The Mindfulness Connect Group

Monthly Zoom meetings:-

* From January 2024 we continue with our monthly Zoom meetings but in addition also have a fortnightly half-hour practice session, again via Zoom. We also hope to hold a couple of in-person retreats this year where we’ll try out a variety of sitting, walking and tai chi/qi gong movement practices, as well as sharing in some creative fun and food.  Dates and venues yet to be decided. 

* For our monthly hour-long Zoom meetings, there'll be short guided practices (from 5 to 25 minutes) with an emphasis on simple, adaptable practice that can be used both formally and as everyday on-the-spot practice at home or at work - or wherever you may be. There will also sometimes be short movement practices, including adapted tai-chi and qi gong moves. We'll share reflections and enquiry on our practices as well as readings and discussion.

* Between our monthly sessions we have a half hour practice session that may include some movement as well as sitting practice.

Mindfulness Connect also has a WhatsApp group where we exchange practice and resource information.

Please note:-

* In previous years, after each monthly session, readings, practices and their derivations/ spiritual orientations and scientific bases plus references and any links have been posted up on the Content session of this website (see entries till Feb 2023)

* From Feb 2024 we will be considering changes to this website so although there will again be regular postings (after a year-long break from Feb 2023), these will reflect the works and writings of a variety of authors, teachers and practitioners. References will as usual be posted in the Resources section.

(ps Should you follow any of the posted audio practices you will need to press the stop button at the end of the practice as otherwise -  for some reason - you will find yourself listening to an adjacent practice. Sorry .... the vagaries ...!) 

For more information on Mindfulness Connect please email me at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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January group meeting

Our first meditation was a body scan type practice using the first (Buddhist) foundation of mindfulness - the body - to access present moment awareness. Henry Shukman emphasises dropping effort and allowing access to our inbuilt ability to come into an innate, calm zone of awareness. We spoke of the value of mindfulness to help regulate our nervous systems, especially given our full-on activity-driven lives - inner and outer - surely a good motivator for practice! Beyond our neurobiology  … mindfulness may also bring us to a wider awareness of our interconnectedness with all things, which Thich Naht Hanh (who died a year ago) called Interbeing. We mentioned Iain McGilchrist ( one time psychiatrist) - author of ‘The Master and his Emissary - the divided brain and the making of the western world’ who also recently had a huge book  published - ‘The Matter with Things .. our brains, our delusions and the unmaking of the western world’ ( say no more!). Recent brain research appears to demonstrated quite dramatically the differences between our left and right brains and arguably how our attachment to left brain reductionist, rationalistic, world - dominating thinking has dominated & driven western culture for the past millennium or so ..  Ancient wisdom/ spiritual traditions and indigenous native cultures have, it is argued, espoused a wider, more spiritual nature-based world view which aligns more closely with the right brain inclination to context and meaning. A parallel world view - though very differently evidenced - is to be found in Karen Armstrong’s ‘ Sacred Nature - how we can recover our bond with the natural world’:  ‘ When people in the west began to separate God and nature in modern times, it was not just a profound breach with thousands of years of accumulated wisdom: it also set in train the destruction of the natural world’  Karen uses Wordsworth to illustrate a more intimate & meaningful bond with nature, quoting from Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’ -        And I have felt A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime  Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,  And the round ocean, and the living air,  And the blue sky, and in the mind of man. A motion and a spirit that impels  All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things.   Our final short practice was one of Diana Winston’s natural awareness ‘Glimpse Practices’ where we may tap into ‘awareness of awareness’ without effort, and this could be via many different routes. In this one, after focusing for a short while, and turning attention to whatever is happening in the moment .. thoughts, sounds sensations … and naming it  ‘just this’ - before dropping the question:  ‘ Is it okay to be aware of just this?’ 
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Meditation Practice Basics

When to practice

Choose a time that will work for you and your routines. You might be a morning person and prefer to meditate first thing or early on in the day. Or you might be a night owl and practice in the evening or just before going to bed. Or there might be a time in the day that suits you (eg before the children come home from school, or in your lunch break). My experience is that it's best to have a regular time AND also try to go with any change in routine - it's certainly not easy to change habits but it'll feel good to 'seize the moment' to do some practice wherever & whenever! 

How long to practice?

You can start with as little as a minute or two and ideally build up over the weeks to maybe 10, 20, 30, or even 40 minutes. It's what works for you and encourages you to keep going. Better to have a regular short practice than an intermittent longer one. 

Where to practice

It's worth finding a a regular place in the house (or garden, weather allowing) to establish a practice. It doesn't need to be a large space (sometimes cosy is better). Main requirement is somewhere you won't be disturbed.

Meditation position

Again, it's what works for you. An upright chair is good for a sitting posture, keeping the back upright, away from the back of the chair, though many of us need some extra lumber support ( like a small cushion) to encourage our spines into a slight forward lumbar curve. Have your feet resting on the floor (place a block or cushion under them if they're dangling!) and have your arms resting comfortable on your lap or chair arms if present.  You need to be comfortable or the discomfort will soon distract you from the practice. If you have any physical/postural issues then experiment with what works - using cushions etc. for additional support where needed. 

You may wish to lie down for practice and again, choose a comfortable support. This could be on the floor with a mat and blanket and neck support. The bed is allowed! but remember a reclining position in a comfy bed may send a message 'it's time to sleep' to the brain ... and if you need to sleep this is fine .. you just may need to find another time and position to practice!

Standing and walking are good for practice too (just adjust the practice). If you have significant muscular-skeletal pain you may well find these postures/methoids suit you better. Keep experimenting and find what works best for you, remembering this may change over time.

How often to practice 

Daily practice is the best, even for a few minutes a day. If it's less than that, go with that, don't beat yourself up, and set an intention to maybe increase by a day or two the following week. It's about habit formation and this is rarely easy. Once you have begun to feel the benefits of practice, the incentive to practice will increase. Practicing with others, having a meditation buddy or buddies, can be very helpful in establishing and maintaining a regular practice.


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A New Year and the imperative to Wake Up.

In 'Afterword - Evolutionary Imperative', the final chapter of her book 'The Little Book of Being', Diana Winston writes about the importance of meditation practices:

'So rather than being navel-gazing, which meditation is occasionally accused of, it is absolutely connected to our outer change. I believe that for human survival, there is an evolutionary imperative for us to wake up - to wake up to our inner suffering and learn how to reduce it, and then wake up to the suffering of others and of the planet. We need to act from a mind that has reduced its clinging, that defaults to awareness and compassion, that lives from a place of connectedness. When these realisations are second nature, there is no question in my mind that each individual will contribute to the cultural and institutional change that is so deeply needed in this time. It is urgent that we practice - and let this practice mature - so that we can become agents of peace.'


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Effort & Letting Go

Following 'Beginner's Mind' last month, 'Dropping unhelpful effort - letting practice do the work' has been this month's suggested theme. Our culture teaches us to put constant effort into all we do in order to achieve. Not that effort is wrong - obviously many aspects of our lives require its discipline and energy. It's also worth noting that in Buddhism 'Right Effort' is part of the Eightfold Path, and means, 'to exert oneself to develop wholesome qualities and release unwholesome qualities' (especially greed, anger and ignorance). However, in Western capitalist society we have placed individual effort as largely a way of achieving personal (material) success. I would suggest this is a long way from the internal, interactional meaning of 'Right Effort'  as described in Buddhism.

Predominance of effort in our goal-oriented society can mean we bring it to our practice in unhelpful, even extreme ways. We need discipline to get 'on the cushion', 'in the chair', 'on the ground' etc., taking up our comfortable postures and positions, then we can begin to let go, maybe using our own internal practice directions, or following an audio recording, we can allow practice 'do the work'. And, for example if/when thoughts arise, we can gently, non-judgementally observe and either come back to our focus (if using one) or just notice the thought, and for example, seeing maybe how a sense of spaciousness can dissipate or drain it of its energy. If we should focus on 'getting it right', or 'doing it properly', this will probably simply serve to contract our mind and our body, letting in judgement and possibly even a sense of failure.

The term 'Letting Go', cliché or no, can serve as a useful adjunct, reminder or invitation as we come into practice, imbuing it with a relaxing 'felt-sense'. Jon Kabat-Zinn says the following:-

'Letting go means just what it says. It's an invitation to cease clinging to anything - whether it be an idea, a thing, an event, a particular time, or view, or desire. It is a conscious decision to release with full acceptance into the stream of present moments as they are unfolding. To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in your attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking. It's akin to letting your palm open to unhand something you have been holding on to.' ('Wherever You Go There You Are', p. 53)


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