Category Archives: Breath

Inner peace: the best companion

inner peace is bestThe path of mindfulness meditation leads to a deep appreciation of life, a real joy that rises from just being what you are, where you are. But on that journey there are difficulties, and it’s useful to recognize that this will happen and accept it in advance. It’s not all heavenly light and bliss! A lot of the practical work of mindfulness is sometimes painful, sometimes boring, but it’s all worth it because the payoff is huge. It’s a simple observation that I have found very encouraging when I feel like I’m drowning in a raging sea.

Often the path of mindfulness is about trying to be aware as possible and then simply dealing with what happens next. This is easy when the awareness is one of contentment or self-love, because what happens next is wonderful. But as we increase our awareness we increase our perception of things we have often gone to a great deal of trouble not to think about. The suppressed, the painful, the embarrassing, the feelings that burnt us so badly we swore we’d never feel anything if it meant feeling that again. They all come up; it’s part of become more mindful, more sensitive.

So a sign of deepening awareness is the bad stuff coming up, and if we sit with it then it will be healed. And of course there’s also the bliss, the revelations, the ‘yes’ moments. And then after all that comes the abiding deeper sensitivity to daily life. I’m more grounded, more in my body. I’m less lost in thoughts, more present with what’s going on around me and within me.

That’s the practice. Sit with as deep an awareness as you can muster and let the awareness erode away the confusion. Trust that what’s coming up is being brought into awareness to be released, and hang on. Let mindfulness carry you out of the madness and into the clear light.

Trust mindfulness. In any situation (internal or external) trusting a fresh, vital awareness of what you are feeling, sensing and thinking will always be of benefit. You will deal with difficulty better, and enjoy things on deeper and deeper levels. Ultimately, you will experience more moments of inner peace.

The experience of inner peace is the best teacher, the best medicine, the best companion for the journey of life.

Soft hands, warm heart

When you meditate, have soft hands and a warm heart.

Learning about Mindfulness meditation, it’s important not to mistake the instructions for the practice. “Being Mindful” isn’t entirely counting-breaths or doing ligament-stretching-yoga, although those things can indeed be jolly good fun. It’s useful to be aware of your attitude.

A bit of Zen advice on meditating is “soft hands, warm heart”. I’ll be using this expression in my class on Thursday 29 October in Maleny. It so beautifully conveys the attitude, the mental posture, that creates a mindful space. It’s a way of being focused that is healthy, a type of concentration that isn’t stressful.

Soft hands – we all know the difference between the feel of a hard hand and a soft one. Soft hands have an attentiveness, a sensitivity that makes the touch comfortable and safe.

And if you consciously allow you hands to become soft then the heart opens; your natural kindness activates, even if only dimly perceived. You feel better and you have more clarity: this is the feeling of the warm heart, and it is a good place to meditate from.

When you meditate, have soft hands and a warm heart.So when you sit to meditate ask yourself: what do my hands feel like? Gentle awareness itself will soften them up. Our hands become more sensitive, in their own time and over time. Do not hurry this, be with your hands as they experience softening.

Then we bring that same gentle awareness to the body, however limited it might feel. Our soft mental hands reassures the body and we become more still and reflective. And then the awareness of the body breathing can very easily take us deep into ourselves. Where does the breath end and where do I begin? It’s a blurry boundary. That bluriness is be a productive place to bring soft, gentle awareness. And simply be with what you become aware of. Experience the physical sensations, feel the emotional feelings, perceive mental thoughts; all with that gentle awareness, with those soft hands.

If we watch the breath with soft hands and a warm heart we will avoid many mistakes. With a warm heart it’s easier to avoid becoming judgemental or strongly opinionated on something, becoming lost in the maze of “should” and “must”. With soft hands we are sensitive so we keep being brought back to the feelings, the sensations, the thoughts that are happening right now. All of them happen before there is a story to explain them. Try and stay in that space before the story making begins.

And as we practice this way in mindfulness meditation the warmth of the warm heart naturally fills us up, like a cosy fire in a small house. It pervades your life outside of formal sitting and it becomes a bit easier to make it in the world, a bit easier to smile, a bit easier to see the things to be grateful for.

Walking the Mean Streets of Rishikesh

This is the start of regular blog posts! After a long period of gestation I’m ready to tell stories. This first one is a story from my 2013 India Trip Journal.

Me and Shiva, both of us looking totally cool.

Me and Shiva, both of us looking totally cool.

“It is an hour before my graduation from Yoga Teacher Training. The afternoon sun is warm but not stifling – dappled, thinly-leaved trees take the edge off the sunlight. I feel run down and my lumbar is sore – the wear and tear of 6 weeks of yoga boot camp taking its toll.”

I’m curled up in a corner of the concrete walls that lead down to the Ganga river. I have been out to buy mangoes for the graduation for reasons that I’ve since forgotten. The routine of a timetable over the last 42 days has put me in a good space, despite the aches and pains. I feel lighter and less cluttered. I have a good feeling about the future, and it’d been a long time since i had that uncomplicated sense of rightness in the belly.

“I’m Aware of all this.” I was very big on Awareness at that point. Seemed a good thing to obsess about. “I enjoy the sunlight on my skin.” I write and write on my iphone, “trying to distil the moment into a takeaway so I can practice this insight, learn it so that one day I don’t need to learn or practice and can just spontaneously live it.”

… And then the universe gave me a Boo!

Mango seeking pleasure machine.

Disappointed Mango-seeking pleasure machine 🙁

As I was typing about awareness and space and Being a huge brown shape suddenly lurched into my personal space. I felt it before i saw it. This weird brown leather wall with an eyeball. I jolt back and look up and there’s this cow with a head the size of my chest right in front of me. I was sandwiched between a concrete wall and a cow – a bull actually – big enough to squash me like a bug. Scary.

It was a startling connection with the unanticipated: genuine, unedited Awareness.

In that space there was clarity. The cow had smelt the mangoes in my bag and was heading towards them. I was in his path. He was simply pondering the physics of the situation: and this is a complicated process for a creature with a tiny brain. Their wits aren’t their strength, bless them. Their main function seems to be manure production and disrupting traffic. He wasn’t being aggressive, he was just someone looking for happiness in a very slow, bovine sort of way.

So I – being in possession of quicker wits – looked for happiness in my way. I dodged this slowly moving piece of street furniture and escaped with the mangoes.

A cow and a man

A cow and a man face off, a common occurrence

As I walked away from the disappointed bovine I carried that shock of awareness into my body, felt my limbs push and my torso hold them and push back, and suddenly I’m experiencing walking… and then just naturally slowed down and suddenly I’m enjoying walking. To walk very slowly with good posture is a wonderful thing. I’d been doing a lot of yoga for 6 weeks after all, so my body had found a few good shapes by now. Shoulders rolled back and down, spine relaxed and vertical, head up, belly soft. It was delicious.

I felt this cool.

Good posture even feels better than Disco!

It struck me that this is the body language of confidence. I felt confident; I was sure of the space I occupied. It felt strange to be walking towards a group of men and feel an urge to hide, to curl the shoulders in, bow my head and avoid eye contact. I kept the pose and walked slower than my sense of fear was comfortable with.

And I walked like a king. I felt like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, doing his bad-ass swagger down the mean streets of New York. I was Aware as all hell, and it felt great. I walked off into the sunset to my graduation, with two delicious mangoes and a world buzzing with life.

“Take a Deep Breath…

…and connect to your body. Surrender to what you are experiencing in this moment.”

Breath____by_mechtaniyaSounds simple doesn’t it? “Get grounded, feel your body, let the breath flow through and let go of mental chatter. Surrender and witness to this.”

Why is this so challenging to remember? Why is it so easy to get lost in memories, plans, fantasies and distractions? I’m not sure. I do know I spent many earnest years trying to understand why and ended up with more mental chatter, not less. Now I’m trying to let go of the need to understand certain things like “Why is Life the way it is?”. It’s an obvious question but the process of coming to a conclusion seems to take me further away from the experience of life.

Recently someone gave me a great gift. She was talking about questions to ask in therapy and she suggested avoiding “why” questions and ask “what” questions instead.

Instead of “Why do I get so frustrated with her?” try “What is it that makes me so frustrated with her?”  ‘Why’ takes me into the head and trying to understand intellectually. ‘What’ tends more to discovering an experience and letting insights come from that, rather than theory or memory.

Both ‘what’ or ‘why’ are useful questions depending on the situation. The art is asking the right one at the right time. And then engaging with the answer with the body and the mind.

So… take a Deep Breath…