An introduction to Sitting Meditation

 

“There are times when we stop, we sit still. We listen and breezes from a whole other world begin to whisper.” ― James Carroll

We all like simple, don’t we?

One of simplest and at the same time; most effective mindfulness practices is the Sitting Meditation. If you followed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, the practice is introduced in week four.  

So what is Sitting Meditation?

The Mindfulness approach to the sitting meditation is not sitting in the traditional lotus position, fingers and thumbs circled, gently going “ho oom Mmmmm” for hours at a time. Rather, it is a gentle, easy approach to sitting and focusing on something simple, like the breadth. The practice can take a few minutes or even up to an hour. It all depends on you.

What do you do before you start? If you have questions then the notes below will help. There are four key elements you need to consider:

  1.  A Place that is quiet and calm is key.

Find a good spot where you live, ideally where there isn’t too much clutter or distractions. It needs to be somewhere where you can find some peace and quiet. Not in front of the TV, or in the middle of the kitchen. Perhaps a spare room. I use our spare room as it is quiet and few people go into it.

  1. Next, is Posture and hands.

With Mindfulness, there is no right way or wrong way to practice. It is what is comfortable for you. Some people choose to sit on the floor. Some choose a chair. Me? I happen to sit on the edge of the spare room bed. Whatever, posture you feel comfortable in. If you suffer from back pain, what position is the easiest for you? You might want to sit on lots of cushions or very few. What you do need is a stable, solid seat, not perching or hanging over an edge.

Notice what your legs are doing. If sitting on cushions on the floor, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. If on a chair, it’s good if the bottoms of your feet are touching the floor and your legs a slightly apart. That is the posture I use. I like to sit without shoes on so I can feel the soles of my feet in contact with the carpet.

You need to make sure that you are sitting relatively straight, and do not stiffen your upper body. We all have a slight natural curvature of the spine. Let it be there. Your head and shoulders can comfortably rest on top of your vertebrae.

People ask, what do you do with your hands? I gently rest my hands on my legs. Not grasping the fingers together, but letting them rest – open and loose.

You can close your eyes or drop your gaze. If you choose to drop your gaze, drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. You may let your eyelids almost close. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it. It helps in my case as I wear glasses all the time. So I take them off and it helps.

  1. Next, is Time. Build the practice into your day.

At the outset, it helps to set an amount of time you’re going to “practice” for. Otherwise, you may never create the time to fit the practice in. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as five or ten minutes. Eventually,  you can build up to twice as long, then maybe up to 45 minutes or an hour. I use a timer on my phone. Many people do a session in the morning and in the evening, or one or the other. I tend to practice early in the morning as this is the time I have build into my daily schedule to practice.  If you feel your life is busy and you have little time, doing some is better than doing none. When you get a little space and time, you can do a bit more.

        4. Finally, Attitude, Commitment, and Kindness.

Like anything in life, mindfulness meditation takes commitment and practice. It is well known that little and often is better than intermittent. So be prepared to practice at least four days a week or more. I tend to practice formal mindfulness sessions five days per week and walking meditations at the weekend.  When you begin the practice you will notice that you can “concentrate” on your breathing for a few moments and then all of a sudden a string of thoughts will flash across your mind. Your instinctive reaction is to berate yourself for not being able to “do the practice”. This is where the kindness to yourself comes to the fore. No matter how many years you have practiced and no matter the intensity, you can not ultimately control all the thoughts you have. It is like trying to hold water in your hand. No matter how hard you try, you will not succeed. Instead, don’t bother judging yourself or obsessing over the fact you are having the thoughts or the contents of the thoughts. Come back to the focus that the sitting meditation is centered on. Your body and your breath. You will go away. You come back. Time after time. Like the waves on the edge of the sea.

I hope these simple elements help make your practice a success. If you have experiences and comments on the sitting practice, do let me know.

The photo is one I took this morning, imagining myself sitting under the tree doing a sitting practice.

I leave you with the following quote:

“I’m simply saying that there is a way to be sane. I’m saying that you can get rid of all this insanity created by the past in you. Just by being a simple witness of your thought processes.

It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say “this is good, this is bad,” you have already jumped onto the thought process.

It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher.

And this process of watching is the very alchemy of real religion. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, thoughts start disappearing. You are, but the mind is utterly empty.

That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.”

Osho

RAIN – You can not eliminate negative thoughts

““One way to eliminate self negating thoughts and behavior is by gaining more understanding through realizing that you cannot force others to see that what you feel is real.” ― Iyanla Vanzant

 

Of the 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts that we have every day, approximately 70% of them of them are negative. Just the thought of those numbers would be sufficient to make you feel depressed. However, one of the most effective mindfulness techniques that you can use to help manage those negative thoughts is the RAIN method. It’s a 4-step mindful meditation activity that can help soothe distress; reduce the number of negative thoughts; help lift you from a bad mood, and generally reduce the number and frequency of negative thought patterns.

So what does RAIN stand for and how do you use it?


R= Recognize

Recognize the thoughts or feelings that are hurting you. You can even give a name to them. Having a name for your thoughts and feelings helps shine a light on them so you have something to work with. Strangely enough, I call my negative thoughts”cow” thoughts. I am reminded that as cows ruminate, so do we on the negative. Hence the name.

A= Accept

Acknowledge that negative thoughts are your present reality. This is a way to put the feelings in the spotlight, instead of letting them quietly fester and potentially worsen. I recognise that something has triggered those negative thoughts. Something from the past that has come to the present moment. Or a thought and fear for the future, where I feel unable to deal with the thought. These “past-future fear thoughts” come to me in the present moment and I have come to say that they do not have any effect on my present moment reality.  

I= Investigate

Use a childlike curiosity to delve into these thoughts or feelings. Answer the “Who, What, When, Where, Why?” questions. What caused these thoughts? Are these realistic to have? What actions are possible? Try to investigate the whole scope of the feelings involved with the thoughts. For me personally, I sometimes write down the “5 W’s” and try to answer them. Taking the time to do this, actually stops the rumination and escalation of feelings. It makes me step back and reflect.


N= Not Self

The negative thoughts and feelings you have are not who you are. They are simply an experience you are having and will arise and fall away if you let them. This happens naturally. Your thoughts and feelings are impermanent. Knowing this can help you step back from them and move more fluidly within the ebb and flow of the human experience we all share that includes negative and positive thoughts and emotions that endlessly come and go. For me, my thoughts are not a reflection of the real me. The real me is always present. Here. Now. My thoughts are self-actualised memories and fears and hopes for the future. Not what I represent in the present moment. I hope that makes sense to you.

Anyway, the next time you feel a wave of stress, give this a try!

I leave you with the following quote:

“Only in the world of mathematics do two negatives multiply into a positive.” Abby Morel

 

A world of unrecognised thoughts

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Friedrich Nietzsche

 

I am reading a fascinating book at the moment and one small section really caught my attention. It mentions:

“Thought is the architect of both hope and despair, the source of every colour in the emotional rainbow.

Without thought, there would be no delineation in our world, like the pure clarity of light before it passes through a prism and bursts into a kaleidoscope of color.

But unrecognised thought demands our attention and fills our consciousness.

And when we get caught up in thought, we lose our way.”

We are ruled by the thoughts in our head. Generated moment by moment, every day. What triggers those thoughts can be any outside influence. Be it a picture. A place. Someone you see. A physical object. Literally, anything. However, whilst we might experience an external trigger; our minds pick up this and run like hell. We get caught up in a relay race of chasing thoughts. One following another. A personal example from me:

Question  – “What are we going to have for dinner?

Thoughts and self-talk – Why ask me what is for dinner?

I don’t know?

What is in the fridge?

I’d better check the fridge before I go and buy something? [Seems logical…]

We could have fish cakes? [Where did that come from? Not had them in a week?]

But Jen is allergic to fish? [Logical as this is a friend who is staying with us who is allergic]

Why is she allergic to fish?  [Seems sort of reasonable thought]

Burgers then. [Back to food]

I need some shoe polish. [Now where did that thought come from?]

Better clean the oven? [Now I think I am loosing the plot]

Brillo pads and vim are the best? [Deffo time to call the nut house…]

… and so the thoughts keep coming.

See. Hundreds of thoughts running into and alongside one another. Constantly. It’s a wonder we have time to do anything. As the quote above says, “when we get caught up in thought, we lose our way”.

However, there is something that can help us enormously.

Something so simple, yet so profound, people will think you are quite mad. You have to recognise that these thoughts that you have, are just that. Thoughts. Nothing more. Moment by moment you are recreating a past inside of yourself. A past that you are choosing to create. A past that you can choose to make positive and uplifting. Or a past that is full of doubt. Fear. Even horror. That is what we are capable of. Talk to any counsellor or psychologist and they will confirm, that most treatments for anxiety, fears, phobias and the like are based on changing your perceived view of the past.  

What is even more profound, is that you can then change your viewpoint of what the future might hold. If you accept the future more openly. Without judgement and the feelings of the past, the more likely you are to look at things positively.

What helps you to do this you might ask?

For me, it is Mindfulness and the meditation that goes with it. Moment to moment, being present. Open acceptance. The technique is simple, systematic and direct. Mindfulness training focuses on observing the mind in its natural state, with a non-attached, objective awareness (mindfulness) of what is actually present; moment to moment. Meditation is not a goal, but a tool for realization. Unlike our normal attitudes and perceptions in daily life; which carry an ethical content; during mindfulness we observe only the phenomena of the mind and the body.

There are “Four Foundations of Mindfulness” which serve as the primary base of an insight meditation practice. They are as follows:

  • Mindfulness of Bodily Objects (breath, movement or posture)
  • Mindfulness of Bodily Feelings (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral sensations)
  • Mindfulness of States of Consciousness (mind with or without greed, hatred or delusion)
  • Mindfulness of Mental Contents (joy, apathy, worry, calm, doubt, restlessness, happiness, sadness, etc.)

Or, simply stated, mindfulness of Body, Feelings, Mind and Mental Objects. Once you start to practice Mindfulness, you begin to realise how deep and meaningful it really is.

So the next time you get wrapped up in your thoughts, the first step is to recognise that there is a way to do things in a different manner. Stop for just a moment. Let the thoughts come and then go. Don’t chase after them. In a while the thought that triggered that relay race in your mind will fade. And you can come back to the present moment.

By the way, the book that prompted this post is “The space within, by Michael Neill”. I would really recommend it.

I leave you with the following quote:

The past is gone: the future has not come. But whoever sees the Truth clearly in the present moment, and knows that which is unshakable, lives in a still, unmoving state of mind.”

— The Buddha.    Bhaddekaratta Sutta

3 Minutes is all it takes

“Pick the day. Enjoy it – to the hilt. The day as it comes. People as they come… The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present, and I don’t want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future.” Audrey Hepburn

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend a UK Service Management Summit at St Hughes College, Oxford. In fact, it was more than just attend. Let me give you the back-story.

I am part of a Service Management community in the UK. We organise a conference at least twice a year, where like-minded people across the service spectrum can get together and learn, share and discover. We share case studies; new innovations; and changes in how various organisations think about and deliver service. After the last event, I got a phone call to ask if I would like to attend a new summit being planned in the UK. More than that, would I be willing to host a round-table discussion and possibly sit on a panel discussion. “Of course”, I said. “No problem at all. Let me know the dates and I’ll be happy to attend”. Oops. A quick e:mail followed with a request for a short personal bio. Next thing, I see the published agenda. I am on two panel discussions and am co-hosting five round-table discussions. Talk about putting myself right into it.

However, Mindfulness; has helped in the lead up to the event. I live much more in the present moment – that is what Mindfulness teaches you. Mindfulness also helps you to focus on the present moment and not worry about the future. It helps to stop you ruminating about what is potentially going to happen in the future. Without Mindfulness; I know prior to the event, I would have been thinking thoughts such as;

‘Who is going to be there?.’ ‘Will I make a fool of myself on stage?.’ ‘Oh my god, I’m going to be on a stage!’, ‘What if I am late?’ ‘What if I get asked a question I can not answer?’ ‘Why did I sign up for this?’ ‘You are an idiot Summerhayes!’ ‘%$&^&^’

You get the picture. Except, none of those thoughts crossed my mind. Yes, I have been very busy at work. Additionally, life outside has filled every second of spare time. However, I know that in my old way of thinking, I would have been ruminating. Worrying. Getting wound up. None of this happened since I practice Mindfulness every day.

It was only on this past Monday, that I rechecked the agenda. Remembered what I had signed up for. Reviewed the discussion table topics and reflected in my own mind the key items I could bring to the summit. Yes, I did have a query with regard to parking. A quick e:mail to the organisers and the response that there was not parking on site. No worries. I found a local car park, only about a mile from the venue.

Yes, I did have a restless night’s sleep, but perhaps that was my subconscious playing scenarios through, somewhat like a movie. Anyway. I got up as normal for a day at the office. Got ready and drove to Oxford. Mindful moment in the traffic jams on the ring road. A quick park up and a lovely walk past colleges and Victorian houses to the venue. The entrance is the picture I’ve used for this post.

And this is where the three-minute meditation came into its own as I stood at the entrance to the summit.

The Three-minute Breathing Space meditation

Step 1: Becoming aware

  • Deliberately adopt an erect and dignified posture, whether sitting or standing. If possible, close your eyes. Then, bring your awareness to your inner experience and acknowledge it, asking: what is my experience right now?
  • What thoughts are going through the mind? As best you can acknowledge thoughts as mental events.Don’t judge them.
  • What feelings are here? Turn towards any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings, acknowledging them without trying to make them different from how you find them.
  • What body sensations are here right now? Perhaps quickly scan the body to pick up any sensations of tightness or bracing, acknowledging the sensations, but, once again, not trying to change them in any way.

Step 2: gathering and focusing attention

  • Now, redirect the attention to a narrow ‘spotlight’ on the physical sensations of the breath, move in close to the physical sensations of the breath in the abdomen . . . expanding as the breath comes in . . . and falling back as the breath goes out.
  • Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out. Use each breath as an opportunity to anchor yourself into the present. And if the mind wanders, gently escort the attention back to the breath.

Step 3: expanding attention

  • Now, expand the field of awareness around the breathing so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture and facial expression as if the whole body was breathing.
  • Aware of the whole body, moment by moment.

And that is that. Or is it?

“Hang on a mo. What happened at the summit? Did you sit on the panel? Did you actually speak? Did you run a round table? Did it go well? Did you feel nervous or relaxed?”

It went really well. I was focused on the event. The people around me. The interactions on the discussion table were positive and engaging. I co-hosted the table for two and a half hours of intense dialogue. I was not nervous being on the panel in front of over one hundred delegates.In fact, I was on two panels, one in the morning and the final panel of the afternoon and contributed and lead a number of topics. 

I was focused on the event. I was attentive to the people around me. The interactions on the discussion table were positive and engaging. I co-hosted the table for two and a half hours of intense dialogue. I was not nervous being on the panel in front of over one hundred delegates.In fact, I sat in on two panels; one in the morning and the final panel of the afternoon; and contributed and led a number of topics. During the breaks and lunchtime, I took some time to step outside. I continued the 3-minute exercise and was able to appreciate the spring sunshine and beautiful surroundings of the St Hughes college. Overall, I enjoyed the whole day and would do it again.

So, If you are going to present. Stand on a stage in front of people. Or even if you are put in a position where you might feel nervous and worried; give the three-minute exercise a try before hand. I would encourage you to have a go. It will make a difference. Oh and do let me know how you get on.

I leave you with the following quote:

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.

If you are anxious you are living in the future.

If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

Lao Tzu

The essence of the Breath

“Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” Mary Oliver

 
The core of Mindfulness meditation practice is the use of the breath, as one of the tools to bring yourself into the present moment. After all, we carry it with ourselves throughout our lives. It is always there and we, too often, forget all about it. Unless you get a terrible cold. Then you notice it. Generally when you are wheezing.

To practice mindful breathing, you don’t have to sit cross-legged or do anything special. Simply stop what you’re doing and turn your awareness to your breath. Don’t attempt to control your breath,simply observe it.As your breath happens. Moment by moment.

In and out. In and out. Constant, always there, but always changing.

You might be surprised to see how short and inconsistent your breath is. This is normal. We often breathe this way and don’t even notice it. We have developed a habit of breathing at the top of our lungs in a short, compacted manner. Unless you are a singer, or actor, very few people actually use the whole of the breath cycle, breathing right down into the lungs.

The way we breath greatly affects how we feel and act. Mindful breathing can completely transform how we feel on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis. Remember, we are trying to extend and deepen being present and the breath is something that can help greatly in this.

So, how about trying the following…..

  • Count each in breath and out breath as an individual number.
  • So breathe in – one, breathe out – two, breathe in – three, etc. Do this until you get to 10 or until you become distracted by a thought, feeling, or sensation.
  • I can tell you now, that unless you have been practicing Mindfulness, you won’t get to 10. Let alone 100.
  • When you do get a thought, feeling, or sensation, and we all do, don’t worry about it. Don’t feel you have to criticise yourself.
  • Don’t punish yourself. Say you are a failure. You are not.
  • Just start all over again. In a relaxed manner. Focusing on the breath. As it comes and goes.

Even Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the modern Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction movement and who has practiced Mindfulness based meditation for over 40 years, still says it happens to him. That his mind wanders. 

  • In the beginning, it will be very difficult to count to 10 like this without becoming interrupted or distracted by thoughts or feelings.
  • These interruptions aren’t a bad thing, so make sure not to label them as such.
  • When you notice a distraction arise, be it a thought, feeling, or sensation- and they will be plentiful- simply acknowledge it without thinking anything about it (accept it openly as you would a loved one coming into your arms) and then gently direct you awareness back to your breath.

Even if you can practice this for 5 minutes in the morning and for 5 minutes in the afternoon, over a four to six week period, you will notice a difference. Not least of which, the time before the interruption occurs will get longer.

I tried it today, just to see how long I could “last”. I got to 100. Not bad. But then the thoughts came again, And I had to start all over again. Somewhat like the breath itself.

I leave you with the following quote…….

“Can words describe the fragrance of the very breath of spring?” Neltje Blanchan

 

What’s been missing in my Mindfulness practice?

“You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut”. – Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

As I have written before, I practice Mindfulness on an almost daily basis. I have been practicing and experiencing the benefits for the past eighteen months. I have found the ability to be fully aware in the present moment really uplifting, both at work and also at home. I have been calmer, more peaceful and more engaged with life in general.

However, just recently, in fact, this past month, I have felt that I have not been as present as I was before. I have felt disconnected and more “stressed”.

Was it work related? I was given a “wonderful work opportunity” just before Christmas. It is a very compressed project that would have normally taken three months to complete and instead try to do in one month. This has meant 8am to 6pm conference calls every day of every week since the New Year and a lot of work related pressure. Nope, it is not that.

Was it social related? I am just about to start a new volunteer role in the scouting movement, so have been spending a raft of time thinking and planning the new role. In addition, I attended the first scouting meeting of the year and I missed the first group Mindfulness session of the year. So, what that the cause? Nope.

Was it family related? We are looking to save to go on a foreign holiday this year as an expanded family group, which means we are trying to plan a trip for ten people and at the same time try to economize and budget for the holiday. Nope, it has not been that either.

Finally, is it because it has been dark, wet and miserable so far this year and I have not walked and exercised as much. Nope.

I now know what it is. I changed my morning Mindfulness routine slightly and instead I have been practicing a basic breathing mindfulness practice. I have not practiced the Metta Bhavana, or Development of Lovingkindness practice for over a month.

The practice helps us to actively cultivate positive emotional states towards ourselves and others so that we become more patient, kind, accepting, and compassionate. It covers:

  • lovingkindness
  • compassion (empathizing with others’ suffering)
  • empathetic joy (rejoicing in others’ wellbeing and joy)
  • and equanimity (patient acceptance of both joy and suffering, both our own and others’).

That at is why I have felt disconnected and more “stressed”. I have forgotten the five major premises of the practice, that of:

The practice is in five stages. We cultivate the practice for:

  • Loving kindness to ourselves
  • Loving kindness to a good friend / loved one [at one stage late last year, it was a whole group of people]
  • Loving kindness to a “neutral” person — someone we don’t have any strong feelings for
  • Loving kindness to a “difficult” person — someone we have conflicts with or feelings of ill will towards
  • Finally, Loving kindness to a all sentient beings

I have restarted the practice and can already feel the benefits. f you practice Mindfulness, I’d love to hear if you too have seen the impact of the Loving Kindness Meditation practice and its positive results on yourself.

I leave you with the following quote which really touched me when I came across it:

 

“We leave you a tradition with a future.

The tender loving care of human beings will never become obsolete.

People even more than things have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed and redeemed and redeemed.

Never throw out anybody.

Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm.

As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands: one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.

Your “good old days” are still ahead of you, may you have many of them.”

Sam Levenson, In One Era & Out the Other

 

The beauty of Silence

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King Jr.

I love when the extended family gets together. The vibe and the feeling of being together is wonderful. As a family of daughters – I have two and my brother has three – this means that there is always lots of chatter, discussion and often happy laughter. Generally, at the dad’s expense!

This Christmas, was the first opportunity for all of us to be together over a few days and the atmosphere was relaxed, gentle, but at the same time very, very noisy. I am not sure if it is modern trend, but teenagers tend to talk “at one another”, rather than “talk with one another”. Group talks tended to be noisy, rowdy affairs. With little, or no possibility or reflective dialogue and discussion, I felt that topics tended to be glossed over, rather than understood and agreed with. But, hey, that’s only my opinion. And the girls loved being together.

Whilst, I loved having all of the family around, it also made me appreciate the quiet times when everyone was out of the house doing “their thing”.

The near complete silence.

No one talking. No TV. No music. No radio. No phones ringing. Strangely, even my grandmother’s chiming clock that hangs in the dining room  had stopped.

I had no desire to fill up the silence with noise. Rather I was able to sit and practice mindfulness. Focusing on my breath, I even was able to “hear” my heart beating. It does not happen often, but when it does, it is amazing. The time seemed to flow by.

Then people came back into the house, chattering away. Noise levels returned to normal.

When was the last time you were in an environment where there was complete, total, silence?

Apart from our lives being full on, with so many distractions, I have come to realise that, we have even filled up our worlds with noise. Perhaps we are afraid of the silence? I am not sure. But if you do get a chance to “turn down the volume” on your life’s noise, give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

I was out walking and reflecting on this article, when  I realised that it reminded me of one of my favorite songs from the 1980’s by Depeche Mode – “Enjoy the Silence”. Here is a YouTube video of the official video from that era.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDxM8-k60_M

I leave you with the following quote…….

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”

Robert Frost