March 2018 meeting

We began with a practice drawn from Tara Brach entitled 'Spacious clear awareness' (tarabrach.com). The practice begins with attention on posture, stillness, then intention, followed by awareness of breath (lengthening and letting go) and a short body scan from the top of the head to the feet and contact with the ground, with awareness of all sensation, opening and softening to all that is present within the body. Then there is opening to awareness of sound, within and without, near and far, arising and disappearing, with a spacious awareness. The practice then moves to an awareness of all that arises - sound, sensations, feelings, thoughts.... noticing the changing flow of life moving through. The movement of the breath (at the nose, chest or belly or whole body breathing ) can always be held in the foreground of awareness - to stabilise and anchor. Whenever the mind is carried into thoughts, just noticing and opening back into presence ... to an 'awake awareness' with a relaxed and open attention. To close, feeling the breath in the foreground and opening the eyes, being open to experience outside and allowing awareness of the senses to extend beyond the practice.

We followed with enquiry  - one reflection was that this 30 minute practice allowed a little more time to deepen into the practice - where shorter practices possibly do not. We discussed the practice length 'question' ( a common theme amongst novice and experience practitioners alike !) and feelings were generally that rigidity and judgement about rights and wrongs around this were unhelpful - lots of individual differences, variations, variability over time etc. There was discussion around the difference of starting a body scan at the head or the feet - the latter possibly has a more immediate 'grounding' effect, bringing us out of the 'headiness' where we usually reside ! whilst starting with the head perhaps brings us early on to precisely an awareness of our 'head space' but this time with attention on our senses and felt experience - rather than habitually going to our thinking minds - and all the 'baggage' that goes with these.

We reflected on the value of experimentation within our practices, and of 'mixing and matching' - something that comes more easily as we get beyond that fixation with having to practice in a particular way, at a particular time and in a particular place, maybe using a set recording etc - all of which can of course establish and strengthen practice but patterns which can eventually become limiting in themselves. There's also the importance of carrying practice through into our daily lives. Formal practice (when we deliberately sit etc. to practice) is distinguished from 'informal' practice  - but both are usually considered vital in bringing mindful presence into our lives. In a talk broadcast on Sounds True recently, Eckhart Tolle said,

  '...there's the example of the meditator man who is meditating on Mette, a Buddhist meditation called lovingkindness where you spread lovingkindness out from you... It may go something like, "May I be well and happy" ... And the words are used as pointers so that you emanate peace you can feel yourself.... And then you include the next circle: "May everybody in this house be well and happy" .... Gradually you expand. "May everybody in this state be well and happy - in this country, the entire planet" .... Anyway, this man was practicing the metta lovingkindness meditation and then the door opened and his daughter came running in. And so he opened it and said, "Can't you see I'm doing my meditation? Get out of here. Every day you disturb me while I'm doing this to close the gap between the practice and living". So if you are a meditator or if you take up meditation, beware of that.' (from 'Opening to the Depths of the Present Moment' from Sounds True 'The Mindfulness and Meditation Summit, 2018). 

In his 'Wherever you go there you are', Kabat-Zinn has a great little chapter entitled 'Going Upstairs' where he desc ribes realising he could use this everyday activity as an opportunity to practice mindfulness:

'When I am able to capture this wave of energy in awareness while I am still at the bottom of the stairs or starting on my way up, I will sometimes slow my ascent - not just one step at a time, but really slow, maybe one breath cycle per step, reminding myself that there is really no place I have to go and nothing I have to get that can't wait another moment for the sake of being fully in this one' (p.202).

In 'The Miracle of Mindfulness' Thich Nhat Hanh says,

'While washing the dishes one should be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing. But that's precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I'm being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There's no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.'(pp 3-4)

Now this kind of daily living practice can indeed at first sight appear a bit 'silly' - but it does seem that, as with a formal practice that deepens, and brings clarity and possibly wisdom - so this kind of informal activity of daily living practice can also deepen one's appreciation of the intrinsic beauty of simple, ordinary things - and bring us back into presence with what is here - right now.

As mindfulness is brought ever further into all areas of western life, so apparently is the realisation that for some, a formal daily practice may not work as well as moment-to-moment practices - in the field of addiction, for instance, there is evidence that introducing informal practice (in this case via app-base training) into daily life was more effective in helping smokers to quit than a formal practice - which was introduced later. (Judson Brewer 'The Craving Mind' - interviewed on Sounds True 'The Mindfulness and Meditation Summit (2018)

We closed with ''The breathing space with kindness', taken from den Brink's and Koster's 'Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living' (p 49)