Holiday favourites – Living with Ease

‘May I live with ease.’

This is the last line of the loving-kindness (or metta) meditation I often use during meditation classes and retreats. At first the phrase might simply sound pleasant, or even a little self-indulgent. We hear the word ‘ease’, and imagine an easy life. And yes, it does make sense to wish ourselves an easy life. We probably don’t want to go around saying,

‘May I have a tremendously difficult life’ (character-building though that may be!).

Yet when I repeat the phrase, ‘may I live with ease’ during meditation, to me it also has another meaning – may I be at ease with my life, regardless of the circumstances. May I be at ease with the inevitable ups and downs of my existence, instead of constantly struggling against ‘what is’. This is not passive, or resigned – in fact, being at ease with our lives involves a very active engagement with reality, as opposed to clinging onto some idealised fantasy of how life should be. Being at ease is not the same as ‘anything goes’, ‘she’ll be right’, or the ‘yeah, whatever’ attitude we’ve probably all come across.

A Christian minister who was taking part in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course found himself struggling with the idea of a life at ease. In his tradition, ongoing struggle and obligations were considered very important. It is actually possible to be very busy, work hard, even feel a little stressed, and still be at ease. When we see sports people give the performance of their lives, there is often an ease about how they move, despite the obvious effort which goes into their achievement. They are not being lazy, but neither are they wasting energy by tensing up their bodies unnecessarily. They expend exactly the right amount of energy, in the muscles which count. Their minds are focused, and they’re not distracted by obsessing about a long list of other things they ‘should’ be doing.

When I play a difficult passage on the piano, I’ve learnt to allow my fingers to soften rather than tense as I make my way through the many notes. It is remarkably effective, and goes against our notion that extra tension = extra effort = better results. In fact the formula should probably look more like this:

Extra attention = less effort = better results.

Weekly practice idea:

Notice times when you tense more muscles, and expend more energy, than you need to. It could be as simple as gently picking up a cup instead of impatiently grabbing for it.

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

 

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” »

Loving-kindness Part 1

Warburton

‘Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.’

Henry James

 

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I be peaceful

May I live with ease.

 

These simple words of the metta, or loving-kindness meditation, have much to offer us. When we first hear them, we might find them a bit obvious, or a voice in our head might say, ‘that’s all very well and good, but…’ There may be any number of reasons why it might be difficult for us to imagine a life of happiness, health and peace, but this doesn’t mean we cannot wish for it. Continue reading “Loving-kindness Part 1” »

Living with ease

Arboretum

‘May I live with ease.’

This is the last line of the loving-kindness (or metta) meditation I often use during meditation classes and retreats. At first the phrase might simply sound pleasant, or even a little self-indulgent. We hear the word ‘ease’, and imagine an easy life. And yes, it does make sense to wish ourselves an easy life. We probably don’t want to go around saying,

‘May I have a tremendously difficult life’ (character-building though that may be).

Yet when I repeat the phrase, ‘may I live with ease’ during meditation, to me it also has another meaning – may I be at ease with my life, regardless of the circumstances. May I be at ease with the inevitable ups and downs of my existence, instead of constantly struggling against ‘what is’. This is not passive, or resigned – in fact, being at ease with our lives involves a very active engagement with reality, as opposed to clinging to some idealised fantasy of how life should be. Being at ease is not the same as ‘anything goes’, ‘she’ll be right’, or the ‘yeah, whatever’ attitude we’ve probably all come across.

A Christian minister who was taking part in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course found himself struggling with the idea of a life at ease. In his tradition, ongoing struggle and obligations were considered very important. It is actually possible to be very busy, work hard, even feel a little stressed, and still be at ease.  When we see sports people give the performance of their lives, there is often an ease about how they move, despite the obvious effort which goes into their achievement. They are not being lazy, but neither are they wasting energy by tensing up their bodies unnecessarily. They expend exactly the right amount of energy, in the muscles which count. Their minds are focused, and they’re not distracted by obsessing about a long list of other things they ‘should’ be doing.

When I play a difficult passage on the piano, I’ve learnt to allow my fingers to soften rather than tense as I make my way through the many notes. It is remarkably effective, and goes against our notion that extra tension = extra effort = better results. In fact the formula should probably look more like this:

Extra attention = less effort = better results

 

Weekly practice idea:

Notice times when you tense more muscles, and expend more energy, than you need to. It could be as simple as gently picking up a cup instead of impatiently grabbing for it.

Anja Tanhane