BIFI and the bubble meditation

I have just added a new video to YouTube entitled ‘BIFI and the bubble meditation’.

What happens when we are stuck in a queue or can’t get where we want to be? Waiting for a train or a bus or left somewhere without knowing how long we will be there? Once, people would bring along a newspaper to read or a book. Nowadays, everyone stares into their mobiles. They are either picking up messages, or worse, surfing facebook.

Although, sometimes we need to get up to date, mostly, we are avoiding listening to our minds. This is unhelpful. We can instead use this time to meditate.

This video explains the meditation that I did for quite a while when I commuted regularly along with a tip.

You can find the video on YouTube (15 minutes) by clicking the button below (opens in a new window)

Remember to subscribe!

Click here to watch the video

 

Mindfulness practice tip of the day

Add the image below to the home screen of your mobile so when you find yourself stuck somewhere, it will remind you that there is an alternative to facebook!

meditate_iPhone

Self-compassion practice

We all have a collection of memories of our difficult past experiences. These can stay with us for a lifetime. Sometimes these experiences can build up and become a very real burden that is unhelpful for our happiness.

There are a number of ways that students of meditation can release their emotional baggage. Compassion, gratitude and self-compassion a key practices that I teach regularly.

At the heart of these practices is the self-compassion meditation which consists of three statements.

Adopt a relaxed, balanced and open posture with your back straight, elbows by your side and head balanced on your spine.

I suggest that when you practice this, you repeat each statement, either in your mind, using your inner voice, or spoken, as you breathe out. So each statement is synchronised with an out-breath.

Focus your attention on the breath at the top of the belly and lower chest. At the point where the belly and chest meet.

Ensure that you are breathing deeply by placing your tongue against the back of the top teeth so that you breathe through your nostrils.

Then repeat the self-compassion mantra:

  • May I be well
  • May I be happy
  • May I find peace of mind
    •  

      Be aware that this is not a magic practice designed to make you feel great about yourself and the rest of the world. It is a gentle mindfulness technique that helps to balance the negative self-talk and criticism from self and others that is part of our lives.

      Also be aware that for some, this may bring uncomfortable emotions into your experience. If that is the case, do this when you are feeling powerful.

      If it feels overwhelming, stop and either come back to it at some future point or find another gratitude practice that works for you.

A Movement for Beneficial Change

Be the change you want to see in the worldMohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Changer of the World - 1869-1948)

In the process of teaching mindfulness I encounter many wonderful people working extremely hard to effect beneficial change.

I thought it would be good to highlight some of these fellow travellers and help to raise their profiles using what has become a considerable social reach for Bromley Mindfulness.

So here are the first entries in that process:

Positive Pete Positive Pete - 70

Denise Riley has been a regular attendee at Bromley Mindfulness’s classes at least since 2015. She runs a charity called Positive Pete that does great work in schools around the London area by engaging volunteer mentors to work with young people that are struggling to cope with our ever-changing and ever-more-challenging world. Some of the transformations for these young people has been quite spectacular and has helped to turn them from destructive behaviours to help them grow and flourish.

Positive Pete trains volunteer mentors that can find some time and who then go into schools to mentor the young people. This is a win-win situation as the mentors grow and flourish along with the mentees. I can testify to the transformative nature of this process as we have mentors as part of the Bromley Mindfulness community.

Visit the Positive Pete website here: http://www.positivepete.co.uk/

Masismasislogo3

Peter Lyne is someone that has dedicated his time, with great effect to championing mobility for the disabled. Through his charity, MASIS, he is providing an information service for disabled people to understand how they can gain more mobility and a clearing house for information in that area. Peter works with other charities and organisations to make this available and to help and inform disabled folks about what they can do.

Check out MASIS here: http://www.masis.org.uk/

The Get Better Boxget_better_box

If you know someone that is poorly, then The Get Better Box is for you (and them). Marie is a Bromley Mindfulness student that has set up a business delivering get better boxes to the poorly, infirm or simply stressed. There is a get better box for most ailments and they are curated and packed and shipped by hand.

Spread the love to the poorly with The Get Better Box here: https://www.thegetbetterbox.co.uk/

Practicing the 4-6 Breaths Stress Management Technique using the Heartrate Coherence+ App

The Breath and Stress

When we breathe in, we are activating the sympathetic (fight and flight) nervous system. When we breathe out, we are activating the parasympathetic (relaxation) nervous system. By increasing the ratio of time spent in relaxation, we relax the body. This sends signals to the brain that all is well.

By breathing regularly and smoothly we are sending signals to the brain that all is well. This results in reduced heart rate variability. Our heart beats with less variation of time and helps to induce calmness.

4-6 Breaths

The 4-6 breath breathing pattern is an easy breathing pattern that helps many students to become calmer. If this causes you and discomfort in any way please do not practice it. Instead you can learn some of the relaxation exercises.

To practice the 4-6 breaths follow these steps

  • Breathe in while counting to four seconds and breathe out while counting to six.
  • When you have achieved a comfortable natural rhythm, breathe in and out as smoothly as possible
  • To breathe smoothly, inhale the same amount of air at the beginning, the middle and the end of both the in breath and the out breath.
  • When you have achieved a comfortable natural rhythm again, focus your attention on the point where the out-breath stops, just before the in-breath begins. I call this the bottom of the breath.
  • Notice how it feels, each time the cycle of the breath returns there.
  • Maintaining the rhythm and cycle of the breath, as you breathe in, focus your attention on the top of your head
  • You may have to touch the crown of your head with your hand to focus on it, but once that is done you will have tuned in
  • As you breathe out, focus your attention on the movement of your belly button as it moves in
  • As the out breath finishes notice the bottom of the breath
  • Repeat this cycle with each breath for a few minutes
  • You will find that you become calmer

 
To assist in practicing this exercise I have added a youtube video that explains how to download, install the app, use it and analyse the results.
 

 
Let me know if any questions arise.

How to press the pause button and calm your mind in 90 seconds

How to calm your busy mind in 90 seconds – works for 80 percent of people

Have you ever tried to meditate and found that your mind is so busy that it is an exercise in frustration?

On those rare occasions when life isn’t quite so hectic and we get the chance to stop the hectic carousel of our lives we can sit down for a moment to notice the workings of our minds. When we do that, we discover that there is an awful lot going on.

For many people there is a constant inner dialogue. The inner dialogue is that voice in our heads that labels, criticises, compares and comments. For many, this can be a continuous process. Our become permanently occupied by going over our infinite lists of infinite tasks as they infinitely overflow. Or we can spend days, months or ever years, dredging up events from the past and replaying them or constructing future outcomes and repeatedly rehearsing for them.

Left to it’s own devices, the modern mind is constantly busy. Silent, still calmness seems as remote as anything could possibly be and our society craves for those calm wooded mountain streams or the rhythm of waves on a sea shore that seem to be the only times when we can find this deep well of calmness that we all know, intuitively, can be found within us.

The busy, working day can become a blur of activities, internal and external.

How do we switch it off?

Everyone is different but there are some techniques that work for more, or less people. The technique that I am describing in this article helps, in 90 seconds, to calm the minds of about 80 or 90 percent of the people I teach it to. It is a combination of other techniques that I have learned from various sources and it is very effective in bringing calm to an overactive mind. I call it character counting.

Character Counting

Character Counting

Character Counting

Close your eyes and count random numbers between 1 and 10 in your mind, using your inner voice.
Each time you count a number, imagine you are writing the number in the air on a dark night with a sparkler. You need to notice how it would feel to move your hand and also, if you are a visual person, imagine how the number is displayed in the air.

Do this exercise for at least 90 seconds.

The majority of people notice that their mind becomes calm and still. The inner voice is often silent.
This is the most effective way to calm a busy mind in a short period of time.

If this doesn’t work for you, don’t despair, check out some of our other training on this site or come along to one of our events where you can learn something that works for you.

An insight into my personal meditation practice

A question I get asked a lot is: “What does my personal meditation practice look like?”.

This post is for those guys. I hope you find it useful and feel free to comment.

I dictated this during my meditation on the morning of the 24th July.

I meditate in a variety of ways, places and times: everything from a regular morning practice to meditating wherever I find myself during the day, travelling or waiting in a queue or in a quiet five minutes. I also sometimes meditate in bed after I wake up or before I go to sleep (beditation). When I add the meditations that I teach (I always meditate when I am guiding a meditation), I probably meditate for a couple of hours per day on average.

I decided a while back to go over to using my Zen Bench as often as I can which is the best meditation bench I have been able to find. I usually meditate on one of a number of different cushions depending on my mood but I think that my posture is better on the Zen Bench so I am working on moving over to it. This is because when I teach I often find myself on random cushions or various chairs/stools or on the floor/ground.

If you are interested you can buy one here: http://zenbench.co.uk/ I have no association with the makers.

This article is an insight into a one hour regular practice meditation I did on the morning of the 24th of July. This is just an insight into my experience. It isn’t anything in the way of a regular experience as, for me, there is no regular experience. My meditations vary considerably. Sometimes I might meditate with an intention such as to gain some insight on a choice I need to make, or to just follow the breath, or to calm a busy mind or resolve conflicting thoughts or release some emotion (increasingly rare), or focus on the body, or relax or do compassion practices or open awareness or whatever. But most commonly now, I allow my meditation to go wherever it goes. This is one of those sessions.

I used an app on my iPhone called Drafts to dictate every so often so this is in the nature of a running commentary. I have edited it as much of the grammar was incorrect and many words had been captured incorrectly but there isn’t much change from what I dictated. I dictated a few sentences to describe my experience whenever I became aware to do so. After half an hour I noted the time into the meditation that I had reached. I have left the drafts dictation end bars === in place. These are created by Drafts at the end of each dictation. Any comments that I have added after the meditation, I have enclosed in brackets.

I did my morning yoga before I started which consists of Makka Ho stretches and a set of sun salutations: I do between three and ten depending on how I feel.

I didn’t meditate with any intention (except to dictate my experience) and just allowed the meditation to go where it wanted to go.

I sit so that my torso and head are at the point of equilibrium where leaning back causes my head or torso to fall back and leaning forward causes them to fall forward. This means no muscles are operating and I will be the more comfortable for longer.

My Meditation Space July 2017_680x907

My meditation
“Becoming aware of my connection to the Earth. Allowing myself to feel gravity pushing me down into the ground and adjusting my balance.
My eyes are open. I allow my body to relax with my arms by my side and no muscles are tense. Just maintaining my balance and allowing myself to notice where my awareness settles.

Aware throughout this of the breath. Also aware of the breeze moving the plants and trees in the garden and of the colours and shapes, textures, reflections, contrasts, patterns, shade, light, dark.

===
Allowing myself to become aware of any discomfort in my body and adjusting if necessary. Checking to see if I’m relaxing. Adjusting my balance again.

Checking in with my body
Noticing I’m calmly alert: not tired, no headache (I had a headache the previous night), a tiny amount of brain fog. Noticing it’s quiet, that there is movement somewhere in the house and traffic noise in the distance.

I can’t taste anything, there’s just a hint of a smell of some sort, not obvious what it is, now closing my eyes.

Becoming aware of my physical sensations: balance, comfort, relaxation, warmth, alertness. Noticing I can feel my heart beat, my attention moving to the breath in my chest. Noticing the rhythm.

===
Focusing on the sense of air in my nostrils, Again checking my balance. (I’m surprised to know how often I do that. Possibly it is because I don’t usually use the Zen Bench and I have an underlying intention to focus on my posture).

Now focusing on the breath I’m surprised to notice that I have now been meditating for 15 minutes.

===
Following the breath
The mind is quite calm this morning. When I allow myself to be aware of thoughts arising I notice very quiet, almost distantly in my mind, the beginning of sentences forming as thoughts: half formed sentences arise which stop when I become aware of them. (It is as if the mind is trying to get a train of thought going and my awareness of it doing so cuts it off).

I sit listening for thoughts. No images arise, just half formed sentences of the inner voice.
Adjusting my balance again.
Relaxing in the gap between half formed sentences arising. Slowly focusing on the breath and seeking the source of thought in the background. Now just the occasional word popping into my awareness and words not getting as far as forming into even the start of sentences. I’m aware that there is a potential for the inner voice to arise, but it is not transforming into a coherent statement and it slowly diminishes in the background as I focus on the breath, particularly the coolness of the in breath. Adjusting my balance again. Relaxing again.
Now just focusing on the coolness of the breath.

===
A calm mind
No thoughts arising now at all now. I’ve been sitting for 30 minutes.
Allowing myself to notice how I feel emotionally at 35 minutes. What emotions are there? There is nothing obvious so I’m just sitting, allowing any emotional state, any unsatisfactoriness, any discomfort or anxiety or joy or happiness to arise.
Nothing arises. Making a space for insights. (Sometimes when my mind is quiet, intuitive insights arise but not on this day).

===
Forming an intention to connect to the sensory present moment.

===
Open Awareness
Opening my eyes at 40 minutes. Moving over to open awareness meditation. Allowing myself to connect to all of my sensory experiences. Allowing my vision to roam around as it wishes. Closing my eyes from time to time to focus on the body, sound, smell, taste, the sensation of sitting, the breath, sounds, distant sounds, the sound of the breath, my balance.
Gently scanning my body, readjusting my balance, relaxing, noticing the sensation in my legs, noticing slight discomfort now in my right knee (an old injury). Allowing my sense of feeling and touch in my body to move out around me beyond my body. (I didn’t realise I did this. To me it was just a sensory experience where the sense of connection came into my body. Possibly that varies). Allowing my sense of feeling to move beyond the body and extend out into the room including all of my surroundings, down into the ground and above my head. My mood elevating and a sense of physical connection like a tingling and the best massage ever arising as I connect. Still aware of the sensations of discomfort in my right knee now but it is mildly improved with an adjustment of posture by repositioning my thighs on the bench.
Noticing the breath rising and falling feeling the sense of connection.
Eyes still closed, exploring my feeling of connection and noticing the joy arising. Smiling, noticing the discomfort in the knee, adjusting my body, checking in with my shoulders, ensuring I’m relaxed, tipping my head back to balance, a smile on my face, joy continuing to arise.

===
51 minutes now, I’m aware of the warm sensation throughout my body where the joy is filling it. Grateful and thankful for this.
Basking in the sensory pleasure of the feeling of connection to my surroundings, the rhythm of the breath in the body, the sound of the trees being blown in the breeze mixing with the traffic noise, the airplane noise and the sound of my breath. Connecting with the sound, connecting with feeling, noticing the same sense of pleasure and joy in my fingers and hands as there is in my chest and shoulders.
Settling back to calmly witness all of this, the quality of the joy changing from one of near euphoria to one of a calm collected connection.

===

55 minutes, eyes opening, observing the source of thought again, noticing that there is no thought and also no potential for thought.
Noticing the breath, noticing a sense of compassion
===

57 minutes
Noticing distant sounds, police sirens, airplanes, movement of the plants and trees. The sense of joy has become a calm relaxation.
===

One hour.
Ending the meditation and stretching.”

Namaste.

What’s happening to Britain at the Moment?

A few days ago a student of mine, who I have been privileged to know for a few years now, sent me a question. I thought it might be useful to publish his question and my response.

Q.
“What’s happening to Britain at the moment Robert? So much division and hate – all perpetuated by the media. They seem to wallow in it.”

A.
It’s fear. As Yoda so correctly pointed out… “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
As 21st century humans, our only real fear is the fear of isolation. the fear that arises when we feel we are separate. It’s black and white. You’re either connected to all things or you’re separated from all things. When you feel separate, you try to find groups where you don’t feel separate then of course you’re connected to that group and then the outsiders are separate so you fear them. If you look at terrorism and the response to it, it’s all about us and them. Fear of outsiders. Nothing sells news like fear. As they say in the news media, “If it bleeds, it leads”.

Q.
But does it have to be so sad?

A.
Fear is the state of the human mind, almost universally. However, suffering has a purpose. The purpose of suffering is to expose whatever it is we believe that doesn’t align with reality and this is designed to be uncomfortable to make us to do something about it. The reality is that everything and everyone is connected. In areas like quantum physics and our other explorations of the universe, science is learning this on a daily basis. Though of course science is in denial and consistently uses terms like ‘spooky’. That word gets used more and more for very good reason. Einstein coined it to explain a connection between particles that was unexplained. He called it ’spooky’ action at a distance. (It’s still unexplained by the way). Suffering arises because either you, or someone else feels separate. The greater the sense of separation, the greater the suffering. You only have to look at the private lives of the terrorists to see how they feel separate and different. This is all there to guide us. It’s a lesson to us, you and me. Of course the media couldn’t get this in a million years because they all absolutely believe the very same narrative that we are all separate. Just billiard balls in the table of life bumping into each other in a meaningless random cosmic game. So what to do? Connect. Smile at one more person today than you would have yesterday. Smile at one more person that looks different to you, that you can’t understand or that you might feel some aversion towards or doubt about or even who makes you uncomfortable. This is how we change this sad world my friend, one smile at a time 🙂 🙏

Mindfulness v. Mind Wandering

I recently received an email from a student asking about mind-wandering and mindfulness. He pointed out that he is quite attached to mind wandering and whether mindfulness is better than mind wandering.

“Something that is puzzling me; why do we have a default (“wandering”) mind if that task-positive mind is better and happier to be in? Does it help in some situations, does it encourage imagination, open-mindedness, a wider solution space? I think historically I’ve been quite attached to that default mode, I’m feeling a bit of cognitive dissonance in letting go.”

I can put your mind at rest.

Excellent question. There is no need to let go of mind wandering. It would be impossible to in any case as it is, like task positive mode, an essential activity for the brain. Remember that by fostering mindfulness, we are only ever exercising the ‘choice’ of whether we allow our minds to wander or return our attention to the sensory present moment. We are not, and can not, ever banish mind wandering from our experience entirely. We can also, always choose to let the mind wander if we wish. Mind-wandering is a subset of default mode. Default mode has a purpose. It helps in decision making and in retrieving social information and in a number of other ways. Mind wandering only becomes a problem when it entirely squeezes mindfulness out of our experience or operates compulsively or at inappropriate times (see below).
If I am a judge, mind-wandering is part of my decision making process, I will imagine how I will feel giving various sentences for example: letting the accused off, giving them a light sentence or giving them a heavy sentence. The result is gut feel. It is incredibly useful and can often outperform cognitive assessment. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink gives us an insight into that process. That useful intuition often arises in mind wandering.

Mind wandering is also a place for creativity and it can be a welcome experience. Positive mind-wandering is as enjoyable as actually doing something according to Gilbert and Killingworth, the Harvard guys who wrote the article ‘A wandering mind is an unhappy mind’ in the journal science after studying mind wandering through an app used by thousands of subjects.

What we are seeking to do with these mental processes is to become comfortable with them, understand them and regulate them for our benefit.
What our artificial lives have done is to overload what would be quiet moments of connection with often compulsive mind wandering and problem solving, when it is more beneficial to have a rest from it.

Examples of when mindfulness trumps default mode:

  • When someone else is speaking.
  • When we are trying to get to sleep and the mind is in overdrive.
  • When we are having a special experience, travelling, spending time with our family etc.
  • When we are eating.
  • When we are landing an airplane or doing our tax return.
  • When we are doing sport or exercising (think of a mind-wandering goalkeeper or the runner that doesn’t notice the rabbit hole).
  • Walking the dog or going for a stroll is most usefully a combination of mindfulness and mind-wandering which is exactly what will happen in any case for most of us.
  • When we are suffering from cognitive overload: Waking up with a head full of lists, suffering from anxiety or worrying about outcomes too much. Mindfulness is a refractory period for the mind.
  • When we are driving or crossing the road.
  • When the needle gets stuck and our thoughts become unhelpful, repetitive or affect our ability to sleep.

Examples of appropriate experiences for mind wandering:

  • Retrieving memories especially, social ones.
  • Social evaluations of the self and others.
  • As ‘part of’ the decision making process. A balanced decision making process consist of: rational choices (task-positive mode). Gut-feel – default mode and task positive mode collaborating. Loosely associated thoughts (creativity) are default mode or mind wandering. From this we are making use of three elements of decision making in a skilled way: How we feel, what our subconscious mind contributes and the outcome of our rational decision making processes.
  • Mind wandering is great when we require creative input. Drifting in and out of sleep (the hypnagogic state) is also immensely beneficial which sometimes results in us waking up with the answer in our heads which happens an awful lot to me now. Check this link out if you are interested in this: http://scienceline.org/2014/06/sleeping-on-and-dreaming-up-a-solution/
  • And most importantly, when we are just chilling and our monkey mind isn’t giving us any trouble.

I hope this helps, feel free to ask any questions that arise.

Mindfulness and Intuition

Intuition is something that I often find myself speaking about with students. It is part of our common experience and isn’t confined to realisations that change our lives or provide unexpected insights. Intuition is action without thought, it is how we live most of our lives. Decisions we take when driving are an example. We don’t think aloud in our minds which queue to take or when to brake it just happens.

The Science of Intuition

Intuition has seens some serious research study recently. Most noticeably from Daniel Kahnaman and Amos Tversky who won a Nobel  prize for their work and resulted in a book by Kahneman called ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. In the book, Kahneman describes how our  brains enable us to get through the day.

There are two quotes from the book worth repeating. The first explains how our brains create a mental model or world view.

“The main function of [your subconscious] is to maintain and update a model of your personal world. [This model is constructed by associations that]  [determines your interpretations of the present as well as your expectations of the future.”

The second excerpt explains how we actually navigate our days.

“Whenever you are conscious, and perhaps even when you are not, your brain is] asking [some key questions:

Is anything new going on?

Is there a threat?

Are things going well?

Should my attention be redirected?”

What he is saying here is that there is a constant feedback loop between our inner experience and our outer experience and it is largely unconscious.

Mindfulness makes this loop conscious.

How Intuition and Mindfulness work together

The way that mindfulness practices work is to continually return us to an awareness of these otherwise unconscious experiences. One of my favourite definitions of mindfulness is “Awareness of unawareness”. This process of bringing previously unconscious experiences into the light of our awareness works at many levels over time as our meditation practice deepens. Mindfulness is a toolkit with one tool. That tool is a magic lens that helps us see through the fog of thoughts and emotions that cloud our experience and that distance us from the richness of our experience in so many ways.

Mindfulness and Mind-wandering

There is much talk about how mindfulness changes the brain but far less about what that change actually is.

Two studies that are worth reading are:

Impact of meditation training on the default mode network during a restful state

  • Taylor et.al 2013

Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity

  • Brewer et.al 2011

These studies show that mindfulness operates on what we call default mode which is the state the brain is in when our minds are wandering.

It seems that connections to and from default mode grow after mindfulness training. This is probably our brains strengthening neural pathways that help to bring us out of the mind-wandering default mode state to full awareness. This has implications for many activities and circumstances but also provides a direct link between the subconscious and our conscious awareness that grows over time with practice. We can then become more aware of our unawareness and step back to witness our minds operating.

The Mind as an Iceberg

A common description of the mind is that it is like an iceberg with only a small part visible and the vast majority of work occurring where it can’t be seen in the subconscious. The work of researchers like Kahneman provide insight into this. He refers to intuition as “Thoughts and preferences that come to mind quickly and without much reflection”. What seems to be happening here is that we are retrieving information that is as it were, hard-coded, into our brains. The contents of our association cortex.

 

We can see by observing this exactly how we have become programmed to think, act and feel.

 

Sometimes of course, this direct connection with our programming can be unhelpful. Most of us have some sort of behaviour that, given the option, we would change so that it aligns more clearly with a behaviour that benefits our self-interest. Mindfulness is not a very useful tool for managing addictions directly, but what it does is to help reduce stress. Reducing stress helps of course so mindfulness is useful as part of an addiction programme. Mindfulness is however, the only tool that I am aware of, for observing our inner processes operating. We become incrementally more aware of self-talk, the operation of the inner critic and our unconscious responses and actions. This is one place where intuition and mindfulness come into contact. We become more aware of our intuitive responses.

 

Intuitive Realisation

The other way that mindfulness and intuition operate is that during meditation or periods of mindfulness, what I call intuitive realisations arise. We learn about ourselves and the causal links between experiences, thoughts and behaviours. I always keep a notebook by me when I meditate so that I can capture these insights. Most of what I have learned about myself, I have learned this way.

 

 

 

The Parable of the Chinese Farmer

A wise man once told me that back in the day, there was a Chinese farmer that lived with his son. He was very poor and only had one horse that he used to plough the fields. The Farmer was elderly and relied on his son and the horse to do all the work on his farm.

One day his son left the gate to the horse’s field open and the horse escaped.
The Farmer kept sending his son out to find the horse but it was nowhere to be found.

When the Farmer’s friends and neighbours found out they come round to commiserate with him and told him how unlucky they felt he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe”.

After many days of searching, the Farmer’s son found the horse. It was grazing with a group of other horses. When the Farmer’s son returned with the horse its new friends followed and when he closed the gate there were seven horses in it.

The Farmer’s friends were delighted and all visited to celebrate telling the Farmer how lucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe”.

The son set about breaking in the horses so they could be sold at market as tame rather than wild. When he was working with the last animal, he fell off and broke his leg. Again the Farmer’s friends and neighbours visited to commiserate and told him how unlucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe”.

The very next day, the Chinese army passed nearby. They were on the way to a huge battle with the Mongols and arrived at the Farmer’s house saying they had heard there was a young man there and he must come with them to fight the Mongols. The Farmer showed them in so they could see that the son had a broken leg. They left.

Again the Farmer’s friends and neighbours arrived delighted telling the Farmer how lucky he was.

The Farmer replied “Maybe”…

Three Day Fast – Fourth Day

Hooray it’s Thursday morning and I can eat!

I started this fast on a Monday morning so I am now on my fourth day of fasting which is the day that I’m going to break the fast. I’m going to have breakfast at Carluccio’s to celebrate.

That isn’t counter-productive, it’s what I promised myself to help to keep me going! What I will do is to avoid any carbohydrates.

Yesterday, I began to really notice some unhelpful mental effects of the fast. I taught three times for about seven hours in total yesterday and did a couple of hours of admin on the energy equivalent of about 1 innocent smoothie which is 86 calories. What happened is that on the last of my three teaching sessions I found myself lost for words by not remembering a specific word twice, though they both came to me when I stopped trying to retrieve them of course. In addition I was almost lost for words once. These things aren’t entirely unusual but to have three memory retrieval problems in one 2 1/2 hour session is a first.

Meditation was also interesting. With the teaching and my personal practice there was quite a lot of meditation. Probably two or three hours in all. Mystics use fasting as a way of bringing them closer to mystical experiences. During one of my meditations yesterday which was with with a student, and because of the company is invariably extremely powerful, I found that my mind was slipping into something like a dream state which actually wasn’t a dream state… I know what it feels like to drift off into semi-sleep whileI’m meditating and this wasn’t it.

Images arose that were like fast forwarded still photographs taken over time. A bit like amateurish time lapse. In addition, there was a moving images of crowds and so on. Not an experience that I can say I remember having, even during deep meditations.

However, putting those minor hiccups to one side, I didn’t feel hungry at all yesterday and I felt that I had sufficient energy.

Today, interestingly, I feel even less hungry. Eating breakfast this morning, although in a relaxing enjoyable way, will be an addition of nutrients and not a fulfilment of need.

Last night at about 3:45 I woke up with two solutions in my mind. One was a solution to a minor problem which is just something that I haven’t confronted yet and the other was a complete solution to a problem I didn’t even know I had! It would have arisen over the course of the next few days though. I was able to lean over and type the solutions into my mobile and go back to sleep. It was as though my subconscious mind had decided those things that I most needed to smooth out my next couple of weeks and provided me with clear and actionable solutions to them. One for the most urgent thing, and the other for the highest priority thing.

I also had some incredibly deep insights. I was talking through a problem and talked my way into the solution to it. It was a very, very big problem.

I also only had about 7 1/2 hours of sleep last night which is fine but I’m aware that I usually sleep longer during a fast so I feel a little sleep deprived.

Lessons learnt

Fasting clearly changes the nature of the operation of the mind.

On or after the third day the lack of energy is noticeable with poor memory retrieval.

The nature of deep meditation can change on or about the third day. Could this be the mystic visions or is it too early?

It is possible that fasting is a source of incredibly useful insight.

All in all, this fast was a fascinating and useful exercise and something that I absolutely will repeat at some point.

Three day fast – Second and Third Day

11am on the second day

I woke up this morning after a deep sleep and I wasn’t hungry when I awoke and I am not hungry now at 11am. What I do feel is ever so slightly woozy which I put down to still having a bit of a cold when I started the fast. I also, however, feel calm and relaxed.

On day one I stuck to my fast but I did start the day off with a small innocent green smoothie and a single shot coffee. I also had a single shot coffee later in the day and didn’t feel like it upset my stomach in any way. Late last night I had a herbal tea mix from T2 called Relax which was based on camomile. I was pretty tired when I went to sleep at 11 but it wasn’t a particularly demanding day.

The mental calmness is notable. It has been a while since I fasted and I forgot how good it is so hopefully this article, if I read it again, will remind me.
I shall check in either later or tomorrow.

8:45 on the third day
I slept for eight and a half hours. I had a very deep sleep and I feel refreshed. Yesterday I was struggling for energy so I had another small innocent green smoothie at about 5:30pm and a single shot coffee. I am drinking about two litres of water per day so drinking the occasional coffee or smoothie doesn’t seem to upset my stomach in any way. I am teaching all day so I expect I may need to have some coffee and or small smoothies to stay alert. I will try to limit/avoid that though.

Today I feel great. On the third fasting day, I have found in the past that the mind clears a lot and it feels in many ways similar to the third day of a solo retreat. Calm and clear mind with natural mindfulness.
I don’t feel hungry at all. I almost feel that if I was given food I wouldn’t want it. I may need to have one or two smoothies today to see how it goes and I have a large innocent smoothie in the fridge for that eventuality.

This feeling is the main reason that I fast. The sense of calmness and clarity is significant.

Fasting also clarifies my relationship to food. In our culture, temptations to eat are all around us. We are immersed in messages about foods that contain more simple carbohydrates than we could ever find in our natural environment. There are ubiquitous advertisements, smells wafting out of bakers that now have fans pushing the air out on purpose and freshly cooked pastries are in stalls everywhere. This triggers the emotional brain to reward itself which is what I notice when I am fasting. I am able to observe this trigger directly and, of course, ignore it and also observe the results of ignoring it.

Craving for food at this point of a fast, for me, isn’t actually hunger in that there is a sense of not having eaten. It is more a desire for something to taste. It seems it is the habit that is being denied rather than the need to eat.

Today is my last day and I shall add another article either this evening or tomorrow morning.

Day One of my three day fast

Every so often I fast for three days.

I have done three day fasts about ten times or more over the years.  I fast for a number of different reasons: to boost or kick-start diets, to detox and for spiritual reasons as the mind absolutely becomes calmer and clearer. I seem to remember going on to a fourth day while fasting on a solo retreat and found the mind’s response very interesting and slightly different to day three. Day three is different to day two and so-on.

Usually, I eat breakfast on day one and an evening meal on day three. This is because in the past I have focused on motivation and it doesn’t ‘feel like’ one has to go so long without food. I have found it difficult not eating in the past. Craving for food kicks in at some point on day two and I find myself wistfully observing others eat or looking into the windows of food shops. Whatever, my strategy has worked as I have never broken a fast and always seen through the three days.

For some reason, this time I don’t feel that motivation will be an issue in the slightest as it feels to right to be doing it now so I haven’t bothered with breakfast on the first day. Instead I have bought myself a green smoothie.

Over the years, this is what I have learned.

  • Hunger, if how you feel after three days of not eating is hunger, isn’t quite how one would think it is. There are occasional cravings that arise but it doesn’t stay in the forefront of your mind. I expect that over longer periods that changes.
  • The craving to eat is more common at the beginning of the three days.
  • The monkey mind will say. “OK, you can’t eat but you can drink!” and all sorts of suggestions for that will arise from coffee to smoothies that are like eating in any case! I did this once and it really didn’t help as my stomach churned. For this fast I will only drink water and if I do drink anything else it will either be herbal teas or very smooth and high quality filter coffee.
  • I need to sleep at least an hour more per night to get a good night’s sleep.
  • Mindfulness increases. The business of the mind most definitely diminishes.
  • There is always some realisation or insight. I always learn something about my inner experience. I can see why this is a spiritual experience practiced in many religions as we are replacing the usual business of thought with a calmer experience and reconnecting with our bodies.

I hope to have the time to blog each day of this fast though I may blog on the day after so you can get an idea of how that day went.

Namaste.

 

Peace of Mind

The Monkey Mind is the part of our mind that works against us.

The Monkey Mind is the combination of thoughts and emotions that keeps us awake when we need to sleep, it is the part of the mind that says we can have ‘just one more’ drink or that we don’t need to exercise. It is the part of the mind that keeps our worries and fears in the forefront of our minds and that pops up images and emotions related to difficult memories. It is the tape that continually runs in our heads. It criticises, it complains, judges, compares, and chides.

In the 21st century, the Monkey Mind is the backdrop of our lives.

The Monkey Mind is also the part of our minds that stops us from being happy.

This is what I teach. I teach my students how to calm their Monkey Mind.

When there is a great deal of thought and emotion, the mind is like a river in flood. There are waves, noise, froth, silt and foam. We can’t see below the turmoil on the river’s surface. There are whirlpools waterfalls and rapids. The river becomes dangerous and disquieting.

When the river calms, the surface stills and the water becomes clear. We can see the bottom clearly. We can also see any obstacles that are there. We can see the rocks and holes, the old shopping trolleys, the pieces of rotting wood and rusty metal sticking up like stakes ready to impale us.

To cross the river safely, we have to clear the obstacles when the river calms. We must climb in, discover and dispose of each obstacle in turn so the bottom becomes clear and we can navigate the river bed without fear.

In the river of the mind, both the current and the obstacles are thoughts and emotions. This is what the mind is: thoughts and emotions. Thoughts can be many things: memories, an inner dialogue, images, rehearsals, mental movies more. Emotions are often sensations in the body but for some they can be the speed and nature of thought or just our unconscious and sometimes unhelpful responses.

Certain thoughts and emotions become linked together in the mind. Sometimes, a thought arises, then an emotion might follow. At other times, we might feel an emotion which then triggers the thoughts that are linked to it. I call this entanglement. Entanglement of thoughts and emotions can become incredibly complicated and difficult to remove.

Mindfulness meditation enables us to separate our thoughts and emotions.

If we can calm the mind enough, we can observe the thoughts and discover how transient and temporary they are. We can then observe our emotions arising and subsiding entirely separated from the thoughts. Eventually we can learn that thoughts and emotions are transient, temporary and unconnected. When this happens, these entangled thoughts and emotions lose the power to fill our awareness. We can then choose whether to allow the mind to continue to flow, or instead, we can connect with the sensory present moment.

By connecting to the sensory present moment in the absence of the confusing turmoil of entangled thoughts and emotions, we discover the only thing that is permanent in our lives. We discover the infinitely changing and vividly rich experience of our sensory present moment and how it can be cleansed of turmoil, become calm and peaceful to then be filled with beauty, wonder and the joy of life.

This is happiness and peace of mind. It is accessible, sustainable and available to everyone throughout our lives by engaging with the ancient practices of mindfulness meditation.

Measuring Mindfulness with BIFI

For some time now I have been using a teaching tool that I call BIFI. I designed it to help my students measure their progress.

BIFI stands for boredom, impatience, frustration and irritation.

“So how does that measure mindfulness?” you might say…

The reality is that mindfulness isn’t a thing. It is the absence of a thing. The thing that mindfulness is the absence of, is those heavily conditioned responses that cloud our experience. Endless judgment, self-judgment, criticism and comparison robs us of the joy of life and connection to the present moment. Practicing mindfulness is a lifetime task of building an awareness of this jumble of unhelpful responses and responding to it by returning to the experience of the present moment.

BIFI is evidence that we are not mindfully aware. The more BIFI, the less mindfulness.

By noticing, noting, or even measuring BIFI by writing a BIFI journal, we can observe our negative responses diminishing and our mindfulness growing over time.

If you adopt BIFI as a measure, do drop us a line to tell us which direction your BIFI index is moving in and how fast.

Best of luck with your mindfulness journeys

Before you make any new year’s resolutions, read this

Why we do new year’s resolutions

Probably the main reason we feel a need for new year’s resolutions is that the holiday season is memorable and easily compared with the previous year which gives us a sense of perspective. A year also seems like a long time and there is a feeling we can achieve our goals in that time no matter how ambitious they are. The reality is that sadly, according to research, 88% of new year’s resolutions fail. [1]

Another reason for resolutions is that we can often look back over the year and feel that in some way, our achievements aren’t enough, that we could have done more, or that something is lacking. This can happen even in a successful year.

It is difficult not to compare ourselves with others. Comparison is an attribute of our genetic inheritance designed to encourage us to compete socially. This comparison is massively accelerated by the images we can project of ourselves in the 21st century. Facebook being the ultimate example of course. [2]

What is the alternative
So how can we make the most of our energy and desire for change without making rash promises or setting ambitious and unlikely goals? There is a very real desire for change that we should harness to our benefit.

My suggestion for making beneficial change is to ask yourself this question: “How much conflict has there been in my life in 2015?”

Conflict is counter-productive compared to it’s alternative which is collaboration. Conflict is evidence of our failure to convince or persuade. Relating smoothly proves we are successfully integrated in our community. It shows how much respect we are held in and whether we are viewed as hostile or collaborative by our peers.

How much conflict we experience is the only authentic and realistic measure of progress in our self-development practices. Nothing else can possibly be as authentic or as useful.

Measuring our progress
Here is an example end of year progress audit.

“Have I experienced more or less conflict in 2015 with my:

  • Partner
  • Family
  • Partners family!
  • Friends
  • Colleagues
  • Partner’s friends…
  • Neighbours
  • Acquaintances
  • Business contacts
  • Others”

Write less or more next to the category and give yourself an overall score. More conflict or less.

You can make up your own categories or do it thoroughly person by person, but we will all know pretty quickly, just by bringing to mind those people or groups, whether we have had more or less conflict with them in 2015 than we did in 2014.

Our new year’s resolutions then become simple, achievable and sustainable.

If there was less conflict in 2015 than 2014 for any group, identify why that is and your resolution will be to ensure that trend continues and grows in 2016.

If there was more conflict in 2015 than 2014 for any group, identify why that is and your resolution will be to try to reduce the level of conflict in 2016.

If you’re fortunate enough to have not experienced ‘any’ conflict in 2015, then your resolution will be to help others to also experience that in 2016.


Happy New Year to you all!

References

  1. A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7162692.stm
  2. Facebook makes us feel worse about ourselves (surprise!). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23709009

Love

“If love means anything, it means holding out our hand to the unlovable.”Quentin Crisp

As I sit here in a cafe watching the Christmas hustle and bustle, I can’t help thinking that Christmas has become partly a grand Consumer Festival dedicated to the great God of GDP and part a parody of its original spirit. Everyone hides away at home with ‘their’ loved ones and the original Christian message of love to ‘all’ men has become somewhat diluted. This and a message from a student has prompted me to write this post.

Just for a moment, put aside your preconceptions about love and have a little think about the quote above from Quentin Crisp. ‘Love’ has become misunderstood in our society to the point where it is only really spoken of in terms of romantic love. Love has almost become a taboo subject as romantic love and sexual attraction are difficult to disentangle which makes discussion of love a bit tricky for most people. Consequently, we have far too narrow a definition of love.

The ancient Greeks had several types of love as you can see here on Wikipedia.

one of these is Agape. Agape is the all pervasive love that was translated in the bible to the word ‘charity’  to distinguish it from romantic or familial love. Agape is love where there is no need for reciprocation. It is not the sort of love that we expect to be thanked for and so it has the  attributes of charity where ‘the left hand knows not what the right hand is doing’.

I understand that some biblical quotations are difficult to understand and interpret but this piece from Corinthians explains it better than I ever could:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
 
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.
 
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.
 
Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
 
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
 
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
 
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
 
Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
 
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
 
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
 
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
 
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
 
And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

~ Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1:13)

Have a wonderful holiday and a great new year!

Mindfulness in the Media

All media coverage of new things follows the same pattern.

The tech industry has a concept known as the media hype cycle which was originally created by Gartner the business analyst consultancy.

The hype cycle works like this:

The Trigger
There is a trigger when the media becomes aware of a new buzzword. In this case ‘Mindfulness’. Bear in mind that at this stage it is absolutely a buzzword because the media understandably knows nothing about it.

The Peak of Inflated Expectations
The trigger is followed by the media hyping up that buzzword and everything related to it in what is known as ‘the peak of inflated expectations’.

The Trough of Disillusionment
The spike of uninformed speculation is inevitably followed by the ‘trough of disillusionment’ as the hype fails to live up to the media’s initial expectations and they then zero in on anything that could possibly contradict the hype they created in the first place. sigh…

The Slope of Enlightenment
Then we have the ‘slope of enlightenment’. This occurs when the media can no longer hype or rubbish the buzzword any longer as it has all been said many times and the reality behind the concept emerges. This also means the readers and viewers want more than uninformed opinion and so instead of publishing meaningless soundbites, recycled news stories and rewording press releases from poorly supported studies; real journalistic work must be done. It also takes this long for some journalists to build a level of expertise in the subject that enables them to comment on it in an informed manner.

The Plateau of Productivity
This final stage is the point at which the concept has been assimilated as an accepted practice. This is where we see the real benefits. For mindfulness, in the UK, this will probably take another five to ten years. Mindfulness is a natural trait which massively reduces the burdens of our crazy artificial life and I fully expect it to become more integrated into study, work and daily life as time goes on.

Where we are right now
Right now, mindfulness media hype is somewhere between the ‘peak of inflated expectations’ and the ‘trough of disillusionment’. I read stories both hyping and rubbishing mindfulness. These are often contradictory and often from the same sources. This is the understandable confusion that comes from trying to comment on something that is out of our experience. In time, various news sources will take sides and mindfulness will probably develop a political bias. Only about one in every ten articles I read has any balance or a foundation in fact worth reporting. When I find balanced or informative articles, I post them on Twitter. We need to move away from extreme and unhelpful interpretations of what is a subtle and beneficial practice.

If you want to learn more about mindfulness keep an eye on this blog or my Twitter feed:

Bromley Mindfulness Twitter Feed

Two unforgettable and inexpensive mindfulness and happiness Christmas presents for children

By giving these gifts this Christmas you can make some young children happy throughout the year and help them learn mindfulness too!

A Mind Jar

Ingredients:

  • One large jar with a screw-on watertight lid.
  • A small amount of coloured dye. Blue works best.
  • Some silver and gold plastic confetti.

Instructions:
Fill the jar with water, add the blue dye until you get the shade and colour of a light sky.

Add the confetti. Screw on the lid until the jar is sealed tight. Turn it on its top and leave it overnight to test it is watertight.
Get a piece of paper. On one side, write “Happy Christmas, this is your mind jar. See the other side of this paper for instructions”. On the other side write these instructions: “Turn the jar over, watch the twinkling, star-like confetti spin and turn as it slowly drifts to the bottom. Notice how quiet your mind becomes. Turn the jar over again and repeat for as long as you want.
Happy Christmas from (add your name here)”.
Wrap it up and give for Christmas to a child.
Their mum will love you forever because it keeps them quiet for ages!

A Happy Jar

Ingredients:

  • One small notebook.
  • One large jar with a lid that the notebook will fit in.
  • A small pair of plastic scissors. (the type you give to children for craft projects)

Instructions:
Cut a hole in the top of the jar. The hole needs to be large enough to easily post a small piece of paper through it. About big enough to get a 50p coin in. Be careful when you cut the hole and make sure there are no sharp edges left.
Write these instructions in the front page of the notebook.
: “EVERY day, write down three NEW things (don’t write down the same thing twice) that either make you happy, that you appreciate, or that you feel grateful for. (If you’re not sure about what any of this means, ask mummy)
You can’t write down the same happy things twice, so you may need to find very small things that have happened in the last day”.
Cut each new thing you have written out into a paper strip using the plastic scissors and post it into the jar.
Notice how the happy jar soon fills up.
When you’re feeling sad or confused, go to the happy jar and take out as many paper strips as you need to help you to feel happy again. Read them, add another three and put them all back in the jar.
Happy Christmas from (add your name here)”.

This will make some young children very happy and you can have fun making it too.

Have a Great Christmas!

Mindfulness Cheat Sheet

Screenshot 2015-10-17 09.54.36

Over the years, I have collected a number of practices that have helped to boost my presence (present moment awareness).
This is absolutely the puropse of mindfulness training. If we spend our day experiencing what we can see, hear, smell, touch and taste instead of wandering in our minds to places that are unhelpful for our happiness then life simply becomes better.

Feel free to download it and share it as much as you’d like.

A useful personal collection of mindfulness tips, tricks, techniques and practices

Compiled by Robert Mitchell of Bromley Mindfulness 2015

View here

Download here
Daily Mindfulness Cheatsheet

The Candle and The Breath Mindfulness Meditation

In search of the quick fix

We live in a world of instant gratification. This is actually a built-in survival trait. We are are hard-wired to find shortcuts to rewards and to avoiding threats. Marketers know and understand this well. Many experiences in our lives have been designed to deliver this for us. Our ancestors had to work hard to change their circumstances or improve their experiences but technology is delivering the holy grail of having it all and having it all now. We have many comforts and pleasures at the touch of a button or the end of a phone.

For guided versions of the meditation, try SoundCloud or YouTube by clicking the buttons below:
Click here to go to SoundCloud  
 
Click here to go to YouTube

The traditional approach

Traditionally, mindfulness meditation teachers have always stressed that meditation is a long road, not a shortcut and needs persistent practice over many months and years. Progress cannot be predicted but will come in time. The advice for someone for whom meditation ‘isn’t working’ is usually to meditate more, and more regularly. Someone that is suffering from stress and overwhelm simply doesn’t want to hear this. They are probably already making many, many sacrifices to maintain this level of work. Meditation homework on courses is heavily stressed. There is a commonly repeated anecdote about the monk that goes to his teacher to explain that he can’t find twenty minutes each day to meditate. The master ponders this for a moment and says that the solution is to meditate for an hour.

A significant proportion of students struggle to find and maintain a daily meditation practice, despite experiencing clear benefits from a mindfulness course or classes. The reason for this is that those that can benefit from mindfulness the most, are often those that have the time and resources to introduce the practices the least. This isn’t just about time though it may seem like that to the student. Many factors can coincide to appear as time pressure such as: stress levels, work requirements, sleep deprivation, personal pressures and optimistic expectations from the practices. When life is going at 1,000 miles an hour, having daily practices that will return their benefits over an indeterminate future time just isn’t enough to gain and maintain our attention. Meditation is competing with so many experiences that promise instant relief from yoga to exercise to a glass of wine, to just switching on the T.V.

Mindfulness is the most transformative and the best researched personal development practice there is and mindfulness meditation is the key to that transformation. Mindfulness teachers must deliver what its students need which is quick results. They need this not because it will transform their lives in an instant, but because they need to build a sustainable practice and the busyness of the mind limits their motivation.

To assist busy-minded students in their quest for some respite from their incessant mental chatter, I have devised this meditation for this purpose.

The Candle and the Breath

Visualising the candle

This is a visualisation meditation but don’t be concerned if you find visualisation tricky. Visualisation is difficult for about 50% of meditation students but this meditation does not require the construction of a clear, detailed image in the mind. A dim image or an image that collapses and is continually reconstructed is fine.

The Candle

There are two parts to the candle and the breath. The first is to visualise a candle. You just need to close your eyes and imagine it in your mind.
If you are not a visual person, you may find that visualising a candle is extremely difficult and either you can’t see much in your mind or the image keeps collapsing. This is fine. Rebuild it in your mind or just try to stay focused on the dim image of the candle flame. It can help if you light a candle for a few moments and use that to help you construct the image.
If you are a visual person, you need to work hard too. Your job is to construct a highly detailed image. As detailed as possible. Imagine an ornate candle holder and focus on the details of the candle such as the wax dripping down the side and puddling in a transparent pool the top of the candle while reflecting the flickering light of the candle. Try to create the details in your mind as much as possible and move your mind from one detail to another.

The Breath

The other part of the mindfulness meditation is following the breath which is a basic mindfulness meditation. It is incredibly simple. Focus your attention on your breath, when the mind wanders, return your attention to the breath and repeat. That’s it. It’s the simplest thing in the world but it’s often difficult to stay with the practice as the mind will wander. Ideally you should focus on the sensation of the breath entering and leaving the nostrils as that feeling is usually more noticeable. If you find the sensation of the breath in the nostrils is uncomfortable or if don’t really notice much feeling, you can focus on the breath wherever it is comfortable for you such as, noticing the filling and emptying of breath in the lungs, the rising and falling off the chest or the feeling of breath as it hits the back of our throat.

The Candle and The Breath Mindfulness Meditation

Begin by focusing on the breath. Notice the sensation of the breath. When the mind begins to wander, instead of returning our attention to the breath as we do in the traditional following the breath meditation, move the focus of attention to the candle which we visualise at head height a foot or two in front of us. Construct as much of an image of the candle as you possibly can with as much detail and colour as possible. it helps to notice the flickering of the candle. Focus your attention on the candle, maintaining, exploring and adding details until your mind begins to wander. At this point return your attention to the breath and continue from there.

Order of activities in the basic candle and the breath meditation

  • Focus your attention on the breath
  • When the mind begins to wander, move your focus to the candle
  • When the mind begins to wander, move your focus to the breath
  • Repeat

Duration of the movement between the candle and the breath

You can move your attention back and forth either when you notice the mind wandering or after a number of breaths – usually about 5 or 6. With the first option you are intervening once the mind has wandered, with the second one you are keeping one step ahead of the thoughts by noticing how many breaths it takes before the mind wanders and moving ‘before’ you reach that number of breaths.

Additional elements for stubbornly busy minds

The simple version of the candle and the breath meditation will be sufficient for many people to silence the thoughts but for others we can add to the cognitive load and silence the thoughts. These are listed below

Flickering of the candle in time to the breath

When you focus on the candle, notice how the candle flickers towards you when you breathe in, and away when you breathe out. This way you can be aware of the breath in the back of your mind when you are focusing on the candle.

Noticing the candle flickering while we follow the breath

If you use the above technique ‘ flickering of the candle in time to the breath’, you can notice the candle’s flickering as you focus on the breath as a background experience.

Counting the breaths during the candle and the breath

If you use the above technique ‘ flickering of the candle in time to the breath’ you always have access to the breath in you mind, so you can count the breaths throughout the meditation. The way to do this is by counting from one to ten with each breath, when you reach ten, return to one. When you lose count, move your attention from the candle to the breath or from the breath to the candle and continue.

Moving the eyes behind closed lids from the candle to the breath and back

As you imagine the candle directly in front of you at head height, you can move you eyes from looking down at the breath, up to looking directly in front of you at the candle and back again behind closed lids. This helps to focus attention on the current element of the meditation.

Listening to the breath

If you are in a quiet place, it can help to listen to the breath as well as notice the sensation of the breath. This helps to maintain your focus.

How to use The Candle and The Breath in your mindfulness meditation practice

Our goal from this practice is to help the incessant, noisy train of thoughts to subside. There may be many reasons for this. you may just wish the mind to shut up. Your mind may be spinning out of control as you try to get to sleep or you might be frustrated by the busyness of the mind when you try other meditations. Like all meditations, you need to give it time to become an expert at it. You can mix and match all of the additional elements to give you what you need from the meditation. Remember that the goal is to fill the mind with the experience of the meditation to the level that random thoughts no longer penetrate into our consciousness. Our consciousness, our awareness, our attention should be fully focused on the meditation.

How it works

We have a common illusion that we can switch our attention in an instant. This is not the case. To notice the lag, move your attention from one part of your body to another and back. We can move a dim awareness quickly but to become aware of all of the sensations in each part of the body, we need a small but discernible time to say we are completely refocused.
What we can do is refocus our vision incredibly quickly from one element of our visual experience to another but when we move our attention from one sense to another or from one intensive element of our experience to another, there is a significant lag of several seconds. The more heavily focused we are on an experience, the slower it is for us to refocus on something else. This is why it can be frustrating when we are concentrating and we are constantly interrupted. In The Candle and The Breath meditation, we are moving from noticing our breath, using a part of the brain called the insula, to an intensive process of visualisation which uses the visual cortex. These are both quite unusual experiences for us to focus on if we are new to meditation. We need to both learn how to do these things and they are also cognitively intensive. I imagine that plugging someone into an MRI scanner while performing this meditation, we will be able to see these totally distinct parts of our brain activating in turn.

Because of the cognitive load and the lag, there is no room for thought. We are crowding the thoughts out by exercising other areas of our brains. We are crowding out our thoughts for the duration of the meditation.

My solo retreat day seven

The first three days

I have done a few of these solo retreats now and the pattern remains pretty much the same. For the first three days, the mind appears to be very busy. What is actually happening is that the lack of external stimulus from the solitude makes what mental chatter that there is, appear noisier than back in the busy urban environment. I don’t think that the mind is any busier than normal, it just seems that way because there are no distractions

Thoughts

From the fourth day on, each day brings more calmness and peace of mind. Today was exceptional. I am relaxed, peaceful and calm. There is simply silence with the occasional thought flitting across my mind like a cloud across the sky. Whenever I feel my awareness being pulled away from the present moment, I can gently return to Presence.

Emotions

In addition to the thoughts, I notice the deeper undercurrents of emotions arising and subsiding. They’re all older ones at they moment, popping up to remind me of my life’s legacy. :) It’s incredible how deeply rooted some of these are. I don’t think I have ever done a retreat where I haven’t encountered some psychological material that I didn’t know was there. It’s worth it just for that.

A New Meditation

One of the first meditations that I teach new students is called ‘labeling the thoughts’. In this meditation, we attach a label to our thoughts when they arise during the meditation. The label is an abstraction and normally consists of a word that identifies our thoughts such as ‘judging’, ‘resenting’, ‘comparing’, etc.

We use the label as a prompt to return our attention to the breath. This meditation transfers neatly into a daily practice where when we become aware of an unhelpful thought pattern, we label it and return to the breath. This single practice has been life changing for some of my students.

There is a problem with labeling the thoughts however, which is this. If a student has particularly compelling thought patterns that can take them to dark places, the practice tends to unhelpfully reinforce that their minds are out of control. Because this is unhelpful for beginners, I have devised an alternative version. I call it labeling the quality of the thoughts.

In this meditation, the labels we use have less emotional significance, even if the mind is heavily compelled to heavy and dark thought patterns.

Labeling the quality of the thoughts

Focus your attention on your breath. Wait for a thought to arise. When a thought arises, label it depending on how persistent it is. I use these categories but you can obviously use your own: fleeting, wandering, persisting, repeating.

Fleeting thoughts are the momentary images and words that pop into our minds unbidden. We can notice these during long or deep meditations if we have a busy mind as a bubbling cauldron of thoughts, competing for our attention and some of which we become conscious of.

Wandering is, of course, mind wandering and we only notice it once our minds have made many associations and wandered, often far away, from the original thoughts.

Persistent thoughts are the thoughts that hang around in our heads and refuse to leave a bit like the music that often plays in a seemingly endless loop in our heads.

Repetitive thoughts are those thoughts that return to our mind over and over again no matter how many times we put them to bed.

For me this pretty much covers everything but feel free to use your own labels.

This practice offers a different way of observing our thoughts and using them as a prompt for Presence that the ‘monkey mind’ will find more difficult to use against us.

If you’d like some instruction in meditation practices come along to one of our drop-in classes or book onto a course. Take a look around the site to find what’s most useful to you.
Namaste,

Robert.

Two quotes on presence (mindfulness) by Eckhart Tolle

Do not seek any other state than the one you are in now; otherwise you will set up inner resistance to what is the now. Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes peace. Anything you accept fully will lead you into peace, This is the miracle of surrender. When you accept what is, every moment is the best moment. That is enlightenment.Eckhart Tolle
If you go into a forest with your mind only, you’ll only notice the sounds and the mind will try to interpret them. You might think you’re present; but you’re not really, you’re simply judging what you hear. But if you become aware of the silent dimension underneath the sounds and in between the sounds, then you become present because the moment you become aware of the silence, you also have become silent.Eckhart Tolle

Are you addicted to your mobile?

  1. Have you ever felt you should cut down on your mobile phone use?
  2. Have people ever annoyed you by criticizing your mobile phone use?
  3. Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your mobile phone use?
  4. When you wake up in the morning is the first thing you do to look at your messages?

Yes answers to 2 or more questions is a problem as they are adapted from the CAGE questionnaire used to identify alcoholics:

Link to the CAGE Questionnaire.

Mindfulness cures digital distraction. Contact me to find out more.

How to measure your progress in mindfulness

I often get asked “How do I know I am making progress with my mindfulness practices? My mind is just as busy now as it always was. I sit down to meditate and my mind is still busy and clouded with thoughts.”

If we look up ‘mindfulness progress’, we will find a few responses from the Buddhist/Spiritual contingent. The secular contingent seemingly has nothing much to say on the subject and what advice there is largely boils down to “If you feel you’re not making progress, meditate more and/or more regularly”. There is no clarification of exactly what progress is and how we can measure it.

Here is that clarification.

Firstly…

What progress is NOT

  1. Progress is NOT less thought when meditating
  2. Progress is NOT any experience you have when meditating
  3. Progress is NOT keeping to any schedule you have committed to or building up your time spent meditating
  4. Progress is NOT ANY goal related to meditation

Progress is nothing to do with meditation. Progress can only be measured in your day-to-day experience.

The reason for this is because the meditation is the TRAINING.

We know we are making progress not because of what happens in our training but by the skills that training gives us. Skills that become part of us and that we can call on without thought or preparation.

How to measure progress in mindfulness

Just after Christmas I was speaking with one of my students who told me about how her sister had invited her Dad unexpectedly to their Christmas meal. My student clearly had issues with her Dad in the past. She told me how this encounter would have invariably led to fireworks in the past but she kept her cool and the Christmas meal went off without incident.

She then told me that she was worried that she didn’t appear to be making any progress with her mindfulness.

The key to measuring our progress

We can measure progress in our practices by the amount of conflict in our lives, internal and external.

Internal conflict can be seen in experiences like: anxiety, resentment, anger, fear, stress, procrastination, impatience, boredom and the level of intrusive thought in your day. If you are unaware of your levels of these experiences and how they compare, start a journal so you can look back and see how far you have come.

External conflict is obvious. Look at your relationships and ask yourself whether they are improving or not.

If you stick with the practices and keep a journal you will see positive changes over every three to six months.

Namaste.

 

How mindfulness brings peace of mind in a crazy world

Mindfulness isn’t a thing, it’s the absence of a thing. The thing that mindfulness is an absence of is unconscious conditioned responses. This is where we respond to an experience the way that we have learned to, without conscious awareness or thought.

How we spend our live in unconscious consciousness
This might be just how we spend our time while traveling our it could be something deeper such as how we respond to a family member or a colleague.

These sort if responses aren’t bad, but one unconscious response can lead to another and we can find ourselves with a complex pattern of behaviour that just limits our happiness and peace of mind.

Unconscious responses in action
Let me give you an example. Let’s take commuting. Thinking back to when I was working in central London, the commute, especially the morning commute, was a significant source of stress for me.

I was one of those people that calculates where the doors of the train would be, then stands there hoping to get into the train first. The reason for that is that I could then get a seat and I wouldn’t be squashed up against the other commuters when the train was busy which would add to my already significant burden of stress. When the doors opened I would dash for any seats I could find, but sometimes, someone would beat me to it. When that happened I would purse my lips and then spend the journey standing and seething internally. My thoughts were invariably about what I was going to do at work, going round and round in my head for the entire journey.

This would then be one of the many negative experiences that would add up to my having a bad day. I had a lot of bad days. I know I wasn’t alone.

Developing presence
In time, as I developed my mindfulness practice, that same scenario would still play out but at some point I would become aware of how my response to that experience was making me feel. This means that I would feel the Internal sensation of my personal stress and it would dissolve or dissipate. This is what happens to negative emotions when we develop mindfulness. They subside and we regain a sense of proportion. Our responses are proportionate to the experience.

Now, if that happened to me I would become aware instantly of any negative emotional response, I focus my awareness on it and it subsides.

Whether I’m standing or sitting, I can meditate to calm my mind no matter how crowded the train gets.

I still like to get a seat on the train but it has stopped being a problem when I don’t.

I hope this helps to give you an idea of how mindfulness can help you. If you’d like to try mindfulness training, come to one off my drop-in classes, book a course or arrange for a free online mindfulness coaching session.

Robert teaches mindfulness courses at Bromley Mindfulness. Click here to find out more.

Mindfulness Meditation – The Evidence 2. The Details

August saw the publication, by the American Journal of Psychiatry, of a seminal study into the effects of mindfulness training on a group of US Marines taught during their counter-insurgency training prior to deployment to Afghanistan.

This was the culmination of five years work by Elizabeth Stanley and her colleagues from the Mind Fitness Training Institute – M-Fit.

One of the difficulties in studying human experience is how to isolate individuals from external events that may affect their responses and so invalidate the findings of the studies. This is one of the reasons, along with a wide range of measures, rigorous analysis and adequate controls that makes this study so important.

The study, entitled: ‘Modifying Resilience Mechanisms in At-Risk Individuals: A Controlled Study of Mindfulness Training in Marines Preparing for Deployment’ is available here .

A useful synopsis article from Science Daily is available here.

I can’t conceive of a group more difficult to convince of the benefits of mindfulness than the military. Here is a quotation lifted from the Washington Times  from US Marine Sergeant Nathan Hampton on his mindfulness training. You can see what his initial position might have been when he was told about it. :)

“A lot of people thought it would be a waste of time. Why are we sitting around a classroom doing weird meditative stuff? But over time, I felt more relaxed. I slept better. Physically, I noticed that I wasn’t tense all the time. It helps you think more clearly and decisively in stressful situations. There was a benefit.”

It is important to understand the context of this study. These guys are going back into an environment that has seen them losing their friends and suffering greatly. Some of their comrades may well be suffering from PTSD or they may have recovered from it themselves The counter-insurgency traing is held in a simulated environment that is apparently just like being in Afghanistan. You can see it here.

According to the authors this is “the first study of the effect of mindfulness training utilizing multiple domains of measurement”.
There were *significant* positive differences between the mindfulness training group and the control group using the following measures:

  • Heart rate
  • Breathing rate
  • Neuropeptide Y (stress hormone indicator)
  • Interoception measured via Insula activity (body awareness, critical for effective decision making)
  • The Response to Stressful Experiences Scale

I think this is a ground-breaking study and adds extremely valuable evidence to the already reliable body of evidence accruing to prove the benefits of mindfulness meditation.

If you want to find out more, drop me a line at robert@middlewayconsulting.com

Mindfulness Meditation – The Evidence

2014 has been an important year for the awareness of mindfulness meditation in the United States. In February, Time Magazine announced on its cover that there is a “Mindful Revolution”.

The November 2014 cover of Scientific American announced that meditation “changes the brain boosting focus and reducing stress”.

August saw the release, by the American Journal of Psychiatry, of what I feel to be the single most compellingly credible study to date on the benefits of mindfulness meditation which bears the impressive title of: ‘Modifying Resilience Mechanisms in At-Risk Individuals: A Controlled Study of Mindfulness Training in Marines Preparing for Deployment’. This seminal research (more of which in a future post), is part of an ongoing, rigorous, controlled study of the effects of mindfulness meditation on the levels of stress encountered by US Marines during their counter-insurgency training prior to deployment. The study reported ‘significant’ reductions in stress for the meditating group in each of the five measures used in comparison to the control group. I shall also post at a later date on how mindfulness meditation is being used to assist in managing Post Traumatic Stress in operatives that have returned from combat.

There is a significant and growing body of scientific evidence that increasingly proves that the wellness benefits of mindfulness meditation are significant and far-reaching. This body of evidence currently consists of over 3000 research publications filed on the NCBI databases. This is being added to at a prodigious rate. 477 studies were initiated in 2012. Mindfulness Research publishes the highlights on a monthly basis which consists of 30 papers per month.

 

Mindfulness and walking by Eckhart Tolle

If you go into a forest with your mind only, you’ll only notice the sounds and the mind will try to interpret them. You might think you’re present; but you’re not really, you’re simply judging what you hear. But if you become aware of the silent dimension underneath the sounds and in between the sounds, then you become present because the moment you become aware of the silence, you also have become silent.Eckhart Tolle

Mindfulness tip of the day – turn mobile data off by default

Being bombarded with a constant stream of messages is a First World Problem but it is a very real one.

Not only endless notifications but more importantly the pull of the Twitter and Facebook streams is a real issue for some of us. It is difficult to tell people to turn our phones off in this day and age, but turning off data means you can still be contacted by your nearest and dearest, but the lure and distraction of the alternative digital world is abated for a while.

When you *really need* to tweet or check Facebook, you can just turn it back on again.

Have a mindful day…

What mindfulness meditation isn’t

Things that mindfulness and mindfulness meditation aren’t

  • Mindfulness isn’t religious
  • You won’t have to sit in any special way – we like to sit in comfort
  • We are not hippies though if you are, feel free to come along
  • We don’t try to levitate
  • You don’t need to learn to believe anything or not believe anything
  • It is not an intellectual learning experience, you can take what you want from the classes
  • We aren’t trying to contact our inner child
  • There is no chanting
  • There is no dancing
  • We don’t summon up invisible energies
  • Mindfulness meditation isn’t a trance-like state
  • Mindfulness takes time and patience though there are universal benefits for everyone
  • Mindfulness and meditation is not avoiding reality – we all go to work in the morning
  • There is no hypnosis or anything else scary or weird

If you would like to find out more about mindfulness pop along to one of our meetings.

5 quick wins for reducing anxiety

5 Quick wins for reducing anxiety

Here are some quick wins for you if you are in a difficult place. They will take two weeks to really work, which in the world of chronic anxiety is lightning speed!

1. Stop wearing a watch unless it is utterly essential

If you don’t have a busy schedule you don’t need to constantly be aware of the time and if you have a mobile you have access to the time if you really need it. Checking the time constantly keeps you thinking of some future event and moves the focus of your attention away from the present moment.

For most of us, for most of the time, the present moment is overwhelmingly good. The future is always unpredictable and full of potential threats, so it becomes a source of anxiety. leave the watch in a drawer.

2. Stop drinking caffeine

Caffeine from tea, coffee and various soft drinks promotes anxiety by releasing adrenaline or epinephrine as it is also known. This promotes a fight or flight response in the body promoting alertness and suppressing sleep.

The effects of caffeine are prolonged and it takes two weeks for the body to return to normal.

3. Reduce your news consumption

If you have every wondered why the news is full of bad news then take a look at this link:

This post explains to marketeers how using negative superlatives such as ‘never’ and ‘worst’ outperforms positive superlatives such as ‘always’ and ‘best’.
http://www.outbrain.com/blog/2013/07/headlines-when-the-best-brings-the-worst-and-the-worst-brings-the-best.html

Each newspaper competes with every other newspaper for the worst possible news. The news media scours the globe for bad news. Viewed through the lens of the news, the world soon becomes a scary place which feeds into our personal beliefs. We all have enough challenges and limitations in our lives without adopting ones that are served up to us by the media.

Discovering bad news is a survival trait that we are programmed for. Our ancestors ‘needed’ to know whether there was plague in a neighbouring village and those that were motivated to move by this bad news would have been the ones that survived. Now that we are no longer in a life or death environment this morbid fascination with bad news works against us.

Ask yourself when was the last time that something you learned from the news changed your life or even, when has anything you read in a newspaper materially benefited you in any way?

We feel we need to ‘keep up with current affairs’ but as someone that stopped reading newspapers several years ago, I still find that there are so many people reading the news all around me that I am aware of the major news anyway and do you ‘really’ need to know about the rest?

Here are a couple of links that may help you to see all of this in a newer perspective:

Why no news is good news from the Guardian
http://www.theguardian.co m/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-rolf-dobelli

4. Detox from the TV and if you can, stop watching it altogether

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.Groucho Marx

The TV is a parody of reality. I agree that some programmes are educational but the information they provide is largely available through internet research with the difference that you are in control of what you learn and where you go to learn it. Enough to satisfy your knowledge without the baggage of knowing intimately  who is going to get kicked out of the Big Brother room next!

5. Digital detox

I think that there is far too much emphasis on how carrying mobile devices is bad. In itself it isn’t bad. What is bad is the significance we place on the messages we receive. We fail to filter them and so they continually grab our attention dragging us into some unpredictable future event from the overwhelmingly good present moment.

There are a number of strategies that help such as turning off notifications but if we need to respond instantly then we need to find the time to ourselves.

Here are some strategies:

  • Put all of your devices in a drawer on one day over a weekend
  • Put all of your devices away after a certain time in the evening
  • Filter out notifications so you only get the ones that really matter
  • Go on a digital detox holiday

To read about my recent solo retreat and digital detox go here:

http://bromleymindfulness.org.uk/tag/retreat/

 

About mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness is a state of mind that cannot really be explained. It has to be experienced. Fortunately, the technique used for learning mindfulness, called mindfulness meditation, is simple and accessible to anyone with patience and an open mind.
There are many, often unhelpful, definitions of mindfulness that can lead students to mistake a stage in their development for the achievement of a mindful state of mind. This happened to me on numerous occasions, so I am wary of trying to define mindfulness but I think that I have a responsibility for explaining it as well as I can so here goes. Remember that the words are not the thing itself. They are pointers to it like a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.

Mindfulness
For me, the experiences that I had in the past that were closest to the state of mindfulness that I currently experience were what have been described by psychologists as ‘peak experiences‘.
Peak experiences are those rare moments where a combination of extraordinary peace of mind, calmness, a sense of connection and purpose transcend daily life to a level that is quite remarkable.
Whenever I experienced this, everything seemed  just right. Time slowed, colours appeared richer and more vibrant, momentarily, life seemed to be enhanced. These moments soon passed, leaving only a memory as I returned to my relatively mundane life.

Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a collection of simple practices that, over time, can lead to mindfulness as an accessible state of mind in our daily lives. This leads to an otherwise elusive calmness and peace of mind.
The basic practice consists of focusing attention on the breath and repeatedly returning that focus to the breath when the mind inevitably wanders. There are a number of other meditations that support this basic practice.

The body scan meditation

Our culture disconnects us from our bodies. We have to relearn that connection along with the connection to our emotions and other people.

If you don’t think this is correct, ask yourself when was the last time that you felt the feeling in your feet from walking along, or even, when was the last time you were aware of your feet at all?

For our first foray into this new world of bodily self-awareness we shall try a little exercise that has been popularised by Eckhart Tolle.

Sit in your favoured meditation position. Hold your hands out, almost parallel in front of you but slightly higher than your shoulders with your arms extended.

Close your eyes and ask yourself how you *know* that your hands are connected to your body.

You should feel your hands now more directly and fully than you will have, possibly for a long time. You may feel tingling, you may feel the blood flowing in your hands and the life in them. Just do this for a few moments then stop.

Now take your shoes off, let your feet rest on the floor and allow yourself to feel, not the floor but the feeling in your feet and see if you can find similar sensations in your feet to the ones you did with your hands.

You are focusing your attention on your feet. You are now actually fully aware of your feet, possibly for a number of us, for the first time ever…

Now move the focus of your attention, body part by body part, slowly up your body leaving your attention on that body part for a few seconds each time so that you allow yourself to be fully aware of it.

As you move your attention, allow that body part to relax. Allow yourself to feel the tension leave your body. For parts of the body that carry a lot of stress such as the shoulders and neck leave your attention there for long enough to enable it to completely relax.

Move along your body, relaxing as you go: feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs etc. When you get to your neck move the focus of your attention to your head and face then back to your neck and finally your hands.

If you’re doing a body scan alone then it’s now finished but if you’re doing it as an initial technique in your meditation routine you can now move the focus I your attention directly to your breath and continue.

Namaste

That is a body scan.

Four days back from my solo retreat

I thought I would give it a while before I added a new post to see what the effects of the retreat were a few days after returning.

I have felt, and continue to feel really calm. My mind is still and I am very lucid. My thoughts have really subsided and I find that I am able to bring mindfulness into some moments that I previously have found difficult.

I have effectively taken another step on my personal journey with the realisation that I need to practice humility. I have the content that I created while away to work on and I am looking forward to fleshing out the presentation and putting the framework in place for the course.

It is probably worth posting where I am at some point later on this month to see what the residual effects are then.

Namaste

Solo retreat 5th day

Today the mind is very quiet. I find myself bringing myself easily and smoothly into the present moment and lingering here rather blissfully.

I also took a bit of a back seat today on my work. I had to go into town in to pick up some supplies as I had underestimated what I needed. Next time I’ll fix a menu in advance and buy the ingredients.
One of the things I did today was to write down a list of achievements from this week.
I found that being totally alone like this is really brilliant for getting the contents of your brain down onto paper.
I was able to extract all of the details for a number of categories in such a way that I was able to formulate and plan based on the information.
I also did a lot of reading and made copious notes.
I think the most productive area was in intellectually demanding yet creative tasks such as planning a course and constructing a massive presentation.
I also struggled with the residue of urban life for consumer-producers which invariably consists of resentments and anxieties of some sort.

It seems to me, no matter how much time I spend uncovering and working with past resentments and so-on that there are always more. Speaking to other people who are experienced meditators, I’m not alone. It seems that the brain has infinite storage capacity for anything that it can possibly interpret as a threat.

Don’t think that I am particularly neurotic. I know beyond doubt that this sort of emotional burden (karma) is a characteristic of our entire consumer society. The difference with me is that after years of mindfulness and meditation I am both aware of it and can also, thankfully, release it.

My goal is to entirely divest myself of my negative karma one experience at a time. Whether I have enough time left on this planet to achieve this or not is the pivotal question :).

All I can say for sure though is that I am not adding to it!

I’ve started reading a book by Ram Dass called ‘Be Here Now’. One of the reviews on Amazon warned me that the book starts as a bit of a hippy bible encouraging us all to leave the workplace for the poppy fields and at this stage it certainly seems that way but I shall stick with it as some of Ram Dass’ teachings I have found are absolutely spot on.

Regarding what I blogged about yesterday, which is the fact that many mindfulness teachers don’t seem to confront the issue of emotions, there is an excellent quotation by Ram Dass which says “To him who has had the experience no explanation is necessary, to him who has not, none is possible.”

Discussing the journey of the mind with the uninitiated is literally, like speaking a different language. This is where the language of spirituality comes in and where we end up struggling. Science has no concept of things like connection with nature, the joy of life, transcendence and bliss so there aren’t the words. Hence, we all end up sounding like hippies whether we want to or not! :) My daughter says that much of what I say she simply puts in her ‘Dad’s hippy box’ category.

I suspect, that there are some mindfulness teachers that have had this experience and yet keep it to themselves for fear that it will blow their credibility with their academic or healthcare buddies.

Imagine coming into the University or the hospital in the morning to say “I spent several hours bathing in the bliss  resulting from releasing ancient fears.” Probably wouldn’t contribute to their next promotion eh?

So this is the last day and I shall be back in the urban jungle soonish.

I shall report back on how that works out.

Namaste Brother and Sisters! :)

Solo retreat 4th day

And so yesterday, the fourth day, I got down to the nitty-gritty of my retreat.

Most mindfulness teachers seem to either see mindfulness as a ‘spiritual practice’ on the path to Nirvana or as a ‘therapy’ they can add to their portfolio.

I am somewhat different, I came to mindfulness through stress. When I picked up the Power of Now in a bookshop in 2009, I was searching for something to help me deal with my stress.

Two revelations in that book transformed my weak Zen Buddhist meditation practices into a powerful tool that has helped me to transform my mind, and my life. This retreat is evidence that transformation is an ongoing process.

The revelations were simply that I am not my thoughts or my emotions and that the present moment is all there is. This helped me to become aware of my emotions, possibly for the first time, and most definitely for the first time as an observer.

This ability to observe emotions rather than experience them is a key element of mindfulness.

An analogy that I often use is that the mind is like a river. When the current is strong and the river level is high, it stirs up the bottom, becomes murky, creates waves and froth. The bottom of the river is hidden and so crossing it is dangerous.

Mindfulness clears the mind and creates a calm, still silence which enables us to observe and experience our thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness can become a safe space, one that, with practice, we can always find. This is the eventual goal of mindfulness meditation, to experience the mind safely, transform our minds and so, transform our lives, though not everybody either can or would want to experience this. One has to ‘be ready’. Nobody quite knows what ‘ready’ actually is, but you’ll know it when you’re there.

In the consumer society, meditating on emotions, thoughts and beliefs consists of becoming aware of our conditioning, questioning it and releasing the limiting beliefs, habits and emotions which unfortunately, is most of it.

From what I have seen, most mindfulness courses and mindfulness teachers don’t actually acknowledge this process. I think that this is largely because they haven’t been there themselves.

It’s not possible to speak about, for instance, the connection with nature, the joy of life and the bliss of releasing deep inner fears unless you have experienced it yourself.

Today, to repeat a commonly used expression, “all sorts of stuff came up”.

Of course, it is all good, but it really was a day spent with various tricky emotions such as resentment and grief.

Over the years I have used a number of techniques for managing this sort of psychological quagmire, but nowadays I just dive in and allow myself to feel it. I can almost invariably identify the cause and so either I allow myself to be aware of it and let it dissolve, or find a practice to resolve it.

My latest personal lesson is humility. And the practice I needed to find was how to practice it!

Here are the Dalai Lama’s teachings on humility:
http://www.dalailama.com/teachings/training-the-mind/verse-2
Recently, I have developed a great deal of respect for the Dalai Lama. I’m not a Buddhist simply because I don’t believe in reincarnation, but I will seek out wisdom wherever it can be found, and for the record, that’s often in the most unlikely places…

For some reason, probably because I simply didn’t understand, I used to think the Dalai Lama’s teachings were a western ‘media friendly’ version of Buddhism, but recently I’ve discovered the power in them. I had thought for instance, that compassion was an outcome, a side effect almost, of having found inner peace. Recently, I discovered compassion is something I need to actively practice. In the same way, I now know that I need to practice humility. I need to review my interactions and decide on who I should be compassionate or humble with, and then go out of my way to do it. 

I think if I can be compassionate to people that are resentful and humble with people that are arrogant, then I will have have found my way and rising to the bait will be a thing of the past.

To practice humility, I have now realised that I need to be mindful of how I have responded in the past and be prepared to defer to people not just when they’re wrong, but ‘especially’ when they are wrong, because after all, what is right and wrong except an idea we think is true that we hold in our heads? So why not just allow them to continue to believe whatever it is they want to believe?

Solo retreat 3rd day

Yesterday I spent more time meditating and my mind was a tad clearer.

Looking after the dogs ‘does’ have an effect and it is twofold. Firstly they tend to come over to play while I’m meditating, of course :), but there is also a sense of responsibility that maintains a link in my mind to their welfare and what thy are up to. It can be quite tenuous but it’s very real.

I spent the day focusing on doing ‘one thing at a time’ and found that I was very productive as a result. There was definitely a period of flow where I cracked through work that would normally take me ages.

The purpose wasn’t productivity, it was doing ‘one thing at a time’. The productivity was a side effect.

Overall invasive thoughts were mild and so I spent much of the day in a good mindful place.

Solo Retreat 2nd day

Yesterday was more of what I call meing and being where the focus of my attention moves between awareness and the inner narrative then back again over and over again.

Today will be a Zen day. My mind is relatively quiet and I’m confident that I can focus on my tasks and achieve my goals by retaining this focus.

Yesterday I cracked an elusive problem that I had been trying to solve, probably for some years now.

The silent stillness, inner and outer, enables a clarity of mind that has become such a rare event in my day-to-day life.

This morning, I am a lot closer to what Tolle refers to as the stillness. Yesterday my awareness opened up and I was able to appreciate nature a lot more.

The place that I am staying is thankfully surrounded by trees, some of which are aspens. They shimmer in the breeze quite magically and are a wonderful thing to focus on when meditating. Apparently aspens were associated with magical powers by the pre-Christian civilisations in Europe and I can quite understand why as the shimmering and rustling sound creates a quite wonderful experience.

This morning my mental experience is less of meing and being and more of mental stillness punctuated by the occasional thought.

Solo Retreat – first day

It seems that my first day on solo retreat is always one where my mind is very busy.
Each morning on retreat I get up, feed the dogs and take them for a walk. When I get back, this is the quietest time for me. Yesterday when I got back I sat to meditate and really struggled as the thoughts were intervening and my mind felt clouded.
Today by comparison, my mind is as clear as a mountain stream.
I brought some ting sha bells with me and I just sounded them three times. Sounds wonderful. It is such a good way to connect to the present moment.
It may sound absurd, but this is working retreat. By work, I mean those creative and innovative things that everybody needs to do, and yet in our crazy lives, there is never the time to do them.
Much of the work that I have to do is related to mindfulness in some way. Despite my mind being relatively busy yesterday, I was able to achieve quite a lot. I have high hopes for the productive output of this week.
I meditated a number of times over the day yesterday. When I had cleared my mind, I did notice a certain amount of emotional undercurrent.
I’m certain during the day today I will be able to work on these emotions and discover what message my subconscious has for me. :)

My Solo Retreat starts tomorrow!

I’m going to be staying alone in the Sussex countryside for seven days but I will have access to my iPhone which I shall limit to an hour per day online in the evenings. This means data will be off until the evening and the area has very poor reception so it’s also largely a digital detox with no mobile contact too. If I feel so moved, I may go completely offline, it remains to be seen.

The venue is a friends farm style house. The neighbours are hundreds of yards away. It’s a ten minute walk to the quiet village that doesn’t have a shop.

The road leads nowhere and there’s a car every 30 minutes or so. There are some lovely walks that I shall do directly from the house.

I will need to visit town once in the week to replenish my supplies. As I’m here from  the 15th to the 22nd, I will make that visit on the 19th so I shall have three full solitary days to start. This is because the last time I did something similar, my mind was unusually busy for the first two days and quieted down on the third so a visit to town will not intervene in this initial quieting process.

I am not technically totally alone as I shall be looking after two dogs but that won’t trigger many, or any, streams of thought above what would normally happen based on my last similar retreat of three days.

I am hoping to write a blog article daily to report on the experience and anything that I discover in the process.

Watch this space for further reports!

Quotations on presence (present moment awareness) from Eckhart Tolle

If you’re coming to our coffee and mindfulness meeting tonight here is some food for thought, and if you’re not… here’s some food for thought. :)

“This is most people’s reality: As soon as something is perceived, it is named, interpreted, compared to something else, liked, disliked, or called good or bad by the phantom self, the Ego. They are imprisoned in thought forms, in object consciousness.”

“As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love – even the most simple action.”

“The past has no power over the present moment.”

“Give up defining yourself — to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are”.
~ A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.”

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but thought about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is.”

mirror meditation

Of the two kinds of meditation, focused attention and open monitoring, mindfulness meditation is normally focused attention and usually focus on the breath.

The other kind of meditation, open monitoring takes a bit of getting used to if you have only ever done focused attention. Here is a simple open monitoring meditation called the mirror meditation.

Sit comfortably with your back straight and focus on the breath for a while to help still the mind.

Once you are calm open your eyes and look down at the floor in front of you.

Allow yourself to be as aware as possible of  whatever you can see from the very corners of your eyes.

Don’t return to the breath but allow yourself to take in what you can see with your peripheral vision.

This may feel a bit strange for a while but it adds some variety to your practice and exercises your awareness and your mind.

That’s it, the mirror meditation.

Namaste…

My pick of the best TED lectures

Elizabeth Loftus explains how we reconstruct our memories

Jill Bolte-Taylor questions her, and your, realities with her inspiring experience of a stroke

Father David Stiendl-Rast explains his global movement for gratitude and happiness

Actress Thandie Newton exposes the fragility of her, and our, personas

If Hannah Brencher’s talk on love letters doesn’t bring a lump to your throat, you’re not human

What Leadership really means from Simon Sinek

Why you need to be true to yourself from Caroline Casey

How everybody benefits when everybody benefits by Richard Wilkinson

How the formula for happiness is broken and how we can fix it by Shawn Achor

12 simple quick Mindfulness techniques – Micromeditation

Meditation - Grim Santo@flickr_1440x960

This is a list of articles that I have written to date that will help you to find mindfulness in your daily life and that all take anything from a second to a few minutes.

Read through them and find the ones that work for you.

Feel free to comment below

Namaste

nature as a portal to mindfulness

There was a time when I could only meditate in nature.

It was the second time around for me for meditation and I was absolutely struggling to clear my mind of thoughts.

I would travel to the countryside during the weekend and find a quiet place after walking for about half an hour, usually in a forest somewhere. I would sit down with my back to a tree and actually be able to focus on my breathing without thoughts intervening.
Usually in these meditation sessions I would be able to maintain mindfulness for about half an hour or so. I was aware of the sounds of the forest, the sound and movement of the creatures in it, the sound of falling leaves and the wind in the trees.

I was so stressed that I struggled to be free of my inner dialogue without doing all of this to get away from it. Since then I have always looked at nature as a way of finding my way back to mindfulness.

Interestingly, the next place I was able to meditate was in a busy coffee shop. :)

Since then I have always used nature as what Eckhart Tolle calls “a portal into the present moment”. Any nature will do. Even just a plant in a busy office or a glimpse of a cloud or the sky through the window.

my gift to you – the calm gift of happiness

What is happiness?

This question is not a simple as it first seems. There is no definition of happiness and it is entirely subjective. To try to pin it down, we first have to be clear what happiness is not:

Happiness is not comfort and pleasure. Comfort and pleasure are temporary antidotes to being unhappy. If you dedicate your life to the pursuit of comfort and pleasure you may be able to experience comfort and pleasure regularly but you can still be really unhappy.

Happiness is not inner peace, though one needs inner peace to be happy. Inner peace is a lack of internal (and subsequently external) conflict.

Love and compassion is not happiness, though I believe they are essential ingredients of happiness.

Happiness is not a thing. It’s the absence of a thing

The thing that happiness is the absence of, is suffering. I’m talking here about self-imposed suffering such as: resentment, anger, fear, anxiety, impatience and the resulting stress. These are self-imposed because they are the result of how we think and feel about our life experiences, and are not the experiences themselves. It is the reaction to our life experiences that causes us to suffer, not the experiences themselves.

Rather than try to define happiness, I listed those things that were the prerequisites to happiness. Those things that if one did not have them then one could not be happy. Once I had written them down, I discovered that I could rearrange the words into a mnemonic which is ‘CALM GIFT’. This couldn’t have been more appropriate so now we have it:

The CALM GIFT of happiness

 

Compassion
When you finally realise, deeply and intuitively, that everyone you meet is a reflection of yourself and part of the one life that we all share. When you realise that everyone is is a child of their conditioning and experience in the same way that you are. When you realise that you have all the defects that they do but only differing in degree, then, and only then, you can be compassionate both to them, and to yourself.

Acceptance
Acceptance is emotional connection. It is allowing yourself to feel whatever you feel in the present moment, good or bad. The present moment is overwhelmingly good but the catch is that to feel the good, you’ll also have to feel the bad.

Love
This isn’t the sloshy, sentimental and fickle romantic love which has elements of attraction and lust liberally mixed in.
This love is the all-encompassing and unconditional love that the bible sometimes refers to as charity and which is an open handed acceptance and giving to all living things.

Mindfulness
Mindfulness is being in the present moment. If you are in the past you will regret, if you are in the future you will worry. While you can’t return to the present moment, you can’t be happy.

Gratitude
Gratitude is the supreme balancer of negative emotions. As you are a bundle of conditioning, some of it will be negative so you need to balance it out to teach your brain that life isn’t all bad. Learning to be grateful will give you that balance.

Inner Peace
You can only develop inner peace by being aware of inner conflict. When it arises, there is no need to do anything, acknowledge the conflict and it will dissolve in time.

Forgiveness
If you can’t forgive you’ll resent. How can you be happy if you’re feeling resentful?

Truth
The measure of truth, honesty and integrity is when: what you say, what you do, what you think, how you feel and what you experience are entirely consistent. When that happens and when there is no cognitive dissonance, you have found truth.

This, is my recipe for happiness.

Namaste

trying too hard

Mindfulness meditation practice is not a competition, with yourself or anyone else, to try to spend as long as possible with no thought.

The benefit of the practice of mindfulness meditation is the process of bringing your focus back from your compulsive background thoughts so each time that you do that you progress in your mindfulness practice.

Experienced meditators with any honesty admit their thoughts intervene. Experiencing compulsive thought and refocusing ‘is’ the practice so while that happens you’re doing fine.

An example I use is learning to ride a bike. It’s the falling off that actually teaches you how to ride. With mindfulness meditation it’s the practice of continually releasing your thoughts that enables you to be mindful in everyday life.

Namaste…

one second mindfulness

There is no moment in life, no matter how harrowing it is, where we cannot be mindful.

In fact, for the most critical life-and-death moments, our minds block thought. Our body goes into emergency mindfulness mode. We ‘know’ what to do instinctively and do it without thought.

Try the one second mindfulness exercise.

Simply breathe in mindfully. Move your attention to your breath from whatever is happening.

The key is just to focus on the breath while we are breathing in. This momentarily clears our minds of whatever we are hooked into at that moment. Even if we are concentrating on something that needs focus, it is good to have a brief energising pause.

This single second of mindfulness can return us to what we were doing with a renewed energy and a new perspective. We have a level of presence and present moment awareness that we didn’t have previously.

a micro body scan you can do anywhere

When you practice the body scan in daily meditation, start at the feet, slowly progress up to the crown of the head and fingers, moving from one body part to the next relaxing as you go, then return the focus of your awareness slowly back down the body to your feet.

Once you have practiced this enough, speed it up so your awareness and relaxation whizzes from your feet to your crown and fingertips and back.
This can be done with a breath in and out:
Breathing in moves the relaxation scan from the feet to the crown and fingers. Hold it momentarily then scan back down the body with your relaxing awareness to your feet.

To help, visualise an old photocopier where the light moved from one side of the photocopier to the other then back again.

Then, when you’re in your office or on your morning commute, or anywhere where you can benefit from relaxing you can do the micro body scan to release the tension from your body and return to the present moment.

Namaste

What Mindfulness meditation isn’t

 

  • Mindfulness meditation isn’t a trance-like state.
  • Mindfulness meditation isn’t religious, though everyone is welcome.
  • It is not difficult or uncomfortable.
  • You don’t have to learn the half lotus position.
  • It isn’t a way to levitate!
  • You don’t need to learn to believe anything.
  • You don’t need to chant or do strange breathing exercises.
  • We don’t need to summon up invisible energies.
  • Meditation doesn’t need to be done on the top of a mountain or in a cave.
  • It is not a quick fix though most people benefit in a few weeks.
  • It is not running away from reality – we all have to go to work in the morning.
  • It is not self-hypnosis or anything else scary and weird.

If you are curious about the benefits that mindfulness meditation can bring, come along to one of our sessions and you can see for yourself.

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness meditation is a 2,400 year old practice that has been adopted by healthcare services, individuals and businesses because of the positive effects it can bring.

Mindfulness itself is a state of mind that significantly enhances our lives whether we’re in the state of stress or in state of happiness.

The techniques we learn while meditating allow us to refocus our attention on the present moment. Our worries, problems and fears are seldom about what is happening now but what we think may happen in the future.

When we are happy and enjoying life, mindfulness enhances the quality of our experience. This is not an altered state but an enhanced quality to our present moment experience free of distracting thoughts, judgments and emotions.

Mindfulness meditation and the associated practices that we teach enable us to bring mindfulness into our daily lives.

Many scientific papers have been written over the last few years which outline the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. These benefits are so overwhelming that mindfulness has been adopted by the National Health Service as a major therapeutic practice for people with recurrent depression or suffering from significant stress.

Mindfulness is also one of the key ‘five ways to wellbeing’ that constitute the evidence based process to improve wellbeing. This report was commissioned by the UK Government from the New Economics foundation, it has been adopted by the NHS and is championed by Mind, the mental health charity.

Bromley Mindfulness has taught at a number of frontline organisations and forward thinking businesses since 2013 when we were founded.

silencing the inner iPod

Have you ever had a piece of music going round and round in your head that you just can’t get rid of?

Irritatingly it can be the jingle from an advertisement or something that was playing in a cafe or shop. I don’t know about you but sometimes with me, it is a piece of music I don’t like!

It could be something that you heard a few days back or even a tune triggered by a few words that you associated with the lyrics and then started the internal band/singer/orchestra playing.

A while back, in order to try to humour her old Dad, my daughter tried mindfulness meditation and told me that the music in her head was one of the things that was stopping her from focusing on her breath. She named this her “inner iPod” and asked me how she could stop it!

Without realising it I had been able to stop my inner iPod for quite a while, so the next time I experienced it, I was aware of how that happened.

What I do is to listen to ‘where’ it was coming from. In the same way that can be aware of the location of the source of a sound in physical space, I allowed myself to be aware of the physical location of the source of the sound of my inner iPod. When I do this, for me, it stops.

I hope it helps you.

Mindfulness meditation is difficult. NOT.

If it’s difficult, you’re doing it wrong.

Our culture tells us that if something isn’t difficult it’s not worth doing. We associate achievement and ‘success’ with overcoming challenges, so we only tend to believe that we can ‘succeed’ in ‘achieving’ something if we need an effort of will to do so.

This is just plain wrong, doesn’t apply to cultivating mindfulness and largely doesn’t apply to anything else related to the mind.

When we first discover that our wandering mind seemingly sabotages us as we try to be clear of our thoughts, our cultural conditioning kicks in and we ‘try harder’. This is the worst thing we can do.

To understand why let’s do a little test:
Don’t think of Pink Elephants.
Close your eyes for ten seconds and in that time, don’t think of Pink Elephants.
You thought of Pink Elephants didn’t you? It was impossible not to.
In fact, the more important it is that you don’t think of Pink Elephants, such as if your life depended on it, the more likely you would be to think of Pink Elephants! This is because in the hunter-gatherer existence for which our brains have genetically evolved, there was never a reason not to think of anything so we never developed that facility.

What we need to do instead of ‘trying harder’ is to use another thing that is in short supply in our culture and that is patience.

If we are patient, we can relax. Mindfulness cannot have a schedule applied to it. We have been conditioned to think, so finding a space without thought is a long process. It comes in time.

What we are doing when we meditate on our breath is training our minds to release our unhelpful thought processes and in time also our unhelpful emotions.

In order to become mindful, we first need to be distracted. That is the purpose of mindfulness meditation. It is a process of learning. It is our purpose to be distracted, to become aware of that distraction and return our focus to our breath which is somewhere we always have at hand and that has no emotional content.

Mindfulness meditation is sharpening the tool. Using it is in our daily life.

Mala beads for everyday mindfulness

I was recently in Watkins Books. While I was there I noticed some mala beads. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_prayer_beads

These are normally used when reciting a mantra but I decided to try them out as a way of counting my breaths when doing the breathing meditation.

It works out really well as they act as both an anchor to the present moment (see my blog article here) and as a way of counting breaths.

I hope this helps your mindfulness practice.

Namaste

some effective minimizing strategies

  • When you go on leave, take old clothes and donate them to charity at the destination. This gives you room for gifts in your baggage allowance on the way back or just the benefit of travelling light.
  • Pull a drawer out and only put back what you absolutely need. Donate or dispose of the rest.
  • Go through a cupboard and dispose of or donate anything that you haven’t needed for a year.
  • If you struggle with letting go of things that you perceive of as having financial value, donate them to charity.
  • Try disposing of or donating your least interesting half of any collections you have e.g. books, CDs, DVDs etc.
  • Incrementally replace your physical books with the electronic format books that you really need. Donate the physical books.
  • Bite the bullet and dispose of or donate your older clothes one at a time. (saves on ironing!)
  • Minimize and start with whatever you have the most of.

 

minimizing our stuff

“What we own ends up owning us”
~ Tyler Durden, Fight Club.

To understand the benefits of minimizing your belongings imagine two scenes:

A minimalist Japanese household with a sense of transcendental calm. The few possessions immaculately placed like this.

A hoarder’s room.

These are obviously two extremes but if owning possessions is on a scale, imagine how much simpler life can be if we move towards the simple end?

 

meditating on gratitude or appreciation

Gratitude and appreciation are things that seem to not be taught out of a religious context.

This is a shame as gratitude is a valuable counterweight to all of the negative context of modern life.

Modern life can easily become one of conflict, both internal and external. Gratitude is an acceptance of the beneficial things in life and helps us to realise that accepting life *as it is*, is as much about accepting the good things as the bad.

There are a number of gratitude meditations. The most commonly known are Metta Bhavana (loving-kindness), Buddhist meditations.

I have a meditation that I use, and which my students really enjoy.
Interestingly for a meditation, you may need to start with a few minutes of thought.

Gratitude meditation

Think of someone or something for which you can feel grateful for or appreciate strongly.

Allow yourself to feel the feeling, the sensation, that comes with those thoughts of gratitude or appreciation.

Bring to mind an image of your family and friends.
Allow yourself to feel that same gratitude when you think of them.

Bring to mind your community, the people that you see every day yet don’t know their names: shopkeepers, commuters, colleagues, people working in service industries.
Allow yourself to feel that same gratitude when you think of them.

Bring to mind your country and all the people in it.
Allow yourself to feel that same gratitude when you think of them.

Bring to mind all of the seven billion people in the world going about their daily lives, imagine all of the creatures, plants and animals that we share the world with, all part of one extended family spinning on a globe through space around the sun.
Allow yourself to feel that same gratitude when you think of them.

Hold that thought…

the three second rule for mindfulness

You can find a number of three second rules if you search for them on the internet.

This one is about staying mindful.

As we progress in our mindfulness training, we become mindfully aware of our conditioned responses earlier and earlier in our experiences.

An example is:

Before mindfulness

I get onto the train for my commute and someone pushes in front of me to take the only seat left on the carriage. I get angry and stand glowering all the way to my destination resenting him and thinking to myself how rude people are. I am a good person living in a world full of rude and selfish people!

While learning mindfulness

I get onto the train for my commute and someone pushes in front of me to take the only seat left on the carriage. I get angry and stand glowering most of the way to my destination resenting him and thinking to myself how rude people are. I am a good person living in a world full of rude and selfish people. But then I realise that the way I feel is because of my conditioning and that he behaved the way he did because of his and maybe the world isn’t so bad after all…

When mindful

I get onto the train for my commute and someone pushes in front of me to take the only seat left on the carriage.
I smile realising that the feelings I can detect just below the surface of my experience are my ancient conditioning at work. I feel compassion for the rude guy because he so desperately needs a perceived victory to get through his day.

The three second rule

While learning mindfulness, the three second rule comes in handy

What we do is this:

Whenever, and that is *whenever* we experience a negative emotion:

  • take in a breath (second one)
  • hold it for a moment (second two)
  • breathe out (second three)
  • allow yourself to be aware of how you feel

You will find that you have punctuated your flow of emotion and train of thoughts, stopping you from possibly descending into a negative feedback loop of thoughts and emotions.

Try it, let me know how it goes?

mindfulness and insomnia

Having difficulty sleeping is a common thing in our society. Even if you sleep well most of the time, what happens when you need to get up at 4AM to get an early flight or train?

What happens to most of us is that we don’t sleep well enough. There is an old wive’s tale that to help us sleep we should count sheep. This is sage advice. What that does is to take our mind off of the desire to sleep which is what actually keep us up. Mindfulness meditation worked better for me than counting sheep did!

Just do a simple mindful breathing meditation or a counting breaths meditation and see how it goes.

If you’d like to know a bit more about mindfulness and sleep take a look at this study: How mindfulness changed my sleep: focus groups with chronic insomnia patients which was published in the Official journal of the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research and was authored by A. Hubbling et.al of the College of Pharmacy & School of Nursing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

 

the bubble meditation

Here is a way to make your commute a bit more fun.

Close your eyes.
Focus on your breath for a few breaths.
Imagine that you are at a desert island.
You are sitting at the bottom of a beautiful blue lagoon.
You are able to breathe normally.
The surface is six feet above you.
The light from the ripples on the surface of the lagoon is dappling the sandy floor.
Around you are colourful tropical fish and coral outcrops.
Whenever a thought arises, breathe out the thought.
Breathe it out as bubbles and watch them rising slowly, wriggling to the surface where they pop and dissolve.

Repeat.

Enjoy…

making use of the commute

Do you hate queuing or waiting? Do you get impatient or maybe even angry?

Queuing and waiting are opportunities for mindfulness practice and in time you may even look forward to them.

When you’re in a queue you’re simply stuck there. Learn to accept it and rather than letting compulsive thought take over, use the opportunity to meditate for a few minutes. Even a few calm breaths in a short queue or delay will be of benefit.

This is a perfect example of how we can release our old conditioned emotional and mental responses and replace them with mindfulness and presence.

We need to take any opportunity we can to find the stillness and calm that underlies the busy content of our lives.

Eventually, as we become more mindful, we will find that boredom, frustration and impatience will dissolve. Queues and delays are some of the most frustrating kinds of experiences that can cause us impatience. By using them for mindfulness practice, we find that over time we become more mindful and less impatient in *all* of our experiences.

In that way, queues and delays will end up benefiting us. You may even discover that you become grateful for the opportunity to stop in a queue because you’ll then have an opportunity to be calm and mindful for a while.

Happy queueing!

The Power of Now

The Power of Now is the book by by Eckhart Tolle that made a great difference to me for my meditation practice.

When I first read it in 2009, I experienced a paradigm shift as I realised two simple previously overlooked concepts:

  • For each of us, our present moment is all there is
  • I am not my thoughts

The book also contains guidance on mindfulness meditation and a number of concepts that result from these core concepts.

These simple realisations sent me on a journey of self-inquiry that has subsequently transformed my experience and my life.

Not everyone is ready for the concepts contained within The Power of Now but either way it is a classic and well worth the read.

My recent short solo retreat and digital detox

I recently went on a bit of a solo retreat and digital detox in the Sussex countryside. One of this blog’s readers asked me to write an article on it so here it is.

I have spent quite a lot of time alone in the past although it has never been with such a clear intention of spending time meditating.

I expected, for some reason, to be able to meditate quite clearly and calmly from day one. Almost the opposite happened. My compulsive trains of thought seemed to go into overtime for the first two days. I wasn’t quite alone as there was a dog with me and of course, I found myself talking to the dog. This may seem daft to people that have not spent time alone with pets but for the rest of us it seems perfectly normal. It’s when they start talking back that it starts to become a problem.

I don’t think that the quality of the mental chatter was anything different to how it is normally. I think that the silence of the environment might just seem to make it appear more incessant and noisier.

It is interesting that it took me a couple of days to get to clarity of mind that I wanted. I didn’t spend all day alone. Every morning and evening I took the dog for a walk and in the process met some of the locals though my longest conversation all the time that I was alone there, was about 15 or 20 minutes chatting to a local farmer.

On the third day I achieved, at around mid-morning, the level of clarity of mind that I had hoped I would have from the start. This was an interesting and quite revelatory feeling of clarity. I found I was actually being extremely productive. I had brought some work with me, quite creative work, and rather hoped I would be able to complete it on my retreat. I completed what I expected to do. I also did a lot of reading. I read “The feeling of what happens” by Antonio Damasio. This was the second time that I had read it, but the quality of the information that I extracted this time was more useful and insightful.

From that point on, I felt very calm until the end of the retreat. I can understand why authors hide away alone to write.

As to my meditation experience, I don’t think I actually meditated for much longer than I do on a normal day, but the feeling of mindfulness most definitely extended throughout the entire day. I suppose that that’s simply because its other people that are likely to collapse a mindful state more than anything else and so with an absence of people I was able to stay mindful. In a way, I can see why Indian swamis go and sit in a cave for many years, though I have no intention of trying it myself!

I would say though that every meditation session after the first couple of days was successful. I wouldn’t say that my meditations were deeper, but there was no restlessness of any kind and my mind was relatively silent.

I will most definitely do some more solo retreats whenever possible. As to the digital detox, it’s a great way of resetting for the crazy day-to-day existence and reminds you that actually we don’t really need to be plugged in all the time.

mindful walking

Any activity for which you don’t need full concentration, you can use as an opportunity to be mindful.

Walking is a perfect example. Without the intervention of distracting thoughts or emotions, a walk opens up. We can become aware of more of our surroundings as our brain relaxes the filters that it uses to limit our sensory perceptions because it is busy endlessly churning the problems of the day.

No problems means we have a richer experience.

We observe more, we feel more, we see more, colours are brighter, we smell and see things we would not normally notice. We experience our surroundings in a clearer manner than when we are preoccupied with our inner dialog.

This is what is known as transcendence. It isn’t a mystic state of mind or trance, it is how our ancestors would have experienced their natural environment as they travelled through it open to all and any sensory perception.

This is our natural state. Enjoy it…

anchoring to the present moment

As we go through our day-to-day life, we find it very difficult to find a time and place to stop and be mindful, even if only for a few moments.

Mindfulness is being in the present moment. So anything that brings us back to the present moment long enough to become aware that we could/should/can be mindful for even a moment or two is helpful to our daily practice.

An example of this could be, for instance, a stone you keep in your pocket or a strategically placed plant.

We call these things an anchor because it anchors us in the present moment.

When you feel or see the anchor it serves as a present moment reminder.

visualisation meditation

I personally don’t do many visualisation meditations when I am meditating on my own.

I often do visualisations when I am taking a group session simply because it is fun and my students enjoy it.

The gratitude bubble meditation

Focus your attention on your breath
Move the focus of your attention to the bottom of your lungs, let yourself be aware of your breath filling the bottom of your lungs
Bring your attention to a point 3 inches behind your navel – this is called your inner body
Be aware of a tiny dim point of light there, similar to the light of a distant star
Watch it grow to become like a bright star
Be aware of it growing to the size of a tennis ball, then a beach ball, then growing to envelop your entire body so you are sitting in a bubble of starlight
Think of something or someone that you can feel grateful for or appreciative of
Let that feeling fill the bubble
Let the bubble of gratitude grow to the size of the room, then to the size of your town and eventually the entire planet
Be aware that you can extend your gratitude and appreciation to all of the creatures and plants on this planet, spinning through space, one big extended family

Hold that thought then, slowly, allow the ball to shrink back to the size of a tiny pinpoint of light and finally wink out

:)

Namaste…

how do we silence our thoughts?

We don’t.

What we do is to allow ourselves to be aware of our thoughts and we will then find that they subside and dissolve of their own accord. An example is meditating on our breath. We are allowing our thoughts to intervene. The practice is returning to the breath, not staying with no thought.

In my experience we can *never* make ourselves think or not think anything. There is a famous experiment where we can try not to think of Pink Elephants. You can try it if you want now. The harder you try, the more invasive the thoughts of Pink Elephants become.

Trying to force ourselves to think, or to not think, in a particular way can be a destructive process.

Observing our thoughts, listening to them in effect, silences them because the source of our awareness becomes the silent watcher of our thoughts and not the thoughts themselves.

When that happens, when focus on our inner dialogue is no longer the source of our awareness, we can say that we are mindful for that time.

where to meditate

In time, ideally, we ‘should’ be able to meditate anywhere and if we are patient then it will come.

But if you do get stuck and can’t still your mind then a change of scenery, especially in a quiet natural spot, might help you to calm your mind enough to benefit from your meditation.

Then, once you have made some progress, you can try meditating in your home again.

correct posture

Pretty much all expert meditators take the time to mention correct posture.

The rules seem to be pretty universal:

  • wear loose clothing for comfort
  • back straight – stops us from getting a bad back
  • head straight – helps to keep us aware
  • tongue behind the top teeth – makes us breath from our nostrils
  • hands in lap or somewhere comfortable – avoids discomfort distractions
  • there are as many ways of kneeling/sitting as there are meditators, personally I cross my legs though in the East, especially Zen, they tend to sit with their legs tucked under them
  • it seems to be bad form to move around and adjust your posture in formal meditation sessions but I think it’s fine to move around a bit so long as you keep it to a minimum
  • it is okay to sit in a chair but try not to get too comfortable or you might drift off to sleep. :)
  • eyes either open and looking down, to try to avoid distractions, or eyes closed.

why do we focus on the breath?

There are two main categories of meditation according to research: Focused Attention and Open Monitoring.

Mindfulness meditation the way it is normally practiced in the buddhist traditions and their secular western offshoots is Focused Attention meditation, where the practitioner focuses their full attention on some image or recurring event. Some meditators chant, others listen to temple bells, watch prayer flags, view mandalas etc. Most secular mindfulness meditators seem to focus on the breath.

I expect that in terms of the benefits of the meditation itself they are all pretty similar and it seems to me, though I have no experience of it, that it would be easier at first to chant etc. as it would crowd out of your mind the pointless trains of thought.

The big advantages to focusing on the breath however is that: our breath is always with us, it has no emotional content, it can be neither good nor bad it just is and we can practice breathing wherever we are. It is portable and convenient.

I have meditated on candles and I have also done open monitoring meditations such as the mirror meditation of which more in a later post.

 

What is micromeditation?

We live in a crazy, busy, non-stop, plugged-in, online world.

We all know that we need to slow down and so we do things like meditation, yoga, exercise, music and so on, but that is all extra-curricular activity.

It is all in the bookends to our days, or our weeks, but it is in our day-to-day experience that we need to somehow, try to find the time to step out of the madness for just one moment and allow ourselves to recover.
This is what is known in physiology as refractory time.

Refractory time allows us to recover and continue with what we are doing without needing to take a time-out and without accumulating stress.

How can we do this?

This is what micromeditation is all about.

I shall be posting small snippets of advice, experiences and information on how you can find a bit of sanity in your day.

Post One, the next post, will be on mindfulness meditation.

Make sure you check it out.

Seattle Seahawks Offensive Tackle on his mindfulness training

Offensive tackle, Russell Okung: “Meditation is as important as lifting weights and being out here on the field to practice. It’s about quieting your mind and getting into certain states where everything outside of you doesn’t matter in that moment. There are so many things telling you that you can’t do something, but you take those thoughts captive, take power over them, and change them.”

US Marine Sergeant on his Mindfulness Training

Here’s a quote from Sgt. Nathan Hampton – US Marine Corps on the mindfulness meditation sessions that were included in his counter insurgency training prior to deployment in Afghanistan.

“A lot of people thought it would be a waste of time. Why are we sitting around a classroom doing weird meditative stuff? But over time, I felt more relaxed. I slept better. Physically, I noticed that I wasn’t tense all the time. It helps you think more clearly and decisively in stressful situations. There was a benefit.”

Quoted from Washington Times Article

7 easy practices that will help you build mindfulness into your day

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There are a number of useful techniques that will help to bring mindfulness to your daily living. Here are a few of the ones I found, and still find, useful.

1. Mindful eating

It is easy to get in the habit of eating quickly and absent-mindedly which causes us to miss out on taste, smells and texture our food. Eating mindfully is a great way of bringing ourselves into the present moment.

I was in a cafe earlier today and as I looked around while waiting for my meal to be served, I noticed that everyone was either chatting, reading or viewing their mobiles while they ate. When I was served, instead of distracting myself, I ate slowly and tasted every bite. It was delicious. Try to eat alone yourself at least once per day and when you do focus on the taste and texture of the food. It adds another dimension to life.

2. Mindful commuting

Over the years, commuters have slightly changed their habits from all being buried in a newspaper, to being glued to mobile phones or tablets. Here is another situation where, if you look around, you will find yourself being the only person not focused on the communal activity. This “dead time” of commuting you can use to your benefit by focusing on your breath and experiencing the journey.

3. Mindful queuing

There was a time when I dreaded queuing. I found it stressful. I was one of those people that is constantly looking for a faster moving queue to which I would swap if I thought that I could be served faster. The ultimate frustration was when after swapping queues, I found myself behind somebody with a complex customer service issue requiring the attendance of the supervisor and much discussion. I would watch despairingly as my original queue moved forward and the people that were standing behind me left the premises!
For a while, queues became an opportunity for spiritual practice where I could take a few moments to meditate and learn to deal with the cruel unfairness of a slow queue with a sense of equanimity. Since then,  as my patience has grown, queues have progressed to become not in the least bit remarkable.

4. Look out of the window

It is interesting how, when we are busy, our confinement in a room becomes almost absolute. We seem to forget that we are part of the world outside. Just looking out of the window for a few moments can help us to return to the present moment for a while. This works particularly well if there is some nature outside such as: trees, plants, flowers or birds.

5. Present moment anchors

For a while, when I was practicing very hard to bring mindfulness into my everyday life I used what is called an anchor. In my case, these were small stones that I would put in my pocket. As they are out of place they tend to cause our chain of thoughts to pause and enable us to become mindful at that moment. Any object can be used for this provided that it is something that is in someway unusual and that will cause a momentary pause in the train of thought enabling mindfulness.

6. Mindful walking

To initially practice mindful walking, it is best to get away for a solitary walk. Meditating or praying while walking is an ancient practice characterized by pilgrimage. Focus on your feet, the feeling of your feet on the floor and your breath entering and leaving your body. Once you have spent some time doing this on a few occasions, you’ll find that as you walk around in daily life the memory of mindful walking will prompt you so you can make it a part of your daily practice,

7. Take your breaks

Whatever it is you’re doing, you can retain your focus better and be more productive if you have some breaks. Often, we will use our breaks to chat to friends, colleagues or family but if we take some of our free time and use it for mindfulness meditation then we will have found a useful way to introduce mindfulness into our daily lives.

Ego – Eckhart Tolle

The particular egoic patterns that you react to most strongly in others and misperceive as their identity tend to be the same patterns that are also in you, but that you are unable or unwilling to detect within yourself. In that sense, you have much to learn from your enemies. What is it in them that you find the most upsetting, most disturbing? Their selfishness? Their greed? Their need for power and control? Their insincerity, dishonesty, propensity to violence, or whatever it might be? Anything that you resent and react strongly to in a other is also in you. But it is no more than a form of ego, and as such, it is completely impersonal. It has nothing to do with who that person is, nor has it to do with who you are. Only if you mistake it for who you are can observing it within you be threatening to your sense of self.

~ Eckhart Tolle (A New Earth)
photo – JSmith@flickr.com

The tao that can be told is not the eternal tao…

The Tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal name.

That which cannot be named
is the source of all reality.

Naming is the root of all form.

Caught in desire,
the Tao remains hidden,
Free from desire,
the Tao is revealed.

Being and form arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness upon darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

 

(My take on Chapter 1. of the Tao te Ching)

The Miracle of Grace

I didn’t know what grace was until just recently.

One reference that enlightened me was from Adyashanti in his brilliant book “The End of your World”.

Adya explains that grace isn’t about having things handed to you on a plate but that there is a thing that he calls “fierce grace”.

Fierce grace is what happens when life slaps you down for being inauthentic. Whenever we delude ourselves about anything, we create pain for ourselves. That pain is designed to force us to realise our delusions. When we realise them we can then allow ourselves to become authentic again. I can personally testify that this is absolutely a characteristic of life. There is nowhere to hide from reality. However we try to avoid it, through cosseting ourselves with luxuries or traveling or any other “lifestyle experience” the consequences of our refusal to accept life exactly as it is will cause us pain, sooner or later.

The other source of an understanding of grace came from a brilliant TED lecture by Father David Steindl-Rast which you can  view here.

it is actually a talk on gratefulness but during it Father David explains that grace is inherent in every moment in our lives. The miracle of grace comes because each moment is an opportunity. An opportunity to experience the outcome of our choices (see fierce grace above) and if we make the wrong choice, we get another moment and the opportunity to make another choice.

Can you see how all of this works to simply make us more aware of the present moment and enable us to become enlightened?

That, is the miracle of grace.

Lao Tzu – Acceptance

Stop  thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must  you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!
Other people are excited, as though they are at a parade
I alone don’t care,
I alone am expressionless,
like  an infant before it can smile.
Other  people have what they need;
I alone possess nothing,
I alone drift about,
like someone without a home.
I  am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.
Other  people are bright;
I alone am dark,
Other  people are sharp;
I alone am dull.
Other  people have a purpose;
I alone don’t know.
I  drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.
I am different to other people,
I drink from the great mother’s breasts.

Why nobody starves in Delhi

Salaam Balak trust are a charity that provides support to street kids in Indian cities; Mumbai and Delhi.
2013 is their 25th anniversary.

When I visited Delhi earlier this year I booked myself in to do a Salaam Balak city walk which was a fantastic eye opener. The guides on the walks are ex-street kids that work for the Salaam Balak trust. On the day that I did the walk in May it was 40 degrees. Our guide was Iqbal who was 21 and was rescued by the Salaam Balak trust when he found himself lost and alone at Delhi station at the age of six. He walked us through the streets of Paharganj a rabbit warren of grimy alleyways opposite Delhi Raliway Station, home to many of the street kids and also to the Salaam Balak Trust’s main Delhi refuge.

One thing that visitors to India find difficult to cope with is begging street kids. On the one hand, we feel charitable and compassionate but on the other hand we hear all sorts of stories about how any money that we give goes into the hands of Fagin-like characters who use the street kids to harvest money from wealthy tourists.

One of the things that Iqbal explained to us, which was a real surprise, is that street kids in India spend over 90% of the money they get on entertainment and drugs. Drugs are usually glue and entertainment is usually video games which they pay for a couple of rupees a time. They earn their money either begging, stealing or working as waste -pickers salvaging garbage and selling it for a few rupees per kilo to businesses that supply the recycling industry.

 

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Iqbal explained that one of the reasons that the street kids were able to spend such a high proportion of their earnings on drugs and entertainment was because of charitable activities in Delhi where the poorest people are fed. He specifically referred to the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh temple. This is the largest Sikh temple in Delhi and is home to an awesome continuous dedicated act of charity. They have a huge dining hall and kitchens where they run a massive operation providing food for the poorest people in Delhi. I visited the temple and was amazed at the operation. Some of the people working there are employees but the rest are volunteers. Sitting in the huge kitchen were Sikhs from all walks of life in Delhi. Business owners, politicians and ordinary folks all feeding 5,000 people per sitting.

I was guided through the kitchens to see the industrial operation in progress. There was an industrial chapati maker churning out bread on a conveyor belt. There were two massive cauldrons being stirred with what must have been hundreds of gallons of curry. Others helped prepare the air conditioned hall, utensils and plates. I shudder to think of the washing up!

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Happiness…

  • It isn’t about what you have it’s about what you give up
  • It isn’t about what you do it’s about how you experience it
  • It isn’t about where you are it’s about how aware you are when you’re there
  • It isn’t about how you feel it’s about how open you are to feeling
  • It isn’t about who you are with it’s about how you relate to them

Happiness is what is left once we have discarded all of the conditioning that we have learned that stops us from being happy

 

Neuroplasticity and Mindfulness – teaching an old dog new tricks

There has been much research by neuroscientists into how our brains respond to events and how our minds and brains operate together. The human brain is the most sophisticated instrument that we have encountered in our exploration of the universe.

Some interesting statistics from the University of Washington are:

  • At birth, there are 100 billion neurons in the brain (Naegele & Lombroso, 2001). Each neuron communicates with the other neurons through synapses. Each synapse acts at a very simplistic level like a switch that processes electrical and chemical signals.
  • The brain develops, from about 6 to 24 weeks post-conception, at a spectacular rate of 4000 neurons per second (Brown, Keynes, & Lumsden, 2001).
  • Each neuron can have between 1,000 to 10,000 synaptic connections.
  • There are 0.15 quadrillion (a thousand million million) synapses in the brain.
  • The potential number of different combinations of connections between all of the neurons in the brain and all of the synapses is equivalent to the total number of all of the fundamental particles in the universe which is a very big number…

Neuroplasticity
As we learn, our brain adapts to how it is used. New connections between neurons grow and recent research has identified that new neurons grow too. This process is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasiticity is the malleability of the brain, observable as changes in neuronal structure and connectivity.

The experiments on neuroplasticity most associated with learning in humans come from studies of London taxi drivers, who have been shown in a number of studies to have larger posterior hippocampi and smaller anterior hippocampi than control subjects (Maguire et al., 2000; Maguire, Woollett, & Spiers, 2006; Woollett & Maguire, 2009). Licensed London Taxi Drivers must memorise every street and place of interest within a six mile radius of Charing Cross in central London in order to pass the famous “knowledge” test. This is an intensive process with gruelling verbal tests that requires focused learning for up to five years.

The brain changes as we learn
The size of the posterior hippocampus in these experiments was found to be direclty correlated with the number of years of driving taxis. A direct correlation was also found with the proficiency of a taxi driver in finding London land-marks in a Virtual Reality environment set up to test them.
What this tells us is that we learn as we grow and that learning literally becomes part of us as our brain changes to accommodate that new information.

Neuroscientists have a famous phrase to describe this which is that “neurons that fire together wire together”.

Patience
We need to be aware that our conditioning becomes part of us, literally, and it is a long process of physical and mental change to un-learn any behaviours that are unhelpful. It can be frustrating when old behaviours surface continually as we try to change but we need to be aware that we “have become our conditioning” and so we need to be patient when we try to change it.

Excellent further reading on this subject can be had from A.S. Lillard, A. Erisir / Developmental Review 31 (2011) 207–239 (Old dogs can learn new tricks) which I downloaded from academia.edu.

A First Step to Mindfulness

If you’re looking for a way to be mindful and it all seems like gobbledygook but you’re pretty convinced of the benefits and you know intuitively that there’s something to it, but you can’t really get on with this breathing meditation stuff and all the while your days are stretching out into an infinity of distress then…

Whenever you either have a quiet moment or when it all becomes a bit too much for you just take the day one minute at a time.

Think for a second about where you are and what you will be doing for the next minute because no matter how hard life is, we can all cope with a minute of it.

Good Luck!

Definition of the Day: Impact Bias

How we view the future (wrongly)

Impact Bias is a description of how we view future events. We feel that we will be happier or more distressed than we actually feel and, just like many other human behaviours, we don’t learn from this.

In this link, Harvard Psychologist Dan Gilbert presents his findings on how our expectations of future events tend to the extreme.

We all know that the feel-good factor of new gadgets and holidays wears off pretty quickly. We can also see, with the benefit of hindsight, that things were maybe not as bad as we thought they would be looking forward. We realise that our predictions of how we will feel about good or bad events is skewed, but we can see that the extent to which we are wrong is far greater than we think thanks to Daniel’s research.

 

The Fisherman’s Parable

Morro Bay Sunset - Harbor ViewAn American businessman was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied “only a little while”. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?

The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, Señor.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and I can help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution.

You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But Señor, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then, Señor?”

The American laughed and said “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions, Señor? Then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

The playground of our dreams and the stuff of nightmares

Sometimes our minds work seemingly as separate entities, often working directly against us.

We can see this clearly when we dream. Our dreams are the playgrounds of our minds. When we dream our mind has total control. It could create any dream universe that it wishes yet it often *chooses* to create one filled with anxiety and confusion.

Our minds extend our emotions into dreams, they replay the emotional tune of the day to an arrangement of their own composition. Our dreams are constructs that reconcile the way we feel with dream experiences that are aligned with our emotions. Our emotions remain as a residue originally created by the thoughts and experiences of the day which then form the foundations for our nightly dream universe.

This is the stuff that nightmares are made of. Our minds are given free rein and create their own universe in which our lives or physical integrity, or that of our loved ones are threatened.

There are many nightmares and uncomfortable dreams but often with many common themes: there are falling dreams, being naked in public dreams, running away dreams, losing loved ones dreams, being lost dreams and those horrific nightmares where we wake up just as something dreadful is happening. These are all representations of our emotional undercurrents. Common to these nightmares and dreams are feelings of lack of control, inadequacy and general insecurity.

This is the mind’s contribution to our wellbeing. To imaginatively create fear and anxiety for us and replay it in our sleep, magnifying it through the medium of a nightmare. This is the mind’s purpose, to provide motivation, to construct imaginary scenarios which prompt us into action that preempts disaster. This is the emotional content of the genetic heritage of our prehistoric ancestors, whose lives were continually on the sharp edge of survival, and for whom complacency would mean certain death.

The critical concept that we need to consider then, is that it is the exact same mental processes creating our dreams as constructing the daily worries and concerns in our waking life. The same mental processes with the same motivations, operating in exactly the same way.

Notes on Eckhart Tolle’s seminar in London 22nd October 2010

A bit late I know but I’ve been busy. :)

Subject – Transcendence.

Most peoples consciousness consists of the egoic sense of self consisting of compulsive thought.

Compulsive thought and the egoic mind leads to identification with form and through that identification inevitably comes suffering as all forms are impermanent.
 
All of the great teachers described what Jesus referred to as the “Kingdom of Heaven” which Tolle interprets as the Transcendental Dimension (Kingdom = Dimension and Heaven = Transcendance).

The transcendant dimension is the state of no thought. The ego resists the development of awareness but eventually an individual can attain that state as it is within us all.

Thoughts are the source of identification with forms. The identification is not with the form itself but with the thought of the form. A soccer fan does not identify with the team, he identifies with his concept of the team. An aristocrat does not identify with the bricks in his stately home, but with the concept he has of it.

Hence we become attached to and identify with the abstraction of things rather than the things themselves. 

Wealth and success inhibit the attainment of a transcendental state as the identification with the forms is so strong that the ego binds the contextual sense of self to the forms. Only when there is sufficient suffering, when the form abstractions can dissipate, will we realize that the identification was an artificial creation.  

Tolle used another of Jesus’ teachings “you are the light of the world” from the sermon on the mount to illustrate that the light of awareness exists within us all.

The Buddhist concept of loving kindness is the end result of attaining a transcendant state as we become aware that there is no separation, we are like blocks of ice floating on the top of the sea, formed from water and inevitably melting back into the water. This underlies the realization that we are not separate but fleeting and impermanent life forms effectively a part of the body of water on which they float.

Poem of the day – Impermanence

I met a traveller from an antique land who said:
Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
stand in the desert.
Near them, on the sand, half sunk,
a shattered visage lies,
whose frown and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command tell that its sculptor well those passions read
which yet survive,
stamped on these lifeless things,
the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains.
Round the decay of that colossal wreck,
boundless and bare
the lone and level sands stretch far away.
– Percy Bysshe Shelley 1818