Group June 1st 2017

We started with a practice based on Pema Chödrön's 'Noble Heart' audio retreat (chapter 2). This practice begins with breath awareness, focusing on the outbreath, 'touching the breath' as it leaves the body, labelling thoughts as 'thinking', seeing them as clouds dissolving in a vast sky. Next the focus moves to one of compassion, bringing an attitude of 'unlimited friendliness', fluidity, relaxing in the body and mind. Building on this, the emphasis shifts to that of discipline, bringing a quality of precision and clarity to the instruction, so the instruction is to focus on the outbreath, label thinking when it arises, and to just 'come back as best you can' to the outbreath with gentleness and precision.  Finally, following gentle and compassionate mind, disciplined mind, the focus shifts to a non-grasping and open mind, 'relaxing out grip', opening up with each outbreath, labelling gently and letting go.

In enquiry, we moved to a general discussion of mindfulness practice and the human characteristic of harsh self-judgement. Mindfulness practice can often reflect our lives  - that sense of not coming up to scratch, self-blaming, tighening our grip - whilst losing it! So we work with staying with, relaxing and allowing.  The process of integrating mindfulness into our lives is an ongoing challenge for us all and the 3-minute breathing space is the tool recommended in health-directed mindfulness courses such as MBSR and MBCT, reminding us wherever we are to come back to this moment. The breathing space is basically a 3-step 'awareness routine'.  In Teasdale et al's, ''The Mindful Way Workbook' applying the breathing space in everyday life is described in this way: 

'In using breathing spaces in everyday life, you acknowledge that there is strong emotion around and take a few moments to bring awareness to it (as thoughts, feelings, and body sensations), simply allowing it to be there without judging it, without trying to chase it away or solve any problem (Step 1)  You then "touch base," wherever you are, by returning to the anchor of the breath (Step 2) and to the grounded spaciousness of awareness of your body as a whole (Step 3) In this way you shift mental gears so that you bring a more responsive, balanced mind to the next moments of your day.' (p. 123).

The simple - and timely! -  acronym AGE can always remind us of this routine : Awareness (of what's happening right now) Gathering (the breath in) and Expanding (awareness out). An hourglass/eggtimer symbol can also help remind us of the shape of this change in awareness. 

The group discussed a Lion's Roar article by Pema Chödrön (April 13, 2017) entitled "How we get hooked and how we get unhooked". This offers further perspective on how we habitually get caught up in the moment, but how we can learn to loosen up: '... shenpa, or the urge, the hook, that triggers our habitual tendency to close down. We get hooked in that moment of tightening when we reach for relief. To get unhooked, we begin by recognising that moment of unease and learn to relax in that moment.'   Meditation practice itself helps us recognise our habitual patterns.

We finished with a short closing practice.



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