Walking the Walk

When I first experienced mindful walking, I was on a weekend meditation retreat learning how to use various supports for my practice. Walking meditation wasn’t on the bill, but a few participants kept pushing for a session on walking meditation. It soon became apparent as to why this form of practice was not scheduled in. The course leader clearly did not practice walking meditation. When she took us out to the little park at the side of the retreat centre, she gave no instruction, but simply to walk slowly with our hands by our sides.

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Later, I stumbled across the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, whose instruction on mindful walking is not only exemplary, but his teachings are a love song with instruction to ‘walk as if your feet are kissing the earth’.  He encourages practitioners to use gathas or small verses, such as ‘I have arrived, I am home. In the here, In the now. I am solid, I am free. In the ultimate I dwell’. In this way, the practitioner can really get a sense of walking in an embodied way without destination. Instead, walking becomes the support for resting in the present moment, not as a means to arrive anywhere but in the here and now.

I soon came to really love walking meditation. The sensation of not trying to get anywhere, but to know I have already arrived was liberating. It became my main mindful movement practice.

Then I saw Anna Zubrzycki (from Mindfulness Association Poland) deliver a session on mindful walking and I was blown away even further. Not only does Anna incorporate Thich Nhat Hanh’s wise words into her sessions, but she takes things one step further. She encourages her practitioners to really notice the ways in which we interrelate with others as we walk and as we move about the world.

One of her sessions had the participants walking within various interrelating methods; such as, side by side, or choosing a partner unbeknownst to the other that they were chosen; group walking with eyes down, then with eyes up; one person leading, the other following. She instructed the group to notice preferences, attitudes, what was arising in the body: it was fantastic!

There are so many ways we can engage in mindful walking as a meditation practice.

This week’s mindfulness challenge is to incorporate mindful walking into your daily life. However, see if you can bring mindful walking onto the street. You do not need to slow your gate or chant a gatha, instead, see if you can stay with the sensation of feet on earth, breath in body, but also notice how you are interrelating with those you meet. Are you avoiding eye contact, meeting eye contact, falling into step with another, etc…Also, notice what is happening in the body in response to others, as well as noticing the quality of your thoughts as they arise in response to others.

To hear Anna give a bit of instruction on mindful walking, see her Street Presence video below:

To learn more about her work with Mindfulness Association Poland, see below:

 

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Intentionally Poland

Today, I have been whistling as I work and moving about with a bounce in my step. I am nearly ready to start packing my bags to teach in Poland this weekend. I love going to Poland to teach Mindfulness. Poland is a place that I have always wanted to visit- an intention I set years ago.

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Much of my family are from Poland. Both of my grandmother’s families emigrated to Canada at the end of the 19th and turn of the 20th century from Poland and I was raised in a house that observed many Polish customs. Not to mention, many of my friends in Canada are of Polish descent. It’s a culture that I feel close to my heart.

When my family left Poland, it was due to hardship. They were looking for a better life- and after a few generations that better life came. However, as I have now come to know, emigration is painful. So, to be the first of my family to return to Poland to teach mindfulness based in compassion, skills that help people manage stress and pain in life, I feel blessed.

This isn’t the first time this week that I have felt an overjoyed sense of gratitude for the life that I have come to know. Earlier this week, I was sitting with my colleagues in MAHQ and I closed my eyes and imagined a younger version of myself watching the scene. The younger version would have very much approved of the work that I am doing and would feel excitement for the travel, friendships and people’s lives that I touch through teaching mindfulness. It was and continues to be my intention to live a life that is useful to others, as well as one that allows me to explore many lands.

Living with intentionality can be transformative. In fact, intention and motivation play a huge role in our mindfulness practice. At the Mindfulness Association, we guide our practices by beginning with setting our intention. Intention sets the direction in which we want to go. Or, as Wayne Dyer says “our intention creates our reality”. And, I had no idea that all those years ago, when I stated that I would like to visit Poland, I would do so through such a positive means. But my intention was set, and this dream became real. Similarly, I knew I wanted to work with and be helpful to people- another intention that became a reality.

So, just as we set an intention at the beginning our practice- (maybe to settle the mind, practice self compassion or simply come to rest)- can we set an intention at the beginning of each day that reflects the direction we would like to move in that reflects our life goals and values?

This might be something small such as setting an intention to turn the lights out of every room you leave as a means of conserving energy. Or perhaps, it might be to be more patient, to notice feelings of anger before they take over, to cultivate joy & gratitude. Or as it was in my case, maybe it is to teach mindfulness in a land that has always sparked interest and intrigue.

This week’s challenge is to set an intention at the beginning of each day. Write your intention down and revisit your words at the end of the day. Remember not to beat yourself up if the intention has not yet become reality. It took me 20+ years to get to Poland, from my early adult dreams. And it took my family generations to have one of us return: an intention that was set in their hearts the moment they boarded the ship for Canada.

To learn more about The Mindfulness Association in Poland: Click Here

To visit our website: Click here

HopeFULness

Recently, I was speaking with a friend who was struggling with low mood. When I asked what they felt the catalyst for their low mood was, a litany of high profile political uncertainties was expressed. I could totally relate to what they were saying as I had felt the same overwhelm whenever I logged on to any of my social media accounts.

For instance, according to my Facebook feed, the world stage feels and is chaotic and without much hope.

So, I asked my friend if they had been spending much time on social media, to which they replied that they had. We then spoke at length about feelings of helplessness, disillusionment and frustration that the countless amount of political posts produce and encourage within our internal landscape. Perhaps, we both needed a digital detox?

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On that day, as a means of discussion as to how we can cope with so much global uncertainty and information/misinformation invading our smart phones, I reminded my friend of all that they do, of all the sometimes small and sometimes pretty big contributions that they make in creating a more open, inclusive and thoughtful society.

See, we miss these details. We often forget or don’t pay attention to moments of kindness, and the compassionate remit we harvest in others with small acts.

Now, my friend is very lucky in that they have a public platform to express ideas and encourage others to think for themselves. They teach mindfulness and compassion and often get to contribute towards the germination of the seeds of awareness. However, it was the smaller details of life that rang more loudly and truly as a means of change.

We were marveling at simple, often forgettable, but influential acts of kindness that really make a difference to people’s world views (albeit, on a more- subtle level):  such as allowing people into traffic queues, giving a neighbour a lift or even visiting someone who is ill. These are things that we might do out of social obligation/custom/integrity, but these social acts reinforce a world of tolerance and care. They also highlight the interdependence that exists within our human experience. In short, these acts encourage connection, rather than separation.

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So, this week’s challenge is to reflect- reflect on all the small ways we might be able to encourage connection, rather than separation.

We might like to do this within our meditation practice.

So, to begin with we can practice sitting meditation using the breath as a support, leading us into a place of resting. Once we are in a place of resting with the support of breath, we can drop a question in for reflection:

How might I engage in acts that encourage connection, rather than separation?

You can adapt this question to whatever form that feels right to you.

What acts of kindness  have I done today that have been constructive? That unite?

Once we have found our question for reflection, we can follow this process:

Reflection – Instructions

  1. Prepare

First of all we write down the question at the top of a piece of paper.  Then we get comfortable and enter into our normal mindfulness practice.  We drop into embodied resting and then if we wish we can introduce a mindfulness support in a very casual way.

  1. Drop the question

Next we introduce our topic or question.  We drop it into the mind and leave it there, remaining present with the question hanging in our mind in the background.  This can seem counter-intuitive at first.

  1. Observe the response

Then whatever arises in the mind, we write down.  We write without any censorship.  So whatever comes up we simply record.  We stay in touch with the whole of our experience since we may find that we respond emotionally or through the body.  We may also notice images arising.  In the beginning we probably won´t discern the difference between whether we are getting the result of thinking about the question or the result of dropping the question into our mind.  So we just get everything down on paper indiscriminately and then slowly through practice we will learn how to release preoccupation with Surface Mind, and receive responses from other levels.  We can make a mark or a sketch as well as write.  Whatever just pops up is probably going to be a genuine outcome of reflection.  Then after a short while we will find that the flow stops and we drift off into distraction or we find ourselves returning to our normal practice.  When we reach this point we drop the question again and repeat the process.  In one session we normally drop the question three times.  We usually work with one question over three practice sessions.  It is advisable to leave what you have written and not read back on it until at least a week later.

( Reflection- Instructions Excerpt from Level 3 Mindfulness manual) For more information on our Mindfulness course pathway: please click here.

In this way, once we turn our attention towards the positives that exist all around us and within us, and by setting the intention to unite rather than separate, that hopelessness soon transforms into a source of HOPE.

Let us know how you get on!

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Travelling with Alan…

I’m somebody who travels a lot; to teach on courses, to visit my family in Scotland, and as part of the MA admin team I get a train from London to Manchester and back.  Thankfully, I’m somebody who enjoys travelling, but at times I do find it can be frustrating, with delays and anxieties when trains are running late, with over-crowding and not being able to find a seat, by being jostled by other people, and a host of other little irritations.

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And often in these situations, we can be surrounded by other people who might be stressed and anxious, and our mirror neurons can pick up on what people around us are feeling, which can influence how we feel.

Of course, it can be very tempting simply to zone out and ignore how we might be feeling, or what’s happening around us, or to find ways to distract ourselves with phones, computer games, listening to music, and a host of other diversions.  I’m certainly not immune to this (and do like a good book to accompany me on long train journeys!), but I do consciously try to bring mindfulness and kindness to my experience.

I wouldn’t suggested that there’s necessarily any “best” practice for doing on the move, and I would suggest that we do whatever we can to bring some mindfulness when we’re travelling.  Simply bringing our attention to how we feel, physically and emotionally, and what’s going on in our thoughts at this moment.  Simply experiencing the motion of the train, and the passing scenery, can sometimes be wonderful.

What I generally like to do is do a short practice to settle my mind, and bring my attention into my body – I find that a practice such as the Three Minute Breathing Space can be very useful.  Then I try to cultivate some loving-kindness, by wishing those around me well.  I generally use the “phrases of loving kindness”, such as “May you be happy, May you be healthy, May you be free from stress”.  When I look at the people around me, I sometimes imagine what their hopes and aspirations might be, and remind myself that everyone basically wants to be happy.  So I choose phrases that might seem appropriate to individual people at that moment.

I do like to look at people when I do this, although I’m quite aware of not making eye contact, as people seem to find it threatening!  I also sometimes wonder if there are other people doing the same as me!    Wouldn’t that be nice?

I find trying to bring some mindfulness and loving-kindness to my journeys softens my attitude to those around me, especially when they do things like push in front of me to get onto the escalator, or to get a seat on the train, or whatever it might be.  This helps makes my journey more enjoyable, and less stressful, and I’d encourage you to give it a go for yourselves….

This week’s challenge is to practice saying the loving-kindness phrases on the spot. Whether you are on a train, a bus, standing in a queue, driving in your car or walking down a street, as we meet people or simply pass another, see if you might be able to say a phrase such as

May you be happy

May you be well

May you go safe

May you live long and prosper

As you say the phrase, notice how you are feeling in the body, the thoughts that are presenting themselves and what your emotional landscape is.

Let us know how you get on!

To watch Alan’s Street Presence video:

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Preferential Pause

Today, I was editing a video of Rob Nairn taken on Heather’s visit to South Africa this past November. She was staying with Rob and managed to film some tea time conversations with him and the topic of this one in particular deals with how preference is an emotional response that shapes our lives and ultimately our problem solving.

Moreover, Rob was speaking of how not only does preference deal with emotions, but it is a catalyst for reactivity. When we let go of preference and, in turn being reactive, our approach to problem solving shifts. By taking a non- reactive approach to a problem, a space is created in which the problem is either shelved until a more appropriate time arrives to deal with it, or it sorts itself out in the meantime.

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As I watched, I immediately thought of a problem from the night before. My son had a small emotional outburst about the pressure of upcoming exams, right before I was due to teach online. I could hear people entering our video conference room as my son stormed out of the room. Internally, I was feeling like this was a problem that I wish I could have fixed before I had to teach and be present for others. Definitely, it would have been my PREFERENCE to smooth over my son’s frustrations.

However, that was not an option. In that moment, I had to let go of my preference, spend a few moments grounding myself, and make the decision to shelf the problem until the teaching was over. Which I did. The teaching went well and I was 100% present for the session. What was interesting, though, was when it was over and I went upstairs to check in on my son, he had just closed his books and was looking up at me and asking if I wanted to watch some Netflix with him. The problem had sorted itself out. He was fine. He was over it.

If I would have held on to my preference to find a way to sort my son’s problem as soon as possible, I would have not been able to be present for the online tutorial. I would have been mentally tormented for that hour and a half session. I would have suffered. Instead, my actions were not defined by my preference and by taking a nonreactive pause, or shelving the problem, I was able to maintain my presence for the group that I was with. AND everything was OK in the end.

So this week’s challenge is to take a non-reactive pause when a problem arises. Can we simply just be with the discomfort of difficulty or  challenge and take the space to allow it unfold without jumping in to fix? We might like to notice how this feels in the body, what type of thoughts arise as a result of this pause, and how we are feeling emotionally.

Let us know how you get on!

To watch our Street Presence video of a visit to Rob Nairn in South Africa, see below:

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Conscious Conversations

Last night, I was lucky enough to meet up with old friends to have a ‘catch up’. It has been months since we were all together and the excitement for the opportunity to reconnect and share a bit of our personal happenings was infectious. At times, it felt like we were all talking at once. However, as we settled in to our places and the realization that we all have the time and the space to listen and be heard, our conversations became less frenzied and more spacious.

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Mindful listening is a practice. Personally, there have been many conversations that I have had with people that I have been in a daze for, or anticipated what I would say before the other person was even finished speaking, or completely missed the other person’s perspective as I was too wrapped up in my interpretation in what they were sharing.

Last night, I caught myself, many times, eager to jump into the conversation with my contribution before the other person had finished. The fear that the very important things that I had to say would get missed was causing an anticipation rising in my body.

I had to stop myself. Remind myself to really practice mindful listening- hear my friends’ stories as something separate to my need to speak. To listen without assuming. And it completely transformed my experience of the evening.

I soon realized that, ACTUALLY, not everything that entered my head had to be shared, and that through the practice of mindful listening, I gave my friends my undivided and complete presence. It felt great. And when it did come turn for me to speak or respond, the gift was reciprocated.

This week’s mindfulness challenge is to practice mindful listening. Perhaps, we can all set the intention to notice when we feel the ‘my turn! my turn!’ voice creeping in as someone is talking. We can pause, and direct our listening attention to what the other person is saying. Then, when they are finished, see if our ‘my turn! my turn!’ voice really needed to be heard. If so, take your turn!

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Soothing the Lizard

Recently, I was watching a talk given by Dr. Rick Hanson, who is one of the keynote speakers at our summer conference (for more information, please click here). I have always identified with and found his teachings and practices not only practical but effective. Moreover, if you are someone who struggles with long sits, he’s your man. Many of his practices are quick and cheerful. In fact, if you are interested, I used his ‘Taking in the Good’ practice as a weekly challenge back in June (click here).

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In particular, this talk that I was watching addressed the need to engage with what Prof. Paul Gilbert (another keynote speaker who is coming to our June conference) calls our soothing system. Hanson explains the pitfalls of having this evolved brain that from the beginning of time has been hardwired to be on alert. To survive. To eat lunch rather than be lunch (as he says). One of the pitfalls of this system is this heightened threat system that can catapult us into the Red Zone of reactivity, when really there is no need.

This really resonated with me. I’ve already mentioned that the holiday season was a particularly tricky one for me, filled with an underlying stress that had me on alert at all times. Well, as the holiday season has come to an end, I find the residual repercussions of being on alert at all times for a number of weeks, has been just that- a continued sense of being on alert. Again, this is no surprise to neuroscientists like Hanson, as there is a generally accepted hypothesis (and maybe even fact) that neurons that fire together wire together. My threat neurons have been firing with the power of an AK47 for the past month. There’s a lot of rewiring that needs to be done.

So what can I do? What can we do? As this overactive threat system has the potential to affect us all and can lead to huge suffering.

Well, according to Hanson, there are three steps to addressing the problem.

  • Get out reactive episodes as fast as you can. Thanks to the overactive threat system, the brain is OVERLEARNING in the Red Zone. Every Red Zone moment of reactivity makes us more vulnerable to a fight or flight response. Stress levels skyrocket.
  • Do what you can outside of your self to prevent Red Zone moments. For instance, look at the activities that you find depleting. Again, you can check out Heather’s New Year blog post that outlines the activity of listing activities that nourish and deplete (click here). Think of your work schedule, your leisure schedule, the people who push your buttons, the places that trigger you. In short, create more safety.
  • Again, and again, reassure this stone age brain or our inner lizard that in all actuality, and in most moments, we are safe. We need to help ourselves really register that our basic needs are mostly met.

He then suggests simply soothing that lizard brain, by taking a few moments to recognize ‘I am safe. I am fed. I am connected (it is helpful to think of a family member or a close friend or a community that we belong to).

I am safe. I am fed. I am connected.

Hanson has a longer practice that you can find embedded in the talk that I was listening to if you are interested (For Hanson’s talk, please click here). However, for this week, the challenge is for whenever we feel our temperature rise, our brains entering the Red Zone, or whenever we are feeling threatened, to find our own mantra that remembers ‘I am safe. I am fed. I am connected’.

Soothe that lizard!!

Let us know how you get on!

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