The Relaxed Mind

One of the first insights beginner meditators see is this previously unconscious stream of inner dialogue. The ceaseless movement of the untrained mind. It constantly changes, like the weather at Machu Picchu. Rain, snow, sun, wind. Likes, dislikes, emotions, plans, worries, memories, stories.

Mindfulness meditation is learning to steady our attention on the present moment, finding a wise and loving awareness in our relationship to this natural change of body and heart and mind in every season.

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For the mind to become steady, it is necessary to develop a degree of stability through concentration. Concentration is the art of calming and steadying our attention, like a candle flame in a windless place. As we train ourselves to become mindful of breath and body, we can see more clearly and become more present.

To steady and focus the mind takes time, practice, self-care and patience. Jack Kornfield shares that training the mind in meditation is like training a puppy. We put the puppy down and say, “Sit. Stay.” What does it do? It gets up and runs around. “Stay.” It turns around again. Twenty times, “Stay.” After a while, slowly, the puppy settles down. 

This is the same with our minds in meditation practice. At the beginning we may be present only 2% of the time. 98% spent thinking, planning, daydreaming, whatever. After a few weeks you may be concentrating for 5% Being fives times more present to touch the earth, to feel the breeze, to see the eyes of others, to be awake to our senses is no small improvement. Try it, you'll see.

The development of steady concentration comes through nurturing an inner peacefulness. As our meditative skill grows, we learn that the mind becomes concentrated not through strain and struggle, but from letting go of anxiety about the past and future, and relaxing into the present.

Let me write that again.

Relaxing into the present moment.

Over and over and over again. We feel our mind tighten.....relax.
We feel tension on our bodies, our hands and chest....relax.

This is a natural process and a wonderful informal practice that is simple and available to us all. For more on this way of being you may want to read The Relaxed Mind by Dza Kilung Rinpoche.

But remember, it’s all in the practice, and that’s why it’s called practice. 

Rita

Mindfulness Monthly | OCTOBER

Yep, this is where I am. On a two month adventure to South America. It feels very... big. I've been practising my Spanish on Duolingo like crazy but so far I'm understanding next to nada!

The first real stop after acclimatising to the altitude is Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes, once the capital of the Inca Empire.

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Before ticking Machu Picchu off my proverbial bucket list of sacred sites, the following thoughts swirled in my mind:

Very excited and a little nervous about being disappointed. I don’t do well with sacred sites. Actually, I don’t do so well with tarot readings, psychics, other dimensions... 

Somehow, I just can’t feel the energy (oops, don’t tell anyone that). I WANT to, I really want to, but it just doesn’t happen. Uluru for me was a lot of busses, tourists and cameras. Then the walk around was simply too uncomfortable to feel anything but the heat...

I have also yet to feel the overwhelming devotional love for a guru. I have huge affection and love for some of my teachers but would I sacrifice my family for that devotion? Sometimes this feels like failure, a spiritual failing...

What I do know is that when I sit in meditation, sit quietly without an agenda and stay as close as I can to my breathing, something wonderful happens in the stillness. Thoughts of failure are irrelevant and I tap into a profound peace. This is my little sacred site.

It was, of course, not at all what played out during the actual experience. Surprise surprise. 
Here's how it went down:

Easy arrival, a lot of people, not much breathing on my part. Next thing I knew I had turned a corner and there it was, a magical scene in real time making all the photos I had ever seen seem irrelevant. 
There were no thoughts, simply deep breathing and stillness. There was no thinking, just seeing. I knew I was seeing something extraordinary, but it wasn’t till the next day (without the guide), that I could sit and take in the mountains and the clouds, the rain and the sunshine. It was then that my favourite mountain meditation come alive.

People may come and share in the majesty of the mountain.
Others may come and feel that it is not a good day to see the mountain, that it’s too cloudy or too misty, hot or wet.
All of this matters little to the mountain, who is not affected by whether people like or not. Or the changing weather.
Through it all the mountain just sits there, being itself.


If we can bring this into our meditation practice we too can sit like the mountain, unaffected by the waves of expectations and disappointments. 

I've also uploaded a 10-minute meditation on my website, recorded in Chile. Find a quiet place to practice your breathing and become aware of your sitting. You can find it here, along with a 5-minute meditation. 

Happy Spring to you all.

Mindfulness Monthly | AUGUST

I am finally coming to the end of the flu. Not the cough cough, sniffle sniffle kind, but the blocked head, razor throat, rivers of muck (too much information?) and the I will NEVER EVER be okay kind. 

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This sickness has caused me to miss one of my closest friend's big birthdays. I sadly missed saying goodbye to my wonderful MBSR group on their last night. I had to pass up a few teaching gigs and I still miss my good friends and beautiful family who I have strategically distanced myself from to prevent their contamination.
 
I know people are in much worse places than me and it's just a cold, but boy oh boy, does laying low give one's thoughts and emotions time to play out their course. They went in waves:

My brain will never work again so teaching is off the cards.
My friends will forget me and I'll be No Fun Rita.
My family can do without me and eventually I'll fade from their lives forever. 
No energy means no walking, so energetic holidays are over…….
It's actually all over really….
Blah blah blah

It's been fun.
 
So. What to make of it all?
 
I've been thinking about perception, about how I look at life when its not going the way I want it to. In this blog post, I'm going to be looking at attachments and expectations, and try to put a few things in perspective.
 
Welcome to the August Mindfulness Monthly. May you all be healthy and live life with ease and energy.

"This is a wonderful day. I've never seen this one before." 
- Mary Angelou

On Attachment

There is an old story about a Zen master and his student:

The master and young monk were about to cross a river on foot, but before they did so they came across a young woman on the riverbank who wanted to cross but was too small and fragile to make the journey. So the kind old master carried her on his back across the river. This upset the young monk a great deal as he felt his master had violated the vinaya, the ‘rules’ of the masters. The monk kept quiet for a few days but felt increasingly upset and angry with his master as each day passed. Eventually he couldn’t help it and told his master he was very angry. The old master laughed and laughed telling the young monk, ‘I left the woman the minute we finished crossing the river, but you have been carrying her until now. 

How do I live a free life when I care so much about the things I am attached to?
 
Thanks to a timely gift by a good friend, I have been reading Everyday Enlightenment by His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa. His Holiness points out that it is good to have tenderness and care about certain things in our lives. However, that is not the same as having attachments. 
 
He says we should recognise when those connections support us, allow us to grow, provide inspiration and momentum. And then to recognise when they keep us stuck, fearful, jealous or even bored. It could be people that drain us, wealth that fixates and drives us, and habits that waste our time.

When we label a person, a material thing or a fixed idea of who we are or where we're going as "me" and "mine", we set ourselves up for the possibility of hurt, disappointment, jealousy and anger. The person may change, you may lose your wealth, you may be boxed in through old memories of yourself, and finally, your expectations and untamed desires may have you looking for happiness in all the wrong places.
 
We are human beings, it's in our nature to form connections, especially when we are inspired by a person or place. However, they need to be examined. Whether our attachments are positive for us and have a relaxed joyful nature or whether they stir up the more disturbing, ‘grasping’ emotions in us, I think we all know the difference.

Expectations kill the beauty of life. They keep us fearful of disappointment and keep us running and busy. At the end of the day it will all be gone: your possessions, reputation, relationships and body. Businesses and buildings will collapse and good friends and families will leave or be left. At the end we must be comfortable being alone with ourselves. Practicing non-attachment can make you one of the luckiest people in the world.

How To Practice Non-Attachment

Notice when you are feeling desire for something - a person, a new watch, new job, new car, a slice of lemon meringue pie. The next 'thing' that is going to make you happy.

Then take a moment, walk away. Relax. Play with how long the desire lasts. Can you distract yourself? Does some other desire take over?

And of course, you may become so fixated that you must get it. We're only practicing, remember?
Then notice how long the satisfaction lasts. Five minutes, a day...

And then what do you desire next?

Becoming conscious of desire and aversion (what we like and what we don't like) changes our perspective and interrupts the cycle of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Perhaps you'll be able to step lighter in the world. It's certainly worth a try.

Happy exploring,

Rita x

Good Morning!

Do you jump out of bed in the morning revitalised, refreshed rushing to get into another day? Big smile on your face and hugs all round; the cat, your partner, your barista.

Or is it more like this.

The way we greet the first few minutes of our day can have a profound affect on how the rest of it will unfold. It makes it possible to be more mindful, self-compassionate, connected, and resilient throughout the day.

Try to do the following 3 simple things EACH morning for one week and be curious about the outcome.

  1. HEARING. Rather than starting the day off tense and startled by loud alarms choose one that’s gentle and soothing — chimes, bells, more relaxing music. Instead of hitting the snooze button or peeling yourself off the ceiling take the time to indulge in three mindful breaths… or maybe even five (radical!). Deep in-breath, long slow out-breath till you can no longer exhale. And then another, and then another.
  2. TASTING. Drink a BIG glass of water. You will be dehydrated after the long night. The coffee or tea can wait a few minutes, even if you think it can't. Your gut will be grateful.
  3. SEEING. This is the biggest but most profound. Before grabbing your phone, computer etc. go outside or open the window wide. Look at the sky, a tree, a pot plant. Observe something natural. Most likely your day will hold plenty of technology and I promise you won't miss anything in these few minutes.

Give yourself a moment giving these a try. Then move on to the rest of your day.