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?]

He loves me, he loves me not

I wasn’t sure what to call this post and the title of the game, where one person seeks to find out if someone loves them or not by picking the petals of a flower; taking it in turns between he (or indeed she) loves me, he loves me not, seems apt. The line that goes with the last petal picked is the true answer. Oh if life were that simple!

How many times have you wondered whether someone likes you? Not just in a romantic way, but anyone you know. It might be a friend, work colleague, sibling, parent or yes, partner. Are you cursed with the dreaded self limiting belief that people don’t like or love you? This most likely stems from feeling not good enough, but the belief that you aren’t loveable or likeable is one that can completely mar your every day life.

This topic has come up in conversations I’ve had with three different people during the past week and so thought perhaps it was worthy of a little prose.

Just because we believe something to be so, doesn’t make it true. In the case of not being liked, most of the time we are completely wrong in our estimations. However, because we believe it, so to do we think it, which means we feel it and we begin to behave in such a way that we attract it! This cycle of conscious creation is what makes the world go round. The universe does not differentiate between good and bad, it simply is, and so the cycle works just as well for the negative as it does for the positive. What we think we become.

‘What you think you become.

What you feel you attract.

What you imagine, you create.’

– Buddha

Ultimately, this means we end up attracting into our life the very thing we are most afraid of – people not liking us! The problem is that when you grip something too tightly you don’t allow it to flow and often we try too hard. We believe someone doesn’t like us and so we try hard to make them, which only pushes them further away.

I have found in life that the solution is always to be found in the problem and in this case it is simply to let go. It is quite freeing and just in using that word it sounds so light and breezy and easy to do. I realise, however, that the reality of it is very different and many people find it incredibly difficult. The reason? They worry and worrying is what gets in the way and certainly what gets in the way of letting go of the need to be liked or feeling that you are disliked or unloved.

Worry begets worry. The more you worry, the more you will worry.

Practising mindfulness can help, both in terms of breaking the worry cycle and letting go of the belief you are not liked or loved.

Establishing a regular meditation practice is always the foundation of mindfulness practice because it sets you off on the right footing and starts your day in the direction of being more mindful. Even if this starts out as just a few minutes each morning, the benefits are greater than not meditating at all.

To get into the habit of being mindful throughout the day I always suggest cues. My watch reminds me to breathe often, not that I stop breathing of course, but I use these lovely prompts as a reminder to be mindful. It might be on the hour each hour, when your next client arrives or in the case of the problem we are discussing here, I suggest you use your worrying as the cue to be mindful. In this way you are not only practising mindfulness, but you are actually interrupting your worry cycle and over time, with persistent and consistent practice, you will break the habit of worrying. The cue will form a habit and your reward will be breaking that worry cycle and becoming present.

You cannot ruminate over the past or worry about the future if you are present.

Remember, to be present is simply to bring yourself back to now – the moment you are in. Engage all your senses in each moment; what can you smell, hear and feel? The more you practice mindfulness the more you begin to notice and the more your senses heighten.

This doesn’t have to apply to just worrying about whether people like you or not, it can relate to any worry.

Through meditation and mindfulness practice we begin to see things as they truly are, not how we see them. We begin to see that much of our belief about not being liked isn’t true and if it indeed is true, we can choose to move away from that situation or simply not respond.

Truly it comes down to liking and loving yourself first. When you do, the same rules apply. You cannot like yourself and not begin to attract that in others; it’s simply how the universe works – like attracts like after all.

There is a humorous twist on the, ‘love me, love me not’ game, that is, ‘he loves me, he loves me lots’ – let that be your mantra.

 

 

 

Learning to stay [in meditation]

I have found that when you need meditation the most it is the hardest time to practice. Those times when you feel frustrated, stuck, down, off balance, irritated, displaced, angry or sad. It is easy to meditate when life is on the up swing. When you’ve got a spring in your step, feeling balanced, well and healthy, but when your life has taken a downturn and you are feeling generally out of sorts, it can be difficult to sit, even for a minute or two. What to do during these times?

I once listened to a podcast with Tara Brach and she talked about working with people who were extremely challenged when it came to being able to sit and meditate. People who, for a myriad of reasons find it nigh on impossible to be present. She talked about ‘staying’. The moment when you sit and meditate but want to get up again or leave the present moment. Silently repeating ‘stay’ in each moment can help. Even if you are sitting in the present moment for just a minute or two, it is better than not sitting at all.

The key is being present, no matter what you’re feelings. Accepting them in each moment and being present with them, not forcing them away or inviting them in, simply noticing in each moment what you are feeling within your body. Practising kindness toward yourself (which again during these moments can be incredibly difficult) will also help.

‘The wound is the place where the light enters you.’ – Rumi

Tara Brach has a Learning to Stay meditation that I particularly enjoyed. It is only a few minutes long. During this, notice how you feel when you rest your hand on your heart. Notice how your feelings soften toward yourself and how that feels. You might want to move your hand away, but ‘stay’ with it.

Visit the guided ‘Learning to Stay’ meditation on Tara Brach’s website

 

[This image was taken walking on the Conwy Suspension Bridge, once the gateway to Conwy, and the Toll-Keeper’s House, heading into Conwy Castle, Wales.]

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]

Noticing Joy

Joy is all around you if you notice it.

I had not experienced joy too much in my life. It was one of those fleeting emotions that came and went, but not often and I can’t think I ever really noticed it. It is difficult to experience joy when you are unhappy most of the time. My kids of course have brought me joy and continue to do so every time I am with them. Aside from them, however, joy was always very fleeting.

When I first started yoga, I remember leaving a class and feeling what I can only describe as being in a bubble of joy. For no reason, other than how the class had left me feeling. I was floating, elated and uplifted. It was so overwhelming that I could hardly contain the feelings and wanted to burst.

Over the years I have come to notice joy more and recently as my meditation seems to have supersized, joy is everywhere. It’s in the sky as I drive along and then when I notice that, I find I turn a corner only to see the sky again from a different perspective and yet more joy. It’s in the kid waiting at the crossing with his mum, doing a funny dance, or the lady hoisting up her dress at the cash machine (ATM) because it got stuck in her underwear (the dress, not the ATM). It’s in the flowers being sold off in the shop because they are dying, but then I get them home and they look like they were picked fresh yesterday. It’s in my garden, as tired, cold and worn out as it looks, hibernating in this freezing cold weather. It’s hearing the son my son is playing on his keyboard or hearing my daughter singing in the shower. It’s the smell of fresh air when I walk out of the house, the stars in a clear sky when I look up to let the dog out at night. Joy is literally everywhere and the more you notice it, the more joy there seems to be to notice. I smile at things throughout the day that before I would never have even noticed. I laugh out loud at things that before I would never have been in a place to laugh about.

Why is this?

The act of noticing something truly enables you to notice more of it, but it is more than that. It is being mindful to notice in the first place. Meditation breathes life into your day and what flutters along with that is joy.

Tomorrow, be mindful. Expect joy….notice joy and experience joy.

 

[Today’s image is my talented nephew, Cory (aka San Francisco hip hop artist, Rezyl Azzir ]

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.

Daily Prompt: The Conveyor

It is in and of itself, this thing that I describe,

a perpetual motion of moments, so difficult to transcribe.

Powerful and yet so delicate, a paradox for sure,

you’ll want to try and catch it, and keep it more and more.

Its nature is all encompassing, omnipresent with no bounds,

sit silently I ask you, be present and hear the sounds.

Nurturing from within, restoring your inner peace,

you are part of it and it of you, for that will never cease.

Whatever you hold inside you, fear not this mighty conveyor

It is of course meditation, of which I’m a humble purveyor.

 

The Mighty Conveyor

 

[Photo credit to my lovely photographer friend, Gayle Bevan, who took this photo of me while in prayer pose]