What they don’t tell you about mindfulness

Finding a comfortable position. Sitting in a dignified balanced manner. Bringing the awareness into the body. Noticing your breath.“

your mindfulness teacher

Some days I get this type of opening guidance and then immediately, bam! The mind and I are miles away scraping over the past or diving into the future. I am not observing, witnessing or noticing any part of my breath or my body or any sound whatsoever. I am detached from the present pretty all the way though until the bell sounds at the end. There was no mindfulness to speak of during any of that time. So was there a point to all that? Was a step made in the right direction, any truth more clearly understood? Or was it all a bloody waste of time?

I have had many experiences like this over the years; at the end I would find myself standing up at the least annoyed with myself and sometimes questioning my own ability to be practice meditation at all. Yet no one really seems to say much about such sessions. Its all sitting on a beach in front of the sunset, tanned and thin in the mindfulness memes. Whereas for me its more a case of on a cushion on my bedroom floor, in front of the hung out washing, overweight and in a dressing gown.

I think there are two better ways to view this, both of which entail bringing a broader view to the practice. Firstly, just a simple looking for silver linings to give yourself a boost: it isn’t all just rubbish after all. Secondly, is holding the intention to sit again tomorrow, to aim to reconnect next time. From this determination grows a practice that becomes part of the daily routine and out of a continuation of intention naturally grows a broader, wiser view of what mindfulness might be or already is. In terms of knowledge this breaks down into 4 areas.

  1. There is always the next meditation session. This is what happened today and it is over now. It cannot be changed. But you can be mindful of how you feel after it, noticing the emotions and thoughts and maybe physical sensations that you are experiencing now.
  2. When the bell rang at the end, you were aware of that moment, even if of no other and so there was mindfulness there.
  3. Among a whole series of sitting practices, today’s one can be seen as one distraction, one disconnect and only one before coming back to the breath in the next practice.
  4. More importantly, meditation and mindfulness are about seeing what is really is; the stuff we try to hide from all our friends and family and of course from ourselves. So if we are sitting honestly we will notice the ugly and the bad as least as much as the good.

Sit around the fire

I have quite a bit of Jon Hopkins and of Ram Dass in my life and so for the two to be together in such a beautiful manner is really a blessing. But as Ram Dass says here ‘Don’t worship the gate, go into the inner temple’

Encouragement

I couldn’t say with any honesty that I enjoy running, but it does give me a sense of satisfaction and, if I am honest, smugness as well. Whilst I was certainly pleased to complete the couch to 5k app a month ago, I feel more gratification that I am running or that I go running, than any goal I may achieve doing it. My original motivation was to be healthier, to be trimmer and slimmer, to breathe less heavily walking up hills, maybe even to live longer and with less illness. I bought some scales a year ago and was genuinely frightened by where the spinner stopped. I’ve had a few hospital visits recently too. So mortality’s foul breath is right up in my nose to be sure. Additionally, the thought of having to go return shopping for another pair of trousers the next size up was a self embarrassment lurking like a troll under a bridge in the back of mind.

I began to wonder what it was that had made me start running now. Let’s be honest, I’ve been out of condition, over weight and wheezy walking up hills for quite some time now. But something had made me finally lace up some new trainers and plod around my local park. There was some reason that had prompted my widening backside off the sofa at last and away from the fridge and out the front door. Half way around a run last week, as I struggled to the top of Hudson’s field, I began to work it out. I was running now because of the encouragement I had received from other people; most of whom do not even know they have encouraged me. It may have been just a word, or an online reply. Some people showed me by their own example how much satisfaction and self worth could be generated by completing a (half) marathon. Quite a few not only commented ‘good for you’ when I said I had started, but also checked in on my progress a couple of weeks later. There were two or three who had started running near the same time and we shared our progress and challenges with each other.

And there you have it. No one made any sacrifice or great effort to give me this encouragement. But when it was offered, it was done so with no expectation of return or reciprocation; presented to me outside of any exchange system. When I thought about this I began to see what an incredibly generous and selfless gift encouragement is. There is no tax break coming at the end of the year, no return on the investment, nor any presumption of a thank you card in the post. Instead I was boosted and supported by people who simply wanted me to do well, to be happy, to be healthy and content. Encouragement, it would seem, is full of grace and a most simple heart felt gift to give. Now that I have received it my intention is to hand it out in bundles too.

Home Practice Week 5

TNH tea

Home Practice

1/ This week I would like you to alternate the body scan practice with the mindful movement and the sitting practice.  Click here to hear the Rebecca Crane body scan one from previous weeks.

2/ The mindful movement practice is from Kate Mitcheom. Click HERE and you will find it at the bottom of the page of her guided practices; it is called standing yoga meditation

3/ The sitting practice I would like you to follow can be found by clicking HERE

4/ The 3 step breathing space is a marvellous way of bridging formal practice and your daily life. Also it helps with noticing habitual stress reactions, whether you are using pro- or re-actively. Use this in relation to the stressful communication diary below if you wish.If you have been using this frequently you may want to start doing this without having to listen to guidance as this will give you some more freedom when to do it. That is absolutely fine – you dont have to get too concerned about remembering every instruction, but if you like to have that security I attach a rough script of the 3SBS you could print and have with you.

5/ Complete the stressful communication diary. This is set out as the (un)pleasant ones were. Use it as a chance to develop awareness of difficult communications and exploring options for responding with greater mindfulness, spaciousness and clarity.  always remember that the breath is your anchor and that the three step breathing space is available if you wish to use it. If you have no difficult communications during the week, either remember some, or imagine communications that would fit in to your knowledge of yourself, and explore them. Once more I have linked the hot cross bun diagram to help you if you wish to refer to it.

home practice Hot cross bun

6/ As ever I also attach a copy of the Mindfulness Journal if you prefer if you want to keep that. Practice Record sheet 

6/ Last week I read a poem by Rumi called the Guest House, which you can read here. The Guest House Rumi

This week I read “A Reply to Rumi” which was written by an MBSR participant called Amy Newell. You can read that here. A Reply to Rumi

I am looking forward to hearing all about it next Thursday 🙂

Home Practice Week 4

TNH tea

Home Practice

1/ This week I would like you to alternate the body scan practice with the mindful movement.  Click here to hear the Rebecca Crane one from previous weeks.

2/ The mindful movement practice is from Kate Mitcheom. Click HERE and you will find it at the bottom of the page of her guided practices; it is called standing yoga meditation

3/ During your days I would like you to be aware of your stress reactors: look for how you react when unpleasant situations arise. You dont need to write anything down about this , like we did last week. However if that helps you reflect on them, there is the same sheet you used last week linked here along with the hot cross bun diagram.

Unpleasant experience diary

home practice Hot cross bun

4/ The three step breathing space is a marvellous way of bridging formal practice and your daily life. It is definitely what I would call a portable practice. Here is a lovely guided version of it if you wish to use from Mark Williams.

5/ As ever I also attach a copy of the Mindfulness Journal if you prefer if you want to keep that. Practice Record sheet 

6/ The Guest House by Rumi is attached for you below

 The Guest House Rumi

I am looking forward to hearing all about it next Thursday

3 minute working from home mindfulness

We didn’t sign up for this when we took the job – laptop on the kitchen table or maybe on a desk in the spare room. Work hours leaking into home time. And the isolation, oh my the isolation. There are many new problems to face right now and no way of knowing when it will end. As a result, it is vital that we try to treat ourselves gently and go easy when our mind starts to rant and rave. Taking deliberate breaks and breathing spaces in the day to notice our physical, mental and emotional feelings, while not judging ourselves for whatever those sensations are can be a real help. So I have recorded a short and simple mindfulness practice (see the bottom of the post) that I hope will allow people the opportunity to pause in this way and notice a breath or two. I imagined that this could be done after a period of being sat down working, but really this could be used at any time in the day from waking up to going to bed.

If you find it useful please do let me know.

Peace

Philip

This is the recording of the practice. Just click play.

p.s. The photo is the view I get from work that I am missing 🙂

Coming back

After a six month enforced lay off, I went for a run yesterday. Now I’m no Mo Farah; I had only been running for a couple or months before having to stop, so slightly dispirited I went back to week one of the BBC couch to 5k app. Once more I was listening to Michael Johnson telling me not to run too fast (!) as I plodded around the park. It was disappointing to have no choice but to start over again. When I run I usually avoid eye contact with the properly dressed, skinnier, more lithe and faster joggers. My old sweatshirt, generic trainers and paunch feel like no match for the spring in every one of their steps.

But nevertheless I set off, albeit apprehensively. Yet almost immediately my body remembered what it felt like to run and nearly as quickly how this time it felt okay with what was happening. “You’ve got this Philip. You’ve done this before and survived.” This was not a foreign country to my muscles and joints; it was recognised ground. The exercise I had done earlier in the year was still there somewhere in me. I am not saying I flew around the park, nor that I did not ache in strange and multiple places for the next 24 hours. But I knew what was going on and I was in a better place physically to try to get healthier and fitter than six months ago.

I’ve been teaching and guiding mindfulness to adults for a few years now, so when I walk around town I meet people who have been on a course with me. And now seemingly I have developed a local area superpower. That is I have the ability to make people look sheepish and apologise as soon as they meet me. “Hello. I am sorry but I haven’t been practicing mindfulness much recently” they mumble to their shoes. And there is a similarity to me avoiding the gaze of proper runners to people looking at their shoes when they see me. The idea that we aren’t doing as well as we should, that we failing to reach a standard that other people are easily realising and surpassing even is present in so many of us.

So an irregular runner believes they are less than other exercisers. Someone who used to practice mindfulness thinks about sitting on their cushion but doesn’t because they believe they are no good at it anyways. Someone who is practicing mindfulness notices their mind has wondered and immediately believes they have got it wrong and that, not only is this a bad session, but that they are a bad practitioner and not good at being mindful. Now I would say that each person here needs to be encouraged to ignore that eroding inner critic and take their next step, but of course that is much, much easier typed than done.

The name couch to 5k is a great one. It clearly describes where you probably are and where you would like to get to. Progress is entirely measurable in both minutes and kilometres run. But equally someone who started their running a week before you would remain in front of you throughout the 9 weeks. In this way mindfulness is very different. There isn’t a goal to reach sometime in the future. You just do mindfulness. You may imagine that everyone else practicing in the room with you is perfectly resting in attention on the breath; that you are the only one getting distracted by thoughts of what might be for tea and the holey socks of the person in front of you, but the reality is that we are all imperfect pretty well all the time. Which is why mindfulness is not about stopping the mind from wandering, but instead to simply notice when it does. This means when you see your mind is not on your breath or your chosen anchor spot, that moment right there is being mindful, is realisation.That is what it is all about, so simply notice “my mind is involved in a thought about planning tea.” And then gently, without any rush, let the thought go. Don’t force it away. You can be aware that it is still there or that this thought is also passing like all mental events do. And then when it has passed, simply return to the anchor spot and be mindful of that. Every time you come back, you come back with more experience, with more wisdom. A mind returning to awareness, like a body to exercise, recognises what is going on a little bit better every time it does. Good habits are being formed.

So be aware of that inner critic. It isn’t doing you any favours. Don’t let it stop doing what you want or what is good for you all just because of a totally misplaced sense of inferiority. Additionally, it is mindfulness the self judgement is about then kindly and gently notice that is what your mind is paying attention to. Well done you are aware of your thoughts and feelings. They will pass.