennon is absolutely right. In our hearts I think we do know the answer, and we just need the place and space to connect with it. What do you think? I welcome your feedback.
    Have a good weekend,
    Bren X

    Carry On Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. At the time of writing this does not appear to be available through Audible. I listened to it via the Auckland Library on the Overdrive app.

    Carry On Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton.
    If you are interested in reading more of Glennon’s writing, she is famous for her blog Momastery and has recently released a memoir called Love Warrior.

    This will form the backdrop of my design, but this is not repeating. I will show the completed piece in my next post.

  • Eagle Vision, Mouse Vision
    Keeping on Track to Your Goals: Martha Beck

    A few weeks ago I began listening to, and working through, Martha Beck’s ‘Follow Your North Star‘ via Audible. This audio feels to me like an important discovery. Martha Beck gently guides the listener towards living a life that brings more joy by tuning them in to their own wisdom and intuition. The author delivers the material herself and it allows a wonderfully personal touch – just like having your own life coach on call!

    This week I dug out a pattern of mine from a few years ago and recoloured it. I am about to start working with lino and woodblocks and am feeling very inspired by Japanese-style design once again.

    In ‘Follow Your North Star‘ Martha Beck teaches simple techniques to guide you towards your ‘right life’. She teaches how to access what she describes as the compasses within your mind, body, and spirit that are always turning you towards the life you are meant to have. She details distinct phases of change you will go through, how to gently manoeuvre through the obstacles, and she offers tools to check you are on track. There is much valuable material in ‘Follow Your North Star‘, but my favourite take-home tool is Eagle Vision, Mouse Vision. It’s purpose is to ensure you are on course towards your desired life and goals:

    Eagle Vision, Mouse Vision

    From Follow Your North Star by Martha Beck:

    The eagle is an animal that rises high above the earth and can see things at a great distance, so eagle vision is the ability to look far into the future, far away from the present. A mouse is an animal that can’t see very far but is very sensitive and good at picking up detail about what’s right in front of its nose, so mouse vision is where you look at what’s directly in front of you.

    Go into an eagle vision mode; picture yourself rising up above your life and seeing everything with perfect clarity from a long way up. Answer these two questions:

    • How do you want the world to be different because you have lived? (Nothing can be too small or too big, but something must have changed)
    • How do you want to be different because you have lived in this world; in other words, what experiences do you need to have to feel like you’ve been on all the rides you came for?

    Martha suggests you go back to the eagle questions frequently because you will get different answers on different days, but if you do the questions consistently she says you will find that common elements arise over and over again.
    Now picture yourself dropping from an eagle perspective down to a mouse perspective. A mouse looks at what is right in front of it, so look around you. Where are you? What are you doing?
    Ask yourself :

    • Is this task in front of me moving me in the direction that my eagle vision wants to go?

    Do this several times a day to check that your mouse is headed in the same direction as the eagle.

    Rambling Flower Burnt Orange by Bren Michelle. Licensing options are available; please contact me for more information.

    If you are already very clear about where you want your life to go, and what your goals are, then simply checking your mouse vision several times in a day is so quick and effortless, yet could yield some valuable results. There couldn’t be an easier way of keeping on course! And if you are not yet clear, then the Eagle questions can guide you towards the things that your heart truly desires. I really hope you’ll check out ‘Follow Your North Star‘ by Martha Beck. You never know -it might just change your life!
    Have a great week.

    Follow Your North Star by Martha Beck, Available on Audible

  • A Mindfulness Tool for Unwanted Thoughts

    Today I would like to share a tool I learned years ago when I was struggling with anxiety. It can be an extremely effective tool with practice, even though on the surface it seems very simplistic. I think I originally learned it from the spiritual teacher Jack Kornfield.

    My creation this week uses a mix of media. I created the bird by lino-cutting. I then took it into Photoshop and completed the composition using a combination of drawing and photography. Copyright Bren Michelle 2017.

    When you first become aware of a thought that is unwanted or unhelpful, imagine you are on a bus. Ask yourself if you are happy with the direction the thought is going in. The bus is a metaphor for the thought. Is this a bus you want to be on? Is it taking you somewhere you would like to go? The final destination may be somewhere very unpleasant and difficult to get back from.

    Is this a bus you want to be on? Is it taking you somewhere you would like to go? The final destination may be somewhere very unpleasant and difficult to get back from.

    If the thought is unhealthy, make the decision to get off the bus. When I do this I visualise pressing the button, hearing the buzzer it triggers and feeling the bus slow to a halt. I step off the bus and into the warmth of the sun.
    It helps to have a place to go immediately; I like to think of three things that I’m grateful for (new things each time) so that my brain does not default back to the unhelpful thought. If gratitude practice doesn’t appeal to you, choose something that you like to think about. A healthy problem for the brain to work on is an ideal distraction – what your next art piece will be, what to have for dinner, what to do on the weekend etc – anything that can engage the brain long enough to change course.
    It takes quite a lot of practice but can be powerful – especially when adapted to suit yourself. Allow yourself to be curious because some thoughts need to be investigated or explored (and some very important thoughts make us uncomfortable), but become an expert at recognising when it is a good time to get off the bus. With time, just pressing the buzzer may be enough to switch the thought off.
    This tool can be a good one to teach kids too. I hope that is helpful. Good luck!

  • An Authenticity Mantra and Why We Need One

    Once again I’ve found myself listening to Brene Brown, a truly inspirational speaker. The teaching of hers that I am exploring this week is the importance of being authentic. It has inspired me to adopt her authenticity mantra:

    “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up.
    Just stand your sacred ground.”

    For my image creation this week I have been experimenting with simple shapes and textures. This piece uses a texture I created while lino-printing, and a crack texture that I drew by hand.

    What Brene found, through extensive research, was that ‘fitting in’ is the primary barrier to belonging. True belonging, she claims, only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. She says fitting in is all about assessing a situation and acclimating to it. When our goal is to fit in, and it fails, the resulting emotion is shame. When our goal is to be genuine – our authentic selves – and it doesn’t go well, the result can be disappointment, confusion, perhaps sadness or another emotion, but it is not shame because our self worth is not on the line.

    True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.

    Being authentic allows us to connect deeply with people, particularly those that share the same values and desires as us. It liberates us from the pressure of trying to be perfect or what other people want us to be. We can act consciously in line with our core values and beliefs without being swayed by the forces and influences around us.
    The spiritual leader Pema Chodron makes an important point about the authentic self:

    “The point is that our true nature is not some ideal that we have to live up to. It’s who we are right now, and that’s what we can make friends with and celebrate”

    Pema Chodron

    There is an exceptionally good recording of Brene Brown speaking on this topic (and more) on Audible. The recording is called The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage and is made by Sounds True. I highly recommend it, and if you are not already a member of Audible you can sign up and get this recording for free.
    So remember: “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Just stand your sacred ground.”
    Why not make this your mantra too?

    The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage by Brene Brown

  • A Quote to Remember in Every Situation
    Charles R. Swindoll

    Attitude is everything! Today I would like to share another wonderful quote, one that can be applied to absolutely every situation. Scroll down to read…

    This is my second lino-cut experiment. It really is a lot harder than I expected. There were a couple of areas where my hand slipped and I accidentally cut out pieces I wanted to keep. Shhh, don’t tell but I might have, well…photoshopped them back in. Linocutting is not a medium for perfectionists!

    Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.

    Charles R. Swindoll

    Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
    “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl