It’s my turn, to lead. Later today.
I notice how this thought permeated my whole day, from the moment I woke up. I notice how this thought had a sticky persistence, and its delivery somehow becoming more urgent. I really saw how “what I resist persists”. I didn’t want to be thinking about it like this – repeatedly triggering my threat system. It made me curious about how the underlying causes and conditions of my anxiety find a way to subtly pervade my daily experience turning a lovely day out walking with my son into a battle with a thought that I don’t even want to think! It just keeps popping up and it really hammers home to me that the reason I am practicing and studying about Mindfulness is because I am not in control of my thoughts they seem to be in control of me.
Be empty of worrying, Think of who created the thought…
Minds just do this all the time to all of us; training in mindfulness has helped me to notice and ‘let go’ of them but the persistence is something to behold. Alert Alert! Threat Detected! It says waving a red flag as it delivers the message yet again – “Tonight you’re ‘teaching’ and……………..( fill the gap with inner critic having a field day.)
I consciously acknowledge the thought, both mindfully and rationally (by talking to it and thanking it) and, as I am out walking, I can easily come back to breath, not hard, I’m puffing, my son has long legs. We are lost, we engage with mapping, we climb fences as the footpath is blocked. Then I blurt out to my son, “I’m teaching tonight, and… I don’t want to do it!” But I do want to do it, and I will. I have nothing to fear. I laugh at myself and my annoying mind!
Jon Kabat Zinn says it’s not a matter of letting go – you would if you could.
Instead of letting go we should probably say let it be”.
Back home, after an exhausting and exhilarating walk through brambles, swinging from trees to get over barbed wire, with hot chocolate for sustenance, by body was that nice kind of tired. At 7pm I logged in to zoom, looking like I had been dragged through a hedge backwards, I suddenly realised – I’d forgotten my head had got all tangled up in brambles as well as thoughts. I was bedraggled but weirdly relaxed. Here we go – Settling, Grounding and Resting with Breath.
The session began, and even though I had some notes as a crutch, for if my mind went blank (the mind plays some kind of ironic joke here) I quickly realised that to try to read and deliver was going to completely take me out of the zone. I needed to actually just trust myself. I know the practice so well – actually –- it’s my body that knows the practice so well. I notice that my mind habit is to want to be good at everything – really good! And I need to accept that this sit is going to be less-than-perfect. I really do need to allow myself to fail epically as Heather said. When I say this to myself and others it lightens the Big Deal. It’s really not a big deal. With self-compassion engaged I sink into my body with a deep breath and launch into the practice, dinging my nana’s green glass grapefruit bowl with my chopstick.
At this point whether I say all the amazing and poetic things that our teachers say is not important – just sitting here and delivering words of guidance in some kind of coherent order is all I’m after. Working alongside my fear is the intention for this practice, just doing it, is the intention for this practice. As I ding, my fear feels more like excitement and I feel a surge of energy – released from tension, released from thoughts of high expectations for myself, released from the grip of perfectionism. Just let it be as it is. My mindfulness body kicks in and knows what to do. I enter flow.
I didn’t do a preamble about the practice, I just began by inviting awareness to enter the body and then towards the breath, once I had covered the usual guidance around posture, intention and motivation.
I have been listening to guided sits on the free Mindfulness Based Living App and on the Mindfulness Association Youtube Channel, and while attending the daily sits at 10.30am or 7pm I have one ear on listening to the poetry of the guidance, and do allow myself to scribble down some notes as research, which I have become able to do from many hours in practice on the MSc Studies in Mindfulness Course. It may sound terrible to do this but I have found that the ability to switch in an out of meditation (or somewhere half way between) is a great skill to hone for daily life practice. It’s my form of research to make my guiding as good as it can be. Not perfect! just really good. (Note successful compromise with inner perfectionist).
In Settling we count our breath evenly in and out. This is us hacking the sympathetic nervous system giving us the ability to override its evolutionary survival mechanism which is permanently looking out for threat and makes us breathe in a shallow way. By taking control of our breath we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and soothe ourselves and our alerted system, which creates feelings of safety. We can also count or say a phrase I know I’m breathing in, I know I’m breathing out’. This saying a phrase or counting also helps us to give our busy mind something to do as we train it away from following thoughts willy-nilly. The breath is an anchor which brings us into our living breathing body. When we are focused on our breath, we then follow its path deeper into our body and our being. We are on the threshold of being; we are letting go of doing.
I forgot to tell everyone to let go of counting, and to feel the body breathing itself, but from my own experience I’ve forgotten I’m supposed to be counting ages ago and am off on a wee story. I was worried about this aspect of losing focus, but actually this gives me something to guide me as I teach, ‘using the obstacle as the path’ – I speak my experience, “and if you notice your mind has wondered.. just simply notice that and bring it back to the breath.” This was an insight into the flow of facilitating in an embodied way.
To me the training of the mind is like suddenly noticing you have a baby homing pigeon in your hands. A homing pigeon that doesn’t yet know that it is a homing pigeon and it has no idea where home is yet. We notice the little pigeon has a habit to fly off, that’s what pigeons do, there’s nothing wrong with that, but if we want our pigeon to come home to be nourished and cared for, not be left to the ravages of the wilderness, we need to train it. We do this gradually, and we develop trust. We learn its habits and we work with them. We feed our little pigeon the kind of food that nourishes it. In this way we slowly train our pigeon-mind, to come home. Over and over again we practice with the pigeon. After a while the pigeon begins to bring itself home. It comes home to roost naturally. As our mind goes off, we invite it gently to come home to our brething body.
I invited the group to notice how it feels in the body to let go of the breath. What do we notice? Can we let go of thinking in the same way we let go of the breath and relax a little? As we bring our awareness to the body and its connection to the seat, chair or cushion, we feel that we are unconditionally supported by the earth and we are surrounded by space. We are invited to notice feelings and sensations, coolness warmth and more subtle sensations like our clothing touching us, tightness or tension anywhere. At this point I was kind of trying to think of things to say and what came out was and can you feel your socks? It’s not something I’ve ever heard anyone say and it nearly made me giggle – in the feedback it was something that actually turned out to be effective because it was unexpected and a bit funny. I remember getting the giggles when I was asked during a bodyscan once and how do your armpits feel? Arising of humour is an interesting thing to observe in mindfulness. I think that’s another blog.
Once we have established a deeply rooted sense of groundedness we can then open up to Rest in our experience – with a light attention on our breath whenever the mind wanders and around 80% on awareness – “noticing what is happening while it is happening whatever it is”. Vin quoted Pema Chodron this morning – she says to try to meet everything with a basic basic friendliness no matter what it is –including the things we find difficult.
After my session, enquiry. This is an area that requires much skill and training. I tried my best here, and it seems the skill here is active and engaged listening. It’s tricky and I’m looking forward to more training in this, as it is key in guiding a meditator to realise things for themselves from their own experience rather than saying what you think, which is invariably going to be subjective.
The feedback session went well. I’m looking forward to my next session. I have such a wonderful group to share this journey with.
Meeting everything with basic friendliness.
This week I am going to attempt to meet everything that arises with a basic friendliness. Even my persistent and annoying thoughts. It may require sitting with fear, anxiety or resistance and first acknowledging its presence. How does this feel? Once we have registered the manifesting emotion, what does it mean to meet this with basic friendliness?
Notice if there’s something stopping you from doing this. What is that thing? Can you identify it? If you’d like to share your experience with us we’d love to hear from you. You can email me or Jacky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And don’t forget to meet yourself with that basic friendliness too, and maybe notice when you are not.
Until next time, stay warm, stay friendly! and I wish you well,