A different take on mindfulness

I came across a talk yesterday called “Science of Mindlessness and Mindfulness” by Ellen Langer.  I really love challenging my thinking, and learning/growing and this talk has been a real eye opener.

Ellen discusses the concept of mindfulness, but from a very “stand alone” view point.  Her research and opinions are of mindfulness as it’s own practice, and not as part of meditation or Buddhism.

And it’s fascinating.

I’m still absorbing her concepts – as they are many and varied (and brilliant!).  But a few things have resonated with me already.

A lot of her work (as I understand it so far) explores challenging our thinking and the labels we apply to certain situations.  And how changing our thinking changes our experience.

For example it’s proven that most of us view our jobs as “work”.  Our attitudes are that it’s a necessary evil, and we approach our work days as such.  We don’t enjoy our jobs (that’s what our personal time is for!).  However if we can approach work our work as being fun/pleasurable/interesting our experience changes vastly as does our enjoyment.  The work is the same, but the approach and outcome are different.

She also challenges us to explore our set beliefs.  One question she asks is “what is 1 plus 1?”.  And naturally most people are going to roll their eyes and say “2”.  But as she says, that’s not always the case.  What if you had one wad of chewing gum, and one more wad to it?  It’s not going to be 2.

And personally I love challenging my thinking that way.

Maybe I’m weird (okay I own that I am lol), but I often question the labels that we give things.

For example – the common belief is that going into a shopping centre/restaurant/business with bare feet is considered rude.  Why is it rude?  Because as a society we frown upon it.  But why?  Who came up with that rule that shoes must be worn?   We are raised with that belief, but what if the belief was that it was rude to wear shoes in a shopping centre?

It’s an odd example I know, but I often think about small things like that.  Or “the sky is blue”.  Why do we call it the sky?  Why have we given it that label?  Where did that come from?  What if we knew it by a completely different name?

And it’s true of basically everything in life.

Which leads me to say I’ve always been very vocal about my belief that things never black or white.  A neighbour of mine is always very very firm in her opinions.  She will argue – violently – with anyone who doesn’t agree with her take on life.  But I often wonder – how could she be so set in her opinions?  What makes them unshakeable?

I can honestly say I never have set opinions or beliefs on anything.  I just don’t see life being that way.  It’s fluid, and changeable and only appears to everyone differently based on their experiences, on their upbringings, their financial situation, their religion, etc etc etc.

 

I’m enjoying learning more as I listen to her talk.  And I’ve immediately downloaded her book as well, so I am sure this subject will come up quite a lot in coming weeks.

Take care my friends,

Meg

 

 

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Just keep swimming

It’s been a great (and challenging) time for my practice lately.

It’s easy to ‘stay the course’ when things are going well.  But it’s when things are hard that you get to really put into use what you have learned.  And to also grow from the experience.

I must admit at the moment I feel that the ground is very shaky.

And I use that term as it’s one that I’ve seen often used by Pema Chodron in her great books and teachings.

She teaches that at the times when the ground is shaky, are the times that we need to lean into the experience, and to not feel scared and try to resist it.

And I am the worst for trying to resist change (if my friend Loren is reading this she will be laughing in agreement).

So right at this moment when I feel things are so unsettled I’m trying to just accept that, and not fight it.

The biggest issue I face is the knowledge that gossip is being spread about me behind my back that isn’t true (unrelated to my post from yesterday).

It’s stirred so many feelings in me – anger, betrayal, hurt, and indignation.  I want to set the record straight, I want to put out every “fire” where people are being given the wrong information, and set them straight about what really happened.

However in reality I know it’s not possible.  Unfortunately it’s a case where if someone throws enough mud, at least some of it will stick.  And the hard truth is that there is very little I can do about it.

The people that know me well know the truth.  And the people that believe the lies have absolute freedom to do that.  And there’s nothing I can really do to stop it.

I can only hold my head high, and keep my dignity, and have faith in myself.

It’s a good time to really think about things though – as my blogging friend Ben Naga commented – who was the “I” that felt outraged and hurt.

It’s a great time to delve further into it (gently) to figure out why it has hurt me so much.  And to perhaps let that go.

And also for me a great time to just accept the uncertainty of the moment, and maybe even embrace that.

(and in the meantime I’m feeling the love from my cat Milly :p)

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The day I stopped running

Today I came home.

I stopped running – from my life, from my emotions, from my fears.

I resisted the urge to do something – ANYTHING – but sit.  I resisted the urge to find a reason or an excuse to keep running.  To keep myself busy.  To keep myself occupied.

Instead I sat down on my cushion.

And I came home.

I came back home into my mind, and into my body.

And I smiled.

I felt peace, and comfort.  And I found the home I had been looking for.  And it was within myself.

Everyday Wisdom #72

Forest Meditation

Stop for a moment, and imagine you are part of the forest

Begin the meditation by closing your eyes.

Visualise yourself at the edge of a forest.

As you stand there, ask for permission to enter and then take your first steps along the path in front of you.

Notice the aroma of the rich earth beneath your feet.  Take a long, slow, deep breath.  Filling your lungs with the vitality and life of the forest – the scents of pine and cedar.

Visualise the beauty around you.

As you breathe out, relax into your body, and feel the inner peace you experience as you nourish yourself with the fresh, clean air.

Visualise yourself looking upwards.  At the canopy of the trees towering overhead.  Shielding you, and offering you strength as you enter this temple of nature.

Observe the sounds around you.  The crunch of dry leaves beneath your feet.  The rustle of small animals.  The bird song.  The buzzing of insects.

Look around you, and take note of the growth surrounding you – the plants, vines, and trees.

Acknowledge that all of nature is one evolving web of life.  You are an extension of this forest.

Notice the strength that seeps into your veins as you marvel at the power in the forest.  As you begin to sense that this is where you belong.

As you continue to look about take time to absorb the spirit of the forest.

Hear the sounds of nature and let your body acknowledge the rhythm of movement that surrounds you.

Allow it to become a part of your heartbeat.  Can you feel that you are connecting to the spirit of the forest?

Give yourself permission to feel peace in this forest.  A place of life, tranquillity and life.

It is now time to retrace you footsteps back on the path out of the forest.

As you reach the clearing from where you set off, notice the bright sun on your skin.  The blue of the sky.  And the open space around you.

When you are ready, slowly open you eyes.

And remember – you can return back here whenever you want to.

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Everyday Wisdom #69

The time before sunrise is believed to be the most auspicious time for meditation.

There is a Sanskrit phrase which seeks to describe the feeling that exists in the pre-dawn. The phrase is “Brahma muhurta”. The literal translation is “the hours of God”.

The pre-dawn atmosphere is highly charged.  Being still and quieting the mind at this magical time of day is transformational on energetic and spiritual levels.

So tomorrow morning, set your alarm for 30 minutes before the sun rises.

Meditate with a view of the sky.  It will give you a start to the day that is full of wisdom.

 

 I was desolate and afraid, and full of woe and terror. But when that beautiful sun began to climb the horizon life was to me again.
Bram Stoker

 

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Everyday Wisdom #58

Jigsaw puzzles as meditation

There are so many opportunities in everyday life to practice meditation or mindfulness (or both).

One of my favourites is by doing a jigsaw puzzle.

When I was a teenager, before I was even aware of buddhism, or meditation, I used to find great benefit in doing jigsaw puzzles.

My mind would become incredibly still and clear.

Thoughts would slow, and I would become extremely present.

It’s only since learning more, that I’ve realised that I was actually practising a form of meditation in doing these jigsaw puzzles.

So today, give it a go.

Find a large space where you can do a jigsaw puzzle uninterrupted (coming back to it over days/weeks as required).

Allow your mind to become still as you pour over the pieces.  

Breathe slowly and allow your eyes to take in the colours, shapes, patterns and sequences.  

 

My favourite puzzle is trying to work out the parts myself, after all it is a solo effort.
Adrian Belew

Everyday Wisdom #42

So-hum

This morning, as you sit quietly, be aware of  your breath moving in and out.

Start to notice the sound of your in-breath, and observe how it seems to sound like “so”.  

And “hum” on the out-breath.

Focus on these sounds for a few minutes.

In Sanskrit, so can be translated as “I am” and hum as “that”.

To say “so-hum” is to connect yourself with everything around you.  

 

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Everyday Wisdom #21

Declutter your mind

Today take some time to declutter your mind.

Sit quietly, and close your eyes.  Concentrate on your in breath, and your out breath.

Don’t try to stop the chatter of your mind, but instead keep your focus gently on your breathing.

Look for the space between each breath.

Find rest and comfort in those spaces.

 

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
Hans Hofmann

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Haiku as practice

A haiku I wrote immediately following a meditation…

 

Cool night air

Clock ticking, cars passing

I am here

 

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A peaceful life

One of the things I feel truly blessed to have is a calm and peaceful life for my son and I.

I have strived to create a very relaxed and nurturing home environment for us, and I thought I would share some of my techniques for cultivating calm.

  • Avoid watching, or listening to, the news as much as possible.  See my earlier blog post here for more.
  • Listen to classical music.  Especially the “lighter” pieces.  This is my favourite radio station.
  • Lavender oil.  Not only is this fantastic essential oil relaxing, it also helps dispel negative energy.  Use it in an oil burner.  Sprinkle it on your pillow before bedtime.  Or wear it instead of perfume (to stay calm during the day).
  • Practice deep breathing.
  • Smile – even if you don’t initially feel like it.
  • Go for a walk everyday.  As you walk, use the opportunity to really notice your environment.  What can you see?  Hear?  Smell?
  • Practice meditation
  • Write out your intentions each morning.  Including the intention to be calm.
  • Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.
  • Drink tea, mindfully.

and my favourite, and I most highly recommend:

  • Avoid harshness.
    Harsh speech.  Harsh thoughts.  Harsh influences.
    Be mindful of what you exposure yourself to.  For example – music, books, movies…
    Are they adding to your feeling of calm and peace?

I must admit that I used to read a lot of horror and crime novels.

Until I read this enlightening blog post:

I won’t Kill Bill

“On a personal level, I question how I can claim to dedicate myself to a life of peace and nonviolence when I’m watching movies like Predator and Goodfellas on the weekends.”

The points in the blog post can also be extended beyond movies, to what other influences you expose yourself to.

Reading this blog post really opened my eyes.  And made me aware of how I felt after reading those types of books – depressed, anxious and jumpy.

Now I tend to stick to non-fiction books.  I usually spend my time reading to learn something, or improve myself.

Remember that peace generates peace.  By cultivating calm and peace within ourselves, we influence those around us , thereby making them feel more calm as well.

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Micro meditations

In a perfect world we would all meditate twice a day for 30 minutes… at least.

But it’s not a perfect world.

It’s a busy, crazy, wonderful, sometimes stressful and chaotic world.

With demanding jobs, families to take care of, kids to raise, and countless other things vying for our attention.

When it comes to meditation, even a brief moment of mindfulness is beneficial.

One deep mindful breath can have benefits.

So here are a few ideas for when you have a chance to grab a moments break.

  • Close your eyes (if possible) and take a deep slow breath
  • Notice the sensation of the air entering your nostrils.  Is it cold or warm?
  • Concentrate on the sensation of your lungs expanding
  • Quickly scan over your body.  Are there any areas of tension?  Can you relax your stomach muscles?  Drop your shoulders?  Are you frowning?
  • Release the breath slowly through your mouth
  • Concentrate on the breath as it leaves your body.

Open your eyes, keep calm, and carry on 🙂

Housework as practice (yes really!)

Okay, I might as well come out and admit it now …

… I love housework.

I never used to have a passion for it before I incorporated it into my spiritual practice, but now I use it as a time to reconnect with myself.

I especially find it useful if I am feeling stressed or anxious.

In fact I now find myself doing housework the long way in order to prolong the experience.  For example I clean all my floors by hand (by choice 🙂 ).  I love the physical activity, and repetitiveness of washing the floor by hand.

By doing this recently, I discovered that the floors in my 20yo rental house were actually white, and not cream with brown flecks as I had first thought.  It was a very rewarding experience to clean each tile by hand until it was sparkling white again.  (Yes, I may be a little bit OCD…)

But back to housework as practice…

For me, the key is to:

  • Try to concentrate purely on the chore that you are doing.  For example, if it’s washing the floor, then concentrate solely on washing the floor.  Try to focus all of your energy and thoughts into doing the best job that you possibly can.  Not rushing, or thinking of what has be done next, but immersing yourself totally in that activity.
  • Concentrate all your senses on the experience – the warmth of the water, the coolness of the floor beneath your feet, the smell of the disinfectant etc.
  • When you mind wanders (which it will), gently bring it back to the task at hand.

Instead of viewing housework as a chore, view it as a chance to relax and unwind and calm your mind.

By doing your housework in this way, not only are you meditating at the same time (bonus!  Multitasking!), you are developing your mindfulness, and… you will have a clean house at the end of it! 🙂

Housework