Meditation is another word for mindfulness practice, but at the beginning of Mindfulness Works courses, when participants often ask about the difference, I say that It’s not a word I tend to use because of the spiritual/religious connotations it carries. In the course, we present mindfulness practice as a tool to improve well being and reduce stress, as something sensible to do for one’s health, like eating good food or exercising. In saying this, I’ve framed up mindfulness practice as secular — meaning nothing to do with spiritual matters. But there is a lot to say about practising in a wider sense than the personal. In this article, I’d like to explore mindfulness as a spiritual practice, which is of course where it has its origins.Read More
Open a magazine, listen to a conversation about mental health, attend a leadership or staff training day at work, go to a yoga class or walk into a classroom, and chances are you’ll see or hear the word ‘mindfulness’. It’s a buzz word. So what is mindfulness, and how does it lead to greater ease, wellbeing and more enjoyment in everyday life?Read More
After the first Introduction to Mindfulness class a few weeks ago, a participant came up to me and asked: “If it’s true I’m not my thoughts, or the person my thoughts suggest me to be, then who am I?” There was a kind of poignancy in someone asking such a timeless and existential question so innocently. At the second class, she said she’d consulted Google during the week, but still wasn’t any the wiser. The group laughed. She did too.
I thought her question was a great lead-in to a reflection about the difference between spiritual practice and mindfulness practice.
This article is about working with the fearful mind, especially when it reacts to severe endings, the kind that don't appear to contain the seeds of any new beginning. The dark night endings. The times when emotional pain or distress is visceral, and it's impossible to imagine things will ever feel better.
Events that trigger times like this are varied. The huge events, like the loss of someone you love, the end of a relationship and all it promised, perceived betrayal, the loss of health or physical capacity, the loss of a role and the sense of purpose or status it gave us, solitary confinement or imprisonment … And for some, apparently small things trigger a similar kind of fear, anxiety or depression. We can become anxious about isolation, anxious about feeling anxious. We can fall in on ourselves; thinking we are separate, and that we only have ourselves to fall back on. Then it seems that the human mind can go completely nutty, and states of intense fear and neurosis arise.
I read recently that when the Dalai Lama first heard about the concept of self-hatred, he was incredulous - it was apparently not a phenomenon he was familiar with amongst people from his culture. On reflecting for a period of time, he said that the only conclusion he could come to was that a human being’s dislike of her or himself could only be an expression of exaggerated self-importance.
Now whether or not he simply didn’t understand the translation of the term self-hatred, and whether or not it is true that Tibetans don’t suffer from self-aggression to the extent we do in the West, his response prompted some reflection in me. I understand that self-dislike can only arise from the failure to aspire to some ideal that I think I want or deserve, or which someone I’m comparing myself to seems to be fulfilling. But I hadn’t considered that to even think I should live up to such an ideal is inflating the importance of myself as an individual somehow separated out from the network of life. In doing so, I’m refusing to surrender to the existence of ‘non-ideal’ aspects of myself, and refusing to intuit what life wants of me, submitting instead to the ideals demanded by society or upbringing, even though they can feel as if they are mine.Read More
In the practice of mindfulness, a person starts to develop the witness stance, noticing the patterns of thinking that habitually pull attention away from the experience of simply being present. The practitioner observes the 'what' of thinking before compassionately escorting their attention back to the now or the object of mindfulness.
In this article, I’d like to consider something deeper than the 'what' of thinking - and that is the 'how' of thinking.
When a man or woman holds a strong belief of any kind, for instance a religious belief, there are many thoughts that will grow from and be supported by it. For example, if I believe the astonishing notion that I was born a sinner, a raft of thoughts will result – that I need someone or something to redeem me, perhaps that a Jesus died for my sins, that I need to be ‘good’ to deserve love, and so on. Stop believing the root notion and, like a stack of dominoes, all the ensuing thoughts will topple because they have no ground on which to stand.Read More
There’s a story I once laughed at, about a man whose oil light was flashing red as he was driving through the city. He got out of the car, but instead of adding oil, proceeded to rip out the connection to the low-oil warning light, then got in the car and happily drove off.
Now you and I know there won’t be much of a lag-time before the lack of oil makes itself known in a more dramatic and palpable way. But when we extend the metaphor to the earth’s warning signals, it seems to me that the sheer vastness of the earth and its ability to imperceptibly adapt to misuse is preventing us from realising how unintelligently we, as a species, are responding to the root causes of imbalance. In other words, the apparent forgivingness of the planet is blinding us to the fact that we are not the slightest bit different from the man I laugh at.Read More
I was recently among a roomful of people who were invited to express what they appreciated about themselves. Many didn’t find this easy, and we laughed as it became more and more apparent that almost everyone in the room was reticent about, or found ways to sidestep the enquiry!
I see, over and over again, that even though we live in a culture of relative abundance - and therefore often indulgence - we are remarkably hard on ourselves. I hear from many students that their mindfulness practice uncovers patterns of thinking that are riddled with shoulds ought tos, musts, comparisons with others and a general sense of not measuring up.Read More
A missing chip and a T-stick plan
I bought a T-stick with one gig of data,
spun wheels on YouTube, ran out of time.
Back at the shop to top it up:
What’s your T-stick number, ma’am? …
That’s the 40-digit number on the side of the box …
Oh, you threw away the box?
What’s your mobile number, ma’am? User name?
Password? Mother’s maiden name?
Date of birth? … No ma’am, yours.Read More
When there is devotion to Life, in a feeling way, as my priority, I choose to do things or not do them based on the health of that feeling devotion. Whatever my level of devotion is, it will inform the way I eat, the way I meditate, the way I breathe, the way I relate to people and the way I think.
It’s possible, and I’ve done this a lot, to approach things the other way round, for instance using mindfulness meditation or pranayama (breath yoga) to get into a state of ‘devotion’, or calm. Or to set up a strategy to relate to people in a more compassionate way, or to think more positively. I start from the place of ‘not-right’ or stress and seek to remedy it by altering the symptoms, which are simply a faithful mirror of my existing state. In other words, my ego is busily trying to solve the problem of itself. But the lack of ease in my body, my shallow or held breath, my emotional reactivity to challenges, my patterns of thinking, any or all of these things will betray me.
It’s impossible to fake devotion.