Inner strength and wisdom during times of stress and trauma.
ABCs meditation-mindfulness practice
Whether facing the stress of speaking on stages around the world or supporting critically ill loved ones, surviving an armed robbery or, more recently, dealing with the collective fear of Covid-19 – this simple, beautiful meditation method has been my go-to inner sanctuary for years. I call it ABCs.
When I first started teaching this nearly 30 years ago, I never imagined that one day thousands of coaches, spiritual seekers, consultants, business leaders and even a handful of pro athletes would love my ABCs as much as I do.
Here are some ways people use their ABCs.
Stay calm under pressure;
Listen deeply with compassion as a coach, leader, parent or friend;
Speak with authenticity and positive impact;
Heal trauma triggers;
Open to creativity;
Bring inner strength to ease the experience of fear;
Remain equal to others even during conflict;
Drop the trying-to-please-others masks;
Be vulnerable and true;
Let go of resistance to change;
Tune in intuitively to inner wisdom.
I hope that you too can use your ABCs to face your day with courage, to rest in this inner sanctuary, and be guided by your inner wisdom.
What is ABCs?
ABCs is both a meditation and mindfulness practice that can be woven into your daily life while working, listening, speaking, creating and making decisions. It can also be used in a more focused way to deepen your existing meditation practice or build your Wisdom Wells – to tune in deeper than your surface mind and find inner wisdom.
How does this meditation method work?
ABCs is simply about shifting attention, from thinking to sensing, from mind to body.
Before you wonder: ‘What’s so special about that?’ Learning to shift attention is a small change that has a massive impact.
Like a tiny movement that changes radio stations or channels on television or a mouse click that opens a new website—this shift of attention helps us to change intuitive radio stations in a moment.
Our nervous system plays the song of whatever attention is on.
When attention stays on surface thoughts, that’s all we experience. Surface thoughts are the endless stream of thinking that often causes stress.
Did you know that you could change intuitive radio stations? And that you have other songs of life to tune in to? We have a choice.
What if, instead of tuning in to the surface mind, you can build a Wisdom Well, drop attention deeper like a bucket and find the crystal clear water of intuitive wisdom, peace and insight.
ABCs stands for shifting attention to our body, the centre of the body – and staying there.
A = attention
B = body
C = centre
S = stay and share
When my InnerLifeSkills Master Coach students learn ABCs and practise it during our online Zoom classes, they tell me:
“Colleen, ABCs sounded interesting but not very convincing. But now that I’ve tried it – this changes everything.”
One of my incredible coaches, an American forensic scientist, said to me:
“It used to feel like I was listening to others through a crowd. ABCs made the crowd disappear so I could listen more deeply.”
So I suggest you experiment with your ABCs and notice for yourself what subtle or substantial changes happen when you shift attention from above your shoulders to your core, from your mind to the way your body feels.
You may notice that, quite quickly, ABCs makes the mind feel less dominant, even quieter. And that the body begins to relax more deeply.
Some more clarity about this meditation and mindfulness practice
The key is attention, because that’s what changes what songs of life we’re tuned in to.
Attention is not thinking. Attention is also not a physical sense, like seeing, hearing, touching or tasting.
Want to discover this yourself?
Notice that you can decide to move attention between the senses… focusing on what you’re looking at in one moment, then changing your focus to what you’re hearing… then shifting attention to the way your body feels.
Attention is free to move between subtle and physical objects, between thoughts, memories, emotions and physical sensations.
How many times in a day do you consciously decide where to place your attention?
Most people don’t work consciously with attention. Instead, attention is randomly moving, usually guided by the most demanding thing. The loudest noise, thought or sensation.
If you want to change what you’re tuned in to intuitively – you need to learn to change where attention is focused.
As a child, I noticed that my intuition became completely unreliable when attention was on thoughts.
It’s our habit of attention that keeps us tuned in to surface mind FM. To change attention – to change radio stations – is to break this habit of attention.
It’s freeing to learn that we can tune in to something other than thoughts.
Don’t get me wrong – thoughts have a place. Like a helpful app, thinking is necessary and has a functional value. Most people think that they are their thoughts – that thoughts are our identity. Like walking around with a YouTube channel permanently playing in our heads and not knowing how to change channels, you’re likely to take the channel personally, to think it’s who you are.
But what if thoughts are just a stream of information. The translation of downloaded knowledge, displaying on the screen of consciousness?
What if your ABCs can help you break the habit of attention being fixated on thoughts and discover an entirely new world, like finding new channels?
Experiment with this simple, potentially life-changing shift of attention. Decide to move attention, to become interested in more than thoughts.
Just a word of guidance. Don’t push against thoughts, don’t force attention. You’ll notice that when we push against the mind, it pushes back. Try not to think of a pink elephant. Try not to see the colour blue. What happens?
Whatever we try not to focus attention on hijacks attention.
So this is not about pushing away from anything – it’s better to move attention gently, with curiosity, to something more interesting.
Let thoughts be there, then gently move attention from thinking to feeling, from above your shoulders to the centre of your body sensation. That’s it.
With your ABCs running, notice what changes.
Compare the experience of tuning in to your mind with your ABCs. Spend a few moments consciously tuning in to your mind, then switch to your ABCs and notice the difference. Keep doing this until you discover the difference for yourself.
Compare what happens during:
When facing challenges;
During decision making;
When feeling stressed.
What changes? That’s you noticing the difference between intuitive radio stations.
Why ABCs works
Many meditation techniques directly or indirectly encourage shifting attention, often by directing our focus to the breath.
I was most surprised to learn from my friend and colleague Dr. Pam Roux that, in psychology, a process called somatic awareness is used to help with trauma and to desensitise post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
Somatic awareness is the term for noticing physical sensations in the body. Some call this somatic mindfulness, others simply somatics, but it boils down to shifting attention, what I called ABCs.
It turns out that when we move attention to physical sensations in the body, especially resourceful, helpful sensations, this can train the body to get out of a sympathetic nervous system overdrive.
The sympathetic nervous system is our gas pedal; it’s the nervous system responsible for being alert, adrenaline rushes and our fight or flight response.
The parasympathetic nervous system is its counterbalance; it’s our brake pedal, responsible for digesting food, relaxing and resting.
Our modern lives tend to overuse the sympathetic nervous system and many have weak parasympathetic nervous system balance – ilike having a faulty brake pedal in your car. We don’t know how to switch off. We don’t know how to relax fully.
Three simple ways to know if your sympathetic nervous system is overly stimulated is
dry mouth (lack of saliva),
colder or clammy hands
and more shallow breathing.
If our parasympathetic nervous system is activated,
our hands warm up naturally,
our mouths have a natural good amount of saliva
and our breathing deepens (using a full diaphragm movement to breathe).
Even two minutes of somatic awareness can help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
How you can use your ABCs
Rest and destress
I’m sure you can imagine how helpful it is to break the habit of attention from being fixed on the ‘what ifs’, judgment, comparison and torture chamber of thoughts.
Use your ABCs to give your nervous system a rest.
Tune in to the songs of love, peace and happiness
Instead of thinking about a tree, do your ABCs and sense the real tree, as if you can intuitively feel the inaudible music of the tree in your body. Because you can.
Life is singing to us and deeper than the noisy surface mind, there are songs of peace, love, and happiness that we can’t access if we’re tuned in permanently to thought FM.
I ask students:
“Have you ever met yourself, or have you only met your mind?”
My invitation to you
I invite you to practise your ABCs daily.
This can be the beginning of a beautiful adventure, discovering how to support yourself and others during stressful and traumatic times. Finding your deeper wisdom can help you to realise the true self, to see that you are not your mind, that you are the open presence of peace, love and happiness that your mind wants to rest in.
Thank you for the opportunity to share this with you. Made it serve you well.