“Meditation has a lot of benefits. For productivity, the clear benefit of meditation is improved focus, not through voodoo meditation magic, but because meditation improves your focusing skill. The act of moving your attention from distracted thoughts back to your breaths will prepare you to move your attention back to your work.
Focusing is the single most important skill for being productive. It’s such a simple concept—paying full attention to what you’re doing—but it’s one of those things that’s simple to understand and difficult to master. Any progress made in this area will pay huge dividends throughout your life. Meditation is the best way to directly practice focusing that I’m aware of.”
You know this already; that the “father of modern mindfulness” Jon Kabat-Zin, says that mindfulness meditation “is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
The reason I’m bringing this up (again), is to focus on one of the elements of this definition today: the non-judgemental part.
Because for most of us, the non-judgemental mindset is not a destination reached overnight, and can cause grief for many a mindfulness practitioner. Especially as almost all of use have been trained in an extremely judgemental (=competitive) schooling systems.
So the non-judgemental, accepting part of mindfulness meditation will require a possibly long time of noticing the judgements in your mind flying thick and fast.
Observing them is the key here. It’s as simple as that.
Once you get the hang of this sequence, you’ll probably be able to do this in 3 minutes, but it’s not a race! And you can make it last for as long as feels comfortable. It’s really intended for a brief time-out for those who don’t have the time or stamina for a full 12-minute mindfulness meditation session.
Lie down or sit down with the body straight, comfortable and physically well supported.
Close your eyes while taking a few deep breaths in and out. Relax and let go of any tension you’re aware of on the exhalation
– ask yourself, ‘What thoughts am I aware of in this moment’?
Close your eyes while taking a few deep breaths in and out.
Relax and let go of any tension you’re aware of on the exhalation
– ask yourself, ‘What’s going on in the space around me’?
Close your eyes while taking a few deep breaths in and out. Relax and let go of any tension you’re aware of on the exhalation
– ask yourself, ‘How am I feeling mentally and emotionally”?
– move your attention/focus on your breath for a few breaths in your normal breathing rhythm of this moment, then shift your attention to include any bodily sensations you may become aware of.
– Simply observe, notice
– When the alarm goes, first move your fingers and toes, take another couple of deep breaths before going about your day.
– If you have a bit more time, take a few (bullet points) notes in your journal or diary
Repeat up to three times a day or as you feel to.
“The constant agitation of our thinking minds, which we encounter so vividly in the meditation practice, is actually fed and compounded by our diet of television, radio, newspapers, magazines, movies and the Internet. We are constantly shoveling into our minds more things to react to; more things to think, worry and obsess about; and more things to remember, as if your own daily lives did not produce enough on their own. The ultimate irony is that we do it to get some respite from our own concerns and preoccupations, to take our mind off our troubles , to entertain ourselves, to carry us away, to help us relax.
But it doesn’t work that way. Watching television hardly ever promotes physiological relaxation. Its purview is more along the lines of sensory bombardment.
(…)These observations and perspectives are merely offered as food for thought.(…)There are no ‘right’ answers, and our knowledge of the intricacies of these issues is always incomplete. They are presented here as examples of our interface with what we might call world stress. They are meant to provoke and challenge you to take a closer look at your views and behaviours and at your local environment, so that you might cultivate greater mindfulness and perhaps a more deliberate and conscious way of living in relationship to these phenomena that so colour and shape our lives, whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not.”
Excerpted from p.548-549 of “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Today it’s your turn. I need to hear from you this time!
Write about your practice, your favourite meditation or mindfulness app, the way you’re feeling right now, what you’ve observed, what you’d like read more about – all in the context of mindfulness meditation practice.
By way of an advance thank you, here is an audiovisual meditation, courtesy of Belinda Lubkoll, a friend and former colleague from New Plymouth
Bargaining with the teacher or method is one of the first things that happens in mindfulness introductory courses. (And, often, we continue bargaining with ourselves every single time we plan to sit down and practice.) We have read that mindfulness helps people cope with life in a hectic world, and often this gets translated into preconceived ideas about how or what mindfulness works, what exactly it is or how it should be done. “Can’t I go for a walk in nature instead of practising 12 minutes of sitting mindfulness meditation a day?” “I like practising lying down with soft music playing in the background”. “I’m too restless to sit down and focus on my breathing or do a body scan”.
THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT!!!
The whole point is that we always need one crutch or another to be at ease. Yet nothing beats just sitting quietly with your eyes closed (initially) and your attention on your breath, your body, your physical, mental, emotional and “environmental” sensations, within and without. A large part of formal sitting practice is to train the ability to simply breathe and observe no matter what the internal or external turmoil. Observe that turmoil, that restlessness, those crazy thoughts. It’s the most exhilarating thing to be able to do. You can just sit there and “watch” it all go on and not having to run away, or stop it, or quench it, or distract yourself from it, or act on it, or fix it, or plan it away. Halleluja! That’s your peace, right there. This is not about relaxing. But it will relax you. No matter how “messy” your mindfulness session seems. No matter how brief it is. It’s your eye of your storm. Try it. Do it. Even if at first it is only for 1 minute.
(Please note, this writing meditation takes about 30 minutes. You can halve the duration to 15 minutes by cutting the number of deep breaths to 3x and the number of pages to one only. The source for this meditation is Eric Maisel’s chapter “Be Mindful” in his book “The Creativity Book”, 2000, including the quote about grass from Frederick Franck)
Make sure you’re sitting comfortably. Take 10 deep breaths in and out. Do this slowly, but relaxed. Use the outbreaths to “let go” of any tension or worrying thoughts you are aware of. If you can, “follow” the air going in and out with your mind/attention, as an observer. Also pay attention to the natural pauses between inhalation and exhalation.
Now, remember that blade of grass or leaf from the exercise two days ago?
Using longhand, write a little on the team a single blade of grass, recollecting that single blade of grass you meditated on two days ago. Write three pages. Don’t stop. (Stopping allows your mind to interfere as a censor). Keep your pen or pencil moving over the paper. If you stall, simply repeat the phrase ‘a single blade of grass – a single blade of grass – a single blade of grass’ for as long as you need until you “un-stall” again.
When you’ve filled your pages, put down your writing gear, check on your posture and take another 10 deep breaths in and out. Do this slowly, but relaxed. If you can, “follow” your the air going in and out with your mind/attention, as an observer.
While drawing grasses I learn nothing “about” grass, but wake up to the wonder that there is grass at all. ~ Frederick Franck
This is a mindfulness exercise to do instead of or in addition to your formal (12-minute) sitting time*.
Study a blade of grass. Go out, find some tall grass, select a blade, and give it your undivided attention. If you can’t get out, study a leaf or stalk of the potted plant in your living room or office cubicle.
What should you be thinking about or noticing? If you can actually quiet your nerves and your chattering mind and pay attention to the blade of grass to the exclusion of everything else, you will know without having to ask what this exercise is designed to do.
Set your timer to do this for 10-15 minutes.
Then watch this space!
Part two of this mindfulness exercise is scheduled for #NZ Lockdown Day 20
*) This exercise was largely taken and ever so slightly adapted from Eric Maisel’s ‘Be Mindful’-chapter in his “The Creativity Book” (2000)
Take a few minutes to consider how your breath has been with you through thick and thin – and always will be, until you breathe your final outbreath. How it keeps going througout your sleep. How it only allows you to hold your breath for so long.
See if you can, randomly throughout the day, spare a moment to give attention to your breathing pattern, its rhythms or perhaps the times you almost “forget” to breathe or hold your breath.
Observe your breath closely for a moment.
Notice how the air feels as it enters your body and as it leaves. Where can you feel it – take your time to scan key parts; nostrils, mouth, chest, diaphragm, belly, torso. Pay attention to the natural gaps in your breathing pattern before you change from exhale to inhale and the other way around. Its tempo in all its variations. Is it shallow or deep, calm or hasty. Imagine that you can see the oxygen moving in and through your body.
Find as many details about your breath as you can, by observing and feeling. Conclude this exercise of focused attention by briefly writing down what you have noticed about your breath and breathing.
I (finally!) recorded the “RAIN”-meditation I use in the intro course to mindfulness meditation, week 3. People either love it or hate it. I have recorded it for people who loved it. Or those who want to try a R.A.I.N.-meditation for the first time. And of course those who hated it might want to give it another go.
R.A.I.N. meditations assist with exploring icky feelings and bodily sensations we usually don’t want, label as negative, prefer to ignore, push away or try to fix. R.A.I.N. is an excellent tool for persistent emotions that keep gnawing or are repetitively triggered.
R is for recognise (the feeling) or register the feeling; starting by noticing there’s “something there”. A is for allowing it to be there, recognising that whatever you feel is okay (even when it doesn’t feel okay). Allowing leaves the judgement outside the door. I is for investigating or inspecting, getting to know the feeling; it’s qualities, it’s location in the body, it’s associated thinking patterns. And finally, N is for non-identification (I feel this, but the feeling is not who I am. It’s a passing thing and it doesn’t define me, even though it seems temporarily part of me) or N for nourishment. In this guided meditation we use Register, Inspect, Allow and Nourish.
If you are new to using guided RAIN meditations, don’t try and tackle the “biggest” emotion straightaway and don’t start with the toughest upheaval. Practice this technique first. Begin with feeling (from a situation) that is mildly unpleasant, something not too threatening. Perhaps the feelings arising from a quarrel with a colleague, for instance, or an impatience with your neighbour, irritations from an encounter with a stranger in the supermarket, or something such as a slight sensation of restlessness that can be felt present somewhere in the body, like a persistent background noise. While it’s often external events, conditions, encounters that seem to elicit feelings/emotions/sensations, whatever goes on in you is still yours, you own it. With kindness we acknowledge they’re our perceptions and interpretations.
As with other (guided) mindfulness meditation sessions, these formal sitting times are to ‘build up muscle’, a muscle of emotional strength and curious kindness. Not only to be able to “tackle”, or rather “be with” bigger feelings over time, but also to build the skill to use these R.A.I.N.-tools ‘on the fly’, ‘in the world’, out in the wild, whenever you might need or want to use them. Until they become second nature – with awareness.
Unlike psychological or behavioural approaches, you are not asked to analyse or overthink your feelings/emotions/sensations. You “RAIN” them! This is important to remember. To remember to just feel and notice. Use breath where needed to focus awareness on the body whenever attention gets stuck in the mind. Write to me with any questions!
Click here to access this guided mindfulness meditation, stored on Soundcloud. It is about 14 minutes long, but of course you can use it multiple times a day if you feel to. The session ends with three tinkles of a meditation bell.
This is a practical post to share some useful New Zealand/Aotearoa resources with you. They’re helpful to resort to when mindfulness practice doesn’t quite “cut it”, for yourself or someone you know. These are cool tips by Aotearoa’s Mental Health Foundation [click here for the full pdf] about looking after mental wellbeing, (not just during, but also after COVID-19).
One of the phone numbers below could be useful if needed, or pass them on to someone else you know who might them. Probably useful to keep download and keep nearby for reference.
Tomorrow, I will record another guided meditation again!
Today, I’m sharing a friend’s writing, with their permission. Apart from my desire to share their brilliant writing with a wider audience, I wanted to promote them. Alas, the friend wishes to stay anonymous – for now. And even if you’d be able to speak to them in person, they’d deny they wrote this letter below. They’d tell you they found it on their front lawn one morning in March, and that it was written in dew drops. All they did was transcribe it for us to read.
To me, the content of this letter is an example of outward expression of open awareness and a great sensitivity going beyond just our speciest viewpoint.
A virus is sweeping the world.
It’s killed many of us and will sicken most of us to various degrees.
It restricts our movements, confining us to ever-smaller spaces.
It’s a constant threat to our economy, in particular to our food and its circulation.
This latest antiviral drug, COVID-19, isn’t a cure, however initial signs are positive that it can slow its progression significantly.
And currently, species everywhere are enjoying a better quality of life.
However, we must remember that this virus is an amazing mutator and expect that it won’t be long until COVID-19 becomes ineffective.
Enjoy the reprieve – because we expect it to be short-lived.
– Tree, addressing the Council of Non-Human Life Forms (CNLF), March 2020
My friend went on to comment: “It’s cheeky but it’s true. Like the weed versus plant debate, we’re eradicating something for our benefit alone with little consideration for the impact on the global community. This virus is anti-humanity but I’d say it’s very pro-life. That being said, don’t spread it or flout lockdown – I’m sharing this to encourage the reflection that COVID-19 must be churning up in us all.
Let’s not waste this suffering, let’s learn from it as much as we can, so that when it calms down, we’ve grown up a little and live less like the irresponsible, disrespectful, selfish teenage dickheads that we’ve been living as for far too long.”
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Every now and again, I like to ask myself what I’m doing when I propose to myself to be practising mindfulness meditation. Give myself a little refresher. Go back to basics. It always helps me to look up Jon Kabat Zinn’s description: ‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.’ Okay, so I’m sitting down because I decide that’s what I want or need (“on purpose”), and relaxing (“non-judgmentally”) with reality as it is (“the present moment”). This means I accept things as they are, or at least that it is my intention to accept things as they are. I don’t try to feel any particular way. I don’t try to change anything. I don’t try to ‘get anywhere’. I shut up and feel, I open myself up to what I perceive about “what is”. I allow all emotions and sensations. My breath is my anchor. Once I’m well established in following my breathing (and this can take a moment, a day, weeks or months, depending on how much I practise), I trust that I have the wherewithal to look at all feelings: the ones that are difficult or painful or taboo, the ones I’ve been avoiding, suppressing or exaggerating, the ones I have been reacting from or tried to fix. To the degree I can do this is the degree I will also be able to feel joy, pleasure, ecstasy, lightness, bliss, happiness. And then I can open up to wider awareness. It’s not all as linear as I’ve just described; that’s just the easiest way to describe it. In reality it is more up and down, and more fluid.
The reason I sit down and close my eyes (or fix my gaze on a neutral spot) to do this on a daily basis, is to train myself to be able to do this (in the long term) at any moment, in any situation. An athlete trains every day so that when it’s time to compete in the Olympics, she’s as prepared as she can be and at the top of her game.
For a lot of people in so called lockdown here in New Zealand/Aotearoa, their main issue is difficulty concentrating. As you probably know (since you’re visiting this page), a meditation-a-day will help with mental clarity, mental peace and the ability to handle being here and now, not dwelling on the past or leapfrogging ahead to the future. Hopefully you’re able to find a quarter-of-an hour of time-out from others if you are in a “bubble” with more people. Hide under a duvet in the laundry wearing headphones if you must. Because here is a new recording for you to practise with if you wish: a guided, 14-minute, guided mindfulness meditation, with lots of silences – especially at the end. It focuses on breath, upper body and relaxation and of course, focus for the restless mind.
Also, I do think it is important to stay informed and not somehow hide under a rock while this COVID-19-thing is making its mark on the world. But there is so much information available and so much of it is only half the (currently available) story or fear-based biased rubbish, that reading or listening to the news isn’t always helpful, and the shouting crowd on social media sounds kind of extra nutty at the moment.
But this morning I found all my current questions answered in Kim Hill’s interview with British clinical virologist Dr Chris Smith (especially regarding whether or not to wear a face mask in public; currently a hot topic in many countries, including New Zealand/Aotearoa. I felt their conversation was very sane, scientific and calming. So if you’re interested, this is the link to the interview for additional peace of mind.
One of the positive side effects of mindfulness meditation practice I’m enjoying is my increased “response time”, the widened pause between a feeling/reaction and subsequent action (including replying to someone, or doing something, or making a decision). It allows me moment-to-moment time to rest in whatever sensations/emotions/thoughts arise in mind and body – due to interactions with other people or circumstances I’ve found myself in, or as a result of thinking patterns. And it feels comfortable to do so, even though the feeling-sensations flooding through me may not necessarily be that great. It diffuses the internal or external pressures to respond, say something, do something, now!
I want to emphasize that I said “side effect” of mindfulness practice, because it is not something you need to try or strive for to make it happen. It will occur automatically with regular formal practice. Bonus! It’s a manifestation in real time of what Victor E. Frankl meant when he said:
This space can feel like silence or calm, or simply a moment extra to spare before jumping to conclusions or into action. A space for clarity. A space to rest in and relax. And that, my friend, is good for body, mind, others and the world around you.
Even if you feel mindfulness meditation is “not working” (whatever that means!), do it anyway. The benefits occur, even if you feel they don’t. Here’s a reminder of the benefits of mindfulness meditation from the Mindfulness Works Newsletter today:
Practising mindfulness meditation will automatically and quite naturally cause us to relax more often; it does this by triggering the relaxation response. When we are sitting in one place for a period of time and focusing on our body or our breath and we naturally start to relax, we find that:
• the breathing slows
• our blood pressure drops
• our heart rate slows
• oxygen in our blood increases
• our muscles relax
• the mind starts to soften and/or feel more spacious.
Over time and with consistent practice, both the structure and the chemistry of our brain changes so that we are relaxed and at ease more often. This happens automatically and, in fact, it shows us that relaxation will happen even if our mind seems very busy and full of thoughts.”
So keep practising, especially during these big changes in daily life all over the world because of…. you-know-what!
And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to send me an email via the contact page, or leave a comment!
If you’d like a guided meditation to use, you could check out this open awareness guided mindfulness meditation recording on Soundcloud.com, made by me. Or choose from the heaps more, wonderful Mindfulness Works NZ facilitators, put Mindfulness Works in the search box and find a voice you like.
I also recommend having this in the background if you don’t live in nature (and are lucky to have unlimited data/wifi): 8 hours of bird and water sounds (on Youtube)
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
Mindfulness Practice 12 point Cheat Sheet
p.s.: If you want to download this 12 point Mindfulness Practice Cheat Sheet as a one page, pretty looking, printable PDF, click here. There is a little catch though: it will make you sign up for my email newsletter. But I don’t email very often and you can also easily unsubscribe.
This beautiful, simple, guided meditation was written by Thich Nhat Hahn. Some twenty years ago, I found it in a library book while on my seeking journey. I learnt it by heart, so I would be able to say it to myself on the rhythm of my breath. For a while I used it every time I sat in the hotpools at the New Plymouth’s aquatic centre after early morning swims. Then I forgot about it for a long time. When I started teaching mindfulness meditation for Mindfulness Works, I traced it down on the internet, because I remembered how grounded, calm, connected to all aspects of earth, nature and breath it would make me feel. I have recorded it for you to listen to and use if it appeals to you (click here). In the recording I’m repeating the meditation-poem three times to coincide with a medium speed breathing rhythm. It lasts just under 3 minutes. Alternatively, use these words to make your own recording to play back to yourself, or learn it by heart and use it on the rhythm of your breath. Use not just the words as words, but also as visualisation or imaginations or mind-pictures if you can: Breath, In, Out , Flower, Fresh, Mountain, Solid, Still, Water, Reflecting, Space, Free.
When I was eight years old, my mother gave me the best advice ever: whenever you’re in doubt of what to do or confused about something, listen to your heart. I knew straightaway what she meant, and I knew she didn’t refer to my physical heart, or even my emotional feelings. She was pointing to my instinctual heart! In later years, she admitted sometimes regretting having told me so, because some of my decisions were ones she’d prefer me not to make. A bit later still, I would sometimes find myself in situations that felt uncomfortable or completely out of control, messy and disastrous (according to mind and emotions), and until the dust would settle to reveal a greater clarity than before, I would curse myself for not referring to the (conditioned)* mind. I also found out that what I sometimes think is my heart speaking, is in fact my mind. This is one of the reasons why I took up mindfulness meditation: I knew it would strengthen my “ear” for my (untainted) heart, which really is another word for inherent wisdom. Even the instinctual heart is a muscle that needs to be exercised if you want to use it. Living in a time (the 2020s!) that is ruled on survival based, scientific capitalist principles, sometimes intermingled with exoteric religion, consoling “spirituality” or psychological “positivity”, I need such strength to stay focused so I can hear my heart, even in the midst of this noisy world with its distractions, attractions, external opinions, media and knowledge. Because my instinctual heart is the location of my true peace and inherent wisdom, the natural intelligence I need to live a strong, happy and healthy life, the maypole I dance around. And it tells me it is the same for you. Keep practising!
*at that point I didn’t realise minds were conditioned or what that meant, I only found out about that even later still.
Open awareness meditation
I used to use a version of this guided Open Awareness mindfulness meditation in the last classes of the Mindfulness Works Introductory courses and a lot of people liked it. It takes into account all experience during “sitting still” while “focusing attention without judgment”: breath, body, sound, feelings and thoughts. It’s a refreshing, easy meditation. Note that there are lots of long silences, in which you get time to explore the instructions in yourself. The total time is 13.5 minutes.
Click here to access the 13.5 minute Open Awareness meditation (it will take you to Sound Cloud). Feel free to download it, use it, share it, like it and leave a comment!
Writing (as) meditation
Find a pen/pencil/felt tip and a piece of paper, a journal or a notebook. Find a place to sit, lie down or lean against. Check in with your body by feeling. Relax. Write a few comments in bullet points about what you’ve noticed, or felt or how you feel, physically, mentally, emotionally. If you feel nothing or numb, write that, too. Set your timer to 12 minutes. Take a few deep breaths in and out. Gently close your eyes and follow (watch, observe, witness your breathing with your mind (attention, focus, imagination). In, out, in, out, in, out, and so on. Keep going, in your own rhythm. Simply notice. Don’t change your breathing patterns, let your body do its thing. If your mind wanders, simply bring it back. Do this for as long as you can but no longer than until the alarm of your timer goes off. Write a few comments in bullet points about what you’ve noticed, or felt or how you feel, physically, mentally, emotionally. That’s it. For now. Ready to go about your day or night. Doing this once a day is sufficient for beneficial effects, but of course you can do it more often when you have the time. (c) Sitara 2020 Click here to use the sound file version of this instruction (takes 2 minutes to listen to).