Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2012

See what thoughts are made of

This is quite an interesting line of inquiry (if you are interested in such things). Once you glimpse the creation of thoughts then you begin to wonder about the nature of many things. Things that were once important seem somehow not so important, because, well, they are just thoughts.

One way to explore thoughts is to use that old favourite question: who am I? Just sit there, and ponder this question. Use your mind's eye to see what is going on in the mind. When something arises, look into it and ask: who am I? Keep going, many others have done before.

Spirulina smoothie

I've been given a few different health supplements for Christmas, one of which is spirulina powder. I'll be adding it to my breakfast smoothies for the next couple of weeks to see if it has any effect. Just had one now and it's certainly an acquired taste, but as with all these things it's just a question of getting used to it.

I'll be mainly using an orange, carrot, tomato and cucumber base. Perhaps with any left over grapes I can find.

Spinach, tomato, grape and beetroot smoothie

It's taken me a while to pluck up the courage to put spinach into smoothie machine, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Here's the ingredients I used:

Small handful of baby spinach leaves
5 cherry tomatoes
10 grapes
1 medium beetroot, precooked
enough orange juice to make it nice

I quite like it but my son seemed a bit more circumspect. Anyway, there's something special about eating spinach - seems to be quite energizing for me.

Another doodle without meaning

Following on from my last picture, here is another one. This one didn't take very long and perhaps you can tell the difference. Unlike the last one, there is some manipulation of space going on, albeit very basic. This may lead to an aesthetic perception that there is something happening - perhaps the mind is trying to categorise the image in some way, attribute some meaning. Perhaps nothing happens in your mind, a dismissal of the whole idea - a stripe is just a stripe after all. Perhaps you become aware that this picture is not as silent as the last one. Perhaps.


An empty doodle

This took longer than you would expect - in fact quite a long time indeed. There is something about emptiness in pictures and music - it is the gaps between objects that makes them special, the silence between notes. So with that in mind, enjoy this picture with nothing much in it to get in the way.

Enjoy silence

You could probably write a whole book about silence but I'll stick to one particular aspect in this post. Our minds are exrtemely flexible and malleable things. They are easily influenced and shaped by what they are exposed to. Give them chaos and they become chaotic, give them silence and they become tranquil. Think of it like a lake or river - on a still day it becomes placid, glass-like, on a breezy day it becomes rippled, and on a stormy day it turns into a frothing lather. The lake responds to the conditions of the weather. If you want to think about this more deeply, you could say that there is no separation between the lake and the conditions surrounding the lake - they are part of the same system.

In a similar way, our minds and the things we experience are intertwined. What we think is part of the wider system of what is going on. So, with that in mind, find a nice quiet place and focus your senses towards silence. Notice what happens, and then enjoy what happens. Feel th…

The science of body awareness

I've been getting into body awareness this month and it's quite an illuminating thing to do. Scientists also study the self awareness of body and it's called the proprioceptive self. Although we receive sense contact from the body continuously, we are habituated to it and we only tend to pay attention when things go wrong - trouble is, we are not really taught what to do when things are not functioning as they should. This leads us into the denial, anger, resignation, acceptance model of dealing with things. We might ask ourselves, how do I react when something goes wrong in my life? This will give us a clue into how we react when our bodies give us difficulties. Anyway, I digress.

The proprioceptive self is something that is used by our minds to make sense of our bodies. This can be tricked - there is a thing called the Pinocchio effect where our noses seem to grow, or we can be tricked into believing a plastic hand is our own hand, or we can eat a chilli and imagine our …

No body, no mind

Every month I like to have an overriding mantra to work with and this month it's "no body, no mind". Now this might sound like crazy talk, but it's a pointer on ways to go deep, even if I don't actually get there. It seems obvious that we have a body and a mind but the world is full of mirages and we might like to entertain the idea that this is one of them - think of a rainbow.

So then, how to see these things for ourselves. If we sit still for long enough, then the awareness of the body gradually disappears - the body vanishes. When this happens we have arrived somewhere interesting; namely that there is the physical body, and then there is the awareness of it - the mental impression of it. It's this mental impression that causes the body to vanish.

Now, we might go further and explore other mental impressions or perceptions that arise and pass away. If we sit with it long enough, then we might scare ourselves into the thought "that nothing is real&quo…

The unconscious effects of super stimuli

You can read about supernormal stimuli on Wikipedia, but, to cut an interesting story short, a super stimulus is all about how animals respond to sensory stimuli in a kind of compulsive fashion. The common example is mimicking a mother bird returning to the nest and then all the chicks open their mouths.

Now, perhaps we don't walk round with our mouths wide open when we see an attractive member of the opposite sex (well, not all the time anyway), but we are subject to the unconscious mechanisms of being stimulated by things we see, hear, eat and touch. Another interesting neuroscientific phenomenon is the way our conscious minds invent stories to account for our behaviour and, if you combine this with the effects of super stimuli, you have a heady recipe for doing things you didn't think you wanted to do and then rationalising it later. Think about that cake, movie, flirtatious response - there's always a good reason after the event, even though you didn't really want …

Life does not give us what we want just because we want it

This is an interesting thing to reflect on (I think), especially when we don't get what we want. There is this implicit assumption within ourselves that we will get what we want, that the reality we create for ourselves is built around the idea that "we get what we want". This is of course a delusion. Now, when I don't get what I want I suffer internally for a bit, and then, my mind alters my delusion so that "I was better off without it anyway". Now, after a while you can observe this story making and it would be kind of fun except that it dredges all kinds of feelings and what nots with it. Ho hum.

Another interesting thing to note is observing other people when they want stuff and then when they are thwarted. It seems surprising to me the responses of adults as they exhibit tantrums, negative out bursts, manipulation, and then, as the mind shifts, the signs of "not wanting it anyway". You can certainly see the seeds of deeper subtexts being sow…

Three different ways with stir fried vegetables

If you're on a restricted diet, like I have been for several years, then the chances are that you will happen upon the packets of stir fried vegetables in the supermarkets. These provide a nice, tasty lunch or evening meal, and are generally safe in terms of what a restricted person can eat. Here are three different ways I like to eat them:

Method 1 - stir fried with chilli sauce

This is perhaps the one I use the most. Throw them in the wok with a dash of five spice powder, fry for a bit, add some soy sauce (or whatever salty thing you are able to eat), fry for bit longer, add some chilli sauce, fry some more and then serve.

Variations: add some cooked chicken, or some cashew nuts at the end. Top with a thin egg omelette. Add some sherry with the soy sauce.

Method 2 - stir fried with garlic and sesame oil

Heat some oil, add some crushed garlic, then after a few seconds add the vegetables and a dash of five spice powder. Stir fry for a bit, add your soy sauce (salty alternative) and …

An Autumn doodle

I used Sketchbook Pro for this - you get loads of brushes and things.

Breathe in, breathe out, release

Sometimes we can over complicate things. Try to do this just once in a day - it can be surprisingly difficult. What are we holding to all the time? Can you feel your claws digging in? Can you feel the energy of yourself pushing forward all the time? Where does that come from?

Working with Jhana factors

It's probably a good idea to read my other post, Standard view of the Jhana states, before reading this one - just to get an idea of what the Jhana world is are and where we are going.

I work with the five Jhana factors in many different ways. Here are translations I like:

1. Directed thought, aiming attention at something.
2. Sustaining attention, maintaining the awareness of something.
3. Joy, rapture, delight.
4. Happiness, contentment, calmness.
5. Gathered, unified mind.

Jhanas are very deep, absorbed meditative states and we are unlikely to hop into them in our everyday lives - the amount of mental agitation from being in-the-world sort of precludes it. However, this does not stop us having a go and wallowing in Jhana territory - peace, joy, contentment, happiness, spaciousness, a calm, abiding mind. We experience these things in everyday life, just not as fully as a skilled meditation practitioner.

So then, if you meditate then there's a kind of assumption that we are…

Am I OK?

Here's something I noticed (and have heard other people notice). The mind is tuned towards unpleasantness - it kind of has a permanent loop going that is checking "Am  I OK?". Now, normally we are OK and everything ticks along smoothly, but if we have a chronic illness then the answer will always come back "you are not OK".  This then leads immediately into thinking about how to fix the problem - our reactivity. This will further compound our difficulties.

So then, what are we to do if we are lost in our malfunctioning life? Well, we kind of learn to recognise this process:

- Am I OK?
- No
- Then, this is how it is

It's time to care of ourselves, to make some kind of room for the difficulty. If there's no immediate fix then we have to accommodate it somehow, and once we do this we start to move the mind in different circles: compassion, wisdom, awareness.

Flip the mind

Our moods have this annoying ability to change in an instant. One minute we are in our dream world, and the next we are ranting and raving about something inconsequential. These moments can then linger on for many hours or even days.

Luckily, this also works in reverse. Notice those moments when we are going about our business, feeling a bit grumpy or curmudgeonly, then someone says a kind word or smiles at us or gives us a biscuit or cup of tea, and we are suddenly uplifted and in a good mood. These pleasant moments can also linger on for many hours and even affect our decision making.

This has a scientific basis - it's called mental priming. It's why adverts have insanely happy people on them and other such things, but let's leave mass mental priming for another time.

So then, now we know that the mind can flip in an instant, we can perhaps have a go at generating some pleasantness in other people knowing that this pleasantness will be reflected back on us. Perhaps we ar…

Chronic fatigue and the reactive mind

Here's something that is very, very useful to get to grips with and see with our own eyes (well, minds eye). It goes something like this:

Although we experience physical illness and are limited by it, 99% of the suffering associated with the illness is caused by the reactive mind.

This is something that is highlighted by doing a mindfulness based stress reduction course or by spending some time studying Buddhist practises. It may seem a little far fetched until you see it in action:

- we feel exhausted,
- it's not very nice,
- our mind starts up with judgements, anxiety, aversion and a whole set of reactive thinking,
- we feel even worse, to put it mildly
- we go into a downwards spiral of thoughts, unpleasantness, and more thoughts
- we feel helpless, we can't fix it
- we believe the thoughts and the negative situation seems wholly convincing
- and so on

This reactivity seems to be a feature of our minds and it would be ambitious to try and stop it doing this all time, bu…

A very green soup - healthy and tasty

It's getting cold here and I like soup but the ones in the shop give me digestion issues. Here's a very green soup that tastes good too - you can't really go wrong and even my children like it. If you get into soups, a hand blender is an essential kitchen gadget.

Ingredients

2 medium leeks
1 or 2 medium potatoes
1 or 2 carrots
A bag of spinach (washed)
A bag of watercress (washed)
2.5-3 pints of vegetable stock (or water)
Seasoning to taste

Method

1. Chop up the leeks, carrots and potatoes. Put them in a pan with stock and bring to a simmer.
2. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until they look done.
3. Add the spinach and give it 5 more minutes.
4. Turn out the heat, add the watercress.
5. Blend it until smooth, and season to taste.

If you're feeling a bit drained, then this soup seems just the ticket.

Go deep

This is an interesting idea to explore: the idea that there is something 'deep' within us. We use the word deep because that's the best word to describe the feeling when something reaches right into the heart of us. Rare are the deep moments of this life.

We can attempt to explore the depth of our minds directly. Imagine the mind as an onion or leek or any layered thing. The outer layer is busy, doing things, adjusting our experience. If we quieten this, we might find a more gentle layer of thoughts about yesterday or the days events, or about past experiences or other esoteric associations. Beyond this we find the body and sensations of being alive in a body. If we go deeper, we might find silence in the body and a place where there is no language, just felt sensations. Forging even deeper, we might uncover a deep sense of who we are in this body and mind - perhaps we are totally at home and feeling peaceful. We could go further into the fathoms of the mind, peeling off t…

Another way of looking at calming meditation

Well, you can probably figure what this picture means. We start off with a choppy mind, there's a lot to get through (the 5 hindrances is the kind of standard way of looking at it). There are many analogies for getting through this busy mind: climbing through the forest layer on a mountain, breaking the surf zone on a beach, a bird trying to take off, and so on. We probably spend most of our efforts in meditation trying to get through this phase - this is what I would call "settling down" (see this post I did on the Jhanas).

Then the mind gradually gets a bit calm, maybe drifting into thoughts but there's a kind of separation going on - we are calming down, the activity in the mind is harmonizing. Pleasure, sizzling thrills, contentment, happiness may or may not arise. This continues until we reach a kind of gathered, stopping point. Here we find the beginnings of deep refreshment and things will move on from here quite naturally if we manage to stay out of the way …

Can we allow ourselves to be happy even though we are ill?

A complex area this one. You might like to examine your own beliefs about how an ill person should behave. The very language of illness is a kind of set up - there is something wrong with you, you are not quite right, and so on. This creates a perception of illness and this shapes our thoughts and beliefs in a limiting way. And yet, happiness promotes healing. A sense of well being is a good thing, even if we are not actually well. So we experience a kind of contradiction - we are unwell but point ourselves towards well being. Resigned but somehow happy.

Does it make you feel uneasy? Does it not seem quite right?

There is more I could say but I don't know how to say it, other than: it's a complex area.

Perhaps nothing really happens

You might enjoy this thought or you might find it completely nihilistic. Consider the last ten years of your life - how much of it can you remember? Which parts have lasting meaning? What really happened? Where are the monuments of your existence?

I spend a good deal of time looking at old books and music. There are whole lifetimes invested in these things, an entire career, an entire way of being in the world. They are beautiful things, some of them, but perhaps the beauty is in the moment of their creation, like flowers or trees. Here then is something we can enjoy - the transience of all things, rather than any lasting meaning. Perhaps it is enough to be in the world, but that is perhaps just me talking through the function of my circumstances.

A standard view of the Jhana states (what happens when we meditate)

Here is a diagram of the Jhana states as they are generally explained. The first row consists of the Jhanic factors (I have compressed the first two, applied and sustained thought, into one called "Settled mind" to make the diagram more consistent). The second row are the first four Jhanas, and the bottom row are the formless states of mind. (If you click the image, it gets bigger).



So then, how do we use this kind of information as we meditate. Well, I spent many years wondering about various experiences that occurred during meditation and only when I discovered this information was I able to get a sense of the whole map. This was helpful.

Generally, I like to use these states not as a list of achievable things but as a conceptual map of what is possible with the mind. As you meditate, it can be useful to incline the mind towards contentment and wide open space rather than simply counting 10 breaths. Even though the depth of the actualized Jhana states is tremendously profo…

Try and sit still for a couple of minutes

This is quite an illuminating experiment if you manage to get into it. Take a seat somewhere and try to sit still for a couple of minutes without moving a muscle - you are allowed to breathe, blink and swallow, etc - we don't want to pass out. So we sit in our chair and the urge to move is suddenly upon us. We might like to try and trace back through the urge and see where it came from, after all we decided not to move but here we are eager to move. Perhaps we are responding to a thought steam - we must do this, this and this. Perhaps we are slightly anxious and movement dispels the anxiety for a brief, fleeting moment. Perhaps our body is restless, bustling with chemicals. Perhaps we realise that all movement stems from our internal, mental landscape.

What happens if we succeed in not moving? Does pleasantness arise? Do we feel better for it? Are we relieved to resume our normal habitual agitation?

Chronic fatigue - the 20 percent rule

Following on from my post yesterday, one useful thing I picked up from GET is never to increase the amount of activity you do by more than 20%. It worked something like this for me:

- you establish a baseline of activity that is OK for you. This involves pacing yourself, living within your energy limits.
- let's say this involves a 10 minute walk a few times a week. You are used to this level of activity, and it does not make you suffer.
- you want to do more. Previously you might have tried going for 20 minutes as this seems reasonable for other people, however, you are not other people. Instead, you go for a 20% increase of a 12 minute walk. You do this until you are comfortable with it over a few weeks, or perhaps even longer. It may be the case that you need to go back a bit.
- and so on. Increasing activity in a very gentle fashion.

It might seem like a very long winded process but this is an illness that spans many years and there is certainly time to take it slowly. Very sl…

Chronic fatigue - graded exercise therapy

Graded exercise therapy (or GET) has a mixed response with the chronic fatigue world as it seems to suggest that a chronic fatigue sufferer could get better if they just tried a bit harder and do some exercise (although activity seems to be a better description of it). However, chronic fatigue is a complex illness and it is not as simple as that. For me, the illness seems to be going through a process and I need different therapies at different times as the illness evolves. This will be different for everybody and it may be the case that the illness gets stuck at a particular level and that is that - although 80% of people regain some form of life.

So then, I am not content with achieving a basic form of living - I want to regain some of my old magic. If I want to get from a position where I am existing to a position where I am living then increasing my activity level over time seems to what I need to do. Now, I have tried this many times over the years to no avail, because it made me…

The beetroot smoothie

The breakfast smoothie has transformed my relationship to the beetroot (and other salad vegetables). It has gone from an eating chore to a drinking pleasure, and I get five-a-day before I leave the house in the morning. I would recommend getting a smoothie machine (blender) to everyone, and I should probably link to a commercial product at this stage but I'm not there yet. Here's the recipe:

Basic beetroot smoothie

1 precooked beetroot
1 unpeeled carrot
1 unpeeled chunk of cucumber
1 large orange, squeezed
some apple juice (optional)
5 cherry tomatoes

Whizz it up in the blender. It's very nice.

Some variations

Once you've enjoyed the delights of the basic recipe, then you can enhance even more with some of these variations:

A handful of blueberries (just add them to the above)
A peach - even the rock hard peaches add pleasantness (maybe omit the carrot)
Some melon - melons and peaches are divine in smoothies.


An experiment with perception - part 2

I haven't written part 1 yet, that will come later (one of the foibles of blogging). For now, here is an image to look at. Examine your mind; perhaps it is not that interested in the image, a kind of neutral response. This image has no real meaning, the mind is not engaged. We drift on in our thoughts.



I will change this post once I have written part 1.

Find the still point

There is a point within all of us that is still and it is there all the time; if we can just tune into it. So the challenge is this: can you find your still point right now? I can detect mine but there's an avalanche of other stuff going on that you might like to call "the days events". Is any of it important? Probably, not. Being still seems more preferable.

An experiment with Mudras

The interaction between body postures is mysterious and interesting (for me anyway). Try these different mudras (hand positions) and see what effect it has on your breathing. I was amazed,



 Are you breathing into your belly, middle or top of the chest?




 Where is your breath now?



What about this one?


Chronic fatigue - my subconscious is screaming at me to stop

Here's the theory. You get ill, it feels dreadful.

Next, you adapt to the illness, it becomes who you are.

Later, the illness departs, but you are still ill because that is what you have learned.

So, you try to get better but your mind tells you to stop. This is now what restricts you.


I like the theory but the practice is a real stinker. My subconscious is totally in control of the organism that is me, OR, the body is still ill. Well, whatever the case, it's a full on test of some part of me that never wanted to be tested.

Come to your senses

Feeling good can be quite easy sometimes. Take a moment and then explore your senses - explore smells, sights, sounds and the touch of your body. These simple sense contacts are generally quite pleasant if you can stick with them.

Now notice what happens when you go back into your thoughts. Not quite as joyful in there perhaps. Next the question becomes: why do we spend most of our time in the place where we do not have such pleasant abidings? Well, it goes very deep this one. Why do we do the things we do?  The answer is quite surprising.

Anyway, enough of that. Find a robin and stare at it - more immediately rewarding.

The wonder of the Universe

It never ceases to amaze me that when you look up at the sky at night, it looks something like this:



when in actual fact it looks something more like this (but we can't see it):




Note, these are not actual images, merely artistic mock-ups I have doodled - you won't see the sky looking like either of these images (probably).

Once you've decided to look into the Universe there are many amazing thoughts to be had. You could start off with the mind boggling thoughts: there are zillions of galaxies out there, and within each galaxy there are zillions of stars, and new stars are still being formed all the time. We could also ponder upon the strange fact that the expansion of the Universe appears to be accelerating which contravenes the theory that you can't simply conjure energy from nothing. We might also realise that there is no such thing as outside the Universe because it just isn't there. Then there is the more common place idea that we are all made from the material…

Exploring samadhi and jhana states

I have wanted to write about jhanas and samadhi for a while, mainly because they have provided me with a great deal of benefits in my life. They help in a number of ways:

- just reading about them is inspiring. The path they describe is beautiful and uplifting.
- even if you don't get into them, just trying to do them is beneficial.
- if you do get into them, or near them, it is very refreshing for the mind.
- they make relaxation profoundly interesting.
- combined with mindfulness, they get things moving on the insight path (vipassana)

There's not much use in me writing about the technical details of doing jhanas, as there are already a number of excellent books out there that do that - simple intructions would be: sit there, relax, be steady, wait. Knowing about them can be a hindrance, but if you don't know about them then you don't know what is going on when stuff happens and this can be limiting. You could try and find a teacher but this might not be possible. The…

Eat less, eat better

There is not much that we have control of in our lives and you can probably boil it down to things:

1. What we put into our minds
2. What we put into our mouths

Eating is a complex business. It is mixed up with pleasure, satisfaction, avoidance behaviours, craving, habits, subconscious urges and so on. Perhaps we are not so far removed from Pavlovian dogs as we might think.

Anyway, enough rambling. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that eating less is good for you (I'm assuming that, like me, it is easy to eat too much) - you feel more energised, your body works better, you reach a healthy weight, you eat less fatty high energy food and so on. You might like to read out about intermittent fasting - it seems to produce interesting results.

One benefit of eating less is that you can pick out more interesting food to eat since you won't be needing a 12oz steak every week. This is when a diet can become interesting - you take care of what food you'll be putting into your m…

Relax the mind

The body and mind are like two strands of DNA entwined together in a mysterious contracting and expanding dance with reality. Relax the body and we relax the mind. Relax the mind and we relax the body. So it seems like a simple exercise to relax the mind - we do nice things to the body (massage, gentle exercise, listen to music, yoga) and our mind will naturally relax. However, after we have been doing this for a while we might notice that it gets us only so far and that there are deeper states of relaxation that we might cultivate if we knew how. We might also sense that 'we' are preventing ourselves from letting go further because 'we' might disappear. Luckily this is not the case.

So, we are relaxed but our mind is not totally at ease. There are two ways to take it a bit further. We can either:

- focus our mind on something neutral and use the magical ability of the mind to become whatever it focuses on. If it pays attention to something soothing then it becomes soo…

Don't breathe out, just let it go

Breathing is one of those things that we do every day, but around which a surprisingly large amount of things happen. This is an area of great interest to meditators as we get to unpick our glossy perceptions of how breathing works. We might think that we are sucking air in by somehow gathering the air molecules in through our noses and mouths by force of will, but, in reality, our internal muscles pull down our diaphragm creating a vacuum into which our lungs expand - drawing air in as it does so. You might find this is at odds with how you think breathing works - an interesting place to start your investigations. Breathing out is simply the relaxation of the muscles allowing the diaphragm to push the against the lungs and squishing the air out again.

Once we accept this view of breathing (the contraction and relaxation of muscles) then we can get a good deal of bonus relaxation on the out breath. There's no need to push it out, we can simply let our muscles relax and allow it ou…

The meditation sequence to stillness

Once you've been meditating a while, if you're a 'what next' person like me, you wonder: what next? Well, there is no real what next. You just go round and round the same loops until you start to see a pattern and then you feel yourself slipping into a different mode of mind. However, there is one well worn causal sequence in meditation that you go through that eventually leads you to a nourishingly calm place from whence you can observe many things. So, here's the sequence:

- relax every fibre of your body
- calm the mind down
- rest your mind on a neutral object (the breath)
- feel pleasantness arise (eventually). Let it be.
- pleasantness grows into something intense; bliss or rapture. Let it be.
- bliss gives way to massive plump cushions of contentment. Let it be.
- there is stillness. We feel gathered, together. Let it be.

That's it really. The techniques to get through this sequence are varied and opinions vary about the details.

It's been staring me in the face

Here's an obvious way to feel good:


Don't do anything that makes you feel bad.

It may seem rather simplistic but then these things are. If you look a little deeper into it then you will encounter the mind blowing field of ethics and ethical behaviour. You could read this statement as the beginning of your ethical journey, or, if you've been on an ethical journey, the end of your exploration into ethics.

Now, if you increase your awareness (i.e. meditate) then you'll need to get to grip with ethics at some point. Awareness, ethics and wisdom build upon themselves in a spiralling dance of awakening. As with all dancing, you may encounter blisters and other painful experiences, but don't let that spoil the party.

Some doodle art

You might question whether a doodle is art or not, and you're probably right to do so. However with a five minute mind like mine it'll have to do.

Think sky. Think beach. Think happy things.




We see with our minds

This is quite a telling thought process to go through and it taught me a lot. The world is out there and we are in here. How does the world look? Is it scary, happy, filled with dread, annoying, tedious, bountiful, piggish, sheepish, unfair, cruel, unfriendly, friendly, happy, sad? Well, it is all these things. How we are seeing the world reflects on how we are being with the world (and ourselves). Do we see happiness and contentment everywhere? Do we see a load of trot tonkers?

Sometimes, I feel I have a long way to go. However, when I feel my mind getting into a dark groove, I know it is time to apply some antidotes.

Recognising bliss and other mental states

I've had a couple of goes at explaining contracted and relaxed mind states, and here's where we start putting some flesh on the bones. We observe ourselves getting tense and we observe ourselves getting relaxed, whilst maintaining a sense of distance. I've put some words in my contracted and relaxed states to give a bit of an idea. Being relaxed feels very nice in a multitude of different ways - have a look at the diagram for a few examples of different states that we might get into. On the other hand, being contracted is like putting ourselves through a mangle - although we might feel that the mangle is being applied to us.

So we learn to relax and this leads us to a gateway of bliss, rapture and contentment. The more we learn to recognise these different states the easier it becomes to access them when they arise. In fact, they arise all the time in every day life - we just don't notice them. Once to we get used them, they become our friends. We see them in ourselv…

Starting to experience the mind as light

You might be skeptical about us being light filled creatures but there are some easy ways to see that we are indeed filled with light. Once you start noticing the mind as light then it begins to build an inner confidence that life is not all mortgages and trips to the supermarket - life has some special qualities to it. This is not to be underrated.

So then, where is the light? I first noticed the presence of lights in the mind when I was punched in the face but this is not a great way to begin your journey. Aim instead for different moments when light appears brightly in our heads - a sudden noise can do it, or some other sensory overload (or indeed something intensely pleasureable). You might notice that the mind is filled with a blinding flash of white light and we feel slightly buzzed. If we notice this over several occurances, then the link between sensory experience and mental experience begins to take root in our awareness. This is a quite a big deal.

Then, over time, it become…

Getting back in the groove meditation instructions

There are many different techniques for attempting meditation and it's good to become familiar with different techniques as they form a kind of toolbox for use in varying situations. Here's what I use to get back down to earth after getting sucked into the world of doings; a kind of mental reset button.

- take a few deep breaths just to get in the mood
- establish the mind on a neutral object, the breath
- maintain attention on the breath for one in and out breath
- maintain for 10 breaths
- notice where the mind gets lost
- cultivate aiming, maintaining and release
- build up the rhythm
- allow any pleasure to infuse the breathing process
- allow any spaciousness to infuse the breathing process
- notice where the mind wanders off (you might be able to notice it as it happens)
- reestablish aiming and maintaining
- keep doing it
- keep letting go
- notice where the mind gets lost
- reestablish aiming and maintaining
- keep doing it

You get the idea.

Would my cat eat me if I was the size of a sparrow?

Yes.


I wanted to write about my cat because he's an interesting personality to live with. The great thing about a cat is that they have no judgements about you and it's great to be present with a being that does not judge. However, let's not get carried away. He knows what he wants and I am an instrument to get him what he wants.

Awareness requires no effort

Here's something that I have found useful over the last few months. It's one of those thoughts that cuts through the nonsense and gets right to it. Is the mind aware or am I trying to be aware? Am I looking or am I seeing? Can I hear sounds effortlessly? Am I sitting on the river bank watching the water flow by, or have I dammed it up to control it completely while I think my river thoughts? Is my awareness effortless?

Once I realise that there is too much effort going on, there's a natural letting go and, for a few moments at least, the awareness is just peachy. This moment of letting go also has benefits as it brings along some feelings of contentment and openness. If I can remain with these moments then they lead deeper into other conditioned states that are very illuminating.

Anything that requires no effort is something I have a keen interest in. Things just happen. I don't need to add my sauce on top.

Contracted or relaxed

I am going to go on about these two states again as I reckon it is a good place to start with mindfulness of the mind. The general idea is to appreciate that the mind is in either a contracted or a relaxed state and then take it from there. Both states are very powerful. One makes us empowered; we achieve things, we make things happen, we exert ourselves in the world. The other brings contentment and open heartedness; we access the the gateway to a different realm of being - spacious, free.

You might like to notice how things look when we are in these mind states. From a contracted mind state, the idea of relaxing seems like a waste of time - after all, we are not doing anything useful. Conversely, when we are relaxed the world of busy people seems like an exercise in hamster wheel futility. We might realise that these basic mind states are a kind of visor that changes how we see the world - if I wear this outfit then the world is like this. It is quite interesting to see how our per…

Learning to tame the mind - recognize two mind states

I like to keep things simple and this will be my attempt to explain the beginnings of something rather complex (leading to something very wondrous) in as simple a manner as I can manage. Before I get going, the first thing that we need to accept is this:

- we have a mind but it is not who we are

Therapists will like to refer this to us as we sit in our tangled mess of thinkings; "you are not your thoughts". An experienced sufferer might discount this statement as nonsense but over time it becomes the truest thing we might ever realize. So, that's that.

The next step is to start recognizing what is going on with this mind of ours. Here comes the simple bit: we notice that it goes through various cycles but the main one to observe is that we become contracted (we are getting things done, we are stressed out, upset) and we become relaxed (we are letting things go). Sounds obvious. However, merely noticing these two states takes a lot of effort - we need to catalog everythi…

Spontaneous art

I've always enjoyed dabbling in art but this has been curtailed since my ability to concentrate basically disappeared when my illness moved in. This has led me to doing spontaneous pictures and pseudo random music - I pick up the pencil and doodle, I sit at the piano and do random things. One thing I have found interesting is that the artistic output is dependent on the tools I use. Anyway here's one I did on Brushes on the iPad; a very soothing app. It's just a doodle of a monkey but there's something very cathartic about doodling. I would encourage everyone to doodle.

Chronic fatigue - wellness is a discipline

If you've had chronic fatigue for a while then you've probably realised that the days of 'doing what you like' are a somewhat distant memory. Life is about pacing yourself, gently increasing activities, being cautious, paying attention to your symptoms and generally keeping a tight lid on things. Feeling OK correlates with being well disciplined in mind and body. We might feel that we have lost out on freedom but what have we gained? To keep things snappy, I think we gain a lot of awareness. 

Awareness and mindfulness are excellent skills that are a gateway to a different way of being in the world. The more we pay attention the more we realise what is harmful and beneficial to us. Once we realise this then we become free to choose how we want to experience the world. So, in a sense we lose the freedom to 'do what we like' and gain the freedom to 'choose how we relate to life'. This is no small gain and it leads to all kinds of new vistas.

It's not e…

Try to hear every single raindrop fall

We finally have some rain and there's something calming about sitting indoors with the pitter patter of raindrops outside the window. There's a number of different things you can do with this experience but paying attention to sounds is a good one to try.

So then, you have a comfortable sitting position and the rain is lightly falling outside. Now try to hear every single raindrop as it makes it's contact with the ground, window or roof. You might think this is impossible but give it a try. Open your mind, open your ears. You might have a moment where you hear everything all at once. That's it! The mind then jumps in and tries to grab the experience - then you hear nothing at all. Now notice yourself jumping from the awareness of sounds back into a stream of thoughts. Flow and blockage. Openness and contraction.

You might find this interesting and you might not. The seeds of deeper awareness are sown here. 



Rest in the gaps

Although everyday life might seem like one continuous event as we move from one activity to the next, a crafty chronic fatigue sufferer will recognize that the events of the day ebb and flow. We might even recognize that there are gaps as we end one thing and start another. These gaps are an excellent place to find some relaxation and reconnect to the steady mind that brings healing and rejuvenation.

Once you get used to noticing gaps, you might start to notice them everywhere. As we sit in meditation, we might notice that a bunch of thoughts start tormenting us, then they stop (for a brief nanosecond), before the same thoughts repeat themselves to us (as if we needed to live through them again) or some new thought sequence appears. As we notice these gaps, we might like to hang out in them and get a feeling for what it is like to be between our nagging mind conversations.

Once we hang out in these gaps, we might notice that there is something noticing the gaps; namely, our awareness.…

Pleasure - the law of diminishing returns

First time - Nice
Second time - Getting not so nice
Third time - Neither nice nor unpleasant
Fourth time - Getting quite tedious
Fifth time - Unbearable, time for something new

This refers to a particular set of pleasures - generally things we experience through the senses. We might like to explore pleasures that do not get tiresome the more we experience them. Are there any?

Letting go of struggle

I have a great deal of struggle in my life and it's intensely annoying when I get stuck in a cycle of difficulties (as I touched upon here onset, struggle, etc). It is quite demanding when I get caught but when I do manage to let go of struggle it is like being released from a set of chains; quite a pleasant experience but not one that is easy to achieve. There is, unfortunately, a process to be lived through.

When we struggle with our experience, we have a tendency to make it worse. We are trying to use our will power to overcome what is going on and, in some small way, we are trying to exert control. Perhaps this has been an effective strategy in the past, but ultimately it is energy sapping and unpleasant. Let's not beat ourselves up about it - there is something instinctual about struggle - if we fall into quicksand our gut reaction is to struggle to get out but this only makes things worse. We have to learn patience and perserverence to get through - some might call it wi…

The Satipatthana sutta - my desert island text

Buddhism is quite a big bowl of noodles to get your teeth into - I've spent a while skirting round the lists and trying to figure it out. After a time, I came across the Satipatthana sutta - the discourse of the establishment of mindfulness - and discovered that a huge amount of it is basically contained within this text. There's not many collections of words that cover as much as these words do - the experience of the body, of moments of feeling, the mind and different ways we can look at mental experience. I suspect you could spend a long time on a desert island with these words and have a profoundly interesting time.

Experiencing happiness and contentment

It turns out there is a difference between knowing happiness and experiencing happiness. Let's say we are going to go on a nice holiday somewhere - we read about it in a brochure, we book it, we have a sense of happiness knowing that we are going to go on a nice holiday. There is happiness in this.

Then we go on holiday. If we are lucky, we arrive and it is better than we expected - the pool is nice, the hotel comfortable, the food is delicious and everything is generally good. Our plans have reached fruition and now we are deeply happy and contented. We might experience a sense of relaxation in this.

So then, we might break down everyday events into two categories - I know this is good, I feel this is good. It is interesting to compare the two experiences.

Using visualisation as a transition object in meditation

I wanted to write about visualisation since I have had an on/off relationship with it over the years. Initially, I used to think it was a bit gimmicky and lightweight - if you really wanted to meditate you'd sit in silence staring at a wall or something. However, over the last few years I see visualisation as a useful aid in getting the mind to settle down.

How does this work? Say we want to get the mind to move in a certain direction (in this case, towards calmness) but the object of intention is too far way - let's say we feel stressed out and scattered - then it seems an impossible task to get from A to B. So, we can use a calming transition object to get us from where we are to where we want to be - in this case, a guided visualisation. Then, once we are in the proximity of the destination and the calmness starts doing its business, we can become absorbed into some aspect of the visualisation and generate a concentrated state of mind.

Here's a short example:

1. Imagin…

Where sea and sky meet

I love pictures where the edge between sea and sky is somewhat blurred and you can't tell where one ends and the other begins. You could just enjoy it when you see it happening but there is also a reminder here that the boundary between objects is not quite what it seems - where does one thing end and another begin?

You could go a bit deeper and ask yourself, where do my body and mind meet? (This is a direct method of introspection as opposed to the more labour intensive method of watching the breath). So, we sit there looking, looking, looking for the boundary between body and mind. We might get nowhere, or we might see something and we feel our head turning inside out and going all 'I'm going to pop' on us. There's a truth here but we can't think it. We want to hold it and know it but it eludes us and after a while we realise that it is perhaps time to return to the normal world and have a nice cup of tea.

Using gestures to unlock different mind states

If you tried my experiment,raise your hands to the sky, then you may have discovered that this posture has an effect on your mind. If you accept this, then you may start experimenting with different postures - what happens if I squat with my shoulder touching my ear, that sort of thing - and have an interesting time doing so. Well, it also turns out that different gestures also influence how we feel:

- clench your fists
- open your palms
- hold your hands up (man in an invisible box)

Did anything feel different?

You could try mixing gestures and postures, and have a go with that. I am going somewhere with this gestures/postures thing but that's enough for now. Put your hands on your head and see where that leads you ...

How do I park my mind at night?

Here's an interesting awareness experiment that I like to do from time to time, and perhaps I should do it everyday but hey ho that's the way it goes.

There's a useful little gap between the end of daily activities and retiring to go to bed. Exercise some mindfulness and pay attention to what is going on: feeling tired, ready for bed, feeling agitated (this happened, then this), feeling calm, feeling alert, feeling sad, feeling frustrated, feeling stressed, and so on. Interestingly, we take these mind states into bed with us when we go to sleep. Armed with this knowledge, we might like to inject some pleasantness into proceedings. We all have our different ideas of pleasantness but we might like arouse some sensual pleasure or pick out a pleasant area of the mind to pay attention to. We might become distracted by our usual thinking habits, but try to stay with the good times. Notice the pleasurable feeling and hang your mind there for as long as you can. Stay with it, sta…

Raise your hands to the sky

Here's quite a simple way to generate some good vibes in your psychophysical organism - or you, to be more precise. It works best outside on a blue sky day with the sun on your face, but you can still get a good zing even if you do it in a darkened cave or a toilet cubicle. Stand up straight, open your hands in a gesture of submission and then raise them up arms akimbo right above your head. An optional gesture is to tilt your head back and soak up some heavenly juice but beware neck injuries. Hold your hands in the sky pose for as long as you can manage, enjoying the charge of energy that beams out of your heart.

I don't know why this works, it just does.

How do we reach completion?

Are you waiting to get to that point in life where things are just the way you want them? It's a tempting mirage to say 'I'll be happy when I get to x' - a new job, enough money, a nice house, a family, and so on. Are we happy when we live with these kind of goals? What if we don't reach 'point x'? Are we flexible? Perhaps we think of ourselves as a project we need to complete - I need to sort out my body, my mind, my lifestyle, my health, the way I am.

Interestingly, thinking about these things already says something about the way we are. Reaching a particular point of completion (car, house, retirement) usually does not deliver us from who we are - we usually tack on another goal after completing the last one. Can we see this?

There is a trick of perspective here. We need to achieve things but they should not become who we are. I made that mistake and it takes a lot of unpicking. Our worth is somewhere beyond this dynamic. Being chronically ill throws …

Find your heart

The body is a rich source of pleasant refreshment and, within that, the heart is like a gushing fountain of emotional thrill moments - some quite nice, some not so succulent. Place your awareness on your heart area; just be with it. Perhaps there is nothing there - this is quite common - you can't connect to it. Blow some pleasant thoughts through your head instead and try again later.

Back to the heart. Perhaps it feels soft, tender. Perhaps it yearns or aches. Perhaps it is a beating drum of delight. Perhaps it is ready to open you right up. Do you feel love in there? Do you feel unlovely? Is it hard? Does it feel it strong? Broken? Perhaps it is too much. Perhaps it is enough to acknowledge that we all have one and leave it at that. It is a vast area to explore.

How can nothing feel good?

Well, I guess it's a personal thing. Mainly, it is a relief to be free from 'what is usually going on in our lives'. From this relief springs a pleasant feeling, and from the pleasant feeling we can open a window into contentment. Once we are feeling content and spacious, we can let go of many mental objects and rest in a still place. Our reactivity is on the wane and we have connected up the dots of feeling settled.

Alternatively, you might get bored with nothing to do and nothing on your mind. This is always a risk in this type of situation. Perhaps boredom means something else?

Emptiness and the self - part 1

In my last post I was rattling on about how useful and refreshing an empty bowl can be. Moving on, I will now attempt to convince you that we are intrinsically empty and that this is an excellent idea to see for yourself. However, this may not be an easy thought to digest (if indeed you even bother to put it into your mouth (mentally speaking)).

So then, how to appreciate that we are not really who we think we are? First step is to acknowledge that we have thoughts and that these thoughts come and go. Try it now, observe your mind: what's he on about, I have better things to do, I need to do the washing up, why does no-one do the washing up, what's the world coming to, and so on. We see the thoughts, they contain ideas and new ones come up. One interesting perspective to realise is that: no-one else can hear your thoughts. Is that important? Well, perhaps.

Thoughts come and go. We see them come and go. Now we might dig a little deeper and ask ourselves: where do these thoughts…

Emptiness is brilliant

It will maybe take a few posts to convince you of this revelation (if you indulge in my fantasy). Firstly, what is emptiness? It is different from voidness. Take a bowl, remove all the things in it and it becomes empty. The space held by the bowl still exists and that is where we can enjoy ourselves. We can fill it with things, remove those things, imagine what things might go in it and so on. If the bowl was constantly full of junk it would become stale and another cluttered area. To keep it fresh, we need to keep it empty.

Perhaps you know where I am going with this but that will do for now. I am tired.

Chronic fatigue conundrum revisited

The more I do the worse I feel. The longer I do more, the more I can do (until I cross an invisible line and I crash).

So then, it seems that as part of the recovery we have to make ourselves feel worse. Not just once, but repeatedly over a period of time. This is a kind of bizarre situation. Interestingly, when the symptoms reappear, all the same old thought patterns reappear, and it's these thought patterns that can make things even worse. If we believe these thoughts then we find ourselves struggling with reality rather than just hanging back for a bit until we find the way back to where we were. Tricky, eh?

Chronic fatigue conundrum

The less I do the better I feel. The longer I do less the worse I become.

There's a beautiful point somewhere where it comes together and works but it's like trying to make the weather stay the same - have you ever tried to stop the weather?

100 things I would like to do despite having a chronic illness

Goals are quite an important thing when you are facing a long illness - perhaps it's because I'm a completer finisher type of person. I have lived with a mixture of hourly, daily, weekly goals for several years now and it helps to build a sense of achievement. I've noticed that my goal setting has increased in range since I've been doing this and, for no apparent reason, I decided to compile a list of 100 things I would like to do even though I'm knackered all the time. Here's what I've discovered:

- I still want to do things like everyone else
- My goals consist of a mixture of physical targets, creative outcomes, travelling, mental excitement and things that I might never realistically achieve.
- Having this list has changed my intention from one of 'surviving' to one of 'how am I going to do that'. Consequently I am trying to do more, even subconsciously.
- Having unrealistic goals is a good thing.

There's probably more, but I would h…

When the mind is going into meltdown, find one breath

There is indeed a great deal of pleasure to be had from being alive as a human being on this planet, but this is not always easy to remember or, indeed, find. Even when we do find a sense of contentment it does not last and then we are left floundering with our habitual mind states. Sometimes, when we have all our buttons pressed in the right sequence, we enter quite challenging worlds of thought where the idea of happiness is as ridiculous as an elephant wearing lipstick.

So then, we are miserable, tormented. One thing I like to do is reconnect with breathing (having enjoyed breathing calmly in the past I know this can lead to some form of relief). It's not easy though, and to keep things simple I try to connect with just one breath. If I can manage just one breath, then I try another. It may not work immediately but it offers me a way out - if I can remember to do it. Indeed, that's why I'm writing this - remember this, remember this.