Nurture Positive

A pink lotus flower and lily pads with saturated color

This week’s blog is a contribution by Michelle Morris:

When I was a young child I would imagine going to a place with animals that I loved, this gave me a deep feeling of calm and safety.

We all have the capacity to create positive mental images and positive mental talk, which can trigger positive emotional body feelings. We can use this natural capacity, which is particularly accessible for children, to develop mindfulness. So with the mindfulness practice of Nurture Positive we get to focus on things that are pleasant and enjoyable, while at the same time cultivating positive feelings and developing mindfulness skills; concentration/attention and equanimity.

Nurture Positive/Focus on Positive, is part of the Basic Mindfulness System developed by the innovative mindfulness teacher Shinzen Young. There are a vast range of practices throughout history and different cultures, which come under the umbrella of Nurture positive. What these practices all have in common is intentionally creating and holding positive content in our subjective world of thoughts and feelings. Some examples are lovingkindness/Metta, Diety yoga, The Catholic Rosary, visualisations, affirmations, gratitude, self-compassion and forgiveness practices.

The Dalai Lama was shocked to discover low self-esteem is a widespread experience of people in Western culture. Perhaps this is why self-compassion and forgiveness practices have become popular. They can be a powerful antidote to self-criticism, self-hatred and feelings of unworthiness, and can develop compassion and self-love, which we can then extend to others.

The traditional Buddhist practice most commonly taught with mindfulness is lovingkindness practice. The Buddha taught this practice to a group of monks after they became very frightened of the dangers in the jungle, where they were trying to meditate. Roger Walsh comments on this “smart psychologist that he was, the Buddha realised that fear and love displace each other, and that if the mind is filled with love fear is swept away”.

Aside from the traditional phrases of the lovingkindness practice, we can also create a personalised nurture positive practice. We can choose a specific positive feeling, positive behaviour or positive cognition we would like to cultivate. For example a mother was having a struggle with her young son’s morning routine, and not feeling good about her reactivity. I instructed her in the Nurture Positive technique. She created positive words, and a positive image to help connect her with the positive feelings she wanted to cultivate. She describes the benefits she found from practising this:

“The Nurture Positive meditation has ended up wonderfully for my full-time time with my son. I did manage to use it and it made a huge difference to my ability to notice and control my tone and attitude”.

The mindfulness practice of Focus on Positive is not the same as positive thinking. We are not trying to suppress, fight with or get rid of “negative”, but give total permission to the non-positive to arise if it wants to, allowing it in the background whilst intentionally focusing on the positive content.

 

Weekly practice idea:

Think of a time when you felt cared about, loved. It may have been by a person, a pet, spiritual figure, or nature

Hold the image of the person, or other

If there is a name of that person, that helps you to connect with positive feeling, think of that

Feel any pleasant sensations of being cared about, loved

Then shift to an image of someone you have loved and hold that feeling.

By gently focusing back on the positive content, each time the mind is distracted we are developing concentration. By allowing distractions, including “negative” ones to arise and pass away, we are developing equanimity.

Michelle Morris

 

Simplicity

Fuchsia

‘The simple life is best.’

Popular saying

If the simple life really is the best, then how come so few of us want to live it? I remember a documentary about a group of Mongolian nomads, and the excitement when they bought their first TV and installed it in their yurt. From then on, every evening, they were transfixed by the TV. No more story-telling around the stove, no more playing games or singing songs. The TV now ruled their leisure time, as it does in so many households around the world.

It seems we’re hard-wired to seek out stimulation and complexity. In fact it takes considerable discipline to choose a life of simplicity, and perhaps for that reason, a life of true simplicity can often become quite rigid. The simple life can also lean towards being simplistic rather than simple. To pretend there are simple solutions to our complex problems is usually naïve – though appealing. Short, punchy three word slogans by our leaders make good evening news, and can assure the viewer the problem is being taken care of. Later we usually find out that, somewhere behind the scenes, the ‘simple’ solution turned out to be anything but, and often caused more problems which the next generation is now having to deal with.

Yet many of us do yearn for greater simplicity. A retreat environment offers us the opportunity to simplify our lives for a few days by removing many of the common distractions. Instead, we focus on being present in the here and now. Depending on the nature of the retreat, there may be no talking, no reading, certainly no checking Facebook or emails. The structure of the retreat makes it clear where our attention should be – meditation, eating, walking, cleaning the bathroom. At the end of retreats, people often talk about a deep sense of contentment, of feeling gratitude for simple things like the trees outside the window, the ducklings they watched during a break, the gentle efforts of the cooks. Over time, if we attend regular retreats and meditate every day, some of that contentment and gratitude does tend to seep into our daily lives.

For example, instead of driving while listening to music I’m not even paying much attention to and worrying what that message on my phone I just heard might be and wondering whether I need to pull over and check it or if it can wait till I get home and ruminating about the real estate agent who still hasn’t got back to me and being anxious about the traffic at the upcoming railway crossing, I might just simply drive my car home from work. Stopping, starting, going with the flow of the traffic, feeling relaxed but attentive. That’s all I need to do right now. We enjoy complexity, and don’t want to deprive ourselves of that which makes life interesting and enjoyable. Yet, quite often, it is possible to simplify our approach to a task we’re engaged in, and to feel a greater sense of ease and contentment as a result.

 

Weekly practice idea:

During the week, try ‘just driving’, ‘just eating’, ‘just walking’, and so on. Notice any difference this might make to your day.

Anja Tanhane

 

 

Fragility

bird at garden show

‘(Venetian glass) is fragile and easily harmed as the consequence of its search for transparency and refinement and its desire to welcome sunlight and candle light into its depths. Glass can achieve wonderful effects but the necessary price is fragility. (…) It is the duty of civilisation to allow the more delicate forms of human activity to thrive; to create environments where it is alright to be fragile. And we know, really, that it is not glass which most needs this care; it is ourselves.’

Alain de Botton

I remember watching some B-grade Western on midday TV, when one of the cowboys said about his friend,

‘He faints at the sight of blood like a woman.’

If a woman really fainted at the first sight of blood, she’d be in a lot of trouble every month. Cultures have always struggled with the balance between toughness and delicacy – who is allowed to express what, in which way, to what extent. Sometimes the punishment for getting it wrong – a man who is too effeminate, a woman who is too strong – can be severe. Sometimes we choose a certain group to express our fragility for us – the young ladies in the drawing room, busying themselves with delicate embroidery, forever blushing and fainting, while the men are galloping across the fields boldly exterminating wildlife. In reality we all carry both fragility and toughness within us, and there is a lot to be said for a certain amount of toughness – we usually learn this soon enough in the kindergarten or the school playground. We may not always want to show our fragility to the whole world, but if we deny our fragility, our vulnerability, we are living a life of delusion. And this delusion can lead to scapegoating – expecting others to express fragility on our behalf; and to being hard on ourselves for simply being human.

If it is indeed the duty of civilisations to ‘allow the more delicate forms of human activity to thrive’, as Alain de Botton writes, then it is interesting to reflect where, in our current culture, we allow this to happen. What are the public spaces in which fragility is allowed and protected? We often see people portrayed as either ‘heroes’ or ‘losers’. Un-judgemental admiration for the heroes, unthinking condemnation of the losers – a lot of our public discourse runs along those lines. Yet anyone of us could find ourselves, if we were unlucky enough to end up as a media story, as either hero or loser. I remember reading about a man who risked his life to save a number of people during a severe bushfire. A few years later, he was convicted of stealing bushfire donation money from the local primary school. Our fragility is always present with us – we are heroes one day, and far from glorious the next!

Fragility, as Alain de Botton writes, is the necessary price for allowing sunlight and candlelight into our depths. Meditation allows us to open to the more tender aspects of ourselves. We can be strong, and also allow space in our life for fragility and vulnerability. We can treasure fragility, as the Venetians treasured their beautiful, delicate glass.

Weekly practice idea:

Find some quiet time, perhaps ten or twenty minutes, and reflect on fragility, its precious beauty in your life. What could be a way for you to connect with your fragility, while keeping yourself safe?

Anja Tanhane

 

Loving-kindness for others

Geranium

I always felt overwhelmed, during my trips to India, by the number of people who were begging in the streets. There were children and old people, some who had a disability and others who were missing limbs. Mothers with tiny infants in their arms, young men with legs grotesquely swollen with elephantiasis, children without legs pushing themselves through the dust by their arms, beggars with missing fingers and noses due to leprosy. There were people who grabbed at you and shouted and followed you down the street for ten minutes, and others who sat patiently by the roadside and folded their hands in thanks when you gave them a coin. Continue reading “Loving-kindness for others” »