1) Compassionate mindfulness: - Steadying the mind and body

The background, ideas and suggestions for practice in the next series of posts are drawn from a variety of spiritual traditions and 'secular' mindfulness practice programmes as well as evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. Authors, sources and references are acknowledged within the text and also in the 'Resources' section.

'To change the brain we only need moments' - a quote from trauma specialist Dr. Bruce Perry, from the 'Being Well' podcast with Dr. Rick and Forrest Hanson (rickhanson.net)

Without a foundation of steadiness our minds can more easily be scattered, mindlessly driven, readily distracted and made anxious, depressed and chronically fatigued. We can use practices to help regulate our sometimes battered nervous systems. Whilst in the flow of life we can remember to simply adopt a relaxed yet alert posture - sitting, lying down, standing or maybe walking (walking sometimes feels easier if our bodies have previously been in 'high alert' or 'fight or flight' mode). We then bring awareness into the body and can do this by focusing on the breath wherever we somatically experience it .. the heart area can somehow soften and warm us whilst the rising and falling belly can help centre us. If the breath proves a difficult focus then simply feeling our feet can be grounding and steadying. The image of a kangaroo using its thick muscly tail to stabilise itself can be useful!

In 'Neurodharma - 7 Steps to the highest happiness',  Rick Hanson describes 5 factors to help with Step 1. 'Steadying the Mind', each of which can be used as a practice. Summary below:-

After adopting a posture as described above we can:

1. Establish intention to steady the mind - and do this in two ways within the mind/body - top-down - as in giving yourself an instruction - then bottom-up -  imagining a person you know of who 'embodies' steadiness (say, Thich Nhat Hanh..) - breathe with this and have a somatic 'felt-sense', drawing on body feelings/sensations. Mix the two together. Feel the body steadying.

2. Ease the body .. be aware of your body .. focus on the breath .. make your out-breaths slightly longer than your in-breaths ... imagine a relaxing setting (garden, beach, woodland) .. let the body calm - allowing the vagus nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system to slow the heart rate, lower the stress hormones. Feel the body steadying.

3. Abide wholehearted - bring to mind a being or beings you care about - could be a pet .. focus on feelings of caring .. Next, focus on being with others who care about you  .. friend, family member, neighbour .. feel what it's like to be cared for ... imagine your breath coming in and out of the heart area .. allowing love to flow in and flow out to others. Feel the body/mind steadying.

4. Feel safer..  letting yourself feel as safe as you actually are - right now - in this moment .. within this room .. outside in this space .. Be aware of your strengths .. your ability to calm. You may be aware of unease too - allow yourself to let this go as you breathe out .. letting go of contracting, tensing .. Feel the body/mind steadying.

5. Feel grateful and glad - by bringing to mind something you feel grateful for in this moment .. friends, a pet, your neighbours, your home, the natural world, a shaft of sunlight on your wall .. focus on feelings of gratitude and gladness for what you have  .. absorb them .. open to them. Feel the body/mind steadying.

(For full description see Hanson p 35 - 65)




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Hints & tips for more meditation practice

1. Choose a particular space for practice - especially at the beginning. Could be a room, or part of a room, but designate it 'your space' - maybe with a chair, stool, cushion or mat - or maybe your bed for lying down practice (NB beware of sleep - unless this is your intention!). You may add in a shawl or scarf. It may suit you to use more walking practice - in which case adapt your choice to a suitable room or any outside space. 

2. It's often easier to have a regular time for practice - incorporating this into your daily schedule - maybe 5 times a week.  First thing is a good time for many  - when a mindful/compassionate intention for the day can be set and before the weight of mind chatter takes over. Let others know so as not to be disturbed.

3. It's being proven that shorter more frequent practice is more effective at creating brain change. So a very regular short practice of 10/15 minutes is better than 40 minutes once a fortnight.

4. An alert but relaxed body posture means signals from the body impact the brain/mind to encourage greater well-being ... sitting, walking or lying down!

5. The breath is the commonest anchor for mindfulness mediation - but the heart is often used for compassion-based practices - whist the belly can foster calm centredness and the feet help us (literally!) to ground. Take your pick!

6. Remember .. to bridge that gap between formal and day to day 'embedded' mindfulness  - a simple 'remember'  practice can be 'triggered' when we walk up the stairs, along a corridor, sit for a meal, receive a phone alert (!) ... to help us mentally pause, to remember and to 'come back' to awareness of this moment.


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Eating Sand



The following is taken from ‘Eating Sand. Tasting textures of Communication in Warm Data' - Nora Bateson, blog.usejournal.com


'Knowing about complexity and systems theory is fun for me. The crunchy work my head has to do to play with the theoretical language is a delicious charge. This is my geek zone. Others have theirs in tech, history, mechanics, gardening, crafts, music or whatever. It is nice to have a niche, but ultimately insufficient. Finding the ways in which those theories and ideas have a place in my day, my body, my identity, my community, my microbiome — that is where the rigor goes into hyperspeed. In the intimacy of the tiniest of gestures is the multi-processed, multi-contextual, mutli-lingual, multi-everything-ed tissuing of what it is to be an animate, sensing learning, changing being. This is a portal into a sensitivity that is intensely personal and simultaneously universal.

The future is found in the logic of the affect. The salt is now desperately needed. The why of why an article is written in a particular tone, the who of who is verified by that tone, the when of when that tone is necessary to use. What is it not possible to say? Noticing that — is a revolution in itself. It used to be heresy to bring up aesthetics and tone, but now maybe its possible to bring this warm data to the boardrooms and parliaments. Remember, the opposite of aesthetic is anesthetic.

Each encounter, each conversation. Each action is an action in contextual processes saturated both into the detail of everyday life, intimately — as well as into the wider world. The texture and aesthetic of the way the crises of this time are discussed will become characteristic of the “solutions” generated.The warm data matters.'

April 2. 2019

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A Glimpse Practice - Reminder Phrases

From 'The Little Book of Being' by Diana Winston'

'Natural awareness can sometimes be evoked with phrases that remind us of our own luminous awareness. It can be helpful to have a stable, concentrated, and somewhat receptive mind before you state the phrase in your mind and notice the impact (as if dropping a pebble into a pond and noticing the ripples), but it is also fine to use a reminder phrase at any moment. Here are a few you can try (attributed to the meditation teachers who taught them to me):

"Rest in the way things are." (Guy Armstrong)

"Mind luminous like the sun."

"Mind of no clinging." (Joseph Goldstein)

"Everything happens on its own."

"Aware of awareness."

"Our mind is like the sky, vast, open, and spacious; thoughts are like clouds floating by."






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The Joyful Environmentalist

From 'The Joyful Environmentalist' by Isabel Losada

The following extract refers to a tree planting scheme in Scotland to recreate the Caledonian Forests:-

'This hillside is barren. There is no shelter, no protection from the biting wind or the driving rain. This is Scotland and we're in the Highlands. The saplings look so fragile. They are fragile. They have each been grown lovingly from seed and when we push them into the cold ground they are between 6 and 9 inches high. We give them one meal in their planting hole, one kiss and then they are on their own. But they have two friends each. We're planting them in groups of three: two downy birch and one rowan per overturned area. Trees, as we know, have ways of communicating with each other and supporting each other under the ground. seriously, they do. If nutrients are scarce, they share them: if danger arrives, they warn each other. Don't ask me how - but they do. So, the trees have two friends each. As they grow they will protect each other.

We dig another hole, add mixture, push in a tree, fill up any air gaps with earth and repeat. Four hours later we stop for hot coffee and tomato sandwiches. Then we plant from 2pm till 5pm. This is what I call a 'Zen job' - it requires lots of action and very little thought, other than the occasional, 'Would this tree be better higher up the mound or down a bit?' or 'Is that pushed in firmly enough?' Apart from having to watch where you put every footstep, there is no room to think. No thoughts of past broken hearts or future anxieties. Each tree is far more important. And so, with each of us fully noticing the miracle, with no breath to talk but with our eyes and hearts open - we plant another tree and another until, with ten of us working for a day, another thousand trees are planted and we are walking carefully back down the hillside, as happy and satisfied as a bunch of scraggly volunteers can be.' (pp 18 - 19: Earth 1.)

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