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.’

                                                               *********

 

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.

 

 

 

 

November 2018 Meeting

We began with a reading from Kabat-Zinn's 'Coming To Our Senses' :

'Meditation is not about trying to get anywhere else. It is about allowing yourself to be exactly where you are and as you are, and for the world to be exactly as it is in this moment as well...That doesn't mean that your aspirations to effect positive change, make things different, improve your life and the lot of the world are inappropriate. Those are all very real possibilities. Just by meditating, by sitting down and being still, you can change yourself and the world. In fact, just by sitting down and being still, in a small but not insignificant way, you already have.' (p 61)

Kabat-Zinn goes on to explain this apparent paradox by saying:

'We need to develop and refine our mind and its capacities for seeing and knowing, for recognising and transcending whatever motives and concepts and habits of unawareness may have generated or compounded the difficulties we find ourselves embroiled within, a mind that knows and sees in new ways, that is motivated differently. This is the same as saying we need to return to our original, untouched, unconditioned mind.' (p 62)

Our practice was build upon the practice of 'Spacious Awareness' taken from the 'Mindfulness Daily' series guided by Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach.This practice helps to open up, expand, allow more space for a mind which otherwise can easily contract, concretise, and limit  awareness. The first 10/15 minutes was spent forming intention, settling, focusing on the breath in the body. The next 15 minutes attention was moved to awareness of sound ... this awareness opens up the experience of sounds coming and going, arising, passing across awareness, and leaving. Awareness is likened to the sky - vast - with sound, like clouds, passing across. We moved to awareness of thought/images coming and going in space/awareness ... pleasant, unpleasant, neutral... Then to body sensations, emotions - held in awareness - in a vast sky, passing, changing. The practice ended with opening the quality of spaciousness to loving awareness for all beings.

The practice was followed by enquiry, opening up to broader enquiry of bringing mindfulness into our daily lives.

We ended with a brief version of Germer's 'Centering Meditation', taken from 'The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion' ((p.260-261). This is a securalized version of a meditation drawn from the 14th century, discovered in a Trappist monastery in Massachusetts. The meditation is designed to open our hearts and minds to inner guidance that is beyond our usual habits of thought, allowing personal words or phrases of supportive love to arise and become the focus of attention, before returning once more to the breath.

December 2018 meeting

We began with a simple practice for connecting to the body drawn from Jeffrey Brantley's 'Daily meditations for calming your anxious mind' (p108). Brantley writes, '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.' This practice is a kind of open body scan, rather akin to the 3-minute breathing space, useful both formally and also informally throughout our day as a reminder to embody experience as opposed to carrying it all in our heads. We closed the practice with an acknowledgement of gratitude to the body, however frail, for carrying us through our lives.

We followed with enquiry, opening up to sharing our individual experience with mindfulness practices over the past month. We discussed the idea & indeed experience that mindfulness does not necessarily protect us from the ups and downs in life (there can be an expectation e.g. in mental health that it should) - but the shared experience was that embodiment can shift the mood 'simply' by experiencing and acknowledging the 'felt sense' or energy of the feeling or mood state - though our usual (reactive) response to pain or hurt is to shut down, avoid, ignore, distract or conceptually solve. But we also discussed how much we should 'put up' with pain or discomfort - emotional and physical - sometimes we do need to give the body or mind a break, ease up, go for a walk, chill out, play some music, have a glass of wine (Pema Chödrön in 'The Fearless Heart' chapter 23 talks about the need to be kind to oneself in order to open up to the rest of the world, a kind of lived loving kindness practice).

As this was the last session of another tumultuous year politically it seemed a good moment to read some prescient words of Jon Kabat-Zinn from 2005:

'As individuals and as a species, we can no longer afford to ignore this fundamental characteristic of our reciprocity and interconnectedness, nor can we ignore how interesting new possibilities emerge out of our yearnings and our intentions when we are, each in our own way, actually true to them, however mysterious or opaque they may at times feel to us. Through our sciences, through our philosophies, our histories, and our spiritual traditions, we have come to see that our health and well-being as individuals, our happiness, and actually even the continuity of the germ line, that life stream that we are only a momentary bubble in, that way in which we are the life-givers and world-builders for our future generations, depend on how we choose to live our own lives while we have them to live.

At the same time, as a culture, we have come to see that the very Earth on which we live, to say nothing of the well-being of its creatures and its cultures, depends in huge measure on those same choices, writ large through our collective behaviour as social beings. (Coming to our Senses, p4)

We closed with a short loving-kindness meditation broadly drawn from Germer (see p 132 -138) sending wishes both to ourselves and outward to others.

 

 

 

 

October 2018 meeting

After a two month break we began with a a practice based on Jack Kornfield's 'Mindfulness: The Core Practice' taken from the 'Emotional Healing' section of the Sounds True 'Mindfulness Daily' (NB highly recommended as a 40 day, 10 minute a day guided programme). This particular practice is about " the power of mindfulness and kind attention (loving awareness) to notice experience just as it is - with a spacious, non-judgemental attention."

It 'simply' uses the anchor of the breath and/or chosen body anchor to open up to the whole play of experience in an inclusive way. Once established and steadied with the breath, the practice moves to the experience of sound before widening further to the waves of emotion, physical sensation and thought, acknowledging and allowing before returning to the breath or body focus, and always returning to the breath/breath&body anchor if overwhelmed. The practice closes with attention back to the breath.

This was followed by enquiry - around the practice itself and beyond. We shared obstacles and the value of diversity of practice, especially in emotionally turbulent times, personally and universally. We discussed the value of short practices, of movement practices such as mindful walking, and of not falling into self-criticism when it's tough to do much at all by way of formal practice. 'Informal' moments during a tricky day still count towards reminding us of the present moment, its small joys and kindnesses shown amidst sorrow, and of life's impermanence and of our shared humanity - even in the apparently dark midst.

We shared recent encounters with the mindfulness 'world' - Ruby Wax's 'How to be Human' book/show and the recent Sounds True 'Waking up in the World' online event. The latter took at wide ranging look at social & political activism, taking a broader world context for mindfulness, following individuals' drives and motivations to bring about a fairer, more just and sustainable world.

Our closing practice was taken from den Brink's and Koster's 'Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living' - 'The Breathing Space with Compassion - Coping with Emotional Pain' (p.81).This is a compassion-based variation of the 'coping' version of the 3 minute Breathing Space developed by Segal, Williams and Teasdale in their well-known 'Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression' (2013). In this version the practice has: phase 1)  Being present with open, kind awareness; phase 2) Allowing a soothing breathing rhythm  (to increase vagal tone and heart rate variability (HRV) to foster compassion) and phase 3) Allowing compassion to flow to the body and to the emotional pain - broadening from self to others if applicable.