June 2018 meeting

Today we began with a practice drawn from Jack Kornfield's and Tara Brach's 'Mindfulness Daily' programme (Sounds True).

This practice is the initial practice of the first section of the programme, entitled 'Mindfulness Basics'. These first practices encourage the building of basic mindfulness skills, attitudes and approaches. in this one, 'Pausing for Presence', that moment of remembering or awakening to presence is acknowledged and developed. Without the 'coming to' of that pause we can continue in our daily habitual routines of un-awareness, non-stop chatter, thinking, judgement and emotional turmoil. We need to 'find the gap' as Pema Chödron sometimes describe it. So applying this in our daily lives has huge significance - without it we can be mindful on the cushion but mindless throughout the day.

So the practice is really a 'coming to' practice -  practiced by taking a seating, lying or standing position - but it could be an 'off the cuff' practice done anywhere -  acknowledging being awake, for a moment being still, with an attitude of gentleness. Noticing the state of our being, taking a full, deeper breath, and feeling the sensation of the exhalation - in the tummy, chest, throat or nostrils. Letting our normal breathing resume, and gently allowing the body to let go and relax, supported by the chair or ground beneath, and noticing in this pause the feelings in our body (cold, tense, hot..) and noticing without judgement. Also noticing the state of the heart just as it is - racing, quite, uplifted, sad.. Mindfulness holds it all. Just noticing being here, right now, just as it is. 

This practice provides the opportunity to introduce presence and spaciousness into any moment, stepping out of autopilot, and providing an opportunity for greater clarity and wiser action.

We followed the practice with enquiry and broader discussion around the challenges of keeping a mindfulness practice going and of remaining mindful in our busy, crammed lives. Here an attitude of understanding that this is a challenge for all, that harsh judgement just perpetuates any sense of failure, and that beginning again in any moment is always there for us, as long as we have breath.

We then discussed Rick Hanson's teaching from Advice for Difficult Time ( Sounds True) - using his particular blend of Buddhist and neuro-scientific wisdom. He describes that whilst suffering is inevitable, there are three strong ways to work with and alleviate our individual responses to being in the world. Firstly, to accept and be with what arises - staying with, rather than trying to escape from. Secondly, working on reducing our ingrained habit of dwelling on the negative in our thinking and in our lives. Thirdly, acknowledging the positives in our lives - bringing them more to centre stage as it were. His active metaphor for this is 1)first view the garden 2) pull up the weeds 3) plant flowers. Simple, but a way of compressing core ideas in a vivid image.

We closed with another practice taken from 'Mindfulness Daily'. This time it was a simple breath practice - foundational but revolutionary in encompassing presence, awareness of body and breath in body, patience and kindliness in returning to the breath again and again.