Group on July 7th 2016

We began with a Mountain Meditation taken from Jon Kabat-Zinn.

This was followed by enquiry followed by a larger enquiry concerning how people were in a period of intense political & emotional turmoil and the place of mindfulness practice in the midst of this. There was discussion around the primary need for personal stability and emotional safety and the importance of a sense of connection with others as well as a personal sense of control through basic lifestyle choices such as a good diet, adequate sleep and exercise. Usual mindfulness practices may need to be changed or adapted rather then struggled with - being flexible and self-compassionate helping to reduce that tendency to negative self-judgement.

Working with difficult emotions was discussed - such emotions are to be acknowledged and their expression can be healing (as with extreme sadness). Of interest, in 'A Force for Good - The Dalai Lama's vision for Our World', Dan Goleman describes how the Dalai Lama advises "well-guided anger" where one will, "Keep a calm mind, study the situation, then take a countermeasure. If you let a wrongdoing happen, it might continue abd increase, so, out of compassion, take appropriate countermeasures." "Muscular compassion" is the term Dan Goleman gives to this approach by the Dalai Lama to wrongdoing in the world. 

For all of us, simply taking a breath or a space to help with our tendency for emotional reactivity & unthinking behaviour is the first step to wiser and kinder action - however small - or great - the context may be. 

There was some discussion around the 'rightness' of using distraction at times of strong emotion and stress. We try to use our thinking minds to solve emotional states and often this just makes things worse. So, when dealing with difficult mind states, a meditation practice where we set the mind on something else like the breath or the body can open up a spaciousness around the thinking and loosen it up. Equally, simply taking a walk or doing some gardening or going for a swim will take the focus from the tyrannical thinking mind and into the body and its connection with the space and environment surrounding it. 

We concluded this session with the poem 'The Garden' by Harry Clifton (from 'Being Human' edited by Neil Astley).

Group on June 2nd

Our opening practice was a simple breath meditation, based on one from Jack Kornfield (, gently bringing the attention back on the breath every time it should wander, rather like training a puppy with firm kindness. Followed by enquiry.

Followed by general enquiry around practice, difficulties, habits of mind, favourite practices, the benefits and uses of both longer and shorter practices.

We discussed the recent online Neuroscience Summit ( and a talk by Kelly McGonigal on 'The Default State'. Interesting key aspects of this state of the brain are: (1) When the brain is in its so-called 'resting state' it becomes more (not less) active: more areas of the brain are turned on - this is the Default State (DS) (2) This is the same state elsewhere called 'monkey mind' 'wandering mind' 'blah blah blah mind' (3) Experienced meditators are shown to mind wander to the DS, but they return more quickly to the task in hand (i.e.. meditating) (3) The DS is involved with memory and emotion, problem solving, self-reflection, social cognition and judgement (with negative bias) (4) The DS is also how we know who and what we are in the world - so we need it! (5) Studies with those with social anxiety, depression, chronic pain and trauma show how the Default State is involved - e.g., those with depression have trouble switching from the default to task focus and other areas of the brain get involved, i.e. those involved with self-judgement and inhibition of behaviour, so causing a kind of paralysis and withdrawal from the world and the future (6) but the good news is we can change the Default State - through meditation, including mindfulness, by labelling/naming it, through breath focus, using a mantra, and through compassion training the mind can become more likely to 'mind wander' to the more positive, thereby developing an alternative Default - e.g., the relationship to chronic pain can be radically transformed. ((7) the wisdom is 'not to talk to the Default Mode' i.e. not to see it as the solution, but as a brain concoction that has bias and though necessary, can lead to suffering, but that can also be checked and influenced through awareness and choice. 

We then moved to some of Kristin Neff's self-compassion exercises ( which tap into our care-giving selves using warmth, touch and soothing vocalisation.

We closed with a short self compassion practice from Rick Hanson (Just One Thing).





Group on 7th April 2016

We started the session with a 'Mindfulness with thoughts' practice, working with expanding our minds around our thinking and creating a spaciousness to open up our minds that can so easily contract around our thoughts in ruminative cycles. Followed by enquiry. Discussion followed around practice, the 'habit' of self-criticism and self disparagement; feeling emotion in the body as a first step to letting go; deliberately slowing down our mental processes - aka thinking!  Finishing with a short practice with 'whatever crops up', practicing 'opening up the space' around out mental and  physical processes and experiences.   

Group on 5th May 2016

We began with a practice where we combined mindful walking in the grounds (a lovely day) with a concentration-type 'Taking in the Good' practice (see Rick Hanson's 'Just One Thing') - a mix of traditional and neurobiologically - inspired practice. It's useful to come back to walking as a practice, not necessarily to treat it as a formal practice, but always useful to ground and reconnect literally with where we are in time and space. By deliberately focusing for 10, 20 or 30 seconds on the good moments & experiences in our life, we are helping to incline our brains and minds towards the positive (see Hanson for more information and ideas). 

Following enquiry from the above practice, we had further discussion around the value of flexibility of practice and the different routes to self-compassion.

There was a selection of poems taken from the anthology 'Being Alive' edited by Neil Astley:-

'The Gift' by William Stafford

'The Mower' by Philip Larkin

'The Bright Field' by R. S. Thomas 

We finished with a short closing practice.


Emily Dickinson (1)

"To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations..."  Emily Dickinson.