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]

Mindful of Others

A little background before I begin the story to this post…

I freelance as a brand and marketing consultant, which involves a myriad of different work situations from writing and creating artwork to branding and managing social media. I work for a variety of companies, some regular and some just on a project basis.

Yesterday, I was at a marketing meeting for a business where I’ve managed their brand and marketing provision for the past 3 years.  I enjoy being freelance because I can work from home and manage my own time, but obviously providing regular provision for clients means that I also dip into scenarios where, for all intents and purposes, I am seemingly an employee. I get involved in day to day operations and that includes meetings.

I don’t consider myself conventional in many areas and this lends itself well to being able to work different to most people. I am flexible and can adapt to changing environments and workloads. I like the variety and of having a different ‘head’ on depending who I am working for.

Someone new joined this particular company and although there is great benefit to the business in this person’s role, there is also, in the process, as there often is, a lot of toes being trodden on. Egos are bruised, emotions are high and the meeting became rather fraught. As a parent, it reminded me of when my kids were younger and I would go pick them up from nursery. In this tiny space there would be all these kids jostling for the slide or arguing over who had something first.

Having been through a journey of self development for over 10 years I have come to realise that as we grow into adults, unless we become aware and address our dysfunctions that form from our childhood experiences, they will continue to play out and actually become stronger the older we get.

What better way for them to appear than in the workplace.

I meditate daily, I practice yoga every morning before the birds wake up, I eat a healthy diet, I don’t drink and I have worked on my issues more than I can myself comprehend at times, but this does not make me super human, in fact I would say it makes me more human. It makes me more sensitive and certainly more aware. During the meeting, I too felt a surge of emotions come to the surface around my own role and the benefit of that within the organisation.

I am a constant work in progress and so naturally when I drove home and later mulled over in my mind the events of yesterday, I realised how attached we truly are to things that really, in the grand scheme of things, do not matter.

I don’t say this in the sense of not caring about your job or that the work you do doesn’t matter, I say it in the sense of the way we allow our egos to steer the ship. For when it does, we are allowing our emotions to take control and run away with us. This is what happened yesterday for me and I believe most definitely, for a couple of other people in the room too.

Not only was the meeting difficult, but in jest my beliefs were also questioned. My Buddhist path and the core of what I believe and that which I choose to guide my life with. Together with my role in the business, I not only took these things to heart, but actually questioned them to a degree that resulted in me feeling stressed.

Is it bad to question yourself? Not at all. Tony Robbins always says, ‘quality questions create a quality life.’ I try to avoid good and bad but it came to me in meditation that questioning myself wasn’t the issue. That was just part for the course I was on. The problem was in that I allowed myself to respond unconsciously. I wasn’t present or being mindful at the time. I had slipped into autopilot and the old patterns that had previously for most of my adult life ran the show, were once again in control. You could think of this as your child like self acting out and as I said earlier, jostling for position to keep on the slide or hold the toy. The common saying is known as, throwing our toys out of the pram!

When I am mindful I have empathy for others. I see that often people act out (much like children) their dysfunctions and let their egos run the show. They respond to each emotion as they arise. If you have ever watched children in a playground before, you’ll know the behaviour I am talking about. Adults in a meeting are at times no different.

When we are mindful we are present and aware of our responses. We notice emotions within us, but because we are present we can choose how to respond. We can remain silent, we can ponder on a question or a comment before we say it.

The outcome of being mindful in a situation like I was in yesterday, is vastly different from one where you are on autopilot.

I would not ordinarily question my core beliefs, because over the years I have chosen for them to be there. They are part of who I am and how I choose to live my life. I would not question my value because I have come to know my value and I would not question my behaviour because I always try to be the best I can be and to help others.

However, when you are on autopilot you are not clear and when the ego and emotions run the show there is confusion, doubt and fear.

I left the meeting yesterday feeling all of those things and they plagued me as I went to sleep and during my yoga practice this morning.

Meditation of course brings clarity and during my practice it came to me, that of course I am human (people often need to remind me of that fact), and I can only do my best. To keep on giving, whenever there is opportunity to, to remain humble and keep learning as if a beginner, to continue working on my own personal development so that I can help others, but most importantly to be mindful. Mindful in every moment I can be, because ultimately that enables me to be mindful of others.

When we are mindful of others we can smile and let things go, because we see the humanisms in others that are also present in ourselves. Everyone has their own set of dysfunctions that they play out on a daily basis, everyone is doing the best they can with what they have and who they are. When you are mindful, you are in a place of forgiveness and acceptance of that.

Being mindful of others means you do not need to be right, instead you can choose kindness.

Namasté (I honour that which is in you that is also present within me).

[This beautiful ink and letters image is from Geli. You can visit her blog and read and see more of her work at http://hellogelibee.blogspot.co.uk/ Thank You Geli!]

Meditating on…

You can meditate on pretty much anything, the most common of course, being the breath. My default is vipassana meditation; focusing on things as they are.

For me, meditation always begins with settling in. Having got comfortable, I notice my surroundings, what I can hear or just the silence, the birds singing or the noise that may or may not be going on outside the room. I notice sensations in my body and have an awareness of how my mind feels. I then naturally bring my focus to the breath, noticing the inhale and the exhale. Occasionally, I will meditate on ‘gone’. You can read about that here in another blog.

Sometimes, I meditate on decisions I’d like to make or problems I would like solutions for. The answers we seek can always be found within, but are not always apparent. Meditation is the guide and enables the answers to come. Not always immediately or in the way we had thought, but the answers do come.

Occasionally, I meditate on something I have read, perhaps a quote and this week I did just that and wanted to share it. When I first read this, something about the words struck me. It was so familiar and yet there was a complete lack of understanding to it. Over the the course of that day it kept returning to me over and over again, and so I have since meditated on it for a few days. It has enabled me to see, clearly as I have never seen before, that the intentions I have for myself in as much as the way I would like to feel, are already here, within me, right now.

I received this from my daily TUT – Notes from the Universe, which you can also receive, free, at www.tut.com – I look forward to these every day, but this one was special. Here is what it said;

To better understand where you’re at, Shelley, seek to understand why you want what you want, getting to the emotions you’re after.
To go even deeper, ask yourself why you think you can’t feel those now.

Hardly a Japanese Koan, but it does require pondering and what better way than to meditate upon it.

After a couple of days meditating on this, I realised that my environment is not as I would want it to be right now but the emotions I am after most definitely are.

Try meditating on that quote and see what comes up for you…let me know how it goes 🙂

[I took this beautiful image at Half Moon Bay, California…love the colours]

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!]

Practice loving kindness

I learnt this while reading Tim Ferriss’ book, Tools of Titans. In it there is a chapter on Chade Meng Tan – have a read on him at Wikipedia  – such a great dude. I later read his book Joy on Demand. He talks about the benefits of practising loving kindness and specifically of one woman who had the happiest day in 7 years after just practising a few seconds of what he suggested the following day.

Aside from recommending you read Joy on Demand, I highly recommend practising loving kindness. It blows my mind how much this works. Of course the intention isn’t to benefit yourself, but others – even so, you’ll reap the benefits by default and whichever way you look at it, we all want to be happy right?

I usually practice this before I go to bed, but Meng suggests you do it for 10 seconds (it probably takes less than that) on the hour every hour while at work.

Here’s what you do…

Pick out two random people who walk by you at work at that particular moment and wish for them to be happy. That’s it. Seriously. Wish for the person you choose to be happy. Truly wish that for them. If you don’t do this at work you can try it for someone you know. If you struggle wishing others to be happy then you actually need this more than anything, but starting out with someone you know will make it easier.

That’s it.

Try it, on the hour, every hour, tomorrow. Choose a random couple of people and individually wish for them to be happy. Think in your mind as you look at that person, “I wish for you to be happy.” It is actually surprising how great this makes you feel, but at the end of the day just see for yourself…..and then do it every day and the end of that week see how you feel.

Tim Ferriss (the master experimenter himself) said that he tried it for a month and could not believe the difference in his happiness level. This was the only thing he had done differently – he questioned it because of the simplicity of the practice.

So, the perfect way to end this little ditty is just that, I wish for you to be happy!

 

[I don’t know who to credit this beautiful serene image to….I found it on Facebook and it is widely used, so if you know, please drop me a comment and I will add a credit, thank you.]

The Journey Begins

I am currently in the process of writing my third book…the first was a memoir and the second fiction…both read much like ‘chick flick lit’; just light hearted and funny. I’ve always wanted to write non fiction but never seemed to be able to get moving with it. I’d start the story only to get a few pages or chapters in and put it down again. I am sure on my computer there are at least half a dozen unfinished stories…

What makes this one different? Well, I guess it came about through and in of itself (had to think about that one) in that the idea came to me during meditation.

The book isn’t yet finished, but meditation has truly transformed my life and I figured it would be good to share that. I seem to be given more and more opportunities to promote its benefits and of practising mindfulness that it has now become somewhat of a purpose.

I have had many…purposes I mean. I always wanted to find that single purpose that would dominate my life…that ‘thing’ that I was good at and just meant to do. You know like a gymnast or an artist, a teacher or a lawyer. Some people just know what they are meant to do. They either just began it long ago when they were young and their passion just grew into their career and for others they found it later on, perhaps after college or when they started working. For me it wasn’t like that. I never really had any clue what I was doing. My life was chaotic and very self destructive. About 11 years ago (I was 35 at the time) I changed my life. It was a bit like that movie, Sliding Doors, you know the one, with Gwyneth Paltrow, where the movie shows what happened if….and then one story and if…and then another story. It was a freezing cold February night and I was probably at the height of destroying myself. The previous 20 years hadn’t gone so well…the destruction mainly manifesting itself in alcohol abuse, bad relationships and some pretty bad decisions – that is a book in of itself (there that saying goes again!). It was snowing outside and my 3 year old son was in the bath.

I had spent the 3 years prior to that February night smoking marijuana every single day to cope with what had been the end of a relationship that almost ended my life and almost my son’s life too. I was permanently stoned, to varying degrees, and could not function without marijuana or alcohol. Somehow I managed to just carry on. Resilience is something I have bucket loads of and I am so grateful for that because am sure without it I would not be here to tap this little tale.

There were times when smoking marijuana would make me dizzy. I think the fact that I went outside to smoke my first joint at 8 am didn’t help matters, but it worsened over time. It reached a point where I had reduced the amount I smoked simply because I couldn’t function well otherwise and I found a balance where I was stoned enough to be in the state I needed to be in to cope, but not too stoned to where I was dizzy. About the same time as the dizziness started I began to experience periods of time where I couldn’t sense reality anymore. I realise that’s the purpose of drugs, but for me this was more than that. Because there were so many underlying emotional issues and dysfunctions I hadn’t addressed, the marijuana just seemed to magnify them. I became paranoid, frightened and my mental state began to spiral out of control.

Back to the February evening. I was washing my son’s hair and it was as though I could see my hands washing his hair but I wasn’t there. I became dizzy and couldn’t see properly. My vision was blurring and going in and out of being clear and then flashes of black as though I were going to pass out. I tried to focus on washing his hair and chatting to him to keep myself focused on where I was. It didn’t help. I asked my daughter who would have been 7 at the time to watch my son in the bath for a minute. I stood by the top of the stairs and gripped the bannister rail to stop myself swaying and falling over. I felt like I was losing my grip on reality, as though I was not in my own head anymore. It was as though I was losing myself and what would be left would be nothing but incredibly frightening at the same time. What would be left would be a monster and not me anymore. I was losing my mind and I didn’t know who I was anymore.

In that moment as I stood gripping the bannister and trying to hang on to my mind which I felt I was losing, I had a flood of thought that seemed to fill my entire being. It wasn’t that there was a bright light or anything ethereal, but it was as though it came from somewhere else and I could see in my mind two paths. It was so sudden and so stark that it was as though my life was flashing before me, but as it would become, not as it had been. If I continued on the path of self destruction then I would not be able to hold on for much longer. I would ruin the lives of my children and risk losing them. I would ruin my life and I would end up a hollow shell and perhaps worse, I would end up dead. Or. I could change my life.

Fortunately, I chose the latter. The journey hasn’t always been easy, but I had found purpose. My children. To be the best mother I could be. It wasn’t that I was a bad mother before, I did the best with what I had and with who I was, but my priorities, whilst I would have said they were my children, were not. The self destruction was far too great and so the damage I did to myself most definitely had an impact on them. They were never hurt, not physically, thank god, but emotionally, most definitely. I am sure they felt my pain and the characters they developed early in their life would have been marred somewhat by events that took place during that time.

They have grown into beautiful, charming, funny and happy young adults and thank god for that.

That February evening was not my first experience of what I always think of as divine intervention, although I had ignored the others, much to my detriment, but it was really the first time I experienced something I couldn’t describe or make sense of logically.

When I made the decision to change my life, naturally the right things came along. These were in the form of Buddhism, meditation and yoga and those 3 things have remained and are now an intrinsic part of who I am and my life…

During the past 11 years, my purpose has always remained to be the best mum I can be and every day I strive to be better. My journey has, however, enabled me to expand and enhance my purpose (and thankfully a lot of self development and healing too!) from becoming a yoga teacher, meditation teacher, life coach and Indian head masseuse to a  writer and author, web designer, brand and marketing consultant and more recently a photographer. So many purposes. I have lost the notion of having to have a single one and feel blessed to be one of those fortunate people who has many! Although I have dropped many of those purposes, some have remained.

Overall I have come to realise that truly we are all here to help one another, to serve others and to be kind. To be the best version of ourselves that we can be and to always do our best. It is cliche to say, let’s all strive for world peace, but so true and so very much needed. Did you know, and I quote the Dalai Lama, that if every 8 year old in the world was taught to meditate, we would eliminate violence in one generation? So, yes, let’s all strive for world peace.

Everyone has a past, whether it be good, bad or indifferent. Meditation isn’t just for healing or some mystical Eastern practice just for self help junkies. It is practical and perfect for our modern day life. It improves your emotional and physical wellbeing and is accessible to everyone, anytime.

Practising meditation and mindfulness every day will literally transform your life…

 

 

[Some years ago I bought this stock image for a meditation page on one of my websites at the time. I love it and so there is some irony that it was perhaps always destined …that so many years later it has become the cover of my new book; Maldives for the Mind.]