Graciousness

When I think of people who seem to embody mindfulness, something they share in common is the quality of graciousness. There is a sense of fluidity and grace to how they engage with the world – they’re not barging through the day lost in self-centred pre-occupations. They allow space for people around them and don’t use up all the oxygen in the room. At the same time, they interact with a sense of presence, not hiding behind false modesty.

Graciousness could be described as ‘good manners with a heart’ – there is a sense of courtesy, but also warmth and care. One of the many meanings of mindfulness, of course, is to be ‘mindful’ of someone else’s needs, to treat them with respect and consideration. What comes through is an attitude of caring both for others and also oneself.

 We get a sense of someone’s character when they are gracious under pressure, such as a sportsperson who is gracious in defeat, or someone who has been on hold for forty minutes and still manages to be reasonably polite to the person on the other end of the phone. Many a first date has probably been ruined when something went wrong with the meal and the dinner companion was rude to the waiter. It is challenging to be gracious when we’re exhausted, hungry or very stressed. Yet some people seem to manage it, and we can all be grateful for them when life gets chaotic.

To graciously acknowledge a mistake and make amends; to concede someone else is right and you were wrong; to look out for another passenger after the plane has been sitting on the tarmac for seven hours without moving – all these small moments have a ripple effect into wider society. None of us gets it perfect all the time, and even the Dalai Lama admits to being grumpy occasionally. To me, it feels more like an underlying mindset than a particular formula for how to behave in given situations.

At a deeper level, graciousness can be about how we approach life – whether with a sense of grace and flow, or else with the mentality that life is a battle we have to power our way through. There may be times for standing one’s ground and not yielding – but most of the time, an attitude of openness and goodwill is likely to be more productive, and allows a greater sense of possibility for ourselves and for those we interact with.

 

Mindfulness practice idea:

It is difficult to feel gracious when we’re rushing around. Take a moment to slow down and notice someone who is being gracious – perhaps giving up their seat on the train, offering a friendly smile in the shops, or showing a willingness to gracefully compromise for the greater good. Notice the sense of expansiveness in that interaction, and how it feels in your body.

 

Anja Tanhane

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

 





The two wings of a bird





Birds in tree.jpg2

‘My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.’

HH the Dalai Lama

Meditation is sometimes described as the two wings of a bird – one wing is insight, and the other compassion. Another way of describing insight is to think of it as greater clarity, having more awareness of what is going on in our lives rather than living in avoidance or fantasy. This is developed by staying with body sensations, thoughts and feelings during meditation, having an attitude of openness and acceptance to our experience, and thereby gaining deeper insights into our inner life and though patterns. Compassion is then about approaching ‘life as it is’ with kindness rather than judgemental harshness.

In our meditation practice, we often tend to lean towards one or the other – insight or compassion. Some of us might be rigorous in our meditation and sit very still and solidly, but we could be impatient with those who are restless and fidgety. Other people give up easily at the first signs of struggle, not wanting to put themselves through the discipline required. Yet both wings are equally important for the bird to fly. Continue reading “The two wings of a bird” »