Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living course

My first Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living course is well underway in central Newcastle upon Tyne and we are now currently looking forward to our day of practice which follows week 7 of the course, which will be held in the rural, tranquil setting of Newton and Bywell Community Hall, near Stocksfield.

MBCL was developed by two experienced mindfulness trainers, psychiatrist/psychotherapist Erik van den Brink and meditation teacher/ health care professional Frits Koster who pioneered mindfulness-based work in the Dutch mental health services. I completed training over the course of 3 years with Erik van den Brink in 2017, and I am delighted to be offering  this deeply life-enriching course in the north-east.

The aim of MBCL is to deepen the mindfulness-based path to alleviate suffering and enhance physical, psychological and social well-being by offering a secular advanced training in compassion practice towards oneself and others. The programme integrates wisdom from the contemplative traditions with modern scientific insights drawn from neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, positive psychology and therapeutic models such as mindfulness-based approaches, Compassion Focused Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.  The practices offered build on the skills developed in mindfulness practice and the course is suitable for anyone who wishes to deepen their personal practice with the heart qualities of  compassion.  The course is designed as a group training for participants who have previously followed an MBSR,  MBCT, Breathworks or equivalent programme and anyone who wishes to deepen their mindfulness practice with heart and the focus of compassion.

Compassion is defined as the capacity to be sensitive to the suffering of ourselves and others and the willingness to relieve and prevent it (Paul Gilbert, 2104). Compassion has a transpersonal quality, as it involves commitment to alleviate suffering, whoever is the potential sufferer. Therefore, when we speak of compassion, we include ‘self-compassion’ . What we do for ourselves we do for others, and what we do for others, we do for ourselves. Many recognise their tendency to overlook themselves while trying to be compassionate and the course helps to find greater ease in dealing with life’s inevitable pain and ‘dis-ease’, as well as developing a kinder and warmer attitude of receiving and giving of care, to self and others.

The emphasis on the course is on experiential work and building up the practice of compassion,  and participants are encouraged to spend 45 mins to an hour daily on the  formal and informal exercises in daily life.  A range of suggestions for home practice are given following each session, rather than specific homework. This enables participants to tune in to their deeper needs and to work at a suitable pace . Key practices include; soothing breathing rhythm; kindness meditation; compassionate imagery; dealing compassionately with resistance, desire, and inner difficulties; compassionate breathing; walking and moving and bringing kindness to the body; compassionate letter writing; practising sympathetic joy, gratitude, forgiveness and equanimity; cultivating a compassionate mind and inner helper and learning to work with  the ‘inner critic’; taking in what nourishes us and contributes to happiness.

The course is greatly enhanced by the key teaching themes of the MBCL curriculum, including the evolutionary perspective of the multi-layered brain; acknowledging pain and suffering as part of life; gaining insight in to the three basic emotion regulation (threat, drive and soothing) systems and how to recognise them in ourselves and cultivate a healthy balance in daily life; deepening understanding of stress reactions like fight, flight and freeze, tend and befriend, and their psychological equivalents; understanding how influences from outside  such as an ‘inner critic’ and maladaptive inner patterns  can easily cause imbalances;  seeing how to build an “inner helper” and compassionate mind. The course also looks at the process of over-identifying and de-identifying; our social connectedness and cultivating a sense of common humanity;  our capacity for absorbing positive experiences and perspectives that contribute to happiness;  and developing the Four Friends for Life (a secular naming for the Four Boundless States or Brahmaviharas): loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.

The combination of practice and theory in the course  work beautifully together. The process enables a language and understanding  of compassion to grow up experientially, as an infusion of understanding and skills, rebuilding new perspectives in the inner landscape of the mind and heart and helping to  engage more compassionately with life itself. The course sessions are held weekly to fortnightly to allow space to explore and integrate the practices fully and regular calendar exercises are offered to help with practising mindful compassion  in daily life. A traditional metaphor of compassion that suits the learning of the course well is that from the mud of suffering, a new lotus is given space to bloom, each with its own individual patterns of experience and developing potential. The compassionate mind that is within each one of us is given space and courage to  connect with its own capacities and qualities, and find renewed expression and care.

“Out of the soil of friendliness, grows the beautiful bloom of compassion, watered by the tears of joy, under the cool shade of equanimity”.

Longchenpa

I will be offering the MBCL course again in the coming months.  If you are interested in attending this course, please register interest via the MBCL page on my website or drop me an email at gwennie@mindfulnessinlife.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Swirl

I was delighted to receive my copy of Swirl recently, a booklet produced by Andy Walton and Gina Yu, on overcoming worry and over-thinking. Andy Walton is a community mental health  nurse based  in the north-east who trained in mindfulness through the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course and works with military veterans through  Combat Stress, a charity that helps military veterans with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Andy wanted to produce a guide to rumination that would be concise,  empowering, uncomplicated and pleasing to the eye, and also free of mental health stereotyping. The words “mental health ” don’t appear until the last page. The result is a stylish and beautifully produced 20 page booklet, designed by award-winning creatives, including Guardian and New York Times illustrator Nate Kitch, providing accessible and straightforward wisdom on rumination from mental health professionals. It is simple, accessible and contains clearly presented information in a series of beautifully illustrated chapters. As Andy described in an interview with The Guardian, ‘if you wake up in the middle of the night with your mind swirling with thoughts, my hope is that you can pick up Swirl and that it will soothe you, help you feel a bit more in control, bring you back to the here and now. It’s something you could read on the bus on your way to work that will give you the positive mindset that you are in control of your thoughts.’ You can read more of the article from this link:

https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2018/may/15/mental-health-self-help-guide-swirl-zine

The booklet gives simple clear guidance on being grounded in the present moment, recognising thought activity and for example, the benefit of labelling thoughts rather than being subjected to the labels, making choices that stem from responding rather than reacting, and the value of building blocks of taking small steps towards a narrative of self-care and resilience. It’s a wonderful distillation of practical advice on how to work with rumination and engage pro-actively with the present moment,  building new habits to support well-being. The combination of its simplicity and design has great impact, simple truths powerfully distilled in a creative format that inspire the possibility of working transformatively with the mind.

Swirl is available from www.swirlzine.com for £6. Since publication, the booklet has  been donated for free to every secondary school pupil in the borough affected by the Grenfell Fire.

Staying put

Following the thaw, life has returned to more normal routines, and everyone has been emerging from the Siberian blast with their accounts of having been snowed in. Here in the uplands of Northumberland National Park, the snow lay siege and fell continuously for several days. As the wind picked up, we watched as blizzards bowled across the fields, kicking up the snow in great clouds of spray, despositing deep drifts against anything vertical in its way. We lost track of the track and the garden became a scooped out hollow. Every time we looked out of the window, it was still snowing, and the deposits accumulated in exaggerated lumps and mounds like a rising tide.

 

It was impossible to travel, an effort to even walk to the top of the track as far as the single rack road, which was drifted in anyway. Life stripped back to the absolute basics, tending to the necessary and the immediate; the simple tasks of making a meal, digging a path through the snow to the woodshed, feeding the birds, bringing in the logs, brushing snow off boots, drying waterproofs. There was time and space to appreciate simple things. Time slowed like a pulse rate to a natural rhythm of quietly unfolding activity. In the bitter temperatures, comforts seemed more deeply appreciated; warm bread, dry socks, the logs burning in the stove. Golden oak leaves lying on the path and the egg yellow trumpets of daffodils on the windowsill sang out in a landscape erased of colour. On a late afternoon walk, a hare dashed from cover and its fleeting form hovered along a line of snow banked up against a stone wall, insubstantial, barely touching the surface, as if running in thin air, a moving clip of film. In silence, thin veils of gauzy snowflakes continued the steady pulse of precipitation, adding to a growing sense of transparency and space within which life became regulated.

Perhaps it is because ordinarily so much more of our time is spent on the move, covering greater distances, walking more easily and quickly, traveling further afield, accomplishing a wider range of tasks, and the mind and the senses stimulated by a greater variety of subjects, that the contrast of life in the snow seemed so highlighted. It aroused different reactions. People loved or hated it, surrendered to the slowed pace of life or felt cabin fever. But there was no choice. Perhaps the real “beast from the east” was more a reflection of our inability to slow down and adjust to the severity of the prevailing weather conditions, the withdrawal of distraction.

In the quietness following the blizzards, I suddenly heard a nuthatch, its fluting call ringing out with a confident, urgent insistence, itself an invitation to wake up to the detail of a temporarily transformed world. The thaw soon began, a slow yielding, the snow receding and revealing things just as they had been left before. The amount of rising moisture generated a cloudy mistiness that coated the air and permeated the snow itself, compacting and shrinking it, softening the hard contours and releasing the trees, creating room to breathe. Grasses reappeared in the field as a messy tangle, the perfection of the snow giving way to the juicy mess of life beneath and the natural order of things, and slowly our human life and activity following in its wake, with its renewed possibilities.

 

 

The value of retreat

Retreat, however long a time we can manage to commit to, enlivens practice and it enhances life. It supports the development of practice and our own potential for living a meaningful and fulfilled life. Just as simple moments of awareness bring us valuable space, clarity and  perspective in our busy everyday lives, retreat offers a unique opportunity for time especially focussed on developing all the benefits that come from  cultivating this awareness. It allows us to simply extend our time for practice, in a way that compliments and benefits both our daily lives and practice itself.

In the time and space offered by retreat, and through being in an undistracted environment, we can renew our motivation, intention and inspiration for practice. We re-connect with that heart felt spark of intention that drew us to embark on practice in the first place. We have space to allow experience to unfold and open, without the pressing limitations of external pressures. Through retreat, we are able to dedicate our time in a way that supports our practice to develop and deepen, far beyond the time of retreat. We can become clearer and more simple in our intentions, and discover how this benefits us.  We become more familiar with the basis of our awareness and our capacity to pay attention. Through the continuity of practice, we remind ourselves, over and over again, how to pay attention and relate to our experience without striving to manipulate it,  make it something different or contrived.  We see more clearly what gets in the way, the places where we get caught up,  where we can learn to let go.

Being with the process of practice over an extended period of time, we rediscover how experience is impermanent and constantly changing, and how each moment unfolds into the next. We deepen our trust in allowing experience to be just as it is, and  ourselves to be just as we are. Through this, we develop greater  kindness and compassion for ourselves and how this naturally  opens  our understanding and compassion for  others. The many moments and opportunities for being with our experience more clearly, offer us a chance to slow down, quieten the mind and calm the heart. We learn how all our changing experience, including our mundane distractions, our sorrows and our joys, can be held in the space of a gentle and loving awareness, enabling us to come closer to ourselves and to the basis of life itself. We gain a deeper appreciation of our common humanity. Being with others in retreat, in itself, reminds us that we are not alone in all that we experience.

Renewing our capacity and willingness to be with our experience moment by moment, also gives us courage to work with the grit of our lives, to be with our rawness and difficulty, all that is tender and uncertain, our hopes and fears, the ways in which we resist life and feel held back. We learn to open to the full range of experience, pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral, rather than a selected, cautious part. We learn it is possible to step out of reactivity, and have courage to be with ourselves, feeling what we are feeling, and experiencing what we are experiencing. Moving into greater familiarity with the flow of experience, with its countless new beginnings, and kindly seeing its unfolding moment by moment, builds self-understanding, resilience and care. It has direct relevance to how we respond to life, how we learn to give ourselves space to breathe. Being in practice, in a supportive environment, enables us to step out of our busy, full and distracted lives, and see life with fresh eyes.It offers us the possibility of developing beneficial insight in to the nature of awareness and all our mental activity and perception. We allow time to rest our minds and hearts and fully be the human beings that we already are. Gently settling in to being with just what is, we allow ourselves compassionate space to open more fully to living the moments and the gifts of the unique life we have.

Through 2018, we are offering possibilities of different lengths of retreat in Northumberland, suitable for all stages of practice. This includes regular days of mindfulness practice, offered termly at Newton and Bywell Community Hall near Stocksfield, a two day non-residential retreat also at Newton, and a 5 day residential retreat at Shepherds Dene Retreat Centre. Further information about all of these retreats can be found on the Practice Support page of my website. All the events are listed on the Course Dates page and application forms will be forwarded through registration of interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting Start the Week

On Monday, in the dark of a January morning at 7 30 am, I held the first online mindfulness Start the Week session by Zoom. Not having hosted a meeting before, I wondered how the technology would work out and how it would be to enable the connection to happen smoothly. Would it really be possible for everyone to see and hear and connect? I picked my way carefully across the residual snow and ice towards the hut where I had set things up on my laptop the evening before, with a feeling of excitement and adventure. It was very dark, with no sign of light on the horizon. The day had not yet begun. There was comfort in the embracing darkness, and a feeling of not only opening to the early beginnings of a new day, but also the freshness of the unknown, like preparing to go on a journey.

Having connected to the Zoom meeting link there was the excitement of participants starting to appear on the screen and we were able to introduce ourselves from our different locations, which included Northumberland, central London and Islamabad in Pakistan, several hours further forward on the other side of the world. As we settled in to meditation together, I heard a buzzard calling in the wood behind me, and a voice in the street in Islamabad, briefly, a snatch of sound from another country. It felt wonderfully heart-warming to join in practice together, each in our own homes, and to open to the day and to the week together in connection and awareness. It felt quite miraculous that technology had enabled us to share our intentions to  meet for practice and share a peaceful, mindful start  to the week.

Start the Week will continue to take place on Monday mornings from 7 30 am GMT and is open to all MBSR/MBCT course graduates. Please  email me  by Friday before the session so that I can send you a link to the Zoom meeting by email. There is an open invitation to make a donation to the West End Food Bank in Newcastle upon Tyne. Details of this can be found on the Start the Week page of my website listed under Practice Support.

The power of the present moment

When we begin to practice paying attention, we start to notice how strong the tugs and pulls on the mind are and how well developed our habit of distraction is. It can seem so engrained, so vivid, random and unruly. The process of building a new muscle of attention, a new mental habit of present moment awareness, may feel quite daunting and effortful to begin with, a bit like getting into a boat and launching off and finding a wobbly balance on the water. Launching into practice may seem reliant upon our wavering good intentions and willingness to find those moments of having strayed right off track, and allowing ourselves to begin again. However, the good intentions and willingness to find those new beginnings are a vital part of the process of building a stable mindfulness practice. Like an underlying buoyancy aid, we begin to discover that practice is always there, supporting us and holding us on the water.

Through practice itself, we learn to return repeatedly to the reality of the present moment, wherever and however this places us, and how far and for however long we have strayed. We do this hopefully with some good humour and compassion, yet all too often too we will also notice how hard we are on ourselves and how readily the inner critic has a field day with our rampant minds. This too is a vital part of the process. Nothing is excluded or unworthy of our compassionate attention, perhaps especially those harsh judgments and unkind ways in which we relate to ourselves and our lives. And what perhaps we don’t see at the beginning is how the endeavour of practice, those repeated moments of beginning again with ourselves just as we are, without judgement or conditions or agendas, is building compassionate awareness and the very basis of practice itself.

Each time we return our awareness to the present moment, we are creating the possibility of standing in an open and creative relationship to our experience. We are offering ourselves the opportunity of being more aware and responsive in our mental, emotional lives, rather than having the quality of life dictated to and overruled by our negative habitual tendencies. My meditation teacher, Yongey Mingyur Ronpoche, once described the process of practising moments of awareness as drops in a bucket filling slowly. We may not be aware of the accumulative effect of the process, but invisibly we are building a new way of perceiving and relating to ourselves and the world around us. We are oiling our tools of awareness for when we need to use them wisely and to good effect.

In our pressurised world, we don’t always have the luxury to step back from situations to work things through and think things out rationally and logically. We often say how we don’t even have time to think. And so our human and inbuilt tendency to react is easily hair-triggered by a backlog of automatic engrained perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, concepts, preferences and past memories, all loaded to the trip wire of the moment in which we hit the unwanted and downright inconvenient. We are hardwired to reactivity. The moment an experience is registered, our subconscious tendency to classify it as positive , negative or neutral kicks in to gear. If we like the experience, we are drawn towards it, if we don’t like it we will reject it or push it away, and if it is neutral our attention will skate over with disinterest.

The power of stopping even for a fraction of a second and knowing what we are experiencing and what is happening in the landscape of the present moment is a radical reversal of our reactive tendencies. The very moment we lean in to the here and now and see our thoughts and emotions for what they are, a little bit of distance is created between the raw material of our experience and our automatic tendency to over-inhabit and solidify every experience that comes our way. We underestimate the small wedge of freedom this creates. The power of the present moment offers a sliver of space in which the gap is widened between reaction and response, between solidity and flexibility, between hard and soft, between open and closed. Awareness is space itself.

Each time we catch ourselves and pause, each time we stop in the knowing of our experience for what it is, we are offering ourselves a space to breathe, a greater chance of dealing with our life experience more creatively, instead of being ruled by our more practiced negative feelings and thoughts. When we learn to catch a thought as a thought, and know an emotion for its taste and texture, a new muscle memory is being laid down. It only takes a moment for awareness to shine through to illuminate precisely the experience we are having. A moment of pausing is all that is needed.

We may not see directly how the bucket is filling with these drops of awareness and precisely how beneficial and infinitely valuable they are. Perhaps we take for granted how the very ordinariness of all we experience is the fertile ground from which this awareness has the capacity to develop and grow to bring us this degree of rich connection and insight. Yet the power of the present moment is reinforced each time awareness is allowed to manifest.

Each time we know what we are seeing, hearing and tasting, every time we are conscious of an emotion, a thought or a sensation, we have an opportunity for practice and we move towards the reality of a more richly inhabited world. Each time we repeatedly step over the threshold of unawareness, habitual distraction and reactivity, and enter through the gateway of direct experience, mindful awareness brings us through to a more fully lived sensory, mental and emotional landscape. It leads us to a more conscious life, a life of greater compassionate interaction with ourselves and others, and a life that is infused with greater discernment, care and ease.

This is why we practice pausing, and unleash the underestimated power of the present moment. Again and again, vital moments of clarity guide the boat forward with certainty and a growing confidence in the trustworthiness of our craft.

Mindfulness, distraction and the Christmas rush

At the last monthly practice support meeting held in Newcastle at the County Hotel, we explored how the lead up to Christmas can be a valuable and rich basis for our practice to support us amidst the increased pressures we may experience at this time of year.

Where I live, which is in quite a remote area of the Northumberland National Park, we have already had snow lying before Christmas, and have been snowed in at the bottom of our track. It means we leave the car at the top of the track, and ferry everything we need up and down to the house. Sometimes in the absolute dark, we need a torch to cross the cattle grids and it can feel like something of an expedition, hearing only the crunch of the snow on the verges as we pick our way carefully down hill, sometimes catching sheeps’ eyes gleaming in the dark as we pass, and the glimpse of a thin moon hanging above the birch trees. Everything remains frozen at the moment – the fields are coated in thick white frost, the burn in the woods is a wonderland of frozen  pools and hanging icicles, and the whole landscape is penetrated by a cold charge of deep stillness. It is midwinter and nature is moving towards its greatest point of contraction as we head towards the solstice.

Despite this natural slowing down in the natural world,  and the moving towards a time  of focussed gathering, giving and celebration, it is a time of year when we can experience the speediness and commercial drive of society,  greater pressures on our time and energies, and the stress of expectations from ourselves and others to conform to perceived norms of socialising  that we may not feel wholly comfortable with.  It may also be a time of increased loneliness and difficulty, depending on our individual circumstances.  As we hurtle towards the darkest point of the year, we also seem to hurtle forwards into a brightly glittering and  artificially illuminated world. How then, do we balance these internal and external factors, and keep close to the core of our being and what we most value?

Although in times of increased business and pressure, the “no time” mind set is easily activated, mindful awareness itself is always within us and brings the possibility of countless moments of leaning in to just whatever situation we are in. Here right in the heart of the Christmas rush is the gift of practice itself. At the core of our being the opening is already there. The very nature of the season in all its manifestations serves as a  reminder of how valuable it is to start just where we are in the present moment. Instead of being pulled out of connection by the glitter of  external distractions, we can compassionately find the shape of whatever moment we are in, and let this be an opportunity to soften and open to this very place.

In our meeting we reflected together how practice, very simply, allows a perspective and grounded-ness  that shines a way helpfully forward, moment by moment. As we feel our way in making countless choices and decisions, it becomes possible to  find the ground in just the next moment, and trust the sufficiency of our own awareness and resources, one step at a time. And so we find our way home, in repeated moments,  rather like  discovering  the sufficiency of the natural  light from the moon, creeping down a snowy track in the dark of a winter’s night, and finding the path that is already there. In the midst of the glitter and the chaos, we can remember to shift gears in to a moment of awareness and grounded presence and the kindness of possibility that shines from this. Instead of feeling far away from the gates of our practice, we discover it right there under our feet. Even the process of taking a simple breath reminds us of what is most significant and meaningful in its bare simplicity.

Monthly mindfulness practice support meetings are held at The County Hotel, Neville Street, Newcastle upon Tyne on a Thursday evening, from 6.30-8pm. They are open to anyone who has completed an 8 week MBSR/MBCT course. Please see the Course Dates listing for future meeting dates.

 

Keeping Practice Alive Through Personal Practice Mentoring

As we continue our journey of mindfulness practice, it is vitally important in the long term that we keep our engagement and motivation alive, with a wind of enthusiasm and purpose at our back. We need to nurture a clear intention of why we’re practising and how we are engaging with what arises along the way. In so doing, we keep close to the possibilities that practice offers us for leading a meaningful life, of benefit to ourselves and others.

Whether you have recently completed an eight-week MBSR or MBCT course, or have been practising for some time, the journey of practice involves a continuous enquiry in to how we relate to our practice, as well as specific considerations about the experience of practice itself. It matters that we maintain interest in what happens, even when the journey seems boring, frustrating or irritating, when we lose inspiration or experience bouts of laziness and discouragement, when we question what we’re doing and perhaps encounter difficulties with practice.

As mindfulness-based teachers, it is especially important that we keep closely connected to the roots of our own practice and maintain an active and clear interest in how our practice unfolds and develops over time, as this will naturally inform our teaching practice, and allow it to be authentic and vivid.

The Mindfulness Network has recently launched a new provision in the form of personal practice mentoring to facilitate the exploration of ongoing mindfulness practice in our everyday lives and work. The aim of this provision is to support ongoing personal mindfulness practice within a secular framework and context, through one-to-one sessions, with an experienced mindfulness-based teacher/supervisor.

As a mentor, I greatly value the richly creative space that mentoring offers for sharing the unique journey of practice with others, and enquiring into something that is so fundamental to our human growth, development and evolving potential.

Our mentors at the Mindfulness Network have a wealth of practice experience between them and they are all deeply committed to offering this opportunity for an enhanced focus on personal practice and to providing supportive connection and guidance along the way. However long you have been practising and however you feel your practice is going, practice mentoring can encourage you in your endeavours, and offers valuable space for reflection, fresh inspiration, and renewed enquiry.

Do you think this might benefit you? For further information about practice mentoring, how it works and who it is for, and to see a list of mentors, please go to www.mindfulness-supervision.org.uk.

Aware and knowing it

Awareness is something that is inherently part of us, so developing awareness through the practice of mindfulness meditation does not mean adding something new or extra to the picture, it involves developing and enhancing skills that are already here, naturally within us. Mindful awareness can simply be described as knowing what is happening while it is happening. It is the knowing quality of awareness that helps us to develop all the beneficial qualities of mind that meditation brings. We don’t just see a flower, we know we are seeing a flower. Through consciously paying attention to what is immediately within our experience, we become more conscious of what is arising in our awareness, from moment to moment.

Whatever we experience, and whatever appears in the mind, whether it be a sound, a smell, a sense of touch, taste, a thought, emotion, or physical sensation, we can be aware of it. So everything can be part of meditation practice and a support for mindful awareness. It is not something we add to life, it is life itself. So moments of seeing the bare winter trees, smelling woodsmoke in the wind, feeling the warmth of water in a tap, hearing the clank of cutlery in a washing up bowl, can all be moments of meditation, and reminders that practice is here with us, and right under our very noses. It is not something elusive that we either “do” or “don’t do”. When we begin to explore meditation practice, with the subtle shift of effort involved in remembering to be aware, it is easy for us to make a big deal  of it.  But in essence, it involves a simple shift of  focus, many billions of times. And it includes recognising clearly, when awareness has drifted, and we are not present. This is not something that has gone “wrong” or off the rails, it is part of the practice itself.

It is through recognising awareness and  in countless ordinary moments, that meditation practice builds, outside of any more formal practice that we may do. As long as we are are aware, we are meditating. So the process of building up a practice, deepening concentration, mindfulness and compassion, stems from this very simple fact of human life, that awareness is a capacity we can develop beneficially in our lives to bring us greater clarity and connection to life. And it can be completely part of our ordinary, everyday life as we go about our business.

The Tibetan meditation master, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, gives the most wonderfully encouraging advice to us all as follows:

” As long as you maintain awareness or mindfulness, no  matter what happens when you practice, your practice is meditation. If you watch thoughts, that’s meditation. If you can’t watch your thoughts, that is meditation too. Any of these experiences can be support for meditation. The essential thing is to maintain awareness, no matter what thoughts, emotions, sensations occur. If you remember that awareness of what occurs is meditation, then meditation becomes much easier than you think.”

From “The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness“.

 

 

Generosity

The 6 week Attitudinal Foundations of Mindfulness course which I have been running in central Newcastle upon Tyne has recently concluded. It has been a rich journey of sharing and reflection together as a group.  The course  has offered a more expanded “vocabulary” for exploring how practice can be applied in the fabric of day to day life, through greater familiarity with  the ways in which these qualities show up  time and time again in our experience of practice. This has brought new insights, and has opened the door to new possibilities for responding to what we meet in the flow of life, and through recognising the places where we habitually struggle.

The attitudinal factors of mindfulness have been described by Jon Kabat-Zinn as “the pillars of mindfulness practice” (Full Catastrophe Living, Piatkus, 2004. )These fundamental qualities include: beginner’s mind, non-judgement, patience, trust, non- striving, acceptance and letting go. Together they constitute interconnected qualities of heart and mind which bring an essential attitudinal approach to how we relate to experience through practice, and which are naturally developed through the course of pracice itself. Recently Jon Kabat-Zinn  has included generosity and gratitude as additional qualities which are also essential to practice.

As a spontaneous expression of generosity, on the final evening of the course,  a participant  who runs a speciality bakery, brought along the day’s surplus of loaves, cakes, mince pies and Christmas biscuits which were bought by members of the group, and all donations made given to the charity Shelter, and also the food distributed that evening to homeless people on the streets in the vicinity of Neville Street and Central Station.

At Queen Elizabeth High School in Hexham there has also been a recent collection made by the school Human Rights Group of second hand waterproof jackets, mens shoes, hats, scarves, gloves and toiletries for donation to  the Newcastle  West End Refugee Service (www.wers.org.uk) which is an established charity supporting assylum seekers and refugees in Newcastle upon Tyne. And right out in Northumberland National Park, the community of Tarset is running a donation “hub” at the local Holly Bush Inn for donations of children’s Christmas gifts and seasonal food treats that can be added to much needed food parcels at this time of year at The Newcastle West End Foodbank (www.newcastlewestend.foodbank.org.uk). This offers emergency support to local people in crisis as part of  a nationwide network of foodbanks, supported by the Trussell Trust working to combat hunger and poverty across the UK. These individual and community gestures make a direct difference in significant ways at a time of year when human need is at its greatest and needs to be remembered, and which we can all find ways of contributing to.