Dukkhaboy

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Mindfulness and meditation books – a starter

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If you have read any of the mindfulness based posts on this site you will have realised that all of my good ideas are stolen straight from someone far more qualified than I am. Therefore I wanted to share a brief list of books I have found helpful with my practice and understanding of these two subjects. They are in no particular order.

Silence – Thich Nhat Hanh I only finished this at the end of last year. It is wonderful. Tchich Nhat Nanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who established one of the best known Buddhist and mindfulness centres in Europe; Plum Village in France. This book illustrates the delights and joy to be found in mindfulness practice and how pausing internally or quietening the mind can improve the quality of your life and of the lives of the people with whom you come into contact. Tchich Nhat Hanh has the advantage of being an mindfulness and meditation expert with a strong understanding of Western ways of living and thinking. Which is like Pema Chodron below, only the other way around. (ISBN 9781846044342 )

How to Meditate – Pema Chodron Pema Chodron is an American Buddhist nun, who follows the Tibetan tradition. But there is no need to be a Buddhist to read this. It is a  step by step guide, but also one you can take at your own pace, pausing between each stage to develop your experience with the theories and practices. Pema Chodron explains very clearly how the problems in your mindfulness practice are in fact necessary to help you  better understand your mind. The book looks at mindfulness both on its own and through the lens of a highly realised practitioner. It is a work I have read and re-read as my practice has changed. An excellent book written by a westerner with a strong understanding of Asian philosophy. (ISBN 9781604079333 )

Finding Peace in a Frantic World – Mark William and Daniel Penman This is the book to MBCT that Jon Kabat – Zinn’s is to MBSR. The book contains a CD with medtitation instructions you can follow and there is a website based on the book too www.franticworld.com The impacts of mindfulness as well as how to practice it are clearly explained. Most of all the authors show how the answer to living in a frantic world is to realise how we can stop “getting in our own way” and live with more freedom as a result. Reading this gives you a lot if confidence in what you are doing, but like an MBSR or MBCT course, this book is best read and used if you are prepared to commit yourself to reading it all and following it through to the end. (ISBN 9780749953089 )

The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron I have to admit that this is my favourite book on this list which is why there are two books by Pema Chodron here. So much compassion and wisdom come with this writing that it is difficult not to feel warmed by almost every page. I found this stop-right-there fantastic on first reading and whenever I have looked to help from it since. I have used the ideas of “precision, gentleness and letting go in my own practice and in my mindfulness teaching ever since. this really is a fantastic book. (ISBN 9781590307939 )

Stages of Meditation – The Dalai Lama – the “most Buddhist” book on this list. And an excellent one on meditation, not just mindfulness. It is a commentary based on a 8th century text. But don’t let that make you think it is all theory and no practicality. This is still written the best known ‘ordinary monk’ on the planet and as a result brings this ancient thinking and belief into a structure and a language we can all comprehend. This is a book you could refer to all your life. (ISBN 9780712629638 )

Frazzled – Ruby Wax – Ruby Wax writes relevantly yet informatively on how it is to be full of anxiety and in fact on how we all feel the same such things to differing degrees. She doesn’t duck from from explaining the science behind mindfulness and how it helped her come to terms with the chaotic nature or her mind. This is a worthy book on the topic if for no other reason that it demonstrates that the all those worries you have aren’t just merely worries that will pass but also that everyone else suffers from the same problems. (ISBN 9780062398796 )

Full Catastrophe Living – Jon Kabat Zinn The book that started off the modern understanding of and interest in secular mindfulness; in many ways there hasn’t been another book to beat it on MBSR yet. The size of the book might put you off and make you want to use it as merely a reference guide rather than text book. But as so much of what is written on mindfulness from a secular and western perspective can be traced directly back to this book it will always be high on people’s lists in necessary reads. Personally I have found the chapter on the 7 foundations of mindfulness and why “we don’t have to like mindfulness, we have to just get on and do it” a real source of support on more than one occasion. (ISBN 9780385298971 )

What is Meditation? – Rob Nairn This is the first meditation book I ever read. I had met Rob a couple of times beforehand and so knew that the calmness and wisdom promised by such a practice was an established part of his day to day life. You could choose to read this as a guide to mindfulness or as an introduction to Buddhism without touching the other half as the book, but since Rob so beautifully explains how an understanding of one compliments the other you would be missing out. But whatever you choose you will find this a delight and in my experience also a fantastic start in discovering what meditation and Buddhism mean and what they can do for you. (ISBN 9780834829350 )

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On retreat – what’s that like?

I promised Carol I would write about my retreat experience at Gaia House. I was struggling with what to say about t what is such a personal, internal and immeasurable experience when my 11yo sorted me out. On my train journey home she texted me. This is how it went (though, bless her, she had sent the first one whilst I was away and incommunicado)


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A breathing meditation from Tchich Nhat Hanh

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A mindfulness practice from Tchich Nhat Hanh

 (This is taken from his book “Silence” ISBN 978-1-84604-434-2)

Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in

Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out

(In. Out.)

 

Breathing in, my breath grows deep

Breathing out, my breath grows slow

(Deep. Slow.)

 

Breathing I am aware of my body,

Breathing out I calm my body

(Aware of body. Calming.)

 

Breathing in, I smile

Breathing out, I release

(Smile. Release.)

 

Breathing in I dwell in the present moment

Breathing out I enjoy the present moment

(Dwell. Enjoy.)

 

 Tchich Nhat Hanh’s instructions:

With the in breath say the first of the two lines quietly to yourself and with the out breath say the second. With the following in and out breaths you can say just the key words.

My brief thoughts:

You could say this as a short drop in type practice and simply say the whole thing once through. Once you have memorised the 10 lines you could do this at any place and at any time of day.

Alternatively, you could use this as the basis of a sitting practice, taking your time over each couplet. I have done this in recent weeks and added in a body scan after I have said the 3rd couplet. I love the way the ideas start from the breath and build out to the whole of the present moment as an all encompassing idea and event. I also love the happiness in this practice. There is a deepness to it, but not one that comes to you overburdened with seriousness and intellectual striving. Instead he introduces you lightly and kindly to your present moment, undisturbed by thoughts of past or future.


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Mindful Walking

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I never got mindful walking. I was always a sit down on my cushion meditator, breathing in breathing out, getting distracted, returning to the breath and getting distracted again meditator. Then 10 days ago in a room with a view of the Nantlle Ridge Mountains in Snowdonia I found mindful walking to work.  Maybe it was Susanna’s wonderful guidance, maybe it was me settling the balance between my faith and doubt in having another go at it, maybe it was the supportive caring company – all of us trying together squeezed in to the room, maybe it was the cold floor keeping me alert to my toes and feet through my thin socks. Whatever it was, I got it.

And now I can feel it feedings in to my other practice. Walking flows more effortlessly into the next part of the day. When I finish a sitting practice, I stand up and move into the next room to carry on the day. It can feel like I am concluding the spiritual part of the day and then moving back into normal life. Walking more naturally avoids that threshold crossing; it is simpler just to carry on. Therefore mindful walking can help me spend more of the day mindfully. As I queue I can be aware of the feeling of my feet, as I walk from car to front door I can do so noticing the feeling of my feet on the ground beneath me.

And so I hope that now when I get up from my sitting meditation I can take some of it with me. Sat at my desk having just pressed send or save, I might feel my outbreath for a minute and when my mind wanders I might gently and precisely bring it back again.


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Being in the bath

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I much prefer taking a shower to a bath. I have never voted Conservative. But I would like to defend a Conservative MP from the criticism he is receiving for spending an hour a day in the bath. The Guardian is making disparaging remarks about men in their 50’s being naked and ridiculing this habit. Whilst The Mirror is worried about his £5 a month water bill. Both articles sneer at a public servant regularly taking some time out of his day to step back and look for the interconnections and wholeness of his life and job. The BBC at least gives Tim Loughton the chance to put his side of the story.

Finding and fitting in the time to pause and think, to reflect and become aware of ourselves, our body and mind and our surroundings will enable us to become better at decision making and concentrating for the rest of the day. As Thich Nhat Hanh says “Doing nothing is doing something.” The belief that Tim Loughton is wasting time and indulging himself because he is not rushing around all helter-skelter is the attitude  that commits us all to live at break neck speed without a thought for our mental welfare. Until we learn to value being as much as doing the mental health crises will continue to be unsolvable. Scoffing at someone for doing so is exactly the same line of thought that condemns us all to be mute when we should be discussing mental health.

So let us please value and encourage more people to stop and be for a period of time every day. I am delighted that one of our MPs is leading by example by lying in his bath every morning.

 


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“Clarity of mind” meditation

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Overview

This is a mix of Kathleen McDonald’s “Meditation on the Clarity of Mind” Part 3 chapter 2 in “How To Meditate” and Pema Chodron’s ‘Using Thoughts as an Object of Meditation’ in “How to Meditate” p. 70. Any benefit this meditation brings is a result of the understanding and realisations of these two experienced and revered practitioners.

The philosophy behind this meditation (you don’t have to read this, you can skip to the meditation practice itself just below)

Thoughts are not solid. They are not real. The argument you act out in your mind isn’t happening and may well not happen at all. The fine meal you are dreaming of won’t be occurring until next week and when it does it won’t be like the dream you are having about it now anyway. Seeing thoughts like this helps us to escape from the ‘catastrophisation’ that goes on in our head, where we start to believe the negative storylines we invent so they become solid and real to us. We don’t have to deny them entry or squash them deep down to try to forget they exist. Nor do we need to smash them with a hammer or fight them to the ground. Instead we can lightly touch these thoughts, say ‘thinking’ to ourselves and let them dissolve away.

If we are free ourselves of adding a sense of solidity to things that have none we can start to also start to loosen the ties of our ingrained mental habits. When someone mentions our boss we don’t have to run down that overworn path of tales we, without fail, recount of what she will do and say to us. We don’t have to get lost in dreams of “if only” and “how marvellous it would be if …” Seeing thoughts, emotions and feelings as dreamlike relieves us of so much burden. We can begin to understand how all that we create in our mind is less solid than we give it credit for and then we can see how restricted we were, how we made such a big deal about something that does not need to have a hold over us.

Consequently we begin to experience how vast our lives can be when we don’t attach or push away from all our experiences as though they were solid and real. Right there lies true freedom.

The Meditation Practice Itself 

1/ Take up the correct posture via the 6 points we have already learnt. (See previous meditation instruction here if it helps)

  • Feet/Legs
  • Seat
  • Torso/back
  • Hands
  • Eyes
  • Face

“Bring ease to your posture. It’s so important not to get into a major struggle but to simply try to be as relaxed and comfortable as you can. In each of these six points, you want to embody a sense of relaxation, openness and dignity; you want to embody an expression of being awake and confident.” Pema Chodron

2/ Become mindful of your outbreath. The instruction is “Just be aware of the normal and uncontrived outbreath. Follow it, be with it; be aware of it. “ Spend about 5-10 minutes doing this or until you are fully relaxed and aware of the outbreath.

3/ Once your awareness has become sharp turn your attention to the clarity of your consciousness. Your consciousness, or mind, is whatever you are experiencing at the moment; physical sensations, thoughts, feelings, emotions. The nature of each of these experiences is clarity (like a still glass of water). Focus your attention on this clear, pure nature of the mind.

Thoughts will still arise and when they do let them pass through. Thoughts come and thoughts go. Just observe them. Take the same approach with physical sensations, feelings and emotions. They are clear by nature and without substance.

If this is hard at first meditate on a mental image of clarity … Imagine lying on a hilltop and staring up at a sky that is completely clear and free of clouds. Concentrate on this vast unobstructed emptiness, Imagine that it flows down and embraces you and your surroundings; everything becomes empty like space. Hold this experience; feel that the nature of your mind is like this clear empty space.

 

4/ When you finish dedicate any benefit you may have gained from this practice either to all sentient beings or to people you know who themselves are struggling; let go of the result of the meditation as well.

 

Resources:

Kathleen McDonald’s book can be found here

Pema Chodron’s book can be found here

Other sellers other than amazon are of course available

how to meditate pema chodron

 


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An Attitude to Meditation

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My favourite part of meditation is when I am not “officially meditating” and I notice that gentle and curious awareness I occasionally feel on the cushion arise during a different part of my day. Consequently I loved the chapter in Pema Chodron’s How to Meditate where she talks about are the 5 qualities to bring to your meditation that as a result you should also be able to see develop in your daily life from your meditation.

I also like them because they are a more detailed version of the three approaches she discussed in When Things Fall Apart: precision, gentleness and letting go. (I wrote about this here )

Below is merely some brief notes on what Pema Chodron said with a couple of my own small additions.

Steadfastness

  • It’s like a loyalty to ourselves or more accurately our experiences.
  • It’s an  approach “that whatever comes up, that’s ok”
  • Maybe you sit down and for 20 minutes your mind is a rage. Don’t be hard on yourself, you stayed with that for the whole session, so well done!
  • It’s a gesture of compassion to yourself

Clear seeing

  • In meditation we start to notice when we start to spin off into one of our chains of thoughts. This is clear seeing
  • By being steadfast we begin to see ourselves so much more clearly
  • This clear seeing includes our judgements, our patterns, our opinions, our defence mechanisms and our ingrained habits

Courage

  • The first two qualities lead to this one, but it grows only slowly
  • The courage to experience and not bury and deny  your emotional discomforts
  • The courage to not to cower before your emotional discomforts
  • The courage not to shift into a fantasy or a distraction before your emotional discomforts
  • If we get this courage we can get an insight into how we are or how the world is
  • We can have a minor change in our world view
  • This courage means we can ‘loosen up our conditioning

Being awake to our lives

  • Being awake to the present moment and all the surprises this will always bring
  • We say we like surprise and thrills, but …
  • This is being awake to the next (because there is always another one) embarrassing moment when we lose our composure and patience.
  • It’s about being more flexible and tolerant to the present moment.
  • And with it as a by product comes humour

No big deal

  • Just like that calmness you have when you say ‘thinking’ during a meditation session
  • Don’t make your problems so big you end up running yourself down and wallowing in them
  • Don’t make any progress feel so great that your pride gets in the way and knocks the stuffing out of your practice next time