A short practice called ‘The Physical Barometer’ (Bartley, 2012) allows us to become aware of these feelings that can, in extreme, move into obsessive craving or strong aversion.
If you have ever seen someone consulting a old fashioned barometer, you will know that you need to gently tap on the glass front to see if the needle moves up or down and by how much. From this, it may be possible to forecast upcoming weather. We can use our bodies in a similar way to give us sensitive information about the emotional ‘weather’ arising for us. Here is how you do this:
If this practice interests you, you might want to try it several times a day, as a way of developing the habit of tuning into the body. It helps to hook the practice onto an existing activity—such as boiling the kettle, or starting the car—in order to remember it better.
The Physical Barometer enables us to catch things early, before the ‘weather’ has really dug in. The practice also helps us to notice and appreciate all those pleasant little moments that are so easily overlooked in our busyness.
By practicing in this way, feelings and sensations in the body become allies in helping us relate more gently to the reactivity of the mind. In time, we become more able to respond more skillfully to the ups and downs in life. We discover we have choices and this can offer us some wonderful moments of freedom and well-being.
Mary Oliver offers us wise advice in her poem ‘The Summer Day’:
In our brief exploration of being present to the connection between body and mind, we have been discovering how to move closer to the body and how helpfully the mind responds when we do. Although it requires a certain effort, it is not so difficult. Simple practices such as ‘Feet on the Floor’ and ‘Coming to the Breath’ invite us to come back to the present. The body offers us a way of doing that – for it changes less quickly than the mind. The body resonates with feelings in parallel with the nuances of the mind—whether these are pleasant or unpleasant. Investigating this for ourselves, we find a potential to interrupt the triggers that bind us. With diligence and practice, we can discover for ourselves a rich vein of present experience that simply asks us to be here—and in that moment allows us to open and be more kind to ourselves and the world.
With my thanks to Jody Mardula from the Centre for Mindfulness, Research and Practice, Bangor University, Wales.
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Oliver, M. (1992). New and Selected Poems. Boston: Beacon Press.
Segal, Z.V., Williams, J.M.G., Teasdale, J.D., (2002) Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A new approach to preventing relapse. New York: Guilford Press.
Williams, J.M.G., Teasdale, J.D., Segal, Z.V., & Kabat-Zinn, J., (2007). The mindful way through depression: Freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness. New York: Guilford Press.
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Trish Bartley has been teaching mindfulness and leading mindfulness-based training for over 12 years. She has considerable experience in introducing mindfulness to the general public and is also involved in training health professionals to teach mindfulness-based approaches. She has a background in development and has led training processes in South Africa since 1997. She now specializes in working with people with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. She has developed an intervention known as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Cancer, based on the “classical”, 8-week mindfulness course that has been clinically tried and tested with people with cancer over more than 10 years. She works mostly in the UK and leads workshops and retreats internationally. Trish is the author of Holding Up the Sky: Love Power and Learning in the Development of a Community (2003) and of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Cancer: Gently Turning Towards (2012).
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