July 2019 meeting - Insole Court

We had our second meeting at Insole. Began with a short - 5 minute - settling practice, establishing being in the 'here and now', in silence.

Our next, longer practice was drawn from Brantley's 'Calming your anxious mind'. This guided meditation, called 'Awareness of breathing', focuses on an investigation of the breath, each breath, within the body. It begins with a reflection of the foundational attitudes for mindfulness practice which is really about allowing presence. These attitudes are non-judging, patience, beginner's mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go. As Brantley says 'Let go of any agenda about changing fear, anxiety, panic, or anything else, and don't try to make anything happen.' (p. 120). There is a paradox here. For those coming to mindfulness  for health reasons, to reduce stress, help with anxiety, depression or chronic physical conditions, 'results' are naturally going to be looked for. Brantley has this to say on this crux matter: 

'Having an agenda to get rid of something or to change something is a common source of frustration in meditation practice. Change and transformation do occur through meditation, but only when you teach yourself to allow attention and awareness to include disturbing and unpleasant conditions like anxiety and panic.

In the domain of meditation, it is the practice of being, not doing, that works. To be skillful in approaching any distress in your life - including fear, anxiety, or panic - through meditation, it is helpful to recall some fundamental points.

* Everything happens in the present moment

* Fear, anxiety, and panic, are only experiences flowing into and out of the present moment

* Meditation can be understood as a process of inner transformation that involves establishing a calm and focused attention, cultivating awareness, developing understanding and wisdom, and activating kindness and compassion.

* By correctly practicing mindfulness of fear, anxiety, and panic, you develop a clear understanding of their lesson and begin to see what action is necessary.

.... To produce change through meditation you have to stop trying to change anything! It is good enough to be present. It is strong enough to bring full attention to the present moment  - as it is.' (pp 200 - 201)

Brantley later adds these key words:

'Learning to make room for upset will help. Cultivating and resting more in the "heart" qualities of mindfulness - kindness and compassion - will comfort and steady you. And, discovering your inner resources for safety, silence, and stillness will empower you to deal with the most disturbing experiences.' (p. 201).

We followed this breath practice with enquiry. It was a 'return to the basics' for some of us ...perhaps a bit unsettling for that, almost like coming back having been away, but a useful reminder of what we have with us all the time, from moment to moment. This practice, as with so many, can be adapted to our daily lives, at any moment.

Our second practice was a walking meditation in the grounds, amongst the acer trees and shrubs. Some used the time to focus on simple awareness of walking, step by step, others using awareness of the beauty of nature surrounding us - maybe incorporating some of Hanson's 'Taking in the good' practice to encourage the brain to tilt in a positive direction, and/or allowing some personal loving-kindness phrases to come up as we walked. 

We ended with a short closing practice.


June 2019 meeting - Insole Court

We had our first meeting at Insole Court, Llandaff. Given this was a new venue and experience, we began with a  short grounding practice, taking our seats and bringing awareness to our bodies, our breath, and the ground beneath us, coming to rest in the present. 

Our first main practice. We came 'back to basics' with a body scan drawn from Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine's 'Daily meditations for calming your anxious mind' (p 108 - 109) entitled 'your inner body: a mindfulness meditation fro connecting directly with your body'. This is a practice to use both formally and informally, to 'tune into' the body throughout the day. The introduction to the practice says, ' By developing your ability to quickly connect with the 'inner landscape" of your body, revealed in direct experience of changing physical sensations, moment by moment, you can help your mind and body relax and ease the effects of anxiety and fear.' There was an introductory reading from 'Full Catastrophe Living' (Kabat-Zinn) beginning, ' Wholeness and connectedness are what are most fundamental in our nature as living beings..' In this section the body scan is described as '... a door to the larger world, in that what we see in the workings of our body teaches us many lessons  that apply in other domains in our lives. What's more, our bodies usually require some healing. We all carry around at least some physical and psychological tension and armour. Our body has a lot to teach us about stress and pain, illness and health.' (p 162). 

The practice was followed by enquiry. The practice is perhaps more like a whole 'body sweep' than a systematic body scan - but with positive daily applications. Most of us seem to feel the need to return to a whole body practice of some sort from time to time - to remind us of what bodies go through, and are telling us, if we listen!

Other variants of the body scan can be found in many texts - including a concise one in Tessa Watt's 'Mindfulness - A Practical Guide'  (pp 61 - 63) and a breath-directed one from Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman's 'Mindfulness for Health' (pp 63 -68).

We had time for a second practice - once more returning to the familiar and grounding practice of the 'Mountain Meditation', this time taken from Watt (pp. 178 - 179). In this meditation we use the idea of into bringing the image or metaphor of the mountain into our own body - 'with your base rooted in the earth, and your peak rising skyward. Feel the strength, stability and unwavering quality of the mountain.' (Watt p179).

The session finished with a short closing practice, with the expressed intention of bringing practice into our daily lives. 



March 2019 meeting

Farewell Kymin

This was our final meeting at the Kymin. So we used the time for practice, reflection - and planning the group's future.

We began with 5 minutes silent practice, using the time to set an intention for ourselves for the session - for this practice - for this moment ... for example, perhaps to become as fully present as is possible, or to be kind to ourselves, or perhaps to listen more intentionally.

A poem by Alice Oswald - 'A Short Story of Falling' (from ‘Falling Awake’ ) was read. Here’s an extract:

'if only I a passerby could pass

as clear as water through a plume of grass

to find the sunlight hidden at the tip

turning to seed a kind of lifting rain drip

then I might known like water how to balance 

the weight of hope against the light of patience'

So a story of impermanence - something we frequently don't factor into our lives, no matter how much we 'know' it. The ending of the Kymin group is another reminder that nothing lasts. That is not to deny any sadness we feel.

For reflection, group members shared some of their current practices. There was a common theme of, over time, integrating practice into everyday life and situations. Longer practices - sitting, body scan etc, are returned to, but sometimes shorter, focusing 'practices' such as sitting with a photo, reading a poem, being mindful in an everyday activity such as climbing the stairs are incorporated into life to help 'bridge' us across to our 'felt' selves, cutting through the endless 'auto-narratives' of our lives. A group member described how practice has helped with that inner 'critical voice' - allowing a shift in perspective, letting humour and self-compassion in, softening the usual harsh mental and visceral experience. Over time, perhaps 'following our gut' in terms of what  we need, in terms of being aware of what we are feeling, especially in times of difficulty, can bring us closer to approaching that which we fear so much, helping us stay with our experience  - and paradoxically, easing our relationship with it.

On impermanence. We then listened to an extract from Pema Chödrön's audible retreat 'Embracing the Unknown'(chapter 13) where she describes three zones - comfort, challenge and high risk - and how we can be tempted to try to stay in the comfort zone  - but this just narrows us down and makes us less able to cope with the challenge zone when it hits us (through loss, change ..) but the challenge zone is where we can learn and possibly even relax with what happens to us. The high risk zone, on the other hand, is just too much - we cannot learn if we are too challenged - so we literally 'zone out'. This is a telling, funny insight into working with impermanence

Our second practice was taken from Sam Harris' 'Waking Up' course - a secular 10 minute introductory mindfulness sitting practice. 

The group then discussed future plans for Mindfulness Connect:  WATCH THIS SPACE..

We concluded this, our final Kymin session, with a self-compassion practice, 'Making a Vow, taken from Germer's 'The Mindful path to Self-Compassion' (p 266). Germer writes, 'The subtext of this book is "intention, intention, intention," and making a vow can strengthen our core intentions ... It's a touchstone to which we return again and again, for the joy of it, as we might return to the breath in meditation. A vow turns life into meditation.'

So loving-kindness phrases double up as a vow, and can be used, for example, as a waking up reminder of intention  - e.g. 'May all beings be happy. May all beings be free'.

Germer continues, 'A vow shapes how we conduct the activities of our lives. It can apply equally to major tasks, such as raising children, and to minor tasks, like brushing our teeth ...As we progress on the path of self-compassion, the distinction between our own suffering and the suffering of others begins to blur. That is, as we stop fighting against personal pain, our attention naturally shifts to others. Compassion itself becomes the vow.’



All things connect

‘ Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.’ 

- Chief Seattle (quote attributed to this Native American chief, circa 1850) 

January 2019 meeting

This time we listened to part of the audio version of Pema Chodrön's self-guided retreat - 'Noble Heart'. The theme was Bodhicitta -  enlightenment through compassion.We listened to session 2 - comprising 4 short guided practices on cultivating 'unlimited friendliness'.

The first practice was 'mindfulness awareness', beginning with an instruction on posture (relaxed and upright) and a focus on relaxing with the out-breath. The instruction was no struggle, being with the breath, coming back over and over again. As thoughts arise, acknowledging these in a non-judgemental way, saying 'thinking' to oneself and coming back to the breath, relaxing with the out-breath. If thoughts and emotions become solid, taking the attitude these are clouds in a vast sky which can just dissolve back. This is a practice of relaxing the body and the mind, simply being present with the immediacy of one's experience.The idea of 'touch and go' means lightly to touch the breath or thoughts - and let them go. It's about seeing the transparency of thoughts. And simply returning to the out-breath.

Pema Chodrön describes mindfulness awareness practice as the 'ground' for causing the seed of compassion within us to grow. Rather than our habitual way of being frozen by our habitual thoughts, emotions, habits, she talks of the 'evolution of consciousness' whereby the human species learns to develop a much more fluid way of being and thinking, connecting with our true nature. Unlimited friendliness is about softening, lightening up, opening the mind and heart. Its about getting to know how we limit ourselves through our patterns - with compassion - to taming and train the mind. So this practice she calls the means by which we can begin to have an experience of the spaciousness of our minds. Let it evolve.

The second practice involved special emphasis on gentleness - for example, lightening up from harshness, using humour. The mind relaxes outward with the breath. When labelling thinking, if the tone of voice is harsh, then the tone can be softened and lightened; if there's struggle, relax. Bringing a sense of gentleness with the out-breath - because the breath is always moving, changing, then dissolving. The idea is cultivating unlimited friendliness to whatever arises. Maitri - unlimited friendliness - is described by Pema Chodrön as creating an atmosphere conducive to growth - the capacity to love and care for each other will grow. Without warmth and basic friendliness things tend to dry up and shrivel.

The third practice emphasised the quality of discipline because the practice is a technique whereby growth can occur, bringing out the clarity of our minds. So as well as gentleness, discipline is necessary so we do out best, so that drowsiness, restlessness, wild mind, as well as calm mind, can be opened to and seen clearly with unlimited friendliness and precision of mind. We have an object of meditation, the out-breath, but we always come back. 'Just come back' is the main instruction. 'Be faithful to the technique' says Pema Chodrön and 'as best as you can is good enough'. Part of the training is finding the balance between not too tight and not too loose, without judgement.

The last practice stressed the non-grasping, open mind that finds its ability to let go and discover its true nature. Relaxing our mind outward with the out-breath. When thoughts arise, acknowledging them, touching them, and letting them go. Relaxing the grip on thoughts and emotions, and letting them go. Pema Chodrön says this can seem impossible but to remember we are just training our minds, our whole being, to let go and connect with what is limitless within us. 'Just relax with the out-breath ... relax your obsession with the thoughts'.

So there is gentle mind, disciplined mind, non-grasping mind - qualities of our being and of bodhicitta.

We closed here.