The Mindfulness Connect Group

Monthly meeting:

We usually meet on the first Thursday of the month, sometimes it's the second Thursday, usually due to bank holidays. Please check this website.

Next meeting: January 2020 (date to be confirmed) 12.45 - 2.00pm @ Insole Court (Motor House Up room)

Facilitator - Cherry Stewart, to contact please email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Location: Insole Court, Fairwater Road, Llandaff, Cardiff CF5 2NL

Prospective attendees - please see the menu item: Joining Mindfulness Connect

January 2020 - Insole Court

We began with a short practice bringing us into the present by bringing attention to the body.

We then moved to an introduction to Diana Winston's description of awareness practices ('The Little Book of Being', p 29 - 30) where she describes a spectrum of practices through from focused awareness (our usual practice, often following the breath) to more flexible awareness, with a wider field, including choiceless awareness, and on to natural awareness, which is described as usually 'effortless and objectless, emphasising awareness of awareness.' Winston goes on to describe how, in natural awareness, 'our mind tends to rest in a place of ease, and awareness seems to happen on its own. Typically, attention is broad, and it doesn't focus on objects'. Winston is keen to emphasise that the spectrum of awareness practices is not a vertical hierarchy, but horizontal, with all practices related to each other.

We followed with a classical, focused meditation , beginning with three deeper breaths to encourage relaxation, then bringing attention to sensations of breathing in the body, followed by attention to sounds, always coming back to either the breath in the body or the sounds around whenever attention wanders.

We moved on to an expanded awareness, opening to allowing attention to move to other objects of attention so that when attention strays from the anchor, instead of bringing it back straight away, we keep our attention on whatever is taking it - a pain in the back, or a loud noise, or a troublesome thought. The instruction is to sense, feel, notice whatever has taken attention away from the anchor. When the new object no longer holds attention, then the attention can return to the anchor - until something else pulls the attention away and once again whatever it is that has taken it is sensed and felt, until once more attention goes and it is back to the anchor once more. 

Beyond this, fully flexible awareness is practiced when, whilst attending to our anchor, we are aware of things happening in the background, but we do not focus on them. Then we can allow the background to become the foreground, and we pay attention to whatever is there - we listen to a sound, we feel a sensation, we pay attention to a thought. As Winston says, 'You can choose where to place your attention, or let the objects choose you, bringing attention to whatever is most obvious in any given moment' (p.69.  If we need to we can return to our anchor at any time, to regain stability..

One way to move into natural awareness is by relaxing effort. Rather than putting our attention onto our breath or other objects, we allow ourselves to just be with the objects as they arise. Winston says ' So what does relaxing effort feel like in meditation? It feels like stopping the attempt to wrestle with your unruly mind, or bring it effortfully back to the present, and instead resting, relaxing, and exploring the awareness that is already present. It often feels like things are just happening on their own, and we're witnessing them. It can feel immensely relaxing and joyful to stop the struggle.' (p.73)

The practice ended by coming back to the breath once more, and opening our eyes.

We followed the practice with enquiry. There was a feeling of this being different, but with a sense of relaxation. By starting with 'classical mindfulness' there is clarity before moving into more spaciousness. One's anchor is always there to return to whenever there is a sensed need for more grounded-ness.

We then listened to part of a conversation between Sam Harris and Judson Brewer called 'Mindfulness and Addiction'' (Waking Up App). The continued use (of whatever) despite adverse circumstances" is the definition  of addiction according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. This approach parallels the understanding of suffering according to Buddhism: the 'craving mind' can be especially associated with addictions. Cellphones here are described as 'weapons of mass distraction’. The conversation is a blend of up-to-date neuro-scientific study, especially regarding addiction, related back to Buddhist teaching on 'Dependent origination' (everything arises and is dependent on something else to exist) which JB links to our human tendency towards addictive, reward-based, craving, subjectively-biased minds. Mindfulness training, increasingly via apps, possibly using personalised neural feedback, can quieten that part of the brain (here the posterior cingulate cortex) called the 'Default Mode Network' where many of our habitual, personalised tendencies tend to reside, and then learning to open up to a less 'personal', more expanded mind, with less suffering.

We ended with a short practicer followed by a closing reading of William Wordsworth's poem,

'The world is too much with us'

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:

Little we see in nature that is ours:

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. - Great GOD! I'd rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.'

William Wordsworth

A stoical mind

The philosophy of Marcus Aurelius (121 -180 C.E) can be found in his collection of writings called ''Meditations'. They reflect the influence of Stoicism, especially of Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher.

Here is a sample:

'Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong: and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own - not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none of them will infect me with their wrong. Nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him. We were born for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work in opposition to one another is against nature: and anger or rejection is opposition.'(P. 10)

A quote for our times?

December 2019 - Insole court

We began with an 'Intention' practice, drawn from the Sounds True 'Mindfulness daily' programme by Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. Jack Kornfield  reminds us that if/when we become aware of our intention before we act, we are in a better position to make better choices, leading to clarity and harmony - the alternative is auto-pilot. Intention precedes all action.

So on this occasion, we can set an intention for the actual practice - such as being present as best we can, or remembering to be kind to ourselves. We can also become aware of any urge to move as we sit, to note this and only move following this awareness. We can even practice becoming aware of when thoughts enter our minds. We can also set long-term intentions - using framing such as, 'What are the deepest intentions in and for my life?'

When we are mindful of intentions, it gives us greater freedom how we choose to act. It is valuable to pause - and check - especially in the midst of difficulty - maybe asking, 'What is my best intention here - for the well-being of all concerned?'. Clear intention brings focus. We can compare intention practices to pause practices, as e.g., recommended by Pema Chodron, who describes such practices as a way of stepping out of the stream of thoughts that often preoccupy us, realigning us with our best goals. 

We followed the practice with inquiry.

We then read the following excerpts from 'Dancing with Elephants' by Jarem Sawatsky:

'From our perspective, no matter what diagnosis you come with or what's wrong with you, there is more right with you than wrong with you - no matter what is 'wrong with you'.

It was like someone just smacked me on the head and I fell awake. More right with me than wrong with me? The man speaking knows I have Huntingdon's disease. In fact, he has spent his whole career working with people who have chronic and terminal diagnoses ...

Living on long-term disability with a chronic and terminal condition, I have a huge list of specialists I can call on to help with what is wrong with me... The medical literature on my condition divides into stages based on the inability to do things. More negative, problem-based thinking! I need to be careful not to see myself as one huge, fragmented problem ...

But Jon Kabat-Zinn was pointing toward a different, more freeing way...

Jon knows his task is to liberate people. In working with people with chronic and terminal conditions, he first focuses on freeing them from the stories they've absorbed from others, stories which suck the life right out of them. His approach is rooted in wisdom gleaned from witnessing thousand of people who have been in this spot and who have figured out how to get their lives back. This is hopeful. It is the hope of knowing that what you need is right here; it's not the hope of escaping from this place. I like this hope.'(pp 43 - 46)

We finished with a practice again drawn from 'Mindfulness Daily, this time entitled 'Emotions and Inner Resources', led by Tara Brach. This practice can be seen as a precursor to mindfulness - useful for when we are beset by fear, despair or trauma, and the practice of mindfulness can seem tricky. Here, we are intentionally activating our inner resources .. purposefully seeking refuge. 

We can do this in a number of ways. We can recall or imagine a place that may connect us with our inner resources. We can call on remembered people or beings with whom we have a connection, to help ground and soothe - this could be a spiritual person, or a person we have known, or even a pet. We may also find ease through touch of an object - a stone, a pebble  - or through something like a photo or a picture. We can then focus on the breath, lengthening and letting in comfort and ease, placing a hand on the heart or belly, communicating tenderness, establishing a soothing breathing rhythm. We can use any words that may deepen our sense of safety - 'May I be safe' ... 'May I be at ease' ... 'It's okay'.  Then just rest ..  allow the warmth/ease/connection/well-being to be felt ... to find the inner resources that are already there but need to be rediscovered and made more available.We finished with this poem by Hafez:

How

Did the rose

Ever open its heart

And give to this world

All its

Beauty?

It felt the encouragement of light

Against its Being.

Otherwise.

We all remain

Too

Frightened

 

 

Heartspace practices

In our last session we closed with a 'centering' meditation drawn from Chris Germer's 'The mindful path to self-compassion'  This is a secularised version of a Christian practice Germer describes as deriving from a 14th Trappist monastery attic in Massachusetts (p.260). 

Here is a quote from Father Richard Rohr, OFM., from the Centre for Action and Contemplation:

"Next time a resentment, negativity, or irritation comes into your mind ... consciously move that thought or person into your heart space. Surround thoughts and sensations with silence, with the warmth of your life-blood...In this place it is almost impossible to judge, create story lines, or remain antagonistic. You are in a place that does not create or feed on contraries but is the natural organ of life, embodiment, and love. Love lives and thrives in the heart space."    https://cac.org

There are meditations for centering and balancing ourselves from many contemplative wisdom traditions.  Such 'equanimity' practices help us rise above small-minded judgemental or habitual self-blaming minds - to find a bigger, sensed, 'heart space' within.