Group September 22nd 2016

Our session started with a walking meditation in the grounds - it was a beautiful mellow September day. Some of us chose a simple walking meditation with the ground as our anchor, 'feeling the earth' through the body and feet, whilst others were open to all the senses as we walked, including the sense of proprioception, sometimes called the 'sixth sense'. This has been described by Oliver Sach's in 'The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat' as 'that continuous but unconscious sensory flow from the movable parts of our body (muscles, tendons, joints) by which their position and tone and motion is continually monitored and adjusted, but in a way which is hidden from us because it is automatic and unconscious', and allowing us to feel our bodies as belonging to ourselves. Through walking meditation we can bring awareness to this 'unconscious' sensory flow.  Some of us practiced incorporating loving kindness phrases into our walking, using the movement to physically 'embed' the intentionality of the compassionate phrases into our beings.

We held a period of enquiry following the practice, with some discussion around the idea of trusting to a kind of innate sense of physical 'wisdom' when it came to 'being in our bodies' (as opposed to our heads, as per usual!).

In walking meditation being in contact with the 'outside world' can bring challenges and choices - e.g., an external object such as a sailing boat can carry us away into a personal 'story' - pleasant or unpleasant, and we can get caught up with the narrative, but we can also make a choice to bring the attention back to 'pure seeing', or to move the focus elsewhere, or maybe back to an anchor such as the ground beneath us or the breath.

We followed with a period of general enquiry and reflection. Mindful awareness seems to bring a shifting of perspectives on both historical and contemporary situations and emotional states, sometimes with new insights, sometimes offering new ways of looking at otherwise difficult, personally challenging life situations, with compassion and humour helping frame and support.

We had further discussion around the value of developing bodily awareness through some form of physical practice (such as yoga, tai chi) to help with the reconnection of body and mind - especially important if there has been an experience of trauma. This is sensitive work and for some it could mean individual therapy, but for others a gentle, kind and curious exploring of the body through, for instance, a simple yoga practice, can be hugely healing. (See 'The Body Keeps the Score' by Bessel Van der Kolk' and 'Trauma and Memory' by Peter Levine for more information on trauma therapy).

The first chapter from Jon Kabat-Zinn's ' Wherever you go there you are' seemed a useful way to 'ground' us to what mindfulness is about - in a secular though reverential way - acknowledging the Buddhist origins whilst emphasising the extreme relevance to our society today:

'The habit of ignoring our present moments in favour of others yet to come leads directly to a pervasive lack of awareness of the web of life in which we are embedded. This includes a lack of awareness and understanding of our own mind and how it influences our perceptions and our actions. It severely limits our perspective on what it means to be a person and how we are connected to each other and to the world around us.' (p. 5)