May Meditation Nudge 31

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

I want to finish up the May Meditation Nudges with a short reflection on what external support we can offer our meditation practice. By that I mean, what we can do away from our formal meditation practice, out in our daily life, to aid our meditation practice.

When I say the “meditation”, I think of someone sitting cross legged on a cushion, motionless and quiet, engaged in some sort of internal activity. However, meditation does not happen in isolation of our time on the meditation cushion. In the same way that our meditation practice can effect how we are in our daily life, so can how we act in our daily life effects our time meditating.

How so?

When we sit to meditate, we bring our state of mind in that moment to our practice. If we are feeling peaceful, that will be a basis for our practice. If we are feeling upset, that will be present as we sit. If we are feeling annoyed or angry, that annoyance and the story behind it will be a distracting presence through our time sitting.

So if we can maintain an awareness of our state of mind while we are out and about, it can aid what we bring to the cushion. Easier said than done, yes, but if we implement some guidelines that process can be helped.

This is where what I am calling Boundaries comes in.

A boundary is a voluntary course of action that you choose to bring into your life to help you in your meditation practice. What might this look like?

First notice the emphasis on ‘voluntary’. You are not being made to do anything. Rather you are choosing to do something because of the benefits that you see that you will receive it. How your choice will serve you in training your mind. This is about looking honestly at our actions and asking ourselves what is serving us and what is not? What actions are beneficial and which are hurting us and/or others? How certain ways of being create an agitation, a tendency in the mind to act. These tendencies or habits sit in the mind waiting for the right causes to come along and then we act. By training ourselves not to act in a given way, the mind becomes more stable, more peaceful. Let me explore an example.

Perhaps I have a tendency to speak ill of people. With my meditation practice in mind, I ask myself honestly how this is serving me? Am I a better person because of this? Is this a habit that I want to take into the future, or would I like to change this way of being? I choose to change this habit and so I decide to refrain from speaking ill of people - that is a boundary I choose to bring into my life. Now being honest with myself I know that I am not going to be able to stop doing this overnight. It might be a well ingrained habit. So I slip back into old habits at times. To support myself, I can bring a small practice into my life.

  • When I wake up in the morning I resolve to myself that I will not engage in speaking ill of people
  • As I go through the day I use awareness and mindfulness to watch what I say and think.
  • If I slip up and catch myself doing what I am trying not to do, I use as best I can (in the situation that I am in) the same tools that I use in my meditation practice - when I break into my old habits, I note it and with no judgement change what I am doing.
  • At the end of the day I review how I got on. Where I kept to my intended path, I celebrate. Where I slipped up, I deepen my resolve to break from old habits.
  • This is not about harsh judgement and beating myself up for mistakes made, rather an honest recognition of where I want to get to and what I want to leave behind.
  • Having an accountability buddy, somebody who supports you in your aims can also be helpful. Someone who from time to time you checkin with. Someone who doesn’t judge you, but is behind you in your goals and can offer encouragement.

I invite you to pick a habit or two that is not serving you, and bring this simple practice in to help your meditation practice.

I wondered if anyone here uses Calibre, the ebook organizer software? If so, how or what do you use it for? I am looking at it as a tool to take books off my Kindle, and then have the choice to read them elsewhere should I choose to. Is that feasible?

May Meditation Nudge 30

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Keeping it light
I have spoken during these May Meditation Nudges of the importance of just showing up, of sitting with our emotions regardless of what arises and the need for vulnerability. This might appear on the face of it as though meditation is rather an ordeal, especially when I speak about meditation being a marathon and not a sprint. It might seem that through embarking on meditation practice, you are setting yourself up for a long, hard, slog.

First, from my experience that is not so. For me meditation has not been a slog, but one of the greatest gifts that I have given myself.

Secondly, the importance here is in keeping a lightness in our practice. When emotions and difficult states of mind arise in practice, the instruction is to gently note the distraction and with no judgement, return to the object of meditation. How ever often there is distraction, we approach the thoughts with the same gentle equanimity.

With time, by being present in this way with what arises in the mind we develop a more intimate relationship with our emotions and with ourselves. The fear diminishes, fear of those emotions that we don’t know because we have chosen to avoid them. Through our meditation practice those emotions are no longer strangers. When someone else acts in a way that we react against because it is a reflection of an aspect of ourselves, we see that for what it is. Our awareness of ourselves creates a greater awareness of how we and the world around us is working. Meditation opens us up to who we are and to the world.

Gentleness, lightness, humour, all of these are what enable us to be with ourselves, to be with what arises in our mind in such a way that we can work with it. Being heavy is not going to solve the problems. We need a lightness of being in ourselves to have the openness to transform our heart.

May Meditation Nudge 29

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Hear, reflect, meditate
Within the tradition that I was taught meditation, three steps were explained leading up to engaging in a meditation practice.

  1. Hear or read the teaching/explanation.
  2. Reflect on what you have heard or read.
  3. Meditate using that method.

Here’s how this works.

  • First you hear or read instruction on a particular subject of meditation.
  • Second, you spend some time reflecting on what you have heard. Does it ring true for you, in your heart? Don’t just take it on board because a well known author or teacher has said something. Make sure that the words ring true for you. If something doesn’t sound right, go and seek out clarification in the same way that you would ask questions about something new that you are trying to learn about. Discuss, explore, get clear in your own mind.
  • Finally, once it is clear to you, once you understand what is being spoken about, meditate on the subject. Familiarize yourself with the idea. Focus on the idea so that the idea becomes you, so that you internalize the idea and make it your own.

I’ll add a fourth stage to this. If something really does not work for you as a result of the reflection stage, put it on the shelf for now. Come back to it at another time when maybe other information or happenings in your life might make you choose to revisit the subject. Or simply discard it. Don’t try and work with something that does not ring true for you.

May Meditation Nudge 28

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Vulnerability & meditation
I believe that meditation requires a degree of vulnerability. I will call it here, self-vulnerability. Another word might be honesty? Unless one has a meditation teacher or meditation cohort with whom you can confide your experiences, meditation is a solitary practice. Sometimes emotions or states of mind arise which you would prefer not to think of a something that you think. However, that thought is there. It just presented itself in your mind. You have two choices - acceptance or denial. Denial puts the lid on the emotion for the time being, but it will surface again. Acceptance is the path that meditation takes.

In choosing to adopt the path of acceptance, we are being vulnerable with ourselves. In choosing to accept the presence of a state of mind that I would prefer not to be there, I am exhibiting a vulnerability towards myself, choosing to see and accept myself as I am. In doing so, I am taking the first steps towards freedom. I note and don’t get involved with the thought, and come back to the object of meditation with no judgement. It is a practice of loving kindness for self. In this acceptance of the thought’s presence is the start of letting it go.

Brené Brown, researcher, author and speaker on the subjects of shame and vulnerability speaks about people who she describes as Wholehearted.

Brené had identified a unique group of people who “fully embraced vulnerability … (who) believed what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.” She named them the Wholehearted.
~ A Look at Wholeheartedness with Brené Brown - B The Change

Or in the words of meditation teacher Pema Chödron, using different words but speaking to the same subject (replace ‘world’ with ‘self’ to personalize the phrasing of the practice),

If we want there to be peace in the world, we have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid in our hearts, to find the soft spot and stay with it. We have to have that kind of courage and take that kind of responsibility. That’s the true practice of peace.
~ Pema Chödron, Practicing Peace in Times of War

I’m very happy to see the Studio Ghibli movies on HBO’s new HBO Max.

May Meditation Nudge 27

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

You are not alone
Meditation is an ancient tradition. Depending on one’s reading of history, the practice of meditation might go back as far as the 20th century BCE. Within the tradition that I was taught meditation, Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhism first arrived in Tibet in the 6th century.

People have been practicing meditation for a long time. Their cultural and situational experience might be very different to this time. The philosophical framework within which they held their practice might be different to yours right now, but the basic practice of focus on an object and being with the mind is there.

So, many individuals have trodden the path that meditators today are walking. Those individuals have had to deal with the ups and downs that meditation brings. That is why instruction exists for handling these circumstances.

So if you are struggling in your practice. If you feel at a low, or are wondering if you will manage to navigate a particular road bump in your meditation, remember that you are not alone. Others have been there before, persevered and found a way round.

Remember these people, reflect on their effort even if you never knew them and use the example of their effort to pull you along.

Big sky.

May Meditation Nudge 26

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Breaking my own suggestions
I titled one of the earlier articles in this Nudge series, “Beware of waiting for silence before you meditate.” While I believe that the advice that I offer in that piece is important, I am now going to apparently contradict myself!

There are times when the noise of life is getting to me. If I was to use an analogy, it is as though my mind is a glass of muddy water that has been shaken up so much that it is not possible to see the clarity of the water. I need to spend some time to allow that mud to settle, and get my clarity of mind back. For me this is exacerbated as I am an introvert and high sensitive person (HSP). I will find myself getting overwhelmed by external distractions that might not even register on the radar of the more extroverted amongst us. At times I simply need to take a break, have a rest and recharge. That rest can take on the look of say quiet time by myself reading a book, but I have also found meditation can play a part in this. Simply sitting, watching the breath, noting the thoughts and noise in my head as they distract me, and returning to the breath. With time the noise in my head settles, my mind becomes clearer, I feel lighter (both mentally and physically) and better able to reengage with the world.

The trick is to remember not to see meditation as an escape to a quieter place, as I warn in the Nudge article linked to above. Meditation can offer itself as a tool to bring the mind to a quieter place, but meditation can also offer so much more than that. For those times that I need to quieten my mind, when the sense of overwhelm that I am experiencing is hurting me, meditation can be one method available to get me to a healthier place. But remember that we then have to step out into the world which is far from quiet. It is then that I can use the Swiss Army knife of tools that meditation offers to help me deal with the vicissitudes of life, and perhaps help to keep some of the noise at bay before it starts to overwhelm me.

Sunset yesterday evening at Turtle Bay.

May Meditation Nudge 25

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Does this ring true for you?
Can you identify with this description? Some days, perhaps for reasons that you cannot really put your finger on, you can’t really find your bearings. You feel as though you are trudging through treacle, not getting anywhere and not really sure where you are headed anyway. You dutifully showed up to your meditation practice, but barely. You did things that you had to do through the day, but did so as though incased in foggy mist that kept you at a distance from what you were doing.

If so, listen to what you need and go and get it, look after yourself, and use mindfulness that you have developed in your meditation practice to stay with the feeling that is enshrouding you. Come up for air where you need to, take care of yourself, and where you can see if you can stay present with the feeling and not get lost in distraction. This too shall pass.

I think that my consumption of tea has increased since the arrival of Hobnobs in my mailbox. They are simply a wonderful accompaniment to tea, in this Englishman’s humble opinion.

May Meditation Nudge 24

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Loving kindness
Loving kindness, that acceptance of yourself just as you are. That is something that I don’t always find very easy. I catch myself doing something, reacting to someone, speaking to someone, thinking something that I really wish that I didn’t do, say or think. I have an image of myself and how I want to show up in the world, even if I don’t articulate it to myself, and then something comes out of my mouth that has me squirming.

I think that it is easy to come into meditation thinking something like, “meditation will make me a better person,” and then as I start sitting I find all sorts of thoughts emerging in my mind and I feel anything but a better person. There is no denying them, they are there. I am watching them, noting them, and coming back to the breath.

And there in comes the practice of loving kindness. In practicing meditation we are choosing to show up and be with ourselves regardless of what arises. We note and accept what comes up with no judgement, giving it the space to be, and not reacting against it or getting involved with it. This is not an indulgence. It is not allowing the good and not so good to have reign over us. Rather it is us getting closer to who we are. I am not trying to cover up that which I wish wasn’t there. I am not trying to distract myself and get involved in activities that don’t serve me so that I don’t have to look at myself. Quite the contrary, I am being with my humanness. I am accepting my humanity as it is.

As I start to accept myself, develop loving kindness towards myself, so I then have the ability to start working with those emotions and behaviours that don’t serve me. I can be with them and don’t get pulled so strongly by them. I sit with the agreeable and disagreeable with an open heart. I am no longer having a go at myself for what I wish wasn’t there. There is more acceptance. I am there for myself and don’t give up on myself.

Leaves grow big in these parts.

May Meditation Nudge 23

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Fine tuning the focus
As your practice of watching the breath develops, you can start to use some subtleties to fine tune your focus.

Become aware of the temperature of the breath as it enters the nose and when it leaves the nose. Notice how the breath is cool when you breath in and warm when you breath out.

Become aware of the gap between the in breath and the out breath. There is that point where the breath turns from going in to going out. And there is that point where the breath turns again from going out to going in. As it moves from one direction to another there is a pause, a gap. Can you be aware of that point of turn? Can you be aware of the gap? It is like a suspension of the breath. You are not holding the breath, but as the change over happens for a moment nothing happens. There is simply awareness.

Try exploring these two techniques as your attention to the breath develops.

I’ve been seeing a number of posts on of people sharing their bread making adventures, and thought that this article in the Guardian might be of interest to the bakers.
The science of making sourdough bread.

May Meditation Nudge 22

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Regardless what we are meditating on, sometimes a strong emotion will arise. The practice of just noting the emotion and returning to the object of meditation, for example the breath, can feel like a tug of war between your attempt to meditate and the emotion’s pull for your attention. From my experience the force and strength of the emotion starts to demand a lot of my attention.

My first reaction is to relax into that demanding. Keep coming back to the object of meditation, and be patient with the seemingly never ending demands. Note the emotion, perhaps give it a name if that helps, and return to the object of meditation using awareness and mindfulness - and again, and again, and again. In doing that we are choosing not to engage in the emotion while also not denying its presence, and at the same time building patience with it.

If the content of the emotion is such that it is bothering you too much I offer two suggestions.

  1. Stop the meditation and go and do what you need to do to take care of yourself - time to yourself, speak with someone, take a walk, take a bath, journal. You will know what to do.
  2. Make the emotion the object of meditation. Get to know the emotion. Become more intimate with it.

Through working with option “2.” one can start to break down the separateness between oneself and the emotion, and start to familiarize yourself with how the emotion looks, feels, and moves through your mind. The steps that I offer here are for guidance. Use the framework that the steps suggest as a start for your own imagination and how you can engage with the emotion.

  • Start to watch the emotion. Do not become involved with it, instead have a detached observation in the same way that you might have if you were watching a movie.
  • Ask questions as to what the emotion looks like - does it have a shape? Does it have a colour? Is it solid, a gas, a liquid? Is it fixed or changing?
  • Watch it and see where it goes - are there moments of intensity, are there moments of quiet?
  • Is there one thing that you can call “the emotion”, or is it a changing stream of experiences?
  • If you want to explore what is behind the emotion, ask a question such as, “what do you have to tell me?” Don’t force an answer, just be patient and see if an answer emerges.
  • If it becomes difficult to hold the emotion and the questions, go back to the breath, stabilize the mind, and then return to the emotion.

There are no rights or wrongs, or correct answers to these explorations. Just allow the answers to come in their own way, and in their own time. But through this I can get to know my mind and my emotions better and through that they become more workable. The emotions are no longer so much of a stranger to me and with that and in time, with more familiarization, have less of a pull on me…or I simply catch myself a little bit earlier when the emotion grabs me.

May Meditation Nudge 21

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Missing your regular meditation
I suggested a couple of weeks ago to look for opportunities in your daily life to meditate. Don’t just limit yourself to your regular session. Build the momentum, build on your practice, look for those opportunities. There is no need to be formal about it. No one even need know that you are meditating while you stand in line to pay for your groceries.

But what about those times when even doing your regular, scheduled practice is a challenge? Work or family commitments interrupt you and pull you elsewhere. Travel, perhaps not such an issue right now, requires an early start or a long day. Life is just such that finding time for regular practice is not possible.

This is another time where the advice that I gave a couple of weeks ago comes into play. Now looking for those opportunities to practice take on an added importance if the priority is to keep the momentum of your meditation going.

Then there are those days where you just don’t get to do much if anything in the way of meditation. If and when those days surface, do not be hard on yourself. If it is still a priority in your life, when the dust settles on life’s commitments the time(s) will reveal themselves. All that is needed is the commitment and perhaps the support of an ally in your practice.

Morning time is definitely my most productive time. With a good start I can keep going through the day. If I loose the morning, the rest of the day is at best a struggle. Into the night can be good if I am can get a good evening start and am uninterrupted.

Oh, the joy of writing.

I sometimes start writing with one intention in mind of where I want to go and before I know it, something else is developing. For all of that I still have to remind myself of this when I feel stuck in my writing. I have to remind myself to just start writing, just let the words come forth, and don’t worry too much about the results. This can be a push sometimes, but if I can push through that block, more often than not the words will come of their own volition.

May Meditation Nudge 20

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Meditate from where you are
Maybe you have set up a routine for your practice? It might be daily, every other day, maybe twice a day. The schedule will vary for different people and that is fine. Set up a schedule that works for you, not one that works for someone else. One Tibetan teacher was asked what is the highest, read “best”, practice that one can do. His reply was,

The one that works for you.

I want to see results from my practice. I don’t want it to be something that is a burden on my life. When that happens I start skipping my practice. I start thinking of it with distain and decide that there are other things in my life that are more enjoyable. Hearing of others meditating no longer inspires me. I no longer get curious to learn about meditation. It drifts from my life.

So you might hear of people setting themselves what appear to be incredible schedules, or working on meditation practices that you judge to reflect in some way that they are better than you. My advice is to put that down. Start from where you are. Practice from your place, and practice sincerely from that place. When I pace my practice from where I am, the results come.

Not only is meditation a marathon and not a sprint, I should have added that it is also not a race.

It’s raining right now. The forecast is for overcast weather through the day, and the likelihood of more rain. For the most part I will be by myself today. Overcast, rain and by myself feel like ideal working conditions for me.

May Meditation Nudge 19

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

At first glance this might appear as an odd subject to bring into the world of meditation. What my intention is, is to offer you another tool to support you in your practice. However, for that tool to work first I have to explain what I am meaning here by the word faith.

If you go to someone for advice, try out what they say and it helps you, you will have more faith in that person and are more likely to listen to them the next time that you need help in that same area. If you read a book, try out the advice that the author shares and that helps you, you will have more faith in that author and be more likely to go back to them for advice on their chosen topics.

So where does this sit with meditation? It sits alongside self-confidence that I was talking about yesterday. As you start to experience the results of your practice for yourself, you will start to develop faith not only in the practice, but also in yourself to realize the fruits of your practice. These experiences are valuable. If you feel as though you are going through a phase of little happening with your practice, or if someone else challenges what you are doing, your faith in yourself and your efforts can help to carry you through.

As my own teacher said,

If someone challenges your practice, practice it.

May Meditation Nudge 18

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

My teacher use to say of meditation practice that it was like tasting good food. Once you have tasted good food, you want to go back for more. Similarly with meditation, once you start to taste or experience the fruits of practice, you will find yourself wanting to stay with the practice, to experience more and dive deeper.

Perhaps at the start of your practice there is the enthusiasm that comes with finding and starting something new. That sense of newness overrides any doubts that you have in the practice or in yourself. However, with time maybe doubts start to set in with regard to the efficacy of the practice, can really be of any benefit? You perhaps start to feel the tug of external attractions when it comes time for you to sit. You might have heard that meditation is a practice that takes times, but when you not feeling confident about yourself or the practice, that time can feel too long.

How do you overcome the doubts and build self-confidence in your practice?

Through practicing awareness and mindfulness we will start to experience the fruits of practice in our own mind. The instruction is no longer the words in a book or a meditation teacher. Instead the words become a part of us. We experience them for ourselves in our mind. We make them our own through our practice of meditation. Our mind is no longer a stranger to us, but a part of ourselves that we are beginning to get to know more intimately. We see how busy the mind is. We get to know how it works and how the emotions arise within it. We start to notice what triggers us into the various emotions, and with that familiarization become less fearful of the emotions. We find ourselves bringing awareness and mindfulness into our lives and starting to respond more skillfully when emotions arise within us.

All of this takes time, but as we taste these fruits for ourselves we will know, experience the truth in our own heart. With knowing arises confidence in the practice that brought us to that place.

May Meditation Nudge 17

This is an ongoing series running through May to compliment the twice weekly meditation sessions that I will be hosting on YouTube. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Awareness and Mindfulness
Awareness and mindfulness live side by side when we are meditating. We hear more about mindfulness these days.

Mindfulness is constantly, or as constantly as I can muster, checking that my mind has not wandered off from the object of meditation. If my mind has become distracted and is lost in story, it is mindfulness that catches that and brings it back to the object of meditation.

Awareness is being conscious of what we are giving our attention to in that moment. If my object of meditation is the breath as it enters and leaves the nose, awareness is fully with that sensation, watching the breath come and go and not getting in its way. Simply observing.

In choosing to meditate, in choosing to bring awareness and mindfulness into our lives, we are choosing to live with a form of discipline. Note the word choosing. As a meditator this is not being imposed upon you. It is voluntary. You are voluntarily choosing to bring some control to your mind, to train your mind. You are choosing to not let the mind wander off whenever and wherever it feels like. Further more when it does, you are choosing, you are striving to not react, but rather note the distraction and gently return to the object of meditation using the combined actions of mindfulness and awareness.