Valuing deeply

 

‘We must look at our life without sentimentality, exaggeration or idealism. Does what we are choosing reflect what we most deeply value?’ Jack Kornfield

 

It might sound straight-forward – to look at our life simply as it is, without embellishment or idealism. Yet when we take time to pause and reflect, we may notice that what we perceive is very much coloured by our notions of how our life should be. There is a constant dance between ‘life how it is’ and ‘life how we’d like it to be’, and if we rush through our days without much awareness, we can find ourselves caught up in stories and fantasies which are mainly in our minds, and not always connected to the reality around us. As Mark Twain expressed it so eloquently:

‘I’ve experienced some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.’

This increased awareness of ‘life as it is’ does not need to be cold and harsh – in mindfulness there is also an emphasis on developing friendliness towards ourselves and our experiences. Yet it does help to be clear about what is actually going on, if we want to make choices which are informed by our values. And this can mean also being clear about the areas in our life where we struggle, which don’t come easily to us.

 

Sometimes, our apparent weaknesses can actually be a strength in a different context. For example, someone might be very sensitive to noise, and find it difficult to concentrate in a busy environment such as an open plan office. Yet this same sensitivity might mean this person is particularly attuned to others, and can work with people or animals in a way which is very intuitive and kind. Our psychological profile might make us unsuited for some jobs, but excel at others. Sometimes people with a disability can struggle to find work, yet when their strengths are matched with a suitable environment, employers often find they’re some of their best staff.

 

When we find ourselves confronted by something which challenges us, we can take a few moments to explore it in a way which opens up new possibilities rather than shutting everything down. It requires courage to stay with life as it presents itself in each moment, instead of distracting ourselves or trying to change it into something else by investing it with additional meaning. Yet by deciding to stay present in this way, we are more able to choose a way of life which aligns with our values, and this can offer us a greater sense of peace and stability among the various pressures of life.

 

Mindfulness experience:

Take ten or more minutes to sit in silence somewhere, either in a formal meditation posture or else comfortably in a quiet place, and ground yourself by noticing your breath and the sensations in your body. After a few minutes, ask yourself the question – ‘what is really happening right now?’, and notice what arises. During the day, pause from time to time to ask yourself the same question. You may like to write down any insights which develop from this practice over time.

Anja Tanhane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace





This week’s reflection is written by Michelle Morris:

“Peace on earth and goodwill to all” is the message that is proclaimed at Christmas time.

What do we mean by peace? We may think about a state in which there is no fighting, but only tranquility, calm, stillness and quiet.

During the festive season we can feel a spirit of joyfulness. We enjoy being with people. We can witness the excitement of young children leaving food for Santa. However, it is a sad irony that this time of the year can be anything but peaceful! Often people comment on the mad rush leading up to Christmas. We may be frantically trying to get presents, meet deadlines and attend Christmas functions. Our already busy lives become even faster paced. Holiday stress!

Although this time is when families traditionally come together, in heartfelt warmth, and we hear moving examples of kindness and generosity, Christmas day can also be a time when family tensions surface and arguments erupt. We may have either experienced this for ourselves, or heard stories of other people’s experience of family fights, hurt feelings or exclusion. A friend recently told me that her last family Christmas get-together was such a debacle that she has chosen to spend this year alone. It can also be a lonely time for people who do not have family, or have experienced a recent loss.

As well as interpersonal conflict we can become even more aware of the conflicts between nations, the world conflict which is nightly reported on, in what Shinzen Young refers to as “the litany of horrors that is the 6 o’clock news. Where are peace and goodwill in the “silly season”?

Jack Kornfield explains: “The inner stillness of the person who truly “is peace” brings peace to the whole interconnected web of life, both inner and outer. To stop the war, we need to begin with ourselves.” He quotes Mahatma Gandhi:

“I have only three enemies. My favourite enemy, the one most easily influenced for the better, is the British Empire. My second enemy, the Indian people, is far more difficult. But my most formidable opponent is a man called Mohandas K.Gandhi. With him I seem to have very little influence.”

As Gandhi humorously notes, it is not so easy to cease fighting with ourselves. We cannot stop the war by beating ourselves into submission, this only increases our struggle. Over time with mindfulness meditation practice we can cultivate equanimity; an internal balance, allowing sensory experience to be as it is, with an attitude of kindness and friendliness. This to me is freedom from disturbance: peace. Another wonderful benefit of mindfulness practice is that we find we are more able to respond rather than react, which leads to less interpersonal battles.

 

Many people coming to the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course tell me what they would like and hope for is to find peace. Similarly, Jon Kabat–Zinn has found most people attending the Stress Reduction clinic have the goal of attaining peace of mind. Based on his years of experience he has learnt that although meditation practice is powerfully healing, some kind of personal vision is also needed for growth and change. He advises:

“To achieve peace of mind, people have to kindle a vision of what they really want for themselves and keep that vision alive in the face of inner and outer hardships, obstacles and setbacks.”

Perhaps the Christmas message and hope of peace and goodwill may rekindle your aspiration and vision for this.

Weekly practice idea:

Adapted from the book Peace is Every Breath: A Practice For Our Busy Lives by Thich Nhat Hanh

Settle into a comfortable position. Focus on your breath and allow it to be easy and natural. The following verse can be recited silently breathing in you say the first line; breathing out you say the second, and so on.

Breathing in, I feel my breath coming into my belly and chest.

Breathing out, I feel my breath flowing out of my belly and chest.

Breathing in, I’m aware of some pains or tensions in my body.

Breathing out, I release all the pains and tensions in my body.

Breathing in, I calm my body.

Breathing out, I feel ease and peace.

 

Michelle Morris

 





The practice of RAIN





Last week we looked at the advantages of listening to the messages our emotions might be trying to tell us, of paying attention to them rather than ‘shooting the messenger’. There are several approaches in mindfulness for dealing more effectively with our emotions, and today we will look at one which is taught by well-known meditation teachers such as Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, best known under its acronym RAIN.

RAIN is a four step process which can help us transform how we approach our emotions. Sometimes this process is best done with the support of a teacher or therapist, or, if the emotions feel manageable and we have some experience with meditation, we can also do this on our own. The four letters of RAIN stand for:

Recognition: The first step is to pause, tune in, and recognise the experience for what it is. We might be feeling unmotivated, and recognise that underneath our lethargy is a feeling of hurt and discouragement. Or we might be tetchy with our family, and when we take some time out we realise that an incident at work has left us more shaken than we realised. It’s not always easy to recognise what our emotions are, but over time, with regular meditation and other practices, we can become more skilled at this.

Acceptance: In some ways, this is perhaps the most difficult step. It’s natural to have feelings of aversion to unpleasant circumstances, including challenging emotions. Acceptance sounds passive, as if we’re helpless victims of our circumstances. In fact, it’s a very active way of engaging with our lives. Acceptance doesn’t mean we don’t work towards changing a situation for the better. But just in this moment, we accept the emotions we have – we accept that they are present.

Investigation: This is our opportunity to look more deeply into the emotion. In mindfulness, we do this by investigating our experience of body sensations, our feelings, our thoughts, images and beliefs. It’s not an intellectual or philosophical process, but rather one which is grounded in our moment-to-moment experience.

Non-identification: We have a tendency to over-identify with our emotions. I am a happy person. I am an angry person. It’s more helpful to say ‘having a thought that I’m angry’, or ‘feeling butterflies in my stomach with excitement’. Emotions come and go like weather in the sky – we are much more spacious than a temporary emotion passing through.

Processes like this take time, but it’s time well spent. Feeling more effective in dealing with our emotional life can give us a great sense of confidence. And gradually, as we get to know ourselves better, we can use this process even in the midst of a hectic day. ‘Ah yes,’ we can say to ourselves when a familiar emotion arises, ‘here it is again, trying to pass on its message.’

Weekly practice idea:

Take twenty minutes or so to use the RAIN process to investigate an emotion you have been aware of lately. Try to start with a low-key emotion rather than a really intense one.

Anja Tanhane





Our Top Ten Tunes





purple flower

Remember that annoying tune you couldn’t get out of your head? It might have been some inane advertising jingle, or a pop hit from the 80s you thought you’d outgrown long ago. Even if the tune was a little loftier, there are only so many times we want to hear the ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s 9th before we get tired of it!

Sometimes our thoughts can be just like those tunes – they get caught on some repetitive loop which can range from being slightly irritating to becoming so obsessive they seriously interfere with our lives. Continue reading “Our Top Ten Tunes” »