Class meditation for 27th June 2016

Ending words

May all beings be happy and free
And may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life
Contribute in some way
To the happiness and freedom for all IMG_0471

Hi everyone

It’s been a long time since I wrote on here but one of my students last night reminded me of why I set it up in the first place: she asked me if I could put the readings I do at the end of class on line so she could read them again (Thank you, Marty, for the reminder!). I’d also intended putting the meditations etc up too so you can practice them in your own time. So I will try and update this blog weekly in future with things from class.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer: The Dance

Last night we did a meditation from the above book which I’ve been reading this week. It’s about finding ways of letting our essential nature guide our choices and actions in life. OMD says it’s based on a “tonglen” Buddhist meditation that Pema Chodron teaches. It’s about focusing on receiving and sitting with those feelings we usually try to get rid of, and giving away – or sharing with others – the feelings we try to hang on to, and doing this first for yourself, then for another and finally for the world.

Do your usual settling and grounding to start.

 

Meditation for Being With Yourself

Take 3 deep breaths in through your nose, breathing out through your mouth. On each exhale, inwardly tell yourself gently to “let go”. Let your shoulders fall a little, let your weight drop down into your hips and legs. With each exhale, let go a little more. Feel your body rise and fall with your breath. Breathe into any place in your body where there is tension or tiredness and as you exhale breathe this into the ground.

Keep following your breath and be aware of yourself and your surroundings. Be aware of any sensations you feel. Notice how your body feels, what sounds or smells or colours are around you. Neither resist nor focus on these sensations, simply notice them. When thoughts come, notice them and let them go, gently bringing your attention back to your breath. Just be fully present with yourself.

Now let your mind review the events of the day – your interactions with others, your activities – lightly calling to mind how you have spent your day. Notice what feelings are evoked by these memories. let yourself stay with these feelings, breathing them in, getting a little closer to the depth and breadth and colour of each feeling. Notice which feelings you want to stay with and which you want to push away. Stay with 1 feeling that is uncomfortable: not overwhelmingly painful. Be aware of any sense of wanting to pull away from this feeling. Breath into any places in your body or heart that resist this feeling and let them soften a little in their resistance. Notice what happens.

As you breathe in a feeling you would normal want to get away from, breathe out a feeling you would usually want to hang onto, sharing it with others in the world.

Spend some time simply following the inhale and exhale, sitting closer with a feeling you have found uncomfortable and sending out into the world a feeling you have tried to hang onto. As thoughts come, simply notice them and let them go. Notice without judgement what happens.

 

Jack Kornfield – Making Difficulties Into The Path

Turning Straw Into Gold – from A Path With Heart

“To undertake a genuine spiritual path is not to avoid difficulties
but to learn the art of making mistakes wakefully,
to bring to them the transformative power of our heart.”

Sheep at Abbotsbury - great view of Chesil Beach.

Sheep at Abbotsbury – great view of Chesil Beach.

I’ve been going through my journal from my counselling course this week to write a summary of it and I came across some quotes from Jack Kornfield’s book A Path With Heart that a friend lent me in December last year. I love this book and had to buy my own copy to keep. The things I wrote then are always pertinent but it was great to have a reminder and it helped me to see how I’ve been able to achieve this at times since then.

JK talks about how every life will have its difficulties: that is just part of life – like change, it’s unavoidable. But these difficulties can be the source of stress and resistance or the source of our awakening, deepening wisdom, patience and compassion. “The basic principle of spiritual life is that our problems become the very place to discover wisdom and love”.

He quotes Benjamin Franklin: “Our limited perspective, our hopes and fears become our measure of life, and when circumstances don’t fit our  ideas, they become our difficulties”.

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So it’s about observing how we approach difficulties – do we try and avoid them and get to a place that feels safe or do we look at them and learn from them, be compassionate to ourselves and learn from our mistakes? Thereby transforming our relationship to our difficulties.

“Tibetan Buddhist tradition instructs all beginning students in Making Difficulties into the Path. ie consciously taking our unwanted sufferings, the sorrow of our life…and using them as a ground for the nourishment of our patience and compassion, the place to develop greater freedom and our true Buddha nature. Difficulties are considered of such great value that a Tibetan prayer recited before practice actually asks for them:

“Grant that I may be given appropriate difficulties and sufferings on this journey so that my heart may be truly awakened and my practice of liberation and universal compassion may be truly fulfilled.”

“When our body is sick, instead of fighting the disease we can listen to the information it tells us and use it to heal…When we have difficulty with some aspect of our partner/friend we might inquire how we treat that part in ourselves. Difficulties or weaknesses often lead us to the very thing we need to learn.” I have really seen this with my own health struggles: by trying to get well and suppress what was going on, it got worse. By really looking at my emotions and seeing where I was stuck in old, unhelpful patterns, I’ve been able to heal. Our minds and bodies are so much more sophisticated than we will ever really know. Maybe by looking at our patterns we can start to understand what they are trying to tell us?

JK talks of how we need to look at the things we struggle with: for example being busy all the time. What is the reason for this? What are we avoiding? Perhaps it’s a fear of quiet and looking at oneself; taking time to do this will open up new learning and help us see our old unhelpful habits.

“The place where we can most directly open to the mystery of life is in what we don’t do well, in the place of our struggles and vulnerability. When we let ourselves become vulnerable, new things can be born in us.”


Pema Chodron: Joy

The Wisdom of No Escape

At the end of this week’s class I read an excerpt from Pema Chodron’s lovely book. It is from Chapter 6 and is about Joy.

The Navajo teach their children that every morning when the sun comes up, it’s a brand-new sun. It’s born each morning, it lives for the duration of one day, and in the evening it passes on, never to return again. As soon as the children are old enough to understand, the adults take them out at dawn and they say, “The sun has only one day. You must live this day in a good way, so that the sun won’t have wasted precious time.” Acknowledging the preciousness of each day is a good way to live, a good way to reconnect with our basic joy.

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The whole chapter expands this theme and is well worth reading. She tells a story of a woman runnign away from tigers and she climbs down a cliff, and the tigers are above and below, waiting for her to fall. A mouse is nibbling away at the vine she is clinign on to. She also sees a bunch of strawberries near her. She takes a strawberry, eats it and enjoys it thoroughly. Pema Chodron says,

“Tigers above, tigers below. This is the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”

This is the message we read over and over in different forms: enjoy each moment as if it were your last. You never know what is in the future. It is hard to put this into action. Yoga and meditation help, but modern life is always driving us forwards, to achieve more and more, and not just smell the roses. So today, think about what your strawberry moment is and savour it!

Equanimity

Seeking the heart of wisdom

This is the book by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield about insight meditation that I’ve only really dipped into, but I was re-reading a chapter about equanimity which seems quite apt at the moment for me. JK describes equanimity as a mountain that remains unwavering despite snow, lightning, rain. He says equanimity is being able to remain centered and unmoved no matter what happens.

“Equanimity is developed as we learn to keep our heart open through the changing circumstances of our life… A profound equanimity arises as we release our identification with this body-mind process.” Rather than greeting challenging experiences with fear or anxiety we accept that these are only temporary states. He says shamans call it Shamanic Equilibrium, which allows the shaman to travel to even the extreme realms of pain and death without fear of difficulty.

This echoes a quote that I have as my wallpaper on my laptop:

“Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness, the discomfort and letting it be there until some light returns.” Anne Lamott.

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This has helped me through many difficult times this year. At the moment, I feel as if I’ve gone backwards: the back problems that have prevented me from doing so much the last 2 years and kept me housebound, seem to be finally dissipating, but at the same time the problems with my jaw and skull that make me feel like a zombie and unable to concentrate have got worse. I’ve been feeling exhausted and stressed and this week my head felt like it was going to explode. The vicious circle is that I know that to ease the pressure I need to see an osteopath, but every time I’ve seen an osteopath in the last 2 years I’ve ended up housebound.. In the meantime, I have to accept that this state is only temporary: One day I will be able to read and see clearly, I will be able to ride my bike and go abroad, but for now, I have to rest and accept that this is part of the journey to finding a new way of living, a new me. I often think of someone once saying to me that it is unrealistic of me to think the path of healing will be an easy one, anything worth having has to be worked for. That comforts me when I’m struggling.

p 76 “Equanimity is a quality of mind and heart…that allows one to meet every experience with both strength and a softness or fluidity that doesn’t get caught by circumstances. To discover its great power within is one of the great joys of practice.” J Kornfield

Meditation on Kindness

Kindness

Following on from the end of my last post where I reminded about attempting to be kind in thought, word and deed all week, I thought I’d post a meditation on kindness today. It’s really simple and can be adapted to whatever quality you want to encourage into your life now.

The Meditation

Sit comfortably, cross legged, kneeling or on a chair, as long as you are comfortable. Place your left hand on your heart and your right hand just below your belly button. Women can place their hand on their womb. Take some deep breaths, focusing your breath into your heart and womb/abdomen/hara. This brings the focus into the body and down from the mind. You may find that you become aware of how you feel emotionally. Sit with any emotions that come up – don’t suppress them, allow them to be there. You may find you want to cry – that’s fine, acknowledge the emotion and let it go. Don’t suppress it. You may also feel a warm sense of love. Whatever it is, embrace it don’t suppress it.

Visualisation of kindness

When you are ready, start to visualise kindness flowing into your heart. (If you wish, you can visualise it flowing from God, Mother Earth, The Universal Energy, whatever works for you.) Or just focus on kindness itself. You can imagine it any way you wish, or just imagine a sense of warmth. Stay with any emotions that arise. If your thoughts wander, gently bring your awareness back to the sense of kindness. Continue for as long as you feel comfortable.

This may be enough for you. If you are doing this meditation for the first time maybe leave it here. However, you could also have a sense of sending the kindness out from you. Imagine it flowing out into the world/universe every time you exhale. Or you may wish to send it out to particular people – friends, relatives, anyone you think might benefit from it. If you are ready, you could also send kindness to people that you are having difficulties with. (This is very much like the Buddhist Metta Bhavana meditation). But this might be difficult if you are new to meditating and it might be kinder to yourself (!) to just bring kindness to your own heart for now. As we all know, you can’t love anyone else until you really love yourself. In the same way you can’t really genuinely send kindness out without being able to be kind to yourself first.

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My own practice

Personally, I incorporate this into my daily meditation. I have a timer app on my phone which divides 20 minutes into 5 minute segments. One of these segments is always this meditation.

Choose love not fear

Fear

This post follows a theme in a previous post about finding answers amidst our darkest fears rather than in the light, ie being courageous and going into the darkness in order to discover who we really are. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler address this theme in Life Lessons. “Our fears don’t stop death, they stop life”. More than we even know, our lives are devoted to dealing with fear and its effects. Most of what we fear will never happen, but insurance companies, the media, the news, all put us in a state where we are so afraid of dying that we don’t live. EKR and DK assert that what really lies beneath all fear is a fear of dying, if you peel the layers away.

Rejection

Ironically, when people are on the point of death they realise how much their fear has stopped them doing what they really wanted to do. Then it’s often too late to accomplish long dreamed-of adventures, but it’s never too late to tell people you love them. A lot of fear is around rejection and not being loved. Often it’s easier not to try rather than to be rejected or deal with the feelings underneath. “If we did the things we’re longing to do, we would still be old and ill one day but we would not be filled with regrets.”

The Choice Between Fear and Love

“At the core, there are only 2 emotions: Fear and Love. You cannot have both at the same time. So if you live in love, you will not be fearful. We must continually choose love in order to nourish our souls and drive away fear. All of our invented fears involve either the past or the future. Only love is in the present. Now is the only real moment we have and love is the only real emotion because it’s the only one in the present moment. Fear is always based on something that happened in the past and causes us to be afraid of something we think may happen in the future. To live in the present then is to live in love. We can work towards that goal by learning to love ourselves.”

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That’s all easily said, but I know from my own experience it’s not so easy to do. However, I often return to what I wrote in my earlier post quoting Jack Kornfield’s exercise about spending a week being kind in thought, speech and action to everyone. Kindness is a good starting point if the idea of loving everyone is a bit beyond you right now! Have a great week!

Live life to the fullest

Life Lessons

Like a lot of what I’m reading, “Life Lessons” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler is about finding our true potential now, rather than realising on our death bed that we wish we’d done things differently. Something I read recently asked the question, “If you were dying, what would you wish you’d done more or less of?” It made me stop and think – actually, when you take away all the material things, the important thing is that you’ve shown love to people. Whether that is your family or friends, or strangers through voluntary work. Having an open heart. We will never wish we’d worked harder, or had more cars when we’re dying.

Lessons for now

So “Life Lessons” teaches us to think about this now: rather than wait until it’s too late to do anything about it. What is your passion? What would you really like to do if money/time/what people think was no issue? How much of what you do is because you think you ought to do it, or because you think your loved ones want you to do it?
“Once in a while give in to an urge you would usually suppress, try doing something “odd” or new.
By not doing the things that feed your soul, you are becoming someone who is squashed and won’t find their true potential. Life Lessons asks the questions:

“Ask yourself what you would do if no-one was looking?”
If you could do anything without consequences, what would it be?

EKR says your answer reveals a lot about who you are, or at least what is in your way. It may point to a negative belief or a lesson to work on before you can discover your essence.

“If you say you would steal, you probably fear that you do not have enough. If you say you would love someone who you are not loving now, you may fear love.”

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Next steps in finding your soul work

Maybe for you, starting to do the voluntary work you’ve always meant to do is one thing to initiate that will make you feel better – it will also make the world a whole lot better. Maybe ask yourself the question with things you choose to do now, “Will I be happy I did this when I’m dying?” I know myself that I would much rather look back and be able to say that I’d helped lots of people in my life than that I lived a very safe, boring life without much contact with society at large. Having been housebound has made me see how small our lives can become through illness and age and how much we need other people. So now I plan to give something back – I’ve volunteered to befriend a local elderly person through Linkage. I also plan to change my job when I am able to and do something which gives more back to my community. So watch this space! Let me know if you have any ideas.

And on that note, I’ve just seen this on Facebook

(Thanks to “Life Lessons” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler for the quotes in green.)

 

Visualisation

The Power of Visualisation

Anyone who knows me well, will know I love visualisation. I particularly loved teaching it in my yoga classes as I saw the dramatic effect it could have on people. As usual, though, I found it harder to do for myself. But I am now visualising love and kindness flowing into me when I meditate every day.

Bernie Siegel describes in “Love, Medicine and Miracles” how his cancer patients would have their own personal visualisation for white blood cells destroying their tumour: for some it was like a Space Invaders game, for others something more gentle – one child saw his cancer as cat food and the white blood cells as white pussycats. This is obviously quite a dramatic use of visualisation, but all of us can use it it create a life we love.

You may wish to start the day visualising all of the things you know you are going to do and imagining them going really well. Visualising in bright colour, with sunshine and positive outcomes really helps. So rather than waking up grumpy and then having a bad day, you can choose to have a great day. Or you can incorporate it into your daily life: if you suffer from anxiety then when you go for a walk, imagine the breeze blowing it away. When you are washing up, imagine it being washed away. You can try this  with anything and be creative!

Yoga

Enhance gentle yoga practice with mudras

Your gentle yoga practice need only be sitting cross legged and concentrating on rhythmic breathing. Or you could add an extra dimension by using a mudra – the most well known is Chin Mudra, where you hold the index finger and thumb together and keep the other 3 fingers stretched out. This is how you see the hands in the traditional meditation posture. Rest the backs of your hand on your knees.

chin mudra

One of my favourite mudras is Apan Mudra, or “rabbit ears” as I call it. You may see this mudra used in a variety of yoga postures, particularly those based on the Hindu gods, such as Krishna playing his flute in Natavarasana.

apan mudra

Apan mudra relates to springtime, cleansing the body: it helps to detox the liver. It also calms the mind. It helps visualise new goals/beginnings. Use it if there is something you’d like to change in your life. Sit for 10 minutes with your hands in apan mudra and do the following visualisation (add as much of your own detail to the visualisation as you can: colour, plants etc)

Imagine sitting in a beautiful garden. Enjoy the various plants. Observe the mystery of nature: how a plant grows and blooms. In an empty bed, plant something that will bear rich fruit for you: a conversation, relationship etc. Imagine how it sprouts, blossoms and bears fruit. Who will benefit from these fruits? End with a big thank you.

Affirmation: I plant my seeds, care for them and receive a rich harvest that I thankfully accept.

(Special thanks to Gertrud Hirschi for her fab book “Mudras” which has been invaluable to me.)

Heart meditation #1

The Heart of the Universe

First of all, bring your focus to your heart. Imagine breathing deeply in and out of your heart. This takes the focus down from the mind/intellect, into the body. (If you have suppressed emotions you may find them coming to the surface as you do this – if so, stay with them and allow them to release with love, it might feel difficult at the time but you will feel better for it afterwards. I am often surprised at what emotions come up during these meditations)

Focus on whatever you see as the divine source – God, the Universe, divine energy. Visualise divine love flowing from the source to your heart, filling your heart with joy.

bliss yoga

I found a lovely image for this meditation recently on a website. After focusing on your heart, imagine the night sky, and take a leisurely tour around the heavens: the stars, other planets, comets etc. Use your imagination. Then imagine coming upon the Heart of the Universe – visualise this as you wish. Visualise love and healing energy flowing from the Heart of the Universe to you.

Ahh, bliss!