Welcome to the latest issue of The Qi of Self-Sovereignty. The newsletter exploring what it means to be free in an increasingly not-so-free world.
Whether you're looking to locate your authentic self or investigate sovereignty, you're in the right place! Each week, with just a few minutes of reading, I aim to expand your awareness through a quote and a piece of content that made me go hmm...
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"A walk in nature walks the soul back home." - Mary Davis
"Get out. Go for a walk. It'll take your mind off things."
If I had a dollar every time I heard this... I'd have around $52.
Hmm... not as much as I'd expected.
Anyways, I always found this statement interesting because it doesn't necessarily hold true.
If I were to go for a forest walk. One where I was in nature and exposed to the elements, then most of the time, I found myself drifting into a place of serenity.
I found that during periods of my life when I spent time around more urban centers, my walks never resulted in this sense of serenity.
Instead, the honking, blaring music, flashing lights, fumes, and so on often made me feel more frazzled and distracted than before I started. The tremendous stimuli of my urban environment overloaded my brain, which only amplified how I was feeling.
I'd always felt this but wasn't really able to articulate it... until recently.
Insightful Content which made me go, hmm...
While on one of my weekly journeys into the depths of my Twitter feed, I came across this post by Billy Oppenheimer.
Long story short, "researchers studied the effects of a nature walk vs. an urban walk on mental well-being," and the results confirmed my internal feelings.
Researchers divided participants into two groups:
The first group would go on a nature walk.
The second group would take a stroll across a city.
Using MRI to monitor brain activity, the researchers would then examine the effects of the walk on brain areas associated with "things like rumination, poor mood, and depression."
After monitoring nature walks, they found "lower levels of rumination and...reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness."
This was not the case for urban walks.
The researchers concluded that "nature experience may improve mental well-being and...accessible natural areas within urban contexts may be a critical resource for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world."
Researchers always say "may improve," as nothing is for sure. But from personal experience, I can confidently say nature walks do improve mental well-being. Far and above urban walks.
However, not all hope should be lost if you don't have a forest in your back garden.
When I struggled to escape the external stimuli for me, I used simple meditation to ground myself in the present.
Although certain environments are more conducive to effective meditation, the great thing about meditation is that we can do it wherever and whenever.
For me, however, planning meditation doesn't usually lead to success.
I tell myself I want to meditate 3x a week for 10mins in the morning, only to wake up and find my dogs puked on the carpet, I don't have any eggs for breakfast, or my friend is going through a tough breakup and needs some support. Inevitably, my meditation plans take the back seat and over time, they fall by the wayside.
With this in mind, I wanted to introduce the idea of unstructured meditation.
Rather than specifying when and where to meditate, i.e. ten minutes when I wake up, I make an effort to meditate when it feels right.
If you're like me, by practicing unstructured meditation:
- you'll mitigate the guilt associated with failing to fulfil your intended structured meditations,
- you'll most likely meditate more often,
- and your meditations will pack a greater punch as you meditate when you need it most rather than at preset times.
Here are two types of unstructured meditation I practice daily and find most valuable:
The Awareness Pause (Takes less than a minute)
In its simplest form, the awareness pause is the act of bringing our attention to the present moment and becoming conscious of both our external world (the smells, sensations and stimuli) and our internal world (our emotions and feelings).
How your clothes feel as they move across your skin while you're walking.
What sensations appear as the breeze ruffles through your hair.
How the light looks as it reflects off the environment around you.
The goal of the awareness pause is to bring us out of our thoughts and into our sensory environment. In doing so, we ground ourselves in the present, giving our mind time to reset.
You can practise the awareness pause at any moment of any day.
Next up is the...
The Fortuitous Stop (Takes 1 minute or more)
If we are waiting for that tardy friend, stuck in a line-up or notice we have a few minutes to kill our busy day rather than browsing social media, this is the perfect moment for a fortuitous stop.
Like most other forms of mindfulness meditation, the goal is to detach from our thoughts and, similar to the awareness pause, become aware of our internal and external world.
Many mindfulness practitioners will say do nothing.
But I find this a little counterintuitive. By doing nothing, are we not doing something? We're consciously trying to do nothing.
I, therefore, stop trying to do nothing and recognize that everything is just happening... and outside of my control. I am simply a passenger watching as my internal and external worlds shapeshift.
Rather than directing my attention toward everything happening (thoughts, sounds, tastes, feelings), I am merely aware that they're there.
When my consciousness does latch onto a thought, I acknowledge that thought and then let it go.
*Side note: When you find yourself distracted, and I mean when not if, it's important to mention that there is no need for frustration or shame. We all get distracted. Just acknowledge the thought, and bring your awareness back to the present.
Notice how when you stop and focus on what you believe is "I," you realize there is no "I." There are just feelings and thoughts emerging and dissipating.
I am not sure about you, but I find this to be profound.
By simply leaving everything as it is, there is immense intrinsic freedom to realizing we are not our feelings or thoughts. We're just experiencing them.
Our thoughts don't have to dictate our feelings and emotions, and consciousness is already free of any problems we're trying to solve.
To summarise, we all find ourselves in moments of stress and anxiety, and although a nice calming forest walk may settle the mind, not all of us have that capability.
With this in mind, these unstructured meditations can be incredibly powerful.
Not only do they assist us in grounding and disconnecting from the endless barrage of thoughts, but they also bring us back into our bodies, enabling us to feel our sensory stimuli.
This week's goal, if you're up for the challenge, is to give one or both unstructured meditations a go when your schedule permits.
You know what, why not give yourself a 30-second awareness pause now?
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue of The Qi of Self-Sovereignty. I hope you found it insightful.
I always welcome feedback and thoughts. So, do not hesitate to respond to the newsletter email, comment on the article or reach out via Twitter.
The future is bright!