Category Archives: Mindfulness

Lovingkindness

1. Heart and head

Mindfulness can seem a heady endeavor. Many of the meditations we do specifically require us to engage our ‘higher brains’ – our executive function or prefrontal cortex (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130604114001.htm)– to be inquisitive and investigate experiences impartially, just like a scientist would. Lovingkindness meditations strengthen the areas of the brain that support compassion, connection and joy.

The more experienced compassion meditators showed a larger brain response in areas important for processing physical sensations and for emotional responding.

A seven-week lovingkindness meditation course also increased the participants’ daily experience of joy, gratitude, and hope. The more participants meditated, the better they felt.

-http://www.mindful.org/the-science/neuroscience/your-brain-on-meditation

2. Compassion breeds contentment

We are social beings hard-wired for connections with other humans. Fostering positive attitudes toward ourselves and others seems to bring us some degree of peace and joy, but it’s not always easy. As we meditate on these ideas, sadness can arise as we become more aware of relationships, whether with ourselves or others, that are fraught. We may find too that what we can not accept in ourselves, it is very hard to accept in others. So we practice accepting and having compassion for ourselves just as we are, imagining ourselves to be the young child we once were, someone easily deserving of compassion and love. Sometimes it is easiest to call up these feelings by imagining a pet or young child, a being with no strings attached. We can expand our feelings of lovingkindness from there.

Like a caring mother holding and guarding the life of her only child, so with a boundless heart of lovingkindness, hold yourself and all beings as your beloved children.

-Buddha

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere else insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were simply necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

-Alexander Solzhenitsyn

3. Week’s practices

  1. Notice a routine activity.
  2. Practice a meditation each day. Aim for 20 minutes. Try the lovingkindness meditation a few times (see link below).
  3. Notice when your attitudinal foundation arises on its own and try cultivating it.

4. Resources

https://soundcloud.com/silvertortoise/sandra-finkel-loving-kindness

Postivity, by Barbara Fredrickson and J Pers Soc Psychol. Nov 2008; 95(5): 1045–1062.

Just noticing

Responding and reacting

As we sit to meditate, we may notice the desire to change things, to react in a certain way. Perhaps we notice a loud whirring noise and want to look out the window to see what’s making such a ruckus. Perhaps we notice a stiff neck and want to move our head to a different and maybe more comfortable position. Perhaps we notice a brilliant idea and want to write it down before we forget it. We practice letting things be. The sound outside is just a sound, we can notice. The crick in our neck is just a sensation, the thought, just a thought.

All phenomena … resemble an illusion, mirage, dream, or reflected image, a celestial city, an echo,
a reflection of the moon in water, a bubble, an optical illusion, or an intangible emanation.
-The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Preliminary Practice

3-minute breathing space (adapted from Libby Robinson)

Step 1. Orient yourself to yourself. Become aware of bodily sensations and thoughts. Just notice them, saying to yourself “OK, that’s how it is right now.”

Step 2. Focus your attention on the breath. Use the anchor of the breath to be really present

Step 3. Expand your awareness. Notice the breath, the body as a whole, and sensations from outside. Exploring a light, spacious awareness.

 

Week’s practices

  1. Notice a routine activity.
  2. Practice a meditation each day. Aim for 20 minutes. Practice mindfulness of noting at least twice.
  3. Notice when your attitudinal foundation arises on its own and try cultivating it.
  4. Try the 3-minute breathing space at set times each day, maybe right when you get to work, or when you first wake up in the morning. Using at these calmer times can help you have this technique available to you in more stressful moments.

Resources

http://franticworld.com/ – the website that accompanies a nice book. Recorded meditations available.

The Train to Chicago

1. The mind-body disconnect: driving on instinct
Have you ever been driving and gotten so lost in your thoughts, you no longer noticed where you were going? Maybe you ended up at your intended destination by instinct; or maybe you ended up at home when you’d meant to stop at the store. Either way, your mind was in one place, your body in another, and you were not fully aware of either.
We often use instinct to our advantage – we don’t have to remind ourselves to breathe, we naturally smile when someone we love crosses our path, we instantly release our hand from a hot stove, we steer our child away when he wanders toward the street. Even so, we can be aware of our instincts and reactions. And with practice, we may find ourselves choosing responses more and more, whether that’s stopping at the store on the way home from work or not saying harsh words to our partner when she/he does something annoying.

From a peaceful center
we can respond instead of react.
Unconscious reactions create problems.
Considered responses bring peace.
With a peaceful heart
whatever happens can be met
with wisdom.

-Jack Kornfield, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace p153

2. Noticing thoughts
Sometimes the mind seems to get on a train to Chicago and we don’t even know it’s taking a trip until it’s half way there. We look up, and… Hello Kalamazoo! We can start to notice the journey the mind is taking earlier and earlier. We don’t have to control the journey, just notice.

During meditation, a simple method in which we use thinking to stay present rather than carrying us away is ‘mental noting’. This is the practice of using a simple “note” to calmly name – as a whisper in the mind – what we are experiencing.
-Gil Fronsdal, http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/mental-noting/

Rumi’s poem “The Guest House” provides a beautiful take on this idea.

3. Week’s practices

  1. Notice a routine activity.
  2. Practice a meditation each day. Aim for 20 minutes. Practice mindfulness of noting at least twice.
  3. Notice when your attitudinal foundation arises on its own and try cultivating it.
  4. Try to notice one moment each day in which you feel especially good. What triggered it? Notice how your body reacts – your lips, your eyes, your heartbeat.

4. Resources
http://franticworld.com/ – the website that accompanies a nice book. Recorded meditations available.

The Infinity of Now

Today we explored a body scan meditation.  Instead of using the breath as our bridge to the present moment, we used the numerous sensations throughout the body.  Here is a link to a similar meditation: https://soundcloud.com/jennie-sara/body-scan

We began with a short breath meditation called ‘Consciously Connected Breathing’.  It is taken from Michael Brown’s book, The Presence Process.  For this breath, we intentionally eliminate any pause between inhale and exhale or exhale and inhale.  We match our breath to the following text using one breath for every two words, one on the inhale, one on the exhale:

I am here now in this

1. Noticing the body

Even when we are lying on a mat or sitting still there is motion within us. Breath and body rise and fall together; our hearts beat; the smooth muscles of our digestive tract keep right on moving. The more we pay attention, the more we notice. Maybe we feel the tingle of cells dividing, DNA replicating, proteins being synthesized.

We experience a cross section of a never-ending progression of movement and breath, extending infinitely forward and backward in time.

-Yoga Anatomy, Leslie Kaminoff & Amy Matthews

2. Noticing the world around and within us

In each moment, there are infinite things to which we might bring our attention. The body scan helps us notice how, in each moment, there are sensations in almost every part of our body that we could pay attention to. And that’s just the physical sensations inside us! Sometimes it’s hard to choose where to focus our attention. Certain thoughts, sensations and feelings seem to stick around more than others. But as we practice, we may begin to notice spaciousness in the world and become aware of the endless variety of sensations, thoughts and feelings that are occurring right now.

The Messenger

By Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?

Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?

Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.

The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart

and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth

and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all,

over and over, how it is that we live forever.

3. Week’s practices

  1. Choose a routine activity and try to engage with it the way you did the raisin last week. It’s good to pick something brief and uncomplicated, like brushing your teeth or washing your hands.
  2. Practice a meditation each day. Aim for 20 minutes. Try the body scan at least once.
  3. Notice when your attitudinal foundation arises on its own. Try to bring it to your daily life – maybe when you’re stuck in traffic, or annoyed with a co-worker.

Spaciousness and clarity

Today, we extended the mindfulness of breath meditation to 20 minutes.

We began with a short guided meditation matched with the breath from Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

Breathing in, I notice my breath has become deep.
Breathing out, I notice my breath has become slow.

Breathing in, I calm my body and my mind.
Breathing out, I am at ease.

Breathing in, I smile.
Breathing out, I release.

Breathing in, I got back to the present moment.
Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment.

In, Out.
Deep. Slow.
Calm. Ease.
Smile. Release.
Present moment, Wonderful moment.

Here are the thoughts of the day:

1. Slowing down the movies in our mind

It’s amazing how fast thoughts, sensations and feelings can come whizzing through our brains. They come and go without our having to do anything, and so fast we often don’t even notice. By guiding our attention to the breath, over and over again, without judgment, we may observe that the mind begins to settle. Thoughts slow down. We may become aware of a spaciousness and clarity around the thoughts, sensations and feelings that we don’t usually perceive. We may get just an inkling of it. We may not.

The mindfulness meditations we practice here are purely secular, but their roots are in Tibetan Buddhism and there are some beautiful descriptions from that tradition. Here is one I like.

Past thoughts are traceless, clear, and empty,
Future thoughts are unproduced and fresh,
The present moment abides naturally and unconstructed.
When this ordinary, momentary consciousness
is examined nakedly and directly,
It is a radiant awareness,
which is free from the presence of an observer,
Manifestly stark and clear,
Completely empty and uncreated in all respects.
-The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The Introduction to Awareness.

2. Non-judging

Cultivating impartial observation.
Not labeling sensations, thoughts, feelings as good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair. Simply noting them.
Even when we notice judgment, just noticing it without judging it.

Here’s one way to think of judging when it arises, whether in meditation or everyday life:

We can nod and smile when our ego, like a slightly demented relative who means well, offers its endless array of opinions, judgments, and knee-jerk reactions, but know that our ego is merely doing what it does best: Valuate. More of that. Less of this. I don’t give a shit. Good for the ego. And thank goodness we’re more than just our egos!
– Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi, “Liberation”

3. Week’s practices

  1. Choose a routine activity and try to engage with it the way you did the raisin last week. It’s good to pick something brief and uncomplicated, like brushing your teeth or washing your hands.
  2. Try to extend your breath meditation to 20 minutes a day this week.
  3. Let’s all focus on non-judgment as our attitudinal foundation this week. Note when it arises on its own. Note how you can bring that attitude to a situation. Notice, if you do, what shifts.
  4. Bring a yoga mat, towel or blanket to class next week.

Introductory mindfulness class

In class 1, we ate 3 raisins, one at a time.  We really observed them, noticed them, with all our senses.  And we observed our own process of eating them.  We also did a ten minute mindfulness of the breath meditation.  You can find a similar recording here: https://soundcloud.com/jennie-sara/mindfulness-of-breath-10min.

The hand-out for class 1 gave some foundational ideas of mindfulness.  Here it is:

1. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness:

‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally’

 

2. Eight attitudinal foundations: (From Libby Robinson)

Non-striving – Not trying to get anywhere other than where you are.
Not grabbing onto thoughts, feelings or sensations; not pushing them away.

Acceptance – Cultivating being okay with what is.
Even if there’s resistance or grabbing, being okay with that.

Curiosity – Bringing a quality of impartial investigation to immediate experience.
What does this fear feel like? What kind of thoughts come up?

Patience – Giving oneself time to cultivate mindfulness.
Allowing time for insights and new ways of seeing things to unfold.

Beginner’s mind – Openness.
Seeing things as if for the first time: fresh, new, with curiosity.

Trust – Trusting that the process of practicing mindfulness will foster insights.
Trusting yourself and your own deepest knowledge and insights.

Non-judging – Cultivating impartial observation.
Not labeling sensations, thoughts, feelings as good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair. Simply noting them.
Even when we notice judgment, just noticing it without judging it.

Letting go – Letting experience just be.
Cultivating the ability to let thoughts, sensations, feelings simply be without pushing them away or holding onto them.

 

3. Week’s practices

  1. Notice noticing. Make a mental note when you find yourself noticing what you’re doing in the same way you noticed eating the raisin.
  2. Find a breath meditation you like and try to practice for 10 minutes each day.
  3. Note when your attitudinal foundation arises on its own. And maybe cultivate it throughout the week.