I never really meant to stop posting on this blog, but the rest of my life kind of took over. Settling into my new job (which now seven months later should probably just be referred to as, y’know, my job) the seemingly constant task of employing new assistants and trying to figure out what to do about my ongoing lack of suitable accommodation (if you want to know more about these other parts of my life in a separate blog let me know) I gradually started meditating less and less. It’s the usual story with me, the more I need to meditate the less I seem to have the motivation to actually sit down and do it. (Or at least just do it in my case).
This week I’ve decided to make an effort to get back into it. I’ve resubscribed to Headspace. There are a lot of other apps that I like but it just seems to be the way my brain works I need the structure to follow. Headspace, like meditation in general, leads to mixed experiences. Sometimes I feel much calmer and like it’s made a huge difference, other times I feel like it’s made very little difference, it just depends on the day and probably my mood. Still, the thing that always brings me back to Headspace is that I need to have a session to do every day in order to create that routine of meditating. I’ve talked about Headspace a lot previously, check out my old posts if you want more details.
It’s only been three days so far, but I already feel better. To be honest that’s probably because I no longer have the voice in my head telling me that I should be meditating, but whatever the reason it’s nice to have a head that feels even a tiny bit clearer.
This time I’m not going to make any promises about new starts or regular posts or practices to myself or you. I thought I would write this post to give myself one less thing to think about that I’m not doing.
Anyway, I will hopefully see you again soon if this motivation continues.
So this week I finally made it back to a meditation class. This time in the Kadampa Meditation Centre on Portland Street. Although I thought it was just a drop-in session it turned out to be the start of a four-week course on using meditation to help manage stress and worry. It was in a Buddhist setting and they did open with a ‘praise’ I didn’t feel any pressure to join in, or feel like the religious aspects had any negative effect on my experience of the class.
The course mostly talked about how technology doesn’t really affect our levels of happiness. Mostly in relation to the way we use smart phones and other devices which I can agree with. However, I can’t really agree with that statement as a blanket statement as I find certain types of technology extremely helpful.
The other main point made was that a problem isn’t caused by external circumstances, but by how we relate to it. For example, if the car breaks down when we need to go somewhere then it is a problem, but if it breaks down when we were hoping not to have to go somewhere then it suddenly becomes not so much of a problem.
In between teaching there were two periods of meditation probably about 10 to 15 minutes long. I definitely enjoyed doing meditation in a group setting again. The teacher had a really calm presence and at the start of the first meditation period, she said ‘sit up as straight as is possible for you’ which immediately put me at ease. It was a lovely warm and friendly environment and I am definitely hoping to go back next week.
I was able to see the benefits almost straight away because that night I forgot to ensure that I had my phone with me before my PA left. When this has happened in the past I have been really angry with myself. It has also made me really anxious because if something happens in the morning I am not able to do anything about it. This time I was able to not panic, remind myself that nothing bad had happened yet, saying to myself if something happens in the morning then you can panic. I might have been a bit anxious, but nowhere near my normal levels and I was actually able to get a pretty good night’s sleep.
If you want to know more about the meditation centre I visited click here
When it comes to meditation and mindfulness I have often Been encouraged to watch the mind like TV. for some reason I haven’t found this helpful because I tend to get this image in my mind of a blank TV screen, you might think that this is a good thing as when I’m meditating it’s supposed to be about clearing my mind but instead I’m frustrated because to me I’m not doing the exercise in the right way.
As a slight twist on this exercise and a way to try and note when I am getting lost in thought, I have started trying to use the image of slides in a projector like this one.
That way, when I realise I have been distracted I can visualise taking that particular thought out of my ‘mental projector’ and put something different in. It helps me come back to what I’m doing or move away from unhelpful thoughts. It’s a more elaborate version of the noting practice that I have been doing as part of my meditation in the last couple of days.
The noting technique is one of my favourite techniques. You simply note whether you have been distracted by either thinking or feeling/sensation and then go back to the breath. One of the reasons I like it is because it is really easy to use in every day life as well as in practice. Whenever I notice I have been distracted I just note it and come back to what I’m doing. The more often you can note, the more present you will be. It’s a really easy way to make mindfulness a bigger part of your day.
So this week has been really busy so I thought I would talk about mini meditations or mindful pauses. These can be anywhere between 30 seconds and 3 minutes depending on where you are and what you need. (Let’s face it when you really need it one long deep breath can help, but the longer you can focus on your breath the more difference it can make.)
You don’t have to be anywhere specific to do this. I’ve started trying to do this regularly on my commute and whenever I’m waiting for something (particularly if I’m nervous)
Just bring your attention to the breath and focus on the sensations of inhaling and exhaling. (You can close your eyes if you are comfortable with doing that, but you don’t have to.) If you get distracted just bring your attention back to the breath as you would usually.
This is also useful when I get stuck in my thoughts because it can be of switching my focus to the sensations in my body.
I can also say from experience that practising these little meditations throughout the day can make it easier when it comes to doing more formal sitting practice, as focusing on the breath begins to happen more naturally and automatically.
This week I thought I would talk about dealing with blocks when it comes to trying to do a visualisation technique as this is something I have really struggled with in the past. The first time I was introduced to the idea of visualisation I felt a huge amount of resistance to it. I’m not really sure why I felt like this, maybe it was because it didn’t feel like visualisation was a hugely relevant object of focus for meditation, or maybe it was because the idea made me feel a bit stupid. If am honest I think it might have been a combination of both those factors.
Whatever the reason was, it knocked my first attempt at regular meditation practice completely off course to the point where I gave up for a while. Having had this experience I knew that when I came back the technique of visualisation I would have to find a way to get past that resistance that I had been feeling if I wanted to carry on with my practice.
When doing the visualisation technique I was being instructed to imagine a bright light either spreading from the centre of my body or gradually spreading upwards from my toes. In order to make this more accessible than it had been in the past, I turned to one of my favourite points of reference: Doctor Who. In particular, the regeneration scene because the regeneration energy is shown as a light spreading through the Doctor’s body as he changes. I may not be looking for the explosive effects shown in this clip but it has helped me get over the difficulties that I was having with visualisation.
I fully understand that Doctor Who might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the idea is simple if you are having difficulty with something, try and find something that you love to relate to and this should make it a lot easier for you to persevere with it.
If you have been following this blog for a while then you will probably know that Headspace has played a big role in meditation becoming a habit for me. Particularly when it comes to meditating on a daily basis, something which I have at times found really hard to stick to. Headspace gives you a separate session to do each day focusing on a different aspect of mindfulness within your chosen pack, with ideas around how to apply mindfulness in a practical way, which keeps it interesting.
My meditation practice is still very up and down. Some weeks I find I am very calm and it feels like my practice is going really well and I have developed some depth and stability in my ability to stay present. Other days it will be back to being very choppy and it’s difficult to step back from the critical thoughts. Whatever type of practice I am having Headspace helps keep it consistent. This little video about letting go of effort both in terms of getting to sleep and having a calmer meditation is something I have found helpful and like to remind myself of quite often.
On the day this is posted I will have reached 200 days of meditating daily. As a reward for my ‘run streak’ I have a code for 3 months free access to help you get started with your own mindfulness practice. I am posting it here, but please only take it if you are pretty confident you are going to use it, as it can only be used once.
Simply copy the code, click here to go to headspace.com click ‘redeem code’ follow the instructions and enjoy!
Image shows a cartoon of a monk smiling, wearing orange robes, holding a bowl sitting cross-legged on the grass, he is holding a bowl and next to him is a cat. Caption reads: Enjoy the little things. Picture by Molly at Buddha Doodles
I feel like a lot of this blog has become focused on the theory of mindfulness and that means I haven’t talked so much about mindfulness in a more practical way. This is partly because reading informs a lot of my practice and I want to share what I learn in the hope that it will be useful to other people. I have been keeping up a daily meditation practice and while I don’t feel I have become particularly skilled at meditation, I do feel like it is having a positive effect on my life outside of practice, so I thought I would share with you some of the ways that I have noticed this.
The first example would be being able to respond rather than reacting so that in a discussion, things are able to stay a lot calmer and not escalate into situations that become a lot more difficult to deal with.
The second area where I have noticed changes is when it comes to dealing with rejection, I’m applying for a lot of things at the moment and that inevitably leads to a fair amount of rejection. in the past, I have really let situations like this get to me and not dealt with them very well. Mindfulness has been helping me turn that situation around and help me see the positives within the situation. I found this article really helpful, but the number one thing I am trying to remember about getting rejected is that it means you’re putting yourself out there and doing something.
I used to be very susceptible to being dragged down by my own negative thought processes about what I could have done better or how things could have been different. Now I find it a lot easier to see it all as a learning process and just keep going. This is not to say that I don’t get dragged into conversations with my inner critic at times, but I am a lot better at metaphorically walking away if that makes sense.
My third observation is related to mindful eating but is a bit more specific than that, lately, whenever I have been having a little treat, be that a chocolate bar or a favourite drink I have been remembering to pay attention to all the reasons why I love it. This has 2 advantages in that I get more enjoyment out of it and I’m less likely to over indulge because I am paying attention properly. This is particularly useful when you have a sweet tooth like I do.
I think this shows (to me at least) that even when I feel that meditation isn’t going well, commitment to the practice can still make a difference, just maybe not in the ways I first expected.