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#NZ Lockdown Day 1

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).

Describe mindfulness practice in your own words “for better results”

I’m curious: How do you describe your own mindfulness practice, now that you have experience as a mindfulness practitioner, be it regular or irregular, fledgling or badass?

During the introductory courses I teach for Mindfulness Works NZ, I like to encourage participants to come up with their own definition of mindfulness practice during the course. This is not merely a mental exercise or wordplay, but a really good trick to help deepen your understanding of what you’re actually doing when you are meditating. Writing it down makes it even more powerful. Repeating it to yourself a few times a day like a mantra: boom!

First of all, a definition or description is essential to help reminding yourself what mindfulness is not. It is, for instance, not a relaxation method (although it leads to relaxation), it is not a method to become enlightened (though it may serve as preparation for renunciation), it is not a way to improve yourself (though you may effortlessly change in ways that please you) nor to change your circumstances (though it will help you have a clear understanding of your current situation and possibly your next moves). And on and on.

Secondly, having your own definition helps strengthen your connection to the (idea of) practice and thereby assist you in “keeping it up”. It will also help to nurture (or initiate) an amicable, if not love relationship with your practising of mindfulness. It will enable you to claim the practice as your own.

Sure, the practice of mindfulness meditation cannot be owned as such by anyone. It is a universally available trait, if not natural ability, and accordingly the responses of each human nervous system will be more or less the same, with our breathing, blood pressure and heart rate finding a healthy balance, resulting in a better oxygenated and clearer, relaxed body and brain. But we all come to our practice as a unique individual concoction of experiences, nature, conditioning, DNA and mysterious life purpose. This is why it’s a good idea to come up with your own definition. And as your practice changes (which it will, because you change and everything else changes all.of.the.time), so too might your definition change.

In the Mindfulness Works intro course, we start by using a definition from the founding father of modern-day “scientific” mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, which most of you will remember: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.” Of course, this is a flawless, relatively easy to understand description.

And yet, my own definition reminds me more strongly of my intentions with this practice, which in turn keeps me motivated to show up at my meditations, again and again, and with gusto. I have made sure it covers all the elements of “pure” mindfulness practice as described by Kabat-Zinn. You know, the three main ingredients of neutrality (being non-judgmental), the here-and-now (in the present moment… not that there is any other moment) and intentionally (the ‘on purpose’ bit). Bonus: in the sentence above, you already have received three new words to potentially include in your own definition or description.

I guess now it’s time to share my definition or description with you. I currently have two. One is for my formal practice, the other one a regular reminder throughout the rest of my day. I mentally call my formal sessions “Sit still, shut up and witness what is and what emerges”. In informal situations, whenever I want to remind myself of the necessity of anchoring myself with all my faculties (mental, emotional, physical) to engage with the reality of life, I whisper in my own ear: “The opposite of not here, not now, not with you”.

Neither of these descriptions may make much sense to you, but they work for me. In case they cause any confusion, I sincerely apologise and urge you to create an antidote by way of your own definition or description, without further ado. For inspiration, you may also want to check out a few more (much more polished :)) definitions from others:

Coming up with your own definition or description of your mindfulness practice, helps to keep you motivated to show up at your meditations. Photo credit

“To practice mindfulness means to orientate ourselves through attention and feeling to what is current in our experience.” Stephen Archer, lead trainer and supervisor of Mindfulness Works and director of Mindfulness Training.

“Mindfulness is the practice of being present and developing awareness of the ways in which we rob ourselves of the natural joy of being alive,” says Rachel Tobin, Mindfulness Works NZ trainer and director of The Art of Mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” From the staff of
 “Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment “.

Now I would love to hear from you what yours is!

Sitara Morgenster, June 2019. Written for the Mindfulness Works (NZ|AUS) Monthly Newsletter.

Don’t expect your meditation to deliver what you want

Sitting quietly with the intention to pay attention to your current state as it is right now (mentally, physically, emotionally), without hooking into any of these elements or their qualities, and without interpreting them or wishing to change them; that’s all mindfulness meditation practice is. Practising this regularly (even if only briefly) will automatically deliver positive side-effects. Anything else will lead to the nervous system tensing up.

Don't aim for special effects from your regular mindfulness/meditation practice

In mindfulness meditation practice, goal setting is fatal

When excuses get in the way of a regular mindfulness/meditation practice

How deeply, madly, truly do you want this mindfulness meditation thing to take a hold in your life?

Some days I come up with the most marvellous excuses to not practise mindfulness/meditation. They are brilliant! They’re so brilliant, they don’t even sound like an excuse. They sound plausible, logical, reasonable. And, if left un-inspected, I totally fall for them – my own, blimmin’ excuses completely beguile, mesmerise and convince me.

It’s much easier to hear an excuse for what it really is (a cop-out) when another person utters one. Like last night, during my class. A lovely human-being with the best of intentions, who’s forked out over a hundred dollars to come to a course, four weeknights in a row.

“I didn’t get a chance this week, I had family staying.”

Who is going to give you the chance, if not you?

This even sounds honest, doesn’t it? And completely understandable. And it’s totally okay.

I’m not broaching this subject to make anyone feel stink or to show I’m any better, because I’m not. I bring it up because it is so fascinating!

Here we are, claiming to want to learn this modality to somehow feel better in ourselves or cope with life without too many crutches, or awful drugs that only muck up our brains further, or to get back to that innocence and wonder that we once knew and is still there, somehow buried.

Here we are, spending considerable money and time to do a course, and then we don’t practice! We might even say it doesn’t work and ask for our money back. I often think we actually have two minds; one that knows what’s best for us and one that doesn’t. And the latter seems to be the ruler, until something dethrones it and puts it in its rightful place.

Excuses excuses, we all go there, and I don’t even think it’s fair to expect this will ever change or is somehow a sign of my weakness, or even a bad thing. It’s simply the force of lifelong habit training with productivity in mind, pulling at my sleeve: the enthusiastically encouraged quick fix to feel good with the least resistance; a societal demand to first and foremost be available to the outside world, as opposed to a grounded sense that it is I and I alone who decides where I put my attention.

But I do think it is fair to query myself regarding my response to these ingrained old patterns once they have come into my awareness. Notice it. Face it. Look it in the eye. Stare it out. Have a dialogue with it. Challenge it. Pester it.

A mindfulness/meditation practice (however small or fumbling at the start) that is allowed to take root in your life, will open a door to befriending the parts of yourself that lie dormant, hidden, suppressed – maybe-. The parts of yourself that are unexplored, ready to be discovered, awesome – definitely.

Ask: You didn’t get a chance? Who is going to give you the chance, if not you?
Again, let’s not be harsh on anyone or down on ourselves. It’s just that I often think this area of intention and commitment to putting some time and effort into learning this precious new tool is possibly “the thing” to be first and foremost become more aware off when considering taking up a mindfulness/meditation practice.

Did you check Facebook, watch TV, brush your teeth?
Perhaps, if you didn’t get a chance to any of those activities, you might still convince me.
All those other things with which you filled your day, were they really more important? Why?

Perhaps it is good to first of all, “aware in this present moment, without judgment” realise you’re not that interested in mindfulness/mediation after all. And that’s okay, too.

It could well be that you’re still not desperate enough. That’s okay too. But why pretend to ourselves that “we didn’t get a chance”, “we had a really crazy week”, “were away”, “had friends come over”, “got the flu”, and on and on?

Pretending creates yet more tension in our body and mind, even if the effects of it might immediately make themselves known. Pretending (particularly to yourself) also has the unfortunate side effect of closing the door on any further contemplation to see what I’m really “up to”, or what’s really important for us right now, or what might be helpful to assist our lives.

It also closes the door on contemplating what it will be like to wait when we might be desperate enough. When sickness or tragedy strike? When anxiety grabs us by the balls (or throat)? When our other deflection-mechanisms are no longer available to us?
On death’s doorstep?

Self-care is something we have to prioritise in good times so that when things do get challenging it’s easier to go back to it because we’ve made it a habit

Consider though for a moment, without getting all anxious about the possible horror scenarios in which the practice is not going to be available to you, to what comedian, author and activist Francesca Ramsey recently said in an interview: “Self-care is something we have to prioritise in good times so that when things do get challenging it’s easier to go back to it because we’ve made it a habit”. And mindfulness/mediation is a form of essential self-care with an immediate ripple effect in our wider circles.

I didn’t have the chance? For an entire week? Seven days, more than 10,000 minutes (of which we only sleep through, on average, about 3000 minutes).
All that time and you couldn’t find 12 minutes – or even five?
Not even during one day of the week?
Not even during a stolen moment somewhere anywhere during the day?
Not even despite the fact you didn’t feel like it?

Don’t feel like it but do it anyway. See what happens.

A mindfulness/meditation practice (however small or fumbling at the start) that is allowed to take root in your life, will open a door to befriending the parts of yourself that lie dormant, hidden, suppressed – maybe-. The parts of yourself that are unexplored, ready to be discovered, awesome – definitely.

Full of information and knowledge for you and your own life. The kind of information Google will never be able to give you, no outer authority will ever be able to touch. And a few stolen moments from this crazy demanding world with its magnetic force and charismatic distractions is all you need to slowly move towards the one you are, to gain greater clarity of mind, feet on the ground, lungs filled with life-giving breath. Deeply, madly, truly.

To be still and listen, outside of the shouting crowd that’s made it into our thoughts, a date with infinity and source, is an opportunity not to be missed.

Find out what could help you go there, and let me know.

Sitara Morgenster

12 Point Mindfulness Cheat Sheet

This month my blog takes the shape of a 12-point cheat sheet, addressing some of our pre-conceived ideas about formal mindfulness practice that are floating around. You can download the free PDF via the form below the article.

  1. Mindfulness practice = sitting silently, watching feelings, body-sensations and thoughts come and go, not hooking into any of them
  2. If your thinking or any other natural phenomena of the body/mind are too overwhelming, put your attention on your natural breathing rhythm
  3. You cannot do this wrong, despite what your opinion about the quality or outcomes of your practice want to tell you or despite what anyone else says
  4. It’s impossible to stop thinking. The mind is designed to think, just as the stomach wants to eat. But you can decide what focus to give your mind and be its master
  5. To practise between 12-20 minutes a day is sufficient for maximum benefit. Perhaps start with less to build up “sitting stamina”. Extend for your own good reasons
  6. Mindfulness practice delivers benefits automatically! Practice to take a closer look at the life you live and are, to develop a greater intimacy with life itself
  7. Mindfulness knowledge is experiential. It increases through continuing practice. Not by courses or reading about it (although of course there’s nothing wrong with that!)
  8. Nothing needs further addressing or fixing or solving, the practice itself is sufficient. You will know to seek help or share or write or explore when you need to
  9. Practising can result in feeling uncomfortable, but it’s not a sign something is wrong, and you will still reap the (scientifically proven) benefits
  10. Mindfulness is a perpetually growing process in which we begin to appreciate our unique inner and outer surroundings in life, whatever they may be
  11. The changes you may wish to make on the basis of your mindful connection with yourself will come from your insight; not reaction, effort or force or outer authority
  12. Mindfulness is common-sense mind/body hygiene like brushing your teeth, but it will not “get you anywhere”. There is nowhere to get. You’re already “it”
  13. Sitara Morgenster
  14. p.s. Download the free PDF of the 12-point Mindfulness Cheat Sheet by filling out your details below. The link will be emailed to you instantly!

    Mindfulness Cheat Sheet free PDF Download

Mindfulness: fad or fabulous?

Mindfulness practice is thousands of years old. Some even argue it is a natural skill much like walking. It’s just that society hasn’t valued it so we weren’t taught as kids. This has caused our mindfulness-muscle to go flabby and be forgotten.

Both those premises are currently changing.

You can’t turn around or there’s another article about mindfulness, a course or a retreat, and many schools are introducing forms of mindfulness into their curriculum.

If you wonder why it has suddenly become insanely popular (to the point of risking a place in the top-10 of irritating fads) here are seven reasons for its revival and prevalence:

  1. Once you master the basics, you never need another course again – just keep practicing on a not too irregular basis;
  2. It’s a cheap and simple modality that everyone can master and no one can do wrong;
  3. We finally have the science to prove the benefits of daily meditation practice;
  4. Over the past  decades, it has been freed from religious and airy-fairy connotations by people like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Eric Harrison and lately in New Zealand, Karl Baker, and returned to the realms of effective body/mind human hygiene. Think of it like this: what brushing does for your teeth, mindfulness does for your mind;
  5. It has been cleverly re-branded from not so catchy (attention training) to pretty juicy (mindfulness/meditation);
  6. It doesn’t require you to change anything and you don’t need to buy anything (although you may want to spend some money on initial training and guidance to get you going);
  7. We live increasingly hectic lives in an overwhelming, fast changing world, so we can all do with something that brings us back to our natural state we all, to one degree or another, have a hunch about and a hunger for.

You probably know about the main benefits. Regular mindfulness practice improves sleep, is an antidote against anxiety and depression, lowers your heart-rate and blood pressure and improves the immune system.

But you don’t have to be stressed, desperate or on anti-depressants to reach for this fascinating, mind-altering modality.

Even in a life that feels quite balanced, the advantages of using mindfulness meditations are bountiful: improved focus and clarity, increased creativity and more easy going in relationships with your self and therefore others, to name a few.

And maybe the best thing of all: it is devoid of the subtle pressures of self-improvement, behaviour changes and self-help techniques. Because it is about being aware, not about fixing anything about yourself or a situation.

For sure, things may improve for you and you may find the space to make different choices in your work, relationships and so on. But that is not the primary aim. The primary aim is to observe, notice and allow things to be as they currently are. All the benefits and outcomes will naturally follow.

In the first instance, it is about being relaxed in the present moment. Because the minute we start looking for results, our nervous system tenses up and all benefits fly out the window.

taking a closer look

The effects of this “Sitting Still and Shutting up for 12 minutes a day Practice” will surprise you. Give it the benefit of the doubt and find out how to do this. Try you must, because it is an experiential practice, like cycling, swimming, sexing, eating: you can read about it until you’re blue in the face, but you will still not know if it’s fad or fab. You need to do it. Give it at least 6 days a week for 12 minutes a day during a month. Then, if you it doesn’t suit you, you can always abandon it. At least you will have given it a try.

If you’ve tried it already, leave a comment on this blog below and share your experience. It would be great to hear from you!

Sitara Morgenster

Hanging out with your precious attention

Did you hang out with your precious attention today? Were you mostly mindful or absent-minded?

The answer is probably: “both!”

Harvard Research shows that our mind wanders, on average, 47% of the time: nearly half our lives! We spend that time thinking of what isn’t going on or propel ourselves into the future or ruminate on past events, feelings and relationships, or are busy wishing things were different right now.

This website is about mindfulness, a simple, free tool available to everyone (all you need is yourself, your attention and your breath), to profoundly enjoy each moment we’re alive.

I say free because you can teach yourself using a book or one of the many internet, app and cloud resources available for mindfulness/mediation. But you may want to spend some money on getting your practice off the ground and doing it with others in a class or retreat can have a strengthening effect on making it your habit.

What exactly is mindfulness? Mindfulness Works, who I work for as a mindfulness trainer, defines it as “being present and aware at the same time”. Check out a few more other definitions, and you’ll get a feel for what mindfulness is, before you start practising it. Or, if you’re already involved in a  mindfulness practice, see if you can recognise some of these descriptions, or in other words, mindfulness in theory:

From Stephen Archer, director of Mindfulness Training:

“Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, with curiosity and compassion. It leads to a deeper understanding of life and how to respond wisely.”

From Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness:

“Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

From Shauna Shapiro, of

“Intentionally paying attention with kindness.”

Once you enter into a regular mindfulness practice with yourself (on your own or with others), you may want to give it your own definition. Let me know what you come up with! I currently call it something like “the art of sitting still” and “the daily practice of shutting up – with intention and awareness and without ambition or trying for perfection”.

Karl Baker, director and founder of Mindfulness Works, the largest mindfulness training organisation in New Zealand and currently also operating in Australia, defines it as both being aware and being present, as well as uses the definition by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his Guidebook. However, also recently emphasised this on his Mindfulness Works Facebook Page:

“There are mindfulness trainers and training organisations who try to possess mindfulness and make it their own. They claim there is is ‘right’ mindfulness (always their way) and ‘wrong’ mindfulness (other people’s ways).

They ignore their own self-protective agenda, under the guise of ‘spiritual’ or ‘scientific’ self-righteousness.

In truth – mindfulness is freely available to us all and an innate natural capacity. We could even say mindfulness is Life itself.

Mindfulness Works is committed to making mindfulness – as available to as many people as possible. We are committed to people realising that they are inherently OK just as they are, that mindfulness is not complicated and freely available. Rightly or wrongly.”

I love that about Mindfulness Works: the busting of all these myths, the removal of “right or wrong” and offering this simple practice for people to (re-) learn and use if they want to, to reclaim their own authority, to be their own best friend again, to become very close to themselves and know how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Where was your precious attention hanging out most of today? Were you mostly mindful, or absent-minded? Did you put your mindfulness meditation practices to good use? Reply by clicking the comments link above this article. I’d love to hear from you!

Sitara Morgenster

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