Is everyone good at something they love?

You hear it so often – ‘do something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’.

Read any self development book, listen to a podcast or read an article on finding your purpose and you’ll be guided to figuring out what you love doing. What you’re passionate about. What you’re good at.

The million dollar question is then, is everyone good at something they love? Does that one thing jump out at you? Is there something you would happily do for free?

In my experience it’s not that straight forward. For some people, their natural talent definitely shines through. For others it doesn’t.

I’d be interested to know about you – do you feel there’s something you love? Are you good at something? Is there that one thing you’re always drawn toward?

Do tell…

[image copyright thank you Kyle Peyton Instagram @kylepyt]

Are you distracted by sounds during meditation?

I doubt there is a single person who isn’t distracted by sound during meditation. Recently, however, I started a meditation course with Sam Harris, which you can find on your app store by searching for Waking Up with Sam Harris.

Even meditating early in the morning you will find you are subject to sounds, whether it be dogs barking, distant traffic or birds singing. I have often meditated on birds singing which I find quite peaceful but add a barking dog or someone leaving their house in a car and I find myself distracted. I’ll bring my focus back to the breath and resume.

Sam Harris teaches that rather than be distracted by sounds, no matter what their origin, to simply focus upon them. Just in the same way that you would the breath.

I was actually surprised at how easy this was and the difference it made. Rather than being distracted by sounds, they simply become a focus of the meditation itself.

Previously I deemed birds chirping to be pleasant, whereas dogs barking to be distracting. Now it doesn’t matter what the sound.

“If you can’t meditate in a boiler room, you can’t meditate.” – Alan Watts

The sound simply permeates consciousness just in the same way breath does. And sound comes and goes, just like the breath does.

So the next time you meditate and hear the kids shouting, dogs barking, cars starting or neighbours chatting, simply focus on whatever sounds come into your awareness and follow them until they disappear.

This totally changes your meditation. Try it.

 

[This image was taken (clearly on the roof of a car!) close to Point Reyes, California – if you can meditate on the top of a car you can meditate anywhere, right?]

How to meditate

In my book, Maldives for the Mind, there is a whole section on how to meditate….which I hope you will read when it is published. For now, I thought I would write a post on that, because after all, it’s one of the most fundamental questions people ask.

Some time ago (2008 to be exact) I went to visit a Buddhist monk a couple of times at his beautiful Japanese garden. Pure Land is just outside of Nottingham, but when you enter the walls, it is as though you’ve gone through the gate to a secret garden and transported somewhere else. Over years and years he has cultivated the garden, working on it every day. It reminded me of meditation practice – the garden representing your mind, where the practice cultivates it every day. Instead of creating plants and trees, you clear space instead and your mind expands and grows.

After walking around the garden, we went into the house and around to the meditation room. Buddha Maitreya teaches a simple mantra; ‘just sit, just be.’ He elongates the word, just, so he will chant…’juuuuuuust sit, juuuuuust be’, in such a soft and rhythmic voice that it is as though you have been hypnotised. Sometimes when I meditate I say that silently to myself.

Meditation is not difficult, but the act of doing it often is. We are not used to sitting and doing nothing. We always have something to gain, an expectation to arrive at or a desire to fulfil. Simply sitting with no expectation does not come easy. Sitting and relaxing does not come easy and as human beings, we tend to gravitate towards what is easy and not what is difficult or uncomfortable.

For this reason I always say, just sit for a minute or two. Otherwise you will find the practice becomes a chore before you have given it time to begin.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. What we do with them is of our own making. You will come up with lots of excuses why you can’t meditate and not having time will most likely be top of your list. Make the time. This is time for you and time to be at peace before the madness of your day begins.

I meditate each morning after my yoga practice (and after a cup of tea in between too). Morning and evening are the best times to meditate because it is when our mind is more open and receptive. It is a time when it is usually quieter too. It doesn’t matter what time of day you meditate, but if you can make time for morning or evening, you will find the practice easier to form a habit.

Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Don’t feel you have to sit in lotus position or cross legged at all. Sit in a position that feels comfortable for you – even if that is in a chair with your feet on the floor. If you need to support your back to be straight for a few minutes, that’s ok too. Sit and settle in for a moment or two. Wriggle around and do whatever you need to do to just be sitting comfortably.

You will most likely find that you are tense or your shoulders sitting far too close to your ears. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose and when you let the breath out through your mouth, allow your shoulders to drop and your body to relax. Do this for several breaths until you feel more relaxed. On a side note this is a good exercise to do if you feel stressed – just breathing in through your nose, breathing out through your mouth and relaxing your body, letting go of tension.

Once you have relaxed a bit, allow your breath to just fall into its natural, even rhythm and start to follow your breath. I don’t mean get up and run after it, I mean just notice it as you breathe in and as you breathe out. Your mouth should be closed and you are just breathing normally in through your nose and out through your nose. Indian sages say your nose is for breathing and your mouth is for eating. This is also how you breathe in yoga too.

You can close your eyes or open them, whatever feels comfortable. I do both. If you open them, have them half open and let your gaze settle to the floor a few feet in front of you.

If you struggle to follow your breath, just count 1 as you breathe in, 2 as your breathe out, up to the count of 10 and start again. You could also say silently to yourself, ‘SO’ on the in breath and, ‘HUM’ on the out breath, or as Buddha Maitreya suggests, ‘juuuuust sit, juuuuust be.’ Something will just resonate with you. Try the counting first and see how you get on. Over time you won’t need the counting, but to begin with, it helps.

One of the biggest myths about meditating is that you are meant to be clearing your mind of thoughts. Let me tell you now, that’s impossible! In Buddhism we refer to the mind as the mad monkey, because it jumps around from one thought to the next.We all think around 64,000 thoughts a day and most often when you begin meditation you will find you have more thoughts than you usually do, or at least you notice more of them. The practice of meditation is to bring your focus back to your breath. If that is literally every other second then so be it.

You will be counting as you breathe and you might get to 2 before a thought pops into your head. Simply notice the thought but take your attention back to your breath – counting again as you breathe in and out, or saying your mantra, ‘so – hum’. There will be times when before you realise it you have been sitting for a few minutes thinking about something that had popped into your head. That’s ok too. Thoughts will lead you off on a rabbit trail. Just notice them and always return your focus to your breath. Again, it is the practice of meditation to bring your thoughts back to the breath – the bringing back is the practice.

People often ask what happens during meditation, when you are focused on your breath. I don’t have a definitive answer for this because it is different for everyone. Let whatever comes up, just be and return your focus to the breath.

If you always remain a beginner you will find you always have something new to learn and meditation will become a great teacher. Be where you are in the moment, just sit, just be, focusing on your breath. Start there.

Buddha Maitreya wrote a little yellow booklet called Poems for Peace and here is a paragraph from one …

SITTING

everything is sitting…

tree is sitting

mountain is sitting

flower is sitting

Meditation is flower

is mountain

is tree

You can find out more about the Pure Land Meditation Centre & Japanese Garden…and Buddha Maitreya at the Pure Land website

[Image copyright Pure Land]

Jumble of Thoughts

My sister meditates regularly and her thoughts and questions this morning prompted me to write this post. She relayed to me a Tim Ferriss podcast she was going to listen to about being overwhelmed by information and how to know what to take in and what not to and why.

She said that with returning to a more regular meditation practice recently she has practised the, ‘gone’ meditation and loving kindness. There is so much good information coming to her around meditation that she said she has been sitting to meditate with a jumble of thoughts over what to choose to meditate on.

She asked, “how do I know what makes sense for me and what to choose and how to choose it? How do I not be overwhelmed and over loaded? I know I can’t choose everything, but I want to.”

I was driving at the time I was listening to this (my sister lives on the other side of the world in California and we Vox [walkie talkie messaging] every morning) and so I pondered on it for a while. Instead of voxing back my thoughts like I usually would, my sister’s thoughts and questions inspired me to put this into a blog – thank you Mel 🙂

It didn’t come to me until this evening that the answer is actually in the question (often the case). The ‘how’ (as in how do I know what to choose, what makes sense) is not of our concern, just the intention. My dad used to say to us, ‘yours is not to reason why, yours is just to do or die.’ He didn’t mean it literally, well at times perhaps he did, but apart from the ‘die’ bit of that saying, there is great truth in it. The what, where, why and how of things really isn’t our concern. It can be left for the more infinite power of the universe to take care of.

When you sit to meditate, although you may have a jumble of thoughts or several ideas about what you should or shouldn’t be meditating on, truly your overall intention is just to meditate, right?

So it doesn’t matter how or what you are meditating on. If you think about that, it allows a sense of freedom and relaxation in just simply sitting and being; allowing the flow of meditation to carry you on whatever journey it takes.

When we meditate, we connect on a level of energy with universal energy; the infinite power of the universe, god or whatever you like to view that as. It is this connection that really enables the ‘hows’ of everything to be taken care of.

Remember, to meditate is to focus your attention fully upon something. At times when I meditate, I have a clear intention. One could argue that this negates the act of meditating, but at times I seek solutions or answers and I am clear on that. I don’t have an expectation or an outcome, but I might know I am going to meditate on ‘gone’ or something I am looking for guidance in. If answers come (they always do at some point) in the meditation, great, but if they don’t then that’s great too. I usually find that my path to this decision also comes from within and unless I feel that intention clearly, I let it go. I remind myself as the Buddha said, in the absence of grasping, one is set free.

Often times, however, I don’t have an intention. I just trust that what comes is meant to be. If that is a jumble of thoughts, where I am actually thinking about what to choose and what to focus my meditation on, then I will simply allow that, and I keep returning my focus to the breath. In doing this the thoughts dissipate.

Meditation creates space and separates the jumble of thoughts. Think about your mind being a garden cluttered with autumn leaves (thoughts). Meditation is like the wind, swirling gently between the pile of leaves and blowing them, until they scatter further apart and finally blow away. Truly clearing your mind.

When you realise you are where you are meant to be, what is right for you at the time will come. Meditation brings clarity of mind and a calm approach to thinking; over time thoughts don’t seem to come as fast as they used to and they seem far less jumbled. It isn’t so much that your thinking has slowed down, more that the quality of  your thoughts has accelerated. Thoughts become sharper and focused, more relevant.

There is no wrong or right way to meditate and every day is different. The jumble of thoughts and wanting to focus on so many things to meditate on and bring good things into your life is truly a beautiful thing. Simply notice that during your meditation, returning your focus to the breath. Allow the meditation practice of doing that, unravel the jumble. If it doesn’t feel clearer during that meditation, it will later that day, or during the next one, or the next one. There is no rush, you are where you are meant to be. There is great peace in that. It is a consistent practice that will create space and clarity of mind.

If you find that your meditation is focusing on the racing jumble of thoughts rather than your breath, then that’s ok. You are focusing on something! If you follow this jumble of thoughts for a short time in your mind,  you will naturally settle back to your breath. Thinking is exhausting.

The breath is your centre,  your life force and power within. It is the gateway that connects you to higher levels of consciousness and universal energy. It simply requires your focus and practice…

Breathe in, breathe out.

Gone

Today I practised ‘gone’ in my mediation. I read about meditation masters who practice this.

Simple, yet powerful.

Gone is always something I have struggled with for most of my life. When I was 7, I got home from school one day to find that my older two brothers and sister had gone. I had no idea where they were or why they had left.

Growing up my family dynamics were complicated. At the time of course I was just a child and had two older brothers, an older sister and a younger brother.

The reality of the matter was, however, that when my dad met my mum he already had three children. One from a marriage that was for convenience (that he had entered  into to keep him from being put into prison) and his wife abandoned their baby (my eldest brother) when he was just 9 days old in the back of a van. And two children from another mother, who he didn’t marry. Unbeknown to me there was another mother and child in between that, but I didn’t know about her until I was 25, so she never really featured in our brother and sister clan.

The first child, my eldest brother, thought that the mother of the second two children (my older brother and sister) was his mother. He was never told otherwise and he didn’t learn of this until he was 15. Inevitably my dad separated from this second mother and my eldest brother, although remaining with her, spent most of his time with my dad, living at my dad’s sister’s house. He then met my mum and because he wasn’t a man to be reckoned with and extremely possessive, was granted custody of the other two children. All three children lived with my mum and dad for the three years before I was born, which at that time would have made them 5, 7 and 9. So for 7 years we lived as brothers and sisters.

If you think about the events leading up to my birth, there was a lot of gone featured for my brothers and sisters too. Almost like something we all shared, even before I was born.

Back to the day I got home from school. There was never an explanation as to where they had gone and my memory was of sitting on our wooden stairs in the house with my younger brother crying and hugging each other. We were totally bewildered. Later on I discovered that they had gone to live with the second mother again. This came from the experience of going to see them there, not from being told or explained to about what or why this had happened. From that point on, all five of us would come and go. There were another two children who arrived later, but by that point gone wasn’t significant for them. Just something that seemed to exist for the five of us.

Gone has figured heavily in my life, because from that day forward, I actually engineered things to go out of my life before I became attached to them. At the time I was of course blissfully unaware of this dysfunction. This manifested itself into everything from friendships to school work and later to relationships and my career. Coupled with other behaviour such as rushing through everything at breakneck speed… born from living with an abusive father and living in fear of the unknown and what would happen next, being bad and so on, this just became my chaotic and destructive normal. Apart from the strong bonds to my brothers and sisters, especially my younger brother who had remained with me when the other three had gone, nothing stuck and I ended everything, usually abruptly only to then start something else before finishing it. Gone, gone, gone.

The pace at which this gone occurred became more frantic the older I became. Although now many, many (I could say many several more times but you get the gist) years later I have a good understanding of all of this situation and have forgiven, accepted and moved beyond the emotional trauma of it all, I notice at times, I am still somewhat drawn to gone.

You will sense my elation then that I learnt in meditation, gone is actually synonymous with joy and meditating on, ‘gone’ brings joy. It’s uplifting to me that the idea of ‘gone’, which previously dominated my life to such a debilitating degree, now brings joy.

Highlighting Buddhist philosophy, meditating on, ‘gone’ reflects the impermanence of life and of the suffering attachment to things brings. Everything ends and an acceptance of this brings peace, which in turn breeds joy.

To meditation on ‘gone’, simply sit and notice the end of the out breath, where the breath is gone and the point at which it has gone. Notice that moment. I realised there is gone at the end of the in breath too, for a tiny moment as your breath whispers in and up, as though floating in your meditation. There is a tiny moment of gone, before the exhale returns your breath out again. Notice the gone.

This spills into your mindfulness practice during the day. Notice the moments of gone in every day life. The sound of the wind stopping, a bird you are watching flying from a tree. Bigger things in your life like your loved ones, material things such as your home, car or money, nothing is permanent – everything ends and is gone at some point. There is something magical about gone – it signifies the end, but that marks a beginning. Impermanence as much as it brings suffering can bring joy and meditating on, ‘gone’ brings an acceptance of this and sheds a whole new light on your life…try it.

 

 

[this photo was taken in the late seventies of me and my closest brother; two peas in a pod…and the car is a Vauxhall Viva!]