Mindful musings from lockdown is exactly what it says it is.
I have been exploring my own mindfulness - both through practice and facilitation - during the Covid-19 lockdown. Some of those reflections have found their way into full blogs, whilst others have become shorter contemplations shared through social media.
This post is a collation of those social media pieces: articles, quotes and haiku.
More than just a breath
Mindfulness is not just about the time we spend in the morning sitting with our breath.
It is about our lives. The way that we approach and engage with the world around us. It is about understanding who we are, and owning how we are, and how we behave.
The journey of mindfulness is a journey of exploring and understanding ourselves. Acknowledging how we are and recognising that - albeit often unconsciously - we choose how we behave. Moment by moment, from the hour of our waking to the hour of our sleep.
The four noble truths provide a guide to our awakening and then, should we be able to truly engage them, a framework of skills from which to engage with life.
And this is "for life".
So we still need the practice. This time trains us to watch the mind. To understand it, whether at work, rest or play. It is in meditation that we refine the skills.
No concert pianist walks onto the stage to perform Rachmaninov without the years of learning and rehearsal. And so no person lives a life of mindful skill without the practice.
Mindfulness is art. The practice that we develop in our meditations brings that "art" to life.
All things must pass
In my own meditations recently (and with my online groups this week) I have been heavily focussed on the idea of impermanence. Quite simply, to quote George Harrison, “all things must pass".
The Buddha said “whatever has the nature to arise will also disappear.” When we meditate on such an idea our world shifts. And our relationships.
Our popular view of mindfulness is of a vehicle that helps to calm the mind and return us to the moment. At one level this is true, but the real journey is so much longer. It is a lifetime - or many depending on your view. All those long body scans are not just about relaxing.
When we become truly aware of our body, or our breath, or any associated sensations we notice an arising and a passing. Moment by moment the is shift, even in those sensations that we find unpleasant or painful there is a pulsing, an arising and a failing. Nothing persists at a level. This morning I meditated on the sounds of distant traffic. Not my favourite sound at 6am, but if approached with equanimity then a different quality emerges. As a one time statistician I painted graphs in my head – like sine curves - of amplitude increasing and falling. Suddenly distant traffic contains a personal pleasure.
Hearing the moment
Sound is a great metaphor to opening the door to impermanence.
Our thoughts and emotions, like sounds, rise and fall. They do not persist at one measured level. Often they pass as quickly as they arose. The real issue here is, do we choose to attach to them. Do we choose to engage? Engagement creates attachment to which we might then seek to hold on to, or aversion with which we choose to battle. It is in that engagement that we lose the moment, we cease to be present and take ourselves on the journey of that thought or experience. In most cases without choice.
A practical acceptance of impermanence helps to hold us in the moment. Does the conscious or unconscious grabbing onto that passing thought or urge really offer the benefit it promises in the moment. As soon as the moment of gratification is experienced, it is lost. There is only one “first square of chocolate”, there is only one “moment we buy that LV handbag'.
Thereafter further (new) gratification must be sought, a further chasing of that which will quickly pass.
The key is to understanding the underlying simplicity of attachment. It is in the “holding on to" that our suffering or conflict arises. Whether an object or idea.
How would our lives be different if we were not chasing that which by its nature will not persist, those things that in their moment of acknowledging are already doomed to pass away.
Happiness lives in this moment, not in that which we crave for the next.
Even those might trees of our forest will eventually succumb - whether to fire, disease or age - it is just a matter of how we experience time. It is the nature of all things, all things must pass.
It is what it is
This week I have been thinking about expectation and experience.
Our minds are the ultimate truth-seeking machines – science acknowledges its propensity for seeking that which confirms its view of reality. Countless documented bias’s stand proof to this.
Further, our experiences are often a direct reflection of how we are. Quite simply, if we are a little grumpy the world can seem a little darker, even the otherwise pleasurable bits.
And if we think we are having a bad day, how often might we then seek and note the negative encounters which enforce this.
If you believe it - trust me, you will find it.
And so we set expectations - both positive and negative. When we are learning our practice this can be a significant influencer on progress.
As we develop can too often we set expectations for ourselves – whether that is what we think should happen when we meditate properly, or awaiting a repeat of some previous pleasing experience, or simply awaiting for that impending moment of our own "failure".
And as such we sow the seeds of our own discontent. We set an arbitrary bar against which we then assess each moment. For every great success, how many more “moments” might fall short. Too easily we can then become despondent and quick to judge ourselves or the process.
And then how quickly do we just give up consigning the practice to the "its just not for me" bucket.
We are not the experience.
In our meditations we need to sit with equanimity. Quite simply, observe what is there moment by moment – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – but without judgement, without engagement.
Let arise what will arise. Let pass what will pass.
We are the experiencer.
Releasing ourselves from expectation enables us to distance. Simply ask yourself “what is happening” Breathe and observe what is both within and without with openness and equanimity.
Let things be as they are.
Let the moment be. And then the next.
It is what it is.
A fog of words
I have been watching my mind a little more over the last couple of days.
It has really been a great fog of words. Like the rumble of distant traffic – no one vehicle noise presents itself but they all merge into a drone.
So it is with the words. Lots of them coming and going, rising and crashing over each other, with little or no purpose beyond their individual meaning. Sometimes I find myself just observing the drone, sometimes I find that I attach to one and it takes me down a rabbit hole, or sometimes I find myself suddenly in discussion.
The fog of words is an obscurant. Like the traffic it blocks things out. The traffic might obscure birdsong, the fog of words obscures my present connection. My sense of where I am dulled by random chattering.
And should I engage – as I sometimes do – their arises emotion, sometimes a craving, sometimes an aversion. Often there is a retreat. A shrinking back into the hallucination of that which the mind creates. That creation is real too. It might not have the tangible structures of the world around me, but inside my head it is absolute and authentic. I am as prone to perceiving its reality in the moment as I am the pillow upon which my head currently rests.
I know this fog well. It has been there since I was small. It was a safe go-to place of escape.
Awareness of mind
My awareness has been growing in recent meditations. As I said, my aim being to watch my mind at work. To see where it goes, but I am intending to sharpen the observer and let go of the passive engager. In so watching my mind, I seek to choose. Not to get on the bus because it is there, but to ride it only if its destination represents a journey i wish to take. Challenging when there are so many buses everywhere.
Mindfulness is the journey not a destination. To quote Joseph Goldstein "Without mindfulness, we simply act out all the various patterns and habits of our conditioning." It observes and in that arising awareness it offers choice.
And so i continue to watch. The fog of words is to live with. But it is no more me than the distant traffic. With a clearer mind I hear through them. I might simply observe. Separating the experience and the experiencing. I can then choose to gently and kindly return my attention to a place of more appropriate intention.
I might again be present.
Kindness and the familiar stranger
Last week was Mental Health Awareness week, and its messages targeted kindness. Coincidentally I found myself running a couple of loving-kindness-based sessions online. So appropriate. And the theme seems to have lingered, arising in my reading and podcast consumption.
Compassion based meditation seeks to share the intention of happiness and a release from suffering to with self and with others. Buddhists call it “metta”.
One of those “others" mentioned above is what I refer to as the familiar stranger.
In these times of lockdown and isolation, this seems a strangely relevant character. What is a familiar stranger? It is one of those people that we see as we go about our everyday lives, we recognise but rarely acknowledge. A familiar face on a train from our commute to work. Someone working at the supermarket check-out, or behind the counter at the Post-office. The list is endless.
The unsung heroes
Often they are the people whose services provide a necessary, yet silent, support in our mundane affairs.
This stream of unacknowledged faces colour the tapestry of our lives. They weave themselves into the fabric of our wider sense of community. We might even create tales of their lives in our imagination. Our unconscious recognition of them is part of our everyday familiar. They are the necessary extras on the film set of our lives.
Right now that film has lost some of its depth. That is why I find a relevance in them right now. These are people whom we are not seeing. Whilst most of us have found ways to reach out to colleagues, friends and family now. This silent part of our community is omitted. They are gaps in our stories. Our stories are no deeper than the stars and co-stars.
Reaching out to the idea of these people extends us beyond our bubble. Remembering those other faces brings depth and diversity back to our perception of community. In these closed times let us remember the real functional, cultural and ethnic spread that supports our lives.
Let us reach out to all, known and known, familiar and unfamiliar. Compassion is without boundaries, it is not selective, so reach out to the souls behind all those faces, and share the kindness.
May they be happy, may they be well, may they be comfortable and free from suffering.
How well does the book of your day read?
So is this picture like your day? ------- >>>
How would your favourite book go someone crept in overnight and stole all the punctuation? How much sense would it make to you?
Words weave incredible pictures. But on their own, and without the gaps and breaths that we feed in with punctuation, they make no sense. Similarly, Eric Clapton once said of his guitar solos that it was not the notes, but it was the gaps between the notes that made the solos so engaging.
Looking at both examples, it is in the pauses and gaps that sense and meaning is created.
This is all very interesting to observe, but what does this tell us of our days, of our lives.
Life needs the odd full stop
Well our lives need punctuation too. Our brain needs down time to process and make sense. Though in practice, how often do we find ourselves bouncing from one demand, to some distraction, and then on to somewhere else.
Or at work from meeting to meeting, or telephone to email to meeting etc. Basically demand without release.
Streams of words without punctuation. If we cannot rationalise or make sense then there is stress.
We need to find ways to punctuate our days. To give our brains space to process, to make sense and to calm. This does not have to be long.
It does not have to be a new chapter, or even a paragraph. Sometimes just a comma. A short pause, taking a breath, shifting our posture, moving to some other place. Something to take the edge of the demand.
Think about your story each day. Is it making sense? If not, then where do you need to insert some breaks.
Sense coalesces in the spaces between things. The time to make that sense in our lives is a choice.
(Credit to Dr Seuss, The Cat in the Hat)
I am no one
I am no one. Nothing. And in my nothingness, I am everything.
Not a title or some sum expertise or experience. Nor am I my thoughts or my actions.
I am whatever arises in the moment; I am an empathetic response to stimuli.
My existence is but an unbroken chain of single moments. Experiences in motion, each one shaped to the situation.
I might be some soul that stands before another in this moment. As I stand before that soul; I stand before every soul. This is how I stand before the world.
I stand before all that is divine; I stand divine.
Aware that we are energy. And I am aware that in energy we are one. Like the individual drops of water within a river, we flow. Indistinguishable; the individual superfluous in that moment.
We are nothing. In that nothingness we are everything.
And that in everything, everything is one: flora or fauna; air; earth or water.
So without you, I am alone. Without the life I am at one with, I am nothing.
So as one, let us breathe. Let our breath be our prayer. In our prayer I share all that which I have to share and I receive with gratitude that which is offered.
Yet I will take nothing.
For I am no one; for I am as “we are”.