March 2020 - Insole Court

 We began by standing in the yoga Mountain pose - this standing upright pose helps improve posture, balance as well as bringing calm focus. In her 'Mindfulness - A Practical Guide', Tessa Watt says how this 'grounding' pose (feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, spine tall, crown of head lifted, shoulders relaxed) brings contact with the earth and,

'brings us into the present moment, and brings us down, down, down ... out of the bulb at the top of our necks where many of us think we reside, until we can fully inhabit our bodies from the ground up'. (p.71 - 72).

So the mountain metaphor/image is used in various yoga and meditation practices to encourage us to inhabit our bodies and to bring a sense of solidity, stillness and spaciousness into our being. The mountain meditation is a popular practice - described in e.g., Watt (p 178 - 179), Kabat-Zinn's 'Wherever You Go There You Are" (pp 135 - 140) and Orsillo and Roemer's 'The Mindful Way Through Anxiety' ('pp 220 - 222).

We followed with our main practice - an 'Equanimity meditation' - from van den Brink's and Frits Koster's,   'A Practical Guide to Mindfulness less-based Compassionate Living' (pp 114 -115). This practice starts with a  'Breathing Space' (drawn from Mark Williams et al's MBCT protocol), then into a 'Soothing breathing rhythm' itself derived from Paul Gilbert's 'Compassion Focused Therapy'. The words of the well-known Serenity Prayer (which appears to come from both Christian and Stoic wisdom traditions) can be used  to help bring a senses of equanimity:

'Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.'

A mountain image may again be invoked -  to connect with the quality of equanimity - or possibly a tranquil lake.

Then we brought to mind someone fairly neutral to us whom we have encountered -  for example a shop assistant or a bus conductor - and visualise them in front of us, aware of that person's own vulnerability in the face of ageing, disease, loss or death - like any human being - and sending them a wish of equanimity, using words like, 'May you feel calm and balanced amidst life's ups and downs ... May you live in peace with impermanence and unpredictability'. 

Next send a wish of equanimity towards oneself, with words such as, 'May I feel calm and balanced in the midst of life's turmoil ... May I accept I cannot change the past ... I cannot predict the future ... I can only do what lies within my responsibility'. 

The practice can then be extended to close family and friends. Also, if wished, to difficult persons, maybe with words such as, 'You are responsible for your own decisions ... I cannot make choices for you, but I can wish you discernment and wisdom...'.

Lastly, we can conclude with a universal expression such as, 'May you find calm amidst chaos ... ease amidst uncertainty  ... inner peace amidst uncontrollability and unpredictability ... wisdom in a frantic world.'

Coming back to the breath we then ended the practice.

The practice was followed by inquiry. In our times right now we may well need regular short equanimity practices to help soothe, quieten and bring us back to ourselves so we can act with discernment and wisdom.

Here's a verse drawn from the poem, 'Start Close In' by David Whyte:

'Start with

the ground

you know,

the pale ground

beneath your feet,

your own

way to begin

the conversation.'

Towards the end of our session we moved to neuroscience, to brain plasticity, and some of Rick Hanson's practices (

Though we may well understandably be moving into survival mode, there is still good reason (maybe moreso) to look for those simple good experiences each day (e.g. a stranger smiling at us) and to take a breath, slow down and let the experience sink in viscerally. We also might ask  what might help us grow (even in such difficult times) - this could, for example, be to look for any small occasions to practice equilibrium in the course of the day (see above). We may also wish to add a short gratitude practice at the beginning and/or end of the day  (e.g.,den Brink and Frits Koster, 'A Practical Guide to Mindful-Based Compassionate Living' p. 97) where we can  sit and invite things to come up for which we feel grateful or appreciative - people, animals, nature, memories - and simply hold these in awareness.

We closed with the 'Mind Like The Sky Analogy' glimpse practice from Diana Winston's 'Little Book of Being' (p. 138)`:

'Imagine your mind is like the sky - wide open, spacious, boundless, endless, transparent. Everything that you encounter - thoughts, emotions, sensations, memories, sounds, images - is just like clouds floating by. Stormy clouds, wispy clouds - nothing can disturb the vastness of the sky. Settle back into the sky-like nature of your mind'.






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