Mindfulness with Sitara Morgenster

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What am I doing?

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.

The space between reaction and action

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.

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

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