Group January 12th 2017

We began with a practice derived from Jeffrey Brantley's 'Daily meditations for calming your anxious mind' called 'Noticing space, silence, and stillness: a meditation for opening heart and mind'. Here, we are encouraged to look afresh at things we often take for granted - things in our visual field, including spaces between objects;  sounds, and silence between sounds; and then to our thoughts and feelings - noticing how they arise from and return to silence and stillness. In this way we can learn to use space, silence and stillness to hold and support us in our practice, and in our daily lives. Having opened ourselves in this way, we concluded the practice by moving our attention to the practice of 'equanimity: finding peace within the process of life', a practice 'rooted... in the wisdom and openness of heart that follows acceptance of the inevitability of change at every level' (Brantley,2008). This practice is not about 'getting it right' but about discovery, wisdom, and gently not taking it all so personally! This practice uses reflections such as, 'Despairing at my own weakness and vulnerability, may I remember how every life contains these things' and, 'Speaking with absolute certainty, may my next remark be laughter at myself'. In the self-guided retreat 'Noble Heart', Pema Chodron reminds us that equanimity is about growing a vast mind, one that doesn't narrow down into 'for and against' 'picking and choosing' - it's 'big sky mind, i.e., taking the bigger perspective on things - the 'Hubble telescope' view on life'. And as a path through life she describes eqaunimity as about 'putting oneself in another's shoes', which can then engender compassion and loving kindness, which can themselves be worked with and opened up to prevent these 'catalysts' from becoming over-whelminng and 'frozen up'.

We followed the practice with personal enquiry. Moving into a broader context, we touched on the current focus of the 'politics of fear' but how community and coming together in positive and constructive ways can act as a useful and life-affirming step away from fear and hate (see e.g. www.lionsroar.com)

Regarding our individual practice, the group again discussed the difficulty of doing compassion practices for others (especially towards those who arouse strong negative feelings in us, but as a general practice as well). Rather than struggling it's perhaps better to continue to work gently with this, with the intention of opening this out little by little - remembering the notion that compassion is often regarded as complex and multi-layered, preceded by self-nurturing, with the motivation of the alleviation of suffering at its core (Gilbert and Choden).  

Susan Piver's talk from a recent 'Science of Meditation' online summit (from Soundstrue.com) was touched upon - she mentions three ways to sustain practice: 1. consistency (little and often rather than lengthy but infrequent) 2. taking our growing understanding of ourselves and tapping into the wisdom and knowledge of others - teachers, spiritual guides etc. 3. meditating with others from time to time.

Finally, some Rick Hanson 'wisdom'  - 'You are what you pay attention to' (also from the 'Science of Meditation' summit) and how such training opens up and broadens our minds, opening up from the brain's mid-line tendency to ego, and away from the brain's protective bias to fear and avoidance towards approach, empathy and openness.

We finished with a quote from the late Oliver Sach's:

'My predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved. I have been given much and I have given something in return. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure' (Gratitude, 2015)